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~Tracy

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Bite Me by P.J. Schnyder

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: London Undead, Book 1
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 89 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.


Lots to Devour in this Small Bite

The scream that rips through the night while Seth is on patrol is, sadly, not an uncommon sound for the werewolf shifter and London pack's Alpha. Not since the zombie outbreak turned London into a literal dead zone. As common as it may be, though, Seth has no intention of letting it go unheeded. Chasing the echoes of the scream into the nearby park, Seth is stunned to see a pretty human woman standing over a small family, fiercely protecting them, her guns blazing at the horde of walking dead attacking them.

Maisie knows she's in a world of trouble. Her ammo is running out, the people she's trying to save are so petrified they can't even help themselves, and the zombies attacking aren't acting like the zombies she's depressingly familiar with. These are faster, their attacks coordinated.

The huge, half-shifted werewolf that suddenly appears and starts tearing through the zombies with brutal efficiency startles her at first, but Maisie can hardly complain about the much-needed assist. Maybe she'll live through the night after all. But if these new, faster, more intelligent zombies are indicative of a shift in the zombie population, it's going to take more than a sexy alpha werewolf and a tough chick with guns and a limp to save what's left of London. It'll take a miracle.

~*~

Wow, this was such a fun read. Frankly, I wasn't expecting to like it nearly as much as I did. I'm not a fan of zombies, so I tend to avoid books that feature them, but I was curious about the mix of shifter romance and zombie apocalypse in this novella. I thought I'd give it a chance, but my expectations weren't high. By the end, every one of those expectations were greatly exceeded.

Despite the short length of this novella, there is an abundance of world building, plenty of action, and enough depth of character that both Seth and Maisie were more well-rounded than I'm used to reading in stories of this length. And the tale is written with a fast, engaging style and has a healthy serving of humor that appealed to me, despite the bleak post-apocalyptic London setting and the zombies that made it that way.

Both Seth and Maisie were quirky, completely likable characters, especially the indomitable Maisie, who I adored, and their chemistry was off the charts.

The relationship between them built up a lot faster than I normally prefer in my romance, as the entire story timeline takes place over a couple of days, but Seth and Maisie acknowledge that in the narrative, and that, along with the fact that Seth's werewolf nature allowed for a bit more leniency from me about that, served to mitigate any serious issue with how quick they get to their Happily Ever After. Or...well...potential HEA, as the Ever After in the story is fairly dependent on those zombies being dispatched sooner rather than later.

One of the things I liked most about this story was the wealth of emotional baggage each character is dragging around. Seth has the weight of his responsibilities as pack alpha and the lingering damage from his former lover's betrayal. Maisie is still struggling with the guilt from surviving the zombie attack that killed her family and has a damaged leg and a permanent limp as a daily reminder. Neither one of them were exactly normal and well-adjusted, but both of them were just three dimensional enough to keep from coming off as cardboard cutouts of real people.

There were a surprising number of twists and turns in the plot given the story's shorter length, but I do wish there had been a bit more attention given to fleshing out and better defining the external conflict of the story. That particular plot element was fairly thin, with so much of the story space having already been allotted to building up the foundation of the world and the characters themselves.

It actually took me awhile to recognize that there was a specific thread of external conflict going on in the unusual zombie attacks occurring around the city. There was just so much else to focus on that it didn't even occur to me that the tidbits of information about them were being woven into both this particular story's arc as well as the larger series arc until the story started cresting into its climax. Because of that, the end of the story seemed a bit rushed to me and didn't quite answer all the questions I had, nor resolve all the issues.

Some of that is understandable as part and parcel of being a series debut, but given how everything else was given such perfect attention, I felt the loss. But because everything else was given such perfect attention, and Seth and Maisie did such a good job stealing my heart, it was a loss I can easily live with.

I wish this had been a full-length novel. And not because I would have liked seeing one or two elements have a bit more room to really be explored in the story...though that is part of the reason. Mostly, though, I just wasn't ready to be finished with Seth and Maisie's story. I loved them so much as characters and a couple that I wanted to spend more time with them both. On the bright side, if Schnyder's goal, like P.T. Barnum's, was to leave them wanting more, Schnyder achieved the hell out of it. I want more from her as an author and more of this series.

Savage Deception by R.T. Wolfe

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Nickie Savage, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 300 Pages
Formats: Paperback, 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.





Deception Needs Black Creek

Savage. It's more than a name, it's a way of life.

Police Detective Nickie Savage had that brutal truth carved into her skin and burned into her mind when she was a child stolen from her home and forced to do things no child should ever have to do. But that was fifteen years ago, her past a bloody, jagged-edged crucible that forged her into the cop she is today.

She knows that's the reason the Feds have approached her to consult on a case surrounding a child prostitution ring. As suspicious as that makes her, she's quick to fly out to the crime scene in Vegas with Duncan Reed, famous artist, former military explosives expert, sometimes-hacker boyfriend by her side. Walking through the crime scene stirs echoes from her own tragedy, but that's not the worst of it.

With Duncan providing an assist, Nickie discovers evidence that suggests the perps behind the case are the same sick bastards who stole her from her own bed when she was only fourteen. With the implications of that connection rocking Nickie to the core and dark, painful secrets slowly rising to the surface after over a decade of suppression, it will take everything Nickie has just to stay sane.

And every trick in Duncan's well-stocked arsenal to keep the woman he loves alive.

~*~

Lately it seems I'm plagued with series debuts that don't read like series debuts. It's frustrating. At least in this case, there's a clear reason for it. Main characters Nickie and Duncan are featured in both Wolfe's Black Creek series and in Savage Echoes, a prequel novella for this series. I'm certain I would have had an easier time with this book had I read those, because there just wasn't enough exposition in this one to sufficiently introduce the characters or explain important story elements before the meat of the plot got going.

That was a problem for me, as the majority of the plot conflict revolves around Nickie's past, and there are a plethora of references to events and situations that I could only assume took place in one of those other two stories. As a result, I spent most of the first half of the book (and in places in the second half) feeling a general sense of disconnect and varying levels of confused.

I think my understanding was hampered by the third person limited point of view in which it's written. Though the character focus in the narrative shifts back and forth between Nickie and Duncan, which helped me get better acquainted with each of them, the lack of an omniscient voice didn't allow for a broader picture of their world and their past, and neither character deigned to reminisce on previously established information in a way that would have helped me find and keep my footing with the story.

That's a shame, too, because I think if I'd had that previously laid groundwork to build on, I could have loved this book.

I know I loved Duncan and I enjoyed Nickie most of the time - which is saying a lot for me, as I'm very tough on my fictional heroines. There were times when Nickie totally shut down and seemed more the victimized damsel than was comfortable for me, but most of the time she was a tough-as-nails, gritty chick I admired.

The best parts of the book for me were the scenes that featured both Duncan and Nickie. I absolutely adored them as a couple. Between Duncan's stalwart and unflagging devotion to Nickie and her fierce love for him, despite her myriad issues and their very different personalities, their scenes together stole the show for me. Before I was even sure I liked either character, I loved them together.

I also liked that their relationship, while obviously new, was already established. I don't read a lot of romance fiction in which that's the case, but I think the romantic suspense genre is a good fit for that particular relationship dynamic. Too, both Duncan and Nickie are very damaged characters, another point that appeals. Characters just seem more realistic to me when they have damage or flaws that impact their lives. We are all, to a one of us, walking wounded.

The external conflict in the plot was solid and meaty, even though some of the context was lost on me, but a few elements left me perplexed. I couldn't quite get a handle on Nickie's roll on the police force, as she seemed to spend more time investigating the connection between the evidence recovered in Vegas and her own childhood trauma than working any current day-to-day cases.

Don't get me wrong, I liked the story elements in the book and thought the investigative/police procedural end was nicely done. I just wasn't clear on how she could spend so much time on it over her open, active cases and more recent local crimes. I ended up feeling a little perplexed but mostly entertained by it all.

Hell, any attempt to end what was going on with the Bad Guys in this book is considered a solid win for me, story-wise.

Now that I've spent time with Nickie and Duncan and gotten a feel for their personal histories and their relationship, I want to read more, but to be completely honest, it wasn't always easy getting here. I would recommend this book only to readers familiar with the third book in Wolfe's Black Creek series or that prequel novella I mentioned. I certainly wish I had read those, because Savage Deception is listed as the first book in what has the potential to be a gangbusters romantic suspense series. It just doesn't read like it.

Wicked Wind by Sharon Kay

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Solsti Prophecy, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 288 Pages
Formats: Paperback, 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.




Wickedly Nice World

Nicole Bonham knows she and her sisters aren't normal. She doesn't know why that's so any more than she knows where their unique talents come from, but with her ability to manipulate wind and her sisters' talents with fire and water, the three of them are definitely not like the rest of humanity.

She can accept that. Has accepted it. Never once in her life, though, did Nicole ever doubt she was human. It never crossed her mind that was even a possibility. Then she meets a gorgeous guy in a club. There's no arguing he's smoking hot and, man, he can dance like a demon. As far as Nicole is concerned, it's her lucky night...right up until the guy tells her he actually is a demon.

If that isn't freak-out-worthy enough, the guy, Gunnar, admits he saw her use her power to help someone earlier that night and he wants to know what sort of supernatural being she is. Yeah, that's pretty much when the freaking out started.

As a Lash demon, Gunnar is very good at hunting down dangerous demons and keeping them from making a deadly mess in the human realm. After more than two centuries of doing just that, he's gotten very good at identifying supernaturals by their power signature alone. Nicole's power, though, is like nothing he's ever felt before.

Knowing how the bad guys work leaves him no doubts, either. If any of them find out about Nicole and feel what she can do, they won't bother asking questions, they'll either take her to use her, or they'll destroy her. And that's not something Gunnar is going to let happen. Not when the proud, stubborn female makes him feel things he never knew he could feel and want things he's never wanted before.

~*~

This series debut has several really good things going for it. I liked the world quite a lot and appreciated the detailed world-building. There was a nice amount of the story dedicated to fleshing out not just a few of the demon races, but other supernaturals as well. And I loved Gunnar and Nicole's trip to the demon realm, Torth. That was a whole lot of fun.

There was also a lot of heat in the relationship between Gunnar and Nicole. The chemistry between them was strong from the moment they meet and I liked that a lot, and Kay can definitely right sizzling sex scenes.

Gunnar and his Lash demon cohorts were fairly typical for the genre and not unlike the main characters of several similar-type paranormal romance series, but that's never been downside to me. I happen to like that particular formula of a brotherhood of alpha-male warriors and they worked for me here. It helped, too, that we met several who intrigued me and kept me entertained beyond just the main characters.

I enjoyed Nicole through most of the book. Romantic heroines are very often the weak link in books for me, and truthfully, Nicole had her moments, too, most notably late in the book, but I loved her bond with her sisters and she was a strong, independent woman who definitely knew her own mind. I was enamored of her from the moment she decides to use her talent to help people, long before she even knew what she is.

What she and her sisters are is probably my favorite aspect of the book. I totally dug the idea that they're so rare, even other supernaturals don't believe they are anything but myth. That tickled me, especially when Nicole keeps meeting supernaturals who express their disbelief. That made me grin every time. It was great.

I have to admit, though, I wasn't sold on the plot of the external conflict. Part of the problem for me was the limited amount of time given to it in the story. The Big Bag doesn't show up until the 67% mark and that was just too late in the book for his plot threads to really offer significant contribution to the story as a whole. It didn't help at all that Nicole had a few TSTL moments that led, in a painfully obvious manner, to a climax that seemed both predictable and abrupt.

There were also a few too many breakaway scenes for my tastes, scenes that focused on secondary and ancillary characters. I didn't mind Kai's. I liked him a lot and I loved the acrimony between him and Nicole's sister Brooke. It may be easy to see where that's headed, but I adore that sort of conflict, so I'm totally on board with their impending tale and loved how it was set up in this book. And as his story is up next in the series, it made sense that he and Brooke had some groundwork laid here.

Raniero's, on the other hand, was a problem for me on several different levels.

I would much rather have had the story offer more depth and definition to the bad guy and his plans instead of pages of excessively detailed information about Raniero's past. And that's not even touching the issue I had with his supposed endless love and relentless search for Ashina - given that he's spent all his free time since he last saw her, and I quote, "buried between the willing thighs of beautiful females." Made it hard to feel anything at all for the pages of tragic history that preceded that little gem and it didn't exactly endear me to Raniero as a character.

Plus, he wasn't a significant enough character for any of that to be necessary in this book to begin with, so all of it just completely turned me off.

The meat of the overall story seemed to focus more on the sexual and emotional relationship between Gunnar and Nicole than on the bad guy doing bad things, and that was really my biggest issue. There was a lot of sex in the story. It was very hot sex, for sure, but for me to really enjoy that much in a book I need other story elements to be given equal attention, and that didn't quite happen. My preferences lie with a more robust external conflict and a more plot-driven narrative. To me, the relationship between the main characters overpowered everything else and the romance itself got a little too schmaltzy for me by the end.

The good points in the story didn't quite outweigh my issues, but to be fair, the majority of those issues are a personal preference thing. For fans of paranormal romance with more attention on the R than the PN, the very things that didn't work so well for me would totally appeal. And because of those good points, not to mention the delicious teasers for Kai and Brooke's story, I'm looking forward to revisiting the world and seeing how Kay deals with a different character dynamic.

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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