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Novella Review: Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sweep with Me

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5

Genre: Fantasy. Er, kind of. Scifi?

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: [Goodreads just has a stock-overview for the whole series. This one is about facilitating a meeting at the Inn between a cool magical being and a corrupt business man… among other things] Thank you for joining us at Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, during the Treaty Stay. As you know, we are honor-bound to accept all guests during this oldest of innkeeper holidays and we are expecting a dangerous guest. Or several. But have no fear. Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your hosts, Dina Demille and Sean Evans, will defend you at all costs. [But we hope we don’t have to.] Every winter, Innkeepers look forward to celebrating their own special holiday, which commemorates the ancient treaty that united the very first Inns and established the rules that protect them, their intergalactic guests, and the very unaware/oblivious people of [planet] Earth. By tradition, the Innkeepers welcomed three guests: a warrior, a sage, and a pilgrim, but during the holiday, Innkeepers must open their doors to anyone who seeks lodging. Anyone. All Dina hopes is that the guests and conduct themselves in a polite manner. But what’s a holiday without at least one disaster? -Goodreads

The Review:

Now we’re back on track! I really missed Dina and the Inn in the last installment (which was a great read, but it was more a spin-off than a true continuation) so I’m glad to see her back with flair. I really loved the conflict in Sweep with Me and the interesting characters who visited the Inn (the inclusion of so many non-human entities is what makes this series so fun). It hits the spot perfectly for that light-hearted palate cleanser between heavier reads, and sadly finishing this one puts me completely up to date with IA reads (::shrieks:: what am I going to do?!!?). This series has been excellent to recommend to people looking for something light, and it stretches nicely to fill a lot of spec-fic genres (it reads like an urban fantasy, the magic feels very fantasy, yet the concept and world-building is all modern scifi… I love it when books break molds). I can’t wait for the next one. :) Emerald Blaze (the newest Hidden Legacy book coming out August 2020) will have to hold me over!

P.S. I love the cook. He reminds me of Huido in Julie Czerneda’s Trade Pact Universe / Clan Chronicles.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Title: One Fell Sweep

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper #3

Genre: Fantasy. Kinda

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Dina DeMille may run the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, but she caters to a very particular kind of guest… the kind that no one on Earth is supposed to know about. Guests like a former intergalactic tyrant with an impressive bounty on her head, the Lord Marshal of a powerful vampire clan, and a displaced-and-superhot werewolf; so don’t stand too close, or you may be collateral damage.

But what passes for Dina’s normal life is about to be thrown into chaos. First, she must rescue her long-distant older sister, Maud, who’s been exiled with her family to a planet that functions as the most lawless penal colony since Botany Bay. Then she agrees to help a guest whose last chance at saving his civilization could bring death and disaster to all Dina holds dear. Now Gertrude Hunt is under siege by a clan of assassins. To keep her guests safe and to find her missing parents, Dina will risk everything, even if she has to pay the ultimate price. Though Sean may have something to say about that!!Goodreads

The Review:

This was easily the best Innkeeper novel yet. The plot had a lot more depth. It’s clear where the series is headed now, and I find myself eager for the next book. I don’t know how they manage to hodgepodge so many genres without the story feeling clunky and piecemeal, but they do. It’s kind of brilliant – a fun blend of scifi (aliens), urban fantasy (supernatural characters), and fantasy (magic system). It also incorporates those very specific character dynamics the IA team is well known for. The actual conflict resolution for this one was a bit too tidy, but everything leading up to it was wildly entertaining. I loved the aliens (and the twist involving the aliens at the end), but I’ve always been a sucker for good creature creation, so that’s not surprising (I’d like to point out some similarities to another excellent scifi author – Julie Czerneda). Overall, everything these authors produce is quality, Innkeeper Chronicles being no exception! 

IA fans: for me this one ranks just above the Edge series and a notch or two below Hidden Legacy (however, if you plan on reading Edge, do those first to avoid some minor spoilers… wink wink). These books are functioning as perfect palate-cleansers between heavier series, and I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with myself when I run out of IA titles. I’ve been spoiled so far!

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs

Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs [March 10, 2020]

Title: Smoke Bitten

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Mercy Thompson #12

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: I am Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman. My only “superpowers” are that I turn into a thirty-five pound coyote and fix Volkswagens. But I have friends in odd places and a pack of werewolves at my back. It looks like I’m going to need them. Centuries ago, the fae dwelt in Underhill–until she locked her doors against them. They left behind their great castles and troves of magical artifacts. They abandoned their prisoners and their pets. Without the fae to mind them, those creatures who remained behind roamed freely through Underhill wreaking havoc. Only the deadliest survived. Now one of those prisoners has escaped. It can look like anyone, any creature it chooses. But if it bites you, it controls you. It lives for chaos and destruction. It can make you do anything–even kill the person you love the most. Now it is here, in the Tri-Cities. In my territory. It won’t, can’t, remain. Not if I have anything to say about it. -Goodreads

The Review

Smoke Bitten was superb!

The plot was very engaging, involving the mystery of a body-snatching Smoke Creature, who’s identity I actually figured out around the same time as the main character. Go me!! But more importantly, I love it when books can get you involved in solving things out of your own volition. I’m a huge fan of Patricia Briggs. I’ve been following the Mercy Thompson/Alpha & Omega books almost from the start, and the saga is a strong favorite. That said, I was let down by book #11 and said as much in my (somewhat) critical review. That book didn’t have the same spark as the books before it and I started questioning whether the series was being drawn out past it’s prime. My main criticism was that Mercy wasn’t as pivotal a role-player in advancing plot as I thought she should’ve been (instead seemed more focused on the mundane). Soooo not the case here – she was central to all the happenings, and back to being that beautiful instigator of change I’ve loved her for. Smoke Bitten was easily one of the strongest in the series. It had an excellent combination of action, humor, sentiment, and world-building. This is a showcase of Briggs at her finest, and I can’t wait to read what she comes out with next!

The story is full of amazing characters, and the depth we have with each of them at this point is remarkable. This novel was a success for me partially because Briggs managed to take the deep connections between a few of the characters and forge them even closer. The way Mercy related to specific characters in Smoke Bitten was my favorite aspect of the story. As a whole, I love the pack dynamics. I love the relationships with magical beings. And I love the number of players involved that make future books so compelling with their boundless possibilities. Excuse me while I fangirl a minute…

Recommendations: I consider Mercy Thompson a staple of the urban fantasy genre. It’s also one of the easiest to recommend (most of the urban fantasy series I geek out about usually come with disclaimers… this one is just straight-forward awesome). It’s a top 5 (uf) for me. I’d especially recommend it to anyone wanting to get into the genre. I’d strongly suggest reading both the Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega books in order of publication. The crossover is incredibly high, and you won’t get the full experience in later Mercy books if you don’t read both.

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Title: Clean Sweep

Authors: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy (kinda)

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything. -Goodreads

The Review:

Ilona Andrews are my feel-good authors.

It’s pretty much a guarantee at this point that I’m going to enjoy everything they produce. And they’re only getting better with time. Innkeeper happens to be my last unexplored series from them, and I plan to savor it.

Clean Sweep was delightful. One of the funniest I’ve read from them, it’s biggest selling point was how much fun they clearly had with it. The world building is wildly random compared to other books in the genre (low fantasy setting and feel, urban fantasy beings, and a slight science fiction influence) but somehow it worked. There’s a lot of unexplored territory that bodes well for an interesting expansion in future books… I can’t wait. :)

The characters were also 100% Ilona Andrews trademarks, meaning they were strong-willed, capable, cheeky, and a complete pleasure to read. Dina might be one of my favorites because she’s a little more understated and I like the depth of the backstory driving her actions. The male lead fits the carbon copy, but he’s just different enough that I didn’t mind it.

For such a quick read, the book did have a few small pacing issues. Everything was engaging and interesting, but I think there were too many info-drop scenes. It is a slightly more complicated world and setting than usual, but hopefully it will go more smoothly in the next novel. My rating also reflects comparisons to other books they’ve written, some of which have completely knocked my socks off! Clean Sweep was just a solid, entertaining story by comparison.

Recommendations: these authors (it’s a duo writing under one name) are among my favorites for a reason – they always produce fun, creative, and exciting stories. Clean sweep was an excellent start to this ongoing series, and I’d recommend it as a good starter if you haven’t tried an IA yet. I’m going to start calling Ilona Andrews my “instant mood-boosters.” :)

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sapphire Flames

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Hidden Legacy #4

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: In a world where magic is the key to power and wealth, Catalina Baylor is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, and the Head of her House. Catalina has always been afraid to use her unique powers, but when her friend’s mother and sister are murdered, Catalina risks her reputation and safety to unravel the mystery. But behind the scenes powerful forces are at work, and one of them is Alessandro Sagredo, the Italian Prime who was once Catalina’s teenage crush. Dangerous and unpredictable, Alessandro’s true motives are unclear, but he’s drawn to Catalina like a moth to a flame. To help her friend, Catalina must test the limits of her extraordinary powers, but doing so may cost her both her House–and her heart. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ll take a hundred more Hidden Legacy books, thank you very much. Sapphire Flames was a ton of fun and easily one of my favorite reads of the year.

My favorite thing about it was the main character, Catalina. I really like her. Unlike most of Andrews’ leading ladies, Catalina isn’t inherently a kickass face-everything-head-on type of person. Stepping up to things takes a lot of courage, and watching her face down those fears and be a total badass anyway was inspiring. Not to mention relatable. Then you add in a sweet schoolgirl infatuation with a handsome boy, and I was sold. Awkward heroines always speak to me more, especially when it’s a subtle awkwardness of behavior and thoughts. I can’t wait to see how she develops in future books.

Don’t be swayed by the overly cheesy book covers for this series. It’s a robust story filled with great character dynamics, good world building, and plots with substance. That’s not to say it takes itself too seriously. It has some elements that risk eye rolls if they were executed any less flawlessly. But these authors always know how to make it work. No matter how silly a plot element seems, I never cringe, I just enjoy the story. They also never cheapen the story and recognize that a slow burn can be really effective, and that’s one of my favorite things about them.

Overall, I’m at the point where a new Ilona Andrews book gets top priority in my TBR. I always know I’m in for a great read, and recently I’ve even given out a few sacred 5 stars to some of them. If their storytelling formula works for you, you’re in for a boatload of fun.

Recommendations: don’t let the covers scare you – these are high-functioning urban fantasies that manage to create depth while still maintaining the fun factor. If you’re a fan of the series and haven’t picked up the 3.5 prequel (Diamond Fire), you’ll totally want to do that before diving into this one. For any who haven’t read these authors yet, they’re my favorite urban fantasy writers and I can’t fangirl enough. The only book I haven’t loved from them is the very first Kate Daniels. Keep reading. It’s worth it!

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Living with the Dead by Kelley Armstrong

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:

Even though the magic of the series has evaporated, Living with the Dead was just entertaining enough to keep me reading to the end. But I now find myself contemplating abandoning the series. No Humans Involved (book #7) was a golden nugget in a series I thought had died, and the main reason I continued to this point, but now I have to weigh the risk of slogging through another novel like this against the possibility of striking gold again. I’ve been working on this series for so long, I just don’t think I have the patience.

Okay, the book wasn’t as horrible as I’m making it out to be. But when compared to other urban fantasies (and early books in this series), it doesn’t really hold a candle. It’s a little better when compared to paranormal romances, but not by much. And there wasn’t even a romance in this one! Which brings me to my next rant…

I craved at least a little romance in this book. After all, it’s one of the main reasons 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 because I couldn’t disagree). Then to add insult to the lack of steamy scenes, the sexual encounters that did make an appearance were fucking weird. Weird like very uncomfortable and icky, not weird like kinky. It left me feeling like I could’ve been very happy living my life never having read about it. I’ll leave it at that.

Overall, the basic writing was still quality, the characters were good, the storyline was meh, and the romance was nonexistent. Part of me wants to see how everything converges at the end of the series, but at this point it might be a long while before I get there, if I do at all.

Recommendations: if you like urban fantasy, definitely check out the first two books – amazing! The rest of the series to this point has some merit, with a hit or miss ratio at about 50/50. This installment was my least favorite so far. 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.

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by Niki Hawkes