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.

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.

Devouring Darkness (Heirs of Chicagoland, #4)

Devouring DarknessDevouring Darkness
by Chloe Neill
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780593102640
Series: Heirs of Chicagoland #4
Publication Date: September 20, 2022
Pages: 308
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Berkley

As the only vampire ever born, and the daughter of two very powerful Chicago vampires, Elisa Sullivan knew her life was going to be…unusual. But she wanted to make her own way in the world, preferably away from her famous family. Then supernatural politics—and perhaps a bit of destiny—intervened, and Elisa had to steady her nerves and sharpen her steel to fight for the city of Chicago. Luckily, Connor Keene, son of the North American Central Pack’s Apex wolf, is right by her side.

When Elisa and her Ombudsman colleagues agree to escort a vulnerable supernatural to Chicago, they inadvertently set in motion a scheme of long-awaited magical vengeance. The city may pay an arcane price it can’t afford unless Elisa and her allies rise to the challenge.

I always have a lot of fun reading Chloe Neil’s books.  Yep, they’re (relatively) nice vampires and shifters, and the dialog is witty as hell (although not as on-fire as the original series).  In these books vampires being vampires isn’t really the important part; solving the mysteries and doing with with the cooperation of friends and allies is.  These books are heavy on friendships, solid plotting, and some light romance as a side-gig.

This fourth one felt a bit sharper than the first 3, as if Neil finally got into the groove with this new cast of characters and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  The end has an epilogue that’s not a cliffhanger, but a definite lead up to a new threat, and it still annoyed me because it will be at least a year before it’ll be out.

I didn’t read this for Halloween Bingo because I don’t have any squares I can use for it, but I reserve the right to shoe-horn it in if I need to.

A Deadly Education (Scholomance, #1)

A Deadly EducationA Deadly Education
by Naomi Novik
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781529100877
Series: Scholomance #1
Publication Date: March 4, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal. Once you're inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school's many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions - never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it . . . that is, unless she has no other choice.

Let me get this out of the way right up front: the amount of introspective, meandering, narrative in this book is crippling.  There is a 12 page scene devoted to El just walking the length of the book stacks in the school library.  Granted, it’s a magical library, and part of the point in this scene is the schools way of stretching space when it wants to, so this scene is effective at making the reader feel the interminable-ness of El’s trip to the end of the row to see what’s attacking the other kids, but while she had the benefit of adrenaline, I was just bored after 6 pages of it.  And there are several further instances of the narrative just wandering away from the main subject or banging on way too long about one thing or another.

And El is … well, someone needs to tell El to pull her head out of her own ass.  She’s rude – unspeakably rude – to people who don’t deserve it, and then bemoans in all her endless inner dialogs about how much she just wants friends, to be liked.  The prophecy, in my opinion, isn’t convincing enough a reason for her to act like such a bitch.

Saying all that, it’s a heck of a good story.  If I was irritated while reading it, it was because the Scholomance construct, how the school works, and the other characters were so fascinating, and I felt like the eternal inner-narrative and El’s occasionally appalling rudeness got in the way of the greater story.  When I wasn’t drowning in El’s attitude, I was having a rollicking good time with everything else.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022 and while it’s a perfect fit for Dark Academia, I’ve already read for that square, so I’m going to use it instead for Murder & Mayhem by the Book.  Much of the action takes place in the school library, and El finds a spell book that becomes important to her and her friends in the second half of the book.


Crowbones re-read (World of the Others, #3)

by Anne Bishop
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780593337332
Series: The World of the Others #3
Publication Date: March 8, 2022
Pages: 368
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

I don’t typically re-review re-reads, but my first reading of Crowbones left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied; in spite of a returning cast of characters I loved, the story felt disjointed and scattered.  I knew as soon as I finished I’d need to re-read it to be able to determine of it was the story, or it was just me.

I’m happy to say, it was just me.  While my thoughts from the first review still stand overall, the story felt more cohesive and not at all disjoined the second time around.  Some of this new found clarity is because it’s a re-read, of course; Bishop has a tendency to switch to the 3rd person POV of “them” without naming “them”.  When this works well, it adds a bit of buildup to the story; if the author doesn’t nail it though, it can muddle things.  This time around, I knew who all the “them”s were, and I knew who the mystery guest was, which just made everything jell nicely, making it easier to immerse myself in the world and the story.

I still think it’s a 4 star read: as much as I enjoyed it, it’s still not on par with the previous books, but it’s a 4+, rather than a 4-.

I’m going to use this for my Raven/Free Square on my Halloween Bingo 2022 card.

Soul Taken (Mercy Thompson, #13)

Soul TakenSoul Taken
by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780440001614
Series: Mercy Thompson #13
Publication Date: August 23, 2022
Pages: 389
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

The vampire Wulfe is missing. Since he’s deadly, possibly insane, and his current idea of “fun” is stalking me, some may see it as no great loss. But, warned that his disappearance might bring down the carefully constructed alliances that keep our pack safe, my mate and I must find Wulfe—and hope he’s still alive. As alive as a vampire can be, anyway.

But Wulfe isn’t the only one who has disappeared. And now there are bodies, too. Has the Harvester returned to the Tri-Cities, reaping souls with his cursed sickle? Or is he just a character from a B horror movie and our enemy is someone else?

The farther I follow Wulfe’s trail, the more twisted—and darker—the path becomes. I need to figure out what’s going on before the next body on the ground is mine.

My first read of HB bingo, done and dusted.  I tore through this one in one day, which is easier to do when walking is still an iffy proposition; I have to do something while icing my leg.

The first chapter frustrated me, as Briggs put the reader in the same confusing space Mercy was in, but strung the confusion out just a little bit too long.  Once past that though, the reader is treated to some answers to questions left open in the last Alpha/Omega series book, Wild Sign (if you don’t read this series it doesn’t matter in the least).  This scene slowly segues into the main plot of the book, the disappearance of Wulfe, and secondarily, Stefan and Marsilia.

It was hard for me to move on from Sherwood’s intrigue, smallish though it was, and I was disappointed that he played little to no part in the main story, but the race to figure out why so many low-level magic users disappeared, and finding Wulfe and his connection to events was one of the better storylines, I think (probably because Briggs laid off on the black magic stuff).  Wulfe’s story is rather convoluted, but I suspect Briggs has no intention of bringing clarity to his character.  Even though the plot is about the vampires, the story itself is about the fae, and Zee gets a little more depth.

I’m rambling a bit.  It was a good read.  Not blow the doors off spectacular, but good.

I read this for the Urban Decay square in 2022’s Halloween Bingo.  It also definitely fits Relics & Curiosities, Monsters and Splatter.