Rosemary and Rue ~ Seanan McGuire

  • Title: Rosemary and Rue
  • Author: Seanan McGuire
  • Series: October Daye #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.

Review:  Rosemary and Rue is the first book of the October Daye urban fantasy series. It is also the first time I’ve experienced any books by author, Seanan McGuire. For a first book, it holds a lot of promise.

The story follows reluctant fae investigator October “Toby” Daye. She is a changling, half fae, who has tried to distance herself from her heritage and hide away from her problems in the human world. Unfortunately, she is compelled to investigate the murder of a close friend and member of the fae royalty or risk her own life.

Toby’s character fits into the fragile strength mold. She is wounded and flawed, but her intelligence and resourcefulness carry her through. The author keeps her focused on the mystery at hand, although she does occasionally drift off into the land of woe is me. While she is not a stand-out character, she has enough potential for the reader to root for her.

In addition to Toby, we are introduced to entire of ensemble of vibrant characters, who I suspect will turn up in future books. Many of these characters are cast with ambiguity, leaving a lot of room for the world to grow and blossom. She also casts many of the fae in a very anthropomorphic fashion. Take for example Tybalt, Lord of the Cats, a character for which I have a particular fondness. His self-interest manifests itself in a fashion totally fitting feline fashion, as do his speech patterns and mannerisms. I sense this cat-like character has at least as many hidden layers as a cat has lives.

The world building uses the basic framework of fae mythology and then diverges into McGuire’s interpretation. She focuses a lot of attention on the challenges faced by the changlings who fit into neither the human nor the fae realm. Again, there is nothing particularly striking about this world, but it has potential.

There is enough adventure in this book to make it fun. Plus, McGuire does a good job of weaving in elements of future intrigue. It is enough to throw the reader off the trail to solve the mystery at hand, yet not so much that it leaves one frustrated by lack of closure at the end. There is clearly more story to be told, as you would expect with the start of a series.

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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.

 

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.

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.

Born of the Night ~ Sherrilyn Kenyon

  • Title:  Born of the Night
  • Author:  Sherrilyn Kenyon
  • Series:  The League, #1
  • Genre:  Romance, Science Fiction
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Description:  In the Ichidian Universe, The League and their ruthless assassins rule all. Expertly trained and highly valued, the League Assassins are the backbone of the government. But not even the League is immune to corruption . . .

Command Assassin Nykyrian Quikiades once turned his back on the League—and has been hunted by them ever since. Though many have tried, none can kill him or stop him from completing his current mission: to protect Kiara Zamir, a woman whose father’s political alliance has made her a target.

As her world becomes even deadlier, Kiara must entrust her life to the same kind of beast who once killed her mother and left her for dead. Old enemies and new threaten them both and the only way they can survive is to overcome their suspicions and learn to trust in the very ones who threaten them the most: each other.

Review:  This is another I read along with the Vaginal Fantasy group at Goodreads. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. These books always tend to have more romance and sex that that with which I am comfortable.

That being said – I really enjoyed the characters. Though, gotta admit, every single time the phrase ‘tiny dancer’ was used, I had Elton John streaming through my head. I don’t know if this was entirely intentional on Ms. Kenyon’s part, but it is a fact. It is basically the story of the daughter of a rich politician and the man hired to protect her. It is science fiction solely because it happens in a galaxy far, far away and because the bodyguard hired is from another planet. Well, they both are – it happens in another galaxy.

I liked Kiara. She was gentle yet didn’t lie down and let people walk all over her. She was strong yet didn’t let the circumstances of her life create a tough as nails kick ass character. When we first see her, she has been taken captive. She knows that her captors do not have her best interests at heart and plots and schemes ways that she can escape. Or at least damage those who wish her harm. And, when the cavalry arrives, they see a young woman who will not go easily into the sunset.

Enter the assassin Nykyrian – said cavalry. Most of the mystery in this novel revolves around who he is and where he came from. While he and Kiara both share the lack of a mother in their lives, their childhoods have been remarkably dissimilar. While she has been sheltered and protected, even though not totally without loss, he has been battered and abused. He has loved her from afar for years, but, due to said childhood, feels unlovable. Their relationship is a bit . . . unbelievable. But, hey it is a romance, and doesn’t really pretend to be anything else, so unbelievable works. Just because it is unbelievable doesn’t mean it is without difficulties along the way – or, perhaps, because of that.

This is pretty much a straightforward romance with science fiction over tones. If you look to read this type of book and accept it as such, it is completely enjoyable. I give it 3.5 stars – rounded to 4 because I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.