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Monday, May 31, 2010

'Infinity: Chronicles of Nick #1' by Sherrilyn KENYON

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


Teenager Nick Gautier thinks he knows everything. Streetwise, tough and savvy, his quick sarcasm is renowned. But his whole world is suddenly turned upside down on the night his best friends try to kill him.


Saved by a mysterious warrior, Nick is sucked into the realm of the Dark-Hunters - immortal vampire-slayers who risk everything to save humanity - and he quickly learns that the human world is only a veil for a much larger and more dangerous one that's filled with all kinds of evil. However, before he can even learn the rules of this new world, his fellow students start turning into flesh-eating members of the undead.

Nick knows he's in real danger and he soon has a lot more to deal with than starting high school: he's under pressure to hide his new friends from his mother and his chainsaw from the principal while trying to impress the girl he has a crush on ? all without getting grounded, suspended...or killed.

In Kenyon’s world vampires do *NOT* sparkle. They are savage undead soul-eaters who pray on humanity. And all that stands between humanity and these vampiric ‘Daimons’ are the Dark Hunters. Born of Greek Gods, neither living nor dead, the Dark Hunter’s are our secret salvation. Our only salvation.

‘Infinity’ is set roughly 10 years before the first book in Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter book, ‘Night Pleasures’. ‘Infinity’ is the first book in what will be a YA spin-off series called ‘Chronicles of Nick’. The series will follow Nick Gautier, a seemingly average 14-year-old teenage boy who is plucked from normalcy to become a squire-in-training to a Dark Hunter called Kyrian.

In ‘Infinity’, Nick finds himself dealing with jock zombies. Kick-ass girl crushes. A blue man with horns and a killer Porsche 911 Turbo. All in a squires work, really.

The adult ‘Dark Hunter’ series is currently 27-books deep, with two new releases due this year. I've always intended to get stuck into the books, but could never muster the strength to go hunting for the first few in the series. I’m actually really glad that I read ‘Infinity’ before any of the other Dark Hunter books – because Nick’s story is set before the DH series, I get all the back story for characters who are already established.

‘Infinity’ does what lots of other vampire YA fiction has failed to do – appeal to young males. I think teenage boys have been largely forgotten in the wake of ‘Twilight’ and the vampire craze – most vamp fiction is written to appeal to teenage girls, especially when most books riff off of the Edward/Bella immortal love story.
Once upon a time Dracula and vampire mythology would have been the perfect fit for YA male readers, especially because the fantasy genre was thought to be their realm, while touchy-feely ‘coming of age’ YA books were supposedly written for girls. But ‘Twilight’ changed all that. Girls became fantasy fans and where demonic vampires would have once been the reading turf of their male counterparts, the sub-genre was inundated with paranormal romance reads.

Adult fans of ‘Dark Hunter’ will enjoy ‘Infinity’ for the prologuing back-story to the main series and fan-favourite characters. Female YA readers will pretty much read anything with the word ‘vampire’ in the blurb, and the fact that this is a spin-off of a popular adult paranormal romance series will no doubt intrigue. ‘Infinity’ also has a romance, with Nick crushing on a candy-striper with a dark secret. But Young Adult female readers will especially like the fact that the protagonist of ‘Infinity’ is a broody young man with an old soul and a tough attitude – the Cajun accent doesn’t hurt either.

Nick is living in two worlds. He’s a scholarship kid at a private school, bullied everyday for his mother’s exotic dancer job and his op-shop clothing. His only real friends are young delinquents who make money mugging tourists. And his father was a small-time criminal who died while doing a stint in jail. Nick and his mother live hand-to-mouth and some days don’t have enough money to put food on the table.
Nick’s life is hard. Kenyon doesn’t shy away from some rather vicious scenes that highlight Nick’s problems with bullies, and his growing up in a rough neighbourhood.

Pain exploded in Nick’s skull as he tasted blood.
“You’re going to pay for that, Gautier.”

The three of them descended on him so fast and furious that he couldn’t even seen to fight back. One minute he was standing and the next he was on the ground with his arms wrapped around his head to protect it from the gun Alan was beating him with. They stomped and beat on him until he lost all feeling in his legs and one arm.
Alan stepped back and angled the gun on him. “Say your prayers, Gautier. You’re about to become a statistic.”


Those loyal DH fans who are iffy about being thrown into a ‘squeaky-clean’ YA world can rest easy - Kenyon is writing a rather nitty-gritty, dark YA series. Her writing packs some serious punch, and certain scenes are flinch-worthy for their brutality. Not only will this appeal to YA males, but adult fans who are following from Kenyon’s DH series will no doubt recognize the sharp edges to the action-packed writing. But this is still YA, and occasionally the ‘horror’ scenes divulge into gruesome hilarity, especially when Nick’s school is overrun by flesh-eating jock zombies;

Frank cast a hungry look over to the group where Brynna and Casey were standing. “Oh man, if it is catching, I hope Casey Woods gets it and comes for me. If you gotta die, no better way to go than to get eaten by the head cheerleader.”
Jason high-fived him. “Yeah, all right. Sign me up for that too. I definitely want to be her chew toy.”

I liked the fact that Kenyon wasn’t talking down to her audience, instead choosing to revel in her vampiric mythology. Certain parts of ‘Infinity’ are fairly vicious and bleak – but that’s apart of Kenyon’s world, and indeed a by-product of vampire lore. It’s only in recent years that vampires have been handled with kid-gloves and tamed for a romance audience. Kenyon harks back to the more Gothic, nitty-gritty demons and it’s a joy to read.

I loved Nick – and because his voice is so strong and charismatic I will definitely be reading more books in his ‘Chronicles’ series. Nick is a wise-cracking kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Though only 14 he’s had to grow up quick, and not always in the best circumstances. He is plagued by his father’s criminal past, and hopes for his sake (and his mother’s pride) that he doesn’t go down the same path. But Nick really struggles when his environment and friends encourage him to go down that felonious route. Nick is really struggling in his life – he goes to the private school, but doesn’t fit in. He tries to stay on the straight and narrow, but that isn’t always possible in his neighbourhood. He’s a mass of contradictions (more so than average teenagers) and he compensates for his hard-times with a cracking wit. He’s hilarious, and an absolute joy to read. I can’t wait to see how Nick grows and is impacted by the hard-hitting Dark-Hunter world he gets caught up in.

I was quite surprised by how well ‘Infinity’ appeals to male readers – especially because Kenyon’s ‘Dark Hunter’ series is clearly geared toward a female readership, sitting firmly in the ‘paranormal romance’ sub- genre.
‘The Chronicles of Nick’ is a real writing departure for Kenyon, and an admirable change of pace considering she’s done so well in paranormal romance (27 books and counting!).
I think Kenyon did a fine job of exploring a new side to her writing with Nick’s spin-off. She’s not writing a ‘same-same’ Dark-Hunter series but with tamer romance – she’s really stepping outside her genre and readership and challenging her loyal fan-base to read outside their comfort zone. I certainly admire her for the change-up, and offer kudos for finding a new niche audience and gender readership.

The fact that I haven’t read any Dark-Hunter books didn’t impede my reading or enjoyment of ‘Infinity’. I could tell that certain characters were fan-favourites who Kenyon was delivering back-story on for the enjoyment of die-hard readers. But that only intrigued me enough to decide I would go back and re-read the Dark-Hunter books; it didn’t retract or confuse me during ‘Infinity’.

This is a dark, edgy and adrenaline-filled YA read. It’s exactly what a YA book should be – a non-stop thrill ride with bonus jock zombies, pretty girls and a quick-witted protagonist to enjoy the ride with. I loved this. I’d recommend it to men, women, YA boys, YA girls, long-time Dark-Hunter readers and Dark-Hunter virgins (like me).

5/5
'Invincible: Chronicles of Nick #2'

2011

Sunday, May 30, 2010

'Soul Mates: Bound by Blood' #1 by Jourdan LANE


From the BLURB:

Houston nightclub ‘Rave’ is famous for nearly-naked male dancers and beautiful bartenders, like Peter, a young man with a strict rule about one-night stands. He breaks that rule for Lucien, the owner of ‘The Den’, a rival gay nightclub where there are no boundaries, no taboos. Anything goes at The Den, including vampires.

When Peter finds out about Lucien’s vampire nature, he figures he should have stuck to his rule, because Lucien pulls him into a dark world of vampires, werewolves and feuding in-laws. No one approves of the human vampire match, and Peter and Lucien have to struggle to stay together. Can they beat the forces that will try to tear them apart forever?


The front cover is a little scary (is it just me or do they look like mannequins or Jason from ‘Halloween’?) and I was wary of the cheap look of this book. But I read a stellar review from Elizabeth (of ‘Moonlight to Twilight’ blog fame) so I was willing to overlook my initial scepticism.

Straight away, I’ll say this is vampire M/M erotica – and all that that entails. Expect gratuitously filthy-hot sex scenes, somewhat two-dimensional characters and convenient plot points. It was a good thing I was in the mood for some M/M smut, or else I may have lost my patience with this book. As it was, I accepted ‘Bound by Blood’ for what it is – a good, dirty romp; the reading equivalent of fairy-floss, not particularly filling but enjoyable nonetheless...

At times it feels as though Jourdan Lane’s homosexual men are more stereotypes than characters. For instance; bartenders, Jack and Mike, are long-term partners, but still have an ‘open-relationship’, which includes frequent romps with Peter... because Jack, Mike and Peter are all best buddies. Peter also (and all his bartender friends) pick up ‘strays’, one-night-stands whenever they can get them.
It just felt a little clichéd at times. The old maxim that gay men don’t do monogamy, and don’t have friends so much as ‘fuck buddies’. I gave some slack to Ms. Lane because her characters are working in a nightclub where go-go boys wear white thongs, and to a certain extent bartenders (more than gay men) are prone to being stereotypes. But still, it would have been equally nice to throw in one gay character who wasn’t a walking punch-line.

Lucien and Peter get off to a rocky start. Lucien all but sexually assaults Peter in a weird dreamscape, leaving Peter on edge and afraid of his own shadow. After that ‘encounter’ I was really wondering if this book was for me...

His hand wrapped around my painfully hard shaft and began stroking.
“You can’t really be here,” I whispered, shaking my head. “You’re not real.”

“I assure you that I am, indeed, real.” He growled, tightening his hand.

“Then what are you?” I was struggling to keep the hitch out of my voice. I knew he was a vampire, but if he was here with me, he had to be more.
“I could be your worst nightmare.” He nipped hard at my neck and I cried out. “Or I can be the one to make all your dreams come true. That, my love, is up to you.”

But my initial concerns were put aside once Peter and Lucien’s relationship got underway.
It is a very helter-skelter partnership. Jourdan Lane does, to an extent, take the easy way out by summarizing Lucien and Peter’s dinner dates rather than writing scenes... and then conveniently saying that they had ‘grown close’. From there the relationship evolves very quickly, and it’s not long before Lucien is inviting Peter to live with him.

I did like Lucien and Peter. It was a little frustrating that even when they admitted their feelings for one another, Lucien’s blood-taking meant he couldn’t be entirely monogamous... and because of that Lucien doesn’t put restrictions on Peter’s fidelity. They have ‘boundaries’ when having sex with other people, and a line they will only cross with each other... but there was still a traditionalist part of me that wished Lucien and Peter had been more territorial with one another, and insistent on monogamy. Maybe it’s just that Laurell K Hamilton has ruined orgies and multiple-bed-partners for me, but that was one aspect of Lucien and Peter’s relationship that I wish had been more exclusive. Though I will admit that your level of discomfort with their ‘open relationship’ depends on how you like your vampires – if you think that are territorial beings that ‘mate’ like animals, or if you prefer them to be lusty and hedonistic.

Regardless, I did like Peter and Lucien. They are H-O-T. And a lot of their heat has to do with Jourdan Lane’s prolific sex scenes. ‘Bound by Blood’ is M/M vampire erotica - so there is a lot of smutty sex... a *lot*. It’s not anything that prevalent M/M readers would be particularly shocked by, but it is gratuitous. Hot as all get out, and a joy to read, but there’s a lot. And I admit that I did blush at a few particularly descriptive and inventive scenes.

One thing I really liked about ‘Bound by Blood’ was Jourdan Lane’s obvious awareness of the vampire-hype she is writing in. Lane doesn’t delve particularly deep into her fictional ‘world’. Peter casually mentions having visited a vampire bar once, but doesn’t clarify for the reader when vampires ‘came out of the coffin’ or what the political atmosphere is surrounding the fanged. It just is. I liked that – we learn bits and pieces about the vampire ‘council’ and governing body, and how unpopular the vampire population of Houston are with the police – but beyond that Lane understands that her readers are probably well-versed in vampire mythology and Urban Fantasy and can make up their own back-stories.

My biggest complaint about ‘Bound by Blood’ was Lucien’s characterisation. I know that Jourdan Lane is writing smutty erotica and I can’t expect her to pen the next great American novel. But so much of the story is focused around Lucien being Houston’s Master Vampire and how out-of-character it is for him to take a human lover. But I really struggled to believe Lucien’s age and Master vampire status.
Lucien is 400+ years old; in his human life he was a French nobleman knight. But Lucien bandies about quite a bit of slang, words like ‘cool’ and ‘babe’, he’ll say “what’s up?” and “the fuck you say?”. Apart from throwing in an occasional ‘mon amour’ or ‘je t’aime’, Lucien also never quite reached a believable continental voice. Overall, Lucien just didn’t have that ‘presence’ - the pull of power and fright that I've come to associate with ‘Master vampires’. Put it like this; Lucien is no Eric Northman, Jean-Claude or Mencheres. If it wasn’t for everyone around him *saying* he was the ruler of Houston, I wouldn’t have believed it.

‘Bound by Blood’ is vampire M/M erotica. Jourdan Lane certainly lives up to her ‘erotica’ genre, her book including some of the smuttiest M/M smut I have ever had the devious pleasure of reading. BUT she is writing erotica and as a result her characters are quite wooden, underdeveloped and unbelievable. But once you accept the inherant flaws, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy ‘Bound by Blood’ for what it is – a dirty but enjoyable read.

3.5/5

Friday, May 28, 2010

'Magic Bleeds' Kate Daniels #4 by Ilona ANDREWS

From the BLURB:

Atlanta would be a nice place to live, if it weren’t for the magic. When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it rose.

Kate Daniels works for the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, officially as a liaison with the mercenary guild. Unofficially, she cleans up the paranormal problems no one else wants to handle—especially if they involve Atlanta’s shapeshifting community.

When she’s called in to investigate a fight at the Steel Horse, a bar midway between the territories of the shapeshifters and the necromancers, Kate quickly discovers there’s a new player in town. One who’s been around for thousands of years—and rode to war at the side of Kate’s father.

This foe may be too much even for Kate and Curran, the Lord of the Beasts, to handle. Because this time, Kate will be taking on family

This is the 4th book in Ilona Andrews’s ‘Kate Daniels’ series. Once again I've needed sub-headings to aid my muddled reviewer brain.
SPOILERS for the last 3 books, minor spoilers for ‘Magic Bleeds’.

High Expectations

This was probably the most anticipated ‘Kate Daniels’ instalment, because so much happened at the end of #3 ‘Magic Strikes’. At the end of that book, Kate’s biological secret came under threat as she came face-to-face with Hugh D’Ambray, right-hand-man to Kate’s psychotic father.
In that book (and books #1 and #2) Ilona Andrews also set up tension between the people’s ‘Order’ and the werecreatures, ‘Pack’ – little political underpinnings that hinted all was not well between these two factions.

Also in book #3, Kate started to develop more of an understanding of ‘Pack’ law, hierarchy and politics – Ilona Andrews dropped little tidbits of information that, fans presumed, would come in handy for Kate in the future.

But the biggest cliff-hanger of all was in the relationship progression between Kate and Pack Alpha, Curran. When we left them at the end of ‘Magic Strikes’ Kate and Curran had all but confessed their love for one another and scheduled their first official dinner ‘date’.

Writing-duo, Ilona Andrews, certainly left an enticing trail of crumbs leading fans to ‘Magic Bleeds’ – and I am happy to say they deliver on all fronts!

Definition of sexual tension, see; ‘Kate & Curran’

Husband and wife writing team, Ilona Andrews, are the absolute *masters* of pace. Seriously. For the three books fans were fed sparse physical contact between Kate and Curran, heaped with enough sexual tension that could only be cut with a chainsaw. For three books fans have been living on the hope of snarky comments, lingering looks, and an ‘oh-so-close!’ hot-tub scene.

Ilona Andrews chose the unconventional Urban Fantasy route of drip-feeding fans their series’ HEA couple. They resisted writing smutty sex scenes in favour of building up a ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ romantic tension. It could have backfired – but it didn’t. Certainly there were moments when, as a fan, your frustration was piqued and you likely screamed “just get it on already!” at the top of your lungs. But Ilona Andrews gifted both Kate and Curran with enough legitimate personal hang-up’s that a hasty coupling was implausible.
Kate’s roadblocks ran deep – she’s been harbouring a terrible secret since her birth and the telling of it could get her and those closest to her killed.
Curran’s stalling took a little longer to tease out – but the crux of his issue was to do with his childhood and a great loss he suffered.

The other reason fans were so invested in Kate & Curran (before there officially was a Kate & Curran) was that separately they were very likable characters; Kate’s wise-ass femme-fatale and Curran’s egocentric lothario. But when thrown together it was a case of opposites attracting and occasionally exploding. It was fun to read Kate & Curran fight what was so obvious to fans. But at the same time, fans liked Kate and Curran separately and were happy enough to watch their feelings unfold...

That being said, I think Ilona Andrews made the right decision to bring Kate and Curran’s ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ dance to an end with this fourth book.

Drop the tension and just keep the sex

Fans can rest assured that Kate and Curran do (FINALLY!) hook up in this book. It should come as no spoiler to anyone that these two finally get their act together. And it is oh so good! With all that sexual tension building up for 3 books, Ilona Andrews certainly had a lot of expectation to meet with regards to ‘the hook up’. Well, fans will be happy to know that Ilona Andrews absolutely delivers – Kate & Curran share intimate, funny, sexy scenes that leave no doubt in anyone’s mind as to their feelings for one another. Phew!

“It won’t last.” The words escaped before I had a chance to think about it.
“What won’t last?”
“You and me. Us. Even if we win this time, something else will come along and ruin our lives. Eventually I’ll lose a fight or you will, and it will be over.”
He pulled me closer to him. “Something else will come along. When it does, we’ll kill it. Later, something else will show up. We’ll kill it, too, and then we’ll go home.”

A whole new world

The best thing about Kate & Curran finally getting it on though is that it opens doors for new storylines. Their coupling isn’t a means to an end, but rather a new beginning. By accepting Curran as her ‘mate’, Kate now becomes the Pack’s Alpha female, and must assume the political/ceremonial role. This will put a very interesting spin on Kate and the series as a whole.

It’s somewhat similar to what’s happened to Mercy Thompson in Patricia Briggs’s series, in that now our heroine has accepted her hubby, her whole world will change. Kate was once a firm outsider and loner, but by accepting Curran she has also accepted a menagerie of lycanthropes under her care. Things will get interesting, and I for one can’t wait to see where Kate’s new role as Alpha will take this series and her character...

Looking ahead

Ilona Andrews is contracted for 7 'Kate Daniels' books, which means we have 3 more to go before the curtain falls. In ‘Magic Bleeds’ it feels as though Ilona Andrews can see the end on the horizon and is preparing readers. Certainly in ‘Magic Bleeds’ Andrews lays more ground-work for the series’ main villain, Roland. There’s still wriggle room for a couple more books before this big-bad comes to the fore, but how many more? I’d hate to see this series officially end, but at the same time Ilona Andrews (and their wonderful ‘pacing’) have really created an enticing villain and it feels as though the plot is gearing up for a major smack-down soon. I, for one, cannot wait to see how it all ends... but at the same time I don’t want it to ever end! Grr.

In a word?
WOW!

This was one of my most anticipated books of 2010, and I am thrilled to say Ilona Andrews delivered on all fronts. I wanted more information about Roland and Kate’s biological family; I got it. I wanted more Pack business; I got it. And most of all I wanted Kate & Curran goodness and I got it in spades!

My one complaint (and it’s a small one) was that I wanted more Derek. After the events of ‘Magic Strikes’ I was interested to see how he was coping, but he only has a small role in this book. But it’s a little grievance in a whole book of ‘WOW!’. Loved this book, can’t wait for #5 and reading Kate and Curran in couple bliss!

5/5

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

'Blood Lines' Blood series #3 by Tanya HUFF


From the BLURB:

Sealed away through unending centuries in a sarcophagus never meant to be opened, he had patiently waited for the opportunity to live again, for the chance to feed on the unwary and grow strong. Now, at last, the waiting had come to an end. Brought to the Egyptology Department of Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, the seals and spells that imprisoned him shipped away by his discoverers, he reached forth to claim the minds and souls of the unsuspecting city dwellers, to begin building an empire for himself and his god. And only three people had even the hint that anything was wrong.

For Henry Fitzroy, 450-year-old vampire, it began with a haunting, inescapable image of the sun, a terrifying symbol of death to one such as he. Fearing for his sanity, he called upon his sometime-lover and comrade in supernatural investigations, ex-cop Vicki Nelson, for help. And even as the two struggled to cope with Henry's obsession, Vicki's closest friend and former partner, Police Detective Mike Celluci was following up on two mysterious deaths at the museum, certain he was looking at murders, not accidents -- and equally convinced that the killer was a mummy brought back from the dead!

I really enjoyed this third novel of Tanya Huff’s ‘Blood’ series. I really didn’t like book #2, ‘Blood Trail’, because of the lack of development between the series’ supposed love interests, Henry and Vicki. I still have the same problem with Henry and Vicki’s under-developed relationship, but the mystery plot of ‘Blood Lines’ went a long way to making up my waning interest in this series.

In this book an Egyptian mummy is terrorizing Toronto. Mike Celluci is on the case, but he soon realizes that the supernatural element is over his head, so he enlists the help of his ex-partner Vicki Nelson, and her vampire side-kick, Henry Fitzroy.

The villain is a century’s old, previously entombed, Egyptian wizard/high-priest. I loved the Egyptian mummy plot of this book. So much so that I want to go out and read other books with a mummy/zombie plot. If you loved the 1999 film ‘The Mummy’ then this book is right up your alley. Sticking a mummy in modern-day (1990’s) Toronto made for a fabulously twisted whodunit with a fresh supernatural bent.

In about the last 3 or 4 chapters the stakes are raised to incredible heights as the mummy has Vicki in its sights and is hell-bent on eating her ‘ka’ (life force). Vicki is put into a situation no ex-cop wants to be in, and it’s a mad dash to the books finish line to see if Vicki can save herself, and stop Toronto from becoming an Egyptian monument.

I did love the action of this book. I’ve never read a mummy plot before (the closest I’ve come is Gail Carriger’s ‘Changeless’) and I loved how unique this supernatural story was.
My rating for this book is entirely thanks to the mummy plot. The character development however, once again left much to be desired...

I’m still uncomfortable with the development (or lack of) between Henry and Vicki. In this book there are lots of revelations concerning Vicki’s relationship (past and present) with Mike Celluci, and Henry’s feelings for Vicki. But still, I was unhappy with what Huff has to offer..... And once again the crux of my complaint is centred on Henry’s sexual relationship with ex street-rat and Vicki’s nineteen-year-old friend/informant, Tony.

Below is a scene that takes place outside of Henry’s apartment; Vicki is leaving as Tony is about to head in to see Henry;

“Hey, Victory, don’t sweat it.” As though he’d read her mind, Tony’s voice softened. “It’s easier for me. I didn’t really have a life till he showed up. He can remake me any way he wants. You’ve been you for a long time. It makes it harder to fit the two of you together.”
You’ve been you for a long time. She felt some of the tension begin to leave her shoulders. If anyone could understand that, it would be Henry Fitzroy. “Thanks, Tony.”
“No problem.” The cocky tone returned. “You want me to hail you a cab?”
“No.”

“Then I better get upstairs.”

“Before you split your jeans?”
“Jeez, Victory,” she could hear the grin in his voice, “I thought you couldn’t see in the dark.”

That scene is the most reaction readers get from Vicki concerning Henry’s relationship with Tony. Tony all but says he loves Henry and yes, he will be sleeping with him tonight, and Vicki merely sends him on his way. I’m still uncomfortable (on Vicki’s behalf) about the Henry/Tony pairing. But I’m mostly frustrated with Tanya Huff for dropping that massive bombshell and never delving deeper.

I’ve read through Amazon reviews of the ‘Blood’ series, to see specifically if other readers were disquieted by Tony’s role in Henry’s life. I only found one other reviewer who expressed dislike, and that was to do with the fact that Henry has a sexual penchant for men, as well as women. I like a good M/M romance as much as the next person, that’s not my problem (I actually wish that Huff had made Tony and Henry the series main HEA focus, throwing Vicki in makes things awkward and seedy). My problem is with the fact that Vicki is okay with her friend and protégé whom she has card for since he was 15, carrying on a sexual relationship with the same man that she is sleeping with. Ick.

Huff sheds a bit more light on Vicki and Mike’s past relationship, thereby exposing Vicki’s flaws. Turns out that while Vicki and Mike were ‘dating’ for 4 years, they were never exclusive. Vicki slept with other men, Mike with ‘bimbettes’. Vicki and Mike were perfectly alright with this set-up. But with the introduction of Henry, Mike suddenly wants a little more commitment from Vicki. He is even, *gasp*, contemplating settling down with her. But Mike dares not approach with Vicki, because he is well aware of her personal hang-ups.
Vicki is quite damaged when it comes to intimacy. Her father left her mother for a younger woman when Vicki was a child, and it seems that indiscretion has coloured Vicki’s entire romantic outlook. It sort of explains why Vicki is okay with having an open relationship with both Henry and Mike, and why the lack of definition regarding her and Henry’s partnership doesn’t faze her.

I think Huff has given Vicki too much baggage. Not only does she have a degenerative eye disease that meant she had to leave the job she loved, but Vicki puts on a macho/ballsy front in order to over-compensate for having lived and worked in a male dominated environment. She also has daddy abandonment issues and therefore cannot commit and cannot view sex as anything other than a temporary pleasure. It’s all a little too much, and almost turns Vicki into a caricature. She comes across as very angry, ‘the world is out to get me’ and nobody loves me. Urgh. It gets to be a little too much at times. If Huff had only made Henry (or Mike!) the one shining light in her life, the one point in which she can let her guard down and enjoy something. Instead, in this book both Henry and Mike lay their feelings about Vicki on the line... and she ignores them. Or as Vicki succinctly puts it:

It’s just like a man to want to complicate a perfectly good relationship.

Admittedly I wasn’t really buying Henry’s proclamations of love when he delivered them to Vicki (especially because he thinks similar thoughts about Tony, but Huff never addresses the double-up). I think Henry’s declaration of love came too soon and with too little development on his and Vicki’s relationship. But regardless of that, it was frustrating the way Vicki donned her armour and refused to acknowledge Mike or Henry’s professions of love. Grr! Huff is making Vicki very hard to swallow.

I did like this book. I appreciated Huff’s attempt to shed some more light on Vicki’s feelings for Henry and Mike... but it was a case of being ‘a day late and a dollar short’ when Huff already dropped the Henry/Tony/Vicki bomb in book #2 and once again refused to examine it in book #3. The mummy mystery saved this book and ensured I’d kept reading...

3.5/5

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Tall, Dark and Wolfish' by Lydia DARE


FROM THE BLURB:


The reckless, rakish younger brother of a powerful duke, Lord Benjamin Westfield transforms into a wolf under the light of the full moon - until one fateful evening when he doesn't change and his life is shattered. Fearing he may never be able to change again, Benjamin sets out for Scotland in search of a witch who can heal his inner beast. The noble werewolf is drawn to the beautiful young woman, but what does he have to offer in this broken state?

I was a little hesitant going into this one. I really loved ‘A Certain Wolfish Charm’. In that first novel, Lydia Dare set up the plot for at least two future books focused on lycanthrope brothers Ben and Will Westfield.
Ben was mentioned in passing, and because Will was the brother whom Dare set-up a clear love interest, I assumed his book would be next. I was a little disheartened to learn that ‘Tall, Dark & Wolfish’ would be Ben’s book. I was even more disheartened to learn that his love interest would be a Scottish witch.

Like Ben, I made the connection to the three witches of Shakespeare’s infamous ‘Macbeth’ play and was generally uninterested in a werewolf/witch romance. Boy, was I wrong.

Elspeth is a healer. She takes other people’s illnesses and injuries into herself and alleviates their pain. Elspeth’s witchy magic is less about ‘double trouble, toil and bubble’ and more about spirituality, herbal remedies and even zen-healing.
Elspeth is a wonderful heroine. She was born out of wedlock to her witchy mother, Rose, and has beared the brunt of Edinburgh’s small-minded and sometimes cruel societal cast. What high-society doesn’t know is that Elspeth is half lycan, and her werewolf father abandoned her and her mother while Elspeth was still in the womb.

Enter Ben Westfield, who is in dire need of healing. Ben is a lycan, but after a troublesome encounter with a prostitute he has lost his ability to transform into his wolf. Elspeth and her coven of witches are recommended to Ben in order to correct his ailment... so off he goes to Edinburgh, to be bewitched by Elspeth.

I loved Ben and Elspeth. There’s instantaneous attraction, but Dare balances out the immediate lust by having Ben be reluctant to endanger Elspeth’s life when his wolf comes to the fore (especially with the memory of an injured prostitute fresh in his mind).
Elspeth lives up to her hair and is one fiery little heroine. I loved the fact that she doesn’t stand down to Ben’s bull-headedness, and equally that Ben revels in her tough attitude.
Plus these two are utterly scorching in the bedroom;

Elspeth turned to take a towel from the rack behind her and found Ben blocking her path. How had he moved so fast?
“Speed,” he whispered before his lips pressed to her temple. “It’s one of our traits.”
“Do ye do everythin’ so fast?” she asked.
One eyebrow lifted. He smiled as he brushed a lock of hair from her face. “No. There are some things that should be done slowly.”

In this second novel, Lydia Dare effectively introduces a new cachet of characters to carry the rest of the series. Elspeth’s coven is made up of three other young witches who have various abilities; psychic, ability to control the weather and an ability to control plants. These women are wonderfully introduced, and though their scenes are small, Dare certainly gives each of them vibrant personalities that I look forward to reading in future novels.

Dare also does a wonderful job of setting up the romance for book #3 ‘The Wolf Next Door’. This will be Will Westfield’s book, though his story and romance with Prisca Hawthorne started in book #1. I started out wishing that this second book would be Will’s, but Lydia Dare does such a great job of adding more layers and complications to Will’s love life that I completely understand why she needed one more book in which to set the scene. There will certainly be angst, but I am most certainly looking forward to reading about Will’s complicated love life!

If I have any complaints, it’s that I would have liked for Simon and Lily (of ‘A Certain Wolfish Charm’) to make a reappearance; but Ben & Elspeth steal the show so effectively that I only lamented their missing for a moment.

This werewolf series is fresh for the fact that it’s set in 1800’s England and the lycanthrope heroes are trying to mingle in polite Ton society. Dare knows her way around a sex scene, and her heroes and heroines are feisty, loyal and sweet. Thanks again to Patti of ‘book addict’ fame for introducing me to this hot little series!

5/5

'The Vanishing of Katharina Linden' by Helen GRANT

Received from the publisher


From the BLURB:


On the day Katharina Linden disappears, Pia is the last person to see her alive. Terror is spreading through the town. How could a ten-year-old girl vanish in a place where everybody knows everybody else?

Pia is determined to find out what happened to Katharina.

But then the next girl disappears . . .


‘The Vanishing of Katharina Linden’ has one of the most spine-chillingly ominous opening chapters I have ever read;


Looking back on that year, those were innocent days; a time when my mother cheerfully allowed me at the tender age of ten to roam the town unsupervised – a time when parents let their children out to play without once entertaining the horrific notion that they might not return home again.

That came later, of course.


This opener perfectly sets the tone for the rest of this edgy YA novel. A girl is presumed abducted when she goes missing during a town parade. Every member of the German town of Bad Münstereifel was present, but none know what happened to Katharina Linden. She has vanished. Soon more girls go missing, and the parents of Bad Münstereifel are forced to take drastic measures, question everyone, and trust no one to keep their children safe.


Pia, 10 years old, narrates. Amidst the hunt for the missing girls, Pia is told ghost stories and German folklore that she comes to believe may be the answer to finding the abducted girls...


Though this story's heroine is a child, the book will certainly appeal to adults for its twisted and layered mystery plot. The mystery of the missing girls is made all the more frightening by the fact that the events are being recounted in the innocent voice of Pia. As readers we have an inkling that what has happened to the girls is far more sinister and awful than anything in Pia’s fairytales, but Pia herself is hell-bent on the idea of a fantastical explanation.


The child-narrator is not a new concept. Niccolò Ammaniti’s ‘I’m not Scared’ and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ both use such a writing mechanism to communicate paradise lost and examine evil through the eyes of a child. I would say Helen Grant’s book uses this child narration device as effectively as those fabulous writers before her, and it’s a delightfully sinister narration to get lost in.


I think Helen Grant revels in red herrings. There were many times when reading this that I kept expecting the plot to take a fantastical turn. It was partly to do with all the fairytales that Pia is told, and also the German village setting which feels very ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and provides a bit of mysticism. I don’t want to give anything away, because the mystery is too juicy to spoil, but I would definitely advise you to stay on your mental toes while reading this one!


I loved the setting of Bad Münstereifel (what a great name!) – Both because it made for a rich exploration of another culture and the German folklore added a European gothic feel to the book, and because my family is of German origin. So reading the various German phrases, like Oma & Opa, and the reference to St. Nicholas (as opposed to ‘Santa Claus’) which my family bandy about at family dinner, was quite familiar to me and lovely to read.


I really loved this book. It’s a bit of a mish-mash of genre; suspense, crime-thriller, YA with a healthy dose of German fable. It makes for a wonderfully robust read – and once the mystery gets underway you will not be able to put this book down!


5/5


Helen Grant’s second stand-alone novel is ‘The Glass Demon’. It was released in the UK on May 6th and I’ve heard nothing but buzz about it. Will definitely be adding this one to my TBR list!



Monday, May 24, 2010

'Doggone' by Gabriella Herkert


From the BLURB:

After accidentally treating her in-laws to a peep show upon their first meeting, and having a catfight with her husband's vengeful ex, legal investigator Sara Townley hopes her next assignment is a simple one. So she takes on a case of stolen identity - that finds her in a seedy back street. Then Sara narrowly escapes becoming a casualty - a fate awaiting her one and only witness. In the meantime, Sara seems to have picked up a sidekick: a big, black Labrador who shows up at every turn.


And since her only lead is growing cold in the morgue, maybe following the dog's nose isn't such a bad idea.


This is the second book in Gabriella Herkert’s ‘Animal Instinct’ mystery series.

I didn’t like first book ‘Catnapped’ – mostly because Herkert got me all excited with a cute premise that she didn’t deliver on.


The cozy ‘hook’ of this mystery series is that female sleuth, Sara Townley, and her husband (and sidekick) Connor Macnamara have only been married for a few months. They got impulsively hitched in Las Vegas after knowing each other for 2 seconds – and now they sometimes solve crime together.


In ‘Catnapped’ Herkert made their oddball relationship a given – she didn’t delve into their history or current circumstances, which left a great big gaping hole in character development and their relationship. In ‘Doggone’ Sara meets Connor’s family, they discuss the day they got married and Sara opens up about her less-than-perfect childhood. ‘Doggone’ is so much better than ‘Catnapped’ purely because all this background and history lends to actual development and progress in the plot and character’s lives.


My one complaint is Herkert’s reluctance to write more romantic scenes between Sara and Connor. Apparently these two get hot n’ heavy at every opportunity – but Herkert never gets explicit. It leaves them feeling a little cold as a result. It’s strange that Sara and Connor want to remain married to one another. They live in different cities. They don’t know each other. Connor is a trust-fund baby, while Sara is trailer trash. So much hinges on Sara and Connor’s physical relationship but we never actually *read* it, Herkert just tell us about it. Herkert needs to learn to ‘show, not tell’ and realize that writing smut isn’t always about writing smut, but offering new dimensions to a characters relationship and giving readers a reason to care about them, root for them and understand why they stay together.


Still, ‘Doggone’ is better than ‘Catnapped’. At least in this second book Sara is infused with personality. She’s actually kind of funny;


“You’re trying to make me crazy. I’m not crazy.”

He screamed it in his paranoid nuthouse voice. Nothing was more dangerous than a lunatic.


Furthermore, I was much more invested in this mystery plot. In ‘Catnapped’ I couldn’t get over the lack of character history, so I couldn’t pay attention to the mystery plot. Maybe that’s why I was so interested in ‘Doggone’s’ nuts and bolts plot. Development makes all the difference.


3/5