Tag Archives: Urban Fantasy

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, February 2, 2014

2 Feb

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Any reader of this blog knows my near-worship of the talented Tessa Bailey and her phenomenal Line of Duty series, so don’t be shocked that I’m putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door for anyone who attempts to come between me and Staking His Claim, the fifth novel in that fantastic series. A wicked NYPD sniper agrees to drive his best friend’s little sister home from college and ends up with a sinfully tempting roommate instead. Except it’s really the sister in disguise, one she’s happy to adopt when she catches an eyeful of the blisteringly hot cop whose eyes hint at dark, kinky tendencies she’d like to explore. This is one grad student who is going to show how she learns fast and aces any exam her lover can dish out, if he would just give them a chance.

Carly Phillips’ recent release Dare to Love is $3.99 right now and the reviews are outstanding. When a sexy, domineering man who loves his family but only skates the surface of a relationship finds a woman who presses all his buttons, he begins reevaluating his stance on something long-term, but the woman he’s set his sights on comes with the package of the half-brother he wants to forget exists. But the lady in question is worried about her reaction to his bedroom control, with her own past a little too close for comfort.

Just out yesterday is Karen Foley‘s latest in the U.S. Marshals series, Hard to Hold, and wow, does this sound like a kidnapping a reader could get behind! A desperate young woman who needs money for her brother’s ransom takes a hot lawman hostage – with a toy gun, no less – but Stockholm syndrome has nothing on the heat between these two.

S. E. Gilchrist’s latest in her Legends of the Seven Galaxies series featuring those serious Darkon Warriors (one of my guilty pleasures), Star Pirate’s Justice, also debuted on February 1st and I can’t wait to read it. A woman desperate to return home to her ill sister captures a Darkon traitor with the necessary information and tech to get her there, but neither counts on their tentative alliance deepening to real feeling. And when those Darkon warriors find a mate, nothing keeps them apart…

Contests and Giveaways

Love the amazing fantasy writing of husband and wife team, Ilona Andrews? The fabulous duo responsible for the Kate Daniels series, the Edge series, and now the outstanding Clean Sweep is busy recruiting readers and fans to help name their latest venture with Avon Publishing. If your title is chosen, not only do you get the glory of simply helping them, but you can win a spot on the Beta team to read the new book, get a full set of Kate Daniels books to date, or win the new book (and all subsequent books in the series as they are published). Wow!

Entangled Publishing’s Covet line (the sexy paranormal stories, yum!) is celebrating their latest release, Love at Stake by Victoria Davies, about a paranormal dating service with a fun giveaway. You can unlock the Rafflecopter contest interface by leaving a blog post with your worst date story and gain multiple chances to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Enter before Valentines Day for your chance to win!

RT Book Reviews is giving away five copies of Cynthia Eden‘s latest novel Burn For Me, the first in her new Phoenix Fire series about paranormal beings hunted by a dangerous scientist who wants them for his own nefarious experiments. Fire isn’t the only thing hot about this novel (trust me, I’ve read it already!) so go over and enter by February 6th for a chance to win.

Haunt Me by Heather Long came out this week and its spookily awesome. When a writer inherits her great-aunt’s haunted house she’s hoping to finally break the writer’s block she’s been suffering from, but the spooky domicile is harboring some serious secrets which a sexy local architect is happy to help her uncover. To celebrate, Entangled Publishing is having a giveaway for a $25 Amazon gift card and a choice of books from Long’s backlist. Enter before February 20th for a chance to win.

Fun Stuff

If a gentleman in your life claims that he has difficulty finding condoms that fit him properly, consider directing him to sources like the Condom App (available for iOS) or the Condom Size Calculator website, each of which allows you to dial in girth and length measurements for a specific brand recommendation. The calculator actually allows you to select material type (for people with latex allergies or vegan preferences) and has over 100 specific types in its database.

Sometimes I see a gadget and think “only the Japanese” usually because the item in question is techy and quirky. As today’s example, please see the “True Love Bra” which, using technology laced through the bra plus data from a corresponding Smartphone app, says it can “sense” when the wearer is actually in love and then and ONLY then does it allow itself to be taken off. This thing actually flies off with such violence, I’m really hoping the lady’s partner in question isn’t at eye level, otherwise they will be sporting the True Love Eyepatch, but don’t take my word for it, watch the hilarious video (with subtitles)!

Also from the world of new gadgets is the prototype for a “sensory fiction” book straight out of MIT Media Labs. The scientists have created a book holder and companion vest which alters the ambient light, can squeeze you to make your heartbeat faster or even alter body temperature to mimic weather or promote anxiety, all while knowing exactly what you are reading at a given moment in the story. I’m a little interested to know what direction romance novels could travel if we start having companion electronics that know when to work at various points in a novel. There could be a LOT more romance readers in the world if that ever got off the ground!

Great Deals

Category romance doyenne Maisey Yates combines the classic sheikh romance with a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with her novel Hajar’s Hidden Legacy (from the Beasts of the Desert series) which happens to be free for download right now. A princess who has always resigned herself to being a pawn in a political marriage is surprised when the man his people call the Beast of Hajar ends up being a wounded man with hidden depths, inflaming her interest and her love.

Dead Man’s Deal, the second book in Jocelynn Drake‘s The Asylum Tales is only $1.99 right now. Urban Fantasy lovers might want to check this one out as the series features a tattoo artist who has left the formal world of magic behind to occasionally add a little something extra into a tattoo. In a world of wizards, elves and trolls, this hero has a lot to juggle but does so with a certain amount of sexy aplomb.

Nicole Jordan‘s first book in her successful Courtship Wars series, To Pleasure a Lady, is on sale for $.99 right now and Regency romance readers will want to take a closer look at this bargain. When a roguish nobleman inherits three sisters as his wards, his goal is to get them married off as soon as possible, but spicy eldest sister awakens an erotic yearning in them both, causing him to make a bet that he can seduce her into marriage in the space of two weeks. To resist her gorgeous guardian will mean her freedom and that of her sisters as well as the ability to continue running her finishing school. Who will win this contest of wills?

Lisa Kleypas‘ amazing book Tempt Me At Twilight from her enormously successful Victorian series starring the eccentric Hathaway family is only $3.99 right now! I cannot say enough about this amazing series (which I religiously re-read a few times a year), and this book featuring the brainy Poppy Hathaway and the ruthless hotel mogul and inventor she teaches how to love is one of my favorite books in the series. Pick. It. Up. Now!

Billionaire fans, be sure to hop over and take a look at the first book in Nadia Lee‘s Hearts on the Line series, Vengeful in Love, which has a gorgeous billionaire bent on revenge who thinks the perfect opportunity has dropped into his lap when he realizes that his enemy’s daughter is working at his company. When he discovers that the vulnerable woman is actually kind and loving – the opposite of what he expected – he begins to fall for her but can he keep her when the truth comes out? The fourth book in this series will be out in March, so this is a great way to sample Lee’s writing for free right now to see if you want the other books in the series.

That’s it for this week – happy reading!

Lauren Dane Proves There’s No Genre She Can’t Tackle With Her Rowan Summerwaite Urban Fantasy Series

4 Jan

Goddess With a Blade (Rowan Summerwaite #1) by Lauren Dane (Carina Press, 2011)

If I didn’t love Lauren Dane’s writing so much, she would honestly scare the crap out of me.

It’s ridiculous to find an author this talented, someone who kicks the butt of paranormal and contemporary romance, blasts science fiction romance into another galaxy, and now delivers urban fantasy on a silver platter. Oh, and she dishes all of it up with an erotic level that satisfies readers, like me, who like the bedroom door w-i-d-e open in order to see favorite character’s souls revealed in their most intimate moments (thank you!). I hope she appears normal when people meet her, rather than radiate all this talent which could potentially just shine out of her skin, blinding everyone and necessitating the use of sunglasses during book signings. :-)

So I don’t know why I hesitated before reading her foray into the urban fantasy genre, because I love urban fantasy and I love Lauren Dane, so what could go wrong? I think I was worried by a few crankypants reviews on Goodreads, but it’s important to remember that everyone is different (and that some people do not know what they hell they are writing about).

First rule of thumb with urban fantasy? One book is not enough. I think this is because the definition of urban fantasy clearly deals with a protagonist who is distinctly “other” by their birth or abilities (often magical) who has to straddle a line between what we think of the normal world and an underworld filled with magic and/or paranormal creatures. Perhaps because of this, the first book of any urban fantasy series has a lot of groundwork to tackle, so I reserve judgement until the second book when characters and overarching plot lines can truly take off.

Luckily for me, the first book of Dane’s Rowan Summerwaite series has been out for a couple of years, so I was able to purchase Goddess with a Blade and grab its sequel, Blade to the Keep off of NetGalley for a one-two punch that totally delivers. Unlike many urban fantasy series which start off with the protagonist experiencing something which reveals their power or the presence of a paranormal underworld, we join Rowan Summerwaite in media res, on her home turf in Las Vegas. She’s a full partner in the Hunter Corporation and a field agent to boot, and under the guise of being a private investigator keeps an eye on vampires in order to insure the safety of humans.

The Celtic goddess Brigid is most often compared to the Greek and Roman goddesses Athena and Minerva, as she is not only a warrior goddess, but also supervises healing, the hearth and artistic pursuits like poetry and certain crafts.

There is probably no one better qualified, as Rowan is the foster daughter of “The First” or the most powerful vampire living and the one who rules their nation. Estranged from him since the age of sixteen when she discovered the truth about her parents’ death, Rowan has always known she is not fully human. Her mother was an acolyte of the Celtic goddess, Brigid, and Rowan discovered while still a very young child that she was one of only a few human vessels ever to have been chosen to harbor the goddess. Not only did this give Rowan another mother figure to thankfully help and heal her, but the goddess’ presence offers Rowan tremendous strength in battle – she’s a warrior goddess after all.

Rowan needed every bit of her divine help. Growing up under the foster father was brutal -vampires over 500 years old (and he’s much, much older) are known for their instability and he sought to make her tough enough to withstand the vampire world. When she fled him, she ran to Brigid’s followers and the Hunter Corporation where she quickly became one of their top hunters, collecting friends and enemies along the way. In Las Vegas, Rowan is currently not super popular among the fanged set as she recently staked the Scion of North America, the head vampire in charge, for endangering humans. Considering he was also embezzling and not a great leader, there are plenty of vampires secretly okay with this, but it’s the principle of a hunter killing such a powerful vampire that has them indignant.

Whoever said that a man in a suit was like a woman in lingerie had the right of it. I’m sure the volunteers to straighten Clive Stewart’s pocket square are legion.

Rowan is beautiful, strong and implacable but nothing could have prepared her for meeting the new Scion. Clive Stewart is a gorgeous, old vampire with the polish of centuries and a voice that sounds like British caramel. That he wears a Saville Row suit like a weapon is a bonus, as is the fact that he’s supremely irritated by Rowan’s demeanor. Sparks are a given and it’s not long before these two discover their goading of one another barely disguises a volatile attraction, one that would horrify both their constituencies.

Avoiding one another is not an option as Rowan’s police contacts let her know that what humans think is a disturbed serial killer is actually a horrifyingly demented vampire. With human women disappearing and crystal meth involved, Rowan and Clive need to work together to quickly find this murderer before the vampires are outed and other women go missing. The tentative trust between them could be easily broken with each of them needing to protect their people (and with Clive’s jealous exes popping up) and Rowan just might need the help of her goddess to come out of this one alive.

It’s obvious why this book is well-rated and it appears that a few people object to the fact that there is not a ton of buildup or simmering sexual tension between Clive and Rowan before they find themselves giving into the insanity of their attraction. I quickly realized this was the point – Clive and Rowan are also astonished by their attraction. I worry that a few of Dane’s dissatisfied readers (who still admit that they enjoyed the book) are thinking like paranormal romance readers and not ones with an urban fantasy book in their hands. While much of urban fantasy possesses strong romantic elements, it’s usually just one subplot of many and a happily ever after is not the goal of the book (with romantic arcs usually taking their course over several books in a series). Clive and Rowan are a fascinating element of the book but even more compelling is the vampire world and the way Rowan straddles multiple lines with her identity.

This identity is vital because the crux of the first book (and the series) is that Rowan is very “other”. She’s not fully human, not fully goddess, and more vampire than most vampires. She’s confident to the point of arrogance but it’s because at the age of 29 she knows exactly who she is and she’s comfortable with it, even when no one around her is. She’s loyal to her friends, is allergic to stupid or pompous people, and can open up a can of whoop-ass like nobody’s business. I love the way Dane shows the goddess as being an entity who works in conjunction with Rowan, and how their long association shows a great deal of trust between them. The goddess Brigid has her own history and possibly her own agenda which offers an interesting twist to future stories.

Blade To the Keep (Rowan Summerwaite #2) by Lauren Dane (Carina Press, December 9, 2013)

Which it does in the second and most recent book in the series, Blade to the Keep. Hunter Corporation will be a presence at the next vampire summit due to the vampire nation’s lack of forthcoming regarding the effect of certain drugs on blood-drinkers, information that came out in Rowan’s Vegas investigation. Because this event happens at the Keep, the castle complex where Rowan grew up under the jurisdiction of her foster father Theo, known to vampires as The First, she’s heading the corporation’s negotiations, and there are a lot of disgruntled people – vampire and human – who don’t like her designated role.

For Rowan, this summit dredges up a lot of feelings as she returns to the place she called home (and the man she called father) for the first sixteen years of her life. While she’s confident at the negotiation table, there are some new players present who have formed a “Blood Front” who do not want Hunter Corp. to force them to any additional provisions in the human/vampire treaty (billions of humans mean snack time for them). One vampire in particular seems to have a history with Rowan’s foster father, and she has it out for Rowan. Rowan has her new boyfriend, Clive Stewart, at her side although she understands that he needs to also represent his North American interests, but even with him and the backing of the First, she can’t help but feel it’s time to circle the wagons when she’s continually attacked from weird ancient vampires as well as undermined by pretentious members of Hunter Corporation who want Rowan’s job. The question remains if even the goddess within her can protect her enough to help her survive this diplomatic mission.

My mental image of the castle complex of Rowan’s foster father known as the Keep.

This book was even better than the first in the series (and I really enjoyed the first book). Having Rowan come back at age 30 to a place she left at 16 means a lot of reflection on her part resulting in her understanding as an adult things that she might not have been able to comprehend as a teen. Having a chance to mend fences with her mentally delicate and occasionally violent foster father, while also dealing with the pros and cons of being the foster daughter of the most powerful vampire on the planet, is fascinating. Add to that the smokin’ hot relationship with Clive, which both Rowan and Clive are prepared to own and not hide, and this is a recipe for a book with all the delicious political machinations which makes a great urban fantasy novel. The villain, the ancient vampire Enyo who shares a complicated history with Rowan’s foster father, also has history with Rowan’s goddess, which is going to make for a very, very interesting third book, I think!

With the majority of urban fantasy novels coming from gigantic publishing houses and with larger price tags accompanying them, this series is offered at an amazing price, coming in under four dollars for each ebook. Part of the price reduction could be Carina Press’ usual largesse, but it also could be the lower page count. Whereas most urban fantasy novels are in the 250 to 300 page range, the Rowan Summerwaite books are right around 200 pages. Far from being a criticism, I actually can’t believe how much Lauren Dane covers in such a short number of pages. Since I’m not a huge fan of first person (although I’ll make exceptions for great authors), I personally appreciate the occasional slight POV shift from Rowan to Clive and I think this choice would be appreciated by paranormal romance readers looking to try urban fantasy. The decision also allows readers to appreciate Clive (and his unique view of Rowan) as well as sheds further light on the vampire world.

With Dane having proven her chops in detailed world-building with her wonderful science fiction series the Federation Chronicles, she’s at home demonstrating the political world of the vampires and Hunter Corporation in detail. Another trademark Dane detail is to have a protagonist with close friends who are essentially that person’s family, people who accept and appreciate the character for exactly who they are. I also love how Dane always manages to have an awesome villain who is never a cardboard cutout but still is so wholly evil (and who has complicated motivations) that you love to hate them. Yum.

The excellently laid out political world of the vampires vs. the Hunters who strive to protect humans (without their knowledge) is reminiscent of the behind the scenes machinations of the Kate Daniels world, while Rowan’s astonishing potty mouth and lack of hesitancy in getting up in people’s business makes me laugh just like Darynda Jones’ fantastic Charley Davidson. If either of these series are your forte (or if you love Lauren Dane’s writing), you will want to give Rowan Summerwaite a try.

Happy reading!!

Love Paranormal? Two Fabulous New Releases From Entangled Edge (with Contests!)

30 Dec

Edge, a digital-first single-title romance line from Entangled Publishing, takes its lead from their popular Select imprint but gives its novels an edge in the marketplace by bringing great stories to readers at reasonable prices in a quick-and-easy way. Whether sexy or sweet, traditional romance or love and lust with a women’s fiction bent, at the center of every Edge book is heart. From Urban Fantasy to Contemporary Romance to Science Fiction Romance, Edge has a book for all romance readers—and right at their fingertips! As they say, all’s fair in love and war. To find out more about their titles, chat with authors, participate in special events, and to find out what books are coming next, visit the Entangled website, follow them on Twitter, and like their Facebook page.

Today I’m happy to be featuring Edge’s December releases!!

Break Out by Nina Croft
Blood Hunter #1

Special $0.99 Promo Limited Time Only!
 

The year is 3048, Earth is no longer habitable, and man has fled to the stars where they’ve discovered the secret of immortality—Meridian. Unfortunately, the radioactive mineral is exorbitantly expensive and only available to a select few. A new class comprised of the super rich and immortal soon evolves. The Collective, as they’re called, rule the universe.

Two-thousand-year-old Ricardo Sanchez, vampire and rogue pilot of the space cruiser, El Cazador, can’t resist two things: gorgeous women and impossible jobs. When beautiful Skylar Rossaria approaches him to break a prisoner out of the Collective’s maximum security prison on Trakis One, Rico jumps at the chance. Being hunted by the Collective has never been so dangerous—or so fun.

Heart of the Incubus by Rosalie Lario

Biochemist Cresso Taylor lives the sort of lifestyle most men would envy—he has wealth, natural incubus charm, and more women than he can handle. But it’s not enough anymore. Not after meeting Genevieve Russell, the sexy scientist who works with him at Elcorp Laboratory. And she wants absolutely nothing to do with him.

After her fiancé broke her heart, Genevieve has had enough of womanizers. She’s determined to steer clear of sexy-as-sin Dr. Taylor, despite the fact that his incubus allure makes her want to rip his clothes off. But when a secret admirer’s affection turns to the macabre with threatening notes and grisly gifts, Cresso appoints himself her protector. As she and Cresso hunt her stalker, she discovers there’s a lot more to the sensual incubus than she ever imagined.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 29, 2013

29 Dec

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Courtney Milan fans have probably already purchased The Countess Conspiracy, the third book of her The Brothers Sinister series, but in case you haven’t, this full-length novel is only $3.99 on Amazon since its publication on December 17th, and hopefully will stay at that great price for a little while. With a hero who is a brilliant rake promoting scandalous revolutionary scientific theories and the heroine the woman to whom those theories actually belong, this is bound to have plenty of conflict and tension (sexual and otherwise).

Fans of Karen Marie Moning‘s urban fantasy Fever series should be aware that the seventh book in the series, Burned, is available for pre-order with a July 22, 2014 publication date. Because of the enormous popularity of these books, be warned that even the ebook price is steep at almost $12 (but that’s still a bargain since the paper version will be in hardcover format).

Yet another summer release to plan for re: beach reading is the next Kate Daniels book by the powerhouse writing team of Ilona Andrews. Magic Breaks will be available as of July 29th, so check your vacation dates to make sure you are somewhere you can get a copy at midnight to begin reading the next installment of this amazing urban fantasy series.

Also falling under the category of “series books I will cheerfully pay full price for” is Darynda Jones‘ next book in her Charley Davidson series, Sixth Grave on the Edge, which will be released May 20th. This urban fantasy series starring the hilarious and irrepressible Charley – who happens to be an irreverent grim reaper helping departed souls get to the other side – and her love interest, Reyes (the sexiest Son of Satan you’re ever going to meet), is always alternately funny, hot, and heart-stopping. I’ll be posting an entry on the whole series in honor of Darynda doing a workshop for my local Romance Writers Association chapter (woo-hooo PLRW Chapter!) For fans who would like an autographed copy of the hardcover version, Darynda has announced on her website that she has made arrangements through Author, Author, so if you order before the end of April, you can get the autographed book right around the release date.

Cat Johnson has quite a following for her hot military romance series, Red, Hot & Blue, and it was wonderful to read recently on the Samhain publishing blog that the next book, The Commander, features the leader of all those sexy, Special Ops guys we’ve seen find their HEA. Not only is this older hero in his forties, but he finds love with a sexy, older woman who is fifty and a single mom. It’s about time! The Commander comes out on New Year’s Eve and won’t take any prior knowledge of the series to enjoy it (she always writes these so you can pick up any one of them with no difficulty).

Gena Showalter recently blogged about her uber-enthusiastic reaction to the cover reveal of her latest Angels of the Dark paranormal series and – holy crap! – we can see why she loves it. Burning Dawn is now available for pre-order with a release date of April 29, 2014 and please note that the paperback version is significantly less right now than the Kindle version if you are open to the format you receive it. This series features violent angels on the brink of darkness who each find a woman who helps them find meaning in their fight for goodness and light – so good!

Harlequin’s partnership with Cosmo has produced their high quality (and successful) Red Hot Reads line and fans are eating up these steamy contemporary romances. To add to the success of such incredible stories like Cake by Lauren Dane and Ripped by Sarah Morgan, we can now add category romance superhero writer Heidi Rice whose story, 10 Ways to Handle the Best Man debuts on January 14th so pre-order now. Since it’s Rice, you’ll get a guarantee that you’ll want to be one getting handled by her hero, I promise!

Contests & Giveaways

If you’ve been intrigued by Harlequin Presents multi-author Sicily’s Coretti Dynasty series, you’ll definitely want to enter their contest to win all the books in this extremely successful series featuring a wealthy Sicilian family with more than the usual amount of scandal and vendettas to go around. Just leave a comment on the post about what you are most looking forward to in 2014 before January 6th for a chance to win!

The always wonderful blog TheBookPushers is clearing their shelves and offering a giveaway for readers who might be interested in some of their themed bundles of books. From contemporary to historical, erotic to New Adult, there’s something here for everyone, so comment before January 1st on what bundles look interesting to you to see if you could win!

Fun Stuff

Nalini Singh Psy-Changeling fans should be sure to take a look at her website in order to enjoy her bonus stories for Heart of Obsidian, which are now up on her story page. Keep in mind that newsletter subscribers got an incredible Christmas present from Singh this year, a bonus epilogue to her amazing novella, Declaration of Courtship, starring the hunky dominant SnowDancer lieutenant Cooper and his shy mechanic Grace, now mated and going to the celebration of their alpha’s mating (so it’s post Kiss of Snow). Such a great epilogue (be warned, you’ll go out and re-read Declaration of Courtship again – I did!)

Speaking of great presents, Ilona Andrews have put out a new, fully re-edited version of their Curran stories (specific scenes from the Kate Daniels novels told from the hero, Curran’s perspective) and are offering it to fans for free on their website for a time, available in all ebook formats, for devoted fans. No new stories as of yet, but it makes for a great read.

It’s not too late to give something to the reader in your life and what do they want more than uninterrupted reading time? Trust me, nothing. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books have a fantastic downloadable free gift certificate that you can make out for the reader in your life offering them a certain number of minutes (30, 60, and 90 minutes are the options and remember you can give a ton of the certificates to add up to whatever amount you want) devoted solely to their reading, all in a very attractive certificate form bound to appeal to romance readers. Show your romance reader how much you love them by offering them this particular gift for the New Year!

Business Insider magazine has made a wonderful interactive map of the U.S. featuring the most famous book set in that particular state, and it’s gotten a few of them on my to-read list for sure! Check out your favorite states while pondering what people who’ve never visited are gleaning about your home.

Harry Potter fans have always been annoyed that you can’t easily buy ebook versions of the series via retailers due to J. K. Rowling’s restrictions on them, but now Amazon users can purchase the whole series via the author’s Pottermore business and have them delivered in the proper file format right to their Kindle! For $57.54, this is actually a great deal for all seven books (over 4000 pages of Harry). With almost every possible format (I didn’t see iBooks, but pretty much every other reading app is an option), once purchased you can send your books to any and all your reading devices. Fans of the series who find the hardcover books too heavy for their bubble baths (What? It’s just me?) may want to indulge in the super cool collector’s paperback version which forms a fantastic image designed by artist Kazu Kibuishi when placed together.

Great Deals

Virna DePaul’s excellent Bedding the Wrong Brother novel is currently available for only $.99 and fans of friends to lovers have a lot to love in this story about a young woman who has been good friends to one twin brother while crushing on the other. After an ex tells her that she’s tepid in the sack, she asks her friend to help her hone her technique but ends up with her crush instead – a man who has interpreted her easy way with his brother and stiffness with him as disinterest. He decides to seize the opportunity to “tutor” her in the ways of the bedroom while convincing her she’s everything he could ever want, but her feelings of inadequacy when combined with her long-standing feelings for him might get in the way of any happiness they could have.

If you expected Santa to bring you a Kindle and his lines got crossed, you should know that Amazon is offering some pretty good deals where you can order one, paying only 25% of the cost up front (and they send it to you!) with reasonable installments spread out over the next year. I’ve also seen some great deals on the 2nd generation iPads and iPad Minis (Apple is on the third generation as of the latest release) on QVC and HSN, with installment plans and deep discounts available as well. If you’re looking for some basic apps, video and a great ereader, one of these deals might be useful. For romance readers, so many books are only available in ebook form, or the cost is so much lower, I definitely feel that purchasing a device could potentially pay for itself over a couple years for an avid reader. Just a thought!

Royal watchers and fans of movies like The Prince and Me are loving Megan Mulry’s Unruly Royals series, especially when you can get the books at a great discount. Right now, If the Shoe Fits, the second book in the series is on discount for only $2.99 for the ebook edition. When a modern playboy Earl becomes fascinated by a no-nonsense American not interested in his fast lifestyle, our hero finds himself having to dig deep for meaning in the hope of charming a woman who just might be everything to him, if he can get her to see beyond his reputation.

Happy reading and have a book-filled New Year in 2014!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 15, 2013

15 Dec

Upcoming Books and Recent Releases

It’s well known that I feel Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster series is one of the best Regency romance series out there, so I’m pleased to see that Avon Publishing is cleverly releasing the first three books of it (and they are AWESOME) as a e-bundle for people wanting to try it. Available as of December 17th, Cynsters: The Beginning includes Devil’s Bride, A Rake’s Vow and Scandal’s Bride and will cost only $13.59, a massive discount from the $7.99 for each book which is the standard retail price.

Angela Knight announced the prequel to her successful Magverse series, Wicked Games, will be released as of April 1, 2014. Containing not only the story that started this fantastic reinterpretation of Arthurian tales (think sexy vampires as knights and plenty of magic), it also bundles several previously released e-tales which have been revised and expanded for this anthology.

Vivian Arend’s next novel in her Thompson & Son series, Baby, Be Mine, will be published on February 25, 2014. This book combines a friends to lovers trope along with a surprise baby and amnesia when Gage Jenick takes advantage of long-time friend and hottie Katy Thompson kicking her boyfriend to the curb, even if his work is going to make him incommunicado for a couple of months. What he didn’t anticipate was that his girlfriend would have no memory of him or their incredible night together after she is involved in a car crash. While Katy wonders why Gage returns acting so territorial around her, she’s way more interested in how on earth she could be pregnant? In Arend’s hands, this is bound to be pure gold, so pre-order now!

Arend is going to win the busy bee award in February, considering that earlier in the month she also has the next installment of her Adrenaline Search & Rescue series, High Seduction coming out on February 4th. Armchair adrenaline junkies will definitely want to pre-order this puppy, a sexy chopper pilot looking for someone else to take control in the bedroom and the old flame paramedic who is more than happy to give her exactly what she needs.

Contests and Giveaways

Hustle over to Goodreads today for a chance to enter the historical romance anthology At the Duke’s Wedding, featuring stories by such powerhouse authors as Caroline Linden, Katharine Ashe, Miranda Neville and Maya Rodale. Enter by December 15th for a chance at these stories in print form for the first time!

Vampire Book Club, a blog whose reviews can always be counted on to inform, is offering a fabulous Urban Fantasy giveaway, with books by Adrian Phoenix, Jess Haines, Christina Henry and Eileen Rendahl to populate your bookshelves. Get over there before December 19th to enter for your chance to win!

With a mid-week deadline, another giveaway worth entering is for the first book of Emma Barron‘s Tropical Nights series, Exposed, which ends on December 18th. When a reporter is assigned the interview of a reclusive CEO, she thinks it’s a run-of-the-mill assignment not realizing her boss has led the company to believe that it’s a write up for a major economics journal and not the gossip magazine she works for. But both this sexy businessman and determined reporter have had their heart burned before, so as they realize that this interview is revealing their desire for one another as well as the facts, the question remains if they can get past their trepidation to find something real together.

Contemporary author Leah Braemel is participating in the Mistletoe Madness Blog Hop, offering a $10 Amazon or B&N card as a present to a lucky visitor who participated in her Rafflecopter giveaway by December 19th. For an even bigger prize (and a bit of guide through the Mistletoe Madness Blog Hop) head to P. J. Schnyder‘s blog and look at her giveaway which garners you entries via tweeting and commenting at the various participants blogs. In addition to Braemel and Schnyder (two excellent authors) they’re joined by such wonderful authors as Laura Kaye (of Hard As It Gets fame), Christine d’Abo, Christi Barth, Cat Johnson, and Dana Marie Bell among others. Enter before December 20th to see if Santa is going to give you something electronic under your tree via a $200 gift card to Best Buy if you manage to win this one!

Speaking of the Cynster saga (see the Upcoming Books and New Releases entry above), Goodreads is having a giveaway of one of the spin-off books from that Regency saga, Where the Heart Leads, the first in The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series. Currently the only entry in that series, Laurens recently announced she’ll be adding several books to it and I’m elated, as Barnaby, the aristocrat with a penchant for investigation via London’s burgeoning police force is a favorite of mine! This book is the one where he falls for the cerebral yet beautiful Lady Penelope Ashford, and it’s a doozy with some of my favorite characters making appearances. Enter before December 20th for your chance to win!

New York Times Best-Selling author Donna Grant is having a Twelve Days of Christmas giveaway on her Facebook page where she is posting lovely daily prizes for commenters (like $50 bookseller gift cards!), so head over there and start contributing! I imagine they’ll just keep getting better and better the closer to Christmas we get. :-)

It’s tough not to giggle at some of Harlequin’s titles and the Intrigue novels are usually the most chuckle-worthy. That does not stop this imprint from periodically hitting a home run, and I have to confess to putting Secret Agent Secretary , the second book in Melissa Cutler‘s ICE: Black Ops Defenders series, on my to-read list. When a desk jockey is catapulted into the arms of a handsome agent, they need to work together to foil a nefarious plan. Luckily for all of us, it’s also being offered in a Goodreads giveaway for people who enter prior to the end of December.

The erotic romance author group collectively known as the Smutketeers (R. G. Alexander, Eden Bradley, Rachel Grace, Eve Berlin and Robin L. Rotham) on their blog of the same name have begun their Twelve Days of Christmas giveaway with not only daily prizes and fabulous highlights of recent books you’ll want under your tree, but a cumulative prize of a $300 gift card for a dedicated reader who posts a comment on each day of the celebration. That’s a lot of books….

Fun Stuff

‘Tis the season for finding gifts for all the readers in your family, and game enthusiasts might want to take a gander at all the book-related board games out there geared toward readers. Flavorwire has a terrific list of 10 board games for book nerds (why are we always nerds?) including ones based on Pride & Prejudice and Beowulf, or you can get a classic like Bookopoly, geared toward middle school kids but great for readers of all ages.

I usually don’t post stuff about YA romance (probably because I think about it all the time in my day job as a young adult librarian) but I had to share the wonderful post by author Diana Peterfreund on the RITA awards and their perhaps misguided treatment of YA romance. Peterfreund has numerous successful books under the belt, many of which should be award-winners in multiple categories, but this thoughtful analysis of the Romance Writers’ Association and YA is worth a read and re-read.

Great Deals

The full-length erotic novel (gracious, that sounds dirty!) Sexual Persuasion by Maryn Sinclair is currently free on Amazon. When a woman is rescued from an uncomfortable encounter with an ex, she can’t deny the heat between her handsome rescuer and herself. But when that gorgeous man is revealed to be an attorney with one client (the local mob head), and she hears the rumors that this same man who is clearly interested in getting her in bed also was the lover of his male mob boss, she’s confused. Will his past come between them or can she be persuaded?

Erotic historical author Kate Pearce currently has the prequel to her Sinners Club series also available for free, The First Sinners. The series features men who belong to a private gentlemen’s club filled with men who have either sketchy pasts or specific predilictions – and the need to keep both quiet. In this novella, an Earl investigating possible treason deploys all his wiles at a house party in the hope of uncovering valuable evidence. What he is surprised to uncover is one innocent young miss determined to find a man who can teach her carnal pleasure (and his lordship knows exactly who can fulfill that role).

Following in today’s erotic historical romance bargains trend is Samantha Kane‘s Regency menage novel, The Courage to Love, the first of her Brothers in Arms series which is also available for free on Amazon as of right now. A dress shop owner is still recovering from a vicious rape but feels safe when surrounded by two men who served with her late husband on the Peninsula – two men she’s been in love with for quite some time. Shocked they feel the same toward her (and have a relationship with one another), her past nevertheless intrudes on them moving forward.

The holidays always come with bargains if you know where to look, and the A Naughty Little Christmas (Cowboys, Cops and Kilts) Bundle, featuring a smorgasbord of authors across genres (cowboy, romantic suspense, small town contemporary, paranormal, Highlander, etc.) is the ultimate bargain at $.99 for eight novellas. With authors like Paige Tyler, Ann Bruce and Dawn Halliday in this grouping, I’ve already got it sitting in my Kindle app to warm my holiday nights!

If you haven’t had a chance to run and buy The Theory of Attraction by erotic romance author Delphine Dryden, go run to Amazon and grab it while it’s free. With a slightly autistic scientist who happens to be a serious Dom (and definitely high on the hottie) scale and the next door neighbor who decides to help him get a promotion by being his girlfriend who can read departmental situations, this sexy nerd romance is simultaneously erotic and sweet. It would be worth paying full price for, but free? You don’t need a genius IQ to figure out that’s a bargain.

Ilona Andrews’ Clean Sweep Adds Fantastic Characters and an Intriguing New World to the Urban Fantasy Genre

6 Dec

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1) by Ilona Andrews (NYLA, December 2, 2013)

Anyone who adores the Kate Daniels series or the glorious Edge books understands the phenomenon that is Ilona Andrews. A spectacular husband-and-wife author team, Ilona Andrews has a definite corner on the urban fantasy market and their latest publication, Clean Sweep, only adds to their dominance of this market.

In true urban fantasy style, Andrews begins Clean Sweep by deceptively giving us the appearance of normalcy only to strip back the layers to show us how wrong we are in our assumptions. Dina Demille runs the Gertrude Hunt Bed-and-Breakfast, a beautiful Victorian home located in a sweet suburban town in Texas. Unfortunately for her, something has been brutally killing her neighbor’s dogs in the Avalon Subdivision, and while the people around her speculate that its a mountain lion, Dina knows all too well that it’s not.

You see, it’s slowly revealed that Dina is not your normal innkeeper, or rather she’s an Innkeeper with a capital “I”, a vocation held by people with magic who bond with an inn, a place of sanctuary for all types of creatures with the understanding that the location (and the innkeepers) are neutral and can therefore offer safety. Dina’s missing parents were also Innkeepers before their mysterious disappearance and while she’s been channelling her energies into revitalizing her previously abandoned inn, she’s never stopped looking for them.

But this deadly magical creature on the loose puts her neighbors into danger, and at first Dina is highly suspicious that one of them, Sean Evans, a werewolf may be involved, but it’s a supposition she quickly discards. While he tries to deflect Dina’s imperative to figure out what’s going on in his territory (not wanting to admit that he’s a werewolf to a strange human), he quickly realizes that she’s nothing to be trifled with. That he’s never heard of or met an Innkeeper is part of his confusion, but this ex-military man is deadly and very, very territorial. He’s not thrilled about a mysterious creature on the loose and he’s definitely unhappy that Dina feels she has the right to engage it. It seems he’s feeling a territorial about her as well.

The seamless blending of science fiction elements into this urban fantasy is addictive.

The seamless blending of science fiction elements into this urban fantasy is addictive. Image purchase via Shutterstock.

One of the realities Dina helps Sean face is that he’s not some morphed DNA but an engineered race and one of many. As Dina tells Sean, “For various reasons, Earth is a way station for many travelers. We’re the Atlanta of the galaxy: many beings stop here for a layover.” And she transmits this information none too soon. While Dina and Sean have managed to kill a few of the monstrous creatures stalking them, the corpses (or rather what’s inside them) attracts the unwelcome attention of vampires – and they are not the sparkly kind, but the instead the kickass, alien warrior knight kind with a very distinct code of honor.

When one of them is badly hurt, his relative, Arland, a Marshal of House Krahr, comes to protect his uncle and seek vengeance on and information about the assassin wielding these creatures. Sean and Dina realize that they are involved in something much bigger than just a crazed creature in the neighborhood and they put their heads and power together with Arland to flush out the perpetrator while hopefully saving their home. That is, if they can all manage to not get killed first.

Dina is a fascinating heroine, one more than capable of carrying a series on her shoulders (particularly with the help of her morphing broom). I liked how she was well-trained in both magical and physical self-defense but she’s not prone to the mind-altering violence we expect (and love) in Kate Daniels. Dina is truly the embodiment of her inn, a defender of hearth and home who provides sanctuary and protection to others, and she’ll go to any length to insure that safety. That her potential love interests are a footloose werewolf and a vampire who is the head of his clan’s military branch offers a natural source of conflict as it’s hard to imagine a successful long-term partnership with either man (although it’s very, very easy to imagine a successful mating!). The entire story is laced with Andrews’ fantastic sense of humor – those little references or popular culture moments that bring a big grin onto your face.

It’s a profound skill as a writer to reveal layer upon layer of a rich world while also building layers of a plot and make it all look effortless. The immediate story is the one of “who is sending these creatures and why?” – a question which ends up revealing a much more interesting plot with politics and otherworld power struggles. Yet the larger story arc reveals questions that the first book leaves unanswered in order for the series to progress: what happened to Dina’s parents? Where is her brother? What is Sean going to do in the other realm for the werewolves? What are Sean and Arland’s intentions toward Dina?

A shi tzu, the closest we can come to understanding Dina’s wonderful dog, Beast (considering that Beast can morph into something a bit scarier than this little cutie). Image via Wikipedia.

As is typical with Ilona Andrews, the amazing secondary characters blow you away and convince you that this world they’ve crafted actually exists. I love it that the house is truly a character – complete with emotions and reactions just like a human. Any follower of Andrews’ blog knows the troublesome but lovable role their animals provide and Beast, Dina’s dog, will be more than recognizable to any animal lover (her treeing Sean, the alpha werewolf, was one of my favorite scenes!). Even Dina’s permanent guest, Caldenia, clearly has a rich story to tell as she appears to be royalty or some type of powerful entity who may very well eat someone (but don’t try and separate her from her Mello Yello soft drink).

Doris Mantair not only did the cover art but also the interior, stunning full-color illustrations that bring Caldenia, Sean and Arland to life (ladies, please note that Sean and Arland are both available for download in the form of various wallpapers for your electronic devices via Ilona Andrews’ website). This book was an experiment for the writing duo, having been published for free in weekly serial form over several weeks and honed with the continual feedback of readers. That said, the original free format of its release has done nothing to inhibit sales of the official print version, as Andrews’ just announced on December 5th that Clean Sweep had reached the #2 and #3 slots for paranormal and urban fantasy on Amazon in just a few short days. I anticipate that fans (like me!) will be clamoring for scenes from Sean and Arland’s persepectives a la the Curran scenes that are so hugely popular. :-)

Andrews’ website did announce that the sequel to Clean Sweep would come out in early 2014, but its unclear to me at this time whether there is a single sequel or multiple books which would fulfill the series name of “Innkeeper Chronicles” more thoroughly. Either way, this series (like every other series by Ilona Andrews) has leapt into my “pre-order it, dammit!” list rather quickly. Fans of Andrews, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance with more than a big dose of science fiction elements will want to rush out and grab Clean Sweep while they can.

Happy reading!

Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Legion Flies to New Heights in Her Guild Hunter Series

31 Oct

Archangel’s Legion (Guild Hunter #6) by Nalini Singh (Jove, October 29, 2013)

When I think of my top authors, Nalini Singh, Jeaniene Frost, Jennifer Ashley and Ilona Andrews are unquestionably the top of the pack. They not only have large bodies of work with nary a mediocre book in the bunch, but they produce novels that have tight overarching plots in rich worlds. Their unbelievable quality of writing can be seen in the characters who live and breathe (I’ve had dreams where these heroes and heroines drop in) in strong love stories filled with emotion, humor, and serious badassery.

Considering it’s also Halloween (happy birthday, Mom!), that they each are known for paranormal series is a nice tie-in, and Nalini Singh published her latest book in her Guild Hunter series, Archangel’s Legion, this week, I naturally had to do a review of this novel particularly because I think it might be my favorite so far in the whole series. I have previously reviewed this series since I believe that its male lead, Raphael, has no equal in the alpha male contest (with apologies Kate Daniel’s Beast Lord lover, Curran). There is also no way readers can’t fall for her strong heroine, the skilled vampire hunter-turned-angel, Elena Deveraux. If the number of hits on that post is any indication, readers find this combination one that cannot be beaten!

Fans of Elena and Raphael will find something to love on virtually every page of Archangel’s Legion, as this book not only continues the couple’s profound romance, but further develops the political tensions between the members of the Cadre (the archangels who control the world), who are developing new powers in a frightening point in time that the angels are calling the Cascade – a periodic onslaught of bizarre natural disasters and power flux that the immortal angels and vampires remember as causing the destruction of entire civilizations. There is so much going on in this novel that I found myself dazzled by Singh’s ability to juggle various subplots with consummate skill as well as incorporate the other couples from the various related books and novellas in the series which focus on characters other than Elena and Raphael. Since I visualize this as circles of influence around the main characters, here’s what I came up with:

Click the image to make it bigger. :-) (Copyright Tori MacAllister 2013)

Click the image to make it bigger. :-) (Copyright Tori MacAllister 2013)

So many layers! Yet through it all, Singh has threaded Raphael and Elena’s love for one another through literally every scene, demonstrating how – through all this turmoil – they are one another’s anchor, keeping Raphael from morphing into a colder archangel who would sacrifice millions and forcing Elena to confront her deepest fears regarding her past. While the sex scenes were, as always, steaming hot, I was even more floored by the numerous moments of true tenderness – the way they would “check in” with one another while doing their regular work (a mental link is better than a cell phone) to affirm the other’s safety or just feel that connection amidst the horrifying work both of them must do. It’s never sappy (with these two characters, that’s a given) and they fight with passion stemming from their refusal to allow barriers to come between them. I think this is my favorite book of the series, and that’s saying something.

And yet, Nalini Singh does such a good job with secondary characters I find myself getting horribly greedy. When will we get Illium’s HEA? Now that Aodhan is coming back into the world, what potential love could he have? When, oh when, are we going to see the novella that brings the vampire hunter Ashwini and her Cajun vampire/suitor Janvier finally together? The idyllic park scene with Elena with her honorary niece Zoe picking up angel feathers made me wonder who this little spitfire would end up with in two decades time!

Fans of the series need to run not walk to their nearest book seller or library and pick up a copy of Archangel’s Legion. Readers who love paranormal romance with a kickass world should seriously consider taking up this series, because it has so much to offer intelligent readers who appreciate fantastic writing and world-building. You’ll find yourself flying to new heights with these angels.

Happy reading!!

Urban Fantasy For Lovers of Badass Women and the Alpha Males Who Love Them: The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

30 Jul

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2007)

Urban Fantasy is a genre packed with badass, incredibly strong female protagonists matched by alpha males so strong and sexy that it’s a wonder they don’t take over the world (and sometimes they do). Magic abounds in these books (a hallmark of urban fantasy which is usually set in cities) and the fantasy piece involves a massive struggle of good versus evil, with swirling political forces pitted against the heroine who, with her allies, desperately attempts to thwart them and keep the world in balance.

Readers of this blog already know of my love of the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost, which so many readers put in paranormal romance when I think it fits urban fantasy far better as a subgenre. The husband and wife writing team of Ilona Andrews has a corner of the strong female protagonist market with their Kate Daniels series, a group of books that I would cheerfully call the height of its genre. In honor of Magic Rises, the sixth full-length and latest book in the series published today (and yes, it’s included in this post), I thought I’d do a full series review.

While lacking the sexual explicitness of Frost’s work (sadly, but don’t worry there’s a decent amount of hot nookie), this series combines fantastic writing, a mind-blowing story arc, phenomenal world-building, characterization so strong you forget they aren’t real people, humor so funny you’ll be stealing the lines to look clever with your friends, and the best fight scenes I’ve ever read (in fantasy or otherwise).

Because of the many books, novellas and short stories in the series, the below overview undoubtedly has spoilers in it, so be warned. This is the kind of series review I like to read – one that tells you what order to read each book, short story and novella as well as gives an understanding of the conflict without giving away the farm – but some people get cranky about it. Sadly, anytime you have a series this long (and awesome) this is a necessary evil. You can’t just write descriptions with “uh…and stuff happens with Kate and…some other guys!” So bear with me.

Some Key Players:

  • Kate Daniels – professional mercenary with a lot of secrets in her past, including the source of her extremely powerful magic
  • Curran Lennart (aka the Beast Lord) – head of the “The Pack” or approximately 1500 shapeshifters in the Atlanta area, of various clans separated by type
  • Saiman – a polymorph who can change his appearance at will; businessman who supplies valuable information, tech and magic; operates according to his own set of ethics
  • Ghastek Stefanoff – ambitious Master of the Dead who operates out of the People’s casino and is the main contact person for Kate in her investigations
  • The People - the name assigned to the group of individuals who pilot vampires and who work for the global organization headed by the ancient and mythical Roland; cold, devoid of ethics, and the enemies of shapeshifters (or anyone else who gets in their way)
  • Derek Gaunt – young werewolf tied to Kate via a Blood Oath in the first book and who rapidly becomes a friend and partner; strong abilities mark him a potential future alpha
  • Julie Olsen – a young street kid whose mother is murdered; becomes Kate’s ward; has a highly sought after magical ability that must be kept under wraps
  • Andrea Nash – Knight of the Order and a beastkin, or type of shapeshifter the majority consider an abomination; werehyena who also happens to be a deadly accurate Master of Arms with any weapon that fires
  • Raphael Medrano – male Alpha of the Hyenas, partnered with his mother the female Alpha, Aunt B; runs a Pack business specializing in reclamation
  • Jim Shrapshire – Kate’s friend and occasional partner from the Mercenary Guild; Cat Alpha and Head of Pack Security

Note that I actually number these books and put them in strict chronological order in the series since the events in even the short stories and novellas end up building the overall story arc and/or characters. If a story is not written from Kate Daniels’ point of view (POV), I’ve clearly labeled it “Kate Daniels World.” This is a little different from the way that term is used and the way the stories are ordered and labeled on Goodreads, but I think it’s much clearer if you believe in tackling a series in strict order like I do.

Magic Bites (Book #1)

In the first book of the series, Magic Bites, the world of Kate Daniels is one hauntingly familiar yet startlingly different from our own. Set in Atlanta (with occasional forays to Savannah), Kate lives in the near future where our world has disintegrated under the burden of waves of magic which come unpredictably, rendering technology useless. Magic is a power most people can access to some degree, but it’s an advantage to be able to powerfully wield it, particularly with vampires and were-creatures around, mingling with witches/warlocks as well as human users.

Kate is a mercenary attempting to stay off the larger radar and simply make a living, but plans change when she is notified that her guardian Greg has been brutally murdered. Kate had been somewhat estranged from Greg as he wanted her to join him in working for the Order, a group of Knights who serve the larger community by exterminating horrifying supernatural creatures (who often wreak havoc on the populace) and investigating strange happening. Kate attempted to join before but her anti-authority outlook didn’t jibe with the larger culture of the Order.

Magic Graves by Jeaniene Frost and Ilona Andrews (including Kate Daniels #.5 “A Questionable Client”) (Amazon Digital Services, 2011)

With Greg dead, the Order decides to let Kate, a trained mercenary active in the Mercenary Guild, work as an adjunct to find Greg’s killer, particularly to discover if the murder had anything to do with his work. Slogging her way through his things, she discovers missing young women, a dead vampire, and test results that might implicate a shifter.

This does not make for an easy investigation as vampires – skeletal creatures who are “steered” by masters – fall under the power of the People and their rulers, while all were-creatures in the area are under the jurisdiction of the Pack, led by the Beast Lord. And Kate isn’t exactly going to win a diplomacy award anytime soon since her style is more “annoy people until they tell her what she wants to know.”

Using the contact of a fellow mercenary and were-jaguar, Jim, she makes contact with the Beast Lord, aka Curran, who is more than contemptuous of her and her so-called abilities, throwing obstacles at her right and left, but reluctantly agreeing to work with her out of respect for her deceased guardian. The vampires stonewall her at every turn, and even traditional investigating only turns up few clues.

Amidst it all, we see that Kate is eager to hide her abilities, which include swordplay that is like an extension of herself and magical power beyond anything anyone around her can manage. A few people suspect her abilities, but she is careful to not reveal too much, even as she and the people around her deal with an unholy being bent on murder and destruction.

Another aspect of Ilona Andrews that I love is, because the Kate Daniels novels are written in the first person, they make a point of giving you a different perspective, specifically Curran’s. Curran Vol. I, has a companion story to Magic Bites, detailing a brief version of the moment Curran and Kate meet from his (rather disdainful) perspective. You can also read the scene for free on Ilona Andrews’ website.

“A Questionable Client” (Book #0.5) in Magic Graves anthology

Curran Vol. I by Gordon Andrews – includes scenes from Curran’s perspective from the first three books (noted in text of review). You can read the stories for free on Andrews’ website or get them in a collection for $.99.

Because Kate has an acquaintance/friend, the mysterious, ethically bankrupt Saiman who helps her (for quite a price) in Magic Bites, I do recommend readers of the series purchase the dual anthology of Magic Graves in order to read the prequel, “A Questionable Client” detailing the first time Kate and Saiman work together. Not only does it shed light on their relationship and Saiman’s power and abilities, but it gives a great deal of insight into Kate’s character and her encyclopedic knowledge of magic and folklore.

Magic Burns (Book #2)

In the second book of the series, Magic Burns, Kate is now in the position of liaison offered her at the end of Magic Bites, and she has the somewhat joyless job of negotiating between the Order, the Mercenary Guild, the Pack, the People, and humans. She’s at least got a regular salary and she can live in Greg’s apartment which she inherited when in Atlanta, occasionally going back to her house in Savannah. It’s a living.

Magic Burns (Kate Daniels #2) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2008)

With the waves of magic coming more unpredictably, people get a little out of control, including a crazed arsonist she and Jim go to apprehend. Their preference for a live capture is thwarted when a mystery assassin puts several cross bolts into their perp.

With Jim called away on pack business, Kate is left to pursue the mystery man who can seemingly disappear into thin air. She finds him in the midst of the Honeycomb, a dangerous area of Atlanta filled with shifting magic. Kate also stumbles across a young girl whose mother and her coven have gone missing, possibly after freeing a god or goddess that they did not intend to release.

Taking the young girl, Julie, home with her, she discovers the girl herself is a conduit for powerful forces who seem to want the her, Curran and his Pack, as well as Kate’s new friend Andrea from the Order. The pressure to figure out what the hell is going on (and then defeat it) bonds them together as valuable allies in an effort to protect an innocent girl and protect the city. For bonus scenes from Curran’s perspective, our fabulous authors have given us his rescue of Kate after she almost dies after the fight with the Reeves as well as Curran’s uber-sneaky wooing of her when he plies her with chicken soup.

Magic Strikes (Book #3)

Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels #3) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2009)

When Magic Strikes, the next book in the series, opens, Kate seems to be settling in to her life, gaining confidence as an official mouthpiece for the Order. Exhausted by a harrowing day, Kate has a lot going on. Her werejaguar friend Jim refused her official help with a shapeshifter death, Derek the young werewolf previously bound to her with a blood vow tried to steal something from Kate’s dangerous acquaintance and now she owes Saiman a favor. He cashes in by insisting that Kate accompany him to the Midnight Games, illegal arena fighting with a smorgasbord of creatures fighting to the death, in order to evaluate the fighters for him.

Derek is not only unrepentant at getting caught, knowing Kate will not turn him into Curran for punishment, but also convinces Kate to use her time with Saiman at the games to pass a note to a beautiful young girl on the Reapers team. One look at the girl’s fellow fighters and Kate knows something is wrong – they are way too physically perfect plus they definitely have it out for Saiman. When they kill Saiman’s imported Minotaur and attack him and Kate as they leave the arena, Kate knows something is very, very wrong and Derek is in danger.

Now she’s caught up in a vortex where Jim and some of her friends have gone rogue (and the clock is ticking on Curran hunting them down to kill them according to pack law), one of her good friends might die, and she is determined to kill those responsible even though that would mean outing her and her abilities to exactly the kind of people she’s been trying to avoid. Pursuing this course also means running in the opposite direction from Curran and whatever tentative trust and feeling has been growing between them.

In the world of awesome bonus material is my absolute favorite, Curran’s perspective of the oh-so-sexy hot tub encounter at the arena between His Furriness and Kate. Prior to that amazing scene, there is also Curran’s mental fury at being trapped in the loup cage by Kate as she attempts to delay his pursuit, and his insight into Kate as he talks Julie into letting him out. Helpful in understanding exactly what Curran feels for Kate is the story that happens in the interim between this and the next book in the series when Jim’s investigation turns up some pretty dangerous information about Kate’s past and he has to show it to Curran in the best interests of the Pack.

Magic Mourns (#3.5 novella – Kate Daniels World – Andrea…with plenty of Raphael)

Magic Mourns (Kate Daniels World #3.5) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2011) – this story was also published in the anthology Must Love Hellhounds

Watching werehyena Raphael desperately attempt to woo Andrea (particularly with her self-hatred of her beastkin nature – a nature she must hide from the Order or lose her job) has been both amusing and wonderful. In this interim novella to the series, Magic Mourns, readers can see these two embark on an adventure together.

Andrea is busy answering Kate’s phone at the Order while her friend recovers from the wounds received at the end of Magic Strikes. A citizen complaining about a were-animal running away from a dog the size of a house qualifies as reason to investigate, so Andrea – a Master of Arms even if the Order chooses not to bestow the title on her – packs up her guns and crossbow and heads out.

Her anonymous caller was not exaggerating on the size of the dog, which happens to have three heads, but in fighting it off she’s even more shocked when a male hyena starts running her way. Praying it’s not Raphael, the man whose been pursuing her for six months, she’s dismayed when that exact man of her dreams/nightmares changes back into his glorious, naked human form and promptly loses consciousness. Now she’s stuck with a six foot hunk who stops women in their tracks and no answers to the question of what is going on.

She does eventually get some information when he wakes up. Raphael’s mother, the hyena Alpha, recently lost her human mate. The whole clan was horrified when the kind man’s corpse went missing from the funeral home. Tracking the scents at the scene led Raphael to the house in the boondocks and the three-headed dog with an anti-hyena complex. As much as Andrea desperately wants to deny her hyena nature, Raphael’s mother once saved her life and she offers to help him. The forced intimacy of the investigation spurs Andrea to reveal both her desire for Raphael and some of the facts surrounding her horrible childhood.

This is a great story which lays the foundation for not only the future books in the series but also the outstanding full-length Kate Daniels world novel dedicated to Andrea, Gunmetal Magic (see below). Andrea is a phenomenal, complex character and I love any story told from her perspective. The immortal apples in this story also have a cameo role in the next book in the series, so that’s a nice tie-in as well. It’s great to get in the head of a different character, particularly when it comes to seeing Kate and Curran through someone else’s eyes.

Magic Bleeds (Book #4)

Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels #4) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2010)

Magic Bleeds is one of the most painful Kate Daniels books to date for me to read but it’s also my favorite. The activity in the book gets not only incredibly dangerous, but the novel also contains the ever present backdrop of Kate’s hurt feelings regarding Curran dismissing her right when their relationship was about to take a huge step forward.

Trying to work through the emotional pain, Kate responds to a bizarre incident at a rowdy bar, one that almost unleashes a virulent plague. Picking up a large, bizarrely colored poodle as a faithful sidekick (who provides much needed comic relief to this tension-packed story), Kate is called to her old stomping grounds of the Mercenary Guild to investigate the murder of the founder. Both Jim and Curran show up, with Kate and Curran unleashing their anger at one another about the demise of their relationship.

Needing answers to two strange murders, Kate turns to her untrustworthy acquaintance Saiman who has amazing magic and technology at his disposal, if the price is right. Not only requiring a hefty fee from the Order for his services, Saiman also exacts the fee of one elegant dinner with Kate for rendering assistance. That he times it for right when Curran comes with the other Alphas and the People for a political dinner brings that entire situation to a boiling head.

Discovering what and who is behind the latest attempt to decimate the Pack and render the city helpless is a cold wake up call for Kate, and one that could come at an unbelievably high price, possibly costing her the friends she’s made, the home she’s built, and the man she’s come to love. Ilona Andrews says in the acknowledgments that this was a hard book to write, but I feel nothing but gratitude that they managed to wade through whatever difficulties they encountered to produce this story. As always, the intersection of the series story arc and the more immediate subplots and political machinations is astonishingly tight. For me, seeing Kate and Curran work through their relationship problems to see the vision of what they might be able to have is not just heart-warming but inspiring, as these two damaged people with so much on their plate deserve some personal happiness.

Andrews has given us some phenomenal bonus scenes as well. [Ilona Andrews added the altercation that prevented Curran from making his dinner date with Kate on July 31, 2013 and, wow, talk about a rough day.] Naturally one of the key scenes is the controversial dinner scene from Curran’s POV, but the one that ties me up in happy emotional knots is when Curran wakes after the battle and realizes what Kate has gone through while he’s been unconscious. The ass-kicking throwdown of the subsequent council meeting and then Curran’s fight with his on-the-fence foster father Mahon is total icing on the Kate Daniels cake.

Magic Dreams (novella #4.5 – Kate Daniels World – Dali…with a lot of Jim)

Magic Dreams (Kate Daniels World #4.5 – Jim and Dali) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2012)

Anyone who has seen the Pack’s Head of Security and Kate’s friend Jim interact with the were-tiger Dali knows there is a significant spark between them. In Magic Dreams, told from Dali’s POV, we finally get a little forward progress with the unlikely pairing of a half-blind, vegetarian were-tiger and the badass jaguar who keeps the entire Pack safe.

Dali is surprised coming home one night to see her luscious Alpha asleep on the floor of her bedroom. While her fantasies have certainly run in that direction she knows there must be a reason and waking Jim up is harder than she expected. Discovering that he cannot remember the details he encountered when visiting one of the safe houses for their pack, Dali realizes that magic is afoot, and if there is anything this double Ph.D. understands it’s the cultural complexities and danger surrounding different forms of magic.

When the realization dawns that Jim is dying as a result of the magic inflicted on him at the safe house, Dali doesn’t hesitate to take on a mission that could very well get her tortured or killed, because this man means everything to her and she doesn’t want to live in a world without him.

OMG, Dali. Ilona Andrews writes smart, funny, brave female characters like they are going out of style and Dali is no exception. She’s quirky (a white tiger who faints at the sight of blood?) and feisty and it’s adorable seeing her have no clue how much Jim wants her while she’s working so hard to find the cure before all his magic is siphoned away. I always hope to see these two together in every Kate Daniels books and want to see little white tiger/jaguar babies some day soon!

Magic Slays (Book #5)

Magic Slays (Book #5) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2011)

In Magic Slays, Kate might be relieved not to be working for the Order anymore, but making her own viable go of a private business isn’t as straightforward as she wants it to be. Being the official mate of the Beast Lord makes things even that much more complicated and her former employer, the Order, is happy to spread rumors of the “loose-cannon-bad-at-her-job” variety.

Well, life is full of complications. Kate’s best friend Andrea reappears after she’s been missing for months. It turns out she was injured so badly during the battle at the end of Magic Bleeds that she changed into her beastkin form in the hospital while being treated as an unconscious Knight of the Order. Since the Order has a “no shapeshifters allowed” policy, this meant they essentially kidnapped her (along with Kate’s dog Grendel) and took her to Order headquarters to stand trial. While Andrea fought a valiant legal fight for acceptance, she’s been officially discharged and is clearly filled with rage toward an organization who she believed was her family.

Kate might have been pissed that Andrea was gone all those months with no word, but she’s grateful she’s back, immediately putting her on the payroll. And it’s none too soon. A freak accident with a vampire whose master loses control comes on the same day as Kate’s first real case. What seems like a kidnapping of an inventor and murder of his guard actually begins to have far more frightening repercussions – after all, anything that sends Saiman packing up and ready to flee the city does not bode well. When Kate’s daughter Julie is endangered by the secret society bent on waging war, Kate and Curran might ally themselves with the various magical factions of the city in order to save the lives of the people they love.

I adore this book on so many levels. The biggest reason is watching Kate and Curran grow as a couple, with Kate finally realizing that Curran loves her for herself, not for the power she can bring him and the Pack. Andrea’s character only gets more complex and interesting, undoubtedly serving as a build-up to the next full-length novel in the series which is told from her perspective. Naturally the evil Kate and crew faces seems to be an independent evil on its surface but actually is tied into the bigger story arc of the whole series, so Andrews’ usual mastery is at work here. Magic Slays is basically a slice of fantastic served up with a healthy dose of awesome sauce.

“Magic Tests” short story in An Apple for the Creature anthology (Kate Daniels World #5.3 – Julie)

An Apple for the Creature – anthology containing “Magic Tests” short story by Ilona Andrews, #5.3 in Kate Daniels series (Ace, September 2012)

The publishers who put out these anthologies always have me over a barrel – it’s my completionist tendencies at work. I have to read every story when I really love a series. *shakes fist at exorbitant anthology pricing*

In An Apple for the Creature anthology, each story focuses on some kind of first day at school with the Ilona Andrews story “Magic Tests” giving us the wonderful insight into Kate’s ward Julie. Julie hasn’t had a great track record with educational opportunities. She lived on the street after her mother died and then Kate sent her to a highbrow boarding school in Macon where she was so miserable, she ran away three times before being expelled. While she’s thrilled to finally be living at home, Julie is nevertheless disgruntled that Kate will not let her just work at the office and learn from the shapeshifters.

Having received ten names of Atlanta schools, Julie reluctantly chose one – the day/boarding school of Seven Star Academy. When Kate and Julie have their initial interview with the principal, Julie is shocked to discover that Kate has recommended her to go undercover to figure out the location of a missing student. In the course of her investigation, which uses the magic Julie must keep concealed from everyone lest she be used for personal gain, she makes several friends as well as solves the mystery.

Julie is an incredible character who is so filled with potential in terms of the story arc and for her own personal journey that I’m rather in awe of the writing of her. I did love this short story told from her POV since it’s easy to forget with all the smart ass comments and dangerous situations that Julie is incredibly smart and perceptive. A total bonus was the appearance of the eighteen year old, pleasantly megalomaniacal dragon shifter who Dali freed in Magic Dreams. I expect he is going to be a fantastic character, and between him, Derek, and Ascanio I’m keeping a tally in my head of all the hot guys Julie could chose from when she decides to fall in love.

Magic Gifts (Novella #5.4)

Magic Gifts (#5.4 Kate Daniels series) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, July 2012)

This novella was offered for a while as a freebie on Ilona Andrews website before it’s inclusion in the bonus material of Gunmetal Magic, and now you have to buy that book in order to read it. Since I always appreciate a chance to observe Kate and Curran up close, it’s a delight. Because the story has its own cover design on Goodreads (see visual on the right), I’m guessing it will eventually be released as a stand alone enovella, but for now you should read it in the back of Gunmetal Magic, which is so terrific, you should be reading it anyway.

After a hard day of killing psychotic floating jellyfish, Kate is happy to get back to the office and find Curran there. He asks her to go out to dinner with him, something this power couple doesn’t get to do…ever. What seems like a great carnivore experience at an Atlanta Korean restaurant quickly becomes a nightmare when a young woman is strangled by a gold necklace at the table near them. When that same necklace is slapped on a young boy who is slowly being choked to death, Kate and Curran engage in a race against time to save him.

I’ve read some great novellas in my day, but this one tops the chart. Not only is the world of the “Vikings” described in more detail but the subplot of the ongoing upheaval of the Mercenary Guild is fascinating, stemming directly from the murder of its leader which we witnessed in Magic Bleeds. Because the dead woman and her date were both upper-level journeymen controlling vampires, Kate and Curran’s nemesis Ghastek is involved, so the People offer a complicated layer to the story.

Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels World Book #5.5 – Andrea…with a lot of Raphael)

Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels World #5.5) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, July 31, 2012)

Since Gunmetal Magic overlaps the events of Magic Gifts, it helps to read the novella prior to this book. While Kate and Curran are off dealing with “Vikings” in Magic Gifts, Andrea is in charge of the investigation firm. When the Pack’s Head of Security calls to alert her that four shapeshifters have been killed on a Pack job site, she’s the lead investigator. Unfortunately, the job site is her ex-boyfriend Raphael’s current reclamation project.

After their fight before the major battle with Erra at the end of Magic Bleeds and Andrea’s disappearance while legally battling the Order, she hasn’t called or spoken to Raphael. She knows it’s cowardly and she’s been working on one hell of an apology in her mind, so Andrea takes this job for the opportunity it is and leaves a message for Raphael to please come to office to be interviewed and that she has some long overdue things to say to him. He shows up alright, along with his gigantic, human blond bimbo of a fiancee, and Andrea takes that as the dismissal it’s meant to be.

Sadly, the murdered shapeshifters still require justice and Andrea must turn to Raphael for assistance as she uncovers strange snake people, an Egyptian god and ceremonial knives charged with so much magic it leaves her breathless. Amidst the investigation, Andrea also deals with the reality of becoming part of the Bouda Pack (of which Raphael is the Alpha Male) and finally accepting her shapeshifter side. That a handsome Russian volhv keeps coming to her rescue throughout the investigation just adds to the intriguing mess that is Andrea’s life.

My fandom for Andrea is well known and I would say this novel is tied with Magic Bleeds as my favorite book of the entire series. Andrea experiences a boatload of internal and external conflict and I challenge anyone to not appreciate her heartfelt fear of losing Raphael permanently. Raphael is a selfish asshole, but one who is motivated by so much love for Andrea that it’s easy to empathize with him even when you’re just getting Andrea’s skewed take on the situation. The freaky god versus the snake people plot is intriguing and I like having more Roman time, since he was a great character back in Magic Slays.

“Retribution Clause” in Hex Appeal Anthology (Kate Daniels World #5.6)

“Retribution Clause” in Hex Appeal (Kate Daniels World #5.6) by Ilona Andrews (St. Martin’s Griffin, June 25, 2012)

This short story, partnered with several other urban fantasy authors in the anthology Hex Appeal, has Ilona Andrews venturing outside Atlanta to Philadelphia. Saiman’s much nicer cousin Adam works as an insurance adjuster, which to our eyes seems like a boring occupation, but in Kate Daniels’ world is anything but.

Adam and his mysterious partner Siroun are often called upon to investigate the theft of insured property and fulfill the clauses of unique life insurance policies. When the wife of a powerful lawyer is discovered strangled, the policy she took out with POM Insurance stipulated a “retribution clause” where her husband should be killed since he would be her murderer.

This short story is brilliant, teasing us with a hint of Siroun’s origins in magic, the world of the insurance business (pretty scary) and the unstated affection these two partners have for one another – feelings that neither feels they can act upon because of who they are. It’s nice to know that someone can be a polymorph like Saiman and have a conscience. This duo would be a powerful force in any future books or novellas since the premise of their jobs offers an almost limitless number of plot lines. Unless they crop up in future books, you don’t need to read this short story, but if you happen to enjoy the other authors in the anthology (like Jim Butcher and Carrie Vaughn, both great writers), this would be well worth it.

Magic Rises (Kate Daniels #6)

Magic Rises (Book #6) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, July 30, 2013)

Here’s what I stayed up until 4 am this morning in order to read the moment it landed in my Kindle app! Yes, the cover has gotten a ton of criticism from fans – I gather from Andrews’ website that the model featured in all the other Kate Daniels books was no longer available so the publisher found a delightful sixteen year old to pretend to be a woman in her mid-to-late twenties. Oh, publishers.

In Magic Rises, the Pack is given an incredible opportunity…for a price. The biggest fear of every shapeshifter is that their child, upon puberty will surrender to the animal within and go “loup” at which time the alpha will be forced to kill them. This happens all too often and the European shapeshifters have access to a medicine that greatly reduces the chance of this happening. Rather than simply sell it, however, they insist that Curran come and mediate a dispute between families.

Curran and Kate take a contingent of their most trusted pack members to fulfill the agreement – playing bodyguard to a pregnant werewolf whose child will inherit a crucial piece of land – knowing ahead of time that it’s definitely a trap. What they don’t know is why they are being exposed to a trap, but the appearance of one of Roland’s warlords brings a certain amount of clarity to a situation that can only be described as (pardon me) a clusterfuck of epic proportions.

Not only does this utterly kick butt book send chills down your spine as we see Kate inch closer to being exposed to her father, but there are the added layers of incredible sacrifice in the desperate bid to get this magical concoction for the children. With a shapeshifter princess making the moves on Curran and him letting her, the relationship pain is off the charts, making the political machinations that much more dramatic. I was gasping in horror in more than one location in this book – it’s an emotional rollercoaster but oh, so satisfying.

So that’s my whole review for all of the Kate Daniels stories to date, as of July 30, 2013. :-) I hope this gives you an inkling of why I think this is one of the best fantasy series on the market and why the writing team of Ilona Andrews is deserving of such respect. In an incredible alternate history, the rich world of Kate Daniels is one that I find myself rereading, fully enjoying the drama, humor and ultimately the escape to a place where the battle for good vs. evil happens all too often. If you are a fantasy reader, do yourself a favor and begin reading these books. You won’t be sorry.

Alpha Angels and the Kick Ass Heroines Who Love Them: Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter Series

27 Nov

Angel’s Blood (Guild Hunter #1) (Berkley, April 3, 2009)

There is a fine line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance and I’m sure I’ll do a “Professor Tori” post on exactly what that is, because it’s darn interesting. Nalini Singh, a powerhouse author in the romance world, writes both with enough crossover that she’s not easy to pigeonhole. The good news is that she’s such a talented writer you don’t care what category she falls in and simply lay back and savor every word of her books. As with all overviews of series, this post will naturally hold some spoilers since you can figure out from one novel later in the series what has happened earlier, but I’ll do my best not to give it all away and just give you the highlights.

Most of the Guild Hunter series falls under the category of urban fantasy, with characters engaged in a battle of good versus evil in an urban setting, characters like Elena Deveraux, a Guild Hunter. Elena lives in a New York not far removed from the one we know, except for one rather large difference. In her New York, angels rule large swaths of the world as territories, granting immortal life to chosen humans who are made by them into vampires – vampires who enter into indentured servitude to angels in exchange for their extended life.

But not all vampires are able to leave their human independence behind for the necessary amount of time to pay back their debt, or they fail to follow the careful proscribed rules regarding how to treat humans. Once they step outside the line, an international organization, the Guild, comprised of the best vampire trackers anywhere, dispatches one of its own to run down and subdue the rogue vampire. These trackers are often endowed with an additional ability to actually scent vampires and gravitate to the Guild. This is not just because their nature makes them unhappy if they are not doing the work they were meant to do, but also because they don’t truly fit into any society. The angels are remote and inaccessible to everyone but vampires, the vampires see humans as food, and humans view Guild Hunters with suspicion.

In Angel’s Blood, this is the world Elena Deveraux knows, but she came into her ability in a brutal way, watching most of her family brutally slaughtered by a mentally ill vampire when she was just a child. Rejected by her surviving father and sister, the Guild has become Elena’s life and she’s damn good at what she does. Her friends in the Guild are real family and she loves the life she’s made for herself.

It’s a life that quickly takes on new meaning when she is summoned to the Angel’s Tower, headquarters of Raphael, the archangel who rules the East Coast with New York as his base of operations. She has seen the angels, flying to and from the Tower roof from the balcony of her apartment, but never thought to see any angel in person, to say nothing of the angel, Raphael himself. At most he does his business through the Seven, the seven angels and vampires utterly loyal to him who conduct his business and punish those who step out of line. Raphael has contracted her to do a job, but why on earth can’t he just go through the Guild like business as usual? When she finds herself on the roof of the Tower facing the most beautiful creature she’s ever seen, she realizes nothing in her life would ever be the same from this moment on.

Raphael is fascinated by the human hunter in front of him. Her gorgeous blond hair is a stark contrast to her honey skin and North African features but what strikes him most is her demeanor. Only a fool wouldn’t be scared in the presence of an angel with their prodigious strength and mental power, and Elena Devereaux is not a fool. But despite her fear, she is able to demonstrate her amazing scenting ability and stand up to him to demand respect, even knowing she could be killed.

He has always been attracted to warrior women over the centuries that he’s been in existence and this one has him truly fascinated. He even thinks he could trust her, which is a good development since what she will be tracking could wreak destruction on not just her corner of New York but the whole world. But this human holds her in hands the power to also end Raphael’s existence by making him vulnerable in a way he’s never been before, and it may mean the death of them both.

Let me make perfectly clear that I challenge anyone to come up with an alpha male more alpha than Raphael. When your love interest is about a thousand years old, has prodigious physical strength, possesses major mental powers, and holds the ability to kill or have killed almost anyone he knows, well, it’s not boasting to know you are the top of the food chain and everyone serves at your pleasure. That Nalini Singh understands that Raphael’s alpha constitution is both a flaw and a strength is what makes her such an incredible writer. Raphael struggles to understand the boundaries that Elena insists on and is, no lie, ready to die for in order for them to be equal in at least one way in their relationship. Elena must be Elena and for a while you’re not really sure if Raphael has the ability to change, since he’s never asked to by anyone. Ever.

But the act of beginning to respect Elena’s needs, of negotiating with her so he can exercise his desire to protect from other dangers like himself, and of finding a way to be her equal in their relationship is an unadulterated joy to witness. She is more important to him than asserting his power just because he can, and that’s unbelievably sexy.

Angel’s Pawn (Guild Hunter #.5 – Ashwini and Janvier’s prequel novella) (Berkley, March 3, 2009)

In Angel’s Pawn, we have a prequel to Angel’s Blood with Elena’s fellow Guild Hunter, the former dancer, Ashwini, once again in the South on the trail of her perpetual nemesis, the sexy vampire Janvier. He’s always managed to make peace at the last minute with the angels who send her after him but they’ve taken each other on some pretty fun chases over the years. This time, the court of angel Nazarach, filled with cruelty and intrigue, has fallen under suspicion and Ashwini and Janvier must go in as partners to determine what really is going on. Can Ashwini keep reminding herself that getting involved with Janvier is a bad idea or will his sweet southern drawl and good looks supercede her good sense?

Major warning. Ashwini and Janvier will have their own book in the future but this isn’t it; rather this is a novella that is meant to show the complexities of the angel system of rule and the level of cruelty which exists within the structure. The side benefit is that we get to see the smokin’ level of sexual tension (and essentially the inherent sympathy) between these two characters, who are fantastic. Janvier shares the vampire allure of someone who has lived for centuries, with all the sensual knowledge inherent in that existence. Yet for all those years, Janvier sees something unique and special with Ashwini, who doesn’t lack her own secrets and perspective. For her to be drawn to what she must hunt (a vampire in general and Janvier specifically), is a dangerous situation for both her body and her heart.

“Angel’s Judgement” (Guild Hunter #1.5 –  Sara and Deacon’s story) in Must Love Hellhounds anthology (Berkley, September 1, 2009)

Novellas for series often crop up in anthologies and the Guild Hunter series is no exception. In Must Love Hellhounds, we find Angel’s Judgement (also available along with several other series novellas in the anthology Angel’s Flight) which, despite it’s being named #1.5 in the Guild Hunter series, should be actually numbered. #.75 since it happens at least a year or so prior to Angel’s Blood.

It’s an important year. Sara Haziz is a Guild Hunter and a good one despite her small size. Her current boss is ready to retire and he wants to name her the next Guild Director, a job she’s not 100% sure she’s up to, but she’s interested. While the angels decide if she’s right for the position she also must solve a mystery regarding someone targeting vampires, a mystery man identified by victims as  a Guild Hunter.  When a gorgeous, gigantic man shows up to question her collared vamp, she can’t help that her heart is beating faster and she wants to lick him all over. She might capture vampires but she’s only human.

Sara’s astonished to discover that the huge man helping her is none other than Deacon, the Slayer, whose job it is to hunt Guild Hunters if they go rogue. She had no idea that he was so young, so good looking, or the same famed weapons maker she’s admired for years, but with his warm hands and deep voice, she’s more than a little drawn to the total package. He’s also a great partner, but she realizes that this case is getting more complicated by the minute. If she accepts the Guild Director job, she’ll be Deacon’s boss, so there’s no relationship allowed there. She also can’t ask him to leave his work since he’s a private person who would abhor being with a woman who had a highly visible job, involving glittering parties and political machinations.

Deacon can’t believe the crappy description he got of Sara Haziz; why did no one mention that she was a petite, curvy goddess? The way she handles a crossbow would make any weapons master hot and Deacon plans to get the most out of their time together. It’s lonely being the Slayer. Who wants to really get close to someone who may be assigned to take you down one day? But Sara doesn’t seem afraid of anything and it’s easy to see she’d make a great Guild Director – particularly with the angels constantly testing her toughness, distracting them both while they are trying to solve this case. But more difficult than the constant fighting is when he begins to realize that walking away and leaving Sara to pursue her bright future might be the hardest thing he’s ever done.

If you don’t adore Deacon and Sara…well…I have no use for you. You have a dead heart, because these two are a fabulous couple, great hunters, and clearly meant to be together. The ending was AMAZING and actually chokes me up and makes me grin like an idiot, all at the same time. Genius.

Archangel’s Kiss (Guild Hunter #2) (Berkley, February 2, 2010)

In the next full-length book in the Guild Hunter series, Elena wakes up from her year-long coma more than a little surprised at her transformation. In Archangel’s Kiss, we see the ramifications of Raphael’s unconscious decision at the end of Angel’s Blood, namely that he has made her an angel, a phenomenon which has not occurred for thousands of years. Her friends are ready to storm the Tower (after being put off for almost a year they’re convinced she’s dead or a vampire) and Elena can’t get over the stunning dark wings the color of twilight she’s sporting.

Raphael is elated that Elena is finally awake, but as a newly made angel she’s almost more delicate than she was as a human. He takes her to the Refuge for safety and to learn how to be an angel, but she faces threats there as well, from his enemies who are irritated at this show of Raphael’s ability and who realize that Elena is his only weakness. Although he wants to give her plenty of time to find her wings and train with his Seven to be strong again, an unspeakable crime leaves him with no choice but to call upon Elena’s tracking ability, even when the ultimate danger comes knocking at his door.

For Elena she realizes that being “immortal” isn’t a reality for another couple of centuries and she’s got to get strong fast for both her sake and Raphael’s. She’s unbelievably annoyed with him for being such a mother hen and his behavior causes a major renegotiation of their relationship; she has to make him realize that she’s got to be herself or die trying. His Seven see her as a weakness and are not thrilled (well, most of them aren’t thrilled) at her continued presence in his life, but they resign themselves to protecting her for Raphael’s sake, especially if it means beating the crap out of her in the practice ring to help “train” her. With any luck, her natural strength, her new wings, and the efforts of the Seven will help her face the threat so determined to end her life with Raphael before it even has a chance to begin.

Such a great book on so many levels! Seeing the natural outcome of the power shift between Elena and Raphael (and how Raphael is such a total newbie in even having a relationship) is actually very sweet and hot and you share Elena’s frustration when Raphael is treating her with kid gloves, particularly in the bedroom. A big part of this book happens at the Refuge, the secret area where the angels are born and raised, guarding their most important asset, their young. Not only does this help us understand them better, but it also introduces many characters, like the teacher Jessamy of the broken wing, and the various members of Raphael’s Seven who we haven’t yet met. The more I find out about archangels, particularly the psychotic ones, the less I like them, and the risk they pose to Elena is a very real one, particularly when a certain archangel gets in her head to dredge up the dark ghosts of Elena’s past.

Archangel’s Consort (Guild Hunter #3) (Berkley, January 25, 2011)

With the archangel Cadre reshuffling after their recent balance of power has changed, Elena and Raphael return to New York in Archangel’s Consort and Elena begins to feel she can get on with her life. Wearing Raphael’s amber (and he hers) means they belong to one another, but when she is called upon to do her Guild Work again after a vampire attacks a girls’ school, what she finds has her loyalty split between the Guild and Raphael, and it’s not easy. The fact that one of her half-sisters was the actual target also complicates things, specifically because it stirs up a life’s worth of animosity and secrets between her estranged father and herself.

When one strange thing after another begins to happen, it becomes clear that more than a vampire is at work and Raphael begins to withdraw, suspecting his mother, the archangel Caliane. Elena begins to realize that what’s worse than having a mother-in-law is having an archangel mother-in-law who disappeared after going the archangel version of batshit crazy. Powerful archangels have the ability to “sleep” for centuries in order to restore themselves and indications are occurring that Caliane could be awakening, possibly not in a restored state, with disastrous results for the world and for Raphael.

The mother-in-law storyline is a wonderful device in his novel, as it adds a layer of relationship complexity in a story that could easily be about Elena adjusting to life as a angel out in the world, as a Guild Hunter with torn loyalties and as a daughter forced to face painful secrets. An old nemesis is certainly present stirring up trouble and Elena has to also deal with the members of the Seven who love her and the ones who definitely don’t. Where other authors could have let the series slump, Singh is full speed ahead, with Elena fighting for Raphael as he faces the dark reality of what he could easily become.

Archangel’s Blade (Guild Hunter #4 – Dmitri and Honor’s story) (Berkley, September 6, 2011)

After reading so much about the Seven, the angels and vampires who make up Raphael’s elite guard, it’s wonderful to have a novel devoted to one of them, and Singh does not leave us wanting as she focuses on the hottest, sexiest member, the seductive vampire Dmitri in Archangel’s Blade.

Dmitri’s been a pain in Elena’s ass from day 1, but a hot pain in the ass  and the reader never doubts his loyalty or his deadliness. He’s an old, old friend of Raphael’s (their relationship began when Dmitri was human centuries ago) and Raphael is only person who actually understands why Dmitri is as dark as he is. This particular vampire is only capable of finding pleasure in pain because all the love was violently removed from his life in one fell swoop long ago.

Honor is a Guild Hunter who lived through inconceivable torture at the hands of vampires. She’s been holed up in Guild Headquarters trying to recover, but she is only too aware of how shattered she is, and her friends can see it too. Yet when her boss Sara asks her to work with Dmitri on a case, she’s not sure she is going to be able to follow orders. There is no doubting that Dmitri is stirring something within her that hasn’t moved since before her trauma, but he’s not to be trusted and she needs the next man to touch her to be trusted above all else. Plus, ever since she’s spent time with Dmitri she has been having vivid dreams of someone else’s life and she suspects it might be his. It’s disturbing and making her feel things better left alone.

This book gets a lot of strong feedback on Goodreads, with people either loving it (it’s Dmitri after all) or taking vocal issue with the very paranormal piece of Honor’s past. I not only have no problem with it, I adore the solution, since I choose to think of Dmitri’s centuries of man-whoring as his violent acting out after losing the only thing which meant anything to him, his family. Because someone with such violent passions is bound to have only one true love, Singh did exactly what any writer should have done and yet showed us how strong and different Honor was from any woman Dmitri knew before. It’s pure gold and there is something extraordinary at seeing someone so dark embrace love again.

Angels of Darkness (Guild Hunter #4.5 – Noel and Nimra’s story) (Berkley, October 4, 2011)

The next novella, Angel’s Wolf, published in the anthology Angels of Darkness, takes us away from Raphael’s court but with a tie to it nonetheless. Noel was a victim in a previous book, a vampire tortured so profoundly that he wished he had been able to die. Sent to the court of the angel Nimra, Raphael’s foremost angel in the Louisiana territory, he expects nothing but cruelty from her, even though she is breathtaking. But as he sees the respect she shows all who work for her and the love she receives in return, he questions how she is able to maintain control. In the world he knows, angels must show brutality and ruthlessness to the forces who would otherwise usurp their power.

Nimra has a particular power that lets her harm only those who would seek to harm her or encroach on her territory. She has carried the pain of loss through the centuries and now an attack from within has her horrified that she has a traitor in her midst. Nimra is grateful for the competent and masterful vampire Raphael has sent to help her, but she can see how damaged Noel is from his attack and how his strong personality could easily try and dominate her own. The question remains whether it would be worth the challenge to have such a partner, especially one that makes her heart feel that which she thought it never would again.

Noel is heartbreakingly wonderful, an alpha hero who manages the trick of respecting the angel who rules while also being a man around her in the fullest sense. His distrust of her is only natural after what he experienced, so it’s all the more meaningful as he slowly lets down his barriers, encouraging Nimra – loyal and kind Nimra – to do the same. If you’re an animal lover, do yourself a favor and have tissues handy. This one is a doozy.

Angel’s Flight (containing all previous published novellas and the new novella, Guild Hunter #4.75 – Jessamy and Galen’s story)

The next anthology is actually the one that readers wanting the whole series should get, as it compiles all of the previous novellas mentioned (Ashwini and Janvier in Angel’s Pawn, Sara and Deacon in Angel’s Judgement, and Noel and Nimra in Angel’s Wolf) plus a new novella, Angel’s Flight.

Angel’s Flight focuses on one particular angel we already love and respect, the lovely, willowy teacher in the Refuge, Jessamy. She has been the angel historian for centuries, but because of her crippled wing, she has the task of teaching the little ones their history. While she adores working with the children, her self-consciousness about her condition has kept her from having meaningful relationships with men since she is all too conscious she is not the equal of an angel who will naturally want to fly with his lover.

Galen is the new weapons master to Raphael, having transfered from a rival court where he had no hope of advancement. He’s hoping to give his loyalty to Raphael and eventually become one of his guard and is prepared to work his butt off to prove himself to this impressive archangel. One look at Jessamy and Galen begins to think he could win something much more than just a position in Raphael’s court, he could win a woman’s heart. But part of that game will be convincing her of her own worth and showing her how she is more free to choose than she currently believes.

Oh my God, Galen is such a guy, exactly what you would expect from a weapons master who is brawny and makes killing tools out of leather and steel! But the unlikely pairings are the ones that we like the best, aren’t they, and intellectual, delicate Jessamy with someone who could probably star in a gladiator movie is the ultimate odd couple. A hot odd couple, FYI, and he sees exactly who Jessamy is and what she’s been hiding all these years. Not content to allow her to stunt her potential, he challenges her every step of the way, pushing her out of her comfort zone while providing unconditional backup. This novella is actually a prequel and could easily be read prior to any of the series, but it’s great where it is, giving more insight into the two characters and a lot more insight into angel politics (a nice segway into the next full-length novel) and the Refuge.

Archangel’s Storm (Guild Hunter #5 – Jason and Mahiya’s story) (Berkley, September 4, 2012)

Rather than an Elena and Raphael book (the next one is due out in 2013, I believe), Singh focuses on another member of the Seven, and a damn elusive one at that for the next full-length novel. Jason is the ultimate spymaster for Raphael, an angel with wings black as night who can cloak himself in shadow and hear whispers on the wind of political machinations happening around the world.

In Archangel’s Storm, this ability makes Jason the perfect angel to send to the court of rival archangel Neha. Neha is the queen of poison and her court is beautiful and very deadly, particularly to her consort who has just turned up murdered. Neha had kept him imprisoned for centuries after she discovered he had cuckholded her with her own sister, who produced a child from the union, the Princess Mahiya.

Mahiya may be young in angel years but she’s old in the ways of Neha’s political manipulations. Growing up in an environment where she could trust no one, surrounded by selfish angels who knew Mahiya’s very existence was a reminder of her sister and her consort’s ultimate betrayal, wasn’t a condition that lent itself to fast friendships. She had even been used before by male angels bent on having her body and heart only to break her for Neha’s pleasure.

It’s a history that makes her wary when the dark and beautiful Jason arrives to investigate the death of Neha’s one true love. Mahiya has her own reasons for helping him and quickly realizes in his presence that here is one angel who could really break her heart. He’s noble and kind, sensual and deadly, and Neha finally might have met her match in him and his ruler, Raphael. When Mahiya and Jason realize that Mahiya’s own past is playing a part in the deadly game afoot in the court, they also are aware that he is probably her only hope of survival.

I wasn’t sure what I thought of Jason being the next in line for his own novel (I, like everyone, am waiting with bated breath for Bluebell’s story) but I should have just trusted Nalini Singh who has never, in any series, led me wrong. Jason is a strong hero more than capable of holding an entire book on his strong shoulders and the erosion of his spymaster wariness of Mahiya is a pleasure to witness. Seeing this poor young angel finally find a measure of happiness after a lifetime of living under Neha’s thumb is its own reward as well and I adored the ending when she finally realized what her life could finally be. So sweet.

The year 2013 will be a good one with more Guild Hunter books on the horizon. Honestly, between this and the Psy-Changeling series, I give Nalini Singh a major tip of the hat for her productivity. For a writer to produce so many books and novellas in multiple series each year – and that they each are of outstanding quality with zero slacking visible – makes me think that she’s a writing genius and a productive one at that. If she ever needs anyone to come do her laundry or walk her dog, I’ll fly to New Zealand if it means helping her get more writing time behind her computer!

Many thanks to Nalini Singh for her fertile imagination, unparalleled writing ability and to Berkley Romance for having the good sense to publish her. All your hard work is appreciated, I promise. :-)

Best Vampire Series EVER: The Night Huntress Series by Jeaniene Frost

6 Jul

A segment of the downloadable wallpaper you can get from the Frost Fans website featuring our hero and heroine, Bones and Cat.

I realized in looking over my posts that I had yet to do a review of a book or series which would be characterized as urban fantasy. Despite having my favorites in this genre, it’s actually a category of romance I steer clear of, largely due to the commonality that it is usually written in the first person. I love getting both the hero and heroine’s perspectives, so I naturally shy away from books filled with “I” but in the hands of a great writer, all my objections are swept away and I’m along for the ride.

Jeaniene Frost is a REALLY great writer.

I think I was surfing the vampires books list on Goodreads when I came across the Night Huntress series by Frost and I remember being incredibly impressed by the devotion of her fans and the effusive kvelling over Bones. It annoys me that so many readers are ready to stick up their noses when you mention a book or series has vampires as some of the main characters. I understand that there is a level of saturation in the paranormal market attempting to milk the Twilight wave for all it was worth, but should I stop recommending Jane Eyre simply because someone has read a few tepid gothic romances? “Oh, thanks for the rec, Tori, but I’m all moored out. Got anything else?” Nuh-uh. Readers should seek to find the best examples of a subgenre prior to determining if it’s really not for them.

In my opinion, the best vampire series out there is this one – Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress World. Now, I have to give you fair warning, because I will be doing an overview of each book in the series – in the order you should read them – there has to be spoilers. I’m totally okay with spoilers, in fact I’m one of those readers who absolutely hates shocking or rude surprises and would rather gird myself for any big issues. I’m not planning on ruining things for you, but just be aware that you are able to determine how certain story lines might play out. Heads up.

Reckoning (#.5 in the Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, November 29, 2011)

Technically Reckoning is the “first” work in this series is listed as #.5 (a prequel) to Halfway to the Grave, so I’m going to mention it here first on the list. In actuality, this 59 page novella is probably best read after reading the first book in the series. It’s a wonderful work that does a good job describing the power structure in New Orleans (a mecca for vampires and ghouls) while simultaneously helping the reader envision what Bones was like prior to heading to Ohio and meeting Cat.

I’m not sure anyone who didn’t read the first book in the series could necessarily be tearing their hair out until they read it, but Frost never disappoints and this is an excellent work that any series lover would enjoy. Keep in mind that this was first published in the print anthology Unbound, which contains other novellas by such urban fantasy heavyweights as Kim Harrison and Melissa Marr, so don’t double buy it now that it’s offered on its own. (I’ve done that more than once and it drives me crazy.)

Halfway to the Grave (#1 Night Huntress Series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, October 30, 2007)

Halfway to the Grave is the real first book of the series and you should start here for your Cat and Bones adventures. The book has a great opening when local Ohio girl Cat Crawfield is pulled over in the wee hours by the sheriff in her rural community. Looking at the redheaded bombshell dressed for partying and more than a little mussed, he’s willing to believe she’s been up to no good, particularly when it’s well known that Cat’s mother got knocked up years ago with Cat. She manages to convince him of her good intentions and drives away, only to later get rid of the body in the back of her truck. The vampire body.

Cat knew as a child that she was different – her strength, her hearing, and the way her eyes would glow when she was upset. When she was 16, her mother sat her down and told her the truth about her father. He was a vampire who raped Cat’s mother. Justina Crawfield has passed along her virulent hatred of vampires to her daughter to the point where she has encouraged Cat to go seek them out and use her abilities to kill them whenever possible. Since her teen years, Cat has dressed to party and gone to the bars where she has lured vampires and then staked them. Despite her mission, her relationship with her mother is troubled to say the least, but Cat believes her mother that vampires are monsters and that she is doing the right thing by killing them.

That is, until one night when she sees a beautiful blond vampire with a killer British accent. Struck by his beauty she attempts to lure him away but he is having none of it, until the following night when he takes her up on her offer. Rather than succeeding in killing him, she finds herself chained in a local cave where he plans to torture her into giving up which vampire she works for. It takes some convincing, but our hero, Bones, realizes that Cat is what she says she is – an incredibly rare vampire half-breed who is almost totally ignorant of the vampire world. He convinces her to let him train her to lure and really fight vampires (she’s been lucky to not have been killed yet) and help him figure out why so many young women are disappearing from Ohio without a trace.

Naturally in the course of her training, Cat has to face up to her own prejudices. Vampires are strong and they can be cruel, but as Bones explains the complicated world of the supernatural to her, Cat has to face the realization that there are good vampires and bad ones the same way there are good people and bad people. This revelation has to come sooner rather than later as she confronts some very real feelings for Bones. But just as she tries to figure out how to get her mother to accept the man she loves, all hell breaks loose and Cat has to figure out a way to keep Bones and her mother safe, and it might mean giving up the man she loves.

I cannot emphasize enough Frost’s ability to draw characters that are so full of life you end up having more affection for them than a few of your family members. Cat’s complicated feelings regarding her own birth and heritage combined with her facing her prejudices (and that of others who know of the vampire world) make this a series that tackles issues of intolerance and acceptance.

Bones is not only a sexy beast, but has such a fascinating history that he is more than a pretty face and great sense of humor (he was a gigolo for the British aristocracy in the 1700s prior to being transported to Australia as part of his prison sentence and was turned by a fellow prisoner who had successfully escaped). The only person funnier than Bones is Cat (although Bones’ friend Ian is up there on the laugh-o-meter) and since the story is told from her point of view, there are lots of snorts and chuckles to be had while reading this series. But don’t forget to keep the tissues handy. Frost’s ability to tug at the emotional heartstrings is also unrivaled.

Happily Never After (#1.5 Night Huntress Series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, July 19, 2011)

Happily Never After is a novella that comes between Halfway to the Grave and One Foot in the Grave chronologically. Bones is in the midst of searching for Cat but is called upon by an old friend, Greta, an elderly woman living in Philadelphia. Her lovely granddaughter, Isabella is being pressured into marriage by a local mafia wanna-be kingpin who is lording over her some trouble Isabella’s brother is involved in. Bones makes a couple cameo appearances, but sends one of his line, a vampire named Chance, to investigate and help.

Isabella knows that the man showing up in her family restaurant has a death wish. Yes, he’s incredibly good looking and says that her grandmother arranged to have him help, but Isabella knows that it’s going to take more than good looks to get her out of this bind. But Chance seems to be able to do the impossible and she discovers a lot more about her seemingly frail grandmother than she anticipated. There are creatures in this world that Isabella had no idea existed and she might very well be in love with one of them. Can she put aside her preconceived notions and accept love when it’s right in front of her?

FYI, this novella (which is over 100 pages) originally appeared in the anthology Weddings from Hell, in case your local library has got that on the shelf, or in case you need a print version versus an electronic copy of this story.

One Foot in the Grave (#2 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, April 29, 2008)

One Foot in the Grave picks up five years after Cat made her painful decision at the end of Halfway to the Grave. She’s taken the dubious bargain offered by the government to head up an elite squad of vampire hunters. She’s trained her team incredibly well and they’ve been successful, so much so that Cat now has a reputation of being the “Red Reaper.”

Cat has tried to go on with her life. She’s immersed in her work, is dating a local veterinarian, has a good girlfriend who knows what she is, and her team are her friends as well as her crew. Her mother is pleased Cat’s hunting vampires again, but all of this does not add up to happiness for Cat, not by a long shot. As she prepares to be a bridesmaid in her best friend Denise’s wedding, she acknowledges the fact that she will always be in love with Bones. Imagine her surprise when she walks down the aisle only to see that Bones is one of the groomsmen.

Bones is so incredibly pissed. He’s looked for Cat nonstop for years and finds her totally by happenstance. In the midst of getting her to face the fact that she simply didn’t trust him with the truth of the threat to him and her mother, an assassination attempt on Cat takes place and he is able to save her.

Cat has a lot to deal with in this book. She’s facing the knowledge that she loves Bones and there is no way she can deal with the pain of him not in her life (not that he’d let her). She also has to juggle the reactions of her team who have no desire to trust him, particularly her lead team member, Tate, who has feelings for her. Her mother, who is completely bonkers at the thought of them being back together, puts nuclear mushroom clouds to shame with her response to the news. Cat also has to deal with the minor detail that someone is trying to kill her, a someone who has offered the Red Reaper bounty placed upon her. Complicating things is the fact that, now that she’s been found by at least one assassin, Bones’ longtime friend and master vampire Ian is bound to try and “acquire” her once more. So she has a couple things on her plate. Poor Cat.

Your heart aches when Cat and Bones find each other again. Even though he’s angry with how she left, it’s obvious that he still loves her to distraction and seeing Cat finally begin to take down that wall she’s built, brick by brick, is so damn satisfying. Frost helps you understand that this isn’t going to be an easy process for Cat, but having a vampire lover who is 200+ years old helps a little. Understanding that Bones was Cat’s first real relationship and that, despite his age, Cat is Bones’ first relationship helps you have the patience you need to support these two as they figure out how best to deal with each other.

At Grave’s End (#3 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, December 30, 2008)

At Grave’s End starts out focusing on Cat’s facing problems in doing her work for the paranormal squad. One of Bones’ conditions of them being together is that he work for her because he can’t handle the idea of her risking her life without him there to help. It quickly becomes clear that every vampire who walks among the living has heard of the famous Red Reaper, hence her ability to lure bad vampires to their inevitable staking is rather compromised. The squad ends up having to make some decisions about changing and there are a few hiccups in that road that are fascinating.

But things get spooky quickly. Bones’ grandsire, the cool and powerful Mencheres has a scandal in his closet. He’s been married for a couple thousand years to Patra (daughter of the original Cleopatra) and she wears a t-shirt marked “uberbitch” like you wouldn’t believe. Patra knows that Mencheres can’t bring himself to kill her so she decides to work to decimate his and Bones’ resources. This results in the horrifying disappearance of Bones for a while and your stomach is literally in knots while this is getting worked through.

The final showdown has got to be one of the best large scale battles written in urban fantasy (Ilona Andrews has probably written the top three of them). Patra uses black magic (any magic use is a major no-no for vampires by their laws) to attack Mencheres’ rural Canadian hideout and all the vampires and ghouls are faced with something much scarier and harder to kill than they are. There is some great Mencheres insight and development in this book, and we get the introduction of tall, dark and Romanian Vlad (yes, the original Dracula) who becomes friends with Cat despite Bones hating him (he thinks Vlad’s pyrokinesis ability is “showy”).

Devil to Pay (#3.5 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, August 23, 2011)

Devil to Pay is a 99 page enovella about a reclusive vampire, Elise, who stumbles across a tortured man who claims to be fighting demon possession. She calls upon her loving sire and mentor Mencheres to help her figure out if he can be helped and is dismayed when the answer is no.

Despite having no interest in interacting with humans or other vampires, this handsome human, Blake Turner, stirs up long-dead feelings in Elise. Yet she and Mencheres must take him to the salt flats of the southwest to drive out the demon in a safe location where it can not infect any human or animal. Unfortunately they will have to kill Blake in order to guarantee the demon’s demise.

Cat and Bones have a cameo in this novella and I always enjoy seeing them from someone else’s perspective. This story is a sweet palette cleanser that I think helps you understand why so many vampires follow Mencheres – he is such a caring mentor to Elise as her sire and he understands her emotions for Blake long before she does. Let’s face it, any vampire who is willing to stay saddled with a power-crazed murderer like Patra (see previous book) and not kill her has a romantic side.

Devil to Pay was also published in print in the anthology, Four Dukes and a Devil, which you can easily order new or used if you don’t have an ereader.

Destined for an Early Grave (#4 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, July 28, 2009)

The hardest book in the series for me to read is the fourth novel, Destined for an Early Grave because of how rocky Cat and Bones’ relationship becomes. Cat begins having disturbing dreams about a mysterious vampire calling her his wife. She’s willing to chalk it up to something she ate until she hears that a previously imprisoned master vampire, Gregory (known as the “dreamsnatcher” because he can literally steal people through their dreams), is claiming that Cat cannot be married to Bones because she married him in Paris when she was sixteen.

Bones is incensed that someone would dare to claim his wife as his own and Cat thinks this is a new level of vampire crazypants until Mencheres comes on the scene. Cat has always felt resentful and unsettled around Mencheres and now she knows why. Mencheres admits that he did in fact rescue Cat from a hotel in Paris when she was sixteen – and that Gregory claimed to have married her before his arrival. Mencheres used his powers to suppress Cat’s memory because he saw her in a vision as destined for Bones (and he knows Gregory is a son of a bitch who wants Cat’s powers and abilities at his disposal).

Bones feels incredibly betrayed by Mencheres keeping this knowledge from him as well as for altering Cat’s memory but he focuses on getting Cat away from Gregory. Gregory has some heavy hitting allies, namely in the ghoul queen of New Orleans, the famous voodoo priestess Marie Laveau who calls Cat to her for an audience (which is an awesome scene – who knew a ghoul queen would be a Matrix fan?).

Cat gets a sense of all the political nuances of Gregory’s claim while at the same time realizing that he has the ability to read her thoughts (and as a result, her location). She has to begin taking some experimental no-R.E.M.-sleep pills in order to avoid Gregory in her dreams and it makes her understandably stressed. Bones does his best to sequester her, telling her nothing about where they are or their defenses so she can’t leak information accidentally to Gregory, but the deprivation of information leads to Cat making a rash but understandable decision to get to Gregory and figure out what is going on, particularly after she discovers he can restore her lost memories.

Despite the logic that led her to her decision to engage Gregory, it causes a major rift between her and Bones, who finds her actions indicative of how Cat is unwilling to trust him. He leaves her in such a way that she believes its permanent and in her despair turns to Vlad as a friend. He takes her to one of his Romanian castles where she can mope in peace. You can imagine that Bones has no intention of leaving her alone, but the appearance of his actions is very hurtful to Cat who does everything to help him while avoiding him. Bones forces not only a confrontation but a very major decision on Cat’s part and there is once again a major showdown against Gregory.

After re-reading this book so many times, I think what is so amazing about it is how Frost is able to take two characters we adore and highlight the barriers they impose on themselves to success in their relationship. Cat is faced with the decision of becoming a vampire and she realizes that it’s something she’s avoided, not because she still believes vampires are evil, but because if she became immortal it would mean facing the fear that Bones might not want her for all eternity.

I come down pretty hard on Cat’s side in this relationship kerfuffle – Bones’ anger is clearly from being afraid he’s going to lose Cat because she doesn’t trust him to talk over actions before she takes them, but as is so often the case, that we fear most usually comes to pass because of our fear. The confrontation Bones orchestrates is his way of trying to get Cat to admit what her real fear is, but I think there should have been more apologizing on his part, particularly considering how she was drugged out of her mind during most of the proceedings. Nevertheless, their reunion is fabulous and the reader feels like a weight has been removed from their chest once it happens. When Bones finally turns her, it’s typical Cat that even as a vampire she has to be different!

“One for the Money” enovella (#4.5 Night Huntress series) in Magic Graves by Jeaniene Frost and Ilona Andrews (September 1, 2011)

In the novella “One for the Money,” found in Magic Graves, Cat and Bones are stuck guarding a spoiled heiress who has stumbled on more than she can handle. I’m not sure this enovella lends more understanding about the world our characters inhabit, but it’s a story which highlights why we love them so damn much.

There are some very witty one-liners (the heiress is completely hot for Bones much to Cat’s annoyance) and Cat’s Mom Justina is evident. It’s hard not to appreciate Bones when he begins to teach Justina how to defend herself, even though they loathe one other.

This is an enovella anthology (partnered with Ilona Andrews’ prequel for her Kate Daniels’ series which is amazing) and it’s nice to see the bonus material of the beginnings of Once Burned and the start of the “Home for the Holidays” novella, but you can now get both of these (see below descriptions) so don’t torture yourself. If you need a print version of this story, it was published in the Death’s Excellent Vacation anthology, compiled by Sookie Stackhouse creator, Charlaine Harris. The enovella has only the two stories and is cheaper, but if you read the other authors in the print anthology, it might be worth it.

First Drop of Crimson (#1 Night Huntress World series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, February 9, 2010)

At some point, Frost and her publisher had the brilliant idea of focusing on some of the secondary characters in the series, so the related works, known as the Night Huntress World series, was born. Keep in mind that despite being a related series, these books are meant to be read between the books in the Night Huntress series and if you don’t, you’ll be baffled by some of the relationship developments of these characters in the subsequent books in that series. Thankfully, Frost shows that she is not just a Cat and Bones one-trick pony, but instead a veritable queen of romance with each of them. The first in this related series, First Drop of Crimson, focuses on one of Bones’ best friends, Spade.

Spade was born Baron Charles de Mortimer, transported to Australia along with Ian and Bones as part of his assuming his father’s place in debtor’s prison. Ian turned him at the same time as Bones over 200 years ago and now Spade, like Ian and Bones, is a powerful master of his own line.

Denise is Cat’s human best friend who has moved to Texas away from her family after she lost her husband in the epic battle against Patra at the end of At Grave’s End. She wants nothing to do with the supernatural, but when her young family members start dying mysteriously of heart ailments after enjoying excellent health, her knowledge of the supernatural has her wondering if something else is going on. When she witnesses one of these murders and sees something she can’t explain, she knows she needs powerful help. Aware that something crazy is going on with Cat and Bones (referring to Gregory), she doesn’t want to bother them so she turns to Spade.

Spade has been attracted to Denise from the second he walked into the mountain cabin and saw her laughing with Cat, but as both Cat’s best friend (and therefore under Bones’ protection) and as a married woman he has steered clear of her. The last time he saw her was when Cat met up with her former paranormal teammate Cooper and Denise in Texas. Spade ended up killing a bunch of rednecks who wanted to lynch Cooper and rape Cat and Denise (the men obviously didn’t know Cat would have killed them herself and probably not worked up a sweat), but he realizes that Denise must associate him with death and violence. When she calls claiming something strange is happening, he wonders if it’s just post-traumatic stress from everything she’s been through, but plans to go check it out and get the hell away from her.

But Denise isn’t making anything up. Spade actually arrives right after a demon has attacked Denise, branding her with his mark, and claiming that he won’t remove them until she finds her long-lost family member who reneged on a deal with him. If she doesn’t deliver this mystery man, the demon will kill everyone in her family, including Denise. Denise is completely freaked out with no one but Spade to turn to, but she feels guilty having him help her when he’s clearly got better things to do.

Spade realizes the ramification of helping Denise more than she does. Bones will be incensed at not being notified because Denise clearly comes under his protection in the vampire world. Spade knows that he can’t fight his attraction for Denise and will end up seducing her despite not having taken a human lover in hundreds of years. Add to this the discovery that Denise is in serious danger from now having demon-powered blood, making it a powerful drug on the vampire black market, and it’s understandable that Spade’s overprotective instincts go into overdrive.

I liked Denise a lot from the previous books and Spade was certainly an interesting character, but I had no idea I would fall so heavily for the two of them. Denise has been through hell and back but despite her panic attacks and tremendous loss, she’s a spunky, independent heroine whose intelligence makes her as attractive as her good looks. When you discover why Spade doesn’t believe in taking a human lover and the extent of his emotional baggage, it’s obvious that he’s been denied love and happiness for a very long time so you’re truly pulling for the two of them to make it.

Eternal Kiss of Darkness (#2 Night Huntress World) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, July 27, 2010)

The second book in the Night Huntress World series and next in the chronological reading order is the book devoted to Mencheres, Eternal Kiss of Darkness. Mencheres is super scary in the other books. He’s not only always cool and unruffled, but he has visions of the future, can read minds, and has an unbelievable amount of power (anyone with the ability to decapitate people without touching them falls into the “yikes!” category for me). But this power is tempered with a terrific, wry sense of humor and strong emotional ties to those around him. He respects and cares about Bones, to the point of making him co-ruler of his line and sharing some of his powers with him. But like so much with Mencheres, even this is done with an ulterior motive. Mencheres believes he’s going to die.

Or in his case, he acknowledges it might be committing suicide by vampire/ghoul. He’s over 4000 years old, after all, dating back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, and other vampires have made the choice after they have gotten tired of living. The main reason he believes final death is around the corner is that his visions have ceased – whenever he attempts to look in the future he sees nothing but darkness.

Kira is a hard-working private investigator who has overcome a difficult past and now just focuses on doing her job so she can help support her sick sister and hopefully not support her lazy brother. When she is walking home in the early morning hours and hears an attack in a local warehouse she goes to the rescue of the handsome man strung up in chains who is being repeatedly knifed by a bunch of hoodlums.

As soon as she does, Mencheres’ plan to succumb to the group of ghouls for his own purposes immediately changes. This lovely human with her brave heart cannot suffer on his behalf, so when she is wounded he dispatches the attackers with ease and takes her to his home to recuperate. He is dismayed to discover that she is part of the small percentage of humans immune to memory manipulation and thinks it might be due to the intake of his blood which he used to heal her injuries. He tells her she needs to stay with him for the week to see if it will wear off and explains how no human not under the protection of a vampire can have knowledge of their world. Kira isn’t thrilled but she understands his power so she stays the required time, learning more about Mencheres in the process.

They are definitely attracted to one another but Kira is not going to act on it while essentially being held captive. Mencheres thinks it’s Murphy’s Law that he would find a beautiful woman right after his heinous wife is finally dead – finally freeing him to love someone else – and now that he sees his own death. After releasing Kira, he can’t help watching her to make sure she’s all right, setting up events so that her life is a little easier.

My favorite t-shirt from the Frostfans.com website which is a quote from Mencheres in Eternal Kiss of Darkness. “Bath toys – reserved for the oldest, most lethal vampires.”

Kira realizes that Mencheres is helping her in secret and her time with him has her thinking about some of the unsolved cases that seemed crazy in the past but might actually overlap with his world. Investigating one of them, she stumbles into a very dangerous situation with some low-life vampires who torture her into mentioning her connection with Mencheres. They call to check and Mencheres flies to her rescue, but not before a chain of events is set in motion to discredit him by a rival vampire. Mencheres ends up forced to make Kira a vampire and flee with her to safety, protecting her as best he can while also protecting his people from the vampire who wants all of Mencheres’ power and who will stop at nothing to get it.

Mencheres is an unbelievably sexy man (all those water scenes!!) who deep down is a die-hard romantic and one who had 900 years of celibacy forced upon him. He is astonished to find that not only is he falling for Kira, but she seems to see him – the person – behind all his power, to the point of getting testy and protective when people make insensitive comments about his former wife. Seeing the other vampire’s reactions (like that of Cat and Bones) to Mencheres with a woman is priceless and it makes your heart light to see this serious, powerful man finally happy with someone.

This Side of the Grave (#5 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, February 22, 2011)

At this point in the reading order, we go back to the Night Huntress series. In book five, This Side of the Grave trouble is brewing between the ghouls and vampires and as usual, Cat is in the middle. The leader of the ghouls is stirring up trouble claiming that vampires, particularly Cat, are bent on subjecting ghouls to their will – basically a rash of the ghoul equivalent of the KKK. Unprotected vampires are being attacked and killed, and Bones and Cat are investigating to figure what on earth is going on.

When the Queen of New Orleans Marie Laveau calls Cat to come visit her, Cat and Bones are understandably worried. The only vampire Marie had any loyalty to is dead and Cat and Bones were the ones responsible. Marie suspects that Cat’s powers stem from her unusual diet, a fact Cat has tried to keep a secret,and the Queen forces Cat to drink some of her blood, gifting her with some of her power.

This “gift” opens up a world of complications for Cat as she is now a magnet for ghosts everywhere. Luckily she at least has power over them, but it’s just an added problem to the bigger one of the possible ghoul uprising. Cat and Bones are still terrific in this book, and it’s good to see them finally able to at least not have the stress of any relationship problems on their plate.

One Grave at a Time (#6 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, August 31, 2011)

In the sixth and most recent full-length novel in the Night Huntress series, One Grave at a Time, it just goes to show you that living in the vampire world equates to not catching a break. Bones, as my husband would say, is clearly not Jewish. When he makes a comment at the start of the book about how great things are going, you know trouble is around the bend!

Cat’s resident ghost friend Fabian brings a beautiful female ghost with a serious problem to Cat and Bones for help. This lovely young woman was burned at the stake as a witch by the evil man who literally wrote the book on witch hunting hundreds of years ago, but there’s a major problem. The evil bastard practically responsible for the genocide of thousands of women accused as witches isn’t content just being dead like everyone else. He has used his misogyny to give him additional power, to the point that he is able to take corporeal form every Halloween and torture and kill three new victims.

Cat definitely comes from the “Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Murdering Bastard to Live” school of thought and Bones is willing to help her, but how do you kill someone who is already dead and who for 364 days of the year doesn’t have a body? Cat’s power over ghosts is dissipating as the influence of Marie Laveau’s blood leaves her, so they turn to ghost hunters for help.

Just to demonstrate there is no shortage of problems in their world, Cat’s now deceased uncle is hanging around as a ghost, not sure of why he is still trapped on this plane. A possible reason presents itself when Cat receives news from Tate that he has been removed as head of the paranormal hit squad and replaced by a scary, evil bureaucrat who is convinced that all vampires, Cat especially, are evil. This a-hole finds it more productive to concentrate his attentions on Cat rather than do his job, endangering lives and hindering the pursuit of the evil ghost.

Our rotten-to-the-core ghost not only finds his victims (he tortures them mentally weeks ahead of Halloween) but also repeatedly attacks Cat prior to the big showdown. The final battle against him is absolutely chilling and I imagine you might find yourself, as I did, literally in a muck sweat as Cat fights him by herself before help can arrive. I think this ghost was one of the best villains Frost has penned yet! Cat and Bones’ sex scene while flying also ranks up there among the Chapter 21s and Chapter 32s of her books. (These are chapters that represent some very hot and very famous scenes between Cat and Bones in previous books. Prepare to dump ice in your panties while you read them.)

“Home for the Holidays” novella in The Bite Before Christmas (#6.5 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (William Morrow, October 25, 2011)

Last Christmas, Jeaniene Frost was nice enough to give us a present in the form of “Home for the Holidays,” a novella published in the anthology The Bite Before Christmas. Cat is eager to throw a surprise birthday party for Bones right before Thanksgiving and she’s managed to gather a bunch of their friends to help celebrate. But on the night of the party, Bones’ friend and former lover Annette is brutally attacked while she waits for Bones’ birthday present to arrive in her hotel room, the present being a long-lost relative Bones didn’t know he had.

But this person’s arrival is making Bones and everyone else act strange, with the exception of Cat, Denise, and Ian, and together they must figure out what is going on…preferably before Cat must fulfill her promise to Bones that she would kill him if he ever endangered his people.

Gah! I can’t believe something that packs this much emotional punch is a novella. This is easily over 100 pages and Frost delivers her usual great writing, demonstrating a facility and intimacy with her characters that is unrivaled by other paranormal authors. It is terrifying to see favorite characters like Spade and Bones turned against the people they love with such ease and fabulous to see flippant Ian come to the fore the battle to win them back. (When are we getting Ian’s story in the Night Huntress World series? I’m dying here to know more about him!)

Once Burned (#1 Night Prince series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, June 26, 2012)

Some fans, upon hearing that Frost was going to begin a third related series centered on Vlad, became cranky. I read a lot of “Okay, Vlad’s fine, whatever, but what’s the big deal?” What’s the big deal? Are they nuts? He’s Vlad the freaking Impaler, that’s what, who happens to be good looking, can read minds, can set things on fire, oh, and did I mention he’s good looking?What is wrong with you people! Sheesh.

Vlad had me from the moment he brought Cat back to his castle during her temporary estrangement from Bones and asked if he could sleep in the bed with her just as a friend, because they were both lonely. Right then, I knew there was a lot more to this fiery despot than met the eye and Frost can take as many books as she likes to reveal him to me!

In Once Burned we not only get Vlad, but also get a fascinating heroine, and in fact the story is told from her perspective. Leila Dalton has traveled as a circus performer with her best friend and vampire Marty for years. It’s the perfect cover for her startling abilities. She was electrocuted by a downed power line when she was thirteen, ending her Olympic dreams of a gymnastics gold medal and leaving her with an electric current running through her body, particularly her right hand. But that hand does even more than shock anyone who touches it, it also shows Leila the person’s darkest secret from the past, and once she has a hold on their essence, she can see a person in the present and even see their future.

An inadvertant run-in at a bar has her preventing a woman from being killed and there’s been more than a little publicity about it, to the point where a group of vampires kidnaps her and takes her to a local hotel where they insist she touch a series of objects to test her ability. Considering that at first touch of an object involved in a murder causes Leila to relive their death, this is a bit harsh, but it’s not like she has much of a choice. Over and over she sees the same handsome, cruel vampire dispensing fire and death. Her kidnappers are elated as this man is who they are looking for, and she is asked to locate him in the future so they can track his movements.

Leila finds him with ease, but it’s in the present and more disconcertedly, he is aware that she is with him, watching. When he confronts her, she takes a chance and tells him her present situation, hoping he can help her escape. He does just that, killing her abductors and taking her back to his castle for protection. Most disconcerting to Leila is the fact that not only does she have a very physical response to this vampire, but he also has no problem touching her. With his ability to produce fire, her debilitating electric current is merely a tingle to him. Having avoided anyone’s touch for literally years, Leila is aghast with the possibilities, particularly because she can see a mile away that this man would be t-r-o-u-b-l-e for her previously untouched heart.

Vlad is the perfect contradiction. Leila sees all the cruelty he has performed in the course of his life, but because of her gift, also sees his personal pain and sense of loss over the death of his wife and son. His care and tenderness toward her is another facet of this confusing personality and brave Leila is able to admit to herself that she is falling in love with Vlad while acknowledging the fact that this is man who has stated he is incapable of love.

“The way he looked at me – possessive, passionate, and unrepentant – made gooseflesh ripple over me. This complex and infamously lethal man was now my lover; a relationship I’d chosen of my own free will. Part of me wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into while the rest didn’t care.”

Have I mentioned how hot Vlad is? A virgin like Leila doesn’t stand a chance from a man who has lines like “‘If I didn’t want you so much,’ he said in a deadly purr, ‘I’d let you keep fucking me with your gaze, but you make me impatient.’” Um, waiter? Cold drink over here?

I’m sure you can discern from my enthusiasm for each of these books that this is a series unmatched by any other – remember, I truly believe with all my reading (and I’ve read 90% of what’s on that Goodreads vampire books list) that Frost’s Night Huntress world is the BEST vampire series on the market. In a world of so-so paranormal and urban fantasy, her consistency and quality of writing, her ability to build a world we almost wish we lived in, her creation of characters who breathe as much as the person sitting next to you, is utterly unrivaled. These are books I’m happy to pay full price for and ones I reread every few months just from the sheer enjoyment of journey she takes me on. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!

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