Archives for September 2011

Review: Studenstein

Reviewed by Jen

**WARNING: This review is intended for readers 18 and older. It contains coarse language and adult themes. If you think you may be offended, you might want to skip this one. **

After spending 15 minutes trying to find a tactful way to say this, I have given up. So I’m just going to come out with it: Reading about a woman screwing a guy in the ass with a strap-on dildo is not generally my cuppa tea. That being said, if it doesn’t bother you –or if it kind of floats your boat– “Studenstein” is actually a pretty entertaining novella.

Our heroine, Shani, is a reanimated corpse who was brought back to life to be a sex-slave.  She now works with others of her kind to free those still enslaved by the corporations who created them and programmed them for pleasure.  As the story begins, she is on a mission to rescue Royce, a sex-bot who doesn’t even realize he needs saving.  Once she spirits him away, she discovers that he experiences serious pain if he can’t have an orgasm every so often.  Unfortunately, he can’t feel his dick, so that really limits his options.

Shani is very wary of sex.  In fact, she hasn’t touched a man since she gained her freedom.  But she is willing to strap on the, er, strap-on… to give Royce the release he needs.  Frequently.  The end goal is to get him to her people, who can remove the devices that allowed his creators to control him.

The novella has pretty solid world building, especially considering its length.  Like I said, the female topping didn’t really push my hot buttons. But I did like the dynamic between Shani and Royce.  Shani is empathetic without being maudlin.  And despite some of the darker themes, there are definite moments of levity.  This was my favorite:

“She felt like a princess descending her throne. A zombie princess, getting ready to fuck a guy in the ass in the kingdom of a crappy motel room.”

That is pretty funny.

It turns out that this is actually the second installment in a series following the undead sex-bots. But this works easily as a stand-alone.  I’m kind of struggling to rate this one, but it was certainly fun to read.   4 stars.

*ARC provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
by Daisy Harris
Release Date: September 16, 2011
Publisher: Ellora’s Cave

Review: In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster

Reviewed by Jen

A mysterious Scottish laird is on the hunt for a Cynster sister to become his wife. He doesn’t really want to do it; His mother is forcing him through blackmail. His first attempt to secure a Cynster wife failed when Heather Cynster got away from the kidnappers he hired (in Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue.) Now, he is hoping for better luck by hiring a new man to snatch her younger sister Eliza.

But shortly after the kidnappers take to the road with their quarry in hand, Eliza manages to gain the attention of a gentleman in a passing carriage.  That man, Jeremy Carling, will eventually become her rescuer.  But escape from the captors is only the beginning.  The laird and the man he hired won’t let them get away so easily.  The story follows their pursuit of the couple, as they try to make their way back to England and to safety.

The basic plot of the book is a great deal like its predecessor.  The biggest difference is that here, more time in the story is focused on the getaway than the time our heroine spends in captivity.  The love story is ok.  Neither our hero or heroine is flighty or fickle.  There is a quiet surety to their relationship as it develops.  And despite their own insecurities, there is never any doubt to their feelings for each other.

But this book was far too long.  The first half had decent pacing, but the second half just went on and on.  Too many love scenes in too much detail. (Holy cow! I never thought I would say that about a book.)  While they were good at the beginning, they lost their magic by the third or fourth round.  And the maps.  Good gravy, they consulted the maps every five minutes. And described the routes and roadways in excruciating detail.  I found my eyes jumping over chunks of text every time someone pulled out a map because I knew what was coming next.

The story was most effective when it focused on Eliza and Jeremy discovering their feelings. It was also gratifying to watch them grow as individuals as they learned to be a couple.  The laird is also interesting as we learn bits and pieces about him and his motivations.  But the book was bloated.  I believe an aggressive editor could have streamlined this into a much stronger piece. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster
by Stephanie Laurens
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Publisher: Avon

Favorites: Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy is one of my very favorite genres. Occasionally, people ask me for recommendations. There are so many great stories out there.  Here are a few of my favorites:

by Karen Marie Moning

At the moment, this series reigns as my number one favorite, not only in Urban Fantasy, but in all books, period. I would have never believed it if you told me that while I was reading Darkfever. I almost put that first book down more than once, mostly because I didn’t like the main character. MacKayla Lane was everything I am not (and never have been.) She was perky, bubbly, blond, and innocent. Until her sister is mysteriously killed during a trip to Ireland. Mac puts her life on hold to travel around the world, to find out what happened to her sister and get justice. There, she finds out that nothing is what it seems. The Fae are real and their world is bleeding into ours. She meets a sexy and mysterious man named Jericho Barrons and together, they search for a Fae book of untold power that is somehow tied to Mac and her lost sister.This series is dark, gripping, sexy and absolutely brilliant. There are five books in the first main arc and each one ends with a cliffhanger leading up to the last installment. If you ever take my advice on anything, believe me when I say these two things: 1) Read the Fever series; And 2) Do not start them until you have all five books in front of you. I promise that the moment you put one down, you’ll be desperate to start the next one. At least I was. Simply outstanding.

Click to purchase Darkfever (Fever Series, Book 1)

Kate Daniels
by Ilona Andrews
I’ll admit that I resisted picking up one of these books for a long time because of the cover art. Each book features a lion and a woman with a sword.  I remember thinking to myself, “That’s fantasy, not Urban Fantasy.” But after being inundated with recommendations, I broke down and started reading.

The world Kate Daniels lives in, is one where magic vies with technology for prevalence in everyday life. When the “magic is up,” machines don’t work. When the “tech is up,” magic is dormant. The battle for supremacy has left much of Atlanta in ruins. As the series begins, Kate is a mercenary who solves problems that are supernatural in nature. But after her guardian is killed, her investigation ties her to his old employer and to Curran, the leader of the shapeshifting community. The dynamic between Kate and Curran is fantastic… and ultimately sexy. Kate is strong, loyal, funny and brave. She is without a doubt my favorite UF heroine. Some people find the world-building a little murky in the first book, but it gets clearer over time. The writing is fast and witty; And the secondary characters are fleshed out, empathetic, and clearly defined. These are books with equal parts action, humor, and heart. I love them.

Click to purchase: Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, Book 1)

The Hollows
by Kim Harrison
It took me a few books to fall in love with this series.  But by the time I hit book 5, I was completely and irrevocably head-over-heels.  The main character of the series is Rachel Morgan.  She is a witch of seemingly average skill who works for the I.S., an agency made up of supernaturals who police others of their own kind.  But she wants to branch out on her own and she ends up starting a private firm with a vampire named Ivy and a pixie named Jenks.  The stories follow Rachel’s adventures as she deals with everything from werewolves and demons, to fairies and leprechauns. But at the heart of this series are the interpersonal relationships that Rachel develops with the people in her inner circle. There is romance, action, loss, and redemption.  And the characters have such depth.  Even the villains are layered and likable in some ways.  This series has now come to a close, but the ending satisfies.

Click to purchase: Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows, Book 1)

Downside Ghosts
by Stacia Kane

This series is like no other I have ever read.  The heroine is a drug addict. She is fundamentally broken in many ways by neglect and abuse.  She makes bad decisions.  But Chess Putnam hasn’t given up on life. She maintains loyalty to the Church that employs her and does her job well, banishing ghosts for them.  And for the first time, she is falling in love.  The object of her affection, Terrible, is officially one of my favorite male leads of all time.  He is an uneducated, unattractive thug.  But he loves Chess in a way that turns him into a damn prince.  The series is gritty and disturbing at times.  Plus, the characters use an odd street slang that takes some getting used to.  It’s all so unusual, I almost gave up on the first book.  But I’m so glad I didn’t.  At this point, I am so invested in these characters, it is almost embarrassing.  Stacia Kane is such a talent.  I freaking love these books.

Click to purchase: Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, Book 1)

by Kelly Armstrong

One of the things I love most about the Otherworld series is just how rich the world-building is. Each one of these books features a different main character, but some favorites get more than one book. What’s more, as we get further and further into the series, everyone’s stories become so interconnected that it creates one big picture that I never dreamed of back in the beginning.  The early books focus on a werewolf named Elena, her love/hate relationship with her lover Clay, and her struggles to accept what she is.  Later books feature a witch named Paige, a necromancer named Jamie, and a ghost named Eve… among many others.  Most of these books would still work as stand-alones, but the history and background is part of what makes it all so good.  The books progress in nearly real-time.  With the first book out more than 10 years ago, that’s how much time has passed in the stories as well. But Armstrong is so awesome, she fills in the blanks with a wealth of short stories available free on her website.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in these fantastic tales.  There is plenty of plot driven action and enough romance to satisfy those of us who want some love in our stories.

Click to purchase: Bitten: A Novel (Otherworld, Book 1)

Cassie Palmer
by Karen Chance
This series may not be for everyone. But if you don’t mind a few time-travel induced brain twisters, you should check it out.  Cassie is a clairvoyant who grew up with vampires.  As her power increases, she becomes a highly prized member of the supernatural community.  She becomes a target for those who want to kill her, those who want to control her, and those who just want her.  Yep, there is some really good sexual tension in these books and more than one strong contender as a HEA for the heroine.  The series features not only vamps, but demons, Fae and other supernaturals.  And there is a lot of time travel, which left me scratching my head a couple of times.  But it was totally worth it.

Click to purchase: Touch the Dark (Cassandra Palmer, Book 1)

Charley Davidson
by Darynda Jones
Charley Davidson is a snarky, tough, brave and engaging PI and police consultant, who also happens to be the grim reaper.  This series follows her life as she solves crimes and help the dead cross over to the other side.  And perhaps, most importantly, it takes us along for the ride as Charley tries to figure out the enigma otherwise known as the sexy and powerful Reyes Farrow.  These books are a thrill ride from beginning to end.  They are sexy.  And they are so, so funny. Charley’s dry wit had me laughing out loud over and over again.  The series is unpredictable and engaging and I am 100% in love with it.

Click to purchase: First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, Book 1)

Elemental Assassin
by Jennifer Estep
Gin Blanco is an awesome, kick-ass killer-for-hire who wields the power of multiple elements.  Her family was killed when she was a child, and she was taken in by an old assassin named Fletcher. He raised her and taught her his craft, making her one of the best in the business.  The stories follow Gin as she begins to use her skills to fight the good fight. She takes up causes for people in need and shows that she is a really good person beneath all that killing.  Gin has a wonderful second family that is really her bedrock; they showcase her ability to love and be loved, despite the loner she thinks herself to be.  The series is creative, fun, and the author doesn’t shy away from who her characters really are.

Click to purchase: Spider’s Bite (Elemental Assassin, Book 1)

Shaede Assassin
by Amanda Bonilla
Darian started her life as an ordinary human. But a mysterious man with extraordinary gifts rescued her from the confines of an abusive relationship and helped her transition into a nearly immortal Shaede.  She uses her new abilities to become an assassin, cut-off from relationships and emotion. But that all changes as she finds others of her kind and falls in love with a man who is totally crazy about her.  I love this series.  The heroine is emotionally stunted, but we get to watch her evolution –both in her personal life and as we see her powers grow.  Tyler is a great hero: patient, loyal and powerful. And there’s an engaging cast of secondary characters that grow in importance as the series goes on.  Whirlwind action, great world-building and a romance to root for makes this an Urban Fantasy series you don’t want to miss!

Click to purchase: Shaedes of Gray (Shaede Assassin, Book 1)

October Daye
by Seanan McGuire
I did not love the first book in this series. Or even the second. But the third time was the charm and from then on out, I totally fell in love with this series about a half-blood fae named Toby.  As a half blood, she fits in nowhere, and has lived on the outskirts of life, but as the series progresses, she finds her place among friends and risks herself over an over again to help those who need her.  Like so many great Urban Fantasy series, it gets stronger and stronger, the longer you read. You need to start with Rosemary and Rue, and stick with it. The events of that first book are the blocks on which Toby’s story is built.

Click to purchase: Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, Book 1)

I may add to this post if I think of any I left off.  But I’d love to hear from you.  What are you favorite UF reads?  I’m always looking for new books to love.

Review: Where Demons Fear to Tread

Reviewed by Jen

Julian is one of the top dogs in the demon hierarchy.  In just 200 years, he has climbed the ranks to Archdemon.  He seduces the innocent; he revels in debauchery.  Or at least, he always has.

Serena is guardian angel. She follows her charge Nick into Julian’s club one night, having no idea she is stepping into a demon’s realm.  Her beauty and innocence captivate Julian and he decides he must have her.  Serena feels the attraction too, but she is determined to stay true to her righteous path.

When Julian manipulates Serena into spending a week with him in Sin City, he is sure he’ll break down her resolve.  But instead, she begins breaking down the walls he has spent centuries building around his tattered soul.  Can a demon know love?  And what could it mean for his chances of redemption?

I’ll bet you know the answers to those questions without even reading the story.  And that leads me to one of my two complaints about the book. It’s a bit predictable.  With the notable exception of Nick’s path, you can pretty much figure out what’s going to happen from chapter one.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the ride. I did. Julian is sexy and angsty in all the right places. He makes for a great reluctant hero and reforming bad boy. There is good sexual tension and the love scenes are steamy.

Lucianna makes for a good villain in that she is completely off the chain crazy and that makes her very dangerous.  I believe she would happily cut anyone’s throat in the blink of an eye.  Then bathe in their blood.

I can’t say I was as crazy about Serena as I was Julian.  (Here comes that second complaint.)  She was oh-so-good and so very innocent.  But one kiss from Julian and she wants to jump his bones.  Obviously, she shows restraint. But would such a beacon of virtue have to fight her carnal impulses so hard?  Plus, at times, she is almost too good for me to relate to.

That being said, I still really wanted things to work out for them.  And I liked watching it all unfold. I’m interested to see where the series will go next.  Almost 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by Mira via NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Where Demons Fear to Tread
by Stephanie Chong
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Publisher: Mira

Review: The Seduction of Scandal

Reviewed by Jen

Lady Corrine is being forced into a marriage she doesn’t want.  While many other women consider Lord Freddie to be a catch, she sees his true colors.  But her parents won’t let her cry off, even after she finds him in bed with her maid.  So she does the only thing she can do: she runs away.

During her escape, she stumbles into the path of the notorious Thorn.  He’s something of a Robin Hood, stealing from the wealthy and greedy Lord Sherwin to help the common people.  He has a reputation as a dangerous man, but Corrine quickly figures out his true nature.  Thorn agrees to hide her until she outlasts her engagement, because he realizes that she puts his true identity at risk.

All of this is pretty engaging, especially since we know that Thorn’s alter ego has been nursing a crush on Corrine for years.  But Corrine goes from tolerating him, to respecting him, to being in love with him in the space of about five seconds.  In fact, when she declared her love for him, I actually flipped back in the book, sure I had missed something. It was that abrupt.

I liked the premise. The writing was smooth and the dialogue was engaging, but I was perplexed by the progression of the relationship.  The speed, of course, but then also Thorn’s continued reticence, even after it was clear Corrine returned his feelings.  I was satisfied well enough by the ending, but I felt like what was supposed to be a big surprise… was actually kind of predictable.

This book didn’t entirely live up to its promise. But there were parts I enjoyed, like Corrine’s spirit and Thorn’s true vein of heroism.  A little more than 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

The Seduction of Scandal
by Cathy Maxwell
Release Date: August 30, 2011
Publisher: Avon

Favorites: Blogs

There are so many great book blogs out there and I find more every day.  Since I started this site, the blogging community has been so welcoming and interactive.  I talk with many other reviewers, some daily, on Goodreads and Twitter. And I love visiting their blogs.  It makes reading and reviewing a much richer experience. 
Some of my favorite blogs are already big and successful. But some are still waiting to be discovered by the masses.  Here are some sites worth paying a visit:
Smexy Books 
When my blog grows up, I hope it turns out like Smexy.
Not exactly the same, of course. We all need our own identity. But Mandi provides insightful and balanced reviews; great author interviews; huge giveaways; and features that are equal parts snarky, lusty, and fun.  She is interactive with both followers and authors. An A+ site for romance fans.

 Fiction Vixen
This is another big one.  Fiction Vixen reviews so many of the books I am interested in.  The blog design is clean and easy to navigate.  Sophia cracks me up with her llama obsession and peen pictures during Random Friday posts.  And you can be sure, someone is always reading your comments and responding.  A class act.
 Parajunkee’s View
First I have to give Rachel credit for the look of my blog. She designed it.  I also have to give her big props for the care she takes to help out new book bloggers.  Her Book Blogging 101 features answered a lot of questions I had early on. And I am still learning new things from her.  Parajunkee features Urban Fantasy as well as a healthy dose of YA reviews… as well as features and giveaways.

Under the Covers
This blog features some of my very favorite friends from Goodreads & Twitter.  Suzanne, Ann, and Francesca share my taste in books. They are great to dish with and they’ve given me some great recommendations and feedback. The blog also features a Hottie of the Week, which I thoroughly enjoy clicking on for a bit of hot man action. (You know I have a weakness for Man Candy!)
I also enjoy visiting:
I’m always finding new blogs, so I may add to this list.  But I’d also love to hear from you. All recommendations are welcome.

Review: By Any Other Name

Reviewed by Jen

Thom and Dru have been in a committed and loving relationship for three years, when a phone call comes that will change their lives.  Skye, Dru’s best friend from childhood, is being released from a mental hospital.  He’s been there for two years, recovering from horrible and extreme sexual abuse at the hands of an uncle.

Dru hasn’t seen or heard from Skye in seven years, but he knows his old friend has no one else to turn to.  So he and Thom decide to take him into their home.

Things are rough at first. Syke is very fragile.  But the feelings Dru had for him as a teenager come rushing back.  Even Thom is not immune to the pull Skye generates.  But is there any chance for a future for the three men with the baggage each carries?  Skye’s issues are obvious, but Dru has big abandonment issues and Thom has serious insecurities, especially when it comes to the relationship that means so much to him.

There are parts of the story that really worked for me.  The love between Thom and Dru is tangible.  The evolution of their feelings for Skye was well-done and believable.  The author also did a really good job portraying Skye’s confusion about his sexuality and his reticence to explore a relationship with men.  I couldn’t put the book down, waiting to see how things would play out.

But I did have a some problems.  First of all, the introduction of Syke’s backstory from his doctor was abrupt and the degree of his abuse was almost too big to really take in. My other issue is the pseudo time-jump near the end. I understand why we don’t see Skye hop into bed right away.  In fact, I would have balked if he were able to be physical too quickly.  But I wasn’t happy with the way we blew through the weeks/months of the newly formed relationship with just a bit of narrative.  I would have liked to see some of that happen, instead of just hearing about it in a brief wrap-up.

That being said, I liked the book.  It had a lot of emotion and I found myself empathizing with all three of the men… especially Thom.  The sex was good. It’s not down and dirty, but loving and meaningful.  I’m usually really skeptical in menage stories, but I believed in this one.  I would read from this author again.  Just under 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

By Any Other Name
by Tia Fielding
Release Date: August 22, 2011
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Review: Knight’s Curse

Reviewed by Jen

Let me start out with a warning that this is not a romance. I thought it might be from the blurb… but it’s really an Urban Fantasy with a hint of a vague promise of a wispy tendril of a romance.

Chalice is something more than human. She has extremely sharp senses and she knows that whatever she is, her mother was the same. Unfortunately, the woman died moments after Chalice was born, so she never really understood her heritage. She was raised by monks in her early childhood, but then kidnapped and forced into slavery by a nefarious group of magic manipulators, called the Vyantara. Her handler is Gavin, a cruel and powerful man who has tied her life to a gargoyle… and through that tie, he forces her to steal magical artifacts. If she refuses or runs away, she’ll turn into a gargoyle herself.

Her latest assignment puts her in the path of Aydin, another supernaturally enhanced being forced into servitude by the Vyantara. But he knows so much more about magic… even about Chalice herself. He helps her break through some of barriers she has built and the prejudices indoctrinated in her by Gavin and his cohorts. With his help, she learns about her heritage and her destiny and allows herself to finally hope for a better future.

The world-building was interesting here. It definitely felt fresh and unique. But I found myself always waiting for more. More resolution. More satisfaction. More between Chalice and Aydin. And I didn’t get it. By the time I got to the end of the book, I felt more like I had just read a long a set-up than a complete novel. Don’t get me wrong, it was entertaining, but it was equally frustrating. All the build, build, build and then it’s over. It didn’t even feel like a cliffhanger so much as that it just stopped midway through the story. Grr.

I guess it’s telling that I want to find out what happens to Chalice. I want to find out the deal with her dad… whether that disembodied head will ever be reunited with its body… and what’s up with the guardian angel. And of course, whether Chalice and Aydin will ever get PAST FIRST BASE. Maybe in the next installment. 3 1/2 stars.

P.S. (Click here if you have already read the book.) I was very disappointed in Chalice that she would suggest that Aydin should kill his gargoyle to save himself.  He made it very clear that he cared for the beast –that it was once a man and had a good heart. No way would he kill it to recapture his humanity. Fail.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Knight’s Curse
by Karen Duvall
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Publisher: Luna

Review: One Night in London

Reviewed by Jen

Edward de Lacey is the second son of the Duke of Durham.  And as his father dies, Edward learns that the old man had been keeping a very big secret.  It seems the Duke was married before he met Edward’s mother –and never divorced.  If that comes to light, not only will Edward and his brothers lose the estate, but their legitimacy as well.  So Edward rushes off to the finest lawyer in town, hoping to secure his family’s future.

He has no idea Francesca has hopes of using the very same attorney to help her gain custody of her niece.  The girl’s stepmother is refusing her access to the child, even though Francesca’s brother-in-law promised her custody before he died.  This attorney is her last hope… and he accepts her case.  But then Edward swoops in with his problems and the lawyer drops her instantly.

Devastated and furious, Francesca confronts Edward, demanding his help, to repay her for stealing the lawyer out from under her.  Of course, he blows her off at first. But later, when she helps him in a way that no one else can, he agrees help her in return.  Once they start working together, it’s just a matter of time before they give in to the attraction between them.

There are alot of things I liked about this book.  I liked that Francesca was a widow and not the trembling virgin that is the female lead for most historical romances.  I liked that their feelings for each other were not instant, but grew over the course of the book.  I liked their explosion of passion when they finally came together. And maybe most importantly, I liked that neither of them were ever dishonorable toward the other.  They treated each other well at all times and never lost their loyalty or honesty.  (There is one little blip at the end, but it’s a small matter and is resolved quickly.)

I really enjoyed the prequel I Love the Earl for many of the same reasons.  And while they never mention Edward’s father by name, I believe he is Francis, brother to the heroine in that novella.  It appears there are more stories to come, featuring Edward’s brothers –and I look forward to reading what’s next for Charlie and Gerard. Almost 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

One Night in London
by Caroline Linden
Release Date: August 30, 2011
Publisher: Avon

Kate Daniels: Short Stories & Novellas

Curran (Vol 1-7): It’s pretty impossible to review the Curran collections.  They’re not really short stories, just little snippets from the Beast King’s perspective.  We find out what was going through his mind the very first time he met Kate:

“She crouched with her hand out. What the hell was she doing…
‘Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.’
Oh my God, she was retarded and I was going to kill Jim.”

We get his perpective, feeding Kate the soup in Magic Burns… how he talks Julie into letting him out of the cage in Magic Strikes… and how he felt seeing Kate with Saiman in Magic Bleeds.  In Volume 2, Curran rips into his alphas for how Kate was treated while he was unconscious in Magic Bleeds and in Volume 3, he fights it out with Mahon. Volume 4, shows us the scene where Jim explains to Curran who Kate’s father really is.  Volume 5, gives us Curran’s perspective of the hot tub scene where he almost gets busy with Kate in Magic Strikes.  Hot stuff!!! Volume 6 shows Curran’s POV on the day of the Panty Dinner he misses between Magic Strikes and Magic Bleeds. And Volume 7 is the second part of that story.

While these are short, they are not to be missed. You can find them free on Ilona’s website.

A Questionable Client: This story is set chronologically before the events of the first book, but it would be a much better read after you’re familiar with the series.  This is the backstory of how Kate met Saiman.  She is hired to work as his bodyguard to protect him from some Russians he stole from.  Kate fascinates him.  This is also the origin of Saiman’s quest to find the perfect form to seduce Kate.  A great story for fans of the series.

Magic Mourns: This short story begins shortly after the events of Magic Strikes.  Kate is recovering from her injuries and Andrea is covering for her with the Order.  When she gets a call about a giant dog with its tail on fire, she goes to check it out.  When she arrives, she finds Raphael, running from a Cerebus.  The two manage to escape the beast and he explains that he ran into thing while searching for his step-father’s missing body.

The story follows Andrea and Raphael as they work to figure out what happened to corpse, why it’s under guard by the Cerebus and what vampires have to do with the whole thing.  Of course, for me, the action just gives us an excuse to finally put Andrea and Raphael together.  He’s been working so hard to garner her affection and here is where she finally lets her guard down.  In the process, we see how truly vulnerable she is and why its so hard for her to let him in.

And even though she comes to call him her mate, this passage really stands out as a portend that they have a rough road ahead:

“Some part of me had hoped that once we had sex, everything would smooth itself out. But in the end, he was still insecure and I was still broken. Sex was simple. Being together was alot more complicated.”

Magic Dreams: I don’t know if it would really be fair to call this “Jim and Dali’s story.”  Maybe it’s the Prologue to Jim and Dal’s story.  It was very obvious in Magic Bleeds that these two had a thing for each other.  This story is told in Dali’s voice as she tries to save Jim from a soul-sucking spell that is likely to kill him.  Her dedication to his survival shows the depths of her feelings and it’s really very sweet.  But just when we were finally getting the payoff, it ended.  I turned the page and there was no more story.  At that point, I cursed Ilona and Gordon in every language I know.  (Granted, that’s only one language, but the intent was still there.)

I hope we see more of these two as they try to make a go of things.

Magic Gifts – Reviewed separately… here.

Magic Tests – This gives us a peek inside of Julie’s head, as Kate gives her a mission at the place she may attend school. Another student is missing and Julie must use both her training and her sensate abilities to track the girl down. Julie’s voice sounds a lot like Kate’s here, but I thought it was cool seeing through her magic colored lens. Also, we get to see Yu Fong again… the dragon teen from “Magic Dreams.” I wonder what role he will play in Julie’s life moving forward.

“A Questionable Client” can be found in the anthology Dark & Stormy Knights.  “Magic Mourns” can be found in the anthology Must Love Hellhounds.  “Magic Dreams” can be found in the Hexed anthology. “Magic Gifts” was originally released on Ilona Andrews website. It was also published in the back of Gunmetal Magic. “Magic Tests” originally appeared in the anthology An Apple for the Creature. Then it was published in the back of Magic Slays.