In a society obsessed with genetic perfection, any difference is a cause for concern. In the midst of a gorgeous love story about childhood friends reunited, Nalini Singh’s Last Guard beautifully depicts both the perils of that obsession and its alternative: a world in which difference can be strength.
Canto Mercant and Payal Rao were born into two of the wealthiest and most influential Psy families, but with privilege came a dangerous fixation. To their families, any variation is weakness, and no weakness is tolerated. When a child shows signs of being atypical in any way, they’re shuttled out of public view. Canto has limited use of his legs, and Payal has been traumatized by her brother’s physical abuse; her ensuing rage results in her being labeled mentally and emotionally unstable. Canto and Payal are both shipped off to an out-of-the-way boarding school. As “7J” and “3K” respectively, they’re subjected to terrible abuse and their lives are assumed to be unworthy of preservation.
Amid this nightmare, the two brilliant and beautiful children form a friendship, creating an unbreakable bond through small acts of kindness. In a glorious moment of defiance, Payal saves Canto from a teacher who was on the verge of killing him. The teacher dies in the melee, families are contacted, and the children removed. But Canto and Payal never forget one another. Canto’s father subscribed to toxic, eugenicist ideas of perfection, but his mother’s family, who takes him in after he leaves school, holds no such beliefs. Nurtured by the tightknit Mercants, Canto gains fierce love, protection and the best medical care. He even gains another family after he’s embraced by his cousin Silver’s Changeling mate, an alpha bear shifter named Valentin, and his rambunctious clan. But he never stops searching for 3K.
Payal returns to her father, who considers her defective and only values her as a better alternative to his violent and psychopathic son. She endures by leaving all emotion behind, rising to the position of CEO in the family business. Outwardly cold, contained and inscrutable, she’s painfully isolated and constantly fighting to stay in control. When she’s diagnosed with life-threatening brain tumors, necessary medication is meted out in small increments to keep her in line and under her father’s thumb.
The eventual reunion of these two souls would be more than enough to sustain any novel. But Singh also seamlessly intertwines wonderfully precise discussions of disability into Canto and Payal’s evolution from childhood friend to adult lovers. Ableism is not just challenged; it’s trounced as Canto and Payal talk candidly about the tools and adaptations they use to survive and thrive. Last Guard also goes deep on efforts to save the crumbling PsyNet, the psychic network in which Canto and Payal play an essential role, so while strongly recommended for its life-affirming love story, Last Guard is best enjoyed if readers are already fully immersed in Singh's Psy-Changeling lore. For readers with a firm grounding in the previous books, however, slipping back into the Psy-Changeling world in Last Guard will feel like coming home.
For readers with a firm grounding in the previous books, slipping back into the Psy-Changeling world in Last Guard will feel like coming home.
Most paranormal romance series take place in our world, or in a place extremely similar to it. But few are as invested in the most pressing issues of our time than Suleikha Snyder’s Third Shift series, which begins with Big Bad Wolf. In Snyder’s alternate version of America, the existence of supernatural beings was revealed to the general public in 2016, leading to mass panic, the creation of a surveillance state and the registration of said supernatural beings. Even worse, the government’s totalitarian bent has amplified homophobia, racism and sexism.
We talked to Snyder about putting her unique stamp on the shifter romance, scene-stealing vampires and more.
You're perhaps best known for your contemporary romances. What led you to switch genres? Big Bad Wolf is my first longform paranormal romance. I've dabbled in the subgenre in some of my indie-published short stories, which readers can find in my Prem Numbers collection. Suffice it to say, diving in headfirst to a full-length series and having to build out a whole world was pretty daunting. But I always want to challenge myself!
I don't see it as switching genres so much as hopping around. I will no doubt jump back to contemporaries after this because I want to keep growing and learning as an author. And writing shifter romances has taught me a lot about continuity and just keeping the little details straight. What are the rules of this world? How do wolf shifters heal? Can vampires eat or drink? These are all things you learn to hash out as you pen a paranormal.
"I fully admit that I talked about imprinting mostly so I could make duck jokes."
Your paranormal world is clearly inspired by the political climate of the last few years. How long has this world been in your head? Did it change at all over the years? Why was it important to you to create an alternate reality that so clearly mirrors our own? I've had some version of this world in my head since 2013 or so! But the shift in the political climate since 2015–2016 definitely kicked it all into high gear and informed how I moved forward with the stories. It became all the more vital for me to use the supernatural community as a metaphor for the challenges all marginalized people face. Not that I left it solely up to my shifters and vampires to carry that. My cast features Americans of all sorts—Asian, Black, Latinx—and characters represent the LGBTQ+ spectrum as well. My goal is to show that an "alternate reality" is often the actual reality that we've lived with our entire lives.
Big Bad Wolf doesn't confine itself to the main couple's POV in the way a traditional romance novel would; you tell parts of this story from other characters’ perspectives as well. What did that choice open up for you as a writer? When did you realize you would need to break from the stereotypical romance structure to tell this story? I didn't even really think about breaking away from typical romance structure. This is just how I write. I think a lot of that comes from watching serial dramas my whole life. I'm a soap opera fan, both primetime and daytime, and love procedural shows and comic book movies. And most of those forms weave in multiple narratives to show you a full picture of what's happening. "Let's go see what's happening in the villain's camp." "Oh, here's some comic relief." And I love a good ensemble cast, so this was an opportunity for me to create one!
Were there any supernatural creatures you wanted to include and decided not to? Any that you'd still like to incorporate further down the line? There are no supernatural beings that I deliberately left out. I like to leave myself room to do anything, try anything. But you will see more characters from South Asian mythology as the series continues. It's really important to me to pull from my own background and our rich cultural mine. I grew up with vampires and werewolves because of Western pop culture, but I also had the stories of nagas, yakshas, apsaras and djinn. So readers will get to experience some of that in the next two books.
One of the things I loved about this book is how you play with already established shifter romance tropes, such as imprinting/fated mates. Joe and Neha's attraction to one another both is and isn't the sort of paradigm-changing, life-altering force we would find in similar romances. Can you talk a bit about how you developed your own take on the imprinting trope? I fully admit that I talked about imprinting mostly so I could make duck jokes. Sometimes I just do things for the quick laugh. But on a larger level, I'm not a huge proponent of the fated mate trope, because I grapple with what that means for free will. So I kind of dug into that with Joe and Neha. Sure, they're pulled toward each other and that might be because he's a shifter . . . but what does that mean about their ability to choose one another?
The Third Shift team feels immediately present and dynamic on the page. How did you build out all those characters and their relationships, and did any aspect of that surprise you? I am a character person. Plot is so much harder. I could create friends and lovers and family members and have them all banter and spar all day long. So creating all these fun personalities was totally my wheelhouse—especially, again, coming from it as a soap viewer. I love relationships of all kinds. The close friendship between Third Shift founders Elijah Richter and Jackson Tate and their recruits is sort of the spine of the series. And then I just add romance wherever I can! One thing that surprised me was what develops between Nate, Finn and Grace. I had very different intentions for those characters, and their spark snuck up on me. The follow-through in Pretty Little Lion might very much surprise readers as well!
Speaking of Finn, he is the definition of a scene stealer—was he as fun to write as he was to read? Oh my gosh, yes! I think people who follow me on social media know that I can't resist puns and innuendos, so I just leaned into that with Finn. I laughed aloud so many times while writing his dialogue. And please don't EVER do a drinking game to his eyebrow movements. I don't want to be responsible for what happens. With that said, readers will learn more about Finn in book two, Pretty Little Lion, and see another side to this quip-heavy flirt.
There's a really powerful moment near the end of the book when Neha talks about how, despite the darkness of her reality, she finds hope because she expects better from the world. How and where do you find hope? Hope is the core of why we read and write romance, isn't it? That's where I find it most often. In that “Happily Ever After” at the end. So having Neha talk about hope and expecting better from the world helped me with my own sense of that. Fighting fiercely for who and what you love is what keeps us going in the end.
What's next for you? I'm finishing up revisions on Third Shift book two, Pretty Little Lion, and after that it's on to book three! Tentatively titled Coldhearted Snakes, it will tie up the arc begun in Big Bad Wolf. And then I might find another subgenre to play in!
Author photo by Elizabeth McQuern Photography
We talked to Suleikha Snyder about putting her unique stamp on the shifter romance, scene-stealing vampires and more.
Jayne Ann Krentz is back with the second installment of her Fogg Lake trilogy, All the Colors of the Night. This smart, witty, fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable romantic suspense novel has all of Krentz’s signature touches: gender equality, cooperative teamwork and an unexpected twist.
The small town of Fogg Lake, Washington, is secretly home to a cadre of interesting people who have paranormal abilities. North Chastain is a paranormal investigator who’s at risk of going “psi-blind,” which means that he would not only lose his job but also have to forge a new path in the normal world. But that won’t stop him from recovering a mysterious artifact that he believes sent his father, who was also on the relic’s trail, into a coma. To find the artifact, he partners up with Sierra Raines, who works as a middleman for buyers and sellers in the paranormal antiquities trade.
Sierra is no timid, naive woman. She understands the risks that come with going after a particularly sought-after object like the one North seeks, but she's brave and sticks with him when the danger begins to escalate. Sierra saves the day—several times—and North is mature enough to be grateful and intelligent enough to recognize her skills. Sierra’s strength does not diminish North’s; rather, it enhances it. Their partnership is refreshingly and unquestionably one of equals.
If you haven’t read the first book in the series, The Vanishing, don’t let that put you off. This easy-to-follow romantic suspense novel has a breathtaking pace, well-developed characters and great chemistry between its main couple.
Jayne Ann Krentz is back with the second installment of her Fogg Lake trilogy, All the Colors of the Night.
With Wolf Under Fire, Paige Tyler kicks off a new series in her paranormal universe of werewolf heroes and the people who love them. We talked to Tyler about the concept for the STAT: Special Threat Assessment Team series and why she and her husband plan out all her books at P.F. Chang’s.
Where did the idea for this spinoff come from? Have you known for a few books now that you wanted to set another series in this world, or did the idea come after you finished Wolf Rebel, the last book in your SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team series? The STAT: Special Threat Assessment Team series spinoff actually has roots all the way back to book three in the SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team series, In the Company of Wolves. Caleb Lynch, our favorite out-of-control omega werewolf, made his first appearance in that book and his character screamed out for his own story. Unfortunately, with his criminal background, he didn’t fit in with the basic premise of the SWAT Series (i.e. law enforcement) so he was sort of stuck for a while . . . years actually. And no, he wasn’t happy about that!
It wasn’t until the release of book nine in the SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team series, Wolf Instinct that we started thinking seriously about the spinoff. This book introduced not only another scene-stealing side character—Jake Huang—but also the broader supernatural world, revealing that there are other things besides werewolves that go bump in the night.
Take those two characters, a wide-open supernatural world, an international perspective and a tag line of “Mission Impossible . . . with werewolves” and you have the basis of STAT: Special Threat Assessment Team in one neat package.
Is there any paranormal creature you haven’t depicted that you’d really like to have in your books someday? That’s easy. I’ve always wanted to write a story with a gargoyle. There’s something so powerful and tragic about a creature forced to sit on the top of a building, watching life pass them by. Just writing that little part has a dozen ideas spinning though my head that I’d love to jump on . . . if there were enough hours in the day.
“I’ve never written alpha-holes. Can’t do it. Don’t want to.”
I really enjoyed how Jake had some typical alpha traits, but was also very emotionally intelligent and respectful of Jes’ abilities and boundaries. What led you to make him a less traditional alpha male? I’ve never written alpha-holes. Can’t do it. Don’t want to. The stories I write are as much about strong, capable women as they are about the strong, capable men they fall in love with. There’s no room in my world—or my stories—for anything less.
What do you love about romantic suspense? Would you ever consider writing in another genre? I’ve always been attracted to the danger and action of the suspense side of the house. Having your characters in tense, life-threatening situations brings out a ton of raw emotions and words that can be fun to explore. It also brings obvious conflict to the story, both internal and external, while providing a plot vehicle to carry the story in between those moments that the hero and heroine are developing their connection. And yeah, blowing up stuff is a lot of fun.
What was the first paranormal romance you remember reading and loving? How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks! It came out around 2005, and while I had read some paranormal romance before then, none had really struck me quite the same way. In my experience before that book, supernatural protagonists (mostly vampires) were a rather broody lot. Woe is me, I live in a dark home, drinking blood, I’m so unhappy, etc., etc. Not that I mind that particular trope (especially when it comes to Angel from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”!) but it started getting a bit old. Then I find Kerrelyn’s book about a vamp who loses a fang biting something he shouldn’t have and the human dentist (who hates the sight of blood) he goes to for help. The story was so different than anything I’d read before and showed me that paranormal creatures are people, too, looking for love, laughs and happiness. It changed the whole way I approached the genre and has had a tremendous effect on how we write our paranormal stories.
I imagine this book required a lot of research, from the various international locales the team visits to the equipment they use. What aspect do you most enjoy researching? And is there anything that is particularly annoying to research, but necessary? Yes, tons of research! All I can say is thank God for Google and the rest of the internet. I depend on hubby a lot for the weapons and equipment, but we both get wrapped up in exploring the locales for the adventures the team gets involved in. I really love looking at that kind of stuff—old cities, hotels, iconic buildings and landscapes—and imagining having a chance to see it for real someday.
Research can take on its own life sometimes, taking the story in a direction you didn’t even consider. That happened when hubby found a GoPro video someone had taken of themselves riding a motorcycle through the Blackwall Tunnel in London. The footage was so mesmerizing we ended up changing the story to have the hero and heroine ride a motorcycle in the same tunnel.
Of course, this can also be the annoying part. Research can be a tremendous time suck! You think you’re going to spend a few minutes finding some details on a restaurant your characters go to eat and the next thing you know, you look up and realize you spent four hours of your day flipping through images of food you’re never going to actually eat! The internet is a very dangerous place . . . you can get trapped in there!
You and your husband, who is also your writing partner, go to P.F. Chang’s to plot out your story arcs. How did that tradition get started, and do you have a favorite dish? That’s a great question! We’d eaten at P.F. Chang’s a few times over the years and really liked it, but up until about 2011 or so, it was merely a restaurant we ate at occasionally. Then we were at the Lori Foster Get Together in West Chester, Ohio, that year and ended up going to dinner at Chang’s with a few other authors from the conference. After receiving some advice on what kind of stories we should be writing and what New York was looking for, hubby and I ended going back to Chang’s the next day for lunch by ourselves. We ordered Chang’s Spicy Chicken and spent hours brainstorming ideas for our next book, which ultimately became Her Perfect Mate from our X-OPS series, our first traditionally published print book. We discovered we did our best brainstorming over a plate of Spicy Chicken and brown rice, liberally coated with hot mustard. Now we drive about 30 minutes a couple times a month to the nearest PF Chang’s so we can plot out our stories and we always order the same meal. Yes, it’s become a crutch—and maybe a vice—but it works so well, we don’t want to mess with it.
And yes, we tried to contact PF Chang’s about becoming the official author of the restaurant chain in return for free food. Shockingly, they’ve never returned our inquiries!
A lovely aspect of this book is how organically and naturally the team begins to feel like a family. What are your favorite found families in fiction? Hubby and I spent 12 years roaming around the globe while he was in the Army. He was in the Bomb Squad, a small team environment that’s completely different than most people envision when they think of the military. Basically, everywhere we went was like a little family. It was that exposure, and how these small teams interact and take care of each other, that comes out in my stories.
As far as found families, there are more than a few. The whole Hogwarts world of Harry Potter is one, of course, then there are the Monster High characters, and most recently the four teens from The Last Kids on Earth. If you haven’t already figured it out, I tend to read a lot of teen and young adult stuff. They all seem to have a lot of family stuff that I love.
What’s next for you? Well, Seal on a Mission, the next book in the SEALs of Coronado series, releases Aug. 18, then Wolf Untamed, the next book in the SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team series, releases Nov. 24. We’re also currently writing the next book in the STAT: Special Threat Assessment Team series, and after that, the next books in the SEALs of Coronado series, SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team series and STAT: Special Threat Assessment Team series!
Author photo by Pure 7 Studios.
We talked to Paige Tyler about her high-octane new paranormal suspense series, and why she and her husband plan out all her books at P.F. Chang’s.
Lynsay Sands immerses readers in the complex and exciting world of bloodsucking vampires in Immortal Born and leaves them breathless for more.
The 30th book in the Argeneau series, Immortal Born introduces us to Allie Chambers, who is in a predicament. Allie has promised to raise and protect her friend’s son who has an insatiable appetite for blood. As Liam grows, so does his hunger, and Allie decides to take a desperate chance to give him what he needs. When her plan to rob a blood bank to feed her growing son goes awry, Allie is suddenly introduced to one of the most handsome men she has ever met: Magnus Bjarnesen. As Allie may be Magnus’ potential lifemate, he’s not sure what surprises him more—the amount of danger Allie and Liam are in, or how badly he wants her.
Sands’ effortless character creation leaves no stone unturned as she spells out the sprawling world of the immortals and their history. With this modern take on vampire lore, Allie and Magnus become as believable and relatable as any other romantic leads. Allie is a modern-day heroine thrown into the confusing world of immortals. Readers will have no trouble identifying with Allie as she faces difficult choices and displays a refreshing, no-nonsense attitude toward survival. When faced with the ultimate choice to protect Liam, and put her heart on the line in more ways than one, Allie weighs the options with a clarity and relatability that comes from thorough character building.
Magnus and his family of vampires, who prefer to be called immortals, are warm and inviting when his and Allie’s worlds are thrown together. Readers will revel in Sands’ expert, slow build of the couple’s chemistry as Allie finds herself more curious about Magnus with each passing day, and as Magnus struggles with his own desire.
The intimate moments between these two characters make this book shine and romantic sparks fly. Immortal Born is a take on the vampire genre grounded in emotional realism that allows readers to imagine themselves in the characters’ shoes with ease.
Lynsay Sands immerses readers in the complex and exciting world of blood-sucking vampires in Immortal Born, leaving them breathless for more.
Ilona Andrews draws the reader seamlessly into the depths of a highly detailed, endlessly fascinating world in Sapphire Flames.
The first in a new trilogy in Andrews' Hidden Legacy series begins with Catalina Baylor as the newly minted Head of her House. Even though she’s a Prime mage with intense, unique abilities, she and her family work small investigation jobs. As a Siren, Catalina can persuade someone to do just about anything. But the longer she uses her magic on them, the more extreme their love for her will become—to the point that they will try to rip her apart to have pieces of her for their very own.
When Catalina’s friend asks her for help discovering who killed her mother and sister, Catalina is faced with one of her most difficult challenges yet. To make matters worse, her teenage crush, the mysterious Italian Prime Alessandro Sagredo, is somehow involved. Readers will enjoy the lively banter and simmering attraction that Andrews adds to each of their scenes.
Husband-and-wife team Andrews are known for their bold world building, and their originality shines as mages, magical creatures and assassins come alive in modern-day Houston. Andrews paints a clear path for the reader’s imagination to follow, describing the details of everything from government structures to the choreography of a fight scene.
Alessandro and Catalina's interactions, both steamy and confrontational, are full of witty dialogue and relatable inner musings. Catalina navigates the obstacles of her role and the dangers of her magic with a frankness that allows the reader to imagine themselves in her very shoes, magic aside. And her reactions to Alessandro’s cheeky commentary showcase the potential couple’s snappy chemistry.
Andrews makes space for new readers, ensuring they don’t lose their way as they follow the mystery and romance that dazzles on every page, all the way to Sapphire Flames’ gripping conclusion.
Ilona Andrews seamlessly draws the reader into the depths of a highly detailed, endlessly fascinating world in Sapphire Flames.
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Author Maggie Tokuda-Hall (The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea) and illustrator Lisa Sterle discuss their first graphic novel collaboration, Squad, a story in which teenage girls are never quite what they seem.