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

Coming Soon: Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Legion #1-3

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: September 18, 2018 <-Release dates are subject to change

The Overview: Stephen Leeds is perfectly sane. It’s his hallucinations who are mad. A genius of unrivaled aptitude, Stephen can learn any new skill, vocation, or art in a matter of hours. However, to contain all of this, his mind creates hallucinatory people—Stephen calls them aspects—to hold and manifest the information. Wherever he goes, he is joined by a team of imaginary experts to give advice, interpretation, and explanation. He uses them to solve problems… for a price. Stephen’s brain is getting a little crowded and the aspects have a tendency of taking on lives of their own. When a company hires him to recover stolen property—a camera that can allegedly take pictures of the past—Stephen finds himself in an adventure crossing oceans and fighting terrorists. What he discovers may upend the foundation of three major world religions—and, perhaps, give him a vital clue into the true nature of his aspects. This fall, Tor Books will publish Brandon Sanderson’s Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds. The collection will include the science fiction novellas Legion and Legion: Skin Deep, published together for the first time, as well as a brand new Stephen Leeds novella, Lies of the Beholder. This never-been-published novella will complete the series.-Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

Legion is such a fun story! I love the creativity, the mystery, and the humor infused in every novella, and I’m glad Sanderson didn’t stop with just the first one. This edition is a compilation of the first two stories and the soon-to-be-released final novella (Legion: The Beholder’s Eye). I’m excited to have a nice-looking hardcover of these to add to my collections, as I’m sure I’ll be rereading them for years to come!

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Title: Throne of Jade

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces. Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await. -Goodreads

The Review:

Throne of Jade offered a relaxing continuation to the story, containing all of the elements I enjoyed in His Majesty’s Dragon. “Relaxing” might seem like an odd term to attribute to a military dragon story, but the smooth writing and slow pacing had me snuggling into my seat under a pile of blankets, enjoying what I would earnestly call a true “armchair adventure.” Exciting action scenes are spliced throughout the tale, but for the most part my expectations for this series has developed into a knowledge that I can just ease back into the immersion and trust that the gradual flow of the story is taking me somewhere worthwhile.

This series is playing havoc on my expectations for it. In His Majesty’s Dragon, I got a beautiful dragon/human bonding story that focused on their budding relationship… when I expected a full-blown military showdown and very little character development. In Throne of Jade, I got a nautical adventure with some great inter-character moments… when I was expecting most of the book to focus on some sort of military conflict with China (are you seeing the pattern here?). Honestly though, a lot of that has to do with marketing. If they really wanted to represent the contents of this book, a more accurate title would’ve been “Voyage to the Throne of Jade,” lol. Slight discrepancy aside, it was still a journey I was on board to take (pun), and the payoff with wonderful things experienced at the end of the book was worth the wait. The beautiful imagery surrounding the unique dragon culture Novik created was stunning, and I love the dynamics it added to the overall story and to Temeraire’s character profile. I can’t wait to see what surprises like this I’m in for in future books. :)

As impressed as I was with the story-weaving and world building, Temeraire and Lawrence are still the selling points of this series, and I imagine that will always continue to be the case. There was a lot of introspective dialogue between them in this installment, and I love how the dragon is beginning to shape some of his convictions. I also love how much I’ve learned about Novik’s vision for dragon culture evolution in this alternate world, and, as with fun surprises, look forward to seeing how she develops this throughout the series.

Series status: Temeraire is currently my #1 priority at the moment, and I’m trying to strike a balance between satisfying my cravings for them with my desire to also avoid burnout lol. Good stuff. :)

Recommendations: I would recommend this series to fantasy readers who don’t mind a slow-moving, character-focused plot. It’s a bonus if you like alternate history stories, but so far that aspect seems to be taking a backseat to general dragon awesomeness.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: The Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Title: The Promise of Blood

Author: Brian McClellan

Series: The Powder Mage #1

Genre: Fantasy (Flintlock)

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it. It’s a bloody business overthrowing a kingField Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces. Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail. -Goodreads

The Review:

There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about Promise of Blood.

The best components were the characters. It struck me as profound in several places of the book how damn good McClellan was as creating deep connections between his characters to the point where it felt like reading about real people (making it all the more poignant when something happened to one of them). Most authors tell you there’s a connection, McClellan makes you feel it. The character profiles were nuanced and detailed, and they always played brilliantly off of one another. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done as well as it was in Promise of Blood, so for that alone the book jumps up a few notches.

And then he took those fantastic characters and made them funny as shit. And not in that “I’m clearly adding a joke here” kind of way, but rather he infused humor in the details – subtle gestures, the ways the characters thought about things, and dry wit within the dialogue (aka, exactly the type of funny I prefer in my books). It sent the book up a few more notches.

As if all that wasn’t enough, I also found the plot highly engaging. There was a lot of political maneuvering and a “traitor in the midst” mystery to uncover, from which I found additional entertainment trying to puzzle out.

And then there was even a cool magic system (or two). Before diving in, I would have almost guaranteed you that my biggest takeaway from the book would’ve been the magic system (that sort of world building always amps me up), but surprisingly it was perfectly content to take a backseat to all the other interesting elements. Its casual inclusion in the story was brilliant, and pretty much notched this book into the solid 5-star category for me. Well done, is all I can say. :)

Were there a few pacing issues? Possibly. It’s a slow burn with multiple POVs and allocates a lot of time for dialogue and establishing relationships between characters. I can see how that might cause some to lose interest, especially if they weren’t as engaged with the mystery, humor, and subtle character development. Personally, I ate up every single moment and would gladly sit through a reread. If anything the slower beginning made the whirlwind of the end that much more exciting by contrast.

Series status: I’m on a long waiting list for the next two books, but liked this book well enough to consider buying them outright. Either way, book 2 has the highest priority spot.

Recommendations: Promise of Blood is a highly recommendable flintlock fantasy that will likely appeal to most fantasy readers (especially those who don’t mind a slow burning plot). It had the perfect blend of mystery, magic, humor, and an extra splash of brilliance when it came to the characters. Depending on how the series goes, this could shape up to be a top recommend for me.

Other books you might like (these recs are borrowed from a great post DragonsandZombies did on flintlock fantasy – I’ve read 3 of the 5 listed and can attest to the genre amazingness):

You can check out more great flintlock fantasy recs through her full post. :)

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Coming Soon: Imposters by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Imposters

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Series: Uglies #5 (perhaps not a direct continuation, but the 5th book nonetheless)

Genre: Teen Dystopia (one of the originators!)

Release Date: September 11, 2018 <-Release dates are subject to change

The Overview: Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . but very few people have ever seen them together. This is because Frey is Rafi’s double, raised in the shadow’s of their rich father’s fortress. While Rafi has been taught to charm, Frey has been taught to kill. Frey only exists to protect her sister. There is no other part of her life. Frey has never been out in the world on her own – until her father sends her in Rafi’s place to act as collateral for a dangerous deal. Everyone thinks she’s her sister – but Col, the son of a rival leader, is starting to get close enough to tell the difference. As the stakes grow higher and higher, Frey must decide whether she can trust him – or anyone in her life. -Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

12 years ago I finished Westerfeld’s Extras and immediately started telling friends how excited I was for the next one. To which my best friend replied, “Uhhhh, Niki… I think that was the final book.” O_o

And then I went on a tirade that lasted a few years about how cheated I felt because the book ended with a huge cliffhanger and figurative bomb-drop.

So now, after all this time, I finally get to see where Westerfeld intended the story to go.

Granted, it’s not a direct continuation, but I’m okay with that because I’m most interested in the story’s continuation than I am the characters’.

I may have to reread the series before diving in to refresh that memory. I’m hoping it will have the same appeal to me now that it did in my late teens. :)

Who else is excited??!! :)

by Niki Hawkes