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: Review copy
  • 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.

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

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Scarlet ~ Marissa Meyer

  • Title: Scarlet
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Series: Lunar Chronicles #2
  • Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, YA
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth…

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Scarlet picks up right where Cinder left off, but follows parallel plots featuring different groups of characters. The primary plot features Scarlet, a young woman in France who searching for her missing grandmother. She teams up with the mysterious Wolf, when evidence indicates his former gang may have Grand’Mere. Meanwhile, back in New Beijing, Cinder’s storyline is focused on her escape from prison with the aid of a dashing fellow prisoner, Captain Thorn.

The level of adventure is much higher in this book. While the first book was set in a scenario with a threat of danger, in this second book the danger has arrived. I found my heart racing and I could not stop reading (er, listening). Would they capture Cinder? Can Scarlet really trust Wolf? Is the Lunar Queen going to attack Earth? Well, my dear reader, those are things your will need to discover for yourself.

The world building in this series is so vivid. I like the soft feel of the science fiction fabric woven by Meyer. She gives us just enough description to accept the technology without having it intrude upon the story itself. This gives her much more room to focus not just on the intrigue (of which there is plenty), but also on the development a great characters.

Scarlet is both soft and strong, determined, yet compassionate. She is the perfect foil for our flawed hero, Wolf. Dear Wolf, so fierce and hard, yet he unable to deny his warm heart. My favorite new character, however, has to be Captain Thorn. His arrogant, yet charming demeanor brings a smile to my face. It is also refreshing to see that Cinder and Kai do not just become caricatures, as is often the case when the leads from the first book appear in the sophomore book of a series.

A growing cast of characters and plot lines can often result in an unwieldy storyline. Not in this case. Meyer masterfully weaves these threads together in a book that is exciting and satisfying. My only disappointment is that I have to wait several months until the release of the next book.

*Foot note: I want to also give a shout out to the narrator for this series, Rebecca Soler. She does a great job of creating distinct voices for her characters and capturing their emotions as appropriate. I also give major props to the cover artist. the covers for this series are simply awesome. The pop of red on each cover draws the eye, while the fairy tale font and the primary image hint at the fairy tale being adapted in each book.

Insurgent ~ Veronica Roth

  • Title: Insurgent
  • Author: Veronica Roth
  • Series: Divergent #2
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Val
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  One choice can transform you, or destroy you.

Every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves, and herself, while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.


Review:   Insurgent, the second book of the Divergent series, picks right up where Divergent left off. The factions are at war, following the massacre of much of the Abnegation faction at the hands of the hypnotized Dauntless warriors. Having stopped the attack, Tris and Four find themselves outlaws on the run.

This book was just as much of a rush to read as the first, maybe even more so. There is plenty of action, as Tris and Four face danger trying to uncover the truth about what is going on. Roth takes the political undertones even deeper, creating a delicious tension throughout the story. It is a constant struggle to sift truth from lies, or more importantly, whose truth is more compelling.

As the plot thickens, the character also become more complex. It is no longer as simple as good versus bad. Roth reveals the good intentions behind some of the terrible actions of her “bad guys”, and that good misguided “good” characters have faltered onto dark paths. I am so tempted to mention some specifics here, but I think I will let you discover that for yourself.

Tris, herself, is very conflicted throughout the story. Her actions in the previous book have her questioning what kind of person she really is and erodes some of her recently won confidence. This internal struggle results in conflict and tension between Tris and Four. There is also continued tension among Tris and her new Dauntless friends.

I will say one thing for Roth, she didn’t really hold anything back. She is telling a dark and gritty tale and she’s not afraid for bad things to happen to pack the necessary emotional punch. Roth is by no means a George R.R. Martin (who seems to kill off characters just so the reader won’t get attached), but she does not shy away from the death of a likeable character.

While the first book focused primarily on the Abnegation and Dauntless factions, Insurgent gives a closer look at Amity and Candor. Herein lies the brilliance behind Roth’s unfolding saga. Each faction has its specific social mores, which are both a strength and a weakness when isolated without divergent thinking (um, yeah, guess that explains the series theme in a nutshell). Another theme throughout this book is how far people will go to avoid accepting a harsh reality out of fear, often failing to act and thus making them fall victim to that fear.

The cover for Insurgent is equally eye-catching as the Divergent cover. This time, it features the faction symbol for Amity with the Chicago skyline at the bottom. The color scheme and layout are complimentary to the Divergent cover, clearly identifying the series.

There is one bad thing about this book that I do not like so much . . . that I will have to wait until October for the third and final book of the series!

City of Ashes ~ Cassandra Clare

  • Title: City of Ashes
  • Author: Cassandra Clare
  • Series: The Mortal Instruments #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what’s normal when you’re a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who’s becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn’t ready to let her go — especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary’s only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil — and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings — and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

In this breathtaking sequel to City of Bones, Cassandra Clare lures her readers back into the dark grip of New York City’s Downworld, where love is never safe and power becomes the deadliest temptation.

*This review may contain spoilers.*

Review:  Cassandra Clare is back. City of Ashes is the follow-up to her fun, young adult urban fantasy adventure City of Bones. This second book of the Mortal Instruments series is everything that the first book was not, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The first book was light on teen wallowing and focused on more on their adventure through a dangerous magical world.

City of Ashes, on the other hand, is a story about a group of spoiled teens in the midst of a big ole angst fest. Clary and Jace are all angsty about their Luke and Lei sibling attraction since they still think they are brother and sister. (Clearly, at some point it will be revealed that they are not actually siblings, because otherwise, eww!) Jace is also wallowing in Vader/Valentine father drama and acting bratty because nobody believes him, because dishing up disdainful attitude is always helpful in getting others to see your point of view. Simon is battling his angst driven jealously over any attention that Clary is paying to her brother, Jace. Alec is drowning in a whole vat of youthful melodrama, struggling with his sexuality, his unrequited love for Jace, and perhaps a hidden romance? Isabelle is not so much angsting as she is rebelling against nothing. Oh, and they are aware of the magical world around them and they are trying to fight evil.

Eventually, we see some opportunities for action and adventure. However, it feel like every time a conflict arises, someone breaks out into an angst-driven monologue. How many times are they going to feel swayed by Valentine’s fanatical ranting? Really? He’s right THERE! Less talky talky, more stabby stabby. When we are not interrupting this regularly scheduled not-a-fight scene, we are flash-forwarding to the end only to experience yet another heart rending near death episode. Surely Simon’s nine live are up??? Oh, the drama!

This book is guilty of SO many fiction faux pas plot devices that I may have lost count. The top five kind of looks like this:

  1. Overreaction in place of action – like going to a werewolf bar to pick a fight because you are mad at your stepmom
  2. Overuse of the monologue – battle is raging all around us, my sweet, but let me try to convince you why my evil plan is great
  3. Logic is overrated (not sure which is my favorite example) – I hate demons SO much, that I want to rid the world of half demons by allying myself with full demons OR I know you are my sister, but will you still be my girlfriend and we can keep it a secret?
  4. Smart characters make stupid decisions – The bad guy is looking for someone like ME? Why then, let me run off into the night alone and take back alleys so he can capture me!
  5. And the worst plot device used in this book is . . . Love triangles, or in this case knots – A hot werewolf girl is in love with me, but I’m in love with you. You are in love with your brother. He loves you, too, but you can’t be together, obviously. His teenage foster brother is in love with him, but dating a 300 year old wizard who may be in love him (eww). The foster sister seems to be in love with herself. Let’s not even bother with the “adults.” It boggles the mind.

I pretty much liked the characters in the first book. Well, I didn’t dislike them, at least. However, in City of Ashes I think that everyone could use a swift boot to the head. Jace spends the book sneering and throwing abuse at others, meanwhile whining that no one believes in him. Clary is trying to martyr herself for every bad thing that happens to her in between bouts of saying really nasty things to people. Simon acts like a pouty douche who seems to have lost at least 30 IQ points since that last book. I could go on. Suffice it to say that Valentine wiping them all out starts to look appealing by the end of the book.

As for the conclusion, Clare serves up an ending so ambiguous that when examined you realize that there really wasn’t closure to any of the plot threads of this book. In fact, if you remove all of the angst and over emoting, I think that this book contributes maybe a single chapter, two at the most, of relevant information that moves that series plot arc forward.

On the positive side, the cover art for City of Ashes is fantastic. In keeping with the theme of the first cover, it features the city skyline with an otherworldly teen figure rising from the behind the city. This time the figure represents Clary with an almost flaming quality to her red hair. Too bad the contents of the book do not live up to the promise of the cover.

Now, I am left with a decision. Do I give the series another chance? I DID like the first book. However, my eyes are still sore from the number of times I rolled them while reading this book. Perhaps I’ll give it some time, let my eye muscles recover, and see how I feel with a little distance. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. We shall see.

City of Bones ~ Cassandra Clare

  • Title: City of Bones
  • Author: Cassandra Clare
  • Series: The Mortal Instruments #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
  • Format: Hardback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder – much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air.

It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing – not even a smear of blood – to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk.

Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

Review:  I’ve long had my eye on City of Bones. The cover is eye catching and the plot sounds interesting. My lingering hesitance is part of my usual dilemma, will the story be more adventure or angst. With the movie release upon us, it is time to make that decision . . . to read or not read?

I am glad that I chose to read. There are certainly hints of teen angst here and there, but the story is directed mostly by adventure and world-building. Hurrah! I admit that the plot is on the predictable side, but the entertaining manner in which the story unfolds makes it almost possible to overlook.

The basic premise is one we’ve seen before, kind of an Alice through the Looking Glass kind of tale. The world-building has elements that make it unique enough to hold the readers interest. The story follows Clary, an impetuous teen whose mother goes missing just when she starts to see inexplicable things. She is seeing demons to be precise. It turns out that everywhere. Fortunately for her, she meets a band of teenage demon hunters who grudgingly agree to help her find her mom and figure out what is happening to her.

I am not sure that it makes sense that a group of teen demon hunters are the only ones around to protect the city for the duration of the book. Reader have to make a leap of faith to just accept this a move on. Because of their youthful exuberance, the teen characters are fun, if one-dimensional. Some of them have secrets, and I’m not telling! I want to tell you, truly I do, but I think it would be more fun it you discover them on your own.

My favorite character, Magnus Bane, is a minor character of importance to the story. He is extremely powerful and totally unapologetic. The ambiguity of his character allows Ms. Clare a vehicle through which she can deliver truth, in a crazy-cool kind of way. I also love Valentine as a villain. He is psychotically brilliant and totally arrogant. Oh, and in the movie he’s played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Hello, sexy calling!).

Clare relies more on intrigue rather than action to move the story forward. This is not to say that there are no good action scenes, there are. It is just the mystery is solved more Sherlock style, piecing together clues gained through investigation.

This is a good first book to the series. It was a solid introduction to the characters and the Clare’s alternate world. The resolution to the primary plot is strong enough to give closure, yet there are there are plenty of tantalizing open threads to entice the reader back for more. So, go on now, dear reader. I have another book (City of Ashes) to read.

Charming ~ Elliott James

  • Title: Charming
  • Author: Elliott James
  • Series: Pax Arcana #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: Review copy
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  John Charming isn’t your average Prince…

He comes from a line of Charmings — an illustrious family of dragon slayers, witch-finders and killers dating back to before the fall of Rome. Trained by a modern day version of the Knights Templar, monster hunters who have updated their methods from chainmail and crossbows to kevlar and shotguns, he was one of the best. That is — until he became the abomination the Knights were sworn to hunt.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, he tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. One that shouldn’t change just because a vampire and a blonde walked into his bar… Right?

Review:  At first glance, this books looks like a clear-cut paranormal romance. The cover is a little on the cheesy side, featuring a handsome and surely dashing hero staring intently at the reader beneath a suitably fancy font. But wait, is that a male author’s name blazoned across the bottom? I can’t remember ever having read a romance by a male author. Hmm. So, I take a closer look and the book description reads much more urban fantasy, than PNR. Now, my interest is peaked, the hook is set, reel me in.

The book has an interesting concept, fairy tales about “Prince Charming” are really an amalgamation of stories about various members of the Charming family, a long line of Knights Templar. Yes, those Knights Templar, except they still exist, but rather than going on holy crusades they protect the balance between magic and mundane. Our hero of this tale, John Charming, is a tarnished descendant of this illustrious line. Once upon a time, a Valkyrie walk into his bar (er, pub) and mayhem ensues.

The first person narrative of the story allows the author to effectively contribute bits of detail and lore to flesh out the urban fantasy world being created. James takes it a little far at the end, having John tell the reader why he is documenting what has happened. I found this offensive as a reader, I am smart enough not to need a convenient explanation as to why the narrator is telling his/her story.

Make no mistake, our hero uses his droll wit to tell quite a story of adventure and intrigue. I love the humorous tone of this book. Even the chapter titles are chuckle inducing. John is quite charming, in a sarcastic and messed up kind of way, unless he has been provoked. Then, foes beware, he is a tough cookie and ready to rumble.

Being that the story is about a bad-ass protector-type, there is plenty of action in the story. John is inspired by Sig, a Valkyrie, to join forces with her merry band of misfits to eradicate a vampire threat to that magical balance. Whether or not he can trust all of the Scooby gang to have his back remains to be seen, as suspicion and mistrust is rife among them.

Between bloody battle scenes, there are a LOT of interpersonal dynamics going on in this book, a little too much for my taste. Mid-way through the book, the author gets so caught up in the romance sub-plot that it almost loses the SUB and becomes the plot. It is not that it is badly written, I just prefer UF to PNR.

Regardless, this was a really fun book. James seems to channel a couple of my favorite authors: Ilona Andrews and Jim Butcher with his blend of magical conflict and snarky humor. The result is not quite as well executed as the aforementioned UF icons, but I have hope that this series can turn into something fun.

*Disclaimer: A free advance copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher through Net Galley.