Review: The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

Saturday, October 29, 2011
Author: Robin Bridges
Genre: historical fiction, supernatural/paranormal, mythic fiction, young-adult
Series: Katerina Alexandrovna #1
Pages: 395 (Nook NetGalley ARC edition)
Published: expected January 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.

An evil presence is growing within Europe's royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina's strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar's standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina's help to safeguard Russia, even if he's repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn.
The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?

Robin Bridges brings a whole new life to 1880's Russia with her novel about a young, aristocratic, female necromancer. This is a novel that was another slow-starter for me. I was mildly interested and intrigued by Bridges' magically fantastical and dangerous world set in St. Petersburg, but I wasn't well and truly hooked until late in the game - when I was about 300 pages into the novel and less than a hundred from the end. With a disquieting introduction featuring and honing in on the young Katerina Alexandra Maria von Holstein-Gottorp, Duchess of Oldenburg, The Gathering Storm sets its dark, magical tone right from the very first paragraph. With revenants, ghosts, vampires and creatures of the night stalking through the cold nights of Mother Russia, only Katerina has the dark curse able to control them, and try to figure out where all the zombiefied soldiers are coming from - and why they are being created.

Actually beginning eight years after the introduction with Katiya learning her dark powers of reanimating the dead, The Gathering Storm is set during the reign of Tsar Alexander III,  known to his people as "The Bear." In this version of historical Russia, both the Light and Dark Courts of Faerie are at play within the Imperial Court of Alexander Romanov. The Imperial Tsar's own wife Dagmar of Denmark (though renamed as Marie Feodorovna) is actually a Light Faerie and controls that aspect of power in Russia. Alexander's own brother Vladimir married, shockingly, into the Dark Court fae: his wife, the Grand Duchess Miechen, has a obvious rivalry with the Empress. Not at all surprisingly, caught between these two women, these two factions, the Russian Court seethes with intrigue, betrayal and. . .  magic. I loved the new integration of the faerie within the folds of the historical Russian aristocracy; I just wished it had been more detailed and fleshed out what the roles of the faerie were for, besides fomenting drama.  Added to the tensions of the distant/enemy fae courts constantly around her and her family, Katerina has to contend with a witchy classmate at her boarding school named Elena, a princess of the country of Montenegro. And as the reader learns and Elena demonstrates, the fae aren't the only supernatural creatures populating 19th century Russia or its nobility. The author created numerous species/sub-species of vampire to contend with the human population as well. From the moth-like veshtizas, to the upyri, wampyr and even the supreme form of them all: the Vladiki - blood-drinkers descended from Vlad Dracul of Wallachia himself - Bridges has her own, fresh interpretation of vampirism. It's a very dense and complicated mythology that the author has created for her world, but it works.

Katerina, nicknamed Katiya by those who know her and love her, grew on me as the novel progressed. My increased affinity for the book can be directly traced to my increasing affection for the main character. My thought process concerning her went pretty much like this: "Eh" to "I don't hate her" to "I kinda like her" to "Ok, she's cool with me. I want her to live." Her necromantic ability isn't the only "otherworldly" capabilities the young Duchess possesses: she can also see a "cold light that seemed to grow stronger as a person drew nearer to the end" - convenient gift but not one I minded overmuch. What starts out as a sarcastic, genial sixteen year old girl develops into a headstrong, stubborn, intelligent and capable necromancer. Katiya has ambitition, like all the girls her age at the Smolny Institute. Unlike those girls, Katiya is not ambitious for power, for money or for even a Queenship. What she wants most in the world is to be a doctor (this is a girl, who when embroidering, pretending to be working on her sutures) - something not allowed for women in Russia. I found her dream to be interesting: a girl cursed with a gift for the dead desires to use her other powers (brains, strength, audacity) to help others live. Katerina isn't perfect: she can be a bit naive and silly but on the whole, it's her brains that define her - not her ballgowns or boyfriends. She's already a strange girl with her powers, but what truly sets her a part from the mold are her desires for a completely non-traditional life and profession.

And speaking of ballgowns and boyfriends, those were two of my main issues with the bulk of the story in The Gathering Storm. When the novels centers around the hidden magic of St. Petersburg and Katerina's increasingly erratic powers within the city, it is a smooth, engrossing read. When the novel veers off into the endless balls and pageantry of the nobles, the plot gets lost and I got bored - quickly. I kept waiting for the action to start whenever a pleated skirt or a mazurka was part of the narrative. I understand it can't be all madcap-chasing-after-a zombie, or fighting a vampire in a hospital but I needed more meat to the story when the endless balls and banquets were involved. The other main issue: the inevitable and predictable love triangle. Torn between the Tsar's younger son, Georgi Alexandrovich, and a Crown Prince from a family of "blood drinkers" I hresented the triangle from the moment of its introduction. Katerina flits between the two of them, unsure of who she really wants. The only redeeming factor of the love-triangle is the unique spin Bridges' places on it in regards to Danilo. That was the only saving-grace for a young-adult trope I am increasingly weary of reading. The young grand duke, however, ha my full support from his first reticent appearance. The only person in the novel who actually sees Katerina for what she is, he earned major points for his level-headed actions.  He does need some individual attention and development from the author, but I like what she has set up so far for the Duke.

Sadly, only Katerina herself and the Grand Duke pass my test of characters for the novel. All the rest, from Katiya's cousin Dariya to the evil antagonist Elena, were fairly one-dimensional and lacking development. There's hardly any distinguishing characteristics to set Elena apart from her coterie of evil siblings. Dariya serves little point but to be Katiya's voice of caution and suspicion, only around for emotional pull. Elena, the driven witch with her eyes on the Tsarevich, can be faintly cartoonish in her villianous ways. The author did manage to surprise me with the hemlock revelation and what that meant for Elena/Militiza/etc., but on the whole she was a villain without bite. They simply did not as much tension nor atmosphere for me to really feel the antagonism or fear their reprisals. It's also easier to dismiss the other girls of the novel, because unlike Katiya who is so forward-thinking she's practically a walking anachronism, they are completely caught up in the ideals and values of a male-dominated society. For these same reasons, it's also easy to disregard the ideas and opinions of even Katerina's mother. This was a woman so focused on power and moving up her own daughter's entanglement with a family of blood drinkers doesn't bother her in the slightest; in fact, only Katiya's Papa was an adult/parent worth his salt in the whole book.

By the time I reached the final page, I wanted more and I wanted it ASAP. Not only because of the cliffhanger/open-ended finale: I just wanted more time with Katiya, Georgi and with vibrant, dangerous world of supernaturalized Russia. Though the plot gets snarled in vampire mythology and mired down in ballgowns and banquets, when it finds its way out - it gets GOOD. Fast. In a Russia where evil isn't what you are but what you do, I have hopes that in the next volume Katerina won't have to hide her remarkable abilities, but use them openly in defense of her Tsar.  I can't wait for book two - or even to find out the title. The Gathering Storm may lose a few reader before it gets to the good part, so my advice to stick to it and see it through. You won't be sorry.

Review: Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Title: Dark Inside
Author: Jeyn Roberts
Genre: horror/zombie, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, young-adult
Series: Dark Inside #1
Pages: 374 (Nook ARC from publisher)
Published: September 2011
Source: publishers via S&S Galley Grab
Rating: 4/5

Four teenagers on the same road in a world gone mad. Struggling to survive, clinging on to love and meaning wherever it can be found. THE DARK INSIDE is a stunning, cinematic thriller: 28 DAYS LATER meets THE ROAD.

Since mankind began, civilizations have always fallen: the Romans, the Greeks, the Aztecs…. Now it’s our turn.

Huge earthquakes rock the world. Cities are destroyed. But something even worse is happening. An ancient evil has been unleashed, hooking on to weakness, turning the unwary into hunters, killers, crazies. 

Dark Inside was a number of firsts for me. It was the first zombieish/esque apocalyptic novel I've read. It was the first horror novel I've ever willingly completed (I gave Stephen King a try when younger. I think my delusional line of thought was: "go big or go home." I guess you could say I "went home". . . but I digress.) This is also the first time in a long time that I have enjoyed being scared (and disturbed) so much. Unfortunately, all is not perfect in Ms. Roberts' tale of world gone awry, but I more than loved it enough to make it one of my favorite reads of the year so far. It may not be the most traditional zombie/horror fare (though I have just admitted I have no idea and no right to judge but try and stop me!) but it is GREAT read, and is one of the few young-adult novels that can successfully bridge the gap into more adult fiction.

With a bleak tone right from the start, Dark Inside was a great change of pace for me. Not only are the "zombies" not technically zombies as usually defined, but darker, subverted and almost mindlessly enraged humans with no control and no compassion. That isn't to mean that the author stints from dark or disturbing elements - a scene with a pregnant woman being dragged by her hair into a murderous mob, or even just the casual mentions of people hunting CHILDREN at elementary schools still stand out in my memory days later - but they are simply not "supernatural" as in the undead. As chaotic as it is senseless, the violence of the monsters in Dark Inside illuminates the worst of humanity, hidden underneath and released by the quakes. I liked that the monsters of the novel were actually humans, apparently those not immune to a force that has ravaged the earth before. And let me tell you, these monsters or "baggers" as in "Let's go bag a deer" with the deer now being people, freaked me the hell out. There are several scenes that legitimately had my shoulders up underneath my ears. The introductory scene with Clementine and her family in the town hall was particularly well done: I was intrigued, freaked out and eager to read much, much more of what this author had in store. I loved that the zombies weren't brainless either, but actually capable of matching wits and besting their prey. It added ANOTHER level of suspense to a novel that already had me constantly on my toes. In a book where the monster can hide in plain site, or even set clever traps, and converse pleasantly, suspicion can and does fall on every character and it is best to do as Mason is advised and, "trust no one."

The rotating POV's of four main characters alternatively works for and hinders the novel. So many perspectives (the four main kids and also sporadically thing called "Nothing" has a few, short POVs) allowed for a wider, more varied view of the monsters and the destruction of the earthquakes, but it can also get quite repetitive with the minutiae. How crazy/insane/inhumane the "baggers" are is repeated a little too often between Mason, Michael, Aries and Clementine. It is a little hard to differentiate between all four characters as none is what I would call a fully three-dimensional, realized personality. It's just too hard, for me as a reader, to identify, connect and empathize with four different people that closely with a limit of less than 400 pages. It just shifts too frequently, with too little time between the narrative change. I liked all the teenagers well enough, but if I had to pick two specifically I wish had more screen time I'd definitely have to go with the two resourceful and smart girls: Aries and Clementine. While neither was so distinctive or vibrant I didn't have trouble blurring their individual storylines up until they meet, they both impressed me more than their male counterparts. I just wished for more from each - more personality, more individuality to distinguish Michael from Mason and Aries from Clementine.

All four kids end up independent and in charge of themselves - the exact situation most would have wished for before the earthquakes and now obviously the last place they want to find themselves. Mason, whose mother and entire school died the day of the quakes, is the most extreme example of the isolation of this new world, but none are exempt. I liked the spin on what most teens would dream of: complete independence.. but at what cost? Clem at least still searches for a brother named Heath, representing her hope for survival in this cruel world, Aries has her quest for a mysterious boy named Daniel who knows too much, and Michael has a dad lost somewhere out in the wild world of America. Watching the world shatter through the eyes of these four disparate teens was entirely compelling. Though they are not perfect characters, I found myself slowly hoping for a better outcome: for Heath to be alive, for Mason to lose his anger, for Clem to live until the end.. (She was occasionally so naive it pained me! But she was my favorite! Conflicted!)  Especially because this is clearly a series, I have high hopes that these characters will grow into some all-time favorites. The potential is there: either more length or a trimmed POV list is hopefully coming in the next volume.

The author also does a subtle job of slowly doling out the information about what happened the day everything changed: from the unpredictable acts of nature (6 9.5 Richter scale quakes) to the eerily similar acts of terrorism (123 schools bombed all over the world) - all while fueling even more questions. 
  • How did some people know beforehand? (i.e. man on the bus, the bombings)
  • Why are only some people turned into the "baggers"?
  • What determines the intelligence of each bagger?
  • If this is the earth clearing out the bad - why does it seem the innocent are the victims?
  • Who/what is "Nothing"?

As the kids learn that no one safe, either alone or in groups, each moves towards Vancouver and I began to have a few issues. First of all, none of the above questions are really answered. The first third sets up all these questions and none are fully solved to satisfaction - I'm already going to read book two so I just felt unsatisfied by the lack of resolution for any of the characters. The predicted and inevitable meet-up of all four teenagers felt rushed and unnatural for the novel - in a book of distrust, they just literally run into each other right in Vancouver and. . . . everyone's all hunky dory? - and threw me off from the flow. Which.. speaking of, seems to be in need of a little polish as well. Some of the transitions for characters, both between and within POV transitions, were awkward and repetitive. 

This is a violent, gory, disturbing, emotional and funny book. I loved this way more than I had thought I would. I had initially passed this over in my monthly Simon and Schuster Galley Grab email but decided to give it a go on a random whim: what a great decision in retrospect. This is not a perfect novel but I had such fun reading it I can't imagine any rating lower than a 4 out of 5. It is consistently taut with tension and occasionally fraught with emotion (Chee! Clem's parents!) and definitely not one to miss for anyone looking for a zombieish novel. A pulse-racing novel from start to finish, I can't wait to get my hands on book two - especially after such an open-ended conclusion. 

Review: Lord of the Wolfyn by Jessica Andersen

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Genre: supernatural/paranormal fiction, romance novel-ish
Series: Royal House of Shadows #3
Pages: 281 (nook edition NetGalley ARC)
Published: expected October 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

Once upon a time…the Blood Sorcerer vanquished the kingdom of Elden.To save their children, the queen scattered them to safety and the king filled them with vengeance.
Only a magical timepiece connects the four royal heirs…and time is running out.…
For practical Reda Weston, nothing could explain how reading a sexy version of "Little Red Riding Hood" catapulted her into another realm—face-to-fang with the legendary wolf-creature who seduced women. A wolf who transformed into a dark, virile man….
Dayn cursed the Sorcerer that turned him wolfyn and damned him to a lonely fate. As a beast, he mated with women to gain strength.
Strength he needed to rescue his royal parents. But as a man, he craved Reda's heated, sizzling touch. With little time left, Dayn had to either embrace his wolf to save his kingdom…or fight it to save his woman.
The third in the Royal House of Shadows series has thus far been my favorite by a wide margin. Steady to form, the third book centers on a third scion of the House of Elden: time time the tale is that of the Forestal/vampire/wolfyn Dayn by a new, fresh author. I hadn't read anything by this author or the previous one (Jill Monroe) and I can say I'd be interested in another book from this one, just judging by Lord of the Wolfyn.  Andersen does a more-than-admirable job of selling her individual retelling of Red Riding Hood using a formulaic romance novel outline and hampered by an obviously limited length. The rebellious, headstrong son is the only male protagonist thus far in this series to really catch my interest - Dayn's brother Nicolai and brother-in-law (? I'm assuming/paraphrasing) Osborn from the first two didn't do it for me with their passive-aggressive and will-I-won't-I-kill-you attitudes, respectively - and I have Ms. Andersen to thank. Some basic elements still need fleshing out - are there realms: human, wolfyn, Elden. .  but what about the Abyss? The Always? - but hopefully the fourth will include more details.

On the whole, I was way more than impressed with the style, voice and story in this third volume. I did find the time-limit to find the Blood Sorcerer a bit off, in the general scheme of the four book series - surely it could've been introduced earlier, as a more natural progression of the storyline rather than a random acceleratant? - but I appreciated the added tension to the atmosphere of the story. I liked the differing views of the realms (human, wolfyn, Elden) - knowledge of this "world" is uncovered more with each successive tale, with each author leaving an individual style and flair.

Dayn is a thrice-natured man (as he points out in his discussions with Reda, he is a man, just more so.) But even so, he's an obviously conflicted one - ashamed of his wolfyn-acquired powers, fearful of showing  his vampiric nature and unsteady as just a regular human - and even more appealing for his confusion. [Just an FYI: A wolfyn is basically a werewolf shifter with distinctive red and gold markings and an unavoidable enthrallment to human women.] Compound that with the deadly allure of vampires, and Dayn is a hard man/character to top in abilities/attractiveness. With his guilt issues (he was away on a fit of pique when his parents died), inner conflict and isolation so easy to understand and empathize with, it's no wonder I found Dayn a more well-rounded person than previous male characters. He's not all anger or negative emotion 24/7; he experiences grief and darker emotions, but he doesn't kill all the lighter moments in his life. He's just so controlled a la Christian Bale (c'mon imagine all that [[focus]] right on you.. oooo) I find it sexy and I don't find many vampires sexy. I also appreciated the differences between Dayn and his brother Nicolai: not only in personality but abilities and powers.

Alfreda "Reda" is also the first female character I've really invested in so far this series. They even brought a smile to my face at their inevitable, predictable, sweet interactions. I identified with her much more than the two previous girls, even though some of her attitudes wore on my nerves (I really dislike the "it's all a dream"/hallucinations ploy of denial for characters.) Like Dayn Reda suffers from guilt and massive amounts of self-doubt over deaths of loved ones - that's a hard bond to shake and understandable for two characters trying to rebuild. She's also delightfully bitchy without overdoing it, vulnerable and searching for a one-of-a-kind book named Rutakoppchen from her childhood -- one that leads her to wolfyn realm and naturally to Dayn.

Let's talk about Reda and Dayn together. Finally! a couple I genuinely liked - both individually and even more for each other. They were genuinely good together and good for each other. Unlike Jane and Nicolai, Breena and Obsborn where the women are obviously the protected and the men the protectors, it's more a partnership of equals with Dayn and Reda.  Reda even saves Dayn's bacon on numerous occasions, and though he returns the favor he never credits her with less bravery/skills than himself.

 "'He'll have a good second in command,' she returned.
'So will I.' His lips turned up as glanced over at her. 'Or am I your second? I'm never sure.'
'We can trade off......'

It didn't feel like a random pairing of types (outdoorsy woodsmen Prince + fiery petite independent woman) but a real, nurtured relationship. By far the most original -- and best! -- sex scenes occur in this novel out of the entire three books. They also felt like a natural evolution of the affection between the two, rather than scenes tossed out to keep a reader interested. Similarly their predictable/eventual intense conflictdid not come across as trite or contrive but as appropriate for the events happening, to put it in the vaguest of terms. I never wasn't interested: besides the chemistry, the ups and downs of Reda and Dayn there were creatures and villains aplenty to keep the pages turning with alacrity. An evil woods witch as amusingly creepy as she is dangerous keeps the two lovebirds on their toes in the absence of the immediate presence of the Blood Sorcerer they race toward. I also loved the addition of a dragon (who doesn't like dragons? You're lying if you say you don't) Feiynd - and the accompying fight was particularly excellent.

I'll admit to feeling slightly underwhelmed by the first two that this series had to offer - obviously not so here with Lord of the Wolfyn. Each book is obviously edited/written to a specific length and it works better for some authors than others, and though I appreciate the variety of voices and styles this was the first to my taste entirely. I had read a book by Gena Showalter before Lord of the Vampires (it was titled Catch a Mate, a cute if generic chick lit) and felt the lack in her first effort. Lord of Rage also failed to engage me (Breena just wasn't a character I'd ever relate to... and Osborn though possessing certain admirable/attractive qualities just wasn't for me) and with a somewhat truncated feel to the conclusion. Not so for Lord of the Wolfyn: a male lead I genuinely like (and like like), a fulfilling and satisfying conclusion, and all within the stated 281 page limit.

I seem to be in the minority with my high enjoyment level of this novel, and specifically the ending. I absolutely LOVED the ending - I think I even laughed out loud - but the complaints that Lord of the Wolfyn 'failed to set up the fourth book' confuse me. As I understand it, each author has 281 pages to build their own general story of survival and avenging prince/sses as readable standalones in a series. No one "set up" book two, nor book three. It wasn't Ms. Andersen's job to start Ms. Singh's concluding volume - it was her job to sell a sexed up Red Riding Hood with hot men and can-do woman and she did. And it's only $4.11 for your Nook!

Review: Fang Me by Parker Blue

Saturday, October 22, 2011
Title: Fang Me
Author: Parker Blue
Genre: supernatural/paranormal, young-adult
Series: The Demon Underground #3
Pages: 200 (Nook NetGalley uncorrected ARC)
Published: March 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

The vampires want it. The demons want it, too. And someone is willing to kill Val for it.Val and Fang have to find the powerful Encyclopedia Magicka before either of San Antonio's warring underworld factions locate it or the consequences will be deadly for the entire city. As usual, Val's vampire enemies (they still call her The Slayer) want her dead. Even some of her fellow demons may be less than trustworthy, since they'd like to grab the legendary book of spells before she does. Val has a personal claim to the Encyclopedia--her demon father left it to her when he died--but someone stole it recently. And that can't be good.Battling vamps and dodging demons, Val struggles to unravel the mystery and find the thief. At the same time, she's fighting her attraction to sweet, sexy Shade--her favorite shadow demon. Rumor has it that Val will lose her part-demon, vampire-fighting powers if she gives herself to him.With a crowd of vamps and demons out to trick her or kill her, it's not a good time for her to risk her job as the city's best vampire hunter by falling in love. The stakes are high and aimed right at her heart. But Lola, Val's hungry little lust demon, doesn't like being denied. Will Lola finally get her way? What's a part-lust-demon-teen supposed to do? Whatever it takes.

Unlike book #2 which launched a completely new, different story from the first book,  Fang Me continues with the same events of Try Me. Now established in roles and relationships, the characters of the Demon Underground novels have a continuing mystery to solve, in addition to a new unknown, unaffiliated demon in San Antonio. Pretty much on par stylistically with the first two, Fang Me continues Parker Blue's three-book-long streak of fun, easy and amusing vampire novels with a likeable, kickass heroine. Not content with the plethora of demons, magic and abilities shown before, Ms. Blue has more creativity to throw at her readers in this action-packed, fast-paced snarky adventure. Armed with a sword, a motorcycle, some vampire stakes and her trusty hellhound/terrier Fang, Val Shapiro is a character that I like more and more with each novel she stars within.

Val herself remains one of my favorite characters of the series - a situation I don't usually have with teenage young-adult (typically female) protagonists. She doesn't fall prey to the "poor poor pitiful me" routine so many "heroines" epouse, but (finally) nor does she believe only she can do everything. Val's relationship with Shade (more on him later) is another boon for the Slayer: both part-demons need the other to keep them "human" (Val in control of Lola and Shade grounded in this reality) without veering into codependency. They're good to each other, good for each other without being cloying or changing Val's harder edges. I did find the whole "lust demon loses virginity thus loses powers" to be a rather arbitrary "law" and also just kind of dumb: wouldn't a lust demon be fueled by sex, rather than depleted/lose powers and abilities by the act? It seems like - and comes across - as an obvious plot point thrown in just to cause a wrench between Shade and Val - and also to keep Val unsure of what she really wants. It's a very unfair situation for the teenager: the normal life she said she wanted, or the interesting, action-packed life she has lead so far.

Shade. Ahhh, Shade. One of the most likeable characters from all three of the novels, Shade is rapidly becoming one of my favorites for the series. Besides his innate kindness and goodness he displays towards Val, he comes across as the only genuinely nice guy Val knows, outside of Micah. Juxtaposing Shade's accepting attitude with Dan's complete and total rejection of Val and her demon, Shade urges Val to recognize that "Lola" is just another facet of herself, and not a reason to be ashamed. A healthy teen relationship, with the guy clearly intent on doing what's right? Wowza - another reason I enjoy these novels like I do. I do think that Shade and Val's relationship got a little too intense way too fast: saying "I love you" before dating even a full month tends to make me disbelieve/judge a little bit. For Val, someone who felt rejected and ashamed all her life, to go from "I'm not good enough for a guy" to "I love you" in a matter of weeks does not feel in line with her character.

The other elements of the novel (the mystery of who Trevor Jackson is, what happened to the Encyclopedia Magicka, Dan/Nic, etc.) were mostly decently done. I wished for more feel of tension/atmosphere for this third one: it was surprisingly lacking in departments its predecessors each have had in abundance. Val is still caught between two powerful groups (the vampires and the demons) but the tone is much more relaxed than when she was in the same situation during Try Me.  I will also say I continually find the mystery elements of these novels to be way underdone, and underplayed. There is never a build-up of tension before a big reveal and I feel somewhat let down by this ending in particular. Trevor seemed a bit obvious and not very subtle when he arrived (and how he acted around Shade had my sketch-o-meter going off the charts all the time) but I liked the additional knowledge he provided. I only have one other nitpick: I really, really hate it when authors add a 'k' to the end of the word "magic" in an attempt to make individualistic/unique/whatever. It doesn't work - all it does is annoy me! 

However, Parker Blue is definitely not an author content to sit back, lazy, and using what she has created so far; each new novel has something unique and creative inside, new revelations about Val or her world of San Antonio. More details about the still-largely-mysterious Demon Underground emerge as well, and lend hope for a further novel in this series. Fun, not perfect but definitely worth a read if you're in the mood for Texan teenager with attitude, stakes, a hot shadow demon boyfriend and a lot of snark.

Review: Try Me by Parker Blue

Friday, October 21, 2011

Title: Try Me
Author: Parker Blue
Genre: supernatural/paranormal fiction, young adult, mystery
Series: The Demon Underground #2
Pages: 225 (Nook edition NetGalley ARC)
Published: February 2010
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

This part-demon teen vampire fighter and her faithful terrier hellhound are once again patrolling the dark city streets of San Antonio, Texas. Val's hunky human partner, Detective Dan Sullivan, is giving her the cold shoulder since she beheaded his vampire ex-fiancée. Vamp leader Alejandro is struggling to keep the peace between vamps, demons and humans. The mucho powerful Encyclopedia Magicka has been stolen, someone in the Demon Underground is poisoning vamps, and Val's inner lust demon, Lola, is getting very restless since Val's now partnered with sexy Shade, the shadow demon with the blond good looks of an angel.The second book in Parker Blue's Demon Underground urban fantasy series plunges readers deeper into a heady world of passion, friendship, intrigue and mystery.

Back again with 1/8 succubus and badass vampire hunter Val Shapiro, Parker Blue's Try Me doesn't ignore the events of the just-ended Bite Me, but nor does it continue along on the same plotline. Instead of focusing on Val/Dan/Fang vampire hunting for the supernatural police force of the Supernatural Crimes Unit, Val is much more involved with the titular Demon Underground in the second outing of the series. I liked the shift of focus from the policelike SCU to the looser organization of the Demon Underground - after all the demon underground is what the series is about, supposedly, and hadn't really been a focus in the first novel. Set at a funeral just three days after the whirlwind ending events of Bite Me, the tone for Try Me is set in the first three pages: an action-packed, sarcastic vampire novel read just before the Halloween holiday.

In addition to the prominence of the underground, Parker Blue shakes up the formula - or rather doesn't establish one. Rather than focus on vampire hunting and supernatural crime-solving, Try Me adds a new plot/problem for Val's life in San Antonio: the vampires want to "come out" nationally, and the demons do not want either the vampires nor themselves to become public knowledge. As the only real intermediary between the two hostile camps, Val is thrust into a position of power, danger and a lot of stress. Not content with just that diversion of opinions on public relations, the vampires and demons also both blame each other for the loss of the super-important but dumbly-named Encyclopedia Magicka - which Val had for her life but lost upon returning to Micah, the leader of the Underground. Once again, I liked the changeup from the first novel: Parker Blue is a completely fun storyteller with an apparently diverse range of plotlines percolating in her brain. It never felt like a retread of the first, and the characters changed, grew, matured (or didn't).

Speaking of: the characters. Val remained her mostly amusing sarcastic self (When Micah tells her, "You should come [to the DU party]. Eat, drink, get to know other-part demons like yourself." Val snarks back at him: "Why don't you guys start a chat room of friend each other on Facebook?") Echoing the demon-focus of the main storyline, Val's relationship with Dan has ended, because of his stupid inability to deal with Lola. All this does is serve to reinforce Val's insecurities and self-hated; she continues her inner power struggle with Lola long after she realizes "Lola" is nothing but a label used to distance herself from her succubus heritage. She continues to fear the "love slaves" that Lola will create out of boyfriends she has, and her extreme desire is to be loved and valued for who she is, not what she can do or force another to do. She's a very compartmentalized girl, hurt girl.

  • The Slayer: the vengeful, strong and murderous side she uses to deal with life
  • "Lola"" the sensual, unpredictable, controlling and powerful side she doesn't know how to control
  • "Human-Val": the idealized dream of who she thinks she wants to be - common girl with mundane issues

Val does grow quite a bit in this novel, however, realizing that if a demon such as herself can choose to be good and not abuse her power, so might too the vampires. This is one of the things I like best about Val and this series: an actual teen YA protagonist that can be honest with herself and admit the obvious without actually liking the subject [the vampires in this case].

Dan, understandably, disappointed me. Any previous merits awarded this character and his he-man hero complex were lost: his extreme about face is kind of random and off-putting. A very background character from the first, a shadow-demon named Shade, quickly became a favorite of mine. Not only is the lore of his kind of demon particularly creative (he can heal, transfer energies, appears as an outline of whorls and whisps of smoke unless touched to "ground him in this reality") but he's the most well-rounded male character so far. He's strange, kind but most importantly: entirely accepting/understanding of Lola - which Dan never could - or wanted - to be. Fang continued his laugh-track antics and kept the inner amusement rolling, even when the fights were breaking out - and they were, often. This is certainly not a dry book with nothing happening for chapters: fights, fires, drama all flesh out the narrative often and well.

I found the mystery elements of the novel to be a bit flat compared to action, love, humor present in the rest of the book. Like the mystery of the mysterious traitor in Alejandro's New Blood Movement from the first Bite Me, I was never as curious to solve the question as I was to continue reading about Val's day-to-day life and interactions with people, vampires and part-demons. I just don't geet excited or feel anticipation really grow before it's the Big Reveal and the end. There's definitely less face-time/angst over Val's 100% human family and their rejection - see earlier: Val grows up a bit. These novels are at their snarky, violent best when it is Val and Fang dealing with demons and vampires. I finished this one with the familiar feeling of wanting another outing and some more time with Valentine Shapiro and Fang - next up is the third in the series Fang Me.

Review: Bite Me by Parker Blue

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Title: Bite Me
Author: Parker Blue
Genre: supernatural fiction, young-adult
Series: Demon Underground #1
Pages: 229 (uncorrected Nook NetGalley ARC)
Published: September 2008
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

An edgy book for teens that spans the gap between young-adult and adult fiction. Life after high school is tough enough without having to go 15 rounds with your inner demon. Val Shapiro is just your ordinary, part-demon, teenaged vampire hunter with a Texas drawl. And a pet hellhound named Fang. Soon enough she finds herself deep in the underbelly of the city, discovering the secrets of the Demon Underground and fighting to save those she loves. Whether they love her back or not.

Straight off the top, I have to disagree with my little blurb copy and pasted above. I don't agree that this is a novel that "spans the gap between young-adult and adult fiction" - I think this is a solid but not spectacular series opener for a definitely young-adult series.  Bite Me more than delivers on the rest of the promise hinted at above: it is edgy, it is fun, and Val and Fang are a comedic duo with flair and timing. I can understand the appeal for older readers - at almost 24 I'm probably at the outset of the target demographic - but this is definitely a young-adult vampire/supernatural novel. Not the most original or ground-breaking, but full of enough verve and unique mythology/lore to keep me more than interested.

Set in San Antonio, Texas (hey, is there anywhere near Morganville, TX? Texas definitely has a bad infestation of vampires...) Bite Me is vampire-slayer Val(entine) Shapiro's starring show. Eighteen years old, part succubus lust demon and a vampire slayer, Val is far from normal but completely real and grounded. Echoing her split nature, Val is a half-Jewish and half-Catholic tumult of drama, danger and humor ("The name's Val, not Buffy. Do I look like a blonde cheerleader with questionable taste in men?") She might come across as trying too hard on occasion, but Val amused me by and large and I definitely bought her persona of tough, funny capable vampirehunter.The lust-demon/part succubus thing is a huge problem in Val's life (even though she's technically only 1/8 succubus): she doesn't feel human, that she belongs or is even loved by her family - common teen issues that make Val intensely relatable for younger audiences. While "Lola" (what Val calls her demon) doubtless gives Val boons (extra speed and strength, accelerated healing) she doesn't come without a hefty price. Val's personal issues with herself and her nature are another strong point for the novel: she consistently struggles to distinguish "demon-Val" and "human-Val" while almost resenting a key part of who she is. The truth about Val she refuses to acknowledge is that she is much more powerful of she works with the Lola part of herself instead of denying her nature and being ashamed by it. She can be either immature or mature (her handling of her mother's rejection was surprisingly mature for YA), but she always presents herself as a real person.

The supporting cast is not as rounded out as it would need to be for a higher rating - and one of the main ones this is only a three star review, instead of a four. Val's younger sister Jen is an important part of the events of Bite Me, so it's too bad she lacks any real characterization. Like her daughter Jen, Val's mom Sharon is also drawn in broad, undetailed strokes. Her substantial (and somewhat overwrought) issues with Val are left clouded and unexplained - making Sharon appear as a cookie-cutter villain rather than a conflicted woman with a uneasy relationship with her daughter. The only really fleshed out supporting characters were that of Val's snarky hellhound/terrier Fang and love-interest/partner Dan. Fang is practically human in personality and actions, but the hellhound with humor and heart nearly stole the show several times. The only one that unequivocally loves Val, Fang is one of the most likeable demons in the book. Dan, Val's partner in SCU, plays a good straight man to Val's loose cannon antics. He's stoic and reserved - almost the archetype for a detective but emerges as a sweet and kind companion to balance Val's more dangerous nature. Lieutenant Ramirez of the SCU also has potential for a character - I can see him easily as a father-figure for the vampire hunter - but he as mostly relegated to the background for much of the novel.

I liked the variety the reader experiences during Val's excursions. Not just vampire hunting, or demon powers, Val has to contend with more mundane issues as well. The style of the novel is definitely geared more towards action than dialog, but I thoroughly enjoyed the well-described fight/sparring scenes. Val believable holds her own, but definitely isn't impervious to a few punches herself. Parker Blue also went and created her own lore/mythology for demons and vampires - and I definitely like the individual flair she placed on the creatures, i.e. "vein of vampires", the shadow demons, etc. The New Blood Movement for vampires (people donate blood, these vamps don't attack and take blood) isn't the most revolutionary idea for supernatural fiction (hello Twilight, and Eat, Slay, Love) but it allows for some interesting power struggles amongst the nightwalkers. Slowly, deliberately parsing out information about Val's world and creatures as the novel prgresses provided an excellent way for me to slowly submerse myself in Parker Blue's Bite Me, and leave me clamoring for the next in the series Try Me.

Blog Watch Wednesday!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Review's I've Posted:

Lord of Rage by Jill Monroe (3/5 stars, fairytale retelling, romance novel-ish)

Carpe Corpus by Rachel Caine (3/5 stars, supernatural fiction, young-adult)
Without Tess by Marcella Pixley (4/5 stars, young-adult, contemporary)
Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez (4/5 stars, young-adult, contemporary)

Internet Awesomeness:

I have quite a few links about the Lauren Myracle Shine/Chime debacle that went on over at the National Book Award. 
Here's author (and fan) Libba Bray's take on the event. (Libba Bray's blog)
And another article from the Huffington Post on the screwup. (Huffington Post)

How many of these famous - and cartoonified - characters can you name? "Both eye candy and nerd quiz" I had a lot of fun trying to figure everyone out. (Buzzfeed)

All of you should check out Better World Books for bookbuying needs. Not only do they have an amazing sale going on right now (50% over thousands of books) but there is FREE SHIPPING and!! if/when you buy a book from the site, they donate another book to an in-need charity! They've raised over $10 MILLION for charities, with over 5 million books donated. I personally bought America Pacifica, Insatiable, Feed, Specials, Tithe, and Briar Rose for less than $13!

If you have an iPhone, you can turn your phone into a typewriter! Just so cool, and once again, thank you Steve Jobs for all you created for this world.

Replacing last week's Most Awesome Tumblr in the World (FUCKYEAHDISNEYSONGS), this week I bring you: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Noses! I literally lol'd at some of these - Barack Obama's is perfect! Sometimes I just love the internet SO HARD.

This awesome lady makes science fiction themed nail polish! I think I'd buy "No Medal for Chewie."

If you're a Hunger Games fan (I am!) then you're probably already aware they've rolled out all 13 district poster seals! I got sorted into District 1 - aka Luxury and I like the posters for all.

Great authors - and the snacks they loved! Check out Byron and his vinegar, Walt Whitman's oysters for breakfast.... (NYTimes)

Another NYT article: a review of Laini Taylor's amazing novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I'm not going to stop pimping this book (read my review!!) so really, save yourself some repetition and GO BUY IT.

And a Cracked Weekly Roundup:
The last one is probably my favorite -

"What fan of the Avengers and the Justice League hasn't also spent hours staring out windows or lying awake in bed thinking, "Sure, superhero team-ups are neat, but what about my favorite historical figures? Who is out there to write their crossovers?"

Well ask no more, because someone has finally stepped up to pen those stories, and his name is history. We already live in a world in which brilliant, crazy and influential people have teamed up in unlikely partnerships. The results were usually insane, if not world-changing."
Enjoy your week everyone. I'm working on three reviews of the Demon Underground series by Parker Blue and hoping to get to some historical fiction about Catherine of Russia in The Winter Palace!

Review: Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Title: Virtuosity
Genre: young-adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 304 (uncorrected ARC)
Published: October 2011
Source: publishers via S&S Galley Grab
Rating: 4/5

Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant, and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen's whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn't just hot...what if Jeremy is better

Carmen knows that kissing Jeremy can't end well, but she just can't stay away. Nobody else understands her--and riles her up--like he does. Still, she can't trust him with her biggest secret: She is so desperate to win she takes anti-anxiety drugs to perform, and what started as an easy fix has become a hungry addiction. Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of always doing what she’s told, doing what's expected.
Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall....

First-person perspective young-adult novels and I have a tricky but pretty reliable relationship etched out: if they are handled well and maturely I can legitimately love them, but if the author doesn't have the panache to pass their voice as a believable teen it's a lost cause with no hope. Happily for me, Jessica Martinez shines in her debut novel in the voice, mind and world of Carmen Bianchi, world-class violinist. Believable without trying too hard, without sounding too-mature for her years, Carmen is a great character in a more-than-good-but-not-great novel. Carmen shines in this vehicle, elevating a somewhat overused general plot, infusing it with personality and vitality. This is definitely a case of a character making the book better than it should be, on its own.

Carmen is a great character because she's real and grounded. She's anal, insecure, sarcastic, funny, kind and a complete pushover. I liked the multi-faceted and even conflicting aspects of her personality: by no means is this "Medusa-haired" heroine a Mary Sue. Like many teen girls, she constantly searches for approval, to be thought "normal" - usual teen emotions that keep her relatable amid the Grammys, and $1.2 million dollar instruments. She's unabashedly great at said violin as well: winner of a Grammy and world acclaim, she should be arrogant, cocky. . . but she remains herself throughout. I did find a couple of her actions to be pretty annoying and downright silly (her assumptions about Jeremy's email are immediate and judgmental) but I don't have to love everything the character does to love the character herself. She's just so human in an outrageous, extremely pressured position. Under ridiculous strain of her stage-mom's expectations and transferred dreams, Carmen has little to no control over her life. Day-to-day or even what her dreams are is dictated by her mother with "an iron fist with a french manicure." Carmen, sadly, though world-class and immensely talented, never plays for herself or her own pleasure. She plays for her mother to vicariously live a failed career, for a teacher to extend his own impact on the musical world and that is sadly representative for Carmen's entire life. As music is so personal with an almost tangible impact upon Carmen, it's incredibly easy to commiserate and mourn with her as her joy in violin is turned into something else.

Other characters sadly lack the vivacity and life of Carmen. Her taciturn Ukrainian teacher Yuri is particularly easy to visualize but lacks any dimensions or personality outside of "gruff old man." I found Carmen's mother, always referred by Carmen with her given name of Diana (which I also very telling of their relationship) to be a depressingly one-dimensional antagonist. She seems to have no love or empathy in her for her daughter or her largely unseen husband Clark - focusely solely on her daughter's career as a surrogate for her curtailed one earlier. Diana's motivations for pushing Carmen would be much more understandable, even palatable, if they were for Carmen (wanting her to be happy, great at what she loves, follow her dreams) instead of trying to mold her into Diana II. Jeremy King, he of the not-so-subtle-last-name also failed to impress me the first half of the novel. Though I didn't jump on Carmen's hate bandwagon he makes a pretty bad, then pretty bland impression. I never saw his supposedly irresistible charisma - hell, I barely saw any personality from him! He was more of a drain on Carmen than a support, in my opinion, and I would've liked a nicer, kinder character infinitely better. He's supposedly Carmen's love interest I didn't really feel the chemistry between the two until they were pretty much de facto paired up. They truly work together and the novel is most evoactive when either Jeremy or Carmen play the violin. The descriptions and personal reactions to music are beyond compare in this novel: they stand as my favorite parts of the entire book.

The finale of the novel took me by surprise, while being absolutely fulfilling. Not the big reveal/betrayal, but the action stemming from the event. Carmen took me by complete surprise, but did what ultimately feels right for her. Regardless of how you feel about her decision, at least this time, for once, it was HER decision. Not her mother's, not Yuri's, not the doctor's and not even Jeremy's. . . purely and wholly Carmen. The ending is rather open-ended for a conclusion to a standalone novel, but I loved how the author left it. The world seems limitless, with anything possible for Carmen.

Review: Without Tess by Marcella Pixley

Monday, October 17, 2011

Genre: young-adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 288 (Nook NetGalley ARC edition)
Published: October 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Tess and Lizzie are sisters, sisters as close as can be, who share a secret world filled with selkies, flying horses, and a girl who can transform into a wolf  in the middle of the night. But when Lizzie is ready to grow up, Tess clings to their fantasies. As Tess sinks deeper and deeper into her delusions, she decides that she can’t live in the real world any longer and leaves Lizzie and her family forever. Now, years later, Lizzie is in high school and struggling to understand what happened to her sister. With the help of a school psychologist and Tess’s battered journal, Lizzie searches for a way to finally let Tess go.
Without Tess is a whirlwind of a novel - running the gamut from emotional to sweet to disturbing, all easily within a few pages. It's a forthright and honest look at youth, childhood, grief and mental illness without shying away from darker moments or themes. Told in the very real voice of Elizabeth "Lizzie" Cohen, the first-person perspective makes the events of the novel with Tess much more personal, much more visceral for the reader than a more removed third-person omniscient would have done. This super-involving story of Lizzie's life and of Tess's death is compelling and a must-read. This is a novel that was hard for me to read, but I never once felt like giving up on it.

Born two years before Lizzie, Tess is the center of the book around which everyone else operates. The relationship between the two girls is the most central and important one of the entire book: one does not feel whole without the other, in the beginning. Tess by herself is not a very sympathetic character  - she's vibrant, fragile, unique and precocious but she's also removed, sullen and controlling. Ms. Pixley does an incredible job of presenting Tess as sympathetic through the eyes of her sister, but the reader can discern early on that there is just something off about Tess even before Lizzie understands. She's very creative and imaginative, but what is play and make-believe for Lizzie is life for Tess. Lizzie is much more grounded than her sister, from the beginning even as children. Intelligent but not motivated to succeed at school, Lizzie never really recovered from Tess's death - for obvious reasons. Fifteen years old at the time of the novel, Lizzie occasionally comes across as the traumatized ten-year-old she was when Tess killed herself. Lizzie herself is also hard to like, in her present-day incarnation, as opposed to the completely sympathetic and likeable version present in the flashbacks. Sympathy and empathy come easily for the character, but genuine affection was harder to find. Lizzie continually punishes herself for her sister's death, and even carries a journal belonging to Tess as a daily reminder of her guilt and grief.

A series of flashbacks, some quite lengthy and others a tad shorter, shed light upon Tess's problems through her whole life. The flashbacks are so extensive and well-done they present a more rounded picture of Lizzie's life growing up with - and under the thumb of - Tess. I really enjoyed the narrative structure of this novel; the juxtaposition of Lizzie's changing attitudes towards Tess as she ages is realistic, though sad for more-than-valid reasons. Poems from Tess are scattered between chapters relevant to the poem itself and lend an extra air of atmosphere and personality for both the book and Tess herself. Like I said, this can be a hard book to get through - I had to take several breaks because the author pulls no punches with the brutally honest portrayal of Tess and her intense illness.

I did have a few problems while reading Without Tess. There's a rather unsubstantiated subplot about religion and searching for God (Tess and Lizzie are Jewish with a very devoutly Catholic friend) that seems completely unnecessary and distracting from the actual plot. The quasi-philosophical wonderings of Tess in the midst of Tess's meltdown burdens the plot and the pacing for the more riveting main story. I found it off-putting when the girls' Christian friends urged them to pray "the right way" etc., and I also found it unreal for the ages of the girls at the time. Another thing that tried my belief was how the sisters talked/wrote at the time of Tess's death. Both definitely come across as much older than the intended 10/11. Their dialogue is far too mature, as are the themes and ideas of Tess's poetry. They both seemed more in the range of actual teenagers: 16-18 would be a more accurate representation. 

Besides the few minor issues I had with this novel, I found Without Tess to be a great novel. It's emotionally stirring and completely heartfelt without stinting on the darker moments or glossing over Tess's issues. Lizzie's story might not be the easiest or the most fun to read, but it is rewarding to do so. Pick this one up if you're looking for a young-adult novel that isn't afraid to make you cry, or one to make you think.

Review: Carpe Corpus by Rachel Caine

Friday, October 14, 2011

Title: Carpe Corpus
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre: supernatural fiction, young-adult
Series: The Morganville Vampires #6
Pages: 384 (paperback version)
Published: 2009
Source: bought
Rating: 3/5

Sixth in a now-extended to 15 book series, Carpe Corpus delivers exactly what readers of her Morganville series want: compelling teen romances, vampires, teenage romances with vampires. . . and a steampunk computer named Ada. Wait.. what? The last bit is a little out of character for the predictable but fun book, and in this series you have appreciate any innovation and newness where and when you can find it. Though not my favorite offering Ms. Caine has yet had for Claire and Company, like every other other novel before it, Carpe Corpus had me tearing through chapters in order to make sure all my favorites made it safe and sound to the end. Never to be labelled the most innovative or compelling reads, The Morganville Vampires series continues on its previous trend of easily readable, intensely fun young-adult books.

Picking up from the rather large cliffhanger of Lord of Misrule, Carpe Corpus doesn't just wide the coattails of tension from the preceding installment. Once the previous threads are barely answered to the reader's satisfaction Ms. Caine is haring off on another high-emotion, fast-paced adventure. Claire's attitude and perspective come off as pretty unreasonable for much of the novel, and judgmental even with her only closest friends in town.  Claire has never been my personal favorite character (that honor goes to Shane/Eve/Amelie) and I never read these books for her particularly, but her attitude in this one was particularly egregious. Specifically in my mind, the incident with Michael over Frank Collins stands out and seemed not only insensitive but hypocritical on her part as Claire was guilty of the same nonaction as she was accusing Michael! Everything is ALWAYS about Claire Danvers, even when it is really Shane's trauma. I find my affection for Claire slipping more and more, with the secondary characters more than ready to pick up the slack. I actually enjoyed Richard Morrell and Oliver more than usual in this novel: changes in power, ideas, etc. reveal heretofore unguessed/un-looked-for facets to each personality. I found the random switch in Monica Morrell's bitchy attitude random and a let-down: her entire point is to be an antagonist and foil for Claire. With that gone, what's the point of the character?

There was some growth for the at least two of characters in this sixth novel. I'm obviously talking about Shane and Claire, for the most part, and anyone who has read the first five novels knows what I am referring to and what has been built up for about three novels too long. Yes, these two crazy kids in love finally do "it." And it was handled with more aplomb and less melodrama than I was preparing to endure. Yes the scenes are a bit cliche (hey - this is YA after all, it's not going to get graphic) but makes up in sincerity and sweetness what it was lacking in originality or flair. I personally have no problems with a seventeen year old character losing her virginity to her longtime boyfriend; I would've actually been bothered had it finally not happened - that would be completely unrealistic for two such hormonal - oh I'm sorry - in love teenagers and a bait-and-switch for the readers.

New technology is also added to the unique world/magic of Morganville. The long-mysterious and powerful doorway transports are revealed as a larger scheme of ADA. Ada was once a woman, in love with Myrnin and magicked/technologied into a human computer that controls the portals of Morganville, and thus the people of the town as well. Ada is a new twist for this series: nothing like her has graced Caine's pages or Claire's less-than-storybook life. She influences the actions of almost ALL the key players (Amelie, Myrnin, Bishop, Claire herself) and becomes a central plot point the other characters orbit.  As another former assistant of Myrnin, Ada serves as a cautionary tale to Claire and her future with her studies with Myrnin. His mental instability is proven again with Ada and her creation, causing further problems between vampire teacher and human pupil.

Ms. Caine wraps up several dangling plotlines from earlier novels in the series. The ultra-interesting (and most creative aspect of the entire series to date) vampiric disease is resolved, pretty satisfactorily. I didn't feel the solution was a deux ex machina as I'd feared, but neither was it as straight-forward as it initially appeared. There was almost complete resolution of the Amelie/Mr. Bishop power struggle over the last two novels as well. I felt a little unsatisfied with the ending of several big-bads of the novel, but that is a minor complaint for such a fun book. All in all, I think longtime fans of this series will be more than pleased with the eventual outcome of the book as well as eager for the next after finishing Carpe Corpus.

Review: Lord of Rage by Jill Monroe

Thursday, October 13, 2011
Author: Jill Monroe
Genre: supernatural/paranormal fiction, fairy tale retellings/mythic fiction, romance novel-ish
Series: Royal House of Shadows #2
Pages: 281 (uncorrected ARC)
Published: September 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

Princess Breena had been dreaming of her warrior lover when she was ripped from her Elden castle and thrown into a strange, dangerous realm. Lost and alone, she prayed for survival and vengeance for her stolen kingdom. She found both in a woodland cottage…in a dark bear of a man.

The golden-haired beauty had eaten his food and slept in his bed when Osborn found her. Though he wanted to awaken his virgin princess to carnal pleasures, Breena wanted more—including his warrior skills. Skills the once-legendary mercenary had long buried. Now Osborn had a choice—risk his life or deny his princess her fairy-tale ending.

Second in the series but first about a female sibling of the House of Elden, Lord of Rage is Jill Monroe's story of Breena, only daughter of King Aelfric and Queen Alvina using the loose framework of the popular tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The only girl with three brothers, and thus protected and treasured and isolated, Breena is forced from her family, life and home and without protection. Though she feels initially only pampered and prepped for marriage, Breena emerges as much more capable and independent character.  The three bears mentioned are surprisingly (or not so, if you've read the first two novels) not her brothers, but other interesting, dynamic men - with one in particular being especially important.

I did find the idea of the "dreamtalking" Breena uses to talk to "her warrior" to be a bit corny and overplayed (dreams of a "fierce" and "primal" man are pretty generic and cliche for romance and PNR) but I was glad to see Breena wasn't the Most Powerful Witch Mugwump or somesuch like Niolai was of vampires - surely one Alpha per magical being per family is reasonable? And I would definitely say a backseat role is eminently more suited for Breena. She's no shrinking violet happily either - evolving from a scared girl into a woman who takes self-defense lessons in the novel. I did find some bits about her a bit too good to be true like, "She'd never even glanced at another person in a cross manner in her life." So she's at least 35, but has never had a bad day/PMS/a brother who irritated her? I didn't buy that for a second - pampered princess or not. She can come across as a bit blandly, perfectly attractive but I liked her nonetheless.

Breena's less combative nature is sharply contrasted with Osborn - a berserker and the last of his kind save his two younger brothers, but similar in their secluded and isolated existences. Known as Ursan warriors (get it? Ursa = bear) Osborn is the last of his kind thanks to a covert massacre on orders of Breena's dead parents - a mistaken belief which inevitably causes waves in Breena and Osborn's also inevitable romance. The thing I found the most compelling and the saddest about Osborn was that he went from a man that hated killing, doing so out of only necessity into an assassin or mercenary. He is a man at the lowest he can go, and Breena is the one that saves him from truly becoming a monster. Once his gentler nature is shown, he is rather like a bear: gruff, wild, unpredictable and irritable  - and yes that is the gentler side. He's just not my type, though I do understand the appeal of his silent/sexy aura, he never interested me.

More is revealed about the night the siblings lost all to the Blood Sorcerer - but not all. Some details and necessary facts are glaringly missing, hopefully to be forthcoming in successive novels about Dayn and Micah. More framing is given to the structures of this "realm" and the disparate peoples within it - not just vampires are here! - to give a larger impression of scope of the story itself. New powers/abilities/revelations are forthcoming, but it lacked the bite of the antagonists of the first. There was a more complete feel to the entire novel, without the rushed ending of the first particularly. Overall I liked this second installment without being too terribly invested in either outcome or characters.  Pick this up if you're searching for a fast, easy read but not if you want an emotional or affecting novel. This one is pure brain candy: easy to read, easy to digest and move along to the next morsel. It's a cheapie too, for those with ereaders: only $4.11 for this less than a day read.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Copyright © 2015 Ageless Pages Reviews. All Rights Reserved.

Amelia Theme by The Lovely Design CO and These Paper Hearts.