Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + Giveaway

Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + GiveawayPirate's Passion by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #2
Pages: 311
Published by Entangled: Amara on November 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Samuel Keegan used to man the wheel of the Sea Dog over 200 years ago, but these days he’s the front man of a southern rock band. Rum and women are plentiful, but his world is changing rapidly now that his crew is back together searching for the Holy Grail to break their curse. But the quest leads him to a historian with raven hair and a wicked smile. She holds all the answers, but she could also spell death for them all.

Dr. Charlotte Sinclair works for the Maritime Museum in Savannah, an expert on ancient pirate wrecks. When a government agent requests her help in a top-secret investigation, she discovers not only is the Holy Grail real, but the lead singer of her favorite band is actually the immortal pilot of the Sea Dog crew.

The search for the Grail opens some dark secrets better left hidden, and Charlotte's life might depend on one Pirate's Passion...

Each book in the Sentinels of Savannah series is STANDALONE:* Magnolia Mystic* Pirate's Passion

My Review:

While the title of this series is reminiscent of the Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans, the story keeps giving me vibes that it’s related to Alyssa Day’s Warriors of Poseidon – along with a touch of a vampire romance series that I read a long time ago and now can’t recall the title of. And that’s going to drive me bananas until I figure out what it was.

Along with just a hint of the X-Files.

Only the beginnings of this mix were hinted at in the first book in this series, Magnolia Mystic. In that first story, readers were introduced to the immortal crew of the privateer Sea Dog, alive and mostly well over two centuries after their ship sank in the waters near Savannah.

Nearly, well, because their immortality seems to be wearing off.

The last treasure they took was the Holy Grail – and they all took a drink from the cup of immortality. But suddenly they aren’t healing as fast or as well as they used to. They decide to retrieve it from its hiding place and take another sip, only to discover that the cup is missing.

And that they aren’t the only ones after it. That’s where the X-Files come in, or at least Department 13, in the person of Agent David Bale.

That’s where we pick up the story in Pirate’s Passion. While Bale has already enlisted the help of the Sea Dog crew to retrieve the cup, they all need help figuring out who might have stolen it and why.

That’s where Dr. Charlotte Sinclair and the Savannah Maritime Museum come it. Charlotte is an expert on 19th century privateering in the Savannah area in general, and on the Sea Dog and its crew in particular.

She’s even written a book on the subject.

So it’s not much of a stretch to think that she might be able to help – once Bale reveals at least some of the truths to Dr. Sinclair. The big truth that “the truth really is out there” and that there are all sorts of legendary creatures that are not quite as legendary as she might have thought.

And that the crew of the Sea Dog, including the local rock singer she nearly went to bed with the night before, is alive and well and has been spending their eternity in Savannah. She’s not certain whether to be embarrassed about her previous encounter with Samuel Keegan, or to just go with the chemistry between them.

Her friends have all been telling her that she seriously needs to get a life – even if getting an immortal one isn’t quite what they had in mind.

Escape Rating B+: There is a LOT going on in this story. While Magnolia Mystic introduces the series, that was a novella. And now it kind of feels like a teaser. We met the crew and discovered their situation, but the wider (and sometimes wilder) world is mostly in the background. Which makes it a very nice introduction to the series but not critical to getting into this story.

Pirate’s Passion is where all the big guns and full-size cutlasses come out of their holsters and sheaths, and we learn just how different the world really is. While there is a romance in this story, and it looks like there will be in the rest of the series, the overarching story is urban fantasy.

This is our world, it just has a whole lot more…dimensions… than we are aware of. Many of those extra added attractions are interesting, some are very cool, and more than a few are quite deadly. As our heroine discovers, even if our hero isn’t certain whether that deadliness is something that he has to worry about – or not – or not yet.

The romance between Keegan and Char burns hot and heavy, but is often laced with tears. One of the dilemmas that ALWAYS has to be solved, resolved, or at least glossed over is what happens when one of the lovers is immortal. As far as they know, Keegan could live for centuries yet, where Char is mortal. If things go the way they have gone, his choices are to leave before his heart is too deeply engaged or watch her eventually grow old and die – if the dangers of their world don’t kill her first.

That this conundrum is resolved differently from the choices made in Magnolia Mystic gives the story some heft. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. (Also, one-size-fits-all is one of the ten biggest lies, right up there with “the check’s in the mail”, and “this will only hurt for a little while”)

This is also a series where, like Stargate and Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, there is a government department tasked with dealing with the weird, that has a storage facility of dangerous artifacts. A department that employs agents who not only believe in the supernatural, but may also be a part of it.

Including Agent Bale, who has been fighting the bad guys longer than anyone expects. And where Char’s supposedly dead father has been hiding out from everyone who seems to be out to get him – on both sides.

So this is the book in the series where we learn just how big and bad the big bad is going to be. After all, if there are good guys on the side of the light, there must also be bad guys hiding in the dark. That there are multiple organizations out there who want to steal whatever artifacts Department 13 turns up for more-or-less nefarious reasons of their own makes sense in this context.

The world that the crew of the Sea Dog is a part of gets much bigger and much deadlier in this entry in the series. While I love the complexity of the world building, this is one of those times where it might have been better if it didn’t whack into the reader all at once – especially with Char’s own personal connections to the weird along with the crew of the Sea Dog finding out just how much is out there besides themselves.

Your mileage may vary.

That being said, I certainly enjoyed my second outing with the crew of the Sea Dog, if not quite as much as my first trip in Magnolia Mystic. I’m definitely looking forward to another voyage with this crew of pirates in Pirate’s Pleasure, sometime next year. Hopefully early next year!

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

To celebrate the release of PIRATE’S PASSION by Lisa Kessler, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2y1fdsw

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing.  Giveaway ends 11/16/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda JonesFirst Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1) by Darynda Jones
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Charley Davidson #1
Pages: 310
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This whole grim reaper thing should have come with a manual.Or a diagram of some kind.A flow chart would have been nice.

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, with Charley’s luck, both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Magnolia Mystic by Lisa Kessler

Review: Magnolia Mystic by Lisa KesslerMagnolia Mystic by Lisa Kessler
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #1
Pages: 103
Published by Entangled: Amara on July 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Two words: Immortal Pirates. It doesn't get better than that! Sexy, spicy, and so much fun--I can't wait for the next one! - Alyssa Day, NY Times bestselling author

Skye Olson is a psychic like her mother, and her grandmother before her, but a bad break up with the man she thought was her soulmate has left her confidence in her abilities shaken. While she's in crisis, a real estate tycoon from Atlanta swoops in with his eyes on her shop.

Colton Hayes spent his mortal life plundering royal ships with his pirate crew, but one holy relic changed everything. Now he and the rest of the crew protect the port of Savannah from their captain who traded his cutlass for a fountain pen.

When Colton discovers the captain wants to build a hotel in the heart of historic Savannah, he sets out to stop him, but nothing could prepare him for the sexy smile and violet eyes of the Magnolia Mystic.

Magnolia Mystic was previously a part of the Magnolias & Moonshine collection.

Each book in the Sentinels of Savannah series is STANDALONE:* Magnolia Mystic* Pirate's Passion

My Review:

I’m in the middle of a big, deep, slightly heavy book, and found myself looking for something a bit lighter and fluffier to balance it out. Not that I’m not loving the other book, because I am, but there’s so much going on that I need to take it in smaller bites.

Why I thought undead pirates was going to be lighter, I’m not sure. But Magnolia Mystic is certainly lighter and even a bit fluffier than the other book.

Also, the pirates are not undead, they’re more like undying. The crew of the Sea Dog are 250-plus years young, after drinking from the Holy Grail. Yes, that Grail, the one that the Knights of the Round Table were chasing after in the King Arthur stories.

The pirate crew of the Sea Dog actually found the thing. They were raiding a Spanish treasure ship that was supposed to be carrying a fortune in gold doubloons. Instead, there was just one battered chest, containing a cup that refilled itself.

But that was two and a half centuries ago, and a pirate, even an undying one, still has to make a living. Colton Hayes is making his by taking tourists out of the Port of Savannah in his replica Sea Dog.

And that’s where he meets Skye Olson, the woman he’s been fated to meet for all those years. She’s fated either to be his salvation or his doom, and from the first it’s a bit hard to tell which.

She’s in recovery from a really bad breakup – and swears that she’s swearing off men when she meets Colton. He’s literally gobsmacked by seeing that old prophecy fulfilled – the one that said that meeting the violet-eyed woman would bring about both his life and his death.

Because after meeting Skye, the curse or blessing of the Grail (depending on perspective) stops working. Not completely, but pretty darn obviously. One of Colton’s crewmates is in a devastating car wreck. And while the man doesn’t die like anyone else would, he also doesn’t instantly heal the way that the Sea Dog crew always have.

Their immunity seems to be coming to an end – just at the point where Colton has discovered a woman that he loves enough to want to be able to grow old with.

But not every member of the crew is so willing to give up on immortality. And that’s when they discover that the Grail, the cup they’ve been successfully hiding for over two centuries, has gone missing.

And that Uncle Sam wants them to steal it back.

Escape Rating B: This was just lots of fun. It’s also lots of introduction as this is the first book in the series. In fact, I found this one by seeing a promo for the next one, which is due out in November.

I liked Skye as a character and found her easy to identify with. Not the whole seeress gig, not that it doesn’t make sense in the context of the story. And I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point we discover that it was Skye’s great-great-great-grandmother who made the original prophecy.

But her situation otherwise is one that is easy to be sympathetic to. She’s a smart woman who usually takes care of herself but made a mistake in trusting the wrong man and now doubts her ability to pick the right one – or at least a good one.

However, it’s the situation that Colton and his crewmates are in that really grabbed my attention and kept it. Instead of the undead curse that struck the pirates in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, we have something that might either be curse or blessing. Not undeath, but seemingly everlasting life.

What do you do with all those centuries? How do you keep from falling into depression, ennui, or outright evil? Not that one member of the crew hasn’t become, if not true evil, at least the 21st century version of everyday evil – a ruthless property developer.

That Colton realized that he had to let Skye in on the secret if they were to have a chance – and how he went about it, worked very well. Especially when it wasn’t Colton that she believed, but another one of his crewmates who had been her lifelong friend. That the story went down easier from someone she already trusted made sense.

The ending was where the series takes off and leads to parts unknown. Who knew that the U.S. government had an agency devoted to ferreting out the supernatural? And why wouldn’t they? But the it takes a thief to catch a thief twist at the end is the one that will keep this series going – and I liked it – a lot.

I’m looking forward to continuing my voyage on the Sea Dog with the Sentinels of Savannah next month in Pirate’s Passion.

Guest Review: Sleeping with the Fishes by MaryJanice Davidson

Guest Review: Sleeping with the Fishes by MaryJanice DavidsonSleeping with the Fishes by MaryJanice Davidson
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Fred the Mermaid #1
Pages: 284
Published by Berkley Books on November 28th 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Fred is a mermaid. But stop right there. Whatever image you're thinking of right now, forget it. Fred is not blonde. She's not buxom. And she's definitely not perky. In fact, Fred can be downright cranky. And it doesn't help matters that her hair is blue.

Being a mermaid does help Fred when she volunteers at the New England Aquarium. But, needless to say, it's there that she gets involved in something fishy. Weird levels of toxins have been found in the local seawater. A gorgeous marine biologist wants her help investigating. So does her merperson ruler, the High Prince of the Black Sea. You'd think it would be easy for a mermaid to get to the bottom of things. Think again...

Guest Review by Amy:

Fredrika isn’t what you’re thinking, not even a little. She’s a mermaid–a half-breed, actually–who has lived her whole life among humans. When she gets wet, her legs merge, and scales pop out, and…  well, you know the rest.

But right there is where all connection with most mermaid legends ends. Fred, as she prefers to be called, is pretty, but isn’t breathtakingly gorgeous, because she just doesn’t care; her green/blue hair has split ends all over the place, and she just can’t be bothered. She’s not interested in dating, and hasn’t had a date since that disastrous one six years ago with her boss’s ex-husband. Only her best friend Jonas – whom everyone thinks is gay, apparently – knows that she’s a mermaid.

She’s got a job, of course, as a marine biologist (also of course) at the big aquarium in Boston Harbor. A new guy shows up, concerned about the nastiness of the harbor, and gosh he’s handsome…but then the High Prince of the merfolk swims into town, with the same concern!

Escape Rating: A-: Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for “paranormal romances” that aren’t about vampires or werewolves. Not many are published, so from time to time, I nose around my local used bookstore and see if there’s anything interesting to me. “Oh, hey! Mermaids!” I thought to myself, finding this little book.  “That’s different.”

…little did I know. “Paranormal” fits, because, well, merfolk, but “romance?” I find myself challenged to call it that. The romance just isn’t where you expect it in this story, nor does it follow any of the conventional patterns: Fred does get a bit kissy with these two hunky gents who turn up suddenly in her life, sure, and both of them are intent on catching her, but she’s just not having it right now – our mermaid heroine has a job to do. There is one rather-steamy sex scene in here – but she’s not in it!

The entire action of this story takes place over just a few days, and that adds to the somewhat frenzied feel of this book. Things happen fast here, so pay attention to the details while you’re reading it, or you might miss something important. In addition to Fred’s frustration with two men who are more set on landing her than solving the problem they are ostensibly there to solve, we have Fred’s nosy boss, the frumpy director of the aquarium (who doesn’t know she’s a mermaid, remember?) sniffing around wondering about that huge hunk (The Prince, natch) who has suddenly appeared on the scene, the fish in Main One are on a hunger strike and Fred can’t seem to convince them to eat without blasting Pet Shop Boys on the loudspeakers, the captain of the aquarium’s research boat can’t stand Fred because rather ironically, she gets seasick and panics on boats, the ditzy, chirpy intern, Fred’s shellfish allergy…and on and on. There’s lots to take in here, in a very short space of time, and it took me two reads to catch it all.

Fortunately for me, Sleeping with the Fishes is a hilariously fun read! Author MaryJanice Davidson has packed this book from cover to cover with Fred’s wry humor, outrageous stereotypes, and some of the best wisecracks and one-liners I’ve read in quite a while. If I was a serious reviewer of highbrow fiction, I’d tear this book apart, but I’m not. I’m a reader who likes something silly and unexpected and fun once in a while. If that’s you also, give this story and the series it opens a look.

Review: Ocean Light by Nalini Singh

Review: Ocean Light by Nalini SinghOcean Light (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #2; Psy-Changeling, #17) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Psy-Changeling #17
Pages: 416
Published by Berkley on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh dives beneath the surface of her Psy-Changeling world into a story of passionate devotion and selfless love...

Security specialist Bowen Knight has come back from the dead. But there's a ticking time bomb in his head: a chip implanted to block telepathic interference that could fail at any moment--taking his brain along with it. With no time to waste, he should be back on land helping the Human Alliance. Instead, he's at the bottom of the ocean, consumed with an enigmatic changeling...

Kaia Luna may have traded in science for being a chef, but she won't hide the facts of Bo's condition from him or herself. She's suffered too much loss in her life to fall prey to the dangerous charm of a human who is a dead man walking. And she carries a devastating secret Bo could never imagine...

But when Kaia is taken by those who mean her deadly harm, all bets are off. Bo will do anything to get her back--even if it means striking a devil's bargain and giving up his mind to the enemy...

My Review:

One doesn’t read a book in the Psy-Changeling series so much as one immerses oneself in the fascinating world that the author has created. One doesn’t just read, one dives back into something that is already there.

And those are perfect metaphors for this particular entry in the series, Ocean Light, as the plot centers around a group of changelings that have remained as mysterious as the ocean depths that they call home.

We’ve been deeply enmeshed in with the wolves, the cats and even the bears, but this is the first time we’ve visited the Black Sea Base and had the chance to seriously get to know this most diverse and most far flung group of changelings – who come from all of the many species that populate Earth’ oceans.

The action in Ocean Light picks up where Silver Silence left off. And that’s a hint that this is not a good place to start this series. The first book in the series is Slave to Sensation, but starting anywhere within the first few books could probably work. One warning – Slave to Sensation reads more like a typical paranormal romance than the later books, and barely hints at the depths of worldbuilding yet to come. I bounced off it the first time I read it, and only returned after some serious prompting from a friend. She was right, this series is awesome.

At the end of Silver Silence, the fledgling Trinity Accords between the changelings, the psy and the original recipe humans are under threat from a mysterious consortium that finds war between the groups much, much, MUCH more profitable than peace, and will do anything to make sure that peace does not stick around.

Because the humans are crucial to making the alliance work, the consortium targeted the leader of the Human Alliance, Bowen Knight. It would have been possible to open Ocean Light the same way that Dickens’ Christmas Carol opens, “Bowen Knight was dead: to begin with.”

Except of course he’s not. He is, however, very definitely dying, just not the way that his would-be assassins expected.

Shot through the heart by a sniper, Bowen should be dead. Instead, the miraculous medical team at the Black Sea Base replaced his flesh-and-blood (and very, very destroyed) heart with a metal heart that will probably outlast the rest of him. This isn’t out of altruism, or at least not out of altruism towards him.

The head scientist at Black Sea wants to study the other thing that’s killing him, because she thinks she might have a cure. And her clan is more than willing to indulge her wish to conduct the experiment.

Once Bowen is awake and aware of the risks and the consequences, he is more than willing to sign up for an experiment that gives him a 95% chance of ending up in the midst of his worst nightmare, leaving him as a vegetable with little or no brain function.

But that 5% chance of a full, normal life is worth fighting for – and even dying for if the research helps to save the lives of his sister and the other humans who implanted themselves with an experimental chip to prevent psy interference in their minds – because the side-effects of that experiment are definitely lethal.

After meeting Kaia Luna, the Black Sea’s head chef and part-time medical tech, Bowen discovers that he has finally found a reason not to just to survive, but actually to live – even if he only has a couple of weeks to squeeze a lifetime of living into.

Escape Rating B+: This is a difficult book to rate. I love this series. The world that the author has created is amazingly deep and rich and nuanced and just keeps getting bigger and better with every entry in the series.

But this particular entry moves a bit slowly through the first half of the story. While it is fascinating to get to finally see the Black Sea Base, the base itself is both remote and underwater – it does not get a lot of incidental contact from anyone or anywhere else.

For a good chunk of the story, Bowen is also recovering from a coma and heart surgery. And he’s being experimented on a bit by the medical chief. Even though the author has invented interesting medical breakthroughs that have kept Bowen from waking up as a wet noodle that has to recover muscle tone and physical capacity there is still some recovery time that keeps him occupied plus he needs time to learn how Black Sea operates.

Even his romance with Kaia gets off to a bit of a necessary slow start.

So there isn’t a lot of this series trademark breakneck action and suspense until the second half of the book, when Bowen is in the midst of a countdown on any possibility of life and the threats to both Black Sea and the Alliance ooze out of the woodwork.

As always, it’s the characters in the story that make it work. In this case Bowen and Kaia. We’ve met Bowen before, but he’s always been a mysterious figure, because he has deliberately worked to make himself so. Watching him take a chance at not just life but actually living was eye-opening.

Kaia is a marvelous heroine. While she is both scared and scarred, she has forged a life for herself after much trauma, and its a life where she is both loved and appreciated as much as she can be. The way that she wrestles with her fears in order to help Bowen is wonderful to watch.

All in all, I enjoyed this entry in the series, even though it wasn’t quite as compelling a read as this series usually is. I’m grateful as always that it is clear from the ending of Ocean Light that this series is far from over. I can’t wait for the next installment!

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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