One Fine Fae (Mystic Bayou novella, #4.5)

One Fine FaeOne Fine Fae
by Molly Harper
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Mystic Bayou #4.5
Publication Date: January 1, 2020
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Audible Originals

Charlotte McBee knows she’s in for a challenge when she accepts a job as midwife for a dragon and a phoenix shifter. Being a fairy herself, it isn’t the supernatural world that scares her. It’s the thought of delivering a giant metal dragon’s egg, which has her gritting her teeth in pain for poor Jillian, the anxious mother-to-be.

While preparing for the big event, a handsome town resident catches her eye. Leonard is kind, charming, and a little bit mysterious. He’s also suffering from a highly unusual condition brought on by an ancient fairy curse, and he’s too wary of Charlotte to allow her to get close.

Will love overcome fear before the end of her assignment?


 

So I thought I’d closed my Audible account last year, but it turns out, nope, I didn’t.  One of their emails got through the spam filter last week and informed me that I had 12 credits sitting there.  Of course, I had to use them all before I shut the account for good, so I went on a bit of a spree and bought a bunch of titles, and I made sure Molly Harper’s books accounted for at least a few.

One Fine Fae is, really, not a 4 star read – it’s closer to a 3.5 star, but I think Amanda Ronconi does such a fabulous job with the narration of these that she gets the .5 star bump.  Jonathan Davis narrates the male POV and I rather wish he didn’t.  He reads awkwardly, often mangling sentences with his oddly placed pauses, and he’s terrible at female voices.

The story itself is about what you’d expect from a novella: short and shallow, relying on established characters for any real depth while the newbies have their meet cute and establish a relationship.  There’s no tension, or plot, other than the birth of Gillian’s daughter, who is half dragon and half phoenix, and that wasn’t at all tense.

All in all, just a light and amusing way to kill a few hours while driving and ironing.

The Good, The Bad, and the Undead (The Hollows, #2)

The Good The Bad And The UndeadThe Good The Bad And The Undead
by Kim Harrison
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780061744518
Series: The Hollows #2
Publication Date: October 13, 2009
Pages: 464
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins

To save herself and her vampire roommate, former bounty hunter Rachel Morgan must confront six feet of sheer supernatural seduction—the vampire master—and dark secrets she’s hidden even from herself.


 

This is a better written book than the first one – a tighter plot, a (slightly) more likeable MC.  But I’m still giving it 3.5 stars because I find the whole situation with Ivy deeply disturbing and the author hasn’t justified it to my satisfaction.  I don’t dislike Ivy, but the dynamic – even with the story-line geared toward engendering sympathy – just feels really exploitative.

Rachel’s personality, while improved, still failed to click with me.  I have to believe, still, that future books are better; there’s an “Extras” at the end of this ebook (from the library) that had two “articles” written by Rachel Morgan about vampires and fairies/pixies, and her voice in these – dry, funny, a little snarky – is what I expect her voice to be in the books, and so far, it’s definitely not.

In both books so far, Rachel is rather strident about the line between white and black magic and her morals appeared to be set in stone, but when the rubber hit the road in this one, she crossed that line in order to achieve a greater good.  But boy, she caved quick; she didn’t waste any time offering and accepting a rather dark deal. View Spoiler »  She has a massive fear of ley line magic, but once she figures out she can do it, she starts playing with it in a scene with the pixies that was great, but didn’t do a lot to establish her creditability or integrity as the heroine.

None of this is to say I didn’t enjoy the book; as I said at the start, it’s a much better story.  I just haven’t found my groove with the characters yet, and I’m definitely up for book 3.  I continue to see hints that future books are going to be more my jam.  But I’m glad I can get them at my library; if I’d bought these first two, I’m not sure I’d be willing to go further.

Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows, #1)

Dead Witch WalkingDead Witch Walking
by Kim Harrison
Rating: ★★★½
Series: The Hollows #1
Publication Date: October 13, 2009
Pages: 432
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins

Vampires rule the darkness in a predator-eat-predator world rife with dangers beyond imagining—and it's Rachel Morgan's job to keep that world civilized.

A bounty hunter and a witch with serious sex appeal and an attitude, she'll bring 'em back alive, dead . . . or undead.


 

I remember starting to read this years ago, and I wasn’t able to finish it – I was bored before I got much beyond the 3rd chapter.  Speaking to my sister the other day, she mentioned that it had taken her 3 tries to get through the first book, but after that got hooked on the series.  So I figured I’d give it another try, since the ongoing UF series’ I enjoy are getting thin on the ground, and I checked it out from my library.

I got through it this time but as a first book, it’s weaker than most.  Ultimately, it’s enjoyable, but Harrison makes you work for it by introducing an MC that’s supposed to be a badass witch, but is so timid it boggles the mind she survived her job as long as she did.  She goes out on her own and partners with a living-vampire named Ivy and the two spend the book hovering in this weird quasi-sexual-assault dynamic that was chewing on my last nerve before the half-way mark.  Hard to really get on-board with a heroine that acts like she’s about to suffer the vapours for most of the book.  Jenks the pixie, was, as least, a consistent and delightful character and I was charmed by his entire family.

Things did pick up right towards the end, when Rachel finally found some spirit, but honestly I was on the fence about whether or not I’d read book 2 until I read a sneak peak at the end, for a book much further into the series, containing enough mini-spoilers to actually get me seriously interested in continuing the series.  Guess that sneak peak paid for itself in this case.

Monstrous Regiment

Monstrous RegimentMonstrous Regiment
by Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780385603409
Series: Discworld #31
Pages: 352
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Doubleday

'Trousers. That's the secret...Put on trousers and the world changes. We walk different. We act different. I see these girls and I think: idiots! Get yourself some trousers!'

Women belong in the kitchen - everyone knows that. Not in jobs, pubs or indeed trousers, and certainly not on the front line.

Polly Perks has to become a boy in a hurry if she wants to find her brother in the army. Cutting off her hair and wearing the trousers is easy. Learning to fart and belch in public and walk like an ape takes more time. And there's a war on. There's always a war on.

Polly and her fellow raw recruits are suddenly in the thick of it. All they have on their side is the most artful sergeant in the army and a vampire with a lust for coffee. Well ...they have the Secret. And it's time to make a stand.


 

Monstrous Regiment has the distinction of being the first Pratchett book I just fell into.  No fighting with the narrative, no initial struggle to follow what was going on.  It all just worked from the start.

In spite of this, something … wasn’t missing so much as, I suppose, this was a different kind of story than I was expecting, based on my one Sam Vimes book so far.  This was much more satiric than my first City Watch, and really, much more blatant a satire than any of the Discworld books I’ve read so far.

Between this book and Carpe Jugulum I learned something about myself: I love good satire about the ‘smaller’ things in life, like politics, academia, and social mores, but I struggle to embrace satire about the ‘big’ things like religion and world politics.  I think there are some things that are too big or too complex, to be effectively satirised, no matter that they make themselves such easy targets with their outsized human fallacies.  Of course I’m not an advocate for war, nor am I an advocate for religion-for-profit, or religion-for-power, but I don’t believe that all, or even most, governments eagerly search out reasons to go to war, nor most followers or seekers of faith and guidance are less than sincere – though I’ve met more than a few of the latter in my life.

Now that I’ve said that, though, I want to give all the credit to Pratchett for what I felt was his attempt to be brutally, objectively, honest about his satire in Monstrous Regiment.  A cynical reader might start reading this book and think ah, here’s the sop to feminism just about every bestselling male author writes anymore.  A cynical reader would be wrong — which delights this cynical reader to no end.  Truely, this is a book about how women can do anything men can do – and do it better. Pratchett’s just honest enough to point out that isn’t always something to be proud of, and he does it in the most extraordinary way.

His bitterness towards organised religion is as apparent, and almost as scathing, here as it was in Carpe Jugulum, but there’s also what feels like a newfound acknowledgment of the power of faith.  Towards the end, it feels as though the author is wrestling with himself through his characters about the importance of belief in something greater than oneself.

This internal debate felt apparent to me not just in matters of faith, but in matters of politics and government.  Polly’s realisation that she must play an ongoing, active part in her country’s fate, that lasting change doesn’t just happen because people want it to, that it’s a process that is forever going forward and backwards, feels like it’s a truth that’s only starting to be considered, rather than a wisdom being imparted to readers.

Then again, what do I know?  Maybe I was just seeing zebras instead of horses, and disappointed by the lack of ginger root and oxen.  What matters is that it’s a damn good story, and a more obviously philosophical one than any other discworld book I’ve read so far.

Stargazy Pie (Greenwing & Dart, #1)

Stargazy PieStargazy Pie
by Victoria Goddard
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781988908045
Series: Greenwing & Dart #1
Publication Date: October 9, 2016
Pages: 369
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Underhill Books

 

My friend over at Tannat Reads reviewed the second book in this series awhile back and it sounded like fun, in spite of the caveats she shared with me.

She was right about the caveats, and it was a fun read.

The story takes place in an alternative universe I kept trying to plop into the UK because so many of the names of towns and characters, and so much of the atmosphere, felt British.  I was never really able to get past this, so I found it a bit difficult to imagine this world.

And speaking of this world, the author proves here, by it’s complete absence, that a little info dumping can be a good thing.  I spend a third of the book trying to figure out what was going on and it kept me from getting lost in the book until pretty much the last third of the story.  It’s alternate-universe fantasy – a little explaining would have been welcome.

So. much. sneezing.

The main character, Jemis Greenwing, has had a rather shitty life, in spite of having all the necessary ingredients for a charmed one.  It takes way too long, but eventually you figure out that his father was branded a traitor, then a war hero, though nobody remembers that, and his mother a bigamist who went through her inheritance trying to support her and her son.

Both parents die when he’s still young and he goes to university, falls in love and excels at his studies, only to find out his true love betrayed him and his professor flunks him on his final paper.  He ends up in hospital sick with a flu he can’t shake, and the confrontation he and his girlfriend had results in such an uproar, he’s run out of town, and while he’s on a walking tour (hiding), misses his step-father’s death and funeral. He’s back home, trying to hide from everyone who thinks he’s the son of a traitor, and working in a bookshop.  His memory is hazy, he loses his train of thought, he’s certain he’s unworthy of any kindness, and omg, so much sneezing.

All of this is pretty much all the information you don’t get until about half way through the book, and only then in dibs and dabs.  It made it very difficult for me to click with the main character.  He was always unsure of himself, scattered, and, well, moist.

But once Mr. Dart arrived on the scene, and to a lesser extent Violet and Mrs. Etaris, things started picking up.  By the halfway mark I was reasonable certain – as much as the plot allowed, which isn’t much – of what was going on.  Mr. Dart was all the things Jemis wasn’t and it was a much needed boost to my enjoyment. The repartee between the two life-long friends made me feel like I could eventually like Jemis, and by the last third, I was completely hooked on the characters, if not the plot.

The plot came together all too chaotically and rapidly for my liking.  I suppose that’s because Jemis was the MC, and not Mrs. Etaris.  Had Mrs. Etaris been the MC of this book everything would have been far clearer, more organised, and events handled far more efficiently.

But in spite of all of that, there was something fun about this book.  It was quirky, the dialog was smart and amusing, and interesting things happened at a fairly even pace.  So, while I didn’t think I was going to like this book all that much at first, I ended it with a desire to read the second book.

Alls well that ends with another book to read…

Paper & Blood (Ink & Sigil, #2)

Paper & BloodPaper & Blood
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780356515243
Series: Ink & Sigil #2
Publication Date: August 12, 2021
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit

 

Well, this was fun.  The follow up to the first book, Ink & Sigil, takes place in Melbourne, Australia, my current residence of record.  Specifically, in the Dandenong Ranges, one of my favorite places here, as it’s primarily rain forest.

This is not a mystery in any sense, but more a quest.  Al and Buck arrive in Melbourne to assist the apprentice sigil agent there with finding her master, who felt a disturbance in the wards, went to investigate, and never returned.  On their way to her last known location, they pick up a hitchhiker, Al’s receptionist, who should be in Scotland but isn’t, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite, and meet up with Connor, a/k/a Atticus, the Iron Druid.  Once they get to the trail, they pick up a few more adventurers, some old friends and some new.

This is the rag-tag band that goes out to save the missing sigil agents, if they can be saved, and battle the ever stranger beasts, unimagined chimeras, that spring up in their path.  The only unanswered questions are how the entity arrived and why, but those are answered 2/3rds of the way through rather matter-of-factly, so there’s really no buildup of suspense – just a few minor skirmishes, a perilous passage, and finally the epic battle royale and showdown with those responsible.

Quests have never been my jam, so there was an element of unmet expectation for me.  By dint of my reading tastes, I unconsciously kept waiting for a climax or big reveal.  But other than that, which the setting more than made up for, I enjoyed the story.  The characters felt less over-the-top for me this time around and the humor slightly less adolescent-male, though the hobgoblin, Buck, made up for the quantity with some stunning quality here and there.  I could wish that were toned down a bit more.

I happened to read the Acknowledgments that are at the end, first, and noted that Hearne had every intention of visiting Australia to do the research for this book until the Pandemic we all know and love (to hate) reared its ugly head.  He was forced to get the details second hand and I have to say, having been to all the places he’s mentioned, he and his sources, did a bang up job of getting it right.  The only two tiny details I caught, and only because they vexed me when I arrived here 14 years ago, was in the scene at the Healesville Hotel.  The first is that, unless things have changed, there is no table service at the bar.  The vast majority of casual dining/drinking establishments here don’t have table service.  You order at the counter and then pay at the counter before you leave.  The second is that Ya-ping ordered an iced tea.  I’d kill to be able to order iced tea here – the flavoured stuff is becoming popular here now in a niche way, but they still think iced black tea is a sacrilege.  Both of these things are entirely inconsequential, and I mention them only for the opportunity to vent about them.

I suspect I’m not strictly the target demographic for this series, but I enjoy it anyway and I’m looking forward to the third book, where, hopefully, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite will once again play a role.  I like her.

I read this for Halloween Bingo and it is the perfect book for In the Dark, Dark Woods as you can see in the above pictures I took in the Dandenong Ranges. It would also work for Cryptozoologist, as the story is littered with chimeras that include a dragon-turtle-spider and a cassowary-cobra to name but two.

Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2)

Bayou MoonBayou Moon
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441019458
Series: Novel of the Edge #2
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
Pages: 480
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

I’d been told ages ago that The Edge series got better as it went along.  And this second entry was certainly different from the first.

We start off with just one of the characters that played a part in On the Edge, the werewolf, William.  He’s approached by the Weird’s version of the CIA to retrieve something from another clan in another part of the Edge, in the Louisiana territory, where shifters are killed on principle.

Cerise’s family is old and used to part of the aristocracy of the Weird, but was banished generations ago.  They live in a constant state of feud with another old family, and her parents have been kidnapped in the feud’s latest volley.  But there’s another hand running this latest skirmish and it’s after the knowledge Cerise’s grandparents took with them to their graves.  Or maybe not.

This book has a much more sci-fi feel than any of Andrews’ other books save for the Innkeeper series, which came along later.  It’s not science fiction in the strict sense, because what’s done by the antagonist of the story is done entirely with magic, but the scientific processes are applied to these magical ‘experiments’.  The results are cryptozoological creatures that are a horrifying mix of plant, animal and human.  I’m not, generally, a fan of this kind of thing, and it was the part of the book I liked the least.

The characters overcame this though.  There was just something about Cerise’s huge family that was endearing; all of them vastly different from each other and as a whole a lot of fun to read about.

The final battle was … unsatisfactory.  The thing they overlooked seemed too big a thing to overlook, especially for William who fought this antagonist twice before. And the ending was too fairy tale for my tastes, coming within sight of being twee.

It’s sort of a weird book for me, because I was enjoying it as I read it, but after finishing remembered as many of the bits that I didn’t like as I did the bits I did.  But overall, a good read.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 and it definitely fits the Cryptozoology square, with its characters that are human/plant/animal hybrids.  It would also work for Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses, as well as Terror in a Dark Town, and Shifter.

Carpe Jugulum (Discworld series)

Carpe JugulumCarpe Jugulum
by Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780857524157
Series: Discworld #23
Publication Date: November 22, 2016
Pages: 412
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday

 

It’s done; I’ve read the whole thing.  Which really isn’t saying much because at only a little over 400 pages it’s not like it’s a door stop.  But, and I say this as one who thoroughly enjoys Pratchett, reading the discworld books is hard work for me.  I love the characters, and I laugh out loud at the jokes, and I welcome the footnotes, but something about Pratchett’s narrative style doesn’t flow effortlessly for me, and because of that I’m always looking at them and thinking up excuses to put off reading them.

This was the case with Carpe Jugulum although once Granny Weatherwax finally got involved, the story started moving along enough for me to ignore the effort.

On the surface, the story is a hilarious one that follows the efforts of Count Magpye and his family to overcome the stereotypes of being vampires, or vampyres, as they prefer.  It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen when the wrong mix of intelligence and self-help books come together.

Underneath that are some pretty dark musings, in my opinion.  How much of my opinion is coloured by the knowledge of Pratchett’s early onset Alzheimer’s I’m unable to say, but must be mentioned; there are also shades, I’m sure, of my own current and likely permanent cynicism about humanity.

The book starts off with Granny in a dark place; she’s feeling invisible and forgotten by her friends and her community, and an accident with a cow left her forced to make a difficult choice for someone else.  I’m not sure if we’re meant to believe that’s why she takes herself off to the gnarly moors or if I missed the moment when her true purpose was foreshadowed.  Either way, Granny puts her affairs in order and leaves without a word to anyone, in the throes of a dark depression.

Meanwhile, in an effort to be modern and embrace a modern tolerance for all beings, King Verence invites the vampires into the castle to celebrate the naming of his newborn daughter.  Tolerance taken too far is a touchy topic these days, when everybody is supposed to embrace inclusiveness in all forms but naïveté and inclusiveness aren’t a good mix and it wasn’t hard to draw a line from Pratchett’s vampires being invited in to today’s ‘open-mindedness’ that leads to widely accepted conspiracy theories and general apathy about all the ways the world is currently going to hell.

Then there’s the theological battle that takes place throughout the book.  This felt very auto-biographical to me, as if Pratchett used Oats and the witches to vent his spleen – a very bitter spleen from the feel of things.  So while I was laughing at the numerous moments of hilarity and sly humour, there was a stain over it of … sadness, I guess.  The idea that this genius of storytelling was at his core quite possibly an unhappy man.  And I don’t say that because I claim that without faith in a higher being it’s impossible to be happy, but because to spend so much time elucidating the reasons why such faith is misplaced doesn’t seem like something a person at peace with his personal philosophy, and fundamentally happy, would spend his time doing.  I don’t agree with him about the higher being, but I do agree with him (and Oats and Granny) that one can find the sacred everywhere.

The ending is both simplicity itself and a perfect reflection of the one-way thought processes of humanity.  Not to mention that justice and mercy don’t always come wrapped in bows and happiness.

 

I read this book, which had been on my TBR for years anyway, on the advice of Themis Athena as a good book for the Splatter square on my 2021 Halloween Bingo card.

On the Edge (Novel of the Edge, #1)

On the EdgeOn the Edge
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441017805
Series: Novel of the Edge #1
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

Well, it just goes to show you: people change and you should never say never.  I read this book back in 2016 and my review from that reading was … unfavourable, ending with my declaration that I’d never read the book again.

Shows you what I know.  I not only read it again, I liked it better than I did the first time.  It’s still a little too PNR for me, but I found it easier to get into the story, the setting and the characters.  Maybe because I’d already read it and had a vague recollection of not liking the romantic interest, I found him less unbearable than I expected to, and the non-consent issues didn’t feel as egregious this time around, only typically arrogant.

I can’t really say why, except maybe I’ve read more Ilona Andrews’ since, or my mood was more receptive to the story.  Who knows?  But I went from rating this 3 stars and never reading it again, to rating it 4 stars and buying a copy of it for my shelves.  Along with the other 3 book in the series.

 

I’ve been intending to read this since I ordered it back in July, but its arrival during Halloween Bingo was fortuitous;  it’s a great fit for the Relics and Curiosities square.  The story line centers on a powerful artefact from a previous civilisation that eats magic and spits out something very akin to a demon hound.

Charmed & Ready

Charmed & ReadyCharmed & Ready
by Candace Havens
Rating: ★★
isbn: 9780425222492
Publication Date: May 8, 2008
Pages: 292
Publisher: Berkley

 

So much worse than the one before it (Charmed and Dangerous).  The romance between Bronwyn and Sam is adolescent, and Bronwyn’s “professionalism” isn’t any better.  For a woman tasked with security detail, there’s a lot of drinking and dancing, witch or not.

Truly bad.