Strong Second Book in an Entertaining Series It's good to be home again. For about five seconds, anyway.
She's fresh off a plane and back in LA after a...moreStrong Second Book in an Entertaining Series It's good to be home again. For about five seconds, anyway.
She's fresh off a plane and back in LA after a long trip to New York, but magic null and Old World cleaner Scarlett Bernard doesn't even make it out of the airport before LAPD Detective Jesse Cruz is dropping a new case in her lap and glaring at her like she caused it all. Dragging her out to the crime scene, questioning her as if she hadn't just gotten back in the state, the gorgeous detective definitely seems to still have an issue with Scarlett's occupation and her connection to the vampires, werewolves, and witches who comprise the Old World presence in Los Angeles.
Though that's not really a surprise, given how their single date had gone prior to her trip.
Unfortunately, Jesse is also correct about his take on the crime scene. It definitely looks like it has been cleaned, indicating at least some Old World connection. Scarlett just hasn't been back in town long enough to know what sort.
Pressed into investigating a crime she didn't commit...again...doesn't exactly thrill her, but Scarlett soon realizes she's got bigger concerns. Two witches are already dead, and two humans with an eerie connection to Scarlett's past are killed. That's more than enough carnage to let Scarlett know her formerly dead (now undead) mentor Olivia has decided three months of reprieve is long enough. She's coming for Scarlett, and leaving a trail of blood and death in her wake.
If Scarlett can't figure out what game Olivia is playing and stop it quickly, everyone she cares about could fall victim to the same batshit-crazy psychopath who killed her parents.
I liked Olson's series debut Dead Spots. By the end of that book I felt optimistic about the potential for this series and pleased with the world and the characters. Trail of Dead furthers that potential by taking several more strides in the right direction. I think it was a slightly stronger book all around, with a more personally significant external conflict for our heroine, and some of my more minor issues with the first book didn't carry over into this one.
With all her apathy, moral ambiguity, and emotional immaturity intact, Scarlett is back in LA just in time to land herself in trouble once again. There are still moments in the book when I didn't like her. She's a young twenty-three in a lot of ways, and suffers from an appalling amount of emotional immaturity too often to be consistently appealing at this point in the series, but I do still think she's a very unique heroine.
Her lack of a strong moral compass and her questionable ethics make her interesting. It never occurs to Scarlett to do the right thing just because it's the right thing, or out of some inherent sense of honor or concern for the community at large. She's just not that sort of heroine. That's more Jesse's style, and I love that contrast between their characters. Scarlett does only what she needs to do to stay alive in a deadly world and be moderately comfortable while doing so. No more, no less.
She's been living in an emotional vacuum since the death of her parents, torn apart by (misplaced) guilt and barricaded against any and all emotional vulnerability, but that's been slowly changing since Jesse came into her life. Olson is keeping the evolution of her character very slow so far, but it has seemed very organic given the situations in which Scarlett has become embroiled. Sure, sometimes it's frustrating - like when I would prefer Scarlett be a nicer, more mature person in general - but I can't fault the evolution itself.
Jesse, as he was in the first book, is a bright spot in this read and the perfect complement to Scarlett. I like him both as a character and as a man in Scarlett's life. He's the good, decent, kind, honorable sort...and sometimes I just want to gobble him up with a spoon. I'm so happy that Olson maintained the fluid shifts in points of view between Scarlett's first person narration and Jesse's third person. Olson does that exceptionally well and her transitions are flawless. The unique style also allows for more depth and definition for Jesse's character beyond his interactions with Scarlett, increasing his presence in the story. I really love it.
Eli, on the other hand, is just as much a non-entity for me in this book as he was in the first. For all the relationship angst between him and Scarlett, I just don't think his character has been around enough, or has a large enough role, to really impact my feelings about him one way or another. I found his character to be far more effective as a source of conflict and catastrophe late in this book than he's ever been as a love interest or supporting character. Which, frankly, disappoints me, because I think I'd like him - even root for him - if I just got to know him a little better.
Not that I want to perpetuate the love triangle between Scarlet and Jesse and Eli. I don't. I hate love triangles, and think they are agonizingly overused in the genre.
I loved the plot arc of the conflict with Olivia in this book, though more so in the second half, when the crises really started to go critical and puzzle pieces started to lock into place. It was a far more personal conflict for Scarlet than that of the previous book, and that added emotional impact in several tense, gripping scenes. I can't say all the pieces of the puzzle fit together for me, and I was left with a few question marks about Olivia's actions and motivations, as well as confusion about the intended end game for the other Big Bad, but overall, I found it very satisfying.
I did start to question the timeline in some of the backstory though, and I'm not entirely sure some plot points didn't contradict established history. Scarlett has been adamant about blaming herself for her parents death (I won't even get started on how I feel about that nonsense this time), and I could have sworn it was established that her guilt was what impacted her relationship with her brother since their parents' death five years ago. But Scarlett only found out Olivia killed her parents the week before Olivia "died," which was less than a year prior to the events of the first book and about a year before this one.
Because of that appearance of contradiction, as well as some other confusing timeline issues later in the story, some crucial scenes didn't track as well for me as they might have. I also had a hard time buying the purported timeline of Olivia's partnership with the other Big Bad in the story, and elements of the external conflict strained my ability to suspend disbelief during the climax and resolution because of it. I just couldn't completely believe everything we're told given Olivia's mental instability and her obsessive relationship with Scarlett.
Honestly, though, those were more minor grievances than true stumbling blocks for me. As a whole, this was a great installment for the series. I liked it even more than I did its predecessor, and would rate it four and a quarter stars if I could. I'm in love with the world and I adore Jesse. If Scarlett continues to evolve into a more consistently appealing heroine in future books, I can easily see myself falling absolutely in love with this series.
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Amazon.com through the Amazon Vine program. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own. ~*~*~*~ Reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.(less)
Lately, the criteria for whether a new urban fantasy series sinks or swims with me has primarily been centered around the main character, with support...moreLately, the criteria for whether a new urban fantasy series sinks or swims with me has primarily been centered around the main character, with supporting characters and plot of equal but secondary importance. That's mostly because there's just not all that much that can set apart the first book in a UF series when you've got vampires, were-animals, sorcerers, and Fae in the world. Some Girls Bite is no exception in that regard. Vampires have come out of the closet, so to speak, and are working a wicked PR campaign to keep the human population from turning into the next incarnation of the Spanish Inquisition. The main character is attacked and turned without being given a choice (that's actually an important distinction from "against her will," though). Much angst and adjustment abound. That's a VERY surface summary, but on that surface, it's just not that new a premise.
If you go no further and decide not to read Some Girls Bite based on the surface appearance of "just another vamp urban fantasy," you're going to be doing yourself a disservice, because this book and the main character, Merit (it's her last name and she's sort of touchy about her first one - to the point of not letting us know what it is), develops all sorts of layers below the surface. She does go through her fair share of recriminations and angst, but from the first page of the book, you know it's not going to last, and by the last page it seems to be over, so I'm okay with it. It seemed natural instead of mind-numbingly repetitive, as with so many other "woe is me, I'm a kick-ass heroine and still bemoan my very existence" heroines. You know the ones I mean.
Where Some Girls Bite sets itself apart is in the development of the many layers of supernatural life you just truly start to get a glimpse of in this debut. Vampires aren't your typical...well...actually, they aren't your typical anything, and I wouldn't call them undead if I were you - more like "Otherwise Alive." Their internal political and social structure is a rather amusing (when it's not disturbing in its antiquity) blend of a collegiate Frat Row and feudal England. As diametrically opposed as those two things may be, it actually works in this book and I thought it was sort of a nifty new take on an old standard. You don't get much of a glimpse of the other supernaturals in this world, but there's enough to interest you with the teasers and the allusions to their importance, particularly the order of sorcerers that the dark and delicious Catcher had belonged to and is preparing blue-haired, ad design maven, best friend Mallory for.
And I really really liked Merit. She has moments of brainlessness (well...okay...days of them, actually - but getting changed apparently isn't the easiest thing), and that usually turns me off a main character, but she acknowledges those with her best friend, and given her education, her independence despite moneyed, emotionally distant, social-climbing parents, and how she ends up pulling things together towards the end of the book, you know she's never going to be one of those TSTL protagonists.
The secondary characters are fun and dangerous at turns, but utterly believable and delightfully real, and I liked and appreciated the time taken to flesh them out and give them more than two dimensions. And Ethan's just an absolutely fantastic anachronistic delight - driven by the weight of historic responsibility yet intensely interested in Merit, the antithesis of everything and everyone he's ever known. Their scenes together are searing tugs-of-war that thrill and amuse and titillate.
I did think that the beginning started out slow (pre-commencement), and there were a few times when Merit did annoy me a bit more than I would've liked, hence the four stars, but what truly impresses me is the exceptional potential that this book gives to the upcoming series. I recommend this book and can't wait to get my hands on the next installment, Friday Night Bites.
Solid Urban Fantasy Series If you're looking for a paranormal romance, Eileen Wilks' World of the Lupi series may not be quite your cup of tea. While t...moreSolid Urban Fantasy Series If you're looking for a paranormal romance, Eileen Wilks' World of the Lupi series may not be quite your cup of tea. While there are romantic elements in the book - more in Mortal Danger than in Tempting Danger, the series opener - those elements are not the driving plot of the book. If you like your books more along the lines of urban fantasy, then give Wilks a try. You won't be disappointed.
Lily Yu is no longer a homicide cop, but her life and her job as an agent for the FBI's Magical Crime Division certainly hasn't gotten any easier. Assaulted at her sister's wedding, trying to come to terms with her Were mate, Rule Turner, the prince of wolves himself, and still trying to find the ever-elusive Reverend Harlowe...and more importantly the big staff of necrotizing badness introduced in the series premiere Tempting Danger, she hardly has the energy to deal with the bodies that start piling up. Or the note left one one: This one's for Yu. Deal she must, however, and with the gritty determination and force of personality that is inherently Yu. She can't help it though, when events in her life put her positively beside herself.
I really enjoyed Mortal Danger. It lacked most of the pleasing police procedural of Tempting Danger, but it did introduce more of the fantasy side of the world that Wilks is creating. It's a well drawn and complex world, and I like seeing it unfold a little at a time. I also very much enjoyed the both the re-acquaintance with established characters - I'm a huge Cullen fan - and the introduction of new ones. Cynna Weaver is an enigma and a treat.
It wasn't quite as much a self-contained thriller as Tempting Danger, and it's certainly not anything I'd consider stand-alone, but it was a definite bridge for the series and a significant step in world building. The only minor complaint I have is that the plot was sort of split between worlds and the more urban parts were dealt with disappointingly quickly. The fantasy parts, however, were well written and interesting, and I very much enjoyed seeing more of the Lupi clan dynamics and politics in action. There's a lot of depth and a sense of history in this series that totally appeals, so it balances everything out nicely.
I'm not entirely sure where the series is going yet in its overall arc, but I'm enjoying the hell out of getting there. Nicely done.
There are a plethora of kick-ass urban fantasy series with kick-ass heroines out there today. The genre is rockin' and sockin' like a frat house on a...moreThere are a plethora of kick-ass urban fantasy series with kick-ass heroines out there today. The genre is rockin' and sockin' like a frat house on a weekend bender after a football championship win. Every author has created a slightly different world, with slightly different mythos, slightly different characters, etc...the emphasis on slightly. That's not a criticism; it's more like a statistical probability. I believe the key is finding those authors and series that present a world or mythos or characters that appeal to your personal tastes. As urban fantasy is one of my favorite genres, and I have a very eclectic palate for it, I read a lot of UF series. Some set themselves apart, some don't. Few make it to my "Oh my god...new release?? Get it! Get it! Get it NOW!!" category.
Chloe Neill is, in my opinion, utterly unique in that she's created a series that, arguably, isn't the most original in location (the awesome city of Chicago) or in world building (vampires have come out of the coff...er...closet to humans and are working a wicked PR campaign to keep themselves from being turned into crispy critters and other supernaturals are eying them intently, concerned about the potential power shift and threat), or, honestly, in mythos (not really sure what the vampires' origins are, but they've had their fair share of genocidal cleansings that sound quite a lot like witch trials of old and of the inquisition), yet Neill has managed to catapult herself and her series into that category I mentioned. Yes, I actually have an "Oh my god...new release?? Get it! Get it! Get it NOW!!" category. I never said I was well balanced. Moving on...
What Neill has managed to create that is unique and appealing, is Merit, Sentinel of Cadogan House and kick-ass heroine of a kick-ass series. Bright, independent, stubborn, maturing Merit is one of my favorite UF heroines in any and every series I'm reading or have read. I absolutely love her. She's a novitiate vampire, new to the world and the House, and she's been forced into positions as both political pawn and weapon for her liege and master Ethan Sullivan, yet she remains relatively poised and strong willed as she grows within her House and her position as Sentinel. I am completely appreciative of a heroine that I can relate to and admire and, frankly, not want to strangle...because there are so many other UF heroines that I'd like to take a two-by-four to for so very many reasons, even when I like the series they're in (annnnd we're right back to the unbalanced issue...moving on). The Chicacoland Vampires series is told from Merit's perspective in a smooth, contemporary, first person narrative that is at turns humorous, griping, and caustic with sharp wit. Twice Bitten: A Chicagoland Vampires Novel in particular shines with zippy dialogue and internal monologues, and Merit is almost solely responsible for that fantastic aspect of the book.
In Twice Bitten, which picks up mere days from the events of the second book in the series, Friday Night Bites, and just a few months from the first, Some Girls Bite, Merit is still dealing with the potential threat of Celina Desaulniers, former Navarre House Master and total power hungry wingnut, still training with Ethan, and still exceptionally drawn to him. The fireworks between them are incendiary and in this book, extra...fireworky...um, yeah. So anyway, the shapeshifters are on their way to Chicago for a convocation concerning their next move as a species and the Apex of NAC pack, Gabriel, is tentatively willing to extend a paw to Cadogan House and Ethan and Merit in particular. The foresight-gifted shifter has seen a future that includes pack and House affiliations he's not too specific about, but one that features Merit heavily. Ethan is practically salivating for the opportunity of an alliance because...well, because he's a politics junkie, for one, but he's also very aware that a war is brewing and the only hope of survival of both species against a planet of humanity may be joining forces with a past nemesis. Unfortunately, not all of the pack agrees with its progressive thinking Apex, and soon politics turns to bloodshed and death and assassination attempts. Will any tentative hope for an alliance go up in flames or will two races at odds be able to unite against a common threat? The cost for misstep will be paid in blood.
The political and sociological structures of shifters and vampires are brilliantly written here, and while the plot is both less an more than most end-of-the-world-or-some-other-similar-catastrophe UF series, it's fascinating and poignant, and there's a lesson to be learned about the crippling nature of bigotry and prejudice. This book (and series) is far more subtly written than others in the genre, allowing for some truly fantastic character development for a larger contingent of characters than most UF books. Through Merit's eyes we see how similar to humans in some ways, and how spectacular in others, vampires are as we get a deeper and broader view of the people and personalities that make up Cadogan vampires in a more relaxed and natural setting, allowing a more intimate relationship with them as people, and I very much enjoyed that. I've grown quite fond of Lindsey and Luc and the rest of Merit's growing circle of friends.
I did have a few moments where I got a bit troubled with the plot, though. I can't say I totally bought into the motivations and actions of the players surrounding the main conflict and climax of the story. It seemed a little too neat and perhaps a bit cliched. Admittedly, I was more frustrated because the rest of the book had made a lot of excellent strides in laying groundwork for a positively Machiavellian development...though, I suppose I could be looking at it from a more vampiric perspective. That race does sort of epitomize Machiavellian. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were also moments in the book that I felt attained a sort of sublime truthfulness, most notably with Merit and the guy in the library. There was a scene that pointed out in unapologetic detail that for some, atrocity isn't history - it's memory, and should be respected as such. Humans surely aren't immortal, but atrocity isn't limited to history, either, and the message was a poignant one that struck a chord with me.
As much as I hate to be one of those readers who clamors for more from a favored author, with pleas to write faster or produce more quickly, I have to admit, I'm less than thrilled that Neill is currently writing two books a year and one of them is for her new Dark Elite series (Firespell). Very unfortunately, that means no more Merit for another year. That's more than a little disappointing. Still, I have to say, Merit...and the Chicagoland Vampires series...is worth the wait.
Destined for an Early Grave, the much anticipated continuation of the Night Huntress series, is a chillingly fun and fast delight. I have to admit, I...moreDestined for an Early Grave, the much anticipated continuation of the Night Huntress series, is a chillingly fun and fast delight. I have to admit, I didn't so much read the book as devoured it (I think my Kindle is still begging for mercy). There were things in this book that positively thrilled me as far as character development and surprising plot twists I in no way saw coming, and I commend any author that can write several books in a series without allowing main characters to stagnate in their personal development. Cat and Bones, who have been two of my favorite lead characters since the beginning of the series - both for their strengths and their...weaknesses - are back and dealing with some big stuff that manages to put a very sharp and silver-filled point on the struggles of two very strong, prideful, and stubborn people (regardless of the status of their pulse) in a long term relationship. Perhaps most of those struggles are unique to Cat and Bones because of what they are and what they aren't, yet Frost manages to make them resonate in this reader's heart as realistic and, ultimately, unavoidable. I loved it.
In fact, I loved much about this book. I expected a fantastic, kick-undead-ass, thrilling read with lots of action, a bit of angst, and a race to the finish just to see who is left standing when the dust finally settles - and I got exactly that.
That being said, not all is well in this particular graveyard. Destined for an Early Grave feels (to me) best categorized as a transitional book for the series. Jarringly so, actually, to its slight detriment. Keep in mind, I flat out loved the first three books - solid five stars from me for each - and there was little doubt at the end of the third book, At Grave's End, that the time had come for a new direction for the Red Reaper and the love of her life, so I was expecting transition, but in this case the transition just wasn't all that smooth.
The first three books showed a gradual and realistic growth of character in Cat, from little more than repressed, prejudiced, and ignorant Vamp hater to savvy and strong military-esque commander in love with a vampire. She was a character who still had lingering issues, though, and those issues were significant stumbling blocks to any long term happiness. Very juicy tidbits for future development, to be sure.
Unfortunately, through one of the worst (IMHO) plot contrivances in a book I've read in recent memory, I wasn't so much drawn along with Cat on her continuing development as I was slammed into it with all the subtlety and most of the discomfort of stake in the chest. This is strictly a personal preference but I think it's a bit insulting to my intelligence to read (with no foreshadowing in the first three books) that a character whose progress I've been following for six years of her life has suddenly realized that there's a full month of her life she doesn't remember and a big bad vamp who played a suspiciously active role in that month. Also that she doesn't remember. And this sudden forgotten memory is the cause of all manner of angst and misery (and the driving force of the main plot).
Ugh. I really, really disliked that plot point. For a lot of reasons, actually, not the least being that given how it was developed, I find it ridiculous unlikely (in that "are you kidding me??" sort of way) in light of what we've been told about Cat's early years, her mother's unwavering and vitriolic prejudice, and her now deceased grandparents' uber-stark influences, that that would ever have happened (not to mention how the heck could it have happened). From strictly a reader's perspective, I think it's just a shamefully easy way to make your characters do what you want (or need) them to do, be, behave, whatever. Admittedly, this is personal taste, but I don't like when an author rewrites a character's past to suit story direction to begin with - and unfortunately in this case, I don't even think it was done well. I would've been much more understanding had their been some foreshadowing in previous novels...a tool that the author is obviously not unfamiliar with, as we've seen previously.
That being said, once I accepted that one distasteful aspect of the book ("willing" suspension of disbelief was more like "forced"), the rest was pure pleasure. The dialogue is witty, sarcastic, and wonderful. The action sequences tightly woven and nail-biting. The development and direction of the characters, at the end, gave me a roller coaster ride of wild emotions that run the gamut. And I always respect an author who leaves you guessing in each book as to who is going to survive, because with Frost, you just never know. Perhaps there was a bit of predictability in certain parts relating to Cat and Bones' relationship, but I'm actually really forgiving of that because I find the relationship itself to have really made some significant and surprising steps towards maturing that I appreciate.
I really liked the book, and would absolutely recommend it to all of those people who read for the sake of enjoyment and don't mind so much some plot points that may raise an eyebrow...or a ghoul or two. I'm also excited to see the Frost expanding into paranormal romance with the Night Huntress World series, starting with Denise and Spade's story, First Drop of Crimson.
Updated 1/31/12: I've recently started rereading this series to be able to proceed to the fifth and sixth book, which I've not yet read. In this reread I found myself getting very frustrated by both Cat and Bones, who spent most of the first half of the book incapable of communicating and acting like overly angsty spoiled brats. I've adjusted my rating from 4 stars to 3 stars accordingly.
Strong Urban Fantasy Series Opener Homicide detective and touch sensitive Lily Yu knows she's stepped into a potential firestorm when she's made lead d...moreStrong Urban Fantasy Series Opener Homicide detective and touch sensitive Lily Yu knows she's stepped into a potential firestorm when she's made lead detective on the murder investigation of a human killed by a Lupi. Species relations are slowly starting to improve, but tensions between humans and other magical creatures are still high and there is a long history of persecution and death. This murder has the potential to set progress back to the burning times. If it's not solved quickly, it will definitely threaten the passage of the Species Citizenship Bill, a bill that not only would classify Lupi and others as nonhuman, but would grant them full citizenship rights as nonhuman. The Nokolai clan supports the bill, embraces the changes inherent in its passing, but others are less happy and long to exterminate the Lupi from the planet. Solving the murder of Carlos Fuentes may be the only way to keep both sides from exploding.
Rule Turner, Lu Nuncio and heir apparent to the Nokolai clan is being framed for the murder, of that much Lily is certain, but knowing it and proving it are two very different things, and when a second body turns up and Lily touches the body to feel the magic of the scene, she realizes that a simple murder case has just gotten immensely more complicated and dangerous. The second victim appears to have been killed by a Lupi, like Fuentes, but underneath the "feel" of werewolf magic is the slick, putrid sense of a sorcery so malignant that it can only mean an Old One is meddling in conspiracy, murder, and politics. And in that case, no one is safe.
Eileen Wilks kicks off this solid urban fantasy series with a unique blend of police procedure, werewolf culture, and Asian flavor, throws in a bit of magic, mystery, and romance, and ends up with an original story full of complex, likable characters, and a layered plot with intriguing twists and turns.
Unlike so many urban fantasy heroines lately, Lily is a short, slight woman of Asian descent, relatively new to homicide and aware of the struggles inherent in working with the boys club of the police department. She's not a leather-wearing, shotgun-toting, inked and scarred badass heroine with all the answers. She solves murders the old fashioned way - connecting the dots of evidence and putting in the legwork. A tragic event in her past has molded her into the cop she is today, and family and cultural influence has an impact on the woman she has grown to be. She is a breath of fresh air in the genre, with realistic reactions to difficult and surprising situations. Imperfect, sure, with a stubborn streak a mile wide, an independent streak an inch wider, and an absolute lack of personal life because she eats, sleeps, and breathes the job. She's got trust issues, and she's not exactly in touch with her emotions. For all that, she's a dedicated, compassionate woman who loves gardening, her grandmother, and her cat. She fights for justice, but would die for the people she cares about. She's normal...with a side order of special.
And then there's Rule.
Rule Turner is the playboy Lupi prince, Lu Nuncio of his clan and quintessential PR face for his people. He's the image that women swoon for and men want to emulate. Rule, though, is more than an image, more than a randy playboy. He is governed by instincts, culture, and a noble - if wild - sense of right and wrong. He sees Lily Yu, touches her hand, and knows she is his Chosen. To be so gifted changes his life forever. The cultural and nearly religious significance of his kind and their history is doled out in tasty little bites of story goodness, weighty and juicy, and threaded into the plot seamlessly.
There is a romantic thread through the book, though its certainly not the focal point, but it's enough to satisfy readers of paranormal romance. Tempting Danger isn't a romance novel, however. It's truly an urban fantasy, with a powerful plot full of danger that has significance on their world stage.
The plot is well layered, developing steadily as the characters are introduced and the world defined. The narrative is balanced with satisfying description and exposition, and the police procedural aspects are handled well. There were a few times the investigation felt a little slow to progress, and the pacing dragged a little in places, but overall it was a strong effort. More of a concern for me were the few times when there were abrupt jumps in the story, events beginning, then suddenly they're over and described after the fact. Most notably the final conflict. It's not a particular favorite style of mine, and it tends to disconnect my emotions and upset the story flow.
There were so many good points, though, with strong characters that I grew to be very fond of through the story. I was very enamored with the other aspects, as well, especially the slow world building and information sharing as the book progressed. I loved the evolution of the relationship between Lily and Rule, which was both realistic and sweet. This book is full of characters that I cared about, and I'm very pleased that I'll be able to follow along with their lives and stories awhile.
Prior to reading this forth book in the Kate Daniels series, I took the time to go back to the beginning and refresh my memory of Kate and Curran and...morePrior to reading this forth book in the Kate Daniels series, I took the time to go back to the beginning and refresh my memory of Kate and Curran and the world they inhabit. I'm so glad I did, because after finishing Magic Bleeds it occurred to me what sets this urban fantasy series apart from the legion of others in the genre. For all that they could be read as stand alone novels, with enough exposition to get a new reader up to speed, when read together these books are more like an intimate tapestry of exquisite continuity that transcends the plot conflicts with the various nasties encapsulated in each book, becoming a word-woven masterpiece of the rich, robust, treacherous, and sometimes terrifying world of Kate Daniels and her friends.
Eight weeks after surviving the Rakshasas in the Midnight Games in Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels, Book 3), Kate cooked a very important meal for Curran, the Beast Lord. She cooked it exactly to the specifications he'd left her the last time he'd broken into her apartment. She dressed up, wore make up, and even bought condoms for the event, knowing full well what cooking for him would mean. Then he stood her up. For three weeks after that her heart felt heavy in her chest as she worked her way through her cases with Curran never far from her thoughts. But he doesn't call.
One day, as Kate was making her way home after a grueling shift, Maxine, the secretary for the knight-protector at the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aide and a strong mental telepath, taps into Kate's head to ask her to answer to a call of a murder during a fight at a bar on the outskirts of Atlanta. All hell breaks loose when she reaches the bar and assesses the victim, and Kate has to scramble to contain a virulent epidemic with almost sentient malevolence. Something big and very bad has come to Atlanta.
Issues of blood raised in the previous books start to come to horrifying fruition here, leaving little doubt that Kate's next family reunion may destroy everything she holds dear. And Kate is no longer the solitary, friendless woman we met at the beginning of the series. She has her friends, people she loves...and of course, His Furriness himself, Curran. He broke her heart when he stood her up, and Kate's not big on second chances. But can she live without the man who has come to be the only port in the storm of her existence? Finding out who's going around causing fights and pandemics to break out in all the major cities in the south while keeping the citizens of Atlanta and all her friends safe may just be the final straw on the back of Kate's camel, leaving her forever broken. Or dead.
Whether I look at the series overall or focus on just this book, my opinion is the same. Well written and complex plotting, intricate pacing, original and unique world building, fantastic mythos, and strong, vibrant, independent characters make this a must read. For me, the added conflict between Curran and Kate set this particular book even higher in my estimation. I don't have the ability to adequately express my enthusiasm for it and for Kate Daniels as the heroine. My hat is off to Ilona Andrews for the ability to reach out and gut a reader with a few words, taking command of their minds and the rate of their heartbeats with a sheer force of literary genius that the People would give scholarships for.
While reading the first two books (Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, Book 1) and Magic Burns (Kate Daniels, Book 2), I had minor issues with the complexity of the plots, which I felt sometimes pushed more towards convoluted. Along with the propensity of Andrews to over-describe a scene, those flaws were slight detriments to those first two efforts. The previous book was not similarly hampered, but the complexity of the plot suffered a little, being far more streamlined and less heavy on the descriptive narratives but also with a little less meat on its bones. Forth time's the charm, apparently, because Magic Bleeds achieves a nearly perfect middle ground. There is a fantastic juxtaposition of complexity in the mystery and mythos of the Plaguebringer and her posse, descriptive narrative that enhances rather than burdens the flow of the story, and an emotional wallop with the developing relationship between Curran and Kate and all that entails, along with issues with the Pack, with friends, and even with her attack poodle. This juxtaposition provided a virtually flawless, exciting read, chock full of the danger and humor and sexually charged atmosphere that has made this series such a favorite of mine.
I swear, waiting on the next book is akin to cruel and unusual punishment. Excellent book. Enjoy!
Thrilling Trilogy Conclusion They may have graced her with the title of Negotiator, they may have acknowledged her as a representative of her race, but...moreThrilling Trilogy Conclusion They may have graced her with the title of Negotiator, they may have acknowledged her as a representative of her race, but they are and forever will be other.
New York City hasn't seemed the same to Legal Aid lawyer Margrit Knight in the months since she was pulled into the world of Old Races. She hasn't seemed the same, even to herself, especially in the two weeks since the actions she took against the djinn Malik to protect dragon crime lord Janx directly led to Malik's demise. Nightmares of fire and death stalk her sleep, and out of a desperate need for time to come to terms with the recent past she keeps Alban at arm's length and stops herself from looking up as she jogs through Central Park at night.
Turns out that act of self preservation wasn't enough to keep Alban's old rival Biali from snatching her up and flying away with her. Before she can cry foul, Biali's move to draw Alban into a fight over the death of the halfling gargoyle...and batshit crazy murderer Ausra has yanked Grit right back into Old Race politics.
As Margrit prepares to defend Alban in a battle he refuses to fight for himself, she further thrusts herself from the familiar human world and into that of the gargoyle she's come to love. Inherently dangerous, industriously devious, unapologetic in their machinations, the Old Races are both tempting lure and cautionary tale. Embracing them and their world means forever walking a dangerous tightrope between gargoyle, vampire, selkie, dragon, and djinn, currying favor and carrying secrets and doing deals. The slightest misstep, the briefest bobble, and it won't simply be an issue of losing a case, it'll be a matter of forfeiting her very life.
The Negotiator trilogy draws to a close in this complex and thorough third book, and in so doing, evidences just what I like most about trilogies. When done particularly well, as in this case, the first and second books set up the characters, the world, and the many layers of plot, and by the third, readers can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of the author's labor as impending conflicts are realized, questions are answered, and resolutions are reached.
Hands Of Flame doesn't suffer from the slow start of Heart Of Stone or the slightly ponderous plot details of House of Cards. It hits hard and fast, picks up the action and the continued dramatics of the Old Races, and builds off what came before as it spirals towards a tenser and tenser conclusion. So many delicious lingering plot threads are tidied up, so many interesting mysteries are revealed. Margrit is still the quintessential Don Quixote, tilting at her Old Race windmills, but the stakes are ever so much higher with beloved characters on the line in new and scary ways.
I love this trilogy, and most of the reasons why are in this book. The depth given to the characters is so appealing, and as I prefer shades of gray as opposed to a strict black-and-white philosophy, the delightful moral ambiguity of best friends and fiercest rivals Janx and Daisani, dragon and vampire, offered me some of the best, if not the best, interpersonal conflicts between secondary characters I've ever read. Of course Margrit is the central character of the trilogy, with Alban a close second as the rock-solid male lead (no pun intended...really), and I liked them both. Yet while I enjoyed the journey of their relationship as it evolved over the three books, I have to admit, without the two bad boys, the trilogy wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining for me, and there are definitely some positively delicious developments with them in this book.
There's a lot of yum in the story as a whole in this book, actually. Even after reading the first two, I wasn't fully prepared for the full scope, imagination, and originality of the many-headed monster that is Hands Of Flame, and I was struck anew by Murphy's ability to weave such a richly developed and intricate trilogy with such attention to detail and continuity. I sort of loved everything about it, and the end - the epilogue - well, a special kernel of more-than-love is awarded to that bit of it. I positively adored how everything was tied up. I even appreciated those strands of complication or development that weren't quite tied, but at least given a nod, because it struck me as realistic and believable.
Though I know The Negotiator is a completed trilogy, and C.E. Murphy has been firm about Margrit and Alban's story being done, I can't help but thirst for more novels set in their world featuring the characters that I've come to love. Maybe we'll see more of the Old Races some day. I, for one, hope for more than the occasional short story that Murphy offers through her website, stories that delve into the past of such beloved characters as Janx and Daisani. I hunger to see what happens next, far more than what came before, and while I'm sure that makes me greedy, for the sort of layered, complex, and brilliant writing that I found in this trilogy, I'm more than okay with that label.
Oh What Tangled Webs It's been a few months since gargoyle Alban Korund pulled back from New York City lawyer Margrit Knight after exposing her to his...moreOh What Tangled Webs It's been a few months since gargoyle Alban Korund pulled back from New York City lawyer Margrit Knight after exposing her to his world and the Old Races. His intentions were sound; he wanted her safe from the machinations of monsters and he wanted her to have a normal human life with normal human trials and tribulations. The only thing Alban didn't take into account was Margrit's complete disregard for what he wanted for her. The spunky, feisty woman had tasted the magic of the Old Races, and as dangerous as she knew they were, she wanted more.
Margrit ran every night in Central Park, frustrated by the situation but comforted by the knowledge that, though he wouldn't talk to her, her gargoyle was protecting her. In fact, it wasn't through Alban that she was drawn back, inevitable really, to the Old Races. A dragon crimelord and a vampire business mogul, locked in an ages-old battle of one-upmanship, yank her back into their world with meticulous forethought...and maybe even malice, of a sort.
For those two powerful and ancient beings, Margrit is a pawn to be used. For Alban, she's a woman to be loved from afar. When a surprising and abrupt shift in power among the Old Races shakes them to their foundations, however, it is Margrit's very humanity that they will have to rely on to save them all.
This second book in The Negotiator trilogy is so much fun, once it gets going. The first half of the book is a little slow, and I still haven't got much use for Margrit's human life or her human friends and family, but this series totally shines when she's maneuvering her way through the mine fields surrounding the Old Races and negotiating them into submission. There's a delightful plethora of that in the latter part of this book.
I'm totally in love with the world that Murphy has created in this trilogy, and I'm more than a little in love with Janx. Daisani has his own charm, too, but the flamboyant ebullience of the dragon is the most appealing to me. Oh, don't get me wrong, this series belongs to Margrit and Alban, and I love that we got to see Alban working more independently in this book than in the last. As much as I adore him, though, and want nothing but him and Margrit to have a shot at some sort of Happily Ever After, sometimes I want to shake Stoneheart for his slow thinking and stubbornness, and occasionally Margrit's tempestuous personality rubs me the wrong way.
Still, there is a steadfast solidity to Alban's character that is ultimately appealing, and more than a little brilliant from a character standpoint, and I admire Margrit's tenacity and grit, not to mention her intelligence. She is often out of her depth with the Old Races, but she holds her own in ways that consistently manage to surprise all the Old Race characters she deals with on a daily - and nightly basis.
I can't help but really dislike Margrit's roommates - they don't add anything to the series, and I find Cole's judgmental bigotry, and the wretched way he speaks to Margrit (again, actually, as he did it in the first book, too) pretty distasteful. Nor have I ever liked Tony, who has never struck me as anything but close-minded and selfish, and for all his platitudes and the sleepless nights next to Margrit's hospital bed in the previous book, he is forever blind to the core of Margrit's heart and personality.
This is a solid second book in a trilogy, and it straddles the line between Margrit's old life and her new one. I wasn't quite as happy with this installment as I was with the first, it's actually my least favorite of all three of them, but only slightly so. There is a lot of juicy development with the Old Races in this book, and much change for creatures not known for being quick-change artists. I'm thrilled with the trilogy as a whole, love the world and the characters, and am anxious to continue on to the conclusion. I can't wait to see how all the change here impacts the characters in The Negotiator trilogy conclusion, Hands Of Flame.
~* 4.5 Stars *~ Start Looking Up His life is lived in shadows, exiled from his own kind and alone in the world but for her, the woman he protects every...more~* 4.5 Stars *~ Start Looking Up His life is lived in shadows, exiled from his own kind and alone in the world but for her, the woman he protects every night. He doesn't know her name. He doesn't know what she does for a living. He's never broken through the racial boundaries and dared speak to her, his human ward.
Though he wants to. Aches to with a need that grows by the year, by the night.
He is Alban Korund. He is gargoyle.
Most of Margrit Knight's friends joke about her having a death wish, and while those jokes are always half couched in genuine fear for her safety, Margrit knows she's an adrenaline junkie who prefers to run in Central Park every night. As a lawyer for Legal Aid in Manhattan, she doesn't get a lot of free time in the day, but the truth is, no matter how irrational, how dangerous, Margrit is confident to bone-deep levels. Until the night a pale man dressed in a suit far too light for the frigid winter temperatures steps out of the shadows on the path near her and says hello.
Weird, but easily dismissible until Margrit turns on the news at home and sees a witness to a vicious murder in Central Park describe the tall, pale man in a suit as the perpetrator.
As Alban tries again and again to reach out to Margrit to prove his innocence and Margrit gets dragged deeper and deeper into a world she never new existed - a world full of Old Races and predators beyond human comprehension - the two are drawn into the madness of a murderer with a hideous agenda and a horrific connection to an exiled gargoyle.
Long before I started reading C.E. Murphy'sThe Walker Papers series, I came across this nifty little trilogy and fell in love. In fact, as much as I enjoy The Walker Papers, The Negotiator trilogy remains closer to my heart. I love the world that Murphy created here, love the characters, the story. The Old Races add fresh breath and unique life to the genre, as I sure haven't seen a proliferation of gargoyles in fiction, and even though vampires are one of the Old Races, their history is original and shrouded in the sort of mystery that tantalizes instead of tires.
The characters are three dimensional and real, likable but quirky enough to have their own little foibles that add layers to their personalities. Margrit is a bright, confident woman with a strong moral center, liberal of mind and free speaking. She doesn't give much thought to her safety, true, but she throws herself at injustice with a weight far exceeding her body mass. Her ability to see members of the Old Races as people instead of monsters is laudable, even when her mouth starts to write checks that her body's going to have to cash.
Alban is a rock. Literally and figuratively. And in his character is some truly brilliant writing, because Murphy managed to imbue his personality with both a steadfastness that makes sense, a loneliness that devastates, and a stubbornness that is both humorous and intensely frustrating at turns. Where Margrit is fire, burning intensely bright and racing around willy nilly, he is the calm force of protection at her back. The pairing was odd, unique, and filled with a slow burning romantic tension that was very appealing.
But this isn't a romance. It's an urban fantasy. And if the brutal murder of women in Central Park isn't enough of a mystery to solve, Margrit also finds herself caught between a dragon crime lord and a vampire business mogul as the two play a dangerous game of power and influence as coldly calculating as an extended game of chess with the population of New York City as their pawns.
It's a thrilling book, though it's light on world-ending catastrophe like so many in the genre. Instead it offers up a steadily building conflict and rising tension about the murders and takes the time to really open Margrit's eyes to the reality of the world around her. The vampire wants to own her, the dragon wants to play with her, the gargoyle...well...Alban wants to protect her...mostly from himself. Stubborn male.
The beginning was a little slow. After the initial meeting with Alban, the narrative bogged down a bit with the search for him. And I never found Margrit's human friends as interesting as the supernatural elements of the book. Fortunately, after Alban and Margrit start working together, there is very little human interference.
There were also a few times when Margrit's actions and mouth went a little further than just being strong and confident warranted given the powerful entities surrounding her. A few times where I wanted to shake her for her insouciance. Just a few, though, and nothing to make her unlikable. Just a little foolhardy at times. There were also a handful of times when I wondered why any of the Old Races would bother sparing any thought to Margrit, or bothered dealing with her at all, for all her pesky humanity. Novelty only goes so far, after all. But then I stopped worrying about that and just sat back and enjoyed this remarkably well-written book.
I loved the end, though. I love how everything came together. I love the book. Knowing it's a complete trilogy is also another nice thing, because there's a sense of completion (I have a gift for the obvious)...a sense that whatever happens as you're reading, it's already all been written and you know you won't be left hanging for a new release sometime in the distant future to find out what happens next. Given the number of long-running series I read, that's a surprisingly comforting and satisfying treat. And so is Heart Of Stone and The Negotiator trilogy.
Some Girls Bite is on my list of surprise gems in 2009 as a unique urban fantasy with a heroine I could really root for and a complex and intriguing w...moreSome Girls Bite is on my list of surprise gems in 2009 as a unique urban fantasy with a heroine I could really root for and a complex and intriguing world that deals not with world-ending cataclysms but the sometimes deadlier vampire politics and machinations. It was a lesson in the delicacy of balancing a history of vampires that include a feudal-style house structure with characters who have closer ties to frat houses than feudal houses. It was taut, cleverly paced, and while I maintain it was a wee bit slow to start, it was ultimately satisfying.
I like Merit. A lot. She's not an ass-kicking, leather-wearing, gun-toting female warrior (not that there's anything wrong with guns, leather, and ass kicking, but Merit's a nice change); she's a flawed, slightly neurotic, highly educated and intelligent former debutante turned scholastic book worm...and a katana-toting female warrior-in-training whose benefits as Sentinel of Cadogen House include access to Chicago's muckety-mucks for house master and liege Ethan Sullivan and an unerring ability to sniff out complex plots made by sociopathic megalomaniac vampire villainess Celine.
And speaking of complex plots - Friday Night Bites is deliciously laden with them. Where Some Girls Bite spent time introducing you to the world, characters, and overall issues, Friday Night Bites drops you back into the world running, with conspiracies, plots, conflicting emotions and growing pains of every sort. Chloe Neill has shown herself to be particularly brilliant at realistically maturing a layered, meaty cast of characters (most notably heroine Merit), and while as a reader, some aspects of that maturing are just as painful and frustrating for me as they are for Merit (e.g. the emotional tug-of-war between Ethan and Morgan, and the secret Merit is keeping), my emotional investment into those things just serves as kudos to Neill - if it weren't written so darned well, I wouldn't care so darn much.
And I do care - a lot.
I'd put off reading Friday Night Bites after the pure enjoyment of Some Girls Bite because I was counting on a good read and I wanted to draw out the anticipation a bit as I knew a third installment wouldn't be quick in coming. With a release date of July 2010 for the third book in the series, I almost wish I'd waited longer, because it's going to be a long seven months to get a chance to tie up some devious teasers and cliff hangers. Darn it.
Excellent read, though - so much so I may just start all over again from the beginning before the next book - and I could count on one hand the number of times I've done that.
~* 2.5 Stars *~ Not Much Hunt in This One Tiff Banks is back to the business of listening to the whispers of the violently slain dead in this sequel to...more~* 2.5 Stars *~ Not Much Hunt in This One Tiff Banks is back to the business of listening to the whispers of the violently slain dead in this sequel to one of my favorite novellas, Along Came A Demon. Months after the events of that book, Tiff and her Gelpha partner and lover Royal have both drifted away from their jobs with the police and started their own private investigation firm, finding stolen fuzzballs for ludicrous rewards (which always make Tiff happy) and enjoying their growing relationship. Nothing good ever lasts, however, and soon Tiff is embroiled in a case Royal took behind her back for clients that, quite frankly, terrify Tiff, as she has no idea what they are beyond being really fricking scary. They're not demons (Gelpha), but they sure as heck aren't human either, and no amount of questioning can get Royal to tell Tiff what's going on. His odd behavior is putting their relationship on rocky ground, and the combination of a missing person case and Royal's actions are threatening to crumble everything good they have.
When a package arrives at Tiff's house, the contents send her into another direction, one seemingly unconnected to Royal's case. Feeling a bit spiteful, Tiff keeps Royal out of the loop on the handwritten journal she received and the story it contains. Soon secrets are being revealed and murders are piling up, and these clients of theirs, Gia and Daven, creatures Gelpha call the Dark Cousins, are neck deep in everything. Tiff just can't figure out why...but she will. Even if it kills her.
I am a huge fan of Along Came A Demon and I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to this sequel. I can tell you how disappointed I was by it and why, though. I am honestly perplexed as to what happened in this book. Unlike its predecessor, The Demon Hunters is plagued by an inconsistent plot full of holes and tenuous connections, a plethora of questions that go unanswered and an ill defined resolution that was abrupt and succinct to the point of confusion. I had mentioned in my review of Along Came A Demon that I felt that resolution was also oddly abrupt, but I credited that to the constraints of a novella length story. Now I'm not so sure.
There was so much that just seemed wrong, but I'll try to hit on the highlights. The opening chapters that cover the exposition of the story while sending Tiff and Royal out on a cat caper were in a lighthearted tone that matched the previous book in the series, but other than a few scenes with Tiff's ghostly roommates, the rest of the book is much darker and far more serious. So much so that it felt like they could have been in separate books. The mystery of just what Gia and Daven are is interesting to start, but unrewarding and frustrating by the end. I'm firmly in the camp of "if it walks like a vampire and talks like a vampire..." but Tiff was quite adamant in willfully not entertaining even the possibility, which didn't make any sense to me. She sees dead people and her lover is a being from an alternate universe. At some point you think she'd cotton to the idea that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio... But she doesn't, and it's unrewarding.
I'm still not fond of how the relationship between Tiff and Royal is written - that's another constant from the first book. There just isn't anything there to read, really, and readers are just sort of told they're together and it's wonderful...then it's not...then it's okay...then it's up in the air...with no real connection or any development to transition from stage to stage. Frankly, I'd prefer that the relationship aspect be dropped completely if it's going to be so anemic in each story, though I have to admit, I'm not a large fan of Royal and don't think he's been particularly well defined. The ghosts get more attention in both books than he does.
As to the plot itself, once you strip away the threads of what the Dark Cousins are, it becomes a sort of uninteresting murder mystery and the pieces seemed really disjointed to me. I just think their could have been ways to go about solving the case to make it more interesting, but as it was written, it just wasn't. Again, though, the frustration seeped in when the head honcho responsible for all the badness was so obviously on a vampire vendetta and yet, no mention of the possibility of vampires existing...even if they're like demons (Gelpha) to Tiff - something she'd call vampires, though she knows they're really a different race altogether. I can appreciate the author trying to stay away from the overwritten vampire genre, and to make a stylistic decision to keep vampires out of her books, if that's what she did, but to ignore the concept and idea altogether just started to smack of stubborn ignorance after a time, and that's not attractive in characters.
The absolute best part of the book, though, was also the most confusing. After Tiff gets the journal of a young British girl on an expedition in Burma in 1887, she starts to read it - and that's where this book totally shines. Elizabeth's adventure was gripping, interesting, fascinating, and extraordinarily well written. I loved every word of her journal. The bad news is that the connection between the journal and the case is so flimsy and handled so clumsily, that it lost any and all impact as a significant force in solving the case. But it was truly and exceptionally well written in its own right.
I have no idea if we'll be seeing the Dark Cousins again, or if we'll ever get any sort of explanation for what they were and why the Gelpha High Lord wanted to see them, only to ignore them once they were in Bel-Athaer. I desperately wish we'd been given some clue in this book, but the issue may be redeemed if the race is in future books. As it stands, there was just too much in this book that was inconsistent, poorly developed, unexplained, and frustrating to enjoy the story. The third book in the Whispering series, Dead Demon Walking, was previewed at the end of The Demon Hunters. I'll be reading it when it's available based on the promise of the first book and my interest in Tiff and her abilities, but I can only hope that some of the issues I had in this book are resolved, because I don't know if I'd continue any further in the series if it's more like this one than the first.
I'm probably going to sound like a total nut job when I admit this, but when I started reading Hunting Ground, I had this moment of...sublime contentm...moreI'm probably going to sound like a total nut job when I admit this, but when I started reading Hunting Ground, I had this moment of...sublime contentment, I guess. I'd love to say that it was an utterly unfamiliar feeling when reading, because at least then my insanity would be localized and recent in origin, but alas, it's a feeling I'm quite familiar with. Happens every time I pick up a Briggs book and start reading. There's an intangible...something...in her her books that I've always found uniquely satisfying. The Mercy Thompson series is still my favorite, but with the second in the Alpha & Omega series, I'm warming to Anna and Charles Cornick.
I'll admit, Cry Wolf (Alpha and Omega, Book 1) wasn't my favorite Briggs book. I had just as much appreciation for her writing style and that nebulous sense of comfort reading it, but I was wary of Anna and the whole Omega concept. I also have a personal preference for linear story telling and Anna and Charles' series starts earlier in the Mercy Thompson series timeline than the last book I'd read in that.
In Hunting Ground, however, something really started to click for me. Probably right around the time Anna realized that Omega didn't equal ubersubmissive and started to acknowledge some of her own power in the pack hierarchy and in her personal relationship with Charles. The Omega role was explained a bit more and I liked that explanation. On top of that, I enjoyed the deepening relationship between Anna and Charles, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing their understanding of each other grow and expand as well. I'm heartened by Anna starting to heal a bit from her tragic past...or if not heal exactly, at least...start to triumph over the residual effects. She's got a long way to go, but I totally appreciate Briggs giving her a very natural-feeling evolution instead of rushing the process for the sake of story.
The Alpha & Omega series still seems slightly lacking in the layers and depth of the Mercy Thompson series. Hunting Ground less so than Cry Wolf, though, with the threads of were politics, the Beast, and a vampire goon squad - and ANY time you toss a Fae into the mix, you get all sorts of complexity. So I have every confidence that this series will continue to get better with each installment. I just wish we didn't have to wait so darn long between each of them!