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Binge reading in the blanket fort: Dragon Actually & the Dragon Kin series by G.A. Aiken

{F13714B9-21D4-47F2-AD89-20533F15C6AF}Img100Reading has always been a refuge for me. Romance the lifesaver I clung to when my family hit a particularly rough patch.  Our country and maybe the whole world is in one such rough patch right now. As a reader I’ve retreated to series and familiar authors. To world or words that felt familiar and comforting.

In the days leading up to the inauguration I binge read G.A. Aiken’s Dragon Kin books. I love Shelly Laurenston/ G.A. Aiken’s absolutely bonkers, and bloodthirsty heroines and her arrogant and frequently befuddled heroes under whatever pen name she is writing under.

In Dragon Actually, the heroine, Annwyl the Bloody is the bastard daughter of tyrant, leading a rebellion against her even more vicious brother. Fearghus The Destroyer, is dragon sick and tired of people, not to mention his large and annoying family, who stumbles upon Annwyl as she cuts down soldiers who had ambushed her. Instead of eating her,  Fearghus instead uses his magics and that off his sister’s to heal Annwyl.  I loved the friendship & hesitant romance that grows between Annywl and Fearghus.  

Laurenston/Aiken’s sense of the ridiculous is spot on as she has Annwyl and Ferghus end up in a unlikely love-lust triangle, as Annwyl slowly falls in love with the Dragon while lusting for the Knight, her trainer, not knowing he is Fearghus in his human form. But that storyline is not simply for laughs and hotness, but it helps flesh out Annwyl’s guarded personality. She feels safe with the Dragon, precisely because he is a dragon and not a man. With the Knight, she can explore her desires and wants in a way she has never been able to before, surrounded by either her brother’s villainy and cruelty or her soldier’s admiration and loyalty.

I eventually blew through the rest of the Dragon Kin stories.  I was caught up in the multigenerational saga of that unfolded in the series, and the variety of relationships and courtships Aiken she depicted. I love the friendships that unfold over the series as Annwyl reigns, as their family expands in unexpected ways and they are pulled in new and dangerous directions. 
This was a fun series that I can wholeheartedly recommend.


Reading Discoveries of 2016

2016 has been a hard year for a lot of people.  For my family it was a year of transitions, and although we’ve come out on the other side of those changes happier and healthier, there were many points in this past year where I’ve depended on books to provide comfort and light into my life when things were particularly hard.  I re-read a lot of old favorites this year or turned to reliable authors who were already known to me when I felt the most emotionally fragile.

However one of my greatest joys as reader is when I discover someone new-to-me and learn they have a backlist full of books for me to enjoy. Instead of doing a traditional best-of list or favorite-books-of-the-year list I thought I would share a list of authors who I discovered this year and whose books brought me joy.  Many of these authors are not debut novelists, some in fact are legends in the genre, but were simply new-to-me. I hope you to find someone to discover.

6a00e54ee394bf883301bb08ce8050970d-320wiN.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season completely rocked my world this year. A sprawling time-hoping science-fiction saga about a woman whose world is literally shaken apart. The story’s focus is on her determination to find and rescue her daughter amid the chaos. Jemisin's world building is masterful and the careful development of all the different relationships and  small choices that led to that cataclysm was completely engrossing. I loved the second book, Obelisk Gate was just as much. I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy.  Jemisin’s draws a complex world with People of Color at the center of the narrative, and where race, class and gender issues all intersect with incredible skill.  If you only read one book of my list this year, read this one but I should warn you that while there are incredible romantic conflicts in this story, it is not a genre romance, HEAs are not guaranteed in any way.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d2065795970c-320wiSantino Hassell and Megan Erickson’s Cyberlove collaboration left me squeeing uncontrollably on twitter for days. Emotional, smart, funny, diverse and and scorching hot, these LGBT romances just made me happy. The main characters are quirky, gruff and flawed and incredibly compelling.  After reading  Strong Signal and Fast Connection, I ran out and bought books off both of their backlists and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work. Both Hassell and Erickson have sky-rocketed to the top of my must-buy-list.

Mrfine_250 (1)HelenKay Dimon is a romantic suspense legend, but because I generally avoid books with buff Navy SEALs on the covers and if I am honest most romantic suspense, I had never read one of her novels till this year. I tried several, including some of her older M/F rom suspense novels but the series that made me a fan is her new M/M romance series from Loveswept, Tough Love, featuring deadly dangerous men secretly saving the world.  The team dynamics are fantastic and the supporting casts full and entertaining.  The romances were full of competence porn featuring witty bickering couples great at their jobs but terrible at feelings.

51dpBCJ-FoL._SX308_BO1204203200_To my eternal shame I hadn’t read any of  Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances until this year. I knew of her, met her at RWA and read books by her literary daughters but I had not actually read one of her books.  I read Forbidden with the #notabc, (not-a-book-club) twitter reading group. I was awed by the richness of Ms. Jenkins books, and how she seamlessly layers historical and cultural details while crafting beautiful romantic HEAs for black men and women. If like me you find yourself primarily reading a very narrow slice of historical romance (for example: white m/f regency roms) I urge you to read Ms. Jenkins and see what you have been missing and then check out Piper Hugely, Kianna Alexander, Lena Hart & Alyssa Cole for more awesome historical romance.

D1VuYrvJItS._SL250_FMpng_I started out the year reading one of Melissa Blue’s contemporary romances, "Under His Kilt"  and ended it reading her Dakota Gray erotic romance, Perv about man with a fetish for oral sex and the woman determined to teach him a lesson for the callous way he treated her best-friend. Whether she is writing as Melissa Blue or Dakota Gray her books were a ton of fun, very sexy with strong believable conflicts. I’ve already pre-ordered the next book in her Filth series out at the end of January, Hardcore on the strength of Perv.

I can’t fail to talk about the Kindle Unlimted authors, Anna Carven, Ruby Dixon, TS Joyce  & Suzanne Wright that caught my attention this year, since I spent a great part of this year binging on their books. This summer I treated myself to Kindle Unlimited subscription and gave myself permission to declare ARC backlog bankruptcy and read for fun without the pressure to review. It was glorious and just what I needed.

Because of the economics of KU, I was more willing to try books with weird covers, crazier concepts and indulge in a trope-heavy erotic romances that just made me giggle at first and later surprised me with the quality of their worldbuilding. These books are certainly a cut above the average KU book, but I probably wouldn't have read them all had I been buying the books individually and not accessing them via KU. If you have a powerful need for some hot SFR and paranomal romaances and already have a KU subscription check these out:

 

D1CDcs++wZS._SL250_FMpng_Ann Carven’s Dark Planet Warriors series is suspenseful and action packed. A space station is taken-over by seemingly hostile group of super-powerful aliens, but the real threat are the giant cockroach-like creatures they are chasing. Complex imperial politics, interplanetary diplomacy and a clash of 6a00e54ee394bf883301bb091bada8970d-120wicivilizations is the backdrop in these romances.  The stories are far from perfect but I wasn’t bored reading them.  


Ruby Dixon
’s Ice Planet Barbarians with their big blue hunter-gatherer aliens has grown into expansive family drama, as much about community dynamics as it is about people learning how to love across cultural and language barriers and surviving in a brutal environment with few resources.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b7c896be48970b-320wiTS Joyce’s Lumberjack shifters are funny and trope-heavy, but I got attached to  kooky trailer-park inhabiting shifters because of the multi-generational community full of strong friendships Joyce develops.

Suzanne Wright’s books are the most traditional of this quartet, featuring wolf shifters trying to balance B1qu-MZLx7S._SL250_FMpng_ pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.




Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha & Moonshadow by Thea Harrison

Make Love not War goes the 60’s refrain but that is not a choice the lovers in these two books can make. War is raging and they can’t retreat or escape it. Their choice is to make love and war.

51VepsJ+oeL._SY346_Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha is the final book in their dystopian epic series about a band of free-loving bootlegging gangsters that were push too far and too long and refuse to roll-over and die.  They tried just carving a little piece of the world for themselves but the world wouldn’t leave them alone, so they had to make their world just a bit bigger.

Nessa in Beyond Surrender is everyone’s little sister, most especially Dallas’ . She has been with him since before there were any other O’kanes. Her skill at making Liquor is the heart of his operation. And no one is more aware of that than Nessa.  Life has taught her that only two kinds of men ever make a move on her, thoughtless lunks who don’t know enough to be scared of the O’kanes  and manipulative liars who see her as asset to be seduced away. Nessa has been waiting a long time to find someone who will hold her attention and who is worth her time. Ryder terrifies her. He is everything she wants, and she has absolutely no idea what he really wants.

Ryder doesn't either, he has been training and preparing for this war his whole life. The only person that has made him want to consider what comes after is Nessa.

I enjoyed the romance, and I love the dynamics of Nessa and Ryder’s relationship as they both try to figure out what they want and how much they want it. They are deliciously awkward at times and undeniably sexy. However the main draw for me in this book was seeing how Bree and Donna were going to wrap up this war, and series, keeping up the tension and stakes and not destroy a bunch of HEA’s in the process.  I was sucker punched at points and  just generally impressed at how they were able to really show the cost of this war on the O’kanes while not betraying romance expectations.  There was a cost and many tears and scars because to this war.  There are many storylines I am eager to follow into their new Gideon’s Riders series but I was also satisfied that I had read something that hung together as cohesive if expansive story.  The O’kanes and their struggle have always connected with me deeply and I think this was a good way to end their story. ( I received ARC of Beyond Surrender from Kit Rocha).

Beyond Surrender ended a series but  Moonshadow opens one.

Moonshadow_Thea_Harrison_Moonshadow_HiRes_1575x2475-652x1024Moonshadow by Thea Harrison is the start of a new series in the Elder Races world.

 I took refuge in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races novels during the run up to the election. They were a fantastic escape, worth the hefty price tag. However unlike my experience  with the Beyond books, where I always wanted to see how things connected and check in with Dallas and Lex, I was way less interested in the political intrigue arcs and the central couple of Dragos and Pia. I wanted less of the meta story and more romance. In Moonshadow, Thea Harrison stays in the same world and mythos of her Elder Races novels but goes in more romance-heavy direction  (and much more reasonable price point).

Some things were very familiar, Nikolas, a soldier for Oberon’s Dark Court is powerful, dangerous and unreasonably attracted to the heroine. Despite being overmatched physically by the dark commanding hero, the heroine,  Sophie Ross,  tolerates zero BS and challenges the hero at every turn. There is tons of delicious bickering, some hate sex and lots of stomping around and trying to ignore inconvenient feelings.

Sophie is at a major crossroads in her life. She is recovering from a terrifying encounter that has left her unable to face returning to her old life as Witch-consultant with the LAPD, when she is offered a piece of her past and given chance to inherit an impregnable magical house, if she can break into it. On her way there she rescues a hurt creature that is not quite what he seems, bringing her to Nikolas’s attention. He and his ever-dwindling fighting brothers has been stranded and on the run for centuries and have almost forgotten what peace feels like. Sophie and her magical house, built on the site of their greatest defeat offers a glimmer of hope and her un-orthodox magical practices an edge they have never had before. Sophie and Nikolas must learn to fight side by side, even when it terrifies them. In the end  Sophie and Nikolas have to make a choice to treasure love despite inconvenient timing and their own doubts about their capacity love or give up before they have even gotten started.

I am hopeful of this new direction.  The romance still got  a bit lost in all the intense action of the last third of the book  but it was restored to its proper focus in the closing chapters. I am eager to spend more time in this corner of the Elder Races world. ( I received a ARC of Moonshadow from Thea Harrision via NetGalley).


A T.S. Joyce's shifter series mini-review omnibus (or how I couldn't stop reading bear shifter books).

E1cIUtq+PuS._SL250_FMpng_I lost most of July and August to KU shifter and SFR romance novels.  I don't regret it.  They were for the most part highly enjoyable, just the right mix of fun WTFery and genuine emotional conflicts. Fun, quick and generally satisfying.

I still find KU very hard to navigate, so I tend to read books recommended to me by other Shifter and SFR fans.  Elisabeth Jane brought this series to my attention via an instagram post.

I started my bear shifter/T.S. Joyce binge with the Damon's Mountain Series books: These interconnected books feature Bear, Avian, Dragon  and Gorillas!!? lumberjack shifters.  

The titles are totally corny (Lumberjack Werebear, Woodcutter Werebear, Timberman Werebear, Sawman Wearbear, etc), but don't let that keep you away from these trailer-park living, brawling lumberjacks who fall for brash, quirky and not-all-helpless heroines.  The series eventually works its way through all the associated camps of lumberjack bears on or connected to Damon's Mountain ( Saw BearsGray Backs, Boarlanders, and Fire Bears), rehabilitating them one tropey romance at a time and I read every single one of them. To figure out what order in which to read them check out TS Joyce's website, incredibly helpful website.  I loved that she frequently updated it and contained a clear reading order guide and links to all the series, clearly labeled.

These novellas were just the right length, giving me just enough romance, characterization and conflict. Their shared backstory and the expanding world drew me in while the stories were different enough that I didn't get tired of them. T.S. Joyce hit a particular KU sweet-spot with these books keeping me engaged in expanded world without burning me out. The one disappointment I have in the series is how little diversity there was.  None of the heroes were POC and there wasn't a heroine of color till the second book in the Harper's Mountains series (Bloodrunner Bear) which is about 24 books into that expanded universe.

My favorite of the romances was Grayback Broken Bear (Gray Back Bears Book 4). The romance is between a berserker bear and a raven shifter that has secretly loved him since they were both children. Aviana's escape from her oppressive and abusive community and the fragile link between she and Easton was very moving.

Another fave in the series was Axman Wearbear (Saw Bears 5) book, where Bruiser is blackmailed by the Damon Daye (the last immortal dragon and guardian of the mountain) in marrying his daughter, Diem, because his dragon-mixed lineage means they might be able to breed a dragon child together. There is a huge problem with this plan outside of the fact that Diem and Bruiser are both being coerced into the marriage, and that is that the pregnancy is likely to prove fatal for Diem. This serious conflict has ramifications in later books that are very credibly executed.

I blew through these books, reading about two a day, so eventually I ran out of them. Thankfully Joyce wrote two spin-off series: Harper's and Kane's Mountains books that follow a second generation of bears, dragons and birds and are a loose continuation of the Damon Mountain books. Dragon shifters can unbalance battles in almost deux ex machina way due to their overwhelming power advantage over other shifters, yet Joyce manages to keeps the stakes high despite increased number of dragon shifters,  finding credible ways to limit them or builds the imbalance into the conflict.

There is also a related but standalone Vampire series called  Winterset Coven that is a spin-offs of these spin-offs, It is just getting started but the first book's premise was intriguing and I just added the second book to my TBR. 

Once I worked through all the spin-offs, standalone and interconnected and I was forced to seek out Joyce's previous series. 

I first tried Joyce's Bear Valley Shifter series about a human woman on the run from the mob who unknowingly seeks sanctuary in secretive bear shifter community. I bailed after the first book, The Witness and The Bear. While there was some interesting characters, the series was cliffhangery, angsty and grittier than I wanted.

The Bears Fur Hire series, was closer to what I wanted, but much more serious that Damon Mountain books. The shifters in these books are more animal than the shifters in the Damon's Mountain's books.  They are much more affected by the cycles of animal life and the necessity & dangers of bear hibernation is a major plot point series.

Husband for Hire, was as much about the challenges of Alaskan homesteading as it was about bear shifters and it was my favorite of this series. I really enjoyed Elyse's give-no-fucks attitude and Ian's desire to protect her and his frustration at not being able to.  Elyse is the hero in the book. She has had a tough time, is only human, but just doesn't give up, protecting Ian when he can't even protect himself.  I read and enjoyed the rest of the books in the series, featuring Ian's brothers and their friends, bears and wolves but I was annoyed at with the inter-connecting backstory that was at times both convoluted and confusing.

I was distracted by vague and shifting and changing mythology in the  Hells Canyon Shifter series. These books featured a lot of conflict over how inappropriate and inconvenient mating bonds affected pack and inter-pack politics. I ended up reading them all but they were just okay and none of them was a particular favorite because the romances felt de-centered.

 

While these earlier series were not quite as charming, fun or cracky as the Damon's Mountain books they did help tame my raging bear shifter addiction.  I am happy to say that I haven't read a bear shifter book in almost a month!  

 

  


Gambled Away: A Historical Romance Anthology

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I loved this anthology. Rich characterization and intriguing stories about resourcefulness, resilience and redemption that are never repetitive despite sharing a common plot element.

As this anthology includes many of my favorite authors I hope many people take a chance and explore some of their other novels and that they team up again in the future.

All or Nothing by Rose Lerner: This story was surprising, engrossing and emotionally complex. It is a story about lust, longing, trust, hope and how important it is to hold on to truth.  Maggie da Silva's life is outwardly glamorous. She and her best-friend and lover Henny host a small gambling den, where together they charm aristocrats into emptying their pockets for chance to be singled out to gamble on winning Maggie's sexual favors.  Simon Radcliffe-Gould is a struggling architect and terrible gambler who can't resist coming every week because he is infatuated with Maggie. He is titillated and mortified when he wins Maggie. Torn between honorable intentions and desire, he persuades Maggie to pose as his mistress at house-party hosted by Simon's ex-lover, so he can complete a commission without getting sucked back into a relationship with him.  

Lerner is masterful in balancing the emotional tension in this story, as both Maggie and Simon have a lot they need to figure out about themselves, their needs and what they are unwilling to compromise on before they can even consider how to turn their temporary entanglement into something lasting. I don't think I will be done thinking about Simon and Maggie and the truths they hold on to for a very long time. I was particularly moved by Maggie determination to reclaim her Jewish faith. Maggie's feelings about her faith are rich and complex as she seeks away to live authentically despite the challenges of growing up without any access to those who might have taught her the traditions her family was forced to abandon because of religious persecution and forced conversion.

“The Liar’s Dice” by Jeannie Lin

Set during the Tang Dynasty, Lin's novella is part of her fantastic Lotus Palace series and features many familiar characters as secondary characters while still being completely accessible to those who have  not be lucky enough to read the previous books.

Wei-wei, Lady Bai, has always been a dutiful daughter but she has grown restless and seeks to experience a little of bit of the freedom that would have been hers if she had been born a boy. After borrowing her brother's scholar's robes she sneaks into her sister-in-law's tea house to experience for herself what she has only ever read about. On her way back home she runs into Gao a shady acquaintance of her brother  and together they stumble upon murder victim. Worried that the murder might be connected to her brother's recently uncharacteristic behavior and could inadvertently destroy her brother's newfound joy, they team up to solve the murder.

The Liar's Dice was essentially a mystery novella with a touch of romance. Wei-wei tests the limits of her freedom, confronts her brother and gets to know a mysterious but unsuitable man in Gao. The ending of their flirtation is hopeful but far from assured. As a mystery novella it was highly enjoyable, full of fantastic and fascinating detail but as romance it left me somewhat unsatisfied.

“Raising The Stakes” by Isabel Cooper  As Okies stream into 1938 California, desperate as dust storms and drought push them off their land, Sam, a card-shark, wins a magical flute that allows her to summon a otherworldy fae warrior to come to her aid.  After the initial shock wears off, the clever and shrewd, Sam enlists Talathan's aid in conning a greedy revival preacher in order to save her family farm from foreclosure. Sharp, cunning Sam bewilders and tempts Talathan with her forthrightness and hidden vulnerabilities and makes them both long for something more than temporary team-up.

Cooper grounds her fantasy with great period detail and sells the partnerships between the nomadic gambler and fairy warrior through humor and snappy dialogue, but the romance between them still felt tentative by the end.

“Redeemed” by Molly O’Keefe 

Guilt-ridden Dr. James Madison is struggling to figure out how to rebuild his life, camping out in a brothel and turning away his friends. Addiction has wrecked his career and nearly destroyed the life of his assistant, but it is the daily grind of recovery and re-integration into society that is wearing him down. 

When Helen Winters, the caged singing star of the titillating traveling "Northern Spy" act  arrives in to town, James can't decide if he should intervene when it seems that Helen is being drugged and possibly held against her will by her manager and guardian. 

Like the previous stories in O'Keefe's fantastic post-Civil War western series, Into the Wilds, Redeemed explores the complicated legacy of the Civil War on its survivors.  All the characters are richly drawn and the romance was emotional and heart-wrenching.

“Gideon and the Den of Thieves” by Joanna Bourne When Gideon Gage a trader and mercenary infiltrates the lair of London's most powerful crimelord,  Lazarus, he finds unlikely allies in Hawker and Aimee, two of Lazarus's most loyal subjects.

Hawker and Aimee are conspiring to protect the ailing Lazarus from challengers, through a campaign of distraction and misdirection  because they know that Lazarus's perceived strength is all that keeps their little band of street urchins and waifs from utter destruction. Lazarus might be the devil but he is the devil they know and count on.

Bourne's novella is set is near the very beginning of her Spymaster's series chronology.  A very young Hawker, at his most  vicious, sarcastic and feral and Aimee, french refugee who works as Lazarus' s fence, is everything her heroines usually are, independent, resourceful and deeply scarred by her past.  I enjoyed the novella's focus on Aimee and Hawker's friendship and their relationship with Lazarus.

 

The anthology is currently available for free through Kindle Unlimited but it is more than worth its regular $2.99 price tag.  I received advance copy from the authors for review consideration.

 


A Queer Trade by K. J. Charles

K.J. Charles has built a fascinating magical Victorian world through her numerous Charm of Magpies related novels.  I'm not completely caught up on the main Charm of Magpie books, but I couldn't resist jumping ahead to read this one because is features victorian era black hero.  A Queer Trade is the prequel to Rag and Bone which was released last week and I am currently in the middle of reading.

Crispin Tredarloe's master dies while he is away visiting family and returns to discover his master's heir have started emptying the house and have disposed of many magical papers. He is desperately searching for the paper waste man that hauled away his masters' spells before they can harm someone and expose him. This particularly urgent because Crispin Tredarloe isn't simply a magician's apprentice but an illegal warlock. If the blood magic is exposed and traced back to him, his life might be forfeit.

Ned Hall's trade might be unusual trading in paper, recycling people's old letters, and discarded notes into wrapping and packing, but it is honest work, and its freed him destitution after his family cast him out for being gay. His attraction to Crispin is quickly tested by Crispin's casual snobbishness and likely insanity.

I love how Charles's is aware of  and then layers various impediments and conflicts into Ned and Crispin's relationship, race and class differences on one end, and then give them a shared understanding of familial rejection.  I look forward to reading more about these two.


Wolf's Ascension by Lauren Dane

Kari is cutting through a back alley when she is viciously attacked by large dog-like creature.  She miraculously survives only to be kidnapped by the Cherchez pack of wolf-shifters. Andreas, the pack alpha is hugely conflicted as he never meant for Kari, who he feels is his mate,  to be turned against her will but is compelled to protect her and help her through her first transition. I really liked Kari, who reacts sensibly to this whole situation until she sees proof and even then consistently stands up to herself, never hesitating to call out sexist crap behaviors, despite finding Andreas physically yummy.

Wolf's Ascension is extensively revised and re-edited version of Ascension (Cherchez Pack 1) originally published by Ellora's Cave. I know and love Dane for her later contemporary and urban fantasy series.  This book  has much in common with later Dane novels, dominating alpha-male hero and smart and independent heroine but story is structured differently than most of Dane's later novels.  I loved the first 1/3 of the book when story was focused on the romance. I have real weakness for the fated mates trope,I love when the protagonists have to try to sort out their feelings against the unrelenting pressure of their attraction. I love it when the characters understand that despite their bodies wanting something, and it seeming inevitability, a romantic relationship needs to be more than frantic coupling.

The last two-thirds of the book were action packed but less engaging for me. The  storytelling tension shifts away from the romance, towards Kari's ascension as the true alpha of the clan, Kari must negotiate a new life for herself while dealing with several assassination attempts, and relationship and family conflict.  Kari confronts jealous ambitious exes, unfamiliar and somewhat confusing sexual mores. while sorting out who she can trust or not in this new family.  Andreas lost serious hero points for me at points during this part of the book when he his avoidance & reticence to share uncomfortable truths endangers Kari. I loved the heroine and that carried me through to her hard-fought HEA but it will not be series I return to. 

I received a review copy of Wolf's Ascension by Lauren Dane from Carina Press.


RT Review Round-up January

51EGLMxuqpLThe One for Me by Sydney Landon  There was some really fun twitter flirtation in this book but final conflict confrontation was really hard to come back from.

Winterwood by Jacey Bedford  This is absolutely my favorite book I have ever reviewed for RT. I gave it 4.5 stars, RT Top Pick. The first I have ever given out.  I really enjoyed it cross-dressing female pirate captain, ghosts, shape-shifting wolf and a very interesting magical world.  I will be eagerly awaiting the next book in this series.


Marked in the Flesh by Anne Bishop (The Others, Book #4) Early Review

22062202Meg Corbyn,  Simon Wolfguard and the rest of the ensemble cast that make up the Lakeside Courtyard community and its connected settlements return in Marked in the Flesh as they try to figure out how save humanity from extinction as the HFL (The Human First and Last ) Movement's heinous attacks on the Others captures the interest of the Elders, the more primal and powerful beings in Thasia.

Meg and Simon's relationship is certainly on the back burner through this novel. Meg and Simon spend most of the novel involved in separate plots. Meg's primary focus is on being the Trailblazer, and working to find way to keep herself and the other Cassandra Sangue from cutting themselves into insanity and death. Simon and the Police Pack are working to try to mitigate the damage being done by the HFL to Human-Others relationships and preparing for the inevitable backlash from the Elders.  His focus is the survival of those humans he has come to care for and planning for a life afterwards.  While the novel does close with yet another step forward in intimacy between Meg and Simon, it just served to emphasize how little time they have spent together during the novel.

The novel's main theme seemed to be communication and isolation. Everyone in this novels is constantly scrambling to email and call each other in order to share prophesies, veiled warnings and urgent alarms.  A significant part of the novel's plot is communicated via emails, speech excerpts or newspaper clippings.  There is also a lot of miscommunication, misinterpretations. and intentional obfuscation.  In the end however everyone clearly receives the message, and Meg figures out how to best help the Cassandra Sangue communicate their own. Despite the darkness and fear near the end of the novel there is a sense that at least the Cassandra Sangue will have a potentially brighter future.

While Marked in the Flesh is fourth book of a five book series, I could have easily confused it with a final book. A lot of storylines seem to be awfully close to their conclusions, while a few new mysteries were raised in the final chapters it seems to me that the final book will feel more like an extended epilogue as it deals with the aftermath of the world-shaking events in this volume.

I was not as emotionally invested in this book as I was in the others since Meg and Simon where not as involved but it was still compelling and I will be back for the concluding story.

 

I received a review copy of Marked in the Flesh from ROC/Berkley Publishing Group.  Marked in the Flesh is scheduled to be released  March 8, 2016.


The FIrebird by Susanna Kearsley

FirebirdIn January I read the first in Susanna Kearsley's Slains series, The Winter Sea.  I loved the book but I admit that it has a somewhat bittersweet happy ending.  At then end of the Winter Sea, we only have the faintest of notions about how life turned out for John and Sophia, and the fate of one character, their first born daughter Anna, is left quite open ended.

In Firebird, Kearsley returns to Slains Castle and Anna.  

Nicola Marter is an art dealer specializing in Russian artifacts, with a psych gift she hides from most everyone. One day when she is asked to look at a small wooden carving of a bird, called The Firebird. The Firebird is a treasured family heirloom believed to have been given by Empress Catherine of Russia (Peter the Great's wife) to the owner's great-great-grandmother, Anna. When she inadvertently has a vision that confirms the family lore but is not able to say anything without betraying her gift. Although Nicola tries to forget the incident, she can't let it go, eventually going so far as to seek out her former lover, Rob McMorran for help.

Rob McMorran (Robbie of Kearsley's Shadowy Horses) is a police officer, whose psych gifts are much stronger than Nicola's. Rob's gift is so strong, he doesn't try to hide it, something that deeply distresses Nicola and caused a rift in their relationship.

Through Rob and Nicola's determined tracking, we learn how Anna, once hidden with a fisherman's family,  comes to be in St. Petersburg as young woman. I loved seeing her grow from young innocent girl into a brave and bold young woman.  Anna's story is at times heartbreaking, full of twists and turns but in the end beautiful and satisfying.

Kearsley's historical heroes and heroines always sacrifice much in service of their Jacobite cause and Anna is no exception.   Kearsley never sugarcoats the cost and in this novel she focuses keenly on the impact those sacrifices had on families. Anna might be a child but at a very young age becomes aware how the commands of kings and love of family can tear someone apart.  The choices she makes in response out of love are remarkable but wholly believable.  The novel is an ode to the impact of small conversations and little moments to shape the course of history.

The modern and historical romances were very different kinds of romances but they were still tied together, by how complicated their relationships are and the hard choices they had to make in order to live together.  Both and Anna and Rob see more in Ned and Nicola than they see in themselves.   I continue to be enchanted and moved by Kearsley's subtly emotional stories.  

Kearsley's  The Firebird, is rich in historical detail, fascinating characters and engaging plotlines.  So engaging that I had to cheat on the wonderful audiobook narrated by Katerine Kellgren, because I couldn't wait till the next car ride to know what would become of Anna next.

I have one print copy of The Firebird to give away.  Leave a comment or tweet me @anacoqui, saying that you would love to read it and I will select a random winner from the respondents.