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Queen of Wands Satisfies SciFi Romance Fans by Seriously Heating Up the Vacuum of Space

24 Jun

Queen of Wands (Sanctify #2 – Jenny and Mac) by Katee Robert (Entangled: Select, June 24, 2014)

I’ve complained before that good science fiction romance is rare, but I was so thrilled with Katee Robert’s Queen of Swords last month, that I cheerfully snapped up it’s prequel, The High Priestess (only $.99) and have been tapping my foot impatiently for the next book in the Sanctify series. Ta-da! I heartily recommend that you read both of them prior to enjoying Queen of Wands, the sequel, as the world-building and the character backstory help understand the twists and turns of this novel.

Jenny O’Kierna was walking chaos in Queen of Swords, great in a fight but always containing the complication was she started them. She loves her brother Boone and his soulmate, Ophelia, yet finds herself shocked at the domesticity and love they both radiate, particularly in regard to their infant daughter. To Jenny, who loves her freedom to hop in her ship and space to their nearest fun spot, that type of relationship feels like a trap, one she never wants to feel.

When Boone’s relatively new kingship of their home planet of Hansarda negate him rescuing a genius weapons inventor, Jenny, itching at her brother’s overprotectiveness, volunteers to go. She’s only slightly suspicious when Ophelia, a Diviner, consults her cards and with a dangerous smile, backs Jenny up. Refusing to ask what the future might hold for her, Jenny finds the genius, Mac Flannery, fighting off Sanctify’s henchmen (and damn effectively). She didn’t realize that geniuses were so muscled and good-looking but she ignores the resident spark between them and focuses on making him safe.

The High Priestess (Sanctify #.5 – Gerard and Marianna) by Katee Robert (Entangled: Select, March 15, 2012)

Mac has seen the video of Jenny O’Kierna, princess of Hansarda, and he’s impressed. She’s a wild card to say the least, but the crazy facade she adopts for the world is hiding something more, and he wants to strip it and see the real Jenny. Her killer body and unbridled sensuality have him wanting to strip a lot more, but Mac’s IQ is high for a reason, and he knows he has to get Jenny to admit there is more to what lies between them than just a quick roll in the hay. Refusing to have meaningless sex with her is difficult, but the prize is worth his discomfort. When Jenny ignores Mac’s suggestion to hole up in a prison planet and ends up in the high-security sex capital of the galaxy, they are both nervous that Sanctify will find them. But they couldn’t have predicted the chase and sacrifices they will both have to make in order to insure Hansarda’s and Mac’s safety, as well as what they need to do in order to give their love for each other a safe future.

Queen of Wands felt more cinematographic to me than its predecessor, with lots of spaceship launches and choreographed fight scenes. I’ll be honest, Jenny was hard for me to take in the first book and that held true for the first third or so of this one as well; her brittle exterior is so impossible to penetrate that it was only my strong belief in Mac’s intelligence (and Katee Robert’s writing) that had me working through my desire to slap her. That patience was rewarded as Mac did get under Jenny’s shell and had her sharing her emotions along with sharing her body, revealing a complex, empathetic woman fiercely loyal to her friends and family. With several secondary characters further developed, I’m eager to see what other stories will emerge from this series, as Robert has poised the political machinations in mid-“whaaa?” and I have to see where the plot goes from here.

Katee Robert’s Queen of Wands offers another installment in a rollicking space saga that’s bound to appeal to Battlestar Galactica and Firefly fans who prefer their spaceships fast, their aliens feisty, and their romance hot. Pick it up, already!

Happy reading! 🙂

 

The Wedding Dare Series Delivers Hot Groomsmen, Beautiful Bridesmaids and Scorching Sensuality Proving Multi-Author Series Have a Happily Ever After

9 Jun
Dare to Resist (Wedding Dare #.5 - Kady and Colton) by Laura Kaye (Entangled Brazen, May 12, 2014)

Dare to Resist (Wedding Dare #.5 – Kady and Colton) by Laura Kaye (Entangled Brazen, May 12, 2014)

It’s hard not to get really worried when a publisher puts together a series using multiple authors. I’ve seen it used successfully only a handful of times (the Harlequin/Mills & Boon Notorious Wolfes series comes to mind) but mostly it becomes a “who writes it better” comparison with some authors lacking.

Leave it to the editors at Entangled’s Brazen line – a group who fortunately employ a stable of authors who comprise “who’s who” in the field of contemporary romance – to harness the power of writers like Laura Kaye, Jen McLaughlin (aka Diane Alberts), Tessa Bailey, Katee Robert and Samanthe Beck in order to deliver a uniformly phenomenal series, Wedding Dare, that everyone should run out and buy ASAP.

Another brilliant move was releasing the prequel, Dare to Resist by Laura Kaye (which I told everyone to buy after reading it a few weeks ago) to set the stage of a couple falling in love and preparing to gather their friends and family to have a wedding. The whipsmart Kady and dominant Colton found their happily ever after competing for a military contract. Having known each other for years, Colton wasn’t about to waste time before making Kady his own. With four bridesmaids and four groomsmen in tow, the happy couple has a week of activities leading up to the wedding planned at the Colorado resort that makes for the perfect romantic setting. When libidos run high at the bachelorette party it’s not long before the lovely women in question begin betting each other that they can bag a groomsman by the end of the week, with a few of them choosing the lucky man in question from across the room. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

 Falling for the Groomsman by Jen McLaughlin/Diane Alberts

Falling for the Groomsmen (Wedding Dare #1 - Christine and Tyler) by Jen McLaughlin/Diane Alberts (Entangled Brazen, June 9, 2014)

Falling for the Groomsmen (Wedding Dare #1 – Christine and Tyler) by Jen McLaughlin/Diane Alberts (Entangled Brazen, June 9, 2014)

Christine Forsythe, tough investigative journalist, has been Kady Dresco’s best friend forever, and she’s thrilled to see one of the people she loves the most find the forever brand of happiness, particularly with Colton, who was Kady’s crush growing up. For years the two were driven apart by some particularly hot hanky-panky that Colton initiated and then fled from, and Christine knows exactly what that feels like – she lost her virginity in the hallway of a Mexican hotel with Kady’s hot brother Tyler.

That he promptly left her after apologizing and looking horrified, never speaking to her again except in the barest of social contact, humiliated and angered her, but she’s thinking that she might be able to get a little payback eight years down the road based on how Tyler keeps sniffing around. The man is smoking hot, and Christine can’t keep her hands (damn them!) off him, no matter how bad an idea this seems. Tyler is a sure bet not to be looking for a relationship, as this ER doctor takes months of leave to do his Doctor Without Borders work all over the globe, so he might the perfect participant for her naughty to-do list. Christine is using Kady’s wedding as the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and start fresh in her life – new job, new state to live in, and new sexual experiences are all on her agenda, albeit a secret agenda she’s not currently sharing.

Tyler Dresco has committed to head up the ER of a prestigious hospital in the Pacific Northwest for a year before giving in to his wanderlust, but it’s lust of a different kind he’s feeling upon setting eyes again on his sister’s smoking hot friend, Christine. He still winces when he thinks of his colossal dick move of comforting the young girl who was still dealing with the recent loss of her parents, but having sex with Christine was all-consuming. Yes, he panicked when he realized he had taken her virginity that night and he has no excuse for his behavior, but what he’s always chalked up to the lust in a moment is disproven when he realizes that Christine still makes him lose control. When he catches wind of the fact that the bridesmaids are looking for a hookup, Tyler plans on making sure that she experiments with no one but him. But when the question arises of whether Christine has been playing an elaborate game of payback or if what between them is real, Tyler doesn’t know if he can bring himself to give up the woman in whose arms he has finally found a home.

Temporarily Yours (Shillings Agency #1 - Cooper and Kayla) by Jen McLaughlin (Entangled Brazen, February 3, 2013)

Temporarily Yours (Shillings Agency #1 – Cooper and Kayla) by Jen McLaughlin/Diane Alberts (Entangled Brazen, February 3, 2013)

In Falling for the Groomsman, we have classic Diane Alberts (Jen McLaughlin’s contemporary romance pseudonym) who always writes her heroes and heroines with a decent amount of emotional baggage to overcome. Her characters are intensely likeable, which is why I read her work, and Christine and Tyler are no exception. There is no question that Tyler was a supreme coward (and super dickish) for the way he reacted all those years ago with Christine, but having a chance to finally own it and move forward to get to know her better as the incredible woman she is now shows how he has grown as well. I loved that Alberts has tied this book to her fantastic first novel in her Shillings Agency series, Temporarily Yours, as Christine is the sister to the former Marine hero of that novel; Christine’s move to Maine is to be near her brother who has finally returned home and gotten a job with the Shillings security company. Let me also say that I had the pleasure of meeting Jen at my local chapter of Lady Jane’s Salon (a romance reading series around the country) and she’s as funny and nice as you’d imagine based on her terrific novels.

Baiting the Maid of Honor by Tessa Bailey

Baiting the Maid of Honor (Wedding Dare #2 - Reed and Julie) by Tessa Bailey (Entangled Brazen, June 9, 2014)

Baiting the Maid of Honor (Wedding Dare #2 – Reed and Julie) by Tessa Bailey (Entangled Brazen, June 9, 2014)

God, Tessa Bailey has yet to write the book that doesn’t blow me out of the water and this second installment in the Wedding Dare series is no exception. I totally jones for her brand of dark, dark hero and the women they fall for, who usually are their polar opposites.

In Baiting the Maid of Honor, Julie Piper is the perky blonde sorority sister who has been given the maid of honor post since that’s her role in life – she’s the one everyone counts on, who organizes activities and puts herself dead last while taking care of other people’s needs. Her friends love her but her family still hasn’t gotten over the tragic accident that stole Julie’s older sister, a paragon whose memory Julie knows she will never live up to in their eyes. Since she loved her sister, too, she’s never going to stop trying.

Reed Lawson can’t believe that he’s actually at Colton’s wedding. This SWAT officer is a long way from Atlanta and only for one of his best friends would he put up with donning a suit and making small talk over champagne. The situation and people remind him how far he’s come from a kid escaping his abusive home in a poor Tennessee town, but considering how much Colton and their friends Reed and Brock contributed to helping him see what he could become, the least he can do is be here. One look at the blond, upper-class Southern belle who is the maid of honor and Reed cannot keep his hands off her or his dirty mouth silent, particularly after he realizes that this stunner hides a dirty girl under that polished debutante surface. But while she’s not his usual one-night-stand type, he knows he’s not her usual type of bedmate either – and that he can never give her the affection and emotional intimacy that she needs. When the thought of hurting her proves just as painful as walking away, Reed is forced to face a world where he has to fight for his future or live in the darkness that is a world without Julie.

Asking for Trouble (Line of Duty #4 - Hayden and Brent) by Tessa Bailey (Entangled Brazen, November 25, 2013)

Asking for Trouble (Line of Duty #4 – Hayden and Brent) by Tessa Bailey (Entangled Brazen, November 25, 2013) – Brent is one of Bailey’s ultimate dirty talkers!!

Oh. My. God. No one does the dark, dirty-talking hero like Tessa Bailey (as any reader of her amazing Line of Duty series knows). Reed is exactly the tattooed bad boy who is easy to fall for. Bailey’s proven formula is shoving emotionally bereft men into the vortex of a heroine who suddenly has them craving more. That cracking sound is the ice under the feet giving way as they take the plunge into a honest-to-goodness relationship in which they love this woman so all-consumingly that they will do whatever it takes to insure her happiness and well-being. Julie is a fantastic character – the friend everyone takes for granted – and that Reed sees how she is not taking care of herself or getting what she needs in return makes you root for him to get his shit together and take a chance on love. I’m hoping that she might develop Reed’s Atlanta SWAT office into other books, as I was super impressed with her pitch-perfect Southern voice. It was sexy as hell coming out of both Reed and Julie’s mouths and I want more! 🙂

Seducing the Bridesmaid by Katee Robert

Seducing the Bridesmaid (Wedding Dare #3 - Brock and Regan) by Katee Robert (Entangled Brazen, June 9, 2014)

Seducing the Bridesmaid (Wedding Dare #3 – Brock and Regan) by Katee Robert (Entangled Brazen, June 9, 2014)

Katee Robert just continues to impress me – her Come Undone and Out of Uniform series are excellent and her recent foray into science fiction romance has proven her versatility as an author. With Seducing the Bridesmaid, Robert demonstrates how she’s able to mine emotions in her characters, with the result being deep, three-dimensional people who you’re startled when you lift your head to discover they aren’t actually in the room with you.

It’s particularly impressive in the two characters who are her hero and heroine. Regan Wakefield is a gorgeous, assertive headhunter who is quite the ball breaker, owning her sexuality like she wears her stiletto heels. She’s got a personal plan that’s in countdown mode since her soriority sister Kady announced her wedding date, and the best man, CEO Logan McCade, hits all Regan’s major points. Unfortunately she can’t seem to get rid of the other groomsman, Brock McNeil, whose gorgeous face and body house a lack of ambition in this silver spoon holding playboy.

Brock is not happy that the gorgeous Regan is unwilling to give him the time of day and he wants to shatter the control she wears like one of her designer dresses. Proving to Regan that he sees her beneath the facade means revealing that there is more to him than his last name and the work he’s kept off the business world’s radar. That she has set her sights on Logan, who is too much like Brock’s perfect older brother, sticks in his craw, but he wants her to want him – the real Brock – despite his hangups. That his insecurities might drive away the one woman he’s wanted for more than a few nights means that Brock has some reevaluation to do, particularly when it becomes obvious that he’s going to have to finally go after something after a lifetime of taking the easy road.

In Bed with Mr. Wrong (Out of Uniform #1 – Ryan and Brianne) by Katee Robert (Entangled Brazen, January 13, 2014)

Regan could have easily been bitchy and Brock a shallow manwhore, but Robert’s skillful writing shows Regan as strong but misguided and Brock as suffering at the hands of his father as never living up to expectations. There is a lot of personal accountability to be owned for each of them, with Brock having to do more growing than Regan, as she at least doesn’t hesitate to face up to her mistakes and misperceptions. Her fear of the outdoors provides a wonderful injection of humor at key points in the book, and you’ll never look the same way at a squirrel again! I adored the epilogue (I think it’s my favorite out of all of the novels, even though each one is perfectly suited for its couple) and can confidently say that if you enjoy this novel (and you will) you need to check out Robert’s other books as they maintain a similar high standard.

Best Man with Benefits by Samanthe Beck

Best Man with Benefits (Wedding Dare #4 - Logan and Sophie) by Samanthe Beck (Entangled Brazen, June 9, 2014)

Best Man with Benefits (Wedding Dare #4 – Logan and Sophie) by Samanthe Beck (Entangled Brazen, June 9, 2014)

I’ve loved Samanthe Beck since reading her smoking hot McCade Brothers series, so I was elated to discover that the hero of this Wedding Dare novel was none other than the elusive Logan McCade, the driven, outdoorsy CEO who provides a distinct counterpoint to his cop and Marine brothers.

As the college roommate of the groom, Logan has been given the best man role, one he’s happy to take on despite his outdoor gear company taking up 25 hours of his day. On the cusp of a major merger, he’s getting constant calls and emails, distractions which make it hard to fulfill his role for the week of wedding activities, but it’s friends first in Logan’s priorities. When Colton asks him to keep an eye on his shy sister Sophie, Logan remembers the sweet girl from their college days and is happy to volunteer. One look at the shy siren with big brown eyes and dangerous curves and Logan discovers that major parts of his anatomy are volunteering to assist and he doesn’t think Colton would approve.

That doesn’t stop him from sampling everything Sophie has to offer. Watching this young woman bravely fight through her shyness as she tries to reclaim a confidence eroded by years of body shaming from her family and peers is both a struggle and a joy to watch. Logan wants her to see herself as the sexy woman who makes his heart thunder. But just as they begin to make progress – and as Logan confronts the painful reality that he needs to change his corporate structure so he can spend more time with his family and with Sophie – it all threatens to fall apart when Sophie discovers that she’s been an assignment all along.

Lover Undercover (McCade Brothers #1 – Trevor and Kylie) by Samanthe Beck (Entangled Brazen, April 2013)

Sophie’s character is painfully shy yet you’d have to be born without a heart not to root for her as she attempts to reclaim her voice and make personal and professional changes that will benefit her. Logan is exactly what she needs and you understand why he decides not to tell her that Colton asked him to spend time with her even as you see the ax starting to fall. Logan is total sweetie (those McCades! *fans self*) who demands that Sophie take ownership for her personal and sexual desires, and who – unlike every other male in this series – understands the emotional foundation of a relationship needs to be based on trust, trust he demands from her even when he’s worried she can’t work through her issues and give it to him. Shout out for Beck doing such a phenomenal job on this novel’s epilogue as it manages to bring together the closure for all five books in the series in an amazing way. I was alternately choking up and grinning like a loon as I read those final pages of Logan’s proposal!

Honestly, this whole series has knocked my socks off, particularly as it manages to include almost every one of my favorite contemporary authors (Tonya Burrows and Jill Shalvis are the only two of my writing heroes missing). Considering the fantastic Entangled tradition of the $.99 price for new releases, fans are going to be able to purchase all five novels – 988 pages exactly – for under $5.00, less than a brand new trade paperback at your local bookstore that’s a third of the length (and probably half the quality of the writing contained in this series). It’s irrefutable math, people.

Many, many thanks to not only the above wonderful authors but the visionary editors at Entangled for bringing such an amazing group of writers together around a terrific concept. I hope this is not the last series they assemble as this one will undoubtably build even more of a fan base around these talented women.

Happy reading! 🙂

 

December Read-a-Thon: Presidential Romance Has Never Been So Awesome with Peter’s Christmas by M. L. Buchman

17 Dec

Peter’s Christmas (The Night Stalkers #4.5 – Peter and Genny) by M. L. Buchman (Buchman Bookworks, November 7, 2013)

Hopefully by now you’ve taken a look at my post on the latest book from the Night Stalkers seriesTake Over at Midnight, but I wanted to take a moment to feature one of author M. L. Buchman’s self-published novellas (all of which support the series incredibly well). Interestingly, he tackles these novellas in the context of a holiday, which works as a great framing device.

While Daniel’s Christmas, focuses on the brilliant Ph.D. who serves as the President’s Chief of Staff and manages to have this gorgeous genius find both love with a sexy CIA analyst and thwart a nefarious North Korean plan (with the help of the 160th Night Stalkers, obviously), Peter’s Christmas deserves a special shout out.

Frank’s Independence Day (The Night Stalkers #3.5 – Frank and Beatrice) by M. L. Buchman (Buchman Bookworks, November 7, 2013)

Since it took me a little time to figure out the order to read these, let me share my wisdom. The excellent story of Daniel’s Christmas is clearly labeled #2.5 of the series, putting it smack between I Own the Dawn, Archie and Kee’s story and Wait Until Dark#3 and John and Connie’s story. The novella that follows Wait Until Dark (which was published in February of this year) is Frank’s Independence Day, a terrific story which vacillates between the 1980s and the present day as the head of President Matthews’ Secret Service detail, Frank Adams, recounts to his employer the circumstances under which he met Agent Beatrice Belfour and the first couple years of their tempestuous romance. While he does that, Frank receives word that Belfour, charged the protection of the ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, has disappeared off the map along with her charge during yet another military coup in that tempestuous country. As Frank works to determine if Beatrice is still alive and to hopefully get her the help she needs before the new regime kills her and the people she’s protecting, President Matthews does everything he can to help, even if he is in the middle of some crucial negotiations at the United Nations.

While it’s not necessary to read Frank’s Independence Day, it’s a terrific romance with interesting twists I didn’t see coming and it has some great history, such as the Secret Service and SOAR’s involvement in the invasion of Panama in 1989. Frank and Beatrice are also very visible in Peter’s Christmas, a novella which (despite its publication date in November) actually happens after Take Over at Midnight, so appreciating their characters is a nice bonus while reading this holiday novella.

Kim-Ly Genevieve Beauchamp is the head of UNESCO‘s World Heritage Sights in Southeast Asia. Her job is to be apolitical, deftly handling the various national factions and personal vendettas in order to preserve the world’s heritage in priceless locations filled with ancient temples that have managed to survive the recent decades of violence. With both French and Vietnamese heritage, Genevieve (Genny to her family and friends) knows that men usually only look at her appearance or enjoy her intellect until they become threatened by it. She’s had a very French take on lovers, but it’s been a while since she’s had a serious one, and, as she looks up at the White House Christmas tree, Genny wonders if the reason for the butterflies in her stomach are due to the man who personally issued her an invitation – President Peter Matthews.

Daniel’s Christmas (The Night Stalkers #2.5 – Daniel and Alice) by M. L. Buchman (Buchman Bookworks, November 7, 2013)

Peter Matthews has beaten out British royalty for the world’s sexiest eligible man since the death of his wife two years ago. This widower is not only a good-looking, brilliant policy wonk, terrific friend, down to earth guy, and Scrabble enthusiast but he’s also sure of one thing – that he desperately wants to know Kim-Ly Genevieve Beauchamp better. Since she diplomatically protected several UNESCO World Heritage sites during his time at the United Nations, he’s been taken with her beauty and brains, but his previous personal invitations were rebuffed, so he’s elated she’s accepted one to see the White House at Christmas time. Usually suave and a good reader of people, Peter is flustered to find himself not really sure of where he stands with Genevieve…and delighted when she seems to decide he’s worth the risk of all the public exposure.

Yet a man who is holding some serious secrets, including how his first wife died, might not be able to have the open communication necessary for a relationship and Genevieve’s status is not even one of a U. S. citizen. But the two of them are willing to take a chance, even when the situation in which they find themselves becomes incredibly dangerous.

Wow. Double wow. I love these novellas but this one felt like one of the regular novels of the series to me. I’ve always adored Peter’s character and this novella just made me fall a lot harder for him! Handsome geeks are always my downfall, especially when they are not intimated by a beautiful, brilliant woman, and Peter fits that bill. Genevieve is so not American in her thinking or approach to relationships that she is actually a much better match for him than someone from the U. S., with her family a rich melange of eccentricities and history. Genny is also seriously badass, immediately earning the respect of Major Emily Beale, Chief of Staff Daniel Darlington and his wife, and Secret Service Agents Frank Adams and Beatrice Belfour, so enough said about her awesomeness!

Because President Matthews is clearly single in Take Over at Midnight (which happens in the warmer weather), Frank’s Independence Day is in the #3.5 slot in the series, Take Over at Midnight is #4 and Peter’s Christmas is #4.5, so do read them in that order for maximum effect.

Grab this holiday novella if you can and just revel in the world M. L. Buchman has created with the Night Stalkers series – it’s terrific!!

Happy reading!!

Lauren Dane’s Federation Chronicles Aren’t Just Great Erotic Science Fiction, They Are Amazing Science Fiction. Period.

30 Nov

Undercover (Federation Chronicles #1 – Brandt, Sera, and Ash) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2008)

That isn’t to say they aren’t erotic – they are damn erotic – but so much of erotic science fiction is heavy on the unusual penises or having some earth woman show an alien what love really is (and hey, I’m not judging since I read it). What gets missed in that emphasis is kickass world-building with deep conflict and political machinations which highlight the flaws in society, while hopefully giving the reader insight into the inequities in their own world.

Lauren Dane does all this in her Federation Chronicles. And she does it so well that it leaves me reeling and wanting more.

You do have to be comfortable with the erotic part, and a reader unused to a high level of steamy might find the first book a baptism by fire since it involves not just two people, but three and is heavy on a BDSM dynamic. But in case you’re worried this is going to be “who puts what in where,” don’t be. This is Lauren Dane, the writer who gave us contemporaries like the Brown Siblings series and the Chase Brothers series, and paranormal series like Cascadia Wolves, the de La Vega Cats and the recently concluded, terrific Bound by Magick series. Triads pop up all the time in her writing, sometimes accepted by the culture, sometimes not, and she deftly highlights those tensions while infusing the relationship with such emotion that you are cheering for everything to work out (and it does, thankfully, since it’s a romance novel!). While Dane has written this series so each book can be a stand-alone, with world-building like this, I’d strongly recommend reading all of them in order to truly appreciate the story arc.

Public domain image via Pixabay

Public domain image via Pixabay

The Federation is actually a federation of universes (or ‘verses as the citizens refer to them) settled by humans descended from Earth colonists generations upon generations ago, with a network of official Portals linking vast distances to shorten travel and enhance commerce. Comprised of millions of people and controlled by Houses, a handful of powerful families wield sole control over the masses. Think of the Houses as medieval aristocracy in terms of power and financial control and you won’t be far off. Members of the Houses are “Ranked,” meaning they possess tremendous status and privilege in addition to vast quantities of wealth at their disposal. While ranked men and women can have affairs with unranked people, it’s extremely limited in nature, with the more prominent ranked having to enter political marriages arranged (or at least approved) by the head of their House. Naturally with this arrangement, the men often have unranked mistresses, basically courtesans, and Ranked women are raised to think only of enhancing their family’s status through marriage as their destiny.

The first book, Undercover, focuses on Lieutenant Sera Ayers, an outstanding operative for the Federation military, known for using her facility with languages and cultures to good effect in undercover operations. Coming from an extremely modest background, she’s worked hard to find her place, but has finally achieved a level of respect from her superior officers and her peers and assembled a crack team which she leads successfully. When she’s called into her CO’s office and told that her team has been reassigned to someone else so she can work with the two men in front of her on a secret assignment, she’s both stunned and enraged, primarily because the one man, Ash Walker, is the ranked jackass who stole her heart ten years ago and then shredded it with the offer of becoming his official mistress when his arranged marriage was announced and finalized. She ran from him then and she’s going to run from him now, but not before landing a terrific punch to the face.

Ash Walker knew Sera was likely to still be angry with him, even after a decade apart, but he didn’t expect this strong a reaction. He’s never stopped loving her and while he knows that she is perfect for this mission, he also knows that he’s hoping that he can show her that they can finally have a future together. His sham of a marriage fell apart after only a few years, and the best thing he got out of it was the man sitting next to him, his once brother-in-law, Brandt Pela, who is not only his best friend but his occasional lover as well. Ash suspects – no, he knows – that Sera might be the final piece to bring the three of them together, if she would just lower her defenses.

Image purchased under a web license from Shutterstock

Image purchased under a web license from Shutterstock

Brandt Pela might also be a wealthy ranked man but he sees what Ash stubbornly doesn’t, that Sera was so shattered by Ash’s treatment of her years ago that her lack of trust endangers their mission, especially since Ash constructed their cover so that Sera would have to pose as his mistress. Brandt knows that Sera is astonishingly beautiful and obviously a terrific soldier. Since he quickly decides he wants something more permanent with her as well, he offers to have her be his mistress on the mission, with the clear understanding that they will have to have sex and that the world they are traveling to is going to expect him to share her with Ash.

Sera hates Ash (and her reaction to him after all these years) but she doesn’t have a choice in this assignment. With the good-looking and considerate Brandt trying to make it work with switching the proposed roles, she accepts his offer, knowing that this mission is dangerous both physically and to her heart. When she discovers that her understanding of Ash’s choices ten years ago was not as clear as it should have been – and that the betrayal they are slowly uncovering on their assignment strikes at the heart of Ash and Brandt’s families – Sera decides she will do whatever it takes to fight for her world, even if it means having her heart broken all over again, this time by two ranked men.

I’ll be honest, this book is the most painful of the entire series for me to read since Sera and Ash are still both so raw from their loss of one another, even if it has been a decade. Sera was young and naive, at least to the point that she didn’t understand that Ash’s marriage involved the livelihood of tens of thousands of unranked people like her. Ash is an entitled ass who still doesn’t get it, but he is so in love with Sera and so tender with her as her relationship with Brandt develops that she is able to take the risk and be with him once more. Both Brandt and Ash are dominant, which works fine as Sera loves being a submissive to them (only in the bedroom, however), and the M/M action between Brandt and Ash *fans self* is quite steamy, even though Sera is their ultimate focus. Even though BDSM is not my thing, Dane writes it so well that it was clear the dynamic was about satisfying everyone’s desire to express their love and affection for one another, so it never made me uncomfortable.

I was so wowed by how Dane managed to figure out an HEA for these three since I spent a large part of my first reading desperately trying to brainstorm how on earth she could solve the problem of their status inequity. Yet these two ranked men use everything at their disposal to follow their hearts and find happiness, while also shedding the cover they’ve held for years of dissipated playboys, enabling them to be honest about both their undercover military service while at the same time honest about their love for Sera and each other. As tough as the first half of the book is, the last 30 pages always initiate a gigantic burst of warmth in my chest as it all comes together!

Relentless (Federation Chronicles #2 – Abby and Roman) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2009)

The second book in the series, Relentless, is actually my favorite (by a close margin, but still manages to move ahead). Centered on the Federation’s home world of Ravena, the focus of power and commerce in this polarized world. The powerful heads of houses and their heirs meet in councils to discuss issues and events, and the recent exposure of corruption in the houses of Walker and Pela (fortunately by two honored sons from those houses in the military) have stirred unrest among the unranked.

Heading it is the beautiful and dynamic Abbie Haws, a respected barrister and head of an organization which seeks greater representation for the unranked among the Houses. Abbie considers herself fortunate when she can get one of the House’s personal assistants to return her calls, but she draws attention when a nursemaid to one of the Houses is accused of stealing and fired, coincidentally right before she would qualify for her pension and retirement. The ranked members of the House involved are incensed, and Abbie is almost attacked in the courthouse. That near assault draws the attention of the most powerful man in the Federation, Roman Lyons, the head of House Lyons.

Lauren Dane mentions in her acknowledgements page that she wanted to specifically thank actor Daniel Craig since he was her inspiration for Roman Lyons, and I defy you not to think of that sexy actor as you fall for Roman. Married incredibly young at the age of 17 in a political union, Roman produced two wonderful sons quickly and then watched their mother waste away to a disease brought on by her last birth. Serious and intense, Roman has the weight of millions on his shoulders with literally the responsibility of hundreds of thousands of people directly working for the benefit of House Lyons.

Daniel Craig (the sexy beast). Whether he’s playing James Bond on screen or Roman Lyons in my head, he brings sensuality and incredible strength of purpose to the role. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

So naturally he’s astonished when he meets the troublesome Abbie Haws in his office to discover that the two of them have an immediate, combustible chemistry, one he has literally never experienced before and which ends with her having an orgasm within 10 minutes of their meeting. (That is my kind of meeting!) The two of them recognize that there is something there but the need for privacy is vital as the press getting a hold of any whiff of anything between them would be disastrous. Considering the work Abbie is doing, work that Roman grows to respect and wants to foster, her reputation would be horribly undermined with the taint of sexual connection between them. Roman also knows that as the head of House Lyons, it’s his duty to negotiate another political marriage and strengthen his House.

Knowing that there is no future is no guarantee of not falling in love. Abbie takes Roman undercover to see the lives of the unranked he controls while she gains insight into the unbelievable pressures and responsibilities he has. The Roman Abbie discovers is a man who adores his two sons and is incredibly loyal to the people who work for him. In turn, Roman discovers the truth behind Abbie’s many scars and realizes that a woman who has every reason to despise the ranked instead confronts them daily working to forward the rights of average person. The more each of them uncover, the more amazing their connection, and a hopeless love develops between them, one that they both know must end. For Roman the agony is knowing he will have to deal with everything in his life without the joy and fire that is Abbie grounding him; for Abbie it’s knowing that she will need to go on with her life seeing Roman on the vids (video) and hearing about him at every turn, particularly after he’s married to someone else.

Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock.

Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock.

Oh. My. God. There is no way you don’t come away adoring Abbie – the love she has for her family (and they for her), her handling her narcissistic and idealistic father, the older brother who almost went to jail for her before accepting a military position instead, the ex-fiancee who has remained a good friend. Particularly after hearing the crucible she went through at such a young age when she was assaulted, you will be ready to get BFF necklaces and take her out for a drink! Roman is actually her perfect match, as her playful demeanor offers him an outlet he never before possessed and his intense support with no agenda other than helping her is a welcome relief from the many people who demand a piece of her. Their heat is off the charts – muy caliente – and when that sensuality is combined with the tenderness between them, it’s enough to break your heart, particularly knowing how doomed they are.

Which brings me to the number one reason why I think this book should be made into a movie. Of all the books (and the whole series would be an incredible movie franchise if middle America wouldn’t flip out at the M/M action and the triad relationships), the ending of this book, literally had me standing up shouting “Yes, YES!!” the first time I read it (and I still do a fist pump with each subsequent re-read). Dane just surprises the hell out of me with her ability to pull an emotional yet believable HEA out of what previously appeared to be thin air. Suffice it to say that you’ll be so much more in love with Roman than you were before, if that’s possible.

Insatiable (Federation Chronicles #3, Phantom Corps #1 – Daniel and Carina) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2010)

The third book, Insatiable, stars none other than Abbie Haws brother, Daniel, who works for Roman Lyons’ chief military officer in what’s known as the Phantom Corps. In fact, Dane has created a mini-trilogy within the larger construct of the Federation Chronicles, continuing the story arc of political corruption within the Federation and demonstrating how the brave men and women of this elite undercover force ferrets out information and eliminates threats to the universes.

This book brings in a fascinating angle to the series’ story arc of the growing threat to the Federation by exposing us to the threat inherent in Imperial territory. The Imperial ‘Verses are the direct competition and insidious enemy of the Federation although no conflict is officially declared. One of the most powerful men in this ‘verse is a sick bastard by the name of Fardelle, who is about to marry off his twenty-three year old daughter Carina to further cement an alliance with one of his underlings.

Carina has perfected the facade of a shallow, stunningly beautiful woman just waiting to be married off to further her father’s agenda. Her mother, Fardelle’s first wife, has worked quietly behind the scenes to undermine her husband and support her children at every turn, for all the good it’s done her.  Her oldest son literally disappeared and his name stricken from all records and portraits, her youngest son died suddenly of a mysterious and virulent illness, and now her daughter is to be married to a violent lecher who will make the rest of her life a hell. Stealing vital data chips from her husband’s home office, Carina’s mother convinces her to accept the coded data as a subdermal chip, intrinsically linked to her body’s system so that in order to extract the data, Carina must be alive. Contacting Federation forces, Fardelle’s wife arranges for an operative to ferry Carina to Federation territory and safely out of her father’s hands.

Carina agreed to be the carrier thinking that this would undermine her father’s evil while helping her and her mother escape, and she’s dismayed at the last minute by her mother’s announcement that she plans to stay behind. Carina fleeing a horrible marriage is believable versus the more treasonous implications of the two of them disappearing. When the handsome but bossy operative Daniel Haws arrives in disguise, Carina can tell she’s in good hands even if the agent in question treats her like an utter moron.

Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay

Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay

Daniel is shocked at not only how beautiful Carina Fardelle is, but how her public face of a vapid, shallow daughter of wealth completely disappears and in its place is that of a vibrant and capable young woman eager to experience the world and feel her freedom. He must get her out of Imperial territory alive, however, and back to Ravena where the information on her chip can be decoded. Fardelle is suspected of trafficking in bioweapons with the goal to attack Federation outposts and the human costs could potentially be in the millions. Yet as he and Carina evade Imperial forces with the help of his fellow agents, Daniel finds himself sexually and emotionally pulled toward this brave young woman, all the while knowing that when they return to his home planet she will be inundated with proposals of marriage from ranked men. But Carina didn’t escape her father’s control to not take the reins of her own destiny, and she knows her future includes Daniel, if he can let go of his belief system to see it.

Dane does a terrific job showing us the phenomenal pressures of Carina’s life, pressures which force her to don an impenetrable mask in order to avoid detection. But although Carina is a virgin, she is a sensual, slightly naughty one with a propensity for voyeurism, so she has plenty of tricks up her sleeve and she plans on trying all of them with Daniel. There is no way for Daniel to resist her for long, at least not once his instincts confirm that this bold, courageous woman is the real Carina, and he knows she may just be one person he can never let go. I loved them as a couple, adored their heat, and felt that the sense of imminent threat to the Federation was so well done, I wasn’t sure what was making my pulse pound more – Carina and Daniel’s sexy times or the urgent need for them to get her information back to Ravena ASAP! Meeting the other members of the Phantom Corps helps understand the dynamics of their operation while introducing us to a few key people, namely the heroes of the next two books.

Mesmerized (Federation Chronicles #4; Phantom Corps #2 – Andrei and Piper) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2011)

The first fellow Phantom Corp agent with his own book is Andrei Solace, the enigmatic assassin who helped Carina and Daniel get to Federation territory. Now in Mesmerized, with the escalation of animosity from the Imperial forces a growing rumor – particularly with their use of mercenaries to traffic bioagents and ammunition – Andrei is sent back to his home planet to investigate. There is one mercenary in particular who he never forgot and who he is sure will help the Federation. But seeing her means confronting his past and, more importantly, having the strength to walk away…again.

Piper Roundtree thought Andrei might have died when he disappeared at age 17 and it broke her young heart. Always best friends, their affection for one another became an all-consuming young love which had them taking one another’s virginity. But Andrei and Piper both lived a hardscrabble existence on the wrong side of the law, and while Piper had her siblings, Andrei was alone after his mother died and his siblings were taken away. After his arrest, the Roundtrees never saw him again, only comforted by the occasional packets of credits marked with a single “A” that helped them survive in their isolated compound during the hard years.

But when Andrei turns out to be the mysterious sniper who just saved Piper and her family from annihilation at the hands of Imperial soldiers pressuring her to ferry illegal cargo, Piper has the realization that nothing has changed regarding her feelings for Andrei. Yes, he’s now a man when she loved the boy, but realizing the work he’s done and how he has made himself into a deadly soldier only makes her more determined to show him that he is loved exactly for who he is. Andrei knows that who and what he is will only stain this incredible thing that he has with Piper, but he can’t help needing her, even when he knows he should push her away.

Andrei was a sexy beast in Insatiable and had a demonstrated wry sense of humor, but seeing him revisit his painful past is worth it to find Piper again. She is so upbeat and stubborn (both in the best possible way) and most importantly, she knows him well-enough to understand all the shame and worries he brings to their renewed relationship, allowing her to blast past those barriers one at a time. For Andrei, being an assassin and spy is so much of who he is (and that part of him that he doesn’t want Piper to know) that for him to see her actively take part in his life – using her shady contacts, her ability to bluff and her amazing piloting skills to help him and the Federation – is this eye-opening moment where it occurs to him that his vocation doesn’t have to be separate from the love of his life. I adored them both and cheered for them to figure it all out, even when the ending of the book broke my heart with Piper’s loss during the plant raid.

Captivated (Federation Chronicles #5 ; Phantom Corps #3 – Vincenz, Julian and Hannah) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2012)

That final mission in Mesmerized had a big impact on more than just Andrei and Piper. In Captivated, we see the story begin back at the raid, as Vincenz Fardelle (Carina’s older brother who disappeared and then enlisted in the Phantom Corps) helps raid the plant in an effort to discover more about his father’s Imperial plans for bioweaponry. As he is making his way through the deserted labs, he spots a naked, filthy woman, clearly tortured, in one of the glass cells. Glancing at the lab’s information to insure that she is not infected or dangerous, he’s angered and horrified to discover that she has been subjected to an experiment for over a year at being deprived of touch or interaction of any kind other than experiments involving pain or violent treatment. He scoops her up and takes her to the transport to get her out of that hellhole prior to its detonation.

The woman, who is identified as scientist Hannah Black, is naturally terrified of doctors of any kind, reminded all too much of the experiments and pain inflicted upon her in her captivity. Vincenz, who has rejected his father’s name and taken his mother’s surname Cuomo, is in a relationship with fellow Phantom Corps member Julian Marsters. Brought together soon after Julian lost his best friend in the attack on Ravena in Insatiable, Vincenz and Julian discovered that their love for one another has pushed back the darkness they each carry. Perhaps because of this, they empathize with Hannah’s struggle to fight to gain back the pieces of her shattered memory and personality, immediately protecting her from the Federation doctors who want her in a hospital under their care.

In the weeks after her rescue, Hannah feels nothing but frustration at her fragmented intellect combined with intense affection for the two gorgeous men who protect her. Deprived of human touch for so long, golden Vincenz and the dark Julian keep her sandwiched between them at night, making sure one of them is always close by for her to hold if she needs them during the day. When it becomes clear that she was kidnapped for a reason by the Imperial scientists, Hannah agrees to undergo a painful experimental treatment which will hopefully amplify the piecing together of her memory in order to help the Phantom Corps with information. In the process, a part of herself she thought permanently lost – that of sexual desire – returns with a vengeance and is embarrassingly directed at the handsome soldiers who saved her.

While Vincenz and Julian may have begun their acceptance of Hannah into their home based on the need to protect her, the weeks of witnessing her daily bravery have deepened their feelings into much more and they both admit to each other that their feelings are quite carnal. Helping Hannah reclaim this part of herself as well is nothing but a pleasure to all three of them, but with Julian still withholding a part of himself over grief for his friend and Vincenz facing his father’s demons in an important mission, Hannah wonders if the feelings she has for these two men will have to come to an end.

Public domain image via Pixabay

Public domain image via Pixabay

Okay, this is the book practically tied with Relentless as my favorite of the series. Vincenz and Julian are both hot and sweet with one another – brainy, hunky soldiers with dark pasts who nevertheless find something precious and wonderful in one another. The development with Hannah is all the sweeter for them not realizing it was anything they needed or wanted, they just woke up one day realizing that her happiness was incredibly important to them and that she was a woman whose beauty, inside and out, made her an intrinsic part of their relationship.

Hannah is an amazing character and I think Lauren Dane is nothing short of masterful the way she conveys how Hannah’s brain has morphed into something truly different, yet how that change has simply revealed the core of her amazing personality. Seeing Piper and Andrei again was a pleasure, particularly when they both explain how Vincenz and Julian are seriously stepping in it and hurting Hannah. There’s no way you don’t have a smile on your face when Andrei lectures the two of them on how to treat a woman! Dane offers great further development of threat from the Imperial forces and a really exciting denouement when we return to the compound from which Carina escaped back in Insatiable. There is joy and heartbreak in the final showdown, but once again, an unexpected HEA that makes you cheer for this triad and the future they have together.

While Dane has made clear that while she is busy juggling other projects in 2014 (and I’m looking forward to them!), she’s is planning at least two more books in the series – Wil (the hot head of the Phantom Corps who we have already seen flustered by a woman back on Ravena) and Deimos (Roman Lyons oldest son who I carry a crush for based on how much he loves his father and how he wants to help Abby). Her website states that she’s hoping their books will come out in 2015, but luckily for us, these five books are so amazing that whenever I get itchy for fabulous science fiction, I just reread them!

There All Along by Lauren Dane and Megan Hart (Berkley, December 3, 2013)

I did want to address the cost of the books – the ebook editions are strangely expensive (like around $11) which I don’t understand at all, but there are mass market paperbacks for each of them with a normal price of $6, and honestly, whatever you pay, they are utterly worth it. I have most of mine in paper format, but considering where they rank in my list of favorite series, I’m going to slowly add the ebook versions since I like to have both formats for books I consider to be romance classics, and these fit the bill.

Many thanks to Lauren Dane for being such a kickass writer that she can do multiple genres with aplomb. She has another (what sounds like) science fiction story (unrelated to the Federation chronicles) coming out this week in a duology with Megan Hart, There All Along, and Dane’s story “Land’s End” about a lone gunman and the woman who’s town is attacked, sounds amazing – I’ve already pre-ordered it!

If you enjoy science fiction, love science fiction erotic romance, or just plain love Lauren Dane, do yourself a favor and get the Federation Chronicles on your to-read list ASAP. This a phenomenal series by a phenomenal writer – you’ll love it!

Love and Cordite Make an Unbeatable Combination in Kaylea Cross’ Titanium Security Series, Including Her Latest Novel, Extinguished

26 Nov

Ignited (Titanium Security #1 – Khalia and Hunter) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, June 2013)

I’ve definitely told you how Kaylea Cross is a terrific suspense/military romance writer, but I’ve been remiss in hogging her Titanium Security series all to myself. With the latest release, Extinguished, published just this past Friday, this seemed like a great opportunity to let you in on a terrific series (and an even better writer).

Cross’ strengths are that she possesses the ability to write empathetic, courageous characters (every hero or heroine would be sorted into Grffyindor), mix in steaming hot sex scenes, and tie everything together with a badass story arc that keeps the action moving through each book and into the next one. Her military details are meticulously researched and she doesn’t shy away from specifics or dumb anything down for the reader, placing her on par with terrific military romance writers like M. L. Buchman, Maya Banks, and Catherine Mann.

In the first book of the series, Ignited, we meet a grouchy but incredibly efficient Hunter Phillips, an ex-Navy SEAL, who has taken on the head of a security detail escorting a rich woman into the heart of Pakistan where her father was just recently brutally murdered. His daughter, the beautiful Khalia Patterson, doesn’t know if her father’s foundation (which seeks to help young women get an education) was worth dying for, but she plans to honor his sacrifice and continue his work. Completely out of her depth in terms of the danger, she finds herself relying on the taciturn and compelling Hunter, despite his standoffishness.

Hunter is doing this detail as a favor to his boss since he is still reeling from losing a friend in the line of fire. Khalia’s honesty and bravery is not what he expected from the head of a charity, and he finds himself dangerously falling for this beautiful woman despite every effort to keep his distance. When things heat up and she (and his team) are in serious danger from the same people who killed her father, Hunter knows that he will do whatever it takes to both keep her safe, and make her his.

Hunter is smoking hot and Khalia’s refreshing honesty and sense of what’s right is so appealing that you fall for both of them pretty quickly. As the first book in the series, Ignited does a great job setting up the quality of Titanium Security, some of the work dynamics and lays a foundation for the other characters. Clearly the hints at the machinations behind the scene help the reader understand the psychological makeup of the villain and the pawns he uses to further his goals, as well.

Singed (Titanium Security #2 – Claire and Gage) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, July 2013)

The next book, Singed, is downright gut-wrenching as the two protagonists actually broke up not six months before (I have a problem with reunion stories, but for Cross, I’ll read them). NSA analyst Claire Tierney couldn’t handle all the obstacles in her path to happiness half a year ago, despite her knowing that she couldn’t love former Special Forces Master Sergeant Gage Wallace more. Her father is an alcoholic who needs her and her brother is walking the line with suicide, having returned from combat with severe PTSD. Just when her life couldn’t get any more complicated, she’s assigned to Titanium Security’s team to help them hunt down a Taliban assassin who plans to make a stateside strike – and discovers she’ll be working with Gage. Even better, she also finds out that she’s been named a target by the terrorist in question.

Gage knows he has strikes against him with Claire – he’s a lot older than her and he’s got a teenage daughter – but his life has been so empty since she left him that this assignment feels like the second chance he can’t screw up. When he discovers she’s in danger, it’s not even a question of insuring her safety – and what better place to be than right by her side? The spark still exists between them and as it flares to life once again, Gage only wonders if he can convince Claire to let someone else share her burden and her life in these dangerous times.

OMG – Gage is such a teddy bear deep down and his love for Claire (and hers for him) is so strong. You absolutely empathize with Claire – I was exhausted seeing her level of caretaking and co-dependency with both her father and brother, so it would be very easy in her shoes to feel like she couldn’t take on anything more with Gage, particularly with him having such a dangerous job. I loved seeing Gage with his daughter (and his daughter with Claire since she clearly was helping foster their relationship). The ending was heart-stopping and propelled me into pre-ordering the next book long before it came out. Cross can write her mysterious villains in a big way!

Burned (Titanium Security #3 – Zahra & Sean) by Kaylea Cross (Kaylea Cross, August 2013)

I was chomping at the bit to read Zahra Gill’s story in Burned – after all, this mysterious woman has always been strongly protected by Alex Rycroft, head of Titanium Security, but there clearly wasn’t anything sexual about it. Since she walked with a limp and had lost her family, something heinous had clearly shaped her in her past. Seeing this beautiful woman rebuff former Force Recon Marine Sean Dunphy (a charming prankster and Zahra’s personality opposite) again and again was both amusing and intriguing since there was more than a frisson of sexual tension there if she cared to move on it. Her cryptology work has always been vital to the firm’s safety and success, but with the terrorist threat having heavily escalated and Zahra specifically in danger, Sean Dunphy decides he is not going to leave her alone, and that he’s also going to use his proximity to get behind those shields of hers.

What he discovers is an unbelievably brave person who has faced death at the hands of those people she most wanted to trust, but who still found the courage to follow her dream, even though it came at an incredibly high cost. Sean decides that Zahra is the person meant for him right around the time that the threat to Titanium Security escalates into a situation that feels like deja vu for Zahra, and it is going to take everything Sean has to keep her safe.

Sean is not just unbelievably sexy (like, melt-your-underwear-sexy) but he’s so protective and tender with Zahra, despite her initial prickliness, that you are reduced to a puddle while reading about him. When you find out just what this poor woman has been through – and how she channelled all her reaction into working for the good guys – you just want to be her best friend (and tell her to go for Sean, already!). Cross develops the threat as she always does, on two levels – the local sleeper cell manipulated by the big bad boss from afar as well as what’s happening back in Pakistan. Like any good writer, you understand how the master villain really does see himself as the hero of the series, but that only makes his evil more chilling. Cross has a deft hand in writing not only fundamentalist Muslims bent on terrorist activity as our villains, but also writing the three-dimensional, very modern Zahra who has rejected the dictates of the fundamentalist interpretation of her religion while still being a spiritual person who loves Islam.

Extinguished (Titanium Security #4 – Blake and Jordyn) by Kaylea Cross (November 20, 2013)

In the latest book, Extinguished, we get to see where Sean’s good friend, the strong and silent sniper, Blake Ellis, went when the team decided that they needed to add another member who was good with guns and machinery. Blake has had to face some demons, namely one hot former Marine, Jordyn Bridger.

Jordyn is the younger sister of Blake’s best friend who died six months ago in combat. The Bridger family has always been Blake’s extended family as well, but he’s had very non-brotherly feelings for Jordyn for a few years now. He’s done a good job hiding them from her, at least until she broke down after her brother’s funeral and a session of comforting turned into a hot kiss that rocked Blake’s world. Worried he had betrayed his friendship with her and his former friend, he fled and has been out of contact ever since.

Jordyn can’t believe when she slides out from under one of the cars in her father’s shop that Blake has the gall to be standing there, offering her a job. She’s been in love with him for years, even having to suffer through his idiotic infatuation with the trashy Melissa who he almost married until she dumped him when he was overseas. That he respects her work enough to unequivocally recommend her for this position is a balm to her shredded heart, but she’s not sure she can move past how he gutted her – first by leaving after the kiss she’d been dreaming about for most of her life, and second by apologizing to her about it. Men!

Nevertheless, she does take the job since it would feel good to dust off some of her abilities in the field. When Jordyn finally tells Blake in Pakistan that they are fine and he shouldn’t worry about their relationship, she understands if he doesn’t feel anything more than friendship for her, Blake feels like his world just tilted on its axis. Jordyn has feelings for him, and he’s been an unobservant idiot apparently for years. Despite the fact they are stuck in tight quarters and facing death every time they walk out the door, Blake is determined that nothing is going to keep him from claiming her as his – not even a very determined terrorist.

Wow and double wow. Jordyn is awesome, fitting into the team very easily since both Blake and Sean Dunphy are friends of hers from the Marines and they know her ability behind a gun or buried to the elbows in an engine. When Sean gets hurt (and I’m going to have insomnia until the next book comes out and I know if he’s going to be okay), Jordyn has to go in the field with Blake and they are terrific team. Their hot first time in the ammunition closet had me wondering at the fact that all those incendiary devices didn’t explode from the heat, however! The next book featuring head of the firm, Alex Rycroft, and the woman whose life he ruined four years ago (but never stopped loving) is going to be as amazing as the first four! When is it coming????

Because this series has been self-published (and I bet most readers don’t even realize it, considering how well-written and edited it is, as well as the outstanding cover designs which exceed the anemic offerings of so many publishing houses), we are fortunate to have a rapid timeframe for each succeeding novel, so my fingers are crossed that there will be a December or January timeframe for Alex’s book. Kaylea Cross has written another wonderful, suspenseful series which manages to prove why she is on my “must-buy” list!

Happy reading!

You’ll Find Yourself Getting Rowdy With Lori Foster’s Latest Addition to Her Love Undercover Series

24 Sep

Getting Rowdy (Love Undercover #3 – Rowdy and Avery) by Lori Foster (Harlequin, September 24, 2013) – ebook version out October 1, 2013

Oh, boy. I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I read the first novel in Lori Foster‘s Love Undercover series, Run the Risk, starring the oh-so-sexy Logan Riske, a detective pretending to be a construction worker in order to seduce the mousy Pepper Yates into revealing her brother’s location.

Far from a wallflower (although she cultures that appearance), Pepper turns out to be a sexy firecracker and Logan falls hard and fast for her. But one of the best parts of the book is the close relationship Pepper has to her brother, Rowdy Yates (aren’t these great names?). Rowdy is an unparalleled manwhore happy to drown past demons in the women who regularly throw themselves at his feet.

Run the Risk (Love Undercover #1 – Logan and Pepper) by Lori Foster (Harlequin, October 2012)

Yet Foster’s brilliance is the slow development of Rowdy over the course of the first two books. In Run the Risk, we see Rowdy simultaneously as the police see him (through Logan’s eyes) as a smart, shady guy with a crappy childhood who has walked both sides of legality with his business dealings, but also through Pepper’s point of view, as a big brother who has literally protected and cared for his sister against the neglect of alcoholic parents since she was a child, all the way through to the threats she faces as an adult.

Rowdy’s anger at Logan’s ignorance of the actual situation (and how that lack of knowledge endangers Pepper) stems from worrying about his sister’s safety, as well as the fact that Logan is a cop. Rowdy and Pepper have had enough experience with corrupt cops and neglectful social workers to be wary of anyone claiming to be an authority. His anti-authority attitude is an important piece of Rowdy, as he’s found it far more effective to skirt the law and take matters into his own hands.

Bare It All (Love Underground #2; Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor #5 – Reese and Alice) by Lori Foster (Harlequin, May 2013)

Further character development of Rowdy takes place in the second book of the series, Bare It All, which Foster has connect to her equally as wonderful Men Who Walk The Edge of Honor series (about a private group who goes after human traffickers). Its hero, Reese Bareden, is also a good cop who is friends with Logan Riske. The one woman in his new building not throwing herself at him is the one he most wants to know, but Alice Appleton is only beginning to recover her life after being kidnapped and held for months. Reese must slowly win her trust, both physically and emotionally, and he is oh-so-patient while doing it that you can’t help but fall in love with him.

Throughout Bare It All, Rowdy is the peripheral character who not only provides comic relief (along with Reese’s dog) but also ends up – almost against his better judgement – counseling Alice through some of the sexual decisions and moves she wants to make with Reese. It’s not long before it’s incredibly obvious that this man – for all his good looks, charm, and bad boy persona – has the soul of an avenging angel when it comes to children or women who have been set up by life to be hurt. His friendship with Alice, who sees right to the heart of Rowdy, demonstrates that women can be more than relatives or booty calls for him, even if he doesn’t see that yet.

With there being so much to Rowdy in the early books of the series, fans of Love Undercover have been waiting with bated breath to see how his HEA could possibly play out. Enter Getting Rowdy, the novel devoted to Rowdy and his feisty, red-haired bartender Avery – a woman who has been resisting his advances and forced to watch him hook up night after night with the latest floozy. Once Rowdy gets it into his thick head that Avery has been refusing him because she wants to not be replaceable, that she wants him to show her that she’s worth a little bit of a wait, he’s more than willing to do it. For this woman who he thinks about all day and night, he realizes his “once and done” rule regarding women and sex is not going to apply.

When You Dare (Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor #1 – Dare and Molly) by Lori Foster (Harlequin, April 2011) – Since the second book of Love Undercover is the fifth book of Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor, readers who enjoy one will undoubtedly enjoy the other. Cross pollinate your shelves!!

I’ll admit that I was more than a little worried (Was Rowdy a sex addict? Could he be monogamous?) but it became clear that sex for him was more a confluence of learned behavior and ready accessibility with so many woman falling into his hands like ripe plums. Avery changes all Rowdy’s rules, and that’s as it should be.

Yet the beauty in this book comes primarily from Avery, who – despite her worries that a piece of her past has resurfaced at the worst time – really sees Rowdy in all his damage and takes that understanding a step further in giving him the kind of space he needs. She knows that their time together will end because he doesn’t do relationships, but she also knows that he’s special enough that she refuses to do anything but treasure their time together. She doesn’t lie to him (and we understand why she holds on as long as she can to what happened to her) or prevaricate and I love when he keeps demanding that she tell him she loves him, even when he’s incapable of saying it back.

Lori Foster has managed to push every emotional button in this novel, succeeding in living up to my extremely high expectations of this novel, which is saying something because for this character, I wanted everything. I’m interested to see the theme of love undercover continue with Logan’s brother Dash pushing his luck with Logan and Reese’s Lieutenant, Margo Petersen, in the next book of the series, Dash of Peril, due out at the end of March 2014.

This is a fantastic series worth reading (and re-reading in my case), with Getting Rowdy currently holding the “best book” title in it. Do yourself a favor and get a little rowdy while reading this series. You will not be sorry you did. 🙂

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.

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