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Blood of the Demon by Rosalie Lario

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Demons of Infernum, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 253 Pages
Formats: PaperbackKindle
Release Date: 8/2/2011
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Entangled Publishing, LLC via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

A Lighter Shade of Blood

Brynn Meyers didn't know it, but the moment a tall, gorgeous stranger walked into her art gallery and drew her attention away from the use of her psychometric ability to gawk at his perfect body and shake his hand, her life was about to change forever. With his free hand clenched in a huge fist, Keegan knocked her out cold, then he kidnapped her.

But he felt really bad about it.

Keegan is a half-breed: part demon, part...something else, and he and his brothers are in our world to prevent an evil demon from finding an ancient magic text known as The Book of the Dead. Should the psychopathic demon named Mammon find this book and use the key to unlock its magic, he will raise an army of flesh-eating zombies and conquer first this world, then all the others. Keegan will do what he must, even destroy the key if necessary, to stop the vile, power hungry demon before Mammon kick-starts an apocalypse that will destroy the planet and echo through all the dimensions.

Neither the fact that Mammon is his father (no deterrent there), nor that the gorgeous Brynn makes Keegan yearn and sets his pulse pounding, will sway him from his course. Even if that course runs right over Brynn.

Brynn, after all,  is the key.

Finding herself at the mercy of four men whose story of a secret government agency and protective superheros is suspect at best, Brynn feels far more like a prisoner than a protected asset. When a swift, vicious attack in her home unmasks the perpetrators as demons, however, and the truth starts to be handed over begrudgingly, Brynn's concept of reality takes a sharp, swift turn towards the macabre. The more she learns, the more danger she realizes she's in, and though it seems clear to her that Keegan wants her, the question becomes in what manner?

As his lover...or his victim?

My first experience with the writing of Rosalile Lario left me pleasantly surprised. Lario debuts this new series with a book that sketches out the world nicely but doesn't overwhelm, provides a sufficient amount of threat and danger to the main characters but doesn't mire them down in misery, offers up a sizzling romance with heat and emotion that evolves at a realistic pace, and sets up the next book well enough to keep me interested in what comes next. The infrastructure of a solid paranormal romance series debut was all in place.

That her writing style is easy to read, the narrative smooth and slick, and her primary and secondary characters had some quirky charm that made them all pretty darn likable was a bonus.

A couple of things niggled at me, though. Mammon was a truly nasty dude who commits heinous crimes, and Keegan and his brothers are set to kill an innocent Brynn if they can't stop him, yet the overall tone of the book seemed to disavow those and other dark points and ended up being lighter than I was expecting. I'm not complaining about the lighter tone - had Lario taken this book down a darker path, it could have been incredibly disturbing (some issues brushed upon: necrophilia, rape, child molestation, torture), but that lighter tone did occasionally seem slightly dissonant to the background activities of which readers are made aware.

Okay, I lied, I do have one complaint about the lighter tone. I think it's one of the reasons that there wasn't a better balance between the romance plot arc between Keegan and Brynn and the external conflict plot threads surrounding Mammon. There was too much time given to hashing and rehashing Keegan's responsibilities and his sworn duty to kill Brynn as he fights his attraction to her. While that created a nice tension at first, I think belaboring it was a mistake. There's literally no surprise in this book of what's going to happen - and what's not going to happen (it's a paranormal romance, not a Greek tragedy) - so ratcheting up the angst again and again over something that readers know will never come to pass just wastes time that could be spent further fleshing out characters, external conflict plot threads, and alternative potential dangers that could come to pass.

Instead, the whole mess about whether Keegan gives in to his attraction or stays resolute so he can kill her seemed protracted and repetitive for a good part of the book, and too much of Mammon's activities (and everyone else's) go on behind the scenes, so any progress he makes towards his grim goal was always startling for its abruptness when it was revealed. It also prevented Mammon from getting the page time to develop into a villain that should be truly feared - despite the known evil of his character.

I liked the characters, though. Brynn was a feisty soul, a fighter from way back who had to learn at an early age to take care of herself. She's quick to adapt and intelligent. Keegan's brothers were a hoot, too, and I loved when one of them blurted out some colloquialism they enjoyed or stumbled over a custom unfamiliar to them. Those scenes provided some slight comic relief and also expanded the readers awareness of them as characters.

Keegan was a delicious bite as the male romantic lead, but there were times when he got too broody and he tended to don the sackcloth and ashes a little too often (metaphorically speaking), flogging himself for his failures as big brother and refusing to see his nobility. He was a quintessential alpha male, damaged by the weight of his own definition of failure. It didn't make him unlikable, but it did suck the sexy fun out of a room now and again.

There were parts of the book that I thought were a little cheesy, parts that were harmless fun, and parts that sizzled. Some of the developments were a thrill, some held intrigue, and some were just disturbing. A handful of the actions of the characters were a little ridiculous, even slightly stupid, and one or two made me roll my eyes. A couple of plot points seemed a bit contrived, and the big conflict at the end could have been fleshed out a bit more and evolved a little differently. Still, there was more in Blood of the Demon that I enjoyed than that I didn't, and I think Lario has made a very nice opening gambit for the series with it. I'll keep my eye out for the second book, and for other tales by up-and-comer Rosalie Lario.

Piper's Fury by Rachel Firasek

Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance
Series: Passion of the Soul, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 288 Pages, 6529 Locations
Formats: PaperbackKindle

Piper's Fury (A Passion of the Soul novel)
Loved The Concept, Not The Execution

Piper Anast came home from elementary school one day full of excitement from a teacher's praise. She walked into a bloodbath, her slaughtered mother's body sprawled out on the couch, broken and torn in incomprehensible fashion. The police never found the 'who.' Piper has never understood the 'why.'

Now twenty-four, Piper lives a life closed off from people, barred from humanity by a unique ability and a soul-deep rage that is as much a part of her as her breath or the color of her eyes. She functions as best she can with her ability, the one thing that has always kept her apart, marked her as abnormal. She is an empath of sorts, and through her touch can sense feelings and see visions of things and people. The darker the soul, the more twisted her visions. As if that wasn't reason enough to wear full body armor, men are inexplicably drawn to her, and their touch fills her mind with every one of their prurient fantasies.

She doesn't date any more.

In fact, she has no social life at all, and if it weren't for her best friend, Detective Tally Jensen, and her Ducati, she's probably never leave the house she shares with her mother's best friend, Mabel, the woman who took her in sixteen years ago and gave her a home and a love that she can never, since that fateful, bloody day, truly return.

Using her ability to help the police find missing persons is something she feels is her duty, but that ability has limits and exacts a painful toll. Accepting the pain is Piper's cross to bear to help bring the lost home. When a new case stirs memories of childhood horror, though, and a request for help from a friend of Mabel's nephew can't be denied, Piper realizes that the past is not truly done. In certain circumstances, it can and does come back to haunt you, to taunt you, and if you're not very careful...to kill you.

Drawn into a world of vampires and demons, of truths too bitter to be accepted, horrors too intense to be believed, catching the bad guy isn't the only imperative. To survive, Piper will have to do something even more difficult: discover the truth about herself.

I loved the world that Rachel Firasek has created here, and I adored the concept for the novel. The touch-sensitive empath Piper works with the police to find missing persons and her past is traumatic and cloaked in mystery. Her life is limping along until a new case strikes too close to home and Bennett Slade drops into her path, asking her to help him find his missing daughter. I can say with absolute authority, I've never read a book in which a vampire is searching for his abducted child, so it was very original. I also thought the backstory and mythos surrounding the vampires as a race was nicely conceived. I've seen similar themes in other books and series, and it's one I favor in the genre.

All of those points served the novel very well and make for a compelling read. Unfortunately, the writing suffered from execution problems, and I had some major issues with the main character.

There's a lot of story in the book, a lot of different plot points and developments, a lot of stuff happening to the characters. While that's a good thing when everything is given time to develop and evolve, the narrative of the book speeds through plot points, developments, and happenings like a juiced horse at a stakes race, and the cost for that haste was keenly felt in other integral areas.

There was a decided lack of depth in the all the characters, but it was most notable in secondary characters Tally and Mabel. They seemed more like caricatures than actual people. The emotional expressions and reactions in the book always felt slightly off to me, flashing and changing like quicksilver, overly exaggerated and unnatural to the characters or the story situation. In particular, Piper and Slade both seemed to suffer from emotional ADD, and the wildly fluctuating emotions in their budding association/relationship didn't allow for me to really connect with either of them.

I had the biggest problem with Piper in that...and every other regard. I just couldn't get a bead on her character from one moment to the next. Her emotions and personality were all over the map. Of course if I didn't like it on one page, I just had to wait until the next, as it quickly...too quickly and often...changed. I spent the vast majority of the book vacillating between tolerating her and at least understanding her latent hostility and issues with her nature to detesting her childish, selfish, whiny ass to the point that I wished someone would just behead her. Not to mention, she was not a particularly nice person throughout most of the book, and the way she treated her 'inner circle' was disturbing at times.

There were also some contradictions in the plot, some inconsistencies, and some things that didn't make a lot of sense. One pretty egregious moment occurred between one page and the next. Slade is pleased that Piper can use her abilities at will, saying that they now "have a way to fight back." Literally one page and two lines of his dialogue later he's telling her she's not going to the very fight in which he wanted her abilities as a weapon. That was a bit of an eye-rolling moment for me. Another serious contradiction happens towards the end of the book, and I threw up my hands totally at that one. Details withheld to prevent spoilers.

There was a lot of promise in the book, and a lot of things I'd like to see continue to develop. I wasn't exactly thrilled in the telling of it, but the story itself was full of original ideas and unique situations. I'd give a second book a try to see how some of the chips fall, but I'd want to see a smoother, less helplessly frenetic narrative and a bit more emotional stability and depth in the characters. Without that, the series would end there for me.

Amnesia by Douglas Anthony Cooper

Genre: Fiction
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 227 Pages
Formats: HardcoverKindle
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for the purpose of an honest review. My rating, review, and all thoughts and comments included are my own.

As Abstract and Disturbing as a Fractured Mind

A man with no memory. A memory with no man. And the broken girl who spans the bridge between them.

There are books that are read and enjoyed, books that thrill, that scare, that anger, that birth hope, renew faith, hint at love. Amnesia is not one of those books. In fact, Amnesia isn't quite like any other book I've read, and now that I've done so, ordering my thoughts and feelings about it seem as herculean a task as understanding all the brilliant nuances and twisting labyrinths found in its pages. But I'll try.

Highly stylized, brutally intelligent, psychotically affecting, this dark tale of a young man's twisted life and identity is gripping and morose, sickly seeping a sense of impending doom as it progresses in fits and starts, sliding forwards and backwards. It's a story boldly told, uniquely told, in a rambling narrative with a shifting focus, a narrative that slaps the reader upside the head with blurry snapshots of crystalline images. Broken family, tragedy, isolation, angst, sexual assault, theft, suicide of the mind, identity, Cooper hits hard with a panorama of confused misery and keeps it coming in this tale that - with its abstract and esoteric fugues - is both hard to follow and impossible to set down.

If I am to be honest, and though it pains me to admit, I can't say I understood all of it. In fact, parts of it left my mind feeling beaten, as if my intellect went to war and came home in a black bag. I can't even say I liked it, really. It's not the sort of book that I consider likable. It's depressing, confusing, and roughly akin to what my imagination would attribute to a bad acid trip. It's also compelling, and irresistible, and more than a little heartbreaking. Whether I liked it or not seems far too pedestrian a question for the weight of my emotional response to it.

If I understood it just a wee bit more, if it were just a small bit less...out there, more concrete, a bit more comprehensible in those sections that, for me, weren't, this would be one of the most significant books I've ever read. I still wouldn't say I liked it, but it sure as hell would've garnered five stars. Perhaps when I reread it...and I will definitely, unequivocally reread it...I'll be able to put together some of those pieces that didn't quite fit for me. I definitely think attacking it with the big picture intact would open up new layers of the telling for appreciation.

There were sections towards the middle and again towards the end that seemed - I'm sorry to say - to balloon out a bit. That seemed to take the dangerous step from abstruse to pedantic, not for the sake of the story being told, but just to be even more enigmatic. Those few passages kept me from waving my hands in the air and stomping my feet in full appreciation. Those few passages were the only ones in this tight, confusing, and deeply sorrowful masterpiece where my attention wavered and my mind shied away.

The rest...well, it's not Milrose Munce, certainly, but it's another side of the mind of an author who, I'm beginning to suspect, thinks so far outside the lines he's in a different parking lot. On a different planet. Visiting, however, always leaves a lasting...memory.

Drive Me Crazy by Kate Angell

Genre: Light/Comedic Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 306 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback

Drive Me Crazy
It Did

If Cade Nyland wins the SunCoast Run road rally, he'll be the first person to ever sweep every race in the season. It's a goal he's been working towards for years and now that it's in his grasp, he can almost taste victory. Unfortunately, it's a short taste, as he receives word that his mechanic has broken his leg and he won't be able to participate. Without a mechanic, Cade is out of the race.

Forced into taking time out of the search for a new mechanic to judge a tight butt competition...a humiliation that Cade couldn't care less about...he comes face to buns with the young woman who had just minutes before swung open her car door and put a big scrape in his classic car. The only thing good about her...beside her smoking hot body...is that just before she sauntered off on him, she'd given him the card of one TZ Blake, a mechanic with a stellar reputation who will hopefully be the key to Cade's racing salvation.

Tight Buns looks like a co-ed, but up on stage she shakes her goodies like a pro, and though Cade would never admit it, she gets his vote. She doesn't win, but when her name is called in the tie, Cade's day takes an even worse turn.

TZ Blake is a woman...with very Tight Buns.

She can't read a map and her car is a handful, but after her aunt's death and the dubious inheritance of a mechanic shop deep in debt, TZ needs the money Cade offers to spend four days racing with him down the state of Florida. He needs a mechanic, and in that regard, she's got him covered, but she knows nothing about rallying and the charts, racing lingo, and map reading are real concerns. The fact that she suspects something very peculiar is going on with her classic Mustang doesn't help matters, either.

A drop-dead gorgeous Cade Nyland intent on winning at all costs, a car that vibrates like a sex toy at full tilt and keeps rolling off on its own, and four days to wing being able to read a map. No doubt about it, she's going to drive him crazy.

I'm a fan of Kate Angell's Richmond Rogues series, and I was interested in reading some of her earlier stuff when I came across Drive Me Crazy. It definitely has some trademark Angell moments, with its wacky characters, light humor, and charm. Unfortunately, it also has two ancillary romantic plot lines that develop alongside TZ and Cade's, one of which I found completely distasteful, and together they limited the depth of the character definition and relationship evolution of the main pair, and hampered the plot of the book.

I don't have any complaints about TZ or Cade. They were likable. I think Angell tried to add a little conflict about the difference in their financial situations, but it wasn't fleshed out well and fell largely flat. More interesting were the...nuances of TZ's Mustang. I wish that had even more of a focus, actually...without TZ and Cade always referring to the car as the 'Stang. I got so sick of that by the end. How hard is it to say Mustang?

TZ's virgin friend and secondary character Kimmie was very hard to take. Not only do I have a big problem with a woman who glances at a guy and decides to marry him, but the manipulations and games she played to convince him she's his future wife were pretty disturbing for a modern woman. Brett was no more likable with his unwavering focus on getting Kimmie to sleep with him. Their pairing did nothing but annoy me.

I would have rather the focus stayed on the threads of suspense and the paranormal aspects. Even though I wasn't as turned off by the thread between Mike and Rissa, they didn't get as much page time, and their relationship evolved later in the book. It was too late by then to serve as a significant distraction to Kimmie and Brett. In fact, most of this book left me feeling like there was a lot of missed opportunity, as if what's there was okay, but could have been so much better with just a nip there or a tuck there.

Shifting focus just a little, widening the arc of the rally hijinks, explaining the main characters a little more, increasing the complexity of their story and fleshing them out more, all would have improved this book nicely. I didn't dislike it, but I can't actually say I liked it either.

It seems to me that Angell's skill and storytelling abilities have shown improvement over the years, judging from what I've read of the Rogues so far. Though I dislike baseball, Richmond Rogues snagged me from the start, and I'll always favor sports-centric stories over books that are car-centric. Richmond Rogues is just a better fit for my reading preferences, I think. I hope the next one is out soon.

Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh

Genre: Paranormal Romance; Alternate Universe; Futuristic
Series: Psy/Changeling, Book 6
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 345 Pages
Formats: PaperbackKindle

Didn't Quite Reach Full Conflagration

DarkRiver sentinel Mercy Smith is the most dangerous women in her pack, a dominant predatory female leopard. As a dominant, her leopard is very picky in her choices, so even though Mercy's suffering from long months without the physical contact she needs, there just aren't any unmated males in her pack strong enough to serve those needs. To compound the problem, the only male in the general vicinity who stirs the juices of both her and her cat should be off limits for the very fact that he's not pack, not even cat. Riley Kincaid is an equally dominant...maybe even slightly more dominant...male wolf, SnowDancer lieutenant, and second in command to his pack alpha, Hawke.

Though her cat is ready to play with the big bad wolf, there is more than just the alliance between the DarkRiver cats and the SnowDancer wolves that is at stake. Riley is still deeply affected by his little sister Brenna's abduction and near death, and his past has chiseled him into a man who desires nothing more than a changeling version of a fifties housewife for a mate...nineteen fifties. Mercy is well aware that possessive nature is going to lead her to a broken heart if she gets involved with Riley.

Unfortunately, Mercy's relationship angst doesn't put the bigger picture on hold. The changelings are engaged in a quiet but intense war with both the Human Alliance and Psy, though the Council has been suspiciously quiet for months. When a changeling youth is stolen from his family, Mercy and Riley are paired up to head the DarkRiver and SnowDancer task force investigating the kidnapping, as well as disturbing but seemingly unconnected deaths and random acts of violence perpetrated by several Psy. As the danger rises and the chips fall, relationship complications between two dominant predators will have to be the last on either of their minds...if they want to survive.

I'm a huge fan of Nalini Singh and love this series, and I liked this sixth installment, Branded by Fire. I needed to say that up front, because that being said, I wasn't as fond of this book as I've been of its predecessors. It's not that I didn't like Mercy. Quite the opposite, actually. I enjoy truly strong female lead characters, and Mercy is the embodiment of a strong female. She's confident in her skills, easy in her skin, and very self aware. I also liked and appreciated Singh defining the line between a dominant female member of a pack and a submissive, keeping well away from falling into a pit of equating submissive with being weak.

As for Riley, I took no issue with him either, at least not directly. The dominant wolf was a strong male lead, and I thought he was well matched for Mercy.

Where this book started to loose a little luster for me was in the development and evolution of the relationship between them. In every previous book, the lead characters have had a nice balance of personal development on both sides of the gender line. Each have issues they deal with as the relationship progresses. It's given each lead in the romances a very nice depth and complexity and added a nice robustness to their mutual storylines. That was missing for me in this book, as I felt the romance plot revolved around Mercy's dominance at the exclusion of balanced attention to Riley's character.

Also a little less cohesive were the threads of the Human Alliance and the Psy. I've always enjoyed how the machinations of the Council and the threads of revolution have been woven into the book, adding a consistent line of development that supports and progresses the non-relationship arc of the series. In this case, while interesting and revealing in spots, those aspects seemed a bit muddled and I was left feeling a bit confused as to the purpose of the Human Alliance plot in the big picture.

I can't express enough, though, just how much I'm enjoying this series, how much I love the depth, the layers of plot in each book, the attention to detail, the continuity, and the originality. Some of the previous books have been among my favorites in the whole of the paranormal romance genre. Branded by Fire isn't destined to be a favorite, but still, I liked it. Just not quite as much as the others.

Psy-Changelings Series (as read to-date):

Eyewall by H.W. "Buzz" Bernard

Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Series: N/A
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 240 Pages
Formats: PaperbackKindle
Disclosure: An Advance Reading Copy of this book was provided to me by Bell Bridge Books via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Gripped Me By the Throat and Didn't Let Go

It's Labor Day weekend and St. Simons Island, Georgia, is flooded with holiday tourists, even though a category one hurricane is churning in the Atlantic just east of the Florida peninsula. It's a minimal hurricane, after all, and not expected to show any real attitude before it makes landfall in South Carolina. Plus, everyone knows that hurricanes don't hit the coast of Georgia. The concave shape protects it from the vagaries of the world's most devastating storm.

Everyone forgot one very tiny but important detail: Mother Nature tends to scoff at absolutes...and she'll makes us pay dearly for the hubris of them.

Janet is intensifying fast, a unique sequence of weather conditions falling into place and turning a relatively weak hurricane into the single most devastating and powerful force on the planet, a Cat 5 monster that will scour the earth of everything in its path.

As it turns its voracious eye towards the Georgia coastline, Janet badly damages then catches a Hurricane Hunter plane, capturing it and its crew within her calm center after some bad intel had them flying in at far too low an altitude for their plane to survive intact. On the island in her path is a family vacationing from Atlanta, a family with a daughter who skipped out and a father who is belligerent in his ignorance of Hurricane Janet's deadly plans. As the first bands of Janet start to slam into the island, concern for his daughter's safety mounts until he and his wife are beside themselves. By the time they realize that the original forecasts on Janet had been terribly, horribly wrong it's too late to evacuate and their fifteen-year-old daughter is trapped behind the walls of a gated and closed house on the next island.

Winds too strong for breath, a storm surge that will eclipse the island's highest point, and no escape from either. Hurricane Janet is coming. And Death is riding her coattails.

My hat is off to H.W. "Buzz" Bernard, who crafted an intelligent and informative, gripping and emotional thriller that kept me on the absolute edge of my seat. I couldn't put Eyewall down. I couldn't look away. I was captivated within the first few pages and had to ride it out to see how it all ended up. That, to me, is what a thriller is supposed to do, and this one did it.

I suppose I could be a little critical of the formulaic plot, and anyone who's ever seen a natural disaster movie or read a natural disaster book has met the stock characters that it contains. There's the guy who knows better than his own family that there's no danger, disregards the warnings, and through his arrogance and ignorance, puts them all in danger. There's the willful teen who rebels against her family at the worst possible time and makes it all infinitely worse. There's the dogged hero, worn out by life for whatever reason but who steps up to the plate when needed. There's the experienced professional, the one voice of knowledge against a cacophany, who is invariably punished for knowing more and speaking up but is lauded alongside the hero in the end. And there are usually women who love them both because of it.

You've seen all or most of these characters many times before, and the formula won't surprise you if you're as much a fan of this sort of thriller as I am. In that regard, I suppose it's not all that different from any of them. But I am a fan of natural disaster stories for the very reason that I like that formula and enjoy those characters, and this one had my heart racing as the tension mounted throughout. And for several personal reasons I'll mention in a moment, this particular story really worked for me.

Bernard took a bad situation to its extremes, kept the tension high with a taut, driven narrative that shifted focus seamlessly, and while moving around his character archetypes, managed to make them relatable, believable, and likable (except, of course, for those you're not supposed to like). I rooted for them, hoped for them, yearned for their safety. I wanted to shake them when they were foolish, kick them when they were stupid. I was totally into the intensity, caught up in the risk and the looming threat, dry-mouthed at the realized danger. I was affected throughout the whole book. It was plausible (more than some may believe), it was gut-clenching, and it was written with intelligence and obvious knowledge.

For all that and more, the book just flat-out thrilled me on just about every level.

It also reminded me.

The date was August 13th, 2004. It was a Friday, which, really...so very apropos. I was sitting at my computer, happy to have the day off from work, as officials had closed my place of employment when the area fell within the cone of uncertainty for the track of Hurricane Charley, a small category two hurricane coming up into the Gulf of Mexico from Cuba. We were really a statistical outlier as far as the expected track was concerned, it was slated to make landfall in Tampa, about two hours north of my home in Fort Myers, later that afternoon.

I wasn't concerned. I did, though, have the TV on, tuned to the local weather because Charley was getting closer and, honestly, hurricanes fascinate me. We'd been warned to expect some wind, some rain. We'd been told it wouldn't be significantly worse than a summer squall as far as intensity goes, and it's Florida in the summer...we're sort of used to that. No. Big. Deal.

I was playing a card game online, sipping a soda, and chatting via instant messenger with friends who were more concerned than I was about what was slated to brush by us. I had no shutters or boards on my windows or doors, hadn't bothered taking in my porch furniture, had no cooler, no ice, no food stocked, no batteries handy, no portable radio set up, nothing.

Hey, Charley was heading for Tampa, and it was too small to cause us any real strife, and it was just a category two.

I'll never forget the moment I realized how incredibly stupid, how horrifyingly ignorant I, despite my fascination with hurricanes, had been. I heard it in the voices of the meteorologists during the joint broadcast I had playing on TV...what had been little more than background noise as I played and chatted. It was something I'd never heard before, so it caught my attention. It made me turn my head towards the picture on the screen, and what I'd heard became what I could also see, and neither the game nor the chatting seemed as important after that.

By the way, if you've never heard fear in the voices of trained and experienced meteorologists, be glad. I don't recommend the experience.

It didn't start with fear, though. It started with an odd and tight caution - that's what caught my attention. The National Hurricane Center had Charley steady on his forecasted path, but our radar, the same local radar I watched daily, was suggesting something else. The meteorologists were obviously hesitant to argue with the NHC but motivated to warn their viewers. A slight jog to the east...closer towards the coast...seemed to be more of a steady turn, and it could be clearly seen that Charley had tightened up, intensified.

A category two hurricane headed for Tampa was now a category four hurricane headed for... Well...

It was starting to bear down on the southern tip of Sanibel island as if it intended to jaunt along Summerlin Road on its way to the heart of Fort Myers. My home abuts Summerlin Road.

I spent hours wedged into my microscopic laundry room, couch pillows piled up under and around me, my two dogs stuffed into the adjoining downstairs bathroom. Bathroom door closed tight. I'd unearthed my portable radio - though the reception was horrible - and huddled in the dark, alone but for the dogs, listening to the weather reports over the wail of wind.

I was so damned afraid.

Fortunately (for me, anyway - a lot of others weren't so lucky and my sympathies were with them), Charley seemed to change his mind again before he hit Sanibel, jogging a bit further north to devastate Captiva and Port Charlotte. Fortunately Charley was small, with the most intense winds less than twenty miles out from the eye. Fortunately, the sustained winds where I live were not totally devastating and though damage was wide-spread, the gusts didn't topple anything over onto my condo or my car. Fortunately, fortunately, fortunately.

Maybe that's why Eyewall hit me so hard, worked so well as a tightly woven thriller. I'm not a meteorologist, so I have no idea if the events of this book could happen to the coast of Georgia. I know beyond a doubt, though, that it could happen. That to a lesser degree it has happened. I was there.

Oh, and one more thing... When Hurricane Wilma made landfall several miles south of us in October 2005, my windows were boarded, radio and candles handy, batteries ready, and both my hurricane kit and my cooler were stocked.

Leaping Hearts by Jessica Bird

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 370 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback

Leaping Hearts
Has Its Ups and Downs

The moment A.J. Sutherland saw the sleek black stallion named Sabbath, she knew. She just knew he would be a champion jumper. The stallion's hellish reputation notwithstanding, she saw him as pure gold and bought him at auction over the strenuous objections of her stepbrother, the contentious pain in the hindquarters who runs the business side of her wealthy father's stables. A.J. was resolute, however, and with one signed check she committed herself to a whole new life. Her decision gets her new horse banned from her family's stable and herself steamrollered by her stepbrother's quick snatch of the power to control her.

With her options limited to fleeing or submitting to him, she makes a mad dash towards freedom, but the reality of the situation hits her hard. She's now more or less homeless, with nothing of her own but some well-worn tack, a horse no one but she believes in, and a burning desire to prove them all wrong. Committed to entering and making a good showing at a prestigious jumping competition in a mere two months, A.J. throws herself on the mercy of the one man who she believes can help her. The one man she desires most...in all ways.

Devlin McCloud had been a superstar in the sport of showjumping, having won just about every major competition he'd entered in the past decade, before a brutal and career-ending fall almost a year ago crushed his leg and forced him to put down the horse he loved. Since then he's been wallowing in self pity, cut off from the life and sport that meant everything to him.

Until the day he went to auction and saw a fiery woman stare down an intractable horse.

For the first time in a very long time, desire heated his blood and tightened his veins, but when he first hears A.J.'s ridiculous proposition that he train her, he shuts her down fast. That part of his life is over. Looking into her eyes and telling her no when she shows up at his house in the middle of the night, desperate after her family ditches on her, however, proves to be the truly impossible task. She's obviously in need of help and has nowhere to go with the bad-tempered but promising horse she'd purchased.

Whether she had the mettle to stick it out and go the distance isn't the question, though. It's whether he can keep his hands off her and his desire in check while he helps her do just that.

Before she stormed onto the paranormal romance scene and became beloved as the Warden, J.R. Ward started her illustrious career writing contemporary romance as Jessica Bird. Within Leaping Hearts there are few glimpses of the romance- and urban fantasy-writing powerhouse she's become, but those glimpses will satisfy die-hard fans and/or hard core romance lovers, especially horse fans. And I did love the scenes that featured Sabbath and the world of horse jumping. It was just the rest of it that gave me problems.

The main characters A.J., pampered princess striving for independence and respectability away from the shadow of a wealthy father and cold stepmother, and Devlin, wounded antisocial hero still troubled by his past but captivated by the effervescent A.J., were likable, if pedestrian main characters. I didn't have a problem with either of them, really. They had some depth to their personalities, and the intensity of their mutual attraction, their chemistry, and their shared love of horses and jumping were very appealing.

Most of my issues with the book revolve around the plot. That it was formulaic wasn't a surprise, nor is it a particular gripe of mine. It's rare when a contemporary romance isn't formulaic in one way or another. The problem here is that within the formula, plot points didn't work, didn't get satisfactorily resolved, weren't given enough development, or got dropped completely.

I prefer relationships that build more slowly than they did between A.J. and Devlin, but that's a personal preference and very subjective. Still, in this case I felt doubly disappointed because the horse training threads were so successful and Sabbath such a good focal point for the story that the romance didn't need to be rushed like it was. I would have been more interested if the two had built up the tension as they were settling Sabbath down and bringing him along.

A.J.'s issues with her family were handled half-heartedly and haphazardly at best, and a conflict resolution with her stepbrother was completely anticlimactic. I found her father's actions, especially after she buys Sabbath, fairly reprehensible and her stepmother was a bitch, so it was disappointing that those issues weren't really addressed or resolved to my satisfaction. I like it when people get what they so richly deserve, and it didn't happen here.

I think the inevitable relationship conflict between A.J. and Devlin was weak and felt contrived, Devlin's behavior surrounding it rather inexplicable, and the final resolution abrupt and forced. Several scenes concerning that plot thread didn't track for me, and I was again left unsatisfied when ancillary issues about his fall and the death of his horse got brushed aside in lieu of his focus on A.J..

And there was a huge plot hole concerning his cane and the severity of his injury. The book starts nearly a year after his accident and Devlin's mobility and flexibility are still limited enough to warrant a cane, his stiffness and pain still significant enough to be a huge issue to him, yet just six weeks later in the timeline of the book he's running around sans cane, no mention of his injury beyond a passing reference to his scars and no regard for or attention to the physical limitations from the damage done. Not very believable.

There were just too many things that seemed a bit off for me to really like the book, but there were also enough things that I enjoyed to keep me from disliking it. As a debut book from a new author, it didn't really do justice to the incredible popularity Ward eventually achieved with her Black Dagger Brotherhood series, nor was it as appealing as some of her more recent contemporary romances. It lacked a lot in the way of complexity, depth, and originality...though it did have a real cool horse that should have been given more page time.

It was just okay for me. Fortunately for a lot of happy readers, Bird aka Ward got a lot better.

Fatal Affair by Marie Force

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: The Fatal Series, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 6126 Locations
Formats: Kindle

Promising Debut Despite a Few Bumps

Six years ago an evening of intense emotional and physical connection got mistaken as a one night stand when a jealous roommate-née-ex-husband failed to tell Sam Holland that Nick Cappuano had tried to call her several times after they spent an unforgettable night together. Now the Metro DC police sergeant  is on shaky professional ground, just back from a month-long administrative leave after a shooting incident ended in the death of a child. When she gets the word that a young U.S. Senator has been brutally murdered and she's been named as lead detective on the investigation, Sam suddenly comes face to face with her past in the form of the senator's chief of staff and the one man she's never forgotten, Nick.

Her job depends on a speedy arrest, but it's hard to concentrate on the trail of a killer when Nick is near, especially when she finds out what her ex-husband did, what he stole from her by keeping Nick's calls a secret all those years ago. Catching a killer and putting her personal life to rights may be a lot to hope for, but Sam's a good cop, and once Nick finds out that Sam hadn't blown him off after the greatest night of his life, he's just as intent on making sure she thinks about what they could be to each other. Forever.

Kicking off an exciting romantic suspense series with a nifty political backdrop, Fatal Affair has some great moments. Marie Force keeps the pace of the narrative quick and moves along the aspects of police procedural, which is sometimes a problem in suspense novels. Instead of getting bogged down by minutia or seeming too dry with legalities, Force found a nice balance between character relationship plot threads and investigation plot threads. She also displayed a canny ability to sequence the investigative reveals as the story progressed, doling out clues and tidbits of juicy information judiciously, keeping the investigation fresh and relevant for the reader.

Sam and Nick are solid romantic leads, their romance interesting and their connection obvious. They were a comfort to each other when that comfort was needed, and incendiary when the heat stirred. I liked them as a couple quite a lot, actually. I also enjoyed the secondary characters. There weren't any surprises there, really, pretty standard for the genre: the former cop father, the partner with quirks, the close family friend who's Sam's boss. What was nice was the rapport between Sam and her partner Cruz; there was a lot of fun, snarky dialogue between them. Also nice was the setup for future conflict and story development concerning the unsolved crime that ended her father's police career and put him in a wheelchair, and I appreciated the layers the issue of his disability added to the relationship between father and daughter.

The book wasn't without it's rough spots, however. The beginning felt very awkward to me. The dialogue between Nick and the senator's aide concerning Sean's death didn't work for me. It felt stilted and wrong and Christina's reaction in particular didn't feel natural in the face of the sudden death of a loved one. I was also troubled by the too-fast and inappropriate initial introduction of Nick and Sam's relationship. Sam's lack of professionalism in mentioning personal issues while fresh on the scene and new to the investigation was disturbing, as was the rather fickle emotional reaction of Nick. In fact, his focus and intent interest in Sam seemed misplaced considering what he witnessed and the nature of Sean's death. For something so devastating, he never quite seemed affected by it beyond the first day.

I had a couple of other issues, as well. There were too many unexplored avenues in the investigation and several in which the follow up and focus came way later than common sense should have dictated. Compounding those issues were the occasions when both Sam and her partner's professionalism grew lax, something that was hard to believe considering the scope of the crime, the identity of the victim, and the ramifications of the case on Sam's career in particular. Also, a bizarre and sudden emotional conflict that cropped up between Sam and Nick in the epilogue of all places came out of nowhere and hadn't been given enough of a foundation to be completely plausible.

Regardless, there was still a lot to enjoy about Fatal Affair, and the book works well as a series opening salvo. It entertained me. It bobbled a bit here and there, and there were parts that didn't work, but the book introduced readers to characters who they can root for and care about, characters to follow after and read about throughout the life of the series. If this book is indicative of what's to come in the series, readers are going to enjoy mysteries/thrillers complex enough and well executed enough to entertain, even if they're not entirely perfect. I'm interested in seeing what comes next for Sam and Nick. I think others will be, too.

The Vampire Voss by Colleen Gleason

Genre: Historical Paranormal Romance
Series: The Regency Draculia, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 380 Pages
Formats: PaperbackKindle
Disclosure: This book was provided to me through the Amazon.com Vine program for the purpose of an honest review. The rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

The Vampire Voss (Regency Draculia)
A Dark and Edgy Regency Paranormal

One hundred and forty-eight years ago, Lucifer slid into the dreams of a young nobleman named Voss, now Viscount Dewhurst, and put forth an offer Voss had no interest in refusing. In so doing, he, like other descendants of Vlad Tempest, accepted Lucifer's Mark and stepped from a life of pampered privilege into a life of blood, desire, and unending salacious indulgence. Barring a grievous beheading or a splinter in the heart, Voss was immortal, and never being one to live within boundaries when he was human, the additional freedoms of being a vampire suited him just fine.

He is a self-involved, insouciant narcissist who revels in his debauchery and devises grand plans to uncover the weaknesses of every other of his kind. Disregarding the chasm that exists in the Draculia, he plays his mind games with both the contingent who choose to live among humans without killing and those who see humans as nothing but food, killing indiscriminately as they satisfy their hungers for blood and sex. Independent of both, beholden to no one but himself...and perhaps Lucifer...he dances between the two, giving neither side his fealty. He personally doesn't kill his food...but it's not out of any sort of loyalty. He's just too busy sexing them up to bother.

Having just returned from an unholy sabbatical in the rustic colonies, he's reveling in his return to civility and to the opportunity to machinate some more intrigue. As tensions between the English and French rise and Bonaparte continues to pose a greater and greater threat, Voss is on the hunt for the sort of information that is his stock in trade. The trail of rumor and innuendo leads him to a young socialite named Angelica Woodmore. She's the sister of a famous vampire hunter, but her value to Voss is as a Seer, one reputed to be able to ascertain when and how a person dies, and he intends to make use of her skill.

He hadn't intended to be so affected by the incomparable woman. She stirs things in him he'd never, in all his long existence, felt before, and it leaves him confused and shaken, and so very hungry for her. Angelica sees death, lives with that macabre knowledge daily, and doesn't let it ruin her. Voss is terrified of death, for all his immortality, and hides that deep secret behind decades of licentious depravity. The two of them have a burning need for each other, but the divide between them is wide and the danger high. And a young human in Voss' world tends to end up exactly one way...one way or another.

Colleen Gleason kicks off The Regency Draculia trilogy with a fine eye for historic detail and a fresh take on vampire mythos that is both dark and seductive. Set in Regency England among the social and restrictive ton, vampires seem a surprisingly good fit, and Gleason weaves their backstory into a rich and plausible yarn. Adding legitimacy to the story and the era in which it is based, there's an enticing bit of politico about Napoleon's conflict with England shortly following his rise to emperor in 1804 that winds through the plotline surrounding the antagonist of the story, a hideous Dracule with delusions of grandeur and a penchant for the blood of children.

Characters in the book are well written and fully realized, including secondary and ancillary characters, and I especially appreciated the way in which Angelica's character was created and evolved through the book. It's very rare that I feel a female lead in a historical novel is both realistic for the era she's being written and likable to me, as women's true roles and freedoms at familiar points in the past were very limited. Gleason maintained an air of respect for the propriety that was lived and breathed in Regency England, yet gave her ingénue enough inner strength to balance out her lack of worldliness. I found Angelica's youthful enthusiasm refreshing instead of cloying and her naivety understandable instead of annoying. And she was a much-needed source of light to balance out the darkness of Voss.

It's also rare that I have a greater fondness for a female romantic lead than the male, but liking Voss was no easy feat. I thought he was tremendously original as a character, and I admired how he was developed and written. He was definitely three dimensional and very real. He just wasn't a nice guy. Had this been a different book, I would have considered him a brilliant creation. The shades of gray he lived and breathed were intriguing, the personality behind the vampire was forceful, and the narcissism and disregard for others were in tune with his character's history as well as being fascinating to watch while he was manipulating things and the people around him. The ramifications and effects of his Mark were also unique and provided great insight into his character.

As a male romantic lead in a romance novel, however, he fell far short. And that's where the book stumbled for me, because without a believable male romantic lead, the entire romantic arc failed. I loved the initial attraction between Voss and Angelica, I even loved how confused he got by the odd impulses she made him feel, and his annoyance at her referring to him as Dewhurst instead of by his given name was priceless. As for the rest of the book, I loved how the plot was woven, how the bare bones of the trilogy arc were laid out, how vampires were explained, how secondary characters were included. True, I wasn't fond of one scene with Angelica's brother and Narcise, as it seemed an abrupt and out-of-place inclusion at the time, but I loved the constant battles between Angelica's sister and Dimitri, and I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the past in which the relationship between Dimitri and Voss fell apart.

Those aspects of the book and all the myriad of others were completely satisfying. All except the romance. I don't find it at all romantic when the male lead is debauching his way through the human population for most of the book, gleefully soaking in blood and sex at every opportunity, even if it's a result of the hunger Angelica stirs, while his maneuverings seem to stay solely focused on the information he wants from her, not being with her. Redemption for Voss...and the romance...came too late for my tastes in this case. It wasn't even until the last chapter that I was saw proof that Voss had more than lustful feelings for Angelica. In the meantime, he was entirely too comfortable sopping up the perks of his species to work for me as the romantic lead.

When the romance doesn't work for me in a book that is supposed to feature it as the main purpose (even if it's not the only purpose), than it's hard to truly embrace the book and the characters, no matter how much you love the rest of it.

Still, my discontent with the romance isn't enough to make me dislike the book, and I have to give credit for Gleason for one more thing. At the end of this book is a plot twist and outcome that is rarely seen in vampire fiction. I've only seen it twice before, in fact, which is saying something considering how very many books I've read that feature the fanged masses. It's not a twist I particularly like in theory, and in both of those previous instances, I actively disliked when it happened and felt it seriously impacted my enjoyment of the books and series in which they occurred. Not so here. In fact, not only did I really enjoy it in this case, but I think it was a perfect fit to the story and the characters, and I absolutely loved how it developed and was revealed. I don't actually think it could have been handled any better in any aspect and it was a true treat to read.

I almost wish that the book wasn't intended as a romance, and instead it had stuck to the blend of paranormal and historical intrigue. It would have been extremely successful for me in that case. As it stands, it falters a little on its main goal but still provides a wealth of complex reading and a lot of enjoyment. With The Vampire Dimitri set as the second book in the trilogy, I sincerely hope that the romantic thread is better developed, because I was really intrigued by Dimitri in this book and am anxious to get a closer look at him, his motivations, and his inner demons. Both metaphorically and otherwise.

Lights, Camera...Monsters by Lila DuBois

Genre: Erotic Paranormal Romance
Series: Monsters in Hollywood, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 216 Pages, 3074 Locations 
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Lights, Camera...Monsters: Monsters in Hollywood, Book 1
Definitely Sexy But Not What I Was Expecting

Lena and her four best friends run a production company in L.A. They're hip, trendy, and current, and they're building a stellar name for themselves in the industry by focusing on quality entertainment. She is always on the lookout for promising new clients, but never had that promise held more appeal than when three utterly delicious men walk into the conference room. It may have been the worst sales pitch she'd ever heard, but the apparent front man of the three, a stunningly gorgeous man named Luke, stirs all sorts of juices in Lena. Despite the waste of time the meeting turns out to be professionally, she suggests a further discussion between the two of them that night over dinner.

It wouldn't have been difficult for the dinner to go much better than the meeting had, but even Lena is surprised to find out that above and beyond how attractive she finds Luke physically, she is even more entertained by his companionship. Their chemistry is off the charts and the sex is phenomenal. There is, in fact, nothing that could dim the exquisite memory of the best night of her life...until she wakes up, rolls over, opens her eyes, and sees a seven-foot tall, winged, fanged, shaggy monster in bed next to her.

That's pretty much when the screaming starts.

Convinced some monster had eaten her new lover, Lena is both terrified and pissed, and it takes a hurt and embarrassed Luke a while to calm her down enough to explain that he hadn't been eaten and he is, in fact, a monster. And that he and his friends had come to her company in desperate hope that they could help launch a preemptive campaign to prepare humanity for their existence without sparking panic and causing the relentless slaughter of the last of his kind.

Hollywood: gateway to public opinion and recent home to a sex god of a monster. Lena does so love that town.

I have to admit, a quick read of the product description of the book before I downloaded it to my Kindle gave me the impression that Lights, Camera...Monsters is a paranormal romance. I should've payed closer attention to the warning, because this is definitely an erotic paranormal romance. It's an important distinction; a fact made crystal clear when I wasn't anticipated it. I'm not saying it's a bad thing. I like erotic paranormal romance. But in this case, it created a few problems for me.

It's not just about the amount of sex in the book, which is a lot, or the level of graphic description, also a lot. Nor is it the light kink, which was fine. It was the fact that all of those things combined and became the largest part of the story by far, substituting romance for sex, eclipsing an anemic external conflict plot thread, providing virtually no character development, and overwhelming the limited world building and mythos creation.

The concept of the story is a bit kitschy and kooky, but it is definitely original. The characters were ill-defined and two dimensional, but endearing (especially Luke). There was more than one plot hole, but the guilty pleasure I took in the humor and random bouts of comedy kept me from focusing too heavily on it. And the external conflict was appallingly bereft of development and was so quickly resolved it was laughable, yet...I can't deny that I found it all rather entertaining.

I had a hard time believing that the monsters call their species monsters, though. That bothered me a lot, and didn't make a lot of sense in the big picture. They have their own language and their own culture, have hidden themselves away from people, but they define their species based on human preconceptions and labels? That didn't track for me.

Yet despite the drawbacks, I found myself oddly drawn in and more than a little captivated by Luke in particular, whose intense efforts to fit in completely charmed me more than once. I wish there had been more time allotted to Luke and Michael and Henry together, because their scenes were showstoppers. And I didn't detest Lena, which is definitely a point in the books favor.

In truth, I wish I had started the book with the advanced awareness of its erotic nature, because I think my expectations would have been different and I would have enjoyed the read even more. That being said, I can't complain at the price I paid (gotta love those free Kindle downloads), and don't feel like it was a waste of time. In fact, there was enough promise and potential in DuBois' writing that I'm interested in checking out the rest of the series in the hopes that the smutty, sexual, lightly kinky fun shares the page with a more well-rounded and better conceived plot and fully formed characters.

Warning: This book contains graphic scenes of sex and alternative sexual situations including but not limited to: light BDSM, anal sex, and monster sex. Not recommended for young or sensitive readers.

Where Demons Fear to Tread by Stephanie Chong

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: The Company of Angels, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 368 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Kindle Release Date: 9/1/2011
Disclosure: An Advance Reading Copy was provided by Harlequin's Mira Books via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.   

Where Demons Fear to Tread (The Company of Angels)
Tread Too Lightly For Me

She hasn't been an angel for even a year, but self sacrificing yoga teacher Serena St. Clair is a guardian with a difficult first assignee, a Hollywood playboy with a face and body made for sin and the desire to sin as often as possible. Drugs and prostitutes are his weaknesses, and trying to save him from himself draws Serena into one of the hottest nightclubs in town, the ominously named Devil's Paradise. She should have known better.

Archdemon Julian Ascher loves nothing more than corrupting and breaking women, damning them to the fires of hell as he was damned over two hundred years ago. When a pretty little angel dares step her delicate little toes into his domain like a shaft of warm summer sun slicing through all manner of dark debauchery, casting the tantalizing scent of the sea in her wake, something in Julian clenches in anticipation of the sweetest gauntlet thrown at his feet. She is a heavenly challenge to a demonic desire, and one he has every intention of crushing.

Their initial meeting is fraught with danger and heat, and the fledgling angel knows she is in way over her head. Her kind doesn't tangle with archdemons. Ever. But the soul of her assignee lies in the balance, and Serena has already proven herself willing to sacrifice herself for those who can't save themselves. Even if she has to tug on one very sexy demon's tail to do it.

It seems that vampires and wereanimals have become passé in paranormal romance books of late, judging by the recent proliferation of heavenly...and not so heavenly hosts in new books and series being released. Or maybe it's just that I seem to be stumbling across more of them lately and my perception is flawed. I hope it's the latter but fear it's the former, because due to personal reading preferences, I'm very particular about angel and demon mythology and how they are developed in books I read. And while the demons gave me no trouble in this book, I can't say the same for the angels and their mythology. I don't favor the concept of guardian angels to begin with, and to compound the problem, these guardian angels seemed uncomfortably blasé about failings and mistakes made in situations in which it seemed against their nature to be so.

Then there was the main character, Serena. Again, this is a personal preference, but I don't like weak female lead characters, be they the naive ingénue, the timid virgin, the airhead, the oblivious, the ignorant, etc. I prefer books that feature strong, competent, intelligent, independent women who can and do hold their own and triumph. I can tolerate weak female characters only if the story arc includes their evolution into some sort of strength and autonomy.

Serena was not a strong female lead character. There was a slight improvement in her towards the end, but it wasn't enough for me to feel mollified for spending the first three-quarters of the book with a timid, unsure newbie featherhead who was so conflicted about her feelings and desires that she did nothing but proclaim ad nauseum that she shouldn't/couldn't/wouldn't do exactly as she proceeded to do anyway. Serena's problems weren't limited to her being a naive newbie angel, either. There were inconsistencies in her character, and more than once her actions tread dangerously over the line of naivety and straight into stupidity.

I didn't have any problems or major complaints with Julian or the secondary characters. I'm well aware that I'm not nearly as critical of male leads as I am of females, but even with that, I felt like Chong had a firmer grip on Julian as a character and an easier time developing him in a well rounded and fully formed manner. He wasn't always likable, and frankly, some of his motivations for evil seemed more than a little petty, but he was three dimensional.

That being said, I was a little turned off by a storyline that focused on the romance between an angel and a demon at the expense of the ongoing corruption of a human soul. A storyline that proclaimed in a loud voice that the power of divine love was the be-all, end-all, which annoyed me as seeming too syrupy to begin with, also failed to encompass one who very much needed it, so it seemed rather fickle for its alleged divinity. I couldn't help but pity poor Nick, a guy who, at the core, just wanted to be loved by someone, so I couldn't lose myself in the romance while Nick's character got mostly overlooked. In the end it felt very much like the reader is being told that the soul of a demon is more important to redeem than the soul of a human who isn't yet condemned. That bothered me.

Be that as it may, there were also some positives. Stephanie Chong showed off quite a talent for creating truly malevolent antagonists and complex motivations for evil. The book also offers a few nicely sensual scenes between Julian and Serena. And while I wasn't a fan of the concept of the angels as they were described and written, I do think Chong did a nice job fleshing out the world and explaining them without bogging down the plot or taking away from the action, and there were some original and unique aspects to the plot that offered a break from the formulaic nature of paranormal romance.

Emotional transitions were too abrupt for me throughout. Serena's intention to remain resolute against Julian became capitulation a scant few pages later, and there was a similar about-face in Julian's case. Neither provided me the sort of relationship evolution that I prefer in romance, and it hampered the fluidity and complexity of the plot. Several scenes and plot threads that evolved from that romance didn't have the background and foundation necessary to make them fully emotionally successful.

Whatever my feelings for the book, it's clear that Chong has both the skill and ability to write. I freely admit that many of my issues with Where Demons Fear to Tread are based around my very subjective personal reading preferences. While I can't disregard them when I'm reading, I can look beyond them and see the bigger picture. As a debut novel, Chong has started something that could be truly entertaining and very popular. It didn't work for me, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it worked well for others.

The Paradise Prophecy by Robert Browne

Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Series: N/A
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 416 Pages
Formats: Hardcover, Kindle
Release Date: 7/21/2011
Disclosure: An Advance Reading Copy of this book was provided to me for the purpose of a review. The rating, review, and all thoughts and comments included are my own.

The Paradise Prophecy
A Gripping and Grimly Decadent Supernatural Thriller

Hey, you. You...out there. Have you noticed? Have torn your eyes away from your smartphones and iPads, your Facebook and Twitter accounts, your social networking in any and all forms, and taken a good, hard look around lately? Wars, terrorism, failing world economies, disaster, corruption, pollution, disease, fear, intolerance, hatred. A barrage of seeping, soiled souls spreading like rot over a once fertile landscape. Hard core, irrefutable evidence laid down with fury, as if a thunderous prosecutor is intent on using our obvious damnation as fuel in his apocalyptic war against creation itself.

Well...what if he truly is?

Or, more rightly put, what if they are? Four demons, once fallen angels condemned by a tyrannical god, cast out of paradise and, with the ancient serpent, tossed into Abaddon. What if they are even now stalking the earth, cloaked in eons of loathing and evil malice for the chattering monkeys that scurry like cockroaches across the face of the planet? Monkeys whose lone worth is the ease of their corruption.

What if the four have amassed enough souls? Cast enough into the fires? What if there is enough fuel stored in the shrieking agony of the fires of hell to power the gates of Lucifer's locked cell, to finally release him and pour forth unimaginable misery and destruction on a world over which the serpent is determined to rule? And what if those four demons have found the final piece of a prophecy to guarantee their victory, a prophecy so dark, so hideous, that those who have gazed upon it went blind and the pages containing it have been hidden away for centuries?

What if, my dear, fellow condemned, God, in all his Old Testament tyranny, turned his back on his creation eons ago, moved away, left no forwarding address, isn't taking any calls, and we're really on our own against these four demons? Well...not completely on our own. There's Batty... Sebastian "Batty" LaLaurie, bibliophile, theologian, and John Milton fanatic; shameless drunk, willing lout, and utterly broken man. And there's Bernadette Callahan, agent for a secret government group known only as Section; cynic, spy, sometimes killer, always bad ass, and a woman teetering on the brink of physical and mental collapse.

Our heroes.

Go, Team!

The race is long, the clues daunting, the clock ticking down, our heroes over their heads and in constant danger. Across the globe they race, following clues found at the scenes of vicious murders, searching for the brilliant ramblings of a long-dead poet, and whispering of conspiracy, prophecy, sacred relics, and holy artifacts, all in an effort to unlock the mystery of the seven pages of the Devil's Bible...in the hopes of saving us all.

I have a confession to make. I was a little leery of starting this book, knowing up front that it was going to be in a similar vein as The Da Vinci Code with much of the mythology and history motivated by and evolved from John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. With all due respect to Dan Brown, I wasn't a fan of The Da Vinci Code in either style or substance, and my vague recollections of Paradise Lost inspired only memories of confusion and frustration during a college class best forgotten. The Paradise Prophecy sat on top of the towering pile of books I intend to read, looking quite fetching as I procrastinated. Only when my guilt about a commitment to review it grew to overshadow my hesitation did I sit down, crack it open, and begin.

Mea culpa, mea culpa!

Browne knocked me flat with this gripping, thrilling tale of warring dark angels, the contentious value of free will, and the triumphant potential of even a battered human soul. Incredibly imaginative and judiciously executed, Browne's narrative served well as both a homage to Milton's epic poem, wildly and richly mystical, and as a heroic and timely cautionary tale. Incorporating Paradise Lost into the mythology and backstory allowed for The Paradise Prophecy to maintain a note of genuine religious reflection but grounded the story firmly within the comfortable bounds of fiction, instead of it reading like a subversive alternate to historical religious dogma.

As a sleek supernatural thriller the book is a blockbuster, with complex, often bedraggled characters who inspire sympathy and a quest that is flawlessly contained to prevent it from slipping the author's control, but is huge enough to be truly epic on its own merits. I have a big soft spot for anti-heroes in the books I read, so Batty and Callahan were appealing independently, and working together they were positively inspired. I loved how Browne managed their relationship, and thoroughly appreciated their individuality. I loved Batty's sarcasm and his often gloomy view of the world, and adored the strength and intelligence, not to mention the flexibility of thought and motion, that was encapsulated by Callahan. I was especially fond of the roles they had, in which the male lead was the bookish font of all knowledge esoteric...and more than a little nerdy with it, and Callahan was the no-nonsense female lead who dealt with issues by force instead of emotion.

Browne not only tells a wicked tale, but he crafts the telling very well, pacing the plot threads with careful consideration and an eye for the big picture, revealing tidbits of information as it goes along. It kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, hungry for the next big reveal, dying to find out how each piece connected. The prose was fluid and dialogue natural, and despite the weighty topic and worldly locations, I never felt I was in over my head with the languages or wealth of information. Neither did I feel like I was being spoon fed a Milton For Dummies retrospective. Browne writes with intelligence, his work literally vibrates with it, but it's the sort that embraces and draws you in, instead of slamming into you and demeaning in bites.

While it's hard to view such a fantastic and entertaining story with a critical eye, there were a few points that left me a tiny bit less satisfied. I was a little put off by the way sex was used in the story, as nothing but a tool or method of corruption. With nothing to balance that, it gave the impression of being a condemnation against sex in general. I also thought there was a time or two when Batty's gift came in a little too handy and some very esoteric information fell into his and Callahan's lap a little too conveniently as a result. That led to an instance or two where information came out in larger info dumps, instead of in bits and pieces as a natural consequence of actions taken or mysteries revealed.

Those issues, however, were minor and didn't detract much from my sheer, unadulterated enjoyment. And enjoy it I did. Very much, in fact. It's so smoothly written, the supernatural elements so perfectly blended with the mystery, thriller, and action adventure elements, that the story unfolds with unusually sharp clarity. I admired every nuanced crevice and appreciated each bit of tone. It all played out like a major motion picture in my head and would be extremely well suited to the big screen. I hope I see it there, and in the meantime, I plan to see what other efforts Browne has published. The Paradise Prophecy may have been my first experience with him as an author but I can guarantee it won't be my last.

Excellent read.

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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