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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

eBites: The Gaslight Chronicles

Blog With Bite


Steampunk romance is rapidly becoming a regular Saturday night thing here at What Book is That?, and whenever appealing titles in that titillating subgenre come my way I try to point them out. Cindy Spencer Pape has spot in my heart already for her Motor City series (and the next book in that series comes out in August- yay!) and I'm eager to give this new series a go.

Steam & Sorcery Steam & Sorcery
Sir Merrick Hadrian hunts monsters, both human and supernatural. A Knight of the Order of the Round Table, his use of magick and the technologies of steam power have made him both respected and feared. But his considerable skills are useless in the face of his greatest challenge, guardianship of five unusual children. At a loss, Merrick enlists the aid of a governess.

Miss Caroline Bristol is reluctant to work for a bachelor but she needs a position, and these former street children touch her heart. While she tends to break any mechanical device she touches, it never occurs to her that she might be something more than human. All she knows is that Merrick is the most dangerously attractive man she's ever met—and out of reach for a mere governess.

When conspiracy threatens to blur the distinction between humans and monsters, Caroline and Merrick must join forces, and the fate of humanity hinges upon their combined skills of steam and sorcery...


Photographs & Phantoms- As a member of the Order of the Round Table, Kendall Lake is overqualified to be investigating strange phenomena at a seaside photography studio. But since the photographer is related to the Order’s most powerful sorcerer, Kendall reluctantly boards a dirigible to Brighton. Amy Deland is haunted by a shadow that appears in some of her recent portraits. In each case, the subject died within days of the sitting. Does she have her grandmother’s gift of foresight, or has she somehow caused the deaths?

As Kendall and Amy search for answers, their investigation draws them together in a most improper way. But it seems the evil presence in the studio is determined to keep them apart…


As a side note, according to the author's website, Photographs & Phantoms will be available as a free download from Carina Press in April!

What ebook offerings are on your radar? Recommendations, please!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: Territory

TerritoryTitle: Territory
Author: Emma Bull
Page Count: 320 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: fantasy, western
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words: What really happened in the months leading up to the shootout at the OK Corral?  This book proposes that maybe the truth is far stranger-and more magical- than anyone could ever have imagined.  Read on, dear readers, read on...

You might be wondering what a reimagined western has to do with a retelling of a beloved fairytale to earn the opposing spot on today's review double feature.  The answer, friends, is that both books are true genre-benders.  Are they romance? Fairytales? Dark fantasy? Western?  With regards to to Territory, the genre-bending tendencies are even more pronounced.  This dark fantasy Western takes a big gamble by remixing a piece of American folklore, but the gamble pays off.

Territory proposes a few simple ideas: what if Wyatt Earp was actually a dark sorcerer?  What if Doc Holliday was a sort of neutered wizard, unable to access his power, and therefore served as a sort of power well for Earp?  What if Morgan Earp was one of the highwaymen who robbed the stagecoach, therefore committing a pretty big boo boo for the brother of the sheriff?  What if a mysterious stranger appeared in town and, through his very existence, threatened to blow the lid off the whole shebang?

All of those questions and more form the basis of this story, and by the end, a few of them are even answered.  This book does a great job of setting up the what-if scenarios and then allowing your imagination to do the rest.  Alternating points of view between the mysterious stranger and an intrepid widow/newspaper reporter in the town of Tombstone allow for varying stories and perspectives to be introduced (The widow becomes very friendly with the wives of the Earp men, who've become sort of pariahs in their wake of their husbands' crusades against the cowboys, while our Mysterious Stranger is very familiar with the Chinese immigrant community in Tombstone and therefore a previously unheard voice is here in force.)

The supernatural elements of the story definitely smack more of magical realism than high fantasy or anything along those lines, which allows for the basic tenets of the popular story to be included without it seeming like elements were shoehorned in out of necessity.  For those who (like me) were not terribly familiar with the story of the shootout at the OK Corral, Wikipedia has much to say on the subject.

For those who are looking for something that's out of the norm and doesn't really align perfectly with any other story that's out there, Territory is a refreshing choice.  While there were some parts where the pace of the story was a little slower than others, overall this was a tight book with enough action and information to keep me reading and interested from beginning to end.

Overall Grade: A-

Review: Beauty

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the BeastTitle: Beauty
Author: Robin McKinley
Page Count: 336 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: young adult, fairytale retelling, fantasy romance
Copy for review was purchased by me

50 words or less: A lush and vivid retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast, this story drives home that there are all kinds of beasts...but even more kinds of beauty.

Upon finishing this book, I took to Twitter to gather up more recommendations for retellings of the story of Beauty and the Beast (probably my favorite fairy tale.)  While a variety of different titles were recommended (and indeed, that'll probably be a post on its own at some point) I thought it was very telling that the title that came up most in other people's recommendations was this one!  Indeed I agree with the other supporters of this title- in the arena of retellings of Beauty and the Beast, this one is top notch.

First, though, a note on the genre classification; although this book is covered under the umbrella of young adult, it definitely appeals to a wide audience.  One of its strengths is that there's something here for everyone to enjoy- the romance is thoroughly accessible and there isn't any objectionable content.  Younger readers would definitely not be exposed to anything here that's more intense than the Disney version of the story, and yet, there are plenty of layers of detail and setting to keep everyone engaged.  Something for everyone!

Beauty is the name of the book, and beauty is the name of our heroine- despite her continued affirmation that she's quite plain, Beauty is dedicated to her family, hardworking, educated, a pragmatist to the bitter end, and honorable almost to a fault.  These traits come to the forefront when she takes her father's place in fulfilling a bargain made to the odious owner of a magical castle.  Her freedom for his; no more, no less.

We're all familiar with the overarching story of Beauty and the Beast, but what this book offers that's unique is a heroine who isn't bubbleheaded or unbelievably innocent.  Nope, she's honorable (Honour is her real name after all) and honest, and once she starts to look beyond the surface she realizes that the Beast isn't all he claims to be either.  And there's no misogynist creep for a villain in this version either- da-rool, da-rool!

Sadly, this book is not available for Kindle yet, but if and when it does I'll definitely be buying a digital copy.  This is the kind of book I can see myself going back to again and again.  The prose is lyrical and beautiful, the story is elegant and romantic, and, of course, everyone lives happily ever after.  Who could ask for anything more?

Overall Grade: A

Monday, March 28, 2011

Review: Magic Bleeds

Magic Bleeds
Title: Magic Bleeds
Author: Ilona Andrews
Page Count: 384 pages
Publisher: Ace
Genre: urban fantasy
Copy for review was purchased by me

50 words or less: Kate and Curran take the first steps toward a real relationship.  Too bad someone is out to destroy the whole world, no exceptions.

For me, finishing Magic Bleeds was a personally accomplishment.  I have a really bad habit of starting a series, really really enjoying it, but failing to follow through and get current before the next book comes out. Magic Bleeds lived up to my expectations set by the first three books, kept me riveted until the last page (sigh) and now that I've read the first four books in the series I can pre-order the fifth book (Magic Slays, due out May 31st) with no sense of guilt whatsoever.

All of the elements I've come to expect from this series were here in full force.  Kate kicks the requisite amount of ass, the bad guy is horrifying gross, there's a great mythology element included, and the sexual tension between Kate and Curran reaches an all time high.  Saiman is a douche as usual, Kate's friends are there to back her up, and the whole situation boils over very quickly as someone is targeting the Pack and the results are quick, bloody, and brutal.

One of my favorite things about this series is that the environment remains central to the book and the stories never lose their post-apocalyptic feel.  Kate is a serious force to be reckoned with as a fighter but nobody seems to want to use her skills, knowledge and abilities to their fullest potential.  That's why the ending of the book is so satisfying and opens up so many possibilities.

Things between Kate and Curran finally reach critical mass as well, and in fear of spoiling things for folks out there who aren't to this point in the series yet, that's all I'll say about that.  Keep reading, you won't be disappointed!

This book also provides a lot of insight into the history of Kate's family and gives an idea as to the epic throwdown that's looming between her and her father.  As other conflicts seem to get resolved, I'm definitely interested to see what happens in this arena.

Oh, Raphael and Andrea.  Sigh.  Forgive and forget, you know?

If you haven't read this series yet, don't start here!  For heaven's sake, start at the beginning and sop up all the deliciousness this story has to offer. 

Overall Grade: A

Review: Archangel's Consort

Archangel's ConsortTitle: Archangel's Consort
Author: Nalini Singh
Page Count: 352 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was purchased by me

50 words or less: Raphael and Elena are in love and after all they've overcome in the past two books, should be able to withstand anything as a couple.  Raphael's super powerful mother, though, might be a bit of a problem.

By now you've probably read a variety of other reviews of this title that commented on a variety of things.  Some folks felt that this book was too much of a romance and not enough of an urban fantasy, some folks thought the action moved too slowly, some folks thought the conflict with Raphael's mom (hello all powerful Mommy dearest- yikes!)  While I can definitely see where these people are coming from, personally I thought this book was excellent and lived up to my stupendously high expectations.

To begin with, I was really happy that the focus of this book was on the developing relationship between Raphael and Elena and how they were balancing, or attempting to balance anyway, their individual responsibilities and identities with that of being a couple.  Their relationship had been threatened by so much that in a way it was necessary for them to demonstrate, to each other and to the world, that nothing and no one was going to come between them without dire consequences.

This also allows for other characters, such as members of the Seven, to take more of central role, which in turn helps to set the stage for future books in the series as well as books that don't feature Raphael and Elena as the primary couple.  Archangel's Consort feels like a bridge book between the first two and what is coming next in the series, and I'm willing to take a somewhat easier pace if it keeps my investment in the series high.

As for the conflict involving Raphael's mom, I think it was interesting that things worked out the way they did.  I think it calls back into question the issues raised by the first two books of where the balance between power and responsibility lies, and what happens to those who can't or don't want to shoulder the burden.  Not everyone will be enthralled by the storyline but again, if Raphael and Elena are going to make it as a couple then they're going to have to pull together and presented a united front against their opponents, in whatever form that opposition takes.

Will everyone be happy with this installment in the Guild Hunter series?  Consensus seems to be no, but you know what? That's okay.  I appreciate a book where the focus is on telling the story that needs to be told to move the series forward, and the relationship between Elena and Raphael alone was worth the price of admission for me.

Overall Grade: A

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review: Elijah

Elijah (Nightwalkers, Book 3)Title: Elijah
Author: Jacquelyn Frank
Page Count: 416 pages
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was from my personal library

50 words or less:  What's the best way to cement an alliance? Marry into the family.

The Nightwalker series rolls on with Elijah, book the third, starring the leader of the Demon military and Sienna, the Lycanthrope queen that we met in the last book, in the starring roles as hero and heroine. The book gets off to a dramatic start as Elijah is terribly wounded by Ruth and her forces and Sienna has to first get him to safety and then save his life.

The Lycanthropes of the Nightwalker world are very different from weres and other shifters one may have encountered in the PNR world. Their society is a constantly changing one, and the reins are held by Sienna, who took them from her father after besting all comers and leading her people out of a vicious series of wars that were perpetuated by dear old Dad himself.  Sienna's been fighting ever since to ensure that she's a totally different kind of monarch, which means that she does not have time for entanglements of any kind, thank you very much.

Likewise, Elijah never figured his mate would be the fiesty monarch, and instead had figured that somewhere out there was a nice Druid that would be his other half.  Elijah doesn't do things by halves- when he commits to something, he commits completely, and he isn't about to start on this journey with Sienna if her heart is not in it or if she isn't going to be able to follow through.

This causes some problems for them as a couple, as it's not like either of them can just walk away from their responsibilities to their respective cultures. It almost reminded me of elements in a lot of contemporary stories where you have two people who are successful in their own rights, with established careers, spheres of influence, and responsibilities, and then you add in this incredible attraction and connection to another person and both folks have to adjust their worlds accordingly.  Life lessons learned from romance novels, #1- not all people handle change gracefully or as well as others.

The solution that's ultimately adopted to the problem of how Elijah and Sienna can be together as a couple without either of them compromising their own roles and responsibilities is a clever one, and it works well within the rules of the story.  We also get to meet Damien, Prince of the Vampires, and another faction of the Nightwalker world enters the fray against the ultimate evil- Ruth (the Joan Crawford of the supernatural world) and Mary (her freaky puppet daughter.)

The Nightwalker series is one of my favorite relatively-unsung PNR series- I should point out here that the Kindle versions of these books are quite a bit cheaper than their mass market counterparts.  Why not check out the series and experience the fun for yourself?

Overall Grade: A

Review: Gideon

Gideon (Nightwalkers, Book 2)Title: Gideon
Author: Jacquelyn Frank
Page Count: 352 pages
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review from my personal library

50 words or less: Ten years ago, Gideon, super strong and ancient Body demon, made a total fool of himself with Magdalegna, youngest sister of the Demon king.  She's never forgiven or forgotten their encounter; now, with danger on all sides, they find an attraction they tried to forget and a love they never expected.

I don't see too many mentions of the Nightwalker series around the bloggy world, which is a shame, as this is one of my favorite paranormal romance series.  Although somehow I haven't reviewed Jacob, the first book in the series yet, trust me when I say three things: 1) it is excellent, 2) it is the best place to begin this series, and 3) a review of it is forthcoming.

Moving on, Gideon is the second book in the series, and tells the story of Gideon and Magdalegna, as well as the escalating conflict within the Demon world as crazy old Ruth and her crazy daughter Mary attempt to grab power for themselves.  Gideon and Magdalegna are a serious power couple- Gideon has been trying to resist his attraction to a much, much younger Magdalegna for ten years, and when he finally gives in, the results are as explosive (har!) as one might expect.

You see, these two are Imprinted- the Nightwalker equivalent of being fated mates.  Gideon is able to heal tremendous injuries and is the most ancient Demon there is; Magdalegna is much younger but an accomplished Mind demon- she's an empath and is able to heal spirits the way that Gideon heals bodies.  In a way, they're the perfect complements to each other.  They're also perfect opposites, and their relationship is a clear case of opposites attracting.  Gideon is Spock-like in his control of his emotions, especially because he blames himself for war atrocities against the Druids centures ago, Druids who are now central to the survival of the demon race.  Magdalegna on the other hand is empathetic to a fault, and looks at the wilder, savager side of her nature with something between fear and disgust.  Both of them have to work to help the other grow and evolve as an individual, and out of that comes the basis of their relationship.

While all this is going on, all is not well in the demon world- finding out that keeping Demons away from humans during the Samhain and Beltane frenzies may not have been the right thing to do has rocked their society to its core, and promptly the most power hungry among the ruling body have launched a rebellion and are targeting anyone they can get their hands on.  It's only logical for the Demons to form alliances with the other Nightwalker races, and so we get to meet the Lycanthropes, and the foundation is laid for future installments in this series when we not only meet Sienna, the Lycanthrope queen, but also Syreena, her sister and advisor.

Like I said, I definitely recommend starting this series at the beginning with Jacob and reading the series in order, but this series is a definitely treat.  With a new (and, I believe, final) book coming out in November (the title is getting announced at the RT Convention on April 8th) now is the perfect time to get caught up!

Overall Grade: A

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: Captured by a Rogue Lord

Captured By a Rogue LordTitle: Captured by a Rogue Lord
Author: Katharine Ashe
Page Count: novel length (ebook review copy)
Publisher: Avon
Genre: historical romance
Copy for review obtained via NetGalley in anticipation of an honest review

50 words or less: Serena Carlyle is happy in her spinsterhood whose two goals in life are to help her younger half sister make a smart match and to protect the people on her family's estate from the pirates that pillage the shores.  She hopes her neighbor, Alex, Earl of Sevage, can help her with one of those goals.  See if you can guess which one...

Despite the fact that the cover of this book looks like a tragic advertisement for Vidal Sassoon, this was a thoroughly enjoyable story about finding a new beginning and about turning over a new leaf in order to find happiness.  There's plenty of swashbuckling (hello pirates) and plenty of swoonworthy moments as Serena and Alex have to overcome meddling stepparents and social pressure and piratical wrongdoing to finally be able to be together as a couple.  Captured by a Rogue Lord is a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Alex is living an interesting double life.  He spends half the year as a rake in London society, successfully avoiding pretty much all human entanglements, and the other half of the year as a seafaring Robin Hood, relieving douchebaggy members of the ton of their yachts and accompanying riches, to benefit the less fortunate.  He's very close to his twin, who suffered a debilitating war wound, and figures it's about time to give up the pirating in favor of becoming a married country lord and gentleman of leisure.  So, he agrees to marry a young girl of good family, who also happens to be Serena Carlyle's stepsister.

One thing leads to another and Alex finds himself in a highly compromising situation with Serena- luckily, nobody is there to see, so it appears that the secret is safe- until Serena figures out that the guy she was canoodling with is actually her incredibly innocent stepsister's intended.  Serena can't in good conscience let the marriage go forward, but doesn't really see any way to get around it.  Plus, she has bigger fish to fry- smugglers are pillaging the coast where she lives, and nobody is willing to do a thing about it.

Serena decides to seek out the help of Redstone, a mysterious swashbuckler operating in the seas where she lives; Alex sees this as an opportunity to be with Serena again without further muddying the waters between them.  These two are still attracted to each other, and Alex has decided that there's no way he can marry Serena's stepsister when the one he really wants to marry is Serena; an evil stepmother gets involved and for awhile, things look grim for these two.

The plotting here is tight and fun, and the drama is palpable- when things come to a head between the smugglers and the residents and it becomes clear the the smugglers have a rich and well-connected benefactor, the audience is working to put the puzzle together before the authorities arrive to cart Alex away.  A happily ever after isn't guaranteed; instead, Serena and Alex have to figure out their own feelings before they can work on being a couple.  Additionally, there's Alex's brother to consider- apparently he's been nursing quite a crush on Serena's stepsister, and she in return.  Will they act on their feelings or be content to wallow in misery?  Tune in to find out!

There are times when a good historical romance is the only thing that will satisfy my reading palette and Captured by a Rogue Lord was as good as I'd hoped it would be.  I enjoyed the characters, found the evil stepmother to be incredibly diabolical without being cliched, and found the smuggling aspect to add an element of danger to the story that made the conflict feel real and the feelings authentic- Serena is such a good person without being a Mary Sue, and as a reader I appreciate that.  I'll definitely be checking out other titles from this author in the future.

Overall Grade: A

Review: Laird of Darkness

Laird of DarknessTitle: Laird of Darkness
Author: Nicole North
Page Count: novella length (ebook)
Genre: historical romance, paranormal romance
Publisher: Carina Press
Copy for review obtained via NetGalley in anticipation of an honest review

50 words or less: Kidnap half-brother's bride? Check.  Ransom her in exchange for a magic bow and arrows that will slay dream monsters that cause real wounds? Check.  Accidentally fall in love with captive? Check.  Wait a second!

For a relatively short novella, Laird of Darkness packs quite a punch.  It's on the spicier side, and Alana and Duncan have a whirlwind courtship by anyone's standards (seriously, the whole story takes place over the span of what feels like a few days.)  The story was exciting and the animosity between Duncan and his half-brother made for a believable conflict. 

Duncan is half-Fae, and while that's lent him cool powers like the ability to become invisible at will, it's also caused plenty of problems, like being hounded and wounded by Otherworld monsters any time he sleeps.  In order to finally kill off the dream monsters, he needs a magical bow and arrows that his mom was supposed to give him before he died, but didn't.  The only other bow and arrows belong to his half-brother and sworn enemy, and it's been Duncan's life's work to try to get his hands on the damn things.

When his enemy's betrothed stumbles into his territory, Duncan views it as strictly business- capture the bride, ransom her for the weapon, kill the dream cooties, live alone and happily ever after.  The minute he puts his peepers on Alana, though, that plan gets shot, as these two start fogging up the proverbial windows pretty much as soon as they meet.

This element didn't make the story feel rushed, though, and I found a couple of other elements really made this story stand out- 1) that Alana isn't a virgin, isn't ashamed of the fact that she isn't a virgin, and didn't lose her virginity in a non-consensual situation or other common trope.  Alana is confident and able to handle herself in a crisis, which is always nice to see.

I also enjoyed the possibilities that were opened up by Alana telling her betrothed that he and his half-brother need to mend the fences, in light of all they have in common (both are half-Fae, both are powerful dudes, and they're freaking half brothers for heaven's sake) and neither seemed particularly averse to the idea.  Perhaps we'll get to see what happens in a future book?

Also, MacPhereson (the half brother) apparently has fallen hard for Alana's servant, Sophia. Possibilities abound there as well.

While I definitely would have enjoyed more details and explanations regarding Alana's healing powers, all in all, this is a whole lot of story for not a lot of money (Amazon has this going for $3.19,) and really, what better combination exists than that?

Overall Grade: A-

600 Follower Giveaway WINNER! Plus other fun things!



Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for the giveaway with Suck My Lolly! Random.org has spoken, and the winner is:

Celine

The winner has been emailed and has 48 hours to respond. Thanks again to everyone who entered and be on the lookout for new giveaways soon!

Up next, in the category of Other Fun Things, is my attempt to clear my review queue!

Yes, the number of reviews I have to write is kind of ridiculous, and there are so many good books I want to share!


Be prepared then, for the excitement that is this upcoming week!  I'll be posting two reviews per day, both from the same genre or series!  Check out what's in store:

Today:

Laird of DarknessCaptured By a Rogue Lord
Laird of Darkness by Nicole North and Captured by a Rogue Lord by Katharine Ashe
Genre: historical romance


Sunday:
Gideon (Nightwalkers, Book 2)Elijah (Nightwalkers, Book 3)
Gideon and Elijah by Jacquelyn Frank
Genre: paranormal romance, and both from the Nightwalker series (books 2 and 3)


Monday:
Magic BleedsArchangel's Consort
Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews and Archangel's Consort by Nalini Singh
Genre/Common Theme: Most recent book in a series and sadly, too long to wait for the next one


Tuesday:
Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the BeastTerritory
Beauty by Robin McKinley and Territory by Emma Bull
Genre/Common Themes: Delicious retellings of fairy tales and legends


Wednesday
Blog With Bite

On Wednesday we take a break from double shots of reviews to examine some truly excellent ebooks that are available for your reading pleasure. I've got some great ones on tap for this week, let me tell you!


Thursday:
Unholy GhostsAscension: A Dark Breed Novel
Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane and Ascension by Sable Grace
Genre/Common Theme: seriously kick ass urban fantasy!


Friday:
Friday is the first day of April, if things like calendars are to be believed. This means it's time for a look back at the month of March! We'll also be back in the saddle for Illustrated Friday with a book that reminds us all to not be weenies!


Saturday:
Master of SmokeUnder Her Skin
Master of Smoke by Angela Knight and Under Her Skin by Jeaniene Frost, Meljean Brook and Ilona Andrews
Genre/Common Theme: Gotta love shifter stories!


Sunday:
Cold MagicDeep, Dark & Dangerous
Cold Magic by Kate Eliot and Deep, Dark and Dangerous by Jaid Black
Genre/Common Theme: Genre-benders!


And there you have it! It's time for me to get down to writing reviews. I'm looking forward to talking about some great books!
 
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