Lou: I really enjoyed Clare’s character. At the beginning she is resi...moreThis joint review was originally published at The Book Pushers
Thoughts on heroine
Lou: I really enjoyed Clare’s character. At the beginning she is resisting this new gift of hers with all her might. She doesn’t easily accept it; she worries she’s got something mentally wrong with her or if she’s somehow got a brain tumour. She sees and hears this ghostly dog talking to her and she tries her best to ignore Enzo but she can’t. While see struggles to come to terms what is happening to her, deep down you know that she’s fully aware of what’s happening to her. She knows it’s something to do with her eccentric and crazy Aunt who is now deceased. Clare, throughout the book, sort of goes through stages of her new abilities. Anger, sadness, grief and then acceptance. While she was so frail because of her abilities, I loved how sure and confident she was in her sexual attraction towards Zach.
E: Owens has been on my auto-buy list for over a decade which now includes 4 different series. Out of all of them I think Clare has been the most challenging for me to immediately like. She seemed completely overwhelmed by everything for about half the book but when she started coming into her own I loved the mental strength she displayed. In addition to her strength regarding her new gift, I was glad to see that she refused to be with someone who didn’t respect her for all of who she was. I also enjoyed how she never lost the accountant piece and her love for numbers. I thought retaining that aspect kept Clare anchored in the here and now while trying to deal with her sudden life changing events.
Marlene: Owens is on my auto-buy list too! I practically count the days until she has another book in the Celta series. But Ghost Seer was different, and Clare felt like a different kind of heroine for Owens.
I liked Clare, but I did start to wonder when she was going to “wake up and smell the ectoplasm”. She resists her new talent for a long time, and through a lot of stuff that would make most people figure out that their world has just expanded. (She was also a lot naive about the shrink Bradley) At the same time she has a practical side that keeps her very grounded–accounting is not the profession for those subject to flights of fancy. Clare is used to having things add up, and when the ghosts enter her life, things definitely stop adding up! But part of what made Clare a heroine worth following is that once she accepted her new life, then anyone who wanted to be in her life needed to accept the new her, ghosts and all. She wasn’t willing to overlook Zach’s inability to respect her whole self in favor of his very hot body. Clare is the whole package and she stands up and refuses to be with someone who won’t respect her as she IS. (And Enzo is adorable but damn hard to ignore!)
Thoughts on hero
Lou: Zack I also really enjoyed. Clare and Zach both have their own individual conflicts there were rock solid. Zach is just learning and coming to terms with not being a cop anymore. He’s struggling with his injuries and he’s bitter and angry surrounding the incident that caused the injury to his leg. He’s not an easy person and he has some hard edges to his personality. Zack doesn’t like the idea of being a private investigator because it’s not a public servant job. He struggles with the idea of it not being a calling. There’s a scene where he can’t apprehend a subject like he would have done as a cop. But like Clare, despite his issues, he’s confident and sure about his attraction to Clare. He wastes no time in flirting with her and letting her know he’s interested in her. But soon afterwards it’s Zach that pulls away when he learns about Clare’s abilities. I think it’s going to be Zach that will take longer to heal and come to terms with his new life.
E: Zach was fun. He was a lost angry man trying to come to terms with losing his chosen profession, some physical ability, the realization there was an extra dimension in the world, and that he was involved in it. He cared so much about helping people, especially those who could not afford to pay that feeling forced to move to the private sector really hurt his sense of self. I loved how he had every intention of rejecting private sector work until he met his clients or others in need and then he couldn’t turn them down. I enjoyed his reaction to Clare and her acceptance of him and his struggles to fully accept her along with his “premonitions.” I am going to enjoy watching him continue to grow over this series.
Marlene: Zach made a very interesting hero. He spends the book coming to terms with the life he has now, and how it differs from the life he had before–the life he thought he wanted. He clearly has a LOT of backstory, and not all of it is revealed in Ghost Seer. The events of the story change him quite a bit; not just from a sherriff to a private investigator, but also that he begins to accept his physical limitations and that the woo-woo elements of his instincts and premonitions are real. And he changes from someone who never settles down and has no ties, to someone who is building a family-of-choice, whether he wants to be adopted by all the people involved or not.
Lou: I loved the scenes with Enzo. He was hilarious. He reminded me of Doug in the film, Up. Ghost Seer surprised me with it’s humour. It had suspense, paranormal, romance, humour and a feel of the Old West. It really was a mixed bag. The romance wasn’t instant and I was happily surprised when I realised this series will follow Zach and Clare because the book ends on the start of their new romance. And the romance was wonderful in its sensuality and heat factor.
E: I think my favorite scene was when Zach was first introduced to Mrs. Flinton and that gracious old lady completely steamrolled over both him and Mr. Rickman to get what she wanted. She continued to do that throughout the book and included Clare as one of those she mothered. Mrs. Flinton provided some needed comic relief as well as the aspect of a motherly figure to two people who desperately needed one. I do hope she continues to act along those lines because she quickly became a favorite for me.
Marlene: I absolutely adored Enzo. For a ghost dog, he had an incredible amount of personality. Also no slobber and he doesn’t require his human to “scoop his poop”. He’s just about perfect. But Mrs. Flinton stole the show. She’s the grandmother everyone wishes they had, with a core of absolute steel under the fluffiness. Anytime she was manipulating people (for their own good, of course) she was awesome.
Lou: I suppose my only dislike was I felt the beginning of Ghost Seer was a little shaky. I found it took sometime to get started and thought the heroine spent a lot of time in bed in the early scenes. I would also loved to have known how the gift of Seer is passed down in the family. But I suspect we’ll learn more about the nature of her gifts and who the Otherly spirit is that sometimes takes hold of Enzo’s ghostly body.
E: I am accustomed to Owens’ stories building slowly but I thought this one contained some extraneous material at the beginning involving Clare’s family. While it did serve to set the stage for other events Owens then later told what she showed more than once so I found myself wondering why the scene towards the beginning existed.
Marlene: The start of this one was a bit slow. Because it took so long for Clare to accept her gift, the “woe is me” parts went on too long and repeated the reasons why she HAD to accept her gift multiple times.
Misc. thoughts and grade
Lou: I really enjoyed Ghost Seer, and I’m so glad I picked up this arc. The plot is engaging and I loved the story of Jack Slade and I can’t wait to see what other ghostly historical figures will appear in future books. The romance is very strong and I can’t wait to see how Zack and Clare will fare now that Clare has accepted her gift, and I want to find out what gift Zach has that was hesitantly hinted at throughout the story with the crows. I give Ghost Seer a B+
E: I think Ghost Seer is a great start to a new series by Owens. I enjoyed meeting Clare, Zach, Enzo and the other prominent characters. I also thought the inclusion of history, ghosts, and the dangers of ignoring what you should be doing very captivating. It was enjoyable to watch Clare and Zach both start to find their footing in their new lives as well as deal with the detritus from their past. I am really excited to see what Owens has in store for future installments. I give Ghost Seer a B
Marlene: Once I got into it, I really enjoyed Ghost Seer, and I’m looking forward to the next book, Ghost Layer. Although this particular ghost has been laid to rest, there are lots of possibilities for more Wild West ghosts to need help–it was a turbulent and colorful time, with more surviving legends than facts. It’s also going to be fun to see how Clare and Zach’s romance proceeds–as good as they are together, I don’t think it’s going to be all smooth sailing, as Zach tries to accept his own gifts. Ghost Seer did remind me of another series where someone inherits a talent for seeing ghosts through a family legacy. If Ghost Seer appeals, you might want to try Meg Benjamin’s Medium Rare. I give Ghost Seer a B(less)
Cass: When it comes to romances, there are only two basic set-ups...moreThis joint review was originally published at The Book Pushers
1. Thoughts on the Hero
Cass: When it comes to romances, there are only two basic set-ups I’m going to support:
The characters have an extensive pre-book history, or
The relationship develops slowly over several installments.
Anything else irks me as a ridiculous confluence of lust and love that is ultimately demeaning to the characters.
The author was smart to go with the Option A here as a means of justifying/explaining Cass’ decisions in a way that would have come across as irrational and manic-depressive had she been paired off with Jackson.
Shane managed the amazing PNR hero feat of not hitting a single one of my perp buttons. He loved his family, and supported Cass having a career and friends other than him. He intervened when Cass was exhibiting dangerously self-destructive behaviors, but otherwise respected her boundaries and wishes. Excellent!
My only complaint is how utterly pathetic he is at apologizing and owning up to his (massive) fuck-ups. Does no one understand my desperate need for catharsis?
Marlene: It probably not a good thing I’m next. Cass and I tend to egg each other on…
I’m SOOO happy this story didn’t go the insta-love route. The heroine Cass and Shane are way too up in each other’s business for this to work as anything but a “second chance” story. Too much of the romantic angst involves their past rather than their present.
And that past is a corker. While Shane is definitely a decent guy and not the alphahole that PNR heroes often turn out to be, there’s this one thing that drove me crazy about him. That he didn’t believe Cass when she knew that her powers had caused someone’s death. He seemed to prefer that she imagined it or became delusional or whatever, rather than believe and support the woman who was supposed to be the love of his life.
E: Well I had issues with Shane but mine were of a slightly different sort. Shane really didn’t strike me as extremely heroic. He claimed to have never fallen out of love with Cass but only tracked her down when his twin sister was missing. That told me he really wasn’t interested in fighting for her but he was extremely jealous of her co-worker. He pushed and prodded Cass yet he also coddled her at times. While he did play a key role in Cass’ realization that she could control her powers it only came after years of unintentionally crippling her. I did feel for Shane because he seemed the protective sort but his very protectiveness created blind spots about those around him. I saw him as more of a HFN instead of a HEA type of hero which was disappointing given the extensive backstory and previous connection between Cass and Shane.
2. Thoughts on the Heroine
Cass: I admit it. I primarily wanted to read this book because the heroine has my name. The last time I fell into this trap, I got stuck with Cassie Palmer (a series I most emphatically do NOT recommend.)
Though this is not as bad, Cass left me with an overwhelming feeling of “meh”. Her powers were interesting and developed well over the course of the book. Her relationships with her friends, love-interest, neighbors, and coworkers were well-rounded, and consistent.
But in the end, I am not a fan of passive heroines. Cass was sadly lacking in both spine and balls, which made her a blah protagonist. Lots of reaction. No initiative.
For example, when a protagonist discovers the truth behind the Big Bad, you generally want them to step up, whether it is to protect themselves (status, power, property, life) or others (family, friends, fuck-buddies, community). Not this Cass. She wants to run around and find other people to do it for her. Even after it is repeatedly made clear that there is no one else and she cannot expect help from outsiders, she’ll do everything she can to keep her not-so-lily-white hands clean. She had motive, means, and opportunity to handle the Big Bad, and no real moral qualms about doing so. So why not act? Because.
YOU SHAME OUR SHARED NAME WITH YOUR INACTION.
Marlene: The Cass in this story should have been named Cleopatra, because DENIAL is not just a river in Egypt in her case. She denies her powers by practically drugging herself comatose for years. She’s also incredibly passive about learning how to use her powers, even before the old feces hit the oscillating device. So much of the angst in this story is because Cass didn’t know a whole bunch of stuff she should have about the shadowmind community as well as about herself.
Everyone in Cass’ life denied what she was, so I’ll admit that it was no wonder that Cass fell into the same trap. The powers she had were interesting, and the world of the shadowminds was kind of cool.
However, I’ll confess to complete suspension of disbelief that there was no Guardian in New Orleans. Really, the most weird and magickal place in the U.S. didn’t have anyone minding the woowoo store?
E: Rather interesting points there. I am mentioning the lack of Guardian later in my thoughts. I do have to say Cass annoyed me! I understood she was traumatized by what happened in college on a couple of different levels but her way of dealing things was to self-medicate and run. Given how she struggled to accept/gain control of her power initially I expected she would know better than to just ignore them and hope they went away. But that was her fallback reaction each time. She basically had to be forced into taking some sort of action and even then she tried really hard to get someone else to do the job instead of her. When she finally accepted that if she didn’t do anything her friends and other innocents would continue to die, I did start to view her differently. Based on the ending I have hopes that her character will continue to grow and mature in future stories because if not I feel sorry for the inhabitants of her region.
3. Favorite Scene
Cass: N/A. Absolutely nothing stuck with me.
Marlene: Kidnapping and mind-messing with the preacher who was faking the miracles was good for me. Obviously not romantic, but it was great to see somebody get the ass-whooping they deserved
E: I think my favorite scene was the one when Cass finally anonymously confronts Cindy Cepello, someone she has been dreading the very mention of her name since the college incident. I loved how Cass’ thoughts and opinions of her and what she was doing drastically changed. I wish she had done so much earlier in the story because the follow-on effects probably would have made me like Cass as a heroine much more. To me this scene showed how shadowminds could be a positive force not just used for parlor tricks or exploiting others. As a result I gained some hope that Cass would start making things happen instead of letting them happen in future installments.
4. Dislike about book
Cass: INCONSISTENCIES. Cass’ background is revealed over the course of the book. She is (unsurprisingly) an orphan and spent time bouncing around the foster care system. However, the author clearly isn’t aware of how foster care actually works – and even manages to have Cass repeatedly contradict her own memories of her time in the state custody. Wtf? If you can’t get it straight, don’t bring it up. None of these contradicting memories added anything to the story. They were filler. An utterly failed attempt to try to make Cass tragic and add pathos to relationships where there should be none.
I also utterly hated how the handled the whole “Cindy Cepello” plot. Cass sweety, if you had a functioning brain cell in you head, you could have put a stop of this triggering bullshit years ago. I have some ideas I could share. Or is that too spoilery?
\Marlene: I did not care for the Cindy Cepello subplot AT ALL.I wanted her to also be a complete fake, but that would have been too much fakery. However, the way that Cass didn’t handle it was part and parcel of the way that she denied everything to do with her powers.
The way that everyone in her shadowmind community seems to know everything BUT her didn’t seem consistent. She wasn’t a child when she left, yet no one seems to have informed her about some of the important things in her world, such as the fact that guardians were real, and that the type of power that she thought she had really did exist. Where was the “guide to being a shadowmind for dummies” book when she needed it? Or as soon as her powers were confirmed?
E: Well…here we diverge a bit because my favorite scene as mentioned above included a subplot both Marlene and Cass disliked. But I am also agreeing with some issues they both brought up earlier. I really struggled liking both the hero and heroine in the roles they were cast. I felt that their character development was uneven or nonexistent and what did occur was in the last quarter or so of the story so it felt rushed. I also thought the strange circumstance of Cass’ home area not having a Guardian was a bit circumstantial especially since the neighboring Guardians knew of each other but nothing about what was happening in between.
5. Any other misc. thoughts along with grade
Cass: In the end, there was nothing particularly original or engaging about Cass or her world. Correspondingly, there was nothing terribly offensive – as you can see above, all my gripes were relatively minor (and would have been overlooked in a more dynamic story). I am left with a large feeling of meh.
I give Twisted Miracles a C.It’s a perfectly serviceable run-of-the-mill borderline PNR/UF. One I’ll neither shun nor actively seek out in the future.
Marlene: A second helping of meh for me. Twisted Miracles wasn’t bad, but wasn’t as memorable as I had hoped. (I was hoping for another Trancehack (which I loved) but this didn’t even get close. Even the villain was meh. I give Twisted Miracles a C.
E: Twisted Miracles had a lot of promise. The title certainly fit the story. Unfortunately I found the execution lacking. Larrieu did leave me feeling positive about any sequels because of what Cass faced and her actions towards the very end. I still have my doubts about Shane and his potential for a long-term romantic interest because he remained relatively static throughout the entire story. I think he will need to start growing as well if he wants to remain effective in Cass’ life and not just ride the lingering waves of their childhood romance. I give Twisted Miracles a C(less)
One could quickly summarize Duke City Split as “Murphy was an optimist”. It’s not just that everything that can...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
One could quickly summarize Duke City Split as “Murphy was an optimist”. It’s not just that everything that can go wrong does go wrong in this caper thriller, but even everything that can’t go wrong or shouldn’t go wrong, absolutely does, and with deadly results.
Perhaps the moral of the story is that there is no such thing as “the perfect job”, of course, this is true in real life too, not just in fiction.
Duke City Split is about a pair of bank robbers. Mick and Bud try very hard not to be exciting bank robbers, for Bud especially, robbing banks is just his job. And they are very good at it; the pair have robbed 30 banks in 14 years.
It’s a good living, as long as you stay out of trouble. Or out of any more trouble than you’re already in. And that’s where they go wrong.
Mick and Bud have a system for robbing those banks. A system that starts with not robbing any bank in their home territory of Albuquerque. Then some kid comes to Mick with the idea to rob the bank where the armored car from the nearby Indian casino deposits its weekend take.
It’s supposed to be $3 Million worth of easy pickings. The bank is a little tiny suburban outpost in a strip mall, with only one usually sleepy guard. Bud ignores the little voice in his head that says if something is too good to be true, it usually is, and focuses on the big score. His share of that loot will finally allow him to retire from his life of crime; something he’s always his wife. They’ll be set for life, including college funds for both daughters.
Yes, we have a bank robber who is a devoted family guy. Bud’s the careful planner in the partnership. Mick is the badass. It works for them, up until now.
The kid with the idea wants in on the heist, and that’s where everything starts to go pear-shaped.
The FBI riles up the wrong pair of bank robbers, so suddenly there are two low-lifes cutting their way through the underside of Albuquerque to find the real thieves who have the real score stashed away. The bank guard decides he’d rather blackmail the kid instead of being a hero with the cops. And the casino’s silent partners decide to send someone from Chicago to make sure that no one ever thinks they can rip off the Mob, even in secret. Even if it is the bank’s fault.
Everyone is after Mick and Bud, wanting the money, a piece of their hides, or both. All because they tried to go for one last big score. Now instead of counting money, they’re counting bodies--and theirs might be next.
Escape Rating B: Duke City Split reminds me a bit of Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder books. Although Mick and Bud have had a very good run, in Duke City Split things go nothing but wrong, and there’s frequently a sense of underlying gallows humor as the situation goes from bad, to worse, to cosmically worse every minute. If their luck had been half this bad earlier in their thieving careers, they’d be in the slammer for life.
Instead, everyone who might possibly lead to their shadowy real selves gets dead, and not necessarily by our two unlucky robbers. The coincidences that cause everyone to be after them, but not be aware of any of their fellow pursuers, make it seem like all their bad karma has come calling, all at the same time.
The two men make an interesting contrast, and not just because Mick is big and tall, and Bud is short and mousy. Mick is the adrenaline junkie who makes things happen, and Bud is the quiet family man who sits back and plans every detail. The irony is that Bud got into bank robbing so that he could be his own boss.
In the end, circumstances are the boss of both of them.(less)
Waiting on You is a story about finding true love, and what happens when you lose it. Or it loses you. The stor...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
Waiting on You is a story about finding true love, and what happens when you lose it. Or it loses you. The story is marvelously bittersweet, in spite of the happy ending, because it acknowledges how precious love is and how hard life can be when you find true love and lose it, and are too shell-shocked to risk it again.
Colleen O’Rourke is half-owner and barkeep at O’Rourke’s bar and grille in Manningsport, NY. Being the barkeep means that Colleen sees every romantic make-up, break-up and devastated aftermath in her small town. It doesn’t leave her a lot of scope for finding and dating someone new, because there isn’t anyone new and she knows WAY too many of everyone’s drunken secrets.
The bloom is pretty much off all the local roses, at least for Colleen. Which doesn’t mean that she doesn’t do a marvelous job of finding the “right person” for everyone else in town. She just doesn’t have any luck herself.
Until her first love, her only love, comes back to town, and she still feels every spark and tingle she ever did, just with the added bitter knowledge that Lucas Campbell is only back until his Uncle Joe passes away, and then Lucas is back to his life in Chicago, leaving her behind, again.
It’s not that simple. She broke up with him, because he kept a secret from her. A big secret. Lucas knew that her father was having an affair, and didn’t let her know. When her parent’s marriage broke up over the girlfriend’s pregnancy, Colleen lashed out at Lucas.
In the intervening ten years, a lot happens. Lucas marries and divorces. Colleen’s mother spends ten years trying to regain the attention of her gone and selfish ex. And Colleen fears that she is just like her mother, doomed to compare every man she meets to her own true love, and having them all fall very short.
Although the story centers around Colleen and Lucas, they serve as the center of other events that are happening while they work through the issues that are keeping them apart. Colleen, the matchmaker of Manningsport, is just sure that awkward but steady Paulie and Lucas’ “boy never grown up” cousin Bryce are perfect for each other. That Paulie is a weightlifter and Bryce is not just the feckless town bicycle but goes for the skinny and willowy type doesn’t matter, Colleen is determined that they are good for each other.
Colleen’s mother finally stops mourning the loss of her ex, but the results are less than optimal for quite a while. Colleen’s mock prayers every time her mother starts running on are hilarious, and so much the voice of an adult daughter still embarrassed by her mother.
But it’s Colleen’s and Lucas’ story that provides the heart of the book. Told both in flashback and the present day, we see the point where they instantly and completely fell for each other, and then every roadblock and setback along the way.
They belong together, they always have and they always will. But they have to decide whether they can put the pain behind them and stop looking for roadblocks to get in the way of their happiness.
Ten years is a long time to wait, and there are a lot of things that need to be forgiven, forgotten or pushed aside. Maybe one too many.
Escape Rating B+: I poured through this book as fast as I could, because I couldn’t wait to find out how all the stories resolved. It was easy to get caught up in, not just Colleen and Lucas, but also Paulie and Bryce, Colleen’s mother, and the family dramas around Lucas’ Uncle Joe’s impending death and his last wish.
Lucas needs to feel loved and accepted. It’s something he lost when his dad went to prison, and although his Uncle Joe and Aunt Didi raised him, Didi is the absolute caricature of the shrewish, selfish, domineering wife. Joe didn’t stand up for Lucas, and let Didi make his life a misery. (Think muggle version of Harry Potter and the Dursleys, and you’re close)
Except that his manchild cousin Bryce worships Lucas, and Lucas envies Bryce for being the favored child who has everything handed to him, while Lucas is left to take the blame and pick up the mess.
Colleen is the only person Lucas has ever had who was his and only his. He needs her but never managed to tell her so. When he comes back, Colleen is rightfully worried about pinning her hopes for the future on someone who will leave, again. They nearly blow it multiple times, and for real reasons that make sense, no misunderstandammits here. A lot happened between them that is hard for them both to get past. And their shattered trust in each other has to be rebuilt piece by piece.
This is a happy ending that needs to be earned, and the reader can’t help but root for them to reach out and grab it.(less)
The Descartes Legacy takes a fairly standard romantic suspense story and enhances it with a bit of sci...moreOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly
The Descartes Legacy takes a fairly standard romantic suspense story and enhances it with a bit of science fiction in order to create a “can’t stop reading” experience.
All the elements of romantic suspense are right there; heroine experiences a major life change event that makes her investigate something mysterious. Said investigation pushes the buttons of some very shady customers and heroine finds herself in serious jeapardy without knowing why. In swoops hero to save her life and help her with her investigation. Bad guys continue to pursue for nefarious reasons. Heroine makes life-changing discovery. Evildoers attempt to suppress heroine’s knowledge. After climactic fight, hero and heroine start new life together.
Just because something follows a formula, doesn’t mean that the author hasn’t taken the elements of that formula into new and interesting directions. In the case of The Descartes Legacy, those elements were born on the moon.
Jenna Young believes that she is dying. She believes that she has a genetic disease and that her father-the-doctor has been giving her medicine to keep the disease at bay. Then he dies suddenly and she’s running out of meds.
She thinks she’s sick, so she turns to another doctor to get the medication she needs. Her friend gets tortured and killed, and she has no idea why.
What she did makes perfect sense, based on what she believed. But what she believed isn’t true. Over the course of the story, Jenna discovers that nothing she believed about herself and her origins is true.
Her father didn’t just lie, he covered up his part in a world-spanning power-hungry organization called “The Conclave”. An organization whose genetic experimentation both created Jenna, and ordered her “termination” at age 4.
Jenna’s always known she was different. But as she is forced to dive into the murky politics of The Conclave, she discovers just how different she is.
And Jenna’s not the only one peering into the depths of the Conclave’s evil, nor is the death of her doctor-friend the only torture-and-murder to be laid at their door.
Lucas Grafton has been looking for revenge against that organization for ten years, since they murdered his wife and daughter. But Luke’s search for justice runs him headlong into Jenna’s need for the truth.
Luke starts out uncertain whether Jenna is an innocent bystander, a co-conspirator, or bait in a trap. Eventually he discovers that she is all three, but by then, he’s willing to sacrifice anything to keep her safe.
And she feels the same way about him.
Escape Rating A-: The story ends with a series of stunning revelations that make the reader yearn for more. It doesn’t feel so much that things have concluded as that there is a pause in the action. Jenna and Luke’s story isn’t over, and I want to know what happens next. Very, very much.
The science fictional elements in The Descartes Legacy are of the “laboratory” variety rather than the space ship type. It’s not just that Jenna was created through some very tricky genetic engineering, but it’s the source of some of her genetic material that pushes the story through the science fiction envelope.
The “Descartes” in the title is not a reference to Renaissance philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, at least not directly. It refers to the Descartes Highlands on the moon, and to Apollo 16’s mission there.
The Conclave is a many-headed, completely heartless beast of an organization. The plot that Jenna and Luke discover is chilling in its inhumanity. Discovering the nature of that plot and stopping it add to the breakneck pace of the story.
But this is also a romance, and that part of the story hinges on the chemistry between Jenna and Luke. For all the science fiction, their story together has a few too many times when Jenna is a drugged and helpless captive, waiting for Luke to rescue her. Considering the powers she discovers during the story, she gets kidnapped a bit often.
And there was definitely a touch of insta-love in their relationship. But the thriller and suspense elements still kept me racing to finish the story.(less)
This is a sweet treat of a book, and not just because all the characters discuss their problems with regular ap...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
This is a sweet treat of a book, and not just because all the characters discuss their problems with regular applications of Sweet Dreams Chocolate from the local chocolatier.
Speaking of Sweet Dreams Chocolate, it is terrific to see how all the lovely people who starred in the previous books in the Icicle Falls series, (Better Than Chocolate, Merry Ex-Mas and What She Wants) are doing now that they have their own HEAs.
But the main characters of The Cottage on Juniper Ridge are Jen Heath, who rents the titular cottage, her sister Toni, and local resident Stacy. They are each, in their various ways, influenced by Muriel Sterling’s latest book, Simplicity. (We also know Muriel from Better Than Chocolate, and why she needed to get some simplicity in her life.)
Jen reads Muriel’s book, and decides that it is time she got some of her own simplicity back. Her life in Seattle has become so busy with the drudgery of two jobs to pay for a condo she can’t afford that she hates her life. So she buys into the siren song of Muriel’s book to the point where she rents a cottage in Muriel’s home town of Icicle Falls and puts her condo in Seattle on the market.
Jen is reaching for a simpler life where she has time to do things she enjoys and kindle some new friendships. She wants to find the joy that she used to have.
What she finds is a hunky landlord who is also a firefighter. She falls into insta-lust, but he thinks she’s a complete flake for turning her life over so irresponsibly. He’s already been in love with one irresistible but irresponsible ditz, and he’s not interested in doing it again, even though he adores the child that came out of his impulsive first marriage.
Jen creates a new life for herself, and hopes that her landlord will eventually get the stick out of his ass and see that the sparks they generate could lead to a real relationship. Garrett, in turn, tries to force himself into a relationship with someone steady and solid. It takes him a long time to realize that the heart wants what it wants, and that looking for the fun in life does not necessarily make Jen selfish, childish or even remotely flakey.
While Jen is getting her new life together, her sister Toni is searching for someplace where her family can not just get away from it all, but disconnect from the electronic gizmos that are always distracting them from each other. It turns out that the little Washington town that her sister moved to on a whim may be the perfect place to find her family again.
Icicle Falls resident Stacy just needs to declutter her life. It takes a cosmic push for her to realize that she doesn’t own her stuff, she has so much stuff that it owns her. It takes a lot of effort, and some whole new ways of thinking, for Stacy to find a channel for her love of finding beautiful things.
Icicle Falls sustains and supports them all.
Escape Rating B+: Like all of the Icicle Falls series, The Cottage on Juniper Ridge is primarily a story about the supportiveness of strong friendships. In this case, the friends are the members of the Icicle Falls Book Club, a group of women who share books, chocolate, and a chance to unwind in a place where everyone understands what the others are going through. It’s their once-a-month break for some “me time” with the BFFs who will be there for them, no matter what.
Jen Heath comes in from the outside, but her shared love of books and the general friendliness of the town is enough to get her adopted by this tight-knit bunch of marvelous women. They help each other through whatever needs to be shared and/or listened to. We all need a group like this in our lives, but it’s hard to find!
The tying element of Muriel’s book, Simplicity, resonates with each of them differently. They are all over-worked or over-committed, and the book makes them stop and think about ways they can de-stress their lives, just a bit.
While it is the story of Jen’s journey of self-discovery that drives the book, Stacy’s story had a tremendous amount of resonance. It’s not just that she has been letting her hunt for beautiful bargains fill her empty nest, but how many memories she has invested in what to other people looks like “stuff”. At the same time, it was great in Stacy’s story to see a long-term marriage that is happy, where the husband is supportive and generally terrific and the couple feels lucky to be together.
Where so many stories ignore women who have achieved their happily ever after, in The Cottage at Juniper Ridge we see a whole range of experiences, from Jen’s search for true love to Toni’s need to reconnect to Stacy’s search for her own purpose within the context of a continuingly happy marriage.
Icicle Falls continues to be a marvelous place to visit, filled with people you’d love to meet. I can’t wait for the next book!(less)
I picked this book up from NetGalley because I signed up for the Turned Blog Hop from Romance at Random last we...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
I picked this book up from NetGalley because I signed up for the Turned Blog Hop from Romance at Random last week. (The hop is still going on, so enter here!)
Turned introduces us to a slightly different version of the fanged ones. In this world, some vamps are born, and others are made, in other words, turned from human to vampire. There are lots of politics involved, because, well, immortal vampires make for convoluted politics. But in this case not all of the political complications are on the vampire side.
Ty Duncan is an FBI who was turned against his will by a bunch of rogue vampires. The rogues are rogues from their own laws, because in this world, the vampires don’t want to increase their population by turning humans. They just want to stay under the radar and not come out of the coffin.
The FBI not only knows that vampires exist, but they have been recruiting rogues to turn people for them. Some senior FBI officials see vampires as faster, stronger, better agents, and don’t even think that anyone who is a rogue is probably a rogue through and through.
So the FBI loses control of its vampire-makers, after the rogues turn two FBI agents, Ty and Peter, very much against their will (and with extra added torture and other collateral damage).
Now the FBI needs to track down the rogues and cover its ass with the Vampire Queen, who specifically told them not to turn anyone. In other words, the FBI has a good old-fashioned clusterfuck on its hands.
Especially when they find out that their former rogues are running a human blood slavery operation on the side. Just when they thought it couldn’t get much worse, it does.
So of course they create an even shadowier arm of the agency to track down the rogues and put a stop to the blood slavery. Let’s call this the creation of plausible deniability, although there is also a certain amount of “locking the barn door after the horse it out”.
That shadow-arm of the agency is called Belladonna, and the name is intended to mean both “beautiful woman” and “deadly nightshade”. Their intent is to recruit deadly women who can become agents and spies, whether they ever become vampires themselves or not.
Ty is instructed to recruit Ana Martin, for two reasons; she has already proven that she can be deadly when the situation demands it, and because the suspected leader of the blood slavery ring is a man who has been obsessed with Ana since he jumped her into a gang when they were teens.
Ana lets herself be recruited because the Belladonna Agency has promised her the one thing that she has been searching years for; contact with her long-lost sister. Both Ana and Ty try to hide their mutual ulterior motive, that they are attracted to each other with a need that neither of them can fight, no matter how much they both believe that they are not worthy of the other, and that any possible relationship is doomed from the start.
But nothing that Ana has believed all her life turns out to be true. Everyone betrays her, or has betrayed her, and more than once. Except Ty. No matter what happens, he tells her nothing but the truth, and not just because vampires are unable to lie.
Ana just has to learn to trust her feelings, and herself, before it’s too late.
Escape Rating C+: Because this is the first book in a series, there is a lot of setup and there are still some things that are unexplained. Vampire society looks complex (it generally is) but we don’t learn how things got this way or what the vampires are really up to.
We view what it is like to be a vampire from Ty’s perspective, and he’s both untrained and miserable about his turning. He hates himself and his life. He keeps trying to protect Ana from the monster that he feels he is, instead of letting her decide for herself. Too often, his way of protecting her is to push her away rather harshly, and she naturally reacts by pushing back, equally harshly.
Also, although this is a love story, it uses the insta-love trope. One gets the sense that Ty and Ana are fated mates, although that’s never explicitly said. But they have a stronger instant chemical reaction to each other that is more than just insta-lust. (And Peter has the same reactions to the Vampire Queen when he meets her).
If there is a fated-mate component, it would be better to know that, rather than have the story lead down that road and then NOT explain.
Ana is a very strong heroine. She’s made a good life for herself in spite of an extremely rough start, and she takes a beating, whether physical or emotional, and keeps moving forward. The other women introduced in the story as the rest of the team are definitely promising potential heroines as well. The prospect of reading their stories is one I’m looking forward to.(less)
The Accident is a gripping, stunning page-turner about the cost of secrets that are too dangerous to be reveale...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
The Accident is a gripping, stunning page-turner about the cost of secrets that are too dangerous to be revealed; and about who gets to decide what those secrets are.
It’s also about the publishing industry, how the changes in the way that books are sold (and not sold) affects the immediate futures of the folks who used to be some of the more important cogs in the system, and who are increasingly seeing the careers that they loved disintermediated out of existence.
Writers are discovering that it is possible to have a lucrative career without either a New York publisher or an agent to negotiate rights and contracts with that no-longer-needed New York publisher. The agents and publishers are a dying breed.
Which doesn’t mean that one big blockbuster book can’t stave off economic disaster for an agent and a publisher, providing they can get the book to market. And providing that the story inside isn’t too hot for anyone to handle.
The Accident is a “story within a story”, because The Accident is the title of the book that gets delivered to agent Isabel Reed anonymously. The book will be a blockbuster, as the story it tells will topple both a worldwide media empire and expose that the CIA was complicit in exposing foreign officials to corruption charges for the financial gain of one of its operatives. That operative being the head of the aforementioned worldwide media empire.
Charlie Wolfe built up his Rupert Murdoch-type news and entertainment empire by getting the CIA’s permission to knock out his competition. Someone is determined to make sure that Charlie’s secrets are exposed before he runs for political office. Unfortunately for Charlie, the man he thought must be the author of “The Accident” has been dead for six months. Since he can’t find the author, he’ll settle for destroying all the copies. And the CIA agent he hires doesn’t seem to mind leaving a trail of bodies in place of the manuscripts.
Or is there anything about this book and the people involved with it as they seem?
Escape Rating A+: This story is the ultimate in break-neck pace suspense. The entire thing takes place in a single 24-hour period, from the point where Isabel Reed receives her copy of the manuscript, until the point where the race is over. Or is it?
Isabel knows that “The Accident” is a book that will not just revive her career as an agent, but give her the chance to start her own company--if she can hang on to it. She drags in her best friend and editor, trying to keep the circle of information as close as she can, but the secret is already out.
Every other person who touches the manuscript becomes collateral damage in the coverup. It’s amazing that the conceit of the story being a single day works; we’re rocketed through events as Isabel figures out what she has, what it can do, and how much trouble the damn thing is. At the same time, we see events from ex-CIA agent Hayden Gray’s perspective, as he attempts to contain the damage that Isabel and the book will cause.
Neither of them wants to be in the positions they find themselves, but they can’t find a way to get out of the labyrinth. Or do they?
The end will keep you guessing long after you’ve finished The Accident.(less)
The Zoastra Affair is science fiction romance at the space opera end of the spectrum, but the emphasis is squar...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
The Zoastra Affair is science fiction romance at the space opera end of the spectrum, but the emphasis is squarely on the romantic aspects of this story.
It also feels like there is a certain amount of wish-fulfillment fantasy mixed in, but that’s not a bad thing. The Zoastra Affair is the kind of mind-candy that is worth getting into, just for the fun.
The Zoastra is a ship. It’s an Earthseekers space ship, and the Earthseekers are heading out into deep space to put some hurt on the aliens who did a fly-by and carved up a whole chunk of North America. They’re out for payback, but they aren’t exactly sure who they are paying back.
Their last stop before they go “where no Earthseeker has gone before” is a hospitality planet populated by the Sheratons. Yes, like the hotel chain. The Sheratons look human but aren’t, and that where the weird gets into the romance.
Sheratons mate for life. Females have a biological imperative to mate at age 18, and once mated, the relationship between husbands and wives is symbiotic--they must have sex every week, or they will die.. (It’s fair that the compulsion hits both sexes, but not the way that females are forced to marry someone, anyone, at maturity).
The officers of the Zoastra include Peter Newman and his wife Grace. Peter is on the command track and Grace is a scientist. Their marriage is suffering a strain because they are both working way too many hours and not making time for each other.
Trouble arrives (it actually flies away with them) when Grace goes with the females of the greeting party to take part in a spa day and massage. There is one detail about the Sheratons that everyone believes is a myth; a small percentage of the population can switch bodies.
Ariel is inhabiting the body of a teenaged Sheraton because said Sheraton switched bodies with her against her will four years ago. She just wants to get back to her home society, to be of use rather than ornamentation, and before the hinted at mating bond is forced on her.
So she forces a body-switch with Grace, abandoning her on Sheraton in the body of a pink-haired 18 year old.
While Ariel is pretending to be Grace on the ship and with Grace’s husband, Grace is back on Sheraton, stealing a shuttle so she can get back home.
Grace’s return in the wrong body sets off a whole chain of events, which not only reveal Ariel’s subterfuge, but ultimately provide Earthforce with a whole new array of weapons against their enemies.
But first, Ariel has to give Grace her life (and her body) back. And Ariel has to find a mate she can bond with, because she is with Earthforce for good.
Escape Rating B-: There is quite of bit of highly improbable fun in this story. Sheraton females are tiny and pink-haired, so both Ariel and Grace are disgusted with the body they have to inhabit.
Ariel is endlessly guilty (and so she should be) for stealing Grace’s life in the same way that hers was stolen. Grace quite rightly points out that Ariel could have stolen a ship the way Grace did, rather than wait for an unsuspecting victim.
But it’s once the bodies are switched back that the real fun begins. It’s not just that Ariel needs to find a mate, but that whatever is compelling her to do so is also affecting the one man on the ship who swore that he would never remarry. Ariel spends a lot of her off-duty time in the processing of training the least civilized man on the ship.
She spends the rest of her time revamping the engines, and trying to gain (or regain) the trust of everyone around her.
The plot of this romance is completely frothy, and as sweet in its way as the bubble gum that Ariel’s hair reminds me of. If you like your science fiction romance very light on the SF and coming to a love conquers all conclusion, The Zoastra Affair may be just your cotton candy.(less)
Cass: I deeply - and unexpectedly - loved the everloving shit out of Never Deal with Dragons. (Though I still maintain it was inappropriately classified as PNR, and was really UF. Because I must justify this to myself in some way.)
Marlene: Whatever you want to call it, I read Never Deal with Dragons just because you liked it. I was flabbergasted that you liked anything with even a smidgen of romance!
Cass: That’s entirely fair. I read it because I was having a bad week, and I “knew” she’d ruin my dragons. I wanted to hate it and write and ALL CAPS RAGE REVIEW.
Then it turned out to be awesome. The romance wasn’t love-at-first-sight. It wasn’t the driving plot of the book. Myrna was brilliant and capable. Trian acknowledged his douchebaggery, and made appropriate amends. (And he continued to do so as a bit player here in Dancing with Dragons.)
Anyways. With all this in mind, I was actually quite excited to jump into Dancing with Dragons. Though I struggled with the realization that this would make THREE goddamn PNR series that I enjoy (see also: The Edge by Ilona Andrews and The Iron Seas by MelJean Brook).
Marlene: Never Deal with Dragons was terrific (see review)! Myrna was a great heroine who used her brains rather than her brawn to be absolutely kick-ass awesome. And there was none of the dreaded insta-love. I don’t mind in the least following another PNR series (well, duh) but it has to be good. This one got off to a great start, but then, we get Dancing with Dragons, and let’s just say the sophmore book does not live up to the promise of the first one.
Cass: I am absolutely devastated to agree. The opening chapter was riveting - a dragon car chase! BAM AMAZING. GIVE ME MORE. I was practically squealing with excitement (much to the consternation of the family trapped on the plane with me.)
Then Carol wakes up in the hospital (post-head trauma), and the whole thing went careening downhill. I actually stopped to re-read the end of Never Deal with Dragons, because I recalled that Carol knew what Richard had done, and chose to go with him anyways. Also that Richard was deeply and obsessively in love with her blah blah blah dragon killing terrorists need love too. I was correct. Although the author seems to have forgotten.
Carol went from dragonscript expert with shitass taste in men to every possible blonde stereotype in the book (never mind that she’s a ginger.) She threw a goddamn public hissy fit in the hospital when she discovered the surgeons had to cut her hair in order to deal with the head trauma and possible bleeding her her brain. You are alive. WHO CARES ABOUT YOUR HAIR?! It didn’t help that this was a recurring bitch for her throughout the rest of the book. Woe is me, people think I’m a terrorist, I’m a fugitive from the law, and my boyfriend ditched me….but MY HAIR IS GONE!
Basically, I couldn’t stand her. She was TSTL.
Marlene: I’m sitting here watching the rant appear on my screen and just nodding. Or chortling.
Carol was such a poor choice for a heroine, even if it was set up in the first book. I don’t care. It wasn’t just her repeated bad taste in men (it happens) but that she seemed to have regressed from the first book, possibly back to the teenage hormonal-drama stage.
The repeated hair-fits--either screeching or bewailing her short-haired fate, seemed stupid and short-sighted considering that she was on the run for her life through the entire story. WTF?
Repeating her awful judgment of the male of the species by continuing to believe Richard the douche after he abandons her in the hospital in Budapest, leaving her with nothing but the hospital gown on her front. I’d be sending a dragon after his ass, not continuing to justify his assholishness.
Cass: Now, I’ll admit I was willing to give Carol a wee bit of a temporary pass due to the traumatic brain injury. But when you find out that you are wanted for questioning in connection with a terrorist attack that took place while you were in a coma, you TURN YOURSELF IN. Why? Because you have IRREFUTABLE PROOF YOU ARE INNOCENT. A hospital full of people who can document your coma is what we call an airtight alibi.
Or you can take the Carol route, and climb onto the back of a reporter's motorcycle while wearing nothing but your hospital gown and go on the lam with him in a foreign country.
I guess I should take a moment to lay off Carol, and point out that my usually brilliant and competent Myrna failed to take the requisite 5 minutes on the phone to explain to Carol just what the bloody hell was going on - and instead said, “Oh hey, glad that coma’s over! I suggest you get lost. Bye! Call me. Love you.”
Regardless of Myrna’s temporary failure as a friend, Carol really should have started making logical decisions at some point in the book. But she never did. She repeatedly refused to take advantage of possible routes to immediately clear her name, did not even consider that Richard was guilty, and instead felt SUPER BAD about giving Mr. Sexy Reporter blue balls that one time. Which was like, totally, the worst thing ever! Because how could he cope with such pain?! (Clearly, she’s never heard of masturbation.)
Marlene: If he didn’t go into the shower and take care of business, then they are absolutely perfect for each other, because that would make him equally TSTL. Which would have been the end of the story, because he’s clearly the brains of the outfit, such as they are.
After all, he keeps manipulating Carol (not that that’s not a piece of cake!) and everyone else he comes into contact with. I could sort of understand why she believed him in the first place, but that she kept on believing as his cover got more elaborate, not so much. If his paper could supposedly afford her new designer wardrobe, why didn’t the budget run to a dragonspeaker?
Not to mention, the simple idea that she accepted that it was better to go deceive a second dragon lord rather than finding a straightforward way to get out of her problems with the first one was just bizarre.
If this was intended as screwball comedy, it falls heavily on the screwball side.
Cass: Carol’s stupidity was clearly a plot contrivance. In Never Deal with Dragons, she was put forth as an incomparable language expert, contract genius, and diplomat extraordinaire. Getting that Carol to engage in wee bit of international espionage while under investigation for bioterrorism would have been such a pain in the ass. Ergo, moronic Carol.
By the time we got to the James Bond portion of the book, I was sorely tempted to just stop reading. Carol clearly wasn’t going to get eaten by a dragon, which she richly deserved, and I was done. However, in this respect, her stupidity finally paid off, and we got an actual interesting and engaging dragon plot! Much like the first book, I was fascinated with dragon society, dragon laws, dragon customs, and dragon-human interactions.
Why couldn’t Carol have turned herself in at the beginning of the book, cleared her name (with ease), and been sweet-talked by whatever sexy piece of mancake they had on hand to go undercover for Lord Relobu in India and help avert another international dragon incident?! We could have gotten to the actual plot that much faster, and had a plausible reason for it, while capitalizing on Carol’s overactive hormones and shit judgement all in one go. She still could have hooked up with Mr. Sexy Reporter for their extremely tepid love scenes. And I could have spent more time actually caring about the book.
Marlene: Just in case anyone has missed the point, we don’t like the version of Carol that comes out of her trauma-induced coma in Dancing with Dragons!
Cass: We loved the actual dragon parts of the book! Especially the interlude in India.
Marlene: The Indian dragon lord and the whole story of the plots and counterplots to take over/save/protect the ex-Chinese dragon lord’s former territory was awesome. (Carol did finally get a clue once the entire compound was captured by the rapacious would-be dragon lord and his cronies.
Cass: Trian made a bloody brilliant entrance at this point! The suffering we endured at the beginning was largely worth his hilarious machinations and manipulation of the siege-laying dragonfolk.
Marlene: And just as Trian is resolving everything, Carol of course loses faith in the rescue that she set up and asks him to cart her back to the U.S. This is the point where she should have stuck it out, but Carol continues her pattern of making the worst decisions possible every time.
Cass: I can’t spoil the ending for you, but let’s just make it known that the lawyer has OPINIONS about the Trial of the Century. I believe there is a military term appropriate to this situation: FUBAR.
Escape Rating: Carol gets a D for dumbfuck, but all the other parts (dragons!!!!) are pushing A material (except Lord Relobu. He’s clearly infected with Carol’s stupidity by association). I’ll split the difference and go with a C+. The + is dragon-induced.
Marlene: Carol is way too TSTL to make a half-way decent heroine. Adding the insta-love trope between her and Mr. Sexy Reporter as an attempt to justify why she goes on the lam with him does not make things better. (And some of his behavior does border on TSTL, it doesn’t take much brains to seem smarter than this version of Carol)
Escape Rating C: The dragon politics and backstabbing (or is that front-clawing) were generally awesome, but the choice of Carol as point-of-view character made the non-dragon parts very rough going. If she screeched one more time about her hair or her post-coma lack of muscle tone I was seriously tempted to hope a dragon would eat her. Maybe there’s hope for the next book?
Cass: Note: Stunningly for a PNR, there was no obvious set-up for the next protagonist. Maybe Myrna’s new assistant back in Tulsa? Or one of the bit players in India?
Concealed in Death was way more enjoyable than Thankless in Death. It was great to see the story from Eve and Roarke’s point of view, and NOT spend time in the mind of a scumbag killer. This one was old-school police procedural, and it was good to see the series back to its usual form.
This is almost a cold case story. The crime occurred 15 years in the past, and it has been hidden for all that time. But when Roarke breaks a wall and discovers the first (and second) of 12 wrapped bodies, the action is off to the races.
A big part of this case is the identification of the bodies--after 15 years in an abandoned building, all that’s left is the bones. Which means that Eve needs a forensic anthropologist to ID them for her. The new addition to the team, Dr. Garnet DeWinter, is accustomed to being the alpha female of her own team. Even though Garnet gets along well with Morris, she and Eve jostle against each other through the whole case. It’s fun to see Eve run up against another woman who will not subordinate herself to anyone but she can’t treat as an enemy.
One of the best parts of the story is that we learn more about Mavis; where she came from, what she was involved with before she and Eve became friends. There is a reason why Mavis and Eve bonded in spite of not just being opposites, but originally being on opposite sides of the law., and we get to see what makes them best friends, despite being so very different.
The cop shop parts of the story were often laugh out loud funny, as was Eve’s never-ending battle of wits with Summerset. I’m particularly fond of Galahad the cat, that big lazy moocher is just my kind of feline.
The case was interesting in that there wasn’t a true resolution. Even though the team did figure out who done it and why it was done, there wasn’t the kind of satisfactory punishment that readers, and Eve herself, want. It’s totally appropriate for this particular case, but it left me hungering for a nice, juicy trial, or a high-speed chase scene.
Escape Rating B+: There’s an aspect of Bones meets Dallas, but it was a great way of introducing a new character to the team. (Also DeWinter is way more socially ept than Temperance Brennan)
It was also good not to have either Eve or Roarke dealing with an overwhelming amount of angst; although the case does have resonance for both of them, it doesn’t send everyone into nightmares and depression. It was great to have a case be mostly just a case, and not a trip to the angst-factory.
Among the usual crew, this story focused on Mavis, and had some absolutely marvelous moments with Denis and Charlotte Mira.
I read this series for mind-candy, and to catch up with the gang. This story was just about a one-sitting read, and that was great!(less)
I’m still trying to figure this one out. That’s not a bad thing--I pretty much read it in one sitting. The stor...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
I’m still trying to figure this one out. That’s not a bad thing--I pretty much read it in one sitting. The story does take the reader on a very crazy trip through both the upside and the downside of New York City--but it never lets go once it has you in its grip. Or Blue’s grip, as the case might be.
Unleashed is “the making of the heroine” story for Sydney Rye, who does not start out the story being named Sydney Rye. Unleashed is how she gets her life messed up and becomes the person she was meant to be.
It starts when she gets fired and breaks up with her boyfriend, and neither of those events is much of a loss, except for the income. Her boyfriend doesn’t really seem into her, and she’s not into her job.
A barista who mostly hates people and can’t manage to hide it is in for a very short career. Joy Humbolt, and that’s Sydney’s real name, Joy Humbolt, isn’t very joyful. She does have a knack for getting herself in trouble, starting with screaming at her last customer and her boss at the coffee place.
She may not like people, but she needs to work. And since she’s just adopted a HUGE dog, a friend suggests she go into the dog walking business. Said friend also has a friend who needs to sell her dog walking business in a very big hurry at a rock-bottom price.
And we’re off to the races.
Despite what TV may show, not many dog walkers find dead bodies on their rounds. And in real life, those who do probably try to forget as fast as possible.
Joy, on the other hand, can’t resist getting involved, especially when she realizes that she’s seen the dead man before. She hasn’t met him, but she has seen his photo in the house of one of her dogs. He’s one of her employers, a coincidence that the police can’t manage to let go.
And neither can Joy, especially as she turns from possible suspect to confidante of the widow. As the bizarre coincidences pile up, Joy pokes her nose into the business of everyone who might have a piece of the puzzle. She shouldn’t, and she knows she shouldn’t, but she can’t stop herself from getting in deeper and deeper, not just into the plot but also into the tunnels under New York City.
She thought that finding a dead body was trauma enough, but she doesn’t know how crazy, how deep, or how tragic things can get before she’s had enough. But by then it’s far too late for her to get out of the mess.
Escape Rating B-:Joy is nosier than one of the dogs she walks. She also seems to have a keen disregard for most of the social rules (and some of the legal ones) that govern most people’s behavior. It’s not just that she’s quirky, Joy really doesn’t like people much, except for a chosen very few.
She also a conspiracy theorist’s dream--in Joy’s life, it turns out that everything really is connected, even if it doesn’t start out that way. Even more interesting, the cop who starts out investigating her ends up as an ally of sorts, or at least their dislike of most humans and their equally suspicious natures form a weird kind of bond.
Neither of them can resist pursuing a case, no matter how dangerous or how often they are told to get out.
The fun in the story was Joy’s discovery of the tunnels under the city, and the way that fit into both the murder and the conspiracy she eventually uncovers. (There are tunnels under Chicago, why not New York?)
I did find the identity of the ultimate conspirator slightly over the top. It added to the crazysauce fun of the story, but spilled the plot just one tick over from mystery to fantasy.
However, I absolutely adored Joy’s dog Blue. He turns out to be the perfect friend and protector, just when she needs him most.(less)
If you’re looking for a way to get your Tom Clancy fix, Retribution is a great place to start!
I read the early Tom Clancy books, and loved the fast pace of the adventure, as well as the neverending skullduggery involved in the politics, but the later books felt a bit bogged down to me.
The action in Retribution never lets up.
Although the story focuses on ex-Marine William Parker, the point of view switches between Parker, the man he is hunting, and the politicians who want to make sure that there are no loose ends when his mission is completed.
Retribution is a complicated story, because “retribution” is something that every character seems to want--they just have wildly different perspectives on who should get retribution for what.
The plot and counter-plot revolve around a man who wants to become a second Osama bin Laden, but his ambitions are greater. The goal of Yousef al-Qadi’s jihad is to recreate a mythical pure Muslim kingdom in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, without giving a damn about the governments that currently hold those territories. He also wants to wipe out the Western influences from Saudi Arabia and its rulers.
He already has an army, he’s planning to use that army to steal nuclear material from Pakistan and hold the world hostage.
The plan that William Parker comes up with to eliminate the threat is equally as deadly; Parker plans to infiltrate Yousef’s inner circle and expose everyone in it to a disease as deadly as the black plague, and nearly as infectious.
Getting in turns out to be much easier than getting out; especially since there are plans back in Washington to make sure that Parker doesn’t survive his mission. And there are forces in Yousef’s camp willing to do anything to ensure that Parker pays in blood for his acts.
They wanted the best for this mission, and they got the best. The best at surviving, the best at succeeding, the best at turning the tables on his enemies.
Escape Rating B+: Parker is a great point of view character not just because he is so good at what he does, but because his reasons for doing it are so complex.
He is an adrenaline junkie who still takes missions just to feed that particular habit. He’s also intelligent and multi-talented, that’s what makes him both a hero and a survivor. But this particular mission has a goal for him beyond removal of the threat. His parents went down on Pan Am Flight 103, over Lockerbie Scotland. His reward for the Yousef mission is to find out the unvarnished truth about the Lockerbie bombing conspiracy, by seeing the secret and unredacted U.S. Government files.
It’s the one mystery he’s never been able to solve, and he needs to know--even if the truth includes culpability on the part of the government he serves.
If Parker is a bit larger than life, so is Yousef. It’s difficult to know whether his particular jihad, or the reasons behind it, have a basis in a real person; I definitely saw him as a threat, but his character felt more like an amalgam of possible dangers than a complete character. (YMMV)
The last third of the book goes along at a “can’t stop reading” level of adrenaline, especially as the action focuses in on the actual mission and relatively few characters. In the beginning, when a large number of people and a lot of background are thrown at the reader all at once, I would have killed for a dramatis personae list.
By the end, I was practically biting my fingernails to see if Parker’s mission succeeds, and the various missions to stop him are finally foiled.(less)
I absolutely read Good Together in one sitting. I couldn’t put the story down, because I had to find out what w...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
I absolutely read Good Together in one sitting. I couldn’t put the story down, because I had to find out what was going to happen next. Although I could guess where the story was going to end up, I empathized with Mattie’s journey, even when I wanted to shake her about how she got into some of her pickle.
Good Together isn’t so much a romance as it is women’s fiction. The real meat of the story is in Mattie finding out that her newly empty nest is only the beginning of the number of ways she needs to re-invent herself.
Mattie always thought that when her twins went to college, she and her husband would have more time together. As much as she hated the thought of her girls leaving home, she was the one who encouraged them to explore new worlds. It was time for them to leave the nest and spread their wings.
But Mattie believed that the nest would always be there whenever they came home. Instead, almost the minute Mattie leaves her daughters at the airport, she discovers that her husband is leaving her for another woman. That’s not all, he’s selling everything--the ranch, the horses, the house. And he can do it, too. It’s his family’s place, and Mattie never got her name on anything.
It turns out that Mattie loved the place a LOT more than her husband did. He wastes absolutely no time in selling her beloved horses, and putting the ranch on the market.
Mattie doesn’t merely withdraw, she downright collapses. It takes her a while to pick herself, and even longer to “lawyer up”. She gets a lot of excellent help from Nat Diamond, her nearest neighbor. Once upon a time, he was in close to the same bad place that Mattie is now; he knows how she feels.
But Mattie doesn’t have a clue about the way that Nat feels about her. And has always felt. He tries to keep his feelings under wraps, because Mattie needs a friend, and he doesn’t want to be merely a rebound.
Just when Mattie is ready to think about forever with someone other than her ex, Nat decides that he no longer has a forever to give. It's up to Mattie to change his mind.
Escape Rating B+: Although the side-characters are terrific, Good Together is Mattie’s story. The title is just a bit ironic, because Mattie first has to figure out how to be “good alone” before she’s ready to be “good together” with anyone else.
We’ve met Mattie’s family before, not her kids so much as her birth family. Mattie is the sister of Sage Carrigan, the heroine of the lovely Promise Me, Cowboy. Sage’s happily ever after was also a second-chance at love story. It seems like the Carrigan girls need a couple of tries to get it right.
The way that Mattie left herself legally unprotected after her ex leaves broke the willing suspension of disbelief for me a bit. I could understand (barely, I admit) why she hadn’t gotten her name on everything back when they first married, but after he left and started selling their stuff, not so much. Even as devastated as she was, that lack of self-preservation seemed more 20th century than 21st.
Although Nat is incredibly helpful, even at the beginning, it’s the women in this story that stand out. Seeing the girls becoming women who are strong and can help their mother find her strength again was awesome. Even better, the way that the Carrigan sisters pull together and support each other was the heart of the story for me. I’m looking forward to seeing how the other two sisters reach their happily ever after.(less)
How many demons does it take to make a rock and roll band? In Slam Dance with the Devil, the hit band Arc Map h...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
How many demons does it take to make a rock and roll band? In Slam Dance with the Devil, the hit band Arc Map has three, Kent on bass, Isis on guitar and Unger playing the drums. They go from concert to concert, playing gig after gig so they can soak up the energy from the audience.
Literally. They are demons who feed on that energy, and they’ve been feeding on their audiences since humankind made music by beating on rocks.
It’s a nomadic life, and has been for millennia. They’ve played every kind of music that has ever been. The demons that don’t manage to reinvent themselves and change with the audiences, die of hunger.
Every demon is supposed to have one Muse that changes everything. Once they find their Muse, they can only feed from that one person. They live together, or they die apart.
In Heavy Metal Heart, Trevor Sands finds his Muse. His music gets better, but the revelation that Muses are real and not just myth strikes ripples through all of the other demons, and their enemies, the Philosophers.
That’s where private investigator Nona Harris comes in. She’s been sent by a client she’s never met to follow Arc Map and particularly Kent Gaol. She’s been told that a family wants to make sure he is paid back for the heartbreak he dealt to their child Lorena. Nona figures that if she follows the band, eventually Kent will trip up and do something illegal, and she’ll be there to nab him.
She’s had cases like that before, where someone thinks they are too rich and famous to be held accountable. Nona usually proves otherwise.
But when she catches up with Kent, she discovers that he’s not like her other cases, and not just because she finds him intensely sexy. Even as he challenges her, something about the darkness she sees in him makes her think that her case isn’t what she thought it was.
She sees grief and not guilt, and finds herself filled with doubt as well as distraction.
Then she is lured onstage during one of Arc Map’s concerts, and she sees the energy of the audience raining down on the band; and on herself. Her world is not what she thought it was.
And she discovers that she’s been searching for Kent all her life. She just never knew what he was--until now.
Escape Rating B: Like Heavy Metal Heart, Slam Dance with the Devil is a very erotic love story. If you’ve read any of Olivia Cunning’s Sinners on Tour series, it’s that hot, without the threesomes. This is totally Kent and Nona’s story.
Both of them resist the almost gravimetric pull they have towards each other. Nona because she starts out believing that Kent is scum, and Kent because he believes that the woman who should have been his Muse is already dead--murdered by the Philosophers.
The war between the Philosophers and the demons is all about order vs chaos. While that may sound like good vs evil, it’s actually not. Order can be so rigid as to suppress life, and chaos, in the right dose, is more about change and growth.
Because Nona’s life is all about delivering justice, she starts out being all about order and rules. The Philosophers use that to get to her, and it almost works. They lose in the end because Nona is all about truth, and they lied to her to get her to do what they wanted.
Kent’s always told her the truth, even when it was one that she couldn’t believe. Even when it was one she didn’t want to believe. The truth that they belonged together saved them both.
This world of demon rockers and their muses puts a whole new spin on rock and roll. As an alternate version of history, let’s just say it gives a whole different beat, and a compelling one, to alt-rock.(less)
Death Defying begins its action/adventure/romance/space opera story just at the point where Deadly Pursuit leaves off.
And the crew of El Cazador is being pursued, with deadly intent, yet again. It looks like all the forces they have previously defeated are out to get them, once in for all.
It doesn’t help that the Collective and the Church are out to get each other, with the crew of El Cazador seemingly caught like fish in a large, space-spanning barrel.
The Collective controls the immortality-granting drug Meridian. After 500 years, the founding members of the Collective have a few problems. They’ve managed to gain control of the galaxy, or at least their corner of it, by their control of the drug. People who defy them are banned from ever receiving “the treatment” that gives them not just immortality, but membership in the elite circle that controls the system. Very few people are willing to lose their chance at the drug, no matter how high the price for it or how slim the chance that they could ever receive it.
But Meridian has a downside--doesn’t everything? Those who take it are not just made immortal, they are irrevocably changed. Everyone knows that members of the Collective are telepathic with the group. But the whole “growing wings” thing is totally unexpected. The members of the Collective are becoming something other than human. In a system where many people consider Genetic Modification to be “less than human”, what will winged people be?
Also, a lot of inhumane acts have been committed in order to keep the supply of Meridian flowing to the select few who qualify. But the supply has run out. The planet where Meridian was found is all tapped out.
The Collective doesn’t want to relinquish their control by admitting that they can’t elect anyone else into the club. Their leader wants to let the whole “wing thing” out into the open. Quite possibly because he’s tired of hiding the fact that he can fly. He wants to test those things out!
When the Council turns down his request for the big reveal, he goes to plan B--escape on El Cazador. The fee he’s paying for their assistance is the last bit of coin that Captain Tannis needs to fund her own Meridian treatment.
Instead, the Council betrays its leader, Callum Meridian, and plans on using double-and-triple crosses to get the Church of Everlasting Life to destroy the planetary source of Meridian in a blaze of glory--so they have a public scapegoat for the end of the supply.
Both the Church and the Collective plan on catching Callum in the cross-fire; the Church because it has decreed the Collective as anathema, and the Collective because Callum wants to delve into secrets that the Collective wants hidden. Both sides have tackled with the crew of El Cazador before, and wiping them off the face of the galaxy would be a pleasure for either side.
But the crew is much too clever to go down without a fight. Several fights. Especially now that they have recruited their own rebel alliance to help even the odds.
Callum Meridian has been unwilling to admit that immortality has gotten boring. On El Cazador he discovers that fighting for his life, and the lives of the crew who have managed to become friends--is the opposite of boring.
Falling in love is the best experience of all, and one he thought he was no longer capable of. But will loving and losing be worth the price, if he has to live with it forever?
Escape Rating B: Death Defying, and the entire Blood Hunter series so far, has been an absorbing combination of space opera and romance. In Break Out, as much as I adored it, the space opera took a backseat to the romance. In Death Defying, it’s the romance that takes the backseat, and the space opera political maneuvering that comes to the fore.
All three romances have been between a man who has been around entirely too much, and a woman who has little or no experience of sex, love or romance. Not necessarily because they are young, but because their lives have otherwise excluded romantic possibilities.
The heroine of Death Defying, Captain Tannis, almost seems too damaged to have changed so fast. She was experimented upon by a mysterious lab for 14 years, from the ages of 4 until she turned 18, and she can’t stand to be touched. She wants Meridian so she can hunt down the people who tormented her. Callum is the first man she’s ever let touch her, and she manages to forgive him for letting that lab, and other inhumane acts, be perpetrated on his watch as head of the Collective.
I didn’t quite buy into their romance, but the political machinations and Callum’s search for the secrets to Meridian kept me on the edge of my seat. The Church and the Collective are using each other, and both want to wipe out El Cazador. That ship is in everyone’s sights, and it takes a huge trick for them to escape both sets of clutches.
It was difficult to believe that the Church could get even more evil than they were in Deadly Pursuit, but they hit new lows. Not that the Collective is any better.
Riding the spacelanes on El Cazador has been so damn much fun that I’ll be sorry to see it end. I thought that Death Defying wrapped up all the loose ends left over from the first two books in the series, the fabulous Break Out and the terrific Deadly Pursuit. I was incredibly pleased, but I’ll admit also slightly surprised, to see that the author has two more books planned for the series.
I can hardly wait to see how she picks this up from where she left us this time!(less)
I’m very happy to say that I enjoyed The Clockwork Wolf more than I did the first book in this series, Disench...moreOriginally published at The Book Pushers
I’m very happy to say that I enjoyed The Clockwork Wolf more than I did the first book in this series, Disenchanted & Co.. I think that is partially because the world has been established, and we don’t need to go through all the introductory stuff again. But mostly, it feels like it’s because unlike Disenchanted & Co., The Clockwork Wolf reads like it was always intended as a single story. It flows better.
One of the classic steampunk matchups (assuming that steampunk has been around long enough to have anything classic) is the paranormal werewolf vs the scientific engineer. (There’s an excellent steampunk romance using this pairing in Moonlight & Mechanicals by Cindy Spencer Pape.)
In The Clockwork Wolf, the titular werewolf (werewolves, actually) is partially created by engineering. So a scientific werewolf. With some Native magic thrown in.
That’s an interesting twist to the story that we haven’t seen yet. Because this is an alternate universe where the Colonies never broke from the Empire, this is the first we’ve heard of the Native Americans. (I suppose they’d be Native Torians in this world).
Unfortunately this is not an alternate universe where relations between the Natives and the incomers worked any better than in our version of history.
(Spoiler alert for the first book in the series) Disenchanted & Co. ends with Kit using her powers as a spirit-born curse breaker along with some interesting gizmos to reverse time back to the beginning of the adventure so that Deathmage Lucien Dredmore survives. Kit is the only person who remembers the original timeline, but Dredmore has dreams about the “might have beens”. Kit shows the strain of knowing what happened before, including truths that change her relationships with both Dredmore (who has been pursuing her relentlessly) and her childhood friend Tommy Doyle who is now a police inspector.
It was very cool to see this time-altering reboot have consequences for Kit. It shouldn’t be easy to live with what she did. (If anyone remembers the TV Series Witchblade, it also had a total reboot sort of like this one).
Revenge by honor is the way this story begins. Kit takes the case of finding out what caused Lord Bestly (name too coincidental for words) to turn into a were-creature and go on a killing rampage the night he died. Kit refers to her actions as “revenge by honor” because she takes the case to save the reputation of Lady Eugenia Bestly, the woman most responsible for Kit’s initial ostracism when she arrived in Rumsen. Lady Bestly treated, and continues to treat, Kit extremely beastly, simply because Kit is an independent working woman and “ladies” are not supposed to work. Or be independent. Or do anything Lady Bestly and her tonnish friends don’t approve of.
That Lady Bestly now requires the kind of help that only Kit can provide is sweet revenge.
The case is not a simple one. The were-beasts are a combination of mech and magic, and Native magic at that. The evil at the heart of the conspiracy believes that Kit’s powers make her the only person who can make his dreams of conquest come true.
The Natives believe that Kit is the only person who can return their sacred artifact to its rightful place.
Kit just wants to thwart the conspiracy, AND bring all of her friends and loved ones out the other side. Without re-writing history–again.
What makes The Clockwork Wolf so much fun to read is Kit, and the more we learn about her backstory, the more fascinating she becomes. She solves the mystery by her wits and her connections, all of whom are interesting characters in their own right (I particularly enjoy Rinna’s perspective).
Kit knows that her acts have consequences, particularly her unwillingness to become a traditional female and marry either of the men who love her. But this isn’t a standard romantic triangle, where Kit can’t make up her mind or goes back and forth. She seriously weighs the consequences of choosing Dredmore, or Doyle, or neither, and keeps coming back to “neither”. Not because she doesn’t love them both, but because she values her independence more.
If you haven’t read Forgiving Lies, the story in Deceiving Lies won’t make sense. If you have read Forgiving Lies, then there is the possibility that Deceiving Lies will drive you crazy.
Forgiving Lies ends with a horrible cliffhanger. After Rachel and Kash have finally worked through most of their issues, and are getting ready for their wedding, Rachel is kidnapped by members of the gang that Kash and Mason broke apart before the beginning of Forgiving Lies. Fear of revenge by the gang members still on the outside is the reason that the two undercover cops where in Texas in the first place. They were laying low until the case back in Florida was wrapped up.
So Forgiving Lies ends with Rachel kidnapped and Kash immediately going out of his mind at her loss.
But Deceiving Lies does not start with the kidnapping. It starts a few weeks before the kidnapping, so we can see the happy preparations again. While it was good stage setting, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, because that upcoming abduction was looming in the back of my mind like a dark cloud.
At 16% into the book (thank you kindle app) we finally get that fall off the cliff we’ve been waiting for. Rachel is taken and Kash, predictably, starts going bonkers.
Most of the story is told from Kash’ and Rachel’s alternating points of view. So we switch from Rachel’s imprisonment, and her feelings about those events, to Kash trying to find her.
Rachel is held captive for well over a month. More than long enough for her to develop a weird relationship with the man who both kidnapped her and is protecting her from the other members of his gang. While she doesn’t fall in love with Trent, she comes to rely on him and see him as her protector and refuge against the rest of the gang. While it may not have exactly been Stockholm Syndrome, it felt at least partway there.
Meanwhile Kash and the police are receiving faked video that Rachel is being tortured. As the search goes on, and nothing breaks, Kash goes seriously bad cop. He takes on his undercover hardass persona. even though he’s not undercover. He disintegrates into someone that Rachel might not recognize when she is finally rescued.
Neither of them is the same person they were when Rachel was taken. The question is whether they can find their way back; to being someone who is still capable of loving and being loved by the other person. Can they navigate toward a new future, because they can’t go back to the way things were.
Escape Rating C+: After a fluffy beginning, this is a very dark book. It also doesn’t quite feel like it had a happy ending. It has a resolution on the way to happiness, but it didn’t feel quite happy to me.
There is so much angst in this story while Kash and Rachel are separated, and that takes up a huge part of the book. It may have been necessary for the story, but it was hard to read through. If I hadn’t wanted to find out how things got resolved in the end, I might have stopped, just to get out of the darkness.
The is it/isn’t it/what is it debate about whether or not Rachel was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, and exactly what her feelings were for her captor/protector Trent, went into the crazysauce. Rachel did not have to fall in love with Trent in order to be exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome. Having Stockholm Syndrome just means that she felt empathy and sympathy toward her captor and had positive feelings for him. Which she did, because he protected her from the really bad guys.
A part of me wishes that Rachel and Kash had gotten their happy ending at the end of Forgiving Lies. Rachel had already been through quite enough for one lifetime. But after the cliffhanger ending, I’m glad I read Deceiving Lies so that I could see them finally have their chance at happiness.
If there is a next book in this series, I hope that it features Kash’ partner Mason. Or even Trent. I just don’t want to see Rachel suffer any more.(less)
I picked this one up because Cass liked it. The idea that Cass liked anything with even a smidgen of romance ma...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
I picked this one up because Cass liked it. The idea that Cass liked anything with even a smidgen of romance made this one too tempting to resist.
Never Deal with Dragons turned out to be way too much fun for a story that starts after World War III, but then, the causes (and effects) of that war are all part of what makes this story such a blast.
Somebody really screwed up genetic manipulation, and instead of curing cancer, they created dragons by accident. That’s one heck of an accident, especially since those brand new dragons got such an interesting mix of genes that they are pretty much indestructible, at least by anything that humans can cook up.
Mankind is no longer the apex predator on Earth. The societal consequences are enormous. If it weren’t for the fact that dragons find us useful (we farm, they don’t), the dragons would probably have wiped us out in a heartbeat.
Especially since the results of that war include global cooling and a nearly complete breakdown of telecommunications due to too much EMP radiation. We’ve lost a lot of history and communication, and everyone wants to live in the new temperate zones, which have shrunk and moved towards the equator.
This is only the beginning of the worldbuilding, which is fantastic as well as incredibly well thought out.
Our heroine is a dragon mediator. She speaks dragon. The lord dragon of North America prefers to negotiate rather than fight or enslave when there’s a dispute between dragons and humans, such as when a dragon eats a bunch of cows without asking permission first. Smoothing over everyone’s feathers and scales is definitely required.
But Myrna Banks is stuck in a dead end secretarial job (to an asshat boss) because even though she is one of the few dragonspeakers, she lost some confidential documents a couple of years ago. She says she lost them, but her ex-lover actually stole them, on his way out the door in the middle of the night.
Trian Chobardan is back, and with a job offer. It turns out he works for that reigning dragon lord, and Lord Relobu wants a dragonspeaker to mediate between himself and the crazy-but-powerful Dragon Lord of China.
Myrna sees the mission as her chance to get out of her dead-end job and back onto the fast-track. She just has to ignore her still-definitely-simmering attraction to Trian--and all the dragons who suddenly want to kill her.
Escape Rating A: This one is all about the dragons, and the new society that is created in their wake. And it’s awesome.
The reactions of the people involved in this thing are just so much fun, even when the people are dragons.
Myrna is in such an interesting position, because even though her talents are needed, there are a lot of humans who don’t want to admit that the world has changed. They hate dragons, and therefore undervalue anyone who can communicate with them. There’s an element of human society that thinks they can go back to the “good old days” if they just manage to eliminate the dragons. This is so short-sighted, because they don’t have a way to get rid of all the dragons, and because things never go back to the way they used to be. That genie is long past out of the bottle. (Yes, I see it as a commentary on current society, as always, your mileage may vary)
I liked Myrna a lot. She’s a great point of view character because she understands both sides. And because she’s a mediator and negotiator rather than a warrior. It’s marvelous to see someone who fights with their brains first as the heroine.
I also liked that, as much as she’s still attracted to Trian, they don’t get back together until he comes clean about his betrayal, his disappearance from her life, and his true identity. He has to rebuild her trust, and it takes the entire story for that to happen. And so it should.(less)
I always believed that “bittersweet darkness” was just a description for especially delicious dark chocolate, u...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
I always believed that “bittersweet darkness” was just a description for especially delicious dark chocolate, until I got into Nina Croft’s Order series. The books are every bit as yummy (and addicting) as the best pure dark chocolate.
Like the other books in the series (Bittersweet Blood and Bittersweet Magic, both absolutely marvelous) Bittersweet Darkness is the story of a woman who has unknowingly been living a lie about her relationship to the supernatural, and a man who embodies everything that is dark, dangerous and otherworldly.
It’s not just about exploring the fire between Faith Connolly and Ash Delacourt, it’s about Faith finally discovering the truth about her past, and Ash figuring out that even a demon is capable of loving and being loved, even a second time around.
Ash Delacourt is a demon. In the first two books, he has been better known as Asmodai, a Prince of the Abyss. He’s also the father of Tara Roth, vampire Christian Roth’s wife. (Their story is the heart of Bittersweet Blood).
Tara and her dad have issues. Ash was using Tara to get back at Christian. By the time he discovered that Tara was the daughter he thought had died, Ash had done one heck of a lot of damage, and most of it to Tara.
Both Tara and Roz, the heroine of Bittersweet Magic, are mixed-blood. Tara is half-demon and half-fae. Roz is part-Angel. The fae hate mixed bloods, but the angels are positively rabid about it. They believe that any part-Angel is an abomination, and they want Roz obliterated.
Meanwhile, The Order of the Shadow Accords has created a Council that represents all the races, in the hopes of keeping all this internecine warfare from spilling over onto the unsuspecting original-recipe humans.
But it already has. They wiped out one crazed vampire who was going around exsanguinated young women, and leaving them for the human police to find. But one team of human police got a little too close for the Council’s comfort.
One partner was recruited, but the other refuses to admit that there might be anything supernatural in the world. Ms Oblivious is Faith, the heroine of Bittersweet Darkness. There’s a block in her mind that absolutely prevents her from believing in anything that goes bump in the night, even when confronted with incontrovertible evidence.
But she can’t let her last case alone. She believes that if she finds her serial killer, she’ll find a link to her own past. She doesn’t know that the Council has already wiped him out.
She also doesn’t have a clue that she’s absolutely right. There is a link to her past. The question is whether she can find resolution to her case, to both her cases, before the aneurysm in her head blows up and kills her.
And whether Ash is able to let another woman he loves die without a fight.
Escape Rating A-: Unlike the first two installments of the series, Faith starts the story as 100% human. A little too human in fact, as she has a ticking time bomb in her head in the form of an inoperable aneurysm. She wants to close that serial killer case, and find some answers, before she dies.
She has had an involvement with the supernatural, but she’s been blocked from remembering it. While it’s pretty clear early on that somebody messed with her mind, exactly who and exactly how is quite a surprise in the end, but it doesn’t change a lot about who Faith essentially is.
Faith doesn’t want to get involved with Ash because she knows that she can’t give him a future. She’s interested (very) in a fling, but she is dying and doesn’t want to break anyone else’s heart in the process.
Ash is the one who changes the most in this story, and in the course of the series. He starts out on a selfish quest for revenge in Bittersweet Blood, but by the time he meets Faith, he’s on the road to becoming a better man. He desperately wants a good relationship with his daughter, and he’s having to work damn hard to get halfway there (with good reason). But his need to make things up to Tara turns him outward in general, makes him less self-centered. It also helps him to heal from his loss of Tara’s mother, and he’s ready to let others into his life and heart.
He doesn’t plan on falling for Faith, but watching it sneak up on him is terrific. And nearly heart-breaking, both his and ours.(less)
Eagle’s Heart is a multicultural romantic suspense story with a leading couple so hot that there are times it seems as if the story will send steam ou...moreEagle’s Heart is a multicultural romantic suspense story with a leading couple so hot that there are times it seems as if the story will send steam out of the ereader. At the same time, the suspenseful aspects of the plot are very dark; mixing a tale of Albanian gangs and weapons dealers with a story about revenge and the horrors of the child sex trade. Teacher Salomeh Jones discovers that one of her students is being abused by both her mother and her mother’s sadistic boyfriend. But when Salomeh reports the crime to the police, instead of helping the girl, the cops uncover evidence that Salomeh is abusing her students. All evidence manufactured by an Albanian gang leader who gets his kicks from destroying people’s lives. Salomeh’s case attracts the attention of FBI Agent Julian Tamali, who has been tracking the gang leader since Bardhyn murdered his entire family in order to punish him for wanting to walk away. Julian doesn’t know whether Salomeh is a suspect or a victim, but he can’t resist falling for him. When they discover that the gang is targeting them both, they join forces for good. And possibly forever. Verdict: Recommended for romantic suspense readers who want their suspense on the dark, gritty and deadly side. The story is compelling, but with part of the jeopardy including girls forcibly addicted to drugs and turned to prostitution, it is not for the faint of heart.(less)
Third Daughter is a first-rate fantasy. Especially if you like your fantasy mixed with a little steampunk and a...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
Third Daughter is a first-rate fantasy. Especially if you like your fantasy mixed with a little steampunk and a lot of political machinations. It’s also the coming-of-age story about a fascinating heroine who goes from spoiled princess to smart operator through a trial by literal fire.
This fantasy is set in a land based on Indian-influenced customs and legends. Not Native American, but the Indian subcontinent. According to the author, Third Daughter is steampunk and fantasy with a lot of Bollywood.
However you describe the setting, it is refreshing to read a fantasy that uses something other than Celtic mythology and Medieval Europe as its starting point.
The story is the tale of the Third Daughter of the Queen of Dharia. Aniri has grown up in the mistaken belief that her mother does not have a political purpose planned for her, and that she will be able to marry for love the moment she turns 18.
Of course, it is not to be. And a good thing, too.
Aniri has fixed her heart on a courtesan attached to the household of the Samirian Ambassador. She believes that the Samirians are allies, and that Devesh really loves her and wants to help her. Aniri is politically naive, and doesn’t understand that courtesans are also spies.
But the Prince of Jungali arrives just before her 18th birthday, and promises her kingdom a peace treaty in return for marriage to the only unmarried daughter of Dharia. Meaning Aniri. Her mother wants peace with Jungali because the mountain country is rumored to be developing a skyship, a weapon that will change the balance of power between Dharia (currently on top) and Jungali.
Aniri reluctantly does her duty and accepts the engagement, but only after her mother lets her in on the real plot. Aniri is supposed to spy on her new country, and discover whether the skyship is real, or merely rumor. Once her mission is done, she will be free to return to her lover.
But the world is not as Aniri imagines it. Not just because it feels wrong to spy on the man she is supposed to marry, but because the Prince is much more than the barbarian she has been taught that all Jungali are.
Prince Ashoka wants peace. He wants to unite his people, and get rid of the warmongers who have been fomenting trouble between Jungali and Dharia with the help of the Samirians. But the young and handsome Ash also wants Aniri as his Queen. Not just for peace, but for real.
He’ll just have to navigate the plots and counterplots in his own court, and find the way to Aniri’s heart. But first, the would-be princess spy and the barbarian prince will have to cut their way through the secrets and lies that would keep them apart. And survive the assassins.
Escape Rating A-: Third Daughter is terrific fun! The setting feels fresh and new, in a way that makes you dive right into the story as you learn how the world is set up. It feels a bit like a fantasy version of India under the Raj, except that there are no British overlords. Each country is ruled by a Queen rather than the traditional male hierarchy.
Even Prince Ashoka of Jungali can’t unite his country until he finds a Queen who will rule. In Dharia, it is the First Daughter who will become Queen after her mother.
Aniri’s adventures are her coming-of-age story. She starts out rather spoiled, believing that the rules don’t apply to her. She also hasn’t bothered to learn about the conditions of the world around her, or the issues that make government such a burden for her mother.
Being sent to Jungali is the making of her. Aniri has a great adventure, but what makes her interesting to follow is that she learns from her mistakes, and does she ever make a lot of them! She wants to do the right thing, but starts out believing it is going to be much easier than it is.
She also discovers that a lot of people have been lying to her. Learning truths for herself is part of growing up. Aniri changes from willful child to self-sacrificing adult as she navigates her new and unknown country.
Ash is a great foil for Aniri, and also a swoon-worthy romantic hero. He will do anything for his country in order to bring peace. He thinks he’s sacrificing himself when he goes to Dhaira to bring home a bride, but he falls for Aniri and thinks its going to be unrequited. But he continues because he knows it’s best for his country.
It takes Aniri a long time to see the treasure that is in front of her, and to accept the life before her. Working with Ash, traveling with him and seeing his country through his eyes, opens hers.
And the swashbuckling, death-defying adventure climax helps to make Third Daughter one fantastic read.(less)
After having finished this story and had a chance to think about, it feels like the theme of Cider Brook is fin...moreOriginally published at Reading Reality
After having finished this story and had a chance to think about, it feels like the theme of Cider Brook is finding peace with the ghosts of the past. And that applies whether they are they are the ghosts of the long-dead past, or your own past.
A lot of the characters in the story are seeking redemption for something that they feel they did wrong, or think might have been the wrong thing. Part of the story is that the people they think they wronged have died. So they are searching for peace within themselves.
I feel like I should start the way that A Christmas Carol starts; Duncan McCaffrey was dead, to begin with. Yet the story centers around him and his death, even though he isn’t still around.
Duncan was a larger-than-life treasure hunter and explorer. And so was Harry Bennett, Samantha Bennett’s grandfather, also lately deceased. While cataloging and processing her grandfather Harry’s huge and disorganized collections, Sam comes across a painting of a mill over Cider Brook and a handwritten romance novel between a pirate and an English Lady.
Sam recognizes the scene in the painting and is fascinated with the book. She has been hunting pirates all of her professional life, and the story points her towards Knight’s Bridge. Sam was there once before, when she briefly worked for Duncan McCaffrey.
That’s where Sam feels the need for redemption. She concealed her investigation of Knight’s Bridge and her identity as a member of the slightly infamous Bennett family from Duncan. He fired her because he couldn’t trust her after that.
Now she’s back in Knight’s Bridge chasing her pirate legend, and everyone is pretty wary of her and her motives. She wasn’t exactly above board the last time, after all.
A freak thunderstorm forces her to break into that very same Cider Bridge mill for shelter, and when the place catches fire, she gets rescued by Justin Sloan, the same man who outed her presence to Duncan.
The Sloans do their level best to keep her around while Justin investigates what she is there for. He wants to keep her from treasure hunting, and she’s out chasing pirate legends. They strike sparks from the beginning.
As Sam investigates the local legends, she discovers that her pirate may really have been part of the history of Cider Brook and Knight’s Bridge. Her confirmation of that history lies in a little secret that Justin has been keeping from her all along.
Escape Rating B: In the end, it’s the historical story that turns out to be more interesting than the slow-burning love story between Sam and Justin in the present. I enjoyed the way that the entire Sloan clan adopts Sam and involves her in the wedding and the other events going on while she is there. Even though I haven’t read the first two books in the Swift River Valley series, Sam’s introduction to everyone served as my introduction as well. (Although I am curious enough about the previous stories that I’m planning to read them!)
Sam and Justin arrive slowly at a relationship; they need to trust each other, and at first they really, really don’t.
But the historical investigation is what held my interest. Sam is trying to find a 17th century pirate, and her trail has led her to Knight’s Bridge. The more she digs, the more she discovers, and the closer she comes to a piece of her own past. The way that this thread circled around to the present was very cool.
Sam’s past with Duncan, and why she felt so bad about what happened, is never quite clear. But the subplot it introduces with Duncan’s lawyer, Loretta, and how she felt about encouraging Duncan to fire Sam, as well as Loretta’s inability to move on after Duncan’s death, was a poignant side-plot.(less)