Hunted by the Others (H & W Investigations, #1)

Hunted by the OthersHunted by the Others
by Jess Haines
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781420119411
Series: H&W Investigations #1
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
Pages: 352
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Kensington

Shiarra Waynest’s job was dangerous enough when her client base was strictly mortal. But ailing finances have forced her to accept a lucrative case that could save her firm—if it doesn’t kill her first. Shiarra has signed on to work for a high-level mage to recover an ancient artifact owned by one of New York’s most powerful vampires.

As soon as the detective meets the sexy, mesmerizing vampire Alec Royce, she knows her assignment is even more complicated than she thought. With a clandestine anti-Other group trying to recruit her and magi being eliminated, Shiarra needs backup. She enlists her ex-boyfriend—a werewolf whose non-furry form is disarmingly appealing—and a nerdy mage with surprising talents. But it may not be enough. In a city where the undead roam, magic rules, and even the Others aren’t always what they seem, Shiarra has just become the secret weapon in a battle between good and evil—whether she likes it or not.

Standard UF fare, but good, standard UF fare.  Very readable, likeable characters, lots of action, a sentient belt that made me laugh, nice friend dynamic.

But it just didn’t hook me enough to want to read the rest of the series.  Reading reviews for further books, there seems to be a strong theme of the (female) MC being exploited one way or there other in every book, and if I’d been interested before, I’m definitely not now.  I have no interest in reading about victims, even if they’re tough and can get themselves out of scrapes.  Not even for the sentient belt.

Definitely not a bad book at all, but for me it’s a one and done.

Blood Kissed (Lizzie Grace, #1)

Blood KissedBlood Kissed
by Keri Arthur
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Lizzie Grace #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2017
Pages: 336
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Self-published

In a world where magic and science sit side by side, and powerful witches are considered necessary aides for all governments, Lizzie Grace is something of an outlier. Though born into one the most powerful blue blood witch families, she wants nothing to do with either her past or her magic.

But when she and Belle, her human familiar and best friend, open a small cafe in the Faelan werewolf reservation, she quickly finds herself enmeshed in the hunt for a vampire intent on wreaking bloody havoc. It’s a hunt that soon becomes personal, and one that is going to take all her skills to survive–that’s if the werewolves, who hate all things witch, don’t get her first.

Another book from LibraryThing’s recommendation engine, and another good library book.  Fortunately, as the author is apparently an Aussie, my local libraries have it; I think if I’d bought this one I might have felt more ambivalent about it.

Blood Kissed is a pretty standard Urban Fantasy story with your wares, vampires, witches, etc. and it’s surprisingly well written for a self published book (yes, I’m biased and I’m comfortable with it as the vast body of self published works out there support my bias against them).  It’s not on a par with Ilona Andrews or Patricia Briggs, but it does a respectable job of coming close.  The characters are engaging, the world building seems solid and the plot is very straight forward.  An easy and engaging read for when one is in the mood for some urban fantasy.

My library seems to have the entire series, so I’ll likely be dipping back in sooner rather than later.

Spider’s Bite (Elemental Assassin, #1)

Spider's BiteSpider's Bite
by Jennifer Estep
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781439147979
Series: Elemental Assassin #1
Publication Date: April 15, 2010
Pages: 395
Genre: Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Follow Gin Blanco, a kick-butt female assassin who moonlights at a BBQ joint in Tennessee, as she searches for the person who double-crossed her in this heart-pounding and fresh paranormal romance series.

After Gin’s family was murdered by a Fire elemental when she was thirteen, she lived on the streets and eventually became an assassin to survive. Now, Gin is assigned to rub out an Ashland businessman, but it turns out to be a trap. After Gin’s handler is brutally murdered, she teams up with the sexy detective investigating the case to figure out who double-crossed her and why. Only one thing is for sure—Gin has no qualms about killing her way to the top of the conspiracy.

Good.  Similar in tone to Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels, but without the humor.  The characters are well written, though without any levity to speak of, they’re hard to connect with.  The world building leaves a bit to be desired; I’d have liked a little bit of information about how elementals and vampires and dwarves are integrated into society – have they always been in this alternate world, or was there some event that changed everything?  It’s not necessary, but my curiosity is a little tweaked over it.

The ‘mystery’ was ok, although not much of a mystery in terms of who the villain is; the pool is tiny.  The writing teeters on the edge of being too graphic, although it’s not as dark and confronting as Briggs’ work.  Mostly, I liked it enough to stay up wwaayy too late last night to finish it, and I’ll be requesting book 2.  But I didn’t like it enough to gush about it.

First failure for LT’s (new) Recommendation engine

Oh my god, this book was soooooo bad.  I grabbed it from the library because it had a fire-breathing unicorn and was billed as a comedy, and it started off with potential, but just crashed and burned after about 20% of the way in.  The writing was awful, the characters were shallow and the story was just ridiculous.

Truly, the most awful thing I think I’ve ever read.

1/2 star of awful.

Magic Tides (Kate Daniels: Wilmington Years #1)

Magic TidesMagic Tides
by Illona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 978164197529
Series: Kate Daniels: Wilmington Years #1
Publication Date: January 17, 2023
Pages: 146
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: NYLA Publishing

Kate, Curran and their son, Conlan have left Atlanta, vowing to keep a low profile, and are settling into a new city and new house…but some things never change! Magical mayhem is about to erupt when Kate undertakes the rescue of a kidnapped youth, while Curran guards the homefront.

It should be a simple retrieval, but with monsters on land and sea, Kate’s got her work cut out for her. Still, she's never let her blade dull or her purpose falter. And that low profile? It’s about to wash away with the raging tides!

Just when I thought Kate Daniels was through and I was reduced to catching glimpses or mentions of her through Andrews’ other same-universe series, out comes this little novella, re-whetting my appetite for Kate and Curran adventures.

It was almost perfect.  I understand moving Kate and Curran to another city allows for a fresh set of adventures with new fiends to fight and friends/alliances to make, but I still knocked .5 a star off because I miss the old friends, dammit!  Not all of them, but I’d have really liked Barabas and Christopher to stick around.

Even without them, the story was excellent.  Very tightly written (and well edited!) with a plot that’s constantly moving forward, a lot of action, and a fair number of bad guys dying, with the humorous dialog that always make these books fun to read, even when the content gets a bit dark.

In my last review of an Andrews’ work, I bemoaned their decision to break completely from traditional publishing and stated a number of reasons why I thought it was less than ideal; I’ll add another (purely selfish) reason: with no traditional publishing contract, it’s anyone’s guess as to when – or even if – they’ll get around to writing another Wilmington Years story.  It’s hard enough to wait for a favourite series when you know it’s scheduled; it’s excruciating when you’re left at the whim of the author.  Still, fingers crossed, because it’s obvious Kate and Curran aren’t ready to be retired just yet.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

The Very Secret Society of Irregular WitchesThe Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches
by Sangu Mandanna
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781399709866
Publication Date: August 30, 2022
Pages: 318
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon has lived her life by three rules: hide your magic, keep your head down, and stay away from other witches. An orphan raised by strangers from a young age, Mika is good at being alone, and she doesn't mind it . . . mostly.
But then an unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches, and Mika jumps at the chance for a different life.
Nowhere House is nothing like she expects, and she's quickly tangled up in the lives and secrets of its quirky, caring inhabitants . . . and Jamie, the handsome, prickly librarian who would do anything to protect his charges, and who sees Mika's arrival as a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika finds her feet, the thought of belonging somewhere starts to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn't the only danger in the world, and soon Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect the found family she didn't know she was looking for . . .

This was just what I needed after a run of mediocre reads.  It’s cute, but not cutesy or twee – it definitely has a cozy vibe going on, as nothing about the story is dark.  There is a lot of dysfunction though, and a lot of magic, and at least 1 overly-precocious 8 year old who talks like a sassy and hilarious 30 year old.  I enjoyed the little twist at the end that I probably should have seen coming, but I was too relaxed in the story to pay all that much attention to care about what was coming next.

A well-written, fun read.

Sweep of the Heart (Innkeeper Series, #4)

Sweep of the HeartSweep of the Heart
by Illona Andrews
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9798364351043
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4
Publication Date: December 1, 2022
Pages: 440
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: NYLA Publishing

Life is busier than ever for Innkeeper, Dina DeMille and Sean Evans. But it’s about to get even more chaotic when Sean’s werewolf mentor is kidnapped. To find him, they must host an intergalactic spouse-search for one of the most powerful rulers in the Galaxy. Dina is never one to back down from a challenge. That is, if she can manage her temperamental Red Cleaver chef; the consequences of her favorite Galactic ex-tyrant’s dark history; the tangled politics of an interstellar nation, and oh, yes, keep the wedding candidates from a dozen alien species from killing each other. Not to mention the Costco lady.

They say love is a battlefield; but Dina and Sean are determined to limit the casualties!

What a weird blend of Eurovision, The Bachelor and Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera.  Andrews sucked me in to the Innkeeper series by making the first one a gateway drug to what is ultimately a science fiction series – something that is definitely not my jam.  But I thoroughly enjoy the recurring characters so I keep with the series.

This was, for an Andrews book, a door stopper at 440 pages and the plot is a story within a story.  As it started as a serial, the complicatedness and length made sense and overall, it ready fast.

My biggest beef with the book and the reason for my rating is that, as a self-published book usually is, it’s terribly edited.  In addition to the myriad missing words (usually of the article and conjunction variety), Gaston becomes Tony from one sentence to the next in a scene that has already put Tony off-planet, and the final climatic scene of the Bachelor-like competition is so convoluted that I had to read it three times before it made any sense to me at all.  (The authors’ start with a countdown from 6th place, but then after 6th and 5th are announced, suddenly switch to counting up from 2nd.)  Frankly, this just pissed me off and really took a chunk of my enjoyment away from the story as a whole.

I understand the reasons for established authors to self publish on occasion but I think the Andrews are making a mistake to switch wholly to self publishing.  Their creativity might flourish, but their reputation, in the long run, won’t.  Self publishing suffers from the lack of editorial resources, and most of all, the lack of big publishing’s marketing resources.  While I’m a huge fan of just about everything this writing team puts out in terms of stories, I’m not about to haunt their website just to have some idea of if or when a new book comes out – and the odds of their attracting new readers to their body of work diminishes.  I just really wish they’d find a balance between self and traditional marketing.

Digression aside, this was definitely my least favourite InnKeeper book so far, although I love how the end circles back to what will hopefully be a follow up to Maude’s book and its cliffhanger ending.


by Nigel Planer (narrator), Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781407033075
Series: Discworld #20
Publication Date: January 4, 2007
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Audio

Susan had never hung up a stocking . She'd never put a tooth under her pillow in the serious expectation that a dentally inclined fairy would turn up. It wasn't that her parents didn't believe in such things. They didn't need to believe in them. They know they existed. They just wished they didn't.

There are those who believe and those who don't. Through the ages, superstition has had its uses. Nowhere more so than in the Discworld where it's helped to maintain the status quo. Anything that undermines superstition has to be viewed with some caution. There may be consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. When those consequences turn out to be the end of the world, you need to be prepared. You might even want more standing between you and oblivion than a mere slip of a girl - even if she has looked Death in the face on numerous occasions...

Another re-read.  My first read of Hogfather was back in 2017, and I can’t really add anything different, so I’m appending that original review here.

Actually, as the original read was of the printed edition, I will just add that I thought Nigel Planer did an excellent job with the narration, and even MT, who passed by as I was listening, mentioned he was impressed with the wide variety of voices and accents Planer gave to all the characters.

I was supposed to be doing this as a buddy read with everyone, but I’ve not been keeping my end up at all. The cold I thought I’d beaten down made a comeback at the end of last week, so I kept falling asleep every time I tried to get stuck into Hogfather. Which sounds like a terrible condemnation of the book, but is really is NOT. The book was excellent. I’d prove it’s excellence with quotes, except all my reading buddies beat me to all the quotes I liked the best.

There’s mischief afoot in the Discworld, and the Hogfather is missing. Death decides to step in and play the Hogfather’s role, visiting houses, filling stockings and doing his best to ensure that belief in the Hogfather never falters, while his grand-daughter Susan and a host of others do their best to thwart the mischief so Hogfather can come back.

This is a brilliant story – practically flawless. My only two complaints are that:

  1. Teatime is a little too evil; it adds an edge to the story that I freely admit is necessary; without it the whole thing would be a little less brilliant. Nevertheless, His story line was the fly in my lemonade; I’d be reading along having a rollicking good time and then he’d show up being manically evil, and it felt like someone let the air out of my balloons.

  2. The book kept referring to both dollars and pence. Either this was done on purpose, because it’s the discworld and can use any form of currency Pratchett would like, or else it’s an editing error that wasn’t caught during a transition from UK to international editions. If it’s the former, well, that’s totally fine. But I don’t know, so I kept wondering if it was the latter and I kept getting tripped up by the discrepancy.

In the grand scheme of things, these are inconsequential – this is, hands down, the best discworld book I’ve read so far. But Teatime’s rain on my holiday parade does keep me from going the whole 5 stars.

If you like silly fun with a side of very deep philosophy, read this book.

There’s one quote I don’t think anyone has beaten me to yet:

Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

That might very well be my favourite quote of the book.

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven

Her Majesty's Royal CovenHer Majesty's Royal Coven
by Juno Dawson
Rating: ★★
isbn: 9780008478513
Publication Date: August 3, 2022
Pages: 452
Genre: Fiction, Paranormal
Publisher: HarperCollins

Hidden among us is a secret government department of witches known as Her Majesty’s Royal Coven.

They protect crown and country from magical forces and otherworldly evil, but their greatest enemy will come from within…

There are whisperings of a prophecy that will bring the coven to its knees, and four best friends are about to be caught at the centre.

Life as a modern witch was never simple … but now it’s about to get apocalyptic.

Another reminder that it doesn’t do for me to impulse buy books while the parking meter is running.

I actually quite liked the story itself.  It’s a 3.5-4 star level read with a diverse cast, interesting characters that are well written, three dimensional participants in a well plotted story.

Unfortunately, the author’s need to … politicize?  that’s not quite the right word, but it’s the closest I can come up with … to politicize the diversity, to make this book a passive-aggressive lecture on societal ills, ruined the story for me completely.  I didn’t DNF it because the story kept me going while the society bashing kept me fuming.  Also, I paid something like 30 bucks for this book and I was, literally, invested in it.

The thing is, I know there are social problems concerning diversity and race.  It’s been a talking point now for long enough that I can’t believe there are any cave dwellers left who haven’t gotten the memo.  I don’t need to be beat about the head with stories that are constantly telling me there is a problem.  I know there’s a problem – how about we focus on how to fix said problems instead of wallowing in the crisis of their existence?  If this story had all the same characters, doing the same things, being the same people but without all the social commentary, I’d have loved this story.  It would have gripped me and I’d have been totally on-board for the sequel.  And I’d argue it would have ultimately been a book that accomplished more, because it would have been an example of healthy, functional diversity in action, taking on a pivotal point of prejudice and dealing with it appropriately.  A fictional good example, sure, but good examples have to start somewhere and that’s what stories are meant to do anyway.  I just think they’re more effective without the lecturing.  Or, at least, I sure as hell enjoy them more.

So, yeah.  If you don’t mind the social commentary, this is a good story that ticks a lot of diversity boxes.  If you don’t like to be constantly reminded of the problem, stay away from it.

Legends & Lattes

Legends & Lattes: High Fantasy, Low Stakes, Good CompanyLegends & Lattes: High Fantasy, Low Stakes, Good Company
by Travis Baldree
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781035007318
Publication Date: August 11, 2022
Pages: 312
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books

After a lifetime of bounties and bloodshed, Viv is hanging up her sword for the last time.

The battle-weary orc aims to start fresh, opening the first ever coffee shop in the city of Thune. But old and new rivals stand in the way of success — not to mention the fact that no one has the faintest idea what coffee actually is.

If Viv wants to put the blade behind her and make her plans a reality, she won't be able to go it alone.

But the true rewards of the uncharted path are the travelers you meet along the way. And whether drawn together by ancient magic, flaky pastry, or a freshly brewed cup, they may become partners, family, and something deeper than she ever could have dreamed.

I first heard about this book from H.C. Newton at The Irresponsible Reader, and while it sounded interesting, it didn’t really seem like my kind of thing.  And then I read about it again somewhere else (I can’t remember) and thought … maybe.  So when I saw it at the shop, I just picked it up and thought what the hey?

It wasn’t at all what I feared it would be – a former adventurer trying to retire but being forced out of retirement for reasons.  Instead it’s a very … gentle book.  Even sweet.  There’s very little plot in the obvious sense; the book is entirely about friendships and how they can often develop in the most unexpected ways.

On the surface this might make it sound like a dull book, but it’s very readable and the characters all offer something interesting.  There’s a dire-cat named Amity that’s fabulous, and I’d have liked more of her (him?), and there’s a gnome whose cryptic comments about time left me wanting more explanation, or at least more information about him.  But overall the characters are all well fleshed out and likeable.  There’s a low-key, back burner romance that would qualify this book as a diverse read.

Overall, a surprisingly enjoyable read.  Yes, all the typical obstacles just melt away in a way that’s usually catnip to a critic, but somehow, that’s ok.  It just works – and maybe I was just looking for the literary equivalent of a serotonin drip.  If you enjoy fantasy and are looking for a happy read, you might enjoy this one.