Night of the Highland Dragon (Highland Dragon #3) by Isabel Cooper (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the Scottish Highlands, legend is as powerful as the sword-and nowhere is that more true than in the remote village of Loch Aranoch. Its mysterious ruler, Judith MacAlasdair, is fiercely protective of her land-and her secrets. If anyone were to find out what she really was, she and her entire clan would be hunted down as monsters.

William Arundell is on the trail of a killer. Special agent for an arcane branch of the English government, his latest assignment has led him to a remote Highland castle and the undeniably magnetic lady who rules there. Yet as lies begin to unravel and a dark threat gathers, William finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of the Highlands . . . and the woman he can neither trust nor deny. He prays she isn’t the murderer; he never dreamed she’d be a dragon.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C

Even though I was very disappointed in the previous book in this series of historical paranormals (The Highland Dragon’s Lady), I remembered reading the print version of Night of the Highland Dragon a couple of years back, and thought I’d give it another go-round in audio. The final member of the MacAlasdair family of shape-shifters is Lady Judith, who resides at the castle of Loch Arach and takes good care of all those who depend on her and the castle for their livelihoods. Into this Highland idyll comes William Arundell, an investigator for a secret branch of the government who starts asking uncomfortable questions about Judith and her family in the course of his investigations into a gruesome murder. The two are suspicious but drawn to each other, although sadly, the romance is fairly lacklustre and the story as a whole is somewhat dull and lacking in direction. There’s also a severe lack of background information about William’s work and of scene-setting in general. The story is set in a late Victorian era in which magic and witchcraft exist, and listeners are just asked to accept that without any further explanation of how, why, where and who – which this listener found somewhat frustrating.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Highland Dragon’s Lady (Highland Dragons #2) by Isabel Cooper (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Regina Talbot-Jones has always known her rambling family home was haunted. She also knows her brother has invited one of his friends to attend an ill-conceived séance. She didn’t count on that friend being so handsome… and she certainly didn’t expect him to be a dragon.

Scottish Highlander Colin MacAlasdair has hidden his true nature for his entire life, but the moment he sets eyes on Regina, he knows he has to have her. In his hundreds of years, he’s never met a woman who could understand him so thoroughly… or touch him so deeply. Bound by their mutual loneliness, drawn by the fire awakening inside of them, Colin and Regina must work together to defeat a vengeful spirit – and discover whether their growing love is powerful enough to defy convention.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content: C-

I’m not a great fan of paranormal romances in the main (although I adored Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London books), but I read one of the other titles in Isabel Cooper’s Highland Dragon series a while back and enjoyed it enough to be interested in reading or listening to another one. Until recently, only the first book, Legend of the Highland Dragon has been available in audio format, but Tantor Audio has now issued books two and three, The Highland Dragon’s Lady and Night of the Highland Dragon (which is the one I’ve read). With Derek Perkins once again lending his considerable narrating skills to the project, I settled in for what I hoped would be an exciting story filled with magic and mysterious goings on.

Two out of three isn’t bad, I suppose. Because while there’s certainly magic and mysterious goings on, the story isn’t very exciting. In fact, it was so dull in places that even Mr. Perkins couldn’t save it or stop my mind wandering, and I found myself backtracking several times throughout the listen.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Resisting Miss Merryweather (Baleful Godmother #2) by Emily Larkin

resisting-miss-merryweather

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She sees things no one else does…

Sir Barnaby Ware made a mistake two and a half years ago. A massive mistake. The sort of mistake that can never be atoned for.

He knows himself to be irredeemable, but the captivating and unconventional Miss Merryweather is determined to prove him wrong…

The daughter of a dancing master and a noblewoman, Miss Merryweather had an unusual upbringing. She sees things no one else sees—and she says things no one else says.

Sir Barnaby knows he’s the villain in this piece, but Miss Merryweather thinks he’s the hero—and she is damnably hard to resist…

Rating: B

I thoroughly enjoyed Unmasking Miss Appleby, the first book in Emily Larkin’s new Baleful Godmother series, and was curious about the secondary character of Sir Barnaby Ware, whom we learned had previously been the best friend of that book’s hero, Marcus, the Earl of Cosgrove. A couple of years earlier, Barnaby betrayed his friend in the worst way possible, by committing adultery with Marcus’ beautiful but manipulative wife. The two men had previously been like brothers, and it seemed that their friendship was irrevocably broken.

More than a year has passed since the events of the last book, and Barnaby is on his way to Marcus’ Devonshire estate, having accepted an invitation from his former friend and his new wife, who have recently become parents for the first time. Barnaby is understandably anxious; the last time he and Marcus met, things between them were barely civil, and he keeps telling himself this visit is not a good idea and that he should turn back. He is about to do that when he sees a young woman walking ahead of him; and when he stops to talk to her, discovers she is a friend of Marcus’ wife, also staying at Woodhuish Abbey. She asks Barnaby to escort her back there, and, as a gentleman, he can’t refuse, so now there is no question of retreat.

Anne Merryweather is Charlotte’s – now the Countess of Cosgrove – cousin, and like Charlotte, will be gifted with the magical ability of her choice upon her twenty-fifth birthday, which is only a few days away. But even without that, she has an uncanny facility for reading people and seeing beyond what someone says to the truth that lies behind their words. She knows what happened between Marcus and Barnaby, and knows that Barnaby is still eaten up with guilt and believes he doesn’t deserve forgiveness. But the lovely, open-hearted Miss Merryweather – Merry to her friends – is determined to prove him wrong.

While the romance develops over just a few days, the author creates a genuinely strong connection between Barnaby and Merry, who is able to see past his guilt and self-loathing to the kind, compassionate man that he truly is. He has been resisting his attraction to her because of his belief that he’s not worthy of her, but when they are both trapped underground following a trip to explore some local caves, Barnaby steps up to the plate to become the man that Merry needs him to be.

Resisting Miss Merryweather is a lovely story of forgiveness and redemption, showing that’s it’s just as important to be able to forgive oneself as it is to obtain the forgiveness of others. While this is a novella, it doesn’t lack depth; the shame and despair Barnaby feels over his past actions is palpable, and the growing attraction between him and Merry is nicely done. The relationship between Barnaby and Marcus is very-well written, too – their interactions are infused with warmth despite the issues lying between them, and I liked the emphasis placed on going forward rather than looking back, the idea of Barnaby becoming an even better friend in the days to come.

The book can be read as a standalone, but works best as a companion piece to Unmasking Miss Appleby.

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast (audio) by Nancy Campbell Allen

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The Lord of Blackwell Manor, Miles, is plagued by a family curse that changes him into a shape-shifting wolf every month during the full moon.

Lucy, a smart, attractive, and well-respected botanist, travels to Blackwell Manor to take care of her sick cousin, Kate, who is married to Miles’ younger brother. For Lucy, the trip is a welcome respite from her work and recent discovery of a breakthrough serum that could eliminate the scourge of vampires from London. But Lucy finds more than she bargained for when she arrives at the Manor.

Miles, who is brash and inhospitable, does not take kindly to visitors. He is still unsettled by the mysterious death of his newlywed wife. And then there’s Marie, Miles’ sister, who was attacked and murdered just weeks earlier. Miles is horrified to think that he might be to blame for the deaths. And who is the ghost that haunt the halls?

Lucy is convinced that the death of Miles’s wife and sister – as well as her cousin’s mysterious illness – are tied together, but how? Lady Charlesworth has her eye on inheriting Blackwell Manor for her family. Could her daughter, Candice, or her son, Arthur, have had a hand in the mysterious deaths? The clues make a vampire suspect highly likely. During her investigation, Lucy finds herself caring deeply for Miles, but he fights to keep his distance in order to protect Lucy from his family’s secret. And, yet, he feels attracted to the woman who is able to look past the fearsome-looking scar that has marred his handsome face. With no other option, Miles and Lucy must work together if they are to find the answer to the mysteries at the manor.

But that’s not all Lucy wants to solve. There’s a deeper mystery behind Miles. Can she solve that too? Ultimately, she must decide if she can love the man – beast and all.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B-

A Victorian era steampunk/paranormal story, Beauty and the Clockwork Beast is the first in a projected series from this new-to-me-author, and while it was an enjoyable listen, I can’t say that it breaks any new ground. The story is a fairly predictable one, and while the author has peppered the text with things like “telescribers” (which I imagine are mobile phones or tablets), “tons” (short for automatons which are programmed by means of metal punched-cards), steam-powered airships and ray guns; and thrown in a few vampires and shape-shifters for good measure, I never felt as though I was in a fully-defined and alternative world. There’s a nicely gothic feel to the story overall, but really, this is just Victorian England with a few extras bolted on.

Lucy Pickett has gone to stay with her cousin Kate at Blackwell Manor. Kate is newly and happily married to Jonathan Blake, younger brother of the Earl of Blackwell, but she has been unwell for some time, and Lucy is concerned about her. Lucy works for the Botanical Aid Society and is an expert on plants and herbs and their medicinal – and other – qualities. She is a botanist of some renown and one of a small number of people working on a top-secret project to develop something to combat Vampyric Assimilation Aid, a drug which enables vampires to move around in daylight and blend in with the normal population, making them even more dangerous than they already are. Lucy hopes that she will be able to find out what is wrong with Kate and help her to regain her health.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Forevermore (Darkest London #7) by Kristen Callihan (audiobook) – Narrated by Moira Quirk

forevermore

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Miss Layla Starling, the young, beautiful, and extremely wealthy heiress, is the talk of London. Until now, she’s managed to evade the marriage noose. Despite the fact that she is unfortunately American, she’s received a staggering number of offers. And turned down every one.

St. John Evernight does not want to admit the relief he feels every time he hears that she has rejected one of her suitors. Which is unfair of him. Layla deserves to be happy. But he can not offer her happiness. He will never be normal, never be anything but a freak in her world.

So St. John resolves to keep his distance, until he is recruited by the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals to guard Layla. For she is in grave danger, and he is about to learn the full extent of his powers.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

Forevermore is the seventh and final book in Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series of paranormal historical romances, and provides an exciting and fitting end to what has been one of my favourite series in both print and audio over the past few years. Even though most of the books can – just about – work as standalones, there are many plot threads and characters that are common across all the stories, and this is especially true of Forevermore; so anyone coming to it without any experience or knowledge of the other titles in the series is going to be at a disadvantage. The multiple common threads and characters also mean there are going to be spoilers for other books in the series in this review.

St. John (pronounced “Sinjun”) Evernight is the younger brother of the three Ellis sisters, Miranda, Daisy and Poppy (whose stories were told in Firelight, Moonglow and Winterblaze) and like them, is a powerful supernatural being. When he was a child, Sin was hidden away from his father, a crazed demon, and it wasn’t until very recently that he discovered that he had siblings and the truth about his parentage. While his sisters can control Fire, Earth and Water respectively, Sin is the most powerful of all of them, able to control all the elements and do much more besides.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Forevermore (Darkest London #7) by Kristen Callihan

forevermore 2
This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Isolated and alone, Sin Evernight is one of the most powerful supernatural creatures in heaven and on earth. As an angel of vengeance, he hunts down the darkest evil, but when his long-lost friend, Layla Starling, needs him, he vows to become her protector. Even though she will be horrified by the man he has become.

Now a famous singer and the toast of London, Layla believes that Sin is only here to guard her from rabid fans and ardent suitors. However, the truth is far more sinister. Desperate to avoid losing Layla a second time, Sin will face a test of all his powers to defeat an unstoppable foe – and win an eternity with the woman he loves.

Rating:A-

I’m not a great reader of paranormals, but all the buzz and good reviews I’d seen for Firelight the first book in Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series tempted me to read it; and once I did, I was totally hooked and have eagerly devoured all the subsequent instalments. Forevermore is the seventh and final chapter of the series; and because it pulls together a number of the seeds sown in the earlier novels and features several recurring characters, it’s not a book that will stand well on its own. That said, fans of the series are sure to enjoy it, as it contains all the elements which have made all the other titles such compelling reads; great characters, steamy love scenes, complex stories, lots of action and plenty of angst.

St. John (pronounced Sinjin – yes, it’s one of those weird pronunciation things we Brits so love!) Evernight is the younger brother of the three Ellis sisters, Miranda, Daisy and Poppy, whose stories were told in the first three books in the series. The sisters are all Elementals, able to control fire, earth and water respectively, but Sin, as the son of a powerful Elemental and a demi-god of chaos, is even more formidable than they are, and is able to control all the elements plus a lot more besides. In Soulbound, readers discovered that Sin had been manipulated into becoming a blood-slave of the seductive and evil queen of the fae, and that his sisters, not realising he was enslaved, had disowned him. But Sin’s being bound to Queen Mab allowed him, ultimately, to destroy her, and to assume even greater powers when he became an all-powerful being who is tasked with delivering the souls of evil-doers for final judgment.

After a short prologue which introduces the principals as children, the story proper opens with Sin pursuing an unknown entity through the darkened streets of London. It’s a being he has never encountered before and which he had discovered hunched over a freshly killed human body. Nothing is familiar about the creature, not the way it moves, or the way it smells – and certainly not the way it suddenly transforms upon capture, into a flock of birds, an ability that is extremely rare, even in Ms Callihan’s twilight world of shifters, angels, GIMs and demons.

Not long after this chase, Sin is reunited with his childhood friend, Layla Starling, a talented singer who has been gracing the stages of some of the worlds’ greatest opera houses. But something terrible is happening to her; she wakes from sleep covered in blood with no memory of who she is or what she is, her senses are heightened and she is scared she has become some kind of monster. On top of this, she can no longer sing, so she cancels all her engagements and heads back to London, intent on hiding herself away at her guardian’s house.

Layla’s guardian is Augustus, whom readers will recall is known as “Father” within the SOS and who helped Sin to free himself from Mab’s control. He is Sin’s mentor and has asked him to act as Layla’s bodyguard, knowing that she is being hunted by Damnation, the most powerful of all the demons. But first Layla must be told the truth about her origins, about the ‘other’ world of which she is part and about the fate from which Augustus is trying to save her. But when she learns who and what she is, will she be able to accept it? And complicating matters for her still further is Sin, strong and beautiful, his image the one she has carried with her always, the reason she has rejected all the marriage proposals to have come her way… and who has closed himself off to her, the boy she had once known all but disappeared.

Sin is as much in love with Layla as he ever was, but the years of his enslavement have profoundly affected him. Mab’s evil manipulations and machinations have left a dark stain on his soul, have left him without the family he longs for and filled him with self-loathing. All he knows of pleasure has been twisted into something sordid and he can’t bear the thought of tainting Layla by even the merest touch. Yet when he does touch her, he experiences something else, something that doesn’t speak of pain and humiliation and he begins to think that perhaps, if he can trust Layla with the truth about himself, she won’t reject him.

The author has introduced and continued numerous plot-threads throughout each novel, some of which are resolved by the end and some of which are carried forward to the next story. As Forevermore is the last in the series, it picks up a lot of these threads, which means that it’s a busy book – but somehow, it doesn’t feel TOO busy. It’s fast-paced, there is lots going on and there are several different PoVs, but the storylines are easy to follow and the balance between romance and action is just about right. As the showdown between good and evil looms ever closer, she knits those threads tightly together to bring the whole thing to a dramatic but gratifying conclusion.

I’ll readily admit to loving a good dollop of angst in whatever I read, so one of the things I’ve loved about this series is the high-stakes element given to the romances. Each couple faces a seemingly hopeless situation that threatens their futures together, and while that is also true of the relationship between Sin and Layla, the real rip-out-your-heart-and-stomp-on-it moments I so adore are actually found in the secondary plotlines. The truth about the relationship between the angel Augustus and the demon Lena is bitter-sweet and gorgeous in a heart-breaking way. Readers will recall that Lena has done many questionable things, not least of which was arranging the kidnap and torture of Jack Talent in Winterblaze. Yet she and Augustus share some of the most incredibly beautiful and poignant moments in the story, and I don’t mind admitting that I may have shed a tear or two. The same is true of the small sub-plot featuring Archer and Miranda, who remain one of my favourite couples of the whole series.

Forevermore is by no means perfect. Sin’s progression from a man who dislikes being touched and whose only sexual experiences have made him feel unclean to one who is able to enter into a loving relationship and consummate it without a problem is rather fast – mind you, he’s an angel of judgement, so perhaps that’s normal! It was a bit of a stretch to be able to believe that Miranda, Daisy and Poppy couldn’t have worked out that Sin wasn’t with Mab of his own free will. And as I’ve found to be the case in the other books, the final resolution and all-round trouncing of the evil-doer comes a bit too easily. But when all’s said and done, those weren’t major issues and didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story one little bit. Forevermore ends on a high – literally – and brings the Darkest London series to a resounding and satisfying close. I was emotionally worn out but happy when I finished it.

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TBR Challenge: Evernight (Darkest London #5) by Kristen Callihan

evernightThis title may be purchased from Amazon.

Holly Evernight belongs to a very special family of inventors. They have nobly served the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals for generations. And Holly may have the most special creative powers of them all. But her skills are about to be tested as she tries to save the life of a half-man-half-machine whose clockwork heart is ticking down to the bitter end…

William Thorne was a rebel, a hired assassin for the SOS’s greatest rival, before he was taken, tortured and transformed. Now his mind and soul battle with his body as he becomes less and less human. But the true fight for his humanity will be waged within his heart.

Rating:A-

May’s prompt for the TBR Challenge was “Something Different”, with the suggestion of reading a book with an unusual setting, non-fiction or something out of my comfort zone.  I gave it a lot of thought… and then thought about it some more, because I had trouble finding something that fit the bill.  I have plenty of books on my Kindle or in the house that might have done the job, but not many that that I actually wanted to read and were thus on my TBR pile. I know this is a challenge and I do like the fact that it does make me read genres I don’t often read, but I didn’t have the time or the inclination to struggle reading something I just didn’t fancy, especially as I’ve got a big pile of review books waiting in the wings.

I probably read one, perhaps two paranormals a year (and that number will drop unless someone else comes up with another good historical PNR series!)  so on that basis I suppose Kristen Callihan’s Evernight might qualify as being a bit out of my comfort zone. I admit I’m cheating though, as I’ve read all the other books in the series and loved them.  But what the hell, I’m getting something off my TBR pile, which is the ultimate goal!

This is the fifth book in the series, and picks up the story of Holly Evernight and Will Thorne that began in the previous book, Shadowdance, when Holly, who works for the SOS (Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals) as a kind of Q was forced by a crazed demon to perform a horrific experiment.  Amaros – a fallen angel – wanted to prolong his life by means of a clockwork heart, but wasn’t willing to undergo the implant without testing it on someone else first. That someone was Will Thorne, a powerful Sanguis demon and member of the Nex, an organisation dedicated to bringing down the reign of humans and allowing supernaturals to live in the open.

When Amaros ripped out Will’s living, beating heart, Holly had no choice but to replace it with a platinum one if he was to continue to live – and a year later, she can still hear his screams and remember the expressions of terror and agony on his face.  As a result of this experience, Holly has become a recluse, content to tinker with her inventions at the home she now never leaves.

But even though her house is extremely well-protected by means of various alarms and booby-traps, there have been a number of attempts on her life recently – yet she has no idea who is behind them or what could be their motive.  A fourth attempt is not long in coming, and Holly is astonished to discover that her attacker on this occasion is none other than Will Thorne, who has turned almost entirely to metal.  Being a powerful Elemental with the ability to control metal, Holly is well able to defend herself against him – but she quickly realises that this is a being driven almost insane by pain, and instinctively acts to help him rather than to dispose of him.

Using her abilities, she is able to halt the progress of the metal throughout Will’s body and to lessen his pain so that gradually, he is able to regain his reason and his senses.  He has little memory of where he has been or what he has been doing for the past year; the overwhelming agony of the metal gradually encroaching through his body has caused him to almost lose his mind – but he does recall two things.  That for the past year, the desire to revenge himself upon Holly has been the one thing occupying his thoughts – and that someone told him where to find her.

Will quickly realises that killing Holly is not an option – she is the only person who is likely to be able to cure him, and besides, just being close to her alleviates his suffering – so he offers her a deal.  He will protect her if she finds a cure and keeps him pain free.

Ripping out a man’s heart and replacing it with a clockwork one isn’t perhaps the best way to begin a relationship (!), and Will and Holly certainly don’t get off to a great start.  She is not completely convinced that he has changed his mind about killing her for one thing; and she’s prickly, waspish and most definitely does NOT appreciate Will’s slightly risqué quips, his handsome, leanly muscled form, his charm and the fact that the way he looks at her makes her stomach flip.  Well – she doesn’t want to appreciate them, anyway.

And Will doesn’t want to like Holly either; she’s starchy, overly logical (he thinks) and he hates that he needs her and resents her for it.  But when he starts to see beyond her aloofness and to understand the reasons behind it, realising that she is as much of a victim as he is, he finds himself more than liking her and takes to needling her to shake her up a bit.  She’s shut herself away for the past year and hasn’t been out of the house, yet she’s a lovely young woman who should be living her life and not locked away from the world.  Sanguis demons are by nature hedonistic and Will certainly appreciates the finer things in life, especially when it comes to women; and to him, Holly is very fine indeed.  Yet she persists in trying to shut him out, even after an explosive sexual encounter the fervour of which astonishes them both.

Both central characters are thoroughly engaging and the fact that they’re complete opposites – she’s buttoned up and logical, he’s laid-back and quite delicious – allows for a slow build-up of the attraction between them and makes for a lusciously steamy romance. There’s a deft bit of role-reversal here, too, with Holly being the one to hold back while Will, who has never been loved, longs for it and once he has it, embraces it with his whole heart and soul.  It’s incredibly romantic and is one of the things that makes him such a wonderful hero.

The chemistry between the pair is off the charts; the air positively crackles whenever they’re on the page together, and I loved their gradual progression from two people who have been forced into proximity to a couple unable to envisage life without each other.   Ms Callihan has penned yet another intense, sensual romance that is bound to set pulses racing, but there is more to the central relationship than sex. There’s tenderness, humour, caring and a deep emotional connection that is so beautifully written that it broke my heart when the machinations of another seemed poised to wrench Will and Holly apart forever.  My one quibble with the book as a whole is that the final resolution is perhaps a little too easily come by when set against the desolation into which Holly has been swept because of the sacrifice Will makes in order to keep her safe. But on the other hand, the rest of the story is so compelling and the protagonists so appealing that I’m able to forgive that tiny weak spot in what is otherwise a wonderful read.

Kristen Callihan has created a fantastical world that exists just below the surface of Victorian London, a world populated by demons, angels, werewolves (Lycans) vampires (Sanguis), GIMs (humans who have died but been brought back to life by means of a clockwork heart), Fae… it may sound a little overwhelming to someone unfamiliar with the series or with paranormals in general, but the author is extremely good at giving relevant information without going into lots of dry exposition or info-dumps.  Each book in the series is “self-contained” in that it tells a complete story in itself while also laying trails of breadcrumbs for forthcoming books and picking up threads from previous ones; and although it undoubtedly helps to have read the earlier books, if you’re prepared to do a bit of homework, then it’s quite possible to read Evernight as a standalone.

That said, all the books in this series so far have been excellent; I’ve rated them all B+/4.5 stars and above, so I can say without hesitation that it is absolutely worth starting at the beginning with Firelight if you fancy dipping your toe into historical PNR waters.

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