Review: The Darkest Promise by Gena Showalter

Review: The Darkest Promise by Gena ShowalterThe Darkest Promise by Gena Showalter
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Lords of the Underworld #13
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


New York Times
bestselling author Gena Showalter returns with a sizzling Lords of the Underworld story about an iron-willed sovereign and the somber beauty who melts him with a glance

Possessed by the demon of Misery, Cameo isn't allowed to experience joy. If she dares, her memory is wiped clean. With no other recourse, she sneaks into a land more fantastical than any fairy tale, determined to find the one man with the key to her redemption.

Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual rules his kingdom with a single unwavering focus: to build his army and annihilate his enemies. Nothing distracts him - until Cameo. He is relentless in his quest to make her smile and seduce her into his bed.

As dark forces conspire against them, threatening to destroy the fragile bond they've forged, the once-calm Lazarus grows crazed. Every heart-stopping kiss and wicked touch causes Cameo to teeter on the brink of happiness. But if she falls, she risks forgetting him forever

My Review:

The Darkest Promise is the hopefully lucky 13th book in the Lords of the Underworld series. It is appropriately just a bit different from the previous books, because the demon in this particular entry inhabits Cameo, the lone woman among the men who became Lords of the Underworld by hosting a demon.

As Cameo herself puts it, she’s the lone Smurfette among all the Smurfs, always having to be twice as hard and four times as badass to get the men to take her seriously.

Unless, of course she lets her demon out. Cameo’s demon is Misery, and when she lets him out, everyone takes her very seriously – about as seriously as a heart attack. Or the deepest darkest depression ever known. When Misery talks, everyone around them cries, runs away and tries to slit their own wrists.

Of course, Cameo’s demon Misery does not just inflict himself on those around Cameo, his greatest victim is Cameo herself, who has him stuck inside her head and is therefore always available for him to do his worst to. And he does, every single day of her long and miserable life.

But even though Misery makes her forget the few times that Cameo manages, well, not to be completely miserable, she is aware that there is one male in the cosmos who made her happy, however briefly. All she has to do is find her way back to the Spirit Realms to see if Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual, Lord of the Realm of Grimm and Fantic, is willing to make her happy yet again.

And if he’s willing to tell her everything that Misery made her forget.

Unfortunately for both Lazarus and Cameo, he isn’t merely the one man who is immune to her demon. Because Lazarus is cursed by his own blood to be turned into a crystal chrysalis by constant exposure to the one woman who is his mate – his obsession. For Lazarus, Cameo is that woman, and her initial visit to his realm has already begun the deadly process of crystallization.

Lazarus has vengeance to wreck before he becomes to enfeebled to carry out his plans. Being with Cameo dramatically shortens the time he has available.

But she is his obsession, and he can’t resist. He isn’t even sure that he wants to. While Cameo, knowing that she will be the cause of her love’s death, opens herself even further to the demon within.

Escape Rating B: As long as this series is, I’m not sure that this book will make any sense without reading at least some of the previous entries. Particularly as this is not the first time we’ve met Cameo and Lazarus and watched them interact. And that’s a good thing, because without those previous meetings this book would smack of insta-love.

The premise behind this whole series is still a fascinating one. The Lords of the Underworld are the warriors who made the extremely foolish mistake of opening Pandora’s Box. When the box was opened, all those escaped demons needed a place to live (and work their worst) so they inhabited the bodies of the warriors near them. A fitting punishment.

But as the series has progressed, those warriors have managed to find love and happiness in spite of the demons they harbor. And with the help of their friends and allies, they are closing in on the location of the Box and perhaps a cure for their “condition”.

Of course, as immortal warriors they have also gathered a whole lot of equally immortal enemies, and often find themselves caught in the crossfire between rival factions. In the case of this entry, they are caught up in the ongoing warfare between Hades and Lucifer.

And yes, this is a story where all the pantheons seem to be real. And active.

The romance in this paranormal romance is between two beings who expect to be hated and reviled – Lazarus, son of the monster Typhon and Cameo, Mother of Misery. These are two people who have zero expectations of a happy ever after, or of ever finding happy at all, and yet, they are perfect for each other – if they can leap over the baggage that they carry and get past millennia of negative expectations and destroyed hopes.

In the end, love does conquer all, and in a way that the reader has been expecting pretty much from the beginning of the story. But it’s an interesting read watching her work for it.

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Review: Highland Dragon Master by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Master by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Master (Dawn of the Highland Dragon, #3) by Isabel Cooper
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal romance
Series: Dawn of the Highland Dragon #3
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Legend claimsWhen Scotland fell to English ruleThe Highland dragons took a vow:Freedom at any price.

The war for Scottish independence rages on, but it's only a matter of time before England is victorious. Exhausted and battle-weary, Highland dragon Erik MacAlasdair will face unknown seas to seek the Templar stronghold and claim a power so great it could free his beloved homeland forever.

If only that kind of power didn't come with such a terrible price.

Daughter of a mortal woman and an ancient dragon, Toinette has never forgotten the proud Scot who once stole her young heart—she'll gladly fight at his side. But when dark forces leave them stranded on a cursed island, it will take everything they have to defy their fate...and trust the passion that burns within the heart of every dragon.

My Review:

Every book in this series is different. The first book, Highland Dragon Warrior, was a slow-build, slow-burn, both on the romance front and on the action front. The heroine was an alchemist, and the story moved along at the pace of her experiments.

The second book, Highland Dragon Rebel, is a road story. The romance, the danger, the action, all move along as the protagonists travel from place to place.

The third book in the series, Highland Dragon Master, is pretty damn creepy at points. I don’t mean creepy as in pace, I mean creepy as in, let’s call it horror-adjacent. For a story that takes place centuries before the Gothic genre came into being, it has that Gothic atmosphere of creeping evil.

Also Templars and the Ark of the Covenant. Well, not exactly THAT ark, but an ark that wants to make a covenant, and turns out to be every bit as destructive as that famous scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The books in this series are not like each other, and they don’t depend on each other to build the story. There are minor references to the heroine in the first book, and lots of call backs to the place that all the dragons call home, but nothing in Highland Dragon Master that can’t be picked up from context.

The title, like all the titles of the series, is kind of a twist. Both Erik and Toinette are Highland Dragons, but neither of them is the master in this particular scenario, unless the reference is to Toinette as her ship’s master. Instead, they have run into something that wants to master both of them – and that’s what they must prevent at all costs.

The story begins as a sea voyage, and ends as a second chance at love. But the middle is just about as scary as any horror fan might desire. The story begins as a search for treasure, but turns into something that will keep readers biting their nails hoping for good to triumph over evil.

This is a story where nothing turns out to be quite as it seems. Except the love that Erik and Toinette rekindle in each other – a love that they may be forced to end in the ultimate sacrifice.

Escape Rating B+: Highland Dragon Master was a lot faster paced than Highland Dragon Warrior, but not nearly as much fun as Highland Dragon Rebel. If you are thinking of picking up this series, particularly if you loved the author’s earlier dragon series which begins with Legend of the Highland Dragon but is set centuries later than this series, you might want to start with Highland Dragon Rebel.

I’ll also admit that I’m not a horror fan, so the strong sense of creeping evil that permeates this book from the moment they wreck on the mysterious island had me on the edge of my seat. It was also more than creepy enough that I waited until morning to finish the book because I didn’t want to read this one in just the flickering light of my iPad.

One of the things that makes this series so enjoyable are the characters. Toinette is one of the best. Even in the 14th century, she has found a way to live the life she wants to live in spite of her gender. Toinette is a ship’s captain. Not the sexy caricature of female captains we so often see, but a woman who has found her authentic self and lives that self. She commands her men and their loyalty not through sex appeal, but by being a good and fair commander. They give her their loyalty and if necessary their lives because she gives hers in return.

It is a soul-searching moment for her when she and Erik must reveal that they are dragon-shifters if there is to be any hope of saving the ship and her crew. That she agonizes over the change in her relationship with her men, especially her second-in-command, is heartfelt and very, very human.

And it is utterly marvelous that her second-in-command, who respected her as his captain before he knew she was a dragon, is able to shift their relationship without breaking that respect. At the same time, it is terrific to see that their relationship has always been that of partners without any element of sexual attraction between them, even though Marcus seems to be as heterosexual as Toinette. That they can be friends and colleagues and both be content with that relationship is something that needs to happen more often, and not just in romance.

This is also a story where the ends don’t justify the means, and where Erik has to go through a certain amount of soul-searching to come to that conclusion. He came on this quest in search of treasure to add Scotland in their perpetual war with England. And he finds it. But, as has been discovered before in other times and other lands and even among the stars, some gifts come at just too high a price.

I have enjoyed both the Highland Dragons series and now this prequel series, Dawn of the Highland Dragon, very much indeed. This looks like it might be the end of this trilogy, but I sincerely hope that the author is not done with the Highland Dragons.

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Review: Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Review: Dragon Bound by Thea HarrisonDragon Bound (Elder Races, #1) by Thea Harrison
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Elder Races #1
Pages: 312
Published by Berkley Sensation on May 3rd 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Half-human and half-Wyr, Pia Giovanni spent her life keeping a low profile among the Wyrkind and avoiding the continuing conflict between them and their Dark Fae enemies. But after being blackmailed into stealing a coin from the hoard of a dragon, Pia finds herself targeted by one of the most powerful—and passionate—of the Elder Races.

As the most feared and respected of the Wyrkind, Dragos Cuelebre cannot believe someone had the audacity to steal from him, much less succeed. And when he catches the thief, Dragos spares her life, claiming her as his own to further explore the desire they've ignited in each other.

Pia knows she must repay Dragos for her trespass, but refuses to become his slave—although she cannot deny wanting him, body and soul.

My Review:

Now I know what all the fuss is about. And everyone who said that the Elder Races series was absolutely awesomesauce were absolutely right. Dragon Bound is terrific.

I often have a love/hate relationship with things that “everyone” says I really ought to read – or perhaps that should be labeled approach avoidance. If everyone says I should, I’m often reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. So I’ve had Dragon Bound on my “wishlist” for an awfully long time.

It was worth the wait.

In addition to being a marvelous paranormal romance, the Elder Races series is also pretty damn good fantasy/urban fantasy. The worldbuilding is really solid.

The idea that the Wyr have lived among us for quite literally ever is not new. But the way that the author blends the magical with the mundane works well. This is a version of our world in which mythical creatures and the things that go bump in the night live among us – and it’s a world that has reached the point where the mundanes are aware of it as well.

In one of the early scenes there are a group of the equivalent of “flat earthers” – people who refuse to believe that the Wyr and magical kind exist in spite of scientific evidence – and they are picketing the business of a purely human witch using the same kind of tactics – and under the same restrictions – as those who protest at abortion clinics. It’s a surreal moment that firmly establishes that this world is different but humans are still all too human.

At the heart of this book is a romance. Of course there is. (This is my Valentine’s Day review, I went looking for a romance!)

Dragos Cuelebre is a dragon. He is also the “oldest old one” of the Wyr. He’s been alive just about forever and has seen the rise of the Elder Races and the proliferation of humans. He’s the most powerful being on Earth. And he’s bored out of his immortal skull, even if he doesn’t quite recognize it.

Pia Giovanni is a thief. She’s also part-Wyr and has no idea exactly what part. What she does have is a special talent and a party trick. She can break any lock – and she can glow in the dark. Doing both at once tends to give the game away, so she tries very hard not to.

But she’s stuck in the middle of a big bad caper she doesn’t want to be in. She’s been blackmailed to use her special talent to break into a dragon’s hoard and steal an item. Any item. The point of the exercise is to see if the breaking and entering can be done, not to actually loot the place.

The magical item that she is given to make this caper possible is so powerful that she knows she can’t run and hide. At the same time, stealing something from Dragos is probably a death sentence all by itself.

Instead, Pia finds herself caught between the proverbial rock and the big, flying hard place. Dragos can’t let anyone get away with stealing from him, and he can’t let Pia go. At the same time, the magic behind the theft is much bigger (and definitely badder) than Pia.

And since Pia stole that penny from his hoard, and left him a penny in return, Dragos Cuelebre has been angry, aroused, infuriated, and an entire alphabet full of emotions.

The one thing he has not been, not for a single second – is bored.

Escape Rating A: As a paranormal romance, Dragon Bound has pretty much everything a reader could possibly want. There’s the ultimate uber-Alpha hero, the extremely plucky heroine, the big, bad enemy, and a fantastic world for them to play in.

In the initial stages of what becomes their romance, Dragos and Pia are equally clueless, but they are not initially equally powerful. As with many paranormal romances, at the outset it seems like Dragos holds all the cards, and Pia rightfully wonders what will happen if he gets bored. As their bond deepens, she worries about what will happen when her mortal lifespan starts to rear its ugly head.

But the power imbalance doesn’t stay so imbalanced. One of the things that makes their romance so much fun is that while Pia defies Dragos at every turn even when she doesn’t have the power to back it up, there are plausible reasons that give their relationship enough balance for it to work in the long term – after they struggle a bit both with external enemies and with figuring out that what they are in IS a relationship – even if neither of them realizes it at first.

The characters that surround Dragos and Pia are also marvelous. Especially “Tricks”, Dragos PR manager and the heir to the Dark Fae throne – which she doesn’t want but is going to have to take. The scene where Tricks and Pia bond over drinks and gossip is fantastic!

Dragos and Pia’s world is one that I’ll want to go back and visit over and over and over. As soon as possible. If you love paranormal romance and haven’t met Dragos and Pia yet, it’s time.

Review: Fury & Darkness by Anna Hackett

Review: Fury & Darkness by Anna HackettFury & Darkness (Warriors of the Wind #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance, paranormal romance
Series: Warriors of the Wind #3
Pages: 200
Published by Anna Hackett on November 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

The Warriors of the Wind are the only thing protecting humans from a centuries-old evil, but with their potential mates, the Aurae, long gone, these alpha warriors are in danger of becoming the very evil they hunt.

Note: Re-release. Fury and Darkness contains two short, sexy novellas. These are re-released stories originally published as Defying by the North Wind and Claiming the East Wind. They have been updated and have new scenes and/or extended scenes added.

Fury: his new personal assistant is hiding more than just dangerous curves under her suit.

Billionaire Luca Venti is CEO of Venti Enterprises and the Warrior of the volatile North Wind. He is used to giving orders and being in charge, and as he hunts a deadly Tempest Wind in the heart of Venice, he refuses to ask for help. But the vice of rage beats within him, and when he discovers his new personal assistant is really a spy, his fury demands to be unleashed.

Rayne Santini was sent to monitor Luca, not to get involved with him and his explosive temper. But as she watches him fight the evil he’s hunting and struggle against his vice, she refuses to stand by and do nothing. But convincing the stubborn Luca to accept her help is the biggest challenge she’s ever faced. Drawn together, their white-hot desire threatens to burn brighter than Luca’s fury…and as his control crumbles, the only thing standing between him and destruction is Rayne.

Darkness: a man on the verge of succumbing to the evil he fights.

Skye Santini has lived her life in the shadows and hiding from the horrors of her past. Tired of always being afraid, she vows that now is her chance to make a difference. She will be the sacrifice to appease Soren Venti, the Warrior of the East Wind, who has succumbed to his vice of greed. The fate of the world rests on her slim shoulders.

Locked away in his villa on Lake Como, Soren has no memory of his identity. He is driven only by the whispers of greed to take, own, and possess…but then one small woman enters his domain. Mesmerized by Skye’s quiet beauty and hidden strength, Soren finds something he wants more than everything else. But a dangerous enemy is bearing down on them. The final Tempest Wind wants Soren to join him and rule the world…and he knows that Skye is the only thing standing in his way

My Review:

Fury & Darkness is the final book in the author’s re-release of her Windkeepers (now titled Warriors of the Wind) series, following Tempest and Storm & Seduction. The stories are all novelette-length, so they are short treats. And that’s a good thing, because this stories are interconnected, and you really do need to read the series in order to get the overall story.

Not that the individual romances in each story aren’t plenty hot and steamy on their own. Also with a bit of sweet. Think of them as lucious, sinful, hot dark cocoa for a cold winter’s night.

That’s a particularly appropriate image for Fury, as that story is all about the Warrior of the cold North wind, Luca, and his nemesis Caecius, the Tempest Wind of the Northeast. Each of Warriors faces a lifelong internal battle to keep the darker side of their nature caged, just as the Tempest Winds themselves spend centuries trapped in the bodies of horses and caged on the island of Isola.

But the Tempest Winds were freed in Tempest, and the subsequent books have been the story of each of the Warriors mastering the darker side of their own natures and re-capturing the Tempest Winds before they can spread their particular version of darkness through the even more susceptible human population.

The power of the Northeast Tempest Wind is anger, and under its relenting onslaught, Luca can barely contain his own. At least, not until Rayne Sinclair, descendant of the Aurae who once aided the Warriors of the Wind, comes to his aid.

Just as her fellow Aurae have aided, and fallen for, Luca’s brothers in the previous stories. Like Luca, Rayne is also a warrior in her own way, fighting both to save Luca and to defy her own mother, the leader of the Aurae. And especially to defend her sister Skye.

Just as each of the Warriors has fought to master their nemeses and protect their own brothers, their fellow Warriors.

It might be best to consider this series a “venti” sized cup of that hot cocoa, as the Warriors of the Wind are the Venti Brothers, Lorenzo (Tempest), Dante (Storm), Antonio (Seduction), Luca (Fury) and Soren (Darkness)

Darkness is Soren’s story as he fights his battle against his own inner demon, Greed. A fight that he nearly loses, until Skye Santini enters his life. They both have their own internal demons to fight. Only together do they have a chance.

And that’s the story of all of the Warriors of the Winds. Only together with their Aurae do they have a chance of fighting those internal (and external) demons. And only together with their brothers do they have a chance of containing the worst of those demons for another century or two.

Mankind has enough trouble fighting off the worst impulses of anger, lust, greed and pride, without having them jacked up by the Tempest Winds.

Escape Rating B: This series is just plain fun. Hot, sweet and naughty fun. They are each little treats, like the most sinful of dark chocolate.

The stories do follow somewhat of a pattern, but that works for things that are this short. They brothers all do resemble each other, not just in looks but also in attitude. That’s not a surprise. After all, they are brothers.

But the women are all delightfully different, and that helps to differentiate the stories. Rayne in Fury is a protector, and she feels like she failed with her sister. (She didn’t) But that sense of failure is what motivates her to defy her mother and help Luca. And it also powers her desire to protect Skye, and Skye’s desire to finally stand on her own feet, that begins Darkness.

If you are looking for a short and naughty treat of a story (or five) start by picking up Tempest and be blown away!

Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Rebel by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Rebel (Dawn of the Highland Dragon, #2) by Isabel Cooper
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal romance
Series: Dawn of the Highland Dragon #2
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Madoc of Avandos is on a journey to cement alliances. Targeted by an assassin, he needs a companion who can fight. When dragon shifter Moiread MacAlasdair returns from war, he knows she's the best woman for the job. Duty and political strength compel Moiread to agree, but when they cross into the otherworld and Madoc's life is threatened, Moiread jumps into protection mode-and will do whatever it takes to keep the man of her dreams alive.

Dawn of the Highland Dragon Series: Highland Dragon Warrior (Book 1)Highland Dragon Rebel (Book 2)Highland Dragon Unleashed (Book3)

My Review:

I have a t-shirt that says, “I’m done adulting, let’s be Dragons!”

Moiread MacAlasdair has been an adult for three centuries, but she still gets to be a dragon. Putting it another way, Moiread has lived three centuries because she’s a dragon. A dragon shifter, at least. And that’s a pretty awesome thing to be.

But being a dragon, and a member of the MacAlasdair clan of dragon-shifters, means that Moiread, along with the rest of her family, spends a lot of time away from home, fighting to keep her home, her clan, and her country safe from predators, both human and not-so-human.

In the early 14th century, when the Dawn of the Highland Dragon series takes place, those enemies, as was true so often in Scottish history, were the English. As this story opens, peace has just broken out between Scotland and England with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton at the close of the First War of Scottish Independence.

It’s a peace that no one expects to last. And it doesn’t. But the resumption of hostilities just a few short years after this story ends is not part of the action in this book – not that I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a later entry in this series.

At the moment, Moiread is not technically a rebel. However, the man she is set to guard certainly is.

Diplomacy has been labeled as “war conducted by other means”. But Madoc of Avandos hasn’t traveled from his native Wales all the way to the remote MacAlasdair stronghold just to conduct a bit of peacetime diplomacy.

Instead, Madoc plans to conduct his bit of war through much more arcane means. Madoc is a sorcerer, and he has come to the MacAlasdairs to invoke the ancient alliance between their families. He has devised a rite that he needs to conduct in places of power, including one such place on the MacAlasdair lands. And he requires a bodyguard to protect him on his quest to raise the ancient powers of the lands, and equally ancient alliances with other magical families, in order to safeguard dangerous treasures of the Welsh people that he dares not let fall into English hands.

The Welsh subjugation by the conquering English is already inevitable. Wales as a separate kingdom ceased to exist two generations ago, and Madoc knows that his homeland may never be independent again – and that it will certain not happen within his lifetime. But, as a powerful sorcerer, there are things he can do and rites he can perform that will make the hand of the conquerors fall less heavily on his people.

His quest is to do what he can. Moiread’s charge is to keep him alive while he does so. While they are increasingly aware that they have a sorcerous enemy dogging their every step, the greatest threat to their mission turns out to be the secrets of their own hearts.

Escape Rating A-: Highland Dragon Rebel reminded me of just how much I loved the author’s first Highland Dragons series. Highland Dragon Rebel really re-captured the magic.

I also have to say that Highland Dragon Rebel, in spite of being the second book in this series, has a completely different pace and feel from the first book, Highland Dragon Warrior. Because the members of the MacAlasdair clan seldom spend a great deal of time together, there is very little crossover between Warrior and Rebel, to the point where it doesn’t feel as if it matters if you’ve read one before reading the other.

They are also very different kinds of books. Warrior is paced rather slowly, and that pace matches the way that the heroine’s alchemical experiments come together. Everything takes time.

Rebel, on the other hand, is a road story. Moread and Madoc’s relationship occurs completely within the context of his quest to visit all the sites of power across Scotland, England and Wales, perform the necessary rituals, dodge the persistent assassins, and then move on down the road.

Lots of stuff happens, it happens relatively quickly, and then they move on. While Madoc’s quest doesn’t have a time limit per se, he does need to move at a quick pace. Even being guarded by a very capable dragon shifter, he can’t dodge endless waves of assassins indefinitely. He has to succeed before they eventually do.

One of the things that I loved about Highland Dragon Rebel was the character of Moiread. She is just so imminently practical. She’s lived three centuries, she’s seen a lot of change, and she knows that she’s going to live long enough to see a lot more. She’s also very grounded in who she is and what she believes, and there’s a certain amount of emotional drama that she is just impervious to.

She’s also very, very aware that Madoc’s quest comes first and always, and whatever she feels for him, and whatever he feels for her, she firmly believes that duty comes before personal happiness. And she is also very cognizant of the fact that whatever they might have together, happily ever after is not an option. Not that they might not want it, and not that his magic does not give him a much longer lifespan than average, but, barring a epically catastrophic mishap, she will outlive him by centuries.

But even within those constraints, it is still clear that they love each other and want to try for whatever future they can manage, assuming they survive the present danger.

There are older and more fell things in Moiread and Madoc’s world than dragons, and there are dragons older and more powerful than the MacAlasdairs. It would not be a true quest, after all, if there wasn’t a real possibility that our hero and heroine had bitten off just a bit more than they can chew – even with dragon-sized jaws.

The third book in this series, Highland Dragon Master, is coming out next spring. I can’t wait to see where the Highland Dragons fly next.

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Review: Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

Review: Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper + GiveawayHighland Dragon Warrior (Dawn of the Highland Warrior, #1) by Isabel Cooper
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, paranormal romance
Series: Dawn of the Highland Dragon #1
Pages: 320
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Legend claims
When Scotland fell to English rule
The Highland dragons took a vow:
Freedom at any price.

The war may be over, but so long as English magic controls the Highlands, not even a dragon laird can keep his clan safe. What Cathal MacAlasdair needs is a warrior fierce enough to risk everything, yet gifted enough to outwit an enemy more monster than man.
What he needs is Sophia.
Alchemist Sophia Metzger traveled to Loch Arach in search of knowledge. She never dreamed she'd learn to do battle, ride through the stars on the back of a dragon, or catch the eye of a Highland laird. But as her quest turns to sizzling chemistry and inescapable danger, she'll soon discover the thrill of being caught in a dragon's claws.

My Review:

I picked this up thinking that it was a followup to the author’s earlier Highland Dragons series, the one that starts wonderfully with Legend of the Highland Dragon, continues marvelously in The Highland Dragon’s Lady and comes to its awesome conclusion in Night of the Highland Dragon.

But Highland Dragon Warrior isn’t a followup. Instead, it’s the beginning of a prequel series. Instead of the very tail end of the 19th century, this story is set at the very beginning of the 14th century. The world is a very different place. Thinking about it, this series might be the story of that “legend” that Legend of the Highland Dragon barely touches on.

This feels like a bit of an alternate 14th century. Dragons aren’t the only otherworldly creatures that walk (or fly, in this case) the earth we know from history. Magic works as well, and there are both good and evil practitioners of it. And, possibly because this is the 14th century and mysticism of all sorts existed in real history, alchemy works too.

Our heroine is an alchemist. She is also a world traveler in an era when travel was very difficult at the best of times and women seldom traveled at all. But Sophia Metzger is an exception in a number of ways. She’s a woman, she’s a practicing alchemist, and she’s Jewish at a time when Jews were systematically being expelled from every country in Europe.

It is dangerous for her to travel, particularly through England, where the Jews were expelled only a century before. (This is real history, not fabricated for this story) Sophia hides who she is at every turn, because exposure will mean censure at best, and death at worst. But she has heard a rumor that the MacAlasdairs are dragons, and she wants to see if their scales can provide powerful catalysts for her alchemical potions.

When Sophia and her friend and chaperone Alice arrive at Loch Arrach, she comes at just the right time for Cathal MacAlasdair. He’s had an unfortunate encounter with an evil wizard, who has taken the spirit of his best friend hostage. All the mage wants in return is Cathal’s service. The service of a powerful dragon. Cathal knows that he can’t give in, and doesn’t want to. He recognizes evil when he sees it. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to save his best friend if he can do it without submitting to the wizard.

And that’s where Sophia comes in. He’ll give her a few of his scales for her experiments, if she promises to do her best to save his friend. He’s not even half as unreasonable as he could be. Cathal knows the odds are stacked against them. He only asks that she try, and that she be honest about those trials.

Sophia can’t resist the challenge. And when the wizard starts coming for her, she meets that challenge as well, with every ounce of skill and intelligence at her disposal.

But when Cathal comes for her heart, she resists at every turn. She knows it’s not possible for a laird’s son to marry a Jew, and she is, above all, an honorable woman. But neither of them can resist what’s meant to be, no matter what stands in their way.

Escape Rating B: Highland Dragon Warrior, in spite of its hard-charging title, is a slow-burn, slow-build kind of story on every front. The plot takes a long time to develop, and so does the romance.

The pacing resembles that of Sophia’s alchemical potion-making. Everything has to happen at the right time, in the right place, under the right influences. This isn’t Harry Potter, where potions seem to brew in minutes or at most hours. All of Sophia’s potions take days and even weeks to come to fruition, and the story moves at that pace.

So as much as I liked Highland Dragon Warrior, I can’t claim that it’s a page-turner, at least not until the final 15% of the story, where Sophia confronts the evil wizard.

But I really did like this story. I think one of the big reasons for that is the character of Sophia. We don’t see many Jewish characters in mainstream fiction, and we particularly don’t see many Jewish heroines in romance, neither contemporary nor historical. So one of the reasons that I really liked being inside Sophia’s head was that I could see myself in her in ways that don’t happen often.

As difficult as it was for a woman to be an intellectual, or to travel in her time, for Sophia there is always an added layer of danger because of her faith. And she is always aware that some people will always be prejudiced against her, for her gender, for her intellect, for her profession and for her Judaism. She tries to keep her faith hidden, as much as she can, while not betraying it. Her fears are real, and particularly real for me, in ways that may not resonate with other readers, but do for this one, especially now.

Another thing that made this book so interesting for me is that it is Sophia’s journey. She’s the real warrior in this story, and not the dragon-shifter (and very male) Cathal. She’s the only person with the knowledge and skill to take the fight to the wizard, and the only one who has a chance to prevail. Cathal (and his family) provide much needed support, but Sophia is the skilled warrior on this battlefield, and there is not one moment of doubt that she is the right person to fight this foe.

Cathal wants to protect her, but it always feels like it is in the sense that we all want to protect those we love, and not in the strong man protecting weaker woman sense. He doesn’t see her as weak except in the strictly physical sense, but then, this battle will not be fought by strictly physical, or even mostly physical, means. And while his attitude feels out of his time, it is not outside the way his family functions. Female dragons are every bit as powerful, if not a bit more so, than the males.

And I liked that the difficulties between them were not swept under the carpet in a wave of romantic fluff. Or even obscured by a cloud of lust. There are real issues, and those have to be dealt with in order to arrive at a happy ever after. They successfully compromise, but not in a way where she gives up everything for him. They meet in a negotiated middle, and it works.

I’m looking forward to the next story in this series, Highland Dragon Rebel, to see where those dragons fly next.

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

Sourcebooks is giving away 3 copies of Highland Dragon Warrior to lucky entrants on this tour.

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Review: Illumination by Susannah Sandlin + Giveaway

Review: Illumination by Susannah Sandlin + GiveawayIllumination (Penton Legacy #5) by Susannah Sandlin
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, vampires
Series: Penton Legacy #5
Pages: 364
Published by Suzanne Johnson on July 4th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

He came to Penton seeking peace. Nik Dimitrou joined the Army to escape his family legacy, only to have his psychic abilities exploited as a weapon. Now, as a civilian, he turns to the bottle to veil the images that haunt his mind whenever he touches anyone—except vampires. With them, he has finally found a place. But as Penton moves into open warfare with the Vampire Tribunal, Nik finds himself a linchpin in the deepening conflict, not to mention a transformation in his own body more frightening than anything he’s faced.

She wanted to change the world. Shay Underwood watched her Peace Corps parents move from one third world country to another—until both died following an outbreak of fever. Driven to her own career in tropical medicine, Shay works to cure the disease that killed her parents—until a careless weekend outing draws her into a world far more dangerous than the diseases she studies: a vampire society engaged in human trafficking.

Two cities, two strangers, one world. With Penton rebellion leader Aidan Murphy making risky choices and chief vampire lieutenant Mirren Kincaid forced to take a leadership role for which he is unsuited, it will fall to two outsiders, Nik and Shay, to find a way for Penton—and themselves—to survive in this much-anticipated conclusion to the award-winning Penton Legacy series.

My Review:

Redemption by Susannah SandlinIn my review of the first book in this series, Redemption, I called this series “vampire toffee”. Once you sink your teeth into it, you can’t unstuck. And that was just as true in Illumination as it was in the previous books in the series. I’ve been waiting for THREE years to find out how the mess that we were introduced to in Redemption finally got resolved.

And now I know.

One of the things that seems to be a hallmark of most vampire fiction is vampire politics. It does make a certain amount of sense that people who live for centuries if not millennia would end up spending entirely too much time jockeying for power. And as the ultimate apex predators, vampires often end up in that quandary where power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And when that absolute power is challenged, any and all horrific means can be justified to serve their ends – those ends being to get back in power and eliminate all threats – even the threats that have the potential to save their lives.

The background to this series is one that has been used before, but with a twist. Vampires have always existed among us. They can ensnare people they need, feeding a vampire produces an addictive high, and they can wipe out inconvenient memories of those who have seen or heard to much. Or just kill them, as we are not really people to most of them, merely food.

However, the world has changed, and not in a good way – at least not for the vampires. I don’t mean technology, although that plays into it a bit. But in this near-future scenario, a worldwide pandemic was averted through the development of a preventive vaccine. As the pandemic was widespread (that’s what pandemic means, after all) most of the world’s population got inoculated against it. Something in the vaccine makes the blood of the vaccinated humans poisonous to vampires. It’s an unintended consequence the humans are completely unaware of.

But the vampires are starving. The population of unvaccinated humans is tiny.

The conflict that runs through the entire Penton Legacy series revolves around the best method for dealing with the vampire food shortage. The Vampire Tribunal, the, let’s call it the traditional viewpoint, wants to capture and enslave unvaccinated humans by any means necessary, and will kill anyone, human, vampire or shifter (yes, this world has shifters, too) who gets in their way.

The scheme they hatch in Illumination is possibly their most disgusting yet. They must be stopped.

The forces on the side of stopping them begin Illumination very much on the ropes after the horrific events that end Allegiance. Aiden Murphy, the leader of the Penton vampire scathe, has come up with a different way for vampires to survive. Instead of coercing, co-opting and controlling humans, Penton only accepts volunteers who are willing to live in cooperation with humans and shifters. It’s an alliance of equals, and the Tribunal sees it as a threat to their way of life.

Penton fights back with everything and everyone they have. They might just lose it all, but if they do, they’ll go down fighting every step of the way.

Escape Rating B: Before I talk about what I thought of Illumination, there are a few PSAs (public service announcements) that I need to get out of the way.

First, Illumination is the end of a story that begins in Redemption, continues through Absolution, Omega, Storm Force and Allegiance before it comes to its epic conclusion in Illumination. In order for the conflict between the vampire factions to make sense, for the created world to hold together, and for the reader to care about all the characters, it really is necessary to read the whole series in order.

Second, that really isn’t a problem because the whole thing is vampire romance crack. You’ll be hooked, and you’ll feel compelled to see what happens next.

Third, even though Storm Force was not labelled as part of the Penton series, it really is. It comes between Omega and Allegiance and begins the second arc of the Penton saga.

And now back to my review of the actual book in hand, Illumination.

Allegiance ended on a terrible cliffhanger. Not that book was terrible, because the books in this series have all been tons of fun, but terrible in the “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black” sense. It ends on a serious downer, the situation looks bleak, and the reader isn’t sure if the Pentonites can recover.

And that was back in 2014. It’s been a damn long time. It took me awhile to get back up to speed on what was and wasn’t happening, who it was happening with/to, and figure out what was what.

Also, because of the events in Allegiance, Illumination gets off to a slow start. The heroine is literally trapped, the hero is unconscious, and Aiden Murphy, the prime mover and shaker of everything Penton, has completely lost his grip. It takes the first third of the book for Aiden to begin to get back into fighting shape. Once he comes back to life, the book does too.

While Illumination does contain a romance, as all the books in this series do, the romance in this one takes a back seat to the resolution of the vampire civil war. And it needs to. Without a solution to the dwindling food source problem, there can’t be a lasting solution to much of anything. Nobody gets a happy ever after if there is no ever after.

As with the first book, Redemption, the romance in this entry has a bit of a Stockholm Syndrome problem. There’s an attempt to gloss it over because the hero and heroine were also high school sweethearts, but it’s still definitely there. It doesn’t keep the romance from working, but it’s a presence.

On my other hand, one of the great things about this entry in the series is the way that everyone works together, and that everyone’s skills are needed to win this fight. This is not a series where the alpha male vampires rescue and protect the weak human females. Everyone has a stake in this war, and everyone, vampire, human, shifter, male and female has skills that are required to win it.

And bringing the dinosaurs back to life, even temporarily, was just plain cool.

In the end, I really got a kick out of this series. I’m a bit sorry to see it end, but happy that all those poor people hanging from cliffs at the end of Allegiance finally got let off the hook. And while my trip to Penton is over, I have more books from this author to look forward to. Susannah Sandlin also writes as Suzanne Johnson, and she’s awesome under both names!

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

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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 Trinity #1, 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.