Archives for June 2011

Otherworld: Short Stories and Novellas

Reviewed by Jen

I love the way Kelley Armstrong has enriched her Otherworld series with a wealth of short stories. She compiled many of them together into the anthologies Men of the Otherworld and Tales of the Otherworld, but there are even more out there. Some are free reads on the internet (provided by Armstrong herself); others are parts of anthologies shared with other authors.  You don’t have to read them all to know what’s going on in the novels. But they are great fun and teach us more about the characters we have already grown to love. I’ve got the details on the short stories found in Men & Tales, in the reviews for each of those anthologies. This is a short breakdown on the rest.

Demonology” (free online story) – This is one of the very few Otherworld story that’s not told in the first person narrative.  It features Adam’s mother Talia, as she struggles to figure out what makes her child different. Adam is only 8 years-old in this story and he is becoming fixated with fire. He’s even exhibiting some strange physical behaviors, like hot hands, and giving other kids a jolt. It’s in trying to help her son that Talia meets Robert Vasic, the half-demon that will end up her husband… and who will finally explain her son’s true nature.”

The Case of the Half Demon Spy” (free online story) – narrator: Adam –  This little 16 page short story gives us a peek at Adam and Paige as young teens. They’re growing restless, being shut out of a council meeting, when they see a demon spying on the gathering. They take it upon themselves to scare him away and get his notes. They never realize that it was all a set up by Adam’s step dad to give them an adventure.

Truth & Consequences” (free online story) – narrator: Elena – This story takes us inside Elena’s life, not long before the events of Bitten. She is working for the pack, tracking down a man who says he has proof werewolves exist. Elena is forced to kill him to protect the pack. It’s a decision that will ultimately drive her away from Stonehaven and set the wheels in motion for the first novel.

Territorial” (free online story) – narrator: Karl – As this story begins, Karl is working a mark to steal her necklace. But his mind quickly turns to reminiscing about his past and his father. In flashback, we learn how his father died: killed by Malcolm — and why Karl believes it was hit fault. As the tale draws to a close, we see how his path crosses with Daniel Santos, laying the groundwork for their evil plan in Bitten.

Escape” (free online story) – narrator: Eve – We didn’t get a chance to meet Eve in the supernatural holding cells of Stolen. She was already dead. But here we get her perspective. We learn why Savannah was home they day of their kidnapping and the events that led them to their captivity. And we watch as Eve works to free herself and her daughter from the facility. It looks like she was on the right track… until a guard kills her.

Adventurer” (free online story) – narrator: Kenneth – If you’re asking yourself, “Who the heck is Kenneth?’ — don’t feel bad.  I couldn’t remember either. He’s the shaman in the interracial council with Paige, Adam, Cassandra and co.  In this story, we get to see the council members from his perspective –and see the quiet contribution he makes.

Bargain” (free online story) – narrator: Xavier – This story sets-up Xavier’s approach to Elena in Broken.  It seems that his desire to make her an ally came before the job to retrieve the From Hell letter. He actually looked for a way to need her help to cultivate her as a contact and perhaps, by extension, he could cozy up to Lucas through their connection with the interracial council. Xavier’s been having trouble with a cabal lately and some well placed contacts could make all the difference…

Chaotic” (Dates from Hell) – narrator: Hope– Hope is a half-demon who gets off on chaos. That’s given her a lot of trouble following the straight and narrow. So when Tristan approached her to serve as an agent for the supernatural interracial council, she didn’t hesitate to say yes. She doesn’t realize, though, that she is on the job the night she goes on a blind date at a museum gala. But she can’t help but follow the threads of tension she feels coming from one of the exhibits. It turns out to be werewolf Karl Marsten, there stealing some jewels. Her first thought is that he’s the bad guy and she has to stop him. But she finds out quickly that it’s really her boss who is evil and he is after Karl for petty vengeance. Hope doesn’t work for the council at all… She’s just a pawn in his schemes. Hope and Karl grow closer as they work to escape Tristan and his henchmen. And there is one really hot scene they have while in hiding that I may have read two or three times. All in all, it’s a pretty solid story. And while you don’t have to read it, it lays the foundation for future books that feature Hope and Karl.

Framed” (free online story) – narrator: Nick – We’ve heard a lot about Nick, but always from Elena or Clay’s perspectives. Here, get a glimpse into his mind as someone tries to frame him for murder. He wakes up one morning, with no memory of the night before, and finds a dead woman in his bed. It turns out to be a blackmail scheme. A man wants Nick to seduce his estranged wife and take pictures. It seems she has a thing for werewolf romance novels, so Nick brushes up on the stories to set up his seduction. But he draws the line once he realizes the sex is supposed to take place while he’s in wolf-form. So he finds a creative solution to the problem and is proud that he manages to handle the whole thing without help.

Twilight” (Many Bloody Returns) – narrator: Cassandra – I think Cassandra may be my least favorite character in the Otherworld series, so this story didn’t do much for me. Basically, we already know that she is getting closer and closer to her final death. Now it’s time for her annual kill, but she is having a lot of trouble forcing herself to do it. She’s been putting it off and putting it off… and Aaron is worried that she won’t do it all. But what he doesn’t realize is that it’s not just a mental problem, but a physical one for her as well. Obviously, in the end, she makes the kill, but it leaves you wondering if she’ll be able to do it next time.

Stalked” (My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon) – narrator: Clay – It’s really important to Clay that his honeymoon with Elena is just right. She didn’t have the wedding of her dreams. He ruined that idea 18 years ago when he turned her into a werewolf. But, the honeymoon… he wants to make that perfect for her. Only, a mutt is stalking them. Clay tries to hide it from Elena, but that doesn’t quite work out. The good news is… taking down the mutt together may be the highlight of their trip.

Chivalrous” (Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2) – narrator: Reese  – Of all the short stories, this is one of the two I haven’t actually read. I just couldn’t bring myself to part with the 30-bucks it would cost for this anthology. And it took me forever to even find a decent blurb telling me what it was about. But I finally found some info from a review on Locus Online. Paraphrasing, it basically says that Reese is an Australian mutt, who is attending college when he rescues a young woman from being raped. It turns out she is the local Alpha’s daughter sent to insinuate herself into his life. He doesn’t find that out until after he falls for her. So then he must decide whether to protect the woman he loves or his family, still threatened by her father. –If you’re asking yourself what an Aussie wolf has to do with anything, Reese becomes part of the current cast of characters in the novel Frostbitten. This is his backstory.

The Ungrateful Dead” (Blood Lite) – narrator: Jamie – There’s an obnoxious ghost demanding help from Jamie. She’s all ready to banish him, but decides to grant his request to open his cousin’s coffin. Savannah comes along on the adventure. And they both get a big surprise when they lift the lid and a zombie comes out. It seems that the pair tried to harrass another necromancer into bringing them back to life and the necro tried to teach them a lesson with the zombie trick. You think they would have learned that lesson, but they keep pushing Jamie, until they push her a bit too far. (This had some pretty good one liners in it. A couple made me laugh out loud.)

Zen and the Art of Vampirism” (A Fantasy Medley) – narrator: Zoe – Zoe didn’t make a huge impression on me when we met her in Broken, so I wasn’t too disappointed that I never got a chance to read this one. From the reviews I have found, the story is about some young vamps who decide they want to take over Zoe’s territory in Toronto. She turns the tables on them and they hightail it out of town.

Learning Curve” (Evolve) – narrator: Zoe – This may be the shortest of all the short stories.  Wannabe vampire hunters are stalking Zoe. Somebody’s been watching too much Buffy.

Checkmate” (free online story) – narrator: Elena – Clay and Elena take a trip to Winnepeg to check out reports of missing hookers. They think a man-eating mutt may be to blame. As they investigate, they think, perhaps it wasn’t the mutt after-all. But in the end, it was.

“Recruit” (free online story) – narrator: Elena – The Pack needs to increase its numbers. Clay and Elena decide to go meet a possible new recruit. But the man tries to sell them information on a man-eater. His plan doesn’t really work. But he does give them the information –and they let him keep all the body parts that he came with.

The List” (Evolve 2) – narrator: Zoe – This one kicks off at the same bar Zoe always frequents. It’s been a year since “Learning Curve” and now Zoe has sort-of befriended Brittany, the teenage would be vamp hunter from that story. Someone has created a list of so called “real vamps” in the city, so Zoe and Brittany go to check the guy out, only to find the real danger is from his groupies.

Lucifer’s Daughter” (Blood Lite 2) – narrator: Hope – Karl and Hope are at a bash thrown by Hope’s mom back at the museum where they met. Karl accidentally unleashes a demon, who recognizes Hope for who she is. Hope and Karl manage to contain him, but it’s no easy feat. And this has quite a dramatic ending (*spoilers*) as Karl asks Hope to marry him.

“V-Plates” (Blood Lite 3) – narrator: Nick – Reese wants Nick to help Noah lose his virginity. So they go to a brothel. But it’s not what they bargained for when zombies enter the equation.

From Russia with Love” (13) – narrator: Elena – As the drama comes to a close in 13, Elena and Clay travel to Russia where the rest of the pack has been staying with the twins.  After a surprise visit from Xavier, Jeremy passes over the reigns, making Elena the new Alpha of the pack.  It’s a great ending, as we see the series come completely full circle.

Review: Seduction & Scandal

Reviewed by Jen

Isabella is a woman who fears passion. It destroyed her mother and compromised her childhood. Now she is living with her uncle and cousin Lucy and hopes for nothing more than a life a safety and security. She is dating a staid gentleman and hopes for a simple marriage.  But then she meets the Earl of Black. There is an instant, burning pull between them. For some reason that Isabella is unaware of, Black pursues her relentlessly. And no matter how much her head wants him out of her life, her body and heart have other ideas.

Black is a member of the Brethren Guardians… descendants of the Knights of the Templar, charged to protect ancient relics that could corrupt the world. He doesn’t want the responsibility. The only thing he does want is Isabella. But he can’t ignore his oath, so while he pursues her, he works with the other men in his order to track down the relics that have gone missing.

I had a bit of a hard time getting into the Templar stuff, but there was a lot of sexy in the story to keep my interest in the interim. The tension between Isabella and Black is fantastic and it was a great payoff, albeit in increments. And did I mention that Isabella is also a lady novelist? Her seductive story is interspersed throughout the book and I sure did enjoy it. Obviously, there are parallels between her longing for Black with the characters in her book and it all wraps up nicely in the end.

There are a lot of mysteries tied in the Templar storyline, and as the book progressed it did grow on me some. There are many threads left unresolved, but the love story is put to bed. And the author promises to answer the remaining questions in Lucy’s book Pride & Passion. I will definitely be reading that. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Seduction & Scandal
by Charlotte Featherstone
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: HQN Books

Review: Tales of the Otherworld

Reviewed by Jen

This is the second of two short-story collections Kelley Armstrong wrote for fans of her Otherworld series.  Like Men of the Otherworld, most of these stories are prequels to the novels… the backstories that fans wanted to hear. But like I warned with that anthology, just because these stories come first chronologically, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should read them first. You’d probably get the most out of the book reading it either after Industrial Magic or Broken.

Rebirth” – narrator: Aaron – This is the very short story of how Aaron came to be a vampire and how he and Cassandra met. Aaron was a farm boy who died trying to save a woman from a beating. The vampirism was hereditary but he didn’t know about it until after he dies. Aaron was resolved to allow himself a final death after his first year of being a vampire, because he refused to take the life of someone else. But Cassandra convinced him that he could do more good in the world by killing bad men and staying alive to help others.

Bewitched” – narrator: Eve – From Dime Store Magic, you would never know what kind of man Kristof Nash really was. Here you get that insight, as we see the relationship between him and Eve, leading up to Savannah’s conception. Eve isn’t a bad person, but she is willing to work and teach black magic. As a result, she sometimes runs with a bad crowd. Kristof decides to hire her to teach him witch magic. In return, he’ll pay her, not only in cash, but also tips to navigate the darker side of the supernatural world. Over the course of their lessons, they become friends and eventually lovers. They really do love each other, which makes it all the more poignant when Kristof’s father threatens a pregnant Eve into leaving town. At least we know they spend the afterlife together.

Birthright” – narrator: Logan – As Logan reaches his 18th birthday, he receives a note from the father he never knew. It’s Jeremy’s name and address. Curious, Logan investigates. Of course, Clay thinks he’s a mutt, there to challenge the Alpha. But once it’s clear that Logan has no idea what’s going on, Jeremy breaks the news about his supernatural heritage.

Beginnings” – narrators: Clay & Elena – This is it. The short story that rules all other short stories in the Otherworld universe: the story of how Clay and Elena fell in love. It’s not really short… well over 100 pages… and it is everything I could have wanted. Clay is in Toronto, on a short-term professorship and Elena is a student wanting to take his class. He instantly finds a kinship in her; an outcast, set apart by an alien childhood. It’s so great watching them fall for each other; and the story is made stronger by alternating between Clay and Elena’s own perspectives. It’s so hard not to feel sorry for Clay, as he struggles with his love for Elena, while he has to hide what he is. From Bitten, we know the years of hardship they will have to endure in the wake of his actions, making their love story all the more bittersweet. We also see how Logan and Elena become friends; and get insight into more of Elena’s horrible childhood. No Clay and Elena fan should miss this one. It is epic.

Expectations” – narrator: Lucas – In Dime Store Magic, Lucas makes reference to the one and only time that he ever met Eve Levine. This is it. Here, Lucas is only 20 years-old and trying to establish his credability in the supernatural world. When someone comes to him and tells the story of a witch with a dark grimoire, Lucas decides to steal the spellbook himself. It doesn’t go so well.

Ghosts” – narrator: Jeremy– This story actually takes place in the same time frame as the end of Bitten. You see a snippet of what it’s like for Jeremy when he sends Clay and Elena back to her apartment in Toronto. He misses them terribly, and in their absence, he reflects on what it was like to witness Elena’s agony as she came to terms with being a werewolf; to banish Clay; and to have to track her down when she escaped the first time. This one was pretty short, but it gives us a better look inside Jeremy’s perspective of a pivotal time.

Wedding Bell Hell” – narrator: Paige– This story picks up three weeks before Paige and Lucas get married. It’s short and sweet, detailing the plans leading up to and including the big day. Benicio is trying to run the show; there’s a mix-up with some matchbooks… nothing too intense. But it does fill in the gap between Lucas & Paige’s decision to work together in Industrial Magic, then showing up married 18 months later in Haunted.

The Case of El Chupacabra” –narrators: Lucas & Sean– Sean Nast has known he was gay for a while, but he also knows his family will never accept it. On a discreet visit to a gay bar in the midwest, he stumbles on a dead body that looks like it could be the victim of a vampire attack. The locals think it’s the legendary El Chupacabra. But Sean realizes that it’s only a matter of time before his family’s cabal sends someone to investigate. Hoping to find the killer before the Nasts realize his connection to the case, Sean hires Lucas & Paige to solve the crime. The story bounces back and forth between Sean’s and Lucas’ point of view. And we learn that Lucas’ father has built a new cabal office in Portland, hoping to lure Lucas back into the fold. He even sweetens the offer, promising Lucas can run the office to continue his crusade against anti-Cabal abuses. That rests on the back-burner while Lucas, Paige and Cassandra track down the only vampire in the area. And that vamp quickly becomes a scapegoat for the cabals’ growing animosity toward all vampires. In the end, we learn that the killers were just plain old humans. Sean discovers that family expects him to marry and have kids no matter what he feels about it… so he knows his days in the cabal are likely numbered. And Lucas dips into his trust fund to buy that new office his father built, so he and Paige can start their dream of working together to help the downtrodden of the supernatural community.

5 stars.

Tales of the Otherworld
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: April 13, 2010
Publisher: Bantam Books

Dark Days Chat with Jocelynn Drake

Burn the Night, the final chapter in Jocelynn Drake’s Dark Days series, is just one week away. And I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek. Let me tell you, it was awesome. You can read all about it in my gushing review.  If you have never read this fantastic series and you are a fan of dark Urban Fantasy, I urge you to check out the first book Nightwalker.  In the meantime, for those of us who are already fans, Jocelynn was kind enough to sit down, chat about the books, and answer some of my burning questions.

Jen: We’ve seen Mira lose a lot of people who were close to her over the course of the series. But the hardest to bear was Tristan. Was it always your plan for him to die?

Jocelynn: Tristan was always a difficult character for me, which is probably why I loved him so much. He was never supposed to live in the first place. He was one of the rare characters I created purely as a writing technique. I needed to give more depth to Sadira and one way to do that was to show how she acted with Tristan and his reaction to her. When I finished Nightwalker, I did a quick body count and was surprised to find that he was still alive. I kind of scratched my head and thought that maybe there was something more to him than I initially seen.

With time, Tristan became more to Mira. He was family. He was the closest thing she would ever have to a brother and he also had the feeling of being a son. He was someone that she saw as having a lot of potential if only he could get over his past with Sadira. In him, I think Mira saw a lot of what could have happened to her.

I’ve seen that a lot of people don’t care for Tristan. It’s my impression that they see him as weak. In my mind, he was simply broken. He was what Mira was 500 years before Nightwalker. He simply needed time and encouragement to grow.

Tristan’s death was not in my original plot outline. However, as I got near the end of the book as I was writing, I realized that I needed something else to twist the knife in order to set Mira off in a blind rage. I think, in my gut, I knew what needed to be done but I just wasn’t ready to accept it. Tristan’s death was one of the most painful I’ve ever written. I had known him for a long time and I believed in him. I didn’t want to let him go, but I did. And I cried.

Jen:  I always felt like something more was going to happen with Michael’s body. Did you ever intend to pursue that or did I make it all up in my head?

Jocelynn: Lol. That one, I fear, is going to haunt me for the rest of my life as I failed to tie that one up at the end of Burn the Night.

Yes, I will admit that I had plans for Michael. That was back in the early planning stages of the series and I had some things I wanted to get done with the series and Michael was going to be a launching point. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t go in that direction, but I also wish I had had more time to go back and deal with Michael.

My original plan was to send Mira and Danaus on what I was personally calling “the date book.” Mira’s friend from Dayhunter – Alexandre – was going to invite her to her wedding in Portland. At the same time, werewolves would be disappearing from her pack. Agreeing to help, Mira and Danaus would go investigate as well as attend Alexandre’s wedding. Chaos and tenderness would ensue. At the end of the book, Mira would be alone and feel a tap on the shoulder. She would turn and see Michael. Alive! And then there would be Aurora, queen of the naturi. The book would end with her being kidnapped.

The next book would focus on Danaus and Jabari trying to free her, while Mira tried to escape Aurora. The story behind Michael was to be that the naturi found his body before his soul escaped, so they captured his soul and stole his body. Aurora would reanimate him while holding his soul captive. Mira would have to find a way to kill Michael in order to save him from a lifetime of servitude to the naturi.

In the end, I dumped the entire plotline because it interfered with other plans I had as well as I couldn’t properly reconcile all the conflicting points of view I would need to tell the story. I am currently thinking of writing a short story to deal with the question of Michael.

Jen: We waited a very long time for Mira and Danaus to act on their feelings for each other. But now that they’ve crossed that bridge, we’re entering into some great new territory with the love scenes. How do you feel about writing those? (You do a great job with them, by the way.)

Jocelynn: Thank you so much! I know a lot of readers were unhappy with me because I took so long to get them together. And then more were unhappy when Mira had sex with someone other than Danaus. I’m evil like that.

I will admit that I had always planned it that way. These were two very old and very stubborn characters. It takes time to build trust and to tear down old beliefs. I didn’t want them jumping into bed too quickly or it would have just seemed unnatural and forced. I think there is one thing that always reassured me. Back when I was just getting into paranormal fiction, I read a great series in which the author built up the love affair. The main character didn’t finally have sex until the sixth book!! By that time, I needed a cigarette when they were done. I liked the long, natural lead up to that moment. It had been worth waiting for.

I like writing those scenes. It’s actually not too different than writing a fight scene as everything needs to be carefully choreographed. It’s always a little odd to find myself staring off into space, trying to think of new, interesting positions, and then realizing “Gee, I’m getting paid to think about sex.” So far, my editor hasn’t had any critiques for those scenes (for which I am grateful) and I just try not to think about my parents reading those scenes.

Burn the Night was definitely my favorite book to write. While I enjoyed the heavy tension that built up between Mira and Danaus, I think by book six I was just glad to finally put in those tender moments between them. I liked that they were finally comfortable with their feelings for each other and were willing to show it through a comforting touch, a caress, or a kiss to the temple.

Jen: I read somewhere that you said Mira’s story would have had a less happy ending, had the series continued. Would you reveal any of what you had planned?

Jocelynn: Wow! I’ve got to learn to keep my big mouth shut. No, just kidding. Since I have no plan to write those books, I guess I can spill. In Pray for Dawn, I set out what I thought Mira and Danaus needed to be happy. Danaus needed his soul and Mira needed a family.

The plan was for the seventh book to focus on the struggle following the Great Awakening. At the end of that book, Mira and Danaus would hug while standing in a crowd of people. Danaus would jerk in her arms and Mira would feel something sharp in her chest. She would pull away to find a long knife sticking out of Danaus’s chest. A human had approached from behind and stabbed Danaus through the heart. Despite Mira’s offer to turn him, Danaus refused and he would die in her arms. Book seven would close with Danaus dead and Mira burning the city.

In the eighth book, Danaus is back but different. Mira is just blindly happy that he is back and doesn’t question it, but her friends do. It turns out that the bori that holds part of his soul has stolen his body. He’s manipulating Mira so that he can take control of the city and the nightwalkers. After nearly killing Knox, Mira finally believes that it’s not Danaus’s and destroys the bori and Danaus’s body. This book was simply going to be a study in how dark Mira could become in the name of love and whether she could come back from it. Mira would get some final closure as she would see Danaus’s ghost one last time and know that he was at peace.

For the final book, Mira had to face her father (who I wasn’t going to deal with until now). As she begins to research her own family roots and what happened to the gods, she very reluctantly begins to fall for a human. During the final fight with her father, Mira loses her powers and turns back into a human. Eager to live a “normal” life, Mira marries the human and leaves Savannah. The book closes with her sitting in the same Crete cemetery you see in Dayhunter where she spoke with Jabari and Danaus. She meets with Valerio, who begs her to let him turn her back into a vampire. She says no. Not only does she have a happy life with her new husband, but she’s already with child. She had her family. Valerio accepts her wishes and leave. The book closes with Mira smiling as she snaps her fingers and a little teardrop of fire appears. It’s a happy-sad ending. Mira finds love and happiness, but it’s sad because it’s not with Danaus.

This closing would leave the door open for a 20-years-later story that would focus on her kids.

Jen: Do you have any plans to pursue another story in the Dark Days world, featuring another character?

Jocelynn: I will admit that notes exist. Scenes have been written. But will the book ever be completed and published? I don’t know. A part of me has always wanted to do something with Nicolai. I’ve just had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that ever since he was moved to Savannah, he just didn’t fit. I don’t know if we were both restless or what, but he definitely needs his own story and his own mate. I would also love to do something with Valerio. He’s such a sexy character. Stefan is even a temptation, but we will have to see. My year is currently booked with a new series so it might take me a while to circle back around if I ever have the chance.

Jen: Now that the series is over, what’s next for you?

Jocelynn: Burn the Night is the final book in the Dark Days series. However, I’ve got a couple things in the works at the moment. The first proved to be a surprise to me as it seems that I wasn’t quite willing to say good-bye to the Dark Days world just yet. I have finished a novella that is actually a prequel to the entire series. The Dark Days series mentioned an intense relationship that Mira had with Valerio a long time ago before she met Danaus. In the books, it’s obvious that there is a lingering tenderness between them and a number of my readers request a look at Mira’s past with Valerio. The novella is set about 200 years before Nightwalker and details a short adventure between Mira and Valerio, which I think gives a good insight into their relationship. I don’t have a release date yet, but it will be available only as an e-book. Keep tuned in to my blog and Twitter for updates on its release.

I am also hard at work on the first book in a new series. This is a totally new and exciting world. After working in a closed/hidden world, where humans were in the dark, I decided to throw the doors open on this one. In this world, magical creatures live along side of humans, but they are all lorded over by powerful witches and warlocks. In an effort to get ahead in this world, many people will turn to the tattoo artists, who, for the right price, can give you love, luck, or revenge with the right tattoo and potion. The series centers on a skilled tattoo artist and his co-workers as they struggle with their hidden pasts and the interesting customers that come through the door.

Before I go, I want to acknowledge that we were supposed to do a phone chat with Jocelynn over the weekend but we canceled with very little notice. She was so very gracious and understanding. She’s a very classy lady and fabulous author.

Thank you so much, Jocelynn, for taking the time to chat with me! I can’t wait to see what everyone else thinks of Burn the Night!

Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway

This contest is closed. The winner is Mandy P.

The Midsummer’s Eve Giveaway Hop features more than 270 blogs which are giving away books or gift cards in a four day contest that runs Tuesday, June 21st through Friday, June 24th.
Red Hot Books is letting you choose which book you would like to win!  I’ve got two choices: Neon Graveyard by Vicki Pettersson or Soul Hunt by Margaret Ronald.
Once she was a soldier for the Light, the prophesied savior who would decide the outcome of the eternal conflict raging unseen in the dark corners of her glittering hometown. Now Joanna Archer is just another mortal—still born of an impossible union of Shadow and Light . . . still hunted by both—and carrying the unborn child of a lover held captive by a depraved demon goddess. Joining forces with a band of rogue Shadow agents, Joanna’s ready to storm the stronghold of her demonic foe, risking everything to enter this ghastly, godforsaken realm where the price of admission is her eternal soul. Because in a world that has stripped her of her power, identity, and fortune, Joanna has nothing left to lose—except her baby, her future, and the epic war poised to consume the city.

The hunter has become the hunted… Without even realizing what she was doing, Genevieve Scelan has made a bad bargain. The Red Sox fanatic and supernatural tracker known as “Hound” for her extraordinary power of scent, wishes she could leave magic behind now that she’s eradicated the evil cabal that oppressed Boston’s undercurrent for centuries. But now her talent’s fading, the local adepts’ squabbles are turning ugly, and worse, she’s just discovered that she owes a very large debt to someone . . . or some thing. And in the undercurrent, debts are taken very seriously.
Evie has until midwinter to pay up . . . or else. So when she gets a job that might save her—even if she’s breaking all her own rules to take it—she can’t pass it up. Now, with danger at her back and uncertain allies beside her, she’ll trace the very bones of Boston itself to protect both the city and the people she loves.
To enter, just leave a comment, letting me know which book you would prefer.  I’ll give away whichever book has the most votes.  And if I end up with more than 100 entries, I’ll give away both.  This contest is open to all Red Hot Books followers in the US and Canada. Good luck!

Review: Men of the Otherworld

Reviewed by Jen

Men of the Otherworld is one of the two collections of short stories that Kelley Armstrong wrote as gifts to her fans. And they are, indeed, exciting for those of us who have followed the series and fallen in love with her characters. All but one of these stories are prequels, set before the main novels. But I wouldn’t necessarily tell someone new to the series to read them first. The stories come first chronologically, but I think you’d have a better appreciation for them at least after Stolen. (And the last story in the mix takes place after No Humans Involved.) You don’t have to read these stories to keep up with the series, but they are fantastic and fans really won’t want to miss them.

Infusion” – narrator: Malcolm – This is the story of Jeremy’s conception. We’ve known from the beginning that he is different and special. This gives us a little insight into why. We meet his Japanese mother and learn that she approached Malcolm on purpose, to infuse his werewolf blood into her own supernatural bloodline. This is also our first look at Malcolm and we get an idea of what a jerk he is… although the true breadth of that isn’t seen until later stories.

Savage” – narrator: Clay – This is the meatiest story in the bunch. Here Clay tells us the story of how he became a werewolf and how Jeremy took him into the Pack. We see firsthand the events that turn Clay into the man we know… why he cares so little for human conventions, why he is so loyal to Jeremy, and even how he became friends with Nick. We get the oft-mentioned “guinea pig” story and see the events that turned Clay and Daniel into enemies… a pivotal development that lays the foundation for Bitten. The story also gives insight into Jeremy and his early relationships with both his father and the other members of the Pack. It’s definitely a switch from the reverence the other wolves hold for him now. This is a great story and it’s worth getting the book, even for this novella alone.

Ascension” – narrator: Clay – This story feels almost like an extension of the one before. It picks up with Clay at 11 years old and shows, through his perspective, Jeremy’s rise to pack Alpha. It’s a process that spans more than a decade. In that time, we see how Clay becomes the Pack enforcer; how he gained the reputation as a psychotic killer; even what’s in those pictures of his dirty-work that we’ve heard reference to. The story shows how the Pack has come to be in its current form and why its numbers have dwindled… and most importantly, how Malcolm was finally defeated. Really good stuff.

Kitsunegari” – narrator: Jeremy – In “Infusion,” we learned that Jeremy came from a line of supernatural women, but it’s in this story, we finally find out what they were. Jeremy is with Jamie, attending one of her shows, when he is lured away by an Asian woman. She tries to seduce him, but with no luck. Jeremy is able to eventually determine that she is one of an ancient race of fox-shifter deities and they want Jeremy to help them repopulate, since he is descended from the worshippers infused with their powers. This was probably the least thrilling of the four stories, though I did like the little bit of backstory Jeremy gives about how and when he started falling for Jamie.

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories… and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the collection to any Otherworld fan. 5 stars.

Men of the Otherworld
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: January 27, 2009
Publisher: Bantam Books

Review: Hit List

This is the best Anita Blake book I have read since Narcissus in Chains. And it brought in to focus for me what I really like about this series and what I really don’t.

In many ways, it reminded me of Obsidian Butterfly. It’s a road trip book. Anita is working a case as a US Marshall along with Edward, and eventually Bernardo and Olaf. She’s bad-ass and snarky. The other law-enforcement agents are threatened by her. (We get constant reminders that she’s more of a man than most of the men.) But supernatural insights and killer skills make her uniquely qualified to solve the case. Only this time, the victims aren’t humans. The Harlequin is killing off were-tigers and they’re gunning for Anita… hoping to reel her in and hand her over to Marme Noir to inhabit her body.

Other reviews have likened Hit List to the “old-Anita” books. I’m not sure that’s entirely how I’d characterize it. The reason boils down to one word: “metaphysical.” I thought it was simply the ardeur that muddied this series for me, but almost as much, I think is all this metaphysical stuff. I like Anita solving mysteries, kicking ass… hell, I even enjoy some of the sex. But I’m getting to the point where I cringe every time I read the word “metaphysical.” Just kill something, dammit.

I actually liked the new guy and her encounter with him. The problem is that now he’s going back to St Louis to become another man in the harem. There are already too many to keep straight. Thank God, LKH did a recap of the bodyguards who came to help, because I would have never remembered them otherwise. (And to be honest, I still can’t place Ares or Socrates. And who the hell is Dev?) The only word I hate more than “metaphysical” is “sweeties,” by the way. The ardeur doesn’t overwhelm this book and I’m grateful for that, but I wish we didn’t have the frequent reminders that Anita is boffing a 17 year-old at home. Her telling us about he wants to have sex and cuddle after homework brings the squick-factor to heights few books can accomplish.

But for the most part, I liked the book. The Edward-Anita dynamic is fantastic and it’s interesting to see how his character is softening towards her. The development with Olaf was unexpected but very cool, in my opinion. And I’m glad to see the Mother of Darkness storyline finally put to bed… I hope. We’ll see if the next book can hold up to the same quality, when Anita’s regular dozen guys are all around and waiting to be serviced. 4 stars.

Hit List
by Laurell K Hamilton
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Publisher: Berkley

Review: The Darkest Heart

From the blurb on the back, The Darkest Heart sounds like everything I love in a book: dark, historical, paranormal, erotic. But it didn’t quite hit the mark, for a few reasons.

The story features Senna, a girl who has used her wits to stay alive on the streets. Now she has devised a con that she thinks will find her a more permanent home. She sends a letter to the Countess Lazlaric, pretending to be a poor relation in need of home. And it works. Of course, Senna has no idea that the Countess is a vampire who plans to use her as a broodmare to extend the family line. The Countess pushes her son Charles on Senna, leaving the young woman very little choice in the matter: succumb or head back to the streets.

In the meantime, Nicolai is working to ruin the Countess’ plan. He is her son too, but unlike Charles, he is a vampire. His mother turned him years ago and he has never forgiven her. So he figures he’ll make her miserable by taking Senna for his own. And he takes his sweet time. The book is practically halfway over before his seduction moves beyond nibbles on her ear. And then, it’s like going from drought to flood… and there’s sex at every turn. But here’s the thing: I don’t see how Senna developed feelings for Nicolai. I’m not talking about sexual attraction, but feelings. They have sex in her sleep. A lot. They don’t talk or spend any kind of time together when he’s not trying to get her pregnant. Sure, the erotic pull is there, but it’s hard for me to really get invested in them when they only have sex between them… no matter how good the sex is.

There’s also some world building that kind of tripped me up. Out of nowhere, there is a rival vampire line who is Nicolai’s arch-enemy. Suddenly everyone’s a vampire. Well, everyone except Senna. And when all is said and done, I’m left wondering, How did we get here? Making things infinitely worse for me, the ending is a cliffhanger. There is not even a resolution. Grrr. It wasn’t terrible, but I doubt I’ll read the sequel. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by Simon & Schuster

The Darkest Heart
by Thea Devine
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review: No Humans Involved

Reviewed by Jen

I’ve been waiting for Jamie’s story ever since Industrial Magic. It’s hard for me to say why exactly, but I’m pretty sure that it has something to do with the embarrassing crush she has on werewolf alpha, Jeremy. I mean, you expect crushes from young, inexperienced heroines, but Jamie is 44 years-old. She is sexy and she is secure in her own skin… except when it comes to Jeremy. In his presence, she turns into an adorable fool, and it is completely impossible for me not to root for her.

So finally, after four years of carrying a huge torch for the man, Jamie is finally getting some alone time with Jeremy. He’s coming to visit her on the set of the supernatural tv special she is working on. Jamie is holed up in a house with two other “psychics” to try to figure out the mysteries of Marilyn Monroe’s death. Of course, the other two aren’t necromancers, like Jamie, so they don’t feel the strange pull coming from the garden. As Jamie opens her senses, she realizes that she has stumbled into something truly terrible… that the garden is filled with the tattered spirits of child ghosts. So she and Jeremy team up to investigate who killed the kids what dark magic has weakened their spirits.

Joining the two is half-demon Hope. (She was first introduced in a short story, called “Chaotic” in the anthology Dates From Hell. She’s sort-of a love interest for the werewolf Karl we met in Bitten. It’s easy to pick up the essentials of their relationship in the course of this book, but I can imagine that without the short story, you might feel like you’re missing something.) Hope uses her contacts as a tabloid journalist to help them get a pulse on the local magical community. And her participation sets her up as the narrator for the coming book.

The murder storyline was very dark. But different, because the real villains here were plain old human monsters and their victims, the most fragile of us all. I don’t think I’ve wanted to see folks die in the this series more than I wanted to see this group bite the dust.

But let’s get back to Jamie and Jeremy. I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin waiting for the big payoff between the two of them.  And when it finally happened, I wanted more! I know Kelley Armstrong isn’t an erotica author, but I could have enjoyed a few in-depth pages of smexy description, if you know what I mean. The tension has been building for ages between these two! I wasn’t terribly thrilled with how they left things, though I understand it. I just hope to see more of them in the future. 4 1/2 stars.

No Humans Involved
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: May 1, 2007
Publisher: Bantam Books

Review: Broken

Reviewed by Jen

Kelley Armstrong returns to her Otherworld roots, in this sixth installment of her series… by bringing back Elena as her narrator. We’ve only seen sporadic glimpses of our favorite werewolf over the course of the last few books. Those cameos were enough to assure us that she and Clay were going strong. And now they’re closer than ever… Elena is pregnant.

Of course, she’s a bit worried. After all, she’s the only female werewolf, making her pregnancy unprecedented. But on top of her concerns, she’s dealing with a boredom she can’t quite shake. So she’s excited to get a call from Xavier Reese. He’s the half-demon we met in Stolen, who helped Elena out of a tough spot with some guards. He proposes a deal to her: He’ll help her find a man-killing mutt, if she agrees to help him procure an old artifact. It’s called the From Hell letter, and is purported to have been written by Jack the Ripper.

Unfortunately, there are complications. When Elena, Clay and Jeremy get ahold of the letter, they inadvertently open a portal, releasing 19th century zombies into Toronto. They begin wreaking havoc on the city while zeroing in on Elena. It’s not exactly the quiet pregnancy Clay and Jeremy had wanted for her, but they can’t ignore what’s happening.

Jamie the necromancer is back to help them with their cause. Again, I really like her. And I wish Jeremy would just wake up and return her feelings. His stoicism annoys me. –Anyway, it’s an action-packed book. Not quite as much of the sexual element as in most Elena books, but she’s big and pregnant, so I guess I understand. As always, I love Clay and it’s nice that he is finally getting closer to the relationship with Elena that he’s always wanted. This is probably my least favorite of the Elena books, but it’s still a solid installment. 4 stars.

by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: April 25, 2006
Publisher: Bantam Books