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.


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

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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.

Review: The Highland Dragon’s Lady by Isabel Cooper + Giveaway

highland dragons lady by isabel cooperFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: paranormal romance, historical romance
Series: Highland Dragon #2
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date Released: December 2, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Regina Talbot-Jones has always known her rambling family home was haunted. She also knows her brother has invited one of his friends to attend an ill-conceived séance. She didn’t count on that friend being so handsome… and she certainly didn’t expect him to be a dragon.

Scottish Highlander Colin MacAlasdair has hidden his true nature for his entire life, but the moment he sets eyes on Regina, he knows he has to have her. In his hundreds of years, he’s never met a woman who could understand him so thoroughly… or touch him so deeply. Bound by their mutual loneliness, drawn by the fire awakening inside of them, Colin and Regina must work together to defeat a vengeful spirit – and discover whether their growing love is powerful enough to defy convention.

My Review:

legend of the highland dragon by isabel cooperI enjoyed the first book in this series, Legend of the Highland Dragon, quite a lot (see review) and this second book is even more fun than the first one, in spite of the fact that there isn’t much more info about that Legend, and that there isn’t a whole lot of dragon. I was having too much fun to care.

That’s because the hero and heroine in this one, Colin MacAlasdair and Regina Talbot-Jones, are incredibly fun characters themselves (Stephen and Mina in Legend were a bit on the serious side)

Colin has spent the 110 years of his existing mostly trying to keep from being bored. In the present Victorian era, he’s playing the role of younger and slightly disreputable son of nobility to the hilt. It allows him to have a bit of a reputation and travel wherever the mood strikes him.

As a member of the MacAlasdair clan, he even has access to his very own wings if he needs to travel a long distance in a short time. Colin, like his older brother Stephen, is a dragon-shifter.

Unlike Stephen, Colin has also dabbled a bit with magic. After all, the MacAlasdairs are living proof that there are more things in this world than science can rationally account for.

That’s both how Colin meets, and some of what he thinks, when he meets Regina Talbot-Jones. She’s usually referred to as Reggie, a name that fits her considerably better, especially considering that she meets Colin by climbing a tree down to the room that she believes is occupied by her brother.

Colin has come to Regina’s home on the trail of a ghost story told by her brother. Colin just expects a little entertainment, but instead he comes face to face with an all too real ghost. And Regina, who is also just a bit more than he expected.

And vice-versa. Reggie has a magicaly talent, she can see people’s memories when she touches them. Colin grabs her arm to keep her from falling, and she sees his memories of flying. She’s the first person who has discovered his secret (as opposed to being told after some preparation) in decades.

Reggie surprises Colin on every turn, not just with her talent, but also with her quick wit, her thoughtful intelligence, and her forthright courage.

She’s damned surprised that he’s a dragon. But when her father’s ill-advised seance rouses the estate’s malevolent ghost, Reggie and Colin need all the courage and resources they can muster to keep her from striking again. And again.

Escape Rating A-: Although the title of this book is The Highland Dragon’s Lady, it’s really a chilling ghost story with a romance to up the ante. If anything, it’s a descendant of those lovely old Gothic Romances, with lots of eerie atmosphere. The big change is that those old Gothics didn’t include sex.

Reggie and Colin definitely get around to indulging all of the delicious sparks they cause in each other. But this is a couple who seduce each other with clever words before they finally get between the sheets. Except its actually a hayloft, and the scene is delicious.

As Colin and Reggie court and spark (and spark), the investigation into the local ghost is serious enough to send a shiver up the spine. It’s not (thank goodness) a family ghost. Reggie’s parents bought the estate, ghost and all, about three years previous to the story. The ghost doesn’t care that they aren’t her family, all she wants are more victims, and she’s very clever about getting them.

Reggie and Colin have to work hard to save each other, and Reggie’s family, from everything that this malevolent ghost has to throw at them. Even a dragon needs a bit of help now and then, especially when the stakes are very, very high. And I love it when the heroine gets to rescue the hero!


Isabel and Sourcebooks are giving away 5 copies of The Highland Dragon’s Lady to lucky participants.

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***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: 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.

No Proper Lady

No Proper Lady by Isabel Cooper appeared on a number of “best romance of 2011” lists, including Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and RT Book Reviews Seal of Excellence and Finalist for Best Book of the Year. It had been on my TBR list for a while. I was reminded of it last week when The Galaxy Express reviewed the movie Time After Time, because both No Proper Lady and Time After Time are time travel stories, and I wondered how much they would resemble each other.

First, if you haven’t seen Time After Time, stream it on Netflix or Amazon. Then come back. I’ll wait. Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells takes his quite functional time-machine from Victorian London to San Francisco in 1979 in pursuit of his former BFF Dr. John Stevenson (played chillingly well by David Warner) who HG has just (in 1893) discovered is Jack the Ripper, just after Stevenson “borrows” his time machine. HG follows Stevenson to the future to bring “the Ripper” back to face justice. Wells is much more of a “fish out of water” in the late 20th century than the violent Ripper. The veneer of civilization had changed in nearly a century, but violence is the same. Wells finds a guide to help him navigate the 20th century, and true love makes all things bearable, even though it provides him a hostage to fortune.

No Proper Lady has elements of both Time After Time and Sheri S. Tepper’s Beauty. The comparison to Beauty is good but frightening. We’ll come back to that one. There’s even more than a hint of the Terminator if you squint.

Joan has been sent back to 1888 to change history. In the future that she comes from, humanity is about to be exterminated, and the events that lead to its demise happen in 1888. When Joan comes from, the demons have destroyed nearly everything, and the humans they do not control are almost gone. One last ceremony, one final burst of energy, sends Joan back in time. The circle was breached even as she was being sent through it.

But even if she didn’t feel the others fall, Joan can never go back. If she succeeds, she changes the future for the better. Her future will never happen, and good riddance. But the people she knew, her parents, her friends, will never be born. She is utterly alone in a totally foreign world, two hundred years in the past.

All she has is a name. She has to stop Alex Reynell and destroy the book of demon summoning spells that he has written. Now. In this year 1888 that she has been sent to. Or the human race is doomed.

Joan, like H.G. Wells, finds a contemporary guide. Her guide is Simon Grenville. He, too has a problem with Alex Reynell. Simon and Alex used to be best friends, until Alex took the magic powers that they were both learning and started summoning demons. Now they are enemies. Simon and Joan become allies in the fight to save humanity.

But first, they have to find a way to introduce a woman who has spent her entire life fighting tooth and nail for her very survival into the upper crust of Victorian society at the height of its fussiness.

Joan discovers that learning to kill demons was much easier than learning etiquette. Which she has to learn. Because she needs to sneak up on Alex Reynell and steal that book. Destroying the book is paramount, and it must be found, no matter the cost. Her life, her heart, her soul. Or Simon’s.

Escape Rating A-: The story grabbed me on multiple levels. The fish-out-of-water time travel story is very reminiscent of Time After Time and even Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander a tiny bit, although Joan is much less sure of herself than Claire, and it is one of the things that makes her interesting as a character. One way in which No Proper Lady reminds me of Outlander is that the romance does not need to be seen as the primary motivator for the story. There is an HEA, but that’s not necessarily the only reason this story exists.

I said this reminded me of Sheri Tepper’s Beauty. One piece of that story that still chills me is the portrait of the mid-20th century as the “last good time” on Earth. Whether one agrees or disagrees, the word-picture sticks. No Proper Lady, with Joan’s intense reactions to the pastoral beauty and plenty of the English countryside and relatively safe living conditions after her horrific experiences, evoked that same response. To her, the late 1880’s had been the “last good time” before Reynell “broke the world”.

No Proper Lady is absolutely not a typical romance novel. And that’s the beauty and the wonder of it.