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.

 

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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.

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.

Beyond Control ~ Kit Rocha

  • Title: Beyond Control
  • Author: Kit Rocha
  • Series: Beyond #2
  • Genre: Erotica
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica, Guest reviewer
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  She refuses to be owned.

Alexa Parrino escaped a life of servitude and survived danger on the streets to become one of the most trusted, influential people in Sector Four, where the O’Kanes rule with a hedonistic but iron fist. Lex has been at the top for years, and there’s almost nothing she wouldn’t do for the gang…and for its leader. Lie, steal, kill—but she bows to no one, not even Dallas O’Kane.

He’ll settle for nothing less.

Dallas fought long and hard to carve a slice of order out of the chaos of the sectors. Dangers both large and small threaten his people, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. His liquor business is flourishing, and new opportunities fuel his ambition. Lex could help him expand his empire, something he wants almost as much as he wants her. And no one says no to the king of Sector Four.

Falling into bed is easy, but their sexual games are anything but casual. Attraction quickly turns to obsession, and their careful dance of heady dominance and sweet submission uncovers a need so deep, so strong, it could crush them both.

Review: I thought that the first novel in this erotica series was good, but this one is even better. There are many books that can make me get lost inside their worlds and live along with the main characters, but there are not many books that involve me so deeply that they make me cry when things go south. This book made me cry, and that’s an achievement for something within a genre which is purported to be all about sex.

With that said, don’t think for a moment that the erotica tag on this is incorrect, or that the book is bland on the sexy side. It is every bit as filthy, debauched and deliciously uninhibited as the first novel. The highlight is a session involving two women and four men, centred on the pleasure of one of the women, and it’s searingly hot.

Beyond Control follows on directly from Beyond Shame, where Noelle and Jasper ended up becoming a couple in the fashion of the O’Kane gang, meaning they’ve been tattooed with each other’s names for all to see. This novel focuses on the gang’s leader, Dallas, and his unofficial queen Lex. Theirs is a constant push and pull of power, control, submission, obedience, desire and need, and the balance is becoming ever more precarious. Dallas, as the gang’s leader, cannot be seen to be defied by anyone, but Lex is not prepared to comply like everyone else, or at least not all the time, and certainly not just because Dallas expects it. These are two supremely strong personalities, and inevitably they clash.

Their interactions are played out against the aftermath of the previous book, in which Dallas had to kill the leader of the neighbouring Sector Three. This sector is now in chaos, and its fate is to be decided by the leaders of the remaining seven sectors. The balance of power here is just as precarious as within Sector Four, because all sectors are in essence rivals of each other, and there is always the threat of the city of Eden in the middle, which will not hesitate to stamp out any sector if it gets too successful or ambitious. The opportunities and dangers all of this presents are both a challenge, a temptation and a headache for Dallas, and Lex has to deal with him as well as his ambitions for both himself and her – ambitions which don’t necessarily align with her own.

When everything inevitably blows up in their face it hurts them, everyone around them, and the reader. I’ll say it again: I cried.

If you want your erotica with depth to it, and with relationships every bit as real and complicated as in the best romance novels, you cannot go wrong with this series. These people care about each other, and the only difference with ordinary romance is that they show it by having dirty, no-holds-barred, exhibitionist sex that’s every bit as sizzling as the best I’ve read before. I was gutted to discover that the next book in this series, Beyond Pain, has not been published yet.