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.

Clean Sweep ~ Ilona Andrews

  • Title: Clean Sweep
  • Author: Ilona Andrews
  • Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #1
  • Genre: Fantasy, UF
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night. Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

Review:  The world building in this short novel is fascinating, quirky and utterly unique. It’s combining science fiction and fantasy, and it feels like the authors gave free rein to their imagination while creating it. They populated their story with a sentient inn, vampires, werewolves, hundreds of different worlds connected by some sort of gateways, and of course the innkeeper with a broom – her deadliest weapon.

Dina, the protagonist, is the innkeeper. Her inn is a sanctuary on Earth for all the travelers from other worlds. While Dina stays inside the inn’s property, her magic, combined with the inn’s magic, is the strongest, but when she leaves the perimeter of the inn, for example to go shopping, her power diminishes with every step she takes away from her inn. What an original manifestation of the idea that any power has a price and a boundary.

Like every innkeeper, Dina is supposed to maintain neutrality in any conflict arising between worlds. Her guests’ safety is supposed to be her first priority. But when someone or something starts killing dogs in her quiet little town in Texas, she feels she must interfere.

Then a handsome, arrogant neighbor, werewolf Sean, arrives to tell her that he will take care of the problem. Butterflies flutter in her stomach every time she glances at his muscular thighs/shoulders/abs. His penetrating yellow eyes don’t help her peace of mind either. But she can’t let him face the danger alone, alpha male or not.

Then a charming vampire lands in her backyard, with the same purpose – to destroy the baddies in Texas. Testosterone levels spike, as the trio fight the villains and try to figure out their relationships at the same time.

The story runs quickly, maybe too quickly, as if it has too many legs but sometimes those legs trip over each other. The dialog is fast, snarky and funny, representing the authors’ dry, offbeat humor. Although characterization is pretty primitive (with the exception of Dina), secondary to the world-building and plot, the whole is an enjoyable read. I like this book more than the authors’ other series. Obviously, I’m not a huge fan of Kate Daniels.  

The illustrations included in the text are simply gorgeous, even though I read the book on my B&W Kindle.

Overall – a delicious, entertaining reading experience.

Lillian Holmes and the Leaping Man ~ Ciar Cullen

  • Title: Lillian Holmes and the Leaping Man
  • Author: Ciar Cullen
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy/Romance
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  At the cusp of the twentieth century, an heiress turned detective enters a world of deception and danger and must learn to trust her nemesis with both her life and her love.

Tormented by a tragic past, Miss Lillian Holmes nonetheless found the strength to go on, to become the greatest female detective of her time. To make her uncle proud. Except…he was not truly her uncle. Sherlock was a fictional character, and Lil was less a true detective than a sheltered twenty-six year old heiress with taste for mystery…and morphine. But then she saw him. Leaping from her neighbor’s second-story window, a beautiful stranger. With the recent murders plaguing Baltimore, here was a chance to
reveal the truth.

Except, the Leaping Man was far more than he seemed. A wanton creature of darkness, an entry point to a realm of deception and evil, and to a Truth she had waited countless years to uncover, he would threaten far more than Lillian’s life. He would take both her heart and soul. And she would rejoice in it.

Review: I have a confession to make: I don’t like vampire novels. I believe that the Twilight craze has unleashed a barrage of vampire-driven tripe by authors jumping on the vampire bandwagon. As such I am rather puzzled at myself for getting and reading this book, since it is a vampire novel, and anything else I say in this review should be seen in the light of me severely disliking vampire novels. I also owe the author an apology for reading this when I knew in advance that I might not like it.

Have I made it absolutely clear that I do not like vampire novels? Good, then on to the review.

Lillian Holmes is a wealthy, twenty-six-year-old heiress who is being looked after by her governess, Addie, and Addie’s brother. Lillian’s parents died when she was sixteen, and since then she has been a little unstable. She is addicted to morphine and slightly delusional, believing herself to be the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, despite knowing that he is a fictional character. This is one of the things I liked about this book – you don’t often get a drug-addicted protagonist, and it makes for a refreshing change.

One night when Lillian can’t sleep she looks out the window and notices a man leaping down from the second floor balcony of one of her neighbours. The next morning it is discovered that one of the inhabitants of that house has committed suicide, but Lillian realises that it was murder, and that the Leaping Man must be the perpetrator. It is her chance to prove that she is as great a detective as her ‘uncle’, and she is determined to solve this case.

We soon discover that the Leaping Man is George Orleans, a jaded vampire who is tired of vampire politics and who is trying not to interfere in the life of his brother Philip. Philip is also a vampire, but he is a bit of a romantic who only kills and drains rogues and criminals to appease his fiancée Kitty, who is not a vampire.

What I liked about George is that he is a ‘proper’ vampire. He doesn’t sparkle, he weakens in daylight (okay, it’s not quite dying, but it’s getting there) and he feels little to no remorse for feeding on random people. None of it is watered down – there is no real attempt to justify what he does, and that too is refreshing.

The plot of the book kept me hooked enough that I read it without effort. It has a dash of different styles, ranging from romance through mystery to urban fantasy with a smidgen of steampunk thrown in. The dialogue didn’t entirely convince me at times, but on the whole there was enough to keep me entertained, though not bowled over. In summary, this is a solid read, and anyone who does like vampires should probably add at least one star to this rating.

The Passage ~ Justin Cronin

  • Title: The Passage
  • Author: Justin Cronin
  • Genre: Horror
  • Series: The Passage #1
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  “It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.
From the Publisher (Random House)

Justin Cronin has taken it upon himself to tell a rather long and ambitious tale. The Passage, weighing in at 784 pages, is just the first installment of this saga, so be prepared to settle in for the long haul. The book requires patience, as Cronin weaves between different perspectives and time periods as he slowly and methodically lays out his tale.

The Passage tells the story of the rise of vicious vampire-type creatures that have caused the near destruction of the world. The first half of the book explains that circumstances surrounding the creation of these monsters and their subsequent infection of society. The second half of the book follows survivors of the catastrophe and their struggle to try to save what is left of the human race.

From the description, it sounds like this is an epic, action-packed story. Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few action scenes and some of them are very well told. The scene where all hell breaks loose at the secret compound in Denver was very well-written. However, the action seems few and far between, as they are spread out among a lot of long-winded prose explaining all of the characters in great, and often, unnecessary detail.

For example, the book opens by telling the hard-knock life story of Amy’s mother. Amy is a vital character to the plot of series, not just this first book. However, the author could have given the mother’s background in a few sentences, rather than a few chapters. In fact, the writing style reminded me at times Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, seeming overly focused on everyone’s internal motivations and past history. This is not a compliment, I could not finish Frankenstein. Cronin’s opus is indeed slightly more enjoyable, I did make my way through to the end, after all.

The book often felt a little ADD, changing perspective AND writing styles. I am generally not bothered by alternating point of views, but Cronin took this a bit to the extreme. He would spend a lot of time focusing on a group of characters, then boom, he is off somewhere completely different. Oh, and he tells the story through a combination of narrative, letters, and diary entries.

The author was also guilty of committing one of my worst fantasy/sci-fi infraction, conflicting mythology. He has described that sunlight is harmful to his creatures and harms them. This premise is a key component to the survival of his characters. However, he has a scene where his characters flee the “sticks” (their derogatory name for the creatures) in broad daylight, and yet the creatures give chase. How is that possible? Further, his Mensa-candidate survivors decide to take refuge in a mall where there is plenty of shade to aid the sticks. It makes no sense! Gah!

Overall, the book wasn’t bad. There were compelling characters and the story was interesting. It probably would have been better told in at least 200 fewer pages. After hanging in there until the very end, I was rewarded with an ending that just kind of petered off. I am sure the author intends to pick up the thread in the next book, but the question is, will I care enough to read it? The jury is still out.

Dancing with the Devil ~ Keri Arthur

  • Title: Dancing with the Devil
  • Author: Keri Arthur
  • Series: Nikki & Michael #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: Free ARC
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  Private Investigator Nikki James grew up on the tough streets of Lyndhurst and believes there’s nothing left to surprise her. All that changes the night she follows teenager Monica Trevgard into the shadows-and becomes a pawn caught in a war between two very different men. One fills her mind with his madness, the other pushes his way into her life-and her heart. Nikki knows how dangerous love can be, but if she wants to survive, she must place her trust in a man who could easily destroy her.

Michael Kelly has come to Lyndhurst determined to end the war between himself and another brother of the night. For 300 years he has existed in life’s shadows, gradually learning to control the life from death cravings of a vampire. Nikki not only breaches his formidable barriers with her psychic abilities, but makes Michael believe he may finally have found a woman strong enough to walk by his side and ease the loneliness in his heart. But will his love be enough to protect her from a madman hell-bent on revenge? Or will it drive her into his enemy’s deadly trap?

Only together can they overcome the evil threatening to destroy them both. But the secrets they keep from each other might prove to be the greatest threat of all.

Review:  I am perpetually on the look-out for exciting new Urban Fantasy series, hence my excitement at receiving a digital ARC for Dancing with the Devil. I knew this one might lean more toward Paranormal Romance than I typically like, but I was willing to take the risk. The concept sounded really good to me.

One thing that I really liked about this book was the cover. It is not trying too hard to be sexy. It is a good urban fantasy depiction of a tough looking gal with a mysterious vibe. The red color was plays well into the Dancing with the Devil title. It has great use of fonts. It really looks like a book that I would enjoy. Alas, sometimes the adage is true about judging books by their covers.

I was expecting a story with a strong female detective, instead I discovered a stupid chick with the maturity of a bean sprout. Throughout the book, Monica (the heroine of the tale) runs headfirst into danger rather needlessly. Often this was a passive-aggressive response to being angry at someone, because it totally makes sense when you are mad at someone to risk your own life in the most dangerous scenario possible. Not. For a supposed detective, she was quite incapable of getting clue. I mean, the signs that Michael was a vampire were totally obvious. How long did it take Nikki to figure it out? Can you say, duh?

So, then there is the insta-lust between Nikki and Michael. I don’t want to label it insta-love, because most of the time they did not even seem to like one another. Or maybe that was just because both characters spent the majority of the book in over-reaction mode. Sheesh, maybe they need some anger management.

And speaking of anger, Michael was a bit of an anger ball. He always get angry that she does not trust him, like REALLY angry, yet he gives her NO REASON to trust him. Did he really think his approach was going engender trust in her? Let’s check his actions against the trustworthy check list. Would you trust a guy who tells you nothing while making it obvious that he is concealing a lot of information? I didn’t think so. How about if he constantly promises not to control you, but repeatedly does so (even if it is to save your life)? Maybe not. I know, maybe you’d trust someone who would conceal his true nature from you and will lie to you about his ability to love? Not working for you? Well, maybe you should just get angry back and run headfirst into danger!

Beyond the characters themselves, the mythology seemed a little inconsistent to me. Nikki was able to open doors and break the necks of zombies using her psychic force, but she was unable to use it to open a car door? Smells kind of fishy to me. Worse, though, were all of the times when Nikki drained her power completely, yet she was always able to conveniently tap into more (unless Michael conveniently save her, making her angry).

The plot itself was kind of blah. After the first couple of chapters, the mystery is gone. We know who the bad guy is and what he wants. The rest of the book, the author seems to draw things out in a series of silly encounters. Nikki and Michael run into Jasper, Monica, and zombies, they fight, they scamper away, lather, rinse, and repeat.

I am still up in the air about whether or not I will this series another shot. I recognize that first books are not typically the best of the series. It would be pretty low risk, since I have received a digital ARC for the second installment.

*Disclaimer: a digital review copy of this book was provided to me free of charge by the publisher through Net Galley.

Skinwalker ~ Faith Hunter

  • Title:  Skinwalker
  • Author:  Faith Hunter
  • Series:  Jane Yellowrock, #1
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Description:  Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind-a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. But now she’s been hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katie’s Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who’s killing other vamps..

Review:  As I read more books about shifters and vampires, the reviews become harder and harder to write. Yep, she’s a shifter. Yep, she is after the bad vampire. Of course, this book is a tad different – they are *all* a tad different, but repetitive as well. I do not, however, feel a book should be penalized as the ‘same ole, same ole’ for many reasons, not the least of which is the author has no control over the order in which I read.

So. Jane’s a shifter. But, Jane is *more* than a shifter. She actually co-habits with her alter ego – Beast. She is after a vampire – but not just *any* vampire, the *bad* vampire. The other vampires are good. Or, at least sorta good. She rides a motorcycle. With a name. Bitsa. She has a best friend – a witch named Molly. She says and thinks things like ‘ick’ and ‘icky’. It is the silly little things that make me happy!

The story, itself, is quite the mystery. Not only do we not know *who* the villain is, we are not sure *what* the villain is. And, as Jane has just arrived in New Orleans, we are meeting everyone with her and not sure anyone is whom he or she pretends to be. I will be honest – I figured out part of the mystery, but she gob smacked me with the other part. So, not predictable. At least by me. That raises it a notch in my opinion.

My one real struggle with the novel was the ‘Beast’ chapters. These are written in stream of consciousness and very hard to follow. I didn’t like it in literature class, and I don’t enjoy it here. The first time, it is a jolt out of the smooth narrative previously presented. It does become easier – not sure if the writing became more fluid or if my reading did, but it became easier.

I did really enjoy Jane. I loved her relationship with Molly and Molly’s daughter Angela. I loved the often inappropriate nicknames she applied to everyone around her. I loved the tough as nails exterior – while taking all the safety precautions she can come up with – and the sappy heart she has toward everyone in Molly’s family. Even the protectiveness she feels toward Katie and her ladies. Hallelujah, there is no love triangle. Zip. Zero. Nada.

So, TLDR, if you like vampires, shifters, mysteries and non-love relationships, this book is definitely worth a look. I have already picked up the next one to see the Jane grow. I give it 3.5, but round up to 4 and I have no idea why.