Tag Archives: vampire

Lauren Dane Proves There’s No Genre She Can’t Tackle With Her Rowan Summerwaite Urban Fantasy Series

4 Jan

Goddess With a Blade (Rowan Summerwaite #1) by Lauren Dane (Carina Press, 2011)

If I didn’t love Lauren Dane’s writing so much, she would honestly scare the crap out of me.

It’s ridiculous to find an author this talented, someone who kicks the butt of paranormal and contemporary romance, blasts science fiction romance into another galaxy, and now delivers urban fantasy on a silver platter. Oh, and she dishes all of it up with an erotic level that satisfies readers, like me, who like the bedroom door w-i-d-e open in order to see favorite character’s souls revealed in their most intimate moments (thank you!). I hope she appears normal when people meet her, rather than radiate all this talent which could potentially just shine out of her skin, blinding everyone and necessitating the use of sunglasses during book signings. 🙂

So I don’t know why I hesitated before reading her foray into the urban fantasy genre, because I love urban fantasy and I love Lauren Dane, so what could go wrong? I think I was worried by a few crankypants reviews on Goodreads, but it’s important to remember that everyone is different (and that some people do not know what they hell they are writing about).

First rule of thumb with urban fantasy? One book is not enough. I think this is because the definition of urban fantasy clearly deals with a protagonist who is distinctly “other” by their birth or abilities (often magical) who has to straddle a line between what we think of the normal world and an underworld filled with magic and/or paranormal creatures. Perhaps because of this, the first book of any urban fantasy series has a lot of groundwork to tackle, so I reserve judgement until the second book when characters and overarching plot lines can truly take off.

Luckily for me, the first book of Dane’s Rowan Summerwaite series has been out for a couple of years, so I was able to purchase Goddess with a Blade and grab its sequel, Blade to the Keep off of NetGalley for a one-two punch that totally delivers. Unlike many urban fantasy series which start off with the protagonist experiencing something which reveals their power or the presence of a paranormal underworld, we join Rowan Summerwaite in media res, on her home turf in Las Vegas. She’s a full partner in the Hunter Corporation and a field agent to boot, and under the guise of being a private investigator keeps an eye on vampires in order to insure the safety of humans.

The Celtic goddess Brigid is most often compared to the Greek and Roman goddesses Athena and Minerva, as she is not only a warrior goddess, but also supervises healing, the hearth and artistic pursuits like poetry and certain crafts.

There is probably no one better qualified, as Rowan is the foster daughter of “The First” or the most powerful vampire living and the one who rules their nation. Estranged from him since the age of sixteen when she discovered the truth about her parents’ death, Rowan has always known she is not fully human. Her mother was an acolyte of the Celtic goddess, Brigid, and Rowan discovered while still a very young child that she was one of only a few human vessels ever to have been chosen to harbor the goddess. Not only did this give Rowan another mother figure to thankfully help and heal her, but the goddess’ presence offers Rowan tremendous strength in battle – she’s a warrior goddess after all.

Rowan needed every bit of her divine help. Growing up under the foster father was brutal -vampires over 500 years old (and he’s much, much older) are known for their instability and he sought to make her tough enough to withstand the vampire world. When she fled him, she ran to Brigid’s followers and the Hunter Corporation where she quickly became one of their top hunters, collecting friends and enemies along the way. In Las Vegas, Rowan is currently not super popular among the fanged set as she recently staked the Scion of North America, the head vampire in charge, for endangering humans. Considering he was also embezzling and not a great leader, there are plenty of vampires secretly okay with this, but it’s the principle of a hunter killing such a powerful vampire that has them indignant.

Whoever said that a man in a suit was like a woman in lingerie had the right of it. I’m sure the volunteers to straighten Clive Stewart’s pocket square are legion.

Rowan is beautiful, strong and implacable but nothing could have prepared her for meeting the new Scion. Clive Stewart is a gorgeous, old vampire with the polish of centuries and a voice that sounds like British caramel. That he wears a Saville Row suit like a weapon is a bonus, as is the fact that he’s supremely irritated by Rowan’s demeanor. Sparks are a given and it’s not long before these two discover their goading of one another barely disguises a volatile attraction, one that would horrify both their constituencies.

Avoiding one another is not an option as Rowan’s police contacts let her know that what humans think is a disturbed serial killer is actually a horrifyingly demented vampire. With human women disappearing and crystal meth involved, Rowan and Clive need to work together to quickly find this murderer before the vampires are outed and other women go missing. The tentative trust between them could be easily broken with each of them needing to protect their people (and with Clive’s jealous exes popping up) and Rowan just might need the help of her goddess to come out of this one alive.

It’s obvious why this book is well-rated and it appears that a few people object to the fact that there is not a ton of buildup or simmering sexual tension between Clive and Rowan before they find themselves giving into the insanity of their attraction. I quickly realized this was the point – Clive and Rowan are also astonished by their attraction. I worry that a few of Dane’s dissatisfied readers (who still admit that they enjoyed the book) are thinking like paranormal romance readers and not ones with an urban fantasy book in their hands. While much of urban fantasy possesses strong romantic elements, it’s usually just one subplot of many and a happily ever after is not the goal of the book (with romantic arcs usually taking their course over several books in a series). Clive and Rowan are a fascinating element of the book but even more compelling is the vampire world and the way Rowan straddles multiple lines with her identity.

This identity is vital because the crux of the first book (and the series) is that Rowan is very “other”. She’s not fully human, not fully goddess, and more vampire than most vampires. She’s confident to the point of arrogance but it’s because at the age of 29 she knows exactly who she is and she’s comfortable with it, even when no one around her is. She’s loyal to her friends, is allergic to stupid or pompous people, and can open up a can of whoop-ass like nobody’s business. I love the way Dane shows the goddess as being an entity who works in conjunction with Rowan, and how their long association shows a great deal of trust between them. The goddess Brigid has her own history and possibly her own agenda which offers an interesting twist to future stories.

Blade To the Keep (Rowan Summerwaite #2) by Lauren Dane (Carina Press, December 9, 2013)

Which it does in the second and most recent book in the series, Blade to the Keep. Hunter Corporation will be a presence at the next vampire summit due to the vampire nation’s lack of forthcoming regarding the effect of certain drugs on blood-drinkers, information that came out in Rowan’s Vegas investigation. Because this event happens at the Keep, the castle complex where Rowan grew up under the jurisdiction of her foster father Theo, known to vampires as The First, she’s heading the corporation’s negotiations, and there are a lot of disgruntled people – vampire and human – who don’t like her designated role.

For Rowan, this summit dredges up a lot of feelings as she returns to the place she called home (and the man she called father) for the first sixteen years of her life. While she’s confident at the negotiation table, there are some new players present who have formed a “Blood Front” who do not want Hunter Corp. to force them to any additional provisions in the human/vampire treaty (billions of humans mean snack time for them). One vampire in particular seems to have a history with Rowan’s foster father, and she has it out for Rowan. Rowan has her new boyfriend, Clive Stewart, at her side although she understands that he needs to also represent his North American interests, but even with him and the backing of the First, she can’t help but feel it’s time to circle the wagons when she’s continually attacked from weird ancient vampires as well as undermined by pretentious members of Hunter Corporation who want Rowan’s job. The question remains if even the goddess within her can protect her enough to help her survive this diplomatic mission.

My mental image of the castle complex of Rowan’s foster father known as the Keep.

This book was even better than the first in the series (and I really enjoyed the first book). Having Rowan come back at age 30 to a place she left at 16 means a lot of reflection on her part resulting in her understanding as an adult things that she might not have been able to comprehend as a teen. Having a chance to mend fences with her mentally delicate and occasionally violent foster father, while also dealing with the pros and cons of being the foster daughter of the most powerful vampire on the planet, is fascinating. Add to that the smokin’ hot relationship with Clive, which both Rowan and Clive are prepared to own and not hide, and this is a recipe for a book with all the delicious political machinations which makes a great urban fantasy novel. The villain, the ancient vampire Enyo who shares a complicated history with Rowan’s foster father, also has history with Rowan’s goddess, which is going to make for a very, very interesting third book, I think!

With the majority of urban fantasy novels coming from gigantic publishing houses and with larger price tags accompanying them, this series is offered at an amazing price, coming in under four dollars for each ebook. Part of the price reduction could be Carina Press’ usual largesse, but it also could be the lower page count. Whereas most urban fantasy novels are in the 250 to 300 page range, the Rowan Summerwaite books are right around 200 pages. Far from being a criticism, I actually can’t believe how much Lauren Dane covers in such a short number of pages. Since I’m not a huge fan of first person (although I’ll make exceptions for great authors), I personally appreciate the occasional slight POV shift from Rowan to Clive and I think this choice would be appreciated by paranormal romance readers looking to try urban fantasy. The decision also allows readers to appreciate Clive (and his unique view of Rowan) as well as sheds further light on the vampire world.

With Dane having proven her chops in detailed world-building with her wonderful science fiction series the Federation Chronicles, she’s at home demonstrating the political world of the vampires and Hunter Corporation in detail. Another trademark Dane detail is to have a protagonist with close friends who are essentially that person’s family, people who accept and appreciate the character for exactly who they are. I also love how Dane always manages to have an awesome villain who is never a cardboard cutout but still is so wholly evil (and who has complicated motivations) that you love to hate them. Yum.

The excellently laid out political world of the vampires vs. the Hunters who strive to protect humans (without their knowledge) is reminiscent of the behind the scenes machinations of the Kate Daniels world, while Rowan’s astonishing potty mouth and lack of hesitancy in getting up in people’s business makes me laugh just like Darynda Jones’ fantastic Charley Davidson. If either of these series are your forte (or if you love Lauren Dane’s writing), you will want to give Rowan Summerwaite a try.

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! 🙂

Ilona Andrews’ Clean Sweep Adds Fantastic Characters and an Intriguing New World to the Urban Fantasy Genre

6 Dec

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1) by Ilona Andrews (NYLA, December 2, 2013)

Anyone who adores the Kate Daniels series or the glorious Edge books understands the phenomenon that is Ilona Andrews. A spectacular husband-and-wife author team, Ilona Andrews has a definite corner on the urban fantasy market and their latest publication, Clean Sweep, only adds to their dominance of this market.

In true urban fantasy style, Andrews begins Clean Sweep by deceptively giving us the appearance of normalcy only to strip back the layers to show us how wrong we are in our assumptions. Dina Demille runs the Gertrude Hunt Bed-and-Breakfast, a beautiful Victorian home located in a sweet suburban town in Texas. Unfortunately for her, something has been brutally killing her neighbor’s dogs in the Avalon Subdivision, and while the people around her speculate that its a mountain lion, Dina knows all too well that it’s not.

You see, it’s slowly revealed that Dina is not your normal innkeeper, or rather she’s an Innkeeper with a capital “I”, a vocation held by people with magic who bond with an inn, a place of sanctuary for all types of creatures with the understanding that the location (and the innkeepers) are neutral and can therefore offer safety. Dina’s missing parents were also Innkeepers before their mysterious disappearance and while she’s been channelling her energies into revitalizing her previously abandoned inn, she’s never stopped looking for them.

But this deadly magical creature on the loose puts her neighbors into danger, and at first Dina is highly suspicious that one of them, Sean Evans, a werewolf may be involved, but it’s a supposition she quickly discards. While he tries to deflect Dina’s imperative to figure out what’s going on in his territory (not wanting to admit that he’s a werewolf to a strange human), he quickly realizes that she’s nothing to be trifled with. That he’s never heard of or met an Innkeeper is part of his confusion, but this ex-military man is deadly and very, very territorial. He’s not thrilled about a mysterious creature on the loose and he’s definitely unhappy that Dina feels she has the right to engage it. It seems he’s feeling a territorial about her as well.

The seamless blending of science fiction elements into this urban fantasy is addictive.

The seamless blending of science fiction elements into this urban fantasy is addictive. Image purchase via Shutterstock.

One of the realities Dina helps Sean face is that he’s not some morphed DNA but an engineered race and one of many. As Dina tells Sean, “For various reasons, Earth is a way station for many travelers. We’re the Atlanta of the galaxy: many beings stop here for a layover.” And she transmits this information none too soon. While Dina and Sean have managed to kill a few of the monstrous creatures stalking them, the corpses (or rather what’s inside them) attracts the unwelcome attention of vampires – and they are not the sparkly kind, but the instead the kickass, alien warrior knight kind with a very distinct code of honor.

When one of them is badly hurt, his relative, Arland, a Marshal of House Krahr, comes to protect his uncle and seek vengeance on and information about the assassin wielding these creatures. Sean and Dina realize that they are involved in something much bigger than just a crazed creature in the neighborhood and they put their heads and power together with Arland to flush out the perpetrator while hopefully saving their home. That is, if they can all manage to not get killed first.

Dina is a fascinating heroine, one more than capable of carrying a series on her shoulders (particularly with the help of her morphing broom). I liked how she was well-trained in both magical and physical self-defense but she’s not prone to the mind-altering violence we expect (and love) in Kate Daniels. Dina is truly the embodiment of her inn, a defender of hearth and home who provides sanctuary and protection to others, and she’ll go to any length to insure that safety. That her potential love interests are a footloose werewolf and a vampire who is the head of his clan’s military branch offers a natural source of conflict as it’s hard to imagine a successful long-term partnership with either man (although it’s very, very easy to imagine a successful mating!). The entire story is laced with Andrews’ fantastic sense of humor – those little references or popular culture moments that bring a big grin onto your face.

It’s a profound skill as a writer to reveal layer upon layer of a rich world while also building layers of a plot and make it all look effortless. The immediate story is the one of “who is sending these creatures and why?” – a question which ends up revealing a much more interesting plot with politics and otherworld power struggles. Yet the larger story arc reveals questions that the first book leaves unanswered in order for the series to progress: what happened to Dina’s parents? Where is her brother? What is Sean going to do in the other realm for the werewolves? What are Sean and Arland’s intentions toward Dina?

A shi tzu, the closest we can come to understanding Dina’s wonderful dog, Beast (considering that Beast can morph into something a bit scarier than this little cutie). Image via Wikipedia.

As is typical with Ilona Andrews, the amazing secondary characters blow you away and convince you that this world they’ve crafted actually exists. I love it that the house is truly a character – complete with emotions and reactions just like a human. Any follower of Andrews’ blog knows the troublesome but lovable role their animals provide and Beast, Dina’s dog, will be more than recognizable to any animal lover (her treeing Sean, the alpha werewolf, was one of my favorite scenes!). Even Dina’s permanent guest, Caldenia, clearly has a rich story to tell as she appears to be royalty or some type of powerful entity who may very well eat someone (but don’t try and separate her from her Mello Yello soft drink).

Doris Mantair not only did the cover art but also the interior, stunning full-color illustrations that bring Caldenia, Sean and Arland to life (ladies, please note that Sean and Arland are both available for download in the form of various wallpapers for your electronic devices via Ilona Andrews’ website). This book was an experiment for the writing duo, having been published for free in weekly serial form over several weeks and honed with the continual feedback of readers. That said, the original free format of its release has done nothing to inhibit sales of the official print version, as Andrews’ just announced on December 5th that Clean Sweep had reached the #2 and #3 slots for paranormal and urban fantasy on Amazon in just a few short days. I anticipate that fans (like me!) will be clamoring for scenes from Sean and Arland’s persepectives a la the Curran scenes that are so hugely popular. 🙂

Andrews’ website did announce that the sequel to Clean Sweep would come out in early 2014, but its unclear to me at this time whether there is a single sequel or multiple books which would fulfill the series name of “Innkeeper Chronicles” more thoroughly. Either way, this series (like every other series by Ilona Andrews) has leapt into my “pre-order it, dammit!” list rather quickly. Fans of Andrews, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance with more than a big dose of science fiction elements will want to rush out and grab Clean Sweep while they can.

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!

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

15 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown to Christmas: Vampires Celebrate the Holiday in Holiday With a Vampire III from Silhouette Nocturne

15 Dec

You know I’m trying to approach my Countdown to Christmas series touching on a variety of subgenres in the world of romance, and I realized I had no vampires. *gasp* Paranormal romance with vampires and werewolves is a huge subset of the fiction we all enjoy, so I had to have some representation, right?

I stumbled across the fact that, for a few years running, Silhouette Books produced a holiday anthology with a vampire focus, collecting novellas from well-known authors of category romance in this area and inserting a holiday season and some snow.

The spirit of Christmas is most assuredly not the focus, so don’t go looking to this anthology for that. This collection is more about hot, hot vampires finding that one person meant for them right around the holiday. Honestly, my favorite Christmas vampire story comes from the best vampire series ever, the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost. In the anthology, The Bite Before Christmas, Frost published “Home for the Holiday” where Cat and Bones try and have an ideal Christmas but circumstances throw a serious wrench in the works.

But if you haven’t read Jeaniene Frost (and for goodness sake, what are you waiting for?), then a collection like Holiday With a Vampire III can satisfy that craving at an affordable price and with no need for understanding complicated backstory or series’ arcs.

“Sundown” by Linda Winstead Jones

Interestingly enough, while Linda Winstead Jones is no stranger to paranormal romance, she had never written a vampire romance before this one. When speaking to her writing group about how she’d probably never do one, this story just sort of popped into her head…and stayed there. So she decided to write it down and here we are.

Untouchable (Emperor’s Bride #1) by Linda Winstead Jones (Berkley, August 5, 2008) – Jones is known for sexy fantasy novels with a paranormal element

Abby is the owner of the Sundown Bar in Budding Corner, Alabama, a perfect town as it’s not too small nor too big. That’s helpful because as a four-hundred year old vampire, Abby needs a certain degree of anonymity. Because of her seniority and inherent power, other vampires are drawn to her and the bar for guidance. The city attracts the rogue vampires and the small towns have everyone in your business, so Budding Corner is just right.

Except for one particular human. Sexy detective Leo Stryker doesn’t seem to have the natural avoidance issues of the other humans who patronize the bar. He is drawn to the lovely Abby and keeps asking her out, unfazed by her stream of rejection. But when a patron is murdered, her throat ripped out and her body drained of blood, he has to question the last people who saw her alive, and they were all at the bar.

Abby is incensed that this murder happened on her turf, possibly by someone she knows. That it keeps throwing the temptation of Leo in her path is not helping her resist her craving for his blood and his body, not necessarily in that order. Taking him as a lover would endanger her control of the area as vampires see humans merely as pets with a short shelf life, but she can’t seem to stay away, even when she has wipe his mind after every encounter. Planting the suggestion that he should leave her alone doesn’t help, since he keeps coming back. But when whatever killed that girl puts Leo in its sights, Abby might not be fast enough to save the person who suddenly means more than her own life.

If this is Jones’ first vampire story, she would do well to try writing another – it was fantastic! I liked how vampire society existed right alongside humans but they didn’t realize its presence except to shy away from its members, a nice mammalian reminder that we are still animals who sense predators. Most convincing, though, was the cool and emotionally distant attitude of vampire toward humans. That seemed like a logical development when vampires knew humans were going to die (and that they might be the one to kill them). Leo breaks through Abby’s shell and you feel the pain every time they make a connection and she’s forced to wipe his mind. A terrific ending (and epilogue) that makes me cheer for the patrons of the Sundown Bar, wherever it may be located!

“Nothing Says Christmas Like a Vampire” (Secret Vampire Society #2) by Lisa Childs

Sienna Briggs is standing over her grandmother’s coffin right before Christmas, crying. She’s truly alone now, all her family dead, and trying to keep her promise to stay cheerful and celebrate the holiday but it feels impossible. When a handsome man with a familiar diamond-shaped scar on his chin sweeps in claiming she has to come with him so he can protect her, she thinks he’s a crazy con man attracted by the obituary in the paper. Until the memory of him, looking exactly as he is now, resurfaces. This man pulled her from the wreckage of the car accident that killed her parents when she was seven. She promptly faints into his arms.

The Secret Vampire Society (Secret Vampire Society #1) by Lisa Childs (Silhouette Nocturne, October 1, 2009)

Vampire Julian Vossimer knows what he’s doing is wrong, but he can’t help himself. He felt guilty he couldn’t do more to spare this woman pain twenty years ago when she was a child and now that she’s a gorgeous woman with a strong pull on him, he’s not about to let her be killed by his kind. Sienna doesn’t know that what she thought were drug-induced ravings during her grandmother’s last days was actually the truth. Julian’s powerful grandfather suspected Sienna’s grandmother of knowing about the secret society of vampires, but he couldn’t prove it until she was overheard in the nursing home by a planted spy. The grandmother died naturally, but now by law, Sienna must also.

I’m actually okay with the instant love at first sight (or sexual encounter) trope, particularly when one or both characters have paranormal qualities. There was an interesting backstory with Sienna’s grandmother rejecting Julian decades earlier because she knew (she had mind-reading abilities) that he was just fascinated with her beauty versus the man who actually loved her (Sienna’s grandfather). Julian has felt unworthy of love during his long existence with a string of distant relatives and other rejections, so when he falls head over heels – finally! – with Sienna, he doesn’t tell her, worried that she also will reject him. All Sienna hears is that the man she just slept with in a bone-melting way wants to marry her to protect her, but she is wearing her grandmother’s ring to remind her of her promise to only marry for love. While she’s fallen, it doesn’t seem like he has, and her trying to gain a little distance could result in both of their deaths.

A couple things. First, I happen to believe that if you had a secret society, you wouldn’t refer to it as “The Secret Vampire Society,” you’d come up with a better code name, but that’s clearly me. Childs, a well-known name in category paranormal, has an entire series built around the Secret Society of vampires and it’s very popular. This story is technically the second in the series (see above cover for the first), so if you enjoy it, you’ll have lots of other books to enjoy. I found the ending a little saccharine (and Sienna just gains her grandmother’s mind-reading ability all of a sudden?) but loved how Julian and Sienna had a happy ending after years of suffering.

“Unwrapped” (Draicon Werewolves #7) by Bonnie Vanak 

Bonnie Vanak is also famous with vampire romance fans, but her stories have a bit of a twist. Her vampires live in a world alongside the Draicon, the werewolves who also have their own society and traditions, and the two are usually enemies.

Unless they are more, that is. Adrian is the powerful son of his vampire clan leader, but is serving the term of his banishment in a mansion in Maine until Christmas Eve, when his father and elders come to evaluate his worthiness to return to the clan and be the heir. But six unruly goblins who are his friends (they are hilarious!) give him an ugly doll for Christmas, an enchanted one who just happens to be the beautiful werewolf Adrian is still in love with, despite his best efforts not to be.

Taken by the Alpha Wolf (Draicon Werewolves #1) by Bonnie Vanak (Amazon Digital Services, June 24, 2011)

After Sarah is dunked in a pool in the dead of a Maine winter, her magical ability to transform kept at bay with a silver bracelet, the last person she expects to see is her vampire friend from all those years ago. Adrian makes it clear he feels horribly betrayed when she left him on that beach to fight her enemies, the Morphs (evil werewolves who have killed their own kind and taken on the ability to transform into any creature). He still doesn’t know what called her away or what happened afterward, and she’s horrified to discover that the vampires present at the battle did not help him fight the way she assumed they would. Instead those cold representatives of his race watched him get beaten and then left him in the sun to suffer permanent scarring until he begged for their help. That incident began the term of his banishment since he had broken their laws to help a werewolf.

Adrian doesn’t want to feel anything but distance seeing Sarah again but she’s even more lovely than ever, if thinner and clearly exhausted. He tries to let his anger fuel their interaction, but she was his best friend as well as the untouchable woman he was in love with. Discovering that her destined mate died long ago without her ever being with him jolts him into the awareness that she might possibly be within reach, even if just for one night. They cannot be together by the rules of both their kind, but this tie between them cannot be denied. When he discovers that she did not maliciously leave him, but in fact left for a horrifying but very good reason, he realizes what a hell her life has been the last decade while he was wallowing. When their mutual enemies resurface, they both have a chance to conquer what tore them apart, but it might not be enough to keep them together.

In the romance world it’s not uncommon for one of the hero/heroine pair to know that they’ve met the person destined for them, but for whatever reason (they are too young, circumstances aren’t right, blah, blah, blah) they can’t be together and they sleep with other people in an effort to ignore what they know deep in their heart. Major kudos to Adrian who knows that there is no one but Sarah for him the moment he meets her eleven years earlier, and who remains completely celibate since – even after he thinks she betrayed their friendship by leaving him on the sand on that beach. He doesn’t even kiss Sarah out of respect for her being promised to a mate!

Adrian was the perfect tortured vampire (is there any other kind?) and Sarah was so brave with everything she’d been through. Her injury at the hands of someone she loved and trusted was heartbreaking and finding out just how close that tie was broke my heart. While I felt the ending was a little tidy with two races putting aside some rather long-standing animosity, certainly there was an “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” vibe happening, so I’m willing to go along with it. I loved seeing them both happy after eleven years of suffering and hope they keep those awesome goblins around.

This anthology provided some solid vampire fare with a little injection of Christmas angst, enough to make your grateful for having a not-so-tortured holiday! With novellas from some famous authors in the paranormal category romance world, this is a nice way to sample the writing styles of women who can serve up many more books if you find yourself clicking with their view of the vampire world. While they might prefer red for a different reason, these sexy vampires are all ready to spread their version of holiday cheer. 🙂

Alpha Angels and the Kick Ass Heroines Who Love Them: Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter Series

27 Nov

Angel’s Blood (Guild Hunter #1) (Berkley, April 3, 2009)

There is a fine line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance and I’m sure I’ll do a “Professor Tori” post on exactly what that is, because it’s darn interesting. Nalini Singh, a powerhouse author in the romance world, writes both with enough crossover that she’s not easy to pigeonhole. The good news is that she’s such a talented writer you don’t care what category she falls in and simply lay back and savor every word of her books. As with all overviews of series, this post will naturally hold some spoilers since you can figure out from one novel later in the series what has happened earlier, but I’ll do my best not to give it all away and just give you the highlights.

Most of the Guild Hunter series falls under the category of urban fantasy, with characters engaged in a battle of good versus evil in an urban setting, characters like Elena Deveraux, a Guild Hunter. Elena lives in a New York not far removed from the one we know, except for one rather large difference. In her New York, angels rule large swaths of the world as territories, granting immortal life to chosen humans who are made by them into vampires – vampires who enter into indentured servitude to angels in exchange for their extended life.

But not all vampires are able to leave their human independence behind for the necessary amount of time to pay back their debt, or they fail to follow the careful proscribed rules regarding how to treat humans. Once they step outside the line, an international organization, the Guild, comprised of the best vampire trackers anywhere, dispatches one of its own to run down and subdue the rogue vampire. These trackers are often endowed with an additional ability to actually scent vampires and gravitate to the Guild. This is not just because their nature makes them unhappy if they are not doing the work they were meant to do, but also because they don’t truly fit into any society. The angels are remote and inaccessible to everyone but vampires, the vampires see humans as food, and humans view Guild Hunters with suspicion.

In Angel’s Blood, this is the world Elena Deveraux knows, but she came into her ability in a brutal way, watching most of her family brutally slaughtered by a mentally ill vampire when she was just a child. Rejected by her surviving father and sister, the Guild has become Elena’s life and she’s damn good at what she does. Her friends in the Guild are real family and she loves the life she’s made for herself.

It’s a life that quickly takes on new meaning when she is summoned to the Angel’s Tower, headquarters of Raphael, the archangel who rules the East Coast with New York as his base of operations. She has seen the angels, flying to and from the Tower roof from the balcony of her apartment, but never thought to see any angel in person, to say nothing of the angel, Raphael himself. At most he does his business through the Seven, the seven angels and vampires utterly loyal to him who conduct his business and punish those who step out of line. Raphael has contracted her to do a job, but why on earth can’t he just go through the Guild like business as usual? When she finds herself on the roof of the Tower facing the most beautiful creature she’s ever seen, she realizes nothing in her life would ever be the same from this moment on.

Raphael is fascinated by the human hunter in front of him. Her gorgeous blond hair is a stark contrast to her honey skin and North African features but what strikes him most is her demeanor. Only a fool wouldn’t be scared in the presence of an angel with their prodigious strength and mental power, and Elena Devereaux is not a fool. But despite her fear, she is able to demonstrate her amazing scenting ability and stand up to him to demand respect, even knowing she could be killed.

He has always been attracted to warrior women over the centuries that he’s been in existence and this one has him truly fascinated. He even thinks he could trust her, which is a good development since what she will be tracking could wreak destruction on not just her corner of New York but the whole world. But this human holds her in hands the power to also end Raphael’s existence by making him vulnerable in a way he’s never been before, and it may mean the death of them both.

Let me make perfectly clear that I challenge anyone to come up with an alpha male more alpha than Raphael. When your love interest is about a thousand years old, has prodigious physical strength, possesses major mental powers, and holds the ability to kill or have killed almost anyone he knows, well, it’s not boasting to know you are the top of the food chain and everyone serves at your pleasure. That Nalini Singh understands that Raphael’s alpha constitution is both a flaw and a strength is what makes her such an incredible writer. Raphael struggles to understand the boundaries that Elena insists on and is, no lie, ready to die for in order for them to be equal in at least one way in their relationship. Elena must be Elena and for a while you’re not really sure if Raphael has the ability to change, since he’s never asked to by anyone. Ever.

But the act of beginning to respect Elena’s needs, of negotiating with her so he can exercise his desire to protect from other dangers like himself, and of finding a way to be her equal in their relationship is an unadulterated joy to witness. She is more important to him than asserting his power just because he can, and that’s unbelievably sexy.

Angel’s Pawn (Guild Hunter #.5 – Ashwini and Janvier’s prequel novella) (Berkley, March 3, 2009)

In Angel’s Pawn, we have a prequel to Angel’s Blood with Elena’s fellow Guild Hunter, the former dancer, Ashwini, once again in the South on the trail of her perpetual nemesis, the sexy vampire Janvier. He’s always managed to make peace at the last minute with the angels who send her after him but they’ve taken each other on some pretty fun chases over the years. This time, the court of angel Nazarach, filled with cruelty and intrigue, has fallen under suspicion and Ashwini and Janvier must go in as partners to determine what really is going on. Can Ashwini keep reminding herself that getting involved with Janvier is a bad idea or will his sweet southern drawl and good looks supercede her good sense?

Major warning. Ashwini and Janvier will have their own book in the future but this isn’t it; rather this is a novella that is meant to show the complexities of the angel system of rule and the level of cruelty which exists within the structure. The side benefit is that we get to see the smokin’ level of sexual tension (and essentially the inherent sympathy) between these two characters, who are fantastic. Janvier shares the vampire allure of someone who has lived for centuries, with all the sensual knowledge inherent in that existence. Yet for all those years, Janvier sees something unique and special with Ashwini, who doesn’t lack her own secrets and perspective. For her to be drawn to what she must hunt (a vampire in general and Janvier specifically), is a dangerous situation for both her body and her heart.

“Angel’s Judgement” (Guild Hunter #1.5 –  Sara and Deacon’s story) in Must Love Hellhounds anthology (Berkley, September 1, 2009)

Novellas for series often crop up in anthologies and the Guild Hunter series is no exception. In Must Love Hellhounds, we find Angel’s Judgement (also available along with several other series novellas in the anthology Angel’s Flight) which, despite it’s being named #1.5 in the Guild Hunter series, should be actually numbered. #.75 since it happens at least a year or so prior to Angel’s Blood.

It’s an important year. Sara Haziz is a Guild Hunter and a good one despite her small size. Her current boss is ready to retire and he wants to name her the next Guild Director, a job she’s not 100% sure she’s up to, but she’s interested. While the angels decide if she’s right for the position she also must solve a mystery regarding someone targeting vampires, a mystery man identified by victims as  a Guild Hunter.  When a gorgeous, gigantic man shows up to question her collared vamp, she can’t help that her heart is beating faster and she wants to lick him all over. She might capture vampires but she’s only human.

Sara’s astonished to discover that the huge man helping her is none other than Deacon, the Slayer, whose job it is to hunt Guild Hunters if they go rogue. She had no idea that he was so young, so good looking, or the same famed weapons maker she’s admired for years, but with his warm hands and deep voice, she’s more than a little drawn to the total package. He’s also a great partner, but she realizes that this case is getting more complicated by the minute. If she accepts the Guild Director job, she’ll be Deacon’s boss, so there’s no relationship allowed there. She also can’t ask him to leave his work since he’s a private person who would abhor being with a woman who had a highly visible job, involving glittering parties and political machinations.

Deacon can’t believe the crappy description he got of Sara Haziz; why did no one mention that she was a petite, curvy goddess? The way she handles a crossbow would make any weapons master hot and Deacon plans to get the most out of their time together. It’s lonely being the Slayer. Who wants to really get close to someone who may be assigned to take you down one day? But Sara doesn’t seem afraid of anything and it’s easy to see she’d make a great Guild Director – particularly with the angels constantly testing her toughness, distracting them both while they are trying to solve this case. But more difficult than the constant fighting is when he begins to realize that walking away and leaving Sara to pursue her bright future might be the hardest thing he’s ever done.

If you don’t adore Deacon and Sara…well…I have no use for you. You have a dead heart, because these two are a fabulous couple, great hunters, and clearly meant to be together. The ending was AMAZING and actually chokes me up and makes me grin like an idiot, all at the same time. Genius.

Archangel’s Kiss (Guild Hunter #2) (Berkley, February 2, 2010)

In the next full-length book in the Guild Hunter series, Elena wakes up from her year-long coma more than a little surprised at her transformation. In Archangel’s Kiss, we see the ramifications of Raphael’s unconscious decision at the end of Angel’s Blood, namely that he has made her an angel, a phenomenon which has not occurred for thousands of years. Her friends are ready to storm the Tower (after being put off for almost a year they’re convinced she’s dead or a vampire) and Elena can’t get over the stunning dark wings the color of twilight she’s sporting.

Raphael is elated that Elena is finally awake, but as a newly made angel she’s almost more delicate than she was as a human. He takes her to the Refuge for safety and to learn how to be an angel, but she faces threats there as well, from his enemies who are irritated at this show of Raphael’s ability and who realize that Elena is his only weakness. Although he wants to give her plenty of time to find her wings and train with his Seven to be strong again, an unspeakable crime leaves him with no choice but to call upon Elena’s tracking ability, even when the ultimate danger comes knocking at his door.

For Elena she realizes that being “immortal” isn’t a reality for another couple of centuries and she’s got to get strong fast for both her sake and Raphael’s. She’s unbelievably annoyed with him for being such a mother hen and his behavior causes a major renegotiation of their relationship; she has to make him realize that she’s got to be herself or die trying. His Seven see her as a weakness and are not thrilled (well, most of them aren’t thrilled) at her continued presence in his life, but they resign themselves to protecting her for Raphael’s sake, especially if it means beating the crap out of her in the practice ring to help “train” her. With any luck, her natural strength, her new wings, and the efforts of the Seven will help her face the threat so determined to end her life with Raphael before it even has a chance to begin.

Such a great book on so many levels! Seeing the natural outcome of the power shift between Elena and Raphael (and how Raphael is such a total newbie in even having a relationship) is actually very sweet and hot and you share Elena’s frustration when Raphael is treating her with kid gloves, particularly in the bedroom. A big part of this book happens at the Refuge, the secret area where the angels are born and raised, guarding their most important asset, their young. Not only does this help us understand them better, but it also introduces many characters, like the teacher Jessamy of the broken wing, and the various members of Raphael’s Seven who we haven’t yet met. The more I find out about archangels, particularly the psychotic ones, the less I like them, and the risk they pose to Elena is a very real one, particularly when a certain archangel gets in her head to dredge up the dark ghosts of Elena’s past.

Archangel’s Consort (Guild Hunter #3) (Berkley, January 25, 2011)

With the archangel Cadre reshuffling after their recent balance of power has changed, Elena and Raphael return to New York in Archangel’s Consort and Elena begins to feel she can get on with her life. Wearing Raphael’s amber (and he hers) means they belong to one another, but when she is called upon to do her Guild Work again after a vampire attacks a girls’ school, what she finds has her loyalty split between the Guild and Raphael, and it’s not easy. The fact that one of her half-sisters was the actual target also complicates things, specifically because it stirs up a life’s worth of animosity and secrets between her estranged father and herself.

When one strange thing after another begins to happen, it becomes clear that more than a vampire is at work and Raphael begins to withdraw, suspecting his mother, the archangel Caliane. Elena begins to realize that what’s worse than having a mother-in-law is having an archangel mother-in-law who disappeared after going the archangel version of batshit crazy. Powerful archangels have the ability to “sleep” for centuries in order to restore themselves and indications are occurring that Caliane could be awakening, possibly not in a restored state, with disastrous results for the world and for Raphael.

The mother-in-law storyline is a wonderful device in his novel, as it adds a layer of relationship complexity in a story that could easily be about Elena adjusting to life as a angel out in the world, as a Guild Hunter with torn loyalties and as a daughter forced to face painful secrets. An old nemesis is certainly present stirring up trouble and Elena has to also deal with the members of the Seven who love her and the ones who definitely don’t. Where other authors could have let the series slump, Singh is full speed ahead, with Elena fighting for Raphael as he faces the dark reality of what he could easily become.

Archangel’s Blade (Guild Hunter #4 – Dmitri and Honor’s story) (Berkley, September 6, 2011)

After reading so much about the Seven, the angels and vampires who make up Raphael’s elite guard, it’s wonderful to have a novel devoted to one of them, and Singh does not leave us wanting as she focuses on the hottest, sexiest member, the seductive vampire Dmitri in Archangel’s Blade.

Dmitri’s been a pain in Elena’s ass from day 1, but a hot pain in the ass  and the reader never doubts his loyalty or his deadliness. He’s an old, old friend of Raphael’s (their relationship began when Dmitri was human centuries ago) and Raphael is only person who actually understands why Dmitri is as dark as he is. This particular vampire is only capable of finding pleasure in pain because all the love was violently removed from his life in one fell swoop long ago.

Honor is a Guild Hunter who lived through inconceivable torture at the hands of vampires. She’s been holed up in Guild Headquarters trying to recover, but she is only too aware of how shattered she is, and her friends can see it too. Yet when her boss Sara asks her to work with Dmitri on a case, she’s not sure she is going to be able to follow orders. There is no doubting that Dmitri is stirring something within her that hasn’t moved since before her trauma, but he’s not to be trusted and she needs the next man to touch her to be trusted above all else. Plus, ever since she’s spent time with Dmitri she has been having vivid dreams of someone else’s life and she suspects it might be his. It’s disturbing and making her feel things better left alone.

This book gets a lot of strong feedback on Goodreads, with people either loving it (it’s Dmitri after all) or taking vocal issue with the very paranormal piece of Honor’s past. I not only have no problem with it, I adore the solution, since I choose to think of Dmitri’s centuries of man-whoring as his violent acting out after losing the only thing which meant anything to him, his family. Because someone with such violent passions is bound to have only one true love, Singh did exactly what any writer should have done and yet showed us how strong and different Honor was from any woman Dmitri knew before. It’s pure gold and there is something extraordinary at seeing someone so dark embrace love again.

Angels of Darkness (Guild Hunter #4.5 – Noel and Nimra’s story) (Berkley, October 4, 2011)

The next novella, Angel’s Wolf, published in the anthology Angels of Darkness, takes us away from Raphael’s court but with a tie to it nonetheless. Noel was a victim in a previous book, a vampire tortured so profoundly that he wished he had been able to die. Sent to the court of the angel Nimra, Raphael’s foremost angel in the Louisiana territory, he expects nothing but cruelty from her, even though she is breathtaking. But as he sees the respect she shows all who work for her and the love she receives in return, he questions how she is able to maintain control. In the world he knows, angels must show brutality and ruthlessness to the forces who would otherwise usurp their power.

Nimra has a particular power that lets her harm only those who would seek to harm her or encroach on her territory. She has carried the pain of loss through the centuries and now an attack from within has her horrified that she has a traitor in her midst. Nimra is grateful for the competent and masterful vampire Raphael has sent to help her, but she can see how damaged Noel is from his attack and how his strong personality could easily try and dominate her own. The question remains whether it would be worth the challenge to have such a partner, especially one that makes her heart feel that which she thought it never would again.

Noel is heartbreakingly wonderful, an alpha hero who manages the trick of respecting the angel who rules while also being a man around her in the fullest sense. His distrust of her is only natural after what he experienced, so it’s all the more meaningful as he slowly lets down his barriers, encouraging Nimra – loyal and kind Nimra – to do the same. If you’re an animal lover, do yourself a favor and have tissues handy. This one is a doozy.

Angel’s Flight (containing all previous published novellas and the new novella, Guild Hunter #4.75 – Jessamy and Galen’s story)

The next anthology is actually the one that readers wanting the whole series should get, as it compiles all of the previous novellas mentioned (Ashwini and Janvier in Angel’s Pawn, Sara and Deacon in Angel’s Judgement, and Noel and Nimra in Angel’s Wolf) plus a new novella, Angel’s Flight.

Angel’s Flight focuses on one particular angel we already love and respect, the lovely, willowy teacher in the Refuge, Jessamy. She has been the angel historian for centuries, but because of her crippled wing, she has the task of teaching the little ones their history. While she adores working with the children, her self-consciousness about her condition has kept her from having meaningful relationships with men since she is all too conscious she is not the equal of an angel who will naturally want to fly with his lover.

Galen is the new weapons master to Raphael, having transfered from a rival court where he had no hope of advancement. He’s hoping to give his loyalty to Raphael and eventually become one of his guard and is prepared to work his butt off to prove himself to this impressive archangel. One look at Jessamy and Galen begins to think he could win something much more than just a position in Raphael’s court, he could win a woman’s heart. But part of that game will be convincing her of her own worth and showing her how she is more free to choose than she currently believes.

Oh my God, Galen is such a guy, exactly what you would expect from a weapons master who is brawny and makes killing tools out of leather and steel! But the unlikely pairings are the ones that we like the best, aren’t they, and intellectual, delicate Jessamy with someone who could probably star in a gladiator movie is the ultimate odd couple. A hot odd couple, FYI, and he sees exactly who Jessamy is and what she’s been hiding all these years. Not content to allow her to stunt her potential, he challenges her every step of the way, pushing her out of her comfort zone while providing unconditional backup. This novella is actually a prequel and could easily be read prior to any of the series, but it’s great where it is, giving more insight into the two characters and a lot more insight into angel politics (a nice segway into the next full-length novel) and the Refuge.

Archangel’s Storm (Guild Hunter #5 – Jason and Mahiya’s story) (Berkley, September 4, 2012)

Rather than an Elena and Raphael book (the next one is due out in 2013, I believe), Singh focuses on another member of the Seven, and a damn elusive one at that for the next full-length novel. Jason is the ultimate spymaster for Raphael, an angel with wings black as night who can cloak himself in shadow and hear whispers on the wind of political machinations happening around the world.

In Archangel’s Storm, this ability makes Jason the perfect angel to send to the court of rival archangel Neha. Neha is the queen of poison and her court is beautiful and very deadly, particularly to her consort who has just turned up murdered. Neha had kept him imprisoned for centuries after she discovered he had cuckholded her with her own sister, who produced a child from the union, the Princess Mahiya.

Mahiya may be young in angel years but she’s old in the ways of Neha’s political manipulations. Growing up in an environment where she could trust no one, surrounded by selfish angels who knew Mahiya’s very existence was a reminder of her sister and her consort’s ultimate betrayal, wasn’t a condition that lent itself to fast friendships. She had even been used before by male angels bent on having her body and heart only to break her for Neha’s pleasure.

It’s a history that makes her wary when the dark and beautiful Jason arrives to investigate the death of Neha’s one true love. Mahiya has her own reasons for helping him and quickly realizes in his presence that here is one angel who could really break her heart. He’s noble and kind, sensual and deadly, and Neha finally might have met her match in him and his ruler, Raphael. When Mahiya and Jason realize that Mahiya’s own past is playing a part in the deadly game afoot in the court, they also are aware that he is probably her only hope of survival.

I wasn’t sure what I thought of Jason being the next in line for his own novel (I, like everyone, am waiting with bated breath for Bluebell’s story) but I should have just trusted Nalini Singh who has never, in any series, led me wrong. Jason is a strong hero more than capable of holding an entire book on his strong shoulders and the erosion of his spymaster wariness of Mahiya is a pleasure to witness. Seeing this poor young angel finally find a measure of happiness after a lifetime of living under Neha’s thumb is its own reward as well and I adored the ending when she finally realized what her life could finally be. So sweet.

The year 2013 will be a good one with more Guild Hunter books on the horizon. Honestly, between this and the Psy-Changeling series, I give Nalini Singh a major tip of the hat for her productivity. For a writer to produce so many books and novellas in multiple series each year – and that they each are of outstanding quality with zero slacking visible – makes me think that she’s a writing genius and a productive one at that. If she ever needs anyone to come do her laundry or walk her dog, I’ll fly to New Zealand if it means helping her get more writing time behind her computer!

Many thanks to Nalini Singh for her fertile imagination, unparalleled writing ability and to Berkley Romance for having the good sense to publish her. All your hard work is appreciated, I promise. 🙂

Kendra Leigh Castle’s Amazing Dark Dynasties Series Stands Out In the Sea of Paranormal Romance

26 Jul

Dark Awakening (#1 Dark Dynasties Series – Ty and Lily’s story) by Kendra Leigh Castle (Forever, July 1, 2011)

Before you even start, yes, I am aware that the paranormal romance world is literally flooded with vampire books that are barely spell-checked to say nothing of actually comprised of vibrant characters and a well-drawn world of darkness. I’ve read some of them and threw more than a few across the room in disgust. Sister, I hear you.

Because, let’s be honest here, there are certain things we all expect from a vampire romance, right? First off, the hero (and it is the man who is the vampire, more often than not), has to actually be an honorable person. He can be a bad boy, but even bad boys have their own code of what’s right and wrong. Invariably he is strong and possesses a warrior mentality (how else can a vampire survive all those years?). He’s got to be a little damaged, maybe a lot damaged, but not past redemption. A sense of humor, even one long buried, is not mandatory, but helps bring out the sexy in our fanged friend.

Oh, and speaking of sexy? Vampire heroes have this one nailed (no pun intended). I don’t like a man whore (well, a reformed man whore, a la Bones from the Night Huntress series is more than okay), but he has to know his way around the sheets and have a skill set he can bring to the…ah…table. I want to see bursting into flames outside of exposure to the sun, if you get my drift.

The heroine of a vampire romance has a list of requirements she must meet as well. A good heroine has to have her own type of power to bring to the match so she and our vampire hero are on even ground at least in some areas. She must have heart, serious heart, involving the ability to love fiercely since the mark of the vampire hero is that he often doesn’t feel worthy of love after his years of loneliness. She can’t be cowed easily since Mr. Bossy Bitey-Man is likely to have gotten his way for far too long, and the heroine’s ability to stand up for herself will help the hero understand that he must treat her as an equal.

Renegade Angel by Kendra Leigh Castle (Harlequin Nocturne, September 1, 2010) – Hot Angels. Sexier Fallen Angels. And the occasional overworked hot vampire. Walk, don’t run, to your nearest bookstore and get this.

Are you scoffing at me? Telling me that these books are as rare as a clean port-o-potty during the last day of your state fair? Well, Ms. Skeptical, please look over here and let me introduce you to my new favorite author, the lovely Kendra Leigh Castle.

You might remember Kendra from my kvelling over her novella in the recently reviewed, Vacation with a Vampire, a novella which led me to the related novel she published, Renegade Angel (which was fabulous!!). Seeing the reviews for her Dark Dynasties series and also noticing the third book was available as an ARC from NetGalley, I decided to request it, and based on my faith in her, purchased the first two books in the series.

I was not disappointed! In fact, Kendra’s Dark Dynasties series just made my short list of books I will buy in pre-order and pay full price for since they are so damn well-written. Let’s take a look at the three books in this series and you can tell me what you think, eh?

Dark Awakening (Book 1) – Ty and Lily’s story

Hey, guess what is sexier than a vampire? A vampire with Fae blood running through his veins who can shift into a gorgeous black cat. And what’s even sexier than a prowly, sinuous, shape shifting vampire?

How about a SCOTTISH one.

Get your glass of ice water while you can because Tynan MacGillivray is not going to put aside his sex appeal because you decided to wear too many layers today. Ty is one of the Cat Sith, a vampire sired by a bloodline with a heritage from the Fae which allows its members to shift into beautiful and ferocious black cats.

Unfortunately, this ability is far from valued in a world in which vampires are judged by allegiance to the different dynasties. While once all were considered unique and equal, a hierarchy emerged centuries ago and the Cat Sith are considered the “guttertrash” of the vampire world. Condemned to either be at the fringe of vampire society or to work as slaves to powerful vampires, the majority of Cat Sith have accepted their fate to serve the cruel aristocrats, although their enforced servitude chafes.

Ty has been favored by Arsinoe, the beautiful female vampire who leads the Ptolemy dynasty. Once benevolent toward her Cat Sith subjects, times are changing and not for the better. With her highblood vampires being slaughtered and a powerful Gypsy curse blamed for the murders, Arsinoe has dispatched Tynan, her best Cat Sith tracker and assassin, to find a seer, a human capable of seeing beyond the grave.

Looking for almost a year, he has just about given up when he stumbles across a beautiful English professor, Lily Quinn. He is drawn by her scent to drink her blood and avail himself of the sexual chemistry between them, but before he can enjoy either pleasure, Ty spots an unusual mark on her collarbone, a mark that indicates Lily is claimed by another vampire dynasty rendering her untouchable. Her mind is also closed to him, a fact which marks her as a seer. Saddened by his assignment and the need to deceive her, he goes to her home to explain that he must take her to his vampire leader and deludes her into thinking she can return to her life.

But Lily and Ty find themselves under siege quickly – it seems that Ty isn’t the only one looking for the Seer. On the run, the two of them become painfully aware of the heat between them while learning more about one another. When an attack reveals Lily’s prodigious power, power no human should possess, an understanding of the mysterious dreams she’s experienced since childhood hint at a heritage that puts in her far greater danger than she was before.

I think what blew me away the most in Kendra Leigh Castle’s writing was the almost effortless introduction to the complicated world of vampire dynasties and its politics. The hierarchy of creatures with “highblooded” vampires as a tier of cruel aristrocrats bent on exploiting all other creatures captures the key facet of my top requirement for a paranormal world, namely how it must reflect to some extent the flaws of our own, and prejudice is a good place to start.

Lily is a special person who finds herself almost relieved to finally understand why she has been so different since childhood and the love she has for Ty helps her make the sacrifices necessary for his survival. For Ty, having found a person who sees him for more than his devalued heritage opens his eyes to the transformative power of love and gives him the courage to not only keep Lily safe, but attempt to challenge the very foundations of the only world he has ever known.

The captivating world and wonderful protagonists are actually equalled by the rich secondary characters introduced, characters we naturally want to see more of. Ty’s blood brother on the run, Jaden, and the lovely werewolf he insults at the Chicago safe house, Lyra, were clearly sure bets in the world of a series and the next book lets us into their world.

Midnight Reckoning (#2 Dark Dynasties series – Jaden and Lyra’s story) by Kendra Leigh Castle (Forever, January 1, 2012)

Midnight Reckoning (Book 2) – Jaden and Lyra’s story

Jaden is happy to have escaped the yoke of the Ptolemy dynasty and has pledged allegiance to the new Lilith dynasty which recognizes the equality of the Cat Sith. With the dissatisfied Ptolemy gunning for the newest vampires on the block, however, vigilance is everyone’s middle name.

When Jaden overhears an altercation during reconnaissance and investigates, he astonished to find the feisty werewolf, Lyra, about to be forcibly mated. Although he is not supposed to interfere in werewolf politics, he intervenes and she is able to escape, albeit after not demonstrating a tremendous amount of gratitude. Considering how rude Jaden was to her the last time they met this isn’t shocking, but when he finds the necklace she lost in the fight, he realizes that his animosity stems from the fact that he’s attracted to her.

This is a horrifying realization. Vampire and werewolf interaction, especially anything romantic is strictly forbidden by both species. In the world of powerful vampires the only creatures more looked down up than the Cat Sith are the werewolves. In turn, werewolves cannot stand “bloodsuckers” and consider them immoral opportunists with no honor.

Thinking that if he sees her again he can convince himself of the temporary nature of his attraction, Jaden heads to the small town in upstate New York that Lyra’s pack calls home. Discovering that she is the daughter of the alpha has pieces beginning to click in Jaden’s mind. He realizes she must be swamped with men attempting to mate her in an effort to annex her political and physical power for themselves.

But the problem goes deeper than that. Lyra’s father explains to Jaden that Lyra is bent on defying centuries of gender expectations by challenging for the beta position in the pack (and thus the heir spot to being the future alpha) and he knows that as good a fighter as she is, she’ll be killed. After seeing Jaden kicking ass vampire style, the desperate father asks Jaden to stay at their house and spend the next month teaching Lyra to fight in the hope that she can learn enough to survive and possibly win.

Lyra is irritated with herself for being so attracted to everything about this vampire, and having him under the same roof isn’t helping her REM sleep much. As Jaden reveals his past and lets her behind his cool vampire exterior, the more right and comfortable it feels to be with him, but she knows this path leads to disaster, for her and for the pack she wants to serve. The hot kisses they exchange ramp up the tension further, and stray vampires coming out the woodwork to kill Jaden only highlight the danger of his presence in pack territory. When all the conflict comes to a head, the fallout is like nothing you’d imagine!

Okay, I did NOT see the bad guy coming on this one! Kendra Leigh Castle displays a mystery/thriller writer’s mastery of weaving competing elements and story strands and giving a few of them a nice twist so you don’t see the unexpected outcomes coming down the pike. This is so rare for a romance writer, but an incredibly welcome talent (there are romantic suspense writers who could take lessons from her). Great continuing story arc from previous book of the Ptolemy vampires bent on causing trouble and I love the development of how Lily is leading the Lilith dynasty into a new era with her openness to alliances like those with werewolves and the Cat Sith. Jaden and Lyra are both hot and sweet together, with each of them filling an emptiness in one another that they didn’t realize existed.

Shadow Rising (#3 Dark Dynasties series – Damien and Ariane’s story) by Kendra Leigh Castle (Forever, July 31, 2012)

Shadow Rising (Book 3) – Damien and Ariane’s story

In the last two books, we met Damien, the Cat Sith who had pledged himself as a mercenary to the House of the Shades rather than be enslaved by the Ptolemy. On the surface a conscienceless rogue, he nevertheless has helped his Cat Sith brothers Ty and Jaden even when being paid to do otherwise.

As one of the Shades best trackers and assassin, he’s been contracted to find a missing Grigori, a rare breed of vampire characterized by their massive size, white hair and purple eyes. Little is known about them other than their desert dwelling habits and firm policy of non-interference – this is a dynasty of vampires known as the “Watchers” for a reason. Strange that one of them should go rogue, but Damien isn’t being paid to think about it.

Ariane has been a Grigori for over 900 years but she’s treated like a child by the other ancients in their desert compound, never allowed to go off the grounds and reduced to gleaning information about the outside world from books and the humans who are brought to them for sustenance. When her best friend Sammael goes missing and her archenemy Oren is charged with his return, she decides to break the rules and go searching for him herself.

Naturally she and Damien cross paths and both of them are shocked at the meeting. Damien has spent so long with a deadened heart that he’s amazed at the level of fascination both his human self and his cat are experiencing at the smell of this woman. Granted, even with her terrible wig, her lavender eyes (to say nothing of her body) make her the most beautiful creature he’s ever seen, but if there is one rule Damien religiously adheres to, it’s the one that states he works alone. The fact that she seems innocent enough to have grown up in a fairy tale tower seems like an additional complication.

But after Ariane displays how her centuries of near captivity have been spent in honing fighting skills, he’s willing to consider a compromise. Ariane is experiencing lust and desire for the first time and it’s all directed at this gorgeous British vampire with his sandy blond hair and roguish eyes. Damien is brutally honest with her about his many faults and is more than up front about his inability to form attachments, but she sees past the surface to the latent sense of honor and profound loneliness he’s battled for years.

As they both attempt to untangle their true feelings for one another, political machinations of the dynasties put everyone in danger. Other assassins are sent after Sammael and his brother Lucan with Ariane caught in the crossfire and the exposure of a Grigori secret threatens to destroy the world as they know it. With one vampire dynasty weakening and the others bent on protecting their power, it seems unlikely that Damien will be able to face his personal demons and find the happiness with Ariane she seems bent on offering him.

Okay, I’ve loved Damien for two whole books and it was NO surprise to discover this witty hedonist was a former (maybe Regency?) rogue whose father was an Earl. Ariane’s innocence was exactly what he needed to slide under the layer of defenses he’d erected around his heart. The progressing story arc of the continued dynasty struggle was interesting and I enjoyed the additional information surrounding the Empusae dynasty and its problems as well as seeing Vlad Dracul, the head of the Dracul dynasty. That blond, Romanian scholar prince has got some serious sex appeal and I cannot wait to read about his story!

Immortal Craving (Book 4) – Tasmin and Bailey’s story (due out in January 2013?)

The end of the NetGalley ARC had a delicious teaser for the next book in the series, which I totally didn’t expect but was elated to find.

This next installment will star Lily’s good human friend (and animal lover with a penchant for drooly dogs, like her black Newfoundland, Grimm) Bailey Harper partnered with Tasmin Singh, a Rakshasa, a breed of vampire shifter (who can turn into lions) long thought extinct. Immortal Craving, their story, is probably going to come out January of 2013 if the time between publication of the previous books is any indication. The Newfie isn’t the only one drooling in anticipation of this book!

Summary or have you bought them yet?

The only thing I love more than finding a good author is finding a good author with a kick ass series and Kendra Leigh Castle fits the bill. Yes, the whole vampire-as-shifter piece is unusual and sounds like it could be weird, but you probably are an experienced enough reader to realize that any unusual story in the hands of a good writer has tremendous potential. This author has demonstrated a writing style that melds fascinating world building, great characterization, and heart-thumping romance in one series that doesn’t disappoint. Isn’t it what we all want from a good vampire romance?

Take a look at Kendra Leigh Castle’s Dark Dynasties series and be prepared to remember why you liked vampire romance in the first place. She’ll renew your faith in inhumanity. 😉

You’ll Want to Take a Vacation With This Anthology: Vacation with a Vampire

22 Jul

Browsing NetGalley, I recognized the authors in Vacation with a Vampire and was intrigued, enough to request the Advanced Reader Copy. I had read books by Michele Hauf and Kendra Leigh Castle and enjoyed them, so I figured this was a safe bet to try the anthology. I mean, after all, it’s the summer and vacations and vampires seemed like a great combination.

This is not your average beach read.

Or it is, if your beach read is a sexy, shivery, slightly-disturbing-but-in-the-BEST-possible-way book. Let’s take a look at the individual stories, shall we?

“Stay” by Michele Hauf

Lucian is a vampire content to live in Paris and run his antiques store. He remembers so many of them when they were new, and he has a nice cadre of friends to hang out with. The regular stream of tourists means he has a ready supply of one-night stands, either for blood or sex or both. After all, the one thing he never does is stay the night.

Magen is a buttoned up writer vacationing in Paris so she can do some research on the city and its Belle Epoque era for her historical novel. When she goes to get a present for the friend whose apartment she is using, she feels a strong attraction to the sexy owner of the antiques store. His presence unleashes her inner wanton and they both are astonished at the amount of heat generated between them.

Lucian took Magen’s blood and made her forget in the store, but it was delicious and he can’t help delivering the mirror she bought himself. One wild night of amazing sex leads to another and he’s astonished to find himself spending day after day with her. But her interest in the Art Noveau antiques in his store and landmarks like the Moulin Rouge are stirring up old, painful memories of a past lover, one that is determined to make both him and Magen suffer, even from beyond the grave.

This is more of a “happily for now” rather than “happily ever after” story and Michele Hauf is a solid writer you can rely on. I loved her description of Paris and all the Belle Epoque details. Lucian’s former lover and absinthe addict Magenta is a chilling character and the complexity of the tie between her and Lucian was well-drawn. My only complaint about this story was that Lucian initially describes Magen as “plain” but never later amends his opinion to share the physical part of her which attracted him. I think I would have appreciated seeing that evolution.

If you are interested in exploring other works by Michele Hauf, I strongly recommend using her Goodreads page, rather than the books page of her website, which resembles a calculus problem in its complexity. She’s been quite a prolific author (which I imagine is the reason she gets top billing in this anthology), so you’ll have a lot of other works to choose from.

“Vivi and the Vampire” by Kendra Leigh Castle

Oh my God, this story alone is worth getting the anthology (and at under $3.50 for the ebook version on Amazon, the book is a good value). Castle mentions in the little introduction before the story that she wrote the story because the hero, vampire king Justin, had garnered so much fan praise and interest in his small appearance in her other book, Renegade Angel, that she felt he would be an ideal subject for a novella. And is he!!

Renegade Angel by Kendra Leigh Castle (Harlequin Nocture, September 2010)

Justin is the incredibly busy vampire king of Terra Noctem, the secret underground city which provides a haven for night creatures who need a place away from humans. Justin has been a powerful vampire since he was turned during the Roman Empire and it seems like it’s been that long since he’s taken a vacation. His adorable sister and right hand woman forces him to go to a nice beach resort with the order to go get laid. Despite his eye-rolling, he agrees to head there, knowing he’s not going to find a woman, but at least the change of scenery would do him good.

Vivi is a vampire hunter also assured that this resort would be free of the pasty set, but the two drunk vampires in front of her on the beach arguing over which one gets her blood demonstrates there is no truth in the rumors. When Justin comes upon her fighting for all she’s worth, he easily dispatches the vampire to the hinterlands. But once he catches a close up look at the blue-eyed, raven haired pixie they were fighting, he’s not about to let her get away.

I cannot believe how hot and sweet this romance is. Vivi is an honorable, fun-loving character who took her job for its sense of adventure and because she was assured that vampire hunters only pursued vampires who have a proven track record of hurting humans. The people she’s working with are beginning to change their outlook, and that has her nervous, particularly since she finds herself so incredibly attracted to Justin. He’s not only the most gorgeous man she’s ever seen, but his vulnerability and loneliness call to something in her.

After reading this novella, I actually went and immediately purchased Renegade Angel so I can have a little more Justin time and continue to enjoy Kendra’s writing. Justin’s slight awkwardness during their “date” is charming and the idea that he lets Vivi cajole him into karoake is utterly hysterical and tugs on the heartstrings. I was elated that this ending was very much a “Happily Ever After” and want to read lots more about this particular world. Of all the authors, Kendra Leigh Castle also possesses the loveliest and more informative author website and seems to rock the social networking world with her savvy. She’s everything I want in an author!

“Island Vacation” by Lisa Childs

Piper has been hiding in her work for the accounting firm with its multimillion dollar clients for a long time – at least for the four years since the accident that caused her to assume a new name. She’s exhausted, not just from the hours she puts in but also from the nightmares and black outs which continue to plague her. Surprised she’s won the office pool for the all-expenses paid two week vacation, she embarks in the private plane provided and hopes she can get some rest.

Instead she’s confronted by a livid, incredibly handsome man, Roarke. Roarke knows that this woman is the model who killed his cousin, the gold-digger who demanded gifts and money and then murdered him in cold blood before disappearing years ago, but he didn’t count on her beauty stirring him so much. Her tearful protest that she’s not that person convinces him and the passionate love-making they engage in sparks an intense connection. The medical condition she has causes him some serious worry though – what exactly is wrong with her and why is the physician on her prescription label the one who works for the Secret Vampire Society?

This was a very psychological novella and therefore the most disturbing of the stories. Piper is wrestling with major trauma from years ago and her nightmares are vivid. I found the strong connection between the two of them a little hard to swallow – he’s accusing her of killing his cousin, then changing his mind, then having sex with her in the space of what seems like an hour. It was exhausting to read so I can’t imagine the characters actually doing it. Even though Roarke later professes his love for Piper and acknowledges how he knows she’s a good person, I wasn’t sure how he knew that. Had they had lots of pillow talk and I missed it? The fact that she was wrongly accused of killing his cousin and duped herself doesn’t mean she’s awesome. Hmm.

My conclusions are that I still enjoyed reading all three stories, but that Kendra Leigh Castle’s story is worth the price of the anthology alone. If you haven’t read anything from these authors, this would be a great way to get the flavor of their writing before committing to a longer work of fiction. This anthology is a super summer release by Harlequin Nocturne and it definitely fulfilled its purpose in getting me to read more books by these excellent writers. Thanks, Harlequin!

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