Image

Trilogy Review: Madison Avery by Kim Harrison

The Madison Avery Trilogy
by Kim Harrison
Rating: 2/5 stars

If you can overlook a few flaws, the Madison Avery trilogy is a fun, light YA read.

However, I had a difficult time following my own advice. I have a lot of nitpicky things to talk about in this review and unfortunately, not a lot of positive takeaways.

Once Dead, Twice Shy, the first book, had a few glaring weaknesses – the most prominent being the main character’s propensity for making bad decisions. I don’t mind it when characters make mistakes – flaws and an occasional lax in judgement can go a long way in making a story feel authentic. However, I take exception when every single decision the character makes goes against common sense (and against advice from other characters actively stating it’s a bad idea). Thus the pattern would go: 1. Bad decision made 2. Fallout from the bad decision made 3. The character saying “I’m sorry” and then moving on to the next bad decision.

I lost count of the number of times the character said “I’m sorry” throughout the first book and got really tired of the same spiel over and over again. And what’s worse, those tendencies and attitudes were evident in all of the other characters as well… which I think equals out to a story cluster-you-know-what where perhaps if the characters weren’t getting in their own way, they could’ve focused on adding substance. I think had the book been longer (allowing me more time to get irritated), my rating would’ve dropped proportionately. As it was, the short length actually worked in its favor.

Here’s what bothered me most about that, though: the character never used those failures to grow. There was no reflection on what she could’ve done better (other than the self-blame and apologizing), and I see that as a missed opportunity for more depth. She did use those moments to solidify some convictions, so I guess that’s something, but overall I kept craving more introspection. Incidentally, my biggest negative takeaway from the entire series is that Madison Avery’s character was a flat-lined consistency through the whole thing (and not just because she was dead) and all the focus was on the external conflicts. I should lighten the blow a bit by saying I did actually like her character profile, I just wish she’d given me an opportunity to feel something for her.

The external conflict/focus of the series took a while to become clear. There were moments in the second book where it started budding into something really satisfying, but every time it gained momentum, the focus would shift and it would get ignored for a while. I wonder if part of that was to save the “big profound moment” for the end of the series, but for me, by the time it got there I found my enthusiasm in the pits because it danced around it for so long.

This is one of those cases where my initial rating was going to be a 3 stars (I liked it), but after writing my review and really analyzing how I felt about it, I downgraded to a 2 stars (it was just okay) rating. Does anyone else let their word vomit help solidify their opinions? It doesn’t happen often to me, but when it does, I run with it. Keep in mind that I’ve been unusually harsh on YA lately and had I read these when they first came out, I likely would not have been so critical.

Recommendations: this YA paranormal story is definitely more suited towards younger readers. It doesn’t have a very strong romance angle, which might be perfect for a few readers tired of the same old tropes.

Other books you might like (…better?):

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

Title: No Humans Involved

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Women of the Otherworld #7

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: It’s the most anticipated reality television event of the season: three spiritualists gathered together in one house to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. For celebrity medium Jaime Vegas, it is to be her swan song—one last publicity blast for a celebrity on the wrong side of forty. But unlike her colleagues, who are more show than substance, Jaime is the real thing. Reluctant to upstage her fellow spiritualists, Jaime tries to suppress her talents, as she has done her entire life. But there is something lurking in the maze of gardens behind the house: a spirit without a voice. And it won’t let go until somehow Jaime hears its terrible story. For the first time in her life, Jaime Vegas understands what humans mean when they say they are haunted. Distraught, Jaime looks to fellow supernatural Jeremy Danvers for help. As the touches and whispers from the garden grow more frantic, Jaime and Jeremy embark on an investigation into a Los Angeles underworld of black magic and ritual sacrifice. When events culminate in a psychic showdown, Jaime must use the darkest power she has to defeat a shocking enemy—one whose malicious force comes from the last realm she expected... -Goodreads

The Review:

Color me surprised – I think this was my favorite installment since the first book!

I wasn’t even sure I liked Jamie (the POV) when I met her early on in the series. She’s a slightly off-beat character who wasn’t introduced in the most flattering light, but as the series progressed, she’s slowly become one of the most interesting characters of the lot. I think the fact that she started out slightly unlikable has made it more profound for me to have such a turnaround of opinion. It also brings in some real-world considerations (something I don’t usually endorse while reading, lol) about the pitfalls of judging someone before you really get to know them. This might sound too sappy, but my favorite thing about Jamie is how compassionate she is – she’s always the first to jump up and offer help. And what I didn’t like about her at first is now the thing I appreciate most – that she unapologeticly dances to her own beat and owns it. :)

And then there’s the added benefit of her story containing my favorite love interest to date…

Another reason I liked No Humans Involved so much is my general interest in anyone practicing a skill at a high level. Jamie’s particular talent (necromancy) was a huge focal point of the book and I really enjoyed seeing the depth of her knowledge on it. She managed to show off what she can do without ever actually “showing off,” making her all the more interesting. The interactions between her and the other “necros” were particularly satisfying and comprised my favorite scenes from the book.

Series Status: Overall, No Humans Involved was a huge success and completely reinvigorated the series for me. The next book is already on deck. :)

Recommendations: The Women of the Otherworld series may have its ups and downs, but the high moments by far outweigh the lows. If you’re a fan of the genre, this is definitely one I’d recommend as a “staple” read. Each book is so different, you’re bound to find at least a couple of winners, no matter your specific urban fantasy tastes. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

Title: On the Edge

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Edge #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Rose Drayton lives on the Edge, between the world of the Broken (where people drive cars, shop at Wal-Mart, and magic is a fairy tale) and the Weird (where blueblood aristocrats rule, changelings roam, and the strength of your magic can change your destiny). Only Edgers like Rose can easily travel from one world to the next, but they never truly belong in either. Rose thought if she practiced her magic, she could build a better life for herself. But things didn’t turn out how she planned, and now she works a minimum wage, off the books job in the Broken just to survive. Then Declan Camarine, a blueblood noble straight out of the deepest part of the Weird, comes into her life, determined to have her (and her power). But when a terrible danger invades the Edge from the Weird, a flood of creatures hungry for magic, Declan and Rose must work together to destroy them—or they’ll devour the Edge and everyone in it. -Goodreads

The Review:

Ilona Andrews strikes again!! I’ve fangirled so hard lately for these authors that I’ll keep this one brief. On the Edge was an excellent first book in the Edge series and there wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about it. The concept was unique (where the Edge is a strip of land between conflicting worlds), the magic system was fun (different types of magic from shapeshifting to reanimation), the characters were a delight (as always), and the plot was fast paced and exciting. I found myself addictively drawn to this story, and I love it when a book can compel me to choose it over other things. Some plot elements took a while to get me fully on board, but once they did I was sold.

I recognize that Ilona Andrews books all have similar components, but that doesn’t seem to be bothering me. The things they repeat are the things I love the most (fantastic argument scenes, great somewhat cheeky side characters, a rich albeit cranky love interest). While repeating elements might be a criticism for any other author(s), in this case it’s one of the things I love most about them – I always know what I’m in for when I pick up one of their works and they’re perfect for when I’m craving the exact brand of what they’re offering.

Overall, On the Edge was a success, and I’m especially excited to see where the story goes next because it has only just scratched the surface of all the fun world building elements thus far.

Series status: this first book was so good, it launched the second to the top of my priority list.

Recommendations: On the Edge was a delightful read, and I recommend it for both urban fantasy and paranormal romance readers. Admittedly I might be looking at this book through the rose-colored glasses I received for joining the Ilona Andrews Die-Hard fan club (not a real thing), because at this point it feels like they can do no wrong. So while I can’t promise you’ll love it as much as I did, I can for sure guarantee it’s a fun read. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Coming Soon: Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews

[August 28, 2018] Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews

Title: Magic Triumphs

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Kate Daniels #10 [The FINALE!!!]

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Release Date: August 28, 2018 [This date is subject to change]

The Overview: Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She’s made friends and enemies. She’s found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be. Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate’s doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up. Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle. But she has to try. -Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

Considering how hard I’ve been fangirling these last few months over all things Ilona Andrews, it’s no surprise my most anticipated release of Fall 2018 is Magic Triumphs, the Kate Daniels finale! I’m so sad it’s going to be over, but I take comfort in the spinoffs and various other amazing projects these authors are working on. I don’t even need to read the finale to tell you that Kate Daniels has already beat out all competition to become my favorite urban fantasy series. And to think I almost didn’t read past the first book!

Who else is excited for Magic Triumphs??!!

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews

Title: Iron and Magic

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: The Iron Covenant #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Warlord of the Builder of Towers, served only one man. Now his immortal, nearly omnipotent master has cast him aside. Hugh is a shadow of the warrior he was, but when he learns that the Iron Dogs, soldiers who would follow him anywhere, are being hunted down and murdered, he must make a choice: to fade away or to be the leader he was born to be. Hugh knows he must carve a new place for himself and his people, but they have no money, no shelter, and no food, and the necromancers are coming. Fast.

Elara Harper is a creature who should not exist. Her enemies call her Abomination; her people call her White Lady. Tasked with their protection, she’s trapped between the magical heavyweights about to collide and plunge the state of Kentucky into a war that humans have no power to stop. Desperate to shield her people and their simple way of life, she would accept help from the devil himself—and Hugh d’Ambray might qualify. -Goodreads

The Review:

Iron and Magic somehow managed to become my favorite Ilona Andrews book to date! It joined a very small percentage of books allowed on my all-time favorites list, and no one is more surprised at that than me.

It’s a true testament to these writers’ skills that they managed to make me fall in love with a book about a character I don’t even like. And furthermore to get me feeling deep empathy towards him. I can say with confidence coming out of this book that I’m 100% rooting for Hugh (even though he’s still an ass ;P). He was always an interesting character in the Kate Daniels series, written well and all, but I couldn’t think of a character I’d least like to read more about. I tell you what – it’s a good thing it wasn’t left up to me. Hugh’s story was brilliant!

One of my biggest joys in life is reading argument scenes between Ilona Andrews characters. Each person is so well-rounded (even the side characters) that they feel like real people. And the inter-character dynamics always gives them that extra spark of life and makes them incredibly relatable. Even though some of these conflicts are repeated across series, I find them so delightful that I don’t mind seeing it over and over. Because Hugh is such a hard-headed personality, the “intense negotiations” in Iron and Magic were especially satisfying. He has truly met his match in Elara.

The pacing in Iron and Magic was fantastic – leading up to a jam-packed ending that had me glued to the pages. I can’t believe how much rich content they managed to pack into the last 10% of the novel. So good! They were already my favorite authors, but that killer momentum is was truly set this novel ahead of the rest in my mind (for what it’s worth, Magic Strikes also landed on my favorites shelf – to give you an idea of the comparative quality we’re dealing with here).

I love the Kate Daniels series, but appreciated how far out of that familiar framework this story took me. It felt like a fresh fantasy read, but still had enough references and politics to keep it in the same vein. I can’t wait to see how things are going to come together in Magic Triumphs (the Kate Daniels finale) because I’m thinking there’s going to be even more crossover.

Overall, every aspect of Iron and Magic worked for me, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Recommendations: Iron and Magic takes place right between Magic Binds (book 9 of the Kate Daniels series) and Magic Triumphs (book 10 of KD). The story is a spinoff, and very much connected to the main series to the point where I’d urge you to catch up with Kate Daniels before reading Iron and Magic as this book discusses almost all of the major spoilers from that series. However, of you happen to be caught up and on the fence about this one – READ IT!!! You won’t regret it. :)

I’d like to thank Inscribe Digital (NYLA), Ilona Andrews, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Iron and Magic!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron

Last Dragon Standing

Title: Last Dragon Standing

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: Heartstrikers #5

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Fantasy [Hybrid]

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Dear Reader, There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition. But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last. -Goodreads

The Review:

My thoughts on this final book (reluctant disappointment) are vastly different from my thoughts of the series as a whole (happy feelings). The series is such a unique blend of genres and ideas, with some of the most memorable characters you’ll ever come across. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Book #3) is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. All that said, although I loved where the story ended, I had quite a few issues with how it got there and can’t help but feel let down by the overall execution of the last two novels of this series.

My #1 Issue: pacing. Rachel Aaron is also known for her super insightful 10000 words a day writing technique (one I’ve tried and it really makes a difference!). Unfortunate, I think all of that unbridled word vomit inevitably led to two final books that were unnecessarily drawn out, wordy, and dialogue-driven than necessary. At least 90% of Last Dragon Standing was strictly dialogue – rehashing ideas and other endless explanations and discussions. The 10% of actual plot advancement was amazing 5-star quality writing, it just took FOREVER to get there. I sincerely think the series could’ve turned out amazing had books 4 and 5 been condensed into a single novel. I did not pick up anything new in book 5 that wasn’t explained 10 different ways throughout book 4, and all of that endless dialogue effectively killed any momentum it had going for it coming into the finale. I maintain that a more concise flow would’ve made for an absolutely KILLER conclusion to this series. Overall, it felt very… self indulgent seems to harsh a phrase, but it definitely looks to me as though the story could’ve benefited from an more impartial outside perspective (such as a publishing house) by requiring a more intensive edit. That’s just my personal opinion on the matter based in part on comparing these last two books to her other trad-pub titles (which had perfect pacing).

Whatever the cause, the end result felt an opportunity wasted.

But is the series still worth reading? That’s an easy: absolutely!

I went into this final book with clear expectations, so I was specifically looking for things to go a certain way. At the end of book 4, I stated: “I swear if they try to rationalize and discuss things with the enemy in the final book, I’m going to throw a fit” … which I did. And: “If she can write at least 50% of the final book without endless dialogue and explanation, I’ll be happy” …which I wasn’t. So you can see how I set myself up for a bit of disappointment. However, the friends I read it with over at Fantasy Buddy Reads didn’t dive in with such a picky mindset, and for the most part loved the dialogue and character immersion this book had to offer. They had so much fun with it, and I was the raincloud on their parade (I hate it when I do that). Also keep in mind that this series produced one of my favorite books EVER (#3) and I still absolutely loved the vast majority of it. I am just feeling very over-critical of the final installment. For what it’s worth, I really like how it ended. :)

Recommendations: Heartstrikers is an excellent series to dive into if you like fun characters, dragons, great world-building, more dragons, and awesome moments. My personal issues with the final book aside, it’s a unique series well worth your time of you’re in the mood to have some fun. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes