Kitty's House of Horrors (Kitty Norville, #7)In the seventh Kitty Norville book, Kitty joins the cast of a reality show and travels to a remote lodge for the taping. The plan is for the shifters, vampires, and psychics gathered for the series to attempt to engage with the skeptic in their midst. This promises for some interesting on-air drama, but their concerns about the production go out the window once a body is discovered.

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Like any anthology, Hotter than Hell has it’s ups and downs. I immediately loved the title, because back in my college days that was going to be the name of my all-girl Kiss cover band if I’d ever gotten off my ass, learned to play guitar, and started an all-girl Kiss cover band.

Here’s a few impressions of each story:

  • “Music Hath Charms” by Tanya Huff
    One of the best in the collection, it’s about an struggling agent in the music industry. She’s determined to sign twin musicians whose talent is too remarkable to be natural. It definitely lives up to the spicy theme, but there’s also a real plot and a likable heroine who saves the day.
  • “Minotaur in Stone” by Marjorie M. Liu
    I haven’t read anything by Liu before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. A forgotten woman living in a modern-day maze comes in contact with the minotaur of legend, still trapped in a magical labyrinth. It’s written in an enchanting style and I was really drawn to the characters. But three sex scenes in just over 30 pages felt a bit excessive.
  • “Demon Lover” by Cheyenne McCray
    An incubus is assigned to take a paranormal writer’s soul, it’s more of a romance than an urban fantasy story, so it doesn’t really fit my taste. And for some reason I really dislike it when an author’s main character is a writer, that choice only works for me on rare occasions. It’s just too meta. It jerks me right out of the story, especially when the narrator points out how events are similar to research about their subject or thinks about how events in the story seem almost fictional.
  • “Equinox” by L.A. Banks
    Banks is a pretty good writer, and it’s a great idea to have an ancient goddess show up in today’s world and hunt people that she thinks are hurting the land. But the story seemed to imply that Artemis, the legendary badass herself, just needed some good lovin’ and she would settle down.
  • “Ride a Dark Horse” by Susan Krinard
    I don’t care if they’re fictional characters or if the heroine is really passive and is confused about what she wants. No still means no, not “grope a little more and see if she changes her mind.” Feeling up a near-stranger while she’s sleeping is assault, even if you have some kind of unacknowledged magical love connection. Sorry, but this story seriously yicked me out.
  • “To Die For” by Keri Arthur
    A werewolf and a wolf shifter are drawn to each other while working a missing persons case. The story doesn’t explain how Arthur’s werewolves and wolf shifters are different, but it’s made clear that they are and this causes some friction. The story has both action and drama. I think I liked it a little more than her novels, possibly because the shorter format doesn’t leave time for much bed-hopping even if the characters would have been interested in that.
  • “Curse of the Dragon’s Tears” by Heidi Betts
    One for the romance fans, it’s about an arrogant young man who was cursed into becoming some kind of immortal lizard guy because he yelled at a hungry gypsy group for poaching on his family’s land. Seems like a bit of a disproportionate response, no? Apparently “that time grandma turned a guy into a monster for being a jerk” became a popular family story, so one of the gypsy’s descendants goes to look for the man after having steamy dreams about him. Betts felt the need to point out that her hero had scales all over, which sounds extremely uncomfortable – if not downright painful.
  • “Brother’s Keeper” by Lilith Saintcrow
    The main character is a witch who gets her power from sex. This isn’t a self-contained story, it seems more like it’s setting up other events because a mystery is introduced but not solved. I doubt I’d buy a novel with this character as its heroine, because I don’t like it when plot or character traits mandate sex. I really enjoyed Saintcrow’s writing though, so maybe Working for the Devil will be more my style.
  • “(Like a) Virgin of the Spring” by Susan Sizemore and Denise Little
    A fun, light story about a psychic time-traveler stuck in ancient Britain.
  • “Life is the Teacher” by Carrie Vaughn
    A newly-made vampire longs for her past but puts it behind her. An enjoyable, character-driven story.
  • “Moonlight Becomes You” by Linda Winstead Jones
    A lonely apartment-dweller gets to know her neighbor, who she believes may be a vampire. This is probably my favorite of the mostly-romance stories because of the humor and sense of mystery, and because the conclusion was believable without being obvious. The main character bases her suspicions on knowledge of popular fiction’s version of the supernatural, and it seemed as if she believed mostly because she wanted it to be true.
  • “Dirty Magic” by Kim Harrison
    Set in Harrison’s version of Cincinnati, this story is about a banshee, a woman who feeds off the emotions of others. At first I thought the ending was a bit of a confusing, jarring mess, despite the really interesting turn of events. It seemed better after reading it again. I’m still not sure if I was too distracted on my first read or if the end of the story only seems well enough supported when you know what’s going to happen. I’m not really sure if that matters, though. If a story ends up with a big enough “wait, what?!” moment that you immediately want to read the whole thing again, then it’s certainly effective.

In The Harlequin, Anita and her boyfriends and her lovers and her vampires and her shapeshifters meet, you guessed it, the Harlequin. They’re a secretive, legendary society with the authority to observe, punish, or destroy other vampires. The characters have to deal with this group, work through shapeshifter power struggles, and put up with the usual soap opera stuff.

The last book in this series that I bought was Cerulean Sins, and even that purchase was kind of half-hearted. Since then I’ve been getting Hamilton from the library, and I’ve almost stopped doing that several times. But I just can’t help myself, somehow I always end up on the waiting list for them. I’ve always had a few problems with Hamilton’s writing, but the stories used to be entertaining enough that those issues were easy to overlook. Of course since the series ran off the rails I find myself less forgiving.

The good news about The Harlequin is that Hamilton seems to finally be listening to some of the criticism. Anita learned control of the ardeur, leading to slightly less casual sex. Even better, there aren’t any surprise orgies, which have at times been uncomfortably close to supernatural rape in previous books. Jean-Claude has a couple of “remember me? I’m still a badass” moments and Hamilton spends time fleshing out characters who have already made appearances instead of inventing another handful of hot guys for Anita to play with. She also revisits some interesting plot threads that had gone neglected. And best of all, Edward makes a long-overdue visit.

Despite the progress, this book is hardly a redemption of the series. A couple of the plot threads don’t make much sense. Asking to become Anita’s lover is treated as an acceptable power play. Nathaniel becomes more like all of Anita’s other guys. Richard does something unthinkable, but after the supernatural sex still required to sort almost anything out they treat him like usual. Anita is finally as cold in this novel as people have always accused her of being. She used to want to protect all the weaker characters, but the multiple strains of shapeshifer that she carries have apparently led to more of a law of the jungle mentality.

Hamilton still prods those readers who don’t enjoy the constant makeout party. There’s nothing as obnoxious as the “you’re just jealous” fight from an earlier book that seemed to cast Hamilton as Anita and the reader as Ronnie. But Anita is constantly defensive about her harem, throwing them in the faces of several characters. And Hamilton can’t resist checking another one of Anita’s taboos off the list in a scene made uncomfortable by coercion.

The Harlequin is an improvement, but I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. There’s still too much irreconcilable relationship bullshit and too much boring sex with whoever is available. The series is just bloated. There have been too many characters, powers, and plots introduced for any of them to get a satisfying amount of attention, especially considering how many pages are devoted to either sex or the same old arguments that they always have.

I think it’s safe to say that while Riley Jenson won’t end up becoming one of my favorite urban fantasy heroines, I’ll continue to read this series. Kissing Sin is a lot like Full Moon Rising, it has an interesting, original story but has too much romance for me.

The book takes place a couple of months after Full Moon Rising, and opens with an exciting scene. Riley wakes up naked in an alley next to a bloody body, and winds up on the run with a sexy shapechanger. Naturally, they break up the monotony of running for their lives with a few steamy scenes.

Even after the initial escape, Riley remains a target because of her half-vampire blood. She has to work with the Directorate of Other Races to find the people responsible for using genetic experimentation to create new types of supernaturals, and needs the help of a couple of former lovers on the way.

All of my problems with Kissing Sin are related to the romance plots, so I won’t go into them other than to say that I felt a lot of the relationship stuff was predictable. I really enjoyed the action scenes and the investigation aspects of the story, so I’ll continue on with the series the next time I’m out of new books to read.

I’d definitely recommend this for paranormal romance fans. And this series has a lot more (or at least better-written) action than many of the “making out with vampires” books that I’ve come across, so it could also be just the thing for those who don’t usually like romance but are in the mood to try something different.

Stray is about a werecat grad student named Faythe Sanders. She’d spent the last 5 years trying to lead a regular college life and work towards a future that didn’t include the Pride run by her father.

When a couple of the other rare female werecats go missing, Faythe is called home to her family’s ranch. She resents their insistence that she needs protection, and doesn’t like being reminded about the kind of life her family expects her to return to. She also doesn’t like living in close quarters with Marc, her father’s enforcer and the man she’d been engaged to before college. After a few dramatic episodes at the ranch, Faythe becomes the next tabby in danger and has to take her place in the Pride to capture a dangerous stray werecat.

I liked Vincent’s description of shapechanging and thought the structure of her werecat society was interesting. It seems harsh to those who weren’t cats by birth, which I can see causing a problem for the Prides later. There was casual violence between the werecats, which makes sense to me but could bother some readers. The bad guys in this book were also extremely violent towards the women they targeted, but thankfully we were only shown the aftermath of the worst of this.

I liked most of the characters, but some of the guys who weren’t as key to the story seemed to blend together in my mind. Faythe’s college boyfriend was really flat and practically ignored when he wasn’t being used as a symbol of her rebellion. The relationship arguments with Marc got very repetitive, but that didn’t overwhelm the story for too long other than a slow part in the middle of the book.

Through much of this book, I found Faythe frustrating. She was selfish and insensitive, which caused pain to those around her (both the mental and physical kind). She was also an immature whiner. When I’d read far enough to understand how important she was to her Pride, it got even worse. She seemed to be ignoring her responsibilities and fighting to live the kind of life where she could never really be herself.

Despite my problems with her actions, she remained a likable character. She just comes across as a young woman stubborn enough to carry on angsty teenage rebellion for a few years too long. This is the first book in a series, so I have high hopes that Faythe will eventually straighten up, stop acting like such a jerk, and become a reliable leader. Hopefully she’ll get a larger dose of empathy along the way. In that case, her years apart from the Pride will probably turn out to be an asset, giving her a different perspective.

I thought Stray was too long considering how basic the plot was, and some character and plot elements seem very heavily influenced by the adventures of Kelley Armstrong’s werewolves. But I enjoyed this book and will keep an eye out for future releases by Vincent. I’d recommend it for fans of shapeshifter stories, except for any who are squeamish about violent content.

The latest Charlaine Harris book is All Together Dead. It’s centered around the long-awaited vampire summit, which Sookie attends as an employee of Louisiana’s vampire queen. Between the events of the previous book and the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana delegation is in a precarious position. They face danger from other groups at the summit as well as from anti-vamp fanatics.

I read this book as slowly as I was able, since it’s one of my favorite series. Then as soon as I finished, I read it again. I rarely do that, but this is probably one of my favorite books in the series so far. There’s a good mix of story, action, and character development, the events of the summit don’t completely overwhelm everything else the way I was worried that they might.

One of my favorite things about this series is the way that Sookie’s choices always have very real consequences on her life. In All Together Dead, Sookie is dealing with her strange position with the vampires, trying to sort out her love life (as usual), and facing some social repercussions from being so involved in the supernatural world.

I’m really happy with the way these books have continued to develop. Now that Sookie is involved so deeply with the vampires, the tension between supernatural beings and humans seems to be increasing. Sookie’s personal life is also getting more high-stakes. She has two powerful, dangerous men confused about their feelings for her, and with each book she seems to gain more enemies.

I know I’m not the only one who wishes Mrs. Harris could write faster.

I re-read this yesterday because I’m planning on picking up the new Sookie Stackhouse book today.

Some backstory of Definitely Dead is included in the short story “One Word Answer” from the Bite anthology. Those who haven’t read it will still be able to follow Definitely Dead just fine, but unfortunately it’s a necessary purchase for those who want everything Sookie. (I say unfortunately because aside from the Harris story the rest of Bite is either more romance than paranormal or just plain bad.)

In the story, Sookie travels to New Orleans to settle the affairs of her estranged, twice-dead vampire cousin, Hadley. She becomes wrapped up in events at the court of Louisiana’s vampire queen and is, as usual, in over her head. With the help of a new guy, Sookie manages to not die while surrounded with vampire drama and dealing with the repercussions of earlier events.

Spoilers follow, so don’t continue reading if you haven’t finished the book yet.

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