Hot Blooded ~ Amanda Carlson

  • Title: Hot Blooded
  • Author: Amanda Carlson
  • Series: Jessica McClain #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Net Galley ARC
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  It hasn’t been the best week for Jessica McClain.

Her mate has been kidnapped by a Goddess hell-bent on revenge — but Jessica is playing for keeps.

Because she’s the only female werewolf in town…it comes with its own set of rules…and powers.

Aided by two vamps, two loyal Pack members, and one very reluctant human, Jessica must rescue her man while coming to terms with what being a wolf really means.

All in a day’s work for a girl.

The second novel in the Jessica McClain series is a full on action adventure featuring one angry Goddess and plenty of monsters, demons, and a few newly risen beasties…

Review:  Hot Blooded picked up right where Full Blooded left off. It kind of had to, since Full Blooded ended somewhat abruptly with no firm conclusion. The greatest incentive that I had to give the second book a shot was not so much that I was eager to find out what happens next, but rather that I was granted a free advanced review copy by the Publisher via Net Galley.

Once again, Carlson’s concept was good, but the execution was not. For example, the main character, Jess, was maybe a little too powerful. This appeared to be a go-to plot device for the author. The characters were in a no-win situation, no problem! Jessica would mysteriously discover yet ANOTHER inexplicable super power. Maybe I would have bought into it more if there had been some sort of logic behind the powers, but there was not.

Another over-used trope in this book was that all of the villains adhered to the Scooby Doo school of pontification. “Well, now that I’ve captured you, let me gloat and fill in details so that you can find a chance to defeat me and escape.” Ugh. The hero characters plainly walked into danger half cocked, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would not have been better for the bad guys & gals to shut up and kill them already!

Speaking of half-cocked, I found Jessica to be more annoying in this book. On top of her ridiculously emerging powers, she took head strong to the level of hard headed. Bad decisions made under the guise of being tough are still bad decisions. Rinse, lather, and repeat over and over and the result was one stupid heroine.

The one good side of the heroine rushing head first into danger was that it resulted in a lot of action. The battle scenes were not bad at all and quite frankly, they were what kept my attention and allowed me to finish the book. Well, that and the hope that the world-building potential might just solidify into something decent.

What finally made me bump my rating down to just two stars was the cliff hanger ending. It was pointless that a completely new plot line opened up and was tacked on to the the end of the book. Why do some authors seem to think that they this is the way to make sure readers purchase their next book? Isn’t just simply writing a compelling story enough???? This tactic so annoys me that if I had not already received a free advance review copy of the next book I would drop the series cold. As it stands, this series has two outs with no one on base. We’ll see if the third books strikes out.

**Disclaimer: Reviewer was provided with a digital advance review copy of this book by the publisher via Net Galley.

Full Blooded ~ Amanda Carlson

  • Title: Full Blooded
  • Author: Amanda Carlson
  • Series: Jessica McClain #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Description:  Born the only female in an all male race, Jessica McClain isn’t just different—she’s feared.

After living under the radar for the last twenty-six years, Jessica is thrust unexpectedly into her first change, a full ten years late. She wakes up and finds she’s in the middle of a storm. Now that she’s become the only female full-blooded werewolf in town, the supernatural world is already clamoring to take a bite out of her and her new Pack must rise up and protect her.

But not everyone is on board. The werewolf Rights of Laws is missing text and the superstitious werewolves think that Jessica means an end to their race. It doesn’t help when Jessica begins to realize she’s more. She can change partway and hold her form, and speak directly to her wolf. But the biggest complication by far is that her alpha father can’t control her like he can the rest of his wolves.

When a mercenary who’s been hired by the vampires shows up to extract information about the newly turned werewolf only days after her change, they find themselves smack in the middle of a war and there’s no choice but to run together. When it’s up to Jessica to negotiate her release against her father’s direct orders, she chooses to take an offer for help instead. In exchange, Jessica must now swear an oath she may end up repaying with her life.

Review:  I am a sucker for a good cover and I have to admit that the cover of Full Blooded sucked me in. The cover features a striking, but fierce looking female who is ready to take on the world. Just what I like in my urban fantasy! I won’t lie; the story did not live up to the promise of the cover for me.
It is not a bad story. In fact, the concept is great. The plot builds on the mythology that Jessica is the first of her kind, a FEMALE werewolf. This is a game-changer in the supernatural world, especially in light of some vague, threatening, and apparently lost prophecies.

Jessica is a strong minded independent young woman trying to cope. However, she can be really whiny, which I found annoying, almost as annoying as her tendency to leap before looking. She KNOWS she has gaps in knowledge, yet she seems to have no interest at all in actually spending some time learning.

I guess we can forgive Jessica a little bit, considering the fact that everyone in her life is equally stupid. It made absolutely no sense that everyone kept trying to keep her in the dark regarding werewolf lore. I suspect this was the author’s attempt at creating a situation ripe for conflict. Unfortunately for me, this type of weak plot device turns me right off.

I also felt that the author tried to cram too much into one book. It would have been different if all of the plots and subplots had been handled well, but they all felt short-changed. I think the book would have been much stronger if the story focused on the local pack intrigue with well-executed story development.
Finally, the abrupt ending made me want to throw the book across the room. Lucky for my Kindle, I was able to restrain myself. What is with the trend toward unfinished stories???? I feel cheated. I bought a complete book, but it wasn’t. Grrr.

There was just enough of a glimmer that I will give the next book a shot. It helps that I’ve been approved for a no cost advanced review copy. If I had to shell out money, my journey with Jessica would like end here. Fingers crossed that this series gets better.

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe ~ Charlaine Harris et al

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Land of Painted Caves ~ Jean Auel

  • Title: The Land of Painted Caves
  • Author: Jean Auel
  • Series: Earth’s Children #6
  • Genre: Prehistoric Romance (?)
  • Format: Hardback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: GRD
  • Rating: 1 out of 5

Description:  The highly anticipated sixth book of Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children® series, The Land of Painted Caves, is the culmination fans have been waiting for. Continuing the story of Ayla and Jondalar, Auel combines her brilliant narrative skills and appealing characters with a remarkable re-creation of the way life was lived more than 25,000 years ago. The Land of Painted Caves is an exquisite achievement by one of the world’s most beloved authors.

Review:  Oh dear. The description above already says it all really: even the publishers haven’t got a clue what the plot of this book is, so all they can do is rave about generic things.

But let me start at the beginning. Most people looking to buy or read this book will have read the entire series prior to this. They maybe got bored reading part five, which is entirely understandable, because I certainly did. So here they are, wondering whether they should bother with part six.

For those people I have one piece of advice: Don’t. Seriously, just leave it be. Spend your money and time on something more worthwhile, like painting your walls and then watching them dry.

Technically you could stop reading here, because you have your answer, but if you’re curious as to why, do keep reading. For the completely uninitiated, this book is the sixth and last (hurray!) part in the Earth’s Children series. I’ll give a quick rundown of books one to five:

The Clan of the Cave Bear is a brilliant, gripping tale of a prehistoric girl, Ayla, who loses her family in an earthquake and ends up being raised by a tribe of Neanderthals. Five stars.

The Valley of Horses is a gripping tale of Ayla’s struggle for survival after being expelled from the tribe, interspersed with the adventures of Jondalar and his brother as they go on a big walking trip, until the two finally meet. Five stars.

The Mammoth Hunters is a pretty gripping tale of Ayla’s struggle to understand, and fit in with, other people of her own race, and the subsequent misunderstandings between her and Jondalar. Throughout the book I wanted to slap them both silly for being idiots, so four stars.

The Plains of Passage is a tale of the year-long trip Ayla and Jondalar have to take to go back to Jondalar’s home. A decent read if you don’t mind half of your book being descriptions of the landscape they’re travelling through and mammoths having sex. Three stars.

The Shelters of Stone is about when they finally reach Jondalar’s home. To be honest, I don’t really remember much about it other than some incident with some really tight leather shorts. (Down, fetishists! It wasn’t as exciting as it sounds.) Two stars.

And then this one which is about… Well… What is it about? I’m not sure anyone really knows, because I’ve rarely read a book which lacked a plot as much as this one did.

Let me try anyway. People familiar with the series will know by now that Ayla is some sort of combination of Wonder Woman, Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci, having invented pretty much everything from the domestication of wild animals to stitching up wounds. If there’s ever a book seven she’ll probably invent the wheel as well. Oh, but she’s not perfect, because she can’t sing. I can just imagine Jean Auel desperately trying to think of something to ensure that us normal mortals can relate to Ayla, before coming up with that. Anyway, in this book she has to learn to be even more awesome and become the tribe’s main shaman-type person.

Jondalar is the perfect man and the perfect lover. Well, not to me because he’s blond, so he can keep his oversized penis away from my vagina, but that’s by the by. Except he’s not smart enough to realise that shagging your ex-girlfriend repeatedly because your wife is too busy watching the sun go down is a Bad Thing To Do.

So anyway, the books have always been pretty heavy on description. Auel has done a shedload of research into both the time period and how to survive in the wild, to the point that if the books were illustrated, you’d probably be just as good at surviving out in the wilderness with Auel’s back catalog as you would be if you had Bear Grylls with you. This was fine in the earlier books, because it supplemented the plot. In book six, there is little else but description. Jondalar’s tribe lives in what is now southern France, near the Lascaux caves which are full of prehistoric art. Most of the book consists of detailed descriptions of the pictures in these caves. Or maybe it wasn’t, but it sure felt like it, and I can remember little else about this book. Even the sex was boring.

So, to wrap this up, here’s some more advice:

~ If you’re interested in the Lascaux cave art, get yourself one of those pretty, glossy coffee table photo books, not this piece of drivel.

~ If you’ve only just started reading this series, stop at book three, or maybe book four, because it does have some good bits, and know this: Ayla goes home with Jondalar, they have a kid and they live happily ever after. Because really? That’s all you need to know about how this series ends. One star.

Soulless ~ Gail Carriger

  • Title: Soulless
  • Author: Gail Carriger
  • Series: Parasol Protectorate #1
  • Genre: Paranormal, Steampunk
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire – and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

Review:  Take one part paranormal fantasy and mix it with equal parts historical mystery, add a bit of streampunk and large dollop of comedy, then top off with a dash of romance and you get the novel Soulless. The recipe may be unconventional, but the result is quite delicious.

Alexia Tarabotti is a strong and independent woman who has no problem voicing her opinions. This is precisely why, Victorian England, she and everyone she knows accepts her fate as a spinster. If they all knew that she was truly a preternatural being without a soul, somewhat the antidote to supernatural beings, it would be quite the scandal.

Being so strong willed, and well, nosy, Alexia can’t help find herself stumbling into trouble and into the way of alpha Werewolf, Lord Maccon (think handsome Scottish bull in a china shop), who is head of the agency that monitors supernaturals. They both find themselves caught up in a comical tale of danger and mystery.

I really enjoyed the unique combination of styles woven together by Carringer. For some reason, my internal reading voice adopted a prim, yet forceful, tone to narrate the story in my head. I love that Alexia is so concerned with propriety, but then again, not really.

Oh, and kudos to Carringer for giving us a complete book, even though it will be a series. I am so tired of ending a book, only to discover that it is not really an end.

This was a fun read and I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

Cover note: I simply love this cover. The depicted posture captures Alexia’s prim, but forceful personality. It is well balanced and has great use of color, contrasting the burgundy and pink tones with the blacks and greys.

Frost Burned ~ Patricia Briggs

  • Title: Frost Burned
  • Author: Patricia Briggs
  • Series: Mercy Thompson #7
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Hardback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Valerie
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Mercy Thompson returns in the seventh novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.

Mercy Thompson’s life has undergone a seismic change. Becoming the mate of Adam Hauptman—the charismatic Alpha of the local werewolf pack—has made her a stepmother to his daughter Jesse, a relationship that brings moments of blissful normalcy to Mercy’s life. But on the edges of humanity, what passes for a minor mishap on an ordinary day can turn into so much more…

After an accident in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Mercy and Jesse can’t reach Adam—or anyone else in the pack for that matter. They’ve all been abducted.

Through their mating bond, all Mercy knows is that Adam is angry and in pain. With the werewolves fighting a political battle to gain acceptance from the public, Mercy fears Adam’s disappearance may be related—and that he and the pack are in serious danger. Outclassed and on her own, Mercy may be forced to seek assistance from any ally she can get, no matter how unlikely.

Review:  From the moment I discovered Mercy Thompson, I was hooked on the series. While part of me could not wait for the release of Frost Burned, part of me was unsure what to expect. I just did not enjoy the previous book, River Marked, as much as the rest of the series. It did not have the same level of action and suspense that I have loved in the series. Had one of my favorite series gone pale? Now that Mercy and Adam were together, would the lack of unfulfilled tension make the relationship stale?

To start, I really like the cover for Frost Burned. I’ve not really been a fan of the previous covers in the series. They always felt more mannish than tomboy to me. The current cover is more how I imagine Mercy and the artwork is fantastic.

Good news! My fears were all for naught. Frost Burned turned out to be one of the best books in the series, to date. It helps that I’ve read the entire series, so I know these characters; where they’ve been, how they arrived at this point. The best part is that armed with this knowledge, I can totally appreciate how the characters continue to evolve.

The action kicked off rather quickly, and the story kept me on an emotional see-saw for the remainder of the book. (FYI – this is a good thing!) From a world-building perspective, Briggs has now established a political landscape that will easily accommodate a high level of adventure going forward. This really gets me excited about the future of the series.

The relationship between Mercy and Adam has matured and changed, in a good way. There is a different type of tension, as they explore and discover their new relationship and the pack bonds. I really have to give Ms. Briggs props for keeping the romance hot, but not overpowering the action.

This was a great read. Now, how much longer do I have until book 8, Night Broken comes out???