Head Rush by Carolyn Crane

Head Rush
Carolyn Crane

Head Rush, the final installment of the Disillusionist Trilogy, has been one of my most anticipated reads of last year. The ending of the second book made me want this book stat, but I couldn’t find a publish date. Then I learned that Bantam was not publishing it! Ug! Thankfully, Samhain saved the day and published the last part in December (eBook December 2011, print to follow). If you like urban fantasy, this is a good series to try, and it is contained in just three books. There’s also a standalone novella (and I think a second one was announced), but told from the POV of secondary characters. After reading this last book, I didn’t feel like you had to read the novellas to follow the overreaching arc of the main story.
 
Book 1: Mind Games  https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Double Cross https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Standalone Novella: Kitten-tiger and the Monk in Wild & Steamy anthology https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
 
**** Because of the way book 2 ended, I can’t review Head Rush without referring to it and spoiling the earlier books (I’ll be shifty in The Premise, but I can’t stay shifty in My Thoughts), so check out my reviews of Mind Games and Double Cross instead ****
 
 
The Premise: After witnessing a traumatic event a few months ago and learning a thing or two about someone she once trusted, Justine Jones has moved on. What she always wanted is within her grasp. She’s going to nursing school, she’s engaged to the man of her dreams, and her life has settled down – no disillusioning, no zinging, no running into danger. Instead, her life is regimented and protected under the wing of the most powerful man in Midcity. Trouble is, something doesn’t seem to be quite right. Justine chafes a bit under all her protections but her fiance is anxious to know where she is at all times. In the meantime, her friends Simon and Shelby are acting odd around her. It’s as if everyone around her knows something she doesn’t, and they’re tiptoeing around her because of it.
 
Read an excerpt of Head Rush here
 
My Thoughts:  In Mind Games and Double Cross, we’re introduced to the world of Midcity, where highcaps and disillusionists roam. Justine becomes one of the disillusionists under the leadership of Packard, and as the story progresses, she learns about Packard’s greatest enemy and former friend, Otto Sanchez. Everything seemed to revolve around these two men and their differing approaches to protecting their city. Packard works in secret and out of public eye; his Disillusionists doing his work for him, while Otto is the dashing police chief turned mayor, and he is the darling of the city. Both these men are powerful highcaps, both are the city’s defenders, and both are in love with Justine. What I found really gripping about all this is for Justine, it’s difficult to tell which of these two is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Trying to figure it all out, Justine finds herself going back and forth in her allegiances as she learns more about each of them while chasing after murdering highcaps herself.
 
Head Rush has a different vibe from the previous books because not only is Justine no longer disillusioning people, but Packard and Otto have finally shown their cards. At the end of Double Cross the reader knows who has crossed the line and can never come back, and who has redeemed himself. The problem is, Justine doesn’t know what the reader knows, thanks to the present tense narrative and a well-timed memory wipe. Instead of the suspense being about Justine trying to disillusion a murdering highcap or looking for a band of highcap killers, it’s about whether Justine will figure out the truth. Because of that, this book lacks that episodic mystery element that the other books have, and is more about “how and when will Justine find out that someone manipulated her memory”.
 
I think that having Justine get her memories tampered with was an awesome plot twist in the second book, but in the third book, having her slowly figure out what happened restricted the story somewhat. There’s a lot of mundane wedding planning going on, with her best friends giving each other significant looks, but while Justine’s senses are tingling, she’s still utterly in the dark for a big chunk of the story. It was a little frustrating to watch Justine stumble around until she learned what we already knew, but I don’t think there was any other way for her to learn the truth and be convinced of it. So in my mind, it had to happen this way, frustrating as it was to see Justine and Otto together knowing that they are so wrong for each other. I found myself looking forward to Justine finally figuring things out so that the story could move to the next phase, which involves confronting Otto for what he’s done. When we get there, it is as nail biting as I hoped, and the story ramps up in complexity from that point.
 
There were a couple of characters were mentioned in the earlier books who finally make an appearance in this one. They are Justine’s father, and Fawna, the highcap seer that Packard and Otto knew as children. I was expecting someone on the crazy side for Justine’s dad, but I ended up adoring his relationship with his daughter and the way he stepped up to support her. Fawna is a more enigmatic character, and extremely hard to read, but I had the feeling she had an unyielding personality because of her precognitive abilities. I wouldn’t mind learning more about her, but there wasn’t room for it in this story.
 
As for Justine’s friends, they are as well-written as ever. Towards the end of the book, Justine’s emotions about them were palpable. There were a lot of moments where Justine’s awareness of the people around her were sharply defined. It was a great finish to the series, and a emotional one. I don’t think I expected how profound that ending would be. And the romance, what a heart-wrencher, in a “their love moves you” kind of way.  It was so good, but I still wanted for more scenes between Packard and Justine. What there was, was amazing, but confined to a couple of brief exchanges and a couple of intense scenes. I seriously resented Otto for keeping these two apart, but the character development is so well done that even Otto gets my sympathy.
 
Overall: A great ending to one of my favorite urban fantasy series. The Disillusionment Trilogy feels incredibly well thought out. From the characters to the world, time and again, I was impressed by those little details that offered more insight to the story.
 
Buy: Amazon (kindle) | B&N (eBook) | Samhain (different formats)
 
Other reviews:
My World…in words and pages – “wonderfully done”

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

Double Cross by Carolyn Crane

Carolyn Crane

This is a book I’ve held back on buying until I decided that the self-inflicted torturing to hold back the TBR had to stop. I’m glad I bought it but Holy Shizz, I need the third book now!

My review for Book 1:

Mind Gameshttps://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

The Premise: Justine Jones continues her work as a disillusionist for Packard, and her newest target is Ez, a dangerous highcap who can manipulate a person through their dreams. It seems like business as usual, until Justine starts wondering if Ez is really responsible for the murders she was imprisoned for. Meanwhile, a new band of killers is hitting Midcity – the Dorks. These unknown people have been shooting at seemingly random Midcity dwellers, who are later identified by Packard’s men as highcaps. No one can figure out how the Dorks can tell that their victims are highcaps or how they are impervious to highcap abilities, including precognitivity. Justine fears for the safety of the highcaps in her life: her paramour Otto Sanchez, and her enigmatic leader, Packard.

**** There are spoilers for the first book in this review, so if you haven’t already read book 1, you may want to avert your eyes and skip to the ‘Overall’ section ****

Read an excerpt of Chapter one of Double Cross here

My Thoughts: One of the things that I love about this series is the comic-book, fight-between-good-and-evil feel. In Midcity, a sprawling metropolis with a comic book name, live highcaps, people who have superhero-like powers hidden behind ordinary facades. Among the highcaps are two powerful men: Sterling Packard and Otto Sanchez. While Otto thrives under the glowing approval of his fair city as their Golden-Boy mayor, Packard is a criminal mastermind who is content to manipulate Midcity in obscurity. Each is the other’s greatest enemy.

The good guys have a little tarnish on their armor and the bad guys believe that they’re White Knights protecting the city at all costs. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is who. Especially if you are our books narrator, Justine Jones. In the first book, Mind Games, she trusted Packard until she found out that disillusioning people comes with a price — total reliance on Packard or becoming a mindless vegetable.  Similarly, she distrusted Otto (he was her target for disillusionment), until she discovered his past with Packard and the real reason Packard wanted him disillusioned. This reader is firmly in the Packard camp, but that doesn’t mean the way things ended in Mind Games left me despairing. The relationship between Justine and these two different men is a work in progress, and I’ve been having a great time trying to pick up on the author’s hints about what’s coming next (and nodding to myself when I realize things set up in the first book. This includes the first person present narration — ha, I see what you did there, Ms. Carolyn Crane). I said this in my review of the first book, and I’ll say it again: it’s been a treat to revel in the GREY! And while Justine doesn’t seem to be asking this question, I am: who is the real hero and the real villain? I think Double Cross steps us closer to the answer.

Double Cross begins shortly after Mind Games left off. Packard works with Otto’s people in an uneasy alliance in return for his continued freedom. His group of disillusionists, which includes Justine, are still working, but now their targets are those highcaps imprisoned by Otto over the years. Justine, as is her nature, wonders if Disillusioning these people is the right thing to do: would they prefer imprisonment over being rebooted? She doesn’t feel free herself because she has to keep ‘zinging’ people with medical fears to stay alive; she doesn’t want to do something that gives herself relief at the expense of others. This leads her to be dismayed when Packard remarks that Ez, her newest target, doesn’t seem to have the right personality to have done her crimes. Unfortunately for Justine, circumstances allow Ez a way to worm into her and Packard’s dreams, which means she has to disillusion her or be a victim of Ez herself.

With Justine’s involvement with both men, she’s yet another reason for them to be rivals. Justine is relieved to be back in the good graces of  the charismatic Otto, whom she thinks is the perfect man, and stays wary yet drawn to Packard.  Packard warns Justine about Otto’s character, but Justine sees manipulation in everything Packard says. Underneath it all, Packard and Otto’s past is simmering under the surface. I’m happy to say that Double Cross settles some questions about that past and what started their rift. It also settles which man Justine really loves, but it’s not quite time for an HEA yet. Anyway, there were hints made in Mind Games that finally make sense, and I was happy with the story I got.  For extra points Packard and Otto’s past neatly dovetails into the present. Perhaps a little perfectly, but I liked the way things went, and I liked how their past informs their current journeys (one towards redemption, another towards moral ruin).

I think that Double Cross is the book that has me more obsessed about the three main characters and their relationships, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that it furthered my understanding of a couple of favorite side characters as well. The two I felt I got to know a little better were Shelby, the eternal pessimist, and Simon, the gambler. Shelby surprises us with a little bit of optimism in this story, and it was rather delightful to see her character grow. Simon is his usual self but he and Justine have an understanding . Although Simon keeps doing risky things, and Justine sometimes has to stop him, they have a friendship of sorts.

So. The ending. It was a bit of a cliffhanger and I’m not sure what to say about this. I won’t say anything about what the cliffhanger was about, just my reaction to it: I am surprisingly OK. I usually hate a cliffhanger, but you guys, this one was a little bit awesome.  Although I would like to know WHY there is no information online about WHEN the next book is out EXACTLY(?!?!! Why?!?!) I’m not feeling so totally sideswiped that I will go out on a killing rampage. I warn you though: you will want to read book 3 really badly after reading Double Cross, so this may be something you want to take into account when deciding when to read this book.

Overall: I’m loving this urban fantasy series and despite the cliffhanger ending (really, when is book 3 out?), I think this installment is as good if not better than the last. As usual, there’s an excellent balance of imperfect characters with a well thought out plot. The three core characters (heroine, and two men whose roles haven’t been solidified yet), show us a little bit more who they really are in each book, but I still can’t predict their next move. I’m very satisfied so far with where things are going, but I’m relieved that this is a planned trilogy — the final book can’t come soon enough.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Karissa’s Reading Review – gave it 4/5 but called it bleak and warns you’ll be left feeling angry (I think this is because of the cliffhanger)
Read, React, Review – positive
My world.. in words and pages – positive
Ellz Readz – positive
Babbling about Books, and More – B+
Smexy Books – 5/5
The Book Smugglers – 8/10 (check out the “Smuggled” videos posted there – hilarious)
Fiction Vixen – 5/5

Mind Games by Carolyn Crane

Mind Games
Carolyn Crane

This has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2010, mostly because I’ve been reading and loving The Thrillionth Page, which is the author’s blog, and her creativity mixed with the promising premise is a difficult combination to resist. The only reason I didn’t read this earlier was it kept getting pre-empted by other books I’d promised people I’d read. Luckily this means less of a wait for me for book 2! I’m so relieved that this book did not disappoint.

The Premise: Justine Jones is a hypochondriac who fears vein star syndrome, a condition her mother also feared and actually died of. Despite constant trips to the ER, Justine manages to maintain the semblance of normality – with a job as a clothing store manager and a long term boyfriend named Cubby. Then she meets Sterling Packard, the owner of the Chinese restaurant, Mongolian Delites. Packard is a highcap (a person with special mental powers) with the ability to read a person’s psychology, and he says he can help Justine if she joins his team of Disillusionists. Justine will be able to fight crime by channeling her fear into criminals and breaking them down so that they can be reprogrammed to be productive members of society. In return Justine will release the fear that cripples her.  That’s what she’s told anyway.

Read an excerpt of the first chapter of Mind Games

My Thoughts: The title of this book is perfect. Mind games are explored on several levels, from the mind against the self, to one mind against another, and outwards as highcaps affect a whole city.  We begin with Justine, the first person narrator who readily admits she has a psychological problem (unique in urban fantasy in itself). As a hypochondriac, Justine’s fears lead her to lose perspective which affects her work and her relationship with her boyfriend, not to mention pushing Justine closer and closer to a breakdown. When Justine learns how to push those fears into others, the mind game is extended. Not only does Justine have to play a game – pretending to be someone else to get close to her marks to Disillusion them, but then she gets to see them go through the very thing she suffers through on a regular basis. As Justine becomes more involved in this new life, she begins to realize that there is even more games being played. In the same way Justine chooses to mislead and Disillusion people for the Greater Good, it seems that Packard chooses to keep his plans secret from his team. When Justine discovers more of Packard’s secrets, she begins to question everything.

And therein we have what I find delicious in this book. Ambiguity! It’s a real puzzle figuring out the good guys and the bad guys are.  Justine wants to do the right thing, but what she’s doing is not within the law. She’s essentially part of a ragtag group of vigilantes who follow a mastermind of dubious reputation. And yet, she is drawn to Packard in a way that is different from other men. Cubby, and another love interest are perfect on the surface for being really normal and fitting Justine’s idea of perfect, but Packard sees Justine in a way that they don’t. Essentially, I think that Packard may look like the bad guy now, but this could change, and this is possibly the first time in a long time I found myself rooting for the “Bad Boy” over the “Nice Guy”. Of course, I could be totally wrong. I really am not sure if Packard is the right choice either.  I can see things going very badly depending on his leadership, and I honestly can’t tell which way he leans or whether his idea of right and wrong is something I’d agree with. The uncertainty! It is so good.

There are other things I liked besides the delightful premise and the ambiguity of it’s characters.  There is of course the setting. Midcity is a fictional place which seems to nod at comic book tropes. It’s a place where many believe in high capacity humans (highcaps), while many do not. A place where the dashing Chief of Police, Otto Sanchez fights a Brick throwing killer, and the vigilante Disillusionists fight crime secretly in the background. This is all a lovely backdrop, but what I liked first and foremost was Justine. You would think that her anxiety would make her annoying, but I found her to be a strong. logical character who happens to have this fear. On a personal level, anxiety runs in my family, so her description of the ramp up to an attack (especially when she watches her victims go through it) was both true-to-life and strangely comforting. Some of the things people do to reassure themselves they are ok, while simultaneously doing the opposite struck a cord.  I also enjoyed the secondary characters who felt fully-fleshed no matter how short their time on the page. From Shelby, a Disillusionist girlfriend, who thinks that happiness is an unattainable illusion, to the Silver Widow, a target of disillusionment with a disturbing intellect mixed with no moral code. All of these things together made for a very strong story.

The only complaint I have (and it’s a small one) was that I wanted to know more. More in particular about what happened to the people Justine disillusioned. Once her part is done, it’s up to another Disillusionist to take over and we don’t really know what happens once Justine moves on to the next target. These are things that may be resolved in the next book however, and I’m eager to find out if they do.

Overall: So good! If you are a fan of UF or of stories with moral ambiguity, do go read this one. I thought this was a fast-paced urban fantasy with a refreshing new premise and a flawed, Everywoman main character who I liked, a plot with plenty of surprises, and plenty of gray areas to keep me turning things over in my head for months. I’m eagerly anticipating the second book, Double Cross (coming out September 28th this year).

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Lurv a la Mode – 3 scoops (out of 5)
See Michelle Read – positive review
Ellz Readz – positive review
The Book Smugglersdouble 8’s (Excellent – a joint review)
SciFiChick – positive review
Read React Review – positive review
Angieville (and an interview) – positive review
Smexy Books – 5 (out of 5)

Giveaway winner! and new covers of books I want

OK, should have posted this earlier but I’m never sure where the time goes some days. The winner of the two paranormal ARCs is

SCOTT!!


Congratulations! I’m sending you an email to let you know you won too, and the books will be going out next week. 🙂


In other news I’ve been updating my Wishlists (2009 and 2010), and I was happy to find that Linnea Sinclair’s Rebels and Lovers, which has a March 2010 release date has a cover.  (Yayyyyy!!!). This is another book in the Dock Five universe, and it focuses on another Guthrie brother who hasn’t really been in the picture until now. Here’s the blurb from Sinclair’s website:

Rebels and Lovers
Linnea Sinclair

“OUT OF OPTIONS…Devin Guthrie can’t forget Captain Makaiden Griggs even though it’s been two years since she was in his family’s employ. A Guthrie does not fall in love with a mere shuttle pilot. Going against his wealthy family’s wishes isn’t an option—not with the Empire in political upheaval, much of it caused by Devin’s renegade older brother, Admiral Philip Guthrie. The Guthries must solidify their standing—financially, politically and socially—or risk losing it all. But when the Guthrie heir—Devin’s nineteen-year old nephew— goes missing, Devin’s loyalty to his family’s values is put to the test. And suddenly the unthinkable becomes the only option available: Devin must break the rules and risk allying himself with the one woman he could never forget—and was forbidden to love.”

YES. More space opera romance please. *claps gleefully*

Mind Games
Carolyn Crane


And this one has been floating about all week, but I’m still going to post it – Carolyn Crane’s Mind Games, which is coming out March 2010 as well. She has a great blog called The Thrillionth Page where she writes about some of the things she loves in books shes reading. I’m looking forward to her book just based on how much I like her blog. This is a first book of a planned trilogy, and we won’t have to wait long for the second book, which will come out in September 2010.