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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. :)

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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!

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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! 

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Title: Rosemary and Rue

Author: Seanan McGuire

Series: October Daye #1

Genre: Urban Fanrasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer. -Goodreads

The Review:

Okay, there weren’t a lot of remarkable things about this first installment, but I’ve tried enough urban fantasy series to not let a slow start scare me off (ahem… Kate Daniels). That said, there were enough good things about it to give me hope for what’s to come.

Truth be told, I’m just so excited to be finally starting a new UF series that I’m willing to overlook a slow start. The book focused a little too much on character introductions and info dumps (so many info dumps). But there were also some great interactions and exciting conflict scenes. So now that all the setup is out of the way, I’m hoping the next book will provide some momentum.

Right off the bat, I liked the main character. She’s a changeling, and that variety of non-human dynamic is what set the story apart. Most UF characters straddle two worlds, but her particular situation was really interesting and so far it’s the selling point of the series. And her backstory! There’s a fantastic underlaying plot to the whole book that had me instantly hooked within the first ten pages. It set up a character who was capable, but more or less starting at rock bottom, and that’s oddly compelling.

My biggest criticism at this point (other than pacing) is that most of the side characters came off a bit caricature, so I’m definitely hoping for more duality and depth going forward. Other than that, everything else was quality.

Recommendations: Rosemary and Rue was a slow start to the series, but with a lot of promise. At this point, I’d still hand you some of my other favorites first (Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Kim Harrison) because I can attest to their momentum, but let’s keep an eye on this one – I have a feeling (and some endorsements) that say(s) it’s going to get good.

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by Niki Hawkes

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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.

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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