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REVIEW:  The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

REVIEW: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

manzanilla

In October of 1806, the Little Season is in full swing, and Sally Fitzhugh has had enough of the endless parties and balls. With a rampant vampire craze sparked by the novel The Convent of Orsino, it seems no one can speak of anything else. But when Sally hears a rumor that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire, she cannot resist the challenge of proving such nonsense false. At a ball in Belliston Square, she ventures across the gardens and encounters the mysterious Duke.

Lucien, Duke of Belliston, is well versed in the trouble gossip can bring. He’s returned home to dispel the rumors of scandal surrounding his parents’ deaths, which hint at everything from treason to dark sorcery. While he searches for the truth, he welcomes his fearsome reputation—until a woman is found dead in Richmond. Her blood drained from her throat.

Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire from killing again. Someone managed to get away with killing the last Duke of Belliston. But they won’t kill this duke—not if Sally has anything to say about it.

Dear Ms. Willig,

I always eagerly anticipate a new Pink Carnation novel, partly to see who will be the main characters and partly to see what amazing title it will have. When I saw the vampire element in the description for “The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla,” I thought “How cool. She’s incorporated elements of a popular paranormal genre into a historical story at a point in time when it might actually have happened.” Well done. What wasn’t so well done for me was the way the circular dialog made the action seem like it dragged along.

As the book gets going, I was dismayed at the very cutesy opening and dialog between Sally and Lucien which reminds me a lot of the “around and around and around” stuff I last noticed in ““Night Jasmine.” Especially when they’re talking and arguing over the dead body of the young woman at Lucien’s sister’s coming out ball. They seem to stand there and discuss the situation for a good 15 minutes before doing anything. And unless it’s a very, very small dwelling, The Happy Home Life scene at Turnip’s house seems a bit too cosy for Lucien to be able to overhear what happens in another room parlor, smell the cinnamon from the kitchen and hear jam smeared Parsnip running from the nursery.

Still, the plot and possible reasons for French spies being involved in Lucien’s family’s murder is clever and realistic. I’m all over historical plots that actually use history in them and have it make sense.

But the first 2/3 of the book seemed to be little but Sally and Lucien twittering and nattering at each other and no doing. It’s very bubbly and very sparkly but it got maddening after a while when action got sacrificed for fizz. Forward motion in the plot lumbers along at a stultifying pace all in the name of more dialog that goes nowhere. I know this is a series that takes jabs at the overabundance of historical spies but even with that I have my limit of tolerance.

Yet just as I was wondering if I needed to start skimming, it clicked into place for me. I will admit to feeling exactly about Sally and Lucien as you wanted – namely that Sally is a yappy puppy, busy body and Lucien had been ignoring his ducal duty. How do I know this is what you were aiming for? Because Sally and Lucien call each other on it which leads to them beginning to examine their behavior and improve themselves. At this point, things definitely started looking up.

The way Sally charges to Lucien’s rescue is rather sweet and yay for the fact that she actually manages to do some good while charging. The villain’s identity and reasons for why he does as he does make sense and don’t appear out of the blue. And the stoat – I have to say I love the stoat plus the fact that we get to see lots of Turnip and Arabella.

I’m also getting more into the slow but steady relationship between Colin and Eloise. This little bit of story is crucial for them and I think the book ends in a great place with options and a twinkling future. Eloise might just have a dazzling career vs boring academia.

If this book didn’t totally rock my reading world, I have to say I’m stoked about whose story is next. I’ve been waiting for this one. C+

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Bound by Night by Larissa Ione

REVIEW: Bound by Night by Larissa Ione

Bound-by-Night

Dear Ms. Ione:

I’ve been on a contemporary romance kick for a good long time now, and felt like maybe it was time to switch it up. I remember enjoying your first few Demonica books, so when Bound by Night and your new release, Chained by Night were offered to Dear Author, I decided to request them.

A WOMAN OUT FOR BLOOD
Nicole Martin was only eight years old when the vampire slaves rose up in rebellion and killed her family. Now she devotes her life to finding a vaccine against vampirism, hoping to wipe out her memories—along with every bloodsucker on the planet. But there’s one thing she cannot destroy: her searing, undeniable attraction for the one man she should hate and fear the most . . .

A VAMPIRE OUT FOR REVENGE
A member of the renegade vampire MoonBound Clan, Riker is haunted by demons of his own. When he recognizes Nicole and remembers how her family enslaved his loved ones, his heart burns for vengeance. But when he kidnaps Nicole and holds her in a secret lair, his mortal enemy becomes his soul obsession, his greatest temptation, and, perhaps, his only salvation—a hot-blooded lover who could heal him with her touch . . . or bury him forever.

As a child, Nicole Martin lived in the ostentation of a wealthy family, having multiple vampire slaves, including her beloved nanny, Terese, who nurtured and loved Nicole as her negligent, if not downright unloving parents did not. One day, the vampire slaves rose up against her family and killed them, and Nicole was attacked by Boris, a vampire in the household. He’d been defanged, so his attack on Nicole had been brutal and painful. Nicole survived the attack and was sent to live with her aunt in Paris. Leaving her father’s company, a conglomerate that neutralizes vampires and sells them as slaves to others. Nicole is happy living in Paris, where she is a vampire psyshiologist, studying their bodies and medications that might slow or negate the infection that causes vampirism. However, when she is 28, her father’s will kicks in and forces her to return to the Pacific Northwest to take control of the company. Her half brother, Charles, has been running the company in her absence. While Nicole has reluctantly taken control of the company, she has plans for it. She wants it to stop purveying vampires and focus on the medical side of their work. This decision is unpopular with the board of directors, and Nicole is in jeopardy of being voted out of control all together.

Riker, the second in command of the MoonBound clan, a group of free vampires who hate all things human, has a tremendous grudge against the Martin family. His mate was Terese, Nicole’s nanny, who was killed by the Martin family while pregnant with his child. He’s vowed revenge and is determined he’ll have it. His opportunity comes after a special healer that MoonBound had borrowed from the ShadowDwellers, another vampire clan, is kidnapped while  being provided safe passage back to her clan. The ShadowDwellers blame MoonBound and are threatening war, if they do not get their healer back. MoonBound has intel that the Martin family’s company has the healer. Riker sees this as his perfect opportunity to take something from the Martin family. He’ll kidnap Nicole and exchange her for the healer.

All goes according to his plan until Nicole escapes him and is almost taken by the ShadowDweller warriors. Riker is injured in the process and Nicole saves him. They begin a cautious partnership. Riker returns Nicole to his clan’s lair to decide what the next steps should be in getting the healer back. Nicole contacts her brother and finds that her company has been conducting some horrifying breeding programs on vampires and that he was the one who authorized the kidnap of the healer. Nicole determines that she must go to the lab with Riker to rescue the healer. Riker can’t believe that she’s willing to risk herself like that. The more he gets to know Nicole, the more attracted he is. She’s nothing like he expected. She’d brave and brilliant, and all kinds of gorgeous. But how can he be attracted to a woman whose family destroyed his family and is now dedicated to taking away the freedom of his race? As their mission unfolds, and the more they learn about each other, their attraction grows. But how will they overcome their long history of wariness toward the other race and give in to the feelings they have for each other?

I quite enjoyed this book. While I felt that you had to spend a lot of time setting up the mythology of the series, it was relatively easy to follow. I liked Nicole very much. She has a ton of agency and while it’s clear that she is terrified, she is smart and willing to save herself. Riker frightens her to death, but she stands up to him and uses her prodigious smarts to get herself out of bind after bind. Riker was a bit harder for me to get a handle on. He’s got the “tortured vampire” thing going on, and a ton of rage. Plus he’s very hot and cold with Nicole, which I found a bit off putting. But when he finally warms up, he’s all in, which I appreciated. They do quite a bit of stomping off after harsh words, which I always find childish, and they left things unsaid time after time when they’d clash. I did feel like that fact detracted from their chemistry, which was a bit disappointing. The love scenes between them are as hot as I remember your love scenes being. The book sets up a number of other possible heroes, in particular Hunter, who is the hero of book two. The series has a great mythology, deep with Native American tradition, which I really liked. While I felt the book had its issues, I’m really excited to read book two. Bound by Night gets a recommendation from me, as not your usual vampire romance. Final grade: B

Kind regards,

Kati

 

 

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