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REVIEW: Poisoned Kisses by Stephanie Draven

REVIEW: Poisoned Kisses by Stephanie Draven

Dear Ms. Draven:

I admit that I haven’t read a book in the Nocturne line since it debuted a couple of years ago. My experience had been that the shorter length category books weren’t very well suited for the paranormal genre because it takes time to build a believable world and still fit in a compelling emotional arc. Yet, when Jeannie Lin recommended this book, I wanted to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Poisoned Kisses stephanie dravenThe hero, Marco Kaisaris, is a hydra, a being of a thousand faces and poisonous blood. He became a hydra through his unconscious lust for war but he is unaware of this. He was a peacekeeper for the UN and became enraged by the number of people he saw die in front of him. As a peacekeeper, you can only observe and not take action even if innocent people are slaughtered in front of you. When he gets out of the UN, he starts dealing arms, sending them to citizen militias believing that at least through this he can protect the innocent, even the odds. His family turns their back on him and he lives a very lonely life but he’s fervent in his “cause.”

The heroine, Kyra, is the half human daughter of the god of war, Ares. He makes her into an immortal by giving her shots of ambrosia. Kyra despises war and wants nothing more than to destroy Ares but she is not powerful enough so she does what she can to thwart his plans. The problem is that Ares grows stronger all the time because humans worship war more than they do nearly any other god like premise. Ares views Kyra’s “rebellion” toward him with rueful amusement. He doesn’t appreciate that he is the target of the destruction that she wreaks but he does view her talents and skills with fondness. Ares believes that at some point, he will win her back to his side.

Kyra’s intent is to destroy the hydra. She believes it is her destiny because she has retained her powers when so many other immortals have not. Kyra picks up Marco at a bar and proceeds to his penthouse with a plan to kill him. They fight and he hits her. I know some readers may have a problem with this but Kyra is an immortal being about to knife Marco in the chest. I think a little physical violence wasn’t untoward here. When Kyra cuts him, his poisonous blood begins to weaken her and eat away at the ambrosia induced immortality.

Suddenly, Kyra decides that she cannot kill him and decides that she will hide him away until Ares forgets about him. Weakened by the poisonous blood, however, Kyra’s plans go awry. She has one option left: to enter Marco’s mind and try to seal off the hydra. Kyra has tried only once before to do this resulting in terrible consequences. Marco is a weapon, though, that is desired by the gods. His poisonous blood can destroy even the immortal and could possibly wipe out whole continents.

Part of the love relationship that develops between Marco and Kyra occurs during periods of deception. At one point, Kyra impersonates an old girlfriend of Marco’s. The fact that I didn’t have a huge problem with this is a testament to your skill as a writer. I didn’t believe that Marco still held a torch for the old girlfriend but rather he was hungry for acceptance and love. Kyra’s true identity is revealed to Marco about half way through and together they search for a solution that would not require Kyra to kill Marco.

Kyra is truly kick ass. She does what she thinks she has to do to achieve her end goals. I ended up caring quite a bit for Marco despite the fact that he was an arms dealer. For me, his path from UN peacekeeper to hardened war criminal made sense and I sympathized with him (within the safe confines of the book of course). Kyra and Marco were a good match. Neither of them wanted war but both used violence to try to tamp it down, not realizing that their own actions were contributing to the furtherance of war.

The plotting was very tight in this book. The sex scenes meaningful and hot. And the writing voice was strong. While not everything worked for me in this story, the writing carried me past barriers that I might not have been willing to step over with other writers. More importantly, I didn’t feel like I was getting the short shrift in either the worldbuilding or the romance, although I wouldn’t have minded a longer book either. B-

Best regards

Jane

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
| Sony| eHarlequin

Best regards,

Jane

REVIEW:  At Her Service by Susan Johnson

REVIEW: At Her Service by Susan Johnson

Dear Ms. Johnson:

075820940101lzzzzzzzI’ve re-read some of your backlist titles so many times, the cover fell off the paperback copies. I think you were writing erotic romance before erotic romance was even a commonly used term. What I loved most was the lush beauty of the writing that some might even accuse of being ponderous at times. Yours were books I tended to savor, reading each word carefully to fully imbue myself in the experience. In recent years, though, my experience with your books have been less than satisfactory as you moved more to writing straight contemporaries to the point that I actually stopped reading them.

I bought this because I wanted to read another Susan Johnson historical. I wondered whether part of my problem with these books were my intimacy with your writing. The plot, the rhythm, the texture of the characters, their conflicts, were all done by you before and done better. The emotional journey in At Her service was so similar to previous books that it made for tedious reading. To a new reader, someone who has never read a Susan Johnson, perhaps the quirks and repetitiveness wouldn’t be an issue. Perhaps readers do look for the bull with the red flower tromping on the car in every book if that is a signature scene akin to the constant blowing up of someone’s car in Stephanie Plum series.

Hugh D’Abernon, Marquis of Darley, finds Aurore Clement from Alupka on the roadside with a broken wheel. He offers to take her into Sevastopol. There are some nice details added such as Darley asking Aurore whether she likes her stirrups “European or local” which lends immediate authenticity to the story. Darley is pretending to be a Tartar but is gathering intelligence about the Russians for England. Aurore Clement is spying for France but because she is born and bred in Crimea is assumed to be a Russian sympathizer. Aurore’s brother, however, signed up to fight for the French and is languishing in a hospital, a wounded prisoner. Aurore needs to get authorization for Etienne to be taken out of Sevastopol and she’s ready to do whatever with whomever to get that waiver.

After a dinner party wherein Aurore gets her brother’s release without offering much of anything, Darley proffers his farmhouse in Simferopol as a recuperating point. Aurore agrees and thus begins the pattern of many past Johnson books. The two are wildly attracted to each other. Darley is a “cunt hound” as he is charmingly described by a Russian general. Aurore is less free with her favors but she is experienced. They have no compunction about acting on their desires but ostensibly want nothing more than a good time. They fight strange and unwelcome feelings of attachment but circumstances through them together, pretty much forcing them to have sex time and again.

Basically the story is vague illusions to marathon sex scenes interspersed with details about the Crimean War. (Even the Sister of Mercy makes an appearance). While I appreciate the hinting at sexual congress at times from the full blown second by second accounts, the “he did” “she did” and “they were pleased” type of writing gets almost comically bad. To wit “He moved then and she did in reply and so it went–but not for long.” Later on:

“She threatened him and whined, tried artifice and subterfuge.
But he did what he did, intent on amplifying and heightening her resulting orgasm.
When he finally allowed her to climax, she was visibly shaken.
Pale and overwrought, drained.”

My imagination isn’t even engaged at that point. (It was engaged during a late exchange where there was reference to animals and that no boundary was not exploited when the hero was younger. I’m not sure that was necessary because I did start to wonder what the hero meant). Worse than the vague excuses for sex scenes were the lack of detail given to the character arcs. We are provided little opportunity to get to know the characters other than that they are spies and like to screw. Aurore loves Crimea and Hugh lost someone a long time ago but that’s it. They were flat, not even two dimensional.

The war as an excuse for all actions which could have been a good concept had it actually been explored by having the characters question whether they were affected by the war or whether they used it to excuse actions which were not normal, profligate or otherwise inexcusable.

One thing that I do enjoy is that the women in your books are never doormats. Aurore is fiercely independent and makes Hugh come to her at the end, appropriately so. Further your heroines are unapologetic about their joy in sex and their experience with it. In a genre that seems to glory in inexperience, the converse is a nice change. Ultimately, though, the brevity of details leaves out too much for the reader to fill in. D

Best regards,

Jane

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from Amazon or ebook form from Sony.