Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: Curse the Dawn

Reviewed by Jen
Without a doubt, this has the best book yet in the Cassie Palmer series.  It had all the great characters, action and smexy goodness of the previous books, without any head-scratching time travel conundrums.

Two main things are happening here: 1. The mages are redoubling their efforts to get their hands on Cassie; and 2. Something has destroyed a ley line and the MAGIC center where the North American Vampires had their stronghold.

The mage attacks throw Cassie and Pritkin even closer together than ever.  And I let me just say how much I love Pritkin.  His interactions with Cassie absolutely make these books shine for me.  Together, they face one disaster after another.  Some threats are physical, while others are emotional... like Cassie's discovery of her father's dark past.

It's amazing to me how the author manages to sustain the Cassie/Pritkin dynamic, while Mircea stays very much in the game. There is a wealth of chemistry between him and Cassie, as well. Yet, even through her eyes, he remains mysterious; his motives, unclear.  It goes a long way towards keeping their relationship fresh and sexy. And even though I have landed squarely in the Pritkin camp, I still enjoy Cassie's scenes with her vampire-beau.

The secondary characters continue to shine as well. I have formed quite an attachment to Rafe and Francoise. And even Marco, Sal, and Nicu managed to make an impression. There's a huge cast of characters, but the books have progressed to a point where I feel like I "know" them all and have a vested interest in their futures.

And I can't ignore the fact that this book has some really, really great one liners. I laughed out loud more than once.  --And it has some really, really hot loving too.  Can't wait to see what happens next. 4 1/2 stars.

Curse the Dawn
by Karen Chance
Release Date: April 7, 2009
Publisher: Penguin Group, USA 

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Review: Embrace the Night

Reviewed by Jen
Wow. I think I have whiplash after this one. This time-travel thing has officially tipped the scales onto the side of too-much-for-my-brain. In fact, a few things tipped the scales into the realm of "too-much" for me in this book. But I liked it anyway.

When the story begins, Cassie is training with Pritkin, trying to learn how to better protect herself from her growing pool of enemies. But her number one priority is finding the Codex of Merlin, which may have a counterspell to the geis affecting her and Mircea.

The most interesting thing in this book, for me, was the development of the relationship between Cassie and Pritkin. They grow closer; they move apart; she trusts him; she loses that trust; and it all comes full circle again. I think this is the guy that is becoming my front-runner for Cassie's HEA. But I have to say that his backstory is completely over the top. I can't decide which is more distressing: what he is supposed to be or who he is supposed to be. Both seem utterly out of left-field.

The only thing worse is the issue of paradoxes brought on my Cassie's constant trips to the past. For instance, WHY does the Mircea of "two weeks ago" not recognize Cassie from the present day from her visits to him back in the 1700s? And beyond that, keeping straight the events surrounding the time period of book one, was just too confusing. And I only read that book two days ago. I can only imagine what a din of confusion it would create for someone who read it months or years before.

And nothing was as over-the-top as Cassie's last idea on how to break the geis. I swear, if that threesome would have happened, I might have had to give up on the series.

But... Even with all this, I liked it in a guilty pleasure sort of way. The love scenes were very, very hot. And I love Pritkin, even if he has some questionable parentage. God only knows what will happen next in the series. I guess the only way to find out is to keep reading.  4 stars.

Embrace the Night
by Karen Chance
Release Date: April 1, 2008
Publisher: Penguin Group, USA 

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: Claimed by Shadow

Reviewed by Jen
I’ll admit it. I get a little bit of a one track mind when it comes to books.  If there is so much of a whiff of a relationship forming, I fixate on it and build up all of my anticipation around it.  I stay true-blue to my couple. 3rd parties are the enemy.  There is no indecision or uncertainty… just relationship-worshipping in its purest sense.  Until I started this damn series.  Never have I felt so torn… so fickle… about who I want a heroine to end up with.  I’ve got to give credit where credit is due, Karen Chance had me rooting for Tomas, Mircea, and even Pritkin to be the ONE to finally seal the deal with Cassie.  And even now, I’m not sure where my loyalties lie.

The story picks up just after the events of Touch the Dark.  Cassie has escaped the senate, but reveals she stole a few objects of power on her way out of the door.  She is looking for Tony, not only because of past issues with him, but because she wants to free her father’s ghost, and neutralize Myra, the other heir to the Pythia power.   (She thinks Tony is the key to finding them both.)

Just as she approaches a member of Tony’s organization to try to get a fix on him, she is attacked by mages.  She is forced to make an alliance with the mage assassin Pritkin to escape.  They decide to work together to get to Faerie, where they believe Tony and Myra are hiding.  Pritkin wants to get to Myra for his own reasons.

While all this is going on, Cassie discovers that Mircea has placed a geis on her… a powerful spell that prevents her from sleeping with other men.  If she makes a move to do so, she and the potential partner experience great pain.  But this is at odds with the power of the Pythia which is urging Cassie to lose her virginity in order to claim her full power.

Before she can even set out for Faerie, Cassie is being sent back in time. Myra is trying to kill Mircea in the past, to remove his protection of Cassie in the present.  Let me stop here and say that altering the events of the past can create some nasty paradoxes.  Some are addressed by the author.  But admittedly, some left me with more questions than answers.  The biggest is this: If Cassie met Mircea in the past and altered the timeline, how could the events of the first book have played out the way they did?  Or are we to assume they went differently? If so, how?  Clearly, Mircea remembers their past meetings in this book. It creates a bit of a mess in my head.  But rather than let it ruin the book for me, I just filed it away as something that didn’t quite fit and tried to let it go.

This book is amazingly sexy for only having one sex scene in it.  It’s full of action, twists, turns and some real emotion as well.  There are many plot threads left unresolved, not the least of which is this mess with the geis.  I’m looking forward to see how the author goes forward from here and whether the knots in the plot created by time travel manage to unweave or get more complicated. 4 stars.

Claimed by Shadow
by Karen Chance
Release Date: April 3, 2007
Publisher: Penguin Group, USA 

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Review: Touch the Dark

Reviewed by Jen
Cassie Palmer isn’t your average kick-ass Urban Fantasy heroine.  Maybe because she doesn’t kick ass. She’s not especially tough. She’s not even snarky.  But I think it’s the fact that the series feels so unique that I enjoyed it so much.

Cassie is a clairvoyant. She also sees and communicates with ghosts. In fact, one serves as something like a guardian angel… or as close to a guardian angel as the ghost of a gambling, alcohol and lady-loving cowboy can be. 

She grew up surrounded by vampires, and was raised by a horrible vamp named Tony. He had her parents killed and then used her gifts as a seer for his own gains. She got away from him and has been living her life in hiding, until now.  She’s been found and targeted. But the vampire senate steps in to save her.  They realize there is more to her power than even Cassie recognized. And they want to nurture her gifts in the hope that she will be loyal to them.

Cassie’s powers are growing, even in the short time she is with the senate.  She must deal with that, the growing threats to her life, and the distinct attentions of two vampires who want her for themselves.  Frankly, for much of the book, I didn’t know who I was rooting for. One minute, I figured it had to be Tomas… then I was drooling for Mircea.  The sexual tension is fantastic in the second half of the book and there are two really hot scenes that give us some payoff as well.

There is a lot of world-building to be done. And there are times that it intrudes on the flow. For me, this was more true in the first half.  What gave me a little more pause was the time-travel element. Whenever you start talking about changing history, things can get really hairy. I think it worked out ok, but it slowed down the wheels in my brain once or twice. 

But for the most part, I really enjoyed it. The ending isn’t exactly a cliffhanger, but there is clearly more story to tell. And I want to read it!  A dark, sexy start to the series. 4  stars.

Touch the Dark
by Karen Chance
Release Date: June 6, 2006
Publisher: Penguin Group, USA 

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Series Reading Order: Cassie Palmer

This is the reading order for the Cassie Palmer series by Karen Chance:

*A short story featuring Tomas also exists. It's called "Day of the Dead" and can be found in the Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance.  It can be read anytime after Claimed by Shadows.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review: Portrait of Seduction

Reviewed by Jen
Greta is a 20 year-old orphan who lives off the charity of her uncle. But she earns her keep, painting forgeries for him.  And she bides her time for the day he will arrange a proper marriage for her, as he has long promised.

During a family trip to the opera, Greta finds herself at the wrong place at the wrong time, and is taken hostage by a political zealot.  Her life is saved by an unlikely hero... the valet of one of the other guests.  Of course, no one realizes that Oliver is much more than a valet. He is really half-brother to Christopher, the man he pretends to serve. He's actually undercover, using his position as an overlooked servant to learn political secrets. He and Christopher are worried about the future of their Austrian home and know it's only a matter of time before Napoleon advances there.

Despite his much lower station, Greta is drawn to Oliver in a way that she can't deny. And through a series of events, she ends up a guest in Christopher's home. At that point, things escalate quickly between them.  Unfortunately, they both expect their love affair to be fleeting.  Greta has been promised to a man of her uncle's choosing and Oliver knows that she is far beyond his reach.  But this is a love story, after all... and the fun is in watching the two of them break down the walls between them.  That, and watching their amazing sexual chemistry unfurl.  We're also treated to some action as the story progresses, surrounding Greta's forged paintings and a shifty man from Oliver's past.

I really enjoyed this book. Both characters were so sympathetic.  I liked them both and found myself very invested in their relationship.  The sex was hot, especially seeing Oliver take the dominant position, despite his subservient role in the outside world.  I was grateful, too, that it didn't cross over into BDSM (which I don't really enjoy.)  It was just right for my taste. 

Some of the secondary characters had clear backstories of their own. After a little digging, I found that they were featured in a previous work, Song of Seduction. But I never felt like I was missing anything.
All in all, it was a good book with hot sex, romance, and a happy ending.  4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Portrait of Seduction
by Carrie Lofty
Release Date: May 2, 2011
Publisher: Carina Press 

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: Waking Up With the Duke

As much as I love Regency Romance novels, most of them have two things in common that I could really live without: A young innocent, virginal heroine... and a long, long wait for a sexual payoff. The first, I find unrelatable and get somewhat irritated that an insipid 19 year-old is the "woman" I'm supposed to rooting for. The second generally makes me impatient and frustrated.

It would be easy to say I was crazy about this book because it features a grown woman with a sexual history --and because we get to the action quickly. But it wouldn't do the book justice. There was even more to fall in love with.

Jayne is a loyal and loving wife to Walfort. Three years ago, her husband was in a carriage accident that left him paralyzed. She's been taking care of him ever since. In addition to the obvious hardship of his care, she also lost the baby she was carrying due to the stress of his near-death experience. And she has no chance to have another, since the accident robbed him of the ability to make love.

Walfort decides his wife deserves a baby, and he gets it in his head to ask his best friend Ainsley to get the job done. Ainsley is notorious rake and he still feels guilty that he escaped the carriage accident unscathed, when Walfort was so badly injured.  Jayne is appalled by the idea. Not only is she a woman utterly devoted to her husband, but she blames Ainsley for the accident and hates his guts. But Ainsley uses his exceptional charms to change her mind --and soon she is at his county estate for a month of, er, family planning.

Jayne is a really great lead. She is a good woman, who is struggling to deal with the terrible hand life has dealt her. And we see her slowly come alive under Ainsley's care. The romance is both sexy and quite lovely. The first half of the book flies by.

It's not hard to figure out there is only one way for our characters to have a happy ending. And as the inevitable happens, the book does lose a little bit of steam. It takes Jayne a little too long to come around. Yes, her misgivings are well-within character, but by this point, I'm ready to get back to all the romance and sex that was so great at the beginning. And, of course, we do get there.

At no time did I ever find fault with Jayne for falling in love with Ainsley. If anything, as the book progressed, I find her husband to be more and more of a slimy toad, unworthy of his wife. There's a lot of heartache and heartbreak on these pages, but it makes a happy ending so much sweeter when we get there.

This was a good one. 4 1/2 stars.

Waking Up With the Duke
by Lorraine Health
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: Lure of the Wicked

Reviewed by Jen
The magic is back with this latest installment of Karina Cooper's Dark Mission series. And by the time I got to the end of Lure of the Wicked, I was every bit as enthralled in Cooper's dark and creative world as I was in Before the Witches. That's a mighty compliment, because I loved that novella.

The book begins with a missionary, Naomi, on an undercover job to capture a rouge agent. She is assuming the role of a rich society woman at a posh spa. But almost right away, things get more complicated when a witch attacks her in her room. He gets away and Naomi now must not only find her original target, but the witch who is targeting her.

Phin runs the fancy resort where Naomi is staying. His parents founded the place. When he and Naomi meet, sparks fly instantly. Of course, he has no idea who she really is or why she is there. But despite her assumed identity, her real personality shines through. And perhaps just as importantly, her real life starts seeping in and mixing with her pretend one.

At the beginning of the book, I was kind of struck by the fact that there was very little supernatural at play. Really, Naomi could have been any kind of agent on any secret mission and the story would have played out in a similar fashion. But the otherworldly and post-apocalyptic elements got more involved as the story went on. Luckily, the stumbling blocks I found in Blood of the Wicked seemed to be righted here. We're back to characters that I felt invested in. Naomi's backstory is clear and sympathetic. She made for a much better "gruff agent with a wounded heart" than Silas did. And Phin was a character with depth. He had other relationships in his life that helped flesh him out as well.

I cared about Naomi and Phin both as individuals and as a couple, something I couldn't really say about Silas and Jessie. The sexual tension was great and, frankly, so was the sex. There is one particularly enjoyable scene at the end of chapter 13 that I may have read two or three times. But more than that, I felt the evolution of an emotional bond between the two of them. It was very well done.

It was a pleasant surprise to see characters from the last book pop up toward the end. And I can see a direction for the series to progress. I was a little surprised to see the who the male lead will be in the set up for the next book... and I can't wait to see how he will be redeemed. It seems like a tall order, but one I'm anxious to see Karina Cooper fill. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Lure of the Wicked
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Review: Blood of the Wicked

Blood of the Wicked (Dark Mission, #1)
Reviewed by Jen
I really wanted to love this book. The prequel novella Before the Witches was awesome. It left me wanting more. I thought Blood of the Wicked would be cut from the same cloth, but it had a very different feel. Don't misunderstand... the book isn't bad. I liked it. But I didn't love it.

The story is set about 50 years after a series of cataclysmic events changed the face of the world. Many blame witches for the near-armageddon. And they are persecuted relentlessly. Jessie is a witch in hiding. Silas is a witch-hunter, determined to find Jessie's brother, Caleb. He targets Jessie, not because she is a witch (he doesn't know that she is), but to help track Caleb.

Silas and Jessie are undeniably drawn to each other. He has been hardened by his life, and is worn down physically and emotionally. He's been off the job for 14 years, doing other things. (And it's never really clear to me how "The Mission" got him to come back to find Caleb.) He thinks all witches are evil and with the exception of Jessie, it looks like he's not entirely wrong. You would think that because he's the heroine's brother, Caleb is really a good guy who has been unfairly targeted. You would be wrong. He is horrible. But Jessie doesn't know that. Just as Silas is using her to track his prey, she is using him, hoping to find her brother and save him.

I think my biggest problem with this book was that I found myself confused by some of the world building. I understand that a new Seattle was built above the rubble of the old, and only the upper class live above ground. After a time, I figured that city below ground was the remnants of the Old Seattle (?) but when we started talking about levels in between, I got lost. That was a distraction. So were my questions about Silas. Did he leave the Mission after the big incident where his friends died? Did he hunt witches in Florida? For who? How did they force him back to Seattle? I also had questions about the big ending. Why was Jessie a target? There are other witches who could have served the same purpose. Right? Or why not? Was I not paying close enough attention to the details?

The concept of the series is good. And it's fresh. The book is rather dark, which I like. And the sex is good.. a little rough and demanding. Hot. And morbid anticipation of Silas' discovery that Jessie is witch had me on the edge of my seat. The series has potential. I'll give Lure of the Wicked a try, and see where we go from there. 3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by Avon/Harper Collins Publishers

Blood of the Wicked
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: May 31, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: Before the Witches

Reviewed by Jen
You won’t find a boring moment in this action packed short story. The whole thing is only 78 pages long, but Karina Cooper packed those pages with enough story that it felt like more. There was sex… death… explosions… and dammit, I even cried.

Nigel is a cop trying to bust a Russian slavery/prostitution ring. When he infiltrates a brothel, posing as a dirty cop, he meets Katya.  She is prostitute who is looking to escape and find freedom for the other women.  The two make a fast connection.  Fast forward a few pages and the earthquakes are ravaging Seattle.  Nigel rushes back to the whorehouse just in time to rescue Katya and her friends.  Most of the other women go their separate ways but Katya returns with Nigel to the police station.  It’s there that the apocalypse really kicks into action and the two of them are on a mission, simply to stay alive as the world falls apart around them.

The story has a lot going for it.  The sexual tension and the romance action were great… and so were the fantastic scenes of destruction. In a very short time, the author had me caring about these characters –even the secondary ones.  I could see the sequence of events playing in my mind like a great action movie.

But there were two moments that jarred me out of my complete immersion in the book. (*spoilers*) The first was, upon their second meeting, Nigel and Katya are doing it in his office.  Without a condom. SHE IS PROSTITUTE, MAN!  He should have more sense than that! –And second, when the two of them swing out the “L” word on the day after they meet.  It wasn’t necessary. We can see that they fall in love in the Epilogue.  It doesn’t happen in a day!

Those two things aside, it was a fantastic read.  I’m very excited to start Blood of the Wicked to see how the rest of the series plays out.  4 1/2 stars.

P.S. If you’re wondering if there are any actual witches in this book, the answer is yes… sort of.  Katya has a little bit of premonition and some consider her a witch.  But most of the witch-reference is in the Epilogue, where the author explains that many go on to blame witches for a hand in the apocalypse.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Before the Witches
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: May 17, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: Hunting Human

Reviewed by Jen
It’s always such a pleasure to come across an unexpected gem. From the summary blurb of Hunting Human, I figured it might be entertaining, but from the very beginning, it exceeded my expectations.

A few years ago, Beth and her best friend Rachel were kidnapped by werewolves during their backpacking trip across Europe. Rachel didn’t survive the ordeal. Beth did, but she emerged as something very different. And it’s more than the fact she was turned into the very thing that attacked her; the trauma cut her off from her old life; ended her studies; and ruined her for human relationships.

Now, she’s made a new life for herself in Portland. And slowly, she is letting the handsome and charming Braden become a part of it. The two of them have sizzling chemistry. And their courtship is great romance-reading. But neither of them knows that the other is a wolf. What’s more, Markko, the werewolf behind Beth’s attack all those years ago… is now searching for her again. And he happens to be from a clan that is Braden’s family’s greatest enemy. Of course, when each of them finds out that other can shift, there’s mistrust, ansgt, and a lot of drama. And that’s just the beginning. Markko is stalking them both.

There were so many things I liked about this story. I think my favorite was the initial relationship between Beth and Braden. It was sweet, sexy and believable. So when they turn on each other, I found myself gripping my e-reader, anxious for a reconciliation. The back-story of Beth’s attack is played out in a series of flashbacks. It’s terribly effective, because the horror of it all is meted out in increments, over time. The secondary characters are fleshed-out and likeable. (I’m still trying to find out who Lucy was trying on that dress for! I’d love a sequel featuring her, or Chase… or both.)

The only thing that kept me from 5 stars on this one was an angst-overload between Beth and Baden about 3/4 of the way into the book. I was ready for them to start understanding and trusting each other a bit before they got there.

Overall, I’m so glad I gave this book a chance. I only wish I had read it sooner. I hope to hear more from this author. 4 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Hunting Human
by Amanda Alvarez
Release Date: March 28, 2011
Publisher: Carina Press

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Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop

This giveaway is closed. Andra is the winner.

The Splash into Summer Giveaway Hop features more than 300 blogs which are giving away books or gift cards in a six day contest that runs Wednesday, May 25th through Tuesday, May 31st.

Red Hot Books is giving away a copy of Defiant by Kris Kennedy.

A rogue knight and an enchanting renegade join forces to right old wrongs in award-winning author Kris Kennedy’s sizzling new medieval romance.
A warrior with questionable intentions . . .
Jamie Lost is the king’s most renowned commander, a fearless lieutenant ordered to kidnap an exiled priest before rebel forces close in. The mission is simple—until he meets a mysterious thief who will steal his quarry and then his heart.
A lady of remarkable courage . . .
Beautiful Eva is also seeking Father Peter, but she intends to protect him from a secret that could cost him his life. She senses that she, too, should fear Jamie—not just for his wickedly sharp sword and dangerously muscular body, but for the powerful longing he ignites within her.
A secret that could overthrow the king.
When a band of mercenaries abducts the priest, Jamie and Eva must form a volatile alliance. As civil war unfolds around them, they embark on an epic journey that betrays the truth about their hidden identities, their unexpected loyalties, and the simmering attraction that could seal their fates forever.

To win, tell me about one of your favorite book heroes in the comment section below.  The giveaway is open to all Red Hot Books followers in the United States, so be sure to you're following in Google Friend Connect if you want to participate.  A winner will be announced by Wednesday, June 1st.
Click here for a full list of participants in the hop. Good luck!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Armchair BEA: The Best of 2011

So far, I've read around 200 books this year. There have been some real stinkers. But there have been a handful worth a special mention.  So without further ado, I give you my favorite books of 2011 (so far.)

by Karen Marie Moning

OK, this was an easy one. Not only has Shadowfever been my favorite book of the year, but currently reigns as my favorite book ever. Sadly, if you haven't read the other books in Moning's Fever series, I can't put this book in your hands and tell you to start reading. Part of what makes this book so spectacular is that it's the culmination of a story told over the course of five books. It answers burning questions; it solves mysteries; it quenches desires. I doubt it would even make sense if you haven't read the previous installments. But let me tell you, if you like dark urban fantasy, even a little bit, I urge you to try this exceptional series It starts with Darkfever.

by Kim Harrison

It's not that unusual for series to span nine books or beyond. But usually, by this point, most authors are starting to lose steam. Not Kim Harrison. Her Rachel Morgan series is better than ever. Rachel finally embraces the fact that she is more than just a witch. She is bold and fiery and fantastic. Her relationships continue to grow and change. And Harrison finally gave me a book that didn't make me cry. (It's been a long time since she's done that!) The Hollows didn't knock me over from the first book, but it gets better and better over time. Pale Demon is the best one yet.

by Ilona Andrews

I haven't met a Kate Daniels story that I didn't like.  Kate is a snarky, magic-filled, fire-weilding bad ass.  And I love her.  I can't say this was my favorite in the series.  That honor still goes to Magic Bleeds.  But this series on its worst day, still puts most other books to total shame. 
by Amanda Stevens
This book was a fantastic surprise.  It was dark; it was edgy; it was suspenseful.  And I was completely captivated.  This is the first in a new series called the Graveyard Queen. The female lead, Amelia, works as a cemetery restorer and can see ghosts.  But it's a secret she guards well because if the ghosts ever figure it out, her life will never be the same.  Throw in a murder mystery and a haunted love interest and you've got one hell of a great story.  I can't wait until the sequel.

Honorable Mention:

by Colleen Gleason
It's a rare thing for me to be truly surprised by a book. But this one did it in a big way.

Burn the Night
by Jocelynn Drake
This was a fantastic ending to the Dark Days series.  It won't come out until June, but I'll post my review on Wednesday, June 1.

by Sophie Littleton
Dark, edgy and different. With zombies.

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Review: Cameo and the Highwayman

Reviewed by Jen
Cameo and the Highwayman picks up immediately following the events of Cameo the Assassin. And I wish I could say that things are looking up for our heroine, but the hits just keep on coming.  Cameo is on a mission to recapture her sister’s remains for her vampire master Haffef.  Opal and Kyrian are at her side.  But just one day after they arrive on the distant shores near the royal palace, Cameo encounters Edel, a vampire who also calls Haffef his master.

Edel thinks that he has escaped Haffef and forces Cameo to stay with him, as a companion.  To pacify her, he allows her a night with Opal.  Finally, the two of them have a chance to admit their growing feelings for one another and act on them. But their happiness is short-lived, as events rip Opal away from Cameo and she is prevented from coming to his aid.

This book seemed shorter than the one before it, more like a novella than a full-blown novel. And I was disappointed. Because I wanted more.  The tension, the action, the emotion… all kept building and building until it all exploded at the book’s conclusion.  I was surprised at the way things ended and frankly kind of pissed off that I couldn’t find out what happens next.  That’s right. We’ve got a cliffhanger here and it’s a doozy.  This sequel better than the original and you can be sure I intend to read Cameo and the Vampire when it comes out in the fall.  4 1/2 stars.

Cameo and the Highwayman
by Dawn McCullough-White
Release Date: January 11, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: Cameo the Assassin

Reviewed by Jen
Cameo the Assassin is set in a past/alternative world that is both dark and bleak.   As the story begins, Cameo is clinging to life, after a brutal rape and attack.  But a vampire steps in and keeps her from succumbing. She survives, in a manner of speaking. She becomes the vampire’s thrall, half-living, half-undead.

Years later, she has become an assassin. In the course of a hit, her path crosses with two highwaymen who rob her carriage. She lets them escape, but tracks one down later to get her things back.   It’s those same highwaymen who become her next targets for assassination. She would have carried out that mission as well, if her boss hadn’t sent Gail with her as a partner.  She was a victim of Gail, herself, once. And the urge to kill him finally gets the better of her.  Now she is thrown together with Opal and Bel as they try to survive the next wave of assassins.

Opal confused me a little as a character. He is flamboyant and over the top. He wears lots of make-up and Cameo asks more than once if he and Bel are involved. Yet, he is also painted as a rake who charms the pants off of women and develops a thing for Cameo, himself.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of him, even now.  But I do know, that I found myself rooting for him and Cameo to reach out to each other throughout the course of the book.  So maybe all the make-up and purple brocade were just lagniappe.  Who knows?

Joining our strange trio is a teenage acolyte named Kyrian.  Cameo becomes his protector after his grandfather shows her a kindness.  There’s mystery surrounding the boy, not the least of which is why Cameo’s master can barely stand his presence.  And speaking of Cameo’s master… he is hardly a benevolent sire.  I’d kind of like to kill him myself.  Despite the fact that he saved Cameo from death, all those years ago, he doesn’t seem much better than the men who nearly killed her in the first place.

Overall, I did like the book. It features vampires and ghouls, but it didn’t feel like standard horror or Urban Fantasy fare.  Cameo isn’t your standard heroine, either.  Most supernatural heroines these days are snarky/sexy/tough/witty women who kick ass on the side of right. Cameo is haunted and broken and surprisingly sympathetic.  I get the impression that she kills because she doesn’t consider herself worthy of doing anything better.  The ragtag group that comes together in the book are likely the only friends she has ever had.  Which makes me ache for her to have just a little bit of happiness with them.

The ending of the book does wrap things up for the most part, but leaves several loose ends for the next installment, Cameo and the Highwayman.  4 stars.

*This book was provided by the author for review.

Click to purchase: Amazon
Cameo the Assassin
by Dawn McCullough-White
Release Date: July 16, 2009
Publisher: iUniverse

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Armchair BEA: Who Are You?

First off, I want to welcome everyone who has never been to the site before!  My name is Jen and for all intents and purposes, I am Red Hot Books.  All of the thoughts, opinions, reviews and rants come from me. 

So who am I? Well, I am a mom first. I have a 5 year-old boy and a 7 year-old girl. And I've been with their father, my high school sweetheart, for 20 years. (Holy crap!)  I make my living as a tv news producer in the Southeast United States. It's fun work, but it can be high-stress.  When I'm not busy being mom, wife, or employee, I spend my free time reading and reviewing. 

A love of reading.  I read very quickly, which is both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing, because time rarely limits my ability to sample new books. I get to try many authors, without a huge time commitment. It's a curse, because until I was introduced to the concept of review copies, I couldn't afford to keep up with my book habit --even with frequent trips to the library.

Let's talk books. My books of choice generally fall into two categories: paranormal and romance.  I love Urban Fantasy, like Kate Daniels, Sookie Stackhouse, and Rachel Morgan.  I love Paranormal Romance, like Immortals After Dark, Lords of the Underworld, and the Black Dagger Brotherhood.  I love Regency Romances and Highlanders.  And smut.  Let's not forget smut.

Creating a dialogue.  As much as I love reading, it's almost as rewarding to talk about the books I read.  And I don't just mean writing reviews. I love to hear what other people think.  Did the same things bother them?  Did they love the same characters?  Did it remind them of another series?    To me, comments are the hallmark of a successful blog... much more than the number of followers. 

So please, look around the site.  Leave your comments. And come back!  You can also find me on Goodreads, Amazon and Twitter!

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Review: Magic Slays

Reviewed by Jen
Coming off the high of the spectacular ending of Magic Slays, I've been staring at the computer for 10 minutes, trying to figure out why it took me a little while to really get into this book. And I think I've finally come up with the answer.

As the story begins, Kate is running the new agency that Curran set up for her since she has left the Order.  But despite her competence and reputation, she doesn't have any clients.  But just as her best friend Andrea returns from a two month absence, Kate is hired to find a missing man and the mysterious device he has built.  She investigates; she is snarky; she is magic and bad-ass.  But (insert light bulb here) I wasn't very invested in any of it, because Kate seemed to have no stake in it all, beyond completing a job.  No justice mission like she had when searching for Greg's killer; no revenge for a brutal attack on a friend; no saving the world from a deranged aunt. Just a job.

It was when Kate realized what the device could do and what it would mean to her world, that I began to perk up. And then we were off and running.  Without spoiling too much, I'll say that the device could have huge ramifications on Kate and all those she loves, if it is activated.  And as we get into the second half of the book, Kate encounters a personal crisis, that makes her willing to risk everything to fix it.  It's when Kate is desperate and loyal and determined that she is at her best.  And here she shines, a heroine in the greatest sense.

Curran is back as Kate's mate, and I was worried that some of the spark would be missing from their relationship, now that it's more permanent. But Kate's paranoia keeps them from falling into the old-married couple routine.  She still has questions about whether things can work for them long-term. But as the story progresses, he proves himself to be an utterly worthy hero.  And I still enjoyed the fire between them.

For the last third of the book, I was completely unable to put it down. The ending was utterly fantastic and sets up even more drama for the next installment.  I can't imagine that Kate is keeping her secret for much longer. 4 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by Penguin Group USA

Magic Slays
by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: May 31, 2011
Publisher: Ace  

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Review: How to Marry a Duke

Reviewed by Jen
If you're looking for a sweet and feel-good Regency Romance, this is the right book for you.  How to Marry a Duke is a little light in the sex department, but it's so fast-moving and entertaining that I barely had a chance to want for more.

Tristan is a duke looking for a wife.  And he'll settle for nothing less than a suitable match. He wants a woman with intelligence, wit, breeding and fire.  And the longer he searches, the clearer it is becoming that such a woman is hard to find.  When he meets a matchmaking spinster named Tessa, he decides to employ her services.  But he doesn't expect the attraction or friendship that quickly blossoms between them.

Tessa thinks love is something she'll never have, but she is determined to find it for Tristan.  Even as her own feelings for him grow, she remains determined to find him a woman who can make him happy.  Tessa has a deep secret, which she has kept for many years. But now, it's threatening to come out. Can she rely on Tristan's help?  Or will it put him at risk for scandal as well?

Tessa is a worthy heroine: smart, independent, brave and loyal.  And it's always a treat when a desirable woman is wrapped up in a package that's bigger than a size 2.  Don't expect much in the way of surprises... things progress pretty much as you would expect. But sometimes there's comfort in that.  I enjoyed it. 4 stars.

*I won this book in a giveaway from the publisher

How to Marry a Duke
by Vicky Dreiling
Release Date: January 1, 2011
Publisher: Forever (GCP)

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review: Embraced by Blood

When we first met Alphonso in Bonded by Blood, he was introduced as the evil brother to our hero, Dom. But before the book was over, we found out that the he was really a double agent who worked inside the Darkblood organization, feeding information to the Guardians. We also discovered that's he had been having an affair with his Guardian contact Lily, who also happened to be a good friend of Dom's.

As Embraced by Blood begins, a year has passed.  Alphonso has severed his relationship with Lily, although he is painfully aware that she is the love of his life.  He knows that the Darkbloods will be hunting him for his betrayal and he doesn't want Lily caught in their crosshairs. Beyond that, he was badly hurt in the climax of the last book and he doesn't think he'll be able to defend her with the pervasive injury to his leg.

But now that he's learned the Darkbloods are hunting for a Guardian tracker to kidnap and convert to their cause, he puts himself back in Lily's orbit to make sure she is safe.  As the book progresses, the two end up thrown together to foil the Darkbloods' latest plans to gain strength and abuse humans; while at the same time, trying to outrun the Blood Assassin that has targeted Alphonso.

It took me awhile to get into this book.  Alphonso is trying to be noble and I get that. But a good deal of his misery is of his own making. He has chosen to keep the truth from her. And he isn't the only one who has suffered for it.  It took a long time to get to anything that felt like progression in their relationship. Just a lot of unhappiness and regret.  Of course, that does change eventually and that is where the book finds its legs.  But it never really measured high on my sexual-tension-o-meter.  Yes, of course, I wanted them together, but there was never a burning in my belly for it. Does that make any sense?

It was frustrating to see Dom's unwillingness to forgive his brother or believe in his goodness.  And the resolution on that part of the story was a little abrupt.  On the plus side, we have some well drawn secondary characters, like Jackson and Santiago; both of whom have their own books coming soon. 

So the bottom line... I liked it ok.  I'm pretty sure I liked the first one better, though.  3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Embraced by Blood
by Laurie London
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: HQN Books 

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Magic Bleeds

Reviewed by Jen
I really didn't think the Kate Daniels series could actually get any better after Magic Strikes.  But as good as that one was, this one was better.

As the book begins, Kate is preparing for that naked dinner she promised Curran.  But he doesn't show. She calls The Keep and gets the brush off. And hours later, she decides she's been played for a fool. A few weeks later, she is back at work and determined to forget her feelings for the Beast Lord. She gets pulled into a case, where a mysterious being is bringing a plague to Atlanta. Throughout the course of the investigation, Kate has to use her contacts with the mercenary guild, Saiman, and even the shapeshifters. Which throws her plan to avoid Curran out of the window.

It's clear these two are crazy about each other, but there's a lot working against them... The worst offenders are their responsibilities and stubbornness. But it is so gratifying to watch them work it out. Their relationship is so great, because they can retain their individual strengths, while allowing the other in. During their courtship, we learn a lot about Curran's background and pack politics. Not only that, we see what it will mean if Kate needs to carve herself a place in his life.

While Kate's personal life heats up, her investigation into the Plaguemaker takes a more personal turn. As so many things in her life do, it ends up with a major connection to Roland. And it forces her to share some of her most closely kept secrets.


I can't say enough about how good this book was. Not only does it put most other series to shame... It puts the first two books in this series to shame as well. All hail Kate Daniels. 5 stars.

Magic Bleeds
by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Publisher: Ace  

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: Magic Strikes

Reviewed by Jen
I’ve liked the Kate Daniels series from the very first book. But with Magic Strikes, that like has turned in to full-blown love.

Two months have passed since the massive magic flare and epic battle that ended the last book.  But there are new problems on the horizon.  They start when Derek gets caught trying to break in to Saiman’s apartment.  To keep the young wolf out of trouble, Kate agrees to accompany Saiman to a Gladiator-style game, to help him learn more about a mysterious team of participants called the Reapers.  But it seems Derek has a particular interest in one of the team-members and convinces Kate to pass the woman a note while she is there.

Kate senses it’s a bad idea. But things go more wrong than she ever imagined they could.  For vengeance, for justice, Kate and a band of her closest friends end up competing themselves.  Their goal, to take down the Reapers and win the grand prize.

There’s a lot of emotion in this book.  Most of it centers around the fact that Kate has real friends for the first time in her life.  Their fragility terrifies her. She is also hyper-aware that her love for them can be crippling. To lose one of them, could damage her in a way that couldn’t be done when she lived her life as a loner.  We see how much Derek, Andrea, Julie… and even Curran have ensconced themselves into her heart.  –And speaking of Curran, the sparks between these two grow hotter with every book.  There is phenomenal sexual tension and it’s played to perfection.

We also finally find out the big secret Kate has been carrying.  It’s been foreshadowed, but hearing her admit her heritage is still a pretty big deal. And you can tell it’s only a matter of time before it all blows up in her face. 

This book was outstanding. It had big emotion, lots of action, and the fantastic & witty dialogue that’s a hallmark of the series.  5 stars.

Magic Strikes
by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: May 31, 2009
Publisher: Ace  

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Magic Burns

Reviewed by Jen
The most appealing thing about any Kate Daniels book, is hands-down, Kate Daniels herself.  She strong and smart, witty and irreverent.  And it doesn’t look like she ever gets a moment’s peace.  As the book begins, a few months have passed since the events of Magic Bites.  Kate is working as a liaison between the mercenary guild and the Order of Merciful Aid.  And the waves of magic in the world are growing more frequent and intense, indicating a flare is on the horizon.

While on a mission for the Pack, Kate’s path crosses with a young girl named Julie. Her mom is missing and soon Kate realizes that the woman was part of a coven that was messing with forces beyond their control.  Kate makes it her mission to take care of Julie and figure out where her mother is.  The coven’s work, though incomplete, has already unleashed some serious baddies which are coming after Julie and Kate.  And if that weren’t distraction enough, there’s a sexy archer named Bran thrown in the mix… and his only clear intentions seem to be bedding Kate!

Of course, it’s hard to root for anyone to be with Kate, other than the super-sexy alpha Beast Lord, Curran.  There are some great revelations here about his intentions toward our heroine.  And their interactions are great fun to watch.  Their dialogue is fast, funny, and sometimes sexy.  One of my favorite things about the series is watching the slow-build between these two!

There are also some great secondary stories here, some featuring familiar faces like Crest and Red; others are new, like Andrea and Julie.   Old relationships end; new ones begin.  And we’re still getting nuggets of information about Kate’s past and the secrets to her power.  Not a dull moment in sight. 4 1/2 stars.

Magic Burns
by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: April 1, 2008
Publisher: Ace  

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: Magic Bites

Reviewed by Jen
I love Kate Daniels. She is brash; she is mouthy; she’s funny; and she kicks ass. Kate lives in alternate or perhaps future version of Atlanta.  Vampires exist. So do shapeshifters… and perhaps most importantly, so does magic.  In fact, the onset of magic into the world has changed its very landscape. Magic is the antithesis of technology. It comes in waves, and when it does, mechanical instruments stop working.  That means everything from lights to cars to tv’s are out of commission, until the magic recedes and technology reigns again.

Kate has magic in her blood, so much of it in fact, that she keeps it and its source, a tightly guarded secret. She uses her magic and kick-butt skills as a mercenary for hire, until her childhood guardian Greg is killed.  She takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of his grisly death and bring his killer to justice. To do that, she must align herself with the Order of Merciful aid, an agency that sort-of polices the supernatural. And she must work with the local shapeshifters. 

Next to Kate herself, Curran –the Lord of the Beasts– is the most fascinating character in the story.  The two of them have absolutely explosive chemistry.  They’re not romancing each other… at least not in the traditional sense. Every word, every action is a challenge, a chance to one-up the other.  Their exchanges are witty and funny, and it’s hard to miss a bit of sexual heat creeping in.

The world-building is clear, consistent and easy to understand.  The characters were three-dimensional and easily defined.  And despite a big supporting cast, I never had to ask myself, “Who was that again?” 

As I gush, I do have to admit that the book is not perfect. There were two points that did make me scratch my head. (*spoilers*) Once, wondering why the heck Curran would blame Kate for getting the wrong idea about Crest, when she never supported the idea that he was the bad guy.  The other: why everyone assumed the case was closed with the death of Roland’s concubine, when there was no proof or explanation as to why she killed Greg.  But both these issues were minor.

I can tell you that each one of the books in this series gets progressively better.  And I loved them so much that they inspired me to start writing book reviews in the first place.  If you’ve never read Kate Daniels, and you’re a fan of Urban Fantasy, what are you waiting for? You’re missing out on something great. 4 1/2 stars.

Magic Bites
by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: March 27, 2007
Publisher: Ace  

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