Review: Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Written in RedFormat read: ebook.
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook.
Genre: Urban Fantasy.
Series: The Others #1.
Length: 433 pages.
Publisher: NAL.
Date Released: March 5, 2013.
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & NobleBook Depository.

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

My Thoughts:

Anne Bishop is a truly terrible writer. There is really no way to get around that fact. She’s overly fond of pig latin italics and Portentously Capitalized Common Nouns. You know going into her books that there will be utterly painful dialogue, rampant goth sensibilities, a whole lotta weird sexual shit, lazy world-building, and the Mary-est of Mary Sues.

Acrackedmoon provides this fantastic summary of Anne Bishop’s defining work – the Black Jewels trilogy:

It’s got dragons and unicorns and they all love her, and then when the cock-ring becomes too much he bites someone’s clitoris off.

Despite all of these blatant issues, Bishop somehow manages to remain hella entertaining. And so I picked up a copy of Written in Red. Maybe she’s turned over a creative leaf, maybe there will be something different in this series, maybe….. and I’m proven wrong in the prologue. Time to settle in and count the Bishopisms.

  • Pretentious Italics? Check! The “Others” call themselves the terra indigene. In every other sentence. Much the way we homo sapiens always refer to ourselves by genus and species classification. The protagonist has her own special designation of cassandra sangue – something repeated in as many conversations and internal monologues as possible. This here is some serious shit. Meg = Blood + Prophecy. 
  • Capitalized with loving care? Absolutely! The Others and their stuff are Too Important to demean with lower case. Understand me bitches?
    • Wolf, Crow, Hawk, Coyote, Grizzly, Elemental, Winter, Air, Spring, Fire, Earth, Water, Courtyard, Wolfgard, Chambers, Corvine, Hawkgard, Crowgard, and Pony Barn are adoringly capitalized at every opportunity.
    • As is Meg’s third synonymous designation, “The Thousand Cuts.” Why give a protagonist one title when she can have three! Blood prophet vs cassandra sangue vs The Thousand Cuts. Which do you prefer? No matter, you’ll have the opportunity to see them all overused.
  • Goth Glitter? Check! Our three main Vampire Sanguinati characters are Vlad, Nyx, and Erebus. All of whom are, incidentally, tall, dark, sexy – and can literally transform into smoke.
  • Bizarre sexual dynamics? Double check.
    • First up we have Meg, who experiences “ecstasy that is similar to prolonged sexual pleasure” anytime she verbalizes a prophecy from a cut. If she dares to keep the visions to her herself, she’ll suffer indescribable pain and not a smidgeon of pleasure. Do you understand? MASTURBATION IS BAD!
    • Just in case there isn’t enough creepy for you, consider the obvious set up for a werewolf Wolf /vampire Sanguinati love triangle in book 2. Meg’s pain when she cuts, or screams of fear when attacked, are excruciatingly arousing to The Others. Who spend an inordinate amount to time considering humans as “meat” and “prey.” Because nothing is sexier than knowing if your ladylove bleeds, she’ll suffer agonizing pain, orgasm, and then you can eat her.
  • Aus Written in RedMary-Sue? Check! Meg is beautiful, kind to everyone, the most powerful prophet ever, and has a special scent that just drives all the Other boys wild. Everyone loves Meg upon meeting her, giving her unheard of privileges and special treatment. Oh, this area that NO ONE IS EVER ALLOWED IN EVER? Meg’ll get a pass within 30 seconds! Oh, these Others who don’t give a fuck about anything? Instants BFFs! They’ll destroy civilization for their precious Meg.
  • Lazy-World Building? With bonus racism! The Others are all basically First Nations, except they are monstrous killers who literally slaughter and eat the European colonists. They only let them live so they can take their stuff. Because First Nations people would never be able to invent anything so complicated as  jewelry, dog beds, or cartoons. Tor notes that there was potential for a fascinating look at colonialism and a world were the Native populations won – but this is Anne Bishop. She’s not tackling sensitive issues. She’s wallowing in The Erotic Pain of the Thousand Organism Cuts while the Others devour the special meat of their enemies.

Escape Rating: D+ because there is nothing good about this book – and yet I read it all the way through. Anne Bishop remains inexplicably entertaining, despite showing no growth as a writer, or creative process deeper than a 13 year old’s livejournal.

Written in Red will pair well with a drinking game. Take a shot every time someone does something stunningly out of character because of Meg. Or every time Meg does something that would have gotten anyone else brutally killed, but is instantly forgiven.

A Murder of Crows will be released in 2014, during which I expect Meg will be threatened with rape, get laid, and instigate a war. Which will be decidingly won in Book 3 after the death of some redshirts nobody cared about anyways.

***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 or borrowed from a public library 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: Choose Your Shot by Christine d’Abo

Choose Your Shot by Christine d'AboFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Series: Long Shots #5
Genre: Contemporary Erotic Romance
Release Date: Aug. 12, 2013
Publisher: Carina Press
Formats available: ebook
Purchasing Info: Author’s website | Goodreads| Amazon | B&N | Kobo

Come explore the newer, naughtier Maverick’s, where you are in control of the story.

It’s been a year since the decadent BDSM club was gutted in a fire. Tegan has scored an invitation to the grand reopening, where she can finally indulge the needs she’s ignored for too long. On her wicked wish list: a thorough spanking, adventurous playmates and complete erotic satisfaction.

As a switch, Tegan can find pleasure as either a sub or a Domme. The question is, what—and who—is she in the mood for tonight?

Master Grant: dominant and drop-dead gorgeous, he hasn’t forgotten their last encounter. He’ll make sure Tegan gets what she craves—if she submits to him alone.

Eli: the sexy switch has always wanted more from Tegan. But taking their relationship to the next level could mean risking their friendship.

Adam: the last man Tegan expects to encounter at the club, but one she’d love to see more of—if he behaves…

Choose which ending you want for Tegan, or explore all of the sensual possibilities.

My Thoughts:
Flight from the dark by Joe Dever
Choose your own adventure?

Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? Choose Your Shot takes that concept, that the reader starts with a basic story and then decides where the heroine takes it from the beginning premise, and applies it to the sex club Mavericks introduced in the erotic romance series Long Shots.

How well does it work?

There are the reading mechanics and then there’s the story. Or stories, as the case may be.

Tegan was a regular at Mavericks before the fire that closes the club at the end of Calling the Shots . But we haven’t met her before. Our link to the previous stories is Paul and Sadie, the hero and heroine of the very first story, Double Shot.

Because the club has been under reconstruction for a year, Tegan hasn’t had a place to explore the various kinkier sides of her sexuality. She has missed having a safe place to “play” and she’s also missed the friends she has at Mavericks. But the time away has given her the chance to think about her life, and she’s starting to think that she’s ready for a long-term relationship. But that relationship would need to be with someone who understands all her needs.

With that set-up, the stories begin. The choose your own fantasy can lead Tegan to explore all the sexual possibilities on offer at Mavericks. Tegan is extremely flexible, but while steam rises from some scenes, others may go too far past the reader’s boundaries. And the scenes can get repetitive.

Because one of Tegan’s original thoughts was the possibility of pursuing a relationship outside the club, those choices are embodied in three different men; there are different romantic outcomes if she goes through the club as a Domme, a sub or a switch. Even if she leaves the club alone, someone will stop by her apartment at the end of the night. The story ends with the possibility of Happy For Now, or a small chance of Friends with Benefits.

Is that enough?

Long Shots books 1-3 by Christine d'AboVerdict: The concept is way cool. You pick what Tegan should do, she does it, and then you pick the next thing, and read that. The links are much easier than flipping pages. But, it worked much better as a way to explore the club than as a way to explore Tegan’s erotic choices. It was also much too easy for the rooms to repeat.

Other people’s sex, scene after scene, starts to be repetitive, even with kink. There wasn’t enough plot to get to care about Tegan and her choices.

That was the difference between the rest of the Long Shots series and Choose Your Shot. The first four books, Double Shot, A Shot in the Dark, Pulled Long (still my favorite–see review of Long Shots 1-3 at Reading Reality) and Calling the Shots (which I’ll be reviewing later this week at Reading Reality) while they may have all had at least one kinky scene in Mavericks to spice things up, were still romances. The couple, (threesome in the case of Calling the Shots) get their HEA.

Choose Your Shot read like an excuse to show off all the different ways a kink scene could be written.


I give  Choose Your Shot by Christine d’Abo 2 and ½ very kinky stars!

***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: A Riveting Affair by Candace Havens, Lily Lang, Patricia Eimer

Riveting Affair by Havens, Lang, EimerFormat Read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Number of Pages: 339 pages
Release Date: March 25, 2013
Publisher: Entangled Ever After
Genre: Steampunk Romance
Formats Available: ebook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK) | Candace Havens’ Website | Lily Lang’s Website | Patricia Eimer’s Website | Publisher’s Website | Goodreads

Book Blurb:

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast

Rose Verney wants to fulfill her father’s dying request: to complete construction of the teleportation device he designed. Knowing just who can help her succeed, she seeks out Sebastian Cavendish, her father’s brilliant former student.Sebastian hasn’t left his home since he returned from the Civil War. He’s a broken man, his prosthetics a reminder of the terrible destruction his inventions brought to the battlefield. He wants nothing to do with Rose and her father’s masterpiece, but when she barges into his abandoned lab and begins construction, it’s everything he can do to resist getting involved. Especially when she charms her way into his monstrous heart.

Demon Express

Professor Maisy Clark, professional demon hunter, is on the trail of an evil scientist responsible for the deaths of hundreds. Julian is worse than the monsters he creates, but he’s also obsessed with Maisy and willing to kill anyone who gets too close to her. Just when she thinks she has Julian cornered, the sexy marshall Jake Calloway insists the investigation is his, and everything goes to hell. Maisy came to Texas to corner the scientist whose macabre experiments have taken so many lives, and Calloway is just another distraction she doesn’t need. Julian is her responsibility, one she’s not about to share. Even if Calloway can help, Julian will know Maisy is falling for the marshall, and she’s not willing to risk his life.

The Clockwork Bride

When engineer Aida Mulvaney attends a masquerade ball at the home of a staunch Luddite earl with a personal vendetta against her father’s company, she doesn’t expect to end the night married to the earl’s son Julian Capshaw, a brilliant engineer in his own right. The marriage will allow both of them to pursue their love of science, without interfering parents and ridiculous social stigmas. Though they escape to the Continent to start new lives, Julian’s father will have none of his heir’s disobedience. Before long, a marriage begun for the sake of convenience becomes a union of passion, but will it survive the machinations of an earl determined to destroy everything they love?

My Thoughts:

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast by Lily Lang

This retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” was definitely my favorite story in the book! For one thing, this one was just the right length, not too long and not too short (more on that later). It began and ended within its frame.

This is a redemption story, as all the best reworkings of Beauty and the Beast generally are. Sebastian feels that the only way he can repay the world for all the killings done by his war machines is to suffer physical and mental anguish and to never create or use another machine again. Rose needs him to be her partner, to help her finish her father’s legacy. She remembers how he used to be when he was her father’s student. She doesn’t care about how he looks, what she cares about is his spirit, his desire to create and invent…the sharp mind that was the equal of her father’s.

Rose engages his mind, and brings him back to the land of the living. She brings his house back to life, too. They become partners first, and friends. Even though the very first scene is Sebastian being extremely beastly, in the end, they fall in love because they know each other well.

The story never drags. I almost got sucked into reading it again writing the review!

I give Beauty and the Clockwork Beast by Lily Lang 4 and ½ stars


The Clockwork Bride by Patricia Eimer

Master Engineer Aida Mulvaney reluctantly goes to a masquerade ball with a friend and ends up eloping with Julian Capshaw, the son of a Luddite Earl,who also happens to be an engineer. Their fathers also happen to be long-standing enemies, to the point that maybe the M and C last names could be Montague and Capulet instead of Mulvaney and Capshaw.

And this is Victorian-era steampunk, so anti-Irish prejudice is in full-flower. You guessed it-Aida Mulvaney is Irish, or her family certainly is. The elopement part was actually fun, they don’t pretend this is a love match. But when things go downhill, Capshaw’s father’s schemes and machinations come off as too bwahaha evil when we don’t know enough about his motives.

Julian and Aida’s stay in poverty because of said machinations took up too much story, especially since we don’t know enough. That part of the story dragged. Then a whole lot of melodramatic froth got ladled on at the end.

I give The Clockwork Bride by Patricia Eimer 3 stars


The Demon Express by Candace Havens

When I read The Demon Express I had the feeling that I had been dropped into the middle of a story that had been started somewhere else. It felt like there was a whole lot more story going on than what I was reading in that one story. I want the rest of it.

I was left with a lot more questions than I had answers. Actually, the story didn’t end so much as it stopped. Maisy is clearly more than human, but in what way? Julian is some kind of monster, but what kind? What happened between them? More important, how does he track her? Does he really know what she’s feeling, or is he just a master manipulator?

The Demon Express felt like the teaser for a “real” story that I hope is coming later. I don’t like being teased this way without knowing that there is a full-length novel on the horizon. For certain.

I give The Demon Express by Candace Havens 2 and ½ stars.


***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: Playing the Maestro by Aubrie Dionne

playing the maestro by aubrie dionneFormat Read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Number of Pages: 190 pages
Release Date: February 11, 2013
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Formats Available: ebook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Author’s Website | Publisher’s Website | Goodreads

Book Blurb:

Melody Mires has sworn off dating musicians, but when the sexy European conductor Wolf Braun takes over her struggling symphony, her hesitation almost flies out the window with the notes of her flute—until he opens his mouth. Wolf is arrogant, haughty, and seems to have a personal vendetta against Melody. Oh, and he’s her boss. If she wants to keep her job as principal flutist, she’ll have to impress Wolf while simultaneously keeping her undeniable attraction to herself.

Wolf came to America to get as far away from his past as possible, and to recover some of the swagger he had as one of the world’s best maestros. He never imagined being forced to reassess the entire orchestra’s talent—and potentially fire anyone who doesn’t make his cut. Dating the attractive flutist is out of the question, but as their feelings reach a fever pitch, can they risk both their careers for a chance at love?

My Thoughts:

Way back last Fall, The Smutty Lover and I tag-team reviewed Aubrie Dionne’s sci-fi romance New Dawn series here at BLI. (If you want to read our rather mixed feelings about each book, click on the title to check out the review: Tundra 37, A Hero Rising, and Haven 6.  To complete the set, I reviewed Paradise 21 over at Reading Reality.)

I wanted to see what Ms. Dionne would do with a contemporary romance, especially since in her real-life, she is a professional flutist, just like her heroine in Playing the Maestro.

Authors are told to “write what they know”. The behind the scenes world of a small New England orchestra is probably one that she knows well. Although one does wonder how much of the backbiting skullduggery that goes on in the story is drawn from life.

But humans are the same pretty much everywhere.

When you watch a symphony orchestra play, it looks glamourous. All the musicians dressed in formal black, the orchestra hall is always beautiful, the conductor often in evening dress. The hush that comes over the crowd just before they start to play.

The reality is otherwise. Classical music is not a way to make a comfortable living. The arts seldom are. And that’s where this story comes in.

Melody Mires is a professional flute player for a small New England orchestra who barely makes ends wave at each other every month by cobbling together a lot of part-time jobs. She is the first-flutist for the orchestra. She teaches flute. She plays as many concerts, weddings, quartets and anything else she can find. And then there’s practice, practice, practice.

What she doesn’t have is a life.

She doesn’t date musicians, because they all have egos as big as a grand piano. Whether they play the piano or not. The last date she had was with the personnel director of the orchestra, and that looks like her biggest mistake yet.

Into the mess of her life walks the Easthampton Orchestra’s new conductor, Wolfgang Braun. He isn’t just gorgeous, although that’s part of his charm. As conductor, he’s her boss. But he’s been hired to save the orchestra from financial ruin. Which means that he’s there to fire people.

And the one musician that the personnel director wants to make sure gets fired, is the principal flutist. Melody. Because he wants to make sure that his perfect, genius sister gets the job.

Wolf came to America to escape his own past. Too bad for him that his past is barrelling towards him with all the speed and devastating impact of a runaway train.

Verdict: This is a relatively short book to be carrying three fairly complex plot lines. It might have been a better book if it had stuck to two.

The Easthampton Symphony is in financial trouble, and the board hires a big-name conductor from Europe to save it. Enter Wolfgang Braun. Wolf’s plans to save the orchestra, and the villain’s plans to either thwart him or forward his own underhanded agenda make for one thread of the plot. There’s a story there, especially when the love story between Wolf and Melody is added in. Symphonies everywhere are in financial trouble. Money for the arts are drying up, and Wolf’s plans to get the children of the town interested in art were cool and fun and provided some of the best scenes in the book.

Wolf’s past was a second story. He fled Germany to break things off with an ex-girlfriend who wiped out his finances and still wouldn’t take no for an answer. And she’s a top model in Europe. He kept the evidence but didn’t prosecute. He’s got the brass to be a big-deal conductor, but refused to deal with this woman. She caused a big rift between him and his brother. This part of the story didn’t work for me.

Melody and Wolf’s love story was a bit lukewarm. Not just because the love scenes all “faded to black”, but because they were in an untenable professional situation and acted irresponsibly. And Melody was the “good twin” of Wolf’s evil ex-girlfriend, which should have been a total turn-off. And I just didn’t feel the heat between them. They were nice people, they were just a bit too “nice” to each other.


I give Playing the Maestro by Aubrie Dionne 2 and 1/2 fluting stars.

***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.

Dual Review: Holding Out for a Hero by Christine Bell, Ella Dane, Tamara Morgan, Nico Rosso, Adrien Luc-Sanders

Format read: ebook copy provided by the publisher for review
Release Date: 14 January 2013
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Number of pages: 550 pages
Formats available: ebook
Purchasing Info: GoodreadsAmazon, Barnes and NobleRead an excerpt


Scarlett Fever, by Christine Bell and Ella Dane

After five years in training, it’s finally time for Scarlett Fever and her fellow superheroes to leave the United Superhero Academy and test their powers out in the real world. There’s only one problem. She’s been assigned to partner with arrogant, by the book, and irritatingly hot, Blade of Justice.

Blade’s whole life has gone according to plan, and he’s more than ready to move on to the big time, protecting a metropolis of his own. But his perfectly ordered life is derailed when he’s teamed up with the fiery maverick, Scarlett Fever.

Sparks fly the moment they arrive in Plunketville, Oklahoma, as they each set out to force the other to request a transfer. They soon discover there’s more going on in this single stop-sign town than blowing up mailboxes and cow tipping. If Scarlett can get Blade to listen to his gut, and he can teach her to use her head, they just might have a fighting chance.

Ironheart, by Nico Rosso

Vince might be hard as steel, but he’s not invincible. Not when iron touches him, especially in the hands of an evil minion. Not when Kara ran away after a whirlwind affair, just when he thought he might be falling in love. And definitely not when she returns, looking for his help.

The archvillain TechHead is coming for Kara and her superhero teammates, and he’s determined to use their combined power to create the ultimate weapon. But Kara can’t fight him alone. She needs Vince’s brutal skill, though being with him means she risks losing her beloved secret identity, leaving her nowhere else to hide.

When TechHead makes a play to capture Kara, Vince has more to lose than just his heart. But he will do anything for the woman he loves, even if it means putting his heart on the line again.

Playing With Fire, by Tamara Morgan

Fiona Nelson has always been one hot ticket—even before she took the conversion serum that gave her superhu¬man abilities. Fiona’s powers come at a price: lack of human contact, or she won’t be the only thing burning. When she loses control of her emotions, her fire powers run rampant… and she’s hurt enough people already. Including herself.

But when the man behind her conversion returns to black¬mail her into helping him gain power, the only person she can turn to is Ian Jones, the man who broke her teenage heart. The man determined to expose the criminal known as Fireball, whose explosive escapades are just a little too close to Fiona’s M.O.
Ian is convinced Fiona’s dangerous, convinced she’s Fire¬ball, and convinced he’ll damn himself if he doesn’t resist a heat that’s always drawn him to Fiona like a moth to a flame—but Ian has his own secrets.

And he’ll learn far too soon what happens when you play with fire.

From the Ashes, by Adrien-Luc Sanders

Sociopath. Killer. Deviant. Monster, devoid of morals, incapable of human emotion. The villain known as Spark has been called that and more, and as a super-powered aberrant has masterminded count¬less crimes to build his father’s inhuman empire.

Yet to professor Sean Archer, this fearsome creature is only Tobias Rutherford–antisocial graduate research¬er, quiet underachiever, and a fascinating puzzle Sean is determined to solve.

One kiss leads to an entanglement that challenges ev¬erything Tobias knows about himself, aberrants, and his own capacity to love. But when his father orders him to assassinate a senator, one misstep unravels a knot of political intrigue that places the fate of hu¬mans and aberrants alike in Tobias’s hands. As danger mounts and bodies pile deeper, will Tobias succumb to his dark nature and sacrifice Sean–or will he defy his father and rise from the ashes to become a hero in a world of villains?

Our Thoughts:

Stella: With Marlene we are both big superhero fans, so when we heard that Entangled Publishing released this new anthology full of thrilling superhero romance novellas we were more than excited to read them and then later duel about the stories. To keep it from being too long we decided to restrain our discussion to only 2 of the 4 novellas: Scarlett Fever by Christine Bell and Ella Dane and Playing With Fire by Tamara Morgan. So Marlene, en garde! 😉


Scarlett Fever by Christine Bell and Ella Dane

Marlene’s Thoughts: Superheroes and sasquatch. I’m not sure whether the question should be what do those those two things have to do with each other, or whether it’s even possible to make a romance out of them, let alone in Plunketville, Oklahoma.

I should have looked to see if there really was a Plunketville, Oklahoma.

The opposites-attract trope can make for a fun romance, and the heat amps up twice as fast in the middle of a scorching Oklahoma summer. Especially when your cover is to live in a trailer park in air-conditioning challenged Plunketville. (I can’t help myself, I just love the name Plunketville, as long as I don’t have to live there)

And one of you is a fireball-throwing rookie-superhero. Partnered with a control-freak rookie-superhero who prides himself on being, not just too cool for school, but too cool for everyone. Especially the out-of-control fireball known as Scarlett Fever.

Blade of Justice is all about being cool and controlled. He dislikes anyone and anything that colors outside the lines or refuses to plan every operation to the last detail. Superheroes like Scarlett.

Too bad that when General Hammer hands out assignments to their graduating class from the United Superhero Academy, he assigns Blade and Scarlett to Plunketville to discover the mysterious anomaly in the hot, dusty, ugly small town.

Their cover says they’re married. Scarlett changes that program immediately. She tells the locals they’re siblings.

It takes less than 24 hours before one of the local waitresses decides that Blade is the hottest thing she’s ever seen.

And before Blade starts to wish that his “sister” had stayed his “wife”.

Then the evil ramps up, Blade and Scarlett start off not sure whether they are still school frenemies, or partners.

But the supervillain in town just wants Scarlett gone. And Blade realizes that coloring outside the lines is more fun, and more powerful, than being in control.

Verdict: Scarlett Fever reminded me of Tiffany Allee’s Heels and Heroes. Everyone knows there are superheroes, there are regular schools for them, it’s an accepted part of the world. This means that everyone also knows that there are supervillains.

It was obvious who the supervillain was. Not what that person’s power was, but who they must be.

What was fun was watching Scarlett and Blade fall for each other. They have a lot of preconceived notions, because they did not get on at school. When they are forced to rely on each other in the field, they discover that a lot of their negative feelings towards each other were a mask for something else.

This was just a fun story. And the characters of Sherwood and Nestor were an absolute hoot.

I give Scarlett Fever 3 and 1/2 radioactive stars.

Stella’s Thoughts: It was by pure chance I read Scarlett Fever, namely that it was the very first story in the anthology and I started with it and I have to say in my opinion Holding Out for a Hero started out with a bang.

Scarlett Fever starts with the graduation exam at the Superhero Academy, where  Scarlett Fever and Blade of Justice fight the graduation battle before being assigned to be each other’s partner for the next year. Their mission is in Plunketville, Oklahoma, and the small town provided a colourful location with several memorable secondary characters.

Scarlett and Blade are complete opposites: Scarlett is fiery, feisty, spontaneous while Blade is cool, level-headed and responsible, he is the ice to Scarlett’s fire, and the sparks crackle between these two. I loved their banter and their loaded silences as well, Blade was a hero the reader could have a serious crush on, while Scarlett was a likeable and very entertaining heroine with her huffing and puffing. The story was truly a superhero romance because Scarlett Fever was just as much about the explosive chemistry between Scarlett and Blade than the superhero mystery, and I absolutely enjoyed both!

She had to admit, it was easy to see Blade’s appeal. He exuded strength and confidence, and he kissed like the world was about to end.

Oh yeah, he definitely does… Can I just say yum? 😉

Verdict: Some people on Goodreads called Scarlett Fever silly, but I don’t expect to take my cartoon superheroes seriously (really, how could you take a hero who is called Blade of Justice seriously? lol 😉 ). But what I expect is lots of action, tongue in cheek humour and tons of fun and Scarlett Fever delivered! If you are a fan of Jennifer Estep’s Bigtime series you’ll love Scarlett Fever as well, and I sincerely hope Christine Bell and Ella Dane will give us more stories in this universe, because it was a lot of fun, and I personally would LOVE to read many more similar superhero stories! 😀

I give Scarlett Fever 4 and 1/2 fiery stars!

Playing With Fire by Tamara Morgan

Marlene’s Thoughts: Fireball was framed, over and over and over. Although this story has a happy ending, this is not a happy story.

Fiona Nelson seems to have been a victim of her own life. She willingly took the conversion serum that gave her the power to spontaneously create fire at a touch, but willing is somewhat of a relative term when it comes to Fiona and men persuading her to do the wrong thing..

She catches fire whenever she loses control of her emotions. She can’t allow anyone to touch her, because, well, love makes you lose control of your emotions. Sex just plain makes you lose control, whether you do it for the right, or the wrong, reasons.

And most of the people, especially men, who have touched Fiona have not done so with love. Or even like. Fiona has some serious self-esteem issues.

Or, as way too many people in her hometown referred to her, Fiona was the town bicycle. Every man got to ride her. She let them. Sex made her feel better. Momentarily. Then she felt worse.

The man who gave her the serum was one of her “lovers”. Now he’s her persecutor. General Eagle, out to save the world from the converted. He calls them the corrupted.

Fiona finds herself asking for help from the first man who told everyone she was so easy. Except Ian was just a boy then, and now he’s a researcher trying to prove the converted really exist.

Without revealing that he is one.

Fiona’s reappearance in his life is Ian’s chance to make up for having wronged her, all those years ago. His only excuse then was that he was young, and stupid, and didn’t speak up for himself very well. Because nothing much happened.

Now he can save her. Or condemn her to death.

Verdict: This story made me sad. It wants to be a superhero story, but it ends up being, I want to say a supervillain story, but not even that. Everyone is a victim. Fiona is a victim. Ian is a victim. Eagle is kind of a victim.

I wanted to kick Ian’s friend in the balls. Twice. he was just an arse beyond reason.

The government doesn’t come off too well either. They mostly manipulate. This story ended up as a sad mess.

I give Playing with Fire 1 and 1/2 sputtering stars.

Stella’s Thoughts: I am a fan of Tamara Morgan’s stories, I enjoyed Love is a Battlefield and her latest release Confidence Tricks was phenomenal, so yeah I admit, that her story was the reason I was the most looking forward to reading this anthology, but sadly Playing with Fire as Marlene just said made me sad as well.

Due to a natural disaster (something about an asteroid hitting Earth) a conversion serum was developed, many people excited to see what supernatural abilities it would develop for them took it without knowing anything about any potential side-effects and consequences, one of them being Fiona, who developed the power to generate heat and fire with her bare hands. Eight years have gone by and although she has come a long way handling this unique ability of hers, she still has a thin grasp on control whenever her temper flares. But with Fiona we don’t see any positive changes this superpower brought to her life only the bad: how for the past 8 years she had to relinquish all kind of human contact, relationship and had to resign herself to a life of loneliness and solitude.

The problem was that this story was depressing on all levels: Fiona had awful teenage years, she had a reputation of the “high school slut”, and it was not due to false rumours and gossips because she really did do the whole football team as Fiona tells us. And even after that not only the world but mostly Fiona objectified her body and traded sexual acts for any kind of human contact: attention, compassion, companionship. Fiona’s past not only made me sad for the young vulnerable girl she was and still is, the problem is that I don’t feel her opinion of herself, on the matter of sex and her self-esteem have changed.

Besides a superhero who still hasn’t risen above her sad past, the hero also made me sad. His best friend was a jerk and even at the last rescue didn’t manage to redeem himself to me. And I wouldn’t call the romance romance as it didn’t have much time or space to develop, since both the hero and heroine were stuck in very different places than the hero and now, at times stuck in high school and their guilt ever since, then trying to escape the threat looming.

Verdict: Although Playing with Fire had a mutant human heroine, somewhat her attitude doesn’t make me think of her as a superhero. I felt sorry and sad for her, and just wanted to hug Fiona and tell her it will be alright, but one of my problems is that I’m not sure at all it will be. The universe in the story seemed very dystopian to me, and I seriously can’t think of any friendly or trustworthy person there. Don’t write off Tamara Morgan based on this story, try one of her contemporary romance for something lighter and fluffier.

I give Playing with Fire 2 and 1/2 stars!

To read Lea’s review of From the Ashes by Adrien-Luc Sanders CLICK HERE.

To read Marlene’s review of Ironheart by Nico Rosso  CLICK HERE.

***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.

Dual Review: Fortune’s Hero by Jenna Bennett

Format Read:ebook provided by the publisher
Number of Pages: 400 Pages
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Series: Soldiers of Fortune #1
Genre: Science Fiction Romance
Formats Available: Trade Paperback, ebook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK) | Goodreads | Author’s Website | Publisher’s Website

Book Blurb:

Quinn Conlan had it all: a fast ship, a great crew, a gorgeous girlfriend, money, and adventure around every bend. That was before he agreed to ferry a shipload of weapons to the besieged planet Marica. Now he’s stuck in the prison colony on Marica-3, enduring weekly sessions with the camp’s “medical team,” and praying for a quick death before he breaks under the torture and spills everything he knows about the Marican resistance.

When opportunity strikes, Quinn takes Elsa, a Rhenian med tech, hostage and heads into the inhospitable interior of the small moon where he formulates a plan for getting his crew out of prison, his ship out of impound, and everyone out of orbit. But when Elsa professes her love, can Quinn take the beautiful doctor at her word, or will trusting her—and his heart—condemn him and his crew to an eternity on Marica-3?

Our Thoughts:

Has: When I first encountered the premise of a Sci Fi prison break typesque romance it was no contest that I would want to pick this book up! Quinn a smuggler, is captured, imprisoned and tortured for information about the rebels he has been helping with supplies. But he has refused to let the Rhenian authorities to break him down or to betray the Marican rebellion. But during a torture session, Quinn manages to escape with a hostage, Elsa who is a Rhenian doctor who has been assisting with his torture although she finds it distasteful. But stranded in a stark and barren planet, along with dangerous creatures and no water and food, strong feelings develop between Quinn and Elsa and despite their differences, they soon begin to trust each other.

I loved the setting, premise and the romance, between Quinn and Elsa. I felt that Jenna Bennett sets things out realistically especially with the initial mistrust and fear between Quinn and Elsa and I liked how she evolved their relationship over the course of the story to that of enemies to lovers. There was a lot of thought into the world-building, and setting and I could envision the desolate prison planet which were vivid and stark. However the pacing, in the story was a huge issue for me. While I was glad there was a lot of time spent in building up the relationship between Elsa and Quinn, I did find that not a lot of conflict or action was able to bring forward the pace, which felt like it was dragging quite slow especially in the beginning. And the romantic/personal issues between Elsa and Quinn was not enough to engage me in the story.

Marlene: While I, too, loved the idea of a Science Fiction Romance prison break (I really, really loved (review at Reading Reality) Heather Massey’s Queenie’s Brigade, which uses this theme to the max) Fortune’s Hero didn’t quite move me in the same way.

The prison planet is pretty starkly drawn (the creepy crawlies, ugh!) but what we don’t know is why the Maricans are rebelling and what it is about the Rhenian authorities that make the Maricans need to rebel. Yes, the Rhenians have allowed the governors of this prison planet to conduct atrocities, but is the entire Rhenian government atrocious? We want to believe that the Maricans are the plucky “Rebel Alliance” and that the Rhenians are the evil empire, but we don’t actually know. We just know the Rhenians have some extremely rotten apples running this prison planet.

Quinn is a mercenary, after all. Not a member of the rebel alliance. They paid him to run guns and supplies. He’s not a true believer.

And Elsa started out her posting to the prison believing in the Rhenian cause, whatever that is. She thought that the doctor was serving the right. His torture of his prisoners changes her mind about his methods, but doesn’t seem to change her mind about her country, or planet or empire or precisely whatever the Rhenian group is.  Even when she’s captured by Quinn, she still believes that Major Lamb is a upstanding Rhenian officer. It’s only after some time in Quinn’s company that her allegiance changes.

A case could be made that Elsa has Stockholm Syndrome. She’s bonded with her captor. An equal case could be made that Quinn has Lima Syndrome. He’s bonded with his captive.

Has: I disagree about the lack of explaining why the Rhenian’s were so bad and oppressive, because  I got the sense they were pretty domineering in the book although I agree that there should be more about why they wanted to take over Marican system. What made them so special and was it over resources?  But I definitely agree with you about Quinn’s reasoning on not betraying the rebels to Doctor Sterling and it didn’t ring true on why he would not especially with the extent of torture he went through which was horrific. But I think with Elsa, she wanted to be a doctor and to heal, but her society’s structure and ethos seems to be very patriotic and authoritative and in a lot of ways reminded me a bit like Nazi Germany.

I actually felt that their bonding was the strongest element in the book, because while they were hiding outside in the wilds, they were both stripped from what they knew and that helped them to bond with each other. I think those were my favourite scenes in the book, because the romance for me was genuine and real.

I didn’t see Elsa being a brainwashed citizen and I think she was a bit of a rebel at heart and being with Quinn helped her to face her feelings. I do think it was idealistic and naive to trust and actually like Sterling, who came across as a cold-blooded sociapath. While with Lamb, I didn’t get a great impression for him being a smart leader and was incompetent especially towards the end where I think the escape was too easy to be realistic. But I was glad she never defended them or thought of them as being good men at the end. but I wished there was more time, in her questioning her home-land’s beliefs and the damage they have done to other planets and people because it was not realistic.

Marlene: There are definitely hints at the beginning that the Rhenians are supposed to remind us of Nazi Germany, but to me, thats all they are, hints. And all those hints come from Quinn’s perspective as the prisoner. I’m not saying he’s incorrect, just that he’d be inclined to see things in the worst light possible.

Likewise, Sterling is definitely a sociopath. He clearly loves torturing people. However, except for the staff at the prison, most Rhenians seem to worship Sterling as an inventor of medical miracles. He’s a two-faced sociopath, and probably just eats up the worship. The prison seems to be a collection of Rhenian sociopaths, with the exception of Elsa.

I think my point about Quinn was that the rebel cause may not be all that glorious. Quinn needed to be paid to serve that cause. He’s holding out from revealing what he knows for a whole lot of reasons. It’s part of his own code of honor, and because it’s the best way of keeping his team alive. Once he talks, Sterling will have no more use for any of them, and will probably kill them all.

The bond that rises between Elsa and Quinn does make up the lion’s share of the story, and it does strip away the masks that both of them, especially Elsa, normally hide behind. However, both the syndromes I mentioned do make the emotions they engender feel real. They need that bond to survive. If there were a second book, I would expect that figuring out if what they discovered between them was real or the heat of the moment would cause some tension, but would stand the test of time.

The romance was well done. It makes the story work. My question is whether it’s happy-for-now or happy-ever-after, considering the circumstances where it begins.

I would also wonder if there wasn’t a tracker somewhere, because that escape was too easy. If the Rhenians have conquered so much, they can’t be that incompetent.

Has:I think Fortune’s Hero basically sets up and establishes the characters and the setting and that there will definitely be more to come because there is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end and there are hints of what direction the next book may go into. I think the main issue is that this could have been a tighter book if it was a novella because it was overlong due to the lagging pace and lack of clarification on the agenda the Rhenians have over the Maricans but I suspect we will learn more in the next installment.

I hope the romance and the issues that both Elsa and Quinn have will be further developed in the next book and we get to see more of the wider universe. I did like the general world-building and the tone and feel that Jenna Bennett has created was well done but I agree there were definitely issues with the details and of the main plot and even some aspects of the characterisations.

Marlene: I agree 100%. This would have been a better book if it were shorter. Maybe not novella-length, but definitely cut down. I wanted more explanation of the Rhenian agenda and the Marican rebellion, and less repetition of the prison planet terrain.

The romance was well-developed but this couple is going to have a lot of issues that will need to be resolved in the future. How will a Rhenian “traitor” fit in with a band of mercenaries? Did they get tracked? Was the escape part of a bigger plan?

Verdict: I give Fortune’s Hero 2 and a half creepy-crawly stars (read the book to understand)

Has: Whilst I liked the premise, some of the execution was a bit of a let down, especially since it didn’t expand on important aspects of the plot and along with the  bogged down pacing the initial promise didn’t live to my expectation. The romance was a highlight for me but it wasn’t enough to carry the story for me, but I enjoyed Jenna Bennett’s voice and I will definitely check out future books of hers but I don’t think I will follow the sequel.

Verdict: I give Fortune’s Hero two star and half stars (and no creepy crawlies linked to it because I don’t like poisonous spiders!)

***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.

Dual Review: Haven 6 by Aubrie Dionne

Format Read: ebook provided by the publisher
Number of Pages: 326 pages
Release Date: September 11, 2012
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Series: (if it is) A New Dawn #4
Genre: Science Fiction Romance
Formats Available: Trade Paperback, ebook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK) | Author’s Website | Publisher’s Website | Goodreads

Book Blurb:

A product of an illegal pairing, Eridani is the only woman without a lifemate aboard the colonization ship, the Heritage, and she is determined her less than perfect DNA will not get in the way of finding love. As the ship nears it’s final destination of Haven 6 after five hundred years of travel, images of the surface show evidence of intelligent life on a planet that’s supposed to be uninhabited. Commander Grier assigns Eri to the exploratory team to spy on the alien society and return with information on how to defeat them.

When Eri’s team lands, tribes of humans attack and Eri is saved by Striver, the descendant of a colonist and a pirate from Old Earth’s colonization efforts in other parts of the galaxy. Striver helps Eri rescue her team and they are drawn to each other despite their different allegiances. While Striver battles with trusting Eri, Eri must decide whether to warn him and his people about the commander’s intentions, or follow orders and complete her mission.

Our Thoughts:

Marlene: Haven 6 is the final book in Dionne’s New Dawn series, and she’s trying to tie up all the loose ends. So she goes back to the beginning. All the beginnings. The colony ship that arrives at Haven 6 is commanded by none other than the former Governor of New York, or what’s left of her. Governor Grier’s brain is Commander Grier, and she still remembers the last panic-stricken days of Earth. Those events form the story of A Hero Rising, book 3 of Dionne’s series.

But when the Heritage reaches Haven 6, it finds that the original scouting reports were wrong. The planet is populated. That population is descended from Aries and Striker, the main characters of the first book in this series, Paradise 21. (See what I mean about all the loose ends?)

But the crew of the Heritage doesn’t know that, yet. All they know is that there are huts showing up in the fly-by scan. Enter our heroine, this story’s ship-misfit, Eridani. Eri is a double-misfit; she is the result of an unauthorized pairing, and her job is less-than-essential. Eri is a linguist. on a ship that doesn’t meet anyone who speaks dead Earth languages. But since she’s good at her job, maybe she can make sense out of whatever the species inhabiting Haven 6 speaks.

Too bad it turns out to be English. And too bad for everyone that the first group of “natives” that Eri’s team runs into turns out to be pirates.

Things go downhill from there.

Has: Oh yes, you have summed up exactly how I felt about this final installment of the series and I was hoping it would improve. But, sadly this wasn’t the case. I was lukewarm on the romance, lukewarm on the plot and very lukewarm on the characters. The one aspect that I really enjoyed about the previous books, was the element of world-building and how Dionne sets up a tense and engaging setting of groups of survivors on their journeys to find a new home. However, even this factor wasn’t apparent and in fact didn’t make sense. Because it was set a few 100 years after the events in the previous books. I couldn’t understand how the survivors of the Omega station would devolve into petty warfare over technology especially since they kept that alien ship which was the only working tech which they kept for historical and nostalgic reasons.

There was not an element of how their society evolved and in fact it was regressing and it definitely didn’t make sense with aliens who Striker and Aries saved in PARADISE 21. They showed real promise and imagination in that book and I was looking forward to see how events would evolve when we revisit them in this book. But their depiction fell into a huge cliche pitfall of stand-offish aliens who must not interfere with human affairs. And the entire conflict in the book was relegated with the tensions between the opposing human factions of the pirate like gangs and the humans who lived in harmony with the aliens. I was very let down on how this played out in the book, because the plot wasn’t engaging, or had real depth for me.

Marlene: In the attempt to wrap everything up into a nice, neat package, the author recycled an unfortunately large number of cliches from the lesser Star Trek scripts. (I’m saying this and I love Trek with all my geeky little heart) The aliens that Aries and Striker rescue in Paradise 21 are now operating under some kind of semi-operative Prime Directive; they can’t interfere if it will lead to loss of life, but they can help a bit. They owe their existence as a species, not just as individuals, to Aries’ and Striker’s interference; does this make sense?

The society on Haven 6 has either devolved, or something weird is going on that we don’t know. There are hints, but not enough information. In Paradise 21, Aries and Striker bring the entire population of Outpost Omega to Haven 6, only they call it Refuge. Lots of those folks were pirates, but many were prisoners, and some were just folks trying to get by. How did things descend practically into chaos in just a couple of centuries? Also, they used a wormhole to get ahead of the colony ships. Many of the pirates, and others had their own ships. Did anyone go elsewhere? Use another wormhole?

These folks have gone effectively back to, as Mr. Spock put it in City on the Edge of Forever, “stone knives and bearskins”. Or very nearly. High-tech is seen as the great evil. Yes, the last days of the Earth that everyone escaped from were really bad, but all the way back to primitivism? Couldn’t they find a happy medium? Or even a happy medium-rare?

And then there’s the romance. We have insta-love between an outsider from the colony ship and a hero who otherwise wouldn’t know she exists. Along with a bully for romantic tension, although in this case the bully, a Haven girl named Riptide, isn’t as bad as Luna was in Tundra 37.

Speaking of Riptide, there are the two side-plots with Striver’s brother Weaver, and the golden liquid of doom, but I’ll leave those to Has.

Has:  I also have to add that this reminded me of Battlestar Galactica’s remake where the humans decided to renounce technology, and although I get why they did – there was no reason why the pirate gangs could have developed their own tech especially since they came from a space faring race. Riptide’s character who felt like an obstacle to force emotions out of Eri and to create tension between her and Striver. Although like Eri, I was bemused by Riptide’s appearance of foot-length hair which isn’t that practical in a jungle like planet (imagine the humidity!). But I also felt Riptide’s character was redundant and never really offered any real conflict in the romance and she was pretty much a cliche for me for being a bitchy character with no real depth.

However, I have to say I was very bored with the sub-plot with Striver’s brother who defected to join the pirate gangs because he was jealous and bitter of his brother’s popularity and leadership skills.  I found his character to be a whiny, selfish and stupid and the reasons on why he joined a dangerous albeit another stupid group of people didn’t make sense. And although it tried to bring out real emotions – for me it emphasized his TSTL reasons. I also found myself being bored reading his POV chapters because it didn’t offer any real emotions or push the plot forward and when he encounters the glowing pool which is similar to the glowing orb in TUNDRA 37 where people get lost and sucked into their past memories – Well it was a bit of an anti-climactic twist and I was very disappointed because the alien orbs/glowing pool ties in previous plot threads and adds more twists in this universe. But, overall I found that the main plot a huge disappointment and how it ended was a bit of a wet fish.

Marlene: The divide between the pirates and the what? not-pirates? on Haven seems to be that the pirates want to exploit the remaining technology, and Striver’s people keep the remaining technology under wraps, feeling that all technology beyond the most rudimentary is bad. The pirates seem to be too lazy or too violent to develop their own tech, they just want to steal it, which makes them one-dimensional bad guys.

Weaver was whiny, self-centered and fairly stupid. Not in the IQ sense, but in the survival sense. He didn’t see other people as “real”, only as how they held him back from his supposed “greatness”. He never saw himself as part of the problem. And he was a complete idiot to think that going to the pirates was any kind of long term strategy. They were murdering lunatics. Weaver’s purpose in the plot was to show the redemptive power of the golden memory liquid, and to be the obligatory sacrifice for the greater good at the end.

I also thought this one was a bit anti-climactic, especially compared to the first two.

Has: And that is why I feel let down by this because it resorted to cliches and not in a good way. There was a lot of promise because there was such a rich tapestry of promise with the alien and different human factions however the resolution was a lot to be desired. However I do have to say the romantic build-up between Striver and Eri was slightly better compared to the previous books. But once again their romance suffered from insta-love syndrome which I am not a huge fan of because there was no real tension between them. But I preferred this sub-plot compared to the main story of the book.

Marlene: You’re right, Has. The romance did work just a bit better this time. Although there was definitely an insta-love start, the romance between Eri and Striver had enough time and enough “stuff” in it for us to see why these two get together in the end.

But the rest of the story doesn’t work as well. The fight between the pirates and Striver’s people seems basically under-explained. Mostly because every time I say, think, or write the word “Pirates” when there is no water or space or ship involved, my brain goes “tilt”. They are thugs that this society hasn’t taken care of. The alien Guardians have “Vulcan syndrome” without being half as cool. Or a quarter as hot.

And the insecure younger brother plot was really insecure. The best part of the story, the golden memory liquid, got dribbled away.

For that, I dribble out 2 and a half stars for Haven 6.

Has:I also agree! I wished that this last installment, would have closed this series with  a bang and whilst I liked how Aubrie Dionne intertwined the plot threads from the previous books. This was pretty much an anti-climactic ending and didn’t live up to the promise of the earlier books. I found that this was the weakest book in the series and I am disappointed because I loved the world-building that was set up. And even though this had actually a stronger romantic subplot compared to the previous books, I enjoyed the setting and premise much more but I am sad to say this was a bit of a meh book for me and I don’t think I will continue with the spin-off series.

2 and half stars for Haven 6.

***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: Before Versailles by Karleen Koen

Format Read: print ARC provided by the publisher
Number of Pages: 400 pages
Release Date: September 1, 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Historical Fiction
Formats Available: Hardcover, Trade Paperback, ebook, audiobook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK) | Author’s Website | Publisher’s Website | Goodreads

Book Blurb:

After the death of his prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, twenty-two-year-old Louis steps into governing France. He’s still a young man, but one who, as king, willfully takes everything he can get—including his brother’s wife. As the love affair between Louis and Princess Henriette burns, it sets the kingdom on the road toward unmistakable scandal and conflict with the Vatican. Every woman wants him. He must face what he is willing to sacrifice for love.

But there are other problems lurking outside the chateau of Fontainebleau: a boy in an iron mask has been seen in the woods, and the king’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, has proven to be more powerful than Louis ever thought—a man who could make a great ally or become a dangerous foe . . .

Meticulously researched and vividly brought to life by the gorgeous prose of Karleen Koen, Before Versailles dares to explore the forces that shaped an iconic king and determined the fate of an empire.

My Thoughts:

This was originally posted at Book Lovers Inc.

There are two types of historical fiction.  The first is the type where the main characters are nearly all fictional, but the story takes place in a historic setting. Before Versailles is the other kind. Nearly all of the characters are historic figures, but the author is using fiction in an attempt to explain events that set the stage for major forces in history. She is trying to breathe life into people we know only as royal portraits, or autocratic archetypes.

She’s also trying to make the motives that she ascribes to her royal characters fit with recorded history. But we’ll never know. All we know is what came after.

Louis XIV of France is remembered as “The Sun King”. The historical quip attached to his name is the autocratic dictum “L’État, c’est moi” (“I am the state”) although there’s no proof he actually said it. But he did establish an absolute monarchy in France, one that was only brought down by the French Revolution.

But Karleen Koen’s Louis, in 1661, has not yet started down the road of absolutism. He is 22, and he is king. But far from being an absolute ruler, he is himself bound by the ministers who really run his country. The greatest of whom, Cardinal Jules Mazarin, has just died. Leaving Louis a window in which he might seize power. And does.

The mix of history and fiction often catches the reader by surprise. The lieutenant in charge of Louis’ Musketeers (and yes, there really were Musketeers) is Charles D’Artagnan. The fictional hero of Dumas’ tales is based on the factual man who led Louis XIV’s personal guard detail.

While the novel takes place over a mere six month span, it attempts two sweeping arcs. One is a personal story, as Louis, married to a Spanish princess entirely too much like his mother, falls hopelessly in love first with his sparkling sister-in-law, and then with one of her ladies-in-waiting.

The second story is more complex, and much more intriguing. It is an attempt to describe the maneuvering that might have taken place to bring the complete reins of power into Louis’ hands.

And in the middle of the personal intrigues and the financial and ministerial machinations, the author introduced the story of the boy in the iron mask.

Verdict:  The best way to describe this book is that the story is dense. There is so much going on, and the author tried very hard, perhaps too hard, to make everything fit into the historic events, instead of just telling a story.

As a consequence, it felt as if I got bogged down in the names and details, because there seemed to be a need to fit everyone in, and not every single one of the characters was necessary for telling the story. They were there in history, but they didn’t forward the plot of the novel.

Before Versailles might have worked better if it had focused on just the love story, or just the political potboiler, instead of trying to fit everything into a single book.

I give Before Versailles 2 1/2 stars.

***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.

Dual Review: The Last Victim by Karen Robards

The Last Victim by Karen Robards

Format Read: e-book provided by NetGalley courtesy of Publisher for Review
Length: 336 Pages
Genre: Paranormal Romantic Thriller
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Publisher: Random House
Formats Available: Hardcover, Nook, Kindle
Purchasing Info: Publisher, Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Nook, IndieBound, Kindle

Book Blurb:

Dr. Charlotte Stone sees what others do not.

A sought-after expert in criminal pathology, Charlie regularly sits face-to-face with madmen. Obsessed with learning what makes human monsters commit terrible crimes, Charlie desires little else from life—no doubt because when she was sixteen, she herself survived a serial killer’s bloodbath: A man butchered the family of Charlie’s best friend, Holly, then left the girl’s body on a seaside boardwalk one week later.

Because of the information Charlie gave police, the Boardwalk Killer went underground. She kept to herself her eerie postmortem visions of Holly and her mother. And even years later, knowing her contact with ghosts might undermine her credibility as a psychological expert, Charlie tells no one about the visits she gets from the spirit world.

Now all-too-handsome FBI agent Tony Bartoli is telling Charlie that a teenage girl is missing, her family slaughtered. Bartoli suspects that after fifteen years, the Boardwalk Killer—or a sick copycat with his M.O.—is back. Time is running short for an innocent, kidnapped girl, and Bartoli pleads for Charlie’s help.

This is the one case Charlie shouldn’t go near. But she also knows that she may be the one person in the world who can stop this vicious killer. For Charlie—whose good looks disguise a world of hurt, vulnerability, and potent psychic gifts—a frantic hunt for a madman soon becomes a complex test of cunning, passions, and secrets. Aiding Dr. Stone on her quest to catch a madman is a ghostly presence with bad intentions: the fiery spirit of seductive bad boy Michael Garland who refuses to be ignored, though in his cat and mouse game they may both lose their hearts.

Dr. Charlotte Stone sees what others do not. And she sees the Boardwalk Killer coming for her.


Our Thoughts:

Marlene: This was…different. And not always in a good way. It’s like there were three competing tropes going on. The “I See Dead People” psychic trope, the ghost-romance, the ultimate bad-boy romance, and the catching serial killers angle. Okay, make that four tropes.  There are more, but that’s enough to start with.

Lea: I have to agree with Marlene regarding this read being different. As Marlene indicates, there are a number of themes in play up to and including Dr. Charlotte “Charlie” Stone’s romantic life….or lack thereof. This is a third person narrative told from Charlie’s perspective and I will say I had a good understanding of what was happening with all the characters at any given time. A word of caution, there is a prologue in this book that opens with a grisly murder scene and shows readers the trauma and horror that Charlie witnessed. There are more than one such scene in the story so it is best to caution that The Last Victim is not for the faint of heart.

Marlene: While the idea that Charlie took her teenage trauma and used it to forge a career as a criminal pathologist makes fictional sense, the idea that the FBI would scoop her up and put her back in harm’s way with the Boardwalk Killer again didn’t. She was the only surviving witness, and serial killers supposedly don’t like to leave loose ends.  In spite of her expertise, protective custody would have made way more sense than exposure.

Lea: I didn’t have a problem with the FBI approaching Charlie to assist with the investigation given her background and expertise, however there were aspects of the team’s management of her safety that did bother me. And, in the same vein, Charlie is a brilliant woman who is intimately aware of the inherent dangers posed by a sociopathic serial killer, she has made these monsters her life’s study for goodness sake. Further, this is a woman who has lived like a nomad her entire life, moving from one destination to the next depending where her research takes her. Charlie knows the fact she has never settled anywhere is because she has looked over her shoulder since experiencing that horrible trauma as a teen. There is this prevailing, “he’s out there somewhere and could get you at any time” feeling that would cause a lesser person to become a committed agoraphobic but Charlie has channeled her fear in a positive direction, which is good. I did feel sorry for her though, she has no close girlfriends, her life has been devoid of passion, her one goal is to use her expertise to help devise some type of early serial killer detection system. Granted, she reticently steps into the devils sight when the FBI comes to call, but still… I did empathize with her need to do whatever she could to try and save another young girl’s life if at all possible. I didn’t dislike this heroine, but at times I couldn’t help but ask: What the hell is she doing?

Marlene: Lea, you’re right. I empathized with Charlie’s desire to help, but the management of her safety was lacking, to say the least. There were other ways the FBI could have consulted with Charlie without putting her in front of the press, even inadvertently. The case was so high-profile, the press were going to find out eventually, after all. Speaking of the FBI, Agent Bartoli accepts Charlie’s psychic gifts way too easily. On the other hand, Agent Kaminsky is skeptical of Charlie, even as a psychiatrist, to the point of being rude and dismissive. Police departments routinely use psychiatrists or psychologists to profile serial killers, so Kaminsky’s hostility went over-the-top to the point of unbelievability. The agent couldn’t have gotten as far as she had within the Bureau if she “played” that badly with professionals who would regularly be utilized by her team.

Lea: Bartoli’s awareness and acceptance of Charlie’s psychic abilities didn’t bother me. As for Agent Kaminsky? Yes, she did get on my last nerve at times and I agree with Marlene–her attitude toward Dr. Charlie Stone was unprofessional and degrading. I did enjoy it when Charlie starts giving Kaminsky back some of her own, and Charlie’s come-backs are great, she is a psychiatrist after all. I also couldn’t buy into Kaminsky’s personal issues with, and feelings for, fellow team member Agent Buzz Crane. I don’t personally know any FBI Special Agents, but given what I’ve previously read, these individuals are no nonsense and brooding relationships resulting in sarcasm toward fellow team members would be strictly verboten.

Marlene: And then there’s Garland. OMG my eyes started rolling and didn’t stop. He may have been killer gorgeous, but he was also in prison as a convicted serial killer who preyed specifically on women. Charlie was righteously afraid of him when he was alive, but she falls in love with him once he’s dead and his ghost is “attached” to her? The fact that he’s now a ghost and can’t harm her is supposed to make her forget the rest of his character? Or are the hints that he drops that maybe he wasn’t guilty intended to make the reader believe he isn’t as bad as he’s painted? He lied to get his victims into his clutches. He could be, most likely is, lying to Charlie. She should know better.

And ghost-sex by astral projection? Give me a break. Please!

Lea: Michael Garland is certainly intriguing and as the plot progressed I couldn’t help but feel the author had much more to reveal to readers about this guy–particularly given what happens during the conclusion of the story. As for Charlie’s sexual relationship with Garland, yeah, “weird, sister, weird”. O_o I felt the astral projection was a contrived device to get the two of them in the sack.

Then there was Charlie’s possible, maybe, perhaps, not sure, that was a meh/nice kiss, relationship with Bartoli? THAT I found eye-rollingly painful.

Marlene: All I can say is, poor Bartoli. But you’re right, Lea. I can see that the author is planning to reveal more about Garland, but Charlie doesn’t know that yet! And even if Garland turns out not to be a villain, or at least not a serial killer, he’s still dead. Which should carry its own red-flag warning in the romance department. Except for that astral projection thing. OMG that one still makes my head hurt!


Marlene: In spite of everything, I couldn’t turn my reader off. Possibly in the way of watching a train wreck, but just the same, I had to find out how this thing ended. The serial killer does get found, and it both is, and isn’t, a copycat. But a love triangle between a criminal psychiatrist, a dead murderer’s ghost, and a live FBI agent has nowhere to go but heartache. And Charlie should know better about Garland. (For a more satisfying ghost romance, I liked Stacey Kennedy’s Supernaturally Kissed much better (my review here) although the BLI reviewers thought differently. At least the hero is a good guy from the beginning!)

Lea: There were aspects of The Last Victim that I really liked, parts that dragged and finally there was the “OMG this is ridiculous”. However, despite the negatives it was compulsively readable, I had to know how Karen Robards was going to solve the case and kept turning the pages to discover what was going to happen next regarding what can only be described as a vicious, heinous killing spree. There are surprising plot twists. This book is the first in a series, I’m still pondering whether I’ll read the next one. Call me a masochist but I can’t help but want to read the next book to find out more about Michael Garland. LOL

Marlene gives The Last Victim 2.5 Stars

Lea gives The Last Victim a very tepid 3 Stars

***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.

About Marlene:

Marlene is a librarian, ebook advocate, science fiction fan, and RPG fan who lives in the Atlanta suburbs. She and her husband are owned by four cats, just ask them. She’s a geek and a nerd and proud of it. She’s also an avid reader of everything, including the back of the cereal box, and has been blogging since April 2011 at Reading Reality and is a reviewer at Library Journal as well as active on Goodreads. She is also the publisher of Ebook Review Central.

Review: Of Thieves and Elves:A Supernovella by A.P. Stephens

Format Read: ebook provided by the author
Number of Pages: 252 pages
Release Date: April 8, 2012
Publisher: Fanda Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Formats Available: Hardcover, ebook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK) | Goodreads | Author’s Website 

Book Blurb:

A monumental tragedy has befallen the Clan of Ionor, an ancient brotherhood of elven warriors. Concerned when their Master does not reach his secretive business in a distant kingdom, the Elders learn that Tryn, their beloved leader, has been captured by a cutthroat gang of bandits known as the Steel Claw. Yet this is not the darkest of their tidings. The relic under the clan’s safekeeping, a weapon of terrible power that was forged by the gods themselves, is also missing. The Ionor dispatch Eonen, a headstrong Elder, and a young and talented apprentice, Tride, to rescue the Master and the relic by infiltrating the bandits’ stronghold-the formidable Fortress of Toppledom. As the two determined elves hasten into the unknown beyond their borders to restore balance and honor to their clan, they encounter the true darkness behind the matter-the very origin of the world’s evil. Allegiances will be twisted. The fates of many will be set into motion. And the destiny of one will be realized.

My Thoughts:

This was originally posted at Book Lovers Inc.

I had to check the definition of a novella. It’s the librarian in me. Because this is a fantasy, the definition that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America use should suffice. SFWA defines a novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000 words. At 252 pages, believe me, Of Thieves and Elves is a novel. A pretty decent one, but a novel.

About that novel…if there is one basic plot (as opposed to 7 or 10) that plot is “Who am I?” Of Thieves and Elves is a “Who am I?” story. It’s the hero’s journey. In this case, the hero just happens to be an elf.

Tride is a young man, well, young elf, and he’s a bit different from everyone else in his clan. That’s what makes it his story. Tride is an orphan, a foundling. He’s also visibly different, but nothing drastic. He’s just dark when everyone else is fair. He’s also always a bit disheveled, because he’s always being shoved, kicked or beaten by his fellow students, and never draws attention to it. No one cares.

Except Eonen. His family fostered Tride. And when Eonen needs a young warrior to assist him on a secret mission, it is Tride whom he unhesitatingly chooses as his companion. But it’s a secret mission, and Tride is too young to keep informed. Elders always know best. Yeah, right.

Even in buddy stories there are misunderstandammits.  When the buddies are warriors, those misunderstandings usually get people killed.

When the story is the hero’s journey, the person who gets killed is always the mentor. Eonen follows in a long and storied tradition.

So what do we have in Of Thieves and Elves? A quest, a stolen relic, a missing high council member, a daring rescue attempt, and, of course, it all goes horribly wrong or there wouldn’t be a story. They run into betrayal, terrible magic, and a fortress full of evil bandits.

The story is generally good fun in the classic high fantasy tradition. The bandits are really evil, and their leader is so crazy he’s stupid with crazy. In the process of rescuing the people that the bandits have enslaved, Tride starts becoming the hero he was meant to be.

There’s a definite sense that this is going to be a trilogy. The story certainly didn’t wrap up at the end. And it left way more questions than answers about Tride’s origins and the motives of the big, bad evil dude. The reader should want answers.

But I took some time to think. This is a buddy story. Eonen teaches his apprentice Tride the things he’ll need to know to become a hero, even if that’s not what Tride thinks is going to happen. Big brother and little brother. Looking back, I realized that there are not just no women with agency anywhere in this story, but there are no women except the downtrodden slaves that Tride rescues and the victims that the bandits are raping.

The Learners that Tride trains with in the Elvish stronghold are all male. The Elder Council that Eonen is part of are all male. We see no females with any authority anywhere. There were no female bandit captains. While I don’t actually want to see a woman portrayed as that evil, some female would have had big enough brass ones.

Tolkien could get away with this, and he’s no longer around to argue with. Besides, even Celeborn answered to Galadriel. In contemporary-written fantasy, if a society has no females of agency, there needs to be a reason. Or they need to be dwarves, where both genders have beards and outsiders aren’t meant to know.

I give Of Thieves and Elves 2.5 stars for telling a pretty good story but shooting a whole quarrel of arrows through the Bechdel Test.

***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.