Tag Archives: Werewolf

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

1 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading! 🙂

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!

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. 🙂

One of the Best Shifter Romance Series on the Market: Shifters Unbound by Jennifer Ashley

22 Oct

Pride Mates (Shifters Unbound #1- Liam and Kim’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, April 26, 2010)

I do not understand why so many otherwise normal romance readers get their panties in a bind admitting they enjoy paranormal romance, particularly shifter romance. Haven’t we all felt the lash of people judging us for reading romance? Why would we do this to each other? Sheesh, people.

A good shifter romance is sexy, steamy, and has a fabulous world you can dive into and not resurface until the last page is read. There’s lust and usually the idea that the shifter has a sense of finding his or her “mate.” But the really good shifter romances show the intense attraction between the hero and heroine grow into a deep abiding love based on the knowledge that comes with truly understanding someone. Really amazing shifter romance, like good steampunk, uses the concept of the “other” to highlight issues of racism and discrimination that exist in our world and show us noble characters determined to fight it.

Guess what? Jennifer Ashley writes the amazing kind of shifter romance in her Shifters Unbound series.

You might remember my shameless kvelling over Ashley’s incredible historical romance books, the Highland Pleasures series starring the uber-hot Mackenzie men, and it’s a credit to her versatility that she can transition into paranormal with seemingly effortless grace.

Primal Bonds (Shifters Unbound #2 – Sean and Andrea’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, March 1, 2011)

In the first book of the series, Pride Mates, our heroine Kim Fraser boldly goes to the heart of Shiftertown, where the government makes all the shape shifters live, to research a pro bono case her law firm assigned her. Her client, a shifter, has been accused of killing his human girlfriend and Kim is convinced of his innocence, but she knows the jury will be all too willing to believe his guilt. Most people see shifters as wild animals, barely controlled by the magical collars they are forced to wear to keep them from giving in to their violent animal instincts. When her client informs her that no one will talk to her unless she convinces Shiftertown’s second-in-command, Liam Morrissey, of the seriousness of her mission, Kim bravely heads out to do just that.

Liam is a sexy, Irish (yes, I said Irish) feline shifter kept continually busy helping his father run their pride and settle Shiftertown’s disputes. Over 100 years old, yet looking a hunky thirty-something, he’s delighted with the spunk of this gorgeous lawyer. He’s never been attracted to humans before, but for this curvy brunette with her determined chin and brave attitude, he’s willing to defy his father’s edict to get rid of her and actually help her do her job. It doesn’t take him long to realize that this woman is the mate he’s been waiting for all his life, but he also knows that to truly claim her would ruin her career and the life she’s so carefully built.

Anyone who loves the Highland Pleasures series will see a few similarities in how Ashley constructs her characters. Her heroes are strong and often playful, but have tortured pasts and secrets they slowly dole out to the heroine as she earns their trust and love. The female leads are feisty (who else can stand up to these alpha males?) but loving, and usually take one look at the males’ close family relationships, either genetic or purposely chosen, and realize that they are keepers. Kim and Liam have such amazing banter that you are grinning like an idiot half the time and the sexual tension and love scenes have you reaching for a glass of ice water and it’s not because Ashley transmits a sense of the Austin, Texas heat.

The world-building is what totally blew me away. I knew Jennifer Ashley had the ability to plunge me into a vivid world (she did it with Victorian England and Scotland already with the Mackenzies), but I had no idea she was capable (or quite honestly that any author was capable) of placing me in an all-too-believable world of discrimination and secrecy. Shifters were created by the duplicitous Fae, who attempted to breed humans and animals with magic to create an army. This backfired as shifters were too powerful to become docile. Hiding among humans for centuries, the shifters were feared and hunted when their presence became known. With poor infant mortality rates and facing regular starvation, Liam, his widowed father, Dylan, and his brothers Sean and Kenny decided to have their families take the collar – a magical Fae-infused device which would control their violent tendencies by inflicting tremendous pain upon them.

Shifter Made (Shifters Unbound #.5 – prequel novella to series and Alanna’s and Niall’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, April 20, 2011)

This process was unbelievably painful, yet being able to control their feral tendencies and live in relative peace with each other (and among different species of shifters, unheard of in the wild) was the reasonable trade-off. Yet Kenny lost his mate when she gave birth to their son, Connor, and Kenny died later at the hands of a feral shifter, leaving his father and brothers to raise his son. But while human governments think they have shifters under control, in actuality this group has been trained in brilliant subterfuge for a millennia  They have coping strategies unknown to humans, both regarding the collars that attempt to control them as well as in living their lives within the ghetto-like confines of their towns and the Jim Crow-like laws which rule their behavior. It’s a brilliant world, all too believable once you get used to the idea of shape shifters.

The second book in the series, Primal Bonds, focuses on Sean, the second brother and the all-important guardian of Shiftertown. Sean Morrissey is bonded to the Fae-infused sword of the Guardian, a sword created by one of his ancestors and handed down through his family. His job is vital to shifters yet makes him a feared individual among them – the sword is used to dispatch shifters to the Summerland or their afterlife, making him a specter of death. Because women shy from anything permanent with such a sober job description, he offers to mate-claim Andrea Gray, the niece of family friend (and his father’s lover) Glory, despite never having set eyes on the wolf shifter.

Andrea is half-Fae, half-Lupine and that heritage has made her life a misery in the Colorado town she grew up in. When the jackass son of the leader tries to forcibly mate-claim her, she turns to her aunt for help. Getting off the bus in Austin, Texas, she’s astonished that the man kind enough to mate-claim her so she can make her escape is the gorgeous Guardian of the town. His Irish accent and underlying playfulness is a fascinating counterpart to his all-too-serious job, but the Fae part of Andrea is called to Sean. On his part, Sean realizes this is no mere claim-of-convenience as the gorgeous wolf with the dark gray eyes is someone he must take to mate. While swirling power struggles among the shifters and the Fae try to keep them apart, Andrea and Sean might hold the key to freeing the shifters from some of the bonds that try and hold them.

Sean is a total hunk, playful in his own way like Liam but more intense and with plenty of guilt due to his job description. Andrea is different from all other wolf shifters because of her Fae side, and Ashley does a terrific job of introducing us to the world of Fae as Andrea begins to uncover more information about her father and some of her remarkable abilities, particularly with Sean helping and protecting her.

The prequel novella, Shifter Made, is the prefect next step to the series to read after Sean and Andrea’s story. The relationship Sean has to the sword of the Guardian (and Andrea’s affinity to it as well) makes the story of the sword’s creation so welcome. The master sword maker and metalsmith Niall O’Connell hates the Fae, remembering how they enslaved his people, and he has his hands full raising his motherless sons and keeping food on the table. When a beautiful Fae princess comes into his life to ask him to make a sword, he knows there is no trusting her, but her beauty cannot be denied. Alanna has been sent by her manipulative brother to medieval Ireland to put her own brand of magic into a sword that will bring the shifters to heel, but she has other ideas of rebellion, ideas that expand beyond helping the shifters after she feels the attraction to the ruggedly handsome Niall.

Bodyguard (Shifters Unbound #2.5 – Ronan and Elizabeth’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, November 18, 2011)

I have to admit to a real soft spot in the shifter novel universe for bear shifters (I guess I go for the big, cuddly type that can turn badass when properly riled) so I was ecstatic when Ashley released Bodyguard, the novella about the Kodiak bear-shifter, Ronan, who works as bouncer at the Morrissey’s shifter pub.

Plenty of shifters shop at the funky novelty store owned by Elizabeth Chapman and her sister, Mabel, so when Ronan is in there late one night looking for a present for his housemate Rebecca, the last thing he expects to see is the cute human owner being held at shotgun point by some punk kid. He doesn’t think twice before shifting and taking down the would-be killer even though the cops who come on the scene arrest him for attacking a human.

Elizabeth does not need all this attention from the police but there is no way she isn’t coming to the defense of the kind – and seriously hot – shifter who got shot and arrested for his pains. She does what he asks and calls in Shiftertown’s leader and his human mate who is a lawyer. Hoping it will all blow over, she’s dismayed to discover that the brother of the obnoxious sociopath who was going to kill her is an equally scary organized crime boss and he’s determined she won’t get to testify. Ronan insists on taking her to his house and it’s not long before she gets a good look at his caring nature and his luscious body.

Ronan realizes quickly that Elizabeth is hiding something huge about her past, but he trusts her, so much that when the Morrissey leaders try and force her to tell them her secrets, Ronan mate-claims her to keep them at bay. Slowly showing her she can trust him, this burly bear lets Elizabeth come to him to share her sweet kisses and her body, which he is happy to guard. When another threat from her past is unleashed, Ronan is happy to take on all comers and insure that this tough, sexy human is his forever.

Wild Cat (Shifters Unbound #3 – Cassidy and Diego’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, January 3, 2012)

I just want to cuddle up with a bear as patient and kind as Ronan (but who turn into a gigantic, enraged Kodiak bear when necessary) and this novella at $.99 on Amazon.com is a total bargain. We get a slightly different combination of partners in the third official novel (the fifth work) in the series, Wild Cat, when Ashley decides to move out of Texas to the Las Vegas shiftertown. Eric Warden came to Austin in Sean and Andrea’s story, Primal Bonds, on Dylan Morrissey’s suggestion and stayed to help them fight the Fae threat. He’s back on his home turf with his sister and second-in-command, fellow feline shifter Cassidy , who is commemorating the one year anniversary of her mate’s murder.

Cassidy has a problem, though. She’s being followed and shot at by an unknown assailant and when she tries to escape in cat form to an abandoned, half-built highrise to evade him, the cops show up. Las Vegas Detective Diego Escobar can’t believe that he has to go up to the 51st floor to figure out what has happened to the cops who investigated the trespass call. But hearing shots fired, he doesn’t have a choice – he’s just got to put the horrible night out of his mind when he almost fell to his death and then watched his partner and best friend get shot in front of him. It’s easy to forget when he sees a gorgeous Snow Leopard, clearly a female shifter, shift to her naked female form to save him when her assailant is busy shooting at them both. Getting her free takes some doing, but he’s responsible for her and, by God, he’s going to figure out what’s going on. He doesn’t know much about shifters, but this stunning blond is all he can think about and he’s vouched for her behavior and her safety.

Cassidy can’t believe that this human is stirring her blood in a way she hasn’t experienced since her mate’s death. She knows someone is hunting her but she cannot figure out why. Diego doesn’t understand shifters, but he doesn’t back down from Cassidy or her alpha brother Eric, so his strength is clear. Can they trust him with their secrets, at least enough to figure out what is going on? Particularly if they are right and the duplicitous Fae are involved again?

I was leery of moving the Shifters Unbound storyline out of Texas (I love my Morrisseys and Ronan!) but Las Vegas has an equally as compelling shifter presence and I did like Eric Warden. Luckily Cassidy is a terrific character, honestly mourning her mate but displaying the shifter openness of not denying what she is feeling for the sexy Diego Escobar. Ashley’s usual adept characterization is fabulous and the story arc is one that continues themes laid down in previous books with plenty of loose ends to be continued in future ones. It’s wonderful.

Hard Mated (Shifters Unbound #3.5 – Spike and Myka’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, August 19, 2012)

Jennifer Ashley’s propensity for writing meaty novellas in between the full-length novels are a series reader’s dream, especially since they never feel half-assed or with a plot simply tacked on like so many other authors. In Hard Mated, we are back in Austin with the Morrissey’s tattooed tracker Spike, who has just been informed by an adorable human that he is the father of a cub. Seeing as the mother of his child was a shifter groupie one-night stand and that shifters have a hard time fathering children, this astonishes him, but no more than discovering that the formerly vibrant woman is dying of cancer. Her death leaves him with the custody of a wild little cat shifter who simply won’t behave. Spike might be able to break feral shifters to his will but he has no skill set for dealing with a willful little boy who just lost the only Mom he ever knew.

Myka is mourning the death of her best friend, Jillian, and worried about her little four-year-old son Jordan. She found Jordan’s shifter father working off steam at a fight club and it’s clear he doesn’t have other children. His physical appeal can’t be denied – the guy is gorgeous – but he also didn’t say a lot so she has no idea whether Jordan is safe with him. Myka’s also got the major problem of losing her livelihood if the stable owners where she trains quarter horses for a living decide to sell since there’s no way she and the other workers can buy such an expensive facility, but as important as that is, Jordan takes precedence.

Spike’s son is cutting a destructive swath through his house and even his grandmother doesn’t seem to know the best way to deal with the little guy. His job as a tracker means he’s at the leader’s beck and call, but Spike is all too aware that Liam Morrissey doesn’t really know him or trust him. Liam inherited Spike from the previous shifter leader, the megalomaniacal Fergus, after killing the bastard in a dominance fight. Spike likes working for Liam and thinks he’s a better leader, but he finally has something in his life, Jordan, that is more important than running Liam’s errands. When Myka shows up to check on Jordan, something clicks inside Spike. With her clear-eyed gaze and perceptive mind, Myka sees past Spike’s tough facial expression and tattoos to the giving person who cares for his family and wants to do the right thing. The fact she’s comfortable sassing the leader of Shiftertown and telling him how he doesn’t appreciate Spike only makes him that much happier. But past threats put Myka and little Jordan in the line of fire and Spike decides that he’s willing to fight anyone, and sacrifice anything, to keep them both safe.

Mate Claimed (Shifters Unbound #4 – Eric and Iona’s story) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, October 2, 2012)

I loved Spike and the perspicacious Myka, but was dying to get back to Las Vegas. While Cassidy and Diego had their plot line in Wild Cat, the other burning question was what was going to happen to Iona Duncan, the secret shifter living as a human who Eric Warden met and was attracted to? In the fourth full-length novel of the series, Mate Claimed, we get our answer.

Eric has kept a close eye on the stunning and sexy Iona Duncan since the minute he scented her in the shifter bar. An unclaimed female shifter, secretly living as a human, is a powderkeg waiting for a spark, but Eric is reluctant to drag her into Shiftertown and slap a collar on her like he knows he should. Iona is in the prime of her fertile years and clearly beginning the mating frenzy. After having denied her shifter side for her whole life, she needs Eric to help her accept who she is, and he is more than willing to help this raven-haired beauty.

The problem is that Eric had a mate long ago and has a fully-grown son, the powerful Jace. He knows that he should bring Iona in and encourage one of his unmated males to claim her but there is no way he can do that. The months of tracking her (and kissing her senseless) has been a way of keeping her all to himself, but he realizes a move will have to be made, and soon, since Iona is finding it tougher to keep from her panther form as the restlessness of her frenzy takes over. He is not about to let this beautiful woman go feral if he can help it. That Eric also has to deal with the idiot humans relocating a town of Lupine shifters into his Shiftertown is an unwelcome distraction. He’d much rather be spending all his time helping Iona than fighting dominance battles with Graham, the new wolf leader determined to oust Eric.

Iona does not know what to make of Eric. Yes, with his rock hard body and green eyes, he sets her blood on fire, but Iona has kept her shifter self hidden for years, not just because she would have to take the collar, but to protect her mother and sister who could go to jail for keeping her off the government radar for those decades. That Eric doesn’t try and force her to his will, just tempts her constantly, is a mark in his favor, but the world gets more dangerous when the town council chooses her construction company to build the new houses in Shiftertown. Iona is exposed to more shifters, including the wolf leader challenging Eric, and she is now caught between them.

Iona is a giving person who is nevertheless strong and dominant whether in human or her panther form. I loved how Eric held himself back, playing with Iona sexually (and boy, did they play! Yowza.) but not pushing her to have sex even though he knew with her mating frenzy he could have easily convinced her to succumb to him. This was honestly one of the most psychological books in the series so far, with Iona wrestling with accepting her nature and easing into the Warden family and Shiftertown prior to giving herself fully to Eric. On the flip side, Eric knows he wants Iona and readily admits that there’s no way another man will have her, but he has to undergo an emotional realization that he actually loves her, an epiphany that means he has to acknowledge he’s ready to move on from mourning his lost mate after all these years. It’s deeply moving, yet Ashley mixes sex and love in the perfect dose, all the while giving us conflict within Shiftertown (Graham and his Lupine crew) and the new villainous threat of humans, past and present, who experiment on shifters. I think it’s one of the most mind-blowing books of the series!

At the end of Mate Claimed, there is a delicious preview of the next full-length novel of the series, Tiger Magic, which stars the super shifter Iona frees from the government facility, the tiger with no name. He’s relocated to the Austin shiftertown and helps a beautiful human with car problems, but I’m thinking with that hunk of cat, she’s going to be getting much more than she bargained for (lucky woman)! But since that book is not coming out until June 2013, I’m more intrigued by the lack of information regarding the next interim novella, to be found in Angela Knight’s anthology, Unbound, to be published March 5, 2013. How can we not have an inkling about who this will focus on? Will it be Peigi, the damaged uncollared shifter freed by Cassidy and Diego, and Reid, the Fae who loves her? Ellison, the hunky Texan wolf tracker (I’m hoping Ellison gets his own book, FYI)? Well, both Kindle editions are pre-ordered, so I’m all set.

No matter who is the focus, I guarantee that, in the hands of Jennifer Ashley, it’s going to be another amazing shifter romance. Thanks for all your hard work and imagination, Jennifer!!!

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. 😉

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