Archives for May 2011

Review: Magic Bleeds

Reviewed by Jen

I really didn’t think the Kate Daniels series could actually get any better after Magic Strikes.  But as good as that one was, this one was better.

As the book begins, Kate is preparing for that naked dinner she promised Curran.  But he doesn’t show. She calls The Keep and gets the brush off. And hours later, she decides she’s been played for a fool. A few weeks later, she is back at work and determined to forget her feelings for the Beast Lord. She gets pulled into a case, where a mysterious being is bringing a plague to Atlanta. Throughout the course of the investigation, Kate has to use her contacts with the mercenary guild, Saiman, and even the shapeshifters. Which throws her plan to avoid Curran out of the window.

It’s clear these two are crazy about each other, but there’s a lot working against them… The worst offenders are their responsibilities and stubbornness. But it is so gratifying to watch them work it out. Their relationship is so great, because they can retain their individual strengths, while allowing the other in. During their courtship, we learn a lot about Curran’s background and pack politics. Not only that, we see what it will mean if Kate needs to carve herself a place in his life.

While Kate’s personal life heats up, her investigation into the Plaguemaker takes a more personal turn. As so many things in her life do, it ends up with a major connection to Roland. And it forces her to share some of her most closely kept secrets.

AND THERE IS FINALLY SOME SEX.<

I can’t say enough about how good this book was. Not only does it put most other series to shame… It puts the first two books in this series to shame as well. All hail Kate Daniels.

5 stars.

Magic Bleeds
by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Publisher: Ace

Review: Magic Strikes

Reviewed by Jen

I’ve liked the Kate Daniels series from the very first book. But with Magic Strikes, that like has turned in to full-blown love.

Two months have passed since the massive magic flare and epic battle that ended the last book.  But there are new problems on the horizon.  They start when Derek gets caught trying to break in to Saiman’s apartment.  To keep the young wolf out of trouble, Kate agrees to accompany Saiman to a Gladiator-style game, to help him learn more about a mysterious team of participants called the Reapers.  But it seems Derek has a particular interest in one of the team-members and convinces Kate to pass the woman a note while she is there.

Kate senses it’s a bad idea. But things go more wrong than she ever imagined they could.  For vengeance, for justice, Kate and a band of her closest friends end up competing themselves.  Their goal, to take down the Reapers and win the grand prize.

There’s a lot of emotion in this book.  Most of it centers around the fact that Kate has real friends for the first time in her life.  Their fragility terrifies her. She is also hyper-aware that her love for them can be crippling. To lose one of them, could damage her in a way that couldn’t be done when she lived her life as a loner.  We see how much Derek, Andrea, Julie… and even Curran have ensconced themselves into her heart.  –And speaking of Curran, the sparks between these two grow hotter with every book.  There is phenomenal sexual tension and it’s played to perfection.

We also finally find out the big secret Kate has been carrying.  It’s been foreshadowed, but hearing her admit her heritage is still a pretty big deal. And you can tell it’s only a matter of time before it all blows up in her face.

This book was outstanding. It had big emotion, lots of action, and the fantastic & witty dialogue that’s a hallmark of the series.  5 stars.

Magic Strikes
by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: May 31, 2009
Publisher: Ace

Review: Magic Burns

Reviewed by Jen

The most appealing thing about any Kate Daniels book, is hands-down, Kate Daniels herself.  She strong and smart, witty and irreverent.  And it doesn’t look like she ever gets a moment’s peace.  As the book begins, a few months have passed since the events of Magic Bites.  Kate is working as a liaison between the mercenary guild and the Order of Merciful Aid.  And the waves of magic in the world are growing more frequent and intense, indicating a flare is on the horizon.

While on a mission for the Pack, Kate’s path crosses with a young girl named Julie. Her mom is missing and soon Kate realizes that the woman was part of a coven that was messing with forces beyond their control.  Kate makes it her mission to take care of Julie and figure out where her mother is.  The coven’s work, though incomplete, has already unleashed some serious baddies which are coming after Julie and Kate.  And if that weren’t distraction enough, there’s a sexy archer named Bran thrown in the mix… and his only clear intentions seem to be bedding Kate!

Of course, it’s hard to root for anyone to be with Kate, other than the super-sexy alpha Beast Lord, Curran.  There are some great revelations here about his intentions toward our heroine.  And their interactions are great fun to watch.  Their dialogue is fast, funny, and sometimes sexy.  One of my favorite things about the series is watching the slow-build between these two!

There are also some great secondary stories here, some featuring familiar faces like Crest and Red; others are new, like Andrea and Julie.   Old relationships end; new ones begin.  And we’re still getting nuggets of information about Kate’s past and the secrets to her power.  Not a dull moment in sight.

4 1/2 stars.

Magic Burns
by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: April 1, 2008
Publisher: Ace

Review: Magic Bites

Reviewed by Jen

I love Kate Daniels. She is brash; she is mouthy; she’s funny; and she kicks ass. Kate lives in alternate or perhaps future version of Atlanta.  Vampires exist. So do shapeshifters… and perhaps most importantly, so does magic.  In fact, the onset of magic into the world has changed its very landscape. Magic is the antithesis of technology. It comes in waves, and when it does, mechanical instruments stop working.  That means everything from lights to cars to tv’s are out of commission, until the magic recedes and technology reigns again.

Kate has magic in her blood, so much of it in fact, that she keeps it and its source, a tightly guarded secret. She uses her magic and kick-butt skills as a mercenary for hire, until her childhood guardian Greg is killed.  She takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of his grisly death and bring his killer to justice. To do that, she must align herself with the Order of Merciful aid, an agency that sort-of polices the supernatural. And she must work with the local shapeshifters.

Next to Kate herself, Curran –the Lord of the Beasts– is the most fascinating character in the story.  The two of them have absolutely explosive chemistry.  They’re not romancing each other… at least not in the traditional sense. Every word, every action is a challenge, a chance to one-up the other.  Their exchanges are witty and funny, and it’s hard to miss a bit of sexual heat creeping in.

The world-building is clear, consistent and easy to understand.  The characters were three-dimensional and easily defined.  And despite a big supporting cast, I never had to ask myself, “Who was that again?”

As I gush, I do have to admit that the book is not perfect. There were two points that did make me scratch my head. (*spoilers*) Once, wondering why the heck Curran would blame Kate for getting the wrong idea about Crest, when she never supported the idea that he was the bad guy.  The other: why everyone assumed the case was closed with the death of Roland’s concubine, when there was no proof or explanation as to why she killed Greg.  But both these issues were minor.

I can tell you that each one of the books in this series gets progressively better.  And I loved them so much that they inspired me to start writing book reviews in the first place.  If you’ve never read Kate Daniels, and you’re a fan of Urban Fantasy, what are you waiting for? You’re missing out on something great.

4 1/2 stars.

Magic Bites
by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: March 27, 2007
Publisher: Ace

Series Reading Order: Kate Daniels

This is the reading order for the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.

*Denotes short story/novella
**Denotes Kate Daniels world-book

Review: Knight of Swords

Reviewed by Jen

Nathan doesn’t know it, but he is on the verge of becoming a vampire. More than that, he was born to be the mate of his people’s Queen, her Knight of Swords.  As our story opens in 1890′s London, Nathan is being plagued in his nightmares by a gruesome vampire who is killing the young Lord’s past sexual conquests. Over and over, Nathan is forced to watch the vampire, Sebastian,  as he kills the women and harvests their organs. Each time, he calls out for a woman named Juliet.  We later learn, that’s the woman who will be Nathan’s mate.

When circumstances bring Nathan and Juliet together in the flesh, they realize their innate bond.  But they are intercepted by a group of men who explain that the couple is on the verge of transition to becoming vampires.  The conversation actually wasn’t as easygoing as that. In fact, we find out quickly that despite Nathan’s status as her mate, just about every vampire wants a chance to challenge him for Juliet’s hand.  And Sebastian is an ever-present threat.  Once the evil creature manages to get his hands on the young Queen, Nathan must take his place as the head of Juliet’s army to rescue her and finally claim her as his own.

When I started this book, I really thought it was going to be about the grisly murders Nathan was witnessing… sort of a vampire Jack-the-Ripper kind of story.  But it wasn’t that at all.  Perhaps because of my misconceptions, I had a really hard time connecting with the story in the first half.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like spoilers. But I do like to have a good idea of what a book is about at the onset. It makes it easier for my mind follow the characters’ journey.  I never really felt emotionally invested in Nathan or Juliet, individually or as a couple.  Perhaps, their psychic connection gave them a kind of instant-love, but it wasn’t a love or even an attraction that I was able to witness developing on-page. As a result, I felt like I wanted Nathan to succeed more because I knew he was supposed to, than because I had a fire in my belly for him.

The book did pick up in the second-half.  There was a good bit of action. There was sacrifice and betrayal.  But you need to be prepared for some dark developments and (for me) an unsatisfying ending.  I give the author credit for a new take on vampire mythology and a decidedly creative twist on the motives of our villain.  3 stars.

*This book was provided by the author for review.

"Was This Review Helpful?" An Amazon Rant

I don’t profess to be the world’s greatest reviewer. I do it because I love to read and I love to have a dialogue about books. Ask anyone what makes a good review and you’ll get answers that span the spectrum of possibilities. Some people want you to write reviews that are spoiler-free, so they can decide whether to buy a book they haven’t read yet. Others read reviews after they’re finished with a book. They want you to talk about the plot; they want to compare their reading experience to yours. Some people want to know about the writing style, the grammar, or the story structure; while others want to know about the emotion the story sparked in you. I understand that you can’t please everyone with every review and in the end, you have to talk about what speaks to you.

But that doesn’t make me feel any better about a stupid little feature at Amazon.com. Below every review, it asks, “Was this review helpful to you?” I know I shouldn’t care. Hell, I stopped caring what people thought about me somewhere around the third grade. But for some reason, this irritating question sticks in my craw all the same.

I understand the principle of the thing. I’ve read reviews on Amazon that gave a book a poor rating because it took too long to ship. Others complained that it was too expensive and they refused to buy it, then went on to give the book one star based on the price. Those aren’t reviews and shouldn’t be counted as such. A book’s rating shouldn’t be dragged down based on things like that. And there should be a way to flag things like that. But if you’ve ever spent any amount of time and effort putting reviews on Amazon, you’ll find out quickly that people abuse the feature.

What could anyone possibly get out of that? you might ask. Hmpf. Every book or product on Amazon has three featured reviews. They are the ones people have found most helpful. Theoretically, those would be the most worthwhile to casual web-surfers who just want the flavor of the book. But this doesn’t mean that the person with the highest votes is featured first. Oh no, you’re penalized for each unhelpful vote. Which means if someone wants their review featured, the quickest way to do it is find the other reviews unhelpful.

In moments of reflection and introspection, I’ve asked myself, “Jen, are you sure you’re not being paranoid? Maybe 14% of the people who have read your reviews really didn’t find them helpful.” But then I think about the release days on any highly anticipated book… how if I go to Amazon, I’ll see “0 of 3 people find this review helpful” on all 5 or 6 reviews already posted. And we’re talking perfectly good reviews. And it pisses me off. For the most part, these are fellow booklovers like me, who are excited to share their thoughts on the book they’ve just finished reading. But they’re getting voted down so others can make sure their review will be placed higher when it’s published. I end up asking myself, “Is it too early to post? Will the trolls be done yet?” Then I shake myself and just post the damn thing, because for crying out loud, it’s a book review not international politics.

So what does it all really mean in the end? Not a whole lot. It just bugs me. Those of us who write reviews do it to share them with others. I get to do that on my blog and on Goodreads, without the drama. I think Amazon’s important too, though, because many casual readers never make it to the bloggosphere or even Goodreads. **sigh** I feel like a tool for letting it bother me. But I might as well own it.

Review: Highland Destiny

Reviewed by Jen

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit, a big part of me didn’t want to read this book.  I “met” Laura Hunsaker on Goodreads, having no idea she was an author.  We’re in some of the same groups; we chat about what we’re reading.  Then I won a contest where her book was the prize.  I was intrigued, but a little worried.  I mean, what if it sucks?  I put all my reviews on Goodreads. How do you tell someone who you like, that their book isn’t good? Thankfully, I knew this wasn’t going to be a problem, just a few pages into my read.

Our story focuses on Mackenzie, a modern-day American who is visiting Scotland with her friend.  She is approached by two wizards who whisk her back into the 1800s.  They say she is fated to marry a Scotsman named Campbell and to stop a war between two warring clans.  But before she can make it to her intended, she is kidnapped by Campbell’s enemy, Connor.  Sparks fly instantly.   Connor struggles to look at Mackenzie simply as a tool in his arsenal against Campbell.  But he can’t fight the urge to kiss her. Over time, those urges get stronger; their relationship grows more physical.

Mackenzie isn’t sure how much of her reality she should share with Connor, as she begins to fall for him.  And she is beginning to realize that the strange dreams she’s had all of her life have been preparing her for this trip back in time.  As the details slowly reveal themselves, the picture becomes clearer as to what her true destiny must be.

I really, truly enjoyed this book.  Mackenzie is a virginal heroine, but she is feisty and bold.  She deals with her trying circumstances with bravery and smarts.  Conner is, in a word, hot.  It’s easy to see how he makes her melt. Their love scenes are great; and so is their romance.  Granted, we’re not breaking new ground with a time-traveling Highlander story.  But this genre is popular for a reason. Because when the book works, the result is playful, entertaining, and sexy.  This book works. 4 1/2 stars.

Review: The Harlot

Reviewed by Jen

Warning: This review is designed for adults 18 years or older. It contains mature subject matter and coarse language.

Jessie has got to be the horniest heroine I have ever encountered. She is working as a whore in 18th century Scotland when Gregor spies her in a fight with another whore over a potential customer. Jessie puts on quite a show, but it comes to an end when the other woman accuses her of witchcraft. Jessie is promptly arrested. But Gregor is taken by her and figures that if he helps her escape, he can use her in his scheme for revenge against the man who drove his father to suicide. He figures she can seduce his enemy and gain information to help take him down.From the moment Gregor meets her in the jail cell, these two are going at it. Then they’re doing it some more as Gregor teaches Jesse how to seduce his enemy with feigned innocence. Throughout the course of the book, we’re also treated to Jessie spying on two guys having sex, behind a door that’s not entirely closed… which brings us to watching Jessie spend some quality time with herself as she savors the memory. Later, Jessie gets down and dirty with a female maid for Gregor’s viewing pleasure. So that when all is said and done, we’ve spanned the sexual horizon from m/f to m/m to f/f to lusty masturbation.

Yeah, yeah… there’s a plot going on in the background. Gregor’s trying to get revenge and get his family’s land back.. yada, yada. But back to the sex. Jessie really loves sex. And we hear alot about her lady-bits and how they long for attention. Of course, the author’s choice word in the matter is “cunny.” And it made me cringe every one of the 44 times I read it. Every so often, she supplemented it with “puss.” (I guess I’m not going to be able to share this review on Amazon.)

This book reminded me a lot of one of those period-style Showtime After Dark movies from years-ago. Everyone is randy and ribald. There’s lots of dirty talk and sex that spans the spectrum. (OK, in all fairness, there was no m/m buttsecks on Showtime back then, but you get the idea.) I honestly am at a loss on how to rate it. If you’re looking for a period story that is really lusty and you don’t mind the word “cunny,” this is 100% for you. And don’t get me wrong, there were moments I was quite, er, enthralled in it myself… despite lines like:

“… it made Gregor wonder what it would be like to plow her furrow, to ease his cock into that alluring niche.”
And…
“There will be many who are eager to split your virginal crack with their pricks.”
I’m just going to assume that anyone who picks this up is looking for something dirty and spicy, not Jane Eyre… not even a Regency Romance (not by a longshot.) I’ll have to rate it in the context for which it’s intended. 4 stars.
*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Follow Friday

Happy Friday! Here’s our weekly opportunity for bloggers to come together and check out each others sites. Please remember to leave a comment below, along with your link so that I can check out your site, and return the favor.
If you want to participate, it’s easy. To learn more and to enter, check out: Parajunkee 

Q. The Blogger Apocalypse made me a little emotional. What is the most emotional scene in a book that you have read lately?

A. I still have the shakes from my Blogger withdrawls.  I haven’t had a good, angsty or emotion-laden scene in a while.  Hmm.  But I’ve read several books with some hot sex.  (I’ll think on the emotional stuff and come back if anything springs to mind.)