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.

The Better Part of Darkness ~ Kelly Gay

  • Title:  The Better Part of Darkness
  • Author:  Kelly Gay
  • Series:  Charlie Madigan, #1
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy with a lick of Science Fiction
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Description:  Atlanta: it’s the promised city for the off-worlders, foreigners from the alternate dimensions of heaven-like Elysia and hell-like Charbydon. Some bring good works and miracles. And some bring unimaginable evil….

Charlie Madigan is a divorced mother of one, and a kick-ass cop trained to take down the toughest human and off-world criminals. She’s recently returned from the dead after a brutal attack, an unexplained revival that has left her plagued by ruthless nightmares and random outbursts of strength that make doing her job for Atlanta P.D.’s Integration Task Force even harder. Since the Revelation, the criminal element in Underground Atlanta has grown, leaving Charlie and her partner Hank to keep the chaos to a dull roar. But now an insidious new danger is descending on her city with terrifying speed, threatening innocent lives: a deadly, off-world narcotic known as ash. Charlie is determined to uncover the source of ash before it targets another victim — but can she protect those she loves from a force more powerful than heaven and hell combined?

Review:  I am having a lot of trouble with this review. Might be because it seems to be more of the same. But, when a formula works, why mess with it? Maybe because we as readers like something a little different. Or, at least we *think* we do – then we go out and purchase more of the same.

I gotta say, this book reminded me a *lot* of Kate Daniels. But, maybe that was just the Atlanta setting. Or, maybe it was the mystifying powers that Charlie had. It certainly wasn’t the presence of a shape shifting cat. I really missed the shape shifting cat.

Ms. Gay does take an unusual step in her tale: the magical elements here in Atlanta (and one supposed the remainder of the earth) come from other planets. Specifically, Elysia and Charbydon. There are goblins and orcs and trolls aplenty. Of course, many of these types are uber villainous.

Charlie is a little unusual in the urban fantasy world. She is involved in *tons* of relationships. This made my little co-dependent heart *very* happy. First of all, she has parents. That are wonderful. And, a sister whom she adores. She has a precocious daughter with her ex-husband. That she still loves. And, she has a partner that is a siren. And, to round this off, she even has a decent boss. All of these people love her and rally round her. Which she often needs because she – wait for it – frequently gets in over her head. Which is, of course, why she needed to come back from the dead. Sound familiar?

I really did enjoy the gang that Charlie has around her – the unconditional love and support they offer her in her times of need. The back story of her husband, his cheating and their ultimate divorce was original to me. And, I thought I had heard it all. But, I found it fascinating. The obligatory ‘love triangle’ gets turned on its head a bit here with Charlie and her partner Hank – who is a friend – and her ex-husband. So, not really a ‘love triangle’ more of a ‘friendship triangle’. I will read on in this series – I am curious to see to where it goes.

While the familiarity to other urban fantasies cannot be denied, The Better Part of Darkness takes enough departures from standard stereotypes that I found it to be very enjoyable. And, the bath scene is priceless. Completely and utterly priceless. It is worth the price of the book just for that one scene.

Because I could walk away from this book, it didn’t quite meet my 4 star criteria – so I gave it 3.5 – which I then round up to 4 for the bath scene. (See how I cheat the system? Even *my own* system?)

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???

Still Life with Shape-Shifter ~ Sharon Shinn

  • Title: Still Life with Shape-Shifter
  • Author: Sharon Shinn
  • Series: Shifting Circle #2
  • Genre: Fantasy, UF
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description: For her entire life, Melanie Landon has hidden the fact that her halfsister Ann is a shapeshifter—determined to protect Ann from a world that simply wouldn’t understand.

After months of no contact, Melanie fears the worst when a man shows up on her doortstep saying he’s there about her sister. A freelance writer, Brody Westerbrook intends to include Ann in a book about the existence of shapeshifters. While Melanie is immediately drawn to the stranger, she knows revealing Ann’s secret isn’t an option.

Protecting her sister has always been such an enormous part of Melanie’s life, but when Ann finally appears looking frail and sick, Melanie must come to grips with the fact that saving her may mean letting go…

Review:  This is a sad, sad book, beautiful and absorbing but melancholy, emotionally intense, almost heart-rending. I cried in the end.

I hesitate to pigeonhole this tale to a genre – it transcends genres. As a love story, it might be categorized as romance, but it’s so much more. Published by Shinn’s lifelong publisher Ace Books, a traditional fantasy publisher, it’s a fantasy on the surface. After all, it deals with shape-shifters, but when I look deeper, inside the allegory of shape-shifters, this novel tells an utterly human story of being different.

Melanie’s beloved half-sister Ann is a shape-shifter. To protect Ann from the world’s unfriendly scrutiny, Melanie has been keeping Ann’s secret for all 20 years of Ann’s life. Now, a charming reporter Brody shows on Melanie’s doorstep. He is going to write a book about shape-shifters and he suspects Ann is one. What is Melanie to do? Her dilemma deepens, when Ann is afflicted by a mysterious sickness. Could Melanie take the risk to expose Ann’s true nature by consulting a doctor? Or should she keep the secret and risk Ann dying? Could Melanie trust Brody to help them? Could she trust her own heart, which is falling in love with Brody? Twisted with uncertainties and assaulted by guilt, Melanie tries to maintain as regular a façade as she can, but life puts her through the grinder of impossible choices.

By telling Melanie’s story, Shinn explores the theme of being different from various angles. How hard it’s to be different. How hard it is to love someone who is different. What sacrifices we are wiling to endure, what difficult decisions we are willing to make for those we love. What does it mean to accept your difference and live with it without losing your dignity? Or your humanity? (An apt question for shape-shifters.)  

The novel also touches on a connected theme: the devastation of secrets. Secrets take over people’s lives; sometimes they destroy families, but no matter how hard one tries, secrets have the tendency to come out eventually. Secrets are poisonous, but what if there is no choice?

The characters of the novel are alive, real, living among us and grappling with the same problems we do. Although not always sympathetic, they are inevitably true to their backgrounds and situations in life.

The plot is seemingly slow; it’s definitely not an adventure flick, despite its shape-shifters mystique. It’s a novel of contemplation and inner growth, where most of the action takes place inside the characters’ minds and hearts. And inside the reader’s mind and heart as well. I read it and I couldn’t stop thinking, putting myself in the heroes’ shoes. What would I do if I had to struggle with such adversity? Would I be good enough? Could I cope?

My reflections, as I read the book, also took a form of musing on a tangent. Some people, especially teenagers, often want to be different, to stand out. Or they think they do. They pretend in any case by wearing unconventional clothes, or talking nonsense, or joining some outrageous clubs, or dyeing their hair pink, or what not. But all those attempts to impress their peers are just posing, for show. These poor misguided youngsters don’t have a clue how hard it is to be different.

Many of those who really are different – because of their ethnicity or religion, illness or talent – have been trying the opposite throughout human history and fiction: to camouflage themselves as normal, to blend in. Their attitude is best described by this snippet of conversation from the novel. One of the characters in the book asks her lover, a werewolf:

“If you could control it [the change] completely, would you ever choose to be a wolf again?”

“No,” he said.

“You’d be ordinary? Instead of extraordinary, which is what you are?”

“I think anyone who isn’t ordinary wishes he was,” he said quietly. “No matter what makes him different, he wants to be the same as everyone else.”  

Nobody wants to be a freak, when it’s for real. Unfortunately, some of us don’t have a choice. The only choice we do have is how we handle our abnormality: with gentle elegance or with self-pitying spite. The former – I bow to them with deep admiration for their courage. The latter – they are those who pick up a gun and shoot innocents.

A sad association for a simple fantasy novel, isn’t it?