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Book Review: Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham et al. (Series, #1) (Graphic Novel)

June 9, 2015 5 comments

Book Review: Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham et al. (Series, #1) (Graphic Novel)Summary:
All the characters from the fairy tales we know actually lived in that folklore world but were forced out into exile in modern-day New York thanks to an enemy known only as The Adversary.  Snow White, right-hand to the ruler of Fabletown, seeks to keep everyone in line. But that gets more difficult when her own sister, Rose Red, is murdered.  A reformed Big Bad Wolf, now their sheriff, promises to help her track down his killer.

Review:
Being a long-time fan of The 10th Kingdom, a story about the characters of folklore existing in a parallel universe to our own that some modern-day Americans accidentally visit, I was intrigued by this idea of a similar story in reverse.  Instead of being engaging and a fun escape, though, my experience with it is best summed-up as meh.  It’s a cool idea that is saddled to a ho-hum plot and flat characters, thereby rendering it a mediocre read.

The basic idea is some unseen Adversary has driven the fairy tale folk out of their land and into exile in our own.  In our land, they’ve all agreed to give everyone a clean slate to start over.  So far so good.  From here though things go from interesting and semi-unique to basically a noir plot we’ve all read before wrapped up in 2-dimensional fairy tale characters.  Big Bad Wolf is the hard-boiled detective.  Snow White is his lady assistant.  A noir version of a fairy tale could have been good, but instead the flattest elements of both genres are mashed together, rather than the best of each.  What you end up with is a wolf without his fangs or a hard-boiled detective without his cigarettes and womanizing ways.  The grit is just removed leaving an overly-sanitized world.

I do enjoy a mystery plot but I also expect them to keep me guessing.  I knew the solution long before the end, and I’m guessing most other readers would too.

The art is mostly good, although the depiction of the talking pig gave me goosebumps in a bad way.  He doesn’t really fit in to the feel of the rest of the art.  However, the art is colorful and easy to follow, and made reading the story go quickly.

Overall, if a reader loves fairy tales and graphic novels and likes the idea of seeing fairy tale characters in modern-day New York, they will probably enjoy this book.  Readers looking for an in-depth exploration of a fairy tale character or to see them more well-rounded in a non-fairy tale setting will be disappointed.  Similarly, readers looking for a tough mystery to solve will want to look elsewhere.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: I remember I bought it at a comic book store, but I don’t remember which one.

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Counts For:
Once Upon a Time IX

Book Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest (Series, #1)

June 4, 2015 9 comments

Book Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest (Series, #1)Summary:
“Lizzie Borden took an axe; gave her mother forty whacks….”
Any New Englander knows the nursery rhyme based on the true crime story of Mr. and Mrs. Borden who were murdered with an axe in 1892.  In spite of being tried and acquitted for the murders, their daughter (in the case of Mrs. Borden, step-daughter), was widely believed to actually be responsible for the murders.  In this book, she definitely was, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.
A darkness is trying to take over Fall River, Massachusetts, and Lizzie and her ailing sister Emma are all that might stand between the town and oblivion, with Lizzie’s parents being the first casualties in the battle.

Review:
I grew up chanting the nursery rhyme about Lizzie Borden the first half of which is quoted above (this perhaps says an awful lot about New Englanders, but I digress), and I also love tales from the Lovecraft universe, which also originated in New England.  When I heard about this book that mashed up the two, I put it on my wishlist.  Lo and behold, my future sister-in-law, who had never even seen my wishlist, bought it for me for Christmas last year.  I thought this would be the perfect read for the fantasy challenge, and although it was a bit different than what I was expecting, I still enjoyed the mix of Lovecraft and women’s history that Priest has woven and am eagerly anticipating reading the sequel.

The story is told through a combination of first person accounts from Lizzie, Emma, and Nance, diary-style entries by their neighbor doctor, letters, police and fire reports, and first person ramblings of a professor from Miskatonic University (another Lovecraft element).  Some readers may be put off by the combination of first person perspectives, but I’ve always enjoyed this style, particularly when it includes things like letters and police reports.  I felt that it was one of the strengths of the book, and I also particularly enjoyed getting to see both Emma’s and Lizzie’s perspectives, as well as that of Lizzie’s lover, Nance.

The Lovecraft mash-up basically is that some sort of Dark One in the deep is out to turn everyone on the seacoast either into worshippers or victims or literally turn them into monstrous ones who live in the deep.  Emma and Lizzie’s parents were among the first to begin succumbing to this infection and that is why Lizzie had to kill them.  Lizzie and Emma now are conducting research, trying to figure out how to prevent the Dark One from actually rising up.  This is all extremely Lovecraftian, including the fact that some of these developments don’t make a ton of sense, but things just don’t make sense in the dark fantasy world of Lovecraft, so I was ok with that.  Readers new to the world of Lovecraft might be a bit more frustrated by how inexplicable most things to do with the Dark Ones and the deep are, however.

I particularly enjoyed how Priest explores how societal and cultural norms of 1890s New England affects women’s lives.  Emma could be a scientist now that women are being accepted into colleges, but she chooses to instead write her scientific papers under a male pseudonym because she believes she would never garner respect otherwise.  Lizzie and Nance are in love and must hide it, although Lizzie often feels why should she bother when she is already disgraced after the trial.  The clashes between Lizzie and Emma regarding both her affair with Nance and the fact that Lizzie believes in trying out magical and fantastical defenses against the Dark One whereas Emma believes purely in science are interesting reading.  They are two very different people who are thrust together both by virtue of being siblings and by the fact that as women in the 1890s their lives are limited.

On the other hand, in spite of liking the characters of the neighbor doctor and the Miskatonic professor and enjoying the exploration of Lizzie’s and Emma’s relationship and getting to see some of Emma’s character, I couldn’t help but feel that Lizzie didn’t get a chance to be enough in this book.  Lizzie Borden is such a looming large figure in local history, even on the book cover she presents as a bad-ass in a period skirt holding a bloody axe.  In contrast in the book she spends a lot of time dealing with her annoying sister.  Similarly, I’m not a fan of the fact that Lizzie does very little of rescuing herself in this book, which is, I believe, if the historic Lizzie really did kill her parents, what she actually did in real life.  To me Lizzie has always been a woman who said fucking enough and took an axe and dealt violently and finally with her problems.  Whereas in the book, she starts off off-screen that way (we don’t actually see her kill her parents) and she sort of tapers off.  Much as I enjoyed seeing her messed up relationship with Emma, I couldn’t help but feel it would have ended more powerfully if she’d said fucking enough and whacked Emma through the skull for being such an insufferable bitch and in the way all the time.  This was my main issue with the book.

My second, more minor, issue is that I felt the plot takes too long to build up to actual horrifying events and/or murders.  The first murders, as I mentioned before, happened off-screen.  The beginning of the book then is a build-up of a lot of tension with not much actual gore or murder occurring.  I should mention that I was watching “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” on tv at the same time as I was reading this book.  In that show, Lizzie kills at least one person an episode.  Now, some of that gets over the top, but it does get the idea of the pacing one would expect from this type of story right. More mayhem. More murder. More danger. More often.

On a positive note, the scenes between Lizzie and Nance are beautifully done, and while I was frustrated to see Lizzie turn a bit into a lovesick fool, I was very glad it was happening with Nance.  Their relationship and dynamic jumped off the page and really brightened up the book for me.

The set-up at the end of the book for the sequel is well-done, although I’m uncertain how the series can proceed forward so far removed from the actual historical event, I am excited to read it and see what happens.

Overall, this Lovecraft fantastical take on the Lizzie Borden of history and what led to the murders of her parents hits just the right note for Lovecraft fans.  Readers who are new to the dark fantasy world of Lovecraft may be a bit surprised by the slow burn of the horror and how much of it winds up not making much sense, but those readers who can embrace this style of dark fantasy will enjoy it.  Those looking for a bad-ass Lizzie should be aware that this Lizzie only acts when absolutely necessary and then with restraint, and they should perhaps tune into the made for tv movie Lizzie Borden Took An Ax instead.  Recommended to fans of Lovecraft who are interested in getting some local history woven in to the New England settings they are familiar with from the Lovecraft universe.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Counts For:
Once Upon a Time IX

Book Review: Bits of Bliss – Volume 1 by Andrea Trask (Series, #1)

May 8, 2015 5 comments

Book Review: Bits of Bliss - Volume 1 by Andrea Trask (Series, #1)Summary:
A collection of nine erotica short stories, mostly featuring elements of fantasy.  Covering everything from fairy tale retellings to vampires to a bit of scifi.

Review:
This erotica short story collection was quite hit or miss for me.  The stories that excelled were creative and unique, but the stories that did not featured some problematic elements that prevented me from enjoying the erotica.

When I read a short story collection, I always individually rate the stories.  My rating of the collection as a whole is just the average of those ratings.  The highest rating any story in this collection received from me was four stars.  There were three stories I gave four stars, and two of them were the first two stories in the collection, so it definitely started out strong for me.  One is a F/F story featuring a woman who is also a flower (or a flower who is also a woman).  It is poetic and heart-quickening.  The second story features a sentient house that has missed its owner and demands attention.  This made me laugh, and I enjoyed the oddity.  It read like a lighter-hearted, erotica version of dark fantasies where there is an evil house–this one is just horny.  The third four star read was enjoyable for a different reason.  It’s a scifi erotica where two lovers are in a spaceship that is running out of air.  They decide to make love, even though they will die quicker.  It was so heart-breaking and beautiful that I wished it was a whole book.

Four of the stories received three stars.  In each case I felt the story either didn’t take an idea far enough or the story wasn’t long enough to tell the story.  Take it farther, and these all could be just as good as the first three I discussed.

Unfortunately, there were two stories that were big clunkers for me, with each receiving only one star, and they both had almost the same problem.  “Hunting Hound” has a woman mating with a werewolf.  She meets him when she is out riding, and they start making out against a tree, with her a willing participant.  Then this happens.

“Stop” she said, and his face darted in toward her own with a low growl. “Too late to stop.” (loc 1650)

He proceeds to penetrate her.  There is nothing sexy about a woman asking a man to stop and him claiming it’s too late and proceeding to rape her.  It is never too late to stop, and it’s never too late for a partner to change their mind.  It really bothers me that this type of scene is still being presented as sexy.  I know everyone gets off to their own thing, but this is such a clear scene of consent being removed and then ignored that I just cannot say to each their own in this case.  I also want to mention that the book blurb claims that this story features “consensual sexual violence” but it definitely did not read that way to me.

“Summer Nights,” which also received one star, has a similar problem.  This story features a woman who keeps seeing the same mysterious man at parties.  She goes out to the woods behind the house at one of these parties, and he follows her.  She finds out he’s a vampire.  She stands in the woods talking to him, holding a wineglass, when this happens:

“he struck like a train, his swinging backhand sending the wineglass flying toward the treeline, and I faintly registered the tinkling shatter of it, perhaps hitting a rock, or a fallen log.” (loc 5654)

She finds the fact that he just hit a glass out of her hand to be massively sexy and proceeds to bang him.  This is, again, something I feel like I shouldn’t need to say, but there is nothing sexy about a partner violently hitting something out of your hand.  Nothing. Sexy. This is not a sign that oh man she should totally bang this vampire. It is a sign she should run because she is alone in the woods with a violent motherfucker.  This could have so easily been foreplay if, instead of hitting a glass out of her hand, he said something like, “I want you now,” and he gently took the glass from her hand and tossed it away.  Or if she said, “I want you so much,” and tossed the glass over her shoulder.  It would be so easy to have the same erotica about a powerful vampire alone in the woods with a woman without it turning into problematic territory.

I truly wish these last two stories were not in the collection.  The rest of the collection is creative, features some fun queer content (the F/F story and a gender-swapping story), and in the case of the best three stories, has some unique ideas.  Where the collection flounders is, interestingly enough, with the two most mainstream stories that take the agency out of the hands of the women in them and instead retreats to the tired idea of violent men being sexy.

Overall, if a reader is looking for some quick fantasy erotica, most of the stories in this book will satisfy this need, although I would recommend skipping over “Hunting Hound” and “Summer Nights.”  The reader who enjoys the other stories for their uniqueness will most likely be disappointed by the “sexy violence” in these two.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Set Adrift by D.S. Kenn (Series, #1)

April 4, 2015 4 comments

Book Review: Set Adrift by D.S. Kenn (Series, #1)Summary:
Terric, nickname T, a half shifter half demon, and his girlfriend Jordyn, full vampire, have decided to move from New York City to Provincetown, Massachusetts.  T has an opportunity to work as head of security at a nightclub and bar that caters to the supernatural, and he thinks the move will be good for he and Jordyn.  Jordyn had a nightmarishly abusive past, and T has been helping her heal through a safe, consenting BDSM relationship.  But his love for Jordyn is not one of a mate; it is one of a friend.  He intuitively knows that his mate will be a man but he struggles to accept this, due to suffering he has endured in the demon realm.  When Jordyn decides it is time for her to stand on her own two feet and move out, she also encourages T to confront himself and grow as well.  But all T feels is set adrift.

Review:
Every November/December I open up to submissions for books to review in the upcoming year on my blog.  When I saw this one in the submissions, I was excited.  Not very much paranormal romance is submitted to me, and paranormal romance with a bisexual main character is nigh on impossible to find.  Plus, I love Provincetown.  This paranormal romance features a unique set of characters and a wide variety of sex scenes but its world building struggles some.

The strongest aspect of the book is that its main character Terric is so unique in paranormal romance.  Terric actually describes himself perfectly:

I’m an anomaly. A fucking bisexual demon shifter. Not really all of any one thing…. I don’t really fit in most categories, you know. (page 33)

First, I love love love the fact that the hero of the book isn’t just bisexual, but he actually uses the term to describe himself as such.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it is quite rare to have a character self-identify as bisexual and simultaneously have that character be one of the good guy leads.  I really applaud the author for going there.  Terric struggles with his sexuality but not for the reasons the reader might expect.  Provincetown, for those who don’t know, is known for being a small town with a large accepting queer community.  T’s community would accept him for who he is, but he struggles with accepting and loving himself.  The reason given for this is that when he is summoned to the demon realm (as a half demon, he is subject to hell’s dominion), he is sometimes subject to punishment that consists of rape by other male demons (or half demons).  The reason he has trouble imagining being mated with a man is due to this trauma.  Bisexual men experience a higher rate of rape than straight or gay men (source), and I think it’s a good thing that the author works this into T’s past within the context of his supernatural world.  The rape is not misrepresented as causing his bisexuality but rather as a trauma he must get over to fully embrace his sexuality for what it is.  It’s not a storyline seen very often, and it’s handled well.

Similarly, the BDSM subplot in the first half of the book is also handled well.  The BDSM is completely presented as something both partners have consented to with pre-agreed upon boundaries that are respected.  It is also shown as something that is therapeutically used to help Jordyn overcome her past trauma.  This is a use for BDSM that some readers may not know but it is clearly well-understood by the author and well presented in the book.  Plus, the BDSM scenes are well-written and just the right level of steamy.

Unfortunately, the world that T and Jordyn live in is not as well fleshed-out as they are.  In particular, the workings of the supernatural world are never fully explained and can be a bit confusing.  For instance, vampires can apparently have children (as in, conceive and give birth to them, not as in turning humans into vampires), but it is never explained how.  Also the logistics of mixing different supernatural races are unclear.  For instance, there is one character who is 100% shifter, but his parents are both half vampire and half shifter.  Even the character himself doesn’t know how that worked out to him being pure shifter.  Some readers probably wouldn’t be bothered by the lack of details and world building regarding the supernatural and just how it works in this world, but others will be.

There are a few minor editing mistakes, the most startling of which is that the book on page 142 suddenly changes from indenting new paragraphs to having a line space between them (like how paragraphs appear on this blog).  I have no preference for one over the other, but consistency throughout the book is preferred.  There is also one plot point that bothered me.  At one point a character is established as being tipsy.  He then kisses someone and, freaked out about it, decides to leave and states that he can because he is “sober as a judge,” and the other character agrees he is fit to drive (page 152).  Unless that kiss lasted an hour or two, there’s no way he went from tipsy to sober as a judge in the span of one kiss (unless something supernatural was going on that was not explained).  Similarly, sometimes the book veers too far into telling rather than showing, particularly in the scenes that are not sex scenes.  For instance, in one scene, this occurs:

He told Kevin a little bit about his own upbringing, just the basics. (page 144)

At this point, the reader does not know much about this character’s upbringing.  Why not write out the dialogue in which the character tells Kevin about it, rather than telling the reader that the character tells Kevin?  The sex scenes never veer into this telling rather than showing zone, and it would be nice if the plot points didn’t either.

There is also a chapter that is called the “epilogue,” which kind of bothered me since it is a direct continuance of the plot in the previous chapters.  No significant time is skipped, nothing in the future is explained.  It is basically the last chapter in the book.  I am uncertain as to why it is thus called an epilogue.  I was expecting it to update me on the future of these characters, not simply continue the story in a direct linear fashion from the last chapter.

Sex acts in the book include: anal sex (male on female), BDSM (male dom, female sub), and M/M kissing/touching.  Rape is mentioned as an occurrence in the past but is not depicted.  Those readers looking for more in-depth M/M scenes should keep their eye out for the next book in the series, as it appears that a M/M relationship will be building to greater intimacy in the next book.

Overall, this is a welcome addition to the paranormal romance genre, featuring a unique cast of characters, including a bisexual half-demon, half-shifter male hero.  The book contains a wide variety of sex scenes, including M/F BDSM and M/M kissing/touching.  Readers interested in in-depth world building may be disappointed by the lack of explanation of the supernatural world these characters inhabit.  Those looking for a quick, steamy read will enjoy these characters and the development of them that goes on in-between their well-written sex scenes.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire (Series, #1)

March 28, 2015 7 comments

Book Review: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire (Series, #1)Summary:
October (Toby) Daye is a changeling — she’s half fae and half human.  Half Daoine Sidhe to be exact.  She has just enough fae features to not fit into the human world, but her magic is just weak enough to keep her from fitting into fae either. Toby was splitting the difference quite well, serving her fae liege as a private detective and living a semi-normal human life with her human husband.  But when a bad fae turns her into a fish on a mission for her liege, and it takes fourteen years to be turned back, everything changes.  Toby loses her family and her desires to have any ties to the fae world, but the fae world won’t let her be for long.  A high-ranking fae who was also her friend turns up dead, killed by iron, and a curse means that Toby must investigate.

Review:
Interestingly enough, one of the later books in this series was recommended to me by an automatic readalike generator (whose name I know forget) as a readalike for Fudoki (review) a book set in historic Japan about a cat turned into a woman warrior.  I was intrigued by the series, although I wasn’t certain of the connection to Fudoki, and so I put the first book on my wishlist.  My future mother-in-law was kind enough to gift it to me during the height of my cabin fever during Boston’s historic winter this year.  This book hits all the right tones for urban fantasy: a strong yet wounded heroine, a complex mystical world operating parallel to and sometimes overlapping with our own, a single book mystery for the heroine to figure out, and an overarching mystery that leaves the reader wanting to come back for more.

The book takes a little bit to get set up.  There’s a flashback to before Toby was a fish then the book pops quickly forward to the (near) present when Toby escapes being a fish.  It at first struck me as a bit of an odd beginning, but by the end of the book I was loving it.  The fact that Toby has a 14 year gap means that there are elements about her world she has to learn or relearn, meaning when key parts of information need to be told to the reader, it comes across as natural that Toby will need to learn about it or remember it.  She did have those 14 years away, after all.  It’s a plot-telling device, but it’s smart.  It also isn’t forgotten when it comes to Toby’s character.  The fact that she lost her family and all those years deeply impact her psyche, and that’s as it should be.  It helps automatically make her a more well-rounded character.

Halfings are common in urban fantasy, but the ones in this universe are particularly well-done, mostly because there’s just so many of them.  Toby isn’t an anomaly, halflings are a constant, persistent problem for the fae to have to deal with.  They don’t quite fit into fae, but they also can’t just banish them for the humans to deal with.  The humans don’t even know they exist, in fact, most humans who do mate with fae never even know that they did.  While some fae are open to and embrace the halflings, others are not.  Similarly, some halflings will give anything to just fit into fae or into the human world, while others are comfortable living partly in each.  The fact that there are so many halflings allows for a lot of diversity and keeps Toby from looking like a marked heroine.  She is just one of many, dealing as she can.  I appreciate the everywoman aspect this lends her.

Toby is also extremely likeable.  She’s down-to-earth and matter-of-fact about everything.  She has many quotes that sound like an average person talking but contain a kernel of wisdom.  She’s a humble smart woman who maybe doesn’t realize just how much savvy she does have.

That’s the true value in wards; not keeping things out, but telling you if something’s managed to get in. (loc 537)

It can’t all be dreams because a broken dream will kill you as surely as a nightmare will, and with a lot less mercy. At least the nightmares don’t smile while they take you down. (loc 2428)

The fae world is incredibly complex and yet makes a lot of sense.  There are many different types of fae, and they are smoothly introduced.  My personal favorite are the Caid Sidhe.  They are surely the reason this book was recommended due to my loving Fudoki.  The Caid Sidhe are fae who shapeshift into cats, and even in bipedal form have some cat-like features and abilities.  The king of the cats has a bit of a love/hate relationship with Toby that is fun to see.  But also, fae cats.  How is that not fun?  Realistically, though, I wouldn’t have loved seeing the Caid Sidhe so much if there hadn’t been such a variety of fae.  It’s a richly imagined world that is really fun to visit.

The mystery is good, with Toby investigating a murder.  There were plenty of plot-twists, although I did guess the responsible party far in advance of the ending, which was a bit of a bummer.  I also must say that I’m not really a fan of heroines getting wounded within an inch of their life only to be saved by magic repeatedly.  It removes some of the sense of danger for me.  I did appreciate that for once there was an urban fantasy heroine who was never threatened with rape.  That was a nice change of pace.  I’ll take forcibly changed into a fish over that any day.

Overall, this book sets up the incredibly complex fae world of the series, as well as establishes the heroine’s character and background quite well.  Readers will easily fall into the incredibly imaginative world that Toby partially lives in that runs parallel to and sometimes hand-in-hand with our own.  Some readers may find the mystery a bit predictable, but this is an excellent first entry in an urban fantasy series that will leave the reader eager to pick up the next and go back to this rich world as soon as possible.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: Storm Born by Richelle Mead (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck)

March 17, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: Storm Born by Richelle Mead (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck)Summary:
Eugenia Markham is a shaman who spends her time sending the fae back to their own world.  She hates the fae both for trespassing into our world and for kidnapping women into their own.  When fae start referring to her by her given name, rather than her working name, she becomes concerned something is awry.  What she discovers is a prophecy that will change everything.

Review:
I picked this up because I love Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kincaid series (review) so much.  I wish any of the summaries I read of the book had even hinted at one of the big plot points, as I think how a reader responds to that plot point will dictate how much they enjoy the series overall.

Without revealing too much, early on in the book, fae start showing up and attempting to rape Eugenie.  She finds out that there is a prophecy that her child will be the one to bring about large changes in the land of the fae.  (This is not particularly a spoiler, it is revealed early on and there are even more plot twists later on to complicate this).  What this means for the reader is that our main character must repeatedly physically fight off would-be rapists.  If I had realized this was such a key plot point, I would not have personally picked up this book, and I think there are probably quite a few other readers who would be similarly bothered by this repeated scene of our heroine trying to fight off rapists.  To be clear, this is not one single solitary incident.  It is one of the main repeated problems for this character.  Fae keep trying to rape her.

Another plot line is that the fae are known for kidnapping and raping young (this is specified, young, as in early to mid teens) human women.  Because the fae have fertility problems.  In fact, the case that Eugenie takes on early in the book is trying to save a teenaged girl who has been kidnapped by the fae.  Eugenie normally doesn’t go into the land of the fae in a corporeal form (she does send her spirit via astral projection), but she agrees to in this case because she is so bothered by the knowledge that this teenage girl is facing a lifetime of rape.

These are just two non-spoiler examples of the rape plots, and there is at least one more that I won’t reveal as it’s a big spoiler.  Readers who for whatever reason do not want to read either about rapes occurring off-screen or about the threat of rape or about a woman repeatedly having to physically fight off rapists should not pick this book up.  These are key and frequent plot points in this book.

Having said this, I do not judge the book for including these plot points.  Rape is a part of some fae mythology, and the author has every right to include it in an urban fantasy book based in fae mythology.  I also think the author handles the inclusion of the rape and threatened rape well.  Rape is never excused, rapists are denounced, and there are some fae characters who state they would never have sex with a human female who hasn’t consented.  The author has a valid reason for including the rape plots, and she handles them well.  I simply wish that it was clearer from the official book blurb what a large role rape plays in this book, and thus, in my review, I am being certain to be clear for potential readers the extent of rape plot points in this book.

So what about the rest of the book?  Eugenie is mostly what one expects from an urban fantasy heroine.  She is strong, talented, wears her hair short and hates dresses.  She has a questionable roommate and a cover story of being some sort of private investigator.  What makes Eugenie unique in urban fantasy is that she is a shaman trained by her step-father, and the only really supernatural humanoids in her world are the fae and some mythological shapeshifters from other cultures (think of Japanese myth’s shifters).  Don’t come to this series looking for vampires and werewolves.  You won’t find them.  The fantastical world of this book is simply that there is another world of fae, and sometimes they cross over into ours.

The prophecy at the center of the book has more to it than it originally seems, and the plot twists are surprising and exciting.  Yes, many urban fantasy books revolve around a prophecy that has our heroine at the center, but this is the first one I’ve seen in a while that’s more about the heroine’s child than the heroine herself.

As is to be expected, Eugenie has two potential love interests, a half kitsune (shape shifting fox) half human man and a fae.  Personally, I didn’t like either of her love interests.  One is too bourgeois/royal, and the other is too macho for my taste.  But I can see how other readers would enjoy one or the other or both of them and appreciate Eugenie’s difficulty in deciding who has her heart.

The audiobook narration by Jennifer Van Dyck starts out a bit awkward and gets better with time.  For the first half or so of the book, her narration can sometimes be a bit stilted. She almost sounds like she’s reading lists.  She pauses at odd times.  Also, her voice sometimes comes across as elderly, which doesn’t suit the tone of the book.  For the most part, though, the narration doesn’t detract too much from the book, it simply doesn’t elevate it either.

Overall, this is an entry in the urban fantasy genre that sticks closely to the well-loved trope of a strong, non-girly woman battling supernatural forces while also adding on some unique elements, such as a prophecy about her future child and sticking to the fae of mythology.  Readers should be aware that attempted rape and rapes occurring off-screen feature frequently in the book.  The plot itself is twisting and exciting, with enough unique elements to keep regular readers of urban fantasy engaged.  Recommended to urban fantasy fans looking for a universe that sticks more closely to the traditional mythical depiction of the fae world and who don’t mind the inclusion of rape and attempted rape in the plot of the book.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #1)

March 3, 2015 7 comments

Book Review: Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #1)Summary:
Maui wedding planner Pali Moon wouldn’t normally accept a last-minute request to plan a wedding when the groom is lost at sea, but the client wants to pay cash, and she is in debt up to her ears.  Plus, the bride assures Pali that the groom’s best friend will stand in as his proxy if the groom hasn’t been found by the wedding date.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, when a body washes up on shore….it turns out, a lot.

Review:
This would be a cozy mystery if it offered any type of recipes or patterns in the back, as it is, think of it as a light-hearted mystery with very little blood and some steamy kissing scenes.  The story transports the reader to Hawaii with lovely described settings and keeps the reader there with an intriguing plot.

A wedding planner in Hawaii is just an interesting job to begin with.  Plus, Pali has a bit of mystery to her.  She admits from the very beginning that Pali isn’t her name, but the reader never finds out (in this entry in the series anyway) what her real name is.  Why is she keeping it a secret?  Plus, Pali’s friends (and enemies) are an interesting bunch.  Her Native best friend who also runs the general store and officiates weddings is a breath of fresh air to the story. Her gay roommate may feel a bit expected at this point, but the author keeps him from verging too far into stereotype and gives of a hint of the three dimensions he could have in future installments.  The bad guys may veer a bit toward caricature sometimes, but that lends the book part of its humor and lack of tension that is key to this type of mystery.

The mystery and plot consist of two main points of conflict.  First, Pali is at risk of losing her business.  Second, the missing groom and the bride’s family may not be precisely what they appear.  This lends some realness to the character.  She has more going on than this mystery that fell in her lap.  It also gives her a reason for accepting a client who has a clear iffy feeling about them.  That said, the will she or won’t she hold onto her business lacks some real tension, as it’s fairly clear that Pali will figure a way out of losing her business.  With the missing groom conflict, while we know Pali will probably be safe, since she’s the main character, the rest of the characters are basically up for grabs for danger.  This gives it just enough tension to stay interesting but not be stressful.  Similarly, this plot was more well-written, with some unexpected yet believable twists.  It also takes into consideration the local laws of Hawaii, so events stayed grounded in the real world.

The romance consists of two potential love interests.  I am always a bit turned off when a main character has two people interested in them.  It will never not feel a bit fake to me.  However, the two potential love interests are handled in a balanced and modern way.  Neither is the clear “right choice,” and readers could easily prefer one over the other while still liking the main character with either.

I also would like to mention that there is a good minor plot involving characters revealing that they are alcoholics who have been in recovery for a while.  It’s good to see people with a mental illness that they have worked on and are actively managing in a positive way.  I appreciate this diversity being included in this book.

Given all of these positives, why is it only an average read for me?  There was nothing unexpected for this type of mystery. It is very similar to others I have read in the genre.  Additionally, the main character can kind of rub me the wrong way sometimes.  How she handles her love interests is not as up-front as it should be.  It is also unclear as to how she managed to get herself into so much debt.  It seems she might just be bad at balancing books but all for taking favors from friends.  Similarly, she’s a white woman, albeit raised in Hawaii, but she goes by a Native name and never explains why, beyond the fact that she doesn’t like her own name.  Add to this the fact that the romance didn’t really work for me, and this is why I consider this a rather average read.  It may be more than average for you, if these factors I have named are not an issue for you.

Overall, this is a light-hearted mystery that transports the reader to the tropical island of Maui.  Some readers may be a bit turned off by the main character or the romance secondary plot.  Those who enjoy a non-tense mystery set in a tropical locale will most likely enjoy the read, however.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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