Review: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

Review: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine HarrisDead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #5
Published by Ace/Roc, Gollancz
Pages: 295
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Dead Until Dark

Sookie's got just a month, before the next full moon, to find out who wants her brother dead - and to stop the fiend! Sookie Stackhouse enjoys her life, mostly. She's a great cocktail waitress in a fun bar; she has a love life, albeit a bit complicated, and most people have come to terms with her telepathy. The problem is, Sookie wants a quiet life - but things just seem to happen to her and her friends. Now her brother Jason's eyes are starting to change: he's about to turn into a were-panther for the first time.

She can deal with that, but her normal sisterly concern turns to cold fear when a sniper sets his deadly sights on the local changeling population. She afraid not just because Jason's at risk, but because his new were-brethren suspect Jason may be the shooter. Sookie has until the next full moon to find out who's behind the attacks - unless the killer decides to find her first.

Thoughts: I am an ex-True Blood fan. While I am grateful for the series as it got me to pick up the Sookie Stackhouse series, I don’t watch it any more. It is brash and crass and just a bit too crazy – qualities that are fantastic in the short term, but painful after 4 long years.

But the Sookie books are nothing like True Blood – a fact that always comes to me as a shocking realisation whenever I pick up a new Sookie book. Dead as a Doornail is just like its predecessors: sweet, comforting and very Southern. If these books were food, they’d be a series of Red Velvet cupcakes… providing serious southern comfort while looking like blood.

Yup. Sookie Stackhouse novels = literary equivalent of Red Velvet.

So, of course, Dead as a Doornail was a pleasure to read. I curled up with it and was happy reading about both Sookie’s car troubles and her weird paranormal problems. It was a sweet, escapist read – and I will certainly be reading more books in the series. But did it keep me on my toes? Nope. Did it have me dying to read the next page? Nope. Did I feel any of the emotional ups-and-downs of reading a good book? Not once.

Why is that? Well, Dead as a Doornail is a bog-standard mystery with vampires and werewolves thrown in. Problem was that this particular mystery had no bite to it. By the time of the big reveal, my sole reaction was “huh”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Alongside the mystery was Sookie’s ludicrous love life. She has FIVE men chasing after her in Dead as a Doornail – three of whom she kisses in this short book. Oh, and as if those five weren’t enough, Love Interest #6 makes his debut at the end of the novel. Seriously? I mean, if I were taking these books seriously (thank God I’m not) I would be quite pissed off by this flip-flopping.

Bottom line? This is an enjoyable series, but Dead as a Doornail is far from brilliant. If you don’t take the plot too seriously, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Review: Heat Stroke by Rachel Caine

Review: Heat Stroke by Rachel CaineHeat Stroke by Rachel Caine
Series: Weather Warden #2
Published by Ace/Roc, Allison & Busby
Pages: 335
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Ill Wind

Review is spoiler-free - the summary is not!

Accused of murder, Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin was chased across the country—and killed—by a team charged with hunting down rogue Wardens. Five days later, Joanne had a lovely funeral and was posthumously cleared of all charges. Her human life was over, but she had been reborn in Djinnhood. Now, until she masters her enhanced powers, Joanne must try to avoid being "claimed" by a human. But when a hazard that only a Djinn could sense infiltrates Earth's atmosphere, Joanne must somehow convince someone to do something about it—or the forecast will be deadly. So who said being all-powerful was going to be easy?

Thoughts: When I started Heat Stroke, it had been over a year since I read Ill Wind, the first book in Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series. And while I had geniunely enjoyed Ill Wind, and I could remember as much, I couldn’t remember anything that had happened in it. I vaguely recalled the ending, I remembered the main character had a thing for fast cars, and… that was it.

So, needless to say, this book started off a bit rough. There were a lot of characters dealing with the emotional fall-out of the last book – and that really meant nothing at all to me. But soon enough, Caine ramped up the action and I no longer had to worry about what I didn’t remember. There were are new problems to worry about!

Heat Stroke reminded me of what I adored about the first 6 books of the Morganville Vampire Series: the out-of-nowhere twists and turns. Rachel Caine is not an author to stick with the status quo. She’ll set you up in one direction and then – BAM – she’ll move you into another. Heat Stroke was filled with twists and turns – all of them utterly realistic.

UK Cover

And now that I write that, I realise that that is exactly it. I’ve read 10+ Caine books and now I’ve finally worked out why she is such a joy to read! It’s not just that she puts in great twists into her books, it’s that the twists feel completely natural. A lot of excellent fantasy novelists put in mind-blowing twists into their books (Rachel Vincent and Richelle Mead, I’m looking at the two of you), but they always feel like twists. Your reaction to them will always be “Wow, I can’t believe that author did that!”. But with Caine, you don’t even feel it. She creates characters and universes so complete within themselves that they can drive the show all on their own. It’s fantastic.

I can officially say that Heat Stroke took me from just being a Rachel Caine fan to being a Weather Warden fan. Apparently, Rachel Caine can write a main character in love with more than one leading man without turning the novel into a migraine inducing disaster. She can writes 3D villains who you can both pity and wish dead. She’s also one of the few authors I’ve read who “abuses” her male characters just as much as her female ones. In short, she’s fab – there is a reason she has so many fans!

Bottom line? Read the Weather Warden series! It is extremely enjoyable, highly realistic, kick-ass urban fantasy filled with fast cars and physics.

Review: The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

Review: The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. LiuThe Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu
Series: Hunter Kiss #1
Published by Ace/Roc on 2008-06-24
Pages: 320
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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By day, her tattoos are her armor. By night, they unwind from her body to take on forms of their own--demons of the flesh, turned into flesh. This is the only family demon hunter Maxine Kiss has ever known. It's the only way to live, and the very way she'll die. For one day her demons will abandon her for her daughter to assure their own survival--leaving Maxine helpless against her enemies.

But such is the way of Earth's last protector--the only one standing between humanity and the demons breaking out from behind the prison veil. It is a life lacking in love, reveling in death, until one moment--and one man-- changes everything...

Thoughts: The first line of this book was so damn good, I actually tweeted it. At the time, I thought, “This is going to be the perfect Urban Fantasy.” Unfortunately, I was proved wrong. And it truly is unfortunate, because this really really could have been a great book.

Ok, let’s start off with the prose. In UF, I tend to see the writing as a means to an end. If I become attached to the characters and understand the universe = good writing. But if the characters fall flat and the plot holes start showing = bad writing. There are numerous exceptions to that rule, but on a whole it applies. But The Iron Hunt takes different approach – one that I consider characteristic of literary fiction: gorgeous sentences with a tangential plot.

Now, this could have worked if it hadn’t been for the fact that the plot became impossible to follow. The universe wasn’t that complicated and neither was the action – but Liu’s style meant I had to re-read simple dialogue scenes in order to understand what was going on! It required a level of concentration that detracted from the story and was, quite frankly, unpleasant.

And then there’s the story itself. In short: nothing special. There’s nothing original about Liu’s characters or universe – been there, done that. Our heroine, Maxine, was a bore and rather emo. Her supporting cast of demons could have been interesting, I suppose, but they were too simple to engage with. And then there’s the “love of her life”… by far the most yawn-inducing man I’ve ever had the misfortune to read about. Unlike most UF, Liu introduces her heroine in an already stable and loving relationship. Well, at least that’s what we’re told. From the 3 scenes he’s in, all I can tell is that he has the personality of a wooden plank. Can’t see what anyone would see in him.

All in all, a very disappointing read. I had had high hopes for Liu, but she didn’t deliver. She has the potential to be a fantastic writer. Perhaps her talents would be better suited to short stories or poetry… but she should stay away from Urban Fantasy.

Bottom line? Don’t bother.

Review: Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre

Review: Wanderlust by Ann AguirreWanderlust by Ann Aguirre
Series: Sirantha Jax #2
Published by Ace/Roc
Pages: 312
Genres: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Grimspace, Doubleblind, Killbox

Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. Jax has worked for the Farwan Corporation her entire career. But now the word’s out that the Corp deliberately crashed a passenger ship, and their stranglehold on intergalactic commerce has crumbled—which means that Jax is out of a job.

She’s also broke, due to being declared dead a little prematurely. So when the government asks her to head up a vital diplomatic mission, Jax takes it. Her mandate: journey to the planet Ithiss-Tor and convince them to join the Conglomerate.

But Jax’s payday is light years away. First, she’ll have to contend with Syndicate criminals, a stormy relationship with her pilot, man-eating aliens, and her own grimspace-weakened body. She’ll be lucky just to make it to Ithiss-Tor alive…

Thoughts: Ann Aguirre is one of those authors who can make me cry like a baby, keep me on tenter-hooks during an action sequence, and make me drink coffee at 4am so that I can keep reading. The only reason this book isn’t getting 5 stars is because it falls slightly short of it’s predecessor Grimspace – but not by much.

Everything I love about science fiction is in this book. The familiar-yet-different worlds, species with bizarre cultures taking the lead – it’s like Star Trek meets Firefly meets, well, Ann Aguirre. This woman can write action and drama and romance, all while developing a stunning universe for her characters to play in.  Although there isn’t quite as much mind-blowing action and drama in this book (although I don’t see how that would have been possible, given how much happened in Grimspace) there’s still a whole ton of it. I am constantly amazed by just how much plot Aguirre can pack into the pages!

I loved that Vel, who had a brief but essential part in Grimspace, returned for Wanderlust. He is not just alien in his appearance but in his attitude, and something about that makes me want him to love Jax. If any of you watch The Good Wife, the relationship between Jax and Vel is rather like that of Alicia and Kalinda. Vel is just so otherworldly and aloof, you never know quite how he’ll react. But when he does act in Jax’s favour? It makes it that much more meaningful.  As for Jax herself, she really grows into herself and her relationship with March in this book. She is one of my very favourite characters – nitty, gritty, kick-ass, and screwed up. And let me just say that the scenes between her and March? They made me cry without making me want to kill either character (quite a tough job!).

Unfortunately, there was one reveal towards the end of the book that had me thinking “seriously?”. It was just a bit too cliche and threw me slightly off-kilter for what would have otherwise been a fantastic ending.

Bottom line? A fantastic sequel in a fantastic series.  I’d recommend Ann Aguirre’s books to anyone who wants their books both character-driven and plot-driven – Wanderlust has both in spades.

Review: Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

Review: Grimspace by Ann AguirreGrimspace by Ann Aguirre
Series: Sirantha Jax #1
Published by Ace/Roc
Pages: 320
Genres: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Wanderlust, Doubleblind, Killbox

As the carrier of a rare gene, Sirantha Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace—a talent which makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. Then a crash landing kills everyone on board, leaving Jax in a jail cell with no memory of the crash. But her fun's not over. A group of rogue fighters frees her…for a price: her help in overthrowing the established order.

Thoughts: I loved Grimspace so damn much, which obviously made this review nearly damn impossible to write!

Let’s start with the lead character, Jax.  Jax is seriously kick-ass, but God, is she far from perfect. We meet her at her lowest: she’s grieving, vaguely suicidal and – unknowingly – a bit spoiled.  Jax is the corporate-gal who needed to lose everything to see what assholes her employers are.  So while she goes through some pretty horrific trauma in Grimspace, it helps her “grow up”.  She doesn’t doesn’t truly change, per say, it’s more like she grows into herself.

It is fabulous to read, because honestly, who doesn’t love some good old-fashioned character development in their fiction.

Grimspace is filled with non-stop twist and turns.  Space battles, crazy alien planets and new enemies at every port – kicking ass and running like hell.  I am in love with the verse.  I’m also in love with Aguirre’s writing style.  She managed to turn the whole tale around half a dozen times without making the book bi-polar.  In retrospect, it was one of the most coherent novels I’ve read – although it seemed out of control (in a “Dude, that’s crazy awesome” sort of way) while I was reading it.

I also want to go on a fangirl rant about March, who was one of my all-time favourite male characters.  Ann Aguirre writes what I consider the ideal “bad boy”.  I use that term lightly, because what I actually mean is this:

Bastard. But I don’t mean it. […] I wouldn’t trade March for someone nice. Well, I don’t mean that like it sounds. March is a good man, just not a nice one. Does that even make sense?
Chapter 33 – Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

March is a good man but he can be cruel.  In fact, he is constantly struggling to keep from letting his cruelty take him over.  And that ever present instability?  It is exactly what makes him exactly the kind of hero you love to learn to love.  He isn’t easy and he isn’t kind, but he always has his heart in the right place.  There’s a fine line between a honest and cruel, and Aguirre straddles it perfectly.

Grimspace is labelled “Sci-Fi Romance” by some, and while it has a seriously epic romance… I think I’d keep it off the romance shelf.  Grimspace follows zero romance rules: it does not centre around a single relationship, has a heroine with more than one “tru wuv” and forgoes the whole dual-POV.  And considering the strong, mystery-filled, dangerous world Ann Aguirre creates in Grimspace – I think it would be a shame to read it solely for a romance.

Bottom line? READ THIS BOOK.  It has intergalactic global corporations and human trafficking, lesbian mechanics and scarred strippers, adorable bog aliens and unionised!bounty hunter aliens.  It’s brilliant.

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