Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: Thread of Death and By a Thread by Jennifer Estep

Finally, the week-end! I have no plans except for continuing to read and hopefully review :) I'm just looking forward to some time to relax and de-stress. What about you? I also need to try to read a book for the TBR challenge!!

I've been reading a lot of books I was looking forward to. So expect some reviews :) I thought I'd start off with By a Thread by Jennifer Estep. And I decided to knock out two birds with one rock by reviewing the novella that came out just before By a Thread, Thread of Death. Enjoy!!

***Warning: There are spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk!***

Thread of Death by Jennifer Estep
published by Simon & Schuster in January 2012 (e-book only)

Gin Blanco, aka the assassin the Spider, might have finally killed her nemesis, Mab Monroe, but that doesn't mean that it's smooth sailing. Gin goes to Mab's funeral to say her goodbyes and runs into some of Ashland's most notorious underworld power players, including Jonah McAllister and Phillip Kincaid. McAllister wants her dead, and Kincaid has his own murky motives when it comes to the Spider, and Gin once again finds herself fighting for her life. Only this time, she might wind up in the cemetery right next to Mab.
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Elemental Assassin series, Book #5.5

The Story: It is Mab Monroe's funeral and everyone with a modicum of power in Ashland has turned up. Gin and her entourage have also decided to come, for closure. However, not surprisingly, the Queen of Ashland's underworld will not go quietly - even dead...

My Opinion: When I heard that Ms Estep was contracted for two additional books in the Elemental Assassin series, I was thrilled :) And once I read Spider's Revenge, I was even more looking forward to By a Thread for the change of scenery and therefore less predictability. However, reading Thread of Death gave me some doubts as to whether or not my expectations for By a Thread were too high ^_^;

Basically, I had no issues with the writing of Thread of Death. I thought it was solid and I welcomed the additional POVs (Jonah McAllister and Phillip Kincaid) that we got. Although I admit that Jonah McAllister's voice seemed to be a bit off. I thought it wasn't distinct enough from Gin or Phillip... but still, it was a nice touch because it really let you know where he was coming from and how deep his hatred for Gin is. Gin hasn't only killed Mab and Jonah's son... but she single-handily changed his life the way he knew it. From very high, he now has fallen to the bottom. That loss of status is hard to swallow and he's definitively not going to accept meekly and thus, is going to try to take out Gin. That part of the novella made sense to me :) I also really liked getting Phillip Kincaid's POV. He's been mentioned several times in the series, but I think this is the first time readers got to meet him. For some reasons, in my mind, I thought he'd be older... Anyway, I'm now really intrigued about Phillip and Owen's friendship!! Obviously, there was a woman who came in between and has clouded Owen's judgement. From the bits we got, I think I'm really going to like Phillip's character! A ruthless man, but still loyal to his friends... almost honorable :) And I think Ms Estep did a great job at foreshadowing Widow's Web, the 7th book in the series. Right now, I'm really excited to read that book for Phillip, but also to know more about Owen's past!! I do hope that the friendship between the two men will be mended.

Where Thread of Death didn't work for me was the concept/idea of it: Gin attending Mab's funerals. I can understand that Gin and Bria need closure... but I think attending the funeral wasn't the right way to go about it. First of all, why would Gin - the owner of the Pork Pit and eternal college student, and Detective Bria Coolidge attend the funeral? Actually, could they? I mean, most of the people present at the funerals are the ones with power, the cream of society... Gin and Bria are neither. So wouldn't they stand out like a sore thumb? Okay, so Owen and Finn do have some status, but they were not friends or enemies with Mab. So even their presences are questionable. Then, there's the fact that Gin went after the sniper. For an assassin, it seemed to me Gin has tossed caution aside and has definitively tipped her hand here. Yes, there's been rumors and McAllister knows her true identity... but I don't think it was Gin's intention to confirm those rumors and that's exactly what she did. You'd have to be a moron to be at the funeral, see what Gin did and not wonder who that woman was and whether or not the rumors could be true... and most often than not, people in power are not morons ^_^;

My Grade: C+. To sum up my review, I think that Thread of Death's storyline was a bad idea conceptually. It simply didn't make sense to me. However, once written, it was well-executed and because of it, I'm looking forward to Widow's Web even more :)

By a Thread by Jennifer Estep
published by Simon & Schuster in February 2012
When killing people is your job, there’s no such thing as a vacation.

Then again, how often does an assassin live long enough to enjoy her retirement? In this line of work, you either get lucky or you get dead. And since I destroyed my nemesis Mab Monroe a few weeks ago, all of Ashland’s lowlifes are gunning to make a name for themselves by taking out the lethal Spider—me, Gin Blanco. So I’m leaving behind my beloved barbecue joint and heading south with my baby sister, Bria, to cool my heels in a swanky beach town. Call it a weekend of fun in the sun.

But when a powerful vampire with deadly elemental magic threatens an old friend of Bria’s, it looks like I’ll have to dig my silverstone knives out of my suitcase after all. Complicating matters further is the reappearance of Detective Donovan Caine, my old lover. But Donovan is the least of my problems. Because this time, the danger is hot on my trail, and not even my elemental Ice and Stone magic may be enough to save me from getting buried in the sand—permanently.
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Elemental Assassin series, Book #6

The Story: Ever since Mab Monroe's death, rumors abounded that Gin Blanco, owner of the Pork Pit, is in fact the fearsome assassin, the Spider. As a result, Gin has been fielding ambushes and attacks right and left from everyone who wants to make a name for themselves. For a retired assassin, she's seeing a lot of action... and it's starting to take a toll on her. Thus, Finn proposes a vacation. They end up choosing Blue Marsh, a swanky beach town and Bria's hometown.

Gin ends up driving down to Blue Marsh with Bria a day before Finn and Owen join them. Ever since they have reunited, Gin and Bria's relationship has been fragile because of who Gin is and it has become even more tenuous after Bria has been kidnapped and tortured by Mab. Therefore Gin hopes this trip will give them the opportunity to strengthen their bond... especially since she's worried Bria has decided to return "home" now that their enemy is dead. However, Gin's bonding experience is not happening, in part because she feels like the third wheel once she meets Callie - Bria's best friend and the "sister she never had." Then, to her shock, Callie also turns out to be the fiancée of Detective Donovan Caine... Gin's lover who really hurt her in the past.

And to complicate the whole situation, Callie is in trouble. Callie is being harassed by a rich and powerful vampire to sell him her restaurant. She is the only land owner still holding out and therefore, is the only obstacle left in Randall Dekes' plan to build a resort and mega casino. Gin kindly proposes to take care of him... but let say her proposition doesn't go over well with Bria and Donovan... that is until, Dekes kidnaps Callie.

My Opinion: As I mentioned earlier, I've really been looking forward to By a Thread :) Overall, I have enjoyed the Elemental Assassin series; however, by the end of the first story arc, i.e. Spider's Revenge, I found the series really suffered from too many recaps and became too predictable. Therefore, By a Thread felt like Ms Estep's opportunity for another fresh start. In the end, although she didn't fully exploit the opportunity she was given, I think Ms Estep did a good job nonetheless :)

Overall, I did enjoy By a Thread. While the plot wasn't as refreshing as I hoped it'd be, it was a bit less predictable and still a very solid read. I guess there are plot limitations when your heroine is an assassin and her first reaction is to kill first and think later ^_^; Plus, Gin's victims have to be villains, people who deserve it... I mean, nobody likes a heroine who kills innocent, right? Going in By a Thread, I didn't expect Gin to be someone else and I knew she'd be doing her job, i.e. killing people... and in that respect, kudos to Ms Estep for being consistent with the characterization :) However, I can't help but be a bit disappointed because I felt Randall Dekes wasn't different from the previous villains in the series nor was the situation Callie was in which prompted Gin to take care of it. Once again, you have an underworld lord who appears to be nice and philanthropic bullying regular folks and resorting to violence and death. Like I said, it wasn't very original and I hope that in the next book Ms Estep will be able to come up with something different. In the meantime, Ms Estep pulls it off  in By a Thread because there are some interesting twists in the plot :) I really liked that Gin was reminded of her vulnerability in By a Thread. Not surprisingly, after killing Mab who is such a powerful elemental, Gin has gotten a bit too over-confident. It's a very normal reaction in my opinion... but it's also a very dangerous one and Gin pays for it. As an assassin, Gin cannot get sloppy... Sloppy means death. Also, there's always someone stronger waiting in the wings. So in that aspect, I think the plot worked :) And as usual, there was some nice action :)

The real strength of By a Thread wasn't the plot or the action this time around. Instead, it was the development and progress in the characterization and relationships in my opinion. I thought Ms Estep really did a great job. I liked that she tackled the broken relationship between Gin and Bria. I feel that ever since she's appeared in the picture, Bria has been acting like a spoiled kid. Bria was lucky... she was saved and then, was raised by a loving couple. Gin wasn't as lucky and in the end, she survived the only way she could. Obviously, Gin being an assassin does go against Bria's moral standards... but doesn't Gin deserve a break given what she's been through? I felt Bria should be the last to be so judgmental about Gin. Also, there was a lot of emphasis about how angry Bria was at Gin because Gin was the reason why Bria was kidnapped and tortured by Mab... and I just don't understand this part. The way I remember it, if it wasn't for Gin, Bria would have been killed right after she returned to Ashland ^_^; With or without Gin, Mab would have gone after Bria simply because of who she is... so I really didn't get why she blamed Gin. Anyway, I'm glad that seeing how Donovan treated Gin finally opened Bria's eyes and made her realized how badly she's been treating Gin. At the same time, I was also very glad that Gin was able to let go of Bria. Our heroine has been trying so hard to win over her little sister and really, I just thought Gin deserved better.

Another relationship that Ms Estep tackled was Donovan Caine. When I heard from Ms Estep that Donovan would make a return in By a Thread back during RT 2010, my first reaction was denial. I really wasn't looking forward to it, because I just hate love triangles... and there's no doubt to me that Gin has not let go, mainly because Donovan is the man who walked away and hurt her so much. Does someone you don't have feelings for can hurt you this much? No. So whether she admits it or not, I feel like Gin has loved Donovan at some point. I guess that in facing Donovan again, Ms Estep's intention was to give Gin some closure... and she did get closure, but it felt forced to me. My problem is that whenever Owen came up, Gin would think/talk about how much she loves him, how much they suit each other and how Owen accepts her... which is all true. However, the way it was done, it seems to me Gin was reminding herself. She was reminding herself to love Owen because he was safe, he wouldn't hurt her :( Also, in By a Thread, Donovan really acted like an ass ^_^; From his "too good" attitude towards Gin to the last scene at the restaurant... Ugh, Gin is totally better off without him. At the same time, I feel that Owen deserves more from Gin... And I hope Ms Estep will work on that in the next book. Oh and also, I loved Owen's attitude throughout By a Thread. Always supportive towards Gin, but also, he trusted her. He never pushed her, forced her in anyway to prove that she loved him... Sigh, such a great guy. I really hope Gin realizes how lucky she is :)

Finally, I want to say that I liked that Ms Estep addressed some of the issues readers have brought up in the previous books, mainly the recapping. I don't know whether she really listened to the readers or it's because By a Thread is a new story arc and didn't require as many recaps, but I hope she keeps it up :)

My Grade: B. I really wavered between a B or a B+. Had I not felt the way I do about the whole Gin and Owen, this book would definitively have been a B+. In the end, I just feel a bit uncomfortable with the whole situation and I hope Ms Estep will really make it clear in Widow's Web :)