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review 2017-06-29 18:48
Hunter of Demons (SPECTR #1)
Hunter of Demons - Jordan L. Hawk

This is an odd one. I'm going to give it four stars, because I do think it deserves it, but I'm going to put a huge caveat on that, which I'll get to in a minute.

 

Ms. Hawk certainly has a grand imagination. All her worlds, whether I can get into them or not, are well-detailed, well-thought out and the world-building is pretty smooth, giving you want you need to know when you need to know it without burying you in extraneous details. That is the same here. She's put a different sort of twist on vampires here. Certainly, vampires actually being demonic spirits isn't new, but in this world, vampires are thought to not actually exist. Ghouls and werewolves, sure. But vampires? Hah! Except they do. It's the method of transfer from one host to another that differs, and I quite thought it to be more complex and have the potential for more conflict that in typical vamp lore. We certainly get to see those conflicts emerge here and start to be explored, and since the way the possession works, you can still sympathize with Gray while understanding why Caleb is justly upset by all this. Neither of them asked for or wanted this; they're just going to have to find some way to make do. End of series spoiler:

And since this whole first series and part of the second series is already released, I know that Caleb and Gray aren't able to be separated, so I assume they will have to and do eventually come to some mutual understanding/acceptance of their fates.

(spoiler show)

I really enjoyed all the stuff that gets explored here, though I did think Caleb's trust issues with SPECTR and with John went away or started to fade just a little too quickly. I would think Caleb would be more suspicious than he ends up being, and would therefore be looking for more ways to manipulate the situation and John - but that doesn't happen. Of course, he's forced to stick around since they're hoping John will figure out a way to get Gray out of Caleb's body, but that doesn't mean that someone like Caleb, raised with a deep distrust of the system, would thaw out as quickly as he does. 

 

Now for my caveat - obviously, this is M/M(/U) (Caleb considers Gray to be "male" but Gray really doesn't have a gender), and romance is a must. There's no real romance in this first book, which is fine because that would've been misplaced. There's plenty of lusting and lusty thoughts, of course, and John gets a little too handsy with someone he's supposed to be protecting/holding in custody. John gets a wee bit unprofessional, but doesn't cross the line into totally unprofessional until they finally have sex in the last chapter. I have a couple of issues with this that prevented me from being able to like the scene, aside from the extreme unprofessionalism:

1) While they just came from a horror show of a death match with the lycanthrope and their adrenaline would be high, causing them to act rashly, I just couldn't stop thinking that Caleb's breath and mouth must've tasted like blood. Gray had just drunk a lycanthrope dry, and Caleb didn't even stop for mouthwash. Plus, even with near-instant healing powers, Caleb would've had some blood from his own injuries sustained during the fight. Shower first?

 

2) Holy consent issues! Caleb wants John and vice versa, but Gray was obviously way uncomfortable with all this and had no idea what was going on. Even though Gray's an unwanted hitchhiker inside Caleb, and Caleb was desperate to get laid for a variety of legit reasons, that still means that Gray hasn't given his consent to this. At this point, we don't know much about how this possession works. We know that sometimes Caleb is aware of Gray and can carry on discussions with Gray whether aloud or in their head, and sometimes Gray seems to "go away." But we don't know if Gray is "there" all the time or has the ability to "check out" or just makes it appear like he's checked out. Gray's had access to the memories of all his prior hosts, including their sex lives, but those were always in sepia tone, if you will, and this is the first time he's experiencing it firsthand and in technicolor with stereo surround sound. That he's subdued and quiet afterward probably just means he's processing and trying to make sense of what just happened, versus being traumatized by it, but I hope this is resolved before Caleb and John boink again. For now, I'm labeling it dubcon. YMMV.

 

3) Actually, consent is a huge issue throughout the story, what with the forced possession. Caleb doesn't want to share his body with Gray; Gray didn't intend to inhabit a body that didn't stay dead, and in fact has no control over which bodies he does inhabit. So dubcon/noncon is just a fact of this premise. Caleb's miserable, Gray's confused and doesn't know what's going on. Neither of them are really happy about this, though Caleb's pain is clearly much more prevalent and pressing. Still, it's more or less a mutually distressing experience, until the climax. Gray overrides Caleb's consent when he decides to not just kill the lycanthrope but drink all its blood. Dude! Caleb's a vegetarian! :P And also, that's gross. Gray would've even gone after Caleb's SIL if Caleb hadn't begged him not to. So maybe you don't care about #2, because Caleb's free to do what he wants with his body without having to check in with Gray - and I would agree to that IF this series wasn't sold as an M/M(/M) romance. But it is, so my issue with #2 isn't so much that it happened in this instance - because like I said, Caleb's desires were totally valid - but concern about how this is going to be handled in future installments. If you want me to believe this is a mutual romance among all three, then at some point - preferably sooner than later - the various issues of consent need to be addressed.

(spoiler show)

 

The writing is strong enough, and the characters and premise are interesting enough, I'm willing to at least give the next book a try and see how this develops from here. 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-02-26 17:01
Embers (Common Law #2)
Embers (Common Law) - Kate Sherwood

And here's the unprofessional-professional, and here's where I check out of this series. 

 

*sigh*

 

I don't understand Jericho or what Sherwood is doing with his characterization. She wants me to believe this dude survived eight years in the Marines, four tours in Afghanistan (acquiring a Purple Heart, a Silver Star and a bachelor's degree all in that time), and went on to be a beat cop for the LAPD and eventually made detective. But here's the thing: Jericho's in idiot. He has no balls, no backbone, no brains; he's constantly being shoved around in one direction or another by everyone around him, not just his ubercrush Wade, and he does nothing about it except dig himself in deeper. Oh, but he has authority issues. If that's the case, how did he make it through boot camp? He survived four tours and eight years as a Marine but can't figure out how to get a gun out of someone's hand whose standing a mere three feet away from him? Really? He has authority issues but willingly lets himself be manipulated by Wade even after Wade says straight to his face that's what he's going to do? Jay needs to grow a pair and grow up.

 

At least Hockley shows some flexibility here and doesn't just keep up the "I'm a fed so I'm a jerkface for no other reason than I'm a fed" nonsense that he's had going on in the last book, but frankly, I'm getting close to being over the "locals vs the feds" nonsense that fiction writers just love to drool all over. There is at least an explanation of sorts in this one about why they're being such major tools. Kayla's tough and decisive where she can be, but really, by the time the feds are done with this town, I doubt she'll have anything resembling respect from her subordinates the way things are going right now.

 

As for the biker wars story - please. Just...that was the most convoluted plotline I've seen in awhile. And Nikki and her kids - honestly, I don't understand why Jericho gives a crap about any of them, when Nikki is constantly taking advantage of him and the kids are so horrible. Clearly, the only conclusion I can draw at this point is that he's a masochist. Which brings us to:

 

Wade Granger. Why am I supposed to give a crap about this dipshirt and Jericho's star-crossed obsession with him? If it really is star-crossed since Jericho's just barely pretending to act like a cop at this point. And is Jericho serious about his "if they made drugs legal then they wouldn't be a problem" logic? I guess he's a-OK with elementary school kids being used as mules and pushers, and teens getting hooked on this stuff and people OD-ing left and right and throwing their lives away for a high. But hey, if they're legal, then his ex-boyfriend would have a legitimate business enterprise and it'd be all good for them. Well, except the illegal weapons running and whatnot. Shoot, I guess we're just going to have to make that legal too. (And even if Wade ends up being revealed as being undercover (unlikely) or an informant (somewhat more likely) that still doesn't excuse Jericho's behavior up to this point.)

 

Writing is still good, but I have get off this stupid train.

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review 2016-11-03 02:52
Mahu Men (Mahu #6.5) (Should probably be #3.5 in the series)
Mahu Men - Neil S. Plakcy

I'm not going to do the usual breakdown of each title in this short story compilation like I usually do, mainly because I'd just be describing the plots of most of them anyway. Since most of these short stories center around investigations, that wouldn't be particularly insightful and would just kind of spoil things.

 

I'm not sure that this would not be a good test read for someone who hasn't read any of the prior books in the series. This is a good intro, in a sense, because you do get to see Kimo working several smaller cases and how he interacts with the victims' families, but you'd be missing a lot of context from the books. Not that you couldn't still understand Kimo's head space through the various shorts, but there would be blanks as Plakcy doesn't waste much time on background info. We do get to see when he first meets Ray, his new partner on the force, and their first few cases together and how Kimo came to trust him with intimate details about his life, so that was cool. We also get to see a little more of said intimate details on page, for those who have been missing it in the regular series.

 

I like that the stories were in chronological order, so even if you're unfamiliar with these characters and this world, there's still a sense of progression and development. I think this would've worked better if read after book three, Mahu Fire, since none of the stories here come after that point. It's also not entirely consistent with what Kimo tells us his head space was immediately after his breakup with Mike. Which is more than fine with me, as dark is so not my thing when it comes to sex. Still, it is an inconsistency, unless Kimo got himself out of his self-destructive funk a whole lot faster than previously suggested.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-10-16 16:52
Tracefinder: Changes (Tracefinder #2)
Tracefinder: Changes - Kaje Harper

Thar be spoilers!

 

Have you ever watched a football or baseball or *insert your preferred sport here* game? Then you are familiar with that strange phenomenon where the sports commentator will say something like, "So-and-so has NEVER failed to make this catch!" and then five seconds later on live TV you get to watch so-and-so fail to make that catch and listen to the commentators' protests of disbelief. That was me with this book.

 

For the first third of this book, this didn't even read like a Kaje Harper book at all. It read like something any new-to-MM author would write. There was this annoying repetition of Brian refusing therapy, Nick worrying about his job (though his guilt about sleeping with Brian while on the job seems to have completely evaporated), Brian and Nick arguing about Brian's skills and needing to keep them secret. Then the MPD figures it out because of Brian wanting to do good and find a missing woman he's seen on TV, and then it becomes a repetition of Brian goes on a Find, Brian being exhausted from the Find, Nick and Brian arguing about how Nick still sees Brian as a broken kid and not a grown up, Nick and Brian having sex (which I largely skipped), lather rinse repeat. 

 

About the only good thing that does happen is Nick getting his ass handed to him on a platter by the MPD because he's such a terrible cop. Of course, then you've got the MPD extorting Brian into using his skills for them with the threat that they'll file charges against him for working for Marston all those years and being an accessory to his crimes. So there's that. Extortion very much is a real world problem, so I had no issues buying this storyline, but it was one unprofessional professional thing on top of another and it annoyed me.

 

I suppose one could make the argument that Nick being pretty much demoted from cop to "babysitter" should give Nick license to sleep with Brian as much as he wants. He's still wearing a badge though, even if he's not being allowed to use it, so I'm still not okay with it. It should be noted that he does try to quit when the unofficial demotion happens, but he's not allowed to. Still didn't make it okay for me, but YMMV.

 

The other good thing that happens because of all this is Brian finally gets some counseling and starts to figure out the Brian/Bry thing and what it means and why he does it and how to handle it. I really wish more emphasis had been placed on this instead of all the other ridiculous over the top stupidity that comes up in the last half of the book. This is easily the best part of this book and it's not given the attention it deserves, so it ends up feeling more like a miracle cure you'd expect to encounter on an episode of Star Trek. Brian's not really crazy! It's just a coping mechanism! All you have to do is change your perspective! Wallah! Cured! ... Ok, so he does continue to go to therapy until the Thing happens but we only get to see that one session and it's just not enough, at least not for me.

 

Then, the Thing. MPD uses up Brian's powers until he passes out and is in the hospital unconscious for a week. Damon shows up to collect him, ties up Nick and disappears with Brian. Nick finally is allowed to quit since he was about to be fired anyway, and the rest of the book is Damon and Lori being awful horrible people who I'm clearly expected to give a crap about despite their complete lack of remorse for anything. (I was mostly annoyed by this because I suspect that Damon and Doc are going to be the couple for book 4, so I was pre-emptively not giving a crap and getting irritated that I was eventually going to be expected to.) Damon does a stupid thing and Brian gets kidnapped, and instead of doing the badass thing that he's always done his entire life up to this point he...calls Nick for help. Which I just couldn't buy that he would do that. Nick of course flies down to help, taking his friend Charlie along with, and they all end up on this ridiculous high-seas chase going after a Columbian drug lord to get Brian and Lori back. It's just so stupid, and the entire time I was reading this nonsense I couldn't help but think that if Nick had just done his job in the first book then none of this would be happening. Instead, Nick, Charlie and Brian and Doc all get caught up in Damon's murder-fest and having to cover it up - not that I'm mourning the deaths of a drug lord and his linchpins but come on! Brian was trying so hard to redeem himself and do good things with his ability, and Nick despite his constant f-ups and his flaws was trying to help him do good, and now they're all going to be wanted for Murder One if they're ever found out, and Brian, Lori and Damon are all having to go into hiding to get away from the evil drug lord's goonies on the off-chance anyone survived the murder-fest to snitch on them. 

 

I did NOT sign up for mafia drama!

 

And that's the point where I stopped caring for any of these characters or their stupid decisions that get them into stupid situations that they refuse to admit are stupid because...

 

they had no choice.

 

Ah, yes. The number one excuse of stupidity everywhere. They had no choice. When actually, they had loads of choices they just didn't want to acknowledge or use because they're stupid! As my queen Buffy once put it so eloquently, "You have a choice. You may not have a good choice, but you have choice." And as my man Dumbledore once put it, "It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities." And these people be stupid unapologetic asshats.

 

I had no problem with Lori and Damon stealing for food and money to buy food when they were kids and starving. I can sympathize with that easily. Who wouldn't? But when they start dealing drugs and murdering people and acting like they had no other choice then they lose all sympathy points. Just because the people Damon has killed are scumbag criminals like himself doesn't make it okay. Brian's the only one who feels any kind of remorse over anything that happens here, so I continue to mostly like him, but he's not enough to carry my interests.

 

I skimmed the last few chapters, which was mostly infighting between Nick and Damon and Lori, and then a somewhat brilliant and somewhat ridiculous resolution to the MPD storyline that allows Nick to finally go to where Brian is in hiding so we get our HFN to lead us into the next book. I won't be reading that one or any others in this series because I can't deal anymore with these people.

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review 2016-10-08 03:24
Tracefinder: Contact (Tracefinder #1)
Tracefinder: Contact - Kaje Harper

I've been hmmm-ing and huh-ing about this book since I finished it yesterday. There are several things I love about it, which should come as no surprise because it's Kaje Harper. She always puts out a solid story. So, why only three stars? Well...

 

You've got Nick, who is by all appearances a straight-laced beat cop who always crosses his t's and dots his i's. But he's got this adrenaline rush thing going on, or maybe it's more like repressed aggression, that occasionally needs an outlet. He's not a violent guy on a day-to-day basis, but just gets an itch to punch people sometimes, and there's always someone deserving a good punch in the dive bars he frequents on his off hours. It's a win/win, so long as he doesn't get caught.

 

Then you've got Brian/Bry, who has dissociative identity disorder or what used to be called split personality disorder. Except, it doesn't quite fit. He's very smart, but has had a tough life growing up with a junkie mom. He has severe dyslexia which he's never gotten help for and this limits his options. He's also a psychic, able to find people anywhere they might be by following their trace. Using his ability wreaks all kinds of havoc on his body though, but it's a valuable gift - one that any drug king would just love to have possession of.

 

Kaje is great at giving her characters layers and depth, and giving them motivations that are true to who they are and not just inserted in because of plot demands or because she wants the story to go a certain direction. Everything that happens here feels real and sincere. Damon, Brian's brother and caretaker, is a genuine scumbag but we can still see how much he loves his brother and their sister Lori, and he'll do anything he can to protect them and provide for them. All three of these siblings would do whatever is necessary for each other, even when those are things they know are immoral.

 

Brian seems the only one really bothered by their situation, and because of his disabilities and abilities, he's more vulnerable than the other two. He's discovered that playing dumb is easier and makes people underestimate him and leave him alone, so he "created" Bry, a simple, dim-witted personality he can disappear into whenever things start getting dicey. He doesn't always choose to be Bry though, so it's not always clear if he's always Brian and always in charge, or if Bry actually does sometimes take over. Despite that, I never doubted that it was Brian in charge when things started happening with Nick, so at least I wasn't worried about dubious consent issues.

 

The juxtaposition between Brian and Nick was interesting. You've got a seemingly put-together guy who's alone and a little bored with his life but sometimes needs to let off steam or he'll break; and you've got a broken guy who is torn in two, or maybe he's more like one of those Venn diagrams, who's beginning to realize he doesn't want to be the pet psychic to a drug lord the rest of his life but sees no way to change it. He wants to put himself together again but has no clue how to go about it. They're both right on the cusp of needing something different, something monumental to shake things up, so when they meet it makes sense that they're pulled toward each other.

 

Here's where things get dicey. Because there's that unprofessional professional thing I was complaining about a little while back. Now, I didn't hate it here like I would anywhere else, and that's largely because Kaje is so good at what she does. She makes it make sense that Nick would do what he does. It's clear that Brian is in a tough spot and that he's being used. Nick isn't deluded about Brian's involvement in the crimes his boss commits. He's charged to get closer to Brian, even though he realizes he should be finding ways to stay as far away from Brian as he can. And Brian pursues him, which doesn't make this any easier of a moral dilemma. The key thing that Kaje does here is make sure it's very clear to the reader that Nick is conflicted. He knows he's botching up the job because of his growing feelings for Brian, but since he's undercover he can't just hand the assignment off to someone else. At each point where the unprofessionalism rears its ugly head, it's absolutely plausible and understandable why he does what he does. Still doesn't mean I liked it. I especially had problems with him

deciding to let Lori and Damon get away and run, even going so far as to lie to his boss and the task force coordinators and break surveillance equipment to cover up the fact that he's lying. Now, Damon and Lori aren't the big boss, but they're not exactly small potatoes in the operation either, and Damon's a killer. So letting them go to spare Brian having to see them arrested or whatever the hell his justification for that was didn't set well with me.

 

It also sets up the next one I'm less thrilled about. Nick has to "roommate" with Brian while Brian is getting on his feet and trying to find a job to support himself. Nick is supposed to stage a fight at some point and leave Brian alone, in the hopes that when Brian has no other options, Damon will come for him. Nick behaves himself pretty well throughout most of this, but then allows himself to again be seduced by Brian when Nick is jonesing for another fight. Go out to a bar fight or stay in and have sex? I guess it is kind of a no-brainer when complications aren't involved, but that isn't the case here. I ended up skipping most of that scene from impatience.

 

Surprisingly though, I wasn't too bothered by the first time they have sex because, well, as Nick tells himself later, having sex as part of an undercover gig is sometimes required and he felt adequately guilty about it. I mostly felt bad for Brian because he didn't know Nick was lying to him about his true identity at the time and that was going to smart when he found out. He wasn't undercover the second go-around, so I'm going to be harsher about that one.

 

And then there's Keesha, but that's a whole other thing. I'm glad he had nightmares about that. He deserved to.

(spoiler show)

 

So there you have it. An otherwise 4 or 5 star read, knocked down because the unprofessional professional, even though it's a very well-written unprofessional professional. And I was actually ready to give this four stars until that last chapter. *sigh* 

 

I hear the next book is better, so I'll be diving into that one tonight. 

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