Tag Archives: Cat

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of October 27, 2013

27 Oct

Upcoming Books and New Releases

There are a few long-awaited novels that have just had publication dates announced and, believe me, you’ll want to pre-order! First up is the next full-length novel in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series (*whimper) Shield of Winter, which will feature the story of Vasic, the Arrow who has been subversively supporting the overthrow of Silence while realizing at the same time that its demise could mean his death. A damaged woman fighting for her people as his love interest and a release date of June 3rd means that I’m getting a terrific present right around my birthday. Thank you, Nalini!

In related shifter news, those readers who adore Shelly Laurenston’s Pride series filled with sexy bears, cats and wolves will be thrilled to know that the 9th book, Bite Me, is slated to be released as of March 25, 2014. Since one side of the couple shifts into a honey badger, I’ll be very interested to see how this plays out!

The next Kate Daniels book by Ilona Andrews, Magic Breaks, doesn’t have a cover (or at least not a released one, author Ilona Andrews made clear on the blog that this writing couple doesn’t want to hear the cranky comments from so-called fans who gripe at every release – can they just not read them so we polite readers can enjoy?) but it does have a date – August 5, 2014. Kate’s back in Atlanta as consort to the Beast Lord and it’s clear that her evil father Roland will be arriving soon – and everyone needs to get ready. Unfortunately things are getting complicated with the vampires and Kate has to pitch in to clear up a delicate situation (and we know how she does with delicate). Color me there!

In addition to all the announcements about big 2014 releases, it’s getting to be that time of year – holiday book time!!! Considering that I spend all December reviewing holiday books (I save them up for you to enjoy with hot chocolate and a fire in your fireplace), this is pretty exciting for me. Since I do love anthologies, those are a favorite and just a couple weeks ago, Entangled released one of their presents for the season, A Very Scandalous Holiday featuring stories by Nancy Fraser, Sophia Garrett, Amber Lin and Crista McHugh. These historical romance writers capture the spirit of the season across the centuries, from the Regency and Victorian eras to 1920s Chicago and the turmoil of World War II, so transport yourself to a different time with this bargain at a mere $2.99.

Fans of Jeaniene Frost‘s Night Huntress series (and I consider this one of the BEST series out on the market) should be pleased to note that Frost is going to release the previously published Home for the Holidays novella starring Cat & Bones (and all her related characters) as a stand alone novella for only $1.99, starting on November 5, 2013 when it comes out. While this is technically a novella, as I reviewed it in my post on the series, it reads like a much longer work, due to Frost’s fantastic writing and the harrowing threat to the couple’s happiness contained within it.

Contests and Giveaways

Vikings seem to be a hot new subgenre of historical romance and Harlequin is offering great novels from authors like Michelle Styles for readers enjoying these fur-clad pillagers. Her latest novel, Paying the Viking’s Price, is due out on November 1st, but readers have a chance to win a copy on Goodreads if they enter prior to October 30th. When a warrior who is finally granted lands and home from the king, he is surprised to discover the beautiful former lady of manor refusing to leave her home or her people. He’s happy to allow her to stay, providing she becomes his concubine.

Fans of shifter romance will want to enter the Goodreads giveaway prior to October 31st for the three pack of Ambrielle Kirk‘s first three novels in her Caedmon Wolves series. This five volume series features dark and edgy writing and plenty of werewolves finding their mates, even if it’s not under the best circumstances. A winning extra feature is that Kirk’s characters are racially diverse – so you benefit from reading interracial (as well as interspecial) romance, which is all too hard to find even in this day and age.

Maya BanksColters’ Legacy series is one of the most emotionally packed menage series I’ve read, so it’s wonderful that the fifth book, Colter’s Gift, due out on November 5th is being offered as part of a Goodreads giveaway for readers who love the ratio of more than one man interested in loving a strong woman who has undergone some recent emotional upheaval after trusting the wrong man. Enter before November 1st to see if you can win.

Harlequin always manages to deliver heart-warming holiday romances and that’s what I expect, A Little Bit of Holiday Magic by Melissa McClone to be. Featuring a widow and her young son rescued by a hunky fireman who has sworn off dating for the season, we can all guess what Santa is going to leave under this tree. Considering that Goodreads is having a giveaway for people who enter the contest prior to November 1st, I’d hop over there and see if you can get an early holiday present delivered to your doorstep.

Cynthia Eden is celebrating the latest release in her wonderful Mine suspense series, Mine to Hold, which was published on October 21st, and I’m sorry, is there anything hotter than a gorgeous billionaire who decides a woman too damaged to trust must be won? No, unless it’s when the author is amazing enough to also offer a $50 book gift card to the seller of your choice (Amazon or Barnes & Noble) giveaway to celebrate it! Head over to Eden’s Facebook page to enter using the Rafflecopter interface before the end of the month.

Suspense fans will want to enter the giveaway for a copy of Lena Diaz‘s Undercover Twin, the second book in her Morgan Brothers series. Featuring a DEA agent who left the love of his life behind only to come back into her life when her twin sister is kidnapped, this suspenseful tale is due to be released on November 19th. Enter the contest prior to November 1st for your chance to win a copy.

To celebrate a bunch of juicy-sounding paranormal releases, the Entangled in Publishing blog is giving away a Kindle Fire this week for people who enter their Rafflecopter giveaway by promoting the contest via social media. Keep in mind that these books are going for a mere $1.99, so you might want to give yourself something less calorie laden then chocolate for the holiday (or, like me, give yourself BOTH!).

Someone needs to do a study on the birth control failure rate in Harlequin novels (or maybe they are all just swept away and forgot to don a condom), which results in all those surprise pregnancies! In Expecting a Bolton Baby by Sarah M. Anderson (the third book in her Bolton Brothers series) a businessman never expects to see the hottest one night stand he ever experienced since the lady in question revealed she was the daughter of an intense rival. Yet now he discovers she’s pregnant with his child and he wants more than nothing else to make things right and marry her, preferably without letting her know of his feelings. Enter the Goodreads giveaway before November 1st for a chance to win a copy.

The Vampire Book Club blog can always be counted on, both for in depth reviews and fun giveaways and you can imagine that October is an important month for them! To celebrate three terrific Urban Fantasy reads that they feel are going to end up on the ‘best of’ lists this year, they are having a Rafflecopter giveaway to win copies of Larissa Ione’s Bound by Night, Kelley Armstrong’s Thirteen and Karen Chance’s Tempt the Stars. Head over there before October ends to enter!

For Writers

The Popular Romance project, a fantastic source of all things related to the romance industry, released a terrific video clip of an interview with Jessica Andersen regarding what makes writing category romance so attractive to romance writers. Andersen herself is a well-regarded writer for Harlequin’s Intrigue line as well as the Nocturne line for her paranormal series like Royal House of Shadows. Like her (her Nightkeepers line is out under Signet), many writers who have made it big on the single title market continue to keep an oar in category romance, putting out a couple books a year (think Jill Shalvis and Catherine Mann) and even more best-seller authors got their start in category. Why? Watch the clip.

Writer Pat Haggerty is a whiz at Scrivener (and shared his wisdom via a well-regarded Savvy Authors class that my fellow RWA chapters members enthusiastically endorse) but in his post at Romance University, he kindly illuminates how writers can employ the “Save the Cat” screenwriting formula recommended by editors in the industry using that wonderful piece of software.

Tracey Devlynwhose latest book A Lady’s Secret Weapon I adoredwrote a post over at Romance University about how to handle it when your publishing house decides to let you go, right in the middle of your series. I’m not sure what her publisher’s (Sourcebooks) motivation was (I’m guessing the books weren’t selling the way they wanted?) but I’m grateful that we live in a day and age where a writer can continue a high quality series on her own to satisfy the numerous fans who do not want to see it end prematurely.

Fun Stuff

Do you remember those little Golden Books you read when you were little, the ones with colorful covers and gold foil spines? So does artist Ryan Jude Novelline who created a ballgown from the illustrations and spines of those iconic first reads. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Novelline got his degree in illustration, yet his work continually attempts to reinterpret established ideas and push boundaries. Take a look at the Pinterest board showing the many stages of the creation of this masterpiece.

When you are a reader, you love to snicker at clever t-shirts and I happen to love the ABC’s of Literature t-shirt on sale at Threadless. Whether it’s Ginsberg’s glasses or the Route 66 sign for Kerouac, this simple black shirt will have kindred spirits giving you the “nice one” head nod when you wear it (and help you steer clear of the “I don’t get it” people).

Similarly, readers and librarians alike will enjoy the pulp fiction-styled Attack of the 50 Foot Librarian t-shirt from Funny Baby. I don’t know what I like best, that the figure has auburn hair (ahem) or that she seems to be holding an ereader (replacing the car in the original image) with classic books and glasses strewn in panic on the highway beneath her. Whatever the reason, this must-wear item has gone into my Etsy cart!

Great Deals

You don’t get better than free and that’s exactly what Amy AndrewsGirl Least Likely to Marry – a Harlequin KISS book – is right now on Amazon! With a wealthy, football playing hero with a good sense of humor and a scientist who couldn’t care less (and probably falls on the autism spectrum with her ability to read people) reviewers are raving about this outstanding addition to Andrews’ The Wedding Season series.

Historical romance author Elizabeth Boyle has updated the covers of her Brazen series, re-releasing this mid-1990s series with a fresh new look. At the moment, Brazen Angel, the first book in the trilogy, is a mere $.99 for the ebook version, allowing fans of romance novels with strong spying/privateer themes to sigh in happiness.

Fans of Urban Fantasy might want to try the second book in the Crimson City series, A Taste of Crimson by Marjorie M. Liu, which highlights a romance between a strong vampire and a rebel werewolf who find themselves working with what would normally be a natural enemy in a fallen City of Angels. The Crimson City series is one of those put together by an editor employing different authors to write each installment and with authors like LIz Maverick, Jade Lee and Patti O’Shea, chances are these high ratings are well-earned.

Romantic suspense fans might want to take advantage of Pamela Clare‘s Breaking Point (from her I-Team series) being on sale for $1.99 right now on Amazon. Unlike the common security company trope, Clare has created a series based around a group of mostly women investigating (hence the “I” in I-Team) the shadowy corners of society where they stumble across “the alpha males of the their dreams.” Considering that this entire series of nine books and novellas consistently range above a four on Goodreads, I’d say this angle has proven darn successful for Clare (and I plan on trying it out at these prices!).

Close out Breast Cancer Awareness month by taking advantage of not only a great deal for the paranormal anthology Entangled (whose proceeds go to Breast Cancer research) but which also offers you 424 pages of stories from amazing authors like Cynthia Eden, Jennifer Estep, and Michelle Diener. At only $2.99, you’ll feel like you are giving yourself (and all women) a present for Halloween.

Fans of the sheik romance might remember my post on Sarah Morgan’s Lost to the Desert Warrior, but for readers who have not yet gotten to sample it, please be aware that not only is that title on sale for $1.99 right now, but it’s predecessor, Woman in a Sheik’s World is also available at the discounted price. Considering that books hero and heroine (living their HEA) make an appearance in Lost to the Desert Warrior, it would be fun to get both to enjoy Morgan’s excellent writing about these gripping characters.

Happy reading this week (and happy Halloween)!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week Ending August 18th

18 Aug

Upcoming and New Books

Historical romance writer Katharine Ashe is publishing the first book in her new series, The Prince Catchers, on August 27th, entitled I Married the Duke. With the cover blurb from Lisa Kleypas (who specializes in perfectly written historical heroes) and involving a duke disguised as a pirate and a gypsy curse borne by three sisters, this sounds like it’s a cut above your typical Regency romance. As of now, Avon has set the price on Amazon at a mere $3.59 for the paperback edition, a 40% discount from the list price of $5.99, so you might want to preorder it while this bargain is in effect!

Tired of billionaire Doms (seriously, how many of each of those categories can there be) and eager for a good shifter romance? Vivian Arend is releasing the third book in her Takhini wolves shifter series, and this time the hero is a billionaire bear who needs a political insider helping him understand the shifter community with which he’s working a deal. Who better than the leader’s former human girlfriend, recently freed up since her no-strings boyfriend just found his mate? Published by Samhain, Diamond Dust is a full-length novel priced at only $2.75 so the warmth you feel while reading it might not just be from Arend’s steamy writing, but also from the knowledge of the great bargain you just got.

I’m still reeling from Jeaniene Frost’s announcement this week that her seventh book in the incomparable Night Huntress series, Up from the Grave, will be her last Cat and Bones novel! Originally believing that her overall story arc would take nine books, Frost said on her blog that she and her editor agreed that it would be unfair to fans to put in filler simply to keep the series going as planned. As disappointed as I am, I appreciate Frost’s obvious commitment to give readers the highest quality writing. She has never written anything that didn’t blow my socks off and it’s not like she’s going to stop writing and take up creating macrame wall hangings from a beachside hut in Hawaii. She even admits that the couple might pop up in other books in the Night Huntress world (remember we still have another book in the Night Prince series and I’ve got my fingers crossed that Ian has evolved enough to be the hero in his own novel soon). There is also the pesky matter of the fourth man in the deported Australian chain gang who we’ve never seen but to whom Bones, Spade and Ian have referred. With those possible novels on the horizon (and having the utmost confidence in the creative imagination residing in Frost’s mind), I’m happy to thank her for finally offering Cat and Bones a happily ever after since they’ve been through a lot in their time together! January 28th will be a little bittersweet, but with Frost at the helm, I’m sure to enjoy every page.

As much as it pains me to say it (I’m an educator, so the school year is here), September 10th is just around the corner, so for those of you who still haven’t ordered the next installment of Jennifer Ashley’s Highland Pleasures series, get on it! The Untamed Mackenzie e-novella is priced at only $1.99 and stars the sexy but cranky Detective Inspector Lloyd Fellows, born on the wrong side of the Mackenzie tartan and Lady Louisa Scranton who is wrongly accused of murder. I’m not only going to love revisiting my favorite Victorian romance series but it’s going to always sate me long enough to wait for the next full-length novel, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, which will publish just a couple weeks later on October 1st.

Fun Stuff

The British newspaper The Guardian announced this week that the queen of romance, Barbara Cartland, had 160 previously unpublished novels in her estate upon her death and that these works, and some other published books, are going to be available for readers on her website. These unpublished novels join the 490 novels she wrote in her lifetime, stopping her output only a year prior to her passing away at the age of 98. If you picture romance writers penning their novels in canopy beds wearing a silk bedjacket surrounded by little dogs, Cartland is subconsciously who you have in mind. These books are only available in print so non-UK residents would have to pay more for shipping charges.

Did you know there was something called the Good Men Project? Envisioning themselves not as a magazine, but as a social movement, the people behind the Good Men Project believe in posing and answering the question, “What does it mean to be a good man?” Blogging about sports, ethics, sex, marriage, fatherhood and current affairs, the writing is high quality and well-researched while being always appropriate. And if your dad showed any prospective boyfriend his gun collection prior to that first date, you might enjoy reading an article which has been making the rounds “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex” by Ferrett Steinmetz, who just became my dad-hero. Steinmetz objects to the inference that he owns his daughter’s body or has the right to tell her what to do with it, particularly in the area of denying her the pleasure and intimacy which comes from sharing your body with someone you love. The article is simultaneously sweet, funny and thought-provoking and I recommend it for parents and for romance writers who would like to imagine what a positive father figure might look like in this century.

It’s rather dazzling to see the income of the top earning authors for this past year, particularly when you realize that E. L. James (author of the 50 Shades of Grey series) managed to total $95 million dollars in 2012-13 according to this Forbes magazine article. That’s a lot of handcuffs! Yet note that with the exception of nonfiction author and pundit Chris Matthews, virtually every author is either a YA powerhouse or specializes in genre fiction like romance, mystery or suspense. No wonder the literary fiction authors get so snobby – they’re cranky from eating ramen noodles.

Thinking About Publishing

This past week, Alex Crowley from Publisher’s Weekly posed the excellent question – Why Are We Still Not Bundling Ebooks? Seriously, why don’t publishers offer combination print/ebook bundles? If readers can get virtually every format, but not a discount on two types together, that seems to be denying publishers needed revenue. I know a lot of people like me who enjoy having a paper copy and an ebook copy of favorite books, so there would be some takers, for sure.

Contests and Giveaways

Fans of Jayne Ann Krentz knows she writes her awesome paranormal books as Jayne Castle, and they probably are also aware that the 10th book in the Harmony series, Deception Cove, is coming out on August 27th. There is a Goodreads giveaway with a deadline of August 19th for the lucky winner who gets an early copy, so if you’d like a modern marriage of convenience with a paranormal twist, get over there to see how lucky you are!

I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering the enduring phenomena of the Middle Eastern sheikh in category romance and erotica, and a big part of that inspiration came from reading an early copy of Sarah Morgan’s Lost to the Desert Warrior which is awesome if you love this subgenre! You can get a free copy of this Harlequin gem if you win the Goodreads giveaway, but you have to enter before August 19th (the book comes out on the 20th, as does my review).

Susan Mallery is offering readers who purchase her Fool’s Gold Cookbook (companion to her romance series of the same name) a chance to win a spanking new KitchenAid mixer (!) if they send or email her their purchase receipt prior to August 31st. Do you know how much those cost? And she’s giving away the shiny chrome one, no less! There is a way to enter via postcard if you don’t plan on getting the cookbook, so look at the link for details.

If you have a thing for ancient Celtic warriors cursed by the Fae (and I do), you might want to take a look at Storm Warrior, the first book in Dani Harper’s Grim series, which features a Welshman who transforms into a black dog to save a woman…and finds not only his enchantment broken but that he’s living in a strange world which seems magical in itself. This giveaway ends on August 21st (the book came out on the 6th). Hopefully you’ll win it!

People may have been saying that zombies are the new vampires for a while, but when you take a look at the cover of Paige Tyler’s new book, Dead Sexy, you’ll find yourself agreeing! While the book was published on July 12th, you can still catch the Goodreads giveaway for a copy as long as you enter before August 23rd. When a romance author and a gorgeous hunk who has been cursed by a vindictive Voodoo priestess hit the sheets, you’ll find yourself wondering if there’s a zombie on your block.

Everyone knows that I think Bella Andre’s Sullivan series to be one of the best contemporary romance series, ever, right? Well, with Harlequin recently buying the print rights to this original ebook series, you’ve finally got paperbacks to enjoy in the bubble bath now. A Goodreads giveaway is offering the third book in the series, Can’t Help Falling in Love, starring sexy firefighter Gabe Sullivan and the woman and child he rescues. It’s awesome and you might win it! Get over there before August 23rd and find out.

Readers who love Highlanders more than likely already have some of Amanda Scott’s book on their shelves but this historical romance writer has the second book in her Lairds of the Loch series, The Knight’s Temptress, coming out on August 27th. There is a celebratory giveaway at Goodreads you can take advantage of if you’d like to read it, too, but be sure to enter by August 25th to participate.

Great Deals

The next book in Jill Shalvis’ amazing small-town romance series Lucky Harbor, Always on My Mind, is still – inexplicably – only $2.99 for the book version (the paperback is also the nice number of $4.80). Since this one stars not only the town firefighter (and we’ve all benefited from Jill Shalvis’ thing for firefighters – thanks, Jill!) and the town baker, I sense some steamy, food-based naughtiness in the cards. Since we don’t know how long this deal will last and with the looming publication date of September 24th, I’d recommend ordering this one sooner rather than later.

Fans of Sabrina Jeffries’ Swanlea Spinsters series, need to make sure their ereader battery is charged as there is a phenomenal sale on Amazon right now. This series is filled with Earl’s daughters, highwayman, and marriages of convenience galore, with great reviews abounding for Jeffries’ excellent historical writing. Right now, A Dangerous Love (#1), A Notorious Love (#2), After the Abduction (#3), and Married to the Viscount (#5) each have their Kindle version discounted from $7.99 to $1.99. WOW! No explanation why the fourth book in the series, Dance of Seduction, isn’t going along with this amazing deal, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

Have a super week reading, everyone! 🙂

Writing Good Sex: Thinking About Steamy Sex Scenes from the Standpoint of a Reader and a Writer

1 Jun

Be a Sex-Writing Strumpet by Stacia Kane (CreateSpace, January 13, 2011)

A writer who can pen hot, steamy, and emotional sex scenes – interactions that are a lot more than tab A going into slot B – always win my loyalty.

I know there are people who love sweet romance and don’t need to to see what happens in the bedroom, but for me, those bedroom scenes often say more about a relationship than the dialogue or character descriptions. Sex also strips people down (no pun intended) to their essential self with the result being that it’s often obvious that a couple is in love with one another before they get around to actually revealing that fact in words. As Stacia Kane puts it “… the fact is, the deepest truths of our characters can be found when they are naked, when they are at their most vulnerable both physically and emotionally, when they let their guards down and just interact.” (Kane, p. 125)

A sex scene – a good one – is the epitome of showing and not telling. “I’m so hot for you” is not as strong as “His hand trembled as he touched his thumb to the thudding pulse in her neck, a beat he had to taste under his tongue while he reminded himself, go slow, don’t rush this…” Just like any other writing skill, some writers are better at this than others and no matter how much of a natural you are, understanding the elements of a good sex scene that take it from “okay, they are having sex” to “my book just burst into flames and not from an ereader malfunction” is vital to success.

Why We Need Great Sex Scenes

Stacia Kane’s fantastic primer for writers is infinitely valuable to readers as well. We know that we love a certain author or a certain scene but can’t always put our finger on why. In her book, Be a Sex Writing Strumpet, Kane took a series of blog posts and organized them into densely packed book focused on understanding why sex scenes can be so vital to plot and character development, how to write them well, and exercises to help each writer understand his or her sex writing voice and comfort level. It’s pure gold for $2.99.

But your crotchety uncle and that nun who taught you in the second grade definitely don’t feel sex should be in books, which begs the question, do we really need sex scenes? Hell, yes! I think I’m going to let Stacia Kane answer:

If you can find another way to illuminate the most private acts of your characters, to demonstrate their connection, their trust, the depth of their feelings…, their desire for each other, the moment their relationship deepens and changes beyond anything they’ve been through before, while also strengthening the story, increasing tension, and adding complications, and also—let’s be honest here—giving the reader what they’ve been waiting for, and you can do all of that in one scene, then no, you don’t need the sex scene. (Kane, p. 6)

firework-79374_640That’s a lot of points in favor of the sex scene. Note she didn’t say titillation? One of the major criticisms of romance novels (and clearly plenty of books outside the genre have sex scenes but they are expected in romance) has always been the “pornographic” nature of the sex. This criticism has always seemed like total bull to me; I’ve never seen a crime or horror writer criticized for too gory a murder. Instead the critic just grimly mentions the level of violence to the reader, as if it’s a point in their favor about their writing style and that they don’t shy away from reality. But romance writers – and let’s face it, it’s because they are usually women writing for mainly other women – get the “mommy porn” thing because god forbid we should show anyone what two people engaged in a mutually satisfying, sexually healthy relationship looks like. Those soccer moms might get ideas or *gasp* expectations.

Some key points Kane touches upon for writers (and which are visible to readers) are vital for emotionally tying us to the characters. Her warning to make everyone wait (for example, the suggestion to write an amazing kissing scene that’s clearly headed you-know-where and interrupt it) builds anticipation. For writers blocked about writing sex scenes, she has the brilliant idea of writing a dialogue between your characters where they talk about their feelings – and then you turn it into a sex scene where they are showing all those emotions through their actions.

Because that’s the point, isn’t it? That our characters show their true selves via their actions (and okay, sometimes their words, when they are actually coherent having sex) and that everything – from first glance to foreplay to actual sex to the aftermath – is built around revealing their soul and their emotion for one another. Let’s take a look at my top love scenes that fit this bill.

Memorable Sex Scenes: The Mrrrrooowwww Worth Reading and Re-reading

If you’re a romance reader, there are memorable sex scenes that are so hot you can’t help but think of them as I’m writing about this topic. Naturally, the writers showcased are women who also happen to be incredibly talented at strong characterization and airtight plotting, but since I’ve seen those qualities in other writers who are terrible at writing sex scenes, I consider these ladies to be the total package. Here are my favorites and why, in no particular order.

Author: Jeaniene Frost
Book: This Side of the Grave (Night Huntress series #5)
Genre: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
Couple: Cat & Bones
Why: I adore this series (Jeaniene Frost seems incapable of writing anything that’s not absolutely stellar) and I’m sure people familiar with it are surprised that I didn’t list the famous/infamous chapter from the second book in the series, One Foot in the Grave. I absolutely agree that half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her vampire lover/husband/former professional whore Bones is an unbearably hot combination, but that truly astonishing sex scene is brought about the presence of Bones’ former lover Annette and his need to prove to her that she’s truly the love of his heart after she lays down a challenge to him to make her blush the next morning (and she does).

But the sex scene in This Side of the Grave is one between two people who have weathered ups and downs in their relationship and are secure as a result, and it gets listed here because of one very specific reason. It’s not just the unbelieveably inventive combination of candle wax and fangs, but the fact that Cat consciously lets down her final barrier in her relationship with Bones – the fear of how devastated he would be if she lost him. That realization makes this sex scene one in which she demonstrates how she’s decided to hold nothing back by consciously constructing a night of total pleasure for him. It’s so hot and moving that I find myself alternately fanning my face and choking up whenever I reread it.

Author: Stephanie Laurens
Book: A Rogue’s Proposal (Cynster series #4)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Demon & Flick
Why: I am the first to admit that Stephanie Laurens drives me insane with her tendency for purple prose. But the earlier Cynster books, while peppered with the occasional “flotsam” reference (ocean debris = not sexy, Stephanie!), possess fewer of these references with the sex scenes  stronger as a result, none more so than Flick’s deflowering scene. It happens on a dresser in an inn. Harry, aka Demon, is the most sensual beast of all the Cynsters and – as frustrating as his inability to express his love for her is – the one place he can show her how he feels is when they are intimate with each other. It’s not surprising she feels smug looking at his ass in the mirror as he makes love to her. Who wouldn’t?

Author: Lisa Kleypas
Book: Devil in Winter (Wallflowers series #3)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Sebastian & Evie
Why: Another deflowering scene that’s a favorite and honestly one that probably didn’t stop the clock in terms of how long it took. Sexy Viscount Sebastian needs a fortune and heiress Evie is happy to give him hers in trade for letting her escape her abusive relatives but they both agree the marriage has to be legal. Not a problem for Sebastian who’s seemingly bedded all of London’s females over age 17. Exhausted from their trek to Gretna Green and quickie marriage, Evie awakes from a very sexy dream to Sebastian kissing his way all over her naked body. What makes this so unbelievably sexy? The fact that he talks to her – playful, sexy, Sebastian talk that is the essence of his charming, roguish self – until you’re a puddle listening to him bring her to ecstasy  That he has an orgasm so mind-blowing and long that he feels that he might have been the virgin? Icing on the cake.

Author: Jennifer Ashley
Book: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #1)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Ian & Beth
Why: If you have to ask, you haven’t read this book yet! Lord Ian Mackenzie is one of the more memorable and unique heroes I’ve ever read. Landing on the autism spectrum in the 19th century meant you were thought mad no matter how brilliant you are, and it’s not like the era was renowned for the tender care of people with psychological differences. When Lord Ian meets the young and beautiful widow Beth, brought up in poverty and the recent heir to a fortune, he immediately wants her while his honest candor and devastating sexuality proves more than she can resist. While I like all their sex scenes, the one that stands out is the one where Beth visits him at his brother’s art studio in Paris to apologize for being nosy (she really didn’t need to). Ian worried he would never see her again and talks her into baring herself to him. Feeling her freedom, she takes off her clothes and dances a little around the studio in happiness with a sheer scarf, which Ian uses to reel her in and proceeds to bring her to orgasm, while never removing a stitch of his clothing. That in itself is damn erotic, but it’s his utter focus on her pleasure, the sensual enjoyment he takes of every little detail of helping her reach ecstasy, that makes this scene one of my favorites.

Author: Laura Kaye
Book: Hearts in Darkness
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Couple: Makenna & Caden
Why: Laura Kaye can throw down the hot emotional sex scenes with veterans in the business and always land at the top of the pack. In this book, our two protagonists are trapped in an elevator together, in the dark, and they didn’t get a good look at each other when they got in. Getting to know one another when it’s hot and stuffy in an enclosed space doesn’t sound awesome, but it is when the two people in question have a lot to reveal and the dark makes for perfect cover. That they get hot and heavy in the elevator (and then take it to her apartment) has been done before, but not like this. The unbridled sensuality and emotion inherent in Makenna, in the pitch black, feeling the piercings and scars on Caden face and connecting them with what he’s revealed to her makes your heart beat faster.

Author: Shelly Laurenston
Book: The Mane Event (Pride #1)
Genre: Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Couple: Dez & Mace
Why: I adore Laurenston’s ability to bring her brand of earthy humor to this incredibly sexy paranormal series. Mace Llewellyn has left his elite military unit (one made up of shifters like himself) and has gone into the security business with his best friend. They’ve based themselves in New York, not just because Mace’s pride is located there, but because this lion has been head over heels in love with the husky-voiced, half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican (extremely busty) Desiree MacDermott since they began high school. He knows that she’s the one for him, and class issues and the pesky fact that he’s a shifter (and she has no idea about their existence) isn’t going to get in the way. This book makes the short list based on one particularly AMAZING scene – and let me tell you, there are plenty of sexy love scenes in this series! – where Dez handcuffs Mace to her bed and has her wicked way with him. The neighbors calling the police is a given since lions are extremely noisy while being tortured with sexual ecstasy. It’s off the hotness meter not just because of what Dez feels comfortable doing with herself in front of Mace but because he wants to prove himself to her so much that he lets her take control.

Author: Kele Moon
Book: Defying the Odds (Battered Hearts #1)
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Couple: Melody & Clay
Why: If you haven’t jumped on the Kele Moon bandwagon, I honestly don’t know what you are waiting for. This astonishingly good writer won my heart with her unlikely tale of a working class victim of domestic abuse slaving long hours as a diner waitress who finds love with a UFC fighter. I knew absolutely nothing about this kind of fighting but Kele Moon’s plotting and characterization moved her into my “must-buy the pre-order” category and she’s never let me down. Clay Powers is a disciplined athlete with a tough beginning but good friends and the way he sees through Melody Dylan’s stress and exhaustion to the beautiful woman underneath will have you sniffling. That Melody discovers she is a highly sensual being at Clay’s hands is wonderful, and the make-up sex which occurs when she travels to Las Vegas to cheer on Clay in his big bout will have you never looking at a picture window over Sin City the same way again. Yowza.

The Future of Sex Scenes in Romance

While many people are crediting the Fifty Shades phenomena or the decline of civilization, the fact remains that romance novels, unless of a specific genre (like inspirational or Amish) are becoming more explicit in their sensuality levels. What RT Book Reviews lists as a “Scorcher” now would very likely have been erotica over a decade ago and there are classic romances that were considered hair curling in their time that I flip the page back with a “that’s it?” comment, thinking I’ve missed something.

My hope is twofold. One, that the trend toward explicit sex between characters means that readers and writers are more comfortable with sex as a natural expression between people. Clearly we see more sex on television and in movies, but a lot of it is objectification, not a loving expression between individuals, so romance fits a vital need to remind us of what sex can be. Second, I believe that there are a lot of truly great authors (see my shortlist above) and publishers who want women to demand their due both as consumers of the romance genre (hell, we deserve hot sex scenes between those fictional people we’ve fallen for!) and as healthy sexual beings in the bedroom. In the end, writers who write hot, emotional sex scenes have not only demonstrated their facility as people who have mastered a craft, but as pioneers showing us all what really love can look like in its most elemental form. And I would like to say to all of them – Thank You.

What favorite sex scenes of yours fits the criteria here? I’d love to hear about them. Happy Reading! 🙂

References

Kane, Stacia (2010-07-19). Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet. Kindle Edition.

Best Vampire Series EVER: The Night Huntress Series by Jeaniene Frost

6 Jul

A segment of the downloadable wallpaper you can get from the Frost Fans website featuring our hero and heroine, Bones and Cat.

I realized in looking over my posts that I had yet to do a review of a book or series which would be characterized as urban fantasy. Despite having my favorites in this genre, it’s actually a category of romance I steer clear of, largely due to the commonality that it is usually written in the first person. I love getting both the hero and heroine’s perspectives, so I naturally shy away from books filled with “I” but in the hands of a great writer, all my objections are swept away and I’m along for the ride.

Jeaniene Frost is a REALLY great writer.

I think I was surfing the vampires books list on Goodreads when I came across the Night Huntress series by Frost and I remember being incredibly impressed by the devotion of her fans and the effusive kvelling over Bones. It annoys me that so many readers are ready to stick up their noses when you mention a book or series has vampires as some of the main characters. I understand that there is a level of saturation in the paranormal market attempting to milk the Twilight wave for all it was worth, but should I stop recommending Jane Eyre simply because someone has read a few tepid gothic romances? “Oh, thanks for the rec, Tori, but I’m all moored out. Got anything else?” Nuh-uh. Readers should seek to find the best examples of a subgenre prior to determining if it’s really not for them.

In my opinion, the best vampire series out there is this one – Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress World. Now, I have to give you fair warning, because I will be doing an overview of each book in the series – in the order you should read them – there has to be spoilers. I’m totally okay with spoilers, in fact I’m one of those readers who absolutely hates shocking or rude surprises and would rather gird myself for any big issues. I’m not planning on ruining things for you, but just be aware that you are able to determine how certain story lines might play out. Heads up.

Reckoning (#.5 in the Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, November 29, 2011)

Technically Reckoning is the “first” work in this series is listed as #.5 (a prequel) to Halfway to the Grave, so I’m going to mention it here first on the list. In actuality, this 59 page novella is probably best read after reading the first book in the series. It’s a wonderful work that does a good job describing the power structure in New Orleans (a mecca for vampires and ghouls) while simultaneously helping the reader envision what Bones was like prior to heading to Ohio and meeting Cat.

I’m not sure anyone who didn’t read the first book in the series could necessarily be tearing their hair out until they read it, but Frost never disappoints and this is an excellent work that any series lover would enjoy. Keep in mind that this was first published in the print anthology Unbound, which contains other novellas by such urban fantasy heavyweights as Kim Harrison and Melissa Marr, so don’t double buy it now that it’s offered on its own. (I’ve done that more than once and it drives me crazy.)

Halfway to the Grave (#1 Night Huntress Series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, October 30, 2007)

Halfway to the Grave is the real first book of the series and you should start here for your Cat and Bones adventures. The book has a great opening when local Ohio girl Cat Crawfield is pulled over in the wee hours by the sheriff in her rural community. Looking at the redheaded bombshell dressed for partying and more than a little mussed, he’s willing to believe she’s been up to no good, particularly when it’s well known that Cat’s mother got knocked up years ago with Cat. She manages to convince him of her good intentions and drives away, only to later get rid of the body in the back of her truck. The vampire body.

Cat knew as a child that she was different – her strength, her hearing, and the way her eyes would glow when she was upset. When she was 16, her mother sat her down and told her the truth about her father. He was a vampire who raped Cat’s mother. Justina Crawfield has passed along her virulent hatred of vampires to her daughter to the point where she has encouraged Cat to go seek them out and use her abilities to kill them whenever possible. Since her teen years, Cat has dressed to party and gone to the bars where she has lured vampires and then staked them. Despite her mission, her relationship with her mother is troubled to say the least, but Cat believes her mother that vampires are monsters and that she is doing the right thing by killing them.

That is, until one night when she sees a beautiful blond vampire with a killer British accent. Struck by his beauty she attempts to lure him away but he is having none of it, until the following night when he takes her up on her offer. Rather than succeeding in killing him, she finds herself chained in a local cave where he plans to torture her into giving up which vampire she works for. It takes some convincing, but our hero, Bones, realizes that Cat is what she says she is – an incredibly rare vampire half-breed who is almost totally ignorant of the vampire world. He convinces her to let him train her to lure and really fight vampires (she’s been lucky to not have been killed yet) and help him figure out why so many young women are disappearing from Ohio without a trace.

Naturally in the course of her training, Cat has to face up to her own prejudices. Vampires are strong and they can be cruel, but as Bones explains the complicated world of the supernatural to her, Cat has to face the realization that there are good vampires and bad ones the same way there are good people and bad people. This revelation has to come sooner rather than later as she confronts some very real feelings for Bones. But just as she tries to figure out how to get her mother to accept the man she loves, all hell breaks loose and Cat has to figure out a way to keep Bones and her mother safe, and it might mean giving up the man she loves.

I cannot emphasize enough Frost’s ability to draw characters that are so full of life you end up having more affection for them than a few of your family members. Cat’s complicated feelings regarding her own birth and heritage combined with her facing her prejudices (and that of others who know of the vampire world) make this a series that tackles issues of intolerance and acceptance.

Bones is not only a sexy beast, but has such a fascinating history that he is more than a pretty face and great sense of humor (he was a gigolo for the British aristocracy in the 1700s prior to being transported to Australia as part of his prison sentence and was turned by a fellow prisoner who had successfully escaped). The only person funnier than Bones is Cat (although Bones’ friend Ian is up there on the laugh-o-meter) and since the story is told from her point of view, there are lots of snorts and chuckles to be had while reading this series. But don’t forget to keep the tissues handy. Frost’s ability to tug at the emotional heartstrings is also unrivaled.

Happily Never After (#1.5 Night Huntress Series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, July 19, 2011)

Happily Never After is a novella that comes between Halfway to the Grave and One Foot in the Grave chronologically. Bones is in the midst of searching for Cat but is called upon by an old friend, Greta, an elderly woman living in Philadelphia. Her lovely granddaughter, Isabella is being pressured into marriage by a local mafia wanna-be kingpin who is lording over her some trouble Isabella’s brother is involved in. Bones makes a couple cameo appearances, but sends one of his line, a vampire named Chance, to investigate and help.

Isabella knows that the man showing up in her family restaurant has a death wish. Yes, he’s incredibly good looking and says that her grandmother arranged to have him help, but Isabella knows that it’s going to take more than good looks to get her out of this bind. But Chance seems to be able to do the impossible and she discovers a lot more about her seemingly frail grandmother than she anticipated. There are creatures in this world that Isabella had no idea existed and she might very well be in love with one of them. Can she put aside her preconceived notions and accept love when it’s right in front of her?

FYI, this novella (which is over 100 pages) originally appeared in the anthology Weddings from Hell, in case your local library has got that on the shelf, or in case you need a print version versus an electronic copy of this story.

One Foot in the Grave (#2 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, April 29, 2008)

One Foot in the Grave picks up five years after Cat made her painful decision at the end of Halfway to the Grave. She’s taken the dubious bargain offered by the government to head up an elite squad of vampire hunters. She’s trained her team incredibly well and they’ve been successful, so much so that Cat now has a reputation of being the “Red Reaper.”

Cat has tried to go on with her life. She’s immersed in her work, is dating a local veterinarian, has a good girlfriend who knows what she is, and her team are her friends as well as her crew. Her mother is pleased Cat’s hunting vampires again, but all of this does not add up to happiness for Cat, not by a long shot. As she prepares to be a bridesmaid in her best friend Denise’s wedding, she acknowledges the fact that she will always be in love with Bones. Imagine her surprise when she walks down the aisle only to see that Bones is one of the groomsmen.

Bones is so incredibly pissed. He’s looked for Cat nonstop for years and finds her totally by happenstance. In the midst of getting her to face the fact that she simply didn’t trust him with the truth of the threat to him and her mother, an assassination attempt on Cat takes place and he is able to save her.

Cat has a lot to deal with in this book. She’s facing the knowledge that she loves Bones and there is no way she can deal with the pain of him not in her life (not that he’d let her). She also has to juggle the reactions of her team who have no desire to trust him, particularly her lead team member, Tate, who has feelings for her. Her mother, who is completely bonkers at the thought of them being back together, puts nuclear mushroom clouds to shame with her response to the news. Cat also has to deal with the minor detail that someone is trying to kill her, a someone who has offered the Red Reaper bounty placed upon her. Complicating things is the fact that, now that she’s been found by at least one assassin, Bones’ longtime friend and master vampire Ian is bound to try and “acquire” her once more. So she has a couple things on her plate. Poor Cat.

Your heart aches when Cat and Bones find each other again. Even though he’s angry with how she left, it’s obvious that he still loves her to distraction and seeing Cat finally begin to take down that wall she’s built, brick by brick, is so damn satisfying. Frost helps you understand that this isn’t going to be an easy process for Cat, but having a vampire lover who is 200+ years old helps a little. Understanding that Bones was Cat’s first real relationship and that, despite his age, Cat is Bones’ first relationship helps you have the patience you need to support these two as they figure out how best to deal with each other.

At Grave’s End (#3 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, December 30, 2008)

At Grave’s End starts out focusing on Cat’s facing problems in doing her work for the paranormal squad. One of Bones’ conditions of them being together is that he work for her because he can’t handle the idea of her risking her life without him there to help. It quickly becomes clear that every vampire who walks among the living has heard of the famous Red Reaper, hence her ability to lure bad vampires to their inevitable staking is rather compromised. The squad ends up having to make some decisions about changing and there are a few hiccups in that road that are fascinating.

But things get spooky quickly. Bones’ grandsire, the cool and powerful Mencheres has a scandal in his closet. He’s been married for a couple thousand years to Patra (daughter of the original Cleopatra) and she wears a t-shirt marked “uberbitch” like you wouldn’t believe. Patra knows that Mencheres can’t bring himself to kill her so she decides to work to decimate his and Bones’ resources. This results in the horrifying disappearance of Bones for a while and your stomach is literally in knots while this is getting worked through.

The final showdown has got to be one of the best large scale battles written in urban fantasy (Ilona Andrews has probably written the top three of them). Patra uses black magic (any magic use is a major no-no for vampires by their laws) to attack Mencheres’ rural Canadian hideout and all the vampires and ghouls are faced with something much scarier and harder to kill than they are. There is some great Mencheres insight and development in this book, and we get the introduction of tall, dark and Romanian Vlad (yes, the original Dracula) who becomes friends with Cat despite Bones hating him (he thinks Vlad’s pyrokinesis ability is “showy”).

Devil to Pay (#3.5 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, August 23, 2011)

Devil to Pay is a 99 page enovella about a reclusive vampire, Elise, who stumbles across a tortured man who claims to be fighting demon possession. She calls upon her loving sire and mentor Mencheres to help her figure out if he can be helped and is dismayed when the answer is no.

Despite having no interest in interacting with humans or other vampires, this handsome human, Blake Turner, stirs up long-dead feelings in Elise. Yet she and Mencheres must take him to the salt flats of the southwest to drive out the demon in a safe location where it can not infect any human or animal. Unfortunately they will have to kill Blake in order to guarantee the demon’s demise.

Cat and Bones have a cameo in this novella and I always enjoy seeing them from someone else’s perspective. This story is a sweet palette cleanser that I think helps you understand why so many vampires follow Mencheres – he is such a caring mentor to Elise as her sire and he understands her emotions for Blake long before she does. Let’s face it, any vampire who is willing to stay saddled with a power-crazed murderer like Patra (see previous book) and not kill her has a romantic side.

Devil to Pay was also published in print in the anthology, Four Dukes and a Devil, which you can easily order new or used if you don’t have an ereader.

Destined for an Early Grave (#4 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, July 28, 2009)

The hardest book in the series for me to read is the fourth novel, Destined for an Early Grave because of how rocky Cat and Bones’ relationship becomes. Cat begins having disturbing dreams about a mysterious vampire calling her his wife. She’s willing to chalk it up to something she ate until she hears that a previously imprisoned master vampire, Gregory (known as the “dreamsnatcher” because he can literally steal people through their dreams), is claiming that Cat cannot be married to Bones because she married him in Paris when she was sixteen.

Bones is incensed that someone would dare to claim his wife as his own and Cat thinks this is a new level of vampire crazypants until Mencheres comes on the scene. Cat has always felt resentful and unsettled around Mencheres and now she knows why. Mencheres admits that he did in fact rescue Cat from a hotel in Paris when she was sixteen – and that Gregory claimed to have married her before his arrival. Mencheres used his powers to suppress Cat’s memory because he saw her in a vision as destined for Bones (and he knows Gregory is a son of a bitch who wants Cat’s powers and abilities at his disposal).

Bones feels incredibly betrayed by Mencheres keeping this knowledge from him as well as for altering Cat’s memory but he focuses on getting Cat away from Gregory. Gregory has some heavy hitting allies, namely in the ghoul queen of New Orleans, the famous voodoo priestess Marie Laveau who calls Cat to her for an audience (which is an awesome scene – who knew a ghoul queen would be a Matrix fan?).

Cat gets a sense of all the political nuances of Gregory’s claim while at the same time realizing that he has the ability to read her thoughts (and as a result, her location). She has to begin taking some experimental no-R.E.M.-sleep pills in order to avoid Gregory in her dreams and it makes her understandably stressed. Bones does his best to sequester her, telling her nothing about where they are or their defenses so she can’t leak information accidentally to Gregory, but the deprivation of information leads to Cat making a rash but understandable decision to get to Gregory and figure out what is going on, particularly after she discovers he can restore her lost memories.

Despite the logic that led her to her decision to engage Gregory, it causes a major rift between her and Bones, who finds her actions indicative of how Cat is unwilling to trust him. He leaves her in such a way that she believes its permanent and in her despair turns to Vlad as a friend. He takes her to one of his Romanian castles where she can mope in peace. You can imagine that Bones has no intention of leaving her alone, but the appearance of his actions is very hurtful to Cat who does everything to help him while avoiding him. Bones forces not only a confrontation but a very major decision on Cat’s part and there is once again a major showdown against Gregory.

After re-reading this book so many times, I think what is so amazing about it is how Frost is able to take two characters we adore and highlight the barriers they impose on themselves to success in their relationship. Cat is faced with the decision of becoming a vampire and she realizes that it’s something she’s avoided, not because she still believes vampires are evil, but because if she became immortal it would mean facing the fear that Bones might not want her for all eternity.

I come down pretty hard on Cat’s side in this relationship kerfuffle – Bones’ anger is clearly from being afraid he’s going to lose Cat because she doesn’t trust him to talk over actions before she takes them, but as is so often the case, that we fear most usually comes to pass because of our fear. The confrontation Bones orchestrates is his way of trying to get Cat to admit what her real fear is, but I think there should have been more apologizing on his part, particularly considering how she was drugged out of her mind during most of the proceedings. Nevertheless, their reunion is fabulous and the reader feels like a weight has been removed from their chest once it happens. When Bones finally turns her, it’s typical Cat that even as a vampire she has to be different!

“One for the Money” enovella (#4.5 Night Huntress series) in Magic Graves by Jeaniene Frost and Ilona Andrews (September 1, 2011)

In the novella “One for the Money,” found in Magic Graves, Cat and Bones are stuck guarding a spoiled heiress who has stumbled on more than she can handle. I’m not sure this enovella lends more understanding about the world our characters inhabit, but it’s a story which highlights why we love them so damn much.

There are some very witty one-liners (the heiress is completely hot for Bones much to Cat’s annoyance) and Cat’s Mom Justina is evident. It’s hard not to appreciate Bones when he begins to teach Justina how to defend herself, even though they loathe one other.

This is an enovella anthology (partnered with Ilona Andrews’ prequel for her Kate Daniels’ series which is amazing) and it’s nice to see the bonus material of the beginnings of Once Burned and the start of the “Home for the Holidays” novella, but you can now get both of these (see below descriptions) so don’t torture yourself. If you need a print version of this story, it was published in the Death’s Excellent Vacation anthology, compiled by Sookie Stackhouse creator, Charlaine Harris. The enovella has only the two stories and is cheaper, but if you read the other authors in the print anthology, it might be worth it.

First Drop of Crimson (#1 Night Huntress World series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, February 9, 2010)

At some point, Frost and her publisher had the brilliant idea of focusing on some of the secondary characters in the series, so the related works, known as the Night Huntress World series, was born. Keep in mind that despite being a related series, these books are meant to be read between the books in the Night Huntress series and if you don’t, you’ll be baffled by some of the relationship developments of these characters in the subsequent books in that series. Thankfully, Frost shows that she is not just a Cat and Bones one-trick pony, but instead a veritable queen of romance with each of them. The first in this related series, First Drop of Crimson, focuses on one of Bones’ best friends, Spade.

Spade was born Baron Charles de Mortimer, transported to Australia along with Ian and Bones as part of his assuming his father’s place in debtor’s prison. Ian turned him at the same time as Bones over 200 years ago and now Spade, like Ian and Bones, is a powerful master of his own line.

Denise is Cat’s human best friend who has moved to Texas away from her family after she lost her husband in the epic battle against Patra at the end of At Grave’s End. She wants nothing to do with the supernatural, but when her young family members start dying mysteriously of heart ailments after enjoying excellent health, her knowledge of the supernatural has her wondering if something else is going on. When she witnesses one of these murders and sees something she can’t explain, she knows she needs powerful help. Aware that something crazy is going on with Cat and Bones (referring to Gregory), she doesn’t want to bother them so she turns to Spade.

Spade has been attracted to Denise from the second he walked into the mountain cabin and saw her laughing with Cat, but as both Cat’s best friend (and therefore under Bones’ protection) and as a married woman he has steered clear of her. The last time he saw her was when Cat met up with her former paranormal teammate Cooper and Denise in Texas. Spade ended up killing a bunch of rednecks who wanted to lynch Cooper and rape Cat and Denise (the men obviously didn’t know Cat would have killed them herself and probably not worked up a sweat), but he realizes that Denise must associate him with death and violence. When she calls claiming something strange is happening, he wonders if it’s just post-traumatic stress from everything she’s been through, but plans to go check it out and get the hell away from her.

But Denise isn’t making anything up. Spade actually arrives right after a demon has attacked Denise, branding her with his mark, and claiming that he won’t remove them until she finds her long-lost family member who reneged on a deal with him. If she doesn’t deliver this mystery man, the demon will kill everyone in her family, including Denise. Denise is completely freaked out with no one but Spade to turn to, but she feels guilty having him help her when he’s clearly got better things to do.

Spade realizes the ramification of helping Denise more than she does. Bones will be incensed at not being notified because Denise clearly comes under his protection in the vampire world. Spade knows that he can’t fight his attraction for Denise and will end up seducing her despite not having taken a human lover in hundreds of years. Add to this the discovery that Denise is in serious danger from now having demon-powered blood, making it a powerful drug on the vampire black market, and it’s understandable that Spade’s overprotective instincts go into overdrive.

I liked Denise a lot from the previous books and Spade was certainly an interesting character, but I had no idea I would fall so heavily for the two of them. Denise has been through hell and back but despite her panic attacks and tremendous loss, she’s a spunky, independent heroine whose intelligence makes her as attractive as her good looks. When you discover why Spade doesn’t believe in taking a human lover and the extent of his emotional baggage, it’s obvious that he’s been denied love and happiness for a very long time so you’re truly pulling for the two of them to make it.

Eternal Kiss of Darkness (#2 Night Huntress World) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, July 27, 2010)

The second book in the Night Huntress World series and next in the chronological reading order is the book devoted to Mencheres, Eternal Kiss of Darkness. Mencheres is super scary in the other books. He’s not only always cool and unruffled, but he has visions of the future, can read minds, and has an unbelievable amount of power (anyone with the ability to decapitate people without touching them falls into the “yikes!” category for me). But this power is tempered with a terrific, wry sense of humor and strong emotional ties to those around him. He respects and cares about Bones, to the point of making him co-ruler of his line and sharing some of his powers with him. But like so much with Mencheres, even this is done with an ulterior motive. Mencheres believes he’s going to die.

Or in his case, he acknowledges it might be committing suicide by vampire/ghoul. He’s over 4000 years old, after all, dating back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, and other vampires have made the choice after they have gotten tired of living. The main reason he believes final death is around the corner is that his visions have ceased – whenever he attempts to look in the future he sees nothing but darkness.

Kira is a hard-working private investigator who has overcome a difficult past and now just focuses on doing her job so she can help support her sick sister and hopefully not support her lazy brother. When she is walking home in the early morning hours and hears an attack in a local warehouse she goes to the rescue of the handsome man strung up in chains who is being repeatedly knifed by a bunch of hoodlums.

As soon as she does, Mencheres’ plan to succumb to the group of ghouls for his own purposes immediately changes. This lovely human with her brave heart cannot suffer on his behalf, so when she is wounded he dispatches the attackers with ease and takes her to his home to recuperate. He is dismayed to discover that she is part of the small percentage of humans immune to memory manipulation and thinks it might be due to the intake of his blood which he used to heal her injuries. He tells her she needs to stay with him for the week to see if it will wear off and explains how no human not under the protection of a vampire can have knowledge of their world. Kira isn’t thrilled but she understands his power so she stays the required time, learning more about Mencheres in the process.

They are definitely attracted to one another but Kira is not going to act on it while essentially being held captive. Mencheres thinks it’s Murphy’s Law that he would find a beautiful woman right after his heinous wife is finally dead – finally freeing him to love someone else – and now that he sees his own death. After releasing Kira, he can’t help watching her to make sure she’s all right, setting up events so that her life is a little easier.

My favorite t-shirt from the Frostfans.com website which is a quote from Mencheres in Eternal Kiss of Darkness. “Bath toys – reserved for the oldest, most lethal vampires.”

Kira realizes that Mencheres is helping her in secret and her time with him has her thinking about some of the unsolved cases that seemed crazy in the past but might actually overlap with his world. Investigating one of them, she stumbles into a very dangerous situation with some low-life vampires who torture her into mentioning her connection with Mencheres. They call to check and Mencheres flies to her rescue, but not before a chain of events is set in motion to discredit him by a rival vampire. Mencheres ends up forced to make Kira a vampire and flee with her to safety, protecting her as best he can while also protecting his people from the vampire who wants all of Mencheres’ power and who will stop at nothing to get it.

Mencheres is an unbelievably sexy man (all those water scenes!!) who deep down is a die-hard romantic and one who had 900 years of celibacy forced upon him. He is astonished to find that not only is he falling for Kira, but she seems to see him – the person – behind all his power, to the point of getting testy and protective when people make insensitive comments about his former wife. Seeing the other vampire’s reactions (like that of Cat and Bones) to Mencheres with a woman is priceless and it makes your heart light to see this serious, powerful man finally happy with someone.

This Side of the Grave (#5 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, February 22, 2011)

At this point in the reading order, we go back to the Night Huntress series. In book five, This Side of the Grave trouble is brewing between the ghouls and vampires and as usual, Cat is in the middle. The leader of the ghouls is stirring up trouble claiming that vampires, particularly Cat, are bent on subjecting ghouls to their will – basically a rash of the ghoul equivalent of the KKK. Unprotected vampires are being attacked and killed, and Bones and Cat are investigating to figure what on earth is going on.

When the Queen of New Orleans Marie Laveau calls Cat to come visit her, Cat and Bones are understandably worried. The only vampire Marie had any loyalty to is dead and Cat and Bones were the ones responsible. Marie suspects that Cat’s powers stem from her unusual diet, a fact Cat has tried to keep a secret,and the Queen forces Cat to drink some of her blood, gifting her with some of her power.

This “gift” opens up a world of complications for Cat as she is now a magnet for ghosts everywhere. Luckily she at least has power over them, but it’s just an added problem to the bigger one of the possible ghoul uprising. Cat and Bones are still terrific in this book, and it’s good to see them finally able to at least not have the stress of any relationship problems on their plate.

One Grave at a Time (#6 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, August 31, 2011)

In the sixth and most recent full-length novel in the Night Huntress series, One Grave at a Time, it just goes to show you that living in the vampire world equates to not catching a break. Bones, as my husband would say, is clearly not Jewish. When he makes a comment at the start of the book about how great things are going, you know trouble is around the bend!

Cat’s resident ghost friend Fabian brings a beautiful female ghost with a serious problem to Cat and Bones for help. This lovely young woman was burned at the stake as a witch by the evil man who literally wrote the book on witch hunting hundreds of years ago, but there’s a major problem. The evil bastard practically responsible for the genocide of thousands of women accused as witches isn’t content just being dead like everyone else. He has used his misogyny to give him additional power, to the point that he is able to take corporeal form every Halloween and torture and kill three new victims.

Cat definitely comes from the “Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Murdering Bastard to Live” school of thought and Bones is willing to help her, but how do you kill someone who is already dead and who for 364 days of the year doesn’t have a body? Cat’s power over ghosts is dissipating as the influence of Marie Laveau’s blood leaves her, so they turn to ghost hunters for help.

Just to demonstrate there is no shortage of problems in their world, Cat’s now deceased uncle is hanging around as a ghost, not sure of why he is still trapped on this plane. A possible reason presents itself when Cat receives news from Tate that he has been removed as head of the paranormal hit squad and replaced by a scary, evil bureaucrat who is convinced that all vampires, Cat especially, are evil. This a-hole finds it more productive to concentrate his attentions on Cat rather than do his job, endangering lives and hindering the pursuit of the evil ghost.

Our rotten-to-the-core ghost not only finds his victims (he tortures them mentally weeks ahead of Halloween) but also repeatedly attacks Cat prior to the big showdown. The final battle against him is absolutely chilling and I imagine you might find yourself, as I did, literally in a muck sweat as Cat fights him by herself before help can arrive. I think this ghost was one of the best villains Frost has penned yet! Cat and Bones’ sex scene while flying also ranks up there among the Chapter 21s and Chapter 32s of her books. (These are chapters that represent some very hot and very famous scenes between Cat and Bones in previous books. Prepare to dump ice in your panties while you read them.)

“Home for the Holidays” novella in The Bite Before Christmas (#6.5 Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost (William Morrow, October 25, 2011)

Last Christmas, Jeaniene Frost was nice enough to give us a present in the form of “Home for the Holidays,” a novella published in the anthology The Bite Before Christmas. Cat is eager to throw a surprise birthday party for Bones right before Thanksgiving and she’s managed to gather a bunch of their friends to help celebrate. But on the night of the party, Bones’ friend and former lover Annette is brutally attacked while she waits for Bones’ birthday present to arrive in her hotel room, the present being a long-lost relative Bones didn’t know he had.

But this person’s arrival is making Bones and everyone else act strange, with the exception of Cat, Denise, and Ian, and together they must figure out what is going on…preferably before Cat must fulfill her promise to Bones that she would kill him if he ever endangered his people.

Gah! I can’t believe something that packs this much emotional punch is a novella. This is easily over 100 pages and Frost delivers her usual great writing, demonstrating a facility and intimacy with her characters that is unrivaled by other paranormal authors. It is terrifying to see favorite characters like Spade and Bones turned against the people they love with such ease and fabulous to see flippant Ian come to the fore the battle to win them back. (When are we getting Ian’s story in the Night Huntress World series? I’m dying here to know more about him!)

Once Burned (#1 Night Prince series) by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, June 26, 2012)

Some fans, upon hearing that Frost was going to begin a third related series centered on Vlad, became cranky. I read a lot of “Okay, Vlad’s fine, whatever, but what’s the big deal?” What’s the big deal? Are they nuts? He’s Vlad the freaking Impaler, that’s what, who happens to be good looking, can read minds, can set things on fire, oh, and did I mention he’s good looking?What is wrong with you people! Sheesh.

Vlad had me from the moment he brought Cat back to his castle during her temporary estrangement from Bones and asked if he could sleep in the bed with her just as a friend, because they were both lonely. Right then, I knew there was a lot more to this fiery despot than met the eye and Frost can take as many books as she likes to reveal him to me!

In Once Burned we not only get Vlad, but also get a fascinating heroine, and in fact the story is told from her perspective. Leila Dalton has traveled as a circus performer with her best friend and vampire Marty for years. It’s the perfect cover for her startling abilities. She was electrocuted by a downed power line when she was thirteen, ending her Olympic dreams of a gymnastics gold medal and leaving her with an electric current running through her body, particularly her right hand. But that hand does even more than shock anyone who touches it, it also shows Leila the person’s darkest secret from the past, and once she has a hold on their essence, she can see a person in the present and even see their future.

An inadvertant run-in at a bar has her preventing a woman from being killed and there’s been more than a little publicity about it, to the point where a group of vampires kidnaps her and takes her to a local hotel where they insist she touch a series of objects to test her ability. Considering that at first touch of an object involved in a murder causes Leila to relive their death, this is a bit harsh, but it’s not like she has much of a choice. Over and over she sees the same handsome, cruel vampire dispensing fire and death. Her kidnappers are elated as this man is who they are looking for, and she is asked to locate him in the future so they can track his movements.

Leila finds him with ease, but it’s in the present and more disconcertedly, he is aware that she is with him, watching. When he confronts her, she takes a chance and tells him her present situation, hoping he can help her escape. He does just that, killing her abductors and taking her back to his castle for protection. Most disconcerting to Leila is the fact that not only does she have a very physical response to this vampire, but he also has no problem touching her. With his ability to produce fire, her debilitating electric current is merely a tingle to him. Having avoided anyone’s touch for literally years, Leila is aghast with the possibilities, particularly because she can see a mile away that this man would be t-r-o-u-b-l-e for her previously untouched heart.

Vlad is the perfect contradiction. Leila sees all the cruelty he has performed in the course of his life, but because of her gift, also sees his personal pain and sense of loss over the death of his wife and son. His care and tenderness toward her is another facet of this confusing personality and brave Leila is able to admit to herself that she is falling in love with Vlad while acknowledging the fact that this is man who has stated he is incapable of love.

“The way he looked at me – possessive, passionate, and unrepentant – made gooseflesh ripple over me. This complex and infamously lethal man was now my lover; a relationship I’d chosen of my own free will. Part of me wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into while the rest didn’t care.”

Have I mentioned how hot Vlad is? A virgin like Leila doesn’t stand a chance from a man who has lines like “‘If I didn’t want you so much,’ he said in a deadly purr, ‘I’d let you keep fucking me with your gaze, but you make me impatient.'” Um, waiter? Cold drink over here?

I’m sure you can discern from my enthusiasm for each of these books that this is a series unmatched by any other – remember, I truly believe with all my reading (and I’ve read 90% of what’s on that Goodreads vampire books list) that Frost’s Night Huntress world is the BEST vampire series on the market. In a world of so-so paranormal and urban fantasy, her consistency and quality of writing, her ability to build a world we almost wish we lived in, her creation of characters who breathe as much as the person sitting next to you, is utterly unrivaled. These are books I’m happy to pay full price for and ones I reread every few months just from the sheer enjoyment of journey she takes me on. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!

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