Wednesday 16 May 2012

CBR4 Book 52: "Deadlocked" by Charlaine Harris

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 2 stars
Date begun: May 6th, 2012
Date finished: May 8th, 2012

This is the 12th (and thankfully) penultimate novel in Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries/True Blood series, and while it may make some sense to a new reader, it's really not a good starting point. It will contain spoilers for the later half of the series, and the first books are much better anyway, so do yourself a favour and start there.

At this point, I'm really only reading this series because it's nearly at an end, and I've stuck with it for so long, I may as well see it through. I've quit so many series (Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books, Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody (and all her damn relatives) series) because it just felt like a waste of time to keep going, and I must admit, if Harris hadn't promised to end with the next one, this series is getting to me close to the end of my patience.

It's not that stuff doesn't happen in the book, because it does. I just don't care much about it. As always, there is a mystery that's nominally the focus for the plot. Sookie arrives late at a gathering at Eric's house, to find him feeding on a young half-were woman. The woman later turns up dead on Eric's front lawn, and it's obvious that someone's setting him up. But the investigation into how the girl died and who killed her is not really dwelt on for long, because Sookie's too busy narrating in tedious detail every little thing she does with each and every minute of her day.

A lot of the people around Sookie are now in happy, stable relationships. Several are on the verge of getting married, or having babies. Sookie's not actually very happy with Eric, and even if they were to sort out their difficulties, having a vampire for a husband means Sookie can never have babies (although I guess she could adopt). Although frankly, with her extended faerie kin hanging around, and the complicated power plays and intrigue they get up to, I'm not entirely sure why she so desperately wants to continue her own bloodline. But yeah, there's a lot of focus on weddings, or pregnancies, or actual babies. None of which Sookie can have.

There's also trouble with Victor, the local King, who's there to investigate the death of his representative. But not much happens with that plot line, except his vampire entourage have a bit of an orgy, and Sookie's pissed off because they ruin Eric's coffee table.

Sookie also spends a lot of time worrying about the super powerful magic faery gift her grandmother left her, and it would be bad if other people found out that she has it. Events that take place suggest people might even be willing to kill to get their hands on this faery prezzie. There's also some sort of unrest among the werewolves, and Sam's werewolf girlfriend is jealous of Sookie or some such.

Stuff happens, but it's difficult to care much about it. The book ends on a bit of a cliff hanger, it may be Harris' way of telling us who Sookie should end up with in the end, but I hope not, as said character has been pretty seriously friend-zoned for a lot of the series, and it seems like a bad choice. I think the best ending would be Sookie deciding that she's happy on her own, but that's unlikely to happen. The reason this gets two stars is that despite the drag of the later books, I LIKE Sookie. I think she's grown a lot as a character, and I wish her well. It's just that Charlaine Harris should've ended the series quite some time ago.

Only one book to go. I'll probably read it, just to get closure.

And with that, dear Readers, I finish Cannonball Read IV! (although I'll keep blogging the books I enjoy).

CBR4 Book 51: "Fair Coin" by E.C. Meyers

Page count: 250 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: May 4th, 2012
Date finished: May 5th, 2012

Sixteen-year-old Ephraim Scott is used to depressing home comings, with his alcoholic mother frequently too drunk for her own good. But when he finds her clutching a bottle of pills, having tried to kill herself, he is horrified. His mother seems deeply confused to see him, claiming the reason for her suicide attempt is that she identified his dead body earlier that day. Strange as this is, things take a turn for the stranger when Ephraim finds a strange coin among the belongings his mother was given from his mysterious double. When he flips the coin, and makes a wish, the coin goes hot, and grants the wish.

Ephraim can have a stable, supportive hard working mother, he can make the girl he's fancied since second grade like him - but as well as granting him wishes, the coin seems to change subtle things all around him as well. Is the coin actually magic? And is it wrong of Ephraim to use the coin to fulfil his dreams and desires, with no thought to the people who are also affected by the outcome of his wishes?

Fair Coin has a very cool concept, and Ephraim's a likable young protagonist. As interesting as the premise was, I didn't necessarily love the execution all the way through. I don't know if it's my general trouble of rooting more for male characters than female, it's happened before, it will likely happen again. I did think Ephraim should have thought his actions through a bit more, and that many of his early decisions were made without thinking things through - but having an unpredictable alcoholic parent can drive anyone to desperation, and to his credit, once he realises that the coin doesn't always change things for the better, and his coin flips can have serious repercussions, he tries to stop, and set things right.

There's quite a bit of suspense as the novel progresses, I guess I just didn't like the turn the plot took after a while. Some of it just made me a bit uncomfortable, and I'm not sure I entirely liked the resolution of the book. Still, it's nice to see young adult books doing something a bit different from the Harry Potter/Twilight/dystopian future thing, and I'm not ruling out that I'll check out Myers' future books.

Saturday 12 May 2012

CBR4 Book 50: "Grave Dance" by Kalayna Price

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Date begun: May 3rd, 2012
Date finished: May 4th, 2012

This is the second book in the Alex Craft series, and I'm yet again resorting to a plot synopsis from Goodreads because while I love these books, I apparently suck at making them sound exciting to others:

After a month spent recovering from a vicious fight with a sorcerer, grave witch Alex Craft is ready to get back to solving murders by raising the dead. With her love life in turmoil thanks to the disappearance of Fae Investigation Bureau agent Falin Andrews and a shocking “L” word confession from Death himself, Alex is eager for the distractions of work. But her new case turns out to be a deadly challenge.
The police hire Alex to consult on a particularly strange investigation in the nature preserve south of Nekros City. The strange part: There are no corpses, only fragments of them. A serial killer is potentially on the loose, and Alex has no way to raise a shade without a body, so she’ll have to rely on the magic of others to find leads. But as she begins investigating, a creature born of the darkest magic comes after her. Someone very powerful wants to make sure the only thing she finds is a dead end—her own. 

Looking at it, that still makes the book sound a bit lame. It's not. It's really very exciting, and if I hadn't had to do actual work, I would probably have read the whole book in one sitting, having the husband bring me food so I didn't have to waste precious reading time acquiring nutrition.

I really liked Grave Witch, where Alex Craft was introduced. In the sequel, Kalayna Price expands on the world she created, and lets the reader find out more about Alex' family and friends, the complicated hierarchy of the Fae, more about the soul stealers and complicates Alex' love life a whole lot more. Love triangles tend to either frustrate or bore me, but in the case of Alex, Falin and Death, I'm actually struggling to see who she should pick, as both guys are deeply intriguing and clearly care greatly for Alex, to the point where they will both do rather ill-advised things in order to prove their love for her. 

This book is even more action packed and tense than the first one, and because I've already come to care a lot about all the central characters, the suspenseful scenes affected me even more. I now eagerly anticipate the third book in the series, which is out at the start of July. 

CBR4 Book 49: "Grave Witch" by Kalayna Price

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: May 1st, 2012
Date finished: May 2nd, 2012

Plot summary from Goodreads, because I've been trying for about half an hour to recap this in a decent way, and failing miserably:

As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she’s on good terms with Death himself—who happens to look fantastic in a pair of jeans—nothing has prepared her for her latest case. Alex is investigating a high profile murder when she’s attacked by the ‘shade’ she’s raising, which should be impossible. To top off her day, someone makes a serious attempt on her life, but Death saves her. Guess he likes having her around...

To solve this case Alex will have to team up with tough homicide detective Falin Andrews. Falin seems to be hiding something—though it’s certainly not his dislike of Alex—but Alex knows she needs his help to navigate the tangled webs of mortal and paranormal politics, and to track down a killer wielding a magic so malevolent, it may cost Alex her life...and her soul.

I picked up this book because it was the first book featured in Internet geek queen Felicia Day's Vaginal Fantasy Hangout, an online book club that features exactly the sort of stuff I love to read. Never one to let a chance to add another first person narrated female paranormal heroine series to my already looong list (doing a rough count in my head, I think I'm currently following and enjoying 15 different ones), I was still pleasantly surprised by Grave Witch.

The world building is nice, and there are no vampires or werewolves anywhere. The paranormal races introduced so far are witches and the Fae (who come in a variety of wicked and devious and intriguing). Then there's the soul collectors, of which Death is only one of several (they made me think of the reapers in Dead Like Me, which is never a bad thing. There are a whole range of different types of witches, as well, with different skill sets and abilities.

Alex is a great heroine. She's determined and independent, and has changed her name and become estranged from her father and sister because her witchy powers would not help her dad's political career. Unlike a lot of paranormal heroines, she's not super powerful or the best in the field at what she does, but she takes pride in her abilities, and will unfortunately often push herself to the limits of her endurance to help her friends. Using her powers takes a definite physical toll on her (she can go temporarily blind if she overuses her grave magic), which also makes a nice change from a lot of other books out there. 

As well as an engaging, and well rounded (she's got her fair share of flaws) heroine, the book has a very cool cast of supporting characters, including the seemingly unavoidable love triangle. Detective Falin Andrews starts out as an annoyance to Alex, but sparks obviously fly, even when Alex knows she should probably stay away from him. Her long friendship with the soul collector she calls Death is also changing, after he literally pushes her away from a bullet. As she's the only one she knows who can see him (and his "colleagues"), it can create complications in the romance department though. 

The story really grabbed me, and I hated having to put the book down. I don't think I've been as excited by a series since Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series or Patricia Briggs' early Mercy Thompson books. Absolutely recommended to fans of paranormal fantasy with romantic elements. 

Wednesday 9 May 2012

CBR4 Book 48: "Spoiled" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: April 25th, 2012
Date finished: April 30th, 2012

Brooke Berlin, daughter of famous action movie actor/director/producer Brick Berlin, is determined to become a star, and she wants her birthday party to be the event that launches her on her way to stardom. So when she discovers that she has a long lost half sister, who's coming to live with her and Brick in Hollywood, but that Brick feels that the birthday party would be the perfect way to welcome Molly to their home (and introduce her to the world in a carefully orchestrated media event), she is less than pleased.

Not that being Molly Dix is easy. Having grown up in the Midwest with her mother and grandparents, she finds out her father's true identity on her mother's deathbed (cancer). Suddenly she has a super celebrity as her dad, and a sister she never knew about. Determined that her grandparents should get a chance at their around the world trip, she leaves her best friend, and small town boyfriend behind, to face the adventure that is Hollywood. Brooke seems super friendly and helpful at first, until Molly learns the hard way that her sister only really cares about herself.

Brick is determined that his daughters become friends, and orders them to share a room, and drive to school together every day. Brooke and entourage try to make Molly's existence in school as difficult as possible, but not everyone is wanting to side with Brooke. Teddy, the easy-going son of the principal, and his opinionated and rebellious little sister Max both seem to want to help Molly, and then there are Brooke's enemies, who are only too happy to offer Molly assistance in the escalating sibling feud.

I've been a huge fan of Heather and Jessica's work on Go Fug Yourself for years and years, so when I discovered that they'd written a YA novel, I didn't really hesitate to get it as soon as it was released in paperback. The book is funny, silly and just the right amount of over the top melodramatic (both the Fug girls are after all huge fans of soap operas). There's a ton of pop culture references in there, and one of my favourite things was all the various mentions of Brick Berlin's various movies over the years. As long as you're not looking for something deep and meaningful, Spoiled is highly entertaining, and I will be checking out the sequel when it's out in paperback next year.

CBR4 Book 47: "Three Nights with a Scoundrel" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: April 24th, 2012
Date finished: April 27th, 2012

This is the third book in Dare's Stud Club trilogy, where the underlying mystery of the trilogy of who killed Lord Leo Chatwick is finally solved, so while it works on its own, it's probably more satisfying as a whole when read in sequence with the other two.

Julian Bellamy is the bastard son of a nobleman (he doesn't even know which). Determined to get revenge on as many noblemen as possible, he did everything to be rich, admired and adored, working tirelessly to ruin lords by winning their fortunes at the card table, or seducing their wives and female relatives. He was doing splendidly, until he met Leo Chatwick, and struck up a genuine friendship with the man. He also, shortly after meeting her, fell head over heels in love with Leo's twin sister, Lily . When Leo is killed in an alley, on a night when Julian should have been with him (because he was off seducing yet another nobleman's wife), Julian is determined to do everything in his power to hunt down his killer.

Julian also wants to make sure Lily is taken care of, and safe, and his solution to this is that she marry. While it's obvious to anyone who sees them together, that Julian is crazy about Lily, and she's really not averse to the idea of marrying him, he refuses to saddle her with a husband who's not only an infamous rake and scoundrel, but also an illigitamate byblow of uncertain parentage. Lily, however, is deeply concerned at the toll hunting for Leo's killer is taking on Julian (especially after he ends up unconcious and bleeding at her doorstep after a brawl) and makes him promise to take her to three society events, in the hopes that she can convince him that they should be together. But there are secrets about Julian's past that he hasn't shared with her. Do they have a chance if she discovers where he really came from?

Of all the novels in this trilogy, I think I liked this one the most. Julian literally lives a double life, which he's very determined no one finds out about. He got the money that allowed him to start building a fortune through shady means, but it's through careful management (and skill at the gambling tables) that he's been able to increase it. He does love Lily dearly, but in his quest for revenge against the nobility in general, he's lived a pretty reckless and promiscuous life, and he feels she deserves much better than him. I rarely read romances where the hero is the inferior one in rank, so this was an interesting change for me.

Lily's a great heroine. Bereft after the death of her beloved twin, she now has to watch her dearest friend endanger himself trying to track down Leo's murderers. Having turned deaf after a long illness, Lily's very uncomfortable about appearing in public (she and Leo had a system worked out to allow her to manage), and while she's rich and beautiful, she's pretty sure her disability will put most suitors off. When she discovers Julian's true feelings for her, she understands both why he's so hell bent on insisting she marry to be protected, and does everything in her power to convince him that the only man she'd ever marry, no matter his arguments against their union, is him. Their relationship is lovely, and the way they communicate is great.

The mystery of who killed Leo, which has been running through the entire trilogy, is also solved at the end, and the reason for his death, and the resolution to the mystery, turned out to be genuinely surprising. A nice conclusion to the series, but still not as wonderful as either of Dare's Spindle Cove books so far.

CBR4 Book 46: "Twice Tempted by a Rogue" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Date begun: April 22nd, 2012
Date finished: April 24th, 2012

This is the second book in Tessa Dare's Stud Club trilogy, and although it works fine on its own, the tertiary plot of the book runs through the entire trilogy, and as a result, you may want to read the books in sequence.

Rhys St. Maur, recently Lord Ashworth, has a death wish, but fate has yet to see fit to grant it. He survived his abusive father, and the fire that burned down his childhood home. He survived countless beatings and fights that he picked over the years, and he's now a decorated war hero, having survived on the battlefields of Europe during the Napoleonic wars. He returns to his estate in Devonshire, but quickly realises that not only doesn't the people on the estate want him there, they're openly hostile towards him and his family, having been left to fend for themselves since the old Earl died.

Meredith "Merry" Maddox is the widow of the local innkeeper, and she dreams of running the most successful coaching inn in Devonshire. Daughter of the stable master, she watched Rhys' abuse as a teenager, and always loved him from afar. So when he shows up on her doorstep, and quickly declares that he's going to marry her, because she needs someone to take care of her, she's shocked, to say the least. While he's bitter and battle scarred, Meredith finds Rhys as attractive, if not more so, than ever, but she's as unconvinced of him staying put in the village as everyone else. She'd be willing to commit to a love affair, but can't stand the thought of having her heart broken when he inevitably leaves again.

Rhys and Merry begin a battle of wills, where she's intent on seducing him, and he's determined to resist until he gets her to agree to marriage. Rhys also has to prove himself the villagers, and figure out who wants him gone badly enough to try to kill him.

There aren't as many story lines cluttering up the narrative as there was in One Dance with a Duke, but the central romance also didn't grab me as much. Still, a quick and frothy read.