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.

 

Second Grave from the Left ~ Darynda Jones

  • Title: Second Grave from the Left
  • Author: Darynda Jones
  • Series: Charley Davidson #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Charley Davidson, Grim Reaper Extraordinaire, is back in this sexy, suspenseful novel of supernatural shenanigans

When Charley is rudely awakened in the middle of the night by her best friend who tells her to get dressed quickly and tosses clothes out of the closet at her, she can’t help but wonder what Cookie’s up to. Leather scrunch boots with a floral miniskirt? Together? Seriously? Cookie explains that a friend of hers named Mimi disappeared five days earlier and that she just got a text from her setting up a meet at a coffee shop downtown. They show up at the coffee shop, but no Mimi. But Charley finds a message on the bathroom wall. Mimi left a clue, a woman’s name. Mimi’s husband explains that his wife had been acting strange since she found out an old friend of hers from high school had been found murdered a couple weeks prior. The same woman Mimi had named in her message.

Meanwhile, Reyes Alexander Farrow (otherwise known as the Son of Satan. Yes. Literally) has left his corporeal body and is haunting Charley. He’s left his body because he’s being tortured by demons who want to lure Charley closer. But Reyes can’t let that happen. Because if the demons get to Charley, they’ll have a portal to heaven. And if they have a portal to heaven…well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty. Can Charley handle hot nights with Reyes and even hotter days tracking down a missing woman? Will Cookie ever get a true fashion sense? And is there enough coffee and chocolate in the world to fuel them as they do?

Here is your signpost for the most hilarious read of the summer: Second Grave On The Left.


Review:  I immediately fell in love with sassy and snarky Charley Davidson in First Grave on the Right. Having just finished book 2 in the series, Second Grave from the left, the love fest continues. The series follows Charley, you average everyday girl, who just happens to be THE Grim REAPER.

This book offers a heaping helping of kick ass urban fantasy and it is served up with a tall glass of humor to wash it down. I found myself laughing out loud so much that my significant other kept asking me just what was so funny.

Darynda Jones did a great job of layering the mysteries throughout the book. The primary plot revolves around Charley helping her best friend, Cookie, find a missing school mate. As she tries to unravel that mystery, she is also in a race against time to try to save Reyes by finding his corporeal body. The result is a book full of twisty, windy plots that will keep you guessing until the end.

In this book, Jones adds some layers of complexity to Charley, especially concerning her family dynamics. I love to see character development, and the family drama subplot was a great avenue for this. We also saw the intensity increase between Charley and Reyes, her interactions with his spirit practically burnt up the pages when she wasn’t frustrated at his attempt to let his body die to protect her.

This is one of those cases where it is ok to judge a book by its cover. I absolutely love the cover theme for this series. In this case, the signature color is black and it features the torso of a female in a stance with attitude, a cleverly displayed rhinestone skull belt buckle (the perfect fashion statement for a sassy grim reaper), and of course, a scythe (what reaper would leave home without it?). I like that the covers show personality, but NOT the features of the model, leaving Charley’s face open to reader interpretation.

These books are smart, sexy, and full of adventure. It is definitely made the list of my favorite series.

Unholy Magic ~ Stacia Kane

  • Title: Unholy Magic
  • Author: Stacia Kane
  • Series: Downside Ghosts #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  ENEMIES DON’T NEED TO BE ALIVE TO BE DEADLY.

For Chess Putnam, finding herself near-fatally poisoned by a con psychic and then stopping a murderous ghost is just another day on the job. As an agent of the Church of Real Truth, Chess must expose those looking to profit from the world’s unpleasant little poltergeist problem—humans filing false claims of hauntings—all while staving off any undead who really are looking for a kill. But Chess has been extra busy these days, coping with a new “celebrity” assignment while trying on her own time to help some desperate prostitutes.

Someone’s taking out the hookers of Downside in the most gruesome way, and Chess is sure the rumors that it’s the work of a ghost are way off base. But proving herself right means walking in the path of a maniac, not to mention standing between the two men in her life just as they—along with their ruthless employers—are moving closer to a catastrophic showdown. Someone is dealing in murder, sex, and the supernatural, and once again Chess finds herself right in the crossfire.

Review:  Unholy Magic is the second book of Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts, a series that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. The second book is even darker and grittier than the first, a quality that I love to find in urban fiction.

The story is about Chess Putnam, a witch who investigates hauntings for the governing body who protects the world from ghosts, known as The Church. Chess is a pretty tough cookie and a great investigator, despite that fact that she is addicted to drugs. Once again, Chess finds herself working for the underworld of Downside, as well as The Church.

Ms. Kane delves even deeper into the cesspit of her heroine’s self-esteem in this book and reveals more the background the caused it. Chess is painfully dysfunctional in her relationships and at times it is agonizing to witness her ineptitude. Her addiction seems to be getting worse. The scene where she goes into withdrawals is written so that the reader can almost feel her pain. It makes me wonder upon what inspiration she draws for this character.

Despite the darkness, Chess has plenty of reasons to shine. Even in her deepest, darkest moments, she is able to tap into her powerful magic, which she often refers to as the one thing she can do really well. Her character may be flawed, but Chess is smart, fierce, and determined.

Chess has very few friends, and the one she holds most dear to her heart is Terrible. In this book, there are scenes that remind us just why his official job is playing the enforcer for a drug dealer. Yes, we also see his tenderness toward Chess, and his integrity.

Kane does a great job of weaving her subplots together and cultivating the mystery throughout the book. Her characters a richly drawn and beautifully flawed. I especially appreciate the character development that arcs between books. She is not afraid to dig deep to elicit strong and dark emotion, so be prepared. This is certainly not fare for the rainbows and flowers crowd.

This is one of my favorite covers in the series. The model’s facial expression just has kind of a world-weary look that I think captures the essence of Chess. The color scheme is dark, yet appealing and the layout and fonts follow the pattern that identifies the series.

Unless Ms. Kane takes a sharp left turn, I have a feeling that I am going to be a huge fan of this series.

Dancing with the Devil ~ Keri Arthur

  • Title: Dancing with the Devil
  • Author: Keri Arthur
  • Series: Nikki & Michael #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: Free ARC
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  Private Investigator Nikki James grew up on the tough streets of Lyndhurst and believes there’s nothing left to surprise her. All that changes the night she follows teenager Monica Trevgard into the shadows-and becomes a pawn caught in a war between two very different men. One fills her mind with his madness, the other pushes his way into her life-and her heart. Nikki knows how dangerous love can be, but if she wants to survive, she must place her trust in a man who could easily destroy her.

Michael Kelly has come to Lyndhurst determined to end the war between himself and another brother of the night. For 300 years he has existed in life’s shadows, gradually learning to control the life from death cravings of a vampire. Nikki not only breaches his formidable barriers with her psychic abilities, but makes Michael believe he may finally have found a woman strong enough to walk by his side and ease the loneliness in his heart. But will his love be enough to protect her from a madman hell-bent on revenge? Or will it drive her into his enemy’s deadly trap?

Only together can they overcome the evil threatening to destroy them both. But the secrets they keep from each other might prove to be the greatest threat of all.


Review:  I am perpetually on the look-out for exciting new Urban Fantasy series, hence my excitement at receiving a digital ARC for Dancing with the Devil. I knew this one might lean more toward Paranormal Romance than I typically like, but I was willing to take the risk. The concept sounded really good to me.

One thing that I really liked about this book was the cover. It is not trying too hard to be sexy. It is a good urban fantasy depiction of a tough looking gal with a mysterious vibe. The red color was plays well into the Dancing with the Devil title. It has great use of fonts. It really looks like a book that I would enjoy. Alas, sometimes the adage is true about judging books by their covers.

I was expecting a story with a strong female detective, instead I discovered a stupid chick with the maturity of a bean sprout. Throughout the book, Monica (the heroine of the tale) runs headfirst into danger rather needlessly. Often this was a passive-aggressive response to being angry at someone, because it totally makes sense when you are mad at someone to risk your own life in the most dangerous scenario possible. Not. For a supposed detective, she was quite incapable of getting clue. I mean, the signs that Michael was a vampire were totally obvious. How long did it take Nikki to figure it out? Can you say, duh?

So, then there is the insta-lust between Nikki and Michael. I don’t want to label it insta-love, because most of the time they did not even seem to like one another. Or maybe that was just because both characters spent the majority of the book in over-reaction mode. Sheesh, maybe they need some anger management.

And speaking of anger, Michael was a bit of an anger ball. He always get angry that she does not trust him, like REALLY angry, yet he gives her NO REASON to trust him. Did he really think his approach was going engender trust in her? Let’s check his actions against the trustworthy check list. Would you trust a guy who tells you nothing while making it obvious that he is concealing a lot of information? I didn’t think so. How about if he constantly promises not to control you, but repeatedly does so (even if it is to save your life)? Maybe not. I know, maybe you’d trust someone who would conceal his true nature from you and will lie to you about his ability to love? Not working for you? Well, maybe you should just get angry back and run headfirst into danger!

Beyond the characters themselves, the mythology seemed a little inconsistent to me. Nikki was able to open doors and break the necks of zombies using her psychic force, but she was unable to use it to open a car door? Smells kind of fishy to me. Worse, though, were all of the times when Nikki drained her power completely, yet she was always able to conveniently tap into more (unless Michael conveniently save her, making her angry).

The plot itself was kind of blah. After the first couple of chapters, the mystery is gone. We know who the bad guy is and what he wants. The rest of the book, the author seems to draw things out in a series of silly encounters. Nikki and Michael run into Jasper, Monica, and zombies, they fight, they scamper away, lather, rinse, and repeat.

I am still up in the air about whether or not I will this series another shot. I recognize that first books are not typically the best of the series. It would be pretty low risk, since I have received a digital ARC for the second installment.

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

Unholy Ghosts ~ Stacia Kane

  • Title: Unholy Ghosts
  • Author: Stacia Kane
  • Series: Downside Ghosts #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased.

Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls.

Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

Review:Unholy Ghosts is the first book in the Downside Ghosts series by Stacia Kane. The series takes place in a slightly dystopian world following a nearly apocalyptic ghost invasion. The Church, not to be confused with the real-life religious namesakes, is a magical order that controls the ghosts . . . and everything else. Cesaria “Chess” Putnam, the heroine of the series, is a debunker, which means she investigates hauntings on behalf of The Church to either expose them as fraudulent or to exorcise the unruly spirit causing them.

Chess is a beautifully flawed character. She is smart, tough, determined, and has integrity despite the fact that she is anti-social, unable to bond with others, incapable of following rules, and oh yeah, she is addicted to drugs. I would call her functionally dysfunctional. The author hints at the past trauma and abuse that molded the flawed persona that is Chess. While I enjoyed the book, at first I was not sure if I liked Chess. She makes mistakes, lot of them. She is not really a player, but to her men are a quick fix as much as her pills, and then she walks away. The drug addiction was an interesting choice by Ms. Kane. It is a risky choice as addicts are not generally the most likeable of people, yet she keeps Chess just functional enough to make it work. There is definitely plenty of room for character development throughout the series.

In this book, Chess is coerced into a side job of debunking for her dealer which turns out to be related to her official case that she is working for The Church. There is clearly something bigger going on, and Chess finds herself dangerously caught in the middle. Kane does a good job of building intrigue, leaving many avenues open to potential suspects. The danger and suspense give the book enough edge to make it quite the page turner. There are some romantic sparks, but it was not at all a romance novel.

Along the way, the author introduces a rich cast of supporting characters, who I am sure will play a key role in books to come. My favorite of these characters is Terrible, who earns his name working as the heavy on behalf of Chess’s dealer. I loved that Kane first depicts him as unattractive, but then reveals his many appealing attributes, both physical and not physical, as the book goes on. At one point Chess realizes that far from ugly, Terrible’s face has character. This is a great portrayal of how we perceive those around us as they grow dear, and his character is terribly dear. (Ba-dum-dum.)

I actually listened to the audio book version of Unholy Ghosts. I have mixed feeling about the narration. The narrator did a great job of portraying the take-off on urban slang used in the downside neighborhoods where most of the book takes place. On the other hand, her Asian characters had almost the same accent as the rest of the downsiders. Maybe it was intentional, but it did not seem to fit.

The cover is fine. There is nothing wrong with it, it is well balanced and features good font usage. However, there is nothing overly compelling about it. It depicts Chess giving a typical intense over-the-shoulder look. One thing that is well-done is that as a whole, the series has created an easily identifiable look to them, with the exception of book 3 (what’s up with that?).

This book was gritty and dark, just what I love in Urban Fantasy. I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

First Grave on the Right ~ Darynda Jones

  • Title: First Grave on the Right
  • Author: Darynda Jones
  • Series: Charley Davidson #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  A smashing, award-winning debut novel that introduces Charley Davidson: part-time private investigator and full-time Grim Reaper

Charley sees dead people. That’s right, she sees dead people. And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e. murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an Entity who has been following her all her life…and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.


Review:  This book has been on my to-be-read shelf for quite some time. I am glad that I finally decided to move it to the top of my list. The book was chock full of snarkorific fun. I listened to it the audio book version and I want to give props to Lorelei King for doing a fantastic job with narration.

The main character Charley is smart, sarcastic, independent young woman who makes her living as a detective who has a knack for helping to solve murders and is a regular police consultant. The fact that she is the grim reaper gives her a bit of an advantage. When the dead linger, they often become clients, along with the living. The book gets kicked off when a newly dead lawyer pays Charley an early morning visit to engage her services in solving his murder. Action and mystery ensues.

Charley’s character was really well-written. She is a tough, no nonsense female that does not take herself too seriously. She has vulnerabilities, but does not get bogged down in angst and sentimentality. The author does a great job developing the grim reaper mythology. Ms. Jones clearly planned it out her rules well and consistently stuck to them. The result is a reaper concept that melds well with the portrayal Charley’s character. The other characters in the books are a rich cast of personalities, each having a distinct voices and contribution to the plot.

The plot has no shortage of action. In fact, Charley is kind of a magnet for trouble, finding herself in a plethora of exciting and/or dangerous situations throughout the book. As a result, there is a keen level of suspense throughout the story, as the characters try to unravel the mystery at hand.

This book falls solidly into the urban fantasy genre with a leaning toward action. There is a romantic subplot (which is smoking hot!), yet it does not get in the way of the primary storyline, which is the murder mystery that Charley is working to solve. The book also offers a solid dose of humor, making it a light and quick read.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys light mystery with a heavy dose of snark. Go ahead and judge this book by its cover. The cute skull sandals and nicely manicured hand holding a mini-scythe capture the whimsy of the story itself. The fonts also capture the light-hearted tone of the story and the layout is well-balanced.

I can’t wait for the next book. I hope the remainder of the series fulfills the promise of this first book.