Archives for May 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 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

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

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

Review: Touch the Dark

Reviewed by JenCassie 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

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.

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

Review: Waking Up With the Duke

Reviewed by Jen

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

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

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

How to get the ARCs You Want

I think Advanced Review Copies (or ARCs) of books are the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Some are easier to get than others, and I’m by no means the Queen of the ARC requests. But I came across a blog called the Story Siren with great tips on how to request ARCs and what each publisher is looking for when making a decision. I learned alot reading it and I thought I would spread the word. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.