Tag Archives: paranormal

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

1 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading! 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

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

11 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading! 🙂

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

2 Dec

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

Oyster Brings a Netflix-like Model to Romance Reading

23 Oct

I was thrilled to find out that a new platform has come on the market for readers, Oyster. Looking to Netflix as a subscription model, readers pay $9.95 per month and have access to all of Oyster’s library (about 100,000 in copyright books), with the ability to “play” any book they want – books don’t download onto your device (which I imagine means you need to have a connection at all times).

For heavy readers this becomes an affordable alternative, particularly as more and more publishers release titles onto Oyster’s platform. Having read about Oyster and watched videos about how it works, I nevertheless wanted to have a better sense of what it could offer romance readers, but I wasn’t willing to pay for a month in order to test the water. Lucky for me, Oyster recently announced a free month to trial the platform for people wanting to test it out (in honor of their iPad app release).

A major caveat before downloading the app – originally designed for the iPhone, the iPad version of the program is meant to be enlarged using the 2x button. This means that users not running the latest iOS are going to notice highly pixelated text which makes it hard on the eyes. People running iOS 7 on their phones and iPads will have no problem.

The iPad is a natural first device upon which to launch considering its level of infiltration in the market.

But what does Oyster have to offer romance readers? I found the offerings to be diverse and hitting several big name authors – Amanda Scott, Debbie Macomber, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah Maclean, Julia Quinn, Katherine Ashe, and Tessa Dare were some of the historical romance authors (they even have most of Kathleen Woodiwiss‘ backlist) and paranormal authors like Christine Feehan, Jeaniene Frost and Lyndsay Sands were represented as well. A few erotica books were in there, as well as category romance from Crimson Romance’s imprint, and romantic suspense authors like Carla Swafford and Elizabeth Lowell.

I didn’t like that so many non-romance books were mixed in (because it makes it look like Oyster doesn’t know what the definition of the genre), but it is true that romance readers often cross-genres, particularly with mystery, historical fiction and women’s fiction – nevertheless, I don’t want to see them when I’m looking for romance. There’s plenty of contemporary romance, romantic comedy and inspirational romance and they even divide up historical romance, highlighting Regency and medieval titles. It’s pretty snazzy.

Could there be more titles? Sure. But the above authors are damn good ones and there was a nice mix of books I’ve read and books I want to read – considering I read around 350 romance novels a year, I find this pretty snazzy and I’m sure it will only get better as Oyster will have to acquire more titles in order to stay competitive, particularly with other subscription read services about to launch.

So take a look at Oyster (for free) to see if you’ve got the hardware to see if it has something to offer you as a romance reader. I think that you’ll find it may offer readers a wonderful romance library to draw upon (for only $9.95 a month.

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

11 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruby Hill by Sarah Ballance a Great Addition to the World of Gothic Romance

30 Sep

Ruby Hill by Sarah Ballance (Entangled: Flirt, September 30, 2013)

One area of romance I feel is horribly neglected is gothic romance. Because gothic is by its nature a subset of horror literature, not only does a reader experience chills similar to that of a mystery or thriller, but there is a looming sense of evil and death which pervades the story, often with the setting itself providing an additional character (and it’s usually the villain).

Sarah Ballance’s new novella, Ruby Hill, certainly fits the bill, with an estranged couple (both investigators in their own way) and a haunted insane asylum harboring a serial killer. Ballance gives us lovely, spooky writing – the kind where the sentences feel good in your mouth while they send shivers down your spine – making this novella the perfect way to launch a ghost-filled October. Since I read and re-read tons of paranormal to get me in the Halloween mood, I was elated to find Ruby Hill to be a great way to get me in the mood for the upcoming holiday. Move aside, Pinterest!

The story opens with the arrival of our hero, Corbin Malone, a cop whose boss, frustrated by a rash of unsolved murders centered on an abandoned Victorian lunatic asylum, has decided to let in a group of paranormal investigators to see what they could find out on the “ghost” front. The police want to prove that there isn’t a ghost killing the victims, and this seems like the best (and least confrontational) way to go about it. The two major problems for Corbin are that 1) his brother Cash died in this exact spot six months ago and 2) the lead investigator is none other than Ashley Pearce, the woman who he kicked out of his life when he lost his brother.

Ashley Pearce has built a reputation as a solid paranormal investigator who not only tracks ghosts but can speak to them as well. She knows she’s not to blame for Cash’s death, but that fact doesn’t make the rejection by the man who she loved any less. She has strong ties to Ruby Hill (her great-grandfather was one of the founders) and is dismayed that this place she loves has taken on an overtone of evil. With the death of not only Cash but two beautiful young women, the police are baffled since all victims died of cardiac arrest with not a mark on them…as if they were scared to death.

Corbin has never believed in the paranormal, a fact that was the only tension between him and Ashley while they were together. When he establishes the connection that each of the victims (including his brother) all were descended from people who worked at the asylum, Corbin knows he has to get himself and Ashley to safety as they both fall into the same category and are therefore a likely target for a serial killer. The only difference is that while he believes he’s dealing with a live person, Ashley is even more certain that they are going to confront a dead one.

Decaying, abandoned insane asylums are PERFECT locations for a gothic novella!

Ballance paints a vivid picture of the hospital as an entity out for revenge, with the characters experiencing waking nightmares and conditions that fill your nostrils with decay while you are reading. The dynamic between Ashley and Corbin is poignant and rife with the tension of the situation, particularly as he denies again and again what he sees because it doesn’t fit with his belief system. By not believing in ghosts, he shows no respect for Ashley and her work, possibly leading to a personal rift that could cost both of them their lives.

I noticed on Goodreads that there were some reviewers who believed that the story felt unfinished or that the romance wasn’t strong enough. Okay, it’s true there was nothing more than some hot reunion kissing, but quite honestly, the asylum was disgusting and I would have looked serious askance if they had gone further in such an unhygenic environment!

If it were any other subgenre but horror, I could understand the reviewer complaints better, but Ballance does a pitch perfect job of crafting a horror story in Ruby Hill. Yes, there is a romantic element between these two lovers who have really never let go of each other and Ballance’s choice was to play up the gothic piece, which she does beautifully. The author’s main goal in a gothic romance novel is to get the couple out alive and relatively unscathed so they can go off (into the sunrise, in this case) and craft a happily ever after. Done. Romance readers are all about expectations however, so it’s possible that some people expected more on the romance and less on the gothic. I’m really pleased with the gothic emphasis, personally!

Entangled’s Ever After imprint (designed to deliver short stories and novellas between 20,000 and 40,000 words) is giving away some terrific prizes in honor of these debuts. I’ve put the links to the Rafflecopter giveaways at the bottom of the post, so be sure to enter them after you take a look at the descriptions. Lots of gift cards to your preferred bookstore to win as well as some cool jewelry and yummy gifts!

Here are a few of the stories they are releasing this week, covering a variety of genres, including the one I just reviewed:

Find Your Ever After in Under An Hour

Ruby Hill by Sarah Ballance

From her earliest memories, Ashley Pearce has been drawn to Ruby Hill Lunatic Asylum, and she’s not the only one. Decades after the abandoned hospital ended its institutional reign of torture and neglect, something lurks in the shadows. Since she’s a paranormal investigator, it’s Ashley’s job to find out what.

Crime scene expert Corbin Malone doesn’t believe in ghosts. A born skeptic, he has no interest in entertaining the hype surrounding the mysterious deaths at Ruby Hill, but he won’t turn his back while more women die. He agrees to an overnight investigation, never expecting his first encounter would be with the woman he pushed away a year ago. But when he discovers Ashley is a target, he learns his greatest fear isn’t living with his own demons, but losing her for good.

One Thousand and One Nights by Ruth Browne

Sheri spends her days fighting zombies and her nights chained to a wall, earning her every breath by telling stories to her captor Aleksy—stories that make them both forget the ruined world. Sheri could put up with the conditions—at least she knows her sister is safe in the community Aleksy leads—until she realizes she’s falling for him…even though he wants her dead.

When Aleksy allowed Sheri and her sister into his compound, he didn’t know about the zombie bite on her back. It’s only a matter of time before she turns into one of the rising dead and threatens their existence, but Aleksy has a secret need for Sheri and her stories. For everyone’s safety, he chains her to his bedroom wall, hoping for just one more day. But how long will the community allow Aleksy to ignore his own rule: always kill the infected. Always.

Mercy by Jan Coffey

Julia Klein’s life has begun to unravel—her daughter Amy has been suspended from school, Julia is about to lose her job, and her boyfriend Garrett is being transferred thousands of miles away. Overwhelmed, she and Amy leave for a weekend at a rambling old colonial inn. Julia never suspects that Garrett, desperate to find a way to keep Julia in his life, has decided to surprise her by joining them. Nor does she expect her daughter to befriend a mischievous ghost…or that she herself would be possessed by the malevolent spirit of a long-dead mother.

As a dark secret emerges, Julia, Amy, and Garrett find themselves pitted in a fight for survival against a savage presence that intends to resurrect/repeat/relive a horrible crime committed two centuries ago. And this time, Amy and Julia will be the victims.

Haunted Chemisty by Lindsey Loucks

When bookish college co-ed Alexis heads to the laundry room in her new apartment, she runs into Ian Reese, the chem lab partner she crushed on all last semester. And the guy who stood her up on their first date. But she’s down for an awkward reunion, and no better place than her creepy laundry room.

Ian has every intention of making amends, but just when Alexis begins to trust him again, a new threat calls more than their future together into question. A ghost from the apartment’s past is hellbent on revenge, and if he wants to get his girl, he’ll have to get the ghost first.

Wish Upon a Star by Michelle McLean

Ceri McKinley never stopped wishing that her ex-fiancé Jason Crickett would come back into her life. But when he finally does, he comes with a request that puts them both—and all of humanity—into jeopardy.

Jason only wants two things: to bury his brother properly and to convince Ceri to trust him again after he jilted her. But when Ceri agrees to help him get his brother back, they end up fighting for their lives as a zombie uprising threatens them all.

Northern Light by E.J. Russell

Nothing gives art fraud investigator Luke Morganstern a bigger rush than busting forgers, the low-life criminals who dare victimize true artists. But when his latest job sends him to a remote cabin in the Oregon Coast Range, he’s stunned to discover the alleged forger is his former lover, Stefan Cobbe, the most gifted painter Luke has ever known.

Stefan, left homeless and destitute after the death of his wealthy partner, doesn’t exactly deny the forgery — he claims he doesn’t remember, an excuse Luke can’t accept.

But Luke’s elderly client suggests Stefan may be telling the truth and presents another possibility – a dark presence in the woods, a supernatural fury simmering for decades. Luke must face down his fear of the uncanny – and admit his feelings for Stefan – if either of them is to survive.

Not to Be Missed Giveaways!

A skeleton key necklace and $25 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble a Rafflecopter giveaway

A vintage sailing ship brooch and $20 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card a Rafflecopter giveaway

A $50 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card a Rafflecopter giveaway

A really cool looking Wish necklace and $20 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card a Rafflecopter giveaway

A fantastic pottery handwarmer mug with Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate mix (yum!) a Rafflecopter giveaway

I definitely felt like Ruby Hill was a terrific addition to the world of gothic romance, one so good that I’m now jonesing for other spooky-poo books to get me into the mood of gusting autumn leaves and the start of crackling fires in my living room fireplace. Thanks, Sarah Ballance, for getting me off to such a great start for the season! 🙂

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!! 🙂

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.

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