Review: Christmas in Dogtown by Suzanne Johnson

Christmas in Dogtown by Suzanne JohnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Paranormal romance; Holiday romance
Length: 35 pages
Publisher: The Story Vault
Date Released: October 15, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

A woman who spent years escaping her rural past learns that Dogtown, Louisiana, hides more family secrets than just the recipe for boudin blanc.

Resa Madere’s on the verge of losing it all. The boyfriend’s gone. The job’s history. Her beloved house is on the brink of foreclosure. She’ll do anything to save it–even spend a long Christmas holiday working in St. James Parish, Louisiana, helping her uncle run the family meat business. But the community of Dogtown, which has been home for seven generations of the Madere and Caillou families, has deep roots and deeper secrets. For Resa, going home is one thing. Getting out might not be so easy.

My Review:

Christmas in Dogtown is a short and spicy (in the Cajun sense, not the sexy sense) holiday story that argues that, contrary to the title of Thomas Wolfe’s famous novel, you really CAN go home again. But only if you want to.

And maybe only if you get there in time.

Resa Madere comes from the long line of Maderes that founded the small bayou community of Dogtown in St. James Parish, Louisiana, right beside the Caillou family. There are entire pirogues full of traditions and expectations in Dogtown that revolve around all the things that the Madere and Caillou families have done together over the generations.

One of those many expectations was that Resa Madere would marry Chandler Caillou. Everyone in both families and all over town shoved that expectation down her throat for as long as she could remember. Along with the expectation that she would take over her grandfather’s meat business, and stay in Dogtown for her entire life. Resa had other plans, plans that involved the big city, the Big Easy called New Orleans.

But Katrina and the Great Recession meant that her dreams were running into some financial difficulties. So she was back in Dogtown for three weeks at Christmas to work in the family meat business, earn enough money to make a couple of mortgage payments, and then escape as fast as she could.

She knew that if she stayed in Dogtown too long, that she wouldn’t be able to escape at all.

What she didn’t know was why. This Christmas Chandler Caillou was back in Dogtown. And her grandfather decided that it was time that Resa knew the truth.

The truth could set her free. Or it could make her part of Dogtown forever. But it was time for Resa to choose.

Escape Rating A-: Christmas in Dogtown is a marvelous little Christmas story that packs quite the paranormal punch at the end.

The reader thinks that the story is about “roots and wings”. A story about Resa deciding what her dreams really are, whether she belongs in her hometown, or whether she really wants to be back in New Orleans.

She loves her homeplace and her people, it’s obvious. As she spends time at home, she starts to question where she belongs, so does the reader. She starts wondering whether she coming back really means giving up, or finding her right place.

And then she gets hit with the whammy. And so do we.

I just wish this story were longer. Because that whammy is one heck of a big reveal. I would love to know a whole lot more about what’s behind the myths and legends of Dogtown. There seem to be a lot of stories hidden in those bayous. I, for one, would love to read them.

Bewitching Book Tours

***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 Author Suzanne Johnson on Supernatural New Orleans + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome Suzanne Johnson, the author of the absolutely fabulous urban fantasy Sentinels of New Orleans series. Her latest book is Elysian Fields (review here) and if you love urban fantasy (or New Orleans stories, or terrific heroines) check out this series! (If you love vamps, get Redemption)

Supernatural New Orleans: A Few Theories
by Suzanne Johnson

Elysian Fields Blog Tour

Long before Anne Rice established New Orleans as a haven for world-weary vampires, my adopted hometown had been a hotbed of supernatural activity and legend.

When I began writing my Sentinels of New Orleans series, which began with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, it was a given that NOLA would be my setting. Even without the hurricane, however, it’s hard to go wrong setting a paranormal story here. I don’t know if there has ever been a study of the most popular setting for paranormal fiction, but I’d be shocked if New Orleans wasn’t No. 1 in the U.S., perhaps the world.

Why? I came up with four reasons the Crescent City (called this due to the crescent shape of the Mississippi River as it winds through the metro area) is such a paranormal hub. In no particular order….

Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson1. Age. It’s no Rome or Paris or London, but by U.S. standards, New Orleans is a very old city, founded by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, in 1718. What’s more unusual, it has retained much of its original architecture thanks to a total miscalculation by military leaders during the Civil War. The city was the largest in the South, a major port that controlled the Mississippi River, and the economic hub of the Confederacy. But the military leaders put most of the defense around the northern perimeter and left the river itself defended only by three small forts. The Union ships sailed right on in and took control of the city early. So unlike Atlanta and other Southern cities, New Orleans was not burned to the ground. In fact, the city itself saw no fighting at all.

As a result, the French Quarter is still intact and its crumbling buildings might have been repaired a bazillion times over the centuries, but they retain the flavor of the original French colony and, later, Spanish outpost. It’s the most European of American cities, and it’s hard not to walk a deserted side street late at night and not feel the ghosts of the past around you.

2. Population. As a port city, New Orleans has always been peopled by a large array of nationalities. French and Spanish colonists were there early, as well as Italians who worked the docks and Irishmen the wharves. There was also a very large population of free people of color in New Orleans, many of whom arrived from the French colonies of the West Indies. Most prominent among them were those from what today is Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They came to New Orleans to start a new life, in one of the only Southern ports where they were legally allowed to own land and businesses, and brought with them voudou, their version of the African belief system. New Orleans and “voodoo” became linked, and its mysticism gave rise to many legends and traditions.

Today, the voodoo shops and museums are mostly tourist traps, but in the parishes outside the city, and some of the back rooms within it, it’s still practiced.

River Road by Suzanne Johnson3. Violence. In the last decade, New Orleans has pretty much reigned as the per-capita murder capital of the U.S. It’s nothing new, however. In the early 1800s, when the privateer/pirate Jean Lafitte ruled his kingdom of a thousand ruffians and sailors just south of the city, New Orleans had already established a reputation for violence. My own theory is that the city’s violence has stemmed from the unholy trinity of population, weather, and poverty.

Lots of nationalities means a lot of clashing ideals and beliefs. Port cities tend to violence, as ships’ crews and dockworkers let off steam, usually fueled by plenty of alcohol. Where people die violently, spirits linger. New Orleans’ violent history has contributed to its generally being considered the most haunted city in the U.S. (And for you Sentinels fans, the ghost of Jean Lafitte himself, no stranger to violence, is believed by many to haunt the Lafitte Blacksmith Shop Bar on lower Bourbon Street.)

4. Geography. There’s a joie de vivre in South Louisiana unlike any I’ve encountered in my moves to different parts of the country, and I attribute it to the fact that there’s a fragility to living there. I mean, if you live in a bowl-shaped city below sea level, in the direct path of Gulf hurricanes, and protected by a shaky levee system, there’s a “party hard because it all might be gone tomorrow” attitude that keeps the city feeling more like a Caribbean outpost than a captain of American industry. Even before things like levee systems were invented—and before the advent of air conditioning—half the city’s population could die of mosquito-borne yellow fever on any given summer. Folk superstitions and urban legends stemming from this “here today-gone tomorrow” attitude are widespread. Add the surrounding swampland, fog on the river thick enough to drown in, the abundance of massive live oaks and Spanish moss, and the world’s largest population of alligators, and you add an extra creep factor where the paranormal thrives.

Have you been to New Orleans? What do you think most evokes the paranormal there? (I haven’t even mentioned the above-ground cemeteries!)

Suzanne JohnsonAbout Suzanne JohnsonOn Aug. 28, 2005, Suzanne Johnson loaded two dogs, a cat, a friend, and her mom into a car and fled New Orleans in the hours before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

Four years later, she began weaving her experiences and love for her city into the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series, beginning with Royal Street (2012), continuing with River Road (2012), and now with Elysian Fields (August 2013).

She grew up in rural Alabama, halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace, and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years—which means she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.

She can be found online at her website or her daily blog, Preternatura. As Susannah Sandlin, she writes the best-selling Penton Vampire Legacy paranormal romance series and the recent standalone, Storm Force.

To learn more about Suzanne, visit her website or blog or follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads.


Suzanne is giving away a grand prize of an iPad 2 and five $20 gift cards to winners’ online retailer of choice. All prizes are open internationally!

To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.

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Review: Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson

Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans, #3
Length: 386 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: August 13, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The mer feud has been settled, but life in South Louisiana still has more twists and turns than the muddy Mississippi.

New Orleanians are under attack from a copycat killer mimicking the crimes of a 1918 serial murderer known as the Axeman of New Orleans. Thanks to a tip from the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, DJ Jaco knows the attacks aren’t random—an unknown necromancer has resurrected the original Axeman of New Orleans, and his ultimate target is a certain blonde wizard. Namely, DJ.

Combating an undead serial killer as troubles pile up around her isn’t easy. Jake Warin’s loup-garou nature is spiraling downward, enigmatic neighbor Quince Randolph is acting weirder than ever, the Elders are insisting on lessons in elven magic from the world’s most annoying wizard, and former partner Alex Warin just turned up on DJ’s to-do list. Not to mention big maneuvers are afoot in the halls of preternatural power.

Suddenly, moving to the Beyond as Jean Lafitte’s pirate wench could be DJ’s best option.

At the publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

My Review:

The term “Elysian Fields” refers to a separate section of Hades reserved for gods and heroes. It’s also a street in New Orleans. (So far, all the books in Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series are named for streets in New Orleans.)

The reference to Hades is particularly appropriate in this case, because a lot of the action in this story has to do with manipulating that faction known in DJ Jaco’s universe as the “historical undead”.

There’s a necromancer in town, and he’s decided to bring the Axeman of New Orleans back from the dead to bury his axe in DJ’s skull–after he cuts a wide swath through the streets and alleys of the rest of the city, of course.

This third installment of this urban fantasy series is full-to-the-brim with action, adventure, mystery, and more than a touch of on again/off again/on again romance. Some questions get answered, but more questions get asked. There is certainly no happily ever after. If anything, the stakes are raised in DJ’s personal and political relationships.

DJ is now the lone sentinel for New Orleans. She has the chance to see if she and her former co-sentinel, Alex Warin, can finally act on their mutual sizzling attraction. Naturally there are a ton of roadblocks, and not just the fact that Alex likes his universe neat, tidy and rule-abiding and DJ is a rule-breaking chaos magnet.

Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonDJ is still trying to help Alex’ cousin Jake, who got turned into a loup-garou (read that as werewolf with an uncontrollably bad attitude, but worse) all the way back in Royal Street. Jake’s uncertain temper finally boils over and he bites her. A whole lot of the angst in the story is driven by the uncertainty of the political fallout if DJ turns furry during the full moon, since the consequences are prison or death for both her and Jake.

That necromancer who is bringing in the Axeman can probably control any of the historical undead. Including DJ’s very good friend the famous historical undead pirate Jean Lafitte. Lafitte remained a pirate because the man couldn’t stand to be controlled by anyone, including the government, when he was alive. Being dead for over two centuries hasn’t changed that. And the more we see of Lafitte, the more I wonder about how he really feels about DJ. I think she underestimates his emotional involvement. We’ll see.

Then there’s her mysterious neighbor Quince Randolph. DJ was right, he was definitely up to no good. He was up to way more no good than she thought, and she should never have let herself be alone in a room with him. Why she trusted him even that far I’ll never know. Let alone what came after.

And we have vampires. Do we ever. And because we have vampires, DJ is up to her neck in political complications–even if this time it isn’t strictly the vampires’ fault.
Blame it all on the elves. And on DJ’s propensity to leap well before she looks, a tendency guaranteed to always take her out of the frying pan and into yet another fire. Assuming that she didn’t start the fire herself.

Escape Rating A-: The Sentinels of New Orleans series is completely made of awesome. If you love urban fantasy, get Royal Street, which is not only a fantastic series start but also a heartrending story about the post-Katrina recovery (see review for details).

DJ is a chaos magnet of the first order. (If Loki or Coyote turn out to be one of her ancestors, I would not totally be surprised, but I digress). Everything she touches turns sideways. It makes her a fantastic character to follow, but probably too scary to live with.

Which leads to the love quadrangle. I think it’s a quadrangle. Jake-Alex-Quince-Jean. She started the series interested in both Jake and Alex Warin, who are cousins not brothers. She can’t get over her guilt about Jake becoming a loup-garou, basically an uncontrollable werewolf. and she and Alex have been both friends and work partners for years now. But Alex needs square corners–and DJ is a rebel. There are long-term problems that are short term covered by really hot chemistry.

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonQuince Randolph has been up to no good since he showed up in River Road (reviewed here). How much no good (it’s a ton) turns out to be a huge part of Elysian Fields. Quince is out for Quince and he’s not listening to DJ. He’s one of those smarmy bastards who is just sure he knows best. Why DJ trusted him in the same room with herself, I did not understand. Even out of expediency.

Then there is the pirate Jean Lafitte. I have a strange feeling that his, well, feelings for DJ may be more than DJ believes they are. Just because he is one of the historical undead doesn’t mean that his heart can’t sneak up on him.

But the plot of Elysian Fields has to do with magical power and the control of political power, as well as how closely intertwined those two are. Also a huge, giant, axe-wielding red herring. The political skullduggery was impressively underhanded. Also occasionally overhanded along with a couple of curveballs.

It was easy to guess who the “little bad” was, but the “bigger bad” came out of left field, particularly in the “why” department. There are clues lying around that DJ’s future is going to be very, very messy.

And that’s what makes this series so fascinating. Even though parsing out DJ’s potential love interests is entertaining (very) what keeps this reader glued to her iPad is watching the heroine grow and cope with each adventure and change and devastation that comes her way.

DJ Jaco kicks ass. Sometimes after she sets it on fire.

Elysian Fields Blog Tour

***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 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: Storm Force by Susannah Sandlin

Storm Force by Susannah SandlinFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Paranormal romance
Series: Omega Force, #1
Length: 343 pages
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Date Released: March 19, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

As leader of the elite counter-terrorism team Omega Force, former army ranger Jack “Kell” Kellison is always focused on getting the job done. So when a Houston high-rise is bombed and the governor killed or missing, Kell’s mission is clear: infiltrate the group suspected of the bombing and neutralize the threat by any means necessary. But once Kell meets beautiful chief suspect Mori Chastaine, he realizes there’s more to this case than meets the eye. And more to Mori than any man—any human man—could imagine.

Mori Chastaine is running out of options. Suspected for a crime she didn’t commit, forced into a marriage she doesn’t want, she sees no escape—until Kell walks through her door. A lifetime hiding her true nature warns her Kell might not be who he seems. But he could be the only one able to help save more innocent humans from becoming pawns in an ancient paranormal power play. If Mori reveals her secret, will Kell join her fight? Or will she become his next target?

My Review:

Let me say up front that I had two problems going in to my read of Storm Force. I really, really, let me emphasize this, really wanted this to be Cage’s story. Frankly I wanted it to be his HEA in Omega (reviewed here), and it wasn’t, so I want to see his story pretty badly at this point, and it looks like I’m waiting until sometimes in the fall. Color me annoyed on that score, especially since I bought the book.

The plot also had some similarities to another military romance I read not that long ago, in that the hero was having a difficult time dealing with having been forcibly discharged by injury, and couldn’t figure out whether this private contract thing, with or without the paranormal aspect, was what he really wanted. The villains in both cases also have a “bwahaha” aspect.

Let’s just say that Storm Force turned out to be way better than that other book, superficial resemblances aside.

Storm Force does take place in the world created by Sandlin’s Penton Legacy series. It’s kind of a side-sequel. All of the Penton Legacy has taken place, but those characters don’t appear. At the end of Omega, Randa Thomas’ military (and still human) family creates a joint human/vampire paramilitary task force as part of the deal that resolves the story.

The hero of Storm Force is the leader of one of those joint teams, but in the couple of years after Omega, more than just vamps have joined the strike teams. The all-too-human Jack “Kell” Kellison has both eagle and panther shifters on his team.

Which makes it a bit unbelievable that he doesn’t even guess that the person-of-interest his team is sent to investigate is also a shifter, even if she’s a shifter of a species that everyone believes is extinct.

What the FBI (and everyone else) does believe is that she is either responsible for a downtown Austin bombing, or being framed for it. The question are why would a known, non-violent environmentalist suddenly turn extremist? Or who would hate her so much that they would kill over 200 people just to get her attention?

The answers require more shifts in his thinking than Kell could have ever believed possible.

Escape Rating B: As I said, this book had to win me over, because I wanted it to be something other than it was. It’s a lot different in tone Sandlin’s Penton Legacy series, with more of a military romance layer on top of the suspense. It’s also a glimpse of the rest of the world that the vamps and shifters live in post-epidemic.

Kell and his unit are definitely an interesting group. Robin, is the star of the show, she’s an eagle-shifter and absolutely snark-tastic. She loves pushing everyone’s buttons, not just because she’s the only woman, but also because she’s different in other ways. She’s the only bird-shifter in the group too. She lives to defy expectations.

Our hero, Kell, fits the wounded warrior to a “T”. He’s on the fence about having surgery to repair what can be repaired in his spine. He’s going to have to make changes in how he fights. He has to recognize that his best contribution to a team that includes shifters (all of whom are stronger than he is!) is his tactical brain and not his brawn.

He’s never risked his heart before, but the first time he meets the heroine, he knows that she can’t be the bomber. Which doesn’t mean that she’s not the focus of whatever is going on.

Mori is the heroine, and she is the focus of events. I had a bit of a problem with her. She’s trying to be both Alpha female and Omega shifter at the same time, and those signals mixed. Also she doesn’t seem to realize that the villain is psycho, and could not be reasoned with. He just bombed a building to get her attention, which should have spelled it out for everyone!!!

There were one too many final battles to get this one resolved. It took a ton of resolution for Mori and Kell to figure out not just that they loved and needed each other, but how their relationship was going to work. And then they had to have a second epic battle with the big crazy. In the middle of a hurricane on a remote island. And he should have been put down a lot sooner with a whole helluva lot less fuss.

But I still read Storm Force by carrying my iPad around the house because I couldn’t put it down. I just hope Robin’s story is coming up next.

***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 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.

Lovestruck Giveaway Hop

Lovestruck Blog Hop

They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. But it looks like love does, because the Lovestruck Giveaway Hop is back!

This year, the Hop is hosted by Under the Covers Book Blog. Organizing one of these hops has got to be, well, a labor of love.

Speaking of love, let’s talk about new, or new to me, authors that I’ve fallen in love with this year. This is about being lovestruck after all. ♥

Redemption by Susannah SandlinThe author who has had me scrambling to find all her books this year has been Suzanne Johnson/Susannah Sandlin. I’ve lost a couple of weekends to her marvelous stories because her Penton Legacy series (written as Sandlin) is pretty much vampire romance crack, once I started it I couldn’t stop until I reached the current end. And I want the next one yesterday. They just seemed like the perfect blend of alpha heroes in need of redemption and strong women in need of someone to respect their strength. With a perfectly evil enemy.



Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonThen there’s her Sentinels of New Orleans series, written as Suzanne Johnson, which is the one I discovered first. New Orleans is one of my favorite cities. (We almost moved there). But the blend of the old city, the historic undead, the shapeshifters, with magic! It’s utterly cool. And the wizard coming into her own. Not his own, you note, her own. DJ is a fantastic heroine, snarky and kick-ass and sometimes in over her head. The portrayal of the post-Katrina cleanup of New Orleans in Royal Street was incredibly poignant and heartbreaking.

Because I want you to have a chance to be lovestruck by your own favorite author or series, I’m giving away a USD$10 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble (winner’s choice). To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To see what has struck other bloggers, visit the other hops:

Review: Omega by Susannah Sandlin

Omega by Susannah SandlinFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Paranormal romance
Series: The Penton Legacy, #3
Length: 328 pages
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Date Released: February 5, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

The bloody war between the Vampire Tribunal and the defiant scathe of Penton, Alabama, rages on, forcing its residents and their bonded humans to retreat into the underground fortress of last resort: Omega. There, Will Ludlam is charged with the care of Penton’s humans, though he longs to fight alongside his vampire brethren. He knows the risks: as the renegade son of the Tribunal’s vicious leader, Will’s capture could doom the resistance. Yet he is determined to prove his worth to his adopted scathe, to his vengeful father—and to former US Army officer Randa Thomas, his beautiful, reluctant partner. Randa has little faith that a former member of the vampire elite has what it takes to fight a war. But as their enemies descend upon Omega, Will’s polished charm—and Randa’s guarded heart—finally give way to the warrior within. Fans of Susannah Sandlin’s Penton Legacy are sure to devour this long-awaited third installment of the steamy paranormal series.

My Review:

I think I would call Omega the final volume of the first trilogy of the Penton Legacy. I say this having read that there will be more stories in this world, but Omega certainly lives up to its name; it feels like closure of the first arc.

There are two stories going on, one is the love story, and the other is the war between Aiden Murphy’s followers and the Vampire Tribunal, or at least Matthias Ludlam’s faction. The love story seemed to take a back seat to the war story this time out, and that was just fine.

If all is fair in love and war, both sides definitely played fast and loose with the rules. But Ludlam colored way further outside the lines than the Pentonites. Of course he did, not because he’s a vampire, but because he’s a sadistic asshat.

Matthias has finally managed to manipulate the political situation so that he has carte blanche to do anything necessary to bring Aiden Murphy and Mirren Kincaid back into the Tribunal fold. Matthias Ludlam also has an ulterior motive (I think the man was born with an ulterior motive) to bring his son Will to heel. But he has no clue that any sane person would rather die than be his slave.

None of Matthias’ helpers are exactly sane. They are either temporary hired help or sadists like himself. He’s never understood why Will left.

But he thinks Will is weak and stupid, when the opposite is true. In fact, Will is so strong that he is on the way to becoming a master vampire, a stronger master than his father is or will ever be.

To save their experiment in cooperation, the Pentonites have gone underground at a site they have codenamed Omega. The core group have found a way to take the fight to their enemy in a way that he will eventually understand, through infiltration and espionage.

They send in a spy that Matthias hasn’t met. Cage Reynolds was a psychiatrist. He’s able to figure out just what makes Matthias sickly tick. What he discovers is that someone they all thought was lost, is instead changed and chained. But he can only free her at the cost of his carefully constructed cover.

Have they found enough evidence to convince the Tribunal that it has been pursuing the wrong enemy all along?

Escape Rating B: This was supposed to be about the romance between Will Ludlam and Randa Thomas, and it is there, but it’s not compelling enough. There’s a lot of squabbling but not a lot of heat. I got a lot more sexual tension and romantic interest from Cage and the woman he rescues than from Will and Randa.

Also the way that Will and Randa casually agreed to become mates at the end cheapened the angst that both Aiden and Krys and Mirren and Glory went through over the same thing. In both of the previous books (Redemption and Absolution) there was supposed to be some chemistry involved as well as a blood exchange. I just didn’t feel it with Will and Randa.

But the end of the war between Matthias and Aiden, now that held my attention all the way. Every move and countermove had me riveted. Will’s revelations about his background definitely fed into my feelings about how badly Matthias needed to be taken out and how necessary it was that the good vamps win!

Will coming into his own made for a powerful story. It was the romance side of the equation that just didn’t generate enough heat. But I was very happy to see good triumph and evil mostly get its just desserts. There’s one opportunist on the Tribunal who worries me, so I’m very happy there will be more stories in this world!

***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 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: Absolution by Susannah Sandlin

Absolution by Susannah SandlinFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Paranormal romance
Series: The Penton Legacy, #2
Length: 327 pages
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Date Released: August 12, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

With the vampire world on the brink of civil war over the scarcity of untainted human blood, battle lines are being drawn between the once peaceful vampire and human enclave of Penton, Alabama, and the powerful Vampire Tribunal. Mirren Kincaid once served the tribunal as their most creative and ruthless executioner—a time when he was known as the Slayer. But when assigned a killing he found questionable, Mirren abandoned the tribunal’s political machinations and disappeared—only to resurface two centuries later as the protector and second-in-command of Penton. Now the tribunal wants him back on their side. To break their rogue agent, they capture Glory Cummings, the descendant of a shaman, and send her to restore Mirren’s bloodthirsty nature. But instead of a monster, Glory sees a man burdened by the weight of his past. Could her magic touch—meant by the tribunal to bring out a violent killer—actually help Mirren break his bonds and discover the love he doesn’t believe he deserves?

My Review:

Gallowglass. It’s not a word we hear much in the 21st century, and I had to look it up. But even without knowing exactly what it means, the sound of it still sends a chill up the spine.

Mirren Kincaid, the second-in-command to Aiden Murphy in vampire community of Penton, Alabama, was a gallowglass in 16th century Ireland. He sometimes still thinks of himself that way, no matter how much he tries to wall off the part of himself that trained to be an elite mercenary over 400 years ago.

No matter how many years he spent as the Vampire Tribunal’s cold-blooded Slayer. Aiden saved his soul, when all Mirren believed he wanted was to die for his many, many sins; but he just couldn’t make himself wait for the sun.

As part of the deadly political machinations between Aiden Murphy and the Vampire Tribunal, the power-hungry vamps on the Tribunal, especially sadist Matthias Ludlam, want Mirren’s services returned to their soul-sucking side.

Redemption by Susannah SandlinHe’s captured and starved while cleaning up the mess left behind from the first salvos in this war, the story told in Redemption (reviewed here).

Matthias, because he is a sadistic bastard (just how sadistic will get told in Omega) thinks to push Mirren beyond saving by forcing him into killing a relative innocent, or at least someone whose heart and soul Mirren doesn’t know is black, even if he believes the human woman Matthias throws in his prison cell is a drug-addicted whore.

Gloriana Cummings is none of those things. She’s a telekinetic that Matthias has kidnapped, forcibly addicted to heroin and abused through multiple bleedings for a month. And instead of killing her in a rage of blood lust, Mirren takes just enough blood to break them both out of hell, with the help of a timely rescue from Penton.

Mirren saves Glory, and Glory gives Mirren what he needs most; love and absolution. But saving her from Matthias with her memory intact also brings down the destruction of the place that has provided Mirren with home and healing for decades.

Can a person, who has spent his existence thinking that his only value is in his fighting skill finally admit that he is worthy of being loved and is able to love in return? And will he stand and fight for everything and everyone he believes in, and who believes in him, instead of running from the weakness of emotion?

Omega by Susannah SandlinEscape Rating B+: With all due apologies to Glory’s storyline, the Penton Legacy series is absolute vampire romance reading crack, and I mean that in the best way possible. Maybe potato chips are a better analogy. I don’t think you can read just one. Or I clearly can’t, I opened Omega the minute I finished Absolution.

Mirren’s backstory is complex, but in a different way from Aiden’s in Redemption.  He became a gallowglass in the 16th century not just because that’s what he was trained to do, but because it was an honorable profession 400 years ago. He was a warrior. He knows times have changed. Changing with them was hard.

He originally didn’t question the things the Tribunal asked him to do, which, admittedly meant to murder people. He was a mercenary in the 16th century, he became the Tribunal’s mercenary. When he finally got to a point where he had to stop, there was no way out except to fake his own death. So he did. The Tribunal doesn’t leave loose ends, after all; cleaning up their loose ends used to be Mirren’s job.

Glory is Mirren’s equal, not in physical strength, but in spirit. She does have powers. She’s been damaged but she comes back strong, and she fights back the best she can. It’s good for the overall story that she doesn’t get turned. It was important that she be a strong human and stay that way.

The worldbuilding and story arc continue to be well done. This is the middle book in a trilogy, and while it ends well for Mirren and Glory, the overall story does not end on an up-note, which is to be expected. However, I like the way things are building towards what I hope will be a satisfying conclusion.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne RiceOne last thing. The writer dedicates the book “To Lestat. You were my first.” I had to smile. My first literary vampire was Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Comte de Saint Germain in Hotel Transylvania, but I have very fond memories of sitting enthralled with Lestat poring through Interview with the Vampire one night in almost a single sitting. I only got up once.

***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 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 author Susannah Sandlin on the Unsung Heroes of Paranormal Romance

Today I’d like to welcome Susannah Sandlin, who is on tour with her Penton Legacy series. Perhaps I should say welcome back? Susannah’s alter ego, Suzanne Johnson, visited me on April 25 to talk about her other fabulous series, The Sentinels of New Orleans (Royal Street, River Road, and the forthcoming Elysian Fields). The Penton Legacy is more paranormal but equally fantastic. I poured through the whole series like an addict, so I hope more are coming!

Take it away Susannah…

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The Unsung Heroines of Paranormal Romance by Susannah Sandlin

We might as well admit it. We read paranormal romance because of the hot guys, right? Sure, there are worlds to save and dragons to slay (well, unless the hot hero IS a dragon, of course). Sure, there are heroines. But it’s the guys we love.

Only, wait a minute. Don’t we need heroines to make heroes out of these guys who (we might as well admit this too) are often on the bullying, mulish side when we first meet them? I think as readers we focus on the heroes, but authors need strong heroines to hold their own with these bad boys and help them find the potential hero lurking inside. I mean, everyone loves Zsadist, right? But without Bella, would he have turned into hero material or continued to self-destruct?

But we also want our heroines to grow and change as well—to have the hero complete something inside them. It shouldn’t be all one-sided, right?

At least those were my thoughts as I went about looking for heroines to help my Penton vampires become heroes.

Redemption by Susannah SandlinAidan Murphy, the hero of Redemption (reviewed here), is a 400ish-year-old Irishman who in his human life was a simple farmer. He had a wife and a young son he loved dearly, but their family story ended tragically and he blames himself. He needs, as the title suggests, redemption. So Aidan needed a level-headed woman who had been through her own blame game but figured out how to survive it, and who could look at him and see the natural leader and compassionate person beneath the vampire. He finds that in a human doctor, Krystal Harris. Krys has been through an abusive past but fought her way out of it. She’s tough and doesn’t want to be managed, so she has trouble trusting anyone enough to relinquish control—or at least share it. Together, Aidan and Krys make a healthy relationship out of a rocky, unhealthy beginning.

Absolution by Susannah SandlinMirren Kincaid, aka The Slayer, is the bad boy of Absolution. Before being turned vampire, Mirren—of Norse/Scottish descent—was a Scottish gallowglass warrior. A killer for hire. After being turned, he became the executioner for the vampire tribunal. He’s dealt a lot of death and torture in his four centuries of living, and he is very good at it. Until he was asked to do something that made him realize he’d become a monster for people who were worse than the ones he was being sent to kill. So he’s filled with self-loathing and badly in need of absolution. It comes in the unlikely guise of a tough motor-mouth named Gloriana Cummings. Glory has her own issues, because she’s never been accepted. She isn’t well-educated. But she’s resilient and smart, realistic and brutally honest. She doesn’t give a crap about Mirren’s past, because she sees who he is now. Together, Mirren and Glory make an odd, but healthy, twosome.

Omega by Susannah SandlinWill Ludlam, the hero of Omega, is known around the community of Penton as the playboy of the vampire world. He uses his devastatingly good looks and quick charm to keep a wall around himself a mile wide. Because Will has the biggest, most horrible secrets of all of them, and he has no intention of letting anyone in. Especially his annoying partner doing security patrols around Penton, who hates men—especially him. Randa Thomas has only been turned vampire five years, while she was on active duty in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Growing up in a military family surrounded by alpha males, she’s had to be tougher, smarter and better than her brothers and father to prove herself. Now she’s a newbie vampire and having to prove herself all over again. Will’s just the kind of guy she hates—rich, smooth-talking, and has had everything handed to him. So you just KNOW these two are going to make an interesting couple.

Next up, in a few months, we will find out what makes our psychiatrist-turned-vampire Cage Reynolds tick. And who will be the one to save him…if he can be saved.

p.s. everyone, Absolution  (the 2012 Holt Medallion winner and Prism Award finalist) is $2.99 for Kindle for a limited time.

Susannah SandlinAbout Susannah SandlinSusannah Sandlin is the author of paranormal romance set in the Deep South, where there are always things that go bump in the night. A journalist by day, Susannah grew up in Alabama reading the gothic novels of Susan Howatch and the horror fantasy of Stephen King. (Um…it is fantasy, right?) The combination of Howatch and King probably explains a lot. Currently a resident of Auburn, Alabama, Susannah has also lived in Illinois, Texas, California, and Louisiana.To learn more about Susannah, visit her website or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads

Review: Redemption by Susannah Sandlin

Redemption by Susannah SandlinFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Paranormal romance
Series: The Penton Legacy, #1
Length: 371 pages
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Date Released: June 12, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

The world’s vampire population is on the brink of starvation since the vaccine to treat a global pandemic rendered human blood deadly to them. Their only hope for survival is a handful of rural areas that the vaccine never breached. The tiny town of Penton, Alabama, is one such enclave, where the immortal Aidan Murphy has established a community of vampires and their willingly bonded humans. Together, they live in peace—until Aidan’s estranged brother descends upon the town and begins attacking its humans. Whether the rampage is a result of his centuries-old feud with Aidan or the civil war threatening to erupt in the vampire world matters not. All that matters is the blood. Desperate to save his adopted family, Aidan breaks one of his cardinal rules, kidnapping an unvaccinated human doctor—and unexpectedly falling in love for the first time in nearly four hundred years.

My Review:

The major drawback with eternal life seems to be eternal politics…at least if you’re a vampire. Live and let live does not seem to be part of the personality that survives the change, or at least part of the personality of those that survive changing.

Nor, it seems, do the bonds of family or brotherly love. At least not the family you’re born to. The family you make seems to be something else altogether. Susannah Sandlin’s Penton Legacy series is very much about the bonds a person (or vampire) takes by choice being much stronger than the bonds of blood.


Aiden Murphy is the vampire mayor of Penton, Alabama. Now there’s a strange concept. He’s also a 400-year-old Irish farmer. Of course he’s a vampire. Which doesn’t negate either of the other two things. Aiden has turned away from just a hunter and a killer. Penton really is a town, in every sense of the word. His vampires cooperate with the humans among them. He could enthrall and enslave them, but Aiden believes it’s better to work together, and so does every vampire in his scathe. All 50 of them. And their entire human community are volunteers.

Having a scathe of 50 warriors may make Aiden the most powerful master vampire in North America. His community is a threat to the Vampire Tribunal, or it may be a way for all of them to survive, if they can get their heads out of their aristocratic asses and see the humans as partners instead of prey.

All some of them see is a rare feast after a vampire pandemic. Humans suffered a worldwide epidemic, which they cured with a vaccine. Humans aren’t aware that the vaccine rendered human blood poison to vamps. Very few humans are not vaccinated–think polio. Vampires are starving worldwide.

Except in Penton. All of the human members of Aiden’s little paradise are vaccine-free. They’re protected.

Until the Tribunal sends Aiden’s long-lost (and well-lost) brother Owen to destroy the community and kill Aiden. Killing Aiden will release his protection and provide a fresh banquet for all those starving vamps.

The first casualty of this war between brothers is the town doctor. His replacement: a woman who holds the key to Aiden’s locked-up heart, but only if he breaks all the rules he has come to live by.

And only if she dies first.

Absolution by Susannah SandlinEscape Rating B+: First of all, this book was just plain fun. I not only read it straight through, but immediately started the second book in the series, Absolution, the instant I finished it. So far, the series is absolutely terrific vampire toffee. I’ve bitten into it and I can’t unstick myself.

Dr. Krystal Harris is the kidnapped doctor heroine. The romance between Krys and Aiden contains more than a touch of Stockholm Syndrome! She’s kidnapped and falls in love with her kidnapper. Just because it gets “lampshaded” doesn’t make it not be there. And Krys was abused by her father, which was the explanation for why she had no confidence in herself and no friends. It felt like just one tick too much tragedy in her background. YMMV. And she and Aiden seemed to be set up for the “fated mate” trope into the bargain.

But I enjoyed their story so much that I completely overlooked all of it and went along for the ride. Aiden and Krys are two very wounded people who actually do belong together. They both resisted falling for each other in ways that were hot to watch/read.

And the set up of the community of Penton along with the worldbuilding as a whole were terrific. The idea that if there were vampires, they wouldn’t want us to know (of course) and they would or would not adjust to changes in the world. Aiden’s cooperative model vs. the Tribunal’s coercive operation. I could see why the people who chose to live in Penton would make those choices.

Also, the characters of the rest of Aiden’s scathe were worth reading about, and not just the vamps who are the heroes of the next books in the series. 400 years plus gives a person a lot of time to develop some serious quirks.

Susannah Sandlin is the alter-ego of Suzanne Johnson, the author of Royal Street and River Road (reviewed here and here) She’s definitely worth reading whether she’s writing about vampires in Alabama or ghosts and witches in New Orleans!

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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 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.

Interview with Author Suzanne Johnson

River Road and Royal Street Tour

Today I’d very much like to welcome Suzanne Johnson, author of the totally awesome Sentinels of New Orleans series (check out my reviews of Royal Street and River Road).

Marlene: Suzanne can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne: I’m a seventh-generation Alabamian but consider New Orleans and Houston more my “hometowns” because I lived and worked in both of those cities for a long time, especially New Orleans. At the time of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I’d been living in New Orleans for twelve years, working as a magazine editor at Tulane University. I stayed and helped with rebuilding for a few years after the hurricane but then moved back to Alabama for family reasons. My Katrina experiences are what drove me to start writing fiction after a career in journalism and longform feature writing. Royal Street, the first in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, came directly from my own Katrina experiences. By the time I finished that book, I was hooked on fiction! Now I can’t imagine not writing it.

Marlene: Do you also write as Susannah Sandlin? What do you see as the difference between your two “identities”?

Suzanne: Yes, that’s me! The books written under the Susannah Sandlin name are darker paranormal romance. They’re written in multiple points of view, each book in my dystopian vampire series features a different hero and heroine, and they have a strong thriller element—a lot of action. The urban fantasy books are more playful, they follow a single heroine and her cast of followers, and while there are romantic elements, the characters’ romantic journeys are not the main reason for the book. I love writing both genres. They have a lot in common from a reader perspective, but they’re very different to write.

Marlene: Describe a typical day of writing. Are you a planner or pantser?

Suzanne: I have a full-time job in addition to writing from three to four novels a year, so I have to stay organized…which means I’m definitely a planner. I spend a good bit of time working on the story before I ever begin writing. I don’t plot it down to the nanosecond, because I want to be able to let my characters take over the story and surprise me, but I need that structure to keep the story moving ahead. A typical day? Man, this sounds boring. On weekdays, I work my day job, then come home and write three or four hours after dinner. On Saturdays and Sundays, I usually put in from eight to twelve hours of writing per day. That’s when I get the most done.

Marlene: You’ve made New Orleans as much of a character in the Sentinels series as any of the humans or preternaturals. How much of real life in New Orleans is in the story?

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne: The New Orleans in the Sentinels books is VERY real. I’ve been gratified by the number of New Orleanians who’ve emailed to tell me how right I got not only the post-Katrina city but life in the city in general. It’s a beautiful, frustrating, fascinating place to live, and I wanted this series to pay homage to that because I love the city so much. Living in New Orleans is SO different than what visitors experience when they come and only see the French Quarter. Bourbon Street really is not New Orleans; it’s like a New Orleans-on-steroid theme park for visitors. So in the books is life as a resident. Most of the places the characters go are real places, and the settings and situations are real…well, except for the preternatural part!

Marlene: Do you see the Sentinels of New Orleans series as Drusilla’s journey?

Suzanne: Definitely. When I had the idea for Royal Street, I had been thinking a lot about the lessons Katrina taught me and a lot of my friends. That your whole life can be ripped apart in a matter of seconds. That a lot of the things you value in life are just so much stuff and when it’s taken away, you survive. That you have to let people help you, hard as that is. And that people respond to stress in different ways, and you have to respect that. Some people cry. Some make jokes. Some lead. Some fall apart.

So I created DJ as a young woman who’s just beginning to find her place in the world when the hurricane hits. Her journey is that of a woman (okay, a wizard) who has to learn who she is and what she can do without being able to rely on the things—parents, mentors, social networks—that most of us rely on to help us define ourselves. Wow, that’s too deep. It really is a fun series, with a lot of humor!

Marlene: Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?

Suzanne: The third book in the series, Elysian Fields, will be out on August 13 and readers will really start to see the brewing conflict as the different preternatural groups—especially the elves and wizards—begin to figure out who are allies and who are enemies.

Marlene: Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read your books?

Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne: Well, despite my nerdy answer above, first and foremost, they really are a fun read, especially as they begin to move away from the Katrina tragedy. Two, they differ from a lot of urban fantasy in that they really make use of the South Louisiana setting (my merfolk in River Road, for example, are aquatic Cajun shapeshifters). Three, they have wizards and undead French pirates and sneaky elves—seriously, how can you resist that?

Marlene: What made you choose to start writing urban fantasy? Or what genre do you think that the Sentinels series falls into?

Suzanne: Urban fantasy has been one of my favorite genres for a long time—back to when Anita Blake was about the only urban fantasy game in town. I’d definitely classify the Sentinels series as urban fantasy. There are romantic elements in the books, but they aren’t the dominant storyline. That story is what happens in New Orleans and in the preternatural world when Hurricane Katrina tears down the borders between our world and the world beyond. And DJ’s journey of growing up and growing into her skills, and part of her journey is learning to love and accept love in return.

Marlene: What is your favorite thing about the writing experience and why?

Suzanne: I love the creative rush—that point where the characters kind of take over and spin the story in a way you hadn’t expected. It’s mysterious and cool, and I have no idea how it happens…but it does.

Marlene: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask.

Suzanne: Where I get a lot of my character names—LOL. Drusilla was a great-grandmother. Another great-grandmother had the surname Jaco. Eugenie’s mysterious boyfriend, Rand, is named after my great-grandfather Rand Sandlin….and yes, Susannah Sandlin was my great-great grandmother. So I steal family names shamelessly.

Marlene: What’s a book you’ve faked reading?

Suzanne: Probably the most shamelessly, Moby Dick. And I made an A on the exam because it was essay questions and I’m good at b-s. I still haven’t read it.

Marlene: What’s a book you’ve bought for the cover?

Suzanne: I really can’t think of one. I tend to buy online and that kind of cover-browsing that’s possible in a physical bookstore doesn’t work online. I’ll buy for the blurb, or because I read the first few pages and liked the voice. Or because I know the author’s other work.

Marlene: What book would you most want to read again for the first time?

Suzanne: The Harry Potter series. What fun! It’s good on the re-read, but the discovery was amazing.

Marlene: Morning person or night owl?

Suzanne: Despite having to do most of my writing at night, I am definitely a morning person. I zone out about 3 p.m. and don’t re-energize until about 8.

Thanks for having me here!

Suzanne JohnsonAbout Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance from Auburn, Alabama, after a career in educational publishing that has spanned five states and six universities.  She grew up halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.To learn more about Suzanne, visit her website and blog or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

River Road and Royal Street Tour