Friday, 25 June 2010

Coyote Dreams (Walker Papers #3) by C.E. Murphy

Title: Coyote Dreams
Author: C.E. Murphy
Series: Walker Papers #3
Rating: ★★★★
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Description: (From Goodreads) Much of the city can't wake up. And more are dozing off each day.

Instead of powerful forces storming Seattle, a more insidious invasion is happening. Most of Joanne Walker's fellow cops are down with the blue flu—or rather the blue sleep. Yet there's no physical cause anyone can point to—and it keeps spreading.

It has to be magical, Joanne figures. But what's up with the crazy dreams that hit her every time she closes her eyes? Are they being sent by Coyote, her still-missing spirit guide? The messages just aren't clear.

Somehow Joanne has to wake up her sleeping friends while protecting those still awake, figure out her inner-spirit
dream life and, yeah, come to terms with these other dreams she's having about her boss...

Coyote Dreams kicks of a couple of weeks after Thunderbird Falls finishes, and it starts with a manic first chapter. Joanne wakes up in bed with a guy she doesn’t recognise, only to have her friend Gary turn up at her apartment door followed by the mother and daughter she helped out in Thunderbird Falls, and then her boss Morrison. By the end of the chapter, Joanne is more than a little freaked out and that is when the author introduces the premise – Joanne’s friend Billy is in the hospital because no-one can wake him up.

In terms of a big bad, sending people to sleep doesn’t seem that big of a deal and the book is lower on action than the previous two installments in this series. There isn't something Joanne can physically fight until the last quarter of the book, and even then it spends most of its time running away.

The supporting cast I've grown to love are still here, although Billy spends most of the book asleep. Gary is still a big part of Joanne's life, and her feelings towards Morrison come to a head leaving Joanne to deal with that shift in her world. The book has a little comic relief when Billy Holliday's brother Brad shows up - he's a doctor, and as Joanne herself points out Billy got stuck with his name, but Doc Holliday he did to himself.

Joanne is a lot more focused when it comes to her shamanic powers, although her spirit guide Coyote is still missing. Joanne has been using her powers to help Gary recover from his heart attack, and she's becoming more at ease with her gifts.

A huge part of this book comes down to the consequences of Joanne's earlier actions in the previous books Urban Shaman and Thunderbird Falls, and the book lost a star because I figured out who the bad guy was quite a bit before Joanne does, and this bugged me a little. However, I'm still looking forward to the next installment in Joanne's adventures.

Content description

Sex and nudity - A character wakes up naked and in bed with a guy she doesn't recognise, although she figures out that nothing happened between them.
Violence and gore - Occasional until last quarter or so of book where it becomes more frequent and descriptive.
Alcohol and drugs - A character wakes up after drinking a large quantity of alcohol and can't remember most of the previous night.
Profanity - Occasional mild-to-moderate.
Frightening/intense scenes - Characters fall asleep and are stuck there.

Thunderbird Falls (Walker Papers #2) by C.E. Murphy

Title: Thunderbird Falls
Author: C.E. Murphy
Series: Walker Papers #2
Rating: ★★★★★
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Description: (From Goodreads) It's the end of the world . . . Again.

For all the bodies she's encountering, you'd think beat cop Joanne Walker works in Homicide. But no, Joanne's a reluctant shaman who last saved mankind three months ago -- surely she deserves more of a break! Yet, incredibly, "Armageddon, take two" is mere days away.

There's not a minute to waste.

Yet when her spirit guide inexplicably disappears, Joanne needs help from other sources. Especially after she accidentally unleashes Lower World demons on Seattle. Damn. With the mother of all showdowns gathering force, it's the worst possible moment for Joanne to realize she should have learned more about controlling her powers.

This is the second in the Walker Papers series, and picks up a few months after the events of Urban Shaman. Joanne is still struggling to reconcile her beliefs with her new shamanic powers, although she's begun to use them frequently to help with minor things - like fixing her co-worker's papercuts with a handshake etc.

Like Urban Shaman, Thunderbird Falls kicks of with the action. After her fencing lesson, Joanne finds a dead body in the showers. Using her shamanic powers to try to contact the dead girl's soul in the Dead Zone, Joanne loses control when a snake demon enters and takes her spirit guide Coyote away. When Joanne wakes up in the real world, she's horrified to find she actually brought a snake back with her into the physical world.

Pursuing the case against her boss Morrison's wishes, Joanne stumbles onto a coven who claim to be working to reset the balance and begins working with them once she realises the balance was thrown out by her actions in fighting the Wild Hunt in the last book. This means that we not only see Joanne learning more about her shamanic powers, but she also begins to use witchcraft as well.

The supporting characters I came to love in Urban Shaman are still in Joanne's life. Cabby Gary Muldoon has a heart attack, which leaves Joanne shocked and struggling to cope without his down-to-earth advice and making some stupid choices. Billy Holliday is still around, and his wife Mel and their herd of kids are introduced.

All in all this was a brilliant follow-up to Urban Shaman. Joanne's storyline advanced, continuing on from Urban Shaman smoothly and once again I was left wanting more.

Content description
Sex and nudity - A sexual ritual is suggested but rejected, although some pressure is applied.
Violence and gore - Infrequent but graphic.
Alcohol and drugs - A character is seen in the middle of cancer treatments.
Profanity - Infrequent mild, once strong.
Frightening/intense scenes - A corpse is described in detail. The battle with a snake demon at the end of the book is quite intense, as are the memories described by a character of their initial contact with the demon. A character suffering from cancer is described in detail.

Urban Shaman (Walker Papers #1) by C.E. Murphy

Title: Urban Shaman
Author: C.E. Murphy
Series: Walker Papers #1
Rating: ★★★★★
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Description: (From Goodreads) Joanne Walker has three days to learn to use her shamanic powers and save the world from the unleashed Wild Hunt.
No worries. No pressure. Nevermind the lack of sleep, the perplexing new talent for healing from fatal wounds, or the cryptic, talking coyote who appears in her dreams.

And if all that's not bad enough, in the three years Joanne's been a cop, she's never seen a dead body -- but she's just come across her second in three days.

It's been a bitch of a week. And it isn't over yet.

Urban Shaman was one of those books I'd been hearing good things about for years before I finally got around to picking up a copy. One of the reasons I'd been putting it off was that at the start of the book, the protagonist Joanne Walker is portrayed as a sarcastic part-Native American mechanic with kick-butt tendencies. This is all well-and-good, but switch out the name and you could be describing Mercy Thompson from Patricia Briggs' books. Thankfully, the similarities between Joanne and Mercy end at that superficial level.

Joanne works as a mechanic for the Seattle police force, and after a prolonged leave of absence returns to find herself reassigned as a beat cop, much to her horror. Not only that, but from the plane she sees a woman in trouble and goes to investigate. This brings her into contact with Gary Muldoon, the taxi driver whose cab she gets in. Together they stumble across the Wild Hunt, a supernatural force that has been unleashed on downtown Seattle, and also onto Joanne's hidden shamanic powers.

The premise of the book lends itself well to the level of action. Joanne has three days to learn to use her shamanic powers and banish the Hunt, and as someone who didn't believe in the paranormal at all, it's a lot for her to get her head round. The book doesn't slow down at any point - it starts off action-packed and manages to sustain this throughout.

I loved the supporting characters as they really helped the story move along, and I especially enjoyed the unfortunately named Billy Holliday - the cross-dressing detective with experience with the paranormal. Not only that, but the book was far more factual than I expected - the information on shamanism and the Wild Hunt tends to be accurate, and this really helps the story stay grounded in urban fantasy rather than shooting off into the pure fantasy genre.

To be blunt, this book blew me away! It managed to cover all my favourite aspects of urban fantasy, and left me wanting more.

Content description

Sex and nudity - None
Violence and gore - Infrequent but quite graphic. A character is stabbed through the lung, and receives multiple other injuries both physically and metaphysically. Four teenagers are killed at their school, and their teacher wounded.
Alcohol and drugs - None
Profanity - Occasional mild swearing.
Frightening/intense scenes - Given the short timescale of the book, the action is quite intense throughout. The attack at the school could be quite frightening to some, and the scenes where the Wild Hunt is featured are all intense.

The Bronte Project by Jennifer Vandever

Title: The Bronte Project
Author: Jennifer Vandever
Rating: ★★
Genre: Chick lit
Description: (From Amazon) "As to intense passion, I am convinced that it is no desirable feeling" - Charlotte Bronte, 1840. Shy young scholar Sara Frost's unsuccessful search for the lost love letters of Charlotte Bronte hasn't won her any favours at her university, particularly now the glamorous new Head of Princess Diana Studies has introduced her media-savvy exploits to the staid halls of academia. But, it's not until Sara's fiance suddenly leaves her that she begins to question her life's vocation. How can she reconcile the mythology of romance with the harsh reality of modern love? As she tentatively re-enters the dating scene, Sara is to discover that the life and writings of Charlotte Bronte have more to teach her than she could ever have guessed about the perils and pitfalls of the 21st-century relationship game.

I picked this book up in a sale of old library stock, and I am so glad I only spent 20p on it. This book pretty much embodied some of the worst stereotypes associated with the chick lit genre, which was really disappointing as the premise of comparing the standards of 18th century romantic fiction with the reality of modern relationships sounded great. I like the Bronte's books which is the main reason why I picked this one up, however the book actually mocks people who are looking for that depth of connection (like that between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, or Cathy and Heathcliff) which really shocked me. Loving classical romantic fiction doesn't make you naive or stupid, although the book clearly implies that it does.

The characters were two-dimensional and uninteresting, and in fact were more like cardboard cutouts than real people. You have the main character Sara who is immature and unrealistic, not to mention really stupid and doormat like - but still desired by all men, except the one she wants (of course). Then there's Claire, the slutty friend/enemy who is either trying to destory Sara's life or trying to fix it. The three love interests are portrayed very much as the uninterested jerk, the noncommital sex object and the loaded Mr. Perfect.

The Bronte's take a complete backseat in the book to Princess Diana references. Yes it was a tragedy when she died, and yes it was completely unexpected, but to resort to reiterating the gossip and lies made in the tabloids is just crass, not to mention pointless.

The book also had seemingly pointless controversial scenes thrown in, which just detracted from the storyline - flings between teachers and students, religiously provocative art, suicide attempts, none of which contributed to the story and some threw the characterisation out completely.

The only reason this book got a second star was that the extracts from Charlotte Bronte’s letters were well-placed and did give hints as to what was likely to happen in each chapter. It was interesting to read the little snippets, and they did give a little insight into Charlotte Bronte's world however if that is an area of interest for you I suggest that you find a book purely of the letters rather than reading this.

Content description

Sex and nudity - Quite frequent but not particularly graphic. It is, however, very clear that a character involved in some of the scenes is not emotionally interested which may bother some people. There is also mention of a lesbian relationship between a lecturer and college student, which ends badly.
Violence and gore - There is a quite graphic description of a sculpture of childbirth where the child is in fact a dead pig foetus.
Alcohol and drugs - Alcohol is consumed frequently, and one character is a reformed drug addict who begins using again during the course of the book.
Profanity - Infrequent and mild.
Frightening/intense scenes - A suicide attempt is mentioned in passing with little sympathy, and some may find the above mentioned sculpture offensive or frightening. Abortion is also mentioned in passing.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games (Hunger Games #1)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Rating: ★★★★★
Genre: Young adult, sci-fi, dystopia
Description: (From Goodreads) In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.


Rarely does a book live up to the hype for me - and this was recommended to me by so many people that I had really high expectations going in - but this book just blew me away. It was amazing. I was hooked right from the beginning and I ran through an entire gamut of emotions while reading this. There were parts when I was so nervous I could actually feel my stomach clenching, another part had me sniffling into a tissue as I tried to keep reading, and the ending literally made me want to scream. I don’t think I’ve had another book affect me this strongly in recent memory. Despite the fact that it was not only in first-person, but also in present tense, I didn’t have any issues getting into it. And that’s saying something because there was a time in my life that if I picked up a book off the shelf and noticed it was in first-person POV, I would put it back down without giving it a chance. I’m so glad that I finally decided to read this book.

When I first read the description, I did notice the similarities to the idea behind “Battle Royale,” a Japanese novel that was turned into both a series of graphic novels and a film. I haven’t actually read “Battle Royale” yet, but I’d heard enough about it that it immediately came to mind when I initially read the description of “The Hunger Games.” I can’t say how similar the books might be to each other for obvious reasons, but I do plan on reading “Battle Royale” in the future and I’ll make my judgment then.

As for the this book, the setting is Panem, which is what remains of North America after a series of natural disasters nearly destroyed the entire continent. Initially the remnants were separated into 13 districts surrounding the Capitol, the central city and home to the President and other officials. During an uprising against the Capitol, twelve of the districts were defeated and the thirteenth was completely annihilated. Now, as a reminder of the Capitol’s supremacy, there is a yearly event referred to as “The Hunger Games.” Each district has to offer two tributes, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18, picked at random in a type of raffle. The twenty-four kids are then sent into an arena to battle it out to the death. Both the winner and the district he or she comes from are rewarded with money, prizes, and prestige. Because some districts are used to winning and consider it an honor to participate in the Games, people regularly volunteer in place of whoever’s name was originally drawn.

In the 40 years that the Games have been going on, District 12 has only ever had one winner. This district, which is where the heroine is from, is basically the laughingstock of all of the others. Most of the residents are dirt poor and people regularly starve to death from the shortage of food. Many are probably not happy to call District 12 home, but the condition of her district and her family’s lack of finances has forced Katniss to become a hunter to keep her family fed.

When Katniss was younger, her father taught her some basic hunting skills and how to forage for fruits, vegetables, and useful plants/roots before his death in a mine explosion. Now, though it’s forbidden and punishable by death, Katniss and her friend Gale regularly hunt the forest surrounding their district and trade their kills/finds for money and supplies. The book starts off with Katniss meeting Gale to hunt on the morning of the reaping, the event during which the names for “The Hunger Games” are drawn. Since her younger sister, Prim, has only just turned 12, her name is on only one slip in the raffle. Katniss thinks the odds are so high against her sister’s name being drawn, that she doesn’t even contemplate what she would do if that were the case. Naturally, her sister’s name is chosen and Katniss immediately volunteers to go in her stead. The male tribute who is chosen is the son of the local baker, who Katniss knows in passing and has no wish to fight against because of something he did for her several years before. She doesn’t have a choice, though, because in the Games it’s kill or be killed and there can only be one winner. She goes into the Games grimly, knowing that she’ll do her best to survive for her family, but doubting her ability. Once she’s inside the arena, though, things take an unprecedented turn and she begins to believe she might just have a chance of surviving after all.

I thought the pacing of this book was pretty much perfect. There was no surplus of unnecessary information - everything in the book needed to be there. I really liked Suzanne Collins’s writing style. It takes skill to make the reader feel truly nervous for the main character, even despite the fact that the book is in first-person POV and you know in your head that the heroine isn’t going to be killed in the middle of the novel. I love the heroine and Peeta, the other tribute from District 12. I thought Katniss was one of the better heroines I’ve read in a long time. Her reactions and emotions felt real. She really came alive in my head and I love it when I feel bonded to the character like that. It was like everything she felt, I felt with her and that definitely made for a more intense reading experience. Really, I can’t recommend this book enough. It was very much a character driven story, but it had enough suspense and action to keep you on the edge of your seat. Whether you like the young-adult genre or not, I think this book is worth reading. I’m sure I’m going to be one of the numerous people who consistently recommend this book from now on.

Content Description

Sex and nudity - No sex. Some mentions of nudity.
Violence and gore - Moderate. Some violent deaths involving children are described.
Alcohol and drugs - The main character drinks some wine during one scene. Drugs mentioned only in a medical context.
Profanity - Little to none.
Frightening/intense scenes - The very concept - children being put into an arena to fight to the death - can be disturbing for some readers. Reading from the POV of the main character, a participant in the Games, might be intense and/or frightening for some.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Halfway to the Grave (Night Huntress #1) by Jeaniene Frost

Title: Halfway to the Grave (Night Huntress #1)
Author: Jeaniene Frost
Rating: ★★★★
Genre: Urban fantasy, paranormal, romance
Description: (From Goodreads) Half-vampire Catherine Crawfield is going after the undead with a vengeance, hoping that one of these deadbeats is her father--the one responsible for ruining her mother's life. Then she's captured by Bones, a vampire bounty hunter, and is forced into an unholy partnership.

In exchange for finding her father, Cat agrees to train with the sexy night stalker until her battle reflexes are as sharp as his fangs. She's amazed she doesn't end up as his dinner--are there actually good vampires? Pretty soon Bones will have her convinced that being half-dead doesn't have to be all bad. But before she can enjoy her new found status as kick-ass demon hunter, Cat and Bones are pursued by a group of killers. Now Cat will have to choose a side . . . and Bones is turning out to be as tempting as any man with a heartbeat.


This is the first book in the “Night Huntress” series by Jeaniene Frost and it introduces our protagonist, Cat Crawfield. She’s half-human/half-vampire and her lineage is the result of her mother being raped by a vampire when she was a teenager. Cat grew up knowing that she was different from other kids, but not until she was in her mid-teens did her mother tell her about her parentage and why she’s stronger and faster and has better vision than any other kids her age.

After having her heart broken by a boy who slept with her once and then ditched her, Cat started hunting vampires. One night while out looking for a prospective victim, she meets a mysterious vampire who turns out to be the highly lauded Bones. He abducts her thinking that she’d been sent by one of his enemies to lure him into a trap and, once he realizes she’s not working for any of the vampires he’s after, he decides to train her to be his sidekick. Essentially, the plan is that she’ll be used as bait to lure in the vampires and once she has them alone, Bones will sweep in to get any information he needs and do the killing. Since Cat tends to act first and ask questions later, things rarely go according to plan; however, despite the fact that Cat has a habit of prematurely killing the vampires Bones needs to interrogate, somehow things usually work out. With Bones’s help, Cat becomes a hardcore assassin and their romance blooms as they hunt down vampire baddies.

I’m not a big fan of first-person POV, but I liked it in this case. I thought Cat had a snarky, funny voice and some of the scenes had me laughing out loud. While I did like Cat, one her biggest flaws was that she could be extremely close-minded and judgmental about certain things. In a way, you can’t really blame her - she was raised by a bitter woman who taught her that all vampires were evil and she’d never seen anything to the contrary until she met Bones - but some of the things she said and did really annoyed me. Other than that, I didn’t have any complaints about her and, like nearly everyone who’s read this series, I absolutely loved Bones. His dialogue was great and I liked the fact that he wasn’t the usual, emotionally closed-off type of hero. He wasn’t afraid to show his sensitive side and I appreciated that. I adore cold, dangerous heroes as much as the next girl, but I thought Bones was a refreshing change from the norm.

The plot wasn’t anything new or ground-breaking, but Frost has a good writing style and it all seems to boil down to the characters. No matter what is going on in the background, I want to read more about Cat and Bones. I’ll definitely be continuing on with the series. As a warning, though, this book is labeled “paranormal romance,” but it reads more like urban fantasy right up to the very end. Some people might not like this since not everything is wrapped up with a nice pink bow and our couple riding off into the sunset, but you should keep in mind that this is a series and so the ending is actually more of a “to be continued” than a true finale.

Content Description

Sex and nudity - Several sex scenes. Rape is mentioned multiple times.
Violence and gore - Moderate to heavy. Not as bad as it could have been, but worse than a lot of other books I’ve read. There is a lot of blood and death and some gory moments.
Alcohol and drugs - The main character drinks fairly often. She doesn’t intentionally consume any kind of drugs, but a couple of guys do slip a “roofie” into her drink during a club/bar scene.
Profanity - Heavy.
Frightening/intense scenes - As stated above, there is a lot of violence. The heroine is wounded pretty often and she has to drink vampire blood on more than one occasion. The fight scenes and descriptions of killing might be disturbing to some readers.