Review: Illumination by Susannah Sandlin + Giveaway

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

And now I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susannah is giving away 2 $25 Amazon gift cards (or equivalent order from Book Depository for entrants outside the U.S.) to lucky participants on this tour

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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
Goodreads

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: 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
Goodreads

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.