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+

By a Thread

Courtesy of jenniferestep.comSo after a bit of a break to re-read some Jane Yellowrock, I’ve come back around to Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin Series. I started up again with book 6, By a Thread. This one picks up just a few weeks after Gin, a.k.a. – the Spider, killed the infamous Mab Monroe. Now there’s a power vacuum in Ashland and, oh yeah, every two bit thug is gunning for her. Whether it’s because of a bounty or to prove how tough they are, there isn’t a day going by where Gin isn’t killing a couple people just to survive.

Frankly, she’s getting tired of it and her foster brother, Finnegan Lane, talks her into a vacation with him, her sister Bria Coolidge and lover Owen Grayson. Bria talks them to Blue Marsh, which is where she grew up. Bria is anxious to catch up with her best friend/may as well be her sister Callie. Gin is more than a little jealous, mostly because she’s afraid that she’s going to lose Bria to moral indignation. See, Bria is a cop, and an honest one as well. This is a rarity in Ashland and the only other honest cop Gin met, Donovan Caine, broke her heart and left both her and the city.

So Gin tries her damndest to play stupid tourist and to enjoy Callie’s presence. It doesn’t always work, and she gets more than a little snarky from time to time with her fellow restaurateur. Bria’s less than pleased but the jealousy takes a back seat to trying to protect Callie as it becomes apparent that she’s in real danger from Blue Marsh’s version of Mab Monroe, Randall Dekes a vamp with a taste for elemental blood.

To make matters worse, cop Donovan Caine turns up as Callie’s fiancee. He still has a stick up his ass about Gin’s profession, and refuses her help when she offers. In the end, Gin decides to help anyway because Dekes made the stupid mistake of trying to get her and Bria killed in their own hotel room.

Of course, things don’t quite go to Gin’s plan. Usually she takes her time, feels things out and plans, plans, plans. But she’s in something of a hurry and wants to use Dekes’ upcoming press conference as an opportunity to strongly dissuade him from his course of action against Callie. Dekes almost kills Gin, but she gets away and luckily gets healed by Jo-Jo, whom Finn and Owen made sure to bring with them.

Thinking that the Spider is dead, Dekes kidnaps Callie, forcing Donovan to work with Gin and the others – much to their chagrin. In the end, Gin kills the bad guy (with the help of his own wife) and rescues the girl (in this case, girls). It wasn’t much of a vacation, but something important happened for Gin. She finally and firmly told Donovan to shove it when he said he still wanted her, wanted to be with her. Which kinda makes him even shittier in my estimation because he has a frickin’ fiancee! He’s ready to drop Callie like a hot rock because at the moment, he wants Gin? What an asshole.

Gin, however, is perfectly content and in love with Owen and leaves the old temptation of Donovan Caine behind. The only part I didn’t really like about this was Callie thanking Gin for letting Donovan Caine go. WTF? I think Callie could do a hell of a lot better than someone who clearly wants her to be a “good” Gin Blanco. Despite this little rankling of my feminist spirit, the book itself was quite good. Rating: A.

Tangled Threads

Courtesy of amazon.comYes, I’m still on my Elemental Assassin books kick. So we’re doing book 4 this week, Tangled Threads. This book starts out with Gin taking out small fry guys in Mab’s organization. Naturally, Mab doesn’t just stand by and let this happen. She hires a top notch assassin to take out the Spider, a woman by the name Elektra LaFleur.

Now, kinda lame name aside, it does actually mean something in this assassin bound world, Elektra has the rare elemental ability of lightning which is apparently an offshoot of air magic. And Elektra always leaves an orchid at the site of her kills. She’s not subtle but she’s also never missed. Never. Which makes her a good choice to try and take on Gin.

Gin sees Elektra in action after sensing a pretty obvious trap and taking no action. Elektra takes out one of Mab’s own people in a fit of pique. Doesn’t sound like the most stable of people to me but then again…assassin, so I’m sure that really goes without saying.

So on top of dealing with a very good assassin, Gin also has to deal with Detective Bria Coolidge of the Ashland PD, her long lost sister. At the beginning of the book, Bria still doesn’t know it and Gin is reluctant to tell her after a bad experience with the last Ashland detective she told. She’s worried that Bria won’t accept her as who and what she is, that she’ll be a disappointment.

I find Gin to be a wonderfully complex character, able to kill a bad guy without remorse (and to be patient with it so that she doesn’t get noticed herself) but still be worried about things like whether her sister will like her, whether Owen Grayson really accepts her for who she is.

This book falls around Christmas in Ashland, which apparently can get quite cold. I don’t know much about North Carolina but I guess this can happen? At any rate, after not falling into the obvious trap set by Elektra LaFleur, Gin tracks down who set her up (a bartender at Roslyn’s club) and sets out to make the guy pay for it…only to end up rescuing him after overhearing one of Mab’s people threatening to rape his daughter. Gin doesn’t do kids. Ever.

Gin needs to rescue the kid, kill the assassin and figure out whether or not to tell her sister who she really is. Can she do it? Please! She’s the Spider. She can do anything! This might be my favorite of the series so far. It was a really, really good read. And Gin still hasn’t gone all save me sweet prince with Owen. If anything, she’s usually trying to protect him. I love it. Rating: A+


51hysbk6ehlAs I’m still on my Elemental Assassin kick, I’m going to move on to book 3, Venom. This book starts out with Jennifer Estep having the crap kicked out of Gin Blanco by Elliott Slater, Mab Monroe’s enforcer. Why? Because Jonah McAllister (rightly) believes that she has something to do with his son’s death.

When beating the crap out of her doesn’t get the response he’s looking for (read: a confession), Mab orders a stop to it. See, she assumes that no assassin would willingly allow themselves to get beaten to a pulp. They’d kill their attacker first.

Ordinarily, they would be right. Gin would be all over that shit. But since she’s smarter than the average bear (or mafioso), and more patient, she does just that. She’s beaten almost to death but a campus cop assuming that he found another dead body (imagine that job. Ugh), calls it in and the police realize that she’s alive despite the strong resemblance to ground chuck.

After Finn brings her to Jo-Jo and gets her set back to rights, Gin decides enough is enough. She is going to go after Mab and her people personally, starting with Elliott Slater. It’s not entirely revenge on Gin’s part. Elliott has recently formed an unhealthy obsession with one of Gin’s associates, Rosalyn Phillips, and everyone is fairly certain she’s headed for an early grave if Gin doesn’t do something.

Not only that, but Gin’s recently rediscovered little sister, whom she thought was dead, has come to Ashland. As the detective taking Donovan Caine’s old place. And Mab Monroe wants her dead with a passion.

Gin has to save her sister, save the girl and take care of the Elliott Slater all without getting dead herself or alerting Mab Monroe to the fact that Gin Blanco is the assassin she’s looking for.

Again, these books are great. We see some real development here of the relationship between Gin and Owen, who knows what she does and doesn’t give her grief about it like a certain police detective. Again, I’m not saying that Caine should have turned a blind eye, but if you knowingly hop in bed with an assassin, you shouldn’t use the fact that they’re an assassin as the reason you need to break up with them.

This book kicks off what we’ve all sort of been expecting since book one, Gin going after Mab fully. It’s a good book, well written and made me jump right into the next book. Rating: A.

Web of Lies

Courtesy of jenniferestep.comOkay, so I have been plowing through these Elemental Assassin books by Jennifer Estep. Seriously, there’s good. Book two is Web of Lies, where Gin Blanco, our anti-heroine, is living with retirement. And she’s not really enjoying it. She’s restless, which his why when someone tries to rob her business, the Pork Pit, she and her dwarf cook Sophia take them down with prejudice.

This sets up quite the series of events:

  1. We’re introduced to Eva Grayson, sister of wealthy Ashland business owner Owen Grayson, who makes an appearance later on in the book.
  2.  We see just how much of Ashland Mab Monroe controls as the son of her lawyer, Jonah McAllister, who just happens to be the lead robber, gets released so quick it’ll make your head spin. We also get our first intro to Jonah himself as he tries to brace Gin into withdrawing her charges. HA! Like that would happen.
  3. Jonah’s pressuring of people to avoid the Pork Pit leads Gin to having the time to help hapless Violet Fox, who comes in looking for the Tin Man (now deceased Fletcher Lane).

With time on her hands, Gin and Finn decide that it’s worth the time and effort to figure out who is going through the trouble to try and torture Miss Violet, a sweet and bumbling college student who just so happens to be fast friends with Eva Grayson. Lot’s of little coincidences in this book.

Gin and her people learn that Violet and her grandfather Warren are being braced by dwarf mining magnate Tobias Dawson to sell their land. If you know anything of Southern culture, you know that a family’s ancestral land is sacrosanct and the Foxes have been there for centuries. Warren won’t sell, especially not to a creepy schmuck like Dawson. Gin and company also learn that the reason Dawson is so keen to get his hands on Fox land is that they are sitting on a literal diamond cache.

Dawson has mined as far as he could but any further and the Foxes would feel the mining equipment going through their living room floor. Gin decides to take out Dawson, if only to keep Violet safe from the torture that Dawson is willing to inflict upon her. This leads to a lot of trouble, including the killing of Jonah McAllister’s son in Mab Monroe’s own home and a couple of near death experiences for Gin.

We also see Detective Donovan Caine bow out of the novels, at least up to the book I’m in the middle of reading. Donovan can’t handle that he’s compromised his principles twice for Gin, so much so that he’d wished she’d died in the elemental duel she’d had with Tobias Dawson, rather than living through it.

I kinda feel like Donovan Caine is a sanctimonious prick. Honestly, you can live with wishing someone you care for dead but you can’t live with the fact that she took out a seriously bad dude? Murder is pretty awful, no matter how you look at it, but it seems pretty cowardly to me to wish for someone’s death because it would make things easier on you. Gotta say, I wasn’t too sad to see Caine go.

Caine’s departure opens up the field for Owen Grayson, who is intrigued by Gin from the get go and has no problem with her former field of work, that occasionally pulls her back in. Owen has the sort of moral flexibility that’s better for Gin and she still hasn’t gone all save me big strong man. A+ for that. As I’ve said, I hate it when strong female characters roll over for the first guy that comes along.

I highly recommend these books. And you don’t really have to read them in order either. You can just jump right in. So go ahead and pick one up. You won’t regret it. Rating: A+