Reviews: Refined Instincts (Instincts #5) by S.J. Frost

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Refined Instincts coverBroken and starving, vampire outcast Troy Raines has returned to Chicago where everything went all so wrong to die the final death. The death of his best friend and former lover Isaac,and their misguided revolution against the Tribunal and the Ancients cost him everything. Now all Troy wants to do is finish the job vampire Daniel Valente started when he threw Troy off a building.

Renart Bellerose has been busy since the ending of the rebellion repairing the damage caused by his young, misguided vampires.  Renart has tried to make amends by being the Master he should have been to those he Turned and now he is seeing the results in those around him.  But they also serve to remind him of what and who Renart has lost, specifically Troy Raines.  From the  moment Renart looked upon Troy, he wanted him.  And after Turning Troy, Renart gave him everything he thought Troy wanted, power, money, but those weren’t the things Troy craved. Troy wanted Renart’s love and attention and when he didn’t get those, his anger exploded into a rebellion that cost many their lives and has the Tribunal hunting him down for treason.

When Renart finds Troy in Chicago, their reunion erupts into a moment of passion and anger, reinforcing the feelings they had always had for each other.  But danger is all around them as the Tribunal closes in on Troy and Renart finds himself a target of the Ancients wrath.  Will it be too late for Renart and Troy to find the happiness they always wanted or will the laws of the Ancients cost both of them their lives?

Refined Instincts brings back two of the most confounding characters of this series, ones that the readers will have mixed emotions about, and unites them in a relationship full of regret, guilt, and passion.  Throughout the Instincts series, Lord Renart Bellerose has been a sort of prickly, charming and untrustworthy thorn in the side of Lord Titus Antonius  and his lover, now  Eternal Partner, Andreas Nikandros (Natural Instincts – Instincts, #1) .  Even more, his attitude those young men he Turned  and the shear number of Turned  earned him the scorn of other Ancients as well, such as Lord Ryunosuke Kimura and his Eternal Partner, Sir Daniel Valente (Enduring Instincts – Instincts #2).  Renart has always hovered around the edges of the action in the preceding stories, a lively persona that picked at our curiosity each time he appeared on the pages.

Troy Raines also has had a reoccurring role in the series and not a admirable one.  As the leader of the rebellion, Troy oversaw the capture and torture of  series favorite Daniel Valente as well as the kidnapping of Andreas, lover of Lord Titus.  I am sure that there are many readers who still retain some dislike for this character based upon his actions in previous books.  All it took was for Daniel to throw Troy off the roof to start his transformation from villain to misguided, tragic reformer.   S. J. Frost started Troy on his path to redemption in Enduring Instincts when it becomes evident that the rebellion and the power is Isaac’s, not Troy’s.  Then when Troy is injured and unable to care for himself, he becomes an object of pity.  Bit by bit, Frost takes this character apart until the reader is left with nothing but compassion for the person he has become.

I found both characters intriguing and loved the manner in which Frost brings them back together.  It completes the rebellion aspect of this series and does so by fleshing out two secondary characters in a charming and wholly satisfying way.  It is definitely a favorite of mine of the series.  I thought that instead of glossing over past issues, Renart’s part as the igniting factor of the rebellion due to his poor treatment of his Turned and Troy’s blindness over Isaac are given equal treatment to help flesh out the characters and past events.  Renart’s past history does give the character a much needed foundation for his actions and behavior towards others around him.

I did feel that the arrival of  all the other couples from the series, other than Titus and Andreas, was a element that needed a little different treatment.  It was if they arrived just so the author could please all the readers who had favorites, not really because the plot absolutely required it.  And of course the trial was over very quickly after so much was made of the Tribunal hunting them down.  I would have loved to have seen this aspect of the story given more dimension and depth.

Refined Instincts is a wonderful addition to a series many have come to love.  I am not sure how many more the author has planned for Instincts, but given the vitality of this story, the series is healthy indeed.  I recommend this story to all fans of the series, those readers who love vampire stories as well as fans of S.J. Frost.  But if you are new to the series, this is not a stand alone story.  It must be read as part of the series so go back to Natural Instincts to see how it all begins.

This is how it all starts:

The silence in the dark alley broke with the shuffle and drag of uneven footsteps. Troy slowly made his way, his keen eyesight picking out trashcans, litter, dips and holes in the pavement. He may bear an eternally broken body, but his other vampiric senses were still sharp, so much stronger than when he’d been human…those three short years ago.

Troy shook his head, wishing the motion would scatter his memories. But like his shadow behind him, they were dark ghosts that forever clung to him, never parting from him. Even when he couldn’t see them, just as a shadow waits for light to show itself, so his memories waited for a moment of weakness to bring him down.

He should’ve known returning to Chicago would strengthen them…and weaken him, but he needed to come back. This was where it all began. This was where he wanted it to end.

And he did want it to end. All of it. The memories, the regrets, the guilt, the pain—physical and emotional. He no longer wanted eternity. He wanted peace.

Books in the Instincts series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the events that transpire:

Natural Instincts (Instincts, #1)
Enduring Instincts (Instincts, #2)
Loving Instincts (Instincts, #3)
Adapting Instincts (Instincts, #4)
Refined Instincts (Instincts,#5)

Book Details:

Published October 31st 2013 by MLR Press
ISBN 1020130160
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.mlrbooks.com/ShowBook.php?book=SJF_REFI
seriesInstincts #5

Review: Adapting Instincts (Instincts #4) by S.J. Frost

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Adapting InstinctsZoologist and primate specialist Carl Anderson’s thoughts are consumed by one man and one kiss whose message remains unclear to Carl.  And it is not just the kiss that has unsettled his life, but  the fact that the man who kissed him was a vampire, one of many who live all around him hidden to most of human society.  This fact was revealed to Carl through events involving his best friend Andreas Nikandros and his vampire lover Titus Antonius Calidus (Loving Instincts).  Those events saw Carl caught between the vampires and the vampire hunters, including another of Carl’s friends, Matthew.  At one point Carl and Andreas were threatened with death and one of Carl’s rescuers was the vampire warrior, Egill Dalgaard.

Egill Dalgaard.  Viking warrior and member of vampire society’s ruling body, the Tribunal, is used to having complete control of his life but one special human has upset his calm and ordered existence.  Egill cannot get Carl Anderson out of his thoughts since he first met the human and helped save his life.  And that one kiss has insured Carl’s place in Egill’s nightly dreams.  There are so many reasons why a continued association with Carl is ill advised and just one reason to do so.  Egill hasn’t felt this way about someone in a very long time, and for that reason alone Egill cannot let this human go.

Carl’s thoughts are still so divided and upset.  There is Matthew, mixed up with the vampire hunters, on one side and Egill Dalgaard, viking vampire on the other.  Carl’s life is now full of fearful glances at the dark, and longing too.  But the vampire hunters are still out there , posing a threat to Carl, Andreas, and the vampires Carl has come to know and respect. Any relationship Carl and Egill might have will be threatened by a variety of forces all around them, including the Tribunal.  Carl has always been afraid of confrontation, but if he wants Egill in his life, then he must decide on which path to take, including one that will take him away from his humanity.

Adapting Instincts is the fourth book in the Instincts series by S.J. Frost, a series that shows continues to deliver wonderful characters and a deepening overall story arch that runs through the entire series to date.  In this latest installation, all of our favorite couples are back and fully involved in this book’s narrative.  We have the original couple of Andreas Nikandros (now a vampire himself) and his eternal partner Titus Antonius Calidus,  Vampire Samurai Ryunosuke Kimura and his vampire lover Daniel Valente (my favorite couple) and now brought into the center are viking vampire Egill Dalgaard and human Carl Anderson, friend and former coworker of Andreas Nikandros.

Adapting Instincts picks up three months after that last events of Loving Instincts (Instincts #3), events that have left reverberations through all the lives of those involved, human and vampire alike.  One of the strengths of S.J. Frost’s writing is her wonderful world building and complex narrative.  While each book normally revolves around one main couple and their romance, multiple plot threads and characters weave themselves throughout the romantic relationship, acting not only as a foundation but as the perpetuator that lends the story momentum and depth. Coexisting with the daily conflicts that arise with being a human, Frost contrasts that with the rigid societal structure of the vampire world.  It makes for a fascinating and absolutely addicting read to see how the two worlds will not only collide but continue to mesh as vampires and humans interact.  The first three books are full of conflict and harrowing events for all the couples involved, so it makes  sense for the fourth book to deal with the aftermath and emotional letdown.  With two exceptions, most of this story concentrates on relationship issues, those between Carl and Egill.  And while that choice simplifies the storyline, it also carries with it a more lightly layered plot as well, lacking the depth and complexity of those books that precedes it.

After the emotional events, that is a very realistic way of dealing with the aftermath of the kidnappings and near death experiences of book 3.  I really enjoy the character of Egill, former viking warrior and formidable vampire lord.  Stolid and controlled, it is lovely to watch such a character react to love entering his life after such a long existence.  Frost does a great job with Egill’s personality, making him both realistically regal and yet vulnerable too in his tightly controlled mien.  Carl, on the other hand, felt a little too passive for me to connect with.  True, he has a poor self image and his need to avoid conflict puts himself and others in terrible situations. It is hard to connect with a character that you want to give a shake to most of the time.  Carl’s indecisiveness is just unattractive to me so it helped immensely that Frost gave us Davy, the Black-headed Spider Monkey.  Davy, along with all the other marvelous animal characters in this series, adds a touch of humor and endearment just when the story needs it the most.  By seeing Carl’s relationship with Davy, it helps connect us to a character that lacks some of the vivid personality traits of the others in the series.  I loved Davy and hope that the author will bring him back into the series somewhere down the line just as she did with Dakarai, Andreas’ lion, and all the other animals who a such a delight in the series.  Here is your first introduction to Davy:

Carl stopped outside the habitat for the spider monkeys. He released the cart’s handles to place his hands on his hips, fixing Davy with a disapproving look. “Really? Is that necessary?”

Davy quit banging the bowl on the mesh and stared up at him with intelligent black eyes.

Carl swore the monkey was trying to play innocent. A smile broke over his lips despite trying to stay stern. It was all Davy needed. The monkey scurried up the mesh to be at eye level with him, reaching through with his left hand, the one missing the index finger. Carl held a finger toward him, and Davy wrapped his others around it. The warm, soft leathery feel of Davy’s palm made him grateful he’d been able to save the monkey’s hand. When Davy and the others came to the zoo, starved and sick from the poor care they’d received in a backyard zoo—or deathtrap, as he called it—Davy’s hand was so infected from a baboon biting his finger off, he didn’t know if he’d be able to save it. But he had, and after months of diligent care, Davy and his brothers were healthy and sassy.

The interplay between man and monkey is telling.  It is humorous, affectionate, and clearly a wonderful relationship.  Even when you are fed up with Carl’s dithering about, moments like this will keep the reader invested in his character and his future.

Is this book a stand alone?  No, it must be read as part of the series and in the order they were written, otherwise key elements will be lost or misconstrued.  I love this series and absolutely recommend it.  Start at the beginning and work your way through.  Instincts shows no hint of slowing down, as new characters are introduced here as well as persons left over from the last book such as Matthew.  And the fact that all the other beloved characters will be there as well is just the icing on the cake.  If you are already invested in this series, I guarantee you will enjoy this book too.  Adapting Instincts (Instincts #4) carries the main plot thread forward while satisfying us with another romance completed.  Great job, great story, wonderful series.

Here they are in the order they were written and should be read:

Natural Instincts (Instincts #1)

Enduring Instincts (Instincts #2)

Loving Instincts (Instincts #3)

Adapting Instincts (Instincts #4)

Cover art by Winterheart Designs is evocative in design and tone.  I thought the two landscapes a nice touch.

ebook, 210 pages
Published March 14th 2013 by MLR Press
ISBN 1020130040
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.mlrbooks.com/ShowBook.php?book=SJF_ADIN
seriesI

A Time for Remembering, Memorial Weekend and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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The month of May has always been a month of celebrations, from Mother’s Day to birthdays to important anniversaries. For me and mine, May is a time for family, either by choice or blood, and of any configuration.  For me, it is a time to celebrate those that I love, whether it is their birth, or mine and my sister’s (for my Mother), and anniversaries which helped bring all of us together.  And if the weather cooperates, than even my gardens appear to be celebrating as the azaleas, dogwoods, and all the flowers burst into pastel hues in anticipation of the intense colors of summer.

With all of these emotions and thoughts directed towards celebrating those we love for most of the month, it  seems more than fitting to end May with Memorial Day, a day dedicated to remembrance of those who lost their lives keeping us safe and making it possible to celebrate all those birthdays, and anniversaries of people and  families we hold so dear.  My grandfather is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and this year, we buried my uncle close to him in a ceremony so moving that people were stopped all over the vast landscape as the sounds of the gun salute rang out over the hills and the trumpet played Taps.

Rolling Thunder passes by my parents farm every year on their way into the District and my father, a veteran of the Korean war, goes outside and salutes them as they pass by.  Our media here in the metropolitan area is full of pictures and videos marking the solemn day of remembrance as flagsVietnam Vet Memorial 2 are put at every grave at Arlington and the crowds swell at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as well as that of the World War II one nearby.  If you have never visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, then you have not experienced the power and overwhelming sense of loss that pervades that site. The  Wall itself a marker of the high cost of valor and service to our country in the names of the men and women lost reflected back to us.  In that black stone reflection, we see the list of names in chronological order and our own reflections, the recipients of their sacrifice.  For me, never has a memorial to our dead felt so alive, awash in grief, and sorrow and gratitude.Vietnam Vet Memorial

For most people, this weekend brings barbecues and picnics, gatherings of families and friends.  Take a moment and some quiet if you can, and remember.  Remember and pause to thank those who lie buried here and abroad, claimed and unnamed, for their sacrifice.  Because ,whether we acknowledge it or not, it is being reflected back to us across the picnic blankets and tables just as much as it is from the black wall itself.

Now for the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, 5/27:                     Memorial Day

Tuesday, 5/28                      Damned If You Do Collection by JL Merrow

Wednesday, 5/29:               Moments by R.J. Scott

Thursday, 5/30:                  Adapting Instincts by SJ Frost

Friday, 5/31:                        May Summary of Book Reviews

Saturday, 6/1:                       A Silence Kept by Theo Fenraven

There you have it.  Enjoy your Memorial weekend for those of you who live in the US or Americans abroad.  Spare some thoughts and prayers for those now gone and for those they left behind.

Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more.
Days of danger, nights of waking.

-Sir Walter Scott

Arlington Cemetary overview