Archives for December 2011

My Favorite Books of 2011

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

by Karen Marie Moning
You had to be living under a rock to have missed the reaction to this amazing book and phenomenal series. It stands head and shoulders above the rest as the best book I read in 2011. It’s dark, gritty, sexy, and powerful. If you haven’t read the Fever books, you need to read them in their entirety. The series doesn’t start strong, but if you ever heed my advice about anything, trust me when I say that these books are worth it.
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Pale Demon by Kim Harrison
Kim Harrison took her Hollows series to a whole new level with this outstanding ninth installment in the series. If you gave up on the Rachel Morgan books early on, it’s worth it to give them another try… if for no other reason than so that you can read and enjoy this masterpiece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mention:
The Restorer by Amanda Stevens
Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews
What are some of your favorites? Feel free to link to your blog if you’ve got a list of your own!

Review: Kiss of Twilight

Reviewed by Jen

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

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

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

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

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

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

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

Review: Trouble at the Wedding

Reviewed by Jen

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

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

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

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

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

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

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

Review: Just Like Cats and Dogs

Reviewed by Jen
 

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

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

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

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

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

*Book provided by author

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

A Little Lube Never Hurt Anybody

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

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

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

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

Thoughts? Please share.

Review: Shield of Fire

Reviewed by Jen

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

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

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

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

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

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

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

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

Review: No Rest for the Witches

Reviewed by Jen

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

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

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

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

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

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

Series Reading Order: Dark Mission

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

*Denotes short story/ novella

Review: Unearthed

Reviewed by Jen

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

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

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

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

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Unearthed
by CJ Barry
Release Date: October 3, 2011
Publisher: Carina Press
Originally Published: May 2005 by Dorchester

Review: Hidden

Reviewed by Jen

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

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

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

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

Click to purchase: Amazon
Hidden
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: December 2011
Publisher: Subterranean Press