Sweet Enemy was a recommendation I picked up from my regular visits to SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com, a book that falls into the general category of historical romances with bluestocking heroines. This book’s heroine, Liliana Claremont, is a brilliant chemist who chafes at the restrictions that society places upon her, keeping her from pursuing achievements in that science. But when she discovers that her father may well have been murdered, she’s determined to look for evidence at the house of Geoffrey Wentworth, the Earl of Stratford.
Geoffrey’s our obligatory broody hero, whose family is throwing the obligatory mess of young misses at him in an attempt to get him to marry. Liliana’s own family pressures her to go to his estate in the hopes of catching the Earl’s eye–but all Liliana’s interested in is finding out whether this man was responsible for her father’s murder.
Now, this is a setup guaranteed to catch my attention, and it did a decent job of it. Ms. Snow’s writing was solid, and I did very much like the shooting contest scene, in which Liliana actually gets to use her chemistry knowledge. Set off against this, though, were tropes that usually weary me in a romance novel and this time was no exception: i.e., the failure of characters to just talk to each other, insta-lust, and how the Big Misunderstanding that almost always causes the characters to fight almost always comes after they’ve finally had sex.
But that said? I did actually enjoy this book for the most part and I’d like to see how Ms. Snow’s writing in this series progresses. Three stars.
The second to last Weather Warden novel was one that it took me a bit to get to, on a couple of grounds. One, that one of the plot threads in it sounded like something we’d already seen happen earlier in the series. And two, that I’d started reaching a point of apocalypse fatigue with these books–we’d already had so many instances of the Wardens and the Djinn facing the Imminent! Destruction! Of! The! World! that reading another round of it just seemed like, well, work.
This is not to say that Caine’s writing has suffered, since as always, her pacing is crisp and tight. And once I got into this story, I did actually find it quite readable. But that said, the issue of this story covering several themes that have already appeared earlier in the series did remain–the antagonism between the Wardens and the Djinn, the rage of Mother Earth against humanity, the angst surrounding Jo marrying David, the angst surrounding the unresolved feelings Lewis has for Jo. And to top it off, we also have angst about Oh No! Jo has a Demon Mark and it might turn her EVIL!
All of these things were certainly engagingly and compellingly handled, but the sheer fact that we’ve seen them before takes a bit of the urgency away. Which is a shame, because if you’ve stuck with the series this far, it is still definitely worth continuing so you make it to the final book and get that resolution. But it would have been cooler to not retread ground we’ve been over before. Three stars.
Oh, I do love me some Greywalker. I DO. And I happily devoured Downpour, the sixth in the ongoing Kat Richardson series.
Given that this is an urban fantasy series, by now we’re well and thoroughly into the character progression–and into the inevitable levelling up of Harper’s Greywalker powers. At least a few other series I’ve stuck with this far have almost exhausted me, between a never-ending sense of “shit, does nothing good ever happen to these people?!” and the aforementioned levelling-up often not feeling like it’s justified at all. Happily, Kat Richardson never has this problem for me. Harper’s gaining power, sure. But so far it’s felt real, and logical, for her to do so. It’s changing her as a person, and she knows it, and she’s reacting to this in real and logical ways as well.
It’s awesome as well to see her continue to try to actually solve cases, and continue to try to operate at a level that isn’t necessarily ZOMG THE WORLD IS GOING TO EXPLODE. Such as in this installment, how she’s gone out on the Olympic Peninsula to do some investigating–and oh look! Ghostly car wreck victim! That investigation pulls her off on a side quest, only, of course Investigation A and Investigation B eventually tie together. Like ya do, in any urban fantasy novel.
And oh, I did like this story. Since I’ve been out on the Olympic Peninsula a time or two, it was great to see that area of the state getting some on-camera love. And I liked a LOT that we got elements of the fantastic that were rooted more in the Native American myths of the region than in more heavily used staples of urban fantasy–and I say that as somebody who loves her some elves.
And Quinn! Quinn! I love, love, love that there is an ongoing relationship here, and that we’re continuing to get more bits from his point of view as he’s trying to keep up in his own non-powered way with Harper’s changing status. Just because he loves her and because he’s that damned awesome.
Really, over all, this was great fun and I didn’t have a single quibble with it in the slightest. But for the love of all gods, don’t start here if you want to dive into the Greywalker books. Do know, though, that if you get through the first couple, you’ll have this one to look forward to. Five stars!
Follow My Lead didn’t grab me quite as much as previous Kate Noble outings–but that isn’t to say I disliked this book. Because I didn’t! I still found this one an enjoyable read even though it didn’t click with me quite as much as the previous installments of the Blue Raven series.
This time around our principals are Jason Cummings, the Duke of Rayne, and the scholar Winnifred Crane. I’m always a sucker for stories in which the heroine’s a scholar of any kind, and given that this whole plot revolves around her wanting to go to Europe to do actual on-camera research, that’s bonus. But the circumstances that push Jason into being Winn’s escort made it a bit hard for me to suspend my disbelief; there were quite a few convolutions that had to happen before he could be thrown into her company.
On the other hand, though, I’m sure that’s rather par for the course for this kind of a plot, so I was willing to hand-wave that and get on with the main story. Which is to say, Jason and Winnifred having to scamper across Europe without access to much in the way of money–especially vexing for Jason, accustomed as he is to wealth–and with a rival determined to marry Winn hot on their trail. It is amusing to see the two brainstorm their way through getting money, and since Winnifred does actually get to exhibit some scholarly train of thought on camera, it’s fun to see Jason trying to keep up with her.
And of course there’s the obligatory Pretending to Have to Be Married scenario, otherwise they’d scandalize everybody they meet. And of course, since they’re having to pretend to be married, they naturally have to figure out how to react to one another in private as well. Seeing them work their way up through that is charming, and it’s in those stretches of the story that Ms. Noble’s fun touch with character chemistry comes through. All in all, three stars.
The third of Courtney Milan’s Turner series, her Regencies following the Turner brothers, turned out to be just as entertaining as the first two. And in some ways, I found it the most satisfying of the three!
Of the three Turner brothers, Smite’s the one who engaged my sympathies the most when it came to the name he’d been saddled with by his Bible-obsessed mother: “‘The Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every living thing, as I have done.'” Between this, the nightmares he suffers as a result of his childhood, his near-perfect memory, and his absolutely perfect committment to justice in his work as a magistrate, Smite’s a deeply compelling character. And with Miranda Darling, a seamstress raised by actors, who’s pulled into the shadowy dealings of the mysterious figure known as the Patron, Smite’s got an excellent heroine to stand with him in the plot.
Miranda is desperate to keep her young charge Robbie away from the temptations of working for the Patron–even if it means putting herself at risk by working for the Patron herself. And when the opportunity arises, she leaps on the chance to become Smite’s mistress and gain his protection for both herself and Robbie. Their relationship is a stormy one indeed. And one of my very favorite things about this book is how Ms. Milan handled Miranda’s reaction to Smite’s childhood trauma, i.e., with a refreshing lack of angst. I grinned outright at Smite’s line to Miranda about how there’s a limit to how much sentimentality he’ll tolerate in a day, a line that exemplified the delightful lack of mawkish angst between them.
And of course, because this is a historical romance and this is how things must go, Miranda’s troubles with the Patron are not at all easily resolved. Yet again, though, Ms. Milan excels. In many other books I’ve read, much of the plot conflict would have been handled by Miranda having to hide her troubles from Smite. Instead, here, she reveals them up front and they work together to get them dealt with.
Throw in some fun side resolution with the Turner family nemeses the Dalrymples, and some fun scenes involving Smite’s lively dog, and all in all this was an excellent conclusion to the Turner trilogy. Four stars.
As I’ve mentioned in my previous reviews of Courtney Milan’s work, I like her writing quite a bit–and Unlocked, her novella set between Books 1 and 2 of her Turner series, was no exception. This story features a side character that we briefly meet in Book 1, and how the wallflower Lady Elaine Warren is courted by an earl who once was extremely cruel to her and now deeply regrets it.
I really liked Elaine’s backstory, and I liked Elaine a lot as a character. The incident in her and her love interest’s history that set her down the path of spinsterhood was his publicly mocking her for a distinctly unladylike laugh, and the ton being what it is in these sorts of books, all of his hangers-on immediately leap on the chance to mock poor Elaine mercilessly. This pretty much ruins her socially, and I can’t help but feel for the poor woman and want to punch Evan for having pulled that on her. This being a romance novella, though, Evan’s maturation as a character hinges upon his having realized the error of his ways, and he does so beautifully.
If Regencies are your thing, this is a great fast read, and you can read without needing to have read the first in the Turner series since it stands alone. Four stars.
“Cozily domestic” is not usually a phrase I would think to associate with the living situation of a vampire. It is a measure of Cherie Priest’s ability as an author to engage me so strongly that I not only was intrigued by her take on a vampire heroine, but was actively charmed by seeing the growing household that Raylene Pendle has pulled around herself as of the beginning of Book 2 of The Chesire Red Reports, Hellbent.
This installment of the series continues one of the big things I liked a lot about Book 1, Bloodshot: i.e., taking a bunch of urban fantasy tropes and… well, it’s cliched of me to say “subverting them”, but really, it’s true. You don’t find too many vampires–in urban fantasy proper, at least; if you venture over into paranormal romance, it’s a different story–that are neurotic, or needy, or who do in fact gather a whole household of dependents around them without really actively meaning to. Raylene’s a refreshing contrast to the vampires I’m so used to seeing, the ones who are all-powerful heads of Clans or Houses or whatever, especially the males who are the all-too-frequent, oh-so-sexy-and-mysterious love interests for associated heroines. Raylene’s not remote or mysterious, and this makes her far sexier a character to me than any one of dozens of alpha male vampire heroes.
And oh. My. God. Mad, mad love is ongoing for Adrian, the most badass drag queen who ever dragged. That he exists in the pages of an urban fantasy at all just makes me happy. Gender fluidity for the major, major win.
Now, that said, let’s talk plot. I wasn’t quite as taken with the plot of this one as I was the previous, just because the A and B plots didn’t mesh quite as well as I would have hoped. But that said, there’s intriguing followup on the status of Adrian’s lost vampire sister. And there’s an intriguing and somewhat scary character who shows up, the disturbed mage Elizabeth, who seems to be a way for Priest to explore dealing with a character who has both a) significant magical power and b) significant mental illness. Elizabeth is a bit of a cipher, but the scenes where Raylene reaches out to her in unwilling sympathy are among my favorite in the book. Elizabeth’s mental illness is not downplayed, or magically cured, and I have to give high marks for both of those.
Overall, there were also a bit more moments where Raylene went past ‘cozily domestic’ and a bit too far into ‘twee’–adopting a kitten? Not really necessary, we get that Raylene’s a lot more of a softy than she lets on! (And I say this as someone in general favor of kittens.) I’m also not really sure I buy Elizabeth’s status at the end.
But on the other hand, I did overall quite like this book anyway. And I’m hoping that Priest will get a shot at more of them, given that as per her blog, she was only originally contracted to do two of them. For this one, I’ll give four stars!
As any good fan of the TV show Castle knows, Nikki Heat is by no means Richard Castle’s first famous character. The show starts off with his concluding his long-running Derrick Storm series, and the particular explosive ending he gives those books is a nice little character development point for Castle since it leads right into why he tags along with the NYPD. And given the success of the Nikki Heat tie-in novels, it was pretty much inevitable that additional material involving Derrick Storm would be eventually made available to us fans. This time around, though, they’ve elected to give us a graphic novelization of the “first Derrick Storm novel”.
It’s a clever choice, and certainly provides some nice variety for the Castle tie-in material as well as general versimilitude–since quite a few well-known authors in SF have graphic novelizations of their work going, such as Jim Butcher and Richelle Mead. But the important question is, as a graphic novel, does Richard Castle’s Deadly Storm work?
Art-wise, it will probably surprise no one who glances through this work that Derrick Storm comes out looking suspiciously Nathan-Fillion-esque. Other than that, I vacillated between quite liking several panels and being indifferent to several others, so I ultimately came out uncertain if I liked the art style. Story-wise, I was definitely ambivalent. It read like a truncated version of a meatier story–certainly, given the overall style of the Nikki Heat novels, this seemed much jerkier of pacing by comparison. And while this might only add to the versimilitude of a “graphic novel adaptation”, it nonetheless left me wishing I’d actually gotten a novel version of this story instead.
All in all if you’re enough of a Castle fan to be a completist, you might want to pick this up. Otherwise, for now, the Nikki Heat novels are actually more amusing. Two stars.
One of the big reasons I’ve picked up everything Cherie Priest has written is her propensity for taking established SF/F tropes and finding not only new ways to look at them, but actively odd ones as well–and in a run of intriguingly odd books, Those Who Went Remain There Still stands out as particularly strange.
And that’s a good thing. I haven’t read very much non-steampunk fantasy out there set in the early history of the United States and to find this one was a pleasure in no small part because it’s set in my home state of Kentucky. Moreover, Daniel Boone features prominently in the earlier prong of a two-prong plot, and any kid who grew up in Kentucky knows all about Daniel Boone. Any kid in Kentucky will, however, be a trifle surprised at this tale of how Boone and his men are cutting a road through the Kentucky wilderness, only to be harried by a monster who takes vicious pleasure in hunting them down one at a time.
Fast forward a hundred years or so, to when the cantankerous old son of one of the survivors of Boone’s party has passed away. His grandchildren are called home for the reading of his will, only to discover that it’s been hidden in a cavern near their valley. And by the terms of said will, six men must venture into the cave–and risk coming afoul of the creature Boone’s men had abandoned there to die.
Except it’s not dead. And its descendants are pissed.
I very much liked the dual plotlines as long as they ran through the bulk of the story, simultaneously showing us the stalking of Boone’s men as well as the reactions of two of Heaster Wharton’s kin who are called in to find the will. There’s great tension in both plotlines, especially as you slowly learn more and more about what the monster actually is.
But the final third or so felt rushed to me, perhaps because of this being a novella. Once the group of six contenders for the will is thrown together, we have barely enough time for them to fight through their own differences before they’re hurled into mortal danger–and before the end of the story. As is often the case with Priest’s shorter works, I found myself wishing at the end of this one that it hadn’t finished so soon. Three stars.
Urban fantasy has to work very, very hard to seize and hold my attention these days, and I say this fully cognizant of how there are a great number of authors out there writing awesome books. For me, it’s just been a matter of wanting to read so many things–and having read so much urban fantasy the last several years–that more of it is generally pretty far down my reading queue.
For Cherie Priest, though, I’ll totally make exceptions. I’ve unilaterally liked every single thing of hers I’ve read, and Bloodshot, the first of her Cheshire Red Reports series, is no exception. It doesn’t engage me quite as hard as the Clockwork Century books do, I’ll cheerfully admit. But on the other hand, “slightly less awesome than Boneshaker” is still pretty goddamned awesome.
Here’s the thing for me about Bloodshot: it made me actively like a vampire protagonist, and it did it by making her an engaging character entirely aside from her being a badassed vampire thief. Yeah yeah yeah, badassed vampire thief, seen too much of that; see previous commentary re: reading a whole LOT of urban fantasy. What I haven’t seen, though, is a vampire who was a flapper before she was turned. Who sets off being a badassed thief with being thoroughly neurotic, to the degree of preparing for her heists to obsessive levels of detail. And who, even while she swears up and down to the reader that she’s not interested in forming lasting attachments, nonetheless has adopted two homeless children in her Seattle base of operations–and who proceeds to take a very personal interest in the case her latest client brings her, when he turns out to be a blinded vampire seeking to steal information about what happened to him while he was the captive of a secret government experiment.
Nor was it enough that Raylene rocked. Backing her up in this story is one of the most awesome male lead characters it has been my pleasure to read in some time: Adrian deJesus, a.k.a. Sister Rose, an ex-Navy SEAL turned drag queen. I adore Adrian. I adore that he is the reason why Raylene has to struggle with the question of how to address his gender identity, in a reasonable and non-angstful way, and that it’s a struggle that doesn’t take Raylene much time to figure out. I adore that he is both thoroughly badassed AND very, very comfortable with makeup. I adore that he is, in fact, the second most badassed character in the book, only slightly less badassed than the vampire protagonist. And godDAMN, that boy can dance.
With these two highly engaging main characters to blaze the way, it was no effort at all to enjoy the hell out of this book. I very much liked the exploration of the aforementioned secret government experiment, and how it dovetails with Adrian’s own backstory, as he’s on the hunt for his missing sister, who has herself become a vampire. And I quite like the exploration of the idea that a vampire, Raylene’s client Ian, has to live with the strong likelihood that he’ll be permanently disabled.
In short, there’s a great deal I liked here and not very much at all I didn’t care for. I found the kids a bit too plot-moppety for my liking, as they’re mostly there to provide character development for Raylene, and a couple of the details revealed about what happened to Ian a bit too predictable. But that’s about the extent of my problems with it, and all in all, we’re talking four strong stars here.