Tag Archives: Jennifer Estep

Supersenses (AAAAHHHHHH!)

Visit Bigtime, a thriving metropolis where nefarious ubervillains and strapping superheroes are constantly battling for control of the city.  Nightingale (2012), the fourth entry in Jennifer Estep’s romance/superhero parody series (now there’s an untapped genre), focuses on Abby Appleby, Bigtime’s premiere event planner. Though Abby has been cursed with supersenses ever since an unfortunate amaretto sour/karaoke machine accident, she doesn’t have any desire to mix it up with the superhero set.  However, when she spies hero Talon being shot and temporarily blinded by his archnemesis, Bandit, she can’t help but save Talon’s life. Abby takes Talon back to her loft to nurse him back to health and they flirt, banter, and then totally do it. When Talon’s sight starts to return, she freaks out that he’s going to be disappointed with boring old Abby, so she drugs him and dumps his unconscious body in a location where he’s sure to be discovered by some good samaritan.

So Abby thinks that is that, but the next day one of Bigtime’s many billionaires comes to her to plan an emergency party and she uses her supersenses to figure out that he’s really Talon. Of course. She agrees to plan the party because she’s a professional, but things get super awkward when she realizes that Talon is searching for the woman he calls Nightingale, aka Abby.  And of course he starts developing feelings for real Abby which he feels guilty about because he doesn’t realize it’s the SAME WOMAN. It’s like The Little Mermaid, but without all the fish.  At least it is in my brain. Oh and Bandit figures out that Abby  was the one who saved Talon and that she has flash drive containing the ubervillain’s evil plan, so he starts trying to kidnap her and things get very tense and explodey. I don’t think it would shock or spoil anyone to learn that that there’s a big dramatic confrontation and a happy ending.

I’ve mentioned before that I think world-building is really Estrep’s strength as a writer. What I love about Bigtime is how matter of fact all the characters are about the superhero world.  There’s no shock or dismay about grown men and women running around in masks with superpowers; it’s commonplace to them. And Estrep has a lot of fun with the details.  First of all, about 98% of the names are alliterative, and the other 2% tend to be puns. Also, the names of some of the 2nd tier superheroes and villains are hilarious: Halitosis Hal, Gentlemen George, Yeti Girl, with Granny Cane and Grandpa Pain.  I want a short story about each of those characters now. And though the romance plots can edge on corny, I keep coming back to Bigtime because it’s fun.

However, I had two major problems with this story.  First, it was very repetitive. For example, Abby’s supersenses were referenced so many times that I began to suspect that I was in an episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and SUPERSENSES was the secret word of the day.  Though screaming every time the word popped up did add a certain excitement to the reading experience. I just think the audience is smart enough to get what the author is going for without spelling it out repeatedly.

Second, the main characters couldn’t figure out the secret identities of the superheroes despite the fact that it was EXTREMELY OBVIOUS. Look, I know that part of the fun and drama of the superhero genre stems from the audience is in on a secret that the other characters are not a part of, but COME ON. When you set up your main character to be hyper competent and intelligent, and yet she can’t even use her goddamn SUPERSENSES to figure out that the superhero who is acting exactly like her best friend’s boss is ACTUALLY her best friend’s boss, then I just lose all respect for her.

I didn’t realize until after I’d finished the book that Nightingale was self-published. Apparently the original publisher did not pick up any more books in the series, but the author got enough feedback from fans that she decided to continue it on her own. Though I’m a bit of a self-publishing snob (I’ve spent too much time reading the slush pile to be otherwise), I think this is a great avenue for established authors to continue their stories for their fans.  However, I think the self-publishing explains the biggest problems with the book: it should have been more rigorously edited. And I’m not talking about grammar, because an editor does so much more than that. A good editor would have reduced the repetition and obliviousness of the characters to make a less frustrating reading experience.  I know I’ve been a bit harsh, but I do hope that Estep continues with the series because it’s such a fun world to play in.  Just, please hire an editor. I could even recommend a few.

For you young whippersnappers who have never heard of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

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Second Verse, Same as the First

WARNING: There will be spoilers for the first book, Touch of Frost, if you care about that sort of thing.

When we last saw our heroine, Gwen had become the latest Frost woman to accept the role as champion of Nike, the goddess of victory.  This gig comes with a bloodthirsty, talking sword named Vic and a bunch of enemies called reapers, acolytes for Loki, the trapped god of chaos.  And Gwen asked out Logan, the bad-boy Spartan who saved her life. She was brutally rebuffed (sorry, I watched Clueless recently) but it’s obvious that he has feelings for her.  So Gwen has a lot on her plate right now.

Kiss of Frost (Kensington 2011) picks up right where the first book left off.  Gwen is training in swordplay and archery with Logan in the hopes that she’ll be able to fight back the next time a reaper attacks, but it’s not going too well.  Plus, she has a front row seat every time Logan sticks his tongue down his girlfriend’s throat.  So she’s pretty excited when she meets a new guy at the school’s annual ski trip and winter carnival. The only damper on the trip is that a reaper keeps trying to kill her in really inventive ways.  (Honestly though, who hasn’t had that happen to them on a school trip?) Gwen learns a bit more about her powers, a (glaringly obvious) family secret is revealed, and we learn just how close Loki is to escaping his prison and endangering the entire world.

As I was reading over my review of the first book, I realized that it contained most of the points that I wanted to make about this book: interesting mythology, good action, awkwardly written romance, strong heroine who can be remarkably dense about things, etc.  It’s fitting since the plot of book 2 is not all that different than the plot of book one. Someone is trying to kill Gwen using a mythological creature and she fights back.  Logan is drawn to Gwen but has secrets. Gwen discovers a family secret that leaves her more committed to the fight than ever. Blah, blah, blah.  We find a bit more about Loki, but the romance is the only storyline that gets any real movement and it’s the part of the narrative that doesn’t really work for me.

But eye-rolling romance aside, my biggest problem with story was with Gwen herself. Now, I like the character, but for someone who is described as really smart, she can be stunningly clueless.  By the way, this upcoming rant is about a pretty big plot reveal, so avert your eyes if you don’t want to be spoiled.

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Gwen finds out that her mother was really murdered by reapers and that everyone has been lying to her about it.  OF COURSE SHE WAS! I figured that out the first time I read that her mom had died in a car accident.  Nobody in a supernatural novel dies from a mere car crash!  And granted, unlike Gwen, I have the benefit of knowing that I’m reading a supernatural story, but COME ON. I’m guessing Jennifer Estep wanted the dramatic reveal of Gwen finding out by using her her pychometry on one of the murderers, but Gwen found out that her mom used to be Nike’s champion and never thinks that there might be more to her death than she’s been led to believe?  It seriously makes me doubt her intelligence.

And on a similar note, Gwen is a less capable fighter than the rest of her classmates because her mom and grandma shielded her from the mythological world.  I think we’re supposed to think this is noble, but considering that every Frost woman has ended up as Nike’s champion, they had to know that there was a pretty good chance that Gwen would too.  So by giving her a normal childhood and not training her to fight like the rest of her peers, they’ve actually made it much more difficult for her now that people are trying to kill her all the damn time.  Way to go!  I’d be seriously pissed if I was Gwen.

It may not seem like it, but I did enjoy the story, though there’s definitely a sense of diminishing returns here. I’m a little less enthusiastic about reading book 3 than I was about reading book two, but I do want to see where the story goes. Hopefully we’ll get a lot more movement in the next one.  And a lot more of Vic, the talking sword who wants to kill reapers as violently as possible.  In fact, I would totally read an anthology about Nike’s Champions told from Vic’s point of view.  Jennifer Estep, you might want to think about it.


Gypsies, Tramps, & Thieves

I quite like this cover. And you can see her face!

In Touch of Frost (Kensington 2011), Gwen Frost is not having a good year.  First her mother is killed in a horrible car accident and then she’s shipped off to a fancy boarding school that turns out to be a training ground for the descendants of ancient, mythical warriors to learn how to fight the evil forces that plot to free Loki, the Norse god of chaos, and unleash hell on earth.  Although, who’s high school wasn’t like that.  But Gwen Is Different.  You can tell, because unlike the rich Valkyrie and Amazon bitches at her new school, she likes comic books and wears graphic tees and hoodies.  (Hey Rhymenocerous, does this make her alternative?) She’s also the only Gypsy of the bunch.  And in this mythology, a Gypsy (Gypsies!) is someone who has been gifted magic by the gods, not the ethnic group that cursed Angelus with that pesky soul or the famed burlesque stripper.  Gwen’s special power is psychometry, the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it.  I actually had a French teacher in high school who claimed to have this ability.  He took my ring and said that he saw the letter “S.”  Gee, that’s specific.  Y’all will be shocked to find out that I did not learn a whole lot of French in that class.  I did get an A though, so yay for the American public educational system.

ANYWAY. Gwen is flying under the radar, using her ability to find people’s stuff for a little extra cash, when she’s attacked while an important magical artifact is stolen (Thieves!) and the mean Queen Bee is murdered.  Upset that nobody seems to care that a girl was murdered right on campus (the girl’s best friend and boyfriend are even already hooking up which gives us the Tramps! in order to complete our post title trifecta), Gwen resolves to find out what happened to Jasmine, the aforementioned Queen Bee and enlists (well blackmails is probably the more appropriate term) the help of Daphne, Mean Girl and closet computer nerd.  She also attracts the attention of bad-boy Logan, a Spartan who has the ability to pick up anything and turn it into a deadly weapon.  Even like a twizzler.  And along the way, Gwen discovers that not only is she different, but she might just have a destiny.

I picked up this book because I’m a fan of author Jennifer Estep’s Bigtime superhero series.  Estep can sometimes be a bit clunky with the emotional lives of her characters, but I think she has a real knack for building the interesting alternative realities that her characters inhabit.  She peppers these worlds with a lot of little details that make them seem real.  Now this is the first book in a YA fantasy series so there is a LOT of exposition, but the plot moves along at a fairly brisk pace and there’s some good action and twists along the way.  It’s kind of impossible not to compare the book to Rick Riordan’s superior middle-grade Percy Jackson series (and we’ll get to those books later), but the mythology subject is a relatively fresh angle in the YA market,  particularly for those of us who are sick of vampires and dystopias already.

For the most part, I enjoyed Gwen as a character, although sometimes Estep pushes the geeky outsider thing a little too much.  She’s feisty and direct and I liked how, for the most part, she wasn’t all angsty about her psychic power.  Though her gift has consequences, she likes knowing peoples secrets and uses it for monetary gain.  I think I’d probably be the same way.  However, the thing that annoyed me the most about the character is Gwen’s refusal to believe that the mythological gods are real.  I know the disbeliever is a trope, but I’m sorry, YOU HAVE A MAGICAL POWER!  You know your mother and grandmother also have magical powers!  Every single person at that freaking school has some kind of supernatural ability!  You accept all this, no problem.  But the idea that the gods were real and myths are actually history?  Why that’s just crazy talk. Ugh.

I don’t think Touch of Frost is an instant classic, but it’s a good choice if you’re looking for a fast and fun read.  And I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel when it comes out.  Cause did I mention that there’s a talking sword named Vic?  Yeah, and he’s awesome.