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: NetGalley
  • 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.

Bitten ~ Kelley Armstrong

  • Title:  Bitten
  • Author:  Kelley Armstrong
  • Series:  The Women of the Otherworld, #1
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  2.5 out of 5

Description:  Elena Michaels is a werewolf. She tries to be human, but the man whose bite changed her existence forever, and his legacy, continue to haunt her. Thrown into a desperate war for survival that tests her allegiance to a secret clan of werewolves, Elena must reconsider who and what she is.

Review:  Warning: slight spoilers ahead.

This book started off like a house ‘a fire. Even though I was a little skeptical in the prologue that was written in present tense . . . I don’t typically like that . . . I was relieved to discover it reverted once the book actually started. But, the I enjoyed the original relationship of Elena and Philip and his family. I appreciated his reaction to her call to return ‘home’.

But then, I was very disappointed with this relationship. There should have been more to Philip than meets the eye – or why have him at all? Elena returns home and immediately falls into sex with her ex-fiancé, Clay. She makes a point of saying that it wasn’t really cheating because Clay was her past? Um, yes it is! And, it isn’t just once – it happens time and time again, even though he gives her more than one opportunity to walk away. So, why spend 2 chapters on Philip and his family? It seemed pointless and ultimately made Elena into such a cheater that it was absolutely impossible for me to root for her. Or any of her relationships.

The other thing that made her totally unrelatable was that she was such a whiner. She was constantly whining about even being a werewolf. She was constantly whining about Clay and what he did to her. Meanwhile, the entire pack treats her like a princess. And, not to belabor the point, but there is still Philip that she left back in Toronto that she remembers only when it is likely to move the plot in the author’s desired direction.

The book intrigued me with mysteries as to what and how and why and who is going on. I wanted to know more. Who was killing the members of the pack? Why were they killing them? There were a couple deaths that made me very sad. The pack dynamics were subtly different from others in the genre, in that things could only be done one way and mutts (those outside the packs) were almost always killed on sight. There wasn’t the alpha struggle thing going on – Jeremy just was the head guy. Ultimately, even these dynamics were boring.

I really did not enjoy this book. I do not plan to read further in the series unless the television series is really awesome. I did finish – and I can’t decide on 2 or 3 stars, so I will compromise at 2.5, which I will round down to 2. Because I should have liked it more than I did.

Magic to the Bone ~ Devon Monk

  • Magic to the Bone CoverTitle:  Magic to the Bone
  • Author:  Devon Monk
  • Series:  Allie Beckstrom #1
  • Genre:  UF, PNR
  • Format:  Audio Book
  • Source:  Overdrive Library
  • Reviewed by:  Sonja
  • Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Description:  Using magic meant it used you back. Forget the fairy-tale, hocus-pocus, wave a wand and bling-o, sparkles and pixie dust crap. Magic, like booze, sex, and drugs, gave as good as it got.

Everything has a cost. And every act of magic exacts a price from its user – maybe a two-day migraine, or losing the memory of your first kiss. But some people want to use magic without paying, and they Offload the cost onto innocents. When that happens, it falls to a Hound to identify the spell’s caster – and Allison Beckstrom’s the best there is.

Daughter of a prominent Portland businessman, Allie would rather moonlight as a Hound than accept the family fortune – and the strings that come with it. But when she discovers a little boy dying from a magic Offload that has her father’s signature all over it, Allie is thrown into the high-stakes world of corporate espionage and black magic.

Now Allie’s out for the truth – and must call upon forces that will challenge everything she knows, change her in ways she could never imagine … and make her capable of things that powerful people will do anything to control.

Review:  This is one of those books for which I never should have read reviews. The premise intrigued me – that using magic extracted a price: in Allie’s case, memories – but the reviews were all kind of – meh. They also gave me the impression that this book was more romance than urban fantasy. Since I buy most of the books I read, I was hesitant to start this series with such mediocre reviews. I did, however, find the audio book at the library, so I thought I would give it a try. I am so glad I did – I loved it. Now, make no mistake, this is very much a ‘first book’, but the world it builds leaves much promise. I checked the 2nd audio book out of the library, them purchased the remaining books – I read through the last 7 books of the series in less than a week. A week that included a trip to Disney World. It is THAT good.

Allie is a hound. She is able to trace magic back to the person who used it. The price of using her magic to often results in the loss of her memories – not always, sometimes it is pain, and she tries to set a disbursement to result in the pain of her choosing . Because she does so frequently lose her memories, she keeps a notebook to note things that happen and conclusions she has reached so that when her memories are lost, she has a way of retrieving at least some of them. She also has a friend, Nola, with whom she keeps in close contact that she shares much of the same information. She jokes that Nola has more of her memories than she does.

The book begins as an old acquaintance of Allie’s calls with a sick child and asks Allie to come determine who has done this to him. Allie traces the magic back to her father from whom she is estranged. She hasn’t seen the man in years. Nonetheless, she wastes no time making tracks to her father’s office and accusing him of hurting ‘the boy’. Even when her father encourages her to use blood magic to determine the truth of his denial, she refuses to believe he is innocent of the charge. When he is found dead shortly thereafter, the police trace the magic back to her and thus begins our journey into Allie’s world.

As is usual in a ‘first book’, there is quite a bit of world building going on here. We see how magic affects its users and how the world uses magic for both good and bad. We see the relationships around Allie that affect her both positively and negatively. But, in addition to that, there is a mystery. There is the mystery of who hurt boy and killed Allie’s father. My one gripe with the mystery is that we are not given the clues to unravel the mystery for ourselves.

The reader for this book is amazing. She does such a good job that as I read further in the series instead of listening, I still heard her intonations and characterizations. She handles the snark and sarcasm just right for me and does just enough voice changing to keep up with who is saying what. In addition, the ‘Cody’ chapters (arguably my least favorite and, I felt, most intrusive parts of the book) were obvious and well done.

I did not like the way it ended. Oh, not that it did or didn’t end happily ever after. Not even that it is so obviously the beginning of a series. It was the way everything is finished and concluded, and then there is more. It felt like an addendum. That people and situations were brought in right at the last minute just so that it could be the first book in a series rather than as a standalone book. And, maybe the author felt like, “Ooh, I shouldn’t have done that so now let me mostly undo it.” I found it a tad annoying. Did not stop me from moving forward in the series, but it certainly did not encourage it either.

It is amazing to me that I enjoyed this book as much as I did when it starts out with such a too stupid to live moment. I mean, seriously. Allie doesn’t question her father’s guilt. Not even when the blood magic points to him being truthful. Nor does she begin to suspect something is fishy when hounding points to her guilt in the death of her father. I usually do not tolerate this level of stupidity. However, there is just something loveable about Allie. Maybe it is just her level of snark. Maybe it is the absence of vampires and werewolves. Maybe it is her friendship with Nola. Or, it could be Cody’s darn kitten. Mostly, I think, it is Allie. Her love, devotion, and protection of those around her. As usual, it is this type of heroine with which I empathize. At any rate, I loved the story and I loved the characters.

I give this one 3.5 stars – rounded up to 4. It gets graded down for the ‘Cody’ chapters, the stupid added on ending and the TSTL beginning. But, it gets rounded up because I just loved it anyway.

Hell Bent ~ Devon Monk

  • Hell Bent CoverTitle:  Hell Bent
  • Author:  Devon Monk
  • Series:  Broken Magic, #1
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  Instead of the deadly force it once was, magic is now a useless novelty. But not for Shame Flynn and Terric Conley, “breakers” who have the gift for reverting magic back to its full-throttle power. In the magic-dense city of Portland, Oregon, keeping a low profile means keeping their gifts quiet. After three years of dealing with disgruntled magic users, Shame and Terric have had enough of politics, petty magic, and, frankly, each other. It’s time to call it quits.

When the government discovers the breakers’ secret—and its potential as a weapon—Shame and Terric suddenly become wanted men, the only ones who can stop the deadly gift from landing in the wrong hands. If only a pair of those wrong hands didn’t belong to a drop-dead-gorgeous assassin Shame is falling for as if it were the end of the world. And if he gets too close to her, it very well could be….

Review:  This book was released right as I finished the Allie Beckstrom series – which left me wanting more, More, MORE! So, I happily snagged this one up from Netgalley with promises to provide an honest review. Not sure how honest or how fan girlish it will be – but they had no way of knowing that. 😉

First of all, this is a new series – same set of characters, new protagonist, new series. That being said, you will do yourself a favor if you read the Allie series first. While you can certainly jump into the story at this point, Shame does not start off particularly loveable. In order to really understand the whys and the wherefores and the what up, you need to follow his journey through the other series. If you don’t care, then by all means start here. I am, perhaps, ok definitely, a bit obsessive, and cannot tolerate reading out of order.

Shame . . . on the surface, Shame does not appear to be very likeable. He whines. A lot. He drinks. A lot. He is snarky. Very. Yet, those around him love him deeply. And, he returns this affection – and would defend those around him to the death – and he has. But, Shame’s deepest problem is that he wants to suck the life out of everything around him. Literally. That is what it means to be a death magic users in this world. Yet, Shame loves those around him too much to do so – so he is at war with his very nature. Once you understand this about him, it makes his quirks and foibles much easier to understand and accept.

This story is composed of mysteries. Why is the government looking for magic breakers (i.e. ‘soul complements’)? Who is killing people? Who is following Shame and/or Terric? Where is Davy? Who is Jeremy? And what does he really want with Terric? We are given a few clues to unravel a few of these, but by no means all of them. In fact, not all of them are resolved here – for it is a duology: another book will, hopefully, complete the story. But, it is not the mysteries nor their solutions that are the driving force to read here – it is Shame: his sarcastic nature and his desire to love and protect those people around him. He loves deeply and madly – and will do anything to protect. For one with a bent toward sarcastic humor, this book is a gold mine. And, even as I was choking back tears (and make no mistake, this one is a tear jerker), I was chuckling at some of the inner and spoken dialog.

It is also very entertaining to re-visit beloved characters in such a way that their lives are not greatly impacted but we still get to see what has happened with them since last we met. For instance, at least one couple is married and some others have moved out of the area to follow their loved ones. The Authority is learning to adjust to the magic as it now happens. (It is still a very creepy organization.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Not that, after devouring the Allie Beckstom series, I am at all surprised. That being said, I was confounded by the amount of death in this book. It leaves me in great fear for those beloved characters still in jeopardy. And, I do not feel entertained by tear jerkers nor deaths of characters. I feel sad and depressed. Yet, this book still worked for me. I love Shame. I am still hoping for his rehabilitation and improvement in his lot in life. I don’t actually expect it to ever happen, but a girl can hope, right? I would love to see him happy. I realize I am alone in a big crowd, but I do not wish to see him alone with Terric (who, if you ask me, has other really good options in the story). I really liked Dessa and their relationship, though it was a bit sudden and beyond reason – the actual relationship worked for me. Not sure how I feel about the revealed bad guy . . . It seems a little too easy and predictable.

It is a function of how much I loved the Allie series that I was willing to pick this one up before the second was published. I am usually a complete story kind of gal. I suppose I was rewarding Ms. Monk for completing the previous series before I actually began reading it. At any rate, I give this one a solid 4 stars. It is a very good story, with great characters and enjoyable mystery. I expect to love the next one more, so I leave it for room for improvement.

Lightning Rider ~ Jen Greyson

  • Title:  Lightning Rider
  • Author:  Jen Greyson
  • Series:  Lightning Rider #1
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Romance
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Netgalley
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  2.5 out of 5

Description:  For Evy Rivera, thunderstorms have always caused her physical pain, but she’s never known why. When a record-setting storm arrives on the same night her father finds ancient ancestral documents, Evy is set aglow with mysterious tiny lightnings she can command.

Even worse, she alerts some people in the universe who’ve been looking for her family for a very long time.

Thrown back into ancient Spain and tasked with killing a Spanish legend, she must train alongside Constantine, a sexy yet obstinate Roman warrior. He teaches her how to wield her lightning as a weapon, through more errors than trials. With a relationship as explosive as their late-night training sessions, Evy and Constantine battle their push-pull relationship while trying to ignore the two-thousand-year difference in their birthdates.

Ilif Rotiart, her quasi-mentor, is appalled at Evy’s skill. He would prefer to train her father and keep Evy on the sidelines—where women belong. Evy has a feeling Ilif is keeping something from them, but she must play nice until she uncovers the truth. And if he’s lying, it will be the worst day of his four-hundred-year life.

Penya Sepadas claims she’s Evy’s rightful trainer, and she has the prophecy to prove it. Penya doesn’t share Ilif’s misogynistic attitude, but she does have her own agenda…and her own secrets.

Evy must sort through the lies and find the truth behind her family’s time-traveling past before the wrong history obliterates the future. She’s spent her whole life fighting for her place. Now, as the first female lightning rider, she’ll dedicate her existence to fighting to save the world.

But will Evy learn to manage her lightning and find the truth before it’s too late?

Review:  Honestly, I found this book extremely hard to read. The biggest challenge is that it is written in present tense. On the surface, this shouldn’t make a difference, but it really did to me. It took me until almost halfway through before I was finally comfortable with the tone and tense. That being said, I stuck with it because the main idea intrigued me and Evy was spirited enough that I looked forward to watching her grow.

Evy is a refreshing heroine. She is confident, but not arrogant. She is decisive, but not trigger happy. She is caring, but not naggy. She loves and respects her father. Her father loves and respects her. Her main antagonist, Ilif, is displayed in such a way that we are never quite sure if he is the villain or the hero. Unfortunately, these are the only two characters that I felt were well drawn.

The book is based on a creative idea – riding lightning through time to alter situations in order that things may happen as they should. For instance, saving a man who is an ancestor to someone who is to discover a great immunization that will save thousands of lives. Evy and her Papi are descended from a line of lightning riders, but as it is a ‘male’ trait, Ilif refuses to guide Evy, even to admit that her skills might have purpose, and will only guide Papi. Evy quickly figures out how to travel on her own and ignore all advice otherwise.

While I certainly appreciated some things about this novel, there were several things that just bothered me. The book begins as Evy races home during a storm to see how much her ex-boyfriend has taken from their shared home. This is an interesting plot point that seems to have no purpose beyond sending Evy to her parents home. It is on the journey that she has her first lightning ride, albeit accidently, and has no understanding of what is actually happening. When she finally arrives home to see it completely emptied except for her pet iguana, she heads to her parents home.

It is at this point that I really started struggling with the plot. Everything just happened too easily with little build up or plot support. Firstly, Papi and Evy easily accept the fact that lightning riding is even possible. Then, Evy quickly picks it up on her own with very little actual coaching. She also seems to instantly be able to separate the heroes from the villains. In addition, the onset of the relationship with Constantine is just a little quick with very little actual development. In addition, beyond Evy’s original trip to what she assumes is the future gone wrong, there is little support for the rapid conclusion that Viriato must die.

Ultimately, while I liked Evy, I found very little else to keep me here. I didn’t find Ilif villainous enough to root against. I didn’t find the romance between Constantine and Evy interesting enough to really care. I didn’t feel concern that the world was going to end if Evy messed up. And, I don’t find the characters or story interesting enough to look forward to more adventures. I felt all of these things needed a bit more support and development. I did enjoy that the sex scene was not overly drawn out.

I did finish and I did love Evy and her relationship with her Father. This story might just be a bit more ‘romancy’ than ‘fantasy’ which may be a bit of my struggle. I give this book 2.5 stars – and I will round it down to 2 because it has so much wasted potential.

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.