Monday Reads: Fearless by Elliott James

I told you that I was behind on my book reviews, right? Well, here’s another attempt at catching up…

5131qQfnfSL._SX331_BO1204203200_Fearless: Pax Arcana #3
by Elliott James
narrated by Roger Wayne
(urban fantasy, paranormal)

Did I mention that I loved these novels? Because that should be a bit obvious by the fact that I listened to all three novels and read all 7 short stories within about a two week period. And now… well, now I have to wait until the next one comes out. I think of the lot, I liked this third novel the most. (It’s a close call between this one and CHARMING, the first novel, but I think this one wins.) There’s enough new stuff to keep the reader guessing, but there’s also plenty of continued plot without needing to re-explain everything. I think James has found his stride with these books, and could keep writing many more to come. (I certainly hope so, as long as he continues to find ways to keep them fresh. Based on the differing ideas and plots present in all 10 stories – counting the shorts – I think he has a good shot at that.)

Anyway, this specific plot… I think I can talk about it a little without getting into spoiler territory. I will certainly try.

So, John Charming and friends are called in to help find a missing teen who vanished in paranormal circumstances. In discovering her killer, the team also discovers that she was not the true target, whom they seek out and try to protect. They discover a sinister virgin sacrifice plot, and John and Sig go undercover in a paranormal gladiator ring to stop the bad guy. In the meantime, we meet many new types of paranormal creatures, including as an oni, a kitsuni, and a jinn (since this was audio, I’m not sure which spelling of the word James used). It’s great fun seeing more types of paranormal creatures than just the standard werewolves and vampires.

I also enjoyed the way John learns (or tries to learn) how to work as a part of a team instead of continuing to be a lone wolf. It speaks well of the potential longevity of the series that the main character is growing and developing right from the start. Yes, he still has lots of room for growth, but it’s nice to see that growth there from the beginning of the series.

The secondary characters are also all developing nicely. Granted, that development might not always be considered growth, but it is change and that is good. Also, it was fun to see more of Sarah (from the short story “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls”) in this story, and to see some of her powers more fully. Though I do hope she returns more later, especially if we learn more about her bakery magic. That seems really neat to me.

So – yeah. This is a fun series, and I will keep reading (listening, probably) to it for some time to come, if I have anything to say about it.

Wednesday Reads: Daring by Elliott James

(Since I am behind on my book reviews, you get a bonus Wednesday book review this week! Yay!)

20454084Daring: Pax Arcana #2
by Elliott James
narrated by Roger Wayne
(urban fantasy, paranormal)

This is book #2 in the Pax Arcana series, and is another fun romp in the world that Elliott James has created. I do prefer book 1 slightly to book 2, though part of that is because everything is brand new in book 1 and book 2 is missing a lot of the discovery that comes with a new series. (It happens with almost every series for me. It’s rare that I like the second book in a series as much as the first.) I also like book 1’s secondary characters more than book 2. Not that the secondary characters from book 1 aren’t in book 2, just that they’re not in it nearly as much as in the prior book.

About the second book’s plot: John Charming spends most of this book getting in touch with his werewolf side. It’s fun, and it’s nice to see him not knowing things, having to learn to grow in new and different ways. The bad guy in this book (no spoilers) is both predictable and a complete surprise, all at the same time. Going into more detail would be spoilery, so let me just say that I approve of the bad guy twist and reveal. It worked really well for me.

The narration was still perfect for the series. Roger’s voice is great for the sarcasm that is a huge part of John’s character, and his delivery is great. The pacing works well for audio books too, which isn’t always true of a book or series. I’m very pleased with listening to these books instead of reading them for myself, and I think I will continue to do just that.

If you decide to pick up this series, I would highly recommend starting with book 1, since there are a lot of details that you would miss if you started with book 2. You could start here if you really wanted, though, and I think you would get all the background information that you need, if not all the background information you might want. These are fast reads though (due to the pacing, not because they’re abnormally short), so you wouldn’t lose much time by reading both books.

One other thing to keep in mind is that while this book is about werewolves, these are not the paranormal romance style of werewolves. I had thought from book 1 that this series might turn into a paranormal romance series, but it has stayed firmly in the urban fantasy genre. (I’m about 2/3 of the way through book 3 at this point, so I feel confident in saying this.) These werewolves aren’t hyper-sexual, or focused on finding a perfect soulmate, or anything of that sort. They are humans who change into wolves. They heal fast. They are stronger and faster than normal humans. And they have the same basic personalities as normal humans. They aren’t all alpha males, they don’t have one and only one true love they would do anything for, and they aren’t hard-wired for loyalty. They are still human. And man, that is so incredibly refreshing.

Friday Reads: Charming by Elliott James

17333338Charming: Pax Arcana #1
by Elliott James
narrated by Roger Wayne
(contemporary/urban fantasy, paranormal light romance)

I really enjoyed this book. The blurb on Audible intrigued me (I think it was one of their recommendations for me) and so I bought it a while back, but didn’t listen to it until just recently. I’m glad I did! This was one of the more enjoyable books I’ve read/listened to lately. In many ways it reminds me of the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne – even the narrator has a similar ease of listenability (yes, I make up words) to Luke Daniels. Roger Wayne’s voice fits the tone of the Charming series so well that I don’t know if I will be able to listen to him read anything with a similar theme to it. (I certainly have that difficulty with Luke Daniels.)

Anyway, about the book itself. The basic background is that there is magic and paranormal creatures in our world, but a spell called the Pax Arcana prevents normal humans from noticing or remembering anything paranormal. The Knights Templar (along with a few other similar organizations) were recruited to uphold this spell and prevent any paranormal creatures from acting up badly enough to threaten the Pax Arcana. John Charming, our hero, served as a Knight, up until the day when it was discovered he had werewolf blood. (It’s complicated, and the book does a good job of explaining it, if you’re curious.) After that, the Knights stopped considering him a member, and started considering him a threat. Good backstory, and nicely explained in a way I found entertaining instead of boring.

This book’s plot deals with a vampire nest that is threatening the area where John is currently living, as well as a group of monster hunters that get John to start living and interacting with people again instead of merely existing. I have the feeling that the series plot will deal more with John’s possible reconciliation with the Knights, since that was brought up in this book but is way too big an issue to deal with quickly.

I do recommend this book for paranormal fans, especially those who want something a little closer to urban fantasy in their paranormals. There is a romance element in this book, but nothing that even starts to get explicit. I like having another option for paranormal books that I can share and discuss with my family without blushing. I imagine that it would be fun to read for yourself, though I enjoyed the audio version of the book instead. If you’re into audiobooks, this is a good one to pick up. The character names are all distinct enough that listening to them spoken isn’t confusing, and Roger does a respectable job of giving each character a distinct voice so that you can pick out who is speaking. I am already 2/3 of the way through book two, and am about to buy book three (audiobooks in both cases), so that should say something about how much I am enjoying the series.

Friday Reads: Crash by Eve Silver

17667952Crash: The Game, book 3
by Eve Silver
narrated by Amy Rubinate
(YA, contemporary science fantasy)

This is the much-anticipated (by me and other fans, anyway) conclusion to Eve Silver’s The Game series. I didn’t pay attention to whether or not you could start here instead of at book 1, because I didn’t even consider that as an option at the time. I personally don’t think you would have any conceivable reason for starting this series with book 3. The books are standard novel-length, and there are only three of them, so there’s no excuse for starting mid-way through. And with this series you will definitely miss A LOT if you start anywhere other than the beginning. Besides, they’re fun reads, so why wouldn’t you want to start at the top?

However, there’s not much specific I can say about this particular book without getting into major spoiler territory. I’ll do what I can, but please excuse the vagueness of the review. I enjoyed the series enough that I want to encourage others to read it, which means avoiding spoilers is important to me.

So: this book does a good job of tying everything up neatly, without making the ending a “Happily Ever After”. Don’t get me wrong – this doesn’t mean that the ending is sad, or unfulfilling, or wrong in any way. I think the ending was a great fit for the series. What I mean by that is that the ending isn’t a stop – you can see where the characters will keep going after the final page. It’s not one of those action books where the action comes to a dead stop on the last page. The series plot has concluded by the end of the novel, but the characters have not. There is still more for them to do, more to experience, more LIFE left in them. I really appreciated that. Even though the series is done, I love when endings feel realistic. Just as you should get the impression that characters had a life before the first page of book one, you should also feel that they keep going after the last page of the final book.

I also enjoyed the way some of the questions were answered. There were questions the main characters had in the first two books which I wasn’t sure were ever going to be answered, but at least most of them were tied up in this book. It was a good ride emotionally, too. There were some happy moments, some sad moments, some bittersweet moments. It seemed to have a really good balance all around.

So – I’m quite satisfied with the way this series concluded. I will certainly be picking up more of Eve Silver’s work. (I greatly enjoyed DRIVEN and HIDDEN (written as Eve Kenin) when I read them several years back, too. I really miss the Shomi line.) I also think this is a series I can easily recommend to any fans of the genre – it’s something adults and teens can all easily approach and get into. Part of me is sad that the series is now done, but I think that making it more than a trilogy wouldn’t have served the story as well. And yes, it’s open for a possible sequel series, but I don’t think it’s needed to conclude this one. A sequel series would end up being its own series, and not merely a continuation of this one… which is as it should be.

Friday Reads: Indexing

  Indexing
by Seanan McGuire
narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal
(urban fantasy, fairy tale re-telling)

This is my new favorite book. Let me just get that out there right now. I don’t think it’s a series yet, and I’m not sure if there are plans to make it one or not, but I don’t care. The book is a ton of fun, and has such fun twists on stories we already know and love. The best part is that it doesn’t just re-tell one story; it re-tells MOST of them. And with twists. Lots of twists.

As a basic recap of the very beginning of the book, the premise is that fairy tales happen in our world thanks to the influence of “The Narrative,” which wants the stories to be told. It will twist stories to fit the circumstances at hand. For instance, the “poisoned apple” that Snow White eats might really be a cup of pre-packaged applesauce. Or the “spindle” that Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger on might be a hypodermic needle. And the three bears might just end up in a backyard if that’s where they need to be in order to encounter Goldilocks. However, we don’t know about these incursions of fairy tale into reality because there’s a government agency protecting us from it – and nearly all of the people who work for the Agency belong to one fairy tale or another.

The premise alone is enough to make me happy, but the execution of the novel was superb. Some of the twists were obvious, and others caught me completely off guard. I found no fault with the writing itself (even though I was listening to it and not reading it for myself) and the narration was incredible. Each of the characters had a distinct voice, even to the point of being able to tell when some characters were “more normal” or “more story”.

If you listen to audiobooks, this is definitely one to grab. If you don’t, pick up the book form. And know that I am jealous, because you will be reading it for the first time and I can’t do that again. I can re-read (or re-listen to) this book as many times as I want, but it won’t have the same impact that you will get as a first-time reader.

This is going on my keeper shelf. And I am seriously thinking about picking up a paperback copy also, so that when I re-read it, I can read that copy and see what I get from it that I didn’t get from the audiobook version.

Friday Reads: Timebound by Rysa Walker

TimeBound (Chronos Files #1)
by Rysa Walker
narrated by Kate Rudd
(contemporary fantasy, time travel, historical fiction)

I have a lot to say about this novel. First thing: it is LONG. Frankly, too long. I enjoyed the premise. I liked the characters. But about half-way through the audiobook, I stopped caring about them because it was long and the pacing slowed down and I got bored. Eventually, I started listening again. And I got a bit further. And then I got bored again. And then I got the paper version out of the library and skimmed the ending so that at least I’d know what happened without having to slog through the rest of the audiobook. (While I love listening to books because then I can multi-task, I do sometimes get annoyed that I have to go at the reader’s speed. And yes, I know that I can listen at 1.5 or 2 times the speed and still understand the text. But then you miss the nuance of the reader’s performance, and so why bother?)

Anyway. That was only one comment I had, and the one that I feel is the most important to start with. Second thing: the premise is awesome. Just the same way that the “Back To The Future” movie premise is awesome, where you have to prevent actions taken by someone who time traveled to the past in order to keep yourself alive. Awesome idea, and this version of the idea was well crafted. Rysa did a great job on her plotting and worldbuilding. I do think that the novel itself needed some trimming – both for the length and to make the secondary plot more secondary – but that shouldn’t diminish the great initial idea.

Third thing: the characters. Some were awesome, some were good, some were merely okay. This is pretty standard, sure. For instance: there’s one point where Kate has a cat fight with another girl about her age. Said other girl seems pretty stereotypical “teenage girl baddie”. Nothing extraordinary. On the other hand, Kate’s main love interest for this book is rather well developed and doesn’t seem to be nearly as standard. (I’m not saying who, because it looks like there will be a love triangle in this series, and I’d rather you read it for yourself if you choose to, than have me tell you which guy is the boyfriend of choice in this book.) Kate herself is well developed, if sometimes a bit of a stereotype, and her grandmother is a really fun character. I really enjoy her.

I did like the narration for the book, but as I mentioned – when the book got slow, I just couldn’t keep going at the narrator’s pace and had to have the ability to skim it. I’ll certainly be open to trying more of Kate Rudd’s reads in the future, however.

Final rating for this one: probably a B minus. Good, but not great, and I’m not sold on continuing with the series. I think I heard rumors of a movie, though, and that could be worth it, depending on the screenplay.

Friday Reads: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
by Ian Fleming
narrated by David Tennant
(fantasy, children’s fiction)

First off, I guess I need to say that I love the movie version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Always have. It’s just good clean family fun, and I suppose it can be considered a movie musical. (I never really thought of it that way, but I suppose it is.) And I love the music for it, so that’s helpful. And second, I have to say that I have read the book before, too. So I knew what was going to happen in this audiobook before it did.

But it was still worth the listen. (For those who are already fans of the book, I suppose I should have started that sentence instead like this: “But. But… and again but!” And my apologies that the punctuation may not match what is in print. It’s hard to tell punctuation from an audiobook.)

As to the audiobook version specifically, David Tennant is a joy to listen to. And somehow, while I love him as Doctor Who, I can listen to him read a non-Who audiobook without thinking that the Doctor is reading me a story. I’ve listened to several of his audiobooks now, and the only ones that have felt like Doctor Who to me have been the Doctor Who books. (However, if you WANT the Doctor to read you a story, David Tennant uses an accent very similar to his Doctor for audiobook narration so you can have that your way, too.)

And the book itself? Well, I love how much more of a character Chitty is in the book than the movie. In the movie, yes: she’s a magical car. But she’s a magical car that is mostly put together by Mr. Potts. In the book… well. She has plenty of magic without any help at all. I do love that in both versions Chitty needs rescuing from the scrap heap.

There are times during the book that I was reminded that it was an older book, but that was mostly due to the way things were described or the way people acted. For the most part, the book stands the test of time without any need for a reminder of the time period. The British terms are also not hard to pick up, and I think even children (who the book was written for, after all) would find both the time period difference and (since I’m American, I’m talking about American children here) the cultural differences easy enough to follow. Mr. Flemming does a great job of explaining the things that might be odd, and the rest can be inferred easily from context.

This is a great story. You can see the same imagination here that created all those spy stories, even though it has a very different tone from Bond. The action parts are well-paced, and his use of sounds is wonderful. I highly recommend it for all ages.