(Disclaimer: the writer of this book is a friend of mine, and I beta-read this before its release! These remarks are based on my beta-read of the nove(Disclaimer: the writer of this book is a friend of mine, and I beta-read this before its release! These remarks are based on my beta-read of the novel.)
Stronger Than Blood does a deft job of avoiding tropes I give the side-eye to in both YA and urban fantasy. It involves high school students, yet it avoids a lot of the angst I've seen in other titles I've sampled. And it's urban fantasy with werewolves--but I found the heroine, B, refreshingly atypical. She's not only not a stereotypical badass, her transformations cause her active, major health problems, and this is one of the neatest explorations of what exactly monthly shapeshifting can do to a body that I've had the pleasure to read.
And what does our heroine, B, have to deal with? Discovering that she is not in fact the only werewolf in the world, and that furthermore, the pack she discovers is not plagued with her health issues. But her initial quest to find out whether these other weres can teach her how to not only endure her transformations, but to get her strength back as well, is only the first layer of a nicely complicated little plot. B's got to maneuver dangerous pack dynamics if she wants to survive not only her own changes, but her new place in a world that contains others like her.
So yeah, go pick this one up. And tell Genevieve I sent you, won't you?
ETA: And now that I've read the finished product on my Kindle, I am delighted to add to this review that it holds together beautifully on a second read. There's poetry and feral grace here, and I loved every word....more
"Cozily domestic" is not usually a phrase I would think to associate with the living situation of a vampire. It is a measure of Cherie Priest's abilit"Cozily domestic" is not usually a phrase I would think to associate with the living situation of a vampire. It is a measure of Cherie Priest's ability as an author to engage me so strongly that I not only was intrigued by her take on a vampire heroine, but was actively charmed by seeing the growing household that Raylene Pendle has pulled around herself as of the beginning of Book 2 of The Chesire Red Reports, Hellbent.
This installment of the series continues one of the big things I liked a lot about Book 1, Bloodshot: i.e., taking a bunch of urban fantasy tropes and... well, it's cliched of me to say "subverting them", but really, it's true. You don't find too many vampires--in urban fantasy proper, at least; if you venture over into paranormal romance, it's a different story--that are neurotic, or needy, or who do in fact gather a whole household of dependents around them without really actively meaning to. Raylene's a refreshing contrast to the vampires I'm so used to seeing, the ones who are all-powerful heads of Clans or Houses or whatever, especially the males who are the all-too-frequent, oh-so-sexy-and-mysterious love interests for associated heroines. Raylene's not remote or mysterious, and this makes her far sexier a character to me than any one of dozens of alpha male vampire heroes.
And oh. My. God. Mad, mad love is ongoing for Adrian, the most badass drag queen who ever dragged. That he exists in the pages of an urban fantasy at all just makes me happy. Gender fluidity for the major, major win.
Now, that said, let's talk plot. I wasn't quite as taken with the plot of this one as I was the previous, just because the A and B plots didn't mesh quite as well as I would have hoped. But that said, there's intriguing followup on the status of Adrian's lost vampire sister. And there's an intriguing and somewhat scary character who shows up, the disturbed mage Elizabeth, who seems to be a way for Priest to explore dealing with a character who has both a) significant magical power and b) significant mental illness. Elizabeth is a bit of a cipher, but the scenes where Raylene reaches out to her in unwilling sympathy are among my favorite in the book. Elizabeth's mental illness is not downplayed, or magically cured, and I have to give high marks for both of those.
Overall, there were also a bit more moments where Raylene went past 'cozily domestic' and a bit too far into 'twee'--adopting a kitten? Not really necessary, we get that Raylene's a lot more of a softy than she lets on! (And I say this as someone in general favor of kittens.) I'm also not really sure I buy Elizabeth's status at the end.
But on the other hand, I did overall quite like this book anyway. And I'm hoping that Priest will get a shot at more of them, given that as per her blog, she was only originally contracted to do two of them. For this one, I'll give four stars!...more
Oh, I do love me some Greywalker. I DO. And I happily devoured Downpour, the sixth in the ongoing Kat Richardson series.
Given that this is an urban faOh, I do love me some Greywalker. I DO. And I happily devoured Downpour, the sixth in the ongoing Kat Richardson series.
Given that this is an urban fantasy series, by now we're well and thoroughly into the character progression--and into the inevitable levelling up of Harper's Greywalker powers. At least a few other series I've stuck with this far have almost exhausted me, between a never-ending sense of "shit, does nothing good ever happen to these people?!" and the aforementioned levelling-up often not feeling like it's justified at all. Happily, Kat Richardson never has this problem for me. Harper's gaining power, sure. But so far it's felt real, and logical, for her to do so. It's changing her as a person, and she knows it, and she's reacting to this in real and logical ways as well.
It's awesome as well to see her continue to try to actually solve cases, and continue to try to operate at a level that isn't necessarily ZOMG THE WORLD IS GOING TO EXPLODE. Such as in this installment, how she's gone out on the Olympic Peninsula to do some investigating--and oh look! Ghostly car wreck victim! That investigation pulls her off on a side quest, only, of course Investigation A and Investigation B eventually tie together. Like ya do, in any urban fantasy novel.
And oh, I did like this story. Since I've been out on the Olympic Peninsula a time or two, it was great to see that area of the state getting some on-camera love. And I liked a LOT that we got elements of the fantastic that were rooted more in the Native American myths of the region than in more heavily used staples of urban fantasy--and I say that as somebody who loves her some elves.
And Quinn! Quinn! I love, love, love that there is an ongoing relationship here, and that we're continuing to get more bits from his point of view as he's trying to keep up in his own non-powered way with Harper's changing status. Just because he loves her and because he's that damned awesome.
Really, over all, this was great fun and I didn't have a single quibble with it in the slightest. But for the love of all gods, don't start here if you want to dive into the Greywalker books. Do know, though, that if you get through the first couple, you'll have this one to look forward to. Five stars!...more
Side Jobs is perhaps not absolutely critical reading for a fan of Jim Butcher and the Dresden Files. Most of the stories herein are ones which were prSide Jobs is perhaps not absolutely critical reading for a fan of Jim Butcher and the Dresden Files. Most of the stories herein are ones which were previously published in various other anthologies, with the shining exception of Aftermath, the novella that takes place immediately after the novel Changes--and which was the first thing I'd ever seen Mr. Butcher write from a female point of view, at least in the Dresden Files. For that alone, and for an opportunity to see Murphy react to the way that novel ended, I was myself quite happy to snap this one up.
Fortunately, I hadn't actually read most of these stories before, so the collection was primarily new to me. And there's definitely some good stuff in here, taking place over quite a wide range of the Dresden timeline. Aside from Aftermath, my favorites were "Last Call" and "Love Hurts", just because of fun mileage with McAnally's, and again with Murphy. I certainly squeed quite a bit for the "Love Hurts" story in particular. I'd already read Warrior from the Mean Streets anthology, but that one's a good solid story as well. And if you want to go way, way back in Harry's timeline, "Restoration of Faith" takes place before Storm Front; that one's available to read for free on Jim's site, but it was good to see it here, too, and good to see the collection ranging from very early Harry to (as of the time of this collection's release) current Harry.
Critical? No. But definitely fun, and if you're like me--a big fan of Jim's work but not one who normally reads anthologies or collections--you should go ahead and pick this up. But for the love of all that's holy, do not read Aftermath unless you've already read Changes. Because oh my yes the spoilers. Four stars....more
Urban fantasy has to work very, very hard to seize and hold my attention these days, and I say this fully cognizant of how there are a great number ofUrban fantasy has to work very, very hard to seize and hold my attention these days, and I say this fully cognizant of how there are a great number of authors out there writing awesome books. For me, it's just been a matter of wanting to read so many things--and having read so much urban fantasy the last several years--that more of it is generally pretty far down my reading queue.
For Cherie Priest, though, I'll totally make exceptions. I've unilaterally liked every single thing of hers I've read, and Bloodshot, the first of her Cheshire Red Reports series, is no exception. It doesn't engage me quite as hard as the Clockwork Century books do, I'll cheerfully admit. But on the other hand, "slightly less awesome than Boneshaker" is still pretty goddamned awesome.
Here's the thing for me about Bloodshot: it made me actively like a vampire protagonist, and it did it by making her an engaging character entirely aside from her being a badassed vampire thief. Yeah yeah yeah, badassed vampire thief, seen too much of that; see previous commentary re: reading a whole LOT of urban fantasy. What I haven't seen, though, is a vampire who was a flapper before she was turned. Who sets off being a badassed thief with being thoroughly neurotic, to the degree of preparing for her heists to obsessive levels of detail. And who, even while she swears up and down to the reader that she's not interested in forming lasting attachments, nonetheless has adopted two homeless children in her Seattle base of operations--and who proceeds to take a very personal interest in the case her latest client brings her, when he turns out to be a blinded vampire seeking to steal information about what happened to him while he was the captive of a secret government experiment.
Nor was it enough that Raylene rocked. Backing her up in this story is one of the most awesome male lead characters it has been my pleasure to read in some time: Adrian deJesus, a.k.a. Sister Rose, an ex-Navy SEAL turned drag queen. I adore Adrian. I adore that he is the reason why Raylene has to struggle with the question of how to address his gender identity, in a reasonable and non-angstful way, and that it's a struggle that doesn't take Raylene much time to figure out. I adore that he is both thoroughly badassed AND very, very comfortable with makeup. I adore that he is, in fact, the second most badassed character in the book, only slightly less badassed than the vampire protagonist. And godDAMN, that boy can dance.
With these two highly engaging main characters to blaze the way, it was no effort at all to enjoy the hell out of this book. I very much liked the exploration of the aforementioned secret government experiment, and how it dovetails with Adrian's own backstory, as he's on the hunt for his missing sister, who has herself become a vampire. And I quite like the exploration of the idea that a vampire, Raylene's client Ian, has to live with the strong likelihood that he'll be permanently disabled.
In short, there's a great deal I liked here and not very much at all I didn't care for. I found the kids a bit too plot-moppety for my liking, as they're mostly there to provide character development for Raylene, and a couple of the details revealed about what happened to Ian a bit too predictable. But that's about the extent of my problems with it, and all in all, we're talking four strong stars here....more
Oh my giddy aunt, this one was fun! I'm already on record as a documented fan of the Walker Papers, so it's easy for me to say that this one was my faOh my giddy aunt, this one was fun! I'm already on record as a documented fan of the Walker Papers, so it's easy for me to say that this one was my favorite one yet--but it's the absolute truth. This far into the series, all the characters are well and thoroughly established, and Murphy has the rhythm of the series moving nicely. We've got a purely prosaic challenge to Joanne for once as she has to face the first time she has to shoot someone on the job, and how this affects her not only as a shaman, but also simply as a cop. It's excellent character development for her. And we've got transformative magic on the loose, magic capable of turning Jo herself into coyote form.
Most importantly for my purposes, though, we finally get some payoff on the excellent slow build of the relationship between Joanne and Morrison. Next to that, everything else in the book is kind of extra. I can't say more than that without going into spoiler territory, so I shall content myself with noting that the ending of this one had me simultaneously going YAY! and AUGH! And I cannot wait to devour book 7.
So yeah, this is almost more fangirling than actual review, but hey, like I said--I'm a fan. And I loved this one. Keep 'em coming, Kit! Five stars....more
There are a few fundamental constants about my reading tastes. One of those is that any book with a decent treatment of the Sidhe is guaranteed to appThere are a few fundamental constants about my reading tastes. One of those is that any book with a decent treatment of the Sidhe is guaranteed to appeal to me. The other is that any book by C.E. Murphy is guaranteed to do the same. Combine these, and the result is a tasty little urban fantasy that pretty much has "read this, Anna" written all over it.
Lara Jansen has a strange gift: she can always, always tell when someone is lying. Compared to many high-powered, badassed urban fantasy heroines this days, this may not seem like much--and neither does Lara's quiet profession of tailor, when you put her up against all the bounty hunters and detectives and assassins and whatnot that populate the genre. But her ability proves to be of critical importance when the Seelie prince Dafydd seeks her help in clearing him of a charge of murder.
And, unsurprisingly given that this is in fact a C.E. Murphy novel with the Sidhe in it, I enjoyed the hell out of this. It's not a hundred percent perfect; the relationship between Lara and Dafydd started closing in on True Love a bit fast for my tastes, for example. That however is a fairly small quibble against all the things I liked about the story.
One, the heroine is indeed refreshingly not a high-powered badass at combat, either magical or physical. Her truthseeking gift has interesting character connotations for her; I liked that it made her shy away from reading fiction because it parses as "false" to her (even though, as a voracious reader, I have a hard time understanding people who don't like to read for pleasure!), and I liked even more that it let her ramp up very quickly to accepting the truth of the existence of the Sidhe, thereby neatly sidestepping the whole traditional OMG MAGIC IS REAL?! reaction that also inundates the genre.
Two, I also like Dafydd as a hero, and I find it fun that his cover identify in the human world when the story starts is that of a TV weatherman. His relationship with the brother he's accused of murdering is well drawn, as are his reactions as the consequences of his enlisting Lara's aid start mounting.
To wit, three, there are indeed good strong consequences to Lara's discovering Faerie. I particularly liked that the old-school difference in flow of time between Faerie and the human realm is used here, to very good effect and with distinct consequences for the major characters.
Given that this is a duology, the story is not resolved as of the end of this book, so be prepared for that if you go in. But fortunately, Book 2 is out later this year! And I will, of course, be reading it. For this one, four stars....more
Robyn Bachar's Blood, Smoke and Mirrors was favorable reviewed on Smart Bitches, and that's always a fine thing, so I took it upon myself to check thiRobyn Bachar's Blood, Smoke and Mirrors was favorable reviewed on Smart Bitches, and that's always a fine thing, so I took it upon myself to check this book out. It was my first from Samhain Press, who certainly did make an impression upon me with the gorgeous cover for this thing. Yeah, sure, it's yet another Headless Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy heroine, but I will at least give this one points for not having a tramp stamp!
Points off, though, for how the girl on this cover is significantly thinner than I think the heroine's actually supposed to be. That's one of the things that stood out for me reading through this: i.e., that the heroine frequently describes herself as overweight if not outright fat. So I'm thinking that a bit more realism of cover portrayal might have been nice here, even as I acknowledge that yeah, that probably wouldn't have sold as well. C'est la vie.
Anyway, the core concept of the book was the other thing that grabbed me: i.e., that our heroine is a witch who's been banished by her brethren for violation of the Do No Harm rede--in self-defense against a would-be rapist. Naturally, Cat's pretty bitter about this, and it doesn't help much either that the one who turned her in was her own lover, Alexander Duquesne. But: Cat's also in line to become the Titania, the mortal representative to Faerie in her neck of the woods. And cranky as she is at Lex, she'll have to team up with him to find out who doesn't want her anywhere near the Titania position.
All well and good. I waffled though about whether I liked the worldbuilding or not; it was certainly clearly laid out and pretty detailed. Some aspects of it were definitely unusual, such as "witches only do this kind of magic and necromancers only do this kind and guardians only do this kind", not to mention an apparent progression of necromancers eventually becoming vampires. I'll give due credit for that. I must note though that some of that also made me go "wait, what?", a bit too much for my liking.
Same deal with Cat and Lex. What kicked this over into paranormal romance land for me, rather than urban fantasy, was three things: 1) their relationship was one of the biggest conflict drivers of the book, 2) there was quite a bit of emphasis about the sexual attraction between them, and 3) the Big Misunderstanding trope showed up. And while paranormal romance land is not a bad place to be in the slightest--witness the number of paranormal romances I've read and have on my to read queue--I found myself wishing there was a little less relationship angst and a little more plot.
Cat herself was another thing I waffled about. I liked that she came across a lot as a truly everyday woman, not only because of her weight, but because of her tastes in clothes and food. But at the same time, she was very much in the mold of Smartass Heroine, often to her own detriment, and that's something I'd really like to see a bit less of in my heroines these days. (Less smartass, more smart.)
Last but not least, I found most of the antagonists a bit too much "evil because that's their function in this plot" rather than "evil because they have actual motive". Cat's father didn't work for me as a character, and neither did "Lovely Laura Barrenheart", just because I had a very hard time imagining how any vampire who expected to be taken seriously would actually saddle herself with a name like that. But that said? Zachary Harrison did work, and was deliciously ambiguous.
All in all I liked it well enough, and can definitely see how the parts that didn't necessarily work for me might work a lot better for others. I think for me this was just a question of taste and style preferences in my reading rather than any real fault of the book. Three stars....more
Bernita Harris' Dark and Disorderly did not at first impress me by its title. But as I thought the concept sounded fun, I made sure to pick it up whenBernita Harris' Dark and Disorderly did not at first impress me by its title. But as I thought the concept sounded fun, I made sure to pick it up when Carina Press went live earlier this year. Turns out, I was very glad I did. Dark and Disorderly turned out to be a lively book indeed.
Coming out of an imprint of Harlequin, you'd expect this book to lean more towards the "paranormal romance" end of the urban fantasy/paranormal romance spectrum. And while you could make a good case for that, for me as a reader it read more like pure urban fantasy, for two reasons: 1) good worldbuilding, and 2) way less emphasis on the romance between the leads, although of course there was one.
Let's talk worldbuilding first. This is a universe where ghosts and the other expected batch of supernaturals exist, and our heroine, Lillie St. Claire, is essentially a city-employed ghostbuster. I quite liked the scenario Harris lays down, that supernatural incidents have been on the rise only in the last couple of decades, and that Lillie is one of a generation of children known as Talents--and in her particular case, maybe even something above and beyond. It was just the right blend of supernatural and real-world for me, with a city trying to work out its infestation of ghosts as a municipal problem; this felt very real and believable.
Props as well for the story starting off with a serious bang, when what Lillie thinks is the corpse of her recently deceased husband assaults her in her own bathroom. That seized my attention nicely, and once that initial punch was delivered, the arrival in the plot of police sergeant John Thresher made a great followup. And when Harris described her hero as "not ugly, exactly, just... rugged" and with "a face like a box of hammers and jaws like angle irons", I was instantly charmed. I've had a surfeit of super-sexy heroes, not to mention overly florid description of heroine's reactions to them, so this won me right out of the gate. So did the chemistry between Lillie and John, which was quite strong and yet never over the top. Major, major points for that.
This is Book 1 in a series, not terribly surprisingly, but I'll definitely look forward to coming back for more. Intriguing questions are raised about Lillie's background that hopefully will be answered in forthcoming books--not to mention the bigger picture of supernatural happenings in the world at large, and I'm quite interested in seeing how Lillie and John will play into that. My only quibbles with the story were minor stylistic ones, and overall I found this highly enjoyable. Four stars....more
Those of you who follow my book reviews know I'm a big fan of C.E. Murphy's work, and you need look no further than Demon Hunts, Book Five of the WalkThose of you who follow my book reviews know I'm a big fan of C.E. Murphy's work, and you need look no further than Demon Hunts, Book Five of the Walker Papers series, for a fine example as to why. At this point we're far enough in on the series that all of the major characters are pretty much established--and yet, this is still a reasonably self-contained story, one which may not confuse a casual reader who happens to start with this one as an introduction to the series. (I wouldn't recommend this necessarily as a starting point, just because there are references to earlier books and those will mean more if you've read them, yet they're light-handed enough to not leave one totally lost.)
As of this book, Joanne Walker is a firmly established detective of the Seattle PD, with Billie Holiday as her partner. She's gotten a lot more comfortable with her powers and her general place in the world, and as a result, is a much more likeable character than the Joanne of the first couple of books. A significant character from the earlier books makes a satisfying comeback here, and his return is important not only to Joanne's own character development, but to the progression of things between herself and her boss Michael Morrison as well (to which this loyal fan says YAY!).
The biggest thing I liked about this installment, though, was the main plot. A wendigo is on the loose in Seattle, tearing victims apart so thoroughly that not even their souls are left behind for Billie to trace with his own gifts. Joanne's hunt for this creature has a lot more focus to it than her previous supernatural outings have done, with even a bit of a revelation at a critical juncture about the creature--a very simple, basic revelation that took me pleasantly by surprise. Props as well for an FBI agent showing up to provide interesting connections to Jo's backstory as well as a hint of how other law enforcement agencies deal with the supernatural.
Overall, this book rocked, and all the more so for providing an excellent leadin for Book 6. Five stars. ...more