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Thursday, December 31, 2009

My favorite books of 2009


I was very disappointed to read Mead’s announcement a few months ago that there would be no book #3 released in 2010. According to Mead, a decision had to be made and her publishers cast the final vote that the 5th ‘Georgina Kincaid’ and 5th ‘Vampire Academy’ would receive more publicity (and Mead would do more author tours to promote the books), which meant she wouldn’t have time to release 3 books in one year. To be honest, I would have been more upset by this news if ‘Thorn Queen’ hadn’t been so damn satisfying. So much happened in this second instalment – true, it finished on a serious cliff hanger that left readers dangling over the edge of a potentially explosive plot for ‘Iron Crowned’ – but there was so much Dorian/Eugenie smuttiness and such HUGE plot advances that I can forgive Mead’s decision to hold off on book 3 until she has more time to properly promote it.

Succubus Heat ‘Georgina Kincaid #4’ by Richelle Mead
She is clearly a favourite author of mine – but I have a love/hate relationship with this series. No doubt I absolutely *LOVE* ‘Georgina Kincaid’, but I *HATE* how emotionally invested I get. I don’t think I ever laugh or cry so hard when I read these books. One minute I’m chortling along after one of Georgina’s wise-cracks, the next I’m bawling my eyes out over Seth’s callous actions (or feeling furious and wanting to poke a fork through Maddie’s eye!). Never before has the emotional rollercoaster of Georgina’s life been so hellish and smutty as in ‘Succubus Heat’. It was a phenomenal read, even if the ending left me feeling a bit depressed. I went to Richelle Mead’s book signing for ‘Blood Promise’ – and I am really looking forward to book #5 ‘Succubus Shadows’ after hearing a few of her comments regarding character development.

I LOVED this book! Thankyou to Mandi at Smexy for pushing me to read it. I was a little hesitant at first because of the whole ‘Steampunk’ genre being totally foreign to me – but Carriger has written such a brilliantly fanciful and lustful supernatural story that is impossible not to love. Parasols and vampires, dirigibles and werewolves – what’s not to be obsessed about? I loved leading lady Alexia Tarabotti and her beau Lord Maccon – they were such a hot couple, they put the ‘steam’ into ‘steampunk’ and I cannot wait to read more of their adventures in ‘Changeless’ (March 30th 2010).

This was the 10th book in Armstrong’s ‘Women of the Otherworld’ series – and it went back to being about my favourite ‘Otherworld’ couple, Elena and Clay. So much has changed for these two since we last saw them in ‘Broken’, I kind of loved that while there have been books in between, Elena and Clay have been expanding their family and carrying on in their lives. ‘Frostbitten’ had a fantastic, edge-of-your-seat mystery at its centre, delved deeper into Elena’s past and included plenty of lovey-dovey scenes between Elena and Clay. But best of all, ‘Frostbitten’ revealed the depths and changes to Elena and Clay’s characters and relationship – making this my favourite ‘Otherworld’ book yet. It will be a bit of a wait until Elena and Clay take centre stage in Armstrong’s series again, but ‘Frostbitten’ well and truly tied me over until that book comes.

Patricia Briggs is one of my all-time favourite authors. My favourite thing about Ms. Briggs’ writing is her masterful character development. Briggs’s characters are flawed, damaged and just generally frayed around the edges – none more so than Charles Cornick and Anna Latham. Charles sees himself as a cold-blooded killer, and doesn’t believe he deserves his mate, Anna’s, love. Anna is a werewolf Omega still recovering from the abuse she suffered under her previous werewolf pack. Charles and Anna are mated werewolves – two slightly damaged individuals who are learning to heal with and because of each other. I love this series. To be sure it is a fantastic Urban Fantasy – and this series, more so than ‘Mercedes Thomspon’, delves into the fascinating world of werewolf politics – but at its core ‘Alpha & Omega’ is a love story. ‘Hunting Ground’ had a wonderful mystery as its central plot, but it was amazing because it delved further into Anna and Charles’s romance and explored the repair of their fractured psyches.

Bone Crossed ‘Mercedes Thompson #4’ by Patricia Briggs.
This is probably my all-time favourite Urban Fantasy series. I loved everything about ‘Bone Crossed’ – from the cover art (drool worthy by Daniel Dos Santos) to the development of Mercy and Adam’s relationship. Mercy and Adam have been in a ‘will they or won’t they?’ dance from book #1, and in ‘Bone Crossed’ their mateship was finally cemented in a fairly anti-climactic, but wonderfully romantic mating. ‘Silver Borne’ is probably my most anticipated book for 2010, mostly because I want to see how Mercy and Adam handle their newfound relationship.

Magic Strikes ‘Kate Daniels #3’ by Ilona Andrews
Oh. My. God.
That’s all I could think reading the last 2 chapters of this book. Such an amazing final battle – I was bawling my eyes out, and cheering Kate on. And that Kate/Curran tub scene – woah! It says a lot about this author-duo that their leading man and lady have still only gone as far as first base but readers are 100% hooked on their relationship. I am *dying* for book #4, the first teaser chapter has only whet my appetite and now I need May 25th to hurry the hell up.

My favourite regency romance – possibly ever. I love, love, loved this book! Again, thanks to Mandi at Smexy for recommending. The romance between naïve tomboy Lucy Waltham and stiff-upper-lip Jeremy Trescott was heart meltingly romantic. These two are such sweethearts, and even though I didn’t like the other 2 books in Dare’s series, ‘Goddess’ has made her a ‘must buy’ for me. One of the best scenes in this book occurs in a wardrobe – a wardrobe! Any author that can make a wardrobe sexy deserves to be an automatic buy.

This debut series from Molly Haper is brilliant! A comedic Urban Fantasy with one of the best and funniest leading ladies I have ever read. Jane Jameson is my hero – I want to be her BFF. Book #3 ‘Nice Girls Don’t Live Forever’ came out December 29th, but I’m still waiting for my copy – though I am sure I will love that book as much as her first two. This series has made Harper an instant buy for me – so unbelievably good, I hope Molly Harper is contracted for many more books in the series.

One of the best books I have ever read (with one of the best titles). It’s a very different post-apocalyptic zombie book – Ryan writes beautifully and vividly, and the story is edge-of-your-seat from the first page. I adored this book. It is very bleak, but Carrie Ryan is such a masterful storyteller, and the world she’s created is so fascinating you can’t help but be 100% sucked in. I could easily see this book being adapted into film – it has a very cinematic quality and an epic feel to it. Ryan has a second book (set in the same universe) called ‘The Dead-Tossed Waves’ coming out March 9th 2010 – I am definitely reading that one!

Monday, December 28, 2009

'Lady of Light & Shadows' by C.L. Wilson

From the BLURB:

Ellysetta Baristani and her betrothed Fey lord, returning hero Rain Tairen Soul, are days away from their wedding, but the wicked Eld lords are drawing ever closer to locating Ellysetta, whose magic they hope to use for their own ends. As the intrigues of the Eld plot ripple throughout the court, Ellysetta wrestles with personal demons and the mysterious power within her. Meanwhile, tensions on the country's borders mount as the specter of war draws nearer.

‘Lady of Light and Shadows’ is the second book in C.L. Wilson’s ‘Tairen Soul’ series. This book picks up right where ‘Lord of the Fading Lands’ left off, the timelines are literally side-by-side.

When Wilson left off in ‘Lord of the fading lands’, she hinted at dire things to come for Rain and his truemate, Ellysetta. I can’t give anything away without spoiling a huge plotline – but in this book much is revealed about Ellie’s origins. There was a huge build-up to this ‘big reveal’ concerning Ellie’s birthright, and I personally don’t think Wilson delivered a big enough pay-off.

When the truth about Ellie’s origins is revealed, as readers we expect there to be a huge tumult – and there is, initially – but everything is smoothed over and forgotten pretty quickly. Considering the fact that Ellie has been pretty blessed so far in this series (woodcarver’s daughter turned Fey Queen – ultimate rags to riches) I would have appreciated it if Ellie went through a period of real struggle and doubt, just to shake her up. That being said, Ellie does go through a lot in this book as she learns about her bloodline and growing powers – as well as dealing with her ever-evolving relationship with Rain.

He was her hero, the magic prince she’d dreamed of all her life, a legend larger than life. She was just a twenty-four-year-old woodcarver’s daughter, a nobody. She should not have the power to make a legend tremble, and yet she did. She didn’t want that power. She could not bear to see Rain humbled, especially not by her hand.

I must admit, this ‘Tairen Soul’ series is very romantic. Wilson certainly knows how to write a captivating romance with just the right amount of sizzle – and considering the fact that in this book Rain and Ellie still aren’t officially married, Wilson does an admirable job of writing some very hot scenes that make up for the lack of outright sex.

I really liked the fleshing out of secondary characters in this book. Bel is one of Ellie’s guards; he has the weight of death on his soul, but feels lightened because of Ellie’s powerful healing magic. I really love him and his rough exterior, and I hope he finds his own truemate in books to come. I also loved the introduction of a character called Gaelen, who was previously mentioned in passing as a sort of Tairen ‘boogeyman’, but comes to life in this second book. He is a fantastic secondary character – funny and charming with Ellie, bull-headed with her other guards. I can definitely see the potential for great things with Bel and Gaelen’s storylines.

Even though I firmly believe Wilson could have done a lot more with the reveal of Ellie’s origins, the series as a whole is progressing nicely; enough that I am looking forward to reading the 3rd book. The plot is thickening and Wilson’s villains are taking shape and showing themselves to be very disturbing and macabre bad guys – among the best villains I have ever read. I’m also enjoying the rough progress of Rain & Ellie’s romance (and in this book the romance heats up!)

3.5/5

Sunday, December 27, 2009

'Divine Misdemeanors' by Laurell K. HAMILTON


From the BLURB:

You may know me best as Meredith Nic Essus, princess of faerie. Or perhaps as Merry Gentry, Los Angeles private eye. In the fey and mortal realms alike, my life is the stuff of royal intrigue and celebrity drama. Among my own, I have confronted horrendous enemies, endured my noble kin's treachery and malevolence, and honored my duty to conceive a royal heir - all for the right to claim the throne. But I turned my back on court and crown, choosing exile in the human world - and in the arms of my beloved Frost and Darkness.

While I may have rejected the monarchy, I cannot abandon my people. Someone is killing the fey, which has left the LAPD baffled and my guardsmen and me deeply disturbed. My kind are not easily captured or killed. At least not by mortals. I must get to the bottom of these horrendous murders, even if that means going up against Gilda, the Fairy Godmother, my rival for fey loyalties in Los Angeles.

But even stranger things are happening. Mortals I once healed with magic are suddenly performing miracles, a shocking phenomenon wreaking havoc on human/faerie relations. Though I am innocent, dark suspicions of banned magical activities swirl around me.

I thought I'd left the blood and politics behind in my own turbulent realm. I had dreamed of an idyllic life in sunny L.A. with my beloved ones beside me. But it becomes time to wake up and realize that evil knows no borders, and that nobody lives forever - even if they're magical.


This is the 8th book in Laurell K Hamilton’s ‘Merry Gentry’ series.

Ever since ‘Narcissus in Chains’ (Anita Blake #10) I have preferred Hamilton’s ‘Merry’ books to ‘Anita’. At least in the ‘Merry’ books all the erotica, orgies, BDSM etc is legitimized by Merry and her men being Sidhe (fey) who are a very sensual, sexual species. Plus it was essential to the storyline that Merry have as much sex with as many of her men as possible – since she was in a race to make an heir and be crowned Queen of the Unseelie (fey) court. All the sex was for a legitimate reason – versus Anita’s sudden downward spiral into sluttiness, despite being a morally upright character prior to book #10.

So, I am a fan of Hamilton’s ‘Merry’ books. But to be honest I thought the series could have happily concluded with book #7, ‘Swallowing Darkness’, because a huge story ARC was wrapped up nicely. I was a little cautious going into ‘Divine Misdemeanors’ because I couldn’t really gauge where Merry’s story would go since so much was concluded in the previous book.

I was right to be wary.

‘Divine Misdemeanors’ flounders from page one. Merry is back to being a Private Detective and the opening chapter has her consulting on a crime scene. Once upon a time Laurell K. Hamilton could masterfully mesh science and crime fiction – she was at the top of the Urban Fantasy genre with her ‘Anita Blake’ series. But her ‘Merry’ books have never had the same crime/fantasy angle as ‘Anita’, so I don’t really know why Hamilton felt the need to start now in book #8. ‘Merry’ was always the series that explored politics, royal families and despotism. The crime storyline in ‘Divine’ is boring, made more so by the lack of uber-villain Queen Andais.

Queen Andais is to Merry what Belle Morte is to Anita; a seriously delicious, conniving mega-bitch. Hamilton may lag behind in plot and spout tired and trite sentences in her many sex scenes (‘I screamed my orgasm into his mouth’, ‘so tight, so wet’ etc, etc, etc) but she knows how to write a good bad-girl. Queen Andais is Merry’s aunt and reigning Queen of the Unseelie court. She is also a raving lunatic, and sado-masochist. She is an atrocious character; so evil that she’s fun to read – and her absence is keenly felt in ‘Divine Misdemeanors’.

In previous books ‘Merry Gentry’ did a good job of exploring politics through mythological creatures – observing the tyranny of autocratic leaders, and the power plays that go on behind closed doors. It made for fascinating reading. From Merry negotiating a treaty with Kurag, the Goblin King (not David Bowie, unfortunately) to playing humble before her insane aunt, Andais. But all that is missing from ‘Divine’. I really hope that Hamilton turns it all around in book #9, because the crime storyline may sometimes work in Anita’s universe, but it certainly doesn’t in Merry’s. The best part in all of ‘Divine Misdemeanors’ comes when Barinthus (Sidhe politician) gives Merry a dressing-down for refusing to step up and become Queen – that was the only high point in the entire book.

I’m not really all that surprised that the ‘plot’ of ‘Divine Misdemeanors’ was lacking. Tags for Hamilton’s books on Amazon.com are along the lines of ‘erotica without plot’. While that was more the case with her recent ‘Anita’ books, Hamilton’s ‘Merry’ series did have previously interesting plotlines (with heavy does of erotica) but in ‘Divine’ Hamilton falls into the same traps.
It’s actually pretty funny – Hamilton tries to inject her vapid sex scenes with legitimate character discussion, with hilariously bad results. While having sex with Sidhe/Goblin Kitto, he and Merry randomly get onto the topic of her alliance with the Goblin King. As though she realizes that all the sex is getting in the way of storyline, Hamilton tries to negotiate by combining the two.

“But what does all the politics have to do with the oral sex in the privacy of our own bedchamber?”

Exactly.

To be honest, I was halfway through ‘Divine Misdemeanors’ and seriously considering giving the entire series the flick from here on in. Then Hamilton pulled out one line of dialogue that gave me hope that books from here on in will become more interesting.

“Are you all going to be sitting in some rocket-powered car a century from now telling our children about me?”

From book one we’ve known that Merry is mortal (her mother was part human, while her father was Sidhe – Merry is aging at a slow rate, but she will eventually die of old age) while Merry’s men are all immortal. Merry has said in passing on several occasions how sad it is that she will one day die, while her lovers and children will go on without her. I’ve always thought it was odd that Merry has never had a little cry about this fact. She’s just fallen in love with all these Sidhe men, she’s pregnant by six of them and while pregnant with these fey twins she has the knowledge that she won’t be around to watch over them forever, while their fathers will. It’s mentioned a few times in ‘Divine Misdemeanors’ – which leads me to think this will be the focus of book #9. If so, that’s one storyline I would love to read about, so even though number 8 left me cold, I do intend to read book 9.

1.5/5

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's Christmas Eve over here in Australia (currently at a balmy 31 degrees celsius in Melbourne) and I just want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas for tomorrow.
Make sure you stay safe over the break, eat lots of food and get plenty of awesome pressies (i.e.: books).

Love, Danielle
xoxo

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Vicious Circle' by Linda ROBERTSON

From the BLURB -

Being a witch doesn't pay the bills, but Persephone Alcmedi gets by between reading Tarot cards, writing her syndicated newspaper column, and kenneling werewolves in the basement when the moon is full -- even if witches aren't supposed to mingle with wolves. She really reaches the end of her leash, though, when her grandmother gets kicked out of the nursing home and Seph finds herself in the doghouse about some things she's written. Then her werewolf friend Lorrie is murdered...and the high priestess of an important coven offers Seph big money to destroy the killer, a powerful vampire named Goliath Kline. Seph is a tough girl, but this time she bites off more than she can chew. She needs a little help from her friends -- werewolf friends. One of those friends, Johnny, the motorcycle-riding lead singer for the techno-metal-Goth band Lycanthropia, has a crush on her. And while Seph has always been on edge around this 6'2" leather-clad hunk, she's starting to realize that although their attraction may be dangerous, nothing could be as lethal as the showdown that awaits them.

Robertson’s ‘Vicious Circle’ throws us in the deep-end from page one. The book starts with Persephone Alcmedi learning that a werewolf friend of hers, Lorrie, has been violently murdered. Not long after learning this news Persephone receives a call from the local witch Priestess, Vivian Diamond, who wants to enlist Persephone’s help to find and kill the murderer. Persephone feels obligated to hunt down the guilty party, mainly as a way to give Lorrie’s young daughter, Beverley, justice.

The plot starts off helter-skelter, right in the thick of action, and because of that ‘Vicious Circle’ feels like half a book, or the 3rd or 4th book in a series, not the first. In ‘Vicious Circle’ Persephone already has a standing relationship with the waerewolf community, since she kennels them on the full moon. Because of this relationship, Persephone also has a standing romantic interest, with waerewolf biker ‘Johnny’. When we meet him, Johnny and Persephone already have witty repertoire and a heavy flirtation going on.

Much is made of Persephone’s previous friendship with murdered waerewolf, Lorrie – especially the bond she made with Lorrie’s young daughter, Beverley. We never read a scene depicting Persephone’s interaction with Lorrie and Beverley prior to the murder – but we are expected to believe that Persephone would risk life and limb to kill Lorrie’s murderer, just for Beverley’s sake.
It’s not that I want every book I read to have a ‘David Copperfield’ beginning to it, I don’t need to start with the protagonist’s birth. And sometimes starting a book in the thick of action works extremely well. Lee Child’s ‘Killing Floor’ is a good example, as is Kim Harrison’s ‘Dead Witch Walking’ – both books take a while to properly introduce the protagonists, letting the action play out and suck readers in. ‘Vicious Circle’ isn’t clumsy because it starts in the thick of action; it just sometimes feels as though Linda Robertson denied the reader a lot of good background and character introductions.

The romance also feels a little bit too easy – when we meet Johnny he is clearly infatuated with Persephone, and she admits that for a year now he’s been pushing for a date with her. But Persephone also admits that she’s been reluctant to start anything – mostly because of Johnny’s outward appearance (tattoos everywhere, rides a motorcycle). Yet when we meet Persephone she is right at the point in their friendship where she starts seeing him as something more than a simple flirtation, and seriously considers dating him.

The romance comes a little bit too easily – I am a fan of ‘will they or won’t they?’ relationships. Kate & Curran (Ilona Andrews), Ivy & Rachel (Kim Harrison) or Barrons & Mac (Karen Marie Moning) – there isn’t a whole lot of romantic tension between Johnny & Persephone, making it a little hard to invest much in them.
There is a second possible relationship in the second half of the book that I found far more interesting because there’s an edge to it – a certain amount of danger if Persephone chooses to pursue it.

It may seem like I have a lot of gripes about this book, and despite my big concerns, I did really enjoy it. I loved Johnny; he’s a contradiction; tattooed waerwolf with a heart of gold. I also really liked the witchy aspect of the book – there’s lots of rhyming incantations that are great to read. And I genuinely liked Persephone, she seems like a cool down-to-earth girl and I look forward to reading more of her adventures in future books.

‘Vicious Circle’ isn’t reinventing the Urban Fantasy wheel; this isn’t anything new in the increasingly popular genre, but it is a fun read. It does feel as though the book is starting in the middle of the story, to the detriment of character background and relationship investment. Despite that draw-back, I am really looking forward to the second book ‘Hallowed Circle’, due out on the 29th of this month, and a third book set to be released in 2010.

3/5

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2010 Book Releases


JANUARY 4 - Kitty's House of Horrors 'Kitty Norville #7' (Carrie Vaughn)


JANUARY 5 - Death's Mistress 'Dorina Basarab' #2 (Karen Chance)


FEBRUARY 2 - Unknown 'Outcast #2' (Rachel Caine)


FEBRUARY 2 - Flirt 'Anita Blake' novella (Laurell K Hamilton)


FEBRUARY 2 - Blood Magic 'World of the Lupi' #6 (Eileen Wilks)


FEBRUARY 9 - First Drop of Crimson 'Night Huntress spin-off', Spade (Jeaniene Frost)


FEBRUARY 23 - Black Magic Sanction 'Rachel Morgan' #8 (Kim Harrison)


MARCH 30 - Silver Borne 'Mercedes Thompson #5' (Patricia Briggs)


MARCH 30 - Succubus Shadows 'Georgina Kincaid' #5 (Richelle Mead)


APRIL 6 - Hell Fire 'Corine Solomon' #2 (Ann Aguirre)


APRIL 13 - Tales of the Otherworld, 'Women of the Otherworld' anthology (Kelley Armstrong)


APRIL 20 - Radiant Shadows 'Wicked Lovely #4' (Melissa Marr)


APRIL 27 - The Reckoning 'Darkest Powers #3' (Kelley Armstrong)


APRIL 27 - Lover Mine 'Blackdagger Brotherhood' #8 (J.R. Ward)


MAY 4 - Dead in the Family 'Southern Vampire: Sookie Stackhouse #10' (Charlaine Harris)


MAY 4 - Kiss of Death 'Morganville Vampires #8' (Rachel Caine)


MAY 4 - Shade (Jeri Smith-Ready)


MAY 18 - Spirit Bound 'Vampire Academy #5' (Richelle Mead)

MAY 25 - Magic Bleeds 'Kate Daniels #4' (Ilona Andrews)


MAY 30 – Changeless ‘Alexia Tarabotti #2’ (Gail Carriger)
JULY 27 - Eternal kiss of Darkness 'Night Huntress spin-off', Mencheres (Jeaniene Frost)


AUGUST 3 - Waking the Witch 'Women of the Otherworld # 11' (Kelley Armstrong)

Friday, December 18, 2009

'Lord of the Fading Lands' by C.L. Wilson

From the BLURB:

Faerie king Rain Tairen Soul, a man tormented by age-old grief: a thousand years ago, the woman he loved was slain in battle, and in his rage he laid waste to half the world. Now his people are dying out and the evil mages of Eld are rising again. When Rain hears the call of his lost soul mate, Ellysetta, he journeys to the neighboring kingdom to find her; when he claims a woodcarver's daughter as his mate, he scandalizes the nobility of her country and rouses the interest of Eld's wicked wizards, who come seeking her in order to get at Rain.

I don’t normally read fantasy, unless the word ‘urban’ is in front of it. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for mythological creatures that aren’t vampires and werewolves – and I tend to get frustrated with made-up fantasy worlds, languages and creatures etc. But Mandi of ‘Smexy Books’ fame recommended C.L. Wilson’s ‘Tairen Soul’ series, so I thought I would put my prejudice aside and give it a try… and I’m glad I did.

C.L. Wilson’s series is fantasy – but it’s more fantasy romance. The plot trigger in ‘Lord of the Fading Lands’ is Faerie King Rain Tairen Soul finding his ‘truemate’ after living a thousand years believing he would always be alone. Rain is a ‘tairen’ which is some sort of panther/bird hybrid (to be honest I wouldn’t have known that much if it wasn’t for the book cover’s depiction of Rain’s tairen). Rain is among the last of his kind, and the fey have always believed that tairen’s had no ‘truemate’ – but they are proven wrong when Ellysetta ‘Ellie’ Baristani calls to Rain’s soul.

It’s a very romantic premise – and feels like a fantastical spin on the ‘Cinderella’ fairy tale, as a woodcarvers’ daughter falls for a Faerie King.

The romance is pretty hot and heavy – but it’s also frustrating to read. There’s three weeks until Ellie and Rain’s wedding, and Rain has promised Ellie’s father that there won’t be any coupling until the wedding night. It does get a little bit tedious to keep reading about how much Rain’s tairen beast wants to claim his mate, and how both he and Ellie have to reign in their lust.

He gave a low, deep-chested growl, the warning purr of a stalking tairen, and invisible hands, hot and hard, cupped her through her dress. Invisible lips, firm and silky, tracked a burning path down her neck.

At times it also feels as though Ellie and Rain’s romance comes a little bit too easily. Much is made of the fact that Rain lost his wife a thousand years ago during the Mage Wars, and when he first learns that Ellie is his truemate Rain feels as though he is betraying the memory of his first wife by taking Ellie as his truemate. But that remorse is pretty quickly brushed aside – as is Ellie’s acceptance of the fact that Rain *loved* his first wife, but has no choice in taking Ellie as his truemate.

To begin with I thought the romance had a little too much smooth-sailing – but by books end it becomes pretty clear that in upcoming novels Rain and Ellie will have quite a few hurdles to overcome in their mateship. Because there is a hint at turmoil to come for these two, I was willing to forgive Wilson’s initially glossing over their relationship in this first book.

C.L Wilson is a beautiful writer. It’s a testament to her skill that even though ‘Tairen Soul’ is a series firmly grounded in fantasy, she writes her characters so vividly and makes their inner turmoil so intriguing that the human struggles balance out the heavy fantasy writing.

Battered and bruised, but still fighting for dominance, his was not the selfish, petty pride that made bullies of lesser men, but rather the quiet, determined dignity that turned men into heroes and made heroes crawl back to their feet from the bitter dust of defeat and stand tall once more.

Even when I thought Ellie and Rain’s romance was a tad false, Wilson’s writing was so captivating, and the plot so fascinating that I could forgive that small hiccup in favour of her master storytelling.

I really liked ‘Lord of the Fading Lands’, and fully intend to stick with this ‘Tairen Soul’ series – I have the feeling it’s going to be epic.

Thanks to Mandi for recommending!

4/5

Thursday, December 17, 2009

'Evermore' & 'Blue Moon' by Alyson Noël

From the BLURB: ‘Evermore – Immortals #1’

Since a horrible accident claimed the lives of her family, sixteen-year-old Ever can see auras, hear people's thoughts, and know a person's life story by touch. Going out of her way to shield herself from human contact to suppress her abilities has branded her as a freak at her new high school - but everything changes when she meets Damen Auguste.

Ever sees Damen and feels an instant recognition. He is gorgeous, exotic and wealthy, and he holds many secrets. Damen is able to make things appear and disappear, he always seems to know what she's thinking - and he's the only one who can silence the noise and the random energy in her head. She doesn't know who he really is - or what he is. Damen equal parts light and darkness, and he belongs to an enchanted new world where no one ever dies.

This one’s a little tricky to review. The first book was only so-so for me. The one redeeming feature of ‘Evermore’ was that I could see potential for a very interesting series, but then I went ahead and read book #2 ‘Blue Moon’ and lost all hope in the entire ‘Immortals’ series.

‘Evermore’ tends to drag in the beginning, but mostly because the story reads so familiar. Girl meets boy, boy acts mysterious and girl starts piecing the puzzle that he is together… it reminded me of Meyer’s ‘Twilight’, Melissa Marr’s ‘Wicked, Lovely’ and LJ Smith’s ‘Vampire Diaries’.

‘Evermore’ goes through the motions in the beginning – Ever (protagonist’s name, not the adverb) notices that new boy in school, Damen, occasionally talks in oldey timey language. He appears to have warp-speed, can make flowers appear out of thin air and is constantly guzzling a weird red energy drink. All signs initially point to vampire (as has been the recent YA literary trend), and the fact that Damen isn’t a bloodsucker is what actually makes Alyson Noel’s series stand out from the rest.
I can’t give anything away without major spoilers, but Noel has taken a very different story route and it turns ‘Evermore’ into a refreshing read.

Damen is a very interesting male lead – in the beginning I had my doubts about him, since he appeared to be just another Edward Cullen/Keenan Summer King wannabe. But when his true identity is revealed toward the end it turns him into a hero of his own calibre. The really fascinating thing about this book is Ever and Damen’s romance. Noel has done a good job at setting these two lovebirds apart from other YA couples, mostly by giving them an intriguing back-story and plenty of potential for further exploration of their steamy romance in future books.

But that’s what’s so great about Damen. He’s like an off switch. He’s the only one I can’t read, the only one who can silence the sound of everyone else. And even though he makes me feel wonderful and warm and as close to normal as I’ll ever get to be, I can’t help but think that there’s nothing normal about it.

Noel does fall into a few writing pitfalls. For one thing the books ‘villain’ does the typical bad guy monologue when their evilness is uncovered. And considering how well Noel sets up Damen’s mystery angle (with a small dose of creepiness) Ever’s falling for him so quickly is a little concerning.

‘Evermore’ was quite bland and underwhelming to me. Things picked up toward the end, and I thought the second book would improve my outlook on the series…. So I went ahead and dived straight into #2 ‘Blue Moon’.

In her second book Alyson Noel reminded me of P.C Cast and the dud ‘House of Night’ series. Both series being mediocre YA drivel. Noel really doesn’t stand out from the plethora of YA Urban Fantasy authors currently dominating the market. She doesn’t have the same writing grace as Melissa Marr, instead Noel has her characters based in Laguna Beach California, and they talk like all those MTV kids. Noel isn’t as talented at writing action scenes as Rachel Caine in her ‘Morganville Vampire’ books – Noel drags scenes out, weighted down with too much description and too much whining from protagonist, Ever.

And whereas someone like Richelle Mead wrote a fresh vampire YA series by putting her own spin on the vampire mythology and daring to write about very adult relationships for her teens – Damen and Ever are the quintessential squeaky-clean PG13 YA couple with gag-inducing cheesiness. Still, their romance is unique and had plenty of potential – I can’t help but think that the series would have been better suited to Adult’s than Young Adult’s, where Noel could have made up for poor plot action with steamy sex scenes?

I had high hopes for this series after reading ‘Evermore’, but by ‘Blue Moon’ I was thoroughly disappointed and actually ended up skimming the last couple of chapters.

2/5

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Summer at Willow Lake' by Susan WIGGS


From the BLURB:

Real estate expert Olivia Bellamy reluctantly trades a trendy Manhattan summer for her family's old resort camp in the Catskills, where her primary task will be renovating the bungalow colony for her grandparents, who want one last summer together filled with fun, friends and family. A posh resort in its heyday, the camp is now in disarray and Olivia is forced to hire contractor Connor Davis -- a still-smoldering flame from her own summers at camp. But as the days grow warm, not even the inviting blue waters of Willow Lake can cool the passions flaring or keep shocking secrets at bay. The nostalgic joy of summers past breathes new promise into a special place and people . . . a promise meant to last long after the season ends.


I really, really wanted to like this book. Reading the blurb, I thought a contemporary romance based around a woman’s summer camp fling would be a fun, romantic read.

For one thing, Wiggs annoyingly jumps around in time. The book opens in present day, with Olivia Bellamy returning to her grandparents summer camp site to make renovations. While stuck up a flagpole (not a figure of speech… she is literally stuck up a flagpole), Olivia discovers that the man she’s hired to do renovation work is none other than Connor Davis – the first boy she ever loved, who she first met at summer camp when they were 12.

Then the book jumps back in time to 1991, to depict Olivia and Connor’s first meeting. Then we jump back to present day – and then Wigg’s propels us back in time to 1977 to when Olivia’s father was a teenage camp counselor experiencing his first summer fling. And so on and so forth – back and forth – in an increasingly annoying and jerky flashback/present switcheroo.

On top of the frustrating change in time frame, Wiggs has made a fatal mistake by including too many narrators. We get Olivia’s monologue, Connor’s, Olivia’s young cousin Daisy, Connor’s young half-brother Julian, Olivia’s father…. The multiple POV’s coupled with the jumping timeline makes for an increasingly frustrating read. It also means that you’re never completely invested in any one character or storyline.

I thought ‘Summer at Willow Lake’ would follow a similar structure to Lisa Kleypas’s ‘Sugar Daddy’ – in which we read about the protagonist in her younger years for the first half of the book, and then jump ahead to present day and our now adult protagonist. Instead Wiggs jumps back and forth in her character’s personal timelines as they slowly reveal more about the impact childhood had on their current lives.

I could have really liked the Connor/Olivia rekindled romance, but I could never get a firm grip on them. Olivia keeps mentioning (in present day) how Connor broke her heart when they were teenagers – and then Wiggs will jump back to the 90’s and slowly reveal the events leading up to Olivia’s heartbreak. But the revelation is so slow and so obvious that I found myself really not giving a flying fig.

I really wanted to like this book – it’s the first in a series called ‘Lakeshore Chronicles’, currently with 6 books and a 7th book to be released in 2010. Jodi Picoult (a beloved author of mine) raves about Susan Wiggs and has reviewed several of her books. Supposedly Wiggs is a master storyteller of the human heart, specializing in complicated human relationships. I admit, a few of Wiggs’s insights into love are deep and beautifully articulated;

“There’s a kind of love that has the power to save you, to get you though life,” her father said. “It’s like breathing. You have to do it or you’ll die. And when it’s over, your soul starts to bleed, Livvy. There’s no pain in the world like it, I swear. If you were feeling that now, you wouldn’t be able to sit up straight or have a coherent conversation.”

But for the most part I could not stand this book. The flashbacks/multiple POV’s are so annoying that I seriously contemplated giving up on the book many times while reading. Not even the romance is particularly sparky (or smutty) and it’s hard to invest in it because of all the jumping around in time and voice.

Don’t bother with this series.

1/5

Monday, December 14, 2009

'Blue Moon' by Lori Handeland

From the BLURB:

Miniwa, Wisconsin is under siege, but not by the usual summer tourists. The area's normally shy wolf population has begun stalking human prey, and their victims have been disappearing...or worse. Something is happening in the woods. Something brutal and primitive...

Officer Jessie McQuade has seen plenty in her years on the force-but nothing as intriguing as the gorgeous, naked man she encounters while tracking a rogue wolf. Professor Will Cadotte is a Native American activist. He's also the only man capable of distracting Jessie from her work. And for a cop, distraction-no matter how pleasurable-can be deadly. It's against Jessie's better judgment to accept Will's help in her investigation, yet she soon finds herself doing exactly that-and more. Will's dark, penetrating eyes see into a part of Jessie's soul she never knew existed. It's exhilarating...and terrifying.
Now, as a town's deepest secrets come to light, no one is safe: not friends, lovers, or strangers. And as Jessie follows a bloody trail to the shocking truth, she'll have to decide who she can trust when the moon is full...

This is the first book in Lori Handeland’s ‘Night Creatures’ series, which currently stands at eight books.

At first I really enjoyed this book. Will Cadotte and Jessie McQuade have a very auspicious first meeting that sizzles on the page. Jessie is in pursuit of a wolf that bit a human woman; while trekking through the woods she comes across a small cabin and its supposed owner, a very naked Will Cadotte.

“You’re chasing a wolf, alone, through the woods in the middle of the night, Officer…?”
Suddenly he was right in front of me. Had I been so entranced with my fantasies that I hadn’t noticed him slip in close? Obviously.
A slim, dark finger reached out; the white moon of a nail brushed the nameplate perched on my left breast.
“’McQuade,’” he read, then lifted his eyes to mine.

I liked Will straight away. He’s part Ojibwe, the local Native-American tribe and he teaches indigenous studies at the University. From the get-go Will is flirtatious and shows a keen interest in Jessie – who doesn’t believe an Adonis like him would be interested in a too curvaceous officer like her. From their first meeting onwards there is a definite parry going on between the two; Will, in hot pursuit, and Jessie disbelieving in his advances.

Unfortunately the romance didn’t hold my interest, because halfway through the book Handeland strains the burgeoning lust between Will and Jessie.
Jessie has a very strong narrative and from page one I had an idea of who she was – a very independent woman, self-deprecating and believing herself to be unworthy of love. Handeland did such a good job of communicating Jessie’s whole persona that when she started lowering her defences and falling for Will, it all happened a little too soon and fiercely for believability.

Further adding to the strained romance was Handeland casting Will a dubious light. As more people are attacked by wolves in Jessie’s town and she uncovers a plot to turn the whole town into werewolves, Handeland has the reader (and Jessie) suspecting that Will is behind the attacks. So convincing is the evidence piling up against her new lover, it’s hard to believe Jessie would still be falling for him while he was under suspicion.

Handeland has written a very intriguing werewolf lore that is very different than any other I’ve ever read. Handeland’s werewolves are experiments gone wrong during WWII under the maniacal hand of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Jessie discovers that Mengele had another surgery outside of Auschwitz, located in the Black Forest where he did experiments on gypsies to turn them into human/animal hybrids. In Hitler’s last days Mengele became nervous and abandoned his surgery, letting the experiments roam free – and that is how werewolves were born in Handeland’s universe.

I was very intrigued by this werewolf mythology; I appreciated its grain of believability and the fact that it’s grounded in recent history. Unfortunately Handeland concentrates so much on the Jessie/Will romance that she doesn’t give enough props to this storyline of the werewolves’ origin and ends up skimming over it. I actually would have preferred a book that used the werewolf back-story as the crux of the plot; perhaps a series that was more heavy-handed with Urban Fantasy rather than romance?

I started out really liking this book. However, I felt that Handeland was pushing the romance a little too hard, and she would have done better to concentrate on the very unique werewolf mythology she created.

2/5


Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Undercover' by Lauren DANE

From the BLURB:

As a lieutenant of the Federation military, Sera Ayers is more accustomed to giving orders than taking them. Now she must obey the one man she can't stand--and can't stop thinking about.

With the enemy Imperialists gaining ground, a new covert team is assembled by Ash Walker. Ten years before, Sera had lovingly submitted to Ash's dominance in the bedroom. But when he was forced into a political marriage, she left him rather than become his mistress. His marriage now over, Ash wants Sera on his team--and back in his bed.

The third team member, Brandt Pela, has an elegance to match Ash's savage sexuality. And when their undercover plan requires Sera to pose as Brandt's lover, it ignites a passion among the three of them more dangerous than their mission...

The universe Lauren Dane has created feels a little like ‘Starship Troopers’ or ‘Firefly’. There’s talk of ‘Imperialists’ and both Ash and Brandt fought in interverse wars. Sera is a kick-ass commander in the Military Corps and all three of them embark on a mission to uncover a traitor in their ranks. To be honest I read this book for a smutty good time, and didn’t pay much attention to the nuts and bolts of the storyline. Thankfully the military plot isn’t too complicated and you don’t have to concentrate too hard to get a general overview of the plot.

Whenever you read erotica romance you have to accept a few shortcomings. Storyline will inevitably be flimsy, characters most likely two-dimensional and resolutions easily wrapped up by books end. But you read it in the hopes of getting a little bit of sizzle; a fun, hot read for distraction.

On the one hand, Lauren Dane’s ‘undercover’ works well. It has all the regular pitfalls of erotica - cardboard characters and convenient happy endings – but I liked the fact that the storyline jumps right in. When we meet them, Ash and Sera have a previous romantic history. They were lovers 10 years ago before Ash had to leave her and enter into an arranged marriage. I appreciated the fact that these characters came with previous histories; it made for high-stakes emotions and meant that there weren’t a lot of tedious introductions.

I also really loved the book’s cover – it’s elegant and sexy, very pretty in fact.

I was instantly intrigued when Dane reveals that prior to Sera joining their team, Ash and Brandt have been carrying on a physical relationship. Normally in threesome erotica plots it works out than the men aren’t interested in one another, but only in the woman. I find this a little hard to believe, and I was happy that Dane wanted to shake things up by having the men be lovers before the woman joins them. Unfortunately Dane only ever titillates the reader with talk of Ash and Brandt’s liaisons, never giving us a full-length sex scene. Which is a crying shame! It’s even more frustrating because Sera wants the same things the readers wants – to watch these two men be with one another;

“Look, I’m all about the boy-touching, let’s make that clear. As long as I’m involved, I can watch, and you come back to me, I’m on board.”
“Like this?” Brandt turned and kissed Ash’s jaw and down his neck. Ash hissed, arching into Brandt’s touch as Brandt tugged on one of Ash’s nipple rings.

Sera wants it, as a reader we want to read about it – but Dane holds out, and leaves us unsatisfied.

Because Dane denies us an Ash and Brandt sex scene, ‘Undercover’ was severely lacking for me. Erotica plot lines are never anything to write home about, all they can offer is a little bit of hot fun – and nothing would have been hotter than an M/M sex scene – not getting one made ‘Undercover’ a mediocre and sorely lacking smutty book.

1.5/5

Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Bad to the Bone: WVMP #2' by Jeri Smith-READY

From the BLURB:

If you're just joining us, welcome to radio station WVMP, "The Lifeblood of Rock'n'Roll." Con-artist-turned-station-owner Ciara Griffin manages an on-air staff of off-the-wall DJs -- including her new boyfriend Shane McAllister -- who really sink their teeth into the music of their "Life Time" (the era in which they became vampires). It's Ciara's job to keep the undead rocking, the ratings rolling, and the fan base alive -- without missing a beat.

For Halloween, WVMP is throwing a bash sure to raise the dead. They've got cool tunes, hot costumes, killer cocktails -- what could go wrong? Well, for starters, a religious firebrand ranting against the evils of the occult preempts the station's midnight broadcast. Then, when Ciara tracks down the illegal transmission, the broadcast tower is guarded by what appears to be...a canine vampire? And behind it all is a group of self-righteous radicals who think vampires suck (and are willing to stake their lives on it).

Now Ciara must protect the station while struggling with her own murky relationship issues, her best friend's unlikely romance with a fledgling vampire, and the nature of her mysterious anti-holy powers. To make it to New Year's in one piece, she'll need to learn a few new tricks....

I love this series – it’s become one of my favorite Urban Fantasies, and Jeri-Smith Ready is officially a ‘must buy’ author for me. I really liked her first book in the WVMP series (‘Wicked Game’) but ‘Bad to the Bone’ totally seals the deal.

In this book the vampire radio station is up against a group of religious zealots trying to steal their airwaves. The religious storyline isn’t exactly new to the vampire book – and in ‘Bad to the Bone’ the ‘Fortress’ religious nuts reminded a lot of Charlaine Harris’s ‘Light of Day’ anti-vampire institute. But Smith-Ready makes such a compelling storyline out of it and puts her own spin on this institution that you forgive the familiarity of the ‘bad guys’.

I really appreciated the progression of Ciara and Shane’s relationship in this book. It’s definitely not a smooth relationship; apart from battling Shane’s OCD, inherent vampire problems (i.e: sunlight) and questions about Shane’s eventual loss of humanity and Ciara’s aging… Smith-Ready has the couple dealing with very real relationship issues. One of those issues is Ciara’s growing attraction to fellow co-worker (and human), David. Shane is Ciara’s first long-term boyfriend (4 months) and she holds nothing back from the reader about how hard it is to maintain the relationship – and one of the obstacles she battles is lust for David. The triangle is made even more interesting when David reciprocates Ciara’s interest.

But best of all in ‘Bad to the Bone’ is Smith-Ready showing how much Shane and Ciara love each other. It is quite rare to have a series in which the protagonist gets her guy in the first book and subsequent books follow the evolution of their relationship. I can really only think of Jeaniene Frost’s ‘Night Huntress’ series as one other that has no ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ for the protagonist and her leading man. I like that Smith-Ready is showing us the progression of Shane and Ciara’s relationship, especially if it means plenty of steamy sex scenes and sweet monologues from Shane:

“Sometimes in the middle of the night” he says, “when I’m in the studio, a song will remind me of you. One line of lyrics, or even just a riff that travels up my spine the way your fingers do. And suddenly I’ll miss the way your skin smells in all the hidden places. I’ll miss the way you sigh when I slide inside you, and the way your eyelashes flutter. Or I’ll just miss the way you laugh at one of my stupid jokes. And sometimes this happens in the middle of the day when I’m at the station, and I know you’re upstairs in the office, and I could walk up and see you in less than a minute.”

*sigh*. Shane is fast becoming one of my all-time favorite vampire men. And ‘Bad to the Bone’ is also full of good Shane/Ciara smuttiness, including one scene in which they have sex while Shane is ‘on air’ – kinky goodness.

I love this series, and I can’t wait for the 3rd book. ‘Bring on the Night’ will be released sometime in August 2010, and a fourth book has a tentative Spring 2011 release.

If you haven’t yet added Jeri Smith-Ready to your TBR pile – do it now. Whether it’s this WVMP series, or her ‘Aspect of Crow’ – both are phenomenally good and have made her an ‘automatic buy’ for me.

5/5


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

'Heaven, Texas' by Susan Elizabeth PHILLIPS

Gracie Snow has been sent on an impossible mission. Recently recruited as a production assistant to Windmill Studios, Gracie has been given the seemingly impossible task of shepherding ex-football star turned movie star to the set of his first film.
Bobby Tom Denton is a football legend – he won two superbowl’s with the Chicago Stars and looked to be on a winning streak before a blown knee saw him retired at the age of thirty-three. He agreed to star in his first feature film only as a way to pass the time before deciding on a new career path.
Bobby ‘B.T.’ Tom Denton really has no interest in being a pretty boy actor… and poor Gracie is going to have her work cut out for her trying to convince this egotistical, chauvinistic jock that the world doesn’t revolve around him.

I read the first book in Phillip’s ‘Chicago Stars’ series (‘It had to be you’) and hated it. But I’d heard good things about ‘Heaven, Texas’, so thought I would give the 2nd book a go before writing off the whole series.
In retrospect, I should have listened to my gut.

Gracie is a sickeningly sweet Mary-Sue. She describes herself as ‘homely’ in appearance, and even after a makeover Bobby Tom can only ever muster a “she’s cute” compliment. But what Gracie lacks in ‘va-va-voom’ she makes up for in sugary sweet personality. Gracie used to run her families nursing home before choosing a different career path as a production assistant. Even after deciding to leave her old life behind, Gracie can’t help but visit the local nursing home of B.T’s hometown – simply because she enjoys hanging out with the old folks. Yep, Gracie spends her free time at the local nursing home. Gag.
Gracie is also a 30-year-old virgin. She says that growing up around old people stunted her hormones, and so it’s up to Bobby Tom Denton to initiate Gracie in the pleasures of the flesh… double gag.
Gracie is such a ludicrously angelic character that it’s hard to like her (or relate to her). She’s pretty endearing when we first meet her (sporting a bad perm and schoolmarm outfits) but Phillips keeps ramming her syrupy sweetness down your throat to the point of dry-heaving.

Bobby Tom Denton is a pretty atrocious leading man. I don’t know why, but Phillips has a serious love for male chauvinists. I initially liked the idea of a series centred around a football team and its players – I thought the characters would offer up plenty of Alpha male testosterone, but also give Phillips an opportunity to poke fun at the ‘dumb jock’ prejudice. Instead Phillips seems to revel in writing leading men who conform to such misconceptions;

But he preferred his women blond and flashy, with legs up to their armpits and porn star breasts. Real live sex trophies, that’s what he liked, and he wasn’t going to apologize for it either. He’d earned those sex trophy females on the bloody battlefield of the NFL.

What makes B.T’s inherent sexism even worse is how quickly Gracie falls in love with it. Despite acknowledging his chauvinistic ways, and realizing he has an ego the size of Texas – Gracie is smitten with B.T. from the get-go and falls in love with him fairly early on. And the main reason she gives for her feelings is that he’s very handsome (making her just as sexist as he is, in many ways). The whole relationship is pretty atrocious – and to top it all off the sex scenes are stilted, and sparse.

Surprisingly ‘Heaven, Texas’ does have a small amount of spark – but it’s not between Bobby Tom and Gracie. There’s a secondary romantic storyline going on between Bobby Tom’s widowed mother, Suzy Denton, and the town’s local villain, Way Sawyer. Way and Suzy went to high school together – she was homecoming queen, while Way was the bastard son to a local girl who claimed to have been gang raped when she was sixteen. Despite social differences and Suzy’s romance with B.T’s father, Way had a fierce crush on her all through his adolescence. In describing their school dynamic, Way says he was a; “dime store James Dean trying to impress Natalie Wood”. Now, year’s later when Suzy is widowed and Way holds the town’s future in his hands, he propositions Suzy to become his mistress and save the town.
Suzy and Way’s romance is sizzling, made even sexier for their interesting back story. Bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks falls in love with the homecoming queen – I liked it. Way and Suzy share a Jacuzzi together, and that particular scene is hotter than all of B.T and Gracie’s stifled couplings put together.

I hated this book, and am now officially giving up on Susan Elizabeth Phillips. The secondary storyline in ‘Heaven, Texas’ does confirm that Phillips can write good romance and a decent sex scene – but I don’t have the confidence or patience to wade through any more of her books.

1/5

Sunday, December 6, 2009

'Rosemary & Rue' by Seanan MCGUIRE

From the BLURB:

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.

This is Seanan McGuire’s debut novel.

‘Rosemary & Rue’ has one of the most intriguing prologue’s I have ever read. In the opening chapter changeling P.I. October ‘Toby’ Daye is working a missing persons case. She is searching for her fairy King’s missing wife and child, presumed kidnapped by his brother, Simon Torquill. While tailing her suspect Toby is caught out – and Simon exacts a terrible punishment. He turns Toby into a fish and leaves her in a garden pond for fourteen years.

The spell eventually wears off – but in 14 years Toby loses everything, including her family.
Toby had a husband, Cliff and a daughter, Gillian. Her husband and child never knew of Toby’s fae heritage – a glamour spell maintained her human exterior – and she played at being human (‘faerie bride’). So when Toby went missing for 14 years because of a fae spell, she couldn’t tell Cliff the truth and when she suddenly reappears in their life they are not interested in her absentee excuses.

This is the extremely sad beginning to ‘Rosemary & Rue’. Unfortunately McGuire doesn’t delve into Toby’s failed attempts at reconnecting with Cliff and Gillian. Toby narrates, matter-of-factly, that they want nothing to do with her. On the one hand it leaves a big gaping hole in the book’s plot – since you’re asking yourself from the prologue onwards what happened to Toby’s family for the 14 years she disappeared. But by book’s end you definitely get the feeling that this series has a longevity to it – and McGuire is in no hurry to give up all the juicy details in her debut. Fair enough.

October ‘Toby’ Daye is an extremely complex character. For a brief moment in the prologue we get a sense of the happy family life she has built for herself. But then we jump from 1995 to 2009 and Toby has become a recluse, hateful toward the world of fae and bitter at what she has lost. As the story progresses we delve into Toby’s past and realize just how much she has been through.

That’s where the dreams end: with the realization that it doesn’t matter where I am, whether I think I’m a woman or a fish or something in-between. I’ve never really left the pond. I still can’t breathe.

As a changeling (weak-blooded fae) she fled the sidhe world and journeyed to the world of humans, where she took up with a Dodger-style changeling called Devin. At the age of nine Devin made Toby his own personal pet and lover – as he had done with numerous changeling runaways. In ‘Rosemary & Rue’ Toby turns to Devin for help in a murder investigation, and it’s then that we start to understand the extent of Toby’s dysfunctional personality. She has a lot of love for this pedophile, even while she understands how manipulative he is.
Even the happy family life Toby lost with Cliff and Gillian is questionable – it was a life based on a foundation of lies, since her family never knew of her fae blood.
All of this makes for an incredibly intriguing protagonist, one whose future adventures I look forward to reading. Toby has just the right amount of cynicism and bounce-back to make her a compelling narrator;

If there was ever a Cinderella, her glass slipper shattered under her weight and she limped home bleeding from the ball.

McGuire draws a lot on the world of Shakespeare – Toby is a fan of his work and has a dog-eared copy of ‘Hamlet’ by her bed. Many characters take their name from the Bard’s plays; a King cat sidhe called Tybalt. And of course the books title ‘Rosemary & Rue’ is a reference to Ophelia’s mad ramblings.
Despite the many peppered references, ‘Rosemary & Rue’ has a plot closer to Alexadre Dumas’s ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ – for both have a protagonist trying to reclaim their lives after false imprisonment.

I really loved this book. McGuire skims over the most interesting plot aspect – concerning the family Toby lost – but the murder mystery is interesting enough to make up for it. And ‘Rosemary & Rue’ certainly feels like the beginning of a long journey; McGuire is currently contracted for three books, but has six planned all together. I look forward to the 2nd book ‘A Local Habitation’ due for release March 2nd 2010.

4.5/5

Big thanks to Michelle at 'Michelle's Book Blog' for reviewing and recommending this book.

Friday, December 4, 2009

'Warlord' by Elizabeth VAUGHAN

From the BLURB:

Lara of Xy and her Warlord, Keir of the Cat, have been through much together. Lara abandoned her lands and people for love of him. She adopted his ways and learned of his tribe. Together they have faced plague and insurgency -- and despite these struggles, they have known happiness and joy.

Now they face their most arduous task: Keir must take Lara into the Heart of the Plains, and introduce her as the Warprize to the warrior-priests. She must be tested--questioned, examined, watched--and must find favor with the warrior-priests and the tribe's elders before they will confirm her as a true Warprize.

But in Lara's heart there are doubts--for what if she is found wanting? Will Keir give up everything he knows to be with his Warprize?

The final book in Vaughan’s trilogy.

‘The Chronicles of the Warlands’ reminded me a little bit of Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series. There’s no time travel, and Vaughan’s series is nowhere near as epic as Outlander – but on a smaller scale the two series have a few things in common. An outsider follows her warrior lover to his homeland. And both female protagonists are ‘healers’ – persecuted for their peculiar ways by their new adoptive people.

In this final book Lara finally sets foot on Keir’s firelander homeland. It’s a very different community than the bricks and mortar Lara is used to – Keir’s people live in tents, and as if their living establishments aren’t strange enough – their customs are utterly bewildering to Lara. Keir’s people are open with their sexuality (and homosexuality, a bizarre concept to Lara) they walk around naked if the mood suits them and take multiple lovers unless bonded. Keir’s people also have very different ideas of family – firelander women are expected to birth no less than five babes before being allowed to join the army. They do not raise their children, but leave child rearing to the designated ‘theas’ (nurse maids) of the village.

Vaughan has created a fascinating world, and it is interesting to read all of the minute details of these foreign people. It’s still a bit frustrating that Vaughan doesn’t give anything away as to whether or not the trilogy is set in ‘real time’ or alternate universe, but that can be forgiven because the world she’s created is so vivid and compelling. I’m a bit concerned about the cover of ‘Warlord’ however, proclaiming it to be ‘Paranormal Romance’. I really didn’t read anything paranormal – except perhaps for the Warrior-Priests of Keir’s village who supposedly use magic to heal (in actuality they pass out magic mushrooms to make their patients hallucinate). The only other way this could be even remotely paranormal is if Vaughan did mean for her trilogy to be set in an alternate universe – but since that is never explicitly stated, I really think the ‘paranormal romance’ tag is misleading.

The good news about ‘Warlord’ is that Vaughan gets a little bit more confident in her sex scenes. She actually uses the words ‘nipple’ and ‘impale’ a few times. Hallelujah! It took her 3 books to get there, but Vaughan did eventually write details of Lara & Keir’s sexual encounters.

‘The Chronicles of the Warlands’ is only a trilogy, which I am a bit disappointed at; especially because Vaughan doesn’t tidily wrap up the series. There’s no ‘cliffhanger’ per say, just lots of loose ends and questions unanswered. For one thing, in ‘Warlord’ two secondary characters are given romances – but as Vaughan draws the book to a close there is no follow-up to those relationships, which is beyond frustrating!

One of the most fascinating things about ‘Warlord’ was the revelation about the firelanders attitude toward family and child rearing. Lara is adamant that she will break with fireland tradition and raise her own children. There is also the fact that firelanders have to have five children before being allowed to join the army – men have to impregnate at least five times, and women birth five times. However, Lara never asks Keir about his five children, which seems to be a HUGE couples conversation they just skipped over.
And it would have been nice to have details about how Lara intended to overcome fireland tradition and raise her own children – it seems like that would have been a compelling fourth book?

Despite my grievances about the ending, I did really enjoy this final book and would highly recommend it.

4/5