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The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires by Molly Harper

The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires by Molly HarperReleased: July 31, 2012
Format: online book
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Series: n/a

Source: Free read on xoxoafterdark.com

Excerpt: No

“The thing to remember about a ‘stray’ vampire is that there is probably a good reason he is friendless, alone, and wounded. Approach with caution.”

Iris Scanlon, Half-Moon Hollow’s only daytime vampire concierge, knows more about the undead than she’d like. Running their daylight errands—from letting in the plumber to picking up some chilled Faux Type O—gives her a look at the not-so-glamorous side of vamps. Her rules are strict; relationships are purely business, not friendship—and certainly not anything more. Then she finds her newest client, Cal, poisoned on his kitchen floor, and her quiet life turns upside down.

Cal—who would be devastatingly sexy, if Iris thought vampires were sexy—offers Iris a hefty fee for hiding him at her place. And even though he’s imperious, unfriendly, and doesn’t seem to understand the difference between “employee” and “servant,” she agrees. But as they search for who wants him permanently dead, Iris is breaking more and more of her own rules . . . particularly those about nudity. Could it be that what she really needs is some intrigue and romance—and her very own stray vampire?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF STRAY VAMPIRES is set in the world of Harper’s Jane Jameson novels but you don’t need to be a fan of that series to read this novel. (Proof: I’ve never tried those books but I followed along well enough. I may have missed an inside joke or two but I still enjoyed reading THE CARE AND FEEDING OF STRAY VAMPIRES.)  It’s very much a Molly Harper book, characterised by a light tone, some slapstick humour, and a sweet romance.

I don’t know if this is Iris’ first appearance in a Molly Harper book or if she was a supporting character in the Jane Jameson series but I thought she was just great. I love her business idea — working for vampires by running daytime errands while dodging them as much as possible —  and the way she take care of her sister Gigi. She’s a very nurturing woman but, at the same time, she’s really tough and practical. She’s an interesting character with a lot of depth, and she’s more than a match for Cal.

The two are thrown together after a failed assassination on Cal’s life. Iris is very reluctant to help him but the promise of cash money sways her to help him against her rules. It’s not the most romantic beginning but it doesn’t take long for the sparks to start to fly between Iris and Cal. They’ve got some good chemistry and it doesn’t take long for the reluctant attraction to kick in. The assassination and Cal’s investigation are rather interesting, though not terribly complicated. There’s enough meat to the story to hold your attention but it’s not the most compelling mystery: you come to THE CARE AND FEEDING OF STRAY VAMPIRES for the humour and the characters, not the complex storylines.

If you’re looking for a light paranormal romance, THE CARE AND FEEDING OF STRAY VAMPIRES might be for you. Sadly, it’s no longer available as a free read on xoxoafterdark (I try to stay a few weeks ahead with my posts) but you can always see if your local library has a copy since I couldn’t find an excerpt link. I do hope you enjoy it!

Archangel’s Blade by Nalini Singh

Archangel's Blade by Nalini SinghReleased: September 6, 2011
Format: e-book
Publisher: Berkley

Series: Guild Hunter #4

Source: Purchased

Excerpt: Yes

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh is back in the shadows of a deadly, beautiful world where angels rule, vampires serve, and one female hunter must crawl out of the darkness to survive…

The severed head marked by a distinctive tattoo on its cheek should have been a Guild case, but dark instincts honed over hundreds of years of life compel the vampire Dmitri to take control. There is something twisted about this death, something that whispers of centuries long past…but Dmitri’s need to discover the truth is nothing to the vicious strength of his response to the hunter assigned to decipher the tattoo.

Savaged in a brutal attack that almost killed her, Honor is nowhere near ready to come face to face with the seductive vampire who is an archangel’s right hand, and who wears his cruelty as boldly as his lethal sensuality…the same vampire who has been her secret obsession since the day she was old enough to understand the inexplicable, violent emotions he aroused in her.

As desire turns into a dangerous compulsion that might destroy them both, it becomes clear the past will not stay buried. Something is hunting…and it will not stop until it brings a blood-soaked nightmare to life once more…

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I took a break from this series once the focus shifted away from Elena and Raphael but I decided it was time to dive back in since I’m have a huge fan of Nalini Singh’s work. It’s been three years since I read the series so I re-read the previous three books and I was reminded of why these books are so good. And also of how sad I was to have the books shift to other characters, particularly Dmitri, whom I’ve never really liked. But Nalini Singh is a very talented writer and she more or less won me over in ARCHANGEL’S BLADE. I don’t think it’s as strong as the previous stories but I enjoyed it more than I anticipated, even with my qualms about Dmitri as a leading man.

Prior to ARCHANGEL’S BLADE, we got some insight into why Dmitri is the way he is. Singh really delves into his past and mind in this novel and it shows us just why Dmitri is as cold and hard as he is. He’s still not my favourite protagonist but ARCHANGEL’S BLADE was still quite interesting. The best part of the book, however, is Honor, who is really great lead character. She has a pretty tragic backstory but she’s an interesting and strong character. She also serves a very different purpose in the Guild from Elena and it was neat to see more of the internal structure of the Guild Hunters’ world.

ARCHANGEL’S BLADE is also structured a little bit differently from other novels in the series. There’s still a hunt but it’s also a bit of a vengeance quest so it’s a rather dark book. Dmitri is helping Honor track down the vampires responsible for her torture and it gives the novel a heavier tone than previous instalments in the series. The change in tone was interesting and makes sense since Dmitri is an inherently dark character.

Although this isn’t my favourite book in the series, ARCHANGEL’S BLADE is characterised by Nalini Singh’s powerful writing and outstanding worldbuilding. If you’re a fan of the series, you won’t want to skip it!

Alpha Instinct by Katie Reus

Alpha Instinct by Katie Reus (Moon Shifter #1)Released: February 7, 2012
Format: e-book
Publisher: Signet

Series: Moon Shifter #1

Source: Personal shelf

Excerpt:

Ana Cordona has been a strong leader for the lupine shifters who survived after all the males and most of the females in her pack were mysteriously poisoned. As tough as she is, with no Alpha male, the pack is vulnerable to the devious shifter Sean Taggart, who wants to claim both their ranch and Ana as his own. When Connor Armstrong comes back into her life, promising protection, it’s almost enough to make Ana forget how he walked out on her before—and reluctantly accept his offer to mate.

The minute Connor sees Ana again, it reawakens a raw hunger. He must have her for his bondmate—his wolf cries out for it. But his human side knows he must proceed with caution because of their complicated past. If he is to truly have her body and soul, he must go beyond his burning desire and win back her heart. Whatever it takes, he is determined not to leave her side again. But Taggart and his rival pack are not their only enemies. A human element in town is targeting shifters. Their plan not only threatens Ana and Connor’s future, but the lives of the entire pack…

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Although I’ve read some less-than-positive reviews of ALPHA INSTINCT, I was still eager to give it a try because I’d heard some good things about the world building. The Moon Shifters series is set in an open world, where regular folks know about shifters, vampires, and other things that go bump in the night, with varying degrees of acceptance. In the town near Ana Cordona and her family’s ranch, people are generally okay with their presence, though not many humans go out of their way to socialize with the shifters, who are much stronger and longer-lived. In fact, the main people who take issue with Ana and her pack are the neighbouring group of shifters, led by the completely sleazy criminal Sean Taggert. Ana and her pack are quite vulnerable, as the blurb says, because all of the males died after someone tried to poison the entire group; Ana is trying to lead because she knows that the remaining women and children could lose everything if she complains to the shifter leaders about Taggert’s behaviour. She’s completely on edge when Connor shows up to save the day, in his supremely Alpha way. I generally liked the way Reus constructs the world but it wasn’t terribly extraordinary.

The characters were also likeable but unextraordinary. Ana and Connor have history and chemistry and I enjoyed watching them do the dance but I wasn’t dazzled by any of the people in the story. I did like the incorporation of Native American people (as secondary characters) and belief systems, though, and I hope this is something Reus will explore more in  future novels.

There’s also an overall mystery of who killed all of the shifters that led to Ana’s rise to leader and that part was well executed. Although we don’t find out the poisoner’s motivations until the big reveal, it was a logical storyline and one that may have consequences beyond ALPHA INSTINCT.

On the whole, this novel is a fairly average entry into the paranormal romance genre but I did enjoy reading ALPHA INSTINCT. I think there’s potential in this series and I hope that Reus will continuing developing her world and characters, so that the Moon Shifters series can become something truly outstanding.

Darkness Rises by Dianne Duvall

Darkness-Rises-by-Dianne-Duvall-Immortal-Guardians-4-213x350This week on Team Tynga’s Reviews, I finally get caught up on Dianne Duvall’s Immortal Guardians series, with DARKNESS RISES. [review]

Marked by Elisabeth Naughton

Marked by Elisabeth Naughton (Eternal Guardians #1)Released: December 8, 2011
Format: e-book
Publisher: Elisabeth Naughton

Series: Eternal Guardians #1

Source: Library

Excerpt: Yes

THERON – Dark haired, duty bound and deceptively deadly. He’s the leader of the Argonauts, an elite group of guardians that defends the immortal realm from threats of the Underworld.

From the moment he walked into the club, Casey knew this guy was different. Men like that just didn’t exist in real life—silky shoulder-length hair, chest impossibly broad, and a predatory manner that just screamed dark and dangerous. He was looking for something. Her.

She was the one. She had the mark. Casey had to die so his kind could live, and it was Theron’s duty to bring her in. But even as a 200-year-old descendent of Hercules, he wasn’t strong enough to resist the pull in her fathomless eyes, to tear himself away from the heat of her body.

As war with the Underworld nears, someone will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Elisabeth Naughton’s MARKED is  a wonderful piece of escapist literature. I read it on my way back to the UK from Canada, when I was completely exhausted, and the story and the characters had me hooked even when I just wanted to sleep. (Trust me, that’s a big compliment since there’s very little that can keep me awake when I’m sleepy.)

MARKED is the first book in Naughton’s self-published paranormal romance series about Argoleans and their destined mates. Naughton has created some amazing mythology that combines Greek mythological figures with steamy romance and fast-paced action. Argolea is a realm established by Zeus for heroes and their descendants, including the Argonauts, an elite team of warriors who act as guardians for Argolea. Argoleans can travel from their realm to earth and mingle with humans; humans don’t know that Argoleans exist for the most part. Theron is a descendant of Heracles and is the leader of the Argonauts, making him an alpha male of the highest order. He’s all muscles and swagger and violence, until he meets Casey. Unfortunately, the reason he’s interested in Casey isn’t just the physical attraction; he’s also under orders to bring her to Argolea so that she can be used to heal Isadora, the princess of the realm, at the cost of Casey’s life. Naughton does a great job of introducing the series mythology gradually over the course of MARKED and I was very satisfied with what the reader and the characters learn about Argoleans and the daemons they’ve been fighting for centuries. Naughton’s created an interesting world with lots of different threads and themes and I was thoroughly engaged throughout.

The romance is definitely steamy. Casey and Theron spark off each other (though not literally). They have major chemistry and I liked Naughton’s spin on the one-destined-mate trope. She’s done a great job of building it into the series lore without it feeling forced. Sometimes it’s such a heavy-handed plot device but it seems like a very natural element in the Eternal Guardians’ world.

Sadly, the library doesn’t have the next book in the series available so I’ll have to wait for the next time I have an ebook coupon. (Trying to be frugal stinks.) In any case, I think MARKED is a great paranormal read and the start of what should be a very exciting and dramatic series. I’d encourage you to check it out.

Dark Promise by M. L. Guida

Dark Promise by M. L. GuidaReleased: March 5, 2014
Format: eARC
Publisher: Kensington

Series: Yes (title unknown)

Source: Netgalley

Excerpt: Yes

Love can unlock the secret to saving two worlds.

As the Golden Aspen Tree withers, darkness consumes the Dragon Demons of the Underworld, turning them feral. Prince Eric Wyvern must keep his darkness at bay and woo the silver-haired human tainted with angel blood whose touch is prophesied to save the Golden Tree and restore light to the Underworld.

Cassandra Wright, a gifted psychic, has dreamed of Eric her whole life. When her dream lover joins her on a ski vacation, he plunges her into a nightmare. Imprisoned in a dying world filled with abuse and torture, she must become the Demon Prince’s mate or remain trapped forever. If she fails to fulfill the prophecy, the darkness will spread to her world. But how can she give herself to this dark and frightening version of the man of her dreams?

Eric will give Cassandra the world, if only he can make her see past the darkness to the man he really is, and help him save it first.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

DARK PROMISE is a novella that’s supposed to bring the steam and a new take on dragons but it fell quite short for me.

Generally, I liked both Cassandra and Eric. Cassandra is so sweet and innocent and wants so desperately to be normal. It’s easy to relate to her and sympathize with her. Eric is extremely alpha, which made sense in the context of the world he lives in but doesn’t translate terribly well by modern standards. He came of as overly domineering and a bit creepy in the first half of the novella: he’s been sneaking into Cassandra’s mind and giving her super detailed sex dreams for years, he knows all about her, he’s determined to make her his mate to save his people. Really, it’s the first thing that bothers me. It’s such a major invasion and it’s made her feel like she has an issue, since she’s so wrapped up in her dream man that she can’t seem to date other people. He’s kind of messed up her head and she forgives him much more quickly than I would, though this probably has something to do with the fact that this is a paranormal romance novella and time (and word count) is short.

The worldbuilding in DARK PROMISE had some interesting aspects. I appreciate Guida’s attempt to craft a new mythology for dragons but there was a lot going on. First, Dragon Demons, as they are called, are descended from angels and live in a parallel dimension. They can travel between dimensions fairly easily, it seems. That part was different from what we usually see, which I appreciate. It’s great when writers add a creative twist to supernatural creatures we’re all familiar with. However, the idea that the only thing keeping them from going “feral” and turning into evil creatures who revel in torture, domination, and war is a magic tree that’s about to lose all of its leaves — that didn’t work as well for me. I had hoped the idea would make for a good story — after all, I did request the eARC — but DARK PROMISE fell flat for me since most of Cassandra and Eric’s time is spent with them in one of three ways: (1) Cassandra is scared but oddly drawn to Eric, (2) they are doing sexy things, (3) Eric and/or Cassandra experience the horrible ways that the Dragon Demons behave without a strong magic tree. The magic tree seemed like an excuse to have characters be very evil and then, if the tree is saved, suddenly become good again. It seems like an easy out and that’s not how I like my stories to unfold.

Readers who enjoy the alphahole will probably get into DARK PROMISE but there wasn’t enough character development for me, in the protagonists or the rest of the cast. We do get a sense of who Eric and Cassandra are but everyone else seems very stock. I appreciate the review copy of this novella but this is where I part ways with Guida. DARK PROMISE didn’t deliver the sexy paranormal story I was expecting.

**I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**

 

Enchanted Again by Robin D. Owens

Enchanted Again by Robin D. Owens (Mystic Circle #2)Released: December 20, 2011
Format: e-book
Publisher: Luna

Series: Mystic Circle #2

Source: Personal shelf

Excerpt: Yes

Magic has a price—and for Amber Sarga it’s days and years off her life. Each curse she breaks ages her—and the bigger the curse the bigger the cost, and not only to her. That’s why she hides away and has vowed not to get involved again… That’s why she hates looking in a mirror…

And then an ill-fated stranger arrives. Rafe Davail doesn’t believe in curses—not even knowing that in his family every first son dies young. Amber offers guidance but she won’t break the curse. Still, as she grows closer to Rafe and discovers the secrets of their pasts, she wonders if for this time, this man, she should risk it all….

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I reviewed the first Mystic Circle book, ENCHANTED NO MORE, on Tynga’s Reviews last year. I was captivated by the world that Owens created, and the shine hasn’t worn off! I really enjoyed ENCHANTED AGAIN, though not quite as much as ENCHANTED NO MORE, something I attribute entirely to the shift in focus.

In ENCHANTED AGAIN, we’re introduced to Amber Sarga, a human cursebreaker who lives on Mystic Circle. She meets Rafe Devail when Rafe’s friend Conrad comes to her for help with his curse. Unfortunately for Amber, breaking curses has a physical cost and she ages, the number of months/years depending on the strength of the curse she breaks. To help Conrad or Rafe would cost her everything so she’s understandably reluctant to help either of them.

The idea of curses and how they behave isn’t particularly new but Owens executes it well. I love the balance that cursing and cursebreaking require and think it adds a nice element to the Mystic Circle mythology. Plus, the Dark ones are still around and they become involved in Amber and Rafe’s lives, which also draws in Eight Corp and other residents of the Circle. I really liked this aspect of ENCHANTED AGAIN because I love Jenni and Aric and was happy to see them appear on stage again. But ENCHANTED AGAIN is Amber and Rafe’s story and although it’s generally a good story, it didn’t suck me in quite as much as Jenni and Aric’s. There’s still lots of action and the plot is well constructed and executed but there was that little something special lacking for me. I’m pretty sure it’s because Rafe’s very self-involved. He lives his life as he chooses because of the curse that he doesn’t fully believe in, and it’s made him selfish. He slowly grows out of his less desirable behaviours but I didn’t find him terribly charming. I’d be interested to know if there are folks out there who feel the same.

Despite this, I really liked the conclusion of the novel. The resolution is very satisfying because both characters have grown as individuals and as a couple. I still prefer Amber and her squishy self over Rafe but they each show development, which always makes a story meatier and better.

If you haven’t read the first book in the series, I would strongly suggest picking that one up before you try ENCHANTED AGAIN. Owens lays out the groundwork for the series in ENCHANTED NO MORE; you can probably understand everything if you jump right into ENCHANTED AGAIN but you’ll definitely get more out of the story if you have ENCHANTED NO MORE under your belt.

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper (Naked Werewolf #1)Released: February 22, 2011
Format: Mass market paperback
Publisher: Pocket

Series: Naked Werewolf #1

Source: Library

Excerpt: No

Even in Grundy, Alaska, it’s unusual to find a naked guy with a bear trap clamped to his ankle on your porch. But when said guy turns into a wolf, recent southern transplant Mo Wenstein has no difficulty identifying the problem. Her surly neighbor Cooper Graham—who has been openly critical of Mo’s ability to adapt to life in Alaska—has trouble of his own. Werewolf trouble.

For Cooper, an Alpha in self-imposed exile from his dysfunctional pack, it’s love at first sniff when it comes to Mo. But Cooper has an even more pressing concern on his mind. Several people around Grundy have been the victims of wolf attacks, and since Cooper has no memory of what he gets up to while in werewolf form, he’s worried that he might be the violent canine in question.

If a wolf cries wolf, it makes sense to listen, yet Mo is convinced that Cooper is not the culprit. Except if he’s not responsible, then who is? And when a werewolf falls head over haunches in love with you, what are you supposed to do anyway? The rules of dating just got a whole lot more complicated. . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

My friend Stéphanie, one of the contributors on Tynga’s Reviews, has read and raved about Molly Harper so I wanted to give her work a try. My local library had a copy of HOW TO FLIRT WITH A NAKED WEREWOLF on the shelves so I finally got the chance!

Hands down, my favourite part of this novel is the writing style. Harper does a wonderful job of fleshing out her characters, giving readers a real sense of what life is like in Grundy, and building a good plot. Werewolves are common enough in the world of paranormal romance but Harper marks her place in the sub genre with HOW TO FLIRT WITH A NAKED WEREWOLF. It’s got a great mix of humour, romance, and mystery, a winning combination for me!

Mo and Cooper are really great characters. I loved Mo from the moment I opened the book. I could really identify with her need for a fresh start and thought it was brave of her to move to what is practically the ends of the earth to find it. Her nontraditional upbringing would make for easy jokes but Harper steers clear of them (for the most part); instead, there’s a lot of physical comedy as well as witty lines. Cooper’s a bit more of a mystery since we get the story follows Mo, not him, but he’ll melt your heart as you learn his story. He’s got a lot of those typical gruff male characteristics but he’s also got some soft spots, which is a lot more interesting to my mind.

The other residents of Grundy are also a lot of fun. I couldn’t decide who was my favourite but I’m definitely a Buzz fan! It says a lot about Harper’s abilities that she can create three dimensional characters so easily and have you invested in them in only a few pages. And this is particularly important here since there’s a murderous wolf on the loose and the story has a lot more impact when the tragedy that impacts Grundy impacts the reader as well.

In terms of world building, the werewolves in HOW TO FLIRT WITH A NAKED WEREWOLF are fairly ordinary. They have two forms, human and wolf, and they mate for life. They live in secret from humans, which is why rural Alaska is such a good place for them, and they have a typical pack structure. Even though this is pretty standard mythology, the characters still come alive and I enjoyed getting to know them and their world. The one surprising element of the werewolves in this book is that they don’t always remember what they do as wolves, which is usually a sign of newbies in most series. But in HOW TO FLIRT WITH A NAKED WEREWOLF, this is a key element since Cooper doesn’t know if he’s the killer or not…

On the whole, HOW TO FLIRT WITH A NAKED WEREWOLF is a great, fun read. I loved Harper’s writing style and I can’t wait to go back for more of the Naked Werewolf series! Don’t be put off by the cutesy cover — you’re in for a really strong book if you give HOW TO FLIRT WITH A NAKED WEREWOLF a chance.

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