Review: The Rook (The Chequy Files #1) – Daniel O’Malley

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Summary:

“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, The Rook is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.

Review:

This book came to my attention when another blogger was promoting it on twitter when it went on sale on Kindle. One of the things she mentioned was the opening, and man, is the praise the opening gets incredibly justified. How can you not be intrigued when the first line of the book opens with an intriguing letter like that? It would be easy for such a strong start to be followed by a disappointing tale, but fortunately, that is not what happens here. Instead, we get an intriguing mystery – who is the one that wiped Myfanwy’s memories – wrapped up inside a fascinating world. Think of the Chequy as the government-sanctioned, super-well funded and organized version of the X-Files. Cool, right?

Also cool is that O’Malley spent a lot of time thinking of interesting powers for people in this world to have. Psychics are all but dismissed out of hand (save for a duck of all things) and you don’t even really see other staples like telekinesis, which is refreshing. Perhaps my favorite is the creepy Gestalt. Gestalt has four bodies (including a set of twins), and one brain that controls all four bodies. ONE. BRAIN. Creepy, but awesome.

The story also turns out to be an interesting study of nature vs. nuture. Myfanwy’s childhood resulted in a rather shy person, who, whilst a capable administrator is very timid. Myfanwy 2.0, by comparison, doesn’t have her former self’s inhibitions – in how she acts or how she uses her powers for that matter. It’s interesting learning about Myfanwy 1.0 from the letters and compare and contrast her against our protagonist, it’s fun.

This book has action, it has intrigue, it has giant fungi and all kinds of slime. If you enjoy contemporary paranormal/urban fantasy, you need to check this book out. Even if you don’t normally read urban fantasy , you should check this out. It’s different, refreshing and fun. Best of all, the sequel Stiletto is due out in June.

Verdict: Buy It

Available Now

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Review: Hidden (Alex Verus #5) – Benedict Jacka

Happy 2016 everyone! I hope your New Years Eve was full of (safe) fun and that we all have a kick-ass year ahead! After that run of DNF books, I wanted something I knew I’d enjoy, so out came Alex Verus. Let’s take a look.

 

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Summary:

With his talent for divining the future, Alex Verus should have foreseen his friends’ reactions to the revelations about his previous life. Anne Walker no longer trusts him—and has also cut all ties with the mage community after getting kicked out of the apprentice program. As a favor to Luna, Alex’s own apprentice and Anne’s best friend, he checks in on her only to be told to leave her alone.

Then Anne gets kidnapped. The Council Keepers of the Order of the Star believe Dark mages from her past may be involved. Working with the Keepers, Alex and Luna discover that Anne has been taken into the shadow realm of Sagash, her former Dark mage mentor, and they must find a way to rescue her.

But another shadow from the past has resurfaced—Alex’s former master may be back in London, and Alex has no idea what his agenda is…

Review:

At this point in the game, you know whether or not you like the series. If I were to rank the books, I’d probably put this down towards the bottom of the list near the very first one. It’s not a bad book by any means, but the focus is on Anne and I just find her to be one of the less interesting characters for a simple reason: she’s Alex 2.0. She’s meant to be Alex 2.0. Her struggles have mirrored his to varying degrees, so when you find out what her secret is, you just kind of shrug. When we first met her back in book three, I suspected her past held a secret like this. When we fully saw Alex’s past in book four, it all but confirmed it, so the revelations here aren’t that revealing. To be fair to Jacka, she is a less jaded version of Alex. Like Alex, she’s trying to walk away from it all and finding it harder to do. Unlike Alex, who has concluded that getting your hands dirty is sometimes the only thing that can be done, she hasn’t yet accepted that and is fighting so she doesn’t have to accept that. It’s not a bad thing to do, but at the same point in time it inevitably feels like a bit of a rehash like you can’t quite shake the feeling that you’ve seen it before.

On the plus, shit is starting to get real. Things are going to come to a head, and they’re going to come to a head fast – and it should be a great confrontation. Alex also remains as interesting a character as he’s even been, continuing to show signs of growth by going out on that limb for Anne even though most sane people wouldn’t, and watching him go toe-to-toe with Dark mages is as fun as it ever was.

So yeah, like I said, this isn’t a bad book so much as it is a less strong book. The set-up for Veiled is great. As always, I’ve already downloaded it and will probably be reviewing it in the not-too-distant future. Oh, and today I found out that this series is apparently open-ended after all, so yay for that! I’ll take it 🙂

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Review: City of Light (Outcast #1) – Keri Arthur

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Summary:

When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between this world and the next, they allowed entry to the Others—demons, wraiths, and death spirits who turned the shadows into their hunting grounds. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay….

As a déchet—a breed of humanoid super-soldiers almost eradicated by the war—Tiger has spent her life in hiding. But when she risks her life to save a little girl on the outskirts of Central City, she discovers that the child is one of many abducted in broad daylight by a wraith-like being—an impossibility with dangerous implications for everyone on earth.

Because if the light is no longer enough to protect them, nowhere is safe…

Review:

There’s no way around this: City of Light is a disappointment. The concept is cool, but it feels like that: just a concept, and a wasted one at that.

We meet no humans. We see no shifters other than Tiger actually shift. Tiger is supposedly a lure – a déchet bred to seduce the enemy – but all that seems to mean is that she is a walking sack of hormones who gets horny when someone with the right DNA walks by with no input from her own emotions at all. What this ultimately feels like is a world where Tiger has plot convenient powers because the plot demands them, leaving the actual differences between humans and shifters and the déchet as little more than a thinly veiled allegory about racism. Outside of one instance where Tiger shifted her form, there is no reason for her to be a shifter. Outside of her ability to become one with the shadows, there is no reason for her to be part vampire. She could have just been a witch or a psychic and it would have had the same impact on the story.

Also, can I say that her constantly referring to the ghosts as her “little ones” wound up being a bit more creepy than endearing?

The other thing that didn’t really work for me was the fact that the people that she is roped into helping ultimately all come off as complete and utter assholes. The cause may be a good one, but they’re basically blackmailing her throughout the book directly and indirectly into having her help. Maybe this wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if Tiger herself had more personality, but for me she just felt flat on the page.

I don’t think the book is a complete failure – the story was at least interesting enough that I read through to the end as opposed to just setting it aside – but the things that should have made this book stand out and shine just fell completely flat. The ending of this book is a complete and obvious set up for a sequel, and I have to say that I have no real desire to actually keep an eye out for it, let alone read it. I just don’t care.

Based on the early reviews upon Goodreads, this book seems to be developing a solid fanbase, but I am just not one of them. The only thing worse than a book devoid of any fresh ideas at all is one that has them but squanders them.

City of Light just did not work and I can’t recommend it.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: January 5

Top 10 of 2015

Where has the year gone? It seems like yesterday that I was writing 2014’s list. Then again, isn’t that how it always goes? Anyways.

Before we get into it, once again here are the criteria I use:

1. Must have been reviewed in 2015 (so older titles qualify)

2. Only one book per author or series

3. Must have been rated as a “Buy It” by me.

Without further ado, let us begin !

Honorable Mention:

Alex Verus Series – by Benedict Jacka

I really wanted to put at least one of these books on my list as it is now one of my all-time favorite Urban Fantasy series. I debated breaking my own rules to put this on the list, but then I realized that this series is unique in that the sum is really greater than the individual parts, with each book I love it just a little bit more. These are quick easy reads with a protagonist that is much more gray than UF heroes/heroines are allowed to be with a great supporting cast including women who only grow stronger as the books pass. I know that the first book can seem derivative, but stick it out and give the series a chance. It may just grow on you the way it’s grown on me.

10.

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Read the review here

A mash-up of historical fantasy, secondary world fantasy, with a dash of science-fiction, The Philosopher Kings poses some great philosophical questions within its text that invites the reader to ponder over just as the characters do. I do think the appeal is too niche to really place it higher on this list, but for those who like philosophy or are looking for something a bit heavier, this is a book well worth checking out.

9.

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Read the review here

Yes, I know I just reviewed this the other day, and this would be the spot I was having trouble deciding what book to put here. The Lost Sun is Young Adult fantasy with Nordic flair and engrossing story of friendship and destiny and is well worth checking out.

8.

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Read the review here

A lush dark fantasy that builds up a wonderful atmosphere of tension that leaves you as unsettled as the heroine as she tries to navigate this world that she suddenly finds herself thrust into. Though not strictly Gothic horror, it has that lovely sense to it. If you like dark fae, give this book a look.

7.

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Read the review here

Urban Fantasy that has a) a completely average male as a lead, b) has no trace of the paranormal nor c) romance make this grounded tale a wonderful and unique read within the genre. If you’ve got a friend that you’re trying to lure into reading Urban Fantasy, this is an excellent series to start with.

6.

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Read the review here

The winning formula for this series is simple: take all your Urban Fantasy tropes and give them a twist. Vampires aren’t the main bad-guys, Charish mouths off and people get pissed at her. That kind of thing. A very fun ride and worth a read if you like the old favorites but want to see a hint of something new.

5.

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Read the review here

A secondary world epic fantasy that combines lush world building and one of the strongest, most sex-positive female characters I’ve ever seen. Even if you don’t read on, anyone who reads epic fantasy should give this book a look. It’s reputation is well earned. Plus, the refreshed covers are simply stunning.

4.

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Read the review here

A historical fantasy that is audacious enough to make Lucifer the hero of our tale – and does so in a manner that is absolutely respectful to the religion in the process. Any and all fantasy writers that want to take on Christianity should use this as a guide on how to do it right. I’m thrilled it’s seeing a stateside release in 2016.

3.

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Read the review here

Combining characters you love and a sense of wonder as you travel the Zodiac’s galaxy, this is a rare sequel that surpasses the original. Fans of YA and sci-fi/fantasy blends should absolutely read this.

2.

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Another piece of YA sci-fi, the complex themes and the beautiful writing make me wonder if this wouldn’t have been better served on adult shelves. Complex themes, a bittersweet ending and a delicate balanced lesbian relationship make this a must read. Oh, and Talis is everything.

1.

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Read the review here

The most audacious book I’ve quite possibly read, even taking on J for the complexity of its story telling. The best part is that there is as much substance to it as there is style. One of the rare books that absolutely deserves the hype it’s received.

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So there we have it! I’d never guess I’d have three YA sci-fi titles as my top three this year, which makes it all the more awesome that I do. I think that niche of the genre really came alive this year and gives me hope that it’ll continue to mature and producer a richer cannon of books that stray away from the typical YA tropes. Aside from that, I don’t feel like 2015 was quite as strong a year for me as 2014 was, but as always, if you look, you will always find some gems.

So tell me, what were your favorites?

Autumn Bones (Agent of Hel #2) – Jacqueline Carey

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Summary:

New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Carey returns to the curious Midwest tourist community where normal and paranormal worlds co-exist—however tenuously—under the watchful eye of a female hellspawn……

Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel.

Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.

He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything……

Review:

I’ll let you in on a secret: writing a year-end Best of list is harder than it seems. Oh sure, there are a few books that you know will be on the list without a doubt, but for every one of those, there are one or two where you think that maybe will be on there, but then with hindsight you realize that while that book was good it wasn’t as great as you thought which makes rounding out that list tough. And that’s where I’m at now: trying to round out my list as we rapidly approach the end of the year. I bring this up because for a while I was debating putting Dark Currents on the list. I liked the world building and the characters and was excited to read this. That excitement held through the first half of the book and then eventually petered out. Is that previous book still worthy of placement if the series falls off almost immediately?

My problem with this book comes from its bi-plot nature: the first book which focuses on Daisy’s relationship with Sinclair and general duties as Hel’s Enforcer. Come midpoint, we finally meet Sinclair’s mother, she unleashes said spirit magic and things devolve into somewhat generic novel about the dead causing issues. Meanwhile, we literally never see his mother again, meaning that her very existence was to set up the second half of the book, and that’s it. That’s the very definition of cheap writing. Why go to the bother of introducing the characters and setting them up as the bad guys to summarily dismiss them? Why couldn’t Carey have found another towns person to unleash the magic? The book covers the period of Halloween, it would have been easy enough to have dumb kids disturb the dead and it would have felt a lot less forced.

I feel like I’m seeing a real and notable trend in Carey’s books: she creates amazing worlds and sticks some fantastic people in them…and then can’t really figure out where to go from there. The first three Kushiel books all had variations of Phedre being held captive and being used by her captors to varying degrees. The second three Kushiel books used magic to varying degrees of success and here the book really does derail when we lose the characters to focus on the plot. In this case the plot isn’t terrible, it’s just generic. We’ve been there before and it’s just not that interesting and not really what I want to be reading.

That being said, there are some things that I liked: I did like how the relationship between Daisy and Sinclair was handled. It was surprisingly mature and realistic in a genre that tends to go for rom com tropes or endless romantic angst in the ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ sense. I like how Cody the werewolf is written in such a matter that you know that he is 100% serious when he says he’s going to marry another wolf, and that he’s not just going to toss that aside because Daisy is the heroine. The side characters here for the most part are quite likable, from Stefan and Cooper the Outcasts to the Fabulous Casimir the head of the local coven and dealer of magical knick-knacks. It’s not all perfect . One character gets turned into a vampire (willingly) and the character does a complete 180. I get the motivation behind the heel-toe but it also doesn’t seem believable. At least, not as fast as it occurs.

As much as I complained about series like The Others being a bit too much character driven, I kind of wish that had been the focus here because that’s honestly where she shines. When she gets away from it, you realize how mundane Pemkowet really is, and that’s a shame.

Finally, I did go ahead and read some spoiler-filled reviews of the final book of the trilogy and I’ll just say that it was wince-inducing and the kind of thing that makes me absolutely NOT want to read it. I ignored that feeling during the second Kushiel series and regretted it, I won’t make that same mistake again. I will also mention that the last book keeps up this sense of it being two books in one, as many reviewers stated that the first and second half of the book don’t feel related, but more like novellas mushed together. That’s not a good sign. As comparatively short as the books are, she should be able to manage a single plot all the way through.

Verdict:  A weak Borrow It – if you like the world, there’s still something here for you, but maybe not as much as you might like.

Available: now

Nice Dragons Finish Last (Heartstriker #1) – Rachel Aaron

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Summary:

As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons…

Review:

Nice Dragons Finish Last is a bit of an odd beast. On the one hand, the genre, the age of the protagonists, some of their actions and certain aspects of the plot 100% would suggest that this book is an adult title. On the other hand, there’s this earnestness, this You Be You / Embrace Who You Are message that runs throughout the book and in a way this sense of chasteness is all very Young Adult. It’s this odd dichotomy that results in a book that doesn’t really comfortable in its own skin, ironically, not unlike its own protagonist. For the record – it’s technically young adult, or so the author claims.

It’s a shame too, because Aaron’s big strength – the magic – is as clever as it’s ever been in her other books, and having dragons to play around with as protagonists is kind of fun, even if it doesn’t culminate in anything particularly unique – if we’re honest here, for the vast majority of the story, these could have been some kind of clan of weres or shifters without too much of a noticeable difference.

I’ll admit – this book grew on me as I read on and I ultimately did enjoy it. But do I want to keep reading? Do I want to recommend it? I don’t know, probably because I don’t know who I’d recommend it too. I don’t think most UF fantasy fans will like it – there’s too much much YA present. I’m not sure if a lot of YA fans will like it because it mostly feels like an adult novel. Maybe fans of both? There’s a REASON that UF is predominantly in the adult space, you know?

So yeah. If you like UF and you read YA, give this a look. Everyone else can probably skip it, though at its permanent $4.99 price point (or free on Kindle Unlimited), it’s a low risk investment if you like the sample chapters.

Verdict: Borrow it.

Available Now

Taken (Alex Verus #3) – Benedict Jacka

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Summary:

Mage apprentices have been vanishing without a trace—and someone on the council might be involved. Alex Verus has no evidence, no witnesses, and no suspects. All he knows is that someone is keeping tabs on him. And after assassins target his own apprentice’s classmate, Alex sees that he doesn’t know the half of it—and that he could be the next to disappear…

Review:

First, to answer the question I’m sure no one is asking: yes, I did read Wandering Star first. I’m just delaying the posting of my review to a bit closer to review date (Spoiler Alert: It was awesome). Anyway, after reading that wonderful book, I was in the mood for something fun so I decided to pick back up with the other series I seem to be making way through in 2015 – The Alex Verus novels. This is three of currently six, with a seventh due out in April. Not sure I’ll have made it through all of them by then, but I’m certainly making an effort!

Anyway.

Taken picks up a few months after Cursed left off: Luna is now fully ensconced in the Light Mage’s Apprentice program and Alex’s various adventures have brought him to greater notoriety within Mage society even as his uneasy peace with the Council holds. As in books past, Alex is again approach by the Council to figure out what they cannot: who is kidnapping Apprentices and what is being done with them. It sets off into an investigation whose reveal is actually rather cleverly (and subtly) foreshadowed early on. It’s a fun twist on perhaps a not unfamiliar theme within these novels. We also get plenty of time to see how Luna is growing (anyone complaining about how Luna fares in the first book really does need to keep reading, she gets stronger with every book), and an interesting side-story about two effectively master-less Apprentices and their ties to a non-human that is more Dark than light.

This series remains quite an enjoyable read with some solid world-building. It’s not necessarily breaking any molds within urban fantasy, but it does what it does quite well and with a book like this, that’s what you want it to do. Fans will be quite pleased.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now