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Book Review: Soul Taken by Patricia Briggs

Title: Soul Taken

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Mercy Thompson #13

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The vampire Wulfe is missing. Since he’s deadly, possibly insane, and his current idea of “fun” is stalking me, some may see it as no great loss. But, warned that his disappearance might bring down the carefully constructed alliances that keep our pack safe, my mate and I must find Wulfe—and hope he’s still alive. As alive as a vampire can be, anyway. But Wulfe isn’t the only one who has disappeared. And now there are bodies, too. Has the Harvester returned to the Tri-Cities, reaping souls with his cursed sickle? Or is he just a character from a B horror movie and our enemy is someone else? The farther I follow Wulfe’s trail, the more twisted—and darker—the path becomes. I need to figure out what’s going on before the next body on the ground is mine. -Goodreads

The Review:

Briggs delivers yet another solid installment in the Mercy/A&O series.

It started out a bit slow, but I love spending time with these characters so much that they could be doing anything and I’d probably want to read about it. Werewolf pack dynamics continue to be one of my favorite elements to this series, and the beginning of the book focused on some changes brewing within it. Even though it took a while to get to the meat of the overall mystery, the time spent developing character was a huge highlight of the book for me. Briggs has this amazing ability to keep many characters enigmas while still providing satisfying discoveries for her readers. She withholds just enough to keep you wanting more without making it frustrating. Every reveal has an impact! It’s a testament to how rich this world is becoming.

This is a perfect mystery novel for the fall – complete with pumpkin patches and scythe-wielding villains. I loved the atmosphere and the lore. And even found the mystery page-turning. Overall, the book mostly worked to deepen character for me, as opposed to a few others which focused more on advancing the arc of the series. It was a delightful mystery full of action and humor and I can’t wait to read whatever she comes out with next!

Recommendations: Moon Called, the first book in this series, is one of the most accessible urban fantasies on the market and a great place to start in the genre. Beyond that, if you’re at this point in the series already, you definitely don’t need my encouragement to keep going! :)

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Patricia Briggs, and Netgalley for the chance to read an early copy of Soul Taken!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Ruby Fever by Ilona Andrews

Title: Ruby Fever

Authors: Ilona Andrews

Series: Hidden Legacy #6

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Ilona Andrews is back with the newest book in the exciting Hidden Legacy series—the thrilling conclusion to her trilogy featuring fierce and beautiful Prime magic user Catalina Baylor. An escaped spider, the unexpected arrival of an Imperial Russian Prince, the senseless assassination of a powerful figure, a shocking attack on the supposedly invincible Warden of Texas, Catalina’s boss… And it’s only Monday. Within hours, the fate of Houston—not to mention the House of Baylor—now rests on Catalina, who will have to harness her powers as never before. But even with her fellow Prime and fiancé Alessandro Sagredo by her side, she may not be able to expose who’s responsible before all hell really breaks loose. –Goodreads

The Review:

I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of the Baylor family.

This unlikely series has quickly jumped to one of my all-time favorites. To the point where the pending release for Ruby Fever was my most anticipated book of 2022. That’s crazy! But these authors have earned their place in my top spots by dazzling me again and again between their many series.


Two things about this series make it stand out to me: the cool structure for a magic system, where these competing houses pass magic down through their lineages, and said magic takes on all sorts of interesting forms. It’s everything you love about superhero powers, but in a much more accessible (and less cheesy) presentation. The wide variety of magics turns every book into a discovery process, and I lovelovelove the world building component.

The second thing is the characters themselves. This family is a hoot. Spending time with them reminds me of being included in the family festivities of my best friend growing up (who had 10 siblings… welcome to Utah), and the crazy sorts of dynamics and arguments that ensue with that many people under one roof. But at the end of the day, they support and love one another and work together to build their house into something to be proud of. Reading these books feels like tapping into the hopeful part of me I don’t see very often, and I love that. And considering how many fun family members there are to keep track of in this series, I’m impressed at how complete and well-developed most of them feel. The grandma is a riot.

Although these books are marketed as romances, they more closely resemble traditional urban fantasy than many others that I’ve read. The point of a paranormal romance is to see if the two are going to get together in the end (amidst some supernatural squabbling). The point of an urban fantasy is to see if they’re going to defeat the bad guy, with romance as a secondary arc. This last book had practically no romance development at all, but you wouldn’t know that from the covers. It’s why I have such a hard time recommending this amazing series to anyone, save those who have already read Ilona Andrews and know how brilliant they are. Take it from me, ignore the covers. This series is legit.

The only thing I found disappointing about the book was that it didn’t resolve a plot point I was most interested in seeing continued from the first two Catalina books. It kind of touched on it, but nowhere near where I think it could’ve gone given all the good setup. Given rumors on how annoying this book was to write for the authors (well, not really rumors considering I read it repeatedly on their blog), I wonder if at the end of the day they only had so much room to try to cram all the elements in and some things just didn’t make the cut.

The highlight of the book was actually the epilogue. I found in it the spark I love so much about the series and promises of more to come. I hope the writing duo do indeed continue the series, even if they go the self-pub route (I’ll be buying!).

Recommendations: as this is the second arc to the Hidden Legacy saga, I’d suggest starting back with Burn for Me (that title, though). And if you can’t get past the covers, I understand (although I actually really like the vibrant covers and pretty dresses of the newer ones, but you get my point). Start with the Kate Daniels series instead (the first book is meh, but then it grows into something amazing!) and maybe once you see how good they are, you’ll find your way back here. :)

I’d like to thank Avon and Harper Voyager, Ilona Andrews, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Ruby Fever!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

Title: Living Dead in Dallas

Author: Charlaine Harris

Series: Sookie Stackhouse #2

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Waitress Sookie Stackhouse is having a streak of bad luck. First her co-worker is killed, and no one seems to care. Then she comes face to-face with a beastly creature that gives her a painful and poisonous lashing. Enter the vampires, who graciously suck the poison from her veins (like they didn’t enjoy it). The point is: they saved her life. So when one of the bloodsuckers asks for a favor, she obliges – and soon Sookie’s in Dallas, using her telepathic skills to search for a missing vampire. She’s supposed to interview certain humans involved, but she makes one condition: the vampires must promise to behave and let the humans go unharmed. But that’s easier said than done, and all it takes is one delicious blonde and one small mistake for things to turn deadly…. -Goodreads

The Review:

I enjoyed this book quite a bit even though I don’t like reading about religious zealotry, which it had in abundance. From a series construction standpoint, this did a great job expanding what we know about vampires so far and the wide range of acceptance and prejudices humanity holds for them. Sookie, our main character, seems to be straddling the line between the two worlds, and drama ensues.

I don’t have much else to add. It continued the strong narrative I came to appreciate in the first book and advanced the plot sufficiently. Sookie, while not the sharpest tool in the shed is a really charming MC, mostly because she feels so real and earnest. I can totally see how the vibrancy of what I’ve read so far translated so well to tv. Also, Harris is shaping up to be one of the most adept writers I’ve come across in ages when it comes to perspective immersion – truly impressive!

Recommendations: if you’re craving an urban fantasy with good mystery elements, an endearing main character, and the most sexual content I’ve read in anything (not shelved in romance) to date, then give this one a go!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Trouble with the Cursed by Kim Harrison

Title: Trouble with the Cursed

Author: Kim Harrison

Series: Hollows #14

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Rachel Morgan, witch-born demon, has one unspoken rule: take chances, but pay for them yourself. With it, she has turned enemies into allies, found her place with her demon kin, and stepped up as the subrosa of Cincinnati—responsible for keeping the paranormal community at peace and in line. Life is . . . good? Even better, her best friend, Ivy Tamwood, is returning home. Nothing’s simple, though, and Ivy’s not coming alone. The vampires’ ruling council insists she escort one of the long undead, hell-bent on proving that Rachel killed Cincy’s master vampire to take over the city. Which, of course, Rachel totally did not do. She only transformed her a little. With Rachel’s friends distracted by their own lives and problems, she reaches out to a new ally for help—the demon Hodin. But this trickster has his own agenda. In the end, the only way for Rachel to save herself and the city may be to forge a new understanding with her estranged demon teacher, Al. There’s just one problem: Al would sell his own soul to be rid of her. . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

I love spending time with Rachel Morgan.

As the series initially ended at book 13, these latest three novels have felt like bonus books (continuing the storyline before book 13’s epilogue). It’s always a joy to read more in a series you thought ended. And I have to say, these revamped (pun) books are every bit as good as the rest of the series.

Anything to do with the demons in this world, and I’m so there. I love their unpredictability and enigma quality that always has me guessing who’s side they’re on (well, they’re probably always on their own side, it’s just a matter of whether or not Rachel’s agenda lines up with theirs… it’s an ongoing conflict I just can’t get enough of). In these recent novels we’ve explored them more than ever before, and it’s highly satisfying.

Million Dollar Demon (#15) was awesome, but the ending was a bit lackluster compared to others in the series. This one, however, was a grand slam of events that had me up into the wee hours finishing. I love it when books careen to the end. The book also introduced a few new plot points throughout that I can’t wait to see expanded on later. Harrison really knows how to keep hooking my interest with new elements.

There’s a writing tool some storytellers use to perpetuate the plot that drives me crazy. The whole “I’m too emotionally distraught to have a two minute conversation with you… one that could save everyone a lot of trouble” is one I’ve always found unrealistic. Most people tend to WANT to talk about the major things that have affected them in life, given the proper opportunity and safety of expression. Especially if said information is critical in someone else’s decision-making. But in this case, that would’ve cut out almost two books of conflict and we wouldn’t have had a story. So, while I wish things had been presented in a different way, I can begrudgingly admit that I still enjoyed the time we spent getting to the point of revelation. There were enough other good things going on, so I can overlook its use… but I still hate it lol.

At this point I’m committed to reading any new Harrison book that pops up and hope we’re not quite finished with this series yet (some research shows there will be at least two more books). I’ve no idea what direction those new books will take, but the groundwork laid to this point in the series assures that I’ll enjoy the ride.

Recommendation: if you want an urban fantasy with slower pacing, great characters, intricate spell work, and a story that only gets better with time, this is a great pick. While this isn’t quite my favorite series in the genre, I can say with confidence that it contains my single favorite moments within the genre. Good stuff. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Title: Dead Until Dark

Author: Charlaine Harris

Series: Sookie Stackhouse #1

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life-and one of her coworkers checks out….

Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn’t such a bright idea. -Goodreads

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The Review:

Well, butter my butt and call me a southern biscuit – I enjoyed the hell out of Dead Until Dark.

This was my second read-through of this book (I’d never continued beyond it last time), and it’s funny how time and reading experience can change how you feel about the same exact story. The first time I read it (3 stars) I was only just dipping my toes into urban fantasy. I’d no idea what marked a good one from a bad one and was kind of experimenting with them all. This time around, I’ve read (and loved) a fair few, and the quality of the writing and the richness of the story here stood out to me in a way it hadn’t before. I loved it.

What struck me is the complete immersion into Sookie’s viewpoint of the world. She’s such an atypical character – not the brightest, nor the most experienced, but loving and completely earnest in everything she does. I find her absolutely charming. Her character was strengthened even more by the exceptional audio narration of Johanna Parker – I highly recommend going the audiobook route with this one.

I remember discussing this book with my best friend early on, and she mentioned it had a lot of sex in it. I was surprised because I only remembered one sex scene in the whole thing. What I was actually remembering was an entire like 50 page chunk of the book! So yeah, these are a lot steamier than your usual urban fantasy series. However since the plot and overall focus of the book remained on the murder mystery and Sookie dealing with a bunch of external supernatural conflicts, the addition of all the sexual content did not make it feel like a paranormal romance. That’s a distinction I always find very important when evaluating these types of stories.

Overall, I’m thrilled I now have another excellent UF to keep me occupied for a while (as I am UTD on all things Briggs, Harrison, Butcher, and Andrews). I can totally see how the excellent storytelling here was picked up for a tv series. The books are so strong and vibrant that they really didn’t have to change much in the adaptation. At least not initially.

Recommendations: if you love UF but haven’t yet tried this series – give it a go! The mystery was a lot grittier than you’ll find in most and the characters are a hoot. One of the most delightful things I’ve read in a while.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R. Green

Title: The Best Thing You Can Steal

Author: Simon R. Green

Series: Gideon Sable #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: Welcome to London, but not as you know it. A place where magics and horror run free, wonders and miracles are everyday things, and the dark streets are full of very shadowy people . . .
Gideon Sable is a thief and a con man. He specializes in stealing the kind of things that can’t normally be stolen. Like a ghost’s clothes, or a photo from a country that never existed. He even stole his current identity. Who was he originally? Now, that would be telling. One thing’s for sure though, he’s not the bad guy. The people he steals from always have it coming. Gideon’s planning a heist, to steal the only thing that matters from the worst man in the world. To get past his security, he’s going to need a crew who can do the impossible . . . but luckily, he has the right people in mind. The Damned, the Ghost, the Wild Card . . . and his ex-girlfriend, Annie Anybody. A woman who can be anyone, with the power to make technology fall in love with her. If things go well, they’ll all get what they want. And if they’re lucky, they might not even die trying . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

As you can tell by my knee-jerk review above, I needed some time and space from this book to assess it in a more mature manner.

Obviously I didn’t enjoy The Best Thing You Can Steal, but I didn’t spend the entire book not liking it. I was actually quite on board at the beginning when the main character was taking a ton of time to assemble his team of thieves. I thought the setup a bit long-winded (instead of hinting at backstories and keeping some details as surprises for later, everyone’s history was laid out and explained extensively), but was willing to ride it out because the book was promising the heist of a century! I love seeing the legwork for stuff like that.

“And we set of with speed for the bright lights of London. A car full of weird with a ghost on top.” <-I loved this quote, and felt really excited to embark with them at the time.

But then the moment arrived. When we finally get to go along with the characters as the do the big things. And I was so, so let down. For me, the main appeal of the novel was the promise of a good heist, and a good heist it was not. First off, the whys behind the heist weren’t convincing as reasons to put everyone at risk. But people do weird things all the time, so that’s a point I overlooked. Secondly, it’s not much fun when there are no challenges and everyone is perfectly prepared for all of the obstacles they’ll face. It’s ideal, of course, but it lacks a certain drama to engage the reader.

And to that point I have a side rant. The team of characters Gideon was assembling for the heist was fun, but one of the members was a woman who had a special ability: computers respond to her and will do anything to please her. How convenient.

It just felt so contrived. Especially since I can’t recall anyone else referencing or having special abilities in the story. So by all accounts, she’s the only one around with “powers” and omgsh how wonderful it is that they happen to be exactly what a thief would need to get past a security system without having to spend any time figuring out how to bypass them organically. All of the other supernatural elements and characters fit, but seeing as this character was already a master of disguise, adding the technology powers in felt like an afterthought. It almost would’ve been better to set up the world without technologies for whatever fabricated reason made sense, and go from there. Rant over.

Finally, the actual thing they found when the heist was complete… was so stupid. I don’t know how else to say it. It made me feel like I’d wasted all the time spend reading the book just to end up where we did. Like, I was promised one thing and delivered something completely different. It actually made me mad, which I’m laughing at now because I don’t usually get that worked up over books. Something about this one must’ve hit a nerve.

Overall, the journey was a bit slow, but the characters were fun and I appreciated the lighthearted heist story I was getting. But taking time to read the endless pages of buildup only to have a very unsatisfying payoff left me feeling resentful. Like I said before, at least it was evoking, if nothing else.

Recommendations: if you’re picking this up because you want a light urban fantasy with some cheeky supernatural characters, this is a good pick. If, like me, you wanted to experience an amazing heist because the Gentleman Bastards series still doesn’t have a release date for the fourth book and you’re getting desperate for that type of story… this one will not make you feel better.

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by Niki Hawkes