Review: Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Review: Magic Burns by Ilona AndrewsMagic Burns by Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels #2
Published by Penguin on April 1st 2008
Pages: 272
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Magic Bites

As a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong, Kate Daniels knows how waves of paranormal energy ebb and flow across Atlanta like a tide. But once every seven years, a flare comes, a time when magic runs rampant. When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta's paramilitary clan of shape shifters, she quickly realizes much more is at stake. The stolen maps are only the opening gambit in an epic tug of war between two gods hoping for rebirth, and if Kate can't stop the cataclysmic showdown, the city may not survive.

Thoughts: The Kate Daniels series has so many fans, it’s ridiculous. It’s one of the top-selling, most anticipated Urban Fantasy series out there. But, after reading Magic Burns, all I can think is: the books must get a hell of a lot better than this if they’re still so popular.

Don’t get me wrong, Magic Burns is a good book. It’s solidly written, with interesting world building and high-stakes action. There were some elements here that, even as a relatively seasoned UF fan, really stood out: namely, I loved the idea of the central city park over growing to become a hub of witchcraft, complete with a giant turtle into whose belly you crawled. I have such a clear mental image of it – and it’s really stuck with me.

I also really enjoyed a number of the secondary characters: I’d read a series starring Kate’s were-shadow, Derek. He’s a sweetie in that silent-but-observant-and-may-also-kill-you sort of way. I also thought it was pretty awesome how quickly Kate latched onto Julie – the orphan introduced in this book. I was expecting her to be written out by the end of the novel, but colour me surprised.

That being said, there was a lot in this book that just made me roll my eyes: Kate is a special flower, but no one can know – except, of course, until she really needs to use that power. What even. Then there was the senseless dog death – how does having the main character kill a dog help endear her to me? Oh, and Curran? I’m sorry, but he was really creepy in this book. Some of his “famed” “seductive” lines just came off very assault-y. If Adam (from the Mercy books) had said this crap, Mercy would have had his butt kicked. And I would have helped.

Bottom line? Technically a good book, but there were things in it I just found abhorrent. I’ll be reading on, as it can only go up from here… right?

Review: Aurelia by Anne Osterlund

Review: Aurelia by Anne OsterlundAurelia by Anne Osterlund
Published by Penguin on 2008-04-17
Pages: 256
Genres: Fantasy YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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An impressive debut, equal parts commercial appeal and literary prowess.

Princess Aurelia is next in line to rule the kingdom of Tyralt, but she would rather be one of the common folk, free to learn and roam and . . . not marry the next tyrannical prince that comes courting. Naturally, the king wants Aurelia to marry for political power. Aurelia wants to marry for love. And someone in the kingdom wants her . . . dead. Assigned to investigate and protect Aurelia is Robert, the son of the king's former royal spy and one of Aurelia's oldest friends. As Aurelia and Robert slowly uncover clues as to who is threatening her, their friendship turns to romance. With everything possible on the line, her life, her kingdom, her heart, Aurelia is forced to take matters into her own hands, no matter the cost.

Thoughts: I adored Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund when I read it back in… many years ago. She immediately went onto my list of “why-must-they-be-so-perfect” authors and I hoped my next foray into Osterlund-land would be just as impressive. Years later and – at last! – I finally got the chance to read her debut novel, Aurelia. And it was good. Very good, even. But it’s no Academy 7.

Let’s start out with the good: the characters. Aurelia features a POC heroine who is doing her best to cope with a very complicated life. Boys and her hair are not her priority – but she isn’t oblivious to those things, nor is she dismissive of girls who do make that the centre of their world. Meanwhile, Robert, he book’s male protagonist, is a genuinely good human being. He may be trying to protect Aurelia, but certainly doesn’t believe he has a “right” to her. All in all: big thumbs up.

The bad: Aurelia is far, far too short. Sure, there was drama and intrigue and whatnot – but it didn’t build long enough for me to truly care about its resolution. And the ending? Rushed and unsatisfying. Of course, I know there is a sequel, and many of the outstanding issues should be resolved in the next book, but… I want some kind of real conclusion. Not just a big “TO BE CONTINUED…”. Not cute. But, then again:

  1. this is Osterlund’s first book,
  2. I’m sure it was heavily edited to fit the publishing world’s many-sequel model, and
  3. despite #1 and #2 it is still very entertaining.

Bottom line? In spite of the not-so-great aspects, Aurelia is worth a read – especially if you are into good historical YA novels. But, for God’s sake, go read Academy 7 already!

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels #1
Published by Penguin on 2012-12-31
Pages: 384
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Magic Burns

When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it arose, leaving all kinds of paranormal problems in its wake.

Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up these magical problems. But when Kate's guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta's magic circles.

The Masters of the Dead, necromancers who can control vampires, and the Pack, a paramilitary clan of shapechangers, blame each other for a series of bizarre killings—and the death of Kate's guardian may be part of the same mystery. Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realizes she's way out of her league—but she wouldn't have it any other way…

Thoughts: People have been nagging me to read the Kate Daniels series for years. I distinctly remember a friend sneaking the first book into my basket at Forbidden Planet way back in 2010. “You love Patricia Briggs,” they said, “so you’ll love Ilona Andrews.” I am glad to say they were right! As Magic Bites was this month’s pick on the VF Goodreads group, I finally had a great excuse to start reading it. Now I am thrilled to have found a new series to love!

Let me start off with the “negative”: Magic Bites could be called stereotypical urban fantasy. It features a badass-yet-vulnerable!female heroine, a murder mystery and a whole lot of scary-hot!shapeshifters. If you aren’t a fan of those things – or if you are fed up with seeing them over and over in your books – you might be put off by Magic Bites. I for one don’t mind a stereotype if it is well executed – which is exactly what Magic Bites succeeds in.

On to the good: the world building in this verse is fantastic. Set in a world where technology no longer dominates and magic has resurfaced after a 4000 year break, the book merges familiar elements of our world with some old-fashioned elements. What if you could no longer rely on your car because “magic” kicks in at noon? Well, it makes sense to go out and get a steed. Rich men ride Mustangs, but not the type with an engine. I just… love that!

Magic Bites throws you straight into this universe with little explanation. This technique can sometimes backfire, but for me, it made uncovering the details and politics all the more exciting. To be honest, that was the most interesting part of the whole book, as the murder mystery was somewhat lackluster. It wasn’t that it wasn’t interesting, rather I was not yet invested in the characters enough to really care whether they succeeded.

But the great potential here for me to fall in love with the characters. Kate Daniels is snarky in that charming way – sending a saucer of milk instead of a cocktail to the local pack’s head were-lion. While Curran, the aforementioned cat, seems to have a lovely sense of humour underneath all his macho-alphaness. I can easily see how – with a bit more exposure – they could become favourites.

Bottom line? Magic Bites sets up a fantastically complex and original universe that I am eager to explore. While I don’t quite have that emotional pull towards the characters, I can see the potential and cannot wait to start the next book.

Review: Hexbound by Chloe Neill

Review: Hexbound by Chloe NeillHexbound by Chloe Neill
Series: Dark Elite #2
Published by Penguin on 2011-01-04
Pages: 256
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Firespell

Lily Parker is new to St. Sophia's School for Girls, but she's already learned that magic can be your best friend-or your worst enemy. That's why Lily has to learn how to control her newly discovered paranormal abilities while fighting the good fight with her best friend Scout as they take on Chicago's nastiest nightlife-including the tainted magic users known as Reapers...

Thoughts: After I read Firespell last year, I was practically salivating for more Dark Elite books. Seriously, after finishing the final chapter I immediately went online to find out when the next book would be released – only to discover I had to wait an entire year. God, it was painful. But I waited, and the longing grew rather distant, and by the time I actually got a copy of Hexbound I could only vaguely remember the consuming desire for moremoremore I’d had after Firespell.

But surely, I thought, since Firespell was so fantastic I’ll have nothing to worry about. How wrong I was. The first 80 or so pages of this book are just such a disappointment – it felt like P.C. and Kristin Cast had taken over Chloe Neill’s characters. Instead of facing down evil with a smirk, Scout and Lily were too wrapped up in their blah-crushes to focus on the real evil that was going down. Not only was this boring as hell, it was also slightly soul-crushing. I mean, where were the fierce BFF’s from the first book? Who had swooped in and replaced them with these bobbesy twins?  I really considered putting this book down right then and there.

But I kept on, and I am glad I did. Because am soon as love interests Micheal and Jason were gone (yes, there is a God), Neill got down to the good stuff: what’s going on with Lily’s parents? Is Sebastian really evil? Is the Dark Elite even evil? Where should Lily’s loyalties fall in all this mess?

In other words, the book started to have a, er, plot. Because the good guys being good while fighting the bad guys who are bad… it’s kinda boring. It was Sebastian’s apparent ability to straddle the line between good and evil that made this book worth the read. Especially as his advice and character began to effect Lily’s own decisions.  Not to mention the guy is totally swoon-worthy.  If you’re looking for another redeemable bad boy in YA, look no further.Only problem was… there wasn’t enough of him!

Bottom line? Disappointing follow-up to Firespell, but there is still a whole bunch of potential in this series. I hope that the next book (Charmfall, 2012) will be better!

Dear publishers: When I shell out money for the hardcover, I expect someone to have edited the thing first. I’m pretty sure the characters meant to say “don’t beat me” and NOT “don’t bean me”. Although I admit, the latter scenario is far more amusing.

Review: Kiss of Death by Rachel Caine

Review: Kiss of Death by Rachel CaineKiss of Death by Rachel Caine
Series: Morganville Vampires #8
Published by Allison & Busby, Penguin on 2010-04-27
Pages: 256
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Glass Houses, The Dead Girls' Dance, Midnight Alley, Ghost Town, Bite Club

A new chapter in the New York Times bestselling Morganville Vampires saga. Vampire musician Michael Glass has attracted the attention of a big- time producer who wants to cut a demo and play some gigs-which means Michael will have to enter the human world. For this, he's been assigned escorts that include both a dangerous immortal as well as Michael's all-too-human friends. And with that mix of personalities, this is going to be a road trip from hell...

Thoughts: I remember reading that Rachel Caine had had a 6-book plan set out for the Morganville series when she started out. Kiss of Death is book 8 – and her lack-of-overarching-plan is kinda starting to show.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed Kiss of Death. Caine’s verse is as addictive as ever.  I love these characters and their angst – so, really, how could I not enjoy another visit into their world? But Kiss of Death was definitely a step down from some of the other Morganville books. If I weren’t such a fan, I probably would have been less than impressed.

Kiss of Death takes place outside of Morganville. This is a first for the series which had had the characters literally confined to the city in previous books. Whilst a road trip might sound like a happy-go-lucky time for the gang, things never work out that way for Claire and co. So, there are plenty of new vamps, some kidnapping and, oh, a car chase or two.

Pretty cool… but also pretty pointless. Kiss of Death felt very episodic and monster-of-the-week. A cool monster, sure, but I couldn’t help thinking “… so?”  It was a far cry from the epic cliff-hangers of the first 5 books that literally stopped your heart.

Not to mention the most important failure: the epic lack of Myrinn. *cries softly whilst wearing vampire bunny slippers*

However, I do have hope for Morganville books of the future. Fade Out was friggin’ fantastic (and with plenty of Myrinn goodness) and managed to remain self-contained to a single book.

Bottom line? The Morganville Vampires series is fantastic – I highly recommend it. That said, Kiss of Death was not it’s greatest instalment.

Note to the UK publishers: Did something break when publishing Kiss of Death? My cover was in pieces after one light read – not to mention the book was littered with typos.  Not cool.

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