Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep

I liked the fun series set in Bigtime about superheroes by Jennifer Estep, so when I found out she had an urban fantasy series in the works, it went on my wishlist. I won a copy of this book over at vampirewire.

The Premise: Gin Blanco is an assassin who works at a barbecue restaurant called the Pork Pit during the day. She relies on her knives and tools for her job, but in case she needs it she’s also a Stone Elemental – someone with power over rocks and Earth with a small amount of Ice Elemental power as well. One day, Gin is hired to kill an embezzler, but is surprised during the job by a double cross by the client. Within moments, Gin is wanted by the police and everyone around her is in danger. To clean things up Gin makes a surprising move: she teams up with a straight-laced cop, Donovan Caine.

My Thoughts: Reading Spider’s Bite right after The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay really highlighted how expectations of a character’s morals and whether they live up to them is part of what affects my reading experience. Although I didn’t always agree with what Gin did, I expected her to be ruthless, and it wasn’t as much a problem for me when she was. I understood her rules, and although she was not above doing something I find questionable, she was consistent with what my expectations were: a killer who doesn’t pretend to be one of the good guys. The interest is in knowing up front that Gin walks a fine line, and I’m not sure whether or not she will go over.  Somehow, I root for her despite her profession.

Because of the female assassin, this book reminds me of Kelley Armstrong’s Nadia Stafford series, which is a series I LOVE and am patiently waiting to continue. Of course this book is really different, but the smart, capable heroine is similar. I feel like this series, which has three books out this year (Web of Lies comes out in May and Venom comes out in September), fills some of the void I feel over Nadia Stafford, and I recommend this series for people who like that one.

What I really like about this book is how the hero, Donovan Caine, an honest detective with ideals, has to work with with an assassin in this story! He’s the one trying to make sure that Gin doesn’t do things that go over the line, and he has a moral dilemma – he likes and is attracted to her while he thinks that she’s a cold-blooded killer. His his physical attraction to someone who may have murdered his partner and all the mixed up feelings of guilt and anger involved with that make their relationship kind of delicious. I’d love to see how things develop in the next two books. One thing I’d say though – Gin isn’t subtle about her appreciation of the detective. Her thoughts are clear to the reader and I think that romance readers would be unfazed but readers who don’t like anything explicit could be turned off.

The relationships in this series feel real life, maybe because I thought Gin felt like a three-dimensional character. The people in Gin’s life felt like family – her handler Fletcher and his son Finnegan, and the twin dwarf sisters Jo-Jo and Sophia have a long back story that is hinted at but you feel like they’ve had years together to build their relationships.

Another thing I liked was the idea of the Elementals and how they are a normal part of society (along with giants, vampires and dwarfs). There are different shades and kinds of Elemental power: Ice, Stone, Air and Fire, and Elementals veer to certain jobs because of it just like any other talent. It’s also common for people to have their own personal rune to reflect this talent.There’s a promising introduction to Fire Elemental and Big Bad, Mab Monroe, who sounds like she owns the town and may be someone Gin will eventually confront in the next couple of books. Mab and Gin’s past looks to be part of a larger story arc I”d like to read.

Note: for fans of Estep’s Bigtime series – the Elemental Assassin series has a very different voice and a darker tone, but I noticed a nod to Estep’s previous series in the form of a mention of Fiona Fine. It tickled me. 🙂

Overall: The more I think about it the more I like this book. I recommend this urban fantasy for people who like a smart, practical kind of heroine with a hard edge. If you liked Kelley Armstrong’s Nadia Stafford, I think you will like Gin Blanco. I plan to buy the rest of these books.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Fantasy Dreamer’s Rambings5 out of 5
Smexy Books – 5 out of 5
A Buckeye Girl Reads – found the first half slower than the last but positive review
Literary Escapism – positive review

Best of 2008 and New Year’s Resolution for 2009

A lot of people are posting a year end post for 2008. It's nice to see people looking back at the books they read for the year and picking out their favorite reads, and it's interesting to see what they picked. I thought it would be a good thing to try myself because with it recorded, I can look back in later years and see what my tastes were like.

Out of a total of 77 books read this year, very few got into my best list, but book ratings are highly subjective.  I just went with my gut and rated them according to how I felt about the book as soon as I finished reading them. These lists are compiled from ratings I put down in my private notes.

All the links to my reviews here are to my Livejournal.

The Books that Blew Me Away  – These books are those I gave top marks to when I first read them. It's a very hard list to get onto because I have to feel like I'm falling in love and cannot be parted from the book for it to get on this list. Only three got on it this year.

Books that Came Close to Blowing Me Away – These came very close to getting top marks from me. This is a personal thing, but the books above I would put down and then obssessively think about when I could pick them up again. The books below, I didn't feel as consumed by the book, but still felt really impressed by them.

  • Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair (my review)
  • Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready (my review)
  • Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (I need to review this when I have the book in my hands)
  • The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald (review coming soon)

Books I Really Liked/ Keepers. These each had several moments where I loved the book and overall I think these are books that deserve to be loved and read by others, but for some reason or other these didn't get into the top 7. I still consider these keepers, and all these authors are pretty much autobuys/ must read backlist authors. There are 19 of these books this year (Linnea Sinclair's name comes up a lot here, I was reading her backlist in 2008):

  • The Down Home Zombie Blues by Linnea Sinclair (my review)
  • Exit Strategy (Nadia Stafford, Bk 1) by Kelley Armstrong (my review)
  • Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas (my review)
  • Grimspace by Ann Aguirre (my review)
  • An Accidental Goddess by Linnea Sinclair (my review)
  • Urban Shaman by C. E. Murphy (my review)
  • Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre (my review)
  • Cry Wolf (Alpha and Omega, Bk 1) by Patricia Briggs (my review)
  • Easy Freedom by Liz Berry (my review)
  • Jinx by Jennifer Estep (my review)
  • Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair (my review)
  • Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair (my review pt 1, pt 2)
  • The Good Neighbors by Holly Black (my review)
  • The Nanny by Melissa Nathan (my review)
  • Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, Bk 1) by Charlaine Harris (my review)
  • Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler (my review)
  • Burndive by Karin Lowachee (my review)
  • An Ice Cold Grave (Harper Connelly, Bk 3) by Charlaine Harris (my review)
  • The Decoy Princess and Princess at Sea by Dawn Cook (my review)


And for my New Year's Resolution – it's the same resolution as last year , to read 100 books.

  • 2006 – 103 books
  • 2007 - 99 books
  • 2008 – 77 books
  • 2009 – let's get it back up to 100!!

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More book giveaways in the blogosphere

1) Ok if you didn't win the Jinx contest I posted about a couple of entries ago, never fear there is more.

Yankee Romance Reviews has an interview with author Jennifer Estep and a contest for her new release Jinx, here . All you have to do is comment, but do it soon, the deadline to enter is end of day today.


2) In the same vein, there is another Jennifer Estep novel up for grabs at "The Good, The Bad and the Unread" over here. That link is for an except of Hot Mama with what to do to win a copy along with a t-shirt, or a copy of Karma Girl and a t-shirt. Deadline for that one is Sunday Sept 14th.


3) Jeri Smith-Ready has an interview at "Patricia's Vampire Notes" with a contest to win her book Wicked Games. Contest details are here.  Deadline is tomorrow night (midnight Sept 11th).

What I thought was pretty interesting from this interview was that for those of us who already read this book – there are some short stories online to tide us over until the second book of this series (Bad to the Bone) comes out. Oh and newsletter subscribers get these a week early :

Monroe’s story, “Crossroads

Spencer’s story, “Rave On


4) Jeri Smith-Ready again – you can win an advanced reader copy of her new book The Reawakened here. You just have to send her an email with your guess as to who the Raven character is. Which means you have to be a reader of her series. Hurry on this one, it also ends tonight. I may enter this myself!



Jennifer Estep

Karma Girllivejournal | vox

Hot Mamalivejournal | vox

Jinxlivejournal | vox

Jeri Smith-Ready

Wicked Gamelivejournal | vox

Eyes of Crowlivejournal | vox

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Jinx by Jennifer Estep

Jinx (Bigtime)
Jennifer Estep

Jinx is the third book in this series which is a tongue-in-cheek take on comic books. If you've read the previous books: Karma Girl and Hot Mama, you know that Bigtime is a city full of superheroes and ubervillians, secret identities are sort of obvious, and yards of spandex and sequins are required.

My reviews of the previous books:

Karma Girllivejournal | vox

Hot Mamalivejournal | vox

Cover: They swtiched over from a more comic cover, where the characters are drawn, to real people against a sort of comic-looking background. Not sure the reason for this – maybe to make the books look less chick-lit and more like it's a romance/paranormal?

Story: As with the previous books, the story is written in the first person point of view. This time it's Bella Bulluci, who was introduced in Hot Mama as the sister of the male love interest, and a fashion designer with muted tastes. Bella's family has a superhero tradition, her grandfather, father and brother have taken turns being Johnny Angel, a character who rides a motorcycle and fights crime. Bella's dad was killed earlier in the year because of this activity, and Bella has a very hard time forgiving him for choosing to put himself in danger rather than staying safe for his family. She remembers wanting to be a superhero when she was young, but soon was jaded by the worry and fear about her father night after night.

Her past experiences have caused Bella to hate superheroes – she thinks they are ridiculous and can't understand why people choose to have a secret identity. Her rule is to never get involved with a superhero – despite being in a family of them, and despite being closely connected with the Fearless Five, Bigtime's most powerful superhero group. AND despite Bella having her own powers. She has a "supercharged telekinesis" which gives her luck – both bad and good, and which annoys her a lot. It increases with her emotions and discharges with often embarrassing results, but Bella is usually not harmed very much.

I found this contrariness despite who she has surrounding her very stubborn on Bella's part. Her anger at her father's death colors her decisions. I still I found her feelings believable at first. Her practical and worrywort nature explains a about how she reacts towards the danger of being a superhero. Then Bella gets caught in the crossfire between the Fearless Five and some ubervillians after a fund-raiser at the Bigtime Museum of Modern Art. Bella is taken away from danger by Debonair and soon becomes involved with him despite her rule. This is where I found her back and forth annoying – she would really firmly (and sometimes a little meanly) push him away, and then the next time she sees him, they're getting it on. Then she'd remember her rule and tell him to leave after a long evening together, or say it was nice but nothing can come out of it. Once or twice – fine, but this happened a few times. The only explanation of why Debonair is OK with her waffling is that he's been secretly in love with her for months, but how easily he forgives her for hurting him was surprising. Their relationship was really the focus of the book, with the action against ubervillians Hangman and Prism as a secondary story.

Overall – I read this book in practically one sitting. It was fun, and doesn't take itself seriously, so worth reading when you're in the mood for something light. I think I liked it as much as I liked Karma Girl, and I thought it was better than Hot Mama. Bella was a more interesting protagonist and had a less dramatic and flamboyant personality than Fiona, Hot Mama's protagonist. I also liked Debonair and his shy alter ego – he was very sweet towards Bella throughout the story. And as usual the over the top and silly background of the Bigtime world makes things lighthearted and an easy read. Most readers will pick up on the secret identities of some of the superheroes and ubervillians (first name and last name have the same letter, not nice people = ubervillian, nice people = superhero, real job sometimes related to superhero power…), and it's amusing how oblivious the main characters are about the clues.

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Jinx Contest

Jinx (Bigtime)
Jennifer Estep

Do people want me to keep posting about interesting contests? If not, I'll just keep them on my google reader shared links.

For people who haven't read a Bigtime novel, Jennifer Estep is giving away copies of Karma Girl and Hot Mama (books 1 and 2) to celebrate the release of Jinx (book 3)

My reviews:

Karma Girl – livejournal | vox

Hot Mama – livejournal | vox

Here’s what you can win:

1) An autographed copy of Karma Girl (mass market)

2) An autographed copy of Karma Girl (trade paperback)

3) An autographed copy of Hot Mama (mass market)

4) An autographed copy of Hot Mama (trade paperback)

5) Autographed copies of Karma Girl and Hot Mama (trade paperback)

6) Autographed copies of Karma Girl and Hot Mama (mass market)

7) A Karma Girl T-shirt and autographed copy of Karma Girl (mass market)

8) A Hot Mama T-shirt and an autographed copy of Hot Mama (mass market)

All of the above come with autographed bookmarks, of course. Because you can never have too many bookmarks. :cool:

Click here

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Hot Mama by Jennifer Estep

Hot Mama
Jennifer Estep

I had fun reading Karma Girl so I picked up the second book Hot Mama, when it came out last month. This was also like candy – really easy and fast to read, fun and campy, but I ended up not liking it quite as much as the first one in the series for a number of reasons.

This is the book dedicated to the story of Fiona Fine, successful fashion designer who is really Fiera, part of the Fearless Five. We continue a few months after Karma Girl leaves off with the Five moving on with their lives and Fiona, after mourning her fiance's death has started thinking about dating again. In the meantime, two more ubervillans – Intelligal and Siren, have entered the scene in Bigtime, New York. Much of the first part of the book rehashed book one – so new readers could read this book without reading the first one (but they would probably be spoiled for book one's ending).

 Fiona Fine aka Fiera is a different character from Carmen Cole – and this was probably part of my issue. She's got a fiery personality to match her superpowers but sometimes stubborn and willfull felt like bullheaded and obtuse! I missed Carmen because she paid attention to details while Fiona sort of stomps all over the place and ignores subtlety – even when it was so obvious to everyone else. In Karma Girl I could guess the secret identities of many of the superheros/ubervillans. I think it wasn't meant to be hard to do, but in Hot Karma it felt like we got twice the amount of hints and Fiona isn't even *trying*. At least when Fiona finally figures it out she does say how ridiculously obvious it was, which somewhat mollified me because I was ready to throw my hands up at that point.

I felt that while there were a couple of compelling emotional story arcs in here (Fiona's grieving for her fiance, falling in love and dealing with vigilante revenge) the book moved forward through Fiona's dating, working, and fighting the bad-guys without me to feeling like I really connected with her character. Emotions of hers were repeatedly brought up but I still coudn't buy it. I got that she was hot-tempered, but I wish I understood her reason for her flare-ups more than – so and so is annoying. Also when she thought about her fiance she'd describe his qualities but I didn't feel emotionally connected to her grief just because she kept saying she was sad. I could buy Carmen's actions and thoughts in Karma Girl and that coupled with the zany story made me really like it. In Hot Mama the fun stuff was there but I didnt feel as involved in Fiona's character. It's weird though – I mean this book is a seriously easy read. So Fiona wasn't enough for me to put the book down, and the rest of the world in the book kept me engaged, but once I finished I felt unsatisfied with how I felt about her character. Maybe this is a matter of preference. I'd be interested if others agree/disagree about Fiona. Meanwhile I'd still recommend this for those looking for an unserious, very-much-like-candy read.

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Karma Girl by Jennifer Estep

Karma Girl
Jennifer Estep

Wow, I'm so behind on reviews. Oh well. *laze*.

Karma Girl is about Carmen Cole, a reporter who finds out her fiance is cheating on her with her best friend Karen on her wedding day. On top of that she learns he's a superhero and Karen, her now ex-best friend is his arch-enemy. Angry and bitter, Carmen exposes them both, then continues to expose other superheroes and villians throughout the country in her quest for what she considers karmic revenge. Eventually she ends up in Bigtime, New York. She's been hired as a reporter to expose the Fearless Five, Bigtime's resident band of superheroes who constantly battle their archenemies the Terrible Triad. This is where things go bad, and Carmen discovers there is a downside to what she is doing. Since she's persona non grata to the superhero community, Carmen has to rely on herself to fix her own problems, even though she feels a connection with Striker, leader of the Fearless Five.

This was a fun, sort of campy novel, using a lot of comic book standards - yards and yards of spandex, first and last names beginning with the same letter, powers gained by being dipped in nuclear waste that happened to be lying about in the open, and secret identities. I had a lot of fun reading it and recognizing the tongue in cheek references to comic books and superhero tropes. Superheroes and villians are common in this world and Carmen sees at least 5 on her way to work. They even have designated parts of the city that they protect. All of this is mixed to produce a chick-lit/romance/humorous story. Really easy to read, and hard for me to put down. Yes it does have some superficial characters and Carmen gets very angsty towards the end when she doesn't need to be (sigh, most annoying part of the book), but I could overlook this and found it enjoyable.

Excerpt to first chapter of Karma Girl

Review of Karma Girl at Dear Author. With amusing youtube video review that you must watch.

I'll be reading book two – "Hot Mama" which is out in November, and probably book three - "Jinx", out April 2008.

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