Twice Tempted ~ Jeaniene Frost

  • Title: Twice Tempted
  • Author: Jeaniene Frost
  • Series: Night Prince #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:
Dating the Prince of Darkness has its challenges…

Leila’s psychic abilities have been failing her, and now she isn’t sure what the future holds. If that weren’t enough, her lover, Vlad, has been acting distant. Though Leila is a mere mortal, she’s also a modern woman who refuses to accept the cold shoulder treatment forever–especially from the darkly handsome vampire who still won’t admit that he loves her.

Like choosing between eternal love and a loveless eternity…

Soon circumstances send Leila back to the carnival circuit, where tragedy strikes. And when she finds herself in the crosshairs of a killer who may be closer than she realizes, Leila must decide who to trust– the fiery vampire who arouses her passions like no other or the tortured knight who longs to be more than a friend? With danger stalking her every step of the way, all it takes is one wrong move to damn her for eternity.

*Potential Spoilers*

Review:  I am a big fan of Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series. I especially appreciate the action-based plots that are liberally laced with humor. Twice Tempted is the second book Night Prince series, spun off from the Night Huntress Series. This series focuses on Vlad, the vampire of Dracula legend.

The Night Prince books skew much more heavily toward the paranormal romance genre, rather than the urban fantasy style that I prefer. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a good bit of action and I enjoy the stories. I just wish they would focus more on the adventure rather than the lover’s angst.

The book features a lot of high drama, Leila runs away from Vlad, who cannot admit to her, let alone himself, that he loves her. Vlad is determined to let her go, if it will make her happy, but then danger strikes and his alpha male kicks in to try to protect her. What follows is chaos, mystery, and danger – oh, and a crap ton of love fueled chemistry.

I will give Ms. Frost credit, she does a wonderful job of building romantic tension and serving it up piping hot. Paranormal romance fans will want to line up for seconds. For me, it is fun enough to tide me over until the next Night Huntress, but it did not earn a spot on the top shelf.

As for the cover, it is a pretty eye-catching, if cliché use of the muscle bound bare torso. I do have to say, the publisher chose a suitable tasty model to depict Vlad. The flames are a good visual representation of the story, in more ways than one.

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Insurgent ~ Veronica Roth

  • Title: Insurgent
  • Author: Veronica Roth
  • Series: Divergent #2
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Val
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  One choice can transform you, or destroy you.

Every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves, and herself, while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.


Review:   Insurgent, the second book of the Divergent series, picks right up where Divergent left off. The factions are at war, following the massacre of much of the Abnegation faction at the hands of the hypnotized Dauntless warriors. Having stopped the attack, Tris and Four find themselves outlaws on the run.

This book was just as much of a rush to read as the first, maybe even more so. There is plenty of action, as Tris and Four face danger trying to uncover the truth about what is going on. Roth takes the political undertones even deeper, creating a delicious tension throughout the story. It is a constant struggle to sift truth from lies, or more importantly, whose truth is more compelling.

As the plot thickens, the character also become more complex. It is no longer as simple as good versus bad. Roth reveals the good intentions behind some of the terrible actions of her “bad guys”, and that good misguided “good” characters have faltered onto dark paths. I am so tempted to mention some specifics here, but I think I will let you discover that for yourself.

Tris, herself, is very conflicted throughout the story. Her actions in the previous book have her questioning what kind of person she really is and erodes some of her recently won confidence. This internal struggle results in conflict and tension between Tris and Four. There is also continued tension among Tris and her new Dauntless friends.

I will say one thing for Roth, she didn’t really hold anything back. She is telling a dark and gritty tale and she’s not afraid for bad things to happen to pack the necessary emotional punch. Roth is by no means a George R.R. Martin (who seems to kill off characters just so the reader won’t get attached), but she does not shy away from the death of a likeable character.

While the first book focused primarily on the Abnegation and Dauntless factions, Insurgent gives a closer look at Amity and Candor. Herein lies the brilliance behind Roth’s unfolding saga. Each faction has its specific social mores, which are both a strength and a weakness when isolated without divergent thinking (um, yeah, guess that explains the series theme in a nutshell). Another theme throughout this book is how far people will go to avoid accepting a harsh reality out of fear, often failing to act and thus making them fall victim to that fear.

The cover for Insurgent is equally eye-catching as the Divergent cover. This time, it features the faction symbol for Amity with the Chicago skyline at the bottom. The color scheme and layout are complimentary to the Divergent cover, clearly identifying the series.

There is one bad thing about this book that I do not like so much . . . that I will have to wait until October for the third and final book of the series!

Divergent ~ Veronica Roth

  • Title: Divergent
  • Author: Veronica Roth
  • Series: Divergent #1
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Val
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.


Review:   I was really torn on whether or not to read this book, even though I had heard good reviews. On one hand, I have been avoiding anything approaching YA lately, unsure if I can handle yet another teen-angst fest. On the other hand, I really like dystopian fiction. A good recommendation from a trusting source convinced me to give it a try. I am so glad that I did.

Divergent takes place in Chicago years after some society changing disaster. In order to survive, the isolated population has divided itself into five factions, each of which is characterized by specific personality traits that make them especially suited to serve the societal roles assigned to their faction. If someone fails to conform for some reason, they become ostracized and relegated to the lowest tier of society, the factionless.

The story follows Tris, who like others her age must make the difficult decision to choose her faction, an irrevocable decision. If the wrong faction is chosen, there is no going home, the only option available at that point is to become factionless. However, Tris isn’t like everyone else. She is Divergent, having aptitude for multiple factions. She is not sure what it means exactly, other than it puts in danger, so she must conceal it.

Tris is a complex character of a young girl trying to discover who she is within a world that seems to be crumbling around her. She is bold yet unsure of herself, selfless without being self-sacrificing, and clever, if at times slow on the uptake. There were definitely times that I felt a discrepancy between how clueless Tris could be and her portrayed intelligence.

Because of her very nature, Tris is portrayed as a bit of an underdog character. Despite being an outcast, the author created some great relationships with her among her underdog friends. The author also did a great job of creating chemistry between Tris and Four, capturing that spark of young love without the usual overdose of angst.

The world-building was really good in this book. The mental images evoked by the descriptions of dystopian remains of Chicago were fairly vivid. It was painted as a harsh world with limited options, yet the author was able to include a hopeful element.

It was easy to get swept away in the scenes depicting the dauntless actions. The author did a great job of capturing the heady combination of fear and freedom that Tris felt during these scenes.

The cover of this book is very eye-catching. It features a flaming rendition of the symbol for the dauntless faction. The rest of the cover is muted, in stormy shade of blue/grey, lending itself to the dark, cold tone of the story, depicting clouds and a distant Chicago skyline.

Divergent starts this trilogy off well. It does a great job of introducing the world and the main characters without sacrificing on plot or adventure. If felt like a complete book, capable of standing on its own, yet there was enough foreshadowing to make the reader want to continue the series.

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe ~ Charlaine Harris et al

  • Title: Wolfsbane and Mistletoe
  • Author: Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Carrie Vaughn, Keri Arthur, Karen Chance, and more
  • Series: Sookie Stackhouse #8.1
  • Genre: Fantasy, Sci-fi, Short stories
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Valerie
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  The editors of “Many Bloody Returns” deliver the perfect howl-iday gift, with new tales from Patricia Briggs, Carrie Vaughn, and many more.

“New York Times” bestselling authors Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Keri Arthur, and Carrie Vaughn—along with eleven other masters of the genre—offer all-new stories on werewolves and the holidays, a fresh variation on the concept that worked so well with birthdays and vampires in “Many Bloody Returns.”

The holidays can bring out the beast in anyone. They are particularly hard for lycanthropes. Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner have harvested the scariest, funniest and saddest werewolf tales by an outstanding pack of authors, best read by the light of a full moon with a silver bullet close at hand.

Whether wolfing down a holiday feast (use your imagination) or craving some hair of the dog on New Year’s morning, the werewolves in these frighteningly original stories will surprise, delight, amuse, and scare the pants off readers who love a little wolfsbane with their mistletoe.

Contents:
Introduction by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner
Gift Wrap by Charlaine Harris
The Haire of the Beast by Donna Andrews
Lucy, at Christmastime by Simon R. Green
The Night Things Changed by Dana Cameron
The Werewolf before Christmas by Kat Richardson
Fresh Meat by Alan Gordon
Il est né by Carrie Vaughn
The Perfect Gift by Dana Stabenow
Christmas Past by Keri Arthur
SA by J.A. Konrath
The Star of David by Patricia Briggs
You’d Better Not Pyout by Nancy Pickard
Rogue Elements by Karen Chance
Milk and Cookies by Rob Thurman
Keeping Watch over His Flock by Toni L.P. Kelner

Review:  Everything about the way I approached Wolfsbane and Mistletoe was outside of my norm for anthologies. It is rare for me to read one cover to cover. Typically I will read a story here and there as it relates to a series that I am currently reading. In fact, I am sure my librarian thinks I am a bit of lunatic based on the number of times I have checked out, checked back in, and a couple months later checked out certain anthologies. (I follow a LOT of urban fantasy series, which seem to thrive on the between-book short stories published in anthologies).

I think what made the difference this time was that this particular anthology came available on audio book through the library. It got me thinking that it might be fun to just go ahead and listen to the entire volume, rather than just trying to hit a couple relevant stories. So began my journey through W&M.

As you would expect, some of the stories were better than others. Of course I enjoyed the familiarity of some of my favorite characters as they appeared in some of the shorts. I was delighted and surprised, however, to find my enjoyment in a couple of the tales for which I no experience with their authors. There were a couple of clunkers that I decided to fast forward through to the next story, but only two.

On the whole, the collection was a lot of fun, especially for fans for Urban Fantasy.

Dead Ever After ~ Charlaine Harris

  • Title:  Dead Ever After
  • Author: Charlaine Harris
  • Series:  Sookie Stackhouse #13
  • Genre:  UF, PNR
  • Format:  Hardback
  • Source:  Library
  • Reviewed by:  Valerie
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  There are secrets in the town of Bon Temps, ones that threaten those closest to Sookie—and could destroy her heart…

Sookie Stackhouse finds it easy to turn down the request of former barmaid Arlene when she wants her job back at Merlotte’s. After all, Arlene tried to have Sookie killed. But her relationship with Eric Northman is not so clearcut. He and his vampires are keeping their distance…and a cold silence. And when Sookie learns the reason why, she is devastated.

Then a shocking murder rocks Bon Temps, and Sookie is arrested for the crime.

But the evidence against Sookie is weak, and she makes bail. Investigating the killing, she’ll learn that what passes for truth in Bon Temps is only a convenient lie. What passes for justice is more spilled blood. And what passes for love is never enough…

Review:  Reading this book was a bit bittersweet. Yay, a new Sookie Stackhouse novel! However, it is the LAST Sookie Stackhouse novel. Sniff. I have so enjoyed this series, and yet I respect that Charlaine Harris has decided to bring it to a conclusion rather than letting it grow stale as long-running series are wont to do.

As typical, Sookie has found herself knee deep in trouble. The main difference is that rather than getting pulled into other people’s drama, Sookie herself is the target of the trouble. As danger and intrigue swirls around her, Sookie tries her best to get through the trials of her life and relationships. By making Sookie the focus of the plot, Ms. Harris reminds us of why we love this character so much. Sookie is brave, loyal, and full of heart making a deep impression on those around her. That impression is not always good, hence the danger to Miss Stackhouse in Dead Ever After.

The really cool thing about Dead Ever After that the author weaves many of Sookieverse players into the plot. Again, this relates back to those lasting impressions. Some of these characters are out to get Sookie, but many make an appearance to lend their support. This was especially touching during the scene where to courtroom is full of people who came to lend support to Sookie. The inclusion of so many characters from past books gives the reader an opportunity for closure. There are times when this seems a bit forced, like when Quinn comes by to help only to leave almost immediately leaving, but most of the appearances play out well.

Dead Ever After is an overall fun read for anyone who enjoyed the Sookie Stackhouse series. However, I do not care for how Ms. Harris decided to resolve one major subplot; that of Sookie’s romantic interest(s). I am not going to go into detail. Duh! You are just going to have to read it and find out what happens for yourself. This is an area in which I have long struggled, as Sookie’s romantic decisions have throughout the series have been fraught with inconsistencies. I guess it is fitting that I would feel the same way about the final installment of Sookie’s saga.

As for the cover, I have never been a fan of this series’ cover art. It has always seemed a little cheesy to me. I didn’t really like this cover any better. It just seemed too gaudy. I did, however, appreciate the artwork inside the cover. I am still not a fan of the style, but I thought that it tied in nicely to story.

Farewell Sookie Stackhouse. It’s been fun. I will miss you.

The Night Circus ~ Erin Morgenstern

  • Title: The Night Circus
  • Author: Erin Morgenstern
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Emma, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads:

Opens at Nightfall

Closes at Dawn

As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.

Le Cirque des R�ves

The Circus of Dreams.

Now the circus is open.

Now you may enter.

Review:  So, this is a tough one. I still can’t make up my mind about this book. I’m hovering between 3 and 4 stars. I don’t want to give away any spoilers because it really would spoil the effect of the book for those that want to read it. So I’ll give you a potted overview.

The story is about a magical competition between Celia and Marco, instigated by her father and his mentor when they were children. Celia knows very little about the competition, not even who her opponent is, while Marco knows much more. The location for the contest is Le Cirque des Reves. They do battle by creating more and more elaborate experiences (tents) within the circus, neither knowing how the contest will be won, but knowing there can be only one winner. Of course, there is the inevitable love story that ensues, though for a large part of the book the two protagonists are kept apart.

What was wonderful about this book was Morgenstern’s beautiful, often elaborate prose and intricate descriptions. The tents, and what happened within them, really came to life with her detailed atmosphere. You felt as though you were really there and these magical experiences could actually be real because of the dexterity of the author. One of my favourite things in the circus was Herr Theissen’s clock. What an extraordinary imagination Morgenstern has!

However, I also feel as though this was the book’s weakest point as well. The circus was described in every detail from the clothes to the food at the Midnight Dinners and the smells of the circus, and the story was told from so many points of view and places in time, I found it awkward to really develop any attachments to the characters. I wasn’t swept away with the story, but rather with the imagery.

Perhaps this was the author’s intent. The book actually felt like someone’s dream. One of those rare dreams that we all occasionally have that feels so real that when we wake up we feel disappointed because it didn’t actually happen. The Night Circus was less of a story and more of an experience.

If Morgenstern could shape her characters as satisfyingly as she shapes the world she puts them in, I think she could be a prodigious talent. For a debut novel I was very impressed and I will certainly be interested to see what else she writes. It’s not going to be one of my favourite books but all told, I think the book deserves 4 stars for the sheer commitment and bravery Morgenstern displays in not leaving any descriptive stone unturned. Not many books are written in this fashion, and I admire her for trying something unusual. How successfully she achieves it is up to you.