Friday 29 June 2007

Shadows in the Darkness by Elaine Cunningham

NOTE - (As I was posting not so long ago about how I find new books, thought I'd share how I found this one.) I came across the character of Gwen on the Magical Minxes blog . I'm not sure why I was there, I think maybe because Rachel Caine had said Joanne Baldwin (Weather Warden) had been invited to post, so I thought I'd check it out. As well as Joanne there were a couple of other characters I've enjoyed reading about. LOL - both happen to be succubi. As they're referred to on the blog Jezebel - the 'wicked' succubus and Georgina the 'nice' succubus. I was intrigued enough to check the other characters out. As I'm not really into the lighter urban fantasy I decided to read the first of Elaine Cunninghams Changeling Detective Series.

Here's the review :-

Following a drug bust which goes spectacularly wrong, Gwen Gellman leaves the police force to start her own PI business, specializing in finding runaways. As she investigates her latest case, she finds it has ties to her own past. Now her real family know about her, and though Gwen is determined to find the missing girl before it's too late, her time is running out.

Shadows in the Darkness is a PI novel with an urban fantasy twist. For much of the book the plot deals with Gwen finding a missing girl, and investigating the failed drug bust which led to her leaving the police force. However, every so often we are given the hint that there is more to this than meets the eye. Alongside her normal life, Gwen is also subject to a more supernatural heritage, of which she is unaware. Though as a reader you can almost feel the metaphorical net slowly tightening around Gwen as she tries to find the runaway. This is a multi-layered tale of elves, missing girls, murder and police corruption; where it seems every character has an ulterior motive and a hidden agenda.

Shadows in the Darkness is probably not for those readers who prefer paranormal romance. Gwen deals with the ugly side of life most people would like to ignore. One of the reviews in the front of the book refers to SITD as a supernatural Alias and that's a good summation. In trying to describe it to someone I said it was like Karin Slaughter only not quite as graphic and with elves. If you like gritty crime novels / PI mysteries but were interested in trying out urban fantasy this would be a good book to start with. The elves aren't elflike - forget Orlando Bloom as Legolas - but it's clear they aren't just humans with pointy ears either (this is driven home even more in the second book). Although the elves are almost a hidden presence within the story - they appear only briefly and we meet some without knowing they are elves - they are woven so tightly into the fabric of Gwen's existence that you couldn't divorce them from the plot. If it weren't for the underlying motive for much of what Gwen deals with having this supernatural cause SITD could almost be read as a straight crime novel.

For much of the book Gwen remains ignorant of what her real family are, and how the machinations of the other elves are affecting her. Like Sydney Bristow in Alias, through no fault of her own she's blind to the motives of those around her. The reader knows slightly more than Gwen - the story is bookended by a prologue and epilogue told from the point of view of a different character - but only enough to make it interesting. :) And just like in Alias there's a twist at the end which will leave you wanting to get your hands on the next book.

Recommended for fans of Wen Spencer's Ukiah Oregon series, Kat Richardson's Greywalker, Charlaine Harris's Lily Bard and Harper Connelly series.

Book #2 Shadows in the Starlight is also available

Friday 22 June 2007

Wraith by Phaedra Weldon


Zoe Martinique is a private investigator with a difference, she has the ability to travel outside of her body - an ability she uses to find out information she wouldn't otherwise have access to. However, one night, things go seriously wrong when she witnesses a murder, worse still, the killer is also a Traveler and tries to pursue her. Now it's a race against time, as Zoe tries to help the detective investigating the case, whilst staying one step ahead of the bad guys.

Bear with the first few pages where Zoe introduces herself and explains the mechanics of astral travel because once the story gets going you're in for a wild ride. Wraith is written in a first person, stream of consciousness style that won't be for everybody - we get to hear every thought that passes through Zoe's head without benefit of a filter. But by chapter 7 I've got a smile on my face and am running with the story. I don't want to put the book down.

As well as the mystery of the murder and why the killer can see Zoe (be warned it gets complicated so you'll need to concentrate), we get to eavesdrop on the various relationships in Zoe's life. This book has one of the most realistic mother/daughter relationships I've read. To begin with it seems very fraught, with the inevitable frictions that such close relationships can develop, but eventually you see that there is an incredibly deep love between the two characters - this made the book for me.

Zoe does take stupid risks, a fact for which she is somewhat apologetic - usually after the fact, with promises to herself not to repeat such mistakes in future. Unlike some TSTL heroines I think there is a valid reason for her behaviour. She first astral projects during a brutal attack which leaves her in a coma. So maybe she feels that if she didn't continue to behave as she wanted to - even when she knows she's taking a risk - that she would be denying a part of herself. But sometimes she should! Hopefully by the end of this book she's learnt that lesson - somehow I doubt it.

I'm going to take a moment here to mention the rape scene, as I know a couple of people who may decide this book is not for them because of this. I don't believe the scene is gratuitous in the slightest, it is necessary to the plot because it's the first time Zoe leaves her body. However, it is disturbing and unpleasant - I had already decided as I was reading it how it was going to go, when things suddenly changed I was broadsided. And at that moment I connected with the character (with Zoe) which made it even harder to read. The scene which follows in the hospital between Zoe and her mother was so well written, it's when you as a reader I think for the first time see Zoe acknowledge how much her mother cares for her.

If I had to be picky there are a couple of places where I wasn't 100% sure of what was going on - though eventually I think I understood the hierarchy of phantasm, symbiont and Wraith. Please don't ask me to explain it though :). And for some reason whenever Zoe fancies someone her thighs swell! I think I understand what was being conveyed but it did bring to mind images of She-Hulk and ripping trousers. Also the epilogue (which takes place two weeks after the main story concludes), gives Wraith a slightly strange ending, but that may be a more subjective comment. I'd be interested to hear what other people thought. Could be I was just gutted that there wasn't an excerpt for the next book. :(

However, when the story is this original and the characters and dialogue are so well written, such minor things are easily forgiven and forgotten. There are several dangling plot threads that need tying up, so my fingers are crossed that this isn't the last we've heard from Zoe Martinique. I want to know what trouble she's going to get herself into next.

Wednesday 20 June 2007

The Turning by Jennifer Armintrout

I can't believe I hadn't posted this. So for Jepad who wanted to know what I thought of it - here's the review. :)

The Turning tells the story of Dr. Carrie Ames who is turned into a vampire following a vicious attack in the hospital morgue. As a vampire she now has the choice of following her evil vampiric sire Cyrus, or joining the Voluntary Vampire Extinction Movement. Nathan, a VVEM sanctioned executioner attempts to help her make a decision regarding her new life. But she only has a short time before the VVEM will add her to their hitlist.

This is perhaps one of the more realistic takes on vampirism I have read. It's gory, upsetting and violent. And whilst it's probably not for those readers who prefer a more romantic story I found it a refreshing change to some of the defanged heroes around at the moment. From the horrific scene where Carrie is attacked, to the brutality she witnesses at Cyrus's mansion. It's a good job there are some lighter moments to balance the darkness. Indeed for a short while we have an endearing dysfunctional vampire family.

The problem I think Jennifer Armintrout has is convincing the reader that Carrie is equally drawn to both Cyrus (her sire) and Nathan (her rescuer). It's easy to accept she is attracted to Nathan - who wouldn't be. Cyrus is more problematic - given all that he is and does - and I don't think JA quite pulls it off. This is where I think The Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein works slightly better, though it's not really fair to compare the two as they are telling different stories. But in The Becoming you can see why the heroine would fall for a vampire, only realising he's a sociopath when it's too late. In The Turning we see the callous disregard Cyrus has for human life and it's harder to understand why Carrie doesn't walk away, or do something.

Cyrus's magnetism almost has to be experienced rather than read about, and I didn't get far enough into Carrie's head to share it with her. In the end I just had to accept that the instinctive, animalistic pull towards Cyrus enhanced by the blood tie is as compelling as the pull towards Nathan.

As someone who is plunged into a world they don't understand Carrie inevitably makes mistakes - some with higher consequences than others. She is an independent heroine, determined to see shades of grey in a world where she is told there is only black and white.

Possession (Book 2) is available now.
Ashes to Ashes (Book 3) is released August 2007

Monday 18 June 2007

Moonshine by Rob Thurman

Following the events in the previous book Nightlife, Niko and Cal have settled down in New York City. In partnership with Promise, they now have their own investigative/security firm and are about to be thrust into the world of the Kin (the supernatural/werewolf mafia).

Once again the story is told by Cal, the younger half human / half 'monster' brother, who turns his cynical eye on both himself and those around him. As with Nightlife I found the story slowly draws you in without you being aware of it. After a slightly awkward start (where the events of the previous book are recapped) you're pulled back into the world of the Leandros brothers. It is still the relationship between the siblings and their friends (and enemies) that make this series such a joy to read. Rob Thurman has a great knack for making her characters come alive on the page.

I feel that Moonshine is an improvement over Nightlife. Cal as a character works much better when he is interacting with others, and thankfully there is no unavoidable change in his behaviour in this book. There is one part where he goes undercover on his own and I remember thinking I hope he's not going to get kidnapped. I've come to the conclusion that it's Kushiel syndrome, whereby I like the other characters more than the protagonist. BUT I like to see them as described by and interacting with said protagonist.

We get to see much more of Cal and Niko’s relationship and how they were (and still are) affected by the Auphe. (Trying to keep this relatively spoiler free). The fallout from Nightlife is dealt with and somewhat resolved. We're introduced to Flay (a werewolf) who although his story is pretty much concluded here I hope we might bump into again.

Robin Goodfellow has a much larger part in this book, which I was very happy about. His quickfire wit and sarcastic humor make the dialogue sparkle whenever he is present on the page. His unrequited yearning for Niko is beautifully written. Hopefully he will continue to play a major part in the series. Promise and George also return, and their deepening relationships with the brothers are one of the main threads of the story. Rafferty (the healer from Nightlife) is mentioned very briefly, and I hope this intriguing snippet will be followed up in a forthcoming book.

Having said that Robin is witty. Niko has my favourite lines in the book. The spoilerless one from p289 - "Let's focus on one life threatening disaster at a time. Multi-tasking at this level of catastrophe isn't quite feasible." The other is on page 335. :)

This book even more than Nightlife makes you think about what a monster is. Cal - half monster, Niko - prepared to do monstrous things to save his brother, Flay the werewolf (and various other nasties) - monsters on the outside - but should we always judge the book by the cover? Maybe we all have a monster inside of us - except George.

Book 3 release March 2008 (subject to change)

Thursday 14 June 2007

The Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein


Anna Strong is a bounty hunter. After she and her partner are attacked, she awakens in the hospital to find things are much worse than she imagined - she's become a vampire. With the help of Dr. Avery (a vampire physician who treated her after her attack) she struggles to find her way in this new world she's stumbled into.

I must note here that the story uses two of my least favourite vampire devices. The vampires don't breathe - how are they talking? And they don't cast reflections. The problem I have with this is it almost seems that sooner or later there is going to be an inevitable slip up. Onto the review...

Anna is a flawed but feisty heroine. Initially I felt distant from her rather than drawn into her world. I did spend some time trying to work out if the story is written in present tense, but my grammar sucks so I'm still not sure. But there's definitely something about the narration that took some getting used to. Back to Anna - she has a tendency to react to a situation rather than think and act - a bit like a 'bull in a china shop'. This made me wonder how she coped as a bounty hunter if this is the way she behaves under pressure. She seems to charge from one unfortunate situation to the next - the attack, arson victim, kidnapping, murder. I don't believe she's TSTL, you can lay a lot of her responses at having to deal with a huge change in her life in a very short amount of time. But I think this excuse will only hold up for the first book in the series.

In some ways this story reminded me of The Turning by Jennifer Armintrout, only without as much gore. And instead of having to choose between two vampires, Anna has to decide what/who she's going to believe and ultimately what action will she take once she knows the truth.

Dr. Avery is well written and you can see why Anna is drawn to him – to the point where she retcons her relationship with Max because it’s convenient for her to do so. Not one of her more attractive moments, and there are points in the story where she does behave in a selfish manner.(This is where the story worked better than The Turning for me - as a reader it was somewhat difficult to find Cyrus attractive, whereas Avery's faults are not immediately apparent.) How much of this is to do with her vampirism is unclear. But I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

The main problem Anna has is that everyone around her is playing a more manipulative game. They know the rules but only tell her either a) the minimum amount she needs to know or b) the minimum amount they want her to know - which may or may not be the truth. So who can Anna trust?

It's these subtle games that the other characters (Max, Avery, Casper, Culebra) are playing that lift this story and make it much more interesting. How much does Max really know? What is the favour that Anna owes Culebra? Who is Casper and what does he want? It is written in a very tight first person and it gets to the point where as a reader you mistrust everybodys motives. So thumbs up there. :)

We are left with a few dangling plot threads. The one I was most intrigued by being Avery and Williams reference to Anna as 'The One'. The one what is never made clear.

With the first major obstacle of her vampire life removed I hope in the next book of the series Anna is a more decisive protagonist who makes better choices and learns from her mistakes.

Book 2 Blood Drive is released July 2007

Tuesday 5 June 2007

A New Way to Find Books

I follow quite a few author message boards/blogs - Lynn Viehl, Kelley Armstrong, Nalini Singh. And the other day I thought I'd check out C.E. Murphy's blog as I'd not visited it for a while. She just happened to have posted about Heart of Stone , and posted the cover. Hopefully if you click on the link it will take you to the post. And darn it's not out 'til November.

Anyhoo, I thought that's a very nice cover, I must check out the artist's website . Mainly because I thought I wouldn't mind having a print of that cover myself. Lo and behold Chris McGrath has done a lot of the artwork on some of my favourite urban fantasy - Greywalker (Kat Richardson), The Dresden Files (Jim Butcher), Nightlife (Rob Thurman). So I decide to peruse the other covers he's been doing for any interesting new releases.

Apart from Heart of Stone (which I was already interested in :) ). There is one for a book called Wraith by Phaedra Weldon. It's released in June and the blurb sounds intriguing.

"Zoe Martinique has turned her unusual ability into a career. When she's traveling, she can't be seen which makes her an ideal professional snoop. Industrial espionage, surveillance, whatever. But one night things get out of hand while she's out-of- body. She witnesses a murder and a soul stealing, and discovers she has unwelcome company: Trench- Coat, a ghostly killer who can see and hurt her.
Teaming up with a blue-eyed police detective, she tries to solve the case and improve her love life. She also enlists the support of her psychic mother and the ghostly couple who haunt her house. And with murderers, kidnappers, and a desperate ex-porn star involved, Zoe needs all the help she can get."

I'm trying to ignore the fact that the protagonist has an inappropriate apostrophe shoved into her name and may pick this up when it's released. (I can breathe a sigh of relief Phaedra very kindly posted to my blog! And said that it's an error on the blurb, the protagonists name is Zoe (with two little dots over the e - which if I knew how to do with this keyboard I would. Obviously a similar problem was encountered by the blurb writer. :) So I've corrected the blurb, in case you were wondering where that apostrophe went. :))

In other news, I'm trying to think of a name for my livejournal blog (am I allowed to say that here?) :). Which is/was going to be more about all the creative stuff that I start and never seem to finish, in the hopes it would give me the kick up the ass I need. But I can't think of what to call it.

Friday 1 June 2007

Private Demon by Lynn Viehl


LOL - Wasn't sure if I still needed to post the above after the If Angels Burn review.


Private Demon picks up virtually where If Angels Burn ended, with Thierry Durand on the run from the other Darkyn. He has come to Chicago to pursue Luisa's attackers and it is here that he meets Jema Shaw - an heiress who doesn't yet know the part she will play in the Darkyn world. Unbeknownst to Thierry, Valentin Jaus (the suzerain of Chicago) is also interested in Jema's welfare.

I found Jema to be a fragile heroine, she has an underlying strength, but is more passive than Alex (the heroine from the first book). Without her or them being aware of it, the two male Darkyn - Thierry and Valentin - are competing for her. The relationship between Valentin and Jema is sweet and you can understand why so many readers are on his side. As Alex notes on p157 'Valentin has a way of making you fall in love with him'. Jema's interactions with Thierry on the other hand are brutal, vivid and intense. One subject this book deals with (beautifully) is how we don't always get to choose who we love or whether they will love us back.

I've never read the Darkyn books with any expectation of what may happen. I guess this is why it didn't bother me that Jema ended up with Thierry. Though you can't help but feel bad for Valentin. The scene at the end (and what follows) with the three of them in the ballroom is my favourite part of the book.

I'm not 100% sure about Jema's special ability - it almost felt like it appeared out of nowhere. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that both this book and the next had a significant part cut out. It's almost like part of the story is missing - and the reader has to fill in the gaps.

Unlike some series The Darkyn really needs to be read in order, so I would recommend you read If Angels Burn first. Several plot threads from the first book are picked up in Private Demon - the attack on Luisa, Michael and Alex's relationship (one of the major subplots through the series) and John Keller's quest for meaning. There are also new storylines started here, it's very much a multi-layered series and as such the paranormal romance tag is a bit misleading. This is more of a complex urban fantasy tale, focusing on the relationships between the various characters and their struggle for survival against not only their enemies, but also their own natures.