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Book Review: Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs

Title: Storm Cursed

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Mercy Thompson #11

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic. And a coyote shapeshifter. And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack. Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae. The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death. But we are pack, and we have given our word. We will die to keep it. -Goodreads

The Review:

Storm Cursed had a lot of the elements I’ve come to love from the Mercy Thompson series. Pack dynamics (I love it when they don’t get along lol), fun mysteries (in this case involving miniature goat zombies), and a world filled with so many interesting characters it’s hard to find page-time for them all.

Alas, despite having all the same ingredients, Storm Cursed was my least favorite since Frost Burned. I have some thoughts as to why:

The main character, Mercy is where I see my most prominent dissatisfactions here. For one thing, she just doesn’t seem like the same Mercy I fell in love with at the beginning of the series. Her character seems very different these days, at least to my perceptions. And not because of how her profile has evolved (because character growth is essential to any good series), but more from a writing standpoint (i.e. what Briggs chooses to have Mercy’s POV focus on). She’s very concerned with mundane things that don’t add any real character value for me – such as making sure to not use her phone while driving, or taking care to wear gloves while working on an engine. Moments like that are clear moments, and I’m finding them distracting. The sentiments are all good, for sure, but there are other ways to convey a character’s practical nature without sounding like an after school special. I read a really good article by Chuck Wendig about why including the mundane, even to establish character, can work against you, and much of what he warns against was present in this book (I’m referring specifically to his “Not Everything is Interesting” section).

Maybe it’s just me. Most of the readers in my Goodreads group didn’t have any of these same objections. Maybe all these mundane things add to the experience for others and I’m just being too picky. For whatever reason, it’s just didn’t work for me in this book.

The problem compounds even further for me. Mercy used to be a catalyst! An instigator of change who took her destiny into her own hands and made things happen. But in these last two novels, she was kind of a non-factor when it came to the conflict resolution… very reactionary. This issue doubles down in Storm Cursed because many of the conflicts happened off-page (on the periphery of the story, where the characters find out about them after the fact), which only served to increase the distance I felt. Maybe that’s why I had more time to scrutinize the characters – there wasn’t as much active engagement.

Now for some positive talk (because, after all, I still love the series). What definitely didn’t let me down were the side characters and the overall advancement of the series. Between Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega, this world has so much depth! The number of stories and characters Briggs could expand on are boundless. Every side character is interesting. Every backstory compelling. Every supernatural faction is still mostly an enigma. The care paid to its overall construction and development is brilliant, and it’s also why Briggs is one of my favorite authors (not to mention she’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Working as a bookseller, I’ve met countless authors over the years, and she’s still responsible for my favorite interaction to date, by far. If you can catch her at a signing – go!!).

My point is, even though Storm Cursed didn’t quite tickle my fancy like past novels have, I’m still a huge fan of this series and will definitely be reading anything Briggs decides to write next. Which, incidentally, is NOT going to be a random spinoff novel about Christy… apparently Briggs & Co. played an April fools joke where they announced she’d be taking a break from the main characters for a while. Unfortunately I didn’t see the original post, just a summary in a weekly newsletter… meaning I read about it on April 7th and had no reason to suspect it wasn’t legit. So I spread the word… and then facepalmed when I found out it was a joke. But I suppose it’s a testament to this author that I would’ve been totally on board with a Christy novel! I’m not sure how I feel about jokes in general on that scale, but considering that’s how the Hugh books in Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series got started (Iron and Magic was bomb), I won’t complain too much.

Recommendations: while Storm Cursed contained many of the components I’ve come to love from this series, a bit of the magic was missing for me, making it my least favorite in a long while. However, it advances the plot nicely and will give you a few laughs along the way. Definitely don’t pick it up unless you’re up to date with the series. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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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

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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

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Book Review: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

Title: Burn for Me

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Hidden Legacy #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy / PNR

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire. Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive. Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world. –Goodreads

The Review:

Everybody who said “ignore the cover, this book is awesome!” was absolutely right.

I should preface this review by saying that I recently got up to date with the Kate Daniels series (my current holy grail of urban fantasy), so I’m still riding the high from all the amazing things I experienced there. My opinion of Burn for Me was definitely influenced by my feelings for these authors in general. Had I read this first, I’m certain the rating would’ve been more conservative because I’d have still been trying to assess how I felt about the writing. Since I already know what these authors are capable of, I can’t help but have my rating reflect my unbridled excitement to be reading more from them.

I read Burn for Me with my FBR Goodreads group, and one friend summed it up perfectly: if you’re a fan of the Ilona Andrews formula, you’ll probably love this one too. As you can see from the cover, it’s clearly marketed towards / written for more of a paranormal romance fan base (as opposed to urban fantasy). This is also evident in the way they told the story (there’s a heightened focus on half-naked bodies). However, where most of the PNR books I’ve read focus mostly on the romance aspect and do just enough with everything else to get by, that was so not the case here – the plot and world building were just as robust, and in fact the “love story” kind of took a backseat at times.

The most compelling part of this book for me was the attention to detail – basically all of the “setup” components that set the base for the story, including backstories, alternate world histories, and magic systems. I also loved the fun dynamics between the main character and her family. All the characters were good, but my favorite was the Grandma. :)

I was worried the characters and the narrative would be similar enough to KD to feel like a knockoff series. While the snarky comebacks, feisty MCs, and relationship dynamics are in the same spirit as what I’ve seen before, it was presented differently enough alleviate that worry. Overall, they did a great job presenting characters and a world that felt fresh. The things that were similar (like the grumpy love interest) were so much fun to read that I probably gave it a pass anyway. I actually thought this was a much better start to a new series than KD, so that should count for something.

Analytically, I can see the book isn’t perfect, but from a pure enjoyment, x-factor standpoint I enjoyed it thoroughly and can’t wait to see where the story goes next.

Recommendations: Read all the things Ilona Andrews. I’m totally biased, and justifiably so considering how much I love these authors. I’d definitely hand this book to UF readers who don’t mind a little more of a romance focus. Burn for Me was a lot of fun and one of the more entertaining books I’ve read this year. Recommended if you like humor, snark, magic, and romance.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Haunted by Kelley Armstrong

Haunted by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Haunted

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Women of the Otherworld

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: The afterlife isn’t all it’s cracked up to be… Former supernatural superpower Eve Levine has broken all the rules. But she’s never broken a promise—not even during the three years she’s spent in the afterworld. So when the Fates call in a debt she gave her word she’d pay, she has no choice but to comply. For centuries one of the ghost world’s wickedest creatures has been loosed on humanity, thwarting every attempt to retrieve her. Now it has fallen to Eve to capture this demi-demon known as the Nix, who inhabits the bodies of would-be killers, compelling them to complete their deadly acts. It’s a mission that becomes all too personal when the Nix targets those Eve loves most—including Savannah, the daughter she left on earth. But can a renegade witch succeed where a host of angels have failed? -Goodreads

The Review:

Haunted is my least favorite WotO book to date. I liked the main character and how she tied into the series as a whole, but I can’t say that I enjoyed the story that much. First off, it was a bit too erratic, bouncing around from weird place to weirder place so often that I never really felt grounded in the story. Granted, it takes place primarily in the afterlife where the “rules” of what’s possible are a lot more flexible, but it was actually the main murder mystery plotline that I wish had been more straightforward (although I do give kudos for the incorporation of actual murders from our world for total story immersion – very creative).

Another issue I had is 100% what I would call a “personal problem” and not something I really hold the book at fault for. I just have a hard time reading about bad things happening to children. It wasn’t graphic or anything, but it’s one of my vulnerable “nope” subjects in books. Almost anything else I can compartmentalize as “it’s just a book,” but not that. The other thing that got me was a mass-shooting scene. With all the horrible shit that’s happening in the world right now, I need books to escape, not to be reminded. Objectively, I can look at all of these as story elements that fit the plot and characters, but emotionally and mentally I have to admit that I just did not enjoy reading about them.

Despite my lower rating and opinion of this book, I recognize it as an important component to getting the full experience out of this series, now that I have an idea how the afterlife and its beings function. I also appreciate how with each book the scope of characters we care about broadens. I’m still earnestly looking forward to the next book.

Recommendations: overall, the series is still a success for me, but I’m finally forced to admit agreement to the quality decline. Because of that, I’d probably start my recommendations with a few other urban fantasies that are more consistent. However, this series is by no means down and out – I’m very hopeful I’ll enjoy the rest of it. We shall see. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews

Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews

Title: Magic Binds

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Kate Daniels #9

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Mercenary Kate Daniels knows all too well that magic in post-Shift Atlanta is a dangerous business. But nothing she’s faced could have prepared her for this… Kate and the former Beast Lord Curran Lennart are finally making their relationship official. But there are some steep obstacles standing in the way of their walk to the altar… Kate’s father, Roland, has kidnapped the demigod Saiman and is slowly bleeding him dry in his never-ending bid for power. A Witch Oracle has predicted that if Kate marries the man she loves, Atlanta will burn and she will lose him forever. And the only person Kate can ask for help is long dead. The odds are impossible. The future is grim. But Kate Daniels has never been one to play by the rules… -Goodreads

The Review:

It’s official: Kate Daniels is my favorite urban fantasy series.

It continues to deliver with incredible consistency (aside from the first book), and I’ve loved every moment along the way. It has the perfect balance of action, mystery, humor, and romance. The romance isn’t a huge focus, but it’s done soooo well. Curran is a great example of how to present a strong male lead who doesn’t sacrifice masculinity for sentimentality (he also never loses his backbone/identity/complexity, something I appreciate immensely). The relationship between he and Kate is my favorite aspect of the series because it feels organic and realistic (compared to other relationships in the genre). The relationship is not cheesy or sickly perfect, but filled with real-people arguments and issues, and it’s a totally hilarious delight watching them work through some of them. I especially love that the authors don’t ever put them through senseless conflict and misunderstandings just for the sake of perpetuating the plot. It’s a relationship born of two strong-willed people trying to figure out how to not fuck it up. I love it.

What’s more, even the side characters are rounded and realistic (spawning several fantastic novellas, all of which I’ve read and enjoyed), making every aspect of this series that much more rich, vibrant, and immersive.

Magic Binds was a strong penultimate novel that has me agonizing for the final book in the series. I can’t believe I waited so long to get to this point in the series, but I’m equally delighted I don’t have to wait as long for the conclusion as the die-hard fans who have been keeping up to date with the series for years. All I can say is, Magic Triumphs is definitely in my top three most anticipated releases of 2018. I can’t wait!

Recommendations: if you’re an urban fantasy lover, Kate Daniels is a must-read! I’ve read a lot of good ones, but Kate takes the cake as my favorite, and that’s a fact. If you can get past the mediocre first book, you’re in for a fantastic series that gets better and better with each installment!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes