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Lone Wolfe Protector By Kaylie Newell Brings Gothic Overtones to Contemporary Romantic Suspense

1 Sep

Lone Wolfe Protector (Wolfe Creek #1 – Maggie and Koda) by Kaylie Newell (Entangled: Covet, August 25, 2014)

I love paranormal and I also adore romantic suspense, but I was surprised and inordinately pleased to see that the combination of the two in the hands of author Kaylie Newell became something more than the sum of these two genres.

Lone Wolfe Protector is filled with chills which are occasionally thawed by the building heat between the hero and heroine and finished off with a whodunit suspense that I did not see coming. The ghostly town of Wolfe Creek – with its suspicious mountain folk and troubled beginnings – lent the entire novel a creepy tone I can best describe as gothic, that brand of romantic 19th century fiction in which the setting lends such a tone to the horror of the novel that it becomes another character.

Maggie Sullivan has spent a year grieving. A year ago, her road trip with her friend Aimee ended in disaster when Aimee disappeared from the bathroom of the lone gas station in the Pacific Northwest town of Wolfe Creek. Despite her friends and family telling her to move on from the tragedy, Maggie has never given up hope that the mystery of Aimee’s disappearance will be solved, even appearing on television shows and criticizing the law officials who have come up with no leads in all that time. Determined to take matters into her own hands, Maggie leaves her job as a copywriter, taking up indefinite residence at the bed & breakfast in the center of Wolfe Creek.

The dark, lush forest of the Pacific Northwest, even in the cold, works as another character in the novel.

The dark, lush forest of the Pacific Northwest, even in the cold, works as another character in the novel. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

While friendly former-stripper-turned-waitress Candi is happy to befriend her and help, Maggie discovers more questions than answers. Deputy sherriff Koda Wolfe and his n’er do well brother Zane keep turning up at the inn where Maggie is staying since the woman who runs it is their aunt and the former foster mother of both the brothers and Candi. Descended from the founding fur trapper and his Native American bride, the brothers know the town history and the stories of the people in it, but can’t bring themselves to point to even the most nefarious resident as a murderer. Protector Koda finds himself drawn to the elfin but stubborn Maggie despite his disdain for how she’s chosen to criticize the law. The more time they spend together, the more they are drawn inextricably toward one another, but both the person responsible for Aimee’s disappearance as well as Maggie’s suspicions of that person’s identity might tear the new couple apart.

Rather than an obvious villain or hero as in most paranormal novels, the wolf in this one occupies a grey space regarding its role in the attacks in the town. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Rather than an obvious villain or hero as in most paranormal novels, the wolf in this one occupies a grey space regarding its role in the attacks in the town. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

While so much modern paranormal suspense is either more world-building about the supernatural (in this case, werewolves) or places emphasis on the villain (who you can spot by page 30), Newell defies these conventions. She manages to establish a history of werewolf lore within the Native American community of the Pacific Northwest but doesn’t really labor over the werewolf piece in this novel putting her energy (correctly) into tone and character development. It’s clear that future books focusing on other characters will naturally explain more of the curse the Wolfe sons continue to suffer, but for now Koda and Maggie’s dilemma takes center stage. I liked that the author chose to forgo insta-love and instead showed our main couple slowly taking the time to get to know each other, attracted to one another despite their best instincts.

The mystery was outstandingly well done with a villain you are happy to hate and a twist at the end that just begs for future books. Zane and Candi have a distinctive past (and with my dislike of on-again, off-again relationships while the people hook up with other partners, I’m not sure how I’m going to handle that particular novel) but I’m certain this book was too good for me not to read the next one in the series and forego my usual reservations.

I was wowed by my first Kaylie Newell novel and hope the next one is out in time for some windy fall or winter evening if it manages the same spooky tone as Lone Wolfe Protector. At the introductory rate of $.99, I suggest paranormal romantic suspense readers take advantage of the price. You’ll be baying to the moon in praise of this story!

Happy reading! 🙂

Undercover Cops and Prophetic Dreams Make Dream Huntress by Michelle Sharp Fabulous Paranormal Suspense

30 Jun
Dream Huntress (Dream Seeker #1 - Jordan and Tyler) by Michelle Sharp (Entangled: Ignite, June 23, 2014)

Dream Huntress (Dream Seeker #1 – Jordan and Tyler) by Michelle Sharp (Entangled: Ignite, June 23, 2014)

I’m not actually sure that there is such a category as “paranormal suspense” but there should be. Mostly focusing on the romantic suspense storyline, but with distinct paranormal elements, Michelle Sharp‘s Dream Huntress would appeal to both lovers of solid romantic suspense as well as readers who love a dash of paranormal.

Jordan Delaney has jumped the gun by getting a job in a hick town’s stripper bar as a cocktail waitress a week ahead of schedule. An undercover narcotics cop in St. Louis, she witnessed two members of her team get gunned down attempting to apprehend members of the cartel pushing China White heroin. When her department agrees to again partner with the FBI, together they come up with the idea of getting her in the bar that’s a local supplier for a nearby college. Her long blond hair and body qualify her to wear the standard short shorts and bikini top and, with the club’s handsy son interested in her, Jordan is hoping she can crack the supply line wide open, and she’s not about to wait for the okay from her uptight FBI supervisor to organize a wire and backup.

A problem of being undercover for Jordan, though, is that she is plagued by the dreams she’s had since childhood – dreams of either murders to come or murders that have already happened. She’s used these dreams to help solve or prevent the crimes using the guise of her position, but since she has to live through them via the victim, it makes a tough assignment even harder, particularly when she again dreams of her family’s death, an incident which Jordan believes she could have stopped if she had only tried harder. When a local cowboy comes to her aid in the bar, taking her to the hospital after a patron blindsides her, Jordan is astonished at the wave of connection she feels to disgraced cop Tyler McGee. Hoping to minimize distractions while she’s focusing on work, she’s dismayed when he takes a job as head bouncer of the club. The potential to have a real relationship – something she’s managed to avoid all these years – is not what she needs right now.

Jordan’s waitressing “uniform” makes this one look like full coverage.

Tyler is first wowed by Jordan’s killer body and gorgeous face, but his initial assessment categorizing her as a blond bimbo waitress is blown out of the water the instant he’s subjected to her lethal wit. She’s a puzzle he’s desperate to figure out, particularly as she comes alive in his arms in a way he’s never experienced with another woman. Having allowed himself to get shunted off the force for his own purposes, Tyler is determined to find out what is really going on at the strip club, particularly as he’s sure it connects to a recent, very personal loss of his own. Keeping Jordan safe while uncovering her secrets is one of his top priorities, but Tyler might not be able to handle what she has to tell him.

I cannot say enough about Michelle Sharp’s outstanding debut novel! Her writing was laced with great attention to detail (the horror of Jordan’s furnished rental was particularly wonderful) and she wields a tight, excellent use of subplot with Tyler’s family loss and Jordan’s workplace tensions. There was a realistic heat between the couple, one that still was fueled by an extra connection perhaps brought about by Jordan’s paranormal abilities, which, while central to the plot, did not take up an inordinate amount of page space, making this novel slightly more suspense than paranormal. I loved the nice depth of Jordan’s FBI colleague who could have easily been a cardboard cutout but instead was a fully fleshed out person with his own motivations. While so many suspense (and paranormal) novels flag at the end, Sharp gave a fantastic resolution by revealing the true story behind the death of Jordan’s family and her strong connection to her father.

Since this book has the benefit of falling under Entangled Publishing’s $.99 early release price, I think it’s easy to sample this new author, who has clearly listed this novel as the first in her Dream Seeker series, so pick it up at that price while you can. To celebrate the release, there is also a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $50 gift card (!), so get on that as well. Michelle Sharp is an author I’ll be purchasing again, for sure.

Happy reading! 🙂

Dragons, Humor and Sensual Heat Abound in Jamie K. Schmidt’s Latest, The Queen’s Wings

31 May
The Queen's Wings (The Emerging Queens) by Jamie K. Schmidt (Entangled: Edge, May 27, 2014)

The Queen’s Wings (The Emerging Queens) by Jamie K. Schmidt (Entangled: Edge, May 27, 2014)

It’s an exciting fact about the romance industry today that publishers (and maybe authors) are becoming more open to publishing books that don’t quite fit exactly into one subgenre of romance. It’s completely and utterly due the rise of ebooks, since knowing what genre you are is vital for the bookseller who needs to (literally) put you on a given shelf. With an ebook however, you can be tagged into multiple categories, with all those interested readers empowered to discover you with just the click of a mouse. Undoubtedly, readers (at least those with ebook access) are the richer for it.

Jamie K. Schmidt‘s latest novel, The Queen’s Wings, is a great example of a unique novel that straddles a few subgenres. Containing a world in which male dragons abound and everyone knows it, it’s undoubtedly a paranormal romance, but the fact that it is written in the first person and involves a human who is unexpectedly nearing a dragon transformation (and therefore needs to be indoctrinated into a foreign world), gives the novel several strong urban fantasy elements.

Pretty much everyone thinks Carolyn is crazy. She dreams of flying as a dragon at night, one of the rooms in her bargain house is possessed by a ghost who writes messages in blood, and now she’s coughing up stinky belches which take the wallpaper off her walls. She feels everything is pointing to her becoming a dragon, even though as a graduate student in parazoology she’s well aware that 1) there are only five female dragons in the whole world and 2) you’re either hatched from a dragon egg or transform into one at the onset of puberty.

While there are many breeds of dragons in Schmidt's alternate world, the descriptions are terrifying, and probably much closer to this beautiful Thai sculpture than the dragons of fantasy literature. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

While there are many breeds of dragons in Schmidt’s alternate world, the descriptions are terrifying, and probably much closer to this beautiful Thai sculpture than the dragons of fantasy literature. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Chalking her impending transformation as another example of her being a late bloomer, she goes about attempting to convince everyone, or anyone, that she is one, but there are no takers, especially not the nice dragon at the local embassy. When she witnesses the embassy’s attack by two rogue dragons and ends up spewing up some kind of debillitating clear liquid, all of sudden her claims are being looked at with more care, particularly by two smoking hot dragon operatives. The sexy looks are par for the course since most male dragons could double as underwear models, but one of the officials, Reed, will barely give her the time of day since he’s got a “no humans” rule. That she seems to chip away at his good intentions the more time they spend together has lots of benefits for Carolyn, but as her oncoming transformation is confirmed, she’s not sure that she actually wants to join the dragon club.

Because according to everyone – Reed, his mother the crazy dragon queen of North America, and even Carolyn’s ancient boss, the dragon Niall – a female dragon has no life of her own, and is instead is sequestered away where she MUST take a harem of many male dragons and produce eggs to replenish their numbers. No love, marriage, or monogamy – all qualities of a relationship that Carolyn’s very human heart wants, and that Reed, the growing object of her affection, can’t possibly give her. When Carolyn and Reed begin to uncover exactly why there are so few female dragons – and a dangerous plot to bring more of them to light – Carolyn’s very life and her future happiness are in grave danger.

Jamie K. Schmidt has crafted a fascinating world, one in which dragons have never passed into lore and instead live among humans. The voice of her heroine, Carolyn, is fascinating – she’s a quirky, absent-minded professor with an internal filter resembling swiss cheese based on how many comments come out of her mouth that she meant to stay in her mind. Because of the first person perspective, Reed ends up coming off as a pretty big asshole for much of the book, in that really good, “wowza-he’s-an-alpha” kind of way.

The fact that this compelling first novel of the Emerging Queens series is going to have successors leaves me with more questions than answers. Will the next book, The Queen’s Flight, continue to star Carolyn and Reed or will one of the other new queens (say Arianna and the hunky, red-headed Jack) be the main focus? There is certainly plenty of political wiggle-room to continue the larger conspiracy and conflict and the existing characters are strong enough to continue the series.

Paranormal and urban fantasy fans (and dragon shifter lovers) should definitely give this novel a try. I have a feeling this is going to be a series I’m going to get a lot of enjoyment out of. 🙂 Hopping on the bus now insures you take advantage of Entangled’s $.99 offer for new books (which only lasts a couple of weeks). There’s also a Rafflecopter giveaway for a pair of silver dragon earrings and a $25 Amazon gift card for interested parties, so take a look!

Happy reading!

Laura Kaye’s Latest, East of Ecstasy, Delivers Devastatingly Sexy Gods and Heart-Thumping Romance

21 Apr
East of Ecstasy (Hearts of the Anemoi #4 - Devlin and Anna) by Laura Kaye (Entangled: Select, April 22, 2014)

East of Ecstasy (Hearts of the Anemoi #4 – Devlin and Anna) by Laura Kaye (Entangled: Select, April 22, 2014)

Laura Kaye can always be depended upon to deliver a sexy, emotional read, but with her Hearts of the Anemoi series – dedicated to the gods of the four winds – she gives paranormal romance a fresh storyline.

I’ve adored this series since I fell for Owen Winter in the first book, North of Need, and each subsequent god’s story in West of Want and South of Surrender maintained the high quality I’d come to expect while extending the story arc. The gods of the winds are in conflict with their off his rocker, evil brother Eurus, who wants to kill his brothers (and the women they love) while also defeating his father, the supreme god of wind and storms. For years, his son Devlin was thought to support his father but information has come to light that he has always been a victim of his Eurus’ breathtaking cruelty.

In the final book of the series, East of Ecstasy, Devlin has managed to escape his father once again and, together with his powerful grandfather, imbibed in the waters of the ancient rivers in order to amplify his power, hopefully enough to defeat his father. Covered with scars from the torture he’s endured for centuries, Devlin is far more scarred inside and his increased power is pushing the darkness in him to be released.

The uber-talented Laura Kaye - she does tortured military heroes, vampire kings, and gods of the weather with equal aplomb, proving she is an incredibly versatile romance author.

The uber-talented Laura Kaye – she does tortured military heroes, vampire kings, and gods of the weather with equal aplomb, proving she is an incredibly versatile romance author.

He’s shocked to discover that destructive force calming when he comes into contact with a small beautiful artist in whose studio he has sheltered. Focused on developing a way to control his power, he doesn’t want to be attracted to her, but finds he cannot prevent his fascination, particularly after he sees her paint. Not only are her recent paintings all of his father and Devlin, but they are of the future and could hold the key to defeating Eurus.

Annalise Fallston is running on empty. Diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome a few months ago, she can’t believe that the visions which insist on being put on canvas will not release her from their grip. After years of being a successful artist, she’s never experienced anything like it, even though her art process has always been…unique. Incredibly color-blind, Anna can see color vividly – when she is painting – but at no other time.

When the mysterious man she has seen in her visions not only appears but tells her he can see that she wields magic, undoubtedly due to a god or gods in her ancestry, she’s astonished but it strangely makes sense. Unfortunately the conflict in which Devlin is embroiled poses a danger to Anna and the dementia-suffering father she cares for. Yet despite his protestations of his unworthiness and his anger, this dark god shows again and again his gentle, protective side to her. It’s not hard to believe that her heart is actually the item most likely to be lost in this battle.

The brilliant editors at Entangled have not only put together a convenient boxed set but also for the phenomenal entry price of only $.99 for almost 800 pages of great paranormal romance. The low price is a limited time author, so get it while you can!

The brilliant editors at Entangled have not only put together a convenient boxed set but are selling it also for the phenomenal entry price of only $.99 for almost 800 pages of great paranormal romance. The low price is a limited time author, so get it while you can!

Unlike the first couple of books, I think at this point in the series there are so many players and enough has taken place that readers do need to start at the beginning. The good news is that Entangled has cleverly put together these first three books in a bundle which is available right now for only $.99 – an incredible value – which when combined with their policy of $.99 for new single-title releases, means you can get the previous 750 published pages and then this book of 368 pages for under $2.00. Cha-ching. And did I mention they are all amazing? They’re amazing.

Devlin is the most tortured god to date (literally and figuratively) and for damn good reason. His megalomaniacal father is a violent sadist who has already destroyed Devlin by killing one of his brothers, so he feels himself unworthy of the foreign feelings of happiness and peace he gets in Anna’s presence. The heat between them is fan-yourself amazing (a Laura Kaye trademark) but she never sacrifices heat for emotion, instead combining the two to produce a real connection and a love willing to sacrifice itself to save the world. Oy, she’s good!

To celebrate this wonderful book, Entangled is having a Rafflecopter giveaway so be sure to click on the link and enter. It may not go live until tomorrow, April 22nd, which is the official release day (so either pre-order your copy of East of Ecstasy or buy the awesome bundle of the first three books and get started.

Happy reading!

Reese Monroe Brings Angsty Paranormal With Her Latest, Marked By Hades

15 Apr

Marked by Hades (Bound by Hades #2 – Justin and Yvonne) by Reese Monroe (Entangled Embrace, April 14, 2014)

When it comes to paranormal, the eternal battle between angels and demons is one of the more compelling story arcs and talented writer Reese Monroe (aka Lynn Rush) clearly feels the same way.

Her Bound By Hades series pits an ancient group of Gatekeepers and their Companions against demons who have escaped to earth to terrorize humans. Awaiting the time that “the Great One” decides to award them a mate, they toil in a rather lonely job, warriors to the core with nothing but their brothers and sisters in arms for companionship.

Marked By Hades is the second book of the series and the good news is that you can certainly read it out of order as Monroe does an excellent job catching the reader up without making them suffer through an unwieldy info dump. That said, much of the secondary characters’ behavior is predicated on a series of events from the previous book, so it might be worth taking advantage of this books’ initial $.99 offering and get both it and the previous volume, Forged By Fate, Theo and Sadie’s story.

In Marked By Hades, the heroine awakes naked on a park bench in the cold of an Arizona November, a kind man hovering over her as he wraps a blanket around her shoulders and gets her to his car. Sensing his goodness even as she remembers nothing about herself or her past except for her name – Yvonne – she goes to touch him in gratitude and is horrified to see him turn to dust in the driver’s seat. Learning to shield herself in leather and work menial day jobs that overlook pesky paperwork, Yvonne finds herself able to tell whether people are good or evil, with a strong fascination for the good ones. Yet she condemns herself to loneliness for fear of hurting the innocent while she attempts to figure out who and what she is.

Justin Bradford has seen his brother, the Gatekeeper and leader of their group, find his fated mate and doesn’t want to go through the emotional turmoil when he could just hook up with women like he’s been doing for nearly a thousand years. When he and his brother are working in Arizona, Justin is fascinated by a glimpse of a raven haired, green eyed beauty clad in leather. Feeling the throat mark indicating his destined mate, he fights it as as he searches for the woman he’s seen kill in a strange way. When he finally catches up with her (after noting with horror his lack of attraction to women he would have been happy to bed), he’s somewhat startled and disappointed that her upper arm does not wear the tattoo he expected.

Forged by Fate (Bound By Hades #1 – Theo and Sadie’s story) by Reese Monroe (Entangled Embrace, December 9, 2013)

His disappointment fades quickly after bringing her with him to his enclave – after all, she’s clearly paranormal, doesn’t smell of demon, and needs his help. Yet the greeting she receives from his sister-in-law – who claims Yvonne was the mate of the demon who kept her trapped – has him rejecting her even when he’s willing to protect her and a good look at her shoulder after her shower indicates she was covering up the sudden tattoo whose presence she couldn’t explain.

It’s the height of irony for a demon killer to be mated to a demon, even a beautiful, giving one who seems to be human. That there are multiple antagonists and a hell of a story arc accompanying Yvonne and Justin’s transformation adds to the reward of the two of them finally making it through hell (in this case, literally).

This book reminded me of A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford – do people remember her books? Her characters have near insurmountable obstacles placed in their path, to the point where you are emotionally exhausted vicariously living through their experience. Because so many readers adore this type of book, these are great reads for a chunk of romance enthusiasts, and fans of the “will they make it?” roller coaster should hop on a Reese Monroe book for a ride.

Please be warned that if you are someone for whom sexual violence is an issue, you may want to proceed with caution as Yvonne’s eventual capture and return to her demon state (complete with another memory wipe of her time with Justin) involves her being at the mercy of a demon who hurts her. Much of the violence is behind the closed door (in romance parlance) but when the memories resurface they are incredibly painful.

My very slight objection to this book is its characterization under the popular umbrella of “New Adult.” While undoubtedly the series is properly assigned that moniker – the previous book’s heroine fell in the early 20s age range and it appears likely that the next heroine will be her best friend also in that age group – I don’t think this particular volume fits the bill. The hero’s near millennium on earth and his mate’s leaving her second century behind doesn’t exactly have them hitting the new adult/coming of age target range. But hey, it’s paranormal, so maybe all bets are off. 🙂

Reese Monroe is a new author who has created a rather fascinating world filled with feisty heroines and compelling heroes, so if angels and demons who have to go through a literal and figurative hell to find happiness makes your heart flutter, you would do very well to check her out.

Happy reading!

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennet Channels the 20s While Delivering Outstanding Romance (With a Dash of Paranormal)

29 Jan

Bitter Spirits (Roaring Twenties #1 – Winter and Aida) by Jenn Bennett (Berkley, January 7, 2014)

Holy WOW. I felt like I had been hit by the awesome reading truck after finishing Jenn Bennett‘s new addition to historical/paranormal romance. Bitter Spirits is probably one of the best historical romances I’ve read in the last couple of years and it has taken me a while to determine if this is due to her writing chops (which are prodigious), the unbelievable detail of a period often neglected in historicals, or because of her kick butt characterization.

The answer is d) all of the above.

It’s prohibition in San Francisco and Aida Palmer has enjoyed her time at the upscale Gris-Gris speakeasy where her medium act is a huge hit. This is assuredly because it’s totally real – Aida can summon, and dispel, the dead.

Since her employer is a voodoo practioner, Aida is surprised when she is summoned to help an important person get rid of a haunting, and even more shocked to discover that the person in question is the handsome, premier bootlegger of San Francisco, Winter Magnusson. This huge man oozing masculinity has been hexed and he needs help ASAP before he succumbs to both the poison and the ghost he can’t shake. Aida helps with the ghost and her boss with the poisoning, but not before it comes clear that Winter has made an enemy of someone in Chinatown.

Winter is utterly fascinated with the diminutive, freckled medium with the gorgeous figure and rich dark hair. She’s also the real deal, and he is intrigued that she has no reaction to the scar he retains from the car accident that killed his wife and parents. She’s also refreshingly honest, so when the opportunity presents itself to hire her to help him with a haunting in his mansion as well as his ongoing mystery enemy he does it. Proximity only makes their intense attraction more formidable, but obstacles – both paranormal and all too in the flesh – exist to keep these two apart despite the fact they are falling fast and hard for each other.

It's amazing to think of a time San Francisco's iconic landmarks were new. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

It’s amazing to think of a time San Francisco’s iconic landmarks were new. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

Before I get into the time period, let’s take a moment to discuss how utterly blown away I was by Bennett’s writing. A lot of historical romance writers are like Laurence Olivier, the famous film and stage actor who was known for his brilliance but who always declared he wanted the audience to see the effort it took to bring his characters to life. I’ve read excellent authors who seem to want you to appreciate all the work they put into their accurate underclothes research or the mind-numbing social constructs (which may or may not be necessary to understand their plot).

With Bennett, her plot moves effortlessly along, with an emotional intensity that makes me desperate to turn the page. The tone is alternately dark and sinister but with increasing flashes of hope for our couple, even as their time together draws to a close and things get more desperate. Bennett is, hands down, one of the best writers of sexual tension – a tension born of a realistic sexual attraction between two people who are falling in lust and in love at a real pace, albeit perhaps one propelled a little faster by the urgent circumstances of attempting to discover Winter’s enemy. The scene in the taxi? Holy cow!!

Jenn Bennett brings both Prohibition San Francisco and this era to life (take a look at her great RT Times article on the history of the speakeasy during this time), so much so that it’s jarring to return to modern life. Her attention to the very last detail – the clothing, the birth control, the tenuous racial coexistence between groups – demonstrates a familiarity that never, ever ventures into the world of the info dump. Bennett effortlessly transmits the tone, feeling and data we need to understand a world that is both familiar and yet totally foreign to us, and kudos to her for managing to do what so few historical writers can manage, even when we are loving their characters.

Grim Shadows (Roaring Twenties #2 – Lowe and Hadley) by Jenn Bennett (Berkley, June 3, 2014)

And you WILL love her characters, and there are so many to love!! Not only do we have Winter who is the best hunk of tortured hero I’ve seen in a while, but Aida is a modern spitfire who has carved a place in the world for herself that almost defies explanation. The secondary characters – Winter’s biracial sidekick who clearly is a possible love interest for Winter’s younger, impetuous sister, the family servants in the mansion, Aida’s landlady in Chinatown – are so well-drawn that you find yourself spinning possible backstories about them in your head. I’m sure I’ll see their reappearance in the next book of the series, starring Winter’s world-traveling archeologist brother, Lowe, and the curator who gets herself involved with an Egyptian artifact harboring some powerful effects. Their book, Grim Shadows, is due out on June 3rd, so happy birthday to me!

I had literally reached a point where I couldn’t bear one more “meh” Regency romance, but really wanted a historical that would satisfy me. What I got in Jenn Bennett’s Bitter Spirits was a book that haunted me for weeks afterward, reaffirming my belief in this subgenre of romance and rejoicing in the fact that such a talented author exists on this planet. For anyone who loves historical romance and this time period, run out this second and go buy this book.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Bayou Noel by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright Offers An Addictive Holiday Snippet of a Great Series

23 Dec

Bayou Noel (Bayou Heat #8.5 – Garrick & Molly) by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright (Amazon Digital Services, December 11, 2013)

In my job as a librarian during the day, I often recommend great YA novels to my teenagers with the laughing caveat that certain books should come with warning stickers like “Warning! You will not do any homework while this book is on your end table.”

Please note the adult warning for Bayou Noel. “This delicious holiday novella is a gateway drug to the addictive Bayou Heat series.” Come on. Everyone is doing it (in these books!).

Granted, it is the holiday, which means that hopefully the vast majority of romance readers have more time off for reading. Add to that this novella is a mere 60 pages and you can devour it between ham bastings. The best part is that, like me, you can read it with zero knowledge of the series and no difficulty understanding anything. (And then, like me, run out and buy the first six books of the series which you read while your husband watches three football games in a row.) Since Bayou Noel is currently free on Amazon – and a great deal that I featured in my Sunday Reflection post yesterday) – you can read it and see if you like the writing of Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright. I certainly did!

Set in the world of the Pantera, mythical puma shifters living in an enchanted world in the Louisiana bayou where humans cannot enter, this book is a prequel (and should actually be labeled book #0.5) since it happens prior to Raphael finding his mate in the magical human Ashe in book one of the Bayou Heat series. The Pantera work hard to insure the safety of their people, particularly since their numbers are dwindling with no new babies in the last 50 years. They may be a long-lived species but mated pairs want cubs. With the Nurturers handling the medical and personal care, the Suits handling diplomacy and business out in the human world, and Hunters insuring the safety of their people, each person is sure that their efforts help their friends and family.

Raphael / Parish (Bayou Heat 1 & 2 – Raphael and Ashe, Parish and Julia) by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright (Amazon Digital Services, January 3, 2013)

Garrick knows that his work on behalf of the Pantera is worthwhile. Coming from a long line of diplomats, he’s seen the sacrifices his family have personally made for their people which is why he’s busy in Paris negotiating the purchase of a safe house. Returning to his apartment, he’s immediately cheered to see a letter from home. Molly, his elderly mother’s caregiver, always sends him missives filled with humor and all the news of the bayou and these notes continue to keep him strong. He’s naturally shocked and borderline ballistic when the letter he thought was a newsy installment instead turns out to be Molly’s resignation. Without even thinking about it, he books a flight to Louisiana.

Molly is sad to be leaving the pithy, elderly Virginia but she knows it’s the right choice to go back to Medical for her career and her personal peace of mind. She’s loved Garrick for five years, the two of them pouring out their hearts and minds to each other in their letters, but every time he’s come home (and that hasn’t been often), he’s treated her like an aloof employer. She needs to give up on her dream of him and even Garrick bursting on the scene and ordering her not to leave is not going to dissuade her. But for all his bluster, can Garrick face what’s between them with courage, or will he simply run away again?

Garrick is the ultimate, oblivious alpha male. Everyone around him can clearly see that he’s desperate to mate Molly if not for the emotional baggage he’s carrying from his childhood, baggage she has no knowledge of since he’s managed not to mention it in his letters. Molly is the spunky heroine we all are bound to admire who won’t let herself be used by Garrick when her heart is on the line – she’s strong enough to demand all or nothing and you’ll be ready to cheer her on even after a short acquaintance.

The Bayou Heat Bundle (the first six books of the series) – a steal for only $4.99 when the books would normally cost you around $7, plus you can get Bayou Noel for free!

In sixty pages, the talented team of Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright managed to have me order the first book of the Bayou Heat series, Raphael/Parish, which then led me to return it so I could instead purchase the very affordable (and better financial deal) of the Bayou Heat Bundle which includes books 1 – 6 and is only $4.99. As each “book” is only just under 100 pages, and they each have a cliffhanger ending which takes you right into the next one of the series focusing on another couple, I’m going to strongly recommend that you’ll want to prepare yourself for needing to know what’s next. These are fun, almost breezy paranormals which nevertheless possess interesting world-building and a compelling story arc of a vivid human threat to the Pantera’s existence. Paranormal romance readers looking for a free holiday read as a present, shouldn’t hesitate to download this story – just be warned. One hit will not be enough!

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Fangs, Fur and Mistletoe by Selena Blake Offers True Love, Paranormal Style, for the Holiday Season

11 Dec

Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe (Mystic Isle #1 – Coco and Grayson) by Selena Blake (Ecila Media, December 1, 2012)

I had read and enjoyed a few of the novels from Selena Blake‘s Stormy Weather series, (including the holiday novella from that group of books, A Cajun Werewolf Christmas, currently available for free on Amazon) so when I saw that she had a paranormal series set on an island that provides sexy Club Med services for paranormal creatures – and that the series occurs at Christmas – it seemed like an excellent candidate for my December Read-a-Thon.

Granted, there are few references to the holiday season in this wonderful novel, but it’s Selena Blake, so, who cares? Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe (love the title!) is the first book in Blake’s Mystic Isle series, centered on a group of female vampires belonging to the same Parisian coven who decide to head to the playground of the paranormal set for a little holiday relaxation.

It’s easy to see why Blake’s Mystic Isle series is her top-rated collection of books on Goodreads – the first novella-length installment has a tough job ahead of it. Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe not only tells the story of our first couple, vampire Coco and her long-lost enemy, werewolf Grayson, but it must also set up the other four women who will be the future heroines of the other books of the series. Not easy to do in approximately 100 pages!

Yet Blake pulls it off, beautifully. Coco Jeffres is fascinating – one of the few black vampires in existence, she is pureborn of two vampire parents. Although she’s lived for well over a century, she combines a modern sensibility with loyalty and old-world values. A little glum from having broken up with her boyfriend, Dmitiri two months ago (she’s glum because she knew it went on too long), she’s looking forward to Mystic Isle as a place to have hot rebound sex and finally shake off her doldrums.

Tropical beaches (albeit moonlit ones - Coco is a vampire after all) abound in this steamy holiday romance. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

Tropical beaches (albeit moonlit ones – Coco is a vampire after all) abound in this steamy holiday romance. (Public Domain image via Pixabay)

The last person she expects to run into is the grey-eyed, uber-hot werewolf she encountered on the battlefield one hundred and eleven years ago. Sworn enemies then, she never forgot the overwhelming feeling that swept over her in his presence. Now that their kind no longer fight one another as a rule, who is to say what could happen? The thought that he might be here with some stacked werewolf female is more depressing than sex with her ex, but Coco cannot stop thinking about the man she’s never forgotten.

Grayson West is at Mystic Isle alone, hoping for a little sun and relaxation prior to shipping off on another mercenary mission. While he had definitely planned on a hookup or two as part of his itinerary, seeing the blue-eyed, chocolate skinned vampire who fascinated him on the battlefield over a century ago has taken his breath away. He’s never forgotten her and watching other men circle around her in the Mystic Isle bar makes him want to stamp his possession on her until it’s obvious she belongs to him.

While Coco and Grayson don’t attempt to deny the heat between them and find themselves falling for one another with astonishing rapidity, dangers lurk in the form of Coco’s loyalties. Grayson feels too much to be kept hidden away like a dirty secret, but the histories of Coco’s good friends and coven members come into play on this sensual isle and may change all their destinies.

Where to start? Both Coco and Grayson are outstanding characters – with all the backstory necessary to set up the series, I could not believe how well Blake manages to sketch their characters. Their fighting history is extremely sexy, as is Coco’s loyalty to her coven members, particularly the scarred new vampire Izzy who has good reason to hate werewolves. Each of the women on vacation is equally as interesting and mysterious and I cannot wait to see them find their mate, particularly the cool and celibate Valencia (who will have her story published in 2014).

Blake’s sex scenes are also flaming hot and fulfill the definition of great sex scene writing, with plenty of emotion and character development packing the pages. You will not need to turn up your thermostat with this book on your e-reader!

An outstanding start to an intriguing series, Fangs, Fur & Mistletoe is a great addition to your pile of holiday romance reads. Get it in your to-read queue for some tropical holiday fun and try some other Selena Blake while you are at it. You won’t be disappointed!

Happy reading! 🙂

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

6 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

December Holiday Read-a-thon: Scrooge as a Hot Vampire? Yes, Please! A Vampire’s Christmas Carol by Cynthia Eden

2 Dec

It is always a pleasure when you see a self-published book done beautifully, and leave it to best-selling author Cynthia Eden to have the chops to manage this on her own with aplomb. Her paranormal holiday novella, A Vampire’s Christmas Carol, has everything you could want – compelling characters, excellent writing and editing, and a damn sexy cover – all of which harken back to the time-honored tale by Charles Dickens of a man confronted with the sins of his past and given the chance to create a different future.

Ten years ago, Ben Prescott had everything as he was walking through Central Park. A millionaire, his sterile apartment was filled with a tree and love as he hurried home to his beautiful girlfriend Simone so he could give her the engagement ring in his pocket. But in a flash it was all taken from him as a vampire attacked and changed him into a monster. Considering himself responsible for Simone’s death, Ben has spent the last decade as a vigilante courting death as he stalks and kills murderers, with the darkness almost fully overtaking him.

Until he is confronted by William, a demon he saved in a cemetery long ago. William informs Ben that – against Ben’s vehement wishes – he will witness his most painful memories, that of his turning and of Simone’s death. Two other people will visit him, to show him how his view of the present is skewed and how his future path is bleak indeed, in the hope that he can change in time to not be condemned to eternal damnation. But even this effort means nothing until Ben is shown the one person he wants most in this world – Simone – and he will do anything for the slightest chance to win her back.

WOW. This novella (a bargain at only $.99 for around 80 pages) packs a wallop. There are always holiday romance stories which use Dickens’ famous work, but I’ve never seen the concept executed with such freshness and deep emotion. Eden’s paranormal world is appropriately dark, but through Simone’s sacrifice Ben is finally able to see the potential he has to do the world good, and not just by killing the human detritus he has targeted in the past. I did not see several of the twists coming (which I loved) and my heart ached while praying for an HEA for Ben and Simone, even when it looked like that wasn’t possible. This was a masterful retelling filled with heat and emotion, which should be on every paranormal romance lover’s e-bookshelf this holiday season.

Happy reading!

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