Tag Archives: #urban fantasy

Hotter than Helltown by SM Reine

Hotter than Helltown

Stars: 3 out of 5

Hotter than Helltown is one of those books I find tough to review. On one hand, I liked it while I read it – there was an interesting plot and it kept moving along fast enough to make you want to turn the pages; the characters didn’t get on my nerves, and I didn’t mind following them. On the other hand, once I reached the end, closed the book and tried to summarize what I’d just read, I was left with a shrug and a “meh, it’s alright, but nothing stellar” assessment.

 

Yes, the story moves along at a fast pace, and it’s fun to follow Cesar along while he tries to investigate the gruesome murders and study for a big magical test that might cost him his life if he fails. 

 

The problem is, the story moves along too fast. It’s a relatively short book and a lot of events seemed crammed into the pages. This leaves no space for character development or world exploration. It’s a non-stop sprint from page 1 to THE END. I mean, sure, it keeps you entertained while you read it, but once you’re finished, it doesn’t leave much of an aftertaste.

 

I liked Cesar’s POV, but he is the only character in this book with any kind of background or development. Everybody else around him are just sidekicks with no dept. Oh, stuff is implied or mentioned in passing about them, but never truly explored. I would have loved to know a bit more about his partner or his boss, or even have a glimpse into Bella’s story. But all this was left by the wayside as the book raced through the plot. Which made it hard to empathize and care about the characters, at least for me.

 

The world building element was also rather none-existent. Now, this might be due to the fact that this is book 3 in the series and most of the world building had been done in the previous installments. But it felt at times like I was running with the protagonist through a movie set – normal looking houses on the outside with just cardboard and wooden poles in the back to prop them upright. I think each book in a series needs to add something to the world, but Hotter than Helltown didn’t seem to do any of that… 

 

So to summarize, it was a fun and quick read, but it was forgotten just as quickly once it was done. If you just want an easy book to spend your Saturday afternoon with, by all means pick it up.

 

PS. This review is for the advanced reader copy I received via NetGalley.

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews.

Magic Bites

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Did I mention that I love the “alsobought” section on the Amazon site? I discovered a lot of books I fell absolutely in love with through that. Magic Bites was one of them. I had just posted a review on one of October Daye’s books by Seanan McGuire, and I was browsing through that section for something similar to read when I saw Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews.

Well, I can say that I’m glad I bought it because I loved this book. It has several of the components that I look for in a paranormal romance series, and all of them are done just right. So you can say that Magic Bites was a feast for sore eyes.

First of all, the worldbuilding. I loved this world where magic and technology come in alternating waves. I also like that the author set her story a long time after those waves first started happening, so it’s not a post-apocalyptic  story at all. Society has adapted to the new world and takes the changes in stride: they have both electricity and magic lights which switch on automatically depending on the wave; every garage or stable in Atlanta has both cars and horses.

The different magical beings and factions are also well-integrated into the society. I mean, when a magical wave can strike at any time and last for days, nobody would be very surprised to see witches, necromancers or shifters in the streets anymore.

So even in the first book of a series, we are introduced into a complex world with several different layers, a past and even a distinctive mythology. And the introduction is done progressively, without the dreaded infodumps that usually make me skip ahead or just close the book and never pick it up again.

So just for that, I would have already been happy with Magic Bites. But the good surprises didn’t end there. Kate Daniels is a strong female protagonist how they all should be – strong, smart, not afraid to make tough decisions and used to relying only on herself. Yes, she can come across and stand-offish and over-confident sometimes, but I think it has more to do with her upbringing and backstory, which is hinted upon, but not entirely explained. Which is also good, because it makes me want to pick up the next book in the series to learn a bit more about her.

Kate is a loner. She had been brought up to think that she cannot trust anyone but herself and that getting attached to other people is a weakness. So she tries to act accordingly. But she was also brought up with an inane sense of justice, so she can’t help but intervene when she sees something as being wrong. Which has a tendency to land her in a world of trouble.

Since it’s a paranormal romance, I can’t write a review without mentioning the romantic interest as well. Those of you who had been following my blog for some time know that the romance has to be very well written and feel “natural” for me to like the book. So that’s another point in this book’s favor – the romantic component is there, there are hints, but I have a feeling that it will develop gradually through the course of several books.

I also liked the fact that the romance does not take the driver sit in the story. Both Kate and Curran feel attracted to each other, yes, but that attraction is in the background. I have read way too many novels where the romantic interest seems to exist only when the protagonist is around and has no life / goals / desires outside of that. I’m glad that Curran isn’t like that. You can feel that he has his own life, his responsibilities and passions that have nothing to do with Kate or the case they end up investigating together. In other words, he is a well-rounded character on his own.

So yes, I loved this book and I love this series. And I will strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an engaging story, wonderfully fleshed-out world and complex characters.

P.S. And I think that Kate’s first encounter with Curran is hilarious. I mean, “Here, kitty, kitty?”

The Younger Gods by Michael R Underwood.

The Younger Gods

Stars: 4 out of 5

It’s been a while since I read a good urban fantasy book that didn’t center around fae or werewolves / vampires and didn’t include a romance. In fact, I had come to the sad belief that these were the only books the genre had to offer. So The Younger Gods by Michael R Underwood was like a breath of fresh air.

Jacob Greene came to New York to escape the clutches of his very overbearing and secretive family and start a new life away from the cult. Jacob’s only worries now are to try and fit into this strange new world that is life at St. Mark’s University, keep his grades up to keep his scholarship, and stretch his meager allowance in order not to die of hunger before the end of each month. Then a crucified body is found in one of the New York parks, and Jacob realizes that his family has caught up with him…

I absolutely loved the main protagonist. Jacob is a smart and well educated boy, even though his knowledge mostly lies in the field of summoning monsters and performing human sacrifices.  He is completely lost in the intricacies of the normal college life, and his social skills are so bad that he can’t seem to make friends. The author did an excellent job showing the complete lack of common ground between Jacob and his classmates. They didn’t read the same books, didn’t hear the same stories, and Jacob just doesn’t understand any of the mass culture references we all take for granted. And his over-flowery and slightly archaic speech makes him seem even more alien. Jacob tries so hard to fit in, to put his less than normal childhood behind him, but when he hears about the murder on the news, he immediately recognizes his sister’s signature.

I like the fact that the idea to simply walk away and think “it’s not my problem” doesn’t even cross Jacob’s mind. It’s his family, so it’s his problem. If he has to stop the apocalypse all by himself, he will do it, or die trying. That shows a tremendous strength of character.

And the author also did a very good job showing the diversity of races and cultures in New York city. All of the secondary characters come from different ethnicities and cultural (and magical) backgrounds. Carter is an Indian (dot, not feather) Nephilim, Antoinette is a voodoo practitioner from Haitian descent, and Dorothea is a black ex-NYPD cop who became a Brooklyn Knight. And they are not just clichés put in the book just to act as a background to Jacob’s adventures. They are well fleshed out characters. Oh, and there are also Staten Island werewolves, Rakshasa from Queens and a multitude of other magical beings that call New York home.

The pacing of the book is fast and gripping. There isn’t a single dull moment. It’s even a bit too fast in places, and I caught myself wishing for the action to slow down and give myself and the characters a breather. But at least it’s never boring!

My only complaint is that there are still some errors in the copy I read. For example, Nate is described as a man when we first meet him, but halfway through the chapter, he is suddenly referred to as “she”, then he becomes a “he” again when we next meet him. But I think all those problems are due to the fact that I read the ARC of the book I got from NetGalley, and hopefully didn’t make it into the published version of the book.

So if you like strong characters and an interesting story, you should definitely pick up The Younger Gods. I will be looking forward to the next book in the series.

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory.

We are all completely fine.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This review is for the ARC I have received curtesy of NetGalley.

I must admit that I am rather frustrated with this book.

On one hand, I loved the premise of We Are All Completely Fine.

We’ve all read stories about that Lone Hero, or that Boy or Girl who survived his / her brush with the supernatural and often malevolent forces that lurk in the shadows.  But we never hear about how those people get to live after that. They cannot be normal again. All of them bear scars from their encounters, physical or emotional, or both. All of them know that the world isn’t a safe place; that powerful and cruel Beings lurk just on the other side of the veil, eager to swallow it whole. They are permanently altered by the ordeal they survived, and they feel lost in  this life, because how can you resume a normal life if you are not entirely normal anymore?

So imagine a support group organized explicitly for those souls so broken by their encounter with the supernatural that they are unable to heal on their own. This is a wonderful idea, and it’s brilliantly executed in this book. I loved the dynamics inside this group, and how Daryl Gregory slowly transformed those six broken and solitary people into a working group. How anger and distrust, and even contempt and outright hostility, slowly mutated into acceptance, mutual support and even respect.

And I loved the characters. They are all different and they bear their scars in different ways, but their reactions are believable. Stan is so scared of being ridiculed because of his infirmity that he  prefers to throw it into people’s faces as a pre-emptive strike and to be loud and obnoxious about it. And Gretta is on the opposite side of the spectrum – she is always covered from head to toe to hide the symbols carved into her flesh. And the other four characters also have fascinating stories that I would have loved to read more about.

So yes, the book has an intriguing premise and interesting characters, but I was left feeling cheated when I finished it. Like the author dropped the ball at the very end of a perfect story.

First of all, this book feels too short. It would have done much better as a full-blown novel instead of a novella. Right now, we have an excellent build-up, which takes about three quarters of the book, but the climax and the aftermath feel rushed. It’s like the author ran out of steam and tossed everything into the last 20 pages, just to get it over with.

Secondly, the frequent change of POV is somewhat confusing. Each chapter starts with a royal “we”, as in “we as the group” and so on. But then it promptly switches to third person and hops into the head of one of the characters. So I was left wondering who is really telling this story? Who is that “we”?

And my last complaint is that the ending brings to real resolution to any of the characters, except maybe Barbara. But even with her, the question of that final etching was left unanswered. The rest of the cast didn’t even get that.

It reads like a cliffhanger designed to make the reader purchase the next book in the series. If that is the case, then I’m eagerly awaiting the next book, because I want to know what happens to his rag tag bunch after the therapy. But if it’s a stand-alone, then I can’t help but feel cheated. Please tell me there is more to the story than that?

Those problems notwithstanding, I would still recommend We Are All Completely Fine. It’s a fast and entertaining read, and the characters are people that you want to stick around for. I just wish I could have stayed in their world for a little bit longer.