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Monday, January 31, 2011

Visions of Magic by Regan Hastings

Visions of Magic by Regan Hastings
Publisher: Penguin / NAL
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: Full Length (250 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rated: 5 books
Reviewed by Snapdragon

In the ten years since magic has reemerged in the world, witches have become feared and hunted. For weeks Shea Jameson has been haunted by visions of fire. When she unintentionally performs a spell in public, she becomes one of the hunted. Her only hope is Torin, a dangerously sensual man who claims to be her eternal mate.

It’s a modern day witch hunt in The Awakening: Visions of Magic, Regan Hasting’s compelling new novel. Magic – unwelcome, feared magic – has returned to the world. Even those people with the best of intentions can be accused… and that alone is enough to change their lives forever.

None knows the danger better than young school teacher Shea Jameson. Yet, she can’t ignore the plight of a student, because just being brushed by the mere existence of magic is enough for others to see you as tainted. Even as Shea thinks ‘don’t trust anyone,’ even as she reminds herself about the possibility of spies, she chances helping another.

The fast start gives way to increasingly fast action. Torin crashes into her life, hero rescuer? Or someone using her for his own ends? In a time when distrust is second nature, Shea so wants to trust. But what, exactly, is Torin?

Torin could be anything – true love, soul mate…or utterly evil. We readers don’t know if we should expect romance – or battle. We don’t even know if Torin is truly human. They are undeniably connected – physically in the here and now by their tattoos -- but also, historically, by a past that claims them forever.

Shea struggles with the abrupt change in her life -– and in the fractured society that defines what was, not so long ago, an ordinary community in a comprehensible world. All that changed with ‘The Awakening.’

The hint of the past (my mind goes right to the Legendary Salem Witch Trials) infuses this work with a sinister undertone, right from the start. It’s all very contemporary and ‘today,’ but that connection to past events give the story an unusual, haunting depth.

As we become attached to Shea, our dread grows. Her fear increases, and we can sense something more, always more, coming. Spine-tingling action and a completely original, fast-paced storyline characterize this work from beginning to end. Regan’s writing style creates an intensely believable atmosphere. Her characters are what bring this all to life. Thought, action, emotion, all twine believably and build in reader sympathy throughout.

Although the urban/paranormal is currently ever-increasing in popularity, Hasting’s Visions of Magic is a fantastically magical standout. You won’t need to be a fan of the genre to enjoy Visions of Magic. An Absolutely Must Read.

The Water Wars by Cameron Starcher

The Water Wars by Cameron Starcher
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: Full Length (240 pgs)
Heat Level: sweet
Rating: 4 books
Reviewed by Cholla

Would you risk everything for someone you just met?

What if he had a secret worth killing for?

Welcome to a future where water is more precious than oil or gold...

Hundreds of millions of people have already died, and millions more will soon fall—victims of disease, hunger, and dehydration. It is a time of drought and war. The rivers have dried up, the polar caps have melted, and drinkable water is now in the hands of the powerful few. There are fines for wasting it and prison sentences for exceeding the quotas.

But Kai didn’t seem to care about any of this. He stood in the open road drinking water from a plastic cup, then spilled the remaining drops into the dirt. He didn’t go to school, and he traveled with armed guards. Kai claimed he knew a secret—something the government is keeping from us...

And then he was gone. Vanished in the middle of the night. Was he kidnapped? Did he flee? Is he alive or dead? There are no clues, only questions. And no one can guess the lengths to which they will go to keep him silent. We have to find him—and the truth—before it is too late for all of us.

Imagine an entire world suffering from widespread drought. Water is strictly rationed and the penalties for misuse are severe. Can you even begin to understand how different your life would be? No? Well, then come with me and visit with Vera and Will, two teenagers who have spent their entire lives in just such a world.

Vera is an average fifteen-year-old girl in a less than average world. Aside from her ailing mother, she and her brother, Will, live an ordinary life for the times they’re in. In the beginning, she didn’t seem like much and I was more interested in her surroundings than her. However, as soon as she meets Kai, you begin to learn that there is more to this little girl than you’d expected. As the story unfolds, you discover that Vera has reserves that not even she realized were there.

Kai is the mysterious new guy Vera and Will happen across one afternoon walking home from the bus stop. He’s the proper makings of any young teen’s first crush – handsome, charming, attentive, and rich. What more could a girl ask for? However, under this mysterious surface, he’s an inquisitive and curious kid who hasn’t ever had a chance to experience the simple things of life.

My only issue with this novel was the lack of back story regarding The Great Panic and how the Earth got into the state that it’s in. However, aside from that, The Water Wars is a thought-provoking story about the way we handle our precious natural resources and is a great way to get teens to start thinking about these things now, before it’s too late. With characters you grow to love, and a world eerily like our own and yet, fundamentally different, you will be pulled in and taken along on the adventure.

Feral Hunger by Stephanie Bedwell-Grime

Feral Hunger by Stephanie Bedwell-Grime
Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (46 pgs)
Heat level: spicy
Rating: 4 Books
Reviewed by Verbena

Vlad the Impaler? Don’t make her laugh…

Vlad is un-living proof that even a shy guy with the unfortunate name of Leslie can remake himself. Vampire, cad, player, he embraces it all without a pesky thing called a conscience. Until he receives a “special delivery” on his doorstep. A woman on the brink of death. One look at the sexy blonde, and his inner Leslie—his long-forgotten conscience—moves him to do the right thing and save her life.

One minute Jaelyn is enjoying a night out at a club. The next, she’s under a brutal vampire attack. Adjusting to her new life as one of them is hard enough without the added charm of Vlad’s grumpiness with the whole situation.

Instead of sending Jaelyn on her merry way, Vlad gives in to another totally uncharacteristic urge—to solve the mystery of who assaulted her, and why whoever it was dumped her at his place. There must be a connection, and it surely can’t have anything to do with their budding attraction.

But delving into a dangerous vampire underworld could remake their undead lives once again. Permanently.

Who wants a dead girl littering their stoop? Vlad sure as heck doesn’t. Someone made a late-night snack out of this chick, and it wasn’t him. More disturbing is why the heck they left her on his doorstep? He didn’t want to be a sire, and he certainly couldn’t call the cops—they didn’t deal nicely with creatures like him. Should he just close the door, pretend he didn’t see her and let her die? Or take her inside and upset his pleasantly uncomplicated life. Decisions, decisions.

Feral Hunger was a very quick, satisfying read. I really enjoyed the author’s wit and humor. I found myself chuckling several times. Poor Vlad, the content lothario, and Jaelyn the unfortunate victim, had come together in quite a pickle. Neither appreciated their circumstances, but sometimes what we don’t want can turn out to be a pleasant surprise.

If I had one complaint about the story, it was the length. It could have easily been expanded. Making an allowance for their nature and the typical intense emotions vampires tend to have, adding some passage of time to the plot would have made their feelings for each other a little more believable. Otherwise, the author’s grammar usage and her scene descriptions were wonderful. The sex wasn’t too graphic, but gave this reader just enough to satisfy. I won’t spoil the fun by giving anything away, but you’re gonna love some of Vlad’s “props”. They’ll certainly make you laugh.

If you’re looking for a quick, fun read that will satisfy both humor and romance, then pick up a copy of Stephanie Bedwell-Grime’s Feral Hunger. It’s absolutely entertaining.

Crimson Moon by J.A. Saare

Crimson Moon by J.A. Saare
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Pages: Full Length (350 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 books
Reviewed by Magnolia

An average morning is what Emma Johnson envisions when she visits Joe’s CafĂ© for a steaming cup of coffee. But the world isn't the place she imagined it to be, and neither is she…

After Emma is rescued from a horde of bloodthirsty creatures, she discovers she is the daughter of a powerful Vampire from the House Deviard, her rescuer, Caleb, having been sent to see her safely home. For Caleb is also unique, a werewolf procured to protect the royal Vampiric bloodlines from harm - but nothing more.

Soon, the undeniable connection Emma and Caleb share evolves beyond attraction into something unexpected. When she is forced to make a choice, what path will she take - vampire or wolf?

Finding out your only living relative, a father who has basically ignored your existence all of your life, is a Trueblood vampire leader would take most daughters by surprise. Learning you are heir to the throne might leave a girl feeling just a little giddy. Finding out there are others out there who would rather see you dead than become a vampire leader might be cause for fright. Having a couple of hunky werewolves come to your rescue and falling for one of them…well, this is why I read J.A. Saare. Few authors can combine paranormal creatures with humans the way Ms. Saare can, with writing that is near perfect and a storyline that will keep the reader panting one page after the other.

The only defect, if I can even call it that, is in the first chapter where the author goes a tad overboard on description. However, by the second chapter Ms. Saare has found her stride and the story flows smoothly through to the end. It's the kind of story one can barely put down, satisfying a reader's need for suspense and romance.

A book with the name J.A. Saare on it almost guarantees I'm going to like it. Crimson Moon is no exception. This story pits werewolves against vampires in a romantic tale with an ending that will sweep you away into a wonderful happily ever after.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Werewolf Upstairs by Ashlyn Chase

The Werewolf Upstairs by Ashlyn Chase
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (344 Pages)
Heat level: Hot
Rating: 4.5 Books
Reviewed by Holly

Petty crime never looked so good...

Alpha werewolf Konrad Wolfensen sees it as his duty to protect the citizens of Boston, even if it means breaking into their businesses just to prove their security systems don’t work. But when his unsolicited services land him in trouble with the law, he’ll have to turn to his sexy new neighbor for help.

She should know better...

Attorney Roz Wells is bored. She used to have such a knack for attracting the weird and unexpected, but ever since she took a job as a Boston public defender, the quirky quotient in her life has taken a serious hit. Until her sexy werewolf neighbor starts coming around…

Attorney Roz Wells has made a move to be a public defender in Boston. She’s bored with her job and her life, and more than a little concerned about her best friend. Merry recently got married, and Roz has moved into her old apartment, hoping to surprise her friend when she returns from her honeymoon trip. Her concern stems from the admission that Merry made to her, that she was marrying a shape-shifter. This gives Roz cause for worry, thus the big move.

When she meets her upstairs neighbor, Konrad Wolfensen, the attraction is almost instantaneous on both their parts. What Roz doesn’t know is that she has just moved into the strangest apartment building in Boston. From the psychic witches on the third floor, to the vampire in the basement and all the residents in between, life is never boring.

When Konrad gets arrested, she is assigned as his public defender, and she proves he couldn’t have done what was claimed, getting the charges dropped. And Konrad has a suspicion that Roz is his one true mate, an idea proved correct when they discover they can mind speak. But will his secret be too much for Roz to accept? With a vengeful ghost out to frame Konrad, can she find a way to clear him? Can Roz accept that life just got much more interesting, and stay with Konrad?

Ashlyn Chase has written a fun and sexy follow up to her book Strange Neighbors. The Werewolf Upstairs brings the reader back to the Boston apartment building filled with paranormal characters of every strain. The romance between Roz and Konrad is the focal point, but there are several side issues here as well. I enjoyed watching Roz and Konrad as they ventured into untried territory in their search for new careers, and laughed with them as each failure just inspired them on.

I liked Roz. She is smart, and sassy, and still just on the insecure side. Her attraction to Konrad has her hesitant, fearing she isn’t the typical slim and sexy type. I loved watching Konrad bring her out of her shell and convince her she is beautiful and vibrant and just what he wants. I also loved watching her open-minded personality, willing to accept things at face value and learn to accept what was once unbelievable to her.

Konrad is just delicious, sexy and sweet and caring. He is smart, and talented, and tends to be impulsive at times. He refuses to let Roz feel bad about herself. But it gets harder to hide his alternate personality from her, and he shows his vulnerable side more than once in this story. I enjoyed watching him come to terms with his feelings for Roz, and his concern for her was evident in everything he did.

There are several threads running through this, from the vengeful ghost at the museum who frames Konrad, to the feud between the witches that keeps popping up. All of the characters from the first book are here, including the annoying and very normal apartment manager and busybody, Dottie. I love how Ms. Chase continues to keep Dottie in the dark as to the nature of the supernatural beings that reside in the building, including Dottie’s own husband. I look forward to the future stories of the other residents of this decidedly different Boston apartment building and all of its many denizens.

Darkness Dawns by Dianne Duvall

Darkness Dawns by Dianne Duvall
Publisher: Kensington Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (345 pgs)
Heat Level: hot
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Once, Sarah Bingham's biggest challenge was making her students pay attention in class. Now, after rescuing a wounded stranger, she's landed in the middle of a battle between corrupt vampires and powerful immortals who also need blood to survive. Roland Warbrook is the most compelling man Sarah has ever laid hands on. But his desire for her is mingled with a hunger he can barely control. . .

In his nine centuries of immortal existence, no woman has tempted Roland as much as Sarah. But asking her to love him is impossible--when it means forfeiting the world she's always known, and the life he would do anything to protect..

Action-packed world building and a hero daring all for love makes Darkness Dawns one of the most fascinating romances I’ve read this year.

I am so enthusiastic about this story because of its humor, passion and an interesting take on the vampire myth. The best part for me was the main characters; Roland, the hero and Sarah, the heroine. Their interaction, the growth of their relationship and their dialogue are what made this an awesome reading experience.

Ms. Duvall wrote Sarah as a quirky character with plenty of charm, wit and joy for life that was exuberant in nature. She’s not silly, though she certainly brought a much needed smile to Roland throughout the book, as well as making me grin many times. She is spontaneous and sometimes she says things out of the blue which cause characters to look at her with twinkling eyes of humor and amazement. She has a pragmatic way about her, yet she has a healthy dose of curiosity. I also enjoyed the fact that Sarah could see the man in Roland, the one no one else seemed to see. She reacted to things with heart and forgiveness and an open mind. Just because she’s smaller than the hero didn’t mean she couldn’t do heroic things. She surprised herself, Roland and this reader with some of the things she was willing to do. I adored her character because of it. Sarah’s character embodied a warm loving feeling that permeated everything she said and did.

Roland is a man as far removed from warm loving anything as he can get. He doesn’t trust at all and I slowly found out just how valid his reasons were whenever he opened up to Sarah. How gruesome and sad and utterly despicable were the things done to him. He was a man who initially trusted and believed and even loved but over time his heart got bruised one too many times. He’s the kind of tortured hero romance readers love to see get saved. I know I did. I so enjoyed how, bit by bit, his shell cracked and he shared more of himself with Sarah. The romantic in me thrilled to his care and sensual doings with Sarah; they were everything I could want in a romance book.

I know I mentioned the dialogue as something I liked and it’s true. There were excellent secondary characters sprinkled throughout this book that made me sit up and take notice. The way they all communicated with each other with their various means was fascinating. I loved how they teased Roland. I liked how the dialogue helped flesh out their roles in the book and how they were like a family to each other. I even liked the way Ms. Duvall described each character as though I would meet them again someday and I have to tell you, I’ll be looking forward to it. Seth is that mysterious man at the top who can do things no one else can and yet he still can make a mistake. That made me like his character. Marcus is a hoot and I think David is more of a mystery to me then Seth is. Then there is this mystery woman who I think is going to be another story arc because of how she was introduced and what was discovered towards the end.

Ms. Duvall has me in her power. I simply have to know what is going to happen next and how she’s going to impact the characters I’ve come to know through the course of Darkness Dawns. I loved the action and the mystery of the villain. In fact, the villain is a surprise. I mean, what could have been a book all about blood and gore, although there is a bit of that Ms. Duvall has instead written a book full of optimism in the face of adversity. I was all set to despise the evil Bastien. The author had other plans. Instead there’s the question of what is truly the real nemesis and what might it have to do with the mysterious lady? Oh and then there was the really shocking revelation about Marcus. That was so cool! What is Ms. Duvall going to do with that story thread? I mean, how is she going to explain that? I can’t wait to find out.

Darkness Dawns kept me reading every chance I could until I got to the happily ever after because every time I came to the end of a chapter, there was something more exciting just around the corner. Oh, and I have to share that I simply burst into giggles with Roland’s reaction about Sarah’s flu. Just the way Ms. Duvall wrote that whole part of the chapter had me snorting with hilarity and melting into a sappy pile of happy goo. I absolutely adored this story and I was entertained and thrilled all the way through. I think this story rocks and I can’t wait to find out which guardian immortal is going to get his happily ever after next. This book has a great concept and the author has a story telling voice that I completely enjoyed.

Darkness Dawns gets a Best Book from me because the strength of writing is just that good. I want more.

To Sin With Scandal by Tamara Gill

To Sin With Scandal by Tamara Gill
Publisher: Noble Romance
Genre: Historical
Length: Short Story (22 pages)
Heat Level: spicy
Rating: 3 books
Reviewed by Lavender

One night of passion with the notorious rake, Lord Scandal. Every need satisfied, nothing expected in return. All Lady Miranda Fitsimmon has to do is keep her rendezvous with the man secret from the ton and her heart inured to the memory of their past.

Lord Scandal, otherwise known as Lord Sedley, no longer desires such meaningless liaisons in the ton. His taste for bed sport has changed. He only desires one woman to warm his sheets. And when the woman he thought never to see grace his home walks into his library and expects all her desires to be sated, his resolve to redeem himself is tested.

Can one night of sin give them both what they crave the most? Or will past wounds be too deep to forgive and forget?

To Sin With Scandal by Tamara Gill is a steamy, historical short story with passion.

Lord Sedly has earned himself a reputation as a rake and therefore acquired the name “Lord Scandal”.

He and the widow Lady Miranda Fitsimmon have a past together. They see each other seven years after a romantic incident that had ended in pain and regret for them both. She had thought they loved each other before and had expected marriage but soon caught him with another woman in a very private situation. Hurt, she married another. He then went through a string of women.

Now, in the present, as a widow, she sees him and longs for him. As a womanizer, he initially comes off as being somewhat unlikeable, yet he hints at complexity with his secret yearning to find love and settle down. He carries some shame for his actions, redeeming him.

Miranda is a likeable character, and Lord Sedly, Merrick, becomes one. There was definite chemistry between them, but a few times, I was confused about their motivations and actions. Some decisions were perplexing. Why does Miranda only seem to want a one-night stand if she loves him and is now available? Why did he think she betrayed him?

Some parts of the story didn't seem logical. For example, she was a widow whose husband had been neglectful in bed, yet she showed the talent of a courtesan with Merrick, but then later he said her husband had been affectionate with her. I thought Miranda's husband had been not-so-good to her. This discrepancy is not addressed.

I did enjoy the heat level of the story, and the deeper issues it touched upon, especially the topic of forgiveness, giving this short story some depth. I liked the ending as well. All-in-all quite satisfying.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Guarding Pax by Viola Grace

Guarding Pax by Viola Grace
Sector Guard 15
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (64 Pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4.5 Books
Reviewed by Holly

Tricia Williams has been handed over to the Sector Guard, her talent for tranquilizing those around her has become dangerous and uncontrolled. The Sector Guard techs rise to the challenge and in no time, Tricia has been outfitted with a uniform that will let her eat and converse in public without putting her in a bubble. Guardian is her new commanding officer and they have met before. When she was a mediator and he was joining the Alliance, she mediated his contract and he took a place in her nocturnal fantasies from that day onward. Now, assigned to Guardian as a partner, Pax has several things to deal with, and her life depends on his attention to detail. If he would stop staring at her butt, things would go a lot smoother.

The Sector Guard just keeps growing. Guarding Pax is book fifteen in the series, and the last to add personnel to Battle Base Udell, at least for now.

When Tricia Williams’ talent for pacifying ramps up and becomes uncontrollable, the powers that be at the Citadel hand her over to the Sector Guard. She is to become the newest member of the Guard, to be trained to control her pheromones, or as she prefers, her particles. She hasn’t been able to be around people in months, and she is tired of containment bubbles. So when Fixer creates a suit that will contain her ability, she is overjoyed to be free again.

When she is told she is to partner with Guardian, one of the few beings she can be around, she doesn’t understand the implications at first. What she does know is, the first time she met Guardian was when she negotiated his contract for his term with the Alliance, and the same electric connection is between them now as was there when they met.

Martuas, or Guardian, is just as surprised to see her, and as commander of Udell base, he looks forward to helping her become all that she can become, and that includes becoming his mate. She just doesn’t know that part yet. Can Tricia, as Guardsman Pax, gain control over her talent and live a normal life? Will she accept all that Guardian offers? Can this be a new beginning for her, and brighter future with Guardian?

I never get tired of seeing the progress in Viola Grace’s imaginative and unique universe, and this one stretches the boundaries once again. I never know what to expect from Ms. Grace, but I know it will be an enjoyable and delightful experience. The characters are intriguing and multi faceted, and the adventure they are thrust into is dangerous and fast paced.

I like the spunky nature that Tricia/Pax displays, once she is able to freely interact with others. She is a strong character, able to cope with being isolated for long periods, until she is finally ‘contained’ by Fixer. Her humor and her sarcastic verbal jabs as she communicates with Guardian are fun and witty. Her surprise when it is revealed that she is not fully Terran is tempered by her relief at being able to remain free.

Martuas/Guardian is one very hot Nharvil male. He is impervious to the emissions that Tricia puts out, making him the perfect mate and partner for her. He is tall, handsome and silver, and he can’t wait to be alone with his partner. I liked his acceptance of her as she was, but also his recognition that she was in transition, and was able to prepare her for what was to come.

This latest addition to the Sector Guard series brings back a few familiar characters from other books, and I enjoyed catching up with their lives. There is a humorous scene in which one of Fixer’s twins finally says her first word, mimicking her mother with a word that shuts her mother up quite effectively, while amusing the whole medical team of Morganti Base.

There is laughter, danger and adventure, but there is also passion and romance. Do they get a happy ever after? Read Guarding Pax to find out.

Becoming Mr. Brooking by Marguerite Butler

Becoming Mr. Brooking by Marguerite Butler
Publisher: Aspen Mountain Press
Genre: Historical (Regency)
Length: Full Length (175 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Book Rating: 3.5 books
Reviewed by Camellia

Edwina Tolliver is the sister of noted botanist Sir Horace Tolliver. More than anything, the Tolliver family fortunes rest upon securing sponsorship of her brother's scientific expedition. The last thing she expects, or needs, is to be so helplessly attracted to their sponsor's secretary, Mr. Brooking.

Graham Hatterly is fond of pranks. As far as he's concerned, life is about having a good time. When his secretary, Mr. Brooking suddenly becomes ill on the eve of traveling to investigate a business proposal, this younger son thinks it will be a lark go in his secretary's place. The last thing he expects is to meet the woman of his dreams.

Trapped in the Cotswolds by a flood, there is no escape from the temptations and complications that arise from Graham's game of becoming Mr. Brooking.

Becoming Mr. Brooking is an engaging and rather humorous Regency story that gives the reader a bird’s eye view of how Graham Hatterby, a younger son, evolves from a somewhat useless rake and wastrel to a mature, caring man with a purpose in life.

Edwina Toliver, orphaned at sixteen, manages the estate of her absent-minded, scientist brother Sir Horace. She works with extremely limited funds, while he pursues his scientific interests. She is about ready to strangle him if he says, “You’ll manage” one more time when she tries to tell him they are desperate for money. Intelligent and talented in art and science, Edwina labors without recognition. She writes the proposal and sends it to The Second Fiddle Club requesting funding for Sir Horace’s expedition to Africa. She signs a man’s name as if her brother has a secretary. Little did she know the impact that missive would have on her life.

When Graham Hatterby shows up early, unannounced, and disguised as his secretary Mr. Brooking, Edwina must rally all forces and funds to accommodate the gentleman that she hopes will approve funding for her brother’s expedition.

Like most deceits, Graham’s creates a tangled web that ensnares himself and Edwina, bringing dismay, hurt, and grief.

Even though events and outcomes are predictable, Marguerite Butler uses the mores and taboos of the Regency period to create an entertaining story of a girl, past her prime in Regency time, and a man, drifting aimlessly until fate or whatever brings them together. The conflicts, complications, humor, and love make Becoming Mr. Brooking delightful reading.