review: one foot in the grave

One Foot in the Grave by Jeaniene Frost (2008)

One Foot in the Grave is the second book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series.  It’s official. Catherine “Cat” Crawfield is now part of my favorite first-person narrators in an urban fantasy series (if you haven’t been paying attention, she joins Harry Dresden and Atticus O’Sullivan in that club).  If you haven’t read the first book in this series, Halfway to the Grave, you might want to stop reading and go and find that book at your favorite bookstore. The book starts about four years after the end of the events in Halfway to the Grave. I have to admit that one of the reasons the first book didn’t get a review here is that I was a little unhappy with the ending.  Not unsatisfied or upset, just unhappy with how things all played out with Cat and Bones, the vampire who loves her.  As it turns out, I needn’t have worried because by the end of this book all is well with Cat and Bones.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  It’s four years later, and Cat is still working for Don and his secret “Homeland Security” group that’s part of the FBI.  Tate returns from the first book and he’s now Cat’s second in command.  Frost wastes no time in getting to the catalyst for the plot–Don has sent Cat to kill a vampire named Liam Flannery.  Cat goes in alone, and she soon discovers that Liam is actually Ian–the man who turned Bones into a vampire more than two hundred years ago.  Knowing this, Cat lets Ian go but tells Don and her team of vampire hunters that he got away.  Well, the old saying “no good deed goes unpunished” is appropriate here, since Ian becomes the primary antagonist of the novel.  At the end of the first book, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the plot development of Cat becoming a vampire hunter with a badge and the structure of the secret government organization in which she finds herself.  It’s still not my favorite part of the series, but it serves its purpose, and I see why Frost chose it.  It allows her to build a supporting cast around Cat and Bones and offers another way to build dramatic tension.  Cat finds herself not only at odds with Don but also Tate in this novel, and her relationship with each man helps to further develop her character.  Still, I have to say that if the time ever comes when Cat is an independent again, I’ll only be too happy.  Although she’s become the part of this organization, she has retained her independence and she doesn’t let the fact that Don is her boss dictate her actions or her choices.  There are several moments in the book where Frost delves into gender stereotypes, roles and dynamics and it helps to further define Cat as a strong female character while also illuminating that these issues continue to be pervasive in society.  Cat makes mistakes, but Frost doesn’t ever really take away her ability to make her own choices, and I love that.

Can I take a minute to talk about Bones? I love his character, which is one of the reasons I was so unhappy with the ending of Halfway to the Grove, because I just can’t imagine this series without him or without him and Cat being together.  How do I love him, let me count the ways. Bones is a master vampire, and one of the things we learn about him in this book is that he can fly (a la Eric Northman), he’s a strategic thinker, he’s supportive of Cat’s choices even when he doesn’t necessarily agree with them, and he will always do what he has to do to keep Cat safe and happy. And he has a sense of humor (indeed, in many ways he’s also the source of comic relief in this series).  He’s a great example of an alpha male character that is totally likable while at the same time being practically invincible–his weakness, of course, being Cat.  I highlight his character because so many male protagonists in paranormal romance novels fall flat because they are derivative and conventional.  Bones stands out, and he’s the perfect complementary character for Cat and the two of them are one of the reasons this series is worth reading.

The final showdown of the novel is surprising if not a little anti-climactic.  Although the antagonist is foiled in the end, achieving the goal that Cat has pursued for half of the novel ends up slipping through her grasp at the moment when she is sure to be victorious. Again, this is because she makes a conscious choice to let go of the pursuit in favor of something she wants more.  It’s a part of the book that I admire because as someone who likes to write, it highlights the need to identify what your protagonist wants most.  Cat has to decide what she wants most, and though there is a resolution to this part of the story, it’s definitely open-ended and promises to come back up again in future books in this series.  I can’t help wondering if there will be a time jump to start book three, At Grave’s End, or if it will pick up relatively soon after book two ends, because a lot of things happen at the end of the book that will have far-reaching consequences.

If you haven’t tried the Night Huntress series, I highly recommend it, and I’m definitely going to go and find book three in my favorite bookstore.

 

review: untouchable

Untouchable* by Kresley Cole (2009)

*This full-length novel is the featured story within Deep Kiss of Winter, a collection of two books by Kresley Cole and Gena Showalter.

Untouchable is book seven in Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series.  In many ways, it is the final chapter in the part of the series that focuses upon the Wroth brothers, who were all turned into vampires during the eighteenth century.  This book follows the story of Murdoch Wroth and his Bride, Daniela.  The thing to know about this book going in is that it is better enjoyed if you have read the three previous books about the Wroth brothers–The Warlord Wants Forever, No Rest for the Wicked, and Dark Needs at Night’s Edge.  The reason for this is that although most of the books in this series can stand-alone, the events that take place in Untouchable are happening concurrently with the other books focused upon the Wroths, and so if you haven’t read the others, there are things that will get spoiled for you.  [Note: Although A Hunger Like No Other does not have one of the Wroth brothers as a main character, some of the events in that story are spoiled as well, so beware].

To be honest, the way that the events of Untouchable unfold is one of the most fascinating things about this book.  Cole is building a complex world within this series, and though she is carefully to welcome new readers and allow them to step into the series at any point, it also rewards readers who have been reading the series in order.  What I really appreciate about this book is the sense that all of the books in the series are truly happening at the same time, and this makes the Accession–a time when the separate factions of Lore, such as the Valkyrie, the vampires, the Lykae, and demons, battle each other and kill each other as a system of checks and balances to keep the population of the Lore in check–feel not like a protracted period of time, but rather a period of time during which all of these things are occurring and how each of these events will ultimately impact how the Accession plays out.  In other words, each book is–if I can borrow a term from American literary realism–almost a slice of life that is taking place within a larger world.  With each new book, the pieces that we’ve been given come together to give an increasingly holistic picture of the Lore as it moves through the period of the Accession, which occurs every five hundred years (or as Cole writes in the glossary of terms that appears before the start of each book “now”).  The more books in the series we read, the more we’re able to see the alliances that are forming and who will be the winners and losers of the Accession.  The fact that this aspect of the novel is complex but at the same time accessible is one of the accomplishments of the series as a whole.  It starts with the assumptions that readers are smart and intelligent rather than assuming the lowest denominator, and it trusts that as a reader I can understand the complex world and all its moving parts even while it gives me reminders from time to time of details that I may have forgotten or overlooked. Honestly, this is so refreshing, as I am of the opinion that a lot of books don’t think I have a brain in my head or that I know how to use it.

The two main protagonists of this story–Murdoch and Daniela–are presented with a lot of obstacles that make their path to true love fraught with difficulty.  Daniela is half-Valkyrie, half-fey; specifically, she’s an ice-fey, which means she can’t touch or be touched without experiencing or causing pain.  In this way she is literally untouchable.  Murdoch, on the other hand, is a vampire who has a history of being a rake; he is untouchable on an emotional level.  Naturally, the inability to touch each other causes tension in their relationship, and this becomes the thing that each character wants most but that is repeatedly denied to them.  It is actually the climactic moment of the story that paves the way for Murdoch and Daniela getting what they want. Although both characters fall into the typical archetypes for characters in a romance, they are both likable characters and I was invested in their story from the beginning.  Strangely, it is one of the strengths of the novel–that is consciously is occurring at the same time as other stories within the story-world–that is one of its flaws.  There’s a point in the novel where events get fast-forwarded and months pass by, and thus the characters’ plight loses some of its urgency and their story moves to the background in order to show how all four of the stories about the Wroth brothers are tied together.

Definitely don’t skip this book in the series.  It is a little annoying that Untouchable isn’t available on its own (I found a copy of Deep Kiss of Winter in the $1.00 clearance section at my local used bookstore, and being someone with a book habit, that is a total win when it comes to my book budget) but it is well worth the read.  At first, I thought it would be novella-length, maybe 100 pages at most, but that is certainly not the case.  It’s shorter than the other books, granted, but the characters and the story is well-developed, and the story-world is further expanded and developed.   Thus far, this series has not disappointed at all, and I recommend it as one to dive into if you haven’t already.

review: twice tempted

Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost (2013)

Twice Tempted is the second book in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Prince series.  These books need to be read in order, so start with the first book, Once Burned.  By way of a quick, spoiler-free introduction to this series, the female protagonist is Leila Dalton, a woman who was struck by lightning as a teenager and as a result, is capable of electrocuting people if she touches them and possessed of the ability to pick images from a person’s life, either by touching them or an object they have touched in the past.  The male protagonist, is Vlad the Impaler, but don’t think about calling him Dracula.  And yet, he is the man behind the legend; thus, one of the questions that drives the story is what would happen if Dracula fell in love? What kind of woman would he fall for and how would that complicate his life, as well as hers? This series, as well as Frost’s Night Huntress series, exist in the same urban fantasy/paranormal romance universe, and both are series I recommend picking up if this genre appeals to you.  If you read Once Burned but weren’t sure if you wanted to keep reading, give Twice Tempted a try.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The story picks up about four weeks after the end of Once Burned.  Leila is still living in Vlad’s home, and she is still devoid of her powers.  Vlad has become distant, and Leila worries that because she is has lost her powers, he has lost interest in her.  Events happen and she ends up leaving Vlad and returning to the States, planning to return to the carnival act she and Marty–a surrogate father that is also a vampire–and putting her past with Vlad behind her.  Of course, it’s not that easy.  Not long after she reunites with Marty, and explosion rocks the carnival location where she’s taken refuge and then sends her on the run.  As the story unfolds, Frost continues to build this part of her story-world, fleshing out the customs of the vampire society that Vlad dominates as well as populating that world with characters who prove themselves to be either antagonists and enemies or loyal friends and allies. Several characters from the first book return as well, including Leila’s father and her sister, Gretchen, Vlad’s second-in-command, Maximus, and Marty.  I read Halfway to the Grave, the first book in the Night Huntress series a couple of weeks ago, and it seems to me that Cat’s mother from that series and Gretchen, Leila’s sister, are in many ways the same character; and yet, although Gretchen is definitely a minor supporting character, by the end of Twice Tempted she does change into a character that I don’t completely dislike.  The other thing that this book does in building the story-world is steadily mount the obstacles to true love and happily ever after that Leila and Vlad must overcome.  Those obstacles come not only from their enemies but also their inner circle and each other.  Their struggle to be together in this second book has a genuine feel to it, it’s not rushed or trite,, and importantly, Leila doesn’t have to become a weak-willed, powerless character in order to successfully win the fight for the man she loves.  What I like about this book, as well as the first book in the Night Huntress series, is that it is not overtly, slavishly devoted to following the conventions of the romance genre, and therefore it’s predictable. I want to keep reading because I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.

The story is told from Leila’s first-person point-of-view, and honestly, it just works from every angle.  We can only know what she knows, and though I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to know what is going on in Vlad’s mind, Frost is able to deftly write Leila’s first-person narrative in a way that you don’t feel completely distant or alienated from him, except during those times when that is actually how Leila feels.  Otherwise, Leila’s narrative gives us enough to feel like we know more and learn more about Vlad as the story progresses, and he’s not just a part of the fictional scenery, playing his role when needed and then going back to being a cardboard figure when he’s not.  While there’s no doubt that Leila has a specific arc for the development of her character, the same can be said for Vlad.  They both change and grow and that keeps the story dynamic and interesting, and it keeps me as a reader invested in the outcome of their relationship and the challenges they face. I want to see more of them, and once the book ends, I want more.

It’s interesting reading Twice Tempted in such close proximity to Halfway to the Grave.  There’s a part of my mind that wants me to decide which of the couples I like more, which of the worlds I prefer.  The Night Prince series is more firmly in the paranormal romance genre, while the Night Huntress series is more paranormal romantic suspense.  What I can say and what makes me happy is that neither couple is exactly the same, mere carbon copies of the other but rather distinct.  So far, the Night Prince series puts more emphasis on the love story while the Night Huntress series puts more emphasis upon the mystery.  That being said, choose the one that you’re in the mood for, but I would recommended giving both series a try.