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Book Review: The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R. Green

Title: The Best Thing You Can Steal

Author: Simon R. Green

Series: Gideon Sable #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: Welcome to London, but not as you know it. A place where magics and horror run free, wonders and miracles are everyday things, and the dark streets are full of very shadowy people . . .
Gideon Sable is a thief and a con man. He specializes in stealing the kind of things that can’t normally be stolen. Like a ghost’s clothes, or a photo from a country that never existed. He even stole his current identity. Who was he originally? Now, that would be telling. One thing’s for sure though, he’s not the bad guy. The people he steals from always have it coming. Gideon’s planning a heist, to steal the only thing that matters from the worst man in the world. To get past his security, he’s going to need a crew who can do the impossible . . . but luckily, he has the right people in mind. The Damned, the Ghost, the Wild Card . . . and his ex-girlfriend, Annie Anybody. A woman who can be anyone, with the power to make technology fall in love with her. If things go well, they’ll all get what they want. And if they’re lucky, they might not even die trying . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

As you can tell by my knee-jerk review above, I needed some time and space from this book to assess it in a more mature manner.

Obviously I didn’t enjoy The Best Thing You Can Steal, but I didn’t spend the entire book not liking it. I was actually quite on board at the beginning when the main character was taking a ton of time to assemble his team of thieves. I thought the setup a bit long-winded (instead of hinting at backstories and keeping some details as surprises for later, everyone’s history was laid out and explained extensively), but was willing to ride it out because the book was promising the heist of a century! I love seeing the legwork for stuff like that.

“And we set of with speed for the bright lights of London. A car full of weird with a ghost on top.” <-I loved this quote, and felt really excited to embark with them at the time.

But then the moment arrived. When we finally get to go along with the characters as the do the big things. And I was so, so let down. For me, the main appeal of the novel was the promise of a good heist, and a good heist it was not. First off, the whys behind the heist weren’t convincing as reasons to put everyone at risk. But people do weird things all the time, so that’s a point I overlooked. Secondly, it’s not much fun when there are no challenges and everyone is perfectly prepared for all of the obstacles they’ll face. It’s ideal, of course, but it lacks a certain drama to engage the reader.

And to that point I have a side rant. The team of characters Gideon was assembling for the heist was fun, but one of the members was a woman who had a special ability: computers respond to her and will do anything to please her. How convenient.

It just felt so contrived. Especially since I can’t recall anyone else referencing or having special abilities in the story. So by all accounts, she’s the only one around with “powers” and omgsh how wonderful it is that they happen to be exactly what a thief would need to get past a security system without having to spend any time figuring out how to bypass them organically. All of the other supernatural elements and characters fit, but seeing as this character was already a master of disguise, adding the technology powers in felt like an afterthought. It almost would’ve been better to set up the world without technologies for whatever fabricated reason made sense, and go from there. Rant over.

Finally, the actual thing they found when the heist was complete… was so stupid. I don’t know how else to say it. It made me feel like I’d wasted all the time spend reading the book just to end up where we did. Like, I was promised one thing and delivered something completely different. It actually made me mad, which I’m laughing at now because I don’t usually get that worked up over books. Something about this one must’ve hit a nerve.

Overall, the journey was a bit slow, but the characters were fun and I appreciated the lighthearted heist story I was getting. But taking time to read the endless pages of buildup only to have a very unsatisfying payoff left me feeling resentful. Like I said before, at least it was evoking, if nothing else.

Recommendations: if you’re picking this up because you want a light urban fantasy with some cheeky supernatural characters, this is a good pick. If, like me, you wanted to experience an amazing heist because the Gentleman Bastards series still doesn’t have a release date for the fourth book and you’re getting desperate for that type of story… this one will not make you feel better.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Darkness Rising by Keri Arthur

Title: Darkness Rising

Author: Keri Arthur

Series: Dark Angels #2

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Risa will go to any lengths to avenge her mother’s murder—even if it means making a pact with the most evil vampire she’s ever met. Lethal and powerful, Madeline Hunter is leader of the vampire council, and will put her resources behind finding the killer—for a price. The venerable vampire requires the assistance of Risa’s psychic powers. Quid pro quo. Someone—or something—is targeting the elders of the local council, cursing the immortal vampires to rapidly age, sink into madness, and die. Risa must track down the vengeful being responsible. But Risa’s father, a rogue Aedh priest, also enlists her in a dangerous mission. And not even the great Madeline Hunter may be able to protect her from the shadowy forces that desire nothing less than Risa’s destruction. -Goodreads

The Review:

It has only been a week and I’ve already forgotten what I read.

I’m still reconciling how my tastes have changed since I first read Darkness Unbounded five years ago, and how that one lost almost 3 stars on the reread. This was my first venture into Darkness Rising, and my grand plans for bulldozing through the series this month have been derailed… I didn’t love it.

The book didn’t have a lot of substance. It didn’t deepen the characters. It didn’t broaden the plot. The sex scenes were hard to read. And probably the most disappointing: the main conflict was simple but at the same time confusing. I kept thinking I’d missed something. Like, why are we suddenly in the sewers? What’s the whole point of this exercise? WHY do the characters have to do anything about this in the first place? It all seemed so contrived. The overall conflict lacked enough substance to sustain the story. It was was very similar to a middle grade novel when it came to flat villains, surface-level conflicts, and lack of character depth.

Now, granted, I’m evaluating this alongside urban fantasy works that I’ve loved. This is in fact a paranormal romance, which have an entirely different plot focus, story purpose, and target audience. Even though I avoid the genre these days, I picked this one up because I liked Riley Jensen, and loved the author’s City of Light urban fantasy series. But… here’s the thing. For a paranormal romance with the love story and sex scenes as the main overall arc, it wasn’t even satisfying compared to others I’ve read in the genre. I can see where the author is headed with things, but to evaluate just what has been presented so far, it left me wanting.

Recommendations: urban fantasy readers, don’t even give this one a second glance. Not only is it a continuation spinoff of the Riley Jensen series with spoilers, but it’s also written more for the paranormal romance crowd. Paranormal romance readers: this one missed on all accounts for me.

I’d recommend these other similar books instead:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Darkness Unbound by Keri Arthur

Title: Darkness Unbound

Author: Keri Arthur

Series: Dark Angel #1

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Being half werewolf and half Aedh, Risa Jones can enter the twilight realms between life and death and see the reapers, supernatural beings that collect the souls of the dead. But she soon makes a terrifying discovery: Some sinister force is stealing souls, preventing the dead from ever knowing the afterlife. Reapers escort souls—not snatch them—but Risa is still unnerved when a reaper shadows her in search of someone Risa has never met: her own father, an Aedh priest, who is rumored to be tampering with the gates of hell for a dark purpose. With the help of her “aunt”—half-werewolf, half-vampire Riley Jenson—and an Aedh named Lucian who may have lost his wings but none of his sex appeal, Risa must pursue whatever shadowy practitioner of blood magic is seizing souls, and somehow stop her father . . . before all hell breaks loose. -Goodreads

The Review:

Darkness Unbound unfortunately did not hold up well on my reread.

I picked it up again as a refresher before finally continuing the series. The first time around I was super excited for it. The Riley Jensen series had wrapped up and the prospect of getting more in that world delighted me. I must have been riding the high from the Riley books (which now I’m nervous to reread because of how dramatically my rating dropped for this one), and I’m pretty sure I gave this one a high rating because of the nostalgia it evoked. It does include all of the old beloved characters, so it felt like a fresh continuation. And at the moment, that’s still the only thing it really had going for it.

The book is a quintessential paranormal romance. The sex/romance aspect of the plot was the most prominent and all the other components were underdeveloped. I very much prefer the more robust conflict-driven urban fantasy market. I don’t care one way or another if there are sex scenes in those books, but in this case they were so over-the-top I couldn’t help but laugh.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if you like paranormal romance, this was actually an okay read. And what’s more, I’ve read enough from Arthur to know she can dazzle me (I loved her City of Light series), so I’m probably going to keep reading to see if the series develops beyond the basic “seen it a dozen times before” structure.

For the time being, I think the main character, Risa, was relying on the novelty of her persona from the Riley series and I didn’t get a clear sense of who she is and what she wants. There was no connection at all for me for these characters. The conflict also read a little thin. Super convenient things and 2-dimensional villains. I say again, had this read been for obligation or for any other author, I probably would’ve DNFed. But I thought I considered myself a long-time fan and I already own the series, so I’m going to give the rest a go. Also, for what it’s worth, the last chapter was incredibly compelling…

Recommendations: if you’re a paranormal romance fan, this is right up your alley, and in fact a mite better written than most I’ve read (consider diving into the Riley Jensen series first). If, like me, you prefer urban fantasy novels, this will leave you wanting a more developed plot and less romance.

Booktube Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiOtZk0Mke0

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison

Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison

Title: Million Dollar Demon

Author: Kim Harrison

Series: The Hollows #15

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: To save the city, Rachel Morgan will need to show some teeth in the next Hollows novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison. The new master vampire of Cincinnati has arrived . . . and she wants Rachel Morgan out. No matter where Rachel goes, Constance is there–threatening Rachel’s allies, causing city-wide chaos, and, to add insult to injury, even forcing Rachel out of her current quarters. Ever since Rachel found a way to save the souls of vampires, the old undead’s longtime ascendancy has been broken. Now Constance sees eliminating Rachel as the key to consolidating her own power. Rachel has no desire to be enthralled or killed–and she’s terrified of what may become of the city if Constance forces a return to the ancient ways. But even a witch-born demon can’t stand against the old undead–at least, not alone. And if Rachel refuses to claim the role of Cincinnati’s master demon, the city will tear itself apart, taking her and all those who stand beside her with it. -Goodreads

The Review:

Rachel Morgan is every bit as enjoyable now as she was 10 years ago. Only now there’s an element of nostalgia that makes any new Hollows book that much more special. The quality has not diminished one iota and the plot is, if anything, only getting more interesting.

There are a few UF series on the market that might be continuing well past their prime (ahem), but Harrison’s work is definitely not among them. I’ve said this before, but my favorite thing about this author is how well she slows down the happenings in the story to really focus on nuances of character and internal development. There’s plenty of action to spice it up, but for the most part she allows you to feel truly connected to the characters and involved in the scenes. Her writing is quite differentiated from the rest of urban fantasy, having more of that high fantasy quality and writing style (she also writes fantasy under the name “Dawn Cook.” I love her Truth series). She carried a lot of that slow burn development over to this series, making it one of the strongest in the genre. While it’s not quite my all-time favorite, she immerses you so well into the story that it’s responsible for my single favorite moments in an UF work (Black Magic Sanction wrecked me).

I love how the demon’s story progressed in this book. There are a lot of things building and developing that I’m betting are going to have a great payoff later. I also appreciated the nice balance of old beloved characters and new additions to keep it spicy. One thing I liked in particular is how Harrison used situations and other characters to solidify what a likable character Rachel is. It’s a cool writing technique that really captured my interest the whole way through. And at this point in the series Rachel is still experiencing growth, which is awesome. The only thing that might have made it better is a more momentous ending. But other than that, it satisfied on every account and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one.

Recommendations: I consider the Hollows a staple in the urban fantasy genre. It’s a slow-burn, character-focused series with gradually snowballing plots that eventually knock your socks off. Even after ending the series at book 13 then revamping (pun), it hasn’t lost any of the amazing quality. If you like any of my recs below but haven’t given this a try, you’re in for a treat!

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Kim Harrison, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Million Dollar Demon. :D

Other books you might like:

By Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews

Title: Blood Heir

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Aurelia Ryder #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Atlanta was always a dangerous city. Now, as waves of magic and technology compete for supremacy, it’s a place caught in a slow apocalypse, where monsters spawn among the crumbling skyscrapers and supernatural factions struggle for power and survival. Eight years ago, Julie Lennart left Atlanta to find out who she was. Now she’s back with a new face, a new magic, and a new name—Aurelia Ryder—drawn by the urgent need to protect the family she left behind. An ancient power is stalking her adopted mother, Kate Daniels, an enemy unlike any other, and a string of horrifying murders is its opening gambit. If Aurelia’s true identity is discovered, those closest to her will die. So her plan is simple: get in, solve the murders, prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled, and get out without being recognized. She expected danger, but she never anticipated that the only man she’d ever loved could threaten everything. One small misstep could lead to disaster. But for Aurelia, facing disaster is easy; it’s relationships that are hard. –Goodreads

The Review:

I love these authors so much. Unfortunately Blood Heir was my least favorite book in a long while.

And not because of the story. They did an excellent job giving MC Julie a refresh that made the plot feel new and exciting. The twist was plausible and the affect her changes (and the secrecy around them) had on all of the characters around her were super interesting. I find myself eager for a second book to see how that aspect develops They even did a good job carrying the storyline beyond the end of the Kate Daniels series. Anytime a book allows me more time in this world with these characters, I’m in my happy place.

That said, the actual construction of this story left me wanting a bit. The Ilona Andrews team usually doesn’t waste a lot of page count on recap and explanations, but omg the first 40% of the book and a good number of info dumps beyond that was a struggle to read. I get it to a degree – we’re immersing in a character who hasn’t had a lot of page time for a few books, and it has been a few years since the KD series ended. What’s more, they have to set the stage for any new readers to come along (within reason) so the book can stand on its own. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I needed a bit of recap. However, I don’t think I needed quite as much. Especially the explanations about what happened to Julie since she left the area years ago. The changes she went through were so interesting, I think it would’ve been more effective to reveal them incrementally as she interacted with other characters. As it is, the info was just dumped in whenever it became relevant. And because these explanation passages were so prevalent, it slowed the plot down to a snail’s pace, making it hard to get into the story. It felt more like a recap episode to get readers ready for the throw-down in future books. This is definitely not consistent with their usual works. I’m chalking it up as a fluke/victim of circumstance and looking forward to their next Julie book. I really hope there is one.

Recommendations: these are my favorite urban fantasy authors. Even though this particular book wasn’t a hit, it doesn’t tarnish my opinion of what this duo is capable of. As a spinoff that takes place after the end of the Kate Daniels series, so I wouldn’t recommend reading it as a stand alone.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes

Title: The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant

Author: Drew Hayes

Series: Fred, the Vampire Accountant #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Some people are born boring. Some live boring. Some even die boring. Fred managed to do all three, and when he woke up as a vampire, he did so as a boring one. Timid, socially awkward, and plagued by self-esteem issues, Fred has never been the adventurous sort. One fateful night – different from the night he died, which was more inconvenient than fateful – Fred reconnects with an old friend at his high school reunion. This rekindled relationship sets off a chain of events thrusting him right into the chaos that is the parahuman world, a world with chipper zombies, truck driver wereponies, maniacal necromancers, ancient dragons, and now one undead accountant trying his best to “survive.” Because even after it’s over, life can still be a downright bloody mess.

The Review:

I must be more of a cover snob than I thought because had I not received a review copy (for audio production quality) I would have never picked this up. Although I will say it fits the story perfectly. 

It was a fun story. More a series of episodes (I remember hearing that this author specializes in web-serials, so that makes sense), it felt like reading a bunch of novellas with a solid through-line.

A boring (self-proclaimed), awkward white collar worker turned vampire was a funny duality. The character didn’t change much, which was a delight. It was a twist on an overdone genre that I’ve never seen before and I quite liked it. It was also pretty nerd-tastic (a good thing), and one of my favorite stories from the bunch had a whole LARPing section. The writing was conversational, sardonic, and self-depreciating. A very clear voice that made the characters likable and the experience of reading about them fun and light-hearted.

Really, there wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the book. While it didn’t knock my socks off, it was a nice little splice of fun amidst my other reading. I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing. I find myself much more interested in his Superpowereds series, but we’ll see.

Recommendations: the sardonic voice and short episodic nature of this story makes it easy to recommend. It’s a lot of fun without a lot of commitment. I think it would be great for people who want to read more but struggle with time or motivation. It’s quite satisfying to read short stories like this from start to finish in a single setting. And the through-line of the plot in each one will keep you coming back to see what happens next.

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by Niki Hawkes