Review: Fire of the Frost by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet

Review: Fire of the Frost by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda BouchetFire of the Frost: A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy romance, holiday romance, short stories
Pages: 368
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on December 22nd 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology…

From Darynda Jones, A Wynter Fyre a standalone novella set in a world where vampyres are hunted for sport. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation is Winter, a warrior bred to save them from extinction. Forbidden to fall in love, Winter cares only about her oaths… until she meets the devilish prince of the underworld.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet
The Kingmaker Chronicles meets modern-day New York City! Piers, an exiled warrior from Thalyria, finds himself in the Big Apple just before the holidays. The world and everything in it might be utterly foreign to him, but that won't stop Piers from helping to complete a vital mission for Athena and protect Sophie, a French teacher from Connecticut who's suddenly knee-deep in inexplicable phenomena, danger, and henchmen after an Olympian treasure that should never have ended up in her hands—or remained on Earth after the Greek gods abandoned it.

The King of Hel by Grace Draven
A novella-length expansion of a stand-alone short story in which a cursed mage-king from a frozen kingdom is obligated to marry a woman of high-ranking nobility but meets his soulmate in a lowly scribe.

Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy
It’s holiday time at Convocation Academy, but best friends Han and Iliana are finding it hard to celebrate. As a familiar, Iliana is facing her assignment to a life of servitude to a wizard, very soon. And Han… despite being tested by the oracle daily, he is still uncategorized. As Iliana and Han face being separated forever, they at last find the courage—or desperation—to break the rules and acknowledge their deeper feelings for each other. But it will take more than true love to save them from the laws of the Convocation…

My Review:

This holiday treat dropped into my lap this week and I couldn’t resist starting it immediately! Isn’t that what holiday treats are for? Immediate consumption for the yes! Especially as I’ve received earlier versions of this confection of a collection (Under a Winter Sky, Seasons of Sorcery and Amid the Winter Snow) and they’ve all been wonderful reading treats.

For the most part, this year’s collection of winter fantasy romances was a very sweet treat indeed – with just enough naughty in the mix to give Santa a blush or four.

My absolute favorite story this year was Grace Draven’s The King of Hel, and not just because it’s a standalone story that isn’t set in one of her other worlds. It’s the kind of fantasy romance that didn’t really have to be a fantasy romance. In fact, its real world inspiration was not. Inspired by the real life romance between Madame de Maintenon and Louis XIV of France, this is the story of Doranis, the magic-touched king of Helenrisia and his queen’s best friend, the modestly born Castil il Veras. What made this story so beautiful is the way that Castil’s deep, life-long friendship with Doranis’ queen is not broken by the romance. Rather, Castil is heartbroken when her best friend dies in childbirth yet still honors that friendship. But life goes on, and the queen’s death gives Doranis the freedom to marry the woman who is suited to him in all ways but birth, and lets Castil acknowledge her love for a man who was otherwise twice beyond her touch.

This was just a beautiful winter romance between two strong and surprisingly equal partners and I loved every page of it.

On the other hand, my least favorite story in this collection was Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy. It’s not that it’s not a good story, because it is, and it’s not that it’s not well done, because it is that as well. It’s that the protagonists of the story are fundamentally, by law and custom, absolutely powerless and their powerlessness gets rubbed like salt into their wounds and the reader’s psyche at every turn. This is just one of those cases where I know it’s good and I know there’s an audience for it and I’m just not it.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet was just plain fun, kind of in the way that the first Thor movie was fun. At points, literally in the way that the first Thor movie was fun, a fact that the heroine references more than once during the course of her whirlwind romance while running from bad guys story plays out. Although Piers of Thalyria, an exile from the world of the author’s Kingmaker Chronicles, has no godlike powers, it turns out that his heroine does and he’s been jerked across time and space in order to protect her while she figures out how to either use them or give them back. The story here is kind of a lighthearted romp – in spite of being chased down by evil entrepreneurs and their henchmen at every turn.

Last but not least, my second favorite story in the collection, Darynda Jones’ A Wynter Fyre. The beginning had a bit of an “aliens made them do it” start – not that any of the characters in this story are actually alien to this world. But there’s a common fanfiction trope for series like Stargate and its spinoffs where the characters are compelled by unbridled libidos to have sex because of “alien sex pollen”. The way this story begins, with vampyres biting Wynter in order to infect her with the equivalent of “vampyre sex pollen” had a very similar feel. Particular when the hero fends off the bad vamps in order to woo her for himself, once he’s helped her take the edge off, so to speak.

After that hot, heavy, creepy and slightly rapey beginning the story itself takes a surprising turn. Wynter has been awakened from 70+ years as a statue because her mother the demon (yes, the being she believes is her mother is an actual demon) needs her to rescue a kidnapped vampyre princess.

But it’s all a setup. Not that the princess hasn’t been kidnapped, but it’s all part of the plot to give Wynter the chance to do her job of protecting the vampyres properly – by killing the greatest threat to their existence – her demon mother. That the setup also manages to change the romance from a sex into love story into a second chance at love story is all part of its charm – something this one had absolutely oodles of.

Escape Rating B+: This collection is always a lovely holiday treat. But like any collection, some stories hit the mark with this reader – or any other – while others aren’t quite as close to the bullseye.

If I were giving individual ratings, A Wynter Fyre would get an A; Of Fate and Fire would receive a B; The King of Hel hits the high spot at A+ while Familiar Winter Magic just didn’t work for me at all. Your reading mileage – even through the snowy landscape of these winter tales – will definitely vary.

No matter which stories in the collection tickle your holiday reading fancy, the collection is definitely worth curling up with some hot chocolate and a cozy blanket for a delicious holiday read!

Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda JonesFirst Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1) by Darynda Jones
Format: ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Charley Davidson #1
Pages: 310
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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This whole grim reaper thing should have come with a manual.Or a diagram of some kind.A flow chart would have been nice.

Charley Davidson is a part-time private investigator and full-time grim reaper. Meaning, she sees dead people. Really. And it's her job to convince them to "go into the light." But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (like murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she's been having about an entity who has been following her all her life...and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely. But what does he want with Charley? And why can't she seem to resist him? And what does she have to lose by giving in?

With scorching-hot tension and high-octane humor, First Grave on the Right is your signpost to paranormal suspense of the highest order.

My Review:

This was a temptation I just couldn’t resist, in more ways than one.

The Charley Davidson series has been recommended to me multiple times, but I tend to have an approach/avoidance thing with books that too many people try to get me to read. Not that they’re not usually right, but sometimes I just don’t want to follow the crowd, or at least not right away.

But the thirteenth and final book in this series Summoned to Thirteenth Grave, is coming out in January. So I don’t think it’s exactly a coincidence that the publisher put the WHOLE SERIES up on NetGalley this week, hoping to generate some pre-finale buzz.

It worked for me. I can never resist “collecting the set” so here I am, fresh from finishing First Grave on the Right. And now I know what all the fuss was about.

Charley Davidson is a Grim Reaper. Actually she’s THE Grim Reaper, or at least the current incarnation thereof. It’s not just that she sees dead people, but that her job is to help them figure out why they haven’t crossed over, help them take care of their unfinished business, then lead them towards the light. Which happens to be, well, herself.

She sees dead people, and dead people see her as that light they’re supposed to go to. They pass through her on their way to heaven. As long as she manages to stay out of there herself.

Which doesn’t seem to be easy. Charley has a knack for getting herself into not just trouble, but downright dangerous trouble. Because she doesn’t just see dead people, she also interviews them for her Uncle Bob the police detective. His closure rate for homicides is off the charts – just like her dad’s was before him. (Don’t worry, Dad merely retired. Charley still sees him the usual way.)

In addition to helping both the cops and the dead people, Charley is also a private investigator. While that helps to give her a cover explanation for why the Albuquerque PD uses her as a consultant, she also has a dangerous sideline – she helps abused women get away from their abusers – some of whom go after her.

The case in Charley’s first recorded outing is a real doozy. Three lawyers appear in her office, all dead. All partners. All shot the same night. While some might call that a coincidence, and considering all the jokes about lawyers, some might call it a “good start”, Charley knows instantly that this bunch has unfinished business.

They need to see justice done in their multiple murders. And they need to get an innocent man off of death row. That their need for justice turns out to involve taking down the kingpin of a human trafficking ring is all in Charley’s day’s work.

That she has either a supernatural or extra-dimensional stalker who is invading her dreams and her waking life with irresistible sexual magnetism is either icing on Charley’s cake, or the beginning of her worst nightmare.

Or, with Charley’s luck, both.

Escape Rating B: There is a lot to love about this series opener. So far, at least, the Charley Davidson series sits right on that borderline between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Charley’s cases, for the most part, fall into urban fantasy. She not only sees and talks to dead people, but she uses their help to solve her cases, which also involve dead people. Sometimes they are the dead people, and sometimes they become the dead people.

There’s also a “romantic” element, for certain definitions of romance. I have to admit that this was where things didn’t quite work for me. This grim reaper has an equally grim stalker who has been intervening in Charley’s life on a regular basis – whenever she’s been in really, really, really big trouble. I repeat the really to emphasize that this being only shows up when Charley is in imminent danger of becoming her own client – because Charley seems to be in some kind of trouble all the time.

Because her stalker has amped up his “game”, he’s been showing up in Charley’s dreams and her waking life for the past month, taunting her with hints that he knows more about her past than she realizes, and ramping her libido up to the max just by appearing in the vicinity.

It’s not working as romance for me. I enjoy watching the chase, and this feels all about the catch. And the identity of her “mystery being” went a bit over the top. At least for moi. He felt more stalkerish than romantic.

Thjs may not have been helped by my sense that all of the men in this story are either Charley’s relatives or dead or douchecanoes, and sometimes two out of three. The ONLY good guys seem to be her Dad and her Uncle. While some of the terrible behavior can be attributed more to their reaction to Charley’s grim sideline than to simply her female existence, it would still have felt more balanced to me if at least some of the men were decent eggs.

None of this detracted from the book being terrifically fun to read. Charley is a very likeable character, particularly if you like your snark-o-meter set to high, which I do. I not only love the t-shirt quotes that serve as chapter openers, I know where nearly all of them come from!

The mystery that Charley needs to solve is as twisted and convoluted as anyone could wish. Her methods of combining info from her dead clients with standard PI techniques both ground the series in the real and give it the right touch of woowoo to put it firmly in urban fantasy territory.

But speaking of woowoo, this book reminded me of a couple of other paranormal-ish/urban fantasy-type series, and not the ones that people usually mention. While this series does have some of the madcap elements of Stephanie Plum, Charley seems to be way more competent than Stephanie, who was always much more lucky than good. Charley is both lucky and good, and that seems more reasonable over a long (13 book) haul. Stephanie is so hapless that she should be dead ten times over by now. Charley’s enemies are darker and deadlier, but Charley seems to have a better grasp on what she’s supposed to be doing – not that she still wouldn’t like an instruction manual.

Instead, what this series reminds me of most is the Anita Blake series – only the first few books before it got to be all about notching Anita’s bedpost as often as possible. Once upon a time, Anita was a kick-ass urban fantasy heroine who solved cases and righteously put bad guys away – or underground. Charley has some of that part of Anita in her. But this series also reminds me of Karen Robards’ Dr. Charlotte Stone series (start with The Last Victim), where her much-damaged psychologist not only sees dead people, but falls in love with one. Charlie Stone and Charley Davidson would have a lot to talk about.

I’ll be back with Second Grave on the Left the next time the mood strikes!