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~Tracy

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Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: InCryptid, Book 1
Rating: 5 Stars
Length: 368 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by the author. 


This Price Is Definitely Right

Sometimes a girl's just gotta dance. For Verity Price, it's more than a party, it's a passionate calling. One for which she trains hard to excel. She's got a year in New York City to try to make a career out of it. If she can't, she'll return to the family and make her side job her primary occupation. Like the rest of her family. For now, though, New York City is her town. And Verity is very protective of her town.

The Prices have been renegades for a couple of generations, after splitting from the Covenant of St. George over ideological differences. The Covenant is an organization that has a much more slash-and-burn mentality than the Prices were comfortable with. See, the Prices are cryptozoologists. They investigate, study, and dispatch (if necessary) the sorts of creatures that go bump in the night. The not-human beings they refer to as cryptids, but everyone else would call monsters.

What separates the Price family from the Covenant? Well...the Covenant doesn't much care what kind of cryptid it is, or whether or not it poses a danger to humanity. They certainly don't bother researching physiology or behavior patterns. They have a far simpler, and frankly, narrow-minded viewpoint. If it's not human, kill it. Kill it a lot. Kill it dead. Kill it until its ancestors forget it was ever a species on our planet.

There's a whole killing theme.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the cryptids in the city mostly accept Verity. She keeps them safe, too, when one species or another starts to get a little peckish and forgets the rules, and she's proven herself to be no threat to non-predatory cryptids at all. That's why she's told about the disappearances, informed that cryptids all over the city are vanishing with no trace and for no easily discernible reason. Or at least she has no reason until she finds out there is sleeping dragon under the city. A dragon believed, erroneously as it turns out, to have been hunted to extinction over three centuries ago. A dragon that someone - some idiotic, ignorant, has-a-death-wish someone - is trying to wake up.

Well...at least that accounts for the missing cryptids. In bloody and horrifying ways.

Now Verity has to find and stop that someone, deal with the dragon (an actual dragon!), try to get into a regional dance competition (she could really use the prize money), cover her shift at the cryptid-owned strip club where she works (the only place she refuses to ever dance), and figure out if she has to kill the Covenant guy who's shown up in her city and started offing the local megafauna like he's some sort of Terminator with hemorrhoids.

All-in-all, just another day in the life of Verity Price, kick-ass cryptozoologist and ballroom dance queen.

~*~

Hey, you, stop right there. Yes, I'm talking to you. Before you go any further, you need to ask yourself a few things. Are you a fan of knee-slapping (and bitch-slapping) sardonic humor? Do sarcastic and mouthy heroines with peculiar moral compasses and even odder career goals hold any appeal for you? Would you appreciate a unique...and, okay, a little peculiar (but creative!)...urban fantasy with a spectacularly diverse and original cast of cryptids (and yes, that actually is the technical term)? Have you ever seen an episode of either So You Think You Can Dance or Dancing With the Stars?

If you've answered yes to some/most/all of those questions, then you are welcome to continue. If not...well...you're still welcome to continue (I'm all about the inclusive reviewing), but I'm going to guess this book isn't going to be your cuppa. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit, my answers to those questions range from a resounding, "Yes!" to, "Hell yes, are you daft, man?" on every one.

I had so much fun reading this book. I'm a huge fan of McGuire's October Daye series and have long admired her writing chops, so I was thrilled to hear she had another series starting up. My expectations were leaning towards something similar in tone to that one, but I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised by how not like October Daye this series debut is.

Of course, there are some similarities. Both are well-written with strong female lead characters who trend towards sarcasm as a religion, but Verity is much younger than Toby (with all that implies), she's human, and the world-building - for all its complexity and variety - is not quite as...multihued, lets say, as the world and people in the October Daye series. At least not yet. This book also doesn't stride anywhere near the Fae or anything resembling a fantasy land. I liked the change.

In fact, I liked Verity very much, too. Beyond the fact that she's strong, capable, and delightfully snarky, she's also caring and conscientious about both cryptids and her dancing. She's not prickly and unlikable, like so many kick-ass heroines out there, but she sure doesn't lack for self confidence. She also knows when she's in trouble and can ask for help - an admirable trait. She's not stupid, nor does she make stupid decisions.

Young, yes, headstrong, too, and when it comes to the Covenant guy, she definitely lets her mouth write a few checks her body ends up cashing, but I liked her. I wasn't so fond of Dominic, who struck me as a bit too prissy, even after his world view started shifting a little. My hopes are for some maturing of his character, because compared to Verity, he reminded me of a boy too long home schooled - little to no socialization skills and an unrealistic view of the Real World, combined with an over-inflated ego. My issues with his personality made it hard to really feel whatever romantic or sexual vibes there was supposed to be between him and Verity. I'm a romantic at heart, though, so hope springs eternal.

I enjoyed the plot and thought it was woven together quite nicely. I've got a thing for dragons, so I loved the whole dragon quest, and thought the Land of the Lost references were priceless.

Personally, I would have enjoyed more of Verity's cousin Sarah. I found her fascinating and wish she'd had more of a role throughout the book. I'm not sure I completely understand the familial connection between her and Verity...even though I know it's through adoption (I wasn't sure if that was a euphemism or not)...but that might have just been me missing something. I do wish the explanation of what she is and why she's so feared had been a little more clearly defined for me, though. What was provided almost seemed too polite or something, as if going into detail would be considered rude...or make people run away screaming...so much is kept vague or described sparsely.

Honestly, though, it's the humor that really put this book over the edge into the range of love. I am a total sucker for quick-witted sarcasm and dialogue that's more like pointed banter, and the narrative has that in spades. The quotes that kicked off each chapter were also a blast and so much of the other, smaller touches (like the talking mice) were flat-out awesome for the fun factor.

Lest I've given the impression, however, that this is a lighter-toned or comedic urban fantasy let me disabuse you of that notion - it's not. It's got plenty of wonderful humor, yes. It's also got sacrificial murder, lots of fighting/action scenes, and Bad Guys who are not messing around. All of which worked just fine for me, as I prefer that over fluff fantasy any day.

I loved this book. It's original, funny, creative, and while there's room for more complexity in the plot and more detail for the secondary characters, Verity herself was highly enjoyable and carried the book well. I'd love to meet her sister, though. Like Sarah, she seems deadly, highly individual, and weird. That works for me. This whole book works for me. I want more.

Quotables:
"Do we have to have the 'don't lie to the telepath' talk again? It won't take long. I say 'don't lie to the telepath, it never works,' you glare at me, and then you go find something you can hit."


Self-defense teaches you to kick ass. Ballroom dance teaches you to do it in heels.


"Sure, you can take a heroic stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you."


"When in doubt, play dead. Well, unless you might be dealing with a ghoul, or a basilisk, or something else that likes its meat a little ripe. Actually, when in doubt, just start shooting."


"A proper lady should be able to smile pretty, wear sequins like she means it, and kick a man's ass nine ways from Sunday while wearing stiletto heels. If she can't do that much, she's not trying hard enough."


"A lady is never truly embarrassed. And if she is, a lady is never gauche enough to leave survivors."


He was gorgeous, possibly the most gorgeous man I'd ever had the pleasure of having my way with.
Pity he was turning out to be a total asshole.


"Learning something new about the world in which we live is always a wonderful thing. Unless you're learning what a wendigo looks like from the inside."


Mother Nature is a freaky lady who probably created pot so she could spend all her time smoking it.


"Don't worry about me. I'm the bad thing that happens to other people."


"I haven't found the snake cult yet and, when I do, they can explain themselves to me during the pauses."
"The pauses?"
"I can't beat their heads against the wall constantly, now can I?"

Hide from Evil by Jami Alden

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Jami Alden Trilogy, Book 2
Rating: 5 Stars
Length: 398 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Forever publisher Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



An Intense Thrill Ride

It was the worst moment of her professional career, finding out that the man she'd successfully convicted of murder and helped sentence to death was, in fact, completely innocent. There was nothing Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Krista Slater could ever do to make up for the hell that Sean Flynn lived through, a hell that included three years on death row. Driven to hyper-vigilance by the grievous error, Krista has been looking deeper into the background of the killer responsible for the crime for which Sean almost paid the ultimate price.

Following the trail of a larger conspiracy behind a horrifying psychopath, Krista tries and fails to open up an official investigation, but she's determined to keep digging. Then a potential witness suddenly kills himself, or he seems to, and it becomes clear that there is something hinky going on with the police investigation into his death.

Unable to let it go, even after her boss tells her to, she starts off on her own time and heads to the only person she can think of who may be able to help connect some dots between the serial killer who framed him and the informant who may or may not have killed himself, as he was once friends with them both. He's also the one person least likely to want to give her the time of day, let alone sensitive information that will remind him of everything he's lost because of her. Sean Flynn.

Three years on death row had changed Sean, damaged him. Now he's living in the mountains and away from civilization just so he can breathe. The last person he wants to see pull up in front of his cabin is the woman responsible for his nightmares, his fear of being enclosed, and his inability to feel...well...anything but a slow-burning rage. As further proof of just how messed up his life is, that woman, Krista Slater is standing on his property, yammering at him about helping her. The longer he has to listen to her, the more her words tear into the gossamer-thin scabs over the wounds on his psyche and grind in the salt.

Intent on getting rid of the woman as quickly as possible, he tries to ditch her. The first attack on their lives strikes before he gets the chance.

The hits don't stop there. Taking the proverb, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," to chilling and horrifying lengths, the attempts keep coming...until Sean and Krista have nowhere to turn and no idea who to trust. Forced to rely on each other just to live to see the next day, desperate to discover how deep and wide the conspiracy against them really is, they are pushed into an incendiary situation, one that can't help but draw them together despite their dark and tormented past...and no matter how they may resent each other for it.

~*~

It's funny, how jaded I can get from the effort to provide honest opinions when I review a book. There's often a struggle to juggle what I thought about the content and what I felt about the story. It's made me stingy, I think. Wary of giving five stars, because I feel compelled to justify truly loving a read instead of just being able to enjoy it. It's always, "I loved it, but...," and I dole out stars like I'm some sort of skinflint with a limited bank balance.

Well, I'm not going to do that this time. I loved this book. I loved the characters. I loved the writing. So there.

Okay, for the sake of honesty, I have to admit I wasn't completely invested in the bad guy or the severity of scope of his crimes on a theoretical level. As a reader, I tend to be more affected by the evil of one as opposed to the corruption of many, so the motivations and scope of villainy sort of passed me by. That being said, there was certainly enough vile crime and heinous betrayal committed in actuality to hit me very hard, and more than enough story to make a hell of an impact.

In fact, my only issue with the content is minor. As much as I loved Krista and Sean - and that's a lot for several reasons - I felt their character definition was limited to only what is directly related to the action surrounding them. It kept them very connected to the story, very present in the narrative, but didn't quite round them out in three dimensional fashion. I know who they are in this situation, but don't have a handle on who they would be in "normal" situations.

I loved, though, how believable Sean's evolution is throughout the book. He's certainly not a fan of Krista's when she shows up, and he's not at all happy that he gets pulled into the mess with her. I, frankly, couldn't blame him for any of those feelings. He is more then justified. Though there is a slight belaboring of how much he should hate Krista but how much he wants her as the book progresses, his growing feelings for her, as well as his slow, ofttimes uncomfortable return to the land of the living after his incarceration was particularly believable and very organic to both the situation and his past.

Krista, too, is fantastic. Strong willed, yes, but not once did she trip over into the dangerous (and for me, fatal-flaw) waters of too-obstinate-for-her-own-good. Nor does she become a helpless victim. She's not, either, a sudden kick-ass with all the answers in a situation where she is out of her depth. Alden kept Krista very natural, very real, and very true to the person we met briefly in the first book. I especially love that Krista had a moment of "give up, run away, chase happiness instead of justice." It was incredibly real and so very believable after everything that preceding it.

And the chemistry between Krista and Sean was awesome. They had some scenes that were so raw and powerful...both sexually and emotionally. Wow.

My sense of time passage in the book was a bit skewed. It felt like Krista and Sean were together for a lot longer than the story said they were. To the point, actually, that I thought there may have been an actual contradiction, but there's tons of action stuffed into the book throughout and so many things going on in the plot that I could easily be mistaken.

There are so many truly great moments in this book. Moments that are hard hitting and emotionally intense. Alden has a gift for writing gut-wrenching, horrible atrocity. She also has a talent for creating realistic reactions in believable characters. For all that stories richly steeped in shades of gray make for great fiction, sometimes I need a clear-cut black and white to feel a truly powerhouse punch. The righteous battling the spreading stain of evil and corruption...even if the righteous are a little surly and broken and more than a little dinged up and the evil looks like the most trustworthy of souls. In this, Alden is more than competent, she excels.

I've read Alden's preceding book, Beg for Mercy, and because this one not only features characters we met in that book, its plot is a continuation and further development of elements initiated in that one, I think this one will have more impact with readers familiar with this trilogy's opening installment. There's enough exposition provided for new readers to know what happened before, that's not the issue, but I do believe the full emotional experience was richer for me for having read the first book. Not to mention, the first book is pretty darn good in its own right and I liked it very much.

This one, though...this one I loved. No equivocating, no justifying, and no tight fist on the star disbursal. I loved it.

The Jami Alden Trilogy:
  

Believe It or Not by Tawna Fenske

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 384 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Sourcebooks Casablanca publisher Sourcebooks via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Tasty Bite of Brain Candy

Violet McGinn has a...complicated relationship with her mother, a self-proclaimed psychic who calls herself Moonbeam and gives psychic readings out of her shop in Portland, Oregon. And yes, that's a large reason why Violet is an accountant. In Portland, Maine. About as far away as she could get from her loopy mother in both career and location. Violet doesn't believe in psychics. She believes in statistics. She believes in facts. She believes in all things normal.

Be that as it may, when her mother suffers a serious injury after a fall and ends up in the hospital, Violet returns to Oregon to help her. She agrees, very reluctantly, to keep the store open and take on her mother's clients so Moonbeam will consent to having traditional surgery. Acting as a psychic makes Violet very uncomfortable given her absolute lack of belief, but there is one perk to the job. The man who runs the strip club next to Moonbeam's shop. It's a pity he's gay, because he's definitely a very big perk.

He owns a bar, but convincing people of that has been hit and miss since Drew Watson started featuring male strippers two nights a week. People keep calling it a strip club. People like the daughter of the crazy lady who runs the woo-woo shop next door. She sure is pretty, though. And her eyes, an unbelievable color that matches her name, do something to him in all the best places. Flirting with her is as natural as breathing and twice as fun. Almost as much fun as proving to her that he is decidedly not gay.

They're perfect for each other, except for one tiny problem. Running a strip club...er...bar is not exactly the definition of normal. In fact, Drew is wonderfully, fantastically, sexily not normal. Violet can't deny the deep attraction she feels for the man, but a childhood being raised by Moonbeam makes her more than yearn for normal - she needs it like air.

Which is probably why she freaks so bad when she starts to notice a peculiar connection between the music she heard Drew playing in his bar...and the accurate fortunes she is "psychically" providing to her mother's clients. And caring for Drew on top of the terrifying possibility she's starting to contemplate, is just way too far outside the realm of normal for her.

~*~

Ah, brain candy. I do love it so. You know the sort, the light, fluffy reads that don't take themselves too seriously but offer up a couple of fun characters, some entertaining banter, a healthy dose of sexual sizzle, and a guaranteed Happily Ever After without too much angst between the beginning and the end. Sure, a steady diet of brain candy might be a bit much, but I've always enjoyed delectable snack or a sweet-as-sin dessert between weightier reads as sort of a mental palate cleanser, and Fenske's Believe It or Not fit the bill nicely.

Not only are Violet and Drew perfectly enjoyable characters, but the storyline was breezy and fresh, and the woo-woo bits were kept subtle and inconclusive in a rather brilliant manner that kept this little gem from tripping over into any sort of paranormal or supernatural realm. Instead, it stayed more a character-driven tale of two people who think they want very different things and how they come together despite that silliness.

Violet thinks she's normal (she's not) and craves a steady, normal guy with a steady, normal job (snore). Drew thinks Violet is too much like his ex-wife (ha!) and believes the only commitment he wants is bringing a different date to the same restaurant every Monday night (which would be a bit more convincing if he could remember the name of the girl he's with on the first Monday after meeting Violet). And of course neither Violet nor Drew can keep their thoughts, eyes, or mouths off each other. Poor deluded fools.

It's so much fun watching them struggle to fight their attraction and follow the paths to what they think they want!

Besides that, there are a couple of other plot threads going on to keep things interesting. Nothing too strenuous, but it adds some depth to the story. Secondary characters add some fun, but they don't have much depth or presence beyond being foils for the romance. I don't mind that, especially as I didn't particularly care for the fanatical hippie-dippy Moonbeam and her pot-smoking, incense-burning, holistic-healing-loving friends.

There was a moment late in the book where Violet made a decision and did something that I found questionable - at best - and I was worried that the book was taking a more serious turn. I wasn't happy with her actions, but I have to admit, the conflict was relatively quickly resolved and done with a minimum of angst.

This book started as a light, fun read and despite that one blip, it mostly stayed that way. I can't say it's the most compelling or memorable book I've ever read - but it's not meant to be. It's meant to be funny, sexy, and light. It's brain candy...and there's nothing wrong with that at all. I recommend it to readers who need to satisfy their mental sweet tooth.

Oracle's Moon by Thea Harrison

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Elder Races, Book 4
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 336 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle



No Dark Side to This Moon

Grace Andreas never expected the Power of the Oracle to come to her. She never expected her older sister Petra to be killed along with her husband in a horrific car crash, a crash that Grace herself barely survived. She never expected at twenty-three years old to have the responsibility of raising and protecting her young niece and nephew. She never expected the massive debt from the surgeries she needed to reconstruct her knee, or having to drop out of college. But expectations don't pay the bills or feed, clothe, and protect her kids, and they sure don't face three immensely Powerful and achingly ancient beings when they show up on her Louisiana doorstep at an ungodly hour of the night for a counsel with the Oracle.

That's on Grace. It's all on Grace.

So is dealing with the emotional fallout of that session, which included watching someone break the rules of sanctuary and get killed right in front of her, and trusting one of the most Powerful of Demonkind to protect her kids. There are so very many things wrong with both of those things she doesn't even know where to start. All Grace knows is that she no longer feels completely safe in her own home, and an imperious Djinn named Khalil may be her only hope in keeping her kids safe in the long term.

Djinn are known for their honor when they make deals, so if she can just figure out a way to word a possible exchange of favors so it doesn't come back to bite her on the butt, maybe she can relax a little. At least she hopes she can when she finds out what he wants in trade. She honestly doesn't know if she can handle having the irritating, superior, supercilious, fascinating, compelling Bane of Her Existence popping into her house all the time. Then again, the alternative is ever so much worse.

Khalil is quite sure he doesn't care for the impudent human who shows him an appalling lack of respect, but he has to admit, there are aspects of her personality that intrigue him. She's got a fiery disposition and she's completely irresponsible of course, not to mention strong-willed and obstinate. He approves of the concern she has for the little ones, though, and those precious little children must be protected at all costs.

The more time Khalil spends with the children, and through them, Grace, the less annoying he finds her, until he realizes she is stirring emotions in him that are unfamiliar and not entirely pleasant...but impossible to ignore. This young little human with her mix of Power both young and ancient starts to intrigue him as sure as her babies have wormed their way into his heart. It is the grossest of ironies, then, that just as Grace and the children start to matter more to Khalil than he's ever imagined, a new danger rises that threatens their safety. A danger that not even Khalil, will all his infinite resources, may be able to avert in time to save them.

~*~

I have loved this series from the moment a changeling named Pia stole a 1962 penny from a creature who is murderously notorious for not liking his horde touched, let alone taken. Dragos and Pia's story blew me away, and while theirs was - and still is - my favorite book of the series so far, I enjoyed the two that came before this one very much. Just for different reasons than I loved Dragos and Pia's.

I'm thrilled to say the magic that was in that first book is back in this one. And it is magic. Fantastic, fun, poignant, wonderful magic. It's the confluence of ancient and young, dour and irreverent, dominant male and feisty female. It's a creature so Powerful it could explode you into a dozen pieces with little more than a thought...pitting wits and slinging sarcasm with a human who has been alive for a mere speck of time comparatively. It is...achieving pancakes and yanking chains just as sure as it is soft pledges of friendship and dictates that those pledges can't be taken back. A unique, precious mix of extreme competence, adorable obliviousness, and earnest confusion. Searing passion and gentle tenderness. It is all of that and more, and it is in every moment of interaction between the mighty Djinn and the wee but fierce Oracle. Just as it was between the dragon and the changeling.

Nobody does that sort of magic like Harrison. Nobody.

The chemistry between Grace and Khalil was perfect. Their characters were perfect. I loved them both. Grace had an incandescent spirit and an admittedly unwise (but so funny!) habit of poking the big, scary Djinn with a pointy stick, but she was also fiercely protective and utterly responsible for and with her niece and nephew's health and well being. I sorta loved seeing her struggle to pay bills and shop with two very young children. It was so fantastically pedestrian, so human and common-life, that it stood out against the paranormal shenanigans like a beacon and served to make her unquestionably believable.

Khalil was perhaps slightly more impressive to me than even Dragos. He was just as arrogant and dictatorial as the dragon, just as pure alpha male, but Khalil displayed a slightly wider range of emotion than Dragos did. He also came across as a little less intense and a little less feral than Dragos. A little more touchable, in a way. Still unquestionably ancient and powerful, but a bit more flexible, too. I found myself favoring that as the book went along.

For all that was awesome about this book, though, I had a bit of trouble getting into it. The first few chapters seemed slow to me (not surprisingly that changed as soon as Khalil stepped in and stayed awhile), and I felt a bit bogged down by too much information overload in other places throughout the narrative. There were also a couple of plot threads I would have liked seeing get more page time and have more influence in the book (Phaedra's in particular).

Most of the story was devoted to character development and the evolution of the relationship between Grace and Khalil. I loved and adored that for what it was, don't get me wrong, but I enjoyed the plot-driven points of external conflict that were more heavily featured in the last twenty to thirty percent of the book and would have been thrilled had a bit more of that been more evenly threaded throughout the book. Doing so may also have smoothed out the ending a bit more, an ending that felt a little overburdened by the many plot thread resolutions that got crammed into a short number of pages.

Still, those are minor issues - nearly insubstantial, really. I can't say enough how much I loved this book. Grace and Khalil are my favorite romance characters of the series since Dragos and Pia, and the scenes with Khalil and the kids were so sweetly tender and wonderfully endearing that I was a big puddle of goo in several places. It's so much fun! Definitely right up there with the first. Not quite as high, but close. Very, very close.

And yeah, I'm practically salivating for the next book after I was stupid enough to read the sneak peak at the end of this one. I knew I shouldn't, but I did it anyway. I couldn't help myself! Now I'm paying the price. Patience may be a virtue, but it's not one of mine. Argh!

Quotables:
Screw pretty. I'd rather be strong. Pretty fades over time. Strength gets you through the bad shit. And that matters, because sometimes there's a lot of bad shit.


It was late, she had poor impulse control, and he was interesting. That sentence probably encapsulated every mistake every female had made throughout the history of relationships.


"You are beautiful," he said with evident pleasure. His pure, gorgeous voice sounded the same. "Clearly bathing suits you."


I started counting time for you.
I want to change who I am for you.
You are my Grace.


"Are you having fun?" he asked suspiciously.
"We're on the fucking moon!" she shouted. "There's nothing here!"
He stared at her. "I don't think you're having fun."
"No air!"

Elder Races Series:
  
 

Blood on the Bayou by Stacey Jay

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Annabelle Lee, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 432 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle



Bad Moon Rising

Life in Donaldsonville, Louisiana may have settled down in the three weeks since Annabelle Lee discovered...so to speak...who had killed a child and left her body in the bayou, but that doesn't mean that Annabelle's life in any way resembles what it had been before the revelations, losses, and painful realizations bulldozed her body, heart, and mind during that investigation. Hey, at least she still has the booze. Thankfully, she still has the booze.

Her relationship with Cane is still in limbo and she's got psychic abilities she barely understands. A brand-spankin' new Harley is stuck in her kitchen, stocked with the shots that will keep her from turning into a bunny-smashing psychopath. She's knows secrets about the sort of people who would whistle a jaunty tune while executing her in horrible and bloody ways if she ever reveals them. Oh yeah, and she's being randomly stalked by a tall, dark, and sinfully gorgeous man who she never sees coming...because most of the time he's invisible. Toss in a visit from her ex-boyfriend Hitch, who has come back to town to get her help investigating the death of a friend, and Annabelle's plate is more than full, it's overflowing and spilling angst, confusion, and tension all over the place.

Helping Hitch is complicated. Being with Hitch is complicated. She still loves him. She doesn't want to, but she does. She also doesn't want him to die, and as she's the only Immune he knows in town, one of the rare five percent of the human population who is immune from the deadly bite of the mutated fairies in the bayou, helping him is something she feels compelled to do. She agrees to head back into the bayou and figure out the connection - if there is one - between smuggled goods, men who appear to have been kidnapped and tortured by government operatives, caves where mysterious goings on have been reported, and fairies who, despite all prior knowledge, can speak. Fairies who, despite her immunity, seem quite intent on killing her ugly.

And Annabelle is going to realize that the past three weeks, when so much of her life got tilted upside down and flipped around and around, were positively Utopian compared to what's coming next. That is, if she survives what's coming next.

~*~

I liked Stacey Jay's introduction to the flawed and damaged Annabelle Lee in her series debut, Dead on the Delta. It was exactly the sort of dark, deadly urban fantasy that gets my Happy Reader lights flashing. Annabelle herself was a bit more full of self-loathing and apathy than I found completely appealing for a heroine, and the book was a bit more heavy on the emotional angst than I prefer, but I loved the nearly post-apocalyptic world that Jay created and the plot was spot-on awesome.

Blood on the Bayou is better. In every way.

Still horribly and wonderfully flawed but much less apathetic and self-destructive, Annabelle Lee has matured in this installment. She was far more sympathetic to me as she struggles with a case that may end up ripping away from her everything she thought still true at the end of the last book. Life is definitely not full of fluffy puppies and dewy daffodils in Donaldsonville, and the Bayou is as deadly as it is beautiful, but Annabelle seems to attract the sort of horrific trauma that could keep a cadre of therapists in Jaguars and BMWs for a decade. Man, that makes for some deeply disturbing and fabulously entertaining reading!

I have to admit, I was Team Hitch in the first book. I've never quite warmed up to Cane, though he seems like a nice enough guy. That's the problem, actually. Annabelle was in such a wretchedly unhappy place in her life in the first book that frankly, I thought Cane was far too good for her and didn't deserve the drama that cloaks Annabelle like a death shroud. Hitch, on the other hand, has always been screwed up, though he hides it, and I felt for the pain of Annabelle's unresolved first love. Not to mention, after the shit Hitch pulled when they split up all those years ago, I felt he deserved the healthy helping of angst that would come from being with Annabelle. Twisted of me, but true.

Then I read this book and went from Team Hitch to Team Burn-Hitch-In-Effigy in six point two chapters (or less). I was thrilled that the one major unresolved issue between the two of them was finally addressed, though, and the scene in which it was dealt with was perfectly dripping with pathos. That being said, had I been Hitch's right hand fairy-repellent in this book, I would have shot him myself and washed my hands of him. Weak, desperate, wishy-washy, Hitch is an emotional quagmire that Annabelle doesn't deserve to suffer. I had moments where I actually hated him and would have heartily enjoyed his painful, screaming death.

As for Tucker...well...he's my favorite secondary character in this series so far. For more reasons than the potential horizontal action he could have with Annabelle, too. I love the mystery surrounding his past, his personality, and his motives and loyalties. I love his irreverent front and the depth of his awareness of Annabelle. The chemistry between them - not just sexual, but character-wise - is fantastic. And he steals every scene he's in. I want more and more and more of him.

There was a lot going on in this book. Jay certainly doesn't skimp on plot points and story layers. I found the fairy stuff and the ramifications of Annabelle's mysterious transformation more engaging and compelling than Hitch's investigation, but the threads were woven together with a cohesion that balanced out the personal/relationship threads and held my interest throughout.

There were a couple of weird things though. Maybe I missed something, but Hitch's FBI partner and significant other Stephanie - thankfully not actually present in this book, because I liked her in the previous book about as much as I like scooping cat poop - is referred to as Hitch's fiance in the last book and in the beginning of this one. Then later she's referred to as his wife by both Hitch and Annabelle. More than once. It wasn't clear to me if there was a reason for that. I was reading an ARC, though, so maybe that isn't in the final product.

Then there's the final chapter of the book. I can't understate how very much I disliked it, and it's the sole reason I'm giving this book four stars instead of five. After the pulse-pounding action, drama, danger, terror, and angst of all twenty-nine preceding chapters, chapters that forced me to bleed with Annabelle, mourn and cry and rage with her as she did, sweat and scream and fight beside her, I was suddenly and ruthlessly shoved six weeks into the future and had almost every major plot point and story element summed up or capped off in Annabelle's thoughts preceding an event that itself popped up out of nowhere considering where the lives of the involved parties were in the last spot they were mentioned.

I was more than a little gobsmacked by it all, to tell you the truth. Not only do I find that sort of summary resolution dénouement to be a horrible plot device that cheats readers out of the emotional triumphs and tragedies that would have evolved from several of those points being written out in real time, but in this case in particular, several of the items wrapped up in the fewest words possible didn't even make sense. One major plot point was glossed over as if it had no consequence at all. I felt like I was being force-fed a Happy for Now ending that diminished the excellent storytelling leading up to it.

Up to that point, this was a fantastic book on every level, one that delighted even as it tormented and traumatized. There's so many things I like about Annabelle. She's so wonderfully flawed and yet, in this book, she's trying in a way that I felt was missing in the first book. I'm dying to find out how the revelations and developments of in this one serve to enhance and evolve her character as her journey continues. Plus, more Tucker. I definitely need more Tucker. There just ain't no bad to be had there.

Annabelle Lee Series:
  

Just Winging It by Kate Willoughby

Genre: Erotic Paranormal Romance
Series: Be-Wished, Book 4
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: Novella
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Flies High and Hot

Still reeling and wounded from her recent termination from the United Wish Federation after a bad decision almost cost a friend her life, former wish fairy Davina Traherne is further shocked when her grandmother sideswipes her with a dictate on Davina's future. One that includes a forced marriage and motherhood. Her grandmother is throwing a ball and has invited the male fairies she has hand-picked as acceptable candidates. If Davina doesn't choose a husband from that crowd by the end of the night, her grandmother will choose for her.

Desperate to decide her own future and find her own true love, Davina flees to the only fairy she can think of who may be able to protect her against her powerful grandmother. Cross-agency arbitrator Lazlo Urbanek.

The last thing Lazlo was expecting while he was settling down with some pizza and root beer after a long day at work was a frantic, flighty fairy banging on his door and begging for his help. Davina Traherne of all fairies. They occasionally worked together, but mostly Lazlo just considered her a pain in his backside. A gorgeous, lust-inducing, drool-worthy pain in his backside. She'd had the starring role in several of his hottest fantasies since the last case they'd worked together, but he had no illusions about her character. She may be a walking wet dream, but she's more trouble then she's worth.

For all that he knows he shouldn't, though, Lazlo can't say no to her. He hates her lack-of-plan mentality, is disgruntled at the disruption in his life, and is none too thrilled with her attitude, but damn if she isn't the prettiest and most lively female he's ever seen. Problem is, hiding her away from her grandmother and offering his protection brings up a troubling question fated to plague him forever.

As Lazlo is doing his level best to keep Davina from her grandmother's husband-procuring clutches, who, exactly, is going to save him from Davina and the hurricane-force effect she has on his libido...and his heart?

~*~

Have you ever sighed happily? Read something, saw something, did something that just made you take a breath and release softly as pleasure heated your heart and happiness curled your lips into a soft smile? That's what this novella, and this series, for that matter, has done to me time and again. What a little gem this series is, and how lovely an addition this story is to the whole.

Willoughby has done it again. In the limited length of a novella, she's managed to create two three-dimensional characters, stir them into an wonderfully satisfying romance, let them have plenty of sizzling hot sex, and surround them with several memorable secondary and ancillary characters and a plot that has surprising depth. Not really sure how she does it, exactly, as so few authors seem to manage half that, but I'm not going to argue that she does and has done for every single one of the four lovely novellas in this series.

I loved Lazlo! He's definitely more appealing as the male lead than I thought he'd be after meeting him in A Wolf at her Door. Willoughby took his character in a very nice direction, and his backstory and the implications of his issue with magic were wildly creative and generated a strong internal conflict that really defined him as a man, gave him depth, and made his character seem very real to me. I adored him. Sometimes brusque and stodgy, sometimes intense and passionate, sometimes awkward and endearing, he was a real (and yummy) delight.

Davina, who has been a cast favorite of mine for this entire series, stumbled a bit for me in her own book. I've always loved her irrepressible optimism about true love, her irreverence, and her willingness to break the rules for the greater good. I was a little disappointed in places in this book, though, because some of her reactions and emotional displays seemed more strident and abrasive than quirky and charming. In a couple of places she came across as an elitist snob, or whiny and petulant. In other places, an immature child. She wasn't the most consistent of characters.

There were also some small issues with the narrative. Minor stuff, really. A couple of scenes have a flurry of emotional extremes that didn't play quite right for me, and some of the transitions were too lightning quick to be completely believable. Despite that, by the end I was a little teary-eyed (and let's keep that between you and me) and oh-so-happy. I've said it before but it bears repeating, Kate Willoughby has a genuine gift for blending smoking hot sex with significant emotion and depth of both character and story. It's a gift that shouldn't be missed. Sorta like this series.

Be-Wished Series:
   
   

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Genre: Historical Paranormal Romance
Series: Darkest London, Book 1
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 400 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Forever books publisher Grand Central Publishing. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Firestarter Meets the Phantom

Miranda Ellis doesn't want to marry a stranger, nor is she fond of the idea of being sold into matrimony for the money it would bring her father. For that matter, she has no idea why a man of wealth and status such as Lord Benjamin Aldo Fitzwilliam Wallace Archer, third Baron Archer of Umberslade, would have any interest in her for a wife. Regardless, her options are limited. She can either accept Lord Archer as a husband or be kicked out of her family home and forced into a life worse than that which she'd been living. Continue life as a thief - and less pleasant things - to barely scrape by or be able to eat regular meals and hold her head up in society as a peer.

Miranda is not a stupid woman. She agrees to marry the mysterious Lord Archer. And then she sees the man she has agreed to wed. Tall, strongly built, and completely covered from head to toe. Not an inch of hair or skin showing. Over his face is a hard, painted mask that reveals nothing but the color of his eyes. It seems the mysterious Lord Archer has secrets to keep.

Then again, Miranda has her own dark, desperate secret. One she has no intention of sharing any more than her new husband appears to have any intention of sharing his. She does wonder though, what it is about Archer that stirs her blood and tightens her stomach, making her yearn for something she can't name and doesn't understand.

He's a selfish bastard. He knows it. Still, for the three years since he first met Miranda, not a day went by that he didn't dream of her, think of her, and ache to be with her. He'd hoped to meet her without the mask but couldn't bear to wait any longer for a cure that may never come. He needed her near him too desperately for that.

It's an impossible situation, though. He is not worthy of her, cursed as he is. Still, something in Lord Benjamin Archer refuses to quench the glimmer of hope he has left - to find a cure, to be free of the mask, and to be with the woman he's loved since the moment he laid eyes on her. And he has every intention of taking as much joy as he can in her presence while he races for the answers.

The game changes drastically, though, when the first victim of a vicious killer turns up. An old friend of Archer is butchered gruesomely and Archer is named as the alleged villain. Suddenly finding a cure isn't nearly as important as keeping Miranda safe from a deranged lunatic and out of the line of fire. Unfortunately for his peace of mind, Miranda seems to think the exact thing about him, and she's woefully unprepared to handle what his past has finally, after all these years, brought to his door. In truth, even with all his abilities, Archer may not be prepared for it either.

~*~

Firelight is an exquisitely crafted historical paranormal romance that blew me away with its originality and heart. I've never read anything quite like it. Imbued with a richly Gothic tone that added gravitas to the world-building and plot development, both masterfully woven throughout the narrative, the book was splendidly atmospheric and precisely set for maximum emotional impact. 

I liked Miranda as the heroine. Fiesty, fierce, determined, she's a hell of a woman, one who didn't let convention hold her back. I get so tired of high society socialites and debutantes of the ton in historical romance, women who are bound by the constraints of class to the point that independent thinking is considered a faux pas. With the reversal of her family fortune and lack of title, Miranda is not a member of the peerage and she has a sense of independence and intelligence that I found very appealing. I also loved that her past is checkered and her ability has given her a sense of safety that's molded her personality as she's navigated some pretty dark waters while growing up. 

When it came to Archer...wow. I loved him to the depths of his scarred and oh-so-lonely soul from the moment he first races to the rooftop greenhouse following his marriage to Miranda. To that point he seemed so rigidly controlled, so poised, so...cutting and closed off and borderline defensive when they spoke just prior to exchanging their vows, then he gets her home and you find out just what an emotional mess he really is when it comes to her, and how self-deprecating he is about his weaknesses and faults. I just adored him, and my heart broke for his circumstance...even as I cursed Callihan for being so dastardly crafty doling out the bits of information about just what his circumstance is.

I don't like flipping to the end of a book to find out how things turn out, or assure myself everything's going to be okay, but I have to admit...I came damn close to doing just that so very many times in this book as the grim reality of what Archer and Miranda were facing closed around them like a juggernaut of hopelessness. It was captivating, and it had me totally caught up in their story as it unfolded. I couldn't wait to see how it all turned out, and have never been so unsure about whether a book was going to end well. And no, I'm not going to tell you if it did.

For all that I loved the book, though, there were a couple of things about it that didn't sit quite as well as the rest. I struggled with the beginning and felt I was missing something in the prologue and first chapter. As a general rule I don't think I have any right to complain about feeling like I've stumbled into movie theater halfway into the movie when I pick up a book in an existing series and haven't read the previous books. When I'm reading the series debut, however, I'd appreciate not feeling like I missed some crucial story elements that may or may not exist in a prequel I haven't yet read.

That's actually a pet peeve of mine. I avoid most anthologies and don't read many novellas, but I don't think I should have to worry that I'm missing out on world or story setup for a series because I don't read every .5's in the series list. 

Beyond that, though, I really didn't have many issues with this fabulous novel. I do wish Miranda's affinity for all things crackly and hot had been given more depth and explanation in the story. We're told she's had the ability to firestart from birth and doesn't really know where it came from or why she has it, and as a plot point, that never really worked for me. I would have also appreciated seeing her use it more often, control it better, own it in a way that she didn't quite manage in this book. The few times she does go supernova were fantastic and I would have loved to see more story surrounding it.

My only other minor quibble is near the end, which I'm loathe to mention in detail for spoiler sake. I'll only say that there was a startling lack of urgency in Miranda at a crucial part of the climax. It provided an opportunity to learn exactly what happened in the past that brought the story and characters to that point, but didn't make a whole lot of sense given the alleged level of desperation and critical timeline.

This dark, decadent blend of Gothic horror, heart-clenching romance, and paranormal presence was so brilliantly conceived and constructed that despite those few niggles, I was thoroughly entranced by the read. It's definitely one of my favorite books of the year to date and I can't wait to see what Callihan has dreamed up for the next installment. Hell, I'm thrilled to know that this is a series and there is a next installment. Creative. Original. Well-crafted. Intense. Exciting. Unique.  Firelight truly is all that and more.

Bonded by Blood by Laurie London

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Sweetblood, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 378 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperwork, Kindle



Sweetblood Starts Strong

After a battle with rogue Darkbloods leaves him close to death and hiding from the sun in a shaded cemetery, vampire and Guardian enforcer Dominic Serrano catches the scent of both his salvation and his doom. A Sangre Dulce, a human with a rare type of blood craved by his kind, is close to where he's gone to ground and the intoxicating scent is stirring the predator in him into a frenzy.  Feeding on a Sangre Dulce is forbidden - the threat to the human's life too great to risk even if he were at his most controlled. In his wounded and half-starved state, there is truly no chance he can spare her.

Scouting movie locations for television and movie productions is one of Mackenzie Foster-Shaw's jobs. It puts her out in the field and has made her very familiar with the Pacific Northwest she calls home. After two weeks of haunting cemeteries near and far for her current client, she's finally found one that may meet her picky client's needs. As she sets up her equipment and starts photographing the site, she's startled by the sound of distress coming from under a pile of forest debris. Moving closer to investigate, Kenzie is shocked to find not an animal, but a man. An obviously wounded man in dire need of help.

It isn't until he lunges at her that she realizes an insane truth. He's not a man at all.

Waking up at home the next morning with no idea how she got there or what happened to her the previous afternoon, Kenzie is confused and concerned. She feels weird, first of all. There is a buzzing in her head, like static, and a strange feeling in her chest. She wonders if it has something to do with her family's curse. The Shaw family has been plagued with mysterious disappearances going back generations. Her own father disappeared, then a few years later, a cousin. Maybe what's happening to her is somehow a precursor of that horror.

Kenzie has no idea how horrifying the truth can be, but with one vampire intent on keeping her safe - even from himself - and an entire contingent of Darkbloods working on just the opposite, one thing is certain. She's going to find out.

~*~

I liked this series debut. London has a fluid, easy-to-read writing style, and the world she's creating is brushed with creativity and a bit of originality that adds a breath of fresh air to vampire-featured paranormal romance. The Guardian enforcers were a particular treat. Their presence and purpose added a covert ops military unit feel to their aspects of the story that I found appealing and thought a surprisingly nice blend with the vampire history and culture that London introduces.

Both main characters were likable and their individual backstories were fleshed out nicely and incorporated into their character development. They were not, perhaps, the most individual, unique, or remarkable hero and heroine I've ever read, but they fit well in their roles in the book and they did their job as the lead romantic pair. Neither of them annoyed or offended in any way - always a plus.

As a couple Kenzie and Dom had a solid amount of chemistry, and some of their scenes were hot enough to singe my fingers on the page (always a good thing), but I was a little thrown by how deep into the book I was before Kenzie is clued in on the existence of vampires. Half of the book is gone before she finds out they're large, in charge, and closer than she knows. In books such as this, where the heroine isn't aware that the guy she's lusting on isn't human, I struggle with my level of comfort with the relationship. It's hard for me to fully commit to a romance based on that sort of lack of information. Because of that, the emotional connection between Kenzie and Dom frustrated me a little for longer than I would have liked when I was reading it.

On a brighter note, I thought there was a nice balance between the world-building, the progression of the external plot conflict, and the evolution of the relationship between Dom and Kenzie. Too often lately I've read books that skew more heavily one way or the other to the expense of all three. Some of the elements could have had more thorough definition for my taste, but what's there combined well and worked together to create a satisfying story instead of detracting from it. The external plot conflict with the Darkbloods also added lots of great action into the mix.

The sum of all the parts of this book is what made this read work so well for me. It didn't have the same tired feel as so many in the genre have of late. London stirred her overlarge palette of romance standards and original story elements, then combined them in such a way that she created a surprisingly harmonious blend of comforting familiarity and exciting originality. I really enjoyed what I read and look forward to continuing the series.

Quotables:
"Friends don't let friends show up at devastatingly gorgeous men's homes without a warning. What if I had gone to the gym first and was all sweaty and stinky? Did you ever think about that?"
"You don't work out."
"But it's the principle."

Born to Darkness by Suzanne Brockmann

Genre: Paranormal Romantic Suspense; Futuristic
Series: Fighting Destiny, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 416 Pages
Formats: Hardcover, Kindle
Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book through the Amazon Vine program at Amazon.com. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Warning: This book contains scenes of rape, torture, and murder of both women and children. Some of these scenes are graphic in nature and may be disturbing for some readers.

Rock Star of a Series Debut

In a time not far from now, America stands on a precipice. Rocked by years of economic turmoil, jobs are scarce, poverty has risen, and support for the struggling masses is controlled by the greedy and the rich. The poor and downtrodden struggle to get by, to make ends meet and keep a tiny light of hope alive in an ever-widening, crushing darkness.

In that climate, a new and fatal drug is coveted by those who still have everything. It brings health and youth, it births mental and physical powers that are off the charts. It is instantly and brutally addictive and it occasionally causes its users to go sadistically, murderously insane. It is called Destiny. And it is winning.

In a Research and Development facility known as the Obermeyer Institute, scientists and doctors have discovered that a small percentage of the human population have special gifts, mental gifts, that are nearly superhuman. In a handful of those people, they are superhuman. Those gifted few are called Greater-Thans. Their neural nets, their minds, are more highly integrated than the fractions, the Non-Greater-Thans...the normal ones. Though they publish their research and have proven their talents, they are still largely thought of as a fringe group, delusional and seditious.

And they are the only ones with the power to wage war on the spreading stain of Destiny abuse who have any hope of surviving the battle.

Blacklisted Navy SEAL Shane Laughlin is more than skeptical of alleged Greater-Than powers, even after being invited to the Institute as a Potential, but after a mind-blowing night with a woman he suspects is a member of the Institute, a woman he knows only as Mac, he has no intention of declining OI's invitation. Mac may have pushed him away as soon as she found out he was slated to go to OI, but he's not one to give up that easily.

When the existence of Greater-Than abilities is proven to Shane beyond a shadow of a doubt, and he sees for himself the good they do, he's ready to sign on. Of course, making a place for himself at Mac's side has more than a little to do with that, despite her continued resistance. The stakes, though, get infinitely higher when a young girl is kidnapped by a group known as the Organization. Manufacturers of Destiny, brokers of psychopathic insanity, purveyors of pain and terror, the Organization is a true conglomerate of hell. Stopping them from peddling the results of their butchery and sadistic torture is the ultimate goal. Rescuing one little girl, the immediate concern.

Living long enough to do either...well...that's the challenge.

~*~

Set in a grim near-future and featuring a truly stellar ensemble cast, Brockmann not only kicks off a new series with this book, but she takes her first foray into the paranormal with a rock 'em, sock 'em paranormal romantic suspense thriller that is as action-packed and pulse-pounding as it is imaginative and creative. Brockmann paints her gritty world with broad strokes, leaving much of the details of the world beyond the Obermeyer Institute's grounds up to the reader's imagination, but what is there is dark and desperate and disturbingly easy to imagine.

The focus of the narrative is on the characters and the plot, and given the nature and abilities of the Greater-Thans, aspects of OI and its members vaguely reminded me of X-Men...though the Greater-Thans have a far more pedestrian wardrobe and they're much less covert. Their mental capabilities and the intricate and deviously realistic "science" behind those abilities as created by Brockmann were impressively solid and well-crafted. Believable even beyond the normal limits of wild improbability. It created a flawless and comfortable background for the horror that is in the story particulars.

I loved the characters. Though several were heavily featured, and I consider it an ensemble effort, Shane and Mac edged out the most page time. Shane was a fairly classic SEAL - little bit Boy Scout, little bit crazy-ready for anything. He's driven, committed, intense, unwavering...when he isn't being wildly passionate and insouciant at turns, or sensitive and insightful and damn understanding to the irascible Mac. He was easy to fall for and hard to forget.

Dr. Michelle "Mac" MacKenzie was more of a weak link for me. She was awesome in a total kick-ass, don't-bother-taking-names sort of way, and when it came to her work, her character shined. On a personal level, she's deeply flawed, dark, and hostile for most of the book. She struck me as an almost classically tragic literary figure - the empathetic siren - she lures men to her, even if she doesn't mean to, and is cursed to sense their unwavering devotion...never able to trust it's because of who she is instead of what she is. Makes dating a bit of a downer.

It's great for tragedy and angst, makes for impressive character intensity and individuality, and marks her a three dimensional, believable character. Unfortunately, Mac was a stone-cold bitch about it and to Shane throughout most of the book. I totally get why. Doesn't make for many sweet romantic moments in the romance plot threads, though, and it kept her character at a distance for me. As a result, the romance didn't work for me as much as I'd hoped.

There were a few other, minor things that didn't work for me, either. For a futuristic novel, there wasn't much future in it. Cars, motorcycles, cell phones, etc. didn't seem any different than what we have today. Nothing but the science and medical aspects struck me as even marginally advanced. Thinking of the technological advances in just the past five years made the seeming absence of them in over an approximate thirty-year jog into the future stand out to me. So did the kitschy mentions of the thirty-something season of Dancing With The Stars (or So You Think You Can Dance?...I can't remember which), and the forty-something season of American Idol. Add in some of what would be peculiarly antiquated pop culture references for that time, and the futuristic setting never really struck me as futuristic.

I also had a problem with a rather abrupt and sudden shift in one character's personality and actions late in the book - they seemed grossly exaggerated for the seeming and unsubstantiated offense, especially given everything that another character had done on her behalf. Plus, for all that these OI Greater-Thans were all about the science, experimentation, and research, they weren't very smart about some pretty obvious and elementary correlations. That frustrated me. They're intelligent and competent in every other way and yet they just kept getting smacked in the head with the obvious and just didn't see it. And yeah, I'm being purposely vague to prevent spoilers.

Thing is, though, even with those petty and relatively minor annoyances, my first experience (and where the hell have I been that I can even say that) with a Brockmann book pretty much rocked my world. The story was dark, dangerous, and intensely disturbing and the characters were definitely the sort of good guys I find so easy to love and satisfying to root for. I can't wait to get a chance to see Shane again, see how Joseph handles things, hopefully spend more time with Nika, moon over the adorably geeky Stephen and Elliot (and their storyline, while very abbreviated, just made me smile all the way through it), and find out just what's next for all of them. Maybe I'll get lucky and Mac will have some true resolution to some of her issues. And I wonder who we're going to meet next. I can't wait.

Warning: This book contains scenes of rape, torture, and murder of both women and children. Some of these scenes are graphic in nature and may be disturbing for some readers.

Unleashed by C.J. Barry

Genre: SciFi Romance
Series: Unforgettable, Book 3
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 340 Pages
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.



Shamelessly Addicted to this Series

Interstellar fugitive and planet mapping guru Zain Masters is in a bit of a sticky spot. He has crash landed on a planet that has some fairly impressive, if oddly curious, self-defense mechanisms that both prevent his escape and make it impossible to get traditional help. Stuck in a huge crater with his artificially intelligent and sentient ship damaged and losing power as time passes, he's forced to take some wildly risky...and more than a little presumptuous...action if he has any hope of getting off that blasted rock.

If he can't get out to get help and it's too dangerous for a ship to come to help him, he'll have to bring help another way, and after some intensive searching across the galaxy, surfing tech posting boards and calling for aid, he locks onto a human from the planet Earth, the only one who had been able to make heads or tails of the images he'd sent out, and teleports her to him.

Kicking off the New Year with a healthy determination to get over the damage done by her lying, stealing, scum-sucking ex-boyfriend, computer programmer Lacey Garrett has comprised a resolutions list to end all lists. Nowhere on that list, however, has she written anything relating to getting snatched from her own yard and yanked across the galaxy, cat in arms, to come face to face with a stunningly attractive...but more than a little cranky...alien. She really should have thought a bit further outside the box on that list, because this particular adventure - if she believes it is an adventure and not just evidence of a fatal brain tumor or something - is really something she would have explicitly crossed off her To Do list.

In one of those rare ironies that makes the possibility of having a fatal brain tumor the less terrifying and not nearly as surreal option, Lacey is now stuck on a planet other than her own. In a ship that speaks. With a ma...er...alie....um...person who, for some ludicrous and highly illogical reason believes she can help him. She, the computer geek from a planet that doesn't even have galactic transport. Help him, the roguish Han Solo type with a spaceship that speaks!

Uh. Yeah. There's just no way this is gonna end well. For either of them.

~*~

Let's forget for a minute that the setup for this plot and the sequence of events that bring Zain and Lacey together strain logic a bit, even for the world of science fiction. Normally that sort of thing bugs me, but to be fair, I don't take this series too seriously in that regard. I'm far too busy being fully entertained by the action, adventure, fun characters, and sizzling romance to quibble overmuch about that. In fact, this series has become somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me and I wish it was longer than four books. I'm a bit addicted.

It's a total romp. An intergalactic, imaginative, fun, funny romp! Zain and Lacey have just enough baggage to make them interesting as main characters and the plot has just enough danger and intrigue to keep me riveted. The sex is hot, the science is plausible enough not to snap my willing suspension of disbelief, and the overall story leaves my romance-loving heart perfectly satisfied. What more can you ask? And I'm not even a big SciFi reader.

I loved following along with the broody and charismatic Zain. He alternated between prickly and protective so well that I quickly got my yen-on for him. Poor, displaced Lacey was also a lot of fun. I don't tend to prefer the lone-Earthling-in-space road - it was a problem for me in the first book in the series, too - but I liked who Lacey is, and thought her response to a massive, life-changing paradigm shift was as believable and realistic as possible, all things considered. And no doubt about it, Barry is excellent at generating, maintaining, and exploding the chemistry between her two lead characters.

I love that. So spicy, with a poignant kick that allows for depth of individual character and a surprisingly authentic level of emotion between protagonists.

Parts of the external conflict weren't as appealing as I would have liked. I was fairly disinterested in anything from the Bad Guy's point of view. He just wasn't all that compelling to me, and he kept interrupting the awesome push-and-shove of attitude, intellect, and intensity between Zain and Lacey. The overall arc of the external conflict was well developed and original, though. Secondary characters, too, always add a bunch of emotional depth to Barry's books and Reene, Zain's sentient ship, was a trip. I enjoyed him. And so much more.

I've really am a total sucker for this series. I love the characters and their adventures are awesome. The happy endings, this one in particular, always fully satisfy, and the attention Barry gives to originality, creativity, and attempts at maintaining plausibility are much appreciated. And lets not forget, the heat and romance are both totally out of this world.

Quotables:
"What's wrong with men?"
"Nothing–except that they suck the life out of women, steal their brains and then leave them for dead. Not that it bothers me anymore, you understand. Therapy took care of that."
"I can tell."

"I need to make sure you don't have any other scratches."
"Why bother? We're going to die anyway."
"Are you always so pessimistic?"
"Only when I get digitized across the galaxy without permission. I'm funny that way."

"Are you alright?"
"I've just never experienced so many degrees of terror in such a short period of time. I can't wait to see what else you've got in store for me."
"I'd hate to disappoint you."
"Please. Disappoint me."

"Freedom doesn't just mean you can run when you want to. It means you can stay if you choose."

 Unforgettable Series:
  

Seduced by the Wolf by Terry Spear

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Werewolf, Book 5
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 416 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle


Not Feeling the Seduction

Wolf biologist Cassie Roux is passionate about wolf conservation and education. She studies wolves intently, gives speeches and lectures on pack social structure and ecological impact, and spends time with them in their natural habitat. Though considering Cassie is a rare, lone red lupus garou raised by a pack of full-blooded wolves after her family and pack were slaughtered by hunters, it's her natural habitat, too.

She's in Oregon to give a lecture in a small town two hours out of Portland...and to track a female red lupus in the wilderness out there. The last thing she wants to do while she's working is attract the attention of any of the lupus garou pack in the area. Cassie is technically trespassing without permission from the pack leaders. She can only hope that the hunter's spray will keep her scent masked, or the trip is going to get very, very complicated.

Especially after catching the eye of the one male she should absolutely avoid.

Leidolf Wildhaven is both a rancher and the relatively new pack alpha for a red lupus garou pack still reeling from the mismanagement and mistreatment from its previous alpha. Leidolf is still in the process of establishing his command, fixing the many and varied problems of the pack, and settling into his responsibility. He needs a mate. He's been searching for one for a long time now. It's what drew him into the area months ago.

It's a pity that the wolf-friendly Dr. Cassie Roux smells as human as can be. She's a beautiful redhead, vibrant and passionate, and she stirs something deep inside him that no female - human or lupus garou - has ever come close to. Her love of wolves is just whipped cream on top of all that. Then he finds out that Cassie has been masking her scent, that she is, in fact, one of his kind. And she's a lone wolf with an independent streak a mile wide.

Oh yeah, one more thing pack alpha Leidolf Wildhaven knows from the first time he catches her lupus garou scent...Cassie Roux is his.

~*~

I'm starting to wonder if it's me. Despite this series having all bells and whistles I usually enjoy in paranormal romance, as well as the authentic wolf biology that has been deftly woven into the supernatural elements, I wasn't overly fond of the first book and found this one only marginally more appealing. Unfortunately, this highly touted series just isn't working for me so far.

Maybe I picked the wrong two books in the series to read in sequence, because frankly, one of the problems I had in this book was how similar certain plot elements were to the first. Part of that was my own mistake. I thought this one was the second in the series when I started it, and given the content, I maintained that belief through to the end. The story picked up shortly after the events of Heart of the Wolf, featured backstory and characters introduced in that book, and was set in the same location. It wasn't until I was finished that I found out there were several books between the two.

Also unfortunate, several of the larger issues I had with that one continued to vex me in this one. The excessive minutia and tendency towards repetition in the narrative is a consistent issue. Unnecessary details are drawn out and major themes, such as Cassie's desire to stay clear of a pack and not be made the alpha's mate, are reiterated again and again. Such unnecessary overwriting bogs down the plot of the book, slows the pacing, and limits the development of external conflict.

The plot itself is another issue for me. Too often several things in this story happen in a flurry of poorly-defined action and scanty prose, followed by long sections of overly-described scenes that become boring to me when I want more action or a solid plot conflict. It makes it hard for me to connect with the story at times, especially during the scenes in the woods where everyone and their brother are stirring up all manner of trouble and guys with guns prance around willy-nilly, tranquilizing or shooting whoever is in the way. That gets a little confusing in places.

There were subtle touches of humor in a handful of places in this book that I heartily enjoyed, as well as characters who were more appealing to me personally as romantic leads than Bella and Devlyn, so there are some positive elements about the read. I just wish the bare bones of the storyline had more to offer in originality and the weight of the narrative had been ruthlessly edited to allow for a much greater expansion of the underdeveloped external conflicts in the plot. I'm going to give this series one more try, but if the next book strikes me as similar in plot or as weighted down in the narrative as this one, I'm afraid I'm going to have to give up the ghost on this series.

Ratings Guide

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

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

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Tracy's bookshelf: read

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

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