The Obsessive Bookseller | Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Books
Speculative Fiction Book Reviews by Niki Hawkes (for those in need of some seriously good reading). My website is where I review books (fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, and YA) talk about upcoming book releases, and host an online book club (Your Pick for Nik!).
The Overview: The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab. That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there. -Goodreads
Minimum Wage Magic was such a delightful read!
Even though it’s a spin-off of Aaron’s Heartstrikers series, it felt completely fresh, going a long way towards reinvigorating my love of this author (the last two books of HS were a bit too repetitive and drawn out for my tastes). I loved the premise – “cleaners” in the DFZ (magically altered Detroit) buy abandoned/reclaimed living units and turn a profit from what’s left inside. If any of you have spent entire days binge-watching Storage Wars (guilty), you’ll understand why this concept is incredible appealing to me lol.
I really liked Opal as the main character. She had a lot of YA fun infused into her personality, but remained “sophisticated” enough to pull off the lead in an urban fantasy. I especially loved her backstory and how pieces of it came together throughout the book. Discovering the many surprises was the highlight of the experience, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next.
Although this can definitely be read as a stand-alone, you’d be missing out on the cool magics behind the DFZ (a living entity in its own right), and a lot of the significance surrounding the dragons and how they affect the world around them. Heartstrikers gives MWM a lot more depth and robustness. However, without it, it’s still a fun, if slightly lighter read.
Series status: I waited an extra few months for the audio release (worth it), so I’m hoping this time next year I’ll have another installment to dive into. I loved it enough that I will be continuing as soon as the audio comes out.
Recommendations: within this world Rachel Aaron has created a fun fusion of genres – fantasy elements (dragons, magic), urban fantasy plot and settings, all told with an exuberant YA feel (without any unfortunate YA tropes or issues). If you’re sick of the same old stuff, let this author give you a breath of fresh air. :)
The Overview: 1986: Rebecca Essig leaves a slumber party early but comes home to a massacre—committed by her own parents. Only one of her siblings has survived. But as the tragic event unfolds, she begins to realize that other than a small army of six-year-olds, she is among very few survivors of a nationwide slaughter. The Reaping has begun.
Present day: Pregnant and on the run with a small band of compatriots, Delilah Marlow is determined to bring her baby into the world safely and secretly. But she isn’t used to sitting back while others suffer, and she’s desperate to reunite Zyanya, the cheetah shifter, with her brother and children. To find a way for Lenore the siren to see her husband. To find Rommily’s missing Oracle sisters. To unify this adopted family of fellow cryptids she came to love and rely on in captivity. But Delilah is about to discover that her role in the human versus cryptid war is destined to be much larger—and more dangerous—than she ever could have imagined. -Goodreads
The Menagerie Trilogy has been a highlight of my reading year. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever read. Rachel Vincent’s writing always pulls me in (her Shifters series is particularly engrossing), and if anything, she’s only gotten stronger.
While Fury had some of my favorite scenes from the whole trilogy (some truly 5-star moments), it didn’t quite deliver the completely satisfying conclusion I’d been hoping for.
My thoughts on Fury are kind of segmented along with the plot. There’s a dual storyline going on – one in the present (following our main characters), and one in the past. Each thread had a different impact on my overall impression of the book. I’ll talk about the past one first:
Omg – so good! The series has been teasing about what happened with the surrogates in the 80s, and this perspective provided a lot of the answers I’d been looking for, doing so with a riveting narrative that had me glued to the pages. These sections were well spaced between the main story, and the pacing within each one was absolutely perfect! As much as I enjoy reading about Delilah and her crew, I found myself eager to get back to these passages to see what would happen next. It was easily my favorite component to this book (and maybe my favorite of the series), earning a solid 5 stars for execution and that amazing can’t-put-it-down factor.
Then we bounce back to the current timeline POV, and my feelings are a little mixed. I think there was awesome advancement with the emotional states of the characters, and a few moments that will shred your heart… but overall I think the story was just okay. Not a lot happened at first, and when the action finally got going, it was a little underdeveloped and abrupt. I would’ve preferred at least another 10 pages at the end to really flush out the ultimate climax of the trilogy because I think it needed more of a moment (especially since the past timeline set such a precedence with perfect pacing and immersion).
In addition, I still have a few burning questions that I don’t feel were answered to my satisfaction (I’m trying to deal, but it bugs me that I may never know some of the things). Just enough info was given for me to infer some answers, which was probably the intended point, but I wish I knew emphatically. This section is a solid 3-stars (I liked it) rating because characters were interesting (as always), and the things that did happen were good continuations to the story (and I’m not mad at the ending, I just wanted a bit more).
Overall, despite my desire for a little more clarity and expansion, I still count this as one of the more interesting books I’ve read this year. Don’t take my criticisms too much to heart because the parts of this story that really worked for me, I loved with an unparalleled ferocity.
Recommendations: the Menagerie Trilogy stands out as one of the most unique stories I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend it to readers in the mood for something immersive and unique. It’s not without flaws, but the awesome bits more than compensate.
I would like to thank Harlequin – Mira, Rachel Vincent, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Fury!
The Overview: In steam age America, men, monsters, machines, and magic battle for the same scrap of earth and sky. In this chaos, bounty hunter Cedar Hunt rides, cursed by lycanthropy and carrying the guilt of his brother’s death. Then he’s offered hope that his brother may yet survive. All he has to do is find the Holder: a powerful device created by mad devisers-and now in the hands of an ancient Strange who was banished to walk this Earth. In a land shaped by magic, steam, and iron, where the only things a man can count on are his guns, gears, and grit, Cedar will have to depend on all three if he’s going to save his brother and reclaim his soul once and for all…-Goodreads
There’s really no other way to sum it up: Dead Iron was weird.
I’ve been dabbling in clockwork & steampunk lately, and Dead Iron comparatively did a great job creating a unique overall atmosphere in line with that theme. As a general rule, I don’t have a lot of patience with bizarre, but it was balanced enough here that I was still able to enjoy the story and appreciate the elements.
The story bounced around between several POVs, and while I liked all the characters, I struggled to find a real connection to any of them. Possibly because their personal conflicts were each so off the wall that it was impossible to focus on anything else (the side characters were even more odd). I needed at least one of them to have a relatable problem, then I would’ve been more invested.
That said, I liked the basic writing (on par with my limited but good experiences with Devon Monk), and appreciated how well the words flowed off the page. Regardless of my preferential issues with story components, the writing was good enough to solidify my resolve to read more from this author.
Overall, I’m left with a few more positive vibes than negatives, but I find myself not eager to dive into the next book (I think I’m worried I’ve seen everything it has to offer already and will just get bored with the rest of it). It was memorable enough that I don’t think I’ll forget key components or characters any time soon, so I might bump it back down the list and start a few others before continuing.
Recommendations: as I mentioned, if you like steampunk and clockwork, this is a great pick. Bonus points if you also like the Wild West, bizarre scenes, and an urban fantasy writing style. It perhaps might have been a bit too weird for my tastes, but if you’re really in the mood for something out of the box, here you go…
The Madison Avery Trilogy
by Kim Harrison
Rating: 2/5 stars
If you can overlook a few flaws, the Madison Avery trilogy is a fun, light YA read.
However, I had a difficult time following my own advice. I have a lot of nitpicky things to talk about in this review and unfortunately, not a lot of positive takeaways.
Once Dead, Twice Shy, the first book, had a few glaring weaknesses – the most prominent being the main character’s propensity for making bad decisions. I don’t mind it when characters make mistakes – flaws and an occasional lax in judgement can go a long way in making a story feel authentic. However, I take exception when every single decision the character makes goes against common sense (and against advice from other characters actively stating it’s a bad idea). Thus the pattern would go: 1. Bad decision made 2. Fallout from the bad decision made 3. The character saying “I’m sorry” and then moving on to the next bad decision.
I lost count of the number of times the character said “I’m sorry” throughout the first book and got really tired of the same spiel over and over again. And what’s worse, those tendencies and attitudes were evident in all of the other characters as well… which I think equals out to a story cluster-you-know-what where perhaps if the characters weren’t getting in their own way, they could’ve focused on adding substance. I think had the book been longer (allowing me more time to get irritated), my rating would’ve dropped proportionately. As it was, the short length actually worked in its favor.
Here’s what bothered me most about that, though: the character never used those failures to grow. There was no reflection on what she could’ve done better (other than the self-blame and apologizing), and I see that as a missed opportunity for more depth. She did use those moments to solidify some convictions, so I guess that’s something, but overall I kept craving more introspection. Incidentally, my biggest negative takeaway from the entire series is that Madison Avery’s character was a flat-lined consistency through the whole thing (and not just because she was dead) and all the focus was on the external conflicts. I should lighten the blow a bit by saying I did actually like her character profile, I just wish she’d given me an opportunity to feel something for her.
The external conflict/focus of the series took a while to become clear. There were moments in the second book where it started budding into something really satisfying, but every time it gained momentum, the focus would shift and it would get ignored for a while. I wonder if part of that was to save the “big profound moment” for the end of the series, but for me, by the time it got there I found my enthusiasm in the pits because it danced around it for so long.
This is one of those cases where my initial rating was going to be a 3 stars (I liked it), but after writing my review and really analyzing how I felt about it, I downgraded to a 2 stars (it was just okay) rating. Does anyone else let their word vomit help solidify their opinions? It doesn’t happen often to me, but when it does, I run with it. Keep in mind that I’ve been unusually harsh on YA lately and had I read these when they first came out, I likely would not have been so critical.
Recommendations: this YA paranormal story is definitely more suited towards younger readers. It doesn’t have a very strong romance angle, which might be perfect for a few readers tired of the same old tropes.
The Overview: It’s the most anticipated reality television event of the season: three spiritualists gathered together in one house to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. For celebrity medium Jaime Vegas, it is to be her swan song—one last publicity blast for a celebrity on the wrong side of forty. But unlike her colleagues, who are more show than substance, Jaime is the real thing. Reluctant to upstage her fellow spiritualists, Jaime tries to suppress her talents, as she has done her entire life. But there is something lurking in the maze of gardens behind the house: a spirit without a voice. And it won’t let go until somehow Jaime hears its terrible story. For the first time in her life, Jaime Vegas understands what humans mean when they say they are haunted. Distraught, Jaime looks to fellow supernatural Jeremy Danvers for help. As the touches and whispers from the garden grow more frantic, Jaime and Jeremy embark on an investigation into a Los Angeles underworld of black magic and ritual sacrifice. When events culminate in a psychic showdown, Jaime must use the darkest power she has to defeat a shocking enemy—one whose malicious force comes from the last realm she expected... -Goodreads
Color me surprised – I think this was my favorite installment since the first book!
I wasn’t even sure I liked Jamie (the POV) when I met her early on in the series. She’s a slightly off-beat character who wasn’t introduced in the most flattering light, but as the series progressed, she’s slowly become one of the most interesting characters of the lot. I think the fact that she started out slightly unlikable has made it more profound for me to have such a turnaround of opinion. It also brings in some real-world considerations (something I don’t usually endorse while reading, lol) about the pitfalls of judging someone before you really get to know them. This might sound too sappy, but my favorite thing about Jamie is how compassionate she is – she’s always the first to jump up and offer help. And what I didn’t like about her at first is now the thing I appreciate most – that she unapologeticly dances to her own beat and owns it. :)
And then there’s the added benefit of her story containing my favorite love interest to date…
Another reason I liked No Humans Involved so much is my general interest in anyone practicing a skill at a high level. Jamie’s particular talent (necromancy) was a huge focal point of the book and I really enjoyed seeing the depth of her knowledge on it. She managed to show off what she can do without ever actually “showing off,” making her all the more interesting. The interactions between her and the other “necros” were particularly satisfying and comprised my favorite scenes from the book.
Series Status: Overall, No Humans Involved was a huge success and completely reinvigorated the series for me. The next book is already on deck. :)
Recommendations: The Women of the Otherworld series may have its ups and downs, but the high moments by far outweigh the lows. If you’re a fan of the genre, this is definitely one I’d recommend as a “staple” read. Each book is so different, you’re bound to find at least a couple of winners, no matter your specific urban fantasy tastes. :)
The Overview: Rose Drayton lives on the Edge, between the world of the Broken (where people drive cars, shop at Wal-Mart, and magic is a fairy tale) and the Weird (where blueblood aristocrats rule, changelings roam, and the strength of your magic can change your destiny). Only Edgers like Rose can easily travel from one world to the next, but they never truly belong in either. Rose thought if she practiced her magic, she could build a better life for herself. But things didn’t turn out how she planned, and now she works a minimum wage, off the books job in the Broken just to survive. Then Declan Camarine, a blueblood noble straight out of the deepest part of the Weird, comes into her life, determined to have her (and her power). But when a terrible danger invades the Edge from the Weird, a flood of creatures hungry for magic, Declan and Rose must work together to destroy them—or they’ll devour the Edge and everyone in it. -Goodreads
Ilona Andrews strikes again!! I’ve fangirled so hard lately for these authors that I’ll keep this one brief. On the Edge was an excellent first book in the Edge series and there wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about it. The concept was unique (where the Edge is a strip of land between conflicting worlds), the magic system was fun (different types of magic from shapeshifting to reanimation), the characters were a delight (as always), and the plot was fast paced and exciting. I found myself addictively drawn to this story, and I love it when a book can compel me to choose it over other things. Some plot elements took a while to get me fully on board, but once they did I was sold.
I recognize that Ilona Andrews books all have similar components, but that doesn’t seem to be bothering me. The things they repeat are the things I love the most (fantastic argument scenes, great somewhat cheeky side characters, a rich albeit cranky love interest). While repeating elements might be a criticism for any other author(s), in this case it’s one of the things I love most about them – I always know what I’m in for when I pick up one of their works and they’re perfect for when I’m craving the exact brand of what they’re offering.
Overall, On the Edge was a success, and I’m especially excited to see where the story goes next because it has only just scratched the surface of all the fun world building elements thus far.
Series status: this first book was so good, it launched the second to the top of my priority list.
Recommendations: On the Edge was a delightful read, and I recommend it for both urban fantasy and paranormal romance readers. Admittedly I might be looking at this book through the rose-colored glasses I received for joining the Ilona Andrews Die-Hard fan club (not a real thing), because at this point it feels like they can do no wrong. So while I can’t promise you’ll love it as much as I did, I can for sure guarantee it’s a fun read. :)
Release Date: August 28, 2018 [This date is subject to change]
The Overview: Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She’s made friends and enemies. She’s found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be. Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate’s doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up. Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle. But she has to try. -Goodreads
Considering how hard I’ve been fangirling these last few months over all things Ilona Andrews, it’s no surprise my most anticipated release of Fall 2018 is Magic Triumphs, the Kate Daniels finale! I’m so sad it’s going to be over, but I take comfort in the spinoffs and various other amazing projects these authors are working on. I don’t even need to read the finale to tell you that Kate Daniels has already beat out all competition to become my favorite urban fantasy series. And to think I almost didn’t read past the first book!