Malin’s #CBR5 Review #119: Death Masks by Jim Butcher

3.5 stars

This is the fifth book in The Dresden Files, the books about professional wizard Harry Dresden. This review may therefore contain some spoilers for books that came earlier in the series and also for this one, and you may want to skip it until you’ve read the books up to this point.

Harry has a number of difficulties facing him – his ex-girlfriend Susan (who Harry’s been moping over since she left him a few books ago) is back in town, getting ready to pack up her stuff to move to South America, and Harry is worried she may have found a new guy. A powerful Red Court vampire is also in town, challenging Harry to a duel, to settle once and for all the bad blood (pun intended) and warfare between the wizards and the Red Court once and for all. If Harry refuses to duel, the vampire will hunt down and kill anyone Harry cares for or has worked with, so he’s not really got much choice in the matter. Thirdly, a priest wants to hire Harry to look for the stolen Shroud of Turin, and it seems like there are demonic entities who’d like nothing better than to find the artifact first, so they can unleash a devastating plague on humanity. The rest on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #116: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

4.5 stars

Do you like/love Robin McKinley’s Sunshine? Then you should read this book.

Tana wakes up after a high school party to find that while she was passed out in the bathtub, the other party-goers in the house were brutally slaughtered by vampires. As she’s dealing with the shock and trying to find her things (you don’t want to escape a house of carnage in your bare feet if you don’t have to), she discovers that there are survivors – her douchy ex-boyfriend Aidan, and a dark haired boy she’s never seen before. Both are tied up in a back bedroom where the windows have been covered, most likely left as a snack for later. When trying to untie Aidan, he lunges for her, and Tana has to face the fact that Aidan is turning Cold.

In this world, there were always vampires, but they were few and kept themselves hidden. Until one day, a single individual decided to just feed a little off his victims instead of killing them, starting an epidemic that soon spread world wide. When bitten, but not killed, by a vampire, the victim turns Cold. They start to hunger for human blood, and once they drink it, they transform fully into vampires. If they manage to lock themselves away and avoid the temptation to drink the blood for 88 days, they’re cured of the infection, but barely anyone ever has the strength to manage it. As a result, to stop the spread of vampirism, there are walled off cities around America, where vampires and the ones who are turning Cold are confined. In the Coldtowns there are celebrity vampires, and live streams of their glamorous parties and all over America there are people who worship and dream of becoming just like them.

Full review on my blog.

EvenStevens’s #CBR5 review #17 – The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa

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Hey guys! I’ve had a crazy busy summer, I bought my first house! My reading has been sporadic and I just haven’t had any time to write my reviews. There’s a few coming so bear with me. Also, I started reading this particular book just before the move and unfortunately there was a long stretch of time before I picked it up to finish it, so my reading of the book and this review are probably a little lacking because of that. Basically what I’m saying is, don’t hold it against the book, it was actually pretty darn good.

The Eternity Cure is the second book of The Blood of Eden trilogy and picks up right after the events of the first book, The Immortal Rules (which was excellent). Allison, is now determined to find her maker, Kanin, and free him from the torture he is enduring at the hands of crazed vampire, Sarren. Along the way, old friends and foes pop up and unlikely alliances are made to get to Kanin and get everyone out alive.

I’m a fan of Kagawa’s writing, she creates distinct voices for her characters and though some of the tropes in her books are familiar, they never feel liked rehashed and recycled stories (I’m looking at you City of Bones and Wither). This book is fast paced and kept me engaged throughout.  It’s definitely a brain candy kind of book; it moves swiftly and is entertaining and easy to digest. The one thing that I didn’t love is that this felt like a second book in a trilogy; though there was a lot of action and lot of things going on, in the grand scheme of things, not much *really* happened. It felt a lot like a filler book, a satisfying filler book but filler nonetheless. This is a problem I see a lot with trilogies and I have a personal grudge against trilogies that are so just for the sake of being a trilogy. If your story only needs two books to be told, just write two! Anyways, I digress. It’s really a minor complaint and more of a personal pet peeve, I’m just an old curmudgeon.

If you’re a fan of vampire stories, The Immortal Rules is a great entry in the genre and, trilogy gripes aside, The Eternity Cure does not disappoint as a follow up.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 47: At Grave’s End by Jeaniene Frost

At Grave’s End is the 3rd book in the Night Huntress series, which is currently at 7 books and counting. Be aware that the following description (from Goodreads) kind of spoils the first two since it’s a series:

“It should be the best time of half-vampire Cat Crawfield’s life. With her undead lover Bones at her side, she’s successfully protected mortals from the rogue undead. But though Cat’s worn disguise after disguise to keep her true identity a secret from the brazen bloodsuckers, her cover’s finally been blown, placing her in terrible danger.

As if that wasn’t enough, a woman from Bones’s past is determined to bury him once and for all. Caught in the crosshairs of a vengeful vamp, yet determined to help Bones stop a lethal magic from being unleashed, Cat’s about to learn the true meaning of bad blood. And the tricks she’s learned as a special agent won’t help her. She will need to fully embrace her vampire instincts in order to save herself—and Bones—from a fate worse than the grave.”

As the series progresses, Frost has found ways to keep making her heroes (Cat and Bones) more and more perfect and awesome, so there never really feels like there is any tension during any of the would-be fatal conflicts. This is basically because she writes vampires like omnipotent wizards and mages, rather than vampires. By that I mean, these vampires aren’t just stronger and faster with enhanced eyesight and hearing like we typically expect from vampires; they can also fly, and read minds, and be pyrokinetic, and… it goes on. Cat, for her part, is only half vampire, but she somehow has the speed and skill to take on “Master” vampires without breaking much of a sweat. And if she does sustain an injury, she only needs to drink vampire blood before it kills her, and in a matter of seconds she’ll be healed. That applies to any human, but because Cat is a half-breed, she can sustain an absurd amount of injuries before she has to worry about dying. For instance, in one battle in this book, she has her entire left arm chewed off by zombies, and not only does she not die from blood loss, but she doesn’t even notice it’s gone until Bones carries her inside and makes sure she gets blood. I understand that part of the point of a paranormal universe is that you get to make shit up, but the shit Frost is making up means that there aren’t any stakes in the conflict (SEE WHAT I DID THERE).

As for the romance, it was pretty boring in this installment. Very few “love” scenes (there was, like, one? maybe?) and this book saw the tortured inclusion of a would-be love triangle, except it can hardly be called that because it was really just one guy being really inappropriate and overbearing while Cat rebuffs him and insists, quite truthfully, that yes, she really is in love with her husband. Really, it’s not even suggested that the other guy has any chance at all, so it’s just embarrassing to read any parts regarding his unrequited love.

Overall, these books aren’t very good. I probably should have stopped after the 2nd book in the series, but I currently have up to 6 downloaded from the library so I’ll probably end up finishing those so I have some books to bitch about in my Cannonball reviews. So far, neither 2 nor 3 lived up to the intrigue and suspense of the first book in the series, and I doubt the rest will.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #107: Blade Song by J.C. Daniels

2.5 stars

Kit Colbana is a mercenary, who will work as a thief, investigator or even hired killer, if the pay is good. She’s a half-breed (her mother’s family are some sort of Amazon-like species who can turn invisible at will, and summon their favourite weapon to them by just thinking hard), rejected by her relatives. She keeps having vivid dreams where the local vampire bigwig invades, and tries to sway her to work for him/most likely become his new chew toy, and she’s generally not doing super great. Then the dangerously mentally unstable Alpha of the local Cat shifters hires her to locate her missing nephew. Along for the ride until she finds the boy, is the Alpha’s sexy lieutenant, who will stay with her 24-7. If Kit succeeds, she’ll be paid handsomely. If she fails, she will die.

More on my blog.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 45: One Foot in the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

The second book in the Night Huntress series contains easily the most unintentionally hilarious sex scene I’ve ever read, and that’s saying something considering the shit I’ve read. I’m going to put “the infamous Chapter 32” under a cut in case anyone would rather experience the wonder of the scene for the first time in the author’s own words. Before I do that though, I’ll just quickly mention that the “plot” of this sequel was even flimsier and the conflicts even cheesier than the first, and that I didn’t really like this book much at all except that it made me laugh, so it wasn’t irredeemable. I’ll say with credit where it’s due to Frost that this series doesn’t take itself too seriously, so the only standard I’m really holding it to is that set by its predecessor in the series, and it does fall short of that. Anyway, onto the fun part:

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alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 44: Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

A really stupid and oddly-written Goodreads summary: “Half-vampire Catherine Crawfield is going after the undead with a vengeance, aiming for the father who ruined her mother. Bones, a vampire bounty hunter, captures Cat, and agrees to train her until her battle reflexes are as sharp as his fangs. But a group of killers pursue them. Bones is as tempting as any man with a heartbeat.”

This series (“Night Huntress”) is cotton candy PNR, complete with I-Hate-You-No-I-Love-You protestations, sex that leaves scrapes and bruises even at the most gentle encounter, flimsy MacGuffins to keep the pair apart, a paint by numbers villain, the heroine who doesn’t know how hot she truly is, and Spike Bones, the cheeky and dashing vampire lover (and most delicious creature to ever exist EVAR.)

Now, I don’t want to spoil this fine piece of literature for anyone, but I will say that the ending was irritating because it was an anti-resolution that essentially guaranteed that you have to read the second book in the series (which was easily twice as stupid as this, the first book, but I’ll get into that in its own review.) And while I like a PNR series that has overarching themes and plotlines, I have this (possibly unfair) standard that I believe that the first book in a series like this should mostly be able to stand on its own. If by the third or fourth book in the author wants to tease with a cliffhanger or unfinished business, I can deal with that, because if you’re already that far into the series one can assume you’re interested in finishing it. But the first book should more-or-less wrap up its own story. (This is just a requirement, by the way, for fluffy reads; I don’t apply the same rubric to, say, epic fantasy or something that is clearly meant to span across a long arc.)

This is neither the best nor the worst book of its ilk I’ve ever read — it was satisfying enough for the short while it took to read it, but I’ve enjoyed other series more.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #35: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

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Vampires? Post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy? Ambitious sagas? I love all of them, so as far as Justin Cronin goes I was always there for the taking. You can imagine my delight when The Passage turned out to be brilliant. Gripping, scary and heart breaking, it was like the best of The Walking Dead and The Stand rolled into one. And I don’t say that lightly. So when I found out that The Passage was the first in a trilogy I was super excited. The Twelve is the second.

Plot-wise, The Twelve sort of picks up where The Passage left off. The Twelve of the title are the original vampires, infected as part of the sinister Project Noah. In the course of the book, we jump back to the start of the outbreak and get to know Lawrence Grey, one of the janitors from the Project Noah site, as well as the great grandparents of a major character from The Passage. Next it’s seventy five years later, and the events of the Massacre of the Field unfold. Before, after and during all of this, the majority of the story is taken up with the surviving characters from The Passage, five years after the events at its climax. These include the seemingly immortal girl Amy, Michael Jaxon and Alicia, who are part of a well-organised high-functioning chain of human settlements across Texas. We learn the fates of some old friends from the end of The Passage, and it’s established that Michael and Alicia are still committed to the hunt for the remaining eleven ‘master’ vampires. While times are tough, vamps are thin on the ground, and the humans are getting by. That is, until a sinister and dangerous dictatorship run by the semi-vampiric starts to spread its influence.

So, while this is part two of three, it’s not a straight sequel. Going back to the beginning is a bold move, and one that works well. The jumps in time, while not completely disastrous, are a little clunky. And the ‘connections’ between well-loved characters from The Passage and new ones introduced in this book are sentimental and ill-advised. But as we learnt in The Passage, Cronin isn’t afraid to kill off sympathetic characters, nor show us the less appealing side of their personalities. Amy’s development from mysterious uncommunicative child, to active participant in the battle against the twelve, of which she is surely one, is fascinating.

I can’t wait for the final installment, I have a feeling it might crop up in CBR6.

One last thing. For the record, I’m NOT a Twilight fan. I like good fiction, and that goes for vampire fiction too. Just for the record.

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.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #54: The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

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Who knew those minor imperfections in The Strain would turn into the fault lines that would break this series apart into countless, indistinguishable pieces? Obviously, the answer to that question is, not me. Out of these 13, The Fall is perhaps the easiest to review because its flaws are so readily apparent and easily explained.

One, it’s an example of violence for the sake of violence. Characters are introduced for the sole purpose of having horrors unleashed upon them soon thereafter. It reached the point where I was legitimately shocked when one of the characters survived the perilous situation del Toro and Hogan put him in.

Two, partly as a result of its frequency and how little time the reader is given to get to know and care about these characters, the violence is pretty unaffecting. Like a low-rate horror film, it’s dripping with blood, but not a drop of it means a thing. They might as well be hunters themselves, writing in plenty of sustenance for the vampires they’ve concocted.

Three, the characters that have carried over from the first novel become increasingly unlikable, Eph especially. Oh, forget the fact that my wife is now avampire and hunting me and my son. This is the perfect time to rekindle the romance between Nora and I. And who even needs provocation? We’ll just go at it like nothing’s happened since we last did.

Four, and this is the biggest drawback of all, the book is a glorified recap, del Toro and Hogan piddling around in a sort of holding pattern before the third and final book in the series. It’s not until about three quarters of the way through that they stop telling us things we already knew, in new and (not so) interesting ways (ex. blog entries from Captain Obvious himself), and even then it’s anticlimactic as fuck. Readers are tricked into thinking our heroes will emerge victorious, if only partially, yet it ends up amounting to approximately nothing.

In short, you could skip The Fall and move right on to The Night Eternal without really missing anything of importance. What little you do miss, they waste time recapping in The Night Eternal anyway. So, yeah, just pretend The Fall was never written and thank me later.*

*This suggestion might later be revised to exclude The Night Eternal as well, as I’m a third of the way through and things have yet to look up for the series.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.