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review 2018-06-18 16:13
"On The Prowl" by Patricia Briggs, Ellen Wilks, Karen Chance, Sunny
On the Prowl - Patricia Briggs,Eileen Wilks,Karen Chance,Sunny

"On The Prowl" is an urban fantasy short story collection in which each of the four authors has a story.

 

I bought it (despite the tacky cover art that makes me glad I'm reading the ebook version) because Debbie's Spurts told me that I should read the Patrica Briggs' prequel to her Alpha and Omega series before starting the series.

 

The stories by the other three authors were by way of a bonus as they are all new to me.

 

Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs

 

On her website, Patricia Briggs describes the Alpha and Omega series as:

Patricia Briggs"...set in the same world as the Mercy Thompson Series, but on a slightly earlier time line. It begins with a novella titled Alpha and Omega published in the On the Prowl anthology. The decision to continue the story was made after the anthology had already been published, which has caused some confusion, since "book 1" is a actually a continuation of the short story."

She characterises the series as placing:

"... more emphasis on the romantic attraction between the hero and heroine. On a romance-readers scale, this series is sweet rather than steamy."

While it was interesting to see more of the world the Mercy Thompson novels are set in, I was a little disappointed in this novella. The story works as a standalone. The action is well-done. I just found myself thinking: "Patricia Briggs can do much better than this."

 

My main problem was the lack of emotional depth. It seemed to me that the "focus on romantic attraction" translated into making other emotions take a backseat.

 

The main female character, Anne has been attacked, forcibly turned into a werewolf and passed around the Pack by her Alpha as a rape-toy so often that she's attempted suicide.

 

The main male character is a laconic, emotionally withdrawn enforcer whose job is to kill those who break his father's rules.

 

Perhaps I'm not widely enough read on the topic but none of this sounds romantic to me.

 

The idea that these two would be able to set aside trauma and learned low self-esteem on Anne's side and a long lifetime of keeping emotionally distant in order to be able to kill on command on Charles' part and find a mating bond instantly was hard to take.

 

The attraction was well described but it seemed to be at the price of downplaying the baggage the pair have.

 

I think one of the strengths of the Mercy Thompson series is that when a rape occurs there, it is not downplayed and its effects are felt for a number of books.

 

This story felt like "Mercy-Lite". Still, perhaps Patricia Briggs needs the novel format to do what she does. I'll read the rest of the story in the first Alpha and Omega novel and find out.

 

"Inhuman" by Eileen Wilks

 

eileen wilksThis was my first Eileen Wilks story so everything had the advantage of being new.  The world building was original and stimulating. There was a relatively complicated plot for a short story. It managed to surprise me more than once, making me revisit the meaning of the title repeatedly.

 

The romance part was a little plodding. The people felt half-formed and inappropriately inexperienced or inarticulate. On the cusp between cute and you've-got-to-be-kidding.

 

The heroine's name confused me at first as everyone I know called Kai is male. Here it's pronounced like Sigh, not Hay. It took me awhile to work out that this was Kay with innovative vowel usage. I was also unclear how I was supposed to know that Kia was Native American (other than who isn't in Urban Fantasy - being WASP is so uninteresting).

 

The ending was a good set up for an upcoming book but I felt it walked away from a lot of what the plot was set up to do. I'd been following a hunt for a killer and when the hunt was over the outcome left me wondering what all the look-how-awful-this-killer-is build-up was for.

 

Even so, I was impressed with the originality of the ideas and the pacing of the execution.

 

"Buying Trouble" by Karen Chance

 

Karen ChanceThis made me laugh and it took a turn that I really didn't see coming.

It's a fast, light read filled with fast, light violence and sex and sprinkled with slightly indignant humour.

 

The ending was a bit - whoops-running-out-of-space-let's-skip-to-an-epilogue for my tastes but the story was a smile and the world was original so it was worth the read.

 

 

 

"Mona Lisa Betwining" by Sunny

 

SunnyI'd wondered why there was no editorial credit for this collection. The inclusion of "Mona Lisa Betwining" suggests to me that the ommission was driven by sheer embarrassment.

 

It's a short story that I lacked the stamina to make it to the end of.

 

First, there was this set of sentences which read like a rough first-draft yet are offered as the finished product:

"He was handsome, strikingly so. Like a Greek god of old. And he was more than just a pretty face. He was my new master of arms."

A little later I dragged my mind through the following sentences and realised that this prose was too awful to live with.

 

"I moved toward the door but he did not step away, allow me to pass. I stopped a mere foot away and looked askance at him."

 

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review 2018-06-16 15:04
"Fire Touched - Mercy Thompson #9" by Patricia Briggs - a nice ensemble piece
Fire Touched (A Mercy Thompson Novel) - Patricia Briggs

Having been a little disappointed in the eighth book "Night Broken" I was pleased that "Fire Touched" was a return to form for the Mercy Thompson series.

 

There were lots of things to like about this book. Personally, I'll grin at any series where, at the end of a period of domestic discussion, the step-mother says to her step-daughter, as she and her husband rush from the house,"Gotta go, kid, there's a monster on the bridge."

 

It was large and hard-to-kill monster and the battle scene was only exceeded by the melodrama (which I thought was actually quite stylish) of the rallying call that Mercy gives, blood-spattered, walking stick/spear lit with pulsing red sigils raised above her head, her mate apparently unconscious at her feet. No wonder it made national television.

 

This story avoided being another Mercy-takes-on-the-big-bad-almost-alone-nearly-dies-but-is-saved-by-friends theme that was becoming repetitive (albeit well done each time). Instead, it was more of an ensemble piece with some strategic ideas about the relationship between the wolves and the fae that moved things in interesting directions.

 

The Pack now feels real, populated by people I know who are acting from motives that I understand. It helped that Adam finally stepped up and did the full-on Alpha thing.

 

Three new characters are introduced, none of whom are narcissistic psychopaths who could run for President. Old characters re-appear but doing new things and sometimes working to new agendas. The politics is has become more complex and less easy to second-guess. The depiction of Fairy Land is original and quite chilling.

 

There was also some clever but unobtrusive cross-over references with the Maroc and Charles that reminded me to make a start on the Alpha and Omega series.

 

While there is still a lot of action, much of it involving Mercy taking on things many times her size and the body-count is satisfyingly high, the action was there to illustrate the story, not drive it. We're back to a story driven by the characters and their situation. 

 

I ended the book having enjoyed my visit with Mercy and looking forward to the next one.

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review 2018-06-07 20:21
"Staying Dead - Retrievers #1" by Laura Anne Gilman - slow start and some unfortunate names but the characters mean I'll try the series.
Staying Dead - Laura Anne Gilman

" Staying Dead" is the first book in an Urban Fantasy series. It has a lot of the right elements for success: originalish magics, sassy heroine, creepy baddy and lots of foreboding but, about a third of the way through I wasn't sure I'd continue.

 

The opening assumes an engagement with what happens to Wren, the magic-using thief, that I just wasn't feeling.

 

Things got better at about the half-way mark as the world-building and plot complexity ratcheted up with the introduction of a powerful secret society and more focus on how Wren came to be where she is.

 

There are some good action scenes, a wide variety of players, some intriguing rules for using magic and, in the end, I quite liked Wren and her partner. The novel does have a plot with reaches a spectacular, violent but clever resolution but on the whole it felt like a series Pilot, loaded with more that-could-be-interesting ooh-what-will-they-do-with-that stuff that the plot itself could sustain. It reminded me a little of Jim Butcher's first Harry Dresden book, "Storm Front" so I'm hoping there are good things to come.

 

A couple of things distracted me. Firstly the names. I still don't know what the title means? Perhaps the publishers thought it up to sound noirish? And the series title, "A Retriever Novel" gives me images of dopy dogs fetching tennis balls. And the secret society is called "The Silence" which is the sort of name I associate with 1970's college bands that used a Moog and released concept albums with a straight face.

 

Secondly, the formatting of the ebook is careless.  Laura Anne Gilman uses a lot of sub-chapter shifts in point of view and action which I think work well but there is nothing in the layout to tell you when a shift is happening. How hard would it have been to add a few blank lines between shifts? Not doing it seems disrespectful to both writer and reader.

 

I've bought the next book in the series because I'm hoping that I've found something good here that just got off to a slow start.

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review 2018-06-06 12:18
"Crossed - Soul Eaters #3" by Eliza Crewe - excellent end to this original trilogy.
Crossed - Eliza Crewe

In "Crossed", Eliza Crewe pulls off something unusual, an end to a trilogy that is satisfying, surprising and not focused on blowing stuff up.

You know how trilogies go: you've built up the power of the big bad and the scenario where you have to save the world and then you have a final battle and, with varying degrees of sacrifice, blow the big bad away.

That doesn't happen here. But then this trilogy has always been at least as much about how we choose between good and evil in a way that is true to our nature. Consequently, none of the sides in this triangular struggle between demons, crusaders, and Meda and her friends have been either entirely good or entirely evil. Winning had to be about more than one side surviving. It had to be about Meda and her friends finding out what the right thing was and finding the courage and the ingenuity to do it.

I liked the twists not just in the plot but in the circumstances of the main characters. The twists are there to do more than surprise and entertain, although they do both. They are there to build empathy for incompatible points of view. We get to see what Jo is like when she lets herself of the leash, we understand that jovial Chi has a deeper understanding of events than he normally lets show making his bravery an act of faith rather than optimism. We see some of that nightmare that Armand survived. Everything that we learn makes right and wrong less easy to define but makes the bonds of friendship stronger.

One of the challenges of this book is that it's set in Hell. This is tough in adult books but in YA books you can't default to graphic sadism and you have to avoid a Disney devil feel.  The Hell that Meda and her companions make their way through feels soul-destroying: full of despair and suffering and the pain of pretended pleasure used to humiliate and wound. Most of the really bad things happen off screen but that makes them bite harder. Jo spent four days alone in Hell at the mercy of demons. Not knowing EXACTLY what happened is more chilling than a sensitivity-numbing blow-by-blow account.

Meda's character continues to be the main thing that makes the trilogy special. We see the world through her eyes but in a way that lets us see inside her, perhaps better than she sees herself. She wraps her comments in wit and sometimes temper but her comments go beyond insight to empathy, showing us what she loves and why. For example, at one point Meda describe giving Chi some news about Jo when he just wants to go to her. She says:

"I might as well try to make a lab puppy sit still in a room full of bouncing tennis balls. He doesn't even hear me."

This captures Chi perfectly but the choice of image also shows us who Meda really is.

Physically, Meda is one of the most powerful and potentially destructive creatures on the planet. In a more Jack Bauer, we-have24-hours-to-save-the-world-using-any-means-necessary worldview, Meda would have become more and more violent, wreaking more and more destruction, regardless of the cost to herself and her friends, in order to triumph over evil. Eliza Crewe offers an alternative worldview where Meda triumphs because she refuses to be nothing more than a weapon, because she will not give up on her friends and because, even in the midst of deadly combat, she is capable of feeling sympathy for the devil.

"Cracked", "Crushed" and "Crossed" have given me a lot of pleasure. Whatever Eliza Crewe writes next, I'll be reading it.

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text 2018-06-04 21:48
Reading progress update: I've read 49%.- I'll try a little more
Staying Dead - Laura Anne Gilman

This book reminds me of those mass-produced-in-Dutch-greenhouses-tomatoes that look perfect but don't deliver real flavour.

 

I was about to DNF it at the 50% mark when a group called "The Silence" was introduced.

 

Apart from the fact that "The Silence" is the sort of name I associate with 1970's college bands that used a Moog and released concept albums with a straight face, this organisation sounds intriguing so I'll stick with the book a little longer.

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