Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep (Review)

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Title: Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep
Published: April 26th 2011 by Pocket Books
Page Count: 357
Where’d I Get It: Purchase
Rating: 4 stars

I’d rather face a dozen lethal assassins any night than deal with something as tricky, convoluted, and fragile as my feelings.

But here I am. Gin Blanco, the semi-retired assassin known as the Spider. Hovering outside sexy businessman Owen Grayson’s front door like a nervous teenage girl. One thing I like about Owen: he doesn’t shy away from my past—or my present. And right now I have a bull’s-eye on my forehead.

Cold-blooded Fire elemental Mab Monroe has hired one of the smartest assassins in the business to trap me. Elektra LaFleur is skilled and efficient, with deadly electrical elemental magic as potent as my own Ice and Stone powers. Which means there’s a fifty-fifty chance one of us won’t survive this battle. I intend to kill LaFleur—or die trying—because Mab wants the assassin to take out my baby sister, Detective Bria Coolidge, too.

The only problem is, Bria has no idea I’m her long-lost sibling . . . or that I’m the murderer she’s been chasing through Ashland for weeks. And what Bria doesn’t know just might get us both dead. . . .

There were two short stories before this one, one from Jo-Jo’s point of view that was kind of adorable, because of Jo-Jo’s penchant for seeing the future (albeit rarely, or without much hubbub). The other was from Bria’s point of view and was mostly an internalized struggle between wanting to find Genevive and knowing she’s the Spider whilst also being an upstanding cop. There was also a chunk in there involving an illegal white slave trafficking bit in there, but while it gave the story an edge, wasn’t the main point. I certainly enjoyed Jo-Jo’s point of view better than Bria’s, but Bria was more of a broken record after the Donovan Caine stuff.

Anyway, that aside, the timeline in the book is now approaching Christmas, close to it. I think we started in early fall? Maybe? The entire series has covered such a short time in Gin’s actual life. She is systematically taking out Mab’s minions, and being a general thorn in the older elemental’s side.

On one such run, she discovers a setup, that Mab has hired an assassin named Elektra LaFluer to do away with Gin. Unraveling that involves protecting Roslyn’s bartender, Vinnie, rescuing his daughter and then going after LaFluer, herself, before she gets Gin and then goes after Bria, who’s next on her and Mab’s hitlist.

I was glad to see Gin up against another assassin this time around. Our last battle with someone of her particular occupation and skillset was Brutus, and he bit it without much fanfare. Though, I neither appreciated the descriptions of LaFluer, nor how the woman was portrayed. She was set as someone sadistic, quick to anger, constantly wearing green (the green matched her electrical elemental power- green? really? not like blue or something?). It was clear that Gin was going to do away with her, but not going to have a problem with it. I’d hoped for someone more multi-faceted, like Gin. Gin battling someone with the same sort of depth of character would be more interesting than just a bland, standard villain role.

Gin also opens up to her sister Bria about her real identity, and they are slowly trying to work through that. It’s still not clear what route Bria will take with it, but so far they’ve forged an awkward friendship.

Owen is still in the picture. He’s become Gin’s personal blacksmith, making her new weapons as a Christmas gift. Personally, I would have preferred something less suited for my literal job, but whatever, Gin thought it was a good gift. Owen is still kind of one dimensional as a romance, but whatever. Maybe he’ll open up here eventually.

Anyway, the fourth installment was still decent. I enjoyed it quite a bit. These books are sure growing on me. Gin is my favorite soul food cooking cinnamon roll who could actually kill you.

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Web of Lies by Jennifer Estep (Review)

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Title: Web of Lies by Jennifer Estep
Published: May 25th 2010 by Pocket Books
Page Count: 400
Where’d I Get It: Purchase
Rating: 3 stars (Maybe like 2.5. I’m not sure.)

Curiosity is definitely going to get me dead one of these days. Probably real soon.

I’m Gin Blanco.

You might know me as the Spider, the most feared assassin in the South. I’m retired now, but trouble still has a way of finding me. Like the other day when two punks tried to rob my popular barbecue joint, the Pork Pit. Then there was the barrage of gunfire on the restaurant. Only, for once, those kill shots weren’t aimed at me. They were meant for Violet Fox. Ever since I agreed to help Violet and her grandfather protect their property from an evil coalmining tycoon, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m really retired. So is Detective Donovan Caine. The only honest cop in Ashland is having a real hard time reconciling his attraction to me with his Boy Scout mentality. And I can barely keep my hands off his sexy body. What can I say? I’m a Stone elemental with a little Ice magic thrown in, but my heart isn’t made of solid rock. Luckily, Gin Blanco always gets her man . . . dead or alive.

 

The short story, Web of Death, in between this book and the other one felt, for lack of a better way to describe it, as though that was supposed to be the beginning of this novel and the author scrapped it, but instead of throwing it away, just kept it as a little extra something something. I’m fine with that, I suppose, considering how the plot for this book played out.

Gin’s now in charge of the Pork Pit, and with it all the problems that having an establishment in not quite the bad part of town brings with it. She gets on the bad side of Mab Monroe’s lawyer when his troublemaking son tries to steal from her and she takes matters into her own hands. Granted, that’s just the small time plot for this book, leading into the main dish, but also potentially causing issues in later books, considering how she dealt with the problem.

The main thing Gin is dealing with is Fletcher’s legacy and his former best friend, who is being worked over by a coal mining dwarf businessman. The threats go too far when they’re centered at the man’s granddaughter, and Gin steps in, offers to deal with the coal miner, Tobias Dawson.

This is where everything gets a little far fetched. Donavon Caine is still around as the love interest, and Gin is still pining for him. They end up boning in the rain this time, but only after Gin somehow convinced the squeaky clean cop to break into Dawson’s mining operations. No, the cop hasn’t changed his view on Gin, though he was holding out hope once she said she was retired that things could be different. Nope, he’s still the lamest excuse for a romantic interest I’ve seen.

The one thing the romance scenes have going for them is they do make an effort to have safe sex, which is not something regularly seen in, well, most media. So, kudos for that, keeping expectations on safety first and proving that that can also be attractive and sexy.

Oh! And Gin gets a new love interest! His name is Owen and he also has super special colored eyes. This time they’re violet. I know that because the prose told me probably about seven times and he’s only in like three chapters. I don’t know where that romance is going, if anywhere, but anyone is better than Donavan Caine.

Okay, off of boners and back to the plot for a minute. I found the entire premise a little far-fetched. And this is coming from an urban fantasy novel. It’s pretty hard to get far-fetched at that point, but this book felt that way to me. A lot of the plot was just meh and totally undeserving of Gin’s time or attention. The entire thing where some big money mogul is going to bully someone off their family’s land? I get that Ashland is supposed to be like an urban fantasy, contemporary wild west where the law is corrupt and you make your own way, but man, it was hard to swallow this time around.

Then there was a whole chunk of plot where Gin had to pretend to be a prostitute to get close to Tobias Dawson to kill him. None of that went the right way and she both somehow hid a body on the super dangerous Mab Monroe’s property, didn’t lose her blonde wig after getting punched unconscious and drug around (I bet it’s also a lace front fantasy. Someone, please get me those magic wigs for cosplaying, thanks.) and didn’t get immediately murdered by either Mab Monroe or Tobias Dawson. Like, none of that logically makes sense, but I guess I’ll give it to her? I don’t know. It was just like waaaaaaaaay too out there.

Then the final showdown between Tobias Dawson. I get that that’s where the author wanted it to be, but why would he bring her there? Why would he just allow her to mess everything up? He didn’t seem that dumb. I don’t know, this final showdown was way less intense or interesting than the previous one with Alexis.

Whatever. So, this book was a little weird and not a very strong showing overall for either Gin or plot. But, I’m still in love with Gin and Jessie says that it really picks up soon. So, I’ll give everyone the benefit of the doubt and just place this weird plot back in the hole Gin so conveniently made for it with her special stone magic.

Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep

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Title: Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep
Published: January 26th 2010 by Pocket Books
Page Count: 395
Where’d I Get It: Purchase
Rating: 4 stars

My name is Gin, and I kill people.

They call me the Spider. I’m the most feared assassin in the South — when I’m not busy at the Pork Pit cooking up the best barbecue in Ashland. As a Stone elemental, I can hear everything from the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet to the vibrations of the soaring Appalachian Mountains above me. My Ice magic also comes in handy for making the occasional knife. But I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.

Now that a ruthless Air elemental has double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way — good or bad. I may look hot, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble, since irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine has agreed to help me. The last thing this coldhearted killer needs when I’m battling a magic more powerful than my own is a sexy distraction… especially when Donovan wants me dead just as much as the enemy.

It’s taken me so long to even pick these books up. What a mistake. I enjoyed the first one immensely and can’t wait to jump into the rest. You can expect me to be here in Urban Fantasy Appalachia for awhile.

I will admit, halfway through reading this book, I took a deep breath, stopped and went immediately to find the novellas (most of which are free on the author’s website, praise the powers that be!). So, I read those before going back to the book. I will include small blurbs about those as well, but I would consider them more vignettes than novellas. They were still great additions to the overall storyline.

Poison is from a young Finn’s point of view, illustrating his feelings about having a new person in the family who overshadows him, culminating in his feelings for Gin shifting when she protects him from an early demise. Web of Deceit is from Flecher’s point of view, a look at Gin’s first assassination contract and overwhelming feelings for Gin herself, the job, and their (still yet mysteriously) intertwined past. Spider’s Bargain was about Gin’s job killing Caine’s partner, which is the main romance conflict in the book. Overall, the novellas themselves didn’t take away from the book, but the book could also have been read without them. It just added some extra words and interesting tidbits overall.

I will admit. I was burned out on paranormal romance and urban fantasy pretty early (reading Anita Blake in high school will do that to you), and so switched over to Ann Aguirre and then young adult books. I’m glad to be coming back and reading more of the genre now. It’s really just what I needed, something familiar but fun.

Gin’s an assassin. She has latent elemental powers which allow her to control stone and is also less adept at ice magic. The magical system in this book overall is very interesting. What people can do with their elemental affinities is varied and keeps you guessing, yet never feels overwhelming or gimmicky. She is hired to take out a man who has been accused of embezzling funds.

She is hired to take out a man who has been accused of embezzling funds. The money is too good to pass up, and so Gin takes it, even though she a) just got back from a job, and b) really could use a vacation. Her handler and father figure, Fletcher wants her to retire, but hey, the money is still too good to pass up. She could retire immediately with this payout. So, Gin takes it the job, and that’s when everything goes pear shaped. Double-crossed, on the run from the law, with Fletcher dead, Gin has to clear her name and get revenge.

The book itself takes a logical path, information gathering and so forth. There’s some close calls, and an unlikely romance with the grumpiest police officer, Donavan Caine, who has to battle with his feelings for Gin, and his need to get revenge on his partner’s killer, who also happens to be Gin. It’s the perfect cocktail for a rage boner. I can’t wait to see what comes next with them.

This book was just fun urban fantasy. I had a good time reading it. I liked Gin’s somewhat lax sense of fashion, her crass sense of humor, her weird sexual monologs about tight pants. Really, I just enjoyed the whole package and I’m going to go start the next one right now.

Winter Halo by Keri Arthur (Review)

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Title: Winter Halo by Keri Arthur
Published: December 6th 2016 by Signet
Page Count: 339
Where’d I Get It: Purchase
Rating:stars

When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between worlds, they allowed entry to the Others. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay….

The humanoid supersoldiers known as the déchet were almost eradicated by the war. Ever since, Tiger has tried to live her life in peace in hiding. But in the wake of her discovery that Central City’s children are being kidnapped and experimented on, Tiger’s conscience won’t let her look the other way.

The key to saving them lies within the walls of a pharmaceutical company called Winter Halo. But as she learns more about the facility, Tiger’s mission is derailed by a complication: Winter Halo’s female security guards are being systematically attacked by an unknown force.

Now Tiger must summon all her gifts to stop those responsible for both atrocities—no matter the cost to herself…

With as much as I loved the first Outcast novel, City of Light, I’m sad to say that I was only so-so on its sequel. There were a lot of contributing factors to this cause, and that’s super disappointing because the concept for this series is like nothing I’ve ever encountered before, a seamless blend of dystopian, science fiction, urban fantasy, and a little bit of paranormal romance.

The beginning of this book is really slow. A lot of the same as the last book, investigating rifts, talking about saving children, feeling sad about saving children, talking to ghosts. There’s a bit of new plot involved, but not an awful lot. Despite the action involved, the first part is pretty dull.

When Tig finally gets into Winter Halo, the book gets slightly more interesting. At this point, the book itself feels like there’s simultaneously not enough happening and too much happening at the same time. Tig is basically balancing two plots at once. She’s infiltrating Winter Halo as a regular employee, but at the same time boning Winter Halo’s accountant as a completely different individual. At least with the last book, the romance and the investigation were all basically one thread to follow. This separation makes the book disjointed and disorderly. Yes, I know that, technically, her sexual life is also an investigation into the same organization, but it doesn’t FEEL like it’s on the same wavelength. Her relationship with the mark will obviously continue into the next installment, though I’m not sure how useful he will be at that point, having been fired from his job that she wanted information about.

There’s also some awful, what feels like, inconsistencies with the ghosts this time around.  In the last book, they had limited power, limited access to poltergeist activities, without significant numbers or rest. In this book, it just seems like they’re picking up weapons and bashing everyone over the head without any consequences at all. Yeah, it makes for a significantly easy way to move the plot forward when the heroine is stuck, but what about the already established world rules? *grumble, grumble*

There’s a lot of revelations in this book, some more interesting than others. The dynamic between Jonas and Tig being one of the more interesting ones. They’re finally expressing their feelings for each other, even if it, ultimately, doesn’t go physical. At least they’re not beating around the bush about it. Yeah, they’ve got some prejudices to get through, but at least they’re doing the thing and being adults about it. I mean, yeah, they did almost die together and possibly mixed DNA and powers, but at least that spurred them through their feelings.

Cat and Bear, despite the earlier indication where I was bashing on them for doing more stuff, are absolutely way more fleshed out in this book. They have more personality and are more independent, and help Tiger out a lot more than in the previous book (and they helped a lot). It was nice seeing them as individuals and not just ‘the ghosts’ that always hung around.

All right, so we’ve established that this book didn’t really do it for me this time around. I’m goign to just log this under sequel syndrome and hope that the next one is better. They found no children in this one, and they’re still out there and Tig is still looking for them, so hopefully that means that the series will be continuing soonish rather than later or never. Here’s hoping it only gets better here on out. I’m not giving up on it.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire [Review]

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Title: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire
Published: January 10th 2017 by Tor
Page Count: 183
Where’d I Get It: Purchase (ebook)
Rating: 4.5 stars

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

This is a short novella, barely topping 200 pages. Still, it had enough breadth and depth for a full length novel, and I find myself wishing there was more to it. Needless to say, Seanan McGuire has captivated me again. I should really go through and mow down her bibliography. I always find myself wavering, afraid to commit and find myself without any more of her writing to devour. Seriously, though, I should just do it.

This story in particular centers around ghosts, which was perfect timing because my friends were in the midst of starting a ghost podcast, so ghosts were on the brain and in the air or whatever analogy you want to put in there, because ghosts are nebulous creatures that can’t be defined by simple worldly analogies.

Jenna is a ghost who died too soon. This puts ghosts into a kind of purgatory until they can steal time from the living enough to reach their death day, in which case they pass over. She died mourning her sister, Patty’s, death, a suicide she thought she should have been able to prevent or notice. As such, she spends her time working at a suicide prevention hotline, ‘earning’ her time and assuaging her morals by preventing other deaths and other grieving families.

She also lives in an apartment full of cats that are wicked old. It’s the Old Friends Senior Cat Sanctuary and it was perfect and precious and immediately made me fall in love with Jenna. She also regularly goes and gets coffee at the local diner, run by a witch with a guitar. The witch gleans her magical influence from corn, which is, if you follow Seanan on Tumblr, possibly the most Seanan McGuire thing to ever exist in one of her books. Still, mysterious corn is always a fun thing to consider, and the witch with the corn was more than just a one trick pony.

There’s a pile of other assorted side characters, including a ghost landlady who was stereotypically New York, and her parrot. There was also a nerd ghost who haunted the comic book shop in the neighborhood, and a witch whose powers came from the rats in the city. Overall a diverse cast of characters, but I expect nothing less.

The plot itself moves at a fast clip once it starts. Ghosts in the city are missing. Someone is stealing them and using them as a veritable fountain of youth. Jenna is forced to confront both the threat and her past in the process and helps force her out of her listless funk of existing.

I will admit I cried and everything about the book that got me to that point was great. I would wholly recommend it.