Plaid Tidings by Mia Marlowe

plaid
Plaid Tidings by Mia Marlowe
Publisher: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp.
Genre: Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (264 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Christmas in the Highlands…

Not any dashing English lord’s idea of a good time. But now that Lord Alexander Mallory has won a Scottish estate in a hand of cards, he is the unlikely laird of the wild, snowy Bonniebroch. Worse yet, the ancient pile of stones comes with a betrothal. To a fiery red-headed virgin. And a curse.

Alex will have his hands full honoring the first, seducing the second and breaking the third…all by Twelfth Night.

If you like ghosts, quests, impossible curses and a Scottish romance then pull up a comfy chair and settle in with Plaid Tidings because a fun read is heading your way. Alexander Mallory is a hero who must face the impossible and Lucinda is the heroine who must help him, but she has secrets of her own. How a man who refused to allow himself to love comes to terms with falling in love for the first time while battling a waiting evil is the stuff great stories are made of. Ms. Marlowe does not disappoint – she does her plot justice. It’s great entertainment.

I liked watching Alexander initially fight his Scottish heritage. It was really clever of the author to show a reader how the hero slowly but surely, in bits and pieces of dialogue and habits, turned his back on his English side to eventually embrace the man he really is, the man he was meant to be. It was endearing and fascinating to watch unfold. The charm of Scotland lives within Alexander Mallory.

It was only at one part that the plot had a predictable progression. The villain’s scene moved awfully fast so it felt like a bandage being ripped off to let all the icky stuff get out so the clean, healed skin could be revealed. It was nasty; the description of the final demise reminded me of some classic horror films so that was cool. However, if a reader is looking for some seriously dark drama they won’t find it here. Plaid Tidings is first and foremost a romance and the bad guy was the foil that was used to give the right amount of tension and adrenaline without undermining the true focus. It sure did showcase Lucinda’s fortitude and pluckiness. She’s an unusual heroine and it was fun to get to see her in action.

Alexander’s seduction of Lucinda is quite entertaining and well written. Readers should find plenty to enjoy between the pages. There’s no doubt that the hero and heroine are quite compatible. I enjoyed watching the heroine discover just how effective a woman can be in seducing her own husband to get her way. What a clever minx.

There are quite a few surprises and other types of action interspersed throughout the novel and it definitely kept my interest all the way through. I heartily recommend readers giving Plaid Tidings a try. It’s filled with quirky charm and a delightful romance that worked because Alexander and Lucinda were so fun together. I’m glad I read this book and got to meet them.

When Darkness Comes by Alexandra Ivy

COMES
When Darkness Comes by Alexandra Ivy
Publisher: Zebra Books
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (244 pgs)
Heat Rating: Hot
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

It’s been a hell of a day for Abby Barlow. In just a few hours, she’s survived an explosion, watched her employer die, had a startling dream, and now she finds herself in a seedy Chicago hotel with the sexy, unearthly Dante, a vampire she both desires and fears.

For 341 years, Dante has stood as guardian to The Chalice, a mortal woman chosen to hold back the darkness. A terrible twist of fate has now made Abby that woman. Three hours ago. Dante would have used all his charms to seduce her. Now she is his to protect. And he will do so until his very death.

A terrifying plan has been set in motion, one that will plunge Dante and Abby into an epic battle between good and evil – and a desperate race to save their love…

I’ve just discovered another world that is so amazing and intricate that it’s created a new addiction. Ms. Ivy’s When Darkness Comes delivers a hard to resist hook, a premise that is unique and fascinating and characters that come alive between the pages. I’m a happy reader.

The basic gist is the age old battle between good and evil. In this case, vampires and all sorts of paranormal folk are just variations of demons. I’m not into reading about demons per se, but Ms. Ivy has a clever twist that makes them not as one would expect. Like the heroine found out, demons can be beautiful and harmless as much as they can be harbingers of the end of the world. Sometimes humans can be just as bad, if not worse, than the worst demon. The heroine sure found out about that, too.

The very first chapter was intriguing. I met Abby, a sort of klutzy, sweet but very responsible woman who has had to struggle to survive. She’s got this great gig going on that is finally paying the bills. One day she breaks a priceless vase and she thought that was the absolutely most horrifying thing that could happen to her. Call it the calm before the storm. What happens after neatly and efficiently captured my interest, imagination and garnered desperation to read every page, chapter and scene where Abby and Dante try to not only stay alive but save the world from overambitious zealots. This book is a page flipper.

In between all the suspense and drama, Ms. Ivy has Abby and Dante falling in love. It’s rocky, passionate and hot. They are wonderful together and their chemistry is off the charts.

Secondary characters are not only important, they are vital. Every single one plays a role and they contributed to the feel of the community, the friendships and the sense of being players on a very large stage. A lot goes on in this book but it’s the hints of what is to come that tease the mind and senses.

When Darkness Comes is a must read. It’s on my keeper shelf and it’s a book that I can’t wait to read again. It’s infused me with the need to know more about Viper and just what kind of woman will be his downfall so I’m already primed to read the next adventure. I found this novel to be as gripping, exciting and fun as anything I’ve read in a long time. Not only that but I checked into the next book and was astounded to find out that there are a lot of books in the series. My bank account is going to scream but if they are as astounding and solidly well written as When Darkness Comes then it’s going to be money well spent. This book has made me an instant fan. I really, really count myself fortunate that I discovered this series especially because, with so many already written, I don’t have to wait. How awesome is that?!?

Shadows Strike by Dianne Duvall

STRIKE
Shadows Strike by Dianne Duvall
Publisher: Zebra Books/ Kensington Publishing Corp.
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (411 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

The Immortal Guardians protect the innocent in secret. Sometimes the secret gets out…

U.S. law enforcement agent Heather Lane can read minds. But not the future. The dream of battle and blood that recurs every night must be a fluke, some obscure terror from her own mind. What its significance might be, she can’t guess: an attack from seven psychotic vampires at once, only separated from nightmare by an eighth very different immortal. A handsome, brave man fighting at her side, a man she misses when she wakes.

Then the dream comes true. Heather is flung into a war between predators and protectors of humanity, the man from her dreams beside her again. Except now that she’s awake, she isn’t sure she can trust Ethan, or the shadow organization he represents. The U.S. military doesn’t trust either of them. But against an onslaught of evil like the one that’s coming, it will take everything they have just to survive…

Ms. Duvall is the mistress of page flipping excitement. You have no idea how many breath stealing, heart pounding, nail biting chapters fill this latest book in her Immortal Guardian series. Shadows Strike is beyond the classic ‘must read’ recommendation. It’s so much better! Each chapter created an addiction for more, and the most wonderful part of that, is that Ms. Duvall delivered and satisfied that craving. This novel rocked!

The story starts with Heather’s premonition of her meeting Ethan. Right off the bat, the author creates an unusual way for a heroine and hero to meet. It makes an indelible impression but it’s only the beginning. The revelations, the action, the worries, the fears, the determination to survive and protect, the wonder, the beauty, the sword fights, and the camaraderie that populate most chapters simply astound a reader. All those things and more provide depth and breadth to the plot and characters that are on stage. Shadows Strike is a big book, a busy book but time ceases to have meaning when a reader is immersed is this extremely well written and awesome novel. Please give yourself plenty of time to sit and enjoy because if you’re anything like me, you won’t want to stop; you won’t be able to, it’s that remarkable.

I honestly have no negatives to convey. This book is perfect. The dialogue, the descriptions and most of all, the surprises, totally and completely worked. Not all the surprises were good, some were downright deadly. Some took the main characters completely unaware and they fought for their lives, more than once. One completely floored me and greatly affected Heather and her relationship to Ethan. I never saw it coming.

The most adorable moments came from a tiny baby. I simply adored those scenes because Adira was the bright spot that brought charm and levity in an otherwise serious story. Her little character showed that no matter how gruff, tough and deadly the immortals are, they are also capable of tenderness, affection, gentleness and love and it was proved every time they held her, or protected her. For such a wee thing, she had a strong presence.

Heather and Ethan as a couple are wonderful together. I enjoyed their dynamics, their dialogue and how they fell in love. When they finally succumb to their physical passions, it was hot, delightful and well written. I was very happy to see Ethan finally in love.

Secondary characters abound and most are from the previous books. I’m really feeling sad for Aiden. I hope he gets his happy ever after soon. He’s such a good guy, he deserves it. Then again, so does Seth. But what kind of woman would be his equal? I hope someday to find out. As it is, every single character, including Zach and Lisette, play pivotal supporting roles that help support and foster Ethan and Heather’s growing relationship.

Shadows Strike proves once again that Ms. Duvall is a masterful storyteller. Its drama and suspense kept me on edge but the romance made me melt. I can’t get enough of this world that Ms. Duvall has created. When I am reading her books, I feel like I’m right there, and it’s exactly where I want to be.

The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride by Victoria Alexander

SISTER
The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride by Victoria Alexander
Publisher: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp.
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (372 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

The bride and groom request the presence of the bride’s sister, Delilah, proper widowed Lady Hargate, and Samuel Russell, groom’s friend, slightly improper bachelor, at their upcoming wedding. Lady Hargate and Mr Russell pretend to forget an unforgettable night in New York City. The lady plans to avoid love. The gentleman plans to change her mind.

This novel is certainly interesting as it takes place at the cusp of time when automobiles were being introduced as a potential progressive invention for the times. As with anything new, there are bumps and setbacks along the way, which goes hand in hand with the romance between Delilah and Sam. The dance of courtship is ever so complicated when one of them isn’t too keen on risk and the other thrives on it. How can the two come together? That’s the charm of The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride.

Appearances deceive and that’s the intent of Lady Hargate. No one can know about her need and eventual fulfillment of a grand amorous adventure. It’s … unseemly. However, it helps a reader understand just how constrained and suppressed Delilah is. She is a woman mired in tradition and convention, yet deep in her heart, she yearns for the ultimate adventure, love. What stops her is fear. She has good reason to fear based upon what a reader learns of her life thus far. But then, she uses it as a crutch and it almost costs her the very thing that she wants most, Sam.

Sam is an American and the hero of the story. He’s not too flummoxed by the British way of looking at things. What confounds him the most is Delilah. She says one thing, does another, pushes him away and yet draws him like a moth to a flame. What’s a poor guy to do? Sam isn’t averse to taking risks and a reader is treated to some fascinating scenes when his attempts pay off.

What helps Sam are the secondary characters; family and friends of Delilah’s, who believe he is the best thing that could happen to the very prim and proper heroine. Based upon references and scenes sprinkled throughout this novel, it’s part of a series and since I’ve not read any others, I’m comfortable with stating this is a standalone read. I did not become lost at any point because the focus remains on Sam and Delilah’s exploits.

That being said, and while I understand Delilah’s dilemma and emotions, I felt that the story was sluggish in parts. So much time was spent on her introspection of why she could not do a certain thing or pursue Sam for a husband – it became rather tedious. Her constant harping on being ‘proper’ and putting on airs, even though it was probably how things were done back then, drove me, a 21st Century gal, absolutely barmy. When Sam called her a certain profane name at one point when their emotions were quite out of control, I wholeheartedly agreed. I grant Sam a lot of points for apologizing to her later because I would not have. Especially since the revelations about her first husband proved without a doubt that Sam would never ever be so crass as to keep secrets from her. He treated her like a person with a brain, yet she didn’t want that from a “perfect” husband? Thank goodness saner heads prevailed in this story.

Despite some lapses with Delilah’s personality issues, she had some strengths, ideas and dialogue that redeemed her. She’s going to make Sam a very happy man because she’s a very energetic wife, competitive, intelligent, witty and once she opens up to her feelings, honest. It’s the honesty and trust that will be the glue that will keep them together.

The happy ever after is satisfactory. In fact, it was Sam that saved it. I liked the outline of his presentation and the way he handled it. It was so like the hero that I laughed. He’s got her number.

The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride, was entertaining. For historical romance fans, Delilah’s adherence to social conventions of the time might very well appeal because they’ll understand more than most how things were. And who knows, that might make the heroine come across as more deliciously wicked than I took her for. But, I liked Sam, I enjoyed the story and I’d recommend this to other historical romance readers who look for stories that take place in the latter part of the 19th Century.

Cover Your Eyes by Mary Burton

EYES
Cover Your Eyes by Mary Burton
Publisher: Zebra Books
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (392 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Don’t Look

At first, they struggle to escape. Then a torrent of blows rains down upon their bodies until their eyes cloud over in final agony. The killer shows no remorse–just a twisted need to witness each victim’s last terrified moments.

Don’t Speak

Public defender Rachel Wainwright is struggling to reopen a decades-old case, convinced that the wrong man is in prison. Homicide detective Deke Morgan doesn’t want to agree. But if Rachel’s hunch is correct, whoever fatally bludgeoned young, beautiful Annie Dawson thirty years ago could be the source of a new string of brutal slayings.

Just Prepare To Die

Rachel’s investigation is about to reveal answers–but at a price she never thought to pay. Now she’s become the target of a rage honed by years of jealousy and madness. And a murderer is ready to show her just how vicious the truth can be. . .

I’ve never read a Mary Burton book I didn’t like and Cover Your Eyes was no exception. It had all the necessary elements of a first rate romantic suspense novel, secrets, danger, and of course, a budding romance.

I liked the character of Rachel, while tough; she showed a vulnerability for helping the people she believed in. Ms. Burton certainly kept me in suspense knowing if the DNA from a previous crime matched that of her now client, Jeb.

Deke was at times a little arrogant but you like him nevertheless because you know in the back of your mind he’s going to be right about his beliefs and maybe save the day.

I enjoyed the way this story unfolded. A clue here and there, another character thrown in just to keep you on your toes about guessing the story’s outcome. And while I did guess correctly on some of the clues, the ending was perfect for a die-hard mystery reader like myself.

And speaking of other characters, all the secondary ones in this story drew you into their tale. Ms. Burton made them as well rounded as Rachel and Deke.

I also liked the setting. So many stories feature New York, LA , New Orleans or Atlanta but I can’t think of a romantic suspense I’ve read that’s set in Nashville and the music industry. It was a refreshing change which I felt added another layer to the story.

Pacing is actually fast despite this book’s length and I think the “I have to turn the page” quality of Cover Your Eyes had something to do with that.

If you’re looking to add a romantic suspense story to your upcoming winter reading list, I’d recommend this one.

Night Unbound by Dianne Duvall

UNBOUND
Night Unbound by Dianne Duvall
Publisher: Zebra Books, Kensington Publishing Corp.
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (425 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

For centuries, Lisette d’Alençon has been a warrior against the dark. She fights alongside her brothers and comrades. But when the dreams start coming, she can’t bear to confess them to the Immortal Guardians’ command. Dreams of a dark-haired man with soft eyes and brutal wounds, a man her heart aches for–and a man she knows has been declared a traitor.

Zach is an exile, a loner. He won’t defend himself against false accusations or grovel to those who should have faith in him. But he’ll damn sure defend the woman who kept him sane against a plague of super-vamps that seems to have appeared from nowhere. The Guardians will blame him, and that will make Lisette suspect, too. With life, death and eternity on the line, who can they really trust?

Fans of paranormal romance who haven’t discovered this series yet are really missing out on something extraordinary. Ms. Duvall has consistently proved her talent with every installment by delivering heart stopping action, thrilling escapes, sizzling romance and heroes and heroines that touch and engage the emotions of a reader. Every single book so far has been almost impossible to put down once I started and Night Unbound continues the tradition. I read it in one day, all 400+ pages. It was that compelling.

If readers like a bad good guy who is misunderstood, Zach is their man. If readers are looking for a romance that embraces sweet and naughty, that can be tender or frenzied, and defies all odds, including threat of death, then this is the book to read. If a race against time and the drama and suspense and all that that entails piques your interest, then a reader should feel right at home. If reading about a strong man who is not intimidated by a strong woman but is turned on by it, who acts like an adorable puppy with the heroine but can wield power better than Darth Vader, then Zach might be the man of your dreams. Zach’s personal growth in this story is tremendously painful but worth every angst filled page. What he turns into is worthy of a swoon – and a rousing cheer.

Lisette is the heroine who teaches Zach to crave a woman’s touch. She’s a warrior and has a wicked talent with swords. She’s also a very brave woman because she stood up to the threat of death in order to be with the man she loved. At no time did the author fall into the trap of making Lisette less than what she started off to be – a strong, independent woman with a confidence to match. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t make mistakes. But the make-up sheet fun was worth reading; every single scene. Well, there was that part that some would consider embarrassing, but I found tremendously funny. I don’t think her brother will recover any time soon. I giggle every time I remember that part.

Secondary characters are too numerous to mention. Perhaps a new reader might get lost when it comes to some of the deep emotional undercurrents between them, mostly because they are much more effective if a reader has the background. But Ms. Duvall did include enough backstory in the natural telling of this tale to catch a reader up to speed so I’m not too worried about calling this a standalone read. In any event, the secondary characters to keep an eye on for future stories are Seth and Aiden. I don’t know too much about Aiden yet but I recognize a wonderful hook when I see one. But Seth, Seth is special. In this novel readers will find out more about him then they ever dreamed they would all in one book. Now I know he is a man in need of love even more than the men I’ve met so far. It’s not too strong of a statement to say that I’m enamored of this series. It’s so rich and meaty!

As for bad guys, Ha! Get ready to be turned around upside down. I was as discombobulated as Zach and as frustrated as Seth. Who could do the impossible and do all that was done? The suspense and mystery of it all had me gripped by my short hairs. I’m still reeling from the ramifications. It was awesome writing.

Night Unbound isn’t just a story, it’s a profound experience. The editing, the characterization, the dialogue, the pace and delivery of the plot and all its environs were simply spot on. I am hard pressed to find anything that didn’t work for me. I adored how Lisette and Zach were together – watching their love grow made me happy. There is sadness too, and tenderness and even hope and joy woven in to keep things balanced. Night Unbound has everything a paranormal romance reader could possibly wish and then some. I cannot express enough my pleasure and satisfaction from having read this book but I encourage readers to discover the unique richness that abounds in Ms. Duvalls books. This book and the rest are treasures.

Laird of Ballanclaire by Jackie Ivie

LAIRD
Laird of Ballanclaire by Jackie Ivie
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (408 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

Rebellion

Kameron Ballan, heir to the Laird of Ballanclaire, has no respect for his father’s titles and treaties. They’ve gotten him naught but trouble—and a betrothal to a sickly Spanish princess. So when his latest peccadillo gets him transported to America to subdue the restless colonies, he’s ready to prove his worth as a man, not a figurehead.

Seduction

Constant Ridgely, seventh daughter of an upright patriot family, discovers Kam beaten senseless by a crowd of colonists. She must hide him or watch him die, but the strange, brawny Scotsman inflames passions she’s never guessed at.

Deception

Under Constant’s ministrations, Kam discovers a lovely, innocent woman whose hands stir his desires. But much is at stake and there is much to lose, and their happiness depends on a risk so great only the truly lost would dare…

What a shock to find a Scottish laird in distress in the American Colonies rather than fighting another clan in Scotland. I immediately wanted to find out how he had gotten himself into such a life-threatening situation. Even more importantly, I wanted to see how Constant Ridgley could possibly help him with all the other responsibilities she had, not to mention the appropriateness of it considering her religious upbringing and the political climate of the pre-revolution Colonies.

Kameron Ballan and Constant Ridgley are strong characters. They give the reader a vicarious experience that sends the adrenaline racing, stirs compassion, and takes the breath away with the “giving” love Constant offers and the determination Kameron has to find a way to the woman that is more to him than life.

My first inclination was to invite you in for coffee or tea and say let me tell you about this book I’ve just read; then give you a blow by blow account of the dangers, the clandestine activities, the amazing love that wiggles its way into the hearts of two people who could hardly be more different. But that would take some of excitement and anxiety away that is felt as these things are revealed in Laird of Ballanclaire.

Just imagine how it would feel to take your sharpest paring knife and peel tar and feathers off a naked man that had been beaten to a pulp before he had hot tar poured all over him. Constant came to know Kameron as she did this very thing. My goodness, what a specimen of a man she did find!

Kameron knows he owes her his life. Moreover, he finds something stir his very heart and soul as this innocent, young, overworked woman with such low self-esteem does all in her power to save him even to the point of ruining her good name. The fallout from their love for each other, their separation, the reuniting then another forced separation kept me turning pages until late in the night. Also, the ship passage and life in Scotland with all its intrigues they must deal with and how these two determined characters finally get to their happy-ever-after kept me on edge to the very end.

There is a side story of Count Rafael de la Garza Montagna and Princess Althea that is not to be missed. True love, patient and unwavering, finds a way even though the path is long, secret, and dangerous for these two people. This side story has an unique connection to the major love story.

The culture in the American Colonies and in Scotland comes alive as Jackie Ivie takes her characters on their perilous journey. She creates some antagonists that one can really come to abhor. Conversely, she creates other characters that creep right into the heart. Constant’s little brother Henry leaves a lasting impression and the babies Benjamin and Abigail do their part admirably and help propel the plot along at a fever pitch at times. Moreover, Ms. Ivie weaves in passion, romance, and sizzling sexual moments that help the reader know just how deep and caring a love Constant and Kameron have for each other. This author knows how to rev of the heart rate and also how to make the heart ache for the characters as well as make it soar with joy. Laird of Ballanclaire has some unique twists and turns that kept me totally intrigued. Good reading!

Darkness Rises by Dianne Duvall

RISES
Darkness Rises by Dianne Duvall
Publisher: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (403 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Krysta is used to getting the drop on vampires. Her “special abilities” aren’t much, but the plan is simple–she plays helpless pretty young thing to lure them in. Then her shoto swords come out and it’s bye-bye, bloodsucker. Until one night she finds herself with an unexpected ally. He’s a vampire, all right, but different. Mysterious. Handsome. And more interested in saving her skin than draining it.

ȴienne has been an Immortal Guardian for two hundred years–long enough to know that Krysta is special. He can’t stop thinking about her long legs, even more than her short swords. Then he discovers the vamps she’s exterminating have friends in high places, and the Guardians are in danger too. He’ll have to accept Krysta’s help to save them. The stakes for a mortal are high. But the cost to his heart might be higher. . .

If ever there was a book to get excited about and be filled with giddy anticipation as soon as I got my hands on it, I believe Darkness Rises is that novel. I simply couldn’t wait to get started because the last book was amazing and set the bar pretty high. I had great expectations for this new addition to Ms. Duvall’s unique world and I am thrilled to say it has not disappointed. By the time I was almost through the first chapter, my normal everyday human world faded away to be replaced by the amazing one created by Ms. Duvall.

Every chapter seduced me deeper and deeper into the mystery of why my favorite characters were being attacked, again, and who could possibly be the mastermind this time? How were Krysta’s and Étienne’s romance and relationship going to survive and grow amidst all the threats and assaults and divisions of attention? Who is that hunky mysterious guy who fascinated me and ensnared my sympathies? Where is the villain hiding this time? So many questions, so many adventures and all of it found within one book. What a wild ride!

Étienne and Krysta were a fun couple to get to know. The author created a very intriguing way to introduce them to each other and I think that was one of the reasons why I was hooked early on in the book. The heroine isn’t a damsel in distress; she is smart, lethal, determined and impassioned. She has unusual talents that have kept her alive but unless something changes, it’s going to kill her. And that is where Étienne comes in and when the excitement begins.

The dialogue, both spoken and internal, is very important in this story because it provides fast plot movement when needed as well as giving a reader the inside track on both of the main characters. There is a head hop here and there and it’s well placed. In fact it plays a key role when it comes to Zach.

In Zach’s POV I was given suspenseful teasers that I strongly believe foreshadow a bigger event in a future book. As it is, in Darkness Rises he’s a secondary character and an asset to this novel. He provides humor, clues, drama and even comes across as a bit of a tragic character. Compared to the rest of the characters in the book, I’m probably the only person that feels that way.

Other secondary characters interact with or guide, tease, help or come to Étienne and Krysta’s aid numerous times and in varied ways throughout the story. With all that going on, it sounds confusing but Ms. Duval kept a tight rein on all of the people that populate her world. The folks that I met in previous books don’t fade away but are integral to this current adventure but neither do they undermine a reader’s focus on the hero and heroine. There is never a doubt that Étienne and Krysta are falling in love and that it’s their story that is center stage.

Seth’s comments and reaction to their romance made me laugh. In fact there are healthy doses of humor, clever quips and comedic exchanges not only between the hero and heroine, but the heroine’s brother and other key players throughout the novel. It’s one of the reasons I like this series so much – they seem real.

I was also pleased when the loving transferred to energetic sheet action. It was just right and very well written. I had no complaints. It was seductive, erotic at times and the author always made sure that a reader knew the hero and heroine’s love was growing stronger through each encounter.

The actions scenes were tight and well written. This novel has a heavy dose of suspense, action, thrills, sword fights, guns and plenty of bad vampires meeting their end. Every now and again, I noticed the author would state something as a narrator would but that didn’t bother me. Sometimes a fact is a fact and doesn’t need to be embellished by fluff to get the point across.

All in all, I’m a very happy reader. Darkness Rises has more then met my expectations. This is a thrill ride from beginning to end and not to be missed. The novel is rich with story, plot, drama and strong characterizations. In fact, there are so many more juicy details in this book that I could not fit them all into this tiny review. Darkness Rises meets all my ‘must haves’ of an awesome read. It has a wonderful and fulfilling HEA that was top notch. Not only that, but there is a huge surprise at the end. Not just for a reader but for Krysta and Étienne as well. It made me laugh out loud and I wanted to high five Ms. Duval for writing such a clever and cute scene. It made the happy ever after extra special and had me turning the last page with a huge grin on my face. I am wowed.

Phantom Shadows by Dianne Duvall

Phantom Shadows by Dianne Duvall
Publisher: Zebra Books (Kensington)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (390 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Dr. Melanie Lipton is no stranger to the supernatural. She knows immortals better than they know themselves, right down to their stubborn little genes. So although a handsome rogue immortal seems suspicious to her colleagues, Sebastien Newcombe intrigues Melanie. His history is checkered, his scars are impressive, and his ideas are daring. But it’s not his ideas that have Melanie fighting off surges of desire. . .

Bastien is used to being the bad guy. In fact, he can’t remember the last time he had an ally he could trust. But Melanie is different–and under her calm, professional exterior he senses a passion beyond anything in his centuries of experience. Giving in to temptation is out of the question–he can’t put her in danger. But she isn’t asking him. . .

I adore stories where the underdog finally wins the girl but not too often is the good guy a bad guy that everyone wants to see executed. It takes a special woman to not only see beyond the common perception and clamoring for blood, but to also be able to see the truth of the man inside. The challenge for the heroine is to open everyone else’s eyes to the truth as well. Such is the story of Melanie and Bastien.

Phantom Shadows is a real page flipper. There is so much drama, suspense and action of various levels in each chapter that it was almost impossible to put down. There is an incredible amount of detail woven throughout the book that brings the whole world that Ms. Duvall has created into vivid focus. It sucks a reader in so effectively, time ceases to exist. I totally enjoyed my reading experience because of it.

Melanie is a character that has been in a couple of books. She’s a doctor; she’s smart, sassy and has a secret crush on the resident bad boy, Bastien. Except her infatuation isn’t shallow or short-lived, it’s the start of a budding romance birthed in violence and aggression. The first time the heroine met the hero was pure chaos and yet, she saw what no one else did. Bastien trusted her with knowledge that planted the seed of their future alliance. The fruit of that initial meeting is realized in this book and Ms. Duvall simply awed me with the intricacy of the tale.

What is so intricate? It was how she let a reader know bit by bit the true scope of Bastien’s ability to be a true hero. It came about during well-paced and placed dialogue. It was how she had her hero interact with Seth, Richart, Ami, Darnell, Sarah, Roland, Cliff, Joe and Marcus and a slew of other characters. Not a one detracted or diverted a reader’s attention to the fact that this book is about Melanie and Bastien. What it did do was make me feel like I was watching a movie, about a community under fire and everyone was at their battle stations. Every single character played an important role that propelled the plot, conflict and action that affected the choices that Bastien and Melanie had to make, both apart and together. The result of dealing with each crisis helped the protagonists learn about each other, their strengths and weaknesses and it was effective. I enjoyed watching their bond grow and strengthen throughout the story. Because of how Ms. Duvall wrote her characters, they were easy to root for and applaud their efforts, even when Bastien was being a jerk. Actually, that was part of his charm. I got a lot of smiles out of his baiting the other characters. He’s such a troublemaker. Yet, his heart is in the right place and that’s one of the reasons that I think he’s an awesome hero.

Melanie is no slouch. She has a few surprises up her sleeve too. And she scares the tar out of Bastien more than once in the story. So much so, it’s amazing he didn’t have gray hair by the end of the book. To say that she is his perfect match is an understatement.

I felt really bad for Stuart. And I was saddened at what happened during one of the main and brutal attacks in the book. Someone gets captured and the results are heartbreaking. The good thing is that the bad guys, the really bad, bad guys, get their comeuppance. I wanted to be there with the hero and heroine and kick some evil derriere myself, that’s how hyper I got. I really like the people I’ve “met” while I’ve read this series and all of them are precious to me. It must have been hard for the author to write some of these scenes. And yet, she accomplished them with brutal clarity so my emotions were involved. That’s quality writing.

There is so much more I could go into in reviewing this book. It has great depth of emotion, descriptions that made me laugh or weep and parts that kept me wide eyed from the action. A writer has to have almost military precision with words to be able to get the effect of intense action off of the pages and into a reader’s mind without diluting the scene with unnecessary words. Ms. Duvall has that talent.

Honestly, Phantom Shadows is a must read. True, it would have much more impact for a reader if they’d read the previous books to understand why Bastien’s use of Ami was such a daring and profound choice. This series has been amazing so far and Phantom Shadows continues to astound and impress, not only with the quality of writing, but the sheer scope of its undertaking. How the author can keep all the players doing their thing while focusing on the current romance yet feeding a reader’s desire to continue the relationship with previous heroes and heroines is an art. An art that Ms. Duvall is mistress of. Rock your world and read Phantom Shadows. I’m glad I did.

A Perfect Knight for Love by Jackie Ivie

A Perfect Knight For Love by Jackie Ivie
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (312 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

A Man Of Misfortune

With his reckless, drunken brother bringing ruin to the clan, and the lass he’s loved all his life in the clutches of a violent husband, the last thing Thayne MacGowan needs is a spirited, sharp–tongued damsel to contend with—no matter how enticing she may be…

A Woman With A Secret

Having narrowly escaped an objectionable arranged marriage, Amalie is starting a new life—with a new identity. But her freedom is cut short when a surly but irresistibly handsome Highlander is forced to take her as his bride. If only he knew who she really was…

An Unlikely Love

Fate designs an improbable match, and a battle of wills ensues. As Amalie struggles to protect her identity, Thayne finds himself fighting for an unexpected love—and a passion neither can refuse…

Danger, confusion, and a barbaric bunch of Scottish clansmen derail Lady Amalie Ellin’s neat, tidy plan to impersonate a governess for a while to escape having to wed the imbecilic son of a rich duke.

How Amalie, who is accustomed to luxury and privilege, adapts to often harsh and always challenging circumstances enthralls. She had no idea freedom came with fear, risks, and peril in so many forms. But she is smart, resilient, self-reliant, and courageous with an imagination and play-acting ability that serves her well in dire situations.

Thayne MacGowan, in a spur-of-the-moment maneuver to protect ones dear to him, grabs the unknown “English governess” to use in a ploy to defer an out-and-out battle with the cruel Dunne-Fyne. The tiny, sassy, argumentative Amalie, with the amber-eyes, sets his libido on full alert. He knows it’s just lust because his dead Mary is his only true love, but the little, sharp-tongued woman snuggled tight against his chest as they ride through freezing rain, makes his ache with need and wanting.

What a tangled web they weave when, in order to stay alive, Thayne and Amalie both say, in the presence of all, that they are married and Baby Mary is theirs.

The code of chivalry Thayne lives by is cold, lonely, punishing, and seemingly fruitless. He carries a burden of guilt for not being able to fulfill the promise to his father, on this deathbed. Thayne had been unable to hide Jamie’s perfidies as his father had demanded. All knew of the new laird, Jamie’s drunkenness, his gluttony, and his cruel womanizing. The old laird wanted to keep the name MacGowan noble, feared, revered, and sacrosanct.

Jackie Ivie creates secondary characters that pulsate with energy and intrigues as they ramp up the tension in the story. Even the harsh, unpredictable weather, the magnificent Castle Gowan, and the harsh yet beautiful environment seem to come alive as characters that influence the outcome of events.

Among the ugly, cruel and threatening events, a humorous, comic relief is the MacKennah young girl with whom Thayne broke betrothal. She, in her own inept way, does a good thing, but only because it suits her own purpose. Her attitude and actions set the reader’s mind at ease. She is not one to pine away her life shut away in the recesses of some old castle. She is looking out for number one.

Then there is Jamie’s wife, of the Douglas clan, and a harridan. She stirs a totally different set of emotions. She too is looking for number one, but in a threatening, angry way. All her rich attire and surrounds cannot hide her ugliness both inside and out.

As the conflicts ebb and flow, love grows. Amalie, young and naïve, knows not how to define the stirrings within when she sees, touches, or thinks of Thayne. Of course, Thayne maintains love is a woman’s weapon—akin to slavery, However, Amalie, beautiful as a Grecian statue, only made of responsive flesh and blood, ties his body and mind in knots with wanting and need. Everything about her calls to him and the lust turns to love with his denying it every step of the way—an emotional journey that captivates. The earth-shattering love scenes make A Perfect Knight For Love throb with ecstasy and sensual sweetness—breathtaking. Ms. Ivie’s magnificent descriptions, incredibly realistic characters, and her amazing ability to pull the reader into the emotional whirlpool of feelings from spine-tingling fear and horror to breathtaking, mind-blowing rapture make A Perfect Knight For Love fantastic reading.