Booktopia 
Romance Buzz
January 2010 | Edition Nine
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KATE'S MONTH AHEAD
Gentle Reader,
Happy New Year! I hope you all passed a joyous festive season, and gave (and received!) lots of lovely books as gifts.  Now that we're moving into January, it's time to beef up the beach reading and make sure you've got plenty of sizzle with your sand and sun.

First, I must offer apologies and thanks to those who emailed me to let me know  I'd stuffed up the order of PC Cast's YA titles in last month's newsletter. The correct order, as was rightly pointed out to me, is Elphame's Choice and then Brighid's Quest. Remember, you can email me at any time at kate@brraddicts.org.

You may notice that this newsletter is a bit shorter than in the past - Booktopia is introducing some exciting new changes for their romance section, and that includes a new splash page! So don't worry - you can still find all your latest releases there. This means the newsletter can be a bit shorter, a bit tighter, and I can spotlight the really exciting titles every month.

Finally, I don't have a Book of the Month for January - instead I've offered you my reading year in lists, including my top ten picks for 2009. Let me know what you think and what yours were... I'd love to know!

What I've just finished: With Seduction in Mind by Laura Lee Guhrke. A grumpy writer, a forthright heroine, and sparks all over the place. This had me smiling all the way through.

What I'm reading now: I'm going on holidays, so I'm going to do a great big re-read of all my Amanda Quick novels. She's my seminal author - the one who started my deep and abiding love of historical romance, and it's about time I revisit some old friends.

What I can't wait for: Oh I am holding out for that new Laura Kinsale novel!

Until next time, happy reading!

Kate Cuthbert
Editor
Booktopia Romance Buzz
A YEAR IN LISTS
I write one of these lists every year, and I have to admit, it's one of the hardest things I do. For one thing, I read so many novels that it can be hard to keep track. For another, especially with linked books, it can be hard to pinpoint if the novel is good, or if it's just a particularly strong section of an ongoing story. But most of all, no writer/reviewer can read every book that comes out in a year, so I just know I've missed some truly wonderful stories.  If there's something you think I should have included, please let me know!

I've provided my top ten list below, then some honourable mentions that had to be made, even if the books didn't make my top ten. This is not cheating.

Kate's Top Ten Romance Novels of the Year

10. Branded by Fire, Nalini Singh. For true passion, heat, and conflict. For having a heroine that shows strength, and for creating a believable compromise and happy ending. For being a strong enough love story to carry a book that also moves the series' plot forward.
Retail Price: $14.32, Booktopia Price $11.40 IN STOCK

9. Poison Study, Maria M. Snyder. For creating an atmosphere both beautiful and deadly. For creating a love story both subtle and strong.  For a world that is both intensely familiar and utterly foreign. For the hours of sleep lost while reading it. For having my favourite cover of the year.
Retail Price: $20.99, Booktopia Price $16.79 IN STOCK SAVE 20%

8. Not Quite a Husband, Sherry Thomas. For excelling at prickly, flawed, thoroughly three-dimensional characters. For taking risks with plot, character, and setting. For having a heroine who recognises her limits and doesn't do anything stupid in the middle of a battle. That last point especially. For redemption.
Retail Price: $11.23, Booktopia Price $10.11

7. To Catch a Bride, Anne Gracie. For an interesting twist on setting and locale. For memorable, loveable, almost-touchable secondary characters. For depicting power in a historically accurate manner, and making it understandable and palatable to a modern reader. For the laughter. And for pirates.
Retail Price: $15.95, Booktopia Price $12.95

6. "This Wicked Gift" in The Heart of Christmas, Courtney Milan. For a full story with character and plot development. For a despicable bargain that somehow manages to be romantic. For characters outside the sphere of balls and gowns. For fully fleshed-out characters that learn and grow. For doing it all in a novella.
Retail Price: $15.99, Booktopia Price $9.99 SAVE 38%

5. What Happens in London, Julia Quinn. For reminding me why you remain my favourite auto-buy. For the wit and charm and lightness that infuses the writing and makes characters sparkle to life. For the laughter. For delivering.
Retail Price: $14.99, Booktopia Price $13.49 IN STOCK

4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen and Seth Graeme-Smith. For taking the most revered romance story and turning it completely on its head. For doing so irreverently. For doing so hilariously. For finding new ways to display Eliza's strengths. And for the readers' group questions at the end. (Though I don't think we'll thank you for the sheer amount of copycats that are going to follow!)
Retail Price: $24.95, Booktopia Price $17.95 IN STOCK SAVE 28%

3. Dogs and Goddesses, Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, and Lani Diane Rich. For the fun the authors had, which shows in every word. For making me laugh out loud and having to put the book down just so I could catch my breath, only to lose it the second I started reading again. For having an 'older' heroine and not making a big deal about it.  For making dogs talk. For making dogs talk and making it so completely realistic that I didn't even bat an eyelash.
Retail Price: $12.99, Booktopia Price $11.69

2. Shadowfae, Erica Hayes. For lyrical, lush, beautiful writing. For playing with tenses and tones - and making it work! - to differentiate between characters. For setting it in Melbourne, and making it come alive in a way that I'd never seen it before. For a secondary character so vivid that emotional attachment was inevitable, the end of his plotline devastating. For an impossible choice, and a satisfying ending. For having a multicultural romance and not making a big deal about it. For sex and blood and poison and life.
Retail Price: $22.99, Booktopia Price $20.50

1. Beyond Heaving Bosoms, Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan. For actually reading romance novels and loving them. For straight talk and gushing (but only when deserved). For being able to laugh at the genre, while still respecting the hell out of it. For making it easier to say 'yes, I love romance novels, and there's nothing wrong with that'. And for the Choose-your-own-adventure.
Retail Price: $23.93, Booktopia Price $21.54

Kate's Find of the Year:
Victoria Dahl: for writing sexy, funny, light-hearted, really just very fun stories that fulfilled my fantasies of strong contemporary romance. And for being an endless source of amusement on Twitter.

Kate's Tearjerker of the Year:
Nalini Singh, Blaze of Memory. For leaving me curled up in bed, still in my pjs, at 3pm, sobbing my heart out. And then for making it all better.

Kate's Fairytale Romance of the Year:
Elizabeth Hoyt, To Beguile a Beast: for being a lovely example of the Beauty and the Beast story, with an unconventional heroine, children who aren't annoying (!), and a hero that's scarred both inside and out.

Kate's Honorable Mentions:
Christine Wells' Wicked Little Game: for having a fantastic heroine who not only sees her mistakes, but learns from them, grows from them, and becomes an even more fantastic heroine and character because of it.

Tracey O'Hara's Night's Cold Kiss: for reimagining the vampire world, for creating a heroine that is actually kick-ass, and for writing a hero who is both a vampire and a good man, who recognises other people's opinions, and who actually listens to and respects the abilities of the heroine.

Kate's Author to Watch in 2010:
Courtney Milan: if she can do that with a novella? She can take over the world with a full-length novel.
CAPTIVATING CONTEMPORARY
Lots to love in this month's contemporary offerings: suspense, small town, and sass!
HOT ROCKS
 ANGEL'S PEAK
What to say about La Nora? The Grand Mistress of romance is a powerhouse and a publishing phenomenon. After all, how many authors do you know can go by only one name?

Hot Rocks is a mass-market re-release, so if you've been holding out to avoid paying hardcover prices, here's your chance!

Laine has finally escaped her wild, notorious past, and now she's a respectable business woman and proprietor of an antique shop, Remember When.

But pasts have a way of catching up with a person, and Laine's is about to come back in a big way. And then there's the enigmatic Max, who's just walked in to her life.

RRP: $15.99   Booktopia Price: $9.99
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 I don't think anyone expected Robyn Carr's series about a little mountain town to take off quite as spectacularly as it has - but Virgin River folk continue to find both each other and true love. What with all the coupling up, I think the town might be in for a population boom come 9 months' time?

Franci recognises that keeping their child a secret from Sean was probably not the best idea, but he'd made it very clear that what she wanted - marriage and a family - was definitely not what he wanted. Their bitter break-up didn't help the situation, and she refuses to take all credit for that.

Now he's back, and the town's involved, and everything's very confusing - especially the attraction that's sizzled back to life.

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LEAD ME ON

Victoria Dahl was definitely my find of the year. I picked up Start Me Up on a whim near the beginning of the year, and I haven't looked back. Writing both contemporary and historical novels, Dahl combines heat with humour to create lovely, funny, fresh novels (plus the colours on her cover totally mesh with the colours of my newsletter!).

She's also funny (and just a wee bit naughty) on her Twitter feed as well. Follow her on @victoriadahl.

A girl learns things from her mother - in Jane's case it's that prison orange doesn't suit any man. So she plays it safe, changing everything about herself to conform with who she wants to be. And that person is not attracted to a tattoo-covered, steel-toed-boots-wearing, too-darned-sexy explosives expert.

Still... it's not like one night will hurt. Just to get him out of her system.

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EXCITING EROTIC ROMANCE
 A little bit of sizzle with your sun-bathing? Don't mind if I do...
COMING UNDONE
I don't know if you can see it, but that's a phoenix tattooed along the side of the heroine's torso - which is a pretty good description of Lauren Dane's books - at least in terms of the fire. This woman writes hot. What works for me though, is that she also writes stories. Hot stories, it's true, but there's emotion and depth and plot. This book is especially heart-tugging, as it deals with two people who've come through some hard knocks.

Bobby never regrets giving up his artistic career to care for his younger siblings, but now that they're grown and gone, he finds himself by himself with no one to answer to. Elise has finally escaped a bad marriage and moved on from her dancing career. She wants time with her daughter, and peace. Neither of them want a relationship, but passion without strings? Well that might do just fine.

At least until they admit to wanting something more...

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GUILTY PLEASURE
 FORBIDDEN HEAT
This is one of Lora Leigh's rare single titles - not linked to either her Breeds or her Nauti series. If you've been wanting to give her a try, but are intimidated by the series, this might be an excellent place to start - and see what everyone is talking about!

Marty is an FBI agent, all grown up, and light years away from the women she grew up with. There's no way she's ever going to be involved with the 'Club', or the multiple partner assignations that it facilitates. But the new assignment her boss just handed down, and the man she is now ordered to get close to, might force her to break all her rules.

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  Menage stories (stories where the relationship is between more than two people - generally three) are becoming more and more popular with readers, as authors explore the emotional landscape of multiple lovers.  Opal Carew's latest takes on both a menage story and a friends-first story. Not that she's ambitious or anything.

In college, Danielle had a crush on Jake and Trey, but they only had eyes for each other. Now they're older, broken up, and dating women. Danielle leaps at the chance to enact one of her deepest fantasies, but the real world barges in, and things get complicated. They're still in love with each other... and now Danielle thinks she's falling for them too.

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HEART-WARMING HISTORICALS
This month sees some industry powerhouses and one very special debut. I just have to say, I love love love Laura Kinsale. And thanks to an anthology headed by Jo Beverley, we also have a lovely span of time periods. Awesome month for historicals!
PROOF BY SEDUCTION
It's not often that an author who's never published a novel makes a top ten of the year list. In fact, for me at least, the decision to include Courtney Milan was a first - I've never seen a short story not only hold up to, but exceed the novels released in a year.

But then Courtney's not your average debut novelist - early last year she found herself in the middle of a five-way bidding war between the biggest publishing houses in the business. Proof by Seduction is her first full-length novel.

Jenny's not a fool - no one goes to a fortune teller to hear bad news. They want to hear that business will boom, romances will bloom, and that life is on the up-and-up. So that's what she tells her clients, and it's all working out very well until the bloody Marquess of Blakely waltzes in, determined to prove her a fraud.

The fact that he seems unwilling to decide between kissing her and ruining her isn't helping matters either. Now if only she could see into the future.

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THE ELUSIVE BRIDE HOW I MET MY COUNTESS
Black Cobra 2

I just wouldn't be me if I didn't mention how much I love the cover of Stephanie Lauren's latest historical novel. I'm really digging the trend lately of putting the heroines on covers and leaving the heroes to the pages inside. Doesn't this heroine look beautifully distant? Like she could take off at any moment? Don't you want to know why?

Gareth is focused only on his mission - to destroy the Black Cobra before he destroyed any more men of his acquaintance. Good men who deserved more than a grisly death. However, Emily showing up with a gruesome tale and an assassin behind her is about to change all that. They have to get back to England, and they have to do it fast - their lives depend on it.

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 A Bachelor Chronicles Novel

Another heroine cover - and an intriguing piece of jewellery to boot! Actually, intriguing is probably the best word to use to describe Lucy, the heroine of Elizabeth Boyle's latest Bachelor Chronicles novel. She's certainly not the perfect Countess that Justin, Earl of Clifton is looking for, but she might just be the perfect wife.

The daughter of a notorious spy Lucy never learned how to interact as a lady should in society. She did learn, however, how to stay alive in a war-devastated country. She even learned how to fall in love - and fall back out when Justin never returned for her as he promised. Now he's back, but not for love. And Lucy's not sure she's inclined to help him.

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CHALICE OF ROSES
The myth of the holy grail has captivated readers for millennia - what else can explain the hype and hysteria surrounding The Da Vinci Code? Now four of the biggest names in romance writing today give the stories a romantic magical twist.

Four women in four different time periods are closely linked to the grail, tasked to keep it and its powers safe from those who would use it for evil.

Jo Beverley's story is set in 1154, during a period called The Anarchy, and sees a young woman summon the grail to bring peace. In Karen Harbaugh's Regency-set story, a lady must keep the grail safe from Napolean and his spies. Mary Jo Putney introduces some magic in her WWII story about a sorceress who protects the grail from Nazi hands. Finally Barbara Samuel sets her story in modern day England, where a woman must risk the grail or lose her love forever.

Spanning generations, the novellas in this trade-paper anthology are pure enchantment.

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RAVISHING IN RED
 THE TRUTH ABOUT LORD STONEVILLE
The Rarest Blooms 1

I was surprised to find during my research that Madeline Hunter has only been writing since 2000. It must be the many awards and accolades that make it seem like she's been around much longer. Madeline's latest series starts off with Ravishing in Red.

Being fatherless is bad enough, but to have said father's name run through the mud is simply intolerable, and Audrianna is going to do something about it. So she takes her cousin's pistol and the address of an inn, and goes out to find a man who could clear his name.

The man doesn't show up, but one of her father's persecutors does. Then the pistol goes off, and... well... all of Audrianna's well-laid plans are shot.

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 The Hellions of Halstead Hall 1

Did you hop onto the Sabrina Jeffries book-train early enough to read the School for Heiresses series? Those of us who know Sabrina from way back noticed one heck load of eligible young bachelors that didn't find their heroines...

Don't worry... one's getting his very own story here in this first book about the Sharpe family who have an ultimatum from their grandmother: get married or get poor.

Of course Oliver isn't going to let some old dragon dictate his choices. He'll just pop on over to one of his brothels of choice and hire a fiancée, thus keeping his money and his freedom. Then again, an already-engaged American chit who owes him her life might do just as nicely.

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LESSONS IN FRENCH

There isn't a reader/writer/reviewer/twitterer out there who can have a discussion on best historical romances without referencing Laura Kinsale. Whether it's her ground-breaking, crowd favourite Flowers from the Storm or one of her lesser known backlist titles like Uncertain Magic, she perennially tops favourites and best-of lists. Mary Jo Putney said it best when she said 'No one - repeat, no one - writes historical romance better.'

It's been a long time coming, but her new novel will finally be available in 2010. Finally.

Callie has resigned herself. After 'third time the charm' turns into third time the jilt, she recognises all the signs, and throws herself into a life of genteel spinsterhood, just her and her hopefully-soon-to-be prize-winning bull, Hubert.

But fate has other plans for her, in the shape of her old flame Trev, returned from France. In his day Trev tutored Callie in more than his native tongue, but she knows that he's the worst possible man to fall for. Still, there's something about a frenchman...

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PULSE-POUNDING PARANORMALS
It's all about the anthology in paranormal romance this month: we've got your funny anthology, your angsty anthology - heck we've even got an anthology all about tattoos!
INKED
 HEART OF DARKNESS
 BITTEN BY CUPID
Anthology

Four authors, four stories set in their personal universes, four tattoos that are more than they seem.

Karen Chance tells the tale of a war mage in Las Vegas.

Marjorie M Liu's demon slayer finds herself embroiled in a 60-year-old conspiracy.

Yasemine Galenorn follows a supernatural agent on the trail of a serial killer.

Eileen Wilks's FBI Agent finds the heavily-tattoed body of a man - but he wasn't human, and the killer isn't finished.

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  Anthology

Three authors, three tales of dark seduction.

Gena Showalter revisits her Lords of the Underworld: He's a demon assassin who's never known lust - until he meets her, a beautiful, if dangerous, harpy with some very interesting bloodlines.

Maggie Shayne tells the story of a young girl's murder and the four teenagers convicted for it. Now, 22 years later, the murdered girl is back - and hungry for revenge.

Susan Krinard's heroine believes she is the reincarnation of an Egyptian Princess. Her hero is determined to prove her wrong.

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  Anthology

Three authors - one New York Times Bestseller and two up-and-comers to watch - tell three stories of love in unexpected
(and unwanted!) places.

Lynsay Sands: an immortal vampire  thinks she can conquer everything, until she meets a gentle, funny, moral - mortal - detective.

Pamela Palmer: Zee rejected Julianne, but now he's back, and she wants nothing to do with him. But he's not taking no for an answer.

Jamie Rush: An innocent woman tormented by a killer's thoughts, and the mysterious man who may be able to help her.

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TWICE AS HOT
Tales of an Extraordinary Girl 2
 
Now I know I told you I'd stop harping on about my wedding, and I will. But I just wanted to say that the blurb on this book would have made me pick it up, even if it wasn't written by Gena Showalter (and I make a habit of picking up any Gena Showalter I can find). Planning a wedding is tough, it says. Hallelujah, says I.

Of course during the course of my wedding planning, my fiancée wasn't kidnapped, he didn't return with selective memory loss, his kidnapper didn't come after me with nefarious ideas of his own, and I didn't set my wedding dress on fire by shooting fireballs from my eyes.

So I'm willing to concede that maybe Belle's wedding was just a bit tougher than mine.

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KITTY'S HOUSE OF HORRORS
 DEATH'S MISTRESS
Kitty Norville 7

I just love the sense of humour with which Carrie Vaughn approaches her series about a werewolf/talk radio host - I mean, she called her werewolf Kitty. Sure there's plenty of depth and emotional punch, especially as Kitty learns to stand on her own two feet, but there's always that undercurrent of humour.

Take for example this latest novel in the series - it's about the first all-supernatural reality television show. Kinda makes Survivor seem a bit tame, doesn't it?

Of course, this isn't all fun and games, and Kitty soon finds herself trapped in a mountain resort with no phones, no power, and no way of telling who to trust.

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  Dorina Basarab 2

Another heroine alone on the cover - though this one is a bit more overtly kick-ass than she that graces Stephanie Laurens' cover. Did I mention I like the new heroine-on-cover trend?... though I'm still mystified as to why dangerous heroines can't seem to find shirts that cover their belly buttons...

Normally dhampirs (half-human, half-vampire) lead short, violent lives. Dory has survived by using her rage in her work, against those that deserve it. Now that her crazy uncle Dracula has died, she's hoping her life will calm down somewhat. But that wouldn't make a very interesting book, would it?

So luckily for us readers an old friend shows up, asking for Dory's assistance in locating a Fey relic. And Dory's not one to turn down a friend.

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ECSTASY UNVEILED
Demonica 4

Larissa Ione's first solo novel graced my best-of-2008 list and I have to say, I'm still loving her paranormal/medical series about a hospital for demons. It's like ER (back when George Clooney was still on it), Grey's Anatomy (back when the writers were still vaguely on track and hadn't messed up the George/Izzie friendship), and Dante's Inferno all mixed together in one seething, heated, angsty, wonderful mass of a series that's about as addictive as chocolate.

Lore is a half-demon (Larissa is a Star Trek fan, as am *cough* I, so I recognised that her hero in this book has the same name as Data's brother, but it's alright if you didn't. Or if you don't want to admit you did in public). Idess is a fallen angel. There's not a lot of future for this relationship right up front. But add in to the mix the fact that Lore has compelling reasons to assassinate the human Idess is tasked to save and you've got a recipe for some serious conflict. And, if her other books are anything to go by, you're also guaranteed heat.

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SPINE-TINGLING SUSPENSE
 I don't know about you, but this time of year? I don't mind a little bit of chill in my reading - anything to counteract the fact we don't have air-conditioning. Check out Down River in particular - August in Alaska might not be the coolest time of year, but it's a darned sight cooler than January in Canberra!
DOWN RIVER

I really enjoy visiting Karen Harper's website, because she talks about her inspiration for her novels, and where her ideas come from. For example, even though the town of Bear Bones doesn't exist, the story of Down River was inspired by a trip she and her husband took to Alaska, and a white water rafting adventure she did in Colorado. I don't know about you, but I love little details like that. There are more, so check out her website - don't worry, she doesn't give away any spoilers!

So from above you may have inferred that the story in Down River takes place in Alaska, and involves some sort of river sport - actually, it's kayaking along the Wild River. But Lisa finds herself swept away, out of control, and heading high-speed into danger. Luckily, Mitch is there to save her, and even though she would rather be saved by pretty much anyone else in the world, she's not going to look a gift rescue in the mouth.

Except, it turns out, she's not really rescued. Sure she's out of the river, but danger seems to find her wherever she goes...

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TOO HOT TO HOLD
 HOLD ON TIGHT
Hold 2

Craving your suspense with some hot SEAL action? Yeah, Stephanie Tyler can help you out with that. She's got the last two books of her Hold trilogy coming out this month, so it's double your pleasure, double your fun!

She's just searching for her missing ex-husband. After all, as a reporter, Kaylee has some pretty decent tracking skills. She just doesn't expect them to turn up a potential global catastrophe and a bona fide strong-of-jaw, noble-of-brow SEAL. Nor does she expect to have to go tearing off around the world to escape those who really don't want her around to be able to share the information she's turned up.

Then again, it's not like Nick signed up to take care of a nosy reporter who can't seem to back off from an investigation that could get them both killed.

Still, all in a day's work, right?

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 Hold 3

Did you know that Stephanie Tyler and Larissa Ione are critique partners? They also write erotic paranormal romance together under the name Sydney Croft. Just in case you need something to tide you over between Tyler novels :)

Love re-kindled stories are tricky - I much prefer them like this novel: when the couple had a hot and heavy affair, with the understanding it would never go anywhere, but the sexual attraction was too much to deny. Then, after parting, neither could ever get the other out of their head. But, months, even years later, circumstances bring them together again, and gives them a second chance to get it right.

In this case, it's Chris, a SEAL investigating a tragic mission result, and Jamie, a special agent. She's determined to keep it professional this time, but seeing him again is about to blow all her plans out of the water.

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ORIGINAL SIN
Seven Deadly Sins 1

Allison Brennan writes really chilling suspense stories, like really don't-start-this-after-dark chilling. Like don't-read-at-home-alone-cause-every-single-noise-will-become-a-mass-murderer-slash-demon-slash-your-worst-nightmare kind of chilling. And she's starting a new series. YAY!

Incongruous, isn't it, that we suspense readers love having our pants scared off? Nobody in their right mind should be looking forward to a series featuring an evil occult, demon possession, black magic, visions of hell, and life-threatening danger all wrapped up in one well-written package.

Being in your right mind is overrated.

Original Sin is the first book in the series - which is currently slated to go to seven books - and features the introduction to the overall premise of the series: an evil occult releases corporeal incarnations of the seven deadly sins (seven books, seven sins... coincidence? I think not). The releaser is Fiona, a woman hungry for power. Moira, her daughter, is on a dangerous quest to stop her mother from introducing hell on Earth, and destroying humanity. Ex-seminarian Rafe Cooper somehow got caught up for the ride.

A battle for humanity against demons and sin? Excuse the pun, but Hell yes!

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