Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil by Barbara Monajem

I received an ARC of this book from Dorchester Publishing.  This is the first book being offered in their Publisher’s Pledge program, where they guarantee the read, or your money back.

The Premise: Ophelia Beliveau is a woman who owns a landscaping business in Bayou Gavotte, Louisiana, and she’s also a vampire. In this series, vampires are people with a rare genetic condition who need blood and sex to sustain them, but Ophelia is going without sex and hunts nutria not humans. She’s done with men because of bad experiences with people who got too crazy over her vampire allure, and when she calls the cops to scare her neighbor who trashed her garden, she’s not happy that Gideon O’Toole answers the call. Ophelia finds herself actually liking him, and tries to push him away for his own good. But Gideon isn’t easily swayed, and he actually wants to help her despite her railing at him to mind his business.  As more and more things happen, like a blackmailer targeting people in the town and dead bodies showing up, it’s a good thing that Gideon is on Ophelia’s side.

Browse the first 33 pages of this book here

My Thoughts: I am having a hard time explaining how I feel about this book in my head. Maybe the word is “surprising”. I look at the cover and it doesn’t really give a good indication of what’s inside. Hints of the Southern setting and the vampires are suggested by the magnolia flower and the drop of blood, but it but I don’t think it conveys the quirkiness of the story. There’s a small town humor that does remind me of Sookie Stackhouse, so I understand the comparison. There’s nosy neighbors, people freely giving their opinion about other people’s sex lives, gossips, and peeping toms. But then there’s the bizarre as well: the fetish clubs and a local rock star and tourists that come to Bayou Gavotte to experience “vampires”.  Since vampires need blood and sex, they often run the fetish clubs to help them feed, and an Underground led by head club owner Lep makes sure that people keep things legal, while the cops take care of the rest of the town. It seems to be a matter of opinion whether vampires really exist – some people think it’s just a myth, others are certain.

The idea of this town teeters on the edge of being over-the-top, but the main characters anchor it down, especially Gideon, who is a refreshingly levelheaded hero, even when Ophelia gives him every reason to lose it. Gideon is one of those people who doesn’t believe in vampires, despite his reactions to Ophelia because of her vampire allure. Ophelia is a very interesting character. Quite vulnerable and yet combative at the same time. She is not nice to Gideon when they first meet and I had a hard time understanding why she was so rude until more of her past is revealed and her reasons for staying away from men made more sense. Ophelia is also scared because Gideon doesn’t know what she is, and she’s sure he will be disgusted if he doesn’t go crazy over her. Luckily for her, Gideon has the patience of Job when it comes to Ophelia and he keeps trying to help even when she continues to distrust him.

Usually if a book puts a lot of emphasis on the physical and on sex, the romance doesn’t work very well for me. This book has some explicit scenes and sometimes I felt like everyone was a little too preoccupied with sex, but the personal connection was there for me as well.  Ophelia and Gideon go through murders and investigations, arguing with each other the whole time, and slowly getting to know each other before anything happens.  They both come into the relationship wanting to do a better job than their parents did, and we learn what their baggage is as the book progresses. They are also both subject to the same forthright interference from everyone else: Ophelia really should just have sex with Gideon, Gideon dates a lot of bimbos, Gideon is good in bed, Gideon better treat Ophelia right. I had to take it as part of the small town humor.

I thought that there was a cozy mystery feel to this book.  Not that Gideon is an amateur sleuth (he conducts his investigations professionally,) but because of the small town combined with the series of crimes – vandalism and blackmail that escalate into murder. The mystery was a strong part of the book and the killer keeps Gideon and Ophelia on their toes with one thing after another so I didn’t really guess who it was or what they were up to for a while. There’s a lot going on, but it felt organic and unforced.

There’s a large cast of side colorful characters who that also added to the story such as Gideon’s sister Art, who is being blackmailed but is too embarrassed to tell her brother, Ophelia’s theatrical sister Violet who owns a club, Zelda, Ophelia’s niece, who acts a lot older than her age, Constantine, the scary rock star who people think killed his wife, and Ophelia’s odd neighbors.  There were a few “WHAT did they just say/do?!” moments and I just floated along. I think I was charmed by the town and it’s oddball characters and when they did zany things I chalked it up to “I guess that’s Bayou Gavotte”.

One big niggle: Despite waiting before the relationship becomes physical, the hero and heroine really lose their heads when they do, and they managed to hit a couple of my pet peeves. I won’t spoil it for people by saying what bugged me, but let’s just say I wish the characters acted less impetuously there.

Also: I googled for other reviews and it’s interesting how many people got the title of the book wrong, probably because of another book’s title. It’s Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil, not Sunrise in THE Garden of Love & Evil. 🙂 I was calling it that too until I realized my mistake!

Overall: A well-written paranormal romance with a cozy mystery feel. I liked this better than I thought I would and would recommend it if you like these two genres, with the caveat that you need to keep an open mind about the town. I found a small town with vampire fetish clubs a bit bizarre, and sometimes I thought people acted inappropriately but the strong story telling and relationship negated those problems for me.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews/links:
Patricia’s Vampire Notes
Guest Blog by Barbara Monajem at Patricia’s Vampire Notes
(I didn’t see any more in my social circle. Please let me know if you reviewed this and I will link you!)

Skin Game by Ava Gray

I picked this one up because Ava Gray is the pseudonym for Ann Aguirre, who is an author I love.

The Premise: Kyra is a con woman with a very special ability. Whenever she touches someone, she picks up their best skill. She’s on the run after embarrassing casino owner Gerard Serrano, a man was responsible for her father’s murder. While on the road, she meets Reyes, who she thinks is a drifter, but who is really a hitman charged with finding out where she hid the stolen money, and with killing her afterwards.

My Thoughts: The two characters had interesting back stories, with imperfect parenting, which served to bond them after their initial mostly physical relationship. I liked that Reyes was a character of mixed racial heritage, and I loved that he was a cook. Kyra’s blase attitude towards sex (she was a one night stand only girl) and how she didn’t cling to Reyes afterward was also different. The secondary characters were also well-written. I was most intruiged by the mysterious Foster, who is a cold and mysterious manipulator, and Gerard Serrano’s right hand man.

After reading this one, I think I understand why the author used a pseudonym: it’s a very different book from the science fiction romance and urban fantasy under the Ann Aguirre name. This one is a lot more steamy, with plenty of explicit sex scenes, which isn’t what you’d encounter with her other series. I don’t tend to go for the steamy books, but the sex in Skin Game was well-written and not purple. I think people who enjoy a high steam factor will enjoy the story.

While the steaminess is a change, the imperfect characters and interesting relationships between them, a hallmark of Aguirre’s writing, are not. They are in full force in this paranormal romance. A con-woman and an assassin, the hero and heroine don’t sound very nice, but it worked because they still had their own personal rules about who they targeted with their skills. Kyra goes to the seediest bars in town and then uses the skills of the resident best dart-thrower or pool player to win a game. In the end, she has to use these borrowed skills with her own nerve to win some cash, which seems like a more honest swindle to me. Reyes also only targets scumbags to kill. It’s because of this code that makes him start to question whether his employer lied to him about Kyra, because in observing her, she isn’t like his usual kills.

I say that this works for the most part because there’s one scene in particular where I felt like the characters stepped too far away from higher moral ground for my comfort. I balked because I felt that Kyra let rage and vengeance dictate her actions, and Reyes and another character did not blink. Looking at it objectively, it’s probably the only way the book could go, and I’ve read other characters doing questionable things under the Aguirre name, but for some reason this scene bothered me anyway. Maybe part of it is I know that in this series, I’ll probably see one couple at a time, and if someone does something in this book that I don’t quite approve of, they may not be on the page later on for me to see their redemption. I wished Kyra and the others could have found another route instead of using violence, but this book is not about nice, perfect people. It’s about imperfect people with questionable morals who still find some happiness in another person, and maybe I’m more rigid in what I want in my hero and heroine, but I still find the idea of antiheroes in love kind of cool.

Overall: Plenty of steaminess for those who love a good sex scene. Different from the urban fantasy and space opera under the Ann Aguirre name, but with the same imperfect characters I love to read about. I have a quibble about the characters which made me not connect as much as I’d like to, but a very good paranormal romance, and I am looking forward to the sequel.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Genre reviews – 4 pints of blood
calico reaction – Worth the Cash
giraffedays – 4 out of 5 stars
Smexy books – 5 out of 5 stars
Babbling about Books and more – A-
Dear Author – B-

Interview with Ava Gray at Smexy books

On The Edge by Ilona Andrews

Oh this cover! The girl with the red pickup truck and the gun captures the backwoods feel of the setting, but not a fan of the floating head, this would have been perfect without it. I know it’s a signal for “this is a romance”, but eh, the model is not cute. The Premise: Rose Drayton lives in the Edge. The Edge is the place where our world, the Broken, overlaps with the Weird, an alternate dimension where magic is real. The people who live in the Edge are poor, and have to go over to the Broken to make money. They can do small magics, but most of their bloodlines are diluted. So when Rose proves herself to have a remarkable mastery to control her “flash”, suddenly the out-for-themselves Edgers will stop at nothing to have Rose, either to enhance their own bloodlines or to sell to the highest bidder. One day, Declan, the Earl of Camarine, a pureblood from the Weird appears at Rose’s door.

Excerpt of On The Edge

My Thoughts: This is much more romance focused than the Kate Daniels series and falls under paranormal romance rather than urban fantasy, but the great world building I’m used to is still there. The idea of the different worlds is a really interesting one, sort of a spin on a faerie world we can’t see except it’s really just down that road there. It’s just that only people who have the right bloodlines can see it and walk past the boundary. I’m always a fan of Andrews’ detailed world building, because it’s so well thought out. Like they’ve said, “You can build a most fantastic world, if you take care to make it logical and follow its own rules.” This is what I always appreciate in an Ilona Andrews’ series: a fantastic world that makes sense.

The Edge is like the Wild West. They don’t belong in the Broken, where magic doesn’t exist, but they aren’t part of the Weird either, where pureblood magic families rule. In the Edge, it’s everyone for themselves, but families band together. The Edgers are poor, some rather trashy, lawless, and feisty.  There are some real characters living in the Edge, especially with magic thrown in the mix. Rose herself has two younger brothers, Georgie and Jack who exemplify the oddness of the Edge. Georgie is a little necromancer with a soft heart. He resurrects animals he feels sad have died, and their grandfather Cletus (who gets drunk on dog brains). Jack was born a changeling, and like the cat his other half is, is easily distracted by birds and climbing trees.

So Rose has her hands full raising her two brothers because their parents aren’t in the picture, but they’re good kids (who also bring something to the story). Rose also has to deal with all the people who are after her because of her amazing control over her flash, and when Declan arrives at their door, a pureblood from the Weird who says he will have her, Rose isn’t pleased. At first Declan’s statements would dismay me. He would often spout some really over-the-top alpha hero stuff, but Andrews manages to fix this for me later on with a viable explanation (thank goodness). Maybe there’s also a touch of Pride and Prejudice here: Declan making his remarks and Rose taking offense, thinking that he’s the typical blueblood. Rose’s circumstances are much lower than Declan’s but she’s being avidly courted by someone who is obviously a catch. The book takes on a romance feel with Rose’s awareness of Declan’s appearance (I imagined He-Man) and breeding, and his alpha male assertions that he will get what he wants. On the other hand, Rose is pretty cool, and it makes sense that Declan realizes this. She’s a good sister, working hard and going without so that she can buy her brothers those Inu Yasha comics they’re obsessed with (Inu Yasha, good choice kids), and she’s smart and determined, but just has a hard life where she has to be independent in order to survive.

The paranormal/contemporary fantasy aspects of this story had probably about equal footing as the romance. Creepy rotting creatures in hound like form start terrorizing the Edge, and the mystery of what’s going on keeps Declan and Rose busy. The results aren’t pretty, but it makes for a great story.

Overall: A paranormal romance with awesome world building and the perfect balance of romance and fantasy. There’s more romance in this than the Kate Daniels series, but expect the same fantastic storytelling.

I’m looking forward to reading the second book. This time, William, who was introduced in On The Edge will be the hero.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other reviews (all positive)

Angieville – loved it
Literary Escapism – positive review
Book Love Affair – “charmed”
Smexy Books – 5 out of 5 stars
Mardelwanda – “a very satisfying read”
The Book Smugglers – 7 Very good

Other links:
Worlds of the Edge
Ilona Andrews and Ann Aguirre at Babel Clash

Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

The Premise: This is the second book of Patricia Briggs parallel series to Mercy Thompson, featuring a mated Alpha and Omega werewolf couple, Anna and Charles. Bran, the Alpha of all werewolves in North America is getting ready to out the existence of werewolves for various reasons and wants the European wolves on board or at least willing to stay out of the way during the process. Charles has an inexplicable bad feeling over Bran going to Seattle convinces Bran to send Anna and himself instead.

Excerpt of Hunting Ground

My Thoughts: The conference with the European wolves happens parallel to the Mercy Thompson series (I think between MT books 2 and 3?), but I don’t think you really need to have read Mercy Thompson to enjoy Anna and Charles. I would say that you DO have to read this series in order, probably starting with the short story, Alpha and Omega in the anthology On the Prowl, and then book one, Cry Wolf.

My reviews:
On the Prowl (with Alpha and Omega short story) – livejournal | wordpress
Book 1: Cry Wolflivejournal | wordpress

I think that when I started reading this book I had a couple of expectations. I expected to see some growth in Anna, development in her relationship with Charles, and I was expecting to find out some back story on the exposure of werewolves to the world. Let me try to go over my main points of interest:

  • Anna – Anna’s growth and emergence of a backbone delighted me and was the highlight of the book. When I was first reading this I was struck by the first couple of chapters because Anna seemed very comfortable with Bran and Charles, and in teasing and playing with them. I was a little surprised after her timidness in Cry Wolf. Then when she goes to Seattle, the old, scared Anna seems to come back in the presence of all the alpha wolves. This made sense to me. Anna is getting used to being an Omega wolf and she is still recovering from what happened to her in her old pack. There’s a few things that happen over the course of the story which allow Anna to work through some of her hangups in a satisfying way.
  • Anna and Charles’ relationship – This is still developing and it’s not easy. Charles finds himself very protective of Anna, and it’s hard to reign in his wolf sometimes. Anna on the other hand isn’t past her abuse by her previous pack. The Alpha and Omega series is different from the Mercy Thompson in that it is more of a paranormal romance, with more emphasis on the relationship, than an urban fantasy. There was a scene I liked in particular between Anna and Charles, which is actually illustrated on the cover of the book, but as to the rest of the book, I mostly felt that there was something missing between the two of them. There seemed to be a lack of spark, and it was hard to really buy into their relationship. This is a big problem because the relationship is such a huge part of the series. Everything between Anna and Charles felt a little awkward, which wasn’t a problem I remember having while I was reading the earlier book. Those moments that happen between couples where you can tell there is something deep between them – I just couldn’t see it. I hope that this is a problem only in this book and not in the continuations.
  • And out come the wolves – This is something mentioned in the Mercy Thompson novels – that Bran, the Alpha of the werewolves in North America had planned to have the world know about the existence of werewolves. I was really interested in the specifics of this, which we get and I was mostly happy with it, but once we get the gist it moves behind a closed door, and I wish more focus was put on it’s ramifications and the dealings between werewolf packs. What ended up happening is that the focus went to Anna and the problems surrounding her by virtue of being an Omega and Charles’ mate. She becomes the target of an abduction and the book focuses on that mystery and inserted action is about this. In the end I enjoyed Anna’s part in bringing the bad guys to justice (again – I liked Anna in this book!), but the rest of it had an abrupt feel, so the execution for the most part underwhelmed me.

So I think basically, while I do get some of the things I expected in this book, it feels like the focus is fractured. Something just didn’t flow as well as what I’m used to seeing in a Briggs novel. Things niggled at me, as I described above.  I also noted unnecessary repetition that bothered me, such as almost every female joking with Anna on how to deal with Charles, or where someone calls Anna timid and irritates Anna for doing so. It didn’t feel as tight as past books.

Overall: This is a really hard review to write because although I’m a big fan of Briggs, throughout the book I kept having this feeling that things were off. I put the book down for a few days and picked it up again when I was in a better frame of mind, but I still had this feeling which I’m having a hard time putting my finger on. I would say that it is still a good read, but it fell below my high expectations of Patricia Briggs. The story wasn’t as cohesive and for me, the biggest issue I had was the lack of spark between the hero and heroine. I’m still not sure if I’m just not seeing it while other readers are. I plan to continue reading this series and hope that this is just a one-off.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other reviews (mostly good, one not so good):
Angieville (found it stronger than it’s predecessor)
The Book Smugglers – 8 out of 10, excellent
Dear Author – gave it a B+ but noted some things I had problems with
calico reaction rated it “Give it away” – liked it less than I did I think.
Smexy Books – 8 out of 10

Dark Legacy by Anna DeStefano

This book was sent to me by Dorchester as well (yes a string of books from them here lately). I had mentioned my interest in anything like the Shomi line, and this has some science fiction, paranormal and romance elements in it, which seemed to be in the same kind of vein.

The Premise: Maddie Temple is a promising young ER doctor who for the past three months has gone from being well-liked to unreliable and flagged for psychiatric screenings at work. The problem lies in Maddie’s past and a very troubled twin named Sarah. Sarah, who was put into long-term care for a vegetative coma after a car accident that killed their father has somehow invaded Maddie’s mind, slowly pushing Maddie into madness.  Psychiatrist Jarred Keith wants to help Maddie, but he doesn’t know what’s going on. Is Maddie losing touch with reality like her twin? Is that the family’s curse? Or is there some other conspiracy going on?

My Thoughts: This was mostly romantic suspense although the psychic aspects made also a paranormal. There’s a lot of action, much of it involving Maddie and Sarah’s mental instability and trying to stop them from hurting others because of it. Moments of clarity seem few and far between and the reader is propelled along a dark and disturbing ride with confusing images of a reoccurring nightmare involving the Raven, trees, a gun, and someone screaming. This nightmare is repeated throughout the story, sometimes interrupting other events and jarring the reader as much as it probably jars the characters.

There are a lot of disjointed sentences. In the dialogue there’s people interrupting each other, letting their sentences trail off and yelling. Even the third person narrative gets interrupted by the dialogue.  Other times, Maddie or Sarah are interrupted by each other’s mental link, so Maddie will suddenly undergo a transformation from herself into a hateful screaming banshee. It’s frustrating to read. You want to shake the characters so that they’ll listen to whoever is speaking! Unfortunately most of the characters are angry and confused about what’s going on so there are a lot of verbal fighting. It made me dislike them sometimes. All of these things added up to an emotionally draining reading experience. I think this was probably all deliberately done by the writer to make the drama the characters experience more realistic to the reader, but you do have to be in the right frame of mind for it, and I’m not sure all readers would be happy with the technique.

There is a romance that is going on at the same time as the suspense between the two doctors, but it seems that it’s an already mostly established one. Dr. Keith is already in love with Maddie, she just wants to push him away before he gets embroiled in her mental nightmare. Of course Dr. Keith won’t have any of this, and is pretty patient with Maddie, going beyond what I thought a normal guy would have accepted. His persistence pays off in saving Maddie, but because of where the story is, I had to just suspend disbelief and believe that Maddie was worthy of his loyalty. I understood that his patience and mental connection makes him the perfect partner to her and I hadn’t seen Maddie before she was close to a psychotic break, but there was so much angry emotions surrounding the story it was hard to concentrate on the romance. I also had to suspend belief when they were having sex, because it felt like inappropriate timing. There was a lot of feelings going on by then that I was not really connecting to, plus I didn’t like some of the phrasing during the act.

Overall: A fast-paced suspense, but very dark and emotionally draining. It’s one of those books where you have to be in the right frame of mind to read it because there’s mental mind games and turmoil and really angry (and at times unlikeable) characters. The anger is done realistically, which means things are messy, and that could be a difficult read for some. It looks like there may be a sequel to this one, but I probably won’t pick it up.

Dark Legacy came out today (08/25). Buy: Amazon | B&N

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Heiber

I’ve been eying this book ever since I saw the title; it just WINS. And after seeing the cover (which I really like – simple and atmospheric) and learning that the story was a little steampunk, my little book-I-must-get radar was beeping like mad. If you look around, this book is getting a lot of buzz, so I wasn’t the only one. I asked for this book right away when Dorchester asked me if there was anything I was interested in reading. I mean, really. This review is for the ARC copy that Dorchester sent me.

The Premise: The heroine, Miss Percy Parker, is an albino who can talk to ghosts. Proficient in many languages, and aware that she’s very strange looking to others, timid Percy has just enrolled in Athens Academy in London. Meanwhile, her Headmistress Rebecca Thompson and mathematics teacher Professor Alexi Rychman belong to a group of six who have been battling supernatural creatures in the streets of Victorian London. They’ve long awaited for the seventh, a woman that Professor Rychman believes is destined to be his true love, but Prophecy urges them to be cautious. Could Miss Percy be the seventh?

My Thoughts: When I first started reading this book, I was struck by the Gothic atmosphere. The worldbuilding seemed interwoven with the way the book was written. There’s an old fashioned formality to the language and dialogue which goes with the tale of ghosts and demons in Victorian London. I could see things taking place in dark, somber colors like blues and blacks, with Percy as a pale exception. Against this backdrop, the supernatural aspects – the ghosts, the frightening Ripper, and the Guard battling creatures on the cobblestone streets, had a perfect home. The way Greek myth was also added to the story was cherry on top of a lovely pie.

The first people that we meet are the Guard. The six people, three men, three women, who were each chosen by otherworldly spirits to defend the world against Hell. Their first meeting is as young teens, when they are each summoned together. Besides Rebecca and Alexi who become faculty as Athens Academy, there’s Michael, Elijah,Josephine, and Jane. Each has their own set of skills, which Alexi as their leader.
Because this is primarily a romance, the focus was mostly on Percy and Professor Rychman. The characters of each of the Guard are quickly, but deftly sketched. While there is a lot of good natured camaraderie in the group, there are tensions such as unrequited love and differences in interpreting the Prophecy that add depth to the relationships.

Of the main two characters, Percy is the timid schoolgirl, a nineteen year old who haunts the halls of Athena Academy, unsure of herself because of people’s reactions to her looks. In contrast the dark, tall (and somewhat cranky) Professor Rychman is an imposing and confident figure. I loved Professor Rychman’s character, but then I’ve always been fond of slightly acerbic people. I’ve read that the author modeled him on Alan Rickman, and I could see the similarities. It was easy for me to see Percy’s attraction to her Professor, less easy for me to see what the Professor saw in Percy – she was so meek, and in comparison to the Professor, her feelings made her seem very young. In that regard, the romance felt off for me, but otherwise I did enjoy the way it slowly unfolded and the problems it hit along the way.

The language is often very dramatic, which seems to go along with the Gothic aspect. At times the grand gestures made me aware I was reading fiction – I often could imagine certain scenes as if they were being played out in a theater, but it matched the Gothic Romance feel of the book.

Overall: Very good. The story is unique: a mix of historical, steampunk, paranormal and gothic romance. It’s the originality that really had me and made it a keeper, with clever twists on Greek mythology and Jack the Ripper. The only quibbles I had were with things in keeping with the sense of gothic romance and drama throughout the book.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other reviews:

Lurv a la Mode (four and a half scoops out of five)
Smexy Books (rating was a 9 )
Fantasy Dreamers Ramblings (positive review)
Tempting Persephone (positive review)

Interviews:
The Book Butterfly – I liked this one – talks about research and inspiration that went into the book, including bits about ghosts and Victorian London. (with contest ending Sept 10th)
Literary Escapism (with a contest ending Aug 25th)

The Fire King by Marjorie Liu

This book was sent to me by Dorchester publishing.

The Premise: The heroine of this story is Soria, a woman with an extraordinary ability to pick up languages. It’s always been the case since she was a child, and people call her a prodigy. They don’t realize that it’s magic, and that the mere presence of a fluent speaker is all she needs. It was a useful gift when she was with the Dirk and Steele agency, but after the loss of her right arm, Soria had a falling out with them and left. Unexpectedly, the agency makes another appearance in her life: they want her to go to China, and speak to Karr, a mysterious shape-shifter who speaks no known language.

This is a Dirk and Steele novel (#9?), but you don’t have to read this series in order to enjoy the book. I had only read book 1 before this.

Read an Excerpt

My Thoughts:
The first part of the book had me hooked on the characters and wanting to learn their back story. First: a heroine who recently lost her arm?! From what I could tell it happened about a year before this story starts, and Soria’s still recovering from it (feeling it’s ghost, being aware of people’s reactions).  I was burning with curiosity about what happened and why Soria blames herself for it. Tantalizing hints were dropped like breadcrumbs, but it wasn’t enough to figure out the whole story. I had to wait until Soria told it.

Likewise Karr’s story is mysterious as well. How in the world is he alive after three thousand years in a tomb? Then, what is he? At first I thought he was feared because he was so strong and killed a few people when he woke up, but that wasn’t the only reason. The cover of the book is a little deceptive – it has a lion on it. I thought he was a lion shapeshifter. Nope, not quite.

The book has a bit of a romantic suspense quality to it mixed with the paranormal elements. Both protagonists are cautious about each other (Friend or foe? Are my instincts right?), but they also have to deal with complex plots surrounding Karr and what people want with him. The romance was about equal to the suspense and action. It progresses at a natural rate, and by the time the two say their “I love yous” it’s a given. I thought that although Karr is over 3000 the age difference didn’t count because he’d been “dead” most of the time. The romance was nicely paced.  Although it did a lot of things I expected, I did like how communication is explored in their relationship.
I’d read the first Dirk and Steele (Tiger Eye) before I had this blog, and in that book, the agency was family-like. In The Fire King, it no longer feels that way. Dirk and Steele suddenly seem more shady and Roland is tight-lipped, nursing his own agenda. It’s hard to tell who the good guys are and there are surprises about who is after Karr.  Then of course there are the very enigmatic side characters (I think that they may be reoccurring ones, but not sure). Mercenaries Serena, Robert and Ku Ku (Gogo Yubari’s twin) make appearances. As does a character who appeared in Tiger Eye.

The plot was complex enough for me to like it. There were some not quite black or white parts to the characters and some surprises. By the end of the book things made sense, but I had to think it over a bit, which isn’t a bad thing. On the other hand, I felt like I’d wake up in the middle of the night saying “a-ha a plot hole!”, because I had a nagging feeling at the end of the book, but it’s been a few days and that didn’t happen yet. There very minor things like how Soria could make braids with one hand or how Karr and Soria’s mental connection worked, but not enough to really bug me while I read. I guess the biggest problem I had was that the protagonists kept getting helped out by others. I would have like to see more of them working together to get out of jams, because I liked seeing them interact.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the setting – in northern China and Mongolia. The non-American setting, where the reader is really aware of life in another country, not just aware the book is set there and nothing else, is refreshing. I particularly enjoyed reading about the ger of the Bhatukhan people (I wanted to sleep in one!)

Overall:
I like the writing style, the setting, the characters. The romance progressed at a nice pace, and although it goes through some familiar phases, their bond of communication was intriguing. I had only minor quibbles on the plot (see above). I don’t read as much paranormal romance as I do urban fantasy, so my reading in this genre is limited, but I thought this one was well-done.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other reviews:
My Favourite Books (Nice review. They liked it)

Salt and Silver by Anna Katherine

Salt and Silver
Anna Katherine
I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I found it browsing online and I read the excerpt.  The cover and the excerpt made me think this would be shelved in urban fantasy but I found it in the romance aisle. The spine says “paranormal romance”. It kind of walks on the line on the two genres I think.

Note on the cover – I noticed they changed the cover font from blue and white to half silver (to resemble molten silver) and half white (like sprinklings of salt) – Love it.

The Premise: Allie is an ex-spoiled rich girl. The kind of rich that meant a mansion in Long Island, designer clothes and accessories, and two equally spoiled and rich best friends, Amanda and Stan, who grow up next door. The day her mother stole all their money and ran away to Brazil with her lover Rio, Allie suddenly had to grow up. She had to take a job as a waitress in diner in Brooklyn.  After her first day at Sally’s Diner, Allie, Amanda, and Stan perform a silly ritual in a fit of drunkenness which ends up opening a Door to Hell in the basement of the diner. Immediately a Stetson-wearing demon hunter, Ryan appears. This was six years ago. Allie has grown up, taken over management of the diner, and on the side she helps Ryan kill demons that escape from the Door. Until one day the Door in the diner’s basement suddenly disappears and she and Ryan have to find out what happened.

My Thoughts: The narrative is in the first person and is really informal – almost stream of consciousness, and full of swearing and sarcasm. It almost seemed young adult but not quite. After thinking about it I decided it was the voice of a young twenty-something, and it’s a BIG part of whether you will enjoy the book. If the voice here isn’t for you, you won’t like it, so I highly recommend reading the excerpt of chapter one.

The world here is ours except there are Doors to Hell which every so often let out creatures that the door guards kill. Normal people (the mundanes) don’t know about it and just keep living their lives. I won’t go into more detail than that, but I thought that the world building was really organic – you learn as the story goes along, with Allie not ignorant, but kept uninformed of certain facts from the hunters until she needed to know. The demons and monsters that Allie runs into all have basis in mythology and a wide variety of beliefs. For example there are different versions of Hell and it was really fascinating how characters reacted to what they saw in the Hells according to what they believed.

Allie has grown up  but her two friends from her old life have not. She holds on to them because she remembers that they were there for her when she became poor, but you get the feeling she keeps in contact because of loyalty, not because she actually likes them. It’s an interesting situation, and it’s sort of a coming of age aspect that you don’t usually see in adult urban fantasy. This also works with the story because Amanda and Stan’s selfishness and immaturity affect what’s going on with the Doors.  I think it explains Allie’s voice too. She may have grown up but her thoughts sometimes channel Cher from Clueless, but not in a way that made me dislike her. I actually really liked Allie’s character because of what she’s gone through, and because she came out with a wish to be a better person. She can’t hate the Door under Sally’s Diner because she knows it brought her Ryan and fighting it has also made her a more mature person.

The romance is a decent chunk of the story, but Ryan and Allie’s relationship has been an ongoing one so a lot of the falling in love seemed to have happened before the book even starts, with some flashbacks to key scenes and the only barrier is Ryan’s admitting that he feels anything (Allie on the other hand admits freely that she has a huge crush). A lot of the book happens before it starts, with flashbacks used to show how things have changed over the years, not just with their relationship, but with Allie’s relationship with Stan and Amanda. Ryan’s reasons for not acting on his feelings for Allie were believable (though I didn’t agree with him), so I found it understandable why he kept pushing Allie away even when it’s obvious he really likes her. When the relationship heats up, I guess it is “finally” for a lot of other characters, but because this book doesn’t really show all 6 years up to that point, to me it was a little surprising.  I thought it would take longer for Ryan to break down, he acts very standoffish when the book begins, but by chapter two his soft center regarding Allie begins to show, so apparently six years was enough. I liked this couple, especially Allie, but I wasn’t a fan of Allie begging Ryan with “Please” during certain scenes.

Overall: Really liked this one – I had a hard time putting it down and it was a fast read. It has a bit of a quest in different dimensions in it which is something I like reading (looks like the authors enjoy researching magic and superstition), and the romance was sweet – good friends becoming more. The voice is different so do go read the excerpt before you buy. This isn’t a standalone, it’s the beginning of a series, but I think that other books may focus on other characters in this world if I read the authors comment’s on it here right, so you can probably treat this as almost a standalone. The ending is in a good, satisfying place and I’m definitely putting whatever else Anna Katherine writes on my wish list.

Other reviews:

Scooper Speaks (she couldn’t connect with the main char)
The Book Smugglers – gave it a 7 (very good)

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

Eclipse is the third book in the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. Unless you've been living under a rock, you'd know this is the story of Bella, a "normal" high school girl who falls in love with a vampire. Complications ensue because she's human and should be her boyfriend's dinner, and she has a werewolf for a best friend.

Some minor spoilers for this book and previous ones are in this review.

My review of New Moon is here. If you read that, you'll know that I found New Moon very angsty and it made me feel rather ranty about Bella and her depression. I also thought that Edward was rather controlling by deciding what was best for her and not letting her make her own choices. Despite really liking Twilight, I'm not sure I would have continued this series after New Moon. But that this series is so popular that my cousin gave me the whole series as a present so I own it now. Also my best friend has been nagging me to read it so she can rant to me about it. So I read it.

Where to begin. Well I thought that Eclipse was better than New Moon. I think that that is greatly due to my aversion to reading about a main character who is moping around and angsty, which is what you see a lot of in New Moon. I'm just not a fan of depression in my escapism. On the other hand, while in New Moon I found Bella and Edward somewhat annoying, in Eclipse I started also getting mad at other secondary characters like Charlie, who is Bella's father, and Jacob, Bella's best friend! Why is everyone annoying? Let me tell you:

Edward is trying to back off on his control issues here but he still slips with the excuse that he will do anything to keep Bella safe. He manipulates her to get what he wants. At least he was so overshadowed by other people who were driving me crazy in this book, he didn't bother me as much as he did in the past. His "patience and understanding" were laid on a bit thick though. I still don't quite understand what he sees in Bella. He just shakes his head and says Oh Bella, you don't know how wonderful you are.

Jacob: In earlier books, Jacob is this sort of happy-go-lucky guy that Bella just hangs out with, and he pulls her through her depression, letting her use him as a crutch through her bad time even though she knows he has feelings for her and she doesn't feel the same way. You know that Jacob doesn't like vampires, so he's constantly making nasty, petty remarks about them and about Edward. In Eclipse, this pettiness seemed to rise to extreme levels. I found Jacob's smugness and casual put-downs about people Bella cares about very immature. To top it off Jacob has Bella's number because he realizes she's easily manipulated through guilt. So he uses this several times to get what he wants. Also *spoiler here so look away if you care about that type of thing* Jacob forces a kiss on her. Bella hits him for that, but because he's a werewolf, all that does is break her hand. And then he *laughs* about it and is never really sorry! What a great guy. I was pretty pissed off to reading this part.

Charlie: He doesn't like Edward so of course every chance that he can he pushes Bella towards Jacob. When Jacob admits that he kissed Bella, instead of feeling concern for why his daughter is so mad, all he can do is be happy and praise Jacob for it! His comment regarding Bella's hand is something like I must not have taught you how to punch properly. He's a cop, but he's really uncaring about his daughter being sexually harassed. This is of course coupled with the same complaint I had in the last book – Bella is Charlie's servant; doing the cooking and cleaning while his excuse is that he is just a man so can't do housework. He can't heat up sauce in the microwave (puts metal in there), and he can't do his own laundry. Let's not even go into his parenting and his not having a clue as to what his daughter feels or what she's up to.

Bella: I kept noticing what felt like excuses for Bella's past behavior. Behavior that continues in Eclipse. It felt like the author was trying to address complaints from readers. The servitude is explained away as OCD. I lived with someone with OCD, and Bella does not have OCD. Even if she had *mild* OCD, her dad should still know how to microwave some damn sauce if he's lived alone before and he's an adult! Secondly, Bella spends a lot of time thinking she's a horrible person and has hurt Jacob so much, but feeling bad and still doing it doesn't really absolve you. I really dislike when people don't want to hurt someone, but instead they just give them hope by not trying hard enough to tell them the truth, so in the end it feels even worse. These people moan to everyone how they feel bad, but what they really want is for others to say that they aren't bad so they can continue what they were doing. Which I feel Bella does with Jacob. Not that Jacob is an innocent here, but Bella has already gone through this in New Moon, why are we repeating it again in Eclipse? Finally, Bella acts like a doormat. She gets manipulated by everyone. Edward tricks her into doing what he wants, so does Jacob, so does her dad. I found it really aggravating that the main character is a woman, surrounded by men who want to control her, and she let's them! She's submissive! Any fight she makes just feels like token resistance, because she gives in later. I actually wrote down a couple of times – Bella is mad, I bet she'll forgive him soon, and Bella says she doesn't want to, I bet she will later. And surprise, surprise - she did forgive, she did give in. Jacob underlines this for me because he actually says that he knew she was going to forgive him  so he did what he wanted. 

All this points to something which feels glaringly obvious; this book has very old fashioned values and views. Bella's role as housekeeper for her dad is a good example. Then we have the sex. Stephen King infamously commented on Meyer's writing recently, and said: "A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that's a shorthand for all the feelings that they're not ready to deal with yet." I was hardly surprised that Edward was unwilling to have sex with Bella before marriage. Already he's discussed his belief that as a vampire he has no soul and probably will go to hell when he dies, so it was no stretch to see him want Bella to marry him first. This is safe moral ground. It's a bit too pat but I have no real problem with this little bit of preaching in this story. What bothers me more is Bella being easily controlled – forgiving easily the asshat-ery of her male controllers. It disturbs me to see her accept what the men do, when I see it side by side with her domestic duties. It disturbs me to see Meyer's picture of men vs. women, Bella vs. Edward/Jacob/her father.     

I admit, Meyer has to be doing something right. These books aren't on bestseller lists for nothing. I'd say it's the world building and the way she writes her dialog. It feels very natural and real and it's very readable. From what I remember of Twilight, the pacing there was quite fast. The pacing in Eclipse however felt a lot slower, with much of the action happening only in the last 100 or so pages. So despite my liking the way Meyer writes dialog, I felt like there was too much – it takes up a lot of room so pages and pages later you realize – nothing has happened. At 600+ pages, this book could have used some merciless editing.

Overall: An average to slightly above average read. Natural dialog, fascinating world building, great action when there is any (there was little), but I had some major issues with the characters and with Bella's subjugation by her male counterparts.

I now leave you with Southpark's Twilight parody "The Ungroundable", which aired recently and is online in its entirety for now (go watch, it's awesome).

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