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

April 4, 2015 5 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: The City of Time and Memory Part I by J. A. Childress (Series, #1)

Black and white image of a giant clock with a red person jumping from it.Summary:
Zak wakes up from a night of drunken revelry to find himself in his apartment but not his apartment building.  His apartment is now part of a massive structure of multiple different architectural styles that looks like it goes on forever. Plus his bathroom is missing.  Shreya wakes up in her car in a parking garage to Hungry Eyes playing on the radio and an ominous car nearby nicknamed “Die Pflaume.”

Review:
This first entry of a new serial does a quick job establishing a strong setting but just when the action gets going, it leaves the reader hanging.

When I accepted this review copy, I must admit that I didn’t realize it was the first entry in a serial, I thought it was in a series.  Serials offer small episodes of an overarching story in bite-size chunks the reader picks up.  Think of it as reading an episode of your favorite tv series.  I think it would help if this was marketed more clearly as a serial, since certain readers love that reading experience and others aren’t too keen on it.  Making it clearer that it’s a serial will help it better reach the right readers.

A good serial entry will read much like an episode in a tv show with a large, overarching plot, but also a smaller plot that can be told in one episode that is, ideally, tied to the overarching plot in some way.  This gives the reader the satisfaction of completing a piece of smaller plot but also keeps them engaged in the series as a whole.  This serial does a good job setting up the overarching plot.  People are waking up in what appears to be an alternate universe that is possibly punishing them for something they did that they can’t remember with sinister beings chasing them or tormenting them from afar.  It’s a good mystery, but it is just getting going when the serial entry stops.  This would be ok, but the big weakness of the serial entry is that there is no self-contained smaller plot.  Thus, instead of feeling any sense of satisfaction of having learned something or completed one mystery, the two main mysteries of the overarching plot are just getting going and then stop abruptly.  Without the presence of a second, self-contained, smaller plot for this entry in the serial, this just leaves the reader feeling cheated out of getting the whole story, rather than the dual experience of satisfaction at the wrap-up of the smaller plot and intrigue at the larger plot.

The setting of the alternate universe is well-established and delightfully creepy.  Everything being just a little bit off is creatively written without being in the reader’s face.  The author also includes a drawing of a mysterious symbol that Zak sees, which helps build the atmosphere.

In contrast, Zak and Shreya feel a bit two-dimensional, but this is possibly because they have such a short time in which to be established.  Similarly, the demonic character who chases Zak comes across as corny, straight out of a B movie, not frightening like he is, presumably, supposed to.  The world building is so good that the two-dimensional good guys and cheesy bad guys stick out like a sore thumb.

The one flaw in the writing style is there are way too many similes.  At times it feels that every other sentence contains one.  Any descriptor used too much can go from artful to annoying.  A lighter hand on these would be helpful in future entries.

Overall, this first entry in the serial establishes a delightfully creepy alternate universe where everything is just off.  The lack of a smaller, self-contained plot in addition to an overarching plot will make this frustrating to read, unless the reader has the next entry at hand to read immediately.  Recommended primarily to horror fans who like their horror in small bites and enjoy the concept of a serial who won’t mind waiting a bit for the conclusion to the mystery in future entries.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Succubus on Top by Richelle Mead (Series, #2)

April 22, 2012 4 comments

Woman in push-up vest against red background.Summary:
Georgina Kincaid, the succubus that wishes sex with hot men didn’t always steal their life energy, has held up her side of the bargain with her demon supervisor.  She’s been going after quality men in exchange for him not wiping the memory of her human boyfriend, the hot writer Seth.  Of course, they can’t have sex together without yanking some years off his life, so when they sleep together, it’s literal sleeping.  But life continues in spite of boyfriends and job accolades.  Georgina finds herself caught up in helping an old incubus friend, as well as trying to find out what has her coworker, Doug, so full of energy.

Review:
Ahhh, Georgina.  You are quite possibly my favorite urban fantasy heroine, although your fixation on Seth kinda bugs me.  Anyway, everything that made Succubus Blues so fun is back with a bang this time around.  We’ve got crazy sex scenes, paranormal mystery, and an every reluctant succubus.

The story itself is a bit more predictable than the first one, but that’s ok.  I may have known right away what was up with the incubus’s project as well as what was wrong with Doug, but it’s so much fun to be in Georgina’s world that I honestly didn’t care that I knew.  I mostly delighted in this new version of Seattle that Mead has created.

Georgina is complex and so well-rounded.  We constantly learn little snippets of her long life, this time around focusing in more on her succubus years than her human ones.  She may have sex down pat, but she still doesn’t have relationships figured out, which is part of what makes her character work.  Men can still surprise her sometimes. Especially Seth.

There is honestly not that much else to say about this book.  The world is delicious, the plot predictable, the heroine delightful.  It’s drizzled in intelligent wit and topped off with some red hot sex scenes.  This series is definitely remaining my go to for urban fantasy.  Fans of the first won’t be disappointed, and anyone with even an inclination toward the genre should definitely check it out.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Previous Books in Series
Succubus Blues (review)

Book Review: Mr. Monster by Dan Wells (Series, #2)

May 12, 2011 1 comment

Knife against a white background.Summary:
John Wayne Cleaver, diagnosed sociopath and assistant in his family’s morgue, is trying to recover from the aftermath of the demonic serial killer that was haunting Clayton County until a few months ago.  A few months ago when he let loose his own inner sociopath, otherwise known as Mr. Monster, and killed the demon.  For the sake of the town.  Now he is struggling to get Mr. Monster back under control as well as deal with new feelings for his neighbor, Brooke, both of which would be easier if the demon hadn’t killed his therapist.  In spite of all this, things seem to be slowly calming down–until new dead bodies start showing up.

Review:
In a series such as this, the second book is rather crucial.  In the first book, we see John trying to deal with his mental illness in the normal ways, only to be confronted with an abnormal solution.  He takes it.  The next book must then show not only if John continues down this path, but also why, not to mention set up the structure so that he may continue down this path indefinitely for most of the rest of the series.  Wells definitely accomplishes this tough task, although not quite as smoothly or uniquely as he set up the initial plot and character of John in the first book.

One thing that this book suffers from is uneven pacing.  Whereas the first book used the classic thriller scenario of gradually amping up the tension, here the tension rises and falls so frequently and to such different levels that it’s a bit off-putting.  It provides too many moments where it’s not too distressing to put the book down and go do something else.  It is only the last few chapters of the book that hold the same tension as in the first entry in the series.  This is problematic when this is supposed to be a thriller, but understandable given all of the set-up and developments that Wells must pull off.

The new demon is definitely well-done and scary in his own way, although I must say I guessed who he was pretty much the instant he showed up in the book.  Thus, what was shocking was not who the demon is, but what he does to his victims, why, and how he pulls it off.  This part is creative and thankfully it is evident that the demons in the series will be variable and non-formulaic.  This is essential if the elements of surprise, disgust, horror, and delight are to remain.

Yet the focus is not just on the demons, thankfully.  Wells skillfully still includes the issues John faces as someone struggling with a rather non-sympathetic mental illness, making him alternately relatable and grotesque.  John struggles.  He is sometimes unlikable, but he tries so damn hard.  Similarly, Wells continues to develop the messed-up family structure John has to deal with, an issue that is absolutely relatable to most readers of YA lit.  There is much more going on here than demon fighting.  Indeed, even John’s first romantic interest is addressed.

I feel the need to say to animal lovers, particularly ones who love the wonderful kitties among us, that there is a very distressing scene in this book involving a cat that almost made me stop reading it.  I do think Wells handles it well, including the aftermath, but if you find animal cruelty incredibly upsetting, um, either skip this book or skim that section.  You’ll know when it’s coming.

Overall, this entry in the series does well for all the tasks it had to do to smoothly connect the set-up in the first book to the running themes of the rest of the series.  Although the pacing struggles a bit, characterization is still strong, as are surprising plot points.  I’m interested to see what Wells does with the next book in the series, and I recommend this one to fans of psychological and paranormal thrillers alike.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Previous Books in Series:
I Am Not a Serial Killer, review

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Book Review: The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox

Female legs crossed near a sword and a terrier.Summary:
Lizzie’s life is all about control.  Her library books are never late, her preschool class is extremely well-behaved, and she always grocery shops with lists.  In fact, to date the only out-there thing she’s ever done is to adopt her terrier, Pirate.  On her 30th birthday, though, her long-lost grandmother shows up, and she just happens to be a biker babe.  Oh, and she’s here to warn Lizzie that the minute she turns 30 her slayer powers will go into full effect and a fifth level demon wants them.  Before she knows it, she’s caught up in a whirlwind of roadkill witches, griffins, demons, and switch stars.

Review:
This is a refreshing twist in the paranormal romance genre.  No vampires to be seen so far and demons are just demons not fallen angels seeking redemption.  Lizzie reads kind of like a reluctant ninja, which is a nice change from the boring girl suddenly made exciting by the appearance of vampires.  Her life is suddenly made exciting due to a change that took place inside herself, not outside.

I also really enjoyed that her slayer powers come about when she turns 30, not at adolescence or at 18 or at 21.  Thirty makes sense because she actually gets a chance to grow up before dealing with all of this stuff.  Plus it gives older readers who long ago gave up on getting a letter from Hogwarts a chance to still imagine a fantastical life for themselves.

On the other hand, Fox does not entirely escape from paranormal romance (or heck, just romance) tropes.  There’s this really cute guy and she instantly feels a magical connection but oh my goodness something is holding them apart until they stop letting it but then she gets instantly angry at him.  For a writer who put in some very creative elements, such as the witches being elderly grandmas who still kick butt, I was expecting far more from the romance portion.  Also, the sex scene really fell flat.  I’m not sure if this was due to the way she wrote about the sex or the fact that I just didn’t believe any of the emotions between the two, but it was a disappointment either way.

Similarly, Lizzie hems and haws over being a demon slayer rather late in the game at a point at which it is obvious she really enjoys it but for some reason isn’t realizing it?  It just doesn’t make sense and rings false.

However, I still plan on reading the sequel, because the romance was such a minor portion of the storyline, and Lizzie is at least a strong female character who remains feminine.  I’m not big into the hardened heart tattoo covered female leads who seem to be the only paranormal alternative to moony-eyed emo chicks.  Lizzie lands smack between the two, which lends to the unique qualities in the book.

If you enjoy paranormal romance with a twist, you’ll enjoy this series.  Similarly, if you want a humorous, gentler introduction to the genre, try this book out.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: SwapTree

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