Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder, #1)

Blood HeirBlood Heir
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781641971652
Series: Ryder - Kate Daniels World #1
Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Pages: 354
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Nancy Yost Literary Agency

Atlanta was always a dangerous city. Now, as waves of magic and technology compete for supremacy, it's a place caught in a slow apocalypse, where monsters spawn among the crumbling skyscrapers and supernatural factions struggle for power and survival.

Eight years ago, Julie Lennart left Atlanta to find out who she was. Now she's back with a new face, a new magic, and a new name-Aurelia Ryder-drawn by the urgent need to protect the family she left behind. An ancient power is stalking her adopted mother, Kate Daniels, an enemy unlike any other, and a string of horrifying murders is its opening gambit.

If Aurelia's true identity is discovered, those closest to her will die. So her plan is simple: get in, solve the murders, prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled, and get out without being recognized. She expected danger, but she never anticipated that the only man she'd ever loved could threaten everything.


While I’m a huge fan of the Kate Daniels and Iron Dog series, and liked all the characters an awful lot, I’ve never been super-excited about a book or series dedicated to Kate’s daughter Julie, but I liked her and Derek enough to be interested in picking it up.

The hardest part of a spin-off series for me, is the first half of the first book; it’s always a long, drawn-out slog for the veterans of the series because of the necessary background information for the new readers.  It makes the story start off so slowly, and Blood Heir is no exception.  I’m not going to sugar-coat it: I was bored until page 178 or so, when the dynamics of the plot finally got interesting.

I’m also feeling a little ambivalent about Julie’s transformation.  I liked her quite a bit the way she was, and I’d have enjoyed her story more had she remained as she was.  Instead she’s been transmogrified into a super-beautiful, super-magical badass and while I guess I can understand the authors’ enjoying the range this allows them, I think I’d have found a story about Julie being a badass without the superlatives even more interesting.

I’ll admit to being a tad more intrigued about Derek’s evolution, but perhaps that’s because it’s more mysterious (so far).  Either way though, it feels as though the authors’ have just created an imitation of Kate and Curran – right down to what will obviously be the series arc – and it short-changes what were fascinating characters previously.

For all my hurrumphing though, it was a very readable story I was able to knock-off in just a couple of days.  I liked it enough to read a second one whenever in the far off future it should arrive, in hopes that the deadly dull (but necessary) world building has been gotten through and the second book will allow for a more interesting read.

Calculated Risks (InCryptid, #10)

Calculated RisksCalculated Risks
by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780756411817
Series: InCryptid #10
Publication Date: February 23, 2021
Pages: 433
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: DAW Books

Just when Sarah Zellaby, adopted Price cousin and telepathic ambush predator, thought that things couldn’t get worse, she’s had to go and prove herself wrong. After being kidnapped and manipulated by her birth family, she has undergone a transformation called an instar, reaching back to her Apocritic origins to metamorphize. While externally the same, she is internally much more powerful, and much more difficult to control.

Even by herself. After years of denial, the fact that she will always be a cuckoo has become impossible to deny.

Now stranded in another dimension with a handful of allies who seem to have no idea who she is–including her cousin Annie and her maybe-boyfriend Artie, both of whom have forgotten their relationship–and a bunch of cuckoos with good reason to want her dead, Sarah must figure out not only how to contend with her situation, but with the new realities of her future. What is she now? Who is she now? Is that person someone she can live with?

And when all is said and done, will she be able to get the people she loves, whether or not they’ve forgotten her, safely home?


I knew, after finishing the last book, Imaginary Numbers, that I probably wouldn’t rate this one highly in my personal ranking of InCryptid books, and I wasn’t wrong.  Math, multiple dimensions, alien planets – none of these are guaranteed to make me giddy with anticipation, but Sarah has always been one of my favorite characters, so I counted on my investment in the characters to see me through.

They almost didn’t.  So. much. explication.  The first half of the book was crushed under the weight of repetition about what a cuckoo is, what it means to be a cuckoo, the inherent amorality of cuckoos.  What little survived was further smothered by Sarah’s guilt and constant mea culpas.  Which were contradictory, by the way, as on one page she’s explaining that the equation at the end of the first book was sentient enough to fight against its own destruction, and malevolent enough to exact its revenge on her by – SPOILER ALERT! – excising Antimony’s and Arnie’s memories of just her, and on the next page she’s saying she did it, that she chose to do it so they wouldn’t miss her when she was dead.  Either way, the constant self-flagellation was way over-played.

Like most of the InCryptid books, once you get past the half-way mark, things start to get interesting.  Just by sheer virtue of the fact that there was less wailing and more action, more progress being made in the plot.  But the introduction of Greg really livened things up, and the speed of plot progression made even an other-dimension, alien planet sound interesting to me.  Sarah’s angst over the capacity problem irked me, because she was back to the whole woe-is-me schtick when the solution to the problem was painfully obvious – but at least it lasted only a few pages before the lightbulb clicked on, and then it was all action as the end was neigh.  And it turned out the end was much neigh’er than I’d thought – a short story at the end of the book had the actual story ending much sooner than I expected, making it feel like an abrupt, albeit happy, ending.

I still enjoy the series and I’ve learned to just put up with the first half of each book to get ‘to the good stuff’, so I’ll likely pick up the next one.  Or maybe, after having braved alien planets, I’ll go back and read Antimony’s story, carnival settings and all.  Maybe.

Wild Sign (Alpha and Omega #6)

Wild SignWild Sign
by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780356513683
Series: Alpha and Omega #6
Publication Date: March 18, 2021
Pages: 359
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit Books

In the wilds of the Northern California mountains, all the inhabitants of a small town have gone missing. It's as if the people picked up and left everything they owned behind. Fearing something supernatural might be going on, the FBI taps a source they've consulted in the past: the werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham. But Charles and Anna soon find a deserted town is the least of the mysteries they face.

Death sings in the forest, and when it calls, Charles and Anna must answer. Something has awakened in the heart of the California mountains, something old and dangerous - and it has met werewolves before.


Given recent challenges of life, I’d forgotten all about this book coming out until I saw it on the shelves, which just goes to show how un-nerving the times are; this is one of my top 5 current series favorites, and normally I’m counting down until release day, with the hardcover on pre-order.

No matter – I found it and I have it and I’ve read it, and as always I find it intolerable that I’ll have to wait another 2 years for the next book, which I’m assuming was foreshadowed at the end of this one.  If so, I guess Samuel will finally get a bit more page-time.

I enjoyed the book as much as the others with one caveat:  I do not understand this need Briggs has developed over the last half-dozen books or so to incorporate violence against animals.  I mean, yes, I get it – black witches, feed off pain, suffering, yada, yada.  But what’s with the focus on black witches over so many books?  Even though she pretty much always mentions it after the fact, not making the reader live through it, she’s a talented enough writer that the stink of it remains and leaves me feeling rotten.  That’s not why I read these books.

I read them for Charles and Bran.  Charles because I thoroughly enjoy the incorporation of his Native American heritage in the story lines (though I wish there was more), and Bran because I find him endlessly fascinating.  So much history and so much darkness to have overcome, and to be such a thorough master of himself, owning everything he is, is just catnip to me.

The plot of Wild Sign got my hopes up that we’d be seeing more Native American beliefs worked into the plot, but alas, this mystery seemed not to really have much basis in any known mythology, or else, Briggs felt disinclined to name it.  But she more than made up for it with the inclusion of Tag, Sasquatch(es), and a cross over with Coyote.  The book also goes a little deeper into Charles being witchborn on his father’s side, and events in Wild Sign force him to tap into this darker, more dangerous reserve of power.

Overall it was a good story, though not one of the best ones.  Saying that, it’s still better than average, and has me hankering for a re-read of the earlier books.

Midnight Blue-Light Special

Midnight Blue-light SpecialMidnight Blue-light Special
by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780756407926
Series: InCryptid #2
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Pages: 353
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: DAW Books

A re-read that not only held up well, but one that I enjoyed more the second time around.  My first readings of McGuire’s books always start off feeling tedious, but picking up so much that I end up really enjoying them (though Imaginary Numbers flipped this around).  This re-read didn’t feel tedious at all and except for the scene where Verity is captured, which felt way too long, I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it.

As an aside, MT saw the title and commented that it sounded like the stupidest book he’d ever seen me read.  Being not-American, I had to explain to him about the Kmart blue-light special days of yore.  (He conceded that the title made a smidgen more sense.)

Grave War (Alex Craft, #7)

Grave WarGrave War
by Kalayna Price
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984805959
Series: Alex Craft #7
Publication Date: November 26, 2020
Pages: 384
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

Grave witch Alex Craft has forged an uneasy truce with the world of Faerie, but she's still been trying to maintain at least some semblance of a normal life in the human world. So it's safe to say that stepping up as the lead investigator for the Fae Investigation Bureau was not a career path she ever anticipated taking.

When an explosion at the Eternal Bloom threatens to upend the fae who make their home in our world, Alex finds herself in charge of the most far-reaching investigation she's ever tackled. And it's only her first week on the job. With the threats mounting and cut off from half her allies, Alex can't wait on the sidelines and hope the fae's conflicts stay contained within their borders.


 

The final book of the series, this is the one that wraps up the whole thing.  I couldn’t put it down, but I can’t say I totally loved it, but that’s because it didn’t end the way I’d have chosen, and I felt that there were endings left undone, or not really done to any satisfaction.  At least mine.  But it was well written, and well plotted and I got a huge amount of satisfaction at having called the major plot twist from the very start of the series. View Spoiler » So there was that.

It’s a series I’ll miss, and re-read, but I’m happy the author got to end the story on her terms.

Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland, #2)

Wicked HourWicked Hour
by Chloe Neill
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780399587115
Series: Heirs of Chicagoland #2
Publication Date: December 3, 2019
Pages: 352
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Berkley

Vampires were made, not born—until Elisa Sullivan came along. As the only vampire child in existence, she grew up with a heavy legacy, and tried to flee her past. Then circumstances drew her back to Chicago, and she stayed to keep it safe. With shifter Connor Keene, the only son of Pack Apex Gabriel Keene, at her side, she faced down a supernatural evil that threatened to destroy Chicago forever.

After the dust from the attack has settled, Elisa is surprised when Connor invites her to a usually private Pack event in the north woods of Minnesota, and by the warm welcome she receives from some of Connor’s family, even though she's a vampire. But the peace doesn't last. The shifters tell tales of a monster in the woods, and when the celebration is marred by death, Elisa and Connor find themselves in the middle of a struggle for control that forces Elisa to face her true self—fangs and all.


 

I was a big fan of the Chicagoland Vampires series, but wasn’t quite so sure about the spin-off until I finished the first book (which started slow).  Then I was hooked.  Wicked Hour was even better than the first book combining a group of established friends from the first book with a great setting, snarky dialog, and an interesting mystery.  What is the mysterious beast in the north woods of Minnesota?

The two main characters of this series are a vampire and a werewolf in love with each other, so I expected the inevitable conflict between species to be one the author might milk for at least a couple of books.  So imagine my glee when she didn’t take that trope-tastic route but instead had her two main characters act like rational adults.

Where the author did skirt the line was the amount of animosity Lis was up against from the werewolf clan.  At times it felt too manufactured to be believed, although towards the end  the author made it work by turning it inward and making it about something larger than Lis’s vampirism.

All up it was an excellent sophomore entry in a promising new series I look forward to continuing.

Grave Witch

Grave WitchGrave Witch
by Kalayna Price
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780451463807
Series: Alex Craft #1
Publication Date: October 5, 2010
Pages: 325
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: ROC Fantasy

As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she's on good terms with Death himself, nothing has prepared her for her latest case. When she's raising a "shade" involved in a high profile murder, it attacks her, and then someone makes an attempt on her life.

Someone really doesn't want her to know what the dead have to say, and she'll have to work with mysterious homicide detective Falin Andrews to figure out why....


A re-read for me, as I needed a Grave/Graveyard book for Halloween bingo and I just wasn’t in the mood for the Ray Bradbury I had lined up.

Overall, the book holds up well, though the love triangle is a definite drag on what would have otherwise been a fantastic series.  Price writes great characters and does an excellent job with world building and plotting; truly it’s the two men – both excellent specimens in their own right – vying for Alex that’s the only drawback.  Not that I’m letting that stop me from re-reading the rest of the series in anticipation of the latest book coming out next month.

Emerald Blaze

Emerald BlazeEmerald Blaze
by Illona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780062878366
Series: Hidden Legacy #5
Publication Date: September 17, 2020
Pages: 389
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Avon Books

When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart.

The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won't rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that's tearing their world apart.


 

I’m a fan of this series, but admittedly I prefer Nevada and Connor over Catalina and Alessandro.  Even so, this was a lot of fun to read and I was fascinated by the Abyss.   What I appreciated most though, was that Andrews didn’t drag out the romantic interest story line; I expected another ‘Oh no! Will the couple ever find true happiness?’ cliffhangers, but instead it was all wrapped up rather neatly a little past midway.  Nice.  This allowed me to more fully enjoy the actual plot of the story, which involved a lot of fighting and magic using, which I prefer to the romance.

As a bonus, Nevada and Connor played a part in this story, although it was much too small, and a lot of backstory was filled in about Nevada’s split from the family.

All up it was a fun story I was disappointed to see come to an end.  I hope there will be more with Catalina as the central character if only because I’m hugely intrigued by the Warden role and Linus.

Staked

StakedStaked
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780345548511
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #8
Publication Date: January 26, 2016
Pages: 224
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Random House

When a Druid has lived for two thousand years like Atticus, he’s bound to run afoul of a few vampires. Make that legions of them. Even his former friend and legal counsel turned out to be a bloodsucking backstabber. Now the toothy troublemakers—led by power-mad pain-in-the-neck Theophilus—have become a huge problem requiring a solution. It’s time to make a stand.

As always, Atticus wouldn’t mind a little backup. But his allies have problems of their own. Ornery archdruid Owen Kennedy is having a wee bit of troll trouble: Turns out when you stiff a troll, it’s not water under the bridge. Meanwhile, Granuaile is desperate to free herself of the Norse god Loki’s mark and elude his powers of divination—a quest that will bring her face-to-face with several Slavic nightmares.

As Atticus globetrots to stop his nemesis Theophilus, the journey leads to Rome. What better place to end an immortal than the Eternal City? But poetic justice won’t come without a price: In order to defeat Theophilus, Atticus may have to lose an old friend.


A couple of things occurred to me while reading Staked:  it feels like Herne doesn’t really like his main character, Atticus; at least, not judging by the amount of existential pain he dumps on him.  The other is that I can see the inspiration, right down the the scatalogical humor, of the character in his new series that starts with Ink & Sigil – clearly in Owen, the arch-druid and Atticus’ mentor. Owen is quite feral and off-putting, no matter how gold and good his heart may be.

Staked is told through the rotating viewpoints of all three druids: Atticus, Granuaile and Owen, and the meandering is epic.  We begin and end with the titular war with the vampires, but in between there’s a battle-seer-horse needing rescue, ecological retribution being wrought, treaties being hammered out in Asgard, greek gods getting vaporised, and all matter of other trivia.  It wasn’t boring but I disliked being passed off between characters, especially when I had little use for Granuaile’s daddy issues and Owen’s feral lack of expletives that didn’t include his bollocks and backside, and those of everyone else’s.

I do enjoy Atticus’s adventures and character, and I like Oberon even more when I read him, as opposed to listening to a narrator scooby-doo his voice.  I enjoy his interactions with the various deities and villains, and especially enjoy the verbal sparring between himself and Leif.  It’s a detriment to the books, if not the overall story arc, that Hearne felt it necessary to take all of Atticus’ interesting friends away from him; he suffers from the lack of intellectually challenging interactions.   Overall, though, it was a good enough story to keep me reading, and I enjoyed the ending well enough.  If one chooses, one could end the series right here and everything save Ragnarok would be tied up neatly.  At this moment, I’m content to leave the series here, but I can’t say I won’t change my mind.

I read this book for Halloween Bingo 2020, for the Dead Lands square.  In spite of all the wandering about the plot did in the middle the beginning and end were chock full of vampires.

Half-off Ragnarok (InCryptid, #3)

Half-Off RagnarokHalf-Off Ragnarok
by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780756408114
Series: InCryptid #3
Publication Date: March 1, 2014
Pages: 356
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: DAW Books

 

These books always start off so slow for me, and this one felt especially so.  I suppose the author might have felt as though she needed to do a bit of world building with the change of character.  Whatever the case, Alex’s story dragged in spite of some cryptid action early on in the first half.

Fortunately, I liked Alex, and I was interested enough in Sarah’s recovery after book 2 to keep on.  Which became more important as I failed to find anything interesting or authentic about Shelby, Alex’s romantic interest.  Partly because, living in Australia, I was looking for the “Aussie-ness” of her personality, and it never appeared.  In the acknowledgements, the author thanked someone for keeping her from making Shelby a cliché, which  I can wholly appreciate wanting to avoid, as well as how easily it might be to fall into that trap.  But I think her advisor might have over-compensated (and failed to catch that it’s the Great Ocean Road, not highway).  Most Aussies aren’t Crocodile Dundee, or Steve Irwin, but they do have a unique character, and Shelby didn’t have it.  Though my favorite quote of the book was:

“Pretty sure that ship has sailed,” said Shelby, who was eyeing the nearby foliage with trepidation, as if she expected it to attack at any moment.  Then again, she came from Australia: she probably did expect some sort of vegetable ambush.

(Australia.  The only continent designed with a difficulty rating of  “ha ha fuck you no.”)

After about the first half, the story started to stand on its own legs.  Shelby never really got off the ground for me, but the rest of the story coalesced into something moderately interesting.  The plot was well crafted, but it just didn’t have any oomph, for me.  As always though, the presence of the Aeslin mice, and in this case, Angela Baker, made up for a lot.

I have the second of Alex’s books, and I’ll read it – it takes place in Australia, and it will be interesting to see of the author writes the characters any more authentically on the second try.

I’m using this book for the Monsters square in Halloween Bingo 2020.  It not only had basilisks, gorgons, and cockatrice, oh my, but one of the main secondary characters, Alex’s grandfather, is a revenant.