review: afterlight

Afterlight by Elle Jasper (2010)

Afterlight is the first book in Elle Jasper’s vampire/paranormal romance series, The Dark Ink Chronicles. Yes, I’m bringing you a vampire romance novel today, so let’s get the preliminaries out of the way, shall we? If you liked the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, but at the same time prefer your vampire romances to be written for adult readers (as opposed to young adult readers), you will like this first book in the Dark Ink Chronicles. I stumbled upon Afterlight while browsing the shelves of my local used bookstore. It’s been on my bookshelf for at least a year now, but with loads of time on my hands at the moment and nowhere to really go (I read this book during my state’s stay-at-home order prompted by COVID-19), I’ve been searching for new series to dive into and focused on clearing my physical and virtual bookshelves. I decided to finally pick up Afterlight, and the truth is that it kept me up past my bedtime and then kept me entertained for the better part of a Saturday. At the time of this writing, this book isn’t available from my local library or through Kindle Unlimited, but if you find it on your next trip to your local used bookstore and you like vampire romances, it’s worth your book dollars.

Afterlight is set in Savannah, Georgia. While many of the stories I have read that are set in Savannah emphasize the prevalence of ghosts, this book offers a slightly different view of Savannah by giving the protagonist, Riley Poe, an opportunity to discover the existence of the supernatural beneath the surface of the normal, human world she has always known. Riley is twenty-five and owns her own tattoo shop, called Inksomnia. She’s also the guardian of her fifteen-year-old brother, Seth. Though the novel is careful to stingily dole out insights into Riley’s past, we know from the very beginning of the story that her teenage years were wild and troubled. Two of the people who helped her get her life back on track are Preacher and his wife, Estelle. They are Gullah and own the shop next door to Riley’s, called Da Plat Eye (more on them later). When the story begins, Riley is tracking down her errant brother, who has gone to one of the local cemeteries with a group of his friends after hours. But it’s her brother’s visit to the cemetery that night and the trouble it brings that sends Riley’s world spiraling out of control and pushes Riley out of the normal life she’s known and into a world where vampires are real. Riley’s need to save her brother is what drives the action plot of the novel, but it’s also how she meets Eli Dupré, which in turn sends the love plot into motion.

The story is told entirely from Riley’s first-person POV. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know what I’m going to say next—the first book in a series must have a compelling protagonist if the writer wants readers to anxiously await and come back for the second book. The question then, of course, becomes, is Riley Poe a compelling protagonist? In my opinion, Riley is interesting enough and unpredictable enough to keep me turning the page to find out how she handles discovering she lives among vampires. Jasper is careful to make sure that Riley has secrets, secrets she isn’t quick to unravel even as her attraction to Eli Dupré grows stronger. Riley is also what has come to be known as the “strong female protagonist” and yet there is also a tension between Riley being capable enough to take care of herself and smart enough to know when she needs help. Because of her past, it’s easy to argue the possibility that Riley is on a redemption arc, and this would explain why one of her primary motivations is to protect those she loves as well as innocents who are being preyed upon, just as she was preyed upon in her youth. Riley is likable and readers will find her first person narrative easy to slip into and tag along with her as her adventure unfolds. There are some characters you simply love, characters who you cannot get enough of, characters who make you feel all of the emotions. Riley Poe wasn’t one of these characters for me. Not yet, anyway. I liked Riley, but she wasn’t so compelling to me as a character that she’s become my latest character obsession (we all have those, don’t we?). Her character is well-developed in the first book in this series, and she has enough potential for me to be willing to give Riley Poe another opportunity to totally win me over.

If you’re writing the first book in a series, the supporting cast is also of vital importance. Afterlight actually has a strong supporting cast with lots of potential for creating a richer and more intricate story world. I’ve already mentioned Riley’s brother, Seth, but there’s also Riley’s best friend, Nyx, who is also a tattoo artist and works in Riley’s tattoo shop, Inksomnia. So far, Nyx plays the role of human who is still blissfully unaware of the existence of vampires. In regard to mentor/parental figures, Riley has close relationships with Preacher and his wife, Estelle. They have been surrogate parents to Riley and are also the characters she is most likely to go to when she needs advice. I have also already mentioned Eli Dupré as the love interest in the novel. Inevitably, readers of the Twilight series will compare him to Edward Cullen (not an entirely unfair comparison since these two novels mostly live within the same broad genre of vampire romance, even if the intended audiences differ). Eli is…definitely not a carbon copy of Edward Cullen. He is intriguing and, at least in this first book in the series, compelling enough that when he was absent from the narrative for a while, I wanted him to come back. He’s not the most compelling vampire I’ve met in my reading adventures and also isn’t on my list of latest character obsessions (if you really want a new character obsession in the form of a vampire, go and find Matthew Clairmont), but again, he’s developed well enough to make me want to see what he does next. The supporting cast is rounded out by Eli’s vampire family, consisting of his mother and father, Gilles and Elise, and his three younger siblings, Phin, Luc, and Josie. In this regard, the Dupré family reminds me a lot of the Cullen family. They take Riley—as well as her brother and even Nyx—under their protection and her fight to save Seth becomes their fight as well. Jasper really has done a really good job of offering a supporting cast that readers will relate to and offering more than just cardboard characters intended to fill a particular role in the story.

Jasper does make a couple of creative choices that typically turn me off as a reader. One is the use of dialect—used primarily by Preacher and Estelle, but also when one of the Gullah characters speaks; the other is the heavy use of slang—used by all of the characters who are close in age to Riley. After a while, both got a little tedious for me. I know, I know. Sometimes I can be a snobby reader, but part of my job here is to offer insight into the book that you won’t necessarily pick up on in the back cover copy or the short sample available for download. If these devices bug you, then you’ve been warned.

When it was time for me to rate this book, I couldn’t decide between three stars and four stars. Really, I wanted to be able to give it a 3.5 star rating, or maybe even 3.75. I didn’t love this book, but it’s so much better than a lot of paranormal romances out there. I didn’t want to rush to download the next book to my kindle, but I did put the next book in the series, Everdark, in my shopping list so that I won’t forget about it. Afterlight was a good diversion and entertained my mind, and if you like vampire romances I do think you’ll enjoy this one.

Have you read Afterlight? What did you think?

review: echoes of fire

Beware: Echoes of Fire is a racy read. It contains naughty language and graphic sexuality. If you prefer sweet romances, this one is not for you.

Echoes of Fire by Suzanne Wright (2018)

Echoes of Fire is the first book I’ve read by Suzanne Wright, and I’m asking myself how I have missed stumbling upon this author until now. I was absorbed by the story and the characters right from the beginning and stayed up past my bedtime on a Sunday night because I didn’t want to put the book down. And that was after having spent most of the day with my head in the book. Wright has instantly gone to my “read more books by this author” list. Echoes of Fire is the fourth book in Wright’s Mercury Pack series, shifter romances set in a contemporary world where humans know about the existence of shifters. Not having read any of the other books in this series (or its sister series featuring the Phoenix Pack), I can assure you that this book definitely stands alone. Concerned about your book budget? At the time of this writing, Echoes of Fire is included with your Kindle Unlimited subscription (if you’ve got one), but it’s not available through my local library. But listen, this book is worth your book dollars. Especially if you love racy romances and shifter romances that are well-written, fast-paced, and totally engaging.

This is the story of Madisyn and Bracken. Madisyn is a feline lone shifter who spends half her time working in a shelter, where she occasionally relocates shifters looking for a safe home and a fresh start. The other half of her time is spent working in The Velvet Lounge, a bar owned by the Mercury Pack. Though she doesn’t belong to the pack, she is under their protection, which becomes important when she refuses to give an Alpha bear shifter the information he wants about Daisy, a young bear shifter who Madisyn recently relocated. The thing Madisyn wants most is her independence and freedom, and learning Bracken is her true mate threatens to rob her of the life she thinks she wants. Bracken is a wolf shifter who has become isolated from his pack as a result of a massacre-type event that killed his entire family. Driven by vengeance, he tracks down those responsible for the deaths of his family, but now he is drifting through life with no real purpose and can’t find any joy or happiness in anything. He is on the verge of leaving the pack to go roaming, but learning that Madisyn is his true mate changes his mind. What Bracken needs most is confidence in his ability to protect those he loves, and the action plot of the novel challenges his confidence time and time again. Both Madisyn and Bracken are likable, fully developed characters, and I quickly got invested in them as a couple.

The story is told through Madisyn and Bracken’s alternating third-person POVs. Through their narratives you get to see several of the other members of the Mercury and Phoenix packs, who make up the supporting cast. One thing that stands out to me about Echoes of Fire is that since Wright keeps her lens tightly focused on Madisyn and Bracken, the supporting cast doesn’t jump out at me as much as other books. Sure, Madisyn’s closest friend, Makenna plays the role of BFF, but the sense of just how isolated Bracken has allowed himself to become is reinforced by the seeming lack of a BFF character for him. That being said, the antagonists of the story feel a lot more vivid than the supporting cast. The Alpha bear who continues to come for Madisyn, intent upon forcing her to tell him what he wants to know, as well as the characters he pulls into his plot to get what he wants, are the side characters that interested me most. Well, of course there was also Vinnie, the leader of the Olympus Pride who has unofficially adopted Madisyn into their group and come to her aid when she needs it. Still, I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was the laser-like focus on Madisyn and Bracken. They never disappear from the story and their narrative on what is happening at any given moment in the story was one of the most compelling aspects of the book. One of the writing rules I do my best to follow is to present compelling main characters, people who readers want to keep following through the story, who they simply can’t look away from. Wright has nailed that rule in Echoes of Fire and in doing so, gained a raving fan.

In case you missed it, I recommend this book to readers who love racy shifter romances with a strong subplot that brings a little mayhem and danger into the lives of the protagonists, threatening everything that matters most to them. Echoes of Fire is one of those books you will have no regret reading during the course of a lazy Sunday while ignoring all the household chores and general noise of everyday life. If you’re looking for the next book escape, put Echoes of Fire on the top of your to-be-read pile.

Have you read Echoes of Fire or any of the previous books in the Mercury Pack series? What do you think?

p.s. Since reading Echoes of Fire, I have gone on to read five other books by Suzanne Wright and not one of them has been a disappointment.

NOTE: I enjoy reading steamy romance novels but it’s not easy to find quality reads in this category. It can be challenging—even after you’ve read the back cover blurb and a sample—to know for sure if a particular book is worth your time and money. If you’re a reader like me who likes this category but wants quality over quantity, then drop a comment below and let me know if this review was helpful to you.

review: a dangerous hunger

Beware: A Dangerous Hunger is a racy read. It contains naughty language and graphic sexuality. If you prefer sweet romances, this one is not for you.

A Dangerous Hunger by J.S. Scott (2014)

A Dangerous Hunger is the second book in the paranormal romance series, The Sentinels. I haven’t read book one in this series and have to admit that was a mistake on my part. After finishing A Dangerous Hunger, my guess is that the books in this series are best read in order. That being said, I’ll do my best to avoid revealing any spoilers.

In the world of The Sentinels, there is a war raging between good and evil to which the humans of the world are blind. Standing on the side of evil are the Evils, demons created by the mythological Greek gods who were banished to the demon realm existing between Earth and Hades when they got out of control. However, with the power of the Greek gods waning to almost nothing, the Evils have been able to break free from the demon realm and terrorize humans. Enter the Sentinels. Also created by the Greek gods, the Sentinels stand on the side of good and were tasked with the responsibility of keeping humans safe from the Evils. The Sentinels are human men turned into immortal demons, their souls plunged into eternal darkness. That is, until they meet their radiants—mates who will bring light to their existence. It is within this world that the story of Talia and Drew unfolds. Continue reading

review: haunted on bourbon street

Haunted on Bourbon Street by Deanna Chase (2011)

It’s a ghost story + a love story + a cozy mystery sans the murder and has touches of the supernatural. Oh, and it’s also book one in the Jade Calhoun series. The mishmash makes it a challenge to categorize Haunted on Bourbon Street in a specific genre. It’s not exactly urban fantasy and it’s not exactly paranormal romance. My inability to pigeonhole the book into a genre doesn’t erase the fact that I did enjoy this book. It wasn’t great but it was good enough to keep me engaged and make me curious about what happens in the next book in the series. If you’re on a book budget (welcome to the club!) the good news is that with this series the first one is free, and I noticed that it’s also available through my library. So if you’re looking for something to read but have also blown your book budget for the month, consider this one as an option to feed your book habit until your budget is back in the black.

Let’s start with the protagonist, shall we? Jade Calhoun is an Idaho transplant who has recently settled in New Orleans. She is an empath and able to sense the emotions of others—this is her superpower, the thing that makes her different from everyone else and will be the source of challenges and obstacles to overcome as her character develops. The thing I like about Jade is that she’s real—she makes mistakes and bad decisions just like people do. Another thing I like about Jade is that she feels like a contemporary, 21st century female protagonist. If you’ve visited my blog before you already know the next question that’s on my mind—is she a compelling protagonist? The kind of main character you absolutely can’t resist and enthusiastically follow through his or her adventures? Jade didn’t draw me in from the first paragraph, but she definitely grew on me, and by the end of the story I definitely wanted to keep reading to see what happened next. The best answer I have right now is that I’m on the fence. I’m willing to go on another adventure with Jade but in the back of my head I’m thinking the next one better be good.

While I might be on the fence about Jade, I’m ready to go along with the supporting cast of characters. There’s Pyper, her new friend and boss at The Grind, the cafe where Jade works. Pyper is the say anything, do anything character that will push Jade’s limits and be a catalyst for her growth as the series continues (this is just my guess, I’ll let you know if I got this one right or not). There’s Aunt Gwen, who still lives in Idaho and can sense Jade’s moods from afar. Aunt Gwen doesn’t have a big role in this book, but I envision that it’s a possibility that she could be more of a presence in future books and she’s also one of the mentor characters for Jade. Bea, a white witch who owns an herbal shop, also has the potential to become the wise woman/mentor figure in the series. We also meet Kat, Jade’s best friend, though how this friendship will play out as the series continues is a mystery and honestly, Kat is probably the character I like the least. Finally, we come to Kane, the love interest and other half of the love story. Kane is cut from the protector cloth so I have instant love for him, though Chase is careful to keep him shrouded in some mystery throughout the story. I’m eager to see how his character is developed in future books. All in all, though, the supporting cast is a good one, and the best part is that Chase succeeds in giving each supporting character enough screen time to introduce them, show how they fit into Jade’s life, and begin to develop them as characters we can get invested in and care about. They are not mere devices used to propel the plot forward and keep the protagonist’s character arc in motion.

As the title of the book suggests, Haunted on Bourbon Street is a ghost story. Jade has recently moved into an apartment above the strip club, Wicked, which is owned by Kane and right next door to The Grind. It doesn’t take long for Jade to learn that her new home is haunted, and this is the catalyst that sets the mystery plot into motion. With the help of her old and new friends, the mystery of the ghost is unraveled, the ghost (read: antagonist) is vanquished and order is restored (at least until the next adventure begins). This familiar rhythm is what ultimately makes me place this book into the mystery section of my bookshelf. It has romance and it has elements of the supernatural, but in the end, discovering the identity of the antagonist, bringing him to justice and restoring order is the conventional setup of a mystery novel. That’s what you’ll find in Haunted on Bourbon Street.

I stumbled upon this series because I found myself on Kate Danley’s website (author of the Maggie Mackay Magical Tracker series, which I recommend starting if you haven’t) and she had a link to a box set of seven books that were series starters. Because I’m me and can’t resist sampling a new series, I clicked through and read through the synopsis of each one and decided to give the Jade Calhoun series a try. I know that otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have discovered this series because it’s not exactly what I normally read, and yet it has all of the elements I love in a good book. I’m glad I tried this one and have already added the second book in this series, Witches on Bourbon Street, to my to-be-read list. If you like mysteries but want something that isn’t as…sanitized as some cozy mysteries can be (this is not a knock on cozies as I’ve read my fair share of the category, they just tend more toward clean and wholesome and lacking any kind of sharp edges, which doesn’t align well with my reading preferences) then give this one a try.

Have you read Haunted on Bourbon Street or any other books by Deanna Chase? What did you think?

review: destined for an early grave

Destined for an Early Grave by Jeaniene Frost (2009)

Destined for an Early Grave is the fourth book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series featuring Cat and Bones as the protagonists.  I’m going to do my best not to spoil too much of what happens in this book, but if you haven’t read the first three books in this series, beware.  I strongly recommend reading the books in this series in order; if urban fantasy is one of your preferred genres, then start with the first book in this series, Halfway to the Grave.  Everyone else, read on.

To begin, a lot happens in this book.  I’m going to try to avoid revealing too much because I really don’t want to ruin it for you if you haven’t read the book.  Frost does an excellent job of building the tension throughout the book until it reaches its moment of crisis and the action heads into the final showdown.  Oh, and there are really two moments of crisis–one for the plot that is the continuing love story between Cat and Bones, and the other for action/suspense plot that involves Cat and her new enemy, Gregor, the novel’s antagonist.  Frost’s ability to manage both plot lines, get me invested in both and keep me caring about both, is refreshing because I find that the more I read and try to review here on my blog, the more books I find that can barely manage one plot, much less multiples.  I say this because if you are looking for books that are well-written, this series has a lot to offer and I have not yet been disappointed by one of Frost’s books.

Destined for an Early Grave pushes the world-building Frost has been developing in a new direction, making sure that it doesn’t stagnate or get boring.  It’s one of the things that makes it important to read the books in order (more on that later).  At the end of the previous book in this series, At Grave’s End, Cat has quit her job with the secret department within Homeland Security that is headed by her uncle, Don.  There’s a sense that Cat and Bones’ relationship is moving into a new phase, and Cat herself is starting a new chapter in her life.  The change means that the framework of the last two books–with Cat commanding a team of secret government operatives to save innocent lives from vampire predators–has given way to the Cat becoming more entrenched in Bones’ world, the world of vampires and the rules and customs of vampire society.  The change of framework works, especially in the way that it allows the vampire characters that have been introduced in earlier books to be further developed.  We get more information about Spade, Mencheres, and Vlad, and no doubt this is done as a way of setting up those characters for to be featured in their own stories (and I’ll admit right now that I read the first two books in the Night Prince series featuring Vlad before starting the Night Huntress.  That was a mistake in that I think readers will better enjoy the Night Prince series if you’ve read the Night Huntress/Night Huntress World books first.).  While Cat understands the rules and ways of the human world and protecting humans, it becomes clear as the story unfolds that Cat has been straddling the two worlds, not fully in one and not fully in the other.  By the end of the novel, she is firmly in the vampire world, and having to learn the rules of that society is a painful process that impacts many of her relationships.  The change in the framework was needed in order for the series and the characters to continue to grow and evolve and gives a new momentum to what I’m sure will follow in the next books in the series.

One of the things I really enjoy about the way Frost’s structures the love plot is that she finds ways to continue to build tension and conflict between Cat and Bones without it feeling forced or manipulative or conventional.  While it’s clear at the end of book three that they are solidly a couple, they still have things in their relationship to figure out.  Evolving their relationship so that they are an “us” by the end of the novel is something that drives the love plot and “the path to true love never runs smooth” convention is at work here but it’s done in a way that only makes me care about the characters even more, and it also functions to further develop Cat and Bones as characters.  They both have to give and compromise and recognize the other’s flaws and accept them.  Although the story is told completely through Cat’s first person perspective, Frost does a really good job in delivering Bones’ emotions and thoughts through the dialogue.  I am not as close to him as a reader as I am to Cat because of the narrative structure, but he’s not distant either.  I get a deep sense of his struggles right along with Cat’s so that it doesn’t just feel like Cat’s story and Cat’s journey.  In my opinion, so much of what makes a series success is the characters and character development.  Cat and Bones are not the same characters they were at the start of the series, and I expect they will continue to develop and grow.  Thus far, Frost hasn’t caused them to do anything that feels out of character for either of them, and the more I read, the more I want to read and see what happens to them next.

Like I said above, I would definitely recommend reading these books in order, particularly if you are interested in reading the books that feature Vlad (Once Burned, Twice Tempted, Bound By Flames, Into the Fire).  He is definitely a supporting character in this book, but Frost does a lot of work in terms of developing his character.  I can remember Cat and Bones making appearances in the first two books of the Night Prince series and I would have appreciated those appearances more if I’d read in chronological order in terms of publication.  Take the recommendation for whatever it’s worth.

Ultimately, I find this series to be highly satisfying and I always get what I came for and then some. I read them typically in one day and once I start I can’t stop.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, First Drop of Crimson, which features Spade, one of Bones’ best friends.  If you’re a reader who enjoys strong, well-developed characters, a well-crafted plot and subplots, and watching an imaginary world come to life, these books deliver in every way.  Definitely one of my recommended reads of 2016.

review: kiss of a demon king

Kiss of a Demon King (2009) by Kresley Cole

Kiss of a Demon King is the sixth book in Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series.  For the most part, these books can stand alone, so no need to worry about spoilers. This book features Rydstrom Woede (the fallen demon king of Rothkalina) and Sabine, Queen of Illusions.  In some ways, it’s a continuation and companion to the previous book in the series, Dark Desires After Dusk, which features Rydstrom’s brother Cadeon.  Though I say that these can stand alone, I recommend reading Cadeon’s story before Rydstrom’s for more enjoyment and because both stories are happening at the same time.  Some of the events in Cadeon’s story are spoiled in Kiss of a Demon King so do beware of that.

It’s no surprise that in a series of this length (right now, there are fifteen books in this series, so I’m not even halfway through what’s currently available) you’re going to find some books that are weaker and less appealing than others. Part of this is because of the need to write characters who aren’t carbon copies of each other, right? If every male and female protagonist were exactly the same as the ones that came before, it wouldn’t keep me invested as a reader or keep me coming back for the next installment.  Well, this is how I feel about Kiss of a Demon King.  It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t wonderful.  The characters? Meh. One of the things I like about Cole’s writing style is that she does her best to present strong female characters.  She does this successfully with Sabine, who is a sorceress that has been hunted nearly all her life and has had only herself to depend upon.  As a sorceress, she is physically vulnerable and has no “battle magic”, and she has died dozens of times only to be brought back to life by her sister Lanthe, who has the power of persuasion and uses that power to bring Sabine back from death.  It is because of her vulnerability that she and her sister agree to become part of Omort the Deathless’ court in exchange for his protection.  Omort, as it happens, is the self-proclaimed new king of Rothkalina, assuming to throne after defeating Rydstrom in battle nearly a thousand years ago.  Yes, you got it–this puts Sabine and Rydstrom in opposition as enemies from the very beginning.  Cole takes these two characters and actually does a role/gender reversal with them.  After Sabine captures Rydstrom, it is he who refuses to surrender sexually and shuns marriage (I don’t want to spoil the reasons for this but they do make sense within the context of the book) while it is she who is the sexual aggressor and the one who insists upon marriage.  For much of the book it is a battle of the sexes and a clash of wills, with each one seeking to torment the other until one of them gives in.  The thing about Sabine, though, is that I don’t really buy into her feelings for Rydstrom, and that makes the romance part of this story not work at all for me.

What does work is the adventure part of the story.  Since we met the Woede brothers early in this series, we knew that eventually it was going to come down to whether or not Rydstrom would return to his throne and his place as king.  In this book, we see more of Rydstrom’s side of his relationship with Cadeon which is satisfying after reading Dark Desires After Dusk, and we also get to see how the final showdown between Rydstrom and Omort plays out.  Since this is happening during the Accession, it becomes clear that the Woede brothers are yet another group with the potential to reap gains during this period of tumult and life-or-death stakes.  They are clearly aligned as allies with the Valkyrie, the Lykae, the Wroth brothers, and the Witches.  They are on the “good” side of the Lore.

One other interesting part of this book–we get our first introduction to Lothaire, who was spoken of but not heard from in book seven, Untouchable.  Here we learn that he was an ally of Omort, and his character’s exit from the story promises his eventual return later, a promise that the next book also continues.  Right now he’s a mysterious character who’s allegiance isn’t yet fully known, but what we know if him so far is compelling enough to make me as a reader want to know more, so I’m looking forward to his story which is told in book eleven, aptly titled Lothaire.

Yes, I intend to keep reading this series.  I almost didn’t review Kiss of a Demon King because I just didn’t feel like I had a lot to say about it.  The role reversal keeps the tension going between the protagonists, but the part that really works is the adventure and ultimate resolution of the story of the Woede brothers.  Sabine is a strong female character, but the romance between she and Rydstrom wasn’t completely believable.  Typically I would say that I’m on to the next book in the series, but I have skipped book three, and since it tells the story of one of the MacRieve clan, and book eight also is about one of the MacRieves, I’m going to go back and read that one before moving forward.

Have you read Kiss of a Demon King? What were your thoughts?

review: untouchable

Untouchable* by Kresley Cole (2009)

*This full-length novel is the featured story within Deep Kiss of Winter, a collection of two books by Kresley Cole and Gena Showalter.

Untouchable is book seven in Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series.  In many ways, it is the final chapter in the part of the series that focuses upon the Wroth brothers, who were all turned into vampires during the eighteenth century.  This book follows the story of Murdoch Wroth and his Bride, Daniela.  The thing to know about this book going in is that it is better enjoyed if you have read the three previous books about the Wroth brothers–The Warlord Wants Forever, No Rest for the Wicked, and Dark Needs at Night’s Edge.  The reason for this is that although most of the books in this series can stand-alone, the events that take place in Untouchable are happening concurrently with the other books focused upon the Wroths, and so if you haven’t read the others, there are things that will get spoiled for you.  [Note: Although A Hunger Like No Other does not have one of the Wroth brothers as a main character, some of the events in that story are spoiled as well, so beware].

To be honest, the way that the events of Untouchable unfold is one of the most fascinating things about this book.  Cole is building a complex world within this series, and though she is carefully to welcome new readers and allow them to step into the series at any point, it also rewards readers who have been reading the series in order.  What I really appreciate about this book is the sense that all of the books in the series are truly happening at the same time, and this makes the Accession–a time when the separate factions of Lore, such as the Valkyrie, the vampires, the Lykae, and demons, battle each other and kill each other as a system of checks and balances to keep the population of the Lore in check–feel not like a protracted period of time, but rather a period of time during which all of these things are occurring and how each of these events will ultimately impact how the Accession plays out.  In other words, each book is–if I can borrow a term from American literary realism–almost a slice of life that is taking place within a larger world.  With each new book, the pieces that we’ve been given come together to give an increasingly holistic picture of the Lore as it moves through the period of the Accession, which occurs every five hundred years (or as Cole writes in the glossary of terms that appears before the start of each book “now”).  The more books in the series we read, the more we’re able to see the alliances that are forming and who will be the winners and losers of the Accession.  The fact that this aspect of the novel is complex but at the same time accessible is one of the accomplishments of the series as a whole.  It starts with the assumptions that readers are smart and intelligent rather than assuming the lowest denominator, and it trusts that as a reader I can understand the complex world and all its moving parts even while it gives me reminders from time to time of details that I may have forgotten or overlooked. Honestly, this is so refreshing, as I am of the opinion that a lot of books don’t think I have a brain in my head or that I know how to use it.

The two main protagonists of this story–Murdoch and Daniela–are presented with a lot of obstacles that make their path to true love fraught with difficulty.  Daniela is half-Valkyrie, half-fey; specifically, she’s an ice-fey, which means she can’t touch or be touched without experiencing or causing pain.  In this way she is literally untouchable.  Murdoch, on the other hand, is a vampire who has a history of being a rake; he is untouchable on an emotional level.  Naturally, the inability to touch each other causes tension in their relationship, and this becomes the thing that each character wants most but that is repeatedly denied to them.  It is actually the climactic moment of the story that paves the way for Murdoch and Daniela getting what they want. Although both characters fall into the typical archetypes for characters in a romance, they are both likable characters and I was invested in their story from the beginning.  Strangely, it is one of the strengths of the novel–that is consciously is occurring at the same time as other stories within the story-world–that is one of its flaws.  There’s a point in the novel where events get fast-forwarded and months pass by, and thus the characters’ plight loses some of its urgency and their story moves to the background in order to show how all four of the stories about the Wroth brothers are tied together.

Definitely don’t skip this book in the series.  It is a little annoying that Untouchable isn’t available on its own (I found a copy of Deep Kiss of Winter in the $1.00 clearance section at my local used bookstore, and being someone with a book habit, that is a total win when it comes to my book budget) but it is well worth the read.  At first, I thought it would be novella-length, maybe 100 pages at most, but that is certainly not the case.  It’s shorter than the other books, granted, but the characters and the story is well-developed, and the story-world is further expanded and developed.   Thus far, this series has not disappointed at all, and I recommend it as one to dive into if you haven’t already.

review: twice tempted

Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost (2013)

Twice Tempted is the second book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Prince series.  These books need to be read in order, so start with the first book, Once Burned.  By way of a quick, spoiler-free introduction to this series, the female protagonist is Leila Dalton, a woman who was struck by lightning as a teenager and as a result, is capable of electrocuting people if she touches them and possessed of the ability to pick images from a person’s life, either by touching them or an object they have touched in the past.  The male protagonist, is Vlad the Impaler, but don’t think about calling him Dracula.  And yet, he is the man behind the legend; thus, one of the questions that drives the story is what would happen if Dracula fell in love? What kind of woman would he fall for and how would that complicate his life, as well as hers? This series, as well as Frost’s Night Huntress series, exist in the same urban fantasy/paranormal romance universe, and both are series I recommend picking up if this genre appeals to you.  If you read Once Burned but weren’t sure if you wanted to keep reading, give Twice Tempted a try.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The story picks up about four weeks after the end of Once Burned.  Leila is still living in Vlad’s home, and she is still devoid of her powers.  Vlad has become distant, and Leila worries that because she has lost her powers, he has lost interest in her.  Events happen and she ends up leaving Vlad and returning to the States, planning to return to the carnival act she and Marty–a surrogate father that is also a vampire–and putting her past with Vlad behind her.  Of course, it’s not that easy.  Not long after she reunites with Marty, an explosion rocks the carnival location where she’s taken refuge and then sends her on the run.  As the story unfolds, Frost continues to build this part of her story-world, fleshing out the customs of the vampire society that Vlad dominates as well as populating that world with characters who prove themselves to be either antagonists and enemies or loyal friends and allies. Several characters from the first book return as well, including Leila’s father and her sister, Gretchen, Vlad’s second-in-command, Maximus, and Marty.  I read Halfway to the Grave, the first book in the Night Huntress series a couple of weeks ago, and it seems to me that Cat’s mother from that series and Gretchen, Leila’s sister, are in many ways the same character; and yet, although Gretchen is definitely a minor supporting character, by the end of Twice Tempted she does change into a character that I don’t completely dislike.  The other thing that this book does in building the story-world is steadily mount the obstacles to true love and happily ever after that Leila and Vlad must overcome.  Those obstacles come not only from their enemies but also their inner circle and each other.  Their struggle to be together in this second book has a genuine feel to it, it’s not rushed or trite, and importantly, Leila doesn’t have to become a weak-willed, powerless character in order to successfully win the fight for the man she loves.  What I like about this book, as well as the first book in the Night Huntress series, is that it is not overtly, slavishly devoted to following the conventions of the romance genre, and therefore it’s unpredictable. I want to keep reading because I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.

The story is told from Leila’s first-person point-of-view, and honestly, it just works from every angle.  We can only know what she knows, and though I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to know what is going on in Vlad’s mind, Frost is able to deftly write Leila’s first-person narrative in a way that you don’t feel completely distant or alienated from him, except during those times when that is actually how Leila feels.  Otherwise, Leila’s narrative gives us enough to feel like we know more and learn more about Vlad as the story progresses, and he’s not just a part of the fictional scenery, playing his role when needed and then going back to being a cardboard figure when he’s not.  While there’s no doubt that Leila has a specific arc for the development of her character, the same can be said for Vlad.  They both change and grow and that keeps the story dynamic and interesting, and it keeps me as a reader invested in the outcome of their relationship and the challenges they face. I want to see more of them, and once the book ends, I want more.

It’s interesting reading Twice Tempted in such close proximity to Halfway to the Grave.  There’s a part of my mind that wants me to decide which of the couples I like more, which of the worlds I prefer.  The Night Prince series is more firmly in the paranormal romance genre, while the Night Huntress series is more paranormal romantic suspense.  What I can say and what makes me happy is that neither couple is exactly the same, mere carbon copies of the other but rather distinct.  So far, the Night Prince series puts more emphasis on the love story while the Night Huntress series puts more emphasis upon the mystery.  That being said, choose the one that you’re in the mood for, but I would recommended giving both series a try.