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.

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

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Review: Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: One Good Dragon Deserves Another by Rachel Aaron

one good dragon deserves another by Rachel aaronFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Heartstrikers #2
Length: 463 pages
Publisher: Aaron/Bach LLC
Date Released: August 1, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon

After barely escaping the machinations of his terrifying mother, two all knowing seers, and countless bloodthirsty siblings, the last thing Julius wants to see is another dragon. Unfortunately for him, the only thing more dangerous than being a useless Heartstriker is being a useful one, and now that he’s got an in with the Three Sisters, Julius has become a key pawn in Bethesda the Heartstriker’s gamble to put her clan on top.

Refusal to play along with his mother’s plans means death, but there’s more going on than even Bethesda knows, and with Estella back in the game with a vengeance, Heartstriker futures disappearing, and Algonquin’s dragon hunter closing in, the stakes are higher than even a seer can calculate. But when his most powerful family members start dropping like flies, it falls to Julius to defend the clan that never respected him and prove that, sometimes, the world’s worst dragon is the best one to have on your side.

My Review:

In the end, One Good Dragon Deserves Another was a compelling and completely wild ride. It builds up a bit slow, but once the story really kicks into gear, the fun never stops.

nice dragons finish last by rachel aaronOne Good Dragon takes place a month after the end of Nice Dragons Finish Last (reviewed here). For our heroes, “nice dragon” Julius and his human mage friend and business partner Marci, that month is definitely the calm before the very big storm.

It’s the first time in his relatively short (for a dragon) life that Julius has felt successful, and it’s the first time he’s ever really been happy. It is necessary to read Nice Dragons Finish Last to understand just what a marvelous change this is for Julius.

He is happy because his family has left him completely alone. Not only is no one kicking him around (literally) and reminding him what a failure he is as a dragon at every turn, but he’s working, he’s reasonably competent at it, and Marci is his best friend. That he’s also in love with her is pretty much the icing on the cake. Even though he’s afraid to say or do anything to upset the balance of their friendship, he’s happy just being with her every day.

Then everything goes to hell in a handbasket, fought over by multiple psychopathic dragons, and Julius is caught right in the middle. He’s going to have to seriously “dragon up” in order to get himself and Marci out of the mess that his family has dropped them into, but he has to do it by being more of who he is, and not succumbing to who they are or who they expect him to be.

It’s a very tall order for the Heartstriker clan’s most undragonish dragon – but it is only by being himself that he might possibly save them from themselves – and save the world.

Escape Rating B+: This story starts out very small, and gets bigger (and wilder) as it goes along. I found the first third a bit slow going, but once Julius, and the reader, discover how big the stakes really are in this fight, I couldn’t flip pages fast enough.

Part of the slow start is that Julius and Marci are living a very quiet life, which we need to see in order to contrast it with what happens later. The other thing for this reader is that I found Julius’ family situation intolerable and hated every single of one of his relatives, especially his psychopathic mother.

Some of his siblings do reveal their true colors and become more tolerable, but mother never gets any better. And while I understand more of Bethesda’s motivations now than I did in the first book, she is still a whole lot of evil for evil’s sake, as well as arrogance for arrogance’s sake and a whole bunch of other nastiness thrown in.

While the plot of this story involves a clan war between the Three Sisters Dragons and Bethesda’s Heartstrikers, the core of the conflict is love gone very, very wrong, and all the way beyond hate. Estella of the Three Sisters is a dragon seer, and she wants to wipe out her former lover and only rival, Brohomir (usually called Bob) of the Heartstrikers. Estella is so far gone that she doesn’t care if she sacrifices her sisters to her obsession, and is perfectly willing to destroy the world to accomplish her goal.

That we see the world the dragons came from, and discover that Estella’s methods really can destroy the world explains a lot about dragons in general and Estella in particular. It’s also very sad and quite affecting.

The big theme of this story, through all the battles, all the setbacks and all the machinations, is that Julius needs to quit being ashamed and guilty about being a “nice dragon” and discover the true power of being willing to see the other side and reach out to other clans and simply negotiate with others in good faith instead of doing unto them before they even think of doing onto him.

That’s his mother’s way, and all it is has done is sacrifice too any of his brothers and sisters and bring the Heartstrikers to the brink of war – over and over and over. He has to stand up for himself, and those he calls friends, and even for the concept of friendship, in order for all of them to survive.

It’s damn hard and the way that he does it is pretty awesome.

But no good deed goes unpunished, and that punishment looks like the theme of the third book in this series, tentatively titled A Dragon of a Different Color. I can’t wait.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Isabel Cooper on her Favorite Author + Giveaway

night of the highland dragon by isabel cooperToday I’d like to welcome Isabel Cooper to Reading Reality. Isabel is the author of today’s marvelous featured review book, Night of the Highland Dragon, and also the author or the award winning genre-bending No Proper Lady.

Her post today is about one of her favorite authors, and also one of mine. Robin McKinley was writing memorable female heroine/warriors in fantasy before it was cool. Her Damar books, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, are utterly awesome.

Guest Post: Who’s your favorite non-romance author? Why?

Picking a favorite is hard: not an uncommon sentiment, I’d imagine, and one I’m glad of, since “there are a lot of good authors out there” is a pretty great problem to have. After some thought, though, I’m going to say that my favorite author currently writing is Robin McKinley.

robin mckinleyFirst of all, I like her writing style. The sentences themselves are poetic and memorable while still being concrete and unpretentious. The books themselves mostly give me a good idea what’s happening at any point in the story, while still moving along at a good clip: they don’t get bogged down in the sort of detail I like to call Hey Look I Read a Book About This (yes, yes, you know what a buttress is and how a Glock operates, your mother and I are very proud) but there’s still good, vivid imagery in there. McKinley’s books are easy to read, but they also stick with you. She’s even good at that when she’s worldbuilding or explaining elements that a reader might not know, like beekeeping or baking, and that’s rare in my experience—see above.

blue sword by robin mckinleySecond, she covers a lot of genre. I mean, it’s pretty much all fantasy, which is fine by me—I read very little that doesn’t have what my college friends referred to as “mystic noonah”—but within that there’s epic fantasy with the Damar books, urban/modern fantasy with Sunshine, Dragonhaven, and Shadows, a whole bunch of retold fairy tales, and whatever Chalice is, other than maybe “domestic fantasy” (it’s an original world and story, significant things are being done, but the focus is very much on a specific locale and specific people rather than Saving the World) and also awesome. I like all of the above, and it’s nice to have an author who covers them.

Third, her characters are great, particularly her heroines. Some of them, particularly the earlier ones, physically kick ass, of which I deeply approve, but even the ones who don’t go in for magic or swordfighting are competent. They do things, they do them well, and when shit goes ill, they pull up their socks and spit on their hands and deal, to sort of paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse. That’s kind of a requirement for me—a friend of mine, referring to roleplaying games, says that there are plenty of people who don’t deal with themselves, but we don’t want to read stories about them, and I agree.

hero and the crown by robin mckinleyAlso, all of her heroines have a certain amount of sexual agency and desire, whether that’s stated outright or just implied; none of them are shrinking back and pulling up their necklines, with which I have no patience. And she’s written at least two books where the heroine is in love with, or at least interested in, two guys at once, without portraying that as either immoral or tragic or a Vast Conflicted Love Triangle. This is a seriously refreshing change from most literature, especially most fantasy with female protagonists, and gets just mountains of extra points.

 

 

isabel cooperAbout the Author:
During the day, Isabel Cooper maintains her guise as a mild-mannered project manager in legal publishing. In her spare time, she enjoys video games, ballroom dancing, various geeky hobbies, and figuring out what wine goes best with leftover egg rolls. Cooper lives with two thriving houseplants in Boston, Massachusetts.

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

Isabel and Sourcebooks are giving away 5 copies of Night of the Highland Dragon to lucky winners!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Night of the Highland Dragon by Isabel Cooper

night of the highland dragon by isabel cooperFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available:
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Highland Dragons #3
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date Released: June 2, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

William Arundell is a detective working for a secret branch of the English government. When a young man is found dead, William’s investigation leads him to a remote Highland village and the intoxicatingly beautiful lady who rules MacAlasdair Castle.

The charismatic Judith MacAlasdair is not what William expected. The only daughter in a long line of shape-changing dragons, Judith is wary of William and his unrelenting questions. However, when William’s investigation takes an interesting turn, they must put aside years of bad blood and a mutual distrust of outsiders to band together to save the British Islands from its deadliest foe…

My Review:

This series just gets better and better. And we finally get a little more dragon.

legend of the highland dragon by isabel cooperIn this third book in the Highland Dragons series, after Legend of the Highland Dragon (reviewed here) and The Highland Dragon’s Lady (here) we also finally get to see the clan seat of the dragons in the Scottish Highlands, in the remote village of Loch Arach.

We also get an unusual heroine and hero. Not just because Lady Judith MacAlasdair is a dragon in her mid-180s, but also because the hero, William Arundell, admits to being 45. While there is a bit (more than a bit) of an age gap, it is great to see a romance where both the hero and heroine are mature adults and not only act like grownups but need their experience to solve the mystery.

And the hero and heroine take turns saving each other, both by fighting and by magical means. This is a partnership of true equals, and it is done well.

It helps that the chemistry between Judith and William is smoking hot, and not just because Judith is actually capable of belching smoke (and fire) in her dragon-form. These are lovers who both know what they are doing and are quite pleased that the other knows as well. Once they finally trust each other enough to get down to cases. And beds. And, for that matter, up against trees.

The story is that there is something wrong in the state of the Highlands, and Arundell’s colleagues at Special Branch D have traced it to Loch Arach. This branch of Her Majesty’s government investigates demon activity, or anything else supernatural that threatens the realm and its people. They have evidence, ghostly evidence, that someone in Loch Arach is summoning demons, and that never ends well. Or without a string of corpses.

Arundell’s colleagues also wonder about the mysterious MacAlasdair family. There is clearly something odd about them, and concern that it might relate to something sinister. Of course Judith is currently in charge of making sure that the dragonish side of the MacAlasdairs’ nature does not become common knowledge, or even rumored knowledge outside of Loch Arach.

But the MacAlasdairs have no truck with demons, so Judith and Arundell find themselves unlikely allies, and even more unlikely lovers, once they mutually agree that whoever is summoning demons, it isn’t either one of them.

Now they are both marked for death, along with anyone in the village who gets in evil’s way. William and Judith don’t put the pieces together until it’s too late.

Or is it?

Escape Rating A: One of the fascinating things about this book in the series is that we get a much broader glimpse of paranormal and magical activity in this story than the hints that we have had previously.

highland dragons lady by isabel cooperColin, in The Highland Dragon’s Lady, definitely dabbles in magic, but the existence and organization of William Arundell’s Special Branch D shows that there is a lot more magical activity going on than anyone seems to realize. Also that his group is well-organized because their opposite numbers are also, and they are fighting fire with fire, and sometimes other spells.

One ends up wondering exactly which branch of the government Arundell’s Special Branch D is a special branch of. It’s clear that it is not Scotland Yard, but in our world, MI-5 wasn’t established until 1909 (as the Secret Service Bureau). But this is not quite our world, so maybe.

Whoever they are, in this story it is clear that they are one of Britain’s players, or perhaps puppetmasters, in the Great Game of Empire that led to World War I, which is also on the horizon in this mid-1890s story. As it was in real history.

Perhaps we’ll see.

One of the things I loved about this story is the maturity of the hero and heroine. Arundell reflects on his own maturity and mortality, in that his knees may not last much longer as a field agent, but that his experience still sees him through.

While Judith may look under 30, she never hides the experience that her years have given her. She is in control and in charge of Loch Arach every minute. Arundell generally defers to her, once he has discovered her true nature. (Before that he doesn’t trust her enough, not that he doesn’t recognize her command).

These people are just plain good together, and are a match for each other. Nor does Judith change to a simpering miss when she falls in love. She’s still Lady MacAlasdair, it is still her land and her people, and she is still very much in charge, even when she is desperately worrying about the fate of her lover.

Speaking of which, the story does a good job of dealing with the problem of what the ultimate result will inevitably be when a near-immortal falls in love with a mortal. It’s a solution that is just barely possible. Blood transfusion did not become widespread until World War I. But in the late 1800s it did exist. It was regarded as not merely risky but downright dubious, but it did exist. The circumstances set up in the story are just plausible, and add to the drama at the end.

I also liked that the dramatic crisis in this story was NOT precipitated by any willful misunderstanding between the protagonists. They are working together, very successfully, but are overcome by events that they did not quite figure out in time. For this reader, it heightened the tension deliciously.

Although this is the third book in the series, because the setting and characters are so different from the previous books, this would definitely be a place where one could enter the story without having read the previous books. That being said, the first two books are also a whole lot of fun.

I hope that the author will return to this series. I’m going to miss these Highland Dragons.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

15 for 15: My Most Anticipated Books for 2015

750px-Elongated_circle_2015.svg

I took a look at last year’s list, and was surprised and pleased to discover that I read almost everything I was looking forward to, and even better, liked them! (I have the other two books, but just haven’t gotten a round tuit yet. This is what TBR piles are made of.)

It’s also hard not to miss the trend. The books I’m looking forward to are sequels to things I read last year or new pieces of ongoing series. It is difficult to anticipate something if you don’t know that it exists.

And even though these books aren’t being released until sometime in 2015, I already have arcs for a few of them, and have even read a couple. So far, the stuff I’m looking forward to is every bit as good as I’m hoping it will be.

Speaking of hopes, the dragon book is for Cass (Surprise, surprise!) She adored the first book in the series, liked the second one a lot, and has high hopes for the third one. Because, dragons.

So what books can’t you wait to see in 2015? 

 

Most anticipated in 2015:
Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3) by Ann Leckie
Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #13) by Laurie R. King
The End of All Things (Old Man’s War #6) by John Scalzi
Flask of the Drunken Master (Shinobi Mystery #3) by Susan Spann
The Invasion of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #2) by Erika Johansen
Last First Snow (Craft Sequence #4) by Max Gladstone
Madness in Solidar (Imager Portfolio #9) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Obsession in Death (In Death #40) by J.D. Robb
A Pattern of Lies (Bess Crawford #7) by Charles Todd
Pirate’s Alley (Sentinels of New Orleans #4) by Suzanne Johnson
Ryder: American Treasure (Ryder #2) by Nick Pengelley
Shards of Hope (Psy-Changeling #14) by Nalini Singh
The Talon of the Hawk (Twelve Kingdoms #3) by Jeffe Kennedy
The Terrans (First Salik War #1) by Jean Johnson
The Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoir by Lady Trent #3) by Marie Brennan

Review: Legend of the Highland Dragon by Isabel Cooper

legend of the highland dragon by isabel cooperFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical paranormal romance
Series: Highland Dragon #1
Length: 329 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date Released: December 3, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, All Romance

The MacAlasdairs are not like other men.

Descendants of an ancient alliance, they live for centuries, shifting between human and dragon forms. Some wander the earth; some keep to their lands in Scotland. And Stephen MacAlasdair, the newest lord of the family, must go to London to settle his father’s business affairs. He brings an object of great power and greater darkness. He finds an enemy from his past, whose wrath is still living and deadly. And he meets an ally he’d never have expected.

1894 London, doesn’t provide an easy life for women of the lower class, but Mina Seymour has managed to work herself up to a position as the secretary of a famous scholar. When a tall, dark Scottish stranger demands to see her employer, Mina is irritated; when MacAlasdair’s departure leaves the professor worried, she’s suspicious. Determined to figure out the situation, she investigates further – and finds a world and a man she could never have imagined.

My Review:

I didn’t really get a whole lot of sense of Legend, Highlands or even dragons when I read this story, and I still had a terrifically good time.

no proper lady by isabel cooperI picked up this series because I absolutely, totally adored Isabel Cooper’s No Proper Lady (reviewed here) and wondered what she do with something that had a few more expectations set for it. The answer is that she blew most of the expectations away.

The hero is really the heroine, and she’s not a dragon. What Mina Seymour really is is a self-made woman who is determined to lift herself and the rest of her family, out of London’s East End poverty.

It’s 1894, even if a slightly alternate 1894, and there aren’t a lot of ways for a woman to earn a decent (in both senses of the word) living. Ambitious and self-taught Mina has become the personal secretary, assistant, majordomo and door warden for an eccentric scholar who also has a few secrets up his sleeve.

For one thing, one of his “old friends” is a dragon. And one of his old enemies is a demon, or at least consorts with them. His old friend Stephen MacAlasdair has come to London to chase the demon, and to warn his friend. It’s somewhat of a shock to everyone involved that while the scholar has aged quite normally in the intervening 30 years since they first encountered that demon, Stephen, as a nearly immortal dragon, still looks to be in his mid-30s.

MacAlasdair refers to Mina as his friend’s Cerberus, the guardian at the gates of hell. The description turns out to be truer than anyone imagined. She’s really trying to keep hell from coming in, not out.

The story is in Mina’s unquenchable desire to find out what is going on, and protect her employer and friend. In that pursuit, she delves into matters that everyone is trying to keep secret. Not just that Stephen is a dragon, but that his enemy is employing supernaturally nasty means to get back at everyone who wronged him.

So we start with Stephen needing to protect Mina (which is true, as a normal human she doesn’t have the wherewithal to kill demons and half-formed hellspawn) But Mina doesn’t sit idly by – she participates in the investigation and ultimate confrontation every step of the way. Much of that investigation relies on Mina’s ability to blend into her surroundings, and on her knowledge of London’s East End.

They do fall in love, but it takes time and effort on both their parts. Stephen has to accept Mina as an equal partner, and Mina has to let go of her unwillingness to rely on others, and on more than a few preconceived notions. They grow towards each other while solving a diabolical problem.

The emphasis in this story is on finding the killer, and saving everyone from his predations. That the hero and heroine find each other is the icing on a marvelously fun cake.

Escape Rating B+: There’s lots going on in this story. It is an alternate Victorian era, and feels steampunk-ish without exhibiting many actual steampunk trappings. It could be labeled as urban fantasy in an older city than normal. It’s also a story where the case to be solved takes center-stage, and the delightful romance flows from the situation, rather than being the main point.

For a book about Highland dragons, Stephen does not turn into a dragon very often. A dragon flying around London would be rather noticeable, and he has some fears that Mina won’t accept him in his dragon form, except when it’s necessary to save her life. That Mina has some dragonish tendencies herself (minus the actual dragon form) helps them reach towards each other. Mina is not a missish heroine, not at all. And that’s a good thing that makes it easy for readers to identify with her.

The case to be solved is different because the jerk decided to associate with demons to get his revenge. What he is getting revenge for is the kind of criminal behavior that any over-privileged and under-conscienced rich bastard might have indulged in. The demon-flavoring adds spice and more paranormal elements.

highland dragons lady by isabel cooperIn addition to Stephen, there is another dragon, his seemingly lazy brother Colin. I have a feeling that Colin’s laziness is a cover for much stronger stuff. In this book, he provided some of the extra muscle and comic relief, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he is really made of in the next book, The Highland Dragon’s Lady.

As much as I enjoyed The Legend of the Highland Dragon, I hope that in the next book we find out more details about that legend.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Joint Rant: Til Dragons Do Us Part by Lorenda Christensen

til dragons do us part by lorenda christensenFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Never Deal With Dragons, #3
Length: 179 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: October 27, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Savannah Cavenaugh became a top art thief thanks to a secret ability—a dragonmorph, she can literally fly away from the scene of the crime. Next up: stealing a priceless painting out from under the snout of Lord Relobu, North America’s fearsome dragon ruler. True, she’s never had to work in the midst of Earth’s most polarizing nuptials before. Keeping her identity hidden will demand she get creative, to say the least.

Cameron Shaw has one last chance to prove himself. As Lord Relobu’s interim security head, he’ll ensure the world’s first interspecies wedding happens without a hitch. That means keeping an extra close eye on the wedding planner’s pretty young assistant. She’s adorable, but something’s not quite right.

Fumbling her way through bouquets and linens turns out to be the least of Savannah’s problems. Crushing on Relobu’s hottest human henchman was not part of the plan, and neither was revealing her—ahem—ferocious side. But when her archrival shows up to nab the very same painting she’s after, all bets are off…

Our Review:

never deal with dragons by lorenda christensenCass: First things first, I (quite unexpectedly) adored Never Deal With Dragons. Myrna was a far cry from the usual UF/PNR heroine. She wasn’t The One, didn’t specialize in Snapping Necks and Breaking Balls, and wasn’t burdened by a Tragic Past.

Instead, Myrna was just a brilliant, accomplished, career woman who loved her work (if not her boss). She kicked ass negotiating with dragons – without actually kicking dragon asses.

Despite this love, the blurb did not fill me with confidence. Pro: More time with Myrna and Trian. Con: everything else.

Marlene: I read Never Deal with Dragons because Cass made me do it. I figured that any romance that she actually liked must be good. And she was right. It was good, fun, and often funny. I loved the idea of a heroine who kicked butt with her mind instead of her brawn. However, the second book Dancing with Dragons (ranted at, ahem, reviewed here) did not live up to the first one. I made Cass read Til Dragons Do Us Part in the hope that Dancing with Dragons represented a sophomore slump. Admittedly, once I read the blurb, I didn’t have much hope. I figured that we would at least get a good rant out of it. And here we are. RANTING!

dancing with dragons by lorenda christensenCass: Liar! You wanted to bask in my disgust and outrage. Also, I completely and utterly forgot how much I hated Carol in the second book. So utterly useless.

Let us start with Savannah and her Family Of Thieves. Namely her sister-in-law, a renowned chef, at the top of her game who decided to turn to a life of crime. Why? Because this one time a dragon was totally mean, and insulted how she cooked steak! (Side note: did it not occur to her that a dragon might prefer his meat seared rather than medium-well?)

Why use your expertise and fame to do what you love? Much more logical to become the operations manager behind a small-time theft ring. God knows all women base their career trajectories on one run-in with a douchebag client.

Of course we ultimately can’t have a Law Breaker for a heroine (only dude-bro romantic bad-boy leads are allowed to break laws), so Savannah & Co must See The Light and Renounce Their Criminal Pasts. Perhaps they realize that a michelin starred chef can bring in mountains of legitimate money. Or there could be a “Tragic” Medical Issue for Baby Thief which will awaken them to the inherent evil they are bringing into a child’s life. Dragging a kid willy-nilly all over the country is completely within the best interests of said child. Taking a child to a medical facility to receive basic care on a consistent basis, however, results in a huge existential crisis. WHAT HAVE WE BEEN DOING WITH OUR LIVES?!?!

Marlene: People have been known to base their career trajectories on experiencing a series of douchebag clients or bosses. But generally not on just one. I digress.

It seems like sister-in-law the chef gave up her fantastic career for “true love”, another trope that Cass hates with a vengeance. I can understand helping one particularly hot (and charming) thief do something nasty but ultimately harmless to get back at said douchebag client, but not giving up an entire career. Unless we’re missing an explanation here, which we generally are in this book.

That this version of the universes has no insurance to speak about, and that procedures need to be paid in cash, was a nice bit of worldbuilding, which there aren’t nearly enough of. However, the existential crisis that ensues is over-the-top. Their only options are presented as “go straight” and cash in the retirement fund, or steal the painting and use the proceeds to pay for the medical crisis. While the crisis proceeds semi-logically from its introduction as the baby needs constant medical supervision, which is awkward when mom and dad are perpetually on the lam and lying about their identities, said medical crisis was not the only way to deal with all the adults deciding to go straight.

Cass: Setting aside the paper-thin motivations for thieving in general, let’s focus on the caper at issue. Savannah, a dragon-morph, grew up utterly isolated and thinking she was a lone freak in a hostile world. Then, lo-and-behold, she learns of Trian, dragon morph extraordinaire from Never Deal with Dragons.

Expected response: Holy shit, I am not alone in the universe! I must meet this guy and see if there are any social, psychological, or emotional benefits to having a friend who is of my species. He might also be excited to learn about my existence. We could share our First Transformation stories, talk logistics of controlling the shift, and maybe make arrangements for proper medical care. This could change my life!

Savannah’s response: Guess I’ll just rob him, during his wedding, for which he and his fiance are receiving multiple terroristic death threats.

Marlene: The caper that was, wasn’t, was, wasn’t. Well it wasn’t much of a caper, it seemed like its purpose in the story was to give Savannah an additional reason for giving up her life of crime and introducing us to the Boss From Hell. Working in that bridal agency would be enough motivation to never work anywhere in the industry again, just to avoid any possibility of running into the self-centered bitch who owned the place. She came off as a caricature of driven career-women everywhere, and I hated every moment she was onscreen. Meeting her should have driven Savannah right back to a life of crime, but instead it helped her “bond” with the other women she worked with. Which actually might happen, but in Savannah’s shoes I’d be counting the days until I was out of Tulsa and away from the wedding planner bitch and any legitimate work for a long time.

Cass: Marlene, I know you want to talk “romance.” But seriously, who the fuck is this guy? Why do I care about him? Hell, why does she even care about him? He’s about as interesting as a glass of milk. On that note, why is Mr. Whole Milk interested in her? There was no spark. No chemistry. No nothing. In fact, I can’t even remember his name. Did they have sex? Hell if I know. If they did, it was damn boring and I fell asleep reading it.

Marlene: I do not want to talk romance in this book, because there isn’t much to talk about, except to wonder where the chemistry went. The married couple have more chemistry than Savannah and what’s his name. (which is actually Cameron Shaw, and yes, they do manage to have sex, and it was a complete yawn, as well as a fade to black.) His whole purpose in this story seems to be to motivate Savannah to go straight. He’s not just Mr. Whole Milk, but he’s Mr. Whole Milk who has a record of being on the wrong end of Savannah’s art thievery. Otherwise he has no distinguishing features.

Cass: I saved the worst offense for last. WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?! For a book set in a world that has humans and dragons co-existing in a never-endingly complicated political and social quagmire (basically the highlight of the first two books), we spend almost no time focused on any actual dragon issue. Are there any people in the world at all curious as to how dragon morphs are created? Is it viral? Environmental exposure in utero? A recessive genetic trait? Anyone? Bueller?

Escape Rating: D for denying me sufficient dragons. Never Deal with Dragons was amazing. I am going to re-read it to get the taste of this out of my mouth. The DRACIM world has so many amazing stories in it, I just hope the author gets around to telling us some of them.

Marlene: Galen described Cass’ part of this review as a “Cass Rant ™” and I have to agree with his assessment. I also have to agree with Cass’ rant in general. Never Deal with Dragons was awesome. I read Til Dragons Do Us Part and couldn’t wait to be parted from it. I found it to be completely and utterly “meh”. This is not a good thing.

Escape Rating C-: which is totally in keeping with that ‘meh’. It’s not horrible, there just isn’t much there there. Or there here. Whatever. To give either a higher or lower rating, I’d need to have more reaction than this. Myrna was awesome in the first book. Carol was too stupid to live in the second book. Savannah is perfectly named; she’s a boring grassland with no distinguishing features.

Cass: Note to Galen: “Cass Rant ™” was spurred by Marlene’s insistence I read this. Which I had every intention of ignoring. So maybe we should call it Cass Rant On Demand ™”

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

nice dragons finish last by rachel aaronFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Heartstrikers #1
Length: 315 pages
Publisher: self-published
Date Released: July 15, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s WebsiteGoodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons…

My Review:

The girl gets the dragon. Normally I would have said that the other way around, but in this case, the human is definitely more alpha than the dragon.

Also, by the end of the story, it’s not strictly true that anyone actually gets anyone, but there’s certainly the promise of a romance in later books in the series.

This one is all about the case. And what a case it is!

There are lots of stories where the magic goes away, or remains hidden. In this series, the magic has come back with a vengeance. The world is different. Not only have magic creatures come out of hiding, but magic began manifesting in humans again. There be mages here.

The most apocalyptic release of magic back into the world occurred in Detroit. The spirit of the Great Lakes, the Lady Algonquian, rose up out of the lake and pretty much drowned the entire city of Detroit, attempting to wash it clean of pollution (and people). It is now the Detroit Free Zone under her very active protection, and her laws don’t give much of a damn about what humans do to each other. She cares about protecting the land and the spirits of the place.

It turns out that there is a lot of money in researching magic, and in the intervening 60 or so years, a lot of new companies have moved into what used to be the Detroit exurbs.

Her other rule is “no dragons”. Because yes, the dragons came out of hiding, and have become an apex predator pretty much everywhere. Except the DFZ.

So when the mother of the Heartstriker clan of dragons wants to punish her least-dragonish child, she dumps Julius in the DFZ with his powers locked away, and gives him a month to do something properly draconic–or die.

Julius gets roped into one of his brother Ian’s manipulative plans, and finds himself attempting to tag a dragon in hiding while fending off goons sent to murder his new partner–a mage on the run.

Marci Novalli left Vegas in a hurry when her dad’s mob-partner had him killed, and she’s been running every since. She hopes that working with Julian will earn her enough to get away from the goon squad–while Julius hopes that the human mage will help him blend into the all-human DFZ.

Neither of them gets quite what the bargained for, but what they do each get is a partner who will protect their back from the increasingly large forces out to get them. And someone to stand with them in the middle of machinations and manipulations that are intended to get them both killed.

Escape Rating B+: This is a lot of fun, especially in the second half. In the first half of the book, Julius does a little bit too much “pity poor me” and trying to find a way out of the mess he’s been stuck in. Everyone in his family seems to have had a part in setting him up, and he’s totally out of his depth.

It’s only when he starts standing up for himself that he’s able to get a grip on events, and on his own future. Of course, standing up for himself is part of what the manipulation was intending to accomplish in the first place.

It may be that we need to learn more of how draconic society does (or doesn’t) work, but Julius’ mother comes off as a bit of a caricature, so I more than didn’t like her, she didn’t seem quite internally consistent.

The plots and counterplots were so convoluted, I couldn’t get them straight until the end, and neither could Julius, which was the point. Everyone is manipulating everyone else, to various good and bad effects. Even the mobster after Marci turns out to be just a thread in a much larger canvas than he anticipated.

Marci seems to be a much stronger (and more bloodthirsty) character than Julius. While he’s been avoiding all of his powerful family by hiding, she’s been making a living on the fringes of the mob, and taking lots of classes in the “school of hard knocks”. Standing up for her and more importantly with her is what makes Julius grow up.

Nice Dragons Finish Last was a great start to a cool urban fantasy series. The ending sent chills down my spine, so I can’t wait to see what happens next.

*Reviewer’s note: As you read this, I am in Detroit at NASFiC (North American Science Fiction Convention) Hopefully, we won’t see the spirit of the lake in quite so dramatic a fashion.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-23-14

Sunday Post

This was an interesting week at chez Reading Reality. Actually, last weekend was way more interesting.

FFX-X-2_HD_Remaster_NA_CoverCass was here in Seattle last weekend, so we got to write our dual review of Dancing with Dragons while sitting together. Doing it in the same place doubles both the time it takes and the snark produced! We had way too much fun.

But this week has also been the week that my favorite video game ever was re-released on HD. Once my copy of Final Fantasy X arrived, I didn’t get a lot done except play–right up until the PS3 totally died. Then it was back to the books!

 

Current Giveaways:

leprechaun blog hop$10 Amazon or B&N Gift Card in the Leaping Leprechauns & Frolicking Fairies Blog Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card from Victoria Pinder
$25 Gift Card, preview copies of Virna DePaul’s new titles courtesy of Romance at Random

Winner Announcements:

Paperback copy of Retribution by Anderson Harp won by Jo J.
Ebook copy of Good Together by CJ Carmichael won by Shamara C.
Ebook copy of Slam Dance with the Devil by Nico Rosso won by Erin F.

concealed in death by jd robbBlog Recap:

Leaping Leprechauns & Frolicking Fairies – The All Things Irish Blog Hop
B+ Review: Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb
C, C+ Dual Review: Dancing with Dragons by Lorenda Christensen
Turned Blog Hop
B- Review: The Zoastra Affair by Victoria Pinder + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (81)

 

Murder of CrowsComing Next Week:

A Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop (review by Cass)
The Accident by Chris Pavone (blog tour review and giveaway)
Turned by Virna DePaul (review)
The Cottage on Juniper Ridge by Sheila Roberts (blog tour review)
Silent Blade by Ilona Andrews (review)