Tag Archives: Meljean Brook

Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Sunday, March 23, 2014

23 Mar

Sorry to have been away so long. We have a lot to catch up on!

Upcoming Books and New Releases

 Anyone who reads this blog knows my undying admiration for Nalini Singh, who has captivated me with both her amazing Guild Hunter series (for urban fantasy or angel fans) as well as the fabulous Psy-Changeling series, which features the SnowDancer Wolves and DarkRiver Leopards and the humans and Psy who interact with them as the world inches closer to a major change. Now Whisper of Sin, a terrific novella that is one of the prequels in the Psy-Changeling series, is available as a stand alone novella for only $2.99 as of late February. Previously only published in the Burning Up anthology (published in 2010 and containing a great novella from Meljean Brook from her Iron Seas steampunk series), this novella tells the story of high-ranked soldier Emmett and how he helps rescue a human in San Francisco’s Chinatown only to realize that she is his mate.

Bella Andre‘s Sullivan series fans will want to make sure that the latest volume of the Sullivans series, Just To Be With You, made it to their mailbox or ereader on March 5th (and if it didn’t, get on it!). Can you believe it’s the 12th book in this hit series? These Seattle Sullivans are just as compelling as their California cousins, with the jaded, successful CEO of Sullivan Investments, Ian Sullivan, about to fall for the gorgeous actress, Tatiana Landon. She’s been waiting for a strong love like this, but with Ian’s history of failed relationships, nothing is going to be easy about this happily ever after.

Donna Grant knows her Highlanders, which is probably one of the reasons she’s begun a new novella series, Rogues of Scotland (love the name). First up is The Craving, which came out on March 6th and features a woman who retreats to her family home in order to mend a betrayed heart, only to find a man trapped by a woman and a gypsy curse in a mirror. Trusting and loving the woman who finds him will take a leap of faith he’s not sure he can give, but it might be the only way to set them both free.

Historical romance writer Katharine Ashe just came out with her first book in a new (self-published?) Regency series, My Lady, My Lord, on March 10th and it looks wonderful. When an intelligent book reading lady is forced to give the time of day to her libertine neighbor, sparks are sure to fly, particularly since he adores torturing her as much as watching fast horses at the races. At only $2.99 for over 300 pages, Ashe fans have quite a bit to rub their hands in glee about.

Kit Rocha‘s unbelievably good erotic dystopian Beyond series finally added Beyond Jealousy this week, and weren’t we all waiting with baited breath? Tattoo artist and former gigilo Ace has wanted Rachel from the moment she left her comfortable, sheltered life and became an O’Kane to settle her father’s debt, but all he’s done is hurt her, especially after he became a couple with a man she had tried a relationship with, the resident hero and former special ops soldier, Cruz. Neither Cruz nor Ace have ever stopped loving Rachel so when the opportunity presents itself for all three of them to come together, the results are combustible, particularly in trying to work through everyone’s emotional baggage while a major turf war erupts in the sector.

We all know what a fangirl I am for anything written by Jennifer Ashley and I have big circles on my calendar for every installment of her Shifters Unbound series. Well, Feral Heat, Jace and Deni’s story, came out this week and it did NOT disappoint! This novella is right between the two full-length novels, Tiger Magic and the upcoming Wild Wolf (April 1st cannot get here soon enough), and is just as phenomenal as every other book in the series. It’s a hot, sexy love story that still manages to propel her fascinating story arc of the shifters attempting to discover how to rid themselves of the collars that keep them second class citizens. This author does not know how to write a mediocre book and I for one applaud her high standards!! Did I also mention this outstanding volume is only $1.99 and it’s not a short novella, but a meaty one equaling a lot of category romance novels. Great writing and an awesome value – I heart Jennifer Ashley!

Book seven of Eloisa James‘ Desperate Duchesses series will come out on March 25th, and Three Weeks With Lady X looks like a keeper. A bastard son of a duke needs to marry a woman with a serious reputation and he turns to Lady Xenobia India, an independent woman who quickly becomes the focus of his efforts. But this woman is no wallflower to go into a marriage of convenience, and the gentleman in question finds he must give everything to get everything if she’s to agree to his terms. Keep in mind if you pre-order this puppy and provide proof of your purchase with a picture of a receipt or a screenshot of your browser screen confirming your purchase, James is having a contest for a lucky reader to get special bonus content sent directly from her!

Also out on March 25th is the next book in Nora Roberts‘ latest trilogy, The Cousins O’Dwyer, Shadow Spell. This fantastic series has a strong paranormal story arc linking an Irish brother and sister and their American cousin to their long ago Irish ancestors. With evil sorcerers, plenty of magic and an abundance of animal familiars set in the Irish countryside, Roberts’ fans get to see this writer in her element once more. Don’t worry about having to wait too long for the final volume. The third book, Blood Magick, will be out on November 4th and is already available for pre-order.

March 25th is clearly a big day for romance, since Lori Foster’s next book in her Love Undercover series, Dash of Peril, also debuts. This series is outstanding, and I for one am eager to see construction business owner Dash help his brother’s frosty lieutenant take down nefarious human traffickers with a little heat on the side. Mrrrrooowww. If you haven’t yet indulged in this series, get your butt in gear as there are sexy alpha males galore as well as beautiful woman who inspire fierce protectiveness and love in the worst of circumstances. So good!!

It’s never too early to begin looking at the spring releases (and pre-ordering them to lock in great prices). Elle Kennedy has an addition to her Killer Instincts series coming down the pike on April 1st, and fans of “mercenaries with a heart” stories will want to take note of Midnight Pursuits. The fourth in this highly rated series has a rookie to the group assigned to assist a loner deep in Eastern Europe on a mission gone horribly wrong. While she usually has no use for working with someone, this former Marine has a skill set that she can definitely use…and the heat between them seems to have the added bonus of warming her cold heart.

In addition to the Cousin’s O’Dwyer paranormal novel mentioned above, Nora Roberts also has one of her romantic suspense novels, this one entitled The Collector, due out in hardcover on April 15th. When a professional apartment sitter is the sole witness to a heinous crime, the brother of the main suspect seeks her help as he knows his sibling could not possibly be responsible. The two are drawn closer as they come closer to discovering the actual perpetrator, hopefully before it’s too late.

Historical romance author Amanda Quick announced she will be publishing a stand alone novel, Otherwise Engaged on April 22nd, featuring her usual brand of bold heroine (this one a world traveler) who finds herself the target of a madmen obsessed by her name being linked to that of a gentleman scientist. That the man in question is also a spy for the crown thickens the plot and he has no intention of her reputation suffering – or of the fiery beauty getting hurt – due to his actions.

Paranormal doyenne Christine Feehan will be publishing the third book of her Sisters of the Heart series (a spin off grouping that takes place in the same town as the Drake Sisters books), Air Boundon May 27th. Each book focuses on one of six women who have come together as part of a special grief support group for women who have lost someone to violent crime. The heroine of this book not only suffered with her paranormal ability by growing up in a special government facility, but also recently lost her mother at the hands of a murderer. Kidnapped and aboard a ship, she finds herself at the mercy of an intriguing captor, one who intended to use her for his own purposes, only to find himself drawn to her instead.

Maya Banks‘ KGI series fans need to circle June 24th on their calendar as that is the publication date for the next novel in this wildly successful series, When Day Breaks. When a wounded and scarred Afghanistan veteran is assigned to protect a stunning model with a violent stalker, no one could have predicted that these two people would find something in common. But serious heat and attraction exists and neither party is about to let a murderous stalker get in the way.

The husband-and-wife writing team of Ilona Andrews have been blogging for months about a paranormal romance they have been working on for Avon Publishing – and the link is finally live! The official name is Burn For Me and it will be the first of their Hidden Legacy trilogy which the authors have confessed is more like a paranormal political thriller versus the paranormal heroic journey/police procedural of the Kate Daniels series (which is phenomenal). As the only thing I wish for in the Kate Daniels series is a little more sexy times between Kate and Curran, I was thrilled to hear that the heat level is a bit more “fan yourself” in this upcoming work. The only bad news? We’ll have to wait until October 28th for it to come out, but with the current ebook price at a mere $4.99 for almost 400 pages, it’s worth pre-ordering now in case the price raises a little closer to the fall.

Contests and Giveaways

Paranormal author Robin D. Owens is embarking on an urban fantasy series starring a woman who can see ghosts and the sheriff who finds himself drawn into her life, all with a Western setting. The aptly named Ghost Seer (series with the same name) is debuting on April 1st and from now until March 24th, you can enter a contest on Goodreads to win a copy of the book. With the second book due out in early September, fans of instant gratification won’t have long to wait to see how this storyline develops.

You can win a signed copy of the first book in historical romance writer Elizabeth Hoyt‘s Prince series, The Raven Prince, which came out in both in 2006 and then was reissued under a new (and gorgeous) cover in 2012. When a widow in dire financial straits is almost mowed down by a aristocrat in desperate need of a secretary, problems for everyone seem solved, except that the Earl’s newest secretary takes exception at his decision to visit a brothel to assuage his “manly” needs…and so she decides to be a mystery woman who will take care of his every wish, in and out of the study. Enter before March 31st to win your autographed copy!

Category romance fans who enjoy the secret baby trope will definitely want to put Andrea Laurence‘s His Lover’s Little Secret (a Harlequin Desire novel out on April 1st) on their to-read list. When a millionaire has a chance run in with the lover he never forgot, he can do the math and realizes her little son is his child – and he’s not about to let either of them go. But while the mother of his son might be willing to let him into their life, she’s not about to give into his bossy ways and let him into her heart again. Enter by March 31st for a chance to win a copy.

Fun Stuff

If you are looking for a fun activity for a bachelorette party or your best friends’ sleepover, look no further than Pornogami: A Guide to the Ancient Art of Paper-Folding for Adults. Actually written by a master of the art of origami, this guide takes a beginner through making fun looking spermatozoa all the way to a realistic vajayjay. Do I hear a drinking game coming out of this book? You bet I do.

Allison Yates at the Kinsey Confidential blog has an intriguing post about the recent startling mannequins which appeared in the American Apparel stores on Valentine’s Day who clearly were sporting bushy pubic hair amidst all their provocative underwear. The rubbernecking by passers-by was purportedly astonishing (and these are jaded New Yorkers we are talking about) but Yates dissects some fascinating trends and insights regarding our culture’s view of sexuality and body hair.

Librarian and romance lover Amy Alessio put up a wonderful article in honor of St. Patrick’s Day on the Romance University blog featuring some perennial favorite books featuring Ireland (or sexy Irish heroes and heroines). From J. D. Robb’s Roarke to Mary Jo Putney’s Irish setting in Sometimes a Rogue, she’s picked some winners worth reading.

I’m a big fan of the Etsy shop, Spunky Fluff, who produces amazing signs with heart-inspiring sayings to adorn your walls. Whether it’s “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” or “Suck It Up Buttercup” these wall adornments always seem to contain heart and humor. With the majority of stock ranging between $40 to $60 and around 12 x 18 inches, these signs come in colors to match any decor and are truly unique items that will inspire a smile and a sigh each day.

Great Deals

There are a lot of good boxed sets and there are a LOT of “meh” boxed sets, but this one looks fabulous! Fated Mates: The Alpha Shifter Boxed Set offers readers twelve shifter books by authors such as Adriana Hunter, Georgette St. Clair and Eve Langlais among others – for only $.99! Just out on March 4th, the description page warns that the special price is for a limited time (and then it will go to $9.99, still a bargain) so get it at the special price while it lasts.

Carrie Ann Ryan has got a terrific book bundle for the first three books in her Dante’s Circle series, featuring paranormal creatures who find their future in the form of humans with a bit of the otherwordly in them. Usually these books go for $3.99 each, but you can get over 650 pages of the three novels together for only $2.99 right now. Yowza! Grab it before the fourth book, Tangled Innocence, comes out in April.

Tawny Weber‘s fun short, Rules of Engagement, is only $.99 and it’s a good example of the great brand of military hero you get when signing on board for a Weber romance. When a woman who has always crushed on her brother’s best friend finds herself being propositioned for hot sex in a moonlight garden she says, “yes!” knowing she’s not his type. While the hero has always steered clear of the feisty due to the sister card and the fact that she’s nothing like the petite, little woman types he’s preferred in the past, he’s a little astonished to discover what his “rules of engagement” have been designed to discover – the perfect woman for him – might have been all wrong all this time.

Six well-known romantic suspense authors – Elisabeth Naughton, Alexandra Ivy, Cynthia Eden, Laura Wright, Katie Reus, and Joan Swan – have banded together to produce the Sinful Seconds Boxed Set (meant to follow their other highly successful set, Wicked Firsts). Out on St. Patrick’s Day, you’re the one who will feel lucky reading quality books from these best-selling authors, it’s only $2.99 (and the preceding boxed set has been marked down to a mere $.99) so read the descriptions and see if these tempting novels should be in your ereader.

Fans of romantic suspense (particularly ones who enjoy the occasional paranormal element) will want to pre-order the great bargain, Dangerous Dozen Romantic Suspense Box Set while it’s only $.99 for twelve books by authors like Paige Tyler, Maureen Child, Tawny Weber, Nina Bruhns, and Charity Pineiro among others. Nothing like getting 3300 pages (no, that is not a typo) for this kind of bargain, right? Undercover cops, investigative reporters and determined shifters pepper these pages, but that price seems to have a deadline, so I plan on ordering this long before its April 7th release date and encourage you to do the same!

That’s it for this week. Happy reading! 🙂

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 1, 2013

1 Dec

Upcoming Books and New Releases

For romance readers who can’t get enough of hot boxers and MMA fighters, I strongly suggest you run (don’t walk) to Abby NilesLove to the Extreme series. The second book, Fighting Love, is due out on December 31st (pre-ordered, woohoo!) and features former Middleweight champion and ladies man Tommy “Lightening” Sparks who not only just lost his title, but also his home when it burned down. Forced to move in with his best friend since they were children, vet Julie Rogers, he wakes up when Julie starts sniffing around another fighter, realizing she’s actually an unbelieveably desirable woman…and he suddenly has something worth fighting for. To make this an even more delicious announcement, Abby Niles is having a terrific $100 gift card to the bookseller of your choice giveway on her blog. Enter before January 3rd.

Paula Altenburg just released the next installment of her Demon Outlaws series, Black Widow Demon, the story of a half-demon woman escaping her fundamentalist stepfather only to embark on a mission of revenge. An intense mortal stranger known as Blade is on his own path to redemption and decides to help her reach a friend who can help her, while trying to persuade her to release her vendetta, but their journey reveals that both their futures are about to change. Publisher Entangled is also running a giveaway over the next month, offering five $10 Amazon or B&N gift cards to winners, so fill out the Rafflecopter entry when adding this book to your to-read list.

It’s no secret that I adore Lauren Dane’s writing, so I was thrilled to see that she’s partnered with author Megan Hart to publish a duology (is that what you call an anthology with two stories?) on December 3rd entitled There All Along. The stories sound amazing, but even more intriguing that (despite the cover – not that I’m complaining) these stories are set in futuristic worlds. Considering Dane nailed science fiction romance in her jaw-droppingly awesome Federation Chronicles series, I feel like I’m in good hands. As usual.

Fans of the computer geek turned hunky hero will want to check out Cat Johnson‘s latest reissue from her Red, Hot & Blue series, Matt, which just came out on November 26th. The 11th book in this successful series, Matt focuses on Matt Coleman, certified genius and the dependable computer guy for Task Force Zeta. Having watched so many of team find love and happiness, he’s even more disgusted that he never goes on assignment. But when a chance comes for him to head to Dubai, and in the company of the only female agent on the task force Samantha Coleman, needed to infiltrate a modern-day harem to ferret out a terrorist. Things are going to get hot in the desert with this unlikely pairing as they discover they are more than compatible on assignment – and in the bedroom.

I adore Lisa Marie Rice and her various suspense series, so I was thrilled to see that she has packaged her Dangerous series in a boxed set. Ignore the Amazon list that says its 100 pages – that’s not even possible considering the length of each book. Three kickbutt books – one about a military operative who has dreamt of the wealthy young woman who he loved as a homeless boy, another about an agent who feigns interest in a small town librarian who is friends with a deadly target only to discover his interest is very real, and finally (my favorite) a deadly arms dealer who fall first in love with an artist’s work only to then fall for the artist herself even though he puts in her mortal danger by doing so – for $11.04 is completely worth it. If you haven’t had a chance to try this great series from Rice, take this opportunity to do so.

Jill Shalvis can always be counted upon to give us a great Christmas novella, and she’s leading off a terrific anthology – A Christmas to Remember – along with Kristen Ashley, Hope Ramsay, Molly Cannon, and Marilyn Pappano. Filled with small town goodness, sexy firefighters and doctors, war widows, and holiday magic, this 225+ page compilation by Forever Yours publishing is only $1.99 right now and will come out on December 3rd, so get your copy ASAP.

New author Jamie Wyman just debuted her newest book, Wild Card, via Entangled Publishing, this past week, and it’s got some of my favorite elements – troublesome gods and goddesses interfering in people’s lives. Catherine Sharp’s soul has been won by the Greek Goddess of Discord and while she didn’t enjoy her previous dead end job, weird tasks for her new mistress aren’t exactly a cake walk. When Coyote, the Native American trickster god claims to have won her in a poker game, Cat has enough and enlists a satryr, Marius, with his own bone to pick with the goddess. Together they might be able to reclaim their lives and destiny, if their growing feelings for one another don’t complicate the situation. Fans of Think Geek, the store that is a mecca for the unashamedly nerdy, will be thrilled to know that Entangled even has a contest over the next month for a gift card to that store and custom poker chips to celebrate this debut paranormal romance novel.

Steampunk goddess Meljean Brook just announced that her wonderful novellas, The Blushing Bounder and Wrecked, both part of her enormously successful Iron Seas series, are now available as stand alone books, for those fans who were reluctant to purchase them in anthology form bundled with the work of other authors. Gorgeous covers and the price of $.99  and $1.99 respectively make these books a steal.

Giveaways

Twins are vital to plenty of romance novels, including historical romance writer Victoria Morgan whose latest novel, The Heart of a Duke, comes out on December 3rd. Lady Julia Chandler’s patience is wearing thin as the Duke of Bedford is taking forever to propose, so she decides to take the reins in hand and corner him with a kiss to hasten things along. What she doesn’t take into account is that the Duke’s twin brother has returned after ten years due to a note that told him to come home and claim his destiny and a subsequent fire that almost took his life. Something is afoot and his evil brother might be behind it, but in addition to solving the mystery he know has to contend with a fascination with the bold woman who deserves more than the Duke of Bedford. Enter the Goodreads giveaway before December 3rd for a chance to win!

Coastal Romance blogger Jenny Schwartz (and that’s the coast of Australia, FYI) is having a Christmas Blog Hop giveaway until December 24th, where you could win a $100 gift card to the ebookseller of your choice and 26 ebooks from this writing group’s authors. Enter by filling out the Rafflecopter entry on the website and sit back with your fingers crossed that you will get an extra wonderful holiday present this season!

In what sounds like a tantalizing new science fiction/military suspense series, The D.I.R.E. Agency, new author Joni Hahn is publishing the first book, Agent I1: Tristan, a second generation Navy SEAL who just finished getting some scientific enhancements to his body (like transportation and invisibility). His ramped up ability means it’s even more important to steer clear of relationships, but he can’t help coming to the aid of one of his fellow agents when he asks him to help take out his sister’s fiancee. Rachel Monroe cannot believe that her brother has ruined her plan to help her mother when he asked his friend to transport her (seriously?!) to a remote island. Now not only is she stuck with a sexy agent when that job description is literally the last one she’d consider when falling for someone. It may be too late for both of them, however… With this book due out on December 16th, interested science fiction romance fans might want to consider entering the Goodreads giveaway before December 8th to see if they can win a copy.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Sara Ramsey added a fourth book to her Muses of Mayfair series, The Earl Who Played with Fire, and if you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, you can enter for a chance to win it on the Goodreads giveaway. Demure Prudence Etchingham leads quite the double life – not only is smitten with her best friend’s brother, but she’s also responsible for some of the top forgeries around London, created so she can raise enough money to avoid marriage since she can’t have the man she wants. Alex Staunton, the wealthy Earl of Staunton, has managed to hide his feelings for his sister’s best friend as his family suffers from a curse that prevents them from marrying the woman of his dreams. When an enemy takes an interest in Prudence, Alex realizes he must figure out a way to break the curse and save the woman he loves. Be sure to fill out the entry form prior to December 5th for your chance to win.

It’s impossible not to love Jill ShalvisAnimal Magnetism series (well, I guess you could not love if you disliked humor, adorable animals, brave heroines, or hot former military men, but that’s your business, you poor sap), but if for some reason you haven’t yet bought the latest book in the series, Rumor Has It, there is a Goodreads giveaway where you can win a copy if you apply prior to December 5th. You’ll want to read the story of returning soldier Griffin Reid, returning home having not told his friends and family about the career ending head injury he suffered overseas. His sister’s best friend, the quirky and gorgeous Kate Evans, not only manages to ride herd on a bunch of fourth graders each day but she takes care of her father and difficult siblings. She wants something just for her and nothing could fit that bill more than sexy times with Griffin, who she has lusted after for years. Although he knows Kate doesn’t do casual and that’s all Griffin does, he can’t help playing with fire, and soon they both realize this situation is a lot more complicated than they imagined.

Fun Stuff

Do you remember my telling you about Oyster, the Netflix-like subscription source that offers a ton of books (including romance novels) to readers? That company is offering gift subscriptions for people you love who are using Apple devices (remember they need to run OS 7 for the best clarity) in 1, 3, 6, or 12 month increments (or you can choose your own number of months). You can either have the gift notification emailed to your recipient or it looks like you can have something to put in your loved one’s stocking, but either way, you’re giving them over 100,000 books for the holiday. Pretty sweet!

As the year winds to a close, best of lists are bound to pop up. For paranormal romance lovers, I can heartily recommend taking a look at Vampire Book Club’s Best of 2013 list – they have hit every wonderful book that came out this year and would be a great guide to insure you didn’t miss something spectacular (because there’s a LOT of spectacular on there!).

Audiobooks lovers are always picky about headphones, particularly if they enjoy their recorded books while exercising. LG is coming out with a sleek set of headphones in the next couple of weeks, their Tone Ultra line, which connects to your device via Bluetooth, so no more annoying, bouncing (or too short) cable going to your phone or MP3 player. With easy to use volume controls and a microphone on the stable band that goes around your neck, you can actually switch quickly from listening to your latest romance novel to answering a phone call.

While fans of Nora Roberts have usually heard about how she wrote her first book after being snowed in with her two very young sons in 1979, it’s fascinating to hear about how her previous work and her many creative endeavors left her unsatisfied until she tried writing. Take a look at The Popular Romance Project’s 5 minute interview with this funny, prolific author and enjoy the insight into her life.

Ereader fans know that there is nothing more frustrating than being out of charge when you are right in the middle of a great book with no outlet in sight! For just those moments, Mimoco offers adorable, fun batteries which can plug in to give extra life to your smartphones or tablets (and they come with the cables you need to connect to all major devices including Apple products). Made to look like crayons, hot dogs or spray paint cans, these fun additional power sources are around 3.5 inches tall, less than an inch in diameter, and charge via your USB port. At around $30, this seems like fun added insurance against bookus interruptus and one easily carried in a purse or pocket.

Great Deals

J.D. Robb fans will want to snag the novella Midnight in Death, the eighth installment of that author’s In Death series starring Eve Dallas (and there are over thirty seven books and numerous novellas to enjoy in this hugely popular mystery/suspense series). This book not only details Eve and her husband Roarke’s rather troubled holiday (murderers do not respect Christmas) but is also currently available for free for the Kindle edition on Amazon.

Kerrelyn Sparks is universally adored for her Love at Stake series – a fifteen plus book series still going strong since its start in 2005 – and you know have a chance to see how it all began. Right now, the first book in the series, How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire, is on sale for $1.99 for the Kindle edition. A desperate vampire with a broken fang and a human dentist who is not a fan of the sight of blood is quite a pair, particularly after the dentist in question is the target of a hit by the Russian mafia for having witnessed something she shouldn’t.

In a retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew (or Kiss Me Kate for you musical fans), historical romance author Liana LeFey‘s To Make a Match, the third and most recent addition to her A Scandal in London series, Lady Victoria Lennox desperately wants to have a husband and family of her own, but her difficult older sister Amelia has to marry first. Victoria decides to hasten things along but arranging a scandal with Lord Julius Cavendish but Julius is way more interested in the sister marking the arrangements rather than the stubborn older one. He arranges for his friend, Lord Withington to take on that particular dragon as a decoy suitor, but it turns out Withington actually likes the woman! This comedy of errors is going to unravel and the question is, will there be a happily ever after for these players? On sale for $1.99 at Amazon right now.

My admiration for Tessa Bailey and her Line of Duty series is well known, particularly with the incredible addition of Asking for Trouble, the fourth novel in that outstanding group of books which just came out this past Monday. If you haven’t yet sampled this hot collection (it is published by Entangled’s Brazen line after all), you have a great opportunity to try it with the first book in the series, Protecting What’s His, discounted to only $.99. A hot dominant cop and the sexy young neighbor on the run who steals his heart is worth not just a read, but a subsequent re-read (I think I’m up to about six times, now). Get it!

christmas-214228_150On a personal note, I want to let everyone know that I’m planning on doing my usual December Read-a-Thon this year where I publish a review each day on a holiday themed book or novella. I’ll still publish the occasional non-holiday book (there are some really good ones coming out after all!), but hopefully I’ll be able to give you 31 days of holiday romance goodness as my present to you.

Happy reading this week!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week Ending September 29th

29 Sep

Upcoming and Recently Published Books

Just in time for ramping up the creepy factor for Halloween is the latest in Heather Graham’s long-running Krewe of Hunters paranormal series, The Night Is Forever. Featuring an FBI paranormal investigator team (with unusual backgrounds and abilities), this installment features a woman who fears that a Civil War ghost is somehow responsible for the recent death of founder of the animal therapy facility where she works. Calling on her cousin’s team not only brings help but the possibility of something much more with one of the men trying to help her, if they can both survive the threat in the dark.

Fans of Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series (a group of novels which will appeal to fantasy, steampunk/gaslight, and historical fiction readers alike) will be elated to know that she’s publishing a short story in early November, Entwined, starring a noble roped into standing in for his good-looking brother when it comes to writing to his reluctant noble fiancee. Naturally the lovely but stubborn lady in question begins to fall for the letter-writer, but can a happily ever after magically find it’s way to them? At only $.99, this could very easily be in the “great deals” section, so pre-order your copy prior to the debut on November 5th.

Fans of Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series who were reluctant to buy the Burning Up anthology which included her fantastic novella, Here There Be Monsters, will be happy to note that it’s now available as a standalone as of October 1st, and for the bargain price of $2.99! This is one of the sweetest stories in the series, starring a red-haired blacksmith on the run from a mad pirate who would do anything to possess her, including play a very patient game until she comes to him. Hot, sexy, and oh-so-emotional, this is exactly what fans of Brooks expect (and love) about her writing!

Stephanie Laurens, the doyenne of Regency romance, has finally brought her website into the 21st century, with not only a modern look, but also an interactive Cynster family tree (hover over the marriage line of a couple and ALL the children pop up!). This is all just in time for her debut medieval novel, Desire’s Prize, coming out on October 21st, under the penname, M.S. Laurens. Despite the looming release date, the book is only as of today available for pre-order on iBooks (which seems baffling) and the book isn’t even listed on her Goodreads account yet. While we all shake our head over Laurens’ continuing struggle with social media (it’s a good thing her reputation allows for her fans seeking her out), it was wonderful to hear that she will be putting out an unrelated Regency novella in a duo anthology with Alison DeLaine, The Trouble With Virtue (December 1, 2013) as well as gearing up for the 2014 release of the next Barnaby Adair novel, The Masterful Mr. Montague. Yes, THAT Montague, the ever-elusive but capable Cynster man of business. I cannot wait to read his story (particularly if a few of my favorite Cynsters can drop in).

Contests and Giveaways

Historical Romance author Christina Brooke gives us a jaded, dissipated rake back from the dead and a schoolteacher who wants to prove to society that she can have a respectable season despite her family in the fourth book in the Ministry of Marriage series, London’s Last True Scoundrel. This book was released at the end of June, but if you’re curious enter the Goodreads giveaway by October 1st to see if you can get a copy.

In one of the most fun giveaways I’ve seen in awhile, talented romance author Tawna Fenske is promoting her upcoming novella, The Great Panty Caper, by asking people to take a picture of the panty thief in their life (my cats have so got this covered) and post it to various social media with the hashtag #pantycaper. The winner will get a $50 gift card to Victoria’s Secret (you have to replace those panties, after all!), awarded October 7th, with the novella released the following day. While you’re waiting, do yourself a favor and read Fenske’s Eat Play Lust in the meantime.

The Book Pushers blog is cleaning their shelves again and have grouped fabulous books by category. Stop over and leave a comment about which set would be your preference if your comment gets picked as a winner!

Foreplay, the first book in the Ivy Chronicles by Sophie Jordan, has the great erotic trope of an inexperienced woman who wants someone close to hear but goes out to find a sexy guy to teach her the ropes in bed – a guy she ends up falling for. If I don’t win this Goodreads giveaway ending October 1st, this one is on my “to buy” pile, for sure.

Fun Stuff

It’s not a secret how much I adore Lori Foster’s writing, but do you know about all the great free stuff she has available on her website? You can download, rippled abs wallpaper *fans self*, puzzles and crosswords based on her books (now that’s a book quiz I can recommend), send her a SASE for free bookmarks and magnets, or even arrange to have her autograph your ebook!

Fans of Bella Andre (and Lord knows I am a fan of her Sullivan series in a big way) need to check out the recent article from Publisher’s Weekly in which Andre lists her picks for the top 10 best romance books – of all time! It was no surprise to me to see my taste gelling with her, particularly with such wonderful classics as Nora Roberts’ Ardmore series, and more recent offerings like Sarah Maclean’s Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. The only thing I disagreed with was that none of her books were on this list!! Andre fans need to also make sure they’ve ordered her Sullivan Christmas novel, Kissing Under the Mistletoe, which just came out September 24th.

Pregnant women are sexy, seriously! One of my favorite new sites, Lovehoney (a British company), has a wonderful article detailing how pregnant women can enjoy flaunting their stuff with practical but pretty lingerie that flatters their expanding waistline. Forward it to the wonderful pregnant women in your life to let them know that the fun of lingerie does not have to be put aside for the next few months. (And remember that the second semester often has sex drives peaking for pregnant women!)

Great Deals

Tawny Weber’s fantastic Harlequin Blaze novel, A SEAL’s Seduction, is currently free on Amazon for the ebook version. Lovers of books with a military hero (particularly when the heroine is a brainy, red-haired scientist) will not be disappointed by this wonderful book!

Regency romance fans will want to take note that Julia Quinn’s Just Like Heaven (the first book in the Smythe-Smith Quartet) is on sale in ebook form for only $1.99. Leave it to this author to make a bad violinist with her eye set on an unattainable bachelor not realize that love comes in the form of her good-looking, twisted-ankle-prone guardian.

If you feel like some light comedy with a paranormal twist, Jana DeLeon’s Trouble in Mudbug – a tale of a Southern woman who thinks her life has just gotten better with her difficult mother-in-law’s death only to find she’s now haunting her – might be just what you need. Yes, there’s a romance element (as well as mystery) and lots of twists and turns, with plenty of laughs to boot. And it’s free in ebook form on Amazon!

Romantic Suspense readers are more then familiar with the name Maggie Shayne and her reputation for excellent, emotional books that have your heart pounding. Her 2001 release, Gingerbread Man, is now available for free on Amazon, and it’s worth a look if you haven’t get sampled Shayne’s writing. The story of a world-weary detective just off a brutal child murder and a woman who still battles her memories of her baby sister’s kidnapping will have you getting in quite the creepy October mood.

That’s the round up for this week, everyone. Happy Reading!! 🙂

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

15 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

Moon Awakening – Book 1 (Lachlan and Emily)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moon Craving – Book 2 (Talorc and Abigail)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moon Burning – Book 3 (Barr and Sabrine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts on the Children of the Moon Series

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

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

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

Enthralled Anthology Adds Great Novella to Iron Seas Series…and Much More

6 Jul

Enthralled by Lora Leigh, Alyssa Day, Meljean Brook and Lucy Monroe (Berkley, July 2, 2013)

Based on the image I clearly chose to lead this post with, as well as the fact that I can’t not blog about additions to the Iron Seas series, which readers know I consider the best steampunk writing currently published, it’s rather obvious which novella propelled me to pre-order the Enthralled anthology the moment it became available on Amazon.

That said, I was thrilled to discover that the list price – which I will always pay for a Meljean Brook book – was more than fair after I cheerfully had devoured each story in the volume. I had read Lora Leigh before and enjoyed her Breed series so she was no surprise, but consider me a newly minted fan of Alyssa Day and Lucy Monroe!

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Lora Leigh – “The Devil’s Due” (Breeds #28)

Tempting the Beast (Breeds #1) by Lora Leigh (Ellora’s Cave, 2008)

Can you believe that Lora Leigh’s Breeds series has had 28 installments? God love this woman and her ability to create romance and intrigue around science gone awry. To be honest, the Breeds series books have often proven a little too much for me. The sex is blazingly hot, but the heroes are usually too alpha – bordering on asshole level of alpha – with their animal counterparts so close to the surface as to dominate much of their decision-making. Heroines run the gamut from strong women to wishy-washy vacillators, but the most interesting aspects of the stories come from the network of villains inhabiting the labs that knowingly created and tortured these people. As the series has progressed, they’ve gone from hidden entities to a group of people enjoying nation status similar to that of Native Americans tribes, so there is no an overlay of government interest which helps propel story lines.

Gorgeous Devil has a reputation like the angel of death (to see him is to know that you are about to die) yet one glimpse of sixteen year old Katie and he knows she’s his mate. Unfortunately for everyone, the red-headed and talented Katie is a special Breed, one whose genetics do not kick in until she is in her early twenties. She reads as human, yet years later gets taken to a human hospital because she’s experiencing a 107 degree fever with her Breed qualities emerging. This fact inspires a conniption by the paranoid government in Ireland and also puts her between the sight lines of crazy anti-Breed proponents. Feeling betrayed by her parents, who knew her secret yet chose not to tell her, she agrees to go to the United States to live in the Navajo compound with other shifters, some of whom Katie considers friends. That the stunning man known as Devil is around, clearly avoiding her, is bound to lead to not only a confrontation but the acknowledgment of the unbelievable desire Katie feels whenever she is around him.

Honestly, this novella posed more questions than it answered, which is clever on the part of Leigh who will undoubtedly address the “lost but still living fathers” issue in a full-length novel. Even with my not having read every Breed book to date, this story was an enjoyable read with compelling characters and a quick-moving plot filled with intrigue.

Alyssa Day – “The Curse Of The Black Swan” (League Of The Black Swan #1.5)

The Cursed (League of the Black Swan #1) by Alyssa Day (Berkley, May 7, 2013)

While the title of this novella might seem like a ballet romance gone very, very wrong, in actuality Day’s writing felt like one of the reinterpreted fairy tales I enjoy, maybe with a dash of urban fantasy thrown in. This makes perfect sense since the League of the Black Swan series is categorized under urban fantasy and has all the elements necessary – a secret area of Manhattan (known as Bordertown) dedicated to shifters, demons and fae, dark magic and intentions looming around every corner, and naturally a good/evil battle that threatens to bring the world down around everyone’s ears. In other words, awesome!

This novella begins with a beautifully written prologue detailing a curse brought about by the moon. A lovely young woman, in a desperate effort to save herself from a marauding leader bent on her submission, sends a plea to the sun and moon to which she sings daily. The moon chooses to save her, but exacts the payment of every third night the woman turns into a black swan and must sing all night long to the moon, with each eldest daughter of her line taking over the duty.

This is not a recipe for happiness. Brynn has made a good name for herself with her pet grooming business in Bordertown, but has stayed far, far away from any man that she might deem really tempting. She feels out of control every third night when her curse compels her to make her way to the Black Swan fountain and sing and she has no wish to inflict her curse on a daughter.

Firefighter Sean O’Malley is having a rough night when he stumbles across a beautiful swan singing in the midst of bordertown. Not only is he keeping his fire demon identity a secret (prejudice abounds regarding them), but a murderer is setting dangerous fires around the city with lives lost as a result. On top of that, Sean’s loving mother has just received a terminal cancer diagnosis. Yet all those troubles get pushed to the back of his mind when the singing swan morphs into a stunning, very naked woman. One who agrees to go to a local diner to get something to eat with Sean.

Sean might be Irish, but he’s not been blessed with a silver tongue with the ladies, so he’s worried about convincing Brynn to see him again. She walks away from the diner having enjoyed herself so much that she clearly spells out she never can see handsome Sean ever again. But fate has other plans when he appears on her business doorstep with a cranky Persian with gum in its tail. Seeing these two work their way through all obstacles to their happy ending (plenty of witches to help with those moon curses, FYI) is wonderful and very sexy to boot. I’ve ordered a copy of the first book in the series, The Cursed, and if this novella is any indication, I’m going to enjoy every page.

Meljean Brook – “Salvage” (Iron Seas #3.5)

Here There Be Monsters (Iron Seas #0.5 – Mad Machen and Ivy’s story) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, August 2010) – this book has a clear connection to “Salvage” with both protagonists referenced by Thom explaining his time away

Despite my adoration of all things Meljean Brook, it’s a fact that I hate reading reunion romance stories. Estranged couples just rub me the wrong way (I know that it makes no sense), so it’s a testimony to how much I trust Brook that I didn’t hesitate to dive into the story of Thom and his wife, Georgianna.

Thom was always a quiet and steady man, appearing on Georgianna’s father’s doorstep with his skeletal iron arms after the tower fell and the masses were freed from the Horde. Working with her father, he learned the art of salvaging while also wooing Georgie when he was not out at sea. When she agreed to marry him, she thought she was getting a man who understood that she wanted a husband “who would hold her in his arms at night”, but Thom left her – after three disastrous nights of their marriage – to go back to sea.

Four years later, Georgie is astounded to discover his body washed up on shore near her home. He’s horribly wounded and the bug fever that sets in might very well kill him, but she’s shocked to discover that his skeletal arms have been replaced with fully functioning ones of a lovely grey metal. Nursing him back to health, it’s clear that he plans on leaving again right away, this time to spare Georgie from the pirates which took his salvaged treasure and sunk his ship and submersible. She’s not about to let him leave without a proper divorce and, inflicting further pain in her heart, he agrees.

Thom cannot get over how Georgie is even more beautiful than when he left her four years ago. He didn’t want to reveal his shameful behavior under the Horde to this lovely woman who had lived in relative safety, but after her father encouraged him to go out and make a fortune for Georgie, he was obsessed with doing so, particularly when it occurred to him that he might be able to pay for real arms, ones that would hold Georgie at night. Thom is horrified to discover that her parents died soon after he left, leaving her alone, but his horror is nothing to pain he feels when she asks him for a divorce. But they are both snatched by the rich bounder who injured him and took his gold before they can go to town to file the paperwork.

Captive aboard the ship, Georgie and Thom are united in their desire to escape, and their proximity to one another inspires another kind of desire. As the couple finally reveals their past and innermost feelings, they tear down the wall built over the years to find that they are two people still very much in love. Committed to fighting for a future, they each do what they must in order to go home.

I had tears in my eyes at the misunderstanding between two naturally reticent people and loved the fact that Brook interjected all the drama and heartbreak with some very real moments of humor. Her writing goes right to my heart every time and this is an outstanding addition to the Iron Seas series. For anyone who hasn’t read the novella telling the story of the pirate Mad Machen and the talented Ivy Blacksmith, take a look at the Burning Up anthology for the novella which tells their story in “Here There Be Monsters” or wait until October of this year for the stand alone novella to be published. Ivy and Mad Machen are both referenced and tied to Thom during his time away from Georgie.

Lucy Monroe – “Ecstasy Under The Moon” – (Children Of The Moon #4.5)

Moon Awakening (Children of the Moon #1) by Lucy Monroe (Berkley 2007)

I love shifter romance (particularly great series like Jennifer Ashley’s Shifters Unbound) but I was intrigued with the idea of the usual constructs regarding shifters finding mates and tension between breeds in an older setting. In the highlands of Scotland, the shifter clans, long estranged from one another and now interwoven with humans who are usually kept ignorant of their true nature, are finally beginning the formal motions of re-establishing ties between the species.

Una lives a life of self-imposed solitude among her her Eagle shifter clan and is shocked and fearful when her king and their spiritual leader announce that a convoy of wolves will soon arrive to live among them. Una was captured by wolves years ago who tortured her for sadistic fun and her father was gravely wounded as a result, losing his eye and his ability to fly in his eagle form. Her fear and guilt have kept her from taking her role as a protector and warrior in her clan and she cannot keep the panic at bay as the wolves arrive.

Bryant is a wolf who believes in his leader’s intentions of reuniting the clans. With recent matings falling between shifter clans and even with humans (and so perfect that the couples are dream tied to one another), he believes that healing the rifts between species to be of benefit to everyone. When on his first night in the eagle village he falls asleep only to meet a lovely woman who kisses him on the spiritual plane, he knows that his life is going to take a drastic turn, one he welcomes.

But Una is not convinced. Her dream self is far more bold and does not experience the panic of being trapped as she does in real life. She does not deny that Bryant is handsome, compelling and gentle. When she finally drums up the courage to meet him in person, she knows that he must be confused by her reticent demeanor compared to her ease with him in their dreams. His patience with her prejudiced father does not go unnoticed by her, just as Una’s interest in Bryant does not go unobserved by her all-too-aware mother, who is happy to help both her daughter and husband accept a mating that was clearly meant to be.

Bryant was a fantastic character who was very easy to fall in love with right alongside the lovely and damaged Una. Patient and caring with firm convictions and a sense of honor, he was exactly what a strong hero should be, and the fact that he turns into a gorgeous wolf who climbs into Una’s treehouse to sexily consummate their relationship (after he has killed the remaining men who hurt her) is icing on the cake. I fell so in love with Monroe’s writing that I promptly ordered several of the books from this series and can’t wait for them to arrive. I have a feeling I will greatly enjoy reading about shifters in her well constructed world!

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The title for this anthology could not have been more appropriate – each of the couples are truly “enthralled” with one another, but I think the real magic is going to come from the readers, when they fall under the spell of each talented author as they read the four novellas in the work. Many thanks to all of them (and to Berkley publishers) for such wonderful additions to these series.

Fire & Frost Anthology Will Melt Your Ice at the Start of Summer

29 May

Fire & Frost by Meljean Brook, Carolyn Crane and Jessica Sims (Iron Seas #3.4) (Meljean Brook, May 25, 2013)

I have been waiting for this Iron Seas novella forever! Okay, maybe not forever, but the original publication date was supposed to happen in April, so it’s been two months of me chomping at the bit wondering why the latest installment of the Iron Seas series was not residing happily in my kindle.

Knowing how busy Meljean Brook is pumping out books, I’m hardly going to criticize, particularly since she priced this beauty at only $.99 for the first couple of weeks! That would be a terrific price for just her novella, but I enjoyed the other two stories in this anthology, and they were all of very decent length (definitely novellas and not short stories).

With the excellent title of Fire & Frost, these authors have each crafted a tale in which one character seems a bit cooler and one is running damn hot. Whether you plan on chilling out in the air conditioning this summer or soaking up the sun, this anthology has something to help you get into the vacation spirit!

“Speed Mating” by Jessica Sims

I’d never read anything by Jessica Sims before, but I enjoyed this novella, set in the same world as her Midnight Liaisons series (whose books I have now ordered!). Sims specializes in shifter romances and since I like a certain tone to my shifters (see my effusive posts regarding Jennifer Ashley’s Shifters Unbound series and you’ll get the drift), I was pleased to find myself enjoying her characters and their dilemma.

Beauty Dates the Beast (Midnight Liaisons #1) by Jessica Sims (Pocket Books, October 2011)

Estella is a liger – half lion, half tiger – trying to stay off the radar in Vic’s tiger clan. Most shifters are not accepting of hybrids, so she considers the wary glances and automatic distance par for the course. Who would be interested in a 6′ 2″ liger when hybrids are known to be sterile? Not a shifter male for sure.

But now the tables have turned because Estrella realizes she’s going into heat, a sign that she is in fact fertile. Surprise! With her body knocking loudly on her door, she needs help choosing someone to be the father of her baby. Someone responsible, hopefully sexy, someone strong, someone a lot like…her alpha?

Muscled, tattooed, body shop owner Vic is all those things and the head of their clan. He accepted her when no one was inclined to and she’s forever grateful, but Vic is reserved and continually frowning, making her confession of her dilemma all the more embarrassing. He immediately seizes on the crux of the problem and says that she and her future baby have nothing to worry about – they will both always have a place in the clan. Estrella is grateful and clearly her desire to rub up against Vic is just the heat talking, right?

She tries a shifter dating service, interviewing tigers from other clans, and trying to stave off the problem herself with open windows and cold baths, but nothing works. Throughout it all, her alpha is “involved” and his presence must be the reason that everyone looks like chopped liver in comparison to him. But until she tries a hare-brained scheme dreamt up by a friend, Estrella won’t be able to tell if Vic would really be willing to “help” her.

My sole criticism of this novella would be that we only ever experience the heroine’s POV and while it perfectly defines the conflict, I do prefer to hear what’s going through the sexy hero’s mind as well, particularly when the heroine has reason to have low self-esteem regarding her body and the acceptance of others. I’m looking forward to trying Sims’ other novels after reading this example.

“Conjuring Max” by Carolyn Crane

It’s the 1980s and Veronica is a witch interested in all those newfangled personal computers. Her unorthodox approach to witchcraft using bits and bytes is brilliant, but she’s gotten the attention of more than a few dangerous characters, witch and human, with her craft. Which is why she keeps conjuring dead detective Max out of a photograph in order to protect her from the bad guys.

Max may not be able to stand Veronica’s fixation with Don Johnson in Miami Vice (that guy is a horrible cop, after all) but he’s more than happy to keep protecting Veronica and killing bad guys. He’s been killed a few more times himself, but always brings him back as they are both determined to bring down the mob lowlife targeting her because she used her magic to put his son behind bars.

The problem is that Veronica, with her isolated life and mangled leg, doesn’t like all the feelings she has for Max, feelings that make her feel vulnerable and wishing she wasn’t covered with scars or walked with a limp. Max sees Veronica for the powerful, smart woman she is and forces her to confront her fears and live life to the fullest, something that’s easy to model when he’s only on it for seven days at a time. When the forces against them threaten not just their lives and new feelings for each other, but Max’s ability to keep coming back to life, this couple must face head on the heartache that comes from love.

This was a highly unusual novella that threw me through a loop. The 1980s setting was startling and it took me a while to warm up to Veronica. Crane skillfully writes the situation, peeling back one layer after another so you gradually understand the situation and the characters, a comprehension which leads you to appreciate and care for them.

“Wrecked” by Meljean Brook

Wild & Steamy by Meljean Brook, Jill Myles and Carolyn Crane (Amazon Digital Services, August 2011) – Since Jill Myles is another name for Jessica Sims, it’s nice to see that these three authors have teamed up for a successful anthology before!

Here is the story I purchased the anthology for! Another installment in Brook’s brilliant Iron Seas series, in this novella we see lovely Elizabeth on the run from her powerful father. Continually tracked by hunters – indentured servants tied to him via shackle bracelets which will kill them if they do not return to him periodically for resetting – Elizabeth is lonely but thankful for her freedom as she moves from place to place assuming different identities wherever she goes.

A few years ago she was actually caught by one of them, the handsome Caius. She had been enamored of Caius since he arrived at her father’s menagerie at the age of fifteen, just a few years older than her, but his anger and disgust at what he viewed as her privileged lifestyle could not have pushed them farther apart. After her father’s heart-stopping plan for her was revealed, Elizabeth fled in horror. When Caius captured her and attempted to bring her home, she revealed to him why she was running. He didn’t believe her and instead told her about himself – his childhood, how he missed his mother and sister, how he had been in love years ago with a girl – and explained that her father agreed to give him his freedom if Caius returned his only daughter. Realizing she couldn’t ask this man to surrender his freedom for hers, Elizabeth chooses to risk death by leaping from the train over an abyss in the hope that she can escape and live.

It’s now a few years later and Caius waits in shadows watching Elizabeth flee her father’s hunters and hounds as she finds an airship which will get them off her scent. He is elated she’s alive but knows she doesn’t realize that he has been tracking her since her escape – not to recapture her for her father, but because her leap to freedom shattered him, releasing the knowledge that his anger over all the years was due to the fact that he didn’t want her to be as beautiful and kind as she appeared. Yet tracking her and hearing how she was the same sweet lonely girl everywhere she went confirmed he has been a fool. Making an incredible personal sacrifice has separated him from her father and his mission is now to protect her from the man’s clutches.

Naturally Caius’ appearance on the airship throws Elizabeth into a panic – he’s even more handsome than ever before – but she knows she can’t trust him after he was willing to give her back to her father even after she told him the insane man’s plan for her. Yet Caius’ confession of his longstanding love for her and his protective behavior as they come under attack prove he might be telling the truth.

Enthralled (Iron Seas #3.5) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, July 2, 2013)

Meljean Brook’s ability to write characters who are both vulnerable and damaged while having enormous strength never ceases to amaze me. The Iron Seas world is once again drawn phenomenally well and the reader needs no knowledge of previous books in the series to enjoy this in depth steampunk work. Fans of the series, however, will love seeing the little bits and pieces they already know, including their favorite mercenary airship toward the end of the novella. I would recommend that if longstanding admirers of the series haven’t read Tethered, the recent novella that is a follow-up to Heart of Steel, you might want to do so in order to understand why a female quartermaster stands on the deck of Yasmeen’s ship.

Now I just have to wait a month until the next novella in the series – to be published in the Enthralled anthology – comes out under the Berkley Trade label on July 2nd. Considering Meljean’s ability to write one amazing story after another in this world, I have zero doubt it will live up to my high expectations of her writing.

Meljean Brook Proves You’ll Never Tire of Her Characters with Her Novella, Tethered

14 Apr

I’m usually very cautious when an author decides to revisit a couple who have had their romance established and pretty much resolved in a previous book. Especially in a novella, it can feel rehashed or the plot can be weak and I end up feeling taken. But when I heard that Meljean Brook had decided to revisit her amazing couple, Archimedes and Yasmeen, from Heart of Steel, my first thought was “If anyone can make me love this, it’s going to be Meljean Brook.”

Because she is just one of those authors who I trust implicitly as her Iron Seas series is undoubtedly one of the best series on the market, so much so that I cheerfully order the Kindle editions of her books ten months prior to their publication date.

Meljean Brook simply never disappoints. Archimedes, the intrepid adventurer, and Yasmeen, his stunning captain also known as Lady Corsair, travel in her new airship after the heart-wrenching demise of her previous ship, an event in which she also lost much of her crew and personal belongings. While Yasmeen mourns them, she is above all a survivor, and she is doing her best to rebuild a top notch team to man her vessel while reveling in the love she and Archimedes have for one another, a love so strong that this independent free spirit actually married him.

Heart of Steel (Iron Seas Series #2) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, July 3, 2012)

But a blast from Archimedes past comes in the form of a previous colleague and fellow smuggler, Miles Bilson, a man Archimedes’ sister Zenobia (the actual author of the famous Archimedes Fox adventure tales), trusted until Bilson abandoned Archimedes while he was ill. Archimedes didn’t hold it against him, so Yasmeen decides to take her husband’s lead and sit back to judge this new acquaintance who has decided to travel on her ship.

What ensues is a betrayal so profound that Archimedes’ mental health almost shatters and Yasmeen is confronted with the fact that she would cheerfully pay any price to keep her husband safe and healthy. Bilson’s treachery takes the couple and crew into the heart of an elusive community from which few ever escape but while he means to threaten this couple, he ends up bringing them even closer as they put their intellect and daring to the ultimate test.

If you haven’t read the precursor to this book, Heart of Steel, you really need to (and it’s amazing so it will be no hardship) in order to understand the couple’s background and what they’ve previously overcome to get where they are in their relationship. The looming aftermath of the Horde’s ability to control (and stifle) emotion is at the heart of this tale, so the mechanically enhanced individuals have to deal with threat of being manipulated on a physical and mental plane. That horror is easy to imagine and adds a chilling psychological layer onto what is also a terrific adventure tale.

Can I just give a Lord Scarsdale shout out? A brief appearance of one of my favorite secondary characters to date is the dilemma of Lord Scarsdale, Rhys Trahaern’s good friend who we first meet in The Iron Duke, the first in the series. Having served on Trahaern’s ship and having also escaped with him from the so-called Eden in the clouds (a community featuring prominently in this tale), Scarsdale is a heavy drinker but reliable friend to the Iron Duke and to Yasmeen, both of whom know that Scarsdale is gay and lost the man he loved back when he was enslaved. In Tethered, the drunken lord not only helps Yasmeen and Archimedes but is dealing with the reality of his engagement to a young woman in order to satisfy the societal pressure to deliver an heir to his title. Our couple of the hour make a few references to kidnapping him to save him from making a mistake, and I have to say that I cannot wait to see an adventure like that unfold, or at the very least to see Scarsdale find someone he can love and spend his life with. He deserves a happily ever after, too!

Enthralled (containing Iron Seas #2.4) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, July 2, 2013)

With the last full novel having been the stand alone book, Riveted – which did not require a knowledge of the characters of the above works to enjoy it – I’m interested to see if the next novella, which will be published in the upcoming anthology, Enthralled, will introduce new characters or tie in to the people we already know and love. The brief description bills the story as: “Meljean Brook delivers a new story in her steampunk world of the Iron Seas…as a man who’s lost everything returns home to find that not only is his marriage in jeopardy, but he must now fight air pirates who intend to steal his one remaining treasure—his wife.” Since I can’t picture off hand someone who fits this description, I’m going to book looking forward July so I can find out the answer!

Major kudos to Meljean Brook for being such a productive author that she can satisfy her fan’s craving for new installments in the series a few times a year AND keep the quality so unbelieveably high. I also appreciate that she has chosen to skip around her timeline (even though Tethered came after Riveted, which was the third book in the series, Tethered is listed as the #2.5 in the series and the novella in Enthralled will be #2.4, happening even before Tethered). Her decision doesn’t hurt the series or the reader’s understanding in the slightest, so we can just lay back and enjoy her quality writing.

An outstanding addition to the world of Steampunk and just another confirmation that Meljean Brook deserves tremendous recognition for her talent as a writer. Many thanks, Meljean!

Countdown to Christmas: Steampunk Blends with the Holiday in A Clockwork Christmas

12 Dec

A Clockwork Christmas edited by Angela James (Carina Press, December 5, 2011) featuring novellas by J. K. Coi, P. G. Forte, Stacy Gail and Jenny Schwartz.

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I love steampunk romance. Whether I’m raving about how Meljean Brook is the best introduction to steampunk or qvelling over the gaslight overtones of Cindy Spencer Pape, corsets, clockworks and romance float my boat.

But finding other great steampunk or gaslight authors is challenging (there are a lot of writers who sound like they should still be on a fan fiction site honing their skills a little longer before finding a publisher), and anthologies are one of the best ways to taste the flavor of a new author without committing to a longer book to see if they pull off the genre. I’m pleased to say that Carina Press editor Angela James has worked her usual (gaslight?) magic to find a roster of authors up to the task in A Clockwork Christmas.

James has her usual friendly introduction to the anthology and I was interested in hearing how she has had a personal interest in steampunk since before it penetrated the world of romance fiction. I found it reassuring when she excerpted her own recent letter to ComicCon attendees when she said, “Maybe being a geek has become trendy, but at Carina, we’re not just interested in trendy; we’re interested in publishing great, compelling, readable stories.”

Selecting these four stories because of how they work together, James nevertheless indicated that she was overwhelmed by how many excellent steampunk stories she received after Carina expressed an interest in the genre. Many of them were independently published by the ebook publishing house this past year and seem to be of novella length for the most part. As with other anthologies I’ve read from Carina, you can buy this compilation as either the anthology (linked above to title) or as individual ebooks (linked below in the title of each individual story).

Crime Wave in a Corset by Stacy Gail

I fell for Stacy Gail’s writing the other week when I drooled all over her science fiction novella How the Glitch Saved Christmas. She keeps up her writing streak of awesomeness with this story, set in a nineteenth century Boston rife with clockworks.

Crime Wave in a Corset by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, December 5, 2011)

Cornelia Peabody is a loner and thief, but she’s content with her life of relative success. The fact that she limits herself to stealing from companies or organizations rather than individuals gives her some peace at night. As she walks through Beacon Hill days before Christmas, she realizes her home has been broken into as one of her careful alarms has been tripped. Being a thief herself, she’s not about to call the police, but she carefully uses her surveillance equipment inside the foyer to see if anything looks amiss. Deciding it doesn’t look dangerous, she still takes precautions to check on her office – where she is pounced upon by a large man in black who knows her name and her crimes. He obviously hates her, but she doesn’t know why.

Professor Roderick Coddington is elated he finally has the monster responsible for murdering his sister in his grasp…and he’s angry that she’s so beautiful and that his body clearly wants her. Ignoring its demands, he slaps a special clockwork bracelet on her that she cannot remove and then takes her to his workshop to see exactly what it can do. An electrocution device, the bracelet is set on countdown for seven days; either Cornelia Peabody steals back the Faberge egg that she took from Roderick’s sister, the loss of which sped her demise, or she dies a horrible death in one week.

It’s not much a of choice, so Cornelia does it, trying to deny to herself that it hurts to be hated by this man who doesn’t even know her. The more time they spend together, the more their illusions shatter. Roderick is capable of emotions other than anger (quite compelling ones) and Cornelia has a strong sense of honor despite being a thief. Her intellect and ability amaze him and once he sees the scars that cover her body from the nightmare childhood that led her to her profession, he begins to realize that nothing is as simple as he would like to make it. The final job of stealing back the egg causes them both to confront the past, leaving the reader to wonder if their choices will be different, at least different enough to allow for a future between these two lovers.

Smoking hot love scenes and the ability to capture powerful emotions make Stacy Gail’s story a standout. As in her science fiction story, she has the ability to layer the world-details, many of which are highly technical, in such a smooth fashion that you don’t realize the amount of information you are swallowing, you just know that the rich details of the place and time period are truly alive. As with any couple in an extraordinary situation, Cornelia and Roderick’s descent into lust and then love, is so believably written that your feelings transmute along with theirs, until you are pulling so hard for them to work through their issues that you cheer at the ending!

This Winter Heart by PG Forte

Ophelia Winter has been left destitute by her father’s death. With the war between the states ended and the Confederacy triumphant, his inventions, which could have helped the Union cause, were left unfunded. The person who refused to fund them was none other than Ophelia’s husband, Dario Leonides, due to the fact that her father chose to reveal that Ophelia was one of those inventions – a sophisticated automaton whose blood and flesh were formed from the raw material from her father and his dead mistress. As neither Ophelia or Professor Winter ever revealed her nature, Dario felt betrayed by them both, determining that as a machine, Ophelia was incapable of returning the love he felt for her.

This Winter Heart by P.G. Forte (Carina Press, December 5, 2011)

Ophelia was and is totally in love with Dario, and understands why he felt betrayed but it was no excuse to throw back the dedication and love she felt for him when he asked her to leave his home and his life. Seven years later, she’s back in Santa Fe and needing Dario’s help. She has to find a way to support herself and her son with Dario, a son he doesn’t know exists.

Naturally Dario is stunned and disbelieving at the thought that Ophelia had his child. Her father was very clear that he felt she couldn’t have children. But the boy Arthur resembles them both with winning ways that begin to open Dario’s very closed heart. Even while his body wants Lia, he tells himself and her she has no soul and is just a “thing,” a cruelty that Ophelia cannot overlook. When the tension between them comes to a head, the situation endangers Arthur, and Ophelia reacts with the maternal instinct to save her child, a reaction that could cost the family their only chance at finding happiness.

I’m not a fan of second chance romance, particularly not when one of the couple acts like a jerk, and Dario fits this bill. It’s a credit to author Forte that she makes very clear Dario’s mental block – he was so appalled at being lied to by two people who he trusted and loved that he just shut off the part of him that loved Lia. Using his religious background to excuse his behavior (a “thing” cannot feel pain or love), he also uses it to explain why he hasn’t divorced her all these years. Most importantly, he has no excuse for his reluctance to divulge her secret, other than his long-denied feelings for her. They both know she would be captured and experimented upon if anyone found out what she is, and Ophelia clings to this one gesture of compassion.

But it’s hard to fall for a hero who acts like an utter prick for two-thirds of the story, even when you know his motivation. While the cataclysmic event that almost takes Arthur and Lia from him turns Dario around and he works to help her realize he’s changed, I’m not sure it’s enough for me (although it’s beautifully written). Forte’s writing is truly excellent, so I think this is really my problem with not being able to forgive a hero/heroine who acts so abominably toward another human being.

Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz

This was an extremely sweet story (the hero and heroine don’t even kiss in this novella, it’s so in keeping with its time period) set in a rapidly growing steampunk Australia in 1895. Esme Smith is the daughter of a successful inventor who has raised her to be independent and determined in all her endeavors. Right now, she needs a scoundrel, a charming, good-looking man she can hire to inflitrate the exclusive mens’ clubs where politics are discussed. You see, Esme is a suffragette looking to lobby for the vote for women in her young country. Luckily, her uncle, a captain, has just docked and says he has a likely candidate for her on board.

Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz (Carina Press, December 5, 2011)

Jedediah Reeve takes one look at the golden-haired beauty in the Captain’s cabin and is more than happy to do anything she wants. He’s even more impressed when she outlines her political machinations; not only does he agree with her, but he also can see her motivation comes from her own sincerity and belief in her cause rather than a bid for personal power. Laughing inside at the thought of being taken for a scoundrel when his family thinks he’s the most boring one of the bunch, he shakes her hand and looks forward to spending more time with her as she coaches him in key talking points.

But Esme has a nemesis in the form of one Nicholas Bambury the Third (what a perfectly pompous name!) who not only wants to use his good looks to court Esme but happens to spout the opposite political agenda at these mens’ clubs where Esme can’t enter. Jed hates him on sight, an instinct only amplified as Bambury’s suit for Esme’s hand becomes apparent, and when Bambury attempts to bully Esme into marrying him, Jed is ready to defend her honor.

Esme is a caring, managing female who has met her match in Jed. Rather than a typical alpha male, Jed revels in Esme’s personality and assists her while making it clear he’s doing what he wants rather than having her direct his every move. Schwartz has a rather expository writing style, with characters filling in a certain amount of backstory. Her strength is the ability to evoke a strong sense of place, with her description playing on all the senses until you can literally see and smell Australia in front of you. The steampunk aspect is natural and unforced and Jed’s real profession of invention offers a conduit to explaining the clockworks and machinery he encounters. My personal taste is for a lot more sexual heat, but this is a lovely story in a setting I truly enjoyed.

Far From Broken by JK Coi

Far From Broken (Seasons of Invention #1) by J. K. Coi (Carina Press, December 5, 2011)

I was trepidatious about tackling yet another second chance romance when they are not my preference, but I was pleasantly surprised to find J. K. Coi’s writing so compelling that I was immediately sucked into this story. Lord Jasper Carlisle (Colonel Carlisle) has had his secret life as a spy come crashing around him. Upon returning home after a disastrous mission, he discovers that his young, vivacious wife, the prima ballerina Calliandra, has been kidnapped from their home. With the help of a few loyal servants and friends, he finds her, horribly tortured and barely alive in a nearby hunting cabin. Having known the military has advanced technology that can help repair massive injuries, Jasper takes Callie to them, agreeing to any price to save her. When her excruciating screams indicate that his presence is not helping, he leaves to track down the three men responsible for torturing her, ensuring their demise is just as painful as what they did to his beloved wife.

Callie is horrified to awaken and see heavy iron limbs with clockwork mechanisms in place of the feet and legs she has danced on all her life. Her iron hand and gunmetal gray eye also appear alien despite the realization that they work better than their predecessors. Sitting more heavily on her spirit than her heinous modifications is the fact that her torture and resurrection are a result of the lies her husband told her – she never knew he was a spy working for the military. When he returns to face her, accepting the blame for her misfortune completely and allowing her to heap the guilt of their situation upon his shoulders, she finds herself confused. Jasper is behaving like he is still in love with her, despite her transmutation into a dark creature when compared to the sunny woman she used to be.

Broken Promises (Seasons of Invention #2) by J. K. Coi (Carina Press, September 10, 2012)

Determined to show Callie that he is still profoundly in love with her, perhaps more so as her strength and inner beauty has become more visible, Jasper is determined to prove himself and let her decide what’s next for their relationship. But his courting of his own wife takes a sudden turn upon an attempt on their life, a bid for assassination which reveals a much more sinister twist in the circumstances of Lord and Lady Carlisle.

WOW. I’m overjoyed to realize that this is actually the first of a series (Seasons of Invention) starring Jasper and Callie because there is no way just one novella is going to cut it with these two people. Jasper is honorable and tortured and Callie demonstrates how a woman can be strong and vulnerable at the same time in her situation. Because of Callie’s modifications, the military now has a claim to her as an agent, a fact which appalls Jasper who thought his bargain was any price the military wanted from him. Callie has a sense of how powerful she is now and part of her newfound outlook on life is that she wants no secrets between her and Jasper. While he still wants to protect her every chance she gets, she’s no longer a delicate flower to be protected, and she forces him to renegotiate their marriage with this in mind.

I think what blew me away the most was the fantastic and very sinister world our hero and heroine live in. Technological adaptations have occurred which make this world a dirty one with people separated into have and have-nots regarding enjoying the benefits of scientific progress. The mysterious and menacing General Black, head of the spy ring for which Jasper and now Callie work, has a story arc within him that I’m eager to read more about. This couple is also not lacking in the hot and heavy department, adding a sexual heat to their marital power dynamics. A nice roster of secondary characters make this a series I will be reading, for sure.

I have to give a major shoutout to the cover designers at Carina Press – I honestly think this was the best grouping of covers I’ve seen in a couple of years. Not only are they beautiful and rich looking, but the accurate level of detail (down to the appearance of the models or the small presence of key story features like the balloon that endangers Lia in This Winter Heart or the map of Australia and the kangaroo in Wanted: One Scoundrel) was astonishing. The cover of the anthology did not disappoint either, with the frosted design of the goggles and the bright red balloon clearly indicating the holiday with a bit of steampunk twist.

This was a fantastic anthology that clued me in to more than a few authors of the genre who I’m going to have to follow. Many thanks to Carina Press and Angela James for compiling such a great collection that will get steampunk lovers’ internal clockworks all warm and fuzzy. 🙂

Riveted by Meljean Brook Sustains the Iron Seas Reputation as the Best Steampunk Series

11 Oct

Riveted (Book #3 in The Iron Seas Series) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, September 4, 2012)

I think my deep-seated admiration for Meljean Brook as the premier steampunk author to whom I compare all newcomers to the genre is quite clear, and the latest addition to the Iron Seas series, Riveted, guarantees her street rep is totally intact.

Whereas the first two books in the series, The Iron Duke and Heart of Steel, are definitely interconnected to one another, a reader could read Riveted with merely an introduction to Brook’s world, best understood by her background essay on the alternate history she employs.

In Riveted, we meet Annika Fridasdotter (Icelandic translation literally “Frida’s daughter”), an engineer on Captain Vashon’s airship (another female airship captain with an excellent reputation – previous books have referred to her prowess). Dressed in outlandishly bright silks, Annika is making her way through a teeming port city back to her ship when she is accosted by an overzealous guard bent on proving she has fraudulent papers. She does, but it’s not because she’s an enemy, but rather carries Norwegian papers to hide her Icelandic origins. Not speaking Castilian, Annika is almost carted away, but for the intervention of David Kentewess.

While the guard is intimated by David’s monocle eye and visible steel hand and arm and backs off, Annika, ever curious, is fascinated by David, and her attraction only increases when she discovers he is a vulcanologist. She would love to know why someone would study something as dangerous as volcanos but sadly realizes that she must get back to her ship. Annika can’t shake the feeling that David has an agenda in helping her and that the intensity of his questioning indicates more than the typical interest between a man and a woman.

The UK cover for Riveted, where the heroine pictured is MUCH closer is appearance to the actual description of Annika, who has mysterious origins. It always makes me uncomfortable when a publisher chooses an image that makes one of the characters look “whiter” than they are described in the book. Be careful, Berkley Publishing!

Her gut instinct is dead accurate. David’s attention was captured not just by Annika’s clothing and good looks, but also by the fact that when trying to communicate with the bureaucratic port official, she ran through a gamut of languages, including the very rare Norsk. David hadn’t heard that language since his mother, a mysterious woman who never revealed where she was from to her beloved husband and son, died in the same violent volcanic explosion that took David’s eye, arm and both his legs.

Charged twenty years ago with taking his mother’s rune-carved necklace back to her homeland for burial, he has attempted to discover the location of her birthplace, and at last he has a clue, in Annika, who speaks with the same accent and phrases David remembers from his childhood. Thankfully his latest expedition is using Vashon’s airship for transportation to Iceland, so David and Annika are thrown together and the mutual attraction amplifies.

But Annika’s secret is an important one. She is out in the world away from the isolated Icelandic village she grew up in for a reason. Her sister, Kalla, was exiled for a mistake Annika made and Annika vowed to her village elders (after confessing it was her error) that she would find her sister before returning home.

Her village must be hidden from the larger world, as it is comprised solely of women, women who, generations ago, decided to honor what they felt was a sign from God that they were meant to live and love each other. They continue their numbers by choosing to either go abroad and adopt orphan girls or to lie with men who will take the infant if it’s a boy, but hopefully gain a daughter and return back to the village. David’s mother was one of the women who fell in love and chose to stay with her husband and son.

Iceland is not only renowned for its beauty, but for the amazing power of the many volcanos that exist in it, which fuel the natural hot springs all over the island

The previous heroes and heroines in this series have been what I would term “edgy,” often having experienced extreme personal adversity and with at least one person in the pair being sexually experienced. Riveted takes a new angle with its H/h both being relatively innocent from and love and sex standpoint. David has dealt with revulsion from women regarding his artificial enhancements and actually paid for sex twice in his life, although he couldn’t bring himself to fruition in the face of his partner’s disinterest or outright revulsion. Annika is a true romantic, virgin and waiting for the right person, woman or man, with whom to lose her virginity. In fear of her rejection, David initially leads Annika to believe he has no romantic or sexual interest in her, but when the going gets tough, finally caves and lets her know his true feelings. The building romance between them is breathtaking and magical.

Meljean Brook’s writing is, as it always is, beautiful and evocative. Every sentence has been crafted with care and her plotlines are watertight, letting the reader feel the delicious sense of anticipation and the wonder of true closure at the story’s conclusion. But where she excels is in the crafting of her characters. My mother and I spoke about this one to one another and mom said, that while she enjoyed the book tremendously, the beginning of the book felt slower to her than the other books in the Iron Seas series. I think she’s right, but it’s an excellent, calculated move by a talented writer.

Brook knows she must set up a side of her world that readers have never seen before. We are not in the world of England and the post-tower destruction, but are instead more immersed in the part of the world which did not live under Horde rule. As always she makes me fall for her world along with her characters. Annika and David are adventurous, well-matched, and with fascinating personal backgrounds which intersect with their worlds in ways that had me eagerly turning the page.  Riveted is aptly named, because it easily described my demeanor while reading it.

So You Want a Good Steampunk Romance?: Try the Best – The Iron Seas Series By Meljean Brook

13 Jun

The Iron Duke (Iron Seas #1) by Meljean Brook (Berkley Sensation, October 5, 2010)

A few years ago, I don’t think I was alone in being rather clueless about the subgenre of steampunk. There were a few young adult books I knew of that fell into this category, but I had pigeonholed them in my mind as being for the type of person who liked cosplay and that’s not really my scene. I made a point of collecting a few anthologies that had this subgenre as their focus, but didn’t pay more attention than that.

Big mistake. Upon further investigation, I discovered I love steampunk.

My first revelation was when I read Cassandra Clare‘s Clockwork Angel (the prequel to the Mortal Instruments series). Excuse me? Automatons? Clockworks? Corsets? Conflicted female gender roles? Sign. Me. Up.

Wanting to be reflective in the hope that it will clue me into other readers who might enjoy this subgenre, I think the following observations are in order regarding the reader group I have observed who really jones for these books:

  1. Steampunk readers seem to be made up of adventurous readers, usually ones who enjoy historical fiction, alternate history, science fiction, fantasy, historical romance, or all of the above. They aren’t the readers who bog down in one genre and stay there.
  2. Steampunk readers (at least in my library) are largely female and seem to revel in the many strong female characters.
  3. At the same time, those readers like the fact that there are some Victorian mores and REALLY enjoy the descriptions of the clothes and gadgets. (“Steampunk is…the love child of Hot Topic and a BBC costume drama.” – Gail Carriger, author of the steampunk The Parasol Protectorate series.)

When I looked at all these elements, it occurred to me that each of these points describe a lot of romance readers as well, so it makes sense that there would be some rather…well….adult romance books with a steampunk focus. Where the heck were they in 2009? *taps foot impatiently*

Enter Meljean Brook and The Iron Duke in 2010. As the rippling abs of the cover model indicate, this book has a racy side (a very racy side). That said, it is a fascinating and well-written steampunk novel with highly developed characters and a carefully constructed alternate history.

I will confess to being a little confused for the first 50 pages or so (my “give it 80 pages” rule usually pulls me through most books). Brook gives a terrific explanation of the alternate history she’s developed on her website but I’ve developed a nutshell version that might help other readers struggling as I did for that first bit of the book.

Wild & Steamy (an anthology containing Iron Seas #0.4 “The Blushing Bounder” – Constable Newberry’s story) by Meljean Brook, et. al. (2011)

Stretch back to your World Civilization class in high school and you’ll remember the early relationship between Kublai Khan and western Europe, specifically how the Polo family traipsed East and established some valuable trade routes (okay, much of my memory comes from the 1982 miniseries Marco Polo and the subsequently released novel based on the screenplay. Whatever.) In Brook’s books, rather than maintain a political strategy of isolationism (as China did for some time), the “Horde” uses their advanced Chinese technology to develop machines which roll into Europe a couple hundred years post-Polo, and conquer it, enslaving its citizens.

The wealthy flee to the Americas (and are referred to derisively as “Bounders” by the people who lived under the Horde), a haven of safety since the Horde has never developed a navy, but the remaining Europeans lived in terror. Part of the Horde’s strategy was to enslave and alter the people under them with technology. Citizens were infected with nanotechnology (“bugs”) that can control their behavior if needed, and some laborers actually have tools grafted to their arms a la Star Trek’s Borg (think coal miners with drills for arms). Much of the European continent and Africa which was used by the Horde solely for its natural resources had a separate type of infection, creating thousands of zombies that run amuck through those areas keeping people away.

Even the most intimate details fall under Horde control – the working classes are forbidden to marry and the entire country is subject to periodic “Frenzies” where the Horde activates the nanotechnology to cause citizens to literally fall on one another in a massive heat, regardless of age, sexual orientation, or existing genetic relationship. The babies produced from this event are usually given to the Creche, a state-run orphanage, with those children (if they are lucky) given over to guilds where they receive specialized training and financial sponsorship to receive the physical enhancement they need to survive.

England manages to throw off the Horde’s control with the help of pirate Rhys Trahaearn, who destroys the tower that sends forth the signals which control the nanotechnology in each citizen, thus freeing the population. A grateful nation makes him the Duke of Anglesley, but he is shrouded in mystery and simultaneously loved and feared, becoming known simply as the Iron Duke to the people.

And this is where The Iron Duke begins. Enter our heroine, Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth, daughter of a countess who works (as many women do) but who constantly faces prejudice wherever she goes. Mina is the result of a particularly calculated “frenzy” as her mother was invited, along with the rest of British aristocracy, to a Horde-hosted ball when the frenzy instinct was activated. While her mother claims to remember nothing, Mina’s black hair and Eurasian features remind everyone she encounters of their time under Horde control, subjecting her to a great deal of verbal and physical abuse.

Burning Up (containing the novella “Here There Be Monsters” – #0.5 in the Iron Seas series) by Meljean Brook, et. al. (Berkley, August 2010)

But Mina is tough (and she has a fabulous sidekick, Constable Newberry, who acts as a bodyguard as well as fellow investigator) and when she is dispatched to investigate a dead body found at the Iron Duke’s London home, she attempts to simply work the case. However, the instant attraction between them complicates an already puzzling investigation. The body has been frozen and dropped from an airship as some kind of message and together, Mina and the Duke need to figure out what really is going on, little realizing the physical and emotional countries this journey will take them through.

I loved this book not just as a steampunk novel but as a true romance novel. The relationship, while having a lot of steamy attraction, develops naturally and deals honestly with the barriers in its way. The emotional damage people suffer in the wake of the Horde’s rule are ever present and add an additional dimension to forming an intimate relationship.

And, hello, these are intimate! The sex scenes are “burst into flame in your hands” hot. The descriptive language is a little more ribald that many traditional historical romance readers would probably expect, but it seems right for both a pirate and for a country that has lived through its recent history. This book was so outstanding that I immediately ordered a used print copy in addition to my ebook copy so I can reread it at will.

There are a couple fabulous prequel novellas. In chronological order, the first is “The Blushing Bounder” (#0.4 in the Iron Seas series) found in the Wild & Steamy anthology. This is Constable Edward Newberry’s story (the red-headed giant who is Inspector Mina Wentworth’s faithful assistant and protector), specifically the tale of his marriage to another bounder from Manhattan City who is dying of consumption.

Edward knows that if Temperance agrees to the nanotechnology infection that Mina’s physician father is happy to provide, she will live, but bounder preconceptions (on the part of both of them) as well as some existing tension in their marriage prevent her from doing so. Edward won’t become infected unless Temperance does, so they both seemed doomed to suffer until Temperance witnesses a murder from her bedroom window and forces beyond their ontrol are set in motion.

You don’t need to read this novella prior to The Iron Duke (and, in fact, I’d encourage you to read it afterward) but there is another prequel which is a fabulous introduction to Meljean Brook’s world and it is also a wonderful stand-alone romance which gives you a sense of her excellent writing. “Here There Be Monsters” (#0.5 in the Iron Seas series) is published in the anthology Burning Up (which also has a Psy-Changeling novella if you’re a Nalini Singh fan like I am).

This novella is just as well-written as The Iron Duke and has several tie-ins, both in characters and in overarching plot, and you do not to need to read any previous book or novella to understand it. In a way it feels like a lighter book, simply because the two love interests, Captain Eben Machen (known as “Mad Machen”) and Ivy Blacksmith, are less tortured than Mina and Rhys (but still have their own set of obstacles).

Ivy Blacksmith is a genius with any machinery and is happy with her lot until a strange group of men sneak into her rooming house, utilizing a mysterious device which freezes all the inhabitants, stealing a few of them out of their beds, and reminding Ivy all too well of life under Horde rule. Terrified that she might be next, she runs to the inn where the pirate Mad Machen and his friends are boarding prior to shipping out.

Eben Machen has already fallen for the red-haired pixie blacksmith who so patiently helped his friend Barker weather the transition to his prosthesis, so when she comes to them, terrified and tentatively offering herself in exchange for passage on his ship, he accepts not only to slake his lust but to keep her safe from others. But his airship captain friend, Yasmeen, has a different idea of what is good for Ivy and Eben, and helps Ivy escape Machen’s room. He searches for her for two long years until the Iron Duke and the Blacksmith come up with a cunning plan to protect the Welsh coast and they need a talented machinist to execute it.

Ivy can’t believe her eyes when Yasmeen and Mad Machen show up in the isolated Norwegian town in which she’s made a home. Mad Machen insists she share his bed according to their original agreement but she pays him each night to not touch her. The problem is, not only is she’s running out of coins but laying next to his hard body and feeling his gentle hands holding her while she sleeps awakens a host of feelings that she might want to act upon. How can she reconcile the tales of this wild pirate to the man she is beginning to see with new eyes?

Heart of Steel (Iron Seas #2 – Yasmeen and Archimedes story) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, November 1, 2011)

These two novellas definitely helped me be patient while awaiting the next full-length novel in Iron Seas series, but I was still chomping at the bit when Heart of Steel came out on November 1, 2011.

Yasmeen, airship Captain of the Lady Corsair, is not only one of the best airship captains out there but beautiful as well. She strikes terror into anyone who crosses her and is a true mercenary, willing to hire herself out for gold and not ask a lot of questions, but she has a code of honor to which she strongly adheres.

Which is why she is checking in on adventure writer, Archimedes Fox’s sister. Yasmeen feels a little guilty that she had to toss the handsome Archimedes overboard into zombie territory (in The Iron Duke) but she doesn’t feel that bad about keeping the priceless DaVinci sketch he brought on board – after all, no one pulls a gun on Yasmeen and tells her what to do with her ship.

But Archimedes is a like a cat with nine lives and turns back up looking for Yasmeen and his sketch, with Horde assassins close on his heels. Yasmeen doesn’t appreciate the trouble but she is interested in the wild passion that flares between them. The problem is Archimedes – he doesn’t just want sex, he wants her heart and her mind, and those are two items Yasmeen refuses to give to any man.

Yasmeen has always been an intriguing and compelling character with a wealth of secrets. The sexual tension between her and Archimedes is evident in the first book, so I was bouncing with excitement when I read this book was to be about them. Meljean Brook does not disappoint, fleshing out Yasmeen in all her glory and painting Archimedes as the sexy, playful beast he is. Where Rhys and Mina are all intense responsibility to others, Yasmeen and Archimedes have a wicked, devil-may-care side they share and it’s a joy to see their banter. The way Archimedes cajoles Yasmeen into admitting her feelings for him pulls on your heartstrings and its great to see Brook’s signature relationship – one of equals coming together and loving each other exactly as they are – in play.

Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City (Iron Seas #1.5) by Meljean Brook (Penguin, August 7, 2012)

After rereading these novels and novellas for the last couple years, it’s wonderful to finally anticipate a few new additions to the series! Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City is an enovella coming out on August 7, 2012 (although purportedly also in the reprinted paperback edition of The Iron Duke, so you could get it that way, too).

Taking place eight months after their marriage, this novella is categorized as an “epilogue novella” by Meljean Brook, and centers on a dead bounder. Mina is the primary investigator and becomes deeply concerned when the danger surrounding the death points back to her new husband. I cannot believe I have to wait for August for this! It makes me want to get a third copy of The Iron Duke in the mass market paperback so I can read it now. Patience. *deep breath* Patience.

Riveted (Iron Seas #3) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, September 4, 2012)

Now we have the pleasure of anticipating the third book in the series, which will be published on September 4th. Riveted deals with two characters with whom we have not been previously introduced and seems to also plan on broadening our horizons on the world of the Iron Seas.

Iceland has been abandoned due to a massive volcanic eruption and everyone thinks it was a natural phenomenon, but the truth has a more mechanical origin. Annika and her sister Kalla were part of a community of women who guarded the secret, but after Annika accidentally endangered the secret, her sister Kalla took the blame and was exiled. Annika serves aboard an airship, searching for Kalla in the hope they can one day return home.

David Kentewess chases volcanos for a living and is focused on ferreting out the truth of what happened in Iceland – a process that is bound to involve getting the lovely Annika to reveal her secrets. The process places them both in danger, however, abandoned on a glacier with a madmen in pursuit. Now they must get away while dealing with the attraction between them, no easy feat in the world of the Iron Seas.

I read the excerpt posted on Meljean’s website and it was fantastic! I’m so happy to be getting more of a New World perspective (previously only glimpsed briefly in Constable Newberry’s “The Blushing Bounder” novella) and this one promised to be much better fleshed out.

It’s rare to find an author who is as talented at complex world-building as she is in building an honest to God romance between two people, but Meljean Brook is the real deal. Her blog is full of information and she seems to have a terrific sense of humor in her entries, so I would strongly recommend adding her to your RSS reader if you enjoy following authors. Remember that while other authors (like Cindy Spencer Pape who I enthusiastically reviewed the other week) are more gaslight because of their incorporation of magic in their world, Brook is classic steampunk, and can be counted on to give any reader an excellent introduction to the genre. Be warned, though. You might find yourself addicted to it!

Interested in exploring steampunk further? Check out the GoodReads list of “Best Steampunk Books” list for a place to start. The Steamed! blog is also a great source of information for both readers and writers and has innumerable links to reading lists and writing tips. Enjoy your foray into this wonderful genre!

**Additional Notes and Updates:

Take a look at the review of Brook’s third book in the series, Riveted, as well as the fantastic follow up to Heart of Steel, the novella, Tethered, featuring the further adventures of Yasmeen and Archimedes. For a hint of Yasmeen’s airship, the novella in Fire & Frost cannot be beat either. Enjoy!!**

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