Best of 2014: Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster

My fifth pick for my best books of 2014 list is Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster.

The blurb:

A FEAR SHE CAN’T ESCAPE Ten years ago, Perry fled her thrall contract to find sanctuary among the Nighthawks. In that time, she’s become a respected woman of the Guard, and she’s wanted Garrett Reed for as long as she can remember. But when a new case takes a chillingly familiar turn, Perry finds herself once again in the path of a madman…only this time, there’s nowhere left to run.

A DESIRE THAT CAN’T BE TEMPERED Out of their depth and racing against time, Perry and Garrett must learn to trust the desire sparking between them…or risk losing themselves forever to the darkness stalking London’s streets.

I discovered McMaster’s London Steampunk series earlier this year. I was instantly captivated, and I read all the books in just a few days. McMaster’s taken familiar elements—vampires, steampunk—and mixed them up in a way that’s completely new and unique. In McMaster’s London, men of the nobility infect themselves with the “craving virus”—the disease that causes vampirism. In small doses, though, the craving virus causes increased strength, enhanced healing capabilities, and longer life. It can be controlled—until it can’t anymore and the infected turn into mindless vampires.

McMaster’s London is obviously a fantasy world, but I love the way she incorporates the classism and sexism that were so pervasive in real-life Victorian London into the fantasy.

This is the fourth book in the series, and it follows Perry, a Nighthawk (a law enforcement group for the infected) with a dark past. She’s been in love with her partner, Garrett, for years now, and Garrett has remained pretty much…oblivious.

Perry is a woman living in a man’s world; though she can and will wear a dress when the occasion arises, she prefers her fighting leathers. After an illicit kiss, Perry has been putting distance between herself and Garrett, fearing his rejection.

Garrett, who has recently been promoted to leadership of the Nighthawks, has been dropped into a role that doesn’t fit comfortably, and he misses his best friend. At the same time, he can’t stop himself from focusing on his newly discovered attraction to her. (This was, in fact, my one minor complaint with the book: they’d been partners for years, but it wasn’t until he saw her in a dress that he realized he was attracted to her? Oy.)

This will appeal to fans of Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series. (Evernight, the fifth book in that series, was also featured in my “best of 2014” list.) It will also appeal to people who like their steampunk with a heavy dose of romance. Each book has a stand-alone storyline, however, there’s a heavy amount of world building in the first book, Kiss of Steel, so you might be a little bit lost if you jump in mid-series.

Best of 2014: Romancing the Billionaire by Jessica Clare

Romancing the Billionaire (Jessica Clare)

First of all, I have to apologize for being terribly, horribly behind on posting and my best books of 2014 list.  The holidays came and hijacked me, and I just haven’t had a chance to post or update or do much of anything since then.  As a matter of fact, I am still on vacation, and I will be until January 3.  I have a few more of these posts written, but I still have several more to write.  Between my day job and rewrites on The Demon Within, I am completely, utterly, massively burned out.  My brain is just exhausted, and I need this last week of peace and quiet before I can get back to the grindstone again.  So I’ll do my best.  The best of posts will get published, but I won’t get all 10 up before the end of the year.

With that out of the way, the next pick in my best books of 2014 is Romancing the Billionaire by Jessica Clare.

The blurb:

The Billionaire Boys Club is a secret society. Six men of astonishing wealth. But there’s one thing money can’t buy. When it comes to love, success doesn’t come so easily…

Jonathan Lyons. Playboy, billionaire, and adventurer, he lives life on the edge. When he hears that his mentor, Dr. Phineas DeWitt, had a secret journal that leads to a legendary artifact, Jonathan takes action. It stirs his blood, but it comes with a heady challenge: DeWitt’s daughter Violet. She has what Jonathan needs. And she’s not giving it up it to the man who broke her heart.

Violet is Jonathan’s weakness—he’s still in love despite their volatile breakup a decade ago. But Violet’s memories have a sharper edge. She’s never forgiven him for abandoning her. Or so she thought. When Jonathan’s attentions turn seductive, she’s in danger of falling for him all over again. And she can’t help but wonder…does he really want her, or just what she’s hiding?

Jessica Clare’s Billionaire Boys Club series has been a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine for about a year now.  Ever since I read Beauty and the Billionaire—which featured the beauty and the beast trope, one of my personal favorites—I’ve been hooked.  These fun, frothy books feature just the right combination of sexy romance and fantasy indulgence—how many among us get to date billionaires?—to whet your appetite when you’re in the mood for some light reading.

This installment features Violet, a schoolteacher whose workaholic, absentee father has just died, and Jonathan, Violet’s long-ago lover and her father’s former protégée.  Jonathan and Violet had a passionate relationship as teenagers, and they parted under bad circumstances.  Ten years later, they’re drawn together again after the death of Violet’s father to follow through with his last wishes: a scavenger hunt that takes them through their own shared past.

I’m a big fan of the trope of lovers reuniting after a long time apart; it always seems to give the relationship more weight and depth, not to mention more conflict.  Violet and Jonathan have a lot of hurt and misunderstanding to overcome before they can hope to be together again.  It’s also great to read about a couple whose relationship has already evolved beyond that initial stage of excitement and awkwardness.  Violet and Jonathan’s interaction is, at least at first, tinged with bitterness and regret, but there’s also this witty rapport that comes out of their mutual knowledge of one another.

This is not going to be the book for everyone.  It’s definitely lighter than my usual fare, and the only fantasy element is the dream of mingling with the 1%.  But it’s well-written and fun, with mystery and romance that keep you engaged throughout.  It’s also easy to jump in at any point in the series, so feel free to pick this one up first and work your way backward.

Best of 2014: Evernight by Kristen Callihan

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My next pick for my top 10 books of 2014 is Evernight by Kristen Callihan.

The blurb:

Once the night comes . . .

Will Thorne is living a nightmare, his sanity slowly being drained away by a force he can’t control. His talents have made him the perfect assassin for hire. But as he loses his grip on reality, there is no calming him-until he finds his next target: the mysterious Holly Evernight.

Love must cast aside the shadows

Holly cannot fathom who would put a contract on her life, yet the moment she touches Will, the connection between them is elemental, undeniable-and she’s the only one who can tame his bouts of madness. But other assassins are coming for Holly. Will must transform from killer to protector and find the man who wants Holly dead . . . or his only chance for redemption will be lost.

I love Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series. Callihan combines a richly developed world with compelling characters and romances. Steampunk is becoming more and more popular now, but when the series debuted in 2012 it was one of the first I’d read. I loved the juxtaposition of historical, technological, and magical. Callihan thinks outside the box when it comes to the paranormal. Each of her paranormal beings feels new and fresh, even the ones we see commonly in paranormal fantasy (vampires, werewolves). Rather than follow established rules and mythologies, Callihan throws them all away and creates her own.

But the main reason I read these books—and where Callihan really shines—is with romance building. For me, the most thrilling part of a romantic novel isn’t the sex, but the sexual tension: when you can feel the desire between the characters building and evolving.

Nowhere are Callihan’s talents on better display than in Evernight. The book follows the relationship between Will, a Sanguis demon (a vampire who feeds on human emotions through blood and other body fluids) and Holly, a human with the ability to control metal. Because of (circumstances I will not disclose because they spoil the previous book), Will is turning into metal—and Holly, with her unique powers, is the only one who can control his pain and madness. He literally cannot stay away from her. Swoon! (I say this with the full acknowledgement that, if my boyfriend could not stay away from me, I would go crazy and likely defenestrate him within a week. Maybe less. But my own hypocrisy aside, it’s really sexy in book form.)

Each book in the series has a stand-alone storyline and focuses on a different couple, so you can pick up at any point in the series without significant problem. However, you’ll be missing out on a big chunk of worldbuilding—which is one of the main appeals of the series—if you don’t start at the beginning, so consider picking up Firelight first and moving through the series in chronological order. You won’t regret it.

Best of 2014: Banishing the Dark by Jenn Bennett

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My second pick for my top 10 books of 2014 is Banishing the Dark by Jenn Bennett.

The blurb:

In Book Four of the beloved urban fantasy series Romantic Times calls one “for your keeper shelf,” the ultimate mother-daughter fight is about to go down.

Complicated does not begin to describe Arcadia Bell’s life right now: unnatural magical power, another brush with death, and a murderous mother who’s not only overbearing but determined to take permanent possession of Cady’s body. Forced to delve deep into the mystery surrounding her own birth, she must uncover which evil spell her parents cast during her conception…and how to reverse it. Fast. As Cady and her lover Lon embark on a dangerous journey through her magical past, Lon’s teenage son Jupe sneaks off for his own investigation. Each family secret they uncover is darker than the last, and Cady, who has worn many identities–Moonchild, mage, fugitive–is about to add one more to the list.

Banishing the Dark is the fourth, and final, book in Bennett’s Arcadia Bell series. I, for one, am very sorry to see it go. Bennett’s world is incredibly fun and well-realized, populated with Earthbound demons with specific “knacks”—supernatural abilities—and human magic-users. Cady, the protagonist, is one such human magic user who comes to find out that the magic Moonchild ritual surrounding her conception have given her more power than she realizes, and that her beloved parents were not the people she thought they were.

But what has always drawn me to this series most is the characters, especially the supporting cast. Cady’s boyfriend, Lon, an Earthbound demon, is strong and reserved, a dominant personality who is capable of allowing Cady to take the lead when necessary. He’s significantly older than Cady (42 to her 25), which is realistically treated as an obstacle to their burgeoning relationship. By book 4, their relationship has become more established, but Bennett continues to find ways to keep their dynamic feeling fresh and compelling.

Lon’s son, Jupiter, is intelligent, exuberant, and talkative. He’s the complete opposite of most of the moody teens you see in fiction—and, quite frankly, in real life—and he’s a joy to read about. Banishing the Dark marks the first time he’s had point-of-view scenes in the series, and they’re great fun.

Unlike many fantasy series, where the main attraction are the supernatural aspects of the story, it’s the human factor that keeps me coming back to this series.

Bennett also has a way of writing suspenseful scenes that keep you glued to your seat. I read the book in one sitting, unable to put it down. Book 3 ends on a cliffhanger, and I spent a year anxiously awaiting this book. Once I got it, I wasn’t disappointed.

The arc of the series does build from book to book, so I’d recommend starting with book 1, Kindling the Moon.

Best of 2014: Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews

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So it’s the end of 2014, and in that spirit, I’ve decided to post about my 10 favorite books of the year. Here are the caveats:

–Only books published in 2014 were considered. (I read some AWESOME books in 2014, but they weren’t published this year, so I didn’t consider them for this list.)

–I am arranging the books alphabetically by author. (Sorting them beyond the top 10 would just be too complicated for me.)

–This is a completely subjective list. I have not read every book published this year, not by a long shot, and I just picked the top 10 based on the books I liked the best, the ones that really stuck with me. I am always looking for suggestions for more books I might enjoy.

–I’ll post another entry every few days until I get the top 10.

So for my first entry: Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews.

The blurb:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews launches a brand-new Hidden Legacy series, in which one woman must place her trust in a seductive, dangerous man who sets off an even more dangerous desire . . .

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile situation. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run and wanting to surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

What I loved about this book: Ilona Andrews (the pseudonym of a husband-and-wife writing team Ilona and Gordon) is/are one of the best fantasy writers out there. Period. If they ever got divorced, it would be a huge loss to the speculative fiction world.

Burn For Me is the start of a new series. One of Andrews’ strengths is world building, and they did not fail us here. The ability to use magic has created a caste system, and the country is dominated by powerful magical houses. Nevada is not one of these houses. Her family barely scrapes by on the revenues from her private detective work. But she has a powerful and rare gift—the ability to distinguish truth from lies—that she keeps hidden from everyone except those closest to her.

The book reminded me a bit of one of Andrews’ earlier words, Bayou Moon, in that Nevada is surrounded by a strong, supportive, colorful family. As such, Nevada, unlike many other heroines in the urban fantasy genre, has a profound sense of responsibility and family devotion, and she has a strong support network at her back.

Rogan is a tougher nut to crack. He’s abrasive, at times cruel, and frequently acts like a jackass. But there are glimmers to him that make you think that maybe he’s not as “mad” as he pretends to be. He’s everything you know you shouldn’t want in a boyfriend—but damn, he’s a lot of fun.

Speaking of fun, Ilona Andrews is one of the few writers who can make the villain—a pyrokinetic named Adam Pierce—almost as compelling as the hero. Andrews posted a blog entry several days after the release of the book asking readers whether they thought he could be redeemed. The discussion became very heated, no pun intended. How many other modern writers do you know who can inspire that much passion over the bad guy?

Even though the book has been marketed as a romance, it reads more like an urban fantasy. The romantic relationship here is more prominent than it is in Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, but it is definitely a slow burn, and it’s not the only thing going on here.

Bottom line: If you like complex world-building, intelligent heroines, badass but also possibly wounded heroes, and edge-of-your-seat fantasy stories, this one is for you. I have never picked up an Ilona Andrews book and been disappointed. This year, with both the release of Burn For Me and Magic Breaks, their seventh Kate Daniels novel, their awesomeness streak has continued.

Stay tuned for the rest of the top 10!

Seeking Book Recommendations: Urban Fantasy Edition

I am in dire need of new urban fantasy books to read.

Here’s the deal: I’ve been reading urban fantasy since 2010.  What I’m finding now is that a lot of my favorite series are either nearing their end, or have already ended.  I’ve tackled many of the established favorites, but I haven’t found many new authors to read lately.  Between my own writing and my otherwise busy schedule, I just haven’t had the time to go out and explore blogs the way I used to.

But no more.  I’m seeking book recommendations, specifically urban fantasy, and here’s what I’m looking for:

LIKES: Strong, female protagonists; well-developed characters; well-developed, complex, unique worlds or paranormal creatures; slow-burning romances with lots of sexual tension; time travel (paradoxes be damned); historical elements (e.g. steampunk); dragons (they’re just awesome); ghosts (why don’t we see more ghosts in UF?).

DISLIKES: Damsels in distress; tired tropes (if I’m going to read about vampires, I’d better read something new or different about them); editorial or continuity errors; awkward writing (I want to concentrate on the story, not the writing); rape scenes (I know these are common in urban fantasy, but they’re a pet peeve of mine); asshole heroes.

It would be great if some of the suggestions already had more than one book in the series.

Some favorites of mine:

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews; the October Daye series and Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire; the Cassandra Palmer series by Karen Chance; the Downside Ghosts series by Stacia Kane; the Disillusionists trilogy by Carolyn Crane; the Jane True series by Nicole Peeler; the Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong.  I’m sure there are tons more that I’m just not thinking of right now.

Ready…set…GO!

New Book Alert: Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler

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I haven’t read this one yet, but this review caught my attention:

http://vampirebookclub.net/review-jinn-and-juice-by-nicole-peeler/

Here’s why it intrigues me:

Nicole Peeler is one of my favorite urban fantasy writers.  Her Jane True series about a half-selkie who slowly grows into her powers is smart and sexy.  But I think my favorite thing about it is Jane’s narrative voice.  Jane has a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor that urban fantasy narrators often lack.  Even during the worst of times, she doesn’t take herself too seriously.  Reading the books is like having a direct line into her inner voice–and all the unfiltered craziness that one’s inner voice often spews.  Jane also likes sex.  A lot.  It’s so refreshing to have a female protagonist who blatantly, unapologetically ENJOYS sex.

–The book is set in Pittsburgh, my once-and-forever hometown.  Who the hell would set a fantasy book in Pittsburgh?  It’s like, the least likely place a fantasy creature would want to live.  I mean…it’s Pittsburgh!

This is what Peeler says about it on her blog:

Everything I love about Pittsburgh, however, is what makes it not very….supernatural-y. I love that it’s kinda Midwestern and it’s an actively revitalizing city, which means it’s not chockablock with the trendiest hangs ever, like New York. I love that it’s most famous for fries on sandwiches and something about a towel and putting chairs out in front of your house to reserve your parking spot.

So, a delightful place to live for a nice girl from Illinois, but for an immortal creature with supernatural powers who could live anywhere it wanted…wouldn’t Paris be a more obvious choice? Or NOLA? Or Istanbul?

So, I was in the shower and I thought, “I would love to write a book set in Pittsburgh.” Then I laughed to myself and said out loud, “Yeah, but what sort of supernatural creature would live in Pittsburgh?”

From answering that question Lyla and her clan of misfit toys living in steel-soaked Pittsburgh came into being. Thank jeebus for the powers of the showers.

Well, I can’t argue with that.  Pittsburgh is covered in steel and iron, and it does put fries on everything.  (Seriously.  The city is a cesspool of saturated fat.)  But I’m also completely intrigued.  Sometimes it pays to go against the grain.  In many urban fantasies, the city becomes part of the story, and it looks like Peeler chose her setting well.  Plus, like it or not, I’m a hometown (hometahn?) girl.  One mention of the Terrible Towel, Eat n’ Park, or the late, great Myron Cope, and I’ll be hooked.  I just really hope no one uses the word “yinz.”  That particular colloquialism needs to die a slow, painful death.

I’m putting it on my “to-be-read” list.

Please Pardon Our Dust

So I’m pretty new to the web building/blogging world, and I’m still trying to figure out the ins and outs of WordPress design and formatting. I’m working on getting some new art for the header. I purchased some stock photos today, and OMG I AM SO EXCITED!!!!! I can’t wait to get the new art up.

I’m going to be working on getting some new widgets and so forth up. I’m learning as I go along here, so be patient.

More to come soon…

THE DEMON WITHIN blurb

So what exactly is The Demon Within all about???

Presenting…the book blurb:

Dale Highland is a murderer. But she doesn’t want to be.

For 10 years, she’s been struck by violent blackouts she calls Rages. But this time, she’s killed an innocent man, and the knowledge tears her up inside.

Months later, a run-in with a mysterious, alluring man named John leads Dale to discover that she’s half demon. Dale and John team up to find Dale’s long-missing mother, a legend in the demon world and the only person who might be able to help Dale control her Rages. Their quest throws them into a collision course with the Thrones, a group of angels determined to eradicate demons from Earth. The world of angels and demons is darker, and more dangerous, than Dale understands. In order to get the answers she seeks, Dale will have to risk not only her life…but her soul.

So what happens now? The Demon Within is scheduled to be released in late 2015. I’m still working on an exact date with the publisher, but I’m anticipating the December 2015 time frame.

The Demon Within is the first in a four-book series–and YES, the other books in the series will be published. California Coldblood has contracted me for all four books, as well as an unrelated fifth book. (Don’t ask me what that fifth book will be about yet. I have some ideas, but I’m working with the publisher to figure out what works best for their line. I can tell you that it won’t be in the Dale world, but that’s about it.) So many publishers only contract authors for the first one or two book in the series–especially new, unestablished authors. If the books don’t do well enough, the publisher doesn’t contract the other books. It’s very frustrating as a reader, because you end up having to wait indefinitely for the conclusion to a much-loved series (if it ever arrives at all). One of the things that attracted me to California Coldblood was their willingness to publish the whole series. So you will not be left hanging. Book 2 will be released in 2016, book 3 in 2017, and book 4 in 2018. At the end of book 4, there will be no loose ends, no dangling participles, no hanging chads, etc.

I’m so excited to be able to share this, finally! Yay!