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.

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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: Review copy
  • 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.

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

Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 1 ~ Gail Carriger

  • Title:  Soulless: The Mnnga, Vol. 1
  • Author:  Gail Carriger
  • Series:  The Parasol Protectorate Manga #1
  • Genre:  Graphic Novel, Manga, Fantasy
  • Format:  Paperback
  • Source:  Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating:  5 out of 5

Description:  The life of a spinster in Victorian London isn’t an easy one on the best of days, but such a life becomes infinitely more complicated when said spinster is “soulless” – a preternatural bridging the gap between the natural and supernatural worlds. Miss Alexia Tarabotti has this unique distinction, and when she is assailed at a formal gathering by a rove vampire, an encounter that results in the death of the half-starved creature, her circumstances become exponentially more complicated indeed! Now caught up in an intrigue with life or death stakes, Alexia must rely on all her talents to outmatch the forces conspiring against her, but it may be the man who has caught her eye – Lord Conall Maccon – and their budding flirtation that truly drives her to her wit’s end!

Review:  Let me begin by admitting that I am not quite sure that I fully understand what distinguishes something as manga or not. Therefore, I cannot speak to how mangarific this graphic novel may or may not be. What I can offer is this reader’s testimony of sincere pleasure in the manga version Soulless.

I am a huge fan of the Parasol Protectorate series from Gail Carriger. This adaption of the first book, Soulless did not disappoint. It is a great light version of the original story, yet REM did a great job of capturing the adventure and sentiment of the book. The manga-style artwork even further captured the whimsical tone that permeates the Parasol Protectorate series. Facial expressions were really well-done, capturing the essence of the characters in each scene. I particularly enjoyed the frames that depicted both Alexia and Conall when they were especially aggravated. The cover art was visually striking, though not quite as appealing as the novel’s cover.

Obviously, this manga series will appeal to Parasol Protectorate fans. However, I do think that story is solid enough to stand on its own merit. Perhaps some manga fans will discover the PP series because of the graphic novels?

My favorite thing about this adaptation is that it provides a quick way for me to revisit some of my favorite characters without having to invest the time in re-reading the entire book. I am eagerly awaiting the manga adaptations of the rest of the series.

The She-Hulk Diaries ~ Marta Acosta

  • Title:  The She-Hulk Diaries
  • Author:  Marta Acosta
  • Genre:  Comics, Fantasy, Chicklit
  • Format:  ebook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Description:  CURRENT STATUS: No job, no boyfriend, no permanent place to live, no car, and most of my clothes are held together with staples and duct tape. Bank account almost wiped out. Many of my former associates have expressed a desire that I never darken their doorways again for legal and financial reasons.

She-Hulk got us got us kicked out of the Avengers Mansion. People keep posting videos online of her New Year’s Eve shenanigans: twirling, flaming telephone poles in Times Square, climbing the Empire State Building while dangling Anderson Cooper…

Saying there are two sides to Jennifer Walters’s personality is an understatement. When she hasn’t morphed into a 650-pound, crime-fighting, hard-partying superhero, she’s a single lawyer trying to get her act together. Hilarious and action-packed, The She-Hulk Diaries tells her story, as she juggles her intense legal career by day with battling villains and saving the world by night. Maybe bad guys will stop trying to destroy the planet so she can have a real social life and even meet a guy who isn’t trying to take over the universe.

**Potential Spoilers**

Review: From the moment I spied the tube of bright green lipstick on the cover, I knew I was going to have to give The She-Hulk Diaries a go. The book was pretty much what I expected, think comic book meet Bridget Jones Diary, just not quite as clever as the latter. Even still, my inner girlie geek squealed with delight and enjoyed the ride. I have not previously followed the She-Hulk comics, an oversight that I am clearly going to have to fix ASAP!

It was not the deepest of stories (it IS based on comic book lore after all), but the plot is solid and enjoyable. The story follows Jennifer Walters, your not-so-average young attorney. She is currently down on her luck and looking to make some positive changes in her life, oh and to try to tame her wild-child alter ego, the She-Hulk. Gaining control of her life becomes even more challenging when she becomes embroiled in a mysterious plot . . . mwuhaha!

For the most part, I liked Jennifer’s character. She was smart and determined. However, I did want to slap the crap out of her for trying so hard to Dr. Morigi (and every other guy, except Mr. Right) into her PFLOMLY (Potential future love of my life). I have to admit, this is a total pet peeve of mine when women seem to be more caught up in HAVING A “love of their life” than in finding THE ACTUAL love of their life. I did love her alter ego, She-Hulk (Shulky if you’re nasty). Shulky is deliciously brazen and free spirited, but also very smart.

I do have to admit a bit of frustration with Stan Lee, the original creator of the She-Hulk character. Here we get this bad-ass female character, but then she is written as the not-quite-as-super super hero. She is not quite as strong as the hulk and has slightly less capabilities. Why can’t she have the same level of badassedness as the male characters??? Ok, in her favor, she DOES get to keep her intellect while hulking out, unlike her cousin Bruce. (yep, that Bruce . . . I could not decide whether to picture Bruce Banner as Edward Norton or Mark Ruffalo – tricky). I should also probably be made that they made her way hot, but I kind of like the empowerment of being crazy, green, raging, and super-hot all at the same time.

Ms. Acosta did a great job of building chemistry between Jenny/Jen/Gin and Ellis Tesla/Quintal, which is; let’s face it, pretty important for the chick lit market. The song lyrics were fun, but got a little old after a while because my geeky side kept thinking, bring on the action! Fortunately, there was plenty of gratuitous butt-kicking to satisfy the comic side of the house. The author also did a great job incorporating a lot of humor into the story. I loved all of the “rhymes with” references to Tony Stark (definitely pictured as RDJ).

Calling all geek girls – this one’s for you!

*Disclaimer: a free digital copy of this book was provided to me for review by the publisher through Net Galley.

Among Thieves ~ Douglas Hulick

  • Title:  Among Thieves
  • Author:  Douglas Hulick
  • Series:  Tales of the Kin #1
  • Genre:  Adventure, Fantasy
  • Format:  Audio book
  • Source:  Library
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  Drothe has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers in the employ of a crime lord while smuggling relics on the side. But when an ancient book falls into his hands, Drothe finds himself in possession of a relic capable of bringing down emperors-a relic everyone in the underworld would kill to obtain.

**Potential Spoilers**

Review:  I love the title of the book, Among Thieves, for what it doesn’t say. It perfectly captures the nature of the story and the essence of the main character, Drothe. He is that rare gem, a man who maintains his honor despite his role and home withing the dark side of society.

The book is a typical action fantasy book, with lots of magic, swordplay, and intrigue. Drothe’s specialty is information gathering, so I’d place him in the rogue class. Honorable though he may be, he is certainly not an innocent. The story takes place in a time of political unrest among the kin, the underworld society in which Drothe lives and suddenly he is inadvertently caught in the middle of the conflict. He finds himself trying to save not only himself, but his people.

The action in this book was fan-freaking-tastic! Hulick was able to paint vivid images of the battle scenes, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat the whole time. Similarly, the intrigue plot is very well crafted. Drothe must peel back layer after layer of to find the truth and find a way to set his world right.

I like the underlying themes to the story. In addition to the concept that Drothe is an honorable rogue, Hulick seems to be making a commentary about the morally agnostic nature of oaths. The moral of the story is that the validity of oaths can change as the context around them changes. In fact, it may actually be more honorable at times to break an oath once more information comes to light, rather than to blindly follow an oath simply because it was given.

I enjoyed the audio recording of this book. Kirby Heyborne does a fantastic job with narration. As for the audio cover, I am not sure why the did not just use the book cover, but the audio cover feels like a cheap spin-off. The book cover, however is nicely done. The color scheme fits the dark nature of the setting. The swarthy looking male on the cover, surely meant to represent Drothe, is what you one pictures when thinking of a rogue character. Finally, the big splash of red for the title is a great contrast to the rest of the cover.

I love a good fantasy series (so long as it is leading to an eventual resolution), and Among Thieves is off to a great start. I am looking forward to the follow-up, Sworn in Steel.

 

Silent in the Grave ~ Deanna Raybourn

  • Title:  Silent in the Grave
  • Author:  Deanna Raybourn
  • Series:  Lady Juila #1
  • Genre:  Mystery, Historical, Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Library
  • Reviewed by: Val
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Prepared to accept that Edward’s death was due to a long-standing physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth.

Determined to bring her husband’s murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward’s demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

Review:  There were so many things that I enjoyed about this book. I liked this book as much for what it wasn’t, as I did for what it was.

For example, despite the chemistry and tension between Julia and Brisbane, the author did not give into the temptation to turn this book into a romance. Instead she focused herself firmly on the mystery and suspense, and she did a great job of building the intrigue throughout the plot.

Her approach to the mystery, itself, was well done. She anticipated readers such as me who were able to figure out the “whodunit” from the beginning. Yet, I got the feeling the Ms. Raybourn actually meant for the mystery to lie not in the WHO, such much as the HOW and WHY. Clever girl.

The book was a light read, reminding me of urban fantasy, but it was really more of a historical fiction with the smallest touch of fantasy. It was just the right balance.

The book was really well-written, especially the characters. The author set the story up just right to allow for some excellent character development, and she did not disappoint. In fact, between Julia’s crisis of personality and Brisbane’s tortured hero, Raybourn has left plenty of room for further development throughout the series.

The pacing of the story was a bit slow at times, but it was in keeping with the tone of the story, so I found it forgivable. I am definitely looking forward to continuing this series.

Cover note: This is a great cover. The pose is simple and captures the character of Lady Julia very well. The layout is well-balanced and eye-catching and the fonts fit the tone of the story without trying too hard. Finally, the shadow just above her shoulder creates a great visual element of mystery.