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REVIEW: “Stakes & Spurs” / “Blood & Stone” by Hank Edwards

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ABOUT:

Stakes & Spurs (Venom Valley #2)

Dex Wells, former deputy of the prairie town of Belkin’s Pass, awakes to the sound of screaming. He is chained to the wall of a cave, prisoner of the powerful vampire Balthazar, who has turned many of the residents of Belkin’s Pass into vampires like him, and used most others as food. Balthazar keeps Dex as bait, hoping to lure Dex’s lover, Josh Stanton, into the caves and capture him. There is something different about Josh, Balthazar senses it, but what that difference is he can’t quite tell.

Josh Stanton can raise the dead. It’s a power he’s always had within him, and something he’s considered a curse. Now, however, he’s discovered that the risen dead can bite through vampire skin and bones. If he can just learn to control the power and, with it, the dead he’s resurrected, he might be able to save his lover, Dex, from Balthazar’s caves. But there’s still a bounty on Josh’s head for a murder he did not commit, and he ends up back in Belkin’s Pass with Glory, a half Indian, half white former saloon girl watched over by a Native American spirit. Together, they gather the few residents left alive and make a stand against the rampaging vampires and the wolves under their control.

The arrival of two members of the US Army, however, throws their careful plans into uncertainty as Josh is taken into custody. Can he convince the Army men the truth of their outrageous claims? And can Dex be saved before Balthazar turns him into a vampire as well?

 

Blood & Stone (Venom Valley #3)

Josh Stanton’s mother has been held prisoner by the vampire Balthazar for fifteen years. As Balthazar has turned the residents of Belkin’s Pass into vampires under his control, Josh, his lover Dex, former saloon girl Glory, and US Army Sergeant Walker Maxwell fight to contain the undead uprising.

As Josh struggles to control his power to raise the dead, the group is pursued to the abandoned Fort Emmerick. There they make plans to take the battle to Balthazar’s cave, uncertain if all of them will live to see the light of day once again.

REVIEW:

Stakes & Spurs is a direct continuation of Cowboys & Vampires. Due to circumstances following the end of book one, there actually isn’t very much Josh-Dex interaction in this sequel. Dex and Josh are both separated by circumstances and distance, each having to overcome obstacles getting between them. As a fan of character interaction with the love interests, I had to say this was a disappointing (but necessary) development.

The cast of characters also broaden with the addition of Sergeant Walker Maxwell of the US Army, along with his soldiers. To be honest, everything felt like it went downhill from that moment on. Let me explain:

I felt like the introduction of Army soldiers, especially Walker, served no purpose except to make the story longer and throw conflict between Josh and Dex’s relationship. The story, which was well paced, now stilled to a crawl filled with one event after the other. Sure, Josh worked towards the goal of getting back with Dex, but I literally felt like it would NEVER happen. A silly notion considering this is just a novella length story.

And let’s not forget the thing between Josh and Walker, which just turned me off quicker than a bucket of ice cold water. Even after finishing book three (the final entry into the series), I still couldn’t understand the purpose of creating this sexual tension between them.

I also wasn’t too impressed with the way that Josh was able to control his necromancy. It felt like the author didn’t want to go too in depth with the mechanics of his powers (which I really was interested in knowing) and found a cheap cop-out.

It’s difficult to explain more of this sequel without spoiling the events. I was just disappointed with Stakes & Spurs, because it made the book more (more characters, more problems), but not necessarily better. I felt like the spotlight definitely was NOT on our love interests despite self proclamations of love for one another, since too many other things were happening to delay their reunion.

Blood & Stone is the third and final entry into the Venom Valley series. Now that Josh and Dex are reunited, they are set with the final battle against the vampires. In this book, the POV expands to include Walker. That makes it four characters we are head hopping between: Dex, Josh, Glory and Walker. Honestly, as much as I like Glory, I was getting really tired at this point with so many people sharing word space (any chapter that contains Gloria’s POV always has “the warmth of Ohanzee” repeated like ten times and was getting on my nerves). I literally felt that Walker’s POV did absolutely nothing to enrich the story. Sure, it gave us more insight into his past, but that happens pretty much at the very end of the book – at that point, I really could have cared less. I also felt like one-third or even half of the story could have been deleted, and it would have been even BETTER. Most of the book was literally preparing for the fight, which got boring fast. The vampire/wolf fights were also losing its touch and felt like a repeating scene throughout the book.

Was Blood & Stone all bad? Nope. I still really enjoyed the times when Josh and Dex were able to find time to themselves. Sure, the sex was great, but I loved the non-sexual intimacy between them while they fight for their lives. While Glory annoyed me with her POV, reading about her from Josh and Dex’s POV was fine. I did enjoy most of the side characters as well, since they became part of this little vampire-killing family living out in the West. It really is a cast of very diverse people.

So overall, the series was “okay” for me. It had a prominent beginning, which fizzled out in book two mostly due to bad pacing, but recovered somewhat in book three. It had a charming (and not so charming) cast of characters that were mostly engaging. The story itself was solid, though its execution wavered while the story progressed. The Venom Valley series isn’t perfect, but you should give it a try if you’re a fan of historical paranormal stories.

 

 

RATING: 2 Stars (Stakes & Spurs) / 3 Stars (Blood & Stone)

BOOK INFO:

18375051Title: Stakes & Spurs (Venom Valley #2)
Author: Hank Edwards
Publisher: Wilde City Press
Pages: 159
Release Date: August 21, 2013
Purchase Links:  Wilde City Press

 

 

20942177Title: Blood & Stone (Venom Valley #3)
Author: Hank Edwards
Publisher: Wilde City Press
Pages: 78k words
Release Date: March 5, 2014
Purchase Links:  Wilde City Press

 

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This entry was posted on September 23, 2014 by in Cops / Cowboys / Military, PNR / UF / SF / DYS, Reviewer: Xing and tagged , , , .

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