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

Tracking the Tempest By Nicole Peeler

From Barnesandnoble.com:  Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and Ryu – Jane’s bloodsucking boyfriend – can’t let a major holiday go by without getting all gratuitous. An overwhelming dose of boyfriend interference and a last-minute ticket to Boston later, and Jane’s life is thrown off course.

Ryu’s well-intentioned plans create mayhem, and Jane winds up embroiled in an investigation involving a spree of gruesome killings. All the evidence points towards another Halfling, much to Jane’s surprise…

 Jane is a half-Selkie, who is dating a vamp, spends most of her time with a Gnome and is now being stalked by another halfling who is convinced they are soul mates.  Needless to say, these books are different but in a good way.  Jane is hilarious, here is one of my fave quotes:

“Ryu knew damned well that humor could overcome any emotion, even lust.  I couldn’t help laugh s he helped to my feet and pushed me to the wet room.  Meanwhile, I began strategizing all the various ways in which I would destroy him later.  And he’s afraid of a little Gorgon, I thought as I wondered what, exactly, Iris has packed from my dirty drawer.  Game on Vlad, I thought, wriggling my own eyebrows at my vampire’s back as he went to get my suitcase.  I’ll show you an ‘impaler.

I also have to include this quote because I know one certain fellow blogger who will appreciate this:

 “Before executing my culinary genius, I first poked ay Ruy’s iPod, set in his state-of-the-art sound dock thingie, until I found the Killers and put them on shuffle.  I was officially obessesed with the Killers, not least because of the lead singer’s slightly spastic-yet-strangely-sexy dance moves.”

Tracking the Tempest was action packed and hilarious from start to finish, kind of like a summer blockbuster for books.  However, I have two complaints. First, I learned very quickly that the series is also forgettable.  I had a really hard time remembering supporting characters (besides the Gnome, who I am moderately obsessed with) from the first book.  It wasn’t a huge deal, and it didn’t ruin the fun, but since these are kinda short reads, they just don’t stick with you.  Second, Jane talks a big game about all the dirty things she has planned for Ryu, but then we skip over the actual scenes.  To this I say, BOOO!  You can’t refer to Jane’s dirty drawer repeatedly and then not show the contents in action!  Alas, I am not really crazy about Ryu anyway, so I was excited to see the little love-triangle brewing with Anyan.  I am firmly on Team Anyan at this point.  Ryu is just too pretty. 

Rating: 8 (with bonus love for the super cute covers!)

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) By Ilona Andrews

From Goodreads.com:  When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it arose, leaving all kinds of paranormal problems in its wake.  Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up these magical problems. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta’s magic circles.
The Masters of the Dead, necromancers who can control vampires, and the Pack, a paramilitary clan of shapechangers, blame each other for a series of bizarre killings—and the death of Kate’s guardian may be part of the same mystery. Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realizes she’s way out of her league—but she wouldn’t have it any other way…

The Good:  Let me start by saying after I made it through the first 50 pages or so, I liked this book more than I thought I would.  I liked most of the plot, espcecailly the fresh take on vampires and the need to be piloted by a human.  It was refreshing to see vamps as gross, not hot and/or sparkly.    I liked Kate, and I really liked Curran.   But what I liked most was the setting.  You see, I have lived in Atlanta my entire life, so reading about all these landmarks and even suburbs (I live very close to the Shifter compound, btw) of Atlanta was great!  There was also a quote that I just have to include because it was so nice to see: 

“‘Lovely morning isn’t it?” he said, the unmistakeable harmonies of coastal Georgia vibrating in his voice.

“Shouldn’t it be ‘ain’t it?'” I said.  My voice sounded weak.

“Only if you are an uneducated fool,” the man said. “Or if you wish to appear country.  And I’m too old to appear anything that I’m not.'”

THANK GOD.  I love this because it’s almost as if the authors were warning you up front to not expect any hick jackasses just because it’s based in Atlantan which I appreciated.

The Bad:  I think the worst thing about this book was the lack of explanation.  At some point, something happened and magic started causing problems for technology.  We don’t really know what happened, and it’s hard to understand why the “tech goes out.”  I just felt that there wasn’t enough background on the current atmoshpere as well as the characters to feel a connection.  It’s obvious that Kate has a lot of secrets, and I am sure we learn about them as time goes on, but I needed a little more for her.  The villain was confusing, I had to re-read sections to make sure I understood what exactly has was.  And be warned, his scenes are grusome and distrubing.  This is pretty dark urban fantasy.  The level of detail was a little much for me, I found myself skimming a lot in this one. Honestly, if I didn’t already know the series gets a lot better (and really enjoyed The Edge series), I probably wouldn’t continue reading.  Liked Kate and Curran, but don’t really care at this point.

The Bumpin’ Uglies:  Le Sigh.  No one bumps the uglies in this one.  I know it’s not PNR, so not required, but it might have been nice for Kate to have one lighter scene to break up all the darkness.   But I am keeping my eye on Curran, he has potential.

Rating: 6.5

The Darkest Lie By Gena Showalter

From Goodreads.com:  Forced to his knees in agony whenever he speaks the truth, Gideon can recognize any lie—until he captures Scarlet, a demon-possessed immortal who claims to be his long-lost wife. He doesn’t remember the beautiful female, much less wedding — or bedding — her. But he wants to . . . almost as much as he wants her.

But Scarlet is keeper of Nightmares, too dangerous to roam free, and a future with her could mean ultimate ruin. Especially as Gideon’s enemies draw closer . . . and the truth threatens to destroy all he’s come to love . . .

I think what I am about to say will be considered blasphemous to some, and it pains me to say it, but I liked the last one better.  Maybe I was too excited about Gideon’s story because he is my favorite, so nothing or no one would be good enough.  Or maybe I have been reading too much PNR lately, so the whole “oh, i will let myself enjoy this one moment, because we can never be together again” thing is just old to me at this point.   But I was expecting Scarlet to be a kick-ass chick.  She is Nightmares for crying out loud! She can kill you in your sleep!  Why the lack of confidence?  Why are we still wondering if Gideon could ever really love her at 90%??  Ugh. 

Okay, I got that out, now I can sorta discuss the book.  Well, not really.  Not without giving out major spoilers anyway.  Basically, the book picks right back up from the last one with Gideon discovering Scarlet was his wife, Aeron trying to figure out how to save Legion from Hell, and the Titan Rhea still unleashing her Hunters on the Lords.  Aeron asks Amun and William to asist him in the rescue mission, so we get to learn a lot more about both of them.  And I gotta say, I really liked the little hint we got about William.  We also get to see the beginnings of Strider’s potential HEA, which I am very curious to see how that one will get pulled together, because the chick is NASTY.   Obviously, we learn the most about Scarlet and Gideon, and aside from Scarlet annoying the crap out of me, her back story was great.  I won’t reveal anything, but I will say those Titans are some dirty hookers.  At this point, I have read almost every type of villain, and I would have to put these crazy bitches at the top of the list.  Man, my heart was breaking for Gideon and Scarlet.  Anyway, despite the PNR formula grating on me a little here, the book was great like all the others.  I was a little disappointed by Scarlet’s whining because my blue-haired hottie deserves better, but the plot still rocked.  And Torin has some great one-liners…actually I think he has replaced Gideon as my favorite, though I have no idea how he will ever get his HEA.  Keep an eye out for another Immortals After Dark shout out during one of Torin’s scenes.  Those always make me happy.

Rating: 8 (though the lack of blue hair on this cover really sucks!!)

Hunting Season (The Gathering #1) By Shelly Laurenston

From Gooodreads.com:  

Stubborn, lethal, and from Jersey…what more could a Viking warrior want from his woman?
The Gathering, Book 1

Neecy Lawrence, winged warrior for a Viking goddess and second-in-command of the fierce Crows, doesn’t know what to do with a nice guy. As it is, making up for a past she’d sooner forget leaves her barely polite most days. But Raven leader and loyal Odin warrior, Will Yager, isn’t just nice. He’s gorgeous, hot, and a distraction she simply can’t afford.

Yager has wanted Neecy in his life—and in his bed—for a long time. Not just for a night, but forever. And, like any self-respecting Viking, he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants. So what if she’s the most difficult, complex, never-gives-him-a-break woman he’s ever known? She’s more than worth the effort. In fact, she’s worth everything.

And if it turns out that twenty-four hours of non-stop, any-way-she-wants-it sex doesn’t work with Neecy? Then it looks like he’ll just have to get a little more creative…

 I think I am developing a Shelly Laurenston addiction.  I just can’t stop reading her stuff.  This makes the 10th book (counting the GA Aiken books) I have read and I swear she can do no wrong.  There is just something about the way she captures funny, smart people being…funny and smart that I love.  I think the blurb above explains the plot pretty well, as it follows the standard PNR formula.  You know the one: Neecy and her group of bad-ass chick friends bump into Yager and his group of super hot dudes, they immediately hate each other, until tossed into grave peril, and then those pesky hormones take over.  Only this time, Neecy belongs to porn-loving Norse God Skuld, while Yager is forced to tolerate Odin’s penchant for turning strippers into Valkyries. Such a nice twist.  So, there I was, happily reading along, already loving this book because 1) Shelly Laurenston wrote it, and 2) it’s a fresh take on the standard PNR…and then she goes and does this:

“Didi looked up from the television as Arri, Janelle, and Katie walked into the living room.  It was a quiet night.  No job from their goddess, so they’d all decided to watch movies.  As usual, they ended up watching Aliens…again.  They simply couldn’t get enough of Vasquez.  Any chick who kicked that much ass was an honorary Crow.”

It’s like…she can see into my soul or something.  Not only is Aliens one of my absolute favorite movies EVER (behind Ghostbusters 1 & 2 of course), but she mentions Vasquez!!!  Do you know how long I have been lusting after that flame thrower she eviscerates the aliens with??  I have mourned her death all 573893495 times I have seen it! She’s gotta be the most underrated movie chick of all time, and they mentioned her!!  So I mean, I don’t really need to say any more about this book.  It was great, like all the others.  It was a little more edgy than the Pride series, which I loved; more cussing, more sexing, more awesomeness.  My only complain is, while stalking reading her blog, Ms. Laurentson said she doesn’t know when she will pick back up the series.  To that I say: It’s not very nice to set up not one but TWO more couples in the first book and not carry on with the series!  Please write more!  I am not above begging! 

Rating: 9.5 

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

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