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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

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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.

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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

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Book Review: Wild Sign by Patricia Briggs

Wild Sign by Patricia Briggs

Title: Wild Sign

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Alpha & Omega #6

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: In the wilds of the Northern California mountains, all the inhabitants of a small town have gone missing. It’s as if the people picked up and left everything they owned behind. Fearing something supernatural might be going on, the FBI taps a source they’ve consulted in the past: the werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham. But Charles and Anna soon find a deserted town is the least of the mysteries they face. Death sings in the forest, and when it calls, Charles and Anna must answer. Something has awakened in the heart of the California mountains, something old and dangerous — and it has met werewolves before. –Goodreads

The Review:

Reading a Briggs book always feels like a warm hug.

This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. And it’s one of the rare few that I don’t complain about the story being dragged out too long. Each novel (both Mercy and Alpha & Omega) adds just a little more depth to the series. The new supernatural beings introduced in each book are always fun to read about, but the real draw is any new information we learn about the Marrok and his pack. There are so many great characters to expand on, it’s easy to see how this series has been able to sustain itself for so long.

In Wild Sign we got to explore the past of Leah, a character who has been a complete enigma up to this point. Her backstory was fascinating and I love that I can go forward knowing a little more about what makes her tick. By extension, we also learned more about Bran in this novel which is a huge bonus. It’s actually kind of funny that I’m so exited about the revelations for these two characters considering they weren’t even the stars of the show.

I heard Patricia Briggs talk about how she comes up with stories at an author signing (which, by the way, was the single best author interaction I’ve ever had. If you have a chance to make one of her events, go! She’s so kind). She starts by giving the characters a problem, then stays in tune with them as she writes to see how they’re going to solve it. In this case the problem was something making the residents of Wild Sign disappear… I’ll leave it at that. I always love the mystery element in her stories. It makes for an engaging, page-turning experience as the characters reason things out and make discoveries. And something about the settings lately have been giving me a modern-day western vibe, which is fun.

This particular book had some cool revelation, but it didn’t advance the plot of the overall series to any significant degree. It did, however, provide some good foreshadowing of what’s to come, for which I’m excited.

Recommendations: this is one of my favorite urban fantasy series for a reason. They’re fun, engaging books with great characters, good mysteries, and decent action, adding more depth with each book. I’d strongly recommend reading Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega in tandem by publication date, as the overall arc of the series progresses in both series.

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Patricia Briggs, and Netgalley for the review copy of Wild Sign!

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Night Shift Dragons by Rachel Aaron

Night Shift Dragons by Rachel Aaron

Title: Night Shift Dragons

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: DFZ #3

Genre: Urban Fantasy (ish)

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: They say family always sticks together, but when you’re your dad’s only lifeline and the whole world—humans, dragons, and gods—wants you dead, “family bonding” takes on a whole new meaning. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m in way over my head. I thought getting rid of my dad’s bad luck curse would put things back to normal. Instead, I’m stuck playing caretaker to the Great Dragon of Korea. That wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t such a jerk, or if every dragon on the planet wasn’t out to kill him, or if he was my only problem.

Turns out, things can always get worse in the DFZ. When a rival spirit attacks my god/boss with the aim of turning the famously safety-optional city into a literal death arena with Nik as his bloody champion, I’m thrust onto the front lines and way out of my comfort zone. When gods fight, mortals don’t usually survive, but I’m not alone this time. Even proud old dragons can learn new tricks, and with everything I love falling to pieces, the father I’ve always run from might just be the only force in the universe stubborn enough to pull us back together.
 -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve read almost everything Rachel Aaron/Bach has published and she’s easily one of my favorite authors. Even so, this little Heartstrikers spinoff series takes the cake as one of the best I’ve read from her.

Some of her series have these amazing 5-star moments but don’t sustain the same consistency of momentum. She’s an exceptional writer who even has a book on how to write 10000 words a day, but sometimes that significant word count comes at the cost of conciseness and efficiency. The final two Heartstriker books, for example, I think could’ve comfortable been edited down to a single, amazing novel. As it was, the drawn out plot and endless discussions about the plot had me questioning whether I’d still enjoy her as a self-published author as much as I did when she went the trad route.

Well, this trilogy alleviated all of those concerns. The DFZ trilogy is the most consistently good from start to finish she’s written to date. And also one of the most fun, which is saying something considering how awesome her story ideas always are.

I most appreciated the character growth, specifically between the main character and her familial relations. The dynamic was relatable and downright hysterical at times and I thought the growth felt more organic than not. I also loved getting more immersed in the DFZ (basically a living city) and learning more about how it has evolved. The main conflict for this book was completely satisfying and even involved an element of competition.

Recommendations: while I think this trilogy might be fun on its own, you’d miss a lot of nuance about the city and the dragon society if you didn’t read Heartstrikers first. Not to mention that reading these first would spoil the entire Heartstrikers series. So proceed at your own discretion. These are an absolute delight and a really cool mix of urban fantasy setting & writing style, fantasy concepts and creatures, and YA-reminiscent characters (without all the annoying tropes). Highly recommend!

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by Niki Hawkes

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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.

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by Niki Hawkes