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Catch a Mate by Gena Showalter

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Catch a Mate (Hqn)
Light, Fun Read With Lots of Snark

If you like your romantic comedy with vicious verbal battles and wicked word wars between the leads, then look no further than Showalter's Catch a Mate. Jillian and Marcus have both been hurt in the past by unfaithful people and they both work in the slightly shady world of disclosure, where they act as bait to lure the spouses and lovers of suspicious wives, husbands, boyfriends, and girlfriends who think their significant other is cheating on them. While their jobs may be a perfect fit for their jaundiced hearts, it's starting to damage their cooling, bitter souls, but when one self-professed man-hater and one man who thinks all women fall into three nasty categories go head to head the sparks start to fly, the insults sling, and the arousal spikes out of control. When waspish, barbed comments are foreplay and the lines between hate and lust blur, watch out, because much hilarity ensues.

While this is a delightful romp and should by no means be taken seriously, I surely wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who's uncomfortable with or dislikes a lot of smack talking between their romantic leads, because the sweet scenes are few and far between in Catch a Mate. This is a book that isn't for everyone, I don't think, but I had no problem with it at all and I thought it was a riot. Sure it's a bit predictable, and sure both lead characters act like immature and spiteful children at times (Lillian more than Marcus), but it's a brain candy book that's supposed to be brain candy and doesn't aspire to much beyond that. This is chick lit romantic comedy to the nth power and that's something at which Showalter excels. Personally, I would have enjoyed the book a little more if there hadn't been the threads of serious issues, issues like Jillian's obviously mentally ill mother and the deeply traumatic scars from her childhood. Like her best friend Georgia's borderline-pathological self esteem and love issues. I also would have preferred a slightly more diverse book, a book that included more of the ancillary characters - Marcus' friends/male bait and the women at CAM. And Jake desperately needs his own book. He deserves it.

I will say the one thing about Catch a Mate that did really bother me was a scene at the end where Marcus is called to Jake's place. The ensuing scene was short and abrupt, and honestly, had their been more time and attention given to it, I think it would've raised Catch a Mate from a four to a five star read for me, because that moment in a romantic comedy is always the paramount moment. It was a little too quick and abrupt for me to really revel in it. Still, I did very much enjoy this read. Showalter didn't disappoint.

Embers by Laura Bickle

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Salamander Tales, Book 1
Rating: 5 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

A Polished Debut ~ A Fantastic Urban Fantasy

Anya Kalinczyk is a medium. A very rare type of medium, in fact, a Lantern, and not only can she see ghosts and other paranormal phenomenon, she can destroy them, taking them into herself and devouring them. But the price she pays is high and she's struggled to separate herself from the paranormal investigation team that goes out nightly to catalog and remove malevolent entities. Anya is trying especially hard to permanently quit that particular night job because by day, Anya is an arson investigator for the Detroit Fire Department and she's got a firebug on her hands, a deadly arsonist leaving an arcane symbol burned into the floors of three buildings. Tying the three fires together is one thing, solving them is something else, and as the clock ticks and tension and horror mounts, it seems her arsonist not only has a deadly deadline in mind...but his identity and motivation may be connected to that very part of herself she's trying to set aside. When the moon rises on Devil's Night - the night before Halloween - Detroit will burn unless Anya can stop it...and it's going to take a Lantern to keep the evil shadows at bay.

Anya's story and the start of the Salamander's Tales series is an adept and complex book that manages to really hit all the satisfied-reader buttons. It doesn't read like a debut novel, nor the start of a series, and both aspects I particularly admire. Instead of the author dropping us down into the story at the beginning of important events and forcing a ton of world building and character development all at once, it's more like merging with the on ramp of a smooth and fluid story highway, and both Anya's character and the world in which she inhabits feels fully developed and realized from the very first page because of it. Anya has been trying to separate herself from the paranormal investigation group she's been a part of and the people in the group, secondary and ancillary characters in the novel, as well as Anya's place in the group, are narrated in such a way that all the tension and conflict Anya is dealing with from the very first page feels very organic. It's an exceptionally nice device to use, as it allows the reader to really dig into the character without a lot of meandering exposition. In fact, in this particular instance, it allows the crap to start hitting the fan from the get-go and sets up the main plot of the story with shocking, yet fully detailed, depth and consistency. With just a small lull towards the middle of the book, the pacing remained steady throughout, and the blend of plot progression and world detailing was particularly well done.

Anya is a solid, strong heroine, and while I can't say that she's my favorite heroine ever, she didn't annoy me as so many do in the genre. She's smart, independent, yet tragically flawed by a past that left her traumatic memories of childhood and a whole pallet of guilt, not to mention an almost pathological doubt that she's worth getting close to. Her one connection to love and close interpersonal relationships is her elemental familiar, Sparky. The adorable hellbender salamander has been her only friend since she was a little girl and he both protects and helps her in both her jobs...when he's not sticking his tongue into a light socket or taking a bite out of a computer board. He's sort of like a slightly deranged yet fiercely protective and...glowy...rottweiler. I loved everything about him. I was also thoroughly impressed and wowed by the choices Bickle made for her antagonist in Embers. This is no cardboard-cutout villain, and the time and attention to detail in his development is something I don't recall reading in recent memory. As three dimensional and damaged as Anya herself, I was happily amazed by his contribution to Anya's character development and their interactions. The secondary characters - the rest of Anya's paranormal group - were also nicely detailed...some more than others, but enough to be fully participatory in defining and explaining Anya's character and giving it more depth and connection to the world around her.

I don't have much to say that's not fully complimentary of this awesome debut, in fact. The only issues I had were very minor. I thought the plot bogged down a bit towards the center of the book, and I can't really say why without giving spoilers, but I'll say that there was an event that I thought was a bit too descriptive and slightly overwritten. The two major plot points that were involved in that event could've come a bit quicker, I thought, without losing the overall effect of the event. I also didn't necessarily agree with Anya's decision making at key points. There was nothing I could point to and say, "Sheesh, that's stupid" - which is a relief, as I abhor lead character stupidity...especially if it's simply a plot device to get the characters or plot to a certain point developmentally. There was however a couple of instances where I got a little annoyed with Anya for being a bit stubborn or letting pride get in the way of the big picture. Each instance was, however, resolved satisfactorily and so it wasn't even a major distraction. The only thing that really wasn't resolved for me personally was that, even as impressed as I am with the book, I didn't have a whole lot of emotional connection to what happened to the characters - except, oddly enough, the scenes with Anya and the antagonist. For the rest, I understood what Anya was feeling on a mental level, but didn't really empathize with her on an emotional one. I don't consider that a failing in the book, however, just a fact. Without a doubt, Embers is a five star read in my opinion, and I can't wait for Sparks, the second in the Salamander Tales, due out August 31, 2010. Mark your calendars!

Tangled Temptations by Dawn Ibanez

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Maxwell Investigations, Book 1
Rating: 1 Star
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Tangled Temptations: Maxwell Investigations (Volume 1)
Time For Honesty

Dylan Maxwell may be the youngest of the Maxwell siblings, but she's started her own investigation business and has her brothers and sister on the payroll. When a man's body is found off of I-95, the victim of an apparent werewolf and vampire attack, the vampire prince Crispin Solomon sees an opportunity to spend time with the woman he's chosen for his mate and hires Dylan to investigate. He's loved Dylan for years, but hasn't managed to do anything but mortally offend and hurt Dylan in an incident a couple of years ago. Since then she's avoided him like the plague. This murder investigation gives him a chance to wear down her resistance. The investigation, however, doesn't go quite as smoothly as hoped and a surprise attack leaves Dylan undead and newly betrothed to Crispin - and not totally happy about it. Still the investigation goes on and it soon becomes apparent that the werewolves are involved in ways that will shake both the vampire and werewolf cultures to their very foundations.

This is my second experience with Dawn Ibanez's work, and I have the same problems with Tangled Temptations that I had with that one. Dragon's Awakening: High Council (Volume 1) was a brilliant concept with an intriguing plot and interesting characters, but it was very poorly executed and seriously flawed (my review here). In Tangled Temptations we have another intriguing concept and complex plot, but if anything, the writing is even less accomplished than it was in Dragon's Awakening, and where I believed that story was creative enough to rate it three stars despite the technical issues, I'm feeling far less magnanimous in this case. Not because the story was any less impressive, though, because in truth, the concept of the story was interesting and I love stories where the male romantic lead chases the woman of his dreams and she needs convincing. No, the reason that I'm not feeling as magnanimous as I was previously is that it's been two years since Dragon's Awakening was published and this book is even less polished and riddled with more mistakes than that one - to the point that I started to feel insulted.

My intent is not to trash the book or get nasty in this review, but to speak honestly about the numerous and grievous errors that exist. The core building blocks of the written language are atrociously mangled in Tangled Temptations. The book is littered with vocabulary, punctuation, and grammar mistakes, and there are many, many sentences missing words altogether. So many of those blatant errors could have been caught and fixed if the author had bothered to simply proofread her own work, or asked a couple of friends to help out prior to making it available for purchase. The fact that the author did not deem it important enough to do so prior to publishing seems to indicate a lack of concern for the quality of her work. As a paying customer, I find that insulting.

At the story level, there are also far too many issues. The idea for the story may be good, but the story itself is just as much of a mess as its core components. Both the world building and character description are severely lacking. I didn't even know the ethnicity of the Maxwell family until about halfway through the book and I still don't have a clear idea of what Crispin and Dylan look like. The flow of the narrative takes a beating simply because of the grammar, but it's also hampered by a never-ending shift in POV between each character and plot thread - no matter how ancillary to the main plot, or how brief a character's appearance. The transitions in plot and POV are jarring and abrupt, happening sometimes from one sentence to the next in the same paragraph. There's little to no individualization or differentiation between secondary characters, and way too much going on in the plot to be consistently coherent. There's no consistency in characters, action, or mythos, either, and the timing and pace of the action was shockingly bad in places. In one case, for example, one of the characters leaves Crispin's, goes to talk to someone across town, and has returned with information from that conversation while Crispin and Dylan enter the house and climb the stairs - because he's back just after they reach Crispin's bedroom.

It's ironic, really, that Dylan was originally so upset with Crispin because he used a movie she spent months working on as an example of everything you shouldn't do when making a movie, because Ibanez has pretty much run the bases on things you shouldn't do in a book. The true pity is that creatively, Ibanez has chops. The imagination is there. The concept is there. With a more conscientious attention to technical detail, Tangled Temptations could have been good. As it stands, I'm left hoping she can find someone - anyone - to provide copy and story editing. Until then, I'm afraid I won't be reading.

Personal Demons by Stacia Kane

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Megan Chase, Book 1
Rating: 5 Stars
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Personal Demons
I Was Hoping For a Good Read, But...Wow...

Ya rolls the dice, ya takes your chances...or something like that. Trying a new author is always a crap shoot, regardless of the quantity of positive reviews, regardless of summaries, blurbs, and testimonials. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't. Luck be Stacia Kane's Personal Demons tonight! I've read some really good books this year, books I was pleased with, books I even loved, but I have to admit, this is the first book in a while that I got really excited about while reading it. The story is unique, the mythology - while not completely fleshed out yet - intriguing and original, and the characters definitely interesting (and sexy).

Megan Chase, PhD., is a therapist with a bit extra who's just recently started a weekly radio show with a rather auspicious tag line about helping to slay a caller's personal demons. Innocuous enough for us, but if you're a demon...

Soon Megan is seeing all manner of crazy things and the tall, dark, and handsome (if a bit smokey) Greyson Dane is showing up on her doorstep warning her not to make any deals with the devil, so to speak. She's confused and perplexed...right up until full-on terror comes knocking. As it turns out, it seems the demons of the world have taken her tag line rather personally and someone has decided to do unto her before she does unto them. Grey, a fire demon himself and not exactly prone to fear a singular human psychologist, steps in to lend a hand - and three demonic bodyguards - to keep that from happening.

As the plot unfolds and a murky past comes back to taunt her, Megan is drawn further and further into a world she had no idea existed and yet somehow isn't totally surprised about...but maybe that's because some part of her, perhaps the psychic part, always sensed something else out there. Now that something is trying to kill her and all she has to trust are demons who aren't exactly interested in selflessness.

Admittedly, Personal Demons is by no means a technically flawless book. The beginning is a bit plodding (until one night-of-the-living-dead moment) and I never totally bought Megan as a therapist with a PhD. She seemed through the book to be a bit more layman than therapist, and there were a couple of moments where I saw some less then astute behavior in dealing with things. I also question a couple of the plot devices that introduced the reporter Brian Stone and kept him in the sometimes foil, sometimes friend position. I also can't say that I totally buy into the connection between events in Megan's past and her present. I thought it seemed just a bit too ...something...convenient maybe - though definitely not for Megan. There were also some weird time jumps, where scenes got skipped over, and some of those scenes I think I would've preferred seeing written out - like the dinner with the meat pies, for one. I think if those had been written out it would've given the book an added dimension and let the reader get more familiar and comfortable with the characters.

All that being said, there was a bunch of positive stuff, too. I loved the Misters Brown! Malleus, Maleficarum, and Spud - three cockney demons with hearts of gold! I thoroughly enjoyed the slow development of the relationship between Grey and Megan and was pleased where they stood at the end of the book, given the week or so they've known each other. Much more realistic than some love-at-first-sight thing while acknowledging that lust at first sight with some affection is far more believable. I thought the opportunity for future development and continuing mythology including Tera and the witches, as well as the psychic reporter Brian was fantastic. On the plot side of things, I was very pleasantly surprised by the successful maintenance of tension and increasing danger, and there's a scene towards the end (without giving spoilers) that was written well enough that even I was feeling a little ill and very threatened. The story progression was increasingly intricate and the blending of a couple of separate plot points flowed together organically.

I certainly am aware the sum of the critical aspects could very easily bring down my rating of this book, but in this case, it didn't. I admit, I submitted five stars based on emotion, not on technical superiority. I loved the book, even with it's flaws, and I'm very interested in continuing this delightful urban fantasy series.

Animal Instincts by Gena Showalter

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 3 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Animal Instincts (Hqn)
Loved the First Half, The Second...Not So Much

I was looking for a light, fun, romantic read - taking a break, actually, from a book that defines heavy reading. Of course I went to Showalter - she's usually a sure fire gem in that arena. And in Animal Instincts, she was as well...for the first half of the book.

Naomi, burned first by the biological father who did her mom wrong then again by her own husband, sees love and marriage as the most insidious sorts of traps and thinks all men are utter snakes. She's taking a hands off approach to those snakes in general and love in particular when she accepts a job planning a birthday party for the fabulous Royce's mother's birthday. From the moment she walks into Royce's office her life starts resembling a tilt-a-whirl on meth - while she's ecstatic at the attention and the hard core romance and lust Royce is full court pressing her with, she's terrified with it as well, and when he tells her he loves her...and she's the woman of his dreams...Naomi goes from terrified to frantic with fear. She can't let herself love again - ever - or she'll be destroyed. She's convinced of it, and no amount of yummy bedroom games will convince her otherwise. Can Royce convince her he's everything he seems to be or will the flighty Naomi fly the coop?

For the first half of Animal Instincts, I was amused at the role reversal - the stubborn and sharp tongued Naomi willing only to risk a purely sexual fling with Royce and Royce desperate to drag Naomi to the alter and love her for the rest of their long lives. I found the first half to be light, sweet, funny, and fun. Then came the crippling waves of panic that at first lapped at, then crashed upon Naomi's mental beach. I had a hard time staying in the story from that point on because frankly, I felt the book went from fun to disturbing. Naomi's problems were written to such a deep-seeded and pathological level that all I kept hoping for was for her to seek some serious therapy. I've read about commitmentphobes in the past, but this woman was severely damaged. And that damage spiraled further and further out of control until it just wasn't funny any more, it was sad.

Royce, however, was a darling throughout, and while I didn't totally buy the love-at-first-green-dress motivation, if Naomi had been less damaged and had been even the smallest bit nice to the man, I would've forgiven the reach of the depth of his feelings. There's definitely a line between a great guy and a cartoon character (like Royce is Wiley E. Coyote and Naomi's the Roadrunner who kept dropping anvils on his head, but Wiley E. keeps coming back again and again), and unfortunately, Showalter crossed it. Because that aspect of the book didn't work for me in the second half, several other issues started nagging at me - issues that I can easily ignore in other chick lit romance novels because I'm reading for light fun, and I'm very forgiving if I'm enjoying the romance. In this book, though, those aspects really started to wear on me. The two dimensional secondary characters - like Naomi's cousins and her mother, for example. The cliched face off with the jealous secretary and the resolution with her step father, as well. If I'd been invested in the story at that point, those things wouldn't have bothered me at all.

I'm a little disappointed in Animal Instincts - though it did keep my mind off the heavy reading I'm doing with another book...it's just...now I feel like I need more light reading to help me recover from this one.

Silent Blade by Ilona Andrews

Genre: SciFi Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Formats: Kindle

Silent Blade
Short But Satisfying

While Silent Blade is novella-length, it's written with a surprising depth and emotion that I found appealing. I'm rather amazed that Ilona Andrews managed to combine such interesting world building and character development in such a short vehicle...though maybe I shouldn't be, as I'm a tremendous fan of her writing style. I am also surprised at how much I enjoyed this, as science fiction is by no means a preferred genre of mine. This was a pleasant little read that I enjoyed very much, and while I can see how expanding this into a full-length novel would definitely appeal to the fans of the genre, I think it may have been a little too much for me to really enjoy. This shorter format worked very nicely for me.

Gentlemen Prefer Succubi by Jill Myles

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Succubus Diaries, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Gentlemen Prefer Succubi (Succubus Diaries)
Gentlemen Might - I'm Not Convinced I Do

Jill Myles has managed to provide a new take on the origins of vampires and created an intriguing mythos for the fallen angels, the Serim, and the vampire/Serim love-child, the succubi. Unfortunately, Gentlemen Prefer Succubi is also a bit too brainless when fronted by the newly made succubus, Jackie. With a characterization that's a bit cliched, the frumpy museum docent (and if you don't know what a docent is when you start, you'll hear more than once that no one does, and be given the definition again and again) with all the typical overweight and under-appealing neurosis (including a prudery that's supposed to be amusing considering what happens to her), wakes up in a dumpster a full day after a confusing and uncharacteristic night of debauchery. Oh, and she's dead.

With the draining of a vampire and sex with a Serim, Jacki has become one of the immortals, a succubi, sex fueled maven at the whim of her two masters, the vampire and the Serim. She sprouts breasts and a killer bod, yet doesn't seem to be all that bright for a woman who was trying to get into an archeological field, and that lack of intelligence, wisdom, and common sense pervades even after the terrifying wake up call of angelic "dealer" and a demonic vampire queen each using her for their own questionable and nefarious purposes.

The plot to Gentlemen Prefer Succubi isn't bad. Jacki has to find the halo of one of the first fallen, lover to the vampire queen millennia ago. If she doesn't hand it over to said vampire queen, her Serim master and lover Noah will perish, if she does, the world slips into darkness ruled by true evil. If she doesn't hand it over to Uriel, the angelic "dealer", she could die, and if she does, Uriel brings the armies of heaven down to earth to fight the forces of darkness and the human race is caught in the crossfire. And Jackie doesn't even know where to find the darn thing.

I resent when a decent plot is damaged by ridiculous decisions by all concerned. That a nearly all-powerful vampire queen and an actual angel from heaven would each conscript a newly made succubi who's proven to be ignorant and vacuous into finding the piece they need to start their unholy war and quest for domination is completely ludicrous and it did more than just strain my willing suspension of disbelief. The main plot of the book fell apart on me from there.

I liked Remy, the porn star succubus friend. I liked the Serim Noah, but didn't completely buy into Jackie's supposed emotional connection and sense of loyalty to him. I could understand parts of it - the baseline concern for someone who's been nice to you suddenly at risk because you were stupid - but I didn't buy the assumption of some romantic attachment. He'd only spent a few hours with her and had sex with her a couple of times. Zane (the vampire) got a lot more face time than Noah did and I did like him - very much, in fact, and any character depth and complexity in the book was definitely centered around him through the whole of it. Again, Jackie showed off with blinding clarity her lack of common sense in relation to Zane, but Zane himself was awesome. I very much enjoyed just about everything about him. Not real sure why he had such a jones on for Jackie, though, she was a total bitch to him for most of the book based on nothing but untrustworthy secondhand information and a lot of preconceived prejudice. In fact, I just don't understand why either Zane or Noah was so interested in her after having a single conversation with the woman. Besides her kickin' rack and killer bod, anyway - and what sort of a message does that send?

I mostly feel like Gentlemen Prefer Succubi could've been much better than it was if there had been more intelligence in the main character's actions and decisions, and a bit more thought put into the development of her transformation. A more logical sequence of events that got her involved in the search for the halo would've been nice, too. A brand new succubus who has to do the deed every other day even though she's a prude and you hear about how much she doesn't want to do the deed for whatever reason all through the book, with the responsibility of the balance between good and evil on her shoulders just didn't thrill me. Gentlemen may prefer succubi (no surprise there), but I just don't know that I do.

Death Blows by D. D. Barant

Genre: Alternate Universe Fantasy
Series: The Bloodhound Files, Book 2
Rating: 5 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Death Blows: The Bloodhound Files
Death Blows, But Jace and Co. Rocks

Jace Valchek is a criminal profiler - she does crazy for a living. The fact that she was yanked out of our world by some major mojo and dropped into an alternate earth where the human population is a measly 1% and the other 99% are things that go bump in the night doesn't change that. She's stuck in this alternately fangy world, working for the NSA until she can track down and catch a human terrorist out to take down the large vampire (hemovore) and lycanthrope populations so the humans can stage a resurgence. Of course, catching the guy might be a bit easier if she wasn't being pulled away from the hunt to consult on other cases every time she turned around. Cases like the murder of a pire (vampire), found green, skeletal, sparked with lightning...and dressed up like the comic book hero Flash. And you thought your job was complicated?

The second installment of The Bloodhound Files series is just as extraordinary (in every sense of the word) as the first, Dying Bites, and in a lot of ways, just as complicated. This one throws in a very confusing (for me) plot of metaphysics and comic book mythos that I found perplexing and a bit difficult to wrap my brain around at times, and yet the power of personality of the lead character, Jace Valchek, and a strong supporting cast of ultimately unique secondary and ancillary characters lift this book into a realm of must read for me.

I'll admit, a group of comic superheroes getting slaughtered for nefarious and ultimately confusing purposes as a result of an event that happened fifty-odd years ago isn't exactly a familiar or comfortable plot for me to easily grasp, but I like Jace so much, and am so impressed with the world D.D. Barant has created here, that the plot isn't a driving factor for me. The book is well written and the plot quickly paced and there is enough tension and danger to keep me entertained, so if I didn't totally love the comic book/metaphysics part of it...or...um...totally understand it, I'm okay with that.

I'm fairly certain I'll read anything that has Jace and her partner/protector Charlie (golem enchanted with the spirit of a Tyrannosaurus Rex) matching wits and trading barbs. By far my favorite secondary character of the series, Charlie is a fantastic straight man for Jace's wisecracking and their dialogue is compelling, witty, and funny. Another favorite character is Cassius, head of the NSA and Jace's boss, who is an ancient vampire with the body of an 18 year old California surfer. Other familiar faces are back, as well, like Gretchen, the now pregnant vampire and one of Cassius' top agents, and Dr. Pete, the thrope who saved Jace's life in Dying Bites. More than once.

This is an intensely intelligent series, well written and delicately layered with an intricate world building that is revealed to the reader in delicious bites, instead of being overdrawn or forced. The narrative was a little odd for me in this book. I don't remember it from the first book, but this one is told in first person present tense, and while I'm definitely used to first person narrative - especially in the urban fantasy genre - it's usually first-person past tense so every once in awhile the lack of familiarity with that particular POV nudged me out of the story and I started thinking about the words instead of experiencing them. That would have seriously affected my opinion of the book if I wasn't so enamored with Jace and her new-found but fangy and sometimes hairy friends. There just wasn't anything significant enough to make me do anything but totally love this book and yearn for the next as soon as possible. Now would be good. I really hate waiting.

The Bloodhound Files:

Dying Bites: The Bloodhound Files Death Blows: The Bloodhound Files

Never Love a Stranger by Ellen Fisher

Genre: SciFi Romance, Time Travel
Series: N/A
Rating: 2 Stars
Formats: Kindle

Never Love a Stranger
Interesting Concept Collapses Under Weight of Execution Problems

Since Annie Simpson's husband died a year ago, she's been living a lonely, boring life. At first it helped her heal, but now her days seem empty and lacking purpose. One night, however, Annie enters her kitchen and is stunned and scared to see a large, gorgeous, naked man standing there. Before she can flee or call the police, James convinces her he's not going to hurt her. When Annie finds out he has come back to the past to flee the group intent on killing him, Annie thinks he's insane...at first. Then she starts to believe. Horrified by the grim picture of the future that James has painted, one of slavery and butchery, she offers to help. She's drawn to James in a way she's never felt before, not even with her husband, and when James is near her, she can't help but feel alive. When the full scope of the truth comes out, however, the question of life becomes a hotly contested topic, and Annie's previous blind faith may result in the death of everything she holds dear.

Never Love a Stranger is a difficult book for me to review. I didn't like it, but I can appreciate what the author accomplished and what she was trying to accomplish. I think the concept of the book was good. It was an interesting plot and Fisher's vision for the future was pretty comprehensive and impressive. There were a lot of layers and deceptions, ill intents and heroic actions that blended together in an odd, yet compelling way. I can understand how some readers would find some of the revelations in this book to be disturbing, even though I'm not one of them. Yes, there were things in this book that were difficult to accept and not something you'd find in a traditional romance novel, but I found those aspects to add a sense of gritty realism to the motivations of the characters.

That realism was appreciated, especially as I found it so lacking in other aspects. I had significant issues with character action and dialogue from the very first page. I felt neither were very believable through the whole of the book, and I can't imagine anyone with a modicum of self preservation acting as Annie did when she first saw James. The dialogue between the characters was often heavy-handed, trite, or cliched, and very little of it felt organic to the characters or the situations they found themselves in. The characters themselves, especially James, were inconsistent throughout and James' personality and vernacular fluctuated between believable for his backstory and situation to bordering on absurd. Any time a character who has supposedly traveled back in time from over three hundred years into our future, and has been shown to be perplexed by the identity and function of something as pedestrian as a bath towel may lose a lot of cred as future-guy when he starts uttering such modern colloquialisms as "Go to hell."

I appreciated the author's intent, but this book is also beleaguered by a large schism that splits the book into two parts and turns a slightly common but basically harmless time traveler romance into a quagmire of scifi frustration and implausibility. I acknowledge that my preferences in reading lie elsewhere, so I don't want to appear hypercritical of issues that wouldn't please me if they'd been penned by Asimov himself, but I can't help but feel that the material and plot were larger than Fisher's ability to translate the ideas to the page. I hope that doesn't sound like harsh criticism, because I love that Fisher tried. I just don't think that there are many authors who can do it effectively and believably to begin with - time travel is literally littered with paradox and confusion, and defining an entire futuristic landscape in the span of half a book is a mighty task.

Had Fisher's ambition for this story stopped at overcoming the...er...intrinsic differences...between Annie and James, I think I would have been okay with it, but all told, it was too big a concept and handled with too little sophistication to be enjoyable for me.

Beyond The Darkness by Alexandra Ivy

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Guardians of Eternity, Book 6
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Beyond the Darkness Delight

I admit, I believe the Guardians of Eternity series hasn't quite reached the level of exceptional paranormal romance (yet). I think it's a very solid and satisfying paranormal romance series - with a slight issue here and there. There doesn't seem to be a lot that differentiates and individualizes the lead romantic pairing in each book in either character development or the formula of the evolving romance, and I believe that is what separates the solid and satisfying from the exceptional. I've long been a huge fan of paranormal romance novels and series, though, so I have a pretty high tolerance for that lack of differentiation and individualization. It's a common malady in the paranormal romance series sub-genre. That being said, there are some series, like Christine Feehan's Carpathians, that I stopped reading a long time ago because the formula got to be too much, the characters too interchangeable, the women too often somehow lesser than their mates. I'm taking a break (and have been since Acheron) from Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series for similar reasons.

I'm still reading Alexandra Ivy's Guardians of Eternity series. Why? Because it's still giving me exactly what I like in my paranormal romance novels. An uber-alpha male and a strong, independent female that lock heads, fangs, fists and wits, humor, and charm to create an explosive chemistry that works for me quite nicely. There's also the characters from previous novels that get tossed into the mix, and I love seeing the continuing development there.

In Beyond the Darkness, in particular, Ivy has gone one step further, and seems to have added another dimension to the series arc, hinting at something coming that may draw together all the characters we've met so far and pit them against one decidedly evil threat to all demonkind. It was a tantalizing and tricky thing to do, because it provided the series a cohesion and depth previously unattained. Not to mention, this particular book is the first of the series to provide a male pureblood werewolf as top dog (so to speak) instead of another of the leeches (as Salvatore would call them), so we got to get a much better - though still too brief for me - view of the difference between the vampire culture and the declining werewolf culture. The differences were handled nicely, even if I wish I'd seen a few more of them to make them really stand out. When combined with my appreciation for the series and the characters to date, it raised my enjoyment of this book and the series even higher.

Not to mention that Alexandra Ivy has managed to take a character I have disliked since he was introduced, Salvatore Giuliani, and made me not only like him (a little), but understand him better and appreciate his responsibilities and the demands of saving a race from extinction. That stunned me, because I said in my review of Darkness Unleashed I was not looking forward to a book about Giuliani. Up until this point I've found him arrogant, manipulative, and at turns boorish and sadistic in how he treated his curs and females. There was a lot of ground to cover to get me to like him, and while he still isn't my favorite character, I admit, I did warm to him. I had no such trouble with Harley. I found her just as competent, intelligent, and strong as all of Ivy's female leads (except maybe Abby). I enjoyed very much her calling Giuliani to task again and again for his arrogance and I appreciated her willful resistance to bowing to the alpha's power. I thought the plot supporting her backstory was well defined and explained everything about her character. In fact, I think this is the first book in the series in which I completely bought into exactly why the male and female lead are exactly the way they are and was very impressed by how deftly the author blended the pair without diminishing either individual.

Salvatore has been searching for the four genetically altered pureblood cubs for thirty years, and has finally stumbled across the third (after the first fell in love and mated to the vampire Anasso, Styx, and the second proved to be barren...though she also fell under the spell of the leech Jagr, and Salvatore had no chance there). Imagine his surprise when he realizes that the third of the female cubs, the delicate in appearance but anything but delicate in reality Harley, is not only within his grasp, but is also his true mate - a bond he thought lost to the mysteries of the past for his species, as it had been a hundred years or more since the last pureblood true mating. Harley has been living cloistered from the werewolves, kept hidden by Caine, the upstart cur who's been using Harley's blood to try to find his personal holy grail - turning curs into purebloods and being the messiah of the species. She's been lied to her entire life - about the death of her sisters at the claws of the Were King himself, in particular, so meeting up with him on a moonlit night sends terror through her heart and violence through her soul. Neither know, nor soon realize, that each are a pawn in a far deadlier game, and ancient evil and a long dead nemesis rise against them both. If they fall, they lose more than their lives, they lose the entirety of the battered and beleaguered were species.

Excellent novel, and a fun, fast read. It didn't have quite the same amount of humor that some of the others in the series do, and I truly missed the sardonic acceptance that each of the vampires showed when they realized their mates weren't going to make life easy on them. Salvatore was less humorous, more intense that way - but in his defense, he had some truly charming and adorable moments towards the end that I won't go into further to prevent spoilers. They were endearing, though. Beyond the Darkness is also the first in the series that has set me on the edge of my seat for the next - and it's exactly because of the added dimension I mentioned as well as the plot thread with Caine. Dastardly Ivy keeps making her books better and better. I very much enjoyed it.

Guardians of Eternity Series:


Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.


Tracy's bookshelf: read

Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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