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Book Review: Dime a Demon by Devon Monk

Dime a Demon by Devon Monk

Title: Dime a Demon

Author: Devon Monk

Series: Ordinary Magic #5

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Being a cop is great. Guarding the library of arcane secrets is great. Even dealing with the monsters and gods vacationing in the little beach town of Ordinary, Oregon is great. Then the demon, Bathin, strolls into town and steals Myra’s sister’s soul. So much for great. Luckily, Myra has a plan to evict the demon and save her sister’s soul.
* Step one: shut down the portals to hell popping up in town.
* Step two: get rid of the pink know-it-all unicorn.
* Step three: don’t die while teaching Death how to be a cop.

Oh, and there’s a step four. Absolutely, positively, no matter what, do not fall in love with the handsome, charming, jerk of a demon she’s trying to kick out of town. Logically, it’s a good plan. But when it comes to Bathin, Myra’s very illogical heart has some plans of its own. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m more than a bit disenchanted with the series.

It has a lot of good components, but just enough glaring oddities that I’m only enjoying it about half as much as I should be. It’s frustrating because the first couple of works were strong. I go into ranty detail in my review of book 3, so I won’t reiterate those issues. And while this book pulled things back closer to where we started, it came with a whole new batch of problems. Most notably: the love story.

Up to this point, the series has had a good balance between all the elements and the romance. There was just enough for some good old fashioned sexual tension, but it didn’t overwhelm all of the other really interesting happenings in Ordinary. That balance was not present in Dime a Demon. I didn’t mind the switch to a different POV (another Reed sister) because it was a good way to reinvigorate the story. However (a big however), if you’re going to make the entire focus of the novel a romance, then it had better be a good one… which this was not.

For starters, there was no real courtship. There was an attempt at courtship that always got shot down, and some flashy moments of shared chemistry, but that critical component where the characters grow closer through shared experiences and a series of meaningful moments was non-existent. It wasn’t romance, with emotion and connection, it was a purely physical connection between two horny characters (at least, that’s how it came across). It was very unsatisfying (I mean, even if it was meant to be a purely physical relationship, it needed way more tension, positive interaction, and foreplay).

Sigh… I think this is the last I’m reading for the series unless I can snag a free copy from the library for future publications. It’s not the worst I’ve read, but it has not lived up to any of my expectations and I’ve already invested way more than usual into it.

Recommendations: the #.5 novella and first book were fantastic, but the series has since taken a drastic decline. The compilation of novellas (which counted as book 4) were dazzling examples of the best the series has to offer, but then book 5 tanked again for a whole new host of reasons. The series has some truly great components, and I don’t regret the time I spent reading it, however there are a lot of series I’d recommend first.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Gods and Ends by Devon Monk

Gods and Ends by Devon Monk

Title: Gods and Ends

Author: Devon Monk

Series: Ordinary Magic #3

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: Keep your gods close and your monsters closer… Police Chief Delaney Reed thinks she knows all of Ordinary, Oregon’s secrets. Gods on vacation, lovelorn ghosts, friendly neighborhood monsters? Check. But some secrets run deeper than even she knows. To take down an ancient vampire hell-bent on revenge, she will have to make the hardest decision of her life: give up the book of dark magic that can destroy them all, or surrender her mortal soul. As she weighs her options, Delaney discovers she can no longer tell the difference between allies keeping secrets and enemies telling the truth. Questioning loyalties and running out of time, Delaney must choose sides before a kidnapping turns into murder, before rival crochet and knit gangs start a war, and before the full moon rises to signal the beginning of Ordinary’s end. -Goodreads

The Review:

Huh.

What happened to that thoughtful, calculating main character who’s been around since the introductory novella? I mean, she’s always kind of done things her own way (to a fault), but she’s never been what I would call reckless. It’s part of why I liked her so much – enough flaws to feel realistic, but adept enough to be fun to read about. I really don’t care how much attention the author drew to her bad decision making in this book through other characters, I’m afraid it didn’t compensate for how unrealistic the whole thing came across based on the character profile established up to that point.

And don’t even get me started on the demon.

Ugh. His introduction felt clunky. And a very compelling through-line of the series involving Delany’s father (which could’ve gone somewhere meaningful) was reduced down to a single chapter of wtf is happening to this series? I thought the “mysteriously deceased father” plot point was strong enough to warrant an entire investigation novel within itself and I would’ve been much more satisfied had a lead-up like that culminated to ::enter the demon, stage left::, but as it stands, it was a clear throwaway. 

I’m feeling uncharacteristically ranty, if you can’t tell, but I can say with certainty that none of the elements that made me rate the first two books so highly were represented in this book. I think the conflict with the vampires should’ve been resolved completely in the last installment. There are just too many other potential plot ideas already in place for that expansion to be necessary. At this point the series is morphing into something completely different than its beginning premises. It’s a series about vacationing gods in a quirky town… why is the main focus now about only werewolves, vampires, and demons? There are just too many ideas compacted into one story, almost as if two different series are being forced together. And as of this book she has essentially removed everything that made the plot stand out from the crowd for me.

And let’s say for a minute I didn’t mind the change in direction – I still had a problem with the execution. There were so many premonitions, warnings, and prophecy-like conveyances that it basically outlined the entire book. It left nothing to be discovered and made me feel like I was wasting energy reading when I already knew how things were going to wrap up. Lets just say, by the end of the book I was grateful most of the foreshadowed conflicts had been resolved because it meant a cleaner slate for the next installment.

Series status: I’ll be reading the novella compilation and the next book in the series because I’ve already purchased them (and I still have hope and a great couple of examples what the story could be), but this book almost knocked me off the wagon well enough that it had better slow down and let me clamber back in if I’m to read beyond that.

Recommendations: after the first two books I was professing this series as a fun little new excursion from the more serious urban fantasies out there, but now I have to pull back a bit for re-evaluation. We’ll see how the next book goes – stay tuned…

Other books you might like (based on the first two books, not the new direction taken by this one):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews

Title: Emerald Blaze

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Hidden Legacy #5

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: As Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart. The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won’t rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that’s tearing their world apart. -Goodreads

The Review:

I loved this book! Complex plot, amazing characters, tons of action… one of the best they’ve done so far. And that’s sayin’ something!

If you’ve been following my reviews for any length of time, you’ll no doubt have noticed I’m a Ilona Andrews fangirl. Snatching the top spot as my favorite urban fantasy writers, these two continue to dazzle me at every turn. And they’re only getting stronger.

The concept for the magic system in this world is rad. It has origins in basic superhero development, where there are those among us who are just born with special abilities, but its presentation is highly original. And a lot of that can be attributed to the structure of the society and the many house politics included in the world building. I love that after five books in the series there are still things I’m learning about the different magical abilities. The concept is so expansive that they can afford to spread it out over multiple books, creating a lot of interesting moments within each one.

My favorite thing about Emerald Blaze specifically was all the moving parts. Far from a lazy plot, there’s a murder mystery to solve and magical shenanigans afoot. Between all of that, Catalina also had to deal with a certain handsome Italian who keeps insisting on complicating her life. The book really immersed in house politics. It also provided a strong sense of which conflicts are going to make up the finale of the series, and I can’t wait. 

There were so many specific scenes within this book that struck me to my core, I briefly considered doing a spoiler review just so I could geek out about all of them. Suffice to say, there were plenty of moments that will surely make all my fellow IA fans swoon as much as I did for this fantastic story.

Speaking of swooning – the marketing and covers would have you believe that the romance is the main draw to this series, but that is so not the case. I really enjoy the romantic component – the authors are amazing at providing slow-burn love story that grows organically through the series (truly, the only type I like reading about). But as good as they are at that, all of the other elements are so strong (especially in Emerald Blaze) that romance is almost secondary. It would be a totally kickass series without the romance, but its inclusion definitely gives the books better character motivations and a more rounded feel (i.e. it’s the total package).

I love Catalina. She’s vulnerable and compassionate and sincere, but she also has this fierce, almost frightening desire to keep those she loves safe. Much more so than her sister Nevada, this girl is willing to do whatever it takes and she has the cold, calculated ability to see it through. She’s patient and shrewd, yet the reader still gets to see how charmingly human she is by contrast. Uncertain of herself most of the time, she’s somehow able to put all of that aside to get the job done. Most of the heroines I read about (especially in this genre) also have many of these attributes. The difference with Catalina is that the authors makes you feel alongside her and really come to a visceral understanding of what she’s going through. I’m always one or two levels more deeply connected to Catalina, and that’s something I don’t experience often.

Recommendations: highly recommended! Don’t let the covers fool you – Hidden Legacy is one of the most robust, entertaining urban fantasy series I’ve ever read. Kate Daniels starts out a little slow then gains momentum. Hidden Legacy sweeps you up for a wild ride right from the start and only gets better from there. There’s a reason these authors are at the top of my UF list. I can’t recommend them enough!

I want to thank Harpercollins Publishers, Ilona Andrews, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Emerald Blaze – you made my year! :D

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Death and Relaxation by Devon Monk

Death and Relaxation by Devon Monk

Title: Death and Relaxation

Author: Devon Monk

Series: Ordinary Magic #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Police Chief Delaney Reed can handle the Valkyries, werewolves, gill-men and other paranormal creatures who call the small beach town of Ordinary, Oregon their home. It’s the vacationing gods who keep her up at night. With the famous Rhubarb Festival right around the corner, small-town tensions, tempers, and godly tantrums are at an all-time high. The last thing Delaney needs is her ex-boyfriend reappearing just when she’s finally caught the attention of Ryder Bailey, the one man she should never love. No, scratch that. The actual last thing she needs is a dead body washing ashore, especially since the dead body is a god. Catching a murderer, wrestling a god power, and re-scheduling the apocalypse? Just another day on the job in Ordinary. Falling in love with her childhood friend while trying to keep the secrets of her town secret? That’s gonna take some work.Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve had a high opinion of Devon Monk’s writing for a while now, so when Death and Relaxation was offered as a review copy (audio production quality) I snatched it up. I’ve been on a pretty hard urban fantasy kick lately, but I’ll admit this series wasn’t even on my radar (probably because of the atrocious cover). But I tell you what – it hit the spot!

It had a great combination of concept (small town Oregon where gods go to vacation), character (a young female police chief who takes over the department after her father dies), mystery (who the heck is ballsy enough to commit a murder in a town of gods?), and love story (the cute dynamic between the MC and the love interest – it’s just enough to be a clear selling point of the novel, but not overdone to the point where it becomes the sole focus). It was one of those books perfectly suited to my mood, and because it came from a seasoned author I trust, I was able to turn off my over-critical eye and just enjoy the ride.

Admittedly the concept wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny, but it’s clear from the start that its main purpose is to enhance the quirky nature of this small touristy town. I started with the novella (Dues and Don’ts – Free on the author’s webiste), which I would recommend because it sets the stage on what to expect in this town a lot better than the first book. It incorporated the tradition of local artisans hiding glass figurines along the beach for tourists to find, which apparently is something that actually happens in the town the series is based on. I was enamored with the whole thing. I think the fun dynamics between all the characters in this little community is my biggest source of delight. Quirky fun things like rhubarb cooking contests an long-standing interpersonal squabbles (which, naturally, involve the whole town). Any Gilmore Girls fan out there will get a better idea if I say it’s a supernatural version of Stars Hollow (only without the aggravating characters that take the fun out of the scenes – Mayor Taylor Doose, I’m talking to you).

The only ding against its rating is that I thought the solution to one of the main conflicts of the story was completely obvious right from the start. I can half-rationalize it away if I try hard enough. Like, maybe the main character had too many things going on to see it clearly. But really it would’ve made the book stronger to either hide it better or to have the characters figure it out sooner. So far that has been my only gripe.

This is one of my new personal favorite series starters – I enjoyed it that much. It is definitely more on the lighthearted side of the genre. There’s not a lot of dark grittiness that sets the tone for comparable series. But maybe that’s what I’d needed – a bit of a pick-me-up. :)

Recommendations: start with the novella! I’d hand this series to people who like urban fantasy without the semi-horror aspect. It’s actually a great crossover novel between uf, mystery, and romance. If you can snag the GraphicAudio version, you’re in for a treat! Go in with a light heart and have some fun. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Peace Talks by Jim Butcher

Peace Talks by Jim Butcher [July 14, 2020]

Title: Peace Talks

Author: Jim Butcher

Series: Dresden Files #16

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Release Date: July 14, 2020

The Overview: When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago–and all he holds dear?Goodreads

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The Review:

Peace Talks was everything I hoped it would be and more. Totally worth the wait! ^_^ Especially because we’re getting TWO Dresden novels this year (Battle Ground is currently slated for release September 29th!).

The last few Dresden novels have been hit or miss. Ghost Story and Cold Days were by-far my least favorite books in the series. I briefly considered abandoning it, but then Skin Game (possibly the best of the series – PARKOUR!!) came along and fuego! – total re-ignition. I didn’t know what to expect after so much time between books, but luckily Peace Talks was more of all the things that make this series great: good characters, funny dialogue, supernatural politics, lots of magic, and stakes that keep getting higher and higher. It’s a relief because I wasn’t sure I liked the direction the story has been heading in the last few books. Butcher jumped the shark at some point and I was afraid it was going to get too far from the original essence of the story while dealing with the multidimensional shit. It didn’t. Instead it struck a nice balance between the familiar and the new concepts.

The book did take a bit of time for gentle reintroductions to the characters, but it wasn’t distracting. Frankly I could’ve used more reminders on the differences between the white court, the red court, the winter court, the summer court, etc. I’ve got most of it straight, but still get lost on occasion with anything to do with the fae. That’s more of an attention span thing though – early on in the series, all the evil beings sounded and acted the same so I never bothered to get them straight. Now I’m paying for being lazy because they’ve stuck around. Anyway, Peace Talks wasn’t as action-packed as Skin game, but it more than made up for it with political intrigue and plot-advancements between key characters. There were definitely a few “omg!” moments. The story arc didn’t feel as robust as some of his other books, but that’s probably why we’re getting another novel this year. I’m ready for that one to knock me on my ass.

Really, the only thing that would’ve made my reading experience of Peace Talks better is James Marsters crooning to me on the audio version. Other than that, it was awesome!

Recommendations: Dresden continues to be an absolute joy to read, and seems to embrace its flaws to the point where it wouldn’t be a satisfying Dresden novel without them (they’re not so much flaws anymore as trademark Dresden-isms). If you haven’t read this series yet and are even mildly interested in the genre, it’s a great pick (give it until at least book 4). Oh! And if you haven’t had a chance to read the novellas yet, now would be a good time to pick up the Bigfoot ones before diving into Peace Talks. ;)

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Netgalley, and Jim Butcher for providing an early review copy of Peace Talks – you made my year!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: American Demon by Kim Harrison

American Demon by Kim Harrison [June 6, 2020]

Title: American Demon

Author: Kim Harrison

Series: Return to the Hollows #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: What happens after you’ve saved the world? Well, if you’re Rachel Mariana Morgan, witch-born demon, you quickly discover that something might have gone just a little bit wrong. That the very same acts you and your friends took to forge new powers may have released something bound by the old. With a rash of zombies, some strange new murders, and an exceedingly mysterious new demon in town, it will take everything Rachel has to counter this new threat to the world–and it may demand the sacrifice of what she holds most dear. -Goodreads

The Review:

If you can just mentally delete the epilogue that ended the series at book #13, American Demon is a fantastic continuation to the Hollows series.

I kind of like that American Demon is an (initially) unplanned continuation because otherwise the series might have felt too drawn out. Now it’s moving forward with a fresh intention, and that’s exciting. The book dealt with the aftermath of the crazy things that went down in the first series, and it truly felt like a new beginning in this world. Harrison did an excellent job expanding the playing field by adding a bunch of new characters, and the demon Hodin became an instant favorite (I love characters with duality). But the best part is that this new installment is still filled with the characters we’ve built connections with over the first 13 books, so it already has that developed depth that makes longtime fans like me fawn over every page.

I was enjoying the story for all the things listed above, but what really set this book apart as a strong addition to the series was the inclusion of a lot of complicated spellwork. It was awesome! I remember Rachel spelling in previous books, but I don’t recall it ever being quite this involved. She was trying to develop a new spell, and I found every stage of the process absolutely fascinating. I hope this leveled-up component continues in the next book.

The Hollows is one of my top urban fantasy series. It’s not my overall favorite, precisely, but it is responsible for a couple of my single favorite scenes across any genre. Harrison really knows how to build momentum, and she has truly dazzled me with some of her most epic moments. But that gradual momentum that always leads to amazing payoffs takes time to develop. And so, as we’re just beginning another story arc in American Demon, the pacing is rather casual throughout most of the story. Which is just fine, because when a series touches you like this one has me, even the slower parts have a lot of merit. It was a great way to ease back into the world.

Recommendations: this is a must-read for fans of the series – the story quality continues as strong as ever. With that in mind, I wouldn’t recommend new readers diving in without first reading the main Hollows series. Also, Harrison published a really good prequel novel (The Turn) that she referenced often in American Demon, so if you haven’t had a chance to read that one yet, I think it added a lot to the experience.

I want to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Kim Harrison, and Netgalley for allowing me access to an early copy of American Demon – you made my year! 

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes