Sunday, September 28, 2008

Demon Bound, by Meljean Brook - Review

Note: this is the latest in a continuing series. Go here for my thoughts on the series thus far.

Another note: Arachnophobes, beware….

Like most of Meljean Brook’s fans, I’ve been waiting all summer for Demon Bound, to find out more about the mysterious Alice and “youngster” Guardian Jake. It must be a little nerve-wracking for popular authors, to live up to the expectations of their (possibly rabid) fans… but Ms. Brook should rest easy, because Demon Bound will satisfy the most demanding fan.

Brook creates the most unusual heroines. Really. I didn’t think she could top Lillith, a two-thousand year old demon, for pure out-there-ness, but Alice comes awfully close. She’s creepy, cold, aloof, and on a mission to kill one of the series’ most beloved characters. She has an extremely creepy affinity for spiders. If that scene in the second Harry Potter movie freaks you out, well. Prepare to be freaked out again. Did I mention that she’s creepy? She’s creepy, that’s definitely the word. At least, she seems that way at first. Developing this character into a strong but vulnerable, empathetic heroine seems pretty unlikely, and constitutes the best part of Demon Bound.

On second thought, maybe the best part of Demon Bound is Jake. He is awfully good. A youngster in the current pantheon of Guardians, his immaturity at a mere 60 years is something of a theme for his character. Now, you wouldn’t think that “immature” is the best starting point for an alpha hero, but somehow it works. Like all of Brook’s Guardians, Jake has a deep, immutable streak of honor that gives his cheeky, wisecracking, sometimes hesitant personality balance. It’s unrealistic to expect Jake to emerge at the end of the story with the—hmmm, I’m repeating myself—maturity of Ethan or Hugh or Colin, and he doesn’t, but his ebullience and desire to prove himself turn out to be the perfect foil for Alice’s somberness.

Ah, but wait, the best part of the book is the way they outwit the demon Tequon and the bargain that Alice made with him. I absolutely LOVE this kind of intricate puzzle with the AHA, I-love-it-when-a-plan-comes-together ending. (Those of you who only know of Paul Newman* from the salad dressing need to add The Sting to your Netflix queue.) Seriously, this book has the most deliciously perfect plot twist at the end.

Now, if you thought you knew everything there was to know about the delicate balance of humans, Guardians, demons, and other immortals in Brook’s universe, be prepared for more surprises and more revelations (really, the appearance of the nephilim in Demon Night should’ve taught you that lesson). I myself am ridiculously ignorant of biblical mythology, so after I finished this book I went on a little wikipedia safari and I have to hand it to Brook, her fictional world is beautifully created from—and is consistent with-- threads of existing lore. She’s not done building this world yet; each book brings another layer of intrigue and possibility.

Beyond the romance and intrigue that make up Demon Bound, there is another theme here that elevates it out of the category of fluff (not that there’s anything wrong with fluff): both Jake and Alice are able to achieve their Happily Ever After only by facing and overcoming their fears. Alice’s personal Sword of Damocles has informed every aspect of her life as a Guardian, and she has spent more than a century trying to figure out a way to avoid her final impossible choice. Only when forced to work through an active solution does she defeat her demons, literal and figurative. Jake, too, works through issues both trivial and profound in order to help Alice while still acting honorably as a Guardian. His subplot of coming to terms with the remaining threads of his former earthly life is tender and moving – although a relatively small part of the story, it may well be the best part.

Brook continues to deliver surprising characters, relationships, paranormal elements, and plot twists – the only thing that won’t surprise you is your total inability to put this book down.

For the series reading order, see my recent post.
_______________
*RIP, Paul Newman. For a lovely tribute, see Stacy's latest post. Other than her failure to mention The Sting (heh), her thoughts are very similar to mine. We'll miss you, Paul Newman -- you were one of the good guys.

.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Honey, I'm Home....

I'm back from my whirlwind tour of the Midwest... visiting grandparents, friends, and relatives in three states. I drove about 1,000 miles in the last week, and had hardly any time for reading, much less for the blogosphere.

While I was gone, J. Kaye did a spotlight on Alpha Heroes (thank you!!), several people picked up on the bloghopping challenge, and I won a copy of CL Wilson's King of Sword and Sky. Maybe I should neglect the blog more often.

....Nahhhh. Obviously, I have Amy's BBAW event to thank for the increased traffic.

Anyway, I'm home now, and napped the afternoon away, so I can expect to have the long-awaited Demon Bound review up sometime tomorrow.

That's the plan anyway!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Chosen Sin



Anya Bast is running quite the contest over at her blog. Daily book giveaways, plus a grand prize involving a nice chunk of book money. Click here to enter The Chosen Sin Celebration contest.

The contest question: "If you were turned into a vampire today and were looking at immortality and a very, very, very long life, who would you turn to become your companion?" Hmmmm. I'm sure I should say "my husband." But as long as we're in the realm of fiction, I think I'm going to go with Cadeon Woede, a Kresley Cole character.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Road To (You Know Where)....

I really did have good intentions.

I intended to post some upcoming release dates tonight.

I intended to post something pithy and wonderful about Demon Bound tomorrow.

And up until sometime yesterday, both of those things seemed to be within the realm of possibility.

Now? Not so much. I'm getting ready to take my kids cross-country tomorrow to visit family and I'm too fried to do any justice to either topic. Also, not sure how much access/time I'm going to have in the next week... so if you don't see me for a little while, don't worry, I'll be back--promise!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And the Winner Is.....................

Jackie!

Email me your snail mail addy, please!

Giveaway Deadline Approaching....

I'll take comments up to 2:00 pm today Pacific Time (that's about 3 more hours), and announce the winner at 2:30. Don't miss your chance!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Alpha Heroes’ First Challenge: Bloghopping

One of the things I like best about having entered the blogosphere is finding other cool and interesting bloggers. So this challenge is not specifically about books and book blogging, although you could keep that focus if you like.

Don’t we all love to find comments? Feedback is one of the things that keep us going. So here’s the challenge.

  1. Starting here, find a linked blog that you’ve never been to before. It does not have to be book-related. If none of the links in my sidebar are new to you, hit the BBAW list and start there.

  2. Go to the blog you’ve chosen and browse through the posts until you find something you find interesting. Leave a comment. Mention where you found the link. Mention of this challenge is optional.

  3. Using the links in THAT blog, repeat. If you find yourself somewhere that does not have any new-to-you links, go back to the BBAW list. Be sure to leave a comment in each location, mentioning where you found their site linked.

  4. Repeat until you have visited 10 new blogs.

  5. Write a post on your blog showing your bloghopping trail. Content is up to you; you can highlight your favorites, critique the sites, or just post the list of 10. I recommend you open up a word document (or whatever you use) and list out the urls as you go. It's really REALLY easy to get distracted doing this and lose track of where you were.

  6. I’d love it if you link back to this post.

  7. Optional: add your favorites to your own sidebar, or temporarily put up a blogroll widget with the 10 sites you visited.

  8. Optional: Come back here and leave a link to your post in comments.



Prize: your widened blogosphere horizons. Happy blog-hopping!

_________________________________

Note to bloggers who would like to copy this post: You are more than welcome to repost the rules of this challenge on your own blog, and to have folks start with your own blogroll instead of mine. I would however still love to see a comment here at Alpha Heroes from folks who decide to try the challenge!

_________________________________

OK, here's my trail:


Real Life is Over Rated chosen at random from the BBAW list. No links :(
Romancing the Desert – Sheikh Books chosen at random from the BBAW list
The Pink Heart Society lots of links but not to blogs :( this is harder than I thought!
Back to the BBAW list for the simply-titled The Book Blog
The Auchinleck Academy Library (hmmmm. Auchinleck? Whassat? Interesting…) I didn’t leave a comment here; it turns out to be a school-oriented website clearly targeted for school members & families…
Simply Romance Reviews chosen not-so-randomly from the BBAW list. Oooo. Giveaways. Lots! And from there to….
Lust in Time, a group author blog. How do you resist a blog name like that? LOL. And thence to
Risky Regencies Hee. Fun stuff, don’t miss the Rime of the Vulcan Mariner. Not too many blog links though, just Smart Bitches and this one:
Laurie Likes Books No, I didn’t know she was the AAR Laurie. But I have never been there before, so it counts! Final stop:
Alyssa’s Book Blog: Love it!

That was fun! I didn't love every blog out there, but that's OK. One of the great things about the blog world is how much personality the owner can give her blog, which makes for a more diverse and fascinating internet for us all! (Sorry. It's late. I wax maudlin sometimes.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Romeo, Romeo, by Robin Kaye – Review

I don’t normally do this, but just this once, I’m going to post the back cover blurb for this book:

Rosalie Ronaldi doesn't have a domestic bone in her body ...
All she cares about is her career, so she survives on take-out and dirty martinis, keeps her shoes under the dining room table, her bras on the shower curtain rod, and her clothes on the couch ...


Nick Romeo is every woman's fantasy - tall, dark, handsome, rich, really good in bed, AND he loves to cook and clean ...
He says he wants an independent woman, but when he meets Rosalie, all he wants to do is take care of her. Before too long, he's cleaned up her apartment, stocked her refrigerator, and adopted her dog ...


So what's the problem? Just a little matter of mistaken identity, corporate theft, a hidden past in juvenile detention and one big nosy Italian family too close for comfort ...


Ms. Kaye has put together a debut novel that combines rapid-fire dialog, an interesting plot, and a sort of bewildering array of secondary characters. There are some parts that work, and some that kind of don’t, but I will say that the critical ingredient for a good romance is here: chemistry. The sparks between the hero and heroine light up the pages and create a believable motivation for them to work through the conflicts that get thrown their way. Nick’s devotion to Rosalie is a pleasure to read about, and it’s nice to see a heroine with a career that she cares about.

I also felt like the plot worked pretty well. It hinges around the acquisition of a car dealership, which is a bit unique in the world of romance. It has a bit more of a human scope; it might be something that readers can more easily imagine themselves doing, but on the other hand it also felt a little less… well, romantic than other possibilities. Still, it provides a reasonable plot, a source of conflict, and no one is Too Stupid To Live.

My biggest problem with the book is that one particular character sort of took over and got in the way in a lot of places. That character? the Bronx. First, every person in the book spoke with the same rhythm and pacing and vocabulary, from Our Intrepid Couple to the bitchy sister to da goombas (“Dante DeEsposito? Does your mother know what you do?”) in da back office, you should excuse the expression. I think this is why I was a little slow to warm up to Nick, but it did happen eventually.

Second, there seemed to be an awful lot of characters running into each other coincidentally. I mean, I know there are some tight-knit neighborhoods in the Bronx, so I hear, but really? You run into your grandmother when you’re jogging in the park? You run into family members and their extra-curricular significant other at a restaurant you’ve never been to? I grew up in a town of 6,000 and it wasn’t that bad.

And finally, hmmm, how do I put this? It’s my impression that New Yorkers believe that NYC is not so much the center of the universe, just the only bit that matters. There are ways to treat this humorously, but if that was the intent, it didn’t work for me: “Honey, as far as I’m concerned, there are only three cities: New York, Chicago, and LA. If you’re not from one of the above, you’re a bumpkin.” Uh, OK. Am I being overly sensitive by feeling juuuuuust a tad insulted? Maybe. Maybe not.

In the same sort of spirit, I think, the family members bugged me a little bit too. I’m all for crazy but loveable families that drive you nuts. As background in a book, I’m also down with dark family situations that supply the characters with a lot of baggage. This one was neither. Rosalie’s family, with the possible exception of her brother, are petty, bickering, nasty little people who don’t seem remotely loveable to me. Fortunately, they stayed well in the background for most of the book. And – this is REALLY petty—Ronaldi? Not a great choice for an Italian family name. Rinaldi would’ve worked better. Seriously, how many Italians do you know named Ronald?

So, not my favorite book ever. But because the two main characters really worked for me, and more importantly, for each other, I will likely give Ms. Kaye a second chance. Plus, the world needs a few more vampire-less romances these days.


ps, I did not find a website for Robin Kaye but here is her GoodReads page.

BBAW: Homework for Monday

As outlined below, I have a post ready to go that I'll put up tonight. But in the meantime, Amy has given us a BBAW assignment for the day, to wit:
To get us started...you may have noticed that the blogs you love best and appreciate didn't make the list of nominations! So today is your chance to thank them. Write a post thanking or highlighting the book blogs you love to read (be sure to link to them!) and then come back here [and link].


My favorite book blogs should come as no surprise: Ciaralira and Literary Escapism are the two that I check daily. One reason is because Ciara and Jackie are really dedicated bloggers who put a huge amount of effort into providing solid, interesting content. Another is because there is good alignment between my taste and theirs -- if they recommend something, there's a pretty good chance that I'm going to like it too. And I have a soft spot for both of them because they were the first ones to put a link to Alpha Heroes on their blogs. It took awhile for me to figure out how valuable that courtesy is.

Honorable mention goes to Shannon at What Women Read, for much the same reasons. She's third on my list only because it took us longer to find each other. ;-)

For a slightly out of date but more extensive list, please see my post from last May.

Let the appreciation continue!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Coming Events

You may have seen some buzz around this event. Blogger Amy kicked off plans last month and it’s gotten a lot of momentum. The official site is here: BBAW and you should definitely check it out, for the tons of giveaways, if nothing else.

I’m planning to use BBAW as a sort of inspiration to try some new things. As you may know, if you’ve been following Alpha Heroes very long, I do have a day job, and kids, and a few other things to do besides read and blog, so although I’m having a blast with this blog and remain slightly obsessed with tracking my statistics, it’s still very much a dabbly part-time thing for me. My goal is to always post at least once a week, and I shoot for twice. This coming week, I’m going to ratchet up the pressure a notch, and try a couple of new things. One of those new things involves a strange concept called “planning ahead.” In order to meet my goals for the week, I’m going to have to get a lot of the work done this weekend and then post on a schedule. That’s very new for me; once I have a post composed I usually can’t wait to get it posted and shared. But at any rate, here is my plan for Book Blogger Appreciation Week:

Monday: Advance review of newcomer Robin Kaye
Tuesday: Alpha Heroes’ first hosted challenge
Wednesday: Giveaway announcement (sign up here.)
Thursday: Upcoming Releases
Friday: Grand Finale, a review of my currently most prized possession, an [autographed, squee!] ARC of Meljean Brook’s Demon Bound.

I hope you’ll join me and the rest of the BBAWers this week, and just wallow in the book-love.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Kushiel’s Legacy, by Jacqueline Carey – Series Review

*****NOTE: GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED*****

I’ve hesitated to review these books here because they aren’t romances. However, since they really are among my favorite books ever, I think that’s probably a good enough reason to bend my policy a little.

You won’t find these books in the romance section; they are firmly entrenched in the fantasy genre. The description that best fits them is probably “alternate history,” as the geography and linguistics are readily recognizable as Renaissance Europe, with forays into the MidEast, Russia, Scandinavia, and northern Africa.

Terre d’Ange, where our main characters hail from, is a loosely re-defined Paris and France. The society revolves around a really unique religion that is founded upon the tenet “Love as thou wilt.” No kind of sincere, consensual love is taboo; instead it is not only accepted but revered and honored. Such a basis has the potential for turning into little more than freaky porn, but anyone expecting that will be disappointed. There are some explicit scenes, but they are fairly few and far between. Often they happen for the purpose of furthering the plot more so than developing romantic relationships.

While the characterizations and relationships are rooted in the religious/sexuality layer of the universe, the intricate plotting is all about politics. Of course, much of the politics is driven by the complex web of family loyalties and vendettas, and the strangely compelling connections resulting from the “free love” way of life.

The series overall consists of two trilogies. The first follows Phèdre, an extraordinary woman who bears the mark of Kushiel, the angel known as “The Punisher of God” and patron saint of--not to put too fine a point on it--sado-masochism. Recognized at an early age by a rather mysterious figure, Phèdre is adopted and raised in sort of a spymaster’s apprenticeship, or in Carey’s vernacular, “trained in the arts of covertcy.” (Which is not a word, outside the Kushielverse. I looked it up. But it should be.) These skills, along with her birthright as sort of a sublime masochist, puts Phèdre at the center of several epic adventures that involve the fate of nations, warfare, sorcery, and a dash of divine mystery.

The second trilogy is headed by Imriel, Phèdre’s foster son, and continues the theme of epic adventure into the next generation. The adventures are different and the characters are different, but if you like the first trilogy, you would probably like the second also. I found the second trilogy slightly less compelling, as is the way of things with second trilogies, but still deeply absorbing.

Part of the allure of Carey’s books is in the language. Lyrical, lush, rhythmic, nearly poetic. It reminds me a little of Anne Rice at her very best, only better. I absolutely love it and find the writing and the world of Terre d’Ange completely immersive.

I think what I like best about these books is the way the world-building and the characters interlock seamlessly to drive the plot. I believe they are character-driven books, which I love, but the construction of the world shapes the characters which in turn drive the plot, which hinges upon the structure of the world. I can’t think of another book or series that weave these three aspects together so skillfully.

A word of warning – there are a few scenes that are not for the faint of heart. If the notion of putting sex on a level with worship makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the series for you. If you cannot imagine a world where true love includes non-monogamous… let’s call them “events,” you may be put off. And if you can’t imagine an erotic encounter including pain, give it a pass. Incidently, if you like the first book with only some reservations around this point, I would recommend that you skip the third one. It’s quite disturbing, IMO.

As for me though, I love everything about them. I think they’re not for everyone, which is why I’m finding myself spending more space than usual on caveats and qualifications. But I love ‘em.

Did I mention that I love them? I do. I really, really do.

Reading order:

  1. Kushiel’s Dart

  2. Kushiel’s Chosen

  3. Kushiel’s Avatar


  4. Kushiel’s Scion

  5. Kushiel’s Justice

  6. Kushiel’s Mercy


Upcoming: a third trilogy set in the same universe but several generations in the future. We get to see some of the long-term fallout of things that happened in Scion and Justice.

NOW, FOR THE REALLY GOOD PART: ALPHA HEROES' FIRST GIVEAWAY

Due to a certain lack of planning and or organization on my part, I ended up with TWO beautiful hardback copies of Kushiel’s Mercy. Due to the same weaknesses, plus a dash of laziness, I never got around to returning the extra one. So, one lucky reader is going to get their very own copy. Warning to you series OCD types: it’s the LAST of the six books. Mwuahahahahaha.

Because it’s hardback and a thick book, I’m going to limit the giveaway to the US. Leave a comment on THIS POST and next Wednesday, as a Book Blogger Awareness Week highlight, I will announce the [randomly chosen] winner. Thanks for playing!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Trial By Fire, By Jo Davis

I've been meaning to review this book. I saw Shannon's review a few weeks ago, and well, with a rec like that, and me actively looking for new contemporary authors to try, it didn't take long for me to hit the bookstore and nab my own copy.

I'd like to say that I loved it as much as Shannon. First of all, I'm not sure that's possible, LOL. Secondly though, to tell the truth I was a little lukewarm on it. This is Ms. Davis' debut novel and if it isn't revoltingly condescending of me to say so, I think she shows a lot of potential. Trial By Fire has some definite great points--Howard's abs and love scenes that really work top the list-- but I found some of the dialog and some of the narrative to be a little clunky. Really good characters though, with good chemistry will keep Davis on my to-read list; I mean, who doesn't love a fireman? I also liked the little tidbits we got about the fellow squad members to lay the groundwork for future books. They seem like unique characters in the their own right, not cookie-cutter copies.

I must admit, choosing today to feature a book about firemen is not exactly an accident-- Jo Davis is being featured today at MyLifetime.com, and it seemed appropriate. I hope it doesn't come off as cheesy or exploitive; it's meant to be topical and a salute, if you will.

On this day in 2001, in the midst of tragedy and loss, we were priviledged to see true heroism in action. Those of us who spend our free time cuddled up with fictional heroes can perhaps appreciate that even more than most.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Series Reading Order

It’s been pointed out to me that I generally don’t bother to list the reading order for the various series that I review. I figure that it’s usually pretty easy to ferret out from either Amazon or the author’s website, but I’m all about the feedback, so if that’s a service my readers want, I’m happy to oblige.

So here’s the reading order for a few of the series that I’ve talked about in the past:

Historicals

The Bridgertons, by Julia Quinn

  1. The Duke and I

  2. The Viscount Who Loved Me

  3. An Offer From A Gentleman

  4. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton

  5. To Sir Phillip, With Love

  6. When He Was Wicked

  7. It's In His Kiss

  8. On The Way to the Wedding


The Cynsters, by Stephanie Laurens

  1. Devil’s Bride

  2. A Rake’s Vow

  3. Scandal’s Bride

  4. A Rogue’s Proposal

  5. A Secret Love

  6. All About Love

  7. All About Passion

  8. The Promise in a Kiss

  9. On a Wild Night

  10. On a Wicked Dawn

  11. The Perfect Lover

  12. The Ideal Bride

  13. The Truth About Love

  14. What Price Love?

  15. The Taste of Innocence (wasn’t crazy about this one)


The Bastion Club, by Stephanie Laurens

  1. Captain Jack’s Woman (prequel—meh)

  2. The Lady Chosen

  3. A Gentleman’s Honor

  4. A Lady of His Own

  5. A Fine Passion

  6. To Distraction

  7. Beyond Seduction

  8. The Edge of Desire


The Carsington Brothers, by Loretta Chase

  1. Miss Wonderful

  2. Mr. Impossible

  3. Lord Perfect



Contemporaries:
Huh. It looks like most of the contemporaries I’ve talked about are not part of series, but more stand-alones. Leave me a comment if there are series that I’ve missed!

Paranormals:
Ah, paranormals. So many series, so little time. I’m just going to do a few here, or this post will be ridiculously long.

First up, of course, is JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood:

  1. Dark Lover

  2. Lover Eternal

  3. Lover Awakened

  4. Lover Revealed

  5. Lover Unbound

  6. Lover Enshrined

  7. The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider’s Guide (coming in October 2008)

  8. Dead After Dark* (coming in December 2008)

  9. Lover Avenged (coming in May 2009)


Meljean Brook’s Guardian Series:

  1. Hot Spell*

  2. Demon Angel

  3. Wild Thing*

  4. Demon Moon

  5. Demon Night

  6. First Blood*

  7. Demon Bound (coming in November 2008)


Nalini Singh's Shifter/Psy series:

  1. An Enchanted Season*

  2. Slave to Sensation

  3. Visions of Heat

  4. Caressed by Ice

  5. The Magical Christmas Cat* (coming October 2008)

  6. Mine to Possess

  7. Hostage to Pleasure

  8. Branded by Fire (not yet released, but the exerpt is page-meltingly hot)



Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series:

  1. Playing Easy to Get*

  2. A Hunger Like No Other

  3. No Rest for the Wicked

  4. Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night

  5. Dark Needs at Night’s Edge

  6. Dark Desires After Dusk

  7. Kiss of a Demon King (coming in Feb 2009)

  8. Not That Innocent* (coming in May 2009)


Lynn Viehl’s Darkyn Series

  1. If Angels Burn

  2. Dark Need

  3. Private Demon

  4. Night Lost

  5. Evermore

  6. Twilight Fall

  7. Stay The Night (coming in Jan 2009)


*Titles with an asterisk are anthologies which contain a novella or short story within the same universe as the series.

That help, Erin? I hereby promise to include the reading order for any series I review in the future. :-)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Change is Good

I'm thinking about a new look for the blog. I'm not really a SCREAMING PINK sort of person, but of the standard offerings, this current initial one seemed like the most logical one for a romance oriented blog.

What do you think of this one? test blog

(I'm having trouble making the title text behave, but I'm sure it's something I can figure out. Eventually.)

ps...... it's done! love to hear what you think.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Darkness Chosen Series, by Christina Dodd - Review

Love. This. Series.

I’ve been a Christina Dodd fan for a long time. Historicals, contemporaries, and now paranormals – this writer does it all and does it well.

Generally I try to provide some kind of angle on an author, but I’m having a little trouble pinning anything unique down for Ms. Dodd. Now, that sounds like a bad thing—are her stories generic? No, not at all, but I think she doesn't have a particularly distinctive style. She takes advantage of trends, moving from medievals to Regencies to contemporaries to paranormals with the shifts in the market. If she weren’t so damn good at what she does, some folks might find that objectionable. So if you’re a die-hard historical fan who got hooked on her Regencies, I suppose you might be annoyed.

I’m trying really hard not to damn Dodd with faint praise here, with words like “reliable” and “competent” coming to mind. Make no mistake, these are big compliments as far as I’m concerned. It’s no secret that there are a lot of crappy books out there on the new release tables, and for me, it’s nice to know where to go for a sure thing.

Even so, I was surprised when I saw the sneak peek for Scent of Darkness. Fortunately, I was well into my recent paranormal addiction, and it was a very tantalizing peek indeed (yummmm) so I couldn’t wait to scoop it up. Jasha is about as hunky as they get, and I loved Ann’s quiet competence.

After two years or so of near-immersion in paranormal romance and fantasy, I’ve started to figure out one of the make-or-break points in this kind of story: it's the moment when the mortal, “normal” character realizes that something very weird is going on. Dodd handles it perfectly, IMO, by 1)offering incontrovertible evidence—Ann watches Jasha shapeshift before her eyes—and then 2)throwing them into mortal physical danger without allowing them too much time to think. Let the adrenaline kick in, and logic can get sorted out later. By contrast, I’m having some trouble with Jacob, by Jacqueline Frank, and I think it’s because the heroine is just so calm about it all. Demons, you say? How interesting. How lovely. They seem nice. Ooo, look at all the books. Oooooookay then.

I really like the mythology that Dodd builds up for this series. It’s straight from traditional Russian fairy tales, with a bit of Catholic mysticism thrown in for good measure. The premise is that the Varinski family made a deal with the Devil some thousand or so years ago, and the moment is now upon them where the deal just might be broken. On the line is no less – and no more—than the immortal souls of the current branch of Varinsky tree (Americanized to the Wilders), deeply marked by evil but struggling toward redemption. While the author describes the struggle as “epic,” in one blog post, I don’t really see it that way. Star Wars is epic. The Wayfarer Redemption series (a double trilogy) is epic. Nothing less than an entire planet and its sentient population is at stake. Epic is pretty hard to do, IMO. A single family, far-flung as it may be, struggling more or less in secret, is a far more believable scope for urban fantasy; especially if it's set in the same world I'm supposed to recognize. And Dodd does a good job of balancing the Varinski’s evil “superpowers” with her own brand of kryptonite.

Touch of Darkness, well, it moved so fast I didn’t really notice its flaws until after I was done, which pretty much tells you its strong point: it does a great job of forwarding the series arc, the action is superb and the pacing hurtles you through it. Tasya is perhaps Ann’s polar opposite; an adventurous photojournalist bent on revenge, who has an inkling of the Wilder family secret. And everyone knows that a journalist and a deep dark family secret is a bad combination. The sparks between her and Rurik were good too. My one complaint is that their occupations, which have a lot of potential, were kind of just blown off after the first couple of chapters. Plus, I just don’t find birds as sexy as wolves or big cats, I guess.

Into the Shadow is by far my favorite. For those readers who are tired of seeing romances set in the same old places, try the Himalayas. In a region steeped in superstition, Karen is already a believer in things that go bump in the night before she discovers Adrik’s dark side. The seduction between the two of them is the hottest thing I’ve read in ages, and I don’t mean any single scene. Adrik is as edgy of a hero as I’ve ever seen, and yet his redemption is believable and gut-wrenching. Their relationship tests the unwritten boundaries of genre romance, and there is an element of non-consensuality that some may find untenable. For me, the way the characters manage it and react to it works, but others may disagree. The series arc ratchets up in violence as the unredeemed Varinskis throw all their significant, Devil-sponsored resources into preventing the Wilders from fulfilling the prophecy that will cost them their power. And Karen’s father plays a great role that goes well beyond the typical cardboard generator of daddy issues.

Into the Fire was a bit anticlimactic for me. With 20/20 hindsight, I think it’s fair to say that Dodd gave a little too much away in the preceding books, leaving the last one to be just too predictable. If anyone can’t figure out the role that Firebird is going to play in the prophecy before they even start the book; if anyone can’t figure out what the impossible thing that the little child does the instant the clue is dropped, well, that person would have to be even less subtle than I am. Which is pretty thick.

On the romance, I thought that the hero, Doug, was way underdeveloped. I suspect that there was just so much going on, so many ends to tie up, that there weren’t enough pages to develop the romance between Doug and Firebird. Another beef I had with this book is tough to discuss without spoilering, so I’ll just say I didn’t quite buy what happened with Firebird herself at the very end. And one last nit-pick-- the prologue is in the first person: some… person… listening to his? her? Russian grandmother tell the story of the Varinski legend. As I said, I’m not very good with subtle, and I haven’t the foggiest notion who this “I” person is. Which irritates me, perhaps disproportionately.

It sounds like I hated the book, but I didn’t at all. It missed the mark a bit, but the mark was set pretty high by the previous 3 books. What IS good about #4 is that it provides a satisfying conclusion to the series arc; really good action scenes and a Final Battle that thoroughly delivers. The role of the Rom and Zorana’s gifts in this final book was a great addition, hinted at in book 3 but realized in a way that still held some surprises. If you’re a fan of Dodd’s contemporaries, or of paranormal romances, I would still recommend the series as a whole, despite its imperfections. While the romance element faltered a little in two of the books, taking a backseat to the action, I found the mythology compelling enough to push through those flaws, and I have to say, I absolutely loved each of the four scenes where the icon was found. Situations of extreme danger, of blood and natural elemental fury, along with a touch of mysticism, made each of these scenes a standout. I particularly liked how each icon struck a deep chord with the heroines. Each was individual but each formed a part of a greater whole. A standout series, truly.

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