Sunday, September 30, 2012

ARC Review: The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater
Young Adult/Urban Fantasy
Raven Cycle Series/Book 1
Scholastic Press/September 18, 2012

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Ms. Stiefvater knows how to set the scene.  She also knows how to write a story that pulls the reader into the world she has created, making us believe in this world and the beings who live there. The Raven Boys is that type of story.

Blue Sargent comes from a family of clairvoyants. She is surrounded by magic but without any of her own, or so it seems.  Blue's mother doesn't provide a structured environment so Blue must create her own structured life. Blue is easy to related to which in a way came as a surprise since she comes from such a unique background.  But she has many of the problems, worries and fears any teenage girl would have.  Plus a few very unique ones.

The boys are an odd collection of teens on the edge of adulthood with adult responsibilities.  At first sight they don't seem to go together except for the one commonality of all attending the same school, Aglionby Academy.  But when we get to know these boys we see how they are drawn together through their friendships.   The boys provide a interesting contrast to Blue and her less than privileged life.  But going to Aglionby Academy doesn't equal having a perfect, privileged life.  Stiefvater shows the similarities not only with the boys but with Blue and how they are all reaching for very similar goals.

The magic and mystery within The Raven Boys is both enthralling and chilling.  I loved not only the journey the kids take in discovering the mystery but the way it's all tied together at the end.  It's one of those ending where you can look back and see the clues to the questions that are finally answered in the end.  But, a word of waring, there are a few unanswered questions that will leave readers wanting more. 

Rating: A-

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Angel of Darkness

Angel of Darkness
Cynthia Eden
Paranormal Romance
The Fallen/Book 1
Brava/November 29, 2011

As an angel of death, Keenan’s job is to collect the souls on his list. He’s carried out his duty for two thousand years and never faltered once. Until he meets Nicole St. James. When the moment of death comes, Keenan hesitates, and instead of taking Nicole, Keenan touches the vampire who’s attacking her.

Cast out of heaven for disobedience, Keenan plummets to earth. Six months later, he finally manages to track Nicole to a bar in Mexico. He’s stunned to discover that the woman he remembers has undergone a dramatic change—she’s become a vampire. And when he realizes that she’s the target of all manner of enemies—other vampires, demons, even shifters—he’ll do whatever it takes to protect her, even if all hell breaks loose…

Fallen Angels - sometimes they work for me, sometimes they don't.  To believe that a being moves from angelic good to total badass overnight is quite a leap of faith.   In the case of Keenan, I got the feeling this was a long time coming.  He's been suppressing his needs by focusing on his duty until one night it all comes to a head.  

Nicole St. James is a devoted teacher, good friend and an upstanding citizen.  Then one night she's attacked and turned into a vampire.  Everything she has worked for is gone and she must go into the darkness to survive.  It turns out our angel Keenan isn't the only one who undergoes a radical transformation.  Nicole learns how to fight and how to take a life.  I liked how we see Nicole come to grips with who and what she's lost to what she must become if she's to live the new world of monsters.  

Keenan has been a death angel for thousands of years.  Work that long at the same job and something has to give.  Keenan really struggled with his decision to save Nicole's life or take it as he was ordered to.  It took him so long I thought she might just die while he continued to ponder what to do!  But once Keenan decides there's no turning back.  He's not a great hero, the secondary male character left a greater impression on me than Keenan did.  But Keenan does have his good points, even if they were few.  

The romance is one of those on-the-run types which only works sometimes.  This time Nicole and Keenan let there libidos take charge a few too many times.  Keenan was more fixated on Nicole because she was the reason, the catalyst, for his downfall.  She thankfully, doesn't trust him right off the bat and really makes him earn that trust.  Still, I wasn't feeling the romance.  

The secondary characters really helped move the story along.  I'm looking forward to the next book about Sammael, "call me Sam".  He has badass down to an art form.  Even with the issues I had with not being all that thrilled with the romance I do like what I'm seeing of the world and the fallen angels.
Rating: B-

The Fallen Series ~

Angel of Darkness
Angel Betrayed
Angel in Chains (November 27, 2012)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

TBR Challenge Review: Blood Ties

Blood Ties
Lori Armstrong
PI Julie Collins Series/Book 1
Medallion Press/May 1, 2005

Julie Collins is stuck in a dead-end secretarial job with the Bear Butte County Sheriff’s office, and still grieving over the unsolved murder of her Lakota half-brother. Lack of public interest in finding his murderer, or the killer of several other transient Native American men, has left Julie with a bone-deep cynicism she counters with tequila, cigarettes, and dangerous men. The one bright spot in her mundane life is the time she spends working part-time as a PI with her childhood friend, Kevin Wells. 

When the body of a sixteen-year old white girl is discovered in nearby Rapid Creek, Julie believes this victim will receive the attention others were denied. Then she learns Kevin has been hired, mysteriously, to find out where the murdered girl spent her last few days. Julie finds herself drawn into the case against her better judgment, and discovers not only the ugly reality of the young girl’s tragic life and brutal death, but ties to her and Kevin’s past that she is increasingly reluctant to revisit. 

On the surface the situation is eerily familiar. But the parallels end when Julie realizes some family secrets are best kept buried deep. Especially those serious enough to kill for.

I've read Lori Armstrong's two Mercy Gunderson mysteries, enjoyed them.  So when the suggested topic of non-romance came up for this month's challenge it seemed like a good idea to give Armstrong's Julie Collins series a try.  If you're not much for mysteries but enjoy erotic cowboy romances, Lori Armstrong also writes steamy, sexy cowboy romances under the name Lorelei James.

So, it turns out the Julie Collins series was a mixed bag for me.  I found the story interesting but the characters, well, I can't think of any that I liked.  As in, would like to hang out with in real life.  Julie is a mess in both her personal life and her professional life.  She is 34 but acts much younger, turning to the bottle for her comfort when her one and only friend Kevin, isn't always available to keep her company.  They have an odd relationship, friends since they were kids, with some attraction going on but they're too afraid to act on it.  Plus, they're both seeing other people. 

The mystery had clues all over the place but piecing them together took a lot of doing.  There were times when it felt like Julie and Kevin were running around in circles, overlooking some obvious leads.  I was also surprised at how much Kevin had Julie doing when it didn't seem she had very much training.   Julie does have this uncanny ability to attract trouble.  Her smart mouth doesn't help but I couldn't help but feel sorry for her and wish she would not push people so much.  She's hit, punched and smacked around a number of times.  The way Julie reacts to the violence is telling in how she isn't shocked so much as practically expecting it.

As the story progresses, Julie reveals and relives more of her past and we get to see why she acts the way she does.  I do hope she learns to value herself more as the series advances.  She has potential to become not only a likeable character but one the reader could actually root for.  Even without feeling any personal connection with a character, the story kept me reading, wanting to know the answers to the many questions of the murders and how everything connected.   For now, I'm curious to see where Julie takes her relationships and her career.

Rating: B-

PI Julie Collins Series ~

Blood Ties
Hallowed Ground
Shallow Grave
Dead Flowers novella (Guns and Roses anthology)
Snow Blind

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Delusion in Death

Delusion in Death
J. D. Robb
Futuristic Suspense
In Death/Book 35
Putnam/September 11, 2012

*Spoilers for previous books

It was just another after-work happy-hour bar downtown, where business professionals unwound with a few drinks . . .until something went terribly wrong. And after twelve minutes of chaos and violence, eighty people lay dead.

Lieutenant Eve Dallas is trying to sort out the inexplicable events. Surviving witnesses talk about seeing things—monsters and swarms of bees. They describe sudden, overwhelming feelings of fear and rage and paranoia. When forensics gives its report, the mass delusions make more sense: It appears the
bar patrons were exposed to a cocktail of chemicals and illegal drugs that could drive anyone to temporary insanity—if not kill them outright.

But that doesn’t explain who would unleash such horror—or why. And if Eve can’t figure it out fast, it could happen again, anytime, anywhere. Because it’s airborne. . . .

You would think after 35 books the series would have lost it's appeal several books ago.  Instead, Robb continues to captivate readers with the gritty, often destructive portrayal of the life of LT. Eve Dallas and her futuristic world of  New York City.

This time the body count builds up quickly and I think that's one thing that bothered me about this book.  It depressed me.  So many victims.  Not only the dead but their families, friends as well as the survivors and the people who live and work in the neighborhood.  Delusion in Death is well written, no surprise there, but it has a very dark tone that never really lifts.  Dallas is still dealing with the fallout of her trip down memory lane in New York to Dallas (September 2011).  Eve's reunion with her long lost mother has brought on more nightmares Eve must deal with in addition to her usually ones fueled by her father. 

The mystery surrounding the possible suspect(s) in the attacks is compelling and filled with the usual detailed police procedural aspects I've enjoyed in previous In Death novels.  I did like how all the pieces began to fit together and seeing Dallas and her team working on the different angles is always interesting.  There is also Dallas and Roarke's relationship which has pretty much leveled out and offers no real surprises but still continues to enthrall this reader with their deep love and affection.

The wasn't a whole lot of Dallas/Peabody time, which I missed.  Peabody is my favorite secondary character and I have completely enjoyed seeing how the relationship between her and Dallas has evolved over the series.   There were a lot of characters involved not only on the police side but the victims and witness side as well.  That may have been why it felt thin at times, as if we weren't getting as deep a look into the character's lives as I would have liked.  Granted, many of the characters are well known by now but it still felt a little stilted with regards to relationships. 

Even with the depressing vibe running throughout the story, I still enjoyed catching up with the gang from future New York City and look forward to more time with them.

Rating:  B

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: The Viper

The Viper
Monica McCarty
Historical Romance
Highland Guard/Book 4
Ballantine/October 18, 2011

The war for Scotland’s sovereignty rages on—as Robert the Bruce is crowned king and the Highland Guard, his elite fighting force of legendary warriors, battle for land . . . and love.

Prized for his snakelike stealth and deadly strikes, Lachlan “Viper” MacRuairi is a warrior to enlist but not to trust. His only loyalty is to his purse, his indifference sealed by bitter betrayal. All that changes when Lachlan is tasked to protect and deliver Bella MacDuff to the king’s coronation—and the proud, lushly sensual countess unwittingly challenges him to his greatest battle yet: to love again.

Passionate and devoted, Bella has defied Britain’s king and her own husband to place the crown on Bruce’s head, and for this she pays a terrible price: Losing her daughter and her freedom to her husband’s vengeance. Imprisoned with barbaric cruelty, she vows to reclaim her child, even if it means selling her soul—and her body—to a dark, lethal warrior whose eyes glint like steel, but who makes her skin tingle and her breath race. Together they embark on a rogue mission with sinister twists and turns that threatens not only Bella’s gamble to save her daughter—but also her heart.

This was such an emotional, intense romance.  The pain and uncertainty both the hero and heroine go through makes their happy ever after that much more satisfying.  Ms. McCarty has created a world of men and women who fight for their freedom as fiercely as they fight for their loved ones.  The Viper gives enough backstory to be read as a stand alone but I do think the reader would achieve a greater understanding of Robert the Bruce's men by reading the previous books.  Plus -they're all very good and worth the read.

Countess Isabella MacDuff is willing to stand fast in her beliefs.  It is this trait has brought her to her fate of imprisonment by King Edward I.  Not only is Bella imprisoned but she is to be made an example of Edward's power and wraith.  Bella is placed in a cage, high on a tower of Berwick Castle.  It's a brutal existance she endures and one cannot but feel the despair and loneliness she must endure.  Bella is a heroine portrayed with a noble dignity underlying a fierce protectiveness and loyalty.  This comes comes across well in her words and actions.  She also has this vulneralbility towards Lachlan even though she doesn't trust him.  I loved how Bella is shown to have her emotional side waring with her loyalties.

Lachlan MacRuirie could be called a mercenary and he's fine with that.  He doesn't pretend he's in Bruce's elite Highland Guard out of sheer loyalty.  Lachlan has responsibilities he doesn't care to share with his fellow guards but instead lets them go on thinking he is only there for selfish, monetary reasons.   Which is one reason he tends to stay on the periphery of the guards.  One of them but not as close as the other men are to each other.  Lachlan may seem cold hearted at times and he is but it's just his nature and McCarty does well in explaining his history and why he keeps himself closed off from everyone.  I really enjoyed getting to know this hero.

We connect again with some of the other members of the guard and while Lachlan tries to keep his distance, there is still that bond of brotherhood forged in war.  I think the other guards would have come to trust Lachlan more if he had only explained himself but that wasn't his way.  I liked how Bella shows Lachlan how to open up, if only a little, to the other men and allow for a closer bond.  The relationships are complex and well developed.  McCarty does well in showing the whys of each characters actions whether they make the best choice at the time or not.   

The historical descriptions are vivid in the setting, people and elements of the time period.  It's a cruel world with many ruthless, powerful people fighting for control.   I loved the feel of the story, the diversity of characters and the history of the time period.  It's not all shining knights and damsels needing rescue but a knight with a bit of tarnish to his armor and a damsel does her own type of rescuing.  Definitely a worthwhile series!

Rating:  A

Highland Guard Series ~

The Chief
The Hawk
The Ranger
The Viper
The Saint
The Recruit  (October 30, 2012)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ARC Review: Outpost

Ann Aguirre
Young Adult/Dystopian
Razorland Trilogy/Book 2
Feiwel & Friends/September 4, 2012

*Spoilers for Book 1


Deuce’s whole world has changed. Now living topside in a community called Salvation, she has a whole new set of problems. Down below, she was considered an adult, and she contributed to the whole. Now, topside, the people of Salvation think she’s a brat in need of training. She hates school, and she doesn’t fit in with the other girls. They’ve spent their lives learning to cook and sew–suitable woman’s work. Deuce only knows how to fight. To make matters worse, Fade keeps her at a distance, and the band of four has broken into fragments.

Stalker presses for a closer relationship, but Deuce sees him as a training partner, and she’s busy trying to find her place in Salvation. She refuses to accept that she’s wrong for being who she is, but tensions rise as she struggles against the status quo. Her feelings for Fade haven’t changed, but he seems not to want her around anymore. Confused and lonely, she starts looking for a way out.

Once she’s free from school for the year, Deuce pursues a chance to serve in the summer patrols–those responsible for making sure the growers and planters can work the fields without danger of Freak attack. It should have been routine, little fighting, but things have been changing on surface, just as they did below ground. The Freaks are smarter. They’re watching. Waiting. Planning. The monsters don’t intend to let Salvation survive, and it will take a girl like Deuce to turn the tide.

Ann Aguirre's second book in her Razorland trilogy starts out slow but picks up the pace as the increasing danger from the Freaks escalates.  Deuce, Fade, Stalker and Tegan are all adjusting to life in Salvation, some better than others.  For Deuce, it's a world trying to change her identity, and while Deuce tries to fit, in she realizes she can't give up who she really is. 

Salvation is a world unlike anything Deuce has experienced before.  She is out of her element, forced to wear dresses and suppress her hunter instincts.  She tries to do as she told but fitting in doesn't come to her, instead she remain on the periphery of the community, maintaining her outsider status.  It's not long before Deuce finds a way to put her skills to work.  Deuce's struggle is easy to identify with.  We've all felt at one time and outsider.  Out of our element.  Even with Deuce's fierce survival skills, she must learn new skills to survive in Salvation.  I enjoyed Deuce's point of view on what the citizens of Salvation placed importance on and Deuce's lack of understanding how some skills could possibly translate to survival.  It's a stark contrast to the world she comes from where survival is the only thing of importance.

The  group of four who made it out of the ruins and into Salvation have split up, trying to move on with their lives in Salvation.  It's Deuce and Stalker that have the most trouble fitting in, neither wanting to give up their fighting skills but instead want to continue fighting the Freaks.  The people of Salvation believe the wall will keep them safe and their trust in that wall shows how very different their lives have been compared to Deuce and her friends.  Again, Aguirre does well in showing the contrast of beliefs based on the experiences of the characters.  As the Freaks aggression and cunning increases, Deuce's skills become even more valued but she still must deal with prejudices from the community. 

Where Enclave (Book 1), grabbed me from the get-go, Outpost had a much slower start, making it difficult to become consumed by the story from the start.  This is a new setting so even though it is the second book in the series, the world building must start from nearly the ground up.  After the elements have been established the plot begins to take off,  picking up the pace and the intensity, and giving the reader more to look forward to in this dystopian world.   

Rating:  B

Razorland Trilogy


Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Nowhere to Run

Nowhere to Run
Nancy Bush
Romantic Suspense
Zebra/July 31, 2012

Some Secrets

When Liv Dugan ducks out of work for lunch, it’s just an ordinary day. When she returns, she stumbles onto a massacre. All her colleagues at Zuma Software have been shot. Only luck has left Liv unscathed, and that might be running out…

Will Follow You

Liv suspects the shootings are tied to her past—and to the package she recently received from her long-dead adoptive mother. Sensing she’s being followed, Liv jumps into a stranger’s car and orders him to drive. Her “hostage” complies, listening carefully as her story unwinds. Skeptical at first, he ultimately begins to believe all Liv’s fears are justified…

To Your Grave

Together, Liv and her unlikely confidant try to uncover the truth about her adoptive family, her birth parents, and her troubled childhood. Because somewhere in Liv’s past is a secret worth killing for, and a nightmare she can never outrun…

A shout out to Hilcia from Impressions of a Reader for sending Ms. Bush's romantic suspense my way.   :)

Romantic suspense has become one of my favorite romantic sub-genres but isn't always easy to pull off. In the case of Nowhere to Run, the romance happens on the run with little build up from first meet to first sexual encounter.  Add in deception on the part of both the hero and the heroine, and you have a less than believable romance. 

Liv Dugan is no stranger to trauma.  Liv's mother died when Liv was six years old leaving Liv with nightmares and a history of mental anguish.  She tries to keep her life as uncomplicated as possible, living life while trying to maintain a calmness she never really achieves.  Liv is running on auto-pilot after fleeing a shooting at her workplace.  She doesn't always make the best decisions and her paranoia, while much deserved, colors those decisions.  We always think we'll know how to react in a crises but that isn't always the case and Liv's reactions came off as more realistic than had she done everything perfectly in planning and executing her escape.  Her paranoia had a tendency to take over her personality and she jumped into bed a little too quickly with the hero but she also didn't pull the "why me" crap so I'd give her bonus points for that.  

Auggie is an odd name for a hero but it ended up suiting this hero.  Auggie is walking a very thin line when it comes to his relationship with Liv.  He meets her when she takes him hostage at gunpoint then tries to help her, all the while falling for her.  Interesting role reversal but unfortunately I didn't buy it.  It is mentioned a time or two that Auggie has a weakness for damsel's in distress and boy did Liv fit that description.  But having a weakness for helping someone and falling into bed with someone are two very different things.  I also got the impression that Auggie was not the type to jump in bed with just any woman.  Again, liked him except for how quickly he hit the sheets with Liv.  Not only were his deep feelings for her unbelievable in such a short period of time (less than a week), there was a very clear conflict of interest.  

The suspense of the story centers around the mysterious package Liv received from her mother who had been dead for nearly twenty years.  Then there is the workplace shooting and a gruesome murder.  This is what drove the plot far more than the developing romance.  Often I get a feeling, if not outright knowing who the murderer is.  This time it was almost too obvious who it was not.  There are a number of twists to the plot but in the end, it wasn't apparent who the threat to Liv was and I'm not sure the clues were there throughout the story.   The murderer seems to come out of nowhere. 

The secondary characters are interesting enough but there is definite sequel bait in the form of the hero's sister.  She had a decent size role and the ending did leave me wanting to read her story.   So in that sense the book did work.  I only wish the romance had been stronger and better woven within the suspense plot. 

Rating:  C+

Nowhere to Run
Nowhere to Hide

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review: Mariana

Susanna Kearsley
Time Travel Romance
Corgi Books/1994
Reprinted/1995, 2009, 2012

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew at once that it was her house. Now, twenty-five years later, by some strange chance, she has just become the new owner of the sixteenth-century Wilshire farmhouse. But Julia soon begins to suspect that more than coincidence has brought her there. 

As if Greywethers were a porthal between worlds, she finds herself abruptly transported back in time. Stepping into seventeenth-century England, Julia becomes Mariana, a beautiful young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love for Richard de Mornay, handsome forebear of the present squire of Crofton Hall. 

Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past, falling ever deeper in love with Richard...until one day she realizes Mariana's life threatens to eclipse her own--and that she must find a way to lay the past to rest, or risk losing a chance for love in her own time.

Oh, what a lovely story!  Susanna Kearsley truly has the gift of story-telling.  I was enraptured by the characters, the plot and the setting. Mariana is a quiet romance, unfolding throughout the story but giving over to the development of the characters and the mystery surrounding Greywethers and its history.  

Julia Beckett has a history with Greywethers, the beautiful country home she has held in her heart ever since she first saw it.  She is now the owner and couldn't feel more at home.  The village is a welcoming place, giving Julia the opportunity to meet new and interesting people.  Then strange things begin to happen to Julia and she's not sure if she's hallucinating or having some very odd dreams.    It turns out she is traveling back in time, becoming Mariana, living Mariana's life.  It's all quite fascinating for both Julia and the reader.  Kearsley handles the time travel wonderfully and by the end it's easy to believe.  Julia is a character straight from modern day life who happens to have an extraordinary experience.  

I really did love exploring the possibilities of time travel with Julia.  At first, she finds it hard to believe, just as anyone might.  Then as things progress it becomes the only plausible explanation for the events that Julia is living.  Both Julia and Mariana's time periods are equally captivating.  Both held mysteries and romances while maintaining very distinct moods. Kearsley uses the two time periods to show how very different women are treated and what power, or lack of, they had.  Even with the differences there is still an underlying tone of the promise of love conquering all.

Mariana is a story that is at times humorous, thought provoking and deeply emotional.  If you cry easily be sure to have tissues handy.  It is a non-traditional romance I highly recommend! 

Rating:  A