Friday 21 September 2018

#CBR10 Book 84: "Magic Triumphs" by Ilona Andrews

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 5 stars

#CBR10Bingo: This is the end

This is the tenth and final book in a long running series. As such, there may be spoilers for the contents of at least previous books, as well as mild spoilers for the plot of this one. More importantly, it is NOT the place to start. The proper place to begin is Magic Bites. The book is a bit rough, but stick with it, this series is among the best paranormal fantasy out there.

I've spent more than eleven hours on a train from Canada today, and then more than an hour getting back from Penn Station, so I'm going to just cut and paste the official blurb here, because my brain is too muddled to come up with a decent summary of my own:

Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She's made friends and enemies. She's found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be.

Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate's doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up.

Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle. But she has to try.

For her child.

For Atlanta.

For the world.

I've been reading these books for nearly a decade (started the series in 2009), so it's a rather bittersweet thing to finally get to the end. Nevertheless, it was time for Kate and Curran's adventures to reach an end point, but the authors leave the door open for further adventures in the universe they've created. Already promised - two more books about Hugh and Elara (intriguingly set BEFORE their appearance in this one. While there were some things I didn't think worked so well, and the pacing of the plot is uneven (the ending feels really rather rushed), but overall, I thought this was an incredibly satisfying final chapter to the series.

Things I thought could have been done better:
- While I really like that the authors subverted the readers' expectations by having our intrepid heroes facing off against a different big bad than we'd been led to believe, it might have been good to drop hints about the existence and possibility of said threat somewhat earlier in the series (and no, hinting at the ultimate villain's henchpeople and creatures in the first Hugh book is not enough, as not everyone will necessarily have read that one).
- The whole subplot with the realtors constantly calling Kate and Curran and them getting increasingly more annoyed was a cute gag that was taken too far. That whole story line could have been cut without any of the overall plot suffering.
- I also agree with my fellow Cannonballer Emmalita that questioning whether the Pack (now led by Jim) would even for a second consider allying with Roland is dumb, because the answer to that question was always going to be no.

Things I really liked:
- Conlan (while my husband and I agree that it's not a great name) was a delight. Ilona Andrews, in my opinion, excel at writing children without ever turning them into annoying plot moppets. A precocious toddler who's also a giant kitten was always going to appeal to me, but Kate as a frazzled mother was extra enjoyable now that I myself have a child (who thankfully can barely wiggle across the floor when put down, although he flops from back to belly like a champ).
- The resolution of Kate's whole Roland problem. The book was never going to end with Kate nobly sacrificing herself to kill her dad, and the way the authors found a solution to neutralise Roland for good was a creative one.
- Hugh and Elara's appearance. I've always liked Hugh, even when he was the villain. Now that he pretty much fulfils the role of Kate's older brother in her super dysfunctional family dynamic, I like him even more.
- The fact that even though there's not one, but two, really very serious threats facing Kate and her people, the book didn't feel too dark and there were enough light hearted and funny moments along the way.

While I'm sad that the series is at an end, I'm glad the final volume was a satisfying one, wrapping up most of the loose ends, while still leaving enough things open to write potential spin-offs further down the line. I'm also very glad that there are more Hugh books, as well as Hidden Legacy books from the authors in the near future.

Judging a book by its cover: As Kate Daniels covers go, this isn't bad, but really, this series is not blessed with decent cover art at any point, and I have genuinely lost count of how many different dark haired women with a sword who have portrayed Kate on these covers by now.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

#CBR10 Book 83: "Kilmeny of the Orchard" by L.M. Montgomery

Page count: 145 pages
Rating: 1 star

#CBR10Bingo: This Old Thing (published in 1910)

Spoiler warning! There will be a number of spoilers for the plot of this book, because the only way I will be able to fully vent my spleen on this atrocious piece of writing is by going into minute detail about the MANY things I found dumb, objectionable or downright offensive in this book. You might as well allow yourself to be spoiled, this book is bad and you don't actually want to waste time reading it.

Eric Marshall has just graduated college and knows that his future is secure. He is going to work for his wealthy father, but before he starts in the family business, he agrees to help out an old school friend for a while. Substituting as a teacher on Prince Edward Island for a season, Eric settles in nicely, popular among the locals.

One day, wandering in an overgrown and abandoned orchard, Eric comes across a beautiful young woman playing the violin. Kilmeny Gordon is mute and has lived an extremely sheltered life on the farm belonging to her aunt and uncle. There was a scandal surrounding her birth and until Kilmeny's mother died a few years ago, the girl was barely allowed outside the house. At first, she's scared of Eric, but they begin to get to know one another, and it doesn't take too long for Eric to realise he wants to make Kilmeny his wife.

When one of the squares for CBR10Bingo required me to read a book published before 1918, I pondered for a while. Then, inspired by my love for L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books, her Emily books, and The Blue Castle, I decided to see if she'd written any other books I could try. This one fit the bill, being published in 1910. When I recently mentioned to my BFF Lydia that I'd read a more obscure Montgomery novel, she exclaimed: "It wasn't Kilmeny of the Orchard, was it? That book is awful!" How I wish I'd spoken to her BEFORE I read this book.

Let's start by listing the positives. It wasn't very long, so I was able to finish it rather quickly, even though I deeply regretted my choice from early on. I'm pretty sure I've found my "Worst book of 2018". I desperately hope that nothing I read for the rest of the year is worse than this book. It will also allow me to really get my vitriol on in my review, which tends to make for amusing reading for others, and an easier time writing for me. That's about it. I can't think of anything else positive. No, wait, there are two pretty decent female supporting characters in the book. Marshall's landlady and Kilmeny's aunt are both good (no, I'm not going back to check their names - I've wasted enough time on this book already).

So why was this such an awful reading experience? To begin with, my expectations of L.M. Montgomery's work, based on the books mentioned above, had not prepared me for something quite this dismal. I loved the Anne and Emily books growing up, and was utterly delighted by The Blue Castle. There is NOTHING delightful in this book.

Eric Marshall is a rich, privileged dude bro, utterly convinced of his own greatness and superiority. He comes across a young woman (who he keeps referring to as "a child", even though it's established early on that she's 18 and he's 24, certainly not a terrible age difference back in the early 20th Century) who is initially scared of him, and keeps meeting her in secret, unbeknownst to her family, and has to be lectured by his landlady about why this is an inappropriate and dishonourable thing.

Kilmeny Gordon is an orphan. Her mother, the apple of her father's eye, married a man her family disapproved of and then discovered that he was probably a bigamist. She had no idea about this when she married him, but there was a scandal nonetheless. Returning to her family, she gave her father the silent treatment for months after she felt judged by him, refusing to speak even when he made himself more sick on his own death bed to plead with her to forgive him. Kilmeny's family believe that is why she's been mute her entire life. Despite being apparently completely exquisitely beautiful (this seems to be the first thing everyone is struck by upon first seeing her), Kilmeny believes herself to be ugly, because her angry, bitter mother always told her so, and made sure there were no mirrors in the house so the girl could see her reflection. Living an extremely sheltered life, Kilmeny uses a little slate to write on, and otherwise "expresses herself through her violin". Not that she's ever been tutored in playing it, you understand, but she nevertheless plays it wonderfully and makes up beautiful little tunes that spellbind Eric.

Eric, who keeps thinking of Kilmeny as a "darling child" is of course extremely taken with her beauty and grace and general awesomeness, and keeps meeting with her in the abandoned orchard near her aunt and uncle's farm. After a stern talking to by his landlady, he realises that he has to do the right thing and go speak to her relatives, as consorting with a young unmarried lady every evening is deeply inappropriate and creepy. Of course, he kisses her (entirely without her consent) before he ever gets to that point.

Of course, by the time he goes to see Kilmeny's guardians, their cranky foster son ("of Italian descent" and therefore clearly seen as terribly volatile and almost a bit sub-human), who's been spying on Kilmeny and Eric's meetings (because of course he too has a creepy crush on her, that she's entirely unaware of), has tattled and they've locked her in her room and are none too happy to see Eric. Once he exclaims that he wants to marry Kilmeny (despite her terribly inconvenient muteness, he's such a champ!), they are pretty much mollified. However, Kilmeny, for all that she claims to return Eric's feelings, refuses his proposal, as he couldn't possibly be saddled with a mute woman for a wife.

Oh noes, how could this book ever get a "happy" ending, I hear you ask. Well, don't fret. Of course one of Eric's best friends is an amazing doctor who specialises in vocal maladies. He comes to examine Kilmeny (again being utterly transfixed by her beauty), and claims there is nothing actually wrong with her, but that she will need some sort of sharp shock to be induced into speaking. When her cousin/foster brother/creepy stalker gets overcome with jealousy and is about to bludgeon Eric to death with an axe, Kilmeny fears for him enough that she shouts out a warning. The dastardly Italian is overpowered (and flees town in the night shortly after, never to be heart from again), and Kilmeny, who has never spoken a single solitary word before in her life, can miraculously speak. Fluently and with no difficulty, because of course she can.

There is one last hurdle in the way of our young couple's happiness. Eric's father believes him to have fallen for some country temptress only interested in his fortune. He comes to the town to dissuade his son from what he believes to be an inappropriate match - but it's ok! He has only to lay eyes on the comely Kilmeny (seriously, he doesn't even SPEAK to her) before he welcomes her to the family.

Seriously, this book is utter dreck. It's sexist, racist, patronising, it weirdly fetishises Kilmeny's muteness, innocence and ability to play violin. The whole backstory about Kilmeny's parentage and childhood is bonkers and then there's her cousin/foster brother, apparently abandoned on her aunt and uncle's farm by itinerant Italians when he was a baby. So he's been raised by them, alongside her, but creepily believes that he will be able to marry her, and becomes crazy jealous when he realises she loves someone else. His sullen behaviour is written off as due to his unfortunate background and no one seems to concerned that he was about to axe murder someone. This book is extremely bad, yet somehow has an average rating of 3.69 on Goodreads (with nearly 6000 ratings).

I did just remember one more positive thing - I didn't have to pay a penny for the book. It's available free from Project Gutenberg. Even free, it's not worth your time. Stay away from it, if you value your time, even a little bit.

Judging a book by its cover: This book has had a number of covers over the years, this is the one that was attached to the free edition I downloaded. Some things seem accurate - Kilmeny is female and has dark hair. She loves flowers and picks a lot of them. Apart from that, this woman looks WAY too old to be Kilmeny, she's got a strange buxom matronly thing going with what she's wearing - generally I dislike this cover. But it's ok, because I very much dislike the book it's attached to as well.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday 17 September 2018

#CBR10 Book 80-82: "Heroine Complex", "Heroine Worship" and "Heroine's Journey" by Sarah Kuhn

Total page count: 1136 pages

SPOILER WARNING! As I'm reviewing all three books in a trilogy, it's going to be difficult for me to discuss the books without minor spoilers, especially in books 2 and 3, as they naturally follow on from and develop stuff that's gone before in the series. So if you want to approach this series entirely spoiler free - you may just want to read the synopsis for book 1.

#CBR10Bingo: Heroine Complex: So it begins

Heroine Complex - 4.5 stars
Evie Tanaka is the long-suffering and ever patient personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, San Francisco's favourite superheroine. Friends from girlhood (when Aveda was still Annie Chang), Evie has become a master at anticipating Aveda's many demands, handling her diva tantrums and keeping her life organised.

When Aveda gets injured, things become a lot more complicated. Aveda wants Evie to pose as her (in disguise) during a public appearance, and when danger strikes, it becomes obvious that Evie has superpowers of her own that she's been repressing for years. Of course, the gossip press believes her flame wielding powers to be Aveda's (who is still bed-ridden) and the demon threat they've been containing appears to be ramping up.

In addition to dealing with Aveda's many demands and trying to control her suddenly public knowledge powers, Evie also has to do her best to raise her demanding teenage sister Bea (their mother died, their father is off "finding himself"), not to mention figure out her rather confusing and conflicting feelings for Nate, Team Aveda's scientific adviser.

Heroine Worship4 stars

Aveda Jupiter and Evie Tanaka are now San Francisco's cool demon fighting superhero duo, but when the video of Nate's proposal to Evie goes viral, Aveda finds herself more and more in the role of sidekick. Nevertheless, Aveda is painfully aware that she hasn't always been the best friend and is determined to be an absolutely magnificent maid of honour. While there's been a lack of demonic attacks in the city in the last few months, a new sinister force, focusing specifically on brides, means that Evie could in fact be in danger, and Aveda will need to work hard to keep her best friend safe.

As well as trying to navigate her feelings about sharing the spotlight, as well as making sure she's the very best and supportive friend she can be, Aveda is trying to figure out how to prove to Scott Cameron that she loves him, and if he can't return the feelings - at least find her worthy of friendship.

Heroine's Journey: Dream Vacation - San Francisco (and the bookstore Bea works at is heavily inspired by The Ripped Bodice, which while it is in L.A. in real life, is seriously a life goal of mine to visit)

Heroine's Journey - 4 stars

Set a few years after the other two books, this one features Beatrice "Bea" Tanaka, Evie's little sister as the heroine. Not really entirely sure what she wants to do with her life, except join Evie and Aveda as a superheroine, Bea is working part time in a bookstore/coffee shop and tinkering with improving gadgets for the superheroes. When she's not trying to convince her sister and Aveda to let her join their team, she hangs out with her best friends, Sam and Leah. Bea has the ability to emotionally project, which has so far proven really useful in getting bookstore patrons to behave civilly, but her sister seems to see her as too impulsive and irresponsible to really join Team Aveda.

As people are going missing, and new forces appear to be threatening the city, strange messages are being left for Bea. She's determined to prove her worth and show Evie and Aveda that she's a valuable asset. Once she really gets going, is she leaning a bit too far towards the super-villain end of the spectrum to get the job done, though?


I've seen these books recommended in a number of places and by so many different people. Fun and adventurous urban fantasy novels with a diverse cast, where every single book is centred solidly on the relationship between women. Complex, different and interestingly flawed women, none of whom are perfect and need to work to be accepted by and occasionally forgiven for making dumb mistakes. There are "good" girls and "mean" girls. There are actual biological families and found ones.

Aveda, or Annie Chang, is Chinese. Evie and Beatrice are half Japanese. Aveda and Evie grew up watching superhero movies starring Michelle Yeoh and the importance of representation for Asian women is absolutely addressed, in all three novels. There are straight characters, as well as bisexual and lesbian ones. Some of the women have a lot of sexual experience, others barely any. Each of the three books features a different woman as the main protagonist, each with a different love interest, but more importantly, a number of personal and emotional issues to work through and conquer.

I very much enjoyed all three books, but Heroine Complex was my favourite, mainly because both Aveda/Annie and Bea were more hard work as protagonists. It seems book 3 was written in large part at The Ripped Bodice in LA, which is why the bookstore Bea works in is so inspired by it (and her best friend Leah is not only named for one of the proprietresses, but Fitzwilliams Waffles, their bookshop dog, is the model for Leah's dog Pancake).

I had not realised until I checked out Sarah Kuhn's blog after finishing the trilogy that she has a new contract for another three books and a novella set in this universe. I'm not sure whether it will concern the same characters or a whole new set of awesome superheroines, but based on this trilogy, I will absolutely be eagerly waiting for more.

Judging the books by their covers: All three books have bright, colourful covers with art that seems deliberately inspired by comic books (which seems perfectly appropriate considering they deal with superheroes). Jason Chan draws all the covers and makes each of the heroines distinctive and badass-looking, with a memorable scene from the book front and centre on the cover.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 13 September 2018

#CBR10 Book 79: "Turtles All the Way Down" by John Green

Page count: 304 pages
Audio book length: 7hrs 12 mins

Aza Holmes doesn't have a lot of friends, and her best friend Daisy, a gregarious and outgoing fan fiction writer, sometimes finds her a bit exhausting. This is not surprising, as Aza struggles with anxiety and OCD. When local billionaire Russell Davis Picket goes missing and there is a reward offered for news of his whereabouts, Daisy remembers that Aza knows his son. Daisy orchestrates a scenario so that Aza can reconnect with Davis, who she hasn't seen for a few years.

Aza and Davis met at a camp for children who'd lost parents. Aza's father died, as did Davis' mother. With his father missing, Davis and his younger brother are pretty much orphans. There's a housekeeper who cooks for them, but they are left to their own devices in a huge and lonely house, and when Daisy and Aza suddenly show up, Davis is naturally suspicious about their motives.

The book is told from Aza's perspective, and I found it rather difficult to read on occasion, as Aza's mental illness keeps spiralling out of control more and more as the book progresses. She is terrified of disease, and uses tons of hand sanitizer. She has a tiny wound on her hand that she keeps reopening, while at the same time being super paranoid about infection. She doesn't take her meds like she's supposed to, and as the story progresses, she even begins to drink the hand sanitizer.

While Daisy comes across as an impatient and somewhat oblivious friend on occasion, but I had a lot of sympathy for her. As someone who knows a lot of people with degrees of debilitating mental illness - it can be very frustrating to be the one on the other side.

When promoting this book, John Green admitted that he too struggles with anxiety, which is why it's probably described so very vividly. I listened to the audio book, where the narrator gives Aza's inner thoughts a very commanding tone, making it all the more understandable that she has trouble resisting, even when she's being told to do frankly insane and unhealthy things. It's exhausting and scary to read about, it must be absolute hell on earth to live through. I kept internally yelling at Aza whenever she failed to take her meds. One thing I have realised, knowing many people who suffer from mental illness, is just how important it is to keep taking your meds regularly, and to speak to a doctor if the meds no longer work for you.

I think The Fault in Our Stars is still my favourite John Green book and it probably doesn't help that I was a bit distracted and not necessarily in a good head space when listening to this book. It's a good and important YA book, but Aza's illness just freaked me out too much.

Judging a book by its cover: There's a lot of spiral imagery throughout the novel, so I suppose an orange spiral drawing the eye was a perfectly good design to choose for the otherwise rather plain cover. I suppose John Green doesn't really need elaborate or especially ornate covers, his name is enough to sell bucket loads, especially when he hasn't released a book in years. I still think it's one of the most boring of all of his book covers.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

#CBR10 Books 66-78: "The Kate Daniels series books 1-9", "Magic Gifts", "Gunmetal Magic", "Magic Stars" and "Iron and Magic" by Ilona Andrews

Total page count: 3747 pages

#CBR10Bingo: Throwback Thursday

Spoiler warning! This is my re-read of the first nine books in the Kate Daniels series, in addition to the two books books set in the same universe, Gunmetal Magic and Iron and Magic, as well as two of the more essential novellas to complete my revisit of the complex and fascinating world that Ilona Andrews have created. If you read through this review, I will assume you are familiar with the series already.

If you haven't read the books yet, but are looking for a good introduction, check out Den of Geek's very cool article here.

Magic Bites - rating: 3.5 stars

This is the first novel that husband and wife duo Ilona Andrews ever published. They've said several times that it's rough, and this is certainly true. When recommending the series (which I've done to SO many people) I always insist that said person read books 1 and 2 before making up their mind about the series, as it really just isn't fair to judge the series on just this first effort from the writers.

The main problem with the book is that Kate, our protagonist, doesn't feel quite like herself yet. She's a bit too much of the stubborn loner and her absolute refusal to trust or work with anyone else is the reason it takes her much longer than necessary to solve the book's main mystery and figure out who the nasty kidnapper/murderer is.

Nevertheless, much of the Andrews' excellent world building is already in place. The post-apocalyptic Atlanta, where technology and magic constantly battle to be the driving force, where there are powerful shapeshifters and magic users in society, where you can encounter all sorts of scary beasties if you're not careful and anyone who wants to survive long term should be proficient with bladed weapons or know someone who is.

While Kate doesn't feel quite right yet, a lot of the supporting characters are there pretty much from the get go. We get Kate's first meeting with Curran (who is oh so very alpha, and I can see why quite a few readers have a problem with him in the first few books), the Beast Lord who rules Atlanta's huge Pack of shapeshifters; Jim Shrapshire, Kate's sometime mercenary partner and were-jaguar. Derek, who becomes Kate's loyal sidekick as the series progresses. Saiman, the scientific expert who can twist his body into any shape, and seems determined to find one Kate finds pleasing.

This is the weakest book in the series, but it's also one of the shortest and should be read just to get a proper feel for the world Kate Daniels inhabits.

Magic Burns - 4 stars

In my mind, this is "the one with the magic flare and the legendary hunter". I suspect that if you don't like the series after finishing this book, it's just not going to be for you. So far, absolutely NO ONE I've introduced the books to (and we're talking double figures by now) has decided not to keep going after finishing book 2.

Every seven years or so, the world is overwhelmed by powerful magic flares, when magic is super strong for several days and even gods can manifest if given the right enticement. Kate is asked to help the Pack locate some stolen maps, that keep being snatched by a mysterious bowman who can appear and disappear into thin air.

Already, Kate is becoming less of an ornery loner, we are introduced to Andrea, who becomes Kate's best friend. Andrea is a petite blonde and the Order of Merciful Aid's Master at Arms. She's described as being able to shoot the eyes of a die at long distance. If you can fire it, be it a gun or a bow, Andrea is probably lethal with it.

Kate also picks up a stray. A girl, Julie, is placed in her care. Her mother has gone missing, along with her coven, and Julie needs Kate's help in locating her. As it turns out, Julie's mother has met a rather grisly end, and by the end of the book, cranky loner Kate is also "crazy aunt" Kate, with a magically adept young woman to look after.

In this book, we're also introduced to the Bouda clan for the first time, the were-hyenas who are led by the formidable Aunt B, and Dr. Doolittle, the Pack medic. Kate reveals more of her powers and the readers get more hints at her heritage and upbringing, which is one of the reasons she's lived much of her early life alone and without making lasting connections.

Magic Strikes - 4.5 stars

Or "the one with the underground tournament" - said tournament always looms very clear in my mind, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that the actual "fight to the death" tournament that Kate and a bunch of the other characters enter only takes place in the last quarter or so of the book. Before that, Derek, Kate's faithful "boy wonder" is badly beaten and injured. Kate, along with Jim, try to figure out who's behind it, all the while hiding information from Curran, who gets increasingly more paranoid and angry about the whole thing. We discover Saiman's background and how he can change his shape so comprehensively. We're introduced to the Red Guard. Hugh D'Ambray is mentioned for the first time, and the readers get conformation of Kate's mysterious biological dad, who she's been hiding from her entire life.

This is the first book where we meet Dali, the severely short-sighted white Indonesian were-tiger, who is vegetarian and obsessed with drag racing. Here she's mostly delightful comic relief, she becomes more important later in the series.

Magic Bleeds - 5 stars

After a rather antagonistic relationship in the first book, more overt flirting in the second book and some pretty serious foreplay in book 3, this is the book where (after a somewhat rocky start in he book) Kate and Curran finally embark on a relationship. Not all of the Pack are entirely happy about Curran's choice of partner, even less so once it becomes clear that the new big threat to Atlanta is a sinister and extremely powerful relative of Kate's. Over the course of the book, Kate leaves the Order of Merciful Aid because of ideological differences, has a falling out with Andrea and has to spend much of the end of the book proving her worth and tenacity to the shapeshifters of the Pack.

I like Erra, she's a very good villain. This book shows more than any before it that Kate is no longer a bitter loner with no support network. While mutual stubbornness and a lack of communication keep Kate and Curran apart at the start of the book, when they resolve their differences, it's pretty spectacular and it's made quite clear over the course of the book that this is it for both of them - no going back now. While the readers had their suspicions about Kate's parentage confirmed in the last book, she tells the man she loves about it here, even fearing that he might reject her. While Curran's adolescence was bad, Kate's whole family background is a whole other level of f*cked up.

Magic Slays - 4.5 stars

Kate has left the Order of Merciful Aid behind and is trying to make a living as a paranormal investigator on her own, but at least initially, no one is hiring her. Then it becomes clear that a missing inventor is responsible for a device that could pose a massive threat to anyone with magical abilities, meaning all the shapeshifters or even vaguely magically adept people in Atlanta could die. While trying to enlist help to locate the fanatics who have the device, Kate needs to talk to several of the magical factions, including the witches and the vholvs. She comes to discover that what she has believed her entire life about her mother and stepfather was a complete lie and when her ward, Julie, is in danger, she needs to come to terms with how far she's willing to go and use her formidable powers, even when it goes against good reason, to save her.

Despite having read this twice before, I remembered very little about the details of the story. I remembered that Julie was put in danger, but I had forgotten all about the major plot stuff, and Kate and her allies having to track down the anti-magic nuts. Hence it came as a happy surprise that this book was the introduction of Roman, handsome and sarcastic black vholv and high priest of Chernobog. Evdokia, who we first meet in book 2 also plays a more prominent role and her family relationship to Kate is revealed.

Magic Gifts - 4 stars

This novella is classified as 5.4 in the Kate Daniels series. Its action takes place at the same time as Gunmetal Magic and it was included at the end of said book, but was originally released as a newsletter present to the fans. Kate and Curran are going out for dinner, when they the death of a young woman after a necklace was gifted to her by her boyfriend. Said necklace ends up around the neck of her little brother, and it's clear that it's cursed in some way and will need to be removed soon or the boy will die too. In order to help the child, Kate and Curran need to confront some neo-vikings, negotiate with a very deadly creature and speak to a dwarven smith.

While you don't HAVE to read this story to get a full picture, it's inclusion as a bonus at the end of the Andrea book makes it obvious that the authors thought it might be good for the readers to have access to it. It mainly shows that Kate is perfectly willing to put her life on the line just to save one single child, it doesn't have to be the end of days or an upcoming massive threat.

Gunmetal Magic - 5 stars

Otherwise known as Andrea's book. Dumped by her Bouda boyfriend Raphael, rejected by the Order of the Merciful Aid (the only place she'd felt at home) and generally not in a good place, Andrea Nash is not having a good time of it. Having made up with her best friend Kate, all she can do is try to piece her life back together slowly and try to avoid thinking of Raphael. Which isn't easy when she's assigned to investigate four dead Pack members at one of Raphael's construction sites. To add insult to injury, it seems Raphael's rebound girlfriend is some sort of stuck up supermodel. While Kate's off with Curran dealing with who knows what, Andrea tries to track down the giant snake creatures that seem to have killed Raphael's work crew.

I love this book for many reasons. First of all, it's so much fun seeing Kate and Curran through the eyes of another character. The authors wisely have them only showing up in small doses, so as not to overshadow Andrea's achievements in her own right. Secondly, Roman the black vholv plays an important supporting role in the book (he wears Eyore pyjamas!). Third, the romance between Andrea and Raphael, while on the rocks at the start of the book, is pretty epic and the way Andrea finally gets her revenge for him parading a vacuous supermodel through her office made me laugh out loud when I first read the book and again on my re-read. As always, there are some truly spectacular fights with some really nasty beasties in the book (the Andrews have a terrific imagination for enemies and threats of all kinds). Ascanio, the teenage Bouda, is around as Andrea's hormonal and sometimes exasperating teenage sidekick. Andrea has to work through the abuse and horror of her childhood and make a decision about who she wants to be, and once she makes up her mind, she's not going to settle for being anything but the best at it.

Magic Rises - a grudging 4 stars, if I gave quarter ones, this would be a 3.75. It's the second weakest book in the series, after book 1.

The one where they go to Europe. Desperate for panacea, the herbal remedy that can massively reduce the risk of shapeshifter children going loup (basically their animal instincts taking over and them having to be put down), Kate and Curran agree to travel to the Black Sea to mediate in a shapeshifter conflict, even though it's obviously a trap of some sort. They can only take a support crew of about twelve other shapeshifters, which is unlikely to be enough if there's any kind of massive threat.

This book sees the proper introduction of Hugh D'Ambray, Warlord to Roland (Kate's ancient and incredibly powerful dad). While Hugh's handsome and charming and has his own European castle, he's also tremendously dangerous and, being trained by the same man as Kate since childhood, a ruthless and extremely efficient killer. Over the course of much of the book, Kate and Curran are at odds, as he's not telling her his real plans and making her crazy insecure and jealous by pretending to flirt with a young, beautiful werewolf. Hugh happily takes advantage of Kate's jealousy (although as is pointed out in Iron and Magic by his lovely wife, he takes entirely the wrong track in trying to seduce Kate away from Curran and the shapeshifters). There are also strange, scaled and flying shapeshifters trying to kill not only Desandra, the werewolf the Atlanta Pack are there to protect, but pretty much everyone in the American delegation.

I can sort of see what the authors were trying for here, but Curran's plan is no less frustrating for the reader on a second read. I knew what he was trying to do and why and I still wanted him dropped from a great height onto really spiky things. Hugh is a wonderful antagonist and really gets to shine here. As Kate observes, he is pretty much what she could have become and probably what Voron, her stepfather (and Roland's first Warlord) wanted her to be. He's her biological father's right hand and while Kate tries to be wary of him, she cannot help but be curious about Roland and the things Hugh can divulge about him. The situation is obviously not helped by Kate being unsettled and worried about the attacks and Curran's utterly moronic tactics. Thankfully, Curran grovels profusely towards the end of the book and completely and wholly admits to being wrong. That helps a little. There are also were-dolphin pirates at one point, which is a wonderfully creative idea. That this book also introduces Desandra, who is, to an extent, mad as a box of frogs, but so much fun as well.

Magic Breaks - 5 stars

Initially, the series was only ever supposed to be seven books, and as a result, a lot of the storylines established earlier in the series come to a head in this one. Curran is called away on Pack business, and while he's gone, Hugh D'Ambray shows up in Atlanta and tries to get the Pack implicated in the grisly murder of one of the top Masters of the Dead. He wants to stir up a lot of trouble, and when Kate cleverly manages to find a way through, he abducts her and nearly starves her to death in a water-filled pit. Accidentally teleported along with her is Ghastek, one of the other powerful Masters of the Dead - he and Kate have a lot of time to bond while trying not to die. Kate finally faces her father and the power struggle that ensues has unexpected results.

I love this book. I love Kate's crazy family. Much as I like Kate and Curran as a couple, I like that Curran is sidelined in the story for more than half of the book, so Kate needs to interact with and rely on other characters to solve her problems. I love the way the authors twist and subvert the reader's expectations when it comes to Roland and his expectations of Kate.

Magic Stars - 4 stars

Jullie and Derek work together to avenge the death of a local family and try to prevent a magical artifact from falling into the wrong hands. I reread this one because I couldn't remember if it was essential to the overall plot of the series or not. It's not, really, but again, I enjoy seeing our main cast through the eyes of other supporting characters

Magic Shifts - 4.5 stars

A book with rather lower stakes than book 7, following such a game changing story. Kate and Curran are separated from the Pack and living in suburbia. Kate is asked by Curran's adopted sister to find Eduardo, her boyfriend, while Curran, bored from no longer having fifteen hundred shapeshifters to boss around, decides to take over the Mercenary Guild.

Another interesting villain taken from a previously untapped source of mythology, some spectacular battles, a lot of cool character interactions and fun scenes of Kate and Curran getting used to their new neighbourhood.

Magic Binds - 4.5 stars

Kate and Curran are close to getting married, but Roman, who is going to officiate, discovers that she's done absolutely zero about the wedding planning and takes over that side of proceedings as well. Meanwhile, the witch oracle have dire visions of what Roland is planning next, and it doesn't look good for Curran or Kate's potential future child. In order to stop the dire prophecies from coming true, Kate decides to do something truly crazy, so her father can't possibly predict her actions.

Roman is one of my favourite supporting characters, so seeing him trying to be Kate's wedding planner is naturally a hoot. Andrea is massively pregnant at the start of the book, and it's lovely to see what she and Raphael end up naming their child. We get the unlikely return of Erra, Kate's unorthodox aunt - who turns out to be a very useful ally. I'm very glad I reread the book, as I had forgotten a LOT of the details, including most of the big battle towards the end of the book, before the long awaited wedding.

Iron and Magic - 4.5 stars
Audio book length: 12 hrs 51 mins

Obviously, it's not been all that long since I first read this. My original review can be found here. This time I listened to the book in audio, having discovered that Steve West (whose voice I really like) was narrating it. As is often the case when I'm excited by a new release, I go through it very quickly. It was good to revisit the book and have it read to me, so I had to take a bit more time out of it.

As I said in my original review, I very much appreciate that the authors didn't in any way go back on their previous work and try to soften just how bad a person Hugh was. The book reveals that in order to have an efficient Warlord, Roland manipulated Hugh's emotions, making it harder for him to question orders he may otherwise have hesitated to carry out. No excuses are really made for Hugh's past, but it's clear that now that he is his own man, having to figure out what to do next, he isn't necessarily quite the monster he has appeared to be. Also, his new wife is more than a match for him.

The only gripe I had with the narration was that it was obvious that no one had informed the narrator that Andrea, unlike Rafael and Ascanio (who both appear in the book) is not a Hispanic character and should not have been given the accent she is. Apart from that, I have no complaints and am considering getting the next two Iron Covenant books in audio as well.

Judging the books by their covers: Ilona Andrews famously have some dreadful covers for a lot of their paranormal fantasy books. I have lost count of how many different cover models there have been portraying Kate over the course of the series (especially since sometimes the foreign editions or e-books have a different dark-haired lady with a sword than the original paperbacks). The common theme on all the books is your dark-haired, tough looking young woman with a big sword (that would be Kate) and a lion (that would be Curran). I think my least favourite of the covers is Magic Slays (Kate's face looks weirdly skeletal on one side), whilst the one I dislike the least (can't really say I love any of them) is book 8, Magic Shifts.

I frequently think of the Kate Daniels series as Magic verbs, because each book in the main series begins with the word "Magic" followed by a verb in the present tense. Even the spin-off books, about Kate's BFF Andrea and one of her main adversaries, Hugh D'Ambray have the word in the title, so you can see that they're connected to the main story, even if they can be read independently.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday 4 September 2018

#CBR10 Book 65: "All the Crooked Saints" by Maggie Stiefvater

Page count: 320 pages
Audio book length: 9 hrs 9 mins
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR10 Bingo: Birthday (Ms Stiefvater's birthday is November 11th)

From Goodreads, because it sums it up nicely:
Here is a thing everyone wants: A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears:
What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect. 

In this rather strange tale about the sprawling Soria family and the many pilgrims they surround themselves with, all people who have come to see them in the Colorado desert to have miracles performed, Maggie Stiefvater takes on magical realism.

In the 1960s, in the little desert town of Bicho Raro in Colorado, a number of pilgrims come to see the Saint and experience a miracle. The Saint of Bicho Raro is always a member of the Soria family, yet the miracles are strange and usually rather complicated. The  first miracle forces the pilgrim to face up to whatever darkness they have inside them, and only once they are ready and able to confront and process that darkness are they able to experience the second miracle and leave, finally free. If any of the Sorias try to speak to or help the pilgrims in any way, they risk their own darkness (which is apparently usually a lot more serious than that of a regular pilgrim) confronting them, and as a result, they have a strict rule against doing so. However, it means that over the years, more and more pilgrims are stuck in Bicho Raro, unable to complete their second miracle.

With the introduction of each new character, be they a member of the Soria family or a pilgrim, we are told a thing that character wants and a thing that character fears. We learn about the Sorias' history and the strange ways the miracles change the pilgrims. There's a priest with a coyote's head. There's a set of twins connected by a snake. There's a woman in a wedding dress, covered with butterflies, who's constantly wet because of the rain clouds that follow her. One woman can only ever repeat the last thing someone said to her. A radio DJ becomes a literal giant.

Of the younger generation of Sorias, there are three cousins. Beatriz believes herself to have no feelings, but discovers differently when a young man with a weak heart arrives in town to work for the Sorias. Joaquin loves music and wants nothing so much as to become a famous DJ. With his two cousins, he drives a box truck into the desert at night and runs a pirate radio station. Daniel, the current Saint of Bicho Raro defies the taboo of speaking to the pilgrims because he's in love with one of them. Struck down by his own darkness, he leaves his family to keep any of the other Sorias from being likewise cursed.

Beatriz and Joaquin are determined to save their cousin, no matter what the family rules state. They defy their elders and along with Pete, the young man who they were both initially so sceptical about, they set out to save him.

I don't think I've read a Maggie Stiefvater novel that I didn't enjoy. Some of them I absolutely adore. This book was very different from her previous novels, yet was still clearly very much her work. She has a way with words and descriptions that almost ensorcells the reader and keeps you spellbound. This book started slow, and it may have taken a bit too long to introduce every single character before actually getting to the "meat" of the story. But it's all worthwhile in the end. I listened to the audio book, narrated by Thom Rivera, and can very much recommend it.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover features ban owl and black roses, both things that play a significant part of the story. I'm unsure of whether the orange circle is supposed to be the sun or an actual orange - it's unclear.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR10 Book 64: "Outcast" by Adrienne Kress

Page count: 322 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

#CBR10 Bingo: Backlog (on my TBR list since June 2013)

Riley Carver lives in a little town somewhere in the Southern USA. For the past six years, on a particular day, angels come from the heavens and take away some of the townspeople. One year ago, the angels took Riley's best friend, almost boyfriend, Chris. So she's refusing to to leave the house (even though the whole town is supposed to the public celebration - or face strong censure), and when she sees an angel in the backyard, she shoots it in the face. Imagine her surprise when she finds a hot naked guy in place of the angel. Riley locks the unconscious guy in her father's tool shed, determined to question him when he wakes up.

Turns out, the hot naked guy has absolutely no memory of being an angel, and can't tell Riley a thing about where they go or why they're abducting townspeople every year. In fact, Gabe McClure thinks it's still the 1950s, which is apparently when he was snatched by the angels. Obviously, Riley can't keep him locked up in the shed for ever, so she gets him some clothes and soon he's used his charm to convince her mother he's been hired as a handyman and promised room and board, and he enrols in Riley's school and becomes super popular with his good looks and general James Dean vibe.

Gabe doesn't seem to take all that long to adjust to modern times, and while he and Riley don't spend a lot of time together in school, they work together to try to figure out the mystery of the angels and the kidnappings in their spare time. Why did the angels snatch a group of people in 1956 and then no one for another fifty years or so? Why are they returning annually now? Is the creepy Pastor Warren in league with the angels somehow? How can Riley and her motley band of allies (because of course she recruits some) get the missing townspeople back?

Ah, the joys of reviewing something about a month and a half after I actually finished it. Luckily, the plot of Outcast is quite memorable, even though I can't give you the names of specific supporting characters or an exact time frame without looking stuff up (and I really can't be bothered).

The "outcast" of the title can refer to Riley just as easily as Gabe. Riley isn't exactly one of the popular people at school and really only had one friend, Chris, who gave her a kiss about a week before he was taken by the angels, and Riley doesn't even know if she could have loved him, because he's just gone and she's had to mourn and miss him for a whole year, growing steadily angrier. Initially, she's a little bit too convinced of her own superiority and seems to almost look down on her fellow high schoolers, but she warms up and makes some new friends as the story progresses.

Gabe (for those keeping count, I think this is the third book this year that I've read where the hero is a Gabe or a Gabriel) was a bit of a bad boy, who lived on the "wrong side" of town and mainly spent his time with the poor, black people who lived nearby before he was taken. He suspects one of the reasons nobody knew about the angel abduction in the 50s was because he was the only white person to disappear, nobody much cared about the people who went missing.

While I enjoyed this book and the angels turned out to be both mysterious and a bit creepy, my biggest problem is that the story doesn't feel finished. This very much has the feel of the first book in a series. There's a lot of stuff we discover about Riley that's never adequately explained, the romance in the latter third with Gabe is very rushed, and the conclusion just screams the need for at least one sequel. According to comments online, it seems this was always supposed to be a duology, and  the story certainly ends on a cliff hanger. Sadly, five years later, Ms Kress still hasn't produced a sequel, and so this book frustratingly stand alone and the story is unfinished.

Judging a book by its cover: This cover actually does a pretty good job of evoking some of the elements of the story. The silhouette of Gabe and Riley on his lovingly restored motorcycle against the romantic sky (possibly after their date) with angel wings outlined in the sky above them. It's not bad at all, in fact.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.