Archives for June 2011

Review: Dangerous Lord, Innocent Governess

Reviewed by Jen

Daphne is convinced there is more to her cousin Clare’s death than meets the eye. In fact, Daphne is certain that Clare’s husband Timothy is to blame. So in order to find the truth, Daphne poses as a governess for Clare’s children. The plan is simple: ingratiate herself into the household and expose Timothy as a murderer.

She never expects to care for the children.  And certainly, she could never anticipate the undeniable attraction between Tim and herself.  Yet, she finds herself falling in love with the entire family. With her changing feelings, she starts questioning whether Tim is really a man who could commit murder… and she realizes her cousin may not have been the woman she thought she knew.

I enjoyed this book. It had a kind of gothic, Jane Eyre feel to it.  I know some people are put off by such a similarity, but it worked for me.  There was yummy sexual tension, steamy love scenes and some delicious angst from our brooding hero.  All good things, as far as I’m concerned.

It wasn’t perfect. It’s kind of hard to like Daphne at first. She’s pretty self-absorbed and callous about the children…. though that changes over the course of the book. And I was a little taken aback by the manner in which she lost her virginity. I won’t get into specifics, but it’s not exactly gentle and there was no acknowledgement that such a thing may not be all sunshine and roses for an innocent.  But, in the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t bothered all that much.  It was sexy, dark and satisfying.  4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Dangerous Lord, Innocent Governess
by Christine Merrill
Re-Release Date: June 21, 2011
Original Release Date: August 7, 2009
Publisher: Harlequin

Review: A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal

Reviewed by Jen

Nell is a woman who has lived a hard life and things look like they’re only getting worse. She works in a factory, barely scraping by in the slums of London’s Bethnel Green. Her mother is dying and her step-brother is ready to whore her out for money. On her deathbed, Nell’s mother reveals that Nell’s father is a highborn lord who may be willing to help her financially. But when her letter to him is ignored and her mother dies, Nell decides to get her revenge by killing the man in his sleep.

Only, when she arrives at the home of Lord Rushden, she doesn’t find her father. He’s been dead for months. Instead, she finds his heir…. a distant cousin. The new lord proposes a shocking idea. If she marries him, he’ll help her establish her claim to her inheritance. In exchange, she’ll help him shore up his empty coffers. What choice does she have, but to agree?

From here, the story reminds me a little of My Fair Lady, as Rushden tries to help transform Nell from a guttersnipe into a genteel aristocrat. But we get the added bonus of a little sexual heat. Nell and Rushden share a fiery attraction, which travels the course from tension, to action, to tender feelings. Nell’s life begins to transform itself into a fairy tale, but she can’t let go of the lessons learned in the slums; she can’t trust that her happiness will last.

I enjoyed watching Nell drop her defenses as she fell for Rushden.  And I definitely enjoyed their love scenes. There are bumps along the road as they try to reach their happy ending, but the obstacles are worth it. Perhaps what’s most refreshing is how Nell manages to make it through the story with her character intact… her changes are merely superficial, except for her newfound ability to trust in the man she loves. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by Pocket Books

A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal
by Meredith Duran
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Publisher: Pocket Books

Review: Collide

Reviewed by Jen

I didn’t really expect to like this book all that much. But it made me laugh. It made me feel. And boy, was it hot!

The story follows Emm, a 32 year-old woman, who has lived her life with the constant threat that she will go into a fugue state. She had a head injury in childhood, and ever since, she has had episodes where her mind leaves reality. In the past few years, though, she seems to have gotten it under control. Until she crosses paths with Johnny. She only sees him in a coffee shop, but she is instantly attracted. She learns that he was a star in some, er, artistic films in the 70s… which she promptly checks out. And before she knows it, she’s blanking out again. Only this time, the place she goes in her mind is one where Johnny is the star. She meets him, in the 70s and hops into his bed. Of course, when she gets back to reality, that only fuels her desire to meet him for real.

To say the real Johnny is stand-offish would be an understatement.  He is gruff, even rude to Emm. But when she goes into a fugue state right in front of him, he brings her into his home to help her out… beginning a dialogue between them. Emm is going dark, as she calls it, more and more. And every time, she is back in Johnny’s past. She is becoming more invested in him –in his life and in his bed. She has trouble separating her growing feelings for the Johnny in her mind with the Johnny who is present in her real-life. This is especially true, when she finally breaks down the barriers he places between them and they become a real couple.

The thing is, Emm is starting to question whether the past events are really just in her mind. Johnny is hard to read, but keeps giving off vibes that he knows more than he’s saying. And the proof just keeps growing.

I couldn’t put this book down.  Yeah, it’s got some similarities to other stories, but it acknowledges them openly. Even Emm gives shouts to Dr Who and The Time Traveler’s Wife. There are so many cultural references that really hit the mark –and the way Emm talks– it made her so relatable for me. And it was funny. Some of passages had me laughing out loud.

“I haven’t been this excited about an erection since my first boy-girl party in the eighth grade…”

“I made it through dinner without embarrasing myself, although everytime he wiped his mouth I wanted my cunt to be the napkin.”

Of course, aside from the whole time travel element, the biggest thing going on in the book is the sex. And wow! We’re talking hot. I’m not a big fan of using the “c-word” to refer to lady-bits, but even that didn’t cut in to the megga-watt hot factor going on in this book.  Believe me, by the time it was over, I was ready to have sex with Johnny and I don’t much care whether it was the 24 year-old version or the 57 year-old one.

I did feel kind of sorry for him, once everything was revealed.  I’m glad we got the ending we did, but the poor guy really had a rough road. And I can see why Emm got the initial reaction he gave her at the beginning of the book.

I’ll definitely read more Megan Hart in the future. And I’ll never look at the word “hooah” the same way. 4 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Collide
by Megan Hart
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: Spice

Rant: True Blood

You would think I would have learned my lesson. Over and over, people keep telling me that I need to think of True Blood as something totally separate from the Sookie Stackhouse books. And that sounds easy enough, but I just can’t do it. I mean, these are the supposed to be the characters I’ve cared about for all this time.

The basic premise of the series was the same… at least in season one. Sookie Stackhouse, telepathic waitress, gets her first real chance at a relationship with the first vampire she ever meets. Her shapeshifter boss is there, along with her slightly selfish, man-whore brother… The main story arc holds up, as someone kills people with ties to vampires. And not withstanding the horrific accents, it worked. Of course, the amazing casting of Alexander Skarsgard didn’t hurt. His presence is what made me tolerate that whole ridiculous v-addiction storyline.

Then season two came and the bastardization began. Layfayette is alive (the one and only change I was ever on board with)… Jessica is born. The unnamed maenad gets a name and an extended storyline that nearly overshadows the trip to Dallas. There’s the epic fail of the Fellowship of the Sun side-plot and changes involved with making Godric into Eric’s maker. Season 3 gives us the gift of Joe Mangianello and I can forgive the show creators almost anything after that. Except maybe the train wreck that they turned Russell into. Or the terrible miscasting of Claudine and Hadley.

But here we are at season four. And I’ve been waiting, poised between excitement and fear for the adaptation of my favorite book in the series. Only to get the horrific, steaming pile of shit that I witnessed last night. In two episodes, there was nary a shred of storyline that can be reconciled with Dead to the World. In fact, it felt like Alan Ball was giving a huge middle finger to Charlaine Harris fans, making it essentially impossible for the story to mirror future books.

Here are my top 10 complaints:

1. Faerie. This was wrong in so many ways, I don’t even know where to start. Lumieres. Ugly fae. Grandpa EARL? This knocks out the whole Niall storyline and indicates (by Barry’s presence) that Sookie’s telepathy is linked to her being fae.

2. A year has passed.

3. Jason sold Sookie’s house.

4. Tara is suddenly a lesbian.

5. Sam is in a shifter support group that has a soft spot for horses. (Who the hell are these people?)

6. Sam’s stupid brother is still around.

7. Arlene thinks she has a devil baby.

8. Here’s a big one. Bill kills Sophie-Ann. Knocking out huge storyline potential from future books. So much of the upcoming story should have been tied up in Sophie Ann, from Sookie’s trip to New Orleans, to the vampire conference, to Mr. Cataliades, Andre, Sigebert & Wybert… All just wiped out with this one plot device.

9. Bill is King. (Seriously… I knew they weren’t going to send him to Peru, but this utterly changes the dynamic between him and Eric forever.)

10. The witches don’t want to have sex with Eric. Instead of some all powerful, evil witches, we’ve got an old lady who misses her dead bird and a bunch of dabblers. It’s all wrong.

I could go on. Bitch about Crystal being part of the plan to turn Jason into a shifter… Or Andy’s drug dependence on vampire blood. Or Lafayette’s stupid new hair. But I’m starting to feel petty. They couldn’t even throw me a bone and toss a naked shot of Joe Manganiello in there.
((**sigh**)) Alan Ball, you did a bad, bad thing.

Review: Spell Bound

Reviewed by Jen

I loved this book. Loved it so much, in fact, that it may be my very favorite Otherworld book of all time. Yes, I know that’s a pretty bold statement. And not everyone will agree. After all, generally the best Otherworld books are Elena books and I’m the first person to say so. But what makes this book so fantastic is that even though Savannah is the narrator,it brings everyone together. Savannah, Adam, Paige, Lucas, Hope, Karl, Elena, Clay, Jeremy, Jamie, Benicio, Troy, Griffin, Sean, Bryce, Kristof, Jaz, Rhys… The only major player missing was Eve (and she did get a mention.) Kelley Armstrong has taken threads from her previous books and woven them together into this awesome creation, like it was some giant master plan all along.

The story picks up right where Waking the Witch left off. Savannah is without her powers and she believes it’s because she offered to exchange them to right one of the wrongs in the last book. She and Adam investigate and, sure enough, little Kayla and her grandmother have been reunited. But now what? There are witch-hunters still after Savannah and despite her feelings in a moment of weakness, she needs her powers. She and Adam work to figure out how to restore them while sniffing out the witch-hunters and foiling their murderous plans.

As if that weren’t enough to deal with, there is a group of supernaturals that are pushing to out themselves to the human world. They believe now is the time, because of a prophecy that foretold key events: Savannah’s birth, the werewolf twins, Jaz’s powers, and the birth of Rhys’ clairvoyant grandchild, among others. The group’s leaders also have ties to the immortality questers we learned about in Broken. It’s all very complicated and conspiracy-theorist and there is still a lot we don’t know about them, even as the story ends. –That’s right. This story won’t reach it’s conclusion until the next book… which will also be (**sniff**) the last book in the series. I’m sure that’s going to turn a lot of people off, and I’m no fan of cliffhangers, myself. But I like that Armstrong is making this final story epic… to go out with a bang. I’d rather that than some lame rush job, trying to make it all fit in one book.

If you’re wondering about the romance we were missing in Waking the Witch, there is a little bit of progress. We all know that Adam is Savannah’s HEA, but they have some serious hurdles to overcome. But… since you clicked the spoiler button, you obviously want to know… we do get one good kiss, which shows we are headed in the right direction.

I will miss this series when it’s over. Armstrong has created such a rich world for these characters with the wealth of novels and short stories she has written. But I am so impressed that she is pulling them all together for a ending that is fitting and worthy of the characters and stories she has given us.  I can’t wait to see what happens.  5 stars.

*ARC Provided by Dutton
Spell Bound
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Publisher: Dutton Books

Review: Waking the Witch

Reviewed by Jen

One of the things I love best about the Otherworld series is that time passes in the books pretty much like real-time. The series began back in 2001 and we’ve essentially watched the characters change and grow through 10 years of their own lives. We met Savannah in the 2nd book, as a 12 year-old child and now she’s a 21 year-old woman, serving as the narrator of her very own story. It’s a little hard to see her as an adult, but I think that’s in part to her personality, which is still a little impetuous and self-absorbed. And she is still trying to prove herself.

So when Paige and Lucas go on vacation, Savannah jumps at the chance to take the lead on her very own case. The tip comes from Jesse, a half-demon contact of Lucas’ — and it takes Savannah to a small town to investigate a trio of human murders with a link to the occult. She joins forces with an off-duty cop named Michael, whose sister was one of the victims. I liked him right away. So when Armstrong killed him off, I was crushed. I knew he wasn’t going to be Savannah’s HEA, but I really hated to see him die.

There’s a wide range of suspects: from the strange commune of girls living with a creepy therapist… to the adulterous boyfriend of one of the victims. Links to the supernatural keep popping up, but Savannah can’t quite put her finger on how they’re tied to the case. Savannah’s a tough girl, as we are reminded more than once, but she could have helped herself a lot by reaching out and being honest with her family and friends. It was frustrating to keep watching her make this mistake. The story would have gone very differently if she weren’t so bent on proving herself.

Adam shows up in the second half of the book. We don’t get a romance between him and Savannah, but the groundwork is there. I’m hoping they’ll pursue it in the next book, which is also a Savannah story. The resolution here on the murder/mystery was a huge surprise for me and while that storyline did wrap up, the ending is a pretty big cliffhanger. I enjoyed the book, but I wish we would have had more crossover with the other characters from the previous books. 4 stars.

Waking the Witch
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: July 27, 2010
Publisher: Dutton Books

Review: Counterfeit Magic

Reviewed by Jen

Counterfeit Magic is not a full length novel, but a limited release novella. The narrator in this installment is Paige, an independent and optimistic witch, who runs an PI agency with her sorcerer husband, Lucas. It’s great to have a Lucas and Paige story. We’ve seen the evolution of their nine year relationship since the very beginning, with Dime Store Magic.  And I’ve always rooted for them.

Anyway, the story begins with a lovely young woman named Ava, coming into the agency, asking for help getting to the bottom of her brother’s death. She believes it could be tied to a supernatural fight club she brought him to. Ava had participated in the fight, hoping to win money to help him pay off his debts, but she lost her fight. When she found out her brother bet against her, she stormed out. She didn’t see him again until his body was found a month later.

Ava is really only interested in Lucas handling the case. Paige and Lucas both tackle it, but split up to do the job. Lucas plans to look into the people the brother owed money to, while Paige and Savannah check out the fight club. Savannah poses as a fighter and they get in the door with ease. It doesn’t take long for the women to discover that their have been a couple of unexplained deaths affiliated with fighters –and there is definitely something going on.

A distance is growing between Paige and Lucas. One that began with the deaths of his brothers in Personal Demon. He has become more and more involved in his family’s cabal. And throughout the course of the novella, Paige notices the distance more and more. The climax of the book comes when she tries to connect with Lucas on the phone, only to have Ava answer. She convinces Paige that Lucas is in bed with her. And it’s done so convincingly, that my heart broke a little. Then, Adam moves in to seduce Paige… which is wrong, wrong, wrong, as we know he is the obvious HEA for Savannah. Fortunately, we find out that this is all a ruse –a counterfeit magic– to convince Paige to stray from Lucas. It’s all been orchestrated by his only living brother Carlos, who hopes Lucas will leave the cabal to save his marriage. Carlos is behind the deaths at the fight club too; he set that up to help pay off a debt to another club that viewed it as competition. Using Ava’s real connection to the club was away to draw in Paige and Lucas, so he could kill two birds with one stone.

I really enjoyed this novella. I’m used to reading stories even much shorter than this one with this series, as Armstrong has created several internet offerings and two anthologies. I was prepared for the length and not disappointed by it. Like many others, I pre-ordered it, knowing that it was darn near impossible at the time to get your hands on Angelic, the last limited release novella.  You don’t have to read this one to continue on with the series. And you don’t have to have read the previous books to understand what’s going on.  But honestly, this was written for those of us who were already Otherworld fans. A bonus offering.  One with a fast, interesting story –and a surprising emotional punch.  4 stars.

Counterfeit Magic
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: November 30, 2010
Publisher: Subterranean Press

Review: Frostbitten

Reviewed by Jen

My beloved Clay and Elena are back and they’re doing what they do best… tracking mutts. The story begins with Elena trying to catch up with a young Aussie wolf named Reese, who is being set up to take the fall for some man-eaters. (Armstrong set up a backstory for Reese in the short story “Chivalrous,” but you don’t have to read it to know what’s going on.) She follows him to Alaska, where he is promptly attacked by mutts living there. Elena patches him up and faces the task of finding the mutts to deal with them.

She and Clay also have a side-mission while they’re there. Two former Pack members (Dennis and Joey, who we met in the short story “Ascension”) are living in Alaska, but Jeremy is worried about them because they have fallen out of touch. We discover quickly that Dennis is dead… killed by the mutts… giving Clay and Elena more incentive to track them down. Adding to the trouble: some missing girls and some unexplained wolf-kills. How much are the mutts responsible for? And what is the strange shifter that Dennis was researching before he died?

This book was fantastic. There was a lot of action, but there was plenty of introspection for Elena as well. She’s finally aware of Jeremy’s plan to make her Alpha. Is that really what she wants? And what will that mean for her and Clay? Beyond that, she is finally facing some of the demons from her childhood… at first in an intangible way, but later, in ways that are all too real.

It was all very satisfying…. kind of like coming home after the departure of Living With the Dead.  I love that Elena is finally embracing her feelings for Clay and accepting who she is. I really enjoy watching them as a couple… their fire, their commitment… just everything. It was also great fun to meet new werewolves who could expand the Pack. 5 stars.

Frostbitten
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: September 29, 2009
Publisher: Bantam Books

Review: Living With the Dead

Reviewed by Jen

This didn’t feel like an Otherworld book. At all. It was deeply disturbing and dark. It featured some characters we know: primarily Hope and Karl, but unlike any of the previous books, this was written in the third person and the real main character was a regular human we’ve never met before.

It’s been six months since Robyn’s husband Damon died. Since then, she’s moved to LA to start a new life for herself. She’s a PR rep for a celebutante, but she’s really just going through the motions. Hope is worried about her –the two are longtime friends– so she and Karl come to visit. Shortly after they arrive, Robyn’s client is killed and thanks to a string of unlikely events, Robyn becomes the prime suspect. Then Karl and Hope must figure out who really killed the woman and why, while protecting Robyn from the real killer.

Investigating the case is Detective John Finnley. Finn’s a necromancer, though he doesn’t even really know what that means. He only knows that he occasionally sees ghosts… a skill that helps him believe Robyn is innocent, not only of her client’s murder but other deaths that are piling up in her wake. The ghosts of the victims help lead his way, and so does (eventually) the ghost of Robyn’s husband.

Earlier, I mentioned that this story is disturbing. That’s due almost entirely to our villain, a sociopathic clairvoyant named Adele. She is the real killer. It’s not because she enjoys killing; she’s just looking out for number one. You see, Robyn’s client had the misfortune of accidentally taking an incriminating photo of Adele. That leads to her death. And the deaths that follow are also to keep Adele’s secret — that she is trying to escape from her commune of clairvoyants to join the Nast cabal. That doesn’t sound that bad… standard bad-guy stuff. But there’s more to her schemes. She slips birth control pills to one of her commune sisters, knowing it will eventually force the girl into what’s essentially gang rape when she can’t conceive a child by her husband. The husband Adele wanted for her own. She has sex with a mentally disabled boy to manipulate him into sharing his powers with her, and gets pregnant with his child. Then she seduces his younger brother, a 15 year-old, to hide the baby’s paternity. She doesn’t care what she has to do or who she has to do it to, to get what she wants.

Adele is really a product of the environment she has grown up in… although undoubtedly, she is the worst case scenario. The commune beats its children to instill fear of the cabals; it inbreeds; uses the disabled for their powers; and we’ve already talked about the forced sex. It even kills those whose powers are too weak to make them useful. And even as I try to describe all this, I know it doesn’t do it justice.

There’s a lot going on here. In addition to all the stuff with Robyn, Finn & Adele, we can’t forget about Hope and Karl. Their relationship is at a crossroads. And Hope has a lot of uncertainty about her future. And in the end, we see that the major developments in this book and the previous ones are intertwined, perhaps in some greater purpose, or bigger picture. I find that very intriguing. It was a solid installment… it just felt… off. And I missed the romance. 4 stars.

Living With the Dead
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: October 21, 2008
Publisher: Bantam Books

Review: Personal Demon

Reviewed by Jen

I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of Hope. It’s not that I dislike her, but I just can’t quite connect with her enough to enjoy her as the narrator of a book. It helps that the book volleys back and forth between her and Lucas, but this one is still one of my least favorite Otherworld books. That’s not to say it was bad… far from it. It just didn’t grab me the same way that some of the other stories did.

Hope is a half-demon who thrives on chaos. She was first introduced in the short-story “Chaotic,” so if you didn’t read that one, you may feel like you missed something. During that story, she incurred a debt to Benecio Cortez and now he’s come to collect. He wants Hope to infiltrate a gang of supernaturals who oppose the cabal to see what they’re planning. Karl is out of the country… not to mention, he and Hope are on the outs, so she goes in undercover, alone.

Hope makes fast friends with the gang. In fact, she gets extra-friendly with one of the men, Jaz. But that budding relationship is short-lived, when Karl returns. The two of them are unable to fight their feelings any longer and they finally become a couple. In the meantime, members of the gang start disappearing and dying.  And the threat extends itself to members of the Cortez family, forcing Lucas into a role in the cabal that he has spent his life avoiding.

The big reveal behind the mystery was quite a surprise… and making it an even greater feat, it still made sense and worked inside the confines of pre-existing world-building. Kudos to Kelley Armstrong. There are some pretty substantial developments for Lucas and Paige, so this is a pretty important book. But it was missing something… maybe I just couldn’t get invested enough in Hope. Almost 4 stars.

Personal Demon
by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date: March 5, 2008
Publisher: Bantam Books