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Book Review: Living with the Dead by Kelley Armstrong

Living with the Dead by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Living with the Dead

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Women of the Otherworld #9

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: The men and women of the Otherworld – witches, werewolves, demons, vampires – live unseen among us. Only now a reckless killer has torn down the wall, trapping one very human woman in the supernatural crossfire. Robyn moved to LA after her husband died to try to put some distance between herself and the life they had together. And the challenges of her job as the PR consultant to a Paris Hilton wannabe are pretty distracting. But then her celebutante is gunned down in a night club, and Robyn is suddenly the prime suspect. The two people most determined to clear her are her old friend, the half-demon tabloid reporter Hope Adams, and a homicide detective with an uncanny affinity for the dead. Soon Robyn finds herself in the heart of a world she never even knew existed – and which she was safer knowing nothing about . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

Even though the magic of the series has evaporated, Living with the Dead was just entertaining enough to keep me reading to the end. But I now find myself contemplating abandoning the series. No Humans Involved (book #7) was a golden nugget in a series I thought had died, and the main reason I continued to this point, but now I have to weigh the risk of slogging through another novel like this against the possibility of striking gold again. I’ve been working on this series for so long, I just don’t think I have the patience.

Okay, the book wasn’t as horrible as I’m making it out to be. But when compared to other urban fantasies (and early books in this series), it doesn’t really hold a candle. It’s a little better when compared to paranormal romances, but not by much. And there wasn’t even a romance in this one! Which brings me to my next rant…

I craved at least a little romance in this book. After all, it’s one of the main reasons I got hooked on the series in the first place (my friend referred to it once saying “I want more of that hot werewolf sex.” Which I laughed at because I couldn’t disagree). Then to add insult to the lack of steamy scenes, the sexual encounters that did make an appearance were fucking weird. Weird like very uncomfortable and icky, not weird like kinky. It left me feeling like I could’ve been very happy living my life never having read about it. I’ll leave it at that.

Overall, the basic writing was still quality, the characters were good, the storyline was meh, and the romance was nonexistent. Part of me wants to see how everything converges at the end of the series, but at this point it might be a long while before I get there, if I do at all.

Recommendations: if you like urban fantasy, definitely check out the first two books – amazing! The rest of the series to this point has some merit, with a hit or miss ratio at about 50/50. This installment was my least favorite so far. I think I’m at the point where I’M the one who needs the recommendation on whether or not to finish out the series.

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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. :)

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron

Title: Minimum Wage Magic

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: DFZ #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab. That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there. -Goodreads

The Review:

Minimum Wage Magic was such a delightful read!

Even though it’s a spin-off of Aaron’s Heartstrikers series, it felt completely fresh, going a long way towards reinvigorating my love of this author (the last two books of HS were a bit too repetitive and drawn out for my tastes). I loved the premise – “cleaners” in the DFZ (magically altered Detroit) buy abandoned/reclaimed living units and turn a profit from what’s left inside. If any of you have spent entire days binge-watching Storage Wars (guilty), you’ll understand why this concept is incredible appealing to me lol.

I really liked Opal as the main character. She had a lot of YA fun infused into her personality, but remained “sophisticated” enough to pull off the lead in an urban fantasy. I especially loved her backstory and how pieces of it came together throughout the book. Discovering the many surprises was the highlight of the experience, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next.

Although this can definitely be read as a stand-alone, you’d be missing out on the cool magics behind the DFZ (a living entity in its own right), and a lot of the significance surrounding the dragons and how they affect the world around them. Heartstrikers gives MWM a lot more depth and robustness. However, without it, it’s still a fun, if slightly lighter read.

Series status: I waited an extra few months for the audio release (worth it), so I’m hoping this time next year I’ll have another installment to dive into. I loved it enough that I will be continuing as soon as the audio comes out.

Recommendations: within this world Rachel Aaron has created a fun fusion of genres – fantasy elements (dragons, magic), urban fantasy plot and settings, all told with an exuberant YA feel (without any unfortunate YA tropes or issues). If you’re sick of the same old stuff, let this author give you a breath of fresh air. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Fury by Rachel Vincent

[October 30, 2018] Fury by Rachel Vincent

Title: Fury

Author: Rachel Vincent

Series: Menagerie #3

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Release Date: October 30, 2018

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: 1986: Rebecca Essig leaves a slumber party early but comes home to a massacre—committed by her own parents. Only one of her siblings has survived. But as the tragic event unfolds, she begins to realize that other than a small army of six-year-olds, she is among very few survivors of a nationwide slaughter. The Reaping has begun.

Present day: Pregnant and on the run with a small band of compatriots, Delilah Marlow is determined to bring her baby into the world safely and secretly. But she isn’t used to sitting back while others suffer, and she’s desperate to reunite Zyanya, the cheetah shifter, with her brother and children. To find a way for Lenore the siren to see her husband. To find Rommily’s missing Oracle sisters. To unify this adopted family of fellow cryptids she came to love and rely on in captivity. But Delilah is about to discover that her role in the human versus cryptid war is destined to be much larger—and more dangerous—than she ever could have imagined. -Goodreads

The Review:

The Menagerie Trilogy has been a highlight of my reading year. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever read. Rachel Vincent’s writing always pulls me in (her Shifters series is particularly engrossing), and if anything, she’s only gotten stronger.

While Fury had some of my favorite scenes from the whole trilogy (some truly 5-star moments), it didn’t quite deliver the completely satisfying conclusion I’d been hoping for.

My thoughts on Fury are kind of segmented along with the plot. There’s a dual storyline going on – one in the present (following our main characters), and one in the past. Each thread had a different impact on my overall impression of the book. I’ll talk about the past one first:

Omg – so good! The series has been teasing about what happened with the surrogates in the 80s, and this perspective provided a lot of the answers I’d been looking for, doing so with a riveting narrative that had me glued to the pages. These sections were well spaced between the main story, and the pacing within each one was absolutely perfect! As much as I enjoy reading about Delilah and her crew, I found myself eager to get back to these passages to see what would happen next. It was easily my favorite component to this book (and maybe my favorite of the series), earning a solid 5 stars for execution and that amazing can’t-put-it-down factor.

Then we bounce back to the current timeline POV, and my feelings are a little mixed. I think there was awesome advancement with the emotional states of the characters, and a few moments that will shred your heart… but overall I think the story was just okay. Not a lot happened at first, and when the action finally got going, it was a little underdeveloped and abrupt. I would’ve preferred at least another 10 pages at the end to really flush out the ultimate climax of the trilogy because I think it needed more of a moment (especially since the past timeline set such a precedence with perfect pacing and immersion).

In addition, I still have a few burning questions that I don’t feel were answered to my satisfaction (I’m trying to deal, but it bugs me that I may never know some of the things). Just enough info was given for me to infer some answers, which was probably the intended point, but I wish I knew emphatically. This section is a solid 3-stars (I liked it) rating because characters were interesting (as always), and the things that did happen were good continuations to the story (and I’m not mad at the ending, I just wanted a bit more).

Overall, despite my desire for a little more clarity and expansion, I still count this as one of the more interesting books I’ve read this year. Don’t take my criticisms too much to heart because the parts of this story that really worked for me, I loved with an unparalleled ferocity.

Recommendations: the Menagerie Trilogy stands out as one of the most unique stories I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend it to readers in the mood for something immersive and unique. It’s not without flaws, but the awesome bits more than compensate.

I would like to thank Harlequin – Mira, Rachel Vincent, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Fury!

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Dead Iron by Devon Monk

Dead Iron by Devin Monk

Title: Dead Iron

Author: Devon Monk

Series: Age of Steam

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In steam age America, men, monsters, machines, and magic battle for the same scrap of earth and sky. In this chaos, bounty hunter Cedar Hunt rides, cursed by lycanthropy and carrying the guilt of his brother’s death. Then he’s offered hope that his brother may yet survive. All he has to do is find the Holder: a powerful device created by mad devisers-and now in the hands of an ancient Strange who was banished to walk this Earth. In a land shaped by magic, steam, and iron, where the only things a man can count on are his guns, gears, and grit, Cedar will have to depend on all three if he’s going to save his brother and reclaim his soul once and for all…-Goodreads

The Review:

There’s really no other way to sum it up: Dead Iron was weird.

I’ve been dabbling in clockwork & steampunk lately, and Dead Iron comparatively did a great job creating a unique overall atmosphere in line with that theme. As a general rule, I don’t have a lot of patience with bizarre, but it was balanced enough here that I was still able to enjoy the story and appreciate the elements.

The story bounced around between several POVs, and while I liked all the characters, I struggled to find a real connection to any of them. Possibly because their personal conflicts were each so off the wall that it was impossible to focus on anything else (the side characters were even more odd). I needed at least one of them to have a relatable problem, then I would’ve been more invested.

That said, I liked the basic writing (on par with my limited but good experiences with Devon Monk), and appreciated how well the words flowed off the page. Regardless of my preferential issues with story components, the writing was good enough to solidify my resolve to read more from this author.

Overall, I’m left with a few more positive vibes than negatives, but I find myself not eager to dive into the next book (I think I’m worried I’ve seen everything it has to offer already and will just get bored with the rest of it). It was memorable enough that I don’t think I’ll forget key components or characters any time soon, so I might bump it back down the list and start a few others before continuing.

Recommendations: as I mentioned, if you like steampunk and clockwork, this is a great pick. Bonus points if you also like the Wild West, bizarre scenes, and an urban fantasy writing style. It perhaps might have been a bit too weird for my tastes, but if you’re really in the mood for something out of the box, here you go…

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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. :)

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by Niki Hawkes