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review 2016-10-31 16:43
Adventures in Audio
Phoenix Rising - Philippa Ballantine,Tee Morris
A Conspiracy of Alchemists - Liesel Schwarz
The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, Book 1 - Rod Duncan

Mr Ceridwen and I have been listening to audiobooks on our (somewhat long) drive up to the cabin, which has been generally enjoyable. We got through the entire "Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire" series, which was absolutely a great time. Good narrators, very interesting alt-history, a semi-twist ending I didn't see coming, very astute observations about gender, and on. Well recommended all around. So then we cased around for the next steampunkery to fill the hours. 


I downloaded A Conspiracy of Alchemists first, but holy God was the narrator bad. We just couldn't stop laughing at her hiccoughing reading style. Then we moved on to Phoenix Rising, which opens with a relatively fun rescue sequence, and then settles into ... a whole lot of not so very clever bickering. The main characters, named Books & Braun (gag), are a fussy librarian and a stabby brute, but, get this, the DUDE is the fussy pepperpot and the LADY loves explosives. Oh ho, I bet you thought the lady was the librarian, but you would be wrong! See our fascinating gender reversal! 


I actually fell asleep while listening. 


Which, look, I generally think whether I like this sort of pulp mid-list disposable reading is more dependent on the angle of the sun or the barometric pressure than, say, actual merit. Because this stuff is all more or less the same -- somewhat formulaic, dependent on action, sometimes quippy, little bit of romance for the ladies, etc -- so I wonder sometimes why I bother reading (or writing) reviews. Something called Conspiracy of Alchemists is going to be a three-star outing, shitty narrators notwithstanding, and that I thought Phoenix Rising boring and trite might because I ate something like all the doughnuts when I stopped in Hinckley and hit Toby's bakery. Noms. 

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review 2016-03-09 09:26
"The Bullet Catcher's Daughter" by Rod Duncan- good ideas strangled by terrible writing
The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, Book 1 - Rod Duncan

I couldn't resist buying this one: great title, striking cover art, a steampunk setting and the first in a series. It had to be worth a read. Except that it wasn't. I gave up after ninety minutes of this ten hour audiobook.


There's a lot to like in "The Bullet Catcher's Daughter": a truly original take on an alternative nineteenth century England; a brave and tenacious heroine who has to pretend to be a man in order to do what needs doing (which not only allows gender issues to be highlighted but gives lots of opportunities for cross-dressing fun); a tongue-in-cheek attitude that salts the whole thing with dry humour and big, impressive Victorian machinery.


Normally, I'd have settled down to this with the same kind of smile I have on my face when I'm reading the one of the "Parasol Protectorate" books but my enjoyment was destroyed by the faux-Victorian language. It was distressingly inauthentic, producing the distracting dissonance that one experiences when listening to a non-native speaker trying to use the vernacular of one's own language. It may be amusing for a short time but it quickly becomes wearisome. I was expecting pastiche but what I got was clumsy parody that rendered the dialogue lifeless and crippled the attempts at humour.


I'm aware that this is a very popular series, so perhaps the fault lies with my expectations but this one was added to my Did Not Finish pile.

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review 2015-04-10 21:02
Brief Thoughts: Reason to Believe (Bullet Catcher's novella)
What You Can't See - Allison Brennan,Karin Tabke,Roxanne St. Claire

Reason to Believe -- Roxanne St. Claire

Part of the What You Can't See anthology

Listed as Bullet Catchers #3.5

2007 Release -- Pocket Books



**I only read Roxanne St. Claire's Reason to Believe.
I may or may not come back and read the rest of the novellas at another time.

Review for Reason to Believe


”You weren’t paying attention to Protection 101. I go where you go.”

Yes. Thank you. I was wondering about that exact thing on certain occasions (**cough**cough**Thrill Me To Death**cough**cough**), and was delighted that at least someone realizes that bodyguard work does not equate to “wandering off alone on independent investigations” or “asking the bodyguard to go somewhere else because it seems more important”.

The Story in Brief:
Reason to Believe was a decently told short novella featuring Chase Ryker (who was first introduced in the second book, Thrill Me To Death, and actually drew my attention with his subtle, yet charming personality). The assigned principal is a TV psychic, Arianna Killian, who has hired the elite Bullet Catchers because she has been receiving malicious visions of a murder; however, Chase is under the impression that Ari has requested a guard due to nasty, threatening e-mails, which is also part of the problem, but not her main problem.

Someone out there wants Arianna to stop doing her psychic thing, and Ari knows that this person is willing to kill her if she doesn’t comply. But her first hurdle is to figure out how to get Chase to believe that she is truly psychic so that he will take her seriously about this ethereal threat to her life.

Overall Thoughts: Reason to Believe is intriguing and exciting, much like all of Roxanne St. Claire’s works that I have read so far. Well written and decently suspenseful, even if some things don’t make sense, I still find myself properly entertained by each story. This short novella was no different, though I will admit that it was somewhat more exciting than the previous two full-length novels--only the ending seemed to screw up the progressive flow of the storyline for me.

Ari and Chase are both likable, relatable characters; and I love that Ari comes off blunt, straight-forward, no-nonsense, and pretty outspoken. While she and Chase have their face-palm-worthy moments, I wasn't really too bothered by them as I have been for other characters from other books in this series.

The novella presented a sweet romance (though a bit too insta and too abrupt for my liking, but I’ll take it) and a good crime mystery and enough of a twist that I found that I really DID like it enough to overlook the unfortunate ending hour quibbles that surfaced--the closing chapters of this novella felt rushed and made little sense. The paranormal aspect of this book was typical psychic investigation formulas, but an irksome deux ex machina in the last chapter really didn’t do much to help matters.

Nor did the throwing out of “Protection 101” that made me groan and roll my eyes.

Otherwise, I was satisfyingly entertained.




Other stories in this anthology:

  • Deliver Us From Evil by Allison Brennan
  • Redemption by Karin Tabke



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review 2015-04-10 21:00
Thoughts: Take Me Tonight
Take Me Tonight - Roxanne St. Claire

Take Me Tonight -- Roxanne St. Claire

Book 3 of Bullet Catchers series

2007 Release -- Pocket Books

Adult, Romantic Suspense, Mystery, Bodyguards

I'm going to call it what it is and say that I had a few superficial reasons for anticipating the third installation of the Bullet Catchers series, Take Me Tonight.  And these reason really only make sense to me, so I discourage anyone from trying see any normal logic in them.  Pretty much everything should have aligned properly to make this Ani’s favorite Bullet Catchers book:


  • The summary blurb, as per usual, was intriguing.
  • Our Bullet Catcher’s name is Johnny and he’s a playful, flirty, Italian who can cook. (Have I ever mentioned before that a lot of the previous fictional male characters I’ve fallen in love with always got extra points for being able cook?)
  • There was an underlying “cyber crime”-ish base to this Buller Catchers installment’s mystery.
  • The beginning of the book was equal parts intriguing and exciting and came on strong enough to hook me right into the story.



But in the end, while the beginning was decently laid out, the rest of the book started to teeter on typical clichéd scenes that readily made me frustrated and roll my eyes. Things did not play out productively, the progression was haphazard, and our main female character turned out NOT like the spunky, smart heroine I had been anticipating. Because, of all the TSTL things a heroine can do in any storyline, I think that Sage Valentine pretty much does it all:


  • Knowingly walking right into danger without any security or back-up plans.
  • Pushing away her personal protection for the sake of her own stubborn grudges.
  • Trusting all the wrong people and forcing away all the right ones.
  • Continually painting a target on her own forehead when she knows someone is out to harm her.



There is a time and a place to bravely do your job and be fiercely independent and search out the truth. But then there’s also knowing how to be smart about being fiercely independent. Because I don’t hate that Sage is a smart, resourceful woman who can take care of herself and can get out of certain sticky situations; I don’t rebuff the fact that she is independent and a skilled investigator. I just always take issue whenever smart women become incompetent at keeping themselves safely out of danger when they have a world of resources to turn to for help, due to whatever misguided ideals they have about the meaning of being a strong, independant woman.

Why does being strong always have to equate to being stupidly heroic, or stubbornly martyr-ish?


The Story:
Sage Valentine’s roommate has died and Sage suspects foul play to do with a thrill-seeking website that Keisha Kingston has been participating in: takemetonite.com. Apparently there’s a new trend of role playing in real life and real time where women pay to get the full package thrill of being kidnapped and then rescued--they also come with some sexual perks on the side, of course. (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes too, but it’s a good concept for a Romantic Suspense/Crime Thriller, especially when these games lead to dead people and murder mysteries. I promise, I’m not morbid or psychotically twisted in any way--I just enjoy my crime thrillers as proper crime thrillers with intriguing premises.)

In order to find out what happened, Sage pleads with her estranged aunt, Lucy Sharpe, to help her investigate the matter. But Lucy claims that she has found nothing illegitimate or sinister behind the takemetonite.com website and that Sage would be best to leave the investigation to the police, especially since Keisha’s death has been ruled as a suicide.

Unable to let it go, and convinced that Keisha would have never killed herself, Sage books her own kidnapping with plans to question the site’s “kidnappers” and “rescuers” until she can figure out the truth about Keisha’s death (in an utterly TSTL move without telling anyone what she’s planning to do, despite knowing that her life could be in danger). And of course, being the all-knowing leader of the Bullet Catchers, Lucy knows what Sage has planned and she’d be damned if Sage ends up hurt, or worse, dead, because of her dogged investigations (which made me scratch my head about this since Lucy was fairly adamant that the whole takemetonite.com experience was a hundred percent legitimate and not life-endangering, but whatevs, now we have a legit reason for a bodyguard to grace the scene).

Enter Johnny Christiano, a young man Lucy had saved from his previous life of darkness and crime and turned into an elite Bullet Catcher. As someone who will follow Lucy blindly because of what she’s done for him, Johnny asks no questions when Lucy sends him to security detail on Sage without so much as an explanation or a fully-loaded file on the client and their principal.

And yes, of course, there are much more sinister workings going on to do with Keisha’s death as well as her fellow dance team members, the Snow Bunnies. And then on top of that, we’ve got a side conflict involving back-history between Lucy and Sage and betrayal and how Johnny is highly loyal to Lucy and thus we also get some typical “Romantic Angst” at play.

Some Thoughts:
The biggest surprise twist in this story was why the kidnappings were ending in dead women--why there was a crime thriller to begin with and why our resident “bad guy” was doing what he was doing. It’s not the best surprise twist, but I would have never guessed the motive even if I managed to guess the culprit--it was... strange, really. The biggest disappointment (aside from Sage’s TSTL moments) was that the entire mystery was pretty predictable as to who was the “ultimate evil mastermind”--the guy practically flashes neon when he’s introduced for the first time in the story.

And then the rest of the book teeters into typical Romantic Suspense formulaic outlining.

The only saving grace of this book was probably Johnny as well as the excitability factor. Because even though the crime thriller was predictable and even though I really, really tried to like Sage but failed, the book was written well and I DID like Johnny. I mean, he’s not really unique or outstanding or anything; and he’s definitely no Johnny Duane Reed, of course (but that’s an unfair comparison, because no one could EVER be Johnny Duane Reed, really), but he’s an adorable sort of broody alpha male and he can cook.

The romance was all over the place, but the development wasn’t too bad. The rest of the background characters came off kind of insignificant and flat, or boring and annoying and irritating.

Overall Thoughts: I’m sorely disappointed that this third installation of the series didn’t really do anything for me. The first book of the Bullet Catchers was a real hook, line, and sinker; however, the books just keep getting more frustrating as the series progresses. Fortunately, they are written well and have a good enough dream team for me to still be considering following the rest of the series.

I suppose we’ll just see where it all leads.




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review 2015-04-09 21:05
Brief Thoughts: You Can Count On Me (Bullet Catchers novella)
I'll Be Home for Christmas - 'Linda Lael Miller', 'Catherine Mulvany', 'Roxanne St. Claire', 'Julie Leto'

You Can Count On Me -- Roxanne St. Claire

Part of the I'll Be Home For Christmas anthology

Listed as Bullet Catchers #2.5

2006 Release -- Pocket Books



I only read Roxanne St. Claire's You Can Count On Me from this anthology, so the rating only applies to that individual novella. Since I was on a short Bullet Catchers binge for the weekend, I didn't bother reading the rest of the novellas/short stories in this anthology. I may or may not come back to them at some point in time.

In Short:
Bullet Catcher Raquel Durant is finally ready to take on her first field assignment and she's been assigned as bodyguard for the eight year old daughter of Grigori Nyekovic while he's in New York for business. Of course, being a Romance novella, it doesn't take long for sparks to fly, and apparently, while a sweet, gentle father, Grigori (Gregg), comes on quite strong when he knows what he wants. And obviously, he's found that he wants more from Raquel than just guarding his daughter.

My Brief Thoughts:
This was a fun and cute little romance novella with a short side of suspense to keep the theme going. Gregg is in New York to procure a Fabergé egg which ends up being stolen in some convoluted plot that seems more complicated than it really is (or really needed to be). This couldn't be just a cute little Christmas story, we have to have something more happen for action... which I normally don't mind for a full-blown novel, so the extra suspense seemed a bit much.

Nonetheless, I really did find the story enjoyable, that is, if you ignore some of the logic failures such as why Raquel would willingly wander off with Gregg on spy missions when she's supposed to be guarding eight year old Kristina. I get that she was excited about learning investigative skills and espionage, but her first and foremost priority was supposed to be Kristina's safety, no matter what else the father asks her to do.

Besides, I was of the impression that Raquel already had pretty good investigative skills, so what gives?

Final Thoughts: Simple and cute. I had been hoping for more of a full-length novel for Raquel, being the only female Bullet Catcher aside from the head honcho Lucy. So I'm a little disappointed that she gets stuck into a short novella where not much really happens. Enjoyable nonetheless.




Other stories in this anthology:

  • Christmas of the Red Chiefs by Linda Lael Miller
  • Once Upon a Christmas by Catherine Mulvany
  • Meltdown by Julie Leto




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