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Saturday, January 30, 2010

'The Surprise of his Life' by Karen KEAST

From the BLURB:

Lindsey Ellison had a problem. She was in love . . . hopelessly in love . . . with Walker Carr. It would all be so lovely, so idyllic--if only he wasn't her father's business partner and best friend . . . and her godfather! And, of course, Lindsey couldn't ignore the fact that he'd be totally shocked to discover her feelings. She had to forget him.

But how?

It seemed impossible, especially now when she was returning to Galveston to help her parents through a rough time. She had to convince Walker that she was the woman he would love forever. Lindsey steeled her heart--because when Walker figured out her plan, it was going to be the surprise of his life!

I put a question to Amazon’s romance chat board. I was looking for a good romance book about an older man/younger woman. I know lots of 60’s and 70’s Mills & Boon and Harlequin unwittingly set up the old man/young woman dynamic – simply because such a pairing wasn’t at all unconventional at the time. I was looking for a more modern romance in which the older/younger relationship was the crux of the story, not simply a given.

The book that came most highly recommended was Karen Keast’s ‘The Surprise of his Life’(1991)… and I *LOVED* it!

The trigger of the story is 23-year-old Lindsey Ellison returning home to comfort her mother through the divorce her father has sprung on her after 25 years of marriage. Lindsey had previously been living in London, where she fled after she broke off her wedding the night before the big day. Lindsey has mixed feelings about returning home – she’s devastated about her parent’s divorce and angry at her father’s mid-life crisis that prompted it. But she’s also nervous and excited – because returning home means coming face to face with the reason she called of her wedding. Walker Carr. Family friend who was in Vietnam with her father and is also her godfather. Walker is also the man she loves – despite his being 47 to her 23.

Walker and Lindsey are H-O-T. There’s no explicit sex really, as Keast tiptoes around the more nitty-gritty smut. She never uses the word ‘nipple’ for example, but refers to the ‘centre of Lindsey’s breasts’. Regardless, Lindsey and Walker are smoldering, especially because of the pent-up frustration Walker feels at having lustful thoughts about his goddaughter, and the illicitness of their affair. When these two do get together they burn up the page! It helps that the man on the books cover bears a striking resemblance to Cary Grant. Oh boy!

“You are different,” Walker whispered, reaching out and touching her love-tossed hair with his fingertips. “So very different.”
A tiny smile budded, grew, ripened. “I grew up.”
At that he began to gently twist the blond strands of her hair about his fist. Each roll brought her closer to him until the tips of her breasts brushed against his chest. Her neck was arched, her head angled upward. “Did anyone ever tell you that you grew up in all the right places?” he said, his mouth only milli-inches from hers.
“I’ve been waiting all these years for you to tell me,” she whispered.

Despite the age difference and the illicitness of a godfather/goddaughter pairing; Lindsey and Walker's romance never felt 'wrong' or creepy. It helps that these two have such obvious sexual chemistry. Walker is also a real gentlemen and is never flippant about his feelings for Lindsey, and he really struggles with their newfound romance.

As well as Lindsey and Walker’s romance, there’s the storyline concerning Lindsey’s parents, Bunny and Dean. This is actually a really good accompanying plot as Dean takes increasingly drastic and ridiculous measures to fend off old age, including having an affair with a 19-year-old girl. Dean’s mid-life crisis is a great counter-point to Walker’s feelings for Lindsey, and only proves to highlight how different his relationship is compared to Dean’s desperation.

Karen Keast is a pseudonym for Sandra Key Patterson Caulfield. She unfortunately passed away in 2003 – having written 13 books, all of which are either Harlequin or Silhouette imprints. Reading her backlist, she has quite a few books that really appeal to me – they’re all a little bit old school, and that’s half the appeal. You kind of have to go scouting for Keast’s books – a few are available via Amazon, second-hand, and most of them are only US$0.01 (not including postage + shipping). Others are a little more pricey for their rarity (US$19.99) and some are simply out of print.

I loved ‘The Surprise of his Life’. Loved it! No wonder it came so highly recommended.

5/5

Friday, January 29, 2010

'Convincing Arthur' by Ava MARCH


From the BLURB:

Mr. Leopold Thornton missed his chance ten years ago. He isn't about to let this one pass him by.
Given Leopold's reputation for vice and debauchery, Mr. Arthur Barrington has a fair idea why the wickedly handsome man invites him to his country estate. A hunting excursion? Unlikely. Especially considering Arthur is the only guest invited to the estate. He shouldn't even consider the invitation, but a few days of meaningless sex could be just the thing to take his mind off the recent disappointing end of a ten year relationship. Then he can return to London, to his thriving law practice, and quietly search for an amiable man who understands the meaning of the word discreet and who recognizes the value of commitment.

There was a time when Leopold wasn't such a rakehell. When every night didn't end with an empty bottle of whisky. When he believed in the rewards of patience. When he didn't give himself over to just anyone who would have him. Old habits die hard, especially when tempted by six feet of solid muscle, but Leopold will only have a few days to convince Arthur he can be that man again - that his affection is genuine and he's worthy of Arthur's heart.

‘Convincing Arthur’ marked two ‘firsts’ for me – my first e-book read and my first proper foray into M/M erotica.

This was no tame introduction to the wonderful world of M/M. Oh no. The sex scenes are sizzling and gratuitous (just the way I like them). A very tame tender moment between Arthur and Leopold went something like this:

“Ah…damnation.” Arthur gasped, his eyes closing against the most intense pleasure. By God, the man knew what he was about. Bobbing along the length, sucking hard enough to almost pull the orgasm out of him.

And it only gets better from there.

‘Convincing Arthur’ is a very short read, but March has done such a fantastic job at characterisation and setting that no detail is lost. The story is set in 1820, and while neither character dwells on the current conception of homosexuality as being an ‘abomination’, Arthur makes enough nervous gestures and mentions avoiding the hangman’s noose that you get the idea without lengthy paragraphs. It’s a good bit of concise scene setting.

There also isn’t a whole lot of recounting of Arthur and Leopold’s history with one another – despite the fact that Leopold has been pining for Arthur for 10 years. March communicates Leopold’s yearning through inner dialogue and in his desperate interactions with Arthur. And you do definitely get the feeling that Leopold is helplessly, hopelessly in love with the studious bookworm, Arthur. It’s quite sweet and relatable really. Leopold turned himself into a rake for the 10 years he was pining after Arthur, and then threw himself into the opportunity to show his crush just how much he wants him the minute he becomes single again.

While the sex scenes smoulder, the romance is quite sweet. And there’s a lovely speech from Leopold toward the end, announcing his feelings that had me going “awwww”.

I do think that the story could have been longer. It was all over too quickly for my liking. But ‘Convincing Arthur’ was definitely the right way to be introduced to the wonderfully erotic world of M/M. Now I’m going to buy myself some Josh Lanyon e-books and jump onto J.R. Ward’s online forum to scout out more Blay/Qhuinn goss. I am a total M/M convert!

Thanks to Mandi (smexybooks) for recommending.

5/5

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

'Can't stand the Heat' Recipe for Love #1 by Louisa EDWARDS



From the BLURB:

For sharp-tongued food critic Miranda Wake, the chance to spend a month in Adam Temple’s kitchen to write an exposé is a journalistic dream come true. Surely Miranda can find a way to cut the hotshot chef down to size once she learns what really goes on at his trendy Manhattan restaurant. But she never expected Adam to find out her most embarrassing secret: she has no idea how to cook.
Adam’s not about to have his reputation burned by a critic who doesn’t even know the difference between poaching and paring. He’ll just have to give the tempting redhead a few private lessons of his own—teaching her what it means to cook with passion…and doing more with his hands than simply preparing sumptuous food.

This is Louisa Edward’s first book, and the debut in her ‘A Recipe for Love’ series.

I really liked this book. I was a bit hesitant at first, because the premise sounded a little too ‘romantic comedy’ sickly-sweet… but I was pleasantly surprised.

Miranda Wake is not a totally-together woman. She may appear to be a suave New York food critic, but underneath her biting reviews and killer red stilettos is a woman trying to kick-start her lukewarm writing career and deal with her baby brother’s emotional withdrawal. I really liked the two sides to her character – the ‘front’ she shows the outside world, and the slow reveal to her deeper emotions and shortcomings that readers, and Adam, begin to uncover.

To be honest, ‘Can’t Stand the Heat’ could have been too cloyingly sweet and a bad rom-com schtick if not for the second storyline. As well as Miranda & Adam’s romance, Edwards writes about Miranda’s 22-year-old brother, Jess, who is coming to terms with his homosexuality and burgeoning feelings for sous chef, Frankie. Jess has thrown in his scholarship and returned to NYC to live with Miranda after a disastrous ‘outing’ to his University friends. He is coming to terms with his sexuality while navigating a flirtation with serial-dater, Frankie, all while trying to keep everything secret from Miranda.

I really loved the Jess/Frankie storyline, probably more than I liked Miranda/Adam. I probably preferred Jess’s story because he made such personal progress and took so many chances in his romance. Plus he and Frankie were super cute and hot.

That being said, Miranda and Adam are just as steamy and delicious. Edwards knows how to write her way around a smutty scene;

Hot damn, the girl had a mouth made for sin. That cupid’s bow shape all puffy and kiss-swollen, rubbed redder than usual from his own mouth. The taste of her was like nothing he’d ever encountered. If he could separate out the flavors and figure a way to re-create it, he’d have the hottest dessert the world had ever seen.

My one complaint is to do with the book’s ending. I was thinking that I’d dodged a bullet and completely avoided reading a cheesy rom-com – but the ending is a little too unbelievable and tacky – very over the top. But that is my one complaint.

I don’t know how many books Louisa Edwards has in store for her ‘A Recipe For Love’ series, but there is lots of potential in a series about the goings on of NYC restaurants. I have never worked in the food industry myself – but plenty of my friends and family have worked as waiters/waitresses, bartenders and bouncers – and I was surprised and delighted at how well Edwards knows the in’s and out’s of the behind-the-scenes of restaurants. Plenty of hook-up’s, break-up’s and cattiness to tide the series over.

I will definitely be reading the second installment ‘On the Steamy Side’, released March 1st this year – and hope that Edwards is contracted for more books.

3.5/5


Release Date: March 1, 2010


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

'Tempest Rising' by Nicole PEELER

From the BLURB:

Living in small town Rockabill, Maine, Jane True always knew she didn't quite fit in with so-called normal society. During her nightly, clandestine swim in the freezing winter ocean, a grisly find leads Jane to startling revelations about her heritage: she is only half-human.

Now, Jane must enter a world filled with supernatural creatures alternatively terrifying, beautiful, and deadly- all of which perfectly describe her new "friend," Ryu, a gorgeous and powerful vampire.

It is a world where nothing can be taken for granted: a dog can heal with a lick; spirits bag your groceries; and whatever you do, never-ever-rub the genie's lamp.

Nicole Peeler’s debut novel isn’t good – to be blunt.

I was a little skeptical going into this, mainly because I had an issue with the cover looking very YA and none too appealing. But I pushed my worries aside when I saw that Rachel Caine had leant her opinion to the back-cover, calling ‘Tempest Rising’ a “fascinating, fast-paced, sexy storm of a book”.
Oh Ms. Caine, how you’ve led me astray…

The plot isn’t all that bad - it’s a very slow wind-up and a hurried conclusion. Ms. Peeler also makes the mistake of telling, not showing – by including endless descriptions, scene summaries and internal monologues that make the book drag. But it is bearable. Even though, to be honest, I think a better book would have been based on the back-story of Jane's Selkie mother and human father. *That* story was more intriguing than the whole of 'Tempest Rising', complete with romance, tragedy and mystery.

No, the biggest problem with Peeler’s book is the protagonist, Jane True.
When you find yourself wanting to give a fictional character a wedgie, you’re in trouble.

Jane is boring (hence the name?), weak-willed and all together awful. She is also thoroughly uncouth – at one point she hocks her gum out the window while her sexy vampire lover looks on. Ew! In another instance her vampire lover places a hand over her stomach, and her response is “are you checking for food babies?” ‘Food babies’? Are you serious? And it’s made worse by the fact that Jane can’t carry off these social faux pas’ with the same zany grace as someone like Jane Jameson in Molly Harper’s series could. Jane True just comes across as a hillbilly. Peeler tries to make up for Jane’s lack of character by having her described as looking like a ‘young Selma Hayek’ – which does nothing to endear her to me, especially when you consider the fact that for the entire book she keeps up a ‘woe is me’ schtick that begins to grate to the point of antipathy.

Her vampire lover, Ryu, isn’t much better. He’s a cardboard cutout gorgeous vampire with all the usual biting mojo. Nothing original here.

The one character who intrigued me was relegated to secondary status, with hints that he’ll have a bigger part in future books. Anyan is a shape-shifting ‘hell hound’ who has been lurking on the periphery of Jane’s life for some time now. His story reminded me a bit of Sam Merlotte from Charlaine Harris’s ‘Southern Vampire: Sookie Stackhouse’ series, for his unrequited love for the heroine.

“Most of us will accept you, and many, like me, feel that you are necessary for our survival as you are, quite simply, good for our existence.” He paused, thinking. “Our kind need… shaking up. We need new blood, new ideas, new voices.” He smiled at me, running a finger across my cheek and over my lips. “Especially when those voices come from lips as sweet as yours,” he finished, leaning forward for a kiss.

The one redeeming feature of ‘Tempest Rising’ is the possible romance between Jane and Anyan – for that I *might* consider buying the e-book of the second novel, ‘Tracking the Tempest’ (July 2010) but I highly doubt it.

1/5

Sunday, January 24, 2010

'The Billionaire next door' by Jessica BIRD (J.R. Ward)

From the BLURB:

Take-no-prisoners deal-maker Sean O'Banyon ate Wall Street financiers for lunch. So why was he losing sleep over a fresh-scrubbed nurse in old jeans and a too-big T-shirt? Maybe it was those warm green eyes. Or the way she blushed when he got personal. There was no denying the serious chemistry between them. But sooner or later Lizzie would learn his deep, dark secrets: First, he had trust issues. And second--he'd rather not go into the whole family thing.

He didn't do relationships…but amazingly, Lizzie made him want one anyway.

JR Ward (aka ‘Jessica Bird’) wrote ‘The billionaire next door’ in 2007, the same year that ‘Lover Revealed’ (Butch’s story) and ‘Lover Unbound’ (Vishous’s book) came out.

‘Billionaire next door’ definitely has all the romantic characteristics we’ve come to expect from JR Ward. Strong Alpha male with a fractured background. Angelic heroine who pulls the hero out of his drudgery. And of course, hot sex scenes. I wasn’t actually expecting such explicit sex because the book was published by Harlequin Silhouette, and for some reason I have this idea that Harlequin romance books are a little tame when it comes to the nitty gritty. The sex scenes aren’t as hot and heavy as they are in the ‘Blackdagger’ books (not so many dirty detailed descriptions – damn!) but they are sizzling and definitely add spark to Sean and Lizzie’s romance.

‘Billionaire next door’ reminded me quite strongly of Rehvenge’s book ‘Lover Avenged’. Rehvenge and Sean are both rich, successful Alpha males who had abusive childhoods. Elena and Lizzie are both nurses, currently experiencing tough financial times by being their single-parents soul providers – Elena’s father had a form of Alzheimer’s, while Lizzie’s mother has some sort of mental disability. For a good portion of the book Sean keeps secret his true career and financial success from Lizzie, for a plethora of reasons – just as Rehvenge kept quiet about his being a nightclub owner (among other shady dealings). And if all those parallels aren’t enough, check out this romantic exchange between Sean and Lizzie that reminded me so strongly of Rehvenge’s sweet “to me, you will always have diamonds on the soles of your shoes” line:

“Did I tell you how beautiful you look tonight?” he said into her hair.
She chuckled a little. “This jeans and T-shirt combo isn’t exactly Miss America-worthy.”
He held on even harder. “The hell they aren’t. To me, whatever you have on is a ball gown.”
She stiffened, but then eased back into him. “You scare me when you say things like that.”
“Why?”
“I’m afraid I’ll start believing them.”
He pulled back and looked her in the eye. “Believe them, Lizzie. Trust me and believe them.”

There is a small nod to the ‘Blackdagger Brotherhood’ during one of Sean’s childhood flashbacks. He mentions that growing up his father wasn’t much of a cook, and so Sean and his brothers relied on the kindness of his best friends mother. The best friend in question was one Butch O’Neal. Has to be the same cop turned vampire, right? Butch is a Southie boy who had a big family – and Sean mentions that Butch was one of five kids. Reading that small Blackdagger reference had me doing a little fan-girl squeal.

I really, really liked this book. It has all the best aspects of the Blackdagger Brotherhood, minus intense plot, heavy action and heroes vs. villains. It’s just romance – boy meets girl and everything that ensues.

Perhaps the only negative thing about the book is the fact that it beautifully sets up a series (subsequent books intended to tell the story of Sean’s older brother, Mick and younger brother, Billy) that by all accounts JR Ward has no real intention of continuing. It’s a real shame because there is plenty of potential here – but rumour on the chat boards is that since the ‘Blackdagger’ books blew up, Ward put the ‘O’Banyon Brothers’ on the backburner indefinitely.

But ‘Jessica Bird’ did write an earlier series for Harlequin, the ‘Moorehouse Legacy’ series has 4 books, and I intend to read all of them because I was so impressed with ‘The Billionaire next door’.

5/5

Friday, January 22, 2010

'Skin Game' by Ava GRAY

From the BLURB:

A beautiful fugitive—wanted dead or alive.

Kyra is a con woman and a particular kind of thief. She steals with a touch, but she only takes one thing: her target’s strongest skill. Which means she can be a fighter, an athlete, a musician, an artist—anything she wants… for a limited time. Heartbroken, she turns her gift toward avenging her father’s murder; with deadly patience, Kyra works her way into casino owner Gerard Serrano’s inner circle. After pulling off the ultimate con, she flees with his money and his pride.
A hit man who never misses the mark.

Reyes has nothing but his work. Pity for Kyra, he’s the best and mercy never sways him once he takes a job. He’s been hired to find out where Kyra hid the cash—and bring her back to face Serrano’s “justice.” Dead will do, if he can’t locate the loot. He’s never failed to complete a contract, but Kyra tempts him with her fierce heat and her outlaw heart. So Reyes has a hell of a choice: forsake his word or kill the woman he might love.

I think ‘Skin Game’ was a favorite read of 2009 for lots of people. Having finally read the book myself, I can definitely understand what all the fuss was about. Hot-Damn!

The author ‘Ava Gray’ is in fact Ann Aguirre of the ‘Sirantha Jax’ series (a personal favorite of mine). I’m not really sure why Ms. Aguirre felt the need to write this new ‘Skin’ series under a pseudonym? Maybe it’s like Beyonce Knowles being ‘Sasha Fierce’ on stage – writing erotica may demand an alter ego?

The best way I can think to describe ‘Skin Game’ is as the thinking woman’s supernatural romance. This is a hot read, but there is also lots of nitty-gritty action and a plot to sink your teeth into. ‘Skin Game’ is a cross between ‘The Bourne Identity’, James Bond and ‘Alias’. I knew from the ‘Sirantha Jax’ series that Ms. Aguirre is a master of writing edge-of-your-seat drama; with detailed action scenes and fights to make reading them seem like watching a movie play out in your head. She out-does herself in ‘Skin Game’. Just reading her descriptions of Reyes in hand-to-hand combat is detailed and magnificent – completely thrilling.

Whereas in the ‘Sirantha Jax’ series, main protagonists Jax & March offer up plenty of sizzle and scorch minus explicit detail – in ‘Skin Game’ Aguirre takes the romance to the next erotic level. And she is good at writing sex scenes – so very good.
“Harder,” he rasped. “God, yeah.”
Then his whole body stiffened. A shudder tore through him, and he came in her mouth, long waves that had the Marquis wandering all over the road. Kyra swallowed and wiped her mouth.

Reyes and Kyra are H-O-T. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that a love story between a hit-man and con-artist was quite romantic (even their Bonnie & Clyde post-fight sex scene had a certain ‘awww’ to it). I think Reyes and Kyra are such a compelling couple because they are imperfect, and by all logic they shouldn’t fit so well. But they are both social outcasts, used to living in solitude with no one to depend on – so when they find each other and discover how badly they need connection, it’s a full-force love affair.

I love, love, loved this book. And I am so happy that Aguirre has at least 3 more books contracted for the ‘Skin’ series. Book No. 2 is ‘Skin Tight’ (released June 1st this year) and that book is about two characters introduced in ‘Skin Game’. Foster definitely peaked my interest in ‘Skin Game’ and I can see lots of potential between him and Mia. Really looking forward to this one.

5/5

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

'Branded by Fire' by Nalini SINGH

From the BLURB:

When a brilliant changeling researcher is kidnapped, DarkRiver sentinel Mercy, a cat, and SnowDancer lieutenant Riley, a wolf, must work together to track the young man - before his shadowy captors decide he's no longer useful. Along the way, the two dominants may find that submitting to one another uncovers not just a deadly conspiracy, but a passion so raw that it'll leave them both branded by fire.

I sort of slacked off with this series. I read up to ‘Hostage to Pleasure’ and then left ‘Branded by Fire’ sitting on my TBR shelf. Well, then Mandi (i.e.: Ms. Smexy) had to go and say that Riley and Mercy made the list of her top 10 sex scenes of 2009. How could I resist?

I loved Mercy and Riley! They have an ‘opposites attract’ relationship, that works so well because their strengths and weakness compliment each other very sweetly. Singh did a great job of writing two very distinctive characters, with just the right amount of hot-headedness mixed with steamy sparkage;

He bit her lower lip.
Her eyes snapped open. “Kiss it better.”
“No.” He nipped her again. Sharp. Sexy. “You make me so fucking insane, I want to mark you all over. So everyone knows you’re mine.”
The leopard growled in her throat. “Not yours.” She was her own person, a predator same as him.
“We’ll see about that.” This time, he dipped his head… and bit her neck in a suckling kiss that made her moan and thrust her hand into his hair, tugging him back.

‘Branded by Fire’ is the 6th book in Singh’s Psy-Changeling series.

I have a confession to make – I skipped over all the bits concerning the Psy council. I do the same thing with J.R. Ward’s ‘Blackdagger Brotherhood’ series and any scenes concerning the ‘lessers’. I can’t help it! When the leading man and lady are so compelling and steamy it’s such a struggle to get through all the boring villain bits. Luckily Singh and Ward do the same thing of filling the reader in on the bad-guy’s developments by having the main characters recap the intel they’ve gathered.

‘Branded’ has a really interesting second love story told alongside Mercy and Riley’s relationship. Wolf Alpha, Hawke, has been a bit of an enigma since the start of the series. We know very little about his personal life – except that he was once mated, and his young mate died, and he’s been single ever since. We also know that the one person who gets under Hawke’s skin is Psy teenager, Sienna Lauren. Hawke and Sienna are constantly at each other’s throats – he tries to keep her in line, she questions his authority. They’re very sparky – and it has been obvious for some time now that there was more to their snarky battles than met the eye. In ‘Branded’ Hawke reluctantly admits that he is aware of Sienna’s teenage crush (she’s 18), he also maintains that she is a child and he would never take advantage of her infatuation. Meanwhile, Sienna reveals that she knows the futility of her feelings for Hawke – since he is adamant that he will never mate again. Sienna confesses that her feelings for Hawke are wreaking havoc on her Psy-shields, and she volunteers to stay with Lucas’s leopard pack to regain her equilibrium away from the Wolf Alpha.

I really loved the Hawke/Sienna storyline (even more so when, in the final chapter, it turns into a potential love triangle), and I was really looking forward to reading their full story. That’s why I was so disappointed to discover that book #7 in this series isn’t about Sienna and Hawke, but two characters I do not remember ever reading about before (Katya and Dev?!). What a rip-off! And then I jump onto Nalini Singh’s website and discover Hawke & Sienna’s story won’t be out until 2011?!?

I really liked ‘Branded by Fire’. I was in the mood for a sexy/smutty read and this book delivered tenfold. I am bitterly disappointed that there is a LONG wait for Hawke and Sienna’s continued story – how frustrating!

3.5/5

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

'Kitty's House of Horrors' by Carrie VAUGHN


From the BLURB:

Talk radio host and werewolf Kitty Norville has agreed to appear on TV's first all-supernatural reality show. She's expecting cheesy competitions and manufactured drama starring shapeshifters, vampires, and psychics. But what begins as a publicity stunt will turn into a fight for her life.

The cast members, including Kitty, arrive at the remote mountain lodge where the show is set. As soon as filming starts, violence erupts and Kitty suspects that the show is a cover for a nefarious plot. Then the cameras stop rolling, cast members start dying, and Kitty realizes she and her monster housemates are ironically the ultimate prize in a very different game. Stranded with no power, no phones, and no way to know who can be trusted, she must find a way to defeat the evil closing in . . . before it kills them all.

This is the first book to be released on my ‘most anticipated books of 2010’ list. I love, love, love the ‘Kitty Norville’ series – and this 7th instalment to the series definitely delivers.

About 60 pages into this 292-page book I was getting a little bit worried. The book’s plot has Kitty traipsing off into the Montana wilderness with a motley crew of supernatural celebrities to film a reality TV show, ‘Big Brother’ style. I was a bit put-off because the plot meant that Kitty was cut-off from home, hearth and all the secondary characters I have come to love. I had the same problem with 6th book, ‘Kitty Raises Hell’, in which Kitty and her mate Ben travel to Las Vegas. But at least in that book Ben was still around. In ‘House of Horrors’ there is only one small lovey-dovey scene between the two:

“I’m not going to wash the sheets ‘til you get back.”
I pulled away so I could look at him, and so he could see my goofy smile. “That’s so romantic.”
“It is? I was thinking it was another one of those creepy things that only a lycanthrope would say.”
“That, too,” I said. “Maybe I can get myself voted off the island early.”
“Hmm, cool.”
We kissed again, and again, and again.

I was also put-off by this books premise because very early on in the story it is announced that our favourite bounty hunter, Cormac, will be up for parole while Kitty is in Montana. I love Cormac, and he has been sorely missed since being thrown into jail back in book 3.

So, not a great start to one of my most anticipated books of 2010...
Boy, was I wrong to criticize.

I admit, the story does drag in the beginning while Kitty and the other celebrities make like MTV stars – but then things go pear-shaped and the novel kicks into high gear. Kitty and her cohorts are actually the targets of an elaborate hunting party – being picked off one by one for the cameras. The real story kicks in about page 100 and doesn’t let-up a fast and frantic pace until the very last page.

Carrie Vaughn has said on her blog that she is contracted for 3 more Kitty books after ‘Horrors’– ending the series with a total of 10 books. She has also said that she knows exactly how the series will end, but isn’t sure if the conclusion will come by book #10 or if she’ll be contracted for more books.
Whatever her plans, it becomes clear in ‘House of Horrors’ that Vaughn has a ‘long game’ plan for the series – and if the hints, twists and turns Vaughn drops in ‘Horrors’ are any indication, she is gearing up for one hell of a finale.

‘Kitty’s House of Horrors’ is a thrilling read – the drama is intense and the stakes are heightened for future books. And the ending is *amazing*, and makes me super excited for book #8. I’m not sure when book 8 will be released, because Carrie Vaughn has 2 Young Adult novels coming out this year. ‘Voices of Dragons’ is released March 16th and ‘Discord’s Apple’ July 20th – which probably means another Kitty book won’t be released until 2011. OH! The suspense!

5/5

I’m not overly concerned about waiting until 2011 for the next Kitty book, mostly because ‘Voices of Dragons’ sounds (and looks) amazing and I’m really looking forward to it:

No proper blurb has yet been released, but Vaughn describes the book thus;
Carrie's first young adult novel is just your typical "girl meets dragon" story. With bonus rock climbing and jet fighters!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

'The Missing Ink' by Karen E. OLSON

From the BLURB:

Brett Kavanaugh is a tattoo artist and owner of The Painted Lady, catering to high-profile clients in Las Vegas. But in her free time, she does a little investigating too - because murder really gets under her skin. . . .
When a girl makes an appointment to get devotion ink with the name of her fiancé embedded in a heart, Brett takes the job, but the girl never shows. The next thing Brett knows, the police are looking for her mysterious client and the name she wanted on the tattoo isn't the name of her fiancé.
An alliance with an unlikely partner leads Brett to a dead body, a suave Englishman, and an Elvis karaoke bar. And who is the tattooed stranger stalking her? Brett draws lines between the clues, unwittingly putting herself in danger. But she intends to see justice done, since death, like a tattoo, is permanent. . . .

In recent years there has been a literary insurgence of murder mystery series with unique twists regarding protagonist and setting.
A quick search on ‘Fantastic Fiction’ reveals a plethora of such books. Kate Carlisle’s ‘Bibliophile Mystery’ series has a leading lady who collects and restores old books in between solving crime. Cleo Coyle’s ‘Coffeehouse’ mystery series has murders and other intrigues all occurring in her protagonists’ coffeehouse. Even Charlaine Harris wrote two such series – ‘Aurora Teagarden’ revolved around a librarian who found herself drawn into various murders around her small town. Likewise, ‘Lily Bard’ concerned a local cleaning lady who found herself caught up in her clients’ criminal trials and tribulations. I am a huge fan of both ‘Aurora Teagarden’ and ‘Lily Bard’ – and have been meaning to delve further into this slightly bizarre genre since I loved both those series so much.

No quirky murder mystery series had caught my eye until Karen E. Olson’s ‘Tattoo Shop Mysteries’. I really loved this premise – and I thought there was lots of potential for the leading lady, Brett Kavanaugh, to get caught up in various criminal cases. When you think about it, criminals and tattoos pretty much go hand-in-hand (stereotypical, but true).

In theory, I really liked Brett. She’s sort of a walking contradiction, and Olson plays on that. Plenty of times throughout the book she observes and shatters common misconceptions about people who have ink. Brett is no exception. She may own a tattoo parlor in Vegas – but she has an arts degree from Philadelphia’s Fine Arts University. She sports a reconstruction of Monet’s ‘Water Lillies’ as a sleeve tat on her arm and has an older brother on the Las Vegas Police Department. But Brett’s veneer runs thin. She isn’t a particularly charismatic person; in fact she is quite boring except for her interesting job and appearance. Furthermore, she’s a bit stupid. So many moments reading ‘The Missing Ink’ I just wanted to (figuratively) slap her on the face and tell her to “wake the hell up!”.
She has a detective brother who is working on the missing persons case that she is at the center of – yet she withholds so much vital information from him and is then surprised when she discovers that her silence causes more problems that she could have easily prevented. For many inexplicable reasons she feels the need to take matters into her own hands – and is surprised when she finds herself in increasingly hotter and hotter water.
And the big ‘DUH!’ moments come when she develops a crush on one of the suspects in the missing persons case. The man in question is obviously using her, and is clearly a sleazy womanizer, but she falls for his bedroom eyes and pretty accent. To be honest it’s pathetic and frustrating to read and made me fairly unsympathetic to Brett.

The thing is, Karen E. Olson has a great plot working in ‘The Missing Ink’. It thickens and congeals and becomes so darn titillating you can’t help but keep reading, even when you all but lose faith in the books’ heroine. Olson knows how to draw the reader in, leaving just enough bread crumbs to keep you reading and so many twisty turns that you’ll be speculating on ‘whodunnit’ until the last page.

Part of the reason Olson’s storyline works so well is the Vegas setting. The desert town becomes a character in itself, and a reflection of sinister characters twisted motives. Olson really knows this city, and it shows in her writing. I particularly love this description of the Entertainment Capital of the world;

As I approached, I saw the Strip’s lights were off, the glitz diminished by the glare of the sun. The magic just wasn’t there in the daytime. From a distance, it looked like a kid had dropped a bunch of toys in one spot and hadn’t bothered to straighten them out: a castle, the statue of Liberty, a golden lion, the Eiffel Tower, an Egyptian pyramid, a Space Needle. A playground for adults, where no one can really win, but the illusion puts blinders on.

I did enjoy this book. The murder mystery is wonderfully constructed, a genuine page-turner. And the Vegas setting is pure genius. The cover art by Craig Phillips is divine (as it should be, when visuals and appearance mean so much in the book). But a gaping hole does lie in character – mainly that Brett Kavanagh is so darn annoying and stupid that you almost become antipathetic to her plight. It’s a shame, but one that you’d think could be easily overcome in subsequent books with more characterization. For that reason I do intend to read the second book ‘Pretty in Ink’, released March 2nd this year.

2.5/5

Thursday, January 14, 2010

'The Vampire Shrink' by Lynda HILBURN

From the BLURB:

Kismet Knight, PhD, doesn't believe in the paranormal. She especially doesn't believe in vampires, but she begins to wise up when she is introduced to a handsome man named Devereux who claims to be 800 years old. Kismet doesn't buy his vampire story, but she also can't explain why she has such odd reactions and feelings when he is near. Then a client almost completely drained of blood staggers into her waiting room and two angry men force their way into her office, causing her to consider the possibility that she has run afoul of a vampire underworld. Enter FBI profiler Alan Stevens, who warns her that vampires are very real, and one is a murderer—a murderer who is after her.

Initially I really liked this book. Hilburn has a great premise that’s made all the more interesting by the current media frenzy surrounding vampires. ‘The Vampire Shrink’ opens with protagonist Kismet Knight sitting down for her first therapy session with new client ‘Midnight’ – a 19-year-old girl who claims she is a vampire groupie, soon to become a bloodsucker herself. Believing Midnight is living out her delusions, Kismet starts delving into the cult phenomenon of vampire wannabes – which leads her to vamp club ‘The Crypt’, introduces her to an FBI agent investigating the supernatural and has her sparking the interest of head Poombah vampire Devereux.

It really is a great plot – in theory. Unfortunately it soon becomes apparent that beyond a great premise, Hilburn is really stumbling and shuffling along in the books storyline. She hasn’t got the nuts and bolts figured out – and as a result heroine Kismet Knight is procrastinating for the first half of the book.

The second big fault is lifeless characters. When we meet her Kismet has been single for 2 years – but as events unfold, so does her love life and libido. Inexplicably, men are coming out of the woodwork and flirting like crazy with her – and to be honest, there’s no real reason why. Hilburn has tried to make Kismet a witty, funny and intelligent working woman. But the jokes fall short – Kismet impersonating Alex Trebek and playing “what are bloodsucking fiends?” for $65,000 isn’t exactly high humor, and doesn’t endear her to me. I also got frustrated with her need to intellectualize everything and refusal to believe in vampires, despite all evidence to the contrary. She sees a vampire’s fangs grow and retract, she get’s bitten by a vampire, and she sees one levitate – but still wants to put it down to mass hallucination and great prosthetics? There’s being a realist, and then there’s just being plain stubborn-stupid.

I also didn’t like leading man Devereux. Kismet goes on and on and on about how incredibly Adonis-like he is (another Edward Cullen picture perfect vampire hero). But for all his good looks, Devereux is so incredibly *boring*. He is totally, 100% bland – to the point that when he and Kismet first have sex he announces his intentions – no spontaneous sex for Dev, he comes right out and says “I want to make love to you”, like an automaton. Even his proclamation of love is snooze-worthy;

“For eight hundred years I waited for this night. I am very much in love with you. I do not expect you to return my feelings right away. I understand that this is all new to you. I only ask that you give me a chance to win your heart.”

Hilburn has a second book out called ‘Dark Harves’, but I’m somewhat reluctant to read that one because the blurb sounds a little bit waffling, the plot hazy. I still really like the premise of a vampire psychologist, it’s just a shame Hilburn doesn’t deliver in execution – it also sucks (ha!) that the book has such a crappy title – ‘The Vampire Shrink’ – sounds like an SNL skit, not an Urban Fantasy.

1.5/5

P.S. – I love the cover art. Illustration is by Adam Mock. And as a side note, this is what I picture Lassiter (From J.R. Wards’ ‘Blackdagger Brotherhood’ series, to look like).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

'Nice Girls Don't Live Forever' by Molly HARPER


From the BLURB:

Nothing sucks the romance out of world travel like a boyfriend who may or may not have broken up with you in a hotel room in Brussels. Jane Jameson’s sexy sire, Gabriel, has always been unpredictable. But the seductive, anonymous notes that await him at each stop of their international vacation, coupled with his evasive behavior over the past few months, finally push Jane onto the next flight home to Half Moon Hollow — alone, upset, and unsure whether Gabriel just ended their relationship without actually telling her.

Now the children’s-librarian-turned-vampire is reviving with plenty of Faux Type O, some TLC from her colorful friends and family, and her plans for a Brave New Jane. Step One: Get her newly-renovated occult bookstore off the ground. Step Two: Support her best friend, Zeb, and his werewolf bride as they prepare for the impending birth of their baby . . . or litter. Step Three: Figure out who’s been sending her threatening letters, and how her hostile pen pal is tied to Gabriel. Because for this nice girl, surviving a broken heart is becoming a matter of life and undeath...

Molly Harper’s debut ‘Jane Jameson’ was, without a doubt, my favorite new series of 2009. I love these books, and I have a serious fictional girl-crush on protagonist Jane Jameson. The third (and possibly last) book in the series, ‘Nice Girls Don’t Live Forever’ definitely delivers and maintains Harper’s winning-streak.

Molly Harper’s writing is quick, zany and completely infectious. The closest comparison I can think of is to dearly departed television series ‘Gilmore Girls’. Jane’s mouth runs a mile-a-minute; spouting out witticisms, pop culture references and Jane-isms that make her entirely endearing and hilarious. I especially loved this Buffy-reference, cementing Jane as my No.1 fictional best friend;

“Zeb said we should bring over the first season of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, but Andrea thought you’d get all depressed,” Jolene told me.
“Yeah, because what’s the point of watching ‘Buffy’ if you’re not watching the second-season episodes with Spike in them?” I asked, uncorking the bottle of wine. Andrea poured me a large glass. “Hmmm. I wonder if it would be unethical for me to turn James Marsters? And then force him to fake the Cockney accent? And then make him my love monkey?”

If Harper’s series has a flaw, it’s that the plot/character balance is out of whack. Not a whole lot happens with storyline – that was true of ‘Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs’ and ‘Nice Girls Don’t Date Dead Men’ – and it happens again in ‘Nice Girls Don’t Live Forever’. Harper initially sets up a really interesting premise regarding Gabriel’s shady past – but that plot is pretty quickly pushed aside, to be mentioned in passing throughout the book but never made the sole focus. Instead Harper prefers to concentrate on the lives of secondary characters as they impact Jane and as Jane herself deals with her new career path and wacky family antics.

To be honest, Harper’s writing is so funny and so damn *good* that you don’t really notice the lack of forward plot momentum until you’ve finished the book and try to remember the in’s and out’s of the storyline. It’s only after the fact that you realize not a whole lot actually happens in the book.

Regardless of any shortcomings in plot, I am completely crazy about this series. I was really upset to discover that Molly Harper is only contracted for the three ‘Jane Jameson’ books. Unless her contract is extended ‘Nice Girls Don’t Live Forever’ could very well be the last we hear of Jane Jameson. I really, really hope we get more wacky Jane adventures. I love these books so much that Molly Harper is now an instant pre-order for me.

To be honest, the ‘Jane Jameson’ books aren’t reinventing the ‘Urban Fantasy’ wheel. The storyline is reminiscent of MaryJanice Davidons’s ‘Queen Betsy’ series, with a hint of Charlaine Harris’s ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ or Kerrelyn Spark’s ‘Love at Stake’ books. But Molly Harper’s voice is so distinctive, infectious and down right brilliant that she sets herself apart from the rest.

If you haven’t yet read the ‘Jane Jameson’ books please, please, please give them a go. You will not be disappointed, and you might even start spouting Jane-isms.

5/5

Saturday, January 9, 2010

'Requiem for the Devil' by Jeri Smith-Ready


From the BLURB:

Set in modern-day Washington, D.C., REQUIEM depicts the end of the Devil's ten-billion-year career. For the first time in his existence, Lucifer falls in love, and this event threatens to transform his identity and perhaps even his destiny. Gianna O'Keefe is the woman who drags him out of his ancient despair and points him toward possible salvation.

Yet Lucifer's path from evil is neither straight nor smooth. Pursuing love means betraying his fellow fallen angels, the loyal friends who once followed him to damnation. Divine and infernal forces seem to conspire against his and Gianna's union. Lucifer's empire crumbles around him as he dares to defy the natural order and question his fate.

This is Jeri Smith-Ready’s first published work. She wrote it for the 2000 Writer’s Association Novel contest. Because I love Smith-Ready’s ‘Aspect of Crow’ and ‘WVMP’ series, I was really interested in reading her first literary foray. I’m so glad that I did.

I loved this book. It reminded me a lot of Kevin Smith’s 1999 (awesome) film ‘Dogma’ - beautifully and hilariously depicting biblical characters in the modern world. Lucifer hangs out with three demon cronies – Beelzebub, Belial and Mephistopheles. The four of them exchange witty banter that occasionally turns macabre and disturbing – but is also darkly humorous.

“Wanna go down to the Vietnam Memorial and make helicopter noises?”

But it’s not all wit and black humor. Smith-Ready actually delves into Lucifer’s relationship with his ‘Father’ – God, and explores his feelings of abandonment from the one who was supposed to be the centre of his universe.

The love story is actually quite a slow burn. You would think a story about the Devil falling in love would be all fireworks and epic diatribes about the beauty and salvation of love. But what makes this book so brilliant is that love creeps up on Lucifer the same way it does for most people. He’s not expecting it; he rebels against it, tries to deny it but eventually succumbs – slowly and thoroughly. That’s also what makes Lucifer such an intriguing character – that he is so relatable in his emotions.
And his love interest isn’t what you’d expect. Gianna isn’t a virginal beacon of purity and honesty – she is a lawyer turned lobbyist for America’s poor – but she’s actually quite cynical and jaded, spouting witty self-deprecating humor that makes her entirely endearing.

The romance is quite romantic – regardless of the fact that Lucifer is still carrying out his demonic plans while wooing Gianna, and that he has bizarre reactions to his feeling for her (like threatening to throw her into the Grand Canyon if she doesn’t admit to loving him). What makes the love story so appealing is that it’s all so completely new and shiny to Lucifer – he’s stumbling, bumbling along in the relationship with absolutely no idea about what he’s doing.

A long-sleeved velvet dress cleaved to her thin body and was a deep, delicious red that made my eyeballs feel drunk. I fought to remember who I was and to maintain an aloofness appropriate to the second most powerful being in the universe.
I wasn’t successful.

What makes ‘Requiem’ so interesting is Smith-Ready’s gradual build-up to an intense emotional conclusion. A novel about the devil falling in love could have been pretty boring, but Smith-Ready writes the story as a gradual culmination to the Devil revealing himself to the woman he loves. Lucifer struggles with his love for Gianna, especially when he feels the need to reveal himself to her and have no secrets between them. It’s an intense build-up, and Lucifer’s internal struggles and Gianna’s possible reactions to his true identity reveal ‘Requiem’ as an amazing metaphor. Lucifer as evil incarnate could be any sinister individual – murderer, pedophile, rapist – and Smith-Ready asks the uncomfortable question of whether or not he can be forgiven, rehabilitated or even loved.

I might be making ‘Requiem’ sound like seriously heavy reading. It is definitely an admirable literary work – but having read ‘Requiem’ I can see why Smith-Ready was contracted for her fantasy series ‘Aspect of Crow’ and Urban Fantasy ‘WVMP’. Smith-Ready beautifully intertwines theological debates, black witticisms, and interesting characters in the modern world. She’s funny, dark and thought provoking. Don’t assume this is a heavy read – it’s actually very funny and enjoyable, and surprisingly romantic.

I’ve heard a few people say that after reading a few duds (*cough* ‘Covet’ *cough*) they are completely turned off by the whole ‘Angel’ storyline. Well, I would highly recommend ‘Requiem for the Devil’ as a cure. Smith-Ready has written the ultimate fallen angel love story – and she’s written it with panache, dark humor and infinite tenderness for the embodiment of evil and his romantic trials and tribulations.

5/5

Thursday, January 7, 2010

'Covet: A novel of the Fallen Angels #1' by J.R. WARD


From the BLURB:

Redemption isn't a word Jim Heron knows much about-his specialty is revenge, and to him, sin is all relative. But everything changes when he becomes a fallen angel and is charge with saving the souls of seven people from the seven deadly sins. And failure is not an option. Vin DiPietro long ago sold his soul to his business, and he's good with that-until fate intervenes in the form of a tough- talking, Harley-riding, self-professed savior. But then he meets a woman who will make him question his destiny, his sanity, and his heart-and he has to work with a fallen angel to win her over and redeem his own soul.

I waited a while to read this one. I had to wait a couple weeks after the release date for Amazon to ship me my copy – and in that interim I read a *lot* of negative reviews. So, I was put off – and decided to wait a while before reading and reviewing.

Okay – so, truthfully it’s not good.

I think Ward’s biggest mistake lies in point of view. Jim Heron is apparently going to be this series’ main protagonist – and his mission from God is to guide potential sinners onto the path of righteousness (or something like that). The people he meets and tries to ‘save’ will act as secondary characters in the books – and in ‘Covet’ that secondary character is Vin diPietro. That’s all well and good – but it doesn’t really work in the first book of the series because Ward has devoted so much of the story to Vin. So it feels like Jim is actually the secondary character… and since he’s our leading man (the one character readers are supposed to be rooting for throughout the books) it doesn’t really work in the series debut that we don’t get much of a sense of who he is. I mean, is Vin even going to appear in subsequent novels?

I understand that Ward wouldn’t want to show all her cards up front – she wants Jim to retain an air of mystery, so she remains allusive about his work history, childhood etc - but as readers we really don’t get much sense of his personality. He doesn’t come across as particularly charismatic or memorable. Jim was just a little too flat for me. I wish Ward had imbued him with a wicked sense of humor or a weird hobby (i.e.: Vishous and his love of R&B/Rap music). He was so boring to me – and his background didn’t really match with his actions in the book. From what little information he reveals about himself, we know that Jim is a trained assassin. Yet when he is recruited for this Heaven VS. Hell ball game he just passively takes on the job. For a nanosecond he considers that he might be losing his marbles – but then he’s pretty quick to jump onboard the Savior-express. I just didn’t buy it.

And another thing – I hated Ward’s interpretation of Heaven (well, the outskirts at least). Four British dudes playing croquet? Seriously? I think the demons could win this whole Good/Bad ballgame just by telling peoples that’s what they had to look forward to – snobby angels and mallets.

Another thing I didn’t really like about this new series – the characters too closely resembled the ‘Brotherhood’ gang. I thought ‘Fallen Angels’ would have been J.R. Ward’s chance to step outside ‘Blackdagger’ and stretch her literary wings; shake things up and play around with new characters and storylines. But the male protagonists so closely resemble the Brothers – right down to the lingo. Even though Vin is human he refers to Marie-Terese as ‘his woman’ – that is *such* a vampire expression! Vin may be an Italian stallion, but c’mon! And I don’t know if it’s because ‘Lover Avenged’ was the last ‘Brotherhood’ book I read (and freshest in my mind) but Vin came across as a Rehvenge cardboard cut-out. He was all Alpha male toughness on the outside, marshmallow on the inside. Vin & Marie-Terese had a relationship that reminded me of Ehlena & Rehv. Except instead of Ehlena having to accept Rehv’s dubious past exploits, it was Vin coming to terms with Marie-Terese’s prostitution. Really the only difference was that I actually liked the Ehlena/Rehv pairing. With Vin and Marie-Terese, Ward has chosen a romance route I *despise* - the two lock eyes across a crowded room and feel a certain ‘pull’ to one another. Cue dry heaving.

I didn’t like Marie-Terese (even her hyphenated name pissed me off). I wasn’t too keen on having a prostitute as a character’s HEA, but then I thought maybe J.R. Ward would do interesting things with her character – tell a story of a strong female who wasn’t ashamed of her red-light profession, or a sob story about being sold into prostitution? Nope. Marie-Terese’s ‘sob story’ is pretty convoluted and has plenty of holes. Turns out prostitution wasn’t really her last resort, just the most convenient money-making option. I might have been sympathetic to M-T’s plight, but she was so self-pitying and ‘woe is me’ – I could have had more patience for her if she had been a strong female who wasn’t mortified by her profession (à la Belle in ‘Secret Diary of a Call Girl’), or if she was actively looking for a way out.
I also could have mustered up more sympathy for M-T’s hooking if J.R. Ward had written more of her home life. The whole reason M-T is in the job is to provide for her seven-year-old son, Robbie. But we get only a handful of very brief scenes with her and Robbie, so there’s no sense of family and maternal devotion – in fact, Robbie reminded me a little of Haley Joel Osment in ‘Artificial Intelligence: A.I’ (2001) – and by that I mean the kid was creepy as all get out.
The only thing I appreciated about Marie-Terese is that she appears in the ‘Fallen Angels’ series, and not the ‘Blackdagger Brotherhood’ – which means she hasn’t ended up being Shellan to one of my beloved Brother’s (if she’d been Qhuinn’s HEA for example, I would have been shattered!).

Even though ‘Covet’ is the first book in the ‘Fallen Angels’ series – there aren’t actually that many fallen angels in a good chunk of the book. They kind of pop in at random toward the end and are never really fleshed out – even though they’re supposedly going to be permanent characters.
I did like the demon villain in ‘Covet’ – she is a mean b*tch. I think I liked her so much because her evil under-handed tactics were pretty much just female head-fucks and it was kind of funny to see how easily she put one over on all the men.

One positive about this book is that Trez (of ‘Trez & iAm’ fame in the ‘Blackdagger’ books) makes a big cameo. I love Trez & iAm. They’re so mysterious and sexy. Reading Trez in ‘Covet’ makes me really hope that he and his brother get their own books and/or storylines in the ‘Blackdagger’ series.

So, to recap, I am glad the Warden relegated Marie-Terese to the ‘Fallen Angels’ series and left her out of BDB (one Brother clearly dodged a bullet). That was pretty much the only silver lining I got out of ‘Covet’. Well, that and Trez. Trez was cool.

I kind of resent the fact that J.R. Ward has set the ‘Fallen Angels’ books in the same universe as the ‘Blackdagger Brotherhood’. There is clearly going to be crossovers – and I feel like it’s a mean ploy to ensure fans of BDB read this new series.
But, having said that, I have an inkling that the second book, ‘Crave’ will be an improvement over ‘Covet’.
I personally didn’t like ‘Dark Lover’. I thought it was kind of boring, and there were a lot of characters to keep track of. I thought that both Beth and Wrath were boring characters and I wasn’t looking forward to continuing the series. But I am so glad I did! Maybe J.R. Ward is just one of those authors who has a shaky start?

So, even waiting months to let the bad reviews settle didn’t change my opinion of ‘Covet’. I will continue with this series, but only because I feel that as a BDB fan I kind of have to – lest I miss out on big crossover plot developments (or more Trez cameos. I really like Trez).

2/5

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

'Caleb' by Sarah McCarty


From the BLURB:

Allie always desired mysterious, sexy rancher Caleb Johnson, but he never seemed to notice her. Until the night she's attacked by a vicious animal, and rescued by a shapeshifting vampire that she almost seems to recognize: the baritone growl, the mesmerizing eyes, the inexplicable animal attraction. That's because her savior is Caleb, and now he has no choice but to bring Allie into the shadows with him - to protect her from a rival werewolf pack, and to finally reveal his true feelings for the woman he's been afraid to love.

I like vampires. I like cowboys. I thought I would like the first book in Sarah McCarty’s ‘Shadow Wranglers’ series. I didn’t.

The romance comes way too easily. Despite ranting and railing against the life Caleb has stolen from her (in order to turn her into a vampire) Allie is quickly forgiving and happy to fall into a lustful romance with him. Caleb is pretty much a cardboard cut out Alpha male – growling “mine” around Allie and threatening any male who looks at her sideways.

“Behave,” she whispered under her breath.
“I am.”
“Well, do me a favour and try not to be so eighteen sixties once we get inside. We need answers, and we’re not going to get them if you rip out the hearts of everyone we meet.”
He shrugged, the golden swirls very prevalent in his eyes. “It’s a habit.”

McCarty’s strength lies in character, but her weakness is glaringly obvious; plot. You can tell that McCarty is plopping along in storyline because she isn’t 100% sure of the trajectory. McCarty seems to know her characters’ traits, motivations, hidden desires and deepest fears, but when it comes to writing action for them McCarty falls short.

Throughout the book Allie and Caleb sit/lie around and have long discussions – sometimes these convo’s are important and reveal a little more about vampire mythology, but most of the time they just feel like senseless ‘filler’. And sometimes these lengthy talks don’t even cover the more pertinent issues. For instance, shortly after Caleb turns her into a vampire Allie is horrified thinking that her family will believe her dead and she will never see them again. Allie forgets about these grievances pretty quickly though, preferring to have orgasms with Caleb than think about the family she has lost forever. So not only is McCarty stalling with these scenes, she’s not even utilizing them properly – she just wants to write about Caleb and Allie’s ‘happy fun time’ to completely avoid more complicated plot points?
McCarty is just cooling her heels with these scenes until she can decide what the actual plot action for these characters will be.

The sex scenes also suffer from the same ‘drag out’ writing. To put it crudely, there is *WAY* too much foreplay – you can only read so much about a man sucking on a woman’s nipples while the woman writhers on the bed before you just want them to get to the main event already!

I thought that all the lead-up and stalling would culminate in a knock down drag out action finale. Not the case. In the last few chapters there is a hurried scene change, the introduction of a villain (who Allie apparently dated a few years ago, just randomly mentioned for no apparent reason) and a very clumsy fight scene. I was utterly confused in the last 60 pages or so, and it became apparent why McCarty relies so heavily on writing character development – she sucks at writing action. When you’ve read someone like Rachel Caine, whose action scenes read like screenplays, perfectly articulating combat – it becomes painfully obvious when someone like McCarty falls short. Her action scenes are confusing – weighed down because she includes Allie’s inner monologue while Caleb is fighting some sort of shadow creature (?). Bad, just bad.

The second book in ‘Shadow Wranglers’ is ‘Jared’ and comes out April 6th 2010 (being released in Kindle and paperback). I will probably read the second book – but only because McCarty seemed to have solid ideas by the end of ‘Caleb’ about the overall storyarc for the series. Hopefully her character/plot imbalance will be sorted by book #2.

I was doubly disappointed by ‘Caleb’ because the cover is so damn sexy. Damn me for judging a book by its sexy, sexy cover!

1/5

Sunday, January 3, 2010

'The Bride' by Julie Garwood

From the BLURB:

1102 AD. By edict of the King, the mighty Scottish Laird Alec Kincaid must take an English bride. His choice was Jamie, youngest daughter of Baron Jamison... a feisty, violet-eyed beauty. Alec ached to touch her, to tame her, to possess her... forever. But Jamie vowed never to surrender to this Highland barbarian. He was everything her heart warned against--an arrogant scoundrel whose rough good looks spoke of savage pleasures. And though Kincaid's scorching kisses fired her blood, she brazenly resisted him...until one rapturous moment quelled their clash of wills, and something far more dangerous than desire threatened to conquer her senses...

This was a good, romantic read. It is very cheesy – Lord Kincaid is a cardboard cutout Scottish brute, with a marshmallow centre. Jamie is a total Mary-Sue; when she’s not healing wounded soldiers she’s adopting orphaned children. ‘The Bride’ is definitely romantic fluff, but it’s just what I was in the mood for so I was willing to forgive the books cheesy shortcomings.

‘The Bride’ is surprisingly smutty; Garwood’s sex scenes are hot, vivid and very descriptive. I was under the impression that ‘The Bride’ was going to be a PG romance, but I’m glad it wasn’t;

“Come with me, love,” Alec whispered. “Come with me. Now.”
She didn’t know where Alec was taking her, only knew she was safe in his arms. She gave herself over to the blissful surrender and found that surrender was also fulfillment.

I would really like to give another of Garwood’s books a try. Judging from the backlist her specialty is Historical Romance, but her most recent series appears to be a contemporary crime fiction with a romantic edge. If anyone has read Garwood’s other work and can recommend her books, I’d really appreciate it.

Garwood’s writing reminded me of Nora Roberts and Linda Howard. It’s the type of good, fun read that’s a little like popcorn – not very filling, but nice while it lasts. There’s no real conflict for any of the characters and the storyline is extremely predictable. Regardless I did like this book. Maybe it’s because I was in the mood for a light romantic read that I enjoyed ‘The Bride’ so much, regardless of its many flaws... But sometimes I just crave a Highlander hero (à la Diana Gabaldon's Jamie Fraser).

3/5

Friday, January 1, 2010

'Into the Darkness' by Delilah DEVLIN

From the BLURB:

A woman's hunt for pleasure knows no rules . . . and no boundaries.
Escaping from a tragic past, Natalie Lambert arrives in New Orleans and falls victim to a series of strange, unearthly attacks. Now, for the first time in her life, Natalie aches with sexual desire. Confused, frightened, out of control, she struggles desperately to understand a world that is transforming around her. But soon she will be powerful and magnificent in ways she could never have imagined . . .
A ruggedly handsome Cajun policeman, Detective Rene Broussard has come to rescue Natalie in her time of greatest need. And when he inexplicably wakes in bed beside her—both burning with a lust impossible to deny—he doesn't care that a dark and vengeful enemy has brought them to this moment. All that matters is the irresistible curve of her body, the heat of her passion . . . and the forbidden pleasures the night promises.
With one sharp, sensuous, biting kiss, he will be hers for life . . . and beyond.

Devlin doesn’t really delve into the mythology surrounding her series vampires. It’s unclear whether or not her story is set in an alternate real-world universe, or if vampires are considered science fiction. Rene is a human, but he knows that his police partner, Chessa, is a vampire – he says it very matter-of-factly, which lead me to think that vampires are just a given in the world Devlin has created.

This is the first book in Devlin’s ‘Dark Realm’ series (currently with six books). I don’t really know how she managed to make a series of this book – because there is so little explanation about the universe she’s writing. I’m not particularly interested in reading any more of Devlin’s books, because I was outraged by her writing…

I was honestly quite sickened by ‘Into the Darkness’. Natalie rapes Rene, and is utterly unremorseful, even unaware that what she’s done is wrong (or maybe it’s Devlin who is unaware?). Her vampire ‘pheromones’ act as a sort of date-rape drug, and a covenant of older vampires kidnap Rene and chain him to a bed for Natalie’s feeding/fucking pleasure. First, Natalie has sex with Rene while he’s still unconscious. Then when Rene does wake up he tells Natalie he doesn’t want to have sex with her – he points out that he is chained up and can’t fight her off, he also mentions that her pheromones act as a sort of ‘Viagra’ on him, so that while he appears willing, if he was able to resist he would not choose her. Natalie disregards his protests on several occasions. I was completely shocked and disgusted. Devlin writes these rape scenes with such disregard to the deeper implications – I think Devlin herself is of the same mind as Natalie, believing it’s not rape if the man’s body reacts willingly;

“Raped?” Soft laughter gusted against his lips. Her smile was easy, not the least ashamed. “Maybe at the start, but you wanted it. You came for me.” Her eyes narrowed, and she inserted a hand between their bodies, pushing it down between her legs. Moist, succulent sounds followed before she brought her fingers up to paint his lips. “Wanna taste how hard you came?”

If those sex scenes had been turned around, and it was a woman chained to the bed while a male vampire rutted away I don’t think this book could have, in good conscience, been published. I kept waiting for Devlin to write a moment of clarity for Natalie – a piece of inner monologue in which she is completely disgusted and ashamed of herself. That moment only comes (in a small dose) because Natalie’s vanity is wounded by Rene’s admission that he wouldn’t choose her.

I admit, the sex scenes are hot. There is a particular F/M/F ménage toward the end that is blush-worthy – but the fact that all the sex scenes in the first half of the book are essentially rape is utterly atrocious. Devlin needs to learn that ‘no means no’, regardless of gender.

0/5