Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + Giveaway

Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + GiveawayDiamond Fire (Hidden Legacy, #3.5) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #3.5
Pages: 160
Published by Avon Impulse on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nevada Frida Baylor and Connor Ander Rogan cordially invite you to join their wedding celebration. Summoning, weather manipulation, and other magical activities strictly forbidden.

Catalina Baylor is looking forward to wearing her maid of honor dress and watching her older sister walk down the aisle. Then the wedding planner gets escorted off the premises, the bride’s priceless tiara disappears, and Rogan's extensive family overruns his mother’s home. Someone is cheating, someone is lying, and someone is plotting murder.

To make this wedding happen, Catalina will have to do the thing she fears most: use her magic. But she’s a Baylor and there’s nothing she wouldn't do for her sister's happiness. Nevada will have her fairy tale wedding, even if Catalina has to tear the mansion apart brick by brick to get it done.

My Review:

Although Nevada and Rogan’s wedding is the setting – or the excuse – for this story, this is definitely NOT Nevada’s story, unlike the rest of the Hidden Legacy series so far.

This is Nevada’s sister Catalina’s story, which makes this novella a kind of bridge book in the series, as the focus switches from Nevada, who has found her happy ever after with Connor Rogan. Future books need to feature other characters, and it looks like we’re going to be treated to watch every member of the Baylor family come into their own and find their HEA, starting with Catalina.

The setup of this variation on our world began in the awesome Burn for Me. Diamond Fire is not meant to be read as a standalone, it is an integral part of the series and I think that too much is left to previous knowledge. After all, why would you care about Nevada and Rogan if you hadn’t watched their struggle?

Also, the house rivalries, politics and downright internecine warfare probably only make sense if you start at the beginning. This series is so awesome that it is no hardship whatsoever.

But this is Catalina’s story through and through, and it is not a romance. I think there’s going to be one on the horizon for her, eventually, but Catalina has to learn to love herself and accept her gift before she can manage to love anyone else.

That’s more true for her than most, because Catalina’s gift is love. Not real love, but obsessive love. Love-potion-type-love along with stalker-level obsession. Their world doesn’t have a name for her gift, but we’d call her a siren. When she lets her gift loose, anyone she focuses on is compelled to love her to the exclusion of all else.

Which means that Catalina is never sure whether someone likes her for herself, or because she wanted them to. The only people who seem to be immune are her family – but then, they love her anyway.

The story in Diamond Fire is all about Catalina protecting her sister from too many distractions while she’s playing bridezilla (just a bit) and to keep Nevada from using her invasive gift, truthseeking, to break the minds of her in-laws in order to find out just who wants to sabotage her wedding.

Instead, it’s up to Catalina to not just follow the more mundane clues, but to convince whoever those clues lead to to tell her everything she needs to know – by whatever means necessary – and whether she wants to know or not.

Catalina’s afraid that she’ll end up with a trail of mindless love slaves following her around – and that she’ll like it that way. But she’ll do anything for Nevada – no matter what dark places it leads her to.

There might even be something shiny and sparkly at the end.

Escape Rating B+: This is short, and in the end sweet – but not without plenty of interesting angst in the middle.

It is not a starting point for this series – so start with Burn for Me. Or wait for the first book in the Catalina trilogy that’s coming out in 2019. Just don’t start here. The world of the Primes, while it bears a superficial resemblance to our 21st century, certainly has some hidden depths that are not explained in this novella.

Instead, this one falls much more on the urban fantasy side of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy divide. Catalina is the amateur detective, and she has a case to solve. Someone stole the heirloom tiara that Nevada is supposed to wear down the aisle at her wedding. The tiara isn’t worth much – relatively for this uber-rich family – but it is important. Also well-known, so it’s not an item that can be fenced.

It seems like the only people who would have any motive for the theft are Nevada’s in-laws. Because of their psychic powers, they are also the only people who could have done it. And they are all in attendance for the wedding – however resentfully or reluctantly.

So Catalina has to do what detectives do, sort through all of the possible suspects, suss out their possible motives, and eventually figure out whodunit – not that the result isn’t a complete surprise. And not that she doesn’t uncover a whole lot of other crap that the family wishes had remained unknown. But that’s what House Baylor Investigations has always done – discover the truth – even when it hurts.

But the point of the story is on Catalina coming out of Nevada’s very tall (metaphorically speaking) shadow. And it’s the making of her. She learns that she can trust herself, and that’s one of the hardest lessons of all.

I can’t wait to see what she does next!

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

To celebrate the release of DIAMOND FIRE by Ilona Andrews, we’re giving away one paperback set of the Hidden Legacy trilogy!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2Nnhq6v

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to internationally. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Hidden Legacy trilogy by Ilona Andrews. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/12/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per reader. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Echo Moon by Laura Spinella + Giveaway

Review: Echo Moon by Laura Spinella + GiveawayEcho Moon by Laura Spinella
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Ghost Gifts #3
Pages: 428
Published by Montlake Romance on May 22, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

A past life, a past war, and a past love. Peter St John can’t foresee a future until he confronts his past sins.

When photojournalist Peter St John returns home after a two-year absence, the life he’s been running from catches up. For years his mother’s presence, coupled with Pete’s own psychic gift, has triggered visits to 1917. There, he relives battles of the Great War, captures the heyday of Coney Island on canvas, and falls in love with an enchanting and enigmatic songstress named Esme. Present-day Pete still pines for Esme, and his love endures…but so does his vivid memory of killing her.

When he discovers family heirlooms that serve as proof of his crimes, Pete will have to finally confront his former life. He also meets a young woman—who is more than what she seems—with a curious connection to his family. As century-old secrets unravel, can Pete reconcile a murder from his past before it destroys his future?

My Review:

Echo Moon is a haunting story about the way that the past can quite literally haunt the present. Or at least Peter St. John’s present. And fair warning, I’m going to use the word “haunting” a lot in this review, because it’s the only one that really fits.

Pete has a gift, or a curse depending on one’s perspective, of being able to speak to the dead. He receives messages, and his receipt is beyond his control. As this story opens, Pete himself is running out the edges of his control.

While his mother Aubrey receives what they call “ghost gifts” from the past, Pete remembers his entire previous life – or at least his previous life up to the point where he murdered the woman he loved.

He can’t escape his visions of that past, and he can’t manage to escape his love for the beautiful, talented and ultimately doomed Esme Moon. Esme was a singer and medium in World War I era New York City, and Pete vividly remembers both loving her and killing her.

When his mother inherits a New Jersey beach shack from his grandmother, who worked the traveling carnivals in her own youth, Pete’s past and his present collide. In the uncertainty of whether he’s losing control or losing his mind, Pete finally lets himself explore the history that he has refused to acknowledge, no matter where it leads.

They say the truth will set you free. Pete needs the truth to make him whole – in one century or another.

Escape Rating B+: Although this is not strictly a time-travel story, the atmosphere in Echo Moon reminds me an awful lot of that classic, lyrical work of time travel, Time and Again by Jack Finney. It’s not the time period, but both stories have that strong bittersweet sense of the past haunting and looming over the present. Richard Matheson’s equally classic Bid Time Return (filmed as Somewhere in Time) also has that same bittersweet romantic feel.

But more than the time travel, Echo Moon reminds me of Robin D. Owens’ Ghost Seer series, which begins (naturally enough) with Ghost Seer. Clare Cermak’s gifts are very similar to Pete St. John’s, without the overwhelming sense of guilt that haunts Pete. After all, while Clare can lay the ghosts of her assigned era to rest, she isn’t responsible for turning them into ghosts in the first place.

Echo Moon is the third book in the Ghost Gifts series, although those first two books (Ghost Gifts and Foretold) feature Pete’s mother Aubrey and not Pete himself. Not having read those first two books, it took me a while to get into this one. It’s not that the action doesn’t pick up easily, or that what happens to Pete is truly reliant on what happened to his mother – or at least not exactly and certainly not at the beginning.

But not having already been immersed in the family’s history, the events here didn’t have quite the resonance they otherwise might have. We know that Pete is running from himself, but the reasons why aren’t as deep as they eventually become once the reader becomes invested in Pete’s story and especially Pete’s trauma.

Having PTSD because of events one experienced in a previous life is not the way that textbook definitions of PTSD usually go – and that makes it all the more difficult to treat or resolve.

In the end, the story does suck even the newbie reader into its web of romance, intrigue and mysticism. Once that happens, the story moves fast, as neither Pete nor the reader are ever quite sure whether the past is merely influencing the present or actively impinging on it or whether Pete has just finally lost it altogether.

When he finds it, and himself, it makes for a lovely ending.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a signed copy of Echo Moon to one lucky US/Canadian commenter on this tour!

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Review: Wildfire by Ilona Andrews + Giveaway

Review: Wildfire by Ilona Andrews + GiveawayWildfire (Hidden Legacy, #3) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, eboook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Just when Nevada Baylor has finally come to accept the depths of her magical powers, she also realizes she’s fallen in love. Connor “Mad” Rogan is in many ways her equal when it comes to magic, but she’s completely out of her elements when it comes to her feelings for him. To make matters more complicated, an old flame comes back into Rogan’s life…
Rogan knows there’s nothing between him and his ex-fiance, Rynda Sherwood. But as Nevada begins to learn more about her past, her power, and her potential future, he knows she will be faced with choices she never dreamed of and the promise of a life spent without him.
As Nevada and Rogan race to discover the whereabouts of Rynda’s kidnapped husband and are forced to confront Nevada’s grandmother, who may or may not have evil motives, these two people must decide if they can trust in each other or allow everything to go up in smoke.

My Review:

This was absolutely awesomesauce. And I’m also glad that now I know what the series title means. I won’t spoil it for you, but that is one of those things that just didn’t make a whole of sense, until now. And now, well, sister, does it ever!

Wildfire is the third book in Ilona Andrews’ marvelous Hidden Legacy series, after Burn for Me and White Hot. This is a series where the action, the suspense and the romance built on each other, and the worldbuilding gets deeper and more layered, the more you get into the series. Read from the beginning. You’ll thank me later.

The setting for this series is at the intersection where urban fantasy and paranormal romance meet. And have surprisingly wild and wonderfully weird offspring.

Like much of urban fantasy, this is a near-future or same-time-as-ours-but different version of our world. Like most of urban fantasy, this is a version of our world where magic works. Unlike the usual run of the genre, however, the magic in this world works because of science. Think of it as the mad scientist division of magic. Once upon a time, about a century or so ago, some mad scientist cooked up a formula that bestowed magic powers on those who took it. Exactly how it worked and exactly why different powers manifested in different families is still anyone’s guess.

That those powers are passed down genetically is not a guess. Generations of carefully documented breeding can mostly predict what powers will manifest in children of which parents – and what powers won’t. But just like the 50/50 chance that each baby will be male or female, without reference to previous outcomes, an 80% chance that a child will manifest particular magical abilities also means there’s a 20% chance that it won’t manifest the so-called “correct” magic – or any at all.

However, unlike most urban fantasy, there is also a romance at the heart of all this politicking and power-mongering. And it’s mostly a successful romance, admittedly between two extremely stubborn and hard-headed people who push all of each other’s buttons – both the sexual kind and the seriously-needing-anger-management kind.

Connor Rogan is an extremely powerful telekinetic. He’s also a Prime, which means that he is head of his house, House Rogan, and that many of the laws that apply to us lesser mortals don’t apply to him – not just because they are unenforceable but because the collateral damage of making the attempt is just too high.

Nevada Baylor has just learned that her grandmother, the powerful truthseeker Victoria Tremaine, will do anything, no matter how unethical, to capture Nevada and her sisters. Victoria is the Prime of House Tremaine, and her House is dying. Nevada is her best hope of keeping her House intact. Why? Because Nevada is her granddaughter, and has inherited her truthseeking powers in full measure. A fact that Nevada only became aware of at the end of White Hot.

But the reason that Victoria needs Nevada is also the reason that Nevada has options – admittedly options that she was hoping not to have to exercise. House politics and inter-house rivalries make the bloodshed on Game of Thrones look like the proverbial Sunday school picnic. Nevada has never wanted any part of any of it – but now she has no choice. Filing to become a new house, House Baylor, should protect her from her grandmother long enough for the fledgling house to get itself on a stable footing. If they pass the trials for house creation. If they even manage to get to those trials.

Because there’s a conspiracy afoot, as uncovered in White Hot, to remove even the few restrictions that currently impede the houses from doing whatever they want to whomever they want whenever they want. There are those among them who believe that their absolute power gives them the right to rule absolutely everyone and everything.

It’s up to Rogan and Nevada to stop them yet again. Even as the conspiracy threatens to split them apart and kill everything they hold most dear. By any horrific means available.

Cat 7 hurricane, anyone?

Escape Rating A+: I inhaled this book in a day, finishing at about 2 in the morning with one hell of a book hangover. The story was marvelous, and the world it is set in is absolutely fascinating. I want to go back.

One of the things that makes it all so absorbing is the amount of depth in the characterizations and their backstories. The romance, while marvelous, is far from all there is to either Rogan or Nevada. A very big part of Nevada’s story is just how much she cares, not just about Rogan, but about her family, her family’s business, and anyone she decides is part of her team. At the same time, this is also a story where the child is forced to become, if not exactly the parent, certainly the head of household. It’s not so much about the torch being passed as the dropped torch being picked up and run with. The scene where Nevada has to call her mother on a whole bunch of shit is awesome. Not because Nevada’s mother is in any way a bitch or even that she was wrong in the past, just that some of her decisions have had rather unfortunate consequences, and Nevada is the one who is forced to deal with all the crap and pick up all the pieces. Because while her mother’s solutions may have worked in that past, the world has changed, and they won’t work any longer. A fact that Nevada is all too cognizant of but her mother is extremely reluctant to acknowledge.

I also loved that the solution for Rogan’s ex wasn’t for her to find her own man, dammit, but for her to find her own power and finally own it. It’s a much more empowering solution both for her and for the reader than for Rynda to continue to be such a damned princess. It’s always better to rescue your own self.

This series just keeps getting better and better. And I really, really hope it continues, because the ending left plenty of possibilities for future stories in this world, and I want to read them all.

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

Avon Romance is giving away a romance print prize pack, including Hate to Want You, Just One Touch, White Hot and Wildfire

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Guest Review: Black Rose by Nora Roberts

Guest Review: Black Rose by Nora RobertsBlack Rose (In the Garden trilogy #2) by Nora Roberts
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal
Series: In the Garden #2
Pages: 355
Published by Jove on May 31st 2005
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A Harper has always lived at Harper House, the centuries-old mansion just outside of Memphis. And for as long as anyone alive remembers, the ghostly Harper Bride has walked the halls, singing lullabies at night...

At forty-seven, Rosalind Harper is a woman whose experiences have made her strong enough to bend without breaking--and weather any storm. A widow with three grown sons, she survived a disastrous second marriage and built her In The Garden nursery from the ground up. Through the years, In The Garden has become more than just a thriving business--it is a symbol of hope and independence to Roz, and to the two women she shares it with. Newlywed Stella and new mother Hayley are the sisters of her heart, and together the three of them are the future of In The Garden.

But now the future is under attack, and Roz knows they can't fight this battle alone. Hired to investigate Roz's Harper ancestors, Dr. Mitchell Carnegie finds himself just as intrigued with Roz herself. And as they being to unravel the puzzle of the Harper Bride's identity, Roz is shocked to find herself falling for the fascinating genealogist. Now it is a desperate race to discover the truth before the unpredictable apparition lashes out at the one woman who can help her rest in peace...

Guest Review by Amy:

red lily by nora robertsBlack Rose picks up right where Blue Dahlia left off (see my review). Stella and Logan are preparing for a wedding, and the Harper Bride is as much a mystery as before. In the prior entry in this trilogy, we were introduced to a professorish fellow named Mitch Carnegie, whom Roz originally hired to do some of the research to figure out who the Harper Bride is. He was such a bit role in Blue Dahlia that I just didn’t see it coming, at first, but he ends up on Roz’s radar pretty quickly. We start to figure out more about the Bride, and we also start to see a blossoming relationship between Roz’s son David, and her distant relation Hayley, our third-woman and presumably the subject of Red Lily.

Mitch is an interesting man; he has a son from a prior relationship, and is a strong enough man to own up (not only to himself, but to Roz and her extended ‘family’) to what he had done to end it, and what he was doing to prevent it happening again. He’s a bit of an anachronism; the forgetful scholar, who is surrounded by books and so engrossed that he forgets to water his plant. He’s not part of the richer social circles that Roz begrudgingly attends to, and he finds seeing the actions of the upper-crust set an interesting study. It’s quickly clear that he dotes on Roz, supportive without asking her to not be the strong woman she is…which is, of course, exactly the kind of man she needs. Roz waffles a bit at first; she’s used to going it alone, and knows she doesn’t *need* a man in her life for it to be fulfilled and successful. But after a while, she decides that she *wants* one–that one. Her ex is in town causing shenanigans, which complicates matters as she deals with him, but she does it capably and in style, which puts Mitch in awe of her (as well it should). Stella and Hayley are amused by the older couple’s relationship, teasing Roz in a private moment: “…we know you had sex. You’ve got that recently waxed and lubed look,” Hayley quips on the morning after. Roz’s son takes note, and goes on his own to make sure that Mitch’s intentions are good.

The Bride begins pushing back harder against Roz as she lets her relationship with Mitch develop. A non-Harper woman in the house getting involved annoyed her, but Roz is a Harper, and the Bride is clearly enraged by the independent Roz’s actions. On several instances, she directly attacks Roz, raising the urgency for dealing with her. Roz is only briefly frightened by her antics; she mostly feels sorry for the poor woman, and promises her that she will find a way to free her.

blue dahlia by nora robertsEscape Rating B+: I enjoyed this book, because we continue to see the lives of three interesting women unfolding, and the ongoing ghost story, but to me, Black Rose was not as strong a book as Blue Dahlia. The book had some more fantastically fun Southernisms in it (leading me into giggling fits more than once, as my daughter can attest). The strong spot for me was the way that Roz and Mitch let their relationship happen–two older adults, who figure out what they want, and go there, without a lot of misdirection or beating around the bush about it. As an older woman myself, this approach appeals–I do not have time or energy for the sort of games that happen to the younger set, or the chasing around less-than-savory locations to find Mr. Right.

My problem with the tale, mostly, lies in a weakness of this triple-novel format that Roberts is using here. Since we have three women, we must have three novels. We moved the ghost story plot forward a bit, but some of this story seemed like filler, to set us up for the climax of the trilogy in the next book. I know in my review of Stephanie Bond’s I Think I Love You, I complained that the author was trying to do too much putting all three tales in one book, but it seems to me *almost* the case that Roz’s story could be rolled up into the books on either side of it. It’s an enjoyable read, but it’s a quicker read than Blue Dahlia, and left me feeling like there needed to be more said, more tension, more…something.

Review: Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Review: Murder of Crows by Anne BishopMurder of Crows (The Others, #2) by Anne Bishop
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: The Others #2
Pages: 354
Published by Roc on March 4th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Return to New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop’s "phenomenal" (Urban Fantasy Investigations)  world of the Others — where supernatural entities and humans struggle to co-exist, and one woman has begun to change all the rules…
After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.
The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard — Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader — wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.
As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

My Review:

written in red by anne bishopFor a terrific laugh, read Cass’ absolutely scathing review of Written in Red, the first book in this series. Which she ends by saying that Anne Bishop remains inexplicably entertaining. Which she is. Then Cass turned around and reviewed Murder of Crows the following year, and while she loved hating Written in Red, she actually liked Murder of Crows. And so do I. (For those who remember the old Life cereal commercials, Cass is Mikey, she hates everything)

I finally got around to reading Written in Red as a tangent to some work I did for Novelist, and got absolutely hooked – to the point where I bought Murder of Crows and Vision in Silver just so I could keep going with the series. I was able to get Marked in Flesh from NetGalley, and I’ll be part of a gang-bang review of that next week at The Book Pushers. It turns out we’re ALL hooked on this series.

I’ve been putting off reading Murder of Crows, not because I didn’t want to read it, but because I knew I’d get sucked in and not emerge for hours, which is exactly what happened. I read it on Sunday. All of it. In one swell foop. So if you want to know what I did this weekend, the answer is mostly “read Murder of Crows and desperately resisted the impulse to read the rest of the series all night.”

Murder of Crows is the second entry in Bishop’s The Others series, and it provides a lot more information on this alternate history of the world, where all the wild things that came before humans are intelligent, powerful and in control of the world. The Others are sanguinati (vampires), animal shifters of all types, and elementals, at least so far. There’s one other who may be close kin to Death in the Discworld, or possibly all four of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse all rolled into one badass witch.

But this story isn’t about her. Instead, it’s about one very fragile human, Meg Corbyn, and her interactions with one of the Others urban outposts – the Courtyard in Lakeside. (I just realize that Lakeside might be Chicago, but I digress. And I might also be totally wrong.)

Meg Corbyn is a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet. When she bleeds, she spouts true prophecy and experiences extreme ecstasy. She’s also an escapee from a prison where she and others like herself are exploited, abused and ultimately die. If they aren’t ground up for parts first.

While Written in Red was the story of Meg’s adoption by the Lakeside Courtyard and her effects on its various residents, in Murder of Crows we see Meg more as the agent of her own life, and the impetus for a grand rescue of all of her fellow blood prophets. You could say that Written in Red was about Meg’s adaptation to the world, and that Murder of Crows is about the world’s adaptation to her.

We see this story play out from multiple perspectives. First there is Meg, learning to live on her own as a full person. While the Others in the Courtyard protect her for various reasons of their own, this is still the first time where Meg is living her own life and able to do what she wants. And also able to make her own mistakes.

By effectively adopting Meg as a mascot and pet, the Others in Lakeside have proclaimed her as one of their own, someone they will kill to protect. And when the Others protect, it isn’t just one on one – they have the power to level continents.

The Others in Lakeside find themselves changing to adapt to Meg’s presence in their midst. While the changes are most obvious in Simon Wolfgard – or at least obvious to everyone except Simon and Meg – everyone adapts somewhat.

One of the biggest adaptations is learning by necessity to see some humans not just as “not prey” but as actual kin. Meg is now one of their own, and as a human, Meg has gathered around herself a pack of her own humans, who are teaching her all the things about being human and female that her imprisoned life intentionally did not.

Just as Meg is “not prey”, her pack is also “not prey”. Even further, they are now beings whose thoughts, feelings and wishes must be considered carefully, if only because of the effect that they, in turn, will have upon Meg.

So it’s a calculated dance, to become human enough to relate to these humans in their midst, without losing their power of being terra indigene, or Other. That Simon, specifically, is becoming both a bit more human and a bit more wolf as he tries and mostly fails to figure out how he feels about Meg is fun to watch.

We also see a lot more of the organization and power of the Others in general. There is trouble brewing (being deliberately brewed) between the humans on this continent and the Others who own and control it. Humans, being human, think the continent belongs to them. Every time they overstep their very controlled bounds, the Others remind them of who is really in charge. The push and pull of this contest is often deadly, as the humans seem to have fatally short memories about the realities of their existence.

And we see the human side of this equation through the eyes of the Lakeside police, specifically Lieutenant Montgomery and Captain Burke. They are trying to forge a cooperative relationship with the Lakeside Courtyard, in the hopes that it will help Lakeside survive the storm that they know is coming.

So, while the operation in this particular story is the hunt for the imprisoned blood prophets and the punishment of those who have kept them captive and profited from their anguish, it is also a gathering of allies and a drawing of lines for the war to come.

Escape Rating A-: A “murder of crows” is a colorful collective noun for a group of crows, and yes, the murder of a group of crows in one of the opening events in this story. But because of Meg’s prophecies, it is a murder of crows and not a murder of Crows. The animals are killed in an attempt to reach the intelligent members of the Crowgard. And it is an opening salvo in someone’s misguided attempt to pit the humans against the Others, and to recapture Meg.

While the murder and the recapture fail, the attempts to pit the humans against the Others are all too successful, and escalating. Because I’m reading this in 2016 instead of 2013 when it was published, I’m seeing all too many parallels between the way that hatred is ginned up against the Others and the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim attacks that are currently all too prevalent.

The difference in the story world is that what the humans keep forgetting is that the Others control everything – they own the land and all the natural resources upon it. They can disperse an entire town by not renewing its lease on the land it lives on. And anyone who has to travel from one town to another has to travel through woods the Others control and on roads they maintain.

And vampires can turn into smoke. And everyone who is still breathing needs air. Air is one of the Others. So is Thunder, and Fog, and Earthquake.

You get the picture, but so many of the humans in this story seem to forget, encouraged by race-baiting politicians.

But this is Meg’s story. Meg is, essentially, growing up. While she appears to be in her early-to-mid 20s, her life before the Courtyard was carefully protected and controlled. As she discovers more about herself, she is made aware that some of what she experienced was actually for her own protection, even as it also made her “gift” easier to exploit. The cassandra sangue have been bred to be so overly sensitive to outside stimuli that they need a controlled environment. They have also been bred to be both the strongest prophets possibly as well as increasingly susceptible to becoming addicted to the pleasure brought by cutting and prophesying.

Now that Meg is out in the world, she has to control her own environment, and find a way to control her biological need to cut and foretell. At the same time, the more that she learns, the more she is aware that her gift can save people. And while she fights the compulsion to cut too much, too often and too deep, she is also all too aware that her gift can save the lives of those she loves, even as it shortens her own.

She is trapped in a dilemma that she did not make but must navigate, not just for herself but for all the other cassandra sangue who will be released into the world if the Others’ quest to take down her former “owner” is successful.

I will also say that Cass was right. Meg is certainly, if not an actual Mary Sue, more than a bit too good to be believed outside the pages of fiction. Everyone she comes into contact with loves her, except of course, for those who just want to use her. While some of that insta-love is explained by the status granted to her by her gift, she is also just plain nice to everyone, and everyone loves her back. Even, seemingly, that lone horsewoman of the apocalypse I mentioned earlier.

Learning more about the world of the Others and the way that they operate was fascinating. There be worldbuilding here, and it helps ground the story. One of the fascinating bits, not completely in a good way, was the sudden outburst of the Humans First and Last neo-Nazi movement. History is completely against any attempt by humans to oust the Others from control. And that includes extremely recent history. Is the vast majority of the human population complete morons?

vision in silver by anne bishopThe more I learn about this world, the deeper I want to dive. This weekend, I’ll get my wish and read both Vision in Silver and Marked in Flesh. And I can hardly wait!

Review: At Blade’s Edge by Lauren Dane

Review: At Blade’s Edge by Lauren DaneAt Blade's Edge by Lauren Dane
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy, vampires
Series: Goddess with a Blade #4
Pages: 177
Published by Carina Press on December 14th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Rowan Summerwaite is no ordinary woman. Raised at the knee of The First and honed into a weapon by the Hunter Corporation, she wields ancient knowledge from the Goddess Brigid…and is newly married to a powerful Vampire scion.Though she'd hoped the deadly events in Venice would end the threat to The Treaty she is sworn to protect, Rowan found evidence of a grander conspiracy to destroy the fragile peace that holds humans, Vampires and those with magic back from war. A war that would only hurt the weakest and destabilize the world as we know it.It's not so much that someone ordered her assassination that makes her angry—people try to kill her all the time—as it is the risks those she cares for, especially her new husband, now face. Clive Stewart has never tried to pen Rowan in or control her choices. He has his own fires to put out now that he's married to the most powerful non-Vampire in their world, and Rowan knows it's a challenge to support her the way she needs while not being too much or not enough.The organization that gave her a purpose, a home, roots and a path when she'd run from The Keep at seventeen has betrayed her. Now, instead of on a much-anticipated honeymoon, Rowan is in London gathering her allies and the evidence necessary to drive out the rot within Hunter Corp. and expose whoever is at the top.Rowan is a predator and this threat is prey. She'll burn it down and salt the earth afterward. On her terms.See how Rowan's fight began in Goddess with a Blade, available now!

My Review:

blade on the hunt by lauren daneWhen I reviewed Blade on the Hunt last year over at The Book Pushers with my friend E, one of the things that I said was that the action in Hunt probably would lead directly to Rowan’s need to straighten out the mess at Hunter Corporation, and with extreme prejudice against some of the leaders of that mess.

And that turned out to be a big chunk of the story in At Blade’s Edge. Rowan knows who the guilty parties are, but she still needs to discover just how deep the rot goes. And even worse, she needs to provide proof beyond a shadow of a doubt, because there are way too many paper-pushers at the Hunter Corp. motherhouse who think that political double-dealing is their most important product.

It isn’t. All members of Hunter Corp. have sworn to maintain the balance between the regular humans, the vampires, and the magic users. That balance requires that all three groups are equally strong, and maintain equal vigilance against those who would attempt to upset that knife-edge balance of power, whether they do it deliberately or simply as unwitting pawns.

Rowan Summerwaite may be a lot of things, but she is NEVER anyone’s pawn. Not her foster father’s, who is the head of the Vampire Nation, and not her new husband Clive Stewart, the appointed Scion of Vampire North America. And certainly not paper-pushing scumbags at Hunter Corp.

Because Rowan is the avatar of the Goddess Brigid, and is the official Liaison between the Vampire Nation and Hunter Corp. And because Rowan is a power in her own right, as Goddess, as Hunter, and as daughter of the Vampire Nation’s First.

But Hunter Corp took her in and trained her when she was young, scarred and scared, after her escape from her foster father’s Keep and his abusive power. That Hunter Corp has betrayed her and all Hunters in the field cuts deep. So she resolves to cut deep into Hunter Corp to exorcise the rot.

Only to discover that fixing Hunter Corporation isn’t nearly enough. Someone is targeting all the organizations that serve the balance, determined to undermine the world in order to strike at Rowan. And determined to strike at Rowan any way they can in order to keep her from destroying them first.

Escape Rating A-: The first 9/10ths of this book are a lot of fun. We see Rowan very much in her element, doing all sorts of sneaky things to get the goods on the baddies in Hunter Corp. We get to see her with all of her allies, and watch with glee as she hoists the self-centered evildoers very much on their own petards. At the same time, while fun, the action doesn’t move forward a lot. Rowan is cleaning up crap from the previous book and you need to have read that previous book for these events to generate much feeling. I love Rowan, so I was happy to read about her kicking ass, taking names and making lots of people feel even more uncomfortable than she is at points. But it seems like wrap up. Concealed within that wrap up is a gathering of the allies, the importance of which isn’t obvious until that last, crucial 1/10th of the story.

In the middle of her hunt for the evidence, Rowan is also forced to meet and greet her new in-laws. The game that her new mother-in-law plays on her is an absolute hoot. Rowan’s attitude towards pretentiousness and preciousness in general and her mother-in-law’s game playing in particular remind me a lot of Eve Dallas in J.D. Robb’s In Death series. Eve and Rowan both have the same inability to understand cliches and idioms. And they are both marvelous deadpan snarkers.

As much fun as that first 9/10ths of the book is, the book ends in a shocking cliffhanger. We find out that the rot in Hunter Corp is not the only thing that Rowan has to contend with, and that her enemies will commit any heinous act in their attempts to get her off balance and to make her back off. The ending of this story left me absolutely gasping with shock and horror. And scrambling to find evidence of when the next book will appear.

For a series that I at first wondered if there would actually be a series, Rowan Summerwaite has gotten deeper and darker with each entry, to the point where At Blade’s Edge ends in a moment of “things are always darkest before they turn completely black” moment. I want more NOW.

But it sets the stage for the next level of this conflict. Rowan and her allies will need to root out the evil in all three organizations; Hunter Corp, the Vampire Nation, and the Conclave of Magic Users, in order to have a chance at maintaining the balance of world order. This is the job that Rowan has been trained for all of her dangerous and bloody life. It’s time to fulfill her destiny. She is going to have to wade in the blood of her enemies, and not be able to stop to mourn those of her own who fall along the way.

It’s going to be an awesome and epic adventure. And now I am on pins and needles, desperately searching  (so far in vain) for the author’s announcement of the next book in the series.

goddess with a blade by lauren daneIf you love urban fantasy where the heroes and heroines have layers, the cohort of good bands together to fight the most excellent fight, and evil is darker than you first imagine, start this series now with Goddess With a Blade.

Review: Otter Chaos by P.D. Singer

Review: Otter Chaos by P.D. SingerOtter Chaos (Includes Tail Slide) by P.D. Singer
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal
Pages: 276
Published by Rocky Ridge Books on October 9th, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Lon Ewing snowboarded in and turned economist Corey Levigne’s life upside down, introducing him to a world he didn’t know existed. Corey’s still adjusting to a boyfriend who shifts into an otter and raids the koi pond—and now Lon says Corey’s department chair is a werewolf?
Wolves at the university, wolves in the bank—across Lon’s desk sits Professor Melvin Vadas and his hench-wolves, demanding a construction loan for the pack’s new lodge in the mountains. There’s just one little problem: the proposed building site is home to a breeding population of rare fish.
What do wolves care for stupid human rules, an otter who’d barely make a good snack, or one pesky human determined to protect the environment? Once they’re snout to snout with Corey and Lon, there’s more than silverscale dace on the Endangered Species List.
Includes Tail Slide, the short story that launched Otter Chaos.
Fresh powder snow and running water in the Colorado back country call Lon like the moon calls the wolves. Belly-sliding to a good time on the weekends makes up for a workweek at a desk, and meeting Corey adds a whole new level of fun to snowboarding.
It’s easy to slip away for time alone in the woods without raising suspicion, but how’s Lon to entertain himself when bad snow and a worse spill force them off the mountain too early?
Never give an otter a box of Cheerios.

My Review:

What would you do if you found out your boyfriend was an otter?

Not all the time. But what if you discovered that your new love had to “put on his fur” for at least an hour every week and quite literally turn into an otter? How freaked would you be?

Now, let’s make life even more confusing. Say that you are a relatively freshly-minted Ph.D. on the tenure track at your college. And your new otter-boyfriend lets you know that your department chair, the man who will decide whether or not you get tenure and remain gainfully employed, is a werewolf?

It should be time for a complete freak out. But Corey takes things mostly in stride, unless Lon comes back in the house with raw koi on his formerly otter-breath. And even that is mostly because the koi he just ate is from the koi pond in their backyard, that they spent hours digging out. And koi seem to cost $1 per inch.

It looks like catching your own sushi is more expensive than anyone thought!

tail slide by pd singerThe short story Tail Slide, included with Otter Chaos, tells the story of Corey and Lon’s first meeting and the beginning of their relationship. Including the moment when things almost go completely off the rails, when Lon puts his fur on in the shower, and Corey discovers that the otter-version of his lover thinks that Cheerios are the BEST TOY EVER!

Tail Slide is adorably cute (so is Lon) and it does a good job of setting up the much more serious situation in Otter Chaos.

It’s not just that Corey’s department chair is a werewolf, but also that he is the leader of a pack of werewolves that plans to build a werewolf sanctuary out in the middle of an endangered species habitat. Werewolves are apex predators, and they are all-too-used to getting what they want just because they want it. Those werewolves expect to get a loan from the bank to build their sanctuary, but Lon is their loan officer, and he stands in their way.

For the sake of his two-footed job, Lon needs all the paperwork filled out properly, including the environmental impact statement and some idea of where on earth they will be getting the money to pay back the loan. That Lon didn’t just roll over and play dead shows the werewolves, as if they couldn’t already smell, that Lon is a shifter who knows just what they are.

Corey is researching economic effects of endangered species preservation, and he knows that there is a not-very-cute-or-photogenic species of endangered fish living on the proposed preserve. So he and Lon both stand in the way of werewolf progress. Or at least werewolf recreation.

When they try to investigate on their own, Corey and Lon find themselves caught in the middle of a werewolf dominance struggle, and it looks like everyone is going to lose.

Melvin, Corey’s boss, may lose his life. Lon is forced to remain in otter-form for too long, and he may lose his humanity. And Corey could lose the love of his life.

Escape Rating A-: Tail Slide is just plain fun, but Otter Chaos takes a dip into very serious. There are a lot of mixed agendas here. Corey wants to keep Lon and his job. It shouldn’t be difficult.

Except…werewolves.

For someone whose view of the universe has taken a giant cosmic shift, Corey is surprisingly laid back about the whole thing, at least until Lon gets himself trapped in an aquarium for a day and has a very, very hard time switching all the way back from “fur on” to “fur off”. It’s pretty obvious that this episode is a foreshadowing of something terrible that will happen later.

The werewolves, even in their human form, are deliberately scary. They expect people to roll over without knowing what they are – they just kind of ooze predator. And it mostly works, but only if you are not conscious of what’s going on. And once you know, you can’t pretend the reaction, because it’s just too instinctive.

Corey is afraid of Melvin, and rightfully so. Melvin is threatening his job and his lover, and isn’t being at all subtle about it. Corey stands up to Melvin because not showing fear is the only way to survive. Their interactions carry just the right amount of fear and menace, without it seeming completely foolish that Corey refuses to bow.

I found Corey and Lon to be cute as a couple, but the way that Lon’s otterish behavior carries into his human life on a daily basis would make him a challenge in the long term. Otters seem to have relatively poor impulse control, and that affects Lon as a human in ways that sometimes make him seem irresponsible. But when he loses his human side altogether, it is horribly frightening.

If you have a friend who isn’t sure about male/male romances, Otter Chaos is probably a great story to introduce them to the genre, especially if they like a touch of paranormal in their romances. This could have been a male/female, or female/female, romance with very little change. The issue in the relationship between Corey and Lon, or between Corey and Lon and the rest of the world, after all, isn’t that they are gay. It’s that Corey turns into a small furry animal at least once a week! That has a huge potential to freak anyone, and everyone, out.

I’m not sure that most of us would handle things half as well as Corey does. Especially when Lon’s mother tells him that she wants grandotters.

Review: Wicked Ever After by Delilah S. Dawson

Review: Wicked Ever After by Delilah S. DawsonWicked Ever After (Blud, #4) by Delilah S. Dawson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: paranormal, steampunk, vampires
Series: Blud #4
Pages: 177
Published by Pocket Star on October 5th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Delilah S. Dawson’s award-winning Blud series comes full circle as Tish and Criminy, stars of Wicked as They Come, embark on a sexy and harrowing final adventure in a world RT Book Reviews called “delightfully edgy with hidden charms.”
Ever since landing in the magical world of Sang and falling in love with dashing ringmaster Criminy Stain, Tish has been waiting for the axe to fall. Until her dying grandmother’s last breath on Earth, Tish can’t bring herself to give up her all-too human frailty and commit to life on Sang as a youthful, long-lived Bludman like her handsome husband. But when a peculiar twist of fate delivers Tish’s grandmother to Sang, an unexpected chain of events forces Tish and Criminy to embark on one last wild adventure. From old friends to new and into the lair of terrifying enemies, the couple’s love and longevity will be pushed to the brink by each harrowing encounter. Is blud thicker than blood, and can Tish and Crim find their wicked ever after?

Welcome back to Sang, the world of Criminy’s Clockwork Caravan. Sang is a beautiful and terrifying place that seems to be where some folks find themselves when they are lost in a coma or otherwise end up on the border between life and death.

Tish found herself there six years ago, brought by a spelled locket infused with the magic of Criminy Stain, master of the caravan. Tish’s life will never be the same, if she doesn’t use it all up moving between Criminy’s world and our own, where she cares for her dying grandmother.

wicked as they come goodreadsThe story of how Tish found herself in this mess is in Wicked as They Come (enthusiastically reviewed here). During the six years that Tish has been in and out of Sang, there have been other adventures, and some misadventures. Readers have met fantastic and fantastically strange people and beings in this alternate, slightly steampunk version of our world, where some people are “pinkies” like us, and some embody the best aspects of what we would call vampires. Bludmen and bludwomen are apex predators who live on blood of all types. They go where they please, when they please, and certainly don’t have to hide in the daytime.

They prey on humans, but don’t have to kill. The cute and deadly bludbunnies also prey on humans, but they swarm their prey to death. (The bludrats don’t seem all that different from rats here, but I’m not sure that says something good about the bludrats, or awful about regular rats.)

In all of the stories in the Blud series (The Mysterious Madam Morpho, The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance, Wicked as She Wants, The Damsel and the Daggerman, and Wicked After Midnight) no matter where the story takes us it always comes back to Criminy, Tish and the caravan.

In this final story in the series, everything comes full circle. The spell that Criminy used to bring Tish to Sang, the witch he bludded long ago, all their friends and all their enemies, take the stage one final time so that Tish can finally be who she was meant to be, and so that Criminy finally gets the whole of the wish he wished when he brought her to Sang.

And it’s marvelous.

Escape Rating A-: As much as I loved Wicked Ever After, this is not the story to introduce readers to Sang. If you love paranormal stories with either a steampunk or carniepunk flavor, start with Wicked as They Come. It is a marvelous introduction to this strange and deadly world, with deadly adventure and a beautiful love story into the bargain.

wicked after midnight by Delilah S dawsonIn Wicked Ever After, it seems as if every person whose lives have been touched by Tish and Criminy, especially by Criminy, enters the stage in order to take their final bows in this series. Casper and Ahna (Wicked as She Wants) are in Paris at Demi and Vale’s burlesque theater (Wicked After Midnight) to visit with friends and sample the delights of Paris, as they often do.

But it is Demi’s theater that becomes Tish and Criminy’s base of operation when they come to Paris to hunt down the witch who seems to have kidnapped Tish’s grandmother Ruby.

Neither Tish nor Ruby should be in any kind of danger. As a gift to the dying woman, Tish brought Ruby to Sang and Criminy turned her into a bludwoman, giving her a new life as a young predator. Tish finally allowed Criminy to blud her as well, after a near-fatal attack and in her need to chase after the grandmother who no longer needs rescue. Or even care.

As Tish hunts the witch and her grandmother, she grows into the bludwoman she has finally let herself become. The readers see her become the person she was always meant to be.

In the final confrontation, all the events of Tish’s life in Sang come full circle, even the things that happened to Criminy before she arrived. The resolution is surprising and cataclysmic. The change of Tish’s shaky happy for now into a fantastic happy ever after is wonderful and cathartic and a marvelous end to this terrific series.