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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where are they now? ... Author updates


Charlaine Harris

Fans have been accumulating Sookie-verse updates via Charlaine’s responses on her message board. And there have been a *LOT* of hints dropped lately.

For one thing, a Sookie Companion is set for a February 2011 release. This sounds like a sort of Sookie lexicon, but will also include a short-story about Quinn (YAY!). Fans are speculating that this short-story will fill in a lot of the back-story for Quinn’s whereabouts between book’s #8 and #9. Fans are also speculating that this short-story will be as important to the overall Sookie series as ‘One Word Answer’ was to the premise of “All Together Dead” (the short story about Sookie’s cousin, Hadley).

The current working title for Sookie #11 is ‘Dead Letters’.

Ms. Harris has said that Sookie and Eric’s blood bond will be broken... but she doesn’t know when. She admits that the bond has caused her no end of grief and she sounds quite eager to be done with it. lol

Charlaine’s exact words: "Sookie will get plenty of sex when she finds her HEA, and she'll be very enthusiastic about it.” OH. MY. GOD! (definitely not Eric then?)

In further Charlaine Harris news...

Dynamite Entertainment is adapting Harris’s ‘Harper Connelly’ series into a graphic novel. The ‘Harper’ series is about a woman who, after being struck by lightning, is able to sense the dead. She can see the final snatches of their life and act as a sort of human ‘death detector’ to know where bodies are buried.
This is a rather dark series and will make for wonderful comic fodder. I can’t wait to see a graphic representation of my second favourite Charlaine Harris series. The release date is still TBA – but be sure to keep a look out for this graphic adaptation, and in the mean time give the ‘Harper Connelly’ series a read.

Diana Gabaldon

Her ‘Outlander’ graphic novel is nearly here (September 21!) and with the release of ‘An Echo in the Bone’ paperback, fans are given an eight-page full-colour sneak-peak at the graphic! YAY! As Diana said in her latest blog post, ‘The Exile’ is being touted as ‘Jamie’s side of the story’ – even though it’s told mainly from Murtagh’s perspective. But we will get Jamie’s insights, and learn things from Jamie’s POV that were missed because Claire was our narrator in ‘Outlander’.
I am frothing at the mouth for this graphic novel – Jamie in picture! ARGH!
Here is a link to the one-page sneak-peek of the Graphic Novel.

Patricia Briggs


I really loved the Graphic Novel adaptation of Patricia Briggs’s ‘Mercy Thompson’ series. It was called ‘Homecoming’ and was a visual prologue set before the events of ‘Moon Called’. If you are a die-hard Mercy fan (and why wouldn’t you be?) this was a great little back-story to how Mercy first met Adam, Stefan, Siebold (Zee) and got work in the Tricities area as a mechanic.

I *loved* the graphic novel – but general Amazon consensus wasn’t good, ending up with a 3/5 average rating. The negative feedback was mostly due to fan’s misconception about ‘Homecoming’ being a GRAPHIC novel and not actually the next instalment in the ‘Mercy Thompson’ series.

Well, Dabel brothers are giving ‘Mercy’ another shot – and this time it looks as though the graphic novel will be an adaptation of book #1 ‘Moon Called’.
The synopsis from Amazon:

Mercedes "Mercy" Thompson is a talented Volkswagen mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. She also happens to be a walker, a magical being with the power to shift into a coyote at will. Mercy's next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she's fixing a bus for a vampire. This is the world of Mercy Thompson, one that looks a lot like ours but is populated by those things that go bump in the night. And Mercy's connection to those things is about to get her into some serious hot water... Moon Called faithfully adapts New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs' first Mercy Thompson novel to comics. Prepare to see the fantastic characters and supernatural settings that have made her novels a hit with fans worldwide come to four-color life!

The graphic novel is being created by: Derek Ruiz (Adapter), Patricia Briggs (Author), Clint Hilinski (Illustrator).

I’m really looking forward to the graphic adaptation of ‘Moon Called’. Sure, it’s not a movie adaptation – but this way Dabel brothers can stay true to the story and dialogue, give Briggs’s characters a physicality that she is happy with and there won’t be any butchering of the story by movie-moguls looking to create a ‘Twilight’ replica with Jacob as the hero.

Some fans are iffy about the whole ‘graphic novel’ thing – but I say don’t knock it till you read it! This is just another dimension to the Mercy world and a great new way for fans to interact with the series. If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend you give first novel ‘Homecoming’ a browse, and definitely keep your eyes open for the graphic novel of ‘Moon Called’. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy reading one of your favourite urban-fantasies in comic-book form!

There also seems to be a comic-adaptation of the “Alpha and Omega” series floating around, but it’s not available in hardcover from Amazon. I really want to get my hands on a copy! I have found copies available for order from various online comic shops.

This adaptation seems to be following the plot of the first book ‘Cry Wolf’. This is the blurb:

A rogue werewolf is slaughtering humans in the Montana wilderness and Charles Cornick must find the killer before his crimes expose the pack to the world. But is the badly wounded Alpha wolf up to the task, even with his mate Anna at his side? Cry Wolf is the latest series of supernatural adventure by New York Times best selling fantasy author Patricia Briggs. Set in the same world as her popular Mercy Thompson novels, it's filled with beloved old characters and exciting new ones. Be sure to see what happens when Alpha and Omega come together!

There’s also a small photo of the cover-art for ‘Masques’ floating around on Amazon. But I don’t know if this is the official cover. ‘Masques’ was Patricia Briggs’s first ever novel, written in 1993. With the success of ‘Mercy Thompson’ Ms. Briggs has been being given the opportunity to do a few re-writes on ‘Masques’ and re-release with a vamped cover. The book does sound heavily fantastical (not so much ‘urban’) but ‘shifters’ are mentioned in the blurb. This new cover seems a clever tactic to give Mercy fans pause and consider trying some of Briggs’s other writing. I, personally, can’t wait to give ‘Masques’ a go.

Richelle Mead

Richelle Mead recently blogged about her ‘Dark Swan’ series.
This is her third series after ‘Georgina Kincaid’ and ‘Vampire Academy’, and probably her least popular (but equally amazing). For that reason, Ms. Mead’s publisher’s at Kensington decided to hold off on releasing the 3rd ‘Dark Swan’ book this year – amidst two VA books and one Georgina.
The good news is we will get a Eugenie instalment in 2011... The better news is that we might be getting the 4th ‘Dark Swan’ book right on the tail of ‘Iron Crowned’!

‘Iron Crowned’ from the BLURB:

Shaman-for-hire Eugenie Markham is the best at banishing entities trespassing in the mortal realm. But as the Thorn Land’s queen, she’s fast running out of ways to end the brutal war devastating her kingdom. Her only hope: the Iron Crown, a legendary object even the most powerful gentry fear…

Who Eugenie can trust is the hardest part. Fairy king Dorian has his own agenda for aiding her search. And Kiyo, her shape-shifter ex-boyfriend, has every reason to betray her along the way. To control the Crown’s ever-consuming powers, Eugenie will have to confront an unimaginable temptation--one that will put her soul and the fate of two worlds in mortal peril…

But ‘Eugenie’ fans should be prepared for a few shocks in ‘Iron Crowned’. In Ms. Mead’s own words; “We all know that the third book of a Richelle Mead series is the WTF? one, and Eugenie's no exception. That's all I'm saying.”
Eugenie has already gone through quite an emotional whirlpool with Dorian and Kiyo – not to mention she’s started a war in the Thorn Lands. I wonder how much more upheaved her life can get? Oh boy!

Gini Koch

Gini Koch is one of my new favourite authors and I have a heart-palpitating crush on her ‘Katherine Kitty Katt’ series.
Ms. Koch recently announced that DAW books have bought instalments 3 & 4 of her space-opera ‘Kitty Katt’ series!

So, the series order will be:
#1 – ‘Touched by an Alien’ - Avaliable NOW!
#2 – ‘Alien Tango’ - December 7th 2010
#3 – ‘Alien in the Family' – April 5th 2011
#4 – ‘Alien Proliferation’ – December 2011

‘Alien Tango’ in Gini Koch’s own words:

For Katherine “Kitty” Katt, Alien Super-Being Exterminator, anti-alien conspiracies, threats from outer space, and a couple of killer alligators are all in a day’s work. But internal alien schemes and some major romantic complications bring new meaning to the term ‘chaos and confusion’.

It’s been five months since Kitty joined Centaurion Division, working with the aliens from Alpha Centauri. She and Jeff Martini have grown closer as a couple and life looks rosy. But when an experimental spacecraft is mysteriously returned to the Kennedy Space Center, Kitty and the rest of Alpha Team are called out to investigate and are immediately embroiled in life or death situations that scream ‘political conspiracy’.

The team must survive repeated murderous attacks, remove a mysterious space entity from a group of astronauts, and avoid an unhinged woman with a serious crush on Kitty’s old high school boyfriend. And that’s all before the masterminds decide Kitty’s extermination is vital -- and take matters into their own hands.

I. Can’t. Wait.

Molly Harper

Molly Harper is a vampire comedy genius. Seriously. Her ‘Jane Jameson’ series was an absolute laugh-riot and a breath of fresh air on the paranormal romance scene.

There’s good news and bad news concerning Molly Harper. The good news is she has petitioned her publisher for a 4th Jane Jameson book. The bad news is she hasn’t received an answer from said publisher about a possible 4th book.... *YET*!

But the GOOD news is; Ms. Harper intends to post Jane Jameson short stories on her website – for fans, for FREE! That’s right. The first short story will be posted on July 1st this year! Don’t believe me? Here’s proof in Harper’s own words:

I receive a lot of e-mails asking when I will be releasing a new Jane Jameson book. And the truth is, I don't know. I'm not trying to mess with my dear readers. I've spoken to my publisher about a fourth novel, but nothing is concrete. Until I know something, I will post Jane short stories and updates here and at my blog. Expect the first short to be posted on July 1, 2010.

Thanks,
Molly

Don’t forget Molly Harper also has a stand-alone novel coming out July 27th called ‘And One Last Thing’. She’s an automatic-buy for me, so I already have this one on pre-order and am looking forward to it!

Lisa Kleypas

I've been lusting after Lisa Kleypas’s new contemporary romance series for quite some time. Thankfully we now have a blurb and cover-art (UK only);

‘Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor’ from the BLURB:

The Friday Harbor series of contemporary romance/women's fiction novels is set in San Juan Island just off of the Washington State Coast. The San Juan Island setting is romantic and varied, with rocky shores, sandy beaches, rich woodlands and pasture land, and the prosperous Friday Harbor area. The series is centred around the Nolan family, consisting of two brothers and a sister, the owners of an island vineyard and restaurant. The Nolans' mother Jessica has just passed away, and a mysterious stranger attends the funeral. He reveals that he is an illegitimate child Jessica had given birth to, and given up for adoption, before she married. This family secret leads to many new questions and challenge, which test the bonds of love and loyalty, and ultimately show the Nolans what family is all about.

The book comes out November 9th this year.

There’s are also whispers that Kleypas has a new stand-alone novel coming out in 2011 titled ‘Rainshadow Road’. I am intrigued...

Kelley Armstrong

Kelley’s ‘Darkest Powers’ trilogy came to an end this year with ‘The Reckoning’, and It was a fantastic conclusion to a delicious YA series. Armstrong answered quite a few niggling fan questions and also wrapped up her protagonist’s romantic entanglements in ‘Reckoning’. But she left the door WIDE open for more books in this universe (which is also her ‘Women of the Otherworld’ universe). A new trilogy set in the ‘Darkest Powers’ world will be released next year. This new book is called ‘The Gathering’ and will follow another bunch of genetically engineered teenage supernaturals;

‘The Gathering’ from the BLURB:

Maya lives in a small medical-research town on Vancouver Island. How small? You can’t find it on the map. It has less than two-hundred people, and her school has only sixty-eight students—for every grade from kindergarten to twelve.

Now, strange things are happening in this claustrophobic town, and Maya's determined to get to the bottom of them. First, the captain of the swim team drowns mysteriously in the middle of a calm lake. A year later, mountain lions start appearing around Maya's home, and they won’t go away. Her best friend, Daniel, starts getting negative vibes from certain people and things. It doesn't help that the new bad boy in town, Rafe, has a dangerous secret—and he's interested in one special part of Maya's anatomy: Her paw-print birthmark.

Jeaniene Frost

So, back in March of this year Jeaniene told her fanboard that she would be proposing more ‘Night Huntress’ spin-off books to her publisher. Namely, an Ian and Vlad book (possibly even a full series for Vlad).
No word since March on whether or not Jeaniene’s proposal was given the OKay – but I’m guessing her publisher’s will be waiting to see how Menchere’s spin-off ‘Eternal Kiss of Darkness’ sells before giving her the go-ahead.

I personally didn’t like Spade’s spin-off, ‘First Drop of Crimson’. But I have high-hopes for Mencheres’ book because I think he’s absolutely delicious! And I think Ian would make a GREAT protagonist – his cameo in ‘First Drop’ was pretty much the only thing I liked about that book. Vlad I’m not so sure about – I look forward to his appearance in the 5th Cat & Bones book (coming February 22nd 2011) but I’m not 100% convinced that he could carry his own series. Jeaniene has also confirmed that Vlad appears in ‘Eternal Kiss of Darkness’, but Ian does not :(

Sunny

I love this series. It’s paranormal erotica; beautifully written and constantly exciting. I love and highly recommend it. After the release of her second spin-off book, ‘Lucinda Dangerously’, Sunny sort of hinted that she was done with the ‘Monere; Children of the Moon’ series. I, and many fans, were saddened by the news. But Sunny recently announced that a new instalment to the ‘Monere’ series is set for a March 2011 release. Its title is ‘Mona Lisa Eclipsing’ and this is the blurb:

‘Mona Lisa Eclipsing’ BLURB:

From the time she was an orphan, Mona Lisa knew she was different. As a Mixed-Blood daughter of the Monère, she rules her domain in the Louisiana Bayou. But she’s about to become the hunted as her mind begins playing tricks, and no one is who they seem.
Roberto Carderas, a dangerous drug lord of mixed Monère heritage, arrives in Cozumel to eliminate a rival. But the jaguar-shifter has encountered a much more valuable prize on the island: Mona Lisa, the first female Monère he’s ever met—and one especially vulnerable in that she has lost her memory. Now, with all knowledge of her real life as stripped away as her efences, Mona Lisa can be manipulated into believing…anything.

Convinced that Roberto is her kind and sensual protector, Mona Lisa thwarts all attempts at her rescue—including those made by her desperate lover Dante. As Roberto’s devious scheme gets underway, Dante can only hope that the touch of his warm flesh will reignite total recall in the body and mind of the woman he loves. But escape for both of them could be as forever elusive as Mona Lisa’s past.




BRB

I am changing internet service providers, so I shall be without internet for a few days (weeks even?) starting Saturday.

*pause for gasps of horror and overflowing tears*

I know! It is atrocious! But that's the way the cookie crumbles unfortunately.
While I am internet-less I will still be reading and writing reviews, so when I come back I'll have loads of books to share with you.
And in the meantime I shall post a little treat for you all.
Watch this space.

...

Okay, I can't help myslef. Here is one little treat to tide you over:


Season 3 of “True Blood” has kicked off with a great first episode and the introduction of a new fan-couple... BAM = Bill/Sam. That almost man-love scene was just too freakin’ HOT! Now if we could just convince Alan Ball to include a naked dream-sequence with Eric/Bill/Sam and Alcide that also involves some sort of oil... could you imagine the ratings bonanza? Yowza!

'Night Embrace' Dark Hunter #2 by Sherrilyn KENYON


From the BLURB:

Dear Reader,

Life is great for me. I have my chicory coffee, my warm beignets, and my best friend on the cell phone. Once the sun goes down, I am the baddest thing prowling the night: I command the elements, and I know no fear. For centuries, I've protected the innocent and watched over the mankind, making sure they are safe in a world where nothing is ever certain. All I want in return is a hot babe in a red dress, who wants nothing more from me then one night.

Instead, I get a runaway Mardi Gras float that tries to turn me into roadkill and a beautiful woman who saves my life but can't remember where she put my pants. Flamboyant and extravagant, Sunshine Runningwolf should be the perfect woman for me. She wants nothing past tonight, no ties, no long-term commitments.

But every time I look at her, I start yearning for dreams that I buried centuries ago. With her unconventional ways and ability to baffle me, Sunshine is the one person I find myself needing. But for me to love her would mean her death. I am cursed never to know peace or happiness-not so long as my enemy waits in the night to destroy us both.

--Talon of the Morrigantes

This is the second book in Sherrilyn Kenyon’s ‘Dark Hunter’ series. This second instalment follows Dark-Hunter, Talon - a Celtic warrior (Druid?) who was forced to watch his father, mother, wife, unborn babe and sister die after he incurred the wrath of a Celtic god called Camulus.

As happens to all Dark-Hunter’s, Talon was so incensed by his loss that upon his death the Goddess, Artemis, gave him a chance to seek vengeance by becoming immortal and gaining retribution. After Talon killed everyone who had slain his family (and him) he agreed to work for Artemis slaying Daimons and Apollites whose sole purpose is to wreak havoc on humanity.

When we first met Talon in book #1, ‘Night Pleasures’, he was introduced as an insatiable ladies man who lived out on the New Orleans swamps, wore biker leather and drove around on his kick-ass motorbike. He was a true recluse, not even having a Squire for company. I was instantly intrigued by him.

Unfortunately my expectations for Talon weren’t really met in his book.

Talon’s HEA comes in the form of Sunshine Runningwolf. Sunshine is an artist/free-spirit/soy-cheese-eater who Talon stumbles across when she is set upon by Daimons. He saves her, but is injured in the process – and Sunshine helps him recover (with some bedroom aerobics on the side). But it becomes apparent to Talon that Sunshine is more than she appears – she is in fact the reincarnation of his dead wife, Nynia.
Nynia/Sunshine and Talon are true soul-mates who have found each other after centuries apart.

But Talon still has the wrath of Camulus to contend with if he wants his happily-ever-after with Sunshine. And Sunshine has to decide if Talon really loves her, or the memory of Nynia.

I didn’t really warm to Sunshine (ironic, huh?). She was a bit annoying – I thought she would be, with a ‘free love’ name like Sunshine Runningwolf, but I at least hoped her heat with Talon would make up for any pitfalls in character. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I’m sorry, but no matter how many times Talon claimed to love her smell, patchouli is not a nice scent – it just reminds me of those University students I try to avoid when they shove a petition in my face. It conjures images of hemp and tofu, and there is nothing sexy about either.

I was also a little disappointed by Talon in this book. I had such high-hopes for him, mostly because he was portrayed as a real hard-ass recluse with a tough exterior. But he became putty in Sunshine’s hand a little too quickly for me, and it ruined his bad-boy appeal.

I was also a little put-off by Kenyon’s quick and easy resolutions in this book. For me, the biggest obstacle facing Talon and Sunshine was the fact that Sunshine couldn’t know if Talon loved her for her, or his memories of Nynia. But a lot of that problem-solving is done through Talon’s internal monologues, when Talon realizes he likes Sunshine’s stubborn hot headedness more than Nynia’s timidness etc. And I really don’t think Sunshine was concerned enough about her apprehensions – at one point Kenyon offers up a throw-away one-sentence line in which Sunshine admits her previous boyfriend only dated her because she reminded him of his ex. I think that’s quite an important, impacting thing to have happened to Sunshine right before she meets Talon. Surely that experience would have manifested itself more in her and Talon’s relationship?
It just seemed that the relationship obstacle wasn’t explored enough, for my liking.

“I’m your husband.”
She snorted and raked him with a bemused stare. “Not in this lifetime, buddy.” She held up her left hand for his inspection. “I don’t see no wedding ring on my finger, and the last time I checked, you didn’t come charging into town on the back of your black warhorse, sweeping me off my feet and asking me to be yours.”

One thing I will say for Ms. Sherrilyn Kenyon – she knows how to whet reader’s appetites. I am really falling for Acheron – the Dark-Hunter ‘leader’. He’s really turning out to be one of the funniest, sexiest characters – and in ‘Night Embrace’ Kenyon also drops hints about his rather tragic past. I find it especially sad that Acheron is Artemis’s sexual scratching post – poor guy! I am loving Acheron, but my heart sinks to think that his book is number #22 !!!! Seriously? It seems like Kenyon is doing so much characterization for him in this second book that surely his instalment should come sooner? Please?! Can I possibly skip ahead to his? He’s just so funny and likable;

“How old does that make you?”
“Eleven thousand five hundred and fifty-one years old, and yes, I feel every day of it.”
“Wow, I had no idea. Hell, I didn’t even know we had people back then.”
“Yeah, I was part of the original Bedrock crew who worked in the quarry on the back of dinosaurs and ran with the Flinstones. Barney Rubble was short, but he played a good game of stone-knuckle.”

I also really love Zarek – the ‘rogue’ Dark-Hunter who everyone thinks is insane and needs killing. I have a soft spot for these seemingly psychotic, marshmallow characters (thankyou, Zsadist). And yes, it might also be the similarity in the names (especially when Kenyon nicknames Zarek, ‘Z’). But I am also sad to learn that Zarek doesn’t get a whole book to himself – his story instead appears in a short-story entitled ‘Dance with the Devil’. That sucks! He could have definitely carried his own book!

I wasn’t terribly impressed with this second book in Kenyon’s ‘Dark-Hunter’ series. BUT I am liking her character development of upcoming Dark-Hunter’s enough to persist with the series... even though my instincts are telling me to read Acheron’s book and then call it quits.

2/5

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

'Blue Diablo' Corine Solomon #1 by Ann AGUIRRE

Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

Right now, I'm a redhead. I've been blonde and brunette as the situation requires, though an unscheduled colour change usually means relocating in the middle of the night. So far, I'm doing well here. Nobody knows what I'm running from. Eighteen months ago, Corine Solomon crossed the border to Mexico City, fleeing her past, her lover and her 'gift' - for Corine is a handler: she can touch something and know its history and sometimes, its future.

Using her ability, she can find the missing - and that's why people never stop trying to find her. People like her ex, Chance... Chance's uncanny luck has led him to her doorstep. He needs her help. Someone dear to them both has gone missing in Laredo, Texas and the only hope of finding her is through Corine's gift. But their search is going to get dangerous as the trail leads them into a strange dark world of demons and sorcerers, ghosts and witchcraft, zombies - and the blackest of black magic.

‘Blue Diablo’ is the first book in a new series by Ann Aguirre. Aguirre’s ‘Corine Solomon’ breathes life into the Urban Fantasy genre where vampires are the norm and werewolves are old news. Corine Solomon is a ‘handler’ – she touches an object and knows its history. But for every touch, there is a price. Corine feels extreme pain when she uses her ability that also leaves her hands scarred. For years she worked her gift alongside her boyfriend, Chance, who is blessed with ‘luck’. Chance and Corine used their powers to find missing persons, but after their last case went horribly wrong Corine fled the country. When we meet her she is running an antiques store in Mexico... and Chance has just tracked her down after 18 months apart.

Chance wants a favour... he needs Corine’s help in finding his mother, Yi-Min-Chin, who Chance suspects has been kidnapped. Corine is all set to turn Chance down, until she touches Min’s pewter Buddha and knows she is in danger.

Corine and Chance’s investigations lead them to Laredo and Jesse Saldana, a CASPER (crimes against persons unit) cop and a mass of complications (emotional and otherwise) for Corine...

"My hormones gave a little skip as I gave him the once-over: an intriguing mix of long, tall Texan in battered boots, touched with Latin heat. He had legs that stretched forever in jeans faded almost to white, not the kind bought with designer "wear" but Levi's washed till the seams and creases got thin. He'd clipped his badge to his belt in plain sight.
As I checked out the rest of him, I admired shoulders showcased by a rumpled white shirt and a forest green blazer. He had a striped tie stuffed in his right jacket pocket, probably to satisfy the letter of the dress code. Nice face, I decided, if scruffy and unshaven. Frosting the hunk cake was a tousled mess of tawny, sun streaked hair."

I loved this book. It is a breath of fresh air on the fantasy scene and a unique idea amidst a lot of ‘same-same’ supernatural thrillers. ‘Blue Diablo’ is also a ‘whodunnit’ page-turner and generally impossible to put down.

The romance is subtle, but steamy. When we meet them Corine and Chance already have a complicated back story and a lot to work out. It makes for quite a bit of sexual tension and repressed lust between the two. It’s an interesting love story for our heroine to have – rather than starting with ‘boy meets girl’, Corine and Chance’s romance is more what happens after ‘boy loses girl’.
Throw in a charming, flirty cop in the form of Jesse Saldana and things get ‘triangled’ and intensified.

I also loved the fantasy element, particularly Corine’s ‘handler’ abilities. It’s an interesting concept, but as fascinating as the history of things may be Corine’s payback for her gift is even more fascinating. Like the fact that any repressed memories Corine may have can come back at her in full technicolour if she touches a trigger object. Her ‘gift’ makes for a rather fractured character, deep down, and I look forward to reading more in this series and seeing how much damage her abilities can reap.

I love, love, loved this book. I can’t wait for the second instalment ‘Hell Fire’, and third (slated for 2011 release) called ‘Shady Lady’. This is a tantalizing new addition to the ‘urban fantasy’ genre and an absolute must-read for fantasy book addicts!

5/5

'Salt and Silver' by Anna KATHERINE

From the BLURB:

Allie can't seem to get it together. Ever since her mom ran away to Rio with Rio - her tennis instructor - stealing Allie's trust fund and her comfortable way of life, Allie has been floundering. She works in Sally's Diner, and lives above it. And one night in the basement, she and her friends chant a ridiculous spell - for money, for luck, for love and open a Doorway to Hell.

Ryan thinks he's got it all figured out. When the Door opened he appeared out of nowhere, a Stetson-wearing demon hunter dressed in leather. He's assigned to the Door, and hangs out at the diner, and when the Door disappears he is certain that Allie had something to do with it.

But something strange is happening in Brooklyn. Something bigger than Allie, and Ryan, and the Door in the diner basement. And when a meeting of demon hunters gives birth to a dangerous idea, Allie and Ryan are left to wonder if the fragile feelings growing between them can survive a trip to Hell.or if they themselves will survive at all.

I am currently making my way through my monstrous TBR pile. I was trying to choose which book to start with and thought I’d be very diplomatic and try out the first 5 pages of a few books to decide which hooked me.
So I picked up 'Salt and Silver', intending to give the first 5 pages a chance to pique my interest ... 3 hours and 357 pages later I was in LOVE!

The story starts right in the thick of action. When we meet her, Allie is running a NYC diner called ‘Sally’s’ which just so happens to have a Door to Hell in the basement. Yeah... a slight ‘hiccup’. As the story begins;

This is not a complicated story. There’s a Door to Hell in the basement of my diner, right next to where we stack the boxes from food deliveres.

You see, six years ago Allie was a trust-fund baby whose biggest problem was deciding between a black Anna Sui dress or a black Givenchy dress. Then her mum ran off to Rio with her tennis instructor (also called Rio – oh! The irony!). Allie had to leave her Long Island dream-home and move to Brooklyn where she took up her first ever job waitressing at Sally’s. On the night of her first shift Allie’s über-rich très-spoiled friends, Amanda and Stan, bought some vodka and X to celebrate Allie’s first foray into the work force. Amanda had the fantastic idea to recite some hocus-pocus she’d heard from the movie ‘The Craft’ to try and multiply some money and POOF! Door to Hell opened up. And with the door came Ryan. Ryan in his leather duster and Stetson cowboy hat – strapped with knives, salt and shotgun, Ryan announced himself as a ‘Hunter’ whose job it was to guard any Door’s to Hell that crop up.

‘Salt and Silver’ starts ‘six years later’ when Allie is now managing Sally’s Diner, has a massive girl-crush on Ryan and is a sometimes killer of all the ‘mystical crap’ that the Door occasionally spits out. But things go hay-wire when Allie’s Door disappears, and other Door’s start spontaneously showing up all around NYC. Now it’s up to Allie, Ryan and a few other Hunter’s to travel into the bowels of Hell and figure out how to stop the world from turning to mush... would you like fries with that?

I enjoyed this book so much that I was kicking myself for having put-off reading it for a whole YEAR! A year that I was denying myself this funny, fast and utterly FANTASTIC book!

How to describe ‘Salt and Silver’? Well.... It’s a little bit of all my favourite things.
It’s a little bit ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ for quick come-backs and snappy dialogue, and a Hellmouth-esque Door to Hell residing in a NYC Diner. There’s also a ‘Supernatural’ flavour to the book for all the Hellish references to creepy crawlies and excessive use of salt and shotguns. Its got a dash of ‘Gossip Girl’ because our protagonist is a former Long-Island darling who used to match her Gucci shoes to her Prada handbag before she became poor. And the dark humour is often reminiscent of Molly Harper’s ‘Jane Jameson’ series.
To summarize in one word – ‘cool’. This book is so freakin cool that it hurts! It’s the kind of instantly-addictive reading that makes you want to get up on a soapbox and sell copies on a street corner.

Everything about this book sucks you in – from the helter-skelter plot that demands your attention from the get-go, to Anna Katherine’s unique take on old mythologies. In this world werewolves are not sexy beast-men; they are ticks that crawl beneath your skin like body-snatchers, turning you into a rampaging, slathering monster. Likewise, vampires are not sultry and seductive – they are like ‘evil butterflies’ who use a ‘proboscis’ (elongated appendage – like a feeding tube!) to suck your blood/soul, and they have moth wings! Eek!
‘Salt and Silver’ is set in modern day, but humanity is none-the-wiser to the Doors of Hell or the Hunter’s who save our lives on a daily basis by killing everything that comes through the Door’s. This is a marvellously creepy world and a wonderful take on old supernaturals. The NYC setting adds a certain ambiance to the Hell dimensions and keeps the book grounded in the ‘urban’ side of ‘urban fantasy’.

There’s also a BIG romance between Allie and Ryan. You may be sceptical of these lovebirds when you realize that they’ve had six years of dancing around one another. But that’s six years of pent-up sexual frustration that impending doom releases. When we meet them Allie and Ryan are only just admitting their feelings for one another. None of the ‘frustration’ is lost because these two have known each other for six years; you feel every bit of Allie’s lust and Ryan’s yearning. Allie and Ryan are incredibly H-O-T. Seriously, Anna Katherine writes some good sex scenes. But more than that, Ryan and Allie are incredibly sweet. It’s a funny irony that Allie had to get a Door to Hell in order to have Ryan – but both the Door and Ryan really changed her outlook on life and have been shaping her character for these past six years;

I’m like the poster child for spoiled rich kid – or I used to be. Stan and Amanda are still the same people they were when we were in high school, but I’m completely different.
Or I like to think that I am.
But it’s like... it’s like I really became alive when the Door opened and I met Ryan. It’s like that’s when my life really started. All my memories from the last few years are sharp and true – the happiness is brighter, the pain hurts more, and I am pretty sure I remember every single time Ryan smiled.
I can’t remember what my mother looks like, but I can remember every single time Ryan has smiled at me.

When readers are introduced to Allie we get none of her previous snobbishness and all of her guts and bravado. She’s a great character because she’s been repenting for six years after one (MASSIVE) mistake. She’s gutsy, clever and quick-witted. She’s a combination of Buffy Summers, Lorelai Gilmore and Jane Jameson, IMO; utterly fabulous and impossible to dislike. Especially when she comes out with zinging dialogue and random thought-processes;

I would wink, but when I wink I look like I have an eye twitch, so instead I just smirk. Which makes me look like a bitchy homophobe, I am sure.

‘Anna Katherine’ is actually a pseudonym for two women: Anna Genoese and Katherine C. According to their official bio both ladies have a background in the publishing industry (as editors?) before they decided to put pen to paper and write their first novel, ‘Salt and Silver’. I've got to say, based on ‘Salt and Silver’ alone I will put Anna Katherine down as an automatic-buy for me. They don’t have any other books slated for release, but I have my fingers crossed that this fabulously-magic-duo pump out more books. Please? PLEASE?!

There is so much jam-packed, heart-palpating action in ‘Salt and Silver’ that starts from page #1 and never lets up. I cannot believe I waited so long to read this book... to say it was ‘worth the wait’ is an understatement of gigantic proportions. Do yourself a favour and read ‘Salt and Silver’ – you will not be disappointed!

5/5

Monday, June 14, 2010

'Most Eagerly Yours' Her Majesty's Secret Servants #1 by Allison CHASE

Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

Raised on their uncle's country estate, the four orphaned Sutherland sisters formed a close friendship with the young Princess Victoria. Shortly before her coronation as queen, Victoria asks the sisters to serves her in matters requiring the utmost discretion.

They are to become her secret servants. The first to serve is Laurel- who poses as a widow to uncover a traitor, and discovers instead an irresistible rogue conducting his own undercover investigation.

The Sutherland’s, a Surrey family of modest means, have close ties to Queen Victoria from Mr. Sutherland having served with her father in the Seventh Royal Fusiliers. When we meet them in 1830, the Sutherland children (four girls) are dear friends to the wide-eyed young Victoria, who shall one day be crowned Victoria of the United Kingdom. They are children, Laurel the eldest at 16, and wholly unaware of Victoria’s growing importance. But the young royal is becoming increasingly self-aware, and insists she cut ties with her dear Sutherland friends (lest they be put in jeopardy for their affiliation with the soon-to-be Queen?).

The story then skips ahead to 1838 and Victoria’s impending coronation prompts a delicate royal-family matter requiring finesse and the help of her dear old friends, the Sutherland sisters. Specifically, Victoria requests Laurel Sutherland’s help in keeping a watchful eye on her illegitimate cousin, Lord Munster George Fitzclarence. ‘Fitz’ has been openly insubordinate of the crown and loud in his abhorrence of Victoria’s upcoming coronation. Victoria suspects assassination, and wants Laurel to cosy up to the drunkard and glean any damning information she can while Fitz is visiting Bath.

Simultaneously; Earl of Bensforth, Aidan Phillips, is working for the Home Office investigating the seemingly accidental death of MP Roger Babcock. Babcock drowned in the Baths at Bath (a particularly gruesome death, when the body was found the sauna had literally ‘cooked’ him... eew!).

Laurel and Aidan met, briefly and anonymously, in 1837. In a scene that feels ‘tacked on’ in a last-minute decision to justify future romantic fascination. Aidan rescued Laurel from a trampling crowd when she was rescuing a young child from the same fate. Aidan rode in on his stead, did the hero bit (and stole a kiss) and then rode away again - all without exchanging names. Aidan and Laurel meet again, conveniently, during Laurel’s spying on Fitz and Aidan’s murder investigation – both taking place in Bath. They recognize each other, but have to retain their secret identities during the course of their separate missions. But that doesn’t stop them from feeling the heat that left Laurel’s lips tingling on a crowded street last year, and piqued Aidan’s interest at the same time.

Phew!
If it seems like there is a lot going on in ‘Most Eagerly Yours’ you would be absolutely correct.
The book has quite a mystery-heavy plot, which is at odds with the bodice-ripping cover. True, this is still an ‘historical romance’, but I have a feeling that most readers would give up on the book half-way through when the ‘whodunnit’ looks to overshadow the romance.

Aidan’s investigations lead him to one Claude Rousseau and his pedalling of an ‘elixir’ which is supposedly restorative (à la the ‘fountain of youth’) but which Aidan believes is a money-making hoax.

Laurel’s spying is unearthing long-forgotten horrors from her childhood – namely the night her family’s house mysteriously burned down, killing her parents. The appearance of a caped man who calls her ‘Simone’ and awakens those memories of licking flames add to her disturbance...

Like I said - *PHEW!*

That’s four separate (but eventually connected) ‘mystery’ plots in one book. A murdered MP, ‘fountain of youth’ scam, an unhappy royal cousin and a cold-case house-fire. Phew! Allison Chase jam-packs too much into this first book to the point that you can’t really sink your teeth into any of the mysteries’. Chase layers mystery upon intrigue that eventually tangles readers and muddies the storyline. The result of too many convoluted, interwoven plots is a lukewarm romance that really should have been the central focus.

Chase gets so caught up in these mystery plotlines that Laurel and Aidan take a backseat to her sleuth writing, to the point that they come across as convenient puppets to play out the various mysteries.

Aidan, in his disguise for the Home Office, plays up his ‘rakish’ behaviour – allowing him to enter the card tables and gambling halls of the Ton’s finest, with London’s major societal players being none the wiser to his spying. I quite liked Aidan – he’s a card shark, debaucher and spy – what’s not to love? But you get the impression that he is going through the motions of this raucous lifestyle, using his ‘rake’ disguise and spy work to take his mind off of more troubling thoughts. And sure enough, Aidan has a rather dark and depressing past that he is always trying to push to the back of his consciousness. He’s quite a complicated, endearing hero, and probably the only part of this book I enjoyed.

Laurel is a nit-wit. Sorry, but she is. I think my problem with Laurel was the fact that she’s playing at spying – but never a convincing sleuth. She’s not supposed to be a spy-master by any means; she is a Surrey maiden who is plucked from the country lifestyle to help a friend (Queen Victoria, but still). I think this book (and the whole premise of the ‘Secret Servants’ series) would be a lot stronger if the heroines were accomplished spies. How much more fascinating this series’ concept would be if our female protagonist’s were only playing at being Ton ladies, when they are in fact deadly royal spies! That’s what I thought this series would be about – instead I get four orphaned country misses who are muddling their way through espionage. What a let-down.

Aidan and Laurel’s romance is tepid, at best. Mainly because Chase has written a convoluted mystery mess that pushes their romance to the backburner. The sex scenes are competent, but when coupled with a tenuous romantic interest they feel cold;

... and for a heart-stopping second that arm lay across the front of Laurel’s jacket. The world seemed to begin and end at that small place of contact just above her breasts; her nipples tightened in response, and all her awareness converged on the heat infused by his forearm, so that the room and the people filling it might not have existed.
It was over in a moment, leaving her unnerved and bewildered that her reaction to him could be so powerful.

The book’s back cover promises it to be: ‘First in a spectacular new series of historical romance - sexy with a touch of intrigue.’ Well, the ‘intrigue’ is there (drowning in it!) but the ‘sexy’ still needs a bit of work. I think Chase needed to strengthen the entire premise of her ‘Secret Servants’ plot. It could have worked so much better if her heroine’s were *real* spies, mixing with Ton society, rather than country girls making good on a tenuous friendship with Queen Victoria.

This is the first book in Chase’s ‘Her Majesty’s Secret Servants’ series – with a second book entitled ‘Outrageously Yours’ due for release later this year.

2/5

Sunday, June 13, 2010

'A Man in a Million' Moorehouse Legacy #4 by Jessica BIRD (J.R. WARD)

From the BLURB:

As far as bad boy Spike Moriarty was concerned, Madeline Maguire defined female perfection. When they'd met, she'd walked up as if she wasn't the most gorgeous thing on the planet and asked to see his tattoos. He--a tough guy who'd make grown men run--had just about passed out. But their connection was definitely one-way…it had to be. Because he could never be the man in a million she was looking for, not with the things he'd done and seen. So for as long as she'd let him, he'd give her whatever she wanted. He'd worry about her walking away when it happened.

How’s this for persuading J.R. Ward fans to get stuck into the ‘Moorehouse Legacy’ series…. In the 4th book, ‘A Man in a Million’, the hero (Spike Moriarty) is a confirmed ancestor to Blackdagger Brother’s; Zsadist and Phury!
That’s right – Spike has yellow eyes and a harmless penchant for biting – and J.R. Ward confirmed on her ‘Jessica Bird’ chat board that he is indeed intended to be ancestor to the BDB twins! Yowza!

Spike’s story bares a small resemblance to Zsadist and Bella’s. The similarity comes from the fact that Spike has a checkered past that he’s reluctant to share with his heroine, Madeline. Whereas Zsadist hid his sexual abuse, Spike is hiding the fact that he’s an ex-con – convicted of manslaughter at the age of 24.

I loved Spike. He’s a tattooed biker and tough as nails sous chef – but the actions of his past have clearly impacted him and he’s a very humble and wise leading man.

Madeline is one of J.R. Ward’s more interesting leading ladies. Madeline steps onto the page with plenty of spark, personality and problems to boot. She is a very fleshed out character and intriguing to read – she’s a supermarket heiress, but her family life has left her deeply scarred. Her father was a perfectionist; her half-brother a tyrant in the making and her half-sister used sex as a means to hurt others (and she hurt Madeline by sleeping with at least two of her ex-boyfriends). Madeline crewed on Alex Moorehouse’s sailing boat, and earned the nickname ‘Mad Dog’ for her adventurous spirit. But on land she is a very introverted, cautious young woman who struggles in social situations and has never had a real romantic connection with a man.

Spike’s gentle-giant and Madeline’s delicate-tomboy make for a very compelling romance. Not only do these two heat up the page (having sex on Spike’s Harley, for instance) they are also really very sweet;

She touched his face. “You look hungry.”
“I am.” His voice was low, hoarse. “And I feel like I should apologize for it.”
“Don’t.” She put her mouth on his. “I’m hungry too.”
With those quiet words, it was as if she’d popped the lid off of him. His arms shot around her and he spread his legs wide so he could get her into his hips. He was almost out of time and she was everything hot and good and sustaining in the world.

‘A Man in a Million’ is the last instalment in Jessica Bird’s ‘Moorehouse Legacy’, and it’s a great way to cap-off the wonderful journey. Sure, the book occasionally veers into cheesy ‘lovey-dovey’ territory, but that’s just a case of Bird writing for her Harlequin audience who thrive on such honey.

I would highly recommend these books for anyone who enjoys the romance in her Blackdagger Brotherhood series. Ward’s Jessica Bird romance’s are just as steamy as the Brother’s HEA’s, minus a heavy plot concerning good guys vs. bad guys.

4/5

Saturday, June 12, 2010

'From the First' Moorehouse Legacy #3 by Jessica BIRD (J.R. Ward)

From the BLURB:

All Alex could see was her long, thick, copper-colored hair. Pale smooth skin. Lips that were naturally tinted pink. Eyes that were green like sea grass.

He stopped himself. His best friend Reese might be dead. But in Alex's mind, Cassandra was still very much the man's wife.

Cassandra. The forbidden woman Alex had yearned for from the first moment he'd laid eyes on her six years ago. The woman who'd been married to his best friend--the friend he'd lost to the sea. The woman who was rebuilding his family's bed-and-breakfast...and who just might, in the process, be rebuilding his anguished heart.

This third installment of Jessica Bird’s ‘Moorehouse Legacy’ series had the biggest ‘will they or won’t they’ storyline thus far. In book #1 ‘Beauty and the Black Sheep’, eldest Moorehouse Alex was in a sailing accident that killed his best friend, Reese, and left his wife, Cassandra, a widow. Alex’s survivor’s guilt is made worse by the fact that for the six years Reese and Cassandra were married, Alex had a rip-roaring crush on her that slowly evolved into unrequited love.
Cassandra was wholly unaware of Alex’s romantic struggles – she interpreted his restraint as feelings of hatred, and has never understood why Reese’s best friend thought she was such an inconvenient third wheel.

Now, months after Reese’s death, Cassandra is contracted to do a fixer-upper on the Moorehouse Mansion – putting her back in Alex’s life… only this time there’s nothing but his guilt standing in the way of romance.

Alex and Cassandra are hot. Alex’s unrequited love for his best friend’s wife adds a real element of spice to their relationship – even more so since Reese is dead, Alex is feeling the sting of two-sided guilt. It makes for some hot pent-up frustration on Alex’s part.

He rolled over and punched his pillow. The sheets shifting against his arousal made his jaw clench, and when he arched his back to try and release some tension, the heat rose even further. He pictured her lying beneath his naked body, her red hair in a wild tumble over his pillow, her skin so soft against his. He imagined being joined with her, going deep and sliding free only to plunge in again. He felt her grabbing on to his back as he drove his hips, heard his name on her lips as she climaxed.
Afterward, he saw himself holding her and watching her fall asleep.

My one complaint is the fact that early on in ‘From the First’ we learn that Reese had cheated on Cassandra throughout their six years of marriage. Furthermore, Cassandra was aware of his adultery but never confronted him about it. We discover that while she and Reese were great friends, Cassandra never felt passion in their marriage, and wasn’t really in love or satisfied with Reese. I think this is a bit of a cop-out; and it would have raised the stakes between Alex and Cass if she had been devoted to and thoroughly in love with Reese.

I’m still on a winning streak with Jessica Bird’s series. Not one of the ‘Moorehouse Legacy’ books has disappointed me yet. I really can’t recommend these books enough – they have all the romance elements we’ve come to expect from a J.R. Ward book, minus heavy action plot.

4/5

Friday, June 11, 2010

'The Glass Demon' by Helen GRANT

Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:


The first death: Seventeen-year-old Lin Fox finds a body in an orchard. As she backs away in horror, she steps on broken glass.

The second death: Then blood appears on her doorstep – blood, and broken glass.

The third death: Something terrible is found in the cemetery. Shards of broken glass lie by a grave.

Who will be next? As the attacks become more sinister, Lin doesn’t know who to trust. She’s getting closer to the truth behind these chilling discoveries, but with each move the danger deepens.

Because someone wants Lin gone – and won’t give up until he’s got rid of her and her family. Forever.

This is Helen Grant’s second book. I loved her first, ‘The Vanishing of Katharina Linden’. With ‘The Glass Demon’ Helen Grant has fast become a ‘must-buy’ author for me.

Lin and her family move to Germany when her father, a self-important medieval professor, is given a chance at academic celebrity. Dr. Oliver Fox has been offered to head an expedition to locate the legendary ‘Allerheiligen glass’. As the story goes, in the dark ages there was an artist called Gerhard Remisch who created such realistic stained-glass representations of the Devil that people thought his creations were aided by a demon.
For hundreds of years the Allerheiligen glass has been lost; but if located could fetch for millions of dollars and guarantee the finder infamy (and a reputation à la Indiana Jones). But the windows are also said to be cursed by the demon, Bonschariant, depicted within the stained colours.
Lin’s family; her stepmother Tuesday, sister Polly, half-brother Ru and father all relocate to the run-down castle Kreuzburg nestled in the middle of a black forest. And from the moment of the Fox family’s arrival, strange happenings occur. Lin discovers a dead body in an orchard, glass surrounding the corpse. There’s a mysterious fire in the Kreuzburg. And the locals all seem reluctant and wary of the professor and his quest for the cursed glass.

Helen Grant is a very different crop of YA author. She revels in storytelling, and is less inclined to write ‘flash in the pan’ helter-skelter rollercoaster rides than dark Gothic ‘thinkers’. She seems to have more patience and belief in her YA readership – so she’s not afraid to set a languid pace and let the clues reveal themselves and the mystery unfurl.

The mysterious and disturbing occurrences come very early on in ‘The Glass Demon’ (like Lin discovering a dead body on the first page) – but the actual mystery itself is a brain-teaser and a real ‘whodunnit’. Lin is our narrator, and as she remains in the dark about the suspicious goings on relating to her father’s expedition, readers are also none the wiser. But like I said, Grant is quite a masterful storyteller. She teases out the plot, preferring a relaxed pace but with heavy doses of foreshadowing thrown in. In ‘The Glass Demon’ we learn very early on that Lin’s sister, Polly, dies.

I didn’t believe in demons; I ranked them with ghosts and vampires and werewolves, as products of a fevered imagination, or phenomenon with a perfectly rational explanation. I did not realize yet, that summer when I was seventeen, and my sister Polly was still alive, when the sun was shining and even the wind was warm, and my whole body was restless, that there are worse things than being stuck in a small town for a year. There *are* demons, and they are more terrible than we can imagine.

From page 29 we learn about Polly’s upcoming demise - so even if the plot is slow to unravel, Grant gifts readers with these crumbs of foreboding that are sure to grab our attention and keep us turning the page, no matter what.

Then there’s the fact that Helen Grant’s writing is simply a delight to read. In ‘The Glass Demon’ she has a lot of fun with family dynamics – or rather, dysfunctional family dynamics. Lin is a very perceptive seventeen-year-old and her family are fodder for her wry observations. Her stepmother, Tuesday, is egocentric and vain and completely oblivious to how well she lives up to her ‘evil stepmother’ shtick. Lin’s father, Dr. Oliver Fox, is a self-important academic whose quest for glory leaves him completely oblivious (or uncaring) to the inherent dangers of his investigations. This is one messed up family, but there’s such voyeuristic pleasure to be gained from Lin’s cynical remarks about them.

Like ‘The Vanishing of Katharina Linden’, this book is set in Germany. I think the Deutsch setting lends a certain ‘Brothers Grimm’ gothic feel to the book – as though it is set in a Hansel & Gretel-esque fairytale.
And then the actual story of the Allerheiligen glass is spine-chillingly haunting. It really does sound like something out of Indiana Jones or Brothers Grimm. The Allerheiligen glass legend is based on a true-story about the Steinfeld Abbey glass – though Grant has wonderfully embellished the demon mythology. And really, the demon is the crux of this book. Not to give anything away – but when you throw in a mysterious priest, spooked townsfolk, a nosy crone and a young white knight for Lin... well, things get interesting and spooky, to say the least.

I loved ‘The Glass Demon’. With this book Helen Grant cements herself as an author to watch. This is a complex, haunting and original YA novel – a Gothic mystery to tingle the spine keep you up at night.

5/5

Thursday, June 10, 2010

'Black Blade Blues' by J.A. PITTS

From the BLURB:

Sarah Beauhall has more on her plate than most twenty-somethings: day job as a blacksmith, night job as a props manager for low-budget movies, and her free time is spent fighting in a medieval re-enactment group.

The lead actor breaks Sarah's favorite one-of-a-kind sword, and to avoid reshooting scenes, Sarah agrees to repair the blade. One of the extras, who claims to be a dwarf, offers to help. And that's when things start to get weird. Could the sword really be magic, as the "dwarf" claims? Are dragons really living among us as shapeshifters?

And as if things weren't surreal enough, Sarah's girlfriend Katie breaks out the dreaded phrase. 'I love you.' As her life begins to fall apart, first her relationship with Katie, then her job at the movie studio, and finally her blacksmithing career, Sarah hits rock bottom. It is at this moment, when she has lost everything she has prized, that one of the dragons makes their move.

And suddenly what was unthinkable becomes all too real and Sarah will have to decide if she can reject what is safe and become the heroine who is needed to save her world.

I found this book because the wonderful Daniel Dos Santos did the cover-art (of course he did – it’s fabulous!). I really liked the sound of this book because it seemed to be a very different sort of Urban Fantasy.

As the UF genre grows, it can also get a little same-same. Sometimes I get into such a reading rut with this genre that I think if I never read about vampires and werewolves ever again, it will be too soon. Don’t get me wrong – I do love me some UF, and I do have a special place in my heart for the fanged and furry, but occasionally I want to break out of the box the genre seems to be creating for itself.
Recently I have enjoyed Gail Carriger’s ‘Alexia Tarabotti’ series for its steampunk-spin on werewolves, and Lydia Dare’s series that put lycanthropes in 1800’s England.

J.A. Pitts writing debut seemed to be the perfect remedy for me. It’s about Norse Mythology – goblins, giants, dwarves and dragons being the main fantastical creatures (but set in modern day Seattle). His series also stands out for having a lesbian protagonist. Great. Fantastic. Something entirely different but still befitting the ‘Urban Fantasy’ tag.

I really, really wanted to like this book. But the main problem with ‘Black Blade Blues’ is pace, or lack thereof.

By page 178 of this 398-page book not a lot has happened.

Pitts offers tid-bits of what’s to come by weaving a narrative alongside Sarah’s – told from the perspective of two ancient and terrifying dragons as they hide amongst humanity.
Meanwhile, from Sarah’s POV; strange things have been happening ever since she forged the prop sword, Gram. Since that black sword came into her possession Sarah has nearly been run off the road by a mysterious black Hummer. A movie extra called Rolph has warned her of the power the sword wields and implored her to use it for good, against dragons. She’s also come face-to-face with the smarmiest, most evil-looking philanthropic businessman she never wants to meet again. And a crazy homeless man in a dumpster warns her about the bones of the earth.

All of these snatches of information and mystery are interspersed with Sarah’s day-to-day life as she goes to her blacksmith job and her part-time job at a props department for a B-grade movie. A good chunk of Sarah’s narrative is also devoted to her rocky relationship with girlfriend, Katie, as Sarah struggles with her sexuality and coming out of the closet.
But the hints of ‘more to come’ are not enough to keep the story interesting. There aren’t enough clues dropped about the over-arching plot and all the in-between bits of Sarah’s life become tedious and frustrating when nothing much else seems to be happening in the plot.

The majority of Urban Fantasy is fast-paced. The story normally starts in the middle of a catastrophe of some sort and goes helter-skelter from there. Mercy Thompson’s ‘Moon Called’, when a stray werewolf turns up at Mercy’s garage. ‘Halfway to the Grave’, Cat makes a vampire kill in the opening chapter. ‘Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs’ has Jane Jameson waking up as one of the undead by the end of chapter one.
That’s one tried and true way to hook the reader – set them on a crazy ride and don’t let-up until you’ve got them buried so deep in plot and mystery that they can’t stop reading.
By the end of chapter one of ‘Black Blade Blues’ one of the swords Sarah made has been damaged by a ham-fisted actor. O-kay. Not exactly a thrill-ride start.
And like I said, the action doesn’t even pick up half-way through the book. It’s asking a lot of readers to stick with the story when the story doesn’t make itself apparent until well past page 100 (the magic number by which most readers decide whether to keep going with a book, or label it as a DNF).

The slow pace could have worked, if it wasn’t for the fact that Sarah isn’t an instantaneously likable protagonist.

The one sticking-point for on-the-fence readers may be if the narrative voice is strong enough to hold interest, despite lack of plot. Readers are willing to forgive a lot of plot-faults if they have an interesting or funny enough protagonist to go on a journey with.
J.A. Pitts hasn’t managed to make Sarah Beauhall into such a protagonist.

Sarah grew up in the Bible-belt. Her family, especially her father, were very pious and she was taught that homosexuality was ‘evil’. When we meet her at the beginning of ‘Black Blade Blues’ Sarah hasn’t spoken to her father for three years since becoming a blacksmith and dressing ‘like a boy’ (according to her Pa). Her family also don’t know that she is a lesbian, and currently in a relationship with a woman. But that doesn’t mean her family’s beliefs and negativity aren’t still with her. Sarah can’t ‘come out’ of the closet, and she can’t do PDA’s with Katie because in her head she still hears the derogative labels ‘fag’ and ‘dyke’ ringing in her ears.
Furthermore, Sarah can’t understand why Katie (beautiful, gorgeous, at home in her own skin Katie) would choose to be with her. Sarah thinks she is too fat – too curvy in all the wrong places. Her arms are too thick, her shoulders too broad. She has a very negative body-image that further impacts hers and Kate’s relationship.

Where Sarah’s narrative could have saved the slow-moving ‘Black Blade Blues’, readers are instead shackled to this self-doubting, self-hating protagonist who is just an all-round ‘downer’. She’s not fun to read. And when her negative voice is coupled with a slow-as-molasses plot... well, Pitts is asking a lot of reader’s patience.

I could have dealt with Sarah’s issues regarding her homosexuality. It could have been interesting – and I initially liked the idea of this nay-saying protagonist who, amidst a fantastical plot of battling dragons, is still just dealing with her sexuality. But it’s too much. Sarah is *so* down on herself, and so disgusted by her liking girls that by her twentieth self-loathing rant I was rolling my eyes and wondering why Katie put up with her.
I could have dealt with Sarah’s inner issues – if Pitts had just imbued her with a sense of humour. If she was quick-witted, silver-tongued or anything other than a fairly hum-drum chick whose most interesting quality was her unusual job of Blacksmith.

Two things I did like;

One, was the fact that Sarah is a lesbian. I don’t think that Pitts did the best job with this girl-on-girl relationship, but on principle I like a UF protagonist who breaks the mould. Why are we so willing to read an M/M romance, but not an F/F one? Granted, there aren’t a lot of homosexual protagonists out there in main-stream UF books.
I wasn’t at all fazed by the Sarah/Katie relationship – I actually wish Pitts had written more graphic, detailed sex scenes for them – if for no other reason than to compensate for Sarah’s negativity and to provide readers with tangible evidence of why Katie sticks around.

Two, I liked Sarah’s line of work. Less the blacksmithing, more her role as props creator and the forging she does for fantasy carnivals and medieval fairs. There’s plenty of opportunity for laughs – especially with the ‘ye olde’ medieval re-enactments and the people (fanatics!) who participate in them. The people Sarah creates props for are those (*cough* GEEKS *cough*) who know Tolkien’s Elvish and have serious debates about who would win in a battle between a dwarf and a goblin. I liked the fantasy within an Urban Fantasy – it was an interesting setting for the book.

I somehow read all the way through this. And though the ending is full of battle-glory, it wasn’t enough to outweigh the awfully slow beginning. And even the two aspects of the book I did like were not enough to make ‘Black Blade Blues’ anything other than a negative. Slow pace and a lacklustre protagonist turned this ‘highly anticipated’ novel into a ‘downright disappointment’ for me.

1.5/5