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Beg for Mercy by Jami Alden

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Jami Alden Trilogy, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 448 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

How Far Would You Go?

There is nothing Megan Flynn wouldn't do for him, for the brother who raised her, for the man she knew was innocent of the heinous crime for which he was convicted. He lives in prison, a death sentence hanging over his head, she shares his hell.

So much lost, including the man she once loved, homicide detective Cole Williams. The memories of the night Cole coldly arrested her brother still plagued Megan's nightmares. So much sacrificed, including respect and her reputation. No one believed Sean innocent, no one but her. Even his lawyer thought he was guilty. Even, she was horrified to admit, Sean himself. He has no memory of the details of that night and in his darkest hours, he wonders if he could have done it.

But there is no way Megan will ever believe her big brother capable of luring a young woman to his home, raping her, torturing her, then butchering her like so much meat.

Though Sean's second appeal has been denied, Megan hasn't lost hope that justice will prevail. It's a shock when she goes to visit him that weekend and he informs her he's declining his right to any further appeals. Half mad with fear and wildly desperate to clear his name before they put him to death, Megan grasps at every straw she can to try to find any glimmer of evidence that will set him free.

That evidence may just come at the expense of another victim. A young woman, raped, tortured, and butchered. With so little time and no one else to turn to, Megan is forced to swallow what pride she has left. She needs to convince Cole that she's not just desperate and pitiable like everyone thinks, convince him that she has discovered a legitimate connection between two crimes three years apart. If she fails, her brother will die. If she succeeds, a vicious killer will make sure she does...unless the dark secrets she uncovers on the quest to her brother's absolution get her killed first.

I'm a big fan of the romantic suspense genre and Alden happily satisfied me with this one. Strong characters with genuine chemistry and a well-developed plot with a unique twist or two offered up a plethora of reading entertainment. I was ripped up by the deep emotions that defined Megan's life and provided a complex and layered emotional backdrop for the action. The desperation of a sister, the agony of betrayal from a lover, the chilling terror of a monster, the dawning horror of sociopathy, guilt, hope, devotion, all blending together to highlight and display character motivations and choices. All powering the struggles of the hopeful and the hopeless. It made for some compelling reading.

I loved the concept of the plot, of a sister frantic to save a brother condemned to die for a heinous crime she is convinced he didn't commit, despite the evidence. It offered a twist on the standard for psychological thrillers and provided the impetus for Megan's behavior and Cole's involvement. It also added nuances and conflict to their relationship that you don't often see in the genre.

That's not to say that I was thrilled with everything about the book. While I was impressed with the depth of emotion plumbed here, and was in love with the way the relationship plotline evolved between Cole and Megan throughout the book, I had some problems with Megan's character. She was so single-minded in her obsession to save Sean that some of her decisions and actions shoved her into a ridiculous amount danger and evidenced an utter disregard for her own safety. When she wasn't risking herself she was laying waste to the lives of the people around her without much forethought and with an appalling lack of guilt. She became Hurricane Megan at times, an unstoppable force and selfish for it.

I also think there was too much stress placed on her needs and wants for Sean. She couldn't lose him, he had to keep fighting for her, she couldn't go on without him. Sean's the one rotting away in jail but more than once I was given the impression that getting him out would be as much a benefit to her as it would to him. Even the appearance of that degree of self involvement was unflattering and unappealing.

On the flip side, and my personal favorite in the book, was Cole. I thought his past actions were reprehensible but understandable, and thought Alden did a particularly good job with his character definition and development. I loved how he showed such a deep understanding of Megan's nature and accepted it even as it made him nuts. I loved how he proved his dedication to her - albeit three years late - even though he still believed her brother guilty. Their relationship sizzled and smoked, and was rich with desire, but the backbone was concern and caring, then trust and dedication. I loved it.

The plot was solid, though certain elements of antagonist's backstory and plotline had some unexplained gaps and were a bit lacking in explanation. Not every issue raised in this book was resolved, either, but that's not a complaint so much as an observation. In fact, it laid potential groundwork for subsequent novels. There were one or two facets of this book that suffered from some problems of predictability, and there was little mystery surrounding the identity of the killer. He was pretty easy to pick out of a crowd. I loved the peek into his origins, though, and appreciate Alden's ability to make even a monster sympathetic at times.

I wasn't satisfied with the mysterious "they" that was referred to, or the story supporting that thread. It was introduced too late in the book for my taste and never felt fully developed or realized. I felt it served little purpose beyond muddying up the plot waters. I also would have preferred the connection between a psychopath and a sociopath be made a bit sooner in the book and had their relationship explained more thoroughly.

Despite those few things, I liked this book. No, Megan wasn't my favorite character and there were a few issues relating to the antagonist and the plot that gave me some problems, but overall this was a well crafted, emotionally powerful, refreshing addition to the genre of romantic suspense. I'm looking forward to the next in this series, Hide from Evil, which is expected to release in early November.

My Dangerous Pleasure by Carolyn Jewel

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: My Immortal, Book 4
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 384 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

My Dangerous Pleasure
Wish I'd Been In On This Series Sooner

Bakery owner and pastry chef Paisley Nichols is used to having little to no social life. After a bad breakup a while ago, she hasn't been all that keen to dip her toes back into the dating waters, and even if she had been, the insanity that is the work schedule of a bakery owner/chef wouldn't give her much wiggle room to do so. Still, one of her regulars had caught her eye, and she was weighing the options of asking the gorgeous man out every time he came into her bakery.

It seemed she'd caught his eye too, and when he stopped by to make a special order one afternoon, Paisley thought her luck in the romance department was changing. He asked her to meet him for coffee. She shook off the oddness of the incident preceding his invitation, when his fingers brushed across her wrist and the electrical shock of the contact stung her skin. Things were looking up if she had a coffee date with such a good looking man.

The positive attitude didn't last long. By evening Paisley was deathly ill and her arm felt like it was going to fall off. She couldn't even make it to her home phone to call for help.

As one of the kin, Iskander was well versed in the feel of magic. When his quiet evening of movie watching and pizza consumption was blown to hell by the shriek of every single one of his magical wards being set off, Iskander went on immediate alert. A quick search of his property led him to the stairs of the apartment he rented out over his garage. The scent of mage magic was like an infected wound against his senses, and the stink drew him up to his tenant's door. Iskander knew his tenant Paisley was human, he wouldn't have rented to her otherwise, but there was no mistaking that a mage was working some freaky magic at her place. With no one answering his knock, and the demon concerned about Paisley's well being, he went in. And found Paisley near death, her body and blood corrupted by a power-hungry mage's ill will.

Saving Paisley may not be as easy as a one time healing, however, and soon it becomes clear to Iskander that the twisted mage who is responsible for the destruction of the relationship between he and his blood-twin has set his sights on Paisley. Iskander lost everything to the mage once, he had no intention of giving up anything else, especially not someone as lovely and unique as Paisley. Even if that means war.

It seems lately I've gotten into a habit of reading books in existing series that I haven't been following. In some cases, that's worked out very well and I'm compelled to go back and read what's come before. In others it hasn't been quite such a good thing, leaving me feeling lost while reading or seriously impacting my enjoyment.

Thanks to a glossary provided at the beginning of the book, I was at least passingly familiar with terminology and was given a very brief glimpse into the sort of world that has been created for Jewel's My Immortal series. That helped prevent me from feeling lost or overwhelmed by unknown backstory and previous development. There were a few things that I didn't understand or wasn't able to grasp the full scope of emotional significance. Subtext and subtlety was pretty much lost on me for the duration. It was sort of like the reading equivalent of having one of my senses go dead. It didn't prevent me from experiencing the book, but it lessened my ability to fully appreciate it.

Keeping that in mind, I was still able to admire the originality of the world Jewel created here, as well as the unique aspects of the mythos and magic driving it all. There were some very nice twists on old standards of demons, witches, and mages that I found appealing, and some compelling contradictions in the nature of the races involved. I'm rather amused by the magekind's intentions to protect humans while amping up their power and extending their life expectancy through ritualistic slaughter of another race. Not that I saw a lot of protection going on, really, but I was comparing the definition of magekind to the actions of what Paisley called screamers. Irony that ironic makes me chuckle.

Stepping beyond the lack of series familiarity to look closely at the plot and characters of this book I felt there were good points and bad. While I enjoyed Iskander and Paisley as individuals, I wasn't all that crazy about them as a couple. It felt more like I was being told they were wicked hot for each other but never actually felt any of that heat. And anyone who knows me or my reviews knows that damsels in distress don't get a lot of sympathy from me (or...well...any). While Paisley spoke big about independence and tried to walk the walk, the fact remains that if everyone around you can kill you with little effort, and you need a bad-ass bodyguard like Iskander to keep you alive, you're a damsel who is either at this moment, or will soon be, in distress. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I didn't have much use for the woman until she managed to do something of worth on the kin's behalf and cut a witch down to size.

That's also probably why I enjoyed the latter part of the book far more than the first part. Once Paisley could contribute, I was much happier, and other aspects of the plot which up until that point had seemed rather meandering and a bit incohesive, started to come together in a far firmer and more palatable manner. I liked Iskander throughout the book, even though I felt there were some minor inconsistencies in his character. I enjoyed the intended contradictions - the killer, the protective male, the frat-boy mentality for life and playboy mentality for women - and thought it was cute how he sort of tumbled into feelings for Paisley.

This book had some good aspects, some bad. I enjoyed the romance for what it was, appreciated the sizzling sexuality, and was utterly confused by the actions and motivations of Iskander's former blood-twin. I felt like I was missing something big time, and not just because the chick was batshit crazy. Kessler's character and plot thread were tied up with her and I had some problems with that, too. I just don't understand why Paisley ended up involved in any of it, actually, or what Kessler was originally after from her given how the story progressed, nor did I feel Kessler's storyline got resolved by the end. That was all very odd to me.

In the end, I think there was more good points than there were bad, and while I'm not a huge Paisley fan, I couldn't help but enjoy her and Iskander together. Some times more than others, but still. I sure wouldn't want to be anyone but Iskander if I was requested to guard/protect/watch Paisley, though. Those sorry sods fell faster than the Red Shirts on Star Trek.

I can't say that I'm feeling particularly compelled to go back to the beginning of the series and find out what I missed after reading My Dangerous Pleasure, but I wouldn't be adverse to doing so either. I would definitely read another book by this author, and I'd continue the series from here, though again, I don't feel terribly compelled to do so. It was a book that I mostly enjoyed while I was reading it, but doubt it'll hold lasting memory for me.

Just Desserts by Scarlet Blackwell

Genre: LGBT - M/M Erotica Romance
Series: Table for Two, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 1163 Locations
Formats: Kindle

Just Desserts: Table for Two, Book 1
Mostly Empty Calories

French chef Luc Tessier's ego is second only to his sexual appetites, and his mastery in the kitchen...over food and lovers...is legendary. English food critic Daniel Sheridan isn't nearly as enamored of either the food or the legend. In fact, Daniel has been openly critical of Luc's cooking in several media forums. Luc hates the man with a passion. That doesn't mean that his pride would allow him to do anything but rise to the challenge when he's informed that Daniel was coming to his restaurant to critique the menu, the food, and by default, the chef.

With images of dominating the faceless foodie stiffening his swizzle stick, Luc cooks each course to his exacting standards, determined to wow the critical critic. When his maître d' informs him that the man has arrived, and Luc gets a look at him, he almost gives himself a serving of his own tongue. How could he not have known that Daniel Sheridan was the most gorgeous man he'd ever seen?

With his reputation on the line and his lust unbridled, at the end of the meal Luc finally comes face to face with his adversary. Domination fantasies still flying in his mind, he offers Daniel a tour of his kitchen, then proceeds to show the critic just how good he is in it...to their mutual pleasure. Shocked by the intensity of the experience, playboy and manslut Luc is suddenly dealing with an emotion beyond his own arrogance, but just as he's ready to admit that his time with Daniel was much more than a one-off, Daniel slaps at the chef with his own pride and sweeps out in a huff.

One captivated chef with entitlement issues, one uptight food critic who is no man's amuse-bouche. The path to happiness has never been quite so calorie-laden.

I enjoyed several aspects of Scarlet Blackwell's series debut novella. This is my first experience with Blackwell, and as a fan of all sorts of cooking shows (can't cook, don't want to learn, love watching - ah, the wonderful contradiction that is me) I enjoyed the setting and the characters' occupations quite a lot. The writing was polished and the story flowed nicely. It was short, and as an erotic novella the focus was on the sexuality of the story. The development of the relationship between the characters was very limited, but Blackwell showed off some skill with a smooth narrative that captured my attention. The sex scenes were explicit and graphic and very sexy. If it weren't for one tiny problem, I would have loved that aspect of it.

Unfortunately, the lead characters were the problem. They were odious. Luc's complete arrogance and slut puppy ways were problem enough. I sure wouldn't eat in his restaurant knowing how he treated his cooking surfaces. That's just unhygienic! And just as his character started to improve and I started finding his over-the-top determination to woo Daniel sort of endearing, Daniel - who I found a bit bitchy but not too bad at first - became a complete ass when he met up with Luc the second time.

I never bought for one minute that this romance was based on affection, as both characters were almost completely unlikable to me and even to each other throughout most of the story. Maybe had their been more time to display a more organic about-face on Luc's part and someone had pulled the gigantic stick out of Daniel's derriere (bopping his head with it a few times once removed wouldn't have hurt, either), I would have enjoyed this story a lot more. As it stands, Just Desserts is just too full of empty calories to satisfy.

Mai Tai One On by Jill Marie Landis

Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Series: Tiki Goddess Mysteries, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 228 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC 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.

Mai Tai One On
Murder in Paradise

Emily Johnson, broke and newly divorced, came to Mauai to help her uncle, after the geriatric and pitifully bad dance troupe who performed at her uncle's Tiki Goddess Bar, the Hula Maidens, had contacted Em to inform her of his declining mental health and sent her a one-way plane ticket. In the six months since she started helping him out, business has improved and the historic hangout is slowly getting back into the black. And that's despite the bar's nearest neighbor, an odious man named Harold. He had a habit of burning trash in his yard, despite being asked not to, and the trades carry the noxious fumes right over into the bar.

That was, of course, before his dead body was discovered roasting in the bar's luau pit.

The police investigating his murder are focusing on both Em's uncle and the bar's bartender Chloe. Business has never been better but the stress has never been higher. Em, along with the wacky women of the Hula Maidens, have decided they have to solve the crime and save their family and friends. Delicious homicide detective Roland Sharpe would rather Em not pull a Nancy Drew impression, but stopping her would take more muscle than even he has.

Em's determination to clear her friend and keep her uncle's name clear puts her in danger when her poking around starts to uncover potential motives for murder. If the killer takes note of Em's secret sleuthing, it'll take more than the quirky Hula Maidens to save her butt. It'll take a miracle.

Maybe it was bad timing, as the past few books I've read really rocked my book-loving heart. Maybe it was my too-high expectations, as I've read books by Landis before and like her writing style. Maybe it was the setting, or the plot, or the characters. Maybe it's a little of all of that. Whatever it was, I couldn't seem to connect to either the story or the characters in this mystery, and that made it difficult to enjoy Mai Tai One On like I thought I would.

I was expecting a lighter-toned murder mystery laced with humor that highlighted quirky and raucous secondary characters. I went into the book thinking I'd fall for the Maidens and chuckle along with Em as she amateur-sleuthed her way into solving the case. Instead I ended up annoyed with Em's character, frustrated and disappointed by her morally and legally questionable actions and obtuse behavior which bordered on stupid more than once. The Maidens didn't appeal to me, either. There was too much back biting and snarky nastiness between them and too many waspish digs directed at others to consider them sympathetic or entertaining or make them evenly likable throughout the book.

Roland's character was forbidding and standoffish, and though I was interested in him as one of my favorite characters, he was too often relegated to the sidelines of the storyline for my tastes. The small sparks of simpatico and attraction between him and Em were some of my favorite parts of the book, but they were too few and far apart to truly impact my entertainment level with the book as a whole.

The plotline of the mystery was fairly straightforward and it evolved at a steady pace with a narrative that was smooth and easily readable. Unfortunately the elements of the whodunit weren't all that mysterious, and I had the who and why figured relatively early. That's not necessarily a detractor for me, and wouldn't have been in this case had I been able to enjoy the characters more, but without that, the fact that there were few potential killers or motives became more glaring. Later suspense elements of the story were equally disappointing and a little odd in their development. I didn't quite buy the perpetrator's actions or motivations during the last part of the book.

For me, the book was disappointing. The cover and the story description gives an impression about the tone of the book that I don't think the story supported, and I don't think Landis did quite enough to make her characters as flamboyantly entertaining as she could have. I can forgive one or two of the things that didn't work for me in this book, but put together, there just wasn't enough left for me to like. I don't think I'll be revisiting the Tiki Goddess Bar and its patrons.

Killing Time by Elisa Paige

Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance
Series: The Time Series, Book 2
Rating: 5 Stars
Length: 125,000 Words
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Killing TimePhotobucket
One of My Favorite Reads This Year

She was created for one purpose. To kill. She has no name, just a designation. Her kind, bitterns, are genetically engineered clones that serve the fae lords as their keenest hunters and assassins. They are little more than animals and are treated as such. She has always been different, however, resistant to conditioning, rebellious, obstinate, and unbreakable. No matter how brutal her masters' torture, she defied restrictions. And she escaped.

Since she crossed over to the world of round ears, to the human realm, she has pursued one goal with frightening intensity. Find the immortals who shared a common enemy with her and ally with them. Get the information she needs. Kill the psychotic vampire allied with the Dark fae king, then, when the walls between planes fall on Samhain, return to the fae realm and release her beserker rage all over the king and whomever else has the misfortune of getting in her way. She will slaughter them all. She knows this. She will not survive. She knows this too.

With her first goal nearly in sight she is forced into a slight change of plans. The immortals she was tracking are battling rival vampires and fae beasts and to save them, she lets her berserker rage free. When she wakes up back at the building she'd been squatting in since arriving in Dallas, she comes nose to furious nose with an exquisitely carved and obviously disgusted Native American face.

That face belongs to Koda, ancient guardian, protector of his people, and friend of the immortals she was tracking. He loathes her, thinking her fae, as the fae have annihilated his race for centuries. Convincing him that she's not fae, that in fact she reviles them at least as much as he, is a herculean task. As it becomes clear that she's being targeted by her former fae masters, and the vampire she planned to execute suddenly ups the stakes on an impending war with humans and immortals alike, joining forces with Koda becomes the only viable strategic option.

Two magical beings with a common goal, beginning as enemies, becoming wary allies. They must battle against the forces of evil before the death count spirals out of control and the land is scoured by the ravages of war. Along the way they will discover a fiery need for each other that neither had anticipated and it will forge allies into friends, then lovers. He is Koda. She is bittern...and she calls herself Sephti. Together they are the best hope for mortal and immortal alike.

One hundred and ninety. That's the number of books I've read, including this one, since January 1st. Nine. That's the number of those books, including this one, that I've tagged as a favorite. It's definitely not a tag I give out generously. It's also the first time I've ever tagged a series book as a favorite when I haven't read the preceding book/books in the series. Those are the facts. Killing Time deserved it. That's my opinion.

I was a little bowled over by Paige's Killing Time. I wasn't expecting to be as impressed as I was, but despite not reading the first book in the series, Stealing Time (an oversight I can assure you I will be rectifying), just about every single one of my Happy Reader buttons got stroked, tickled, and pushed with delicious abandon.

Fantastic characters - especially Sephti, who I was completely in love with before the first chapter was done. A layered and imaginative plot that struck the perfect balance between the urban fantasy elements and paranormal romance elements. A rich and vibrant world and mythos brimming with originality. A narrative that brought all those aspects together, reached out and grabbed me by the throat and carried me along for the duration. Man, Paige is a hell of a storyteller.

The relationship between Sephti and Koda was so satisfying. Not only did they work well together as a couple, providing the romance lover in me with tons of heart-pounding moments of love, angst, and sexy sensuality, but Sephti was also a complete and three dimensional heroine in her own right, independent, deadly, and more than capable of not only pulling her own weight but rallying those around her to pull theirs too. I could easily imagine her as the center of her own urban fantasy series, and that satisfied the UF lover in me.

The bad guys were heinous and truly threatening, their impact on the world and the characters tragic, so the plot started strong and maintained its intensity throughout. There was conflict on all sides, and Paige kept me guessing on what dangers would pop up next, satisfying my need for pulse pounding entertainment that ratchets higher and higher as the story progresses. There was little in the way of story down time or moments when the pacing lagged - hell, there was hardly a moment for the characters to catch a breath before the next twist in the plot roared over them. I was captivated from cover to cover.

There were a few places in the narrative that I think would have been enhanced for me if I'd read the first book, some setup for the arc of the series plot, some secondary and ancillary characters with obvious backstory I wasn't familiar with, and previously established relationships that I had to guess at. Never once did I feel lost, however, or think I was missing an important aspect of the story because of it. This novel stands well on its own, but I'm still kicking my own ass for missing out on the start of it all. I can only imagine how much more entertaining I would have found this book had I read Stealing Time first.

Even without it, I loved this book. I loved Sephti. Koda remained a bit of an enigma, but I liked him very much. I loved their relationship and the conflict of the external threat. Yup, this book has a little bit of everything that most tickles me as a reader, and it joins the select list of books I've read this year that I've tagged as favorites. I can't wait for more.

The Shattered Sylph by L.J. McDonald

Genre: Fantasy
Series: Sylph Series, Book 2
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 336 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

The Shattered Sylph (Sylph Series)
Happily Addicted to Sylphs

It was meant to be nothing more than a small taste of freedom, a tiny rebellion against overprotective guardians, and a chance for a girl on the cusp of womanhood to stretch her wings a little. Eighteen-year-old Lizzy Petrule and her friend Loren slipped away from the group who traveled to Para Dubh from their home in Sylph Valley and headed to the docks. They wanted to see the ocean. Lizzy was unaware of the danger, of the nature of some of the people who do business at the waterfront of the much larger, harsher kingdom. Loren's water sylph Shore whisked Loren away from the large, scary man she'd been flirting with moments before he lunged for them both. Lizzy, not having a sylph, wasn't so lucky.

When Leon Petrule and the battle sylph Ril returned from the queen's mission, Solie pulled Leon aside to break the news that his daughter had been taken by slavers from a distant kingdom. The battle sylphs she had sent out to find Lizzy had come back with a bit of information on the kidnapper's likely destination, but empty-handed. Heartbroken and with little hope on how to find her, Leon returns to his family to mourn.

Sensing his master's misery, Ril races to the family's side, and when he finds out Lizzy has been taken, he digs down deep, to the proof of a secret he's held close to his heart for years. He's loved Lizzy since he watched her being born. She saved him from the madness of seeing his master kill the woman he'd come through the gateway to claim and since then he's waited for her to grow, to mature. He'd wanted her to be his queen, but Solie ascended instead. He nearly killed himself making Lizzy his master.

And he can find her.

Leon, Ril, and a young man named Justin travel south to the edge of the world, to a kingdom of unimaginable size and power, with thousands of sylph, several hundreds of which are the deadly battle sylphs. They go to find Lizzy and bring her home. They go because they love her. They go...and what they find, what they experience, what they risk, and what they lose will change their lives forever.

I have a confession to make. I'm an addict. It's horrible, I know, but it's true. I can't get enough. I'm completely hooked on battle sylphs. It's not an easy addiction to have, either, as you get the oddest looks when you finally do the responsible thing and try seek help. No one seems to understand quite what you're talking about and people start whispering to each other and pointing at you when they read the little questionnaire thingie you filled out at the doctor's office. Can't imagine why. And hello...rude!

Alas, I fear I'm doomed to the ravening madness of utter fangirlness. I, of course, blame my sylph dealer, L.J. McDonald. It's all her fault. How dare she create this unique, breathlessly original world and populate it so deftly with these amazing, tortured creatures who would do anything for the love of a woman? How could she be so callous to her innocent readers by spinning such dastardly epic tales of slavery, hatred, fear, and murder, of the battle against tyranny and oppression, and the equality of women in a society that views them as chattel? Does she have no conscience? That much awesome storytelling just isn't legal!

This particular kick-ass, gut-wrenching book prominently featured the two most intriguing characters from the first book among its ensemble cast. Adviser and enforcer for the queen, Leon Petrule and his battle sylph Ril, the broken warrior, have a relationship defined by a complex mix of conflicting emotions. Their master/battler history is brutal and tragic, and even six years after Leon's awakening to the true nature of the battle sylph and his understanding of what he did to the battler he loves, their relationship is still a quagmire of cautious partnership and long-remembered pain. For me, it's the most brilliant aspect of both books so far.

That doesn't mean I didn't love the storyline of this book, of course. It started out with some genuinely humorous moments, and became more and more serious as the book progressed, and I found myself utterly captivated by what I was reading. By the time Leon, Ril, and Justin got to Meridal you couldn't have pried my Kindle from my hand with a crowbar, and you would've been wise to watch your back had you even tried.

McDonald has an impressive ability to make irredeemable actions somehow forgivable, and irredeemable characters ultimately lovable. Lest we forget, the reason Leon Petrule, one heck of a protagonist, has a battle sylph at all is because he brutally, if expediently, slaughtered a young woman years ago. To say his past is checkered is oversimplifying to the nth degree. He so deeply regrets his actions, and feels such remorse over not only what he did to the girl, but the effect it had on Ril, that he remains sympathetic. With even the tiniest miss in his character development, his past atrocity would have been an ultimate deal breaker for me. It's testament to McDonald's mad skills that it is not.

Not every single aspect of the world and this book was quite as rosy. While I wasn't nearly as put off by Lizzy as I was by Solie in the first book, she still wasn't my favorite character, and I'm still not fond of how young the lead female characters have been in this series. Lizzy's immaturity, naivety, and ignorance, and the brutal consequences of all three, frustrated me not because it wasn't well written, but because I flat out don't like damsels in distress. I thought her character functioned better as a symbol than an actual person in this book, though I can't help but be thrilled for her and Ril.

As in the first book, my pleasure with the ensemble cast and my love for the storyline far outweighs my minor grievances. Eapha and Tooie were fantastic, and the paired up group of battle sylph and their loves among the concubines was a delight in both character and story. And I just can't say enough about Leon and Ril, though I thought Justin was a toss. His involvement occasionally seemed contrived and heavy-handed. I missed the characters I became so fond of in the previous book who weren't included, or were included in this book only briefly, but the strength of the story and the new characters thoroughly entertained.

I'm hooked on this series. Completely, irrevocably hooked. I'd caution readers about one thing, though. This series is considered by some to be fantasy romance. I can understand why, but I disagree. Yes, there was a relationship between Solie and Heyou in the first book, and yes, there is one between Lizzy and Ril in this one, but while the development and evolution of those two relationships may be the driving force behind the story that's written in each case, the actual forming and evolution of those relationships are strictly ancillary plot threads that remain on the fringes of a layered plot full of action and suspense. If you go in expecting or wanting a more traditional romance arc, you could be disappointed. For my personal tastes, it's a plus, because like I said, both Solie and Lizzy were very young in age and in action, and seemed closer to little girls than grown women - so much so in parts that I had to force myself not to think about their age. Having a major romance plotline with them in the lead roles wouldn't have appealed to me.

This book, on the other hand, did appeal to me. It gave me the perfect hit of sylph love. For an addict such as myself, we live for those hits. The good news is that the next opportunity to satisfy my addiction will be out in a few weeks, with the third book in the series, Queen of the Sylphs set to release mid-September in paperback (according to Amazon.com) and late September for the Kindle (according to the publisher). The best news is I have an ARC of QotS that was provided to me courtesy of Dorchester Publishing and NetGalley.

Just...um...ignore my girly squeal and shimmy of pleasure.

I am resolute in my determination not to cave to the sylph withdrawal, however, and to hold off reading and reviewing QotS until closer to the release date. Who knows how long it'll take to get my next fix after what I'm sure will be QotS delight? I must manage my battle sylph addiction! I can do this. I'm strong willed! I will not give in!!

*Glances at her Kindle, pursing her lips and muttering under her breath*

I'm gonna fold like wet cardboard.

The Sylph Series:

The Battle Sylph (Sylph Series) The Shattered Sylph (Sylph Series) Queen of the Sylphs (Sylph Series)

Endless Night by Maureen A. Miller

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: N/A
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 74,000 Words
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Fantastic Romantic Suspense

She witnessed a powerful man commit cold blooded murder, then fled when he turned the gun on her. Horrified, terrified for her life, she ran to the police, only to come face to face with proof that powerful men have long reaches. Megan Summers did the only thing she could do, she disappeared. Since then she's been hiding in the remotest location she could find, a weathered house on the outskirts of the coastal Maine town of Victory Cove. It's been a rough, lonely year, a year of tension and stress, of preparation, of living in seclusion and training herself, readying herself as best she can. Waiting for the phone call that she's always known would come.

When it rings, Megan knows. He's coming.

Receiving a letter from the woman who claims to be his mother shook electrical engineer Jake Grogan to his foundations. He'd known he was adopted since he was young but never wanted to give it much thought. Suddenly having a place to look, a source of information about his heritage, a name and location to start, meant more to him than he'd realized. With his adoptive sister's blessing, he dropped everything and left Boston to check out Victory Cove and find Estelle Wakefield. The woman who may be his grandmother.

He found Megan Summers and Wakefield House. The pretty but tense woman stirs a startling urge to protect within Jake, though from what and why he has no clue. When a nor'easter traps him at the house with her, the mystery of her obvious fear becomes just as tantalizing as his quest for his heritage.

They are strangers drawn together by circumstance, discovering an unwanted but irresistible attraction that could turn the most difficult times in their lives into the greatest happiness. But only if they can weather the threat of a man with no conscience and an intent to kill.

Fans of romance and romantic suspense should take note of Miller, because this is thrilling reading entertainment. There were so many great moments of pure, quality writing that I found myself in love early on, swept away by the lives of two characters who were exquisitely drawn and fit so very well together.

Miller's writing is a feast for the senses, with lyrical descriptive passages that paint startlingly clear visuals and evoke depth of emotion in sublimely subtle ways. Her grasp of the complexity of human reaction to difficult situations was well evidenced, translated into characters' actions and thoughts with a believablity that is too often lacking. Her characters were real, with their own faults and mistakes made, regrets and disappointments, but they were also both decent, good people at their core, and their actions and dialogue felt very organic and natural to situations of varying emotional intensity.

The romance was exceptionally well done, though it evolved over a very short period of time. That's a pet peeve of mine, so imagine my delight when I realized that the depth of the emotional connection and the surrounding circumstances were so well drawn and thoroughly developed that instead of feeling too rushed, it felt exactly right. I loved Jake and Megan together, and I loved them as individuals. Miller made them both three dimensional and real, and I was fully invested in them and their story as it progressed. I was actually a little stunned at how thoroughly I was able to understand and sympathize with the actions and decisions that led them to this juxtaposition of their lives, and what they do with themselves after it.

Miller made it all very believable and truly enthralling.

I wish I was as happy with the story elements surrounding the plot thread of the killer. That's the only thing in the whole of the book that didn't work for me. The suspense and the threat the killer posed throughout the book was exquisitely tense and nerve wracking, and every time the phone rang, I clenched my Kindle a little tighter, but the final conflict and the scene of the big reveal fell completely flat for me.

The killer's motivations for the murder didn't interest or shock me, so the mystery solution wasn't very compelling, and the scene of the big reveal was clichéd and trite. It did a disservice to the quality of the rest of the book to have the killer and the heroine act out a quintessential bad guy confessional scene while the hero maneuvers to save the day. An odd switch to a choppier narrative flow with jerky little jumps in the timeline during that big reveal scene and immediately following it just compounded the problem and seemed to serve no purpose beyond further obfuscation.

Frankly, though, I don't want to belabor those points, because so much of this book totally rocked my world. Jake was perfect as the nice guy with some issues, protective and intelligent, and Megan was a spectacular heroine. She's strong, and though she's been afraid for a year, she's worked with that fear, honing herself into a weapon and turning her home into a fortress in preparation for a conflict that she's always understood would be a battle for her life. Fear defined part of her character, and so did independence and steely intent. I found her fascinating and sympathetic. And the sexual chemistry and growing emotional intimacy between Jake and Megan was beautiful to read.

There were, in fact, a couple of passages that were so beautifully written that they literally hit me like soft body punches. One in particular sticks out in my mind. Megan has one of her guns in her hand, a gun she's taught herself to shoot and shoot well, one she keeps so close and has in hand so often that the impression of the grip is often found on her palm. She's speaking to Jake.

Slowly, painfully, she lifted it in offering and managed a raspy plea. "Can you take this? It's grown so heavy."

The wealth and depth of emotion in that one small passage was astounding. With one short bit of dialogue Miller wrenched my gut and made me feel with jagged clarity just how close Megan is to the end of her rope, how worn out she's become by a year of solitude and fear and grim anticipation, and how dangerously close she is to the breaking point. Really simple and subtle, but so layered and complex. And brilliant for it.

Passages like that, and a narrative chock full of different but equally impressive story elements guaranteed that even with the minor grievances I mentioned, Endless Night knocked it out of the park for me. Tripping over truly quality writing in a genre I favor is one of the best treats for me as a reader, and I felt like a kid at Christmas with this gem. Fans of romance will love Jake and Megan, fans of romantic suspense will appreciate the atmospheric tension that permeates the book. I loved both, and know that I'll be searching out more from Miller in the near future.

Blood of the Maple by Dana Marie Bell

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Maggie's Grove, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 4566 Locations
Formats: Kindle

Blood of the Maple
A Lively and Sexy Romp

Vampire Parker Hollis took full advantage of the free love and hippie lifestyle of the sixties...right up until he ignored a friend's warning and dallied with someone he would long regret ever meeting. Sure, he learned a valuable life lesson: hell hath no fury like a witch scorned, but he paid dearly for that lesson. Determined to be Parker's blood wife, the batshit crazy witch captures the vampire, then casts a dark spell that will change Parker...and his existence...forever.

That's how Parker Hollis becomes the world's first vegetarian vampire.

Decades later, the deathbed vision Parker's best friend Greg has moments before his passing prompts Parker to move to a town called Maggie's Grove. What he and Greg's ghost find astounds them, a town dedicated to the various supernatural races. It isn't long before Parker meets his neighbor, a dryad and for some inexplicable - and inexcusable reason, the town outcast, Amara Schwedler. Her scent makes him yearn for a taste and her heart calls to his.

Amara's used to the petty hurts from being ostracized her whole life. She knows she's different. Heck, even other dryads avoid her - and that's the cruelest hurt of all. Still, she lives her life and she has a few select friends, even a job with a boss who understands her need to occasionally commune with her tree. Still, when Parker moves in next door, Amara is captivated by him...if a little perplexed by his diet, and his easy acceptance of her is a balm to her soul that puts hope in her heart.

When psycho witch sweeps into town smelling of putrification and decay, intent on destroying anything standing in the way between herself and Parker, Amara considers her nothing more than a weed in need of pruning. A pervasive weed with an evil streak. When she messes up Amara's garden, then targets innocent townspeople, Amara gets very, very angry. And when Amara is angry, she's very, very scary. The witch may be almost impossible to kill but Amara is something else altogether, and she and Parker have every intention of finally plucking that damned weed and ending her reign of terror. The trick is going to be making sure they don't get mulched in the process.

Without a doubt, Bell's new series debut definitely offers something new to vampire fiction. Its first vegetarian vampire botanist. Poor, cursed Parker, with his dietary restrictions, ghostly best friend, town-appointed Renfield...who keeps getting it on with his gay ghost - all over Parker's furniture, and, of course, the homicidal and seriously messed up witch who wants to be Parker's one and only chew toy. I'd feel really bad for him...if I wasn't having such a darned good time chuckling at his plight.

Actually, I just had a darned good time with the whole book. It had its serious, threatening moments, but the majority of the focus stayed towards the more comedic and sexier end of the spectrum. And the sexier end, in traditional Bell style, was quite yummy.

Amara was a pleasant surprise. I wasn't sure I was going to like her, worried she'd be a bit too naive for my tastes given her social seclusion. As it turns out, she totally kicked butt - even more so than Parker did, and had a dry but sharp-witted sense of humor I appreciated. She was a definite force of nature, and I enjoyed how she fit with Parker. Other characters, secondary and ancillary, were plentiful and delightfully quirky, as is also typical of Bell, and they provided a nice preview of future main characters for the series.

I wish the plot of the book had developed a little differently, with Amara and Parker's relationship evolving at a more gradual pace than it did. I thought the weedy witch of the west could've been introduced to the town a little farther along into the story, allowing for more time for all the characters and interpersonal relationships - especially but not exclusively the romantic one - to develop a little more thoroughly. And I would've liked Parker to have been a bit more successful in his endeavors. Seems he was mostly getting his butt kicked - or cursed - fairly often throughout the book.

Still, for a light and humorous paranormal romance dripping with sizzling sexuality, Blood of the Maple was a fun read and fairly classic example of the type and quality of funny, sexy fiction by Bell. I plan on continuing the series, as there was quite a lot of interesting and original mythos and world building here. I'm looking forward to seeing where Bell takes it all. I just hope we won't have to wait too long to get back to Maggie's Grove and its quirky coterie.

Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Sisterhood Diaries, Book 3
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 336 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by HQN Books, an imprint of Harlequin, via Netgalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Playing Dirty (Hqn)
Yummy Bite of Brain Candy

Thirteen years ago Ava Spencer was a senior in high school, overweight, and despite her two best friends, not one of the popular girls in school. Dating the wildly popular and sinfully gorgeous Cade Gallari was like a dream. She gave him her heart and her virginity. Then at lunch the day after that momentous event, in front of a jeering crowd, Ava watched in growing horror as Cade's best friend stood up, peeled off two hundred dollars from his wallet, and loudly proclaimed that Cade had won the bet to bed the fat chick.

Ava, devastated and sick, rallied enough to lob a zinger back at Cade and his friend in that tragically public milieu, then crumbled in private. That sick joke, along some nasty mommy issues, had a crippling affect on Ava that thirteen years and several rebuffed attempts by Cade to apologize couldn't heal.

Though she'd shed pounds and kept them off for twelve years, her body would always be lush and curvy instead of svelte and lean. That's how she's built. Most days, she's comfortable with her body and can see herself as the sexy woman she is. Most days, she's confident in her job and her stellar people skills, and runs her own business with flair and determination. Most days she loves her life and herself. Standing in the mansion that she and her two best friends inherited, waiting on documentary film director Cade Gallari so they can finalize arrangements for him to rent the mansion for his next film, however, isn't most days.

There's no excuse for what he did to her all those years ago, and Cade is most sincere in his apologies. Every one of them he's tried to give her through the years. There were mitigating circumstances, but none that would matter to the gorgeous Ava. He knew that. He was starting to suspect he'd never get beyond his past and that possibility was even more painful now. Cade had been hot for Ava since he figured out he liked girls around when puberty hit, but looking at her now, fully appreciative of her stunningly gorgeous and deliciously womanly body, that pain is like a hot knife in his gut.

He can finagle his way into the mansion, he can even convince her to work for the production as the concierge, that's business and he's very good at his business. As filming commences, though, and they start rubbing elbows, he realizes a few more painful truths. He respects her. He likes the woman she's become. Hell yes, he wants her in his bed again. And Ava is never going to forgive him for the worst mistake of his life.

This enemies-to-lovers themed romance was a sexy delight, driven by two strong characters with charm and charisma. Andersen entertained and impressed with a sassy, quick witted dialogue, slick narrative, sexy hero, and feisty heroine. Cade and Ava were truly fantastic...um...once we got past the Cade's-a-scum-sucking-maggot portion of the story, anyway, and I especially appreciated the realism of Ava's body image issues. They weren't so overdone that they turned Ava self-pitying, but the flashes of insecurity were completely understandable and sympathetic given her past with Cade and a lifetime with her mother. I thought they were deftly handled as a factor in her burgeoning relationship with Cade, and balanced nicely with her natural saucy demeanor and wicked wit.

That mother-daughter relationship was another believable element of the story - scarily so, actually. On a much brighter note, Ava's friendships with Poppy and Jane were warm and wonderful. I haven't read the first two books in this trilogy...yet...but as soon as I finished this one, I snatched up the first two and set them on my terrifyingly tilted tower of TBRs. I don't normally like reading books out of order like that, but this one was enough of a stand alone novel, and Poppy and Jane were such lovely little spitfires as secondary characters in this one, that I have to go back and find out more about them and how they got their HEAs.

I have to admit, I didn't care for the small thread of suspense that wended through this book with the grifter's character. He was nothing more than a distraction to me, and I wish there had been a different plot thread concerning the diamonds. I didn't think the book's light tone fit well with the darker thoughts and contingencies he was dreaming up. Then the climax of the conflict with him at the end tread a little too close to slapstick absurdity for my tastes, and set up a way-too-cheesy-for-me resolution scene between Ava and Cade that seemed a little trite and altogether too easy.

Still, I had a heck of a good time with this book. I was yearning for some brain candy and a guaranteed sexy, sassy read when I started this book, and Playing Dirty delivered all the goods. Andersen is solidly dependable for that, for sure. The chemistry between the Cade and Ava worked perfectly throughout the book, sparking the fires of all sorts of heated emotions, and the friendships between Ava, Jane, and Poppy added depth to their character definition and story. Mostly, it was just a raucous good time and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. I can't wait to get started on the first two.

Dark Obsession by Suzanne Rock

Genre: Erotic Paranormal Romance
Series: Immortal Realms, Book 2
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Red Sage Publishing Presents, an imprint of Red Sage Publishing, via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Dark Obsession
Has Some Good Points

Politics and cultural stigma forced the vampire Javier to leave werewolf Catherine two hundred years ago. For those two hundred years he's been an outcast, though a busy one, until the pressures on his endangered race and his need for Catherine push him beyond the concerns of societal restrictions. He tracks her to Egypt, where she's managed to insert herself into the fey king's group of sex slaves. Javier has no idea why she'd do something so utterly insane, but he's intent on getting her out of there and claiming her as his mate.

He'd left her without word all those years ago, and for a century she grieved, but when Catherine saw Javier in the fey king's tent, posing as a someone and something he isn't, she felt both terror that he'd ruin the plans to save the kidnapped were king, and a combination of renewed agony and fury at his abandonment. She's not a young pup any more, and for two hundred years she's served her people on the senate. One arrogant, overly entitled vampire with a hero complex wasn't going to make her cave to his false sense of superiority. Her goals were too important.

Both proud, both stubborn, and both focused on conflicting agendas, if Javier can't respect Catherine's strength and Catherine can't forgive Javier for the past, the future of both their races will be grim and the Council will be destroyed. Not that Javier and Catherine would see that come to pass. They'll be executed by a sadistic, power hungry fey king first.

Dark Obsession has several things going for it. The main characters Javier and Catherine were fairly well developed, though I wavered between liking Catherine and finding her annoying. I also found the supporting characters believable - if in the fey king's case, totally creepy.

What I liked most about this book, though, is the fact that while it is erotica, there was a fully developed storyline of conflict and resolution and the sex scenes made sense within it. For me, that's what sets erotic novels apart and keeps them from seeming overly gratuitous. There's a lot of sex in the book, of course, but it wasn't as graphic and explicit as I've read in some stories, and it fit with the characters and their situations. Though in warning, some of those situations were disturbing and the sex scenes reflected that, as well. Frankly, though, they weren't as disturbing as they could have been, a fact I appreciated.

The world building and exposition were way too sparse for me, though. The plot was okay, if a bit muddled in places and occasionally seeming at odds with previous developments, but I never got a handle on the backstory at all, nor the cultures of different races and the era of the setting. There just wasn't enough explanation. Because of it, I had difficulty plugging the events of the book into a world view of the society they were living in. In fact, I didn't realize until the book was over that it was a paranormal, not a fantasy. The setting was so foreign and the meager explanation of the council and the surrounding politics seemed so Romanesque that I had no idea that it was a contemporary setting. That's a problem, and indicative of the disconnect I felt for the book.

I wish the plot had a few more layers to allow for a bit more development between Catherine and Javier. The problems with their intimate past were dealt with in a perfunctory manner, though the issues themselves were belabored. I'm also not certain I totally grasped the significance of the fey king's accomplice. There were some aspects of his master plan that stayed a bit too murky for me.

There was also a very jarring moment towards the end when one of the bad guys acted totally out of character. Not only did the protagonists' response seem off, but the antagonist's assertions and actions were so far beyond the realm of believability given her development to that point that the scene slapped me right out of the story. That part of the book, as well as the subsequent events, seemed contrived and ill defined.

The good points of this erotic novel weren't quite enough to make this an okay read for my tastes, the weaker aspects outweighed them just a little too much. It's not horrible, though, and the writing mechanics are fine, but the concept for the plot wasn't fleshed out well enough for me, and the nearly non-existent world building and exposition were the weakest points of the book. I'd probably recommend it for only the most ardent erotic romance fans. It didn't quite work for me.

Warning: This book contains explicit sex scenes featuring alternative sexual situations, including but not limited to light bondage, BDSM, M/M, and M/F/M. There are also scenes of torture and murder that may not be suitable for all readers.

Deceiving the Protector by Dee Tenorio

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Resurrection Series, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 88,000 Words
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Deceiving the Protector
Great World and Characters

His kind have been hunted since humans became aware of their existence. Jensen Tate is a lawyer in their world but among his own kind, he's the alpha's brother and second, a wolf shifter and protector of his people. With shifter numbers decimated by federally funded death squads, and entire cultures wiped out as packs were destroyed, the Shifter Underground has stood as a beacon of hope and a trail to safety for strays everywhere. A dangerous road, maybe, but one that leads them to sanctuary. To Resurrection.

But evidence is pointing towards a grim truth. The Underground has been breached and a serial killer is slaughtering shifters along its carefully guarded trail of safe houses. Tate doesn't know who is responsible, but the Sibile has sent him out to track and help a stray to a safe house. The oracle is convinced that guarding her will lead to some nebulous treasure. Problem is, the stray Lia Crawford wants nothing to do with Tate or his protection, obviously doesn't trust him, and isn't afraid to go nose to snarling nose with him when he tries to convince her to do just that.

Lia's got a good reason to keep Tate at arm's length, several of them, in fact, not the least of which is the attraction she feels for him. That alone could see him dead. If Tate ever discovers the darkest of Lia's secrets and the cost she's paid to keep them, more than just Tate's life will be forfeit. The longer she spends in his company, the closer they become, the more determined Lia is to protect the protector. But with a serial killer tracking them and the government hunting them, safe is a luxury neither Lia or Tate have, and sacrifice may be the only option left.

I'm always a little hesitant to read a series book if I haven't read the books preceding it. And...uh...by hesitant I mean I usually avoid it like a vamp avoids sunlight. It upsets my completely anal retentive, OCD-esque linear mentality to embarrassing degrees and often makes it difficult for me to connect to the story. Not only that, but its not uncommon to have books that just don't read well at all unless you've read the preceding books in the series. Despite that hesitancy, as I haven't read the first book in the Resurrection series, Tempting the Enemy, I thought I'd give this one a try. I figured if I went into it expecting to have some issues with this book, those issues wouldn't be such a big deal. Plus it's a paranormal romance, and that's a favorite subgenre of mine, so I was tempted into risking it after reading the story brief.

Wow, I'm so glad I did!

I loved the world Tenorio's created here. It made so much sense! Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the willing suspension of disbelief, but come on, we live in a time when a gay man could still be a victim of a hate crime for who he loves, an African American man still faces discrimination because of the color of his skin, and a Muslim man is persecuted because of his religious beliefs. Not that much of a stretch to figure a wolf man would be hunted to extinction and/or prostituted by science for the good of 'National Security' if he was discovered to exist. Not a whole lotta willing suspension of disbelief needed to buy into that ugly version of reality.

In that regard, while not pretty, Tenorio's world just flat-out worked for me. And it didn't stop there. I absolutely adored her mythos on wolf shifters as it was explained here. It had such a refreshing and unique logic to it all (within the parameters of the paranormal, anyway), and there were some details provided that made me giddy as I was reading. Little things like how shifting doesn't magically heal major wounds, and could, in fact, make them worse as organs and tissue move around inside during a shift. Or how males can be slavering beasts around females going through a heat cycle, and there are some nasty consequences to females because of it. Wow - that's not only understandable, but it's a biological reality for canine species. On the flip side, it is the female who ultimately chooses a mate and the male is bound by that choice. Loved that.

In fact, there was much about the world and mythos that I adored.

And the love didn't stop there. Tate was a great lead character and Lia was just the sort of female character I most admire. Strong, self sufficient, and resilient, as the stuff she'd endured earned my ultimate respect. I thought she was wonderful. The chemistry between the two characters was solid, and this book had one of the most impressive sex scenes I've read in romance lately. Tenorio struck a perfect balance between emotional intensity and physical intimacy, and worked in a few threads of humor to keep it consistent with the characters personalities and with the development of the storyline to that point. Phenomenally well done.

I did have some issues that I felt were less well done, some points that didn't go over as well as the stuff that did, and I should probably at least brush over them. The non-relationship story elements, the external conflict of the book, was a little two dimensional and simple, and was told in a very straightforward manner that didn't allow for a lot of ancillary development or many secondary characters. While the secondary characters we did meet were fine, they were few and far between and didn't see much page time. This book is almost exclusively a two wolf shifter story, that of Lia and Tate.

That actually plays into another concern I had while reading. The focus of the book was very narrow. Beyond a flashback or two and an epilogue, the time frame for the entire book is just a couple of days, so the story ended up feeling a bit more like a snapshot of the road trip from hell than a fully developed and self-contained book. I would have preferred a bit more flesh on the bones of the story and a broader view given to some of the elements in it. Though I loved the evolution of the relationship between Lia and Tate, the rest of the book didn't offer quite enough exposition or explanation of what led up to Tate going after Lia and how Lia got there to begin with. I would have liked to have found out what exactly Lia's role has been for the two years she'd been out of captivity. Given the pretty horrific casualties, a better explanation of how she fit into the master plan would have been helpful.

There was also a plot hole concerning Lia's scarf that niggled at me as the book ended. (Click me to read spoilers.)

We're told that Asher gave Lia the scarf she'd made for Laurel to prove that Laurel was being held. Later Asher says he killed Laurel and took it off her then. We then find out that's not true. So how did Asher get the scarf? Laurel got away. Did she leave it when she escaped? Why? The scarf was given such significance throughout the book that I would have preferred an explanation and the lack of one generated a plot hole.

Whatever my issues, though, they were minor in the grand scheme, and while I think I would have appreciated reading the first book, and think it would have enhanced my understanding of the backstory in this one, I don't think it affected my reading enjoyment too much. Tenorio has created a world I completely admire, mythos that I find refreshing and unique, and characters I easily fell for. This book may lack a little of the complexity of plot found in some the books of some of my favorite paranormal romance authors, but what it does provide is well written and emotionally satisfying, and it has some aspects that set it apart and make it memorable. Now I just have to grab a copy of Tempting the Enemy before the next book in the series comes out. It's that whole anal retentive/OCD thing. Must. Read. From the beginning. In order.

Yeah, I'm a freak. I know.

Forever Freed by Laura Kaye

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 332 Pages, 7370 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Forever Freed
Sweet Romance With a Bit of Bite

He lost his wife and young daughter the night a monster slipped out of the shadows and stole his humanity, leaving him forever changed and his family little more than broken, bloody dolls. He had never forgotten, and he'd never forgiven himself for not being able to prevent their slaughter. Every year for over one hundred of them he paid tribute to their memories during the month in which they were slain with ritual he took from his Italian heritage, but this year, alone and weary of the press of humanity's emotions on his empathic abilities, nearly starved from his self inflicted fast, the weight of Lucien Demarco's penance and remorse threatens to destroy the final flickers of his soul.

And then, just as desperation starts to sink its deadly claws into him, he sees her. And she sees him.

The little darling is like a miracle, an adorable human girl named Ollie, a child who sees him. Unlike every other creature on the planet, she doesn't shy away out of some primal instinct, but waves, and with a cherubic smile, brings him into her world for the span of a beat from a long silent heart. Then, on the heels of that encounter, Lucien's empathy is overwhelmed by a feeling of such pure bliss and joy, an incandescent feeling of such rightness, that he's drawn to the inexorably to the source. Happiness the likes of which he'd not felt in over a century fills him up and, out of a nearly maniacal need to bask in the warmth of it, he plans to take the source of it all inside himself and make it his own. Even though to do so makes him the monster he knows himself to be, because it means the death of a young and pretty woman named Samantha.

He stalks her like prey, watching and waiting for the moment he will sink his fangs deep and take her essence into himself. The moment never comes. In fact, the longer he watches her, the closer he gets to her life, and when he finds out that she is Ollie's mother, Lucien finally realizes that Samantha is no longer his intended prey, but the source of his ultimate salvation.

After loving Laura Kaye's novella Hearts In Darkness, I knew it was just a matter of time until I read more of her work. This lovely paranormal romance hearkens back to a classic romantic style and it's written with a depth of emotion and an elegance that I appreciated. It wasn't quite as successful for me as her novella, though, for a couple of reasons.

I don't prefer romances told in first person point of view. I find it too limiting in fleshing out the characters of both sides of the relationship, which poses a major problem in character-driven stories. It was a drawback for me in this book. While Lucien was well rounded, complex, and wonderfully broody as the male romantic lead, a role that was nuanced and emotive, Sam's character seemed very two dimensional and she came off seeming too good to be true, lacking any flaws or peccadilloes that would add flavor to her role...no pun intended. Ollie was a charmer, but she too seemed a little one-note, and an explanation about what made her different, what made her see things as they were - something that could have added depth to her character - was notably and painfully absent.

The plot also posed a problem for me. I loved the classic romance feel to it, but honestly, the first half dragged a bit for me for the very lack of conflict in it. The only conflict posed was strictly internal on Lucien's side, his vampire nature causing him several fairly predictable issues. Unfortunately, I didn't find it all that compelling, and the lack of relationship conflict weakened those aspects of the story for me. An external conflict was introduced a bit later than I would have preferred, and when it came, it was a rather shockingly abrupt about-face that unbalanced the narrative for me.

I wish Lucien's vampire family had been better incorporated into the whole of the story, and I wish the external conflict had been fleshed out a bit more. Both would have added a depth and dimension to the book and kept the romance plotline from dragging in the middle. That being said, Kaye proved yet again that she can reach into a readers hearts and with a few words, yank the emotions from them, twist a little, and make them feel exactly what she wants them to feel. There was a moment in this book, a single sentence, really, in which every single ounce of emotion Lucien felt, every dream and prayer for a future he feared losing, was so beautifully and articulately expressed that it felt like someone reached in and grabbed my heart and throat and squeezed. Hard.

Moments like that, however fleeting, are rare and precious treasures in books. With this book, Kaye has now given me at least one in each story of her's I've read. That's a pretty impressive accomplishment. And it's why I'll keep reading her work.

Grave Dance by Kalayna Price

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Alex Craft Series, Book 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 384 Pages, 5990 Locations
Formats: PaperbackKindle

Grave Dance: An Alex Craft Novel
Solid Urban Fantasy, But...

Business has been good for grave witch private investigator Alex Craft in the month since the deadly events of the Blood Moon. Maybe a little too good, actually. She's called in to help the police when a flood unearths the dismembered feet of several unidentified victims, and both the nature of the amputations and the black magic emanating from them gives Alex chills. Chills turn to nightmares when the search for the missing bodies leads her into deadly territory. Specifically, fae territory.

Now the Winter Queen is rounding up independent fae for "questioning" and the FIB is looking more and more like her goon squad as opposed to an impartial fae law enforcement agency. Falin, the Winter Queen's boy toy and FIB agent, not to mention Alex's lover, is back after having disappeared for weeks without a word...and he's looking a hell of a lot worse for wear. Death is still in the picture, but the complexities of that relationship boggle her mind. And if that's not enough, glamoured magical constructs keep attacking her and every time she dispels one of them, she rips another hole in the Aetheric...which is, coincidentally, not a good thing. Soon it's all Alex can do to keep herself out of the clutches of a manipulative fae queen, let alone discover who's killing people, how, and why.

At this point, Alex is ready for business to be far less booming. In fact, she's pretty much ready to crawl under a rock and hide. If she doesn't find the killer and the source of the constructs, though, she won't have to worry about the stress of over work or relationship angst. There won't be a reality left in any dimension for her...or anyone else...to even exist.

I hate to say it given the promise of the first book in this series, but this book frustrated me. And confused me. But mostly frustrated me. After the series debut, Grave Witch, a book I felt lacked originality but was very well written, I was looking forward to seeing how Alex, a likable heroine, would evolve and the series progress. I find Price's writing style to be pleasantly palatable (a rarity for me in books that heavily feature the fae and magic) and am impressed with the complexity of the world and the backstory created and defined. I wasn't wowed by the first book, really, but I liked it, and felt it was a solid representation of quality urban fantasy.

Then I read Grave Dance. In it we get more explanation and world development, a wider view and greater understanding of the fabric of Alex's life and the magics she commands as well as the realities she accesses, and some strong all around character development - not all of which appealed to me personally, but that is of little consequence. I don't generally favor love triangles, but the relationships between Falin, Alex, and Death aren't quite evolved enough to label them as such and Falin and Death are so wrapped up in other obligations that I don't know how either could be involved with Alex without some major story progression.

So Grave Dance is a solid book in a complex and layered world, perhaps lacking a little in originality in both the main character and the overall premise, but just as well written as the first book. And yet...I was almost completely apathetic about it as a whole. Therein lies the frustration and confusion. I can't quite put my finger on why this book didn't thrill me, and the not knowing is driving me a little nuts. I always know. At least I always have before now. On top of that, writing a review for a book that inspires little emotion beyond an odd ambivalence is a bitch. It's taken me a couple days to try to suss out exactly what about this book didn't sit well, and frankly, even my conclusions leave me a little bemused.

Strong writing, thorough world building, and a competent lead character are the top three ingredients in every book I've ever loved. This book had that. Didn't love it. So why not? Well, there's Alex. She's a strong enough lead character, but I did notice in this book a slightly worrisome trend towards her seeming almost like a Mary Sue character. Not only is she a grave witch, but now she knows she's feykin and suddenly her skills and abilities are coveted and courted by major powers in Faerie. I love and have always loved that Price created a genuine and weighty cost for using her abilities - Alex goes blind after she works her magic - but it doesn't quite offset the issue I have with a character who was defined one way, and is now growing in power and abilities in leaps and bounds in a completely different direction. Where Alex's initial abilities struck a little too close to the Anita Blake bone for me in the first book, this trend continues the bitter Anita Blake aftertaste in a different and unsettling way.

Then there's the plot. Big Bad flinging magic around, killing scores of people to work some major heavy black juju, must be stopped before the spell does things no one wants the spell to do. Got it. So why didn't the Big Bad just keep his/her BB head down, charge up, do the nasty, and reap the rewards? It's not like anyone had any clue as to who was responsible or what the end game was. At least, not until the BB started sending out magical constructs to draw the attention of the one person who could stop him/her. I mean, really, if it hadn't gone beyond a bunch of found feet, the BB could have pulled off its entire nefarious plan with no one being the wiser. That wasn't good enough, though, BB had kill a bunch more people to create what were essentially a bunch of clues, then target Alex so those clues could wave their talons under her nose and practically beg to point her in the right direction to stop it all. Okay, there was a little more screaming and fighting-to-the-death to it than that, but still. In retrospect, unless I misunderstood a sequence of events or underestimated BB's knowledge of Alex's identity and abilities, it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, and it made the BB's actions seem contrived to the point of guaranteeing failure.

And that's not even mentioning the fact that I thought the BB's master nefarious plan was sort of lame to begin with. I'm still not real clear on the end game big picture, but the plan to get to it seemed to be a sort of bad way to go, all things considered.

For all that, Grave Dance certainly isn't a bad book. Like I said, strong writing, thorough world building, and a competent lead character. It just didn't leave me feeling much about any of it, or caring much about what happens next to the characters. When all is said and done, though, that's my problem. The good points will be enough to give a third book in the series a try, but if it trends like this one did, I may have to part with the series at that point.

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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