Review: Wild Invitation by Nalini Singh

Wild Invitation by Nalini SinghFormat read: print book borrowed from the Library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Paranormal romance
Series: Psy-Changeling, #0.5, #3.5, #9.5, #10.5
Length: 353 pages
Publisher: Berkley Books
Date Released: March 5, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Experience the explosive series hailed by #1 New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan as “a must-read for all my fans.”

In Beat of Temptation, innocent Tamsyn has always had a place in her heart for Nathan, a blooded DarkRiver sentinel. But is she ready for the fierce demands of the mating bond?

In Stroke of Enticement, a wary young teacher, skeptical about love, arouses the man–and the animal–in an aggressive leopard changeling who must prove his affections are true.

In Declaration of Courtship, Grace, a shy submissive wolf, finds herself pursued by the last man she ever would have imagined: a SnowDancer lieutenant said to be “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

In Texture of Intimacy, SnowDancer healer Lara discovers the searing joys–and unexpected challenges–of being mated to quiet, powerful Walker, a man used to keeping his silence.

My Review:

I read Wild Invitation mostly to tide me over until Heart of Obsidian comes out in June. I’m probably not alone. I will say that for once the US cover doesn’t suck. I think the UK cover is prettier, but there’s a chance that the US cover might have something to do with the plot of the book for once. Mostly I’ve detested the US covers, so this one is definitely a major improvement.

Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh
Heart of Obsidian US Cover


Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh
Heart of Obsidian UK cover









Back to Wild Invitation…or inviting you to step back to Wild Invitation. Bad pun, no cookie. Beat of Temptation, Stroke of Enticement, and Declaration of Courtship all have similar themes. The male is in the dominant position either by age in the case of Beat, by species in the case of Stroke, or by hierarchy in the case of Declaration, and uses that dominance to make decisions for the female, with varying degress of success. Eventually, these couples reach an HEA. They may start down the path because the male in each case realizes that they are mates, but they get there because they find that they love each other, AND because the male gets it drummed into his head that they are equals.

In some cases that takes more thumping than others.

Beat of Temptation Escape Rating B-: The summary is not quite right. The story isn’t about whether Tamsyn is ready, the story is about whether Nate is ready to accept that she’s ready. When the bond snapped in place, Tamsyn was 15, and Nate was 25 or so. That’s a big difference. He kept trying to give her a chance to have a bit of freedom, but didn’t take into account that part of her freedom needed to be asking her what she wanted and needed. He kept on deciding for her instead of with her, until things reached a crisis point.

Stroke of Enticement Escape Rating B: Annie, the human in this story, is skeptical about love for more than one reason. Too many people see her slight physical handicap, and not her hard-won independence, especially since her mother emphasizes Annie’s shortcomings at every turn. And Annie has to live with the example of her parents’ marriage, a relationship where her mother adores her father, but he barely remembers that she exists. So when leopard changeling Zach strides into her life, she can’t believe that this handsome creature could possibly want her for more than a fling, and he doesn’t understand why their mating bond won’t snap into place.

Cry Wolf by Patricia BriggsDeclaration of Courtship Escape Rating C+: This story reminded me too much of Patricia Briggs Cry Wolf, the first book in her Alpha and Omega series. I just couldn’t get the similarities out of my head.

Texture of Intimacy Escape Rating B+: This story was different from the others, and dropped a few hints about Heart of Obsidian. At least I hope they were hints. The difference was that this story was about Lara and Walker settling in after they were mated. Walker Lauren is Psy, and Lara is a wolf shifter. Walker is discovering what it is like, not just be mated, but to experience real emotions for the first time in his life. They have a long and occasionally rocky road ahead of them. The story of how they begin to navigate it is quite affecting, and made Texture of Intimacy my favorite story in the book.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Interview with Author John Marco + Giveaway

The Forever Knight by John MarcoToday I’d like to welcome author John Marco, who recently published the latest book in his Bronze Knight series, The Forever Knight. John also has the best online ID ever, “happynerdjohn” and he’s probably pretty happy right now, since Kirkus Reviews chose The Forever Knight as a TOP PICK for April. I’d have to agree (read my review here).

Marlene: John, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

John: Marlene, I’d like to start by thanking you for doing this interview with me and for agreeing to take part in my blog tour. I say this all the time, but I’ve met so many helpful book bloggers over the years who’ve been willing to take a chance and review my books even though they’ve never heard of me. The book blogging community has been wonderful, and I appreciate it.

It always feels a bit strange to talk about myself, but I’ll start by saying that I’m a writer, a husband, and a proud father of a great nine year-old boy. I pretty much always wanted to be a writer, and a fantasy writer in particular, because that’s what I grew up reading and loving. I spent more than enough time as a technical writer in various jobs, and now I am writing fiction full time again. Overall I think of myself as a very average guy who just happens to write stories.

Marlene: Who influenced your decision to become a writer?

John: I’ve had friends along the way who have been very encouraging. Once you actually make the decision to become a writer and get published (or try to get published), it’s good to have people who believe in what you’re doing and support you. There’s always negative people around as well, but you have to ignore them. Those are usually the people who’ve never really accomplished anything in life anyway, so why listen to them? Once you decide to be a writer, you’ll have enough of your own doubts anyway.

Marlene: What is your favorite thing about the writing experience and why?

John: This is a difficult question to answer. I think most writers would say they have a number of “favorite” things about writing, and find it tough to select just one. I love creating worlds and characters, and I’ve always had a need to tell stories. I’m not sure why that is. It just feels like something I was born to do.

Besides that, I love the intimacy of writing. I’m a real introvert, which means that I like to be alone with my own thoughts and I’m comfortable in my own head. Writing gives me the chance to embrace that part of me, to be by myself and be in control. I like being my own boss, in a sense.

Marlene: In The Forever Knight, you changed from third-person narrative to first-person. In general, do you try to experiment with writing style intentionally, or do you find that it just evolves over time?

John: Both. Yes, definitely both. I have always wanted to do different things, to grow and stretch and test myself as a writer. For one thing, I’m very easily bored. I find it surprising that so many writers are able to write in the same world with the same characters over and over and not try something different in between books. That’s never been for me. So trying to write a first person story was always in the cards for me.

On the other hand, there are changes in writing style that come without warning and aren’t by design. I have definitely felt myself “evolving” over the years. For one thing, I’m not as descriptive as I used to be. I used to write really long passages describing things like architecture and culture and dress, and now I do less of that. I just figure that a little goes a long way when it comes to that stuff, but when in my earlier books I really piled it on.

Marlene: Do your characters ever want to take over the story?

John: They do, yes. Sometimes it’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s frustrating. I make a fairly detailed outlined each time I start a book, so I have a pretty good idea of what’s supposed to happen. But very often characters come to the forefront of the story in a way that’s unexpected. Sometimes they’re just stronger characters, and instead of taking a minor role they wind up with a much larger one. And sometimes there are characters in the books that aren’t even in the outline at all. That’s happened to me twice so far with fairly major characters.

Marlene: Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?

John: Yes, there will definitely be more books in the Bronze Knight series. I am contracted for two more at the moment, and have some ideas for the next one. Before I get to that, however, I will finish up the book I am writing right now. It’s called The Bloody Chorus, and it’s an epic fantasy novel, the first in a new series. I’m also slated to contribute a short story to an upcoming anthology of military fantasy stories. I’m particularly excited about that, because I love writing short stories and don’t get the chance to write them as often as I’d like.

Marlene: What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?

John: Oh, so much. Publishing has changed a lot since I first started, and I’ve changed too. The first thing I learned was that publishing a book is only the beginning. I had thought that once I got my foot in the door it would be easy, but that’s really not the case at all. Some books do well, others not so well, and you have got to be ready and willing to weather the storms, because they always come eventually. And then there’s the technical aspects of writing that I’ve gotten better at over time. Again, when I first started I used to say that I was always willing to learn, but it was mostly lip service. I suppose I meant it, but I hadn’t really internalized that idea. It was just something that I would say, kind of like a cliché. Now, however, I’m eager to learn and grow as a writer. I see things that other writers do, and they don’t scare me anymore. I want to be as good as I can be, but I realize that the whole thing involves constant striving.

Marlene: What book would you most want to read again for the first time?

Demon by John VarleyJohn: That’s a real book lovers question! A tough one to answer to be sure. I’ll say Demon by John Varley. It’s one of the first serious science fiction novels that I ever read, and it filled me with an almost indescribable sense of wonder. Not a lot of books do that for me any more. Maybe it’s because I’m so much older now, and wonder is such a rare thing when you’re older. I’d love to experience that feeling again.

Marlene: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask.

John: I wish I knew how to draw or paint. I wish I was an artist. If there was any other “art” form that I could participate in besides writing, that would be it. It was fantasy art that first drew me into the genre in the first place.

Marlene: Coffee or Tea?

John: I’ll have to say tea, because I don’t drink coffee at all and never have. It’s just one of those things that I never grew into. And to be honest I’m not nuts for tea either, unless it’s iced tea. I don’t even drink alchohol. Really, I drink like a big kid—soda, fruit drinks, Snapple, that sort of stuff.

John MarcoAbout John MarcoJohn Marco is the author of several novels of epic fantasy, many of which have been translated into various languages throughout the world. His first book, The Jackal of Nar, was published in 1999 and won the Barnes and Noble Maiden Voyage Award for best first fantasy novel. John writes full time from his home in Kings Park, NY, a north shore Long Island suburb, where he lives with his wife Deborah and his young son Jack. Though most of his days are consumed with writing, John enjoys spending free time biking, visiting the beach, flying, and of course, reading good books.

To learn more about John, check out his blog or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.


John is kindly giving away a signed hardcover edition of The Forever Knight to one lucky winner! To enter, please use the Rafflecopter below (shipment to U.S. or Canadian addresses only).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.

Review: The Forever Knight by John Marco

The Forever Knight by John MarcoFormat read: paperback ARC provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
Series: A Novel of The Bronze Knight, #4
Length: 287 pages
Publisher: DAW
Date Released: April 2, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Lukien is the Bronze Knight, beloved by his kingdom and renowned in battle throughout his world. After betraying his king and losing his beloved, he wishes only for death, but rather than die, Lukien is given a chance for redemption: to be the protector of the Inhumans—those fragile mortals who live deep in the desert, far from the prying eyes of their world. These remarkable individuals have been granted magical powers in exchange for the hardships and handicaps life has handed them. And Lukien, now immortal himself, must be their champion. But how can one man, even an immortal warrior, protect hundreds from a world of potential enemies?

My Review:

Reboot and redemption, keywords for The Forever Knight.

Don’t let the fact that this is book 4 in the Bronze Knight series deter you from reading this book! Lukien, the Bronze Knight of the series, drops just enough hints about the past that he’s trying leave behind that unfamiliar readers seldom feel lost in the sands of time.

Not that what Lukien does reveal about his past doesn’t sound plenty interesting, because it does. I’d like to go back sometime and learn more. But he does tell readers enough so that I felt teased but not befuddled.

Most excellent.

Lukien has fought someone or something (or lots of both) for all of his life. He brought peace to the kingdom of Jador, but at a high price. Cassandra, the love of his life, died along the way. He hopes that someday, he’ll join her in the land of the dead. But not for a long, long time. Lukien is virtually immortal, his life sustained by the spirit in his sword, the Sword of Angels.

Jador is at peace, but it is an immutable law that warriors with nothing to fight tend to get restless. So the ruler of Jador sends Lukien out as a knight-errant. And Lukien, stubbornly refusing to listen to reason, takes the young girl Cricket as his squire on a dangerous journey to a place known as the Bitter Kingdoms.

Malator, the spirit of Lukien’s sword, knows that Lukien’s mission is a test. The mission is one that will teach Lukien about the being that he has become, but it leads through death. Kingdoms of death, monsters of death and battles with death and that lead to even more death.

Places generally are not given names like “Bitter Kingdoms” without reason.

Lukien is not ready to face who he has become. He is a leader who will change the face of the world. No one, and nothing can be allowed to stand in his way.

But he is also doomed to walk alone. A lesson he will have to learn over and over again.

Escape Rating A-: The Forever Knight is Lukien’s journey. We see all the action from inside Lukien’s head, and it’s a pretty bleak place to be. Lukien is not, as the phrase goes, a “happy camper”. I don’t think that state of being exists in his world view.

Lukien is a man looking for a mission. He’s immortal and he needs something to fill his time. Lots of time. The spirit of the sword, Malator, has a mission for him, but Malator seems to be the king of “I’ve got the secrets”. Malator only speaks in riddles. Lukien wants everything clearly laid out. They argue. A lot.

The person who gets caught in the middle is Cricket. She’s restless in Jador because she can’t remember her life before she became a refugee. She’s attached herself to Lukien and doesn’t relate well to others. They are both outsiders. He brings her along on his knight-errantry as an act of kindness, but also so he won’t be lonely on the trip. She’s his light in the darkness. Of course, that light gets snuffed out.

This is a transformation story. Lukien has to change to be ready for the next phase of his journey. Poor Cricket is part of the price of that change. Damn it.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-28-13

Sunday PostIn case you’ve missed it, we’re Star Trek fans. If you are, and you missed the showing of star trek best of both worldsthe Star Trek TNG episode The Best of Both Worlds on the big screen this week, you missed a real treat. Not just because the remastered edition is awesome (and a terrific commercial for the Blu-Ray edition damn it!) but because it was great to be in a theater full of fans. Trek can still fill a theater. The original canon Trek can still fill a theater. <insert raspberry here> Which doesn’t mean I didn’t like the reboot and that I’m not going to see Star Trek Into Darkness.

The reboot is fun, but it isn’t quite my Star Trek.

Getting down off my soap box and moving on to the blog, there is still time to enter the Magic Touch Blog Hop. Lots of people are saying that the magic touch they would most like to have is the power to heal. I’m still thinking of Suzanne Selfors book, The Sweetest Spell. I want the power of CHOCOLATE! With enough chocolate, you can heal pretty much anything.

The Magic Circle by Jenny DavidsonThere is also a bit of time to get in on the giveaway for 4 $25 Amazon gift cards from Elise Sax in celebration of her hilarious new romantic suspense story, An Affair to Dismember. Her guest post about a day in the life of her heroine is a laugh out loud read!

And finally, Jenny Davidson is giving away a copy of her fascinating look at immersion in games, and the difference between playing and role-playing, The Magic Circle. This one haunts.

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonHere’s the full recap:

B Review: An Affair to Dismember by Elise Sax
Guest Post by Author Elise Sax: A Day in the Life of Gladie Burger + Giveaway
B+ Review: After Hours by Cara McKenna
A Review: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson
A Review: River Road by Suzanne Johnson
Interview with Author Suzanne Johnson
B+ Review: The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson
Guest Post by Author Jenny Davidson + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (42)

The Forever Knight by John MarcoI have two guests this week! Speaking of reboots, on Monday, John Marco will be here to talk about the reboot of his Bronze Knight series, an absolutely awesome epic fantasy series. Since his reboot is starting with The Forever Knight, I’ll also have a review of that book and John will be giving away a signed copy of the book.

On Thursday taking a completely different tack, I’ll be reviewing Rules of Entanglement, the second book in Gina L. Maxwell’s Fighting for Love series, after the tremendously fun Seducing Cinderella (reviewed at Book Lovers Inc.) I’ll also have a guest post from Gina and she’ll be giving away a copy of Rules to one lucky winner.

Wild Invitation by Nalini SinghIn between there’ll be reviews of Nalini Singh’s tide-us-over Psy-Changeling collection, Wild Invitation, and Larry Correia’s first Monster Hunter International gun-fest, along with another story from the yummy Strangers on a Train collection.

Come back this week to “read all about it!”


Stacking the Shelves (42)

Stacking the Shelves

Another two-week sized stack. I have not been a good girl.

On the other hand, I keep giving in to the temptation that is the Macmillan/Tor whitelist on Edelweiss. I’ll confess to a not-so-hidden agenda, I’m hoping that Galen will borrow my Kindle and guest-review a couple of these for me.

But maybe I’ll keep all the goodies for myself. We’ll see.

Stacking the Shelves April 27 Reading Reality

For Review:
After Hours by Cara McKenna (review)
Burning the Page by Jason Merkoski
A Captain and a Corset (Steam Guardians #2) by Mary Wine
Carniepunk by Rachel Caine, Jennifer Estep, Kevin Hearne, Seanan McGuire, Rob Thurman, Delilah S. Dawson, Kelly Gay, Mark Henry
The Deepest Night (Sweetest Dark #2) by Shana Abé
The Exodus Towers (Dire Earth Cycle #2) by Jason M. Hough
The Goliath Stone by Larry Niven and Matthew Joseph Harrington
The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White
The One-Eyed Man by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
A Question of Honor (Bess Crawford #5) by Charles Todd
The Right Bride (Hunted #3) by Jennifer Ryan
The Testing (Testing #1) by Joelle Charbonneau
The Testing Guide (Testing #0.5) by Joelle Charbonneau
Thieves’ Quarry (Thieftaker Chronicles #2) by D.B. Jackson
Two Serpents Rise (Three Parts Dead #2) by Max Gladstone
Werewolves by Damned (Magic & Mayhem #1) by Stacey Kennedy (review)
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister #1) by Courtney Milan
The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister #0.5) by Courtney Milan
A Kiss for Midwinter (Brothers Sinister #1.5) by Courtney Milan
Midnight in Your Arms by Morgan Kelly
Out of the Past (Heritage Time Travel #1) by Dana Roquet

Borrowed from the Library:
Wild Invitation (Psy-Changeling #0.5,#3.5,#9.5,#10.5) by Nalini Singh

Guest Post by Author Jenny Davidson + Giveaway

The Magic Circle by Jenny DavidsonToday I’d like to welcome Jenny Davidson, author of The Magic Circle (see my review here). Since Jenny is a professor of literature, I was interested in her take on the difference, or the similarities, between the immersive experience of reading a novel and the immersive experience of playing a game, particularly role-playing games, whether live action or any other kind.

Immersion by Jenny Davidson

I am an addicted novel reader. I’ve stayed up all night reading books – I don’t do it so often any more, but I think the Harry Potter books produced the feeling in many readers that huge numbers of alluring crime novels, fantasies and so forth produce in me. That said, there’s a limit to how much time you can spend immersed in the world of a particular novel, or even reading novels more generally. Whereas a game like World of Warcraft can suck you in to the extent that it really impinges on normal life. Novels can do this too, or television, but I think in this case the difference of scale makes for a qualitative difference between the two.

If games and novels offer an immersive experience that’s basically similar, series fiction seems to me to try to reproduce the greater intensity of a role-playing game. The world of a one-off novel is finite, but the world of a series can be revisited at regular intervals, and the appearance of new installments makes the world seem near-infinite – the fictional worlds that make fans role-play in large numbers (I’m thinking of Firefly in particular, or anything along the Star Trek continuum) have persuaded them that the world of the fiction is infinitely more alluring and appealing than the real world.

_HouseMDOfLeavesTelevision seems to me to work in ways similar to both RPGs and novels, especially as we now tend to view it: a full season in a weekend, in a “binge”-watching experience (either streaming or as a DVD after the initial season has been released). I can immerse myself in bad television as readily as in good: it is true, The Wire or Fringe or The Closer are my preferred fictional worlds, but I once streamed all eight seasons of House from start to finish over about three weeks (I’d hurt my back and couldn’t sit at my desk to work!).

In the end, I fall down on the side of thinking that immersion is something we’re built for, and that we can take it in all sorts of different forms. No fundamental difference between immersion in reading (or immersion in the world of a novel) and immersion in a game, except that some of us are more vulnerable to the pull of certain kinds of world. I like swimming, and I find that immersion in water is almost always very soothing to me – the same can be said for immersion in all different kinds of fictional worlds.

Jenny DavidsonAbout Jenny DavidsonJenny has published four novels and two academic books; forthcoming in 2014 is Reading Style: A Life in Sentences. Jenny teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

To learn more about Jenny, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter and Goodreads


Jenny is kindly giving away one copy of The Magic Circle (Kindle or paperback, at the winner’s choice; paperback can be sent to U.S. addresses only!) to a lucky winner. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.

Review: The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson

The Magic Circle by Jenny DavidsonFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: women’s fiction
Length: 208 pages
Publisher: Little A / New Harvest
Date Released: March 26, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Three smart young women—the scholarly Ruth, her poet roommate Lucy, and their exotic, provocative neighbor Anna—are obsessed with games of all kinds. They’ve devoted themselves to both the academic study of play and the design of games based on the secret history of the neighborhood around Columbia University, from Grant’s Tomb to the former insane asylum that once stood where the campus is now.
When Anna’s mysterious brother Anders gets involved and introduces live-action role-playing based on classic Greek tragedy, theory goes into practice and the stakes are raised. Told in a variety of formats—including Gchat and blog posts—that bring the fraught drama of Euripides screaming into the 21st century, The Magic Circle is an intellectual thriller like no other.

My Review:

Live action role-playing, otherwise known as LARPing, is normally the sort of geeky fun that adults, or quasi-adults, play at science fiction conventions. Another frame of reference for the average person might be teenage boys playing Dungeons and Dragons and going several stages too far.

In Jenny Davidson’s The Magic Circle the only part of either of those frames of reference that remotely applies is the bit about going several stages too far. That certainly happens.

Most of us don’t even know that game-playing is an academic field of study. Getting a degree in “ludology” seems vaguely ludicrous to most people, no matter how much we might enjoy playing games ourselves.

In The Magic Circle, Ruth and Anna are both game designers in pursuit of their Ph.D.’s. Lucy, Ruth’s roommate, is working on her MFA in Creative Writing. They live in the “magic circle” of academic life, and Ruth and Anna create other “magic circles” in their games.

A “magic circle” in this instance is a game environment. The board a game is played on, the table around which the players play a card game, or the place where LARPers live out their fantasy game.

Academia definitely has aspects of a game environment. The difference is that the stakes in the academic game of degrees, jobs, committees, publishing and tenure are real.

In a LARP, the game blends into the real. It is, after all, a LIVE-action role-playing game. Anna and Ruth are playing a game with each other, only Ruth doesn’t know it’s a game, a competition to see who can create the more immersive game.

When Anna’s brother Anders sweeps in and upsets all the players on the board, the stakes become very real, and permanently life-altering.

BacchaeEscape Rating B+: The Magic Circle reminds me of the phrase about the riddle wrapped in the enigma. There’s the big game that Anna and Ruth create based on the Greek tragedy The Bacchae. It’s wild and liberating and incredibly immersive, until the game becomes all too real.

It’s a bad idea to base a game on a tragedy. The gods still do not like to be mocked.

But there are also games within games, like wheels within wheels, and those are what keep the story moving forward. Who are Anna and Anders? What game are they playing with each other, and with Ruth and Lucy? Is any of what Anna and Ruth and Lucy have experienced together real? Or was it a game all along?

I still have unanswered questions about this story. But that’s the way this one is supposed to end. It’s not a neat and tidy book. It’s not meant to have a happy ending. This one is meant to shake you up, and haunt you. It definitely did its job on me.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Interview with Author Suzanne Johnson

River Road and Royal Street Tour

Today I’d very much like to welcome Suzanne Johnson, author of the totally awesome Sentinels of New Orleans series (check out my reviews of Royal Street and River Road).

Marlene: Suzanne can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne: I’m a seventh-generation Alabamian but consider New Orleans and Houston more my “hometowns” because I lived and worked in both of those cities for a long time, especially New Orleans. At the time of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I’d been living in New Orleans for twelve years, working as a magazine editor at Tulane University. I stayed and helped with rebuilding for a few years after the hurricane but then moved back to Alabama for family reasons. My Katrina experiences are what drove me to start writing fiction after a career in journalism and longform feature writing. Royal Street, the first in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, came directly from my own Katrina experiences. By the time I finished that book, I was hooked on fiction! Now I can’t imagine not writing it.

Marlene: Do you also write as Susannah Sandlin? What do you see as the difference between your two “identities”?

Suzanne: Yes, that’s me! The books written under the Susannah Sandlin name are darker paranormal romance. They’re written in multiple points of view, each book in my dystopian vampire series features a different hero and heroine, and they have a strong thriller element—a lot of action. The urban fantasy books are more playful, they follow a single heroine and her cast of followers, and while there are romantic elements, the characters’ romantic journeys are not the main reason for the book. I love writing both genres. They have a lot in common from a reader perspective, but they’re very different to write.

Marlene: Describe a typical day of writing. Are you a planner or pantser?

Suzanne: I have a full-time job in addition to writing from three to four novels a year, so I have to stay organized…which means I’m definitely a planner. I spend a good bit of time working on the story before I ever begin writing. I don’t plot it down to the nanosecond, because I want to be able to let my characters take over the story and surprise me, but I need that structure to keep the story moving ahead. A typical day? Man, this sounds boring. On weekdays, I work my day job, then come home and write three or four hours after dinner. On Saturdays and Sundays, I usually put in from eight to twelve hours of writing per day. That’s when I get the most done.

Marlene: You’ve made New Orleans as much of a character in the Sentinels series as any of the humans or preternaturals. How much of real life in New Orleans is in the story?

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne: The New Orleans in the Sentinels books is VERY real. I’ve been gratified by the number of New Orleanians who’ve emailed to tell me how right I got not only the post-Katrina city but life in the city in general. It’s a beautiful, frustrating, fascinating place to live, and I wanted this series to pay homage to that because I love the city so much. Living in New Orleans is SO different than what visitors experience when they come and only see the French Quarter. Bourbon Street really is not New Orleans; it’s like a New Orleans-on-steroid theme park for visitors. So in the books is life as a resident. Most of the places the characters go are real places, and the settings and situations are real…well, except for the preternatural part!

Marlene: Do you see the Sentinels of New Orleans series as Drusilla’s journey?

Suzanne: Definitely. When I had the idea for Royal Street, I had been thinking a lot about the lessons Katrina taught me and a lot of my friends. That your whole life can be ripped apart in a matter of seconds. That a lot of the things you value in life are just so much stuff and when it’s taken away, you survive. That you have to let people help you, hard as that is. And that people respond to stress in different ways, and you have to respect that. Some people cry. Some make jokes. Some lead. Some fall apart.

So I created DJ as a young woman who’s just beginning to find her place in the world when the hurricane hits. Her journey is that of a woman (okay, a wizard) who has to learn who she is and what she can do without being able to rely on the things—parents, mentors, social networks—that most of us rely on to help us define ourselves. Wow, that’s too deep. It really is a fun series, with a lot of humor!

Marlene: Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?

Suzanne: The third book in the series, Elysian Fields, will be out on August 13 and readers will really start to see the brewing conflict as the different preternatural groups—especially the elves and wizards—begin to figure out who are allies and who are enemies.

Marlene: Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read your books?

Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne: Well, despite my nerdy answer above, first and foremost, they really are a fun read, especially as they begin to move away from the Katrina tragedy. Two, they differ from a lot of urban fantasy in that they really make use of the South Louisiana setting (my merfolk in River Road, for example, are aquatic Cajun shapeshifters). Three, they have wizards and undead French pirates and sneaky elves—seriously, how can you resist that?

Marlene: What made you choose to start writing urban fantasy? Or what genre do you think that the Sentinels series falls into?

Suzanne: Urban fantasy has been one of my favorite genres for a long time—back to when Anita Blake was about the only urban fantasy game in town. I’d definitely classify the Sentinels series as urban fantasy. There are romantic elements in the books, but they aren’t the dominant storyline. That story is what happens in New Orleans and in the preternatural world when Hurricane Katrina tears down the borders between our world and the world beyond. And DJ’s journey of growing up and growing into her skills, and part of her journey is learning to love and accept love in return.

Marlene: What is your favorite thing about the writing experience and why?

Suzanne: I love the creative rush—that point where the characters kind of take over and spin the story in a way you hadn’t expected. It’s mysterious and cool, and I have no idea how it happens…but it does.

Marlene: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask.

Suzanne: Where I get a lot of my character names—LOL. Drusilla was a great-grandmother. Another great-grandmother had the surname Jaco. Eugenie’s mysterious boyfriend, Rand, is named after my great-grandfather Rand Sandlin….and yes, Susannah Sandlin was my great-great grandmother. So I steal family names shamelessly.

Marlene: What’s a book you’ve faked reading?

Suzanne: Probably the most shamelessly, Moby Dick. And I made an A on the exam because it was essay questions and I’m good at b-s. I still haven’t read it.

Marlene: What’s a book you’ve bought for the cover?

Suzanne: I really can’t think of one. I tend to buy online and that kind of cover-browsing that’s possible in a physical bookstore doesn’t work online. I’ll buy for the blurb, or because I read the first few pages and liked the voice. Or because I know the author’s other work.

Marlene: What book would you most want to read again for the first time?

Suzanne: The Harry Potter series. What fun! It’s good on the re-read, but the discovery was amazing.

Marlene: Morning person or night owl?

Suzanne: Despite having to do most of my writing at night, I am definitely a morning person. I zone out about 3 p.m. and don’t re-energize until about 8.

Thanks for having me here!

Suzanne JohnsonAbout Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance from Auburn, Alabama, after a career in educational publishing that has spanned five states and six universities.  She grew up halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.To learn more about Suzanne, visit her website and blog or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

River Road and Royal Street Tour

Review: River Road by Suzanne Johnson

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, hardcover
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans, #2
Length: 334 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: November 13, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but the preternatural storm rages on in New Orleans. New species from the Beyond moved into Louisiana after the hurricane destroyed the borders between worlds, and it falls to wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco and her partner, Alex Warin, to keep the preternaturals peaceful and the humans unaware. But a war is brewing between two clans of Cajun merpeople in Plaquemines Parish, and down in the swamp, DJ learns, there’s more stirring than angry mermen and the threat of a were-gator.

Wizards are dying, and something—or someone—from the Beyond is poisoning the waters of the mighty Mississippi, threatening the humans who live and work along the river. DJ and Alex must figure out what unearthly source is contaminating the water and who—or what—is killing the wizards. Is it a malcontented merman, the naughty nymph, or some other critter altogether? After all, DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.

It’s anything but smooth sailing on the bayou as the Sentinels of New Orleans series continues.

My Review:

Three years post-Katrina, Drusilla Jaco’s life as the Sentinel of New Orleans has just continued to get more and more complicated.

The Elder Council has finally decided to let down the borders to the Beyond, and the denizens of Old Orleans are finally free to cross into New Orleans at will. Jean Lafitte has taken up residence in the Hotel Monteleone. The modern-day Hotel Monteleone. He wants DJ to make good on the promises she unwisely made in the wake of Katrina, back when she was exceedingly desperate and Lafitte looked like her only hope.

Lafitte wants her help with some business dealings he has with some mermen out in Plaquemines Parish. And to take her out on a date. She’s not sure which prospect worries her more, having any part of Lafitte’s business, dealing with mermen, or going out on a date with the handsome but historically undead pirate.

The business turns out to be delivery of a stolen car, the date takes her to Old Orleans where a member of the Elven Conclave tries to put some major mojo on her and nearly succeeds, and the mermen, that turns out to be the most dangerous part of all.

The mermen, who hate wizards individually and as a species in general, have discovered that someone is poisoning the swamp. Rival clans of mermen think they’re trying to drive each other out of prime fishing territory. Of course nothing DJ touches could ever possibly be that simple.

Someone nefarious is trying to poison the mermen and the humans with poison from the River Styx. That’s the kind of serious magic that could kill even more people than Katrina, if DJ doesn’t find the wizardly or preternatural culprit and stop them, fast!

Escape Rating A: Now that we know a bit about how this magical New Orleans and its environs work, it’s absolutely fantastic to see where Ms. Johnson takes her world.

River Road is a mystery wrapped inside an urban fantasy. DJ, along with Alex Warin and Lafitte, start out trying to solve a murder and the mystery of who is crazy enough to poison the swamps, as well as how they’re doing it.

Then things get more complicated. DJ is trying to find ways to keep the poison from spreading, figure out what it is, and find the poisoner, all at the same time. Meanwhile, she’s juggling the rest of her life.

Alex, Jake and Jean Lafitte are all interested, and practically fighting over who gets to mark her as territory. Their posturing is funny, since they don’t get to decide. DJ may have to zap one of them.

Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonSpeaking of zapping, the history of her staff is starting to be revealed, setting up elements for book three, Elysian Fields. Also, her neighbor Eugenia is dating a mystery man who clearly has more story about him, hopefully also to be revealed in book three.

The Sentinels of New Orleans is still DJ’s story. She learns and develops new talents. She grows as a character. She kicks butt. The action happens because she makes it happen, not because she waits for someone to rescue her.

And sometimes she dates “the undead Pirate of the Carribean.” You go, girl!

River Road and Royal Street Tour

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

Format read: ebook provided by the author
Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonFormats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans, #1
Length: 337 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: April 10, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ’s boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond.

Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters.

While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now, the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering the soldiers sent to help the city recover.

To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and for the serial killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love creates one bitter gumbo.

My Review:

The conflict between duty, love and the search for identity make for just the kind of delicious (and generally spicy) recipe that New Orleans is particularly known for.

Suzanne Johnson’s first book in her Sentinels of New Orleans series combines the darkness of voodoo with the sweet spell of jazz, as all the ghosts of this magical city come out to play. However, the word “play” can have a rather sinister meaning for what Johnson has labeled “the historical undead”.

Drusilla Jaco starts the story as the assistant sentinel for New Orleans. She’s a green wizard. Not necessarily green in the sense of untried, although there’s a bit of that, but green in the sense that her powers are from the earth. DJ is a potions mistress. Her mentor, Gerry, is the red court physical power.

Then Hurricane Katrina sweeps in, and changes the game. Katrina wipes away New Orleans as DJ knew it, as everyone knew it. The “rules” force DJ to leave the city, while Gerry stays to maintain the wards against the Beyond. Ten days later, the wards are down, the Beyond is breaking through, and Gerry is nowhere to be found. The Elders (there are always Elders) think he’s dead.

DJ doesn’t believe it. She can’t believe Gerry’s gone. So she comes home to the devastation, the utter wreck of post-Katrina New Orleans, only to find that there is a serial killer stalking the National Guard and leaving voodoo sigils behind…and that there is a Council Enforcer at her doorstep, sent by the Elders to be her new partner.

The Elders believe that Gerry has betrayed his oaths.

Oh, and Jean Lafitte is after her. The pirate wants payback for a previous incident, and now that the barriers are down, he has plans for her. Being dead is not a problem for him. Not at all. The crazy thing is that if he weren’t dead, DJ might be interested.

Her new partner, Alex Warin, is also plenty interesting. Except that he believes that Gerry betrayed everything that the man taught her. But Alex is overbearing and over-protective into the bargain. DJ doesn’t want or need that much protection. What she needs is someone to believe in her.

And help finding the serial killer, especially since he’s marked her house.

The Map of Moments by Christoper Golden and Tim LebbonEscape Rating A: Royal Street does an amazing job of evoking the mystery of New Orleans and the despair of the Katrina devastation.  I would have enjoyed Royal Street just for that part alone. (Another urban fantasy that mines this same period incredibly well is The Map of Moments by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon)

Then there are the two parts of the Royal Street story that made it shine as a fantasy, particularly urban fantasy.

One was the mining of the history and mystery of New Orleans and its melange of cultures and myths. In Johnson’s worldbuilding, behind our own world there is the Beyond. New Orleans is special, because belief in the past is SO strong, that behind New Orleans is Old Orleans, where the historical undead reside as long as people believe in them. A lot of people in New Orleans believe in a LOT of the dead. DJ has encounters with Marie Laveau, Jean Lafitte (frequently), one incredibly evil character and on the flip side, one quite sweet and surprising person.

The city of New Orleans is a character in her own right. As she should be.

Royal Street is the start of an urban fantasy series, and as such, it is really about the birth of a wizard, Drusilla Jaco. She discovers that she is not who she thought she was. She begins the search for her true power. Since the series is going to be her journey, I suspect that search is going to take a while.

DJ is someone who is worth following. She takes an emotional battering and gets up and keeps on fighting. She learns from her mistakes.

What is going to be very interesting will be to see whether any of the possible romantic entanglements develop. There are potentially three men in her life; Alex Warin, the enforcer who shapeshifts into a handsome extra-large golden retriever-type dog (DJ usually likes the dog better), Jake Warin, Alex’s ex-Marine cousin who just found out that the world is more dangerous than he imaged the hard way, and even Jean Lafitte, for whom death does not seem to be a barrier to romance.

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonI can’t tell you how happy I am that the second book in the series, River Road, is already out!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.