Hot Blooded ~ Amanda Carlson

  • Title: Hot Blooded
  • Author: Amanda Carlson
  • Series: Jessica McClain #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Net Galley ARC
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  It hasn’t been the best week for Jessica McClain.

Her mate has been kidnapped by a Goddess hell-bent on revenge — but Jessica is playing for keeps.

Because she’s the only female werewolf in town…it comes with its own set of rules…and powers.

Aided by two vamps, two loyal Pack members, and one very reluctant human, Jessica must rescue her man while coming to terms with what being a wolf really means.

All in a day’s work for a girl.

The second novel in the Jessica McClain series is a full on action adventure featuring one angry Goddess and plenty of monsters, demons, and a few newly risen beasties…


Review:  Hot Blooded picked up right where Full Blooded left off. It kind of had to, since Full Blooded ended somewhat abruptly with no firm conclusion. The greatest incentive that I had to give the second book a shot was not so much that I was eager to find out what happens next, but rather that I was granted a free advanced review copy by the Publisher via Net Galley.

Once again, Carlson’s concept was good, but the execution was not. For example, the main character, Jess, was maybe a little too powerful. This appeared to be a go-to plot device for the author. The characters were in a no-win situation, no problem! Jessica would mysteriously discover yet ANOTHER inexplicable super power. Maybe I would have bought into it more if there had been some sort of logic behind the powers, but there was not.

Another over-used trope in this book was that all of the villains adhered to the Scooby Doo school of pontification. “Well, now that I’ve captured you, let me gloat and fill in details so that you can find a chance to defeat me and escape.” Ugh. The hero characters plainly walked into danger half cocked, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would not have been better for the bad guys & gals to shut up and kill them already!

Speaking of half-cocked, I found Jessica to be more annoying in this book. On top of her ridiculously emerging powers, she took head strong to the level of hard headed. Bad decisions made under the guise of being tough are still bad decisions. Rinse, lather, and repeat over and over and the result was one stupid heroine.

The one good side of the heroine rushing head first into danger was that it resulted in a lot of action. The battle scenes were not bad at all and quite frankly, they were what kept my attention and allowed me to finish the book. Well, that and the hope that the world-building potential might just solidify into something decent.

What finally made me bump my rating down to just two stars was the cliff hanger ending. It was pointless that a completely new plot line opened up and was tacked on to the the end of the book. Why do some authors seem to think that they this is the way to make sure readers purchase their next book? Isn’t just simply writing a compelling story enough???? This tactic so annoys me that if I had not already received a free advance review copy of the next book I would drop the series cold. As it stands, this series has two outs with no one on base. We’ll see if the third books strikes out.

**Disclaimer: Reviewer was provided with a digital advance review copy of this book by the publisher via Net Galley.

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Hollow World ~ Michael J. Sullivan

  • Cover of Michael J. Sullivan's Hollow WorldTitle:  Hollow World
  • Author:  Michael J. Sullivan
  • Genre:  Science Fiction, Dystopian
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  The future is coming…for some, sooner than others.

Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man who is about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe and done the right thing, but when faced with a terminal illness, he’s willing to take an insane gamble. He’s built a time machine in his garage, and if it works, he’ll face a world that challenges his understanding of what it means to be human, what it takes to love, and the cost of paradise. He could find more than a cure for his illness; he might find what everyone has been searching for since time began…but only if he can survive Hollow World. 

Welcome to the future and a new sci-fantasy thriller from the bestselling author of The Riyria Revelations.

Review:  I freely admit that I loved Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations and I was excited to find this new and different novel up on NetGalley for a review. I snapped it up and the ideas it presents have been racing through my brain ever since.

Hoping to find a cure for his illness, Ellis plans to jump ahead 200 years. Instead, he actually jumps ahead 2000 years. What he finds when he gets there is . . . grass. Fearing he has traveled to a time where he has the world to himself, and knowing he didn’t bring the proper tools to forge shelter for himself, he follows the river to see what he can find. What he finds is a murder – and a bunch of naked people who all look identical.

As I read this book, the voice in my head sounded very much like a performance of The Time Machine by Leonard Nimoy and John De Lancie I heard years ago. The same kind of eerie, echoing music played in the background of my head as Ellis slowly progresses through the world by himself. It seemed fitting. Even when he finds others, I still had that sound track echoing through my brain.

There isn’t a lot of action in this story – and what does happen does so in short spurts and it really isn’t until that last few chapters that things start moving at a break neck pace. So, there was no sense of urgency as I read but, rather, a sense of peace. It wasn’t a book that urged me to turn the page to see what happened next, yet I couldn’t put it down either. Instead of action, what we have here is a bunch of thought provoking nuances. And, make me think it did.

It also isn’t your typical dystopian world where one group has enslaved another. Instead, the world has evolved via science – to make everyone identical, because that is what was best for society. Or so it thought. And, because global warming has decimated the planet, they have all moved into the core of the earth – hence, Hollow World. Now, the science involved here, in time travel, in forming identical people, in ‘hollowing’ out the world, is not quite believable. But, you aren’t supposed to believe, you are supposed to accept and think ‘what if?’ And, that is something Mr. Sullivan does quite well – make you think.

In this world, there is no religion. No religion, no war, and no love. (Every stop to think how many wars are brought on by differences in religion?) Everyone is identical, so there are no comparisons. Everyone has a ‘maker’ (and how this comes about is very reminiscent of the Linux world) so everyone can have anything one wants. There are no genders or races or castes, no reason to be at odds with each other. So, what do people do? They seek out individuality – the seek tattoos and clothing and other things to make them stand out from the crowd. They seek new ideas (read religion and war) to advance civilization. I mean, really, where is there to grow?

The characters very search for individuality and God made me think about everything in my life. As a Christian, it made me seek God. But, both sides are presented here. There is no club over your head going – believe in God! Or You are a ninny if you believe in God! It is up to the reader to arrive at his own conclusion.

Love. Love is also an interesting thought process here. With no genders, how and who do people love? (There is an ‘app’ for sex . . .) Why do we love? How do we love? What is love? It made me appreciate the people in my life and appreciate what I have – even though I would be quite poor next to these folks.

I don’t believe there is any greater complement to a story than “It made me think.” I continue to adore Michael J. Sullivan. I adore his writing style. I adore his work ethic. I adore his publishing stance. I think he is a ground breaker and a genuinely good man. None of this made me like this book any more, but it made me more willing to pick it up – something outside of his typical book. I enjoyed the fact that instead of bloating the series he has already written for monetary gain, he sought readers and all of us stepped outside of our comfort zone to share in this new story. I hope that this will encourage other authors to come up with new worlds and new series instead of dragging down the ones we already love. Not that it isn’t possible to continue series in a good and polished manner, but an author should not be forced to do so either.

I give this one a solid 4 stars. It was an intriguing story in a different style written in a soothing manner. It is not action packed and there is no sense of urgency but, rather, a story full of ideas that will increase the wonder of the world around you.

Full Blooded ~ Amanda Carlson

  • Title: Full Blooded
  • Author: Amanda Carlson
  • Series: Jessica McClain #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Description:  Born the only female in an all male race, Jessica McClain isn’t just different—she’s feared.

After living under the radar for the last twenty-six years, Jessica is thrust unexpectedly into her first change, a full ten years late. She wakes up and finds she’s in the middle of a storm. Now that she’s become the only female full-blooded werewolf in town, the supernatural world is already clamoring to take a bite out of her and her new Pack must rise up and protect her.

But not everyone is on board. The werewolf Rights of Laws is missing text and the superstitious werewolves think that Jessica means an end to their race. It doesn’t help when Jessica begins to realize she’s more. She can change partway and hold her form, and speak directly to her wolf. But the biggest complication by far is that her alpha father can’t control her like he can the rest of his wolves.

When a mercenary who’s been hired by the vampires shows up to extract information about the newly turned werewolf only days after her change, they find themselves smack in the middle of a war and there’s no choice but to run together. When it’s up to Jessica to negotiate her release against her father’s direct orders, she chooses to take an offer for help instead. In exchange, Jessica must now swear an oath she may end up repaying with her life.


Review:  I am a sucker for a good cover and I have to admit that the cover of Full Blooded sucked me in. The cover features a striking, but fierce looking female who is ready to take on the world. Just what I like in my urban fantasy! I won’t lie; the story did not live up to the promise of the cover for me.
It is not a bad story. In fact, the concept is great. The plot builds on the mythology that Jessica is the first of her kind, a FEMALE werewolf. This is a game-changer in the supernatural world, especially in light of some vague, threatening, and apparently lost prophecies.

Jessica is a strong minded independent young woman trying to cope. However, she can be really whiny, which I found annoying, almost as annoying as her tendency to leap before looking. She KNOWS she has gaps in knowledge, yet she seems to have no interest at all in actually spending some time learning.

I guess we can forgive Jessica a little bit, considering the fact that everyone in her life is equally stupid. It made absolutely no sense that everyone kept trying to keep her in the dark regarding werewolf lore. I suspect this was the author’s attempt at creating a situation ripe for conflict. Unfortunately for me, this type of weak plot device turns me right off.

I also felt that the author tried to cram too much into one book. It would have been different if all of the plots and subplots had been handled well, but they all felt short-changed. I think the book would have been much stronger if the story focused on the local pack intrigue with well-executed story development.
Finally, the abrupt ending made me want to throw the book across the room. Lucky for my Kindle, I was able to restrain myself. What is with the trend toward unfinished stories???? I feel cheated. I bought a complete book, but it wasn’t. Grrr.

There was just enough of a glimmer that I will give the next book a shot. It helps that I’ve been approved for a no cost advanced review copy. If I had to shell out money, my journey with Jessica would like end here. Fingers crossed that this series gets better.

City of Ghosts ~ Stacia Kane

  • Title: City of Ghosts
  • Author: Stacia Kane
  • Series: Downside Ghosts #3
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating:  5 out of 5

Description:  IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN ALIVE AND UNDEAD.

Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside, and Chess’s bosses at the Church of Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack the grisly case.

Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss—and Chess’s drug dealer—gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows, or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.

Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths, First Elders, and a lot of seriously nasty magic—all while coping with some not-so-small issues of her own. And the only man Chess can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead.

Review:  Stacia Kane has created a rich world full of interesting characters for her Downside Ghosts series. City of Ghosts, the third book in the series, gets started with a bang. From the very first scene, this book is filled with thrilling action that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

Chess Putnam, Church Witch and Debunker, has earned a reputation for solving tough cases. As a result, she has been loaned to the Black Squad to work on a case so sensitive that she must be bound to secrecy. Of course, this case is so far reaching that it impacts Downside, as well. Chess is forced to lay it all on the line to try or everything she may lose everything that she holds dear: her freedom in Downside, The Church itself, Terrible, and possibly her life.

Kane has set the stakes so much higher in this book. She has evolved the magic in her world-building by tapping into the Elder magic accessed by the binding spell. She does this brilliantly, creating more depth, while staying within the confines of the magic system that she has created. This magic also reveals even more about Chess, her pain is almost palpable as she struggles through the binding.

Chess burns bright in City of Ghosts, as we feel her isolated shell start to crack and fragment, revealing some of hidden depths of her character. She starts to let others in just a little bit, and yet her self-loathing makes every step agonizing, especially the conflict between Chess and Terrible. I felt that this was really well-written, because the core of this struggle was a unique trust and friendship at risk, rather than simply some mystical insta-love pull that so many authors rely upon these days.

The tension in this book was literally breath-taking. I would often find myself holding my breath, waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t just mean the inter-character dynamics. The danger was so much greater and the intrigue so much deeper. So much of the story was balanced upon a knife’s edge; the result was a thrill to read.

City of Ghosts is what dark urban fantasy should be, an intense adventure starring a cast of charismatic personalities. Well done, Ms. Kane. Well done.

 

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 Humans ~ Matt Haig

  • Title: The Humans    
  • Author: Matt Haig
  • Genre: Literary Sci-Fi
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: $11 purchase
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  The critically acclaimed author of The Radleys shares a clever, heartwarming, and darkly insightful novel about an alien who comes to Earth to save humans from themselves.

“I was not Professor Andrew Martin. That is the first thing I should say. He was just a role. A disguise. Someone I needed to be in order to complete a task.”

The narrator of this tale is no ordinary human—in fact, he’s not human at all. Before he was sent away from the distant planet he calls home, precision and perfection governed his life. He lived in a utopian society where mathematics transformed a people, creating limitless knowledge and immortality.

But all of this is suddenly threatened when an earthly being opens the doorway to the same technology that the alien planet possesses. Cambridge University professor Andrew Martin cracks the Reimann Hypothesis and unknowingly puts himself and his family in grave danger when the narrator is sent to Earth to erase all evidence of the solution and kill anyone who has seen the proof. The only catch: the alien has no idea what he’s up against.

Disgusted by the excess of disease, violence, and family strife he encounters, the narrator struggles to pass undetected long enough to gain access to Andrew’s research. But in picking up the pieces of the professor’s shattered personal life, the narrator sees hope and redemption in the humans’ imperfections and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.

Review:  The world is divided into those who have read this book and those who have not.  Those who have read this book are shaking their heads in the affirmative right now.

It is not so much the story, but read it for that.  It is not so much the characters, but read it for that too.  It is for the statement it makes on the flawed yet wondrous nature of humans. This book will resonate with you long after you read it. (if not, we can’t be friends.)  You will be convinced the author himself is from another world, sent here to give us some wisdom, but perhaps also fearful if we can handle it.  I liken it to “Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach

Yes, I loved this book and I am a better person for it. A beautiful book that made me cry. At times I feared it would become predictable, but there was just enough variance and certainly more than enough genius. A wonderful range of emotions. The prose was both beautiful and simple. How many times have we all wondered, “What would an alien think if they came to Earth and experienced this?” Well, this book provides an illuminating answer.

Highly recomended. Get ready to highlight on your kindle or dog-ear your  paperback.

-Mark Matthews