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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!

Other books you might like:

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.

Other books you might like:

 

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: Raised by Wolves

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: Raised by Wolves #1

Genre: Teen Paranormal Romance

Rating: DNF

The Overview: Adopted by the Alpha of a werewolf pack after a rogue wolf brutally killed her parents right before her eyes, fifteen-year-old Bryn knows only pack life, and the rigid social hierarchy that controls it.  That doesn’t mean that she’s averse to breaking a rule or two. But when her curiosity gets the better of her and she discovers Chase, a new teen locked in a cage in her guardian’s basement, and witnesses him turn into a wolf before her eyes, the horrific memories of her parents’ murders return. Bryn becomes obsessed with getting her questions answered, and Chase is the only one who can provide the information she needs. But in her drive to find the truth, will Bryn push too far beyond the constraints of the pack, forcing her to leave behind her friends, her family, and the identity that she’s shaped? -Goodreads

Did you really give Raised by Wolves a chance?

Yes… after saving it for a rainy day for nearly 10 years, I made it to about the 85% mark before setting it aside.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Kind of. I’ve certainly read others in the YA Paranormal genre that I thought were better. For the most part though, I tend to lose patience quickly with this type of story, preferring instead adult urban fantasy. These YA books tend to lack grit and are usually more focused on the love story than anything else. That said, they can be fun reads and I’ve read a few I really enjoyed:

 

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

JLB is responsible for one of my absolute favorite YA series – The Naturals. I was nervous picking up some of her earlier works, but figured the same basic quality would be there… no comment.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

We all have a few things that drive us absolutely bonkers in books. Two of my most prominent ones are endless dialogue/explanations and characters who make stupid decisions solely for the sake of advancing the plot. This book had those two things in abundance, and they effectively killed any interest I had in the other components. You would think with all the time the character spent explaining to the reader and other characters how things work, she would be bright enough to reason through her own decision-making. But the removal of common sense would put her in danger and, as that’s the only thing the plot relied on, it had to happen or there would be no book. I thought her reasoning behind hunting for the killer felt contrived and didn’t have the proper substance behind it to drive an entire plot.

It also suffered from a consistent lack of forward plot progression. What happened overall could’ve been condensed into a short story (which might have actually been quite good). But instead it was a long, drawn out novel of endless dialogue and info dumps. I think I dropped it around 85%… that’s harsh. It probably would’ve only taken me another 20 minutes to get through it.

I’m not even going to start ranting about the whole “the boy is my everything” trope that was also present because we’ll be here forever.

Was there anything you liked about Raised by Wolves?

Nothing. Usually I can set aside personal tastes and find some silver lining that might make it recommendable to certain types of readers, but not in this case.

Would you read anything else by this author?

An emphatic YES!!! All of the things I’ve criticized about this book were non-existent in her Naturals series. Nowadays, she’s such a proficient writer and so good at creating characters with substance and meaningful motivations that I’ll devour anything else she decides to publish. Every writer worth their ounce of ink improves on their craft with each novel. Quite frankly, the leap from this book to The Naturals is so extreme, I can hardly believe its from the same author. She teaches psychology at Yale (or at least, she did several years ago when I first discovered her), and her later works are always infused with fascinating tidbits from her field of study. It’s awesome.

*This nifty Q&A format is one I borrowed (with permission) from Nikki over at There Were Books Involved – thanks Nikki! 

by Niki Hawkes

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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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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. :)

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by Niki Hawkes