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Review: Let Them Eat Stake by Sarah Zettel

Friday, May 25, 2012

Let Them Eat Stake (A Vampire Chef Mystery #2)Let Them Eat Stake by Sarah Zettel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. It's a cozy mystery, it's fun if you like that sort of thing, and I do.  But it does have all of the failings of the typical cozy too. Chef Charlotte keeps saying that she knows that the situation is problematic and that she probably should walk away, but she doesn't because she doesn't let anyone lie to her and that she can handle any situation. Miss Attitude, even though she does keep referencing that she did almost die the last time she "played Nancy Drew," she barely considers that she might be in danger in this time or that she might get in over her head. Even though again she's involved with witches, warlocks and mind-controlling vampires who have reason to dislike her. And all she has is a spray bottle of garlic-infused holy water and her wits. I know chefs are arrogant, but come on. If she was more concerned with the money that she needs to keep her restaurant open or the fact that her getting the job was already in the press and that backing out would be a PR disaster, then it would have made more sense than just curiosity and ballsiness. But it's typical cozy behavior and you do just have to accept that kind of thing when you read the genre.

The mystery was generally good, but it got overly complicated by the end, too messy. And there was some way too convenient plotting. Like when Charlotte's friend Minnie was introduced just in time to get a job at Oscar's restaurant and then was able to pass Charlotte the key to his office. Plus what was a regular cook doing with keys to the dead owner's office after one day on the job?

And now that I think about it, we never did find out why someone picked Charlotte for the job. Did I miss it? Deanna said she liked the restaurant, but Charlotte didn't think that was it, she thought there was a deeper, more suspicious reason. Huh.

The romance was pretty typical too. Charlotte likes Boy 1, Brendan, the handsome warlock, but they're both super busy with their jobs and she's afraid to commit or get at all serious. And she also likes Boy 2, Anatole, the charming vampire, but he's a restaurant critic and an association with him would make his good review of her restaurant look suspicious, But she keeps stringing him along too. Both relationships are very mild, it's not a hot, sexy romance novel. It's really much more about the mystery than the romance, but publishers love that love triangle, so, check!

As for the paranormal aspects, for a book with so many vampires, witches and warlocks in it, not much paranormal behavior happens. Don't expect any huge magical battles or wild vampire orgies. Paranormals have been integrated into this society, they're mostly just people like everyone else, or at least that's the tone. Figuring out what the witches or vampires might do, or what threat they might present, is part of the story, but it's mostly pretty civilized. I'm not expressing it very well. But if you're reading the book just because you love paranormals then you might be disappointed, the book is really about the chef trying to solve a mystery involving the paranormals.. On the other hand, if you like cozy mysteries about chefs and normally don't read paranormal romances, give this a try, I bet you find it a fun crossover. There, that's what I'm trying to say, it should appeal to both crowds because it's not crazy wild paranormal, just full of interesting characters with understandable motivations, a few of whom might have a few different abilities is all.

The depiction of the restaurant business continues to be very interesting and detailed without feeling cumbersome. The author definitely works the business and cooking aspects into the story in a lot of nice ways to both move the tale along and flesh out certain scenes to make them feel comfortable and real. The writing overall is very vivid and readable, it's a very enjoyable read. I just keep hoping for more from this author because I know she's capable of it. A cute little formula/checklist cozy mystery is nice, but she could do better.

Annoyed little note: would a guy like Brendan text l8tr? Seriously, he can't be bothered with one more letter to write a real word? He's kind of a formal guy. Especially the second time when he was home and not in a rush. (p260) It's not important to the story, obviously, just one of those things that annoys me in general and also didn't feel genuine to the character. I get when he was in a rush or maybe in danger and did the whole ...wish u wr here thing, but l8tr from an educated guy in an otherwise complete sentence irritated me.

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Review: A Taste of the Nightlife by Sarah Zettel

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Taste of the Nightlife (A Vampire Chef Mystery #1)A Taste of the Nightlife by Sarah Zettel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. So what happens when a really great author decides to write a formula genre novel? You get A Taste of the Nightlife, a cute but uninspiring mystery/paranormal romance. I really adored Sarah Zettel's Fool's War, I gave it one of my very few five star reviews, so I was hoping for more from this book, despite having my doubts when I read the description. I'm a fan of this genre, so I hoped she'd write something a bit more special than the typical book, but it was really checklist cozy mystery/paranormal romance. Charlotte is a very typical average woman heroine who is a bit grouchy, isn't beautiful, is short and curvy, and hasn't had a date in a year, and yet of course the two absolutely stunning guys she meets are instantly head-over-heels for her after they've exchanged maybe five words. And this is despite the fact that one is a super powerful and very old vampire who could be a king among his kind. And the other is a powerful warlock who on the surface has every reason to dislike her and is in the middle of a family crisis and shouldn't be interested in romance at all right now. But both are completely charmed by her, are willing to risk danger to help her, and aren't bothered by competing with each other to boot. Because love triangles are the staple of paranormal romances, gotta have 'em, check! Anyway, the characters are cute, the mystery was fine, all of it was enjoyable, but none of it was especially unique. It just felt like a good author having fun with a genre that she enjoys (putting a positive spin on it) without making any great impact.

If you like cozy mysteries, this is a good bet for you. The romance is mild, just a few kisses, but the guys are very handsome. It's definitely not going to be a hot sexy series. I think the subtitle sums it up when it says that it's, "A Vampire Chef Mystery." So expect cute cozy paranormal mysteries with a dash of romance.

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Review: Blood on the Bayou by Stacey Jay

Friday, May 18, 2012

Blood on the Bayou (Annabelle Lee, #2)Blood on the Bayou by Stacey Jay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I still really like this series a lot. This one wasn't as dark as the first one in some ways. People who had issues with Annabelle and her imperfections (i.e. drunkenness) might be more comfortable with her this time around because she is trying to clean up her act a bit. But I like this imperfect woman and her struggles are a big part of what make the series interesting and different for me and I hope she doesn't become too idealized too quickly. Her struggles and imperfections are what I related to in the first book.

Annabelle has had a lot to deal with. First, there is the basic premise of this world, it's a really stressful and frightening place to live in in many way, a sort of apocalyptic meets urban fantasy setting. A lot of people who live in the fairy-infested area where Annabelle lives have become addicted to sleeping pills because they have anxiety issues and nightmares - who wouldn't? And then there's her history. She's insecure, she drinks too much (less in this book), she too needs sleeping pills to deal with her crazy life (who doesn't?), oh, and did I mention that she's insecure? She's also dealing with having been rejected by her family, not trusted and dumped by the man she loved after his brother raped her, and probably has some depressive or anxiety issues (my diagnosis, just a guess). She's kind of a mess. But she's also smart as a whip (a former med student), brave, loving, generous and funny, loves good food (hot wings!), and generally the kind of gal that I'd like to be pals with.

As for this book specifically, in an attempt to be spoiler free, I'll just say that it was a study in betrayal and secrets. By the middle of the book it at least appeared that everyone that Annabelle ever cared about, except Deedee, had betrayed her. She felt completely isolated and alone. Her lovers, the people she'd come to think of as family, and even her bosses, had secrets that hurt her feelings and some of which threatened her life. There was a lot going on in this book but I really liked the way it all wove together. Now that I'm thinking about it, I never once rolled my eyes and thought that it was too much coincidence, or that certain people shouldn't have had any reason to know each other, none of the things that irritate me sometimes on other books. There was one person who did have a big secret that was revealed that could have been an eye-roller but it was built up to enough that it fine.

I really liked the layers that were revealed about the fairies in this book. I wondered in the first book about the the author's use of the word fairy for the creatures since they seemed to be just mindless insect-like animals at first. But I really enjoyed everything that was revealed about them in this book. And Grandpa Slake was just so creepy. I was intrigued by the hints of information about the Gentry and I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out more in the next book.

It wasn't a perfect book. I was kind of surprised at some of the choices the author made when it came to the romances. I'm not sure Annabelle came off as positively as she could have. (Not that the guys looked so good either, let me tell you!) And I'm not quite sure about the overall change in Annabelle's character. Not that she isn't still screwed up, she's still making mistakes and drinking a bit too much, but she felt a bit too suddenly heroic, and yet judgmental of the guys' mistakes at the same time, it just felt odd sometimes. But I'm chalking it up to second book growing pains. Overall I like this world and this character and the author's writing very much and I'm looking forward to book three.

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Review: The Isis Collar by Cat Adams

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Isis Collar (Blood Singer, #4)The Isis Collar by Cat Adams
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5 stars. This book is really just more of the same. I still like Celia quite a bit. And for the first half of the book I had my hopes up that the authors had improved their writing a bit, because I hadn't rolled my eyes at all at any silly coincidences like I was so irritated by during the first three books. But it was all downhill from there.

Rizzoli's gift being intuition smacks of lazy storytelling to me, not a cute plot idea. It's too much like Dottie's clairvoyance. Both end up being excuses for the authors to get the characters in the right places at the right times with a handy voilĂ  instead of just writing a tight story.

And then there were the coincidences. Everyone in the book turned out to be related to someone from a previous book, even the minor characters. The doctor was Chris Gaetano's dad, the mage is was Jones's daughter, the kid that gets sick is Julie, and on and on. It's kind of cute once, but after a while it's just annoying, how many people that Celia has met can possibly keep coming back into her life in different ways? There wasn't any big, fated reason reason for it, it was just supposed to be cute, so it got really irritating.

And then the plot just deteriorated. It went from four stars in the middle, to three as it got pretty mixed up with just too many elements going on, to just a total mess in the end. The level of coincidences were staggering. The woman who was kidnapped was explaining one aspect of the story about the collar to Celia couldn't even believe the story herself, even she knew it sounded ridiculous. That whole plot turned out to be so absurd. The stuff with the collar felt tacked on and like a real let down.

And then there's just the love triangle. No real effort was put into it this time. I don't think it works anyway  because John has been developed as sexy and mature and just cool and Bruno hasn't been developed as anything other than a powerful mage who keeps leaving her. Just because she keeps saying that she thinks she'll end up with him doesn't mean that I see what his appeal is at all, they have to show me.

Celia's just a bodyguard, a regular person that this extraordinary stuff happened too. That's what makes me relate to her. So when they make her life seem even more ridiculous than necessary it alienates me. I liked the stuff with her mom, with Dawna, and with her dealing with the changes in her life. I wish they'd try to keep things a bit more grounded. And I wish they'd stop relying so much on easy outs when it comes to storytelling. They sell a lot of books so it's obviously working for them, but I'd never pay for one of their books.

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Review: Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: The Laughing Corpse, Volume 1: Animator by Laurell K. Hamilton

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: The Laughing Corpse,  Volume 1: AnimatorAnita Blake, Vampire Hunter: The Laughing Corpse, Volume 1: Animator by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is very short and I wrote a long review of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures combined collection, so I'll just make a few points. Again, the plot is very consistent with the print book, so if you're a fan of the series, you're sure to like this. And I still really like how the graphic novel format emphasizes how petite and feminine Anita is, you really don't get as good a feel for it in the books, no matter how many times she says it. Seeing a small, curvy woman in a skirt and heels creates the image much more strongly of who this character is, female but still tough. It really is an enjoyable supplement to the books. 

There are a few negatives. Anita is so much more in her head than an action character, at least in this one, that the graphic novel format is a bit awkward at times; it's more thought bubbles than action. And why is her nose red in almost every frame? She looks like she's sick, drunk or has been crying. And I still think Jean Claude looks kind of ridiculous, way too black and white and chiseled. I know he's a vampire and is supposed to be pale and that they want to show a contrast with Anita, but he looks like they forgot to color him in. Still, it's mostly minor stuff in an enjoyable book. 

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Review: Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse, #12)Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5 stars. Unlike just about every other fan out there, I don't have a huge problem with the fact that Sookie obviously isn't going to end up with Eric, so that isn't the reason for my low rating on this review. My problem is with the change in the relationships is the abrupt change in story arc and that the author obviously didn't have a well thought-out plan for the series. My feeling is that Sookie is a creature of the light and that ending up with Eric or any vampire really wouldn't have worked in the end and that Harris is doing a decent job of showing that. But boy are these last few books painful. On the one hand she suddenly changed from Eric as the hero to being pretty much a jerk. On the other hand, she's pretty much completely wasting the last few books when it comes to any other plot development, there's almost no story at all. 

This book was mostly just a weird collection of Sookie's thoughts and wandering around town disguised as a murder mystery. It was rambling and overly complicated. In the end the actual plan was really simple, but the story to get there was really convoluted. 

And the entire book had a weird detached feeling, like Sookie was telling me a story but she wasn't really a part of it, just the narrator. I never got that feeling from one of these books before. I made a note about it in the beginning of the book and the feeling never went away. She kept telling me what she was thinking but she never did much or felt much. It was so odd. And it felt like Harris wasn't even trying sometimes. Like on page  120 when Sookie was "having random thoughts" and suddenly wondered how Mr. Cataliades was doing, it felt completely contrived and awkward, but apparently it was the only way Harris could think of to introduce him before he showed up again later in the book. And Sookie showers and does her hair and shaves her legs a lot. Yes, it makes her seem normal, but it's boring. I wish Harris could find more random ways to bring the everyday into things. 

There were some sweet moments though, like between Sookie and Jason when he told her about Michele, or when he gave her a birthday gift, it was a bit contrived but still sweet. The characters are still rich and well-developed, but just having Sookie run into everyone that we know and like isn't enough to have a book, you actually need a strong plot too. 

I did like some things. I like seeing Sookie stand up for herself, even when it is against Eric, especially when he deserves it. I still like Pam. Um. Sigh. It wasn't painful to read. It just wasn't a good book.

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Review: Black Howl by Christina Henry

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Black Howl (Madeline Black, #3)Black Howl by Christina Henry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm going to try not to go on and on about this one. It's just not as good as it should be, again. It has a lot of the right elements, but it's still not coming together. Maddy is still a big know-it-all for an extremely inexperienced woman. For men who are thousands of years old to look to her as a strategic leader, and a battle leader, is just silly. And she's bullheaded and stupidly impulsive. Plus she almost dies and get healed by one fallen angel or another over and over again, it could be a drinking game. And I'm supposed to believe that she's suddenly so powerful at one point that if Lucifer himself chose to fight her he would lose? Not the Lucifer that's been written in this series, it doesn't make sense. And the Jude background story was completely unnecessary, it was overly complicated and again, silly. And there was a too much going on in this one, it's frantic. But I did actually like the twist in the end that a lot of people will probably hate, the series needs to be shaken up; when you start off from book one with a storyline that's too predictable it puts a series in a rut. Sorry, that was my attempt to keep this short! Anyway, it's just a series that I want to like much more than I do.

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Review: Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures - Graphic Novel by Laurell K. Hamilton

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty PleasuresAnita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first impression was that the opening frame is pretty perfect, it's a pale woman with wild hair, not overly exaggerated boobs and hips but very feminine and very strong, with a gun, and a funny zombie and penguin tee-shirt. It's Anita. It was a good first impression. 

It had been so long since I read the earlier books in the series that I didn't remember the plot of this book almost at all, it was fun to go back to the beginning and revisit this early Anita and see how everything got started. And because I forgot that these graphic novel adaptations were coming out I was able to get the complete twelve-part series to read all in one very lovely hard cover edition from my library. This edition would definitely make a good gift for fans of the print books or the graphic novel series (a prequel came out already and several more books have come out since this one as well), it's quite a good adaptation of the story and the artwork overall is how I imagined things. 

As I said, overall I liked the art. Anita was pretty but not too comic-book exaggerated. It is an on-going theme in the books that she has hips and and a chest, so that needed to be represented here, but it was done in a classier way, not a hootchy sexed-up comic book way. I did like the drawing for her better in the second half of the book after the new artist took over though. In the first have there were just too many times where she looked sad and dewy-eyed, or big-eyed and innocent. I like that she had some vulnerability and and hurt feelings, and fear and worry for her friends, she shouldn't have been Anger Girl all of the time, but the big-eyed innocent looks just didn't work when she should have looked pissed, determined, angry, murderous, scared, etc. it was too cute. The faces in the second half might not have been quite as pretty overall but the expressions were better and that's more important to me. 

And both Anita and Jean-Claude's beautiful heads of hair and curls in their faces were a little overdone, especially in the first half and on the cover. It's pretty in an almost tattoo style, but too frequent and distracting. At a glance I frequently thought they had bugs crawling on their faces. And there was that one curl that's constantly between Anita's eyes, that was irritating, I'm surprised a woman didn't point that out in the read-throughs and make them change it. Any real woman would just brush it away, she'd never let her hair tickle between her eyes like that for so long, it would annoy her to feel 
more than it bugged me to see it. And Anita isn't a normal woman, visibility is important to her, she wouldn't allow hair in her face that could obscure her vision. It's a small thing, but it's in so many scenes, it almost became a joke, it was very distracting.

Most of the other characters look pretty much how I imagined them. Dolph looks younger than I imagined, but about the same. Edward was about right, maybe a little too good looking, he's supposed to be more average to blend in. But it's the comics, after all, they like people to have an edge. Ronnie, Luthor, Phillip, Malcolm. Irving, all really close to how I'd imagined them. The only surprise was Raphael, the king of the rats, who I'd imagined much older and handsome in a more debonair way, I guess; I didn't expect him to be a young hottie. I thought he'd be a slimmer, more mature man. But the batting record is pretty good, considering that these adaptations usually leave the reader pretty dissatisfied with most of the "casting." It's clear how much Hamilton was involved in making sure that the books really reflected her vision of the story and it says something about her writing that it seems to be pretty consistent with so many of the readers' visions as well, her imagery must have been pretty powerful if so many of us are in agreement about how things should look. 

As for the story, it stuck very tightly to the novel. They did a good job of adapting a long book to short episodes and still managing to convey a lot of information. It may be somewhat confusing to newbies, but if they're more used to the graphic novel format then perhaps it won't bother them. I'm still having some trouble grasping the format, although this was a pretty wordy and well-explained graphic novel, so I didn't miss much. 

It was interesting to me to contrast this book to the Wizard of Oz graphic novel I just read. There really was a clear attempt here to contrast the lovely elements with the horror, both with the text and the visuals. Hamilton really wanted to show that all that glitters is not gold, to show the hidden darkness beneath some things that present themselves as beautiful and safe. The art reflected this contrast very well. They got the idea across much more than the Oz artist did, one of my complaints about that book. And this book knew the audience it was catering to better as well. It was kind of funny that they could have vampires and gore and people killed by guns,
and stakes and lots of violence, but you can't say "shit", it's "#%@$" because it might be classified as a YA book (like the one I borrowed was) and swearing is no-no in teen graphic novels, I guess. 

So of someone asks why they should read this if they've already read Guilty Pleasures, I'd say that it's a different perspective on the story. Seeing it visually makes you notices things that can only be described in the print book. You see that Anita is shorter than the men she has to question. You see her scars, there day in and day out, whether she wants them to be seen or not. You see her femininity, easy to forget a bit when she's just a cypher on a page. And you see the penguins and the funny tee-shirts, a good contrasts with Anita's tough side. I definitely think that fans of the early Anita books will enjoy this if they get a chance to check it out.

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