Scarlet ~ Marissa Meyer

  • Title: Scarlet
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Series: Lunar Chronicles #2
  • Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, YA
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth…

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Scarlet picks up right where Cinder left off, but follows parallel plots featuring different groups of characters. The primary plot features Scarlet, a young woman in France who searching for her missing grandmother. She teams up with the mysterious Wolf, when evidence indicates his former gang may have Grand’Mere. Meanwhile, back in New Beijing, Cinder’s storyline is focused on her escape from prison with the aid of a dashing fellow prisoner, Captain Thorn.

The level of adventure is much higher in this book. While the first book was set in a scenario with a threat of danger, in this second book the danger has arrived. I found my heart racing and I could not stop reading (er, listening). Would they capture Cinder? Can Scarlet really trust Wolf? Is the Lunar Queen going to attack Earth? Well, my dear reader, those are things your will need to discover for yourself.

The world building in this series is so vivid. I like the soft feel of the science fiction fabric woven by Meyer. She gives us just enough description to accept the technology without having it intrude upon the story itself. This gives her much more room to focus not just on the intrigue (of which there is plenty), but also on the development a great characters.

Scarlet is both soft and strong, determined, yet compassionate. She is the perfect foil for our flawed hero, Wolf. Dear Wolf, so fierce and hard, yet he unable to deny his warm heart. My favorite new character, however, has to be Captain Thorn. His arrogant, yet charming demeanor brings a smile to my face. It is also refreshing to see that Cinder and Kai do not just become caricatures, as is often the case when the leads from the first book appear in the sophomore book of a series.

A growing cast of characters and plot lines can often result in an unwieldy storyline. Not in this case. Meyer masterfully weaves these threads together in a book that is exciting and satisfying. My only disappointment is that I have to wait several months until the release of the next book.

*Foot note: I want to also give a shout out to the narrator for this series, Rebecca Soler. She does a great job of creating distinct voices for her characters and capturing their emotions as appropriate. I also give major props to the cover artist. the covers for this series are simply awesome. The pop of red on each cover draws the eye, while the fairy tale font and the primary image hint at the fairy tale being adapted in each book.

The Passage ~ Justin Cronin

  • Title: The Passage
  • Author: Justin Cronin
  • Genre: Horror
  • Series: The Passage #1
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  “It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.
From the Publisher (Random House)

Justin Cronin has taken it upon himself to tell a rather long and ambitious tale. The Passage, weighing in at 784 pages, is just the first installment of this saga, so be prepared to settle in for the long haul. The book requires patience, as Cronin weaves between different perspectives and time periods as he slowly and methodically lays out his tale.

The Passage tells the story of the rise of vicious vampire-type creatures that have caused the near destruction of the world. The first half of the book explains that circumstances surrounding the creation of these monsters and their subsequent infection of society. The second half of the book follows survivors of the catastrophe and their struggle to try to save what is left of the human race.

From the description, it sounds like this is an epic, action-packed story. Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few action scenes and some of them are very well told. The scene where all hell breaks loose at the secret compound in Denver was very well-written. However, the action seems few and far between, as they are spread out among a lot of long-winded prose explaining all of the characters in great, and often, unnecessary detail.

For example, the book opens by telling the hard-knock life story of Amy’s mother. Amy is a vital character to the plot of series, not just this first book. However, the author could have given the mother’s background in a few sentences, rather than a few chapters. In fact, the writing style reminded me at times Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, seeming overly focused on everyone’s internal motivations and past history. This is not a compliment, I could not finish Frankenstein. Cronin’s opus is indeed slightly more enjoyable, I did make my way through to the end, after all.

The book often felt a little ADD, changing perspective AND writing styles. I am generally not bothered by alternating point of views, but Cronin took this a bit to the extreme. He would spend a lot of time focusing on a group of characters, then boom, he is off somewhere completely different. Oh, and he tells the story through a combination of narrative, letters, and diary entries.

The author was also guilty of committing one of my worst fantasy/sci-fi infraction, conflicting mythology. He has described that sunlight is harmful to his creatures and harms them. This premise is a key component to the survival of his characters. However, he has a scene where his characters flee the “sticks” (their derogatory name for the creatures) in broad daylight, and yet the creatures give chase. How is that possible? Further, his Mensa-candidate survivors decide to take refuge in a mall where there is plenty of shade to aid the sticks. It makes no sense! Gah!

Overall, the book wasn’t bad. There were compelling characters and the story was interesting. It probably would have been better told in at least 200 fewer pages. After hanging in there until the very end, I was rewarded with an ending that just kind of petered off. I am sure the author intends to pick up the thread in the next book, but the question is, will I care enough to read it? The jury is still out.

Vengeance in Death ~ J D Robb

  • Title: Vengeance in Death
  • Author: J D Robb
  • Series: In Death #6
  • Genre: Futuristic Murder Mystery Romance
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  In a time when technology links the law and the lawless, predators and prey can be one and the same…

He is an expert with the latest technology … a madman with the mind of a genius and the heart of a killer. He quietly stalks his prey. Then he haunts the police with cryptic riddles about the crimes he is about to commit–always solved moments too late to save his victims’ lives.

Police lieutenant Eve Dallas found the first victim butchered in his own home. The second lost his life in a vacant luxury apartment. The two men had little in common. Both suffered unspeakable torture before their deaths. And both had ties to an ugly secret of ten years past–a secret shared by none other than Eve’s new husband, Roarke.

Review: After two disappointing episodes in this series it is good to see that Robb is back to form in this book.

The first victim in the book is Tommy Brennan, and his death has not been just a simple murder. No, Tommy was killed slowly, and the post-mortem confirms that the murderer pumped him full of enough drugs that he was lucid and completely aware of what was being done to him. His hand was severed and his eye was removed, in addition to several other nasty things, and it sets the tone for the rest of the murders. The victims are not just killed, they are tortured, made to suffer in vengeance for what they have done.

The crimes they have committed in the eyes of the murderer are all related to Roarke’s rather seedy past as an Irish street criminal. At sixteen he had already hooked up with the man who is now his butler, Summerset. Roarke pissed off a few local thugs, and in order to teach him a lesson they caught Summerset’s daughter Marlena, then brutally raped and murdered her. In retaliation Roarke killed the perpetrators.

This is all stuff we learned in one of the previous books, but here it comes back to bite him. It soon becomes apparent that the murders are all somehow related to Marlena’s death, and the murderer is trying to set up Summerset as the perpetrator of these vicious torture-kills.

In a way these books feel a little like a tick-box exercise sometimes. It is as if Robb made a list of all the people in Eve Dallas’ life and thought up stories in which they all become murder suspects, and in this book it’s Summerset’s turn. What makes this one interesting is that Eve and Summerset loathe each other, which mainly affects Summerset in this book. Eve will do her job, but Summerset refuses to follow her guidance, even if it means he gets himself into further trouble for it. It is also interesting because this one is incredibly clever in its setup. I had absolutely no clue who the murderer was right up until it was spelled out for me. We also meet a new secondary character, Ian McNab, who will become a fun recurring character.

What stops me from giving this the full five stars is the bits that have annoyed me about the previous books in this series. Yet again the murderer doesn’t survive to stand trial. Yet again the book finishes almost as soon as this happens – there is no aftermath to take care of. Yet again Eve pushes herself to the very limit, refusing to take rest or undergo medical attention when she’s injured. I know it’s meant to be a big part of her character, but sometimes it feels overdone.

Still, this book has one of the best quotes in the entire series so far, in an argument between Eve and Roarke, which neatly sums up the battle of the sexes:

“You had no right. No right to stand in front of me.” He turned back now, his eyes vividly blue with temper that had gone from frigid to blaze. “No fucking right to risk yourself on my behalf.”

“Oh really. Is that so?” She stalked forward until they were toe to toe. “Okay, you tell me. You keep looking me dead in the eye and you tell me you wouldn’t have done the same if it was me in jeopardy.”

“That’s entirely different.”

“Why?” Her chin came up and her finger jabbed hard into his chest. “Because you have a penis?”

A very good effort overall, so I’ll leave it at 4.5 stars.

Ceremony in Death ~ J D Robb

  • Title: Ceremony in Death
  • Author: JD Robb
  • Series: In Death #5
  • Genre: Futuristic Murder Mystery Romance
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  Even in an age of cutting-edge technology, old beliefs die hard…

Conducting a top secret investigation into the death of a fellow police officer has Lieutenant Eve Dallas treading on dangerous ground. She must put professional ethics personal loyalties. But when a dead body is placed outside her home, Eve takes the warning personally. With her husband, Roarke, watching her every move, Eve is drawn into the most dangerous case of her career. Every step she takes makes her question her own beliefs of right and wrong – and brings her closer to a confrontation with humanity’s most seductive form of evil…

Review: *Warning* This review contains some spoilers.

Here we come to the first true disappointment in the In Death series. Compared to the other Eve Dallas books I have read this one had a weak plot and many instances of Eve acting totally out of character.

As always, the book starts with a death, in this case the death of Eve’s colleague Frank. He has apparently died of natural causes, but then Eve is approached by Frank’s granddaughter Alice, who claims he was murdered and that her life is in danger too. When Eve meets Alice later that day to discuss this, Alice reveals that she has been dabbling in Satanism – a huge mistake on her part – and that the head of the cult, Selina Cross, refuses to leave her alone. Frank was trying to investigate the cult in his spare time, so to speak, and paid for it with his life.

From here on the plot contrasts the satanic witches of Selina’s church with the white wiccans who Alice turned to once she realised her mistake, and Eve’s continuing attempts to make sense of it all against her own background of thinking all religions are a load of bullshit.

I cannot really comment on the accuracy in which either the wiccans or Satanists are depicted, though to me it seemed okay. Wicca is all about not harming people, whereas the Satanists do a lot of blood sacrifice and sex. To complicate the plot, the author has thrown in the son of a convicted mass-murderer as one of the white witches, which inevitably makes him a suspect.

What I really didn’t like about this book was how it just didn’t make sense throughout. In previous books we have discovered that Eve was repeatedly raped and abused by her own father, until she killed him when she was eight years old. She has always struggled with the question of whether a character such as that is hereditary, and surely must have proven to her own satisfaction that it isn’t, since she’s neither a rapist nor abusive. So for her to then suspect a man simply because his father was a mass-murderer is illogical at least, and plain hypocrisy at best.

Then we come to the remaining murders of the book. In itself it always irks me a little that none of these books deal with just one murder. It always starts with one, then the next one gives a few more clues, then usually the last one is the one that does the murderer in. There may be one or two more murders thrown in for added flavour. In this book we have three more murders, and to me at least there was never much doubt that the perpetrator was a member of the Satanic cult. Yet the three clear murders (as opposed to the two supposedly accidental deaths) are all of people in that same cult, and seemed to have little more motivation behind them than ‘they might crack and talk to the police’. There just seemed no point to them whatsoever, which annoyed me in a series which until now has had perfectly believable motivations from the murderers.

As for the ending… Well, the less said about that the better. It was close to ludicrous, and yet again the murderer didn’t live to stand trial. That is another annoyance, because I do not believe that in any of the five books so far the murderer was actually caught alive.

The good news is that it gets much better again after this volume, though I could see why anyone might give up after this book. My advice is to stick with it, but you can get away with skipping this one. I know I said that about the previous one as well, but it’s even more true for this one. Plot-wise you’re not missing anything, since nothing important happens to any of the secondary characters in this book. Just go on to the next one, which is much better.

Cinder ~ Marissa Meyer

  • Title: Cinder
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Series: Lunar Chronicles #3
  • Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, YA
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Review:  When I saw the promos for the release of this book, I was instantly intrigued. First of all, the cover art is fantastic . . . the red shoe, the mechanical foot, and the title Cinder leave an impression of a steampunk adaptation of a fairy tale. I love both steampunk and fairy tale adaptations, so putting this on my to be read shelf was a no-brainer.

Further examination revealed the plot to be less steampunk and more Sci-Fi (an equal substitution in my book). However, I was taken aback by the Young Adult (YA) labels. Crap. Ok, so this got pushed to the back of the TBR shelf.

Once I finally got around to reading Cinder (listening to it on audio book), I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. There were so many things that I typically don’t like: plot predictability, a touch of YA angst, and a less than tidy conclusion. And yet, I found it be a charming futuristic retelling of Cinderella. The youthful voice of the audio book narrator lent itself well to the story. I believe the quality of the narration enhanced the entertainment factor of the story.

The fact that Cinderella was my favorite of the classic fairy tale when I was younger and way more girlie may have also contributed to my enjoyment. (I think my Cinderella fixation may have been tied to my innate compulsive dancing disorder, you know, with the ball and all). Regardless, I found myself so pulled into the story that I could not stop reading (er, listening).

The primary plot played out very much like the classic tale, complete with wicked step mothers, a prince, and a ball. However, there were also hints of Snow White thrown into the mix, with the legend of missing Lunar Princess who may or may not have escaped a deadly fate at the hands of the evil Lunar Queen. Perhaps we will see a future tome devoted to the Snow White tale?

Meyer also did a great job of blending in more depth and complexity to this fairy tale story. For example, the author used cyborgs and androids to address themes of prejudice and oppression. Meyer also dabbled with concepts of political intrigue, from the delicate balance of maintaining world peace, to the menace threat of the Lunar court, and the struggle of facing a deadly plague.

Other than Cinder and Dr. Erland, most of the characters lacked depth. I was ok with this, given the fairy tale nature of the story. However, I would have liked a little more development for Prince Kai, whose character felt a bit like a leaf blowing in the wind. Despite being one-dimensional, it was hard not fall in love with little Iko who I hope will be revived in future books. But, the best character award has to go to Linh Mei (it IS her book after all). Also known as Cinder, she was a wonderful character; hopeful, generous, and kind despite her battered and bruised body and spirit.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my misgivings about the lack of Asian culture in the book I know that the story claims that the Eastern Commonwealth is a blend of many cultures, but given the obviously clearly Asian-inspired names and settings, it felt like a half-hearted attempt to differentiate the story from typical Western culture fairy tales.

I can see where this would be a great book for young adult readers, but the darker themes lend appear for adult readers who are young of heart rather than young of age. I hope the rest of the series has the same level of charm and appeal.

Immortal in Death ~ J D Robb

  • Title: Immortal in Death
  • Author: J D Robb
  • Series: In Death #3
  • Genre: Futuristic Murder Mystery Romance
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  It is 2058, New York City. Lieutenant Eve Dallas uncovers a world where technology can create beauty and youth, but passion and greed can destroy them.

She was one of the most sought-after women in the world. A top model who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted -even another woman’s man. And now she’s dead, the victim of a brutal murder.

Police lieutenant Eve Dallas puts her life on the line to take the case when suspicion falls on her best friend, the other woman in the fatal love triangle. Beneath the facade of glamor, Eve finds that the world of high fashion thrives on an all-consuming obsession with youth and fame-one that leads her from the lights of the runway to the dark underworld of New York City, where drugs can fulfill any desire, for a price.

Review: The third book in this series continues the pattern so far, albeit with a slight deviation. The first murder seems unimportant: one of Eve’s informants, a lowlife drug dealer cum street thug, is found in the river with his face bashed in. Eve takes on the murder since he was hers, but at this point in time she is distracted and worried about her upcoming wedding and how on earth she’s going to cope with that.

With that in mind, Eve’s best friend Mavis drags her over to her new boyfriend Leonardo, an up-and-coming designer who wants to design Eve’s wedding dress. During the fitting they get a visit from Pandora: supermodel, all-round nasty person and Leonardo’s ex, who isn’t prepared to let him go just yet. This seems no more than a nasty spat, but then a few days later Pandora is found dead at Leonardo’s apartment with her face smashed to smithereens and all the evidence points to Mavis as the perpetrator.

For Eve this gives the case extra pressure and significance. She knows Mavis too well to even think for one moment that she did it, but with her best friend’s freedom in the balance it makes it extra difficult for Eve to find the real murderer.

As before, I had absolutely no clue who the culprit was throughout the book, and it was a major revelation when I finally did find out. I do like a murder mystery which actually remains a mystery until the grand reveal at the end. On the relationship side I was amused by Mavis’ tireless attempts to make Eve pay some attention to her appearance, and the chapter where she is tackled by a hairdresser/beautician at the same time as she is hassled by Leonardo and his assistant over her wardrobe was pure Eve. It’s fun to see her gradually change from hard-ass cop to a woman who can let go a little and enjoy what life can give her outside of work.

However, there is a dark side to this too. Eve’s continuing involvement with Roarke, and the fact that she is starting to have a life outside work, finally gives her mind the impetus to start dealing with her traumatic past. This manifests itself in nightmares – flashbacks – which reveal things about her past that she didn’t want to know about, and which she has difficulty reconciling with her job as a homicide detective. This adds another layer of depth to this book – and this series – which makes it better than average.

Roarke remains much as he was. I know many readers of this series find him too perfect, but personally I have no problems with this, and I find him quite an interesting man. Still, there was nothing in this book to really lift it to amazing levels, so I’ll drop it a little in rating to a 4.5.