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Reviews of books in a series, with a focus on urban fantasy.
Other genres include mystery, paranormal romance, and crime thrillers.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Venom (Elemental Assassin, Book 3) by Jennifer Estep


Venom is one of those books I've been not-so-patiently waiting for. I am not so much like Gin when it comes to patience. Gin was originally given her symbol, her rune, because of her patience. Spiders have to be patient - they have to weave their web with attention to detail so it will hold up against whatever flies into it, then they must sit at the edge of the web waiting for their prey, and then they must wait for their prey to get sufficiently bound in their web before they finally make their move. Gin is good at that, laying her web, making her plan, and then slowly and carefully executing her plan.

Books one and two in the Elemental Assassin series introduced us to Gin, let us fall in love with her, and then told us her history. We've also met Mab, and we've met some pretty powerful elementals who aren't anywhere near as strong as Mab. We know that eventually Gin and Mab are going to have to duel it out, and that when it happens it has the potential energy behind it to take down half of the city.

But until that happens, Gin is going to continue working in the shadows, like a Spider.  Before I go much further, here's the blurb:

It’s hard to be a badass assas­sin when a giant is beat­ing the crap out of you. Luck­ily, I never let pride get in the way of my work. My cur­rent mis­sion is per­sonal: anni­hi­late Mab Mon­roe, the Fire ele­men­tal who mur­dered my fam­ily. Which means pro­tect­ing my iden­tity, even if I have to con­ceal my pow­er­ful Stone and Ice magic when I need it most. To the pub­lic, I’m Gin Blanco, owner of Ashland’s best bar­be­cue joint. To my friends, I’m the Spi­der, retired assas­sin. I still do favors on the side. Like rid­ding a vam­pire friend of her over­sized stalker—Mab’s right-hand goon who almost got me dead with his mas­sive fists. At least irre­sistible Owen Grayson is on my side. The man knows too much about me, but I’ll take my chances. Then there’s Detec­tive Bria Coolidge, one of Ashland’s finest. Until recently, I thought my baby sis­ter was dead. She prob­a­bly thinks the same about me. Lit­tle does she know, I’m a cold-blooded killer … who is about to save her life.

Yes, you read that correctly. Gin's sister Bria comes to town and joins the force as a detective. Someone had to take Donovan's job once he left, right?

Venom is an E Ride, taking us on several emotional rollercoasters as well as a whole lot of physical rollercoasters in the form of action scenes and fight scenes. 

Donovan forced some of the "good vs bad" discussion into previous books, and now Gin's memory of Donovan continues to make her think of things the way he would have. Venom gives us a whole lot more of Owen Grayson though, and I have to say that I like him so much better than Donovan.  I think we see Finn more in this book than in any of the others, and we also get plenty of the Dev­er­aux sisters. We even get a bit of a peak into how Sophia cleans things up. I have a feeling that what Gin learns about that is going to come into play in a future book. Some of it felt like pretty strong foreshadowing to me.

And I want to talk a bit about the runes. I love the way Ms. Estep weaves the runes into the story, and the way she helps us learn more about the characters by hearing about their rune, their symbol. Mab's is a sunburst, fitting for a fire elemental. And we know that Gin's is a spider rune, you can see it on the Venom cover in place of the O.  Take a look at them side by side. Basically, the two most powerful elementals in town have runes that are similar in shape, while being so very different in every other way. Mab is flashy, Gin works in the dark. Mab is a social creature, Gin can be when it's needed, but prefers not to be in the limelight, so to speak.  The runes show these things. Different yet similar. I wanted to point that out because it's the easiest way to explain the attention given to detail, and the way that symbolism is used. The world-building in this series is very well done.

The plot was perfect. It was a plot that was entirely wrapped up within this book, but that sets the stage for the next book (and probably a few books after that, as well). No cliffhangers, but I can't wait for the next two books.

Pacing was also well done. Some books are nonstop action and the pacing wears you out with the action. There were enough places where the characters had to stop to plan, or to regroup, or to wait for the next step, that this wasn't the case with Venom. There is a lot of action, but it is well paced.

Prose and dialogue are also skillfully written. Character development is as well crafted as the worldbuilding. I am attached to these characters. I am invested in what happens to them.

I think that's all of the writing elements: plot, pacing, prose, dialogue, character development, and world-building. Each of them with very high marks.

I have one teeny tiny concern about future books, but I'm not sure how to say it without a possible spoiler, so I'll hide it in spoiler text. Gin appears to be setting herself up as some sort of Batman, or even (heh) Spiderman. Well, not herself, but her alterego, The Spider. She owns a barbecue joint by day and saves the town at night. It's not what she set out to do, but taking out Mab's people and then taking out Mab will help wipe out so much of the corruption in Ashland, and like Batman's Gotham City, that is certainly what the city needs. Gin isn't doing it for the city, she wants to take out Mab for personal reasons, but the end result is still going to make her appear as a superhero. I love this series, it is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, and don't want it to turn into something that resembles a Batman story. (Select the spoiler text to view it.)

And now, something I loved. First, let me say that Ashland is a fictional city set in the area where Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina come together. I had some friends who used to live in Mountain City, so I'm familiar with the general area. I've also spent a ton of time in Knoxville, Gatlinburg, and Asheville, though I live more in the southern areas of Tennessee. I have seen bits of Bristol in Ashland, and some things that remind me of Asheville. Once or twice the descriptions have evoked visions of Knoxville, though I'm not as sure of that.  I love her descriptions of the way the city is nestled in the mountains, and her descriptions of the mountains and the terrain. Much of that truly does remind me of Asheville.  In Venom we have some of the action happening on the Delta Queen, which is currently based in Chattanooga. I've actually spent a bit of time on the Delta Queen in the past couple of months, and while I didn't recognize all of her descriptions (she does take license to change things when needed for the story, which is okay), I recognized enough. Very cool.

I've given both Spider's Bite and Web of Lies  a 10 of 10. Venom easily gets a 10 of 10 as well, which means the Elemental Assassin series is also at a 10 of 10.
  • Book Rating:Venom: 10 of 10
  • Series Rating: 10 of 10
There was an excerpt for Tangled Threads  in the back of Venom, and it looks like Ms. Estep has a few more curve balls up her sleeve. I believe that the current story arcs are supposed to be resolved in five books, which means the next two books are going to be quite a ride.

You can read blurbs and excerpts for the books in the Elemental Assasin series at Jennifer Estep's website.

1. Spider's Bite
2. Web of Lies (May 25, 2010)
3. Venom (September 28, 2010) 
4. Tangled Threads  (April 26, 2011)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dark and Stormy Nights - Anthology by Jim Butcher, Carrie Vaughn, Lilith Saintcrow, PN Elrod, etc.


I read four of the stories in the Dark and Stormy Knights anthology.

A Questionable Client by Ilona Andrews is the story of the first time Kate met Saiman. We've heard bits and pieces of this story as the series has progressed, now we get the whole story. I doubt it would be that good as a stand alone story if you aren't familiar with the Kate Daniels series, but as part of the series it was a nice short story.

Even Hand by Jim Butcher is told from the viewpoint of Marcone, and I very much enjoyed the story. If you aren't going to buy the book and just have time to read one story while standing in a bookstore somewhere, this is the one you should read. In my opinion, of course.

God’s Creatures by Carrie Vaughn is a Cormac story, one I'm assuming happened long before he went to jail. He's on a solo job, and we get an idea of how he works. Or worked, I guess. It's further insight into how he thinks... the morals of a paid assassin.

Dark Lady by P. N. Elrod is a Jack Fleming story. If you like historical gangster stuff then you may enjoy this series, and this story. Imagine a vampire mixing it up with the gangsters and you've got an idea of the basis for the series.

Other stories in the anthology include The Beacon by Shannon K. Butcher, Even a Rabbit Will Bite by Rachel Caine, Beknighted by Deidre Knight, Shifting Star by Vicki Pettersson, and Rookwood & Mrs. King by Lilith Saintcrow.

Here's the blurb:

They’re the ultimate defenders of humanity—modern day knights who do dark deeds for all the right reasons. In this all-star collection, nine of today’s hottest paranormal authors bring us thrilling, all-new stories of supernatural knights that are brimming with magic mystery and mayhem.

John Marcone sets aside his plans to kill Harry Dresden to go head-to-head with a cantrev lord in Jim Butcher’s Even Hand. Kate Daniels is called upon for bodyguard duty to protect Saimen, a shifter she trusts less than the enemy in Ilona Andrews’ A Questionable Client. Cormac must stop a killer werewolf before it attacks again on the next full moon in Carrie Vaughn’s God’s Creatures. And in Vicki Pettersson’s Shifting Star, Skamar gets more than she bargained for when she goes after a creature kidnapping young girls—and enlists the aid of her frustratingly sexy neighbor.

When everything’s on the line, will these knights complete their missions and live to fight again another day? Find out in Dark and Stormy Knights!

I'm not sure how to rate an anthology, so I'm not going to try. For the most part I'm not a fan of anthologies in general. Especially a story that is an intrinsic part of a series storyline. Kim Harrison is terrible about that - making it so that if you missed an anthology piece then you are completely lost when you read the next book in the series. Charlaine Harris has done it a few times as well. Of the four stories I read, I think there is information in Jim Butcher's story that will probably be important in a future book, but I don't believe there is anything in the other three stories that would be important knowledge for upcoming books.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

* Anxiously Awaiting as of late September 2010

I've marked the new finds in red, in case you're just looking for the new stuff. I've also put an (e) next to the books that have an excerpt out, clicking the (e) will take you to my listing of excerpts.

I'm pretty excited about Naked Heat and Side Jobs. The former because I'm hopeful for this season of Castle, and the latter because of the cliffhanger at the end of Changes.

I've already read (and reviewed) Venom. If you haven't read the Elemental Assassin series then I highly recommend it -- the first book in the series is Spider's Bite.

I want to be excited about Blood Rock, but I still don't see it up on Amazon and it's been five months since the author's blog has been updated. We were told a while back that Blood Rock would be out in the fall, but now that it's the fall there is still no firm date. That doesn't bode well. I loved Frost Moon and I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens next.

09/28/10 Venom (Elemental Assassin Bk 3) by Jennifer Estep (e)
09/28/10 Naked Heat (Nikki Heat Bk 2) by Richard Castle (e)
09/28/10 Bayou Moon (The Edge series Book 2), by Ilona Andrews (e)
09/28/10 Double Cross (Justine Jones Disillusionist Book 2) by Carolyn Crane (e)
10/05/10 Never After (Anth) by Laurell K. Hamilton, Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie M. Liu, etc.
10/26/10 Haunted by Your Touch (Anth) by Shayla Black, Jeaniene Frost, Sharie Kohler, etc.
10/26/10 Side Jobs (Anthology of Dresden short stories) by Jim Butcher
Fall/2010 Blood Rock (Dakota Frost / Skindancer series book two) by Anthony Francis (e)
11/02/10 Marked By The Moon (Nightcreatures #9) by Lori Handeland (e
11/02/10 Play of Passion (Psy/Changeling #9, Indigo's Book) by Nalini Singh (e)
11/02/10 Magic at the Gate (Allie Beckstrom Book 5) by Devon Monk (e)
11/30/10 Vicious Grace (Black Sun's Daughter Book 3) by M.L.N. Hanover
11/30/10 Silver Zombie (Delilah Street #4) by Carole Nelson Douglas
11/30/10 Counterfeit Magic (Women of the Otherworld Novella) by Kelley Armstrong
11/30/10 Killing the Cobra-Chinatown Trollop (Felix Gomez-Comic), Mario Acevedo, Alberto Dose
12/28/10 My Fair Succubi (Succubus Diaries Bk 3) by Jill Myles (e)
01/03/11 Tempest's Legacy (Jane True Book 3) by Nicole Peeler 
01/04/11 Mercy Blade (Jane Yellowrock, Book 3) by Faith Hunter (e)
01/04/11 Home for a Spell (Bewitching Mystery, Book 7) by Madelyn Alt
01/25/11 Archangel's Consort (Guild Hunter Book 3) Nalini Singh
01/25/11 River Marked (Mercy Thompson, Book 6) by Patricia Briggs
??/??/11 Risa book 1 (Dark Angel series) by Keri Arthur (e)
02/01/11 Invincible (Chronicles of Nick Volume 2) by Sherrilyn Kenyon
02/15/11 Dreams of a Dark Warrior  (Immortals After Dark Series) by Kresley Cole
02/22/11 This Side of the Grave (Cat and Bones #5, Night Huntress series) by Jeaniene Frost
02/22/11 Pale Demon (The Hollows Rachel Morgan, Book 9) by Kim Harrison
03/01/11 Blackout (Cal Leandros, Book 6) by Rob Thurman
03/01/11 Moon Cursed (Nightcreature Novels, Book 10) by Lori Handeland
03/01/11 Late Eclipses (October Daye, Book 4) by Seanan McGuire
03/15/11 Steel  by Carrie Vaughn
03/??/11 Demons at the Gates (Phoenix Chronicles, Book 5) by Lori Handeland
Spring/11 Magic Slays (Kate Daniels, Book 5) by Ilona Andrews (e)
04/05/11 Ghost Story (Dresden Files, Book 13) by Jim Butcher
04/05/11 Magic on the Hunt (Allie Beckstrom Book 5) by Devon Monk
04/26/11 Tangled Threads (Elemental Assassin, Book 4) by Jennifer Estep (e)
04/26/11 Mercy Burns (Myth & Magic Bk 2) by Keri Arthur
05/??/11 Shadow Fall (Shadowchaser book 3) by Seressia Glass
05/??/11 Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse Bk 11) by Charlaine Harris
Smmr/11 Liquid Fire (Dakota Frost / Skindancer series book3 ) by Anthony Francis (e)
Smmr/11 Spell Bound (Savannah) (Women/Otherworld Bk 12) Kelley Armstrong
Smmr/11 Eye of the Tempest (Jane True Book 4) by Nicole Peeler
06/09/11 Hit List (Anita Blake book 20) by Laurell K. Hamilton  
06/11/11 Kitty's Big Trouble (Kitty Norville Book Nine) by Carrie Vaughn
07/01/11 Kiss of Snow (Psy/Changeling #10, Hawke's book) by Nalini Singh
07/??/11 Crave the Moon (Nightcreature Novels, Book 11) by Lori Handeland
07/??/11 Eye Spy (Abby Cooper #9) by Victoria Laurie 
07/??/11 Vampire Instinct  (Vampire Queen Book 7) by Joey W. Hill (e)
08/??/11 Redemption (Dark Hunters #20) by Sherrilyn Kenyon
FALL/11 Alpha and Omega series, Book 3 Patricia Briggs
Late/11  Vampire Queen's Return (Vampire Queen Book 8) by Joey W. Hill
09/11/11 The Brightest Fell (October Daye, Book 5) by Seanan McGuire
10/01/11 Alpha (Dark Hunters, Daria's story) by Sherrilyn Kenyon
10/??/11 Unnamed Elemental Assassin, Book 5 by Jennifer Estep
??/??/12 Unnamed Jaime story (Women/Otherworld Bk 13) Kelley Armstrong
09/01/12 Daemon's Angel (Dark Hunters) by Sherrilyn Kenyon 
??/??/?? Virtual Virgin (Delilah Street #5) by Carole Nelson Douglas
??/??/11 Supernaturals on Vacation (Anthology) 

Not all of the series I keep up with have another book listed as coming out. The authors have stated there will be more, but to my knowledge they haven't said when, or given a title name. I've listed those series below.
* Meredith Gentry series by Laurell K Hamilton (taking a year off)
* Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich 
* Diesel/Unmentionables series by Janet Evanovich

Below are series I follow, but it is unclear whether there will be more books in the series:
* Bronwyn the Witch series by Candace Havens
* Nadia Stafford series by Kelley Armstrong
* Nature of Desire series by Joey W. Hill

* Daughters of Arianne series by Joey W. Hill
* Felix Gomez series Mario Acevedo
* Spellman series by Lisa Lutz 
* Anya Kalinczyk / Embers series by Laura Bickle
* Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay
* Caruthers Sisters series by Candace Havens

You can read an excerpt of many of these books, to see my list of excerpts please go here

If someone wants to send me an ARC of one of the books on my Anxiously Awaiting list, I will read it within a day or two of it arriving (assuming I'm home and I'm not sick or anything), and will get a blog post up of it as soon as I've finished reading it. You may send me a digital version at chained lightning at g mail dot com, or to send a hard copy you may contact me at that email address to ask for a shipping address. If you have an ARC you would like to send that is not on my Anxiously Awaiting list I will attempt to read and review it in a timely manner but it may not be placed topmost in my TBR pile. Feel free to email me to see if I'd be interested in reading something, as well. I've found a few authors this way that I may not have read had I not received a review copy from the publisher. And now I'm hooked on a few of those series, just waiting for the next book.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

* Excerpts, First Chapters, and Sneak Peeks

Some of the books on my Anxiously Awaiting list have excerpts available at the author's or publisher's websites.

I would love to have an ARC for any of the books on this list, or on my Anxiously Awaiting list. See my Review Policy for more information about sending books for review.

Nicole Peeler has a page up for  Tempest's Legacy (Jane True Book 3), but so far just a blurb. 12/29

Nalini Singh has a page up for Archangel's Consort (Guild Hunter Book 3), for now just the back cover blurb - 01/25/11

Sherrilyn Kenyon has a page up for Invincible (Chronicles of Nick Volume 2), with a note that an excerpt will be up in the middle of 2010. (release date 02/01/11)

Jeaniene Frost has a page up for This Side of the Grave (Cat and Bones #5, Night Huntress series) with the beautiful cover and a blurb. 02/22/11

Kresley Cole has a page up for Dreams of a Dark Warrior  (Immortals After Dark Series) with a blurb - 02/15/11

Seanan McGuire has a page up for Late Eclipses (October Daye, Book 4) with a blurb - 03/01/11

Rob Thurman has a page up with cover art and blurb for Blackout, the sixth Cal Leandros Book 3/1/11

Sherrilyn Kenyon has a page up for Redemption (Dark Hunters #20), with an blurb but no excerpt yet.  August/2011

In case you haven't read them yet, there are also some excerpts up for books released in 2009, and so far in 2010: