(Also see the Adult Paranormal Fiction post.)
Entertaining and sexy ‘immortals’ (in the vampire) mode long for their life-mates – a life-mate being the one person whose mind you cannot read… unless you’re in the throes of sexual passion – but then have to overcome a life-threatening obstacle or two before HEA. Sands uses pretty much the same formula in all her Argeneau novels – not a good series for binge reading.
The Bite Before Christmas pairs Sands’s novella “The Gift” with one by Jeaniene Frost. The twist in “The Gift” is that the hero, Teddy Brunswick, is in his fifties while the heroine, Katricia Argeneau, is outwardly a model-beautiful 25. Sands isn’t exactly breaking new ground – Teddy’s childhood friend Mabel was turned in her fifties by a younger vampire (both in appearance and in actual age in that case) in The Accidental Vampire – but the story gently amusing notwithstanding its predictability to those familiar with the stories of the Argeneau vampires.
The Bite Before Christmas pairs Jeaniene Frost’s novella “Home For the Holidays” with one by Lynsay Sands. Frost’s novella would likely have been much more engaging had I previously read novels in her series about Cat and Bones; I found the setup too slow and skipped to the punchy action scenes and the resolution of the conflict. The biggest plus in the series seems to be the feisty women who play an equal role in the fighting; the biggest minus seems to be the male-dominated hierarchy that controls these women’s lives – I’m not sure that I’ll be reading more in the series.
Love At Stake series
All I Want For Christmas Is a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks follows much the same formula as her prior novels in the series: nasty Russian vampires get in between the hero and heroine along with some vampire and/or werewolf prejudices but true love (and hot sex) is achieved once one or more of the bad guys have been reduced to ash. I couldn’t get into this one – at around Chapter 6 I skipped through to the end. Okay if you’ve read others in the series but otherwise look elsewhere.
Overall The Accidental Werewolf 2: Something About Harry was amusing and I appreciated that the heroine was a scientist but the prose and logic were both a bit flimsy in spots – starting with the notion that anyone could concoct a clear drink that would lead to immaculate werewolf conception… and that a human guy taking a swig or two of said drink would turn into a werewolf… and then that two otherwise sane scientists would accept that premise? Especially when it’s ridiculously easy in Cassidy’s Accidental world to turn a human? The vocabulary of the two scientists was occasionally out of place (for example the acronym ‘GILF’) – even more so once we learn that the youthful-appearing heroine is actually quite chronologically mature. (Presumably the only reason Cassidy ages the heroine is to justify the overwhelming ticking of her biological clock but I thought that not only was her age an unnecessary justification for her efforts to get pregnant but that at that age she would have likely already gotten over wanting kids.) Reader reviews and the tight spacing of publication dates suggest that while this novel, the eighth in the series and the thirteenth Berkeley Sensation title, should have benefited from the author’s experience, it also suffered from editor inattention and readers’ acceptance of formulaic writing. This volume may be read independently of the rest of the series – you’ll pick up some minor spoilers but otherwise the paranormal construct of this series doesn’t take much back story. Here’s hoping for more STEM heroines, supporting characters, and settings.
My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon
A collection of nine short stories which for the most part feature honeymooners in a romantic scenario with paranormal elements. I picked up the collection for the leading story by Kelley Armstrong to round out the picture of werewolves Elena and Clayton but quickly skipped to the end of the story and on to the next; telling the story from the male’s (Clayton’s) perspective was interesting but fighting mutts and working out communications issues is the ‘same old’ for these characters. Jim Butcher’s story features his wizard Harry Dresden from his Dresden Files series doing more of his usual – only the victim who needs rescuing is a blushing bride in danger of missing the carnal pleasures of a honeymoon. If you’re looking for more romance than fighting bad beasties and if you aren’t already following Dresden’s exploits, then this story while amusing can be skimmed or skipped. The darker angsty tale (in which the protagonists are only pretending to be honeymooners in order to get a room upgrade) by Caitlin Kittredge and Lilith Saintcrow’s werewolf / vampire hunter tale can likewise be skipped. (Kittredge makes a sly ironic reference to St. Gummarus that baffled me until learned from Wikipedia that his wife’s shrewishness and abusiveness eventually drove him to become a hermit.) Ronda Thompson’s story is tightly focused on the honeymooners and the plot twist is amusing – but to get that twist the female protagonist is a stereotypically wussy city girl who’s falsely presented herself as outdoorsy and her new husband has a big secret; big eyeroll – I skipped to the punchline. Part way through “Cat Got Your Tongue?” I flipped back to the start to find the name of the author; not surprisingly I saw that it was Katie MacAlister who’s Aisling Grey series and contemporary romances gave me many LOL moments. Marjorie M. Liu’s story is a sweet sort of fairy tale but seems long and meandering – perhaps I would have found it more interesting if I’d read the Dirk & Steele series to which this story is a prequel. I may have enjoyed Rachel Caine’s story even more had I read its prequel in My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding. No matter – the protagonists are indeed newlyweds, one of whom is a supernatural, they are indeed embarking on their honeymoon, and though their relationship still needs a lot of maturing the plot tensions are from external actors completely inline with the groom’s history. I appreciated the amusing pop culture references new and old – including an array of sailing ghosts. The story that I most enjoyed was editor P.N. Elrod’s story set in Depression Era Chicago – though the supernatural element was pretty minor (the main character, Jack Flemming, is a vampire, but that has only a passing impact on the story). Jack is called in to find the Ralph Bellamy-lookalike groom (an apt pop culture reference given that Bellamy’s posse in the 1930s and 40s was called the Irish Mafia) who’s disappeared during the reception. The frantic but practical new wife is not about to miss her honeymoon. Violence ensues – but not in a fashion calculated to dampen the honeymooners’ (figurative) spirits.
My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding
The Magical Christmas Cat
The four novellas in The Magical Christmas Cat published in 2008 bring together the story elements of Christmas, a cat, and the paranormal with varying degrees of adherence to the premise – “Christmas Bree” by Erin McCarthy has a very peripherally involved feline companion and as a witch the heroine is a much bigger fan of the Winter Solstice and the burning of a Yule Log than of Christmas; “Stroke of Enticement” by Nalini Singh doesn’t have much to do with Christmas (other than a really corny, tacked on prolog) and, along with “Christmas Heat” by Lora Leigh is about big, paranormal cats (a leopard “changeling” and a leopard “breed” respectively) rather than felis domesticus; and the only cat in “Sweet Dreams” by Linda Winstead Jones is a jade cat figurine that proves to be a really nasty bit of work. IMHO “Christmas Heat” is the sexiest (but also most violent), “Christmas Bree” has the best characters, and “Stroke of Enticement” has the best settings. “Christmas Bree” and “Sweet Dreams” read as standalone stores so unless you’re already invested in Singh’s Psy-Changeling world or Leigh’s Breed world read the standalones last. Note that McCarthy tells Bree’s older sister Charlotte’s story in a Christmas collection published in 2009.
Jane Jameson Nice Girls series
If you enjoy reading a romance set in a (white) Southern small town with modern touches (the younger women are smart, sassy, and employed outside of the home), then you’ll likely enjoy this series. Personally while I find various vignettes amusing, the Nice Girls books aren’t a must read for me… though I relate even less to the Trenton NJ setting and dysfunctional relationships in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, I find Stephanie’s world to be more engaging. Maybe it’s because the paranormal element in Nice Girls is somewhat superfluous. Or maybe I’m subconsciously bothered by using racial tensions (with vampires substituted for non-Caucasians) as a convenient plot device given the very real racial tensions that existed in the US in the 1960s – especially in small Southern towns like Half Moon Hollow. On reflection, perhaps the human-vampire(-werewolf) conflict is an allegory for homophobia complete with families shunning and declaring dead those who’ve dared to come out of the closet. Or maybe it’s not so much the tensions between live and not-so-live humans, but its trivialization of that tension and therefore of the real problems that it imitates.
Nice Girls Don’t Bite Their Neighbors by Molly Harper adheres to much of the standard vampire-werewolf-ghost, thriller, romance trope in a Southern small-town setting. The book does raise interesting questions regarding relationship ethics in an immortal adolescent body and ponders the development (or lack thereof) of an immortal prepubescent brain.
A Witch’s Handbook of Kisses and Curses by Molly Harper has the same problem in the ‘Nice Girls’ series as the stories centered on Paige Winterbourne in Kelley Armstrong’s ‘Otherworld’ series: women who spend more time being emo and angsty than in using their brains and their witchy powers are boring. This book compounds the problem with too many eyeroll-inducing plot points. Again, I would have enjoyed the story a lot more without the paranormal and world domination elements.
On the Prowl by Christine Warren is a paranormal romance set in Manhattan. The cultural mores and traditions of shapeshifting weretigers allow for a likeable dominant male and somewhat animal sex. That said, I prefer shapeshifter heroines with a bit more spine – whether because they’re human or a more independent type of shapeshifter (a la Mercy Thompson, a shapeshifting coyote partnered with a werewolf). Not having read the other novels in the series, I can’t say whether the stories of the other Others are more to my liking.
On the Prowl Saint Martin’s Press, copyright 2012, ISBN-10: 0312357214.
Wild Wolf is the 2014 addition to Jennifer Ashley’s ‘Shifters Unbound’ series. In this world, the Shifters were originally created by the Fae, the Shifters successfully overthrew the Fae, and the Fae retreated to their world leaving the Shifters behind on Earth (with the humans). Humans have (mostly) confined the Shifters to Shiftertowns and have required them to wear collars that emit painful electrical shocks when the wearers’ get angry. This story has its strong points – cute 3-year old werewolf twins, flower magic, and a Fae baddie – but I was put off at the outset by the mob thug intimidation tactics (including violence against flowers, which really bothered me for some reason) and the usual alpha male werewolf drama. Adding in the coyness of the (human) heroine about becoming an ‘alpha mate’ caused me to do some serious skipping. Good story if you’re into standard werewolves; menh otherwise.
Visions of Chains by Regan Hastings is the third in her Awakening series in the contemporary paranormal romance thriller genre. This is the series for you if you enjoy reading a couple rehashing their (literally) age-old argument for 300+ pages before (finally) reinstating their immortal Mating bond. (Alert: small spoiler follows.) I was bothered by the idea of a female US President turning out to be on the dark side. I liked the non-romance elements – including the persecution of witches (no warlocks in this story) – but I found myself skipping the corny relationship dialog. For example, “She continued her approach and everything in him lit up as she got closer. His dick went to stone, his chest felt tight and even his nonbeating heart felt a thrum of life. For centuries, he’d waited for her. For the Awakening. And now that it was here, it was all he could do to keep his hands off of her. He wasn’t human. But he knew a male’s need for his Mate.”
Regency / Steampunk / Paranormal
Gail Carriger / Tofa Borregaard
(‘Gail Carriger’ is the pen name of Tofa Borregaard.) Refer to Teen Friendly Fiction for the Finishing School series commentary; though published more recently, the Finishing School series predates The Parasol Protectorate series by 25 years.
Alexia Tarabotti Series (The Parasol Protectorate)
A very entertaining mixture of Regency romance, steampunk science, paranormal beings – those with excess soul and no soul, and historical thrillers. No need to be familiar with any one of the genres to be entertained by the whole. To appreciate the subtle hints in the earlier books of plot twists in later books, the books are best read in order.
The Queen’s Shadow Council: dewan (loner werewolf), potentate (rove vampire), and muhjah (soulless). “The word Muhjah is ironic.” “it means Soul or Heart’s Blood in Arabic. It is a name for a woman in Arab speaking lands.” “It’s a Muslim name. This name means: Heart’s blood. Soul. Suitable only for girls. It is not so popular name.”
Templars: aka Knights Templar.
1: Soulless – the least ‘steampunky’ of the series.
2: Changless – CNP LOL. Boudica – an Alpha werewolf per Lord Maccon, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boudica . p. 50: Cardwell’s English military reforms; Ashantis in West Africa leading to movement of troops from India to West Africa. Troop recalls to England for redeployment processed through Egypt.
http://mymemory.translated.net/t/Arabic/English/hawal = gay in English
Books by Amanda Quick
See the Castle Krentz Quick post for reviews of books by Jayne Ann Krentz under her married name (Jayne Ann Krentz), her given (maiden) name Jayne Castle, and and her pen name Amanda Quick. Her Krentz novels are in the murder mystery / thriller / romance genres with a contemporary setting – often the wine country north of San Francisco. Many of the lead characters in her contemporary novels have psychical abilities and in the remaining one or both of the leads are strong intuitives. Her Jayne Castle novels are set in the future on another planet with emigrants from Earth with psychical abilities and her Amanda Quick novels are Regency romance / mystery / thrillers, usually with paranormal (psychical) elements.