Darkfever ~ Karen Marie Moning

  • Darkfever CoverTitle:  Darkfever
  • Author:  Karen Marie Moning
  • Series:  Fever, #1
  • Genre:  Paranormal Romance, Urban Fiction
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Overdrive Library
  • Reviewed by:  Sonja
  • Rating:  3 out of 5

Description:  MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman. Or so she thinks…until something extraordinary happens.

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death–a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed–a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae….

As Mac delves deeper into the mystery of her sister’s death, her every move is shadowed by the dark, mysterious Jericho, a man with no past and only mockery for a future. As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless Vlane–an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women–closes in on her. And as the boundary between worlds begins to crumble, Mac’s true mission becomes clear: find the elusive Sinsar Dubh before someone else claims the all-powerful Dark Book–because whoever gets to it first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds in their hands…

Review:  Welllll gee. I really didn’t love this one – but I didn’t hate it either.

Some things I really enjoyed. I liked Mac. I liked that she is all pink and girly girl. I liked that fact that while she observes that she broke a nail, she doesn’t fester over it – it is just an observation. I like her sense of humor. I like the fact that she doesn’t cuss and uses other words as replacements (petu-ass). It made me laugh. Though, I gotta admit, I usually do it the other way around – start to cuss and change the word to a more acceptable one midstream. I liked the fact that she justified purchases by how much she saved off of Wal-mart prices. Just the little things as she tried to go about living when her world had been totally turned upside down.

I didn’t like Barrons. Though, I assume there will be some growing attachment between the two as the series progresses and concludes – I don’t like it. To me, he almost has her prisoner. Though, technically, she can come and go as she pleases, he does not provide her with enough information and knowledge so that she can do so with any chance at surviving. I do not like this type of relationship when one character has so much power over another and, then, they inevitably fall into bed with each other. It really irritates me. There should be some sort of equality.

I also did not like this thing with V’lane – that he had her ripping off her clothes and committed mental and emotional rape every time they were within sight of each other. I do not like the way she reacted (during and after) each time this happened – though I gotta admit I chuckled when she stumbled across the little piece of cute pink fabric only to realize it was her panties and it brings her back to some semblance of reality.

I didn’t like that way Ms. Moning was constantly referring to the fact that Mac didn’t know how important something was until later . . . this happens frequently. Mac observes something, then says, “I didn’t know how important this was until much later.” She then neglects to tell us how it was important, just that it was. As a plot device, I found it annoying: either let me question the importance to see if I am smart enough to pick up on the clues, or tell me what the importance is, gosh darn it.

And, while I enjoyed the whole ‘pink’ thing, I did not like the whole ‘Barbie’ thing. We are told ad nauseum about how she has this cute little Barbie doll figure that we all know cannot really exist. And, not only that but she eats constantly – and not healthy good for you food – but fried and other comfort foods. I realize this is a fantasy novel, but seriously . . .

With all that, what I really missed in this book was relationships – at least relationships I enjoyed being a part of. I would have enjoyed Mac’ relationships with her family, especially her sister – but these were only referred to – not experienced. I absolutely did not enjoy her relationship with Barrons. And, there are few other relationships here to follow.

Overall, I give this book 3 stars. I am unlikely to continue in this series – I am just not enjoying the ride enough to care about the destination.

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Royal Airs ~ Sharon Shinn

  • Title: Royal Airs
  • Author: Sharon Shinn
  • Series: Elemental Blessings #2
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Josetta is a princess of one of the Five Families. But she is far from the throne, so she is free to spend her days working in the poorest sections of the city.

Rafe Adova, an outcast since he was born, lives the life of a career gambler in those slums. He has no ambition other than cheating at the card tables—-until the night he decides to help a girl named Corene, who looks like she’s stumbled into the wrong bar. She, too, is a princess—-sister to Josetta, who finds her with Rafe. He fascinates her.

Josetta has never encountered anyone like him—-someone seemingly devoid of elemental blessings. He is drawn to her, though he thinks they are unlikely to ever meet again—-but their connection grows strong when she nurses him back to health after he is assaulted by foreign mercenaries.
And when they learn the reason he’s being hunted, they know that the truth about his history could endanger not only their love but also their very lives.

Review:  I enjoyed this novel. Not surprising, as Shinn is one of my favorite writers. Her new books automatically go on my To-Read list, and I own most of them. This one is the second in the author’s new series Elemental Blessings.

The story occurs several years after the first book in the series, Troubled Waters, and many familiar personages pop up on the pages. The action revolves around two central characters: Josetta and Rafe. A more disparate set of lovers is hard to imagine.

Rafe is a professional gambler, living in the slums of Chialto, the capital of Welce, and plying his card trade nightly in a semi-respectable tavern. He doesn’t like what he is doing very much (who among us likes their jobs very much?) but he is good at it and he makes a decent living. Until fate brings him in contact with Josetta, he never questions his way of life. Afterwards… things happen, and his life turns upside down. And he doesn’t even mind that, as long as his new existence includes Josetta. His first impression of her: “The door opened, and spring stepped inside.” So simple and so beautiful!

Josetta is a princess. Strong-minded and resilient, with the unswerving moral code and a kind heart, she doesn’t have any royal blood, but her mother was a queen, married to the late king, and Josetta has been in line for the throne of Welce since she was born. She doesn’t want the position though. She hates the palace, detests its endless intrigues and its scuffle for power, and spends most of her days in the shelter for the poor she operates in the slums, where she provides food, medicine, and warm beds to anyone in need. Her life is orderly and well-regulated, until she meets Rafe. Then, all bets are off, and what this princess will do for her guy is not easy to predict.

The world is interesting and original, on the verge of an industrial revolution. It incorporates automobiles and horses, sailing ships and flying planes, test pilots and homicidal princes, and of course magic, subtle but implacable.

The pacing is slower than I would like, and like most Shinn’s novels, this one is low key – a quiet love story between a young man and a young woman, lyrical and enchanting. Despite the adventurous plotline, all the escapades and brawls and general swashbuckling are only surface deep, a painted backdrop for the heroes’ journeys, which unfold inside their souls. Both Josetta and Rafe are trying to find their places in life, establish their mutual zone, and investigate their connection. Their search for each other and for the meanings of their lives is the focus of this book.  

My only objection: I don’t really believe that a princess would be allowed to manage a shelter, or a royal regent would gallivant around the countryside unescorted. The power structure of the society depicted in the book is too democratic for a kingdom, and the power players are too casual and unassuming. If the royal retinue’s fussing makes the king, then what does the lack of such a retinue signify?   

The 4 stars of my rating are comparative, but it’s not a comparison with other writers. I simply like some of Shinn’s other novels better. Still, this is a solid fantasy tale with a romantic subtext and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes a blend of fantasy and romance. 

A Study in Silks ~ Emma Jane Holloway

  • Title: A Study in Silks
  • Author: Emma Jane Holloway
  • Series: The Baskerville Affair #1
  • Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse.

In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.

Review:  A Study in Silks kicks off a new lightly steampunk series, The Baskerville Affair. I say lightly steampunk, because although the world is powered by steam and clockwork creations abound, the world really does not feel all that different from traditional historical romance. Hmm, romance is not really the right word, either, maybe historical chick lit? Clearly, it is difficult to pin down exactly which category owns this book, and well, defining books by genre has very little practical use, so I’ll move right along.

One can definitely define this book as a mystery. The main character, Evelina Cooper, has an inquisitive mind and a touch of magic, neither of which help her blend into London society any better than her dubious heritage. She is a guest in the family home of her best friend, with whom she is preparing for her introduction to debut into society when a series of mysterious events begin to unfold. Being niece to the illustrious Sherlock Holmes, Evelina, of course, sets out to discover the truth and hopefully protect those close to her.

I have mixed feelings about the use of Sherlock Holmes within the books. Other than solidifying Evelina’s natural inclination toward solving mysteries, I am not sure that it really serves much purpose in progressing the plot of the story. It almost feels as if the author is trying to create the effect of the celebrity cameo, a device which I find trite. Perhaps Holloway intends to use this relation as a resource in future books. Only times will tell.

For a book that is not really a romance, the story relies heavily another over-used trope, the love triangle. Throughout the book, Evelina finds herself torn between her affections for her BFF’s brother and someone from her questionable past. Both characters are depicted as intelligent, dashing, and full-of-life. They are also both a bit full of themselves and prove themselves unworthy of Evelina by the end of the book. I truly hope that Ms. Holloway does not try to use them as potential romantic interests in future books. I feel that both kind suitors leave behind burnt bridges in regards to Evelina’s affections. I have to admit that I love this. It is refreshing to read a story where the female lead is not defined by finding her true and everlasting love by the end of the book. Well done, Ms. Holloway.

Going back to the mystery, it is pretty ambitious, if a little convoluted. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt, considering this book is clearly also setting up deep intrigue for books to come. I appreciate that the author was unwilling to scrimp on the complexity of the story in favor of world building. I do so love a good enigmatic plot.

No matter how good the plot, it will remain unsatisfying without decent characters. Evelina is a character that I can like. She is smart, resourceful, and independent. I look forward to following her adventures as they unfold throughout the series. I also think there is more to her sidekick, er, I mean BFF.

My overall impression of the book was favorable. I am definitely interested to see where the author takes the series from here.

The Bitch ~ Les Edgerton

  • Title: The Bitch  
  • Author: Les Edgerton
  • Genre: Crime Noir
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Netgalley
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Ex-con Jake Bishop is several years past his second stint in prison and has completely reformed. He’s married, expecting a child, and preparing to open his own hair salon. But then an old cellmate re-enters his life begging for a favor: to help him with a burglary. Forced by his code of ethics to perform the crime, Jake’s once idyllic life quickly plunges into an abyss. Jake soon realizes that there is only one way out of this purgatory . . . and it may rupture his soul beyond repair.

Review:  First off, I should note that the title “The Bitch” is in reference to the main character’s fear of being labeled a “Ha-Bitch-ual” criminal.  More on that later
.

Ex-con trying to fly straight and be a family man gets called back into the lifestyle. Sure, you may  have seen this done before: But this author does it so well that it never gets trite. Feels like true crime, with a language that is never forced.

The tension escalated beautifully. Unpredictable, yet always getting higher, like the tick, tick, ticking noise you hear the roller coaster make as you climb that first hill. You weren’t sure what twist it was going to take, only that the author showed so much skill you would trust it would be somewhere interesting. You get to know the main character so well, that it’s hard not to take him out of the book and back home with you.

As far as the title referring to the legal implications of being labeled a “Ha-Bitch-ual” criminal, I don’t think the author would mind you thinking otherwise. In some ways, the main character lets his past make him his bitch, so to speak, by trying to live by the code of his old world and be happy in the new. Likewise, his wife, tries a ‘cross-over’ with similar results. There is moral ambiguity here and a value system that the main character has that you don’t have to admire, but you will certainly feel it along the way. As the main character, Jake, goes rifling through what to do next, you want to scream out to him, “Dude, did you realize you just ((spoiler alert)) how are you going to shoot a move through this one?”

I have to believe that crime fiction speaks to the voyeur in all of us. The part who want to know how criminals live and what they think. And the best crime fiction makes us realize they are one of us, or we are one of them. We find ourselves identifying with the character at some parts, wishing they had more of a moral compass at other parts. We may get disgusted at their choices, other times we may just wish they’d be more slick and get away with it. All of these things and more crossed my mind as I committed crimes alongside Jake and Walker.

Read this for the story, for the plot, for the characters, and for the concise as a concrete slab prose. If you are lucky like me, you can read it at your parents cottage, isolated, surrounded by snow, which was exactly the setting the characters found themselves in as they tried to cover the tracks of their misdeeds. I was able to go home and live happily ever after with my family. The characters of this book may have not been so lucky.

Seraphina ~ Rachel Hartman

  • Title: Seraphina 
  • Author: Rachel Hartman
  • Series: Seraphina #1
  • Genre: Fantasy YA
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.

Review:  A solid YA fantasy, this book has everything: a girl with a mystery, dragons who could fold themselves into human forms, a forbidden love, a charismatic prince, a political intrigue, and of course, music. The only thing this novel lacks is humans able to unfold into dragons. Maybe it is too much for one story?

The protagonist Seraphina is a talented musician, working at the palace as an assistant to the court composer. She harbors a deadly secret about her heritage, and although she tries to keep to herself, she lies and prevaricates constantly. Her unruly tongue often lands her in trouble too.

This time, she is thrust unwillingly into the middle of a complex plot, the plot involving a peace treaty between humans and dragons. The treaty’s anniversary is approaching, and the tension is high in both camps. Not everyone wants the treaty renewed. Some hot heads long for war and are ready to kill to achieve their goals.

Seraphina comes across as a gifted and spirited teenager, with all the baggage inherent in her age: angst, self-hatred, self-doubts, and a deep craving to belong, to find someone who would understand. Unfortunately, her self-hatred is so well defined it transmits itself to the readers, who wonder: maybe they should hate her too?

I wanted to like Seraphina; she is a good person and a multifaceted personality, but her self-hatred dominated everything she did in the story and interfered with my struggling goodwill. In the end, I decided to sympathize with her anyway, but my sympathy is shallow. I don’t approve of many of her choices and I don’t really care about her. Unfortunately, that’s the worst a reader can say about a book.

The pacing of the narrative is highly uneven. The first third of the book drags like a snail. I almost abandoned it but I persevered, and the tale rewarded me after about 100 pages by picking up its speed. After that, it was a gallop to the end. I couldn’t stop until I finished the last page. I read all night, so obviously, this book has many redeeming qualities.

The story is absorbing and well-constructed, the world-building fascinating, and the dragons are original. I also liked many secondary characters: they are all different and deep, leaping off the pages, both humans and dragons, but my attitude towards the protagonist colored my perception of the entire novel.

Nevertheless, I found the writer’s voice beautiful, very expressive. Here is a description of a street the heroine walks:

…the upper stories cantilevered over the street, as if the houses were leaning together to gossip. A woman on one side might have borrowed a lump of butter from her neighbor on the other without leaving home. The looming buildings squeezed the sky down to a rapidly darkening ribbon.

Don’t you just see the scene in your mind?

Another quote is the heroine’s contemplations of art and lying:

If one believes there is truth in art—and I do—then it’s troubling how similar the skill of performing is to lying. Maybe lying is itself a kind of art.

Overall – not a bad novel, although not the perfect one either. Did I enjoy reading it? – Yes. Would I ever re-read it? – No. Would I recommend it to the other readers of fantasy? – Yes.

Guilty Pleasures ~ Laurell K. Hamilton

  • Guilty Pleasures CoverTitle:  Guilty Pleasures
  • Author:  Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Series:  Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #1
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  Anita Blake may be small and young, but vampires call her the Executioner. Anita is a necromancer and vampire hunter in a time when vampires are protected by law—as long as they don’t get too nasty. Now someone’s killing innocent vampires and Anita agrees—with a bit of vampiric arm-twisting—to help figure out who and why.

Trust is a luxury Anita can’t afford when her allies aren’t human. The city’s most powerful vampire, Nikolaos, is 1,000 years old and looks like a 10-year-old girl. The second most powerful vampire, Jean-Claude, is interested in more than just Anita’s professional talents, but the feisty necromancer isn’t playing along—yet. This popular series has a wild energy and humor, and some very appealing characters—both dead and alive

Review:  Well, whoda thunk it? I read a book about vampires. That actually started with a bachelorette party at a, of all things, vampire strip club. Even though it typified everything I hate AND love about urban fantasy, I actually liked it. I know, right?

First of all, what I loved. Anita has absolutely a great amount of snark – and that is what makes the book for me. This is my favorite thing about the genre as a whole: sarcasm. I cannot begin to tell you how many lines of dialog I have highlighted. This book made me laugh so hard. But, she isn’t just snarky – in the next thing that will capture my heart like no other – she really cares about her friends and those around her. She bends over backwards to protect her friend Catherine at the aforementioned strip club, Guilty Pleasures. (Though, I even have to question this as a TSTL moment. Why on earth did she ever fall for this scheme to begin with? It seems poorly conceived, and she should be smarter.) This is not her last well meaning attempt to protect those around her.

What do I hate about urban fantasy? Vampires. In particular vampires that are love interests. I feel there is something inherently creepy, well, with vampires anyway. But, take a guy who is controlling, manipulative, a kazillion times stronger than you can ever be and not afraid to use said strength and add to this the ability to control another’s mind – well it is creepy that he serves as a love interest. I prefer relationships on a more equal footing than such a dominating one. But, at least the vampires here are creepy. Vampires are supposed to be creepy.

Overall, the book was well done. I liked Anita – and she really only had the one TSTL moment – it just set up everything else that went wrong. There really is no love interest, but I could see it being set up for later books in the series. The death count is low . . . yet still made me shed a tear or two. The mystery was well done and I appreciated the clues that are dropped to allow the reader to unravel the mystery without just having a big reveal at the end.

Ultimately, I give this one 3.5 stars. I rounded it up to 4, because it surprised me. And, that is a good thing.