Archive | July, 2012

Kendra Leigh Castle’s Amazing Dark Dynasties Series Stands Out In the Sea of Paranormal Romance

26 Jul

Dark Awakening (#1 Dark Dynasties Series – Ty and Lily’s story) by Kendra Leigh Castle (Forever, July 1, 2011)

Before you even start, yes, I am aware that the paranormal romance world is literally flooded with vampire books that are barely spell-checked to say nothing of actually comprised of vibrant characters and a well-drawn world of darkness. I’ve read some of them and threw more than a few across the room in disgust. Sister, I hear you.

Because, let’s be honest here, there are certain things we all expect from a vampire romance, right? First off, the hero (and it is the man who is the vampire, more often than not), has to actually be an honorable person. He can be a bad boy, but even bad boys have their own code of what’s right and wrong. Invariably he is strong and possesses a warrior mentality (how else can a vampire survive all those years?). He’s got to be a little damaged, maybe a lot damaged, but not past redemption. A sense of humor, even one long buried, is not mandatory, but helps bring out the sexy in our fanged friend.

Oh, and speaking of sexy? Vampire heroes have this one nailed (no pun intended). I don’t like a man whore (well, a reformed man whore, a la Bones from the Night Huntress series is more than okay), but he has to know his way around the sheets and have a skill set he can bring to the…ah…table. I want to see bursting into flames outside of exposure to the sun, if you get my drift.

The heroine of a vampire romance has a list of requirements she must meet as well. A good heroine has to have her own type of power to bring to the match so she and our vampire hero are on even ground at least in some areas. She must have heart, serious heart, involving the ability to love fiercely since the mark of the vampire hero is that he often doesn’t feel worthy of love after his years of loneliness. She can’t be cowed easily since Mr. Bossy Bitey-Man is likely to have gotten his way for far too long, and the heroine’s ability to stand up for herself will help the hero understand that he must treat her as an equal.

Renegade Angel by Kendra Leigh Castle (Harlequin Nocturne, September 1, 2010) – Hot Angels. Sexier Fallen Angels. And the occasional overworked hot vampire. Walk, don’t run, to your nearest bookstore and get this.

Are you scoffing at me? Telling me that these books are as rare as a clean port-o-potty during the last day of your state fair? Well, Ms. Skeptical, please look over here and let me introduce you to my new favorite author, the lovely Kendra Leigh Castle.

You might remember Kendra from my kvelling over her novella in the recently reviewed, Vacation with a Vampire, a novella which led me to the related novel she published, Renegade Angel (which was fabulous!!). Seeing the reviews for her Dark Dynasties series and also noticing the third book was available as an ARC from NetGalley, I decided to request it, and based on my faith in her, purchased the first two books in the series.

I was not disappointed! In fact, Kendra’s Dark Dynasties series just made my short list of books I will buy in pre-order and pay full price for since they are so damn well-written. Let’s take a look at the three books in this series and you can tell me what you think, eh?

Dark Awakening (Book 1) – Ty and Lily’s story

Hey, guess what is sexier than a vampire? A vampire with Fae blood running through his veins who can shift into a gorgeous black cat. And what’s even sexier than a prowly, sinuous, shape shifting vampire?

How about a SCOTTISH one.

Get your glass of ice water while you can because Tynan MacGillivray is not going to put aside his sex appeal because you decided to wear too many layers today. Ty is one of the Cat Sith, a vampire sired by a bloodline with a heritage from the Fae which allows its members to shift into beautiful and ferocious black cats.

Unfortunately, this ability is far from valued in a world in which vampires are judged by allegiance to the different dynasties. While once all were considered unique and equal, a hierarchy emerged centuries ago and the Cat Sith are considered the “guttertrash” of the vampire world. Condemned to either be at the fringe of vampire society or to work as slaves to powerful vampires, the majority of Cat Sith have accepted their fate to serve the cruel aristocrats, although their enforced servitude chafes.

Ty has been favored by Arsinoe, the beautiful female vampire who leads the Ptolemy dynasty. Once benevolent toward her Cat Sith subjects, times are changing and not for the better. With her highblood vampires being slaughtered and a powerful Gypsy curse blamed for the murders, Arsinoe has dispatched Tynan, her best Cat Sith tracker and assassin, to find a seer, a human capable of seeing beyond the grave.

Looking for almost a year, he has just about given up when he stumbles across a beautiful English professor, Lily Quinn. He is drawn by her scent to drink her blood and avail himself of the sexual chemistry between them, but before he can enjoy either pleasure, Ty spots an unusual mark on her collarbone, a mark that indicates Lily is claimed by another vampire dynasty rendering her untouchable. Her mind is also closed to him, a fact which marks her as a seer. Saddened by his assignment and the need to deceive her, he goes to her home to explain that he must take her to his vampire leader and deludes her into thinking she can return to her life.

But Lily and Ty find themselves under siege quickly – it seems that Ty isn’t the only one looking for the Seer. On the run, the two of them become painfully aware of the heat between them while learning more about one another. When an attack reveals Lily’s prodigious power, power no human should possess, an understanding of the mysterious dreams she’s experienced since childhood hint at a heritage that puts in her far greater danger than she was before.

I think what blew me away the most in Kendra Leigh Castle’s writing was the almost effortless introduction to the complicated world of vampire dynasties and its politics. The hierarchy of creatures with “highblooded” vampires as a tier of cruel aristrocrats bent on exploiting all other creatures captures the key facet of my top requirement for a paranormal world, namely how it must reflect to some extent the flaws of our own, and prejudice is a good place to start.

Lily is a special person who finds herself almost relieved to finally understand why she has been so different since childhood and the love she has for Ty helps her make the sacrifices necessary for his survival. For Ty, having found a person who sees him for more than his devalued heritage opens his eyes to the transformative power of love and gives him the courage to not only keep Lily safe, but attempt to challenge the very foundations of the only world he has ever known.

The captivating world and wonderful protagonists are actually equalled by the rich secondary characters introduced, characters we naturally want to see more of. Ty’s blood brother on the run, Jaden, and the lovely werewolf he insults at the Chicago safe house, Lyra, were clearly sure bets in the world of a series and the next book lets us into their world.

Midnight Reckoning (#2 Dark Dynasties series – Jaden and Lyra’s story) by Kendra Leigh Castle (Forever, January 1, 2012)

Midnight Reckoning (Book 2) – Jaden and Lyra’s story

Jaden is happy to have escaped the yoke of the Ptolemy dynasty and has pledged allegiance to the new Lilith dynasty which recognizes the equality of the Cat Sith. With the dissatisfied Ptolemy gunning for the newest vampires on the block, however, vigilance is everyone’s middle name.

When Jaden overhears an altercation during reconnaissance and investigates, he astonished to find the feisty werewolf, Lyra, about to be forcibly mated. Although he is not supposed to interfere in werewolf politics, he intervenes and she is able to escape, albeit after not demonstrating a tremendous amount of gratitude. Considering how rude Jaden was to her the last time they met this isn’t shocking, but when he finds the necklace she lost in the fight, he realizes that his animosity stems from the fact that he’s attracted to her.

This is a horrifying realization. Vampire and werewolf interaction, especially anything romantic is strictly forbidden by both species. In the world of powerful vampires the only creatures more looked down up than the Cat Sith are the werewolves. In turn, werewolves cannot stand “bloodsuckers” and consider them immoral opportunists with no honor.

Thinking that if he sees her again he can convince himself of the temporary nature of his attraction, Jaden heads to the small town in upstate New York that Lyra’s pack calls home. Discovering that she is the daughter of the alpha has pieces beginning to click in Jaden’s mind. He realizes she must be swamped with men attempting to mate her in an effort to annex her political and physical power for themselves.

But the problem goes deeper than that. Lyra’s father explains to Jaden that Lyra is bent on defying centuries of gender expectations by challenging for the beta position in the pack (and thus the heir spot to being the future alpha) and he knows that as good a fighter as she is, she’ll be killed. After seeing Jaden kicking ass vampire style, the desperate father asks Jaden to stay at their house and spend the next month teaching Lyra to fight in the hope that she can learn enough to survive and possibly win.

Lyra is irritated with herself for being so attracted to everything about this vampire, and having him under the same roof isn’t helping her REM sleep much. As Jaden reveals his past and lets her behind his cool vampire exterior, the more right and comfortable it feels to be with him, but she knows this path leads to disaster, for her and for the pack she wants to serve. The hot kisses they exchange ramp up the tension further, and stray vampires coming out the woodwork to kill Jaden only highlight the danger of his presence in pack territory. When all the conflict comes to a head, the fallout is like nothing you’d imagine!

Okay, I did NOT see the bad guy coming on this one! Kendra Leigh Castle displays a mystery/thriller writer’s mastery of weaving competing elements and story strands and giving a few of them a nice twist so you don’t see the unexpected outcomes coming down the pike. This is so rare for a romance writer, but an incredibly welcome talent (there are romantic suspense writers who could take lessons from her). Great continuing story arc from previous book of the Ptolemy vampires bent on causing trouble and I love the development of how Lily is leading the Lilith dynasty into a new era with her openness to alliances like those with werewolves and the Cat Sith. Jaden and Lyra are both hot and sweet together, with each of them filling an emptiness in one another that they didn’t realize existed.

Shadow Rising (#3 Dark Dynasties series – Damien and Ariane’s story) by Kendra Leigh Castle (Forever, July 31, 2012)

Shadow Rising (Book 3) – Damien and Ariane’s story

In the last two books, we met Damien, the Cat Sith who had pledged himself as a mercenary to the House of the Shades rather than be enslaved by the Ptolemy. On the surface a conscienceless rogue, he nevertheless has helped his Cat Sith brothers Ty and Jaden even when being paid to do otherwise.

As one of the Shades best trackers and assassin, he’s been contracted to find a missing Grigori, a rare breed of vampire characterized by their massive size, white hair and purple eyes. Little is known about them other than their desert dwelling habits and firm policy of non-interference – this is a dynasty of vampires known as the “Watchers” for a reason. Strange that one of them should go rogue, but Damien isn’t being paid to think about it.

Ariane has been a Grigori for over 900 years but she’s treated like a child by the other ancients in their desert compound, never allowed to go off the grounds and reduced to gleaning information about the outside world from books and the humans who are brought to them for sustenance. When her best friend Sammael goes missing and her archenemy Oren is charged with his return, she decides to break the rules and go searching for him herself.

Naturally she and Damien cross paths and both of them are shocked at the meeting. Damien has spent so long with a deadened heart that he’s amazed at the level of fascination both his human self and his cat are experiencing at the smell of this woman. Granted, even with her terrible wig, her lavender eyes (to say nothing of her body) make her the most beautiful creature he’s ever seen, but if there is one rule Damien religiously adheres to, it’s the one that states he works alone. The fact that she seems innocent enough to have grown up in a fairy tale tower seems like an additional complication.

But after Ariane displays how her centuries of near captivity have been spent in honing fighting skills, he’s willing to consider a compromise. Ariane is experiencing lust and desire for the first time and it’s all directed at this gorgeous British vampire with his sandy blond hair and roguish eyes. Damien is brutally honest with her about his many faults and is more than up front about his inability to form attachments, but she sees past the surface to the latent sense of honor and profound loneliness he’s battled for years.

As they both attempt to untangle their true feelings for one another, political machinations of the dynasties put everyone in danger. Other assassins are sent after Sammael and his brother Lucan with Ariane caught in the crossfire and the exposure of a Grigori secret threatens to destroy the world as they know it. With one vampire dynasty weakening and the others bent on protecting their power, it seems unlikely that Damien will be able to face his personal demons and find the happiness with Ariane she seems bent on offering him.

Okay, I’ve loved Damien for two whole books and it was NO surprise to discover this witty hedonist was a former (maybe Regency?) rogue whose father was an Earl. Ariane’s innocence was exactly what he needed to slide under the layer of defenses he’d erected around his heart. The progressing story arc of the continued dynasty struggle was interesting and I enjoyed the additional information surrounding the Empusae dynasty and its problems as well as seeing Vlad Dracul, the head of the Dracul dynasty. That blond, Romanian scholar prince has got some serious sex appeal and I cannot wait to read about his story!

Immortal Craving (Book 4) – Tasmin and Bailey’s story (due out in January 2013?)

The end of the NetGalley ARC had a delicious teaser for the next book in the series, which I totally didn’t expect but was elated to find.

This next installment will star Lily’s good human friend (and animal lover with a penchant for drooly dogs, like her black Newfoundland, Grimm) Bailey Harper partnered with Tasmin Singh, a Rakshasa, a breed of vampire shifter (who can turn into lions) long thought extinct. Immortal Craving, their story, is probably going to come out January of 2013 if the time between publication of the previous books is any indication. The Newfie isn’t the only one drooling in anticipation of this book!

Summary or have you bought them yet?

The only thing I love more than finding a good author is finding a good author with a kick ass series and Kendra Leigh Castle fits the bill. Yes, the whole vampire-as-shifter piece is unusual and sounds like it could be weird, but you probably are an experienced enough reader to realize that any unusual story in the hands of a good writer has tremendous potential. This author has demonstrated a writing style that melds fascinating world building, great characterization, and heart-thumping romance in one series that doesn’t disappoint. Isn’t it what we all want from a good vampire romance?

Take a look at Kendra Leigh Castle’s Dark Dynasties series and be prepared to remember why you liked vampire romance in the first place. She’ll renew your faith in inhumanity. 😉

Julie Garwood’s Latest Romantic Suspense Novel, Sweet Talk, Misses the Mark

25 Jul

Sweet Talk by Julie Garwood (Dutton, August 7, 2012)

I need to say right off the bat that I love and respect Julie Garwood. She was one of the historical romance authors I cut my teeth on when being introduced to the genre and Honor’s Splendor reigned for over decade as one of the best historical romances I ever read (until I met Stephanie Laurens’ books, that is). I still recommend her to library patrons looking for quality historical romance.

But I hadn’t really read any of her romantic suspense fiction, not even her acclaimed Buchanan series (and I plan to tackle them this summer). I wouldn’t want to judge her ability to write in this genre based on her latest book, Sweet Talk which I was able to get in Advanced Reader Copy form via NetGalley.

This book begins with a very long, but interesting prologue about four young girls living on a special hospital ward because they all suffer from the same rare disease, which I suppose we are meant to think is cancer because chemotherapy is one of the treatments. Their young personalities are well-drawn and there is a poignant scene of them pranking the staff by hiding in a storage closet and mentioning their dreams, which they naturally doubt they’ll be able to fulfill. A decent amount of copy is spent on Olivia since the girls observe that hers is the only family who doesn’t come to visit her. With the exception of her Aunt Emma, Olivia’s wealthy family acts like she doesn’t exist.

Flash forward to the present and beautiful Olivia is an IRS agent worried about her job since she knows layoffs are coming down the pike. She happens to also be a lawyer who does child advocacy work in her spare time on the weekends, but right now she is busy interviewing for other jobs related to finance in case she finds herself unemployed.

She has an unexpected interview with a powerful man at a five-star D.C. restaurant, but in the middle of the realization that this pompous sleazeball is someone for whom she would never work, the guy freaks out, rips her dress down the front and accuses her of wearing a wire, all while threatening to kill her. His bodyguard goes crazy, hitting Olivia and pulling a gun on her, but before she can get away, an agent tackles him, saving her.

Meet Grayson Kincaid, an FBI agent who seems to be able to take on whatever case he wants, and who coincidentally comes from just as privileged a background as Olivia in terms of wealth and influence. He ends up paying for lunch since she clearly missed it. (Did she have safety pins in her purse? Was her dress not ripped down the front while they are eating?) He calls her up to ask more questions, meets her at her nice apartment and escorts her to a swanky event under the pretense of speaking with her about the case, acknowledges the attraction between them by giving her an amazing goodnight kiss and then…doesn’t talk to her for two months.

What? Okay, we find out that Grayson has a busy life since he now has full custody of his young nephew, Henry, and that he clearly has never heard of texting. When Olivia gets shot three times in front of her Georgetown apartment, he goes FBI crazy, guards her OR door, takes over the case (how does it fall in his jurisdiction? I’m confused), and tries to find out what’s going on.

Olivia is baffled but glad he’s back in her life and he finds out in his investigation what a great person she is (naturally), about her medical history, her great work for kids, etc. He also finds out from Olivia that her goal in life is to bring down her father and place him in jail because he’s running a Ponzi scheme that will ruin thousands of people’s lives and she’s not willing to let him get away with it.

In addition to this point driving the plot, there is also the suspicion of who else might be trying to kill Olivia. Dissatisfied relatives of the children she protects or the gun-dealing bodyguard who tried to hurt her in the restaurant? A subplot of one of her childhood hospital friends and her supposedly recovered addict brother has a conclusion any reader can spot literally in the first paragraph it’s introduced.

I guess my major issue was related to writing. I know what an excellent writer Julie Garwood is and this book felt…rushed, I guess, as if it were the third draft of a book she’d fleshed out for plot and structure but needed to go back and hone the writing and characters. Olivia and Grayson are very two-dimensional, particularly Grayson, who frustrated the hell out of me. After sleeping with her, he disappears again for two weeks in an effort to keep his distance and not compromise the investigation, all without telling her anything. Dude, you have a smart phone. Call or text her with your reservations. Olivia just takes him back with her “live in the now because chances are my illness will come back tomorrow” philosophy. *wrapping fingers around her neck here*

The prose focuses on telling us what characters are thinking rather than showing us, which made much of the reading rather dull. “She noticed he was muscular” should totally have been a description of how his suit jacket rippled over his shoulders and her body’s response to it. It’s writing 101, so what’s going on? Julie is better than this! I feel almost like the intern was in charge of this book.

But I kept turning the pages waiting for one major point to happen, namely for Olivia to actually contribute to helping convict her father…but it doesn’t happen. Yes, she goes and talks to people, but is she not a competent IRS officer? She can’t discover anything? Grayson almost single-handedly takes care of everything. No wonder he can’t find time to text.

The other ambiguity which affected my reading was the question, still up in the air for me, about this book – is it part of a series, or not? We have all four girls/women introduced with their background and interesting careers with attraction even indicated between Olivia’s friend Collins and Grayson’s FBI partner. But there is no indication on Garwood’s website or Goodreads that Sweet Talk is meant to be the first book in a series. So I have to read all that prologue and all I get is Olivia’s story?

Oh, and Garwood’s publisher is clearly smoking crack if they think that readers are going to be happy to pay $12.99 for the Kindle edition of this book. Seriously? I don’t care that it’s 368 pages (and by the way, that could have been a lot less if one of the tiresome subplots were cut), in a world of $7.99 ebooks as the norm, this price is highway robbery.

I think what galls me the most is this book held the potential, particularly in the hands of such an excellent writer, to be an engaging romantic suspense novel, but it misses the mark. I’m going to reread some of my favorite Julie Garwood novels of the past and try and expunge this one from my memory.

Jill Shalvis Gives Us Another Dose of Pacific Northwest Romance in the Latest Trio in the Lucky Harbor Series

24 Jul

Lucky in Love (#4 Lucky Harbor series – Mallory and Ty’s Story) by Jill Shalvis (Forever, June 1, 2012)

Jill Shalvis has been a favorite Harlequin author of mine for a while, inspiring total confidence whenever I pick up a book with her name on it. Whether it’s a sexy hockey coach in Time Out, or a charming holiday novella in Heating Up the Holidays, she’s a writer who can bring a level of detail and emotional oomph to a hot romance novel.

So why on earth did I wait so long to tackle her acclaimed Lucky Harbor series, published under Grand Central’s Forever line? The only reason I can think to explain my behavior is the covers – they are lovely, don’t get me wrong, but with fully clothed models engaging in hugging with romantic backgrounds, they appeared to be more of a sweet romance and my taste runs to a hotter level of sensuality in my romance fiction. Color me pleased and surprised to discover that they actually are nice and spicy, with Shalvis delivering her usual emotional journey of the hero and heroine in and out of the bedroom (with no lack of detail in either location). Yay!

It appears that Jill usually tackles the books in this series in related trilogies with the setting and many of the vibrant minor characters tying the novels together. Having gotten At Last as a advanced reader copy from NetGalley, I also decided after reading and loving it to request the other two volumes starring the hero and heroine’s friends to give me a more holistic picture (and unadulterated reading pleasure).

This turned out to be a good strategy, since it seems from Jill Shalvis’ website, particularly the page where she discusses how she approaches this series, that the first three books were conceived as an interconnected trilogy as were the following three books. This makes it easy to read the second trilogy independent of the first three books, although I’ll bet you’ll do the same thing I did and fall in love with the crazy people of Lucky Harbor so quickly that all the books will find a place on your shelf or ereader ASAP. So let’s take a look at why these three books deserve shelf space, shall we?

Lucky in Love (Amy and Ty’s story)

In the fourth book of the series and the first one focusing on the three women who call themselves the Chocoholics, we discover Mallory, the ER nurse and all around town good girl who is finding herself increasingly frustrated with her life. Her attitude of caring for those around her, whether it be friends, family, patients, or neighbors is genuine, but it causes people to think they know her, never seeing the streak of wildness she keeps hidden.

There’s a reason for that. When she was sixteen and all three of her siblings were busy sowing wild oats, her next oldest sister Karen got into serious trouble, trouble that ended with Karen overdosing on drugs. Mallory’s parents divorced and Mallory has worked incredibly hard to be the least amount of trouble for her family – to the point that she almost has herself believing it’s who she is. Her good friend and diner waitress Amy knows the truth however, and on a scary, stormy night, Mallory heads to the local diner to find Amy for a little comfort.

It’s just the two of them and a stranger in town, a lovely blond named Grace who quickly bonds with them over chocolate cake, and the three of them are brought together by a power outage. Huddling in the dark and devouring a sinful chocolate cake doesn’t stave off their fears, but it does make them confess what they really want from life. Mallory wants to date Mr. Wrong (her Mr. Rights being far from ideal), Amy wants to stop putting life on the back burner and truly live it, and Grace wants to stop living life according to other people’s expectations and have fun.

But their confessions come to an abrupt end when trees start crashing through windows. Checking things out, Mallory braves the weather and realizes that there is a man caught under one of them by the entrance. The three woman discover its Mysterious Cute Guy, a sexy newcomer to the town who no one seems to know much about, with a head injury. While waiting for the ambulance and trying to keep him warm in Mallory’s car, Amy and Grace try to convince her that anyone as sexy and aloof as this man is exactly the kind of Mr. Wrong she needs.

Ty wakes up in the hospital with vague memories of a soft body and warm hands which comforted him when he got hit by a tree on the way into the diner for pie. He’s come to Lucky Harbor on the recommendation of his former Navy buddy, Matt (now a Park Ranger), who has said the area is perfect for his recuperation. Ty is a former SEAL and medic who now does a lot of private security work. A bad leg injury needs time to heal, but even more than his body, Ty’s mind still feels the trauma and guilt surrounding losing his whole team in a plane crash.

More than aware that he’s not only not staying in town for long, Ty is nevertheless drawn to Mallory. Her big brown eyes, gorgeous curves, and caring demeanor has him actually feeling things. As frightening as that is, he makes the parameters of his attraction really clear and Mallory still gives him the go ahead. As part of her new plan of Mr. Wrong, she’s willing to take Ty however she can get him, and the physical connection they have cannot be denied. Neither of them count on how addictive that connection is, but as Ty finds excuses to stay longer in Lucky Harbor, he has to confront the reality of his situation. He is not for her.

OMG, damaged military men, especially ones with soft, gooey centers, are a personal favorite and Ty is no exception. He had my buy in from the first moments of the hot storage room encounter with Mallory at the health center’s auction and he only got better from that moment. Mallory is an amazing women who is so sweet and honest about what she is thinking and feeling that you can’t help but love her. The fact that she truly accepts everyone for who they are renders the affection the whole town holds for her unsurprising. Shalvis’ rich description of the many vibrant secondary characters, particularly the town gallery owner and busybody Lucille, with her relentless Facebooking, makes this book a pageturner.

At Last (#5 Lucky Harbor series – Amy and Matt’s Story) by Jill Shalvis (Forever, June 26, 2012)

At Last (Amy Michaels and Matt Bowers Story)

When Parks Ranger Matt Bowers (currently in the running for the Lucky Harbor’s “Mr. Hot Buns” competition on Facebook) gets the call that there is a lost hiker in his park, he’s pleased to discover it’s gorgeous diner waitress and relative newcomer Amy Michaels. He only eats when it’s her shift for the pleasure of looking at her, but even his patented panty-melting smile doesn’t seem to work on this cool and wary woman. Having more than enough heartache in his past, he can respect her distance, particularly when he knows he can’t offer her more than a hot tumble, but that doesn’t mean he can’t try and convince her as to his way of thinking.

Amy is annoyed by her attraction to the devastatingly sexy man in uniform. Having a wild youth and being a homeless runaway at sixteen means she’s got lots of reasons to not trust men but there is something about this one that gets right under her well-laid defenses. She remembers her stated goal to the other chocoholics about living her life and not being a spectator any more. Caving to him might result in blazingly hot sex unlike any she’s had, but she knows she’s got nothing else to give, and he claims the same. Yet feelings emerge that neither of them seem to be able to deal with, and what good can come of that?

I was so impressed by how deftly Jill Shalvis wove in the overarching theme of Amy using her grandmother’s journals and sketchbooks to guide her own emotional journey. The minor plotline of the young runaway Riley and how her presence dredges up Amy’s emotions about her own troubled past never feels like a tacked on plot device but instead moves the characters forward. I was rooting so hard for Amy and Matt to honestly confront their emotions that when they finally did, I couldn’t help but give a much-warranted fist pump in triumph!

Forever and a Day (#6 Lucky Harbor series – Grace and Josh’s story) by Jill Shalvis (Forever, July 31, 2012)

Forever and a Day (Grace and Josh’s story)

Having watched her friends Mallory and Amy find love, Grace is happy for them, if a little wistful for herself. She’s a downsized investment banker who came to the Pacific Northwest for a great job in Seattle, until she discovered her boss expected extra “benefits” as part of her package. Taking off down the coast, she literally wandered into Lucky Harbor and made it her base of operations while she scours the market for a new position.

The only problem is that in this economy they are impossible to find and she doesn’t even want to touch the idea that she never really liked investment banking in the first place. She’s been trying to live up to her parents’ high expectations, so she can hardly tell them she’s doing odd jobs and the books for the town citizens to make ends meet. When Dr. Josh Scott, aka Dr. MacSexy on Lucky Harbor’s Facebook page, calls her by accident to ask her to dogwalk his obnoxious new pug puppy, she agrees even though she has zero experience. How hard can it be?

Um…really hard, particularly when the puppy is the a cross between Satan and a coked up rock star. An ER doctor trying to simultaneously run his late father’s practice, be a single dad to his adorable son, and responsibly care for his 21 year old sister (a hellion put in a wheelchair by the same car crash that killed their parents), Josh is the definition of overextended and everything is paying the price. His two best friends have found the women of their dreams and Josh can barely remember the last time he had sex!

Sex is also all he can think about when he comes across his dogwalker up to her thighs in the ocean by his home and convinced that his puppy committed suicide in the waves. The way the water and sand have plastered her thin sundress to her frame has Josh’s mind frying its remaining gray matter but he convinces himself he has no time for the distraction. Circumstances seem to have different ideas, and when a dogwalking gig becomes a live-in nanny arrangement, the chemistry between Grace and Josh becomes a conflagration. He knows she’s not long for the area but his son and sister are finally getting the attention they deserve and by a stunning woman who seems to genuinely care for them. He’s falling for her too, no matter how hard he’s fighting it, but Grace might very well choose to leave them. After all, everyone else in Josh’s life has done just that.

OMG – Josh is soooooo awesome. The former 95 pound geek weakling who filled out to a buff six foot something hunk of man and then becomes a caring doctor? Sign. Me. UP. Fun Grace, who happens to be a major smartie and multitasker, is exactly what this doctor ordered. Seing them each deal head on with each other’s baggage and actually communicate with one another is a sigh-worthy journey to their happily ever after.

Summary or What’s Taking You So Long?

Anyone who enjoys well-written contemporary romance written with blazing sensuality, a compelling emotional journey, and rich characters should have themselves committed if they don’t run out and devour the Lucky Harbor series, particularly the latest three additions. Like the chocolate recipes in the back of each book (yes! amazing romance novels with chocolate recipes as a bonus!!), each book is a sweet, rich treat, but minus any fattening calories. What are you waiting for?

Revisiting High School Can Be Sexy with The Guy Most Likely To…Anthology

23 Jul

It’s hard not to trust the Harlequin Blaze line. Unlike some of the other Harlequin imprints which I find harbor excellent writers but are often inconsistent in their quality (to say nothing of their inordinately stupid titles like “Billionaire Doctor Prince’s Accidental Wife and Secret Baby” – a composite, I grant you, but close enough), Blaze always has a great heat level and addresses a strong emotional relationship. I’d read some holiday themed anthologies before, but wanted to try one unrelated to Valentine’s Day or Christmas to see what it was like.

Spotting this anthology, The Guy Most Likely To…, on NetGalley seemed like a great place to start. Based around the premise of high school renunions, each author has penned a story about a couple who had real heat back in high school and are now facing each other for the first time 10 years later at their reunion. Unlike many anthologies which seesaw in quality of story, these three authors, Leslie Kelly, Janelle Denison and Julie Leto, all give us characters easy to love.

This makes sense when you find out that these three ladies, along with romance author Carly Phillips, call themselves the Plotmonkeys, so they are clearly comfortable working together. I was surprised, but pleased, when the unifying element of the location – a special reunion resort outside Chicago called Celebrations – was the key point in the story. I figured it would be the same reunion, but this flexbility allowed each writer to shape the high school experience differently for their characters and it worked extremely well.

“Underneath It All” by Leslie Kelly

Ten years ago, Prom Queen Lauren was left crying and alone with her crown on the night of her senior prom, publicly humiliated by her long-term boyfriend Seth, who not only didn’t show for the dance but also withdrew from school the next day. Even more hurtful was the fact that the two of them had planned to consummate their relationship that night, a detail that has left Lauren with more than a little baggage, particularly after her fiancee broke off their engagement a couple of years ago right before the ceremony. Guaranteed that Seth isn’t attending the reunion, Lauren has come to be a support for her recently divorced best friend, only to be stopped dead in her tracks by a sexy voice from the past who greets her in the check-in line.

The only reason successful L.A. sports agent Seth Crowley is at this reunion is to find Lauren and apologize to her for that night long ago. Seth has harbored a painful secret all these years about his family and he knows that Lauren deserves the truth about what happened. He’s dated women over the past decade, but each relationship has only proven what he knew deep down – the only time he has really been in love, it was with beautiful, giving Lauren. And he wants a second chance.

LOVED this story. Lauren’s range of emotions and how she has attempted to deal with the astronomical blow of Seth’s abandonment is totally believable. Watching the two of them explain the aftermath of that night to each other is its own emotional journey, a journey continued by the long-delayed physical consummation of their relationship. Niggling insecurities continue, but the final scene, resulting in a real happily ever after, is heart-thumpingly sweet.

Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Janelle Denison

I always fall for the geek in romances. Give me a man with brains and hidden hunkiness and I’m all in with this scintillating story being no exception.

Ali might have been the head cheerleader back in high school, but she was also smart and kind, something Will knew back when he was tutoring her in Calculus their senior year and they became good friends – friends with a lot of attraction between them. He was bullied constantly back then but Ali was a highlight in his often bleak days, with no day blazing brighter than when she agreed to go out with him. But he canceled two hours before their first date and proceeded to ignore her for the rest of year.

Will could tell she was hurt, but after a while Ali stopped trying to speak with him and moved on. Now he’s a successful internet millionaire who has lost the glasses and fulfilled his body’s buff potential, but rather than flaunt his success and good looks, all he wants during this reunion is to see Ali again and explain what happened.

Ali is still confused about what happened between her and Will. She really liked him and was hurt when he canceled their date and ended their friendship. She’s always been judged by her looks – she was voted “Most Likely to Become a Playboy Bunny” after all – and she always hated how the popular set treated Will, particularly when he was voted “Most Likely to Date a Playboy Bunny…NOT” out of spite for their almost-relationship. The new and improved Will takes her breath away and it seems like he’s still the wonderful, smart guy she fell for years ago.

Ali is a sweetheart – I loved the realism of how her agreeing to date Will was a huge danger to her popularity – and Will is my geek-ideal. His romancing Ali while coming clean about the circumstances surrounding their break-up was so achingly wonderful, I found myself shushing my poor husband while I read it. Great, fun ending for this couple’s happily ever after and it was nice to see some high school bullies get their comeuppance on the dance floor.

“A Moment Like This” by Julie Leto

Erica was the class president and all around good girl at her tony Catholic high school and she knew everyone, except elusive bad boy Scott Ripley who was usually too busy working his way through the female population to take notice of Erica. Somewhere in the midst of their senior year, he offered to tutor her in French and she was desperate enough to improve her grade to take him up on his offer. After he rejected her advances and kept their relationship on the down low, she figured that he wasn’t the slightest bit interested, a fact that has rankled for a long time. Now a successful events planner charged with the details of their class renunion at the Celebrations resort, she has an idea of how to get noticed by Rip.

Rip has more than enough memories of his bad boy reputation back in high school. He wouldn’t even be coming to the reunion except that he’s now running a foundation which could use an infusion of fresh funding, and his former wealthy classmates would be a good source of cash. When a bombshell in painted on jeans and a skimpy vest pulls up on a wicked Harley and asks him to take a ride, he’s startled to discover that its Erica, the good girl he wanted but cared about too much to have her be just another physical encounter. It seems like Erica has other ideas of what would constitute a great reunion, and what she didn’t do with Scott back in the day appears to be front and center.

This was a very well-written story and I liked the complexity of Scott’s character. Erica sometimes felt like she had a bit of a hard shell, both in the flashbacks and in the present, and at times I felt that I was wondering what the hell she was up to along with Scott, despite my insight into her point of view.

The Girl Most Likely To…

This anthology is a great value at only $2.99 for 224 pages and I was happy to see that there is a companion volume planned, The Girl Most Likely To.... Sadly, while the author websites indicate this is due to be a summer release, I can find hide nor hair of any details about the actual date its due out. I’m hoping Harlequin gets its butt in gear, particularly if the quality will be anything similar to this wonderful compilation.

You’ll Want to Take a Vacation With This Anthology: Vacation with a Vampire

22 Jul

Browsing NetGalley, I recognized the authors in Vacation with a Vampire and was intrigued, enough to request the Advanced Reader Copy. I had read books by Michele Hauf and Kendra Leigh Castle and enjoyed them, so I figured this was a safe bet to try the anthology. I mean, after all, it’s the summer and vacations and vampires seemed like a great combination.

This is not your average beach read.

Or it is, if your beach read is a sexy, shivery, slightly-disturbing-but-in-the-BEST-possible-way book. Let’s take a look at the individual stories, shall we?

“Stay” by Michele Hauf

Lucian is a vampire content to live in Paris and run his antiques store. He remembers so many of them when they were new, and he has a nice cadre of friends to hang out with. The regular stream of tourists means he has a ready supply of one-night stands, either for blood or sex or both. After all, the one thing he never does is stay the night.

Magen is a buttoned up writer vacationing in Paris so she can do some research on the city and its Belle Epoque era for her historical novel. When she goes to get a present for the friend whose apartment she is using, she feels a strong attraction to the sexy owner of the antiques store. His presence unleashes her inner wanton and they both are astonished at the amount of heat generated between them.

Lucian took Magen’s blood and made her forget in the store, but it was delicious and he can’t help delivering the mirror she bought himself. One wild night of amazing sex leads to another and he’s astonished to find himself spending day after day with her. But her interest in the Art Noveau antiques in his store and landmarks like the Moulin Rouge are stirring up old, painful memories of a past lover, one that is determined to make both him and Magen suffer, even from beyond the grave.

This is more of a “happily for now” rather than “happily ever after” story and Michele Hauf is a solid writer you can rely on. I loved her description of Paris and all the Belle Epoque details. Lucian’s former lover and absinthe addict Magenta is a chilling character and the complexity of the tie between her and Lucian was well-drawn. My only complaint about this story was that Lucian initially describes Magen as “plain” but never later amends his opinion to share the physical part of her which attracted him. I think I would have appreciated seeing that evolution.

If you are interested in exploring other works by Michele Hauf, I strongly recommend using her Goodreads page, rather than the books page of her website, which resembles a calculus problem in its complexity. She’s been quite a prolific author (which I imagine is the reason she gets top billing in this anthology), so you’ll have a lot of other works to choose from.

“Vivi and the Vampire” by Kendra Leigh Castle

Oh my God, this story alone is worth getting the anthology (and at under $3.50 for the ebook version on Amazon, the book is a good value). Castle mentions in the little introduction before the story that she wrote the story because the hero, vampire king Justin, had garnered so much fan praise and interest in his small appearance in her other book, Renegade Angel, that she felt he would be an ideal subject for a novella. And is he!!

Renegade Angel by Kendra Leigh Castle (Harlequin Nocture, September 2010)

Justin is the incredibly busy vampire king of Terra Noctem, the secret underground city which provides a haven for night creatures who need a place away from humans. Justin has been a powerful vampire since he was turned during the Roman Empire and it seems like it’s been that long since he’s taken a vacation. His adorable sister and right hand woman forces him to go to a nice beach resort with the order to go get laid. Despite his eye-rolling, he agrees to head there, knowing he’s not going to find a woman, but at least the change of scenery would do him good.

Vivi is a vampire hunter also assured that this resort would be free of the pasty set, but the two drunk vampires in front of her on the beach arguing over which one gets her blood demonstrates there is no truth in the rumors. When Justin comes upon her fighting for all she’s worth, he easily dispatches the vampire to the hinterlands. But once he catches a close up look at the blue-eyed, raven haired pixie they were fighting, he’s not about to let her get away.

I cannot believe how hot and sweet this romance is. Vivi is an honorable, fun-loving character who took her job for its sense of adventure and because she was assured that vampire hunters only pursued vampires who have a proven track record of hurting humans. The people she’s working with are beginning to change their outlook, and that has her nervous, particularly since she finds herself so incredibly attracted to Justin. He’s not only the most gorgeous man she’s ever seen, but his vulnerability and loneliness call to something in her.

After reading this novella, I actually went and immediately purchased Renegade Angel so I can have a little more Justin time and continue to enjoy Kendra’s writing. Justin’s slight awkwardness during their “date” is charming and the idea that he lets Vivi cajole him into karoake is utterly hysterical and tugs on the heartstrings. I was elated that this ending was very much a “Happily Ever After” and want to read lots more about this particular world. Of all the authors, Kendra Leigh Castle also possesses the loveliest and more informative author website and seems to rock the social networking world with her savvy. She’s everything I want in an author!

“Island Vacation” by Lisa Childs

Piper has been hiding in her work for the accounting firm with its multimillion dollar clients for a long time – at least for the four years since the accident that caused her to assume a new name. She’s exhausted, not just from the hours she puts in but also from the nightmares and black outs which continue to plague her. Surprised she’s won the office pool for the all-expenses paid two week vacation, she embarks in the private plane provided and hopes she can get some rest.

Instead she’s confronted by a livid, incredibly handsome man, Roarke. Roarke knows that this woman is the model who killed his cousin, the gold-digger who demanded gifts and money and then murdered him in cold blood before disappearing years ago, but he didn’t count on her beauty stirring him so much. Her tearful protest that she’s not that person convinces him and the passionate love-making they engage in sparks an intense connection. The medical condition she has causes him some serious worry though – what exactly is wrong with her and why is the physician on her prescription label the one who works for the Secret Vampire Society?

This was a very psychological novella and therefore the most disturbing of the stories. Piper is wrestling with major trauma from years ago and her nightmares are vivid. I found the strong connection between the two of them a little hard to swallow – he’s accusing her of killing his cousin, then changing his mind, then having sex with her in the space of what seems like an hour. It was exhausting to read so I can’t imagine the characters actually doing it. Even though Roarke later professes his love for Piper and acknowledges how he knows she’s a good person, I wasn’t sure how he knew that. Had they had lots of pillow talk and I missed it? The fact that she was wrongly accused of killing his cousin and duped herself doesn’t mean she’s awesome. Hmm.

My conclusions are that I still enjoyed reading all three stories, but that Kendra Leigh Castle’s story is worth the price of the anthology alone. If you haven’t read anything from these authors, this would be a great way to get the flavor of their writing before committing to a longer work of fiction. This anthology is a super summer release by Harlequin Nocturne and it definitely fulfilled its purpose in getting me to read more books by these excellent writers. Thanks, Harlequin!

Best Regency Romance Series EVER – The Cynster Series by Stephanie Laurens

21 Jul

Australian writer Stephanie Laurens

Some of the first books for “grownups” I read were romance novels.  My mother had a select group she enjoyed, collected during the 70s and 80s, kept on a special bookcase that hung over the back of her bedroom door. (I can still remember my very first, which I later hunted down in a used bookstore, Bride of the MacHugh, instilling a love of all things Scottish). Working hard at the beck and call of lawyers and executives as a secretary, her escape took the form of the costume dramas of Masterpiece Theatre and historical romance novels.

Devil’s Bride (#1 Cynster Series – Devil and Honoria’s story)(Avon, March 1998)

I loved these books once initiated – the dresses, the rakes and rogues, the political machinations keeping the lovers apart only to see them overcome all obstacles. Later I realized the ridiculous devices demanded by the industry – the women were more like girls because they were so young and naturally they were all virgins. The language describing the sex was, in retrospect, hilarious with “throbbing manhoods” and other euphemisms that more confused than enlightened – but like any good genre fiction, the basic formula was a good one.

Because all genre fiction is formulaic. Mysteries often have an interesting and complex protagonist, set in a time period or with a specialty, who has helpful sidekicks who assist him/her in ferreting out the “who dun it” effectively.  Historical romance, pardon me, good historical romance owes a lot of its appeal to its crossover tendencies. It’s hopefully well-researched historical fiction, so its references and social history are accurate. Usually there is a mystery or political intrigue to satisfy those tendencies, and there is, without question, two protagonists who we care enough about to want to root them to live happily ever after.

A Rake’s Vow (#2 Cynster Series – Vane and Patience’s story)(Avon, October 1998)

So why are people so stuck up about romance novels? I know men who read literally any Tom Clancy-esque political thriller (slap a hammer and sickle on it, a handsome but capable ex-Marine, and a love interest who admires herself naked in a mirror in the first 100 pages and they are on it) but have nothing but derision toward women who read romance.  Is it the ridiculous covers? The torrid prose on the back of the book jacket? Folks, those are all the publisher’s doing (and rapidly becoming less common, thank heavens) and no more indicator of what’s inside that book than the paper wrapper on your Big Mac means the sandwich inside is from a tree.

In my opinion, the best modern author who epitomizes the skillful historical romance series is Australian writer Stephanie Laurens, author of over 45 books, many of which have taken a turn on the New York Times Bestseller list.  Her best-loved series is the Cynster novels, a grouping of 19 books based on one family, the proud and tightly knit noble Cynsters led by the head of the family, the Duke of St. Ives, known as Devil to his family and friends.

Scandal’s Bride (#3 Cynster series – Scandal and Catriona’s story) (Avon, March 1999) – set in Scotland

Laurens makes no bones about the fact that her attraction to the Regency era comes from the fact that it was a time of social flux, with enough leeway for the behavior of men and women that interesting situations could occur which would not be possible in the later Victorian era.  Men of privilege were bold and demanding masters of their universe and women had not yet been beaten into submission by later Victorian mores that they couldn’t occasionally stand up for themselves, questioning the inevitability of marriage.  Laurens describes her style as,  “It’s very much in the vein of Errol Flynn meets Jane Austen—lots of dashing derring-do grounded by a healthy dose of feminine common sense.” Men and women in this society, especially well-born individuals, were expected to do their duty and get married to someone appropriate, whether or not the people in question actually wanted the union.

A Rogue’s Proposal (#4 Cynster series – Demon and Flick’s story) (Avon, October 1999) – my second favorite of all the books!

It’s this inevitability that her characters fight, both male and female. Laurens is a godsend in that she believes in older characters (the ladies are usually in their mid to late twenties) and isn’t unwilling to have the occasional female protagonist who isn’t a virgin. The women are strong and stubborn in their way, seeing no reason to be coaxed into a loveless marriage of convenience. Her men, as she states in informational interviews in some of the supplemental material for her books, fall “in lust” at first with the woman in question, their possessive instincts to help and protect stirred. The female protagonist, while attracted to the man, has no wish to surrender her independence, making her that much more of a challenge and prize to be won. In the course of trying to win her body, the male gets to know her and she him, with the result being they fall in love.

A Secret Love (#5 Cynster series – Gabriel and Alathea’s story)(Avon, July 2000)

Devil Cynster, Duke of St. Ives, has one brother and four cousins (each with equally as disconcerting nicknames) similar in age and temperament. All six of them served together in France fighting Napoleon where they earned the moniker of “invincible” since they each returned from the bloody battle of Waterloo without a scratch.  Close friends and with similar rakish tendencies towards the ladies, they are known by the ton as the “Bar Cynster.”

The Cynster family motto is “To Have and To Hold” (love that!) and it is interpreted by the author as the Cynsters possessing a passionate love of the land and of family. With so many romance novel heroes being cold and calculating, the humanity and warmth demonstrated by the Cynster family’s love and affection for one another – these men are friends as well as relatives – is one of the reasons this series stands out from the typical historical romance offering. Readers fall in love not just with the two protagonists, but with the whole family, caring deeply about what happens to the characters not just in the book focused on them, but in subsequent books as well.

All About Love (#6 Cynster series – Lucifer and Phyllida’s story) (Avon, February 2001) – this is the end of the Bar Cynsters part of the series although they crop up regularly in the other books

Laurens uses a deft hand interweaving the books and keeping continuity (check out her chronology placing all her books from this and other series, in order by year of event). One of the tried and true formulas of her books is that she establishes the two major protagonists and the reason they are drawn together (a conflict or mystery to be solved with the characters helping one another as they fall in love). About two-thirds through the book, the Cynster calvalry is called in, with previous characters and family members introduced to help solve the problem and offer backup. The object of Cynster affection then sees the love between family members and further knows that this is a family they can trust and be part of, further sealing the deal.

While there certainly is intrigue and occasionally crime to propel the plot, the obstacles to the future of the characters are largely emotional. The woman does not want to give up her independence; the man hesitates to admit to the weakness of “love.” A quality I adore about Laurens’ writing is that she uses her fiery sex scenes to reveal the emotional progress of her characters. She understands how the physical act of love can unlock emotions and reveal the truth of feelings long-buried.

All About Passion (#7 Cynster series – Earl of Chillingworth and Francesca’s story) (Avon, September 2001) – the Cynsters consider Chillingworth and honorary member of the Bar Cynster

It’s not just the main characters which are well-drawn. The minor characters in these novels are incredibly complex and three-dimensional, doing an excellent job furthering the plot and giving depth to the scene. Lady Osbaldstone, the blunt and all-seeing grand dame of the ton, is a recurring character in most of the books who is a personal favorite. The younger siblings of many of the love interests (or young Cynsters) are written so well that they are able to be easily fleshed out in later novels as they reach an age of falling in love, a happenstance which actually seems like great planning and writing to me.

In addition to well-drawn characters, it’s a profound pleasure to read Laurens’ books because of the level of historical accuracy she attains. Laurens admits that this was of necessity initially in her career as her original contract for Regency romances were published by a British firm that insisted on the utmost accuracy (I gather those British readers, surrounded by Regency settings, are real sticklers for historical details).

The Promise in a Kiss (#7.5 Cynster series – Sebastian and Helena’s story) (Avon, November 2002) – while this is labeled #7.5, it is a prequel focusing on the pre-Revolution romance of Devil’s father and mother, so it could easily be considered #0.5

Besides the obvious historical references (this is a great way for someone to be introduced to the controversy surrounding the Corn Laws in early 19th century history), the language (including colloquialisms and idiom) are correct. The horse references and ton etiquette are a fabulous bonus for someone interested in this period. Laurens admits the only area she takes license with in her desire to bump up the introduction of buttons, particularly for male shirts. It’s hard to get your male protagonist out of his clothes fast enough without those darn buttons!

Having seen video interviews with Stephanie Laurens, it was a jolt to discover that’s not her actual name. Theonne Anne De Kretser took her pseudonym from the names of her two daughters, Stephanie and Lauren when she decided to begin writing romance novels. Like other great romance novelists (like Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame), De Kretser comes from a strong scientific background, possessing a Ph.D. in Biochemistry. Running a laboratory during the day, she found her relaxation and escape in the form of romance novels. When she realized she had read all the regency romances currently in print, she decided she would write one for herself. When she finished, she realized it was good enough that she could approach a publisher, and the rest was history.

On a Wild Night (#8 Cynster series – Amanda and Dexter’s story) (Avon, April 2002)

The first ten books (all the covers in this post with links the amazon page for each one) deal with actual Cynsters, all of whom you meet or hear about in the first 50 pages of the first book.  By the time we get to books 8, 9, and 10 we are learning about characters who were lanky teens in the first book but are coming into their Cynster legacy with abandon in On a Wild Night and On a Wicked Dawn. The twins Amanda and Amelia are balls of fire (I can imagine the emergence of early gray hairs on the heads of their sexy Bar Cynster cousins) and hands down, #10 The Perfect Lover about Simon Cynster and Luke’s sister (and Amelia Cynster’s sister-in-law) Portia is my absolute favorite. I swear I reread this book about every six weeks on my iPad!

On a Wicked Dawn (#9 Cynster series – Amanda’s twin Amelia and Luke’s story) (Avon, April 2002)

Books 11 through 15 are the “in-laws”, the younger brothers of Cynster brides now searching for their own perfect mates.  These include The Ideal Bride (#11 – Honoria’s brother Michael), The Truth About Love (#12 – Patience’s artist brother Gerard is a hunky painter bent on love and solving a mystery), What Price Love? (#13 – Flick’s honorary brother Dillon is now working for the horse industry in Newmarket but there’s another scandal about to break loose), The Taste of Innocence (#14 – Alathea’s brother Charles’ story), and finally Temptation and Surrender (#15 – Phyllida’s brother Jonas’ story). Of these, The Truth About Love with Patience’s brother Gerrard is outstanding, as is Temptation and Surrender (I adore Jonas and we get a lot of Lucifer and Phyllida in it since they are all in the same town). Don’t worry if you need a visual aid to help figure everyone out. Laurens is nice enough to give us a genealogy chart to keep track of all the matches and their children, although it doesn’t include everyone.

The Perfect Lover (#10 Cynster series – Simon and Portia’s story) (Avon, February 2004)

Recently published books 16 through 19 focus on three sisters, Heather (Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue), Eliza (In Pursuit of Miss Eliza Cynster), and Angelica Cynster (The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae). All of these girls were mere babies in the first book of the series, so it’s exciting watching them find their destined mate while dealing with an enemy bent on revenge for a perceived wrong committed years ago by their parents. Since the bulk of all the books happen in Scotland, we get a nice dose of Scandal and Catriona with their bairns.

Here’s where Stephanie Laurens does something a little quirky (hey, whatever – as long as she writes Cynster books, I can put up with quirky). Remember my favorite book, The Perfect Lover and #10 in the series? From a chronological standpoint, it actually occurs AFTER all of the above books. Yes, you read that right, ALL of them. Since I do like sometimes reading the books in the order of year the match occured (it saves a lot of “wait, aren’t those two married already?”), I rely on the chronological order of the books (and these are all her books, not just her Cynster ones – Cynsters crop up and cameo in some of her other series). Obviously you can read them in the order published and be fine, but I thought I’d mention this in case someone got confused in the middle of reading the series.

Where the Heart Leads (#1 The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series – Barnaby and Penelope’s story) (William Morrow, 2008)

The only book that comes after The Perfect Lover is not technically a Cynster book, it’s Where the Heart Leads, an amazing novel and one of my favorites as it focuses on Barnaby Adair, a noble-born son who has actually helped solve mysteries in several of the Cynster books. This determined bachelor ends up falling for Portia’s sister, Penelope. I would encourage anyone to read The Perfect Lover followed by Where the Heart Leads for maximum effect. These two sisters are so intelligent and headstrong it’s a wonder they didn’t kill their brother before he had a chance to marry into the Cynster family.

If there is any criticism to offer regarding Stephanie Laurens, it certainly doesn’t pertain to her writing. Rather, it would be regarding her writer’s platform. With a formidable backlist of titles whose quality easily exceeds 95% of the current Regencies published, her website (which looks like it’s from the 1990s) and lack of social presence (she has a decent Facebook author page, but no Twitter account – she should consider linking the two for effortless tweeting) harm rather than support her sales. She’s too wonderful to hide her light under a bushel!

It’s certainly worth mentioning that the excellent Bastion Club series takes place during much of the Cynster saga, containing a certain amount of cross-over.  Both the Bastion and Cynster series have characters that crossover to Laurens other series, the Black Cobra Quartet, which involves a group of soldiers who have to foil a plan conceived in India but with a final impact in England.

So don’t dismiss historical romance, any more than you would any other genre.  If you decide to try it, pick up a Cynster novel by Stephanie Laurens and see what you think.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

**Take a look also at my review first book in the Cynster Sisters Duo, And Then She Fell, for more information on the literary evolution of the Cynster family.”

Excellent Gaslight Romance Continues with Moonglow, the Second Installment in the Darkest London Series

20 Jul

Firelight (#1 Darkest London series) by Kristen Callihan (Forever, 2012)

The world of gaslight romance fiction is not very large, and is usually populated by readers who also enjoy steampunk, that wonderful blend of alternate history, science fiction and fantasy. I have lamented before in this blog that finding adult authors of steampunk or gaslight (as opposed to the many excellent young adult authors in these genres) is sometimes difficult, but earlier this year with her debut offering, Kristen Callihan set the romance world aflame with her unusual, emotional romance, Firelight.

Happily this year, we have the long awaited sequel, Moonglow, coming out on July 31st, and was fortunate enough to get access to an Advanced Reader Copy via NetGalley to give you a hint at how great it is.

Kristen Callihan uses a master’s touch to paint a vivid picture of 1880s London with a gaslight twist. The supernatural, both good and evil, abound in this world, with vivid characters and plot twists causing readers to gasp at the unexpected. The aptly named Darkest London series reminds me of the gothic romances popularized in the 19th century, filled with shadows and a possibly doomed love. The difference in these books is that its the women doing the saving (and not just an emotional rescue of the hero), so we have a delightful update for the 21st century sensibility.

Firelight tells the story of Miranda Ellis, a willowy redhead reduced from a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle to stealing for her father. Her mother dead and her two older sisters married, one in a love match and the other sold to the highest bidder to a man three times her age, Miranda is lonely and so tired of the life she is forced to lead. She carries the guilt of contributing to her family’s financial ruin by having been responsible for burning down the warehouse that housed most of her father’s imported goods, and this fact is what allowed her father to blackmail her into a life of theft. Despite feeling like she is in her own private hell, she is nevertheless incensed when her father announces that she will marry the infamous Lord Archer, a reclusive noble who is renowned for having some type of deformity necessitating his wearing a solid black mask.

Benjamin Archer is still paying for a mistake he made years ago, but the only thing that made him feel remotely alive was meeting a feisty nineteen-year-old girl in an alley when he was on his way to kill her father three years ago. He has searched for a cure all this time, in order to claim her as a whole man, but cannot deny his need any longer. If he can just have Miranda near him as his wife, his life would be infinitely less painful.

And, oh, how hard they fall for each other. Archer can be silver tongued devil when he is ready to finally be honest with Miranda, and it’s no wonder the revelation of his feelings result in her being even more in love with him.

“I lied. I lied when I said your beauty does not affect me. I look at you, and I’m breathless, dizzy from it. I want to kneel at your feet and worship you. While the baser part of me wants to fling up your skirts and stick my cock in you until we forget our names…But none of that matters,” he said, trembling before her, “because every day that I am with you, I am more convinced that God made you just for me. For in ninety years on this earth, no one has made me feel the way you do, as if every day is an adventure.”

Who wouldn’t do everything they could to save this man from his past mistakes? And there are major forces lining up against them. An entire secret club of men are afraid at Archer’s return to England, a killer is framing him for one gruesome murder after another, Miranda’s brother-in-law is the police inspector investigating the case, Archer has a past lover bent on Miranda’s death and Archer’s return to her, and the son of one of his enemies, Ian Mckinnon, is more than a little fascinated by Miranda and is clear in his pursuit of her.

Ember (#0.5 Darkest London series) by Kristen Callihan (Forever, 2012)

This is a beautiful, dark romance between two people who have kept secrets for so long that they are almost incapable of opening up to one another. The first time I read it, I was actually frustrated by the focus on the revelation of what Archer hides behind his mask (and the fact that it comes toward the end of the book) as well as how long it took for the two of them to be physically intimate with one another.

The latter frustration  is easily a result of the amazing sexual tension Kristen Callihan builds between our hero and heroine and I imagine is more of a compliment to her writing ability, however! Once I understood the more gothic nature of the series, this frustration dissolved and I was instead impressed by the incredibly fresh approach to gaslight romance that the author employs.

Because of the rich plethora of secondary characters, I was happy when Callihan released Ember, a prequel novella focusing on Miranda’s interim life between meeting Archer in the alley by her house and his reemergence into her life. At a mere $.99 for a chunky 100 pages, this novella should be a must-read by anyone who has enjoyed Firelight, particularly due to the fact that it fills in many holes for us.

In it we have the fleshed out story of Miranda’s meeting with her East End friend Billy Finger who teaches her how to steal more effectively as well as the alluded-to story of her failed romance with her ex-fiancee. I definitely would not recommend reading this work prior to Firelight; it is undoubtedly a prequel that gains more impact with a reading after the first book in the series.

Moonglow (#2 Darkest London series) by Kristen Callihan (Forever, 2012)

The second book in the series, Moonglow, focuses on Miranda’s sister Daisy, a lush blonde finally free of her cruel older husband and ready to emerge from the mandatory year of mourning proscribed by Victorian society. On her way to a racy demimonde party, her handsome date pulls her into an alleyway for some pre-party friskiness but to her astonishment they are attacked by a werewolf, a fact that registers prior to losing consciousness.

Lord Ian Mckinnon is having some, er, performance issues. The red-headed whores he usually employs for sexual release aren’t doing it for him anymore and the results are downright embarrassing. A lone wolf who has rejected his birthright of alpha of his father’s pack, he goes for a run in London and is attracted by the sent of blood and a rogue were. He discovers Daisy beneath a heap of other bodies and brings her home with him to treat her wounds and discover more about the attack.

Daisy knows all about Lord Ian Mckinnon from her sister Miranda and her brother-in-law, Benjamin Archer, so naturally she’s wary of the man who attempted to drive a wedge between them. She can’t help being attracted to his incredibly handsome face and hard, muscled body, but it’s the streak of loneliness and wit that really draws her in. Daisy is hesitant to give into his pursuit, not only because she has her husband’s cruel punishments tied to the carnal nature of women still in her mind, but also because she has no desire to be a substitute for her unattainable sister.

To Ian’s astonishment, he realizes quickly that he is not interested in Miranda anymore in the slightest, and it is Daisy’s golden hair and lush curves which have awakened his dormant sexual desire. That his inner wolf is both excited and calmed by her presence also convinces him that she is meant for him. But Ian carries over a century of personal baggage. His wife and son of many years ago, both dead now in rejection of Ian’s werewolf nature, haunt him still. But he still makes the decision to fight all his history and claim Daisy for his own.

“I am afraid, aye? Bloody afraid of history repeating itself.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and held on tightly. “But I want you more. Do you understand? I feel free when I am with you. Happy. You are the gift I never saw coming.”

This book’s pacing is very similar to Firelight, with the same dark, gothic overtones which focus on the external conflicts with the development of the romance taking place within that framework. And there is no lack of conflict. Ian has the complicated relationship with his pack to negotiate, a rogue werewolf to subdue, the involvement of other supernatural creatures bent on using the situation to their advantage, Daisy discovers that her sister Miranda isn’t the only one with supernatural powers, Ian is being framed for the werewolf murders since he’s been the first one on the scene of the deaths, Daisy is targeted as Ian’s weakness, and on top of it all, Daisy’s health is heavily compromised. Yikes!

I did feel like I had a few areas that went unaddressed for me. I would have liked more details about Daisy’ husband’s cruelty – was it just the one time or were there other incidents? She had a strong inner voice she was fighting regarding her sexual nature and it seemed like understanding her abuse would give more insight to her character. Also, Daisy alludes to the fact that she had been intimate with a few men prior to her marriage. Miranda was not a virgin coming to Archer (it was her fiancee she slept with), while I get the impression that Daisy had more of a couple of flings. Was she in love with these two men? Is this supposed to indicate a more carnal quality in her makeup? Why wasn’t she worried about getting pregnant? It just seemed like a missing piece to me that would have helped my understanding of her.

However, those were only minor blips on the radar. As with Firelight, the intimacy and big mystery reveal/supernatural resolution to the situation occurs quickly at the end of the book and the reader is left turning the pages quickly and letting her family know it’s take out for dinner tonight. Ian and Daisy are fabulous characters who are easy to love, and it’s clear that the next book, one focusing on older sister Poppy and her now estranged husband, Inspector Winston Lane (titled Winterglaze and due out in 2013) will be just as riveting, probably focusing on the Society for Supernaturals Poppy belongs to. I can’t wait to get more delicious gaslight romance from this source. Thank you, Kristen Callihan!

You’ll Want To Get In Bed with Undercover Alliance by Lilly Cain

19 Jul

Undercover Alliance (The Confederacy Treaty, #3) by Lilly Cain (Carina Press, June 25, 2012)

It’s easy to have a little trepidation when approaching a science fiction erotic novella. Science fiction, by its nature, is about world-building and a writer has to devote valuable word count toward while also developing their characters and the rapid attraction between them. Add to this dilemma the fact that Undercover Alliance is the third in a series and I was sweating bullets that had nothing to do with the warm summer weather.

In the excellent hands of writer Lilly Cain, however, I had nothing to worry about.

I was shocked that this beefy novella was around 100 pages since the emotional and intellectual journey it took me on felt equivalent to a full-length novel. It’s also a terrific value at a smidgen over $3 for the Kindle version; I’ve paid a lot more for writing that was not this good.

A space-travel capable Earth has made contact a few months prior to the books events with the Inarrii, a people bound by complex clan systems filled with warriors who follow a strong code of honor in order to reflect well on their families. The Inarrii are also covered with swirling tendrils of what looks like henna tattoos but are in actuality a system of visible nerves which give them outstanding sensitivity, particularly sexually. This is vital to their health as Inarrii must experience regular sexual release in order to deal with stress and maintain mental and physical health, a fact of life which endows them with a freedom and openness to sexuality reflected in their honest approach to life.

Sarina is a damaged Inarrii warrior, looked upon with pity by her people. In a battle during the previous book in the series, a portion of nerve system was damaged beyond repair, making her unable to orgasm, despite her healer’s best efforts. Denied the work as a warrior she loves, she knows that she is a ticking time bomb with her people waiting for her to go insane. When she is given a token assignment to guard a minor human who is part of the legal team negotiating the treaty between their planets, she takes it in the hope that her diligence and ability will be proof of her continued competence.

The Naked Truth (The Confederacy Treaty #2) by Lilly Cain (Carina Press, June 13, 2011)

John Benning is not what she expected however. A good looking, sleek bodied male who can move silently and knows martial arts doesn’t seem the typical prototype for a lawyer consumed with the fine print of contracts. She knows he’s not what he seems yet she can’t help feeling sexually attracted to him. The discovery that they share a mental bond, a rarity between two different species, means that she might be able to obtain orgasm with him by riding his pleasure and through it attaining her own.

John can’t believe the beautiful woman who is his bodyguard. She’s clearly a consummate warrior and her direct sexual approach is refreshing, even as they continually experience one attack after another. Sarina clearly knows he’s lying about being a minor player in the negotiation process, but due to the nature of his mission he is unable to tell her that he is a high-level spy. Ever since losing his partner years ago, John has only worked alone and for good reason – he can’t afford to be distracted worrying about someone other than himself. But this Inarrii beauty might be his undoing.

The emotions, and not just attraction and love but growing tenderness between our hero and heroine, are carefully built and bring the reader into a realm of total belief regarding a relationship between these two. The larger political conflict is easily understandable and introduced with a minimum of exposition but it’s the almost anthropological approach to understanding the Inarrii where Cain excels. When science fiction becomes erotic, it always runs the risk of seeming tawdry or sensationalist, but the reader comes away with a strong respect for the differing approach to sexuality the Inarrii possess, an understanding which does not diminish the hot attraction between the main characters.

I’ll be purchasing the previous books in this series in order to enjoy this world even more and to also revel in Cain’s writing. Both the science fiction and the erotic romance side of this equation will be quite the pleasurable experience thanks to her!

Surrender My Heart by Kayla Perrin Misses Tugging the Heartstrings

18 Jul

Surrender My Heart (Harts in Love #2) by Kayla Perrin (Kimani Romance, June 1, 2012)

I love books about professional athletes, probably due to the fact that they are often the modern equivalent of the Regency rake. Talented, usually wealthy, with women throwing themselves at their feet, these beautiful men are ready to be reformed through the love a good woman. At least in books. 🙂

But this personal preference of mine relies on an author who can make the world of professional athletes come alive, like Jaci Burton. Whether from choice or editor’s decision, Kayla Perrin not only doesn’t dwell on this aspect, but she misses the emotional mark in terms of her two characters in Surrender My Heart.

Natalie Hart Cooper is reeling from her husband’s betrayal. He has left her for her supposed best friend and now the tabloids are saying that they are engaged to be married. Consider that the divorce papers she received unexpectedly in the mail are barely dry, this is a blow to Natalie’s self-esteem, but she’s got bigger fish to fry.

Her sister, Callie, was just in a car accident resulting from the Hart sisters attempting to find their mother. She left all three of them over twenty years ago and the women want to know what happened. Callie fell in love with cop Nigel in book #1 in the series after the three sisters reconnect after a decade of estrangement. Successful singer Deanna and Natalie had a falling out over a guy and not even mother hen Callie could keep the three of them together. The catalyst for their reunion is the death of their beloved Aunt Jean and as they gather for the funeral and to help their uncle, wounds are healed.

The backstory is well-done, not feeling heavy-handed or drowning you in exposition, and you certainly feel Natalie’s emotional betrayal when she gets the divorce papers. Her lack of pondering whether or not she still cares about her ex-husband Vance has the reader wondering if Natalie is ready to be the heroine of a romance or if she runs the risk of simply having a rebound relationship. I could have used some more insight as reassurance.

Heart to Heart (Harts in Love Book 3) by Kayla Perrin (Kimani Romance, July 1, 2012)

When Michael Jones spots Natalie shopping near a restaurant he owns he immediately turns on the charm. With little physical description of either of them, the reader is still given the impression that he’s a gorgeous wide receiver and she’s built on the side of curvy supermodel. But Natalie blows him off, her professional athlete “player” bell dinging a warning, and he’s shocked and intrigued. When fate throws them together in the form of a local charity asking Natalie to help plan a benefit gala (she was a very successful fundraiser in Texas with her ex), she can’t say no. Michael and Natalie end up spending time together and she begins to thaw toward him, frightened by her physical attraction, but willing to take a chance.

One of the reasons I enjoy romance novels is the chance to have two points of view. Unfortunately, practically the whole book, with only a few memorable exceptions, is from Natalie’s standpoint even though Michael seems like the more empathetic character. Natalie is undoubtedly a caring, elegant woman but with all the time she spends comparing Michael and her ex-husband, I’m worried about the success of her relationship. And how did she become a successful fundraiser after a mere two years of marriage to a professional basketball player? Did she have a degree in marketing beforehand? What kind of job did she have before getting married? If she thought her husband was cheating on her six months into her marriage, did she insist on counseling? Hire a private investigator?

What comes across is that Natalie is a very private, almost uncommunicative individual, scarred from her mother’s abandonment when the sisters were children. Aside from her good looks and competence as an events organizer, I actually don’t see why Michael is attracted to her, other than her telling him “no”. He doesn’t really ask her any questions about her marriage, which would had offered an opportunity for him to discuss his own past and condemn cheating in a relationship, or we could have seen Natalie playing with her young family members and Michael thinking about what a good mother she would make to gain a little insight. A real opportunity missed would have been for Natalie to meet Michael’s brain-damaged mother – I can see a sweet scene of Natalie rubbing lotion into the older woman’s hands or caring for her that would have revealed her nurturing character while also showing him her softer side.

I also was dismayed that so little was actually said about Michael being a professional athlete. I assume it wasn’t football season since there was no discussion of his actually playing in games, but what of his training schedule? Professional appearances? No mention of a personal assistant? In this case, it seems making him a professional athlete is more of a trope designed to help the reader understand why Natalie would assign Michael a character of being a playboy and not trust him, rather than to lend a depth of understanding into his character. Since athletes are often disciplined, college-educated individuals who come from a variety of backgrounds, this is also a missed opportunity to flesh out Michael’s character.

From a writing standpoint the dialogue frequently felt stilted. I’m not saying either character had to be a poet, but sandwiching everyday conversation with descriptions that tap into the five senses would have helped me understand the underlying attraction better between the two of them. The search for the Hart girls mother is a clever story arc that clearly does a good job tying the books together. When Michael drives Natalie on the spur of the moment from Cleveland to Philadelphia to follow up on a lead about her mother, it shows a great side of his loyal character (but sadly a rather unattractive and withdrawn side of Natalie, as much as you understand intellectually what she’s going through).

In the end, I came away with the impression that Kayla Perrin’s editor had stripped out a decent amount of description in order to meet a word count or that Ms. Perrin wrote this book really quickly and was unable to give it a couple more revisions that would have added in layers of emotional depth. This is a shame since the story potential was quite good, but in the end, it didn’t make me Surrender My Heart at all.

Why Can’t I Find a Romance Novel with Native Americans I Can Feel Good About?: The Peacemaker by Chelley Kitzmiller and Reflections on Stereotypes

10 Jul

The Peacemaker (Book 1 in Warriors of the Wind series) by Chelley Kitzmiller (TKA Distribution, March 2012)

I’m irritated with myself.

Before I requested this book on NetGalley, I had an internal debate. I rarely like historical romance fiction which caters to the fans of Native American romance novels, simply because I have yet to read one (and yes, I’ve read several) that doesn’t succumb to stereotypes.

In a world of romance fiction that thankfully frequently embraces cultural differences and sexual orientations (it can do better, but it’s come a long way), it seems like romance fiction which has a Native American character or tribe as a key plot focus immediately jumps back into the bodice ripper assumptions of the 1980s. Yuck.

I’m afraid not only does The Peacemaker by Chelley Kitzmiller have bizarre and unfortunate stereotypes but it’s also just a poorly written romance novel.

Miss Independence Taylor is a miss of undetermined age headed from St. Louis to the Arizonia territory to meet up with her estranged father, a colonel in the army. The tension between them exists because Indy’s father blames her for the death of her mother and brother since she brought smallpox home after working at an orphanage. She thinks braving the horrors of stagecoach travel and an army escort in order to make a home for her father will mend their fences.

As she sets out with a small escort who has come to pick up the fort’s mail and found her as well, they are beset by two groups of Apache. The nice captain in charge of the escort gives Indy a pistol to not only help defend herself, but to also leave one bullet in the chamber for herself so she does not suffer the fate of Apache captives. In the course of aiding the soldiers, she does shoot at several of the Indians firing arrows at them but before she can kill herself, one man jumps on the wagon (which had careened out of control) and takes the pistol away from her, simultaneously putting his hands all over her. Fearing rape, she passes out from a head wound only to wake up among the recuperating remaining soldiers from her escort to discover that this man is actually an Apache scout known as Shatto, who actually rescued her by counterattacking a force from another group which appeared bent on killing them. The handsy incident was him checking her wounds since she had a head wound and the captain’s blood all over her.

Indy later finds out that, rather than the inscrutable Apache warrior she believes him to be, Shatto is actually Major Jim Garrity, a former soldier tried for murder during the Civil War and sentenced to death before escaping. Naturally the charges against him are false and he has made another life for himself as a close friend of a group of Apache. Really coincidentally, he is best friend (from his time in West Point) with the captain who helped save Indy. This immediately felt unlikely to me. Jim Garrity manages to “go native” with a group of Apache (who accept him seemingly without difficulty), master their language, learn all their warrior techniques, etc. in the space of only a few years and then his best friend from West Point, who is aware of his innocence, gets posted to the next canyon over. Well, that’s convenient.

Still from the movie Fort Apache (director John Ford) 1948. I’m worried this movie might have had fewer stereotypes than this book.

Much of the interaction with the various Apache characters raised my hackles. The speeches are the stilted language of John Ford Westerns, with various characters speaking about themselves in the third person (is there no “I” in the Apache language? If there isn’t, can’t it be translated as such since Jim is undoubtedly communicating in Apache anyway?). White people are referred to as “white eyes” and there are some references to the “Great Spirit” although this terminology doesn’t appear to be part of the Apache religious tradition, but rather a phrase indigenous to the Lakota and Algonquin Indian religions. No reference is made to the matrilineal organization of Apache culture, or to anything that would give dimension to the lives of tribal members, like their oral history/mythology, their knowledge of pottery creation or sandpainting, or any actual religious tradition.

And all it takes is a few hot glances between Indy and “Shatto” and then they are kissing with her declaring her love for him with no real exchange between them. He rescues her a few times from a bad burn and a fainting spell, but I swear to you they don’t exchange more than thirty words before she tells him she loves him. You do, Indy? Yet toward the end of the novel, Jim refers to one of their “long talks”. What long talks? The romance between them is totally improbable, even with the arrival of the comissioner who has come to investigate the incompetence of Indy’s father saying that he’ll take on Jim’s case and get a pardon for him.

Even hot saloon girl Angela Lansbury in The Harvey Girls had standards. I don’t think she would have fondled little Shatto.

What really set off my creep-o-meter was how Jim had no problem getting all riled up staring at Indy through her bedroom window after she was unwell (stalker, much?) and then he heads off with her slutty, former saloon girl friend Prudence to make out and have her fondle him. They totally would have had sex if Prudence hadn’t mentioned Indy’s name, which I guess reminded Jim that he supposedly had feelings for her and caused him to change his mind. Thank heavens Prudence is chatty, otherwise Jim would have been putting his little Shatto inside of Prudence pretty damn fast, and I’m guessing he didn’t have access to mid-nineteenth century condoms. Sorry, but I can’t get behind this kind of cheating. And Indy wouldn’t have even known about it unless Prudence had said something, spinning the incident as proof of Jim’s feeling for Indy.

There is a bizarre paranormal element never gets explained – Jim is able to “take the wind” from his enemies which means he absorbs their “power” when he kills them and this is illustrated when the local enemy chief of a rival Apache band attempts to kidnap Indy after her and Jim’s first major make-out session and Jim kills three of the four warriors who attacked them. He is surrounded by an unexplained wind and then tells the surviving warrior, the son of the chief, to beware because he has absorbed his wind. There’s wind here all right, I’m just not sure it necessarily has that much power. And this is what makes him a great warrior, rather than practice, practice, practice?

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. The ending was horrendous. Indy’s paranoid two-dimensional villain of a father gets it into his pea brain that his career would have a boost if he captured the famous Apache warrior Cochise and heads out to engage him soon after Indy helps Jim and his captain friend escape the unlawful torturing and imprisonment her father has imposed upon them. They return with the surviving soldiers to say that Indy’s father died (just like that? He was the major villain!) and there was never any mention when she’s jailbreaking them that they were just going to head out and join the Cochise fight.

It’s the very end that clinched my intense dislike of the book and the character of Jim. It takes about a month to get all the documentation to clear him of his former charges, but the epilogue’s idea of a happily ever after is to show how great everything is by mentioning how Jim is reinstated in the army and – great news! – is instrumental in setting up the garrison at Fort Apache and the reservation surrounding it. WTF? Wow, I bet his Apache friends will be thrilled at him helping out with the freakin’ reservation that will help deny them freedom. That sounds great. And it is this work on his part which supposedly explains how the wind would whisper to him “peacemaker”. Did it also whisper “asshole”? Because that’s what I heard from the wind.

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