Review: Made For Sin by Stacia Kane

made for sinReviewed by Jen

Like many other readers who will pick up this book, I am a huge fan of Stacia Kane’s Downside series. I knew this story wouldn’t be like those, but I like a good PNR and I figured that Kane’s talent would shine through in just about anything she wrote. I’m sad to say that I’m disappointed. Made For Sin isn’t bad, but it’s not especially good either. It’s kind of superficial in its character development. The romance is lackluster and insta-love. The pacing is uneven. And the ending just didn’t satisfy. [Read more…]

Review: Close to You

close to youReviewed by Jen

As if I weren’t already counting down the days… this Downside short only reminds me how much I desperately want to read a new novel in this series.  This isn’t so much a novella as a little slice of life for Chess and Terrible.  Just enough to whet my appetite… just enough to make me want to go re-read the series again to watch them fall in love all over again.

Here, Chess and Terrible are happy. They’re just taking a little day trip to a junkyard for some car parts, when they get sucked into an old lady’s plan to resurrect her late husband.  [Read more…]

Review: Wrong Ways Down

wrong ways downReviewed by Jen

I waited months in agonizing anticipation for this book.  Terrible is one of my all-time favorite heroes.  A story from his POV was almost more than my fangirl heart could take.  And getting inside of his head was everything I hoped it would be.  I love him even more –if that’s possible.  As for the novella as a whole, I liked it, but something felt a little bit missing.

The story was well crafted and the plot was good.  It sucked me right back into the Downside world and made me want to read the series all over again… so I could once again ride the wave of euphoria I felt when Chess and Terrible finally got together.  And that –after I thought about it for awhile– was what I was missing here.  [Read more…]

Favorites from… Stacia Kane

Stacia Kane

It’s hard to pick just one book to recommend, isn’t it? I have a long list; stuff like Sharon Kay Penman’s medieval novels (and don’t ignore her Justin de Quincy mysteries, which I loved), Angela Huth’s WIVES OF THE FISHERMEN, Donna Tartt’s THE SECRET HISTORY, Josephine Tey’s THE DAUGHTER OF TIME (which I think should be required reading!), THE CHURCH OF DEAD GIRLS by Stephen Dobyns, INTO THE WOODS by Tana French…the list goes on and on. And yes, of course there are other urban fantasy novels and authors on it, ghost stories and mysteries.

But I’m going to step out of genre and talk about Herman Wouk (who, at the age of ninety-something, has a new book coming out soon, btw). His Pulitzer-prize winning THE CAINE MUTINY is my favorite novel ever. But lately I’ve been thinking about, and listening to on audio, MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR. So that’s what I’ll discuss today.

MARJORIE is about Marjorie Morgenstern (“Morningstar” is her stage name), a young Jewish girl in 1930s New York who dreams of becoming an actress, and who finds herself in a complicated, years-long romance with a fascinating but irresponsible songwriter. The back cover of the first copy I bought—which fell apart, and I had to replace it—described it as something like “a searing romance that crosses two continents.” Which is true, ultimately, but the book is not genre romance by any stretch, and the relationship is both more mundane and more interesting than that. It defines Marjorie…until she decides to stop allowing it to do so.

It’s difficult to talk about MARJORIE without spoiling the ending, which is one of the greatest “upsets” I’ve read, but I’ll try. I’ll just say that the ending is both surprising and not surprising, and that it is deeply satisfying. Having spent something like 500 pages with Marjorie, we care about and like her; we understand her. And whatever she may or may not become, when we close the book on the last page, we know that she is truly happy, truly satisfied.

We know above all that she has been true to herself. Despite the complex and contradictory advice she is given, despite her battling the demands of her parents and the demands of society, Marjorie ultimately chooses to live as she wants to live, and no other way.

I first read the book at eighteen, having devoured THE CAINE MUTINY the year before. I remember being a bit confused by the ending; I liked it, I loved Marjorie and I loved the book, but I was…kind of let down. I’d been expecting something else. Marjorie’s final decisions seemed odd to me. I mean, I got it, but I didn’t “get” it.

Quite frankly, I wasn’t old enough yet to see what Marjorie saw, and to fully understand what led to that decision. This may be due in part to my immaturity at the time—I was only eighteen, after all—but I also believe it’s partly due to Wouk’s skill and the subtlety of the clues he dropped, the way he showed us the character of Noel Airman (the songwriter). At the end, Noel has not changed; he is not presented one tiny bit differently than he has been throughout the book. At eighteen I saw that and didn’t understand what it meant. At eighteen I didn’t quite see, yet, where that led and would lead, how even as Noel is exactly the same the book’s perception of him, and thus Marjorie’s perception of him, has shifted ever so slightly, the way the angle of the sun has shifted in the last week or so, making it feel like fall instead of summer. Everything looks the same; everything is the same, but the way we perceive it, the way it feels, has changed just a bit. It’s like we’ve taken one step to the left.

There’s a moment right at the end where Marjorie sees the room before her as if through a green lens, and everything looks clownish and false. Then the lens disappears and she realizes it was the “lens” itself that was false. She realizes that she is who she is, and she is proud of that, and excited about the future. That’s rather how it feels reading the scene I can only think of as the “showdown” in the book’s penultimate chapters, except in that case it’s a rosy lens that has been removed. At eighteen I didn’t see the removal of the lens, at least not as clearly. Now I do. Now I know why Marjorie made her decision. And, silly as it may sound when referring to a fictional character who appeared over fifty years ago, I’m proud of her.

Perhaps the life Marjorie chooses isn’t one many women choose now, but the fact remains that it is her choice; her decision and no one else’s. The fact remains that she is offered a different life and says no, and never regrets that decision, and we see later how right she was to say no and how strongly she both knew herself and stuck to her guns.

You may feel differently, of course. But either way I recommend the book highly. It’s a lovely, absorbing, wonderful story, and I adore it.

Thank you to Stacia Kane for sharing her recommendations today. I asked Stacia to be a part of this feature because I am absolutely captivated by her Downside series.  The heroine is a drug addict. She is fundamentally broken in many ways by neglect and abuse.  She makes bad decisions.  But Chess Putnam hasn’t given up on life. She maintains loyalty to the Church that employs her and does her job well, banishing ghosts for them.  The male lead, Terrible, is officially one of my favorite heroes of all time.  He is an uneducated, unattractive thug.  But he loves Chess in a way that turns him into a damn prince.  The series is gritty and disturbing at times.  It’s also amazingly good.  If you want to know more, check out my review on book one: Unholy Ghosts.

I don’t have a giveaway just on Marjorie Morningstar, but if you want to give it a try, you can enter the giveaway below. It is for any book recommended by an author during the Favorites From My Favorites feature.  (Valued up to $15.) This giveaway is international. 

Be sure to check out all of the Favorites From My Favorites posts and giveaways this month, by clicking here.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

*”Favorites from…” photo: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos  

5 for Friday – September 28

It is Friday, September 27… three days after the release of JR Ward’s Rapture. I still have not read it.  I fail at both fandom and blogging.  But we have tons to talk about this week!

5. I know this is a week old, but Jennifer Estep revealed the cover for Deadly Sting, the next book in the Elemental Assassin series.  Check it out:

Red is definitely my color. Good thing, because in my line of work, I end up wearing it a lot.Most people shy away from blood, but for an assassin like me — Gin Blanco, aka the Spider — it’s just part of the job. Still, it would be nice to get a night off, especially when I’m attending the biggest gala event of the summer at Briartop, Ashland’s fanciest art museum. But it’s just not meant to be. For this exhibition of my late nemesis’ priceless possessions is not only the place to be seen, but the place to be robbed and taken hostage at gunpoint as well. No sooner did I get my champagne than a bunch of the unluckiest thieves ever burst into the museum and started looting the place.

Unlucky why? Because I brought along a couple of knives in addition to my killer dress. Add these to my Ice and Stone magic, and nothing makes me happier than showing the bad guys why red really is my color.

It’s a stepback cover and I love that we see Gin’s face, but… Did you guys notice the one word missing from that blurb?? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with an “O” and ends with a “wen.”  I pray that we get some happy news on the romance front with this next book.  Deadly Sting is out March 26.

4. Lord’s Fall is just weeks away and Thea Harrison is giving out advanced copies of her newest Elder Races book.

This is another Dragos & Pia book!  You can win a copy at Thea’s blog or pre-order now.  It’s out November 6th.

3. If you don’t read Stacia Kane’s Downside books, you may not understand the pure moment of squee I had when she tweeted the following:

That was followed by:

I don’t know anything else. But whatever this turns out to be…. I will buy it. I love Terrible so hard.

2. Two big announcements from Ilona Andrews.  First, the spectacular writing duo announced the name for the next Kate Daniels book.  MAGIC RISES will be out in July or August of next year.
In the meantime, they are putting out a free serial on their blog.  It’s called Clean Sweep. You can link to it HERE and they will likely release it as an ebook when they are done.  Help spread the word.  I love these two.

1. And finally… I promised you some big news last week! I’ve got a huge feature coming in the month of October. It’s called Favorites From My Favorites.

Every weekday in the month, I’ll have a guest post from one of my favorite authors, offering up recommendations of their favorite books for you to try. We’ll have great giveaways, thanks to the amazing folks at Penguin, Harper Collins, Grand Central, Kensington and St Martin’s Press.  And some of the authors are sharing their own work as well.  I could not be more excited about the lineup.  We’ve got such a great variety of authors from Urban Fantasy to PNR, fantasy and HR.  From NYT bestsellers to debut authors and some you may not even be familiar with.  But each one of them is a favorite of mine!  So please give them all a warm welcome.  Be sure to enter the giveaways and leave lots of comments.  Our first guest is Jennifer Estep –and her post will up first thing Monday morning.

I hope you love it!

XOXO,
Jen

*”Favorites from…” photo: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos  

Review: Chasing Magic

Reviewed by Jen

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of this series. I love the world-building. I love the originality. I LOVE the hero. And this was a good book. It wasn’t my favorite in the series, though, and I’ll get to why in just a minute.

The story begins as Sacrificial Magic did: with Chess and Terrible happy and in love. As someone who has seen what they’ve gone through to get to this point, it’s so satisfying. Chess knows the treasure that she has in him; she acknowledges that he’s her everything. And while she struggles with her lack of self-worth, it seems she has learned some lessons about trying to trust in his love for her.

There are two main problems she has to deal with here. One is fact that Lex is the new head of his family’s drug turf, putting him more at odds with Terrible than ever before. The other, is that some really dark magic has started infecting the people of Downside, turning them into zombie-like entities, nearly impossible to kill. Of course, with her magic abilities, Chess is really the only one who can stop them.

The first half of the book is pretty low key. It moves along quickly and comfortably. Then Chess shows her true colors again, leaving me feeling punched in the gut. I won’t get into the specifics, but at this point, I feel like the books have developed a pattern: 1) There is a problem only Chess can solve. 2) Terrible is her rock and she doesn’t know what he sees in her. 3) She screws up royally in her personal life. 4) She saves the day.

Don’t get me wrong, there are really, really good things in this book and no way would I tell a Downside fan to skip it. What I am saying though, is that I need to see more growth from Chessie soon. Every time she betrays Terrible, she hurts me. She creates this horrible knot in my stomach that makes me want to shut the book. I don’t WANT to want to shut the book, Stacia Kane. I want to glory in lines like “Love you right, Chessiebomb.” That doesn’t mean I can’t handle some angst. The side arc with Elder Griffin was heartbreaking, but still masterfully done. I just don’t want to see Chess sabotage herself the same way yet again.

Terrible continues to be one of my favorite book-heroes of all time –taking his awesomeness to even greater heights with his latest promises and assertions of love.  Even in his darkest and most intense moments (and boy does he have one here,) it’s like he has this gravity that pulls me deeper and deeper into his orbit.  But as we learn more about the repercussions of Chessie’s actions, I’m scared for where the future will take him.

I suppose that all my really strong feelings are a true testament to how insanely talented Stacia Kane really is. I am anxious and excited and nervous and jumble of all kinds of other emotions as I think about what may be coming next.   Chess, please don’t let me down.

Rating: B


*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Chasing Magic
by Stacia Kane
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Publisher: Del Rey

Review: Finding Magic

Reviewed by Jen

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this prequel novella in the Downside series.  I knew it would feature a young Chess, just getting started in the Church. I knew she would be untried and I knew she would already be damaged by her horrible childhood.  What I didn’t expect was how much she would be colored by hope; or how sad it would be to know what her future would hold.

Basically, the story follows Chess on her first real training mission. She’s been studying with the Church for two years, but this her first foray out into the field.  She must work with members of the Black Squad to solve a string of seemingly unrelated ghost-murders.  The plot is interesting enough, but where I was really affected was in how Chess was portrayed.

Yes, she was damaged by her childhood.  She is plagued by those feelings of inadequacy that follow her into later books. But she is not on drugs.  She’s been clean since the Church took her in.  The worst way she indulges is with a gulp of vodka now and then to dull the pain, but she castigates herself for it.  She sees the Church as an infallible savior. The one step between safety and a life on street corners, whoring for food.  She’s determined to be worthy of them. It’s just so hard.

I’ve never had an overabundance of patience with Chess or her self-destructive behavior.  But here, she is somehow both naive and jaded.  She carries both hope and despair.  And we see these defining moments in her life as they unfold. We see the groundwork for the ill-fated tryst with Agnew Doyle referenced in Unholy Ghosts.  The first tendrils of a relationship with Elder Griffen.  The feelings of communion with Downside.  That first Cept. Her first glimpse of Terrible.  It’s a lot to take in.  It makes me hurt for her. It makes me more sympathetic to where she ends up. And for all of this, Stacia Kane is brilliant.

All that being said, I don’t think this is a story for new readers.  It’s for fans who already think they know Chess, to show us just how much we didn’t know.  It’s an important part of the Downside world, but it doesn’t have the single most compelling element of the novels, and that’s Terrible. He is the heart of the series for me, and his absence was felt.

One day, maybe, he’ll get a novella of his own. A girl can hope, right?

Rating: B+

Click to purchase: Amazon
Finding Magic
by Stacia Kane
Release Date: June 4, 2012
Publisher: Del Rey

5 for Friday – June 1

Happy Friday, everybody!  I’ve had a great reading week.  Moonglow was awesome!  Different from Firelight, but I liked that Kristen Callihan didn’t try to write the same book again.  I also read the two Shaede Assassin books by Amanda Bonilla.  Loved!  The first installment, Shaedes of Gray (no relation to the 50 variety) came out in December. Book two, Blood Before Sunrise is out in July. I was so sad when I was finished, but then weeeeee! I found out there is going to be a novella out this week.

5.  Tuesday is apparently Day of the Novella.  “Finding Magic,” the Downside prequel from Stacia Kane, is coming out.  So is “Devil’s Gate,” an Elder Races offering from Thea Harrison.  And as I just mentioned, Amanda Bonilla has “When Shadows Call.”

The envy of 1900s society, Darian is the rich, beautiful wife of a prominent Californian doctor—but her life is far from perfect. For years, Darian has suffered at the hand of her cruel husband and yearned for an escape—one that she knows to be all but impossible.

But when an enigmatic stranger comes to call, Darian finds herself charmed by his seductive smile and the inexplicable connection she feels. And when he makes her a thrilling—yet frightening—proposition, Darian must decide if she’s strong enough to abandon the mortal world she knows and answer the shadow’s call…

If you’re a UF or PNR fan, I happily recommend all of these series.  Very good stuff.

4. The countdown continues to the release of Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost. (It’s just 26 days away!) To torture help us with the wait, we’ve now got a book trailer:

It’s getting close!!

3. Two cover reveals to share with you. Here’s the new one from Stacey Kennedy’s Frostbite series:

The other is the next Abby Sinclair book by Allison Pang:

Mystically Bound is out in October.  And all I can say is that Kip and Tess better have some real-life sex in that book. Not almost-sex or fantasy-sex. Not dream-sex or ghost-sex.  REAL SEX, Stacey Kennedy.  Are you listening?

A Trace of Moonlight is also out in October.  And after the cliffhanger from A Sliver of Shadow, I am already super-excited to see what happens next. I have faith that Allison Pang will not disappoint.

2. You may or may not know this about me, but I love zombies.

I was so excited when The Walking Dead made it’s debut on AMC.  I watched the first four episodes. I liked them.  And then the show went on hiatus for, like, a year.  And I never went back.  Should I?  I need input, guys.  AMC is doing a marathon of all the episodes July 7-8, and if it’s worth it, I can catch up. In the meantime, check out this behind-the-scenes clip from filming of Season 3.

1. And it wouldn’t be Friday without the Tumblr Photo(s) of the Week:

(**Photo removed to prevent copyright infringement**)

OK. That’s it for now. The Shameless Summer Hop starts next Friday, which also happens to be my birthday.  Remember, real friends send friends dirty man-candy photos as birthday gifts.

XOXO
Jen

5 For Friday – May 18

Happy Friday, friends.  It’s been a crazy week at my house. The hubs is in Miami to visit his best friend and to attend some porn convention.  This makes me the Best Wife Ever, and gives me the green light to attend the book conventions of my choice over the course of the next year. Win-win.  My temporary single-mom status has made it hard to get much reading done, but tonight, you can be sure I am hunkering down with Armed & Dangerous and a glass of wine!   I’ve been dying to read this one and I didn’t get to start it until late last night. Cut and Run is definitely my favorite m/m series.  With that in mind, let’s get this party started:

5. The Hop Against Homophobia is currently underway.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the hop is an effort from more than 250 m/m authors, reviewers and publishers to stand together and create awareness of homophobia.  There are some really great posts here and they’re delivering a message that needs to be heard by everyone.  I urge you to check some of them out. You could also win some great m/m book prizes.

4. I just found out that the uber-awesome Stacia Kane is releasing a prequel novella to her amazing Downside series.  It’s called Finding Magic and it comes out June 4th. An early birthday present to me, perhaps?

Before Chess Putnam was a magic-wielding Churchwitch, she was a student in the Church of Real Truth—with a keen sensitivity to magic, a strong rebellious streak, and a penchant for self-destruction. And in Finding Magic, a grisly ghost murder becomes Chess’s baptism of fire.

When eighteen-year-old Chess Putnam is offered the chance to train with a special team of investigators known as the Black Squad, she feels torn. She’s never been a team player and hates how one male Inquisitor condescends to “the new kid.” But at her first bloody crime scene, she gets a taste for investigation—and is hooked on the high. Though the seasoned Inquisitors consider the series of ghost murders random events, Chess starts to detect a pattern. Is a psycho killer summoning ghosts from the City of Eternity and using them as murder weapons? As Chess gets closer to the dark truth, she puts herself in grave danger and risks losing everything she’s fought so hard for.

I’m excited, but can I love Chess without Terrible? (And what’s up with the blond hair?)

3. Speaking of Terrible…

I am so excited to be his champion in the VBC Alpha Showdown.  We’re up against tough competition.  I mean, who doesn’t love Kate Daniels? But Terrible fans, we need to unite! Come cast your vote Monday, May 21st.

2. HBO has released its first trailer for Season 5 of True Blood.  Check it out:

There was no doubt that the show would have to veer away from the books this season since they decided not to make Jason a were-panther and that is such a huge part of Dead as a Doornail.  But other than some left-over Debbie Pelt stuff, this looks like a main story arc completely independent of the Charlaine Harris series.  Personally, I hate the fact that they left the books, but I know some folks prefer the changes.  What do you think? Will you be watching next month?

1. The Magic Mike release is only six weeks away! And Entertainment Weekly has a great spread on the sexy stars in its next issue.

There’s also a behind the scenes video from the cover shoot.  Click below if you want to watch it, but wait until you’re done reading everything here, because the link will take you to the EW website.  It’s worth it just to see how many times Channing Tatum can say “junk” in under 3:00.

Warning: Joe Manganiello is not in this video.

That’s about it for this week. I need to go finish crying over the Grey’s Anatomy finale.

XOXO
Jen

Review: Sacrificial Magic

This book is amazing. This series is phenomenal. The characters are so very deeply flawed: filled with insecurities, addiction, rage, lust and sorrow. But through that, they so are so very real. I read most of this book with a knot in my stomach. In turns, I felt hopeless and crushed, joyous and elated. Because that is what Chess felt. And Stacia Kane masterfully put me inside of her head.

The story picks up shortly after the ending of City of Ghosts. Chess and Terrible are in love, but there are no guarantees for their future. And no one knows that better than Chess. Kane never takes the easy way out. It would be so satisfying to see Chess just begin to rebuild herself with the love of this amazing man. But the truth is, she is still Chess. Even though she sees Terrible for the gift that he is, what is just as important is how she sees herself: as unworthy of him. And with dread and inevitability, we watch her obsessive fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, there is much more happening in the book. Primarily, Chess is on a case from the Church which coincides with an investigation she has going on for Bump. Lex is back, bringing more complications. Chess faces danger from humans and ghosts alike. It’s exciting and unpredictable. But the truth is, the internal conflict is far more interesting than the external one.

It’s like watching a star explode: It’s beautiful and destructive and you can’t take your eyes off of it. And before I convince you that it’s all heartwrenching sadness, remember that joy and elation I talked about earlier. It’s not all one way or another. This book took my emotions on a roller coaster. When it was over, my heart was in my throat; I felt satisfied and exhausted; and I’m already dying to get back on the ride. If you have never read this series or if you gave up on it early, you are truly missing out.  5 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Sacrificial Magic
by Stacia Kane
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Publisher: Del Rey