Archive | January, 2014

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Contests, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of January 12, 2014

12 Jan

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Nalini Singh‘s Psy-Changeling series novella, Whisper of Sin, (previously published in the anthology Burning Up) will have its stand-alone release on February 25th and the cover is gorgeous. While Amazon isn’t yet showing this beauty on the corresponding pre-order page, that shouldn’t stop you from placing your order (hell, I have this story in the anthology and I’m still tempted) since it’s only $2.99 and Nalini Singh doesn’t believe in a short novella, a satisfying situation for her readers. This particular book, which is a prequel to the first book in the series, Slave to Sensation, features the DarkRiver leopard changeling Emmett, who is helping his pack repel an invasion of their San Francisco territory when a beautiful human Ria gets caught in the middle. Emmett quickly realizes the only thing more important than keeping strangers from encroaching is protecting the one woman who could mean everything to him.

Cynthia Eden released the first book in her Night Watch series this past week, Eternal Hunter, in paperback form via Kensington Press, and if the excerpts are any indication, this is another win for an author who already made this series successful in ebook form. When an assistant DA attempting to keep her “other” heritage a secret crosses paths with a shifter bounty hunter tracking the “other” being stalking her, well…it doesn’t take any paranormal ability to figure out that her secret is going to come out and the shifter may have found his mate. With Eden’s ability to pen a great romantic suspense novel while giving paranormal readers all the world-building they can handle, this release is bound to bring an excellent series to paper book readers.

Tracey Devlynwhose Nexus series combines amazing historical romance AND romantic suspense, just released the latest title in that series this week, Latymer. As I mentioned in a previous Sunday Reflections post, this volume represents Devlyn’s personal journey to continue her series without her previous publisher of Sourcebooks, and I’m damn glad she decided to continue it on her own. The snippet she included in her newsletter (check out her website to subscribe to it) shows us our hero is a lord with a son he loves determined to ferret out a spy, something he should be quite good at considering his previous work for the Foreign Office. At the mercy of both French and British authorities who want him dead, I have a feeling that Nexus is going to have to help Lord Latymer and his son, and I’m guessing it might be a female spy (perhaps one he knew before?) who is going to lend a hand. Cannot wait!

Jill Shalvis is beloved by contemporary romance fans everywhere, particularly for her Lucky Harbor series. The next full-length novel, Once in a Lifetime, will be published on February 18, 2014 (oh, ho! Just in time for Valentine’s Day) and will star the tortured soldier Ben McDaniel and the “trouble with a capital T” Aubrey Wellington who is trying to set her life on the right path with Ben the perfect person to help. Okay “helping” him might involve a bit more with such a hot, brooding guy but making amends involves getting a little dirty, doesn’t it? Pre-order it so you are guaranteed delivery on the 18th.

dashofperilAfter wowing me with her Love Undercover series (I’m still reeling from Getting Rowdy), I’m more than looking forward to Lori Foster‘s next book in the series, Dash of Peril, starring one uptight Lieutenant (who looks pretty hot when dressed like a hooker) and the construction business owner who is happy to ignore that she’s his cop brother’s boss. When he finds out that she’s willing to use herself as bait to catch an abduction ring in the act, nothing will do than becoming her unofficial partner, and let the heat between them break loose. With Foster’s ability to write reformed manwhores and strong women who can hold their own, I’m salivating for the release date (March 25th for the paperback version and April 1st for the ebook) to arrive already.

Fans of Jayne Ann Krentz particular brand of strong characters and dark, suspenseful situations will want to make sure that they pick up her latest which just came out this past week, River Road, about a young girl saved from drugging and date rape by a young man who never tells her what he did, just accepting her resentment of his embarrassing her in front of her peers. When she returns to their town after the death of her aunt, a gorgeous woman grown, our hero is not going to let her slip away a second time, particularly after it’s become clear that someone has her in their sights with harm in mind. Keep in mind that Krentz’s popularity and talent warrant her books coming out in hardcover, with a higher price for even the Kindle version as a result (just under $11), but fans feel she’s worth it!

Contests and Giveaways

The resource all romance readers couldn’t live without, RT Book Reviews, is having a great contest to not only win one of three copies of the latest Lorraine Heath novella and the final installment of her Scoundrels of St. James series, The Last Wicked Scoundrel, but also win a chance to get not only this ebook but a bundle which includes five other Avon historical romance ebooks as well.

Audiobook lovers (hey there, commuters!) who adore fantasy will be thrilled to see that the best-selling writer duo of Ilona Andrews has given their blog fans a heads up that the AudioGals blog is having an amazing giveaway of either the first five audiobooks in the Kate Daniels series for the first three books of Andrew’s amazing Edge series. Don’t delay in entering however, as this contest ends tomorrow, January 14th at midnight. Romance readers interested in dipping a toe in the audiobook world (think long car trips, gardening, needlework and cooking as good activities for audiobook playing) should definitely check out AudioGals’ fantastic infographic for romance readers highlighting the best audiobooks in various romance subgenres to help direct them to the best purchases.

Historical romance writer Nicola Cornick is hosting a great giveaway on her website where simply by reading the excerpt from her latest Brides of Fortune novel, The Lady and the Laird, you can answer a question and gain an entry into winning the first three books of the series. These gorgeous covers are matched by the well-rated prose inside, so be sure to check them out, whether or not you win.

Fun Stuff

Those clever editors at Harlequin, knowing that the majority of self-respecting romance readers love Jane Austen, have cleverly put together their titles that are inspired by Jane’s writing. Whether it’s a Presents novel with a prideful hero or an anthology of paranormal tales based on Austen’s stories, you’ll enjoy thinking about Jane and her characters in a new light.

Any reading enthusiast who is expecting a baby should be dressing their newborn in a onesie that will hint at their personality and future reading ability, so the wonderful people at BookRiot have put together the best list of reading-themed onesies I’ve ever seen. Be sure to do your baby shower shopping with this terrific resource in mind! (This cutie is sporting the Shakespeare quote, “And, though she be but little, she is fierce.”)

Great Deals

If you’ve thought about trying Krystal Shannan‘s Vegas Mates series but not yet indulged, you should know that the first novella, Chasing Sam, is currently free on Amazon right now, so this could be a good time to try it out. Starring a shifter female who has been steadily denying her well-born heritage in order to become a doctor and help the less-fortunate and a long-lived military hero who had resigned himself to never finding a mate, these two have more than enough obstacles to keep them apart…if they can’t find the courage to fight for their future. If you do enjoy this story, be aware that the next novella in the series, Saving Margaret, just came out on January 8th and features a bear who finds himself of having to convince a sexy wolf female that interspecies matings can definitely work.

It might be after the holidays, but here’s a belated present for you. Erotic historical romance writers Kate Pearce and Samantha Kane have their holiday duology, Gift of Desire, currently free on Amazon. With Kane’s story a hot menage about two recently released prisoners of war returning to the woman one of them married and the other always wanted and Pearce’s short about a disfigured widow and the man who has never forgotten her, you’ll be chasing away your personal polar vortex in no time flat.

Chasing Charlie, the first book in the Texas Two-Step series by Kathy Carmichael, is currently on sale for $.99 on Amazon, and while I like a good Western romance, I am a total sucker for not just the fake engagement, but one where the heroine is the town librarian and she ends up tied to the town bad boy who is just trying to make his mother happy so she’ll feel comfortable remarrying. Naturally, our couple ends up feeling more than just polite interest in one another even though their pairing seems unlikely, so take a look.

Patricia Burroughs is getting a lot of buzz on the blog-o-sphere for her Western historical romance, La Desperada, about a proper Victorian woman from Philadelphia who threatens a man jailed for a revenge killing into taking her to safety, with both of them unknowingly running from a mutual enemy, a sheriff bent on his own brand of retribution. Almost 500 pages of great writing and it’s only $.99 in the month of January, so pick it up now and see what all the fuss is about.

Kristen Ashley‘s Dream Man series is one of the highest rated book series I’ve seen on Goodreads (with almost 100,000 ratings with each novel usually above a 4.5 star rating – those are not numbers to sneeze at). I’ve got Law Man on my to-read pile, but now I get to add Mystery Man, the first book in the series, which is now discounted to only $.99, perfect for people who want to take a taste. Featuring a DEA agent who falls for the woman he’s investigating (her ex-husband has a drug ring) in the course of their contrived relationship, readers absolutely rave about both the hero and heroine as well as the exes who provide fantastic villains for this more mature couple.

Happy reading this week!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of January 5, 2014

5 Jan

Upcoming Books and New Releases

The cover for Katharine Ashe‘s newest book, I Adored a Lord, book 2 of her The Prince Catchers series, has been revealed and WOW! With a release date of July 29th and a cover endorsement by Lisa Kleypas, this book is bound to get buried in pre-orders not just for the gorgeous design but also for the description. A young woman tired of society’s vicious young women bent on husband hunting gets caught up in murder and intrigue while snowed in at a country estate where a prince’s half-brother is bored to tears. Until he steals a kiss and finds a corpse, that is – then he quickly realizes that who is the murderer isn’t the only question he wants answered.

Paranormal romance goddess Kresley Cole has released the first in her three part rapid-fire serial, The Professional, with the second installment due to come out Monday, January 6th. This story of a young woman searching for years for her birth parents, finding instead a world of intrigue in the Russian mafia, including the sexy enforcer assigned to guard her. Mrrrooowwww. It’s been receiving rave reviews, but since I despise installment writing (I’m a fast reader and I want a resolution with the final page), I’ll be buying all three of them when the third and final portion is published on January 20th.

It’s just a couple of weeks until the first book in historical romance writer Tessa Dare’s new Castles Ever After series debuts, Romancing the Duke, on January 28th. Featuring the daughter of a romantic author of fairy tales who has finally given up on having her own come true, only to inherit a castle with a disfigured duke inhabiting it. There is even a giveaway on Goodreads for the book for anyone entering prior to January 26th, so your personal fairy tale could come through when you win a copy!

In this longer novella by Entangled Covet, Ashes by Sarah Gilman, an intrepid reporter looking for the legendary phoenix ends up with a great time and pregnant…by a firebird who looks like every other guy (if that guy was devastatingly hot). But he is royalty and expected to marry a full-blooded firebird female, yet his vow to not be an absentee father means he’s spending more time with the mother of his future child, and falling fast. But a powerful grandmother is not pleased with this turn of events and she’ll do anything to tear this burgeoning love apart. This recent release also has a corresponding $25 Amazon gift card giveaway for participants using the Rafflecopter interface to earn entries prior to the January 14th deadline.

Contests and Giveaways

The often funny and always informative Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog is having a terrific contest tied into Elizabeth Boyle’s new book, If Wishes Were Earls, from her Rhymes With Love series. Just leave a comment finishing the catchphrase “If Wishes Were Earls…” before Friday, January 10th and you’ll have a chance to win a 16 GB iPad 2 with wifi or a $50 giftcard to the book retailer of your choice.

Paranormal romance fans might want to check out the contest in honor of the debut of Beg Me to Slay, a new title by Lisa Kessler featuring a young woman victimized by a heinous crime who turns to martial arts and a private investigator turned demon slayer who finds himself bound to her by mission and by something much more. With an Amazon gift card and some specialized jewelry, this unique giveaway goes until January 13th.

To celebrate Rosalie Lario‘s next book in her Demons of Infernum series, Heart of the Incubus, Entangled is doing a prize pack giveaway with the previous book in that series, Heart of the Angel, for people who enter prior to the January 20th deadline. This latest work is about a gorgeous incubus biochemist who is baffled by the lovely scientist who works alongside him. He wants her in his bed but for the first time in his experience, the woman he wants plans on having nothing to do with him. Tired of womanizers, the heroine in question has no intention of succumbing to incubus charm no matter how lickable he might be, until a dangerous stalker makes her his prey and her gorgeous colleague appoints himself her protector.

Fun Stuff

Sherlock Holmes fans everywhere will be pleased to know that the vast majority of the work associated with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s favorite character has been declared in the public domain according to U.S. Copyright Law, meaning that writers can work with impunity with these previous established characters and plots. The suit was brought about by writer Leslie Klinger who was in the process of co-authoring a book, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (not available yet for pre-order) along with mystery writer Laurie R. King (of the Mary Russell books fame featuring the strong intellectual wife of Sherlock Holmes) when he was approached by Conan Doyle’s estate for fees associated with using the characters. Considering that there would be no fees associated with a work in the public domain, Mr. Klinger decided to bring the suit to have the Sherlock Holmes works (at least the ones published prior to 1923) declared in the public domain so authors can tinker with impunity and he was successful. Interested in this topic, I did a little searching and discovered the story of Conan Doyle’s heirs which honestly sounds like a bad Danielle Steel novel, complete with sibling bickering, money squandering, so-called princesses, and pompous lawyers. Yikes!

Category romance author (and SEAL lover) Tawny Weber is celebrating football season by allowing readers of her blog to vote for their “Hunk of the Month,” so envision some tight pants and head over to cast your vote!!

Anyone who is a psyched as I am at the next season of Downton Abbey debuting tonight (*Edwardian victory dance*) may also be interested in this excellent interview from NPR with Lucy Lethbridge, the author of Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times. Take a look and you’ll find yourself appreciating Carson all the more.

Romancing the Stone movie fans (and I realize I’m dating myself here) will be thrilled and fascinated to read Robin Covington‘s post featuring the erudite Damon Suede, “CARE PACKAGE: watching Romancing the Stone with a mindful eye with Damon Suede,” on the Romance University blog. Covington, who almost named her Corgi puppy Joan Wilder, gives a great overview of the hidden strengths of the movie as well as some of the behind the scenes chauvinism of Hollywood’s approach to the movie.

Great Deals

Shannyn Schroeder‘s contemporary romance, More Than This (the first book in her O’Leary’s series), is currently discounted to only $1.99 on Amazon. With a lonely school teacher reclaiming her life after a messy divorce and a sexy bartender intent on giving her more than just a good time, you might have found exactly the bargain to help you heat up a cold January!

Kristen Ashley‘s acclaimed book, Law Man, is currently on sale for only $3.79 for the ebook, a bargain considering this story featuring a shy girl from the wrong side of the tracks and her neighbor police detective she thinks is way out of her league totals over 500 pages!

From category romance writer Janice Maynard comes the Harlequin Desire tale, The Maid’s Daughter, about a millionaire (natch) who discovers the daughter of a maid connected to his family involved in a car accident and decides to employ her in his latest business venture. Whether it’s to alleviate some of the family guilt or keep this beautiful woman close he’s not admitting, but proximity does has its advantages. One of the advantages to you is that this novel is currently free on Amazon, so go snatch it up while you can.

Perhaps also timed to celebrate Downton Abbey’s Season 4 premiere is the nonfiction book, To Marry an English Lord (which really does sounds like a fiction book, doesn’t it?) by Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace. Two academic authors chronicle the American women who came to Britain during the Gilded Age to land a title while investing their ample dowries into the fading manor houses and lifestyles of England’s nobility (think Cora, Lady Grantham’s story and you get a sense of what this book covers). Rife with wonderful detail, this volume has received excellent reviews and it’s currently on sale for only $2.51 for the ebook version if you feel like knowing more about this time period.

Laura Kaye’s wonderful first book in her new series about a group of disgraced military men clustered around a Baltimore tattoo parlor, Hard As It Gets, is only $1.99 right now and it’s awesome, so don’t hesitate to go grab it at this price. When the daughter of the commander who sold out his men comes to him for help, this former special ops officer finds himself entangled in a woman who should be all wrong for him, but may be exactly what he needs.

That’s it for this week. Happy reading and Happy New Year!!

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

4 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!!

Regency Doyenne Stephanie Laurens Moves to Medieval with Desire’s Prize

3 Jan

Desire’s Prize (Chronicles of Claerwhen #1 – Alaun and Eloise) by M. S. Laurens (Savdek Management, October 18, 2013)

Anyone who is a fan of Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster saga is familiar with her Regency heroes referring to their Norman heritage, usually in the sense of being conquerors both of land and of the ladies. Finally, this writer has gotten a chance to refresh her perspective and dive into the bold men and women of this particular time period with her offering, Desire’s Prize, released under a new pen name, M. S. Laurens.

Not only has Laurens developed the related pseudonym to distinguish this work from her popular Regency novels, but it appears that she also has self-published this particular story. I haven’t read if that decision was due to lack of publisher interest (hard to believe with a name as powerful as Laurens) or if she was interested in dabbling in being a hybrid author, but considering her pull and established audience self-pubbing this one is quite smart financially as I’m sure her usual publishing house (Avon) takes a much bigger piece of her pie when she releases a new book.

In Desire’s Prize, Alaun de Montisfryth is a powerful lord and the right hand of Edward III, a monarch who has used his knight’s prowess to subdue his enemies and secure the Welsh border. Now Alaun has been ordered by that same king to marry now that he can finally return home to his stronghold after three long years away. An undisputed warrior who avoids tournaments, when Alaun hears that Versallet Castle is hosting a grueling contest he detours his sizable retinue during their journey home to attend and to compete. The head of the de Versallet family bilked a young Alaun out of his father’s stallion nine years ago and getting a measure of revenge in his fully-grown adult form feels like an excellent coming home present. One look at the eldest de Versallet daughter and suddenly there is a larger prize beyond honor for Alaun at stake.

The details of a medieval knight of this period.

In actuality, Alaun’s fight with her father happened on the occasion of Eloise de Versallet’s marriage to Raoul de Cannar. Barely fifteen, the proud girl was shackled inadvertently to a sadist of the first order, a man who made her brief marriage a living hell until God came to her aid and killed him with a lightening strike. She fled to the Claerwhen convent which had educated her for the first four years of her widowhood until her mother’s death necessitated her moving back home to be chatelaine to her father and brother. Five years of running a castle have proven gratifying and while her beauty and substantial dowry attracts men, her frosty demeanor and widow’s status mean no one can force her to marry. She’s been under the thumb of one man and has no desire to ever place herself in such a position again.

But Eloise cannot deny that there is some kind of spark between her and Alaun, but it doesn’t mean she has no intention of fighting it. A clever wager with her father means that if Alaun wins the tournament, Eloise’s father will transfer her to Alaun’s protection. It’s not marriage, but it would necessitate her becoming this knight’s chatelaine and would be a natural precursor to an official union. For Alaun, he must use every minute with Eloise to undo the damage left in the wake of her first husband as well as bind her to him so she will consider marriage – his king’s edict hangs over him and suddenly no other woman will do. However, this fiery woman will not easily come to heel. Some type of partnership must be forged in order for the two of them to grasp a future neither one envisioned – but both want now that they’ve seen the possibility.

While the image isn’t English or Welsh, this castle fits my mental image of Alaun impressive stronghold.

My reaction to this particular book was mixed (the first two thirds of the book had me thinking four stars but the ending had me dragging that down to three), but definitely positive. The heat between Alaun and Eloise is palpable and well-expressed through all their naked sexy times, scenes which fortunately contained a minimum of Laurens’ tendency for purple prose (I think she only referenced “the furnace” once, thank heavens). She did a great job showing not only the progression of feeling between them, but the growing confidence that Eloise could be a full partner despite her rough first marriage. The language felt pitch perfect for the period and the level of historical detail was outstanding – accurate details reflected the summer course Laurens mentions she took on the medieval period yet are so skillfully delivered it never feels like an info dump. Alaun and Eloise are both strong, proud nobles of their period yet empathetic characters who you easily support.

Where Laurens falters is where her books usually fall apart – the driving external conflict. As the Cynster series progressed, the mystery or conspiracy around which the entire book’s ending revolves became incredibly simplistic and often two-dimensional. Similar to the last five or six of the Cynster books, the initial two-thirds of Desire’s Prize focusing on the two characters coming together and recognizing their feelings is outstanding, but the manufactured conflict for the final third weighs heavily on the reader. In this work, an unbalanced young woman with Eloise in her sights provides what I thought was the novel’s “black moment” only to be succeeded by an additional peril when Eloise is captured by a group of un-introduced knights who were only vaguely hinted at in two other places in the book. It’s a bit jarring and awkward and it didn’t have to be – it almost felt like something a strong editor would have caught and corrected. A great epilogue fortunately pulls up the end of the novel and re-establishes the connection between the characters that made the first part of the book so compelling.

Many medieval convents (not all) where places fostering female leadership and education, housing great wealth and often providing a formidable security to its inhabitants, as Claerwhen Convent does.

One point in the author’s note at the end which confused me was that Laurens makes a point of saying that this book comes between Captain Jack’s Woman and Devil’s Bride. She must mean this in terms of her personal writing chronology since these two books are still in the late 18th/early 19th century. I don’t know if this makes me feel better since I actually feel that the overall writing in Desire’s Prize feels more like the early Cynster works (which is a terrific thing) and I had hoped this had meant a return to that stronger writing and characterization, but it doesn’t if this book was actually written years ago during the author’s golden age.

Yet the fact that this book is listed as the first in a new series, Chronicles of Claerwhen, makes me hope that there will be other books based around women who attended this illustrious convent led by a strong mother superior (and perhaps starring heroes like Alaun’s sensual right hand knight, Roland). It’s an excellent device and one that could be quite effective for framing a series, particularly if a dip into the medieval period helps bolster Stephanie Laurens’ creative juices.

I feel tentatively hopeful at the start of this series, with my fingers crossed that Laurens continues to develop this time period into another wonderful group of books with characters I revisit again and again.

Happy reading!

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