Monthly Archives: October 2013

Review of The Demon King and I & Dragons Prefer Blonds, by Candace Havens

The Demon King and II picked up a used copy of Candace HavensThe Demon King and I and Dragon’s Prefer Blonds.

Description from Goodreads:
The Caruthers sisters are heiresses with privilege, wealth, beauty, and brains. But these party girls have something extra. As the Guardian Keys, possessors of an ancient family secret, they hold the fate of the world in their hands.

Gillian, the eldest, is a sensation in the art world? this world, that is. In her other world she’s the Assassin, a knockout who snuffs out dimension-jumpers who foul up her personal space. She never expected to join forces with one. But when a plague of murderous demons plunges the earth in darkness, she has no choice but to get a little help from a being who knows his stuff.

Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed with this one. It felt extremely rushed and lacked any kind of bulk or substance. At times I felt like I was reading the author’s outline rather than a fully fleshed out story. The plot jumped from random event to random event, Gilliam made unfollowable leaps of logic, and the dialogue felt really stiff.

There were also an awful lot of descriptions of how awesome Gillian and her family were supposed to be, but precious little showing us that same awesomeness. Example, while having a contrived tender moment with Mr. Demon King he and Gilly are called back to his castle where he locks her in her room. We get to see her storm around a bit and get angry about being locked up and then be told, ‘oh yeah, we were under attack.’ (Um, why wasn’t the warrior Guardian in that defensive battle again?)

She is then returned home, where said attack is reported and we, the reader, get to see her and her sisters decide which dress to wear to the ball. Leaving aside the whole, ‘oh shit, the universe is seriously endangered and maybe we aught to blow off the charity public appearances’ I’d be much more interested in seeing the outcome of a pitched demon battle than whether Gillian or her sisters chooses to wear a pink Carmen Marc Valvo or a coffee-colorer Zac Posen. But the latter seemed to be much more important, since it and other such scenes were the only ones that seemed to be related real-time.

This sort of issue reared its ugly head again and again. Even the final conclusion was spent telling the reader what had been discovered in the last days of the investigation instead of showing us the investigation. If I wanted a memo on the highlights of the events I would have chosen something bullet-pointed instead of a novel. The reader is given far, far more firsthand information about what characters are wearing, or driving, or what event they are attending than the actual fight scenes, romance, or mystery solving.

Further, I’m not certain how I’m supposed to really feel the tension of the universe almost being overrun by evil when it’s of so little importance to the characters in question that they don’t even bother to rearrange their social schedules. Yes, I did gather the fact that the Caruthers sisters lead this double life, but their (and the book’s) strong focus on fashion and celebrity meant that nothing else felt important–least of which the supposed universe-wide war that was being waged.

Add to that the fact that I felt like the actual plot point that tied everything back to Gillian made little sense. There really isn’t a way for me to address this without spoilers, but it was shaky at best. I saw no reason any aggression should have been directed at a single Guardian. I do see what the author was probably trying to infer, but it really didn’t come across.

I also thought there were some inconsistencies. Arath, for example, didn’t know who Jesus was or what seat belts were, but recognised Fall Out Boy, DVDs and Dancing with the Stars. What? Really?

Lastly, another side-effect of the bullet-point like plotting was that, with the exception of the fact that you know it’s coming by virtue of what type of book it is, the romantic element amped up out of nowhere. I can’t even call it insta-love because until the very end, where a perfunctory and very brief sex scene was shoe-horned in, there wasn’t any love expressed. Sure Gilly told herself she was in love with this man she had spoken to a mere handful of times, but that’s it. There was no sexual tension, no flirting, almost no whispered sweet nothings–she was just suddenly in love. Go ahead and check that bullet off, will ya?

Now all this isn’t to say I hated the book. I like the idea of the strong female warriors. And since Gilly didn’t do a lot of actual fighting she didn’t pull any of the horrid heroine cliché moves, like falling and twisting an ankle so the hunky hero has to carry her home. All right, he carried her home. But at least it was after a fair, if rushed and unprovoked, rare fight scene.

Dragons Prefer BlondsDescription from Goodreads:
Alex Caruthers is a sassy socialite who knows when it’s time to turn in her dancing shoes and kick some serious dragon booty. But when Ginjin-the dragon warrior who’s tried to kill her numerous times- chooses her as his mate, Alex finds herself in a situation that’s too hot to handle.

For help she turns to Jake, head of Caruthers security-and a total hottie in a suit-and asks him to pose as her boyfriend. Their relationship might be fake, but Alex can’t deny that one touch from Jake makes her burn hotter than any dragon could.

I almost didn’t bother with this  second Caruthers Sisters book since I was so disappointed with The Demon King and I. But in the end I’m glad I did. Dragons Prefer Blonds was much better. Possibly simply because much of the premise was established in book one so more of the story could be dedicated to Alex and her adventures and less to describing the family’s basic awesomeness.

I still felt like there was some shaky plotting going on. Bailey was said to have invented so much that I was left wondering if previous Guardian Keys fought with stone axes and pointy sticks. Despite it being stated numerous times that there were other Guardians, and even two of them showcased here, it felt like the Caruthers fought all alone. No one else ever seemed to be called to council meetings and such–things like that.

I also liked Alex. She was a bloodthirsty heroine and I could appreciate that. She did pull a couple stupid female stunts…turning around so fast she tripped over her own feet and fell into the rock hard chest of her heart throb, etc. I mean really, who does that? That stuff always annoys me. But I liked how willing to storm into battle she was and that she chose the human over the paranormal hotly. That’s unusual, though it does bring the title into question.

I also thought that, while not absent, the family’s social life wasn’t played so heavily here. So I was more able to concentrate on the good versus evil aspect of the story. Though, it did feel unfinished in the end. Sure they killed the presumed leader of the kidnapping ring, but that seemed a drop in the pond compared to the evil at work on the whole. I guess that’s what the rest of the series is for. The problem is that, while the reader is told how horrible it is, we don’t see much of it.

Final say: not as bad a book one, not topping my most-loved list, but not a bomb either. It’s a fun enough bit of fluff.

Review of Slippery Souls & The Forgotten Ones, by Rachel H. Dixon

Author, Rachel Dixon sent me a copy her novels Slippery Souls and The Forgotten Ones (books 1 & 2 of her Sunray Bay series).

Slippery SoulsDescription from Goodreads:
Libby has hit a bad patch in life, and just when she thinks things can’t get any worse she’s killed in a car accident alongside her dog Rufus. During their transition to the afterlife’s Sunray Bay, Rufus somehow manages to absorb her soul – which, in turn, gives him human-like qualities and renders her soulless. Accompanied by her now talking dog, Libby tries to unravel the mystery of her slippery soul, encountering many setbacks and dilemmas along the way. She has no idea why a group of monster slayers, headed by an ex-convict, are hunting her down, and when she teams up with rogue Peace & Order Maintenance Officer, Grim, she’s shocked to discover that there’s a mob of disgruntled vampires and a very angry mayor hot on their heels too. Libby has never felt so unpopular, and begins to wonder whether it’s possible to die twice in one day…

I found that I quite enjoyed this read. Not because the plot is so seamlessly stitched together, or because of the complete absence of inconsistencies, or satisfying lack of questions at the end, because all of those aren’t actually true. But because despite my ongoing questions, the shaky way the plot holds together, and the almost miraculous conclusion the characters were witty, the dialogue snappy, and the whole adventure fun.

In the end I just didn’t care that the antagonist was overcome almost accidentally, or that I have no idea how the person who ran Libby over and started the whole affair was able to leave Sunray bay to do that, or that Vamp, Weres, Zombies and more suddenly came out of nowhere, or that Libby’s reaction to death and discovering herself in some strange world with a talking dog was ridiculously blasé. I still enjoyed myself.

Libby and her relentless libido were persistent, sarcastic and just plain funny. Krain managed to feel both evil and exasperated—a surprisingly endearing quality that made me somehow, both, like him and hope for his demise. So did Strickler for that matter. Grim was suitably sexy and Rufus provided comedic relief. Everyone involved is having an extremely bad day and the environment gives the whole atmosphere a grimy, gritty feel.

I’ve had this one on my TBR list for a while. I put it off again and again, uncertain what to expect. I’m happy to report it’s a hit. I’m moving on to book two with high hopes.

The Forgotten OnesDescription from Goodreads:
A long-forgotten-about breed of shape-shifting vampire is emerging from The Grey Dust Bowl. They harbour lots of secrets and they’ve been around since the times when Sunray Bay was known as the Isle of the Ignoble Dead. Led by a vengeful queen, they feel they’ve been hiding away for far too long, and now with an unsettling need to feed (and perhaps breed, if they’re extra lucky), they’ll do whatever they can to quench their desires. Meanwhile, Libby and Grim have taken to the underground during the unyielding conflict between vampires and werewolves. When they in a dvertently discover a zombie slave labour force, Grim is faced with a dilemma that threatens to emotionally cripple him and tear them apart. Libby isn’t about give him up easily – but soon she’s thrown into a quandary when she discovers what the shape-shifting vampires want… To go back to an earthly plane.

I’m tempted to say this isn’t a book, it’s an episode. But I’m afraid that would be interpreted as really negative. I wouldn’t mean it to be. Rather it would just be meant as a descriptive statement. You see, The Forgotten Ones doesn’t feel like a complete story to me. Granted, I still really liked the writing, the characters, the dialogue, the humour, etc but it has no beginning or end and therefore no middle either–at least not as far as the story is concerned. Obviously there is a numerical middle. 

The book picks up a day or so after the end of Slipper Souls, making SS the beginning of the story.  It then chronicles Grim and Libby’s trek toward the Grey Dust Bowl, the Blōd Vamps are introduced, Libby makes a rather startling, and somewhat far out, discover about her abilities and then, a page or so later, the book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. The issue is that there is never a challenge to overcome, a problem needing solving, a barrier to break through, etc. One would expect the discovery of new magical skills to be the point at which the characters start to move toward such an end, but instead that’s where to book ends. Leaving nothing to tapper off into an ending of any sort. 

What’s more, the number of threads left open and needing final attention just seem to keep adding up, with no real indication that the author intends to get back to some them. (I really hope I’m wrong about that.) There’s still the matter of establishing peace and a new leadership in Sunray Bay, the possible return of the three kings, Morgan’s fear of a returning foe, the Queen’s plan, Reeve’s need for love and premonitions, the hints that Izzy and her mother will come into the story, what Grim actually is, the God and Goddess’ drama, the question of Alex being a werewolf, and what Strickler’s role is. He played a pretty important part in book one, two really, and it’s yet to be explained how or why his actions at the end of book one led to those at the beginning of it. 

So, while I’m really enjoying the reading of Ms. Dixon’s story (she is one heck of a comedic writer) I’m left dissatisfied with the lack of conclusion. If I’m honest, there is very little that will prompt me to drop a series faster. Having said that, for those who don’t mind their stories drawn out over numerous episodic volumes I highly recommend this series. 

Review of Eternal Samurai, by B.D. Heywood

Eternal Samurai

I picked up B.D. Heywood’s erotic, M/M novel Eternal Samurai from the Amazon free list.

Description from Goodreads:
Tatsu Kurosaki Cobb, the last of an ancient samurai house, will not stop until he takes the head of the vampire that butchered his family. But his vow of revenge means he gives up on any hope for that once-and-forever love. Then he crosses swords with Saito Arisada, second-in-command of Seattle’s vampires and the most beautiful creature Tatsu has ever seen. The sexual chemistry between them is pure, hard, and undeniable. Unable to accept Arisada might be the killer, Tatsu begins a dangerous game. A game driven by the all-consuming thirst for blood that will force them to the extremes of love and hate.

Fukushū, vengeance. It is all that has sustained Saito Arisada for eight-hundred years. Sōhei monk turned vampire, he has searched for the returned soul of his lover who betrayed him and the Temple of Mii-dera. Arisada believes in only one thing—taking the head of the traitor. Yet, when Arisada sees that soul shining from Tatsu’s emerald eyes, his hatred shatters. He wants Tatsu in his arms and in his bed and in his heart. But Arisada’s samurai code of honor demands nothing less than Tatsu’s death. How can Arisada kill his unmei no hito—his soulmate?

From a bloody battlefield of feudal Japan to a world where humans and vampires fight for survival, Arisada and Tatsu must choose. At stake is not only love but honor.

I really quite enjoyed that, but I suspect it will have a rather small core audience. Because what it reminds me of more than anything else is a Yaoi manga. This despite it being a literary novel instead of a graphic novel. It just feels like yaoi in that strange, nebulous way of mental association.

You see, just as most fans of PNR or Urban Fantasy or even regular American M/M romance novels can often sketch out the basic shape of the plot most common to their genre of choice, this one follows yaoi’s established format in fairly recognisable ways. But you see, I like Yaoi, so I wasn’t at all put off by the similarities.

The association was undoubtably helped along by Heywood’s liberal use of Japanese terminology. No doubt my closet manga addiction and the two years I spent studying the Japanese language (which doesn’t get you very far, BTW) helped me out here. I suspect some readers would have appreciated that help, because though I knew enough to be able to pronounce the words and recognise all of the ritualised terminology (seppeku, kinbaku, kaishakunin, etc), some of the curses and a couple of the normal words (like daisuki), it felt like there were an awful lot more than was necessary. It tended to clutter the narrative at times, even when quickly followed by an English translation (which most, but not all were). If all those extra words had felt completely foreign, instead of just kind of foreign, they might have really grated on me.

Some of the English language did grate on me, if I’m honest, mostly during the extremely long sex scenes. You see these aren’t hearts and flowers, gentle, clean exploits. It’s often rough, dirty and … well, I probably can’t say realistic. It’s obviously not, but I thought the fact that things smelled, chafed, hurt, bled, and so on lent a real(ish) feel to it all. And while I appreciated this aspect of the story, some of the terminology used to create that same impression left me wanting–phrases like, piss slit or the liberal use of spunk–once or twice, fine, but over and over…not so much.

What I liked most in this story, and one more thing that reminded me of Yaoi, was Saito’s long standing, unquestioning, whole-hearted love for his unmei no hito (soulmate), regardless of the body it resides in. He pined for him for 800 years for gods sake. That’s what I call dedication and I found it to be one of the only sweet things about the story. Almost everything else had an edge of some sort.

rurouni_kenshin_by_kuraiakuOn a side note, while probably not purposeful on the author’s part, because of the red hair and scarred cheek I couldn’t help visualising Saito Arisada as Rurouni Kenshin. I found this a little distracting.

All-in-all however, while not without faults and inconsistencies, I enjoyed the read and would be up for trying another of Heywood’s works.