Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Graveyard Shift by Michael F Haspil.

Stars: 5 out of 5

Alex and Marcus are detectives at the Nocturne Squad in modern day Miami.  Except in this Miami, vampires live in the open and are considered as much citizens of the United States as humans are, obeying the same laws and enjoying the same rights. Oh and “vampire” is not a politically correct word. They are called nocturnes, and the Nocturne Squad is in charge of investigating all crimes perpetrated by and against nocturnes.

Oh I forgot to mention that Marcus is a few thousand years old vampire who knew Julius Ceasar, and Alex is even older than that. He is the mummy of pharaoh Menkaure, cursed to walk this world until the end of times…

I have been spoiled with excellent first books in new series lately and Graveyard Shift is no exception. I love the world; I love the main characters. I really have nothing to complain about.

So the worldbuiding. After the discovery and mass production Hemo-Synth, an artificial blood substitute, the vampires revealed their existence to the general public. And thanks to a successful PR campaign, they even persuaded said general public that they weren’t a danger to anyone and that human and vampires could coexist peacefully.

I like how much thought the author put into this idea. If vampires are regular citizens now, they also need regular jobs and places to live, places to go to relax and have fun, places to buy their artificial blood at. So there is a huge economical shift worldwide – the world literally never sleeps. Everything is open 24/7. Humans work during the day, and vampires do the same jobs at night. Even the smallest bodegas and grocery shops carry Hemo-Synth blood on their shelves.

And there is a bigger legislative shift as well. What was considered a monster and a creature of legend before is now a citizen of the United States. Staking a nocturne through the heart and cutting their head off will land you behind bars for premeditated murder just as easily as shooting a regular guy through the head. Now there are laws and procedures in place to deal with the paranormal citizens. Which calls for nocturne cops, or the Nocturne Squad.

Alex and Marcus are a few thousand years old each, and it shows in their generally pessimistic outlook on life and the world in general. But where Marcus tends to be mostly broody, Alex exhibits a pronounced lack of interest for anything. Alex, or Mankaure, has pretty much grown tired of petty human squabbles that never change, no matter how many millennia pass him by. He does his job not because he likes it or needs the money, but because the shadow powers that stand behind the government  said so. And since those powers have a certain set of canopic jars in their possession that Alex might possibly not be able to exist without, he has no choice but to comply. It is implies that they hold something against Marcus as well but what that is Alex never asked his partner.

There is also no love lost between the two. Alex thinks (for good reason) that all vampires are predators and ruthless killers, no matter the tamed and friendly picture the media are painting of them. A wolf in sheep’s skin is still a wolf. And Marcus… well Marcus is an Ancient who thrives in secrets within secrets, and who lives for intrigue and conspiracies. And also doesn’t care about anybody but himself.

And at the same time, those two have a grudging respect for one another and sufficient trust that their partner will have their back in a bad situation. After all, they had been partners for the better half of a century: first as part of a secret organization called UMBRA in charge of eliminating the vampires, and that killing them is frowned upon by society, as cops trying to uphold law and order.

I also love how dark and gritty this world is. These vampires are the sparkly type with a tortured soul. They are ruthless predators who prefer real blood to the synthetic thing whenever possible. And while some are content to visit bleeder bars and take a little from willing participants, others prefer the trill of the hunt and the kill, and a bit of torture thrown in the mix as well…

The story itself was really well done. It kept you at the edge of your sit from the very first page. And since I couldn’t help but love the characters, I was hoping for their survival and well being.  And while this books story arrived to a rather satisfying resolution, it left a lot of questions as to what will happen next, which is an excellent tactic for a first book in a series.

I want to know what happens to Alex and Marcus now. I want to see the fallout the events in this book have on human-vampire relations. And I want to learn more about Father Aguirre and his church. And is it really possible for vampires to grow back their soul?

So good job Mr. Haspil, good job. I am a fan now and I am eagerly awaiting the next book.

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

The Glamour Thieves (Blue Unicorn Book 1) by Don Allmon.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

This book could have been great. It could have been the first book in a new series that I would have really wanted to follow. It had so much potential… and the fact that it frittered it away is extremely frustrating.

The little bit of worlbuilding we get hints at an interesting world. It’s set in the future, so technologies are quite advanced, especially augmented reality, implants, and the connection to the World Wide Web that allows you to experience VR with all five senses. But we also get mentions of a worldwide catastrophe that changed something in the people’s genome so that some were able to do magic. Oh, and orcs and elves became a reality.

There is so much potential in this! The author could have hooked me and kept me going if only he’d thrown a few more hints here and there about that catastrophe, or more about how the orcs and elves became so common place. Where they always there, but just hiding? Or did they come through the cracks in reality at the same time as humans became capable of magic? Or are they also a result of human mutation? Sadly, we get no answers.

I would have loved to have more background on JT and Austin, on their relationship, on what actually really happened three years ago that made them split. We get mentions here and there. We know they were part of a group of thieves and a heist went bad. We know that Austin’s sister died… and nothing else. There is a mention that they were set up, and that another one of their members died as well, but we never learn anything else. What happened? There is a small mention that JT and Austin were captured and experimented on, but by whom? How did they escape? Just dwelling in those questions could have made an awesome book. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Instead we get a book in which every character is obsessed with sex. This is a short 133 pages book, and the actual plot fits in maybe a third of that length. The rest is characters either having sex or thinking about having sex, or obsessing about whether their maybe on and off partner is having sex with someone else. There is so much sexual content in it that at one point I had to go back to Netgalley and check whether I had clicked on the erotica bookshelf by mistake when I selected the book, but no, it’s listed under Science Fiction and Fantasy…

And I would have been okay with some sexual content if it was justified. But when the characters are running for their life from the Triad, I would think they would be more worried about staying alive and figuring out how to get out of the mess they are in instead of jumping each other’s bones. This is just such an unrealistic reaction that it threw me right out of the story.

My other problem with this book is Austin. I hated  him as a character, and since a lot of the narrative was from his point of view, getting through his chapters was a challenge. He is incredibly self-centered. He wants JT because he wants things to go back to how they were, and JT always had his back. He lies, cheats and uses underhanded techniques to get him to agree to this one last job, even though he can clearly see that JT has created a new life for himself. He has a legitimate business that he loves, and he has a protégé he is responsible for. But no, Austin doesn’t care, if he wreaks his friend’s life. He doesn’t even ask himself whether what he is doing will harm JT. Not once. The thought of considering somebody else’s interest apart from his own doesn’t even cross his mind. With Austin, everything is about Austin.

The second thing I hate about Austin is how twisted his sexual desires are. Like that scene in the orc night club. What he did to the bouncer cannot be called anything but rape. No matter how he justifies it, he used his glamour to force that orc to do what he did. And Austin’s thoughts in that moment were exactly what any other rapist would voice to justify his actions – I only exacerbate the desire that’s already there, my glamour wouldn’t have worked if he didn’t want it… No. Just NO. Rape is rape and there is no excuse!

As I mentioned, the book had potential, but the lack of plot and my intense dislike for one of the main characters made it so I have no desire to find out more about this world. That’s one series I will pass on.

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

Chaos Rises (Veil World 1) by Pippa DaCosta.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

I always pick up a new series with a certain amount of trepidation. Will it be good? Will the world be interesting? Will the protagonist be engaging enough or will she or he make me want to pull my hair out? Will the actual plot of the book be worth the read? Some series start with a bang and some start with a whimper. I’m glad that Veil World turned out to be in the first category. So before I dive into the review, let me just say that Chaos Rises had been a tremendously fun read.

 

Gem and her brother Del are half-bloods. Half-demon and half-human. Created by the Institute for the sole purpose to hunt down and exterminate demons. Trained for that purpose since they barely learned how to walk as well. When the Veil fell and demons swarmed our world, Gem and Del took the opportunity to escape the Institute. Only their training didn’t prepare them for the harsh realities of life outside their sterile cells, and now, with the Veil back in place and stronger than ever and the Institute looking for them, they are forced to rely on the good graces of a demon to survive in LA. It’s not half bad, as long as they are together…

 

A routine mission to capture a lesser demon for their master goes terribly awry and lands Gem in a hospital bed while Del goes missing. Now Gem will go to any lengths to get her brother back, even if that means going against their benefactor.

 

Pippa DaCosta created a very interesting and different world. Are you used to smolderingly sexual and slightly dangerous demons who are just misunderstood and need someone to love them to transform into cuddly puppies? Well, you won’t find any here. These demons are smoldering, and sexual, yes, but also ruthless, cruel, and very very dangerous. And for them rutting, fighting, killing and devouring their enemies is just as fun. And not always in that order either.

 

The demon hierarchy is based on strength and ruthlessness. One literally climbs up the ladder stepping on the corpses of weaker and unluckier demons. And the place of half-bloods in that hierarchy? Right at the very bottom, just one step higher than the mindless lesser demons. Half-bloods were made to be owned, that’s what demon rules dictate.

 

I also liked the unusual take on half-bloods in this book. There is nothing “half” in Gem and Del. They are both fully human and fully demon. Two entities sharing the same shell and the same mind, constantly fighting for dominance. The life of a half-blood is a constant struggle to stay human enough to keep the demon in check. In the Institute, Gem managed to do that with the aid of a special drug, a drug that only Allard can procure for them now.

 

Gem is one heck of a protagonist. She is strong and determined and ruthless sometimes, but how can she not be with her upbringing? She doesn’t trust anyone, especially not demons, and the only person she can relate to is her brother. I also loved her struggle to keep control of her demon, to stay in charge when her world spun out of control more and more. And while at first I wondered what the big deal about that was, I was given ample explanation of it when Gem finally lost that control. She was created to kill demons, so her demon by definition had to be stronger, meaner and deadlier than her prey. Well, if such things as psychopathic serial killer demons existed in Hell, Gem’s demon would be one. Without her human mind in control, she is more terrifying than Allard and his demons.

 

The story is tightly wound and keeps you on the edge of your sit. I found myself rooting for Gem, celebrating her small victories and fuming on her behalf when things went from bad to worse.

 

So to summarize, Chaos Rises is an excellent start of a new series. I certainly recommend it to any Urban Fantasy lovers and I am looking forward to the next book.

 

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

Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles 2) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Did I mention that Ilona Andrews is one of my absolute favorite authors? Every time I pick up one of her books, I don’t have to worry about being disappointed or bored by the story. I KNOW that it will be good and that it will sweep me off my feet and that I would devour the book in a matter of hours then agonize because it’s finished. Sweep in Peace was one of those books as well.

 

In the first book of the series, Clean Sweep, we were introduced to this original and very interesting world where Dina is the innkeeper of a very particular bed and breakfast. If you are interested, you can read my review of this book here. We get an in depth exploration of a few facets of this world in Sweep in Peace. Notably the bloody history between the Space Vampires and the Hope-Crushing Horde, as well as the meaning of tradition, duty, and compassion.

 

By the end of book 1, Dina succeeded at not only avoiding disaster and keeping her inn, but also at adding a star to the inn’s rating. Unfortunately, guests aren’t exactly knocking at her door, and the inn needs guests to survive and thrive. So when an Arbitrator shows up at her door and requisitions her inn for peace negotiations between three warring factions, Dina has no choice but to agree, even though her intuition and common sense screams that this is a bad idea. Only brokering a peace between nations who had been killing each other for generations is easier said than done. But Dina will do everything in her power to succeed, because the alternative would be disastrous for her inn and herself.

 

I love this world. I loved this story. How heartbreaking and touching it was, yet how the author managed to avoid all the doom and gloom by keeping it lighthearted. Which in turn made the impact of the bloody conflict between those races so much more effective on the reader. Imagine a world where technology fails and the living conditions are harsh, but it’s the only known planet in the galaxy to produce a very valuable mineral. So even though none of the factions want to be there, they are still fighting for domination on a planet where they have to go against each other with swords and arrows instead of tactical air strikes and lasers. It’s up close and personal. It’s bloody. It’s life-altering and soul-wrenching. And it’s a never-ending cycle of destruction because the sides can’t afford to back down even if they can’t afford to keep on fighting either.

 

Most of all, I love Dina. She already proved in book 1 that she is smart and resourceful and more than capable of being a real Innkeeper. She has a level head and doesn’t panic easily, but most importantly, I love that she is more brains then brawl. She will always try to find a peaceful solution to a problem first, though she will not hesitate to kick some ass if there is no other alternative.

 

But in this book, she also shows the depth of her compassion and understanding of other cultures. She studies their customs and rituals, and she is extremely respectful of them. I love how much thought she put into transforming the quarters for each faction into places where they would feel at home and safe…

 

I will not say anything about the rest of the story, because I want the readers to experience it for themselves. My recommendation is buy this book immediately. I won’t regret it. And when is the next one coming out?

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles 1) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Let me just say that Ilona Andrews is an author I go to when I want a good book to read and not have to worry to be disappointed with the plot, the characters or major plot holes. I never hesitate to pick up one of her books because I know that I would be completely immersed in the story, laughing and crying with the characters until the very last page. And I will be very very sad and feeling lost once I reach that page, not wanting to leave that world behind.

 

So when I saw that she had a brand new series out there, of course I immediately grabbed the first book! All I can say is that I love love LOVE it! I love Dina and the strange and complex world she inhabits. I love that we already have a hint that this world has may layers even in the first book. I love that all the races we meet have distinct origins and traditions. I love just how original the concept of this book and this world is.

 

But what is this book about? Well, Dina runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small sleepy Texas town. Only her bed and breakfast caters to a rather different clientele than the usual tourists. See, Dina is an Innkeeper (yes, the capital “I” is intentional), and her guests come from much further away and are infinitely more dangerous.

 

Usually, Innkeepers try to stay out of the news and not get involved in local affairs, because the safety if their Inn is their outmost priority. That and not attracting attention of the police to the occasional flying saucer landing in their backyard or a portal opening on their doorsteps. But when something that is definitely not a cougar starts killing dogs in the neighborhood and the resident werewolf doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it, Dina decides to intervene. Which, of course, bring a load of problems on her head, but hey, at least she gets guests to stay at her inn as well, so that’s good. That they are capable of destroying the whole town is just a minor side effect…

 

I love Dina as the protagonist. Yes, being an Innkeeper gives her some serious juju when she is on Inn grounds, but unlike some protagonists out there, she only uses her magic as last resort. Her biggest strength is her profound knowledge of the customs and preferences of all the races that inhabit the vast universe. She is immensely knowledgeable and treats all of her guests with respect and deference. But she isn’t a pushover either. She is very clear at drawing the lines of what is and isn’t allowed on her grounds and her retaliation if the guests cross those lines is swift and ruthless.

 

I like how knowledgeable Dina is and how respectful she is of her guests and their customs. And I also like that at the same time she is not a jaded and over-confident Innkeeper either. Her backstory is expertly woven into the book and explains this small contraction perfectly. Both Dina’s parents were very successful Innkeepers, so she grew up in a big bustling Inn… Until one day she came back from her travels to find both the Inn and her family gone and just barren ground in the place of the Inn grounds. She looked for them all over the universe, but never found even a hint as to what had happened. Finally, she decided to settle back on Earth and open her own Inn, but then only Inn such an inexperienced Innkeeper could get was an old disused one located away from the usual busy routes. So while she has extensive knowledge of what it means to be an Innkeeper, she is very inexperienced at actually being one. Plus her Inn had been asleep for so long that she has only maybe a tenth of the powers an Innkeeper would normally have…

 

I read the first book and immediately jumped into the next one, that’s how much I fell in love with this new world and these characters. So expect my review of book 2 soon.

 

Once again, Ilona Andrews proves that her books are a must read regardless of which series they belong too. Highly recommending this and everything else she’s ever written!

Of Scions and Men by Courtney Sloan.


Stars: 4 out of 5.

Of Scions and Men is the first book in a new urban fantasy series and as such, it does a good job in introducing the readers to the world and the characters who inhabit it.

And that’s no small feat, I can tell you. First books in a series have the thankless job of showing the reader a brand new world and making sure that they love the protagonist enough to stick not only until the end of one book, but to keep reading the series, AND they need to do that while avoiding info dumps and expositions and still telling an interesting story. So I’m always happy when a start a new series and am hooked from the get go.

So what is this world that Rowan inhabits? This is a world where the war against terror escalated into a full blown all out Third World War and threatened to wipe the human race off the face of the Earth. Supernatural beings like vampires and shifters, who had until then been content to stay in the shadows and make normal people believe they didn’t exist, decided to intervene and put a stop to the massacre, because, in the case of vampires, they were reluctant to lose their food source. By the time vampires took control of the world and bought order and peace again (in a rather ruthless and bloody fashion, I must admit), most of the planet was a smoldering radioactive mess. And humans aren’t in charge of anything, not even their own lives anymore.

Rowan Brady sold her life, her career and her blood when she chose to become a vampire’s Scion, but it was the only way she could ensure that her brother would have a roof over his head and enough food to eat every day. And even though the loss of freedom and the obligation to give a pint of blood a week to her master is a bitter pill to swallow, in exchange Rowan got a job she loves with the police, making sure that supernaturals don’t engage in illegal blood trade.

I like Rowan and her relationship with Devon. I like how she tries to make the best out of a bad situation and preserve every sliver of independence she can while basically having Devon in her head and thoughts 24 / 7. I like that she always relies on herself and doesn’t flash her scion get out of jail card left and right. I like that she is a truly though and capable protagonist.

I like the fact that Devon isn’t your typical domineering selfish and rather violent male lead we usually get in those kind of books. If fact, as vampire masters go, he is a good one to be scioned to.

I do have a few gripes with this book though, hence the 4 out of 5 stars.

The first one is with Lyle. Lyle is gay and flamboyantly so, since even his true form is a blue jay. He could have been such an interesting character if he’d been fleshed out instead of being a walking assembly of clichés. As he stands now, he is more of a plot point and trusty sidekick to Rowan, always there to help her out and listen to her problems. That’s annoying. I want to know what makes him tick. I want to know his backstory. I want to know what pushed him to display his orientation so blatantly in a world where being gay is greatly frowned upon. Why did he choose to come out of the closet and become an outcast? Hopefully, we will discover more about Lyle in the next books because that’s one character I could really fall in love with.

My second gripe is with Rowan’s constant resentment towards Devon and the fact that she became a scion. I would understand that if she’d been forced to do that against her will, but she CHOSE to become a scion. Yes, it was for her brother’s sake, but still, nobody bent her arm or held her at gunpoint when she agreed to this. And it makes even less sense that she would rail against Devon instead of her little brother whom she is making all those sacrifices for. Also, this reaction is rather out of character for her, at least in my opinion. Rowan is a person used to making tough decisions and owning to the consequences, so rehashing this resentment over and over again gets old really fast.

But all in all, this is a solid first instalment of a new series and I will certainly look forward to the next book. And I would recommend it to lovers of urban fantasy.

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

Midnight Taxi Tango (Bone Street Rumba book 2) by Daniel Jose Older.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

This is the second book in the series, but it can be read as a standalone without problems. I haven’t read the first book in the series, Half-Resurrection Blues, but the important points of what happened in it were mentioned in book 2, so I didn’t feel lost and confused. Plus, from what I understood, Midnight Taxi Tango covers a different story, so prior knowledge of the world and the characters is not needed.

I really enjoyed this book. More than I thought I would based on the description, actually, and it was all thanks to the wonderful characters Mr. Older has created. They are real. They are larger than life. And their emotions are sincere. You can’t help but root for them and follow them along in their search for the truth.

But those characters are also why I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. No matter how much I tried to ignore it, Carlos got on my nerves way too much. I understand that he is going through a rough time – he’d killed the brother of the woman he loved, and she in turn tried to kill him then ran off into the sunset. I get it. What got on my nerves is how whiny he is about it. He spends most of the book either brooding about that, or trying to look for her, or brooding about his lost memories. And when the shit hits the fan and he realizes that both his woman and his babies (that he had never seen before) are in danger, he totally loses his shit. It takes the vigorous intervention of the other two protagonists to wipe him back into shape… I can live with brooding, but it gets old real fast.

Not to mention, that I really didn’t like his reaction when he learned a certain uncomfortable truth at the end of the book. I won’t mention it here because it’s a huge spoiler, but Carlos, man, why to be a douche to the woman you love…

So thank God for Kia and Reza, the other two protagonists who share the POVs in this book, because those two women are absolutely amazing. Though, kicking ass and taking names, but without becoming a cliché. Without them to kick Carlos in the nuts every now and then or drag him along kicking and screaming, he wouldn’t have made it to the end of the story.

I loved that they both had their own character and back story and agency, and never became the standard kickass female who suddenly transforms into a damsel in distress in need of rescuing by the male protagonist by the end of the book. No, both Kia and Reza did their fair share of rescuing instead. And they were the ones who collectively killed the big bad in the end, not Carlos. Kudos to strong women how they are supposed to be! I wish there were more of them out there.

And I need to mention the world these characters inhabit as well, because I found it quite interesting. It’s urban fantasy, so it’s New York pretty much like our own, but with the addition of ghosts and other unsavory supernatural entities, like the Resurrected (people who were killed, but inexplicably came back to life, or half-life, again), and the creepy bug-guys who are the baddies in this book. And those supernatural entities try to stay hidden, so most of the normal people don’t know they exist, especially since very few people have the ability to see ghosts.

What I liked about the ghosts in this world is that they are not just forlorn and powerless souls who spend their time mourning their deaths. They have powers, they can interact with the living world if they want to, and they can be deadly. So it makes sense that there would be an Agency responsible for keeping the ghostly activity in check. Though after finishing this book, I’m not so sure that their intentions are all that honorable…

Anyway, I would recommend this series for anyone who likes urban fantasy and is looking for a new take on the genre. And I am definitely looking forward to the next book, though Mr. Older, please make Carlos finally grow some balls? Or let’s just ditch him and focus on Kia and Reza. On, and that awesome librarian as well!

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