Monday, May 20, 2019

Vampire Blood Series by Juliette Cross - on sale

If you like paranormal romance and you haven't discovered Juliette Cross yet, allow me to introduce you. I had the pleasure of reviewing this four-part series for RT. In addition to offering a fresh take on some favorite fairy tales (no really, everyone always says that but these really are fresh and twisty), and some dark vampire horror, the underlying theme of women demanding to be heard and recognized vibrates with right-now relevancy. All four titles are available at a great sale price right now, so it seems like a good moment to re-post these reviews.

But seriously though, what about those covers? I love that there is variety. And while I have zero -- repeat, ZERO-- issues with some naked male chests, I have to admit that Emerald there is my favorite. Mmm mmm.

Juliette Cross
Four Stars

Cinderella meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets revolution in this fresh take on familiar tropes. Cross debuts her new paranormal fairy tale series with a brave and clever heroine, a Grimm Brothers-esque mysterious forest—and vampires. The world that Cross builds is layered, and we get tantalizing hints about what the forest might reveal in future books, including a killer plot twist. The fairy tale trappings are familiar with a modern horror treatment. Marius’ altruism feels a bit stiff, which detracts a little from the chemistry, but overall a solid offering for fans of dark sexy vampires and fairy tales.

SUMMARY: As the leader of the rebellion against the vampire aristocracy, Arabelle cannot afford to fall in love with its youngest prince. Conceding that he may not be a mindless murdering monster goes against her entire life’s ambition. On Marius’ part, falling in love with and nearly being murdered by the same fascinating woman serves as a turning point. As he discovers just why she wanted him dead, he learns more than he bargained for about his life of privilege.

Juliette Cross
Four and a Half Stars, Top Pick

There's no sophomore slump in this dark fairy tale adventure series! When Red Riding Hood and her guardian wolves meet a renegade vampire who fights for the commoner, it's anything but a routine re-telling. Fans of Kelley Armstrong will find a similar blend of horror and legend, with a bonus complete romance. The connection between these two is strong and hot, and their mission is compelling. Layers of intriguing world-building are revealed and open up some great possible future directions - this series could go anywhere. Cross doesn't pull punches with the brutality of her war, so be wary about reading it at bedtime.

SUMMARY: Powerful magic grounds Sienna to the forest where she is protected, but greater need calls her abroad where she is vulnerable. She'll need a powerful protector, and Nikolai is just the vampire for the job. As they travel from town to town, recruiting for the army of the Black Lily and sowing insurrection against an incredibly strong, incredibly evil villain, they are in danger at every turn. But the greatest risk they'll face is to reveal their secrets - and their hearts - to each other.

Juliette Cross
Three Stars

Readers who are coming back for more of the heat and passion found in the first two books of Cross’s fairytale/vampire mashup will be more than pleased with The White Lily. Passion takes the main stage between these two characters and their love scenes burn up the pages. But the characters lack a clear mission outside of Dominick wanting Brennalyn in bed, and Brennalyn wanting to take care of the seven orphans she’s collected. The vampire spin on Snow White lacks the magic and tension of the earlier offerings, but turns up the erotic content noticeably. A bit more of the White Lily’s insurrectionist activities on the page for the reader would go a long way to livening up her character as well as the plot.

SUMMARY: Dominick is a powerful vampire, descended from generations of cruelty. Brennalyn, abandoned for her infertility, is dedicated to protecting her adopted family, and providing a better future – even if it means revolution. When Dominick discovers that a rebel has put his dukedom in the crosshairs of a vengeful, cruel king, he knows he must find the White Lily before the king does. When it turns out to be the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, he’ll question everything he thought he knew about how to manage his life.

Juliette Cross
Four Stars

The Vampire Blood series peaks in this fourth book, bringing the war of the Lilies versus Queen Morgrid to a dramatic conclusion. While this book may be read alone, it will spoil the earlier books in the series, so reading in order is a good idea. Cross has built a world of good and evil, blood and cruelty, and the mysterious power of love. Mikhail is a worthy hero: focused, disciplined, and dedicated to the higher good, but Mina steals the show. Her story is one of realizing and claiming feminine power, as Sleeping Beauty awakes in more than one sense of the word. Her clarity of character, her drive and purpose embody the word “regal,” and this queen slays. It’s tough to pull off a series climax, but The Emerald Lily delivers the plot, the politics and edge-of-seat tension that this excellent paranormal romance series deserves. A number of scenes will recall the classic Sleeping Beauty of childhood, but Cross flips them and subverts them and makes them her own.

SUMMARY: Princess Vilhelmina Dragomir has defied the evil Queen Morgrid, and sentenced to a torturous vampiric coma of nightmare and starvation for her trouble. Powerful friends arrange for her escape, but the only way out of the bloodless sleep is by the blood kiss. Captain Mikhail Romanov will do everything he must to save her, but the indelible bond that forms when he gives her that kiss wreaks havoc on his duty and his mission to take down Morgrid. The most powerful kind of love is never convenient, but nothing else is strong enough to prevail over the evil threatening their world.

These reviews appeared previously in RT Magazine.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sunday Soup - April 14 2019

In The Soup:  Starla Night, Kresley Cole, Talia Hibbert, Elizabeth Harmon, Jessie Mihalik, Reedsy, Shelf Addiction

Soup Dish: on my mind right now
✽ This goes back a little ways, but since I've been slacking on the blog, I hope you'll forgive me. Romance Novels Are Not Junk Food

Trying to read more diversely? There are lots of lists out there, but here is a great one: 80 Black Romance Novels

Not romance, but sort of anti-romance? I love a good take-down review: Psycho Analysis, on Bret Easton Ellis' latest.

This tweet made me laugh and laugh-- I love the word nerds in my timeline:
Link to tweet

Stalking Me: where else to find me
My recent Reedsy reviews: Secrets of the Sea Lord, by Starla Night (3 stars) and upcoming in about week look for a review of The Cemetary Circle, by I.L. Cruz.  Link to come.

On the podcast, Tamara released our #3Bloggers1Series discussion of Endless Knight by Kresley Cole. The podcast is pre-recorded, but we are doing live listen-along commentary on the Shelf Addiction Facebook Group, which is a ton of fun. The next one, for Dead of Winter, will be Wednesday April 24th, 6 pm Pacific.  I haven't done a Shelf Byte in a while, but Tamara's got a great one for Consumed by JR Ward (which I reviewed last fall, here).

Recent Reads:
I am having such a hard time NOT bingeing on the Kresley Cole Arcana series (it's no good to get too far ahead of our recording schedule) that I decided to catch up on the Immortals After Dark series. I don't know how I get so far behind on these things, but I am going way back to books 9 and 10, with Pleasures of a Dark Prince, and Demon from the Dark. Yumm. I'm on a wait list at the library for the next one, so I'm taking a probably-well-advised break for a week or two. Loved them.

Mating the Huntress, by Talia Hibbert. I am really loving Hibbert's contemporaries, so when I found out she had a paranormal romance out in the world, I had to snap it up. Really good, and I'm sad that she isn't doing more PNR. Among other things, it inspired a bit of a riff on Twitter (be sure to click into the replies 😉 ) with the hashtag #HeSmelledLikeThreeThings: maybe he'd always had this incredible scent, this heady mixture of power, fresh pine and midnight heat, and she'd never noticed. 
I read Pairing Off, by Elizabeth Harmon, who is an author I met through the Rust City Book Conference a year or two ago. I've never read a figure skating romance before, set mainly in Moscow, and I enjoyed those elements a lot. It wasn't overly jargon-y on the skating technicalities, but focused more on the emotional dramas and pressures between pairs partners, ex-partners, coaches, and family. There is a lot I liked about it, but I found it a bit draggy and just too long.

The biggest win of the last month was Polaris Rising, by Jessie Mihalik. This was a romance book club pick, and I was happy to give it a try, as it was getting so much good buzz from people whose recs generally work for me. Man, this was a five star read for sure, maybe 6 on a scale of 1-5. I loved it a lot, and I am not a space opera person. I am, however, a fabulously competent heroine on an epic adventure person, and this totally worked for me. Tech was perfectly on point, completely believable (I say this as a person who has worked in high tech for 20-plus years) and not boring. I'm already seeing some buzz about the sequel and I can't wait.

Well, it looks like these posts are coming more like monthly... that's not too bad, right?  What's going on in your reading world?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday Soup - 3/17/2019

In The Soup This Week: Katy Regnery, Alyssa Cole, Cynthia Eden, Stephen Lawhead, Jennifer Estep, Kresley Cole, Book Riot, Reedsy

Soup Dish: on my mind this week
✽ Love this article from Book Riot on why the word "clean" to describe books without explicit sex is problematic, as well as this good-natured response from Delilah Dawson:

Emerald City ComicCon is here again, and once again I have failed to take advantage of the lonnnng list of amazing authors who are here. Maybe next year I'll make my children the happiest of teens and set aside my introvert dread of crowds and do the thing.

I'm now reviewing for Reedsy, which is a new site that helps indie authors find a production team, and also offers reviews. It launched about two weeks ago, with some good publicity from Forbes, Good e-Reader, and The Digital Reader.  My first review is up, a contemporary by Katy Regnery, and can be viewed here.  I'd love to hear what you think of the site!

On the podcast: the sound of my voice
New Shelfbyte (5- minute review) of Kill The Queen, by Jennifer Estep (5 stars!)

Have you been following the #3Bloggers1Series podcasts? If not, catch up with us on Kresley Cole's YA post-apocalyptic fantasy series, The Arcana. We spoiler the heck out of these in our discussions so we recommend you read along and listen AFTER you finish the book. We have just gotten started on this series so catch up and join us!  If you like to listen real-time, we are hosting listen-along parties on Facebook for this series.  Join the Shelf Addiction Facebook Group to keep up on details.  Podcast link for Poison Princess by Kresley Cole.

Recent Reads
A Hope Divided, by Alyssa Cole. I loved the first in this series and I'm not sure why I waited so long to get going on this one. It's a wonderful story, but at times difficult to read. As a kid I used to enjoy stories of the Underground Railroad; the stories sounded exciting and adventurous, with heroic people along the way, helping slaves find their way to freedom. Cole reframes this narrative, elevating the "passengers" in a way I haven't seen before, and pointing out that by focusing on the "heroes," the escaping slaves are subtly dehumanized. Further dehumanized, that is. I would call this book, more so than the first, uncomfortable and important to read.

The Iron Lance and The Black Rood, by Stephen Lawhead.  I've read some of Lawhead's books before, in his Arthurian series.  At some point, I picked up The Iron Lance and while it's a bit of a slower read, hefty with a lot of history, I really enjoyed it. So I grabbed the second in the Celtic Crusades trilogy. The first follows a Scottish noble who chronicles the sacking of Jerusalem, which is surprisingly not something I've read about before. This book pulls no punches about how gruesome and dishonorable the event was.  The second book follows his son, who returns to the Holy Lands because he believes that he's been called to reunite the four pieces of the Holy Cross, which were split up in order to be able to motivate Christian armies in more than one direction.  If that makes sense.  Epic quests, with a touch of supernatural to them. I'll most likely pick up the third this summer. Very enjoyable.

Wicked and Wild, by Cynthia Eden. I believe I acquired this book as either a freebie or a 99-cent deal. I'm not sure why else I would have picked up number 7 in a series without reading any of the earlier ones, but I want to tell you all -- it works just fine. Yes, there are characters with history that make you go "oh, I should read their book too!" but not "well crap, I don't get what's happening here." Smart heroine with a great arc; I enjoyed the worldbuilding, and the plot had some good twists. I will most likely go back and start at the beginning of this series. Thumbs up from me.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Who Wants To Play?

Conference season is coming up! Need swag? Read on:

Sadly, I won't be able to attend any conferences this year (but maybe 2020). In past years, as an "official" blogger for some smaller conferences, I ran a game I called "Five Words." It's a fun progressive fiction game, with 4-8 or so players. I give the first player five words that they need to incorporate into their narrative, along with a couple of loose world-building rules, and then that player leaves 5 words for the next player to use. The idea is to make the words pretty awkward, and sometimes the stories take some crazy turns. Entries run from about 100-300 words each. I did the editing and formatting, and created physical chapbooks as swag for the conferences.

Here's what I'm thinking. If there are authors who would like to participate, I will do the same as before. But I won't be at any of the conferences to distribute them! My costs for printing and materials run to about $1 per book. So if participating authors want to chip in up to $20, I will make up to 20 books per author and mail them to you. No charge for my time and work, because it's fun for me 😊.  Here's an idea of what they look like:

Interested?  Repeat offenders participants are welcome! Leave me a comment and/or contact me at nicola327 at hotmail dot com.

And here is how one story unfolded:

Part 1, by Laura Bickle
Part 2, by Calandra Usher
Part 3, by AJ Norris
Part 4, by Roselynn Cannes
Part 5: by Gina Conkle
Part 6: by Nancy Holzner

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Shelf Bytes!

Can you spot the new tool in my blogging arsenal? If your eye went to the headset, good job!

It's not news that I've been guest-hosting on Tamara's #3Bloggers1Series podcast feature for a little more than a year now. It is so much fun! I can talk for hours with Tamara and Casey about books, and we often do -- but we try to keep the actual podcast part to an hour or so.

At the beginning of the year, Tamara decided to launch a super-short feature - the Shelf Byte, a full book review in five minutes or less. I thought that sounded super-fun so she is letting me do a few of these for her too. These are a great gateway if you're still on the fence about podcasts (I was for a long time), as 5 minutes is pretty low-commitment. Or if you're already a podcast addict and need some bite (byte) -sized 'casts when you don't have 30 or 60 minutes for a longer listen.

I thought I'd do a quick link-up here. Watch this space for future Shelf Bytes!

Check this page to stay up to date for all of the podcast goodness at ShelfAddiction.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky Shelf Byte (Tamara)
Diamond Fire Shelf Byte (Nicola)
His Package Shelf Byte (Nicola)
Two Girls Down Shelf Byte (Tamara)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

2018: Numbers and Highlights

I'm always a little bit slow with these round-up posts, but for those of you who are interested, here is a 2018 lookback.  In total, I read (or attempted) 108 titles in 2018, although I'm not the best record-keeper so there may be a few physical books in there that didn't get counted.

The Breakdown: 
  • Novellas: 4
  • DNF: 11
  • Total bookclub reads: 14 (3 DNF)
  • Podcast reads: 11 
  • Reads for RT reviews (RIP, RT Book Reviews ): 7
  • Books by authors of color: 17
  • Nonfiction on audio: 3
  • Nonfiction ebooks: 2

Some highlights:
  • I discovered Elizabeth Vaughan's Warlands series and it was amazing. Definitely my favorite binge of the year. 
  • Lexi C. Foss's Immortal Curse series.  Complex world building, cool magical powers, old enemies and shifting alliances -- you never know who to trust in this series and the plot twists are Machiavellian. 
  • Jeffe Kennedy makes regular appearances in my reading. 2018 was a particularly prolific year for her and features some really lovely additions to her portfolio. 
  • A nonfiction title blew me away this year!  Please immediately acquire The Order Of Time by Carlos Rovelli, specifically the audio version, narrated by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. I promise you it is a mind-bending experience.
  • Tiffany Reisz' The Red. Beautiful, haunting, erotic, and a little disturbing. This is her best work yet, IMO.
  • I'm pleased with the percentage of authors of color that made it into my reading this year. I've said a number of times over the life of this blog that I miss the "globe trotting" historical romances of old-skool days, though often part and parcel with a lot of problematic content.  It turns out that getting some fresh perspectives and new settings is as easy as seeking out more diversity in the authors I'm reading. Worth the effort.

  • Anne Bishop's Others series -- quite the disappointment, although it started out strong. Have a listen to our podcast series for more details (while the books disappointed, the podcast will not!) (Written in Red, Murder of Crows, Vision in Silver, Marked in Flesh, Etched in Bone)
  • Several of my bookclub reads were DNFs. This isn't really surprising. The bookclub I belong to through work rotates through all different genres and it turns out that I know my preferences pretty well -- there's a reason I don't read much lit-fic.  I'm giving them a good try, because 1) I enjoy the conversation; 2) it's a good brain-stretch exercise; and 3) every now and then I find a really awesome one that I would otherwise not have tried. So I'm pretty happy with finishing 10 out of 12 titles.  The third DNF was from my romance bookclub and was mainly due to health issues. Although it is true that the book wasn't exactly my cup of tea, I probably would've finished it if it hadn't landed in the midst of a flurry of doctor visits.
  • I was sad to see the end of RT Book Reviews. I had been reviewing for them for about three years, and very much enjoyed the conferences in the years I was able to go. I won't be able to try out the BookLoversCon this year, but if the feedback is good, maybe next year.

Looking forward:  
  • On the Blog: I have a few modest blog goals this year. I'd like to post a minimum of two reviews a month, and get back in the habit of a weekly reading roundup.  I'm making an effort to read the physical books that are on my shelves. 
  • If you enjoy Twitter, please keep an eye out for my live-tweets, usually tagged with #amreading. I try to remember the #bkbrk (book break) tag as well.
  • Finally, I'm very much enjoying my role as guest-podcaster with Tamara at Shelf Addiction. We are continuing the #3bloggers1series read-alongs (I'm super excited about the series that we'll be starting after the 3rd title in the Grisha trilogy), and I'm doing some mini-reviews in the new "Shelf Byte" feature that Tamara kicked off this year.  So if podcasts are your jam, please check this one out. 


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