Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: Darkness Dawns by Diane Duvall

I had some issues with this vampire-type paranormal romance, but I've definitely read worse.

First the good.

I liked the characters.

I liked the heroine and how she's introduced.  She's strong in a regular human way, not in the sense of having special powers.

I also liked the hero.  He's dark and brooding in a humanizing "don't always know the right thing to say" kind of way rather than in the overly melodramatic kind of way.  There are also a bunch of secondary characters and the author seems to be trying to breathe some life into them.

I also liked the arc with the head good vampire and the mystery woman.  It isn't resolved by the end of the book, which bugs me a little, but I think overall the author does a good job of juggling different arcs in the book.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wilder's Mate

Smexy, paranormal steam punk romance set in the wild west.  The premise is hot, but the execution left me wanting.  

Wilder's Mate, but Moira Rogers, is the first in a series.  It tells the tale of the inventor Satira, whose mentor has been kidnapped and taken into lawless vampire country.  She's aided by Wilder, a werewolf (in this universe called bloodhounds).  Bloodhounds are created to combat vampires and are governed by a quasi-governmental guild.   They have their furry couple of days in the full moon as expected, but they also have a few days of sexual frenzy during the new moon.

I liked the setting and the overall plot.  For some reason, though, I just didn't enjoy the relationship.  It was one of those stories where they instantly lusted for each other, but it just felt jarring.    I liked her and I mostly liked him, but being inside their head when they thought of each other didn't do it for me.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Storm That Is Sterling

A decent read.  If you liked the first Zodius novel, The Legend of Michael, you'll probably like the second one too.  In terms of tropes, you're looking at a special-ops/soul-mate/genetic experimentation romance thriller series.

The premise for the series is that a group of soldiers were inculcated with an alien virus (against their knowledge) that gave them special powers.  They're all called GTech.  They can all wind-walk and heal extremely fast, and some of them also get additional unique powers.  Each book features a new romantic pair as well as movement in the various plot lines.

In the first book, some of them turned evil and then the evil group split up and the government doesn't trust any of the turned super soldiers, so we're looking at a setting that includes at least four major factions: US government, Zodius (bad supernatural soldiers), Renegades (good supernatural soldiers), and General Powell's camp (he who started the mess in the first place).  It has a definite soap opera complexity to the story arcs.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


This is a nice urban fantasy novella that blends family with pack dynamics and investigative action.  It's surprisingly approachable for readers new to the Otherworld series.  Series fans will really enjoy seeing the next milestones for Elena - getting to know her twins and seeing part of her transition to alpha.  

Hidden, by Kelly Armstrong, was a nice read.  I've read most of the Otherworld series, and they're really uneven for me.  Elena POV books (of which this is one) are my favorites so factor that into your evaluation.

The Otherworld is our contemporary world with a modest amount of paranormal-acy.  There's only one werewolf pack of about a dozen members in North America.  Other than that, there are scattered non-pack werewolves, called mutts, that aren't allowed to settle down in one place.  There are other paranormal races, but they don't factor into this story and aren't really powerful in this world.  Elena Michaels is the only female werewolf, and she's been chosen to replace the current alpha.

True Colors

Summary: Good stand-alone novella set in the Elder Races universe.  Recommended for fans of  paranormal romance.

True Colors, by Thea Harrison, has likable characters and a sexy-yet-believable relationship at its core, with a little bit of a thriller thrown in.  I liked it, and, if you're looking for a quick read of the werewolf-meets-soul-mate variety, then this fits the bill.

The premise is that a serial killer is targeting the rainbow chameleon shape shifters, and it looks like our sweet school teacher/chameleon heroine is next on the list.  The hero is a werewolf policeman (more or less) who leads the case.  They almost immediately recognize in each other their soul mate and the rest of the story is them getting to know each other and settling into the relationship while figuring out who the killer is.  HEA, the end.

OK.  That all being the case, I'm a little torn in looking back at this story.  I think if it had been written by almost anyone else, I would be able to end this post with a happy "I liked it" type of statement and go along my merry way.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Zero Sight and Zero Sum

Summary: Holy cow, these books were great!   The premise sounds like a typical intrepid-hero-attends-a-magic-academy that clutters YA.  But it's YA in the same way that Ender's Game is - which is to say that it magnificently transcends the age of the protagonist.  And the voice is a lot more Harry Dresden than Harry Potter.  I can't recommend them enough.

Zero Sight and Zero Sum, by B. Justin Shier, are the first and second books in the Zero Sight Series respectively.  They're set in a broken-down, near-future America.  Dieter Resnick, the protagonist, is a young man with a single purpose - getting the hell out of his current life and into something better.  His master plan involves keeping his head down, getting an academic scholarship to an Ivy, and living happily ever after somewhere far away from the gangs and poverty and abuse of his current life.

The first part of his plan hits a snag when he gets in a fight with higher stakes than he hoped for, and things take an unexpected turn.  If you've read much in the genre, you have some idea where things are headed in the first book, but you won't care because the journey is fantastic.  The second book tops the first - fleshing out secondary characters and starting them on their own arcs, having more unexpected twists, and really turning up the slow-burn love triangle.  It's a better crafted story in general, although the first one was very good to begin with.

This series came out of nowhere for me.  Zero Sight is Shier's debut novel, and it was dang good.  So good, that I didn't have the patience to write a review before starting the second one.  Part of that rush to read the next book was the ending though - it feels like the book is the first half of a two-part novel rather than the first novel in a series.  The second book's ending is more successful, although I'll still be waiting with bated breath until he releases the third book.

It's a series that doesn't condescend.  He's telling the story of a brilliant, honorable, and driven young man in a richly detailed world and emotionally complex circumstances.  This first person POV gives us the chance to be inside one of my new favorite minds, but you can't sleepwalk through it. Not that you want to - it's a gripping read.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Burning Up

Summary: I liked it.  This anthology features four well-crafted stories of true love and hot sex in a fantasy, paranormal, or steam punk setting.  Although all the authors each have popular series, all of the stories stand alone and can be enjoyed by non-fans.  Woo hoo.

Burning Up totally works as an anthology.  Although the stories were pretty disparate in terms of setting, it felt like they hang together in terms of personality, if you will.

Whispers of Sin, by Nalini Singh, is the first story.  In it, a Chinatown resident is attacked by a thug trying to shake her parents down for protection money.  She's saved by a changeling (were-leopard) member of the pack that's trying to claim San Francisco as their territory.  It's true lust and protectiveness at first sight, and it evolves into something deeper as they continue to spend time together.  Their respective family and pack really enrich the story.  I've never read her popular Psy/Changeling series, but I've heard of it, so will probably look it up based on this story.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Deadly Games

The latest installment in the Emperor's Edge is just as rewarding as I've come to expect from this fantastic fantasy/steampunk series.  

I'm totally hooked on the whole series, so I may be slightly biased, but I have to say that Deadly Games, by Lindsay Buroker, is another winner.

In case you're not familiar with it, the Emperor's Edge series is about Amaranthe, who starts out being an gifted, by-the-book police woman in a chauvinistic, militaristic, steam-punk society and ends up leading a band of outlaw mercenary in an attempt to redeem her reputation and help the empire.  The secondary characters are strong, and each book splits the POV between Amaranthe and one of her motley crew.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Farro and Sulfer

This fantasy duology was unexpectedly awesome!  Compelling, believable story and characters.  

Farro and Sulfer, by Arreana, took me off-guard.  Despite some enthusiastic reviews, this book did not look promising.  The cover art screams "self-published", and, for some reason, the first few pages just seemed overwrought to me.  But, since I was reading the first chapter free anyway, I kept on reading to the next few pages and ended up totally hooked.

So, the story starts from the POV of a girl who has been tortured (literally and brutally) for some time, but she soon finds herself in a new circumstance.  The first book is a bit of a palace intrigue, and the second book has a quest structure.

You soon find out that this is a fantasy with a clearly developed, but not cliched, setting.  It felt a little ancient-Egypt-meets-medieval-Europe to me, and the author does a good job of unfolding the world without a lot of info-dumps.

It was not a perfect book.  The dialog was reasonable, but not anything I'm going to quote or especially remember.  Sometimes it seemed like smart bad guys ignored potentially effective manipulation/deceit tactics in favor of torture-and-violence just to make the heroine especially martyred.  And I had to use some suspension of disbelief on the magic system.

But...but...despite its flaws, I had a fantastic time reading this story.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gods Tomorrow

Summary: A good read, and surprisingly good for the $.99 e-book price.  It's a near-future science fiction police procedural set in a big brother setting.  Very Minority-Report-ish.

Gods Tomorrow, by Aaron Pogue, is the type of book that makes me a Kindle convert.  Police procedurals aren't my favorite, I don't know the author, and the cover art is amateurish.  If it had shown up in my local bookstore, I probably wouldn't want to pay full price to take the chance that it might be good.  Since it's just a buck, I can experiment.  And it was a happily worthwhile experiment.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Alien Proliferation

Summary: I don't recommend it in general, but fans of the previous book in the serious, Aliens in the Family, should like this one too.
Alien Proliferation, by Gini Koch, is the fourth book in the Alien series.  I like the first one, Touched by an Alien, a lot.  It told the story of Kitty Katt, a marketing director who falls down a rabbit hole of gorgeous aliens, terrorist conspiracies, super-hero science, and witty banter.   For me, the first book was an enjoyable balancing act between the sublimely ridiculous world-building and plot twists, the cleverness of the dialog and characters, the comic-book action, and the warmth of the romance.  It's shallow and cheesy, but also sexy and fun.

Unfortunately, Koch lost the balance in the subsequent books.

Shattered Dreams

Summary: A nice regency romance available as a $.99 e-book. 

Shattered Dreams, by Laura Landon, tells two love stories set vaguely in Regency-era England, with a little action near the end for spice.  The first love story is of a perfect man (handsome, charming, titled, rich, well-adjusted, etc.) and a flawed woman (beautiful, vivacious, and titled, but also dealing a disability and accompanying emotional issues).  The second is of two former lovers who were separated by a misunderstanding.

The book is worth reading if you regency romances, but it's not so great that I'll accost random strangers on my way to work and force them to read the book.  I'm not that sort of person, after all.  I think where it fails for me is that there are four main characters, but only one of them has any real complexity.  The others are fun to read, but shallow, which ends up making the book a bit fun-but-shallow also.

My Favorite Romances with Differently Abled Leads
Reading this book did get me thinking about my what romance books I enjoyed that have a lead dealing with a disability of some sort.  Here's my top 5:
  1. Miles in Love by Lois McMaster Bujold.   It's my favorite series in general.  You should really start earlier in the series, but this is the core romance part of it.  It's a far future science fiction with a a brittle-boned, hyperactive, little person genius protagonist.  Imagine all possible good things you can say about a book and you can assume they apply here.  Yay!
  2. The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley.  OMG, autism spectrum disorders never sounded so sexy as in this regency.
  3. Candle in the Window by Christina Dodd. Medieval romance with a blind heroine.  Actually, the hero is blind, too, now that I think about it.  Well-deserved RITA award winner.
  4. Seeing Eye by Patricia Briggs in the Strange Brew Anthology.  Short story paranormal romance/adventure between a blind witch and scarred werewolf.  Set in Seattle, it features secondary characters from her Alpha and Omega series
  5. Nothing to Commend Her by Jo Barrett.  Hero is severely disfigured from burns, set in Regency England. Warning, it's a bit corny, so don't come here expecting an award winner.  But I really like the characters and find myself rereading on occasion to recapture the happy feeling it gives me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Irish Moon

Summary: $.99 e-book price and high reviews made this a tempting read, but I just couldn't get into it enough to finish the book.  Meh.

Irish Moon, by Amber Scott, is a romance set in an alternate dark age Ireland where druid magic really works.   I feel like I should like it more than I do.   I went back to check on the Amazon reviews afterward to figure out what other people saw in it (because it has an average review of 4.5 and the only two negative reviews both said they thought the story was nice) and I still didn't get it.

So, maybe it's just me.  Maybe it's a really great book but I'm just in a bad mood or not the intended audience or something.  I don't know.  But I did notice how just about everyone commented on how much they loved the Irish setting.  So, if ancient Ireland+romance+magic is your thing, then this may be a good book for you.

Now, why didn't I like it?  Let me count the ways.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Summary: Sanderson's Warbreaker manages to give a complex, epic feel to a fantasy story with a relatively modest scale.  He has a deft hand with plot twists and and character development and a wildly imaginative magic/religion system.  It's like he channeled the sweet love child of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire and Bujold's Curse of Chalion while high.  I recommend it for fantasy fans.  If you don't like epics then you might be turned off by the somewhat uneven and slower pace of the book's middle, but the last third of the book redeems it.  

Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson, is...uhm...interesting.  And good.

AND Sanderson has a free pdf download of Warbreaker available on his web site.  Score!

OK, so here's the basics.  Although a few characters start off in a nearby kingdom, the story is pretty much entirely set in the capital city of Hallandren.  There are three main POV characters and story arcs, Vivenna, Siri, and Lightsong.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Summary: Bodyguard, a short story in the "Shifter's Unbound" universe, is a fun and sexy paranormal romance read at a great price.  

Bodyguard, by Jennifer Ashley, follows sometime between the second and third book in Shifter's Unbound.  I like the first two and recommend them, but if you want to use this short story to try out her writing cheaply, then you can start here without needing any of the plot from the previous books.

The setting is one where Fae (who mostly live in their own world) created canine, lupine, and bear shifters many centuries ago and enslaved them, but the shifters broke free and lived in hiding in our world since then.  Shifters are clannish, long-lived, and don't mix with humans as a rule.  About thirty years, they were discovered by the human world, which didn't react well to the news.  In the US, where this is set, that meant they were rounded up, put in government-created shifter towns, and are treated to prejudice and discrimination by most people, laws, and businesses.  They are also all required to where magic collars developed by the Fae that shock shifters when they get violent.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dragon Bound

Summary: The first in the Elder Races series, Dragon Bound takes a supernatural type that I usually hate and makes it totally work.  It's a funny, sexy, well-paced, emotionally true romance set in a well-imagined, creative alternate reality and spiced up with great action and rich secondary characters.   Five stars *plus* a purple heart-shaped rhinestone spangle sticker.  I laughed.  I cried.  It was better than Cats! I'd read it again. 

Dragon Bound, by Thea Harrison, kept popping up in my recommended list on Amazon.  It was highly-rated, but by an author I'd never heard of, charging full-price, and had a premise (dragon finds soul mate) that seemed destined for gag-inducing cheesiness.  It didn't seem worth the risk.  But like an infestation of mold, it wouldn't go away.  So eventually I tried out the "Click to Look Inside" and started reading and got totally hooked.  Because it's just that good.

It starts with Pia (heroine) going on the run after she steals from Drago (hero), the dragon shapeshifter.  He soon catches up to her, but he finds himself intrigued and decided to keep her instead of killing her outright.  They get caught up a series of adventures while they fall in love.  HEA.

The story is has no real weakness and many strengths, but what really bowled me over was that it has a dragon shapeshifter as the main character and it was completely authentic.  OK, here's a little interlude with 

My Theory on Paranormal Romances
As a broad generalization, paranormal romances can be split into a categories based on they male lead's supernatural species and its real-life analog.
  • Werewolves and other shapeshifters are muscle-bound, physical, loyal, (usually family-oriented) but with a real wild side.    Essentially, they're extreme versions of bad boys from the wrong side of town.  
  • Vampire and demons are selfish, decadent, ancient, sensual, and baaaaad.  Usually the heroine is their redemption.  Basically they're a souped up version of the amoral celebrity/rich townie, which tells you why vampires and werewolves rarely get along.
  • Elves and other fae are magical, powerful, and pretty.  They're either idealized metrosexuals Prince Charmings, complete with hunky sauce and rainbow sprinkles.  
  • Immortal warriors are devoted to fighting for a cause.  They're mystical SEALs with swords.  Yum.
  • Humans don't stay that way for long - at some point they sprout fangs or get injected with mutant virus or something.  They start off as well-trained demon-slayers and true-love-to-supernatural-woman types, but basically this fills the underdog/everyman role which is usually not what you're looking for when you read paranormals.  So a book or so in, they morph into something else or are are superceded by another character.
  • Angels are definition-of-good authority figures with occasional punish-wrong-doers duties.  I'm not saying "daddy-issues", but I'm just saying.
Writing likable, authentic point-of-view characters takes skill.  Doing so when the characters are supernaturals is tougher, because it shouldn't feel the same to be inside their head as it does to be inside a human's head.  Someone, for example, who has been eating people for the past 250 years is going to have unusual emotional reactions to things.  And that's why I think dragon shape-shifters are particularly prone to feeling unbelievable.
  • Dragons.  They're what you get when you want someone wilder than a werewolf, more ancient than a vampire, more magical than an elf, and more alpha and a better fighter than all of them put together. 
Because they're even more everything than all the other supernatural types put together, they're that much harder to make believable.  But Thea Harrison, the genius, pulls it off.  And she doesn't cheat by calling them dragons but then ignoring the things that make dragons dragon-y.  No.  HER dragon is as old as the solar system, a secretive, solitary, carnivore who hoards treasure, flies, and breathes fire.  Shazam!  She make's Pia's race work too, but telling you what that is is a spoiler (albeit one that you'll guess before Dragos does), so you'll just have to wait to see.

More in the Series
  1. Dragon Bound
  2. Storm's Heart: A thunderbird shapeshifter and a 300 year old dark fae princess - she makes them work too!
  3. Serpent's Kiss: An immortal gryphon shapeshifter and the 1,000 year old Vampire Sorceress Queen - and it works too!
  4. Oracle's Moon: A djinn demon prince and the oracle - not out yet, but I have it on pre-order

Run Among Thorns

Summary: A decent suspense romance at a great e-book price.

Run Among Thorns, by Louise Lucia, is in the espionage thriller end of the romance spectrum.  The premise is that before the book begins, Jenny (heroine) is in a hostage situation that starts to turn ugly.  She springs into action and kills all the attackers handily.

A government agency assumes she's some sort of super spy, but can't find any info on her, so they call in a specialist interrogator Kier (hero) to break her down and find out her secrets.  His method involves whisking her away to a remote location and spending a lot of up-close-and-personal time with her,  which is where the romance part of the suspense romance kicks in.  Of course, she's not a spy, so although he starts out with his campaign of breaking her down emotionally, it doesn't go according to plan.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fate's Edge

Summary: In their third "Edge" series book, Ilona Andrews delivers another well-crafted contemporary fantasy romance story with clever world-building and wonderful characters surrounding around sweet-and-chewy center of Happily Ever After.  *Sigh*.  If you like this genre, then read this series and this book.  They don't disappoint.

In case you haven't read Ilona Andrew's Edge series, then the premise is that there are three analogous worlds side-by-side.  The Broken is the contemporary no-magic real world we live in.  The Weird is a sophisticated, high-magic world with an alternate history resulting in countries like Old Gaul and the Democracy of California.  Connecting the two is a patchwork of lawless, lower-magic lands called the Edge.  The first two books were set mainly in the Edge in Appalachia and the Mire (Louisiana swamplands) respectively, but this one is a bit different in that the characters travel through multiple areas, mostly on the West Coast, so the setting lends a little less texture to the prose than in the other two books.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Forged in Fire

Summary: A reasonably-priced, decent read in the sexy action/romance genre.  The author doesn't so anything particularly new, but if you're in the mood for love at first site, Navy SEALs, and a dash of paranormal, this is a good choice.  Contains violence, sex, and explicit references to rape.

Forged in Fire is, I believe, Trish McCallan's first published book, and it's a solid launch.

The premise is a blend of two familiar tropes here.  One is the close knit SEAL team (honorable, deadly, and built) who are trying to stop some really bad guys.  The other is a hero with psychic powers who's been seeking his mystical soul mate.  Anyway, no new ground, but if it's your thing, then it's two great tastes that taste great together.

The world is basically the real world, and I get the idea that although the hero has some psychic traits in the family, it's not like there are monsters running around or any sort of paranormal sub-culture.


Summary: Not-bad story from a (generally) spectacularly talented writer.  Fans of the Vorkosigan Saga may want to read it to find out what happens next, but be warned that it won't live up to the earlier books.

Cryoburn, by Lois McMaster Bujold, is the latest entry in the Vorkosigan Saga.  Ignore the almost uninterrupted string of cheesy covers and space-opera descriptions.  The saga is about the best science fiction I've ever read.  It's got everything - great primary and secondary characters, great world building, great plot, great dialog, great prose, great everything.  Bujold has no weaknesses; she is the perennially under-appreciated force in sci-fi despite multiple Hugos and Nebulas.   Unfortunately, the latest couple of books in the series haven't been quite to the level of the best of the the saga, and this one in particular was getting mediocre reviews, so I started it with mixed feelings.

I liked it, although it's not my favorite of the Vorkosigan saga.  Here are a couple random thoughts that CONTAIN SPOILERS: