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JessHaines

Jess Haines

I'm an author, a dreamer, a paperback reader...

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Hunter's Moon (Tales of the Sazi, Book 1)
'C. T. Adams', 'Cathy Clamp'
Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen I love this book. I love it so hard.

GARDEN SPELLS is a sweet, magical story. The people of this tiny town of North Carolina are so real and relatable that you can’t help but fall in love with them.

Claire, the main character, seems a no-nonsense sort, even though she owns a magical garden and learned how to use certain plants from it in her recipes for her catering business to elicit certain reactions from those who eat the food she prepares. It’s quite clever, really. I love how the hardcover version I have of this book includes a reference guide in the back of what plants cause what reactions. Her sister, Sydney, lived a wild and carefree lifestyle which resulted in her landing in an abusive relationship and being unable to leave due to her daughter.

When Sydney flees from Seattle with her child so they can hide with her sister, you can easily see how hard it is for these two women to reconcile their bitter childhood together. Both of them envied the other for different reasons, and it’s both poignant and lovely to see how they gradually overcome and settle their differences and come to love and trust each other as sisters should. They are both hesitant to give love a chance, both with each other, and with the men in their lives, so it is truly beautiful and moving to see how they open up to their respective love interests.

The secondary characters are just as lovely and real and funny and flawed and heartbreaking as Claire and Sydney. Including the silly enchanted apple tree that throws apples at you when it wants your attention, and whose fruit, when eaten, shows you the most significant event to come in your life.

While the book does contain supernatural elements, such as the garden and tree, these aspects work more to complement the characters and are worked with such a deft hand that I believe regardless of whether you are a fan of paranormal or contemporary romance, you will find something to love about this story.

There are so many little details and lovely turns and so many insightful moments to this book that it is very difficult for me to keep this review both short and relatively spoiler-free. It really is best to discover this town and the people in it on your own. If you are a fan of sweet and moving love stories with a touch of humor, you must read this book. In that regard, it is pretty much perfect.
The Nymphos of Rocky Flats - Mario Acevedo For some reason, I started this book thinking it was the second in the series. Acevedo has been on my radar for a while, but it wasn’t until just recently that I had a chance to read one of his novels.

As the title implies, there are some women who are infected with a type of nymphomania due to something going on at a government facility in Rocky Flats. Felix Gomez, who was turned into a vampire during his tour of service in Iraq, is now a private investigator who has been called in by a friend to find out just what’s going on behind closed doors and what’s infecting the local women who work there with nymphomania.

I was a bit surprised, and in a pleasant way. Though you wouldn’t think so, the book is not particularly dirty. There is sex, and the sensuality of vampires does come into play to a degree, but overall this is not a book I would call raunchy. It’s something I’m glad of, because the title to this book (as well as the others in the series) put me off starting for a while.

Felix is something of an enigma to the other vampires in town. He doesn’t drink human blood. Though it is obviously draining his vampiric powers, he can’t bring himself to do so–even when he’s biting someone. This is very much to his detriment during the case as he seeks to find clues as to why these women who were exposed to something driving them to have uncontrollable sexual urges. In Felix’s world, vampires can also see auras and influence human minds when they aren’t using contacts to hide their strangely colored eyes. He notes that, every time, the color of the aura for these infected women changes when their “urges” take them. Though he could have easily taken advantage of these women in their more vulnerable moments, Felix is actually a pretty stand-up guy for a vampire and does nothing to harm or abuse them.

The story runs the gamut between murder mystery, romance, and government conspiracy theories. It was very ambitious in that it covered a number of plots and side-stories. Everything wrapped up very neat and pat in the end, and it was certainly not a bad read, but something I can’t put my finger on kept this from being a great read for me. Perhaps the humor was too pat. I’m also not normally much of a fan of war stories or anything that delves too deeply into the nuts and bolts of how the government works, so that may have had something to do with it. The flashbacks to Iraq and the guilt trips Felix embarked upon were not bad, exactly, they just didn’t interest me despite how vital they were to Felix’s growth as a character. Overall, it seemed to waver between taking itself too seriously and going the completely campy route.

There is nothing particularly erotic about this book, so don’t let the title fool you. If you like detective novels with a supernatural flair (that use crude/snarky humor as opposed to light-hearted), chances are you’ll enjoy this story. It wasn’t a favorite for me, but chances are good I’ll pick up the next book at some point in the future.
Grunts - Mary Gentle Couldn't make it through this one. Wasn't poorly written, just wasn't my cup of tea.
Ghost Story - Jim Butcher If you haven’t read the earlier books, it’s not a good idea to read this review. Spoilers ahoy! Start with STORM FRONT (Dresden Files #1). If you’re a fan of urban fantasy, then trust me, you won’t be sorry for picking up this series.

I read GHOST STORY while on my family trip in Florida. I’m responsible for turning my entire family into a bunch of Jim Butcher fangirls, and quite proud of that fact.

Now, as for my thoughts—this book is one I had desperately wanted to get my hands on, but hadn’t had the chance to sit down and read. If you know what my schedule has been like, then you know that it’s been taking me anywhere from 2-5 weeks to finish a book lately, simply because I haven’t had the time to fit in any pleasure reading.

My trepidation going in is hard to describe. I love Harry Dresden. This series of books was one of the reasons I chose to write urban fantasy. Yet, in the last book, Harry was shot and, presumably, died. It was a hell of a cliffhanger. Knowing that this book was about Harry wandering around Chicago as a ghost hurt something in my heart. I did and I didn’t want to find out how things turned out. In the end, I had to know what the hell was going on, who killed Harry, and, most of all, what the heck he was going to do about it.

Holy hell, you guys.

YOU GUYS.

This book. It’s epic.

If anything, being a ghost opens up Harry’s eyes to even more dangers in Chicago than he ever imagined. There is a whole separate world that functions alongside the “real,” physical plane, and there are things that want out so they can live again and melt faces. He has to come back to solve his own murder—or he could be stuck as a ghost, watching the world pass him by, unable to be seen, heard, or touched by any of his friends—forever.

It was a surreal and incredible journey. The humor, as always, was the best part of the book. Just when things seemed to be at their most serious, Harry would spout off his snarky one-liners or think something that turned the scary stuff into something absurd. It made some of the truly emotionally draining bits a lot easier to bear.

As powerful as this story was, it wasn’t my favorite in the series. Seeing Harry in such a passive role was… odd. There were a number of flashbacks that, while they moved the story along and were integral to understanding some of Harry’s reasoning, were still flashbacks. And while he did have a truly epic battle toward the end, there was far too much reflection and thinking and twiddling thumbs on Harry’s part to get there. As a character, it was a good thing for him to take a step back, but to spend the bulk of the story as the mostly powerless new kid was, frankly, painful to endure after all of the amazing things he’s done and accomplished and defeated in the earlier books.

Plus, some of the changes Molly, Butters, and Murphy went through in the interim between Harry’s death and then return to Chicago as a ghost were hard for me to buy. Explanations notwithstanding, I am still having a very hard time swallowing Murphy willingly working with or for Marcone, Butters growing a backbone, and Molly buying a ticket to ride the crazytrain.

I’m not sorry I read it, and still recommend it to everyone who is on board with the Dresden Files, but in the end, Harry is in a really shitty place—again. I know the series isn’t over yet, but after all the poor guy has been through, it makes it hard for me to see how he’ll ever get his happily ever after (or get laid, damn it, c’mon Murph, you guys were so close in CHANGES, ARGH). Despite all this, I still can’t wait to get my hands on the next book, COLD DAYS.

I’ve got faith in you, Jim Butcher. I’m in this series ‘til the end, bitter or otherwise.
Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman This is the first book I’ve read by Gaiman. I’m a fan of the movie Stardust (based on a book by Gaiman), and I enjoyed GOOD OMENS which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett, but this is the first piece of work that was his, and only his, that I’ve read.

That said, I’m afraid I may have walked into this book with my expectations set too high.

It’s not a bad book. It certainly kept me entertained on a flight home from Florida back to California. It was good, but it wasn’t great.

I think the back cover copy sufficiently explains what the book is about, so I’m not going to rehash that. The story is interesting. The characters are engaging. The humor is very British, which I adore. The bad guys are scary and spectacularly creepy at times. The worldbuilding is intricate and interesting, for the most part, but I also think this is where the story fell down for me.

Too often, you’re left to wonder what the hell is going on and why. I love fantasy, and am usually very forgiving of this sort of thing, but only when it’s done in moderation and the author doesn’t gloss over the important stuff. Things like Talents were skirted around, but never really explained. If Door was so powerful, it seemed a bit silly that they had to travel on foot so much to reach some of their destinations. Why, exactly, Richard was sucked into the fantastical world below London and forgotten by all his friends and co-workers was implied, but even the denizens of that magical place couldn’t tell him why him. Why Richard, and not others? Door started talking about it at one point, but she never confronted it fully, and it seemed like an important enough element that it should have been discussed at greater length.

The journey the characters took was epic enough, and the mystery was sufficient to keep me engrossed, but my suspension of disbelief only goes so far when you don’t explain anything about how your fantasy world works. There are some things you can take for granted in fantasy, but I like to feel that what I’m reading makes sense and has a purpose, a rhyme and reason, and on some level that felt lacking to me here.

I’m not so put off that I won’t read another book by Gaiman, but I can’t see myself rereading this book. As I mentioned, it was entertaining and kept my interest through the plane ride from Florida back to California, but that’s about it.
By The Sword (Magic of the Plains) - Greg Costikyan I've long been a fan of Mr. Costikyan's three fantasy novels (I can't speak for his science fiction story, as I haven't read it). Unfortunately, it has been a number of years since he has published any novels, and it doesn't appear that there are any new stories set in the Magic of the Plains or the Cups & Sorcery series forthcoming. This is something to bear in mind while reading this book. It stands on its own just fine, but this is the only book in the Magic of the Plains "series", despite what it says on the cover.

Nijon, the hero of this tale, is not taken seriously by anyone in his tribe. You see, his mother claims to have had an affair with the god Mongoose. Nijon is the only one who really believes his mother's words, though everyone else pays lip service (just in case, since it's not wise to anger the gods, you know). When it is time for him to go forth and become a man, he actually meets his father, and goes on a number of adventures.

This is a fairly short book, and I don't want to ruin the joy of discovering just how clever and funny this story is for anyone who has not read it before. Nijon's adventures are a delight to read. The characterizations in this novel are what truly makes it shine--for example, the testy dragon, Nijon's brother (an actual mongoose), the devious Mika Nashram, the spoiled Princess Nlavi--all described with such a humorous slant that it is impossible not to be charmed by this coming of age adventure.

Fans of humorous sword and sorcery fantasy should enjoy this immensely. I'm still quite unhappy that it (as well as the other series) never had a follow up novel, but when it comes to Mr. Costikyan's work, I'll take whatever I can get!
Catch - Annie Nicholas Great story, but again, crappy editing--worse than the first book. Enjoyed this one quite a lot despite the errors.
Heartless - Anne Elisabeth Stengl This is a sweet, enjoyable book. I first saw the cover for this on the Book Whispers blog many moons ago, and when I saw that it involved dragons, I knew I had to read it. Thanks to my crazy schedule and monstrous TBR pile, it has taken me forever and a day to get to it–but I’m glad I finally did.

Young princess Una does not really know what she wants in a suitor–but it certainly isn’t the boring, somewhat strange Aethelbald. What she does want is someone handsome, brave, charming, and who she loves. This story, in its fantastical setting, is primarily about how she discovers what love truly is. She goes through a series of hardships and crushing moments where she learns that not everyone is as they seem, and not to trust everyone by their words or appearance, but by their actions.

While the middle does drag a tad, and Una’s fickle tastes in men did get a bit tiresome, the underlying story and the entrance of the Dragon King made this a worthy tale. The naivity Una exudes actually worked for this story because of the fantastical setting. If not for the fairy tale setting, I would have branded her a heroine TSTL–and while she may still be just that, for this story, it is forgivable. Aethelbald’s unfailing love and devotion may have been misplaced, but it was lovely to read, and the conclusion definitely tugged on my heartstrings.

Be warned, if you are looking for an epic adventure, this may not be the right book for you. The beginning and parts of the middle are a bit slow, and the overall focus is more on Una’s growth as a character than on the action. This is more a story of character than a story of battle (though it does have a few of those). Despite that, it is touching and quite lovely in its execution.

Fans of Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles should enjoy this young adult fantasy. It’s beautifully written, and I definitely recommend it if you are looking for a love story told as an epic fairy tale with a touch of humor.
Tempest Rising - Nicole Peeler I got my copy of this book from Authors After Dark. I’ve seen Nicole’s work mentioned here and there, but I’m surprised I haven’t heard more—her work is hilarious!

Jane True is one of the most excellent urban fantasy heroines I’ve stumbled across in quite some time. Everyone in town thinks she’s nuts, and she had a stint in the loony bin to prove it. She has no idea where her mother is, and stays in town because it’s the life she knows, and she’s afraid of abandoning her father. Because of her heritage—though she doesn’t know why—she often takes a dip in the cold New England ocean to clear her head and “recharge her batteries”.

One night, while she’s out swimming, she stumbles across a murder victim in the water. Unable to leave the body there, she drags it out and leaves it on a path where someone is sure to find it the next day. This opens up the door to a whole new world of supernatural mystery for Jane, one which, once opened, can’t be closed again. She also learns that her mother was a full-blown seal shapeshifter, which explains why Jane is so drawn to the ocean—and where her mother eventually disappeared to.

She finds out that some of her friends and neighbors are also two-natured, and meets a sexy vampire investigator who is trying to get to the bottom of a string of murders related to the body she found. Ryu might not be exactly as she pictured a vampire (and I still can’t get over that his laugh is described at one point like a Pomeranian’s bark), but these two are hot-hot-hot together, and make a delicious pair.

This is a delightful story. Fun, light-hearted, and with a very creative spin on the usual mythos for several supernatural creatures, the characters are all beautifully written and the humor hit just the right spot for me. There are a lot of pop culture references in this, but that mostly added to the funny for me, rather than detracted. I’m thrilled that I finally got to read this book, and can’t wait to delve into the next one in the series!
Mind Games - Carolyn Crane I’ve had this book on my radar for a while, but never got around to reading it until I met Carolyn at Authors After Dark. Well, it also took a little nudge from Binah to get me to move my ass and pick it up. Specifically, it took Binah telling me three to five times a day every day for a week and then forcibly putting it into my hands to get me to bump it up in my queue and read it.

What the hell was I waiting for? This book is pure awesomesauce.

Justine is a hardcore hypochondriac. She’s positive that she’s going to die via vein star syndrome, just like her mom. Her medical bills from all the late night trips to the ER are sky high. Her boyfriend is on the verge of leaving her. The fear is paralyzing her, ruining her relationships and her life.

When presented with a way out from the fear controlling her life by an intriguing and mighty sexy dude, she takes his offer to help—in the form of becoming a member of his team of disillusionists. For great heaping gobs of money, they “disillusion” criminals of their justifications and reasons for acting evil, break down their mental defenses, and force them to face who and what they really are. By doing so, it destroys the criminal’s life of crime, and “reboots” them into a moral person who wants to right the wrongs they committed.

As Packard’s minion, Justine works with a small team of other people who suffer similar mental problems, and she learns how to “zing” a target by infecting them with her own hypochondria. Every zing leaves her clean and free of fear for a time and brings the target that much closer to breaking down so they can regain their humanity. As soon as her misgivings start to come back, all she has to do is zing a target again, and she’s “cured”.

The only catch is that once you start, you can’t stop—and there are only certain people she’s able to disillusion. If she zings the wrong one, she’ll become a vegetable. She’s left at the mercy of Packard to find out who the safe targets are. He isn’t the savior from that path to certain death Justine thought. In fact, she can’t even be sure all of her targets are as evil as he says.

MIND GAMES is an apt title for this book. It’s hard to detail why without giving away more than I already have. Carolyn has built a delicious, rich world, one which I am very much looking forward to delving back into in the next installment—very soon. Though I’m decidedly curious if there will be another cucumber mention… *cough* Whether you end up on Team Kabob or Team Cucumber (or, like me, Team Noncommittal), it’s impossible not to get sucked into this book. The twists, turns, and surprises are fantastically executed and had me hooked from the get-go. I can’t wait for the next book!

Vampire of My Dreams

Vampire of My Dreams - Christina Moss A short and sweet little vampire tidbit! Enjoyed this novella. ;)
Blood Rights - Kristen Painter I’ll be honest. I had a love-hate relationship with this book in the beginning. There was a bit of eye rolling to start out, but that soon turned into a fangirly crush that guarantees I’ll be one of the first in line to pick up the sequel FLESH AND BLOOD in November. The characters have such incredible personalities they practically leap off the page.

The writing is excellent. Passionate, gripping, and exciting. So, yes, I had a lot of fun with this book, but it had some flaws which I feel would make me remiss if I failed to mention them. There are some logic fails and a couple of TSTL moments, as well as a lack of explanation as to why some things occurred.

One of the major points which is never made fully clear is exactly how Mal was granted Chrysabelle’s blood rights. If I understand the mythos correctly, vampires come to the comarré house and place a monetary “bid” for the companionship of a comarré (female) or comar (male). This gives the vampire the rights to do whatever they like—I think just short of killing their companion—for the next 100 years. The comarré then has the option to either fight to the death for their freedom and to regain their blood rights, or to remain by the vampire’s side. It’s unclear if the bond between patron and comarré is mystical other than that the vampire’s saliva injected during their bite grants the comarré some special perks, e.g., slows aging/extends their lifespan/grants them extra speed, stamina, agility, whatever.

Chrysabelle is knocked unconscious at one point and Mal directs another vampire who is acting as a doctor to use her blood in a transfusion for someone else. Did he suddenly get some mystical claim to her blood rights that way? If so, it’s never exactly explained why or how it ties in to the established mythos. It was very odd to see her fighting with him over whether or not he had her blood rights—him saying no, her saying yes. I thought she wanted her freedom?

Also, “Special snowflake-ism” runs rampant. (Heroine: Pale skin, long/pale hair, golden tattoos, violet eyes, vampire-crack blood, excellent fighter. Hero: Vampire, super hot, magnetic attraction to heroine, emotionally tortured, silver eyes when hungry/horny/excited, excellent fighter. Side character #1: Ghost, died at vampire hero’s hand, can occasionally take a corporeal form and feed said vamp her blood [?!]. Side character #2: Were-housecat, who occasionally functions as comic relief, and is hot/built/powerful in his human form. Need I go on?)

Here’s the thing—despite its flaws, it is still a very enjoyable book. Part of the reason I was able to forgive all of the above and soldier on is that the story and the way it was written reminds me of the glory days of roleplaying Vampire: the Masquerade / World of Darkness online back in the 90’s/early 00’s. It hit a very personal note for me on that level, and that played a huge part in why I devoured this book very nearly in a single sitting.

Also, some of the world building is very intriguing, and I’m quite curious to find out more about the comarré and their long term plans. This series does have a lot of potential, and I am hopeful that Painter will take the time to explain in future books some of the things which were not made clear or seemed to jump the shark. It may seem early to say anything is jumping the shark considering this is only the first book, but the contradictions of the mythos and character derailment that pepper the story may (note: not will but may) give you a bit of reading whiplash. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone so I’m not going to go into much detail here. It’s entirely possible you won’t notice what I did when you’re reading, so take what I say here with a grain of salt.

My opinion is that people who are able to turn off their logic-meters and just enjoy the story for the sake of the action and intrigue will get a kick out of it. You might hit a few speed bumps along the way, but it’s like watching a movie along the lines of Last Action Hero, Waterworld, Air Force One, etc. Don’t question too closely, don’t nitpick the details, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Regardless of whatever else I’ve said, it’s a fun story, and–if nothing else–the characters make it a worthwhile read.

If you can’t bring yourself to turn your logic-meter off, you will likely take issue with it. If you’re like me, and you went through a teenage phase where you played vampires and hunters on AOL, I think you’ll be just as sucked into this story as I was.

This review has been trimmed (as if it isn't long enough already). See my blog for the full review: http://jesshaines.com/blog/2011/09/02/book-review-blood-rights/
Blood of the Maple - Dana Marie Bell This was a very amusing book. The main character is a vampire named Parker who has been cursed by a witch to drink the blood of plants.

Yes, plants.

The witch who cursed him wants him to drink only from her (she botched the original spell), and he spends the majority of his time running the hell away. When he meets his new girlfriend, a dryad who is part of a maple tree, he finds her too sweet to resist.

Sometimes the humor didn’t balance so well with the serious bits. It started out very lighthearted and then occasionally dipped into subjects or an emotional curve that didn’t seem to jive with the rest of the story. I really preferred the funnier tone the book started off with. It seesawed between being serious and being humorous just a little too much for my tastes. For example, when Parker’s gay roommate Greg dies between the prologue and the first chapter, it’s pretty jarring—though I did find it hilarious that Greg came back as a ghost who haunts and follows Parker around throughout the rest of the story.

The humor is very funny (laugh-out-loud at times), and the sex was hot. This is a good, quick read and, despite my reservations above, I still recommend it.

Rating: 3.5/5
Bait - Annie Nicholas That’s not to say all self-published books are bad. I quite enjoyed this next one. Again, a couple of niggles with spelling and grammar, but nothing unforgivable. The story was excellent, the hero was hot, and I found the world-building fascinating.

Our heroine, Connie (aka, “Rabbit”), acts as bait to lure out vampires so the team of hunters she works with can kill them. During a hunt gone wrong, Rabbit finds herself falling in love with one of the vampires—Rurik, master of Budapest—and is soon involved in some vampire politics, deceptions, and a plot to unseat Rurik so that some far nastier vamps can take over.

This was quite enjoyable. The scene with Rabbit and Rurik in the baths with the hair-pulling… *fans self* This is a cute, decently plotted story with enough twists and turns to keep me engaged from start to finish.

I’ve started on the sequel, CATCH, and am finding it just as enjoyable as the first one. If you like sexy vampire PNRs, you should enjoy these, too.
The Nasty Vamp - Gail Koger Have you ever been curious about a book that looked so tragically bad, you just had to read it?

Did you ever then discover it was so much worse than you’d originally thought that you start wishing you could go back and unmake time itself so that you would never have set eyes upon or heard of such a travesty?

This is one of those books.

Confession time.

Sometimes, seeing the terrible covers or book descriptions on KB’s Babbling About Books & More WTFery posts prompts me to investigate the WTFery for myself. I admit it, I am drawn to terrible books and movies. (Have you seen Thankskilling? A low-budget D-grade cinematic masterpiece, I tell you!) I’m also drawn to just about anything featuring vampires. So, with a title like THE NASTY VAMP, well… After spotting this on KB’s blog, I just had to check it out. Could it really be as bad as the title implied?

This thinly veiled Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic was chock full of spelling, grammar, and continuity errors, ridiculous situations (nekkid Mary Sue heroine riding a motorcycle down the Las Vegas strip? Wut.), and sometimes just plain gross stuff (drugged non-consensual sex in front of a room full of witnesses followed by almost-tentacle pr0n. Wut.). This was not cool. Not cool at all.

Rating: DNF
The Vampire Relationship Guide: Meeting & Mating - Evelyn Lafont This book follows our heroine, Josie, as she lives the dream and dates not one but two eligible vampire bachelors. It’s pretty flattering attention considering she spends her days working at a bridal shop dealing with bitching bridezillas.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read this. Certainly not the down-to-earth problems and at times hilarious situations Josie finds herself in. She’s direct, insightful, occasionally a bit self-depreciating, and makes no bones about her desire to catch the eye of, have sex with, and maybe even get into a relationship with a hot vampire. Nor does she pull any punches in her descriptions or observations. I couldn’t help snickering, sputtering, and snorting a bit with laughter during some parts, like the visit to the biker bar for burgers for her first date with the not-quite-so-affluent vampire, Walker.

I strongly recommend it if you like your paranormal romance with a heavy dose of hilarity. I was a bit surprised when I hit the end so fast, and I was definitely left wanting more. Volume 2 should be out later this year, and I’m looking forward to the next installment!