Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews, narrated by Renee Raudman

Why I listened to it:  I’m a fan of the series and downloaded it as soon as I could. My print copy arrived in the mail just yesterday as well.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Atlanta is a city plagued by magical problems. Kate Daniels will fight to solve them—no matter the cost.

Mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate, Curran, the Beast Lord, are struggling to solve a heartbreaking crisis. Unable to control their beasts, many of the Pack’s shapeshifting children fail to survive to adulthood. While there is a medicine that can help, the secret to its making is closely guarded by the European packs, and there’s little available in Atlanta.

Kate can’t bear to watch innocents suffer, but the solution she and Curran have found threatens to be even more painful. The European shapeshifters who once outmaneuvered the Beast Lord have asked him to arbitrate a dispute—and they’ll pay him in medicine. With the young people’s survival and the Pack’s future at stake, Kate and Curran know they must accept the offer—but they have little doubt that they’re heading straight into a trap…

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Magic Rises changes things up a bit by taking Kate, Curran and some other prominent pack members to Europe and out of their comfort zones, with the end goal being to get “panacea” for the Pack – the medication that significantly limits loupism in shapeshifters.  I enjoyed how the book showed Kate’s emerging acceptance in the Pack – she is not and never will be a shapeshifter but she belongs and by the end of the book this becomes even more clear. I mean, I already knew that but there are some slowpokes in the Pack that need more time to come to grips with it.

Kate is challenged by the interest Curran shows in a young beautiful shapeshifter from the Alaskan pack (aptly named Lorelei), who has ambition and thinks Curran belongs with one of his own kind.  In the meantime, Kate and company have to find out who is responsible for the attacks on the pregnant lady they are in Georgia (the European one) to protect and Hugh D’Ambray makes a surprise appearance. Also there’s a gnome.  There’s more “fantasy” than “urban” in this one and it was a lot of fun.  It’s not the sort of thing you can do in Atlanta but it fit very well with the almost medieval-type  European setting.  There were some drastic consequences for some of the characters which was sad but on the other hand, it makes sense that not everyone of the “good guys” is going to survive or come out unscathed.

August Reads

on Paper/eBook
Men of Smithfield:  Mark & Tony by LB Gregg B  Originally published by the now defunct Aspen Mountain Press, LB Gregg has found a new home for her Men of Smithfield series at Carina Press.  All 4 books (as well as some new ones yet to be written – yippee!) will be released by Carina and the first is Mark & Tony (originally titled Gobsmacked).
Told from the first person POV of Mark, a surgeon at the Smithfield Hospital, the story details how he comes home unexpectedly to find his live-in lover Jamie bonking the landlord in his bed and the revenge he takes (it involves hitting Jamie with a bible at the Ash Wednesday Mass and taking his things to the rubbish dump), only to find out that Jamie has also stolen all of his savings and appears to be in some serious trouble.   State Trooper and long time crush Tony Gervase becomes involved when Jamie’s desperation leads him to assault and a little B&E.   It turns out that everyone but Mark knew that Jamie was a cheating dickwad and everyone but Mark knows that Tony’s loved Mark since forever.
Because Mark and Tony have been best friends for years, it is easy to accept the speed of the romance in this story, which spans only a few days.  There is a definite HFN with the promise of a HEA but they don’t rush into forever after, which was nice.
Mark and Tony manage to find time to steam up the bathroom, the sheets and the lounge room, Jamie gets what’s coming to him (more actually) and it’s all wrapped up in LB Gregg’s trademark humour – which is quirky and laugh out loud.    Recommended for who likes a fast-paced funny contemporary M/M romance with some depth. **NB this review first appeared in the August ARRA members newsletter**
August Ice by Dev Bentham – See my full review here.

Lucky in Love (Lucky Harbor #4) by Jill Shalvis – see my review here.

At Last (Lucky Harbor #5) by Jill Shalvis – see my review here.

Forever and a Day (Lucky Harbor #6) by Jill Shalvis – see my review here.

Kissing Santa Claus (Lucky Harbor 2.5) by Jill Shalvis – C+  Cute short holiday themed story featuring Logan Perrish, Tara Daniel’s NASCAR driver ex-husband and his Lucky Harbor flame (and town clerk) Sandy Jansen. It’s only about 30 pages, but it’s cute and fun.

Don’t Call Her Angel by Cara McKenna – B-  I felt like a change of pace after reading the Lucky Harbor books so I picked up this off my TBR pile.  It’s erotica more than a romance – there is no relationship arc with a HEA – essentially, it is about a couple (Rasul and Emily) who invite an acquaintaince (Jeremy) into their bed for one night (no m/m action though so don’t get too excited).  While Rasul and Emily remain happily married at the end of the story, the story itself isn’t really about their relationship.   It was hot and enjoyable and I particularly liked the way that the characters of Emily and Rasul were untypical.  Rasul is middle eastern and works as an interrogator for the CIA (I think) and has some serious OCD.  The more stressed he is, the more times he needs to check the locks on the doors and windows and the gas burners on the stove.  He appears to be cold and remote but he is devoted to Emily.  Emily looks to be a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth Georgia peach but she actually wears the pants in the relationship.  Rasul dominates her but only because she wants him to.  Rasul gets off on Emily’s pleasure and doesn’t mind a bit of the domination himself.  I liked the way that Rasul explained to himself that Jeremy’s presence in the bedroom was akin to him hiring a floor sander – Jeremy was essentially, a sex toy, for Rasul and Emily to use.  I liked the way the ground rules were laid out.  I enjoyed the story well enough.   The grade probably reflects my bias toward romance more than anything.   

What a Girl Wants by Selena Robins – C- I reviewed this one for ARRA and will post a copy of the review after the September members newsletter is out.

Never Enough (Brown Siblings #4) by Lauren Dane See my review here.

Beautiful Mess by Lucy V. Morgan – full review to come.

Blood and Fire by Shannon McKenna – C What to say about this book?  Anyone who’s ever read a book by Shannon McKenna will know that she writes over-the-top romantic suspense plots with uber-alpha heroes who zero in on their heroine almost immediately and stay locked on better than any guided missile developed by the US military.  Like this: When the chick with the black pageboy sashayed into Tony’s Diner, no matter how blitzed from lack of sleep he was, his glands promptly pumped a substance into his body that made him want to break into an oldtime movie dance number. An incredible rush. A tingling sense of infinite possibility combined with a mega-boner. A huge, awestruck “wow” from the depths of his being.   

When Bruno Ranieri first spies Lily Parr, he’s hooked.  I am a sucker for that concept of a hero being so blinded by love, lust and passion for his woman that he just about doesn’t even see any other lady.   Once Bruno and Lily joined up on p40 of the book, I mentally rubbed my hands together with glee.  The first portion definitely satisfied, with lots of hot sex and over the top action but, even for a McKenna, the suspense portion of the book was on the eyebrow raising side of OTT. Think clones.  There were a few plot holes as well – Lily is holed up at Tam Steele’s impegnable fortress at one stage.  In order for the bad guys to get her, she has to leave.  So I get that the plot needed that, but the reason Val gave for insisting that everyone leave was thin to say the least.   The thing which least satisifed is that Bruno and Lily were apart for a fairly large portion of the book IMO – that’s not my thing generally and it meant that for me, the tension didn’t ratchett quite so well as in other McKenna books.  

Still, it was a fun ride and I’m looking forward to reading Alex Aaro’s story – it’s going to be hilarious to watch his no-women-except-for-sex policy go up in flames.  He also has the best line in this book:  “It comes from hanging out with the McClouds,” Aaro said. “When I took up with them, my cars started blowing up. My house. These days, I sleep with a girl I meet at a bar, and pow, she explodes in front of me.” 😀

A Younger Man by Cameron Dane  See my review here.

Spontaneous by Brenda Jackson  – C  This was my first African American romance but I can’t say that it read any differently to me.  Kim (Kimani) is best friends with the Duan’s brother.  They’re both attendants at the wedding and have been sending each other smouldering looks since they met at the engagement party.  My first problem with the book was that they literally did not have a conversation until after they’d had sex twice – once during the wedding reception and again after it ended.  Unless you count “my room number is…” as a conversation. Perhaps because I have not read the earlier books I missed some earlier characterisations?  I was told they had the hots for each other but not really shown.  I was told they liked each other apart from their physical attraction but there was very little of that shown in the book.  It made it hard for me to buy the HEA.  
When Kim says “You’re a man who probably appreciates a willing woman.” I wasn’t quite sure how to take that.  I mean, don’t ALL men appreciate a willing woman?  Isn’t a man who appreciates an UNwilling woman a rapist?  There were also some strange gymnastics which I had trouble imagining – eg “Duan reached out and wrapped her legs around his neck.  Then he parted her thighs and entered her…”  That made me think Kim has the thighs of Elastagirl.
I thought the suspense plot was far too easily resolved to be completely believable but the sex was very hot,  I liked Duan and Kim well enough and at only 142 pages it was an easy evening’s read.

But My Boyfriend Is by KA Mitchell – see my review here.

Feeling Hot (Out of Uniform #7) by Elle Kennedy – see my review here.

Heat of the Moment (Out of Uniform #1) by Elle Kennedy – B-  After enjoying Feeling Hot so much, I went on a buying spree and picked up the previous 6 books in the series.  They’re pretty cheap so they only cost me about $13 in total.  I gather that Heat of the Moment was originally published in an anthology.  It’s very short, at only 54 pages (the rest is excepts) so easy to read in one sitting.  Because it’s short, there’s not much chance for character development – so as much fun as I had reading about Garrett and Shelby and their fun with Carson, it didn’t satisfy as much as the longer (221 pages) Feeling Hot. Still, a sexy short read and I did like John Garrett quite a bit.

Heat of Passion (Out of Uniform #2) by Elle Kennedy – B   At 64 pages, this one was a little longer but basically, I had the same issue – Carson and Holly’s story was fun (sadly, no threesome) and certainly sexy but just not long enough for me to love and adore.  Holly’s problems with her family were solved a little too quickly considering how long she’d been dealing with them but the chemistry between the two MC’s made up for it.

Heat of the Storm (Out of Uniform #2) by Elle Kennedy – C- (with a dash of  D)   This story is Will Charleston and Mackenzie Wade’s.  Will has been in love with Mackenzie since they were both 15 in high school but he was relegated to the friend zone.  Mackenzie is a psychic and has horrible visions.  She is unable to change the course of the future even if she has the vision in time.  Her experience is that her “gift’ has led to all previous boyfriends leaving her and because she doesn’t want to lose Will, she refuses to have a relationship with him, even though they are perfect for each other, he’s stuck with her for 15 years already and they love each other.  Sounds thin?  It is. It gets a little more silly when Holly decides to help Will by pretending to be his girlfriend to make Mac jealous.  
The sex is certainly hot but the plot was a bit on the fail-y side for me.  The “dash of D” comes in where Mac has a vision of Will’s helicopter crashing.   What happens with this,  how cavalier Will is about it, how it was glossed over and the throwaway line used about it, made me grumpy.  To be more specific would be spoiler-y though.   Again, short – at just under 70 pages and certainly sexy – but again with the no threesome :(.

Slow Burn by Dawn Douglas – B-  An m/m version of a Harlequin Presents, turned on its head. If it had’ve been a little longer it could have been a B+.  If not for this line, it would have been a B:

You drug me over and made me spend two hours playing Win, Lose, or Draw with the Mississippi cousins! [my emphasis]

 The word is dragged. /rant

Otherwise, this was a delightful, funny and sexy short read about 22 year old Nathan, who gets roped into doing his sister’s Starbuck’s delivery to Griffin Trust one morning.  There he meets the gorgeous and older (37) Charles “Griff” Griffin and pretty soon they’re having “interludes” in his office.

Coercion (Curio Vignettes #1) by Cara McKenna – B-/B  I loved Curio and snapped this one up from Ellora’s Cave on release day.  There are 4 more (I think) to come over the next few months.  I think it wouldn’t work as well as a stand alone – Curio is wonderful anyway, so I’d recommend reading that first.  What’s special about this one is that it is from Didier’s POV instead of Caroly’s.  I’m a sucker for the male POV in general and for Didier in particular.  The reader advisory talks about rape fantasy but for me, it was never really that.  Immersed in Didier’s head as I was, I never felt that he was crossing a line.  Thet were role playing and slipped in and out of the roles from time to time.  The feel and tone are quite different to Willing Victim where the the rape fantasy is much more overt.  There is a melancholy feel to this vignette – Didier is struggling with leaving the apartment and worries that Caroly will outgrow him.  He worries that she will not believe what he feels for her is different and more special than the love he freely acknowledges he feels for his clients.  I love Didier’s vulnerability and humility.  I guess, for me, that melancholy ambience meant that the erotic side of the story didn’t work quite as well – melancholy is just not terribly sexy to me.  But, I did enjoy it and if I could pre-order from EC, I would have because I am definitely getting all of them.  There is such a rich atmosphere to this series, the flat where Didier lives, his isolation and something which I find difficult to describe other than to say that it feels distinctly Parisienne (-which is a bit of a stretch really because I’ve never been to Paris, but there you go). Oh, heck maybe it is a B after all.

Power Play: Resistance & Power Play: Awakening by Rachel Haimowitz & Cat Grant – full review to come.

on Audio

Origin in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen – B+  Continuing my listen of the series.  Another excellent story, excellently narrated by Susan Ericksen.  It was nice to refresh my memory of this one –  the famous “Icove case” which features so strongly later in the series and which I had mostly forgotton.  And Morris meets Amaryllis Coltrane.  Awww.

Memory in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen – B-  This, for me, was one of the weaker books in the series.  There was a lot of fun stuff about Peabody testifying in Court,  Eve & Roarke having Christmas together  – all really interesting in terms of the relationships but the crime part was a little lacking, for me, in this one.  I liked this one better the first time I read it – it’s one of those that doesn’t hold up quite so well on a re-read/listen IMO.  It’s still enjoyable – just not as good as others in the series.

Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels World #1) by Ilona Andrews, narrated by Renee Raudman – See my full review here.

Tangle of Need by Nalini Singh, narrated by Angela Dawe – B  I reviewed this one for Speaking of Audiobooks over at AAR.

Haunted in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen – B-  continuing my series listen – novella about a murder at a “haunted” building.

The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires by Molly Harper, narrated by Amanda Ronconi – B Not quite as much fun as Driving Mr. Dead, this story was nevertheless a very entertaining return to Half Moon Hollow, Kentucky.   Iris, owner of BeeLine, the vampire concierge service goes to meet a new client.  She finds Cal collapsed on the floor of his kitchen, having been poisoned.  He’s investigating something funny going on with Faux Type-O and convinces Iris to shelter him while he recovers and continues his investigation.  It is set before the events of Driving Mr. Dead but both are stand alone stories.  It’s fun, with Molly Harper’s trademark quirky humour but I wasn’t quite as engaged as I have been with other characters in other books.  Still, a fun recommended listen.

Born in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen – B   Why did Leonardo suddenly develop an Italian accent? Fun to see Eve and Roarke panic over childbirth classes and birth coach duties. Mavis and Leonardo have their baby.

Innocent in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen – A- All the books in this series are good.  Some are great.  This is one of them.  I have a full review going up at the AudioGals site soon.

Eternity in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen – B – novella about a vampire.  He hits on Eve and Roarke’s not happy.  🙂

Creation in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen – B  This is one of the more controversial books in the series and at least a few readers broke up with the series after this one.  Not me, but I can understand that Eve’s actions near the very end of the book don’t really fit with her well established character.  Still, it’s hard to feel too sorry for the serial torturer/killer who’s the chilling bad guy in this book.

Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews, narrated by Renee Raudman

Why I read listened to it: Love this series, love Andrea and Raphael.  Got it as soon as I could.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Some people have everything figured out—Andrea Nash is not one of those people. After being kicked out of the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, Andrea’s whole existence is in shambles. All she can do is to try to put herself back together, something made easier by working for Cutting Edge, a small investigative firm owned by her best friend Kate Daniels.

When several shapeshifters working for Raphael Medrano—the male alpha of the Clan Bouda and Andrea’s former lover—die unexpectedly at a dig site, Andrea is assigned to investigate…and must work with Raphael. As Andrea’s search for the killer leads her into the secret underbelly of supernatural Atlanta, she knows that dealing with her feelings for Raphael might have to take a back seat to saving the world…

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  This is Andrea’s book and Kate doesn’t feature all that much (and neither does Curran *cries*) – they were busy doing other save-the-world-type things I gather – perhaps we will find out more in Kate 6.  Because it was so strongly Andrea’s story, it felt very appropriate for Kate to be more in the background – she has a way of taking centre stage when they’re on scene together.    

At the start of the book, Andrea is estranged from Raphael, has been kicked out of the Order of Merciful Aid and hasn’t taken up a place in the Pack (despite clear intention from Aunt B and even Curran that it is becoming urgent).  When Jim tasks Andrea with investigating the murder of 4 shapeshifters on behalf of the Pack, she is both excited (this is what she does) and dismayed – the shapeshifters worked for Raphael’s salvage company and it means she’s going to have to spend time with her ex.  It doesn’t help that very early on Raphael brings a blonde bimbo with him when he’s giving information to Andrea – and she announces that Raphael is “engaged to be engaged” to her (Rebecca). (This is a Very. Bad. Move.)

Pushed to her absolute limit, Andrea embraces the beastkin side of herself and finds new attitude – demonstrated in various ways including her newfound ability to rock a little black dress and scarlet lipstick.    Raphael of course is still deeply in love with Andrea (as is she with him) but they are both hurt and in need of an apology from the other and some mutual understanding.  Eventually they do talk and finally (finally!) Raphael understands why Andrea made the choices she did before and during the battle with Erra.  While he does not like it (which is fair enough) he gets it and is then able to let it go.    Andrea also understands things from Raphael’s point of view – it was very much that they both had things to explain and understand about each other – no one character was all wrong or all right – which is, you know, realistic.  
When Raphael gets his inner Marvin Gaye on however, break out the fans because it gets pretty steamy. 😛
Of course, it’s not only a romance (there is a very strong romantic thread but it is a story about saving the world first I think).  Andrea and Raphael, assisted by Roman (the Volv), Ascanio (he’s hilarious, I adore him) and other Pack members must battle an Egyptian god who’s trying to resurrect himself.  I won’t give more of that part of the plot away – it’s too much fun to discover as you read (or listen to, as the case may be) the book.
Andrea also finds herself – she finally accepts the shapeshifter part of herself and finds her place of belonging – and it’s not just with Raphael.
I did find the ending a little abrupt and perhaps a little convenient, but I forgave both because I’m all about the happy ending.   I spent a lot of time laughing and grinning like a loon at the snarky banter between Raphael/Andrea, Raphael/Roman, Ascanio/Andrea, Kate/Andrea etc.   This is a rich world with fully fleshed out characters and it doesn’t just rely on Kate and Curran.  Who knew? 😀
The narration:   As far as the narration was concerned, Renee Raudman was her usual excellent self.  There were some times when she continued with one character voice instead of changing to the correct one which made a couple of conversations difficult to follow – I would have been fine in print but on audio one relies upon character voices and/or dialogue tags – when there are none of the latter and the wrong character voice is used, it does cause some confusion.  Fortunately, this didn’t happen too often.
I think Ms. Raudman’s voice for Raphael has changed a little but it did sound different to her “Curran” voice which I appreciated.  There were only very subtle differences between the Kate voice and the Andrea voice – and I think Andrea’s beastkin voice was a little different (and very much like Aunt B’s) but these are small niggles in an otherwise very enjoyable listen.
What else?  Curran is still my favourite in the Kate Daniels world but Raphael definitely holds a special place for me and he got extra bonus points for his treatment of Michelle late in the book.
If there are going to be more books in the Kate Daniels world (and I hope there will be), may I request stories for Roman (who knew he was so sexy? And funny?)  and (when he grows up a little more) Ascanio?  Pretty please?

Grade:  B+

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