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Miss Hillary Schools a Scoundrel by Samantha Grace

Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Beau Monde, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 416 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.



A Half and Half Read

Lord Andrew Forest is a rake and a rogue, a man who revels in his bachelorhood and flees even the mere mention of marriage. He enjoys the female form entirely too much to ever settle for one. And once he gets a gander of the delectable unmentionables of one Miss Lana Hillary, spotted from his position on the ground as she shimmied out of a second story window to evade a persistent suitor, he would heartily enjoy adding her form to his extensive collection.

He's not so much of a blackguard, however, to ruin an innocent, no matter how her quick wit and humorous banter stirs his mind as well as his blood, or how, on each subsequent meeting, she becomes more deeply embedded in his thoughts.

She has already learned a painful lesson when it comes to avoiding men like Lord Andrew Forest. After all, Lana had been engaged to one, and one dissolute rake is enough to last a lifetime. Of course Drew is handsome and charming. And of course he makes her pulse pound. That's a rake's standard. She's smart enough not to give into it. Especially as they hardly travel in the same circles.

Those thoughts comfort Lana until Drew shows up at her friend's country estate, where Lana and her mother had been invited to spend the summer. Forced to fend off her mother's idea of suitable husbands on one front, Drew's avid attention on the other, Lana suddenly finds herself overwhelmed. She's got to stay away from the glorious Lord Andrew or risk losing a piece of her heart as well as her reputation. Lana knows if that were to happen, neither one would ever be repaired.

Drew is at his wits end. He can't stop thinking about Lana. He's lost interest in his comfortable, disreputable life and grown bored with gaming, wenching, and parties. He has to get the chit out of his system and get back to his happy life. If that means a summer with his family and using his younger sister as a co-conspirator, so be it. He'll banish Lana Hillary from his hear...er...mind and be back to himself in no time.

Just as soon as she stops avoiding him, ignoring him, snubbing him, and generally putting him in his place whenever he's around, at least.

~*~

It started out so well. I wasn't fond of the scope of Drew's lusty past, but can't fault the authenticity of the lifestyle, and I admired Lana for her independent nature and stalwart determination for more than a loveless marriage mired in infidelity. The chemistry between them frothed and bubbled quite pleasantly every time they locked horns, and while Drew was perhaps a bit typical for the genre, I thought Lana was a lovely breath of fresh air.

She was a virgin, yes, but one whose eyes were open wide to the conflicts between society restrictions and her own willful nature. I quickly grew quite enamored with the girl who wriggled out of a second story window to get away from a man who was bothering her when she thought no one was watching, relied on her big brother to shield her from unwanted attentions when they were, then turned around and gave him what for when he overstepped and tried to corral her life in private.

And okay, it's true, I think there's something endearing about watching a dissolute rogue have his head turned by a woman to such a degree that his life does a complete about-face without him even realizing it. Especially when he keeps having those delicious little inner monologues that so clearly show how delusional he is as he tries to justify his feelings as a passing obsession. They led to so many fun machinations and amusing gyrations as Drew worked to insinuate himself into Lana's life while they were at his family's estate.

Surrounding all that fun and two solid main characters was a healthy number of secondary and ancillary characters who were fleshed out nicely and added depth and complexity both to the storyline and to the main characters' lives. The book had a very full feeling to it in that regard, as it did in the plot while the romance game was afoot.

Then things took a turn around the halfway mark. Though Drew blossomed into a lovely and devoted man...if a bit thickheaded about it sometimes...Lana melted into a wishy-washy neurotic with poor self esteem and a decided lack of intelligence. I got a bit of whiplash from all the angsty, overly emotional back-and-forth she did about Drew.

To make matters worse, the majority of the storyline belabored her indecision and flakiness in that second half. To the point where some of her actions and emotional reactions became tedious and absurd. The only aspect of the story that really attempted to balance that out was an odd plot thread of suspense that didn't make a whole lot of sense and should have been much better woven into the whole of the tale to really have any hope of seeming substantial. It ended up doing little but placing Lana even more firmly into the role of a damsel in distress. Not a favorite role of mine for female leads in romance or any other genre.

I disliked the latter half of the book to such a degree that it almost ruined the whole of the read for me. Only my absolute pleasure and amusement in the first half helped temper my overall impression of the story.

There was enough good in this book to showcase debut author Samantha Grace's easy-to-read writing style and her steady grasp of the historical genre. And there were enough teasers in this one to make me wonder about what is going on between Drew's former lover Lady Amelia and Lana's brother Jake Hillary, who are featured in Grace's sophomore effort, Lady Amelia's Mess and a Half. I just hope that one will provide more than a half of a great read.

This Side of the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Night Huntress, Book 5
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 357 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle



Cat and Bones Still Going Strong

You'd think accidentally (and illegally) immolating the vampire who had manipulated you into a marriage you had forgotten while he's killing the vampire you love in a challenge bout adjudicated by vamp elders would warrant a little down time. If your name is Cat Crawford, though, also known as the Red Reaper, scourge of the vampire world, you'd be wrong. Life is never that simple for Cat and her true husband, Bones.

Hell, if it were, she wouldn't be such a...unique member of the fully undead. But no, Cat can't do anything the easy or normal way. That's why she's the only full vampire in existence who is still plagued with an occasional pulse, craves vampire blood instead of human, and has a tendency to pick up the skills and strengths of the vampires she feeds from. Talk about awkward!

Toss in a fundamentalist ghoul who considers Cat to be the undead version of the antichrist and who is gathering forces to put her down in as painful and ugly a way possible, a growing number of missing and murdered vampires, and an impending species war between vampires and ghouls that will decimate human and undead alike, and Cat's lucky she's got time to breath (if she still had to, anyway), let alone take a few days off.

If it weren't for Bones and the strength of his love for her, Cat would have waived the white flag long ago. Together, though, and with the help of friends and allies new and old, she may just make it out of this next debacle with her head still attached. Not everyone she loves may be so lucky.

~*~

It's been several years since I first read the fourth book in what once was one of my favorite series of all time. So much time passed, in fact, that before I started this book, I had to go back to the beginning to reacquaint myself with the series and characters. Unfortunately, Destined for an Early Grave was just as big a stumbling block for me on the reread as it was the first time around, when it tripped up my fanaticism for the series. I had a lot of problems with that book.

I'm happy to say that this time it didn't set me back so far that I couldn't finally plow ahead to this one. I would have missed out on a lot of good reading and the chance to once more become fond of characters who I adored above all others in the past.

This Side of the Grave is a witty, action-packed, emotionally vibrant tale. One of the most quip-laden of the series, I chuckled out loud in several places, and found myself slowly falling in love with Cat and Bones all over again. I've always wished for more series like this one, an extended urban fantasy series with a strong female lead in a steady, solid romantic relationship with her male co-star. I'm so very weary of the bed-bouncing, emotionally retarded, sex-starved profligates that have become so tragically ubiquitous in the genre.

It's a treat to be able to enjoy this one again.

That's not to say all things were perfect for me. The main plot of the book seemed to start fairly slow and, if I'm completely honest, wasn't really all that compelling to me. Especially compared to some of the ancillary threads that were very powerful and more interesting. I was concerned, too, with seeming inconsistencies in Cat's ability to absorb the skills and power of those from whom she feeds. I'm also a little troubled by the fact that I've started noticing a pattern or formula emerging in the books - maybe because I've now reread them all so close together.

Admittedly, it's an over-simplification, but it seems each book starts with one strong scene unrelated to the main plot, then Cat and Bones are made aware of a major threat to one or both of them. That leads them to meet with Mencheres, et al. to discuss said threat in great detail while Cat stays off the radar. After the first plan - which never works - is set in place, something crops up that puts either Cat's or Bones' life on the line, and it usually results in Cat getting the crucial piece of information she needs to triumph, but in such a way that she doesn't understand it. All efforts to stave off catastrophe fail, everyone throws themselves into battle, and that crucial bit of cryptic from earlier becomes clear in hindsight.

None of those issues, however, detract from the fact that Frost can still rip my heart out, can still make me laugh out loud, surprise me, and put me on the edge of my seat. She has, even after the previous book, drawn me back into the fold and wrapped me up in the lives and love of Cat and Bones and all their friends (Vlad in particular, who I've always loved with fierce intensity).

I also loved that Cat showed true maturity in this book. Gone is the half-cocked wild woman who would Lone Ranger her way into deep trouble and jump to all sorts of emotionally immature conclusions. Gone is the strictly black-and-white inflexibility and the stubborn pride. Cat has learned to thrive in the gray areas and embrace compromise. Even when it hurts. Her growth throughout this series, evidenced in this book, was impressive and heartening.

I think the series needed this book, actually. It seemed to complete a transition that started in the previous book. Cat's relationship with Bones seems so strong now, and it's my favorite thing about this series. Cat herself seems strong. Some of her alliances and friendships have shifted and realigned, and characters who have been a part of the series for a long time have changed roles a bit. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next, especially now that Cat has sort of become Cat 2.0.

Hell, maybe she'll even manage a real vacation with her husband. One that's not interrupted or blown up by some impending disaster or major threat. Then again...what fun would that be?

Quotables:
"Before we go, I gotta know: If mind-reading abilities are real, there's something else I wondered if fiction got right about vampires–"
"Ask me if I sparkle and I'll kill you where you stand."


"Sneaky, manipulating, merciless bloodsucker..."
A chuckle drifted up to me. "Pillow talk already? You'll have me hard before we're even back in our room."


"What the hell was that?" I gasped.
"Premature inflamulation," he replied. "Happens sometimes. Very embarassing, I don't like to talk about it."


I hadn't ever wondered why Mencheres hadn't tried to stop that attack with his power. Probably because I was too busy thinking, Holy shit, we're all gonna die!

Night Huntress Series:

  
 

Locked in Silence by Shiloh Walker

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Grimm's Circle, Book 5
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 216 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle



My Favorite of the Series

She has known about demons for a long time, since she was attacked by one and managed to kill it. It had been possessing her sister at the time. Vanya bears the ragged scar on her cheek as a perpetual reminder, not that she needs one. Not that she could ever forget killing the thing that wore her beloved sister's face after it stole her soul.

Since then, she's made it her mission in life to kill as many demons as she can, all the while knowing it is just a matter of time before she dies from the attempts. But that's the way of things for a human who is fighting so many things that are decidedly not. Will told her so when he found her years ago and gave her a choice - an opportunity, really. To turn her obsession into a...celestial occupation of sorts. To become a Grimm. And her time has come.

Vanya won't be doing it alone. Baby Grimm need training, after all, and Will wouldn't just leave her hanging. He knows what he knows, that there is one particular Grimm who needs to help the new girl on the block. But Will is under no illusion about how well that information is going to go over with the man who calls himself Silence.

A couple of hundred years experience has taught Silence that change is not a good thing. Nor is letting anyone get too close. With a human past so horrific that it left him scarred and mute, he has long been the very silence that his chosen name describes. The thought of training anyone leaves him cold, but that sort of choice is not one that Will allows.

Silence is sent to the newest Grimm, helps her through her change, and starts the arduous process of training her in everything she needs to know. He's surprised by the connection that springs up between them and the gifts he gets as a result. Given his past, though, Silence isn't surprised at all when it becomes tragically apparent that there is a price for even that small blessing...a price that will be exacted in blood and death. This time, however, it won't just be his.

~*~

This fifth installment of Walker's Grimm's Circle series is far and away my favorite of the bunch to date. I believe it's lengthier than its predecessors (though I didn't check to verify). Story elements are well-defined, characters robustly fleshed out, and the plot threads are numerous and meaty. More so than in several of its predecessors.

Vanya and Silence, though, are who make this book for me. Vanya, for all that she's young, is tough and strong, streetwise and gritty, with a steel-covered core that hides her grief, fear, and insecurities. Layered and complex, damaged by her past, she's a sympathetic heroine, and Walker does a particularly nice job displaying both her strengths and her vulnerabilities as she and Silence grow closer.

Speaking of Silence, I loved him. Admittedly, part of that wellspring of drooling adoration is that I have a special place in my heart for heroes and heroines who function perfectly well, even triumph, despite having an injury or disability that makes day-to-day living harder for them. Silence is mute, but his muteness is his least defining character trait - he is so much more than an inability to speak.

He and Vanya fit very well together, and more than just romantically (though of course, that romance was sexy-hot). They compliment each other in skills and abilities, personality and temperament, commitment and intensity. It was a good match, and reading along as they opened up to each other was a lot of fun and offered up some sweaty, bed-breaking, yummy good times.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of the secondary characters, too. Will and Mandy, who were featured in an amusing and awesome prologue, have had a continuing plot thread throughout the series, and I've enjoyed seeing their relationship progress. Especially now that Mandy is awake again. Another favorite was Finn, who practically leaps off the page and sets fire to every scene he's in. He's got so much story presence, it would surprise me if he wasn't screaming in Walkers's head for his own book (or singing off-key about bottles of beer on the wall or something else equally distracting). I hope he gets it.

There is one thing that is niggling me about this series, though, I have to admit. There doesn't seem to be a well-defined plot-driven series arc or much plot-driven external conflict in each book and I'm starting to feel that lack more and more as the series progresses. Each book's story focus stays pretty tight to the relationship of the main characters, and Will is coming off as the Grimm equivalent of eHarmony.com. That's not a bad thing in small quantities, or mixed up with other plot elements, but after this many books, it's making the series seem a little one-note to me.

My only other issue with this story is that despite how much I loved Vanya and Silence, I wasn't crazy about the relationship conflict in this book. I'm not a big fan of the "I know best" decision making process that affects both without the input of both. It's part lack of communication, part fear, part (needless) self-sacrifice, and all-around annoying.

Still, Vanya and Silence were series favorites for me. I liked them very much as individual characters, loved them together, and enjoyed their story. They fit well into this highly imaginative series and their story provided my favorite book of the set.


Grimm's Circle Series:

  
 

The Last Slayer by Nadia Lee

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Heartstone Trilogy, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 289 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.



An Ambitious Debut that Mostly Pays Off

She knew it was a bad idea. When demon hunter Ashera del Cid is told that the CEO of a powerful pharmaceutical company has invited one of the dragonlords to tour his facility and his security team has contracted with her firm to assist them during the dragonlord's visit, Ashera knew it wasn't going to end well. One doesn't just handle a dragonlord, and trying to protect against them is futile. They're just too powerful.

Like blow-up-a-whole-city-block-with-a-thought type of powerful.

And that's just one of them, so when three of the most powerful dragonlords in the world arrive for their ill-advised tour, Ashera knew someone was going to die. She just wasn't expecting to be forced to kill one of the dragonlords' dragons to stop a rampage. Not surprisingly, dragonlords tend to frown on that. Especially when she uses a spell thought long-lost and no longer able to be wielded to do so.

Ashera has successfully managed to paint a very large target on her back, and she has revealed to deadly enemies a heritage even she didn't know about. With one spell she has become hunted, and only with the help of the mysterious Ramiel will Ashera have any hope of surviving the day...or any other.

But can she trust Ramiel? He may oppose the powerful triumvirate and be willing to ally himself with her, and he says he wants to help her claim the territory that is her birthright, but Ashera is under no illusions. Ramiel may be gorgeous, and he may be one of the most powerful creatures she's ever seen, but he has his own agenda. One that, apparently, requires her presence, as it is Ramiel who gave her the spell that slayed the dragon and it is Ramiel who holds the truth of Ashera's legacy. The cost of either, however, may be more than Ashera can survive.

~*~

With a fabulous new world and an original story, Nadia Lee kicks her trilogy off with a bang in this far-reaching debut. Dragons and demons, Sex and hunters, magic and mythology, all woven together into a tale of a young woman finding out the truth of her past as she takes up the fight for her future. The ingredients are definitely all there for some truly epic storytelling.

Ashera is a slick-talking, smart mouth of a heroine who wields sarcasm like a knife. Strong, highly competent, and very self-aware, I can't say she was always likable, but I did find her very interesting and three-dimensional. She handled some major paradigm shifts with a combination of horror, disbelief, and resolve that I found believable, and though she annoyed me a bit at times, and there were some inconsistencies in her character throughout the story, I found her tolerable with a potential for awesome if she continues to evolve.

Ramiel was a tall bite of sexy. He could have easily been pigeonholed as a fairly prototypical urban fantasy hero/love interest type, all alpha male and in-the-know as he brings the heroine up to speed and of course falls for her dubious charms...and to a degree he was exactly that. Lee surprised me with a twist or two, though, and there are a couple of nifty things and revealed secrets about the mighty Ramiel that kind of tempered all of that. It put a bit of a spin on his character that kept him just this side of stereotypical.

Though the book is definitely Ashera's show, Ramiel is a huge part of much of it, and they fit well together most of the time. They have solid chemistry, but their relationship isn't just about romance and hot sex. Ramiel is definitely in the know and Ashera is definitely not for most of the book, so it's not an equal partnership by any means, but the scales start balancing as the story progressed and I was entertained by their repartee and the way they related to each other.

And where can I get my own Toshi? I loved him! Absolute favorite of the non-primary characters. He made me laugh out loud and he was so endearingly cute I just wanted to cuddle him.

Other secondary and ancillary characters were sort of hit-and-miss for me. Some were fleshed out well, others weren't, some had powerful story presence, others didn't. Some were just confusing because I couldn't quite figure out what their game plan was or what impact they were supposed to have in the overall story. I'm holding back my opinions on those, because it's early yet.

I had a couple of issues with some of the story elements, the world-building was not nearly as fleshed out as I would have liked it to be, and the pacing in the middle of the book dragged a bit for me when the action waned. I also got a little confused and thought the plot line got muddled a bit when the quest for the heartstones got mixed in with the visit to Ashera's mother.

Now, lets talk about Sex.

I don't think I could imagine a worse name for the energy booster that magic users imbibe to help power up. On more than one level and for more than one reason. It's bad enough that it's mysteriously harvested magical energy generated by copulation (explains the name but doesn't excuse it). It's in a viscous liquid form that they drink, and it's described as being none-too-palatable in taste. Despite artificial flavor additives, apparently.

And every time I saw the capitalized Sex I couldn't help but think of a Red Bull advertising campaign for ectoplasmic ejaculations. Gross.

There was certainly a lot of story being told in this series opener. I don't know how, or even if, it's all going to connect yet, but that's not critically important at this stage. What is important is that enough went right with the story to keep me interested and the characters were likable enough to keep me invested. The potential is definitely there for a rich, widely expansive and impressive tale that reaches epic proportions. I'm going to hang around to see if it all comes to fruition (Sex notwithstanding).

The Hollow House by Janis Patterson

Genre: Historical Thriller/Suspense
Series: N/A
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 256 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.




A Superb Historical Mystery

Calling herself Geraldine Burton, she has fled both the East and her past and has come to Denver in the hopes of securing for herself some nominal existence. Finding work is as imperative as it is difficult, for she has limited funds and no training or experience in the sort of positions available to women in 1919. Still, she applies for a position as a companion to one Emmaline Stubbs and thinks herself lucky to have been granted the job.

Geraldine will quickly be disabused of that notion once settled into that great house of secrets and suspicion.

The irascible and incorrigible Emmaline Stubbs, well into her dotage yet pugnacious with it, makes Geraldine's life challenging enough, but it is the rest of the household that provides the source of most of the unease. Then Emmaline is poisoned and the maid is killed, and suddenly Geraldine, on the run from a past of horrors and nightmares few could comprehend, is in danger of being accused of crimes for which that past may very well condemn her.

If it doesn't kill her first.

~*~

Every once in awhile I like to read something outside my romance-rich norm and there was something about the combination of book blurb and cover that drew me to this one. It's historical, but of an era I have almost no experience with, and it's a mystery with a female protagonist. The combination intrigued me. I'm so glad it did, because I thought this was truly superlative fiction.

I was captivated from the first sentence of the book, where we meet the woman who calls herself Geraldine. Her own past is a mystery - one obviously full of tragedy. She's on the run from that past and she's starting to get desperate for work. Though readers know little more than that about her at first, not even her name, I found her absolutely compelling as the narrator for the story.

The house in which she gets work, as well as Emmaline Stubbs, her employer, frame the first part of the story and set the foundation surrounding an impressively authentic glimpse of life in 1919 Denver. It was a genuine treat to read on every level, as everything from dialogue to description painted a picture that felt so real and believable that I felt like I had parted a curtain and looked into that past as it was happening. I can only assume that Patterson did extensive research on the era, and that work, combined with her crisp, engaging writing style, created a feast of detail and information that impressed me and held my attention.

By the time the threads of mystery started to form, and elements of Geraldine's past started to become more clear, I was thoroughly absorbed. I loved Geraldine, for all her strength and her straightforward manner, as well as every ounce of her vulnerability. Bright and no-nonsense, I found her unassuming and lacking in all pretensions. She was a woman of her time, but one who had survived things no one should have to survive, and it gave her a solid presence that was unadorned, frank, and steady. I can't imagine a better protagonist for this book.

Emmaline was, not surprisingly, a total firecracker. Nouveau riche in a way that only a successful miner's wife could be in the west, she was crass, unsophisticated, and tough as old leather. I loved her. She was a constant source of amusement and consternation throughout the book, and her presence on the page was legendary.

The combination of the more gently born Geraldine and the tough old crone Emmaline was simply brilliant.

Though I felt the mystery was a little slow to develop once Geraldine was settled in her position - my only issue with the book - once the suspense and threat-level started to rise, the book moved quickly and packed a hell of a visceral punch in places. I wouldn't say it was the best mystery ever. There were elements that, perhaps, were a bit predictable, but that was mostly because of the situation and the characters involved. What was exceptional, though, was the way in which the pieces were assembled and the final picture once complete.

There is no romance in the book, but there were several heartening moments where Geraldine finds she has made true friends, and seeing those friends in action were some of my favorite parts of the book. They provided the means for some warm and emotional moments, as well as showcasing the growth of Geraldine as a character throughout the story.

So many elements came together so well in this book. As historical fiction, it's authentic and detailed, well-researched and intelligent. As a mystery, it's full of twists and turns, surprises and horrors, tragedies and triumphs. As a book, it's simply an exceptionally good read that I liked very, very much. I can't ask for any more than that.

Tarnished Knight by Shiloh Walker

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Grimm's Circle, Book 4
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 128 Pages
Formats: Kindle



Sometimes Painful, Always Powerful

Centuries ago Luc and Perci lived a happy life together as man and wife. It's tragic what a little death can do. Since becoming Grimm, guardian angels who protect humanity from soul-stealing demons, they've worked side-by-side as partners. Luc, blind but for when he sees through another's eyes, and Perci, whose disability is far less noticeable and infinitely more debilitating, have not once been apart in all that time. Nor have they been together.

Their marriage died when they did, because the sad truth is that no matter how many years pass, Perci has never recovered from the circumstances surrounding her death, nor risen above the agony of the losses she suffered at the vicious hand of a madwoman. Not like Luc has. Not at all.

And though Perci knows that Luc loves her and yearns for their former life together, she also knows that she doesn't. And no amount of regret or length of time is going to change that. Still, partners they remain, locked in a devastating cycle of co-dependency and grief, until Will, leader of the Grimm, gives Perci a new job. On her own.

She's tasked with guiding the odd and ferocious Jack Wallace, a man who does things and knows things that no human should be able to do or know. A man who stirs Perci's heart and body in a way that she hasn't felt in several lifetimes. A man who willingly, almost gleefully, engages in battle with demons at every opportunity and fights like he is riding a death wish straight towards hell.

Together, Perci and Jack are two broken souls who may just be able to heal each other, but only if they survive not only the demons who hunt them, but the very traumas that made them.

~*~

I'm happy to say that this fourth book of Walker's Grimm's Circle series has more story and character development than its predecessor, which was my biggest issue with Crazed Hearts. And Walker is right back on track with complex, layered characters, complicated backstory, gripping emotion, and solid romance. Unfortunately, in Tarnished Knight, I still had some issues that came from a couple of other directions.

On one hand, I can't help but commend Walker for creating such a damaged character, one who ran a serious risk of being utterly unsympathetic. Perci is not an easy woman to like at the beginning. We know she's suffered for three hundred years (we find out the details later in the book), but her damage seems almost cruelly self-involved when held against Luc's love and dedication to her. Plus, Luc's blind, so she's leaving a blind man who relies on her to see, one who is in love with her, because she's too wounded to forgive him or herself for their past.

Yeah, for a long time Perci was utterly unsympathetic.

In fact, I hated her. And my heart ached for Luc. It was made worse for me because of the parts of the narrative that are told in Perci's first person point of view. There was nothing to buffer me from thoughts and feelings that I found distasteful, and while she was obviously regretful, she was also resolute about not loving Luc any more. It was and intense way to flesh out a character, but it did nothing to endear Perci to me.

I wasn't crazy about the narrative shifting point of view from first to third and back again, either. Being in Perci's head wasn't any kind of fun, but the back and forth was worse. I found it made the pace of the book jerky in places and distracted me when I was reading.

But then there was Jack, and for all that Perci first made me mental, I loved Jack immediately. His life is cloaked in mystery, his knowledge of Grimm, his mother, his far-better-than-human abilities, and the teasing glimmers of his past were all brilliantly conceived and fabulously executed. I loved his personal journey, and as pieces started to fit together, drawing tattered wounds of the past closed in a bloody bundle of emotion and horror, I found myself rooting for Jack and hoping he got the woman he didn't know he always wanted.

The pity in that was that I wasn't nearly as happy for Perci. I was too emotionally fatigued by Luc's pain to be fully on board with the romance when it started heating up. I couldn't help but feel that Perci didn't deserve such a quick chance for a Happily Ever After.

Still, for all that I thought Crazed Hearts lacked the sort of emotional impact that Walker is so damn good at, this one doubled it up and served heaps of it. I was wrung out by the end, and yes, by the end, I was far more mollified by the story and no longer begrudged Perci her peace. If she'd been more palatable for me earlier in the novella, though, I would have been much happier about the read overall.


Grimm's Circle Series: 

  
Book 1                                   Book 2                                   Book 2.5
 
Book 3                                      Book 4

The Thirteenth Child by J.L. O'Faolain

Genre: LGBT - M/M Urban Fantasy
Series: Section Thirteen, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 220 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by publisher Dreamspinner Press. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



A Campy and Chaotic Great Time

Exiled from Faerie for almost a century, full-blooded sidhe Tuulois MacColewyn is working in New York City, minding his own business and taking the occasional enforcer job whenever his funds start getting low or he's feeling a bit of ennui. He is, in fact, just washing off the effects of a job when an old friend grabs Cole's attention...and Cole himself...right out of the shower, and yanks him through a portal straight into an active crime scene.

It's been a year since Cole last saw Detective James Corhagen. A year since the end of a friendship and loose working partnership that Corhagen decided was too intensely complicated to continue, and a relationship that the detective, intent on having a family, claimed he no longer wanted. Now Cole is standing, naked and wet, in a summoning circle Corhagen drew, at the command of a spell that the detective had cast.

Cole is just twisted enough to enjoy every moment of the turning worm, even as Corhagen informs him of the supernatural nature of the three homicides and kidnappings that prompted Corhagen's spellcasting. Cohagen has come to Cole...or summoned Cole to come to him...to ask the sidhe for the sort of help he once freely provided. With no clues and no way to stop a potentially supernatural killer with a taste for kidnapping infants, Corhagen desperately needs Cole's unique skills to have any hope of stopping these crimes before more babies are ripped from their parents' mutilated corpses.

Cole, being Cole, agrees to do what he can...for the right price...and if he just happens to get some personal pleasure out of the job, well, no self-respecting Fey wouldn't.

~*~

The Thirteenth Child isn't a perfect book. The plot is fast and packed with wild characters and wicked action, but the narrative is chaotic in places and some of the characters didn't get much definition. Character motivations and emotions didn't always translate well, which limited the emotional impact of some major scenes. The world-building and character backstory were unique and imaginative, but inconsistent, and at times seemed contradictory or lacking in clarity. The timeline, both for the past relationship between Corhagen and Cole as well as the current storyline, was hard to get a solid handle on and also seemed inconsistent in places. And Cole's abilities and powers seemed to fluctuate based on need and he came off as Mary Sue at times (I don't know the term for the male equivalent, sorry).

That being said, I sort of loved this book. It was delightfully campy in places, with Cold Hands of Death and pitchfork-imbued scarecrow constructs, power-hungry half-sidhe monsters with a Mommy fetish and teenage military-weapons hoarders, and Cole. I love Cole. He is an irreverent, insouciant rogue with a wicked sense of humor and nothing resembling shame. Despite any critical issues, I couldn't help being quickly drawn in and getting totally invested in his life and his story.

He really is the backbone of the book, but the supporting cast also included some spectacular secondary characters who I loved. Corhagen wasn't one of them. He was my least favorite of them all, in fact. His issues and his history with Cole were a point of contention between them throughout the story. It got a little old, especially as the rejection of his core needs and desires, as well as any lingering feelings he has for Cole annoyed me from start to finish.

Fortunately, there were a couple of other secondary characters who were real scene-stealers in their own right. I was particularly enamored with Robyn, who was the most kick-ass kid-sized weapons specialist and demolition...expert (she likes to make things go boom) I've ever had the pleasure to read. Inspector Vallimun, whose presence allowed me to deal with my dislike of Corhagen, also grew on me more and more as the story progressed. I ended up liking him far more than Corhagen.

The story has twists and turns that set up some truly great scenes of mass destruction. I love those scenes. There were also elements of mystery or at least secrecy shrouding Cole's past and those elements get woven into the present-day plot threads in pleasantly surprising ways. Not everything was explained as well as I would have liked, not all my questions got answered, but I got enough to keep me entertained.

M/M purists should be warned about one thing, though. Cole isn't exactly gay. I actually can't say that any of the characters I met in this book are. If labels are important, I'd broadly classify those who participate in the described sex scenes (which are all M/M or M/M/M) as bi-sexual. There are mentions of Cole having sex with, or thinking of having sex with, more than one woman in this book, though none of those sex scenes are described in any detail. That doesn't bother me, but I know some readers prefer their M/M stories to have no mention of hetero sex at all, so I wanted to mention it.

In Cole's case, he's sidhe, and in this world, the sidhe are a highly sexual race, just as likely to have healthy and frequent sexual relationships for everything from offering comfort to expressing friendship to procreating with mates, and they are just as likely to be with males as females, Fey or human, or any combination and number of one or all of the above. Personally, I liked the racial distinction and thought it helped define aspects of Cole's nature.

So The Thirteenth Child isn't perfect, but perfection is highly overrated. What it is, is a rousing good time with memorable characters and an imaginative story. It's a little wacky, a little corny, hella sexy at times, and not always completely clear. It's tongue-in-cheek and wryly sardonic. It's Cole, who can do everything from shape shift to freeze with a touch; who will work if you pay him but fight to the death if he cares. Who will taunt you and tease you and force you to see the hardest truths. Who you want on your side, and who you want to see again and again. I know I do.

The Sinner by Margaret Mallory

Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Return of the Highlanders, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 381 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.



A Grand Highland Romp

There is only one thing that Alexander Bàn MacDonald does with more frequency, skill, and enthusiasm than swiving the lasses, and that's fighting. Though it's a narrow margin. Now that the skilled fighter is back in the Highlands, his cousin Connor settling in as clan chieftan, it is up to Alex and his best friend Duncan to aid their friend in securing alliances while all of Scotland rumbles with the discord between Crown and rebellion.

Paying favor to the neighboring MacNeil clan with a visit is all well and good, but Alex draws the line at the idea of a marriage alliance. He can and will happily bed any and all comely lasses, married or no, but he will never take the shackle himself. Not after the example his parents set for him. He'd sooner take a blade in the chest.

Fortunately for him, MacNeil's eldest establishes quickly and unequivocally that she's no keener on the idea than he. Though she is definitely a beautiful lass.

Glynis MacNeil has good reason to want to avoid a marriage bed. She's had one already and it didn't end well. Her first husband proved himself to be an unfaithful lout, and she ended that marriage with a deft flick of a blade. Wedding Alex MacDonald, a known philanderer, is just as likely to end in bloodshed and pain. She would take no part in it. No matter how handsome the rogue is.

Alex is forced to reevaluate his stance, though, when faced with the consequences of his past. It's only then that he realizes how untenable the idea of marriage would be with any woman besides Glynis. Convincing her to give up her own reservations, however, may take more charm than even the eminently charming Scottish warrior can claim.

~*~

It's true, I'm a sucker for a hot guy in a kilt. Toss in a healthy brogue and a bit of scruff and I'm a puddle. And the great thing about Highland historical romances like Mallory's The Sinner is that all the men are hot guys in kilts. It's a veritable cornucopia of yum! In this case, there's also a rather large amount of fantastic story surrounding all that fictional beefcake.

Maybe I wouldn't have been quite so thoroughly entertained, though, if it hadn't been for Glynis. I loved her from the start. She was feisty, independent, intelligent, and not afraid to take a sharp point to a man who desperately deserved it. Mallory made her believable for her time period, gave her a backbone and an inner strength that I appreciated, and imbued her with a warrior spirit, for all her femininity.

Alex was also a pleasure, though I favored Glynis a bit more. He was definitely a nicely layered character with plentiful depth, but I wasn't as fond of his background. I know it's historically authentic, but the bed-hopping man whore persona isn't a favorite of mine for romantic leads. In his favor, he was honest and forthright about it, he certainly didn't deceive or betray Glynis, and his moments of insensitivity, while painful, weren't intentionally so.

I did have difficulty fully sympathizing with him about his parents' contentious relationship. Especially as so many of Alex's issues with marriage concerned the effects of his father's indiscretions - the sort that Alex had spent his life practically reliving. Still, both Alex and Glynis were three dimensional and likable. As individual characters they exuded a force of personality that couldn't be denied, and as a couple, they were incendiary.

The plot was complex and layered and wholly entertaining, especially when surrounding such strong lead characters. Expansive and detailed, weaving together a wide array of plot threads and story elements, it's a varied, intriguing journey through early 16th century Scotland. Action, danger, robust emotion, sizzling sensuality, battles and pirates and kings; it's all bound up into a fast-paced narrative that swept me up and carried me along from the first to the final page.

A major relationship conflict in the romance arc between Alex and Glynis struck me as less compelling. The complete breakdown in communication between them and Glynis' reactions to it, which seemed slightly out-of-character at the time, are never things I enjoy. Despite that, the evolution of their relationship was, for me, the true gem of the book. I loved how well suited the characters were for each other, first as like-minded friends and eventually lovers. The development of their relationship felt organic to both their characters and the situations in which they find themselves.

All the facets of this book pulled together to form a fantastic tale. I haven't read the first in the series, though I'm happy to say it wasn't necessary to enjoy this one, but I have every intention of reading the next. I felt for Duncan after hearing the opening strains of his upcoming opus in this book, and I liked him quite a bit as he stood beside Alex as a warrior and a friend. I am intent on seeing Mallory provide him with the sort of happiness the poor love-lorn male deserves. After The Sinner, I anticipate another rousing romp of danger and intrigue and romance in the Scottish Highlands. And braw men in kilts. Lots of yummy braw men in kilts.

Crazed Hearts by Shiloh Walker

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Grimm's Circle, Book 3
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 108 Pages
Formats: Kindle



Not Quite Enough Substance

If there's one thing Ren knows, it's crazy. He should, given the century or so he's spent dancing that particular line of darkness. And he no longer has his best friend, occasional partner, and sometimes lover Elle to help keep him steady. Instead, head Grimm and general pain in the backside Will has tasked him with training the still human Mandy for the role she will one day fill.

It's not a bad gig, really, but he stays away from people as much as possible, remaining with Mandy at his cabin in the woods. The stress and pain from his empathetic gift is far less damaging that way, and he can sense danger coming long before it gets anywhere close to reaching them.

Danger or evil, like what he feels hungrily circling the young woman he finds standing next to her car on a road through his woods. A woman who rocks him to his foundation even as she scares the hell out him. Not because of who or what she is, but because of what she has with her.

Aileas Corbett thinks she's losing her mind. That's the only rational explanation for her grim certainty that her brother's death was not only suspicious, but had something to do with the book that she has in the back of her car. The book that she can feel...whispering...to her. A book that feels actively malicious.

She's on the run because she doesn't know what else to do and she isn't sure where to go. She's running because she's certain that if she stops, she'll die. Only when a wolf dashes out in front of her as she rides through the woods does she finally jerk her car to a stop. Then, as if it happens every day, a strange and oddly compelling man walks up behind the wolf and confronts her, too much knowledge and too many horrors reflected in his eyes.

Insanity. Impending doom. And two people on a collision course with forces of evil bent on ultimate destruction. Not everyone is going to get out of this one alive.

~*~

As much as I love the concept for this series, and as big a fan as I am of the first two books, I can't say I fully enjoyed this one. I was surprised, too, because I had been really looking forward to a Happily Ever After for poor Ren, who I felt so badly for after seeing him lose Elle in No Prince Charming. Because of that, I was open to liking just about anything that would give him a chance at happiness of his own, but this one didn't quite do it for me.

Though the writing is as solid as ever, I didn't feel like the plot of this novella had much meat to it, either in relation to the external plot conflict or the romance threads. There also seemed to be a curious lack of character depth in either of the main characters. Yes, I've met Ren before, but only as a secondary character, and Aileas was a completely new commodity. Though the framework for strong, original character definition was in place for them both, I never felt the narrative dug far enough beneath surface development for either of them.

And that may be the first time I've had that issue with character depth and dimension in a Walker story. Realistic and gritty character development is usually one of her strongest gifts as an author.

Sadly, the external conflict of the sadistic soul-sucking book from hell and its merry band of bloodthirsty orin was also a little disappointing. Despite a couple of powerfully emotional scenes (another Walker standard), overall I felt the threat and danger was fairly limited in scope and lacking in substantial layers. Too much of the story seemed little more complex than Ren protecting Aileas at his home while danger advanced.

I have to admit, I also had problems with the end of the novella. I am not a fan of that type of conflict resolution or romance denouement. I've read similar situations in other books and it's never worked for me, though that is strictly a reading preference, and a completely subjective opinion.

The pieces were all there for this novella, and my hopes were high for Ren, but his story didn't seem to give him everything I was hoping for him. It didn't give me everything I was hoping for me, either. The good points, though, are there, if scattered more than I would like. I'm a fan of this series, even now, and hold out hope for a longer, more detailed and fully invested story with better defined characters in the next installment.


Grimm's Circle Series:

  

Demon Crossings by Eleri Stone

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 215 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.



Too Contained For Me

She should have been sunning herself on a beach in Hawaii, enjoying a much-needed vacation. Instead she's driving down a dark, nowhere road in the middle of Iowa, surrounded by cornfields, and about as far removed from sun, fun, and Mai Tais as she could get. Private investigator by trade, it's Grace's psychic gift that made her cave for her friend Mike, a detective with the St. Louis police department. He begged her to take a look at one last picture before she left. So she did. And after the startling intensity of the connection she felt for missing Maia Olson, she's now following the persistent pull of her gift as she tracks the child down. In Iowa.

Grace is a bit unsettled by the smack of huge bugs against the windshield, and the absence of anything resembling civilization is a little disconcerting, but it's the massive, black shape that hurtles out of the night in front of her car that shocks her into swerving off the road and into a ditch. And that's just the beginning of disturbing, freaky things Grace is going to experience, see, and learn after she's rescued by a man named Aiden and drawn into a world of Norse gods and fire demons.

She will be introduced to a heritage she can hardly imagine and meet her destiny in a town named Ragnarok.

Aiden is Odin of his clan, and it's his duty to lead the hunt that guards the portal between this dimension and Asgard. He lost his wife to fate, but his daughter was taken from him a year ago, snatched across the portal by fire demons during a flare. He doesn't know if she still lives. He knows he has no chance of finding her on the other side. Until, that is, he rescues Grace and realizes she is of his people, and a gifted seer and tracker.

The risk is phenominal. Grace may not even survive a crossing to Asgard. And even if she does, she may not be able to find his daughter. As he grows closer and closer to Grace while they wait for the next flare, Aiden may have to decide if the risk in rescuing his daughter is worth the life of the woman he is starting to love.

~*~

It started so well. Demon Crossings doesn't waste any time before it's hurtling readers down a dark road and tossing its heroine all over the place, or rattling her world with a massive paradigm shift and a hunky Norse god. Sharply written, the first quarter of the book sets up the world, the characters, and the mythology with speed and clarity while Grace's life starts to unravel around her. I found the Norse mythology a refreshing change from overused standards, and appreciated the sparks of originality it engendered.

I also enjoyed the concept of the plot, and thoroughly enjoyed several aspects of the storyline. I can't say, though, that the main characters really did it for me. I don't feel like I got to know either one of them particularly well, and I struggled to feel any sort of connection to them. On her own merits, Grace seemed mostly likable, though I did get a little weary of her stubborn refusal to be open minded as the book progressed, especially given her own experiences. Aiden struck me as a quiet, steady force of nature in his own right, but he tended to be burdened by an over-inflated sense of responsibility that wore on my patience.

They were both very internal characters, with far, far more going on in their heads than they were saying to each other. Neither were at all good at honest emoting or expressing. Those sort of closed off, contained characters frustrate me when I'm reading. Not to mention, the two of them as a couple struck me as the most emotionally reserved romantic pair I've read lately. The romance failed completely for me because of that.

Frankly, I had more fun with the secondary characters, who, while plentiful and colorful, were sadly underused.

I also had problems with the way the storyline progressed through the book. After the fast, interesting start, the pace of the book dragged and not much happened for far too long in the middle. The plotline seemed to tread water for awhile and instead of even doing much in the way of preparation, Grace and Aiden just seemed to spend their days tiptoeing around each other. Their physical relationship may have evolved during that time, but not much else did.

And then, like a flip switching, the book kicked back into gear and the plot lunged forward, ratcheted up the action, suspense, and danger, and provided several meaty scenes of story progression and several intriguing plot elements late in the book. I enjoyed those parts immensely, but couldn't help but be frustrated by their earlier absence.

In the end, the ups and downs were too much to make Demon Crossings consistently entertaining for me. Some parts were great and I enjoyed them very much. Some weren't. And my issues with the main characters and their romance were huge stumbling blocks. Almost everything else was a win for me, including the plot-driven story elements and the secondary characters. For me, though, there just wasn't enough "everything else."

Taken By A Killer by Miranda Stowe

Genre: Erotic Romantic Suspense
Series: The Snatcher, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: Novella
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Intense Suspense

For two long years a predator has stalked the women of Miners Bend. Seven young women have been taken. Six broken, desecrated bodies have been found. The cops are clueless, the town is scared, and the single men are...well...hard up.

Emily Hayden, police dispatcher, is armed and willing to defend herself against any threat. Fortunately, her weapons come in just as handy against total dogs like Reece Daggart. She doesn't know what it is about that guy, but ever since they were in grade school he's gone out of his way to make her life hell. Picking on her, taunting her, poking at her every time their paths cross. It's enough to drive a woman crazy even as she strives to avoid him.

Sure, Reece has been feeling the bite the curfew has taken out of his social life, but it's Emily he wants. It's always been Emily. Not that he's ever been able to tell her. She's too adept at the cold shoulder whenever he's anywhere near her. Admittedly, he pokes at her constantly. He can't help himself. It's the only way he can get close to her at all.

To be honest, Reece hasn't given a whole lot of serious thought to the serial killer terrorizing Miners Bend. At least, not until the day he goes over to his little sister Janna's house and walks into a scene of violent struggle, sees the blood, the overturned furniture, broken glass and ruined rugs. But no Janna. Suddenly the Snatcher's crimes hit far, far too close to home, rocking Reece and leaving him floundering.

Filled with compassion, driven by her own unrequited feelings, Emily offers Reece a hand that gets out of hand, and as Reece's life spirals out of control, he turns to Emily again and again. Emily has to wonder...when all this is over, whatever the result, will playboy Reece still want her around or will she be just another broken-hearted statistic of a different sort of lady killer altogether.

~*~

Wow, I'll say this much for new-to-me author Miranda Stowe, she packs a bunch of story into a novella. And she does it with a slick, sophisticated writing style that impressed me on every front. Main characters had enough depth to be sympathetic, secondary characters were fleshed out a bit, and both elements of the plot, the suspense and the romance, had enough meat on their bones to satisfy.

The Snatcher's plot threads were intensely disturbing, which is exactly how I like my serial killer stories. I admit, I wasn't expecting those scenes to be quite as viscerally powerful or have as much emotional impact as they do in this shorter-length story format. Stowe makes good use of her space in this series, though, starting the Snatcher's plot threads here and wending it through each subsequent book. It's not so great for readers who want resolution at the end of each novella, but I like it very much.

I really enjoyed Reece and Emily as a couple, too. They have a lot of fire and passion in their relationship, especially in the antagonistic phases of it. The narrative gives readers a lovely glimpse of their true feelings, despite the open hostilities, and with the length of time they've had those feelings, it tempers the ribald sexiness with a sweetness that, frankly, was needed. Reece and his friends initially struck me as egotistical, womanizing pigs, and that cute sweetness inherent in Reece's feelings for Emily sort of redeemed him in that regard.

There were a couple of things that didn't sit as well for me, though. I struggled with Reece's reactions to his sister's abduction. He was so devastated, pushed into a state near catatonia, and I can't say I found that all that believable. His emotional responses struck me as overly exaggerated, or more in keeping with what I would assume would be the emotional reaction of a parent or a husband of an abducted woman. Maybe they were incredibly close siblings, but as I was reading, it kept hitting my awareness button as being too extreme for the situation.

That issue leads right into the other one I had. The sex. Believe me, I hate having issues with the sex, especially in erotic romance. I always feel like such a prude. In this novella, though, I couldn't appreciate the frequent and explicit sex given the seriousness and intensity of the rest of the story, regardless of how well the sex was written or its hotness factor. The two elements didn't mesh well for me, and it made the sex seem awkward and inappropriate in several key places, too crass, bordering on distasteful in others.

Not every sex scene bothered me, I don't want to give that impression, but enough to mention and impact my enjoyment of the overall read.

Stowe handled the enemies-to-lovers theme for the romance very well, though, and despite the very abrupt ending, and the two issues I had with this story, the suspense threads are top notch. I have every intention of continuing with this series and experiencing more of the smooth sophistication of Stowe's writing...even as she horrifies me with the terror of the Snatcher and all his heinous crimes.

Midnight Reckoning by Kendra Leigh Castle

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Dark Dynasties, Book 2
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 374 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.



A Dark and Decadent Delight

To say that vampires and werewolves aren't exactly bosum buddies would be the sort of understatement that wins lifetime achievement awards, and the Cait Sith, a vampire bloodline enslaved by the highbloods until recently, well, they're vampires who can become large, predatory cats. You do the math.

In fact, Cait Sith Jaden Harrison tends to think of werewolves as nothing more than smelly, brutish thugs, though that's a pretty elitist opinion for a recently-not-so-former slave. Technically, it's not even entirely true. There is one werewolf in particular, Lyra Black, who Jaden definitely isn't lumping in with the others. Though he would really, really like to.

Lyra is entirely too...everything for Jaden's piece of mind. She stirs things in him he doesn't want stirred by a wolf. And it's definitely a pity when he practically trips over her as she's about to get mauled by an overeager male werewolf with non-consensual sex on his mind. In Cait Sith territory no less.

It's not like he can stand around not rescuing the lovely Lyra. At least he'll get some gratitude from her.

Lyra Black doesn't want a mate. She surely doesn't want some werewolf with an eye on his own upward mobility to even think about getting anywhere near her. As the only child of the pack Alpha, there's only one thing Lyra does want. To follow in his footsteps, be accepted as his second, and become Alpha when he steps down. Is that too much to ask?

Now she's got a werewolf wannabe trying to stake a claim and a vampire, of all loathsome species, stepping in to help her as if she's some dainty, fainting flower. Oh, no he didn't. She can take care of herself. She can save herself. And she damn sure doesn't want a leech like Jaden, no matter how hot and finely chiseled he is, to take that away from her, then have the audacity...the unmitigated gall...to act like she owed him thanks for his interference.

Not even if snowballs were piling up in hell, and no matter how delicious he smells to her sensitive nose. She hates the vampire and everything he stands for. Everything he is. And she's got too much going on to give him even a passing thought. She just wished that mattered to her libido, because she still hasn't been able to fully tuck him away into memory after their first encounter.

~*~

There's something special about this series. I noticed it in the previous book, the series debut. It's got a few elements similar in theme to other paranormal romance series, but fewer than most, and it's got enough of its own original mythos, unique world building, and surprising character backstory to make it stand out amidst a very large crowd. That's rare enough lately to take notice when I find it.

In the Dark Dynasties series, it's all about the Cait Sith. As former slaves to their highblood brethren, subjugated through the ages, the entire bloodline is burdened and defined by the psychological ramifications both from centuries of slavery and from newly found freedom and increased status after many lifetimes without. Those elements are being nicely woven into the main characters' personality and personal history in such a way as to provide depth and add dimension, as well as setting them apart as unique.

Jaden is a hard case. We met him in the first book and saw him as a dark, taciturn vampire with more internal scars than those on his back. In this one, though he's now free, he's still feeling restless and a little empty, and very unsure of his future. Within the parameters of his comfort zone as a fighter or a hunter, he's confident, controlled, and deadly. All business all the time. Push him out of that comfort zone, however, and dump an inconvenient, Lyra-sized attraction in his lap and he becomes cluelessly adorable as he sinks deeper and deeper in over his head. I loved him so much in this book.

He's got a full lust-on for Lyra, and the sparks between them are intense, but he falls flat on his face (metaphorically speaking) when his emotions get stirred into the mix. Those moments of emotional vulnerability and insecurity are all entirely endearing and cutely humorous.

Lyra is a bit more standard a heroine for the genre, but she's strong, fiercely independent, and wildly loyal to her pack, her father, and her loved ones. She's exactly my kind of leading lady and I both liked and respected her for her struggles and her clearly conceived plans for the future. She's also none too happy about her attraction to a vampire, but once that initial hurdle is leapt, she's far more philosophical about it and isn't afraid to grab for what she wants. Even startled vampires.

The two of them made a very strong team, with complimenting strengths and weaknesses, and I loved that Castle kept them more an evenly matched team instead of slotting Jaden into a position of protection and defense for Lyra. While that may have worked with the characters in the first book, the formerly human Lily and her vampire husband Tynan, it would have been disastrous for Jaden and Lyra's relationship. Those two need a partner, not a protector. I was thrilled to see Castle develop that and allow her characters to embody it.

The plot in this book was very different from that of the last. The Ptolemy are still around stirring up trouble, for sure, but most of this book focused on the relationship betwen Jaden and Lyra, as well as the pack issues and upcoming Proving that Jaden trains Lyra for. Much of the day-to-day training passed without expansive detail, but it helped the pacing of the book and kept the reader apprised that their relationship was evolving as time passed. In that regard, this book leans more heavily towards the romance than the plot-driven external conflicts that drove the first book.

There were some nice twists and turns in the plot, too. Some suspense elements that worked better than I expected and provided more entertainment than I would have guessed. Not all is hunky dory in the pack and though I did figure out a few key points of friction beforehand, others left me surprised. It's hard to surprise me.

All in all, I've become a huge fan both of this series and of Kendra Leigh Castle's writing. I can't wait to see who she turns up the heat on next. Her character's are memorable and endearing, flawed, even broken a bit, and their flustered insecurities make them ultimately sympathetic. They are also, of course, oh-so-very sexy! Pair that up with a richly defined, imaginative world and a solidly layered plot and you've got the sort of paranormal romance gold that tickles all my Happy Reader buttons...and then some.

Quotables:
He wished he could have spoken to someone with a similar experience, but one didn't just wander around asking random vampires whether they'd ever been possessed by the desire to get naked with a werewolf.


"You're not worried because I'm pale, are you? We've been over this. The pale skin is not a bug, it's a feature."


"It was her idea to bind herself to you for the rest of her life, and you're worried she doesn't love you," Ty said blandly.
"Well, I...yeah," Jaden replied, beginning to feel more than a little foolish.
"I'd like you to think about that for a minute, dumbass, and then get back to me on how well it makes sense."


Dark Dynasties Series:

  

Love is a Battlefield by Tamara Morgan

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Games of Love, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 254 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



A Fast, Fun Battle of the Sexes

Kate Simmons takes the Regency period very seriously. She's a proud member of JARRS, the Jane Austen Regency Re-Enactment Society, and loves all things high-waisted and frilly. This year, she's responsible for the JARRS annual Fauxhall Gardens fundraising event, and she doesn't have much time or much money to secure a location for the event and organize everything.

Luckily, Kate and her best friend Jada find the perfect location at Cornwall State Park. It's picturesque, large enough to hold all the planned events and decorations, and best of all, it's free. It's also, unfortunately, scheduled to be in use for the weekend in question by a bunch of muscle-bound thick necks in kilts. Quite unacceptable, really, but Kate is undaunted. She's just got to convince the gorgeous and...well...admittedly drool-worthy Julian Wallace to do the right thing and find another location for his little manly-man games.

To Julian, the Scottish Highland games are more than just a bunch of guys in skirts tossing around some hardware and a few trees. They are intense competitions, a time-honored tradition, and for him, both a tribute to a beloved stepfather who had given him so much, and a way for him to help support his mother and sisters since his stepfather died. He trains hard for the games, dedicates his time and his all his energy to them, and during the season, he travels near and far to participate in them. This upcoming game is even more important. A critical national sponsorship is riding on it.

There's no way he's going to let some deliciously gorgeous but impossibly irritating bit of frippery stand in his way, no matter how sweet she looks in satin and lace. The games in town are always held at Cornwall, his childhood stomping grounds, and they're going to continue to do so. Plans are already in place. Vendors, tents, and the like are set to go. And that's the end of it.

The braw Julian, immovable object in a kilt, may have just met his match in the refined Kate, unstoppable force in silk finery. Let the games begin.

~*~

Fans of the enemies-to-lovers theme in contemporary romance should take notice of Morgan's debut, Love is a Battlefield. It is a light, high-spirited romp, sexy and sassy, with two main characters who strike sparks off each other in all the best and most infuriating ways. Second only to the friends-to-lovers trope for me in contemporary romance, enemies-to-lovers fits perfectly in this sort of tasty, brain candy read.

Kate and Julian are great adversaries. They're very attracted to each other, but that fact is forcibly ignored as their diametrically opposed needs (and equally hard heads) collide hard enough to shake them to the timbers. Then the contention over the park gets more and more heated and things start to get antagonistic. The one-upmanships and revenge hijinks they wage on each other were ripe with humor and tinged by the sexual heat they can't quite hide.

Admittedly, neither one of them were the most mature characters I've ever read, and both have issues that got on my nerves. Kate was myopic about Corwall park. She harried Julian like a terrier gnawing a bone instead of spending five minutes checking out more alternative locations for her fundraiser or even trying to compromise. Communicating with the man apparently isn't nearly as satisfying as the guerrilla warfare they wage on each other.

Julian was also annoying in his own way. He's got a lot riding on these games, and rightly or wrongly, they are very important to him. Despite that, or the fact that they were already planning on using the place before Kate tried to bulldoze her nose in, not once did he just sit and explain to Kate exactly what was riding on it, or tell her how important it was to him and his livelihood. He first hit her with some totally boorish behavior, then stayed closed-mouth about everything, instead choosing to meet fire with fire to keep his park.

I'm not a fan of relationship conflict based solely on lack of communication, and had this been a more seriously-themed romance, Julian's course of action would have been a deal breaker for me. Fortunately, in this type of humorous romantic comedy it was less of a problem. Less, but not none at all.

The main characters were a lot of fun, secondary characters plentiful and quirky, but the majority of the story revolved around the war for Cornwall park. Though the book made me chuckle out loud in several places, or titter in glee as one or the other got in a particularly good shot, I do think the battle between them dragged a bit for me as the book progressed. There was too little to draw my attention from it, as the book is fairly straightforward with few secondary and ancillary story threads. As a result, I felt the pacing slowed in places and I ran out of patience with the stoic Julian's continued reticence.

Even with that, though, I thought this was a lot of fun, a solid and highly entertaining read with a quick pace and two sharp lead characters. The chemistry between Julian and Kate is stellar and they are surprisingly excellent when they're working together as couple instead of fighting each other. The fun, though, is all about the battle. For a tasty bit of brain candy, it was a yummy bite indeed.

Ratings Guide

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

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

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2014 Reading Challenge
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Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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