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

31 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!!

Gone With the Wolf Delivers Strong Paranormal Romance with a Dash of Millionaire Sexy Times

24 Oct

Gone with the Wolf (Seattle Wolf Pack #1) by Kristin Miller (Entangled Publishing, April 23, 2013)

Here’s a conundrum. I love paranormal romance, but I also have a not-so-hidden fascination for those decidedly decadent millionaire-laden category romances filled with mansions and galas.

Luckily for me, Kristin Miller wrote Gone with the Wolf, the first book in her Seattle Wolf Pack series, which just happens to feature as hero one cold, logical, extremely handsome CEO of a multi-million dollar real estate holdings company, Drake Wilder. Plenty of mansions and galas here to drool over as he falls for the bartender-turned-temp.

Oh, I’m sorry…did I not mention he’s a 300 year old werewolf and she’s his destined mate?

That’s right. Miller has managed to combine two tropes I love – paranormal romances with a destined mate element and those delicious fantasy-imbued millionaire romances – into one novel. The end result is something closer to the category style of romance in tone, but with plenty of paranormal deliciousness for readers who like that but don’t want to be inundated with a ton of world-building (I for one don’t mind excessive world-building, but not everyone feels that way).

Emelia Hudson is not only a bartender but a bar-owner, that is, until she’s notified that Drake Wilder’s company has purchased her building, which means either her deed is worthless or Wilder is a ruthless shark bent on ruining the little guy. She needs money and access to figure out what’s going on, so working as a temp for his company seems like a good way to weasel her way under his defenses and challenge him with the truth.

Four Weddings and a Werewolf (Seattle Wolf Pack #2) by Kristin Miller (Entangled Publishing, October 28, 2013)

Emelia gets under Drake’s defenses all right. A couple of stolen moments at his company’s Halloween party (where she is dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, naturally, since he’s really the Big Bad Wolf) and Drake is faced with the startling conclusion that this human is his Luminary – his destined mate for whom he’s searched for centuries and given up as a myth.

There are some startling ripples in the pond from this development. Drake’s father willed the alpha slot of his pack to whichever of his sons found their destined mate first, and the stalemate has kept things calm between Drake and his unstable twin, Silas, a calm that has clearly preceded the storm that finding Emelia is about to unleash.

But she knows nothing about Drake being a werewolf, and in fact can barely stand him as a person since she’s so threatened by his company’s actions. Yet as Emelia tries to reconcile the facts with what her instincts are proclaiming – that despite her experience of one untrustworthy man after another, Drake might just be the real thing – her feelings help her fight through obstacle after obstacle to try and make their connection work for both of them.

With any other writer, I’d be scoffing at so many elements thrown together, and when I say this reminds me of a yummy category romance, I mean it. Both characters have the occasional TSTL moment, there is layer upon layer of misunderstanding, they take two steps forward and then one step back, etc., yet Miller somehow builds enough emotion and character depth that you are ready to accept it as part of the story, letting you sit back and enjoy the ride.

Since this is the start of Miller’s Seattle Wolf Pack series, I’ll be interested to read the next book in the series, Four Weddings and a Werewolf, due to come out next week. Featuring one of Emelia’s bodyguards – the cold and remote Logan – partnered with a wedding planner who hates werewolves, it’s bound to be interesting. 🙂 At a mere $2.99 a pop, these books are also priced just right for regular consumption.

Happy reading!

Fatal Strike by Shannon McKenna Shoots for Heart with Pulse-Pounding Romantic Suspense

11 Oct

Fatal Strike (McClouds & Friends #10) by Shannon McKenna (Kensington, September 24, 2013)

I’m finding that the authors who emerge as some of my favorite writers are ones who aren’t afraid to push the category envelope. Whether it’s the explosion of ebooks which allows publishers to promote new novels under a variety of categories (versus the bookstore model where there was only one shelf a book could sit upon) or just reader demand, stories that involve multiple elements make me putty in the hands of a good writer.

Shannon McKenna’s McClouds & Friends series is just such an example. I fell in love with a NetGalley copy of One Wrong Move, instantly intrigued by her combination of romantic suspense, paranormal elements and an alpha hero teetering on the edge of asshole. Her writing is tight and suspenseful with McKenna unhesitant in continuing detailed story arcs of villainous bad guys and their evil henchmen who must fall (or at least retreat) in the face of the McClouds and their allies in each book in the series.

Fatal Strike not only met all my expectations but it melted my inner marshmallow with the evolved hero, Miles. It’s been easy to love gentle Miles over the series as he assisted the McClouds with his high tech wizardry and suffered at the hands of McCloud in-law, the slutty Cindy, who would always cheat on him until he cut her loose. But the final showdown in One Wrong Move left Miles in a coma after brutal torture with psi-powers and he has emerged a changed man.

In his opinion, it’s not been a change for the better. His psi-ability is now off the charts, and while he has invented an elaborate shield in his mind in an attempt to initially protect himself (and now to control his ability), he nevertheless is constantly being fed physical and environmental data that has elevated him from techno-geek to official badass, finally unleashing all the skills the McClouds have attempted to teach him for his own protection over the years.

The only thing that makes him feel better as he lives in the wild and hide from his friends is when the image of Lara Kirk – the woman Miles searched for over the course of months and never found – slips right through his defenses and comes to visit. She’s a beautiful dream and one so erotic that their encounters exceed any actual physical sex he’s ever had, but she’s also a symbol of how crazy he’s become and her recurring presence has him pondering how long he has before his friends have to commit him to a mental hospital.

One Wrong Move (McClouds & Friends #9) by Shannon McKenna (Kensington, June 2013)

A major wrinkle in his thinking is that Lara is not a dream. By focusing on her over all those months of searching, Miles unknowingly created a back door for her to enter his mental refuge and his shield is just that – a refuge of safety – to Lara as well. She’s being held and tortured with psi-drugs developed by a man bent on “saving humanity” from itself, and part of that plan appears to be unleashing Lara’s powers. She doesn’t know who the erotic sex god who occupies this lovely Citadel is exactly, but he’s the only thing that helps her cling to sanity.

It’s only when a series of events reveals to each of them that this isn’t fantasy – the realization which helps Miles free Lara from her prison – that their dream world becomes a living nightmare. Because even with their strong psychic connection and intense physical attraction, a man continues to stalk them, bent on using both of them to kill thousands if not millions of people.

Is there anything sexier than the geek turned total alpha hottie? (Don’t answer. That was a rhetorical question.) Of course not! Miles, who we know is a love of a guy, is so damaged and yet trying to do the right thing even when no one around him understands, that your heart breaks right at the beginning of this book. I found myself clinging to Lara as much as Miles did because I understood that to each of these broken people, the other person was going to be their refuge and their salvation.

McKenna’s ebook bundles of the early books in the series are terrific deals in your local library isn’t carrying them (or you just want them on your ereader!).

Lara was a terrific heroine who had just as pure a heart as Miles and yet whose fragility masks intense strength, even when she wasn’t ready to see it herself. I love it that she always called Miles on his bullshit (McKenna never writes a hero who doesn’t at some point turn into a complete asshole – for good reasons in his head, but still) and that she could love him even when she was angry at his behavior. There are a few scenes that make you want them both to see a therapist, but they are luckily the work of the situation and hardly a permanent dynamic. McKenna also possess a real talent for the three-dimensional villain, who has you understanding his twisted motives even while you’re busy hating his nefarious plans.

I’m sure with Fatal Strike the tenth book in this long-running series some readers might be hesitant about jumping in. Don’t be. McKenna has the talent of writing each of her books in such a way that while you recognize other characters clearly have their own back story, you do not need to have read those books in order to appreciate the novel in question. Fans of the series will love the appearance of so many of the previous couples and their burgeoning families, however, with their presence much more visible than in One Wrong Move.

It’s worth mentioning that McKenna has bundles of the first books in the series available for ereaders, with the first five going for under $15 or the first seven books costing a smidgen over $20, both excellent deals as her books run in the 350 to 400 page range. I think readers who love paranormal psychic storylines and/or lovers of romantic suspense will both find so much to admire and enjoy in Shannon McKenna’s McClouds & Friends series. Walk don’t run to your bookseller or library to pick up a copy!

The Erotic Tempo of Heavy Metal Heart by Nico Rosso Will Have You Making Finger Devil Horns While You Read

7 Oct

Heavy Metal Heart (Demon Rock #1 – Trevor and Misty) by Nico Rosso (Carina Press, September 30, 2013)

I do enjoy rock star romances as long as they don’t descend into skeevy groupie sex territory. As long as everyone is consenting and of age, I’m usually the first to admit that this environment is terrific for erotic romance as rock n’ roll is all about sexual energy. Like the drummer from This is Spinal Tap says in the bathtub, “Well, so long as there’s sex and drugs I don’t need rock n’ roll.”

Nico Rosso’s Heavy Metal Heart, the first in his Demon Rock series, is a thundering paranormal romance set in this world of rock star celebrities. Trevor Sands is understandably jaded. When you are a near-immortal satyr capable of channelling the elements, you’ve pretty much seen it all. Together with his bandmates, they rock audience after audience in order to feed off their energy as they’ve done since the Bacchanalian revelries of ancient times. Yet throughout it all they have practically given up on the ideal of the “Muse” – a destined mate for each satyr who once found can feed him forever.

But even while admitting it’s probably a myth, Trevor has always dreamed of a green-eyed woman, even immortalizing her in his music, but it’s been over a millennia and she’s never appeared. When she does turn up at one of his gigs in Los Angeles, the connection is palpable and thankfully she seeks him out after a high-energy concert where she stood out like a beacon in the crowd. Trevor found himself singing directly to her, yet knew that if she was the one, she had to come to him.

Nymph and Satyr (1860) by Alexandre Cabanel. Image from Wikipedia.com.

Misty Grant couldn’t stop her feet moving toward Trevor Sands if she tried. She has felt a connection to him since the first time she heard his music and listening to him sing directly to her tonight has only strengthened her desire to be with him. But when he, emboldened by their unbelievable sexual encounter, reveals his true self to her, she runs – right into the heart of a world that could kill her for what she is.

This is a nonstop, page-turning story imbued with not only highly poetic language but also a cinematic narrative. Like many movies, the action is relentless and I imagine this pace is a direct result of the novella length of the story. My only criticism is that I did wish for a little lull in the sex and violence (not that I didn’t enjoy those aspects) so I could see the two characters relax and get to know one another in a less stressed environment. (I think it would have strengthened their connection even further.) It was unsurprising to discover from Rosso’s bio that he worked in the film industry, both from his insider knowledge crafting Misty’s mind-numbing job as well as his approach to the conflict and action of the story.

The overwhelming eroticism in Heavy Metal Heart is natural in a world of satyrs born from the energy of revelry long since past. It’s impressive exactly how many sexual encounters Rosso manages to pack into about 130 pages ;-)! The hunger Misty and Trevor have for one another is amplified by the energy they are capable of exchanging with one another and it shows in sex where the earth literally moves. While Trevor has suffered more than Misty, their sudden connection must be like someone sitting down to a banquet table when they haven’t really eaten in months.

Finger devil horn gesture – it’s all about appreciating the rock n’ roll, people.

This novel definitely falls under erotic romance, with voyeurism and a little back door action part of the sexual experience of the protagonists, so check your reservations at the door. At least Rosso didn’t give the satyrs two penises like I’ve seen in other paranormal romance involving this type of supernatural creature (that just sounds unnecessarily complicated)!

Fans of music throughout the ages will enjoy the numerous references to musicians past and present as well as Trevor’s original lyrics quoted throughout the story. He has put his centuries of experience – particularly his yearning for connection with the mysterious green-eyed woman who has lived in his fantasies – into his songs and this lends a wonderful dimension to the narrative. The poetic phrasing and dialogue does take a little adjustment as a reader, but it seems appropriate that long-lived creatures would not speak with the same cadence as the modern era around them.

I would definitely pick up the next book, particularly since I think the shorter length of the novella lends itself to world-building over the course of a series. I’m now heading over to Spotify to listen to some growly, fast-paced rock n’ roll, so I can flip my own devil horns to the computer screen while thinking about Trevor and Misty. Thanks, Nico Rosso!

Cover Release of Laura Kaye’s Latest in the Hearts of the Anemoi Series – East of Ecstasy

18 Sep
Laura Kaye, an amazing writer and just look at her - she's pretty and friendly, too!

Laura Kaye, an amazing writer and just look at her – she’s pretty and friendly, too!

Have you read Laura Kaye‘s books? As someone who has read everything she has ever written, allow me to let you know that her books are like a fresh can of Pringles. You may tell yourself you are only going to eat one, but they taste soooo good going down that before you know it, you are tapping the bottom of the container over your head and crumbs are raining on your t-shirt.

I love her Vampire King’s novella series and I believe that she writes some of the best military romance heroes on the market, but Laura Kaye first won my heart when I came across a NetGalley copy of the first book in her Hearts of the Anemoi series, North of Need. I devoured it and placed it in a review with another book about a snowbound couple, but North of Need lingered with me in a way the other novel didn’t. I purchased every other one of her books and any time another book in the Anemoi series came out, I read it before the book got cold in my Kindle.

North of Need (#1 Hearts of the Anemoi – Owen and Megan) by Laura Kaye (Entangled, May 2012)

Each book in this series stars a god who can wear human form (incredibly hot human form, in case you’re interested in that detail, ahem) who controls the weather. For those of you enjoying the fruits of a classical education, the series name might tickle your brain – the Anemoi were the minor gods in the Greek lexicon who controlled the winds. Since the Greeks firmly believed that these gods could take the form of a winged man – or a stallion, which is damn appropriate for Kaye’s brand of hot romance – these novels manage to pull off being accurate along with succeeding in a creative modernization of an ancient mythology.

West of Want (#2 Hearts of the Anemoi – Zeph and Ella’s story) by Laura Kaye (Entangled, July 2012)

In addition to the circumstances by which each individual god comes to meet the woman who is finally going to heal his wounded heart (you don’t get to be a few millennia old without a decent amount of baggage), there is a story arc across the series involving some god politics. All the wind gods have the same father, who seems to have played favorites, and one of the wind brothers, Eurus, has gone rogue and is wreaking havoc around the world as a result. Each brother, who takes seriously his role in maintaining the earth’s balance and the weather under his purview, tries to mitigate Eurus’ influence, with the range of opinion ranging from “let’s try to save him” to “he needs to be exterminated.”

South of Surrender (#3 Hearts of the Anemoi – Chrys and Laney) by Laura Kaye (Entangled, May 2013)

Every book showcases a unique couple and Kaye places the immediate obstacle to the couple’s happiness right off the bat – that gods and humans are not supposed to be together (and that the women are not supposed to know about them or receive any kind of healing power). The pairings still carry the signature mark of Laura Kaye no matter what genre she happens to be writing in – the characters are so real they step off the page, the sex is blazing hot and incredibly emotional, and the plot is well drawn, not the phoned in conflict that occasionally inhabits romance that uses supernatural beings. Each brother is so different from his siblings (largely due to the way their father has treated them) and as a result each woman who wins their heart is unique as well. While all the heroines are strong and smart, they come to the relationship with different expectations and fears, and it’s a joy seeing these gods begin to care about someone on this intimate level.

East of Ecstasy (#4 Hearts of the Anemoi - Devlin and Annalise) by Laura Kaye (Entangled, April 22, 2014)

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

Here’s where we get to the big reveal! Laura Kaye sent out a call for bloggers interested in helping show the cover of the fourth book in the series, East of Ecstasy, which will be published on April 22, 2014. So here it is. YOWZA! North of Need was not only my first Laura Kaye novel, it was also the first book I read from Entangled Publishing, and when I realized who had produced the book, I truly began to believe that smaller presses could give the Big Six (now the Big Five) publishers a run for their money. Looking at these covers, I think you can see what I mean, and East of Ecstasy continues the trend of *fans self* a highly appropriate representation of our wind god heroes. Here’s the cover blurb:

Annalise Fallston made peace with postponing her big-city dreams to care for her ill father, but lately she’s been filled with a restlessness not even her beloved painting dispels. Worse, the colors don’t speak to her as they always have, and all her efforts produce dark, foreboding images of a dangerous man and a terrifying future.

Devlin Eston, black-souled son of the evil Anemoi Eurus, is the only one who can thwart his father’s plan to overthrow the Supreme God of Wind and Storms. But first, Dev must master the unstable powers he’s been given. Distrusted and shunned by his own divine family, he never expected to find kindness and passion in the arms of a mortal.

But Devlin’s love puts Annalise in the path of a catastrophic storm, and in the final Armageddon showdown between the Anemoi and Eurus, sacrifices will be made, hearts broken, and lives changed forever…or lost.

Another hot god with father issues/tentative handle on his new powers, a sensitive artist who has some psychic ability, and a “final Armageddon showdown” – are you serious?!? This has me thinking that April is waaaayyyyy too far away because I want this book yesterday! Since the characters and story arc build throughout the series, I would recommend reading these novels in order. Keep in mind though that Entangled – while it produces print books – specializes in delivering affordable ebooks to readers. None of these books are expensive in ebook form, usually falling between three and six dollars each for full-length (around 400 pages) work. With Kaye’s amazing writing and Entangled’s outstanding editing and cover designs, this series is a must-read for people who love a paranormal element in their romance.

My thanks to Laura Kaye for writing such a great series and for letting me showcase the new book cover and thanks to Entangled’s killer art department for giving me yet another amazing cover (okay, yes, the chiseled abs are fantastic, but I also love the watermark of the compass and the backdrop that fully plays into the story – these are smart, beautiful covers). So to say I’m looking forward to reading East of Ecstasy is a British-like understatement, so I’ll instead encourage anyone who hasn’t yet read these books to get on it. Run like the wind, people, and go grab them. You won’t be sorry! 🙂

Picking Out The Best Novella/Short Story from Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse Series

15 Aug

Night’s Edge, anthology containing “Dancers in the Dark” novella by Charlaine Harris (# 4.2 in the Sookie Stackhouse series) (Harlequin, 2009)

I haven’t done a series review of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books, probably because they aren’t technically romance (but rather mystery or urban fantasy with strong romantic elements). Romance always has a happy ending, and Harris has made no bones about the fact that this is not her goal for the characters in this excellent paranormal series.

Even people who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this series have probably heard of the HBO companion series TrueBlood, which diverges from the books but keeps the spirit of Harris’ original work alive according to fans. The name of the series is clever considering that the entire premise of Harris’ world is built on the idea that, after Japanese researchers develop a synthetic blood substitute (one brand of which is named TrueBlood), vampires come “out of the coffin” and reveal themselves to humans so they can live alongside them. Major repercussions ensue from this announcement, particularly for small-town Louisiana barmaid and telepath, Sookie Stackhouse, who finds the stillness of vampire minds to be almost intoxicating.

Sookie, or rather the supernatural creatures drawn to her, attracts trouble like it’s going out of style and the thirteen full-length novels in this series chronicle her growth and romantic difficulties as she works alongside vampires, werecreatures, and fairies, often reluctantly. In addition to these stories, Harris has penned at least thirteen short stories and companion novellas, practically all of which star Sookie (and some of which you MUST read in order to understand the next full-length novel which follows it in the series).

The other day I discovered a novella I hadn’t read in the series and immediately set about rectifying my faux pas, only to discover that I had missed the best companion story out of all of them! Dancers in the Dark, published in the anthology Night’s Edge, stars Sean and Layla, the briefly glimpsed professional ballroom dancers seen in All Together Dead, the novel in which Sookie accompanies the Queen of Louisiana to the vampire summit so she can ferret out the undercurrents from the human minds standing alongside their vampire companions. Sookie along with everyone else is impressed and mesmerized by the two vampire dancers Sean and Layla who perform during the ball and I definitely felt that there was something extremely powerful about these two minor characters. When I heard that the novella I’d missed was the one fleshing out their story, it was a no brainer to snap it up.

All Together Dead (#7 Sookie Stackhouse series) by Charlaine Harris (Ace Books, 2008)

Layla, currently using the name Rue, is busy disguising herself in Rhome, Illinois, while she takes classes and desperately tries to find work as a dancer. When she sees the ad for Blue Moon, a known dance troupe specializing in vampire occasions, she heads off to audition. There she meets her new partner, the handsome, red-haired Irish vampire Sean. She not only admires his outstanding dancing but the fact that his almost expressionless demeanor offers her a safe, professional distance.

Rue/Layla knows that a few people see through her disguise, recognizing her as the Southern beauty queen raped and beaten almost to death by a favored son of her town, but most days she can fly under the radar and attempt to create a life for herself. At first she’s frightened when she realizes that Sean is secretly following her home each night after their nighttime practices and performances, but when she realizes there is no menace in his actions, she begins to relax and let a friendship develop. Soon there’s more than just a friendship at stake (no pun intended), but Layla has no idea if she’s capable of any relationship, particularly one which such a powerful creature.

Sean is intrigued by his stunning dance partner but he’s fallen in love a few times before in his long existence and it’s always ended badly. Yet he’s feeling things for Layla he’s never felt before and when he discovers on his own the hair-raising circumstances of not only her attack but her family’s callous treatment afterward, he knows his goal is to keep her safe and find her attacker, now released from the mental institution he talked his way into.

Unlike the Sookie Stackhouse novels which are written solely from Sookie’s perspective (common for urban fantasy), this novella thankfully switches between Layla and Sean’s POV, offering us insight into both wonderful characters. There is no way you can’t feel for Layla and find yourself gently falling in love with the stoic Sean as he coaxes her into trusting him by being so solid and dependable. I honestly found myself incredibly disappointed that Harris didn’t decide to make this a spin-off series since the dance troupe has so many fascinating characters (vampire and human) that it would be wonderful to develop each of their stories (romances preferred, naturally). Since the world is already well-established, I’m going to have to surf the web and see if any fan fiction exists (or maybe write it myself)!

You’ll Find Yourself Craving the Latest in Laura Kaye’s Vampire Warrior Kings Series

1 Aug

In the Service of the King (Vampire Warrior Kings #1 – Kael and Shayla) by Laura Kaye (Harlequin, February 2012)

I’m beginning to think that Harlequin’s Nocturne Cravings line is aptly named. These ebooks are novellas of no more than 25,000 words which focus on highly sensual, paranormal romances and, in the hands of a talented writer like Laura Kaye, this results in stories as delicious as a small bite of high quality chocolate that you savor while it melts in your mouth.

I first stumbled across Laura Kaye’s Vampire Warrior Kings series when I was busy devouring her entire body of work (yes, I have read literally everything she has written because she is that good an author). Since I loved her emotionally gritty contemporaries, it startled me to discover she is such a good paranormal romance writer, but Kaye obviously typifies versatility in the romance world.

One of the major indications of her strong writing ability is the fact that she does some complex world-building in shockingly few pages. Each of these novellas is around 80 pages, a length well-suited to the paranormal premise of finding a destined mate since that promises a rapid fall into lust and love. Yet each hero and heroine has been given a strong characterization that – with a few pen strokes – Kaye draws us an image detailed enough to make them breathe.

In the world of the Vampire Warrior Kings, the good vampires numbers are few and they confine themselves to strongholds where these men (there are no female vampires) live as warriors fighting the Soul Eaters, evil vampires who live to devour their victims and then ingest their soul with the last breath of the dying. To insure their strength, the existence of these warriors is supported by a small group of humans who help them hide their existence and train their daughters to be the Proffered, virgins who – at the age of 20 – offer themselves in a ritual where their blood feeds the noble warrior. In return for training their valiant daughters to this service, these humans receive the protection of the vampire warriors as well as their blood to help extend their lives and stave off sickness.

If the blood drinking of the Proffered happens during sex, it is possible that both partners will have their hands marked with a mate mark, or detailed black tattoo indicating that the partnership is a powerful one which shows blood compatibility and would produce strong offspring. The vampire and the woman then have three days to complete the mating ritual, after which time their chance at a mating is lost. Once mated, a vampire can drink exclusively from his female partner, enjoying a strong psychic connection between them.

Kael’s stronghold is located near Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.

In the first book of the series, In the Service of the King, Shayla MacKinnon has lost her older sister to the Soul Eaters and that tragedy caused her to embrace her destiny as a Proffered fiercely. Finishing high school and college at almost prodigy-age, Shayla took her training as a Proffered seriously and was honored to be chosen on her 20th birthday to serve the Irish Vampire King, Kael. A Gaelic history scholar and someone who has studied the details of their people, she knows that since the loss of his pregnant mate, Kael does not have sex with his Proffered nor does he drink from their bodies, preferring to bleed them into a chalice from which he ingests their life-giving blood. She is elated to help him in any way possible, even in a version of the ritual that does not chance a connection to a mate.

Kael hates being forced to do the ritual every three months but the unmated warriors under him cannot feed until he does and he needs to keep them healthy to fight their battles against the Soul Eaters. One look at the Proffered Shayla and Kael is both fascinated and horrified. Something prompts him to ask this stunning beauty about herself and her scent and bravery call to him as no one has since his mate died three hundred years ago. Fighting the attraction, he blindfolds Shayla prior to bleeding her into his chalice, but his subsequent callous behavior hurts the lovely girl who he kissed so passionately against his better judgement. Kael doesn’t know if he can live with the knowledge of having something so precious in his life only to lose it once more, but he feels compelled to prove himself a warrior in this arena as well, if Shayla can work past her hurt and let him.

Seduced by the Vampire King (Vampire Warrior Kings #2 – Nikolai and Kate) by Laura Kaye (Harlequin, June 2012)

OMG, these vampire warriors are S-E-X-Y and Kael is so isolated and tortured after the lost of his mate. Shayla is an intelligent, committed young woman and this first book manages to pack a ton of world-building yet it feels effortless when reading it. I know in my feminist head that I should be worried about a girl of twenty and a virgin to boot having something so life-altering happen to her, yet I can’t bring myself to get worked up about it. The cause is good, the women are smart and not forced into their training and hell, if these men were my option for first time sex, I probably would have taken it, too!

In the next book in the series, Seduced by the Vampire King, the tortured Russian king, Nikolai Vasilyev, is taking ridiculous risks on the streets of Moscow, still dwelling on the loss of his two brothers, a loss he considers his fault. Attacked by Soul Eaters and isolated from his team, he is barely able to drag himself into a dark alley before passing out.

Exchange student Kate Bordessa doesn’t understand why she feels so restless tonight, restless enough to chance walking the streets of a dangerous city at one in the morning. When she catches an incredible, intoxicating smell on the breeze and follows it to the source, she finds a half-dead man bleeding out in an alley. Bizarrely, his blood seems to be the odor which drew her to find him and she doesn’t understand the protective anger she feels toward whoever attacked him. When his fangs emerge, she immediately realizes what he is – a vampire.

Kate was actually trained as a Proffered but left the program because she couldn’t bring herself to have sex with someone she didn’t know and care for. When a dying Nikolai ravages her arm to drink the blood that can keep him clinging to life, Kate works past the pain to feel the sensual pull of their connection and even thinks she hears a male voice in her mind. Yet she is shocked and dismayed when she is knocked out by his warriors attempting to reclaim him and unhappy when she wakes in a dungeon and no one will tell her if Nikolai survived.

Nikolai’s hunting grounds are the dangerous and colorful streets of Moscow.

Nikolai awakes from his experience disgruntled from being taken out of a dream in which he is erotically claiming a beautiful woman, but is more shocked to realize that there was a woman, and she saved him from death. Visiting her in his dungeon has him fully realizing his danger. His background check reveals that she is from a family whose blood could make her a potential mate and if the way she calls to him is any indication, that’s a very real possibility. Yet Nikolai kisses her passionately one minute and distances himself the next as he knows, with the dishonor of his brothers’ death on his conscience, that the joy of a mate in the uncertain world he lives in is not possible.

I loved this novella, understanding Nikolai’s angst and self-torture while also admiring Kate for realizing quickly that she was meant to run away from her training in the United States in order to find this man who was her destiny. While almost twenty-one, Kate (like Shayla) has an emotional maturity that gives the reader the comfort level to accept the pairing and Nikolai is so romantic and tender in his heartfelt feelings for her when he works past his dickishness. That the heat between them is caliente-hot doesn’t exactly hurt anything either!

Taken by the Vampire King (Vampire Warrior Kings #3 – Henrik and Kaira) by Laura Kaye (Harlequin, August 1, 2013)

The third book in the series just came out today and I did my usual thing where I stayed up past midnight in order to read it the moment it landed on my Kindle. I’m glad I did – Taken by the Vampire King was my favorite book of the series to date!

Henrik Magusson, Vampire King, is dying. The blood of the Proffered barely sustains him and he knows he will soon give into the madness his condition visits upon him, losing all humanity. Although his warriors have reluctantly agreed to kill him when that happens, his hair and eyes, once a vibrant blond and bright blue, are almost totally leached of color and a daily reminder to him that the clock is ticking.

Danish photographer Kaira Sorenson is elated to have her pictures of the aurora borealis chosen for this prestigious contest. The long lasting winter nights are just ending in this part of Norway and with the excitement Kaira is able to forget the cancer shortening her life with this professional recognition. When she meets a compelling man at the exhibition who seems taken with her and her work, she’s confused as to why he abruptly leaves her with his equally large male companion. Her dismay is quickly forgotten when she is horribly attacked by a group of violent men intent on raping and…biting her? She is rescued by the same mystery man who spoke with her and when he bites her, all she feels is the utmost pleasure before passing out.

Henrik couldn’t resist taking her blood and, by the gasps of his warriors, Kaira’s blood has been able to do what no other woman’s has, restore some of his eye color and calm the beast within him. The effect is fleeting but the potential is there, particularly when his investigation reveals that the adopted Kaira would have been a Proffered had her parents not died when she was young. But while the draw is unbelievably strong between them, Kaira must face a life-changing decision in a mere three days if the mating that could save both their lives is to take effect, and it all might be too much for her to process.

Kaira's photography of the aurora borealis was a beautiful element in this hot, tender novella.

Kaira’s photography of the aurora borealis was a beautiful element in this hot, tender novella.

Wow! Henrik, like all these Vampire Warrior Kings, is tough as nails on the outside and a tender marshmallow when it comes to the woman destined to be his mate. I loved his sense of responsibility and how he does try and fight what seems to be a terminal illness. Kaira is a fabulous character, old beyond her years due to her lonely childhood and the leukemia which is killing her, yet that same illness gives her blood the extra white cells which could cure Henrik. Her art showed a depth and connection to the larger world that gave a good sense of the person she is and Henrik’s response to it was further indication of their bond. HIs tender generosity in trying to give her the time and space she needed to come to terms with their situation was so sweet that this novel above all others, actually choked me up a few times.

One of the wonderful elements about this series is not just the quality writing and interesting world, but that these novellas are so affordably priced. All three can be purchased for about eight dollars total, making this comparable in page length and price to a standard novel. Because it’s Laura Kaye, you know that the writing you are getting is of outstanding quality, so paranormal romance readers beware…like those chocolates, I bet you can’t eat just one Vampire Warrior King book without a craving for more.

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

30 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

Some Key Players:

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

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

Magic Bites (Book #1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Burns (Book #2)

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Strikes (Book #3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Bleeds (Book #4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Slays (Book #5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Gifts (Novella #5.4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Rises (Kate Daniels #6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy Monroe Brings Quality Shifter Romance to Medieval Scotland in her Outstanding Children of the Moon Series

15 Jul

Moon Awakening (Children of the Moon #1 – Lachlan and Emily) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley, 2007)

The other week, I kvelled in my review of the Enthralled anthology, noting that not only was Meljean Brook’s latest Iron Seas novella, Salvage, utterly amazing, but also that I was pleased to have found a few new authors to enjoy. One of them was Lucy Monroe, a versatile doyenne of the romance world who has mastered the art of category romance, pulse-pounding romantic suspense, and historical paranormals that tug on your heart strings.

I fell in love with her Children of the Moon novella, Ecstasy Under the Moon, in the anthology, promptly hunting down the rest of the series and devouring them in a couple of days. This series forms a nice counterpoint to the more modern shifter series I love (like Shifters Unbound by Jennifer Ashley or the hilarious Pride series by Shelly Laurenston).

Set in medieval Scotland, a murderous betrayal hundreds of years earlier has alienated the many shifter groups known as the Chrechte from one another. While the bird shifters, the Ean, have retreated deep into the forest, the wolf-shifting Faol have integrated with human clans, leading and defending them while keeping their nature a secret from all but their families. The cat shifting Paindeal have disappeared and are usually spoken of as myths among the remaining shifters, but rumors exist they have taken refuge in the Northern lands beyond the ocean. All know that change is coming, whether they want it or not, and that their future depends on their actions.

Note: Each one of the full-length novels exceeds 300 pages, so this is accordingly a long post! I’ve bolded each book name to section it up in case you are just looking for information on one particular book, but it’s meant to be read as one post since I attempt to demonstrate how Monroe connects the books and the larger story arc in the series.

Moon Awakening – Book 1 (Lachlan and Emily)

In Moon Awakening, the English daughter of a Baron, Emily Hamilton, is horrified to discover her stepmother’s scheme to marry Emily’s deaf younger sister Abigail to some Highland laird at the behest of a king bent on punishing her father for his penury in sending tribute. She volunteers herself in Abigail’s place and, after a long and dirty journey, finds herself in the Sinclair holding surrounded by downright hostile clansmen and a laird, Talorc, who doesn’t even look at her. The only friendly face is the Sinclair’s sister, the pregnant and widowed Caitronia, who explains that not only was her brother forced into this betrothal by the king but that the entire clan experienced the betrayal of Talorc and Caitriona’s stepmother, a grasping Englishwoman whose adultery resulted in an attack on the keep years ago and the death of clan members. Oh boy.

Talorc and Emily are oil and water – she at one point yells at him in perfect Gaelic that he’s a goat in front of the entire clan – and he naturally refuses to marry her. As Caitronia and Emily get ready to bathe in the loch while discussing her difficulty, they are surrounded by men not wearing the Sinclair plaid. These warriors are Balmorals and their laird, Lachlan, is incensed at one of his clanswomen turning up mated to the Sinclair blacksmith. The Faol follow Chrechte rules of mating and she was either kidnapped off Balmoral territory or she willingly went with her mate, who still should have sent an official request for mating to her leader.

Lachlan might worry about his duty to guarantee his race continues, but his wolf knows that he only wants Emily.

Lachlan might worry about his duty to guarantee his race continues, but his wolf knows that he only wants Emily.

Either way, it’s cause for retribution and the Sinclair’s sister and the woman who claims to be his English wife are the perfect hostages to force his hand. That the feisty Englishwoman has a delectable scent that makes Lachlan want to rub all over her in his wolf form is just something he’ll have to deal with, particularly since there is no way he would take a human as mate and risk his future children being unable to shift. One look at his angry older brother who is human and it’s obvious that this tension can tear families apart.

Monroe does a terrific job laying out the traditions and rules of the Chrechte, particularly the constant tension of humans and wolf shifters living cheek by jowl. Forbidden to discuss their nature, the Chrechte masquerade as elite warrior families, with many humans never understanding that their friends and neighbors can change form. Emily is confused by the use of the word “mate” but thinks that Caitriona’s stunned and reluctantly affectionate behavior toward Lachlan’s second-in-command incorporates strange Highland traditions. She’s a loyal friend and a brave woman who – when faced with the shifter’s secret – can only find wonder in the process and profound hurt that her being human means that Lachlan is willing to deny the tie between them.

That tie is stronger than she thinks. While unusual, the idea of “true mates” is introduced in this first novel in the series, specifically as a phenomenon which can happen to a couple strongly attracted to one another. After they engage in the physical act of mating, sometimes a lucky pair will be able to speak to one another in their thoughts and human/shifter couples who are true mates can produce offspring. Because of the constantly small numbers of the Chrechte, producing children is of paramount importance, hence the reluctance to take humans as mates since there is no guarantee of the “true mate” bond. Lachlan seems like a prize compared to Talorc’s hostility yet this laird has a wellspring of insensitive behavior, even while he knows that he has a profound connection to Emily. Caitriona’s secondary romance is brilliantly executed, highlighting prejudices between the clans as well as the men’s reluctance to acknowledge the perspective of the perceptive women and/or humans.

Moon Craving – Book 2 (Talorc and Abigail)

Moon Craving (Children of the Moon #2 – Talorc and Abigail) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley, 2010)

With Talorc Sinclair’s acceptance of both his sister’s mating to a Balmoral and that of his betrothed marrying Lachlan (which was a huge relief to Talorc, I’m sure), the stage has been set for him to finally acquire a mate, and he does in Moon Craving. 

It’s three years after Emily went north and got married to a Highland laird, but her original intended is still unmarried. The king is not happy that the Hamilton family hasn’t fulfilled his wish in producing a daughter to solidify this alliance.

Abigail lost her hearing after a fever years ago and it was only through the efforts of her older half-sister Emily that she was able to function in the household, learning to read lips and speak in a modulated voice so no one would know her affliction. The church teaches that the deaf are cursed by God and there would be many in their community who would possibly kill her as a result. Worse than that threat is that Abigail’s mother has had nothing but animosity for her lovely daughter who she now deems incapable of making a good match.

Abigail doesn’t want to marry a stranger but her father insists after her mother beats her severely for having an opinion. He convinces Abigail that Emily will not be far, and if her husband and she don’t get along, Emily and her husband will be happy to have Abigail come live with them. Comforted by that fact and desperate to get away from her mother, Abigail agrees. The family travels to a neutral Highland location and waits for the Sinclairs to arrive.

Talorc is no more thrilled to marry an Englishwoman than he was three years ago, particularly the sister of the shrew who is now the Balmoral lady. But in the Sinclair clan, a rigid code exists that wolf shifters do not have full sexual intercourse until they are ready to take a permanent mate; this morality comes with a price as most Faol wolves cannot control their shift until after they have had this intimacy. Talorc is descended from white wolves and as a result has always had control of his shift since he was young, but even he realizes he would be willing to share himself with someone who could be a true mate, he just doesn’t believe she would be English.

That opinion changes quickly when he sees and smells the lovely, gentle young woman who has so clearly been beaten. Both Talorc and his wolf want nothing but to protect her and get her back on their land as quickly as possible, and he uses the journey toward his keep to be one filled with various levels of intimacy with his new wife, who seems ready to like Talorc and his first-in-command, the scarred warrior Niall. Quickly finding a strong connection between them, Talorc takes her to the sacred caves on the Donegal land he just inherited and walks her through the Chrechte mating ceremony, wanting their union to be a spiritual one of his wolf people as well. While Abigail successfully hides her deafness, so too does Talorc hide his wolf nature from her. Mating does constitute a good enough reason to share the secret, but after his father’s disastrous mating to an English human, one who betrayed the clan and their treasure to her lover, he wants to grow to trust Abigail before taking that final step.

White wolves can control their shifting from the start, unlike grey wolves who need sexual intimacy to develop that same control

White wolves can control their shifting from the start, unlike grey wolves who need sexual intimacy to develop that same control

It becomes apparent that they are true mates and yet, fearful of letting Abigail know that he is a wolf, Talorc does not mind speak her, not until they find themselves in a dangerous situation and she doesn’t react to his yelling at her to run. Realizing her infirmity, he tests her hearing back at the keep and feels horribly betrayed, as do his warriors, at her hiding this part of herself. (Pot calling kettle – he stills hasn’t mentioned his propensity to turn into a wolf periodically, FYI.) Treating her coldly, Abigail is devastated at Talorc’s distance, yet realizes how freeing it is to not have to hide who she is. The Highlanders don’t share the opinions of the English about the deaf, and the majority of the clan actually thinks she’s damn clever for hiding it so well. When Emily comes to visit with her husband and young daughter, it’s Abigail’s turn to feel betrayed as her sister is horrified that Talorc still hasn’t told Abigail about the Chrechte nature of his people. Emily remedies the gaps in her sister’s knowledge and much of the confusing behavior of her husband and his soldiers is finally understood.

It was heart wrenching to see Talorc and Abigail – who were off to such a great start trusting and bonding with one another – fall apart with the various lies each felt they had to give about key pieces of themselves. It’s so apparent that they love one another tremendously, but I still feel that Abigail forgave Talorc way too easily. It’s one thing to forgive him for not telling her about the wolf shifter piece (although he still should have done it) but to not mind speak her AFTER you discover that she’s deaf seemed like a cruel move to me. The romantic subplot in this novel was wonderful – Talorc’s first in command Niall is actually in love with the male senschal of the keep, a human, and almost loses him to jealousy and sheer male idiocy. I loved their characters and the fact that Monroe accurately shows the fact that wolves (like humans) do develop same sex relationships. Not what you expect from a medieval Highland novel, but very welcome!

Moon Burning – Book 3 (Barr and Sabrine)

Moon Burning (Children of the Moon #3 – Barr and Sabrine) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley, 2011)

Niall’s unscarred twin, Barr, is the hero of the third book in the series, Moon Burning, which introduces the concept of other shifter types. Whereas we have clearly seen the prejudice against humans in the previous novels, the profound prejudice of some wolves toward other shifter species, particularly the Ean or bird shifters, comes to light in this one.

Talorc Sinclair has sent one of his best warriors to his newly acquired Donegal holding with the express purpose of whipping the group into shape while also training the young Circin, the hereditary leader of the clan. The previous laird has let his corrupt nature and abuse of the inhabitants run the clan into the ground and Barr has the onerous job of reestablishing order while still dealing with the deposed laird and his cronies sowing dissent at every turn. While taking a group of Chrechte Faol out for a training hunt, Barr finds himself abandoning the quarry to run after a new enticing scent. He discovers a naked, injured woman in the forest who calls to him like none other and brings her back to the Donegal keep despite his feeling that she is something more than she seems.

Sabrine is a raven shifter, bearing the glossy blue-black hair and dark eyes of her kind. After her parents death at the hands of one of the many wolf murderers who hunt her bird clan, she abandoned her royal duties and trained as a warrior. With the theft years ago of their sacred stone – necessary for the coming of age ceremony where extra abilities are endowed on the Ean to help their people – the Ean have made it a priority to acquire it back now that some of their small numbers are nearing this life transition. Suspicions are strong that it ended up in the Donegal clan and Sabrine must do whatever it takes to get it back. Her royal younger brother is next in line for the coming of age ceremony and as he would be king of their people, his abilities are of paramount importance.

Sabrine did not anticipate being shot out of the sky by one of the stupid young wolves accompanying the new Donegal laird. Pretending she hit her head and cannot remember the details of how she got in the woods, Sabrine successfully masks her raven scent (one of her abilities) and appears solely human, although it seems as if the wolf in charge is not exactly buying her memory loss. He still takes her back to his keep, and specifically his room, showing no intention of letting her go. Barr also makes clear from the get go that there is something deeper between them than mere attraction and rather easily makes the mental transition of taking this mystery woman as mate.

While there are many types of bird shifters among the Ean, ravens are actually defensive protectors and cannot bring themselves to kill for anything other than self-defense.

While there are many types of bird shifters among the Ean, ravens are actually defensive protectors and cannot bring themselves to kill for anything other than self-defense.

While Barr is wonderful in his relentless pursuit, Sabrine gets a little tiresome in her protestations that they can’t be together. While she doesn’t come out and state explicitly what she is doing there, Barr is able to put most things together and her Ean legacy is apparent after two half-wolf/raven shifters in the clan are outed. Sabrine is a great person, a protector and warrior desiring justice who helps the people around her, even wolves, but her emotional scars and the fact that she knows she must find the stone and return to her people make her feel that any relationship with Barr is doomed.

The secondary romance between Barr’s second-in-command, Earc, and Verica, the half raven/half wolf shifter and clan healer, was great (her brother is Circin, who is also a raven/wolf shifter, and will be the next Donegal laird after Barr deems him ready). This plot line did its job of highlighting the different perceptions wolves harbor of the Ean – some were trained by their families and clans to fear and hunt them as inferior shifters while others thought of them as wonderful myths deserving of great respect and an integral part of Chrechte history. Developing the reader understanding of the Ean is important as the political issues of this world and time period expand. This world-building takes place alongside the hot romance between two incredibly well-matched individuals (even if one of them is too dense to realize it for most of the book – Sabrine!). Seeing the many Donegal clan members damaged by the previous laird’s reign is particularly gut-wrenching and there is at least a happy future for a few of them.

Ecstasy Under the Moon – Novella 3.5 (Bryant and Una)

Enthralled – an anthology of novellas by Lora Leigh, Alyssa Day, Meljean Brook and Lucy Monroe (Berkley, July 2, 2013)

Since I’ve already done a review for this particular story, I thought I would focus on a few of the pieces of it which connect this tale to the larger world and which lays more foundation for the next two novels. In the Enthralled anthology novella Ecstasy Under the Moon, it’s been a few years since Sabrine and Barr returned the Ean’s sacred stone to the people. Sabrine’s brother Taran, having taken the royal name of Eirik, was gifted with a dragon form in addition to his raven one and now rules the Ean with an eye toward the future. His grandmother is the spiritual leader of the clan who has had a vision that the various Chrechte tribes must become integrated in order to survive the upcoming years.

To that end, Eirik has reached out to the various wolf tribes, asking for good wolf warriors willing to come and live among the Ean as the first of many steps toward accomplishing this unity. When timid golden eagle Una hears of this she is appalled and frightened – she has lived a sheltered existence since an attack by Donegal wolves (who were actually using her torture to induct new members into their secret Fearghall society, a shifter-style Ku Klux Klan bent on proving all other shifters inferior and killing them for sport). She hasn’t even spoken to the golden eagle shifter Lais who moved to their village three years ago when Princess Sabrine brought him from the Donegal clan.

Golden Eagles are a lovely rich brown color, just like Una’s hair.

Bryant is an extroverted wolf from the Balmoral clan who believes strongly in the reintegration of Chrechte. He was thrilled when the Ean resurfaced as his ancestor was a dragon/raven shifter and the family kept tales of the Ean alive in honor of her. One whiff of the shy Una perched in a tree along with several meetings of the two of them on the spiritual plane of their dreams and he knows they are sacred mates. Getting Una to see the light is going to take some work, however, particularly after hearing of her torture. But through Bryant’s perserverance and Una finding the bravery she possessed before her attack, they find their way to each other, forging a new link for the future of the Chrechte world.

Dragon’s Moon – Book 4 (Eirik and Ciara)

Dragon’s Moon (Children of the Moon #4 – Eirik and Ciara) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley, September 2012)

I would strongly encourage you to read the previous novella. Not only is it a beautiful love story but it offers an ideal transition to the next book in the series. Dragon’s Moon shows us a Chrechte people both changed and unchanged from previous books. Eirik is even older than in the novella and has finally come to the decision that he must give up his royal title and encourage his people to move to the safety of the Faol wolf clans to ensure their survival. While his grandmother and spiritual leader heads to his sister and her mate’s Donegal keep, Eirik decides to bring a group of bird shifters to live with the Sinclairs. Accompanied by his good friend and golden eagle healer Lais (formerly of the Donegal clan), they arrive at the keep eager to help their people integrate, while keeping Eirik’s dual nature – that of a dragon/raven shifter – secret. The dragon form is a special gift which sometimes occurs in the royal line and is meant as a protection for the Ean people.

Someone living with the Sinclairs already knows Eirik’s secret. Ciara is a wolf who grew up in the oppressive Donegal clan, where her father and brother both bought into the prejudiced spoutings of the previous laird. Denigrated by her family because she was not a boy, Ciara was nevertheless a curious child, plagued from her earliest years with prophetic dreams. One in particular – that of a large green stone which would give its power to wolf shifters – was of special interest to her brother. He took a young Ciara and a friend to look for it, telling her to hide while they scouted the territory. She ignored his order just in time to see his violent friend begin to persecute two little Ean children…right before a gigantic red and black dragon literally opened fire and reduced her brother and his companion to ash.

Having lost her mate before this, the death of Ciara’s brother is the final straw for Ciara’s mother and she commits suicide leaving Ciara alone. Her new laird Barr decides to move Ciara to the Sinclair holding where she will have fewer horrible memories and she is adopted by the Sinclair laird Talorc and his gentle, deaf wife Abigail. Ciara decides to close herself off from any attachments and emotion, but everyone can see her regard for her adoptive parents and the twin boys she treats as brothers. But the wolf stone invades her dreams, giving her little sleep and preventing her from eating, and this along with her avoidance of strong emotion worries her family.

Ciara is a sweet wolf attempting to hide her caring nature in the vain hope she won't love again and feel the incredible pain of losing the people who mean the most to her.

Ciara is a sweet wolf attempting to hide her caring nature in the vain hope she won’t love again and feel the incredible pain of losing the people who mean the most to her.

A reaction from her more than makes an appearance when Eirik arrives. Ciara is so startled by his presence walking across the keep’s drawbridge – he causes her to actually feel something – that she tumbles from her precarious perch on the West Tower right into the arms of the dragon shifter that killed her brother. She makes it clear where she knows him from and Eirik is not pleased to be reminded of the horrible day he first killed as a dragon.

Despite this troubled first meeting, he is called to the little wolf female even while denying to himself what that calling might actually entail. Eirik’s high handed manner infuriates Ciara, yet she can’t deny that he sees her in a way no one else does. He becomes an unexpected ally on the quest to find the wolf stone and it isn’t long before the two of them claim one another as true mates, awakening feelings of happiness they each thought they would never feel. The joy is important as Ciara’s visions and that of other seers portend a huge threat to the Faol and to the Chrechte as a whole, one that will take all the couple’s efforts and that of the wolf stone to help their people survive the upcoming centuries.

I adored this couple, the story line, you name it! This book represents a turning point where we finally begin seeing the bigger picture in terms of the larger story arc present (and Monroe has done an excellent job with it). Past characters are present and wonderful, yet the reader is never bludgeoned with too much of them to distract from the present story. Our secondary romance in this book is that of Lais the golden eagle healer, who still believes his disgrace when he was young and with the Donegal clan to prevent his fully claiming his lovely mate, the sweet Mairi MacLeod, a seer like Ciara. Ciara actually found the pretty MacLeod after the young woman managed to make her way to Sinclair land against all odds after being beaten and left for dead by her father, Uven, the laird of the MacLeods. He takes Chrechte prejudice to a new level, attempting to kill Mairi for being born a human (he killed her human mother, his true mate, because she was not a  wolf). The MacLeods are now primarily all Chrechte wolf shifters, with humans killed or driven away while the clansmen hunt Ean for sport. There is great world-building in Dragon’s Moon and the MacLeods are vital to understand for the next book in the series.

Warrior’s Moon – #5 (Shona and Caelis)

Warrior’s Moon (Children of the Moon #5 – Caelis and Shona) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley, July 2, 2013)

Because of my acute discomfort with reunion stories, I almost didn’t read this book. Monroe is not shy about dishing out the emotional pain in her previous novels and I wasn’t sure I could take the premise of true mates separated, particularly with a child involved. But Monroe’s outstanding writing in Dragon’s Moon had me believing that she would make this right for me, and my instincts proved correct. Warrior’s Moon was tied with Dragon’s Moon for my favorite book in the entire series, so I’m glad I knuckled down and bought it!

Shona left the MacLeod clan in what could only be painful circumstances. She had given her heart and body to Caelis, a young warrior who wooed her with tales of true love and the promise he would marry her. When she went to tell him of her suspicion she was pregnant, he informed her the baby could not be his and that he never wanted to see her again. The despotic Uven, who had always influenced Caelis since his parents’ death, actually fired Shona’s father from his seneschal position, leaving the family no choice but to move to England. Once her parents discovered Shona’s pregnancy, their disappointment hurt her even more, and her father forced her to marry an English baron.

Five years of torture later and that baron’s death has set her free. Taking her son Eadan, her young daughter Marjory and her friends, the twins Audrey and Thomas, Shona has made her way back to the Highlands in the hope of seeking refuge with distant relations in the Balmoral clan. Exhausted, she halts at the Sinclair holding and is shocked and horrified to see none other than the man who betrayed her, Caelis, standing in the courtyard.

Caelis first ignores the English group that just arrived until he realizes that the ravishing beauty in the lead is none other than his true mate, Shona. The MacLeod laird duped Caelis into denying his true mate, convincing him that the lovely human was not the sacred partner he thought she was. Since he could only impregnate her if she was his true mate, he repudiated her pregnancy, denying the truth that his wolf and heart was trying to tell him. He has lived in pain ever since, particularly after the evil Uven told him she had died, but the fact that he could never be excited by any other woman told him more than the lies he heard on a regular basis. Captured and rehabilitated by the Sinclairs, Caelis has spent the past years understanding how he has violated the most sacred Chrechte code. He rushes up to Shona only to be confronted with a little girl in her lap calling her mother. Shocked and hurt he turns and looks into the spitting image of himself as a young boy, and faints dead away.

Caelis and Shona are an incredible couple, but young wolf shifter Eagan steals the show for me.

Caelis and Shona are an incredible couple, but young wolf shifter Eadan steals the show for me.

It’s not often that the hero faints in the first few pages, but this romance defied all my expectations in the most amazing ways. Shona has been honed by fire having to accept another man into her body, and for all that she is human, her reactions to a man other than Caelis are truly that of a true mate, although she has no idea what that is. Caelis clearly wants her back and attempts to tell her of Uven’s treachery, but Shona has a backbone of steel and she is not about to cave to Caelis’ desire to be a family until she hears him accept responsibility for his choices and prove he deserves her trust. Perhaps most illustrative is the horror directed toward Caelis when the Sinclairs realize that the sweet little boy Eadan (a seer who knows of his wolf nature and who is real father is) is Caelis’ son – the warrior acutely feels the disgust and dismay by a group of people who know the sacred mate to be sacrosanct.

The love story is outstanding, made even better by the presence of the children, both of whom Caelis immediately accepts and loves as his own. Caelis (and Shona’s friends Thomas and Audrey) have to come clean about being wolf shifters, causing Shona another pang of betrayal with such a large secret being kept. The wolf stone comes into play again, since through it Caelis has received the gift of the true werewolf shape (a huge powerful wolf/man feared in battle as a protector for his people).

Dethroning Uven and taking back the MacLeod clan is Caelis’ ultimate goal but he has a journey ahead him before he understands that Shona and his children are more important and he needs to show them just what they mean to him. The secondary love interest between the English Audrey (a secret English wolf who knows little of her heritage) and one of the tough Balmoral wolves is wonderful and I cannot wait for little Eadan to grow up and claim his heritage as a seer and warrior. He already knows his fate lies with saving a Paindeal priestess and since I’m dying of curiosity about that elusive cat shifter group, I am looking forward to reading his book!

Final Thoughts on the Children of the Moon Series

I really felt that this series filled a gap for me. I love shifter books (totally buying into the “true mate” idea) but while I revel in the modern ones, I wondered about the challenges of a shifter society in an older time period. Monroe’s ability to run a strong, sometimes gut-wrenchingly emotional love story alongside a secondary love story which helps illustrate major story points is an incredible skill that I appreciate. The series’ story arc, not readily apparent in the first couple of books, was revealed in such a way that I could see the careful planning and immediately began appreciating as a reader all the places it could go.

Monroe doesn’t hesitate to bring her characters forward in time, linking them together enough to let us see past couples but always in a meaningful way that forwards the plot – you never get the thought that someone is inserted just for the sake of a cameo. Secondary characters and villains are well-developed for more than antagonistic properties and the world-building never feels heavy or forced. I did notice some complaints in reviews about Monroe’s dialogue, which is more extensive than other writers and often utilizes a peppery back-and-forth style between the hero and heroine. I think this style of bickering appropriate to several of her couples (she doesn’t do it with the others) and never felt that it was too much or detracted from the story. The sex scenes are sensual and emotional (and hawt!) and always, always illustrate the strong and developing connection between the couple.

There is a lot to love in the Children of the Moon series and I consider myself a dedicated fan of the series who will now faithfully pre-order any book associated with it. Shifter fans, be aware that Lucy Monroe is a force to be reckoned with.

Lisa Marie Rice Completes Her Sexy Mission with the Latest Ghost Ops Novel, I Dream of Danger

8 Jul

I Dream of Danger (Ghost Ops #2 – Nick and Ella’s story) by Lisa Marie Rice (Avon Red, July 2, 2013)

While I greatly enjoyed the first book in Lisa Marie Rice’s Ghost Ops series, Heart of Danger, I have to confess that I Dream of Danger blew me away.

Considering I have read literally every book Lisa Marie Rice has written (Don’t believe me? Search my Goodreads account under her name.), it’s heartening to see her take what she does so well – protective, former military alpha males and the soft, feminine women who bring them to their knees in a climate of suspense and danger – and add a slight paranormal element to the plot. With some writers this could be disastrous, but I see her growing in her writing with this series, and I already thought she was pretty terrific!

Set about a decade in our future, the series focuses on a group of betrayed and disgraced special forces operatives who have created a technological refuge in an abandoned cavern in California and turned it into the “Haven”. They’ve since been joined by other people needing to escape from danger, and a thriving community with all the comforts now exists to nurture its inhabitants.

All of it is carefully watched over by three main figures, Mac (the hero of the first book in the series and now joined by his scientist wife, Catherine), taciturn Nick, and surfer playboy Jon. The beginning of I Dream of Danger is taken up with a little backstory between our hero and heroine. Nick comes (as do all of Rice’s heroes) from a crap background filled with foster homes and abuse. Found feverish and broken in her backyard, Elle was a mere child when the older Nick came to live with her and her father. A judge in the community, Elle’s father had himself appointed Nick’s guardian and ensured he got a fine education through high school. But after seeing Nick react physically to the now startling beauty of Elle, he gave Nick a boatload of cash and shipped him off, without a word to Elle.

Heart of Danger (Ghost Ops #1 – Mac and Catherine’s story) by Lisa Marie Rice (Avon Red, November 2012)

Four years later and Elle is nineteen and standing alone at her father’s grave. She’s not gone to college as her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s soon after Nick’s dark-of-night departure. He’s returned, sensing she needed him, only to discover that his lovely childhood friend has become a striking young woman, one now living in abject poverty having sold most of her possessions and sacrificed the last few  years of her life being her father’s full-time caregiver. Elle doesn’t tell Nick that she knows exactly how he’s been doing – she has had the gift of Dreaming (with a capital D) and has literally been present on his missions and in his training (oh, and watching him have sex with LOTS of women, although that part has always been painful for her). One thing leads to another and they end up in bed where he takes her virginity.

Her only complaint is waking up alone. Unbeknownst to her, Nick has received a call in the middle of the night from his special forces leader that they have a mission. He left her a note (one that fluttered to the floor, natch) so Elle thinks he’s abandoned her without a word – again. The second time around and the day after her father’s funeral is a bit much, even with the delivery of groceries and Nick having paid for her Dad’s funeral. She grabs her dead mother’s identity information and heads to California, changing her name and never looking back.

Ten years later and Nick is the morose operative the Ghost Ops community has come to depend on. He’s looked for Elle for years, despairing of ever finding her, when he literally hears her call out to him. All he knows is that she’s in danger and the cool former Ranger completely loses it at the thought that he might find her only to identify a dead body if he can’t figure out her location quickly. With the help of his team, they use the psychic link between Nick and Elle along with their abundance of technology to trace her location and get her to Haven.

The kind of scenery I picture when thinking about Haven and its location.

Elle’s ability to astrally project has actually been her life’s work. She’s managed to create a life for herself and used her previously untapped intelligence to get a Ph.D. at Stanford. She and Mac’s researcher wife Catherine have an immediate connection, both in friendship and in professional interests, but Elle doesn’t feel like opening herself up to Nick again. He knows that he’s never letting her go, but how can he convince Elle that he’s never going to leave her again, particularly with all the subversive government and corporate forces conspired against them?

Nick and Elle’s story is a great one and I actually enjoyed all the backstory since it contributed so well to understanding their current predicament. I think any reader would benefit from reading Heart of Danger prior to I Dream of Danger, simply to satisfy the need to understand the villains at work. Both Elle and Nick are compelling, sympathetic characters and it was wonderful to see the smaller subplot of the team’s former Captain (now scarred and healing) find some happiness. If there was one piece that stuck in my craw, it was the fact that Elle hadn’t been with anyone else since Nick’s second abandonment (seriously, could he have left a better note? Or a second one in the kitchen maybe?), yet Nick clearly had been with other women. Yuck. That’s not the way to convince me that these two are meant for each other, no matter how emotionally stunted he might have been. Hot alpha males can be celibate, too. Really.

The excellent ending, one in which the team tries to save Elle’s fellow researchers – men and women who are also gifted with special abilities – was a page-turner and it’s clearly a fabulous set up for the next book in the series which will focus on playboy Jon and Elle’s friend, Sophie. With both major villains now dead, I’m particularly interested in what evil will arise to persecute and pursue this group trying to do good in the world. Sadly, Lisa Marie Rice doesn’t have an ETA on the publication date of the next book, or even a teaser at the end of this one. Given that the first book came out in November 2013 and this one in July 2013, I’m guessing a February or March 2014 date is likely.

As always, many thanks to Lisa Marie Rice for her fantastic writing and for Avon Red for being smart enough to publish her!

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