naomi_jay: (Objection)
(I was going to make this a Writerly Wednesday thing, but I have guest blogs to post, so... I don't think it matters too much. Anyway).

So! I've been reading Carolyn Crane's Disillusionist books for the past couple of weeks. It's a trilogy; I won the first two from Bastard Books, and it's already up there with Stacia Kane's Downside Ghost books as series of the year for me. It's brilliant. Crane's writing is wonderful, the storyline and characters are fascinating, and I adore Justine, the narrator/heroine. She's a woman of principal with a moral compass she doesn't ignore, and it's a refreshing change from the typical UF heroine. Justine gets ahead, makes friends, and wins by trusting her instincts, being a good person, and doing what she feels is right, regardless of the personal cost. I really love that.

Spoilers ahead! )

That doesn't lessen my dropped-jaw reaction to Otto. Has Justine really underestimated him so badly? Are there clues I missed or willfully overlooked? This is the problem of an unreliable narrator - we just can't be sure. If anyone else has read these books, I'd love to know what you think.
naomi_jay: (fault lines)


Although I felt the first Jude Magdelyn book, Shades of Grey, had lots wrong with it, I really liked it. I enjoyed Pruitt's strong voice and obvious love of New Orleans, and I liked Jude's brash character. Shades of Desire is perhaps a better book technically, but I'm not sure I liked it quite as much. The pace is much slower - maybe because Jude herself has slowed down due to her pregnancy? - and Pruitt has gone over the top with her dialogue. Everything is a witty one-liner, everyone speaks like they're in a sitcom, and Jude's mantra of "I own sarcasm, nobody else gets to use it," wasn't funny enough the first time to make it worth repeating once a chapter.

The Mary Sueing has been toned down (Jude only performs one or two miraculous feats in this book, as opposed to one per page in the first), and Pruitt is working to expand her world and characters. I did honestly love the relationship between Jude and Theo. They're partners in all things and it shows - the affection and love between them is real and believable, and they back each other up as well as take each other to task when it's needed. Jude doesn't emasculate Theo, and he doesn't smother Jude. That element of the book worked perfectly. The other relationships... not so much. There's a lot of will-they-won't-they between two side characters that added to the unfortunate sitcom atmosphere. And there was The Relationship that pretty much near-ruined the book for me: five-year-old psychic Celia finding her soul mate in one-hundred-year-old vampire Mickael. Um. No.

Pruitt has tried to hint that Celia is probably much more than five-year-old by makign Celia far more mature than most of the adults, as well as prodigiously powerful, but that doesn't justify the relationship to me. And of course, everyone's very much "they have to wait, we have to talk about this," etc, but it's still so damn creepy. SO damn creepy.

Much creepier than the villain of the story, Jack, a sociopathic vampire who mixes virgin blood with wine and is, like the villain of the previous book, related to good-guy vampire Williams. There were some early hints this might be a Jack-The-Ripper-is-a-vampire story, but that turned into a red herring, thank God. Sadly, because the book was so focused on the relationships, the Jack-plot was a little underwhelming. I found his connection to Williams to be a bit eye-rolling - how convenient that Williams has another crazy vampire brother - and would have liked more from him than just weird notes and some hammy dialogue. I did like how Pruitt weaved genuine New Orleans history into the plot, but after all the melodrama and theatrics of Shades of Grey, this book felt a little washed-out.

naomi_jay: (zombie girl)
 Luckily for me, I haven't just read Running in Fear: Escaped this week. I've also read some pretty good books too. Yay!



Afterlight is the first of the Dark Ink Chronicles, about Riley Poe, a tattoo artist in Savannah who finds herself embroiled in a world of vampires and dark magic when her younger brother falls into a mysterious cult. I wasn't sure at the start how much I was going to like this. Riley was a troubled teenager who's pulled herself together to make a success of herself, and wow, does she like to remind you on every page. I lost count of the number of times Riley repeated that she was a badass, that she'd done some bad things, that she'd had a dark, nasty childhood, that she's tough and hard and kickass... It got pretty dull. 

But then the main plot kicked in - Riley's brother Seth becoming a vampire and the involvement of the Dupre family who want to help Riley save Seth and take out some old enemies at the same time - Riley did actually back up her claims. We see her plunge back into the drug-heavy, sordid world she left behind, and we see her defend herself physically when need be. So although I still found the endless instance that, "look, guys, I am honestly so crazy wicked badass" pretty tedious, at least Jasper backed it up with some actual evidence. That aside, I did really like Riley as a heroine. She felt very relatable, and I admired her determination to keep fighting even though the odds were against her, and even though she knew that even if she got her brother back, both their lives would be irrevocably changed. I liked the Gullah angle - the inclusion of North African culture and myth added a fresh element to the standard vampire urban fantasy. The romance with Eli Dupre, a "good" vampire was fairly standard vampire urban fantasy, but Jasper is a good, vivid writer, and she kept the relationship interesting.

I adored the Savannah setting - Jasper really made the city come alive for me, and I felt like the city was as much of a character as Riley herself. I really want to visit there now. I'm in two minds about picking up the sequel - the reviews are terrible and it's hard to see where the series can go. There are some loose threads to be tied up - Riley's blood is irresistible to vampires but we never learn why, it just is. One of the evil vampires is still on the loose and obsessed with Riley, so obviously that needs to be resolved. But I find it hard to imagine an ongoing character arc for anyone in the book, as much as I enjoyed it. So, yes, I did like Afterlight but I'm not going to go running to buy Everdark.

 


Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator couldn't be more of a contrast to Afterlight. Set in the near future, in a world where zombies are a common, dangerous pest, Neeta is roped into a reality show to train new exterminators in order to pay off some legal bills. It's funny, very tongue-in-cheek, but also very clever and unusual. The reality show contestants appear to be proper cliches at first - the flamboyant campy one, the angry woman, the foreign guy... But throughout the book they reveal themselves to be much deeper and more nuanced than that. Neeta herself is great - competent, warm, strong, and brave, without ever needing to shove her abilities in the reader's face. She just gets on with her job, does it well, and does her best to train her newbies to succeed, despite the constant interference of the reality show producer.
 
The book's packed with pop culture references, which can be dating, but because it's set in the future, it worked quite well. The humour is nicely balanced with occasional flashes of real danger. Zombies are always good fun, and the reality TV format the book adopts is well-used to help develop the characters. At times it felt like there was a lack of a real, solid direction for the book, but overall that didn't stop me enjoying myself.
 

 
14 / 24 words. 58% done!
naomi_jay: (gothy butterfly)


This is actually a re-read. I first read Greywalker back around the time Succubus Blues came out (I remember because reading Richelle Mead's blog lead me to Kat Richardson). The first time round, I didn't really care for it. I found the climax confusing and the whole Grey world was a little similar to an idea I'd been working on at the time, which made me sulk. I decided to re-read it because I thought the later books in the series sounded fascinating, and figured that now I was over the whole "OMG she stole my idea!!!" thing, I might like it better. So did I?

Well, yes and no. There is a lot I do like. I like PIs. I like ghostly other worlds. I like ferrets. I like Harper, the heroine who's near-death experience gives her the ability to see and interact with the Grey. I love Richardson's imagery when describing the Grey - this is a creepy, evocative book.

On the other hand, the vampires were same ol', same ol', and I still found the ending a but confusing. I mean, I got what Harper and her allies were trying to do, but how they achieved it and why kinda sailed past me. So. I also felt the book dragged in places, like Richardson was stretching the plot to meet a wordcount. I think there's a lot of potential for the rest of the series here (which is why I already went and bought Poltergeist, the next book), but as a first book, I still think Greywalker is patchy. When it's good, it's very good. When it's bad, it's a bit dull. I actually put it down and wandered off for a week or so in the middle and picked it up again without really missing it the way you do with a book sometimes. There were occasions when I wasn't sure why Harper was doing what she was doing - helping newly-made vampire Cameron take revenge on the master who abandoned him, for example. Harper took all the risk and had nothing to gain that I could see, and I was never entirely convinced by her reasons for helping Cameron. It was more like the plot required her to do so than the characters moved that way organically.

Despite one or two reservations, I definitely enjoyed Greywalker more on the re-read, and although I'm yet to be fully converted, I am looking forward to Poltergeist (and hoping for more ferret action).
naomi_jay: (save the werewolves)
 

 
My love for all things LM Pruitt continues with this Southern Gothic werewolf novel. I'm not sure if she wrote this before or after Shades of Grey, but it's a far more polished novel, lacking the rough edges of the Jude Magdelyn book. There are still some issues, but overall this is another strong-voiced, page-turning read that just works for me.

Cari Gravier has lived in small town Selene, Georgia, all her life. She's only just learning that there's more to her family, friends, and neighbours than she ever realised, and as tragedy and danger is closing in, she has to learn fast. Hearts will break, friends will turn betrayers, and Cari will find herself a prize in a war she's only just realised is happening.
 
So, this is a werewolf book. I don't think that's a spoiler, given the title. I'm always predisposed to like a werewolf book, and any time there's a different spin on the mythos, I'm even happier. Pruitt hasn't done anything especially new with her wolves, but I loved the small, Southern-town setting and the no-nonsense pack politics. Cari is a vibrant heroine - and whilst there is a hint of the Mary Sue about her, it's not as pronounced as with Jude Magdelyn. Yes, Cari is the rebel darling of the town, always mouthing off and getting away with it; yes, she's fierce and makes grown men quake in their boots, but Pruitt crafts a town full of fierce, strong-minded women in New Moon Rising, so it doesn't seem like Cari is any more "sassy" or bossy or whatever than anyone else. And as with Shades of Grey, I'm happy to overlook little things like this because I find Pruitt's writing so engaging.
 
Bigger problems do test your credibility, however. Cari is apparently the only person in Selene who doesn't know that everyone's a werewolf. Her parents and ex-husband (the pack alpha) somehow managed to keep this from her for her whole life. She never saw or heard anything that made her suspect there was anything odd about the people she's know her whole life. Really? Okay... I guess it's not impossible, but it does seem unlikely. We are talking an entire town of werewolves here. Did she never hear howling at the full moons? Hear rumours of wolves in the woods? Cari never wondered where her husband was nipping off to every full moon? Okay...
 
If you can accept the fact that the entire town maintained this conspiracy of silence for Cari's entire life, this is a good story with a slow-burning plot, as Cari discovers her own role within the pack and wrestles with whether to accept it. She's not a werewolf herself, but she's essential to the pack, which makes her valuable to the wild dogs - wolves without a pack - and the wild dogs are nasty. And not everyone in the pack is friendly either, creating a guessing game for the reader: who's working with the wild dogs and who's just an unpleasant person? Cari has plenty of enemies even amongst Selene's townfolk, so you're never quite sure who's to be trusted or what their motives are.
 
Cari herself, despite the Mary-Sueish leanings, is a warm and witty narrator; sharp-tongued but with a heart of gold. I haven't read many UF books featuring divorcees (although I'm sure they're out there), and the relationship between her and Mike, her ex, rang very true and very touching. I don't know if there are any sequels in the works, but Pruitt left the door open for further stories and I feel like Cari has plenty of stories to tell. Although the werewolf aspect of the novel does take something of a back seat to the relationship aspect, there's enough there to satisfy my appetite for lycanthropy. 


 
11 / 24 words. 46% done!
naomi_jay: (halo girl)

 
The final installment of the Morgan Kingsley series sees exorcist-turned-demon-host Morgan making lots of coffee, worrying about how defensive she is, and making lots more coffee. And uh... that's pretty much it. Really. This didn't feel like the end of a series. I know Black mentioned on Deadline Dames when the book was released that she'd deliberately left some loose threads in case she got the chance to revisit the world, but really...

Basically, over the past four books, we've been building to a confrontation between Lugh, the benevolent demon king currently hiding out in Morgan's body, and Dougal (Dougal!), the evil pretender to the throne who wants to kill all humans. I wanted fireworks. I wanted epic battles. I wanted drama. At the very least, I wanted fewer committee meetings, but sadly this book was about 80% committee meetings, 10% coffee making, and 10% other stuff that should have been important but wasn't. I won't lie, I feel let down. The big battle between Lugh and Dougal never happens. Dougal is killed by another character, and it may as well have happened off-page for all the tension involved. The majority of the book is Lugh's council wringing their hands over what to do about stuff that doesn't actually end up being that critical anyway.

So here's the deal. I'm not adverse to ambiguous endings in books, but if you're advertising a book as a showdown between powerful superbeings, with mortals caught in the middle and likely to die ... well, I'd like to read that, you know? Morgan and her cohorts are never in danger. People die, but they're drug addicts, so nobody worries too much. A main character apparently dies, but then comes back, so nobody has to grieve over him. Dougal's earth-based demon army just kinda wanders off at the end, because the good guys decide there's no point doing anything with them for some reason. It's like everyone in the book is just going through the motions to see the plot through to it's lack-lustre climax.

By the end of the book, nothing has changed for anyone. Morgan and Brian still have this dumb relationship dance going on, where whenever one moves forward, the other moves back. Morgan is still possessed because nobody is strong enough to exorcise Lugh, so she's stuck with him until she dies. Nobody really seems to think this is worth more than a passing mention, whereas to me it seems like a really big deal. As long as Lugh's still in Morgan's body, the demon world is in stasis - nobody on the throne, no direction, nothing. So really, they may as well have left Dougal there for all the good killing him did. The only character who shows any kind of growth is Raphael, and nobody likes him, so he may as well not have bothered.

This is a series that started with so much promise. The idea of a demon-hating exorcist forced to share her body with the demon king during a war for the demon throne should have abounded with danger, moral conflict, political intrigue, and angst. Instead we mostly get Morgan making millions of pots of coffee and arguing with people, Morgan seems pretty convinced she's a changed person by the end of The Devil's Playground, but I don't see it. I imagine that if we revisited Morgan a year later, she'd still be arguing with Brian, making coffee, and musing over how defensive she is. And I would probably have to slap her.

 

naomi_jay: (floating woman)
As these are short, snappy novellas, I read them all over the weekend and yesterday whilst I was suffering the wrath of Cthulhu (I still am, for the record). They fit the criteria for both horror and UF, in my opinion, and due to the length, I'm counting them as a single book. I'm too lazy to write one big review for all of them, so I'm just copying and pasting my Goodread reviews. Also, since LJ is being weird about letting me post pretty pictures, no covers! :( But we can live with that, right?

Faithless

Quick, fun read with a great concept - I'll definitely pick up the rest of the trilogy to see what happens to Alyce and Ross next. I do think it could have been fleshed out more; the ending felt rather rushed, and there were times when we get a summary of the action rather than seeing the action itself, which was a shame as the story was fab. I always love Yolanda's characters and ideas and I always find myself wanting more! Alyce's world is good and dark, and has the potential to expand and get even darker.

Careless

A definite jump-up in style, tension, and intrigue from the first instalment, Faithless, Careless is the continuation of Alyce and Ross's quest to rid Alyce of the demon that once possessed her. Demon hunter Ross thinks he's found the solution, but Alyce doesn't trust the demonologist he's taking her to. What more will they have to endure to secure Alyce's freedom from Buer?

Where Faithless was a good little read, Careless is a proper page turner. Though still short, there's plenty going on here, and Yolanda keeps building on the world introduced in the first part of the trilogy. The introduction of new characters like Sebastian and Kelly keep the story moving, and the darkness that was hinted at in Faithless is explored further here. There's bad magic, secrets, and danger on every page, and the cliffhanger ending has left me hungry and keen for Boundless!

Boundless

The final volume in the Alyce Kerr trilogy is easily the best. The groundwork laid in the first and second instalments is seen through to completion here as Alyce and the mysterious Sebastian fight to save Ross from the clutches of creepy demonologist Kelly and creepier demon Buer. Everyone has their own agenda, nobody trusts anybody else, and Alyce isn't sure she can do what it takes to rescue her beloved Ross. It's full of tension and possibly not for the faint-hearted.

Yolanda does a great job of tying up the established plot threads, as well as introducing new elements in to the Alyce Kerr world, such as Sin Eating. I loved Sebastian and was pleased to find out there's a forthcoming spin-off featuring him, as I think the Sin Eating world is ripe for exploration. We get a further glimpse into the oft-mentioned, seldom-explained organisation that Ross and Sebastian work for, and Alyce begins to embrace her witchy self, as well as accept the damage she did in her quest for fame and fortune. It was nice to see Alyce come to terms with herself and her past, and step up to take responsibility for the mess she created. These are short stories, but Alyce comes a long way throughout them.

I think it's worth mentioning that, whilst Ross and Alyce get a sweet happy ending, this is not strictly (or rather, completely) a romantic story. The sex is occasionally coerced or under duress, and whilst this doesn't bother me (I liked seeing Alyce struggle with the morality of her situation), I know some readers may be surprised by the twists and turns Boundless takes.

Overall, this is a trilogy that gets stronger with every instalment, and I really am excited about Sebastian's spin-off and the Alyce Kerr novella series Yolanda has promised me is coming!

 
9 / 24 words. 38% done!
naomi_jay: (dragon girl)
 

 
I shall be perfectly honest: I was sent this book by someone who's opinion I trust as an example of a really bad urban fantasy. I was expecting it to be poorly written, poorly plotted, and generally just ... poor.

So I was kinda surprised to find I loved it. Not just enjoyed it, or found it passable or okay, but actively loved it - thought about it when I wasn't reading it, looked up the author's other works, and started following her on Twitter. That kind of "loved it." I'm not sure why there's such a massive gap between what my friend experienced in reading this and what I experienced, except that art is subjective, but there we go. Not that this is a flawless book. There is, in fact, one big (potential) problem with it.
 
Jude Magdalyn, the protagonist, is a massive Mary Sue. Tragic past? Check. Chequered love life? Check. Super powers, recently discovered and easily mastered? Check? Great Destiny? Check. It's all there. She gets away with bad behaviour, has all the wittiest lines, a great guy falls madly in love with her within hours of meeting her, and she inherits massive, massive wealth early on in the book.
 
I call her Mary Sue-ness a potential problem, as opposed to an actual problem, for a couple of reasons. The first is that, actually, I don't have a problem with Mary Sues in real-written books. Good writing trumps most things, and I think Pruitt is a very good writer. The second is that the phrase "Mary Sue" seems to have become a shorthand for "urban fantasy heroine," rather than being a genuinely useful term. Look, urban fantasy is about people taking on monsters, magic, mythological beings, and general mayhem. Unless you're seriously tooled up with resources - be they magical or physical or whatever - you're probably not going to last very long. Therefore, characters in UF need to have said resources. It's a logical part of the genre for me. But it currently seems to be an excuse for appellating every heroine who knows how to wield a magic wand and/or a Glock efficiently a Mary Sue. Not useful to me. I know for some readers, the presence of a Mary Sue is an instant Do Not Want, but for me it's not such a deal breaker.
 
Anyway, back to Shades of Grey. So yes, Jude is Mary Sue. I don't care. She's also funny, sharp, and engaging. Pruitt's voice and sense of place are strong. The secondary characters are interesting, as is the plot. Jude, an orphan raised by nuns and now working as a con woman in New Orleans, discovers she's the destined leader of a magical organisation called the Covenant. Cue sexy vampires, politics, back-stabbing, shock revelations, et al. Yeah, it's not the most original thing ever, but Pruitt makes it her own. And if you can look past one or two oddities in the text (such as Jude's seeming indifference to the murder of her best friend, and a kind of "was it, wasn't it?" rape scene that left me scratching my head), I think what you've got is a strong first novel from a writer who is going to grow and grow.
 
I ate up this book despite the flaws. The pacing and tension worked for me, and I just plain like Jude. I can see it won't be a book for everyone, but it's not badly written, nor is it a bad example of the genre. In fact, it's a damn good one as far as I'm concerned, and I'll be buying the sequel and her other works in very short order. This was just a compelling read - I'm loathe to use the term "guilty pleasure" because I don't feel guilty about enjoying it, but that's probably the best term for it. So you know, screw you guys. 




8 / 24 words. 33% done!
naomi_jay: (Default)

 
I feel pretty torn on this one. I love Kalayna Price's Haven series, and I wanted to love this just as much. It has necromancy and that's one of my favourite urban fantasy things, so that's a plus. It has an interesting world, a fresh take on the magical set-up of said world, and a very likeable heroine. But I didn't love it. I enjoyed it, just not as much as the Haven books.

Alex Craft is a grave witch/private investigator who raises shades for various purposes. Her latest case sees her working with Detective Falin Andrews to track down a dangerous serial killer who seems to have ties to Alex's family. They don't have much time to stop him, and luck really isn't on Alex's side. This was actually something I did love about the book - Alex is very capable magically, but beset by very mundane problems. Crappy car, not much money, a dog to feed... It was kind of nice to see her worrying about the practicalities of her life instead of these things just being handwaved away as they can often be (like the girl in Unclean Spirits who just happened to inherit a vast fortune so she didn't have to bother with a pesky day job whilst she fought evil).

I also liked that there were serious drawbacks to Alex's magic. Using her grave-sight (an essential part of her raising a shade) leaves her near-blind. I liked that Alex wasn't a superwoman, and that using magic has a cost even for those naturally inclined towards it. I like that she has friends and a social life (even if she can't always keep up with them). I love that she has a Chinese Crested called Prince Charming as a pet.

So why was this a book I just enjoyed rather than loved? Honestly, I found some of the world-building under-explained. There are grave witches and, apparently, death witches, but the difference between them wasn't explained and I couldn't think of a difference myself, which irked me. There are hints of deep relationships between Alex and Death (not literally The Death, but one of many Deaths, it seems), and Alex and her missing college roommate, that I felt needed to be fleshed out more in order to make their roles in the story satisfying. For example, we see a bit of flirting between Alex and Death, and at the end of the book Death proclaims his love for Alex, but we never see enough interaction or get enough history for their relationship to feel that significant to me. Likewise, the missing roommate is mentioned once or twice, but I don't think the foreshadowing of her role in the story was handled as well as it could have been. I don't want to give spoilers, so I can't really expand on that, but I'd love to know if other people agree with me.

I think this is a series with great potential - Alex is lovely, her life is interesting, and the side characters are strong. But for a first book, this felt weak in places in a way that Once Bitten, the first Haven novel didn't. Maybe it's not fair to compare the two - they are very different - but whilst I'm chomping at the bit for the third Haven novel, I can only really say I'm intrigued about the next Alex Craft novel.

naomi_jay: (pretty octopus!)

 
I will start by saying I have a massive girlcrush on Luna in this cover.

I will follow by saying I actually finished this a week or so ago and forgot to do a review, so the book isn't quite as fresh in my mind as it could be, That said, I did love this book. I think it's my favourite Nocturne City book so far, as Luna seems to have grown in leaps and bounds since Second Skin. She's still the waspish, independent, growly Luna I love, but she's matured and thinks before she acts more than she did in the earlier books. Part of this is down to her new position as head of Nocturne City's new supernatural crime unit and her responsibilities to her team. Part of it, I'm sure, is also down to the experiences of the past three books, both in her personal life and her career.

As always, Kittredge manages to find something new and different to throw at Luna, and in Witch Craft we get everything from killer selkies to trolls to Thelemic magic. I haven't seen Thelema referenced in any other urban fantasy novel, despite how much everyone loves to name drop Alistair Crowley, and I was fascinated by Kittredge's use of it here. Having established her caster and blood witch societies firmly in book two, Pure Blood, it was fun to see her now explore a whole new type of magic, and the culture that went with it. it made for a truly engaging mystery and introduced a new layer to the world.

I did feel the absence of Dimitri quite keenly. Although there's a part of me that thinks, well, yeah, he and Luna can never work, there's another part of me that really, really wants them to. I like Will Fagin, and I find Lucas quite intriguing, but to me it's Luna and Dimitri all the way. Given that there's only one more book in the series to go, and there's no sign of Dimitri reappearing, I suppose I'll have to resign myself to Luna settling down with someone else (or not? It would be cool to see her just flip everyone off and continue to be quite happy by herself).

The one other thing I missed in this book was werewolves, which seems odd given that the main character is a werewolf. In the previous books, we've seen Luna interact with other wolves - and struggle with her own beast - quite a lot, and her battle between humanity and wolfism has often been a key part of each plot. In this book, we don't really get that, and I don't think Luna ever shifts throughout the whole plot (or maybe she does at the end? I should re-read it and check). Anyway, although that's not a major flaw, as Witch Craft's plot is not a werewolf-centric one, I do enjoy that aspect of the series, and would have liked to a bit more werewolf smackdown in this one.

Overall, I can't complain too much. This is another dark, twisty, and plain cool book from one of my favourite authors, and my only real problem is that I don't have Daemon's Mark on my shelves yet.

 


6 / 24 words. 25% done!
naomi_jay: (save the werewolves)

 
I feel like this is really a book of two halves. On the one hand, you've got this intense, animalistic depiction of werewolves and pack life that I loved - the use of lupine body language and behaviour was very strong, and the lack of a mental division between the "wolf side" and the "human side" really worked for me. Raand's werewolves are pretty damn primal about pretty much everything (although that does make me wonder how they managed to stay hidden in society for so long - Sylvan, the Alpha, is constantly leaping over desks and changing into a wolf mid-sentence, and she's the one with the best control. So God knows how the rest of the pack managed. But I digress).

On the other hand, we have a love story that stretches my credulity. Sylvan and Drake, a human medic, only have two real encounters before they're lusting over each other so badly they can't even wear clothes or something. One is when they meet in the ER and are scrapping over the best way to treat a fatally wounded werewolf. The other is over breakfast. It's not the stuff great love affairs are made of, but they're both so instantly obsessed with each other it's a bit ridiculous. The book avoids openly saying it's a "fated to mate" scenario, but it's there and I never like that trope. It just feels lazy to me. Why bother developing a relationship if people can just smell nice, right? Right, Edward? Right?

Anyway. Since the "romance" (sorry, but it's hot sex. Hot sex is great, but it's not the same as love, and Sylvan and Drake really don't spend enough time together when they're not angsting, hallucinating, or shagging for me to believe they're in love)... Where was I going? Oh yeah. Since the "romance" is a driving factor of this book, I ended up with mixed feelings. There's a very interesting plot here revolving around supernatural politics - the supernatural community of this world has only recently emerged, and are fighting for rights and economic strength - but it gets swamped by Sylvan and Drake's raging hormones. There are some fascinating side characters, like vampire police officer, Jody Gates and human reporter Becca Land, and there is some wonderful writing.

But it all gets a bit lost, and short shrift is given to the underlying plot of humans showing up infected with were fever, and the potential damage this could cause to the fragile balance between humans and supernaturals. The big climactic fight with the baddy was over so fast and so easy I pretty much missed it, and we're left with Sylvan and Drake all loved-up. Which is fine, but I would have liked more external conflict to match the internal angsting.

Ultimately, this is a book that displays all the strengths and weaknesses of the genre. Intriguing world-building and vivid writing, coupled with an over-reliance on sex. I'm almost certainly going to buy the sequel, Blood Hunt, as it appears to focus more on Jody and Becca, who I loved. I didn't hate Sylvan and Drake by any means, but I can't help feeling after a couple of weeks of hot sex, they're probably going to be all like, "so, do you like ... stuff?" and then sit there with nothing to say to each other and it'll be really awkward. 



 
5 / 24 words. 21% done!

naomi_jay: (Objection)
 

As a general rule, I've enjoyed every book in the Morgan Kingsley series, but found the second one, The Devil You Know, rather forgettable compared to the first and third. It didn't seem to have much to do with the overall arc of the series, and the plot felt a little random, like nobody really knew what they were doing or why. The fourth volume, Speak of the Devil, suffers from the same problem. This is a only a five-book series. By the penultimate book, I expect battle lines to be drawn, stakes to be raised, and our heroes to be marshalling their forces for a big old show-down.

Instead, most of Speak of the Devil focuses on Morgan's personal problems. Someone has fabricated evidence to make it look like she's having an affair with Adam, a demon-possessed cop, and so her boyfriend finishes with her, and she spends a lot of time flipping between heartbreak and fury. Which is fair enough, and Black is a good enough writer that I really sympathised with Morgan's position. But I was waiting for the "someone" who's working so hard to destroy Morgan to be revealed as part of Dougal's inner circle, out to destroy Lugh. Because that would make sense, right? (For those not familiar with the series, Lugh is the rightful king of the demons currently hiding out in Morgan's body, and Dougal (I have a lot of trouble taking a villain called Dougal seriously, by the way) is his brother, who plans to usurp him and take control of the human world).

Anyway, the "someone" turns out to be nothing to do with Dougal or Lugh, and whilst this was definitely an unexpected twist, I felt it jarred. Like I said, by book four in a series of five, I expect the pace to be escalating, but in Speak of the Devil it was slowed right down so Morgan could cry a lot and worry about whether she and Brian were meant to be. For the record, I don't think they are. These are two people who just seem to bring out the worst in each other, except in bed, and that's another problem I have with the book, but we'll get to that...

So, the plot is a little meandering and nothing is added to the overall arc. What I did like was the introduction of Barbie, a PI hired to scoop the dirt on Morgan, but who ends up joining forces with her. One thing this series has lacked is female presence besides Morgan. Morgan frequently admits she relates better to men than women, but even so I felt the introduction of a potential girl friend for Morgan added something to the book, balancing out the male-heavy environment and giving Morgan someone she can talk to who doesn't immediately mock or dismiss her. I also continue to love Adam and Dominic. It's refreshing to read gay characters who are real people, not just comedy sidekicks (I've read far too many books with "wacky" gay friends and it drives me mad). The fact that they have easily the healthiest relationship in the series, and that their interest in BDSM isn't used a short-hand for "messed up" or "evil" is also nice.

Speaking of sex, the reason I can only really rate this book as three stars instead of any higher, is the sex. Wait, let me explain! So we've established that Morgan and Brian spend this book at odds with each other because he thought she was having an affair. We've established that the only area they seem to truly connect is in the bedroom. Fair enough. But at the end of the book, when Morgan decides to invite Brian to a little S&M session to prove she trusts him and they should stay together, my jaw dropped. I just ... wow. For one thing, I don't really buy that Morgan or Brian are interested in S&M, despite Black trying to convey it. There's a world of difference between a little rough sex and full-on bondage, and it didn't ring true to me that the only way Morgan could think to convince Brian they should give their relationship another go was to present herself at his house with a case full of bondage gear.

For another, if you know the root of your relationship problems is lack of trust, a little rough sex isn't going to fix that and it doesn't prove anything except. Or at least it wouldn't to me. If Morgan genuinely believes she can slap a band-aid on their problems with some kinky bedroom shenanigans, she and Brian are definitely doomed. Am I wrong here? Sure, sex is important in a relationship, but if it's all you've got, which seems to be the case here, then it's not a relationship to begin with.

Maybe I'm being too harsh. I don't know. But this final chapter meant the book ended on an odd note for me. After watching Morgan struggle with her feelings for the whole book, feeling betrayed that Brian hadn't trusted her, admitting to herself that sometimes love just isn't enough, it felt ... sad to see her beg Brian to take her back. It won't put me off finishing the series (especially as I already own the last book), but I'm in the position here where I think Morgan would be better off alone, at least until the whole demon war thing is resolved.



4 / 24 words. 17% done!
naomi_jay: (fire breathing)
 


I should make two confessions before I go any further. One, I am completely fascinated by spontaneous human combustion, and two, I really love reptiles and would quite like a salamander of my own. Therefore it probably should be a surprise that I adored Sparks, the second of Laura Bickle's Lantern series (I think it's called the Lantern series anyway?).

All things I loved about Embers are still here - Anya and Sparky, the beautifully described city of Detroit, which is almost a character itself, the ragtag group of ghost hunters that Anya reluctantly helps, and the ever-present themes of fire, destruction, loss, and ghosts. But this is far from a retread of Embers; Bickle expands her world with the second installment, introducing new elements such as the Afterworld, new characters like the enigmatic but charming Charon, and new dangers - like the aforementioned spontaneous human combustion. Anya, a fire investigator for the Detroit fire department, is called in to investigate a house fire that appears to have been caused by a case of SHC, although of course nobody really buys into that. I loved that Bickle explored this myth without being heavy-handed and info-dumping - references to the wick effect made me squee because I know about that stuff, but for someone who's never heard of it, there was enough information there to be enlightening without overwhelming the actual plot.

And the plot is fascinating! Bickle gives us believable evils, and proves that UF doesn't always have to be inhuman monsters - Hope Solomon is very human (although like Anya she has some supernatural abilities), but still very sinister and skin-creeping. Her confrontations with Anya, and the insidious sense of danger around her are so well-written I could be jealous... And it's not just Hope Solomon giving me shivers in this book; Brian, Anya's boyfriend, shows a few new facets to his personality that made both me and Anya look at him a little differently (I should admit at this point that I'm now secretly hoping for an Anya/Charon hook-up, so some of my mistrust of Brian may be unwarranted).

But the real start of Sparks is Sparky himself. And this time he has babies! I'm not always a fan of animal sidekicks in books, especially if authors are prone to either making them talk or making them so intelligent they're practically human. But Sparky is just adorable (and he doesn't talk!). He's clever and charming and it's a credit to Bickle's writing that she can convey this purely through his actions and noises, rather than trying to anthropomorphism him for laughs. His relationship with Anya is sweet and touching. Anya herself is a great heroine - brave and self-sufficient, but never straying into the unpleasant "angry chick" territory that occurs in this genre. She's a loner, but she still has friends. She has tragedy in her past but she's never a martyr. She's the kind of character I can imagine going for drinks with.

I could go on about this book for ever... It's gritty, atmospheric, it's different from other UF in the best possible way, and the writing is beautiful. I don't know if there are any more books scheduled for this series, but the potential is definitely there, and I really hope there'll be a lot more adventures with Anya and Sparky in the future.

 
3 / 24 words. 13% done!
naomi_jay: (Default)

 


I'd sworn off the Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon series after Darkling, not because I didn't enjoy it, but because I couldn't face the thought of another book narrated by Camille. She's a pretty obvious Mary Sue, and I didn't think I could deal with yet another book where all the men drool over her boobs and she waxes lyrical about her wardrobe and how sexy she is. If the series only focused on Menolly and Delilah, I'd be sold on it, but Camille is the fly in the ointment. And then I read Night Myst, and although I think it suffers from a lot of the same issues as the Otherworld books, it was a fun read. So I decided to take a chance on Dragon Wytch.

It's been a good year or so since I read Darkling, so I'd forgotten a lot of the political back-and-forths going on in the novel. The brewing demon threat, the war in Otherworld, the problem facing the sisters on Earth... It was all a bit of a mess to me. That's not a critique of the writing but my admission that I probably missed a lot of things because of the gap between books. A lot of the names confused me as well; I was nearly done with the book before I'd straightened out all the elfin queens from the places they lived. And then it turned out there was a glossary at the back of the book, so I could have just read that and been fine.

Anyway. Camille's Mary Sueness is actually toned down in this book as the stakes go up. The sisters are struggling to fight off threats on every side, and they doubt their abilities to fight alone. Luckily their list of allies grows in this book - unicorns, pixies, fae queens... they're all lining up to join the fight. Camille binds herself to lovers Morio the fox-demon and Smoky the dragon to boost her magic, and gains a valuable gift from the Crown Prince of the Unicorns to help further. Despite that, the book is grim in places and there are no promises of a happy ending in this volume. So from a story-telling point of view, this was a good book: plenty of twists, lots of danger. Great!

That said, Camille is still my least favourite sister. Menolly is far more interesting, and Delilah is more sympathetic. Camille may be the leader of the sisters, as the eldest, but she's the least likeable as far as I'm concerned. A woman who decides it's fine if her sister's boyfriend flirts with her because "it's safe," is a dubious one to me. I don't hate her or anything, but every time I finish an Otherworld book, the thought of reading the next kind of makes me go "ugh," because I'm going to have to read about Camille and how fabulous she looks and how strong she is and how sexy she is and how insatiable she is and how big her boobs are and it's quite tiresome.

So, it's a fine book but it's not a keeper. If I come across the rest of the series at a discount or something, I'd probably pick them up, but I'm not really sold on the series.

 
2 / 24 words. 8% done!
naomi_jay: (jason)
 

 
This book was a Christmas present, and technically I started it in 2010, but I finished it today, so it counts, right? Right. Anyway. This is a reprint of an anthology first published in 1959, and as such it's not the kind of horror book you see nowadays. A lot of the stories are more psychological - the sort of thing you find yourself thinking about for a long time afterwards, even if they don't really bother you whilst you're reading. Raspberry Jam and The Squaw fall into this category; the former a slow-burning and grotesque tale in which the final horror is unveiled in one quick, nasty burst; the latter a tale of revenge from a very unexpected source (hint, don't fuck with black cats, okay?).

A few of them aren't really horror at all, more suspense. Contents of a Dead Man's Pockets, for example, promises something truly sinister, but doesn't deliver. I got to the end with a feeling of "oh, that all worked out okay then," which is not really very satisfying. Jugged Hare, the opening story, is the same, except even less satisfying, because it's implied that all the actual horror will take place much later, when the reader isn't around. That's not to say it's a bad story, but it doesn't entirely fit my criteria of "horror," whereas I had a very visceral reaction to Raspberry Jam. As a long-time fan of MR James, I appreciate an ambiguous creepy story as much as the next ... MR James fan, but if a book is touted as a horror anthology, I want a little horror.

The weakest story in the collection for me is On The Portobello Road, a rather bland ghost story notable only for it's massive racism. I couldn't decide if the racism was the author's or the character's, but it made the story very hard to enjoy on any level. Overall though, it's a good collection. The Squaw is definitely my favourite story. It's interesting to note in the introduction that as this annual anthology continued and the stories became gorier, readers lost interest. I imagine today it'd be pretty hard to market a relatively bloodless collection like this, when horror is so tied up with maniacs gutting teenage girls, and zombies are more or less a required element. It was kind of cool to read stories that didn't feature many/any supernatural elements, and wasn't just torture porn. I hope Pan reissue a few more of these in the future.

Books read so far:

 
1 / 24 words. 4% done!
naomi_jay: (viva los muertos)

I knew reading anything after finishing Stacia Kane's Unholy Ghosts (of which more later) would be hard, because I loved that book so much, anything else was going to suffer by comparison. So if the review below seems a bit ranty, I'd like to say now that I did enjoy Afraid, in the way I enjoy 80s slasher flicks. I know there's going to be violence and randomness, and characters who I don't mind seeing killed, and therefore I just switch my brain off and soak it up, and that's why I like it. Anyway. Onwards!
 


 

Spoilery! )




naomi_jay: (pink skeleton)
It really is impossible for me to discuss this book without spoilers, so ware!


 
Also, this isn't the cover my copy has. There appear to be about a million different covers for this book depending what part of the world you're in and whether you have a hardback or paperback. Anyway, this is the cover I like best. My copy has a really boring Twilight-esque cover with a leaf on it, which is just ... unimpressive. I think the cover model here looks like Mary, and it's all moody and bleak, which fits the book perfectly. So, onwards!

Don't mention the Z-word )

I will say that the payoff for the novel is brilliant, and the reoccurring theme of the ocean is lovely and works very well. The worldbuilding was a little thin for my liking. Look, if you're going to give me a zombie novel, give me more zombies, that's all I'm saying. The navel-gazing coming-of-age finding-myself stuff is fine, but throw in some more full-on zombie-fighting like we get in the last chapter or so. It's what the people want! Will I read the sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves? I don't know. I'm already having some trouble with the title, which I think should be The Wave-Tossed Dead, since the waves are tossing the dead rather than the dead tossing the waves, you know? But that's pedantic. I'm really not sure whether I want to read it. I liked TFOHAT - I even liked Mary, despite my misgivings. But I need more zombies.

 

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Dirty Little Whirlwind

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