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.

Rogue Touch ~ Christine Woodward

  • Title:  Rogue Touch
  • Author:  Christine Woodward
  • Genre:  Comics, Fantasy, Chick lit
  • Format:  ebook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating:  2 out of 5

Description:  “An interesting take on Rogue, as her powers take her down a path I never would have imagined.” –Chris Claremont, author of Dragon Moon and writer for seventeen years of Uncanny X-Men

Twenty-year-old Anna Marie was just fired for the third time–this time from a bakery. Why can’t she hold a job? Well, for starters, she dresses . . . differently. She looks like a Goth girl to the extreme, her shock of white hair contrasting with her head-to-toe black garb, her face the only skin she chooses to reveal. But Anna Marie doesn’t have a choice. Her skin, her touch, is a deadly weapon that must be concealed. She accidentally put her first boyfriend, Cody, in a coma when they kissed. Horrified, she ran away to Jackson, Mississippi, where she’s been living alone in a cramped apartment and scraping by on food stamps.

Then she meets otherworldly James and everything changes. He’s just like her–completely alone and also on the run. To elude James’s mysterious and dangerous family, the pair takes to the highway. As they cross the country, their simmering attraction intensifies and they both open up about their secretive pasts. James reveals that his true name is Touch and he christens Anna Marie Rogue. But with danger at their heels, they know they can’t run forever. Rogue must decide if she’ll unleash her devastating powers once again, which she swore never to do, in order to save the only person who seems truly to understand and accept her.

“A lost chapter from Rogue’s past, told with elegance and conviction and attention to detail. Really entertaining.” –Mike Carey, author of the Felix Castor novels and writer of X-Men: Legacy

Review: The Geek Girl movement is gaining ground and Marvel Comics has taken notice. I see what they are trying to do here, taking female superhero characters and giving them the chick lit treatment. It’s not a bad plan to try to appeal to the female demographic and maybe deflect criticism at their lack of female superhero leads. I am not sure that Rogue Touch is the novel to achieve this. The writing style is reminiscent of the Fifty Shades of Twilight books, shallow characters making their way through a weak plot that seems to be driven by an abundance of overreactions. I hear you saying, “But DarthVal, these books have sold MILLIONS of copies!” True that may be, but I posit that the gals of geekdom are seeking more intelligently written fare. At least THIS geek girl is!

The premise of the story itself was not bad. Boy meets girl. Girl can kill/main via her touch. Boy is not from this world. They are misfits on the run who can’t help but be drawn to one another. It is kind a sci-fi twist on the same old story. Kind of.

The pacing had a circular rhythm of attack, escape, and flee, over and over. You might be thinking that this is an indication of high adventure, but it just does not play out that way. The result actually felt like a bunch of random skirmishes that did little to move the plot forward interspersed by a couple of characters who were in sad need of some blessing of the hearts. After a while, I kind of just wanted them to be captured so that something different and interesting would happen in the book.

My desire for the capture of our heroes is probably the result of frustration over their ridiculous justification of stealing. Apparently, the author’s moral code is that all corporations (especially banks) are inherently evil and therefore it if fine and dandy to steal from them at will. This philosophy was kind of pounded into the story with the subtlety of a jackhammer. The characters were also guilty of frequent overreaction, which was one of the primary plot devices on which the author relies.

On the whole, I felt that the story was told in a rather sloppy manner. There was a scene where the author describe Lake Michigan as salty – um, the great lakes are fresh water. There is a tool called Google where one can easily verify facts about which they are unsure. There are other things that are sketchy, mostly having to do with the world of Touch/James (the main male character). I can’t go into detail without throwing out major spoilers, so I will just say that the explanations given were implausible at best. The origin mythology for Rogue was interesting, if lackluster.

On the bright side, the author does a good job of creating chemistry between Rogue and Touch. This is no simple feat considering the limitations of skin on skin contact. Some of the scenes are a little awkward, but how could they be otherwise? Regardless, the reader can definitely feel the attraction and longing between the two. If only that were enough to carry a book . . . specifically one that would hold appeal for the geek girl crowd.

Footnote: As you can tell from my review, I was not a fan of Rogue Touch. However, I also read and reviewed The She-Hulk Diaries, the OTHER Marvel comic-chick lit release and loved it. I really appreciate what Marvel is trying to do with these books, and I would love to see more. I hope that Marvel continues forward with this new genre giving it a real chance to take root and blossom.

The Ophelia Cut ~ John Lescroart

  • Title: The Ophelia Cut
  • Author: John Lescroart
  • Series: Dismas Hardy Mystery #14
  • Genre: Legal Thriller
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Source: GoodReads First Read
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  Brittany is 23, the pretty, popular daughter of Moses McGuire — and niece of defense attorney Dismas Hardy. Her most recent of many ex-boyfriends, Rick Jessup, can’t get over her. His abuse escalates, culminating in a terrible night when Brittany is raped. Within 24 hours, Rick is dead, Moses is the prime suspect, and Hardy must defend his old friend. The case threatens to uncover old secrets that could destroy the careers of Hardy and police lieutenant Abe Glitsky.

*This review may contain spoilers.*

Review:  The Ophelia Cut is your basic run-of-the-mill legal thriller. Don’t get hung up on the fact that it book 14 in series. This is the first and only book that I’ve read in the series and I felt that it is a solid stand-alone book. Mr. Lescroart did a really good job of feeding the relevant back story without leaving the reader frustrated that they missed something. I do suspect that had I read past books in the series I might have perceived more depth to the characters, but it wasn’t necessary.

They plot itself was interesting, however, I never felt that edge-of-you-seat pull that typical of a really good suspense story. I just did not get the thrill from this thriller. This book was surprisingly easy to put down. It did have enough going for it to make me want to finish the book. I am also not sure that I actually liked any of the characters. In fact, I kind of wanted Moses to be convicted just because I found him to be whiny and annoying. Was it wrong that I found it kind of funny that all of his friends and family just automatically believed that he did it?

One interesting thing about this book is that it really was not “who-dunnit” so much as a how-do-we-defend it. I know this might bother those die-hard mystery buffs who need a solid resolution, but I was ok with it. In fact, it was kind of refreshing to let my mind consider the possibilities. It certainly was no Scooby-do, “I would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling teenagers” ending.

As for the resolution of the trial, I really did not like how this was handled at all. It was really lame and I didn’t buy it any more than the fictitious jury should have. I was left wondering if the author was not sure where to take it and his deadline was coming up, so he reached for the low hanging fruit.

Another thing that bothered me was the implication at the very end that the prosecutor was sympathetic. This did not add up, especially considering the lengths that he went to, sometimes using under-handed methods, to win the case. Oh, but he allowed a sympathetic jury? Why would he let up in that one area? Maybe the author was trying to make a statement that a father going after his daughter’s rapist would be justified? Whatever the case, it just did not play out well.

I thought the cover was a great cover for a thriller. The dark blue wash suggests a sinister tone, along with the body language of the people in the image. However, as I read it, I just didn’t see where the cover fit the book. The title also nagged at me throughout most of the book. I kept trying to figure out what it had to do with the story. This, however, the author did explain in the epilogue.

In the end, this book was just OK.

*Disclaimer: this book was provided free of charge to the reviewer through Good Reads first reads.

 

Furies of Calderon ~ Jim Butcher

  • Title:  Furies of Calderon
  • Author:  Jim Butcher
  • Series:  Codex Alera #1
  • Genre:  Adventure, Fantasy
  • Format:  Paperback
  • Source:  Own book
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  In the realm of Alera, where people bond with the furies-elementals of earth, air, fire, water and metal, fifteen-year-old Tavi struggles with his lack of furycrafting. But when his homeland erupts in chaos-when rebels war with loyalists and furies clash with furies-Tavi’s simple courage will turn the tides of war.

**Potential Spoilers**

Review:  I get a lot of book/author recommendations from fellow readers. The name Jim Butcher comes up. A LOT. Perhaps this is because I love both epic and urban fantasy so much. Since my significant other has read the Codex Alera series, Butcher’s traditional fantasy series, I decided to start there. Furies of Calderon is the first book of this series.

The story followed young Tavi, a naive young lad who appears to have no fury, an elemental-based power. He was a smart young man, but unfortunately, in a world where everyone is defined by their fury, he is seen as a bit less than others. His world, and that of his community, started to unravel when they are invaded by the Marat, fierce savage neighboring warriors, as part of a larger plot overthrow the king.

While the book did feel very much like the first book of a series, Butcher did a fantastic job of introducing a rich cast of characters. It was rare to find a character that is purely good or evil in the book. Most tended to be a blend of good and bad. In fact, the author depicted good, bad, right, and wrong as a matter of the character’s perspective. Characters on both side clearly had strong ethics, the only thing making them enemies seemed to be what they felt was best for the kingdom or their community. I look forward to seeing all of their stories unfold.

The political intrigue behind the conflict was interesting, if a little predictable. Butcher has a set up a good foundation upon which to build the series, yet he was able to craft a solid ending point for this book. In fact, Furies of Calderon was a picture perfect example of how to use a traditional plot line. The story got off to a slow start, so it took me a while to get into it. However, it gradually built into a crescendo, pulling me in before I even knew that I was hooked. There was a diverse cast of characters, in different locations and situations, and he gradually pulled them all into a truly epic battle scene at the Garrison. The action in the book was very well written.

It was hard not to fall in love with Tavi. He had this inherent goodness about him, and yet he wasn’t flawless. I had to “bless his heart” when he was bamboozled by a pretty face into shirking his chores at the beginning of the book. Clearly, and bond was created between Tavi and Kitai, daughter to one of the Marat’s leaders, with whom Tavi built a truce. It will be interesting to watch this unfold as the saga continues.

I do want to comment on the cover. It was more than a little cheesy. It looks like a teen who just walked away from a LARP adventure in front of a backdrop with lightening effects. It is a good thing that book was recommended, otherwise I might have overlooked it.

So, I guess that my friends were correct. This book spoke to my love of high fantasy and adventure. I am looking forward to continuing the series.

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.