The Hermetica of Elysium by Annmarie Banks: Review

Hermetica of Elysium

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12868569-the-hermetica-of-elysium

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4517708.Annmarie_Banks

Synopsis from Goodreads: 1494 Barcelona. Thousands of books and manuscripts are lost to the flames as the Black Friars attempt to purge Europe of the ancient secrets of the gods and the bold new ideas that are ushering in the Renaissance. Words are Nadira’s life. She is pursued as passionately for her rare skill as a reader of Ancient Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew, which makes her valuable to men who pursue the Hermetica to exploit its magic. Kidnapped by Baron Montrose, she is forced to read from the Hermetica. Within its pages are the words that incite the Dominicans to religious fervor, give the Templars their power, and reveal the lost mysteries of Elysium. As Nadira begins her transformation from servant to sorceress, will she escape the fires of the Inquisition, the clutches of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI and the French king, Charles VIII? And will Montrose’s growing fear of her powers cause her to lose her chance for love?

Source: Publisher for a fair and honest review

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review: Annmarie Banks’ The Hermetica of Elysium is the first book of the Elysium Texts series.  This Medieval Fantasy novel is, without doubt, an outstanding start to this series and one I feel confident recommending to all readers and fans of the Medieval, historical fiction, and fantasy genres.  The book opens in late 15th century Barcelona, a time and a place that was dangerous for women, Jews, and any person or text deemed heretical and/or dangerous by the Catholic Church.

Nadira is a remarkably special young woman who lives in Barcelona and works as a reader, accountant, and general secretary for a shop keeper named Sofir.  Although a servant, Nadira is treated well by her master and often finds her work interesting and rewarding.  One of Nadira’s particular talents is her ability to read, speak, and write several languages.  While Nadira revels in this talent and adores reading anything and everything she can get her hands on she is also keenly aware that this gift is one that can get her into a whole host of trouble.  As the book opens, that trouble is on Nadira and Sofir’s doorstep.

Nadira’s life takes a phenomenal turn when she is taken from Sofir’s home and into the service of Robert Longmoor, Baron Montrose of England.  Nadira has been taken from the only home she has known for most of her life because of her ability to read a variety of languages.  Nadira quickly discovers that Longmoor and his men are in pursuit of a book known as the Hermetica of Elysium. The Hermetica is a book that promises knowledge of all things and in 15th century Europe, a book such as this was absolutely heretical.  Longmoor and his men seek only to recover the book, have Nadira read and translate it for them, and then protect it so that it never falls into the wrong hands.  As you might well expect, Longmoor is not the only man in pursuit of such knowledge.

Nadira is treated well and with respect by both Longmoor and his companions and she does her best to help the men in any way possible. Throughout the course of the book Nadira is separated from and reunited with Longmoor on several occasions.  However, she always seems to find herself in the service of an individual who is willing to protect her in return for her services as a reader and translator.  Although Nadira dearly desires being reunited with Longmoor she also has to accept that due to her gender, she has very little say in her situation.  Each of Nadira’s various masters bring her into contact with bits and pieces of the Hermetica and with each new experience, Nadira begins to understand both the beauty and the danger of this elusive book.  Nadira also learns that her gifts go beyond anything she could have previously imagined or predicted; in fact, it becomes clear that Nadira is likely the only person in the world who can read the Hermetica without suffering any ill effects.  This makes both Nadira and the Hermetica precious commodities.

The Bottom Line: I loved this book!  Banks offers the reader such a variety of experiences including: the rich descriptions of 15th century Europe and its religious climate; wonderfully well-rounded and relatable characters; and a plot that it intriguing, entertaining, and full of tension.  Once the plot really begins to unfold about half-way through the book it steamrolls right on through to the very end.  There is action, there is love, there is adventure, and there is a series of characters that you don’t want to be done with.  Generally when a book ends on a cliffhanger like the Hermetica of Elysium does, I am pissed off.  In this instance I am totally excited and very much looking forward to the second book in The Elysium Texts Series, The Necromancer’s Grimoire.

Half Black Soul by H.D. Gordon: Review

Half Black Soul

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13162861-half-black-soul

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5189455.H_D_Gordon

Synopsis from Goodreads: In the past few weeks Alexa Montgomery has had her entire world flipped upside down. She’s gone from living a semi-normal teenage life to a life full of vampires and werewolves who all expect her to deliver them from the control of an evil dictator.
Alexa is the last of her kind; a Sun Warrior, and now she has left the safety of Two Rivers to search for her mother, but she’s left her sister behind to do so, and Nelly is the one person that she was told that she must always protect. Kayden, a vampire who is Alexa’s other half, has followed her on her journey. But, secrets are about to come out, relationships will break and danger lies just up ahead. Will Alexa be able to get through all of this and make it out alive? And, will she be able to protect Nelly from danger when she is so far away?

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review: Alexa Montgomery is the Sun Warrior – a girl meant to lead a revolution against the paranormal world’s tyrannical king; girlfriend to Jackson the werewolf; sister to Nelly, a hybrid Lamia/Searcher; and potential mate to the to-die-for warrior Kayden.  That’s a lot of stuff to be for one seventeen-year-old girl but as always, Alexa handles herself with extreme violence and very little grace J  You go girl!

Half Black Soul is the second novel in the Alexa Montgomery Saga and it is well worth the wait.  Each chapter (with the exception of one toward the end) of this high octane novel is told from the perspective of either Alexa or Nelly.  For what is likely the first time in their lives the girls are separated from one another and forced to deal with the consequences of that separation.  For Alexa this means a butt load of ass-kicking, acknowledging her feelings for Kayden (who might have followed her when she snuck away), and trying to deal with the fact that her monster, which now has conversations with her, is a gleeful and stone-cold killer.  For Nelly the separation means learning to stand on her own two feet, further develop her formidable skills, fight her own battles (take that Victoria!), and formulate a plan that will help her sister meet her destiny head-on.

There is no break in the action in this book despite all the background and new information Gordon has offered.  Alexa and Kayden prove to be an amazingly efficient and vicious team during their journey and Nelly comes into her own.  In fact, Nelly is by far the most evolved character in this novel and is certainly someone to look out for in future installments of the series.  Nelly, in her own way, is just as fierce and bad-ass as her sister!

The Bottom Line: the short-term plot line for this novel was not only aggressive and fast-paced but informative and really, really good.  The long-term plot line is also advanced, rather dramatically, and leaves the reader all but begging for more.  The major characters not only evolve but do so in fantastically spectacular fashion while most of the minor characters make a splash of their own.  In short, this sophomore effort by H.D. Gordon is excellent and I can’t wait for the next round of awesome.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn: Review

Ghost of Crutchfield Hall

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7737902-the-ghost-of-crutchfield-hall

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/10006.Mary_Downing_Hahn

Synopsis from Goodreads: When twelve-year-old Florence boards the crowded horse-drawn coach in London, she looks forward to a new life with her great uncle and aunt at Crutchfield Hall, an old manor house in the English countryside. Anything will be better, she thinks, than the grim London orphanage where she has lived since her parents’ death.
But Florence doesn’t expect the ghost of her cousin Sophia, who haunts the cavernous rooms and dimly lit hallways of Crutchfield and concocts a plan to use Florence to help her achieve her murderous goals. Will Florence be able to convince the others in the household of the imminent danger and stop Sophia before it’s too late?

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is a short novel by award-winning author Mary Downing Hahn.  This classic ghost story is a quick and easy read that is appropriate for even the youngest of young adult readers or wimpy adults such as me.  Hahn creates a creep-tastic plot that unfolds within in the walls of Crutchfield Hall just outside of London.

When twelve-year-old Florence is taken in by her uncle she thinks life is finally taken a turn for the better.  The only problem with Florence’s sunny new future is the plans being hatched by the ghost of her cousin Sophia.  With the help of her cousin James and a delightful servant Nellie, Florence discovers just what the three of them must do in order to put Sophia to rest, for good this time!  The plot and the characters are both richly written and fully developed; there is not a slow moment in the entire book.  All in all this book is an excellent and entertaining read that has an appropriate level of creepiness for young readers.

Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard: Review

Gabriel's Inferno

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10140661-gabriel-s-inferno

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4562483.Sylvain_Reynard

Synopsis from Goodreads: Enigmatic and sexy, Professor Gabriel Emerson is a well respected Dante specialist by day, but by night he devotes himself to an uninhibited life of pleasure. He uses his notorious good looks and sophisticated charm to gratify his every whim, but is secretly tortured by his dark past and consumed by the profound belief that he is beyond all hope of redemption. When the sweet and innocent Julia Mitchell enrolls as his graduate student, his attraction and mysterious connection to her not only jeopardizes his career, but sends him on a journey in which his past and his present collide. An intriguing and sinful exploration of seduction, forbidden love and redemption, “Gabriel’s Inferno” is a captivating and wildly passionate tale of one man’s escape from his own personal hell as he tries to earn the impossible…forgiveness and love.

Source: Author for a fair and honest review

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review: A friend asked me to read Gabriel’s Inferno because she was looking for a second opinion.  I knew a bit about the plot based on the blurb on Amazon and what my friend told me but I was in no way prepared for how good this book really is.  Gabriel’s Inferno is not for the fainthearted as it a very, very dark romance that will leave the reader feeling on edge throughout.

As a reader, I am drawn to books that are character driven and this novel is one of the strongest I have come across in quite some time.  Reynard’s male characters elicited strong responses from me from the very beginning and continued to do so throughout.  For example, there’s Paul the fellow graduate student who always made me feel a little creeped out and in need of shower after reading scenes which required his presence.  And then of course, there is Gabriel who, on the one hand is a total rat bastard and on the other is just so completely compassionate and caring.  Gabriel is by far the strongest, most damaged, and most fascinating character in this book.  To the world, Gabriel is a buttoned down professor who specializes in the works of Dante and favors bow ties and expensive suits.  Then there’s the other Gabriel, the man with passions that run deep and inhibitions that are virtually nonexistent who has a taste for fine food, fine wine, and morally ambiguous women.

Gabriel’s story alone would be enough to keep the casual reader interested but for those looking for more substance, meet Julia.  Julia is the only female character of significance in this novel and like the male characters she elicited a very strong response from me. Unfortunately that response was not always a good one.  Julia takes pathetic to a whole new level and while I certainly appreciate that she has had a very difficult life she’s got to get over it and move on.  I frequently found Julia’s “I’m so pitiful I can’t do anything” routine a bit tiresome.  But then there are her other moments, those few and far between times when Julia snaps the tether and unleashes all of her anger and frustration.  Those moments are golden and reveal to the reader exactly what Julia is made of.

When the lives of Julia and Gabriel begin to intersect, first in the classroom and then elsewhere, things get even darker.  You see, both Julia and Gabriel have painful secrets and painful pasts that they would very much prefer stay secret and stay in the past.  But that would not make for a good novel and so the stories of their lives, both separately and together begin to unravel in what is a fairly twisted plot. With each new chapter is another revelation and many of them the reader will not see coming.  As Julia and Gabriel are facing and dealing with their personal demons, they are also dealing with their growing attraction to one another.  The reader is almost always uncertain of the outcome of this novel and that feeling of uncertainty adds to the drama and to the anticipation of finding out what comes next.

The Bottom Line: if you’re a casual romance reader looking for a quick and easy read then this book is definitely not for you.  Gabriel’s Inferno is a lengthy read with an overwhelming sense of darkness that takes frequent trips into the world and works of Dante.  This is my kind of romance!  Reynard has crafted a novel that reads smoothly and beautifully all the while dealing with topics that are often uncomfortable yet intriguing.  My only disappointment with this book is the knowledge that the story of Julia and Gabriel is not over and will continue on in future novels.  Normally I would be very excited to see good, strong characters live to fight another day but Gabriel’s Inferno is a complete read for me; it ended quite satisfactorily and is strong enough to stand on its own as a single novel and not a first-in-a series book.

Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino: Review

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13484085-frat-boy-and-toppy

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4831235.Anne_Tenino

Synopsis from Goodreads: Brad is great at meeting other people’s expectations. But his own? Not so much. Take the gay thing. Okay, so yeah. It took a morning meeting with a frat brother’s hairy, naked ass for him to admit it, but he knows the truth about himself now. Let the gay life commence.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. He hasn’t quite determined how to come out to anyone, even Sebastian, the geeky-hot TA in his history class. Sebastian is everything Brad is not. Intellectual, suave, hairy. Out. And he doesn’t seem interested in Brad, even when Brad makes a fool of himself trying to catch his notice.
Score one for foolery: Sebastian does more than notice Brad; he takes him to bed. Brad’s been with plenty of girls, but with Sebastian, the sex is something else entirely-hot, mind-blowing, affirming, and a little domineering in a way that drives him wild. But when great sex turns into something more-dare he admit the “L” word?-Brad must face the crushing realization that Sebastian doesn’t feel the same. Unless, of course, he does. After all, even grad students can be idiots about matters of the heart.

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review:

NOTE: This is an 18 and over only read

 I am not ashamed to say that from time to time I like to take a little skinny dip in the old erotica pool.  I suited up over the weekend and dove right in to Anne Tenino’s Frat Boy and Toppy only to come out of the pool feeling quite unsatisfied.  I’m done with and over the swimming metaphor now . . . .

What I liked: *Brad: the lead character who is a frat boy jock who has finally admitted to himself he is not only gay but completely smitten with his history T.A., Sebastian. Brad’s confusion and vulnerability are endearing and his reactions to certain situations are just funny.  For example, when he comes out to his family . . . I laughed.  Brad as a character is hard to dislike and I wouldn’t have minded at all knowing more about him.

*Sebastian: the openly gay history T.A. who is disturbingly smitten with Brad.  I like Sebastian’s confidence in who he is; he is a hot braniac who makes no apologies for who he is and how he lives his life.  His confidence and swagger are only shaken when he figures out Brad may be more than a mere booty call.

*The sex:  Although I can’t say I am any expert by any means on gay sex I am fairly open minded and thought Brad and Sebastian did a fine (if somewhat messy) job of steaming up the pages.  Once Brad acknowledges being gay and makes Sebastian aware of his interest there is just no stopping those two!  I won’t lie; I might have learned a thing or two J

What I didn’t like: *The plot: There aren’t any glaring holes in the plot or crazy inconsistences but that is likely because there isn’t much of a plot to speak of.  Yes, there is the whole Brad coming out to everyone and dealing with his new relationship highs and lows with Sebastian but these elements aren’t really dealt with until near the end of the novel.  Quite frankly, it’s just a case of too little too late.

*The sex: What???  How can this be both a like and a dislike you ask?  Quite simply, you can indeed have far too much of a good thing.  There is an incredible amount of sex in this book to the point of it bordering on way too much; the amount of naughty verses the amount of plot just don’t balance one another.

The Bottom Line:  I like the characters just fine but would have liked to have seen their story go a bit further; Sebastian and Brad are both nice guys that must have something more to them then just hot bodies.  The sex is great but it does become a bit tired after so many scenes.  (I can NOT believe I just said that, BTW)  I have read enough erotica to know that you can have all the fantastic naughty bits and a strong plot and I truly wish that had happened with this book.  If you are looking for an easy, naughty read then this is the book for you BUT, if you need more substance in your erotica I would have to recommend steering clear of this read.

Forever Werewolf and Moon Kissed by Michelle Hauf: Review

Forever Werewolf

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13706866-forever-werewolf

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/117339.Michele_Hauf

Forever Werewolf Synopsis from Goodreads: Alexis Conner, princess of the Alpine pack and pureblood werewolf, hides a painful secret-she has never shifted. If she can’t shift, she can’t mate, and so Lexi resigned herself to a lifetime of loneliness. But then a stranger arrives, and Lexi senses that her world will never be the same….
A massive avalanche might be to blame for Trystan Hawkes getting stuck at Castle Wulfsiege, but after one look at Lexi, Trystan is not about to leave. Lexi is strong, smart and incredibly sexy. Not that it matters. Tryst is an omega-the fabled lone wolf. Even more damning is his mixed vampire heritage.
Lexi knows that the vampire blood running through Tryst’s veins makes him off-limits, but what if he’s the one man who can rouse her inner wolf?
Moon Kissed Synopsis from Goodreads: Escaping from bloodthirsty vampires, Belladonna Reynolds ran straight into the arms of a werewolf. As a man Severo drew her in with his dark good looks; as a beast he astounded her with his insatiable sensual appetite. Whether afraid or aroused, Bella fled to his lair when threatened by an evil monster of the night….Severo tried to keep Bella–his mate–safe from the vampiress who held a malicious desire for revenge against him, but he alone wasn’t enough. Now Bella had taken the form of his most cursed enemy. How could he desire the very thing he’d spent his life destroying? And even if he did, what would the werewolf do to Bella on the next full moon?

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: Trystan Hawkes loves life despite being an unaligned omega wolf from a mixed-breed family.  He has put up with the taunts and the teasing all his life but he has never allowed anything to tarnish his outlook on life.  While on an errand for his father’s courier service company, Tryst, as his friends call him, never imagined how everything in his world could turn upside down about ten minutes after stepping into Wulfsiege castle.  Within that time Tryst meets the stunningly gorgeous ice princess, Lexi and the castle is hit by a devastating avalanche.  True to his nature, Tryst immediately jumps in to help the Alpine pack rescue their missing members and try to take his mind off the sexy wolf princess.  That should be easy to do, right?

Lexi has three problems: 1) her father, the pack principal is dangerously ill; 2) no male will come near her for fear of offending her father and; 3) she has never actually transformed into her true and proper wolf form.  Despite all the drama Lexi does like to have a tiny bit of fun from time to time and Tryst is right up her alley.  As long as the two of them keep their business just between them no one will know and Tryst will be gone in just a few days and nothing but a memory.

Turns out neither Lexi nor Tryst can get the other neither off their mind nor out of their system.  It is clear from the beginning the two are drawn to and meant for one another but the obstacles they face are numerous.  After some steamy yet relatively harmless flirtations, Lexi and Tryst give in to one another and their passions; what comes out of the experience is something no one could have seen coming and all of sudden Lexi and Tryst have not only the mounting problems within the castle to deal with but their newfound feelings for one another.

Everything at Wulfsiege castle seems to come apart at the seams all at once and as her father’s head of security it is Lexi’s job to figure it all out.  With Tryst by her side she must determine who is trying to kill her father, how to deal with the second avalanche that hits the castle, how she can secure the safety of the pack against an aggressive and power-hungry wolf and, how she can ever convince both herself and her father that Tryst is her one true mate and should be accepted, despite his lineage into the Alpine pack.

Overall, the plot is good and the chemistry between Lexi and Tryst is good but I found it difficult to really connect to either character.  Tryst is just a bit too much of a hippy and Lexi is far too insecure about her “condition”.  In all honesty, I found a few of the minor characters far more fascinating and would have liked to have known more about them.  For example, there is Liam, the kind-hearted wolf who is in love with Lexi’s spoiled sister and destined to be greater than he is; Vaillant is Tryst’s vampire half- brother who is as loyal to Tryst as he is fiercely devoted to his pregnant wife; there is Rhys, Tryst’s mixed-breed father who apparently has a very, very dark side that isn’t allowed to come out and play very often and finally, there is Viviane, Tryst and Vaillant’s vampire mother who is constantly on the verge of becoming totally and completely bat-crap crazy.

The Bottom Line: All of the madness and issues keeps the plot moving at a good pace and all of the problems and issues are resolved satisfactorily but I never found myself jumping at every available opportunity to sit and read.  I certainly didn’t dislike the book but I also didn’t fall in love with it either.  Forever Werewolf is a solid plot with moderately interesting characters that will satisfy most readers looking for a werewolf read.

 

Moon Kissed is the second novel in this two-for-one book and is Bella and Severo’s story.  Bella is a fiercely independent web designer who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time during one of her nightly runs.  After being pursued by a pack of vampires she is saved by a mysterious stranger who weirdly smells her before letting her go.  Understandably, Bella is shaken by the whole experience and even more so when the mysterious stranger appears on her doorstep.  While Bella knows she should be frightened by Severo’s reappearance she also knows she is inexplicably attracted to him.

Severo is a lone wolf who has worked tirelessly for years to secure the safety of all wolves and is in no way interested in seeing his mission interrupted by a small human who is being stalked by vampires.  Unfortunately, Severo discovers Bella’s encounter with the vampires was not an accident but a planned attack meant to take her out.  With a centuries-long grudge against vampires, Severo makes it his new mission in life to save Bella; in an effort to protect her and shut down the threat against her Severo must position himself firmly into the middle of Bella’s life.  What both Severo and Bella underestimate is just how deeply their attraction to one another really is.  Once Severo figures it all out he quickly accepts the possibility that Bella is his mate and begins to pursue her relentlessly.  Again, Bella knows she should be wary of both Severo and his pursuit but her attraction to him is raging.  The attraction is so strong she can even ignore the fact that Severo is a living, breathing werewolf.

It doesn’t take long for Bella and Severo to fall into each other’s arms and man when they do, the sparks start to fly.  Bella and Severo have a butt-load of crazy awesome sex that might just warrant a re-read in the near future.  Dear reader, don’t snicker like you’ve never gone back to just the naughty bits in a books before.  You know you have so own it and read on!  For security purposes (she writes while smirking) Bella relocates to Severo’s home and has just begun to settle in and get comfortable when things go south for the new couple.  This time however, the vampires hit their mark and when Severo finds Bella all but dead in their bed he comes face-to-face with his worst nightmare.  Severo must decide if he is strong enough to not only face this nightmare head on but also accept what Bella has become.

The Bottom Line: Overall, I liked Moon Kissed a bit better than Forever Werewolf but still wasn’t burning the midnight oil in order to finish the novel.  I very much liked Bella and her stubborn independence but was a bit disappointed in Severo’s weakness near the end of the novel.  The plot is a good mix of the past and the present (which I love in a novel) coming together with a fair bit of action and a whole lot of steamy sex.  As with Forever Werewolf, I don’t’ have any real complaints about this read but it still only ended up being OK for me.

 

Fatal Embrace by Aris Whittier: Review

Fatal Embrace

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2155272.Fatal_Embrace

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/396795.Aris_Whittier

Synopsis from Goodreads: High-spirited horse trainer Jessica Stanson stumbles into the perfect job on one of the most elite ranches in Montana. Or at least it would be if her boss, ex-detective Michael Carven, stopped acting like he didn’t want her there. Jessica has to prove herself to him on the ranch, and also try to penetrate his armor to get to the man inside. Michael Carven is a man who has left a difficult past behind him, and now works at his dream job raising horses under the Montana sky. But he knows that the past has a way of coming back to him, and soon enough, it does. A wave of violence hits the nearby small town of Riverside, nestled deep in the mountains, as a cunning serial killer preys on the population.
Against his will, Michael finds himself both drawn into the case and coming to care for his independent new trainer. And if having a killer on the loose wasn’t enough, his two worlds collide when Jessica becomes the only material witness in the case. Before it is over, Michael and Jessica will put everything they know and hold dear on the line to catch a vicious, cunning killer – and to protect each other as well.

Source: Author for a fair and honest review

My Rating: 3½/5 stars

My Review: Every once in awhile a reader will come across a book that simply cannot be put down.  When you find that book and begin reading, all else in your world ceases to exist.  The dishes don’t get done, the laundry goes unfolded, and the dirty toilet can just wait one more day!  Most recently, I found that wondrous sensation with Aris Whittier’s fast-paced and well-written romantic-suspense novel, Fatal Embrace.

Whittier opens her novel with Michael, a hard-working if sullen cowboy who owns and operates a horse training facility; a place that has become his sanctuary since leaving his job as a police detective.   Whittier also quickly introduces a second main character, the witty, sarcastic, and somewhat naughty Jessica Stanson, a young woman who has come to Michael’s ranch to work as a trainer.  The opening scene between these two characters does much to set the stage for not only their relationship but for the novel as a whole.   The opening scene is well thought out and well written.  It is a primary motivator in engaging the reader so completely.

Just beyond the opening scene we discover that the communities surrounding the ranch have recently been plagued by a viscous killer who is targeting young women.   To date, the crimes have gone unsolved and as such, a very reluctant Michael has agreed to serve as a consultant to the police in an effort to solve a seemingly unsolvable case.  As Michael becomes obsessed with finding the killer he also discovers that Jessica is a good sounding board for his thoughts and concerns.  This arrangement could have become awkward as Jessica is a horse trainer.  Whittier has managed to successfully weave Jessica into Michael’s world.  Of course, the two also discover a mutual attraction to one another – DUH and YIPPEE!

The crimes, Jessica’s presence, and the pressure to find the killer all combine to create a novel that is bursting with sexual and psychological tension. This tension continues to mount throughout the novel as Whittier leads us toward the end.  She skillfully draws all of the plots, sub-plots, and characters together into what should have been a really spectacular finish.   As I headed into this section of the book, I was completely lost in this world and couldn’t wait to discover the fate of all involved.  Unfortunately, I was completely disappointed.  Where the book failed for me was in how quickly everything was resolved.  What had been a well-paced and exciting read became a horse race (pardon the pun) to the finish.  Whittier should have devoted more time and space to the completion of this book.  Each of the major revelations needs time to sink before moving on to the next.  Was I disappointed by anything else?  No, absolutely not!  Would I recommend this book to a friend?  Absolutely!  Fatal Embrace is an engrossing tale with excellent dialogue, fun characters, and a smart plot that is, unfortunately, lacking conviction in the conclusion.

The Exceptionals by Erin Cashman: Review

Exceptionals

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12888138-the-exceptionals

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5277290.Erin_Cashman

Synopsis for Goodreads: Born into a famous family of exceptionally talented people, 15-year-old Claire Walker has deliberately chosen to live an average life. But everything changes the night of the Spring Fling, when her parents decide it’s high time she transferred to Cambial Academy–the prestigious boarding school that her great-grandfather founded for students with supernatural abilities.

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 4½ stars/5 stars

My Review: Claire Crane Walker knows she isn’t as talented as the rest of her family. Her mother is a truth seeker, her father is a math genius/code breaker, her older brother is telekinetic, and her younger sister can commune with the dead. All Claire can do is hear the thoughts of animals, a skill that makes her feel like a fraud since can’t really prove her abilities to those around her. Consequently, Claire has always resisted enrolling in Cambial, a school for the supremely gifted and talented and a school that was founded and still run by her family. But, after an ill-fated night with her “normal” friends, Claire finds herself in the one place she never wanted to be, at Cambial.

For Claire, life at Cambial seems like a life of misery and doom (of course it does, she’s a melodramatic 15-year-old girl). She has convinced everyone around her, including her truth seeker mother, that she has lost her ability to hear animals. As it turns out, Claire’s “lost” ability is going to come in quite handy as she, her brother and sister, and a select group of friends begin a desperate search for Cambial’s Exceptionals. The Exceptionals are Cambial’s best and brightest, those who wield enormous skill, talent, and intelligence, and they are being picked off one by one by a very powerful and very secretive source. For Claire and her friends, honing their skills and uncovering this malevolent source is critical as they are slowly but surely losing members of their inner circle.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this YA novel. Here’s what I liked:

1. The cast of characters: The kids are actually kids and teenagers, and they act like kids and teenagers. In a great many YA novels, the kids and teenagers are just mini-adults and are often involved in very adult situations. In many instances, I find myself wondering “Where the Hell are their parents?” Cashman provides us with a group of kids who still have a great sense of wonder and enthusiasm; they are all still stoked by what they are learning and able to accomplish. These young characters are refreshing in that they worry about missing curfew, being caught and punished for their transgressions, and disappointing their peers and parents alike.

Of the group I particularly enjoyed Claire’s can-do attitude, Henry’s intelligence and his enthusiasm, Billy’s perseverance, and little Charlotte’s general attitude of haughtiness.Among the animals that populated the story, I was quite drawn to Ferana the hawk and her great sense of protectiveness and dignity. Ferana helps and trusts Claire when it is not in her best interest to do so.  The resulting relationship between Claire and Ferana is quite touching.  Then there is Tabby the cat, who is just wretched and awful, and I really liked her; her attitude and refusal to speak to Claire is so cat like and awesome. As with the human characters, Cashman created real and distinct personalities in the animals that played a larger role in the story.

2. The Plot: The plot was quite entertaining, well-paced and just a tiny bit creepy. Students and faculty alike are disappearing from a highly exclusive and even more highly secluded school, and no one seems to know how or why this is happening. Turns out the disappearances may be linked to Cambial’s past, and a long thought dead disgruntled ex-professor by the name of Wilder. It takes every ounce of ability on the part of Claire (yes, she finally fesses up to actually having a talent) and all her friends to uncover the plot and save the day. The kids are clever, daring, and more than a little courageous. Between classes, curfews, and the saving of the world, the kids form strong bonds with one another that serve to strengthen their friendship and the plot. The plot unfolds at a decent pace, with plenty of action and moments between the action that allow the reader to catch up on some of the major characters, their backstories, and the history of Cambial.

The Bottom Line: In order to be completely fair, I do have a couple of issues with The Exceptionals, and both of those issues involve the same character: Dylan. From the beginning, Dylan just wasn’t right; he was far too eager to get close to Claire and far, far too nosy about her presence in the forest. My other issue with Dylan has to do with how rapidly his relationship with Claire developed. Even in the land of make believe, I found it completely unreasonable how quickly Claire and Dylan’s attachment to one another formed. With this being said, these two issues didn’t really detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. I say the following in the most laudatory manner: The Exceptionals is a bit like the Scooby Gang meets the X-Men, and I am quite excited for the possibility of more of The Exceptionals!

 

 

Dreams of a Dark Warrior by Kresley Cole: Review

Dreams of a Dark Warrior

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8534799-dreams-of-a-dark-warrior

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4428.Kresley_Cole

Synopsis from Goodreads: HE VOWED HED COME FOR HER . . . Murdered before he could wed Regin the Radiant, warlord Aidan the Fierce seeks his beloved through eternity, reborn again and again into new identities, yet with no memory of his past lives.
SHE AWAITS HIS RETURN . . .
When Regin encounters Declan Chase, a brutal Celtic soldier, she recognizes her proud warlord reincarnated. But Declan takes her captive, intending retribution against all immortals—unaware that he belongs to their world.
TO SATE A DESIRE MORE POWERFUL THAN DEATH . . .
Yet every reincarnation comes with a price, for Aidan is doomed to die when he remembers his past. To save herself from Declan’s torments, will Regin rekindle memories of the passion they once shared—even if it means once again losing the only man she could ever love?

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: As a long-time reader of Krelsey Cole’s Immortals After Dark Series I was ridiculously excited to see Regin’s story in print – finally.  Regin has been such a wonderful, playful, and seriously bad-a** character throughout the series that it was time to have her story told.  Maybe I just got too excited and expected way too much but by novel’s end, I felt a bit disappointed.  Regin didn’t really get the story she deserved although she did have some spectacular moments and comments.   As with all of the books in this series, Dreams of a Dark Warrior traces the moments and events that lead to the major character finding his/her mate.  In this instance, it is Regin finding (after several centuries & deaths) her one true mate, Declan Chase.  Where Cole shines is in her ability to make the reader first hate and then adore a character.  In this respect, I was not let down.  Declan Chase began as a nasty bit of work with a life-long grudge against all beings of the Lore.  It takes Chase’s encounter with Regin and a few other Loreans for him to realize that nothing is as it seems and maybe his hatred has been misplaced.  Of all the characters in Dreams of Dark Warrior, Chase’s character has the greatest evolution.  Cole transforms him right before your eyes turning him into one of the most endearing mates of the entire series!

In every series there is what I tend to call set-up novels; that is, the author begins to focus more on previously unimportant or less important characters and introduces new characters and/or plot lines.  Essentially, the reader is being set-up for the next several installments in a series.  Dreams of Dark Warrior is one of those novels and this is why I feel Regin didn’t get the story she deserved.  Cole not only had to tell Regin and Declan’s story but she also had a lot of work to do and ground to cover in this novel in order to set up the future of her series.  It is in this set-up portion of the book that I got over my disappointment, at least marginally.   Cole gave more information about Lothaire, the Enemy of Old (who knew he had a sense of humor?); introduced the seriously naïve but learning quickly Thad, the half-vampire half-phantom (WHAT???); and of course, Nucking Futs Nix who now has a pet bat and is still legally barred from seeing Mike Rowe.  Nix might be one of my all-time favorite characters and in this series, her actions and predictions seemed to hint at future plot lines – but who can really tell where Nix is concerned.  Based on the hints it seems that in the near future we are going to be learning a great deal more about Lothaire, Nix, and the Valkyries never-ending sear for Myst.  Did anyone else pay attention to the fact that Lothaire vowed he had no knowledge of Myst’s location?  Hhmm…..

As with all of the books in this series, Dreams of a Dark Warrior is a solid well-written read but not something I am going to pick up again anytime in the near future.  Don’t skip this book by any means but don’t expect to be all tingly and excited at the end either.  By the way, I so wish that last statement weren’t true – I adore this series and have rarely been let down or disappointed by Cole.   At the end of the day however I was much more excited by the tidbits of information concerning the future of this series; Cole really seems to be setting us up for the next (several??) installments.  Since I can’t find any information regarding the next book in this series, here’s my request:

 Dear Kresley Cole,

I would like the twelfth book in this series to be Nix’s story.

Sincerely,

A Nucking Futs Reader

 

The Darkest Secret by Gena Showalter: Review

Darkest Secret

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9394010-the-darkest-secret

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/48192.Gena_Showalter

Synopsis from Goodreads: In this sexy new installment of Showalter’s bestselling Lords of the Underworld series, the haunted Amun meets a woman who tempts him like no other…
Keeper of the demon of Secrets, Amun can manipulate the darkest thoughts of anyone nearby. But when the immortal warrior is chained and isolated to protect those he loves, death is his only hope of release—until he meets Haidee, a fellow prisoner whose beauty and hidden vulnerability draw him into a reckless test of his loyalty.
Haidee is a demon-assassin, raised to despise Amun’s kind. Yet how can she hate the man whose touch sets her aflame? But to save him, she must give herself body and soul…and face the wrath of a powerful adversary sworn to destroy her.

Source: Purchase

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: The Darkest Secret is Gena Showalter’s latest edition in the on-going Lords of the Underworld series.  I love this series, have read most of it at least twice and until now there has not been a single book in this series that I haven’t liked.  Until now, I said.  To be fair, I didn’t totally dislike The Darkest Secret but it left me feeling a little meh at the end.  Let me tell you why this feeling sucks so hard: because this is the story of the dark and beautiful keeper of Secrets, Amun.   I so wanted to feel warm and fuzzy at the end of this book and for Amun, the most caring of all the Lords to find peace.  What I got was just meh.

Amun’s story begins with him having just returned from a trip to Hell, his body is overrun by a bajillion demons, he has not spoken to anyone in a few millennia, and he finds himself inexplicably drawn to Haidee, the woman who took the head of his brother-in-arms, Baden.  This butt-load of baggage should have exploded all over the pages and instead it just sort of trickled out and oozed all over the pages.  Don’t get me wrong the trickling and oozing was interesting but not what I have come to expect from this author and from this series.

Amun and Haidee’s story plays out as I expected it too with no real surprises along the way.  The two are transported to Hell in order to find a way to remove the bajillion demons from Amun before they claim his sanity and his life.  The tension between Amun and Haidee is palpable; they hate one another yet at the same time both desperately want to shag one another.  The most interesting part of this journey is how Showalter brings these two sworn enemies together.  Of course this struggle leads to some fabulous and frequent naughty bits J  Remember, this love-to-last-the ages is developing in and around these two finding clever and creative ways to overcome the incredibly creepy, sinister, evil, and sometimes slithery obstacles before them in Hell.  Hell, we’ve been there and done that!

OK, OK!  I’ll stop with the ranting and the negativity but only because I feel absolutely compelled to tell you about The Darkest Secret’s sub-plot.  Now this little bit of drama has me fired up and ready to send Showalter a nice long email that ends with “TYPE FASTER!!”  In general, the full cast and crew of the Lords of the Underworld series appear in each and every edition of this series but in this instance Showalter broke with tradition and focused most of our attention (easily ¼ of the novel) on Strider, the keeper of Defeat.  Grrrrr, hello, Strider!  Don’t misunderstand: Showalter did not write two totally separate stories in one novel.  In fact, she made Strider an important part of Amun’s story while at the same time laid the ground work for Strider’s story.  Based on the information that is tantalizingly (and tauntingly) dangled in front of us in The Darkest Secret, Strider’s story has the potential to be one of the best books in this entire series!!

The Bottom Line: yeah, I was a bit disappointed in Amun’s story.  Since his introduction, Amun has always been one of the most fascinating characters for me and I somehow wanted more for him than what he got.  On the flip side, there was the Strider part of the story that has left me a bit desperate for the release of the next book.  The combination of disappointment and shear excitement sort of cancelled out each other and left me feeling well, a little ambivalent.  Write faster, Gena Showalter, I need some more Strider in my life.

The Darkest Surrender (Strider’s story) is scheduled for release September 27, 2011.  I have already marked my calendar.