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.

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Guilty Pleasures ~ Laurell K. Hamilton

  • Guilty Pleasures CoverTitle:  Guilty Pleasures
  • Author:  Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Series:  Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #1
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  Anita Blake may be small and young, but vampires call her the Executioner. Anita is a necromancer and vampire hunter in a time when vampires are protected by law—as long as they don’t get too nasty. Now someone’s killing innocent vampires and Anita agrees—with a bit of vampiric arm-twisting—to help figure out who and why.

Trust is a luxury Anita can’t afford when her allies aren’t human. The city’s most powerful vampire, Nikolaos, is 1,000 years old and looks like a 10-year-old girl. The second most powerful vampire, Jean-Claude, is interested in more than just Anita’s professional talents, but the feisty necromancer isn’t playing along—yet. This popular series has a wild energy and humor, and some very appealing characters—both dead and alive

Review:  Well, whoda thunk it? I read a book about vampires. That actually started with a bachelorette party at a, of all things, vampire strip club. Even though it typified everything I hate AND love about urban fantasy, I actually liked it. I know, right?

First of all, what I loved. Anita has absolutely a great amount of snark – and that is what makes the book for me. This is my favorite thing about the genre as a whole: sarcasm. I cannot begin to tell you how many lines of dialog I have highlighted. This book made me laugh so hard. But, she isn’t just snarky – in the next thing that will capture my heart like no other – she really cares about her friends and those around her. She bends over backwards to protect her friend Catherine at the aforementioned strip club, Guilty Pleasures. (Though, I even have to question this as a TSTL moment. Why on earth did she ever fall for this scheme to begin with? It seems poorly conceived, and she should be smarter.) This is not her last well meaning attempt to protect those around her.

What do I hate about urban fantasy? Vampires. In particular vampires that are love interests. I feel there is something inherently creepy, well, with vampires anyway. But, take a guy who is controlling, manipulative, a kazillion times stronger than you can ever be and not afraid to use said strength and add to this the ability to control another’s mind – well it is creepy that he serves as a love interest. I prefer relationships on a more equal footing than such a dominating one. But, at least the vampires here are creepy. Vampires are supposed to be creepy.

Overall, the book was well done. I liked Anita – and she really only had the one TSTL moment – it just set up everything else that went wrong. There really is no love interest, but I could see it being set up for later books in the series. The death count is low . . . yet still made me shed a tear or two. The mystery was well done and I appreciated the clues that are dropped to allow the reader to unravel the mystery without just having a big reveal at the end.

Ultimately, I give this one 3.5 stars. I rounded it up to 4, because it surprised me. And, that is a good thing.

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.

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.

Touch the Dark ~ Karen Chance

  • Title:  Touch the Dark
  • Author:  Karen Chance
  • Series:  Cassandra Palmer #1
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy
  • Format:  audio book
  • Source:  Overdrive library
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  3 out of 5

Description:  Cassandra Palmer can see the future and communicate with spirits—talents that make her attractive to the dead and the undead. The ghosts of the dead aren’t usually dangerous; they just like to talk…a lot.

The undead are another matter.

Like any sensible girl, Cassie tries to avoid vampires. But when the bloodsucking mafioso she escaped three years ago finds Cassie again with vengeance on his mind, she’s forced to turn to the vampire Senate for protection.

The undead senators won’t help her for nothing, and Cassie finds herself working with one of their most powerful members, a dangerously seductive master vampire—and the price he demands may be more than Cassie is willing to pay….

Review:  ***Warning*** there be spoilers ahead.

Sometimes it just isn’t fair to review a book. This book is just full of things I don’t like. Starting with vampires. And, then, sex scenes. And, ending with historical figures and retooling of histories and time travel. Therefore, I begin my listen already predisposed to NOT like it. I suppose the fact that I didn’t hate it speaks volumes.

First of all, Alexandre Dumas being one of my favorite authors of all time – so much so that I have a collection of his works in highlighted position in my library (ok, honestly, they are the only actual books that still reside in said library other than cookbook) and my eldest son was much loved that he survived his destruction of at least 2 of these books – I recognized the Man in the (not) Iron Mask immediately.

When it comes to time travel, I agree with Kathryn Janeway. “Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I’d never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes – the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache.” Okay, I’ve never been a Starfleet captain, but you get the idea. I typically do not enjoy “let’s go back in time and see how we can re-do things” stories. I prefer an all original idea (of which I realize there are precious few) to a re-telling of other stories – no matter how many you pull together in a tale.

Vampires. The more I read about them, the more I hate them. A recent discussion topic helped me to clarify why. And this book just cemented it. Politics. I flat do not have the time or patience to deal with politics. Vamps are all about politics. Who is besting whom – who is meaner than whom – who has more power than the other guy. Just. Not. Fun. Don’t like it. But, as I listened to this, I wondered if part of the fascination besides the sexiness (which, frankly, I don’t get – it always seems like a hostage situation to me) is the age. Most vampires seem to be born around Victorian times – do we still romanticize those times.

Anyway, I digress. Touch the Dark. Sex scenes. As regular readers of my reviews know, I do not enjoy sex scenes. They make me feel like a voyeur. Typically, I skim over them just enough to follow the story without actually immersing myself in the scene. Couldn’t do that here. Because, well first of all it was an audio book – hard to skim over those – though I have been known to press the skip button. But, mostly, because the story is wrapped around and through the sex scenes. Very important information is being doled out while Mircea is trying to convince Cassie that sex is a good thing. And, imperative. So, I couldn’t skip it. Bleh.

In addition to the inability to skip them – they irritated me. Cassie has sex several different ways – as a man when she time shifts into Louis – and as a woman when she time shifts into his lover with Mircea who time shifted into Louis – and she and Mircea come so close as to be good enough. Yet. She still tries to pass herself off as a ‘virgin’ and not able to take on the duties of ‘Prythia.’ I call shenanigans. I think this was biggest eye rolling part of the entire story to me. It just made me mad – all those sex scenes that were forced onto me (yes, forced I say!) and they ultimately have no meaning. Psh.

Lastly, the reader of this book was not among my favorites. You could probably place her at the other end of the spectrum, though I am trying to be nice. Her voice constantly switches back and forth between her head voice and her chest voice – the tenor of her voice kept changing – and I found it very distracting and uncomfortable. Her expressions and accents were decent, but I couldn’t get past the tone. And, if I heard the word douchaka one more time, I think I might have screamed.

So, what did I like. A very good question. The pace of the story is very good. Cassie is well spoken and extremely snarky. Her humor kept me in the story. As did the mystery itself. Why did she keep going back in time? Who were her parents? What exactly was Mircea up to? Who was the pixie? So many questions. Ultimately, to me, the ending was a bit of a let down. It felt like many of the questions were answered in one brief chapter and poof – the book was over. We were not given the information to deduce the answers – the answers just arrived in a flash of smoke. The fun in a mystery is working out the solution. If I don’t have the means to work out the solution, the journey itself had best be outstanding. Or, don’t present a mystery.

So. I gave this book 3 stars. It was OK. Really not my kind of book – but I finished it. I even have the 2nd book checked out. While there were many, MANY things I did not like – it still entertained me. That is not an easy task.

Sealed with a Curse ~ Cecy Robson

  • Title: Sealed with a Curse
  • Author: Cecy Robson
  • Series: Weird Girls #1
  • Genre: UF, PNR, Fantasy
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Description:  Celia Wird and her three sisters are just like other twenty-something girls—with one tiny exception: They’re the products of a curse that backfired and gave each of them unique powers that make them, well, a little weird…

The Wird sisters are content to avoid the local vampires, werebeasts, and witches of the Lake Tahoe region—until one of them blows up a vampire in self-defense. Everyone knows vampires aren’t aggressive, and killing one is punishable by death. But soon more bloodlust-fueled attacks occur, and the community wonders if the vampires of Tahoe are plague-ridden.

Celia reluctantly agrees to help Misha, the handsome leader of an infected vampire family. But Aric, the head of the werewolf pack determined to destroy Misha’s family to keep the area safe, warns Celia to stay out of the fight. Caught between two hot alphas, Celia must find a way to please everyone, save everyone, and—oh, yeah—not lose her heart to the wrong guy or die a miserable death. Because now that the evil behind the plague knows who Celia is, he’s coming for her and her sisters.

This Wird girl has never had it so tough.

*May contain spoilers*

Review:  This one was just kind of meh for me. I liked some the basic concept and world building. She had an interesting interpretation of vampire/were lore. However, her mythology as it related to the sister was a bit suspect. It felt almost like Ms. Robson didn’t really want to nail down any set rules regarding the girls, so she could use their mysterious magic whenever she needed to move the story forward.

As for the story itself, the plot had some big gaps. Most glaring was the last hospital scene from which everyone left in a mad dash. Um, shouldn’t someone have stayed behind for clean up on aisle five, maybe alter some memories or something? This stood out because at the previous hospital incident, the author made a point to have Emme take care of this. Oops.

The action and the mystery plot line were not bad. I just wish there had been more of it and again, that there had been more consistency to it.

Robson did a good job of building chemistry between the main love interests, but then I felt like she dropped the ball. There was really no relationship development beyond some raging sexual tension. This is a pet peeve of mine. I just don’t buy hormone-driven insta-love. And speaking of stupid love, each sister seemed to get her very own insta-love package with one of Aric’s closest were-buddies? Really?

Finally, and this drove me absolutely batty throughout the entire book . . . WHAT was with the unnecessary quotes every time Celia experiences a “change.” GAH! Why? Why? Why?

Deep breath and moving on. Clearly, I was not a fan of this story. It is a shame. I do think with some tweaking that it could have been a pretty good book. Too late now.

One last thing regarding the cover, I thought it was well done. The girl looks mysterious coupled with barren night trees and full moon (which hints at the were mythology contained in the book), without being twisted into an unnaturally sexy pose. The font choice plays out well against the rest of the cover and considering the nature of the book.