[Review] THE TAKEN by Vicki Pettersson

Vicki Pettersson

Cover Copy: Griffin Shaw used to be a PI, but that was back when gumshoes hoofed the streets . . . and he was still alive. Fifty years later, he’s an angel, but that doesn’t make him a saint. One small mistake has altered fate, and now he’s been dumped back onto the mortal mudflat to collect another soul–Katherine “Kit” Craig, a journalist whose latest investigation is about to get her clipped.

Bucking heavenly orders, Grif refuses to let the sable-haired siren come to harm. Besides, protecting her offers a chance to solve the mystery of his own unsolved murder–and dole out some overdue payback for the death of his beloved wife, Evie.

Joining forces, Kit and Grif’s search for answers leads beyond the blinding lights of the Strip into the dark heart of an evil conspiracy. But a ruthless killer determined to destroy them isn’t Grif’s biggest threat. His growing attraction to Kit could cost them both their lives, along with the answer to the haunting question of his long afterlife . . .

My Thoughts:   I’ll admit I was surprised when I heard Vicki Pettersson was ending her Signs of the Zodiac series at six books. It seemed like a short run for a series, compared to Kelley Armstrong and Kim Harrison (13 books each) and Laurell K. Hamilton (20+ books). When I heard Pettersson’s new series revolved around the Rockabilly subculture, I grew nervous. Can a subculture sustain the worldbuilding required of an urban fantasy genre? Or will it collapse into its own novelty value?

I was, however, pleased to hear the new series, the Celestial Blues series, will still have all the things Pettersson does so well: mystery, fantasy, and a backdrop of the ever-fabulous Las Vegas, home of Pettersson.

The promo for THE TAKEN suggests the story will answer the question “Who killed Griffin Shaw?” Not to spoil it for you, but we don’t get an answer. The real question that should have promo’d the book is “Who killed Kit Craig’s best friend?” because this is the murder that is solved in this book. It’s also the murder in the present. Griffin Shaw’s death happened fifty years ago– the killer is long gone, along with most everyone that knew anything– although, this does seem to be the question that will carry the series.

THE TAKEN opens with journalists, Kit Craig and her friend Nicole, trying to catch the bad guy, but things go wrong when the bad guy kills Nicole. Enter Griffin Shaw. Angel. Now that Nicole is dead, he’s to take her to the Everlast. But before she agrees to go, she manages to get a moment to leave a message for Kit. This is a slip-up for Griffin, and he finds himself out of a job. Worse, the message doesn’t reach Kit– it’s intercepted by the bad guys, putting Kit at the top of the hit list.

If you were worried the angels would mean less of Pettersson’s brand of magic, don’t. At one point, an infant is used as a medium for Griffin to talk to a fellow angel. The magic is still bold and slightly creepy– trademark Pettersson.

The mystery was a little disappointing, though. I wanted Kit and Grif to be more actively involved in finding the killer. I understood Kit needing to get her hair done, it’s part of who she is, but then I wanted active persuit of leads. Instead, they get leads and then ignore them. At one point, when Grif is chatting up an old buddy, the former angel asks “Who told you, all those years ago, that I was dead?” This comes as the last line of a scene. The next scene cuts to Kit, and we never learn the answer to that question.

Still, the chemistry between Kit and Griffin is undeniable. The pair banter in a way that’s reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy or Eve Dallas and Roarke from J.D. Robb’s series or Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd from Moonlighting.

As it turns out, I liked addition of the Rockabilly culture. It splashes colour into the background of the story. It also colours the protagonist, Kit Craig, putting her in sharp contrast to Griffin’s more serious nature. In fact, the cover art depicts the duo really well: Kit in her bright red dress, and Griffin faded to the background in grey, wings dissolving into mist.

Fans of Pettersson will certainly enjoy THE TAKEN, but with its toned-down fantasy and more cheerful heroine giving the story broader appeal, I think many more readers will be taken with Pettersson.

Rating: A-
Series: Celestial Blues, #1
Publisher: HarperCollins,
Acquired: purchase

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[Review] THE KINGDOM by Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens

Cover CopyDeep in the shadowy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies a dying town…My name is Amelia Gray. They call me The Graveyard Queen. I’ve been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I’m coming to think I have another purpose here.

Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake? Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I’ve discovered in the woods? Something is eating away at the soul of this town—this withering kingdom—and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth.

My Thoughts: Another slow but sultry story from Amanda Stevens, but this time, things get darker and more personal for the main character, Amelia Gray. I loved the darker and creepier elements to this story, right from the cemetery at the bottom of the lake to the cold, sinister wind blowing down from the mountains. Amelia has left behind the man she became entangled with in THE RESTORER to travel to an island where she is to restore a graveyard, and though she tries to prevent it, she ends up becoming involved with another man. And once again, the sex has dire consequences. (I think I would like for Amelia to have sex at least once with consequences that are not quite so evil.)

As in THE RESTORER, the ghosts are creepy, but they’re not the only monsters Amelia runs into. There’s these Others. These otherworldly beings that are very dark, creepy, and dangerous. Things that smell like rotting flesh. Things that may be demons. We’re never really given a straight answer, which is just as well. Sometimes the creepy needs to remain unexplained or it loses its creepy factor.

The story is again slow to get going in the beginning, but once it catches momentum, it’s hard to stop. With the mystery kept in the dark until the end, and the non-stop action in the third act, THE KINGDOM is sure to keep you up at night.

Rating: A-
Series: The Graveyard Queen Series, #2
Publisher: Mira/Harlequin, April 2012
Acquired: gift

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[Review] SPELL BOUND by Kelley Armstrong

[This is the twelfth in a series of posts counting down to the last in Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, THIRTEEN, set for release July 24, 2012. ~~ 1.BITTEN; 2. STOLEN; 3. DIME STORE MAGIC; 4. INDUSTRIAL MAGIC; 5. HAUNTED; 6. BROKEN; 7. NO HUMANS INVOLVED; 8. PERSONAL DEMON; 9. LIVING WITH THE DEAD; 10. FROSTBITTEN; 11. WAKING THE WITCH]

 Cover Copy: Savannah Levine is in terrible danger, and for once she’s powerless to help herself. At the conclusion of Waking the Witch, Savannah– an extraordinarily powerful young witch with a dangerous pedigree– swore that she would give up her spells if it would help a young girl caught in a horrible bind. Little did Savannah know that someone would take her up on that offer. And now witch-hunting assassins, necromancers, half-demons, and rogue supernaturals all seem to be after her. The threat is not just to Savannah– every member of the Otherworld might be at risk. Spell Bound unites Elena, Clay, Paige, Lucas, Jamie, Hope, and the rest, who soon learn that the greatest threat to supernaturals may come from within their own ranks.

My Thoughts: Spell Bound is the middle of the last three books in the Women of the Otherworld series. Savannah is a pretty stubborn character, but this time she pushes too far. Without her powers, you’d think she would act more rationally and less rashly, but not until she pushes her luck too far. Then she regrets it and starts acting cautiously. I liked this. I loved that there was consequences to her behaviour. That’s something that felt to be missing from Waking the Witch. But Savannah takes her caution too far. She stops being reliable back-up for the rest of her team. Again, more consequences. Savannah’s growth felt much more natural in Spell Bound.

We get to see lots more of the other characters from the Otherworld series in Spell Bound, as they’re all required in this fight against a new problem. An organization wants to expose the supernaturals, and it’s up to the Council members to stop them.

Lots of great action, killer suspense and dead-on humour. Spell Bound kept me up all night. Can’t wait for Thirteen!

Rating: A
Series: Women of the Otherworld
Publisher: Vintage Canada/Random House, 2011
Acquired: Purchase

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[Review] THE RESTORER by Amanda Stevens

Cover Copy: Never acknowledge the dead. Never stray far from hallowed ground. Never get close to the haunted. Never, ever tempt fate.

My name is Amelia Gray. I’m a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I’ve always held fast to these rules past down from my father … until now.

Detective John Devlin needs my help to find a killer, but he is haunted by ghosts who shadow his every move. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I’ve vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the headstone symbols lead me closer to truth and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next.

My Thoughts: You need to read this book on a hot, sultry summer day. It’s set in Charleston, South Carolina and is flavoured with the American South, making it perfect for reading in a hammock or on the dock with a glass of lemonade.

Amelia restores graveyards. It’s the perfect job for someone who shouldn’t stray too far from hallowed ground. Every evening at dusk, the veil between this world and the next falls down, and the ghosts roam free. They can sense that Amelia can see them, so they’re attracted to her, but she can never show them attention or they will haunt her so much she will go crazy.

Murder victims start showing up in the cemetery Amelia is working on and she soon finds herself helping with the case. It doesn’t hurt that the detective is attractive and intriguing. But it does get complicated when she learns he is haunted and she’s attracted to him anyway.

As Amelia and Devlin uncover more clues to the murderer, including a ghostly connection, things get heated– and deadly.

I loved the mystery in this story. I did find the pacing a bit slow, though. Slow like a sultry summer afternoon. Pour me a lemonade and hand me the next in The Graveyard Queen series.

Rating: A-
Series: The Graveyard Queen series
Publisher: Mira/Harlequin, 2011
Author website: www.amandastevens.com
Acquired: personal gift

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[Review] WAKING THE WITCH by Kelley Armstrong

[This is the eleventh in a series of posts counting down to the last in Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, THIRTEEN, set for release July 24, 2012. ~~ 1.BITTEN; 2. STOLEN; 3. DIME STORE MAGIC; 4. INDUSTRIAL MAGIC; 5. HAUNTED; 6. BROKEN; 7. NO HUMANS INVOLVED; 8. PERSONAL DEMON; 9. LIVING WITH THE DEAD; 10. FROSTBITTEN]


Cover Copy:  Savannah Levine– the orphaned daughter of a notorious dark witch and an equally notorious cutthroat sorcerer– has left her teen rebel phase behind and turned into a motorcycle-riding jaw-dropper, with an impressive ability to perform spells. The big challenge is persuading her former guardians, Paige and Lucas, that she can be trusted to do the right thing. So Savannah jumps at the chance to investigate the mysterious deaths of three young women as a favor for one of the detective agency’s associates. The murderers seem garden-variety human, but on closer inspection they bear the signs of supernatural intervention. Soon Savannah is in over her head, nearly killed, and haunted by a mysterious stalker. Pitted against demons, witches, and human goons, she has to fight to ensure her first case isn’t her last.

My Thoughts: I’ve always wanted an Otherworld story from Savannah’s point of view. From the moment we met her and learned of her parents, I always wanted to see what it would be like to grow up with that legacy, with the conflict of knowing what you’re capable of but not being able to do anything about it. So I was very excited to learn the last three books in the series would all be narrated by Savannah.

As a new woman of the Otherworld, I found Savannah to be not as great as I’d hoped. Perhaps because she’s a bit whiny at the beginning, wanting to run her own investigation assignment. Perhaps because she’s so eager to prove herself she takes dumb risks. I’m not sure if this is the fault of my expectations, or if she’s a disappointing character. Perhaps I’m just not sympathetic to risk-taking twenty-somethings.

I loved the mystery in WAKING THE WITCH. I wasn’t sure whodunnit until the very end. I love it when mysteries build up so that the outcome could go one of two ways.

With regards to the hot guys, I was very sad for Savannah. She was on the right track, getting involved with someone else, trying to forget about her school-girl crush, Adam. And then it doesn’t work out. I wasn’t too happy about this– I wanted it to work out– but I think the point of WAKING THE WITCH may be to see Savannah take risks, make mistakes and grow up.

I also loved that we were back to learning more about the witches’ culture. Though their magic may not be as flashy as other races in the Otherworld, and the coven women can be quite catty, I think they’re the most understated race, so it was nice to see them in action again.

WAKING THE WITCH is a great start to the final three books in the Otherworld series.

Rating: A
Series: Women of the Otherworld, book 11
Vintage Canada, Random House of Canada, 2011
Acquired: purchase

[Review] FROSTBITTEN by Kelley Armstrong

[This is the tenth in a series of posts counting down to the last in Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, THIRTEEN, set for release July 24, 2012. ~~ 1.BITTEN; 2. STOLEN; 3. DIME STORE MAGIC; 4. INDUSTRIAL MAGIC; 5. HAUNTED; 6. BROKEN; 7. NO HUMANS INVOLVED; 8. PERSONAL DEMON; 9. LIVING WITH THE DEAD]

FROSTBITTEN is the tenth book in the Women of the Otherword series, and a return of Elena the werewolf as narrator.

From the back cover: There’s nothing the werewolf community dislikes more than calling attention to itself, so when a pair of rogue man-eaters begins hunting humans outside Anchorage, Elena and her husband, Clay, journey to Alaska in the dead of winter in order to hunt down the dangerous predators. The northern wilderness is a harsh landscape in the best of conditions, but with a pack of wayward werewolves on the loose, it’s downright deadly.

Trapped in this savage, untamed winter realm, plagued by ghosts from their past, Elena and Clay learn more than they bargained for about their own beasts within. And their bond will be put to the ulitmate test as they follow the bloody trail of gruesom slayings.

My thoughts:  FROSTBITTEN starts with a bang as Elena takes us through a fantastic chase scene as she tries to capture a young werewolf. He escapes to Alaska and she boards a plane, missing home, but still determined to get to the werewolf.

Elena meets with her husband, Clay, on the plane in one of my favourite scenes in the book. I love big romantic gestures and this certainly fits. Clay’s romantic side with Elena is a nice balance to his cruel and heartless demeanor as pack enforcer and Jeremy’s bodyguard, and yet he is never controlling or over-protective. One of the things I love about the Elena-Clay relationship.

The two arrive in Alaska, and it’s non-stop adrenaline rush, action-packed hunt for the runaway werewolf and their missing friend.

This story also looks at ancient werewolf mythology and the possibility of a bigfoot/yeti: the Inuit Wendigo.

In this story, Elena has to deal with problems from her past, buried memories of child molestation, and future problems– she’s been named Jeremy’s heir to the pack. One day Elena will be Alpha. Armstrong deftly incorporates both of these complications into the action of the story, making Elena’s development very real, very believable.

Rating: A
Series: Women of the Otherworld
Publisher: Vintage Canada/Random House, 2010
Acquired: Purchase

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[Review] LIVING WITH THE DEAD by Kelley Armstrong

[This is the nineth in a series of posts counting down to the last in Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, THIRTEEN, set for release July 24, 2012. ~~ 1.BITTEN; 2. STOLEN; 3. DIME STORE MAGIC; 4. INDUSTRIAL MAGIC; 5. HAUNTED; 6. BROKEN; 7. NO HUMANS INVOLVED; 8. PERSONAL DEMON; ]
Cover Copy: Robyn Peltier’s life is just about as normal as it can get– until she moves to L.A. for a fresh start as an A-list publicist and her celebutante client is gunned down at a nightclub. Normal is a thing of the past as she is suddenly the prime suspect in a murder investigation and an unwilling participant in a grisly supernatural turf war. (As if it wasn’t hard enough dealing with Hollywood tabloids!) Robyn’s best friend, half-demon tabloid reporter Hope Adams, and her mysterious boyfriend, Karl, are determined to clear Robyn’s name with the help of a homicide detective with an uncanny affinity for the dead, and a very persistent ghost.

Soon Robyn finds herself at the heart of a world she never knew existed– one she was safe knowing nothing about . . .

My Thoughts: LIVING WITH THE DEAD is the nineth book in the Women of the Otherworld series. In this story, Hope and Karl are back and working to help Hope’s best friend, Robyn.

Robyn has just moved to L.A., when she suddenly finds she’s the prime suspect in a murder investigation  of a celebrity and an unwilling participant in a grisly supernatural turf war between two cabals. Robyn, being human, had no idea this Otherworld existed, and already had enough on her plate with trying to get over the death of her husband.

Hope takes a temporary assignment for a tabloid in L.A. so she can help Robyn. In the course of doing so, she has to come to terms with her demon side.

The killers are from a kumpania of clairvoyents, a new race for the Otherworld series.  The detective on the case is John Findlay, aka Finn, a necromancer. Although he can see dead people, Finn has had no knowledge of the Otherworld and the other races. One of the dead he sees while working this case is Robyn’s recently deceased husband.

Armstrong is adept at weaving action-packed plots with complex characters. I love that Karl the werewolf is a jewel theif and doesn’t want to give that up– and Hope is okay with that. In fact, the entire Otherworld series is much the same: flawed characters that are accepted by their other halfs just the way they are. In LIVING WITH THE DEAD, Robyn is moving through the greiving process, and Armstrong pulls her through it in a very natural, very real way. Even the antagonists are not simple. They don’t want to kill just to kill. Their motivations are very well done.

Like most of the series, LIVING WITH THE DEAD can be read as a standalone.

Rating: A
Series: Women of the Otherworld #9
Publisher: Vintage Canada/Random House, 2008
Acquired: Purchase

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