The Demon Trapper's Daughter by Jana Oliver


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 5:35 PM

*Disclaimer: I received this as an ARC in the mail

Review: 3.5 / 5 stars

Riley Blackthorne has a pretty rough life. For one thing, she's training to become a licensed demon trapper, a profession that isn't known for pro-feminist traditions. For another, she's the daughter of Paul Blackthorne, a living legend in demon trapping circles. So there are some high stakes involved.

But Paul Blackthorne doesn't even want his daughter in the family business. Especially after his wife's death, he has an understandable objection to Riley dancing with demons. He hasn't managed to dissuade her yet, but Riley herself is getting discouraged -- there's only so much demon pee and public humiliation she can take, and botching her trappings is getting her nowhere towards fully licensed.

Still, Riley's convinced that she has all the skills, and she starts to wonder if something's standing in her way. Something besides Beck, her father's obnoxious apprentice/partner, a Southern hick who keeps needling Riley about her age, her inexperience, and oh, that little crush she used to have on him...

Turns out Riley's right. Demons are afoot, but they aren't just after her. After an attack rips her life apart, Riley has to figure out who to trust and what's really going on - and how to shake the annoying new guardian who's suddenly manifested in Beck. Oh, and there's another cute boy involved: Simon, a fellow apprentice who seems almost too golden to be true.

This book was written as a series starter, and it shows -- there's a lot of buildup and not much conclusion, with many loose ends to be resolved. This wouldn't be a problem, except that the worldbuilding was a little sparse, with not enough fully explained (why are the demons here? what are the protective properties of metal? who are these demonkillers from Rome?). There was a lot of Talking About How Things Are, but not enough Showing -- and the start of a series is the place for it.

The characters were engaging enough, but I'm going to snark at the dialogue -- we don't need to hear Beck's 'deep South' accent in every sentence, and Oliver's representation of a Scottish brogue made me cringe.

I'm reserving judgment a bit due to the obvious series-ness, but I really wanted more organic backstory and more balanced pacing in the first installment. This may really find its feet later on, but Riley hasn't trapped me yet.

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 4:40 PM

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Yes, another werewolf book. But this one felt like an ideal combination of Blood and Chocolate and Raised by Wolves, in that we have a very sexual heroine who isn't afraid of being dominant and in touch with her wolfy self -- but who also is very pack-responsible and not a self-centered whiny princess (*coughViviancough*).

Calla has a lot on her plate, even for an alpha female. Not only is she betrothed to the alpha of another pack who insists on pushing the boundaries of 'friends,' she also has to deal with an annoying human boy who knows her Pack's secret...see, she sorta-accidentally saved him from being grizzly-meat in the mountains, but she shifted forms to do it. Right in front of said Boy in Peril.

Werewolf fail.

Meanwhile, uniting with the Bane pack is bringing its own set of politics, as Calla begins to realize that being an alpha mate will restrict her freedoms even further. She's grown up with the double standard that Ren, the Bane alpha, can sleep around all he likes (after all, he's a growing boy) but she must remain 'pure' for the union. But as their Samhain engagement approaches, Calla begins to question many of the 'givens' in her life -- not least being the ever-present Keepers who determine mating rules and pack orders. The lore explains that the Guardians (read: werewolves) protect the Keepers, who in turn keep the world from falling into chaos. This means that the Keepers basically rule Calla's life. But when Shay (re: Boy in Peril) shows up at her school, he starts digging into her culture and overturning all her truths.

Calla is not a happy puppy.

Shay has his own problems; he's been adopted by the Keepers, but he has no idea who they really are. And they seem to want something from him, which may be tied up in an obscure prophecy and a tattoo on Shay's neck that only Calla can see.

Oh, and if anyone finds out that Shay knows about Calla and the Keepers,* they're all dead.

Got it?

The best thing about this book is its fullness, in character and scope. All of the characters are nicely rounded, even Ren, who makes for a compelling male lead in his own right, instead of just The Other One in a typical love triangle. You'll like Calla's packmates, who are fighting their own battles of self-determination and getting caught up in romance (Mason and Neville, you have my vote). And Shay? Well, I've gotta love a boy who breaks into private libraries and approaches Peril with Research.

This isn't Anna Karenina, but it's impressively complex for a YA werewolf offering. And if the prose sometimes dips into the lust sparklefest zone, Cremer cuts in nicely with some self-deprecating humor. However, a warning: there is a major cliffhanger ending. It is painful. But it does seem to be planned instead of randomly tossed in, so that means I have to wait (curse you, series!) until the next installment in July.

*I've just realized that would be an awesome band name.

Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 9:42 AM

Rating: Four zombie bunnies and a ninja midget

So this book was full of crazy. Just, crazy everywhere. Not only do we have a protagonist who hears voices and hallucinates (all well and good), but she runs away to track down her mother who is arguably crazier than her and lives in a town that makes said Nutty Protagonist look plain-vanilla sane.

Did I mention the talking swan dolls and monsters in the windows and ghosts in the classrooms and the copious amounts of blood?

It makes for an interesting setup, since you're not quite sure how much of Hanna's experiences are a result of her own lack-of-pills reaction or the actual wackiness of Potero, Texas. But hey, why fight over the origins? There is plenty of crazy to go around. And as long as you go with it, you'll probably be fine. Or eaten. Whichever.

Hanna herself is a troubling character -- bipolar schizophrenic really doesn't begin to describe her. She has this terrifying capacity for both intense empathy and total disconnection that means you'll be feeling kind of sorry for her and then she'll go and bash someone's head in. Which leaves you as reader pretty conflicted most of the time, unless you decide to just go with it (see above).

But Hanna is nothing compared to her mother. Rosalee has this mythic status as Queen Badass in the Ultimate Town of Crazy, and she is not pleased to see her daughter. Hanna is determined to make her mother love her (also some disturbing implications here) and as Rosalee is completely lacking in a maternal instinct, has little self-control and possibly no conscience, this quickly gets messy.

And then Hanna goes to school.

There are monsters at school. And ghosts, and other weird stuff, and pretty much everyone is betting on Hanna getting mauled/devoured in the first week. This is high school angst with rabies, and you end up pretty grateful to have a crazy protagonist since anybody else would be lunch by now. But Hanna has wiles and guts and quickly settles on the speediest way to assimilate: snag the most popular boy in school, Wyatt. Who may actually be a bit of a monster himself.

This gets messy, too.

What I loved most about this book was actually the manic mixture of cultures; Hanna is biracial, speaks Finnish, cooks blood pancakes, and has absolutely no inhibitions about failing to fit in. Wyatt, lovely demon-hunter boy, takes this in stride and approaches Hanna on her own baffling terms, which is part of what makes their relationship interesting.

I was not particularly fond of the gore (there is gore galore), but the overall twisty, squishy fun (?) of this book made it worth a few showers of entrails. Not recommended for the queasy and not a tranquil read, but for those who'd like a bath of crazy: jump in!
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