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Read any good books lately? I have! Grab a cup of coffee or a beverage of your choice and sit back, relax, and have a peek at the books I've loved, the books I didn't, and the reasons why. Enjoy, and happy reading!

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Ecstasy Unveiled by Larissa Ione

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Demonica, Book 4
Rating: 4 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Ecstasy Unveiled (Demonica, Book 4)
Dark, Seductive, and Satisfying

With each book of the Demonica series I become more and more impressed with Larissa Ione. She's created an original world with complex and unique mythologies blending nearly seamlessly into a cohesive whole, ripe with dark humor, honest and erotic sexuality, and at its core, the steely strength of love - familial and mated both. What began four books ago as a paranormal romance series has developed into a smorgasbord of trials, tribulations, dangers, and true consequences, and as a reader, I'm intensely appreciative of the pleasure each book has provided. Ecstasy Unveiled was absolutely no disappointment.

Lore, the Sem demon assassin, is one kill away from freedom from his master, but it's not freedom for himself he cares about, it's his sister Sin's life - which hangs in the balance of this particular kill. Unfortunately, the target is none other than Kynan, the human whose life he restored in the previous book, and the guy who got the girl that Lore himself was interested in. Not to mention that Kynan is real tight with the three brothers Lore recently discovered and he's protected by the almost-angel, Idess, whose job it is to keep Kynan alive - at all costs - to save humanity. What's a demon assassin to do?

One of the things I like most about the Demonica Series is it really is a study in the adage "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong." Truly, none of the good guys (and the not-so-good-but-mostly-well-intentioned guys) can catch a break here. Lore has to kill someone he sorta hates, sure, but he doesn't want to kill him, really, especially as he craves a family bond and connection to his brothers Eidolon, Shade, and Wraith (and they'll kill him for taking out Kynan), not to mention he's totally hot on Idess, who really wants to get into heaven and leave the earthly plane, but to do so she's got to make sure neither Kynan nor Lore get dead. And if that's not enough, the forces manipulating all this death and destruction are viciously evil and bent on the destruction of the brothers, their mates and children, and Idess...basically everyone.

Oh yeah, you definitely can't say that Ecstasy Unveiled is thin on plot. My only complaint, actually, is that in this particular book there's almost too much going on as Lore's world spins out of control and the evil undermining his brothers starts ripping everything apart. I can understand - and really liked - the initiation of the story thread for Sin's (the smurfette...*giggle*) book (due out in September 2010, so look for it!), but a werewolf epidemic on top of everything else that was going down in Ecstasy Unveiled made it just a little too chaotic for my personal tastes. I would've liked more time with Lore and Idess, seeing their relationship develop a bit more in non-life threatening or captured situations. It's a minor issue, really, but it did keep me from truly loving this book. I really really liked it though.

I do not recommend this book if you haven't read the three previous novels. This is not the sort of series where you can just pick it up here and go, or read out of order, because far too much of what goes on in these books, and the characters in them, are motivated by the relationships and events of the past novels, and there's not enough exposition to satisfactorily define the world for a neophyte. Too much impact would be lost. Also, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone not comfortable or fond of sexual situations written with explicit language and without the use of flowery euphemisms. The brothers are sex demons, after all, and there's not a whole lot held back.

Really enjoyed Ecstasy Unveiled and am very pleased that the next in the series, Sin Undone (Demonica, Book 5), will be out in September. Until then!

Blood Cross by Faith Hunter

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Jane Yellowrock, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Blood Cross (Jane Yellowrock, Book 2)
Jane Yellowrock is Back With Attitude

In the second book of the Jane Yellowrock series, we start off scant days after the concluding events in the first installment, Skinwalker (Jane Yellowrock, Book 1), and follow along with Jane as she takes up the reins of her second contract for the New Orleans Vampire Council, to hunt the vampire making and leaving new-rogue vamps all over the place. This hunt risks more than even Jane and Beast may be able to survive when vampire politics, witchcraft, and the shrouded mystery of the Mithran origins all start to coalesce into an insidious pattern and may be the driving force of the unknown assailant's master plan.

After Skinwalker, a thrilling debut novel with original characters and an interesting twist on vampire mythos, I found Blood Cross to be slightly disappointing. not that I didn't like it, because I did, but I didn't love it like I loved Skinwalker and parts of Blood Cross felt unnecessary. I also noticed a bit of a difference in character between books - Jane in particular, but also Rick (The Joe from Skinwalker), though in his case to a much smaller degree.

Blood Cross started strong, dragged a bit in the middle, and ended strong. The pacing problems were most notably caused by an excess of historical and mythological information that comes out in the middle of the book. It might have been better served had it been broken up between books a little more, especially the parts that didn't directly affect the particular underlying plot of this book. I was left feeling that while Skinwalker was a mad, dangerous dash towards a deadly finish line, Blood Cross got off to an incendiary start, but languished behind centuries of Native American skinwalker and Mithran mythos before picking up the pace again. Jane's cleansing and going to water were fascinating glimpses of Native American culture, and the plot threads with Bethany and Sabina were illuminating and brilliantly written from an originality of mythos standpoint, but they weren't largely helpful for the book's pacing and didn't add enough towards the plot to need to all be included here in such detail. It seemed to me to be too much piled all in one place - the middle of the book - weighing it down. To put it succinctly, Jane did way more detecting and experiencing than she did hunting.

Now, about characterization... I'm not the first to mention the dramatic difference in Jane between the last book and this one, but I will mention it, because it's important. Jane's still tough and still a fighter, but what the heck was the deal with the waterworks every time she turned around? And not just crying when things got real bad, but crying on Rick's shoulder at one point. Seriously? That's not the Jane we met in Skinwalker. I like that Jane has always been strong enough to acknowledge feeling fear of the vamps and of the fights to the death - she didn't let it stop her, but she acknowledged it. That makes sense to me, but the crying thing just...doesn't. She was introduced way more as a kill-first-and-don't-bother-to-ask-questions-later type than she ever was a cry-when-the-night-is-blackest sort. It didn't play well with what little we know of her from Skinwalker. And crying on Rick's shoulder is a weakness Beast would've hacked at, an admission that wouldn't have been allowed. I don't get it. And I don't get how the relationship between Jane and Rick evolved, either. I could've seen it happening in the previous book, but any and all sexual tension between them seemed to have been written out of this one, which make the events between them toward the end a bit of a mystery.

But those are just the issues that I had a problem with...I still rated the book four stars because I really like the world Faith Hunter created here. The plot to Blood Cross is layered and intense, disturbing and dangerous. I like the characters, and I really like that we get to see a lot of the secondary and tertiary characters from Skinwalker back again. I think the mythos is unique and delightfully original, and I like that the vamps aren't even close to good guys, but they're not all quite bad guys either. This is a very gray-area sort of book, where the villains and the heros both are a bit tarnished, a lot jaded, and ultimately...predators. May the biggest teeth win.

Archangel's Kiss by Nalini Singh

PhotobucketGenre: Urban Fantasy Romance
Series: Guild Hunter, Book 2
Rating: 5 Stars
Formats: Paperback, Kindle




Fascinating, Intense, and Ultimately Satisfying


Nalini Singh's Angel's Blood was a favorite read of mine in 2009, and I had waited with much anticipation to see how the series would continue. Often the second book of a new series is a bit of a letdown, as it either focuses too heavily on the world building that didn't occur in the first book or too heavily on character development that wasn't satisfactorily explored in the first book. Singh's second in the Guild Hunter series didn't fall into either of those traps. In fact, Singh writes delightfully against the norm here, giving us a familiar albeit alternative world that isn't thoroughly fleshed out (yet) in either book, instead allowing the reader to glean a satisfactory amount of information in bits and pieces (about the world and the characters both) without hitting them over the head with excessive exposition. Ultimately, this method lets the reader keep the story as the focal point at all times. That being said, it seems from this reader's perspective that while there are a lot of unanswered questions about the world of angels, vamps, and hunter born, Singh herself has a very clear and fantastically detailed awareness of the world in which her characters live. Simply put, she writes not as if she's developing the world as she goes, but as if she is in iron-clad command of it. I hadn't realized until I was reading this book just how rare that is, in much the same way you don't always realize how thirsty you are until you start drinking.

There is a complexity of mythos and plot here that, were Singh not the artisan she so clearly is, could easily get away from an author, yet the story never overwhelms the reader, and the characters - flawed and damaged, and a little scary (or a lot) - battle not only their situation, but the surprisingly human pitfalls of avarice, vanity, power, and independence. I hesitate to call Archangel's Kiss a literary masterpiece, but there is more than a mere glimpse of brilliance in this intelligent and powerful book filled with intelligent and Powerful characters.

With a deft and at turns fanciful and realistic hand, Singh pens Elena's and Raphael's evolving relationship while fleshing out the world of angels and archangels and vampires, an often brutal and cruelly pragmatic world that allows to go unpunished often hideous executions of beings that transgress (or don't, as the case - and their master's whims - may be), while the laughter and innocence of children is held in highest regard. It's an unusual yet intriguing dichotomy.

As to Elena and Raphael... their relationship is at the core of this particular book and the characters are evolving into a more three dimensional and symbiotic partnership that is both deeply moving emotionally and - on a strictly personal note - phenomenal to experience. I commend Singh on giving her readers an unflinching reality that elucidates the strengths and weaknesses of both characters while shining a sometimes harsh light on the dangers and potential crises that arise when two such disparate...people?...beings?...start forging a bond of love and respect that can thrive not just for a lifetime, but potentially millennia. She hasn't wrapped up such a momentous task between the covers of this book, as is often the case in paranormal romance series', nor should she have. And the fact she didn't not only satisfies me as a reader, but it gives me hope for a series that can stay fresh long into its run.

Suffice it to say, Archangel's Kiss is my favorite read of 2010, and while the year is yet young (as of the date of original review, 2/2010), it'll take a lot to topple it from this particular pinnacle.

*Update: As of 6/29/2010, Archangel's Kiss is still one of my two favorite reads of the year.


Guild Hunter Series:

   

Shades of Midnight by Lara Adrian

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Midnight Breed, Book 7
Rating: 3 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Shades of Midnight: (The Midnight Breed, Book 7)
A Step Down in the Series

I'm well aware that this review is going to be a minority opinion, but as much as I've enjoyed Adrian's Midnight Breed series, this particular book and the lead characters in it just didn't excite me as much as the previous novels.

Alexandra Macguire is an Alaskan bush pilot that flies into remote areas of the frozen north to deliver goods and medicine. On one such flight, she stops at the home of friends only to find an entire family slaughtered in a brutal and bloody fashion. A fashion that shakes her down to her soul and reminds her all too clearly of the loss of her mother and brother, and of a flight of another kind altogether - the cross-country escape from a madness a child's mind could never comprehend.

As a Breed warrior and recent addition to the ranks of the Order, Kade is sent back to his family's stomping grounds on a mission to find out what's behind the mindless slaughter, but he's ridden by the fear that his twin is responsible for the deaths of innocents, and guilt from decisions in his past, decisions to flee Alaska and his family, make him ultimately culpable. What Kade finds first is Alex, and while she stirs a fire in his blood that would keep him warm on the coldest of the Alaskan nights, what they stumble across together could destroy everything - and everyone - in the end.

I was truly looking forward to delving into this story. I liked the setting, and I really enjoyed...in a disturbed but impressed way...the beginning, but then for me, Shades of Midnight sort of sputtered out. Adrian is extremely talented and she's given us six books with vibrant characters, tense plots, and a growing and deepening arc of good vs. evil - with fangs and guns. This one didn't quite match those in either plot or character, and one of the most disappointing aspects of this one is that by the end I didn't care very much for Kade or Alex, and didn't get any sense of true lasting emotion between them. Alex started out strong and seemingly independent (she's a bush pilot in the Alaskan wilderness!), but she seemed to backslide when faced with horrifying memories of her past and just never seemed to regain that strength to stand on her own. Kade was very disappointing. I'm sorry, I don't know if it was the fact that he ran from his family instead of dealing with his brother a year ago, or that he spent most of the book beating himself up about it that really turned me off. Hell, maybe it was the fact that I couldn't help but sympathize with the humans who lost loved ones and family members because Kade kept his mouth shut and flew the coop instead of doing what he should have done. What he went to Boston to help the order do. Kill rogues. Whatever it was, I didn't find him to a very worthy Breed.

And the story had some major flaws for me as well. Most notably, by book seven of a series, I would have expected the overall arc, the theme that holds all the books together, to be tightening and getting more tautly defined as the battle between good and evil creeps closer and closer to a head, but in this one, the story thread of Dracos was...dare I say anemic?...and the scenes with the ancient were at times tense and interesting, and at times a confused mess that didn't make much sense. I did like seeing the Breed males I've come to know and care for, but they ended up being too much of a non-factor to leave much of an impact. There were quite a few other issues I had with the book, as well.

By the end, I was left with a general feeling of ambivalence. Maybe a little disappointment. I didn't dislike the book, by any means - regardless of my complaints, Adrian tells a good story. It just wasn't the story I was expecting, and I didn't like it as much as I've liked all the others. It's not a bad story - not at all. It was just...sort of..."Meh."

Twice as Hot by Gena Showalter

Genre: Paranormal Romantic Suspense
Series: Tales of an Extraordinary Girl, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Twice as Hot (Hqn)
Showalter Hits Again in Twice As Hot

Twice as Hot, the sequel to Gena Showalter's Playing with Fire, reintroduces her happy, happy readers to Belle Jamison, the feisty and fun and Extraordinary Wonder Girl, and her hunky love, the Cat Man Rome Masters, a few months further along in their lives from the end of the previous book.

Belle's happy world and dreams of a perfect wedding go up in an inferno of flames when her fiance and supernatural superagent Rome goes down in the line of duty - and when he gets up, its sans memories of anything and everything connected to Belle. Including Belle herself. And his manipulative ex-wife Lexis - psychic, mother of Rome's daughter, and major be-otch, takes full advantage to try insinuate herself right back into Rome's heart - and bed.

You know, of course, there just isn't any way Wonder Girl Belle's going to stand for that.

I fell for Belle and Rome in Playing with Fire, and I was thrilled when I heard there was going to be a sequel. I waited patiently and was fanstastically rewarded with the fast, sexy romp and many thrilling and fun twists and turns in Twice as Hot. Belle grows into her powers a bit and starts to find a balance within herself, always a favorite theme of mine, and I could never be disappointed to see the sexy Rome Masters doing his thing. The strong supporting cast of Tanner, Cody, and more are back, and prepare to meet a few new and interesting - and in some cases deadly - faces.

I would love to see this sequel be a stepping stone into a legitimate series, as I very much enjoy the characters and the world that Showalter has created here. It's not as darkly themed, perhaps, as her Lords of the Underworld series, but it's original and fresh and the characters really sparkle and shine...sometimes literally. Um...okay...most of the time literally.

Twice as Hot is a mostly light, always fun, sexy and exciting way to spend some time and I'd love to read more Tales of an Extraordinary Girl. Well done.

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

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

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