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Short Reviews of Trashy Fiction

_Waking the Witch_ Kelley Armstrong

Savannah Levine stars in this eleventh entry in the Women of the Underworld series. She's all growed up now, well, at least she's 21, riding a motorcycle and still living with her guardian Paige who has gone to have a grownup vacation without the young'un in Hawaii. Jesse shows up with a case and after consulting with Adam, Savannah takes it. Off to Columbus, Washington (a fictional small town near Battle Ground, Washington, which is not fictional), to experience small town life with humans after the mill closed (and the hardware store and so forth).

The case involves a pair of young women who were shot in the basement of an abandoned building, and, later, a third young woman killed elsewhere and brought to that basement, with some indications that a supernatural ritual might have occurred.

The body count is ridiculous. Three murders in quick succession in a town that size? Armstrong suggests the sheriff's office looked into it and hit a dead end and handed it back to the local cops (and the local police force sounds too large for a town that size anyway). But once Michael Kennedy, half brother to the third victim and a Dallas cop dies while investigating alongside Savannah, this shouldn't have just involved the sheriff: I would expect to see the feds brought in. _FOUR_ suspicious deaths in rapid succession?

Ultimately, there _is_ a supernatural element, in fact, more than one. And the murders are not as connected as everyone initially assumes. The book ends on a massive cliffhanger involving Savannah's powers as a witch/sorceror/half-demon.

If you're really enjoying the series, I suppose I wouldn't necessarily recommend you avoid this one. But I'm seriously contemplating ending my commitment to this author.

_Frostbitten_ Kelley Armstrong

In this outing, Clay and Elena head to Alaska, chasing a werewolf who is being framed by a couple other werewolves for killing humans. He thinks they believe he did it, which is why he's running. When they get there, they discover all kinds of interesting things. They know two old Pack members are in Anchorage; they find pere dead and then learn that fils has a son of his own. (<--Yup, those would be huge spoilers.) They knew there were troublemaking werewolves in town; turns out there were more of them than they thought and they are much, much worse than expected.

Oh, and then there are the Neanderthal bear/wolf/wtf people. (<-- If that is a joke, it isn't _my_ joke.)

Lots of people from earlier entries in the series (forgot to mention: this is book 10 in Women of the Underworld). Clay and Elena's twins are growing up. Elena poses as Hope's assistant in support of her investigation. Jaime brings the kids to Alaska at the end. Etc. Probably not enough to prevent this being read as a standalone.

What bothered me was the rape theme. Not scene. Lots of rape attempts. It really is a theme. Armstrong rallies a lot of interesting material to this theme. Clay and Elena have been through it in a variety of books and they now have a well-developed DS relationship that they play with in a very fun way; in this entry, Elena-as-narrator explains how this relationship has helped heal her of earlier sexual molestation as a child. There's a letter from one of the perpetrators when she was in foster care at the beginning of the book which brings up a lot of what she is still suppressing. And one of the Bad Guy werewolves has a thing for raping and killing human women.

All that is potentially really great material for a really great, empowering book. But while Elena (duh) obviously ultimately mastered her fears and killed the bad guys (personally), there were screens and screens (in the paper version it would be pages and pages and pages) of quite lovingly described degradation. Not cool. Not what I read this stuff for. At all. I'll be thinking really hard before reading more Armstrong.

_This Side of the Grave_ Jeaniene Frost

Cat's uncle dies. Cat gets new powers (by drinking Marie's blood. Because Marie forced her to, of course.). Cat learns that Joan of Arc was a born-vamp like her and that I've-already-forgotten-his-name-already the Ghoul picked on her, too. Cat and Company utterly destroy the evil ghoul and the rest of the ghouls decide to go back to a (sort of) stable peace under Marie Laveau.

This is a really dumb series. It was dumb at the start. It has not appreciably changed. If you like it, it shows no obvious indication of changing any time soon. I'll continue to participate.

_Pale Demon_ Kim Harrison

Rachel Morgan goes on a road trip from Cincinnati to San Francisco with her vampire partner Ivy, her pixie partner Jenks and Trent the elf. Along the way, they pick up a coven witch. But that's not until after Trent releases Ku'Sox and knocks down the arch in St. Louis. Upon arriving in San Francisco, Rachel convinces Al to deliver Trent and Jenks to Seattle for whatever it was that Trent needed to get to Seattle for (which turns out to be kidnapping his baby daughter from Ellasbeth, the baby's mother). (Did I remember to include the part where Ku'Sox tries to kill Al, Pierce then tries to finish Al off but Rachel stops him? Anyway.) After the climatic trial which restores Pierce to his position in the coven and gets him permission to use black magic, Rachel is still condemned and thus goes to the Ever-After, thinking that's forever.

However. Once in the Ever-After, Ku'Sox accuses her of not _really_ being a demon, so she has to prove she is to stay safe there by creating a new room for the holodeck, er, tulpa for Dalliance, whatever. Al nurses her back to health, at which point she is summoned by the Coven because while she was out cold, Ku'Sox destroyed (most of) San Francisco. She fixes him good, and then Trent has to rescue her because she has totally shredded her aura (again) in the process. Al thinks she is dead and takes Pierce back to the Ever-After as payment. Trent successfully hides Rachel from, um, the collective to give her the "choice" of what kind of life she will lead. The book ends with her deciding to stay hidden for a while, which Trent is, predictably, not overjoyed with.

I have to hand it to Harrison. This probably qualifies as a genuinely new take on The Road Trip. Also, Harrison does a bang-up job of matching the new powers her heroine gets with even bigger challenges. The real trick seems to be keeping her compatriots strong enough to survive the collateral damage.

I'm still interested in finding out what happens next.

While all of the above was a real improvement in entertainment terms over Jacoby, it was less satisfying than these series once were for me. I'm not convinced the problem lies with the authors; I think it might lie with me. Possibly I need to track down a new type of reading material. I may actually be getting a little bored with the graphic violence.
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