Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review: Magic Gifts

Reviewed by Jen
Big love to Ilona Andrews for creating and sharing this Kate Daniels novella as a Christmas gift to fans.

The story runs concurrently with Gunmetal Magic, the Andrea-centered novel coming out next year... and contains some teaser/ mini-plot spoilers as a result. It follows Kate and Curran as they attempt a dinner date in the city. But everything goes to hell when a woman is killed in the restaurant. And they're pulled in further when the metal necklace that killed her, is placed around a child's neck. From there, it's a race against time for Kate to find out how to get rid of the necklace before it kills the child too.

The story has all of the Kate trademark wit. There's great interaction between her and Jim as they try to work out problems with the Guild. And her relationship with Curran is as strong as ever --as they work side by side to save the child. The story leans much heavier on action than heart, but that's ok every once in a while.

It didn't do much to advance the ongoing Kate Daniels arc, but it definitely whet my appetite for the Andrea book. I can't wait to see how it all hashes out between her and Raphael. 4 stars.

*This short story was provided free by Ilona Andrews

Magic Gifts
by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: December 24, 2011

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: Fearless

Reviewed by Jen
This was a book with potential, but it didn't quite hit the mark for me. I liked the premise: An Irish chieftain falls in love with a woman who is part-Fae, when she saves his life on the battlefield. Brynna nurses Kieran back to health, then sends him back to his people, minus his memory of their time together. But even her magic cannot erase her completely from his mind or his heart. He makes his way back to her and the two of them must face one obstacle after another as they try to find happiness.

It sounds pretty good. But I had several problems in the execution. My first issue came early on, as Brynna and Kieran fall in love. I didn't see it happen. The author tells us instead of shows us. The initial relationship lasts only about 30 pages, yet it is the foundation that the whole book is based on.  I didn't feel it at all. Much of the book proceeds in similar fashion, time flies by... major events are glossed over. In particular, when one character is raped, it's not given the emotional resonance it deserves. The victim gets right over it; there is no repercussion for the party responsible. This sat very wrong with me. Later on, one of the main villains of the piece makes a complete turnaround, with very little leading up to it.  It was just wrong, wrong, wrong.

It wasn't all bad. Kieran and Brynna are both likable as characters. They both had loyalty and strength. And like I said, I thought the premise was good. But there were just too many things that didn't work here. 2 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provide by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
by Ella Jameson
Release Date: December 12, 2011
Publisher: TKA Distribution

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Series Reading Order: Guild Hunter

This is the reading order for the Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh:

*Denotes short story/ novella 

All of the short stories (except Angel's Wolf) take place before the events of the first novel and can be read at any time. Angel's Wolf can be read any time after Archangel's Kiss.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: What I Did for a Duke

Reviewed by Jen
Those Eversea men really can't keep it in their pants. This installment of Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green series doesn't actually focus on one of the male Everseas but the actions of one sets the stage for the plot. You see, Ian Eversea is getting a little too cozy with the fiance of Alexander Moncrieffe, the Duke of Falconbridge. So cozy, in fact, that the Duke catches him naked in the woman's bed. Moncrieffe plans to get even by defiling Ian's sister, Genevieve.

Unfortunately for Moncrieffe, Genevieve is already in love with someone else. Her heart belongs to her longtime friend, who inconveniently is planning to propose to someone else. Yet Moncrieffe does manage to ingratiate himself into her life, and eventually, into her bed. Somewhere along the way, though, it stops being about Ian and Montcrieffe finds himself enchanted with the young woman he planned to abandon.

I liked it, though I was a little disappointed that it wasn't nearly as funny as the other installments in the series. I liked how candid Moncrieffe and Genevieve are with each other and I found it interesting that she held on to her "love" for her friend, even after she started sleeping with the Duke. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It's not like Moncrieffe was writing sonnets to her either at that point, but talking about one guy while you're naked with another seems kind of tacky.

Anyway, it wasn't a hearts and flowers kind of romance, but the sex was good and I did enjoy watching Genevieve see behind the walls Moncrieffe has built around himself. There was a little twist at the end too. Not as great for me as How the Marquess Was Won, but pretty good. Almost 4 stars.

Click to purchase: Amazon
What I Did for a Duke
by Julie Anne Long
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Review: Within the Flames

Lyssa is a dragon shifter who has been targeted for death by a super-evil and powerful witch, who can absorb the life energy of others. Eddie has been dispatched by Dirk & Steele (an agency designed to help supernaturals in need) --to find her and protect her.

Eddie is human, but he generates fire. He has trouble controlling himself --and when you pair that with his difficult past, he hasn't allowed anyone to get close. Lyssa is in the same boat. She's been hiding from that witch her entire life and she's mourned the traumatic deaths of her parents on her own. When Eddie and Lyssa meet, they connect instantly. It's difficult for them to let each other in, but it's also inevitable. As the story progresses, we see them come together --while facing off with the witch and her evil minions.

There's a lot of action and several revelations unveiled over the course of the book. Lyssa has some pretty grim secrets and she has good reasons to withhold her trust. The romance that develops between her and Eddie is sweet and gentle. There's sex eventually, but theirs isn't a blinding and passionate joining. They are each the salve to the other's soul.

This is book 11 in the Dirk & Steele series, but as someone new to these books, I can tell you it was easy to jump right in. The world building was easy to understand and I felt like we knew everything we needed to about the secondary characters.

It was good. I think I would have enjoyed a bit more passion in the relationship between Eddie and Lyssa, but it just wasn't that kind of romance. I found myself very interested in the fierce gargoyle Lannes, and tempted to go dig up his book. I didn't love it, but I liked it enough that I'll check out other installments in the series. Almost 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Within the Flames
by Marjorie Liu
Release Date: November 29, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: I Kissed an Earl

Reviewed by Jen
Julie Anne Long continues to captivate me with her ability to make her romance novels both sexy and so very funny. Not in the same moments, of course, but I think it's her fantastic sense of humor that helps set the Pennyroyal Green series apart from so many of its Historical Romance contemporaries.

This fourth installment focuses on Violet Redmond, the shocking young darling of the ton. She is beautiful and every bit a lady, until she gives into her boredom and impetuousness by doing something completely over the top. At one of her many balls, she meets Flint, who is both the captain of a ship and a newly minted earl. He's been dispatched by the crown to track down a mysterious pirate and bring him to justice. A series of clues lead Violet to believe the pirate may be her missing brother Lyon... and she decides to go on a quest to save him.

Violet stows away on Flints ship, hoping to thwart his capture of Lyon. (Though this didn't entirely make sense, since he didn't even know her brother's identity until she told him.) Their interaction aboard the ship is much as you would expect: hardened sea captain versus a lady unaccustomed to hard living. Each really wants to find Lyon for their own reason, forcing them to work together in close quarters, and... well, you know how these things go.

Violet is brave and book smart, but she makes some really stupid decisions. Her intentions are good, but at times she borders on TSTL. Flint is stalwart and strong, while a little rough around the edges and requisitely wounded by a hard life. It all felt kind of familiar and the story behind Lyon's hand in the piracy was easy to figure out. But the sex is hot. And there were times I laughed heartily out loud (especially in a great narrative about a flying marble penis.)

It's not perfect. It's predictable at times and it references prior events more than most of the installments do. But it was a fun read. Almost 4 stars.

Click to purchase: Amazon
I Kissed an Earl
by Julie Anne Long
Release Date: July 1, 2010
Publisher: Avon

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Review: Midnight Reckoning

Reviewed by Jen
I'll just come out and say it: I love this series and I loved this book. You all know how I feel about sexy tortured heroes. Kendra Leigh Castle has created an entire race of them in her maligned and enslaved Cait Sith. They are lowblood vampires, who are also cat-shifters. The highblood Ptolemy vamps kept them as slaves and tortured them for centuries. But in Dark Awakening, they were finally freed. And now they have a chance to pursue the happiness they've been denied all these years.

Jaden isn't sure what he wants to do with his life now that he is no longer a slave. He's been offered a job as the Captain of the Guard for Lily, the head of a new highblood clan. With Lily and her husband Ty, Jaden has finally found people he cares about and who care for him. But he's restless. And he can't stop thinking about Lyra, the sexy werewolf who heats his blood like no one ever has. After he stops an attack on her and finds a family heirloom she left behind, he journeys to her home to return it. From there, he is drafted to help her train to become Alpha of her pack.

No one believes Lyra can win the Alpha competition. But she is smart and determined. She wants to make her pack stronger... to help them evolve into the modern world. They've got some very old ideas, not the least of which is a rule against interspecies coupling. That makes the passion and attraction she has for Jaden completely off limits... which makes it all the more delectable when they finally give in.

There was nothing I didn't like about this book. It had amazing sexual tension, thanks to the forbidden nature of Jaden and Lyra's relationship. And the payoff was outstanding. Jaden is a great hero. He had a miserable past, but it didn't break him. He's strong and honorable and so very sexy. Lyra is just right for him. She's young and maintains her idealism without ever coming off as childish or annoying. She's also feisty and bold and brave. Together, they make a couple so easy to root for. While much of the book focused on the development of their relationship, there was also a real sense of danger from the Ptolemy vampires who are targeting Jaden and the werewolves who could turn on Jaden or Lyra at any time.

The book builds well on the events of Dark Awakening, but I think it would still work easily as a standalone. It's got a fantastic love story, great sex and plenty of action. I can't wait to see where Castle takes the series next. Almost 5 stars.

*ARC Provided by Grand Central Publishing

Click to purchase: Amazon
Midnight Reckoning
by Kendra Leigh Castle
Release Date: January 1, 2012
Publisher: Forever (GCP)

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: Since the Surrender

Reviewed by Jen
Chase Eversea is a military man to the core, but now that the war is over, he is adrift. He deals with constant pain and is trying to figure out what to do with his life when he gets an anonymous letter from a lady, asking him for help. That letter turns out to be from Rosalind, the woman who was once married to his commanding officer. The woman he once loved, but couldn't have.

It turns out her sister is missing and she needs Chase's help to find her. As they work together to figure out what happened to her, they end up embroiled in a much larger plot, where attractive women are disappearing from police custody, left and right.

This was definitely not the strongest book in the Pennyroyal Green series. First of all, Chase was so awful to Rosalind when they first reunited, I was sure she had done something positively unforgivable to him in the past. Only after much reading did I discover that all she had done was kiss him. Or he kissed her and she kissed him back. Yet he acted like she was the devil incarnate. It was ONE kiss that they were both complicit in. I didn't think the way he treated her was fair.

Later, when the two of them finally do start to soften toward each other, they hook up in the most ridiculous and dangerous places imaginable. Like the museum at the center of the missing-girl mystery. Twice. WTH? Once was bad enough, but the second time... just... no. I also struggled to feel a love connection between them. Lust? Yes. Love? Not really. Maybe it's because their feelings developed off-page in the past --but for whatever reason, the sexual tension was much more believable than any romance.

What did work? The wonderful sense of humor. I laughed frequently and out loud. There's a great ongoing gag about puppets that tickled me at every turn. And cows too. (It's too difficult to explain, but trust me when I tell you it's funny.) The sexual tension was good too. Unfortunately, those high points alone don't quite sell the book. I can promise you, however, that later installments in the series are much, much better. 3 stars.

Click to purchase: Amazon
Since the Surrender
by Julie Anne Long
Release Date: July 28, 2009
Publisher: Avon

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Review: Raven Cursed

Reviewed by Jen
I know there is more to the Jane Yellowrock series than just her love life. I really do. But going into this book, all I could think about was whether Jane was going to end up with Rick now that he's "big-cat" or if she'll kick his big honking cheating ass to the curb. Will Bruiser be there to stake his claim? Will those two finally cross the finish line? So in deference to these burning questions, I'll say right off the bat that after reading this book, I am wholly dissatisfied with this entire element of the plot. Rick's actions in the last book are explained away far too easily. Even more frustrating, is the fact that Jane is unwilling or unable to assess her feelings for the two men in question. There. Is. No. Resolution. Not even a clear destination. But before I start gritting my teeth too loudly, let me talk about the rest of the book.

As the story begins, Jane is back in her hometown of Ashville, SC, where she is tasked to handle security for some important vampire-talks. But just as things get started, bodies start popping up. The culprits are the last two surviving werewolves from Mercy Blade. They've followed Jane, it seems, to get revenge for her killing the rest of their pack. Rick is in the area, learning how to be a big cat from Ken-whatshisname... the African panther, whose wife was responsible for infecting Rick in the first place.

The first third of the book just didn't jump out and grab me. Maybe because we were removed from the New Orleans gang and it took me a while to care about what was happening in South Carolina. Maybe it was because I was distracted, waiting for something to happen in Jane's love life. Regardless, things began to improve once we get into the meat of Evie's storyline. Yes, the wicked witch is back. We finally find out what her deal is --and it's a whopper. Evie also spices things up because she brings Molly and her family into the mix. And who doesn't love Angie Baby?

There is also some good stuff happening between Jane and her Beast. A lot less attention is paid to the mechanics of the shifts, which is cool. Jane and Beast come to really appreciate the strength they have as one unit... but without getting into details, I was a bit confused by a problem between them at the end of the book.

The plot and the action were really good in the second half... and it reminded my why I like this series. Jane is tough as nails; she's fierce and loyal; and it's so sad to see how truly fragile her connections are to others. I'm really curious to see what will happen for her next. (And hopefully, we'll gain a little ground in the relationship department. Please.) Almost 4 stars.

*ARC provided by Ace

Click to purchase: Amazon
Raven Cursed
by Faith Hunter
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Publisher: Ace

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: How the Marquess Was Won

Reviewed by Jen
Julie Anne Long, where have you been all my life? Obviously, you have been writing some excellent Historical Romance... but why is this the first time we've been together?

I adored this book and upon finishing this review, I'm going to check out the backlist in the Pennyroyal Green series. This is the sixth installment, but if you've new to these books as well --I promise-- this works great as a standalone.

Julian Spenser, Marquess Dryden, is at the height of fashion among the ton. His every move is studied and imitated. Even Phoebe, unremarkable school-mistress that she is, knows of him through the scandal sheets. But she never expected to meet him. They cross paths, first, at a shop, where she overhears his friend make a rude comment about her. So when she sees him again, touring her school, she is irritated and flippant. She speaks to him as no one ever has, making her a puzzle and drawing him like a magnet.

Julian isn't really free to pursue her, though, since he is planning to propose to Lisbeth. (He wants the lands he'll inherit through her dowry.) But when he goes to London to begin his courting, he finds Phoebe again. She was once a tutor to Lisbeth, and now she is serving as her paid companion. On the surface, Lisbeth is everything Julian should want, but it's Phoebe who inflames him... with her wit, her temerity and her honesty.

This was such a great romance. The events in Phoebe's life take us on such a roller coaster. But even in the face of adversity, she maintains her inner strength. I loved watching her melt away the walls built around "Lord Ice." Julian is so very closed off at the beginning, but thanks to Phoebe, we get to see the real man underneath his controlled exterior. The sexual tension is great --and though there are not many sex scenes, I was satisfied with what we got.

The book has a heroine who is both smart and a survivor; a sexy, commanding hero finding love for the first time; and a romance that thumbs its nose as society's conventions. It also made me laugh out loud more than once.  Very, very good. 5 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
How the Marquess Was Won
by Julie Anne Long
Release Date: December 27, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Review: Vengeful Bounty

Reviewed by Jen
It's 2053 in Dallas, Texas. Mina is a bounty hunter, who is just one step away from a major milestone in her field. If she can just make it to 25 captures, she can take her profession global. But she underestimates one of her marks, and she quickly goes from the hunter to the hunted as he tries to get even.

Mina is pretty good at her job, but her personal life is a mess. She's holding on to a torch for an ex-boyfriend who abandoned her. But as the book progresses, she finally starts to question whether it's time to let go and move on... perhaps even find new love with her sexy friend Justin (who also happens to be a successful and famous musician.)

The action of the story is pretty good. It's fast paced and the danger Mina faces is palpable. The future-world building that the author creates is well-crafted and easy to understand, though in the beginning the "oldies" references to the 21st century were a little heavy-handed. Mina is a strong, yet believably flawed, first-person heroine. She is likable and easy to root for.

My only real complaint about the book was an ending that felt abrupt. I felt like the story was unfinished. That I was robbed of seeing a love connection for Mina play out --or a better resolution for her stinker of an ex-boyfriend. (Perhaps he could get that penis cancer she wished on him at one point... or at a bare minimum, give an accounting for his behavior.) The external conflict was firmly resolved, but with Mina's personal stuff... it just seemed like the book just stopped more than really ended. I did like the writing, the action, and the humor, though, and would read from this author again. Almost 4 stars.

*Book provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
Vengeful Bounty
by Jullian Kidd
Release Date: November 23, 2011
Publisher: Untreed Reads

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Holiday Gift: Free Kate Daniels Novella

The amazing Ilona Andrews is giving fans a wonderful holiday surprise: a free Kate Daniels novella. It's called "Magic Gifts" and it's about 100 pages long. Ilona says the story takes place at the same time as Andrea’s book, right after Magic Slays, and the two stories intersect.

Here's a blurb:

A dinner date after a hard day at work sounds heavenly. Of course, when that date is between the Beast Lord and Kate Daniels, things don’t go as planned. Before you know it, undead are running amok, heads are being chopped off, lawyers are deployed and used with extreme prejudice, and drunk vikings are calling people out.
Awesome, right? The story is available for download for the next two weeks as an .epub, .pdf, or Kindle document.  Just click here to get it from Ilona Andrews' blog.  A big thank you to one (ok, two) of my favorite writers! Happy holidays!

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Review: Leading Her to Heaven

Reviewed by Jen
The king is forcing Lady Susanna into a political marriage with a Scottish laird. Susanna isn't happy about leaving her home, or her father --an English earl-- but she is willing to do her duty. She sets off on her long to journey to meet her betrothed, but he party is attacked on the road. She was just moments away from being raped when Blair comes to her rescue.

Susanna has no idea that her savior is actually her fiance. And he is in no hurry to tell her. Blair is captivated by his future bride and wants to get to know her before revealing his true identity. His deception is a double edged sword, because on one hand, the two do fall for each other as they travel to Scotland. But on the other hand, when Susanna finds out the truth, the shite hits the proverbial fan.

There is some action and obstacles in the backdrop (like Susanna's ambush and a long-standing clan war)... but at its core, this is a fiery, passionate love story. Our hero and heroine are both strong, stubborn and occasionally stupid, but when they come together, they set the page on fire. It wasn't perfect. They fell in Love way too fast and Susanna made a monumentally idiotic move to punish Blair. But all in all, it was a solid and sexy Highlander story.

You know I'm a sucker for a good brogue and some hot sex, people. 4 stars.

*Book provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
Leading Her to Heaven
by Kayleigh Jamison
Release Date: February 15, 2008
Publisher: Tease Publishing LLC

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Series Reading Order: Dirk & Steele

This is the reading order for the Dirk & Steele series by Marjorie M Liu:

  • Tiger Eye
  • Shadow Touch
  • The Red Heart of Jade
  • *A Dream of Stone & Shadow (Dark Dreamers)
  •  Eye of Heaven
  • Soul Song
  • The Last Twilight
  • The Wild Road
  • The Fire King
  • In the Dark of Dreams
  • Within the Flames

*Denotes short story/ novella

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Review: The Price of Temptation

Evelyn has become a social pariah since her husband Phillip went missing amidst allegations of treason. The men and women of the ton whisper that she may have been complicit in her husband's misdeeds. She's constantly being watched, both by her peers and even the crown... for some sign that she has done wrong or that she may know where Phillip is hiding.

Sinjon is a fallen army captain, accused of crimes he didn't commit. He's an honorable man: he even saves Evelyn from assault one morning in the park. Shortly after, an agent of the crown agrees to help him prove his innocence, if Sin agrees to infiltrate Evelyn's home as a spy. He poses as a footman to gain entrance, but it's a struggle for her to see her one time hero as a servant. The two slowly begin a friendship, which blossoms into an affair.

It takes awhile for things to heat up between Sin and Evelyn. But when these two are together, the book is at its best. Unfortunately, Sin's deceptions hang over their relationship like the Sword of Damocles from the very beginning of the book. We have to wait and watch for the inevitable moment it will drop, and destroy what they have created. I liked the element of the class difference between them --and the moments Sin stands as Evelyn's stalwart protector and confidante were warming. But the progression of their relationship was a little more predictable than I would like.

The external conflicts, centering on Phillip's disappearance, a missing artifact, and the man who framed Sin, kept the story moving along fairly well. But nothing really knocked my socks off. It was a pretty standard Regency romance. 3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Price of Temptation
by Lecia Cornwall
Release Date: December 27, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: My Ruthless Prince

Reviewed by Jen
What a delicious tortured hero. Drake has spent his entire adult life, fighting on the side of good, as part of the Order. But the evil cult of Prometheus took him captive and tortured him senseless. He was released and nursed back to health by his childhood best-friend Emily. But once he was well, he ran... back into the clutches of Prometheus. Now, his brethren at the Order think he is a traitor. But Emily knows better. She follows Drake to the Prometheus stronghold, on a mission to bring him back home.

Of course Drake is no traitor. He is a man on a mission to destroy the organization that nearly destroyed him. He has loved Emily for as long as he can remember, but he doesn't want her innocence touched by the cruel organization. He tries to convince her to leave, but she refuses... forcing him to take her in as his servant in the castle, so he can keep an eye on her.

Emily is such a steadfast heroine. She loves Drake so much, she is willing to dive into the abyss with him. She'll do essentially anything for him. And as broken as he his, it's her love that slowly begins to rekindle his humanity. Their love story is tender and lovely. But what's cool about the book is that there are moments that are so dark for Drake, you really begin to question just how damaged he truly is. Can he really find redemption or has he fallen too far from his path? Usually a question like that is obviously rhetorical, but here, there are times that I just wasn't sure. Kudos to Gaelen Foley!

This is book four in the Inferno Club series and while there is obvious backstory, I never felt lost nor did I feel like I was missing something. I liked it a lot. 4 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
My Ruthless Prince
by Gaelen Foley
Release Date: December 27, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Series Reading Order: Pennyroyal Green

This is the reading order for the Pennyroyal Green series by Julie Anne Long:

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Review: The Demon Lover

Reviewed by Jen
I'm going to start this review by telling you what I wish I knew when I started this book. It's the first in a series and the ending is horrible. It's a cliffhanger; there is no HEA; and frankly, as annoyed as I am, I am having a hard time remembering the things I actually liked about this book. But I'm going to try, because I really was pretty into it, until the last 25 pages or so.

Callie is a published author and is something of an expert in the folklore surrounding demon lovers and gothic literature. As the story begins, she is offered a job in a quaint little New York town, with a small private college. She's hesitant to accept at first, thinking she'd hold out for an offer from NYU, but she is drawn to an amazing old house. A famous author named Dahlia lived there before her death... and that, coupled with an intangible attraction, compel Callie to buy the place.

It's revealed that in her childhood, Callie would often be visited by a shadowy prince in her dreams. Well, now he's back and he wants to do more than talk. He visits her every night in her dreams and sexes her up. She spends her days at the college --and going through old papers that Dahlia left in the house. Now, even though Callie is an expert on the study of the incubus and Dahlia's journals detail her encounters with the same being... it takes forever for Callie to realize exactly what she's dealing with.

Once she does, the book really reeled me in. We find out all manner of supernatural beings inhabit the town. Callie is exposed to an entirely different world and learns alot about herself as well. She gets a new love interest whose identity is pretty transparent, but I found myself really drawn to him anyway. I enjoyed watching Callie grow into her new identity and fall in love (whether she acknowledges that's what's happening or not.) There's even a mystery that pops up as several members of the community grow ill.

I could forgive the ease is which I saw through Liam; I could even forgive the thoroughly obvious nature of the villain. What I couldn't forgive was the ending. I need a happy ending. This was not that. Will I read the second book? Yes. Am I still pissed? Yes. Would a different ending have given this book a higher rating? (Say it with me:) Yes. Grrr. 3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Demon Lover
by Juliet Dark (Carol Goodman)
Release Date: December 27, 2011
Publisher: Random House

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AAD Author Spotlight & Giveaway: BA Tortuga

She shamelessly enjoys the shallow side of life: from hot tubs and margaritas --to ogling hot guys at the beach. But her real passion is writing. BA Tortuga has more than 100 distinct works on Goodreads... and she's not done yet.  Please help me welcome her to the blog!

Jen: You really write such a wide range of romance books --from cowboys to the paranormal-- what is your favorite to write? And do you think you'll ever "settle down" into one kind of genre?

BA: Oh, I doubt I'll ever light in one spot forever. I have the attention span of a gnat on crack and more voices in my head wanting stories than I have time!

Jen: Many of your books are m/m. As a woman, how do you prepare yourself to write sex scenes between two men?

BA: Well, the best part about writing romance is that making love is making love, no matter what bodies do. It's the emotion that matters. After that, it's all fun research! Also, I live with a m/m writer, my best friend in all the world is a m/m writer. There's lots of inspiration.

Jen: I read on your bio, you watch a lot of porn for "research." I love that! Is it true?

BA: Sure! I admit that I'm a dork and I prefer to watch it on fast forward, but I do watch. Chris Owen has sent me some hilarious stuff from the Great White North and Sean Michael bought me one featuring a forest ranger who stood around getting oral sex the entire movie while announcing, "where there's smoke, there's fire!"

Jen: Most of your Roughstock series features m/m relationships. What made you decide to throw some m/f into the mix?

BA: Honestly, there's only so many gay men in a professional organization. I'm in love with the whole universe, so the other players wanted their stories told.

Jen: What kind of reaction did you get to that decision?

BA: Oh, so far folks have been luscious. My m/m readers have been very receptive. I've gained some amazing m/f readers, and it's been an all around good thing. :D

There's a m/m/f coming from that universe next...

Jen: You have several different series. Can you give new readers the lowdown on some of them?

BA: Roughstock is an ongoing series featuring the men and women in a bull riding league. Honestly, this is my heart's story, where I get to play with the people that are the folks I grew up with/ around.

Stormy Weather is my first series, featuring Shane and Galen, two men that live in the Keys and try to figure out how their very different lives fit together.

The Road Trip series... Lord, how to describe them... Explosions, ridge running, assassins, psychics, government conspiracies, hot sex, yachts, fast cars, drugs, booze, a thermodynamics specialist, and a lot of chocolate.

Shifting Streams is an ongoing paranormal series featuring werewolves in Montana. The first book, Climbing the Ladder, introduces Mesa, the Aspen Clan's Alpha, his beta mate, Kody, and... Kody's human wife, Sammy. The second book, tentatively titled "Triad" features Canyon, Mesa's twin brother, and two albino wolves that are causing trouble all over.

I do have a new series, the Witchy Women series, coming in February, that is about three best friends from Dripping Springs, Texas, who promise upon graduation that, no matter how far they traveled, they'll always show up with one of the other's needs her. When Lily's grandmother passes away and leaves her Cowbells, Books and Candles and she starts unpacking the boxes in the back, Lily discovers how much she needs her friends back. ;-)

Jen: When looking at your backlist, I was blown away by just how many books you have written! How long have you been writing? About how long does it take you to write a book?

BA: I published my first piece in the mid-70s. I have been writing for a living for a long, long time, but I have been writing romance professionally since 2004. :D Honestly, I write 5-7 pieces at a time, moving from one to the other, so it's really hard to tell, from start to finish.

Jen: What other authors do you like to read?

BA: Oh, lord. Yes. :D I'm a huge Stephen King fan. Tess Gerritsen, Marilyn French, Sean Michael, Leah Brooks, Tasha Alexander, Chelsea Cain, Kiernan Kelly, Bronwyn Green, Maya Banks, TA Chase, Carol Lynne, Jim Butcher, Dean Koontz, Guillermo del Toro, and of course, my partner, Julia Talbot. And that's just off the top of my head. I loved the last Lydia Nyx story I read. Then there's Alice Hoffman and Douglas Clegg...

Jen: What are you looking forward to most from AAD in New Orleans this summer?

BA: I made *so* many good friends last year in Philly that I can't wait for those in-person hugs. :D

Jen: Thank you so much for sharing your work with me and taking the time to answer my questions. I'm looking forward to meeting you in NOLA!

BA: Thank you. I'm so tickled to be participating.

You can find out more about BA on her website, Goodreads, and Twitter.  And for one lucky follower, BA is giving away a $10 gift certificate to Torquere Press.  Just enter the Rafflecopter form below! 

Read more »

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: Bedeviled

If you liked Ascension, I really think you'll love Bedeviled. It picks up right where the last book left off, and takes readers on a fast paced ride filled with action, mythology, great character evolution... and sex. What more could an Urban Fantasy fan ask for?

When we first met Kyana, she was a reviled Half Breed, part Vampyre, part Lychen. But she used her powerful skills to help the Order protect humanity, and fight the threat that the ancient God Cronus will rise again and wreak havoc on the world. But as this story begins, Ky's identity is changing. She is evolving into the new Goddess of the Hunt, which means she is developing new powers, while losing the attributes of her other species. It's a very difficult time for her. Ky's entire sense of self has been wrapped up in being a half-breed for centuries. The change is shaking her foundation.

Add to that, Kyana is searching for her best friend, Haven. The former witch is now a mixed breed, since Kyana changed her over to save her life. But Haven isn't just a powerful, unstable hybrid... she is also now possessed by Cronus, who is using her abilities to help resurrect his body. Haven is a huge target for all the Gods and tracers of the Order, but only Ky is interested in saving her life.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit. The world-building stays true to the first book... and it's a fun mix of demonology, Greek gods, and various supernaturals --ranging from vamps and shifters to witches and zombies. Ky is a very damaged and complex character. And often, her internal struggle is her greatest weakness. I liked watching Ryker continue to break down her walls. Their relationship is changing and growing... and I really like them together. There's also a great cast of secondary characters that could easily support stories of their own, like Haven, Geoff, and even Silas.

Thankfully, this book didn't end on the same kind of cliffhanger the last one did, but there is clearly more to explore in this story. And I want to read it. If the Dark Breeds series is new to you, I strongly suggest you pick up Ascension first to get the most out of this book. 4 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by Avon

Click to purchase: Amazon
by Sable Grace
Release Date: December 27, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Monday, December 19, 2011

My Favorite Books of 2011

It's been a great year to be a book blogger. Some really amazing books came out this year. I'm breaking down some of my favorites, by genre. Take a look and see if you agree (or if I left any out.)

by Karen Marie Moning
You had to be living under a rock to have missed the reaction to this amazing book and phenomenal series. It stands head and shoulders above the rest as the best book I read in 2011. It's dark, gritty, sexy, and powerful. If you haven't read the Fever books, you need to read them in their entirety. The series doesn't start strong, but if you ever heed my advice about anything, trust me when I say that these books are worth it.


Pale Demon by Kim Harrison
Kim Harrison took her Hollows series to a whole new level with this outstanding ninth installment in the series. If you gave up on the Rachel Morgan books early on, it's worth it to give them another try... if for no other reason than so that you can read and enjoy this masterpiece.

Hunt the Moon by Karen Chance
I know that the time travel elements in the Cassie Palmer books can cause major headaches, but all that takes a backseat to the amazing action and excitement in this book. It's got great moments for Mircea fans. But as a Pritkin-girl I was blown away. It was fabulous!

Tempest's Legacy by Nicole Peeler
We had two Jane True books come out this year, but this one is definitely the stronger of the two. Great angst, plenty of action... And Jane finally realizes what I have known all along: Anyan is the man for her. Now if only we can get the two of them to have sex... (Are you listening, Nicole Peeler??)

Shaedes of Gray by Amanda Bonilla
I didn't actually read this one until 2012, but I kicked myself that I waited so long.  Darian is an emotionally stunted, ass kicking assassin. And I love her love-interest like nobody's business!! It's got world building that is different and easy to understand, great action and characters I cared about. A fantastic start to a new Urban Fantasy series.


Fate's Edge by Ilona Andrews
This is the third book in The Edge series by Ilona Andrews, but it could still work as a standalone. The world building is solid. The characters are engaging. There's a lot of action and a double-dollop of heart, thanks in no small part to the characters of Jack and George. It's nothing like Kate Daniels, but if you haven't tried this series yet, now's a great time. I don't know of anyone who read this book and didn't like it.

Dark Taste of Rapture by Gena Showalter
Far and away, it's the best in Gena Showalter's Alien Huntress series. The hero is deliciously tortured and alpha-- and did I mention that he is also a ripped, tattooed, virgin. (*I die*) Read this book. With a tall glass of water.

Storm's Heart by Thea Harrison
Yes, I know everyone else liked Dragon Bound better. But I think I preferred this installment in Thea Harrison's Elder Races series. (It's book two, but could easily be read as a standalone.) A powerful, alpha shifter as old as time meets his match in a feisty young Fae princess. Harrison is quickly becoming one of my favorite PNR authors.

Divide & Conquer by Madeleine Urban & Abigail Roux 
The last collaborative book by Urban & Roux, takes the dysfunctional FBI agents Ty & Zane to new places in their relationship, as they fight domestic terrorists. Great sex. Emotional turmoil. The best m/m series around.

Queen of the Sylphs by LJ McDonald
This book had some really, really dark moments. But this series continues to surprise me by just how good it is. The heroines are young, but the stories are powerful and completely gripping. If you like fantasy at all, you really should give these books a try.

Confessions of an Improper Bride by Jennifer Haymore
Great raw emotion, grief and sacrifice from our heroine.  I know that not everyone likes the switched-twin genre, but I thought it really worked in this book.

Guarding a Notorious Lady by Olivia Parker
Great sexual tension. It manages to be both sweet and sexy as the hero fights his feelings for the heroine he is supposed to be watching over.

Waking Up With the Duke by Lorraine Heath
Our heroine finally gets the chance at the baby she has always wanted, when her husband arranges for her hook up with another man. (But he's a jerk and it never feels like cheating.) Loved it.

Rebirth by Sophie Littlefield
This is book two in the Aftertime trilogy. This series is dark, dark, dark. But this book really struck a chord and stayed with me for days after I read it. Don't let the zombies fool you. These books are a study of the human condition. They are tragic and beautiful --and should not be missed.

Honorable Mention:
The Restorer by Amanda Stevens
Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews

What are some of your favorites? Feel free to link to your blog if you've got a list of your own!

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Review: Kiss of Twilight

Everyone knows Dupree and Kara are in love. They have been for ages, but they've never done anything about it. Kara is willing, but Dupree has always held back. His soul is merged with a demon --and he uses his advanced physical skills to help humanity fight off the pure demons who would destroy them. Kara wants to merge with a demon, herself. But Dupree hates the idea. He fears for the constant danger she'll be in and is scared that he'll lose her.

I wish I could give two separate ratings for this book: one for the first half and one for the second. Because the first half was an exercise in frustration. These are two people who love each other. They want each other. Heck, the even need each other... as bonding will keep Dupree's demon from going over the edge. But time after time after time, Dupree refuses to give into his feelings. It built sexual tension at first, but it went on so long that it just pissed me off. And even then, I had to wait some more. The only thing holding them back, was his fear. And that's just not enough to sustain the wait we have to endure.

But. When he finally gives in, the book takes a turn. The chemistry between Dupree and Kara is sooo good. The sex is great. There's plenty of action. It became all the things I wanted it to be. It just took too long to get there.

This is the sequel to Kiss of Darkness, which I read and enjoyed. The story arc surrounding the search for a demon hunter who went rogue continues here. So does the thread about the kidnapped hybrid Gia and the nightwalker who would be her mate. (I'm assuming they will be the central couple of book three.) There is substantial movement on both fronts, giving the book more depth beyond the Kara/Dupree love story.

I like the series and I really enjoyed the second half of the book. But I can't ignore the frustration I felt in the first half. Without the curiosity I garnered reading the first book, I might have put it down. I'm glad I didn't, but still... 3 1/2 stars. (The second half alone would get a little more than 4.)

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Kiss of Darkness
by Loribelle Hunt
Release Date: December 26, 2011
Publisher: Carina Press

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: Trouble at the Wedding

Annabel is a Mississippi girl, who comes from poverty. But when her dad hit pay-dirt in an Alaskan goldmine, her family became wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. They moved out of their small Southern town to an uppercrust area of New York. But they were never accepted. New money didn't mean much in society.

Now Annabel has a chance to change things for her family. She is getting married to a British peer --and that means respectability. It's no matter that they aren't in love. Annabel thinks that a marriage based on cordiality and respect will be just fine. Until she meets Christian. He is passionate and sexy --and determined to talk her out of marrying her intended. At first, that's because her uncle hired him to do it, but eventually, because he becomes enamoured of the feisty beauty.

Annabel ends up ignoring the misgivings Christian inspires, but he manages to spoil the wedding anyway, nearly ruining her reputation. So he must redeem himself --and her social standing, by helping her find a suitable new husband.

It took a while for me to warm up to the story. Maybe because the first 1/3 of it was told in flashback from the events of the prologue. We know from the first few pages that Christian's plans would fail and that mad it hard for me gain much interest in his machinations. Another point of contention: Annabel is rich and gorgeous. I just can't believe she had so much trouble finding a husband before aligning herself with Christian and his sister. Then, once our hero and heroine begin to have feelings for each other, I just couldn't see any real obstacle between them. What took them so long to finally embrace their feelings (and by that I mean the very last page or two) --is beyond me.

The sex was ok. The relationship was ok. The conflict was minimal. A little more than 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Trouble at the Wedding
by Laura Lee Guhrke
Release Date: December 27, 2011
Publisher: Avon

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: Just Like Cats and Dogs

Reviewed by Jen
Sam is a panther-shifter who was raised inside a werewolf pack. He was one of a dozen adopted children taken in by his parents, but he was the only cat in the pack. Despite the love of his family, he grew up as an outcast in the pack, moving away to New York as soon as he was old enough. But as the book begins, he has to return home for his father's funeral.

It's there, he crosses paths with the wolf-shifter Gus. They were childhood enemies, but as adults, they are undeniably attracted to each other. They don't act on it right away, but when they run into each other again in another city, they finally give in to their desires. The book follows their ups and downs as they try to make things work between them --and deal with the cat-shifter thugs terrorizing Sam in New York.

I liked the way Tortuga deals with the shifter-world in this book. Even in their human forms, the shifters maintain characteristics of their animals. They're always purring, grooming and growling. I also liked the progression of the Sam-Gus relationship. Sam is a tortured hero, but we don't recognize the extent of it until the story progresses. And when the chips fall, Gus ends up a really good guy and a fantastic mate.

I did have a few nitpicks. This is a steamy m/m romance with a fairly good amount of sex. But there's not one mention of lube. Um... ouch. And there are some time jumps that are never quantified, leaving me wondering if weeks, months or even more time had passed. It was a little disorienting.

I did like it, overall, though. It was sexy, and surprisingly sweet in places. A fast and entertaining read.

*Book provided by author

Click to purchase: Amazon
Just Like Cats and Dogs
by BA Tortuga
Release Date: September 24, 2011
Publisher: Torquere Press 

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Friday, December 16, 2011

A Little Lube Never Hurt Anybody

I'm not going to point any fingers. I'm not going to name any names. But I've got to tell you, nothing pulls me out of a love scene like a lack of realism. Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of the books I read take place outside of the realm of reality. I read about vampires and werewolves, ghosts, demons, witches and dragons. I enjoy a little fantasy, but not when it comes to the mechanics of the act. Case in point: lube. I enjoy some m/m sexing... and every once in a while I may read a menage... both of which invariably lead to back-door loving. But when the author skips the lube, the love scene is ruined for me. Why? Because I'm no longer thinking about anything except, That's really got to hurt. Especially for the virgins.

Of course, a lack of lube isn't the only culprit... though it probably bothers me the most. It also bothers me when the character's sexual prowess is so vast, my brain gets mired in the complexity of the act, thus removing any sensuality from it. I remember reading an older Anita Blake book where the woman had one guy in each hand, one in her mouth, and (I think) one guy in the lady-bits... and I just sat there, wondering Could any woman be so coordinated? I couldn't. I can barely stir two pots at once.

Other winners include the classic "man comes, triggering the woman's orgasm." If that actually worked, why would we need men to make any extra effort at all? Also, sex under water... doable, but rarely as advertised on-page. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I'm not saying I don't appreciate a little embellishment. Even great sex has awkward moments from time to time that we'd all prefer to gloss over, but come on. At least make me feel like what you're describing could happen. Even if it's with an immortal, time traveling, Highland warrior, vampire-shifter hybrid who is overcoming his tortured past to find the one true love that can save his soul... dammit.

Thoughts? Please share.

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Review: Shield of Fire

Reviewed by Jen
Ravyn has always known she was different. But the sisters in the abbey where she was raised always told her that her gifts were really a curse. She feared she was Bane... a demon. She had never seen one of the evil ones, though, until the depraved Brother Powell summons the demon Icarus to grant him a sacrifice.

Though Powell offers him another girl, Icarus is looking specifically for Ravyn. His father, the demon ruler, wants her so that he can absorb her powers. But Ravyn manages to escape and stumbles upon Rhys. He is a Bringer, a warrior who fights the demons. And it doesn't take long for them both to realize that she is a Bringer as well.

Rhys takes Ravyn under his protection. In her company, the hardened Bringer begins to have feelings he hasn't experienced in centuries. But soon he starts to question whether he can open himself up to love without sacrificing his honor as a Bringer or his ability to protect Ravyn. All this, as the Bane intensify their efforts to capture the young woman with so much untapped power.

My biggest complaint about the book was that the pacing was uneven. There were some slow parts as we approached the midway point. And I hated the unnecessary hurt Rhys causes when he takes the martyr's route in the second half. But there were a lot of things I did like too. While the setting isn't overtly spelled out, the book had an alternative-medieval feel... all that great warriors/ dragon/ swordsman stuff. And I enjoyed the love story between Rhys and Raven (despite the aforementioned detour.) You can see her bringing him back to life as he exposes her to things she never could have imagined as a sheltered girl in the abbey.

The love scenes were hot, but they also managed to include emotional intimacy without feeling cheesy. The main characters were well developed... even the villainous Icarus never fell flat. (And speaking of Icarus --there is obviously more to this demon than meets the eye. I have a feeling there are big surprises on the horizon regarding him.) We're also introduced to a great cast of supporting characters, which presumably will anchor future books in the series. My money is on Luc and Jade for book two.

I liked it. And I'm interested to see where the story goes next. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Shield of Fire
by Boone Brux
Release Date: December 6, 2011
Publisher: Entangled Publishing

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: No Rest for the Witches

Reviewed by Jen
This is a great little short story for fans of the Dark Mission series to tide you over until the next full length novel. It picks up shortly after the events of Lure of the Wicked, and follows Jessie, Silas and Naomi as they adjust to the changes in their lives.

For Jessie, it's about finding her own value, living among the ex-soldiers. She is pushing herself further and further to use her skills as a witch to contribute. Meanwhile, Naomi is struggling with her new found powers and her separation from Phin. Her confusion and frustration only intensify as Phin is injured in an attack above-ground and his surviving mother is kidnapped.

I like that Karina Cooper opted to devote this novella to the characters we already know and care about, as opposed to trying to stick in a whirlwind romance between unknown characters in the same world. Too often, the development of PNR characters stops after their book is over. It's cool that these characters are still growing and struggling... even after they have found their HEAs.

It's a short story --less than 100 pages. And it probably wouldn't mean much to readers unfamiliar with the series. But for those who are fans of the previous books, it's definitely worth reading. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
No Rest for the Witches
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: November 22, 2011
Publisher: Avon Impulse

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Series Reading Order: Dark Mission

This is the reading order for the Dark Mission series by Karina Cooper:

*Denotes short story/ novella

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Unearthed

Reviewed by Jen
Tess has lived her entire life putting herself last. But now, she finally has the chance to live her dream as a singer. Until she is kidnapped by a sexy alien. It seems that she has a very special voice --the only one in the universe-- that can unlock the key to a secret amulet Cohl needs to pay off the men who have taken his father hostage.

Cohl takes Tess back to his home-world, and manages to convince her to help him in his cause. And of course, the two of them fall in love. But neither of them will admit their deeper feelings. Cohl believes Tess will want to return to Earth; and Tess is unsure he would even want her to stay. And so, the great misunderstanding is born.

The two manage to squeeze in a few rounds of hot sex, and a fair amount of adventure before they reach the planet that hides the amulet. And it's in the sex and the action that the book is at its best. But the pacing is uneven and the plot is fairly predictable.

It's not a bad story... pretty standard sci-fi romance fare. But it didn't have anything that really made it stand out above others in the genre. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon

by CJ Barry
Release Date: October 3, 2011
Publisher: Carina Press
Originally Published: May 2005 by Dorchester

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review: Hidden

Reviewed by Jen
Thank you, thank you Kelley Armstrong. This story is exactly what I wanted and needed to say goodbye to my beloved Clay and Elena. "Hidden" is a novella for the fans. It's not for people new to the Otherworld series. Yes, it would still make sense, but it wouldn't resonate. It wouldn't mean to you what it means to us.

The basic premise is that Clay and Elena have brought their four year old twins away to a cabin to celebrate Christmas as a family. But the appearance of a mutt threatens their holiday celebration. And the couple must figure out whether he is linked to a suspicious death in the area, while juggling their time with their kids.

It was so easy to slide back into this world, with these characters who have become so familiar. That's part of what makes it so satisfying. The other part, is knowing we have seen the complete evolution of Elena. She has come so far since Bitten. Now she has finally found peace as Clay's mate... as Alpha-elect of the Pack... and as a mom to Kate and Logan. Reading this story shows us the last few pieces falling into place. She finally has everything she always wanted --even though it's nothing like she would have pictured it.

The external conflict keeps the story moving forward --with an unexpected twist at the end. But it also shows that werewolf problems and danger are simply another part of the life Clay and Elena lead. It's part of what it means for them to be Pack, and will always exist, just like their connection with one another, their packmates, and their kids. It's all here. And I couldn't be happier with how it was done. --I'll definitely miss these characters, but this is a great way to send them off. 5 stars.

Click to purchase: Amazon

by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: December 2011
Publisher: Subterranean Press

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