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I love to explore genre fiction, and while I usually go for books with a romantic thread running through it, I just love great character and world building. And since I can hardly stand to let go of my favorite characters, I like series.

The Truth about Lord Stoneville (Hellions of Halstead Hall Series #1)

The Truth About Lord Stoneville - Sabrina Jeffries (Originally posted by Book Lovers Inc)Ah, so *that’s* why so many people love Sabrina Jeffries! Crazily enough, until now I happened to be one of the few historical romance fans that had not read anything from Jeffries, a well-known powerhouse in the genre. This series is apparently crafted around a minor character from her School for Heiresses series and a certain details about a true-life family from the English Georgian period. Amazing how seeds bloom, because The Truth About Lord Stoneville is a wonderfully fleshed out tale.It might still help to think of this book as Act I in a five act play, ultimately. From the very prologue, the story addresses the fatal situation with the Sharpe parents that had a profound effect on all five of their children. Each of the surviving Sharpes deal (often poorly!) with their shared tragedy in different ways, so much so that the family matriarch deems it necessary to take steps that will force them all to confront their self-destructive behavior and hopefully heal from old wounds. (And maybe pop out a baby or two as a result. ^_^) Thus forms the five books in the Hallstead Hall series, with The Truth About Lord Stoneville being the anchor that sets it all up (and really should be read before any other).That said, the truth about Lord Stoneville really does focus its narrative, plot, and tone on the titular character: this is definitely Lord Stoneville’s–Oliver Sharpe’s–bag, here. He’s the one with the deep seated issues preventing intimacy and commitment (whereas his love interest’s issues are more a prohibitive technicality than anything else). He believes he is like his cur of a father, perhaps even that he is destined for his father’s tragic fate were he to marry.This was how it began. First he’d handle a few matters, then he’d take on more and more, until one day the house and all it stoof for would have him in its grip, and he would become like Father, willing to do anything, marry anyone, to keep the blasted estate going.This inner turmoil, this fear, is what makes Oliver a rake you can root for; there’s a depth to his character that gives variety to the typical “unrepentant rake meets genteel lady” trope. Though love interest Maria Butterfield is not quite as tortured or complicated a character, so too does the character have more variety than would a run of the mill genteel lady. She has a strong backbone and wild streak that runs through her general adherence to propriety. And the two characters together do provide for a delightful battle of wits!For those who love wild HR characters that break rules, this book is full of them, in the Sharpe siblings. There’s a camaraderie amongst the lot that is undeniably charming and sweet, but it’s certainly more fun to see them drive each other to seeming madness with their hijinks. There’s plenty of action and adventure in this tale, with swords and betrayals and mysterious investigations. Never once did I feel like the story was dragging–it seemed to balance the emotional character development well with the high energy action and mystery.Since the initial premise of this book is meant to tie into the subsequent installments of the series, you’ll likely finish The Truth About Lord Stoneville wondering how the Sharpe family will ever resolve their long-standing problems. But if the first book is any indication, it’ll be a wild ride with multi-dimensional, engaging characters–the best of all possible worlds.. . .Verdict: With one very simple premise, a new series was born. This is a very cute tale, with steady pacing and very strong characters, main and supporting alike. The tone is balanced with equal parts angst and amusement. It’s got standalone power, but so much in the book sets up potential future storylines; prepare to feel instantly invested in this kooky family!
Taste the Heat (Love and Games, #1) - Rachel  Harris (Originally posted at Book Lovers Inc)This book may feature a lot of spicy Cajun food, but it’s made up of the sweetest of sweets! From its opening pages, Taste the Heat kept a smile on my face with its comfy hometown setting, the tight-knit familial connections, and the consistently dulcet tone of the storytelling.With the relatively short length (roughly 200 pages), this tale does a fine job of both setting the mood and atmosphere right away–even in the opening scene, the reader is made to really feel the hometown Louisiana vibe. The dilemmas that drive the storyline are introduced early and are fairly clear-cut, as well. [Jason (fire fighter) digs Colby (chef). But Jason can only offer a no-strings, loveless marriage of convenience, if anything at all. Colby also happens to be Jason's best friend's sister. And lastly, Colby's heart is off the market anyway, due previous relationship transgressions she'd witnessed in her life. What to do?!?!]What fleshes out those basic dilemmas is a whole lot of exploration into familial relationships and their influences on various aspects of the main characters’ lives. Though the romance is the centerpiece to Taste the Heat, the secondary characters–from Jason’s daughter to Colby’s siblings–and their connection to the main characters are just as gripping and crucial as the connection between the romantic leads.Though this story is a bit like flying on a light puffy cloud, there was a surprising degree of realism to the characters. In particular, I think Colby’s a smart cookie. She recognizes her own shortcomings, and has good sense to call herself out when she falls short of her own expectations. So refreshing to have a character who’s not completely oblivious to her own nature!The intimate moments in the book are more of the fade-to-black variety, but this works wonderfully with the overall sweet timbre of the story. Besides, there’s still plenty of breathless moments. “Sweetly spicy” is the phrase that comes to mind, and there’s no shortage of palpable electricity between the romantic leads.It’s so sweet to watch the main characters’ respective healing processes unfold. For Colby–a chef–her memories are tied to food. You feel her love of it as viscerally as you comprehend the pain to which certain cuisines are connected, for her. In this case, her healing comes through exploring sensory memories, making for a unique mechanism to propel the romance.Really, this book is one big ball of precious. At every moment, in every scene, you get glimpses of how cute and perfect the HEA will be in the end. Instead of detracting from the anticipation of reading, it makes the reader want to just sit and revel in the good vibes all day!. . .Verdict: This story is very easy to dive into, hard to step away from, and perfect for reading on a lazy afternoon. Just be prepared for some major “awwwwwww” moments! ^_^
Sins of the Demon - Diana Rowland (review originally posted at Book Lovers Inc)Well, where does one exactly begin? This latest book in Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian series is one awesome piece of urban fantasy, building on earlier series entries to strike a wonderful balance between plot momentum and character development, between the standalone mystery and the series mystery, and between the arcane and good ole’ fashioned PD detective work.In my BLI review of the previous installment, Secrets of the Demon (check out the review here), I’d described what I felt was a little bit of a disconnect between Kara’s theretofore character type (strong, razor-sharp, badass detective) and her seemingly new behavior type (vaguely clueless doormat). None of that is present here–Kara takes many moments to ponder and muse upon a great many things–on life, love, trust, identity, crime, and everything between. But even if she has emotional whirlwinds here, I felt she was clearly her own person, and more importantly all of those facets of her character fit much more clearly here.This book features such a well-crafted mystery that’s not too easy to pick apart at first blush. It doesn’t just drive major plot points, but also reveals so much about the inner workings of book’s cast of characters–none more so than Kara herself. Though the series’ has three books prior to this, ever more is being revealed about Kara to the point that you wonder whether you know her at all (even as, funnily enough, she herself wonders the very same about the people surrounding her, friends and family included). The supporting characters all–to a one–present their own deep mysteries, some larger and more complex than others, but all fascinating.With each new Kara Gillian book, the crime solving does seem to involve the arcane more extensively–but the elements that make this series work so well as crime/mystery fiction is still present. Diane Rowland uses the red herring masterfully. Her twists and turns kept me guessing then reassessing my guesses (as a good mystery yarn would, mind you). There is, at this point, two layers of mystery going on in the series–that which can be considered standalone for the book, and that which is slowly building upon itself with each new installment. (I should note here that this book could be read as a standalone, but half the fun and thrill would be lost.)Now, Rowland ain’t in a rush, ya’ll. :-) This book reveals the the major plot developments at an easy pace. But at this point, I’ve come to appreciate the slower development of the overarching mystery like a fine sherry–richer the longer it develops. If you’ve read this series up to now, you’ll know how Rowland likes to end these books. So be prepared to run out and buy book 5 (and pre-order book 6) ASAP. ^_^. . .Verdict: This series seems to get better with every installment. Sins of the Demon works as a standalone, but shines when taken as part of the whole Kara Gillian series. Great characters, solid mystery. The world is easy to slip into, hard to step away from, and is a great example of a well-balanced urban fantasy.

Generation V

Generation V - M.L. Brennan (Originally posted at Book Lovers Inc)When I first found out about this book and read its blurb, I was intrigued–a new UF centered around a seemingly unremarkable guy who happens to straddle an uneasy line between the human and vampire world. When I discovered the author’s writing influences (from Isaac Asimov and Emma Bull to Patricia Briggs and Jim Butcher), I knew I had to check out this book–all signs pointed to some legit UF. Turned out to be a good choice, too–Generation V is indeed a solid addition to the genre.We begin with the relative ordinariness of the protagonist, which first drew my interest and yet still caught me a bit off guard. Fortitude Scott (yep, that’s his name, don’t wear it out) is not an everyday superhero. In fact, far from it. He’s a guy that’s graduated from college in “one of those artsy majors,” who is still trying to find himself and hasn’t made much progress. It’s very quickly established that he’s the type of person that lets others (mostly human) steamroll right over him. He seems to find himself *completely* surrounded by those who mercilessly and shamelessly take advantage of him, with his full knowledge and complicity. Yep, Fort Scott is quite the beta male (or gamma male? what are they calling it these days?), so a reader’s tolerance for doormat behavior must be considerable to make it through (though in the end, rewarded).Vampires are certainly nothing new to urban fantasy, but Generation V breathes some new life into its mythology and most commonly-seen tropes. More biologically-detailed than most setups, the stages of vampirism are exhibited in Fort’s very interestingly named family members (brother Chivalry, sister Prudence, and mother Madeline).Time leeches away at our more human traits. At his age, Chivalry will avoid the afternoon sun, and he spends a lot of time complaining about how hats have gone out of style. My sister, Prudence, was a little girl when the British blockaded American ports during the revolution. She sticks to the shade as much as possible, and carries both an old fashioned parasol and a ready set of excuses about a family history of skin cancer.Our mother lives behind blackout curtains and can’t go outside until hours after the sun sets.Fort is the still-human example, whose physical weaknesses and vulnerabilities are laced with a bloodlust that creeps in periodically, a precursor to eventual full vampirism. And his fears about this are understandable…. His family comes across as a sort of vampiric version of the Bluths from Arrested Development (with Fort more like George-Michael, of course): all kinds of self-serving and messed up, yet entertaining and addictive in a twisted way.I’d definitely say this story builds slowly. It moves at a steady cantering pace, which for me took a little while to really get into, even with the fascinating universe building that began early on. There’s a fair share of action, mind you. It’s just that much of the story’s development involves Fort’s growth as an individual. It’s subtle, and cleverly woven into the fabric of a central “whodunit” sort of plot line. But every event, every new character, seems to be a something of a mirror reflecting, at once, what Fort’s afraid of being and what he’s striving to become. It can bring the reader closer to the protagonist–and all told everything seems to have its purpose in the story–but it does also require patience.Other than the family there’s a handful of supporting characters that flit in and out, but none are so amusing as Suzume Hollis. She’s clearly the sass factor, bringing the zinger one-liners and outrageous antics. Other than Fort, she’s perhaps the most dynamic character, and I found myself wanting to find out more of her backstory. She (and her people) is quite the bonus-novella waiting to happen.There are a number of little nods here and there to hip (or nerdy, w00t!) parts of our culture, keeping the vibe current and demonstrating the author’s knowledge of fantasy and science fiction lore. And the narrative doesn’t shy away from gritty, visceral, even brutal styling. You pick up this book, you’re in for equal parts humor, gore, drama, and adventure. Everything about Generation V speaks to big, awesome plans in subsequent installments. If you’re a UF fan looking for something fresh–and if you’re a patient reader–I’d pick up this book for sure.. . .Verdict: A unique series starter with lots of heart and character. It’s something of a slow burner, but builds steadily and with purpose to a satisfying (and appetite whetting) conclusion. I’d throw this one on the To Be Read list, if I were you–this series has got lots of promise.
Archangel's Kiss  - Nalini Singh Reread: Awesome book, no surprise. There's a lot of material covered in this one, so I'd recommend a reread for anyone before going through to the next installment.First Readthrough Review: (link to review)This installment covers some of the fallout from book one's ending, starting with Elena's "rebirth" as a brand spanking new angel. The setting is almost exclusively in what's called "The [Angel's:] Refuge"; as such, almost no time is spent on the goings-on of New York and the friends that live there; she's very much isolated from the world at large. However, the Refuge is a perfect place to watch Elena explore her new identity, as well as the role she will now be expected to play in society as a whole.I'm a big fan of Raphael (as obstinate as the man can get at times ^_^), so it pleased me immensely that this book both delves more deeply into his budding relationship with Elena, and scratches at the surface of his past demons (relatively speaking, of course).Because of the primary focus being on Elena's recovery and her coming to terms with what her new form entails, the book takes on a relatively leisurely pace for much of the duration. That's not to say that it is without tension or suspense, however: the story has it in spades as it saunters on to the climax near the book's end.**Spoilerish: avoid if you must** Speaking of the book's climax... it was riveting, explosive...everything you'd want in a UF book. One small exception I took was to what seemed like a major story thread being quickly wrapped up; I'm speaking here about the presentation--and extremely swift demise--of Elena's childhood torturer, Slater Patalis. That little interlude seemed quite abrupt, if not flat out random...especially given the considerable importance (and mysterious explanation) given to this character's devastating effect on Elena, in both books one and two. .....All in all, though, it's a very minor gripe--if even that--and really didn't detract from the overall magnitude of the book's climax. Even makes me wonder whether that particular thread really is sewn up for good....ooh! ^_^**End Spoilerish section** Like the heavenly setting of the Angel's Refuge, this book was simply magical. I absolutely cannot wait for the next installment.
The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5) - Courtney Milan Review to be posted shortly (approx. 7/6/2013).
Secrets of the Demon (Kara Gillian #3) - Diana Rowland (Review originally published at Book Lovers Inc:)So, it’s official–this series just keeps getting better and better. Secrets of the Demon continues to build upon the first two books of the Kara Gillian series–Mark of the Demon and Blood of the Demon–following in the same tradition of combining police procedural with paranormal intrigue and a dash of romance.Though a direct second sequel, this book is can function well enough as a standalone title, no easy task to carry out. Relevant background information is presented quickly and strategically, setting aside enough time to properly orient new readers without slowing down the story. A happy side effect of this is that it’s possible to read Secrets seamlessly after a long hiatus from the previous titles, particularly due to the subtle inclusion of little inside gags and innocuous references. Even for a not-so-long hiatus, the background info is not overwhelming or tedious for fans.More than ever before in this series, there’s an infusion of the main mystery/procedural with paranormal elements. In the first two books, Kara was the key that brought the supernatural to her police work, as something that was vaguely helpful to her cases. Here, the supernatural is cropping up everywhere, enough to provide a true challenge to her in every aspect of her life. As always, the mystery element provides an entertaining brain tease. The red herrings are subtle yet diverting, and there’s enough balance of investigation and action to keep things interesting. The standout element in my mind, though, is still how convincingly the author can merge subgenres. You get a legit procedural along with unique UF/PNR.Speaking of subgenres, the PNR aspect is back and in full effect! Even so, while I thoroughly enjoyed the romance, I personally found some difficulty in reconciling the extremely perceptive Kara with the clueless, vaguely doormat behavior she at times exhibited as part of the love…shape (is it a triangle? A straight line? A wavy line?!). This is someone who catches the most subtle of behavior in others. The unapologetic, hardworking, committed badass. So for me, some of the pendulum-like inner musings and “wait, so does that mean he likes me?” moments were slightly confounding. That said, the feeling did fade with time. And in any case, Kara carries a story very well and is fun to watch develop.Both major and minor characters are very well fleshed out in this tale–In fact, at times, the secondary characters provided the best laughs and the most vigorous nods of agreement. Sarge and his dry wit…Jill and her sage advice (you go, girl!). The author takes care with all characters…and she takes her time.Boy, does she ever take her time. ^_^ I must say, reading this book and this series is a lot like watching the show Lost–you simply *must* resign yourself not finding out major secrets, or else you’ll drive yourself to the limits of frustration and back. (Though, I guess with a title like Secrets of the Demon, I guessed we’ve been warned.)As has become a hallmark for this series, the last act is thrilling, addictive, and quite unexpected. And overall, Secrets of the Demon is quite a lot of fun, with plenty of content to make you want to reread, and enough juicy teasers to have you pining for the next installment. Sure, you can read this book without having tried the first two… but you’ll be hard pressed to stop at the end of this tale.. . .Verdict:With Secrets of the Demon, it seems Diana Rowland has settled into her characters and storytelling style, and is showing she’s got a master plan for the series. Still, it’s a very accessible book for newcomers. All signs point to this being a series that gets better with every installment.
Blood of the Demon (Kara Gillian Series #2) - Diana Rowland Second Readthrough. Just as enjoyable as last time, perhaps a bit more. I think some of Kara's limited ability to recognize some obvious signals from other people...because she's a super observant detective otherwise.Review from first readthrough can be found: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/101131857
Mark of the Demon (Kara Gillian Series #1) - Diana Rowland Second Readthrough. I think I would rate it just a smidge higher this time around, in part because with hindsight I can see why some elements were included, ones I'd once thought were weaknesses but were just very, very delayed payoffs.My first readthrough is reviewed here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/101131848
The Weird Girls - Cecy Robson (Review originally posted at Book Lovers Inc:)My Thoughts:Fun new series alert! I could really get used to novellas being the more common introduction to a new urban fantasy series. In The Weird Girls, we get a highly focused story with very simple aims–to introduce the tone of the series, highlight character motivations, and prove why Lake Tahoe was such a great location selection.Most importantly, the story is meant to highlight the four sisters, who have characteristics that both set them far apart and unify them with the others: Emme is a short, blond, befreckled hospice nurse with healing powers and a sweet-to-a-fault disposition; Shayna is a gorgeous, blade-loving and fun-loving perinatal nurse; Taran is a cardiac nurse and a blue-eyed, feisty little ball of lightning–almost literally; and Celia, the eldest, is a green-eyed, dark featured beauty who’s intense animal-within subconsciously scares the living daylights out of everyone she encounters–nevermind she helps deliver healthy babies for a living. The sisters are just different enough to make their interactions interesting and dynamic, and similar enough that they really come off believable as a tight-knit, amusing, loving band of sisters that call on each other for support in a world that doesn’t really welcome them:My sisters and I, while technically supernatural, didn’t fall under any mystical category. Therefore we didn’t quite belong anywhere.The plot itself is pretty simple, with a very linear path through three “trials” for Celia on the road to (hopeful) victory against a coven of powerful witches. But the story, itself a “back story,” also makes a few vague references previous incidents that could themselves be short stories; I wondered whether they were intentionally introduced in such a way as to make the reader wonder how important the information really is. I, for one, was very intrigued by the fact that Celia, the most intimidating of the sisters, has a possible romantic intrigue with…a figment of her imagination? Oooh, gimme more! It makes perfect sense and promises to reveal so much more about the woman herself.As she puts it:…he remained a figment of my wildest dreams. After all, the possibility of a male’s loving arms around me was the furthest thing from reality. Males didn’t seek my company. Period. So how could I ever convince one to hold me, to touch me, to see me as beautiful?Being from Northern California, and being familiar with the Lake Tahoe area, I was instantly intrigued by the choice of setting for this series. But I wanted to know if it would be made apparent to others why it was a compelling place to locate a paranormal band of gals. Well, the Tahoe area is (accurately, IMO) painted as a lush place that calms the mind and evokes that which might draw the mystical: unbound nature, with year-round greenery (on the trees), mystical mountains, and that gorgeous, amazing lake. (Yeah, I love me some Tahoe, how could you tell?)Though the very curse that creates the sisters’ powers is based on their dual heritage, there wasn’t a whole lot of focus on it. I was admittedly looking forward to some focus on the fact that the four women have some Central or South American roots, especially given the fact that it was so relevant to their lot in life. The author even referenced the influence of her own latin heritage in the author’s notes. And yet, I also got the sense that this is just the beginning, and that themes of identity will develop with even greater complexity later in the series.It took me a little while to get used to the no-frills, almost methodical approach to action. There is tender sentiment among the sisters, but it’s fierce and fast and acts before it speaks. This looks and sounds and acts like an action-packed, bloody adventure…with hints of fun amongst the sisters.All told, this story is whole and satisfying enough to stand on its own, I’m pleased to say. But one thing it also does is entice…it hints at some great potential adventures and further exploration into four dynamic and complex women. The first novel-length entry in the series was recently released, and I’m already looking forward to the adventure!
A Low Down Dirty Shane - Sierra Dean (Review originally posted at Book Lovers Inc:)My Thoughts:Just in case you’ve read part (or all) of the Secret McQueen series and are wondering…this new series takes place in that same universe. That’s right! If you loved Secret McQueen and her merry band of vampire hunters and paranormal creatures, you’ll be happy to know that this story has the same spark, the same wit, and even some of the same humor. (It’s a brief story, so I’ll try to keep this review brief, too.)Indeed, because this story is relatively short–novella length, about 92 pages according to the publisher–the pacing is quick, with the focus on straightforward cause-and-effect plot progression more than anything else. And it’s a simple: girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl needs boy to deflower her to save her from becoming a ritual sacrifice. (Lucky boy, huh?)The characters featured here, druid Siobhan O’Malley and vamp hunter Shane Hewitt (whom Secret fans should recognize), are painted as larger than life personalities that immediately attract (and antagonize) each other upon their abrupt meeting. Let the chemistry commence! Their smart one-liners and subtle kinship was easy to sink into.Along with the characters and their exciting, sexy attraction is a violent, bloody adventure that comes with a whole heaping of snark…and a healthy dose of sentiment. For so short a book, I was surprised to find that there was a good deal attention paid to the characters’ backgrounds and motivations.I did find the resolution of some of the main dilemma to be a bit perplexing in its abruptness, the lack of much explanation…but then again, this is a short tale. And then, this is clearly meant to be an establishing, baseline story on which future adventures will build and develop. There are some little plotting surprises here and there, keeping the story from being too predictable.If you’re a fan of the Secret mcQueen series, then you’ll absolutely love A Low Down Dirty Shane. For those who may not have read the Secret books, you can definitely start here, but just be warned that you’ll likely get the intense desire to start with the original series as soon as you finish this book. With its clever dialogue and fast, tight pacing, it showcases the high quality of storytelling that this series is known for. But even on its own, it’s going to be a damn good time.

When You Give a Duke a Diamond (Jewels of the Ton)

When You Give a Duke a Diamond - Shana Galen (Dual review originally posted January 2013 at Book Lovers Inc)Stella: I discovered Shana Galen when I read The Rogue Pirate’s Bride, the last one in her Sons of the Revolution trilogy and I liked it so much I knew I discovered a new favourite historical romance author, so when I heard that she would have a brand new trilogy soon I was excited! Alisha, have you read anything from her before, or was this your introduction to her writing?Alisha: Absolutely new to me author. Even the name was new to me when I picked up this book. It was the premise of When You Give a Duke a Diamond that made me intrigued to read it. So glad I did, because Galen clearly knew what she was doing. The story starts with such tight, focused intent. For all that I was hooked by the book description, the prologue was even more intriguing.Stella: I agree, my interest was piqued when I read the blurb, but Shana Galen instantly got me hooked on the story once I started reading it. Both the concept (of a rigid stuck up duke falling for a carefree mistress) and the characters were exciting, and I found myself devouring the pages.Alisha: I immediately had to know more about “The Three Diamonds,” the three courtesans that live like rock stars in an era where reputation is everything. It was fascinating that the perceptions about them, their public personas, meant very nearly everything to them–their independence and well being, most importantly. Usually when reading an historical romance, you’ll find some sort of inclusion of the ton and how important it is to keep a good reputation. But here it was an even more acutely felt aspect. So much at stake! So much tension!Stella: Yes! They were celebrated and gazed upon as superstars, and I found it very interesting (since it was so unusual), that the Three Courtesans always considered how certain things/acts would affect their public image “diamond persona,” since it was their livelihood and they had to take all the ramifications into consideration. It was very interesting and eye-opening, because it certainly read very realistic and believable, it made me understand the pressure they were dealing with under their glamourous seeming lives.Alisha: And it made Juliette immediately likeable to me…and set me up to be angry at the Duke of Pelham before he even met the heroine. Given they become involved long before they actually meet, that’s a feat. Impressive when an author can pull off such strong feelings about the characters so early on.Stella: Yes, both characters were wonderful as Shana Galen made them so colourful and vivid, that they stepped off the pages and took on a life of their own quite from the start. I had my doubts as to how the author could make the readers sympathize and feel for/relate to a famous, celebrated courtesan, but bravo to Shana Galen, above all she made Juliette human and vulnerable and I liked her instantly.Alisha: And Pelham… such a cad! :-)Stella: In a couple of reviews I read that some readers had problem warming to him since he was such a stiff bore, but I didn’t have that problem. I understood why he had such a strict regimen in his life and that he was brought up this way to live his life for his responsibilities, and it only made me feel for him and hope he would soon find happiness with Juliette, who hopefully would brighten and alleviate his life.“No, I’m not made of ice,” she said quietly. “Neither are you, but we both have hard outer shells.” She gazed at him, those blue eyes penetrating like icicles, only far, far warmer. “You know where my shell came from. What about yours?”“I’m a duke. I’m expected to be—”“Pompous?”He frowned at her. “Formidable.”Alisha: Indeed. And even when he was being unreasonable and churlish with Juliette…so ingrained was his insistence on “proper” ducal behavior that he persisted with his reprehensible behavior even though fully aware of its silliness. Pelham behaved quite unfairly sometimes, but his understanding of his own behavior–and his later struggle to break free of it–made the difference.He knew he was acting in the most ridiculous manner imaginable, and yet he seemed unable to stop himself.Stella: Oh I loooved Will. He was like Mr. Darcy: aloof, rigid, but only because he was uncomfortable in social settings never having been used to them. He had a warm heart and he was a gentleman deep down. ;-) And I loved what a complex character Juliette was: besides the glowing and glamourous Duchess of Dalliance she was also simply Juliette, the lonely and wounded young woman only her closest friends got to see and know. She had vulnerability yet vivacity and wit, her humour and light really did bring out the sparks between her and the hero and added some much appreciated humour to the story:“His Grace and I are thinking of eloping via Gretna Green.”“Oh, dear.” Rosie secured a section of hair with a pin. “Shall I set out your traveling clothes and pack your valise?”“Not quite yet. I think I shall wait for an introduction to His Grace first.”Alisha: Loved that line. ^_^ Admittedly, all the build up of Pelham being such a stick in the mud and Juliette being lively and seemingly carefree…made it all the more spectacular when they clashed. Glorious fireworks in full color.Stella: *nods vigourously* They were really true opposites with Will being all that is proper while Juliette was the seemingly carefree social butterfly, full of light, dazzle and laughter. I loved how they complemented each other and how, due to Juliette’s influence, Will got to appreciate the small pleasures of life and enjoy them.Alisha: Though opposites, they made for a logical match, too. They’re both larger-than-life figures, bound by public opinion and desirous of the ability to just…be. To forget about expectation and live (and love) as they each wished to. Galen made that very clear, and it lent a greater sense of purpose to the characters and the story itself. Then there was the murder mystery. Was the inclusion of that element to your taste, Stella?Stella: Oh yes Alisha! Lately I have discovered that I just LOVE when historical romance and mystery are mashed together (in my opinion there aren’t enough stories of that kind), and I very much enjoyed how Shana Galen made When You Give a Duke a Diamond much more than a “simple” romance story. It was exciting and kept me glued to the page; I not once felt it forced or unsuitable for the story.Alisha: It took me some time to get used to the sudden shift in tone and focus; I swear that at one point I was so confused that I thought it was a paranormal book (and the antagonist was a vampire)! But eventually I got used to Galen’s narrative style and came to appreciate that fine balance of love and murderous intrigue.Stella: Lol! :-DAlisha: Speaking of Galen’s style… the story, at times, got really quite dark. Brutal violence, and themes of domestic abuse in various contexts. It could have really sunk what was marketed as a wild romp. But it was included for very specific reasons, and was never gratuitous. And it worked. Points again to Galen.Stella: Yes, it was a bit surprising since I usually expect historical romances to be even lighter and fluffier than contemporary romances, kind of like pastel coloured meringue puffs, so yes, it was surprising that this one included some darker aspects (but readers have no fears, these were just referenced to as past events).Verdict:Stella: I have to say I really enjoyed that besides the romance there was intrigue, murder, mystery and humour in When You Give a Duke a Diamond. With two well developed, three-dimensional, vivid characters it was a very entertaining and romantic read, and I can’t wait to read the next two books in the Jewels of the Ton trilogy, thankfully I won’t have to wait long, since Book #2, If You Give a Rake a Ruby will be released in March!Another lovely story by Shana Galen, I give it 4 stars!Alisha: This book displays a nice balance of romance and adventure. The tone of When You Give a Duke a Diamond took me for a ride through moments of levity, danger, sadness, and solemnity, and I appreciated Galen’s seamless transitions between each. The real highlight, however, is the gloriously antagonistic interactions between the main characters, both of whom are well-defined and identifiable from an early stage. A thoroughly enjoyable read with a very clear setup for subsequent books.I give When You Give a Duke A Diamond 4 stars!

Moonglow (Darkest London, #2)

Moonglow - Kristen Callihan (Originally posted December 2012 at Book Lovers Inc)After the excellent series opener that was Firelight, I was not sure what to expect of this book, Moonglow. So much of the first book’s success was built on the two main characters, their delicious antagonism and slow-burn romance. To reproduce it exactly wouldn’t be fun, but why mess up a formulation that works? Moonglow manages to do both, seamlessly transitioning from its preceding installment and yet establishing a unique and memorable experience in historical paranormal romance.The character of Ian Ranulf, Marquis of Northrup and onetime heir apparent to the werewolf throne, is a complex one whose tale really spans the length of two books. In fact, in order to really appreciate his full journey one ought to read book one in this series, Firelight. From that book, Northrup emerges a nemesis, almost, of the first book’s male lead. It speaks well to the author’s skills of character development that Northrup is made to seem despicable and is yet likable.I like to frame my understanding of the female lead, Daisy Northrup, in the context of her two other sisters (both of whom serve as leads of their own installments). She’s a woman of great beauty and keen intelligence, but she sees herself as nowhere near the beauty of her younger sister Miranda, and just a shadow of the formidable mind that is her older sister Poppy. In other words, she holds much draw, but frames it all the wrong way. So it’s a pleasure for the reader to follow her development beyond her own stale notions of her power and ability. I do wish that some of Daisy’s paranormal powers were explored a bit more; it seemed a bit like an obligatory yet vestigial element, at times. But she herself was always an enigmatic figure.What I most enjoyed about this book was the delightful interplay between the main characters, and the superb emotion that’s wrought from them. Daisy and Northrup are And as for the emotion…once this story’s plot really opens up, it grips you in a pathos that cuts deeply. It’s always nice when, even though you know you’re reading a romance (and hence are all but guaranteed an HEA), you sit on pins and needles worried for the romantic leads, unsure of how they’re ever going to overcome their dire situations.The murder mystery that’s woven through the story is a deep and twisting one, one that requires the reader to pay very close attention or risk becoming a bit confused. Having read the book through, I must say that there are some small plot points that I still don’t completely understand, mostly involving the mysterious attacker that plagues London’s society. I dunno, I might have blinked, missed something in the quick succession of minor but important details.As with Firelight, Moonglow really depicts the city of London as gritty, with a dank atmosphere in which you can find bright spots here and there. It’s a character unto itself, and though there’s a playfulness in narrative tone every so often, you can almost feel the heavy fog around you.As with Northrup’s tentative character development in book one, so too is there a tentative character development of the main character of the next book. Winston Lane’s introduction as a central-figure-to-be is done rather seamlessly, integrating it fully into the main plot progression and avoiding uneven storytelling.In fact, I’d say the stage has been magnificently set for book three. There is no cliffhanger, per say, just a fine mess of another situation that reflects the realities of this world and the hopes of any hopeless romantic. :-) Count me in for the next round, please!
Touch of Power - Maria V. Snyder (Originally posted December 2012 at Book Lovers Inc)It took all of about a paragraph or two for me to be hooked by this book. The plotting of this story is very sharp in the beginning, quickly setting up elements that are intended to play out at a more leisurely pace throughout the rest of the novel.If you’ve read Maria V. Snyder’s Study series, you may find a few similarities that float to mind while reading Touch of Power. You’ve got a strong and capable yet doomed heroine with a unique ability; an antagonistic romantic intrigue; impossible choices with life and death; uncertain truths. And yet, I myself thought back to Poison Study only once or twice. Touch of Power‘s story, world, and characters…they all commanded attention to the point that any nominal similarities ceased to matter.This story features a woman of 20 years of age…but this is not a Young Adult / New Adult novel. If fact, it becomes almost irrelevant what age and life phase the protagonist is in, as she’s lived to see so much pain, beauty, triumph, suffering. Avry has depth and believability factor. She’s immediately likable, immediately set up as someone a reader can root for and want to protect from harm and persecution.Once again Snyder creates a great cast of characters, starting with Avry and continuing with her band of misfits. I found that, while reading the book, I wasn’t taking character notes as I typically do; I likened it to the fact that these personas were interesting enough to consistently keep me engaged, and memorable enough to stand out from a deep first-person narrative. That likeability factor easily applies to the group of “good guys.” And for better or worse, the “bad guys” have enough charisma to keep you either mildly conflicted or deeply disturbed.Touch of Power‘s setting, though classifiable as that of a high fantasy (deservedly so), also feels somewhat post-apocalyptic. A faded world that’s only a shadow of what it used to be. It’s a fascinating place, the Fifteen Realms; surely Snyder has more unpublished material with more detail about it; there were so many little spaces in the tale that could have branched off into enough world building to fill numerous books. The Realms, politics, religions, magics. Lots of rules and structures that make this world feel like a carefully crafted creation. Personally, I feel the best world building is not necessarily the most detail-filled, but the one in which each detail feels deliberate and crucial to something–whether it’s something grandiose or something minor the reader will never come across in the finished novel.I’m almost loathe to discuss the romance, because part of its magic is that is creeps upon you; you might catch the hallmarks of a budding romance early on (especially if you’re a big fan of the genre), but it’s not absolutely central to the tale. No, wait…it is a crucial element, but it’s not the point of the book. Still, it’s sweet, it’s alluring, and it’s fun to watch.I do feel like this is a springboard book; that is to say, while it has many of its own merits (see everything written above), it’s deliberately only scratching the surface of an overall arc. For some, this may translate to the book seeming incomplete, unresolved, stopgap. And in truth, I did end the book with far more questions than I thought possible. But there is so much promise that the reader will be very much interested in the resolution of these amassed questions.In Touch of Power, you’ll find many delicious dilemmas that grab your attention and keep you emotionally involved. Snyder is all about the storytelling odyssey; the tale that prioritizes the protagonist’s growth in the context of an epic journey and world upheaval. I’m down with that…so my next steps? Read book two ASAP! :-)
The Shattered Dark - Sandy Williams Forgive me ahead of time if this review ends up seeming like a spiral of nonsensical rambling. It’s just that I’m excited about this book! I began it expecting an enjoyable read, and finished it feeling like I got an amazing one. (Feel free to check out my review of the first book in this series, The Shadow Reader.) I’ll try to keep this review spoiler free, k?The Shattered Dark takes place approximately two weeks after the conclusion of The Shadow Reader. And like many urban fantasy series, its books are pretty closely tied. The experience is best with all context. It doesn’t even need to be fresh–I had forgotten some names and plot details from the first book when I’d started this one–but the thread between the two books is tightly woven, and the soul searching that protagonist McKenzie Lewis struggles with persists (the story goes into much more detail about McKenzie’s difficulties here, past and present…to fascinating effect). She wants to find her place in the world–HER world, Earth–as well as explore the possibilities of her relationship with Aren, fae rebel warrior.The Shattered Dark–and the series, for that matter–lives at the intersection of urban fantasy and high fantasy. For fans of one or the other, reading this series is a neat way to get a taste the other. For fans of both, this is an amazing concoction of expert plotting, pacing, character development, and rich world building.First a word to the pacing/plotting. This book begins with an action scene, but for the most part, the earlier parts of this tale contain a fair bit introspective exploration by McKenzie. Precisely halfway through the book, however, isht gets real. ^_^ Then you need to hold on to the Oh Sh** handle (McKenzie’s term ^_^) of that car. Plot developments come with such impact that it’s hard to find a good place to “pause” in reading (total high-class “problem,” that).Now, about the world building. The book includes an image of a map depicting the fae Realm and its regions, and new concepts are subtly explained as they are introduced…but man, this world is mighty intricate and detailed for an urban fantasy. Not to say that UFs aren’t generally intricate… but in the case of The Shattered Dark, you get the sense that there’s a whole extra set of books out there–whether in the author’s mind or in physical form–that delve into the politics, the history, the culture, the language, the spiritual beliefs, the social structure of this world. You get glimpses of it everywhere. I’d love to be the archivist for this world. ^_^There is a lot of attention paid to character relationships and connections. That’s what I think is key here (and it’s certainly one of my favorite aspects of the book): the dynamics between characters are highly complex and involve some of the toughest issues to navigate–discrimination, split allegiances, vengeance, misperceptions, self-identity, love in its many forms. In my notes on the book, I wrote down “Constellation of characters”–what I meant was that characters in this series are connected, all of them…not just to the protagonist, but to each other, whether obviously or subtly. One character’s actions really do have ripple effects, and even minor characters serve a greater storytelling purpose.The mark of a solid series book is when you finish it with the NEED to read the next installment. In the best cases, a crazy cliffhanger isn’t needed; just a bit of promise, a glimpse into the multitude of directions and possibilities that the next book(s) will bring. The Shattered Dark is that kind of book that both satisfies and leaves you wanting more in the best possible way. It’s romantic; it’s thrilling and intense; it’s thought-provoking; and at times, it’s funny and light-hearted. If you like your high fantasy, this urban fantasy is right up your alley.

Raphael (Vampires in America Series #1)

Raphael - D.B. Reynolds Second readthrough: August 27 to August 30, 2012First readthrough: September 28 to October 01, 2011Review (originally posted at Book Lovers Inc):You know, it’s always the rating range between 3 and 4 that trip me up. The reading experience I had reading Raphael–first installment in the PNR series Vampires in America–was hot and cool (never cold ^_^) for me. I kept vacillating between between a 3 and 3.5 for the early parts of the book, and between a 3.5 and 4 during the later scenes. In the end, I’ve got to admit that this is a solid start to a paranormal series–one that has a slightly atypical characteristic to it (more on that later).So…to explain some of my senseless rambling about ratings for this book. I first give props to the rendering of the heroine, Cynthia Leighton (or Cyn). She’s a capable, intelligent, reasonable person with just enough imperfection to render her realistic and identifiable. I appreciated her clear-eyed perspective on the situations she encountered. It was very hard to fault this woman’s logic, even in the face of particularly difficult situations. I really like that in a character, especially one that’s dropped into the middle of many a complicated, morally ambiguous situation.The hero, Raphael, is one mysterious mofo; fortunately, this seems to play to his advantage, creating an allure or sorts. What seems at first to look like a “typical” ruthless, powerful vampire master from any number of PNRs grows into a fairely nuanced character.Together, Cyn and Raphael were rather intriguing. The tension between the two was very slow to build, but this felt somewhat suited to their natures. They didn’t need to fall all over each other for it to be clear that there was something magnetic, just below the surface, pulling them ever closer. There was no need for grand overtures or even verbalizations of affection; the subtle expressions and actions spoke volumes.On the other hand, I went through this book feeling like I’d read most every aspect elsewhere, in one version or another. It started out like so many paranormal romances, and it didn’t grip me until well into the tale. Fortunately, the sum of all this story’s parts are rather enjoyable. And it eventually became clear that this book–and series–is a slow burner, with potential to really get going later.…which leads me to that “atypical characteristic” that I’d mentioned earlier. Though this book has almost all of the hallmarks of a standard paranormal romance, Raphael and Cyn’s adventure doesn’t end with this book. That’s right: the sequel continues their story. Now, I’m not usually one for suspended wrap-ups in romances, I must say that the ending of this book was appropriate. As I mentioned before, I read through this book often feeling like something wasn’t finished…like the story only scratched the surface of its possibilities. As I reached the end, I realized why. The hero’s and heroine’s complexities make an additional installment a reasonable move. That can be found in the book Jabril, available now.Bottom Line: All in all, this is a fun series opener. Raphael take some time to create that all-important emotional “hook.” For me, that was partly because the individual elements of this book are admittedly not earth-shattering or brand new. The sum of this story’s parts, however, are solid. I’m not going to lie–I cannot wait to crack open book two to see if it builds on the strengths of Raphael and develops further uniqueness. And I’d *definitely* recommend this book if you’re a fan of vampire stories and strong, capable PNR heroines.