Kate’s Review: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 1)”

52295766._sx318_sy475_Book: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” by Sina Grace and Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM!Box, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles and finds that the only ones who can help her find love and live life to the fullest are the ghosts of her new home!

In Los Angeles, finding an apartment is killer—unless you live with the dead. Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles for her boyfriend Ronnie, ready to live her happily ever after. But when happily ever after turns into happily for a month, she’s stuck in a strange city with no friends, family, or prospects for fun. Desperate to escape the lingering ghost of Ronnie’s presence everywhere, Daphne sets out to explore the city—and ends up encountering ghosts of a more literal kind! Rycroft Manor is abandoned, beautiful, and haunted. Will the dead be able to help Daphne find the life she’s been missing in the big city? From GLAAD Award-nominated Sina Grace (Iceman) and illustrator Siobhan Keenan (Jem and the Holograms) comes a story about learning how to make friends, find love, and live life to the fullest with a little help from some friends whose lives didn’t end at death. Collects Ghosted In L.A #1-4.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

When the writing was on the wall about the social distancing measures we as a society would need to take regarding COVID-19, I knew that my library pile wasn’t going to sustain me through the long weeks of staying at home. So I hopped onto NetGalley and began to request books that captured my interest. One of those was “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol 1)” by Sina Grace. I saw a cute looking graphic novel style and the promise of ghosts, which was enough to pique my interests. What I got, however, was something more than I anticipated, and something that I ended up really enjoying.

For one, yes, we have a ghost story, people. I love a good ghost story, and it doesn’t even have to be scary for me to enjoy it. The ghosts in “Ghosted in L.A.” (for the most part) aren’t all that threatening, but have mysterious reasons as to why they have continued their afterlives in the abandoned Rycroft Manor. Before each chapter, we get a bit of insight into the backgrounds of each ghostly character, from ringleader Agi to kindhearted Bernard to toxic Maurice, which makes their interactions with Daphne more layered an interesting. It also means that they aren’t relegated to ghost sidekicks, and that we get to see their motivations and backgrounds. I am very interested in learning more about them, and given that we’ve discovered some pretty dark and even dangerous things about some, it makes me feel like there are no guarantees that these ghosts are all going to be the kindhearted roommates that Daphne wants.

But surprisingly, the aspect of this comic that I liked the most had less to do with the ghosts, and more to do with the coming of age journey that our protagonist Daphne is on. She’s an 18 year old who has followed her boyfriend to Los Angeles for school, but then finds herself single and in a city that she knows very little about. 18 is already a confusing and scary time, so this, of course, sets her on a path of making some questionable decisions, and having to contend with not always pleasant people who are going to be supportive of her. Daphne is definitely a flawed and sometimes frustrating character. Sometimes I wanted to shake her because she was being foolhardy or blissfully un-self aware, but at the same time I remember what it was like being an 18 year old in the middle of a huge identity shift. From problems with her standoffish and judgmental roommate to conflict with her at home best friend to trying to reconcile her newly single status (especially since her ex Ronnie is really a good guy), Daphne is all kinds of realistic and relatable. I find myself really wanting her to succeed, even when she’s being all kinds of unreasonable.

And finally, I really love the artwork. It’s upbeat and colorful, and all of the characters have their unique feels while still being very of the style at hand. Plus, I love the coloring on the ghosts, which makes use of the darker side of the color wheel without being limited to just different shades of grey.

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(source)

I really enjoyed “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 1)”, and I will definitely be on the look out for Volume 2!

Rating 8: A super cute and creative comic about finding oneself and ghosts, “Ghosted in L.A.” has a lot of potential to become a new favorite comic series of mine!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads list “Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy Set in California”.

Find “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The City We Became”

42074525._sy475_Book: “The City We Became” by N.K. Jemisin

Publishing Info: Orbit, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.

Review: I’ve been a fan of Jemisin’s since years ago when I first read “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.” But my love for her didn’t really set in until after I read the “Broken Earth” trilogy. Those books blew me away with the sheer scope of imagination and dexterity of language that were required to pull off such a feat. With those in mind, I went into this book knowing that if anyone could handle the strange set-up that was offered in the book description, it would be Jemisin. And she definitely does! Sadly, this book didn’t hit quite the same mark as the others of hers that I’ve read, but I suspect much of that is just down to my own reading preferences.

Birth is a painful, messy business. It can be as frightening as it is beautiful. A city’s birth is no different, especially for one such as New York City, a behemoth whose very soul can’t be contained in one vessel. Instead, when things begin to go wrong as NYC strives towards its own new life, five individuals are selected to represent the myriad of faces and lives that make up this one spirit. Together they must become the protectors the city needs and fight off a great evil that threatens this new life.

Even though this book wasn’t the huge hit for me that I was hoping for, there is still a lot to praise it for. As always, Jemisin’s creativity is without bounds. The idea of great cities developing souls is just fantastic, and the book takes that theme and runs with it into some crazy and unexpected places. The strength of writing needed to make some of these completely foreign fantasy elements make sense is mind boggling, and it’s here that Jemisin has always shined. There were a bunch of lines that not only jumped off the page, but more so slammed into my unprepared mind with all the beauty and shock of a firework. It was truly impressive.

Part of my struggle, however, also had to do with the writing. Not so much maybe the writing, but the way that it was so clearly an homage to New York City and the many cultures made up within that huge city. I’ve only visited NYC on one frantic, 24 hour period visit. So I know very little about the actual city itself. And for a book so focused on the heart of this city and the pieces that make it unique and tick, I was often left feeling like I was an outsider looking in. Many of the stronger pieces of writing I could see objectively as great, but I couldn’t connect to personally as it was so clearly talking about a specific place and people that I personally don’t know much about. And, unlike most second world fantasy where all readers are “newbies” learning about a world they don’t understand, this was clearly written to some extent with the idea that readers would know and connect to some of these elements, without the book itself needing to do that extra legwork. So, in this way, some of the mileage of this book might depend on the reader’s own familiarity, and to a lesser extent, interest, in New York City itself.

I also had a hard time feeling truly connected to many of the POV characters. The story starts off quite quickly and doesn’t spend much time laying out many details for readers. In some regards, this is a staple trick of Jemisin’s and one can have faith that the answers will come eventually. They do here as well. But this trick then depends on the reader connecting to and investing in the main characters themselves early on to carry one through until plot details begin to clarify. I’m not sure quite what the problem was here for me. Perhaps there were just too many characters, and combining that with the slow moving pieces of putting the plot together, was just too much.

Jemisin is also well-known for putting diverse characters first and foremost in her books, often strong women of color. And here, too, the cast is diverse across all kinds of lines. But there were also moments where I felt like the message (for lack of a better word) was a bit more hamfisted here than the incredibly powerful observations and mirrors that were held up in her previous works.  Really, it felt in some ways like this entire book was a bigger statement (particularly in response to the Lovecraft stuff that has pervaded SFF for so long) that the author needed to get out into the world.  And that’s a good thing! But it also, again, left it a bit harder for me to fully sink into this book as a reading experience.

Overall, I think this book is incredibly powerful and highlights again the strength of Jemisin’s skill as an author, both in her masterful world-building as well as just the strength of her writing. That this one didn’t really hit home for me could, in part, simply be due to my own lack of knowledge of (or real interest in) NYC itself. But for those with a stronger connection to that city, I’m sure some of these elements in particular will strike a much stronger chord. Fans of Jemisin’s work should definitely still try this out and those looking for an urban fantasy novel that breaks the mold for what urban fantasy typically offers are sure to be intrigued!

Rating 7: Incredibly unique with a widely diverse cast, but it was a bit harder to become invested in than other works by this author.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The City We Became” is on these Goodreads lists: “Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy Releases of 2020” and “SFF Set in Global Cities (No YA).”

Find “The City We Became” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Chosen Ones”

40944762._sy475_Book: “Chosen Ones” by Veronica Roth

Publishing Info: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley!

Book Description: A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended.

Review: I read the “Insurgent” trilogy like everyone else, seemingly, back when it was published around a decade ago. I didn’t fall in love with it, which worked in my favor in this instance as I wasn’t too broken up by the ending of the last book (most fans of the series were quite displeased). I also had heard that Roth published another duology, but that same indifference to the first trilogy didn’t lead me to getting around to it. But when I saw this book start to pop up, I was very intrigued. There are a million and one stories documenting the adventures of a “chosen one” in their grand battle against an ultimate evil. There aren’t many that tackle what comes after, other than perhaps brief epilogues or small cameo appearances in another “chosen one’s” book/series. This book turned out to be everything I was hoping for and more.

It’s been ten years since Sloan and her friends, the other Chosen Ones, defeated the Dark One, an evil being they had battled throughout their teen years. And in this last decade Sloane has…hid. Not interested in the celebrity status she’s garnered, barely invested in the relationships she’s formed, Sloane’s life is simply going from moment to moment, not caring about much at all. When tragedy shakes her out of this numbness, however, Sloane finds herself caught in circumstances that she won’t survive unless she returns to her life as a soldier and confronts the horrors in her past.

This book was particularly interesting coming off my fairly recent re-read of the “Animorphs” series. That series follows a group of 6 teens, chosen ones, essentially, as they battle a big bad for years on end. The books deal a lot with the realities of a childhood given up to warfare and the life and choices of being a soldier. But after 50+ books, there’s only a small, final book that is dedicated to life after these events. It does a good job for what it is, only a hundred and fifty or so pages dedicated to wrapping up the lives of six characters over the years that follow the end of the war. It’s clear that the story is only scratching the surface of what life would be like for these kids. And this is only one example. We have so many chosen one stories, but so few deal with the aftereffects.

I wasn’t quite sure what we would get from Roth here. I wasn’t a huge fan of her original trilogy, and I also read that she had some ideas for this book based off “The Hurt Locker,” a movie that, while I can see the importance of the topic, I didn’t particularly enjoy. But, man, did I enjoy the heck out of this book. Not only did it tackle many of the tough topics around life after war, the isolation and distancing that many veterans experience, and how “moving on” can look very different to different people, including whether it is possible at all, but it had some amazing characters at its heart and some genuine surprises in the increasingly twisting world-building.

I loved Sloane so much in all of her broken, dark, and even sometimes cruel ways. The characters in this book definitely challenge the reader in that they often barely resemble the golden Chosen Ones we all imagine. Even a few of Sloane’s comrades who more closely mimic the typical hero pastiche often betray signs that they are simply using different coping mechanisms to deal with similarly twisted inner lives. But this is Sloane’s story, and it is Sloane’s darkness and path forward that we explore as we slowly learn more about her time during the war and how she’s been managing (or not) in the ten years since. She has some very unlikeable moments, but for me at least, these simply grounded the story all the more in a what reality would look like for young people whose life was essentially consumed by a prophesy and a seemingly never-ending battle against a more powerful evil force. There are no easy answers or easy fixes here, and even by the end of the book, it’s clear that any “completeness” for Sloane comes at understanding and accepting her entire person.

The world-building was almost the biggest surprise. I didn’t really know what to expect and the book description gives only the barest hints. But wow, I didn’t expect where this book went at all. There’s a huge twist that comes in the first third and when we got to that I thought “Ok, that was a surprise, but now I’m on the right page.” Nope! The twists and turns kept coming one after another from there on out. Even after finishing the book I was having to think back over it and try to piece things together.

I don’t remember a lot about Roth’s particular writing style from the “Insurgent” series other than it felt like a fairly standard YA style ala “Hunger Games.” But I have to think Roth has grown by leaps and bounds to create this. The writing is confident and sure, even as it tackles topics that can be hard to deal with and discusses moments and choices that, if not handled well, could turn readers off from some of our main characters and themes. The same world-building and all of its complexities also speaks to an increased dexterity in juggling many balls at once. There are layers within layers, but the story and character arcs are never consumed by the increasingly complicated world, history, and magic system.

This was a great book. I think Roth’s work has grown by leaps and bounds here, and she deftly tackles a topic that is rarely explored in fantasy works. It looks like on Goodreads it is listed as the first in a series, but to those who were burned by the “Insurgent” trilogy and have long memories and lasting wariness, I think this book reads perfectly as a standalone. If I hadn’t looked, I wouldn’t have known otherwise. This is also published as an adult fantasy novel, but I think it would appeal to YA readers as well. I’m pretty confident this will end up on next year’s Top 10 list for me; it’s that good.

Rating 9: Dark and twisty in all the right ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Chosen Ones” is a new title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on this very informatively-titled list: “2020 – Book Release.”

Find “Chosen Ones” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Jade War”

41716919Book: “Jade War” by Fonda Lee

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.

Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals.

Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.

Previously Reviewed: “Jade City”

Review: After it took me so long to get around to reading “Jade City,” I wasn’t about to let the same happen for the second book in this series. I promptly started reading the sequel, and, sure enough, Fonda Lee has done it again. It was both everything I was expecting/wanting while also blowing wide the world and stakes that were set up in the first book.

Over a year after the events of “Jade City,” the Kaul family is still entrapped in the ongoing feud with their rival clan, the Mountain. While the Mountain was hurt by the sudden loss of one of their leaders, their calculating leader is nowhere close to finished. Throughout it all, Hilo and Shae continue to try to grow into their unexpected roles of leadership, while those closest to them try to find their own places. Wen, Hilo’s wife and secret ally of Shae, works in the open to provide an heir to the No Peak clan, while working behind the scenes to help gather information for Shae. And their adopted brother Anden finds himself exiled to a foreign land experience life for the first time out of both the shadow and the privilege of his powerful family.

“Jade City” was impressive in its detailed world-building, solid plotting, and nuanced characters who anything but paper cut-outs of typical staple roles. While the story left off with a wide open path ahead, I didn’t expect it to expand outwards as much as it does forwards. Meaning that the story moves ahead in unexpected ways, but the world itself and even our understanding of our main characters expands outwards in such a way that by the middle of the book I felt like I had been barely scratching the surface when I read the first book.

Through Anden’s perspective, the story expands past the borders of Kekon giving us not only new insights into the geo-political stagings of this unique world but offering a lot of commentary on the immigrant experience. Anden must learn new cultural norms, a new language, and confront the differences between the Kekon he grew up knowing and the smaller Kekon that his fellow immigrants have created for themselves in a new country. It was a really fascinating window into the feeling of familiarity yet continued displacement that is unique to an immigrant experience. While Anden sees elements of his familiar home, there are enough small changes and minor differences that highlight how the immigrant Kekonese community is essentially subculture all of its own.

The characters were also expanded upon and there were a bunch of twists here, specifically, that I didn’t see coming. Hilo, especially, had a few moments that really shocked me, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But this mix of traits that makes it hard to label him is the same thing that makes him read as so real. Flawed, desperate, constantly holding in his inner demons that push him towards foolish action. Shae also had an interesting story arc that I hadn’t anticipate. I continue to enjoy both Shae and Wen for the solid women characters they represent. Like Hilo, they are complex and we see their weaknesses and strengths laid out through the cool, objective, narrative of the story.

It’s a large book, and it fills it pages with as much continued world-building and expanded character moments as it does with plot. Readers looking for solid action might struggle with some of the slower paced portions. But if you enjoyed “Jade City,” than this book is a superb successor.

Rating 8: Bigger and better in every way! “Jade War” will leaving you craving for more!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jade War” is on these Goodreads lists: “Essential Silkpunk” and “#ReadPOC: List of Speculative Fiction by Authors of Color.”

Find “Jade War” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Jade City”

43587154._sy475_Book: “Jade City” by Fonda Lee

Publishing Info: Orbit, June 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities.

The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.

When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.

Review: This book has been on my TBR list for quite a long time. It received tons of praise when it first came out, but somehow I still missed the action. But when I saw that its sequel had come out recently, I knew that now was the time to get on board. So off to the audiobook library I went, and here we go! Another great fantasy trilogy to get caught up in!

Jade is what makes Kekon special, but also dangerous. Granting incredible abilities to those trained and predisposed to use it, controlling and possessing jade has forged the future of the small island nation. Now, run by several gangs made up of jade-enhanced warriors, Kekon sits in a precarious place in a world that wants what it has. To determine this future, however, each gang must continually prove its strength. The Kaul family, the head of one such gang, finds itself at an important crossroads as the reigns of power have been handed down to the next generation. Each of the three Kaul siblings have chosen very different paths, but each will soon learn that they all have an important role to play if the future of their family, gang, and nation are to be secured.

Having not read any  books that feature gangs prominently (at least that I can think of off the top of my head), most of my mental comparisons for this book came from movies like “The Godfather” and “Gangs of New York.” Which, again, each of which I’ve only seen once. All of this clearly highlights my lack of familiarly with the genre. But that aside, I think this was an exemplary take on a gang drama featuring a unique fantasy world that flowed together seamlessly.

The world-building was thorough and detailed, laying out a complete history of Kekon and how the abilities of jade warriors have shaped its trajectory. Now, in the modern world, we see how this power influences economic and political decisions, all while still being steeped in ancient tradition and rituals that weave their way throughout the country’s society and culture. The gangs themselves that primarily use and manage this jade are much more than the criminal enterprises we often associate with that term. Instead, they are acknowledged players on the world stage, even if their operations on the ground level still incorporate many of the aspects of crime lords: rigid territories, monitored petty crime, and a tightrope walk between peace and violence breaking out on the streets.

To make a story about a gang family really work you have to have strong main characters at the heart, and that’s definitely one of the biggest strengths of this book. The story centers around the three Kaul children, Lan, Hilo, and Shae. We also get several chapters from an adopted son, Anden, who is still in training to be a Green bone (a jade warrior). Each had their strengths, but I particularly enjoyed Hilo and Shae, together and separately. Hilo, as Horn of the gang, is essentially the enforcer, a role that suits him well with his charming personality disguising a brutal strength as a fighter. Shae, on the other hand, is the family member who got away, starting a new life for herself in a foreign country. But slowly, throughout this book, she realizes that one can’t simply cut family out of one’s life, and we see her clever mind and knowledge of politics and economics come more into play. She and Hilo naturally clash with their very different approaches to problem solving, and it’s the kind of fraught relationship that’s thrilling to follow. The reader is privy to both of their thoughts, so depending on whose mind you’re in currently, it’s easy to sympathize with one position over another. Until you switch, and then oh yes, maybe this one of the two has the rights of it.

This a detailed and thoughtful story, taking its time to fully develop its world, the players, and the various histories that were at play to create the situation the Kaul clan currently find themselves in. There were a couple of surprises along the way and some good action scenes towards the end, but go into it expecting an immersive, slow read. It was very clear that this was the first book in a series, and that it was setting the stage for larger conflicts to come. I already have my copy of “Jade War” on hand, so I’m excited to see where things go from here! If you enjoy urban fantasy, specifically ones set in unique worlds with political maneuverings at their heart, this is definitely the book for you!

Rating 8: A fully realized urban fantasy that feels like one is only scraping the tip of the iceberg on what is sure to be an excellent series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jade City” is on these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Fantasy and Science Fiction Settings” and “2018 Sci-Fi Award Nominees.”

Find “Jade City” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Storm Cursed”

9780425281291_StormCursed_FCO_mech.inddBook: “Storm Cursed” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: 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.

Previously Reviewed:“Moon Called,” “Blood Bound,” “Iron Kissed,” “Bone Crossed,” “Silver Borne,” “River Marked,” “Frost Burned,”and “Night Broken” and “Fire Touched” and“Silence Fallen”

Review: I had some trepidation going into this book. As a whole, the Mercy Thomson series has been on somewhat of a downward trend for me the last several books, so I was worried that would continue. On top of that, the last “Alpha and Omega” book introduced a new aspect to a beloved character who appears in both series, and one that influences Mercy’s own history more than anyone’s. And I had feelings about that. Not good ones. So I was worried how that might come into play here. And then, of course, my lovely Kate Daniels series just finished up, so now all of my urban fantasy hopes and dreams rest on this series. It was a lot. But I am pleased to report that what you have before you is a review where for once all of my worst fears were for naught and instead I found this book to be a happy return to what I always loved about this series in the first place!

Mercy and the Pack are busy protecting the territory that Mercy has claimed as theirs to protect. On top of that, she’s trying to re-open her car shop and help her husband, Adam, balance precarious negotiations between the powerful fae Grey Lords and the human political powers. These things barely in hand, Mercy is dismayed to find that a new group of witches have taken up residence in her neighborhood, bringing with them all the terrors and sorrows that accompany the dark magic they need for their powers. With tensions running high, this is just the challenge they don’t need. And on top of it all, Mercy and the others begin to wonder what role their own resident witch, the powerful Elizabeta plays in all of this.

The first thing that this book did right, in my estimation, is return to the original, single narrator format. I’ve always been here for Mercy and her story. And while the last few books have had a few interesting things to offer with the added POVs from Adam, overall, I’ve found these chapters to be at best distracting and at worst detracting from Mercy’s story overall. In the last book, for example, I came away from the story feeling that Adam’s portion could almost have been removed entirely with no other changes really needed. And as it was, those chapters just took away page time from Mercy herself.

So I was incredibly happy when I opened this book and realized that the entire thing would be from Mercy’s perspective alone. There’s not a lot of new things to say about her as a narrator, as we’re now so many books into the series. But the strengths that were there in the beginning were back again here: Mercy’s unique perspective on the supernatural world, her wit, and her practical approach to navigating challenges that are often far outside of her wheelhouse.

Overall, she was a bit more reactive to the events going on around her than proactive, but I think this is a natural change for her character, as the world she exists within has gotten so much bigger. With this expanding world has come an entire host of friends and allies to call upon, and I’m always glad when I see these individuals pulled in in creative ways. In particular, I enjoyed the return of Stephan, the vampire friend with whom Mercy now shares a complicated relationship that they are each still learning to navigate.

As for the story itself, I was pleased to find that no mention was made of the “reveal” that came up in the last “Alpha and Omega.” I’m hopeful that at the very least we can all go along pretending that that never happened, though I’d be happier still to find it categorically negated in some future book.

This book also felt much more dark than some of the previous entries. Witches and their black magic rely on inflicting pain and suffering on other creatures, so any book that features them as the primary antagonists is going to go to some pretty horrific places. For those animals lovers out there (among whom I count myself), definitely be prepared for some tears and cringe worthy scenes. At times it felt like a bit much. But on the other hand, I think I was also more invested in the downfall of the “big bads” in this book than in many of the previous ones due to the increased horror of their actions.

Accurate across all supernatural books/shows, it seems. 

I could have used a bit more Adam/Mercy time, and the book description with its focus on the negotiation between the fae and the humans is a bit misleading, as that feels like a more minor story line, ultimately. But overall, I greatly enjoyed this book, much more so than the last several in fact! It’s always great to see a long-running series prove that it still has something fresh and new to offer. This goes a long way towards reassuring my near panic about not having an urban fantasy series to look forward to any longer. Fans of the series should be pleased with this one!

Rating 8: Mercy Thomson and Briggs can still deliver!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Storm Cursed” is mostly on Goodreads book lists that have to do with new titles this year, so here’s one of those it is on: “2019 Paranormal.”

Find “Storm Cursed” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Kingdom of Exiles”

42366222Book: “Kingdom of Exiles” by Maxym M. Martineau

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, June 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: copy from the publisher!

Book Description: Fantastic Beasts meets Assassin’s Creed in this epic, gripping fantasy romance from debut author Maxym M. Martineau.

Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep trouble. Empty pockets forced her to sell her beloved magical beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and now there’s a price on her head. With the realm’s most talented murderer-for-hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse: powerful mythical creatures in exchange for her life.

If only it were that simple. Unbeknownst to Leena, the undying ones are bound by magic to complete their contracts, and Noc cannot risk his brotherhood of assassins…not even to save the woman he can no longer live without.

Review: This has been a sad run for me lately in the urban fantasy arena. First, the Patricia Briggs’ “Alpha and Omega” series introduced a new aspect into a beloved character that has some pretty unfortunate consequences not only for that series but for the “Mercy Thompson” one as well (though I’m working my way through the latest, so check back soon to see how that fares!). And then my beloved “Kate Daniels” series finished up. So, naturally, I’m on the look out for a replacement urban fantasy series and when I saw “Kingdom of Exiles” pop up on NetGalley, I requested it right away.

Leena values her magical beasts above anything. But when things get dire, she finds herself exactly where she didn’t want to be: deep in the underbelly of society, trading away her beats. And things only get worse when an assassin shows up on her doorstep with an order marking her for death. Luckily for her, Noc is too intrigued to simply off her right then and there, and they both find themselves caught up between several rocks and hard places, with their growing affection and love putting the other at greater and greater risk.

For me, the largest appeal of this story was the unique “charming” ability that Leena possesses and the super cool magical beasts who surround her because of it. Like the book description implies, there are a lot of similarities with these animals and the ways in which Leena interacts with them and keeps them that feels very similar to the “Fantastic Beasts” series. So if you’re a fan of that particular aspect of that story, the same will be found here. But I was glad to see there were some added twists to this version of the concept, namely the idea that these beasts can be animal familiars, essentially. And it is this fact that makes them so valuable and Leena’s ability to gather and control them so important.

The comparison to “Assassin’s Creed” is a bit less on the money, and this is where things began to fall apart for me a bit. The action of the story was quite a bit less than I’m used to finding in my urban fantasy/paranormal stories. Compared to the two series I mentioned earlier, this one has very little going on in that area. There were a couple of action-oriented scenes, but they felt very fleeting. This also added to the uneven read of the book, with the balance between plot and character moments felt odd at times.

I also didn’t love Leena or Noc, particularly. I could see how on their own they might be better, but for a book that is a paranormal romance story, it’s pretty important that they work well together. Leena, who comes across as pretty competent in the beginning of the story, immediately falls into the trope hole of becoming useless and making stupid decisions once the love interest shows up. Noc, for his part, talks on and on about how important it is to keep one’s distance from one’s target and then promptly makes zero effort to follow his own advice, quickly falling for Leena.

The romance itself was also not to my taste. It was a bizarre mix of the type of romance you would typically find in YA stories, full of angst and unnecessary drama. But then all of the steamy scenes one can expect from adult romance novels. The two did not mix well together, in my opinion. But I’m generally not a fan of angsty or dramatic romantic relationships, so this was going to be a hard sell for me regardless of anything else.

Overall, this book wasn’t for me. I think the world-building and fantasy elements were very interesting. And I could even wave away some of the pacing issues as simply the learning curve of a debut book. But my dislike for the main characters and the way their romance played out was enough to land this book solidly in the “meh”-to-dislike category. However, if you are more interested in this type of romance, this could potentially be a good paranormal romance series to get in on early! And to help you with that, make sure to enter our giveaway for a copy of the book!

Rating 6: More romance (and not my favorite kind either) than urban fantasy, this book was a miss for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Kingdom of Exiles” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy Romance” and “From Contest to Contract.”

Find “Kingdom of Exiles” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Giveaway: “Kingdom of Exiles”


42366222Book: “Kingdom of Exiles” by Maxym M. Martineau

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, June 2019

Book Description: Fantastic Beasts meets Assassin’s Creed in this epic, gripping fantasy romance from debut author Maxym M. Martineau.

Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep trouble. Empty pockets forced her to sell her beloved magical beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and now there’s a price on her head. With the realm’s most talented murderer-for-hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse: powerful mythical creatures in exchange for her life.

If only it were that simple. Unbeknownst to Leena, the undying ones are bound by magic to complete their contracts, and Noc cannot risk his brotherhood of assassins…not even to save the woman he can no longer live without.

Giveaway Details: I received a copy of this book in the mail for review, and as I was on the look out for another urban fantasy series to pad out that section of my read (RIP “Kate Daniels” series), I was excited to pick it up. The book description also is right up my alley. I’ve played “Assassin’s Creed” and thoroughly enjoyed it. And I’ve watched “Fantastic Beasts” and enjoyed that as well. A marriage of the two sounded quite interesting!

The cover leaves a little something to be desired, in my opinion. But alas, that seems to be the state of must urban fantasy covers I run across. The “Kate Daniels” series, again, for example had these really terrible floating lion heads in the background. So here we have a…floating tiger head. Why? Why does these covers seem like good ideas? I mean, I guess because so many of this genre look similar, readers who are browsing will pretty quickly identify this book as urban fantasy. But there has to be a better through-line to choose than cheesy, neon colored big cats. Ah well, never judge a book by its cover!

My review for this book will be up this coming Friday. So in anticipation, I’m offering a giveaway for a paperback copy of this book. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends August 13.

Rah Rah for RA!: Urban Fantasy and Other) Books

Occasionally we here at Library Ladies get an email asking for some Reader’s Advisory. Sometimes it’s a general ‘what should I read next?’, and sometimes it’s a specific genre or theme that the reader is asking for. We do our best to match the reader to some books that they may like based on the question they give us. 

Hello,

I recently read a Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and enjoyed that very much. I like urban fantasy that features a protagonist who may have supernatural abilities, but either struggles to use them or is challenged to solve problems without them. Madeline Miller’s Circe was another recent favorite. She was a character who had potion-making abilities, but she had to learn through trial and error over centuries exactly which amount of which herb produced which effect. She also could not rely exclusively on magic to solve every challenge she faced.  On the flip side, I like urban fantasy that features ordinary people who outsmart/outmanoeuvre the villain who may have supernatural abilities, i.e. a werewolf ( like Stephen King’s Silver Bullet) or a vampire ( think Van Helsing Vs. Dracula).  I will also add that I don’t like zombies because I like my monsters/villains to have a personality. Looking for adult fiction, btw.

I hope that is enough information. Let me know if it isn’t…

Best,

T.L.

Hi, T.L!

It sounds like you have a large swath of interests within the genre, and that’s great! Going by what you’ve laid out in the email, we’ve come up with a few options that may appeal to you.

9317452Book: “The Peter Grant Series” by Ben Aaronovitch

When talking about characters who have to adjust to newly found powers, Aaronovitch’s “Peter Grant” books may be a good fit. Grant is an officer in London’s MPS, and after having a run in with a ghost he is transferred to a division of the Force that deals with all things supernatural. He himself doesn’t start out with powers, but becomes an apprentice wizard once he joins this team. The series follows Grant as he deals with a number of mysteries and conflicts, from warring River Gods to serial killers to magical attacks, Grant has to adjust to a world he didn’t know existed. The best part is that this is a series, so if you like the first book (“Rivers of London” or “Midnight Riot” if you’re in the U.S.) you will have a few more to sink your teeth into!

31147267Book: “The Changeling” by Victor LaValle

Victor LaValle is an author who has consistently come out with stories that deconstruct well explored tropes and injects them with themes of social justice and long unnoticed voices. “The Changeling” is a modern day fairy tale/dark fantasy that is set in New York City, and it involves a humble book seller named Apollo and his wife Emma and their new baby. But when the wife starts to think that their child isn’t really their child, and something truly awful happens because of this belief, Apollo has to go on a journey to find Emma, and perhaps find their child as well. Along the way he meets magical figures, haunted places, and has to contend with a world he knew nothing about. With elements of Changeling folk lore and inspirations from the book “Outside Over There” (and in some ways the movie “Labyrinth”, in turn), “The Changeling” is a mysterious and dreamy book that brings fairy tales to a modern time and place.

11250317Book: “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller

We put this out there because of your enjoyment of Miller’s newest book “Circe”. Miller does a similar treatment with this book, this time exploring the myth of Achilles and his lover Patrocles, and the tragedy that awaits them during the Trojan War. Miller once again uses her immersive and engrossing writing style to put her own spin on a long known epic, and gives the characters more complexity and depth than the original source material does. Both Achilles and Patrocles are given quite a bit of plot to work with, and their relationship is slowly developed and gets the reader fully invested, even though the foregone conclusion of what’s going to happen to them is always lingering. It also explores Achilles’s strengths and weaknesses as a being that has God-like abilities, except for his one fatal flaw. It’s a story that may need to be read with tissues at the ready, but it’s also one of great beauty and power.

35297405

Book: “School for Psychics” by K.C. Archer

What happens when you take a plucky con artist with some psychic powers, and put her in a school that nurtures people with these powers? You get “School for Psychics”, a fantasy story with a New Adult twist. Teddy has always used her innate abilities to read people to grift them out of money, but after she’s had one too many run in with the law she finds herself recruited by the U.S. Government for a top secret program. This program takes psychics of all types, from empaths to pyrokinetics to soothsayers, and hopes to train them to serve the United States at the highest levels of government. As Teddy slowly learns to harness her powers, she moves closer to accepting a very dangerous assignment that could cost her everything. This is a fun and fast paced thriller with people trying to hone their talents, and figure out where they belong in the world.

What books do you recommend for people looking for stories with supernatural, or non-supernatural, main characters? Let us know in the comments!

 

Serena’s Review: “Magic Triumphs”

Magic_Triumphs.inddBook: “Magic Triumphs” by Ilona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, August 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She’s made friends and enemies. She’s found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be.

Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate’s doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up.

Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle. But she has to try.

For her child.

For Atlanta.

For the world.

Previously Reviewed: “Kate Daniels Series” and  “Magic Shifts” and “Magic Binds”

Review: It’s kind of a rare and strange thing to reach the end of an urban fantasy series. For some reason, it seems that urban fantasy in particular tends to draw forth series that go on and on. This has obvious pros and cons, but I tend to think that every story must come to an end, and I’d rather that happen on the author’s own terms than any outside factor. And, ideally, before the creativity of the world begins to leak out, something that occurs all too often with long-running series in any genre. So, it was with mixed emotions that I picked up “Magic Triumphs.”

There have really been only two urban fantasy series that I’ve followed for the last several years, the Kate Daniels series and the Mercy Thompson/Alpha and Omega series. My most recent review was from a book in the latter, and oof, it was rough and in many ways serves as a perfect example of the concerns I listed above about long-running series. With that warning in mind, I was pleased to discover that the Kate Daniels books would end with this one, but also…now what do I read as far as urban fantasy? Ah well, a problem for another day.

“Magic Triumphs” opens over a year after the events in “Magic Binds.” Kate and Curran have had their son, Conlan, and he is about a year old at this point. The rest of their lives are going as expected: continuously shoring up allies and points of strength in preparation for the ultimate show-down with Kate’s father Roland that they know could come at any time. And here, of course, it does. But not only that. Of course not only that! A new, mysterious and powerful force has attacked Atlanta, and now Kate and co. have to balance a war on two fronts.

This book was facing a pretty big challenge for me right off the bat: introducing a child character. This is completely a personal preference thing, but I often find child characters in books to have several problems. They’re often annoyingly “precocious” or “twee” and they have the tendency to re-focus all of the story’s action or the main character’s attention to them. Obviously, a new addition like this will impact the story and the main character’s relationships with everyone around them. But all too often I feel like authors somehow end up losing much of what made up the original characterization of their protagonists under this new force and drive.

Luckily, that is not the case here. While Conlan is definitely a new focal point for Kate and Curran and a huge motivation in the decisions they each make, all of the aspects of these characters that we’ve grown to know and love were still present. Kate kicks ass and takes names, but also, adorably, frets about minor issues with her son, constantly dragging him to the Pack doctor for check-ups. Curran is still protective and supportive, with his own plans on how to get his small family through the trials ahead.

There are also all of the many, many, MANY familiar faces sprinkled throughout this book. Honestly, I don’t think I had a full grasp on exactly who everyone was. The cast is so large and some characters have only had large roles in various books throughout the ten book series that I couldn’t quite pin down some of them. But, as far as it goes, Andrews gives readers enough information to catch you up on who is who and why they are important, so I was able to pretty easily just go with the flow for some of this unknowing.

I did like the addition of the new big bad that was introduced in this story. I was pretty surprised that the book even went this route, honestly. The series has been building to the show-down with Roland for books and books now, so I fully expected that to be the primary focus of this story. That made it all the more surprising when that aspect of the story took a back seat through much of it. I was sorry not to get more page time between Kate and her power-mad father, but given the situation that had been built up over the entire series, there weren’t that many options for resolving it that would have made sense, so this new addition and focus seemed to help. There were several other surprises in store throughout the book, including some hidden plans of Curran’s, an introduction to a new group of magical beings, and some pretty disgusting magical threats.

My one critique of the book comes down to pacing. The story starts off fairly slowly, taking quite a while to even get to the point where the main characters even know what they’re dealing with. And then once they do, there is very little page time left to really deal with the fallout of this situation. This then leads to a rather rushed ending and what felt like a bit of a truncated last battle and ultimate resolution. Like I said, the series has been building to this moment, so I wish there had been just a bit more given to it, be that increased page time or maybe just a bit more “oomf” put into the proceedings.

In the end, however, I was very satisfied with the conclusion to this series. I was sad to see these characters go, but I was glad they were able to go out on a high note. For fans of the series, this final chapters is definitely worth getting your hands on.

Rating 8: A bitter-sweet goodbye to what turned out to be an excellent urban fantasy series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Magic Triumphs” is on these Goodreads lists: “NEW ADULT fantasy & paranormal romance” and “Sci-Fi/Fantasy with Healthy Relationships.”

Find “Magic Triumphs” at your library using WorldCat!