Naivete is not altruism

Long isle

Every so often, I tool around Kindle Unlimited (yes, I have a subscription to that. I read too much sometimes) and I stumble upon a book or a series that has some promise. The latest series I’ve stumbled on is called the Magic and Mixology Mystery series Gina LaManna. All the titles are plays off of cocktail names: Hex on the Beach, Witchy Sour, Jinx and Tonic, Long Isle Iced Tea, Amuletto Kiss, Spelldriver. The covers are fun.

These books follow around one Lily Locke. She starts life as a marketing executive in St. Paul and ends up the Mixologist for a place called the Isle. It’s a magical (literally) island in Lake Superior where magical folks of all types can live/hide away from the world of humans. Lily finds it initially hard to believe, but then her aunts find her and whisk her away to be the new Mixologist – a sort of apothecary. 

And she rolls with it. She puts her head down and studies her butt off and becomes good at it. But (there’s always a but) – she’s not that likable a character. Lily has insecurities out the ass. Like all of them. Every trope of how she’s “not good enough” to do this, that or the other thing is all wrapped up in Lily Locke. And it’s annoying as all get out.

She’s afraid to fail, so she doesn’t really get to live or take chances. Learning how to fail is one of the best things a person can be taught. Everyone go to Netflix and watch the Magic School Bus Returns episode on failing. It’s excellent and this character needs it. 

We also get the “I’m in love with you even though I’ve only seen you twice!” trope between her and the weirdly named Ranger X. Rangers are the peacekeepers/special ops of the island. They keep everyone safe from the Faction (the trope-ily named bad guys). Apparently once they become a ranger, they no longer get to use their name? I don’t know, it wasn’t explained.

I have a horrible habit of once I get through one mediocre book in a series, I keep reading the rest, hoping they’ll get better. These ones (I’m only up to the beginning of Amuletto Kiss) are all mediocre, but I’ve had to stop at the beginning of Amuletto Kiss because Ms. Lily has just ticked me right off.

They’re in the beginning stages of an all out war with the Faction (which is run by her father, NATCH) and she sells off her entire stock of Long Isle Iced Tea potion to an unknown witch who says it’s for a party. Now, this particular potion changes a person’s clothing into what they most want. It was made specially for a surprise costume party for one of Lily’s newly found cousins. 

The thing is…it doesn’t just delve into your subconscious and say This person has always wanted to be a pirate and suddenly you’re dressed like Captain Jack Sparrow. No, you can focus on what you want to be and you will be it because in Long Isle Iced Tea we see Lily and a few other Islanders use it to escape the Faction by concentrating very hard on being Faction guards. And we also find that it can give you another person’s face because at the party, another cousin of Lily’s accidentally turns herself into Ranger X.

So….Lily just sold her entire stock of a glamour potion to a woman she doesn’t know. All of it. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! There is a difference between altruism and naivete! The Mixologist is supposed to help people. To do good as we’re reminded constantly. That doesn’t mean she should just blindly trust everyone (which she does, constantly) during the middle of a frickin’ war!

I haven’t gotten to the end yet, but I’m betting that we’ll find out that this woman works for the Faction and she or a partner (or partners) have been using this potion to imitate Rangers (especially X) around the Isle at night and doing little pranky steals (snatching an old woman’s knickers off a clothes line, stealing every tomato at the general store etc) to sow discord between the people and their peacekeepers. Mark my words.

Nothing bothers me more than a female character that has such potential to be awesome, but instead gets caught in the naive, insecure web that writers think makes the “perfect heroine”. Maybe you can do that naive, insecure thing in the first book when she’s first introduced to a world she never knew before…but in 4 straight books (likely 5 if I ever get to the last one) just tells me that this person is incapable of learning. It makes them two dimensional and not fully fleshed out.

The male characters in the book like Ranger X are the same. Ranger X is caught in that emotionally closed off, never met a woman like you before trope. It’s one of those “to be a ranger, you need to not love anyone” crap. Oh, and naturally Lily and Ranger X “fall in love”. I put this in quotes because they’re both really terrible at relationships. Lily’s insecure and Ranger X can’t open up and trust her. It’s a recipe for disaster in real life that will probably lead to a happily ever after in this series. 

On the plus side, this series is kinda light hearted. I tend not to like the really emotionally heavy things that are just a slog to read through. There’s some nice shenanigans in these books and a large extended family (like mine) full of weirdos (like mine).  If you’re looking for a nice, light read, go ahead and pick up Hex on the Beach (or any of the others, I don’t really think you need to read them in order) and give it a go. If flat, tired and tropey characters are not your thing, skip it. Rating: C-. I’m betting once I return these to Kindle Unlimited, I won’t really remember them.

If you want some nice, well fleshed out female leads, try Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, her Finishing School Series or her Custard Protocol Series. Also worth reading: Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series and Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series, which I’ll get around to reviewing sometime. Oh, and though they aren’t the lead in the series, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. He has some seriously great female characters.

That’s a wrap

Screenshot_20180823-151710Hooboy. I legit almost cried last night reading the afterword on Simon R. Green’s Nightfall. A few years ago or so, Simon was diagnosed with diabetes (or so I heard), which raised some concerns for him about not being able to finish his outstanding series (at the time: Ghost Finders, the Secret Histories and The nightside). This latest book, Nightfall, wraps up both the Secret Histories and the Nightside into one glorious riot of snark. WARNING: Here be spoilers!

The Nightside is necessary. The only place in the world where you truly have freedom of choice. Want to sell your soul? There’s people for that. Can’t fit in with polite society? The Nightside is the place for you. It’s always 3am, the hour of the wolf, and the Authorities only nominally have control of the place.

For as long as anyone could remember, it has always occupied the same space. It’s borders have never changed, not since Lilith – John Taylor’s biblical myth mother – set them down before the age of man began. And no one wants it to expand, not even those in the Nightside. They like where they are and it doesn’t need to change. So when the Street of the Gods suddenly empties of every god (or wannabe god), John Taylor knows something big is on the way. So of course, he’s the one saddled with finding out what and how to stop it.

The Droods have always run things in the regular world, if you believe them. And there’s really no reason not to. They’ve saved the world several times over and keep in line those who would destroy it and those they just don’t like. Run by the Matriarch, the Droods stand for humanity, whether Humanity wants them to or not. When the Nightside’s borders expand without warning, the Droods decide it’s time to take care of the place, just like they’ve always wanted.

Trouble is, no one wants them to do it. Every group they reach out to (the London Knights, the Soulhunters, the Carnacki Institute) tells them to shove off. The Nightside can handle this issue themselves and you really don’t want to invade the place. The Nightside has fought a lot of wars in their time, including against heaven and hell and a biblical myth. They’ve always come out on top.

So what happens when two groups who believe they’re in the right and have never lost a fight go up against each other? Invasion. War. Death. Kind of the usual for both the Droods and the Nightside. The only people who can stop the Droods from tearing down the Nightside are John Taylor and Suzie Shooter, now very pregnant and armed with strange matter bullets. They’re not alone this time though. The Authorities, the Oblivion brothers, Ms. Fate, Alex Morrisey and all your usual Nightside favorites are in the fight to protect their home.

On the other side, Eddie Drood and Molly Metcalf are trying to knock sense into people. Sometimes quite literally. There are pacts laid down by ancient Drood family members and Nightside representatives that shouldn’t be violated, but the Matriarch and the Sergeant at Arms aren’t listening. They’re determined to wipe the Nightside off the map. The problem is, as much as Eddie dislikes the place, he realizes that it serves a purpose. And Molly has spent a lot of time there, has many friends there. She can’t stand by and let the Droods ruin the one truly Drood free place on the planet.

Together, the four of them have to stop the fighting and figure out a fix before everyone dies. But in order to do that, they have to figure out why the borders expanded in the first place and who is behind it. If they figure that out, they might just have a chance to stop the slaughter of not only Eddie’s family, but what passes for innocents in the Nightside.

This book did a beautiful job of wrapping up both the Secret Histories novels and the Nightside novels. I’ve absolutely adored reading both of these series. And while both of them have had quite a few novels each, I’m still saddened to see them come to an end. I still have a few questions I would love to see answered some day, but realize that likely won’t happen. Who are the new New Authorities, now that the New Authorities were whittled down to just Julien Advent? What is the name of John and Susie’s daughter? Do Cathy Barrett (the new Ms. Fate) and Alex stay together? How does Eddie like being the new Walker? Does he actually listen to the New New Authorities?

Simon R. Green is one of my all time favorite writers and I haven’t read a book of his that I haven’t devoured. I hope he has many more years of writing left in him and suggest that if you need a fix, pick up his Ishmael Jones books. And if you haven’t read them yet, the Twilight of the Empire, Deathstalker and Forest Kingdom books are absolute musts. Rating: A+

 

Rattle the Bones

51v2jwmlvylHello all! It’s been a few months since I’ve last gotten to review a book. Blame my 11 month old, that’s what I do. 😉 At any rate, I’ve plowed through some books lately, thanks to being a pumping mom (TMI, I know, but whatever. That’s what it’s like to be a working mom), so I have plenty to review when I get the chance!

Today’s book is Rattle the Bones by Eric R. Asher. This is one of the latest books in his Damian Vesik necromancer series. Damian has recently come into the mantle of Anubis, which is powerful necromantic hoodoo, to by memory, and has also gotten into a war with both Gwynn App Nudd and Herne, two powerful faeries who just happen to be working together despite appearing as enemies.

Gwynn orchestrated pulling his capital of Falias out of the faerie realm and into the United States, killing millions while he did so. Damian, being a necromancer who was on scene at the time, absorbed those souls and now has quite a bit of magic punch.

In Rattle the Bones, Damian and crew have to battle a new horror that is aligned with Gwynn, Herne and some outlaw undines (water witches). These are call the dark-touched and they are super vampires or something. Kinda hard to tell what they were exactly. I wasn’t sure if they used to be vamps and then were turned into something else, or they’re something else that just happened to have some vampiric qualities.

At any rate, the dark-touched are hella hard to kill. You basically have to stab them with something fiery right through their tiny little eyes. And since they move as fast if not faster than a vamp, that’s pretty darn hard.

Damian and his friends (Zola, Sam, Frank, Foster, Aideen and more) try to take on these horrors while trying to save not only the area humans (called commoners by the supes in this realm) but other supes as well.

This book is the opening salvo in the war against Gwynn and Herne after their treachery killed off Gwynn’s wife/Foster’s mother, Cara in the last book. It was pretty clear that this was on the road to something bigger in the next book or two, since there wasn’t any sort of show down with the main bad guys. They never even made an appearance in this book.

Set-up book aside, this was a pretty fast read. Asher’s characters are fun, even in dire circumstances, and he draws across a lot of mythologies to bring things to life. I’m definitely interested in seeing where Damian goes but I’m desperately trying not to buy more books until at least Christmas. 😀 Rating: B. I would liked to have seen at least something of one of the main bad guys that have been set up in this series in this book, but if you like some good old fashioned, knock down drag out fights, this is for you.

We’re back with Lost Soul

Courtesy of goodreads.comI know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. In my defense, I’ve recently given birth so I have soooooooo little time to myself right now. 🙂 So, here’s a review of the first book of a new little series I recently discovered that I thought was quite good.

This book, Lost Soul (and the series), revolves around Alec Harbinger, a PI who recently moved from Chicago to Dearmont, Maine. Talk about a whole different world. Dearmont is waaaaaaay smaller than Chicago, so why would a PI move from a bustling city where presumably he can get a lot of work, to BFE Maine (no offense to anyone currently living in Maine)?

Well, Alec isn’t exactly normal. Natch, considering the types of novels I read. In this series, PI doesn’t stand for private investigator but preternatural investigator, which means he’s an active magic user. And yeah, he investigates the things that go bump in the night for a group called the Society of Shadows (*gigglesnort*). They moved him from lucrative Chicago to Dearmont because he screwed up some operation in France, one he can’t remember because someone fucked with his memory. Also natch.

To make up for it, they send him Felicity Lake, a Brit who wants to be a PI of her own some day but is currently masquerading (poorly) as his assistant. I say masquerading because she’s clearly been sent to spy on him, something Alec catches on to immediately and asks her about. Honestly, that’s a little refreshing. Felicity admits to taking the assignment to achieve her dream.

Alec isn’t upset but he is willing to be sneaky and not let the Society in on the fact that he knows about their spy. She gets to stay and he gets to control the flow of information back to his father, who is high up in the Society. Win-win.

This little arc takes a bit of a back seat to a new client, whose son and girlfriend recently started acting well out of normal after a drunken weekend getaway with some friends. The boy came from a rich family in the area and naturally had a pretty bad case of affluenza (I hate that term but it is pretty perfect in describing that arrogant, stuck up rich white boy attitude, don’t you think?). Afterwards he takes to sleeping during the day, coming out only at night and spending countless hours in the woods. Very odd.

Alec’s investigation leads him to realize that the boy and his girlfriend were replaced with changelings, half-faeries who are kicked out of the Faerie realm for being less than perfectly fae. It sounds cruel since a faerie clearly had to fuck something not-faerie to make the changeling in the first place, but so far in this series, the changelings have been nothing but beastly creatures so I’m not too upset at them getting their asses kicked.

First, though, Alec has to confirm his theory and that means going to faerie, where he meets and makes a deal with a faerie queen to get home. This, I’m sure, will come back to bit him in the ass, but I don’t believe we’ve gotten to that yet. Theory confirmed, Alec now has to find the real boy and his girlfriend because the changelings need constant contact with those they replace to maintain the illusion.

While this is happening, he’s also getting hunted down by trolls sent by unknown persons. Not to mention two witches who own the local bookstore (not evil, but not prone to doing things out of the goodness of their hearts without something in trade), two newly turned werewolves and a sheriff who knows exactly what it is Alec does and investigates and actively hates him for it. In fact, the sheriff would just love to arrest Alec on general principle.

Long story short, Alec finds the boy and his girlfriend, even though the original client (boy’s mom) had fired him because reasons (she seemed like such a strong minded character at first and then was all wibbly. I don’t like that in a female character). Unfortunately, this was not before the changeling murdered the father in the family’s home.

I was a little dubious about this series at first, but I got a good deal on Amazon Kindle and a gift card for my birthday so I thought, What the hell. It was good enough that I immediately bought the next two books in the series and have recently bought the fourth, though I haven’t had the chance to read it yet given the new family sitch.

There are the obvious tropes that you just can’t avoid these days, but I feel that they’re actually quite well done and the stories are very well written. It’s very in the vein of the Dresden Files, so if you liked that series, you’ll probably like this one. They’re quick reads too. All in all, would recommend. Rating: B+. This was clearly an intro book but it gets better.

Once Broken Faith

Courtesy of goodreads.comSeanan McGuire finally came out with the latest Toby Daye novel, Once Broken Faith. I’ve been waiting a long time for this, at least it feels like it. 🙂

If you recall at the end of the last novel, where Toby almost dies for the umpteenth time, her friend Walter figured out the cure to elf shot with the help of Toby’s nose for magic. Handy, since that was used to cure her. The problem with the cure is that it takes away the one tool the pure blood elves can use against each other with impunity. It didn’t matter to them that elf shot kills anyone with a lick of human blood in them, so long as they didn’t kill each other – per Oberon’s law.

In order to make a decision as to how, when or if this cure should be used, High King Sollys (Quentin’s father) calls a conclave in the Kingdom of the Mists. Queen Arden manages to snag waking her Seneschal, Madden, before Sollys arrives, but her brother will have to remain asleep until after a decision is made.

Being one of the people to bring about this cure, Toby is summoned to attend the conclave with her squire. Tybalt invites himself along as king of cats for the area. He doesn’t give the pureblood kings and queens the choice and really, to be polite they should have invited him in the first place. The Luidaeg also invites herself along, but who is going to stop her.

All is going smoothly for a large political convention – well, as smoothly as can be expected – when two things happen in quick succession. One, a king from the Los Angeles area (the Kingdom of Angels) gets killed and Dianda, Duchess of Salt Mist gets elf shot. Because she’s the only prominent changeling in the conclave, Toby gets immediately suspected of killing the pureblood king, even by those who know her. Which – what the hell? You know her, love her and believe in her…unless a pureblood is involved? Fuck you and your fairweather friendship.

In order to make sure the murder gets solved and they don’t accidentally start a war with the Undersea, Sollys taps Toby to solve the murder and the elf shooting. The second one is easy. Because Dianda is sleeping, Toby gets her niece, Karen the dreamwalker, to get her into Dianda’s dream to see if she saw anything. Karen is at the conclave because Evening Winterrose, who is elf shot herself, is haunting the poor girl’s dreams and demanding she speak for her at the conclave.

They find out that one of the Dukes from an inland kingdom elf shot Dianda on the assumption that Undersea can kiss his ass I guess. High King Sollys orders him to be elf shot in return, a final disposition to pend Dianda’s decision on what to do when she wakes up. Whether that is soon or in one hundred years has yet to be determined.

The murder is harder to figure out. The dead man didn’t see anything, just a weird rustling sound like tin foil being ripped and a couple of flickering shadows. After a near miss where Toby nearly dies (again. I think McGuire needs a new trope. Seriously.), she and her usual cohorts figure out that someone is using faery rings to freeze the victims for a few seconds, just enough to kill the person. Faery rings are simple ring constructs that can freeze a victim for a chosen period of time, but unlike elf shot, they are limited to the physical space of the ring. It isn’t very useful so people don’t use it very much anymore and the Luideig herself has almost completely forgotten how to do them, she’s that old.

After riding her own blood for information, Toby realizes that the King and Queen of High Mountain (Colorado) are the responsible parties. She goes after them with a vengeance because they shot and nearly killed Tybalt. Clearly they haven’t heard not to fuck with Toby’s family. It turns out that their barrow wight handmaiden was the one actually doing the deeds, but the king and queen were threatening her sister to make her do it.

Toby ends up falling out of a tower window in order to keep the elf shot victims (Arden’s brother, Tybalt, Dianda and a few others including now Quentin and Walter who happened to be in the way) safe from the crazy ass queen and her handmaiden. She survives…barely (*sigh*)…and manages to sleep her way through the end of the conclave.

The decision is made to use the cure on those who were wrongfully shot. People who were shot on accident or who were attacked as a means to get them out of the way (Arden’s brother, Dianda). Those who committed a crime for which elf shot would be the punishment (the duke who shot Dianda) would serve out that punishment. This is fair, I think, but there’s definitely loopholes that can be exploited I’m sure.

At the end of the book, we get our happy ending plus an offer from Quentin’s mother the high queen to hold her wedding in Toronto, where Quentin’s family rules from. I think in the next book, we might possibly get to Tybalt and Toby’s wedding! Holy crap won’t that be fun? And probably deadly for someone. Or perhaps we might see what the Luidaeg finally wants Toby to do. Either way, I’m excited to see what’s next.

Things I particularly liked about this book: Seanan McGuire just tosses in that Quentin is in a same sex relationship with Dean Lorden, Dianda’s son. I love that this is such a “who cares that they’re both boys” world that the bigger issue is that Quentin will some day be high king and what will that do to their relationship? Also, the book opens up with Toby holding a “slumber party” of the full and partial blood teens that she knows to give them a night of just being kids. Just a nice, normal night for the most part. I also like that Quentin’s mom is a half blood turned pure blood via hope chest, and is therefore a very approachable woman. This is one of my favorite Toby Daye books so far. Rating: A+

The Perdition Score

Courtesy of goodreads.comIt’s been awhile since I had a Sandman Slim novel to chew on. And they do tend to be chewy. Kadrey is never an easy read. It took me ages to get through the one non-Sandman Slim he’s written that I’ve read. Still, I like James Stark. He’s my kind of asshole. And since I don’t know when this book was released (sometime this year I think?), SPOILERS be here.

Richard Kadrey’s latest Sandman Slim novel is The Perdition Score. Stark is legit now and doesn’t like it, can’t handle it really. He’s got a job working for the newest Augur, Thomas Abbott. He’s got a place to live and Candy (now called Chihiro) is alive and well and also with a job (one that used to be Stark’s). Most people would be happy that things were quieter.

Stark is not most people. He’s suffering from raging headaches and suffering from acute boredom. The only way he relieves both of those things is via an underground fight club. It’s very…Fight Club. I’m a little mad that Kadrey never really gets to whether these headaches were because of something physical or if it was psychosomatic. He did mention a few times that when the action started, the headaches went away, but that could be adrenaline.

In this book, Stark has two problems: A missing kid and Wormwood. Turns out that these two things are, of course, linked. It takes Stark a while to put it together because he gets side-tracked by a new and poisonous substance called black milk. It’s given to him by a dying angel and it gets him into trouble almost immediately. Naturally.

There’s a good chunk of the middle of the book where Stark is pretty convinced that Wormwood is targeting him by setting up terrible things at places he knows and people he’s met. And he’s right. Eventually, they go after his friend Vidocq directly and almost get him too. It’s this that triggers Stark going back into hell for the millionth time.

And hell is where Wormwood is now headquartered in a way. Norris Quay, whom he killed in the last book (if I remember correctly), is running the black milk scheme from the Griffith Park part of hell. Oh yeah, apparently hell is a copy of LA. Makes sense to me.

At any rate, black milk, once refined, makes berserkers out of angels. Stark finds this out first hand earlier in the book. Samael (now angel of death rather than Lucifer) sends a trustworthy angel down to assist Stark in hell and when she finds out what black milk is, she destroys the stock of it using her own blood. Stark is more messed up by this death than pretty much any other death in the series, which I find a little odd but maybe we’ll find out more in the next book.

This is the second book I’ve read recently that’s finished on a cliff hanger. ARGH! So irritating but at the same time, I know that another book is coming. As for this one, I don’t think it was the best Sandman Slim I’ve read but it was a decent read. I think that whenever the next book comes out, you could probably skip between the one before this and whatever comes after and not really miss much. This whole book was just an engine for James Stark to die. Like really die this time and not just seemingly die. It was good enough for me to devour in two days but I also couldn’t settle on reading anything else, so…I’d say overall it’s a good filler between books that you really, really want to read. Rating: B-.

Dr. DOA

Courtesy of randomhouse.comSimon R. Green you magnificent bitch. You rarely disappoint (can’t say I was overly fond of the Ghost Chasers) and you really didn’t with Dr. DOA. I have to say, since this came our relatively recently, there may be SPOILERS here. So beware and don’t read if you don’t like them.

The latest in the Secret Histories books finds Eddie Drood wanting to celebrate Christmas with his lady love, Molly Metcalf. Of course, things don’t go as he plans, not when the family needs you.

So off Eddie goes to Drood Hall, ready to kick asses and take names…and promptly pass right the fuck out. What? Seems Eddie has been poisoned and the most likely suspect is a bad guy that no one has ever seen and who may or may not be real, Dr. DOA. Regardless of who did it, Eddie has been poisoned and it likely happened in Drood Hall.

With literally nothing to lose, Eddie takes the case of his own murder to try and save himself and to find the traitor. Meanwhile, quite aside from the fact that he’s dying, someone is out to kill him. They’re possessing people Eddie and Molly know from the old days, using them as proxies to try and take revenge on Eddie for some unknown deed.

From a floating psychic business (which sounded an awful lot like the helicarrier from the Avengers movies) to last chance hospitals and weird science experiments, Eddie and Molly try to find Dr. DOA and a cure. The problem is, even their contacts don’t seem to know if DOA is real and where he/she might be if they are.

Eddie and Molly wreak their own particular brand of havoc in a last chance hospital, an enormous science lab under a mountain and crashed space ship in Wales. Because where else would you have a crashed space ship?

Dr. DOA leads them both around by the nose and by the troubles that they get into, I can only assume that he’s using them to get rid of some competition before he does his final reveal. And what a final reveal it is!

For several books now, Jack Drood (RIP Jack) has been warning Eddie about the Merlin glass and the Something that lives inside it. I don’t know if Jack knew precisely what was inside it but apparently Dr. DOA learned to manipulate it. Because Dr. DOA is Edmund Drood from the alternate dimension where the Droods were all killed. He is Eddie’s mirror universe evil twin and he wants to do the same thing to the Droods in Eddie’s universe that he did to the Droods in his, kill them all.

But Simon, dear man, has left us hanging! That bastard! He leaves us with a cliff hanger of Eddie and Molly trapped in the Armoury as it was transported to the other Drood hall with no way for them to get home or to warn the others of Edmund, a.k.a.-Dr. DOA. *shakes fists* On the one hand, sonofabitch I hate cliff hanger books (see- Dresden Files, Changes). On the other hand, that means at least one more Secret Histories book! I know that Simon is winding down the series he’s writing in favor of singleton books due to health concerns, so I’m happy he didn’t try and do a hasty finish of the Secret Histories like he did with the Ghost Chasers.

All in all, despite the cliff hanger (or maybe because of it), Dr. DOA is a great read. There’s no need to read the other Secret Histories books, but it would certainly give you background. RatingA

Heart of Venom

Courtesy of jenniferestep.comBook nine of the Elemental Assassin series is Heart of Venom. This one is a little different than the ones before it, because it hits a little closer to home for Gin and the others. With Owen Grayson back in the fold but Gin not fully on board with taking him back, the ladies decide that a spa day is in order.

Luckily for them, the know the best beautician in all of Ashland, Jo-Jo Devereaux. Jo-Jo closes her salon for the day, Gin whips up some goodies and the girls of the group (Gin, Jo-Jo, Bria, Roslyn and Sophia) are all set for a day of relaxation.

The day is unfortunately ruined by the return of an old, old enemy of the Devereaux’s. Harley Grimes is a half-giant, half-dwarf with fire elemental powers and a real nasty streak to him. His sister (half-sister maybe?) is even worse. And Harley wants Sophia back.

Years ago, when Fletcher Lane was still active, he rescued Sophia from the Grimes’ mountain retreat outside of Ashland. Sophia had been tortured by both Grimes’, leading to her mangled voice and job getting rid of bodies for Fletcher. Grimes never came after her while Fletcher lived because he was scared of Fletcher, but now he knows Fletcher is dead and he wants what’s his. And can I just say screw guys who think of women as property? Ugh!

Grimes kidnaps Sophia from Jo-Jo’s spa, shooting Jo-Jo and hurting the others. Gin tried and failed to get Sophia back before they lit out but she needed to save Jo-Jo too. She and the others haul everyone up to Cooper’s place. He doesn’t have much experience using his air magic for healing, but he tries, saving Jo-Jo for the time being.

While that’s happening, Gin decides to head for Grimes. No one messes with her family and lives. The others are varying levels of unhappy and supportive. They all want Sophia back, but they don’t want her to go off half-cocked, which is a very un-Gin-like thing to do. Eventually, she caves and takes Owen up to Warren Fox’s joint for information.

Warren doesn’t live too far from Grimes and apparently he’d been the one to take Fletcher up there in the first place. With his expertise, Gin gets close. Close enough to rescue Sophia but at the expense of her own freedom. This isn’t the first time Gin has been captured and tortured. It isn’t even the first time she’s been on the receiving end of fire elemental magic. It feels a little different though because Grimes and his sister are severely unhinged, where as the others Gin has faced were more methodical and collected in their psychosis.

It’s almost lucky for Gin that Grimes likes to play cat and mouse games with his captives because no one is better at playing than the Spider. Not that they believe she’s the Spider at first, but they do eventually as she takes out man after man in an effort to get back down the mountain.

At one point, Grimes’ men think they’ve killed her. It’s only fair as she jumps off a freaking cliff to get away from them. But Owen finds her, using his metal elemental magic to track down the silverstone embedded in her hands. He never left the mountain, just getting the injured Sophia and Warren down to the car and on their way. He just couldn’t leave Gin alone up on the mountain.

Together, they make it down off the mountain and back to Cooper’s place where Jo-Jo and Sophia are recovering and surrounded by their friends/family. Once Gin and Owen are healed, everyone plans out how to finally kill Harley and Hazel Grimes, because those two (or at least Harley) will never stop until Sophia is theirs.

I felt this book was a bit more on the emotional side for Gin. She’s up in the air about Owen and then her family is kidnapped and hurt right in front of her. She feels helpless and angry, which she isn’t used to. I think it sort of rounds her out, makes her a bit more relatable. It’s also hella tough to read at points, especially some of the bits about Grimes and what he likes to do to women. Still, it’s well worth the read. Rating: A but be warned, this is a tough read.

Deadly Sting

I know, I know. It’s been a while. In my defense, I’ve had some hella busy weekends lately. 🙂 At any rate, let’s move on with Jennifer Estep’s 8th Elemental Assassin book, Deadly Sting.

Courtesy of goodreads.comWe open up with Finn trying to get his adoptive sister, Gin Blanco, out of her post-Owen break-up funk. If you recall, Gin saved him, most of Ashland’s major players and most importantly Owen’s own sister Eva Grayson from certain death at the hands of his ex-girlfriend Salina. Owen had to stop seeing her because he’d begged Gin to not kill Salina, so that he could get her help, but Gin killed her anyway. And good riddance, quite frankly. The character was a grade A, unrepentant psycho. She would have killed Owen eventually, he just doesn’t want to face the fact that his piss poor judgment as a young kid got his sister tortured for weeks as an even younger kid.

Finn’s idea of getting Gin out of her funk is certainly not something Gin would generally volunteer for. He’s taking her to a gala museum event where Mab Monroe’s art will be on display. Gin isn’t terribly interested but she agreed to accompany her brother, even if she does have to suffer through dress/shoe/handbag shopping with clothes horse Finn.

She’s sort of getting into the exhibits when her ex, Owen, shows up with a woman on his arms. The woman could be a carbon copy of Gin, including the supposedly one of a kind dress she’s wearing. Obviously, this portends bad things for the woman. Not from Gin, but from the writer. The only reason to have two similar looking women wearing the same dress at a social function where everyone is wearing bespoke is to kill one of them. That one is not Gin.

See, this exhibit is just too tempting a target. All of Ashland’s richest in one place (seriously, they love to gather. It’s like they want to be robbed and/or killed. See Widow’s Web) plus Mab Monroe’s exclusive collection of art and jewelry? That’s one massive haul. And that is, apparently, what a band of giants lead by one Clementine, her daughter Opal and a nephew whose name I can’t be bothered to remember.

Gin, by now, is known as the Spider, so it isn’t exactly surprising when Owen’s date (Jillian? She didn’t have much of a presence to be honest), gets killed in her stead. That was what she was there for, after all. Gin is devastated, knowing that she was the reason this innocent woman’s face was quite literally blown off, but uses the fact that everyone thinks she’s dead (save Finn, who recognized at once that Jillian wasn’t his sister) to start picking off giants.

When the giants force Owen, who has a minor elemental skill for metal, to open a huge safe holding yet more of Mab’s collection, Gin makes it her mission to rescue him, even though the guy totally doesn’t deserve it at this point. He promised not to do what Donovan Caine did and just leave her because of what she was…and then he did the same damn thing anyway. What a tool.

Gin manages to sneak out of the museum and outside of the range of some cell phone jammers that the giants were using (not stupid, the giants in this series. Or at least, not all of them). She gets a quick message off to her sister, Detective Bria Coolidge, and Bria’s partner Xavier before heading in and rescuing Owen.

Gin manages to get him clear, find what Clementine was really after (Mab’s will) and to kill not only the daughter and the nephew, but big bad mama Clementine herself before the night is through. She also figures out that Jonah McAllister is behind the whole damn thing and, at the end of the book, outs the fact to all of Ashland’s high society. All of which are some sort of underworld presence. They are not happy, to say the least.

Owen pulls his head out of his ass and asks Gin for a second chance, giving her two pendants that he’d swiped from the museum in the confusion. The pendants once belonged to Gin’s mother and eldest sister, and really shouldn’t have been display pieces in the first place. I’m a little upset, though, that it takes Owen thinking that Gin had died for him to realize what an asshole he’d been. He should have come to that conclusion much, much earlier when his sister was on his ass for his stupidity.

The one redeeming thing of that request to get back together is that Gin doesn’t immediately hop in his lap and say take me big boy. She’s justifiably wary and says that he can come around, can try and get back in her good graces but that she doesn’t trust him anymore. He’ll have to earn that shit back. Good for you girl!

While this was a well written book, it was just a little too trope-y for my tastes. The woman in the matching red dress? The supposed death bringing the ex back into the fold? The heist that’s a cover-up for something else? No, it felt like it was a cop-out to get Owen and Gin back together. I would say that you’re not really missing anything meaningful in this story arc if you skip this one. Rating: C.

Widow’s Web

Courtesy of goodreads.comAfter a nice little break for the long 4th of July, we’re back with the seventh book of the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep. For Widow’s Web, it isn’t Gin’s past that comes back to bite her and her makeshift family in the ass. It’s Owen’s.

Owen Grayson grew up on the streets, much like Gin did for a while. The difference was, he got help off the street from an air elemental named Cooper who is an amazing blacksmith. With Owen’s weaker elemental talent for metal (weaker meaning not one of the major four elements), Cooper realized he could make a good living at blacksmithing. It gave Owen a way to get his sister off the street.

What he never mentioned before was that it wasn’t just him and his sister living rough. It was him, Eva, Philip Kincaid (one of Ashland’s underworld bosses) and a pretty water elemental named Salina. Owen had some sort of falling out with Kincaid years ago that he doesn’t talk about and Salina broke his heart by leaving Ashland soon after.

Gin gets pulled into this whole mess of backstory by Kincaid, who hires her to cater an event on his riverboat casino. A water elemental kills one of his bodyguards by pulling the water out of his body (nasty) and then tries to kill him. Gin saves his life and then learns some things that Owen doesn’t know and doesn’t even want to hear about.

Salina is a nasty piece of work. She is, quite simply, a psychotic bitch. She enjoys using her elemental magic to hurt and kill. She’s cruel and nasty with it. Owen was so held over heels with her as a young man that he won’t hear a word against her, which both pisses Gin off and makes her jealous. And worried that he’ll leave her for Salina if she so much as crooks her finger at him.

Eva, on the other hand, holds no such illusions. She tells Gin that Salina spent weeks torturing her in a bathtub (Eva was 4-5 at the time) until Kincaid cottoned on to Eva’s change in demeanor. To Eva, Salina is as bad as Mab Monroe. She makes Gin promise that she’ll kill the water elemental, which Gin does, despite the feeling that this is going to make things bad between her and Owen.

Things come to a head when Salina tries to kill the majority of Ashland’s underworld in one fell swoop, everyone who had stood around while Mab roasted Salina’s father alive years ago. Cracked little girl that she is, she thinks that this would bring Owen back to her. That they can live happily ever after.

By this time, Owen is starting to realize that Salina is extremely crazy, but he still thinks he can save her. Everyone else knows that she is way beyond saving. She’s married and killed several very rich men, not that anyone’s ever come after her for it. He goes to Salina alone, even though Gin asked him not to, and Gin ends up having to come to a very hasty rescue.

It’s a tough battle. Salina is strong in her water magic and she’s ensured that she has a lot of water to work with. Gin, on the other hand, is a very powerful ice elemental, even though ice is considered a secondary element (like Owen’s metal). She freezes all of the water, making it impossible for Salina to use it. And when Gin has Salina at her mercy, Salina begs Owen to save her. Ugh, manipulative bitch. Can’t stand that sort of person. Gin ignores Owen’s pleas for mercy and kills Salina.

Unfortunately, Owen doesn’t take this well and decides that he needs a break from his relationship with Gin. I feel this is a little ridiculous. Owen has always known what Gin does and has always supported her. He knows that she wouldn’t kill out of some petty jealousy. And even when Eva confronts him and tells him exactly what Salina did to her, Owen still doesn’t come back. I mean, Owen has spent all of the books he’s been in trying to protect his little sister and then he completely ignores her? I know love can make people stupid but you’d think that a man as bent on protecting his sister as Owen is would believe her over anyone else.

This is possibly the most emotionally complex of the Elemental Assassin series so far. It takes Gin out of her comfort zone and into a no-win scenario (Kobayashi Maru, anyone?) and still makes her out to be about as good as an assassin can be. She protected her family and saved untold innocent (and not-so-innocent) lives. This is the only book I didn’t really like Owen in. He promised never to pull on Gin what Donovan Caine did, especially after the last freaking book…and then he does.

He gets marginally better in the next book but for right now, I’m very upset with him. I think that’s the mark of a good series, when you get emotionally invested in the characters. You should have seen me after Changes by Jim Butcher! At any rate, this is a very good and therefor very quick read. I highly recommend and you really don’t need to read the preceding books, though it does help to get some of the character backstory. Rating: A+