Friday, January 29, 2010

Joely Sue Burkhart - The Rose of Shanhasson

The Rose of Shanhasson
The Blood and Shadow Series
252 pages
Availabe in ebook and Trade Size PB
Publisher: Drollerie Press
ISBN: 978-0-9798081-9-7

Genre: Fantasy Romance
Main characters: Shannari, Rhaekhar & Gregar
Book origin: book given by author

When Joely Sue Burkhart asked if anyone was interested in reading and reviewing the Rose of Shanhasson I raised my hand immediately, I liked the blurb but I forgot this tiny little thing… out of all genres, fantasy is my least favorite one. And although this story is labeled as a fantasy romance (and I heart romance), I avoid this genre as much as possible. I dread the extensive world-building and lengthy descriptions of everything and nothing that slows down the pace of the story. It is just not my thing. And when I read the first line of the book “Blessed Lady Above, why have you forsaken me?” I had this misgiving that I would be in trouble with this one.

But no! This story blew me away almost from the start. How to write a review of the Rose of Shanhasson when my heart still throbs? How to write a review that will do this story justice? Joely Sue Burkhart has created a different, unique world with different realms; each upholds their own traditions and have their own rituals. A world where everything revolves around political intrigues, power and hidden agendas. In this world I met Shannari, the last daughter of the Blessed Lady, heir to the Rose Crown and High Throne, Rhaekhar, warlord and Khul of the Nine Camps of the Sha’ Kae and Gregar the Shadowed Blood and former Death Rider. Joely Sue Burkhart does not need lengthy descriptions to introduce the reader to the fantasy world of the Blood and Shadow series, gradually the characters introduce themselves and their realms.

As last daughter of the Blessed Lady, Shannari is destined to wear the Rose Crown and to be the next High Queen of the Green Lands if she can restore her crippled magic. She dreams of uniting the Green Lands, they are now scattered and political intrigues run rampant. If she fails or dies a dark prophesy awaits her people, then Lygon, Lord of Darkness will be free again to rule the world. Shannari is surrounded by enemies; she seeks an alliance with other realms to help her people. But the other realms have their own agenda’s and no one is willing to help her. She is engaged to Prince Theo; he wants the High Throne for himself, he won’t share it and sees her as a threat. Over the years he has send many assassins to kill her, so far all have failed.

Shannari is one of the three key-characters in this story; we follow her on her trying journey to fulfill her destiny. She is persistent and loyal to her duties and destiny. But shadows hang all about her, a sign of great evil. She stands her ground in the crisscross of political scheming and battle in a world that is dominated by men. She has learned the hard way not to trust anyone but herself and was betrayed by the man she once loved, consequently she has given up on love, she thinks people who believe in love are fools. But the Blessed Lady has provided a way to help Shannari accomplish her destiny, although she does not know it.

It is here that Rhaekhar and his Blood enter the story at page ten. This is also the moment that my mouth went dry and my heart started to throb, for Joely Sue Burkhart knows how to create drop dead gorgeous men with honor, rituals and traditions. This is how she describes Rhaekhar:

“The warlord stared back at her, his golden gaze strangely intense. His long brown hair was intricately braided at each temple, heavy with colored beads and rings. The only clothing he wore was a green cloth wrapped about his hips, leaving his legs from mid-thigh completely bare. His immense chest gleamed like polished bronze in the sunlight crisscrossed with white scars. In fact, his entire body bore such fine lines, all except his chiseled face. Bands of gold, leather and horsehair encircled his biceps. A broadsword nearly as long as she was tall hung across his back, thankfully sheathed.”
With details like this Joely Sue Burkhart kept my eyes glued to the pages.

Rhaekhar is the Khul of the Nine Camps of the Sha’Kae, he has come with his men and Blood to the Green Lands because of a vision he had as a young lad. The Great Wind Stallion promised him he would have a love like no other, the Rose of Shanhasson (Shannari). He came to collect what is his and won’t leave without her. He defeated Shannari in battle and now she is honor bound to go with him. But all of the Nine Camps of Sha’Kae are scheming for more power, and bringing an outlander to their Camps might just split the Sha’Kae asunder.

Rhaekhar is cold, calm and controlled in battle, he always has a grip on his emotions. He believes in all those things that Shannari does not, love, trust and loyalty. Shannari is Rhaekhar’s Na’lanna (beloved); they share this bond that allows them to share their hearts and minds through blood. The more blood they share the stronger the bond. And though Shannari fights Rhaekhar every step of the way she cannot deny the strong, instant chemistry between them.

The third key-character is Gregar; he is one of the nine Blood. The Blood have sworn their lives to Rhaekhar to protect him. They share a blood bond by sacrificing blood; they considered this a great honor. Each one has a special gift, Gregar can wrap the cold Shadow of Death about himself and disappear, he also used to be a Death Rider. He does not get along with Rhaekhar’s nearest Blood Varne, they are constantly at each other’s throats and are very competitive. Their bickering is intense but also hilarious. As a Death Rider he has this compelling urge to sacrifice Shannari’s blood to their God Vulkar because he feels drawn to the shadows that hang about her, as Rhaekhar’s Blood he feels the need to honor and protect her, therefore he is constantly at war with himself, and his growing feelings for her do not help either. This dark-haired warrior is wicked, has a sharp tongue but is loyal to the bone to both Rhaekhar and Shannari. He is a complicated, mysterious character and there is still so much more to unravel.

Quote Gregar:

“If Khul or I ever offer blood, you will taste it, without question or hesitation. Any time, any place, no matter who watches.”

“It will honor us greatly, Shannari. Everyone in Camp will recognize such a great honor. Tasting blood is not a thing of darkness here, but of honor.”

Joely Sue Burkhart beautifully pens down the beginning of a triangular love affair. First of all Rhaekhar has to conquer Shannari’s heart and trust which is almost like an mission impossible, except that for Rhaekhar nothing is impossible. Then by accident or fate Gregar and Shannari create their own blood bond, Shannari is not ready to accept that she now has a bond with two men, she feels guilty towards Rhaekhar. But both men give Shannari the space to discover things on her own, helping her to accept the things as they are. The bond the two men have with Shannari only grows stronger from chapter to chapter. The romance and sexual tension radiates from the pages, the love scenes between Rhaekhar and Shannari are hotter than hot, the chemistry between Shannari and Gregar smolders and with each page it grows till Shannari can no longer deny the deep bond the three of them share.

While I was all wrapped up in the erotic entanglement of Shannari and her two warriors, the rituals and traditions of the Sha’Kae, I almost forgot the dirty battle for the High Throne. Shannari’s journey to fulfill her destiny has faded a bit into the background but many characters connected to her destiny pass in review. Shannari’s father, the king, is not a very strong leader, he means well but makes the wrong choices, yet his heart is in the right place. The Duke of Pella is a dangerous man, he is only looking for ways to gain more power and to enrich himself. But it is Prince Theo who raises the hair on my neck, he is a real pervert but more to the point he is used as an instrument by the Lord of Darkness to release evil. So at the end of the book the battle for the High Throne has only just begun and many questions are still unanswered, making me want to devour the second part in this trilogy, The Road to Shanhasson on the spot.

Joely Sue Burkhart creates a rich and layered story by interlacing different elements like world-building, characterization, fantasy, suspense and romance perfect to a tee. I love her writing, it is fast-paced, smooth and easy to picture. It is like watching a movie. Her jump-off-the-pages characters are profound and her warriors addictive. The darkness and shadows of evil are perfectly mirrored in the characters that are corrupted by power. The storylines are fresh and original and I loved the traditions and blood rituals of the Sha’Kae, but perhaps they do not fit within everyone’s comfort zone. The provocative erotic scenes raised my blood pressure to the max; there really is not a thing in this book that I did not like!

It has been a while that a story took me by surprise and left me breathless, but Joely Sue Burkhart did it. The Rose of Shanhasson is intense, erotic, dark and addictive from start to finish, a perfect read!

5 stars

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Moira Rogers - Crux

To find her destiny, she must trust him with her life - and her heart.

Jackson Holt makes a decent living as a private investigator in New Orleans, home of one of the largest underground supernatural populations in the United States. He and his partners have never met a case they couldn't crack until a local bar owner asks him to do a little digging on her newest hire.

New Orleans is the fourth destination in as many months for Mackenzie Brooks, a woman on the run from a deranged stalker. After all, any man who shows up on her doorstep claiming to be her destined lover has more than a few screws loose. But crazy doesn't explain why he always finds her no matter how far she runs.

When her well-meaning boss puts a PI on her case, Mackenzie comes face to face with the incredible truth: magic is real, and whatever spell has kept her hidden and separate from the paranormal world is rapidly deteriorating.

With time running out, she has no choice but to trust Jackson as he struggles to uncover the truth of her past - and her destiny.”

Mackenzie Brooks lived a normal “human” life until she met Marcus Foster and his rogues. He stalks her and goes on and on about being chosen for a higher purpose. She has no clue what he is on about but knows she is in danger, so she does the only thing she can do, she flees. She ends up working as a barmaid in New Orleans; she is scared, lonely and trusts no one. Nicole Peyton, Mackenzie’s new boss, knows something is going on with her new barmaid so she asks her good friend Jackson Holt, a private investigator, to check her out. Jackson and Mackenzie share this instant attraction for one another. Just when Mackenzie thinks that maybe she has found a new place where she could settle down and start over, Marcus and his men find her again and they make it clear that they stop at nothing to get what they came for. Mackenzie has no choice than to trust Jackson, Nicole and her other new made friends, soon she discovers that magic and shape shifters really do exist and that she is not as human as she thought she was...

When Moira Rogers asked on Twitter if anyone wanted to review Crux I did not hesitate. Crux is the first part in her new Southern Arcana series and I really liked the blurb. Immediately I got pulled into the story, Moira Rogers writing is very fluent and easygoing. I like the way the story unfolds, at first the story is slow-paced, together with Mackenzie we discover a whole new world full of magic and shape shifters. Rogers does not overwhelm you with an extensive world-building; all the information you need is interlaced in the dialogues between the characters and the characters themselves. Page after page, with Mackenzie you will learn more about this new, wonderful world and immerse even deeper into this story. When Marcus appears on the scene and the reasons behind his stalking Mackenzie are known, the story becomes fast-paced and is packed to the rafters with action.

It turns out that Mackenzie is a cougar shifter, cougar shifters are very rare. She did not know she was one because of a spell. I like the way Mackenzie changes, she is scared and alone, she always had the feeling she did not fit in until she met Nicole, Jackson and the others. She feels right at home with them. When she finds out she is a shifter certain things from her past fall into place and slowly she grows into this self-confident, whole, young woman. Of course Jackson is there to help her every step of the way. Now what to say about Jackson? He is my kind of hero! He is easy-going, gentle, loyal to his friends, he is good at his job, easy on the eyes and can cook. What more can a girl ask for? Moira Rogers made me fall in love with him right from the start.

The love scenes are hot, passionate and sexy. I had my doubts about the attraction between Jackson and Mackenzie at first, to me it felt a bit rushed, a little too much too soon. That changed when the speed of the story changed, certain pieces fell into place and it all made sense. Another thing that makes Crux such a great read is the humor, the bantering between the characters, I loved it, it made the characters even more appealing and it made the story even more fun to read.

The cast of secondary characters is fascinating. Nicole, Derek, Alec, Kat, Michelle and Marcus, you will love them instantly. They are all different, they all have their own unique voice and background, I was rooting for all of them, yes even for Marcus. They are so supportive and friendly to Mackenzie, a woman they hardly know yet warmly welcome in their midst immediately. Of course the person they are up against is really powerful and creepy, he stops at nothing to achieve his goal; I disliked him from the start. I can understand his motives but in trying to achieve them he became ruthless.

So what else to say about Crux? It is an addictive read from start to finish. For me it is a combination of things. First of all, Moira Rogers writing is very smooth; before I knew it I was halfway through the book. The world Moira Rogers has created is refreshing, new and does stand out in the crowd of the many other paranormal series. I love the characters and the way they develop, they truly are a charming group. Miss Rogers is quite a tease because I picked up certain undercurrents between the characters, very interesting to read and it makes you eager to learn more about them. And I love the storyline and the pace of the story, the romance and the action are perfectly in balance, the end totally satisfied me and at the same time I wanted more because I did not want to leave this world. Now I have this fascination for the other characters, I need to know their stories!

Crux is titillating, witty and packed to the rafters with sexy and unforgettable characters. So if you like shape shifters, romance and magic Crux is a must read!

4 stars

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lori Brighton - Wild Heart

After his parents were brutally murdered, Leo Roberts raised himself in the jungle of India. His family in England thought he was dead, but now he is back and he is next in line for the family title. His stay in India did not teach him to be a fine and cultured gentleman, he is the complete opposite, his manners appear to be more animal than human. To be ready for the title his grandfather has hired a governess, Ella Finch, to tutor him in the manners and mores of his class. In the past Leo has chased away every employee his grandfather had hired to make him more civil for they did not fit in with his hidden agenda but he finds Ella captivating and lets her stay. This innocent governess messes with his head, she is a sweet distraction he cannot use for he needs to stay focused on his goal…

After her sudden dismissal as a companion for Lady Buckley’s daughters, Ella Finch has no choice then to accept a post as a governess. She is in shock when she finds out that she will not be tutoring a lovely young boy, but a handsome, virile and very wild man. Somehow she knows that he will not hurt her and she is determined to help him take his place in society, after all, his grandfather is paying her a king’s ransom to educate him. This might be her only chance to gain her freedom and independence. But she soon finds out that there is more to Leo than meets the eye, he fascinates her. In no time he stirs up all these feelings inside her, make her do things she normally would not do, she craves him body, mind and soul. For the first time in her life she really feels free…

With Wild Heart Lori Brighton has made a grand debut in the world of romance. It is an impressive debut, I found myself captivated by her characters, and the storyline was so addictive that once I started I couldn’t stop. I felt this compelling need to understand Leo and Ella better and needed to know how they would fare, therefore I could not put the book down. The story is refreshing, unique and has this dark and mysterious vibe. Wild Heart is marketed as a historical paranormal romance, but the paranormal aspect of this story is confined to Ella’s special gift. Although, towards the end there are certain developments in the arc storyline that have some paranormal aspects.Lori Brighton’s writing is easy, smooth and rich in detail.

The setting for this story is the estate of Leo’s grandfather and I could easily picture every inch of this lovely estate. The fabulous characters come alive and tear themselves from the pages thanks to Lori’s writing. At the start of this story Leo is quite an enigma, in public he appears to be daft. He hardly speaks and his manners are nonexistent. He is exactly what society expects him to be after years of solitude in the jungle, an animal. This is precisely what he wants them to think, but under this fa├žade there is also this artistic, gentle and honest man who has to deal with his inner turmoil for he has suffered greatly and therefore has a very dark side that makes him unreadable for others. He has only come back to seek the truth, he needs answers and closure otherwise the past will never set him free. Leo truly radiates from the pages, he is a very strong character and I fell head over heels in love with him.

Now Ella’s background is completely different, she was raised in an orphanage after her uncle never returned from his trip. Now she is a governess who has to tame the beast inside this handsome, older man and make him acceptable for society. Her whole life has revolved around others; she wants to be free of the responsibility to everyone but herself. Although she appears to be a meek person she really has a strong spirit, she is persistent yet nice and likeable. Leo makes her less stiff; he makes her bend the rules of society a little so she actually has some fun. The attraction between them is instant, it smolders a long time before it finally erupts. Their sex is hot, loving and sensual. The development of their characters and romance is stunning and it vibrates throughout the book. It moved me and pulled at all my heartstrings.

I was so wrapped up in their romance that I almost forgot the darker side of this story.The first part of Wild Heart revolves around the relationship between Leo and Ella, then the pace of the story accelerates as the suspense plotline develops and dominates the last part of the story. It is a captivating and surprising plotline, interlacing the paranormal aspects with the suspense and the romance. The end is satisfying and took me by surprise. I did not expect this ending and it was quite shocking to be so surprised. The secondary characters are interesting, the villains are bad to the bone and the true friends of Ella and Leo are loyal and interesting, all these characters spice up the story but the spotlight stays mainly on Ella and Leo.

Lori Brighton could not have written a better or more impressive debut. Wild Heart is seductive, dark and mysterious. The romance is scorching hot, the characters are well-developed and appealing, and the suspense is captivating, fresh and surprising. Wild Heart is a must-read for every romance reader out there.

4,5 stars

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a happy, loving

and healthy 2010!

May all your dreams come true.