Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Tapestry

Reviewed by Jen
As a huge Sherrilyn Kenyon fan, I couldn’t wait to read Tapestry for her contribution. But I was surprised to find, I enjoyed all four novellas in the anthology.

The first, “To Kiss in the Shadows,” by Lynn Kurland, was a historical romance.  Lianna was once beautiful, but her face was marred by pox. Her family is dead but she is living as a ward of the king.  She holds great lands that will one day go to her husband.

The women of the court are not kind to her; they merely tolerate her and sometimes taunt her about her appearance. They are all clucking about the arrival of eligible bachelor Kendrick of Artane. But it’s Lianne who catches his attention and they become fast friends. And when his brother, Jason de Piaget, arrives –there are definite sparks.  The cruel women go so far as to poison Lianna in their jealousy. But they can’t stand in the way of her happily ever after.

The second novella was “An Interrupted Tapestry,” by Madeline Hunter.  This is also historical.  In this story, Lady Giselle goes to an old friend, Andreas, to ask for a loan. They have not seen each other in many years, but were close in their youth. Giselle’s brother has put the family in poverty with his bad deals. And it isn’t until he goes missing that she realizes just how bad things are.  Giselle and Andreas are instantly attracted to each other, but think their life circumstances prevent them from being together.  Andreas decides to help Giselle find her brother and in the course of the search, they find their feelings for each other too difficult to ignore.

The third novella is Kenyon’s “Dragonswan.” It is set in the Dark Hunter universe and features an Arcadian Dragon named Sebastian. He is in present day America to recover a tapestry made by his sister. He needs it as a ransom to free his kidnapped brother. He meets Channon, a historian, and they are instantly attracted to each other. They sleep together and become mated by the Fates.  Sebastian brings her back to his time and their feelings for each other grow as she learns more about what he is and the problems he is facing with his own people and his enemies.

Finally, our last story is Karen Marie Moning’s ”Into the Dreaming.” This was my favorite story in the book.  We meet Jane, who has dreamed of her Highlander love Aeden for her entire life.  What she doesn’t know is that Aeden has been a prisoner of the Unseelie King for 500 years and has become the king’s hand of Vengeance.  Aeden has a month to fall in love in the mortal plane and be loved in return. If that happens, he can live a normal life again. Only, he has belonged to the king for so long, he doesn’t even know who he is anymore, much less the terms of the deal. He doesn’t remember Jane either.  She goes back in time to try to save him. It sounds complicated,  but it is an easy and very enjoyable read.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this anthologies. Most short story collections have at least one stinker, but I really liked them all.  4 stars.

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Series Reading Order: Highlanders

This is the reading order for the Highlander series by Karen Marie Moning:
*Denotes short story

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: Ruthless Game

Reviewed by Jen
Christine Feehan continues her Ghostwalkers series with book 9, Ruthless Game. This story features Kane, a member of the 3rd Ghostwalker unit, introduced in Street Game. Ghostwalkers are soldiers, who volunteered for psychic enhancements. But they all got more than they bargained for when Dr Whitney (the mastermind behind the project) also altered their genes. To make matters more complicated, Whitney has started breeding programs, where he pairs his Ghostwalkers with enhanced women, in the hopes of creating super-babies.

Kane was a soldier at one of Whitney’s breeding facilities and it was there he met Rose. In Deadly Game, we learned that Kane had gotten Rose pregnant and helped her escape. In that book, the men involved with the breeding program were portrayed as nothing short of monstrous rapists, so I was curious to see how Kane would be redeemed. Well, it seems Rose chose him to be her partner. She had seen him at the compound and felt attracted to him; sensed his integrity, and asked for him. Because he didn’t want her to have to be with one of the other men, who were hardly a step above rutting beasts, Kane agreed. And they had one night together before she escaped.

Eight months later, our couple is brought together when Kane is on a rescue mission in Mexico.Rose has tipped off the government about the hostages and he senses her nearby when he gets on the scene. After the Ghostwalker team saves the hostages, Kane goes on the run with Rose and hides out with her until she has the baby. The hideout is under surveillance by Whitney’s men and they are quickly on the run again. It doesn’t take long before they are back in the fold with Kane’s team. But Kane was injured during their escape –and Rose saves his life with her secret healing ability.

They all make it back to San Francisco, but Whitney’s men and members of a Mexican cartel are still on the hunt for Rose. Kane needs to ensure her safety and help her learn to trust the team that is essentially his family.

I liked this book. But it was different from the previous ones in the series. Primarily because our couple didn’t have sex until about 200 pages into the book. And their love scenes just didn’t have the same spark that the other books had. (My guess is that the pregnancy/post-delivery issues are to blame here. I could live without hearing about Rose’s breast milk when they’re getting hot and heavy.) That aside, the actual love story was nice. Kane’s love and devotion to Rose and the baby are tangible. And it is nice to see her finally have someone in her life she can trust.

I missed our old Ghostwalker friends, especially the SEAL team, but I’m starting to like our new unit better. (The last book left me kind of cold toward them.) I hope we can find away to bring them into the fold with our old familiar friends. 4 stars.

Ruthless Game
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: December 28, 2010
Publisher: Jove

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Review: Street Game

Reviewed by Jen
As a rule, I’m not good with change. But when Christine Feehan jumped from her original group of Ghostwalkers to focus on the SEAL team, I was surprisingly pleased with the new direction of the series.  I’m not nearly so jazzed now that we are moving on to Ghostwalker team 3.

Our male lead is Mack, the leader of the crew, who specializes in Urban Warfare.  The men and women of the team grew up together on the streets of Chicago. And they all went on to join the military and sign up for psychic enhancement. It turned out there was more to being a Ghostwalker than they expected. They were also physically enhanced and many were paired with Ghostwalkers of the opposite sex with the hopes they would one day create superbabies.

As we begin our story, Mack is leading a mission to take down some gun runners. But instead of catching the bad guys, Mack and the team find themselves in a warehouse owned by Jaimie. She was once part of their team and the love of Mack’s life. Unfortunately, she wasn’t cut out for the violence of the military. And beyond that, when she pushed Mack about their future years ago, he blew her off. So she left to make a new life for herself. But when face to face with Mack, all their feelings come rushing back.

Since she has been away, Jaimie has used her amazing computer skills to research Dr Whitney, the evil mastermind behind the Ghostwalker program. But she is getting too close and now she is a target. So Mack and the rest of the team band together to protect her.

Even though the team is new to us, there are a couple of familiar names. Kane was mentioned in Deadly Game as the Ghostwalker who got a woman pregnant at one of Whitney’s breeding facilities and helped her escape. And we met Brian in Predatory Game –he worked with Saber at the radio station. But those slightly familiar threads weren’t quite enough to enthrall me with the team.

As for the love story…. It’s not hard to see why Jaime left Mack. He keeps repeating to himself how preposterous it was that she left him, but frankly, who wouldn’t have left him? He was a self-centered domineering jerk who took her for granted. Obviously, he learns to see the error of his ways. And like all Christine Feehan books, there is great sexual tension and steamy love scenes.

Hopefully, I’ll grow more invested in these guys as we get to know them better in later books. 3 1/2 stars.

Street Game
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: December 29, 2009
Publisher: Jove

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review: Murder Game

Reviewed by Jen
Christine Feehan is going back to her Ghostwalker roots in her 7th book in the series, Murder Game. Our hero is Kadan Montague (or Kaden Bishop, as he introduced himself in Mind Game. Now, he says Bishop is just a nickname. And we need to ignore the fact that the spelling of his first name has changed over time. But I digress.) Kadan is Special Forces soldier who has been psychically and physically enhanced by evil genius scientist Dr Whitney. He is part of the first team of these soldiers, who call themselves Ghostwalkers that were featured in the first three books.

He has been tasked to find solve a string of murders, which appear to have been committed by fellow Ghostwalkers. So he seeks out a former serial killer profiler, Tansy. He realizes immediately that –1– she is one of the female Ghostwalkers enhanced by Whitney in her childhood; and –2– Whitney has chemically altered the two of them to be undeniably attracted to each other. Think turbo-pheromones.

Anyway, Tansy doesn’t want to help. The way her talent works is that she touches an object and can see into the souls of those who handled it before her. But handling that energy takes a serious toll, especially if the soul she encounters his evil or violent. The voices of the victims linger in her mind; at one point she even had a breakdown –and that’s why she quit helping the authorities. And why she doesn’t want to help Kadan. She is in no hurry to get away from him, though. He is an anchor, which helps calm the constant barrage of energy that is always flittering around her. She can even touch him without discomfort. And touch him she does.

Kadan doesn’t realize the real impact that tracking killers has on Tansy. Until he tricks her into touching an object from one of the murder scenes. Once he sees the toll it takes, he tries to release her from the case, but she decides the killers need to be stopped. Turns out, there is a game going on that pits two teams of Ghostwalkers against each other. They committing murders with specific targets to gain points for their team in a macabre competition. As the story progresses, Tansy works to uncover the members of the teams, and the elusive “puppet master” organizing the games.

The chemistry between Kadan and Tansy is great. But like many of Feehan’s alpha males, Kadan is a bit too much. He insists on taking charge of every situation and making all the decisions. And it irks me that he insists Tansy allow him to touch her whenever and however he wants. Despite that, their scenes are sexy and he clearly needs her like he’s never needed anyone.

I liked Kadan’s story better than the other stories featuring his group. But I prefered the SEAL stories. This one didn’t touch the intensity of the Norton books, despite a solid and interesting plot. 4 stars.

Murder Game
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: December 30, 2008
Publisher: Jove

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: Predatory Game

Reviewed by Jen
Predatory Game is book 6 in Christine Feehan’s Ghostwalker series. And here we continue with our trend of Ghostwalker SEALs with Jesse Calhoun. You may remember Jesse as Dahlia’s NCIS handler in Mind Game. He was beaten within an inch of his life trying to protect his team-mate and his legs were destroyed below the knee. Since we saw him last, it’s been mentioned that he is back to working with his old team, but is doing so from a wheelchair. 

Jesse is living in Wyoming. Though he still consults with the Ghostwalkers (physically and psychically enhanced soldiers), he is now also a songwriter and owns a radio station. Living in his home, is the mysterious Saber Wynter. Saber works as a DJ at Jesse’s radio station. And since she began renting a room in his home, they have become very close friends.  Actually, both have feelings beyond friendship, but they have never acted on those feelings. Each is trying to hide the fact that s/he is enhanced. Saber was also part of the Ghostwalker project; only she had been taken as a young child by mad-scientist Peter Whitney and trained as an assassin. She made her first kill at age 9. But she escaped last year and is now in hiding.

But now Saber is being stalked. The man works for Whitney but has gone off the deep-end. He’s obsessed with Saber and wants her for his own.  Jesse and Saber continue to grow closer and eventually reveal themselves to each other. They realize that Dr Whitney wants them to get together, to create a super-baby who has powers from both parents.  While their relationship develops and they fight the growing danger to Saber, they must also contend with Jesse’s disability and bionics he is trying to master, so that he can walk again.

I really enjoyed this one. (I have a soft spot for the SEAL guys, it seems.) It’s different in that our couple actually had a chance to get to know each other and develop believable feelings –as opposed to previous books where the couples were “in love” in a matter of days. Saber is undoubtably the most lethal Ghostwalker yet, but she is understandably vulnerable after all she has endured.  Meanwhile, Jesse is strong emotionally, while he struggles with the limitations his body is dealing with.  The love scenes are solid, though not quite as super-hot as in the last two books. 

A solid contribution to the series. 4 stars.

Predatory Game
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: Februrary 26, 2008
Publisher: Jove

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: Deadly Game

Reviewed by Jen
Deadly Game is book 5 in Christine Feehan’s Ghostwalker series. And it’s one of my favorites. Our hero is Ken Norton, Navy SEAL. He, like his twin Jack, is a Ghostwalker, a soldier who volunteered to be physically and psychically enhanced. Ken has endured a great deal. He was kidnapped and tortured at the hands of an evil general in the Congo. He is terribly scarred all over his body and he thinks he is dead inside. He only cares for Jack and his sister-in-law Briony.

He is on a mission to protect the very senator who he had been sent to rescue in the Congo, when a second Ghostwalker team approaches. Ken thinks they are trying to kill the senator, so he opens fire on their sniper.  Fortunately, she was wearing a bullet proof vest. When he gets to her, he realizes she is Mari, Briony’s long-lost twin sister.  Ken figures out instantly that mad-scientist and super-genius Dr Whitney had used some pheromone mojo to make him and Mari attracted to each other.  So much so, that while Ken’s team holds Mari in captivity, they succumb to their desires. This is a really big deal for Ken, because during his torture, his man parts had been cut up –and he wasn’t even sure he could have a sexual relationship again. Turns out he can, but “normal” sex is out –due to the scarring, he needs any coupling to be rough.  I mention this because it’s a huge issue for Ken and one he struggles with throughout the book. He thinks himself a monster on so many levels and believe Mari deserves better.

She has spent her whole life in training to be one of Whitney’s supersoldiers. She has never known a home –or love. She has only the camaraderie she shares with the other women in her program. Woman, like her, who are now being forced to have sex with men they don’t want –in order to have babies with two enhanced parents. Mari has been raped countless times and she will not leave her sisters abandoned at the lab. So she goes back, with Ken right behind her, planning to break them all out.

This is a dark book all around. But in my opinion, it’s one of Feehan’s best. Ken is so starkly broken in just about every way. But he has held on to his humanity despite everything he has endured.  The same is true for Mari.  I wanted them both to be happy and finally have someone love them the way each has yearned for.  Ken’s sex issues were a big deal for him, but I thought the love scenes were very steamy despite that (or even perhaps because of it.)   5 stars.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Review: Conspiracy Game

Reviewed by Jen
Conspiracy Game is the book that, for me, changed the Ghostwalker series from an occasional library rental, to a must-own set of books.  In this fourth installment, we shift gears away from our original Ghostwalker unit, to focus on one of the SEAL Ghostwalkers, Jack Norton.  We met him very briefly in Night Game, but here his story is fleshed out.

The book opens with Jack held prisoner in the Congo. He was taken captive during a rescue mission for his twin brother Ken. Jack has been tortured but manages to escape.  Enter our heroine, Briony. She is in the area doing a circus/highwire show with her brothers.  She is one of the orphan girls that Dr Whitney did psychic experiments on –and she was adopted out around age 5.  Anyway, she stumbles across Jack and realizes they are both “enhanced.” She longs to learn more about what/who she is and because Jack is a psychic “anchor,” he mutes the loud blasting energy that always surrounds her. She gets him back to her room and nurses him back to health.

Despite his serious injuries, Jack and Briony’s attraction for each other cannot be denied and they sleep together.  Before his extraction, Jack breaks things off with her. He is harsh, believing she deserves better than him and he should sever all ties.  The thing is, he got her pregnant.  And once her doctor (who is also Whitney’s spy) finds out, she has to go on the run. She goes to Jack for protection.

In the course of the book, we confirm that Whitney has manipulated the Ghostwalker soldiers to match up with his former-orphan girls. Even worse, he has started breeding programs, where he didn’t bother to manipulate the women to feel the same attraction the men feel.

This book puts the first three in the series to shame. This one and the next one, Deadly Game are my very favorites. The Norton brothers are just the right blend of strength and tortured vulnerability.  The story is interesting. And the relationship building is masterful.  The sex scenes are way hot too. 

I loved it. 5 stars.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Review: Night Game

Reviewed by Jen
Dr. Peter Whitney is a bad, bad man. We already knew he was an evil genius when the series began. After all, he was the mastermind behind the Ghostwalker project.  He devised the experiment where select military men volunteered for psychic enhancement. Even worse, he experimented on young orphan girls with a predisposition for psychic gifts.  But we could see him through the color of love his daughter Lily had for him.  Plus, he seemed to have paid for his sins with his death.  Only, his sins were worse than we knew. And he’s not really dead.

Flame was one of the young orphans Whitney experimented on. But in addition to psychic manipulation, he made her genetically advanced. And gave her cancer. Then cured it; and repeated the process.  She didn’t escape him until she was 19. Now Lily is trying to find all the women who were part of that experiment as children. She gets a lead on Flame and sends a Ghostwalker named Gator to find her.

Flame is hiding out in the Louisiana bayous, Gator’s home turf.  He was going home anyway to investigate the disappearance of a local girl, Joy.  It takes about a month for him to track down Flame.  It turns out, they have the same powers: they can influence animals and manipulate sound.  Of course, there is a major attraction.  But Flame doesn’t trust Gator and his easy charm. In fact, she trusts no one.  Flame is very smart. She is the only person who realizes A) Whitney is still alive and B) He somehow genetically manipulated the men of the Ghostwalker program to match up with the women from his older experiments. Each half would compliment the other and let’s not get started on the uber-babies they could make.

Most of the book, beyond the big Whitney revelations, focuses on the search for Joy; the questions about who can be trusted; and the developing relationship between Gator and Flame.  It takes them longer to hook up than we have to wait in most Feehan books.  And for me, they weren’t quite as hot as some of the others.  It felt like Whitney being alive is revisionist history; It seems the two sides of the man Lily could see in the beginning of the series didn’t even exist. He was just a monster.

This wasn’t my favorite book in the series, but the ongoing story developments make it one you shouldn’t skip. 3 1/2 stars.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Review: Mind Game

Reviewed by Jen
Nicolas Trevane is an ice-cold sniper for the military. And he is part of a group of soldiers who took part in an experiment to enhance their psychic abilities. Many years ago, the man who conducted the experiment, Dr. Peter Whitney, did the same thing with a group of young orphan girls. But there were major complications and he found homes for all the girls except one. That girl, Lily, he adopted himself.

Since Whitney’s (supposed) death, Lily has been searching for the other women who were part of that long ago experiment. She found out that one, Dahlia, is living in the bayous of Louisiana. She has been working as some kind of agent. But she is isolated, due to her “abilities.” Nicolas volunteers to go find her and help bring her back to reconnect with Lily.

When Nicolas gets to her home, it’s under attack. He is unable to save the two nurses who lived there and helped raise Dahlia. And her military handler, Jesse, has been tortured and is dragged away. Fortunately, Dahlia had not been home when her home was targeted –and Nicolas intercepts her as she approaches, saving her from the danger.

Dahlia has series problems associated with her abilities. Energy surrounds her like a magnet. And when emotions, violence, or something similar, surrounds her, she becomes violently ill; she has seizures; and when it’s really bad, she starts fires. Fortunately, Nico is an “anchor.” He can help calm the minds of other psychics. And he becomes the first man, really the first person, Dahlia is able to spend any significant amount of time with. Their attraction is fast and fierce. But she fears it, because she has never known any person she could ever trust to stay in her life. She does care about Jesse, though, and she works with Nico to find and rescue him.

As the book progresses, we learn that our original band of soldiers from Shadow Game aren’t the only Ghostwalkers that Whitney made from military recruits. Jesse is also one –and there are several others we are introduced to (like the Norton twins) –some of which will later have their own books.

There’s a-whole-lot of sex in this book. And it is very steamy. I like Nicolas as a male lead. He’s the strong, silent type. But beneath still waters, something runs deep in him. Not the least of which is a molten heat that sets pages on fire.

There’s also some intrigue. Something about military plans for a stealth something or other. But to me, all that is just backdrop for the character development and love (ok, lust) story. 3 1/2 stars.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review: Shadow Game

Reviewed by Jen
Shadow Game is book 1 in Christine Feehan’s Ghostwalker series.  Here’s the premise: an elite group of military men have signed up to be human guinea pigs for an experiment designed to expand their psychic powers. Some have telepathy; others can communicate with animals; some have telekinesis; and the list goes on. Unfortunately for our team (who have dubbed themselves Ghostwalkers), problems develop: seizures, brain bleeds, even death.  So the men in charge of the project put them on lock down. Separate them. Study them.  For the past year, they’ve been like rats in cages.

The leader of the Ghostwalkers is Captain Ryland Miller. At the beginning of the story, he is squaring off with Dr Peter Whitney (the scientific mastermind behind the experiment) and Col Higgins (high ranking military dude who hates Ryland’s guts.) In walks Whitney’s daughter, Lily. She is also a brilliant scientist and her father has called her in to consult on the project. She is telepathic too and has an instant connection with Ryland.

As the story progresses, Peter Whitney is murdered. (*Spoilers*) Although in later books we discover he faked his own death.  He reaches out to Lily telepathically at the last moment telling her to help the Ghostwalkers and to right the wrongs of his experiments.  Lily finds her father’s secret lab and discovers she is not really his daughter after all. She, too, had been an experiment… one of several young girls with psychic abilities, studied and manipulated by Whitney.  When that experiment failed, he adopted out all the other girls and kept Lily for himself to raise.

Lily helps the Ghostwalkers break out and hides them in her uber-mansion. She helps them learn to control their powers. And she continues developing a scorching hot relationship with Ryland. She works with the Ghostwalkers to figure out who is behind her father’s death and who was trying to manipulate the Ghostwalker program for their own gain.

I didn’t love this book the first time I read it. But I find, I liked it a little better on my second read.  One of my initial problems with it was the lightning fast relationship between Ryland and Lily. We find out in later books that Whitney’s experiments created matches between his young girls and military men. So that explains it in hindsight.  Another problem: there are ALOT of characters to keep straight. You’ve got several Ghostwalkers to remember, plus all the men involved on the experiment who may or may not be bad guys. I found myself flipping back in the book for reminders of who was who… even as I got close to the end.

I can promise hot and frequent love scenes.  And I’m happy to say that the language is less flowery and metaphoric than Feehan uses in her Carpathian books.

If this book doesn’t float your boat, don’t give up on the series. In my opinion it really hits its stride with Conspiracy Game. The books featuring the Ghostwalker SEALs are my favorites.

3 1/2 stars.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Series Reading Order: Ghostwalkers

This is the reading order for the Ghostwalkers series by Christine Feehan:

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review: Blood Trinity

Reviewed by Jen
When I found out Sherrilyn Kenyon was starting a new series, I’ll admit, I was not happy. I am a huge fan of her Dark Hunter books, and I didn’t like the idea of a new project taking away time she could be spending on more books in that series. But, after reading Blood Trinity, I have changed my mind.

First off, I acknowledge that the world building is a little complicated, but I’ll do my best to summarize. Our story centers on a woman named Evalle. She is what’s known as an Alterant, which is a half breed of the Belador race. I can’t explain entirely what the Beladors are, except to say they are something more than human. They have an array of powers granted by a Goddess. Evalle has some of those powers, but as a half breed, she also has limitations: she can’t be in the sun and when seized with intense pain or emotion, she may shift into a beast form. All other Alterants are imprisoned, because they are said not to be able to control their beast form. The very fact that Evalle can shift at all is something she keeps a closely guarded secret.

Evalle has only a handful of people she trusts. Two of the three are fellow agents for the supernatural-police-type organization she works for, VIPER. Her boss, Sen, hates her for what she is and would love to have her locked up too. It comes to the attention of VIPER that a powerful stone is about to come into the possession of a powerful female. It can bring great change or destruction if left unchecked, so agents (including Evalle) are sent out to find it.

Evalle is paired with a mysterious man named Storm. She believes he is a plant, sent in by Sen to find a reason to lock her up. But there is more to Storm than meets the eye and there is definitely attraction there. There is also a spark between Evalle and a sexy human, Isak. I found myself rooting for both guys at different points throughout the book. (But if you are looking for the love scenes featured in the Dark Hunter books, you won’t find them here.)

The book was fascinating and hard to put down. Though I have to admit, there were times in the story I felt like I was getting a recap from a previous book. A few internet searches revealed a link to anthology Dead After Dark. I’ll have to go read the short story there to see if it fills in a few of the gaps.

I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.  I don’t know if the plan is to have it continue to follow Evalle or to pick up a story from a secondary character. But I hope we stick with her. I really want to see where her story goes from here, as it seems to be left open.

4 1/2 stars.

Click to purchase: Amazon or The Book Depository
Blood Trinity
by Sherrilyn Kenyon & Dianna Love
Release Date: October 19, 2010
Publisher: Pocket Books

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: Playing Easy to Get

With two of my favorite authors involved, I knew I would enjoy the anthology Playing Easy to Get.

The first of three novellas was Sherrilyn Kenyon’s “Turn Up the Heat.” This offering is loosely tied in to her BAD Agency series, but only just-barely. The story focuses on Allison, an average woman from Georgia, who works in a dead end job and has no prospects for love.  She spent the last several years caring for a dying mother. She just just broke up with her two timing boyfriend. And her favorite escape is found in her steamy romance novels.

An old friend helps Allison win a contest designed to let a romance reader live out her fantasy on an island for a week. It’s there she meets Vince.  He’s on the run from the Mafia and hiding out among the actors. Sparks fly between them and things heat up quickly.  Of course, the bad guys are on Vince’s tail. But the island is also a training station for some members of the BAD Agency. So, in the end, familiar faces Joe & Tee help save the day. 

The second story was “Hunter’s Oath” by Jaid Black. I did not enjoy it.  Our leading lady, Sofia, has been kidnapped from Alaska and dragged to an underground Viking world to be auctioned off as a Viking’s bride. She is stripped nude, put on an auction block, and purchased.  And in the end, she falls for her new husband and comes to accept their way of life. I’m sorry. I just can’t get past the premise.

The final novella was “The Warlord Wants Forever,” the story that kicks off Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series. The book is worth it for this story alone. It features Niklolai Wroth, a vampire warlord, who meets his fated Bride, Myst the Valkyrie.  Myst is a prisoner in the castle Wroth has conquered. He hopes to use her to learn more about the creatures of the supernatural community, but he can’t resist his attraction to her. The feeling is mutual, but Myst’s Valkyrie sisters rescue her before they can consummate their relationship.  So Wroth spends five painful years searching for his missing Bride. When he finally finds her, he finds out he can control her by wielding the chain he pulls from around her waist.  Only, it’s not the power of the chain that makes Myst fall for her warlord.  It happens all on its own.  As with all IAD stories, this one is hot and super sexy. And we get to read the foundation for the main storylines in several books to come.

Alone, I’d give the Sherrilyn Kenyon story 4 stars, the Jaid Black story 2 stars, and the Kresley Cole story 5 stars.  An anthology worth the time and the money.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review: Dark Dream

Reviewed by Jen
"Dark Dream" is one of a handful of novellas in Christine Feehan's Carpathian series.  And this is one that fans shouldn't miss. This one short story sets up several arcs for future books.

As the story begins, we learn that long ago, Mikail's father sent out several warriors of the Carpathian race to journey around the world and fight the vampire threat. No one knew about these men or their mission. Falcon was one of those warriors. He's been alive for more than a millenium and never thought he would find a lifemate, so far from his people. He feels like he is unable to fight the growing darkness within him for much longer, so he decides to return to the Carpathian Mountains one last time to see his homeland before he takes his life.

Just before that happens, he meets Sara. And suddenly, his world is in color again. Sara is on the run from the vampire who killed her family 15 years ago. She has the psychic ability to touch objects and see their history. So when she found a journal Falcon wrote hundreds of years ago, she saw his face, his struggle and his loneliness. And she knew he was destined to be her love.  She's carried him in her heart for more than a decade, as she's worked to elude the vampire stalking her.  Once she comes face to face with Falcon, there is no doubt for either of them that their destinies are entwined.

In addition to learning about the ancient Carpathians like Falcon, we learn more about lycanthropes and the jaguar people. (Females of both species eventually come into play as potential lifemates.) And for the first time we hear about the wizards and the existence of an ancient book hidden in the caves. This is a huge story arc in later books... and it all started here.

I like Falcon more than most Carpathian males. He is much less overbearing and pushy than a lot of the other heroes in this series.  The words "dark dream" give "velvet" a run for its money, with both appearing six times in the 70 pages. (Christine Feehan finds a phrase she likes and sticks with it.) One of the better stories in the series. 4 stars.

Dark Dream
by Christine Feehan
First Published in After Twilight Anthology
Release Date: September 2001
Publisher: Love Spell

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: Dark Fire

Reviewed by Jen
I am a longtime fan of Christine Feehan. I’ve read almost everything she has ever written and I’ve always loved the Carpathian series.  But I found myself frequently annoyed throughout the course of this book. I don’t remember if I felt this way the first time I read it. But this time around, the book made me very frustrated.

Darius is a Carpathian male who grew up apart from his homeland. When he was only six years old, he lead a group of children away from a massacre in their village and he raised them on his own. Now, hundreds of years later, they are traveling the United States as part of a band.  He lives without color or emotion, and he feels himself nearing the point where he must either face the sun or turn into a vampire. (If you’re not up on the Carpathian mythology, check out my review on Dark Prince.)  But everything changes when his sister hires Tempest as the band’s mechanic.

Tempest has led a hard life. She grew up in foster care and on the streets. She has been abused and now lives as a loner.  She can communicate psychically with animals.  And she has no idea that Carpathians or vampires exist until she meets Darius.  Of course, he knows she is his lifemate right away, which makes it kind of creepy when he keeps talking about how young she looks and how child-like she appears.  But what is so irritating about the book is the way he completely takes over her life. 

Yeah, yeah, that’s the Carpathian way. The men always think they know best and have to protect the women. But Darius is like a turbo-Alpha.  Over and over and over, he dismisses her feelings; he overrides her decisions; he forces her to his will.  And then she is mad for a nano-second and forgives him.  He thinks it’s all ok because he knows best.  And frankly, it pisses me off.  It’s not sexy. It’s not romantic.  One time in particular, he brings her into a volcano (don’t ask) to stay the night. She is scared and uncomfortable and tells him clearly and unequivocably that she wants to leave.  So he renders her unconscious and takes away her choices.  Then wakes her up in the morning, or I guess I should say evening, with a stiffy.  And then after their tumble, she realizes what he did, gets mad and then instantly gets over it. 

I know it’s not all that different from some of the other installments, but it’s really sticking in my craw. Add to that, the flowery language that’s the hallmark of the series.  Feehan uses the word ”velvet” 49 times in this book and not once is she referring to fabric.  In fact, from now on, I think I’ll end every Carpathian review with a “velvet” word count… and if I’m feeling extra creative, I’ll break it down to include the subcategories of “velvet sheath,” “velvet tip,” and “velvet over iron.”

All this complaining may sound like I hated the book, but perversely, I didn’t.  I actually like the series. I enjoy the world-building, the destined soul-mates and most of the characters.  Clearly it holds some attraction because I keep coming back for more.  4 stars.

Dark Fire
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: October 2001
Publisher: Love Spell

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Review: Dark Magic

Reviewed by Jen
At last, we get Gregori’s book. Most readers who started the Carpathian series at the beginning with Dark Prince, have been waiting for our ancient warrior to get his happily ever after –and with Dark Magic, the wait is over. We only had to wait four books. And for me, the wait was worth it.

Gregori is one of the oldest and the deadliest of Carpathian men.  As with all the men of his kind, he lost the ability to feel emotions and see in color when he turned 200. He’s nearly a thousand now.  And he is dangerously close to losing his honor and becoming the evil vampire he hunts.  All vampires were Carpathians to begin with: they all drink blood; can use telepathy; shapeshift; and must avoid the sun. But Carpathian men who give up hope of salvation, of finding their lifemate, embrace evil and become the beast that is the vampire.

Gregori has found his lifemate.  She is Savannah, daughter to his best friend, Mikhail.  She is a magician who has left the Carpathian Mountains of Romania to seek her independence. Gregori had come to her when she was 18, but she was not ready to be with him. She begged him for time and he gave her 5 years. These years have been very difficult for him. So difficult, that when they are finally reunited, he is almost more beast than man.  He spirits her away to his lair and “claims” her.  Savannah is very attracted to Gregori, but the act between them is far from gentle. She thinks him a monster, until she allows herself to use the telepathy of her people and see inside his mind.

Gregori is a tortured soul. He believes himself to be the monster she has branded him. But he loves her; he needs her. He doesn’t think he deserves her; especially because he thinks he tampered with nature and somehow forced her to become his lifemate while her mother carried her in the womb.  Savannah begins to soften toward Gregori as she sees the ways he is fragile. And she realizes that despite his strengths and dominating ways, she has much power, simply because of his feelings for her.

The pair leave San Fransisco and head to New Orleans, where they take up residence. They quickly run into trouble with a ring of vampire hunters who are, ironically, led by a vampire.  While raiding a safe house for our hunters, they find Gary Jansen, a scientist and true-believer, who they quickly befriend. He becomes Gregori’s first human friend, and goes on to become a reoccurring character in the series.

Gregori is very old and has some old ideas. He is stubborn and overbearing. But he is also very sympathetic.  He loves Savannah so completely. And their love scenes are very, very hot.

Like all of these books, there is a little repetition with the language. We get several reminders that Gregori is “the Dark One.” And our standard reminder that he is “sensual with a hint of cruelty.” But it’s just a tiny annoyance in what is a really good book. It’s one of my favorite in the series and one that Carpathian fans cannot miss. 4 1/2 stars.

Dark Magic
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: July 2000
Publisher: Love Spell

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: Dark Challenge

Reviewed by Jen
Dark Challenge is the 5th book in Christine Feehan’s Carpathian series. This story focuses on Julian Savage, an ancient Carpathian, and twin to Aidan, who was featured in Dark Gold. Like all Carpathians, Julian drinks blood; he can shapeshift; he is telepathic; and he can not go out in the sun. The males of the species lose their ability to see in color and can no longer feel emotion after their 200th year. Julian is around 800 and is ready to end his existence. If a Carpathian man goes too long without emotion, he can turn vampire, an evil beast who kills without discretion. The only way to avoid that (or suicide) is to find his lifemate, the other half to his soul.

At the end of Dark Magic, we discover that a group of fanatical human vampire hunters have targeted some humans and Carpathians for destruction. A beautiful, mysterious singer named Desari is on their hit list. Ancient Carpathian Gregori has asked Julian to seek her out, warn her of the danger, and protect her. Once he finds her, Julian realizes she is his lifemate.

Moments later, Desari is shot during her performance. Julian saves her life, but is attacked by a strange leopard who is also trying to protect her. We later find out that the leopard is Darius, Desari’s brother. The two of them, and the other three members of their band are all Carpathians. But they grew up separated from the rest of their people. Hundreds of years ago, when humans were attacking their kind, they escaped. They were all children, but Darius took care of them… and has done so all these years.

The relationship between Desari and Julian develops quickly. It’s nice to see the heroine as a grown, secure woman. Someone who is already Carpathian. So many of the female leads in the series are mere babies compared to the age of their lifemates. Desari is an ancient in her own right. And Julian isn’t nearly as obnoxious as some of the Carpathian men we have encountered before. They have great chemistry and sexy love scenes.

Of course, where Carpathian women go, so goes the vampires. So Julian must band together with Darius to help protect Desari and the other female in the group. The task is even more monumental since Julian, himself, suffers from the taint of a vampire who forced a blood exchange when he was just a young boy.

This is one of my favorite books in the series. We get to meet a wealth of new characters and we get backstories on so many characters that will be featured in the future: not just the band members (some of whom we find out are long lost relatives to Gregori), but also the ancients Gabriel and Lucian. My only disappointment here is the missed opportunity for the reunions between Julian and Adian –and the members of the Daratrazanoff family (yes, that’s last name of Gregori’s people… although we don’t learn it in print until several books later.)

4 1/2 stars.

Dark Challenge
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: November 2000
Publisher: Love Spell

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: Dark Gold

Reviewed by Jen
Dark Gold is the 3rd book in Christine Feehan’s Carpathian series. This book centers on Aidan Savage. He is born of the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. He is 800 years old. Like others of his race, he drinks blood; he can shapeshift; he has telepathic abilities; and he can not go in the sun. Like all Carpathian men, he lost his emotions and his ability to see in color after he turned 200. Those gifts will not return unless he finds his lifemate, the other half of his soul. If he does not find her, he will lead a barren existence, until he chooses to end his life or become vampire, an evil being who kills and inflicts misery on others.

Aidan finds his lifemate, Alexandria, in the clutches of a true vampire. The beast is trying to take her for his own mate. And he has tortured Alex to a point where, when Aidan first sees her, he thinks she is a deranged vampiress and attacks her. Once he realizes his mistake, he gives her his blood to save her life. After his brutal attack, Alex does not see the difference between Aidan and a vampire.

Aidan brings Alex and her young brother (who she is raising) back to his home. He realizes that the vampire had two blood exchanges with her –and his own blood exchange was the third necessary to convert a human woman to Carpathian. The conversion is hard on Alex and she doesn’t want it. She fights her attraction to Aidan. She fights becoming Carpathian. It’s hard to see her stripped of her choices; her independence ripped away.

Even though Aidan killed the vampire who first kidnapped Alex, another is searching for her, which puts her life in danger. And there is drama in that, but the real issue at the center of the book is her fight against what she has become and her fight against her feelings for Aidan. It takes a long time for her to get past the idea that he is using his telepathic abilities to make her want him, as he pushes his will on her in so many ways. I found I got angry for her many times in the book. As with all the other Carpathian men, Aiden believes his way is always the right way… and with the strength of his abilities, that’s a tough pill for Alex (and me) to swallow.

Of course, the sex scenes are pretty hot. That’s one thing you can always count on in a Carpathian book. But I think we can start a fairly good drinking game, where you take a shot every time Feehan uses the word “velvet.” Everyone will be tanked before we get halfway through the book. Between the velvet sheath, the velvet fist, the velvet tip, the velvet over marble, and velvet voices, we could open a fabric store courtesy of Dark Gold. If you can overlook that, the love scenes alone make the book a great read.

Despite my issues with bossy Aidan (and of course my rant on “velvet”), I enjoyed this book.  It was fun to see the heroine running away from our hero, despite the fact that he is gorgeous, rich and head over heels for her.  4 stars.

Dark Gold
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: April 2000
Publisher: Love Spell

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review: Dark Desire

Reviewed by Jen
Dark Desire is the 2nd book in Christine Feehan’s Carpathian series.  It picks up roughly 20-25 years after the events of Dark Prince. And this installment centers on Mikhail’s brother Jacques.

A quick review of the mythology of the series: There’s an ancient race of people who hail from the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. They drink blood; they can shapeshift and speak telepathically; they can’t go in the sun. And after about 200 years, their men lose their emotions and their ability to see in color. That is, until they find the other  half of their souls… their lifemates. Over time, living without a lifemate leaves a Carpathian man with two choices: ending his life or turning into a vampire, an evil being who lives to torment and kills his victims.

So, at the beginning of our story, poor Jacques has been kidnapped and tortured by some vampire hunters. Ironically, their strings are being pulled by a real vampire, and they are targeting the good Carpathians. Anyway, Jacques is tortured within an inch of his life, and is then buried alive in a coffin, where he suffers for seven years. During that time, his mind reaches out to Shea, the lifemate he has never met.

By the time seven years are done, Jacques is just about crazy. He doesn’t remember who he is. And Shea is the only thing he knows, beyond his hate and quest for vengeance. He lures Shea from the US to Romania to free him. In all the years he had been making contact with her, Shea didn’t even believe he was real… until she found him.

Once she comes to his gravesite, Shea frees Jacques and tries to heal him. (She is a doctor.) But he ravages her and takes her blood. In fact, he goes on to perform the requisite 3 blood transfers required to turn a human into a Carpathian. Despite his brutality and his serious mental and physical problems, Shea feels connected with Jacques. She reveals that even before the conversion, she was different from most humans. It turns out her father, Rand, was Carpathian. She never knew him. In fact, he left her mother before she was ever born and the loss of him drove her mom crazy. Shea grew up basically alone and had to deal with her physical differences on her own.

Jacques’ madness is very sad, since we knew him as a sweet and easygoing guy in Dark Prince. And it’s wonderful to see Mikhail, Gregori, and others as they find the man they thought long dead. I could do without some of that Carpathian he-man pushiness, but I’ve learned that is par for the course with heroes in this series.

There’s plenty of action as the vampire hunters search for Shea and the other Carpathians. The love scenes are hot, and fortunately, not quite so flowery as in the previous book. And it’s high drama when the identity of the vampire is finally revealed.

A great chapter in the Carpathian series. 4 1/2 stars.

Dark Desire
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: December 1999
Publisher: Love Spell

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Dark Prince

Reviewed by Jen
I’m going a little old-school today, reviewing Christine Feehan’s Dark Prince. It is the first book in her Carpathian series. And I thought it would be fun to go back and re-read it. Let me start with the mythology of the series.

There is an ancient race of men and women who hail from the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. They drink blood; they can not go in the sun; they can shape-shift; and they can manipulate the earth. They can live for centuries without aging, but they can be killed. Once a man reaches 200 years of age or so, he begins to lose his ability to see in colors and feel emotion. Those things can not be restored until he finds his fated love, his “life-mate,” the other half of his soul. If he doesn’t find her, darkness grows in him, until one day he either chooses to end his life or becomes an evil vampire. Vampires kill those they feed from; they are evil, rotten and beyond redemption. The Carpathian men fight the vampires to help keep the world safe from them. The future looks bleak for the Carpathians, though, because their numbers are dwindling. They are almost out of women and hardly any babies are being born.

OK. So this book opens with our hero, Mikhail (leader of the Carpathians), making the decision to end his life. But he hears a woman’s voice in his mind, telling him not to give up. He is moved by her voice and follows it to a nearby hotel, where he spies her through the window. He realizes he is seeing her in color, and therefore she is his lifemate. The two speak telepathically and Mikhail learns about the woman. She is Raven, a human and an American traveling in his country. She is a psychic who helps police catch serial killers, but her work took a toll on her and she went on vacation to get away from it all.

Mikhail insists on meeting Raven and quickly brings her back to his home. They are very drawn to each other. And Mikhail can’t stop himself from taking her blood. There are old stories among his people that a human woman might be converted to a Carpathian with three blood exchanges, but it poses the risk of turning the woman insane.

Anyway, while Raven is at Mikhail’s home, a group of Carpathians come with news that someone has killed Mikhail’s sister Noelle. As the story develops, we learn that there is a band of vampire hunters, who are targeting the Carpathians. The hunters are fanatics and don’t realize they’re killing good people. So basically, the book centers on finding the crazed hunters, while Raven and Mikhail explore their relationship.

I have mixed feelings about the development of the love story. Mikhail is pushy and overbearing and Raven is constantly trying to exert her independence. The sex scenes are vivid. Pretty hot, in fact. But the wording can be a little flowery for my taste. Some of the dialogue is a little flowery too. For instance, at one point Raven asks Mikhail what she tastes like (a pretty sexy question) and he answers, “You taste like sweet, hot spice, addictive and so sensual.” When I read that, I tried to imagine a man actually saying it. I couldn’t do it. Another example: when Mikhail noted his friend Gregori’s “sensual mouth, marked by a hint of cruelty.” Come on.

So how much does that bother me? Obviously, not enough to keep me away from the other 20 or so books in the series. I like that the book drew me in from the beginning. I like the sexual heat. I could do with a little less of the pushy-man factor present in every one of these books. But again, I keep coming back for more. Give it a try. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it.  4 1/2 stars.

Dark Prince
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: August 1999
Publisher: Love Spell

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Series Reading Order: Dark Series (Carpathian)

This is the reading order for the Carpathian (Dark) series by Christine Feehan:
  • Dark Prince  —  Mikhail & Raven
  • Dark Desire —  Jacques & Shea
  • Dark Gold —  Aidan & Alexandria 
  • Dark Magic —  Gregori & Savannah
  • Dark Challenge —  Julian & Desari
  • Dark Fire — Darius & Tempest
  • *Dark Dream (Dark Dreamers) - Falcon & Sara
  • Dark Legend — Gabriel & Francesca
  • Dark Guardian — Lucian & Jaxon
  • Dark Symphony — Byron & Antonietta
  • *Dark Descent (The Only One) — Traian & Joie
  • Dark Melody — Dayan & Corinne
  • Dark Destiny — Nicolae & Destiny
  • *Dark Hunger (Hot Blooded) — Riordan & Juliette 
  • Dark Secret — Rafael & Colby
  • Dark Demon — Vikirnoff & Natalya
  • Dark Celebration — Couples Reunion
  • Dark Possession — Manuel & MaryAnn
  • Dark Curse — Nicolas & Lara
  • Dark Slayer — Razvan & Ivory
  • Dark Peril — Dominic & Solange
  • Dark Predator -- Zacharias & Marguarita
  • Dark Storm -- Dax & Riley
*Denotes short story/ novella

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Review: Kitty Goes to War

Reviewed by Jen
Kitty Goes to War is book 8 in Carrie Vaughn’s smart and entertaining Kitty Norville series.  A few months have passed since the events in Kitty’s House of Horrors. Kitty still has nightmares about what happened there, but she is easing back into her life. And Cormac is back in play, forging a new life for himself as a parolee.

In Kitty’s latest radio show, she opens the phone lines for her callers to talk about the “Speedy Mart” convenience stores and odd happenings that are going on there. (I have to admit, the premise made me smile as one of Kitty’s early books featured what she thought was a wacked out caller ranting about Speedy Marts being built on ley lines.) Just a few days later, she is sued by the chain’s owner for libel.  It’s not all that strange until the man shows up in person, offering to drop the suit if Kitty issues an on-air apology. The whole thing smells wrong to Kitty, so she asks Cormac to do some research on the man and on strange phenomenon at the convenience stores.

In the meantime, Kitty gets a call from the feds, asking for her help to deal with three werewolf soldiers who have lost touch with their humanity.  Kitty makes it her mission to help the men. But it doesn’t look like all of them can be saved.

The military angle is an interesting one. But I have to admit, much of my attention was on Cormac. He came back from prison “different.” And I can’t say I was very excited once I heard the reason why.  I hope that gets resolved away at some point.

In reading this, I took some time to figure out why I can’t let go of the idea of something between Cormac and Kitty. It’s because in every book, the author reminds us of the spark between them. She reminds us of what almost was. The path not taken.  I wonder if I could just accept Ben if we didn’t get those reminders about Cormac in every book. And the reminder that he wants Kitty too. It’s maddening, especially as we get closer and closer to the end of the series. Because I feel jerked around by it.

Despite my Cormac rant, I enjoyed the book. As always, I love Kitty and can’t wait to see what happens next. 4 stars.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Review: Kitty's House of Horrors

Reviewed by Jen
Let me start off by saying I really liked this Kitty installment. Kitty’s House of Horrors, book 7 in Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, kicks off with our heroine getting an invitation to appear on a reality show featuring well-known members of the supernatural community.  About a dozen participants are shipped off to an unknown location to be filmed together for two weeks.  We see a lot of familiar faces: Tina the psychic from Kitty Raises Hell; Grant the magician from Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand; Jeffrey the psychic from Kitty Goes to Washington; and Ariel the radio talk show host we heard about in Kitty Takes a Holiday. (Before I get too far into this, I have to say, I love it when old characters come back in play during a series. It’s like a bonus for fans who have read all the books from the beginning.)  We also have some new faces, with assorted vampires, shifters and one human skeptic that the supernatural folks are tasked with convincing that their gifts are real.

Some weird stuff starts happening and there is immediate tension between Grant and one of the vampires, Anastasia. Each thinks the other may be working with Roman, that really old, nefarious vamp we met in the last book.  If you’re not familiar with Roman, he is part of a vampire faction working what they call “the Long Game,” which is a strategy for world domination.  Anyway, the “weird” quickly becomes more serious as (*spoiler*) people start showing up dead. All the camera and production folks are gone; power is out; there are no phones and no escape.

The “house guests” start getting picked off one at a time as they scramble to figure out who is behind the attacks and how to escape.

It’s tough for Kitty to be away from her pack and Ben… who is (at the same time) working to get Cormac released at his parole hearing.

(Spoiler) A lot of people die in this book. One, especially, made me sad. I’ve always had a soft spot for Jeffery, since he brought Kitty a message from TJ from the other side.  Killing people we know and care about in the story reminded me of the “anything could happen” feel of early Kitty books. I also managed to feel tension, both at what was happening in the house with Kitty and wondering what was happening with Ben & Cormac.

This was classic Kitty Norville. Exciting. Unpredictable. 5 stars.

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