Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder (Third Shift #1)

53279743Joe Peluso has blood on his hands. But lawyer and psychologist Neha Ahluwalia is determined to help him craft a solid defense…even if she can’t defend her own obsession. Because Joe took out those Russian mobsters for good reason–those six bad guys were part of the ruthless clan of bear shifters who control Brooklyn’s Russian mafia. His vigilante justice has earned him countless enemies in New York’s supernatural-controlled underworld, and no friends in a government that now bends to Russia at every turn.

Joe knows that creatures like him only deserve the worst. But meeting Neha makes him feel human for the first time in forever. But when the Russian mob attacks the jail for payback, Joe and Neha go on the run–from monsters who want him dead and from their own traitorous hearts.

Review:

I enjoyed Snyder’s Tikka Chance on Me so when I saw she’s coming out with a paranormal romance I jumped at the chance to read it. I usually shy away from books with mafia elements or ex-military heroes, but I enjoyed her look at motorcycle gangs so why not give it a try?

I’m so glad I did. Off the top, this book won’t be for everyone – the hero is a bit of an arse, there are two danger bangs, and while the consent is there it isn’t the most explicit. None of it ended up bothering me, though.

On to the good!

  • This is the first fiction I’ve read that truly interacts with what America has become politically since 2016, pushing it further into a dystopia. Think new Patriot Acts, detention camps on both borders, and drones tracking people in Sanctuary Cities. It’s an alternate 2021 that went off the rails even more than we actually did.
  • There are a bunch of supernatural folx, but Snyder doesn’t try to explain them all at once. Many series start with one kind of shifter then branch out, so I like that we’re starting with a mix here.
  • While we have a wolf character packs aren’t a thing. Instead of those forced relations we’re heading towards a found family, which is utterly my jam.
  • There are many PoVs and they work well together – the hero, heroine, Neha’s coworkers, and the staff at Third Shift.
  • Pretty much every character is from a marginalized group, including people of color, LGBTQIA+ folx, a Jewish guy, Sikh folx of varying devotion, and of course shifters.
  • The diversity of Indian culture is emphasized and celebrated – different languages, religions, styles of dress, and more. We even have a naga, so bonus points for non-Western supernatural beings.
  • I love the secondary characters and cannot wait for them to get their own HEAs, especially a certain Irish vampire who’s too charming for his own good.
  • One character is a cop but he has reservations about his day job, and things… change by the end. I like the way it’s handled.

The not-so-good:

  • Instalove, thanks to the fated mates trope. If you’re a paranormal romance fan it’s par for the course.
  • If you’re into explicit consent the danger bangs may leave you feeling squick-y. I’m not a huge fan of sex just after getting away from the bad guy, but I got through okay.

Big Bad Wolf takes place in a world that I do not want to live in but am happy to visit in fiction, especially with such a great cast of characters – I can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca for providing a review copy.

Binding Shadows by Jasmine Silvera (Tooth and Spell #1)

49231123._SY475_Hunting lost books is more than a job; it’s a way for Barbara to hide her powers in the mundane world of the university library. But the prickly new professor in charge of her latest assignment proves more than he seems, and rules are no match for her growing fascination.

After years of battling to cage the beast within him, Tobias returns to Prague and the safety of his pack of brothers. But keeping his family safe means never revealing his dual nature, not even to the irresistible research assistant with a nose for rare books.

Now, a 400-year-old witch’s revenge threatens to reveal everything they’ve concealed. Trapped between a witch and a necromancer, Barbara and Tobias must choose: embrace the powers that could expose them or allow their secrets to destroy them.

Review:

3.5 stars

I have been all about paranormal and science fiction romance lately so when the author asked if I’d be interested in a werewolf romance featuring people of color, written by a person of color I was all, yes please!

The reading process was utterly enjoyable – interesting characters in a world with a unique magic system, with enemies and happenings left and right. As soon as I finished I thought, four stars!, but unfortunately the book hasn’t stuck with me.

Why, though? I’m not sure. It’s probably me – a pandemic ramped up while I read this and heaven knows I was distracted. Regardless, I am excited to return to the world whenever the next book comes out, and hopefully I have a bit more brain space to give it its proper due.

Thanks to the author for providing a review copy.

Better Off Red by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Vampire Sorority Sisters #1)

10161265It’s rush but college freshman Ginger Carmichael more has important things on her mind, like maintaining her perfect GPA. No matter how much she can’t stand the idea of the cliques and the matching colors, there’s something about the girls of Alpha Beta Omega—their beauty, confidence, and unapologetic sexuality—that draws Ginger in. But once initiation begins, Ginger finds that her pledge is more than a bond of sisterhood, it’s a lifelong pact to serve six bloodthirsty demons with a lot more than nutritional needs.

Despite her fears, Ginger falls hard for the immortal queen of this nest, and as the semester draws to a close, she sees that protecting her family from the secret of her forbidden love is much harder than studying for finals.

Review:

I love Weatherspoon but her next book is half a year away (gah!) so I’ve decided to dip into her backlist. Better Off Red, a paranormal erotic romance, is her first book.

The good:

  • Huzzah for own voices queer romance! And if you’re looking for hot sapphic sex, we have lots of it here.
  • The plot is built around an interesting idea – that vampires would use a somewhat secretive institution, like a sorority, to recruit people to feed on. The world building in general is deeper and more well thought out than I was expecting in a debut.
  • I didn’t even think about rushing a sorority, so I like the look and observations about a corner of college life I know little about.
  • I’m a fan of the vampire mythology and ethos. Humans aren’t used merely as food – they’re carefully selected and protected for their entire life. It’s a loving relationship, both in feeling and deed.

The not-so-good:

  • There are some typical debut wobbles. The plot gallops a bit at the end, and I’m not sure I buy everything that happened.

Not amazing, but enough for me to pick up the next book in the series.

Close Quarter by Anna Zabo (Close Quarter #1)

35534292On a transatlantic cruise to New York, sculptor Rhys Matherton struggles to piece his life back together after losing his mother, inheriting a fortune, and finding out his father isn’t his father after all. He spills a tray of drinks on a handsome stranger, then he finds himself up against a wall getting the best hand-job he’s ever had. And for the first time in his life, he feels whole.

Rhys enjoys the company of Silas Quint, but for the eerie way no one pays attention to them even while they kiss in a crowded bar. Silas explains he’s a forest fae able to glamor the room around them—and more importantly, that he’s on the cruise to hunt vampires. Rhys thinks Silas is full of it, until he discovers vampires are real, and he’s part of their main course.

Review:

Zabo’s Twisted Wishes series (first book Syncopation) is amazing, but now that it’s over ~sob~ I wanted to dip into their backlist. The first book I came up with was Close Quarter, a paranormal m/m romance set on a cruise ship.

I have to admit, I wasn’t exactly sold by the jacket copy. Fae and vampires on a cruise ship? But Zabo does a good job of introducing us to the characters and slowly building out the world. We learn about fae and vampires (called soulless) along with Rhys and while there aren’t many high level ‘why the world is like this’ answers, I don’t expect that in the first book of a series.

I’m a fan of the relationship because, thanks to some paranormal handwaving, it’s based on an intimate knowledge of each other. There’s some great banter, too.

“You’re so damn young. Beautiful. Like a spring morning.”
“What, cold, foggy, and damp?”
Silas shifted on the tub’s edge, turned his hand to capture Rhys’s fingers. “Warm and occasionally dense. But full of promise.”

As hinted in the same jacket copy, the sex starts early and happens often. I love steaminess in my romance, and a bunch of the sex scenes help us understand Rhys and Silas’ relationship and how it evolves. At the same time, I think there’s too many of them. Whenever they finish fighting a baddie it’s back to the cabin for sex. At times it feels like stalling, waiting for night to fall so they can get back to killing soulless.

While the plot is fine it needed a little more. I would expect a 262 page book to have a solid subplot, but beyond Rhys wondering about his family we come up short. Part of that is because there are precious few characters – beside good guys Rhys and Silas we have the Big Bad, his cookie cutter lackies, and a waiter on the cruise ship. That’s it.

I would argue that this book could be edited down into a 150 novella and made amazing. As is it’s still a fun read and I would continue the series, but Close Quarter was written in 2012 and there still isn’t a sequel. Ah, well. I’m looking forward to moving on to Zabo’s contemporaries.

Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling #6)

 

5628753Though DarkRiver sentinel Mercy is feeling the pressure to mate, she savagely resists when Riley Kincaid, a lieutenant from the SnowDancer pack, tries to possess her. The problem is not simply that he pushes her buttons; the problem is that he’s a wolf, she’s a cat, and they’re both used to being on top.

But when a brilliant changeling researcher is kidnapped from DarkRiver territory, Mercy and Riley must work together to track the young man – before his shadowy captors decide he’s no longer useful. Along the way, the two dominants may find that submitting to one another uncovers not just a deadly conspiracy, but a passion so raw that it’ll leave them both branded by fire…

Review:

This book, the sixth in the series, has the first same “species” pairing but I wasn’t sold on it.

The good:

  • Singh got this far because she’s a good writer, and the basics are taken care of here.
  • The world building continues, and the overall story arc is advanced some.

The neither here-nor-there:

  • There are so many characters, and I waited too long to read this after the last book. There are five HEA couples (and I’m pretty sure they all make cameo appearances), as well as heaps of other people. I had to give up remembering people perfectly, but hints in the text ensure that everything makes sense.
  • The cast expands out even more, probably to seed future installments. The heroine has three brothers, and two super hot guys from South America come to visit. How convenient.

The not-so-good:

  • The plot felt like a rehash of previous books, retreading the same tropes and themes. Terrorists are trying to hurt people, a changeling child is put in harm’s way, and two people with major differences end up falling in love.
  • But are they really all that different? Both Riley and Mercy hold similar leadership and enforcement positions in their packs. They’re both dominant, and Mercy especially has trouble walking the line of “I want someone strong, but not too strong.” Her leopard doesn’t watch a slouch, but neither does it want to give an inch.
  • This, along with Riley being a wolf, provides most of the relationship conflict. Sure, they’re from different packs, but they’re alliance partners so I didn’t buy this obstacle to their love.
  • Then, at 76%, the real difficulty is dropped and it makes perfect sense. Why didn’t Singh mention this important fact earlier? I would have been much more interested and invested.

Compared to the other books in the series Branded by Fire fell flat. The quickly expanding world feels like it’s only to justify more books, and the plot was nothing new. A meh installment, but I’m still invested enough to read on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mating the Huntress by Talia Hibbert

42034959Chastity Adofo knows a monster when she sees one. As soon as Luke Anthony wanders into her family’s coffee shop, she recognises the evil lurking beneath his charming smile and fantastic arse. The handsome werewolf is determined to have her—but she’s determined to cut out his heart.

Little does she know, Luke’s plans for her are far more pleasurable than murder. And when the full moon rises, all bets are off…

Review:

I’ve enjoyed Hibbert’s writing in the past but each of the two novels I read had something that was not my thing.  In Bad for the Boss it was a suspense storyline I could have done without, and The Princess Trap had some triggering subjects discussed in the here and now, which I need to prepare my heart for.

Mating the Huntress, however, is good paranormal fun.  Chastity comes from a family of werewolf huntresses but hasn’t been allowed to face them herself.  Luke runs into her scent by chance, realizes they’re mates, and manufactures a meeting.  Chas goes along because she sees her chance for her first kill, and also ’cause he’s kinda cute.

It’s hard to say more because this is a novella and while the story didn’t feel overstuffed I wanted more pages.  I wanted a B plot, more characterization, and the world building could use some fleshing out.  Interesting elements are teased, but there’s no room to expand on them.

There’s lots to like, and lots that makes it a quick, easy read – interracial romance by a black woman author, all kinds of consent all over the place, and genuinely funny exchanges that may leave you cackling.  It helped me forgive the fated mate storyline and shorter page length.  I would love to see Hibbert build out a paranormal world from zero over the course of a series – Mating the Huntress is a start but I would love to see something with more depth.

Lair of the Lion by Christine Feehan

9666290Rumor said the powerful Nicolai DeMarco could command the heavens, that the beasts below did his bidding . . . and that he was doomed to destroy the woman he took as wife.

Impoverished aristocrat Isabella Vernaducci would defy death itself to rescue her imprisoned brother. She’d even brave the haunted, accursed lair of the lion—the menacing palace of legendary, lethal Don Nicolai DeMarco.

Then Isabella met a man whose growl was velvet, purring heat, whose eyes held dark, all-consuming desire. And when the don commanded her to become his bride, she went willingly into his muscled arms, praying she’d save his tortured soul . . . not sacrifice her life.

Review:

I love Beauty and the Beast retellings so while I wasn’t an instant fan of Feehan’s Dark series I picked this up with few qualms.

To start, anyway.

The good:

  • The “beast” conceit hangs on a bit of magic I like – most people see Nicolai as a literal lion so they’re understandably scared of him.
  • The first half didn’t turn me off completely.  I wasn’t expecting mastery and just wanted a quick read, so things were on an okay track.  However.

The not-so-good:

  • Isabella is just this side of Too Stupid To Live.  There’s evil lurking about and Nicolai tells her not to leave the castle… upon which she runs outside every chance she gets.  And it gets her into damsel-in-distress trouble every. single. time. GRAH.
  • There’s a fixation with Christianity that made me feel like I was being preached to.  When Isabella first arrives at the castle she’s relieved that some of the servants cross themselves, as this is a sign that they’re ‘good Christians’.  The curse is set up as a good/Christian vs. bad/old/unenlightened/witchcraft divide.  I did not need or want it.
  • In that vein, an older, kindly character warns the hero and heroine not to have sex until after they’re married.  When they do the deed anyway Isabella is almost instantly punished for her indiscretion.  Not Nicolai – he’s the one doing the backhanded punishing.  As a result the heroine doesn’t get a chance to associate sex with happiness and love, only as a forbidden fruit.  Me not happy.
  • Isabella’s characterization is troubling.  We are never given a concrete number but she’s portrayed as being at a tender age.  She’s the “young charge” of an elderly maid, and there’s an undercurrent of, ‘go away, little girl’ to some interactions.  I had trouble imagining her any older than sixteen, which squares with her idiotic decisions but not sex with a guy who seems like he’s in his thirties.  (Again, no age given for him, but still.  He has his shit together, at least.)  She’s also referred to as pure, as never even having thought about sex, and so on.
  • Female friendships are thrown under the bus.  Isabella is introduced to a couple of women who live in? near? the castle so that she can make some friends.  They’re never allowed to be friends, though – there’s jealousy and all of the petty stereotypes of how women supposedly back stab each other at any opportunity.  It even helps fuel the big bad battle.
  • We never learn what the big bad actually is.  It’s an evil force… that is defeated. Yea?
  • Furthermore, it attacks people completely at random, taking away suspense from a who-dun-it Feehan tries to build.

There are quite a few four and five star reviews for this book on Goodreads but oh boy, not for me at all.  One star.

Firelight by Kristen Callihan (Darkest London #1)

23250312Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, Miranda Ellis has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman.

Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

Review:

Going in I thought this was an urban fantasy series where all the books follow the same people, but no.  Despite the urban fantasy trappings it falls more along romance lines, with each book telling the story of a different couple. I’ve read Callihan before so I should have grokked this but, alas, I didn’t, so that expectation not being met disappointed me when I reached the last page.

It doesn’t take away from the book at all, though. The world building is great, the plot pulled me in and I like watching the hero and heroine do their thing. There’s magic, or at the very least some freaky stuff going on, and it doesn’t fit into a particular category.  Callihan has done herself a favor here, as it gives her plenty of options as the series progresses.

With an interesting combination of urban fantasy and romance Firelight could be a stepping stone between the two genres if you’re looking to try one or the other out. It may take me a while to continue the series (I wanted more of this couple, damn it!) but I’m sure I’ll get over myself eventually. 😉

Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires #1)

8856528Sure, the life of a graduate student wasn’t exactly glamorous, but I was doing fine until Chicago’s vampires announced their existence to the world. When a rogue vampire attacked me, I was lucky he only got a sip. Another bloodsucker scared him off and decided the best way to save my life was to make me the walking undead.

Now I’ve traded sweating over my thesis for learning to fit in at a Hyde Park mansion full of vamps loyal to Ethan “Lord o’ the Manor” Sullivan. He has centuries’ worth of charm but unfortunately he expects my gratitude—and servitude. Right…

But someone’s out to get me. Is it the rogue vampire who bit me? A vamp from a rival House? An angry mob bearing torches? My initiation into Chicago’s nightlife may be the first skirmish in a war—and there will be blood.

Review:

I love vampires.  Not all vampires, mind you, but I never get sick of them, even when the rest of the world decides they’re blasé.  So starting the Chicagoland Vampire series?  It’s like coming home.

The good:

  • The older heroine (27, gasp) means that she has brains, isn’t easily swayed by idiotic notions, and stands up for herself.  No Too Stupid To Live women here!  Check out what Merit says to the guy who turned her:

    “Whatever happened six days ago, I belong to no one by myself, Sullivan, and least of all you.”
    “You are what I made you.”
    “I make myself.”

    ~fist pump~

  • The world building is nicely paced and keeps you wondering about things without leaving too many unanswered questions.  Neill manages to introduce not only vampires but also sorcerers, shifters, and nymphs without going into info dump mode – well done indeed.
  • Everyone is acting logically, even if we don’t know the logic straight off.  There’s no obtuseness for the sake of being obtuse.
  • It’s fun!  Just the escape I needed from ~waves hands~ 2018 that I was looking for.

The not-so-good:

  • Merit’s descriptions of guys got to me, always talking about their lips and sexiness.

    His head was shaved, his eyes pale green, his lips full and sensuous.  Had it not been for the annoyed look on his face, I’d have said he was incredibly sexy.

    I was expecting this kind of description for a special guy but it’s all the guys, and every supernatural dude is a sexy hunk.  Less objectification would have been nice.

  • More character diversity would have been nice, too.

That’s it, though.  This is a series I can binge on – great plot with interesting characters and sexy parts with some fights and female friendship thrown in.  A hearty recommend for urban fantasy types, and paranormal romance people will enjoy it, too.

Undiscovered by Sara Humphreys (Amoveo Rising #1)

30612657Review:

I downloaded this on a whim after a stressful day at work – dragon romance where the hero and heroine meet in their dreams? Yes, please.

It’s a good thing I gulped Undiscovered down in 24 hours because the more you think about it the less sense it makes.  Zander and Zed are identical twins and dragon shifters who were cursed 500 years ago.  Zander, cursed to be immortal and human, is running up against a hard deadline to free Zed, cursed to remain a dragon hibernating deep in the earth.  Zander and heroine Rena meet in the dreamrealm and he realizes she is Zed’s fated mate.  Zander takes it upon himself to take her to the cave he’s sleeping in to break the curse, but ends up falling in love along the way.

In general it makes sense but the details don’t add up.  In chapter one we’re told that the curse can only be broken by “an act of pure, unselfish love” but there isn’t one.  Some things that happen in the dreamrealm carry over to the real world directly but others, like Rena dreaming she’s in a fiery inferno each night, don’t.  And the big problem that we’re told will happen when Zed awakens… doesn’t.  He literally can’t remember what happened right before the curse was placed so no harm, no foul yay.

~eye roll~

Characterization is thin on the ground, as well.  For example, I wondered why a bunch of shapeshifters at the ranch are assumed to be a completely benevolent bunch.  We don’t know these guys from Adam and Zander doesn’t trust them, so why does Rena fall in so easily?  After I finished I found out that these are HEA couples from Humphreys’ Amoveo Legend series, so I guess she didn’t feel the need to explain who they are.  It’s annoying if, like me, you’re coming at the series fresh.

So while Undiscovered was a quick, diverting read it irks the more I think about it.  It’s the only book in the series for now but I can’t imagine continuing.