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The Darkest Craving by Gena Showalter

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Lords of the Underwold, Book 10
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 466 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the Amazon Vine program. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Wasn't Completely Satisfied

Kane has always been a walking disaster. Literally. The Lord houses Disaster, a particularly vile demon that revels in making Kane's life hell. Then Kane actually ended up in hell, suffering horrible torture and rape for weeks on end until he was rescued by a strange female with one particularly odd request for her assistance. She wants him to kill her.

Still lost in darkness from his ordeal, wrecked in a way he's having a hard time dealing with, one thing is absolutely clear to Kane. He's not killing the feisty, adorable half-fae Josephina Aisling. He's going to rescue her instead.

Then he's going to finally kill the demon inside him. Even if he has to die to do it.

~*~

I feel oddly ambivalent about this tenth installment of the Lords of the Underworld series. After Paris' book, which gave readers some much-needed resolution to the nagging problems of the Hunters and Cronus and Rhea, I figured this one would have to be a transitional book. Transitional books tend to not be my favorite books in a series for a lot of reasons, but I've always felt they were a necessary evil and dealt accordingly.

Had this book actually offered some transitional series arc plot development or given any attention to the lingering issues generated by the big battle that ended the previous book, I think I would have been fine with this one in that role. My problem is that it really didn't. In fact, Kane and Josephina's story didn't do much of anything to establish a new, Hunter/Cronus-free direction for the Lords and their allies for the series, nor did it do much to progress the plot line about the hunt for Pandora's box - though that did receive a bit of attention with the kick off of Cameo's story threads and the return of a character I was really hoping to see again in this series.

As for the romance, that didn't really wow me with character or relationship evolution, either.

I like Kane. I've always felt bad for the guy (pretty much the standard for the pre-mated Lords), even when he served as little more than comic relief at the start of the series. It was nice getting a closer look at how he deals with Disaster. I also enjoyed Disaster being given a far more sinister presence than the demons of the other Lords have been given. Disaster just seemed more actively evil than some of the others have been. Not a bad thing, either. I liked it.

We've had a couple of books now, seeing Kane's story unfold, and much of that was pretty horrifying, so I also liked that he got some happiness. What he didn't get, what none of the characters in this series get much of lately, is character depth and complexity or realistic character evolution, and that, along with my issues with the stories themselves, is bothering me a lot in this series.

Yes, Kane is tormented by his time in hell, and rightly so, but that seems to be the sole defining element of his character, and that's just not enough to make him well-rounded and realistic to me. Josephina, maybe because she's new to the series, got a bit more character definition, and I liked her more for that, but again, her role in her family was her defining characteristic and there wasn't a huge amount of depth to her beyond that.

But depth of character and complexity of internal and external conflict have never really been something this series has really offered, and I'm just now starting to remember that. Hellaciously sexy times, yes. Action and adventure, even breath-stealing emotion, yes. Summer-blockbuster-movie amounts of fierce battles and wicked villains, sure. And like those summer blockbusters, not a whole lot of coherent, well-written story surrounding it all.

On a brighter note, I thought the beginning of this book was awesome. I loved when Josephina tried to get Kane to keep his end of the bargain, then turned to Lucien and Sabin when they showed up. I love the idea that the fae were huge fans of the Lords, whose antics they follow as rabidly as the paparazzi dog the Kardashians. I loved Cameo's cameos and Torin's plague-filled drama. And there was other stuff that I truly enjoyed as well.

Kane and Josephina's extended time in the fae world didn't add to the fun. It bored me. And they seemed to spend an awfully long time there, because this was an awfully long book. That's a lot of boredom. Boredom mixed with perplexity, because for the two previous books in this series, several critical things were brewing relating to Kane's fate and the fate of the world, and those threads were just butchered in this book, with no justification or supporting development.

Kane was supposed to start an apocalypse...marry one of the Horseman or the woman who housed Irresponsibility. Or both. Josephina had nothing at all to do with one of those fateful threads and Irresponsiblity had almost nothing to do with the other. Not in anything but a completely transitory way. So what was the point of even having those threads in the previous two books if you're just going to pull in some extremely tenuous threads of suspect connection to go around all of it?

Not deal with it, mind you, completely go around it. Two very different things.

None of that worked for me at all, and all of it, including several threads of resolution, seemed way too convenient and contrived. And the end of the book, with the resolution, was all too typical of Showalter in this series. Completely unsupported by previous development and utterly abrupt. Not to mention repetitive. Seriously, how many books (out of 10) have had an angel (who I guess we're calling Sent Ones now) step in at the critical moment in the climax to flick his wings (or, you know...fiery sword...whatever) to solve all the problems for the main characters and expedite the HEA? More than once is too many. Three times is appalling.

And one other thing: I loathe the, "Oops, I was wrong," explanation to force feed a conflict resolution and fast track an HEA and Showalter uses it All. The. Time. Call it a deus ex machina, a plot contrivance, or whatever, it's that moment when you're reading a story that's been written into a very clearly defined corner only to have the author decide the room is really round so the problem is solved. Argh! Drives me absolutely bat-shit crazy.

The one at the end of this book was particularly heinous, too.

There are just too many things going wrong for me with this series lately, so many that I'm starting to wonder if the two year hiatus I took from the series between Amun's and Strider's books was, in fact, long enough. I'm starting to think it wasn't.

Blaze of Secrets by Jessie Donovan

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Asylums for Magical Threats, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 356 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



The AMT is Terrifying

She is the first-born child of a Feiru mother in a world that hides her kind away in asylums out of a sick paranoia, fear, and prejudice. They call her elemental magic a threat to the unsuspecting human public. They keep her kind secret.

In those asylums they are stripped of their humanity and their dignity, used as lab rats, abused, and suffer torturous "medical" testing that often drives them insane, all for that nebulous Greater Good.

Now Kiarra Melini is left with a horrific choice: sacrifice herself to save her first-born brethren or sit idly by while the researchers at the asylum use her blood to strip the elemental magic from every other first-born they have interred in asylums around the world.

A tragic choice. A heartbreaking choice. But an easy one for the young woman who has been a prisoner of the Asylums for Magical Threats for fifteen years of her life.

She hadn't counted on Jaxton Ward swooping into her cell as she was attempting to end her life. She'd long since given up hope of ever being free from the AMT. Being kidnapped doesn't exactly instill in Kiarra a sense of peace and well being, though, even though Jaxton claims he's rescued her. After all, the AMT is the devil she knows. Jaxton and his anti-AMT group may prove themselves to be just a different sort of devil entirely.

Jaxton knew breaking into the AMT to get his brother and Kiarra out wasn't going to be easy, but he never figured Kiarra would rather suicide than be free. Now he's got to convince the woman he means her no harm and the rebel group he works with needs her elemental magic to fight against the very people who held her captive for most of her life. Training her is going to be a study in frustration, though, given the powerful attraction he has for the brave woman willing to die for her race.

~*~

Unique and original, this series debut by Donovan has a lot going for it, especially in the first half of the book. Kiarra was fiery, cagey, and keenly intelligent, and Jaxton was intense and sexy...and I'm a total sucker for heroes with a British accent. I enjoyed both of their characters very much, and the story was rich with solid world-building, action, and suspense.

I loved Kiarra's whole attitude and personality from the moment she's introduced as an AMT inmate through her dubious rescue and subsequent struggle to adapt to her new freedom. I think she was maybe a bit more balanced and sane than a person would be given what she's been through in her life, but I can't say I minded that for the purposes of the story. I liked her, and I was very pleased with the direction her character took following her rescue. That all worked for me nicely.

And full credit to Donovan for the creep factor and utter horror that was the AMT. I couldn't help but make comparisons to concentration camps in Nazi Germany and it was truly chilling. I find the sort of subversive, subjugating mentality that went into the creation and use of AMTs to be far more effective as a source of external conflict than an individual Big Bad because it's so damn easy to imagine something exactly like that happening, as it's happened before in humanity's darkest times.

I wish I could say I found the second half of the book as entertaining as the first. While the first half provided a solid foundation for the book, was well-conceived and written with a solid focus on fleshing out the world, defining the various factions and introducing the characters, the story took a turn for me at the halfway mark. As soon as Jaxton and Kiarra made it to Scotland and the external conflict became more significant in the plot, I felt like the book started to lose a lot of the cohesion it had established early.

There's a lot going on and it's happening to and with several different characters and their individual points of view. Between the evolution of the main characters, their relationship and all that entailed, their struggles to evade the AMT, the sinister- and almost ridiculously obscure - machinations of Bad Guy Sinclair, and the addition of Kiarra's brother Gio, who was a pretty big question mark to me and seemed an unnecessary source of ancillary conflict, there was too much to focus on. Too much was attempted and not enough of it had payoff. The plot's pacing bogged down and the story got a bit unwieldy and cumbersome.

At times I found myself getting bored - with Kiarra and Jaxton's relationship, with Sinclair's super secret and oh-so-nefarious plans, and with...whatever it was that Gio was trying to do. There were just too many sources of conflict, big reveals, and murky motivations, so many it all became white noise after awhile. It's a shame, because really, there didn't need to be anything beyond the AMT. The reality of those places and the driving force behind their existence is completely horrifying enough on its own to support an entire series of external conflict without needing all the other story detritus that cluttered the back half of this book.

I do think the series has a ton of potential, though, and there are more than enough interesting characters introduced here to provide fodder for many juicy stories to come. This one just didn't quite keep me consistently engaged beyond the story setup and the world-building, and a general sort of appreciation for the romance between Kiarra and Jaxton. Still, I can't say enough about how nice it is to read something that felt truly fresh and original. That alone is worth a lot in a genre glutted on same old same old.

Twilight Hunter by Kait Ballenger

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Execution Underground, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 376 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by HQN Books publisher Harlequin via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.




Left Me In the Dark

When it comes to werewolves, no one hunts them better than Execution Underground operative Jace McCannon. He is relentless and unforgiving, a hunter with a fierce intensity and dedication to his job. Problem is, if the organization knew exactly why he was as proficient a hunter as he is, it would be Jace who would be hunted to extinction.

As it is, he's already in enough trouble with his boss. There's a vicious rogue werewolf on the loose and the carnage he's leaving in his wake is enough to make even a seasoned hunter like Jace shudder at what is done to the female victims. For three weeks he has tracked the frustratingly elusive fiend and time is running out - for Jace and for the monster's next victim.

The latest crime scene turns up his first big break, a werewolf crouched in the shadows watching him examine the fresh kill. If Jace were human, running a werewolf to ground would be impossible, but he isn't human. Not completely. He's half werewolf, and highly motivated to catch the monster who left another woman's brutalized body in a gutter.

Being chased by a hunter is not Frankie Amato's idea of a good time, especially when the hunter on her tail is so much faster and stronger than she expected. Cornered and forced to shift into her human form to plead her case, the pack alpha has no one to blame but herself when Jace takes her into custody. Now she's got to figure out a way to convince the hunter that she can help him track down the killer before she ends up as his throw rug.

As he's made no bones about his loathing of her kind, she has no idea how to do that exactly, but if she and Jace don't work together, more innocent women will die.

~*~

This book did not work for me at all. I liked the idea of it but the actual read gave me a lot of trouble. I pretty much hated Jace throughout the book. I found nothing even remotely heroic or noble about the man. He's an alcoholic, self-loathing prick who treats everyone around him like crap because of some deep-seeded daddy issues. I just wanted him to get the hell over it already and look at the bigger picture, but no.

He was also horribly inconsistent, especially when it came to the relationship he has with Frankie. It was as if he had a bad case of emotional ADD, wavering back and forth between disdaining everything about Frankie to getting all wounded when she holds back her feelings from him...often from one page to the next. And I have very little tolerance for lack of communication being the source of relationship conflict in my romance. Their relationship was littered with it.

Frankie wasn't as bad. I can't really say I liked her throughout, but at least she didn't make me mental. There were moments when I liked her, and I very much appreciated the fact that she's her pack's alpha, but I wish she had been a little stronger in both power and personality to better reflect that position. She was just a little too submissive to Jace, and too willing to take all the bad stuff he dished out at her and love him anyway, for me to take her seriously as an apex predator and competent leader of her people. Didn't help that my first impression of her included her running and hiding from her responsibility.

The story did have its good points, but I struggled there, as well. The world didn't seem all that fleshed out to me. The mythos surrounding skinwalkers was original in theory but I thought the backstory and explanation was an unclear muddle (and in reference to how a skinwalker transitions into a berserker, just flat-out disturbing in context). I also never felt I had a firm handle on the Extermination Underground itself, and given that the series is titled after the organization (so I assume it's important) that was a problem for me.

In fact, every time the EU or its members had impact in the story, there was little more offered than a poorly defined but explosive conflict between Jace and the local EU director Damon. That conflict was too all-encompassing to allow me to get a feel for any of the other characters or the organization as a whole. And I was sincerely disappointed that there was no resolution for their absurd and over-the-top dick-swinging contest.

That actually smacks at the core of my issues with the book, though. For all that the ideas were sound, the story as a whole seemed bereft of nuance and subtlety. If there was an emotion expressed, it was sweeping and dramatic, if there was an action taken, it was balls-to-the-wall, no holds barred. Conflict was furious and deadly, sex was intense and often angry, characters were tortured, romance was angsty. It was all just...so much noise that the sum total just struck me not as a tapestry of plot, character, and world, but as a brute force cacophony: chaotic, hard-hitting, and lacking sophistication.

I wouldn't say I'm sorry I read this one, but I also can't say I'd be interested in continuing the series.

Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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