Reviewed for THC Reviews Fuzzy Logic by Erin McCarthy – Fuzzy Logic was another cute, sexy, romantic short story from Erin McCarthy. Ms. McCarthy's fu...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Fuzzy Logic by Erin McCarthy – Fuzzy Logic was another cute, sexy, romantic short story from Erin McCarthy. Ms. McCarthy's full-length novels have been hit and miss with me, but her novellas almost never fail to satisfy. Lucas was another of her adorable, geeky, beta heroes. It was so sweet that he'd been in love with Ashley since they were kids but hadn't pursued her because he was afraid of loosing their friendship and because Ashley had never showed any interest in him as anything more than her little brother's best friend. I love how he's so curious, wanting to know how everything works. His scientific mind could go into overdrive, but when it came to exploring Ashley's “romance enhancers” and her body, his analytic nature came in handy by helping him learn how to pleasure her. Lucas was definitely the kind of hero who could get my motor humming.;-)
Ashley is a fun, outgoing shopaholic. She decided to become a Pleasure Party consultant to pay off her mounting credit card debt. Everyone seems to think of Ashley as a dumb blonde until she has decided that she's not all that smart either. No one but Lucas seems to realize that she has a lot to offer, and I appreciated him being insightful as well as her vulnerability in that area. I will admit that Ashely fell for Lucas a little to quickly to be totally believable, but I was willing to buy into it because I could see how she might have been harboring a subconscious attraction for him all along. The fact that she wasn't the type to sleep around and he was able to turn her on so easily might suggest that. I guess the super-fast marriage proposal pushed the bounds of credibility too, but again, I was willing to give them a pass, because they had know each other for so long. I also enjoyed that Ashley was a few years older than Lucas. Overall, I thought that these two were a good fit and that they made a really cute couple.
Fuzzy Logic is the second novella in Erin McCarthy's Bowling Friends series. Kindra (Hard Drive from Bad Boys Online) and Ashley's other two best friends, Violet and Trish attended Ashley's Pleasure Party. Violet is a bit of a geek herself, so I'm really looking forward to reading her story, The Lady of the Lake, which is the next in the series. Overall, Fuzzy Logic was a sweet, fun and very steamy read that I really enjoyed. Star Rating: ****1/2
The Cupid Curse by Jen Nicholas – The Cupid Curse was a cute romance novella about a young woman who has been unlucky in love, so she asks Cupid for help with finding Mr. Right. Unfortunately, the Cupid she gets accidentally shoots himself with his own arrow, leading to an awkward situation but eventual love. Gideon was adorable. He's trying so hard to pass his Cupid exams to become a full-fledged Cupid. He's very eager to take on Val's case, but feels terrible when he botches it up. He then spends the rest of the story trying to convince Val that he loves her and that they would make a great couple. It was very sweet that he was a 132 year old virgin, but with great sensual instincts. Valentine was a nice heroine with strong family ties. She feels the clock ticking away and desperately wants to have a man in her life and to get married.
Valentine and Gideon are a cute couple but they spent a large part of the novella feeling very uncomfortable with each other. They are both quite attracted to one another, but Val goes back and forth between that attraction and being angry with Gideon for messing up her chance with Mr. Right. Of course, Gideon feel terribly guilty about that. By the end, they give into that attraction, and their one love scene was pretty sensuous. Still, I can't quite say that I truly felt the love connection between them, and it seems to me that if Cupid's magic was working on both of them, they should have been unmistakably and passionately in love. The story was a bit narrative heavy too. If it had been any longer than it was, it probably would have gotten bogged down. In spite of my criticisms though, I still have to give the author some extra points for originality and creativity. The Cupid Curse was certainly not like any other romances I've read before which made it pretty entertaining. This was my first read by Jen Nicholas, and although it appears she only has two other published works, I would be open to trying them sometime. Star Rating: ****
Mesmerized by Jordan Summers - Mesmerized was my least favorite of the three novellas in this anthology. This was mainly because I had a hard time buying into the premise and the idea of the hero and heroine falling in love so quickly. However, I also have to admit that I wasn't overly enamored with the main characters themselves. Amanda was a very experienced hypnotist who had put people in trances for her show many times before, so it just seemed odd to me that she wouldn't start to suspect something when she wasn't able to “wake” Derek after several days. Even her assistant suspected he was faking right after the show. I also wasn't thrilled with her making love to Derek when she thought he was still in a trance. Of course, he wasn't, but she didn't know that which from her perspective should have made it a non-consensual act. She at least had the decency to feel badly about it, but I would have preferred that she simply take the high road and not do it at all until she knew he was fully conscious. Derek wasn't much better, because he had attended Amanda's show and agreed to be put in a trance under false pretenses. Then he pretended that he wasn't coming out of the trance just to get her to take him home, so he could get the scoop on her for his magazine story. In the end, he realizes that Amanda means more to him than the story, but his deceptions had already put a bad taste in my mouth.
As a couple, I just didn't feel the love connection between Amanda and Derek. They both had the hots for one another right from the minute they see each other, and they shared a couple of pretty steamy love scenes, but without those loving emotions, it was little more than a casual fling to me. They seemed to fall in love just because they had great sex which is something I simply couldn't buy. It was also hard to believe that Amanda would forgive Derek so easily after finding out that he was only pretending to get his story, especially after her father's life had been ruined by a reporter. Mesmerized wasn't a terrible story, but it was just OK. This was my first read by Jordan Summers, and I can say that the actual writing is fairly strong and quite readable. I just felt like there were some big holes in the plotting and characterizations. If those weaknesses had been shored up or the narrative had been a little longer to flesh out those details, I thought it could have been a very good novella. Star Rating: ***(less)
Fantasy Lover is the first full-length novel by Sherrilyn Kenyon that I have read, and I absolutely loved it. It was packed with thoroughly romantic m...moreFantasy Lover is the first full-length novel by Sherrilyn Kenyon that I have read, and I absolutely loved it. It was packed with thoroughly romantic moments and beautiful sensuality that was sheer perfection for me, and that was even without the hero and heroine actually having sex until the very end of the book. I consider myself to be a very girly girl, and I find that Ms. Kenyon's writing style has a very feminine quality that is very appealing to me. I like the balance that she finds between the serious side of life and finding humor even in dark circumstances. I thought that the use of Greek gods and goddesses as secondary characters was a very unique element that made me want to go brush up on my knowledge of Greek mythology. Some people seemed to think that the ending was too rushed, and while I could in some ways see where they're coming from, I really didn't mind. For me it was full of unexpected twists and turns that engaged my attention so much that I completely lost track of time.
I loved both Grace and Julian. They were just as perfect for me as the story was as a whole. Julian is the classic tortured hero, completely gorgeous on the outside but feeling unworthy of true love because of his past. Grace was just as sweet as could be and very relatable for me. While some readers thought her to be weak because of her tender-heartedness, I thought that she had a quiet inner strength and determination that was endearing. What I liked most about Grace and Julian's relationship is how they gave so freely and unselfishly to each other. When Julian sold his most precious possession to replace Grace's most precious possessions that were destroyed, my heart just did flip-flops. Also, being the book lover that I am, I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes where Julian derives so much pleasure from Grace reading to him. Sometimes it's just the little things that make a character or a story special for me. I know I probably sound like a gushing fan-girl, but I really did love this book, and can't wait to read more of the Dark-Hunter series. I borrowed this book from the library, but I will definitely be getting my own copy to place on my keeper shelf. It is very rare for me to place an author among my favorites when I have read so few of their works (I've only read one other novella by her), but I relate to Sherrilyn Kenyon's writing style so much, I couldn't imagine that I wouldn't enjoy almost anything she's written.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" It has been quite some time since I've read a fantasy story other than Harry Potter, and I can't say that I've eve...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" It has been quite some time since I've read a fantasy story other than Harry Potter, and I can't say that I've ever read a science fantasy before. Even though the book was released some months ago, Vijaya Schartz sent me an ARC copy of White Tiger, so that I could get up to speed for the release of her latest book in the series, Red Leopard, this month (April 2010). I have to say that I'm so glad I got the opportunity to read and review it. Ms. Schartz has deftly melded futuristic technology with a pseudo-medieval society on a far distant planet known as New Earth. The human inhabitants of Old Earth (our present planet) crash landed there long ago, and because of the harsh conditions on this wintry planet, they had to fight for survival and lost most of their technology along the way, setting them back centuries. Then came the Godds, an alien race who the humans began to revere as deities because of their perceived benevolence and “magical” technology, but little did the humans know that they were to become mere pawns in a game of political intrigue. When White Tiger opens, the humans and Zerkers (humans who have reverted to an extreme barbaric state) are about to engage in a war, but neither side knows that they are being used as the military tools of the Godds and their mortal enemies, the Reptoids. In the midst of this brewing epic conflict, there is even more foul treachery afoot within the human ranks, and stuck in the middle are the Mutants (half-Godd/half-humans) who are genetically programmed to be loyal to the Godds and not interfere in the the affairs of humans but who long for a more human form of freedom. It all makes for a very complex story that kept me engaged wondering how all the evil-doers would possibly be overcome so that good would prevail in the end.
White Tiger is definitely a more plot-driven story which combines the elaborate fantasy world that I attempted to detail above with lots of intense actions sequences and intrepid adventure. The action scenes are part medieval warfare and part science fiction. The author doesn't try to gloss over the stark realities of primitive fighting, and the Zerkers in particular can be downright brutal and sadistic, leading to some rather gory scenes of violence. The hero and heroine embark on all sorts of adventures, both alone and in each other's company, as they battle to save both their races from total annihilation by nuclear and biological weapons as well as more primitive means. It took a little while to build the intricacies of the world and get everything up to speed, but once it takes off (which I would say is about ¼ of the way in), White Tiger becomes a very fast-paced story that rarely slows down until the final epilogue.
With all the action going on, there isn't a lot of really deep character development where the hero and heroine's emotions and motivations are explored in detail, but in those quieter moments, I felt like I got to know both Dragomir and Tora enough to really like them. Dragomir is the first and oldest Mutant on New Earth, and one of the Godds most trusted sons. He is a brave and skilled warrior, but also an honorable and compassionate man who doesn't like to see any living creature suffering, even the vile, barbaric Zerkers. I really liked that Dragomir was an intelligent man who thinks for himself and resents the Godds control over him and his fellow Mutants. In spite of his genetic predisposition for loyalty to the Godds, he maintains a certain independence and distance from them, not only in his thinking but also in his way of life. Tora, AKA White Tiger, is also a brave, strong warrior and one of the highest ranking and well-respected officers in the human army, but she has always known that she is different from other humans. Tora is seeking vengeance on the one who killed her father when she is called into battle. Sometimes tough, independent heroines can become annoying to me, but Vijaya Schartz seems to have a talent for creating the delicate balance between her female protagonist's self-reliant, kick-butt side that can confidently take on the vilest enemy by herself and her softer, more vulnerable side that enjoys the hero's love and companionship, while also exhibiting empathy for others. Tora was just such a heroine, and I really liked her and thought she was a great match for Dragomir.
I ended up having a hard time rating this book. I think this was because it seems to be primarily classified as a romance, yet I know that many readers would not be fully satisfied with the romantic element of the story. Dragomir and Tora are actually apart for a large part of the narrative and when they are together, there aren't a lot of deeply intimate interactions between them. There are a couple of mild to moderately descriptive love scenes, but not a great deal of sexual tension or relationship building leading up to them. There is an allusion to the possible life-mate type scenario which is often found in paranormal stories, but overall, I'd have to say that the attraction is mainly played as love-at-first-sight. Normally, this isn't my favorite way to start a love connection, but I wasn't overly bothered by it because of the strength of the other elements in the story. In some ways, I suppose that the adventures Dragomir and Tora shared, as well as their rescuing of one another, could be interpreted as a type of relationship building and expressions of love. At the very least, it added to the romanticism of the tale as a whole. If I had been rating the book solely on its fantasy, action and adventure elements, it would have been a five-star for sure, and even now, I was so intrigued by those things, I only feel the need to drop a half star for any misgivings I had about the romance.
In addition to everything else, there were lots of supporting characters to keep the plot moving along at a brisk clip and make it all interesting. Being the animal lover that I am, I was quite taken with the animal characters, particularly the big cats who were trained to fight alongside the humans, as well as the psychic connection that Dragomir and Tora share with them. I could clearly see the grace, beauty and ferocity of the cats in my mind's eye. I also had no trouble at all envisioning this fantasy world. The plot played out in my head like a movie or television show, and I couldn't help but think as I was reading that it would make a very good one. Overall, White Tiger was a very enjoyable story that had just the right amount of complexity to engage my intellect while entertaining me at the same time. Anyone who likes a good fantasy with lots of action and adventure and doesn't mind the love story taking a back seat should really enjoy this one. Other than my minor complaint about the romance, I can't think of a thing I didn't like about White Tiger. It has earned a spot on my keeper shelf, and I eagerly look forward to reading Red Leopard, the next book in The Chronicles of Kassouk very soon.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Vijaya Schartz recently sent me an ARC copy of Red Leopard, the latest book in The Chronicles of Kassouk that was just release...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Vijaya Schartz recently sent me an ARC copy of Red Leopard, the latest book in The Chronicles of Kassouk that was just released this month (April 2010). The story picks up eighty years after the end of White Tiger, the first book of the series. Throughout this time, peace has reigned on New Earth, but things get shaken up when a Goddian ship visits the planet on a geological mission. Their leader, the Goddian princess, Galya, is there to search for a rare red crystal which has prime hyper-conductor properties, but her mutinous crew has other ideas. They temporarily join forces with another vile betrayer on the planet who is a former member of the Mutant Princes Council. With the King and Queen off-planet on a diplomatic mission, the human, Terek, aka Red Leopard, is left in charge of the council, and in the process of fending off the invasion, he discovers his ultimate destiny as a legendary prophecy regarding his people begins to unfold. It all made for another good read in this fantasy romance series that is packed with action and adventure.
Terek and Galya were really two peas in a pod. Both are highly educated and trained as warriors for their respective races, but neither feels like they truly belong. Terek is the only human on the Princes Council and as such is resented by some Mutant members of the council who still believe themselves superior to humans. Because he was a rare human who was educated and allowed access to Mutant technology, Terek doesn't really fit in among his own people either. Little does he know that his future lies in an ancient prophecy surrounding Yalta, the land of his birth, deep in Zerker territory. I like that Terek is humble and doesn't take the prophecy nor his heritage lightly. He has worked hard to become the man he is and to temper his baser nature through meditation which keeps his genetic temperament in check. Galya is a Godd by birth but considered defective by her race, because she looks human and has a much shorter human life-span. She only received command of her ship because her father is a high-ranking Godd, and she is regarded as unfit for reproduction. Due to her perceived imperfections and the highly paternal culture of the Godds, most of her Goddian crew members don't think very highly of her, and her second in command actually resents her being in charge. To add fuel to the fire, once on New Earth, Galya exhibits an “abnormal” fascination with all things human and an empathy for their cause. I initially wasn't quite sure how the author would make a Godd character sympathetic, because they had, for the most part, been portrayed as oppressors in the first book. Galya's status as a misfit among her own people and her concern for humans which the other Godds didn't exhibit, left me having no trouble at all warming up to her. The only thing that gave me pause is that at one point she thinks of seducing Terek to get control of the red crystal mine, but at least she came to her senses pretty quickly and realized she loved him too much to take unfair advantage. Galya was also another one of Vijaya Schartz's heroines who is a tough warrior but has a sweetness about her that makes her easy to like.
Red Leopard has an extensive cast of secondary characters. King Dragomir and Queen Tora, the hero and heroine of White Tiger make an appearance and are mentioned throughout the story as still being the benevolent and respected rulers of Kassouk after all these years. Lady Leah, the Mutant healer who was also introduced in book #1 plays a fairly significant role in Red Leopard, but I did find myself wondering where her mate was as he didn't appear in this book. I couldn't help but like the straight-talking Zerker, Brock. Once he comes around to Terek's cause, he becomes his best friend and most ardent supporter which is something I thought Terek really needed. Then there are the evil baddies, General Kyril, the Godd who betrays Galya, and Yaman, the former Mutant Prince who has gone rogue. Both of them keep everyone one their toes. Last but not least was Terek's feline friend, Rascal, a red leopard of course. Once again, I loved the use of big cats who act as brave warriors alongside their human handlers. Unlike Dragomir and Tora in the first book, Terek doesn't have a psychic connection to Rascal, but the cat does have a very high level of intelligence and understanding. I loved how Rascal was Terek's faithful companion and defender throughout nearly the entire story.
I really like how Vijaya Schartz has taken all the different races and cultures in this series and mingled them together with each one playing an important role in the ultimate destiny of New Earth. Although some of the races (or at least certain individuals) try to subjugate others, she makes it clear that all of the people are important. At the end of White Tiger, she even foreshadowed a future for the formerly barbaric Zerkers which played out in Red Leopard. I've read enough of Ms. Schartz's work now to know that her writing style tends to focus more on the fantasy and action/adventure elements with the romance playing a role but not necessarily being front and center. That said, I thought that the romance was perhaps a little stronger in Red Leopard than it was in the first book. This time, the hero and heroine were in each others' company for most of the story which gave them more opportunity for their chemistry to develop, although their burgeoning love does still come about fairly quickly.
Overall, I really liked Red Leopard, but there were a few things that I thought could have been a little better. Although a lot of events take place within the narrative, the pacing of Red Leopard just didn't seem quite as tight and snappy as it was in White Tiger, and I thought the plot was a bit more predictable too. I didn't find myself sucked into the story quite as thoroughly or as eager to get back to it when I had to put it down as I was with the first one. It was also quite a bit longer as well, and I found myself loosing track of some of the finer plot points as the story progressed. I'm willing to admit though that it might have been my issue more than the book's, as I was pretty tired while reading certain parts of it and may not have been as focused as I could have been. There were a few minor areas where I thought that transitions could have been smoother and/or things explained better, such as where Galya's Goddian crew in the final chapters came from. I could surmise in context that they simply weren't all killed in battle like I initially thought and had resumed their positions, but that wasn't entirely clear to me. Since I was reading an unedited ARC, it's possible that some of these little things might have been cleaned up before the final copy was released. Overall, Red Leopard was another entertaining read in The Chronicles of Kassouk which I am enjoying so far. I'll be interested to see if the author gives readers any more clues about the ancient race that preceded both humans and Godds on New Earth, and I'm looking forward to hopefully seeing more of my favorite characters from the series when it continues in November 2010 with the release of Black Jaguar.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen recently sent me a copy of her new novel, Trapped, that was just released this month (May 2010). I'm gla...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen recently sent me a copy of her new novel, Trapped, that was just released this month (May 2010). I'm glad she gave me the opportunity to read it, because it was an interesting story that I generally enjoyed and might not have taken notice of otherwise. Trapped is primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller with a little romance on the side and a light paranormal element in the form of a family curse which only the heroine can break. The narrative starts off a little slow, and I initially had a hard time feeling connected to the characters. However, once Emi and Daniel arrived in Austria, bits and pieces of the mystery began to surface, gradually drawing me into the story. From there, it steadily built some pretty good momentum into an exciting climax. There were a number of twists and turns along the way that kept me guessing. Some things I figured out right before they happened and others were a big surprise. Overall, I would say the mystery/suspense aspect was well-done. I even wondered for a short time if the “good guys” and “bad guys” were actually as good and bad as they seemed.
The whole mystery is wrapped within a paranormal element that was intriguing too. Centuries ago, the Tillman family warred against the Traugott family in an effort to gain control of a golden vial known as the Kuhati which purportedly contained an elixir akin to the fountain of youth. When the Tillmans finally breached the Traugott castle, the head of the Traugott family placed a curse upon the Tillmans with his last breath. Legend said that every member of the Tillman line would die a hideous death at the hands of a flesh-eating disease until the Firstborn She came to break the curse. Emi, the heroine, is the Firstborn She (the first female to be firstborn in all the generations since the curse), but her parents kept her heritage and true identity a secret from her until a trap was set to draw her out. Now she must figure out where the Kuhati is and how to use it, while evading a mafia-like family who wish to take it for evil purposes. The fantasy-style puzzle which leads the heroine on a grand adventure reminded me a little of an Indiana Jones or National Treasure type of tale.
In my opinion, the romance was probably the weakest of the three main aspects of the novel. Emi begins the story supposedly having been deeply in love with her friend Daniel for years, but he hasn't really given her any indication that he feels the same way about her. I was never quite sure why she hadn't ever simply told Daniel how she felt in the five+ years since they met in high school. Daniel's feelings for Emi are pretty ambiguous throughout the narrative, and the reader isn't really given any insights into what he's been thinking all these years until near the end of the book. In the meantime, Emi meets the handsome, charming Lucas, a distant cousin by marriage who sufficiently sweeps her off her feet in just a day to have everyone around them thinking they've instantly fallen in love which just lacked credibility for me. Granted it did add a bit of conflict in the form of a love triangle and also played into the idea of good and bad guys possibly being reversed, but I thought it also made Emi seem rather fickle if her head could be turned from Daniel so easily.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a little trouble connecting with the characters in the beginning. This did get better as the story progressed and more things were revealed about them, but I still didn't feel like I got any truly deep insights into what made them tick per se. I think the reasons for this were two-fold. First, 99% of the book is told in first person perspective from Emi's point of view, and there is very little in her conversations with the other characters that reveal much about their personalities. Second, the narrative is primarily plot-driven, so it doesn't really focus as much on the character development to begin with. That said, over time, I did develop a liking for Emi, Daniel and some of the other secondary characters. Emi was raised in a very sheltered environment by her mother who we, of course, find out was merely trying to protect her. Considering that she previously had no experience with dangerous situations, I thought she showed some guts and handled herself pretty well under the circumstances. There were times though when I thought a little more insight into what she was thinking at the time would have been helpful in understanding some of her actions. In my opinion, she was a bit too easily accepting of her role as the Firstborn She and some other pretty big revelations about her family in general. Character introspection is something that tends to be pretty important to me in my reading, and I was a somewhat surprised that there wasn't more of it, at least for Emi, since the book was written in first-person.
There were a few other things I thought could have been better. In my opinion, it would have been beneficial for the details to be fleshed out a bit more. There were some passages that just didn't flow as well as I thought they could have or didn't quite make sense without a little more information to back them up. One particular example: There was a brief two-page chapter in third person POV concerning a character named Gamma. I think I know who Gamma was supposed to be, but I don't believe his identity was ever specifically revealed. Consequently, I wasn't quite sure what the point of the chapter was, except perhaps to show how ruthless the family could be. There were also times when I think more details and the aforementioned introspection would have aided with the emotional connection between Emi and the reader. At times, I felt like the author was telling how she felt rather than showing it. I also found some continuity errors and typographical errors including a huge one where a new chapter started in the middle of a sentence. I realize the publisher is probably to blame for that one and not the author, but it was a little jarring nonetheless.
The first ¾ of Trapped has a very innocent feel to it, but things got a little more intense during the last ¼ of the book. Early on, I had to double-check that it wasn't marketed for a young adult audience as sometime it felt more like that genre. I didn't find any indication that it was specifically written for teens, and I'm sure adults will enjoy the book. It's just much sweeter than most romantic suspense out there. There are absolutely no profanities, and the sensual content is limited to kisses and chaste touches only. Aside from some menacing behavior and mention of killings in the past, no actual violence occurs until the climactic chapters. Even then I would characterize it more as moderately frightening and suspenseful rather than graphic. Even with the added intensity in the latter part of the story, I would say that the book is probably suitable for most teens and sensitive readers. In general, I think that anyone who likes an adventurous plot-driven suspense story wrapped in a paranormal mystery that is written with a lighter touch would probably appreciate Trapped. Once I got past the first few chapters, I became fairly well engaged for the remainder of the book and thought that it was an interesting tale. Trapped is Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen's second published novel, and I enjoyed the story well enough to be interested in reading more by her.
Note: The author told me in a later interview that the book was indeed written for a young adult/adult cross-over audience in mind. Ms. Hinrichsen also informed me that she had contacted her publisher regarding the big chapter break error I mentioned, and they said it will be fixed in future printings of the novel.
Reviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" Sugar on Top was a bit-o-fluff erotic novella that takes place in a fictitious town that seems to be inhabited onl...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" Sugar on Top was a bit-o-fluff erotic novella that takes place in a fictitious town that seems to be inhabited only by fantastical creatures. I realize it's not an easy task to develop characters in such a short space (30 pages), but I never felt like I got to know the two main leads at all and what little I did learn about them wasn't all that endearing. Sugar is an “invisible woman” whose species is never specified. She works as a gossip columnist and will do just about anything for a story. This isn't exactly a noble profession to begin with, and she doesn't even seem to be all that good at it either, considering she is about to be fired. Warner is a werewolf who seems to have a penchant for wild parties that apparently include orgies. He is about to transition and trying to stave it off by over-indulging in food and sex. I have to admit that the sex scenes were pretty unusual and I somewhat enjoyed the chase prior to the final scene, but they were written in a rather blunt, clinical way that I felt was lacking in true sensuality. In fact, this story could just as easily have been classified as straight erotica rather than erotic romance. In my opinion, there wasn't anything about it that was particularly romantic, and there was no real emotional connection either. There were also a couple of moments outside of the sex scenes that were more or less crass and distasteful to me. I'm not sure I could say that the ending was even HFN much less HEA. The whole story was pretty much nothing more than a one night stand with no thought or mention of the future. Although I could think of worse ways to spend an hour, Sugar on Top didn't really float my boat, but since it was a freebie, at least I'm not out anything except my reading time. This was my first story by Leigh Ellwood, and I can't say that it has left me particularly eager to try anything else by her. Sugar on Top can be downloaded for free from a variety of places including the author's website and All Romance e-Books.
Note: This novella contains explicit language and sexual content including rimming which some readers may find offensive.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I thoroughly enjoyed Phantom Lover. It had elements that were reminiscent of both Fantasy Lover and Dance with the...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I thoroughly enjoyed Phantom Lover. It had elements that were reminiscent of both Fantasy Lover and Dance with the Devil, my two favorite Dark-Hunter novels to date, only with its own twists and turns. Phantom Lover was also an introduction of sorts to the Dream-Hunters, as it is the first story in the series to have these beings as main characters. I really liked the uniqueness of Erin and V'aidan's first meeting and early relationship development taking place inside Erin's dreams. The human mind is such a fascinating thing to me and also very powerful, especially in its subconscious state, so it gave their falling in love at first sight and making love at their first meeting more believability than most stories where this happens. I thought it also gave their interactions an enchantingly romantic quality.
V'aidan is another of Sherrilyn Kenyon's tortured male leads. He is the hero who rescues Erin from her nightmares, but isn't all that he seems. I really liked V'aidan's almost childlike wonderment at everything in the human world, but most of all I was taken by his vulnerability and the amazement he exhibits at Erin's trust and love for him, things he has never known before. V'aidan also showed the kind, caring part of his soul by nurturing Erin's creativity which was something she had been neglecting. Erin was a very sweet, gentle heroine with an enormous capacity for forgiveness when she finds out the truth about V'aidan. Ultimately, Phantom Lover was very much about V'aidan's redemption, and when Erin went to him in his non-human form, offering her unconditional love, it brought a tear to my eye.
Another thing I really appreciated about this novella is that the mythology seemed much more concise and easier to follow, and neither it nor the magical elements were overdone like I felt it was in some of the past Dark-Hunter books. In a series that has been rather hit-and-miss for me, this little novella was a definite hit. Perhaps there could have been a bit more character development, especially with V'Aidan's backstory and why he decided to protect Erin, but the emotional level was so sweetly satisfying, I can't help but give Phantom Lover keeper status. There wasn't really anything I disliked about this story, and with two winners in a row, my hope is that Sherrilyn Kenyon is back on track to giving me more good reads in the Dark-Hunter series.
Phantom Lover is found in the Midnight Pleasures anthology. It falls between Night Embrace and Dance with the Devil in the Dark-Hunter chronology. I am not aware of any carry-over characters between this story and others in the series, but V'Aidan's brother, M'Ordant was mentioned by name in Dance with the Devil, and may play a part in future books. There are currently a total of 19 full-length novels in the Dark-Hunter series and quite a number of related novellas and graphic novels as well, with more still to come. A complete list of all the books and their recommended reading order can be found on Sherrilyn Kenyon's website.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Vijaya Schartz sent me an ARC of her latest novel, Black Jaguar, for review, and I'm pleased that she once again gave me the o...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Vijaya Schartz sent me an ARC of her latest novel, Black Jaguar, for review, and I'm pleased that she once again gave me the opportunity to read one of her stories. Ms. Schartz's books have been consistently enjoyable for me, and Black Jaguar was no exception. It was yet another worthy entry into The Chronicles of Kassouk series.
Black Jaguar fast-forwards about 30-40 years from where the previous book in the series ended. It opens with Kahuel aka Black Jaguar, Prince of Yalta and son of Terek and Galya from book #2, Red Leopard, sailing away to the far eastern continent on his brother's ship. Accompanying them is Esperana, Princess of Kassouk and daughter of Dragomir and Tora from book #1, White Tiger. She is on an unsanctioned mission to find out more about her ancestry. Interference from an unknown alien race causes them to be shipwrecked on a island that no one knew existed and which they soon discover is inhabited by a group of indigenous humans with psychic abilities known as The Chosen. Kahuel and Esperana develop romantic relationships with the sibling Prince and Princess of the island, Vanaru and Talina, but both of their romances may be doomed when the alien Estrell aka the Star People, try once again to kill the “foreigners” in an attempt to keep The Chosen isolated for their experiments purposed to prevent the extinction of the Estrell race.
Kahuel and Talina are the main hero and heroine of the novel, and I really liked them both. Talina is a little different than the other heroines of the series in that she wasn't raised and trained as a warrior. She isn't really the kick-butt heroine I'm used to seeing from Vijaya Schartz, but in some ways, I related to her better because of that. Talina is a peaceful, gentle soul whose psychic and empathic abilities tie her to all people and animals, making the death of any one of them a very painful experience for her. She may not have innate warrior tendencies, but she is a bit of a rebel, being the first to question the Star People's motives for associating with The Chosen. She defied her brother to save Kahuel, and she was bravely willing to stand up for what she thought was right and fight when the freedom of her people was at stake.
By going on this mission, Kahuel hoped to turn over a new leaf and leave his dissolute, libertine past far behind. However, that past catches up to him rather quickly when he realizes that Talina's people value chastity very highly which causes some fairly serious conflict when he beds Talina not realizing he's making a lifetime commitment or that she expected him to virginal as well. I thought Kahuel had a great balance between being tough and being tender. He is a strong warrior with the Zerker blood of his ancestors running through his veins, and also really steps up to the plate to lead the human contingency on the mission when his brother is killed. Still, he had more gentle moments which were evidenced not only in his interactions with Talina, but also in the connection to his jaguar, Diablo. I was impressed with his open-mindedness toward Talina's people and his willingness to forgo hunting and eating meat in deference to their beliefs. In my opinion, he proved his worthiness as a mate for Talina by willingly putting his life on the line for her more than once.
The beginning of Kahuel and Talina's romance had a rather enchanting quality to it with them meeting by a waterfall in the jungle. They have something of a curious attraction, just wanting to know more about one another. I really enjoyed these parts, but beyond that, there isn't as much relationship development or building of sexual tension as I would typically expect from a romance novel before the consummation and declarations of love. I've come to realize though that this is just the author's style. She tends to play the romantic angle as more of a love at first sight scenario and is simply stronger on the action, adventure and fantasy elements which is OK, as I enjoy those parts too. It's kind of like watching a good sci-fi movie in my head with a sweet little romance on the side.
I think this may be the first of Vijaya Schartz's books I've read that had a secondary romance. Being a Mutant, Princess Esperana can seem a little cold and aloof, but not enough to make me dislike her. She is trained as a warrior like her parents, and she exhibits intelligence and confidence. I liked that she was seeking out her heritage. Prince Vanaru could be rather stubborn, initially remaining steadfastly loyal to the Star People even though their orders fly in the face of everything The Chosen have been taught so far, and he is also none too pleased with Kahuel and Talina's relationship. He does come around though, and I liked when he started thinking for himself. Vanaru and Esperana's romance is sweet and limited to looks, touches and Vanaru's thoughts about Esperana. There was even a bit of romance for the alien villains with the leader of the Estrelle hoping to “ride off into the sunset” with one of his ship's female officers. Last, but not least, I love how the big cats always play a significant role in this series fighting alongside their masters, and perhaps as a reward, even Diablo found a love interest.:-) I also really enjoyed spending time with Dragomir and Tora and Terek and Galya again, as well as seeing that both couples are still very much in love after so many years have passed.
As with the first two books in the series, Black Jaguar took a little time to get up to speed (about ¼ of the way in), but once it got going, there was virtual non-stop action. One small complaint I had was that the formatting of the dialog and mind-talk was done in such a way that I often found myself confused as to who was speaking. Glancing ahead and/or re-reading certain parts usually cleared that up, and I'm willing to allow that since I was reading the ARC version, perhaps this was cleaned up before final publication. Overall, Black Jaguar was an enjoyable read. It will be interesting to see if there is any more story for Esperana and Vanaru and whether the fate of the Estrell eggs that were implanted in The Chosen females will be revealed. Although I don't know much about it yet, Blue Lioness, the next book in The Chronicles of Kassouk, is due to be released in August 2011, and Ms. Schartz also has a prequel to the series, Noah's Ark, in the works for 2012, which will tell the story of the settling of New Earth. I look forward to reading both when they come out.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" Awakening is a little novella that I had a very hard time categorizing. While the story is essentially one extende...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "2.5 stars" Awakening is a little novella that I had a very hard time categorizing. While the story is essentially one extended sex scene, it isn't descriptive enough to be considered erotic, but it technically isn't romance either. The reason it doesn't quite fit the romance genre, in my opinion, is that it contains no declarations of love, no commitments and no HEA (or really even an HFN) ending for the protagonists, only a playful acknowledgement that Adriana would need more “lessons.” I reluctantly settled on the romance category anyway, simply because the novella had a certain romanticism about it. What woman wouldn't want her first sexual experience to be pleasurable and even magical? I also did feel that in a more involved story, Nicolo would have made a very good romantic hero. There isn't a great deal of background information on either character, but what I read of him I liked. He's a more sensitive artist type who is known for his skill not only with a brush and canvas but with helping the young Fae ladies to discover their magical powers which are revealed during their first sexual encounter. I also never would have thought that a guy with lilac hair and a body that takes on the same hue while experiencing pleasure would be appealing, but for some reason, Nicolo was.
I also had an equally difficult time rating Awakening as I did categorizing it. I've already cited the elements that I liked in the story, but nice as the premise and its male lead were, the writing was at times utterly cringe-worthy. The author's actual style of writing was OK, but I can't help but draw into question her command of the English language. For a work so short, there were a number of poorly constructed and incomplete sentences which made it difficult if not impossible to discern her meaning. Not to mention, I was thrown out of the building sexual tension while trying to figure it out. In my opinion, some of the dialog was rather juvenile, particularly lines from the heroine, such as, “Wow!”, “It felt weird.” and several others which had me wincing. I realize that she was only eighteen, but as the princess of the Fae, I expected her to act a bit more regal instead of sounding like a twelve-year-old (My own twelve-year-old is more articulate than that.). Last but not least this work was in desperate need of a thesaurus. Awakening was an OK novella for what it was, but the lamentable composition made me happy that it was a freebie and that it wasn't any longer. If not for that, I would have had no trouble giving it a higher rating. E. D. Beale seems to have the imagination for creating a promising premise, but in my opinion, her writing skills need some serious polish. Awakening is available as a free download from the All Romance e-Books website.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews George & the Virgin is a book that rather deftly crosses many of the sub-genres of romance. I suppose it is primarily a hi...moreReviewed for THC Reviews George & the Virgin is a book that rather deftly crosses many of the sub-genres of romance. I suppose it is primarily a historical time travel with the hero going back in time to a medieval castle, but having a dragon terrorizing the nearby villagers also places the story squarely in the fantasy realm. The humor had me grinning like an idiot until my husband asked what was so funny, and that alone gives it a firm standing as a romantic comedy too. Additionally, it had a light paranormal element in the way in which the time travel took place, and tons of action and adventure as our intrepid hero sets out to slay the dragon. All of this made for a pretty fun read, but I still couldn't help feeling like there was something missing. Since I was enjoying most of the story, it took me a while to figure it out, but when I did, I sadly realized it was the romance itself that was rather lacking.
Alizon was a complicated young woman who was somewhat difficult for me to relate to. She begins the story as a fourteen year-old orphan girl who is trying to loose her virginity so she won't have to go to the annual virgin lottery and possibly be sent as a sacrifice to the dragon. She has reluctantly chosen an unkempt, callow youth who had been pursuing her, but he has no idea what he's doing. It was a pretty funny scene, but at the same time kind of sad because of her reasons for doing it. In the end she bravely goes to the lottery and eventually the dragon. Once we find out how she avoided falling prey to the dragon and had saved many other virgins lives over the years, she seemed even more courageous, but at the same time, she had been pretty selfish. Alizon is also way too stubborn and independent for her own good. In her mind, she laments her lot in life, how she is stuck in the castle with no conceivable means of escape, and seems to want someone to free her, but when George comes along to save her, she allows her fear to take over to the point that she literally tries to sabotage her own potential HEA. It was amusing that during Alizon's twelve years as the dragon's keeper she had become a pretty horny virgin, fantasizing about finally being deflowered the right way, but again, when George begins to show sexual interest in her, she wants to be in control of everything which only leads to further disappointment for her. I also felt that her lack of trust in George suppressed any intimacy between them. I really wanted to like Alizon and can't necessarily say that I disliked her. I did feel bad for all she had been through in her life and understood her actions on some level, but wish she would have lightened up a little sooner. Unfortunately, her quick turn around at the end wasn't entirely believable to me.
George ended up being a pleasant surprise for me. Not being a fan of professional wrestling, I wasn't sure if I would like him and thought he might end up being a cheesy character. I couldn't have been more wrong about him though. In spite of his profession, George was a real softie, much more of a beta hero than the chest-beating alpha I was expecting. He truly cares about people and has used the wealth he has earned to take care of his family. His opening scene where he is playing with his little niece was positively adorable. I liked how after traveling to the past George was able to manage cooking, cleaning, laundry and basically shocked Alizon with his ability and willingness to do “women's work.” George was also a very intelligent man whose hobby was studying medieval history. He had a love of all things from that era, so much so that he had built his own castle in the present day. I thought it very clever of him that he was able to decipher middle English to communicate with the people when he went back in time, and it was refreshing that he wasn't fooled by Alizon's crone disguise and recognized it for what it was right away. I did start to wonder when he was going to figure out that he had really time traveled and was no longer just in a guided vision, but I have to admit that his use of Jungian psychology to self-analyze this crazy “dream” he was having could be pretty hilarious. George was an extremely patient and forgiving man when it came to Alizon's shortcomings, more so than I could have been, brave to go up against the dragon, especially once he realized it was real, and just a fun, all-around great guy.
For a large part of the book, I felt like there was something missing. As I mentioned earlier, I came to realize it was the actual romance, but more so than that it was a lack of sexual tension, relationship development, and emotion in general. I understood on an intellectual level why Alizon was so stubbornly independent and even a little prickly. I do think that her situation warranted sympathy, but in spite of that, I never really felt much for her even when she was telling George the whole sad story of how she came to be mistress of Devil's Mount. What passed for sexual tension felt more like mere lust. Alizon had been feeling the stirring of desire for quite a while, so it wasn't too surprising that she was very attracted to George's masculinity. However, at first she only wanted to use him to finally rid herself of her virginity. George for his part, knew that Alizon was much younger than she pretended to be, but he doesn't even get to see her face until over a third of the way into the book and even then he still thinks she's just part of his dream world. Granted he did several kind and thoughtful things for her and was brave enough to attempt to slay a dragon for her with few weapons to hand, but I just didn't feel a deep emotional connection between them like I would have preferred. Even when they finally consummated their relationship, I was disappointed, as the setting just wasn't very romantic to me. In fact, it seemed downright uncomfortable. Not to mention, there had been so much teasing and build-up to it that I was expecting something explosive, but it was all over in a matter of a couple of pages with minimal details.
I may have been dissatisfied with the romance element, but I do have to give Lisa Cach a few extra points for basing her story on the actual legends surrounding a real place, St. Michael's Mount, a tiny island off the southern coast of England which really is connected to the mainland by a causeway at low tide. The village to which it leads is also the village in the book. Additionally, Ms. Cach took the time to thrown in a bit of Middle English, much like an author would do if they were showing that a character speaks another language. In essence they did speak another language in the middle ages, so I thought that little touch added a bit of authenticity to the novel as well. Overall, George & the Virgin was a cute, playful, lighthearted concoction that was a fairly enjoyable read in spite of its weaknesses. The action, adventure and humor helped to make up for some of the other deficiencies. After reading two books by Lisa Cach, I'm starting to see that she is a little better at creating swashbuckling daring-do than tender romantic relationships, so she'll probably be an author to look to whenever I'm in the mood for a breezy escapade rather than my usual more serious-minded fare. (less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Blue Lioness was another enjoyable read in the Chronicles of Kassouk. If my memory and calculations are correct it picks up ab...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Blue Lioness was another enjoyable read in the Chronicles of Kassouk. If my memory and calculations are correct it picks up about a century after the third book, Black Jaguar ended. I was sad to see Dragomir and Tora, the King and Queen of Kassouk and the hero and heroine of White Tiger, murdered in the opening chapter. In fact, with this book taking place so far into the future, I cannot help but presume that all the past heroes and heroines of the series are now dead and gone. There were a few other characters from previous books, Mutants with a long enough lifespan, that were able to return. Dragomir and Tora's daughter, Esperana came back in a supporting role and is said to be a matriarch of the Star Children. Her exact relationship to them is not spelled out, but since she fell in love with Vanaru, the leader of The Chosen who it appears evolved into the Star Children, I assume that she is probably an ancestor. It also was not said what became of her romance with Vanaru, but perhaps her lifespan outlasted his. Lady Naya, one of the Mutant Princesses, who if memory serves was in all of the previous books, is Areila's grandmother. Also returning was the evil Brother Kohl as the villain. He had been Dragomir's archenemy and was exiled by the King in White Tiger. I had been quite curious at the end of Black Jaguar as to what would become of the Estrell eggs which had been implanted into the Chosen, and although once again, it was not spelled out in so many words, it's pretty obvious that Starro and his people are descended from them. I guess one could say that Blue Lioness is primarily a next generation story in the Chronicles of Kassouk, but there are also some threads from previous stories that are picked up again.
Starro is a sweet, gentle beta hero. Normally, I'm not as likely to go for the bald guys, but it just goes to show that I'm equal opportunity and beauty is more than skin-deep to me, as Starro is now the second bald hero in as many months that I've been crazy about. As a Star Child, he is a pacifist who reveres all life, and he also values chastity until bonding with his life-mate, making him a rare virgin hero. However, his collective mind connection with his people and with Ariela gives him knowledge that makes him a good lover in spite of his inexperience. I absolutely loved his special powers: telepathy, telekineses, the ability to heal both himself and others, just to name a few. They are exactly the type of powers I would want if I were a superhero. I must say that for all of Starro's supposed arrogance and superiority, he didn't really come off seeming that way to me. I'll grant that he did once or twice come out and say that the Star Children were a superior race, so maybe it was just because I was rather in awe of his powers that it seemed to me like he was simply speaking the truth, but not in a hurtful or purposely condescending way. Starro did act a bit differently when he was among his own people than he did when he was with the humans in Kassouk, and I'm not entirely clear as to why that was. His easy acceptance of Ariela as his life-mate and his willingness to do things that went against the teachings of the Star Children made it obvious to me that he had a distinctive way of thinking that was unlike the belief system in which he was raised. I really wish that the reasons for that had been more fully explored, but overall, Starro was a really sweet guy that I couldn't help but like.
Ariela is another one of Vijaya Schartz's kick-butt heroines, except that she didn't seem to have as much of a softer, more vulnerable side as many of the author's other female leads. She is a trained warrior who is as skilled in combat as any man, and is the captain of an elite garrison of soldiers know as the Black Swords. It can be difficult to be respectful of another race's culture while still being who one is inside, so I did understand and admire Ariela for wanting to maintain her individuality when she was among the Star Children. However, Ariela seemed to go back and forth a lot. One minute she can be loving and adoring of Starro and the next be irritated with him for being arrogant and condescending, or she might go from being in awe of his powers to being fearful of them in a heartbeat. I already addressed Starro's supposed arrogance, and since he had never harmed her and tried very hard not to harm anyone else with his powers unless it was for the greater good, I didn't quite understand her reasoning. Ariela was highly educated by her grandmother, and although the Star Children's powers went beyond anything she had personally experienced before, she couldn't entirely claim ignorance of such things. I can also understand a person running an emotional gamut, but I just think I needed a little more insight into her thinking processes to fully grasp her feelings about these things.
As I've come to expect of Vijaya Schartz's novels, the actual romance is pretty low-key. I did really enjoy the psychic connection between Starro and Ariela. The way he spoke directly into her mind and called her “Beloved” was not only a great way to break the ice, but also kept up some semblance of romance throughout the story. There is only one mild love scene, but because of Starro and Ariela's mind-link, I think it may have been the most intimate scene I've read in one of Ms. Schartz's novels. Them being able to share pleasure through that mental/emotional link, as well as physically, made it almost as sensual for me as if the scene had been more detailed and explicit.
I have to admit that I occasionally had a little trouble figuring out who I should root for. Starro and Ariela were pretty much continuously likable, while Kohl and his son, Kaleb were certainly the primary antagonists. However, some of the other characters tended to fall in between. I guess with any race there are good and bad elements within it, and the humans, Mutants, and Star Children were no exception. I was especially uncertain about the Star Children. Starro is one of them, and I thought since he was a good guy, that all his people might be too. Ariela was also relying on an alliance with them to defeat Kohl, which I thought would place them squarely on the side of good, but as it turned out, they could be rather selfish and very similar to their ancestors, the Estrelle, who were the villains of the last book. The only character who didn't have any ulterior motive was Hellion, Areila's lioness companion. At least animals can always be counted on to be uncomplicated.:-) Overall, Blue Lioness was another fun, action-packed fantasy novel from Vijaya Schartz that I enjoyed. I'll now be looking forward to the release of the Chronicles of Kassouk prequel, Noah's Ark, which is due to be released in Feb. 2012. Maybe I'll finally get to learn about the mysterious ancient beings who built many of the structures on Kassouk before the humans arrived.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" The Dream-Hunter was the sixth story in the Dark-Hunter series that I've read this year, and I'm beginning to thin...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" The Dream-Hunter was the sixth story in the Dark-Hunter series that I've read this year, and I'm beginning to think that perhaps I've read too many of them in too short a time span. I've been quite anxious to get to Acheron, and in my haste to make headway in this exceedingly long series, I'm starting to become rather apathetic about it. I had really enjoyed Phantom Lover, a Dream-Hunter novella that came early in the series, so I thought that in spite of the Dream-Hunter books generally not being fan faves that I might like them better than others did. Unfortunately, this first full-length Dream-Hunter novel ended up being as lackluster for me as it was for many other readers.
Arik and Geary were fairly likable characters, but I just never felt like I got to know them very well. Arik had spent his immortal life as an Oneroi (a dream god) in an emotionless state, until he went Skotos (basically the bad side of the Oneroi). Even then he could only feed off the emotions of the humans whose dreams he shared. When he found Geary, her dreams were so vivid they made him want to find out what it would be like to have human emotions, so he made a deal with Hades to make that possible. We eventually find out that Arik's emotions were essentially beaten out of him at an early age and between that and the punishments he received for defying the Oneroi, he carried many physical scars. Because of this, Arik could have been an extremely tortured hero, but he never really seemed like one to me. At times, it felt like he was almost as emotionless as he would have been had he remained Skotos. Mostly, it just seemed like I was being told about his feelings rather than experiencing them. Initially, the author did a pretty good job of bringing out how Arik felt when he first found out what it was like being human, how all the stimuli around him was an assault to his senses and emotions. However, for someone who had basically lived in a state of sensory and emotional deprivation for hundreds of years, he adjusted a little too quickly in my opinion. It was also cute how he didn't really know much about the human world, and was almost like a kid experiencing certain things for the first time. I really wish that more of these moments had been included in the story.
Geary is an anthropologist who is carrying on her father's work of trying to locate the lost civilization of Atlantis. She is having difficulty getting the necessary permits to excavate on the ocean floor, but when Arik arrives in human form, he is able to pull strings and cut through the red tape for her. For some reason which I never quite figured out, she is able to hear the voice of Apollymi, the Destroyer goddess of Atlantis (and Ash's mother). It may have had something to do with the Atlantean artifacts that her father left her, but it almost seemed for a while like there was something special about Geary herself that made it possible. Maybe I missed something along the way, but that part was rather confusing to me. In the end, Geary had to show a lot of strength and fortitude to rescue Arik from his fate, but in spite of that, she was just never a stand-out character to me.
I had high hopes for this couple at the beginning of the story. The main thing that had drawn me into Phantom Lover was the whole concept of the hero and heroine meeting in her dreams. Since the same thing happened in The Dream-Hunter, it got off to a good start. I really enjoyed the dream sequences, and Geary's reaction to seeing Arik in the flesh for the first time after he had starred in her steamy dreams was pretty intense, almost like sparks were flying off the page. Sadly, that was pretty much where the romance ended for me. I just didn't feel the same deep connection between them after the dream sequences ended. All in all, I felt like there was a lot of potential in these two characters and their relationship, but in my opinion, it was never fully realized. It seemed to me like their romance got rather sidetracked and overshadowed by all the mythology and god politics.
There were several aspects of this story that were rather muddled and confusing to me, not the least of which were some of the characters' motives. Geary had spent her whole life thinking her father was a crack-pot just like everyone else, but then a couple of artifacts that seemed like no more than trinkets, instantly changed her mind and make her believe wholeheartedly in Atlantis and continue her father's work. I also never quite understood why her father didn't show her these things when he was alive. Arik's brother, Solin, seems to want revenge on Arik, but then helps him instead which didn't make a lot of sense. Apollymi's entire agenda to this point has been getting free from Kalosis. She tries to bargain with Geary to let her out, but then when Geary refuses, she still helps her anyway which I didn't understand either. The Oneroi triumvirate had never seemed to be mean or violent before, but in this book at least one of them turns menacing. Overall, it just seemed like the characters' minds could change in a heartbeat and everything in general happened a bit too easily and without enough detail and explanation to suit me.
I felt the writing in general could have used more polish and did not reflect the seasoned author that Ms. Kenyon is. As with past books in the series, she way overuses the phrases, “Excuse me?” and “You have no idea,” as well as the word, “it'd”. I've always found that to be a very clunky contraction that doesn't flow well either in my mind or off my tongue, so the repeated use of it started to grate. Also, the phrases I mentioned, among other things, in my opinion, give the dialog a rather juvenile feel. Additionally, there were places where I felt that the dialog dragged and was nothing more than unnecessary filler.
Being a Dream-Hunter novel, there weren't a lot of carryover characters which in a way was a blessing, because I was already confused enough by all the god politics. However, the three Dream-Hunter leaders, M'Adoc, M'Ordant, and D'Alerian, who have all appeared in previous books, returned, as did Artemis' handmaiden, Kat, who becomes the heroine of the next full-length novel in the series, Devil May Cry. After her appearance in Seize the Night, I thought that Kat might become Ash's heroine, because she obviously loves him very much. I think I now have an idea as to why that is, and why she won't be romantically involved with Ash after all. However, Ash's true heroine, Tory, is introduced in this book, and is probably the single-most important reason for reading it. As The Dream-Hunter takes place about a decade before the first book of the Dark-Hunter series, Tory is only a teenager, but she is a geeky genius which I can appreciate. Hopefully, she will eventually grow into her role as a worthy mate for Ash. At the end, we also get a very brief visit with Ash, Kyrian and Nick (also as a teenager), but in my opinion, it didn't add much to the story and was just more filler.
From my many criticisms, it might sound like I would have marked the The Dream-Hunter lower than the 3.5 stars I gave it, but it didn't entirely bore me. I was just rather confused at times. I'm also trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, since I was extremely tired and having trouble staying awake while reading it. With that in mind, I feel I might have missed something important that I wouldn't have had I been more alert. In any case, I think I'll be laying the Dark-Hunter series aside for a while. Even without my fatigue factoring in, I'm simply becoming burned out on the series and Ms. Kenyon's writing in general, and definitely want to be in a better state of mind when I do get to Ash's book. Hopefully, taking a time out will help me to return to the series fresher and more ready to handle the author's quirks that can sometimes irritate me.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Princess of Bretagne is the first book in Vijaya Schartz's new medieval fantasy series, The Curse of the Lost Isle. This book...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Princess of Bretagne is the first book in Vijaya Schartz's new medieval fantasy series, The Curse of the Lost Isle. This book and the series in general is steeped in Celtic history and lore, and also has a basis in Arthurian legends too. Ms. Schartz brings the setting to life with the use of authentic period details regarding warfare and day to day life in a medieval fortress and a Viking camp, some of which can be rather dark and gritty. She also draws on the mythology of the era as the people's beliefs in the gods of old are challenged by the growth and proselytizing of the Christian church. The clashing of these religions poses a dangerous threat to the heroine of the story who is pagan. There is also a political dimension to the story, not only in regards to religion, but also as the tribes of Briton find themselves invaded by Vikings and in growing need of a high king to unite them.
Pressine of Bretagne is one of the Ladies of the Lost Isle, women who are immortal and part fae. They serve the will of their Goddess and in this case, Pressine has been chosen to marry King Elinas of Dumfries. It has been prophesied that she will help him to unite all of Briton to become the high king of Alba and defeat their Viking invaders. Pressine is slightly reluctant at first, worrying that the king might be an unattractive, old man, but upon meeting him, she is quite drawn to him. Elinas is thirty-five, and while Pressine's age is never given, I know by the customs of the time, that she was likely quite young. Pressine is a little different than Ms. Schartz's other female leads I've read to date, in that she isn't exactly a kick-butt heroine. She doesn't wield a sword or physically fight, but she does have a strong spirit and is cool under pressure. She also takes her responsibilities very seriously, and doesn't want to use her powers unless absolutely necessary. I liked that she delayed binding the king's soul to hers through his sword and instead won his heart with her own natural charms. Pressine has many gifts and talents, as well as a curse, none of which have been fully tapped yet, so I'll be interested to see where things lead for her in the next book of the series.
King Elinas is a brave and honorable man who is still mourning the loss of his beloved queen when Pressine arrives at his fortress. I thought that he did fall for Pressine rather quickly under the circumstances and the courtship was a little too short for my taste, but their interactions were sweet and loving. Elinas is a strong warrior on the battlefield but a kind and gentle man with Pressine. He is very protective of her and treats her as a woman of worth and not just an inferior. Sadly, though he is blind to the machinations of his oldest son who is a zealous Christian harboring hatred for Pressine and her kind, believing them to be instruments of the devil.
There are some strong secondary characters who get their own point-of-view scenes and almost as much page time as the hero and heroine. Pressine's brother, Gwenvael, renounced his mystical powers to become a Christian monk, but he is more accepting of people of various backgrounds and faiths than many Christians of the era. He willingly goes with a Viking warrior hoping to turn some of the Vikings to his beliefs, and ends up becoming a valued member of their camp. He enjoys a minor romance with a slave woman in the Viking camp. Bodvar, the Viking whom Gwenvael accompanied, is a rough, battle-scarred warrior who leads an invasion against Briton. With his barbaric ways he's not an easy man to like, and perhaps, I'm not supposed to. I'm glad that he has treated Gwenvael well, but ultimately, he's a much better antagonist than a hero. In any case, I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him yet.
It took me a little while to get into the story, mainly because things seemed to move at breakneck speed for the first few chapters, leaving little time to get to know and like the characters. As I already mentioned the romance was a little too quick as well. To some extent, I've come to expect this from Vijaya Schartz's novels, as they tend to be more plot-driven than character-driven, but once I started getting more insights into the characters' motivations, I gradually became more engaged. The exciting battles and period details also drew me in as did the intrigue surrounding Elinas' son trying to prevent him from marrying Pressine. Overall, Princess of Bretagne was a solid story that I enjoyed reading. I'm very much looking forward to finding out what's next for Elinas and Pressine when the series continues with the release of Pagan Queen.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews Rainshadow Road is a light, easy read that picks up where Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor left off, and Lisa Kleypas continues...moreReviewed for THC Reviews Rainshadow Road is a light, easy read that picks up where Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor left off, and Lisa Kleypas continues her experiment with writing in a slightly different style than she has in the past. I thought that the early part of the story had something of a chick-lit feel to it. I definitely wouldn't categorize the book in that genre though, because it doesn't really have the typical breezy, humorous quality that is common to chick-lit. However, it does move along at a fairly brisk pace, the dialog is snappy and more modern with plenty of interactions between Lucy and her two best girlfriends, and it has a little less sentimentality than most romance I read. During the first ½ or so of the book, the author doesn't go into as much depth with feelings and expressions that can often help set the tone for a romance. Much like it's predecessor in the series, Rainshadow Road has only one moderately descriptive love scene. Ms. Kleypas also introduces an element of magical realism with our hero and heroine each possessing a little magic. Lucy is very connected to her glass art to the point that she can literally bring it to life, and Sam has a special connection to plants. This bit of light fantasy takes the book slightly outside the realm of traditional contemporary romance, but it is woven seamlessly into the story so that it doesn't permeate the entire thing or seem all that strange. I admit I haven't read Sarah Addison Allen's books, but based on what I know of them, I think fans of her work would probably enjoy this series. Rainshadow Road may be a little outside the ordinary for longtime fans of Lisa Kleypas, but I think it showcases her versatility as an author.
When the story opens, Lucy is being dumped by her longtime, live-in boyfriend who is now demanding that she move out so his new girlfriend who happens to be Lucy's younger sister can move in. He also reveals that he has been cheating on Lucy for months, trying to have his cake and eat it too. At this point, I felt really bad for Lucy, because it seems that, due to a childhood illness, her sister has always gotten whatever she wanted. She was spoiled and pampered while Lucy kind of faded into the background. Right now, what her spoiled sister wants is Lucy's boyfriend. Of course, she gets him, but Lucy is far better off without him. She finds a great catch in Sam, and after being hit by a car, she ends up recuperating at his house where they get to know each other intimately.
Sam is still the charming nice guy. I admired him for his commitment to fixing up his old, broken-down Victorian house, his love of the land and making wine, and his love for and commitment to his niece, Holly. I was a little worried when I read in the cover blurb that Lucy's ex asks him to romance her, thinking that it might end in the dreaded big misunderstanding, but I couldn't have been more wrong. I ended up loving Sam's honesty. He has no sympathy for guys who cheat and is completely up front with Lucy about her ex's request. I adored Sam's geeky side. The way he's always wearing fun, nerdy t-shirts and throwing out little scientific tidbits is delightful. I don't think anyone has ever made the periodic table so sexy. I like that Sam has a conscience and tries to warn Lucy off from getting involved with a commitment-phobe like him. I thought it was very sweet that he not only nursed Lucy after she was injured but wanted to protect her heart as well.
I did wonder how a girl who was insecure and still getting over a breakup with a boyfriend who cheated on her and a guy with commitment issues were going to create a forever bond and get their HEA. The romance moved a little slowly at first because there wasn't a great deal of interaction between Lucy and Sam until she's injured and he agrees to take care of her. Once she moves in, things get going between them fairly quickly, at least from a physical standpoint. Initially, I wasn't thrilled with the casual, sex-only nature of their relationship and the way that Sam refused to ever sleep in the same bed with Lucy. I thought it left a lot of distance between them, like they were together, but not really together. A more genuine emotional connection doesn't happen until the last ¼ of the book, but as their relationship progressed, I began to feel it more and more. The moment when they share their magic with each other was a particularly lovely one. Sam and Lucy's habit of saying, "I don't love you; I don't love you too," at first felt kind of cold while at the same time being rather amusing. Each time they say it again though, it seems to take on more meaning until it essentially becomes a safe way of saying the exact opposite. The ending was sweet and heartwarming, and I enjoyed how the "magic" of Lucy's love for Sam was what ultimately changed everything for him, and them as a couple.
The secondary characters were great too. I loved seeing Mark and Maggie (Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor) get married and ride off into the sunset, so to speak, with little Holly and Renfield, the dog, in tow. We also get to meet Lucy's two best friends, Justine and Zoe who run their own bed and breakfast. Justine appears to be the more solid, practical one while Zoe seems a little more on the whimsical side. Since there isn't a synopsis posted yet for Cystal Cove, the third book of the series due for release in Feb. 2013, it took a little research, but I finally found an interview with Lisa Kleypas where she says that Justine will be the heroine of that book. Zoe will be paired with Sam's brother, Alex, in the next book, Dream Lake, which will be released next month (Aug. 2012). In the one short scene Alex and Zoe shared in Rainshadow Road, they really drew me in and had me feeling a connection between them that I hadn't even felt between Sam and Lucy at that point. Alex is an incredibly talented craftsman, but he's not dealing well with his divorce and appears to be heading down the road to alcoholism like his parents. Zoe is a divorcée who was hurt by a husband who cheated on her with another man. She is a very sweet, gentle person who loves cooking, and her food seems to be nourishing to Alex's soul as much as his body.
Although I would have liked to see a stronger emotional bond between Sam and Lucy and a little more romance earlier in the book, Rainshadow Road was still a solid, satisfying story. It can be fun to see favorite authors branch out and and try something new. I think it can help to keep the creative juices flowing, and in this case, I'd say that, so far, Lisa Kleypas' experiment with the Friday Harbor series is a success. I'm very much looking forward to continuing the series and reading about Alex and Zoe when their story comes out.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via GoodReads FirstReads in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" The Green Rose is a short novel of romance and high fantasy. This story of an intrepid hero and heroine going on a...moreReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" The Green Rose is a short novel of romance and high fantasy. This story of an intrepid hero and heroine going on a quest to find the fabled green rose which will save their people from an evil mage and an invasion of monstrous creatures was a generally enjoyable one, but not particularly unique to the genre. I liked the premise of the plot, but felt it had some weaknesses. Many things happened far too easily. For example, when the story opens, Sonia has no idea that she can wield magic, but once she figures this out, she develops a strong command of it almost instantaneously. Also, the green rose is a powerful tool of magic that is carefully guarded by three witches, yet Ivanstan solved their riddle, which allowed him to take the rose, with relative ease. I would have liked to see a little more suspense building up to these things with perhaps a few missteps along the way. I think it would have made a fuller, richer and more interesting story. There were a couple of major plot points that weren't really explained very well either, one being why the mage, Bathyser, chose to betray his own people, and the other being why the green rose's magic wasn't used to heal a dying character. The first made the villain pretty one-dimensional, and the latter, while somewhat important to the overall plot, I thought could have been better clarified.
Sonia and Ivanstan were likable characters. They are both honorable people who are heirs to the thrones of their respective countries. They are also both skilled and courageous warriors who led their soldiers into battle. Underneath it all though, they have no real flaws that I could detect. They seem to be virtually perfect. I thought that perhaps giving them some sort of vulnerability would have made them more interesting and given them more depth. I've also never been much of a fan of instant attraction in romances, but that was exactly what happened here. This couple falling in love was another thing that happened a bit too easily. For quite a while I didn't really feel much of a connection between Sonia and Ivanstan, because the early parts of their relationship seemed more lustful than romantic to me. There were a number of instances where one or the other of them, or someone else, interrupted a moment of passion between them, as well as a couple of aborted attempts at love-making. I think all of this was meant to build sexual tension, but as a reader, it simply left me frustrated. I would have preferred more romantic interludes woven throughout the story and then waited until the end for a bigger love scene. It did get better as the story went along, but I don't think I finally started feeling the love and romance between this couple until their love scene which is pretty far along in the book. In my opinion, the main problem was too much telling and not enough showing when it came to the hero and heroine's feelings for one another. I think more gestures, body language and introspection would have really helped with this.
In spite of any perceived weaknesses, The Green Rose, as with all of Stephanie Burkhart's stories I've read to date, was a light, entertaining read populated with likable characters. I was particularly taken with the animal characters and the way in which the human characters bond with them to share their thoughts and life force. I was especially fond of Ivanstan's dragon, Draco. The dragons in this book are a little smaller than I'm used to seeing in fantasy stories, but there's just something about them that always intrigues me. Overall, The Green Rose was a sweet story. The only other small complaint I have is that I felt the author overused the word, “Aye.” While reading, I thought of a dozen other words and phrases that could have been used instead to cut down on the repetitiveness, and also some instances where the word probably wasn't necessary at all, but this was a relatively minor thing in a book that was otherwise a very pleasant diversion.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.(less)