Monthly Archives: December 2013

Review of J.A. Pedersen’s Dark Flame Rising (Keegan Crowe Chronicles, #1)

Dark Flame Risin (Bigger)Author, J.A. Pedersen sent me an ecopy of his new YA novel Dark Flame Rising (Keegan Crowe Chronicles, #1).

Description form Goodreads: 
Keegan Crowe knows nothing of her past. But when she returns to Turtle Spring, the fourteen-year-old discovers that her parents were members of a secret society dedicated to preserving lost magic – a group destroyed for its knowledge and powers. Seeking those responsible, Keegan enrolls in a secretive school and delves into a hidden world of mystical powers, fabled creatures, and enchanted objects. There, she unearths a plot to stop an age-old threat and bring justice to a warring adversary. 

But Keegan rejects her discoveries. The scientifically-minded teen digs elsewhere for the truth, unleashing unexpected consequences. As friends and foes race to find a legendary treasure, Keegan stumbles upon a flaw in the plan. She now holds the key. But to prevail, she must find the strength to push aside her convictions and embrace her family’s shadowy legacy.

Review:
This book tricked me. Not without my complacency, I’ll admit, but it did all the same. When the author sent it to me, he was very clear that it is a YA novel, so I knew. But over and over again, I saw the cover (which is a great cover BTW) on my TBR list and wanted to read it, only to stop and remind myself with ‘but it’s YA, even if it really doesn’t look YA.’ I’ve burned out on YA a little, you see.

In the end, I gave in to my urges. And what do you know; it really is a YA novel. Not only YA, but lower YA, maybe even upper Middle Grade. The main character is 14 and much of the book reads like an Urban Fantasy version of Harry Potter’s time at Hogwarts. She attends a magical school with quirky teachers, talking animals, spells, potions, etc. Heck, it even has houses of sorts, based on abilities and zodiac signs and Muggles, though here they’re referred to as Turtles. Yes, there is a very Harry Potter feel to The New School.

I generally liked Keegan. She was smart and possessed a surprising backbone. She did not, however, feel 14. She was an accomplished hacker, blogger, intrepid journalist, fell in love, etc. In fact, many of the characters didn’t feel their age. As an example, Cody, her love interest was 15 but could drive and held a job. At one point another group of characters of similar ages were shown to be drinking and partying in an abandoned house. I’m not naive enough to think teenagers don’t do this, but it clashed with the idea of the main character being barley out of her tweens. 

I also found her dedication to skepticism in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary tedious at best and eventually even a little infuriating. I starting thinking we (she and the reader) wouldn’t ever be able to move on if she didn’t accept the obvious at some point. That she could retain her denial after the things she saw was almost magical in and of itself, not to mention a little unbelievable.

The writing seemed fine, but I had a serious problem with the use of endnotes to relate educational information. I found them very disruptive to reading the book. But they were also problematic in the sense that if a child is young enough to not know who/what Cleopatra, Excalibur, tarot cards, the Zodiac and many more are then they also probably aren’t old enough to know how to follow a superscript to the end of a chapter. And, honestly, would they be all that interested in a history lesson?

Lastly, the book starts out at a breakneck speed. Information is thrown at the reader so fast that it’s difficult to keep up. Then, once they reach Turtle Springs, things slow down almost too much. Perhaps this reduced pace felt exaggerated after the first couple fast paced chapters, but once Keegan hit the school, everything seemed to creep along. 

I did appreciate the implicit moral of facing the consequences of your actions. There is also an exciting twist at the end. An observant reader will see it coming, but it still opens up some interesting possibilities for future books. All in all, I’m torn on what to feel about this book. I didn’t hate it but didn’t particularly care for it either. However, I would bet 12-15 year olds might.

Review Eve Langlais’ C791 (More Than Macines, #1)

C791I grabbed Eve LanglaisC791 (More Than Machines, #1) from the Amazon free list. At the time of posting, it was still free.

Description from Goodreads:
Machines aren’t supposed to feel, but this cyborg can’t help falling in love.

Assigned as a specimen collector for a captured cyborg, Chloe is intrigued by the machine disguised as a man. Kidnapped during his daring escape, he shows her that despite the chip in his brain, his humanity is not completely lost.

Formerly known as unit X109GI, Joe is on a quest to discover his origin. While he doesn’t find the answers he’s looking for, he does discover that affection and lust aren’t just for humans. But when it comes to a battle between logic and love, which side will the cybernetic organism–once a man–choose?

Evaluating his feelings will have to wait though because the military isn’t done with Joe. But their threats against him pale in comparison before the shocking discovery of project C791, the revelation of which stuns the rebel cyborgs–and ignites a fury for vengeance.

Review:

I’ve read a couple of Eve Langlais’ books now and I generally enjoy them for their smouldering sex, blithely paired with enough levity to ensure the reader isn’t too cheesed out. I mean, a plot can get pretty corny and still be really enjoyable as long as it doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. I think this is where Ms. Langlais shines. However, I have to admit that this book is hovering around the 2.5 star mark and threatening to sink. It was not one of my favourites. 

This isn’t to say it was all bad. There were still some good one-liners. The sex was still hot. In the middle section Joe turned from the alpha bad-boy cyborg to a cute, confused cyborg with disarming boyish charm that I really liked. The C791 reveal was a good one. Seth and Solus were fun sidekicks. As with so many of Langlais’ heroines, Chloe is described as beautiful and sexy as well as rounded, plump even, thereby breaking from the narrow societal standards of beauty. And though opening itself up for sequels, the story did end. There were some appreciable aspects to the story. So I didn’t hate it.

But I did hate the four important aspects of it. To start with, Joe’s dialogue was painful. Now, this was addressed. He was said to have not fully grasped human syntax. Fair enough, but there were some awkward passages, especially in the beginning. His first couple sentences in the book made me laugh out loud, and not in a good way. (It did seem to get better as the book progressed.)

Secondly, his character seemed unstable. Like I said, he started out as a strong, bad-ass leader of the cyborg rebellion. Then went all googly-eyed and little boy-like. Then ended up practically a basket case. He was inconsistent at best. Likeable, but undependable. 

Third, the air at the end of the book got really, really thick with heavy sentimentality and overplayed emotions. Sci-fi erotica just doesn’t have the gravitas to support it, so it felt horribly unnatural. 

**Spoiler***Lastly, and to me most importantly, the book employed the infuriating and cheap plot device of providing Chloe a history of sexual abuse that contributed absolutely NOTHING to the plot. It was COMPLETELY unnecessary. It was pure dirty TITILLATION. It provided opportunities for her to be called a dirty whore and threatened with future abuse, and nothing more. 

This didn’t heighten the suspense for me. It just made me ask, “Why was that necessary?” Answer: It wasn’t. Sure, if a history of rape (repeated gang rape or otherwise) is an important part of a plot, I’ll endure it. But it wasn’t here. The rest of what was done to Chloe was enough to provide her with the necessary anger to move the story along. The periodic victimisation references were not needed. They were overkill to the extreme, unpleasant and came across (to me, anyway) as evidence that the author couldn’t or wouldn’t dig a little deeper than such a trite overused cliché. For anyone who’s read many of my reviews, you know this is a hot button for me. Pretty much ruined the book. 

I have no doubt that this won’t be the last Langlais book I read. Not as long as she keeps popping them up on the free list, anyhow. But this will remind me to be a little more cautious as I approach them from now on.

Review of Tina Folsom’s Scanguards Vampires Box Set (#1-3)

Scanguard VampiresI grabbed Tina Folsom‘s first Scanguard Vampire book, , off the Amazon Free list. Then, curious about Amaury, I bought the compilation containing the first three books for $0.99. Come on, that’s $0.33 a book, even if I did end up with two copies of the first book. That’s pretty hard to beat.

Descriptions from Goodreads:

Samson’s Lovely Mortal
Vampire bachelor Samson can’t get it up anymore. Not even his shrink can help him. That changes when the lovely mortal auditor Delilah tumbles into his arms after a seemingly random attack. Suddenly there’s nothing wrong with his hydraulics – that is, as long as Delilah is the woman in his arms.

Amaury’s Hellion
Vampire Amaury LeSang is cursed to feel everybody’s emotions like a permanent migraine. The only way to alleviate the pain is through intercourse. When he meets the feisty human woman Nina, a cure for his ailment seems within reach: in her presence, all pain vanishes. Unfortunately, Nina is out to kill him …

Gabriel’s Mate
After Maya is turned into a vampire against her will, vampire and Scanguards bodyguard Gabriel is charged with protecting her and finding her attacker.

Gabriel has never guarded a body as perfect as Maya’s. Even as the sexual tension between them rises and the rogue vampire closes in, Gabriel refuses to give into his desire. Despite the intimacies they share, Gabriel fears that if he ever reveals himself fully to her, Maya will react like other women have, running from him, calling him a monster …

Review: Samson’s Lovely Mortal
Ok, for the most part, I thought this was a lot of fun. The first chapter is LMFAO funny. Really, imagine a big bad PNR vampire lead trying to explain to his shrink he doesn’t have an anger problem he has ED. Too funny! The rest of the book doesn’t rise to quite the same level of humour, but it would be hard to establish much of a plot if it did. Despite that, it still had a ton of funny one-liners in it. The humour is the best part of the book, by far.

The sex is smoking’ hot and there is a lot of it. The whole middle of the book is essentially one protracted sex scene. This sometimes obscures a good story, but amazingly there is a plot in there too, so no real complaints.

I generally enjoyed this book. The writing was fairly simplistic, but solid and perfectly functional. The four friends had a good rapport and Samson and Delilah (oh, yeah, that’s really their names) have a great repartee. Delilah is a full-grown, sexually aware woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it. There is no wimpy pseudo-virgin here. Delilah is truly a strong female lead and I love that about her. And Samson breaks the PNR vampire mold, in that he is an emotional basket case. I loved it.

I only have two real complaints. But for me they are major ones. In a sense I almost imagine this book as the literary Valley-Girl equivalent of the stock phrase, “it’s sooo AMAZING.” You can almost hear that nasally, high-pitched airhead voice calling it out to her equally vacuous latte-lugging, silicone encrusted BFF. Because every single experience, thought, emotion, touch, feeling, orgasm, sight, smell, etc is described as being more meaningful, moving, important, etc than any one previously had by the characters. I lost track of how many times one or the other of them “had never felt so…,” “it was the first time….,” “it was more than…,” “he/she had never before…,” etc. Every little thing! I got the message loud and clear, but after a while, it started to feel like a cheap trick rather than a legitimate description.

Secondly, and I know I’m probably out there on my own with this one, but everything turned out too well. Delilah’s sudden effusive love almost gave me whiplash. The bad guys were apprehended and bested with ease and everyone left was forgiven. Then there was the whole closure with Delilah’s father and Peter. It was way too much. This sort of thing doesn’t pleasantly pluck my heartstrings, it makes me gag. It’s too saccharine sweet. Obviously, this is a personal preference kind of complaint, but it was enough that I almost didn’t buy the sequel. I probably wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been so cheap.

Despite those two major personal irritants, the book was a fun read. I liked the characters and the humour and that was enough to carry the story for me.

Review: Amaury’s Hellion
While this story lacked the humour of book one, it was still a fun little read. (And saying it wasn’t as funny as Samson’s Lovely Mortal doesn’t mean there were no funny bit. There were, just not as many.)

Like the first book, this one had a wonderfully strong, sexually aware female lead. In fact, my absolute favourite part of this book was Folsom’s willingness to hand some of the power normally held exclusive to PNR male leads to Nina. She tied Amaury up, made sexual demands, tormented him with sex, etc. All acts that the more powerful of a couple usually perpetrate on the weaker. I REALLY enjoyed seeing the roles reversed. And, for the record, Amaury never came across as weak as a result of Nina’s strength. It was worth reading just for that.

I do have to go on a little personal rant here, in case others feel the same way. [Some find this a mild spoiler, BTW.] The easy use of rape as a plot device, which has become far too offhand and common in women’s literature as a whole (so this isn’t a criticism levelled against Ms. Folsom’s writing alone), felt tawdry at best. Especially when paired with abuse at the hands of multiple foster fathers. After more than a few years working in Children’s Social Services I can say from experience that there are far more wonderful guardians than not. But this book makes foster father feel synonymous with sexual predator…cheap and overused in general. It’s the best I can say for it.

Now, the book also played the ‘it’s so new and amazing’ card pretty heavily, but it wasn’t as gag-inducing as in book one. I did find the ending predictable, but despite there being a lot of sex (what do you expect, really?) there was a plot. It was followable and it did stand on it’s own. So, on to book three.

Review: Gabriel’s Mate 
While I liked Gabriel and didn’t dislike Maya, I can’t say this book stood up to the first two, for me. The writing and editing was fine. That wasn’t the problem, but the content was über cheesy. This is, of course, a subjective observation. But it surpassed my acceptable cheese level without employing enough levity to make it humorous. I can’t really address why without spoilers, but it would be obvious on reading the book, for likeminded people. (Not everyone of course)

I also find characters who jump to irrational conclusions and constantly misinterpret each-other’s intent without seeking even the most basic and obvious conversations tedious and frustrating. This is a romance propelled almost entirely by these two elements. By about halfway through the book I was ready to scream. Between a series of ridiculously ill-timed encounters and the characters tendency toward snap decisions and refusal to express themselves the reader is drug along endlessly.

Now, I know I sound negative, but again, I didn’t wholly dislike the book. There was nowhere near as much sex in this book as the previous ones (though the sex is part of what I found so cheesy), which left more room for plot development. And the basic, ‘it couldn’t be’ left the reader wondering red herring or real long enough to avoid painful obviousness. There is one major “oh, no!” moment and the reader is allowed the opportunity to get to know some of the side characters better. So there was plenty to appreciate here. [SPOILER]**** Though I really hate seeing pre-established characters go bad without explanation!

Now, a word on Thomas: I absolutely appreciate that Folsom has decided to branch out from the heterosexual PNR norm and include a homosexual character. I applaud her. However, to say he is overplayed is an understatement. He wears his black leather like a uniform and is constantly referred to as ‘the gay friend,’ who goes to ‘gay bars’ and claims his ‘gay man’s perogative,’ etc (and yes, that’s the way all it’s said, no variation). It’s even thrown in in situations in which his sexuality should be irrelevant.

littlebritain_

Eventually I kind of started imagining him as Daffyd Thomas (could that name be accidental?) from Little Britain. You know, the one who constantly squeaks, “but I’m the only gay in the village,” when he’s clearly not. I noticed this in the previous books too, but more so here since he played a bigger role and there started to be hints of a future M/M arc. I liked him. Don’t get me wrong. It just seems like there wasn’t any reason to make it quite so explicit, quite so often. It left no way for it to feel natural.

All in all, my final say is “meh.” it’s written well enough, so I’m not calling it a bad book, but there were enough aspects of it that I disliked or was simply annoyed by to keep me from claiming to have liked it.