Thursday, June 30, 2011

Snippet Reviews: Lords of the Underworld

In light of the fact that I'm reading The Darkest Secret by Gena Showalter, I wanted to reflect back on what has been kind of a hit or miss series for me. In that spirit, here are my shorthand (and relatively spoiler free) thoughts on the first six books of the Lords of the Underworld series.

The basic premise of the series is that a group of ancient mythic Greek warriors were responsible for the opening of Pandora's box, and as punishment each is cursed with of of the demons from the box. 

Book One: The Darkest Night: (Maddox Keeper of Violence and Ashlyn) I really enjoyed the world building because I love Greek mythology (even somewhat made up Greek mythology). The huge cast of characters made me dizzy and was a big negative for me. The main characters have complex and interesting back stories, but I didn't connect to either of them strongly. The romance was hot but at times felt forced. 3 stars.

Book Two: The Darkest Kiss :(Lucian Keeper of Death and Anya Goddess of Anarchy) I loved both protagonists: Anya is a pushy, destructive, loveable mess, Lucian is dark and sexy. They're an odd ball couple and it totally worked for me. I liked that the plot had some adventure elements. I felt that the pacing was off, dragging in some places and speeding ahead in others. And yet more characters are added. Oh joy! 4 stars.

Book Three: The Darkest Pleasure : (Reyes Keeper of Pain and Danika) I was worried about this one, because Reyes is essentially a self mutilator and having had close friends who dealt with that I'm sensitive to how it's handled in books. Showalter does an ok job. I really loved Reyes and Danika, I thought their chemistry was believable and worked well within the story. The plot of this one was very strong and engaging. 4 stars.

Book Four: The Darkest Whisper: (Sabin Keeper of Doubt and Gwen the Harpy) In this book I found myself more interested in the supporting cast than the protagonists. I liked Sabin fine, he's macho and sexy. Gwen on the other hand comes across as weak and whiny, only improving marginally throughout the book. I also thought the mythology surrounding the harpies was random and contrived.  Fortunately the plot is entertaining and the secondary cast, familiar to me by this point, keeps the book together. 4 stars.

Book Five: The Darkest Passion: (Aeron Keeper of Wrath and Olivia the Angel) I was so excited to see an angel heroine. Olivia was a wimp at first, but she develops a lot. I love her and Aeron together. The plot is complex, interesting, and much better paced than the previous books. I had one major frustration, and that was Legion. I HATED Legion. 3.5 stars.

Book Six: The Darkest Lie : (Gideon Keeper of Lies and Scarlet Keeper of Nightmares) I was so disappointed in this book. For reasons too spoilery to mention I had trouble connecting with Gideon and Scarlet's story and I ended up doing a lot of skimming. Point of fact, I didn't feel like I absorbed enough of the story to assign it a grade, so instead it's a DNF.

Overall: This is a good series, not great. The cast of characters is irrationally big, but most of them are likeable. There's fantasy and there's violence. The overarching plot is progressing at a snail's pace, but it is progressing. The romance (with the exception of book six) is believable to me. Even after a failed book I've willingly returned to read book seven, a fact which speaks for itself.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Musings From Atop the TBR Pile

Here with *Duff the penguin to discuss our ongoing mission: concurring the TBR pile. This is only a small representation of my collection, but I didn't want to stack Duff to high (he tends to roll).

My pile is born from many sources. As penguins on a budget, we do what we can to cut costs. That means second hand stores, sales, coupons, borrowing, and trading. Paperbackswap has been a particular life saver. I can't recommend that site enough. With their give a book, receive a book system I satisfy my book cravings without taking up more space (which is definitely an issue).

The selections range from random to systematic. Sometimes I pick up a book simply because I like the cover art. More often I'm encouraged by positive reviews from trusted sources. And when I find a book I like, I compulsively search out every book in that series or by that author. This happened with Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels books, Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate books, and of course Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson books.

My main problem is deciding what order to read in. I try to mix it up, not read to many urban fantasy or historical romances in a row. I used to have a strict system, but I cheated so much that it wasn't worth it. These days I kind of select at random. Spontaneous reading is happy reading

*I feel obligated to mention that Duff (Dougal Ulfric Fergus) was a random gift from my sweety. He was left at work for me with a very nice love note. Five years and he's still a sweetheart. I'm one lucky girl!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mechanics and Monsters

After the awful reading experience that was Ascension (Guardians of Ascension) I went searching through my TBR pile for a pallet cleanser of sorts. A book with vampires and other supernatural elements that was well written (or at the very least, did not suck completely). I remembered really liking Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, so I thought it's sequel, Blood Bound might offer the perfect solution.

Plot Summery (MINOR SPOILERS): Mercy is approached by her vampire friend, Stefan, to help in tracking down a vampire gone rogue. The two quickly discover that the vampire in question is also a powerful sorcerer, and that his mere presence in the city is causing a surge of violent crimes. When the task of taking down the villain foils both vampires and werewolves, it falls to Mercy, with her unique abilities as a coyote shapeshifter, take him down.

Patricia Briggs isn't a perfect urban fantasy writer, but she does several important things very well. The world building is simple compared to a lot of paranormal books, making them easier to follow and more enjoyable. Instead of complex mythology, the story rides on interesting characters. In this book, readers get a slightly more in depth look and Mercy's personality, as well as the secondary characters--Adam, Samuel, Stefan, etc. The relationships begin to get more complex. Meanwhile, the action is present and ongoing. Everything, both action and character developing, is done without repetition or flowery language.  It is an intricate yet readable story, with touches of horror and humor.

The issues I have with this book are more due to content than style. Perhaps I'm bored with vampires and the way they're often portrayed in urban fantasy, or perhaps this book was using too many cliches. I was a bit bored with the vampire politics and details of vampire nature, which are no different than what I've encountered in so many other books. The villain was suitably scary, but not very original. Also, I had to sigh a bit at the growing love triangle between Mercy, Adam, and Samuel. Personally, I don't care for that kind of conflict in my books. At least Briggs didn't sink to the lowest common denominator by having Mercy sleep with every hot man she encountered. In fact, I thought Mercy handled things fairly well. But the mere hint of a love triangle always irritates me.

All told, I love Mercy as a character and I think the series is well worth reading. One overarching detail that I love is that in the midst of all the violent drama, Mercy is still a woman with a full time job as a mechanic. She doesn't forget this even when the world is falling apart--a very admirable character trait. I look forward to the rest of her adventures. 4 stars.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dragonflies Stuck In My Head

I believe that, for anyone who reads a lot, their are certain books that just implant themselves in your mind and heart. Books that, once read are never forgotten. Books that you find yourself thinking about and relating to years after you initially read them. For me, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books (particularly the first trilogy) are like that. There is something so touching, so expansive, and so purely entertaining about Clair and Jamie Fraser's story that I simply can't get it out of my mind.
After finishing Outlander I immediately wrote a review detailing how surprised I was that I enjoyed such a weighty piece of historical fiction. It isn't just the romance, although for me that's certainly part of it. It's the adventure, violence, history, turmoil, and attention to detail that make it stand out. I said all of this, to anyone who would listen. But I never reviewed Dragonfly in Amber, though I certainly enjoyed it almost as much. The reason for this is simple. Dragonfly in Amber makes me sad. I think that when I finished it the first time I was way too emotional to write about it objectively.

For this reread, I actually decided to listen to the audible edition . There's nothing like being read to, and since I am familiar with the story, it's alright for me to multitask a bit--cooking, doing laundry, shelving books at work--without fear of missing anything.

OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING: The book starts out with Clair, twenty odd years after the end of Outlander, in the 1960s in Scotland with her daughter Brianna. Clair's purpose in traveling to Scotland is twofold: she wants to explain to Brianna the truth about her father and tell the story of her long ago adventures in time travel, and she wants to find out what happened to the men she knew who fought at Culloden in 1745. My initial thought was, why tell the story this way? Why would Gabaldon show her hand so early, letting her readers know right off the bat that 1) Clair and Jamie were unable to prevent the Scottish rising, as was their stated intent at the end of Outlander, and 2) Clair ultimately ends up leaving Jamie and returning to her own time, thus obliterating whatever happily ever after they appeared to have at the end of Outlander. Why tell the end of the story first? I guess it's because in this case suspense is not the point. Tragedy is the point.

Clair tells her story to Brianna and Roger (a historian), beginning with a journey to France. There Jamie attempts to befriend Charles Stuart and prevent him from starting the Scottish rising. Although we already know the basic outcome of this, the story remains entertaining because of the strong voice that Claire presents as a narrator. Her varied and interesting life is at times amusing, and of course at other times heart breaking. Eventually we follow Claire and Jamie back to Scotland, to war, and to their goodbye.

The characters are the soul of the story, and much could be said about them. I was already attached to Claire and Jamie, and certainly they go through a lot in this book. They develop as individuals and as a couple. But I was particularly intrigued by Brianna, due to the strange circumstances of her origins and her upbringing. The focus of this book isn't on her, only delivering hints of her personality, but I enjoyed her presence all the same. Roger's presence in the story is equally interesting.

The biggest drawback of these books, for me at least, it the length. You have to be willing to invest a lot of time, and the plot doesn't exactly move at lightning speed. Yet there isn't too much wasted space. The details, even those that seem irrelevant, add to the richness of the story. As much as I enjoy all of that detail though, it took me three weeks to get through this book the first time, and only slightly less time to get through it again.

I had forgotten that the book ends on something of a cliffhanger, though a positive one. One of the things I loved about Outlander was that it ended with a sense of cautious hope for the future, rather than a sugary sweet happily ever after. This book does much the same thing, delivering a solid ending with a strong hint of more to come.

This book will always stand out to me as the book that made me cry the most. While I tend to get weepy at books, I rarely launch into full sobbing, but I did with this book. Any book that can draw you in that deeply is an undeniable success. 5 stars.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Vampire. Warrior. Legend. Loser.

The best way that I can explain Ascension by Caris Roane is this: Imagine that J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood books and Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter books had a baby, and that baby grew up into a troubled teenager. That's this book. But troubled teens aren't irredeemable, right? Sure, it's going to take some discipline on the part of the editor and a lot of patience on the part of the reader, but it could still turn out alright. At least, that's what I told myself as I powered through the first two thirds of this book. In the end though, it's just a bad seed, and not really one I cared to stick with.

Here is my list of issues with this book:

1. This is a fated mates book. Hero and heroine are destined to be together because the author says so. Their sexual chemistry is instantaneous and irrationally overblown. The initial stages of getting to know one another involve smelling each other, gazing longingly into each others eyes, and dreaming of each other. I'm not against fated mates as a rule, but there is a right and a wrong way to do it. The wrong way is taking away all of your character's choices and forcing them on one another, and using the mate bond as a stand in (or even total replacement) for growing affection. For the most part this book does it the wrong way.

2. The groups of hulk-like warrior men battling evil? It's been done before. Many times. And done better than this. This book is just generally unoriginal, kind of like fan fiction where all the names have been changed.

3. Roane's writing style is horrible. Typos, awkward wording, abrupt and frequent shifts in POV, one and two word sentences, needless repetition. The dialogue is the worst, with lots of phony sounding tough talk. One glaring example was when in detailing a character's thoughts Roane used "helluvan" instead of "hell of an". Now, I was willing to chalk up a lot of these issues to Roane being a new author, but upon flipping to her bio I saw that she has published many books under the name Valerie King. I couldn't believe that an experienced author would write like this.

4. Silly half baked world building. For one thing, the heroine is given an incomprehensible number of super powers. And the hero and his band of brothers are vampires...with wings. I started calling them wampires. There are good wampires and bad wampires, and the bad ones are blue for some reason. There are multiple dimensions including Mortal Earth and Earth Two. So there are all kinds of rules about where the wampires can fight and how they can fight. And there's vocabulary to learn as well. My favorite was the power of making objects disappear and appear, which is called "folding". Whenever it set "folding his sword into his hand" I could not stop picturing him folding a sword in half. Bottom line, all of the concepts are B-movie quality at best.

5. And finally, the sequel baiting. You want to buy the next book, right? That's going to be Marcus' story. He sounds cool right? Buy his book. Buy it! Ugh. I just want to enjoy the novel I'm reading and get a complete story without having to spend another $8 to complete the tale.

What can I say that's positive? When the heroine, Alison, is first introduced I thought she might be interesting. She has a lot of emotional issues and identity issues that I wanted to see her work through. But when it became clear that her powers and her relationship with Kerrick were going to be her new identity I lost interest in her. Kerrick bored me with his angst, self pity, and stubbornness. He did sound physically attractive though. Many of the secondary characters, like Endelle the military leader, were intriguing. This was ruined the second they spoke a word of dialogue.

So if you really like fated mates, haven't had your fill of vampire gang wars, and don't mind sloppy writing, go ahead and try this book. 1 star.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Fake Engagements (and real ones)

Ever since I got engaged I've been acutely sensitive to the subject of engagement and marriage in romance novels. Most novels deal with the early stages of a relationship--meeting, falling in lust/love, admitting love, and in the end promising to spend eternity together. But rarely do they address the actual engagement stage (though as one in a long engagement I think it would make a good story) or the marriage itself. And if they do address these topics it is in some ridiculous and silly fashion. And this leads me into my discussion of Shannon Stacey's Yours to Keep.

I really love this book despite myself. After my experience with Exclusively Yours I was a lot more willing to buy into the silly and contrived nature of Stacey's plot lines. Bring on the Kowalski madness! In this book, Sean Kowalski returns from the military to find that Emma Shaw, whom he has never met, has been pretending that he is her fiance. She explains that her grandmother worries about her, and so she told a white lie about having a man in her life and that lie escalated into a fake engagement. She talks Sean into moving in with her while her grandmother comes to visit so that they can convince her of Emma's happiness and security and thus ease her worry. Naturally, much hilarity ensues.

This is a light, happy sort of book. Emma and Sean are mismatched enough to make their relationship interesting, with enough heat between them to crank that interest up. The plot is infused with many moments of humor and corniness. Because of having to live together and maintain their ploy, Emma and Sean get a crash course in one another, learning more than most people do over months of dating. Emma's Gram is a sweet and sharp eyed character who added a lot to the story. There's even a bit of romance in it for her, which I really enjoyed.

So, yes the plot is contrived. Yes, it's silly. Yes, it's pretty predictable. But it does all of the things that a romantic comedy is supposed to do. It's warm, funny, mindless, and positive. Where Exclusively Yours bummed me out, this one left me feeling cheerful. 4.5 stars.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Postcards From the Land of Steampunk

Moira Rogers was awesome enough to send me these signed postcards following their book club chat on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I really enjoyed the chat, even though the book, Wilder's Mate, wasn't one of my favorite picks. It was a case where I just wanted MORE. Novella's and I don't always get along, I'm a very greedy reader. Here's my review:

Every now and then it's nice to encounter something really different in the romance world. I've read loads of shape-shifter romance, so that's nothing new. But I confess that steampunk in fairly new to me, and I've never read one in a western/pioneer setting. So naturally I felt I might enjoy this if only for the sake of novelty.

Satira is the apprentice to a weapons inventor, and her teacher has been kidnapped. Wilder, a bloodhound, is assigned to find him, and Satira insists on accompanying him. The journey takes them into the Deadlands--an area filled with vampires and other undesirables. Along the way, Satira and Wilder hook up, and a lot of steamy sex ensues.

The first comment I have to make is that this story is fairly short, definitely novella length. On one hand this is a plus because it is a fast, easy read--took me a couple hours--and it's not demanding in either time or intellect. On the other hand, it's a bad thing because nothing is really explained in any sort of detail. In terms of the world building much is left to the readers imagination. Also, some parts of the plot felt a bit rushed.

The characters were well written and likeable. The length didn't allow for too much in terms of development, but that is somewhat to be expected. Satira realizes her usefulness and power as an inventor. Wilder in turn attains a new place in his career. Both enjoy passion and emotional fulfillment in their new relationship. All in all, their romance felt complete and fairly satisfying to me.

The rest of the plot, while interesting, suffered a lot from lack of set up and world building. The story needed about 50 more pages to really clarify who all of the characters are, their motivations, the rules of science/magic in this world, and how this all ties in with the main characters. I don't know how much the author is to blame for this and how much is due to word count limitations. In any case, it felt like a brilliant premise that just fell incomplete in execution. I'm suitably intrigued, though, and I would willingly read the next book in the series. 3 stars.

Anyway, thanks so much to Moira Rogers for the cool stuff, I just LOVE the cover art for this one.

The Romance of Camping

I'm taking a break from werewolves and winged vampires to visit the world of Shannon Stacey's Kowalski family. There are currently three books in this contemporary romance series. I decided to bite off both ends and skip the middle book, Undeniably Yours, for the time being since reliable sources tell me that it's really underwhelming by comparison.

I wasn't exactly optimistic about this book. The premise is that Keri and Joe dated in high school, and from all accounts were quite in love. But Keri has something of an identity crisis and chooses to leave to start a journalism career in California rather then become Mrs. Joe Kowalski. Eighteen years later, she works for a magazine that thrives on intrusive celebrity stories. Keri's boss finds out that she has connections to Joe (now a famous horror writer) and commands her to go get an interview with as much dirt on him as possible. Joe comes up with a blackmail scheme wherein he will allow himself to be interviewed if Keri will spend two weeks camping with him and his family. For me this added up to a contrived plot, and a heroine who sounded selfish and shallow and therefor unlikeable.

To my surprise, there was plenty to like about this book. I have my own fond childhood memories of camping, and there was something nostalgic in the details of the Kowalski's family activities. They also made me crave s'mores like you would not believe. I loved the family dynamics, from the kids and their roughhousing to the adult reality of marital problems. And the romance between Joe and Keri, while not exactly perfect, had some sweet emotional moments.

I was surprised at the depth of character development that Stacey managed to achieve in both main characters. In particular, she addressed Keri's original reasons for leaving for California in such a way that I actually understood her motivations. I came to sympathize with her desire for a career and an identity of her own. She also touches on some of Joe's struggles--with relationships, alcohol, his writing career--in a way that rings fairly true to me.

Now, I had several frustrations with this book. The biggest one was Joe's twin sister, Terry. She was friends with Keri long ago, but Keri snubbed her in high school and Terry is carrying a major grudge. She is absolutely awful to Keri for most of the book. And were it just that, I could let it go--everyone has people they don't get along with. But in reality, she just has a grating personality. She's bossy, bitter, self absorbed, and nosy. The subplot with her marital problems really annoyed me because I simply didn't find her to be a sympathetic character.

I also had some issues with the career vs. love conflict that was at the heart of the story. Stacey successfully made me see Keri's point of view in wanting a flashy successful career. But Joe doesn't get it. He assumes, when their relationship heats up again, that Keri will come and live with him, switching jobs and losing much of what she's worked for. It takes a long time for it to even occur to him that he might be the one to make a sacrifice to be with her. Without giving away how this is all resolved, I'll just say that I found it unsatisfactorily one sided and would have appreciated more of a compromise.

I think this was the very definition of "an ok book". It's not something that blew my mind, nor is is something that I regret spending time or money on. There were enough good moments that I'm willing to read some of Shannon Stacey's other work. 3.5 stars.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Breaking the Habit: On Series That Go Bad

It's been a couple of days since I started reading Deadly Desire by Keri Arthur and let's just say progress has been slow. I went into this book with something less than rabid enthusiasm because frankly, I've been kind of bored with the series for some time. It's hard for me to decide whether to continue after six books of loyal, if not thoroughly enjoyable reading. But the fact is, my TBR pile is 50+ books deep (that's not an exaggeration) and at that rate, if a book doesn't feel remarkable to me in some way I really should just move on from it.

My reasons for pushing forward with this series are much the same as the reasons one continues with any series. The first three books left me with such a strong (and generally positive) impression of the characters that I really wanted to see more of them. I think the world Keri Arthur presents is imaginative and fun, with an enormous amount of potential. So very much very little done with it.

So here are my issues, and some of them have nothing to do with author talent and everything to do with my personal taste as a reader. This is just an effort on my behalf to explain my reasons for quitting 6.5 books into a series.

1) I don't like detective stories. Yes, I know, Riley Jenson solves murders, so why read the books if I don't like murder mysteries. But the initial books most often had a lot more to them--action, sciencey weirdness, world building. The recent few, and certainly this one, have been about Riley working on one or two cases, with the overarching plotlines progressing very slowly. And no, the fact that the mysteries involve vampires and sorcerers don't make it at all more entertaining to me.

2) I want Riley to grow and develop and stop repeating herself. Especially with regard to her romantic escapades. I'm fine with a slutty heroine, and that was certainly how she was described right from the beginning. But ultimately she does want a happily-ever-after, she says so repeatedly. Yet every book is a minor variation of the same emotional issues: She loves Quinn the vampire, as much she's able anyway, and she'll TRY to be faithful to him...unless something better comes along. That just damages my opinion of her and ultimately, makes me less likely to find any eventual happy ending believable or satisfying.

3) It's book seven, I need more. I need the overarching plot to explode into something huge and earth shattering. Or at least, I need to be rewarded for reading six books with the same characters. Now, as far as I can keep straight the series wide concerns are Riley's developing powers, her struggles with her nature, and her ongoing search for her one true mate. The developing powers are interesting, but not enough to carry a book alone. Riley doesn't so much struggle with her nature as use it for an excuse for her thoughts and behavior, like--"I can't help that I'm a horny slut, that's what werewolves do!" And finally, in this book Riley realizes the identity of her werewolf soul mate, but not in away that's romantic or even satisfying. It's more that I got a sense of an additional conflict to be dragged out over the remaining books, and I can't imagine any outcome that might make it worth my while.

I think the bottom line is that I don't really like Riley that much any more. Arthur has failed to develop her enough to impress me, and that's a shame. I just don't care at this point. And so I think this series is going to go unfinished.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Myself in a Hat

Behold, a picture of myself and Stewie the Penguin, checking out Blameless by Gail Carriger. This picture is something of a lie, since I have only just finished Soulless and have yet to start Changeless, but I like this cover the best. I am very much looking forward to catching up with all of Alexia's adventures.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On Green Penguins and Werewolves

Miss Rosemary Glacier has at long last accepted her existence as a rare pink penguin. Most of the other penguins are black and white, and pink is a most conspicuous and unexpected quality in a penguin. For a long time she refused the acknowledge her condition, insisting that she had merely eaten too many strawberries and would return to "normal". But over time, and through many tribulations it became obvious that pink was the way she would always be, and so she accepted all of the special powers and privileges that went with it.

Rosemary, and most of the Council of  Pink, insisted that they were alone in their uniqueness and that all other penguins must of course be black and white. Until Rosemary was contacted unexpectedly by a green penguin, known simply as Pickles.

...Which of course must lead her to wonder what other kinds of penguins might be out there.

Something similar happens to Elena in Stolen by Kelley Armstrong. In Bitten, the first book, Elena takes steps toward accepting herself as a werewolf and her place in her pack. Then in Stolen she is contacted by a witch, who explains to her that there are in fact many types of supernatural creatures and that they require her help.

Now, Bitten is easily my favorite shapeshifter book, and ranks pretty highly among fantasy books overall. First and foremost, this is because it has such a strong female narrator who's story evokes empathy in a way that few others in the genre manage. Secondly, because it addresses everything associated with being a werewolf--from blood-lust to pack structure--on a very personal level. And finally, because Armstrong addresses Elena's relationships, romantic and otherwise, with so much honesty and realism. Given all of this, it might seem like Stolen has impossibly big shoes to fill. How does it measure up? SPOILERS AHEAD!
Well, as I said this book is still focused on Elena. So it has the advantage of her wit, sarcasm, toughness, and deeply buried emotions that surface unexpectedly. In the books initial chapters I thought I just might be in for a pleasant surprise, because not only did we have Elena and her fantastic supporting cast--namely Clay and Jeremy--but a whole new intriguing group of characters. Paige the witch, and her Aunt Ruth, invite the werewolves to a council of supernatural creatures to address the recent kidnappings of many of their kind. Turns out there are also half-demons, shamans, vampires, and...who knows what else. The werewolves are naturally unaccustomed to playing nice with others, and so it doesn't exactly go perfectly.

In any case, if the opening was a treat of paranormal politics and character establishment, the middle was a kind of torture. Elena is kidnapped and it quickly devolves into a capture/escape story. Which brings me to my main complaints. The kidnappers seem to want the supernatural beings in order to study them (among other things). This happens often enough in urban fantasy that I'm starting to think that Murdered by Evil Scientists in Research Related Endeavors must rank somewhere in the top 10 causes of death for supernatural creatures. For her part, Elena spends her time in captivity feeling kind of sorry for herself, meeting the researchers and other captives, and half-assedly thinking up escape plans. I was very bored by this process.

Then there's the none to subtle nod to The Most Dangerous Game . Ty Winsloe, the money behind the research operation, has a thing for hunting supernatural creatures. I had an itch in my brain telling me that I'd read something like this before and I realized that Keri Arthur did her own version of "werewolves= the most dangerous game" in her book Dangerous Games. Note: I'm fairly certain Dangerous Games was published after Stolen. Regardless of this, while I have to acknowledge that being hunted like prey (or even doing the hunting) does make for an exciting plot line, it isn't the most original thing in the world and it didn't add much to this book.

Now, I'm fairly certain that this capture/rescue research facility plot was designed to force the various supernatural creatures to work together. I can respect that and I admit that I enjoyed it. In fact, the last several chapters in which everyone's strengths and powers are utilized in a team setting is fantastically well done.

In sum, this was a book with a very strong start and a satisfying ending, but a pretty lackluster middle. It was extremely difficult to assign it a grade. It doesn't at all compare with Bitten and if I were to rate it based on that comparison it would be pretty low. It lacks all of the things that made Bitten great--the pack dynamics, the romantic conflict, all of the character development. But ignoring this comparison it actually is worth reading. All things considered I'm giving it a 3.5.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wolves and Hawks and Bears--Oh My!

Rebel by Zoe Archer is the third Blades of the Rose book and, having read all three in a row I’ve noticed a definite formula. Woman and man travel to exotic location and embark on adventure to find magical object and protect it from Heirs of Albion (EVIL men who would exploit that magic). Very formulaic, but evidently it’s a successful formula because I’ve been enjoying the hell out of these books.

Plot Summery! Astrid once belonged to the Blades of the Rose, a secret(ish) society of men and women who protect magical objects. But after her husband's death at the hands of the enemy (the Heirs of Albion), Astrid runs away to a remote part of Canada to grieve and lose herself. After four years, she's dragged back into Blade business when Nathan Lesperance, a Native American lawyer, shows up at her door with Heirs on his heels. Nathan is undeniably attracted to Astrid. He is also desperate for purpose, and for answers about his own nature that have long been hidden from him.

My likes: The characters are fantastic. I was uncertain initially about Astrid, because she seemed very cold and consumed by self pity, but she warms up. And when she warms up, she absolutely glows--intelligent, competent, brave, and deeply loyal. I liked Nathan right from the start. Being a Native American raised by white men, and a lawyer to on top of it, his personality is full of pride and defiance. He won’t take no for an answer on anything, very much the rebel the title advertises. Astrid and Nathan make a well balanced match. Their relationship builds slowly as they work together and fight for their lives and their mission.

I liked the Native American elements. The magic objects for this book are totems which embody the powers of certain animals in a way that I thought was quite clever.

The real brilliance of these books is the adventure elements. Astrid and Nathan brave rapids, climb mountains,  fight zombies, and end up thoroughly bruised and exhausted. To me that makes the happily ever after much more fulfilling. I noted that this book had more paranormal elements then the previous two--one of our characters is a shape-shifter.

Dislikes: The formulaic nature of these books makes certain plot points very predictable. Also, I really wish there had been more time devoted to the non-romantic relationships. Astrid’s best friend Graves confronts her after she’s in self imposed exile for four years, and the issues between the two of them are resolved rather briefly and flippantly. But overall, none of this was enough to stop me from really liking this book. 4.5 stars.

I'm really looking forward to reading the forth book in the series, Stranger, because I've grown quite fond of the waistcoat collecting inventor Catalus Graves. Archer has spent considerable effort building up to it, so I'm hoping I won't be let down.
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