Monday, August 29, 2011

The Roaring Twenties: A Review of Chasing Midnight by Susan Krinard

I read Chasing Midnight last fall, and have since reread bits and pieces. In the vast sea of paranormal romance the thing that stands out the most about this series is the time period-vampires and werewolves in 1920s New York. This seems to be an altogether rare combinations, and I liked it for that alone.

The Plot: Allegra Chase is a fiercely independent vampire woman who is searching for a friend who has recently disappeared after having been turned vampire himself. Griffin is a werewolf who spends his life hiding from his wolf-side in favor of a society that is unaware of the existence of non-humans. He joins forces with Allegra when his own good friend goes missing and he suspects a connection to the vampire clan. As they fight to save their friends, they are drawn to one another and ultimately fall in love.

The setting and time period are quite interesting, and surprisingly perfect for characters like vampires and werewolves. The night clubs, the fashion, the gang wars,the societal restrictions all blend seamlessly with the paranormal world in which vampires and werewolves fight to keep the peace between their races, and to keep their existence hidden from humans.

The plot, while difficult to follow at times, is fairly engaging. There is a lot of action and mystery to be had along with the romance.

Allegra is a very interesting character. She embodies the defiant 20s flapper type, full of her own independence and sexuality, not afraid to break rules. Griffin is a fitting balance for her in an almost opposites-attract sensibility.

I had one really big issue with this book--length. Some of the content, while engaging, was unnecessary and could have easily been cut down to 300 pages. Krinard seemed to be concerned with fitting in as much detail as possible, and it simply was not needed-it can become tedious and hard to follow. There is a lot of filler, and it requires a great deal of patience on the part of the reader.

I would recommend this book to both paranormal and historical fans. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

On Mates: A Review of Amber Eyes by Maya Banks

This is a bit different from what I usually read and review. Not only is it erotica, which I tend to avoid reviewing, but it's a ménage a trois story. It was a quick enjoyable read, but also surprisingly emotional, so I decided it was worth commenting on.

Kaya is a shape-shifter, and having been left behind by her family she's spent most of her life as a cougar in the wild. She's been watching Jericho and Hunter, two men who live in an isolated cabin, and they have been watching her. When she is hurt, she allows them to help her--and they discover that their wild cougar companion is in fact a beautiful woman. They both form an attachment to her, and are reluctant to leave her even when their work calls them away.

I liked that the plot was slow and mellow. It has a quiet, isolated feel that I found relaxing. It isn't an adventure story, and the paranormal element is uncomplicated and matter-of-fact. That simplicity really fit the story and set the tone.

While reading this story, I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how the author intended to characterize each of her protagonists. Kaya comes across as a bit weak and helpless, but then you have to bare in mind that she hasn't had much human contact. Still, I feel like the author could have spent a little time establishing that Kaya does have some innate strength, and isn't totally dependent on her men to provide for her. Hunter is portrayed as the more closed off, emotionally isolated of the two men. Why that is is never fully explained. I can't really get a handle on Jericho's personality at all, other than that he's a bit more open than Hunter. Both men are, of course, insanely protective and intent on caring for Kaya. I think part of the problem at work here is page limitation. It's a short book, so there is only a limited amount of time to establish everyone's personality and allow them to develop.

My other "complaint" is the sunny, slightly sugar coated ending. Everyone is accepting of Kaya and her relationship with two men. Nobody comments or thinks it's odd. Everybody is just part of a big happy family. That's a bit unrealistic. But then, this book has shape-shifting so I guess I shouldn't demand realism.

All told, for a novella you can read in one day, this is worthwhile. It has steam, emotion, and a fairly satisfying happy ending. 3.5 stars.

Supernatural Cures: A Review of Be Mine Tonight by Kathryn Smith

I've been skimming through Be Mine Tonight by Kathryn Smith, trying to figure out what it is that drew me to her series and why I gave up on it. I quickly remembered how uncomfortable this book was. Let me say right up front: I'm a cancer survivor, and as such am perhaps a bit sensitive to the use of cancer  to create drama in books. I've seen heroes and heroines who are patients or survivors, and the author captures their emotional journey in such a way that the book is brilliant. Then there's this book. Well, on with the review. MINOR SPOILERS.

The Plot: Chapel became a vampire when he drank from a mystical cup known as the Blood Grail, having mistaken it for the Holy Grail. Six hundred years later, in the year 1899, Pru Ryeland is searching for the Holy Grail in hopes of curing her terminal illness. Chapel fears that what she will actually find is the Blood Grail and that she will become cursed as he believes he is cursed. But as he begins to fall in love with Pru, his belief in his own soul-less nature is challenged.

The use of history and mythology is fun, interesting, and well put together. The time period and setting is rich and unique, and in fact is one of the few things that sets this book apart from other paranormal books. Chapel is a surprisingly sexy, if somewhat frustrating character. He is loyal, determined, and fun. His love for Pru is heartbreaking.

The Problems: First of all, Pru's terminal illness is-it's never given an exact name, so I assume uterine cancer-the biggest plot point/conflict in the book. We expect her to be saved, obviously, whether she finds the Holy Grail or becomes a vampire. But it takes THE ENTIRE BOOK. We are forced to watch Chapel hem, haw, and struggle with his own self-pity while the love of his life suffers unnecessary pain. I

And Pru's cancer is a seriously painful one. I don't know how well Smith researched the disease but I happen to know from what I've witnessed that 1)Even early stage cancer patients are often exhausted, suffer from easy bruising, and tend to have compromised immune systems, and 2) The physical reality of advanced uterine cancer does not usually allow for any kind of comfortable sexual relationship. So the fact that Pru is so active right up until the very end is seriously problematic.

In the end, I felt like the illness was treated as an artificial ticking clock to force the hero to work out his "issues". I didn't care for that concept, and I didn't care for the resolution. But, obviously my reservations with this book are more to do with my own experiences than with the flaws of the book itself. I would (very cautiously) recommend this book to those who like historical paranormal, with a dose of religious mythology. 3 stars.

Friday, August 26, 2011

On Beelzebub: A Review of Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

I'm not going to lie, I bought Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase for my Kindle because it was on sale--for $2, which can't be beat. I didn't believe everyone who told me how wonderful it is, I just wanted to review some more historical romance. And the verdict is, this book is wonderful!

After a traumatic childhood, Lord Dain has carefully cultivated his reputation as a dangerous villain. When Jessica's dim-witted brother falls into Dain's circle, she is determined to pull him out of it. She travels to Paris to confront Dain, and sparks fly between them. Though he's sworn off respectable women, Dain comes to the conclusion that he must have Jess at whatever cost.

 This book had so many of the elements I look for in romance, from snappy dialogue, to steamy sex, to multifaceted characters. The simplest scenes, such as Dain unbuttoning Jessica's glove, become vividly romantic episodes that stick with the reader throughout the whole book. The style is simple yet engrossing. The settings fit the changing mood of the story well. All of this comes together to make one very satisfying book

Dain often behaves in ways that would normally put me off of a hero. He's stubborn, selfish, and purposefully cruel.  But the author is careful to build the reader's sympathy with him, as well as to show his softer sides. Yes, he's surly and villainous and unreasonable, but he's also incredibly sweet. I was even more surprised to find myself really loving Jessica. I can be pretty exacting on heroines, because I like to see strong women. Jess is strong, self possessed, adaptive, and very clever. She's not afraid of Dain in the slightest, and handles his moods we ease. I loved them as a couple, and I very much enjoyed their journey toward happily ever after.

I can't say too much more without spoiling the plot. I really loved this book. Definitely check it out, especially if you like historical romance. 5 stars.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My First Following Friday

Following Friday is a meme hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read. It's a blog hop, a friendly way for everyone to make new friends and increase their followers. I'm pretty new at this, so bare with me.

Q. In some books like the Sookie Stackhouse series the paranormal creature in question "comes out of the closet" and makes itself known to the world. Which mythical creature do you wish this would happen with in real life?

  

My Answer: Fairies! And I don't just mean the sweet little butterfly winged ones, but all the creepy, cool, dark ones too. I've always been fascinated with the literally thousands of years worth of mythology associated with the fae.

Snippet Reviews: The Hathaways

Oliver and I
I talked about the awesomeness that is the Wallflower series by Lisa Kleypas in a previous post.  The Hathaway series is set in the same universe, and some of the same characters appear, but you don't necessarily need to read one series before the other. If possible, I like the Hathaway series even more than the Wallflowers. Except of course for the pairings, the following reviews shall be spoiler free.

In short, this is a series about the Hathaway family, a rather quirky bunch. The time period is somewhere between 1830 and 1850 I believe. With both parents dead, all five siblings (four girls, one boy) are left to fend for themselves. When the brother, Leo, unexpectedly inherits a title and the land that goes with it, the family is thrown into a new lifestyle and new society.

Book One: Mine Til Midnight: Self declared spinster and mother hen of the family, Amelia Hathaway, finds herself in the arms of the wealthy half-gypsy Cam. If that sentence alone doesn't sell you on this book, let me say that this is one of my absolute favorite books, period. It's an opposites attract pairing. Cam is extremely sexy and mysterious. Amelia is a strong, admirable character who many women can probably relate to. Plus, you get to meet the rest of the Hathaways and get your first glimpse and all of their delightful madness. 5 stars.


Book Two: Seduce Me at Sunrise: Now, this was probably the weakest in the series for me. The heroine, Win Hathaway, has spent a lot of her life in frail health. Even though she's much recovered, everyone including our hero Merripen, treat her with a lot of delicacy. I'm not overly fond of fragile heroines. Still, it's emotional and romantic. It has a very strong hero, and I did connect to his emotional journey. 3 stars.

Book Three: Tempt Me at Twilight: Poppy Hathaway is basically trapped into marrying the stern hotelier Harry Rutledge. A good portion of the book takes place in the hotel, where to Harry's dismay Poppy befriends everyone from cook to messenger. I liked that Poppy was such a friendly heroine. I thought she and Harry were an excellent match. 4 stars.

Book Four: Married by Morning: In some ways this is your typical reformed rake (Leo) meets uptight spinster (Cat) romance. But it has enough uniqueness to keep things interesting. Leo has a pretty valid reason for his rakish behavior, and has already begun to pull himself together by the time Cat arrives. Cat is the governess for the younger Hathaway girls, and she has valid reasons for being pinned up. The two are remarkably cut together. 4.5 stars

Book Five: Love in the Afternoon: Beatrix agrees to help her friend Pru write letters to her betrothed, Christoper, who is at war in France. Bea ends up writing the letters herself after Pru loses interest, and through the exchange she and  Christopher fall in love--without him realizing her true identity. Letters and journals are a favorite story-telling device of mine. Added to this Bea is my favorite Hathaway girl, with her love of animals and her lively spirit. This book is particularly delightful. 5 stars.

Final thoughts: If you like historical romance, you should absolutely give these a try. Diverse characters, well paced plots, and a good dose of humor make the Hathaway series a keeper.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Chefs: A Review of Too Hot To Touch by Louisa Edwards

Too Hot to Touch by Louisa Edwards is this month's book club pick over at The Science of Romance. Full discussion of the book will take place over there on Friday (August 26th).
My dinner today...*Shame*

I have to admit, I was kind of predisposed to like Too Hot to Touch. I love food. I can cook passably,  and I bake very well. Unfortunately, I live in a college apartment with a tiny kitchen that I share with three other people. Gourmet meals are not within my reach. So reading about people who can and do cook very well is a treat for me.

Plot Summery! Lunden's Tavern was once a very popular upscale restaurant in New York City, but in recent years it has experienced a decline in business. In an effort to save their business, the chefs decide to enter the Rising Star Chefs competition, with the idea that winning would propel them back to popularity and profit. Jules has been working in the restaurant since the Lunden family took her in when she was a teenager. She's always had a crush on Max, the eldest Lunden son. For the past six years, Max has been roaming the world in search of culinary secrets, and barely keeps in contact with his family. There's some bad blood between him, his father Gus, and brother Danny. But when Max is asked to return home to help with the first round of the competition, he can't refuse.

I really enjoyed the premise of this book--the chef competition involving team work and a lot of skill. Even though I found the plot kind of predictable, I didn't find it boring. The dynamics between the team members were fantastic. In addition to Jules and Max, you have Danny the pastry chef, Beck the mysterious new guy, and Winslow the the very energetic spirited guy. I thought the book was at it's strongest when it showed everyone working together, practicing their own specialties but still helping one another. These secondary characters might easily have come off as pointless sequel bait, but instead they were likeable characters who served a purpose.

I found Max fascinating, and I though his personal conflicts were true to real life. He really wants to be creative and discover new things, rather then help run his parent's very traditional restaurant. The process of reconciling family loyalty (and his relationship with Jules) with his impulse to wander and be free was interesting to me.

I liked Jules quite a bit as well. I found her to be just a tad too angsty at times, letting her less then perfect childhood serve as an excuse for all of her current emotional turmoil. Not to minimize her dark(ish) past, but I was kind of expecting her to have some much darker secret then what is ultimately revealed. I was left feeling like she was a pretty lucky woman, and she should behave accordingly.

The romance was pretty hot. Max and Jules had instant chemistry as well as the beginnings of a deeper emotional connection.

My complaints about this book are pretty minor. The plot is predictable, and at times cliched--but in contemporary romance you can't expect plot twists. Some of the dialogue was slightly awkward and forced, like the author was trying a bit too hard. And yes, some of Jules' character development strays into the melodramatic.

In the end, I liked this book a lot. It's a pretty light read, and it's a lot of fun. I'd recommend it if you like contemporary romance, and especially if you like cooking. 4 stars.

Crazy Covers: Fry Pans and Kittens

Cover art is something I don't usually comment on in my reviews for several reasons. First, because I'm no expert on graphic art or the like. Second, because many of the books I read are ebooks, so who cares about the cover. And third, because I know authors often have little to no say in how that cover turns out. I've actually heard a few authors express distress at the way their covers look. So it's not fair to include cover art in the review, but there's no reason I can't talk about it separately.

Romance covers are the most frequent victims of slightly silly (or in some cases completely outrageous) cover art. Let's take my current read, Too Hot to Touch by Louisa Edwards (full review coming soon!)---
Shirtless Cooking! Because shirts are for non-sexy people!
The absurdity of this struck me as soon as I bought it. Sauteing something shirtless just seems like a really dangerous idea. I can barely make grilled cheese without burning myself--and that's while fully clothed! That's a pretty bad example to be setting, Mr. Model. Tsk tsk. Although the idea of a man cooking is sexy in general.

And continuing with this shirtless theme...
Ooo. Aww!
I like this one! But yes, it's still pretty funny. You have your shirtless fellow, kind of standard in romance land. And then you have your kitten, presumably Photoshopped right into his muscular arms. So that we, the potential readers, understand that this hero is both hot as hell and sensitive.
  

And speaking of Photoshop...
Inside Out
At least he appears to be doing something that would logically require shirtlessness.
Yeah...Fake tattoos are kind of a pet peeve for me when it comes to cover art. I haven't read this book, but I can only assume that the character has a dragon tattoo? So the art department, in their infinite wisdom, chose some stock art and drew in the tattoo? I wish they hadn't, because it's really distracting me from what would otherwise be a very romantic pose.














Monday, August 22, 2011

On Sins: A Seven Deadly Sins Double Review

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that demons, sin, and fallen angels have become a big trend in paranormal romance (and to some extent urban fantasy) over the last several years. Being a curious penguin, I've tried to dip my toes into many of these series. I love Larissa Ione's Demonica work (see reviews here and here) and I'm cautiously optimistic about J.R. Ward's Fallen angels (see here). And then there's Erin McCarthy's Seven Deadly Sins series. It had so much potential, and a pretty strong start...and then it kind of fizzled. I thought the world building was pretty weak and unclear, and while there were other problems, it's the world build that stopped me from continuing. In any case, here are my reviews.

Book One: My Immortal: This is the first in a series of books about demon servants, charged with the task of promoting sin amoung humans for their master's dark purposes. It was darkly fascinating and deeply disturbing.

The bulk of the book is told in two parts--one an account of the past, told either through letters or the characters themselves, and the other in modern times. In New Orleans, circa 1790, we learn that Damian du Bourg is a selfish, cheating, semi-abusive husband to Marie. In addition to this, he makes a deal with a demon that gives him immortality in exchange for his servitude. That is, he shall spend eternity encouraging the sin of lust among all he meets. Even shy, frail Marie succumbs to his irresistible lure--to her ultimate doom. In present day, Damien is simply trying to get by, quietly repenting for his sins while doing enough to satisfy his demon master. As it turns out, this means throwing sex parties. Marley, a reserved and moral school teacher, shows up on his doorstep looking for her sister who disappeared after one such party.

I was very surprised that the author managed to redeem Damien as much as she did. I still find his history disturbing in the extreme, but not something I couldn't get past. Marley is fairly easy to relate to, though a little bland.

The plot is quiet, no action to speak of, and yet I was never bored. I wish we were given more background on the demons themselves, but the author seemed more intent on character development.

Overall, this was quite a page-turner. I caution that it might be disturbing for some readers. But I enjoyed it, and I recommend it: I think it can stand alone from the series quite nicely. 4 stars.

Book 2: Fallen: I only made it through about 150 pages of this book, then started skimming, then gave up altogether. This book moves very, very slow and I was just plain bored.

In 1849 Gabriel (a fallen angel) was accused of the murder of a prostitute, Anne, who died while he was drunk/high from opium and absinth. Gabriel doesn't know whether he committed the murder or not because the drugs caused him to forget many events. In the modern day, the now sober immortal writes true crime novels and continues to pursue the long cold murder case. He comes across a recent case that parallels Anne's murder, and contacts the victims daughter about investigating and writing a book on the case. Sara is herself a recovering addict, struggling to make peace with life after her mother's death. What Gabriel doesn't realize is that Sara is Anne's descendent, and the women in the family have a long history of being murdered. Sara dives into both investigations in hopes that she won't be next.

The romance aspect of this book had potential. I liked the concept of two former addicts finding strength and understanding in one another. Like everything else in the book, however, the relationship doesn't seem to progress at a natural pace. Gabriel is apparently cursed when it comes to women, so he's afraid to touch Sara. In my opinion this was a pretty lame road block for the author to throw up.

The murder mystery unfolds through newspapers, letters, and documents put in the book. They slowed the plot down even more and were at times repetitive. The murder issue is not complex, and the description of it's solution could have been told in 100 pages if you took out the filler.

SPOILER, Highlight to read: The plot point that really broke me was when the heroine decided to try absinthe, to know what it's like. I realize that her addiction was to sleeping pills, not alcohol or the like. Fine. But is it really a good idea for a person with an addictive personality to try something so potentially addictive. Why would she think that was necessary? If she wanted to know what the substance was capable of, couldn't she ask someone who's done it. Bare in mind, Gabriel HAS done absinthe (at this point Sara is unaware that Anne's lover and Gabriel are the same person), so you would assume that he would discourage Sara from trying it. But he gives it all of two seconds thought before he breaks out the bottle.

This book might have been great, but in the end my impatience got the better of me. I would only suggest reading this if you are found of slower, milder, less complex paranormal stories. I also want to point out that the connection to the first book is pretty weak (or was up to the point where I read). Don't look to this book for complex world building or fantasy. DNF

Final thoughts: My Immortal is worth reading for any paranormal romance fan. Fallen is something I would recommend only to people who like a lot of mystery (slowly paced mystery) in their books.I don't intend to read any more Erin McCarthy books, but I won't go out of my way to avoid them. Happy Reading!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Monster Hunting: A Review of Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

I was fortunate enough to find Blood Cross, the second book in Faith Hunter's Jane Yellowrock series at a great discount today. It's going in my TBR pile, and who knows how long it will stay there. But I think now is as good a time as any to review the first book, Skinwalker.

I had mixed feelings on this one. It's an urban fantasy, told from the first person point of view of a butt kicking female lead. Basic plot: Jane Yellowrock is a shape-shifter of mysterious origins who hunts vampires for a living. So, pretty similar to Anita Blake, Riley Jenson, Sookie Stackhouse, Mercy Thompson...

This opens me up to the cliche count. I think you can measure a book's quality by how many cliches it uses and how well in manages to pull them off. I don't want to imply that this book has no original ideas, because that really isn't the case. But there are so many borrowed bits here that I can't resist commenting on them.

1)The alpha heroine: I buy books with this cliche on purpose. The world of urban fantasy and paranormal romance has lately become populated with kick ass female voices. How does Jane Yellowrock measure up? She has the entire package: orphan of hazy origins, mysterious powers that make her able to fight the bad guys in the first place, loner/misfit tendencies, but enough humor and heart that she's likeable. And I did like Jane, despite the fact that she's in many ways the same as so many heroines that have come before. The few things that are really different about her are pretty cool. I loved her "Beast" and how that entire plot took the concept of alter-ego to a whole different level.

2) The vampires: In probably 90% of vampire based fantasy I've come across, vamps are organized in some bizarre hierarchy with all of these elaborate rules. Almost as often in this type of book there's a vampire high up on the food chain that wants to seduce our plucky heroine. Usually of European origin, often French.(Did Leo remind anyone else of Jean-Claude from the Anita Blake books?) Leo was pretty dis-interesting to me for these reasons. To be honest, all of the vampires were dis-interesting. But Leo was especially disappointing because I so wanted him to stand out. But no, he's stuffy, commanding, self-possessed, and predictable. Only at the very end did I get the impression that he might have some deeper, more interesting place in Jane's life in future books.

3) Along the lines of the stuffy vampire cliche, there often seems to be the more down to earth counter part that the heroine is also potentially attracted to. In this case that person was Rick. I was crossing all my fingers that it wasn't going to turn into a love-triangle situation. It hasn't...yet. But Rick is about the same level of interesting as Leo in my opinion. I just didn't care for him. Too average.

4) The villain: Actually, this one started out like it was going to be just another cliche but turned out much more interesting. I thought that Jane was dealing with some B-movie style monster that, while difficult to kill, is mindless and impossible to care about. This is done very often in urban fantasy (check the Riley Jenson series for examples). I was proven wrong when the end took a little twist that I won't give away. I wish that the author had done a better job of building up to that point. If only Jane had more one on one interaction with the villain prior to the climax, said villain might have come off as even less cheesy.

All in all, this was an ok book. I was pretty entertained. I hope it improves as the series progresses. 3 stars.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Surgeons and Vampires: A Review of Lover Unleased by J.R. Ward

This morning I've been revisiting J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Let's just say I'm mildly distressed. I was originally going to do snippet reviews of the nine books currently available in the series. However, my feelings toward the latest one, Lover Unleashed, can't reasonably be contained in one paragraph. So I'm going to review that by itself instead. As to the rest, suffice it to say that they've had their ups and downs but my reaction was extremely positive overall.

I had such mixed feelings about this book when I first read it, and they haven't at all resolved themselves since. Part of me enjoyed the book and part of me is a disappointed. The part of me that likes V, Jane, and Butch is happy to see their story continued and would like to give this book at least four stars. The urban fantasy fan in me is angry because not much happens in the way of progress in the overarching plot. And most importantly, the romantic in me is left unsatisfied by the supposedly central romance.

MINOR SPOILER ALERT

After Payne, Vishous' twin sister, is hurt in a sparring accident Dr. Manuel is called in to operate on her. Manny does everything in his power to fix her medically, but she is still left bedridden. Manny then discovers some unconventional ways of helping Payne get better, and the two begin a relationship of sorts. Meanwhile, V is ten kinds of messed up, and things between he and Jane are not well. A sizable chunk of the book deals with him working through his issues and the two of them becoming more secure together. And Butch...helps with this. The Blay/Quinn subplot continues without much progress. A band of vampire soldiers who once fought under the Bloodletter are introduced. Related to this, there is a serial killer on the loose in the city and the soldiers want to kill him.

Ward's writing style has a kind of ADD that has always bothered me, but really smacked me in the face on this one. This book jumps from subplot to subplot (which almost never fully intersect in the end) to the point where the central plot gets buried. In fact, the central plot (Payne and Manny) probably only occupied 1/4 of the book. This really should have been corrected at some point in the editing process, because the story has a very disjointed feel as it stands.

Who is the main character of this book? You would think it would be Payne. She's interesting, strong, smart, likeable. Focus on her! Her struggles, her healing process, her falling in love, her fighting. Or Manny? He has just as much potential in terms of what he's going through and the world he's been brought into. But they don't seem like main characters because they aren't given much focus. The author seemed bored with them, so I was too. The romance that was there was good, and as I've said there was a lot of potential, but it just never grew into anything worthwhile.

On the other hand, the author was very interested in revisiting V and his issues, which readers are well familiar with. He and Jane had their story already, and a lot of what occurred in this book in terms of V healing should have bee resolved there. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for visiting old characters checking in on their problems. But in this case they stole the show. I enjoyed it, but at the same time it detracted from what should have been the central story. And you would expect V and Payne to spend a sizable amount of time together at least trying to relate, but that doesn't happen too much either.

The other subplots? I couldn't care less. I like Blay and Quinn, I want to see them together, but the drama has worn thin. Just get them together or let them move on. I assume Xcor and the other soldier vamps will be relevant in future books, but their story in this one was pretty anti-climactic. I was expecting some kind of confrontation that never happened, which really annoyed me. And the cop drama/murder thing seemed totally pointless. Again, I assume it was in this book because it will be relevant again later. Fine. But tell a complete story in one book before you worry about setting up for the next one.

I'm a long time fan of this series. Because of that fact, I didn't completely hate this book. It let me revisit some of my favorite characters and did a pretty good job at healing them emotionally. Oh, and I liked the horse subplot and it's relevance to Payne and Manny.

Will I continue with this series? Probably, in a desperate hope that it will get back on track. 2.5 stars for this book.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On Banshees: A Soul Screamers Triple Review

Rachel Vincent's Soul Screamers books have captured my attention over the last several months, and I've really been enjoying them so far. It started when I came across the prequel, My Soul to Lose, which takes place primarily in a psychiatric ward. It introduces Kaylee in a pretty clever way--by making the reader question whether she's crazy or whether there might be something supernatural going on. The prequel is really not necessary to the rest of the series, and you can start with book one and have no problem following along. I mention it because it was what sucked me into reading the rest of the books.

 My Soul to Take: The story is told from the first person point of view of Kaylee Cavanaugh, an average high school student. Kaylee has what she calls "panic attacks" in which she screams uncontrollably and sees shadows. She's suspected for some time that these episodes are attached to specific people who are fated to die very soon, but has never had confirmation of this. Then an attack happens while she is out with friends at a night club and a young woman, the target of Kaylee's panic, ends up dead with no apparent cause. It is soon revealed that Kaylee is a banshee--a death omen. And she's not alone--Nash Hudson, Kaylee's crush, is a banshee as well. They team up to solve the mystery of the teenage deaths.

This book is full to bursting with exposition. With the exception of a handful of "death" scenes, the bulk of the book is people explaining the supernatural world to Kaylee. I didn't mind all the world building so much, as it's what I expect from the first book in a series. However it does require patience on the part of readers. I for one often had things figured out way before Kaylee did, and had to wait for her to catch up.

The characters have a lot of potential, but for the time being they were mostly vehicles for world building. Kaylee is simply average--average looks, average intelligence and competence, bland attitude, low to average social standing. She blossoms slightly as the book nears it's close, but no drastic development. Nash is actually a bit better, showing a reasonable amount of emotion and conflict. The host of secondary characters are intriguing. And the "villain" really caught me by surprise.

The romance wasn't really front and center in the book, but it was present as a sweet underpinning. Nash and Kaylee just begin to connect and build trust. They share kisses and comfort, but it's a chaste enough that I'd feel comfortable passing this book to my 13 year old niece.

The plot is simple, but surprisingly emotional. For me much of it was predictable, but there was an event or two that I didn't see coming. In other words, it doesn't completely insult your intelligence. I was most interested in the mythology of the book, which left a lot for the author to build on in the future--grim reapers, monsters, other worlds.

This book took me a total of 4 1/2 hours to read, and it was well worth that very slight investment of time. Bottom line, if your looking for a quick yet satisfying fantasy tale, be you adult or teen, this is not a bad pick. 4 stars.

My Soul to Save (Contains Spoilers From Book 1) In this, the second edition to the Soul Screamers series, Vincent begins to expand on her universe by offering readers a first real glance into the Netherworld. Kaylee and Nash attend a concert where the lead singer drops dead on stage, and Kaylee fails to scream for the girl's soul. It is discovered that the girl, and many other pop stars like her, does not have a soul. In short, the entertainment company for which they work has been making contracts with demons and using the pure souls as currency. Todd the reaper, and Nash's brother, has a connection to one such star--Addison. She and Todd once dated, and Todd still cares for her deeply. When they find out that Addison is going to die soon, and that her death will mean eternal torture at the hands of the demon who owns her soul, the group sets out on a quest to save her.

As far as books in a series go, this one felt somewhat like a bridge or transition to the next book. While the first book established a lot about the supernatural elements of Kaylee's world, there were many unanswered questions. This book begins to address those questions while raising others. Similarly, the characters are described more thoroughly, but don't change or develop much. We learn about Kaylee's courage and loyalty, all of which is tested. But in the end she is not dramatically changed by her experiences. Most of the big character development is in the secondary characters, namely Todd and Addison.

Nash and Kaylee's relationship is still present, and it's very sweet. But again, they don't progress forward too much. They are busy with everything else, and don't seem to get any alone time. This is compounded with Kaylee's own doubts about the relationship and her will to take things slow physically. So the romance/passion grade on this would be a 2/5.

The most interesting parts take place in the Netherworld. There are a lot of clever ideas here that the author has only begun to tap into. The human souls as currency, the references to drug use, the hellions and other creatures, are all surprisingly dark. I appreciate that Vincent doesn't go for pure rainbow and butterfly happy endings, but rather let's each book resolve itself with mixed emotions.

I have to comment on the pop star soul selling thing momentarily. The media company is described a lot like Disney and the pop stars like little Hannah Montana clones. This made me dislike Addison, and I had a really hard time feeling sorry for her. I actually felt at times like she would deserve whatever happened to her. That being said, I warmed up to her a bit. But I felt like more could have been done earlier in the story to make her more likeable. As it was, I spent most of the book not really caring whether they'd be able to help her or not.

Overall I'm grading this book as a 3. It has solid world building and interesting ideas, but is so-so in character development and motivation.

My Soul to Keep (Contains Spoilers From Book 2) Never exactly a light series, Soul Screamers takes a notably dark turn in this book. After a party that gets out of hand, Kaylee begins to suspect that some of her classmates are using demon's breath--a Netherworld substance with hallucinogenic properties. She and Nash set out to cut off the source of the drug before things turn deadly.

First of all, I have to applaud Vincent for attempting to tackle as difficult a topic as addiction. What I have admired about this series most thus far is that she manages to address real problems common to many teenagers, but does so through fantasy elements. From parents and school, to the will-they-or-won't-they aspect of Nash and Kaylee's physical relationship, these character read like real teenagers. In this particular book the addiction is used to illuminate many of the character's flaws, fears, and inner demons. There was a great deal of character development and many emotional moments.

Vincent continues to build the paranormal aspects of her world, hinting at more interesting facets and possible future plot threads all the time. While this takes a back seat in many cases to the internal struggles, it's still fairly well done and worth noting.

Kaylee is left on he own or with very limited help many times throughout this book, and in many cases that seemed needless. I questioned many times why she did not find someone stronger or more knowledgeable than herself to help. I'm continuously bothered by the apparent lack of competent adult policing/fighting forces in this little supernatural world. One would assume that if there are a decent number of banshees and other creatures, there should be some kind of leader, or a warrior class, anyone at all that could step in when someone evil threatens multiple lives. Or it could all be left up to a teenage girl...that seems fine too.

My other major complaint is the utter lack of resolution in the ending. BIG SPOILER ALERT, Highlight to Read: One of two things needed to happen in this ending: either Kaylee needed to leave Nash for good because of all of the crap he did to her, or she needed to forgive him and try to start over. She half-asses it instead, saying she wants him to get better so she can have him back. In a long established relationship, that would make sense: I would be able to believe that she loved him and that their relationship could sustain temporary separation for the purpose of mental healing. However, their relationship is fairly new--three months I believe. Realistically, even if they felt in love, taking a break at this point would mean the end because the relationship is not established enough to survive it. So yes, I hated the ending and I felt it was a massive cop out on the authors part.

These complaints aside, this was a good book overall. It had a lot of depth and emotion without needless angst. 4 stars.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ten Stuck-In-My-Head Books

I've always been a big reader, and I've always sort of read within the same genres you see on this blog. The earliest books I can remember choosing on my own were R.L Stine's Goosebumps  and the American Girl books. Fantasy, horror, history, and romance. There are a few specific books/series from my childhood/early teens that I want to pay tribute to, because of their marked influence on my current reading habits. I'm sure there are plenty of wonderful books that I read and then forgot about, which is unfortunate. But these are the ones that stuck with me, so they really matter. Here we go, in no particular order (ranking things is not one of my strong suites).

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling: I talked about the awesome nostalgic power of the Harry Potter books in a previous post, but they deserve another brief mention.  They were my introduction to full sized novels and the very first time I came across many classic fantasy elements. I feel like I learned a lot from Harry Potter, about following an intricate plot, spotting foreshadowing, keeping track of details, and analyzing complex characters. As an adult, I recognize that it isn't the most original series in the world, but I'll always have a soft spot for it.

The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan: In this historical novel, a young woman named Marnie befriends an outcast, Raver. Everyone thinks he's mad, but it turns out he's simply deaf--and Marnie is the first person to have the compassion and patience to try to communicate with him. I read this book in my very early teens and I've always remembered it as incredibly sweet and romantic. Not to mention hopeful. I think it was one of the first books to make me see the power of happy endings, which is what romance novels are all about.

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause: This is not one of the happier books I've ever read, but it is incredibly compelling. This was my very first werewolf/shape-shifter book. The heroine, Vivian, is a werewolf who is just coming into her womanhood. She struggles between falling in love with a human, Aiden, who is so very different from her, and giving into her wolf heritage to mate within her pack. That's a dilemma that many shape-shifter books deal with, and in my opinion this little book addresses it as thoroughly and provocatively as you'll ever see.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman: A lot of people seem to forget that this was a book before it was a movie. I read it it all in one day when I had a particularly contagious flu--coincidental, because Goldman's narration features him being read to as a sick child. It's a fun romp of a fairytale in which Buttercup is rescued from marriage to the dastardly Prince Humperdink, and ultimately finds true love. It's one of the most memorable and quotable stories you will ever encounter.

Tithe by Holly Black: This gritty and slightly mad tale is probably what sparked my interest in urban fantasy. Kaye is a changeling, and she rescues Roiben (a fae knight). As Kaye is introduced to the fae world, readers are treated to dark and surreal themes and imagery. I can't help but recall this book whenever I read Seanan McGuire, Karen Marie Moning, or Julie Kagawa. It's set the standard for me when it comes to fairy books.

The Angels Trilogy by Lurlene Mcdaniel: These are what one might call "inspirational" books--not something I read too often, but not something I specifically avoid either. Leah, the heroine, is forced to stay in the hospital by herself. There she meets an Amish family, and forms an attraction to one of their sons--Ethan. Ethan's family and upbringing, and most of all his religion, place him at odds with his growing feelings toward Leah. It's a slightly melancholy, but still uplifting, story about self discovery and making painful choices as you mature.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede: Slightly skewed fairy tales, written for preteen/early teen readers. In starts out with the slightly tomboy-like Princess Cimorene, and continues through her trials and adventures, later following her son. I really enjoyed that concept. It's an excellent set of books if you like slightly humorous fantasy.

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn: Maybe this isn't technically a young adult, but it's a wonderful book from a really brilliant author. Corie is the illegitimate daughter of a noble lord, and she serves as an apprentice to her healer grandmother. Along the way, Corie follows her uncle on his journey to find the fairy folk. The book is full of romance, drama, court politics, and character development. Sharon Shinn remains one of my favorite fantasy writers.

The Spirit Window by Joyce Sweeney: In this atmospheric story about relationships and personal connections, Miranda visits her grandmother. There she meets Adam, a part Cherokee boy who she quickly falls in love with. I remember this story not just for the youthful spirit of romance that it presents, but also for it's message of reverence toward nature.

The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci: In this book, the class outcast and frequent victim of bullying goes missing. The incident makes Torey Adams, a popular guy, look at his friends and his life a lot differently. He tries to solve the case of the missing boy, and along the way transforms into a more mature and somewhat jaded person. I liked this book because it's slightly dark, the story is three dimensional and realistic, and it sparked my interest in suspense novels.

And there it is, my top ten most memorable books from long ago (well, not that long ago). Happy Reading!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Science and Sex: A Review of Tempting the Beast by Lora Leigh

Lora Leigh is one of those writers who many people like, and who has produced a ridiculous number of books in her lifetime. For many people her work is like crack. And if that's the case for you, awesome. I've only had one experience with her work, and it was...less than positive. Tempting the Beast was the very first book I ever read on my Kindle, and it has stuck in my mind ever since as a pretty big WTF? Here is my review: Beware the Minor Spoilers.
Science: Saving the world, one genetic abomination at a time.

So obviously this is erotica, and I realize erotica is pretty subjective and hard to grade. But to me, this was just bad.

The premise was actually somewhat promising. Callan is one of several genetically manipulated humans--he has lion DNA in his genome--who are all part of some top secret highly unethical experiment. Merinus is a journalist who is eager to expose what was done to Callan and his fellow "Breeds", and requires his cooperation. They meet, sparks fly in a big way, and we find out that they have some sort of intense biological connection. As in, they are in heat and absolutely must have sex, lots of sex, or they suffer painful consequences.

I may have actually been able to ignore the very contrived nature of the plot and all the hokey science fiction, had the characters been likeable. But they are not. Merinus is the worst--she is absolutely too stupid to live. She's understandably upset at being forced into a sexual relationship with Callan. But she uses it as an excuse for the stupidest decisions possible. She gets mad and blames him, though it's not his fault. She lashes out at those trying to help her. She runs away. She gets angry at Callan for killing rapists who would have killed him. She insists that she's tough and un-girly, but her toughest action in her moment of desperation is to call her big brother for help. And Callan isn't much better. He instantly falls into the overly possessive caveman routine so common to this sub-genre of romance. He's arrogant and sexist. While he says he admires Merinus' tough act, he continuously says things along the lines of "her brothers should have trained her better" and other things that demonstrate an utter lack of respect. This is all justified by saying that it's his nature, he can't help it, this is how all men would be were it not for that pesky feminism keeping them in check.

As stated above the plot is contrived entirely to get the main couple to boink a lot. In erotica, that's to be expected. I know a lot of women like the whole fated mate concept--you see it in Christine Feehan, J.R Ward, Kresley Cole, and Eileen Wilks. I don't have a problem with it if it's handled well. By that I mean, if it isn't used as a substitute for real emotional relationship building and depth of feeling that is only gained with time. Well, this book doesn't have much relationship building outside of the sex, so that was a problem for me.

Also, the plot is kind of...gross. There's a doctor and several assistants helping to figure out what's going on with Callan and Merinus. And the research process involves a lot of swabbing and sample taking before and after they have sex. And the doctor comes up with some kind of  birth control, but just as soon figures out that it probably won't work long term. This medical/science drama really took me out of the sexy moments and were just plain creepy.

I was told by people who have gone ahead and read this entire series that this isn't the best book to judge by. I may attempt book two at some point to see if it improves, but probably not soon. I'm giving this book 1.5 stars.

Sheikhs! A Review of To Tame a Sheikh by Olivia Gates

This was my first ever sheikh book. That's right, I popped my sheikh cherry. And as far as my experiences with category romance go, it was pretty positive. I'll start my review with a quick trope count. To Tame a Sheik contains (but is not limited to) the following tropes and cliches.

--Falling in lust/love with an old friend
--The ugly duckling turned swan heroine
--Mistaken identity
--Class difference
--Age difference
--Business/Duty vs. Love

Sounds like a lot for one little book, right? This book does do a lot in a really short space. So even though it's a cheesy little category, and even though I could probably explain the entire plot in cliches, I found myself really enjoying it.

The basic premise is that Johara, our heroine, has been in love with Shaheen her entire life. After years of separation, they encounter one another at a party. Shaheen doesn't recognize Johara, but is enthralled by her and seduces her into coming home with him. Johara has every intention of spending one night in his bed and then leaving, because doing otherwise would have catastrophic consequences to Shaheen's political position. He is expected to marry for political purposes. But even after learning her true identity, Shaheen is determined to have Johara as his wife at any cost.

What made this book enjoyable to me, aside from the novelty of reading about sheiks, was that the characters genuinely care about one another. This is a fact that is reflected in all of their actions. There is never any doubt that Shaheen and Johara are in love and should be together. They behave like people who've known one another for years. The conflicts are external, which is a good thing because in such a small book internal conflicts are often impossible to solve to the reader's satisfaction. It's a simple, steamy love story about overcoming social and political barriers to find happiness. I also really liked Shaheen's family, and the way they come together to help him when he's in need.

My primary complaint is that there's really know character development to speak of. Two people want something that seems impossible, but then it turns out it is possible, and the story ends. No radical transformations. That's the downside of not having an internal conflict. I thought perhaps Johara might have some sort of breakthrough, because throughout the book she's painfully self-sacrificing and martyr-like. I was hoping she'd stand up and start demanding the things that she wanted and needed, demand to stay with Shaheen and damn the cost. Sadly though, she's angelically selfless to the end.

Considering that I got this book from paperbackswap.com and read it all in one sitting, I'm pretty confident that it was worth the time and money I invested in it. I'd be willing to read more books by Olivia Gates, and I understand their are a handful out set in the same universe. 3.5 stars for this one.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mental Illness and Horror: A Review of Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves

I read Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves several months ago. This book was recommended to me for a number of reasons. First, although I am an adult I occasionally enjoy a YA novel. There's a strange sort of nostalgia to reading about characters younger then myself. Secondly, I have an odd fascination with mental illness. And finally, because paranormal/fantasy is my favorite genre and the one I read most often.

WARNING: Minor Spoilers Ahead.

This book is surreal. Hanna is a bipolar sixteen year old who was living with her aunt, but for one reason and another ran away from home to live with the mother she has never met or had contact with. Her mother, Rosalee, doesn't seem to want her anymore then her aunt did, but Hanna is determined. Rosalee tells her that if she can manage to fit in and make friends she can stay. Hanna quickly finds that her new home is extremely unusual. The town is full of monsters and supernatural phenomena. Everyone treats Hanna like an outsider, and expect her to die or run away screaming at any minute. Hanna meets Wyatt, who is part of a group of monster fighters called Mortmaine. Hanna and Wyatt banter back and forth and quickly succum to their mutual attraction.

The best sub-genre to place this in is horror, without a doubt. It's plenty violent and gory, with moments that even a jaded reader may find disturbing. The gratuitous violence was not really a problem for me, because I frequently read horror and usually enjoy it. The bizarreness of it all is also not a problem, because at least it's imaginative. Because Hanna suffers from hallucinations, what is real and what is in her head is sometimes ambiguous. I thought that was a nice touch.

My issue is the characters. Hanna has all the characteristics of a problem teen: she acts out, is sexually promiscuous, doesn't have a problem with violence, does drugs, and never thinks about consequences. She's bipolar and doesn't always take her meds. She's so very desperate for someone to love her, it's pitiful. There is just something off about Hanna's character. I liked her, I even sympathized with her at times. But, whether because of her illness or the weirdness of the setting/scenery, she never seemed real to me. She seems more like a caricature then a real person. And because of this, it's difficult to become really invested in her story.

Wyatt is similarly unreal and twisted. I did like him, and I felt like he started to grow a lot in the story. As for their relationship, it was just ok. It gets physical really quickly, and that did nothing to help the realism. They do have some good dialogue and banter. But at no point did I believe they were falling in love, or would remain together long term.

Aside from Hanna and Wyatt, who at least have moments of likeability, I hated every single character. Hanna's mother is irredeemable. I know that on some level she loves Hanna, but not once does she show it in any way that counts. The other teens seem cold and generic, none standing out at all. Except Petra, of course, who is so whiny that you root for her to die horribly.

I also think it's necessary to discuss whether this book is really appropriate for teens. For younger teens, probably not. It's too full of violence and sex with no reference to consequences. But for any reasonably mature teen over the age of 16 or so, this book is perfectly fine. It doesn't go so far as to really condone the bad behavior, and I don't see many readers wanting to emulate a crazy character in any case.

The bottom line is, I didn't like this book because I didn't care for the characters. But I'm entirely in favor of horror and surrealness and all of those wonderful things. So I'd say if your a horror/fantasy, and you don't mind deeply flawed characters, maybe give it a try. 2 stars.

Friday, August 12, 2011

On Wyrs: A Review of Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Iggy makes a dragon friend.
I've seen practically nothing but rave reviews for Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison, so I'm sorry to say that I was a little underwhelmed. I didn't hate it, and certain parts of it were fantastic, but I have enough complaints that I'm going to have to label it as average.

The book opens with Pia, our heroine, escaping after stealing an item from Dragos' lair. This feat was supposed to have been impossible, but Pia has some hidden talents--and furthermore, she was threatened and blackmailed into the act. Dragos is beyond pissed at the insult of being robbed, and pursues Pia as she flees into the territory of his enemies. To say more would give too much away, so I'll just say that with Dragos being the leader of the Wyrs (shapeshifters, I guess), he has some pretty nasty enemies.

I'm going to start with the world building, because the concept of a book containing dragons, elves, and fairies as main characters is what drew me to this book in the first place. Books with such a variety of supernatural creatures and concepts often suffer from info dump and exposition overload. Thankfully, this one wasn't too bad--the author keeps it simple. I actually wished for a little more information at certain times--some clarification on the distinctions between fae and elf and so on, for example. But overall, the world building is pretty solid.

That said, there isn't anything spectacularly innovative going on in this book. It follows a lot of the traditional patterns you'll see in paranormal romance, and uses many familiar tropes. If you swapped out the dragon and other mythological creatures for vampires and werewolves, every reviewer would be calling this a boring cliched flop. And the thing is, you really could make that swap without damaging the plot too much.

Let's take Dragos as an example. Initially I was impressed by the fact that he acted so much like the mythological dragon I hoped for. He's acquisitive and possessive, violent and uncivilized, a leader but a loner, and of course ancient and immortal. But other than the actual turning into a dragon, the above traits are ones I'm used to seeing in the vamps and werewolf alphas of other books. He just isn't unique in my mind. He's a nifty concept, but his personality is underdeveloped and unoriginal. As a result, I never fully connected with him.

Then there's Pia. I liked Pia, because she seemed to act, and react to events, much the way I would expect a rational person to. She isn't too perfect, she has plenty of  moments where she freaks out. She makes some bad decisions, but still demonstrates competence. Throughout most of the book, it's a mystery as to what Pia actually is. The payoff is not disappointing.

The timeline of the book spans a little over a week. That's a pretty short time for two people to fall in love and commit to one another. That leads me into my biggest issue with this book. I'm just going to say it, SPOILER though it is...this is a fated mate book. The relationship is destined to be, no point fighting it, don't know if they could live without one another, etc. The mate bond (in this book) is pretty much entirely used as a substitute for a real emotional connection, a contrived way of putting two people together who would probably not commit to one another otherwise. The sex scenes were sensual and intense, so I believed that Pia and Dragos have the hots for one another. And yes, I guess I believe they're bonded as mates because the book tells me so. But I'm not satisfied that they feel real, absolute love. I'm not even satisfied that they know each other very well. This book felt like the prelude to a real love story, not the love story itself.

Overall, I'm not hugely disappointed in this book. I would probably read the next book in the series if I came across it. I just feel pretty neutral toward this one. 2.5 stars.

As a P.S. I want to mention the end, but it's a big spoiler so I'm putting it down here. For the love of God, don't click this if you actually intend to read the book.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On Horsemen: A Review of Eternal Rider by Larissa Ione

Hmm, I always thought hellhounds would look like Yorkies.
This is the first in Larissa Ione's Lords of Deliverance series, which is a spinoff of the Demonica series. For those unfamiliar, I think it would be best to start with the Demonica series before trying this one, because it sets up a lot of the mythology. For those who are fans of the Demonica books and wondering if this one measures up, I can tell you you won't be disappointed. I was initially skeptical, but was pleasantly surprised.

Plot Summary: MINOR SPOILER ALERT. This series focuses on the four horsemen of the apocalypse, each of whom has a seal which, when broken, causes them to turn completely evil. When all the seals have broken, the end of the world will begin. The first seal, belonging to Pestilence, has broken. The other three horsemen are desperate to avoid turning evil and signaling the end of the world. This book focuses on Ares (War), for whom the seal is contained in a person--if the person dies, the seal breaks. That person is Cara, a human woman of mild supernatural talents. Ares tries to keep Cara safe while finding someone to pass the seal to, because harboring it is slowly killing her. Cara is also bound to a hellhound puppy, who's life force is helping to sustain her--but if the puppy dies, she will die also. In the meantime, Pestilence is free to cause disease and suffering in the human world, and the only weapon that could take him down has been lost.

The book starts out a bit slow while all of this is laid out, but it improves tremendously. It's stylistically diverse, mixing fantasy, romance, and horror in an almost seamless blend. I was very impressed by Ione's efforts in world building, which are steadily improving with each book she writes.

The characters were fairly three dimensional and interesting. Ares has a long and violent history, and it really comes through in his attitude and emotions. Cara initially seems weak, helpless, and even naive, but you quickly learn that there is more to her and she grows into a surprisingly tough heroine. I liked them as a couple, and I though Ione did an excellent job of developing their relationship from misunderstanding and dislike to love and acceptance. A few new characters are introduced, and all intrigued me sufficiently that I'm looking forward to their books. And yes, many of the characters from the Demonica books show up and play strong roles in this book.

Overall, this is an excellent choice if your looking for a dark paranormal romance. 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On Wednesday: A Review of American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I read American Gods several months ago as an intentional departure from my usual reading. Not that much of a departure, since it still counts as urban fantasy. But it has a very different tone from what I'm used to. Here is my review.

Plot Summery (MINOR SPOILERS)--Shadow is released from prison to find that his wife and best friend are dead, and he has no job or life to go home to. He is recruited by Mr. Wednesday as an errand boy, and soon discovers that Mr. Wednesday is actually a god. The gods of many religions followed their believers to America, but have since been largely forgotten or ignored. Wednesday's goal is to gather other old school gods to battle the new gods of America--things like credit cards, the internet, and cancer. The story follows Shadow as he observes the ways of gods and ultimately realizes the part he has to play in the scheme of things.

This book requires a good amount of patience on the part of the reader. The plot rambles and sidetracks, and you have to be willing to get through a lot of detail that seems random and unrelated before everything comes together. For a fantasy novel, there isn't much in the way of world building or explaining--it's all showing and little telling. In other word, rarely if ever does a character explain "I Loki. I'm a Norse God."--you have to figure a lot out for yourself or just remain ignorant. I thought about giving up several times, but was intrigued just enough to continue. I'm glad I did, because in the end it was a very rewarding and thought provoking reading experience.

Shadow is a character about whom I have conflicting feelings. Gaiman gives him a minimum of character traits, letting him remain a ghost-like observer rather then an active character for most of the book. He shows few strong reactions to the fantastic things he sees and is told, just going along with everything. At one point another character comments that he doesn't seem very alive, and I'd say that's quite accurate. On one hand I feel that this is a terrible way to portray a main character, but on the other hand I can't think of a better way to tell this particular story. After all, the story is really about the gods. When Shadow did start to show development and liveliness (in the last 100 pages or so) I really found myself liking him. The other characters are extremely intriguing and well written.

Overall, while not a perfect epic reading experience, this book was worth the time I invested in in. It portrays Gods as victims of their believers, and America as a muddled and fascinating mix of cultures. 4.5 stars.
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