Review: Silver Silence by Nalini Singh

Review: Silver Silence by Nalini SinghSilver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #1; Psy-Changeling, #16) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: , Psy-Changeling #16
Pages: 464
Published by Berkley Books on June 13th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh returns to her extraordinary Psy-Changeling world with a story of wild passion and darkest betrayal...
Control. Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that's exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him.
Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence--her mind clear of all emotion--Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That's what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious...and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan.
Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed...

My Review:

An answer to entirely too many of the questions, problems and issues in the entire Psy-Changeling series boil down to the truism that “human beings suck”. This isn’t a criticism of the series, merely an observation, because, after, all, human beings do suck. And for all of their differences, all of the races in this series, whether Psy, Changeling or original recipe human, are still all variations of human, and human beings suck.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, there’s a reason for the rant within the story. So much of the non-romantic action in Silver Silence is a response to some particular human beings sucking very, very much.

Silver Silence, as the first book in the Psy-Changeling Trinity sub-series, follows the events in Allegiance of Honor, and everything that led up to this point. What was once a world with three separate and equally distrustful if not equally powerful factions is beginning to coalesce into the alliance brought about by the Trinity Accords.

The Psy, the Changelings and the Humans, at least through the loose coalitions that speak for each group, are determined to work together for the greater good. And for the continued survival of all three.

But there is an awful lot of bloody water under the damn bridge, and there are a lot of very wary members of all three groups. Particularly the humans. The Changelings and the Psy, while always distrustful of each other at best, always did have somewhat equal power. Changeling minds are immune to Psy interference. But humans, less physically threatening than the Changeling and always open to mental interference from the Psy, have a lot to forgive, particularly of the Psy. Changelings mostly left them alone, while the Psy have spent a century plucking advances out of the minds of humans, keeping those advancements for themselves and breaking the human’s minds in the process.

All too many of the Psy were a force that lived up to the old maxim about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. No one could stop them, so they felt empowered to do whatever they damn well pleased to whoever they could.

Those days are over. Not necessarily or always out of altruism, but because the PsyNet that all Psy must connect to in order to remain healthy and function is itself sick. By walling themselves off from human emotions in specific and humans in general, the Psy have closed off a necessary safety valve for the PsyNet’s sentient mind. Psy need humans (and changelings) to willingly form bonds with them, and those bonds can’t be coerced. Without those bonds, without the breaking of the Silence conditioning that keeps them emotionally barren, the Psy will all die, but not before going on a psychopathic rampage of planet-wide proportion.

So the seemingly all-powerful Psy, whether reluctantly or willingly, must cooperate and intermingle with the Changelings and the humans. But it is in all three groups’ best interests to learn to get along. They each have something that the other lacks, strengths that the others need, and weaknesses that the others can shore up. Now that they are not all out to merely exploit each other. Business is still business, and that’s fair. But they’ve all finally acknowledged that they have to work together or things will get very, very ugly, and it won’t necessarily be anyone in particular’s fault. Once you start treating groups as “the Other”, bad things happen to both parties.

And that’s where this story comes into the whole. The Human Alliance, led by Bowen Knight, is willing to work with the Psy and the Changelings on an equal footing. There is still some distrust, but it is reasoned and reasonable distrust. But there are other human agencies working in the shadows who condemn any human who works with the others as either under Psy influence or a traitor to their race. (And haven’t we all heard those words before?)

The shining symbol of interspecies cooperation is Em-Net, a global crisis response team that provides assistance to all whenever and wherever needed. And it is personified by its extremely capable director, the Psy Silver Mercant. So Silver is attacked by stealth, from the shadows, by a patient predator who wants to see Em-Net in disarray and unable to respond, while also crippling the future of the powerful Mercant family.

But Silver is not alone when she ingests the poison that has been lurking unsuspected in her stored nutrition packets. Instead, the Bear Alpha Valentin Nikolaev is in her apartment, attempting to bait her into an un-Silent response to his rather less-than-subtle wooing. Valentin rescues Silver, and sets the events of the rest of the story in motion.

Despite her being Psy, Valentin knows that Silver is his mate. And he will do anything to protect her and keep her safe. And if that anything includes taking her to the Denhome and giving her ample opportunities to fall for both him and his clan, so much the better.

But Silver has a secret weakness, and not just her weakness for slightly clumsy Alpha Bears. Silver’s Silence conditioning is failing, and her growing emotional connection to Valentin is breaking her already vulnerable walls. But that conditioning, the Silence that keeps her ice cold and unemotional, is also the only thing keeping her alive.

Escape Rating B+/A-: This one came out right on the border between B+ and A-. I loved the relationship between Valentin and Silver. We watched it build from very small pieces into something big and wonderful and, at times, tissue-grabbing tragic. There is so much love and fear and hope built into their story, and that was marvelous.

There were also some fascinating reactions/revelations on the parts of Silver’s grandmother Ena and her brother Arwen. The Mercant family, for all of their reputation as ice-cold operators, clearly has never been completely Silent. We’ve seen other Psy families where loyalty comes to serve in place of love, and provides many of the same motivations that love does, but this is the first time we see love expressed within a Psy family, even though the words are never said. Not just that Silver loves her E-designation brother Arwen, for whom emotion is strength, but also the love between Silver and her grandmother Ena.

Valentin’s bear clan, even with the tragedy currently darkening its heart, is always a joy. Bears are real charmers, especially the cubs. And the story needs the lighter moments that they bring.

But the thing that kept this story at the border for me were the two unnamed human evil-doers who operate from the shadows and propel much of the political action of the story. They are both definitely evil. They both hate Psy, and to a lesser extent, Changelings. They both have a “Humans First” agenda that they are willing to press forward with mass murders. And they are both fanatics who are willing to murder massive numbers of humans to prove that Psy can’t be trusted, an irony which is totally lost on both of them.

They are not the same person and many of their goals and methods are not completely aligned. But as the story progresses and we get small glimpses from their own perspectives about their thoughts and motivations, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell them apart. I think one of them is exposed by the end, but because they were so amorphous and so much alike, I’m not sure who, or which, or completely if.

None of which changes the fact that I love this series, and can’t wait for the next installment. Hopefully next summer and not any later.

But I have one final comment. The covers for the US editions of this series are never as good as the UK editions. The US covers are often vaguely “cheesy”, and sometimes not even vaguely. Or, are just blah, as this one is. The UK covers are crisp and evocative portraits of the hero, and they just work. See for yourself.

US Cover
UK cover

Review: Dim Sum Asylum by Rhys Ford

Review: Dim Sum Asylum by Rhys FordDim Sum Asylum by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Pages: 240
Published by Dreamspinner Press on June 9th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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* Novel-length expansion of original short story found in Charmed & Dangerous anthology. *
Welcome to Dim Sum Asylum: a San Francisco where it’s a ho-hum kind of case when a cop has to chase down an enchanted two-foot-tall shrine god statue with an impressive Fu Manchu mustache that's running around Chinatown, trolling sex magic and chaos in its wake.
Senior Inspector Roku MacCormick of the Chinatown Arcane Crimes Division faces a pile of challenges far beyond his human-faerie heritage, snarling dragons guarding C-Town’s multiple gates, and exploding noodle factories. After a case goes sideways, Roku is saddled with Trent Leonard, a new partner he can’t trust, to add to the crime syndicate family he doesn’t want and a spell-casting serial killer he desperately needs to find.
While Roku would rather stay home with Bob the Cat and whiskey himself to sleep, he puts on his badge and gun every day, determined to serve and protect the city he loves. When Chinatown’s dark mystical underworld makes his life hell and the case turns deadly, Trent guards Roku’s back and, if Trent can be believed, his heart... even if from what Roku can see, Trent is as dangerous as the monsters and criminals they’re sworn to bring down.

My Review:

If Cole McGinnis from Dirty Kiss found himself in Kai Gracen’s world from Black Dog Blues, you’d end up with someone like Roku MacCormick in something like his Chinatown Division of the Arcane Crimes Squad in someplace like his fae-infused San Francisco. Possibly with a bit of Detective Inspector Chen from Liz Williams’ Snake Agent to add just that extra touch of the really, really supernaturally magical.

And it would be an excellent thing. And it is.

Roku’s San Francisco is just a side-step away from our own, and feels like it is built on the same somewhat shaky foundations. We don’t know when or how this history split off from our own, but whenever it did it created an analog of our world that is just close enough to identify with, and just different enough to make it really, really weird. And magical.

The story begins with Senior Inspector Roku MacCormick chasing down a man who has just stolen a clutch of eggs from a flock of little, tiny dragons. Yes, there be dragons here, and this bunch is pissed. Really, really pissed. And so is Roku, because the egg-thief is his soon to be ex police partner, and if Roku doesn’t get him the dragons will, or possibly the other way around. And the chase and eventual capture is only the beginning of this wild ride.

Roku, as is true of most urban fantasy heroes, is always in more than a bit of trouble. He’s also a man who is always caught between a rock and a hard place, and who is such a mass of contradictory identities and loyalties that he seems to always be on the outside looking in, no matter what he’s on the outside of, or where he’s looking into.

First, he’s a natural-born fae-human hybrid. It’s rare, but it does happen. And there is plenty of prejudice going around on all sides, humans vs. fae, fae vs. humans, and both sides vs. hybrids. But Roku’s also stuck with a foot on both sides of the cops vs. criminals fence as well, and it’s damned uncomfortable. His fae mother came from generations of cops. His mother’s fling was not merely human, but the son of the head of one of San Francisco’s most powerful crime families, the Takahashi. And while Roku’s father turned out to useless as both a father and as a son, Roku’s grandfather is absolutely certain that Roku is the perfect heir to the family criminal empire, even though Roku bleeds blue.

The case that brings Roku his new partner Trent Leonard and all the excitement he can handle is all about family. Roku’s family. His grandfather has put him in the crosshairs of his own family, as everyone thinks that the way to promotion is to wipe out the competition. And his grandfather’s enemies are after him because he looks like the best way to get at the well-guarded old man.

Meanwhile, there is deadly magic loose on the streets of Chinatown, aimed at Roku and anyone who gets close to him. It’s a road he’s been down before, and it cost him everything he held dear. He’s not sure he’s ready to go down that road again, but he has no choice if he wants to save the city and the people that he loves.

Escape Rating A-: It may be Pride Month, but that’s just an excuse for me. I read everything that Rhys writes, and usually fall somewhere between merely liking it and loving the hell out of it. Black Dog Blues was on my Best Ebook Romances list at Library Journal in 2013, before it was picked up by Dreamspinner and re-published. (I like to think the article helped!)

But seriously, Dim Sum Asylum is terrific urban fantasy, right on the border with paranormal romance. There is a romance here, but it feels like it takes second place to the mystery that desperately needs solving, and that’s just the way I like my urban fantasy.

The mystery is a wheels within wheels within wheels kind of thing, and as those wheels unspiral we get deeper and deeper into Roku’s world as well as his head and heart. The case starts with him chasing a sex-magic homunculus, middles with stone scorpions trying to leap down his throat, and ends with the destruction of animated statuary dragonflies. The magic gets bigger and the stakes get higher.

Roku begins the story with no hostages to fortune except Bob the Cat, and ends with him finding a partner for both his work and his life, and his possible return to both his adopted and his birth families, at least in some capacity. His circle gets wider as the stakes get more dangerous.

The ending of the case was marvelous and surprising, and I don’t want to spoil it. But there’s also a fascinating lesson in there for anyone who wants to take it.

And last but not least, Bob the Cat is my new favorite book pet. (Other people have book boyfriends, I have book pets). He’s completely different from Neko in the Cole McGinnis series, but equally manipulative and equally cat.

If you like the sound of Dim Sum Asylum, or maybe I should say the taste of Dim Sum Asylum, there’s a tour going on right now with a chance to win a $20 Gift Certificate to the etailer of your choice as well as chapters of a short story set in the same universe as Dim Sum Asylum. (Click on the logo above to connect to the tour) Me, I want to read that story!

Review: Reluctant Mate by Lauren Dane

Review: Reluctant Mate by Lauren DaneReluctant Mate by Lauren Dane
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Cascadia Wolves #0.5
Pages: 50
Published by Carina Press on December 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

"I can't touch you yet. Once I do, it's over."

As daughter of the ruling Pack family, Layla Warden is under pressure to settle down. Find a nice wolf mate from a nice wolf family and have nice wolf babies. Layla has other plans, but when you're a werewolf, biology trumps plans. And when Layla meets Sid, the sex is so intense, so hot, so consuming, it's more than just a connection. It's a mating bond.

Sid Rosario wasn't expecting to find his mate so soon—some wolves never find theirs. Now that he's found Layla, he's never letting her go. But lust and desire alone aren't enough to secure their bond. If they want this incredible happiness to last, there's one more thing they'll have to do…

My Review:

reluctant by lauren daneReluctant Mate is a re-issue of Reluctant, the prequel novella for Lauren Dane’s Cascadia Wolves series. Which I somehow managed never to read, so when the first two books in the series, Reluctant Mate and Pack Enforcer, popped up on NetGalley, I decided it was time to give the series a try.

Reluctant Mate is a terrific teaser for the series, so I’m glad that I grabbed it.

This introduction is short, and has its sweet moments, but it is a sex-into-love story that is very heavy on the sex, and light on the romantic angles. And that makes sense in this particular world, as this is also a fated mate story, and it does some nice things with what is otherwise an often tried trope.

Layla Warden is not looking for a mate. She’s not looking for love, either. A few hot nights between the sheets, on the other hand, is what she has on her mind when she meets Sid Rosario. And that’s all she has on her mind.

Layla is way more invested in her ten-year-plan to reach the top of the corporate ladder. She’s just received a promotion to a corner office, and the raise to go along with it. But keeping her head above water with her new responsibilities has been all work and no play.

Her best friend drags her to a werewolf only club for a girls’ night out, and that’s where Layla meets Sid. He’s an artist from Phoenix, visiting Seattle for a few weeks to carry out a commission. A brief fling is all he has in mind, until their mating bond kicks in. And Layla, literally, heads for the tall timber.

This is so not what she wants. She wants to focus on her career. She’s seen what happens to the other females in her family when the mating bond kicks in, and she’s not ready to let a man take over her life.

So she runs. Instead of dealing with the issues, she runs far and she runs fast. But she can’t outrun the bond that will kill her if she doesn’t give into it in time.

Escape Rating B: This is a hot and steamy little teaser for the rest of the series. The reissue wasn’t updated much, and doesn’t seem to suffer for it. The story is so tightly focused on Layla and Sid and the bond she can’t escape that the differences in the world between the mid-1990s and now don’t really register.

Except for the mullets. Thank goodness that hairstyle went out of fashion in a hot minute, and stayed that way. I’d forgotten just how ugly they were.

What makes this treatment of the fated trope just a bit different, and just a bit more interesting, is what makes Layla run. She wants her job and her life, and she’s happy with them. She doesn’t want to give anything up for a man, but she wouldn’t mind including a man in that life. Sid is a great choice, in spite of the circumstances that give them no choice. His career is not location-dependent, and he’s happy that Layla has a career of her own that is a bit steadier than his. He wants to blend their lives, not take over hers.

pack enforcer by lauren daneIt just takes her a while to figure that out. She flails a bit, but she flails in the way that anyone would who just discovered that their life has been turned upside down, and can’t be turned back.

Now I’m sorry that I missed this series the first time around, but am very happy that it’s back so I have the chance to see where it all leads. Pack Enforcer looks like a much deeper, and much more interesting, dive into this world. I’m looking forward to it.

Review: The Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter + Giveaway

Review: The Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter + GiveawayThe Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Lords of the Underworld #12
Pages: 576
Published by Harlequin Books on November 22nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Can Beauty tame her Beast?


Driven to his death by the demon of Distrust, Baden spent centuries in purgatory. Now he's back, but at what cost? Bound to the king of the underworld, an even darker force, he's unable to withstand the touch of another and he's quickly devolving into a heartless assassin with an uncontrollable temper. Things only get worse when a mission goes awry and he finds himself saddled with a bride just not his own.
Famed dog trainer Katarina Joelle is forced to marry a monster to protect her loved ones. When she's taken hostage by the ruthless, beautiful Baden immediately after the ceremony, she's plunged into a war between two evils with a protector more dangerous than the monsters he hunts. They are meant to be enemies, but neither can resist the passion burning between them and all too soon the biggest threat is to her heart.
But as Baden slips deeper into the abyss, she'll have to teach him to love or lose him forever.

My Review:

The concept that training a demon, or training a man, is just like training a dog, is too funny not to share. This may be the first time I’ve read about a heroine who directly compares her hero to a canine – and a not very well behaved one at that.

Baden and Katarina don’t exactly seem made for each other when they meet, and it is far, far from a meet-cute.

Katarina is in the midst of her forced wedding to a man who has threatened to kill her dogs if she doesn’t obey. Katarina may hate him (she does) and he’s thoroughly evil (which he is) but she loves the dogs she’s trained. She also loves her brother, who is currently a minion of said evil bastard – because said evil bastard is supplying him with heroin.

Katarina’s life would seem to have reached the depths of extreme suckitude, until her wedding is invaded by Baden and the Lords of the Underworld. Baden is running errands for Hades, fighting on the front lines of a war in the underworld. Said evil bastard, named Alek, has something that Hades wants. When he refuses to give it up – I said he was evil, right? – Baden takes Katarina, still in her hated wedding gown, instead.

Too bad this happens after the “I do’s”.

Katarina finds herself in the middle of that underworld war. Hades may be bad (he is!) but his enemy Lucifer is much, much worse. And Baden is caught in the thick of the action. Since Baden can’t let go of Katarina until he gets back whatever Alek has, Katarina is in the thick of it right along with him.

Her beloved dogs have been killed. Alek murdered them to get vicarious revenge on Katarina. When she emerges from her grief, she is presented with two gamboling puppies who need her protection. But Gravy and Pudding don’t need Katarina nearly as much as Baden does. The more Hades tries to turn Baden to the dark side, the more light that Katarina shines into his life.

But human and weak Katarina can’t survive among the immortal badasses in the middle of this battle. At least not until she develops some badass powers of her own. Human Katarina could never be the mate the Baden needed, but badass Katarina gives even Hades a run for his money.

And who knew that it would be so much fun to give a hellhound a bath?

Escape Rating B: This entry in the Lords of the Underworld series definitely has a “Beauty and the Beast” vibe. Katarina has to tame both Baden and the beast of Destruction who shares his soul. That she manages to do it is a testament to her skill as a dog trainer, because at the beginning, both Baden and Destruction are dogs with plenty of bark and a potentially deadly bite.

darkest touch by gena showalterThe Lords of the Underworld series is now 12 books in, and that’s a lot of backstory. I read a few of the early books, way back when, and picked up the next-most-recent, The Darkest Touch, earlier this year. It refreshed my memory on the general arc of the series, but my memory of all the individuals who have marauded through the pages is just a bit hazy. I still had fun.

The premise of the series is that the warriors who opened Pandora’s Box, millennia ago, were each infested with a demon bearing one of the plagues that was let out of the box. Now they are desperately trying to find a way to end their curse, as each of the warriors finds true love and some redemption. While it isn’t necessary to read the entire series to get in on the current action, the author’s guide to the current members of the troupe that features at the end of The Darkest Torment is a big help. This game has oodles of players, and it’s very nice to have a scorecard.

There is a bit of Stockholm Syndrome in the romance between Katarina and Baden, although there are points where the reader isn’t sure who captured whom. She does get dragged off at the beginning, but Baden is a way better bet than Alek, even with the demon of Destruction inside him. Alek is just that bad.

Katarina shows a lot of spine in dealing with Baden’s high-handedness, but it’s difficult to lose consciousness of the fact that he can overwhelm her at any time. It’s his desire for her willing cooperation that keeps him in check, and sometimes not much else. I’m glad that the initial extreme power imbalance is addressed before the HFN ending.

I’m only saying this is Happy For Now rather than Happy Ever After because the war in the underworld is still looming over everything. If our heroes don’t win the day, no one is getting much of an ever after at all.

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Cass Rant on Demand: Wild Embrace by Nalini Singh

Cass Rant on Demand: Wild Embrace by Nalini SinghWild Embrace (Psy-Changeling, #15.5) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Psy-Changeling #15.5
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on August 23rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The “alpha author of paranormal romance”* presents a stunningly sensual collection of four all-new Psy-Changeling novellas, in which taboos are broken, boundaries are crossed, and instincts prove irresistible...

Echo of Silence
In a deep-sea station, Tazia Nerif has found her life’s work as an engineer, keeping things running smoothly. But she wants nothing more than to break down the barrier of silence between her and her telekinetic Psy station commander...

Dorian
A changeling who can never shift lives a life of quiet frustration—until he learns how to let his leopard come out and play...

Partners in Persuasion
Still raw from being burned by a dominant female, wolf changeling Felix will never again risk being a plaything. But for dominant leopard Dezi, he’s the most fascinating man she’s ever met. She just has to convince this gun-shy wolf that he can trust the dangerous cat who wants to take a slow, sexy bite out of him…

Flirtation of Fate
Seven years ago, Kenji broke Garnet’s heart. Now the wolf packmates have to investigate the shocking murder of one of their own. And the more Kenji sees of the woman Garnet has become, the deeper he begins to fall once more. But even his primal instincts are no match for the dark secret he carries...
*Booklist, starred review

Hello again! Long time, no see. Who’s up for a Cass Rant On Demand™? Clearly the person who baited me with another dip into the Psy-Changeling world. An anthology this time. Be warned, there shall be spoilers and snark ahead.

Anyone want to place bets on how many stories involve a psychic woman being saved by the mighty powers of the changeling cock?

Echo of Silence: Now wait just a moment here. What atrocity is this? A poor woman being left alone in the world to fend off the attentions of this nightmarish man-creature that respects her culture. Be warned, the following exchange may shock you.

“I can’t discard who I am like it’s an old coat.”

“I understand,” Stefan said, having already guessed at Tazia’s value system after so carefully noting every single thing about her in the year they’d worked together. “Your cultural mores are no more or less irrational than the protocol under which my people are conditioned.”

To add insult to injury, he takes this a step further by valuing her talents as an engineer.

“Your skills are necessary.”

Typical Psy. Without exposure to Changeling packs, he hasn’t yet learned that it is his job to threaten his crush (Lucas), violate her bodily autonomy (Vaughn), belittle her life choices (Clay), and piss all over her loyalty to her family (Dorian). Though I guess the latter isn’t necessary since her brother seems to have missed out on the Riley Kincaid Lecture Series: Your Sister’s Vagina is Your Property. 

Of course he’s a former Arrow. Apparently the only school on this planet that teaches how to respect women is the one with a regular torture regimen.

“No grease streaks for once,” she said, nervous.

“I have a confession.” He rose from the bed. “I only used to say that to have an excuse to speak to you. Sometimes you didn’t have grease on your face. I lied.”

Stefan, Stefan, Stefan. Pick up the phone, and give DarkRiver a call. Nate will be happy to explain to you how to infantilize the woman you are romantically interested in. Then you won’t need to worry about conversational icebreakers. (+)

Dorian. This entry is an absolute joke. It’s basically deleted scenes from prior novels, loosely compiled and told from the POV of one racist misogynist fucktard.

Anyone interested in the first time Clay met the pack? Or want to see Dorian briefly interact with the sister that was fridged before the first book? Maybe you want to know how Lucas feels about Dorian being able to shift? Anyone? Bueller? (-)

Partners in Persuasion: Here we have a recently retired supermodel, who is really into fashion and flowers, but just can’t seem to relate to women. In fact, he is so shy around them that he refuses to even make eye contact. Thankfully he has no trouble whatsoever relating to or engaging with men, so when a butch woman puts the moves on him, he tentatively agrees to give it a shot. She’s mannish enough for it to work out.

She tried to shift closer, was stopped by the way they were seated, his upper body twisted to meet her kiss. Placing her hand on his throat,  she—

He wasn’t there any longer, having jerked away to the other side of the trunk. Reeling, she tried to think what she’d done,

I hate to break it to you Dezi, but you didn’t do anything wrong. He freaked out as soon as you got close enough for him to realize you didn’t have a cock.

We’re 15 books into this series, and there hasn’t been one single queer-identified character. All we get is a shy,flower-arranging fashion model who, contrary to pages of internal monologue about how it’ll never work, deciding to hook up with Idgie Threadgoode. Give me a fucking break. Is there an previous entry in the series I missed that covers how the Psy discovered the “gay gene” and managed to suppress it from appearing in the population? (-)

Flirtation of Fate: One self-centered man baby, who firmly believes his feelings outweigh those of any and all females in his life. They will get over their shit. He is the only one who can wallow.

“You knew how awful she was to me, how she made my life a living hell, and you not only took her to prom, you dated her for a year!”

A befuddled expression on his face. “I know you two didn’t like each other, but I thought it was, you know, girl stuff.”

Let that be a lesson to all you menfolk out there. It is completely acceptable to bang a hot bully, even as she is emotionally tormenting your best friend. Teenage girls aren’t at all prone to depression and suicide in situations like this. It’s just girl stuff. Feel free to ignore it.

wild-embrace-uk-editionThe – ahem – romance between these two only appears to deepen with time. After man baby gets his jollies plowing her nemesis, he leads her on, ditches her at her birthday party to bang another girl, spends years tormenting her professionally, and ultimately decides for her that her only purpose in life is to breed. Because yeah. That is how you demonstrate your love for your true mate. Fuck this noise. (-)

In sum, only bother with the first story.

Before I move on to the grading, I need to spend just one moment addressing the cover-shaped elephant in the room. What is with the US covers?! The US cover screams P-O-R-N. Which it really isn’t. There is sex in every story, but it’s only painful when the author is forcing two clearly queer characters into a hetero-normative relationship. If you decide to buy this anthology for the first story, order it from the UK. Even man-baby’s pink hair is preferable to Mr. Nipples.

Escape Rating: D for Down With the Douchebaggery!

 

Marlene’s Notes: Cass is absolutely right about the UK vs. US covers. I always hate the US covers. The UK covers are always lots better.

Howsomever, much as I agree about the covers, I disagree about the series in general and this book in particular. For a considerably more positive take on Wild Embrace, check out my joint review with E over at The Book Pushers.

Review: The Darkest Touch by Gena Showalter + Giveaway

Review: The Darkest Touch by Gena Showalter  + GiveawayThe Darkest Touch (Lords of the Underworld #11) by Gena Showalter
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Lords of the Underworld #11
Pages: 489
Published by Harlequin HQN on November 25th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From New York Times bestselling author Gena Showalter comes the long-awaited story of Torin, the most dangerous Lord of the Underworld yet…
Fierce immortal warrior. Host to the demon of Disease. Torin’s every touch causes sickness and death—and a worldwide plague. Carnal pleasure is utterly forbidden, and though he has always overcome temptation with an iron will, his control is about to shatter.
She is Keeley Cael. The Red Queen. When the powerful beauty with shocking vulnerabilities escapes from a centuries-long imprisonment, the desire that simmers between her and Torin is scorching. His touch could mean the end for her, but resisting her is the hardest battle he’s ever fought—and the only battle he fears he can’t win.

My Review:

I read the first several books in this series when they came out. The series has a pretty neat premise, all to do with Pandora, her box, and all the demons that were trapped inside. While the myth says that the demons all escaped and went out to wreck havoc among humanity, that myth doesn’t get into the details of exactly how they went out. Flying seems to be assumed, at least in the versions I remember.

But what if, and don’t most interesting stories start with “what if?”, what if instead of just disembodied evil spirits flying around, those demons took over bodies, specifically in this case the bodies of the warriors who mistakenly opened the box. Those are the Lords of the Underworld, the 12 now immortal warriors who are each sharing a body and a consciousness with an extremely malevolent demon.

In the series, it is now the 21st century, and those warriors have been around for centuries. Even being an immortal badass gets tiresome if you do it long enough. The humans who are hosting those demons are sick and tired of causing death and destruction wherever they go. They are holed up in a castle outside of Budapest, trying to avoid messing with humanity as much as they possibly can.

Because this series is paranormal romance, the stories do have a pattern. Probably why I stopped reading in the middle, as much as I enjoyed the individual books, the pattern becomes fairly obvious and more than a bit repetitious six books in.

The pattern is fairly simple. The immortal warrior finds the one person who can deal with his particular demon. While the warriors are mostly male, there are a few females in the bunch, and their pattern is the same, with the genders reversed.

darkest surrender by gena showalterFor example, in The Darkest Surrender the demon of Defeat finds a warrior-woman who is stronger than he is, so that she can give him the defeats that he craves. While it is a BDSM relationship, it works for them. It’s actually the only thing that could work for them.

There is also an overarching theme to the whole series. The Lords are hunting for Pandora’s old box. They believe they have a way to extricate the demons from their bodies, if they can only get together all of the correct tools and find the way to make them work. Both Hades and Lucifer make a bad habit of interfering with that plan, for nefarious reasons of their own. That Hades and Lucifer exist in the same time-stream is bizarrely fascinating.

But the story in The Darkest Touch is the story of someone who must absolutely be the universe’s oldest virgin. Torin is the host to the demon of Disease, and anyone he touches catches something painfully deadly and dies within hours. The few who survive his deadly touch become carriers themselves. All the big documented disease outbreaks in history, from the Black Death of the 1400s to the Spanish Flu of 1916, can all be traced back to Torin.

Finding a woman who can survive his demon is a major challenge. In the darkest cell of an interdimensional prison, Torin finds Keeleycael, the Red Queen, when he accidentally kills her best friend and fellow prisoner, Mari.

Keeley is a Curator, and her species is one of the few that is strong enough to survive Torin’s demon, not just once, but over and painfully over again. At first they are enemies, as Keeley vows to destroy Torin for killing her friend. But as they are forced to band together to defeat their mutual enemies, particularly Hades, they discover that they are perfect for each other – if they can just find a way around his little demon problem.

Hades holds the key to their happy for now. But he loved and lost Keeley once, and he is determined to win her back. At any cost.

Escape Rating B: This was fun. I enjoyed reading The Darkest Touch quite a bit. At the same time it made me remember why I stopped reading the series a few years ago. One book in a pattern is fun and even refreshing. This was a light read and I had a good time doing it. At the same time, because it had been a few years since I last dipped into this series, I didn’t see every path coming a mile away. More like two or three miles away.

On that other hand, by having skipped all the books between 5 and 10, I missed the relationships of some of the couples who are part of the larger “family”. When this series began the 12 Lords are all living together in the castle, isolated, unhappy, and often fighting with each other just to keep their demons happy and their doldrums at bay. By this point in the series, 10 and now 11 of those Lords have found their destined mates, some are married and a couple have babies on the way. Things are more than a bit different on the home front. Most of them are much happier, but they also have much more to lose when they get caught in a showdown between Hades and Lucifer.

And yes, it does make the head spin to have Hades and Lucifer, with their historical backstories intact, co-exist in the same universe. Cool but weird.

darkest night lords of the underworldBut all of the above gives me a headache about recommending whether The Darkest Touch can be read as a standalone or whether you need to read the rest of the series first. I think the answer is yes. I wouldn’t recommend reading them all, particularly not all at once, but it probably helps a bit with understanding the whole setup if one reads at least the first book, The Darkest Night.

This story stands or falls on the strength of the two main characters. This is true for every book in this series, because those two main characters, and how their relationship does or doesn’t work is the one element that changes from book to book.

The interesting thing about both Torin and Keeley is that they both have deep issues revolving around acceptance and inclusion. For very different reasons, neither of them has ever been fully part of any group.

While the Lords see Torin as one of their own, they also keep him literally at arm’s length in everything they do. He’s always on the outside of every gathering, because no one can touch him. And they can’t take him with them when they fight, because in combat, well, everybody touches everybody sooner or later, and anyone who didn’t end up immediately dead would spread Torin’s plagues.

Keeley seems to be the last of her kind. And it’s a kind that rejected her at every turn. Keeley’s people, the Curators, seem to be invented specifically for this mythology, but Keeley’s story is unfortunately all too familiar. Her family gave her away as a child bride to a powerful and abusive leader. When she finally killed him, she was rejected by her people. Then she threw herself at the first man who paid her any attention. Unfortunately, Hades was even more abusive and manipulative than the bastard she had been married to. He imprisoned and tortured her for centuries, all because he was afraid that she might be more powerful than he was. And he was so very right about that.

That Keeley and Torin find each other seems almost inevitable. They are perfect for each other. The way that they banter and flirt, is both fun and sad at the same time. They fall for each other in spite of their rocky start, because in the end they understand each other better than anyone else ever could.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

As part of the tour, Gena is giving away a complete signed set of the entire Lords of the Underworld series!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Joint Review: Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop

Joint Review: Marked in Flesh by Anne BishopMarked in Flesh (The Others, #4) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: The Others #4
Pages: 416
Published by Penguin/Roc on March 8th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For centuries, the Others and humans have lived side by side in uneasy peace. But when humankind oversteps its bounds, the Others will have to decide how much humanity they’re willing to tolerate—both within themselves and within their community...
Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial—both personally and practically.
But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs…

My Review:

Marlene: Before we get to the snark portion of our review, Cass is letting me set the stage.

I got hooked on Bishop’s The Others series just a few short weeks ago, when I decided I really needed to read at least the first book of this thing before I wrote up which other authors are “read-alikes” for Bishop for an assignment from Novelist. I got hooked so hard on this series (sort of like the cassandra sangue are addicted to cutting) that I read through the rest really fast. Now I’m with everyone else, panting for book 5.

black jewels trilogy by anne bishopI will say that after having read her Black Jewels series many years ago, and now this one, that the author does some very interesting things at that knife-edge where pain and pleasure meet. Neither series is for the faint of heart, but The Others doesn’t go quite as far, or at any rate quite as universally, down the pain and torture path as The Black Jewels.

Cass: I wouldn’t say The Others are any less disturbing than the Black Jewels. Remember the previous books where they were slowing feeding completely conscious and aware living girls into a meat grinder, then distributing it as ground beef?

Marlene: I think the thing that is different is that the whole society in The Black Jewels felt more universally screwed up than it does at the beginning of The Others. There are very, very sick and evil people in The Others, but the society as a whole doesn’t seem run that way, at least not until Humans First and Last starts propagating “the Big Lie” all over the place. And all resemblances between Humans First and Last and the Nazi and neo-Nazi movements feel definitely intentional. They certainly are on the part of this reviewer.

Also, we mostly see the world of The Others from the perspective of people, for looser definitions of the word people, who condemn that practice and want to live mostly in harmony. People who condemn that scene you describe. In The Black Jewels, that kind of thing WAS the prevalent political system.

But it is certainly a matter of degree.

Cass: I first read this a couple months ago – before Trump was a legitimate front-runner for presidency. At the time, I was very irritated with how bloody stupid the majority of the humans were acting. Easily led around the nose by the HFL movement, no matter how blatantly obvious it was that their actions were suicidal. (Were none of you present for events in the last book?!) Now it’s all terribly prophetic.

Nonetheless, I can not get over what I believe is the prevalent message of this series:

MASTURBATION KILLS.

Just to recap, the blood prophets, like Meg, cut themselves to reveal prophecy. If they cut themselves alone and/or do not speak, they feel nothing but horrible pain and are in constant danger of going mad. But when they cut themselves with another person around and share the prophecy? EPIC ORGASM. Cassandra sangue who are born in the wild start “cutting” during puberty, hide it from their parents, and then drive themselves to insanity because they just can’t stop! It’s about as subtle as Victorian-era gynecological care. (Note: I work with cutters on a day-to-day basis. There is no real dialogue with the psychology, or the physiological ramifications of actual cutting. As portrayed, the cassandra sangue could just as easily obtain prophecies from vomiting or urinating or sneezing with no appreciable impact on the plot of the series.)

A running subplot throughout this book is Meg trying to address her addiction to touching herself – I mean – cutting. Proposed solution? SEX. The idea being that when Meg is feeling a nonspecific itch….I believe at one point she determines she needs to cut once a week….she can scratch it with Simon.

As much as I do enjoy the world-building, the Elders, and The Adventures of Hope Wolfsong, I cannot get past all the anti-masturbation subtext.

Marlene: I’ll admit, that the budding romance in this series would feel completely unnecessary, were it not for this particular subplot. Meg doesn’t need to fall in love, but she needs to find a substitute for the intense euphoria she gets from cutting. I wish that link weren’t there. It may be necessary for the story that the cassandra sangue be addicted to cutting, but that addiction did not need to be so overtly sexual.

Also I seem to remember that the young cassandra sangue get their first cuts long before puberty, and that just makes this subplot even more squicky. Doing it for yourself is one thing, having an adult do it for you, and even worse profit from it, adds a whole new layer of squicky. Particular if the point is, as Cass posits, reinforcing the idea that masturbation kills.

Back to where I was originally heading. It’s not that the growing relationship between Simon and Meg isn’t absolutely adorkable, because it is. I just wish that it hadn’t been all wrapped up in Meg’s need to find an alternate form of euphoria. In this scenario, Simon’s prick is equivalent to her razor, and she’s in danger of developing an alternate addiction, to Simon instead of cutting. And doesn’t that have a whole ‘nother bunch of ways it can go horribly wrong?

Cass: Yeah. Super healthy relationship developing there. Just can’t wait. Remember, Meg is supposedly the Trailblazer for all the other prophets. Does that mean that The Blood Prophet’s Guide she’s working on will have a chapter titled: SEX SAVES?

The Others are pretty intense about making sure their prophets are safe. I’m afraid that protective drive could go somewhere very dark, very quickly. At least the Meg/Simon thing has been slowly building over several books. (Though it is still ridiculously unnecessary) Are they going to do something horrific to my amazing Hope Wolfsong?! In case it is not obvious, I am Team Hope. I loved all the Hope chapters. More Hope.

Marlene: One of the good things about this entry in the series is the way that it kept expanding our view of this world. There be worldbuilding here, and that’s something I always love in my fantasy, urban or otherwise.

Hope’s story is hopeful, in more ways than one. And in spite of the horrific visions that she sees. Hope is young enough to still be seen as a child. So instead of what feels like the over-protectiveness directed at the adult Meg, in Hope’s case, she is being adopted. Jackson Wolfgard and his mate are charged with taking care of her, and they see her as another cub they are raising, admittedly a cub who doesn’t turn furry. But she is getting a chance to grow up in a slightly more normal environment. She’s also young enough to adapt to other methods of prophecy. Hope loves to draw, and is able to draw her visions. Where the Controller threatened to cut off her hands if she didn’t stop drawing, Jackson gives her all the art supplies she needs. And her drawings are life-saving, both for her and for the people and terra indigene she is able to warn. She still cuts, but not nearly as often.

Cass: Though I loved all the interludes with Hope, and getting a glimpse of The Elders…..I have to say I was disappointed with Marked in Flesh as a whole. It felt like a filler episode. As though the author knows where she plans to end the series, but has to fill a couple hundred extra pages along the way. With one exception, Marked in Flesh basically ended in the exact same spot it started: Humans in Thaisia losing all their rights because of the HFL.

At one point, a character even lampshades just how repetitive the plot is. I feel you Doc.

“Because everyone in Lakeside will be at risk,” Lorenzo said. “Same song, different day.”

Marlene: Or, to quote Battlestar Galactica:

“This has all happened before. It will all happen again.”

vision in silver by anne bishopMarked in Flesh feels like a continuation of the previous book, and in a way that finally sets up the conclusion. Or what I presume is the conclusion in the untitled book 5 of the series. Vision in Silver (reviewed here) is the gathering storm, especially from the human side. Throughout that book, the HFL is going further and further off the deep end, while The Others are trying to figure out what to do. Or how far to go in what they do.

In Marked in Flesh, the HFL attacks reach their crescendo, and we get The Others response. All the feces hit all the oscillating devices, and the fallout sprays pretty much everywhere. The consequences of those events will be in the next book, both in the sense of what will the remaining humans do, and in the sense of what happens to the Elders of the Others who have taken on human characteristics, and generally the worst of those, in order to retaliate.

One of the other subplots in this particular entry in the series felt like a prepper’s dream. Simon and the folks in Lakeside, both human and Other, are preparing for an “end of the world as we know it” scenario, which comes to fruition at the end of the book. This particular subplot reminded me a whole lot of Grantville in Eric Flint’s 1632, Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time, and his Dies the Fire. What does everyone do, what do they absolutely need to preserve, when all the technology they have come to enjoy if not depend on, fades away?

It circles back to the question that the Elders ask Simon at the end of Vision in Silver, “how much human should we keep?” and its unspoken corollary, “how many humans should we keep?” The answers are going to be interesting, to say the least.

Cass: In the end, I don’t believe Marked in Flesh is an essential entry of The Others. You could learn all you need to know from the one line found on pg. 374. Feel free to skip this one and wait for book 5 to be released.

I give Marked in Flesh a C- for Clearly on Cruise Control. The only reason this installment exists is to hammer home the evils of masturbation. The only reason it’s not D for Dull is the Periodic Adventures of Hope Wolfsong.

Marlene: While it may not be an essential entry in the series, I still found Marked in Flesh to be compulsively readable and eminently distracting. I got totally sucked in and read the book in a single evening. While there are plenty of uncomfortable overtones to Meg’s relationship with Simon, I very much liked all the other relationship building in the book, all the developing friendships and alliances.

So I give Marked in Flesh a B+ for its ability to keep me completely absorbed.

Review by Cass: The Beautiful Ashes by Jeaniene Frost

Review by Cass: The Beautiful Ashes by Jeaniene FrostThe Beautiful Ashes (Broken Destiny, #1) by Jeaniene Frost
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, library binding, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Broken Destiny #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin on August 26th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a world of shadows, anything is possible. Except escaping your fate.
Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been gripped by visions of strange realms just beyond her own. But when her sister goes missing, Ivy discovers the truth is far worse—her hallucinations are real, and her sister is trapped in a parallel realm. And the one person who believes her is the dangerously attractive guy who's bound by an ancient legacy to betray her.
Adrian might have turned his back on those who raised him, but that doesn't mean he can change his fate…no matter how strong a pull he feels toward Ivy. Together they search for the powerful relic that can save her sister, but Adrian knows what Ivy doesn't: that every step brings Ivy closer to the truth about her own destiny, and a war that could doom the world. Sooner or later, it will be Ivy on one side and Adrian on the other. And nothing but ashes in between…

When I first began doing book reviews, I quickly learned the importance of screening titles before agreeing to read them:

  • Did this book have an editor? (I don’t care if you self-publish, but you better run a goddamn spelling and grammar check.)
  • If part of a series, have I read all previous entries? (Ever tried to jump into an epic fantasy series on book 4? Not recommended.)
  • Is this book a bullshit “rewrite” of a previously published book with minor tweaks in an attempt to make it trendy? (Looking at you Michelle Maddox.)
  • Are there substantive differences between this book and the edition published in Australia or the UK? (I order the Obernewtyn books from AUS because the publishers were worried we stupid Americans couldn’t handle long books.)

Thanks to The Beautiful Ashes I now have a new question to add to my checklist:

  • Did you read the Acknowledgements prior to starting the book?

I’ve read the first couple books in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series, and one of the Night Prince spinoffs. They were fun! Quick reads, engaging, well-written, and I loved the expansive world-building. So when I discovered she’d actually started a new series, I thought I’d hit the jackpot.

Couldn’t have been more wrong.

Which leads me back to my new screening process.

Before anyone else, I have to thank God….

Translation: READER BEWARE!!! You are about to be subjected to a religious morality tale – wearing a PNR suit – that has all the subtlety of that Old Testament coloring book your homophobic grandmother got you for your 8th birthday.

If the blurb enticed you because you wanted to read an engrossing story about a woman who was cruelly forced to believe she was insane for years discovering that all the things she saw/experienced were real then MOVE THE FUCK ON. You aren’t getting that here. Pick up a copy of  Precinct 13 by Tate Hallaway.

What was that? You wanted to read about a pair of devoted siblings who will stop at nothing to protect one another in a deadly world? Don’t worry! You’ll get three amazing sibling-powered adventures in the Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant. Here? Not so much.

If you are only here because you missed Cat & Bones & Vlad & Co. ….well I hate to disappoint, but as the man said, these are not the droids you’re looking for… Just re-read Halfway to the Grave

The Beautiful Ashes opens with a TSTL protagonist that, by all rights, should be dead a dozen times before you even hit Chapter Three. She has the emotional range of a lizard and all the intelligence of a hamster. Oh, my entire family died/disappeared at this exact location. I’ll just to wander around aimlessly to see if I can stumble on a clue. Oh, a bunch of people just tried to kill me, I’ll head back to my hotel now and chat up this hot dude that broke in. Oh, I’m being kidnapped. I should cooperate. What could go wrong? This couldn’t have anything to do with my parents’ recent deaths. Or my sister’s disappearance. Or those people who just tried to kill me. 

Apparently Stockholm Sydrome is still the perfect way to get some, as Dumber Than Rocks (aka The Virgin) instantly starts falling for her kidnapper/guy-that-warned-her-not-to-trust-him.

Do you know why she shouldn’t trust him? Because he is a BETRAYER. He BETRAYS. It is in his DNA. Ever since Jesus walked the earth his family has BETRAYED. (Hmmm, I wonder who he might be descended from?)

After being kidnapped by The Betrayer, Dumber Than Rocks (aka The Virgin) meets some angels and demons and learns she’s The Last Scion a descendant of King David and is now on a quest to find his Holy Slingshot so the Power of Faith can bring down Giant Evil.

Are you bored already? You should be. It’s a predictable plod through your standard bible story, with a brief stop to praise Dumber Than Rock’s virginity.

I’m guessing she’ll finally give it up to The Betrayer in the last book in this truly horrific series, at which point it will be SO MUCH WORSE when he gives the appearance of Betraying her, before coming back at this last minute to save the day and prove that her holy virgin vagina excised all that Betrayal in his DNA.

Escape Rating: F for FLEE! Save yourselves! I can never get those hours of my life back, but there is still hope for all of you!

Review: Between a Vamp and a Hard Place by Jessica Sims

Review: Between a Vamp and a Hard Place by Jessica SimsBetween a Vamp and a Hard Place by Jessica Sims
Format: paperback
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Pages: 384
Published by Pocket Books on December 29th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the wickedly funny spirit of bestselling authors Kerrelyn Sparks and Molly Harper, this sexy paranormal romance features an estate broker and a 600-year-old vampire out for revenge.
Lindsey Hughes loves antiques and couldn’t be happier to make a living in the estate sale business. But when her assistant accidentally buys an entire estate without her approval, Lindsey is forced to clean up the mess herself.
Lindsey travels to the newly purchased, age-old house in Venice, Italy, and soon discovers more than she (never) bargained for. While digging through the hoarder’s trove that fills every floor, she finds a secret staircase behind a wall that leads to a strange coffin…with an even stranger inhabitant.
Vampire Rand FitzWulf has been in his coffin for 600 years. But now that he’s awake, he’s ravenous, and there’s a delicious-smelling woman with a rare blood type in his basement. Luckily, Lindsey has more to offer than blood: she agrees to travel throughout Europe with Rand to help him get revenge on the one who turned him. But as the unlikely pair grows closer, will the billionaire vampire be overtaken by his thirst for blood—or his thirst for love?

My Review:

First of all, as the author states in a Goodreads post about this book, even though a lot of the promotional material for this book said that it was #5 in the author’s very popular Midnight Liaisons series, it isn’t. It’s not even in the same universe as the Midnight Liaisons series.

And color this reader disappointed. I was expecting another story about the Midnight Liaisons paranormal matchmaking agency. I love that series, as reflected in my review of the fourth book, Must Love Fangs. Let me put it this way, I love this series enough that I mostly buy them instead of getting free ARCs. Unfortunately for the purpose of a trail of evidence, when I spend my own money I don’t always write a review.

beauty dates the beast by jessica simsThe Midnight Liaisons series is purely snarktastic fun with a paranormal romance twist. For a good time start with Beauty Dates the Beast, and keep reading until you can’t stop laughing out loud at the dialog. Then keep reading so your buzz continues.

Between a Vamp and a Hard Place is a beast of an entirely different color, type and species. It’s a lot closer to Kerrelyn Sparks’ Love at Stake, Katie MacAlister’s Dark Ones or Lynsay Sands’ Argeneau series.  Those are series where rich vampires in the 21st century meet modern women and get their attitudes dragged into modern times as they fall for each other in spite of all sorts of barriers both real and imaginary. The story is told mostly for humor, with a slice of HEA, or should that be bite, added for spicy good times.

In Between a Vamp and a Hard Place, would-be antiques dealers Lindsey and Gemma have one month to clear out an abandoned apartment in Venice in the hopes that they will find something worth the $10,000 that Gemma paid for the privilege. They do find antiques. They also find a vampire who has been dormant for six centuries with a stake through his heart. A lot of traditional vampire lore gets skewered in the service of fiction, but that part works pretty well.

Rand FitzWulf has a lot to learn about the 21st century and the women in it. But before he can, or if he can, settle down to life with his new blood vassal Lindsey, he has to find the vampire who ordered his staking all those centuries ago, and do unto him before Rand gets done onto again.

In this fish out of water story, Rand ends up charmed by Lindsey, and Lindsey falls in love with Rand. How much of the start of their relationship is due to Rand’s powers is an open question to the reader. And how much Rand’s love for Lindsey has its roots in her extra tasty Hh blood group (which does surprisingly exist) is an equally questionable conundrum.

But as Rand and Lindsey chase his nemesis across Europe using his vampire “spidey-senses”, the slightly lost vampire and the in way over her head modern woman become partners, friends and eventually lovers.

Lindsey always believes that her time with Rand is temporary, but when they come face to face, and fang to fang, with the original Dracula, no one expects to get out alive as Lindsey, Rand and Gemma trip over themselves trying to save each other.

It’s so crazy it just might work. But at what cost?

Escape Rating B-: Some of my rating is due to my disappointment. I just didn’t get the book or the experience I was expecting.

On the other hand, the scenes of Lindsey choking down garlic to make her blood poisonous to Rand’s enemies were absolutely priceless. It sounds awful, but the descriptions are awfully funny.

The way this story is set up is an interesting way of dealing with the vast power differential between a vampire and a human, especially a relatively young one. Lindsey starts out feeling a bit sorry for Rand, and Rand is forced to admit he needs Lindsey as his guide to the 21st century, and for that he needs her willing and not under his thrall. He can force her into doing whatever he wants, but when he does that he loses access to her knowledge of how the world works. And he needs that knowledge badly. Understanding a language, which he does by magic, is not the same as understanding the meaning behind it.

So there’s a strong feeling of Stockholm Syndrome in Rand’s love for Lindsey. And an equally strong feeling of responsibility in Lindsey’s love for Rand. He needs her and she needs to take care of him. It works for them, and it works as part of a very high-stakes road trip to Hell. But I just wasn’t totally sold on the romance. I could see them bonding, but I couldn’t see them staying bonded. Of course, things change.

Between a Vamp and a Hard Place had lots of interesting bits, and Lindsey’s and Rand’s banter is often hilarious. But this story just didn’t put the bite on my happy place the way that the Midnight Liaisons books do.