Dark and Stormy Knights anthology

Anthologies are basically perfect reading when you KNOW you’re going to be interrupted by relatives. With that thought in mind, I picked this one up while on vacation in Sedona and read it in between all the madness of the Christmas season. (Yes, I know it’s been a few months since Christmas.. still working on that review backlog).

Dark and Stormy Knights
edited by P.N. Elrod

Dark and Stormy Nights is an anthology of 9 urban fantasy stories with the theme of “knights” who do some questionable things for the right reasons. So basically urban fantasy heroes doing what they usually do, which is work in the grey area. I liked that the theme is so wide open, and that the anthology had a bunch of authors I have read and liked. Here’s a breakdown of what we get, followed by my brief (non-spoiler) impressions of each:

  • A Questionable Client by Ilona Andrews (also found in a 2-novella ebook here)
  • Even Hand by Jim Butcher
  • The Beacon by Shannon K. Butcher
  • Even a Rabbit Will Bite by Rachel Caine
  • Dark Lady by P.N. Elrod
  • Beknighted by Deidre Knight
  • Shifting Star by Vicki Pettersson
  • Rookwood & Mrs. King by Lilith Saintcrow
  • God’s Creatures by Carrie Vaughn

A Questionable Client by Ilona Andrews – Kate Daniels, a member of the Atlanta Mercenary Guild is offered a bodyguard job when two of her peers back out. This is a prequel the Kate Daniels series, which means it doesn’t require you to know anything, but fans of that series will enjoy learning the back story on how Kate met Saiman, a minor but unique character. I always understood that Saiman creeped Kate out from the beginning, and why that is is explained here.  Lives up to what I expect from Ilona Andrews, currently my favorite writing duo. Link to an excerpt

Even Hand by Jim Butcher – A powerful man agrees to protect a woman and child against a supernatural pursuer. This is set in the Harry Dresden universe, except the narrator is John Marcone. I haven’t read any of the Harry Dresden books, but I gather this narrator is not Dresden’s ally. He’s not a good guy, but he does have his own set of rules, and it was refreshing to hear a story from a character on the other side and who is sharp in a scary way. This was another strong story in the anthology and really hit the sweet spot in character development – I just loved the ambiguity in this one.

The Beacon by Shannon K. Butcher – This is a story about a weary hunter named Ryder Ward who kills Beacons – people who (through no fault of their own) attract monsters called Terraphages into our world from another dimension. The latest Beacon is a young girl with a single mother and Ryder feels wretched about his choices. This sounds like an original story though the Terraphages sound like the Synestryn of Butcher’s Sentinel Wars series. Although Shannon K. Butcher is known for her paranormal romance, this didn’t go there (although it did feel like there was the set up for it). There was something about these characters that I didn’t warm to – I think they just felt very standard issue: single mother in a small town, adorable child, tortured hunter, but I felt like there was a spark for something more there if this was a longer story.

Even a Rabbit Will Bite by Rachel Caine – This is another story that didn’t feel set in a bigger universe, but I really enjoyed the world building which was nice and comprehensive in such a small space. It’s about Lisel, a centuries-old woman warrior who has managed to survive and become the last living Dragonslayer, and she’s just been informed that her successor has been chosen (by the pope, as these things are). A young girl knocks on her door the next day. I loved this one for the characterization and dialogue. The grumpy old-school Dragonslayer (“Get your ass inside”) viewing the new guard with exasperation (“glowing with youth and vitality and health and a smart-ass attitude”) but having to train her anyway and maybe gets proved wrong was a fun concept. One of my favorites.

Dark Lady by P.N. Elrod – The Internet tells me that Dark Lady is part of the Vampire Files universe because its narrator, Jack Fleming is the star of that series. This didn’t bother me, all I needed to know was that Jack was a vampire, owns a nightclub, and on occasion helps out people, and this was explained in the first three sentences. This was a very noir-style story with a damsel in distress, a mob boss, missing money, and thugs galore, set in 1930’s Chicago. What I liked about this one was that there were surprises and a puzzle which is unexpected for the story length. Link to an excerpt

Beknighted by Deidre Knight – An artist named Anna gains a patron in order to pay for “living gold” which she needs to unlock a man from another world through her artwork, but there’s something that makes Anna question her patron’s motives for backing the project. This was another story that had more of a paranormal romance tint to the writing than an urban fantasy one. I found the concept of the living gold, Artist Guild and patrons in the context of artists actually “unlocking” things within their paintings interesting in theory, but the execution was confusing. It could be a reading comprehension fail on my part, but I just had trouble connecting some of the dots.

Shifting Star by Vicki Pettersson – Skamar is a woman made flesh by the focus of her creator, and her job is to protect a certain teen girl. This means investigating the abductions of girls around her age, working with a human, and dealing with human emotions. This is just as gritty and violent and a little bit heart rending as the rest of the Signs of the Zodiac series, and it focuses on side characters, but I think it would be a little difficult to follow the concept of the Zodiac, tulpas, and who Zoe Archer is unless you’ve read other books in this world. One of the darker stories in this collection.

Rookwood & Mrs. King by Lilith Saintcrow – A suburban wife comes to Rookwood, asking him to kill her husband, who is already dead. This is another short story of the pulpy vampire detective variety, except a more modern-day version and a damsel in distress who is a lot faster on the uptake than she might be given credit for. I liked the plot of this one, but I wish the story would have been from Mrs. King’s point of view instead of focusing on Rookwood’s interpretation of events.

God’s Creatures by Carrie Vaughn – Cormac is called to deal with a killer that has gutted some cattle. It is clearly a werewolf losing the battle against bloodlust, and it won’t be long before it moves to human prey. This is another story set in a bigger universe (Kitty Norville), but Cormac is a secondary character and on a side trip so you don’t need to have knowledge of the series to understand what is going on here. The concept of hunting a werewolf was straightforward, but God’s Creatures adds a human element and ambiguity to the whole enterprise that I liked. Link to an excerpt

Overall: As urban fantasy anthologies go, this is probably one of the strongest ones I’ve read. The reason for that is there seemed to be a concerted effort (for the most part) not to lose the reader with world building details they wouldn’t know. I think we’ve all read stories set in a world related to an author’s series and been lost before. It seemed like most of these were written from the point of view of a side character, or set the story before their series begins, or are original stories not related to some bigger world. This made things more accessible, which was refreshing to see. Also keeping things cohesive: no romance and stories that all kept with a theme of doing deeds for the “greater good” that don’t always leave our heroes looking entirely pure. A very solid lineup.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Temporary worlds book reviews – “although there are a few stories that didn’t work for me, I feel as if the good content outweighs the bad in this anthology”
Calicoreaction  – Worth the Cash: “On the whole, it’s a very solid anthology with stories that stand on their own two feet even if they’re set in established universes”

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Fate’s Edge by Ilona Andrews

This is a book I bought when it came out but I’ve been saving it for a reading drought (Am I the only one who does this?). I finally indulged last week, secure in the fact that after I read this, Andrews’ newest book, Gunmetal Magic, is available for my Ilona Andrews fix.

This is part of a series of UF/paranormal romances, each book with its own couple set in a world where a magical world overlaps our mundane one:
Book 1: On the Edge (my review: https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg)
Book 2: Bayou Moon (my review: https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg)

Fate's Edge
Ilona Andrews

The Premise: Audrey Callahan is an Edger trying to go straight. She’s just been hired full time at an investigation agency, she owns a little house in the Edge, and she’s far away from her disappointing con artist family. Audrey is fed up with her parents enabling her brother by using her magical knack with locks to pay the costs of his drug addiction and continually choosing his safety over hers. When he father tracks her down to do a job with big bucks and big risk, this time to pay for a fancy rehab facility, Audrey gives him an ultimatum: either stop bringing Audrey into his schemes, or she helps him steal what he wants and he never contacts her again. As always, her brother’s welfare is chosen over Audrey, but stealing the item isn’t the end of it. She’s soon dealing with the consequences of her bargain when Kaldar Mar shows up. He’s a member of the Adrianglian Mirror, and tracking down the stolen item is his latest assignment. A trickster and thief himself, Kaldar is surprised by how well he works with Audrey. He wouldn’t mind taking things further, but Audrey has had her fill of con artists and rebuffs him at every turn.

My Thoughts: Kaldar was first introduced in the second Edge series book, Bayou Moon, as the fast talking, quick acting cousin of its heroine, Cerise Mar. The family lawyer and matchmaker, Kaldar is a family leader Cerise. He struck me as the type of rakish character that was a shoo-in for his own book, and here we are. Back in Bayou Moon his smarts in the courtroom and his skill with a blade (a Mar family trait), were the traits I remember him for, but in Fate’s Edge, it’s his tricking and thieving that come to the forefront.

At the core of Fate’s Edge is getting back the stolen item, but there are a lot of elements that make it more than your typical quest story. There’s the burgeoning romance between Kaldar and Audrey, trouble in the form of teenaged stowaways George and Jack, elements of horror and action with the Mirror on their tail, and a big keeping scoop of hustling to get the stolen object back.

I am a fan of caper stories, so all the conning and elegant manipulation was fun, and there was plenty of it in Fate’s Edge. It also proved to be a way of showing Audrey and Kaldar’s compatibility – each easily adapting to the other’s lead and balancing out any weaknesses. Brothers George and Jack are included in the cons and they had just as interesting a chemistry (if not more so). If you’ve read the first book in this series (On the Edge), you’ll already know George and Jack as the younger brothers of its heroine, Rose – and a couple of my favorite characters (one is a necromancer, the other a shapeshifter). I was delighted that these two got quite a bit of page time. Their struggles and individual reactions with being seen as ‘Edge rats’ in the Weird were creatively folded into the story. Likewise, there were other cameos from previous characters that didn’t feel gratuitous.  We got a chance to see previous couples past their HEA, but also to get an update on old enemies.

As you can tell, there was a lot in this book that was not about Kaldar and Audrey. On one had I loved the non-romantic additions to the plot, but on the other hand, this left less room for romance. Fate’s Edge was the book in the series where the spotlight wasn’t just on the hero and heroine, and this meant the romantic plot felt shorter than in the other Edge books. There was less space to show a slow build up in interest in each other, and it felt like this book relied more heavily on some Romance short-cuts like the hero’s appreciation for the heroine’s butt to show the growing attraction. For the most part, the courtship really happened in what dialogue the two had (a lot of banter – mostly Kaldar making overtures which Audrey smoothly rebuffed) and in their partnership. This was mostly a straightforward woman-falls-for-the-Bad-Boy-despite-herself romance, and I think if there were more space, I’d have liked Audrey’s issues with con men to be deeper delved into. This is not to say the romance wasn’t sweet, just that it was I don’t think I quite got all the emotional impact I wanted because there were other things in the plot vying for focus.

Overall: Fate’s Edge delivers an entertaining story with devious scams, kick-ass fights, and further development of characters and long running plots, but while I felt like the romance was solid, it felt like it was less of a focus of the plot as it was in the previous Edge books. This was an installment where the plot was far more than a vehicle to propel a romance forward. Thus the romance was not quite of the same caliber as the previous books (at least in my mind), but this was balanced out by the elements that took focus from the romance: the extended cameos from George and Jack (first introduced in On the Edge), the thrill of the con, and peeks into what could come next.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive
The Book Pushers – A
Lurv a la Mode – 3 scoops (out of 5)
Read. Breathe. Relax – “I was disappointed”
Fantasy and SciFi – “Fun, but contrived”
Tynga’s Reviews – “Fate’s Edge just might be my favourite book in the series so far.”

Magic Gifts by Ilona Andrews (Novella)

Magic Gifts
Ilona Andrews

This is a novella from the Kate Daniels universe that was a free gift for fans over the Christmas holidays. It was a limited time only download, so I don’t think it’s up anymore, but word is that it will be published with the upcoming Gunmetal Magic if you missed it. In the timeline of the series, this fits right after the last Kate Daniels book (Magic Slays, which is book 5).
 
The order so far:
Book 1: Magic BitesGoodreads
Book 2: Magic Burnshttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: Magic Strikeshttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Novella – Magic Mourns in Must Love Hellhounds anthology – https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 4: Magic Bleeds – https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 5: Magic Slayshttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Novella – Magic Gifts
 

 **** Magic Gifts probably has major spoilers of the relationship variety and minor spoilers of the plot variety for anyone who hasn’t read the first five books. ****

The Premise: Kate and Curran are out for a nice dinner at a local restaurant when a gift of a necklace at a nearby table ends in death and mayhem. Tracing the origin of the necklace before its latest victim, a seven-year old boy, can die, while also dealing with owning a business, being the Beast Lord’s consort, her grumpy best friend, and the politics of the Mercenary Guild, and you have your typical week in the life of Kate Daniels.

My Thoughts: At 97 pages (how long the pdf was on my nook with small text), this felt like a nice long novella, and fit much of the style of the previous books. As usual, Kate has her hands full in all aspects of her life. First, there is her struggling business at Cutting Edge Investigations. Her best friend Andrea is handing a big case and is off the page much of the time, but there is clearly something going on there that will be expanded in Gunmetal Magic. Then, there is the Mercenary Guild.  They want Kate to settle a dispute about Guild leadership, and Kate isn’t eager to be the deciding vote.

While those distractions are going on (the Guild business takes up a lot of Kate’s time), the meat of the story is about the necklace. This is a series that does not stick to one set of mythologies — we’ve seen Celtic deities, Indian demons, and Russian witches. This time, the mythology is of a Nordic flavor, which made me think I was seeing nods to Tolkien, but now I think it’s the Norse mythology he used in his books. Kate has to consult the Neo-Vikings for their expertise, and we get to see another new monster as part of the investigation. As creepy-crawlies in the Kate Daniels universe goes, I found this one quite nightmarish, thank you, but other than that, the impediments to solving the case were relatively minor, and this felt like a condensed but still substantial, version of the full-length books.

Overall: Quite satisfying and met my expectations of what a Kate Daniels story should be. If you are already a fan, you won’t be disappointed by this one. If you are not, I suggest you begin with the first book and work your way through the series before you get to this novella.

calico_reaction – 6 (worth reading, with reservations)
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive
One More Page – 5 stars (out of 5)

Best of 2011 and plans for 2012

2006 - 103 books, 2007 - 99 books, 2008 - 77 books, 2009 - 79 books, 2010 - 82 books, 2011 - 85 books

(click chart made via onlinecharttool.com to embiggen)

Every year, same goal of reading 100 books, but the only year I made it was 2006, before I started reviewing.

Newsflash: reviewing cuts into reading time!  But, that’s OK, I like to blog.

To break down the books I’ve read, you can check out goodreads. There you’ll see I read 86 “books”, but I didn’t count the one graphic novel. I did count a couple of novellas because I read some longer 500+ page books as well and figured they balanced each other out. So in 2011, I read 85 books.

Out of those books, I have my favorites, and my favorites have two categories. Those books that blew me out of the water, and those that came very close to doing that. Blew me out of the water always a difficult group to get into, because it’s based on sheer emotion. If I feel euphoric LOVE after I finish a book, it goes on the list. Not many books do that to me. So:

Blew me out of the water:

Close to perfection:



(each image links to my review, if I have reviewed the book).

There are so many books not on this list that I consider keepers. Another 20 books at least, so 2011 was not a bad reading year at all. Check out my goodreads to see all the 4 star books this year not on this list here. I was actually good about putting the books I read on there this year.

Goals for 2012:

  • Again keep trying to get to 100 books read
  • Since I can’t finish a challenge to save my life.. try not to join so many challenges (hah, we’ll see)
  • Buy whatever books I want to. 🙂 I have given up the fight against the TBR, but I know what’s reasonable.
  • Stay relaxed with the blogging thing.
  • And this year, the goal is to catch up on some series. I have a lot of series that I’m realizing I’m behind on and would like to get back into.

Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews

Silver Shark
Ilona Andrews

My book reading has taken a little detour into contemporary YA this month (three reviews in the genre forthcoming), but never fear, I’m not abandoning my love of speculative fiction.

Here’s a novella to tide you over. Silver Shark is the second novella set in the Kinsmen universe (the first is Silent Blade https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg, which was published by Samhain, but each book can be read out of order), which is being self-published by the authors. This review is based on an eARC that I requested and received from Ilona Andrews.

The Premise: Captain Claire Shannon is the leader of a team of psychers on the planet Uley. For 300 years her people on the Western Continent have been fighting a war against the Eastern Continent. Claire’s team uses their mind to connect to biological computer networks . They can infiltrate enemy networks, take data, and kill telepathically. They are incredible weapons, and when her side loses the war, aware that her abilities make her a dangerous tool no one wants alive, she hides herself in the civilian population and is shipped off as a refugee. Her mind hidden behind layers of protection, Claire is just a mousy secretary on the planet Rada, but hiding her true ability could be a problem, because her first job interview is for a position with Guardian Inc, which is a company that specializes in “Extrasensory Security Protocols and Biocybernetic Safety”. In other words, she has landed in the midst of pyschers, and her boss, Venturo Escana, head of the Enscana kinsmen family and Grade A pyscher, is the lion in this proverbial den.

Read an Excerpt of Silver Shark here

My Thoughts: Rada, the world in which most of Silver Shark takes place, is also the same world that Silent Blade was set, but while Silent Blade dealt with hired assassins, and physical abilities, Silver Shark is more about telepathic ability and hidden identity. In other words, you don’t need to have knowledge of the world building of one of the novella’s to understand and appreciate the other. In my opinion they may be read in any order, although yes, the couple from Silent Blade does make a cameo in Silver Shark, but I don’t think that a couple getting together in a romance counts as a spoiler.

Silver Shark is 98 pages (ARC length) compared to the 48 paged Silent Blade, so it’s no surprise that the world building felt more involved. This story revisits Rada, but describes it as seen from a foreigner’s perspective – very bright and beautiful compared to the drab, utilitarian (and war torn) Uley, Claire’s home planet.  I liked the way these places worked with the plot, but what I particularly liked was the depiction of the biological computer networks that only telepaths can access. The visual representation of code reminded me of the Scarabaeus series by Sara Creasy, but it in not quite the same way – more like being inside a dream than outside it. I really liked how lush and dangerous this computer world was and how Claire and others saw it.

This is a science fiction romance spin on the boss/secretary trope. In this case, the boss, Venturo Escana has little clue that the drab off-worlder that he decided to rescue is in fact a psycher like himself. Claire on the other hand, is very aware that the first impression she made was off as a fresh-off-the-boat bumpkin, but while her suppression of her true self keeps Claire safe, her attraction to Venturo makes her unhappy that he doesn’t know the real her. I really liked how the story drew out the tension of Claire’s dueling desires and the potential that she would be discovered (and shipped back to certain death in Uley). With this being a romance, as a reader you know Venturo has to find out, but the when and how are unknowns. All I will say is that the execution of the reveal was delicious.

I was also tickled by the thoughtful spins that were put into the boss/secretary story. Of course there is the science fiction setting that is integrated into Venturo’s business, which involves providing security for systems that run on biological networks, but there more than that. For instance the issue of power and consent is addressed in a unique way (which as a bonus shows some insight into Venturo’s POV).  The subplot of cut-throat competitors and a long term grudge with the owner of a rival firm was another nice touch that felt familiar and yet different from your usual Businessman Boss romance.

In the end I really enjoyed this one, and I do find myself rereading my favorite bits with a bit of a grin on my face. The only thing that kept it from being a home run was my reaction to the ending. I felt like I didn’t really get an explanation from Venturo for his decisions, and the story switches gears and ends before we ever do. If not for that feeling of incompleteness, this checks all my boxes. Recommended unreservedly.

Overall: Really, really enjoyable. If you like Boss/Secretary romances, Ilona Andrews, or SFR, then get this. I think $2.99 is a steal for this feel good, entertaining SFR that you could read in one sitting.

Buy: Amazon (kindle) | B&N (nook)

Other reviews:
Leontine’s Book Realm – 4 stars (out of 5)
Literary Escapism – positive
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive

Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews

Magic Slays
Ilona Andrews
I pre-ordered the signed edition of this book from Powell’s ages ago but it took me some time to get to it once I got the book. I just didn’t want to make the experience go too soon! This is one of my favorite UF series and is book 5. If you haven’t started this yet, I highly recommend that you do (read at least the first two books):
 
Book 1: Magic Bites – Goodreads
Book 2: Magic Burns – https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: Magic Strikes – https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Novella – Magic Mourns in Must Love Hellhounds anthology – https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 4: Magic Bleedshttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
 
***** This review has spoilers for earlier books, read at your own peril!  *****
 
The Premise:  Kate Daniels has quit the Order and gone into business on her own, backed by Atlanta’s shapeshifter Pride.  Unfortunately she didn’t leave the Order on good terms and they’ve done all they can to sully her reputation. Business is so slow it’s non-existent, and Kate has been twiddling her thumbs for months. Then two things happen. First, a vampire escapes the control of its navigator, and Ghastek asks for Kate’s help to contain it. Then a member of the Red Guard hires her to look into the disappearance of an engineer and applied magic-theorist along with the project he was working on. These are both simple enough assignments on the surface, but much more rides on Kate understanding whats really going on.
 
My Thoughts: Whenever I start a Kate Daniels story, I expect to be pulled into a high action melee spiced up with a bit of romance courtesy of the Beast Lord. In this aspect, Magic Slays delivers exactly as promised. Once chapter one begins, Kate is back to business. Disaster strikes when a vampire gets loose and then Kate finally gets a job, but it seems too simple a job for the Red Guard to be paying her to do it. Of course it isn’t long at all until Kate is up to her elbows in trouble, but the difference here is that this job requires more finesse than Kate has shown in the past. Magic Slays has a more restrained Kate, who tries to use more investigation than muscle.
 
The story is also a little different because Kate’s life is different. This book has the same Kate, but she’s no longer with the Order nor does she live alone in her Atlanta apartment. Now she lives in the Pack stronghold, and her day-to-day frustrations include her status within the Pack, trying to start up a business, and mentoring a group of teenaged misfits, including her own ward, Julie. This makes Magic Slays the first book in probably the next chapter in Kate’s life, and for that reason I found it very different from the rest of the series, but in a good way. This feels like a “turning point” book. It feels like Kate finally has self-made family around her, and I also felt like Kate is beginning to make concrete plans for the final confrontation she’s been heading towards throughout the series.
 
In the romance front, things are also different. For the longest time, Kate has been dancing around a romantic entanglement with Curran, but now they’re in a committed relationship. Things aren’t completely stable however. Usually when there is a slow burning romance over a series of books, the magic can disappear once a couple finally gets together, but that isn’t the case here. I thought that the way Curran and Kate’s relationship progressed in Magic Slays made it one of the best books I’ve read with a couple after they finally hooked up. I loved that things were still being ironed out, that they were still learning how to live with each other, and that they both still had insecurities. They’re happy, but at the same time, they’re human and this book reflects that. I loved that they’re both essentially the same characters and being together doesn’t change who they are. They still have the same back-and-forth relationship after they’re together but we know that they love each other.
 
Overall: Another great installment. I don’t know how many ways I can say the same thing after I read one of these books, so just imagine me pressing this book into your hands, nodding enthusiastically. If you haven’t read this series…seriously, read it will you? I think the last one I read always ends up being my favorite.  The great draw for me is the mix of great worldbuilding (a post-apocalyptic Atlanta, flooded by waves of magic and technology), action, and romance, but what elevates it even beyond that is a snarky brand of humor that’s used judiciously. Smiling because of Kate’s exchanges with Curran or best friend Andrea? Now that’s real chicken soup for the soul.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive
Angieville – positive (“Crunchy Kate goodness at its best”)
One More Page – positive
SFF Chat – positive
Calico reaction – 8 (Excellent)
Fantasy Book Cafe – 8/10
Smexy Books – A
Lurv a la Mode – Four scoops (out of 5)
One More Page – positive
Fiction Vixen – A
Babbling about Books, and More – B+

Favorite Reads of 2010 and plans for 2011

First, the stats:

  • 2006 – 103 books
  • 2007 – 99 books
  • 2008 – 77 books
  • 2009 – 79 books
  • 2010 – 82 books

As you can see, I still haven’t made my yearly goal to read 100 books, but the number is climbing upwards! The problem is that reviewing books (2006 and 2007 I didn’t review as I do now), cuts into reading time. Oh well, I won’t stop reviewing!

Out of those 82 books, these were my favorites (click on the book to see my review):

Blew me out of the water – Two books this year just had the perfect mix that made me feel like I was in utter love from start to finish. Unless I don’t feel consumed to a semi-obsession, a book won’t get on this list.

 

These books I loved and came close perfect (and wow, I had 9 of these this year. Up from 5 last year)

(Note: The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice is the repackaged mass market version of Pemberley by the Sea and Cordelia’s Honor is actually 2-books-in-one – I linked to the first book)

Goals for 2011:

1) Keep working on the TBR but don’t worry so much about how many books I buy. Last year I held back on buying books when I wanted to because I was concerned about the size of my TBR (it was 190, now it’s over 250). I’ve decided not to do that – if the TBR grows, it grows. Instead I think I’ll focus on trying to read more often than I have been (this year I often had rows of days where I read nothing. I’d like to read even a few pages a day as long as I read something)

2) Try to read 100 books – this is a long standing goal, just for a number to aim for. I don’t think it will ever not be a goal!

3) Be better about reading challenges – I sign up for online book clubs and challenges and I pretty much NEVER complete them. I suck at it. I’m going to try to read books for book clubs and challenges early this time. And oh man, I’d love to complete the Everything Austen challenge for once. Both times I joined, I got 4 out of 6 Austen related books/movies read and watched, then ran out of time. In 2011.. oh, I will get 6 out of 6. I WILLLLL!!

4) Stay easy going in this blogging thing. I think that will all the book blogs out there, it’s easy to put pressure on yourself and lose perspective. I want to make sure to remember that I do this because it makes me happy.

Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews

Magic Bleeds
Ilona Andrews

After finishing Bayou Moon, I had a hard time reading anything that wasn’t Ilona Andrews so I took a break from all other books, and started Magic Bleeds. I’d bought it recently as a present to myself, and I knew I’d be ignoring other books for it. I think it was a huge feat of will to wait this long both to buy it and to read it.

This is the fourth book in the Kate Daniels series:

Book 1: Magic BitesGoodreads
Book 2: Magic Burnshttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: Magic Strikeshttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Novella – Magic Mourns in Must Love Hellhounds anthology – https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

The Premise: It’s been a little while after the events of the last book, and Kate is back to work for the Order. During her usual rounds, she’s sent to investigate a bar brawl in the city. The routine job turns out to be anything but when she discovers that a customer was skewered on a pole, and his body is ground zero for some kind of virulent, magic induced-disease. Kate digs deeper and learns that a strange hooded man has been moving steadily north from Florida leaving behind outbreaks and chaos. In the meantime, Kate and Curran’s relationship is entering unknown territory, but with the two of them, of course it isn’t simple.

Read an excerpt of Magic Bleeds here

My Thoughts: I’m going to talk about Kate and Curran first (in a non-spoilery way). I was a little worried, as I always am when I begin an urban fantasy series, that the romance was going to be dragged out forever. Yes, I do like it when there’s a slow build to these things, but at a certain point you just want something to HAPPEN already. I was pleased that we were getting somewhere in the previous book, Magic Strikes, but you never know with Kate, who is very stubborn, especially about putting people in danger because of who she is, and Curran, who takes “control freak” to a new level. Not to mention that neither of these two are what I’d call experts in relationships. For a long time I’ve enjoyed watching the dance that these two have been doing, wondering what would happen next but having no idea. I’m happy I now know.

Magic Bleeds is a book where things that were hinted at in earlier books begin to progress to a new level. I’ve already talked about there being more focus on the relationship with Curran, but the other part is Kate’s past beginning to catch up with her. Magic Bleeds makes it very clear that the laying low she’s been doing for her whole life is not working any more, and recent events are linked to that part of her life. There is some fascinating back story that is revealed in Magic Bleeds. I feel like we’re really getting closer to The Big Showdown now. I want to know more, but it’s hard to guess what Kate is going to face next because these books are very creative in their use of mythology – there’s gods of many pantheons here.

Other than that I think this is a book which meets expectations set up by the rest of the series. Kate is her usual self with her bulldozing-rather-than-being-diplomatic persona (although she does show some restraint a time or two). Kate doesn’t do this out of stupidity, but rather a stubborn need to protect others even at the expense of herself. We have appearances from all our favorites – Jim, Derek, Julie, Dali, Aunt B, and Andrea. Not to mention Saiman, who brings creepy to new levels. There are also a couple of new faces. (I’m beginning to see it as a Andrews signature if the book has the main character mentoring a wayward kid). And of course, the ever brilliant world building which I always end up feeling pleased by. There’s a lot of thought that seems to go into it – the culture and customs of different Atlanta groups (shapeshifters, the Guild, the Order, the Family), the explanation behind the magic and the mythology; it all comes together to create a rich and vibrant backdrop for the story. All of this plus a hint of humor.

Overall: An especially satisfying installment to this excellent series. This one has a little bit more focus on the relationship between Curran and Kate, but it’s very well balanced with the action and the plot. I think Andrews is a favorite of many, so I’m probably preaching to the choir right now, but if you happen to be reading this and haven’t read this series, um… please do. And give it until the second book.  I love this series and so far I haven’t felt disappointed yet.

Cool Link: Special Excerpt from Magic Bleeds from Curran’s POV (warning- spoilers)

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Angieville – “Every single expectation met. And then some” — (I loved this review. Encapulates how I feel very well)
Chachic’s Book Nook – “I still can’t stop thinking about this book”
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes – 5/5
Fantasy Cafe – 9/10
Breezing Through Books (Dual Review) –  A grades from both readers
SFF Chat – liked with reservations
Tempting Persephone – Loved it
Literary Escapism – “another fabulous story and just reaffirms how much I adore the writing style of Ilona Andrews”
Calico_reaction – Worth the cash (I liked this review! Some spoilers in the middle, but warning when to skip ahead)

Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews

Bayou Moon
Ilona Andrews

Bayou Moon is the sequel to Andrew’s first Edge book, On The Edge, which I reviewed here: https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg. This series is set in a place that straddles two worlds – there’s the Broken, where magic is non-existent, and there’s the Weird, where pure-blood families rule and magic is a part of life. These places exist in the same place but on different planes, and in the space between them is the Edge, where outlaws and the out-of-luck flourish.

I was lucky enough to be sent a advanced finished copy of the book.

The Premise: While this is the second of a series, the focus in this book is on a different couple than On the Edge. William was a secondary character in the first book, but this time it’s his turn to be the hero. William is a wolf changeling with a past as a soldier in the Weird, and a big chip on his shoulder. He’s been just passing time in the Broken, when agents of the Adrianglian Secret Service arrive and ask him to hunt down an old nemesis and to retrieve what he’s been searching for in the Mire.  Spider is an agent of the Dukedom of Louisiana’s Hand, and was once was responsible for the deaths of a group of young changelings. William came close to killing him but failed. Spider has been reported to be in the Mire, looking for an edge in the secret war between the two Weird nations of Adrianglia and Louisiana.  In his quest to find Spider, William runs into Cerise, a girl whose path seems to be the same as his. She too has an interest in Spider, because her parents have just been kidnapped by his agents, igniting a long burning clan war between her family, the Mars, and their rivals, the Sheeriles.

Read an excerpt of Bayou Moon here

My Thoughts: If you are familiar with Andrews urban fantasy series which focuses on a heroine in post-apocalyptic Atlanta, this series shares some of the strengths of that one, namely excellent world building, heroes and heroines who are interesting mentors to lost youth, and plenty of characters with kick-ass skills. However, the Edge series has more of a focus on a romantic relationship than the urban fantasy Kate Daniels series. Each book has a hero and heroine who eventually get together, but I still find this series different from your typical paranormal romance because the world building and the plots are so unusual. It almost seems to be a urban fantasy romance series (the writers call it a “rustic fantasy”). It defies categorization, but I think people who like romance and/or urban fantasy will like it.

The first thing that I noticed about Bayou Moon was it’s size. It’s immediately obvious that this paperback is thicker than it’s predecessor, and clocking at 462 pages, it looks to be longer than any other Ilona Andrews book out so far. Don’t worry. This is a good thing. I think that this is one of the few books of this length where I wasn’t paying attention to what page I was on and I was actually happy that there was more to read. Even with this length I had polished off the book in a couple of days. Not only that, the length meant that there is plenty of room for not only a romance but for the complexities of the Edge culture, Cerise’s large and interesting family, and for revealing plenty of monstrous enemies.

I think before I talk about the characters, I have to talk about the Mire, the swamplands of the Edge. The people of the Edge are hard. They are known for family unity and for long held grudges that span generations. I loved the Wild West meets Mob Family mentality that the Edgers had. It breeds some very unusual (and perhaps a little crazy) people. But then, take that and add a swamp full of dangerous creatures (sharks, water snakes), and places impassable except by boat. Its not for the fainthearted. It stands to reason that this gritty, wild place in the Edge is where William would find the woman for him.

Being a changeling makes civilized human behavior a difficult language that William has had to learn, and while he yearns to find a woman that accepts him, he’s been disappointed in that area many times. He may have amazing physical strength and skill, but emotionally I think of William as the more vulnerable Edge hero. Cerise is quick to appreciate William’s positive attributes, but she feels that crossing paths with someone she’s interested in has happened at the worst possible time. Cerise is a heroine I’m familiar with in Andrews’ books – smart, strong, and capable, but she also carries very big responsibilities. She’s in charge of her family’s finances, and when her her parents are kidnapped, she is the one to step forward and take on the leadership of the Mars and deal with both finding her parents and with the opportunistic Sheeriles.She has too many people relying on her to be selfish and indulge in a romantic interlude. There is a slow build in their relationship due to caution on both sides, but there is a strong romance plot in this story, compared to the Kate Daniels series, where it is less overt. It passes my personal standards with plenty of emotional buildup to go along with the physical side of the romance, and sex that did not feel gratuitous (hooray!).

The plot in this book was such that there was plenty of room for many secondary characters.  There are the bad guys (the Hand), the good guys (Cerise’s family) and the in-between.  It’s a mark of excellent writing that every one of the characters where distinguishable and not cliched (I particularly liked with the conflicted feelings of what-could-have-been between Cerise and the Sheeriles’ oldest son). Cerise’s family was huge, but only a fraction of those are highlighted on the page so I was never confused or overwhelmed.  I don’t think I can go over them or this review would double in size, but my favorites would be Cerise’s younger sister, Lark, who thinks she is a monster and sleeps outside, and her cousin Kaldar, the family matchmaker and general irrepressible rogue. The large family meant for some impressive battle scenes against the Sheeriles and against the Hand. Of the Hand, we catch less glimpses of, since the focus is mainly on William’s nemesis, Spider, but in many ways the Hand agents are less human after undergoing a process which changed their bodies and fractured some of their minds. They reminded me of the anime Ninja Scroll where the bad guys, the Devils of Kimon, have inhuman enhancements (link to youtube. Warning: icky anime death) which make them terrifying killers. There were some pretty nasty monstrosities in the bunch, but Spider, who is sane, is the creepiest for it. He’s an excellent villian, and we get some hints about his back story too.

Overall: The Edge series straddles genres to create a world that’s unlike any other, and I found Bayou Moon a rare book that entertains so well, I was lost to everything else. All I wanted was to be where I was, enjoying myself while being pulled along to a satisfying conclusion. What a pleasant ride that was.

Bayou Moon is longer than it’s predecessor, but that room only makes it better, because there’s space for a more complex plot, more back story, more world and character building. If you liked the first book, you’ll love this. If you haven’t, I recommend it if you like paranormal romance or like urban fantasy and are open to romance or vice versa. This book has cameos from previous characters, but I think it can be read as a standalone and out of order.

According to the Ilona Andrews website, there are two books contracted for the Edge series, but I’m crossing my figures that there will be more. There are a couple of men in Cerise’s family who I’d love to be in the next book (Kaldar, anyone?)

Bayou Moon comes out September 28th.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews::
Angieville – ” Bayou Moon struck me as a stronger, darker, meatier installment in the series”
Fantasy and SciFi Lovin’ News and Reviews – 4 out of 5 stars
Dreams and Speculation – 6 out of 10
Scooper Speaks – “Bayou Moon is a keeper in my opinion”

Best of 2009 and New Year’s Resolution for 2010

I liked looking back last year at 2008 so this year I’m also looking back at 2009. I didn’t make my goal of reading 100 books, but at 79 books I was above last year’s number (77). Anyway, here’s my Best of 2009 list, broken down in the same way I broke down books last year:

The Books that Blew Me Away – This is a very small list, just three books, like last year.  I only put books on the list when a book consumes me.

  • Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliosotti https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn (this is technically a 2010 book. Review to come) –https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gif https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Books that Came Close to Blowing Me Away This list is of books which I’d recommend without reservation and I loved them while reading them. There are more of these this year than last year (5 versus 4!)
  • Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Salt and Silver by Anna Katherine https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Endless Blue by Wen Spencer https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

Books I Really Liked/ Keepersthese are also recommended and all have several moments that I loved in them and I think many people will like these books:

  • Soulless by Gail Carriger https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Silent Blade by Ilona Andrews https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Way of the Shadows by Brent Weeks https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • On the Edge by Ilona Andrews https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Must Love Hellhounds (anthology) Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook, and Charlaine Harris — I liked 2 of the 4 stories a lot https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Heroes at Risk by Moira J. Moore https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Sins & Shadows (Shadows Inquiries) by Lyn Benedict https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • The Stars Down Under by Sandra McDonald https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percey Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • What Happens in London by Julia Quinn https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Hope’s Folly by Linnea Sinclair https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Blue Diablo (Corine Solomon, Bk 1) by Ann Aguirre https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Kitty Raises Hell (Kitty Norville, Bk 6) by Carrie Vaughn https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • What I Did for Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Kitty and the Silver Bullet (Kitty Norville, Bk 4) by Carrie Vaughn https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Austenland by Shannon Hale https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
  • Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville, Bk 3) by Carrie Vaughn https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

And for my New Year’s Resolution – First I have the usual one which is to read 100 books.

  • 2006 – 103 books
  • 2007 – 99 books
  • 2008 – 77 books
  • 2009 – 79 books

The second resolution is to make the TBR go down. I was really bad over my Christmas vacation and the TBR is over 190 right now. The plan is that I can’t buy a book unless I read two or more. Let’s hope I have the willpower.