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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Monère: Children of the Moon by SUNNY

Mona Lisa has always felt different. Abandoned as a baby and put through the foster-care system, she has always struggled to make connections in her displaced life, especially with men. And then everything changes. During a shift at the hospital where she works as a nurse, Mona Lisa finds herself fascinated by a mysterious patient called Gryphon. They spend a steamy night together and she learns that Gryphon is Monere – a child of the moon… and so is she.

Exiled from the moon long ago, the Monere are a strange fae-like race who have very few females. Because of their rarity, the female Monere are revered Queens who are guarded and sexually serviced by the plentiful Monere men. Monere Queens have difficulty conceiving with the men of their species, and pregnancy is often only feasible with human men – which is precisely how Mona Lisa came to be. Mona Lisa is Mixed Blood, abandoned as a baby for her muddied heritage – but the Monere are dwindling and they need all the Queens they can get, so Mona Lisa is somewhat reluctantly drawn into the world that once discarded her…

There are currently 4 books in this series, which has also spawned a spin-off series (‘Demon Princess Chronicles’), which started in 2007 and has a second book being released in October of this year.

I love this series, even though it is pretty much a carbon copy of Laurell K Hamilton’s ‘Merry Gentry’ series. Right down to a demon character called Halcyon who is very much a replica of Sholto from the Merry Gentry books. It is very similar, even in the issues tackled – mostly the domination of men by women, which is explored in the Merry, books through the sadistic Queen Andais, and in the Monere series by the slave-master relationship between the Queens and their Monere men.

Despite the striking similarities, Sunny’s series is far superior. There is great plot mixed in with the erotica (and this series is most assuredly paranormal erotica), so that the sex scenes don’t become tedious and predictable. Sunny’s characters are deeply explored throughout the series, there are only really 3 or 4 men that Mona Lisa really loves and it’s easier to keep track of and come to like those characters, as opposed to the bevy of men in Merry’s bed which sees some of them become wallpaper-characters.

I love the Monere world that Sunny has created. They are a very bizarre race, and it really works well that we are seeing them through Mona Lisa’s eyes so we can appreciate the extent of their foreignness – versus the fact that Merry grew up with the sidhe and is unfazed by their weird and wacky ways.

Lastly, I absolutely love the book covers. I know, I know – but I do often judge a book by its cover, and these covers are surprisingly elegant for erotica novels.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

'Texas Vampires: TRILOGY' by Diane Whiteside

‘Bond of Blood’ - From the BLURB:

Former Spanish knight Don Raphael Perez has been a vampire for seven centuries, and is now the leader of the largest vampire territory in North America, spanning Texas and Oklahoma. But a rival is challenging his rule. Then he meets veterinarian Grania O'Malley, who's never felt the touch of a man. Raphael has sworn never to initiate a woman into the eternal pleasures of the flesh, but now it may be the only way to save her from his bloodthirsty adversary...

This is the first book in a trilogy called ‘Texas Vampires’. Each of the three books centres around the same event, told from a different perspective in each book. The event is a take-over being orchestrated by she-bitch Vampire Queen, Madame Celeste, who rules New Orleans but is trying to encroach on the Texas territory owned by Don Rafael Perez.

‘Bond of Blood’ (2006) is the first book and is told from Don Rafael Perez’s perspective. Don Rafael is an Alpha male to the nth degree – he was once a noble knight before being forced to become a vampire. Over seven centuries he has managed to build himself up and create a prosperous territory out of Texas, making him one of the most fearsome Vampire Kings.

‘Bond of Fire’ (2007) is the story of Don Rafael’s right-hand-man, Jean-Marie St. Just. Jean-Marie’s story centres on the one that got away – Helene D’agelet was a widower when she met Jean-Marie for the first time, and there was instant attraction. When the French Revolution put her in danger, Jean-Marie went searching for her to ensure her safety. Now, as the war between Don Rafael and Madame Celeste breaks out, Jean-Marie learns that his beloved was turned into a vampiress and he is determined to find and keep her once and for all.

‘Bond of Darkness’ (2008) tells Ethan Templeton’s story. Stephanie Darling, aka ‘Steve’, was Ethan’s lover for many years – she was aware of his vampiric nature, but wanted children, so ended the relationship to pursue her dreams of family with another (human) man. A couple of years later and Steve has left her cheating-ex and her Texas Ranger job has her inadvertently working with Don Rafael’s guard, Ethan, as a vampire invasion wreaks havoc on Steve’s town.

The story actually originates form a collection of Diane’s short stories released in 2001 called ‘The Hunter’s Prey’. The short stories are a collection of flashbacks from different time periods and the lives of Don Rafael, Jean-Marie and Ethan. It’s not imperative that you read ‘Hunter’s Prey’ to understand the trilogy, but if after reading the three books you still want more, I would highly recommend giving the short stories a go.

The Texas trilogy is described as being ‘paranormal romance’, but it is a hairs-breath away from erotica. The detailed plot probably saves it from being straight-up erotica, because this series is H-O-T! It is similar to JR Ward’s ‘Blackdagger Brotherhood’ with a dash of Gena Showalter’s ‘Lords of the Underworld’ thrown in. Diane Whiteside has a very distinct voice, and even the steamiest scenes are written absolutely beautifully with a real eye for detail.

It is a little bit frustrating that the three books are centred on one plot – even though the resolution doesn’t come until ‘Bond of Darkness’. The characters are so vivid and wonderful; it would have been great to read about them in new situations or even how their lives changed in the future. Regardless, the plot is entertaining and suspenseful, and Madame Celeste is one of the best bad-guys. And within each book there are flashbacks and recounts of the main male protagonists life before the events leading up to the Texas coup, which keeps things fresh.

I highly recommend this series. I completely stumbled across it by reading Amazon’s recommendations and it has become one of those series that I automatically urge other paranormal romance/urban fantasy fans to read.

It is very steamy and packed full of yummy Alpha male vampires – what more could you ask for?


Sunday, August 23, 2009

'Cape Storm' by Rachel Caine

The 8th book in Caine's 'Weather Warden' series has Joanne Baldwin battling a familiar foe. Bad Bob is back and hell-bent on bringing Jo over to the dark side. Together with head Warden, Lewis and her Dijn hubby David Prince, Jo and her task-force of good guys have commandeered a cruise ship and are heading straight for Bad Bob... to put the crazy old man in the ground, once and for all.

I am a one-woman Rachel Caine (real name Roxanne Longstreet) marching band. I love her. I am obsessed with her Young Adult series 'Morganville Vampires' which I am always recommending to people who tell me how much they love another certain YA vampire series that shall not be named...

Weather Wardens is her adult series and is a very unique Urban Fantasy. There are no vampires, werewolves or fae in sight. Instead there is a covert organization of humans with special talents for commanding the elements; earth, fire and water. They use these powers to control mother nature - from tornadoes to tidal waves and bush fires.

Helping the Wardens are Dijn, or as they are known in popular culture, genies. But don't get them confused with the 'I dream of...' variety. These Dijn are bad-ass and dangerous. They have claws, fangs and can control space and time. In the beginning the Wardens working relationship with the Dijn was master-slave, but over the course of the books that relationship has altered greatly. This is thanks in most part to Joanne Baldwin and Dijn David Prince. These two are one of the hottest UF couples I have ever read - not only are they adorable, but their love freed an entire race of supernatural's. Not your average shipperdom, huh?

Caine's 'Weather Warden' series is unique and exhilarating. All of Caine's books read like screenplays - she is a great visual writer and she loves epic battles. In both the 'Weather Warden' and 'Morganville Vampires' series she writes fantastically gripping, edge-of-your-seat, chew-your-nails-to-the-quick battle scenes. She is a masterful storyteller, as she proves again in 'Cape Storm'.

The 8th book is quite dark. Joanne is facing the man who was once her mentor, now a psychotic power-hungry leach who still considers Jo to be his protege. She is trying to resist his pull, but feels herself leaning toward the darkness... and to make matters worse, her friends and allies know they can't trust her because of Bad Bob's influence.
Quite a few times throughout the book Jo finds herself stranded and abandoned. Our girl Jo still throws around the usual quippy banter, but in this book she is really put to the test. As is her and David's relationship... Jo often describes David as being her 'true love', and throughout the series we have seen them both go through hell for each other. But in the book we see also glimpse a darker side to their love. Jo herself is very aware that David's devotion is potentially deadly to anyone who tries to harm her.

I also really loved Lewis's role in 'Cape Storm'. Lewis is a Warden who, at a young age, was revealed to possess all 3 elements - making him the most powerful Warden in history. Because of this talent the Warden council tried to lock him up and place a 'failsafe' on him, whereby an earth warden (who also have healing abilities) places a trigger in a Warden's head so that if they ever get out of control, a combination (a touch, phrase etc...) will fire neurons in the Warden's head, killing them. It is essentially a neutering. Lewis escaped, and for years worked on the Warden's periphery with the Dijn, before reemerging to help Jo and take control of the council.
Lewis and Jo also have a history. They are each other's first loves, and for Lewis that love has never diminished, even though he can see that he's lost Jo to David. Serious triangle!
In this book we finally get a long-awaited confession of undying love from Lewis, and it's good. So good.

Rachel Caine, as she loves to do, leaves 'Cape Storm' on a cliff-hanger... and it is a doozy. I, personally, am chomping at the bit for word of the 9th Weather Warden book.

I cannot recommend Rachel Caine enough. If you haven't already, go out and read the first Morganville Vampires book 'The Glass House' and the first Weather Warden, 'Ill Wind'. Right now! I promise you won't regret it.

Cape Storm = 5/5.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

'Aspect of Crow' SERIES by Jeri Smith-Ready

Rhia is bound to the Spirit of Crow. It is her destiny to guide the dead through to the 'Otherworld', and peace. She comes from the village Asermos, but to learn about her Spirit and the rare power within her, she must travel to the village of Kalindon and become apprentice to an older, wiser Crow woman.

The series is hard to describe in a few sentences - especially since each book spans decades. In 'Eyes of the Crow' we meet Rhia when she is 11, 16, then 18. By the third book, 'The Reawakened', 18 years have passed since the events of the second book 'Voice of Crow'.
What I can say about Jeri Smith-Ready's 'Aspects of Crow' is that it's one of the best fantasy series I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

I don't normally read fantasy unless it has the word 'Urban' in front of it - but Smith-Ready has written a series that seamlessly incorporates vivid characters, metaphors, morals and sensuality into an unforgettable tale. The books are all about the unknown and accepting difference. In the first book Rhia must leave her village for Kalindon, where rumors abound about the 'termite' villagers who live in trees and sport seven-inch fingernails. The villains of the series are 'the Descendents' - another race who wish to conquer the barbaric villages who worship Spirit guides instead of Gods. The theme of difference and xenophobia is heightened in 'Voice of Crow' when the narration alters - originally only Rhia narrated, but in the second book a captured Descendent soldier, Filip, lends a new moral voice.

There is a beautiful love story in the series, between Rhia and her mate, Marek, who is guided by Wolf spirit. Their love is instantaneous and powerful - and put to the test on numerous occasions. While the plot thickens regarding the village's safety from outside invaders, it is the love between Rhia and Marek that draws the reader in and propels the story forward.

I cannot express how much I loved this series. At times if reminded me of Diana Gabaldon's 'Outlander' with a hint of Tamora Pierce.

The series is a tribute to author Jeri Smith-Ready who has created a fantastically real worl with beautiful and memorable characters who have a moralistic tale worth telling.


Friday, August 14, 2009

'Thorn Queen' by Richelle Mead

Eugenie Markham has a lot on her plate. She has recently taken over a gentry Kingdom after killing its former tyrannical ruler. With the monarchy comes responsibility - her subjects need help making her Tucson-replica land hospitable. A band of ruffians/demons are causing havoc on the kingdom's outskirts. Young women are going missing from the villages on her land... and on top of all that, gentry men are still trying to get into her pants and fulfill the prophecy that says Storm King's daughter will bear a great gentry King. Never mind that Eugenie's kitsune boyfriend is going to become baby daddy to his ex-girlfriend and fellow Queen, Maiwenn. Or that King Dorian is proving to be a real temptation...

This is the second book in, what is probably, Richelle Mead's least popular Urban Fantasy series. The 'Vampire Academy' books have completely blown-up since the 'Twilight' craze (never-mind that they kick Meyer's booty when it comes to YA vampire romance!) and her very popular 'Georgina Kincaid' adult series just had it's 4th book released this year, with plans for several more before the series concludes.
Mead's 'Dark Swan' series hasn't yet got the same fan-base that 'Kincaid' and 'VA' has... but that doesn't mean it's not as good, if not occasionally better, than her other series.

I think Richelle Mead is an Urban Fantasy Goddess - and without a doubt one of the genre's darlings. She can do no wrong, and is incapable of writing a bad book. For me she is one of those instant-pre-order authors. Whatever she writers, I pre-order on Amazon, no questions asked. One of the reasons I love Richelle Mead is the characters she writes. No matter if they are a shaman Queen or despondent succubus, Mead creates flawed and funny protagonists who make mistakes, get their hearts broken (repeatedly, in some cases!) and roll with the punches. Despite the Fantasy world the live in, her character's deal with very real and very human problems that allow the reader to empathize and relate, no matter how fantastical the characters may be otherwise. Despite her Queenly status and half-gentry blood, as a reader we can relate to Eugenie's relationship problems with Kiyo - from wanting more foreplay, to sensing a distance between them as they react differently to Eugenie's problems. That's what makes Richelle Mead's series' so addictive - as fun and rollicking as the mysteries and whodunnit's woven in the plot, it's the human element that draws us back.

In 'Thorn Queen' Eugenie goes through quite a personality change. It stems from extenuating circumstances and inner shifts. Such as the way she regards the gentry race in general now that she is ruling over a section of them. It is a maturing, and fascinating to read unfold. Just as interesting is her accumulating and mastering her storm magic. It is both empowering and frightening as Eugenie's thirst for power and knowledge bring her closer and closer to her Storm King heritage.

I loved this book (no big surprise, I love all of Richelle Mead's stuff). The 'Dark Swan' series may not be quite on-par with 'Georgina Kincaid' and 'Vampire Academy'... yet ... but Richelle Mead is one of the front-runner's in the Urban Fantasy genre, and I think it's only a matter of time before her popularity ensures her backlist becomes as popular as her other series.

Thorn Queen - 4.5/5

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

'In the Blood' by Adrian Phoenix

'In the Blood' by Adrian PHOENIX

This is the second book in Phoenix's 'Maker's Song' series. Only a few weeks have passed since the events in 'A Rush of Wings' - Dante Baptiste, lead singer to the band 'Inferno', Nightkind (vampire), troubled heartthrob and experiment 'S' is touring with his band. FBI agent Heather Wallace has returned home to Seattle to take care of her younger sister, Annie, who suffers from bipolar - the same illness that haunted their mother before she was tragically murdered by a serial killer. Wallace is on leave from the bureau, claiming to still be recovering from a miraculously healed bullet-wound, and in her downtime she is investigating her mother's cold case. But the FBI have plans for Wallace, mainly to keep her under heavy surveillance and undertake experiments to determine the source of her miracle recovery courtesy of Dante.
Dante, though he promised to stay away from her, is heading to Seattle for the final leg of his band's tour, with every intention of keeping Heather safe...

To be honest, I wasn't blown away by 'A Rush of Wings' - but I really loved the Dante/Heather connection that Adrian Phoenix wrote, and I was frustrated and curious enough about Phoenix's cliff-hanger to their relationship to come back for more in 'In the Blood'.

Unfortunately, I had the same problem with the 2nd book that I had with the 1st. Phoenix writes from too many perspectives - as well as Dante, Heather and Annie, Phoenix includes narratives from Dante's father Lucien, accompanying agent Alex Lyons, Dante's roadie Von, hit-woman Caterina aka 'Cortini', some other supernatural 'huh?' Lillith.... the list goes on and on and at the end of the day the multiple narratives just amount to sloppy writing.

The only narratives you care about as a reader are those of Dante and Heather. They are the heart of the story, everything else is just excess baggage and I found myself skipping through most of the alternative narrative chapters.
It is sloppy writing if the perspective of every bad-guy and red-herring is included in the novel. We do not need to hear Alex Lyons internal monologue as he deduces Dante and Heather's sexual entanglement and decides to use that against them somehow. It's called 'show, don't tell' and not only is it sloppy writing to include the inner-voice of every Tom, Dick and Harry in your book, it is insulting to the reader. To assume that we won't 'get' the plot unless we are given the privilege of reading everyone's inner musings - give your reader a little more credit, please.

And it is a shame. Because when Adrian Phoenix gets it right, her writing is beautiful. All of the Heather/Dante interactions are this book's one saving grace. These two are an enigma, to each other and to the reader. Dante is a wounded soul; abused as a child, but sweetly affectionate as an adult, dealing out kisses as easily as other people exchange hand-shakes. His conflicting feelings toward Heather are at once endearing and frustrating - he loves her, but can't articulate such an emotion when he feels that loving her puts her in danger.
Heather is a tough, pragmatic FBI agent who has had to grow up quickly - her mother died when she was a teenager, her father buried himself in his FBI work and she has always had to care for her ill sister. Heather is ballsy and intelligent - but around Dante she becomes a lioness - wanting to protect and shield him, even from himself, but also wanting to exact revenge on those who have wounded him. I will only be reading Phoenix's 3rd installment 'Beneath the Skin' (released December 29th this year) to find out what happens with Dante and Heather.

I would give 'In the Blood' 1.5/5

Adrian Phoenix has really got to cut her book back to 2 narratives - Heather and Dante's. She could possibly include the narrative of ONE villain (like JR Ward does in her 'Blackdagger Brotherhood' series) but anything else is excessive, boring, confusing and unnecessary - all those multiple narratives achieve is taking the reader away from the real story-telling of Heather Wallace and Dante Baptiste.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

'Seduce me at Twilight' by Lisa Kleypas

'Seduce me at Sunrise'

This is the second book in Kleypas's 'Hathaways' series.
'Sunrise' centres on the third eldest Hathaway sibling, Winnifred (Win), and her love for the families' Gypsy orphan Kev Merripen.

The novel begins in 1849, with Win and her brother Leo leaving for France. She is going abroad to receive treatment by the brilliant Dr. Julian Harrow, whom she hopes can cure her frailty brought on by scarlet fever several years ago. Before leaving she all but throws herself upon childhood sweetheart and forbidden fruit, Merripen who (for his own torturous misfit reasons) refuses her advances but pines for her for two years.
Win returns to England, with the handsome Dr. Harrow in tow, and every intention of living her life to the fullest... and not even Merripen will get in the way of what Winnifred wants.

I only recently discovered the 'romance' genre. I know, I know. What rock have I been living under? The truth is I always thought the words 'romance' and 'trashy' went hand-in-hand and that I was always above such petty paperbacks. But I was recently enlightened by a romance-enthusiast that it is in fact a very misunderstood genre, and that the people who enjoy it are likewise pigeon-holed for their preference. It is not, I was told, the preferred reading material of bored housewives and in actuality romance enthusiasts are very hard to please.

Harlequin is the Canadian book publisher and formidable forerunner in romance and women's fiction. According to Wikipedia, over $585 million worth of books were sold in 2003, for gross profits of $124 million and a profit margin of 21%. That's pretty darn successful considering that book publishing is one industry that's been hit hard by the recession.
I was a bit staggered by the popularity of the genre, and with the motto in mind that everything is worth reading at least once, I set out to explore this strange and beloved genre... and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Maybe not so surprising is the fact that there's a lot of romance rubbish out there. Nada plot and 233 pages of heaving bosoms and throbbing members. But that's what makes the good stuff so very, very good. When you read romance done right, it is a thrill.
In my explorations, I was impressed by 3 authors in particular; Joanna Bourne, Julia Quinn and Lisa Kleypas.
These darlings of romance fiction stand out because they know how to tell a bloody good story. Throw in some very appealing Alpha male characters, iron-willed heroines and the occasional heaving bosom and you've got yourself the quintessential romance novel.

Lisa Kleypas's recently did a foray into modern romance with her 'Travis' trilogy, but it's really in period romance that she excels, and 'Seduce me at Sunrise' is Kleypas at her best.
Merripen is a fantastic male lead; a tall, dark brooding Gypsy who doesn't think he's good enough for the bright and beautiful Winnifred Hathaway. Throbbing members ensue....
My one complaint is Merripen's secret Rom name... 'Kev'. Blah. As an Australian I can only associate the name 'Kev' with a moccasin-wearing, Collingwood-supporting bogan. Sorry.

The romance genre and it's authors may never reach the heights of pulitzer or esteem of Steinbeck, but that is no reason to entirely discount the genre. Romance is a component of many a serious book, and sometimes even high-brow literature can fall by the wayside if there is zero chemistry between the protagonist and his/her leading lady/fella.
Kleypas is proof that the romance genre is an art-form in itself. She intertwines dashing characters, compelling story and teasing sensuality and you never feel cheap after reading her books, you come away with a happy ending and a smile on your face.

Seduce me at Sunrise gets a 3.5/5 from me.

'Blindsighted' Grant County #1 by Karin Slaughter

With a surname like 'Slaughter' what else could she have become, other than a crime writer (and/or butcher)?...

The small Georgia town of Heartsdale is rocked when part-time coroner and pediatrician, Sara Linton, discovers Sibyl Adams body in the bathroom of the local diner. Sibyl has been brutally raped and left to bleed out from several stab wounds. Jeffrey Tolliver is the town's police chief and Sara's ex-husband, and it is up to him to fit the pieces of this horrendous crime together - a task made infinitely more difficult by the fact that Sibyl was the twin of one of Tolliver's coworkers, officer Lena Adams. The plot thickens when Sara discovers another body - pulling her further into the investigation of a potential serial killer.

This is the first of 7 books in Karin Slaughter's 'Grant County' series and I loved it! I have gone out to my local library and borrowed the next 6 books (as well as 2 spin-off series also set in the Grant County world). I was totally sucked in form the very beginning - not just with the crime itself, but the tumultuous relationship of Sara & Jeffrey. Since this is really my first foray into crime fiction I really appreciated having the romance on the side to occasionally relieve from some of the very gory and chilling scenes. The story is alternately told from 3 different perspectives - Sara Linton, Jeffrey Tolliver and Lena Adams. So when given free reign each character can potentially drag scenes down in medical or procedural jargon and expose - I was just really relieved to occasionally have a lull in the murder mystery to step back and examine the human drama of the characters involved.

That being said, I became increasingly frustrated with Lena's perspective. Even though it was her sister that was murdered, I really did not like her character and found myself rolling my eyes whenever I had to trudge through her narrative.

I also didn't particularly warm to Chief Tolliver. I think my not liking him was very calculated though. 'Blindsighted' is set 2 years after Jeffrey and Sara divorced because he was caught cheating. Neither character goes into great depth about the split, which is very frustrating, doubly so when the characters actions don't always coincide with their thoughts and feelings about one another. I was left wondering why Sara was still bothering with her lousy ex and wanting to hit Jeffrey over the head with a large object.

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