review: everdark

Note: Everdark is the second book in Elle Jasper’s paranormal romance series, Dark Ink Chronicles. If you haven’t read the first book in the series, Afterlight, you might want to look away. Spoilers ahead.

Everdark by Elle Jasper (2011)

Like the second season of a decent (but not great) television series, Everdark suffers a sophomore slump. Not only does it take a long time (a really long time) for the book to get going, but just when it seems like the story is gaining some momentum, you realize that not a whole lot is happening. Perhaps worse, what does happen seems to be the same thing that happened before, and before that, and before that. Worst of all, once the moment for the big showdown arrives, it’s completely anti-climactic because, well, there really is no showdown. Then the book ends on a cliffhanger. Everdark was a frustrating read for me, and when it came time for me to give it a rating, it only earned two stars (out of five) from me. If you read my review of Afterlight, you know I wasn’t fully invested in the idea of continuing the series after the end of the first book but that I was willing to give it a try. Now that I have finished the second book (and a lot sooner than I had anticipated) I can’t really say I would recommend the series to readers, especially not when there are so many other great book series out there. This goes double for my readers who are on a book budget. Everdark is not available with a Kindle Unlimited subscription, and it also isn’t available through my local library’s print or ebook collections. So if you want to read it, you have to buy it for either full price at your favorite bookstore or search for it during your next trip to your favorite used bookstore. My suggestion—spend your book dollars elsewhere, and don’t feel any reason to rush into reading book two if you’ve recently finished reading Afterlight. Continue reading

review: turn coat

Note: This is the 11th book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.  Spoilers will inevitably follow.  If you are new to this series, look away now and go find Storm Front, the first book in the series. You’ll be glad you did!

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher (2009)

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know that my opinion of the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher is that it is the exemplar par excellence urban fantasy series, and so many series follow in its footsteps (and if I may say so, struggle to stand outside its very long shadow). This series is a must-read. Period. It’s been a long, long time since I got lost in a Harry Dresden book. Each time I return (escape?) to Jim Butcher’s version of Chicago and spend some time with Harry and his friends, I wonder why I haven’t already consumed every last available page of this series. Then I remember why I’ve taken my time in getting caught up—as long as we were all still waiting for the 16th book in the series to get published (Peace Talks, which finally has a release date of July 2020), I saw no reason to rush. I also haven’t blown through the remaining books in the series because each one of these books is a lot to take in and digest. They’re not quick reads (especially not for this slow reader) and a lot happens in every book. Plus, I want to savor each one. But with Peace Talks on the horizon (and Battle Ground, the 17th book, scheduled for a late 2020 release!), I’m a bit more motivated to return to this series and finally get caught up. For any readers of this series who stopped somewhere before Turn Coat, or maybe put the series down and haven’t come back to it, you should definitely come back. Turn Coat is one of the books in this series that bears the burden of establishing the foundation for the next major plot arc for the series. Important moments happen in regard to many of Harry’s relationships—with his apprentice, Molly Carpenter, with his mentor, Ebenezer McCoy, with his longtime enemy/antagonist, Morgan, and with his brother, Thomas. There’s even a special moment between Harry and his best friend, Karrin Murphy. (Indeed, after that list, it becomes even more apparent to me why the next book in this series is titled Changes, a notable break in Butcher’s book naming conventions). So, if you’ve been unsure whether or not Turn Coat (or any of the books in the Dresden Files series, for that matter) is worth your book dollars, my opinion is that it definitely is. If your book budget has been stretched a bit thin due to COVID-19, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find these books in your local library (mine has them!). I’m going to do my best not to spoil the story, but here are a few things you might want to know about Turn Coat before you dive in. Continue reading

review: afterlight

Afterlight by Elle Jasper (2010)

Afterlight is the first book in Elle Jasper’s vampire/paranormal romance series, The Dark Ink Chronicles. Yes, I’m bringing you a vampire romance novel today, so let’s get the preliminaries out of the way, shall we? If you liked the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, but at the same time prefer your vampire romances to be written for adult readers (as opposed to young adult readers), you will like this first book in the Dark Ink Chronicles. I stumbled upon Afterlight while browsing the shelves of my local used bookstore. It’s been on my bookshelf for at least a year now, but with loads of time on my hands at the moment and nowhere to really go (I read this book during my state’s stay-at-home order prompted by COVID-19), I’ve been searching for new series to dive into and focused on clearing my physical and virtual bookshelves. I decided to finally pick up Afterlight, and the truth is that it kept me up past my bedtime and then kept me entertained for the better part of a Saturday. At the time of this writing, this book isn’t available from my local library or through Kindle Unlimited, but if you find it on your next trip to your local used bookstore and you like vampire romances, it’s worth your book dollars. Continue reading

review: echoes of fire

Beware: Echoes of Fire is a racy read. It contains naughty language and graphic sexuality. If you prefer sweet romances, this one is not for you.

Echoes of Fire by Suzanne Wright (2018)

Echoes of Fire is the first book I’ve read by Suzanne Wright, and I’m asking myself how I have missed stumbling upon this author until now. I was absorbed by the story and the characters right from the beginning and stayed up past my bedtime on a Sunday night because I didn’t want to put the book down. And that was after having spent most of the day with my head in the book. Wright has instantly gone to my “read more books by this author” list. Echoes of Fire is the fourth book in Wright’s Mercury Pack series, shifter romances set in a contemporary world where humans know about the existence of shifters. Not having read any of the other books in this series (or its sister series featuring the Phoenix Pack), I can assure you that this book definitely stands alone. Concerned about your book budget? At the time of this writing, Echoes of Fire is included with your Kindle Unlimited subscription (if you’ve got one), but it’s not available through my local library. But listen, this book is worth your book dollars. Especially if you love racy romances and shifter romances that are well-written, fast-paced, and totally engaging. Continue reading

review: twilight heart

Twilight Heart by Adam J. Wright (2019)

Twilight Heart is the seventh book in Adam J. Wright’s Harbinger P.I. urban fantasy series. If you haven’t read the previous books in this series, I strongly recommend checking out my review of the first book here before reading on. Spoilers are ahead if you’ve not read the previous books. You’ve been warned.

Do you ever make it to the middle of a book series (or a television show for that matter) where you’re invested in the story enough to want to know how it ends, but you’re losing the excitement you had at the very beginning? That’s how I’m starting to feel about the Harbinger P.I. series. I’m going to keep reading because I want to know how it ends, but I just don’t get the same high satisfaction from each new book in the series that the first few books gave me. Here’s my take on book seven, Twilight Heart. Continue reading

review: imperfect

Imperfect by April Wilson (2017)

Imperfect is the fifth book in April Wilson’s McIntyre Security Bodyguard series. I have read book one in this contemporary romance series, Vulnerable, which features Shane McIntyre and ends on a cliffhanger, so I was wary as to whether or not Imperfect would truly stand alone. While I think readers who haven’t read any of the previous books in this series won’t be confused or lost, I do think it was helpful to me as a reader that I had at least read the first book. It establishes all of the members of the McIntyre family, who to varying extents appear over the course of Imperfect. If you’re not sure where to start, I would recommend beginning with Vulnerable and then if you like the writing and the characters, read Imperfect. If you’re a continuing reader, then know that you’ll see all of your favorite characters from previous books in the series. As of this writing, both Vulnerable and Imperfect are available through Kindle Unlimited but not from my local library. Imperfect receives an above average rating from me (it’s solidly between a B and a B+). It’s not one of my favorite books of the year but it’s definitely not the worst book I’ve read recently. Give this author a try and see what you think. Continue reading

review: buried memory

Buried Memory by Adam J. Wright (2016)

I went back for a second helping of Adam J. Wright’s urban fantasy series, Harbinger P.I. and was not disappointed. Buried Memory is certainly an appropriate title that links all of the strands of the story’s plot. It’s about Alec’s buried memories and the physical representation of buried memories—the dead interred in their graves. While I will do my best not to spoil too much, be warned that you need to read this series in order. If you like urban fantasy novels that feature private investigators, give this series a try. The first book in the series is Lost Soul, and you can read my review here. As of this writing, both Lost Soul and Buried Memory are available for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, so if you’re on a budget but have this subscription, you can “read for free”. Continue reading

review: house of whispers

House of Whispers by J.L. Bryan (2015)

House of Whispers is the fifth book in the Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper series by J.L. Bryan. While I wouldn’t say these books can be read as standalone novels, I won’t be revealing any major spoilers in this review that would ruin your enjoyment of the preceding books in this series. If you like books featuring a female protagonist and/or books featuring ghost hunters, you will enjoy this series. To be candid, I inhaled the first four books, and probably would have continued reading them one after another if I had liked the fourth book, Terminal, more than I did. If you’re new to the series, begin with book one, Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper. If you stopped somewhere along the way and haven’t gotten to House of Whispers yet, let me just say that in my opinion, this is the best book of the series so far. Bryan ramped up the scary factor and the danger factor in this one and kept me engaged in the story from beginning to end. Continue reading

review: close contact

Close Contact by Lori Foster (2017)

When it comes to romance novels, I like mine sexy hot and with a heavy dollop of suspense. It’s no surprise, then, that I settled on Close Contact by Lori Foster while searching for my next read. I’ve read Foster’s work before, but it’s been awhile. Still, I thought I knew what I’d be getting with one of her books—steamy romance, independent female protagonist and a male protagonist with a protector streak two miles wide. Close Contact is the third book in Foster’s Body Armor series, featuring MMA fighters-turned-bodyguards. In the genre of romantic suspense, how could this go wrong, right?

This is the story of Maxi Nevar and Miles Dartman. I’m not a proponent of spoilers, so I’ll just say here that one night, something scary happens to Maxi, who is currently living on a 25-acre farm left to her by her late grandmother. Not sure what to do, she reaches out to her former lover, Miles for help. Miles has recently retired from his career as an MMA fighter (for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery for some time, and when the reveal does happen, it’s a bit disappointing in the sense that Foster could have done so much more with it) and now works for Sahara Silver, owner of Body Armor Security. After a somewhat tense reunion, Miles agrees to play bodyguard, and the pair return to Maxi’s farmhouse. Once there we learn that there are various potential suspects—Maxi’s ex-fiance, Gary, her brother and her sister who want her to sell the farm, and a township cop who seems more than a little shady. Aside from the general threat whose source remains elusive, the farmhouse and barn need lots of repairs, and Miles and his friends offer to do the work while also trying to pinpoint the source of the threat against Maxi. Continue reading

review: one snowy night

One Snowy Night by Jill Shalvis (2016)

This novella is book number 2.5 in Jill Shalvis’ Heartbreaker Bay series (preceded by Sweet Little Lies and The Trouble with Mistletoe, and followed by Accidentally on Purpose, which I reviewed here). One of the good things about this series is that each book stands alone and the books can be read in any order. I’ve said this before and will say it again, Jill Shalvis is one of those authors whose books I will always check out because I know exactly what I’m going to get. I don’t know if I would put her in my list of favorites, but she’s dependable and entertaining and hasn’t ever disappointed me.

One Snowy Night is an easy and quick read. I tried to read with my “reader” hat on but somehow my “writer” hat kept demanding to be worn. While reading, the development of the main characters—Max Stranton and Rory Andrews—preoccupied my mind as well as the basic story structure. The story is told through Max and Rory’s alternating third person point of view, and while I would say that the narrative is split fairly evenly between them, I wouldn’t say that by the end of the story I know either of them especially well. Sure, I know them in terms of their current situation—Rory has agreed to accept a ride from Max as they both travel from San Francisco to Tahoe on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with their families. Perhaps that is attributable to the short narrative as well as the fact that the story itself takes place within a time frame of approximately twelve hours.

The desire for forgiveness is what drives Rory’s character. What haunts her is the way she left home. At seventeen, she ran away from home after her junior year in high school in order to escape a household where she didn’t fit in and a family who blamed her for things she hadn’t done. Six years later, she is finally returning home and fears that she will do something to make her family continue to believe she is flaky and undependable. Proving that she has changed is the thing that drives all of her actions and emotions. In the end, it is her interactions with Max during the drive from San Francisco to Tahoe that shows what kind of person she is, and it’s up to her family to see and accept for themselves the woman she has become.

While Rory’s character arc is clearly defined, Max’s is a bit blurry and indistinct. He is haunted by the same incident in Rory’s past but his experience of it was different and he begins the story blaming Rory for what he thinks was her part in it. During the drive, he learns the truth about what actually happens, and this does change the way he sees Rory and allows him to act on the attraction he has felt for her in the time that they have both lived in San Francisco. Max travels a flat character arc through the story. He doesn’t change in any significant way (yes, it can be argued that he admits his love for Rory and that that is a significant change, but in my mind, this is a romance and that is what is expected and without that element the whole story fails to work). Rather, he reflects Rory’s positive change arc and assists her along the way, ensuring that once she does finally make it to her family home, her opinion of who she is and understanding that she is no longer the seventeen-year-old girl who ran away from home six years is what matters most. She won’t be devastated if her family doesn’t see the change and we feel confident that she’ll continue to be who she is even if she doesn’t have her family’s acceptance.

The structure of the story is also difficult to define in absolute terms. When it comes to story structure, I’m looking for the following six key turning points in the plot: catalyst, big event, midpoint, crisis, showdown, revelation. One Snowy Night does have external conflicts and obstacles that the characters must overcome along with inner conflicts that the characters must resolve. And yet, the lines between acts one, two and three are blurry and indistinct, and in my opinion, the turning points are largely absent. This is more observation than judgmental. The story moves along fine and has good pacing; there wasn’t a moment when I wanted to put the book down and stop reading.

If you’re looking for a few hours of escape into a book and want a light romance, One Snowy Night delivers. If you want something a bit deeper and more complex, I can recommend the first book in the series, Sweet Little Lies and the third book, Accidentally on Purpose. If you’ve already read every book in this series, well, then, perhaps like me you’re waiting for Spence’s story to finally be told in Chasing Christmas Eve.

Have you read One Snowy Night? Hit the comments and tell me what you thought of it.

book review: sandman slim

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey (2009)

I’m worried that I’m about to sound like a broken record, but I’m not going to let that stop me.  Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey is the first novel in an urban fantasy series.  Yes, another first novel in a series.  If you haven’t caught on yet, I like serial fiction.  When I finished this book I looked up when it was published.  When I learned that it was published in 2009, I wondered how it was that I hadn’t heard of this series before.  I’m glad I found it.

Sandman Slim follows the story of James Stark.  For the last eleven years, he has been in Hell, sent there by friend turned enemy Mason Faim.  Stark and Mason are magicians, and it is through a magic ritual that Mason sent Stark to Hell eleven years ago.  Learning of the recent murder of his girlfriend, Alice, Stark resolves to escape from Hell and return to take vengeance against Mason and the rest of the Circle that helped send Stark away years ago.  Thus, the novel follows your basic revenge plot pattern; although the plot is familiar, it’s not stale or predictable or like every other revenge plot that some series begin with.  Kadrey gives readers something familiar, but he doesn’t stop there.

One of the things that made me pick this book up and give it a try was that the back cover said it was in the noir tradition, and that’s a description I would agree with.  The story is told in first-person, and so we follow Stark through the whole novel and only know what he knows, and only when he knows it.  Stark narrates in present tense, which is something of a shock when you start reading, but it never turns into a distraction and after a while you’re simply used to it.  This device makes the story feel like it is happening now, right there and then.  The first-person narrative style is a great choice for this novel because it allows readers to see all the different sides of Stark, from his reflections on his experiences in Hell and how they changed him to his feelings for Alice, which show why he is so motivated to avenge her death and won’t stop until he has succeeded.  Stark is an engaging and compelling narrator and character, and one of the novel’s strengths is that the story stays with him the entire time.  He is always on stage, and his narration makes it hard to look away.

Like a lot of first novels in a series, the supporting characters must be introduced and their relationships with the protagonist have to be fleshed out.  Kadrey has surrounded Stark with a (mostly) strong supporting cast.  Each of the supporting characters is different, and perhaps with the exception of Medea Bava, none seems cliché or just another example of a specific character type.  The strongest of the cast are Vidocq, a Frenchman who achieved immortality seemingly by accident, Carlos, owner of a bar called Bamboo House of Dolls, Doc Kinski, who heals Stark’s injuries and whose true identity and nature puzzles Stark (this is revealed at the end of the novel), Candy, a “Jade” who is in a kind of twelve-step program with Kinski to keep her from preying upon humans, and Muninn, a kind of collector or procurer of things for his clients.  These are the strongest supporting characters because they are interesting in themselves and they also highlight and emphasize different parts of Stark’s character.  As a reader, I found myself wanting to know more about each of them and hoping that they would make it out alive and become recurring characters.  I imagine that other characters introduced here will also make appearances from time to time as the series progresses—such as Aelita, an angel and Wells, an agent with Homeland Security—and it’s not revealing too much to say that Lucifer makes an appearance as well.  So I have to say that the major and minor characters in the novel add depth and interest to the story.

As I have said elsewhere, the first book in a series should make readers want to pick up the second book, and Sandman Slim definitely succeeds in achieving that purpose.  Halfway through the book I was purchasing the next book in the series.  I was completely drawn into the world that Kadrey builds and the way he characterizes Los Angeles in the style of noir detective fiction, portraying the underbelly of the city that is rife with corruption and crime, betrayal is a given because most of the individuals within this world have no sense of loyalty or community, and beautiful surfaces hide ugliness and decay.  One of the things Kadrey does well is place his protagonist in the in-between space, making him morally ambiguous as well as ostracizing Stark from any place where he might feel he belongs.  This reinforces Stark’s isolated position and loner status, but it is from this position that he draws strength and the wherewithal to get the job done.  Like so many hardboiled detectives, Stark has his own code of ethics.  They aren’t traditional or what most would consider moral or even “right”, but he has his code and he stands by it.  All of these things—the first-person narration, the supporting cast of characters, and the convincing fictional world—make this novel succeed and give me hope that the next novels will build on the strengths of Sandman Slim.

I have had a difficult time finishing novels lately because so much of what I start is all the same and I quickly lose interest.  That was definitely not the case with Sandman Slim.  I was drawn in from the beginning and kept turning the pages.  I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy and noir detective fiction and to anyone who is looking for a new series to sample.