Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi & Fantasy’
Staked is the debut novel from author J. F. Lewis, and it’s a very different vampire novel than what I have been reading. The story centers around Eric, a relatively young yet incredibly powerful vampire, who has some major problems with memory loss and anger management; blackouts are never a good thing! Eric isn’t a dark, brooding, sexy, romantic hero, this is a guy’s guy vampire; a vampire who owns a strip club. While I love the romantic hero vampires, it’s refreshing to see a vampire with an attitude problem.
Eric has what most guys would consider a dream job – running a strip club, with human girlfriends whenever he needs them. As a bonus, he has plenty of money, so he doesn’t need to worry about the success of his business. In Staked’s vampire world, vampires don’t need to kill when they feed, but sometimes it happens; since Void City is run by vamps, you’re just charged a fee for body removal. By running a strip club, Eric also has a large number of potential “donors” available every day. Even though he’s a “guy’s guy vampire”, Eric still reigned in the interest of this female reader, plus, part of Staked is told through the voice of Tabitha, Eric’s current girlfriend, so there’s more than one side to the story.
While Eric wants to just drink some blood and enjoy himself, he ends up with one problem after another. In Void City, there’s a grudge between vampires and werewolves, and when Eric gets into a fit of rage and kills a werewolf in self-defense, he ends up the target of every werewolf in the area. When Eric has to fight, it’s quickly made clear that he’s an uber-vamp, one who can keep bouncing back from anything and everything, killing any enemy in his path. Meanwhile, Eric’s got more problems than just his anger-management, he just “changed” Tabitha, and he’s not all that happy about it. His pre-vampire fiancée is still refusing to become a vampire or return to fiancée status, choosing to age alone, and there are all kinds of love triangles happening, some of which are pretty volatile. What will happen when Tabitha finds out Eric’s been sleeping with Rachel, her younger sister?
The characters in Staked are unique enough to grab my attention, even after innumerable hours reading vampire novels. Eric definitely fits into the “anti-hero” category, with major issues including rage-blackouts, relationship problems, and massive memory gaps. Tabitha is Eric’s current girlfriend/new vampire, and she is having a bit of buyer’s remorse; while she is in love with Eric, his assistant Talbot sure is hot… Eric’s friend Roger has known him as long as he’s been undead, but something feels a bit “off” about him. And, why on earth has Marilyn, who was Eric’s fiancée at the time of his death, stayed with him for 40 years, now managing the strip club? There are a lot of nooks and crannies in every character, stones that need to be overturned, though we might not always like what’s lurking underneath. Staked’s unique characters will pull you in, and since there’s an equally unique plot, you won’t be able to put it down.
Once you get caught up in the world of Staked, you’re stuck in its thrall. There’s enough violence and death to keep the novel going, but not so much that you can’t read it before bed. Staked walks a great balance with the suspense and gore, keeping the reader wanting to know the answer to the mysteries, but not completely grossed out; it’s a balance that one rarely sees in first novels. At the end of Staked, I couldn’t quite accept it was over, I needed just a few more pages! I’m hoping that the sequel, Revamped will be published relatively soon, I’m looking forward to more from Jeremy Lewis!
We definitely recommend Staked to men and women – it’s a great take on the vampire anti-hero! If you need a break from romantic vampire tales, pick this one up now.
This book was received from the publisher for review
No Humans Involved is the newly released paperback by New York Times Bestselling author Kelley Armstrong. No Humans Involved is the 7th book in Armstrong’s “Women of the Otherworld” series, and as such it continues a theme of strong, sexy, magical women and otherworldly mysteries. While I am sure that if you have read the first 6 books you will pick up on the characters and background quickly, this book is a fabulous read as a stand-alone book, too (though it will encourage you to read the first 6 books!).
Jaime Vargas is a spiritualist who has been performing on TV and on stage her whole life, but unlike most spiritualists, she really does “see dead people”, and is an accomplished necromancer. Jaime walks the line between the otherworld and the mundane – she is on the Interracial Council, helping to regulate the actions of the members of the otherworld, and yet she is also hoping to boost her career with a new TV show. In No Humans Involved, Jaime has agreed to be a part of a reality TV show in which 3 spiritualists attempt to contact deceased celebrities, culminating in a séance attempting to reach the ghost of Marilyn Monroe.
Once ensconced in the Brentwood home “on location” where the spiritualists are staying, Jaime finds fractured ghosts in the garden, ghosts which she cannot banish, nor can she fully contact; they won’t leave her alone. Jaime’s spirit guide is unavailable, so she and her fellow council-member Jeremy use research, other spirits, and his werewolf-nose to try to understand and solve the mystery. Readers who are sensitive about human sacrifices and worse may not want to read this book, as No Humans Involved does involve the death of children and S&M. Armstrong does a good job of minimizing the amount of gore, but the deaths are not good bedtime imagery!
All books that are a part of a series have to walk a fine line between enough information to help acclimate new readers, but not so much that it slows down the storyline. Armstrong does an admirable job with No Humans Involved, introducing characters from previous books with enough background information that we don’t feel lost, yet leaving enough questions so we will still find surprises in the earlier novels.
It’s always interesting to see the paranormal world created by a new-to-you author, and the otherworld in No Humans Involved is filled with half-demons, werewolves, necromancers, and spirits; all of whom follow their own rules and come to life through the characters. All of Armstrong’s characters have strengths and weaknesses that make them realistic – Jeremy’s werewolf heritage makes him gun-shy about women, and Jaime keeps recalling her mother’s intense stage-mothering and verbal abuse. Faithful readers will enjoy seeing friends from earlier books pop up, helping Jaime and Jeremy research the phenomenon of the fractured spirits. Hope, the main character of the upcoming hardcover Personal Demon, plays an important role in No Humans Involved, whetting your appetite for more.
No Humans Involved is an engrossing, suspenseful, thrilling read, which quickly pulls readers in and is loath to let them go. Parts of the book are disturbing, but the characters and plot pull you through to the next chapter. If you’re an urban fantasy lover, a lover of suspense/thrillers, or a sci-fi/paranormal reader, you should at least check out the first chapter, you will quickly be pulled into Armstrong’s world and No Humans Involved. I want to learn more about one of the secondary characters, Hope, and she’s the lead character in Personal Demon (Women of the Otherworld, Book , to be released in hardcover at the end of March – it’s available now for pre-order!
This book was received from the publisher for review
Demon Envy is author Erin Lynn’s first foray into the Young Adult genre. Writing as Erin McCarthy, she has created some wonderful paranormal novels with romance, including Sucker Bet which we reviewed here. Demon Envy is just as well-written and fascinating as the adult novels, but with age-appropriate themes and activities. The stage is set when sixteen year old Kenzie Sutcliffe accidentally drops some of her prescription acne cream down the shower drain, and it opens up a portal to hell. Specifically a portal to one of hell’s prisons, and a prisoner escapes – appearing in her shower as she’s washing her face!
After Kenzie freaks out, she and the demon Levi (yes, his name is an anagram of evil) negotiate an understanding. Levi will stay at the Sutcliffe home and go to school with Kenzie, and he and Kenzie will work together to close the portal before another prisoner or a guard comes through the shower portal. Levi works some demon magic to get Kenzie’s parents OK with the plan, and to make sure he can go to school despite having no ID or transfer records. Why does he want to go to school? Levi is an Envy demon, and he feeds off the jealousy of humans; high schools make for great eating for an envy demon!
There’s a knack for writing for the Young Adult market, and it isn’t just in reworking a plot so that it doesn’t cross into inappropriate behavior for the under 18 set. Some authors can’t make the switch work, while others manage to be equally successful in both markets. Erin manages to write books in different voices, all of which feel real. Kenzie and her friends act like realistic teens. The parents in Demon Envy are pretty oblivious, but that’s normal for Young Adult novels.
Demon Envy includes several themes that are frequently used in this genre: a girl on the outside of popularity, new kid who becomes popular right away, and the girl has a crush on the popular sports star. However, Erin puts a new spin on them and makes them feel fresh. Adding a demon who feeds on high school jealousies is definitely unique! Plus, each of the characters has their own quirks that make them interesting and fun rather than a cardboard stereotype.
If you’re a teen who wants a new spin on the typical Young Adult read, pick up Demon Envy. If you’re the parent of a teen who likes Young Adult fantasy and the YA version of chick lit, pick up a copy of Demon Envy. If you’re an adult who has loved the many novels by Erin McCarthy, definitely pick up Demon Envy to read her Young Adult writing. No matter why you are picking up Demon Envy, you’ll really enjoy it, and we highly recommend it. This is another book where the only problem is that the next book, Speed
Limit Demon won’t be out until November!
The Final Warning: A Maximum Ride Novel is the much-anticipated fourth book in James Patterson’s young adult/tween Maximum Ride series. The series has attracted a large following as it puts the reader into the lives of a flock of six children who have been genetically designed to be 2% bird – they have wings and can fly! Before I launch into a review, NO – this is not going to be the final book. (That was my daughters’ concern when they heard the title.) I reviewed the first three books, and have been excited about this book for the past year. It’s hard for a book to live up to readers’ expectations, but James Patterson has written a fourth book that has no problems living up to the reader’s excitement and enthusiasm; I literally could not put it down, and finished it in one sitting! Keep reading for a sneak preview of Maximum Ride 4 – The Final Warning, without spoilers…
If you haven’t had a chance to read the first three books (or if you didn’t re-read them right before starting The Final Warning), Patterson does a great job of introducing you to the characters without overdoing the explanations. Max (as the narrator and the leader of the flock) catches us up on what the flock has been doing since the end of Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gasman, Angel, and Total (their talking dog) are planning to testify to Congress about what has happened as they tried to save the world from the School, the Institute, and Itex, the company which controlled everything. Once they have spoken with Congress, though, what will happen to them? Do they go to a new school, or is there another mission to save the world?
What will happen next? Well, the book includes a blog post from Fang that discusses that…
“The big news of today is that we’ve all decided to settle down and go to regular school and stuff, and Fox is going to make a reality TV series out of it, called Bird Kids in the House! They’ll have like a hundred cameras all over the lace and they can film Iggy cooking and Angel doing her weird stuff, and Total listening to his iPod.
They can film Max leading.
Nah, I’m just kidding. No reality series. Our lives are probably a little too real for most people, if you know what I’m saying. … We’re not sure what’s going to happen next.”
Of course, the the Voice in Max’s head leads the flock to find a new way to save the world after their defeat of Itex. Max and the gang might be tired of cold weather, in The Final Warning they learn that sometimes you have to suffer for a cause. The flock goes to Antarctica to study the effects of global warming, and the cuteness of penguins. Like any other 6 year old girl, Angel wants to adopt a baby penguin… This is a perfect example of the wonders of James Patterson’s writing; he has created 6 human-avian kids, and while they have extra strength, speed, and some special skills, they are still kids. Nudge chatters endlessly like a certain child in my house, Gazzy and Iggy conspire on practical jokes and explosions, and there’s the growing tension between Fang and Max who have grown up together, and now at 14 are experiencing attraction to each other.
While reading Maximum Ride series, readers are instantly transported into the world of the flock. Part of the reason the reader is sucked in so quickly is that the story is told in the first person, from Max’s perspective. Add in Fang’s blog and Patterson’s skill in creating characters and situations, and you have characters who feel incredibly real and that everyone will love. Patterson was brilliant in creating kids who can fly – who hasn’t wanted to fly? As soon as I started reading the series, I couldn’t read it fast enough. Now that I’m sharing the series with my kids (9, 7, 4), and they are begging for “just one more chapter” constantly. We’re torn between savoring these experiences we’re sharing with the flock and wanting to know what happens next!
If you are a reluctant reader, or you’re the parent of a reluctant reader, pick up the Maximum Ride series, and pre-order The Final Warning. It’s impossible to stop reading once you’ve started reading about Max and the flock. There’s a fine line for an author to walk when dealing with a “cause” – in The Final Warning Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gasman, and Angel are saving the world in a very different way than in the earlier books. This time they are trying to defeat the evil scientists, but also let the world know about global warming. Patterson does a great job of integrating characters, plot, excitement, and a cause in The Final Warning, and I hope it helps kids pay more attention to their world.
I highly recommend The Final Warning for any reader age 10+, and kids younger than that will enjoy The Final Warning and Maximum Ride series as a read-aloud book; the chapters are only a few pages each, which makes it very easy to cave in to the “just one more chapter!” request! Parents should be aware that there is quite a bit of violence, though the flock only acts in self-defense. If you’re an adult, don’t dismiss these out-of-hand as kid’s books. Just like some other young adult series, these are books that can be enjoyed by people of any age. In fact, The Final Warning and the earlier books are great books to read with your child and discuss together. If you like science or fantasy, flying kids or evil corporations, everyone will find something to love in The Final Warning!
I was very impressed with the first two books in the Jaz Parks series by Jennifer Rardin, which I reviewed here. Jennifer has created a fascinating world in which others (such as weres and vampires) are known to exist, and in fact, some of them work for the government. Vayl is a 250 year old vampire working as an assassin for the CIA, and Jaz Parks is his Sensitive human partner. In Once Bitten, Twice Shy and Another One Bites the Dust, Jennifer set up the world and the characters, leaving us with an elite team of three assassins plus an accomplished seer and a incredibly talented inventor. In her third book, Biting the Bullet, she takes us several leaps forward with a book that has a dual focus on Jaz’s relationships and continuing their fight against paranormal terrorists.
You read “I couldn’t put it down” in a lot of book reviews, as well as, “I was on the edge of my seat”. Biting the Bullet is a book that will keep your stomach in knots, keep you on the edge of your seat, and quite possibly cause you to burn dinner because you can’t put it down. Jennifer Rardin’s third book in her Jaz Parks series not only lives up to the first two, in some ways it surpasses them. Now that the background information is out of the way, we can focus on the current mission to eliminate a terrorist in Iran known as “The Wizard”, as Jaz’s team works in conjunction with her twin brother David’s Special Ops team. Add in the tension between Jaz and David (he blames her for his wife’s death), plus the growing sexual tension between Jaz and Vayl, and Biting the Bullet doesn’t let you catch your breath.
Jennifer Rardin’s books include a religious perspective with quite a bit of discussion of Hell, Heaven, and angels, in addition to the expected mystical phenomenon. Jaz pushes herself to protect the souls of the people she loves, in addition to protecting their bodies. While there is a lot of discussion of necromancy and zombies in Biting the Bullet, we continue to see Jaz using dreams to discuss options with her angel adviser Raoul. Jaz and her twin’s late wife had a pact that they would each kill the other if they were turned into vampires to save their souls. As Jaz spends more and more time with Vayl, I wonder if she is rethinking her side of that pledge, and if we will learn more about vampires and souls…
Overriding the excitement and sexual tension is a firm patriotic belief that drives Jaz and her team in Biting the Bullet and the rest of the series. In a time when it isn’t always popular to be patriotic, they are drawn to doing what is right above all else. Regardless of your political views, eliminating terrorists with ties to fiends from Hell can be agreed to be a Good Thing! It is fascinating to see the story arc develop, as different members of the terrorist organization are targeted by Vayl and Jaz – we learn about the terrorist organization along with them, and are pulled along for the ride as they find supernatural solutions to evil. The depth of the characters and the series is displayed as we follow not only the dramatic tension, but also become invested in the relationships between characters, we care about their family members, and we wait anxiously for romantic developments.
Biting the Bullet is a very impressive book – whether you call it vampire fiction, urban fantasy, paranormal, military mystery, or any other label. Many authors have trouble keeping the reader’s interest after the first book, but there is no such problem here! I highly recommend all 3 books in the Jaz Parks series that have been published thus far, and have only one complaint – I have to wait until August for Bitten to Death (Jaz Parks, Book 4)?!
This book was received from the publisher for review
The Outlaw Demon Wails is the upcoming sixth book in the outstanding Rachel Morgan series by Kim Harrison. Rachel is a white witch who works with a living vampire and pixy as a type of paranormal bounty hunter. Harrison has created a parallel universe to ours where the Turn came in the late 60’s as humanity battled a bio-engineered tomato, and the paranormal species (weres, vampires, witches, elves, pixies) came “out of the closet”. Rachel, Ivy, and Jenks live in The Hollows, a neighborhood with a high Interlander population. They work helping protect Interlanders and humans from the bad guys, often assisting the I.S., but their techniques can be rather unorthodox, and are often misunderstood.
In The Hollows, there is very little black and white – no one is purely bad, and no one is purely good. Rachel’s main nemesis is a politician she has known since childhood – Trent Kalamack. However, Rachel has been forced to do some “bad” things, and sometimes Trent has done “good”; they are sometimes forced to work together, too. All of Harrison’s characters are so multi-dimensional it’s hard to put them into only one category. Reading her novels makes you feel as if you took a trip through to Rachel’s world; the descriptions are incredibly vivid, creating a strong mental image. Your mind holds tight to the illusion that you have been pulled into The Hollows, smelling the spells and coffee, and making it impossible to put down The Outlaw Demon Wails or any of its predecessors.
This chapter of Rachel’s life takes place a few months after the end of For a Few Demons More, during the time around Halloween. Al, a demon Rachel had bested, has found a way out of his jail, and is breaking demon laws by trying to kill Rachel, her family, and her friends – and they can’t all hide in her sanctified church home/office. Rachel needs to track down who is summoning Al, plus Rachel’s friend Ceri has a predicament that requires her help, there’s a new guy in town who’s interested in her, and there are a lot of surprises that pop up along the way.
Each of the sub-plots of The Outlaw Demon Wails is intertwined, bringing Rachel to an inevitable conclusion. This was originally planned to be the end of the series (but it’s not!), and it is the end of one segment of Rachel’s life. She is forced to accept things she never expected, and do things that are far outside of anyone’s comfort zone. It is, however, the beginning of a new life for Rachel, a time when she is growing up and realizing that her actions have consequences on the lives of her loved ones. The Outlaw Demon Wails is a very intense book, one that challenges the reader and the characters – I can’t count the number of times I was on the edge of my seat!
While I strongly recommend reading each of the Rachel Morgan novels, you could read The Outlaw Demon Wails as a compelling stand-alone book as well. Kim Harrison does a great job balancing background for a new reader or one who has forgotten aspects of earlier books without cluttering the book.
If you enjoyed her earlier books, you will love The Outlaw Demon Wails. If you were saddened by the ending of For a Few Demons More, you’ll enjoy the sense of closure in The Outlaw Demon Wails, and should also listen to this interview with Kim Harrison, and read the exclusive Kisten short story in the For a Few Demons More paperback. If you haven’t had a chance to read the other books by Kim Harrison, if you haven’t read much paranormal literature, and/or if you really enjoy mystery and suspense, you should pick up a copy of The Outlaw Demon Wails. I savored The Outlaw Demon Wails, knowing I would have a long wait until book 7. I look forward to rereading the whole series, picking up the early clues that later turn into important plot points. Kim Harrison spins a tale that catches you in its web, and you are caught in her world long after the novel ends.
This book was received from the publisher for review. Eos Books is celebrating a decade of publishing sci fi/fantasy. Check out the Eos blog and Eos Books for information, free ebooks, and previews as part of their celebration.