sometimes, I enjoy a spot of romance

The Arrangement by Mary Balogh

arrangementI haven’t read many Regency romances, and I’d never read Mary Balogh before, so I don’t have much ground for comparison, but this was a sweet romance with a twist that made the relationship between Vincent and Sophia all the more believable.

Blinded during battle, Vincent Hunt, the Viscount Darleigh is plagued by relatives who want to compensate for his handicap by managing his life, but that is nothing to the potential for disaster when status-seeking acquaintances try to throw their eligible daughters in his path. Tired of being an object of scrutiny and pity, Vincent seeks the safety of his former home and is nearly snared by the power-hungry Marches, but is saved by the quick-thinking Miss Sophia Fry, neglected niece of the Marches.

More than grateful for Sophia’s intervention, Vincent feels it his duty to come to her aid when she is expelled from her home. He offers her a marriage of convenience, but they soon find that there is more between them than can be satisfied by mere companionship…

The relationship between Vincent and Sophia emerges slowly and grows through mutual regard, a nice change from the usual love-at-first-sight theme. I enjoyed the novel and found myself interested in reading the rest of the Survivor’s Club series. It’s a great weekend read when you need something warm and cozy.

Shadowdance by Kristen Callihan

shadowShadowance is the fourth installment in Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series, which has just about everything you can want in a fantasy romance set in an alternate, supernatural-infested Victorian London.

Longtime adversaries, Mary Chase and Jack Talent are thrown together when supernaturals start turning up dead. Determined to prove herself, Mary stubbornly agrees to work with Talent, despite his constant haranguing, but there’s more to Talent and his attitude than Mary knows… and there’s more to Mary than Jack imagines.

Just… wow. I really enjoyed the first two books in this series (yes, I skipped ahead to this one, but you don’t really need to read them in order to follow along), this one went way beyond all expectations. If you’re looking for hot hot sex, this is it. Ditto, if you’re looking for strong characters who grow beyond their flaws. Angst, love, revenge, mystery, action… all there. And did I mention the sex? The tension between Mary and Talent is so well crafted, you just know sparks are going to fly. I love a sexy romance that features love between equals and Callihan definitely knows how to make that happen.

I received Shadowdance as a netgalley offer from Forever Romance, but will definitely be purchasing a copy for my collection.

Entwined by Kristen Callihan

entwinedEntwined is part of the same universe as Shadowdance, but serves as a companion story rather than part of the ongoing series. Not quite a prequel, Entwined introduces characters that are related to others in the series, but are not directly involved in the main storyline. It’s a quick read and can be read as a standalone. I won’t go into detail for fear of spoilers, but it follows a mixed-up, epistolary love affair between Eamon Evernight and his brother’s betrothed, Lady Luella. Like Shadowdance, there is a good mix of fantasy and romance, and a nice dash of sexytimes.

Thanks to Forever Romance and NetGalley for this one as well.

not just another werewolf novel

Moonglow by Kristen Callihan

After reading Firelight, I was intrigued enough by the mythology created by Callihan to want to give Moonglow a try. Second in the Darkest London series, Moonglow picks up some time after Firelight left off. Archer and Miranda make several appearances as secondary characters, but the real protagonists in this story are Ian Ranulf, former Miranda stalker, and Daisy, Miranda’s older, recently widowed sister.

First introduced in Firelight, Ian is a werewolf with a yen for red-heads and a troubled past of his own. Given the troubled werewolf element, there is plenty of potential for cliché, but Callihan manages to establish a mythology all of her own, her werewolves living as part of society and serving as a sort of underground, supernatural kingdom right in the center of London.

Like Miranda, the widowed Daisy is an unconventional heroine well able of looking after herself, even during a werewolf attack. And that’s where the action starts, when a rogue kills Daisy’s would-be paramour when they set out for a clandestine tryst. Arriving on the scene at the right moment, Ian, exiled were and former member of Clan Ranulf, comes to Daisy’s aid just on time. As Archer’s former friend and Miranda’s caddish hanger-on, Ian has little to recommend him to Daisy but his personality. It just happens that his insouciant attitude is just what Daisy needs after a troubled marriage and tedious mourning.

Callihan does a great job of portraying lust/love as a companionate, mutually enjoyable thing. Like Miranda and Archer, Ian and Daisy are a pair of equals–neither is a naive innocent in this relationship. Even as Daisy comes into her own and discovers her own special talent for… let’s call it magical horticulture… Ian finds his own place through his relationship with her.

Especially interesting to me is Callihan’s concept of wolfhood, as explained by Ian:

“Look, we don’t know how we started, why we live this endless life, or from where we came. It’s all speculation. But the closest our elders can figure, it has to do with reincarnation. Once we were wolves. Over several lifetimes, our sprits [sic] evolved and we became men, but the wolf spirit lived on as well. Think of it as a soul divided.”

These wolves are not the usual bite-victims, but a kind of royal family. The elemental powers possessed by the Ellis sisters, as well as the GIMs (Ghost in the Machine), shapeshifters, demons, and who knows what that people this version of London add an extra layer of depth to what would otherwise be another historical romance.

But I really must stop waxing lyrical. This really is just a fun paranormal historical romance with some interesting twists, a side of mystery, and a number of sexy bits that are bound to make you blush, if you’re the blushing type.

I received an advance copy of Moonglow from Grand Central Publishing via Netgalley.

tension and spark

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

My flight trip paperback of choice during my weekend away from it all was Kristen Callihan’s Firelight, which was just the right size for my +1 personal item restriction :). Everyone else on the flight had their e-reader or ipad but I rocked it old school. Yep. Mostly because I didn’t want to deal with charging the nook while on vacation. I’m a lazy technology owner. But back to the book…

Firelight is part of a genre that has really caught my attention: historical paranormal romance. Historical? I love a good historical novel. Paranormal? Like that too, in good measure. Romance? It’s the best kind of “trashy” fun. All in one? My mind explodes. Firelight manages to do all this in an unexpected way. While many of the books in this genre focus on the traditional vampire/werewolf/fair folk/other legendary creature of choice, Callihan introduces a different “monster,” something more akin to Frankenstein (yes, the doctor not the creature) than Dracula.

The novel begins with a chance encounter between Miranda Ellis, daughter of a destitute merchant who just happens to have a particular talent at starting fires, and the dread Lord Archer, a man who hides behind a mask lest he reveal the horror that he has become. Of course, damaged Archer is hot, as is the spritely Miranda. Insta lust with a Beauty and the Beast twist. Unable to stop thinking about Miranda, Archer (who was about to exact his revenge on Miranda’s father before he met the intriguing daughter) comes to an agreement with Ellis–Miranda will be betrothed to him but must agree to the marriage of her own free will. See, Beauty and the Beast. They do marry and a great dynamic is formed between the couple as they come to learn each other’s secrets and admire one another’s tenacity. When a sinister murderer with links to Archer’s mystery ailment threatens to destroy the life claimed, Archer and Miranda must come to terms with their own dark pasts in order to safeguard their future.

A few cliches at the start of the novel, mostly involving the insta lust factor and a somewhat heavy-handed effort to assure the reader that the story is set in Victorian England, pea-soupers and all, soon gave way to a character-driven novel that established a true, companionate relationship between its sexy yet guilt-ridden protagonists. Neither Miranda nor Archer are innocents in this novel and that makes for an excellent connection between the two, one that adds to the overall suspense of the novel as they each try to keep their secrets while trying to make something of their marriage. Secrets are a major part of the plot, more so than the murders that drive the two together. Archer’s ailment is revealed in degrees as Miranda searches for a reason behind the murderer’s seeming desire to frame Archer. That Archer was once a scientist on a quest for immortality adds to the Frankestein-esque, man overreaching the boundaries of humanity, theme of the novel.

A prequel novella, Ember, adds further depth to the characters, though it reads more as an accompaniment to the novel rather than an introduction to it, and does a good job of addressing a few of the details that I found lacking in the plot (especially with regards to Miranda’s history and ability).

It’s an interesting world that Callihan has created and one that I want to spend some more time in.