Category Archives: books

Long Past Dues (The Unorthodox Chronicles 2) by James J Butcher

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

I really liked the first book in the series, so I picked up the next installment with a lot of trepidation. Too many times I was left disappointed by the direction in which authors took their series after the opening book. I am glad to say that it is not the case with the Unorthodox Chronicles. This book delivers everything I liked in the first one and ramps it up a notch.

We begin our story about six months after the events of the last book, and Grimsby finally got his dream of becoming an Auditor. Only the job isn’t exactly what he had dreamed it to be, since he is stuck doing house calls and babysitting various Unorthodox whom the Department wants to keep an eye on. It’s boring and mind-numbing, and makes Grimsby wonder if his life in the fast food industry was any better.

One of the reasons he is stuck with rookie jobs is because Mayflower, his partner, hasn’t shown up for work in six months. And doesn’t plan on showing up any time soon… That is until Grimsby does something desperate and steals a case intended for another Auditor. A case that has a lot of similarities with one that Mayflower encountered over 20 years ago. A case that Mayflower thought was closed, since the main perpetrator had her brains blown out…

This was a roller-coaster  of a story. So many things happen, and the action keeps moving along. It was also a better plotted story than the first book, in my opinion. Even though there was a lot of action, all of it served to further the story and move it along, and we got some nice character development throughout as well.

I admit that Grimsby can be a little infuriating in his absolute lack of faith in himself. His self-esteem is lower than the location of Underton, and that place is buried deep under Boston. But even though I found his mopping around and self-doubt ratter irritating at times, I also understood where it was coming from. All his life he’d felt like he has less than everyone else. Because of his scars interfering with his magic, because of his inability to learn any other spells than the 3 he knows. And when Mansgraf kicked him out of the Auditor program, it only reinforced his belief that he was a failed witch and a failed human being. 

So I understand that he feels like he didn’t earn his badge so to say, that he is an impostor in ill-fitting clothes just playing at being an Auditor. I like that by the end of this book, he’d made peace with that idea, and decided that he will be the best Auditor he can be with the abilities he’s given. Granted, by then, he has bigger issues to deal with than his self-doubt, but it’s still a nice piece of character growth.

I loved that Grimsby stays true to his core believes – that violence, especially the terminal kind that Mayflower is so good at, is a last resort. Or that you should always try to do your best to help your friends. He demonstrates that over and over again when he helps Wudge, then does everything to save both Wudge and Mayflower from Mother Frost, or even when he rescues the familiar. Speaking of Mansgraf’s familiar, I wonder if it will have a role to play in future books? 

We learn a lot about Rayne in this book as well, and I’m sad that things happened the way they did. Because both her and Grimsby could have been the friend each of them needed, but that is probably not in the cards anymore. I would like to know what is that birthright she worked so hard to suppress all her life. I’m sure we will hear more of that in the next books.

As it stands, I am definitely eagerly awaiting book 3, even though it probably won’t come out until next year.

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dead Man’s Hand (The Unorthodox Chronicles 1) by James J Butcher

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

I think I found a new urban fantasy series to fangirl about! I picked it up on a whim because I liked to cover. Oh, and I had no clue that the author was Jim Butcher’s son. Though I must admit that I was never a huge fan of Harry Dresden, though I read maybe 4 or 5 books in the series. I might even revisit that particular series someday…

Anyway, I came to this book unbiased and without trying to compare the creation of the son to the works of the father. And I must admit that I really loved it!

The world is very interesting. We have the Usuals, or people like you and me, plain Jane humans, and we have the Unorthodox. Who can be magic users (or witches), as well as other magical creatures that we heard of in legends and fairy tales (and some we’ve never heard of). Some can pass for human with relative ease and managed to build almost normal lives in our world. Some… not so much. All of them are controlled and regulated by the Bureau of Unorthodox Affairs, who acts like law enforcement, but also a social services organization. 

Now let’s talk about Grimsby, our protagonist. He is a bumbling, stumbling bundle of insecurities and misery, but I must admit that I really liked him. Because he has good reasons to be miserable and resentful, and to wallow in that misery from time to time. Life really did a number on him. He is not a hero. He is, most of the time, a coward that hates conflict and tries to avoid it at any cost. 

But despite all that, he has a strong backbone and a moral compass. He is willing to bend and let a lot of things slide, but when it comes to something that he holds dear, or that he thinks is plain wrong, he will stand his ground, even despite the danger to himself. He is also very loyal to his friends, probably because he doesn’t have that many. In fact, by the end of this book, he really only has one.

I also liked that despite his limitations, he finds new and ingenious ways to combine the three spells he knows. And even though those are only 3 spells, he mastered them to perfection. Grimsby might not be particularly powerful, but he is very tenacious and capable of innovative thinking, because he doesn’t have pure magical strength to rely on.

I also like his grudging partnership with the Huntsman, because despite the odds, they make a really good team. The Huntsman constantly pushes Grimsby to get out of his comfort zone, especially if that zone is made of self-pity and woe against the unfairness of the universe. And Grimsby acts as a tempering influence and a moral compass for a man who has done some terrible things in the line of duty and often won’t hesitate to do even more horrible things if needed. Even if he would probably regret it afterwards.

It was interesting to see the Huntsman go from looking at Grimsby first with suspicion, then with derision, then with grudging respect. And they did get to the bottom of things in the end and got the bad guy. 

I liked that the main storyline is resolved by the end of this book, but there are other tantalizing bits of story left dangling in front of the reader to entice me to pick up the next book. I want to know how the main villain managed to make so many human familiars without anyone noticing.  I want to know who Blackskull was when it was alive. And I want to know if Grimsby will every manage to control his magic even despite the scars. So I will definitely be continuing with this series. 

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

What Song the Sirens Sang (Gideon Sable 3) by Simon R Green

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Stars: 3 out of 5

I think I am getting a bit disappointed with this series. It’s like the author follows exactly the same blueprint for every book in it. There is a big heist to be accomplished and a big bad horrible person to be robbed (because our protagonists are good guys and only rob those who had it coming). So Gideon puts his crew together, makes a plan, and they merrily waltz into danger and impossible odds… and everything turns out just fine in the end. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s still a fun ride. The books are action-packed and not awfully long, so they make for a fast read and don’t overstay their welcome. Problem is, there isn’t much substance there either. 

My biggest problem is that we are on book three of the series, but we’ve had zero character development from Gideon or Annie Anybody for that matter. We’ve seen other members of their crew change and evolve (and fall again, as is the case of the Damned in this book), but the protagonist and his girlfriend? Nada. 

We still have no clue who the protagonist was before he stole the name and fame of Gideon Sable. We still don’t know Annie’s backstory and what made her feel like she needs to be anyone other than herself. Heck, we didn’t even learn much more about their relationship prior to the protagonist becoming Gideon. And when they happen to ask each other a question about those times, they just gloss it over, deflect, or say “I don’t want to talk about it.” Well, it’s all good and jolly, but as a reader, I can’t connect to a character that doesn’t evolve, or who never shows me what makes him or her tick.

But there is still a lot of fun to be had with this world. It’s fantastical and slightly horrifying. I loved the Low Road where the souls of the Dead travel to their next destination. It wasn’t at all what I pictured it to be. The author also has a knack of introducing awesome new side characters. It’s a pity that most of the time they outshine the protagonist at every turn.

As it stands, I might give this series one more try and pick up the next book, but if we don’t get any character development for Gideon or Annie, I might throw the gauntlet. 

Wanderlust (Sirantha Jax 2) by Ann Aguirre

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Stars: 3 out of 5.

I liked this book better than the first one, probably because I was already somewhat familiar with the world, so I wasn’t as lost. Plus, the story progresses from the events of the last book, and our protagonist’s actions have some very real consequences.

I am less annoyed with Sirantha in this book as well. She is still an emotional wreak, but she seems more self-aware at least. And she is finally becoming a lot less selfish then she was in the first book. I think she finally realized that she isn’t just a jumper anymore who has no other responsibilities than to get the ship from point A to point B through Grimspace without loosing anyone in the process. Even if in the beginning she only accepted the mission of ambassador to get off planet (and frankly because she didn’t have two coins left to rub together), by the end of the book she started taking this mission very seriously.

I think seeing the Morgut infested space station had a lot to do with that change of heart. You can’t really remain selfish when you realize that there is a species out there who thinks humans are delicious, and destroying the Conglomerate just rang the dinner bell. Honestly, I think the segment of them exploring that space station was the best part of the book. It was scary and intense, and reminded me of some of the best space horror titles I read this year.

I still have issues with Sirantha’s and March’s relationship though. It feels very unhealthy to me. I mean, they claim to love each other unconditionally. To always be there for each other and all that stuff. Yet, they can’t talk things through when they hit a difficult bump on the road and get their feelings hurt. Or just plain abandon the other because someone else needs them more. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but I honestly still can’t understand March’s decision on Lachion. Probably because I didn’t give a flying fig about the war between the clans on that planet. Honestly, that part of the book was a slog to read. 

What I am saying is that I don’t understand why the author keeps pushing these two characters together when they are obviously toxic for each other. If that’s her idea of a perfect relationship, I will have a problem with the rest of the books. I like my relationship on the non-abusive spectrum. 

Oh, and the whole subplot about Jax’s mother was very far-fetched in my opinion. Are you honestly expecting me to believe that in all those years Sirantha was growing up, she never noticed that her mother was at the head of a crime syndicate? Right…

However, I am interested enough in the worldbuilding to give the next book a try. If nothing else, I really want to know how they will resolve the Morgut problem. I am also interested to learn a bit more about Grimspace, and why Sirantha can sense it even when not jacked up.

Greymist Fair by Francesca Zappia

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

Now this is a fairy tale retelling done right! It doesn’t try to outdo the original, just takes that inspiration and creates something new and very readable with it.

I loved the village of Greymist Fair and the atmosphere of mystery and even foreboding the author created for this place and the villagers. Imagine a village in the middle of a dense forest with only one road leading to it and back out. That’s already claustrophobic enough. But now add to that the fact that there are rumored to be monsters in the forest, and those who wander under the trees rarely come back alive. Oh, and that road to the village? It can take hours, or it can take days to travel, and some travelers never find Greymist Fair at all.

The author managed to convey the magical feeling that I absolutely love in fairy tales, and she also understands the cardinal rule of those tales – no matter how fantastical the world or the events happening in it, there must be internal rules to that world that everything follows. And if those rules are broken, there must be an explanation as to why and how. Like the ever-flowering tree branch that protects the wearer from Death, or the shoes instilled with magic that allow the person to outrun Death and its wargs.

The characters are less important here than the story they are part of, but I still had fun following along with them. The story is also not told in chronological order, with subsequent stories often going back in time and shedding more light on events mentioned or implied in previous stories, but the whole paints a fascinating canvas of a village at war with Death, even if the villagers don’t realize that. See, the forest around the village is Death’s domain, and so was this village at one point, until something happened and Death was denied entrance.

I loved the fact that this conflict was resolved not with violence, but with forgiveness and acceptance. The main message of this story is that we are all social animals, and that even entities like Death can be lonely and long for companionship. And that it is always better to show acceptance and love to others instead of prejudice and violence. That’s a message we should hear more often today.

It’s a well written and heartfelt story with a beautiful message, and I would highly recommend it.

PS: I received an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Night-Bird’s Feather by Jenna Katerin Moran

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Stars: 1.5 out of 5.

Well, this book was a big disappointment, to tell you the truth. I love fairy tales. I love modern retellings of said fairy tales, if they are well done. And that’s a big IF. Especially when it comes to retellings of Slavic tales, because they are near and dear to my heart. I grew up with them.

Unfortunately, we don’t really have a retelling here of anything. Honestly, if you had switched the Russian names of the main characters to typical English names, the story wouldn’t have changed much at all. Peppering the story with typical Russian or Ukrainian dishes or things doesn’t build an exotic atmosphere, like the author probably intended. It just served to irritate me.

The biggest problem with this book though is that it has no soul. Sure, the author can write pretty sentences, but that isn’t enough to make a good story. The characters feel flat and one-dimensional. Even Valentina, our protagonist whom we spend most of the book with, is extremely boring. I don’t know what makes her tick. I don’t know what her dreams and fears are. 

The author tells us she wants to kill the Headmaster of the Bleak Academy because he took something from her, but what he took is described so vaguely, that I still don’t understand what the big deal is. So you are made of blood and bones, and you can hear your heart beat. Big deal.

Same goes for the story of her falling in love… with a man she never spoke to, just saw in passing and heard play the piano. Sure, the author tells us that, but there is not a shred of feeling of it in the actual story. There is no feeling in the story at all, to tell you the truth. It’s all very dry and soulless, if prettily written.

My other problem is that this world makes no sense. The author mentions that this was the land of eternal darkness until Valentina brought the sun to it and created the separation between night and day. Okay, I can get on board with that, but explain to me how this works? How do people grow crops in darkness? How do they survive without night and day? How do they travel about? Where do they get all the resources necessary to light their town? How do animals and trees survive there? 

See, real fairy tales always have an inner logic and a rigid set of rules, no matter how fantastical those rules seem compared to our world. And characters, monsters, and even natural events follow those rules. In this book though, the rules are never explained, so the reasons behind why some things happen are very nebulous and often make no sense. If I can’t make sense of that’s happening, I won’t be invested in the story.

To summarize, don’t bother with this book if you like fairy tale retellings. There are much better books out there. Like Greymist Fair by Francesca Zappia (sponsored link), for example.

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Ghoul Vendetta (SPI Files 4) by Lisa Shearin

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Stars: 5 out of 5.

I think this series hit its stride, because the last two books were excellent. 

I like that we finally established all the relationships in this series (romantic and non-romantic), so we can concentrate on the story and character development instead of the whom of the two/three/etc. hot males (females) will the protagonist choose. 

The story picks up a few months after the events of the previous book, in which our team plus Rake closed a Hellmouth. And this particular installment is centered around Ian’s old nemesis, the pseudo ghoul who had attacked him and his partner back when he was in the NYPD. It ate his partner and almost killed him, and it seems that it’s been stalking Ian ever since and orchestrating some of the troubles the team had to deal with in the previous books.

It’s interesting to see that the tables are turned in this book, and Ian is playing the role of the damsel in distress instead of Mac. He is drugged and kidnapped and destined to be sacrificed to precipitate the end of the world. And it’s Mac and the SPI team that has to do everything in their power to save him, not only to prevent said end of the world, but also because he is their friend, and really want him to continue breathing. 

I also think that Mac finally found her stride. She understands that she will never be a SPI commando who rushes into danger guns blazing. She knows her physical limitations. But she also knows that she possesses a few unique abilities that could mean that an op is a success or a failure. And since she is a lot more sure of herself and at ease in her own skin, she is a delight to follow in these books. I love her sense of humor and down to earth attitude. 

I also love that she has real friends in the SPI and a strong support system, and all those secondary characters feel like real people with their quirks and their flaws. Oh, and I absolutely loved the dragon riders from Rake’s realm. Now that’s a cool job to have… unless you also have to clean up after your dragon, because then I think I’ll pass.

Oh, and I also like how Mac’s relationship with Rake is progressing. I like that they seem to be having fun together and have a deeper understanding of each other then either of them was aware of, I think. Rake is a fun character to try and puzzle out. He is a rogue, no doubt, but he has a moral code and, I think, he is very loyal to those he considers his friends. I hope we learn more about his past and his motives in the following books. I wouldn’t mind visiting his homeland as well.

All in all, I’m still really happy with this series. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s surprisingly low on existential angst. So I will definitely pick up the next book to see what new horrors await our SPI partners plus Rake. 

A Touch of Light (Ashes of Avarin 1) by Thiago Abdalla

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Stars: 2 out of 5.

I grant it to the author, he is trying to tell an ambitious story here, so that necessitates a lot of set up and worldbuilding. Unfortunately, that also means that most of these 700 some pages are exactly that – setup.

The story is very slow going and broken into three distinct POVs that don’t even converge until the very end of this book. And even then, only two of them somewhat converge, I don’t think Nasha ever made it to where Lunn and Adrian were. So we slowly get three different stories developing simultaneously, and up until the end, there was no indication at to how they were connected. Heck, even having finished the book, I’m not sure I understand fully what’s going on.

I wouldn’t have minded this too much if the characters were engaging, but as it stands, I couldn’t connect with none of them. Yes, the author did a good job explaining their motivations, but there was some spark missing with the characters. They felt more like a set of characteristics than real people. So in the end I didn’t particularly care for any of them, which made this story very difficult to commit to.

That lack of fleshed out characters compounded with a slow moving stories that were only loosely tied together made it for a very long read. I thought about DNFing it several times, but but then I had already committed so much time that I wanted to at least see what it was all about.

And that brings me to the final problem I have with this book. There is no conclusion to this story. Nothing is resolved, nothing is explained. These 700 pages are just introduction to the world and setup for the series, I guess. Where did the madness come from? We have no answer. Why some people loose their minds and other seem to still function normally when infected? No clue. What does that have to do with the clan lands and the sickness that kills the land? Your guess is as good as mine. 

All this book did was set up the pieces on the board for the bigger story. I know that first books in a series have the thankless job of introducing the reader to a brand new world and characters as well as planting the seeds for the arching story for the whole series, but there also needs to be a completed storyline for that book. Readers need an emotional payoff after sticking around for so many pages. This book didn’t give me that. 

And since I didn’t get an emotional payoff for reading this book, and I frankly don’t care about any of the characters, I will not be continuing with this series.

PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Shadow Scale (Seraphina 2) by Rachel Hartman

Stars: 2 out of 5.

I loved the first book in this duology so much that I rated it 5 stars. Needless to say, I had high hopes for the second book as well. Unfortunately, none of my hopes were realized, so this book left a bitter taste in my mouth and a sense that I had wasted several hours of my life. Now I realize that some of this might be subjective, and some of it might be higher than usual expectations, but I think the biggest issue for me is that the story didn’t go in the direction I expected it to go.

I expected a direct continuation of the events that happened at the end of Seraphina – a war with the dragons, and Seraphina, Krieggs and Celda in the middle of it, trying to protect the kingdom of Goredd from the scaly monsters who try to destroy them…

Instead we get this road movie where Phina travels to different places throughout the book, meeting new people that she will never talk to again once she leaves, in search of the other half-dragons she saw in her mind garden. It makes for a very disjointed and rather boring story, to tell you the truth. Gone is the sense of urgency we experienced at the end of last book. Yes, Seraphina has a deadline by which to reach her final destination, but it has nothing to do with the imminent war with the dragons. And honestly, the book drags until about three quarters of the way through when things finally pick up.

The issue here is that I, as a reader, don’t care about the new people Seraphina encounters, and the author doesn’t give me enough time to get to know them to actually care about them before the story moves towards another location, leaving them behind. And I am once again introduced to a whole different set of new characters who stay on the page just as fleetingly.

But I think my biggest problem is the villain in this story. Jannoula is so overpowered that it’s almost laughable at the end. Also, her powers are inconsistent. First, it’s mentioned that she can only control one person at a time, and even that tires her, but by the end of the book, she is suddenly able to control all the half-dragons and make her aura “glow” so that it’s visible to humans, and she can manipulate humans at her will. Not to mention that she always seems one step ahead of Seraphina, no matter what she does or what happens. And the way she is defeated at the end stinks of deus ex machina as well.

Finally, I really hated the ending. I think it wasn’t fair to the characters, especially to Seraphina. She spent all her life hiding and lying. She decided at the beginning of this book that she would not lie about herself anymore… yet she agrees to be the other woman? To live in shadow? To live a lie for the rest of her life? How is that a good ending for her? Not to mention that this paints Krieggs in a horrible way as well. He is a coward who just manipulated her into doing what he wants, not considering how that will impact her life.

Anyway, this was a huge disappointment, and I am kinda glad this was only a duology, because I would not have picked up another book in this series.

The Brimstone Deception (SPI Files 3) by Lisa Shearin

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Stars: 4 out of 5.

This series if finally finding its stride. The first book was lukewarm, and the second book was okay, but still lacked something, but this book really hit it out of the ballpark.

I think the biggest reason why this book worked for me so well is that the will they won’t day tension between Mac and Ian is finally resolved. I honestly like them a lot more as partners, friends, as well as brother-sister relationship. They work so much better as characters and as partners like that. Plus, that leaves Mac free to explore her relationship with Rake, however strange and undefined it is. As someone who abhors love triangles in my books, I am a much happier reader now.

As for the story, it picks up almost immediately after the events of the last book, so tensions are running high. They defeated the mad dragon, but someone else had orchestrated all of this, and that someone got away. And now a new drug is hitting the streets that indicates that somebody has a direct line to Hell. What can go wrong with that?

I love the progression of Mac’s character so far. She gained a lot of confidence in her abilities in the last two books, but she also gained a lot more confidence in herself and her place in the SPI. I like that she understands that she will never be a badass commando, that no matter how much she trains with Ian in hand to hand combat and shooting guns, she will loose a fight if she doesn’t fight smart. And the smartest thing she can do is back away and let Ian and other commandos fight the battles for her. Though I must admit that she really did hold her own when that squid demon tried to drag her into the portal to Hell. 

Mac is smart and has a good sense of humor, and it really shines now that she finally found her self-confidence. I love the commentary she has in her head about the events. She always tries to find a silver lining, even when horrible things happen around her, like finding a dozen demon hatchlings under her bed, who would have eater her alive if she hadn’t been careful.

Heck, I even like the slow circling Mac and Rake do around each other, with Mac not sure of Rake’s motives, and very aware of the reputation for deceit that goblins have. Despite that, I think they form a dynamic duo that is rather fun to watch.

I also love how the author throws hints about plotlines that will come to the forefront in consequent books. Like the mention of the ghoul that killed Ian’s partner. It seems to have been lurking in the background since book 1. I am definitely picking up the next book in the series, because I want to know what happens to our SPI agents.