Hounded (Iron Druid #1) – Kevin Hearne

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Summary:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

Review:

So both Seven Black Diamonds and Black City Saint had the fae. Both Black City Saint and Hounded have an Oberon. I gotta say, all this over-lap is more than a little trippy. But you know, it’s okay.

Hounded is awesome.

On my list of Urban Fantasy series to try this year (The Elemental Assassin is also on this list), I was not disappointed. While the short I read last year left me on the fence, this book obliterated any doubts I had about this series. The premise is just a blast: a 2100 year-old Druid that all the Irish gods (and a few non-Irish ones to boot) like to talk to and use in various ways (fighting, sexy times, you name it) whether or not he’s quite aware of the broader plot at hand.

The writing here is nice and light and frothy. No matter how bloody the fighting gets (and it does get bloody), the story never takes it self too seriously. It’s not so joking as to undermine the gravity of the story, but it’s very much that vibe of using humor to take the edge off, to stop it from being too dark. The aforementioned Oberon (his wolfhound) really helps in that respect as does the fact that his attorneys are literally vampires and werewolves.

The other thing that helps is that everyone is full of personality. The humans (gotta love the Widow MacDonagh, whom I’d love to have a drink with sometime), the goddesses, the witches. No one here is left to be a cut-out, except for maybe the cops that are touching the story at a glance.

Even though this is very much episodic Urban Fantasy it just feels fresh and fun – exactly what I was seeking and it may be just what you need as a palette cleanser as well.

The eighth book was just released this year. I look forward to making a dent in this series.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Film Review: The Witch plus bonus Deadpool mini-review

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The Witch is a supernatural thriller set in 17th century America.

Not horror. Thriller. Thriller.

Those going into the movie expecting horror will be disappointed. Honestly, some of the scariest moments in the movie are actually in the trailer. I was fine with this, but not everyone will be, and if your expectations aren’t in check, you will come out disappointed.

Story-wise, this is a story about a descent into madness. Through tragedy (the loss of an infant child) and hardship (the failure of crops), a family slowly starts disintegrate as hopelessness mounts. What’s causing this? Is it a witch? If it is, is that witch Thomalsin?

Let’s be clear: this is an art house movie, and all that that entails. It’s gorgeous to look at, the music is chilling to the bone, the acting is wonderful and it’s got mood up the wazoo. It just doesn’t have a lot of action. Or violence. Or gore. The movie doesn’t need it, but if you’re expecting a traditional experience, you may be left wanting. I do think the ads are misleading and it’s leaving some disappointed as a result.

This isn’t for everyone, but if you like mood pieces and period films, you’ll love this.

Verdict: It is hit or miss for people, so maybe go at a bargain matinee if art house isn’t normally your thing.

Bonus mini-review of Deadpool

Deadpool is a traditional superhero origin story movie without the moralizing that normally comes with the genre. I don’t know how well it’ll hold up in the long run, but it was fun for what it was. If you think you’ll like it, you probably will. Just know that it has a potty mouth and is pretty violet – definitely more so than The Witch.

Review: Elementals: The Prophecy of Shadows (Elementals #1) – Michelle Madow

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Summary:

Filled with magic, thrilling adventure, and sweet romance, Elementals is the first in a new series that fans of Percy Jackson and The Secret Circle will love!

When Nicole Cassidy moves from sunny Georgia to gloomy New England, the last thing she expects is to learn that her homeroom is a cover for a secret coven of witches. Even more surprisingly … she’s apparently a witch herself. Despite doubts about her newfound abilities, Nicole is welcomed into this ancient circle of witches and is bedazzled by their powers—and, to her dismay, by Blake—the school’s notorious bad-boy.

Girls who get close to Blake wind up hurt. His girlfriend Danielle will do anything to keep them away, even if she must resort to using dark magic. But the chemistry between Blake and Nicole is undeniable, and despite wanting to protect Nicole from Danielle’s wrath, he finds it impossible to keep his distance.

When the Olympian Comet shoots through the sky for the first time in three thousand years, Nicole, Blake, Danielle, and two others in their homeroom are gifted with mysterious powers. But the comet has another effect—it opens the portal to the prison world that has contained the Titans for centuries. After an ancient monster escapes and attacks Nicole and Blake, it’s up to them and the others to follow the clues from a cryptic prophecy so that they can save their town … and possibly the world.

Review:

So my friend asked my why do I put myself through this, with this being painfully generic, trope-filled cliche-fests of YA novels. My answer is two fold:

  1. Sometimes, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.
  2.  They’re quick and dirty reads – I finished this in under 90 minutes.

The top three books on my best-of 2015 list were YA novels. I know there is some great books out there and I don’t want to give up on the genre, because who knows what I might miss? On the other hand, for every Scorpion Rules, Wandering Star or Illuminae there are probably a dozen or more novels like this out there. You know the drill. Chosen Ones, longing over guys with mean-girl girlfriends, adults who serve no purpose but to offer up world building and say “Welp, I don’t know what to do, so you guys take care of this for me, k?”and sibling who exist only to get into danger.

Characters in this novel all have their nice to fill. Kate is the by-the-book-timid nice girl. Blake is the hot guy all the girls want. Chris is the nice guy who can’t get the girl (or will probably get the friend down the road). Danielle is the mean girl. Nicole is the wunderkind with all the powers that everyone (except the mean girl, natch) likes.

The books starts off with no world building – literally three pages in it’s “Surprise! You’re a witch!” and no character development beyond what the trope allows for. Kate helps her catch up on homework, Danielle tries to sabotage her tennis team try out and so on. Then not too far in there’s a Mystical Event ™ and they have powers and it’s off to fulfill a <strike>prophecy</strike> mystical treasure hunt and for Nicole to repeatedly save the day. In case there is any doubt in how overpowered Nicole is, I’ll just leave this here:

“I’d done it. My entire body had been broken, and I’d healed it all.”

Yep.

If you’ve read YA for any length of time, you’ve read this book, or at least some variation of it there of. If you enjoy this kind of thing, you’ll love it – it’s face paced and hits all the notes you’d expect it to. If you’re wanting more, keep on looking.

I will say that at least this book held my interest enough that I powered through and read the whole thing, so some props there. I was just hoping for a little more.

One last note: it appears the author intends to release a quartet of books, with at least the next two having 2016 release dates. The sequel is due out in April. I personally always wonder about release schedules this tight, as it makes me wonder if longer books are being cut up to make more money for the author/publisher. Given how generally underdeveloped this book is, it is something to keep in mind when deciding if you want to pick this series up.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: January 26

 

Stacking the Shelves #13

Now that I’ve done my Best Of list, it seems to make sense to do a final Stacking the Shelves for the year. I have to say, there seems to be something about the month of December where I get book crazy. It’s been a little less than a month since my last post, and yet I’ve managed to acquire some twenty books in that time frame! And that doesn’t count one that will arrive in January and that I think I still have 3-4 ARCs out for request on NetGalley and Edelweiss that I’m hoping to get my hands on. Yikes. Maybe I should be sliiiightly more choosy for a while? My TBR pile would thank me 🙂

For the last time in 2015, let’s do this.

ARC

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My first unsolicited ARC. I feel all grown up :* It’s pure sci-fi, which I’m looking forward to. I played in the YA end of the pool in 2015, so looking to dip my toes more in the adult end in 2016.

DRC

There’s definitely a broad assortment of books in this group. In the YA camp we have The Prophecy of Shadows (Greek mythology-inspired), Daughter of Blood (epic fantasy), Seven Black Diamonds (faery) Burning Glass (romance/fantasy), Beyond the Red (sci-fi) and Flawed (dystopian).  On the adult side we have Submissive Seductions (erotica) A Girl’s Guide to Landing a Greek God (Greek mythology based) and Masks and Shadows (historical).  It’s a fun mix. The books here are posted in order of publication date; though it’ll take me a while to get to Daughter of Blood. It’s the the third in a trilogy and I managed to pick up the first two for $1.99 each on Kindle and will be reviewing those first. The others are all stand-alones/first in series, so there is that :*

physical books traded for by me

I picked these up in a blog sale. These are all young adult except for The Forbidden Library which is more middle grade, but Django Wexler was an enticing thought. Becoming Jinn got a lot of love when it came out and others sounded like fun (angels! steampunk!). Given the size of my TBR pile though, these are definitely going to be lower on the totem pole for when I’m looking for something different to mix it up.

eBooks bought by me

Another hodgepodge of adult and young adult. The Strange Maid is the sequel to the just-reviewed The Lost Sun. Hidden is the next Alex Verus novel. The Heir of Night/The Gathering of the Lost are the first two in the Wall of Night books. These Broken Stars is a sci-fi/romance The Rook is a fantastical thriller and Tooth and Claw is a novel of manners…with dragons.

Twenty-one books. Twenty-one. I think I need to slow down just a wee bit. LOL. So. Have you gone as crazy as I have? What have you added to your shelves?

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

Mirrored – Alex Flinn

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Summary (from the cover flap):

Beauty is the key to everything. At least, that’s how it seems to Violet – ugly, bullied, and lonely. To be beautiful, in her eyes, is to have power and love. And when Kendra, the witch, teaches Violet how to use magic, she may finally get what she wants. For Celine, beautiful since birth, her looks have been a hindrance. She discovers that beauty is also a threat – especially to her stepmother, VIolet, who doesn’t want anyone sharing the attention she worked so hard to get and who will do anything to be the fairest of them all. But beauty isn’t only skin deep and love isn’t based on love alone. And though Violet and Celine may seem to be completely opposite, their lives are almost…Mirrored.

Review:

In my eyes there are two kinds of fairy tale retellings: the super literal kind that hits all the beats in all the expected ways (I felt Cinder fits this model) and then there are kinds like Mirrored: the influences are clearly there and the major beats are hit, but it’s told so well that sometimes you have to remind yourself of what the influence is because the author has done a great enough job that it genuinely feels fresh. You get to this point by making smart choices and knowing how much of the source to use to still feel like the story, but not just ripping it right out of the source.

For example of a smart choice: the story starts out by telling Violet’s story. We meet a lonely little girl, neglected by her mother and bullied by her classmates. We see how she makes a friend in a guy named Greg, and how Greg drops her in a hot second after a summer where puberty was kind enough to him to allow him to join the cool kids. Even though Kendra, the witch who teaches her to use her magic, points out that if he had loved her, he’d never have stopped being her friend, Violet doesn’t care. This it the last straw that proves to her that it’s not what inside what counts, only the outside. Kendra teaches her how to change her appearance to help distract her, but it’s by then it’s too late: she’s got this seething hatred for the woman who “steals” her guy and she goes to extreme lengths to get him back (and I’ll just say: this book actually gets impressive dark for a few moments too). It’s that point that the book shifts over to Celine’s point of view. I do have to say that Celine never quite comes off as sympathetic as Violet did (before she went crazy anyway): it’s just hard to believe that someone so drop dead gorgeous would really have that much trouble finding a group of friends. She’s smart, but not a total book worm, and she’s still pretty, and in our society, pretty will get you into a lot of doors. Regardless, Celine is likable, she is sympathetic, and you do want her to get the heck out of dodge as soon as you can, so brava there.

And then his leads to my second point of knowing how much source material to use: there are no seven dwarves. There is a family of seven people that happens to have some some little people in it in it, including our main male character Goose. Our “Prince” of the tale is a Justin Bieber analogue named Jonah Prince (and yes, the story goes for the technicality, but because of how it’s set up and the ending, it all totally works). Flinn even has the sense to subvert the ending of the tale which I am super glad for and was completely the right decision.

All told, Mirrored is a very enjoyable retelling and anyone who enjoys genre YA (fans or otherwise of retellings) should enjoy this book. It came out yesterday, so give it a look!

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts #1) – Stacia Kane

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Summary:

THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

Review:

So I decided to join up this cool (not-so-little) cheer/secret santa exchange called #otspsecretsister. Seeing that I’m a fan of Urban Fantasy, my sister included this book as part of her first package to me. She wanted to share it because it is a series she  loves, and she even went so far as to annotate the book with notes, a genuinely thoughtful touch! So what was my reaction?

I wish I liked it more.

To be sure, the premise is cool: the dead rose, and when the government and conventional faith could not resolve the crisis, the Church of Real Truth stepped in and took over. The Church is basically an atheistic organization that can weild magic and encourages its use while tamping down on various religions. While I do wish it had been more fleshed out, we got plenty to give the world a unique setting of its own. I also like that the creatures du jour are ghosts. As I’ve said before, I love me some vampires, but it is fun to mix it up.

But that’s about all I liked.

Meet Chess: She’s a drug addict and that’s about it. She has no other defining characteristics and we learn little else about her during our stay in her world, other than she was an orphan. Honestly, her drug use seems quirky more than anything and that bothers me. Drug use isn’t quirky. It’s debilitating. For as little as it impacts her, she might as well be smoking weed but she’s clearly doing some really duty stuff. And these drugs seem to have zero impact on her on. She’s not eating, she’s barely sleeping and no one notices that anything wrong? Like at all? She’s so high-functioning she might as well be sober. It ultimately adds nothing to the story – seriously, you could replace her drug addiction with a gambling one and it would have the same impact on her and on the story. That’s not a good thing. What’s worse, is that if you take away that part of her, there’s nothing left to define her. Addiction isn’t a quirk nor is it a character trait. Ultimately Kane just seems to use it as a lazy way to develop character and it did not work for me.

Beyond that, this book is unquestionably story (and not character) driven. I need the emotional investment to hold my interest, so the story just didn’t work for me. It was there. It was adequate, but it wasn’t anything particularly memorable or unique.

While I can see why a series like this would make it to series and why it has lasted as long (#6 is going to be released next year after a few year hiatus) it’s just not a series for me. Maybe if you like ghosts and don’t mind more plot driven stories it’d still be worth a look. I just personally think there are better Urban Fantasy series out there to recommend it.

Verdict: Skip It

Available Now