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Book Review: Unclean Spirits by M.L.N Hanover

Unclean Spirits by M.L.N. Hanover

Title: Unclean Spirit

Author: M.L.N. Hanover

Series: Black Sun’s Daughter

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 starts

The Overview: Jayné Heller thinks of herself as a realist, until she discovers reality isn’t quite what she thought it was. When her uncle Eric is murdered, Jayné travels to Denver to settle his estate, only to learn that it’s all hers — and vaster than she ever imagined. And along with properties across the world and an inexhaustible fortune, Eric left her a legacy of a different kind: his unfinished business with a cabal of wizards known as the Invisible College.Led by the ruthless Randolph Coin, the Invisible College harnesses demon spirits for their own ends of power and domination. Jayné finds it difficult to believe magic and demons can even exist, let alone be responsible for the death of her uncle. But Coin sees Eric’s heir as a threat to be eliminated by any means — magical or mundane — so Jayné had better start believing in something to save her own life. -Goodreads

The Review:

After finishing Unclean Spirits, I’d like to lament a few disappointments with a wishlist:

#1: I wish the characters had been developed, not just better, but at all.

#2: I wish the concept of the “unclean spirits” would’ve played a stronger, more direct role in the story.

#3: I wish the plot hadn’t been so simple.

#4: I wish all of the things I’ve come to love about this author had been represented in this novel.

Daniel Abraham (aka MLN Hanover, aka 1/2 of James S. A. Corey) has a pretty solid spot in my top authors list for his Long Price Quartet and Expanse series. I appreciate the subtle beauty of his writing, his interesting story ideas, and (most importantly), the rich characters he creates filled with so much depth they feel like real people (are you all sick of hearing me talk about Avasarala – aka my homegirl?). He’s literally my number one example for how to write amazing characters, so what happened here?

My disappointment in Unclean Spirits was a little more acute due to the lack of all of the essential components I’ve come to associate with this author. I’m actually kind of shocked that it was so sub-par of his usual standard. Minus the profanity, the delivery of this book read very much like a thin YA novel, lacking in any real substance or development (with an insta-lust on top of it all). It was practically a case study in telling vs showing where the characters would spring up feelings, convictions, and even magical talents without any groundwork to show the reader how they got to those points. Because of this I was never invested in the story – almost comatose with impartiality.

The concept of the book (revolving around parasitic “unclean spirits”) was an interesting one, and in fact my only positive takeaway from the book was the scientific discussion about the spirits vs earthen parasites. However, they didn’t play a significant role in the story other than on the periphery. I wanted to see some badass body-hopping and instead I got a big thug possessed by a spirit and lots of speculation and theory.

Overall, the book didn’t give me anything to sink my teeth into and had it been any other author I may have DNFed. It wasn’t the worst urban fantasy I’ve ever read, but it was far from the best.

Series status: I probably will not continue anytime soon (if at all). At least until I knock out the dozen or so other UFs on my TBR. I own this whole series, so we’ll see if it makes it past the next library purge. I admit to being mildly curious if all of the things I was missing develop later in the series because, despite my experience with this first book, I know the brilliance the author is capable of. We’ll see.

Recommendations: This would be a difficult one for me to recommend. If you’re thinking to read because you love the author (as I did), my inclination is to suggest you pass (on this one – everything else by him is superb). If you’re thinking to read this because you like urban fantasy, I wouldn’t say pass, but there are plethora of titles I’d hand you first.

Other books you might like:

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 Reviews: Dime Store Magic and Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong

Dime Store Magic: 4/5 stars
Industrial Magic 4/5 stars

It took me a loooooong time to get around to continuing this series with Dime Store Magic. I loved Bitten and Stolen, but found myself a little bitter that the series would start following different characters from there. I think my overall sentiment was “well, if continuing is going to feel like starting a new series, it doesn’t matter when I read them (salty reader, party of one).” For the most part, that was true. The story in books 3&4 focuses on Paige and her involvement in the witch and sorcerer communities (Elena’s story is a footnote, and werewolves take a backseat to other supernatural beings). It does tie back to Stolen, but more in a spin-off kind of way.

I’m not going to lie – I didn’t hate it.

I think I can see what Armstrong is trying to do with the series, and think nowadays I’m more in the mood to appreciate a series that takes a little longer to get to the payoff. What it has going for it are interesting and sassy female characters (I think Paige is one of the most relatable uf leads I’ve come across even if she is a little typical), good mysteries, romance, and writing that you can really lose yourself in. The story components weren’t earth-shattering, but I absolutely love where I think it’s going and look forward to seeing through some potential plot points.

Dime Store Magic offered a good Kate Daniels/Julie* relationship between Paige and Savannah and had a lot of excellent witchy moments (by witchy I mean supernatural spell casting and other creepy shit). It also had a decently organic romance, which I always appreciate. I finished this book feeling genuinely excited to see where the story went next. I even picked up Industrial Magic within a couple weeks (a turnaround that’s pretty unheard of with me). *Side note: I realize this was probably written before the KD series, but as I’m a super fan of that one now, everything must be compared. ;P

Industrial Magic was less about Paige’s relationships and more about the politics and dynamics within the witch and sorcerer communities (with a dash of necromancer and vampire). It expanded the plot sufficiently for me even though the story went in a different direction than I was expecting. It was much more inclusive of other supernatural groups, which made the whole world feel more robust and well-developed. The further I read, the more I appreciate how Armstrong is writing this series.

Overall, comparing books 3&4 to 1&2 is like apples to oranges. They’re still fruit sitting together in the same basket, but the sampling experience is vastly different. Elena’s story was more carnal and sensory, whereas I would call Paige’s more thoughtful and conceptual. Armstrong did a great job adapting her storytelling to both of these unique POVs, but I can see how such a drastic change caused a lot of readers to complain of a quality decline. They say the apples aren’t as good; I say that’s because you bit into an orange when you were expecting an apple.

Recommendations: I personally think there’s more than one type of urban fantasy, and books 3&4 strike a very different note than books 1&2 (as discussed above). As someone who likes most types, I’d recommend both as long as you’re prepared for the change. These haven’t landed at the top of my uf list yet, but they’re making a very compelling (and entertaining) case. :)

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Book Review: Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

[March 6, 2018] Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

Title: Burn Bright

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Alpha & Omega #5

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn… -Goodreads

The Review:

As Patricia Briggs is one of my favorite urban fantasy writers, I love that I have a new release from her to look forward to every year. Reading her books always feels like cuddling up with a warm fuzzy blanket when it’s snowing outside. Burn Bright was a nice installment in the Alpha & Omega series. Perhaps not quite as strong as the last couple of books, but still loads of fun all the same.

The positives were abundant: an interesting mystery to solve (one which I’m sure we’ll see repercussions from in the next Mercy book), plenty of Anna and Charles awesomeness (because their relationship dynamic is still one of my favorites), Marrok werewolf pack politics (a topic of which I never tire reading), and an easy flow of writing that absorbs you for a good ride. Essentially, all of the basics I’ve come to expect from a Briggs novel in abundance.

All that said, I wish the book could’ve had tighter pacing, most notably in the second half. The main story halted several times so other stories could be told and, while they were all interesting and completely relevant to the plot, they effectively killed any building momentum for me. It wasn’t a deal-breaker by any means (because the stories were good), but compared to the last two novels where the story practically careened towards the finish in a can’t-put-it-down-for-anything manner, Burn Bright was just okay in that regard.

Overall, anything Briggs produces is a good read, and this wasn’t an exception. I delighted in learning more about the dynamics within the Marrok’s pack (and especially loved the inclusion of Asil – one of the most interesting side characters in the saga). I love enigmas in books, and Briggs has several she’s been slowing revealing more about for years. It keeps me coming back with gusto!

Recommendations: I’m a huge fan of this series (and Patricia Briggs herself – you won’t meet a more gracious author) and would recommend them to both urban fantasy fans and those new to the genre. At this point, the link between the Alpha & Omega and Mercy Thompson books is strong enough that you should consider reading both series simultaneously by publication order to avoid major spoilers. Additionally, I would encourage you to pick up Shifting Shadows, a brilliant short story compilation, before diving in to Burn Bright.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Berkley Publishing Group, Patricia Briggs, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Burn Bright!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Teckla by Steven Brust

Teckla by Steven Brust

Title: Teckla

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: The third to be published, this is actually the fifth entry in the timeline of the VLAD TALTOS books, and it represents a darker, more serious turn in the series. Vladimir Taltos is a short-lived, short-statured Easterner (what we would call a human) in a world mostly populated by the long-lived, extremely tall Dragaerans. He is also an assassin and petty crimelord. His lifestyle and career require some difficult moral choices. When his wife Cawti joins an uprising of Easterners and peasant Dragaerans (the Teckla of the title), it causes a severe strain in their marriage, and Vlad begins to question those choices. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is one of the few series where I spend most of my time enjoying rather than analyzing. It’s complex enough to keep my interest (with random splashes of sarcasm that usually make me laugh), but easy-flowing enough that I can sit back and relax into it.

Nothing about this series is typical. Of the three I’ve read, so far Teckla was the least unconventional, but still boasted 100% world immersion. The author never explains anything, choosing instead to throw you into the deep end. It works though, because I pick up many intricacies of the world without having to be expressly told a thing. A good comparison is the principle behind the Rosetta Stone language program (where you learn the language organically as if it’s the only one you’ve heard). Brust’s storytelling works a lot alike that, which is why I feel so immersed with these books. Each novel seems to focus on a different culture/race, and as I read and recognize their names as titles of future books, making me all the more eager to get to those and find out more.

Overall, I’m in for the long haul of this series. They’re perfect palate cleansers between other novels and I appreciate what seems to me like a true merging of genres (with fantasy being the most prominent).

Recommendations: I’d hand this series to someone relatively well-read in the fantasy genre with emphasis on its originality. And humor.

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by Niki Hawkes