Teresaelectro’s #CBR5 Reviews 13-16: Sabina Kane books 2-5

#CBR5 Review #13: The Mage in Black by Jaye Wells (3 stars):

The Mage in Black is the second book in the Sabina Kane series by Jaye Wells. Sabina Kane is a half-vampire, half-mage (witch) assassin for the Vampire council. At least, she was until she learned her grandmother who rules the vamps betrays her in book 1 and tries to kill her. Those two never really got along since Sabina isn’t a pureblood and has been corrupted by icky mage blood. Sabina joins forces with a sexy mage agent named Adam working for the Hekate Council. They flee to NYC to meet Sabina’s long lost twin sister. Together with the countcil, they must plan the next move against the vampires who are hellbent on mage genocide.

I really enjoyed the dynamic between the sisters. They are twins but with opposite upbringings (vamp vs. mage). Sabina also has an undeniable attraction to Adam even though it’s forbidden for mages and vampires to get together. Good thing she’s half-mage. Sabina, Gilguhl and Adam become an even more formidable trio by the end of this book.

#CBR5 Review #14: Green-Eyed Demon by Jaye Wells (4 stars):

enjoyed this third book much more than its predecessors. Sabina finally embraces both parts of her vamp/mage heritage. And damn does she kick some ass. Unfortunately, for them the vamps are playing dirty and weilding some mage magic of their own. Her relationship with Adam has progressed faster than expected, which has her worried he may become a distraction from the mission. I absolutely loved all of the colorful new characters they dig up in NOLA. Sabina once a lone assassin now has a host of allies willing to help her foil her grandmother’s plans. And with each book, we uncover more about Sabina’s past and whether this prophecy is worth its salt.

#CBR5 Review #15: Silver-Tongued Devil by Jaye Wells (5 stars):

This was my favorite book of the series because it starts out with the supernatural war relatively wrapped up and descends into chaos with each oncoming chapter. I suspected the villain, but was pleasantly surprised by the final twist. The ending was so gut-wrenching because the characters grew so much only to be knocked on their asses. It really sets up the final entry where the stakes could not be higher in this supernatural war.

#CBR5 Review #16: Blue-Blooded Vamp by Jaye Wells (4 stars):

Sabina has come full-circle from the first book where she lived a lone vampire assassin existence. All the characters from past books re-appear and show the part they had to play in her journey. Wells kept her black humor and didn’t forget to keep the action going until the very end. All in all a great ending for a this urban fantasy series.

I would recommend this series for fans of no-nonsense female characters and age old wars between supernatural races.

Read the full reviews for books 2-5 on my blog.

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #47: Locke & Key Volumes 1-6 by Joe Hill, Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

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Locke & Key is a six volume graphic novel that is scary, smart, and humorous. The first five volumes [Welcome to Lovecraft, Head Games, Crown of Shadows, Keys to the Kingdom, Clockworks] have already been published. Volume 6 [Alpha & Omega] will be published in February 2014, but you can pick up the single issues now, except for the final chapter. That will be published Nov. 27 and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Locke & Key involves quite a bit of murder and horror, which is familiar territory for author Joe Hill and his father Stephen King. I usually shy away from creepy stuff, but the story line is so good, it sucked me in, and the artwork is a stunning complement to the writing.

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The series focuses on the Locke family and their ancestral home Keyhouse, which sits on the edge of a small Massachusetts island town called Lovecraft. When mom Nina, teen son Tyler, teen daughter Kinsey and first grader Bode arrive at Keyhouse, which has been maintained by cool, artsy Uncle Duncan, their dad Rendell has just been brutally murdered by a mentally unstable high school student named Sam Lesser. Tyler feels responsible, Kinsey is overcome by fear and tears, Bode feels lost and alone, and Nina hides inside a wine bottle. The local police keep a watch on the family when Sam Lesser escapes Juvenile Detention in California. Sam is on the road to find the family, drawn forward by a voice that comes to him and promises him everything he desires in return for his service in locating some keys.

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Throughout the volumes, Bode, Kinsey and Tyler find unusual keys around Keyhouse, keys that unlock magical/supernatural powers. Meanwhile the malevolent force that sucks in Sam also tries to work on the members of the Locke family. The story itself is fascinating because it’s more than a traditional quest story or “forces-of-good-versus-forces-of-evil” story. It is truly a psychological thriller. Many of the keys have the power to transform the person him or herself — to change form or look or even to get literally inside someone’s head. In the wrong hands, they could wreak havoc not just on one person or the town of Lovecraft, but the whole world.

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I enjoy graphic novels, but for me, it’s only worthwhile if the plot and writing are any good. That’s the hook for me, while my husband gets pulled in by art first. We both loved Locke & Key. Hill’s creative plot and sympathetic characters made me keep reading even when I was terrified about what was going to happen next (which I hate; I generally avoid horror in all forms). He goes back in time to provide an unusual family history for the Lockes, and his tale of the creation of the keys demonstrates an inventive mix of historical and supernatural imagination. The modern day Lockes are dealing with the usual teen angst and high school drama, which is also the source for the humor in the story. I especially enjoyed the prom scene that gives a hilarious nod to “Carrie.” Hill has written a “sins-of-the-father/sins-of-the-son” storyline that unfolds with tragic consequences but the possibility of redemption.

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My husband recommended Locke & Key and we discussed the merits of the graphic novel form over traditional fiction for this story. Certainly, Locke & Key could have been told as a novel, but given the incredibly imaginative creatures and scenarios Hill envisioned, the graphic novel form was the perfect form for the story. Rodriguez’ ghosts and demons, the keys, the settings (Rodriguez is trained as an architect and it shows in his blueprints for Keyhouse) and characters are better than anything my poor imagination could have come up with. I also loved his homage to Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes at the opening of Vol. 4.

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I both look forward to and dread the last installment of Locke & Key. Hill has no compunction about killing characters in brutal ways, and children are not exempt from that. I’m worried about losing some of them (I love Rufus and Erin — two characters who know the truth and suffer horribly because of it), and I hate to see the story end because it’s so good. The series has been nominated for The Eisner and other awards, and fellow writers such as Warren Ellis and Robert Crais have praised the writing and art. As they say, this is a graphic novel for those who don’t really like graphic novels.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR5 Review #23: Days of Blood and Starlight

It’s time for some turbo-charged book reviews, complete with recommendations for those who care for them. They’ll be up here day by day, or if you want to gorge yourself check out my separate blog

For those who love being into things before they’re mainstream: Days of Blood and Starlight

Granted, at least four other writers at the Cannonball Read program (which has been pushing me through more and more reading each of the last three years) have already suggested this, and I’m guessing that many readers have read it. But, while this on-line community of hard core readers has heard about it, other social groups I love to talk about reading with (Goodreads/Chapter and Verse/my students) seem to be utterly in the dark about this series.

I have a feeling that will change soon. And not just because Universal is at work preparing it for a movie, and not just because the cavernous hole of transferring the author’s work into a film version, but simply because in literature, as in all things, quality will out. And the second book of Laini Taylor’s series more than affirms her commitment to quality.

Last year I gushed over how a supernatural novel (with a healthy dollop of romance) managed to perfectly capture the tone of a jet-setting espionage thriller. Now, I’m even more impressed at how Taylor’s invented world of angels and demons serves to guide us through the serious moral ambiguities and serious badassery of a war novel. Conflicted soldiers, renegade assassins, mastermind stratagems, incomprehensible cruelty and a virtuous core all make for a great read. This is what great writing (not great fantasy writing, not great young adult writing…great writing) is all about.

 

I’m glad I found Laini Taylor’s work, and so help me, I’ll restrain my most hipster impulses…or at least…try to.

Malin’s #CBR5 Reviews #93-94: Charley Davidson book 4 and 5 by Darynda Jones

Rating: Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet – 4 stars
Fifth Grave Past the Light – 4.5 stars

At the beginning of Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet, a few months have passed since the end of book three, and Charley isn’t doing all that well. She’s not really left her apartment, which is now stuffed full of boxes full of random useless stuff she’s purchased from late night shopping channels. Her best friend/next door neighbour/overqualified personal assistant Cookie has cancelled all her credit cards, and insists on ganging up on her, along with her uncle Bob, and her sister Gemma. They claim that she’s suffering a mild case of PTSD (they’re right) and they insist that she leave the apartment, and start getting her life back in order. When a desperate young woman shows up on her doorstep claiming someone is trying to kill her, but everyone around her just thinks she’s insane, Charley decides that enough is enough, and promises to help. She’s decides that the best way out of her financial difficulties is serving Reyes with a hefty bill, since she technically performed the job he hired her to do. Now she just has to find him.

In Fifth Grave Past the Light, Cookie and Charley discover that they have a new neighbour, and it’s the drop dead gorgeous Reyes Farrow himself. Charley is hoping to prove to her uncle Bob that Reyes is not the arsonist who’s been burning down old buildings all over Albuquerque, but it does seem suspicious that all the same buildings are ones that Reyes at some point lived in, growing up. She’s made peace with her father, whose bar, previously mostly a cop hangout, is now a super popular lunching spot for women of all ages. Charley’s apartment is slowly filling up with young dead women, all of them blond and killed gruesomely, clearly by the same serial killer. Despite Charley’s Reaper powers, she’s unable to get any of them to communicate with her, they’re too traumatised, even after death. When it seems like Charley’s sister Gemma may be the serial killer’s next intended victim, it becomes crucial that she discover the killer’s identity as soon as possible.

Full review on my blog. 

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 34-38: The Demonica Series by Larissa Ione

The covers (and titles, and character names) for this series are patently ridiculous (perhaps not moreso than usual for paranormal romance aka PNR, but that’s a rather low bar) so instead, to give you a brief idea of what the ‘tone’ of these books is, have this GIF of Blanche:

blancheI can’t confidently assure anyone who isn’t already a fan of this genre that this series will convert them, but among the PNR I’ve read, I really enjoyed this series. The standard formula is there. You have your alpha male heroes — here, they are demons (in particular, sex demons… spicy!) — and heroines who are THE ONLY WOMAN for the hero. The women across the series are varied in background, and while each of them can be described in some manner as “kick-ass” — as is par for the course in this genre, lately, since PNR readers seem to like their leading women to want it rough, if you know what I mean — their strength comes from different wells of experiences.

My two favorites in the series were Pleasure Unbound (Tayla and Eidolon) and Sin Undone (Sin and Conall), and my least favorite was Desire Unchained (Runa and Shade.) Really, the differences between all of them are slight; it comes down to how much you like the coupling. One thing that I liked about this series in general was that there were several plot arcs that spanned across several of the books at a time, which tied them together nicely and prevented them from seeming completely interchangeable and redundant. Even though you could read any one as a standalone, they were actually more rewarding read together as a series, which for me is in stark contrast to a lot of PNR, where over the course of the series I think to myself, “Okay, I get it, I don’t need to go any further.”

A few more fun points: the author has created a whole phylogenetic/biological classification for the demons in the books, which is pretty precious. Also, did you know that the semen of certain classes of incubi is an aphrodisiac? Now you do! And if you’re looking for ThunderSex (h/t Mrs. Julien) you’ll get plenty of it, with blood-bonding and all kinds of other great things that preternaturally strong beings can do to each other in bed.

In sum total: for PNR fans, highly recommended. For fans of exclusively highbrow literature, well, you probably didn’t even start this review, much less finish it. For those willing to dabble, this entire series will probably take you about a week or less, so it won’t be a huge imposition on your time if you didn’t find it as fun and/or steamy as I did. Allow me to re-iterate: FUN! and STEAMY! So yes, enjoy yourselves; this shit is fucking silly. If nothing else, the covers will make you giggle.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #54: Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole

2.5 stars

Trehan Daciano is a Dacian vampire. Dacia is a realm hidden in mist (so hardly anyone knows where to find it) and Trehan’s job, is to hunt down and kill anyone who finds out about Dacia or the Dacians before they can tell anyone about them, or how to get into their super secret realm. Being a Dacian vampire also means that you don’t drink blood directly from their victims or some virtuous thing like that, they may even drink only animal blood, it doesn’t really come up, but Trehan and his relatives are wicked smug about it. Trehan, one of the princes of the Realm, has lived for nearly nine centuries, and is pretty bored. All he does is read, play with his extensive weapons’ collection, occasionally hunt down and with ruthless efficiency kill any threats to Dacia. He and his cousins, all in line for the Dacian throne appear to try to playfully murder one another, but even that seems to be losing its charm.

Then, as he is trailing a demon who visited Dacia and then broke the decree about never leaving, he meets his fated mate (all of Kresley Cole’s vampires, and werewolves, and most of the demons have one fated person who they’re waiting for, and once they meet them, they can’t think of anyone else). Unfortunately she is in love with the demon he is determined to kill, and also the prize in an epic tournament, where the winner gets her hand in marriage, and control of the throne of Abbadon, her kingdom. Read more on my blog.

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #30: The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates

Let me start by saying that gothic novels aren’t my thing, and had this been run-of-the-mill gothic, I would never have made it past the first chapter of this 1,000-plus-page volume. But nothing Joyce Carol Oates writes is ever run-of-the-mill, and while I still had to struggle with myself to pick this up night after night, I persevered to the end of this 1,000-plus-page volume.  Did I mention that this is a very long novel?

Oates’ story focuses on a series of Inexplicable, Indescribable and Unspeakable horrors that are visited upon the wealthy high society families of Princeton, New Jersey at the turn of the last century, with the particular focus of “The Curse” being the apparently golden family of the highly-revered former New Jersey governor and retired Presbyterian minister Winslow Slade. The history of The Curse is, in fact given us in the form of a narrative by a fussbudget Princeton historian 50 years’ later, and begins with the sudden appearance in 1905 of an oily and sinister character amidst the Princeton aristocracy. Before anyone can agree on where he came from, who invited him, and what he even looks like, our shape-shifting demon seduces Slade’s favorite granddaughter Amanda, and carries her off on the night of her long-anticipated society wedding to his “Bog Kingdom,” where he starves, gang-rapes, tortures, and eventually adds her to a large collection of former wives who have been broken and turned into garbage-eating slaves under his reign.

Amanda’s stunned brother and young cousins are now beset with nightmarish visions and voices in their heads which eventually drive them to suicide, leaving patriarch Winslow Slade in an agony of grief and despair. Other high-society families—the Van Dykes, the Burrs, the Strachans, the Bayards, the FitzRandolphs—are soon all afflicted in one form or another, with the ghosts of dead family members flickering in and out of view, beckoning to the living to join them. Cardiac arrests, strokes, fainting spells, and mental breakdowns begin to decimate the privileged families that run this university town, while extramarital affairs flourish, spouses turn on each other, mothers turn on their children, and people start dropping like flies.  All the while, the families struggle to keep up appearances, the women to gossip in private about the “unspeakable” events occurring around them, the men to sagely expound on growing threats to the white race, male supremacy, and their class superiority. Our historian’s narrative is stitched together from a pastiche of de-coded journal entries, letters, documents, public speeches, and hearsay, making for some mighty confused and confusing reading and adding greatly—and unnecessarily—to the overall length of The Accursed.

Oates now adds another layer to her story, the rampant racism against blacks, Jews, and immigrants that lies at the heart and soul of these privileged families. We are brought into the drawing rooms of these aristocrats as they expound on the natural superiority of their race and class, and we are presented in graphic detail with the lynchings and targeted murders of the underprivileged to which the power elites turn a blind eye. After flipping over one rock—that of the American aristocracy of the time–Oates now flips over another and offers terrifying and grotesque portrayals of some of the nation’s leading cultural and political icons of the era, from Jack London, Mark Twain and Upton Sinclair, to Woodrow Wilson (Princeton University’s president at the time), former U.S. President Grover Cleveland, and standing President Theodore Roosevelt. The displays of gluttony, addiction, misogyny, bigotry, hypocrisy, corruption, and downright hatred of humanity by these characters on both side of the divide are positively Dantesque, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or throw up over Oates’ descriptions of London’s Satyric drunk fest or Teddy Roosevelt’s meat-gorging frenzy in the face of Sinclair’s vegetarian asceticism.

Oates mixes a variety of genre in The Accursed—mystery, horror, romance (of a sort), history, and political and social commentary. There are demons, vampires, spectral snakes and ghosts galore, but the real horrors are revealed through her aggressive exposure of the decadent underpinnings of privileged American society. And despite my sympathies with much of what Oates is trying to accomplish with her satire—for that is what The Accursed ultimately is–, I felt that her story repeatedly foundered, even stalled out, with her bizarre turns and twists into gothic horror, her interminable descriptions of social conventions, her extraneous characters, her inexhaustible details on the descent into madness of a number of her prominent characters, etc. I also found the fatal game of draughts between the 10-year-old Todd Slade—an Inexplicable if ever there was one—and the Bog King, to be so absurd as to be positively laughable, despite the fact that it was supposed to be a plot turning-point for the entire story.

Of course, the core to the mystery isn’t solved until the bitter end, when Oates’ historian lets us read Winslow Slade’s “Covenant,” which the old man was prevented from reading from the pulpit. It is unfortunately so strident in its all-caps pseudo-Biblical hysteria that I feel much of the effect of the confession was, in fact, blunted. Which is sort of the way I feel about The Accursed as a whole.