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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

'Jaz Parks' SERIES by Jennifer RARDIN

From the BLURB:

I’m Jaz Parks. My boss is Vayl, born in Romania in 1744. Died there too, at the hand of his vampire wife, Liliana. But that’s ancient history. For the moment Vayl works for the C.I.A. doing what he does best–assassination. And I help. You could say I’m an Assistant Assassin. But then I’d have to kick your ass.

This is another one of those underrated Urban Fantasy series that I can’t believe doesn’t get more props.

‘Jaz Parks’ reminds me a lot of Jeaniene Frosts’s ‘Night Huntress’ series – and not only because it’s about a woman working as a vampire assassin alongside a vampire mentor. Jaz and Cat are somewhat similar; they both spout self-deprecating humor. Both of them are somewhat uneasy about their vampire alliances, and both women have serious psychological baggage. In Jaz’s case it’s haunting memories about a vampire take-down that went terribly wrong, resulting in the death of her fiancée, her brother’s wife and subsequent estrangement from her twin.

Unlike Frost’s series, ‘Jaz Parks’ is a little light on the romance. Rardin writes a brilliant ‘will-they-or-won’t-they?’ between Jaz and Vayl with just enough simmering chemistry between the two that you’re not so much frustrated every time one of them pulls back, but rather gunning for the next ‘almost’ moment between them.

Vayl is a fantastic leading man for Jaz. He’s dark and mysterious, quietly intense and absolutely deadly. Even though Rardin skimps on steamy romance scenes, the sparks between Jaz and Vayl are fascinating enough to read, and both their checkered pasts act as a plausible excuse for trepidation on the romantic front.

Furthermore, Rardin writes pretty fascinating plots dealing with everything from stolen biotechnology to peace negotiations between vampire packs. So even if you feel deprived of a more substantial romantic plot, Rardin keeps the ball moving with complex whodunit storylines.

If you like kick-ass female leads, action and reading about complex relationships I highly recommend this series.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'Some Girls Bite' by Chloe NEILL

From the BLURB:

First in a brand new series about a Chicago graduate student's introduction into a society of vampires.

Sure, the life of a graduate student wasn't exactly glamorous, but it was Merit's. She was doing fine until a rogue vampire attacked her. But he only got a sip before he was scared away by another bloodsucker - and this one decided the best way to save her life was to make her the walking undead.

Turns out her savior was the master vampire of Cadogan House. Now she's traded sweating over her thesis for learning to fit in at a Hyde Park mansion full of vamps loyal to Ethan 'Lord o' the Manor' Sullivan. Of course, as a tall, green-eyed, four-hundred- year-old vampire, he has centuries' worth of charm, but unfortunately he expects her gratitude - and servitude. But an inconvenient sunlight allergy and Ethan's attitude are the least of her concerns. Someone's still out to get her. Her initiation into Chicago's nightlife may be the first skirmish in a war - and there will be blood.

This is Chloe Neill’s premiere series and latest addition to the Urban Fantasy genre. I loved Neill’s take on vampire politics and feudal structure. Each state in America has different vampire ‘Houses’ – in Chicago there’s Cadogan, Nevarre and Grey – they are similar to sorority or frat houses, even though every vampire associated with the respective houses are not required to live on the premises. There’s lots of vampire political intrigue surrounding the ‘outing’ of the vampire race a few months prior to Merit's turning, which is fascinating.

I also really appreciated the succinct explanation Neill provides for why vampires existence has been so wholly welcomed by the human population. This is a plot footnote present in many Urban Fantasy novels, but never so beautifully explained as in ‘Some Girls Bite’. Merit’s grandfather, who acts as supernatural/human police liaison for the Chicago mayor, tells Merit;

this is the first supernatural outing in modern history, and it happened in the post-Harry Potter era. In the post-Lord of the Rings era. Humans are a little more comfortable thinking about supernatural beings, supernatural happenings, than they were in the days when witches and vampires burned.”

In some novels the explaining of why supernatural’s are so easily accepted by humans after years of demonizing is long-winded and never really satisfying. Chloe Neill has summed it up beautifully in one paragraph that had me totally willing to believe all of the ‘vampires in modern day’ plot that followed.

I really loved the world Neill created, but that’s about all the enjoyment I got out of ‘Some Girls Bite’.

My main problem was with the main character; Merit, and the fact that she was very, very boring. And her blandness was made excruciatingly obvious by more interesting secondary characters. Case-in-point; her witchy roommate, Mallory. Not only does Mallory have dyed blue hair to counteract her classically beautiful features, but she’s also sassy, fashionable and quick with the verbal sparring. When confronted with an ex Sorcerer who sports a buzz-cut and impressive bod, Mallory is quick to quip about her shattered pre-conceptions of what a sorcerer should look like -

“You know-old. Grizzled. Long white beard. Scruffy robes. Lovable. Smart, but a little absentminded professorish.”

Added to Mallory’s intrigue is her instant attraction to the Sorcerer, Catcher. When we first meet him Mallory comments on his stand-offish persona and hidden agenda – yet Mallory seems to pretty quickly break down his walls and the two of them are firmly in love by books end. For me, that relationship alone would have merited a book in itself.

Secondly, because of Merit’s boring character, I found the attraction between her and Cadogan housemaster, Ethan Sullivan, totally implausible. Mallory comments that;

“…Just being in the same room, you two melt the drapes.”

I, personally, did not read any such drape-melting.

Neill did what so many paranormal romance and urban fantasy writers tend to do – the protagonist and his/her lead having an intangible ‘something’ connection that can’t really be explained but is there regardless so even if the spark isn’t really coming across for the reader, the writer can just fall back on the pretext that these two are ‘fated’. And Neill does just that… Merit and Ethan stare across a crowded room and Merit unsuccessfully explains feeling a little ‘something’ click inside of her. I didn’t buy it, and it didn’t help that Ethan, like Merit, was just a big blob of bland for me. He seemed like a watered-down version of Charlaine Harris’s Eric Northman. Merit comments quite a bit on Ethan’s politicizing and the fact that he will happily sacrifice her for the greater good, regardless of his feelings. There was nothing that stood out about him for me, and the lack of chemistry between him and Merit made for a lackluster pairing.

With regards to Merit – I wanted more backbone. Or a wicked sense of humor. Or a totally klutzy persona that was at odds with her vampire stealth. Instead, Merit is a bit of a Mary-Sue. She’s not just a regular vampire – Catcher reveals that she has more speed, strength and mental barriers than normal vampires, and could possibly one day become a Master vampire herself. Not to mention the fact that the Cadogan Master has his eye on her, when he normally doesn’t take any personal interest in the new initiates.

It all came just a bit too easy for Merit for me to like her. Add the fact that secondary characters were upstaging her personality, meant I wasn’t in the least bit invested in her story.

I don’t know if I’ll give the second ‘Chicagoland Vampires’ book a read, at the moment, it’s not looking good.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

'World of the Lupi' series by Eileen WILKS

From the BLURB:

Lily Yu is a San Diego police detective investigating a series of grisly murders that appear to be the work of a werewolf. To hunt down the killer, she must infiltrate the clans. Only one man can help her--a were named Rule Turner, a prince of the lupi, whose charismatic presence disturbs Lily. Rule has his own reasons for helping the investigation--reasons he doesn't want to share with Lily. Logic and honor demand she keep her distance, but the attraction between them is immediate and devastating-and beyond human reason. Now, in a race to fend off evil, Lily finds herself in uncharted territory, tested as never before, and at her back a man who she's not sure she can trust ....

This series was created in a very round-about kind of way. Before ‘World of the Lupi’, Wilks was a silhouette writer of romance fiction (titles such as ‘The Virgin & the Outlaw’). Then she had a short story published in the 2003 anthology ‘Lover Beware’. The short story was called ‘Only Human’, and is pretty much a condensed version of the full-length first Lupi book, ‘Tempting Danger’. The short story was picked up and turned into a series which currently has 5 books with a 6th due for release in February next year.

From the urban fantasy blogs and chatboards I browse, I’m always surprised to find out that nobody seems aware of this series. ‘World of the Lupi’ has all the ingredients for great urban fantasy / paranormal romance. A ballsy female protagonist and protective Alpha werewolf are thrown together to solve a series of murders that point to said werewolf being the main suspect. It’s a great plot, and Eileen Wilks does an amazing job of combining both a detective mystery and simmering romance. Lily is a fascinating female lead; she’s a strong-willed detective who is firmly grounded by her Chinese ancestry, particularly her familial commitments. Lily’s dual personalities of dutiful daughter and hard-nosed detective make for a fascinating character who experiences huge life changes while remaining true to her core.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this series is the unique werewolf mythology Wilks has built upon. These are werewolves like you’ve never read them before. In the Lupi universe, humans and werewolves co-exist, and werewolves are all male. There are no female werewolves, only male children have the ability to shift. In this world, werewolves are subject to the full spectrum of human opinion. There are those who think their animalistic, commitment-phobic, highly sexed culture is barbaric and detestable. Then there are those wolf groupies who treat them like rock-stars (totally understandable). For these women the ultimate werewolf pin-up is Rule Turner, son to the San Diego pack Alpha. He is not actually a ‘prince’ (as the media label him), but he is the handsome poster boy for the werewolf culture, and his being tangled in a murder investigation could be devastating for werewolves everywhere.

I also love this series because in this world, some humans are born with unique supernatural gifts. Lily, for instance, has the ability to ‘feel’ magic. That is, she associates certain supernaturals with different textures; around Rule, she feels fur against her skin. I love that Wilks has created a world with ‘grey’ areas; it’s not clean-cut ‘us’ and ‘them’ between humans and werewolves, but rather different degrees of paranormal. This makes for interesting self-reflection on Lily’s part when she considers the way Rule and other werewolves are unfairly labeled and demonized, compared to her and others with varying degrees of magic.

My one complaint in this series is book #4, ‘Night Season’, when Wilks deviates slightly and makes two minor characters the main characters for one book. It’s a little bit jarring to have a break in narrative and I never warmed to the female character, Cynna, and slightly resented having to read her POV. What makes it worse is that Lily and Rule feature in the book and quite a few plot changes affect the rest of the series, so you can’t even skip reading it.

I love this series. Lily and Rule are one of my all-time favorite paranormal couples. Knowing how underrated the books are, I feel the need to spread the word…. So, consider it spread!


Saturday, September 26, 2009

'The Dreamer' online comic by Lora INNES

From the BLURB:

Beatrice “Bea” Whaley seems to have it all; the seventeen-year-old high school senior is beautiful, wealthy and the star performer of the drama club. And with her uncle’s connections to Broadway theater, the future looks bright ahead of her. Little does she know that her future might actually be brighter behind her.

Bea begins having vivid dreams about a brave and handsome soldier named Alan Warren--a member of an elite group known as Knowlton’s Rangers that served during the Revolutionary War. Prone to keeping her head in the clouds, Bea welcomes her nightly adventures in 1776; filled with danger and romance they give her much to muse about the next day. But it is not long before Beatrice questions whether her dreams are simply dreams or something more. Each night they pick up exactly where the last one ended. And the senses--the smell of musket shots and cannons, the screams of soldiers in agony, and that kiss--are all far more real than any dream she can remember.

‘The Dreamer’ is an online comic created by Lora Innes, which has recently gone into publication with IDW and is now available for purchase from Amazon.

Innes used to draw for Nickelodeon, Mattel and Simon & Schuster, among others, but now devotes her time to this fabulous online comic.

I discovered ‘The Dreamer’ about a year ago, and now my Friday is not complete without my ‘Dreamer’ update. The online comic is currently into its 8th issue, with each issue being between 25-28 pages long with a weekly 2-page update (unless Innes states otherwise). The comic is totally free to view online, and Innes currently has 3 short stories in PDF format available for purchase (I bought and loved her ‘prologue’ story “A most agreeable Thanksgiving” – that’s how obsessed I am!)

I absolutely love this comic. I am Australian, so I know next to zilch about the Revolutionary war. Innes is a history-nut and does pain-staking research on everything from the major players in the war to 1700’s dress design – and all the research pays off. I learn a little something new about the war in every issue I read, but I’m never bogged down by information or historical facts. This is mostly because Innes has intertwined the historical setting so seamlessly with the time travel plot – the war itself has become a character in the story, raising the stakes for Beatrice and Alan as their romance blooms amidst the chaotic setting.

While the comic does switch between modern day and 1776, Innes has done an incredible job of fleshing out both periods by including a procession of interesting secondary characters to populate Alan and Beatrice’s respective worlds. When Bea isn’t carousing around 1776, she’s back to her regular role as high school misfit, pining after football jock, Ben Cato. When Alan isn’t rescuing Bea from impending disaster, he’s goofing off with best friend and fellow patrior, Nathan Hale (of “I only regret that I have but one life to give my country” fame).  

This story reminds me a lot of Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series (but a PG comic version, obviously). There’s the time travel plot, and the romance between modern girl and a man hundreds of years in the past. And don’t let the historic setting fool you; ‘The Dreamer’ is first and foremost a romance.

It’s the easiest thing to check out this online comic. It’s totally, 100% free – and I guarantee it will not disappoint. Please, please, please check it out.


Friday, September 25, 2009

2010 releases I am looking forward to....

Carrie Vaughn

[ I love Kitty & Ben, but Kitty & Cormac just have such a *spark*. I would love it if Cormac made a reappearance in this novel, and if the attraction between him and Kitty could finally be addressed. There's just that little problem of him still being in jail... On another note, Vaughn has a new YA novel coming out in 2010 called 'Voices of Dragons' - she talks about it on her blog, and it sounds awesome. ]

      Flirt’ Anita Blake NOVELLA – February 2nd

Laurell K Hamilton

[ This is going to be in the same vain as her 'Micah' novella - not impertinent to the Anita Blake universe, but too long to be inserted into an anthology. It will pretty much be stand-alone erotica. Hmmm... ]


      Unknown’ Outcast Season #2 – February 2nd

Rachel Caine

[ First book 'Undone' was so-s0, not as good as the 'Weather Warden' series it's a spin-off from, but the cliffhanger at the end of 'Undone' was a DOOZY and a great starting point for the second book. So long as we get another 'Weather Warden' book in 2010, I will welcome this spin-off ] 


      Blood Magic’ World of the Lupi #6 – February 2nd

Eileen Wilks

Lily and Rule are planning their wedding (*dreamy sigh*) but are meeting hostility on both sides of their families. Really looking forward to this one, especially because I was afraid Wilks's newest Lupi book would be another Cynna & Cullen diversion, when everyone knows it's Lily & Rule who own the show! ] 

       First Drop of Crimson’ Night Huntress spin-off #1 February 9th

Jeaniene Frost

Je[ [Jeaniene Frost's website says that the 2nd Night Huntress spin-off book (Mencheres's book) will be released September 2010. I'm wondering if that means instead of a Cat & Bones book next year, we'll have the 2 spin-off books? ]

  Black Magic Sanction’ Rachel Morgan #8 - February 23rd

Kim Harrison

[Can Ivy & Rachel please hook-up all ready? They are one of my favorite Urban Fantasy couples of all time and I really want Kim Harrison to throw readers a bone and have their relationship progress in this book. ]

       Succubus Shadows’ Georgina Kincaid # 6 – March 30th

Richelle Mead

[ Really looking forward to this one, especially because Richelle's 'Blood Promise' book tour had her revealing quite a few little tidbits about the last 2 books in the Georgina series. For one, Richelle has said that Seth will see Georgina's true form (her mortal body) but she won't say in what context or in which book. And because Richelle mentioned how much pressure she feels now to make fans like Seth and Maddie again - when we left them in 'Succubus Heat', Seth had just proposed to Maddie in a moment of guilt because of his affair with Georgina. Dun, Dun DUN! I know I'm probably going to be heart-broken reading this book (damn Seth!) but I am intrigued to see how/if Richelle can turn it all around and make me like the little bastard again.]


     Silver Borne’ Mercy Thompson #5 - March 30th

    Patricia Briggs

I     [ Let me just say, this is quite possibly my favorite book cover EVER! Daniel Dos Santos has totally outdone himself, and I personally thought he couldn't get any better than the 'Bone Crossed' cover - I was wrong. In her promotion for 'Bone Crossed', Briggs revealed a few spoilers about the 5th Mercy book. For one, this one will mostly deal with Samuel (which makes sense, since Mercy & Adam are together now, effectively leaving Samuel in the lurch). Briggs has said she will write about Mercy's father and his background, but not until at least book #6 (P.S. - yay, there's going to be a book 6!). She hopes at some point the Mercy Thompson series and the Alpha & Omega series timelines will converge so that they are in sync. The way the series' are now, events in the current Alpha & Omega books are happening during book 2 of the Mercy Thompson series. ]


   ‘Spirit Bound’ Vampire Academy #5 - May 18th

Richelle Mead

[ Only 2 more books left from Rose's POV - ARGH! Richelle Mead is going to drive me crazy waiting to know what happens to our beloved Dampir and her undead boyfriend, Dimitri. I am so glad Richelle Mead has contracts out the wazoo for more VA books, but I am dying to know how Rose's story wraps up. Good thing the 7th book is due for release in late 2010 ] 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

'Jane Jameson' SERIES by Molly HARPER


After being laid off from her job as Half Moon Hollow's children's librarian, Jane drowns her sorrows in Electric Lemonade and Mudslides using her severance package (a $25 Shenanigans gift certificate). Atthe bar she's kept company by a magnetically attractive (if a bit pale) stranger, Gabriel Nightingale - who follows her out and takes matters into his own hands when Jane's car breaks down and she's mistaken for a deer by a drunk with a rifle as she's headed home in the dark, on foot. If Gabriel doesn't turn Jane, she'll be, as the saying goes, dying young and leaving a pretty corpse. Being undead, though, is just the beginning of Jane's problems. She's still unemployed, has "family issues," a best friend who finds love with a werewolf (werewolves and vampires don't mix well); she's also being framed for murder, stalked by a former crush, and romanced by her moody sire. What's an undead girl to do?

If Bridget Jones were to become a vampire, this would be her new series.

Molly Harper’s debut is a funny, fast-paced twist on the paranormal romance. On the back cover bestselling author Susan Anderson is quoted as saying Harper’s lead character, Jane Jameson is the new Sookie Stackhouse. Well, not quite. Charlaine Harris’s ‘Southern Vampire: Sookie Stackhouse’ series is a lot darker with more emphasis on plot and the central mystery woven into each book.

These first 2 books in the Jane Jameson series are less plot-driven and more character-driven. We meet Jane at her lowest moment, fired from her dream job as children’s librarian. We see her worst day turn into her last, as she is killed in a freak accident and then sired by hottie vampire, Gabriel. From there the books are an examination of her adjustment to the afterlife, as she breaks the news to family and friends who take to her new vampirism with varying degrees of horror.

Jane is a fantastic leading lady. She is not a catwalk model for whom vampirism is just another lucky draw in a charmed life. Instead Jane is a plain, klutzy, anal-retentive, fact-fiend who was a gawky band geek in high school and grew up to be a geeky librarian. She is an utterly charming protagonist who has a quick wit and her own Jane-isms that quickly catch on.

Apart from both series being set in the Deep South, ‘Jane Jameson’ is nothing like ‘Sookie Stackhouse’. If anything, Molly Harper’s laugh-a-minute page-turner is similar (but not really) to MaryJanice Davidons’s ‘Queen Betsy’ series. Mixing paranormal romance with quirky humor and an even quirkier protagonist.

If I have one complaint about ‘Jane Jameson’, it’s that the romance angle need a little more heft behind it. Jane and Gabriel’s relationship is explored more in #2 ‘Nice Girls Don’t Date Dead Men’, but is by no means the central storyline. Maybe my small complaint stems from a slight Sookie expectation in that I’m used to reading about female protagonists’ who have more than one fella panting after them – granted, that’s not likely to happen to Jane (although two more possible love interests are mentioned and disregarded in book 1 and 2). An unnecessary expectation perhaps, but there you go.

I highly recommend this debut series. It’s funny, fresh and all together fabulous.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

'Fallen' by Erin McCARTHY

Gabriel is a fallen angel, a ‘Grigori’. His punishment for a crime we are never explicitly told about, is to walk the mortal plain as an immortal – watching as the humans he makes connections and relationships with wither and die, while he goes on, unchanged.

In 1849 in New Orleans, Gabriel (now a philanthropic artist called John Thiroux) has found a way to forget his holy burden and exist without existing – he has become an absinthe addict, chasing the green fairy to forget his immortality. While succumbing to the numbing ecstasies of absinthe, Gabriel takes pleasure from his ‘kept woman’, Anne Donovan. But everything goes horribly wrong when one night, after chasing the green fairy, Gabriel wakes to find Anne’s mutilated body, and him the only suspect. As punishment for his perceived crime, Gabriel can no longer enjoy pleasures of the flesh without women becoming horribly, intoxicatingly addicted to him – addicted to the addict.

160 years later in modern New Orleans, Sara Michaels is still reeling from the brutal death of her mother.  She has contacted Gabriel, who is now moonlighting as a crime fiction writer, because she wants to simultaneously examine her mother’s cold case as well as the murder of Anne Donovan. The cases are very similar – both women killed by bowie knife, the women’s lover the only suspect in both cases… and then there’s the fact that Anne Donovan is Sara’s great-great-great-grandmother….

This is the second book in Erin McCarthy’s ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ series, the first book is ‘My Immortal’, and I have not read it. Despite being unfamiliar with the series’ start, I really wanted to like ‘Fallen’. It’s a great premise – fallen angel turned addict, forbidden pleasure without his lover becoming addicted to him. The thing is, the best thing about this book is the blurb – kind of like when a movie trailer shows all the best bits of the film.

There is so much potential in this book, and it’s just wasted. For one thing, the fallen angel aspect goes completely unmentioned until it’s convenient to wrap up the ending, by allowing Gabriel to pull angel super-powers out of his pocket and save the day. Gabriel only ever mentions in passing how upset he is to be locked out of the pearly gates – never delving into the reasons as to why God decided to punish him. Maybe this was covered in the first book, I don’t know, but without any background to Gabriel’s punishment, he is a totally flat character. Should mention that McCarthy's first book in the series wasn't about Gabriel, but a different fallen angel. 

As a reader we have to believe that since Anne’s death, Gabriel has been unwittingly making women fall head-over-heels in lust with him (one sandwich shop girl proclaims her love after he brushes an ant off her arm). But because we are given no prelude to Gabriel’s Grigori status, and only see him as an addict and then recluse, it’s completely impossible to understand his appeal.

Furthermore, there is absolutely zero chemistry between him and Sara. The timeline is jarring to begin with – we leap from 1849 to modern day to meet Sara as she knocks on Gabriel’s door – and there’s no build up to her meeting him. Sara has just lost her mother in a brutal fashion, and has just wrapped up the heinous criminal trial in which the prosecution tried to pin the murder on her…. Now we are to believe that after all that, she sought out a crime writer to dig into her mother’s cold case less than 6 months after the actual death?

Not to mention the fact that Sara became addicted to painkillers during the trial (a habit she seems to have conveniently kicked by nipping it in the butt early and attending NA meetings?).

Then there’s the fact that both Gabriel and Sara find themselves falling for each other for no discernable reason… Gabriel constantly laments that Sara is paranoid, burdened by sadness and pretty much at the breaking point. A friend of Gabriel’s points out that Sara would look hot; “if she didn’t look like she’s just come off a three-day bender only to find out her cat died”.

And Sara is just as hopeless at articulating her attraction – beyond saying that Gabriel has a nicely cut jaw and pretty hair –he’s a reclusive crime writer (who Sara suspects uses his writing to suppress his own murderous needs) and complains that he “can’t hear music anymore”.

Considering there’s been such build-up to the way women feel a violent need for Gabriel’s touch, the connection between Gabriel and Sara seems pretty damn limp by comparison.

The idea of Gabriel and Sara solving two murders – one from 1849, and another 6 months old – is pretty intriguing. But it’s pretty obvious that Erin McCarthy is not a crime writer. Interspersed with the story are snippets of articles and police reports from Anne Donovan’s murder case, these are sometimes long and mostly boring, offering no clues to the actual murder. There’s no actual ‘crime solving’ going on – Sara’s breakthrough is to deduce that it couldn’t have been a crime of passion for John Thiroux to kill Sara if it was done with a bowie knife – because who carries a bowie knife around with them? Yeah, brilliant bit of sleuthing there, I bet cops in 1849 were far too dim to figure that one out.

And then there’s the mystery as a whole – the villain of the story is mentioned in passing in the first few pages and then never bought up again, until the very end for a convenient wrap-up.

This book was awful. Stay away. It has lots of potential and a great blurb, but don’t be fooled.

1/5 (the ‘1’ is for a somewhat sexy piano orgasm scene… which isn’t nearly as intriguing as it sounds) 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

'Stephanie Plum' SERIES by Janet EVANOVICH

Stephanie Plum is a failed lingerie-buyer turned bounty hunter. She’s a Jersey girl with a soft spot for pineapple upside-down cake. And when she’s not playing ‘choo choo’ with hottie-cop Joe Morelli (she’s the tunnel, he’s the train), she’s trying to keep her libido in check around fellow bounty hunter and possible Batman vigilante, Ranger.

It seems to be the trend at the moment that I am pathetically behind the times with my reading habits. Janet Evanovich’s extremely popular ‘Stephanie Plum’ crime fiction series started in 1994 with ‘One for the Money’, and is still going strong with the release this year of ‘Finger Lickin’ Fifteen’.

I’ve been steadily making my way through the 15 books over the past 4 weeks, and I have had up’s and down’s reading this series.

First off, I love these books, and I am officially a Plum addict. Janet Evanovich, a Jersey girl herself, has written a truly inspiring character in Stephanie Plum. She is the ultimate lemons into lemonade girl; you can knock her down but she’ll just get back up. She is a clumsy, bumbling and entirely endearing bounty hunter – totally relatable in the trials and tribulations of her love life and flailing career, but just ballsy enough to carry the leading-lady weight of this series so that you can’t help but root for her.

Evanovich’s true talent lies in writing secondary characters. From Stephanie’s gun-nut grandmother Mazur, to her prostitute-turned-secretary-sometimes-sidekick Lulu. Evanovich’s ‘Plum’ series comes to life with these periphery characters who keep Stephanie and readers on their toes.

Evanovich has also done a spectacular job of segregating her readers into two camps, depending on which one of Stephanie’s Alpha males tickles your fancy. Joe Morelli is her tough-as-nails detective boyfriend, with whom she shares several early childhood sexual encounters and who stole her virginity behind an éclair stand. He’s quick to grin and rib Stephanie, but underneath his easy sexuality Evanovich has written a layered man who fights the darkness of his job with the love he feels toward Stephanie.

Ranger is a whole other ball game. For the first-half of the series, Stephanie and Lulu are half convinced that the bad-ass Latino Ranger has his own batcave and dons a mask and cape in his spare time. It isn’t until ‘Twelve Sharp’ that more of Ranger’s past is revealed, adding layers to the man in black. Ranger is an especially delicious love interest for Stephanie because, despite his hard-ass exterior, he proves again and again throughout the series that he does care for Stephanie, in his own way.

Because I read the ‘Plum’ series back-to-back, one book after another, it became pretty clear by around book 13 that there is a draw-back to this wonderful series; nothing is changing.

One rule of thumb in literature (anything from 'Pride & Prejudice' to Mills & Boon) is that characters have to change – they cannot stagnate, they have to evolve. Because no matter how weird and wonderful the situations you create for them, it all means diddly squat if they don’t learn anything from those situations and have a growth spurt. When Stephanie Plum started out bounty hunting she learnt a few tough lessons very quickly, she got disturbingly used to violence, stalking and having her apartment broken into by a myriad of bad-guys. This all lead to the reader witnessing Stephanie toughen up, and gradually learn than she is a lot stronger than she looks. Half-way through the series she started getting used to seeing the people she loves being put into dire situations, and from there was able to articulate her need for them in her life and her dependency on their love. This was all great stuff, subtly revealed over time. But in the last few books nothing has changed, particularly with regards to her love interests.

By ‘Finger Lickin’ Fifteen’ Stephanie has a pretty good grasp on her job, she’s had the career-crisis and quit, and has even stuck to her guns and insisted on retaining her bounty hunter job when Joe pushed her to quit. Now it’s her romantic relationships that need another shake-up.

In ‘Finger Lickin’ Fifteen’ it’s much of the same. She and Joe are still doing the dirty, with no tangible commitment on the horizon. Ranger is still on the outskirts, both he and readers hoping Stephanie will do something to push their relationship forward instead of remaining at this frustrating standstill.

I love this series, I really do. I embarrassed myself many times reading these books on the train to University, with my random bursts of hysterical laughter. But I need something to change now. I, for one, am rooting for a Ranger/Stephanie hook-up in the next book.

Highly recommend this series, with a warning that you will become frustrated around book 13 with the lack of forward momentum.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

'Psy-Changeling' SERIES by Nalini SINGH

In the year 2079 there are three races co-existing on planet earth:


Changelings – part humans, part ‘other’ – able to change into animal form at will.

And Psy. In this alternate reality, Psy were a dying race that implemented ‘silence’ in order to stunt their emotions and increase their survival rates. In the 1970’s ‘silence’ was introduced and Psy have thought themselves above their human and changeling counterparts ever since.

Nalini Singh’s ‘Psy-Changeling’ series tells the story of one leopard changeling pack in San Francisco called ‘DarkRiver’, and the packs various Alpha males who begin to crack the stoic exterior of the Psy race, and a few of it’s token females.

I am totally behind the times in reading this series that started in 2006 with ‘Slave to Sensation’. Ever since I became obsessed with the Urban Fantasy genre this series has been cropping up on my radar – Amazon recommended it. Several blogs I read list these books on their ‘must read’ lists, and various chat-boards promise that if you’re a fan of other series like Gena Showlaters ‘Lords of the Underworld’ and Larissa Ione’s ‘Demonica’, then ‘Psy-Changeling’ is right up your alley.

So I finally succumbed.

Singh’s series is nothing new. It follows the structure of several other paranormal romance series, in that the story tracks the various lives and loves of the members of one community. The same way JR Ward’s series follows the lives of each member of the ‘Blackdagger Brotherhood’, or Kelley Armstrong details the adventures of the linked female supernatural’s in her ‘Women of the Otherworld’ series. Singh isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but that’s okay, because her ‘Psy-Changeling’ story delivers on the promise of such a tried and tested formula – mainly that readers will get equal parts science fiction and romance.

This series has plenty of Alpha male goodness, and Singh delivers ten-fold on the implied sex and sensuality on the books’ covers.

While these books may look a little trashy and predictable, the interwoven Psy storyline adds a meatier layer of suspense and intelligence.

The Psy storyline reminded me a little bit of the 2002 film starring Christian Bale; ‘Equilibrium’ (seriously, if you’re a fan of this series, check out that movie – great storyline, but more importantly it also has Christian Bale shirtless and buff… you’re welcome).

The Psy storyline works because it adds a layer of mystery to each new book as the DarkRiver pack continue to discover the various cracks and faults in the Psy system. Silence was originally supposed to only eradicate the emotion of rage, to curb violence. But because it was too difficult to pin down and dissolve only one emotion, ‘silence’ instead eradicated all feeling from the Psy race. Come to think of it, the Psy storyline also reminds me of Joss Whedon’s 2005 film ‘Serenity’….

I have to admit that at times the Psy storyline dragged me down and confused me. There’s lots of talk about Tk M-Psy with gradient level 1.5 – sometimes I just tuned out and flipped pages to get to the good stuff. The Psy plot is interesting when it’s the Changeling pack discussing their various discoveries, but less so when Singh let’s us enter the Psy world and get a glimpse of their steely, structured universe.

I did enjoy this series. My favourite DarkRiver Alpha was undoubtedly Clay, and his story ‘Mine to Posess’ was my favourite – mostly because his relationship with his human mate, Talin, was messy and complicated. Clay was a fascinating character, pegged the mostly likely leopard to go ‘rogue’ and possibly one day turn into his animal form and never return to human. Talin was a great match for him – mainly because she wasn’t a perfect, prissy female – she’s a survivor with the scars to prove it.

My least favourite was ‘Caressed by Ice’. This was the third novel in the series, but the first to stray from the DarkRiver pack and instead focus on the leopard’s neighbouring wolf pack, SnowRiver. This book told the story of Brenna who was once abused by a rogue Psy, and her mate, an ex-Psy called Judd. This novel was just a bit jarring for me – I was immersed in the leopard pack, and then had to read about this other Changeling community that was on my periphery, that I really didn’t care about. That being said, I would love to read the story of SnowRiver’s Alpha wolf, Hawke (a wolf called Hawke, I love it!) he intrigued me from the get-go in ‘Slave to Sensation’ and I’m a little surprised that his story hasn’t been told yet…

So, this series isn’t anything especially original. But if you are a fan of paranormal romance and Urban Fantasy then rest assured, this series is for you.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Richelle Mead Q & A

So I went to listen to Richelle Mead's Q&A at the Knox Civic Centre (her first reading in Australia) as apart of her worldwide promotion for 'Blood Promise'.
Here's the scoop;

- Rose has 2 more books told from her perspective in the 'Vampire Academy' series. But Richelle has been contracted for 6 more books set in the VA universe, but told from the perspective of a new character. The new character is someone we have met before - but Richelle obviously can't reveal who the narrator of the spin-off series will be, because that would give away who lives and dies in the next 2 books.

- The 'Dark Swan' series was contracted for 2 more books, but Richelle tentatively said there is potential for more Eugenie books.

- While the 'Georgina Kincaid' series is Richelle's personal favorite (mostly because Georgina's sense of humor is very close to Richelle's own) it sounded as though that series will be wrapped up in the next 2 books ('Succubus Shadows' released April 2010).

- Richelle said a big inspiration for her novels came from reading the 'Dragonlance' series by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis.

- I asked Richelle about any new series/books in the works, and she said something about a new potential adult project.

- There are no plans for a Vampire Academy movie. No studios have bought the rights to her books, and while Richelle knows about the many youtube trailers for a fictional VA movie, she can't bear to watch them. She said she reacts oddly to seeing people's representations of her books - even fanmade pictures and videos.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Diana Gabaldon graphic novel 'THE EXILE'

Diana posted this on the 11th, and I just had to share my excitement.
This is her Outlander graphic novel, and it will hopefully be available sometime in 2011.
Artist is Hoang Nguyen. This looks crazy beautiful!

TV show 'The Vampire Diaries'

Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) has had a rough year. She survived the car accident that killer her parents. Her younger brother has been self-medicating to combat his grief. Elena broke up with her boyfriend, Matt (Zach Roerig) and she is sick of being her High School’s golden girl. She returns to school with a smile on her face and no intention of being pitied by her classmates.

But Elena’s school year starts out a little rocky. Her best friend Bonnie (Katerina Graham) is convinced she is psychic. Her other (former) friend Caroline (Candica Accola) is convinced that she and Elena are competing for school supremacy. Matt is staring daggers in the hallway, but still pining for her. And then the new boy arrives. Tall, dark and decked out in designer Italian, Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) has caught everyone’s eye… including Elena’s.

Meanwhile, there’s been a slew of animal attacks in the area – people have been turning up mauled, with peculiar bite marks on their necks.

Only Stefan knows the truth behind these attacks… because he is a vampire, and recognizes his brother’s handy work. Just as Stefan settles into his old hometown and starts cozying up to Elena, Stefan’s elder brother, Damon (Ian Somerhalder) turns up to cause trouble. Damon reads a lot more into Stefan’s interest in Elena, suspecting that his brother’s attraction stems from her appearance to a certain woman from the brother’s past…

This is the new drama from teen network the CW, based on the book series by L.J. Smith. The books were released in 1991, and their adaptation to the small screen is clearly the CW trying to capitalize on Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ success. Vampires are not a new concept to the young adult genre, but ‘Vampire Diaries’ was clearly chosen because it bears the closest resemblance to ‘Twilight’.

The main male protagonist is a self-hating vampire who is ‘vegetarian’, trying to curb his predatory ways. There is also a chance for viewers to split into two camps when it comes to the love interests. There was Team Edward/Jacob, now there’s Team Stefan/Damon – it all depends on whether you like your men deep and broody or straight up bad-boy.
‘Vampire Diaries’ has also borrowed the narration technique used at the beginning of ‘Twilight’ – Elena reads from her diary, Stefan from his (deeply introspective, I’m sure).

It looks as though ‘Vampire Diaries’ is going to stick close to the book series it is based on, with a few important and much-needed character changes. In the books, Elena is a thoroughly annoying protagonist. She acts like a spoilt princess, but still manages to attract the attention of every male in a five-mile radius. In the books she is an active participant in the rivalry with Caroline, and hell-bent on remaining top of the pecking order. It’s her popularity competition with her ex-friend that sees Elena go in hot pursuit of Stefan. In the TV show Elena is just trying to cope with her recent tragedy, and her attraction to Stefan is a happy accident, one she isn’t entirely comfortable pursuing. Such minor changes make the character of Elena entirely more bearable than her book persona.

All in all, I was really underwhelmed by ‘Vampire Diaries’. Maybe I’m still sore with the CW for cancelling ‘Veronica Mars’, but I don’t intend to keep watching this latest vampire instalment.
I can appreciate ‘Vampire Diaries’ for what it is – a bid to profit from the current vampire palooza. I am sure ‘Team Edward’ tweens will appreciate ‘Vampire Diaries’ as a means of passing the months in between the latest ‘Twilight’ movie instalments. ‘Vampire Diaries’ is just thoroughly tween-orientated, complete with banal mainstream soundtrack (Katy Perry, The Fray). But you know what? One broody vampire is enough for me – Stefan is clearly a pale (ha!) imitation of Edward Cullen and I can’t really bare the thought of an entire season watching him yo-yo between wanting Elena and staying away from her for her own good. Ian Somerhalder has one scene in the pilot episode, but from that alone I can tell he will be the stand-out of the show (mostly because everyone loves a bad-boy, especially one who is on a path of redemption).
Nina Dobrev is pretty bland as Elena. She smiles a lot and is cute as pie. But there’s no real charisma and I suspect that for the most part, the writing will rely on Stefan and Elena having an intangible ‘connection’ that explains their bond.

At the end of the day it’s just a shame that this mediocre book series was chosen for adaptation based purely on the assumption that it’s similarity to a far more successful series will make it popular. There are so many better options for book to TV adaptations; Rachel Caine’s ‘Morganville Vampires’ or Richelle Mead’s ‘Vampire Academy’ come to mind. Both those series are about as far from ‘Twilight’ as you can get, with a far superior plot and interesting characters. Likewise, Meads ‘Vampire Academy’ and Caine’s ‘Morganville Vampires’ both have more longevity than ‘Vampire Diaries’. ‘Vampire Diaries’ was told in 4 books, and nothing much really happened plot-wise in those books. The story didn’t go beyond Elena’s small town and only 3 vampires were ever introduced. Whereas in Meads and Caine’s books there is extensive mythology, over-arching story and plenty of vampire characters.

‘Vampire Diaries’ is a poor man’s ‘Twilight’, if you are discerning in your vampire tastes, steer clear (or just watch ‘True Blood’, it’s WAY better).


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

'Mercy Thompson: Homecoming' GRAPHIC NOVEL by Patricia BRIGGS

‘Homecoming’ is a graphic novel short story set in the Mercy Thompson universe. The story is by Patricia Briggs and David Lawrence with illustrations by Francis Tsai and Amelia Woo, and cover art by Daniel Dos Santos.

‘Homecoming’ is a prelude to the events in Mercy Thompson’s first book, ‘Moon Called’. Bran has just kicked Mercy out of his pack and she’s moved to the Tri-Cities to put her teaching degree to good use. But in the span of 24 hours Mercy is attacked by one werewolf pack and rescued by a second, beaten bloody by a vampire’s human minion and threatened by one of the local vampire queen’s flunkies.

‘Homecoming’ tells the story of how Mercy came to settle in the Tri-Cities. The graphic novel details her first meeting of Stefan, Siebold Adelbertsmiter (Zee) and his son Tad and the Columbia Basin wolf pack’s Alpha, Adam Hauptman.

I perused the reviews of ‘Homecoming’ on Amazon and was thoroughly disappointed to see that it’s been given a 2.5 star rating. Read a few of the reviews and it becomes apparent that ‘Homecoming’s’ unpopularity has nothing to do with the graphic novel itself, but rather reviewer’s stupidity.

Many of the Amazon reviewers thought that ‘Homecoming’ was the next novel in Patricia Briggs’ ‘Mercy Thompson’ series, and they bought/pre-ordered the novel thinking it was follow-on from the 4th Mercy book ‘Bone Crossed’. One indignant reviewer even accuses Dabel brothers of misleading fans by giving no indication on the cover that this is a graphic novel… that’s despite the fact that on the cover are the words “an original graphic novel”.
Another reviewer sniffs that comics “cheapen the series”. Actually, it does nothing of the sort. Adapting books into graphic novels is fast becoming a popular occurrence in the publishing world.

Diana Gabaldon is releasing a graphic novel short story set in the ‘Outlander’ universe, telling a new Jamie and Claire story set in the timeframe of her first book. Kelley Armstrong has an online comic called ‘Becoming’ which is a prologue to the events of her first ‘Women of the Otherworld’ book, ‘Bitten’. Melissa Marr has released a graphic novel set in her YA ‘Wicked Lovely’ universe, with a second graphic novel due for release next year. Laurell K Hamilton has had great success adapting her ‘Anita Blake’ series into comic book format with ‘The First Death’ (2007), ‘Guilty Pleasures’ (2008) and she is currently working on ‘The Laughing Corpse’ for release later this year.

Graphic novels do not cheapen a series – they add a new dimension to the universe the author has created. And when it comes to Urban Fantasy in particular, comics are a logical extension of the book series. They offer another layer to the vivid universe the author has created, and visualize the fantastical characters that were previously relegated to the printed word.

I think the comic adaptation of Patricia Briggs’s ‘Mercy Thompson’ series made perfect sense, especially because her cover artist, Daniel Dos Santos, has done such a wonderful job of providing a visual framework for readers. Anyone who is familiar with the Mercy books will know that Daniel Dos Santos is a cover-art genius – and he has given Mercy a very distinct look.

Unfortunately Dos Santos only did the cover-art for ‘Homecoming’, Francis Tsai and Amelia Woo are responsible for the beautiful illustrations within. Daniel Dos Santos’s work is magnificent, but probably too detailed for the comic book format. Regardless, Tsai and Woo do a fantastic job of visualizing Zee, Stefan and especially Adam.

‘Homecoming’ is a beautiful novel, with wonderful illustrations and an essential story to read if you are a die-hard Mercy fan like me.

I loved ‘Homecoming’, but then again I am not prejudiced against comics like some Mercy fans seem to be. I loved the story, especially Stefan and Mercy’s meeting (and a certain picture of shirtless Adam – not since Trent from ‘Daria’ have I found an illustration so sexy). If you are a Mercy fan, check out ‘Homecoming’, it is a damn good GRAPHIC NOVEL.


Monday, September 7, 2009

'The Turning' (Blood Ties #1) by Jennifer ARMINTROUT

Dr. Carrie Ames’s life is turned upside down when a John Doe corpse attacks her in the hospital morgue. Eight months later and she can’t deny the facts… she is nosferatu. A vampire.

Carrie tracks down an Occult bookstore owner and fellow vampire, Nathan, who is willing to guide her through the adjustments. But just as she starts to come to grips with her new undead life, John Doe (aka, her ‘sire’) decides they are soul mates and he wants her for himself. On top of that, Nathan is pushing Carrie to join the ‘Voluntary Vampire Extinction Movement’ – a group of vamps who are trying to keep their numbers stagnate by not creating new vampires and who have a firm ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude… as Nathan explains, she can either join the Movement, or the Movement will exterminate her.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that it’s nothing new. Granted, the vampire genre is a little bit done to death (ha!) at this point and there’s really nothing here that sets Armintrout apart from the rest.

The plot isn’t even especially great. Fledgling vampire is torn between her humanity and growing bloodlust. And the struggle is made manifest in her interactions with bookstore owner Nathan, who urges her to join a league of vampires who defend the human race, and her maker Cyrus, who revels in her dark side. The story has been told, in one way or another, in a slew of similar Urban Fantasy books.

The character of Carrie is a little underdeveloped, but since there are 4 books in this series I can only assume that over the course of the series we will see her character grow. In ‘The Turning’ Carrie is really at a crossroads. Her parents died two years ago and she has only just completed her medical degree and intern rounds and started working in the E.R. This is despite the fact that she’s still unsure of her career choice – confused between her thrill in playing God and the academic pressure placed on her by her father growing up.

So, unoriginal plot and so-so female protagonist. Why did I like this book so much? Because of the stand-out characters who encapsulate good and evil, light and dark within the novel – Nathan and Cyrus.

Nathan was an unwilling victim of Cyrus’s father, who turned Nathan against his will and then forced him to commit a heinous act in the name of bloodlust. He is the quintessential tortured soul, a self-hating vampire. But his real originality is in the relationship he has with foster-son and blood donor, Ziggy – a runaway Nathan adopted at the age of 9 and has been father to ever since. It also helps that he’s Scottish and that an Alpha persona lurks beneath his tormented exterior.

Cyrus is a fantastically delicious bad-guy… but funnily enough, I occasionally found myself rooting for him in his endeavours to woo Carrie. It’s completely twisted, but despite being a thoroughly creepy villain, I couldn’t help but hope Carrie could tame his sadistic soul. In the second half of the book Carrie is forced to strike a deal with Cyrus that has her agreeing to live with him in his mansion, thus exposing herself to the drugging sire bond that distorts her feelings toward him. Consequently, as a reader you can’t help but feel the effects of Cyrus’s charm the same way Carrie does, to the point where you don’t know if you want him to remain the bad guy or turn it all around and become the unlikely love interest.

‘The Turning’ doesn’t offer anything particularly unique to the Urban Fantasy genre. It’s just a good story, well told, with a surprisingly twisted love triangle thrown in. Because of that wonderfully twisty triangle, I intend to continue with the ‘Blood Ties’ series, and recommend it as a worthwhile read.


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