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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: An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire (Series, #3)

May 5, 2015 2 comments

Book Review: An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire (Series, #3)Summary:
When two of Toby’s good friends’ children go missing from their own bedroom and another won’t wake up from being asleep, they call Toby in immediately to look for them.  Soon the King of Cats reports that some of his kingdom’s children are missing too, and Quentin’s human girlfriend disappears as well.  It quickly becomes clear that it’s time for the 100 year cycle of Blind Michael’s Hunt.  Blind Michael, the Luidaeg’s brother, is incredibly powerful, and only three roads lead to his realm.  Toby can only take each road once.  That means she has only three chances to save the children and stop the Hunt.

Review:
I picked this book up immediately after finishing the second in the series and, oh man, it did not disappoint.  This book presents an old school Brothers Grimm style blood-curdling, toes-curling fairy tale, peppered with characters we’ve already come to know and love.

Blind Michael is scary. What he does to the children is really scary.  He turns the fae children into “Riders” monstrous twists on real fae features.  He turns the human children into their horses for them to ride.  Everything about Blind Michael and his twisted land scared the crap out of me, and I don’t scare easily.  It was exactly the sort of scare I used to seek out as a child from the original Grimm Fairy Tales (the ones that are not cleaned up).  This book goes a lot darker than the first two, which were already dark, and it went there in such a different way from the first two plots.  The first two plots were entirely about murder, here we have someone stealing children from their beds.  It’s a completely different type of scare and different sort of mystery for Toby to have to figure out.

The plot tells more than just this one mystery, though, it also brings out some information that is key to the overarching plot of the series.  I really enjoyed how smoothly this was worked together, and I also must say I didn’t predict at all where it was going.

There are basically two themes in the book, one I appreciated and the other I didn’t particularly agree with.  Let’s start with the one I didn’t agree with.

There’s a theme in the book that children on some level must deal with and be held responsible for the choices of their parents.  Toby tries to pretend otherwise, but that doesn’t work out so well for her.

Blood will tell. I tried to pretend it wouldn’t that we could change, but blood always tells. We carry the burdens of our parents.  (loc 312)

It basically reads as the idea that you can’t run away from your family or from your blood, your nature.  Personally, I don’t like that frame of thought.  You can leave your family of birth and not have to be held responsible for them.  You are not your parents. You are your own person. You are not responsible for what your parents do after you leave home.  So this theme didn’t sit well with me.  Other readers who agree with this theme will obviously enjoy it more.

The other theme was one I was quite happy to see so directly addressed in an urban fantasy and that is of suicidal ideation.  There are many different ways that suicidal ideation can manifest, but with Toby her symptoms are that she firmly believes her death is imminent and is planning for it, and she repeatedly throws herself into risk situations because she doesn’t care if she dies.  Suicidal ideation essentially means that a person is lacking self-preservation instincts and is ok with dying.  They won’t actually commit suicide but they will put themselves into dangerous situations because part of them does want to die.  So they might run across a street without looking, go walking alone at 2am in a dangerous neighborhood, etc… Toby’s depression from the first two books has grown so much that she is now at this point, and people have started calling her out on it.  Seeing her realize that she’s, in layman’s terms, got a death wish, is interesting and well-done.  What I appreciate most about it is how directly it is addressed.

Because, dear October, you’re the most passively suicidal person I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something. You’ll never open your wrists, but you’ll run head-first into hell. You’ll have good reasons.  You’ll have great reasons, even. And part of you will be praying that you won’t come out again. (loc 3876)

Overall, this entry in the series brings back the characters readers have come to love and puts them into a new mystery much more terrifying than the first two.  Two strong themes in the book include nature/nurture/ties to parents and dealing with suicidal ideation.  Fans of the series won’t be disappointed.  This is a roller coaster ride of emotions and peril.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Previous Books in Series:
Rosemary and Rue, review
A Local Habitation, review

Counts For:
Once Upon a Time IX

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Book Review: Zelde M’Tana by F. M. Busby (Series, Prequel) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

April 23, 2015 2 comments

Book Review: Zelde M'Tana (Series, Prequel)Summary:
Zelde M’Tana is one of the lost children, living away from UET influence and welfare or adults at all in gangs of violent kids.  But she gets captured and sent in outerspace on a journey toward being a sex slave on a mining planet.  When the ship mutinies, her chances for a future change for the better.

Review:
I picked this up because I heard it is the prequel for a black woman spaceship captain from a scifi series in the 70s.  I was intrigued (who wouldn’t be by that cover) but I was ultimately disappointed by the characterization of Zelde.

This prequel is designed to be able to be read as a standalone, so that’s how I approached it.  It’s not entirely clear what the problem is in this futuristic world, but it appears that an evil corporation known as the UET has taken over governing everybody and generally encourages violence and treats everyone like dirt.  There are a few escaped ships and some colonies they have set up on other planets where people live freely.  This prequel, then, basically tracks how Zelde comes to be escaped.

I almost stopped reading the book very early on during Zelde’s lost child years.  She is a lost child who joins a gang and winds up climbing the ranks.  There’s obviously a lot of violence.  What I wasn’t expecting was for Zelde to be a rapist.  In the context of the gang wars, when her gang overtakes another, she takes the leader of that gang and rapes him in front of everyone.  (She achieves this by tying a rope around his penis and tugging on it until he gets hard).  In one instance, perhaps in both, I’ve kind of tried to scrub it from my mind, she kills the man right after raping him.  Now, the thing to understand is, Zelde is not ever presented as an anti-hero.  She is 100% supposed to be a hero that the reader roots for.  We want her to escape UET; we want her to succeed.  But she’s a rapist.  A hero rapist isn’t a character I can get behind, and I wouldn’t want other readers to either.

I kept reading the book because I was wondering if this would ever be addressed.  If, perhaps after Zelde escapes and is able to get some education and safety she would realize what she did was wrong.  But that never happens anywhere in the book.  It’s really disappointing.

The second problem I have with the book, which is somewhat related, is in how it presents female sexuality.  Basically, in this world, all women will have sex with other women if a man happens to not be around and convenient right when they get their urge.  So, for instance, Zelde prefers men, but she’ll take a woman to pair up with if a man isn’t right handy.  She also will dump her female pairing the instant there’s a hint she can get with a man.  Similarly, there’s a triad relationship on the ship in which a man, Dopples, is paired with two blonde women.  The women read as sisters, although it’s possible they’re not.  In any case, this is one of our typical interactions with them:

She [Zelde] could never tell the two blonde women apart. The one who opened the door this time had bangs now–but so did the other, standing behind a little. Both naked, hair messed, a little sweaty and out of breath–were they having somebody else in here? no–not on Dopples; they wouldn’t dare that. Must be playing together, just by themselves. That figured–for two women, one man had to be short rations. (page 127)

It all feels like a misreading of female bisexuality.  Female bisexuality isn’t a result of an appetite for sex that is just so high it can’t be satiated by just one person or that must be satiated at every opportunity.  Bisexuality is not this idea that women need to have sex constantly and so will take just anyone, with a slight preference toward men.  While I appreciate that a book published in 1980 includes the idea that women can be attracted to other women it reads from the perspective of a male gaze idea of female bisexuality instead of the reality.  Similarly, not all women are bisexual and yet every single woman in this book seems willing to jump into bed with another woman if a man doesn’t happen to be available or in the context of a M/F/F threesome.  Not all women are bisexual.  Not all bisexual women prefer to pair up with men (some do, but not all).  Not all bisexual women are open to the idea of a threesome.  The only hint to the idea that not all women are bisexual that the book concedes to is that one character is asked at one point if she is “all for women” (page 257) as in are you a lesbian.  (She is not, if you were wondering).  It is just as erasing of bisexuality to operate from the assumption that all women are bisexual (but not all men) as it is to say none are.  Some straight men may like the idea that women are off sleeping with each other every time their backs are turned and that of course any woman would want to participate in a M/F/F threesome given the opportunity, but that is not the reality.

One final issue I had with the book, which is a bit minor but is still annoying, is a bit of grammar.  Almost every time a character says something like “would’ve” or “could’ve,” it’s spelled as “would of” or “could of.”  It does this outside of times the characters speak, so it’s not an attempt at dialect.

A positive to say about the book is the plot is fast-moving and covers a lot of ground.  Zelde’s life is eventful, and if a reader isn’t a fan of one phase, it will quickly change.  Also, Zelde’s race is not just mentioned and then forgotten.  Her existence as a black woman and what that means for her is confronted in the book in various ways.  Also, Zelde rocks a natural hairstyle and gauges her ears at one point while still climbing the ranks of the ship.

Overall, this 1980 scifi book contains a fast plot and interesting future but its representation of female sexuality may be bothersome to some readers.  Readers who seek to avoid scenes involving rape or being asked to identify with a rapist should avoid it.  Recommended to readers of classic scifi and those interested in seeing representations of black women in literature in the 1970s and 1980s.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: The now-defunct SwapTree (like PaperBackSwap).

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Counts For:
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge

Book Review: A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire (Series, #2)

April 14, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire (Series, #2)Summary:
Toby Daye, changeling, private detective, and knight to the knowe of the powerful Sylvester, feels like she has her feet back under her after returning to human form after 14 years as a fish and also solving the murder of a powerful fae.  When her liege requests she go investigate why he hasn’t heard from his niece in a while, she expects it to be a quick visit, although possibly a bit irritating since she has to bring along young Quentin, a teenaged full-blooded Daoine Sidhe fae.  Sylvester’s niece just so happens to own the only fae tech company, and she claims that she has indeed been calling her uncle.  But when an employee turns up dead and Toby finds out there have been two mysterious deaths previously, she realizes there’s more here than immediately meets the eye, particularly since she can’t read anything from the blood of the dead.

Review:
I enjoyed the first book in this urban fantasy series about a changeling investigator so much that I immediately checked out the second ebook from the Boston Public Library on my kindle.  (If you have an ereader, definitely check out if your local public library will let you do this.  It saves me so much money!)  This book brought me right back into the wonderfully built world of Toby and offered up a new murder mystery even more mysterious than the first.

Readers of the first book know that Toby’s special fae power is the ability to read a person’s memories from tasting their blood.  I found it startling and intriguing that McGuire immediately took this power away from Toby in the second book.  There’s nothing to read in the victims’ blood.  Why is that?  It’s a plot I may have expected in the fourth or fifth book, but not so soon.  From a writing perspective, it’s bold to take away your hero’s superpower in only the second book in the series.  And it works.  There’s ultimately a logical explanation for why the blood is telling Toby nothing (and no, it’s not Toby’s fault), so it never feels like a gimmick.  I think that is what I like most about this series.  The author utilizes techniques that could easily turn into a gimmick but she always keeps it from actually being a gimmick so it instead is utterly engaging and enthralling.

The fae world is also clearly much larger than we originally saw in the first book.  The fae have a tech company so that they can rework modern technology to work in the fae knowes.  On top of that, we also meet many more races of fae, as well as ways for the races we already know to exist and appear.  For instance, Sylvester’s niece, January, has a daughter.  But her daughter is in fact a tree fairy.  Tree fairies are normally tied to a tree or a forest, so how is she in this tech building?  January tied her branch to the computer server after her forest was destroyed, and she was able to keep living after adapting into the server and treating the server as a forest.  Very cool idea, and it works beautifully in the story.

Even though I was basically able to predict whodunnit, I couldn’t figure out why or how, so the plot still satisfied me as I waited for Toby to figure all of that out.

One thing that kind of disappointed me in the book is that Toby meets a type of fae who can emit a magical scent that makes the person smelling it think they are massively attracted to him and thus sleep with him.  They then become obsessed with this type of fairy, and the fae feeds off of the obsession.  I was glad to see the book treat this as rape (basically drugging someone into sleeping with you) but I was also disappointed to see our heroine have to face off against an attempted rape.  As I said in my review of the previous book, I get really tired of urban fantasy heroines being threatened constantly by rape.  My hope is that this was a one-off type thing to introduce the concept of this type of fae rather than the new normal for the series.

Toby herself and the worldbuilding continue to be my two favorite aspects of the series.  The plots are good, but I’d read almost anything plot-wise to visit Toby and her world again.

The essence of Toby and why I love her is evident in this quote:

Long dresses weren’t designed for walking in the woods. My mother could’ve made the walk without stumbling; she fits into the world that well, even insane. That’s what it means to be a pureblood. I stumble and fall, and I always get up and keep going. That’s what it means to be a changeling. (page 371)

Picking a quote to show why I love the worldbuilding so much is a bit harder, but here’s a particular favorite that really punched a visual of what this world is like home for me.  In this passage, Toby is explaining that she and her mother are Daoine Sidhe and can see memories through blood:

My mother was so strong she could taste the death of plants. She could never stomach maple syrup; she said it tasted like trees screaming. (page 91)

As a born and raised Vermonter who grew up harvesting maple syrup, that line was a bit of a gut punch. An eloquent one.

Overall, readers of the first entry in the series will be pleased with this second outing.  Toby continues to be a strong character set in a fascinating world.  The mystery plot is another murder, but it is a series of murders and has a very different solving pattern and outcome than the first.  Recommended to fans of the first book to continue on to the second as soon as they can.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Previous Books in Series:
Rosemary and Rue, review

Counts For:
Once Upon a Time IX

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 6 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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