City of Ghosts By Stacia Kane

From Barnesandnoble.com:  

IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN ALIVE AND UNDEAD.
 
Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside, and Chess’s bosses at the Church of Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack the grisly case.

Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss—and Chess’s drug dealer—gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows, or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.

Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths, First Elders, and a lot of seriously nasty magic—all while coping with some not-so-small issues of her own. And the only man Chess can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead.

Whoa.   I literally just finished this book and ‘Whoa’ pretty much sums up how I feel about it.  I don’t want to recap this book.  There are just so many twists and turns that there is no way I can discuss without giving something away.  And I don’t want to give anything away!  If you read the first two Downside books, you know what to expect, but Stacia Kane really upped the stakes this time.  If the first two books were ‘dark urban fantasy’, this one teeters on horror.  Some of the scenes were downright disturbing to the point where I had to force myself to keep reading.  But it’s not mindless horror like the latest Saw movie, where people you barely know are butchered for cheap thrills.  It’s horrific things happening to you have come to genuinely care about.  People that are so incredibly damaged but still manage to do the right thing…even when they just keep getting beaten down.    You barely make it out of a scene alive and suddenly you find yourself swooning over a huge, ugly hitman and a drug addict witch and praying that they can somehow find a slice of happiness in the Downside.  To me, that’s why these books are so great.  One minute I was reading with one eye open barely hanging on while a fire rages in a slaughterhouse, and the next minute Terrible drops Chess down a tunnel and has me in tears…AGAIN.   I really cannot recall a series that evoked this much emotion.  I would say Harry Potter is the closest thing, but there is absolutely no way to compare the two.   Here is what I can say: this book has it all.  Mystery, horror, fantasy, suspense (Oh the suspense!), and romance all flowing seamlessly.  Some of the best, most though-provoking characters I have ever read.   And the sex…wow.  (Cause let’s be honest, we were all praying for some Chess and Terrible closure.)   I want to discuss that tunnel scene so bad I can hardly stand it!!  To say it was hot would just cheapen it.  There were way too many emotions for ‘hot.’  Gut-wrenchingly satisfying is a much better description.   So to conclude my mindless gushing I will say this: if you read the first two, then why the hell aren’t you reading this one yet?  If you didn’t, then you need some Terrible in your life ASAP. 

Rating:  Off the charts.

Unholy Magic (Downside Ghosts #2) By Stacia Kane

From Barnesandnoble.com:  ENEMIES DON’T NEED TO BE ALIVE TO BE DEADLY.
 
For Chess Putnam, finding herself near-fatally poisoned by a con psychic and then stopping a murderous ghost is just another day on the job. As an agent of the Church of Real Truth, Chess must expose those looking to profit from the world’s unpleasant little poltergeist problem—humans filing false claims of hauntings—all while staving off any undead who really are looking for a kill. But Chess has been extra busy these days, coping with a new “celebrity” assignment while trying on her own time to help some desperate prostitutes.

Someone’s taking out the hookers of Downside in the most gruesome way, and Chess is sure the rumors that it’s the work of a ghost are way off base. But proving herself right means walking in the path of a maniac, not to mention standing between the two men in her life just as they—along with their ruthless employers—are moving closer to a catastrophic showdown. Someone is dealing in murder, sex, and the supernatural, and once again Chess finds herself right in the crossfire.

Okay.  *Deep Breaths*  I will not gush.  I will write a decent review of this book.  *Deep Breaths*

Unholy Magic picks up a few months after its predecessor.  We find that Chess is still pretty much just existing in a pill-induced haze, while still sleeping with Lex and being “friends” with Terrible.  She gets roped into to working for two different cases, one for the Church and one for Bump, her drug dealer.  The Church sends her to a TV celebrity’s house to invcestigate a haunting, while Bump wants her to investigate a string to dead hookers.   In typical Chess fashion, both cases get her in serious trouble.   Her lifestyle habits become a serious issue, she is caught in a very dangerous love triangle, and she continues to make bad choices. I don’t really want to say more about the plot because there are lots of twists and turns and I am trying to avoid spoilers. 

What I can say, is this is hands down the best book I have read so far this year.  Sometimes, overly dark and gritty books bother me, but these characters are just so fascinating, I cannot wait to learn more about them.  Honestly, if I met Chess, Terrible or Lex in real life I would walk the other way.  All 3 of them are essentially criminals, living in the bowels of society and yet, you just want something good to happen to them so badly it hurts.  I found myself cheering on Terrible as he beat some money-owing druggie senseless: “Go Terrible, you break his leg! …did I just think that??”  At one point, Chess is without her pills and I was all “Oh God! Someone get Chess her pills!! …wait what?”  There were times I wanted to strangle Chess, but then I wanted to give her a big hug and tell her it would be okay.  And Terrible! Oh, Terrible.  We learn so much more about him in Unholy Magic, and if I didn’t think I would confuse the hell out of people, I would proudly sport a custom made “Team Terrible” shirt.   I love him that much!  But oh did he break my heart in this one.  I want to quote him so badly but it would give it all away.  He made me cry not once, but twice!  Actually, the entire book was extremely emotional, I had a hard time sleeping when I finished.  So…seriously…guys, girls, trannies, whatever, you NEED to read this series.   It’s very dark (so much so that I don’t recommend eating while reading at some points), but so different, intriguing, gut-wrenching, thought-provking…okay I will stop.   Just know that the 3rd book, City of Ghosts, comes out July 27th.  Longest. Two Weeks. Ever.

Rating:  10

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts #1) By Stacia Kane

From Goodreads.com:  THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.
 
The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful
Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

 

Let me try to put this complicated, fantastical plot into words.  Somehow, in 1997, the world’s dead broke back into the world of the living and almost wiped it out.  Since everyone now knew what the afterlife was all about, there was no longer any need for religion or government, all the people needed was the Church of Real Truth.  The Church protects the living from ghosts capable of murder (they did prevent total destruction in ’97 after all), but also regulates those who make false haunting claims.  Chess works for the Church because she was born with magical abilities enabling her to banish ghosts back to the City of Eternity.  Because she was born into this gritty, post-apocalyptic world, she has serious issues and has tuned to drugs like many others.  Her pill habit is so bad; she owes her drug dealer, Bump, a ton of money.  Bump wants to reopen a local airport to start flying his drugs out, but there are reports that ghosts are sabotaging planes.  So he makes a deal with Chess to rid the place of ghosts and sends his head hit man Terrible out with her to investigate.  Of course, rival drug lord Lex, does not want Bump to open said airport, so he also makes a deal with Chess.  During the investigation, Chess discovers someone has unleashed a seriously powerful entity that could kill thousands.  As the investigation goes on, Chess is pulled between Lex and Bump, while trying to survive vicious ghost attacks.

The Good:  I loved this book.  Seriously, I couldn’t put it down.  Not once during my reading did I feel any familiarity with the plot or characters, which was so refreshing.  I know that the post-apocalyptic setting is gaining popularity, but this is a huge twist on that concept.  Apocalypse a-la ghost.  My heart broke for Chess and what I am sure is a horrific past, and I appreciated how she hadn’t become a total a**hole, just a druggie.  I loved how dry she was, but I hated her tragically low self-esteem. Terrible was a really intriguing character, and things got really interesting when he became a potential love interest.  The Church was really fascinating, kind of like an eerie Church of Scientology or something, sans couch jumping.  Admittedly, I was a little confused as to who the actual bad guys were and how they all met up, but I just reread a couple of pages and really liked the way it turned out. Honestly, the whole time I was reading, I had almost convinced myself to let my husband borrow my Kindle to read this book.  That didn’t happen of course, but I thought it! More than once! Not sure I can pay an author a higher compliment.

The Bad:  Nothing I am about to say is actually bad, it just slightly annoyed me.  My only real complaint is the lack of detailed explanation for the events that took place in 1997.  I tried not to let this bother me since I know there are more books coming out soon, but the curiosity is killing me!  I was also left wondering why the Downsiders minus Chess speak differently from the Church members.  And what odd language hybrid was that supposed to be anyway?  To me it was like Cajuny Gangsta English with a bunch of Scottish ‘Aye’s.  And what is the City of Eternity really like?  And why did the Church replace the Government and not just mainstream religion? I realize that too much explanation can sometimes ruin a book, but I just had so many questions!  Must. Be. Patient.  Besides, I am sure Chess will end up in the City eventually and I will learn more than I ever wanted to know about it.

The Bumpin’ Uglies:  Terrible….oh Terrible (the person, not adjective).  The idea of Terrible makes my shallow little brain hurt.  Terrible is big, muscular, sweet in his own brutish way, and…ugly.  But not all the way ugly, just thuggish ugly.  He reminds me of someone like Benicio Del Toro; from certain angles you are all “whoa! Thought he was kinda hot!” but then he talks and acts and you are all “well, I wouldn’t throw him out of bed or anything.”  He is portrayed as a man who works with what he’s got, and this almost convinced me that not all leading men have to be hot.  Almost.  And then there was Lex, who becomes an actual love interest and I guess is supposed to be hot, but he did nothing for me.  Lex in one word: Meh.  Lex and Chess love scenes in two words: Where’s Terrible?Terrible stole every scene he was in, and I was actually disappointed when he wasn’t around.  And I was REALLY disappointed with that bathroom scene!! That wasn’t very nice Ms. Kane.  But I have very high hopes for the next book and this nice little love triangle we have developing.  It’s not every day you get a peek inside a drug lord – pill popper – rival drug lord’s head henchman love triangle!

Rating: 9.5

Greywalker By Kat Richardson

From barnesandnoble.com:

Kat Richardson excels at creating vivid, fast-moving novels that blend urban fantasy with paranormal mystery. In Greywalker, Seattle P.I. Harper Blaine is viciously attacked and murdered—but after exactly two minutes, somehow she returns to life. Now she’s seeing strange things all around her—dark visions from the shadow world—and living a normal life may no longer be possible no matter how hard she tries.

Greywalker begins with Harper Blaine, P.I., getting the crap beat out of her and then dying for two minutes.  Because of the time she spends hovering between life and death, she becomes a “greywalker,” which basically means she can walk in and out of the shadow world that seems to surround the real world.  All this really means for us readers is that Harper can see ghosts, vampires and other creepy shadow things and will stay sick for the rest of the book. 

My extraordinarily shallow sounding review:  I thought reviewing a book I didn’t like would be easy.  If we are being honest with ourselves, what girl does not excel at bitching about things?  Right?  Yeah, this book just left me bored.  My only real complaint is that the one potential love scene in the book was skipped over, and all we see is the morning after.  Who actually wants to see the morning after?  Can’t we just think back to college for that??  Aside from the lack of hotness, the book was just not fun.  The explanations of the Grey and the physics behind different energy states were painful.  And I am a scientist in real life, for the record.  I dork out on physics all the time.  The descriptions of the Grey itself left me confused.  I feel like it was different every time Harper went in.  Oh and speaking of our heroine…wait maybe we should define heroine.  Heroine:  a woman possessing heroic qualities or a woman who has performed heroic deeds.  Okay, so never mind, there was no heroine in the book, because Harper stayed sick and achy the entire time from going into the Grey, while her ‘friends’ saved the day.  The supporting cast was okay, but no one had real personality.  The villain was only seen for about 5 seconds and I was sorta fuzzy on his motives anyway.   So yeah, when I read books from these genres, I expect fun, attractive characters, decent plots and entertaining dialogue.  Oh and SEX SCENES or sexual tension at the very least.  This book had none of these things, and I just couldn’t get into it. 

Rating: A very generous 3

Black Magic Sanction (The Hollows #8) By Kim Harrison

From barnesandnoble.com:  In New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison’s most complex and nuanced adventure yet, bounty hunter and witch Rachel Morgan fights a deadly battle—mind, body, and soul.  Rachel Morgan has fought and hunted vampires, werewolves, banshees, demons, and other supernatural dangers as both witch and bounty hunter—and lived to tell the tale. But she’s never faced off against her own kind . . . until now. Denounced and shunned for dealing with demons and black magic, her best hope is life imprisonment—at worst, a forced lobotomy and genetic slavery. Only her enemies are strong enough to help her win her freedom, but trust comes hard when it hinges on the unscrupulous tycoon Trent Kalamack, the demon Algaliarept, and an ex-boyfriend turned thief.

It takes a witch to catch a witch, but survival bears a heavy price.

My Spoiler-Laden Thoughts on Black Magic Sanction

The Recap:  Tink’s Dildos I couldn’t put this book down! What a wild ride! Our girl Rache has come so far!  At this point we are 8 books in to Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series and our favorite itchy witch is really in a mess this time around.  Unlike so many other series where the lead characters run around destroying cities and lives with zero consequences, every one of Rachel’s actions are now biting her in the ass.  She is now publicly shunned for dealing with demons, hunted by the “White” witches in the Coven for being a potential quasi-demon baby making machine, and hanging out in the Ever-After every Saturday with Big Al, all while dealing with her usual dysfunctional relationships and newly found daddy issues.  Rachel Morgan is a busy girl.

The Drama:  Where to begin!?  Most of the action in Black Magic Sanction revolves around the Coven summoning Rachel, Rachel escaping, the Coven attacking the church, lather, rinse, repeat.  After thousands of pages spent hanging out in Rachel and Ivy’s church, I felt almost violated when it went under attack!  The scene with the fairy attack was especially infuriating and I spent the evening alternating between being super pissed and sobbing uncontrollably over the death of a very special character.   I really enjoyed Rachel struggling with what to do with the surviving fairies, as I really couldn’t say what I would have done.  I love Jenks so much its retarded, and I wanted serious revenge for him, but at the same time, Rachel slaughtering 7 inch tall fairies might have made for awkward reading.  We also learn a lot more about Rachel’s family and the strange dynamic going on with her sorta crazy mom, rock star dad, and sorta douchey brother.  Honestly, I didn’t care for these scenes, I just wanted her brother to stop talking and give her the damn spell book!  Several supporting characters show back up, like Lee who I thought was terrifying in earlier, but is now super chill and laid back?! Whatevs.  And of course, D-bag Nic-k is back for the action, but thankfully Rache has FINALLY realized his douchbaggery knows no limits.

The Smut:  Oh Pierce. Piercey, Pierce, Pierce.  Me no likely the stalker ghost.  At one point, I was ready to skip over Pierce’s dialogue all together just to avoid any more “opines.”   I really tried to get behind the Rachel-Pierce thing, but I just don’t feel the spark.  And then we finally get to the good stuff, and Rachel feels the need to explain to us that male witches are less endowed than humans!! HUH?  I understand that this is technically an UF series and therefore we aren’t treated to as much smutty goodness, but still!  Was that really necessary?  And in a hole in the ground?? Anyway, I am enjoying Big Al sorta kinda tossing his name into the hat of potential suitors.  I am really excited to see how Ms. Harrison pulls off the softer side of a murderous demon with an affinity for velvet and lace.  And then there is always hottie Trent, who I can’t for the life of me explain why I have such a crush on.  But I do, and I really hope they end up together for some reason.  But I also kinda hope Jenks will decide to go back to full-sized hotness and hook up with someone.  Rachel, Ivy, I don’t really care, I just want to see the pixy in action!  Speaking of Ivy, it looks like she is finally moving past her feelings for Rachel, and I am really hoping for some Ivy-Glenn smuttiness in the next installment!

The Rant:  While I thought the Coven, especially Brooke and Vivian, were truly horrifying, I didn’t really understand their motives.  Brooke wanted to lobotomize Rachel, treated her like a freak of nature, all the while plotting for a demon baby all her own?  Not only does that seriously break the girl code, it doesn’t even make sense!  If he wants a mini-Rachel, then Rachel can’t be all that bad!  I really hope Brooke stays in the Ever-after, I don’t want her to turn into another Lee, where we just shrug off all the evil-bitchiness and keep going. 

Related rant:  Apparently publishing companies don’t get it.  If you own an e-reader of any kind, chances are you are pretty savvy about all things books and are probably a pretty hard-core reader.  So shame on HarperCollins for delaying the e-version of Black Magic Sanction.  They must really not care about pissing off hard-core fans.   I just so happened to read all the Hollows books over the past few weeks, so when I saw I had to wait a month longer than everyone else for book 8, I was not happy.  Most kindlers like the convenience, and I especially find it really irritating to tote around a hardback after enjoying my little light weight gadget for so long.  How can I hold my glass of wine if both my hands are keeping a hardback book open?!  Alas, I decided I didn’t want to wait.  So I may or may not have bought the hard back at B&N, read it that night, and returned it the next day.  Take that HarperCollins!!

Should I buy-with-1-click?  Oh yes.  I mean, Jenks is in it, what more do you need?  But no really, if you are a fan of the Hollows (and you have read the previous 7 books), you will not be disappointed.  This book has it all: action, emotion, humor, romance, and pixies.  You may want to shake Rachel for some of her decisions, but that’s what makes her so lovable, right? 

Rating: Definitely 10.  OBSESSED…like I am a 12 year-old girl and Jenks is my Edward Cullen.