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Book Review: An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire

Title: An Artificial Night

Author: Seanan McGuire

Series: October Daye #3

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Changeling knight in the court of the Duke of Shadowed Hills, October “Toby” Daye has survived numerous challenges that would destroy fae and mortal alike. Now Toby must take on a nightmarish new assignment. Someone is stealing both fae and mortal children—and all signs point to Blind Michael. When the young son of Toby’s closest friends is snatched from their Northern California home, Toby has no choice but to track the villains down, even when there are only three magical roads by which to reach Blind Michael’s realm—home of the legendary Wild Hunt—and no road may be taken more than once. If she cannot escape with all the children before the candle that guides and protects her burns away, Toby herself will fall prey to Blind Michael’s inescapable power. And it doesn’t bode well for the success of her mission that her own personal Fetch, May Daye—the harbinger of Toby’s own death—has suddenly turned up on her doorstep… -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m starting to think this series may not be my jam.

While the first book was a decent introduction, I actively despised the second book and almost didn’t continue from there. But with comments from Goodreads buddies telling me An Artificial Night was where the series starts to get good, I begrudgingly continued.

Is it possible that I went into it cranky and prepared to be a bit overly critical? Entirely. But for the most part I just found myself comparing the story elements to other favorite Urban Fantasy series like Kate Daniels and Mercy Thompson, and still found this one lacking.

My issues seem to change with each book, which in a way is a good thing because it means that eventually the stars may line up. While book two had horrendous pacing and a plot riddled with issues, with this one I only had trouble with the main character. She doesn’t feel like a real person yet. When something awful happens to her, she thinks “well, that’s awful” and then moves on with her day. Her complete lack of emotional depth kept me at an arm’s distance the entire book. After all, if she’s not particularly concerned with the awful things happening, then why should I be? If it weren’t for the profound depth of character exploration I’ve read within her Wayward Children series (I know she can dazzle me!), I may have thrown in the towel already. But the promise of what she CAN do continues to keep me reading… that and the fact that I already forked out good cash for the entire series on audio ::facepalm::. But that’s what I did with Dresden, continuing to work my way through that series because I already had them, until one day around book five it suddenly won me over. I’m hoping for a similar experience here.

The world-building and pacing were actually pretty good in this book. If nothing else, McGuire is wildly creative, unique, and off the beaten path when it comes to her stories and this series is no exception. It’s another reason I’m still sticking around to see where it goes. She knows how to set a hell of an atmosphere in her books, and I love that component.

Recommendations: while many love this series as much as the other heavy-hitters in the urban fantasy genre, I’m still not a believer (…yet). I’d say save this one until after you’ve read my other recs. It’s solid B-list so far.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Magic Kingdom for Sale / Sold by Terry Brooks

Title: Magic Kingdom for Sale / Sold

Author: Terry Brooks

Series: Magic Kingdom of Landover #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Landover was a genuine magic kingdom, complete with fairy folk and wizardry, just as the advertisement had promised. But after he purchased it for a million dollars, Ben Holiday discovered that there were a few details the ad had failed to mention. Such as the fact that the kingdom was falling into ruin. The barons refused to recognize a king and taxes hadn’t been collected for years. The dragon, Strabo, was laying waste to the countryside, while the evil witch, Nightshade, was plotting to destroy no less than everything. And if that weren’t enough for a prospective king to deal with, Ben soon learned that the Iron Mark, terrible lord of the demons, challenged all pretenders to the throne of Landover to a duel to the death – a duel no mere mortal could hope to win. But Ben Holiday had one human trait that even magic couldn’t overcome. Ben Holiday was stubborn. -Goodreads

The Review:

I admittedly don’t have a lot of patience for classic fantasy stories. Ones of the simple variety with a straight-forward plot, typical magical creatures, and slews of trophy themes riddled throughout. It feels like once you’ve read one, you’ve basically read them all.

Magic Kingdom was entirely part of that same mold.

If you’re going to pick up a classic fantasy, however, you could do much worse than this series by Terry Brooks. The book was written well and even though I’ve seen all of the story elements before, they were deftly presented. I was particularly engaged at the beginning (which takes place in our world), following a character who’s trying to decide if he’s going to take a leap of faith. It was a strong start, and basically my enjoyment hinged on whether or not eventually making it to Landover and seeing what it had to offer was worth the buildup. It wasn’t… but I still oddly enjoyed my time reading it, regardless. Truthfully, had it not been reading the book for my Read/Burn/Hoard challenge, I may have abandoned it within 100 pages of making it to Landover and not discovering anything compelling. That and the general flow of the writing kept me going, but it was a close thing.

One thing I learned after reading the back cover flap is that Brooks has a graduate degree in law and practiced for several years before becoming a writer. The main character in this book is also a lawyer, and I could totally see the extra connection Brooks had to the him and how his knowledge of legal matters enhanced the story. I love it when writers bring additional expertise to their works.

The plot in this first book was pretty basic, but I still find myself interested in seeing where it will go next. Perhaps now that we’ve taken an entire novel to get acclimated to this new world, we can start exploring it and getting a little more creative in the subsequent ones. I’m at least committed to reading book two, then deciding from there.

Recommendations: pick this one up for a typical classic fantasy experience. Of the portal variety.

Other book you might like (a basic playlist of classic fantasy):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Living with the Dead by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Living with the Dead

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Women of the Otherworld #9

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: The men and women of the Otherworld – witches, werewolves, demons, vampires – live unseen among us. Only now a reckless killer has torn down the wall, trapping one very human woman in the supernatural crossfire. Robyn moved to LA after her husband died to try to put some distance between herself and the life they had together. And the challenges of her job as the PR consultant to a Paris Hilton wannabe are pretty distracting. But then her celebutante is gunned down in a night club, and Robyn is suddenly the prime suspect. The two people most determined to clear her are her old friend, the half-demon tabloid reporter Hope Adams, and a homicide detective with an uncanny affinity for the dead Soon Robyn finds herself in the heart of a world she never even knew existed – and which she was safer knowing nothing about . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

The magic of this series has evaporated, but Living with the Dead was still just entertaining enough to keep me reading. If No Humans Involved hadn’t been so dang good (showing me that brilliant nuggets may still be had), I probably would’ve moved on by now. But at this point I’m still holding out, hoping for another strike of brilliance.

When compared to other robust urban fantasies in the genre (and early books in this series), Living with the Dead really doesn’t hold a candle to them. However, matched up to most of the paranormal romance series I’ve tried (from a quality standpoint), it’s a decent read…

… except there’s not really a romance in this one. Which brings me to my next rant.

I wanted there to be at least SOME romance in this book. It’s the main draw to continue at this point and frankly why I got hooked on the series in the first place (my friend referred to it once saying “I want more of that hot werewolf sex.” Which I laughed at but couldn’t argue with). Then to add insult to the lack of any steam, the sexual encounters that DID make an appearance here were fucking weird. Like, uncomfortable to read, and not in a kinky way, but more in a… well ima leave it at that.

Overall, the writing was quality, the characters were good, the storyline was meh, and the romance was nonexistent. It may be a while before I’m motivated to pick up the next one [editor’s note: I wrote this review over two years ago but never got around to publishing it… I still haven’t picked up the next book].

Recommendations: if you like urban fantasy, definitely check out the first two books – amazing! The rest of the series has some merit, with a hit-or-miss ratio at about 50/50. This one was one of my least favorites so far even though I can acknowledge that at a base level it’s a decent read. I think I’m at the point where I’M the one who needs the recommendation on whether or not to finish out the series.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Review: Sins of Our Fathers by James S.A. Corey

Title: Sins of Our Fathers

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: Expanse #9.5

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Through one of the gates, a colony stands alone. Their supplies are low. Their defenses, weak. The leadership is uncertain, and the community fragile. Huge alien beasts threaten the little they have left. But the worst monsters are human, and the greatest dangers are the past they brought. –Goodreads

The Review:

While this didn’t give me the big picture answers I was hoping for, it reminded me why I love the Expanse. It also provided the much-needed opportunity to walk away from the series with positive feelings, as Leviathan Falls left me feeling underwhelmed (“can you ever be just whelmed?” That may be a more accurate description). The story here doesn’t really have anything to do with the final book, but rather is an exploration of humanity and how circumstances shape our lives (as ever with their writing). I found it deeply profound. And it provided a resonance for the rest of the series and all of the fall-out from events culminating to this point. Things ever remain human-driven, whether epic or mundane. I loved it.

And I want more.

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee

Title: Untethered Sky

Author: Fonda Lee

Series: N/A

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Ester’s family was torn apart when a manticore killed her mother and baby brother, leaving her with nothing but her father’s painful silence and a single, overwhelming need to kill the monsters that took her family. Ester’s path leads her to the King’s Royal Mews, where the giant rocs of legend are flown to hunt manticores by their brave and dedicated ruhkers. Paired with a fledgling roc named Zahra, Ester finds purpose and acclaim by devoting herself to a calling that demands absolute sacrifice and a creature that will never return her love. The terrifying partnership between woman and roc leads Ester not only on the empire’s most dangerous manticore hunt, but on a journey of perseverance and acceptance. -Goodreads

The Review:

Untethered Sky is one of the best books I’ve read this year – I loved it!!

Granted, I’ve a particular fondness for these types of stories. The ones where we get the nitty gritty details of trainers taking care of their dangerous animals. I usually get my kicks from dragon books (see other books you might like section), and loved seeing Lee’s version of that framework with Rocs (giant birds).

The book had a lot of slow moments where we really got to appreciate the bond between the main character and her bird. Everything from its initial acclimation to hunting drills – it was superb. I love it when authors take their time to highlight the selling points of a story. That may seem like a “duh” comment, but I can’t tell you how many books I’ve picked up on a good premise that never quite delivered on its promises. Untethered Sky definitely didn’t feel like an opportunity wasted.

The MC was my favorite part of the book. She had such a poignant connection to the overall conflict of the story that I couldn’t help but be drawn in. She really believed in her cause, and that personal connection and motive behind becoming a roc trainer added a lot of meaningful depth to the story. I also loved her awkward navigations when dealing with other humans – she was incredibly endearing.

The x-factor in books for me tipping them over from just good to freaking amazing seems to be a combination of pacing and momentum. This story had the perfect balance of both, leaving me reeling at the end of the book in the best way possible. I haven’t finished Green Bone yet, but if this novella and the wild popularity of that series are any indication, I’m in for quite the ride.

Recommendations: pick this up for a fun story filled with interesting characters, awe-inspiring creatures, and excellent pacing. I loved it.

I’d like to thank TOR, Fonda Lee, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Untethered Sky!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book/Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diane Wynne Jones

Title: Howl’s Moving Castle

Author: Diane Wynne Jones

Series: Howl’s Moving Castle #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye. -Goodreads

The Review:

I may be the only person on the planet who hadn’t seen the Studio Ghibli adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle, but in a way I’m grateful because it gave me the ability to tackle the book with an unbiased opinion. And I’m glad it did because the book was just okay.

And actually, after watching the movie and seeing all the story elements brought to life and enhanced, I found myself looking back on the book with more fondness. What surprised me is how closely the movie kept to the source material. All of the major elements were included, even down to exact quotes on occasion. All save one component: the romance.

In the book there was a connection between the main characters, but their focus was always on others and rarely on each other, lacking any sort of depth. It was kind of odd, and I think that lack of interpersonal connection is the reason I found the story a bit lackluster – it never felt like we were working towards anything meaningful, and so all of the smaller plot points felt, well, pointless. The movie did a brilliant job at adding in what was missing by giving the viewer a through-line to root for (i.e. are they going to end up together?).

I loved the movie. The visuals were stunning, the story components expanded on and enhanced, and the flow and momentum of the pacing perfectly on point.

And the dog. Omg.

In both versions I loved the main character, Sophie. She had a lot of depth and both formats did a great job highlighting certain aspects of her mannerisms. Particularly how her personality changed with different circumstances. The basic premise of the story is this young girl gets changed into an old woman. Watching Sophie deal with the ramifications of that and face her own mortality brought out this beautiful narrative of perspective – where she realizes life’s too short to be held up on petty concerns and starts to speak her mind, not worrying about what others think. It wasn’t a heavy-handed theme, but even so it resonated with me profoundly.

Overall, I think experiencing these two versions in tandem enhanced them both. Because I’d read the book and seen the components the film makers were working with, it make me appreciate their choices on what to adapt and how to make it better. So many brilliant decisions that honored the book and made the movie into the beloved classic it has become.

Recommendations: while the movie was easily my preferred format for the story, reading the book allowed me to appreciate it even more. If you’ve already seen the movie, the book probably won’t add any depth or interest to your experience. However if like me you’ve the new to both, reading the book first will make you appreciate the movie even more.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes