Fate’s Edge by Ilona Andrews

This is a book I bought when it came out but I’ve been saving it for a reading drought (Am I the only one who does this?). I finally indulged last week, secure in the fact that after I read this, Andrews’ newest book, Gunmetal Magic, is available for my Ilona Andrews fix.

This is part of a series of UF/paranormal romances, each book with its own couple set in a world where a magical world overlaps our mundane one:
Book 1: On the Edge (my review: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg)
Book 2: Bayou Moon (my review: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg)

Fate's Edge
Ilona Andrews

The Premise: Audrey Callahan is an Edger trying to go straight. She’s just been hired full time at an investigation agency, she owns a little house in the Edge, and she’s far away from her disappointing con artist family. Audrey is fed up with her parents enabling her brother by using her magical knack with locks to pay the costs of his drug addiction and continually choosing his safety over hers. When he father tracks her down to do a job with big bucks and big risk, this time to pay for a fancy rehab facility, Audrey gives him an ultimatum: either stop bringing Audrey into his schemes, or she helps him steal what he wants and he never contacts her again. As always, her brother’s welfare is chosen over Audrey, but stealing the item isn’t the end of it. She’s soon dealing with the consequences of her bargain when Kaldar Mar shows up. He’s a member of the Adrianglian Mirror, and tracking down the stolen item is his latest assignment. A trickster and thief himself, Kaldar is surprised by how well he works with Audrey. He wouldn’t mind taking things further, but Audrey has had her fill of con artists and rebuffs him at every turn.

My Thoughts: Kaldar was first introduced in the second Edge series book, Bayou Moon, as the fast talking, quick acting cousin of its heroine, Cerise Mar. The family lawyer and matchmaker, Kaldar is a family leader Cerise. He struck me as the type of rakish character that was a shoo-in for his own book, and here we are. Back in Bayou Moon his smarts in the courtroom and his skill with a blade (a Mar family trait), were the traits I remember him for, but in Fate’s Edge, it’s his tricking and thieving that come to the forefront.

At the core of Fate’s Edge is getting back the stolen item, but there are a lot of elements that make it more than your typical quest story. There’s the burgeoning romance between Kaldar and Audrey, trouble in the form of teenaged stowaways George and Jack, elements of horror and action with the Mirror on their tail, and a big keeping scoop of hustling to get the stolen object back.

I am a fan of caper stories, so all the conning and elegant manipulation was fun, and there was plenty of it in Fate’s Edge. It also proved to be a way of showing Audrey and Kaldar’s compatibility – each easily adapting to the other’s lead and balancing out any weaknesses. Brothers George and Jack are included in the cons and they had just as interesting a chemistry (if not more so). If you’ve read the first book in this series (On the Edge), you’ll already know George and Jack as the younger brothers of its heroine, Rose – and a couple of my favorite characters (one is a necromancer, the other a shapeshifter). I was delighted that these two got quite a bit of page time. Their struggles and individual reactions with being seen as ‘Edge rats’ in the Weird were creatively folded into the story. Likewise, there were other cameos from previous characters that didn’t feel gratuitous.  We got a chance to see previous couples past their HEA, but also to get an update on old enemies.

As you can tell, there was a lot in this book that was not about Kaldar and Audrey. On one had I loved the non-romantic additions to the plot, but on the other hand, this left less room for romance. Fate’s Edge was the book in the series where the spotlight wasn’t just on the hero and heroine, and this meant the romantic plot felt shorter than in the other Edge books. There was less space to show a slow build up in interest in each other, and it felt like this book relied more heavily on some Romance short-cuts like the hero’s appreciation for the heroine’s butt to show the growing attraction. For the most part, the courtship really happened in what dialogue the two had (a lot of banter – mostly Kaldar making overtures which Audrey smoothly rebuffed) and in their partnership. This was mostly a straightforward woman-falls-for-the-Bad-Boy-despite-herself romance, and I think if there were more space, I’d have liked Audrey’s issues with con men to be deeper delved into. This is not to say the romance wasn’t sweet, just that it was I don’t think I quite got all the emotional impact I wanted because there were other things in the plot vying for focus.

Overall: Fate’s Edge delivers an entertaining story with devious scams, kick-ass fights, and further development of characters and long running plots, but while I felt like the romance was solid, it felt like it was less of a focus of the plot as it was in the previous Edge books. This was an installment where the plot was far more than a vehicle to propel a romance forward. Thus the romance was not quite of the same caliber as the previous books (at least in my mind), but this was balanced out by the elements that took focus from the romance: the extended cameos from George and Jack (first introduced in On the Edge), the thrill of the con, and peeks into what could come next.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook - positive
The Book Pushers – A
Lurv a la Mode – 3 scoops (out of 5)
Read. Breathe. Relax – “I was disappointed”
Fantasy and SciFi – “Fun, but contrived”
Tynga’s Reviews – “Fate’s Edge just might be my favourite book in the series so far.”

Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Dragon Bound
Thea Harrison

I’ve come to the conclusion that Paranormal Romance doesn’t tend to work for me the way Urban Fantasy does, but I saw sooo many rave reviews for Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison, that I couldn’t resist giving it a try.
 
The Premise: Pia Giovanni has spent her whole life keeping a low profile and never letting anyone know what she is and what her special gifts are. Then one slip in front of a low-down loser of a boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend), and Pia is in trouble. Very big trouble. Her ex has blackmailed her to steal something from the hoard of Dragos Cuelebre, the most powerful wyr in the northeast, and now Pia’s days are numbered. If Dragos doesn’t find her and kill her, then the shadowy powers manipulating her ex-boyfriend will. Either way, she’s toast. In the meantime, Dragos, a wyr-dragon older than rocks, can’t believe that someone has breached his impregnable security, gotten to his Hoard and stolen… a penny.
 
Read excerpts of this book here (these are in chronological order): Excerpt 1 | Excerpt 2 | Excerpt 3
 
My Thoughts:  Dragon Bound had a great beginning. Pia is scrambling after her recent theft – working out how to get herself out of town as soon as possible and how to stop her ex from giving up more of her secrets and from trying to blackmail her again. Despite the big mistake of falling for such a lowlife guy in the first place, her quick-witted actions in these first few pages endeared me to her.  I soon found myself thinking that maybe she would get out of the fix she found herself in, but the man/dragon she’s stolen the penny from is extremely powerful. Dragos Cuelebre is actually the ruler of the northeastern demesne – one inhabited by wyrs (other demesnes include a southern one ruled by the light fae, a central U.S. one ruled by the dark fae, and another ruled over by a powerful vampiress). The intensity of the catch-me-if-you-can introduction to Pia’s world (one where the supernatural are out in the open) also had a gritty, urban fantasy feel to it. A very good beginning.
 
Another positive was the humor.  Although Pia basically did a bad thing (stealing), it wasn’t something she wanted to do. So her solution was to leave a replacement penny and a hastily written apology in its place.  Dragos’ reaction to this was priceless. This was a favorite part of the book for me, but there were a lot of  funny moments peppered throughout the story that kept it light.
 
Once Dragos does track down Pia (which happened much sooner than I was hoping), the story begins to take on more characteristics of paranormal romance.  Dragos is a creature so ancient that he remembers the birth of the world, and so he’s a pretty traditional alpha male. I am not really a fan of the chestbanging and “mines” involved with alpha males, but I think in Dragon Bound, it is at least explained by Dragos not being quite modern, and it is part of the humor that sometimes dealing with being with Pia baffles him. So his being alpha wasn’t a as much an issue for me as it has be in other books because it works well within the story.  His being eons old was also surprisingly not an issue either. I think this was also how it was presented – his development into a rational being took a really long time, and I could believe that he’s at the same emotional age as Pia because it took him longer to get there. I also liked how his being a dragon, his hoard, and the idea of mating are seamlessly interwoven into the story. Dragon Bound has these tropes but thoughtfully introduces them to the story in a way that didn’t feel cliched.
 
But there was an aspect of Paranormal Romance that didn’t work for me as well in this book, and that’s the physical relationship. I am a slow burn girl and this was more of a firecracker book on the heat level scale. When Pia and he are together, the sexual tension is there in spades.  I think it’s just a matter of preference here and for me, I had trouble whenever their physical attraction came at inopportune moments – like while Pia is still terrified that he is going to kill her or while the hero and heroine are being chased by the bad guys. The sex scenes themselves are also unreal (yes, they aren’t quite human, but the multiple orgasms and inhuman recovery time pushed it).
 
It looks like this is a series with different couples highlighted in each book, so of course the romance must fit into one book, but it pressed my buttons that relationship was on hyperdrive.  There’s sex, living together and more within the span of what feels like a week. Similarly it felt like Pia won the hearts of Drago’s men within days. It was a case of a heroine’s moxie triumphing over distrust. Once Pia turned into the unique special creature that was her wyr side, and then she gets a very special vision, the story started to get a little too much. I think as pure entertainment, this is totally fine, but I think I wanted something more messy, less pat. The thing is, I have read some really rave reviews, and I can see what people love about this book, and I agree it’s one of the better PRs I’ve read, but I can’t seem to brush off what irks me about this story to love it as much as others do.
 
Dragos has a trusted company of alpha male wyrs and alliances with other powerful Elder Races (vampires, fae), which means there is plenty to explore in this world and plenty of characters who could have their own story.  Book 2, Storm’s Heart came out August 2nd, and the third book, Serpent’s Kiss will be out October 4th (U.S. dates).
 
Overall:  The story was well written, there’s a good dash of humor, and an interesting Supernatural Coexisting with the Mundane world, but on the other hand, there were things that didn’t work for me, including an emphasis on the physical relationship, too-fast-for-me timeline, and overly pat elements. In the end, the scales leveled out. I walked away not really wowed by it the way I was hoping to be, but I was entertained. It will probably work for those who love paranormal romance, love a great alpha male, and are happy with high levels of steam.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Tempting Persephone – positive
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell – Ok
The Good, The Bad, and the Unread – A
The Book Pushers (joint review) – A and A
One Good Book Deserves Another - 5 stars (out of 5)
Mystifying Paranormal Reviews – 4 stars (out of 5)
Babbling About Books, And More – A-
Lurv a la Mode – 5 scoops (out of 5)

Wild & Steamy (anthology) by Meljean Brook, Jill Myles, and Carolyn Crane

Wild & Steamy
Meljean Brook,
Jill Myles, and Carolyn Crane

There was about a week where this self-published anthology by a few well-known authors in romance and UF was 99 cents, and this week happened to coincide with my being on a plane for 6 hours as I traveled west across the U.S. So to my trusty nook it was downloaded. Wild & Steamy is now priced at the still reasonable $2.99. Currently it is only available as an ebook.

Meljean Brook has excerpts of all three short stories up on her website here.

Two of the three short stories/novellas were stories set in existing worlds. Carolyn Crane’s “Kitten-tiger and the Monk” is set in the same world as The Disillusionists Trilogy, and Meljean Brook’s story, “Blushing Bounder” is set in the world of The Iron Seas series. I couldn’t tell whether or not the third story, “Vixen”, by Jill Myles is similarly set in the same world as a series or not (the writing didn’t make me think it was), but research online reveals that it is part of the Midnight Liaisons world.

Blushing Bounder by Meljean Brook: Constable Edward Newton and his wife Temperance are recent newlyweds living in London. Theirs is a strained marriage, as Temperance once thought her husband was an honorable man, until he compromised her reputation and made a marriage to him and a move from New Manhattan to “bug”-infested London her only choice.  Temperance is appalled at the amount of Horde devices she sees in this new city, and is terrified of the tiny machines that practically everyone has injected into their systems.

This was a mostly sweet story about two people who have to work through misunderstandings in order to be together, with a bit of police procedural thrown in. I haven’t read any of the books in The Iron Seas series yet, but I understand that Constable Newton is a secondary character, and his detective, Detective Inspector Wentworth, is probably a main character in The Iron Seas series. She has a cameo, and I was able to understand the steampunky industrial London setting and it’s concepts pretty easily. What I had trouble understanding was minor: I didn’t understand the inspector’s reputation in London (it is not a flattering one), and I had trouble pinpointing Temperance’s age (her sickness and heightened sense of propriety made her seem older to me, until I read about her backstory and revised my estimate).

Overall: Really liked the world, and found the hero/heroine likable and their story quite sweet. A nice little read.

****

Vixen by Jill Myles: Miko is a were-fox (or kitsune) living alone in the back woods. Because of her heritage, she is “prone to polygamous relationships” but Miko isn’t satisfied with being being outside of a steady relationship. She knows too well the loneliness that life can cause – her mother being a prime example. So when local hunters start a fox-hunting club, and Miko’s mom sends over two shapeshifter bodyguards to protect her, she isn’t happy at the disruption to her quiet existence at first, but her were-fox nature is interested in selecting a mate. Or two.

This was the most sex-y story in the anthology, where the the problem of the fox hunters felt like a vehicle to introduce the menage rather than the focus of the plot. If you like steamy stories, particularly ones with a menage, this one will work. Threesomes are not my thing so for that reason I found this the least enjoyable of the stories. This also had the greatest “paranormal romance” feel of the three, with the familiar concepts of a mating urge, protective males, and shapeshifters coming to play.

Overall: Didn’t really like this one, but I’m not a fan of threesomes, so it was a personal taste issue.

****

Kitten-tiger and the Monk by Carolyn Crane: Sophia Sidway, a woman with the power to revise memories, is tired of regretting the things she has done. She wants to start anew – “to be stopped – once and for all”, and the one person who can do that is the Monk, a shadowy disillusionist who can “reboot” criminals. Sophia has been told that only The Tanglemaster knows where the Monk lives, but when she visits The Tanglemaster, Sophia is confronted by her first love, a man she betrayed years ago and has regretted it ever since.

This story was probably my biggest reason for buying this ebook in the first place. I am a BIG fan of The Disillusionists Trilogy (cannot WAIT for the third book), and this story provides some back story on two secondary characters. Sophia is actually a character I’ve disliked in the series so far (the first two books), so it was a surprise to be shown a more vulnerable side. This story is very character driven, in a good way. I enjoyed learning about Sophia’s past and I think it was presented in a way that you don’t need to have read the series to understand what was going on. The only issue I had was that the sex in this story seemed extraneous, but that is a minor complaint.

I’m not sure how story fit in with the rest of the trilogy. It may or may not be required reading if it informs upon the general plot of the series.

Overall: This was my favorite of the three. The character development in the short space was very well done. A must-read for fans of The Disillusionists Trilogy.

My impression of the whole anthology would be that these stories were entertaining and the price was reasonable. Worth it if you are a fan of any of these authors.

Buy: Amazon | Nook | Smashwords | All Romance Ebooks

Other reviews:
Smexy Books – B
Fiction Vixen – B
Smart Bitches Trashy Books – A
Book Girl of Mur-y-castell – positive

Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews

Bayou Moon
Ilona Andrews

Bayou Moon is the sequel to Andrew’s first Edge book, On The Edge, which I reviewed here: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg. This series is set in a place that straddles two worlds – there’s the Broken, where magic is non-existent, and there’s the Weird, where pure-blood families rule and magic is a part of life. These places exist in the same place but on different planes, and in the space between them is the Edge, where outlaws and the out-of-luck flourish.

I was lucky enough to be sent a advanced finished copy of the book.

The Premise: While this is the second of a series, the focus in this book is on a different couple than On the Edge. William was a secondary character in the first book, but this time it’s his turn to be the hero. William is a wolf changeling with a past as a soldier in the Weird, and a big chip on his shoulder. He’s been just passing time in the Broken, when agents of the Adrianglian Secret Service arrive and ask him to hunt down an old nemesis and to retrieve what he’s been searching for in the Mire.  Spider is an agent of the Dukedom of Louisiana’s Hand, and was once was responsible for the deaths of a group of young changelings. William came close to killing him but failed. Spider has been reported to be in the Mire, looking for an edge in the secret war between the two Weird nations of Adrianglia and Louisiana.  In his quest to find Spider, William runs into Cerise, a girl whose path seems to be the same as his. She too has an interest in Spider, because her parents have just been kidnapped by his agents, igniting a long burning clan war between her family, the Mars, and their rivals, the Sheeriles.

Read an excerpt of Bayou Moon here

My Thoughts: If you are familiar with Andrews urban fantasy series which focuses on a heroine in post-apocalyptic Atlanta, this series shares some of the strengths of that one, namely excellent world building, heroes and heroines who are interesting mentors to lost youth, and plenty of characters with kick-ass skills. However, the Edge series has more of a focus on a romantic relationship than the urban fantasy Kate Daniels series. Each book has a hero and heroine who eventually get together, but I still find this series different from your typical paranormal romance because the world building and the plots are so unusual. It almost seems to be a urban fantasy romance series (the writers call it a “rustic fantasy”). It defies categorization, but I think people who like romance and/or urban fantasy will like it.

The first thing that I noticed about Bayou Moon was it’s size. It’s immediately obvious that this paperback is thicker than it’s predecessor, and clocking at 462 pages, it looks to be longer than any other Ilona Andrews book out so far. Don’t worry. This is a good thing. I think that this is one of the few books of this length where I wasn’t paying attention to what page I was on and I was actually happy that there was more to read. Even with this length I had polished off the book in a couple of days. Not only that, the length meant that there is plenty of room for not only a romance but for the complexities of the Edge culture, Cerise’s large and interesting family, and for revealing plenty of monstrous enemies.

I think before I talk about the characters, I have to talk about the Mire, the swamplands of the Edge. The people of the Edge are hard. They are known for family unity and for long held grudges that span generations. I loved the Wild West meets Mob Family mentality that the Edgers had. It breeds some very unusual (and perhaps a little crazy) people. But then, take that and add a swamp full of dangerous creatures (sharks, water snakes), and places impassable except by boat. Its not for the fainthearted. It stands to reason that this gritty, wild place in the Edge is where William would find the woman for him.

Being a changeling makes civilized human behavior a difficult language that William has had to learn, and while he yearns to find a woman that accepts him, he’s been disappointed in that area many times. He may have amazing physical strength and skill, but emotionally I think of William as the more vulnerable Edge hero. Cerise is quick to appreciate William’s positive attributes, but she feels that crossing paths with someone she’s interested in has happened at the worst possible time. Cerise is a heroine I’m familiar with in Andrews’ books – smart, strong, and capable, but she also carries very big responsibilities. She’s in charge of her family’s finances, and when her her parents are kidnapped, she is the one to step forward and take on the leadership of the Mars and deal with both finding her parents and with the opportunistic Sheeriles.She has too many people relying on her to be selfish and indulge in a romantic interlude. There is a slow build in their relationship due to caution on both sides, but there is a strong romance plot in this story, compared to the Kate Daniels series, where it is less overt. It passes my personal standards with plenty of emotional buildup to go along with the physical side of the romance, and sex that did not feel gratuitous (hooray!).

The plot in this book was such that there was plenty of room for many secondary characters.  There are the bad guys (the Hand), the good guys (Cerise’s family) and the in-between.  It’s a mark of excellent writing that every one of the characters where distinguishable and not cliched (I particularly liked with the conflicted feelings of what-could-have-been between Cerise and the Sheeriles’ oldest son). Cerise’s family was huge, but only a fraction of those are highlighted on the page so I was never confused or overwhelmed.  I don’t think I can go over them or this review would double in size, but my favorites would be Cerise’s younger sister, Lark, who thinks she is a monster and sleeps outside, and her cousin Kaldar, the family matchmaker and general irrepressible rogue. The large family meant for some impressive battle scenes against the Sheeriles and against the Hand. Of the Hand, we catch less glimpses of, since the focus is mainly on William’s nemesis, Spider, but in many ways the Hand agents are less human after undergoing a process which changed their bodies and fractured some of their minds. They reminded me of the anime Ninja Scroll where the bad guys, the Devils of Kimon, have inhuman enhancements (link to youtube. Warning: icky anime death) which make them terrifying killers. There were some pretty nasty monstrosities in the bunch, but Spider, who is sane, is the creepiest for it. He’s an excellent villian, and we get some hints about his back story too.

Overall: The Edge series straddles genres to create a world that’s unlike any other, and I found Bayou Moon a rare book that entertains so well, I was lost to everything else. All I wanted was to be where I was, enjoying myself while being pulled along to a satisfying conclusion. What a pleasant ride that was.

Bayou Moon is longer than it’s predecessor, but that room only makes it better, because there’s space for a more complex plot, more back story, more world and character building. If you liked the first book, you’ll love this. If you haven’t, I recommend it if you like paranormal romance or like urban fantasy and are open to romance or vice versa. This book has cameos from previous characters, but I think it can be read as a standalone and out of order.

According to the Ilona Andrews website, there are two books contracted for the Edge series, but I’m crossing my figures that there will be more. There are a couple of men in Cerise’s family who I’d love to be in the next book (Kaldar, anyone?)

Bayou Moon comes out September 28th.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews::
Angieville – ” Bayou Moon struck me as a stronger, darker, meatier installment in the series”
Fantasy and SciFi Lovin’ News and Reviews – 4 out of 5 stars
Dreams and Speculation – 6 out of 10
Scooper Speaks – “Bayou Moon is a keeper in my opinion”

Huntress by Christine Warren, Marjorie M. Liu, Caitlin Kittredge, Jenna Maclaine

Huntress
Christine Warren

This was an anthology I picked up at the friend of the library bookstore a while ago and am finally getting off the TBR. It has an author who writes in a way I like (Marjorie Liu), and another who I’ve meant to try (Caitlin Kittredge). The other two authors are new names to me so this was a good way to find out about them.

  • Devils Bargain by Christine Warren – Half-demon, half-human bounty hunter, Lillith Corbin has just one more task to do for the devil Samael – bring him the book the Praedicti Arcanum, which someone stole from him, in three days. Then their deal will be done and her soul will be saved. What she thinks is a simple job becomes complicated when she encounters Aaron Bullard in the middle of stealing back the book, and he tries to stop her.
This was a very straightforward paranormal romance and overall I’d give it an average grade. There was a lot about the story that felt predictable and the focus seemed to be about the hero and heroine getting together with their role in saving the world from apocalypse a means to do so. The part I liked best was the world building – demons and magic are accepted in everyday life, and the way magic and the demonworld worked interested me. What I disliked was the hero and heroine falling in lust at first sight. There was thin reasoning behind having sex and telling instead of showing.
  • Robber Bride by Marjorie M. Liu – Maggie Greene is her community’s tinkerer and fixer. She owns a junk yard in a world that was ravaged by a virus that killed 70% of the population 20 years ago. One day a strange pale man in a motorcycle arrives, and because Maggie has an odd gift she manages to bargain for her life. But that’s not the end of it. The man comes back with friends and steals people from her community, and she thinks they have Trace, an old woman and friend. With a mysterious raven that followed Trace and now follows Maggie, Maggie sets off to follow the band on motorcycles.
This story had a more urban fantasy feel although there is a definite romantic subplot. The writing was excellent, there’s a gorgeous sense of place and lyrical but uncomplicated writing, and I really enjoyed the fairy tale hints – a necklace of teeth, a journey, people who are not as they seem. I finished this one feeling satisfied and happy. Just this story is worth keeping the book. I’m beginning to feel like I would really like if there was a collection of Liu’s short stories, because I tend to enjoy them.
  • Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go (a tale of Black London) by Caitlin Kittredge – Jack Winter is a mage who does odd jobs for people in between gigs with his band. While he was in Scotland with his band he’s approached by a femme fatale with a job – to help her get to the Black so she can kill a demon. Jack is immediately leery, but is not really given a choice in the matter.
The main characters in this urban fantasy story are both very hard and jaded by their past. Jack is a brash and kind of skeevy, and Ava was a bombshell who exploits her sexuality to entrap him. This made them rather unlikeable so I found myself unattached to what was happening to them. I also I haven’t read the Black London books, of which Jack is a character. I think this story is probably easier to understand if you’ve read those books; although I could figure out Jack’s backstory, there are some places where I felt lost by the conversation. The language here was liberally peppered by Britishisms, but I wondered if they were overdone (does anyone use that much slang?). I would say this is a very gritty one with dark characters, dark places, and monsters that are reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth, but perhaps too gritty for my tastes.
  • Sin Slayer by Jenna Maclaine – Cin Craven and The Righteous, a group of vampire warriors, are tasked to take down Jack the Ripper, a demon who is terrorizing vampires in London. When they get there, Cin’s husband Michael is possessed by the demon and Cin must figure out a way to save him.
The author does a good job in getting the reader up to speed on Cin’s backstory and what The Righteous are, which I appreciated because I haven’t read any Cin Craven novels. There are a two already established relationships in the 4 members of The Righteous, and the sexuality between both couples at the beginning felt gratuitous, but perhaps not to those familiar with the books. After the story was moving along, the focus is on capturing Jack the Ripper, and the twist is that he takes over Michael, which Cin is very concerned about. I thought the relationship between Cin and Michael was illustrated well during his possession and Cin’s pained response to it. Overall a decent story.

Overall: There’s a mixture of urban fantasy and paranormal romance in the selection of stories presented in Huntress, and this is a combination that I think is a mixed bag that may work only for fans of both genres. I’m more of an UF reader than a PR one, so with the exception of Robber Bride, the stories in this anthology didn’t really resonate with me. I think this is worth picking up for those who are fans of the authors and related series in the anthology, but outside of that, the stories ranged from “meh” to “very good” and I would only call Robber Bride required reading.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Couldn’t find any – send me a link if I missed yours

Running Scared by Shannon K. Butcher

I was sent this book for review from the publisher.  This is a paranormal romance series about a war between Sentinel races who protect our world from the monsters (the Synestryn) who wish to overrun it. Each book focuses on a Theronai (one of the Sentinel races) warrior and his search for a compatible woman with the ability to siphon off his power and keep him from becoming a soulless killing machine.

My reviews of the first two books:
Book 1: Burning Alive http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png
Book 2: Finding the Lost http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png

The Premise:
In this third installment of the Sentinels series, Lexi, who was introduced in the first book, believes the Sentinels are the bad guys and have kidnapped her friend Helen (the heroine of book 1, Burning Alive). She’s devised a plan to get Helen out and destroy the Sentinel stronghold. A new group is introduced called the Defenders of Humanity. They are humans who are fighting the Sentinels and think the Synestryn are their pets.  Meanwhile Zach wants Lexi and has no idea of her real motives.

Read an excerpt of Running Scared

My Thoughts: Lexi was introduced very early on in the first book of this series, Burning Alive, which focused on her friend Helen and on the Theronai warrior, Drake. Lexi was a waitress at the cafe where Drake first found Helen and took her away when the Synestryn attacked it. Lexi grew up knowing about the Sentinels but believes incorrectly that the Sentinels are horrible killers. When Lexi met Drake and his warrior buddy Zach at the restaurant she flees for her life.  Unfortunately Zach thinks that Lexi is the woman who can keep his soul alive, and so he’s been desperately searching for her, which only heightens her fear that he wants to kill her. Finally after months of running, Lexi wants to rescue her friend Helen who she thinks the Sentinels have brainwashed and uses Zach to get to her friend, and to finally destroy the Sentinels.

I was looking forward to reading this romance because Lexi seemed to be more of a tough character than the first heroine, Helen. My first impression was that she knew how to take care of herself and to survive alone. In Running Scared, I think she keeps the distrusting persona around.  She holds on to her walls for much longer than the other two heroines, which I found believable, but there were some places where her actions didn’t feel consistent, particularly in the beginning of the book. I just don’t understand how Lexi can say that she doesn’t trust Zach, and she fears him to the point that she’s quaking, but she also finds it hard to keep her hands off him and thinks of him in a sexual way? Perhaps this is supposed to show that deep down, Lexi feels the connection with Zach and it wars with her hard held beliefs, but it read as shaky logic. I would have believed the attraction more if her fear had at least started to go away. I noticed similar situations in the previous books where I felt that the heroine would do something that seemed to go against what I’d learned about their situations up to that point.

The narration is in the third person point of view, but there were a lot of shifts to other characters (more than in the previous two books in my opinion).  Butcher cleverly interweaves her main story with that of side romances and other story arcs that keep the reader hooked to this series. I think I was ready to read Lexi and Zach’s story right after book 1, but instead Butcher focused on another couple while dropping tantalizing hints about Zach and Lexi’s romance (Zach would appear haggard and desperate in front of the other couples, and the story would focus on Lexi running from him for a few pages before returning to the main story). The author does it again with a couple that was introduced in the second book, Finding the Lost,: Nika (the sister of book 2’s heroine, Andra) and Madoc (a Sentinel who helped find Andra and Nika). I’ve been sucked into their story and I think their romance is next in Living Nightmare. In the meantime, we’re also treated to reappearances of characters from the first two books and their ongoing stories: established Theronai couple Gilda and Angus who are going through a difficult time, the Sanguinar and their plans (they’re fighting their extinction), and the evil machinations of the Synestryn. Because of the cutaways from the main story to other developing story arcs, I would say you do have to read this series in order or you will find yourself a little lost whenever side stories get their focus over the main romance.

Overall: I’d put down this series as one tailored to those who like their heroes to be strapping and heroic with heroines sought after and cherished. There’s an eighties action movie vibe – it’s sheer entertainment.  There’s definitely an addictive quality to these books, and the ongoing subplots are becoming very interesting, but the characterizations can be shaky (YMMV). Running Scared is probably the strongest book in this series so far, although I’m very interested in what happens to the next couple (Madoc & Nika).

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Book Lush – 3.5

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

I liked The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker so much that I made sure to ask about the second book, and Dorchester sent me a copy for review. I also have an extra copy that I’m going to be giving away later.

My review of Strangely Beautiful can be found here: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png

The Premise: This is the second book in the series which begins with white haired and pale skinned orphan Persephone Parker, a strange girl who can talk to ghosts, arriving at Athens Academy and discovering that she’s an integral part to a long awaited Prophecy. The Guard of London, six remarkable people who protect the city from the forces of Darkness, take Persephone into their fold, but after a very brief respite, the war continues. This is the conclusion of the story.

Read an Excerpt of The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker

****** There are MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK from this point on *******

My Thoughts:
As in the previous installment, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker has a lovely but dense writing style. It’s definitely not a book I’d say you could pick up and read cover to cover without stopping. I had to read this book piece by piece. I’d call this a rich chocolate cake: to be enjoyed at a sedate pace with time to digest the material in between. Both books have a very Gothic, theatrical element to it, and when I found out Strangely Beautiful was optioned for a Broadway musical, it made sense – it’s a good fit because the people in the book do make grand gestures and seem larger than life. The exception would probably be Percy, but she has a presence too – with her stark albino coloring and her long white hair.  I could see her dancing across the stage with her dark and broody partner, Professor Alexi Rychman.

The language is very Victorian and embellished, and the best way for me to show that is an excerpt:

“Their kiss was of such fusion that they felt the ground tremble. The slight sound of angels grew into bursting chorus. Rising from the candles and met by an aura of light from their bodies, white flame began to pool, merge and expand into a hazy, egglike form that grew as their kiss sustained.  As it ended, the form burst into a great, bird-shaped sun. The avian form threw open expansive wings, and a wave of heat and deafening music blew…”

There is a lot of set up in the first 100 pages Strangely Beautiful, but while that was okay to me because it was the first book in a series, and the world had to be drawn and it’s characters introduced. In Darkly Luminous however, it slows down the pacing especially coupled with the Gothic and embellished language. While I thought that the language in the book was probably even better than the first one, the war between London and the Whisper World did not come to the forefront for a long time. This meant there was very little action until the last part of the book. Instead the book focuses on the romance of Alexi and Persephone, and the final battle is shrouded in mystery and talk of “fate”. The spirits of the old Guard know more about what’s going on that that of the new, and they withhold information for fear of jeopardizing the outcome. I’m never a fan of one character keeping information back from another character in books, and I wish this wasn’t a plot device used here.

In the meantime, lovers of romance will probably be happy with the way Alexi and Percy’s relationship is portrayed. We really get to see their intimate moments and it’s written in a very poetic way. Again, there is a sense of drama about their love and it does include a lot of sweeping gestures (Alexi actually does make them to light candles during their private getaways). While in the first book Alexi is a grumpy and aloof professor, his character is different in this one. Now that he has Percy, I found that Alexi’s previous self-confidence became more overbearing, and in contrast, Percy’s giggling and swooning made her look really young. Their age-difference and Alexi’s bossy, forceful personality, is saved only because Percy begins to show some backbone and corrects Alexi when he misdirects his anger towards her. The danger to Percy is ongoing (the Guard is fighting for her), and Alexi does not do well in those circumstances. There was one particular scene where the result of Alexi’s forcefulness is conveyed which made me dislike him quite a bit, despite his regret for his actions.

Other relationships within the Guard, which were hinted at in the first book are further cultivated here. Percy as the perceptive newcomer urges Elijah, Jane, Rebecca, Michael and Josephine to be open about their feelings before they either ruin the group dynamic or something happens in the battle with Darkness. I’ve been particularly interested in Rebecca, who has loved Alexi for years but that isn’t returned. She instead sees Alexi very happy with Percy and dispairs, oblivious to the fact that Michael has been in love with her.  The story seems to concludes satisfactorily in this second volume, although it looks like there will be a short story that focuses on one pairing in the guard in A Midwinter Fantasy (October 2010). I am not sure if there will be a continuation after this book, although I’m sure there could be.

Overall: The lovely, dense language is why I like this series, although it’s Gothic tone and embellishments mean that the book is something to be slowly savored, and some readers may chafe at the pacing. I thought the language in this installment was even more lovely than the first book, but I had some minor reservations in this one compared to the first.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Smokin Hot Books – 4 smooches
Lurv a la mode – 4 and a half scoops (out of 5)
Brooke Reviews – positive
Smexy Books – 4.5 out of 5
Babbling about Books - B
A Buckeye Girl Reads – positive
Anna’s Book Blog – 5 (out of 5)

Finding the Lost by Shannon K. Butcher

This is the second book of The Sentinel Wars by Shannon K. Butcher. I was sent these by the publisher, Penguin, for review. This series is about a race of warriors who protect the human race and the world from monsters called the Synestryn.

My review of Book 1, Burning Alive can be found here: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png

The Premise: When Andra Madison was a teenager, her family was attacked by monsters. Ever since then, Andra’s been caring for her sister Nika, the only surviving member of her family who has been so traumatized, she needs constant care in a mental institution. Now Andra makes her living by saving kids who are taken by these monsters. Paul is a Theronai, one of the Sentinel races, who has been searching for a woman that has the right bloodline to be his companion. The Theronai fight against the Synestryn, but it’s been a difficult battle because their race is getting older and their women are extremely rare. If Paul doesn’t find the right match, his soul will perish, and he will become a monster himself. Paul is looking for such a match with Logan, a Sanguinar (sort of vampire), and Madoc, another Theronai warrior, when they find Andra fighting the Synestryn. Somehow Andra has the right bloodline to be a possible match.

Read an Excerpt of Finding the Lost here

My Thoughts: This book has less set up than the first book, Burning Alive, because it’s assumed that the reader knows the world and what’s been happening. There’s references to the Theronai and the Synestryn monsters without having to go into detail about them. I thought this was a positive.  In the first book there was a lot of explanation about what was going on which didn’t need to be delved into again here. Instead it gets straight into the action and more time is spent on some of the longer running story arcs which will be ongoing throughout the series. On the other hand, this means if you haven’t read book one, you will be lost, so I recommend that if you want to read this series, you start with the first book, Burning Alive.

The heroine in this book is a fighter since she’s been killing the Synestryn and saving children for many years. I liked that her focus was on her sister and helping Nika get better. It made her a sympathetic character and it made her motivations for going to the Theronai stronghold so that they could see what was wrong with Nika, believable. Andra already knows about the monsters, so compared the the heroine in the first book, she doesn’t need much convincing about the existence of inhuman races that fight the evil creatures. At times however, I thought she could be a little too accepting and hardly blinked an eye at some of the concepts that should have been new to and strange to her. For example – the idea of magic through the bond with Paul. She doesn’t question that it’s possible and tries it out for herself, easily mastering the concept. It pushed on the boundaries of my disbelief that although her first try exhausted her, only a day or so later she is doing so much more with it, based on a couple of sentences of instruction.

While Andra was a very different heroine from the first book, I thought that Paul was really similar to the first hero, Drake. Except for a lost love that makes Paul more careful in his relationship with Andra, the two warriors were practically interchangeable in my mind. There wasn’t as much character development for the men as there is for the women.  As in the first book, there’s more over-the-top male protectiveness from all the Theronai men (“It kills me to see you suffer”) melded with a tragic hero image.

The heat level in this book is higher than what I normally read. There are a couple of marathon sex scenes in here which corresponds to what I’ve come to expect since reading the first book (two pages just on a kiss, so extrapolate that).  For those who like a steamy sex scene, this book will deliver.

Again, I seem to like the secondary characters and story lines more than the primary ones. The secondary character of Madoc, a Theronai warrior who is hiding the fact that his soul really is withering away, was more interesting. Madoc’s romance is suggested but I don’t know if his story is sequel bait or not (there are a lot of Theronai men introduced that I suspected as sequel bait). Meanwhile the story of Sybil, who I found fascinating in the first book is expounded upon here and I liked where it went quite a bit.

While I liked this book a bit better than the first one, it suffers from some of the same flaws. The biggest issue I have is that the story can be overwrought and sometimes it feels like things are put in there for dramatic effect, but they don’t make much logical sense. I already went into the way Andra used magic, but here’s another example: the hero and heroine mutually thinking that they are not worthy of each other. Anara thinks she’s at fault that her mother and two sisters were attacked by monsters and she couldn’t save them. This doesn’t make sense, how was she supposed to save them from a bunch of monsters she knew nothing about? It makes even less sense that her failure at protecting the people she loves is the reason she pushes Paul away. Everyone she loves gets hurt, so she should push him away. She says this consistently, yet suddenly changes her mind in a very convenient moment.  Meanwhile, Paul tries to make Andra stay with him with his power, until he stops himself. Andra forgives him immediately without even getting angry about it, yet anytime she says she can’t stay with him, he’s convinced it’s because he did this bad thing. It was just silly.

Overall: I liked this book better than the first one: Andra was a stronger character than the first heroine, and Paul was a more honest hero, but I have big reservations about the level of drama that’s injected into the story, which made things lack believability.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Book Lush (positive review)
(let me know if you’ve reviewed this book and I will link to it)

They Call Me Death by Missy Jane

They Call Me Death
Missy Jane

I won this over at Scooper Speaks.

The Premise:
Alexia Williams was once a regular wife and mother when shifters suddenly made themselves known to the population and a horrifying war began. After it was over, Alexia’s family was dead and the shifters and humans have settled into separate territories in an uneasy state of relative peace. The Combine Human States (CHS) doesn’t allow any shifters in their lands and Alexia has become a female killing machine, manning the wall that separates the CHS and The Federal Nation of Therianthropes (FNT). Then Andor, a Golden Eagle shifter comes into her life, telling her that it’s not all as she thinks on the human side and he needs her help because shifters are going missing and they think that humans are responsible.

Read an excerpt of They Call me Death here

My Thoughts: I hadn’t really heard about this book until I got it. The cover sort of looks like an urban fantasy and when I started reading it, the story felt like it fell into that category, but as I continued it started to feel more like a paranormal romance. I just looked at the spine (duh, I should have looked before starting), and it says “urban fantasy romance”. It definitely feels like a blend of urban fantasy and paranormal romance to me. Also it is only 200 pages so it’s more like a novella than a novel and was a quick read.

It felt like an urban fantasy at first.  The story is told from the first person viewpoint of Alexia, and we learn about her day to day job as a border guard for the Combined Human States Army and that she is a loner known for her uncompromising attitude towards shifters and her job responsibilities. As the book continues, and Andor Olavson is introduced, the book starts going into the paranormal romance territory. At first the relationship progresses slowly and I liked how the author showed the attraction through nervousness on Andor’s part and uncharacteristic trusting on Alexia’s, but then when Alexia fully comes to trust and like Andor, it still felt like it happened a little too quickly. It’s established early on that Alexia saw her husband and child torn apart in front of her by shifters who lived in her neighborhood, and that she had killed many shifters as part of her job. That did not mesh with the Alexia who let’s down her guard so completely in just a few days.

The world building was well done and I wanted to read more about the CHS and the FNT. There’s also a few scenes that illustrated what life was like in the CHS army as a woman surrounded by men that I really liked. Alexia held her own among pedophiles and perverts and men who just like violence. Once Alexia leaves her job to help Andor however, the world building veers towards Andor’s past and more emphasis is placed on their relationship in the story. I felt like there were a few big plot holes that are created because of the relationship. Andor’s explanation for choosing Alexia to help him didn’t make much sense to me – she was Death to shifters but it’s okay because her kills were in self-defense? I don’t know, I was confused. Also Alexia goes from being a confident killer to being very reliant on Andor during a fight – her personality seemed to have gone soft after Andor.

Personal nit: What is up with paranormal romance heroes having hair down to their waist/ass?

Overall: This was OK. A quick novella-length read, world building seems unique and shows promise, and I liked the heroine, but it isn’t quite an urban fantasy, or quite a paranormal romance and that identity crisis could be a problem for readers who prefer one genre over the other.

Buy: Samhain | Amazon | Powells

Links:
FNT blog
Missy Jane’s website

Other reviews:
The author has compiled reviews on her website here.
Please let me know if you have reviewed this and I’ll link to it!

Burning Alive (The Sentinel Wars, bk 1) by Shannon K. Butcher

I received this book for review from the publisher so I could catch up on the series for the release of the newest book, Running Scared which comes out in May.

The Premise: Helen Day has a horrible fear of fire because she’s always had visions of being burned to death while a man watches on and smiles. One day she’s at the local diner with friends when sees the man in her vision sitting a nearby booth, and inadvertently gets his attention. The man Helen fears is Drake, a warrior and member of the Theronai race, one of the Sentinel races that are fighting a secret war against monsters called the Synestryn. The Theronai are slowly dying. They’re getting older, Theronai women are rare, and the race has become infertile, but Helen somehow lessens the constant pain Drake is under and Drake is desperate.

Read Chapter 1 of Burning Alive

My Thoughts: At the start of this book, there’s a lot information about the world of the Theronai and their battle against the Synestryn that the reader and Helen don’t know. It takes a while to get some of the information and in the meantime, Helen is confused and afraid. Of course it doesn’t help matters that Theronai blood draws the horrific Synestryn to them, and Drake and his friends have to protect Helen and her friends at the diner. Helen along with her friends, an elderly school teacher, and the waitress, Lexi fight them every step of the way.  Helen believes her vision and so she’s terrified of Drake.

Helen’s fear of fire was understandable. She’s had her visions for a long time and they are very real to her. The story often brings up this fear as a stumbling block for her and she freezes up, unable to continue when she encounters it. I know I should feel for Helen, but most of the time I found myself wanting to sympathize, yet not being able to. Instead I felt exasperated, especially when her freezing up leads to harsh consequences for others. Helen’s low self-esteem in her looks didn’t help either. The combination of her constant fear and hang-ups disappointed me. I prefer reading about heroines who have more confidence than Helen does.

Drake was even harder to connect to than Helen. He’s a strong warrior who loves his brothers-in-arms and has the weight of decades of killing and of his body’s pain on his shoulders. He is desperate and willing to omit some truths to make Helen his (When I discovered this, he didn’t win any points from me), but I didn’t know much else about his personality.

Even though there are pages and pages of sex scenes which were detailed and explicit, I the relationship didn’t interest me. I felt like there was way too much telling over showing, and we’re in the heads of the hero and heroine a lot yet I wasn’t gleaning much besides the superficial from it. I was being told that Drake thinks Helen is so beautiful and told that Helen thinks Drake is so strong, but it didn’t mean as much to me as being shown why they had those qualities and why he and Helen were right for each other. All there seemed to be was the “soul-mate” concept that is used here – the concept of the Theronai and his mate. And that too bothered me (the soul-mate idea in romance often does). The story suggests Helen has free will and there are other options besides Drake, but the plot really gives her very little choice, so I ended up feeling like they got together because of physical and practical reasons, not emotional ones.

There are secondary characters who were on the page for small moments who had more impact than the main couple. I liked Sybil, who was a truly alien character, and Gilda, the powerful Gray Lady lived up to her title and was ambiguous character.  I also liked Lexi a lot – she fought back and acted quickly during stress, unlike Helen, and Zach, the Theronai who desperately searches for Lexi suggests that there will be a sequel for the two of them (looks like the third book) which I’m more interested in reading.

I found the concept of the strapping warriors of the Theronai and their fight against monsters, their life trees on their chests with leaves that fall as they age, and the souls of who they kill in their swords, a little hokey, especially at the beginning of the book. The names – Theronai, Synestryn, Gerai, Sanguinar (a sort of vampire race), Athanasia, didn’t help either. That aside, the story became more complex as the book went along and the author probably has a bigger story arc planned that will span several books. Even the “good” guys aren’t what they seem.I think a few characters introduced here will reveal hidden agendas and we’ll also find out more about what the enemy Synestryn are up to. It could be an interesting story if I could warm up to the characters more. I hope that the next book has a couple I can connect to better because it’s waiting in my TBR.

Overall: This paranormal romance ended up being a miss for me. There is potential in the underlying story arc over the course of the next few books, and there are a couple of intriguing characters, but in Burning Alive I wasn’t invested in the primary relationship and had to push myself to keep reading. I hope I connect better to the hero and heroine in the next book.

Buy:
Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
The Good, The Bad, and the Unread – C
Babbling about Books and More – C
Book Binge – 4 out of 5