Tour’s Books Blog

December 16, 2010

Paranormal – First in Series and Catching Up with Old and New

The first book in a series often determines how popular the whole group will be with the public and will most likely determine if I’ll buy book two.  A few series make a decent enough start, nothing special and take a bit of time to get established.  Then there are the special, like Lord of the Rings or the Rift War Saga,  which gather steam with each book.  Far too many just bog down in a morass of trite, overused plot elements like an endless replay loop that becomes more annoying than interesting or fun, or wander down bizarre side roads till the various plot  threads become lost in diversions. Whether it’s the Dragon Riders of Pern, the Vorkosigan Saga, or Sookie Stackhouse, series exist to get and keep readers over multiple books.

Most paranormal books these days have more in common with either mystery series, using a few core characters that are the center of each story, or sprawling romance series, where each book is about different pair of characters with certain recurring characters throughout, than they do with Lord of the Rings.  The first category would include books like the Simon Canderous series by Anton Strout or the Elemental Assassin books by Jennifer Estep which are more like Robert B Parker’s SPencer or Carolyn Hart Deadth on Demand series.  The second is Kerrelyn Sparks Love at Stake series or The Others by Christine Warren which has much in common with Elizabeth Lowell’s Donovan series or Tara Janzen’s Steele Street series.

For this look, I’m ignoring that second group and fixating on the paranormal heroines, mostly of kick-ass variety, in the first group.   Unlike most mystery series,  paranormals generally have an evolving plot, so books need to be read more or less in order to make sense of the ongoing story lines.  A few can be read out of order, for example, I read Kitty’s House of Horrors with no confusion and I’m only now getting to the earlier books.

There are so many series out there in the kick-ass-heroine genre, it’s impossible to read them all.  It’s hard just keeping up with the ones I like the most and leaving time for new series.   My top series of 2009/2010?

Chicagoland Vanpires – Chloe O’Neill (3 books)

Elemental Assassin  – Jennifer Estep (3 books)

Persephone Alcmedi – Linda Robertson (3 books)

Kara Gillian – Diana Rowland (3 books)

Alex Kraft – Kalayna Price (Only first book so far)

I also have lots of paranormal with male leads that I really enjoy, but today is Ladies Day – ladies who kick butt, take names, and often save the world.  The problem is with series started years back – it’s tough to impossible to catch up with them.  One of those is the Jaz Parks books by the late Jennifer Rardin.  Another is the Ester Diamond series by Lynn Resnick, Merdith Gentry series by Laurell K Hamilton, and a whole bunch of others.

I waited to collect the Jaz Parks series mostly through book swapping, a few deeply discounted remainders, and finally buying the last 2 books in the series.  It took a long time to lay my hands on Disappearing Nightly, the first Esther Diamond book.  Out of print and used copies priced insanely high, I waited very patiently for one to become available on my book swapping site.  Kitty Noville I’ve been getting new and through book swapping even as I read the latest installment.  If you follow the blog, you’ll see a fair number of ‘first in series’ new releases and very few Book 10 in the series, unless it’s mysteries.  That’s why so many are new series and in many cases, new authors.  I stopped reading Sookie Stackhouse years ago and several others I gave up on, but this emergence of new crop of authors and new series has me back and enjoying paranormal and fantasy more than ever.

So here are four very different styles of paranormal heroines and my take on the books, starting with two ‘oldies’ and moving to 2 new series.

  • Title: Disappearing Nightly
  • Author:  Laura Resnick
  • Type:  Paranormal – UF; Esther Diamond Book #1
  • Genre:  A aspiring actress in NYC encounters magic, evil and a sexy cop
  • Sub-genre:  Reluctant heroine is drawn in a mystery surrounding disappearing assistants in magic acts when she’s up next
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel 90,000 words – out of print but likely to be re-released
  • Where Available:  Used online at Amazon, Alibris, half.com etc
  • FTC Disclosure:  acquired book from book swapping site

Ester Diamond is finally in a position to take the lead in an off-Broadway play written around a so-so magician Joe Herlihy when the spoiled pop star diva Golly Gee disappears during a magic trick.  Esther starts getting notes telling her to not do the trick because Evil is is “among us”.   reporting to Detective Connor Lopez, the cop who came to the theater when Golly Gee disappeared has no time for Ester’s worries about the notes referring to ‘Evil among us.’  Esther is a nervous wreck by the time she’s to debut.  Especially since she’s learned of 2 other women that have disappeared doing similar tricks.  Then a short, pudgy, elderly man materializes in her dressing room as she fakes illness – not entirely fake, but she can’t tell Joe’s wife and producer she’s just too scared to do the disappearing trick in the big finale.

Having a white haired man materialize in your closed and locked dressing room is not something that soothes the nerves, but after a bit Esther stops panicking listens to him and learns many things she’s not quite certain she believes – namely that her visitor, Max, is, well, sort of magical.  Together they begin to investigate other ‘disappearances’.  Then Max gets called to the Pony Expressive when Sexy Samson becomes the latest victim.  Pretty soon cross dressing gay men, Cowboy Duke and his daughter, and scion of an old NY banking family are all working together to find out what’s going on.  Max’s assistant, the surly Hieronymus, wants nothing to do with any of them and does his own work.

The book moves rapidly and with a lot of verve and entertainment, as Esther tries to save the play, her job (good luck with that), find out who is causing the disappearances, and hopefully find all the missing people.  The solution had an expected villain, but a clever ending, more importantly, it was just a fun read.

Obviously, there is no way to say if Disappearing Nightly worth the price as the book is out of print.  It isn’t worth more than $10 including shipping, so if you find it at a used book store or online, then enjoy.  It is a trade size book.    But should it be released in mass market, go for it along with book two, Dopplegangster, her best entry to date.

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  • Title: Once Bitten, Twice Shy
  • Author:  Jennifer rardin
  • Type:  Paranormal – UF; Jaz Parks Book #1
  • Genre:  Paranormal enforcer partnered with old vampire
  • Sub-genre:  Jaz has to keep her together under the too shrewd eyes of her partner Vayl while hunting out of control vamp
  • My Grade: C (3*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel 90,000 words in trade paperback around $10 and mmpb for $7.99, discounts available
  • Where Available:  At any bookstore and online
  • FTC Disclosure:  acquired book from book swapping site

This interesting, but rather derivative and predictable first book got a bit garbled a few times, but for a first time author, it was a solid read that went quickly.   Ms Rardin might not have broken any new ground, but she a good job of creating an appealing tough girl lead with the a past that haunts her and causes blackouts she’s been trying to hide from her all too observant vampire partner.

Jaz Parks once lead a tight knit group of vampire slayers, till one night, her people were caught in a trap and she lost most of them.  Her twin brother has yet to forgive her since the woman he loved was among those killed.  Now she works for others, alone, as a vamp assassin to take down rogue vampires.  Until her boss sends her out with a partner, a very old and slightly mysterious vamp, Vayl.  The blackouts she suffers come on suddenly and leave her helpless and unable to recall what she might have done and as partner to a vamp, she expected to protect him during daylight hours.  This partnership has Jaz worried on several levels.

The weak spots here are several.  The world building is weak and the backstory about the big the trauma is overdone, as is Jaz’s overblown emotional reaction.  As a character, she drifts around two very different personas, one a competent professional and the other an over-the-top emotional wreck.  Vayl is flat – if 300+ year old vampires can be ‘lifeless’, no pun intended, this character is.  It seems to be his character is deliberately underplayed and understated, but he often comes off as weak rather than mysterious with hidden depths.  His vicious ex-wife is OTT villain.  I guess that’s the real problem, the characters just don’t seem to balance each other very well.

I’m left feeling somewhat ambivalent about this book.  It was a quick read, and the plot was decent, but lack of depth and balance to the characters was distracting.  The ‘twin link’ thing was another issue for me, because that whole bit seemed so pat.  Taken all together, it was lightweight, mindless entertainment.

Is Once Bitten, Twice Shy worth $7.99?  Marginal.  There are better series out there.  I will finish this one since I have all the books, but I’m glad I got most for free.

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  • Title: Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate)
  • Author:  Gail Carriger
  • Type:  Paranormal – Steampunk
  • Genre:  A lady teams up with an Alpha werewolf in Victorian London; Steampunk meets Amanda Quick
  • Sub-genre:  Stylish and stylized story of a society lady who has hidden her preternatural status from family, accidentally kills a baby vamp and sets of an investigation in the supernatural community
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel 90,000 words for $7.99 discounts available
  • Where Available:  Used online or at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  acquired book from book swapping site

Soulless, a change of pace costume paranormal, is pure Steampunk and very well done.  The writing style lends a sense of time and place to the story that unfolds in an alternate London where Supernaturals are known and live in society blended with the kind of scientific inventions often envisioned by H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.  As a genre, Steampunk isn’t a big favorite of mine, but this book was just so well done, I was impressed and happy to reevaluate my negative impression of the genre overall.

Ms. Carriger creates a heroine that is reminiscent of the feisty ladies in Amanda Quick’s earlier books, like Ravished and Mistress.  Clever, independent, inquisitive, headstrong, a bit ‘long in tooth’ for marriage, and not considered beauties.  It funny, fun, with complex characters that are well developed set in a world that has shape and form.  It isn’t groundbreaking or strong enough to mark a watershed in a genre, but it is an excellent book that has earned well deserved praise from readers and critics.  Like all of its kind, it’s has ‘stagy’ elements and author harps on Alexia’s looks and eccentricities way too much, but it still came off well done.   Normally, the dated and formal writing style would be an annoying affectation that’s off-putting, but used here with suitable settings, it adds to the atmosphere and vib of the book.

Alexia Tarabotti is a very rare creature – a pretennatural, a person born with no soul.  (Supernaturals, like vampires and werewolves, have excess soul.) As the daughter of an Italian nobleman, Alexia finds herself very out of place in London Society, not because of her ‘condition’, something even her mother knows nothing of, but because she inherited more than her father’s lack of soul, she inherited his Roman nose, olive skin, and dark hair, making her very undesirable bride material.  (A fact that will be driven home way too often.)  That suits the independent blue stocking just fine.  What doesn’t suit her is the lack of refreshment at the ball she is attending with her mother and younger half sisters.   Having a reputation for eccentricity has it benefits.  Not finding enough food, Alexia simply orders the servants to provide her tea and light food in the library.  This is not her house, nor her servants, but she’s hungry!

Alexia’s plans go awry when a starving vampire surprises her.  He attacks her, which makes no sense at all.  All baby vamps are kept near their maker and taught early that they cannot prey on pertennaturals.  Once they touch one, they lose all their supernatural abilities.  There are very, very few pertennaturals, but still, no responsible maker would ever let a baby vamp out starving and obviously untrained!  Hunger drives the vamp to attack her even after his fangs disappear the first time.  In the struggle, Alexia accidentally kills him with her parasol.  She fakes a faint and soon enough she hears the dark voice of Lord Connal Maccon, the Alpha of the werewolves and Queen Victoria’s appointed head of the department that oversees all Supernaturals and Pertennaturals, calmly calls her on her fakery.  Soon Alexia finds herself and her insatiable curiosity embroiled in an investigation of disappearing lone wolves and stray baby vamps.

With interesting, if somewhat stock personalities, in the secondary characters, Alexia manages to get herself and Lord Maccon into trouble with ‘mad scientists’.  Billed as a ‘comedy of manners’, Soulless really does come off as Amanda Quick does Steampunk with a touch of Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody.  A fun read.

Is Soulless worth $7.99?  Yes it is, especially for those who enjoy something a little offbeat.  I’m till not sure I buy into the definitions of ‘soul’ used here, but that philosophical argument did nothing to undermine my enjoyment of the story.

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  • Title: Right Hand Magic
  • Author:  Nancy A Collins
  • Type:  Paranormal – UF; A Novel of Golgotham Book #1
  • Genre:  Artist in NYC takes an apartment in the magical part of the city with a magician landlord
  • Sub-genre:  Magic meets blood sport in a battle between a magical mob boss and the son of a magical queen
  • My Grade: C- (2.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel 90,000 words for $6.99
  • Where Available:  Available online and in many bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased online

Tate is a sculptor in NYC and an heiress to a huge fortune, something she keeps pretty much to herself.  She has a trust fund, but it doesn’t pay enough to buy the kind of space a sculptor needs to work.  Having found her so called fiance having a nooner in her loft bedroom when she returned early from a trip, makes moving more important.  Time to put it all behind her.  So seeing an ad for a loft in Golgotham, that part of NYC set aside as a city within the city where the magical people dwell, makes her hesitate, but the price is just too good to pass up at least checking it out.

Hexe is a warlock that believes in ‘right hand magic’, that is no negative or destructive magic, including curses.  He’s a healer and despite his apparent youth, highly respected.  But he needs to rent rooms to make ends meet.  Right hand magic doesn’t pay as well as left hand magic.  He might welcome a full human into his house, but Tate is less than welcome in parts of Golgatham.  Parts of this ‘other’ city are open to tourists and those who pay for curses and charms, but in their own private parts, she finds herself less welcome, especially when she’s not with Hexe.

Wandering in the shared garden behind the house late one night, Tate is attacked by a were-panther, normally a wild breed that never leaves it’s natural territory.  The shifter is very young and injured.  Hexe takes him in, hides him from a evil mob boss Martz, and heals his his damaged paws.  At this point, there are about 4 -5 different story lines moving along, but none of them seem to to shape the direction of the book or fill out enough to make it the primary story line.  Instead of railroad tracks to a destination, we have a bowl of spaghetti.

Right Hand Magic has an interesting premise that never quite gels.  The story is choppy and you find yourself moving between what feels like stage sets for scenes that play well and then get this slender thread tying them together.  The plot just never gets going in any real direction.  The characters stay 2 dimensional, even Hexe and Tate, and the uneven story doesn’t develop the necessary tension to make the big denouement work.

Was Right Hand Magic worth $6.99?  Not really.  Get it used, borrow it, or get it from a friend.  There are just too many good series out there to bother with this one.

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