We’re practically swamped in anthologies lately, this one is a holiday themed collection. The stories in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe involve werewolves and Christmas, though several of them could have been set at any time of year and seem to only include seasonal mentions as an afterthought.

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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.

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.

Full Moon Rising is a supernatural romance set in an Australia where werewolves and vampires live openly among the humans. The book’s heroine is Riley Jenson, a werewolf with vampire blood who works in the offices of a supernatural police force. Her brother works for the same force as a field agent, and he disappears while trying to find some kidnapped supernatural beings that are linked with biotechnology research. Riley has to solve the mystery and find her brother at a time when werewolves are most distracted, during the approach of the full moon.

Arthur’s werewolf culture is interesting. The most emphasized feature of lycanthropy besides the strength and shifting is the idea that all werewolves go into heat during the week of the full moon. This has shaped a lot of their society, both in terms of how they interact and how other races view them.

I don’t tend to enjoy books that are this romance heavy, and Full Moon Rising is only a partial exception. I appreciate that Arthur has worked in a plot reason from the start for the large amount of sex and inevitable emotional complications that follow. The mystery aspects of the story were interesting, even if they were a little predictable. The sex scenes were not terribly written or repetitive, but one or two did feel a overlong.

Of course I’d have preferred a higher plot-to-erotica ratio, but that wasn’t my real problem. I just couldn’t really click with any of the main characters. Riley was inconsistent and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Her brother was okay but largely absent. Her regular lovers were a thug and a question mark. The new vampire in her life was charming, but then he showed off an unattractive cruel streak. Flawed characters are a necessity, but it would be good if some of them could remain likable.

Despite my issues I won’t rule out reading the next in the series. There’s potential here, if Riley matures a bit as a character. While I suspect the rest of the books will also be too relationship-heavy for my taste, the story could be worth it.