Friday, 24 March 2017

#CBR9 Book 26: "The Good, the Bad and the Undead" by Kim Harrison

Page count: 468 pages
Audio book length: 14 hrs 23 mins
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is book 2 in a series. You'd be better off starting with Dead Witch Walking.

Rachel Morgan has successfully paid off the IS death threat and is in her third month of working as an independent runner. She still doesn't have a car, however, and hates relying on public transport or rides from friends to get around. She's also struggling to pay her bills from month to month, so when a werewolf pack refuses to pay her for snatching their pet fish back from another clan, she's in a bit of a bind. The FIB, the human-led, non-supernatural police force approach her for help on a new and potentially dangerous case.

There is a serial killer stalking Cincinnati, targeting layline witches. It seems the deaths occur around the full moon of every month. The FIB suspect one of the layline witches who teach at the University, and want Rachel to take one of her classes, to be able to more closely observe the woman. Rachel is deeply unhappy with the idea, as she's been flunked by this woman once before. She deeply distrusts layline magic in general and believes herself to have no aptitude for it. But as her paycheck from the FIB relies on her going back to school, she reluctantly agrees. Rachel, however, has an alternate suspect in the murders. She believes Trent Kalamack is behind the deaths, and works hard to find a connection between him and the victims, so they can get a search warrant for his compound.

Kalamack, however, professes his innocence and claims he is being framed by someone very powerful. He even offers to pay Rachel to clear his name. Speaking to him, she figures out that the demon attacks that she and Trent both survived a few months ago are connected to the case, and that they were in fact supposed to be the killer's first victims. Much as she dislikes and distrusts Trent, even Rachel doesn't believe he'd have himself nearly killed by a demon to prove his innocence. She needs to go looking for the murderer somewhere else, but is an individual powerful enough to summon an demon to kill for them someone she wants to go chasing after?

Having dealt with the heavy lifting in terms of set-up with regards to characterisation and world-building in the first book, Harrison is free to expand further here and get her protagonist into deeper trouble than before. She starts the book with Rachel and Jenks in the middle of a mission that ends rather tensely and the action doesn't really slow down for long over the course of the book.

While Rachel is brave and loyal, she's also stubborn, impulsive and frequently acts before she thinks. I don't know if I really noticed before how hostile and downright insulting she can be to other members of her gender (Ivy the notable exception). I know I did notice on this re-read, and the way she will frequently refer in derogatory terms to other women she dislikes bothered me. She's also rather rigid in her moral code in these early books, so very afraid to veer off the path of the righteous white witch, a little bit quick to judge most other people who have made more questionable choices in their life. She has a long way to go, that's for certain.

Her relationship with Ivy continues to be fraught with some tension, as it's quite clear that her vampire roommate is both physically attracted to her and wants Rachel's blood. Rachel is still very firm about a) being straight and b) terrified at the idea of being fed from, especially after her savage attack in the previous book. Nick, Rachel's human boyfriend is wary of the relationship and keeps trying to persuade her to move in with him instead. It's not his discomfort with Rachel's living situation which causes the biggest rift between them, however. Unfortunately, after Rachel makes a mistake during one of her layline classes, their relationship changes from happy to rather fraught due to the added strains Rachel's cock-up engenders.

I mentioned in my first review that Trent and Algaliarept, the demon who initially appears trying to murder Rachel, are among my favourite characters in the whole series. This book has prominent appearances by both and while I get why Rachel is so extremely determined to put Trent behind bars, I was very happy that she instead indirectly ends up clearing his name to the FIB instead. This is also the book where Rachel finally figures out the deep dark mystery of whether Trent is an Inderlander or not. Is he just a human who uses magic to seem more mysterious, or is he some sort of supernatural? I remember being rather delighted with the reveal the first time I read the book, and the scene where she deduces her way to the right answer is still an excellent one. While she tells Ivy, they both decide to keep their discovery a secret from their pixy partner, Jenks, a mistake which will come back to haunt them later.

While only the second book in the series, this is a really good installment and as I mentioned previously, there is a lot of action. Rachel has a knack for getting herself into some pretty uncomfortable and dangerous situations and the final show-down at the end of this one is a memorable one. I'm very glad that I didn't feel the need to adjust my previous rating of this book in any way.

Judging a book by its cover: While I really do like this series a LOT, the book covers are not the reason. While this one is better than the one on Dead Witch Walking, it's not exactly great, with the cover model in a dress shorter and skimpier than even Rachel would wear (especially when doin
g layline magic, which she hates). The pentagram and the lit candle hint at some of the magic done in the book, but the outfit and super awkward pose of the model's legs still annoy me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

#CBR9 Book 25: "Dead Witch Walking" by Kim Harrison

Page count: 416 pages
Audio book length: 13 hrs 14 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Rachel Morgan is an earth witch (which means she uses wooden charms activated with drops of her own blood to do magic, as opposed to layline witches who draw their power from laylines) and works for the IS (Inderland Security), a police force consisting of supernaturals like witches, living vampires, werewolves, fairies and pixies. They police the supernatural crimes, while the FIB (Federal Inderland Bureau) is its mundane, human counterpart. For the last year, Rachel has had a run of truly awful assignments and what seems like very bad luck on top of things.

She's sick and tired of being jerked around and after being sent to reclaim a leprechaun for tax fraud, she decides that enough is enough. She's going to quit the IS and go into business for herself. For the leprechaun's three wishes, she makes it seem as if she had the wrong paperwork, so the little barmaid can go free, and Rachel can use her first wish to make sure she doesn't get caught. However, she promises her other two wishes to another IS runner, Ivy Tamwood, and Jenks, her pixy backup, to make sure they don't report her.

Unfortunately, although Rachel's boss tells her to her face that he's been trying to make her quit for the best end of a year, she's still under a death threat until she can pay off what remains of her contract. The IS seriously try to discourage people from defecting from their ranks. She is further surprised when Ivy, an incredibly talented and experienced IS runner, announces that she's going to buy her way out of her own contract and offers to go into business with Rachel instead. She claims to already have an office space they can share, which turns out to be an old converted church, where Ivy is currently living.

Because news travels fast, and everyone in supernatural Cincinnati knows Rachel is under the IS death threat, she's already been evicted from her apartment and all her possessions have been cursed. Until she gets them doused in salt water, they could kill her. So when Ivy claims Rachel can rent the extra bedroom, she doesn't really have any other choice. Nevertheless, she has reservations, as Ivy is a living vampire (she has the vampire virus in her system from birth which gives her quicker reflexes, enhanced senses, but she can choose whether to drink blood or not - although most do, but she won't be forced to stay out of the sun and subsist on only blood until she dies and becomes a full vampire). Ivy reassures her that she's not drunk blood for three years, and that Rachel will be safe in the church.

Until Rachel's able to find enough money to pay off the threat against her, she's in danger every time she sets foot outside her door. She decides that the way to make the money is by proving that the city's golden son, wealthy, charming, handsome and somewhat mysterious councilman Trent Kalamack has a double life as a large scale manufacturer and dealer in illegal bio-engineered drugs. When she tries to question him, she's shocked to find that he wants to hire her to work for him, offering a very lucrative salary, which would certainly make sure she was safe from the IS forever. She flatly refuses his offer and tries to sneak into his estate to find evidence while transformed into a mink. Trent is a very resourceful man, however, and Rachel ends up caught and put into a cage in his office. Even after she manages to escape and turn herself human again (after Trent took her to fight in the city's rat fights), she can't really act on the things she discovered about the ruthless businessman unless she gets proof.

To complicate matters further, it seems that the IS may not be the only ones who want Rachel dead. While working on a way to prove that Trent's a crook, Rachel is attacked by a demon, sent to kill her and only barely survives, after being forced to make a deal with it. Being an independent contractor turns out to be much more dangerous than Rachel ever imagined.

Looking back, I think Kim Harrison's books about Rachel Morgan and the Hollows was the first paranormal fantasy series I got into, way back in 2005, long before I started my meticulous logs recording everything I read and re-read. Even in 2007, I had no access to LibraryThing or Goodreads and just wrote everything down in a dedicated notebook (which I still keep, as backup. No chance of me losing my book records if the apocalypse hits and the internet fails). Hence I don't know exactly when I first read my now rather well-worn paperback copy of Dead Witch Walking, but I bought it in March 2005, so chances are it was shortly after that. All the other paranormal authors and series I now enjoy came later, probably at least in part because I liked these books so much. Patricia Briggs, Seanan McGuire, Jim Butcher, Nalini Singh, Meljean Brook, Anne Bishop and my beloved Ilona Andrews - all years after my first encounters with Rachel, Ivy, Jenks and Trent.

One of the things that hooked me into this world is the world-building. An alternate universe, where there are paranormal races living alongside humans, generally without conflicts or incident. Until the disastrous event in the 1960s, where a virus was spread through a genetically modified tomato, and a quarter of the world's humans died in a very short space of time, all the various supernatural creatures - witches, weres, vampires, elves, pixies, fairies, gargoyles, trolls (you get the picture) existed alongside humanity, but had to keep their otherness hidden. The humanoid ones were able to blend in pretty well, and some could even have children with humans, but the more unusual creatures had to stay out of sight and neared extinction when the Turn, as it became known, occurred. While the humans were in the majority, it was unsafe for the supernaturals (or Inderlanders) to come forward, but when so many died, the power balance was shifted and fronted by a very charismatic vampire politician, Rynn Cormel, they publicly announced their existence. Since the Turn, most humans completely shun tomatoes and tomato-based products, while Inderlanders happily still consume them.

While Rachel is a witch, she's never really needed to practise her arts all that much before she quit the IS. With the death threat hanging over her, she needs to craft her own spells, as anything she gets from a magic shop may be marked with a curse targeted to her. The IS actually has teams of magic users on retainer out looking for her, and can legally assassinate her if she doesn't pay off her contract. Rachel, who is normally both rather impulsive and headstrong, needs to learn to become more cautious and think before she acts. Because Ivy is from a very powerful and prominent family, Rachel is considered under her protection while they live together. She's fair game whenever she leaves the church, however. If she accepted Kalamack's job offer, she could end her predicament in a second, but she's convinced he is crooked (even before she witnesses the extent of it while trapped as a mink in his office) and unwilling to sell out her principles.

Before quitting the IS, Rachel partnered with Ivy for a while, but they didn't really know each other well, Suddenly finding themselves not only business partners, but roommates, requires adjustment from both sides. As Rachel discovers, while living vamps can choose whether they drink blood or not, voluntarily abstaining for three years has put Ivy rather on edge, and there are a number of behavioural patterns and unconscious signals Rachel needs to alter, to lessen the chance that Ivy loses control. By offering Jenks, a pixie, an equal share in their business and full access to the church garden, they secure the full gratitude and loyalty of the little winged warrior, who provides perfect backup and surveillance aid for them when they are out on missions. While all three have really been loners before (although Jenks has a wife and a massive family - pixies have a LOT of children), the three establish both a solid working relationship and develop a firm friendship.

The readers are also introduced to two of the more antagonistic characters in the series in this book. Trent Kalamack may be one of the most eligible bachelors in the country, a wealthy, charming and very powerful councilman, but strangely, no one knows if he's witch or human and even Jenks, with his uncanny sense of smell, can't determine it. As Rachel discovers, to her dismay, he has unparallelled security at his compound and is quite ruthless to protect his secrets. Trent is willing to pay generously to make sure he has the best working for him, and has watched Rachel's career with interest. If she won't come to work for him willingly, perhaps he can make her suffer long enough while trapped as a mink that she gives in and submits. I can promise that in the early books, even when he seems quite villainous, he has a lot of good reasons for acting the way he does, and his redemption arc over the course of the series is one of my favourite things about them.

In addition to Trent, there is the demon sent to kill Rachel, who remains nameless in his first appearances here. Able to shapeshift seemingly at will, he appears to his victims as one of their worst fears, usually killing them in horrible, yet creative ways. Demons have to be summoned by someone and controlled, however, and there is someone pulling his strings. Suffice to say, the demon becomes an important secondary character throughout the series, and while he too is utterly villainous and really very scary to begin with (leaving Rachel bleeding to death from a gushing neck wound), he too develops a lot throughout the series.

While, in my experience, a lot of paranormal series can take a while to really draw the reader in (for instance, the first Kate Daniels book by Ilona Andrews is not great, I had to struggle through the first THREE Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher, and even then, the series doesn't get really decent until book 5), Kim Harrison has a really strong introduction to her universe and her characters. While there are absolutely some books that are less enjoyable than others, and Rachel occasionally annoys the crap out of me (I will address this in later reviews), I can see why I was so instantly engaged and why this was my first proper introduction to paranormal/urban fantasy.

Since the series is now not only complete, but even has a prequel, there is no reason not to give it a chance if you're looking for something new in the paranormal genre.

Judging a book by its cover: I must admit, that fond as I am of Kim Harrison's books, the covers are NOT the draw here. It's quite clear to me which scene this is supposed to represent, but at no point is Rachel wearing only a small red bra, showing that much exposed skin on her upper body. The leather pants and the handcuffs with charms are a very nice detail, as is her no-nonsense stance and telltale red hair. But the glorified bikini top annoys me, and always has done.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Sunday, 12 March 2017

#CBR9 Book 24: "The Last Hellion" by Loretta Chase

Page count: 384 pages
Audio book length: 12hrs 59 mins
Rating: 5 stars

Another re-read of one of my all-time favourites, once again narrated by the excellent Kate Reading.

Vere Mallory becomes the Duke of Ainswood after pretty much every other male in his family line dies, including several family members he cared deeply for, and he's quite happy to drink and debauch himself into an early grave so the accursed title can't take anyone else, thank you very much. An endless existence of carousing gets tedious after a while, though, and once he crosses paths with Miss Lydia Grenville, the formidable investigative female journalist doing her best to inspire reform in London's poorer areas, ending up quite humiliated after their first encounter, he finds something new to keep him occupied and challenged.

Miss Lydia Grenville was trying to rescue a confused young woman from being abducted by one of London's most notorious madams when the giant nobleman got it into his head to interfere, and while she managed to outwit him and leave him as a laughing stock, she can't seem to get Vere Mallory and his impressive physique out of her mind. When he starts taking an interest in her career, showing up everywhere she goes, she concludes he's decided to make a conquest of her. While Lydia is a confirmed spinster and hasn't really had the time or interest in men before, the dissolute Duke of Ainswood appeals to her like no other. While she wishes she could remain unaffected, she's just as attracted to him as he is to her. How can she make sure he forgets her and takes his interest elsewhere?

Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels still features on most "Must Read Romance" lists you can find on the internet. While that is a perfectly fine book, I find the hero frustratingly dumb for much of the book, and much prefer this one, which is loosely connected with it. Vere Mallory is one of Dain Ballister's best friends (and drunkenly confuses the heroine Jessica for a harlot in a memorable scene). Bertie Trent, a secondary character in this book is heroine Jessica Trent's bumbling brother, yet surprisingly finds happiness in this one, in a very satisfying secondary plotline. I think Vere is a much better hero than Dain. He starts out a bit arrogant and full of himself, but like all the best heroes, knows well enough when he is facing off against someone far superior to himself and that such a woman is not to be feared or avoided, but rather claimed, cherished, encouraged and honoured.

That Lydia Grenville shares her name with my BFF and the sister of my heart doesn't hurt, but I challenge anyone not to love Miss Grenville and her tireless quest to improve the straits of those worse off with her critical journalism. That she's also secretly the author of the wildly popular romantic adventure story "The Rose of Thebes" is just a bonus (and I would kill to get my hands on a full version of that - wonder if Loretta Chase could be persuaded to write it). The illegitimate daughter of a Ballister cousin (so a gently reared noblewoman) and a rather unsuccessful actor, Lydia was raised by eccentric relatives after her mother died early, her father ended up in debtor's prison and her younger sister died in the same prison. At 28, she's pretty much accepted that she's going to be a spinster and even if she does give into her lust for the Duke of Ainswood, it's not like she'd ever be a suitable match for him.

This book is so much fun and the two very stubborn and headstrong protagonists facing off against one another is delightful. While this is my fifth re-read of the book, I'd forgotten Vere's wonderful habit of referring to Lydia in his mind with new nicknames every time they encounter one another. "Attila the Hun" or "Ivan the Terrible" Grenville are probably my favourites. Vere's rather unorthodox courting of Lydia is resolved about halfway through, when the book changes pace and the couple have to work together to locate Vere's young cousins, who have run away from home to come see him in London, and fall into the clutches of the very same madam Lydia has been working to take down.

While I freely admit that this book is probably not going to be a favourite for everyone, it's still a very good example of Loretta Chase's excellent plotting, banter and skill. I find something new to love in it every time I revisit it, and highly recommend it as a classic of the genre.

Judging a book by its cover: The audio book cover for this seems hilariously inappropriate, because with the exception of the cover model having long blond hair, the simpering, contemplative pose with the pretty dress and the flowers is pretty much the opposite of everything Miss Lydia Grenville embodies. Dressed in severe and sensible black for much of the novel, Lydia is fierce, stubborn, no-nonsense and a far cry from he demure and insipid lady on this cover. The pastels and wind-blown look of the heroine on the paperback cover I have aren't exactly fitting either.

Crossposted by Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 23: "A Study in Charlotte" by Brittany Cavallaro

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

English teenage boy James "Jamie" (although he really would prefer it if you didn't call him that, even if NO ONE seems to listen to him) Watson has been given a scholarship to a preppy boarding school in Connecticut, not far away from where his father lives with his new family. He's rather excited about the chance to meet another of the students there, though, the already famous Charlotte Holmes. James and Charlotte's great-great-great-grandfathers were one of the most famous pairings in history, after all, and even though their families don't exactly keep in touch much after all these years, James has always imagined what adventures he might have with Charlotte if he ever got a chance to meet her.

What he had not imagined was becoming a number one murder suspect right along with her, however. When a fellow student turns up dead in his dorm room, about two weeks after James beat said student up for saying some really unpleasant things about Charlotte, in a murder clearly inspired by some of Watson's great-great-great-grandfather's stories, being the new kid in school becomes about a million times worse than it normally is. While the prickly, troubled and volatile Charlotte previously showed no interest in making friends, she now enlists James in her quest to clear their names. The murderer has a powerful grudge against Charlotte Holmes, it seems, and appears quite happy to continue trying to ruin her life, and James Watson's along with her, if he keeps insisting that he wants to be her friend.

This book appeared on a lot of "Best of 2016 YA lists" and is one in a long line of current adaptations where authors/screen writers are reimagining the stories of Sherlock Holmes in new ways or taking inspiration from them to do their own thing. Off the top of my head, in addition to the Guy Richie Sherlock Holmes movies, the BBC Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, there is also Colleen Gleason's Steampunk YA series, Stoker and Holmes, Ellie Marney's Every series (which I just finished) and Sherry Thomas' gender-bent historicals, Lady Sherlock. So it isn't like Britanny Cavallaro is doing something entirely new or wholly original, but rather taking advantage of an already popular trend.

Her take is a fun one, but I must admit, for a book called A Study in Charlotte, I felt like the character I got to know the best of the two was James, and Charlotte, for all that she's not exactly had an easy life of it, remained a cipher for much of the book and a fairly dislikable one at that. Obviously, being a Holmes, she's frankly supposed to be prickly, unpredictable, volatile and somewhat socially inept. And within a fictional framework where it's quite clear that the Holmes family for generations have expected nothing but brilliance and deductive reasoning from their children, it's no surprise that she's high-maintenance.

As Holmes are wont to do, she self-medicates with a number of substances. It's suggested that she may have an eating disorder and based on what is revealed, she has good reason to want the murder victim dead, as he harassed her for months and worse. I also know that it's important that female characters are allowed to be just as complex and dislikable as male ones, that there is this understanding that girl and women need to be agreeable and pleasant. So I respect Charlotte's right to be prickly, and Cavallaro's right to write her as such. I just think James deserves a better friend. For all that she claims to care for him, and has difficulties showing her emotions, I think she treats him abominably for much of the book and didn't really see why he kept wanting them to be friends.

James/Jamie is a great character. Smart (if nowhere near as brilliant as Charlotte), loyal, steadfast and quite brave, all the things a good Watson should be. He defends Charlotte's honour even before he really knows her, and due to the family legacy, he's always felt as if they belonged together as a team. He just accepts so much poor treatment from her without question and seems to feel guilty every time he asks her for things that it's perfectly ok to expect of friends. That makes me sad, because he really does seem like a pretty great guy, and grows a lot as a person and friend throughout the book.

The mystery in the book is an intricate one, and the villain is really very unpleasant. The lengths they are willing to go to completely ruin Charlotte's life (with Watson as bonus collateral damage) are quite staggering and if this is merely the first book in a planned trilogy, you've got to wonder what the author has planned for the rest of the series, considering these things frequently escalate with each book.

While I didn't really like Charlotte much in this book, she seems to be opening up to the idea of friendship and I liked James and the whole premise of generations of Holmes and Watsons being connected somehow and will probably read the next book in the series as well. I don't think there needs to be anything romantic between the two, though (my favourite thing about Elementary is that there is not even a hint of romantic/sexual tension between Sherlock and Joan), but it seems you can't get YA without a romantic subplot nowadays, so I suppose I shall have to accept it, since the author chose to introduce it.

Judging a book by its cover: While I wish it had a slightly different colour scheme (I think the orangey red and the turquoise is a bit garish), I really do like the cover for this book, with the stylised depictions of the characters, various locations and the continued focus on ivy leaves in all the various scenes. It's certainly a lot better than a lot of YA covers, and the girl with the magnifying glass and the handbag with a snake should clue the reader into the fact that this is a mystery, even if the cheesy tagline about Holmes and Watson hadn't already done it.

 Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 22: "The Turn: The Hollows Begins with Death" by Kim Harrison

Page count: 448 pages
Audio book length: 16 hrs 20 mins
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! I found it impossible to review this book without revealing plot details that would probably be considered spoilery, so if you like to start a book without knowing much, probably skip this review. Also, this book is a PREQUEL, best read after you finish the full thirteen book series by Kim Harrison.

In a world where humans are the dominant species, they are fully unaware that there are a number of supernatural races living among them, trying to stay firmly under the radar, doing their very best to always blend in. Witches, vampires, elves and werewolves may look and act human, but have their own genetic makeup and customs and are always worried that the humans will discover and turn on them. In addition to the species who can pass for human, there are a number of smaller groups, like fairies, pixies, gargoyles and trolls, who have to stay completely out of sight and whose numbers are rapidly dwindling because of increased urbanisation and increased pollution. Calling themselves Inderlanders, the supernatural species often have scientific and technological advances far beyond those of the humans, but can't publicly reveal them for fear of being outed.

Elves are among the most vulnerable of the Inderlanders, with their numbers small, as they have incredible difficulties conceiving children, who often need a lot of very expensive genetic tinkering to live to adulthood and have children of their own. Among the elves, most of them are tall, blond and pale-eyed, with the dark elves, with their dark hair and eyes considered somewhat inferior. Felicia Eloytrisk "Trisk" Cambry is one such dark elf, and she's worked hard to become the best of her class at bio-engineering, despite the fact that most dark elves are encouraged to stay in the background, in security type jobs. Her fiercest rival is Trenton "Kal" Kalamack, a spoiled, arrogant and entitled man whose family was once rich and very influential, but are now left with Kal as their only scion, having spent most of their fortune to even have him. He's determined to make his once great name powerful again, and doesn't really care who he screws over to do it.

It's not like the 1960s was a hugely progressive and supportive time for women to begin with, and as a woman, dark elf and daughter of a minor house, Trisk has her work cut out for her. At their graduation work fair, she and Kal get into a big argument and cause a massive scene, ruining any chance either of them has of the best jobs. Kal has tormented Trisk for most of their lives, being a shallow and thoughtless bully and once Trisk's best friend, Quen, accepted a job as security for the Kalamack family, she didn't really have the restraint to hold back her contempt for the man. After the job fair, Trisk is approached by one of the elven leaders and asked if she would consider taking a job with a human lab, to act as a spy for the Inderlanders, making sure that the humans don't make genetic advances that could be harmful to the supernatural races. She's initially reluctant, but needs to make money somehow, so has no choice but to accept.

Three years later, Trisk has thrived in her job, engineering a new strain of drought-resistant tomato which should help eliminate hunger in the third world. In addition, she's been working to make sure that her human colleague Daniel's new tactical virus won't in any way affect any of the Inderland species when it's finally let out of a lab. The virus is meant to give people fever, sickness and a rash for 24 to 48 hours, before they get better again and recover. It's meant to help armed forces neutralise hostile populations for long enough that soldiers can move in and take over an area. Trisk has made very sure that no matter how it actually works in practise, it won't touch Inderlanders. The ruling council of Inderlanders are still not entirely convinced Trisk has managed to make the virus entirely safe (she is a mere woman, after all), so they send as a consultant to double check her work. He's still angry because he lost a chance to work at NASA after the graduation fair, and plans to either outright steal or sabotage Trisk's work, making sure her reputation is utterly ruined. If he can seduce her and break her heart while he's at it, that will just be a bonus.

Long story short, because of pettiness and jealousy, once Kal discovers how good a geneticist Trisk actually is and that her work is flawless, he instead sets about sabotaging her, by forging a link between the tactical virus and her T4 Angel tomato. Unfortunately, something in the drought-resistant tomato makes the virus very potent and within 24 hours, humans are dying everywhere. Living vampires, who possess the vampire virus, but are not yet dead, are getting sick, but not dying. Once Trisk and Daniel realise what has happened, but not yet how, they go on the run, fully aware that they are going to be blamed for the disaster. Trisk needs to make it to the elven council, and they need a way to notify everyone not to eat tomatoes or anything tomato based, as it seems the virus spreads more rapidly than they could have imagined and is completely fatal to humans who catch it. Trisk is pretty convinced she knows exactly who is behind the plague, but also knows that unless she can find proof, it will be her word against Kal's.

This prequel to Kim Harrison's thirteen book paranormal fantasy series goes back and shows the reader how the deadly virus that took out a quarter of the world's humans started (and it turns out it was all because of Trent's dad). This book is really best read after finishing the rest of the books in The Hollows, because it assumes you already know how Harrison's paranormal universe works. In the early books of her series, she explains how all her various supernatural species interact and how, after The Turn (as the plague event came to be known), humans were no longer the dominant species and the Inderlanders could come forward without fear of being hunted and eradicated. In fact, since they were immune to the virus, they were the ones that were able to keep some semblance of order and lend aid to the dying humans. Significantly, in Harrison's alternate paranormal universe, no one ever made it to the Moon and genetic engineering was made illegal after the Turn.

As a long-time reader, it was fun to see a young and dashing Quen, as well as catch a brief glimpse of heroine Rachel's dad. There are several appearances by one of my favourite characters in the series, the wily and charming demon Algaliarept, but the main focus here are Trent's parents. I don't know if Harrison is planning more prequels, but based on what she shows in this book, that man cannot have had a good childhood as his mother and father were bitter enemies and well, his dad twisted his mother's work to cause a world-spanning plague. Oh, and his family's chief of security clearly fancied his mum. That's not going to make for a tranquil and harmonious home life. No wonder the man is morally dubious in the early books of the main series.

Trisk is a really cool character, who works so hard to prove herself. I want to tell you that she gets a happy ending, but unless there are more prequels to come, I really don't think anyone can say that where she ends up at the end of this book is a place where she'll thrive. This was a fun book to read, but it nearly got an even lower rating, because I hated Kal so very much. Even having read the book, i can't believe Trisk let her be fooled by him for even a second and certainly not to let her guard down for long enough to get knocked up. While there are hints in the original series that Trent's dad wasn't exactly nice, there is nothing to suggest he was this noxious and inexcusable a character. I want more prequels, where he suffers a LOT and Trisk gets all the good things she deserves.

Since Kim Harrison finished The Hollows, I've been pondering a full re-read, to see how the characters and story develops over the thirteen books. This book was an excellent way to get me into the head space I need, and I suspect I'll now have even more affection for Trent (a character I always loved, even when he was a worthy nemesis of Rachel), because compared to his dad, he's a saint.

Judging a book by its cover: Kim Harrison has said on her blog that this might be her favourite cover of all of her books, and it really is atmospheric and lovely. While the cover model (what you see of her cropped face) looks nothing like I imagine Trisk (I'm pretty sure her hair is described as darker, as well), the sparse colour scheme of red white and black is eye-catching, with the billowing red dress (not really period appropriate for the 1960s) evoking thoughts of blood, the woman cradling the tomato tenderly, even as it's turned deathly black and putrid contamination is swirling from it, staining both the letters and the dress. In a different setting, the snow and trees in the background might bring thoughts to peace and serenity, but here also bring to mind loneliness and underscores how alone Trisk really is.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

#CBR9 Book 21: "Every Move" by Ellie Marney

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Spoiler warning! This is the third book in a trilogy, and as such, it will be impossible for me to write this review without at least minor spoilers for the earlier books in the series. Start at the beginning with book 1, Every Breath and come back here when you've caught up.

It's been a few months since Rachel Watts and James Mycroft came back from their trip to England, but Rachel is still having nightmares nearly every night because of her kidnapping and torture. Her mother doesn't even know the full details of what happened, but is barely speaking to Rachel after she impulsively went off to England after Mycroft with no warning. Rachel's not really spending a lot of time with Mycroft either, as he's hot on the trail of his own personal Moriarty, the enigmatic and sinister Mr. Wild. Rachel is deeply uncomfortable with the whole thing and while Mycroft wants to unmask Mr. Wild before he has a chance to hurt Rachel or Mycroft any further, his continued investigation is just making Rachel feel more unsafe and terrified.

Rachel and her brother Mike spend a little time back at their old, now abandoned farm and Mike's best friend Harris returns to Melbourne with them. He can't help but notice Rachel's PTSD and offers to help her with some self defence. Initially, Rachel gets a panic attack the minute he touches her, but the lessons gradually make her feel more confident and help get her anxiety and fear under control. While Mycroft is away with his aunt, investigating another lead into the identity of Mr. Wild, the body of a dead teenager bearing a striking resemblance to him shows up and both Rachel and the local police suspect someone is trying to send a very creepy message. When another dead teen, this time a girl looking uncannily like Rachel shows up, even Mycroft seems to realise just how much danger they are facing. Mr. Wild claims Mycroft has something he wants, and he's proven himself willing to stop at nothing to get it. Can Rachel and Mycroft unmask him and bring him to justice before it's too late?

In book 2, Every Word, Rachel and Mycroft grew closer and their relationship developed, both physically and emotionally. They faced down some very scary people together and Mycroft started opening up about his feelings about his parents' death and his grief. Yet at the beginning of this book, it's like they've taken a huge step back and are drifting apart, because Rachel is stubbornly trying to deal with her panic attacks, nightmares and anxiety without asking anyone for help and Mycroft has buried himself in the quest to find the man who killed his parents and who was also the employer of the men who kidnapped Rachel in Oxford and put both teens through a hell of an ordeal. Having discovered that his father was working for the secret service, most likely investigating a mole, Mycroft can't let the matter rest, no matter how much danger he may be putting himself, and Rachel in. The search for Mr. Wild is driving a wedge between the couple and it made for some miserable reading.

While Rachel is completely on the outs with her mother, unable to tell her everything about what happened on her England-trip, her brother Mike and her dad know the truth and try to help her as best they can. Rachel's friends are also doing their best to make her feel better, but it's Harris, Mike's best friend, who she hasn't seen in years who has the most success with reaching through to her. Pushing her past her initial fear of being touched and teaching her self defence, he finally provides the one thing that lets her sleep through the night again. Of course, while Rachel isn't really romantically interested in anyone but Mycroft, it's quite clear that Harris provides one third of a potential love triangle and this aspect of the book just annoyed me. Why couldn't he just have been a supportive guy friend, who saw that someone he'd known for a long time was struggling, and wanting to help her without any ulterior motive? It seems that opposite gender characters in YA must have a romantic interest in one another, whether that serves the plot or not.

I had a lot of guy friends growing up, and never fell in love with any of them. I'm pretty convinced that none of them ever harboured a crush on me either, unless they hid that infatuation REALLY well over the years. How is it that platonic friendships between opposite gender teens is such an impossibility? Why do they always end up together, or even worse, in some sort of contrived love triangle? I am a huge fan of romance, but don't think it needs to be an element in everything I read, especially YA books, where a lot of people are still maturing, physically and emotionally, and are unlikely to necessarily be looking for romantic entanglements at all.

While the first two books were quite fast-paced and entertaining, this book dragged in places. There's the first third, where Rachel is understandably traumatised after the events in the last book and trying to find back to herself. There's the new and unnecessary love triangle with Harris, her brother's best friend. There's the physical and emotional distance between Rachel and Mycroft. Then the build-up, where the teens come to terms with how they are going to confront Mr. Wild takes too long. While I was very emotionally connected to the characters (I love Rachel and Mycroft, separately and together), I was a bit impatient with the story and the bit with the murdered look-alike teens veered a bit close to moustache-twirling melodrama from the villain.

The final confrontation is still very tense and my heart was certainly racing, but the book took its sweet time getting there. I must admit, these teens get into some pretty serious scrapes and it's a wonder to me that they can walk at all with the amount of horrible injuries they sustain. Nearly mauled by lions, tortured and interrogated by ruthless kidnappers, chased by a sociopathic murderer through an abandoned quarry - there really is quite the variety of dangerous near-death experiences here.

All in all, I can absolutely recommend this trilogy of YA-mysteries, where Mycroft is clearly modelled rather closely on Bendedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Rachel is a very engaging and likable heroine, the couple work well as friends who turn into something more and the action in each of the books is certainly a lot more elaborate than I seem to remember from the Nancy Drew books I read growing up. The conclusion wraps up nicely, but is still the weakest of the three books structurally.

Judging a book by its cover: Another rather generic YA cover, with the cover models portraying Mycroft and Rachel looking attractive and loving. I very much doubt I'd pick up the third book if I saw this displayed in a bookstore. The publishers could have done something a bit more fun.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

#CBR9 Book 20: "Every Word" by Ellie Marney

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the second book in a trilogy. While readers could start with this one, I would recommend that they start at the beginning with book 1, Every Breath. There may be mild spoilers for the first book in the series in this review, so if you want to go in completely cold, skip this until you're caught up. 

Rachel Watts has pretty severely grounded after the events that led to both her and her new boyfriend (also her neighbour from two doors' down the street) James Mycroft ending up in a near death situation, having caught the attention of some rather ruthless people while investigating the death of a homeless man. They hardly get any time to themselves, which doesn't exactly decrease the unresolved sexual tension between them. Their developing relationship may be over before it's really had a chance to properly begin, however, when Mycroft suddenly travels to London, leaving Rachel only a short text message, nothing else.

Having lost his parents in a horrific car jacking seven years ago, Mycroft, who despite still being a teenager, is something of a wunderkind of forensic science, has been obsessed with finding out more about their murder. Having been in the car at the time his parents died, he's scarred both physically and emotionally and the reason he persuades his supervisor, Dr. Walsh, to allow him to go along as a consultant to London is that the death in question bears a striking resemblance to the car jacking where his parents were killed. A rare Shakespearean Folio has been stolen from the Bodleian library in Oxford. Now one of the librarians who worked there has been killed in another car jacking, his car driven off the road. Mycroft is convinced the case is linked to that of his parents', not that he's going to tell Dr. Walsh that.

Rachel, however, is fully aware of what Mycroft is doing, and worried about his mental state, she impulsively spends most of her savings on a return ticket to London to follow him. Alicia, her brother's girlfriend, is spending the next three months travelling in Europe, so her first time on a plane ever won't have to be a lonely experience. When she and Alicia track down Mycroft, he's both shocked and dismayed to see her, but can't really make her return to Australia when she followed him halfway across the globe.

Together with Dr Walsh, the teens are able to visit the accident site, and you don't have to be an investigative genius to see that the story that the victim's alleged girlfriend is telling about the accident doesn't match up with the actual evidence on the scene. While the car jacking victim had an alibi when the Shakespeare Folio was stolen, both Rachel and Mycroft suspect that he was involved somehow, and that is why he was driven off the road and shot at. When Rachel takes it upon herself to visit the dead man's work place in Oxford, claiming to be his niece, she finds clues that suggest their theory is correct, but before she can tell anyone about it, she's abducted and wakes up in a remote warehouse. Some very threatening people want to know what she knows about the case, and whether she knows anything about the extremely valuable Folio's location. They're clearly the people responsible for the murder, and everything suggests that if she doesn't come up with something clever, she will be their next victim.

I really rather enjoyed the first book in the series, where we first get introduced to the likable Rachel and her somewhat abrasive, but brilliant neighbour Mycroft, who over the course of their first murder investigation fall in love. If I was fond of them in the first book, my affection and worry for them only grew the further I got into the story of this one. As the two were friends before they became a couple, Rachel is willing to travel the very long distance to England to be with James, even if he's so unhappy to see her there that he breaks up with her. She's honestly not sure how he'll react, but also knows that the whole situation with his parents' death is so fraught for him, and he's so incredibly obsessed with solving their murder that he may put himself at serious risk. She wants to be there for him as emotional support, whether it means losing him as a boyfriend or not.

As Mycroft is clearly teetering on the edge of a breakdown by the time Rachel shows up on the doorstep of his hostel, it's clearly a good idea that she threw caution to the wind and hopped on the first available plane from Melbourne. Chain-smoking and soothing his jangled nerves with far too much alcohol, Mycroft is not entirely reliable, and his supervisor, Dr. Walsh, very much appreciates Rachel's assistance in keeping his mind on the task at hand. As it becomes more and more obvious that the car jacking case involving the Bodleian librarian is indeed most likely linked to that of Mycroft's parents, seven years ago, he just becomes more and more sharpened on his goal. Rachel is frustrated that he refuses to share any of his thoughts and feelings about their actual deaths, though, believing it may help him get some piece of mind, no matter what the outcome of the current investigation.

I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book, other than Rachel and Mycroft exploring London a bit. I was not expecting the really very creepy and suspenseful turn the book took as Rachel is kidnapped from the Bodleian, by people who believe her to be the dead man's niece. They have already killed to get the missing Shakespeare Folio and are clearly willing to resort to both threats and outright torture to figure out what she knows about the case. Alone, desperate and scared out of her wits, Rachel is in a very bad place and is torn between agreeing to let the kidnappers notify Mycroft, to get him to reveal information that could lead to her release or stay quiet to protect him. There were some really rather unpleasant scenes in the latter half of the book, not exactly for the faint of heart.

As this is the second book in a trilogy, I'm sure the reader will not be surprised when I reveal that neither Rachel nor Mycroft die, though they both go through some real unpleasantness and it's touch and go there for a while (just as in the end of the first book). They also figure out not only who is responsible for the theft of the Folio, but eventually where it's located, as well as getting much further in clearing up the details surrounding Mycroft's parents' murder. That some of their discoveries possibly put them in even more danger than before, even as they return to Melbourne was probably not what they were expecting.

This was absolutely my favourite book in the trilogy. I raced through the latter half, too worried to find out what happened to be able to put the book down. This book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I was glad to have the third book at hand, so I could move onto the resolution as soon as possible.

Judging a book by its cover: I don't exactly think the covers for these books are amazing, but there is a teenage boy and a girl who look vaguely like the description of Rachel and Mycroft, and just so it's immediately obvious to the reader that the action in this book takes place in London, there is Big Ben in the background. The cover is a bit generic, but I've seen a lot worse on YA books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read