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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

REVIEW: Urban Enemies (anthology)

*Thank you to Netgalley and Gallery Books for an ARC*

Expected publication: August 1, 2017

Villains have all the fun—everyone knows that—and this anthology takes you on a wild ride through the dark side! The top villains from sixteen urban fantasy series get their own stories—including the baddies of New York Times bestselling authors Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne, Kelley Armstrong, Seanan McGuire, and Jonathan Maberry.

The full anthology features stories by Jim Butcher (the Dresden Files), Kelley Armstrong (the Cainsville and Otherworld series), Seanan McGuire (October Daye), Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles), Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger), Lilith Saintcrow (Jill Kismet), Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville), Joseph Nassise (Templar Chronicles), C.E. Murphy (Walker Papers), Steven Savile (Glasstown), Caitlin Kittredge (the Hellhound Chronicles and the Black London series), Jeffrey Somers (The Ustari Cycle), Sam Witt (Pitchfork County), Craig Schaefer (Daniel Faust), Jon F. Merz (Lawson Vampire), Faith Hunter (Jane Yellowrock), and Diana Pharaoh Francis (Horngate Witches).

I enjoyed the tone of each story and the fact that Urban Enemies provides a different take on the other anthologies published in the urban fantasy genre. Typically these short stories focus on the much beloved heroes of this narrative; however, even the Big Bad needs a moment to shine.

Highlights for me were the stories by Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne, Kelley Armstrong and Jonathan Maberry since I am currently most invested in these series. However, there were some strong showing by Seanan McGuire, Carrie Vaughn and Faith Hunter. 

Overall, a recommended read for fans of the genre and these particular writers.

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


Friday, June 2, 2017

REVIEW: Menagerie & Spectacle by Rachel Vincent

When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger's Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she's forced to "perform" in town after town.

Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, discovering a strength and a purpose she never knew existed. Menagerie is a powerfully creative narrative that will enthrall urban fantasy readers for its ingenuity and ability to illicit powerful emotions. As a reader, I was so drawn into the story and the premise, that I felt the same apprehension, despair and rage as the characters. I worried for their well being and outcome.

Menagerie certainly isn't the typical entry to the urban fantasy genre. It is full of surprises as well as thought provoking themes that echo significant crisis in our own human history.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars


*Thanks to Netgalley and Harlequin MIRA for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

When their coup of Metzger's Menagerie is discovered, Delilah and her fellow cryptids find their newly won freedom brutally stripped away as they are sold into The Savage Spectacle, a private collection of "exotic wildlife." Specializing in ruthless cryptid cage matches, safari-style creature hunts and living party favors, the Spectacle's owner, Willem Vandekamp, caters to the forbidden fetishes of the wealthy and powerful. At the Spectacle, any wish can be granted—for the right price.

But Vandekamp's closely guarded client list isn't the only secret being kept at the Spectacle. Beneath the beauty and brutality of life in the collection lie much darker truths, and no one is more determined than Delilah to strip the masks from the human monsters and drag all dark things into the light.

Spectacle is a spellbinding read and in a class all its own in the urban fantasy genre. I stayed on pins and needles throughout the narrative--angry, frustrated and distraught over the atrocities Delilah and her allies have to endure at the hands of Vandekamp and his staff.

While not overtly graphic, the themes of social injustice, discrimination, slavery, forced prostitution, abortion and mental, physical and emotion abuse are not for the feint of heart, so readers should be prepared for the emotional upheaval that not only entices them to engage in the story but also to feel all the feels.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars                                     

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

REVIEW: The Innkeeper Chronicles Vol 1 by Ilona Andrews

*Thanks to Netgalley and Subterranean Press for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*


Meet Dina Demille, a nice Texas gal who runs a seemingly ordinary, quaint B&B. But Dina’s inn is a magic, thinking entity; her fluffy Shih-tzu, Beast really is a beast; and her guests are the kind that no one on earth is supposed to know about: guests like a dethroned galactic tyrant with a massive bounty on her head, the Lord Marshal of a powerful vampire clan, and a displaced—and superhot—alpha-strain werewolf.

So don’t expect a normal stay…and don’t stand too close, or you may be collateral damage….

In Clean Sweep, Dina—with the unwanted assistance of newcomer (and alpha werewolf) Sean Evans and Arland, a cosmic vampire soldier—takes on an extraterrestrial killing machine that could destroy her Inn, her neighbors, and everything she holds dear.

I really enjoyed this book.  The Andrews husband/wife writing team do what they do best, build a fast paced, detailed and adventurous world filled to the brim with action, tension, humor and memorable character.  I love Dina and the other characters for their diversity as much as the snarky humor these authors do so well.

While this is a contained story-line, readers are introduced to enough continuing questions to want to come back for more!  I also cannot speak highly enough of the audio narration as performed by Renee Raudman.  She does a stellar job as she has will all the other Andrews audio titles.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sweep in Peace
, finds Dina hosting an anything-but peace summit between three warring intergalactic species; Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char. 

This book was a hoot! I loved the premise and all the details of trying to make the peace summit successful despite some big hurdles.  What I also loved was the crossover from The Edge series and seeing some well loved characters mix with Dina.  However, for me, the best part was Orro, the high strung and masterful chef, who has been disgraced following the poisoning of a diplomat.  I adore him to the moon and back!

Overall, some great twists and surprises to bring back key characters.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

One Fell Sweep sends Dina to the galaxy’s worst penal colony to rescue her sister; and back home to fend off a clan of assassins in pursuit, all while saving a guest’s civilization from annihilation…and searching for her missing parents.

Another excellently plotted adventure with good romantic tension, action, and humor.  I enjoyed the addition of Dina's sister and niece as well as the resurgence of characters and some unexpected twists. Dina is making strides toward finding companionship and answers to her parents' disappearance. 

Fantastic performance in audio again by Renee Raudman.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

REVIEW: Witches of Echo Park (Books 2 and 3) by Amber Benson

The Last Dream Keeper is the second book in Benson's Witches of Echo Park trilogy. Lyse MacAllister never anticipated her visit to Echo Park would make her the master of a witches coven. She struggles to form bonds and to embrace her powers just as a dark force rises. The Flood--A group of fanatics intent on bringing about the end of times has invaded the witches Council—but the Council is turning a blind eye to the danger growing in its midst.

Only one witch is prophesied to be able to stop the encroaching darkness, leaving Lyse and her her coven of blood sisters to protect her at any cost.

Highlights for me include the multiple POV chapters and a uniquely intriguing plot. I did feel as if there were some choppy transitions due to these shifting POVs. As a reader, I think I would have connected more if there was more focus on just one narrator and more development of the villain.

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

*Thank to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

In this final installment to the trilogy, magic has been loosed upon the world, with the consequences putting those magically inclined in jeopardy as well as the rest of humanity.

Lyse MacAllister used to be like everyone else, blissfully ignorant of magic. However, that was before her Aunt Eleanora died, leaving her to lead the Echo Park coven. Now she finds herself in the middle of a war with The Flood, anti-magic zealots and at odds with her blood sisters.

To save the world, those she loves, and herself, Lyse must come to terms with her magical abilities and figure out a way to regain the trust of her friends and family. 

Overall, I enjoyed this conclusion to the series. The pacing and storytelling were solid and I didn't not feel as if the transitions from chapter to chapter were as choppy as in The Last Dream Keeper.  I particularly enjoyed the ending and its impact on the overall story and character.

Benson continues to surprise and delight me as an author. She's truly talented as a writer and generally a pretty cool person. She was kind enough to Skype with our library book club for the release of The Witches of Echo Park (despite being very ill).  If you have not read this series or her Calliope Reaper-Jones series, I highly recommend them.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 20, 2017

REVIEW: Dating You, Hating You by Christina Lauren

*Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

Expected publication: June 6, 2017


All’s fair in love and work. 

Dating You, Hating You is the first standalone novel by writing duo Christina Lauren. The novel is a contemporary romance that is as sexy as fan would expect but also filled to the brim with humor and sassy dialogue that will keep readers hooked from start to finish. 

Despite the odds against them from an embarrassing meet-awkward at a mutual friend’s Halloween party, Carter and Evie immediately hit it off. Even the realization that they’re both high-powered agents at competing firms in Hollywood isn’t enough to squash the fire.

But when their two agencies merge—causing the pair to vie for the same position—all bets are off. What could have been a beautiful, blossoming romance turns into an all-out war of sabotage. Carter and Evie are both thirtysomething professionals—so why can’t they act like it?

As I reader, I nearly gobbled up the book in one sitting. The story pulls you in based on the the characters and plot. There is a little War of the Roses mixed with Office Space. While both characters have their flaws, and I wanted to smack Carter a few times, I really enjoyed the overall narrative.  As a duo, the writers explore character voice, POV and relationship tensions well. 

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: Firestorm by Nancy Holzner

*Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC*

When Vicky allowed an ancient goddess to possess her, she had no regrets—it was the only way to protect the people she loved. But now Ceridwen, locked in a power struggle with the Hellion that long ago claimed Vicky with its mark, refuses to leave. Both beings believe controlling Vicky is the key to winning the coming war for the human realm.

Despite the forces pulling her apart, Vicky needs all her wits about her. The demons of Hell are growing bold and she can barely keep up with the attacks plaguing the city: sirens in the Mystic River, goblins snarling traffic on Storrow Drive, imps tearing the gold from the State House dome. As the signs of war multiply and Hell threatens to overrun its boundaries, Vicky finds herself torn between her duty to save the world and her desire to save something of herself.

The series ends with a strong finish. Vicky faces her literal and figurative demons to not only save herself, but those she love and pretty much the whole world. She does it with her expected humor and some assistance from her allies. The ending is appropriate and satisfying if a bit bittersweet since I always feel this way at the end of a series.

I commend Holzner for her writing and determination to publish this book despite personal tragedy that threatened to keep her from ever writing this final installment in the first place. I think her husband would be proud of her accomplishment.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 27, 2017

REVIEW: Dogs of War by Jonathan Maberry

*Thanks to Netgalley & St. Martin's Griffin for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

Robots are no longer science fiction. Autonomous, programmed to react like animals: fast, relentless, deadly. From microscopic nanobots to massive self-guided aircraft. This technology is here, it’s accessible, and it’s dangerous. What’s even scarier is that almost anyone can get their hands on it.

A freelance terrorist uses the latest generation of robot dogs to deliver WMDs into cities across America. Sophisticated military weapons systems turn on their human masters. A technological apocalypse is coming and we may be too late to stop it.

Joe Ledger and a newly rebuilt Department of Military Sciences square off against this new and terrible threat.

Dogs of War is another pulse pounding, action packed bio-terrorism thriller in the Joe Ledger series. What is not to love:

NANOBOTS!

RABIES TURNED BIO-WEAPON!

EXPLOSIONS!

FIGHT SCENES!

DARK, SARCASTIC HUMOR!

CREEPY VILLAINS!

I loved everything about the book, both in print and in audio (seriously Ray Porter is a narrative genius!). Predator One and Kill  Switch were heavy and the fallout for the characters is still very real. None of them are on their game when this new threat comes into play.

Maberry is a fantastic action writer and excels at pacing, character building, dark humor and just general great storytelling. His villains are legendary as are his heroes. My only problem now is that I've gobbled up this new release and have to wait for another!

Final rating: ALL THE STARS!!!

Monday, April 17, 2017

REVIEW: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane explores the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter, who has been adopted by an American couple from California.

Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea as well as strict Akha traditions and superstitions. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever this way for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

This is the defining moment of Li-yan's life. While she attempts to adhere to tradition and some semblance of 'normal' happiness, fate intervenes and leads her on a dynamic journey beyond her village and into the modern world.  Her narrative is intertwined with vignettes regarding the adolescence of her daughter and the beautifully written way in which tea binds them together.

I was mesmerized by the story, especially the harshness of the traditional rituals observed by the Akha and Li-yan's slow metamorphosis as she attempts to honor her origins but embrace the modern world and many of its practices. This is a compelling story not only of culture but of love, family, identity and responsibility.

While the ending is beautiful and more than fulfilling, I found myself not wanting the story of these two women to end.  I wholeheartedly recommend the audio as narrated by Ruthie Ann Miles and Kimiko Glenn. Their performances are truly engaging.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars