Kitty Takes a Holiday by Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville #3)

7850602._SY475_After getting caught turning wolf on national television, Kitty retreats to a mountain cabin to recover and write her memoirs. But this is Kitty, so trouble is never far behind, and instead of Walden Pond, she gets Evil Dead. When werewolf hunter Cormac shows up with an injured Ben O’Farrell, Kitty’s lawyer, slung over his shoulder, and a wolf-like creature with glowing red eyes starts sniffing around the cabin, Kitty wonders if any of them will get out of these woods alive…

Review:

After everything that happened in book two Kitty needs to get away from it all and repairs to a cabin in the woods to take a break and maybe write her memoirs. While this is a good thing for her it minimizes my favorite aspect of the series – the wonderful conversations that Vaughn writes, especially when Kitty is hosting her radio show.

The first two thirds is your usual urban fantasy. Kitty is helping someone who was recently turned into a werewolf while figuring out who is leaving curses and dead animals outside her front door. The last third, though, concentrates on a trial where the action stops dead. It feels like two different stories grafted together.

My overall impression was mediocre, and not helped by the depiction of a skinwalker, which is a figure from Navajo tradition. A quick look at the wikipedia page shows that Dené folk would rather white people not appropriate the idea. The issue came to the fore when J.K. Rowling did just that, which put it on my radar. Kitty Takes a Holiday was written before the hullabaloo so I’m willing to overlook it to a point, but I’m not sure about the quality of the Native rep, period, and I’ve yet to find an own voices review.

The grafted stories, rep I’m not sure about, and miasma of meh did not work well for me. I’ll be pushing though to the next book soon in hopes that things get better.

The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark (Fairwick Chronicles #1)

11436723Since accepting a teaching position at remote Fairwick College in upstate New York, Callie McFay has experienced the same disturbingly sensual dream every night. Callie’s lifelong passion is the intersection of lurid fairy tales and Gothic literature—which is why she’s found herself at Fairwick’s renowned folklore department, living in a once-stately Victorian house that, at first sight, seemed to call her name.

But Callie soon realizes that her dreams are alarmingly real. She has a demon lover—an incubus—and he will seduce her, pleasure her, and eventually suck the very life from her. Then Callie makes another startling discovery: Her incubus is not the only mythical creature in Fairwick.

Review:

When life gets crazy and migraines threaten I turn to paranormal romance.  I’m not looking for a mind-blowing read, necessarily, just something to take my mind off the pain while being entertaining.  The Demon Lover was more urban fantasy than romance, kind of entertaining but also full of faults.

The good:

  • The story takes place in upstate New York and the author nails the ambience and setting.  I’m happy to see she lives in the area – she gets it.
  • At its core the book has an interesting story that may get better through the later books.  The execution, though….

The not-so-good:

  • The author goes for a lot of meta and it’s heavy-handed.  Look, our protagonist writes about Gothic novels, then finds herself in one!  Let’s point out every way the story mirrors elements found in Jane Eyre! Let’s have asides like:

    Great, now I was becoming like one of the heroines of the books I wrote about, jumping at noises and imagining faces in the mist.

    And:

    “I’m just pointing out that you always had the setup to turn into the heroine of one of those Gothic romances you’re always reading… and now you have.”

  • The worldbuilding is haphazard and unsatisfying.  Many different creatures are thrown at us and we’re not given a chance to get to know or feel comfortable with them.
  • Likewise, a lot of characters are introduced quickly and in bunches.  They are rather flat, often serving one key purpose and fading into the background after that.  If there were a hierarchy of some sort, with minor characters staying minor, it may have been fine, but all are given equal weight, muddying the narrative.
  • Callie doesn’t make many decisions, more often than not they’re made for her and she goes along.  It probably fits well into the classic Gothic romance theme but it happens so often I got annoyed.
  • As a professor Callie interacts with students and she gives them Sage Advice about Life ~eye roll~ that doesn’t ring true.
  • The plot is segmented and broken into pieces, leaving this reader unsatisfied.

Overall Demon Lover was a disappointing read.  There’s a chance things will pick up in the following books now that the world has been introduced, but I’m not sticking around to find out.

Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires #2)

6319978Joe Public isn’t exactly thrilled to be living side-by-side with the undead, but at least they haven’t stormed the castle yet.

But all that will change once they learn about the Raves—mass feeding parties where vampires round up humans like cattle and drink themselves silly. Most civilized vampires frown on this behavior, putting mere mortals at ease with their policy of asking a person’s consent before taking a big gulp of the red stuff.

So now my “master,” the centuries old, yet gorgeously well-preserved Ethan Sullivan, wants me to reconnect with my own upper class family and act as liaison between humans and vampires—and keep the more unsavory aspects of our existence out of the media. But someone doesn’t want people and vamps to play nicey-nice—someone with an ancient grudge.

Review:

A strong followup to Some Girls Bite. For every bit I like, though, something else bothers me.  Shall we?

Yea – the villain is developing over several books, making for a more nuanced Big Bad.
Meh – as a result there’s no huge Big Bad fight.

Yea – good guy relationships are becoming more nuanced and minor characters are getting fleshed out.
Meh – every guy is still hot and drooling over Merit.

Yea – some hanging but forgotten threads are pulled back in and put to use.
Meh – the book ends on a cliffhanger.

All in all I’m glad I’m started the Chicagoland Vampire series and look forward to Merit’s further adventures.

Firelight by Kristen Callihan (Darkest London #1)

23250312Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, Miranda Ellis has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman.

Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

Review:

Going in I thought this was an urban fantasy series where all the books follow the same people, but no.  Despite the urban fantasy trappings it falls more along romance lines, with each book telling the story of a different couple. I’ve read Callihan before so I should have grokked this but, alas, I didn’t, so that expectation not being met disappointed me when I reached the last page.

It doesn’t take away from the book at all, though. The world building is great, the plot pulled me in and I like watching the hero and heroine do their thing. There’s magic, or at the very least some freaky stuff going on, and it doesn’t fit into a particular category.  Callihan has done herself a favor here, as it gives her plenty of options as the series progresses.

With an interesting combination of urban fantasy and romance Firelight could be a stepping stone between the two genres if you’re looking to try one or the other out. It may take me a while to continue the series (I wanted more of this couple, damn it!) but I’m sure I’ll get over myself eventually. 😉

Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires #1)

8856528Sure, the life of a graduate student wasn’t exactly glamorous, but I was doing fine until Chicago’s vampires announced their existence to the world. When a rogue vampire attacked me, I was lucky he only got a sip. Another bloodsucker scared him off and decided the best way to save my life was to make me the walking undead.

Now I’ve traded sweating over my thesis for learning to fit in at a Hyde Park mansion full of vamps loyal to Ethan “Lord o’ the Manor” Sullivan. He has centuries’ worth of charm but unfortunately he expects my gratitude—and servitude. Right…

But someone’s out to get me. Is it the rogue vampire who bit me? A vamp from a rival House? An angry mob bearing torches? My initiation into Chicago’s nightlife may be the first skirmish in a war—and there will be blood.

Review:

I love vampires.  Not all vampires, mind you, but I never get sick of them, even when the rest of the world decides they’re blasé.  So starting the Chicagoland Vampire series?  It’s like coming home.

The good:

  • The older heroine (27, gasp) means that she has brains, isn’t easily swayed by idiotic notions, and stands up for herself.  No Too Stupid To Live women here!  Check out what Merit says to the guy who turned her:

    “Whatever happened six days ago, I belong to no one by myself, Sullivan, and least of all you.”
    “You are what I made you.”
    “I make myself.”

    ~fist pump~

  • The world building is nicely paced and keeps you wondering about things without leaving too many unanswered questions.  Neill manages to introduce not only vampires but also sorcerers, shifters, and nymphs without going into info dump mode – well done indeed.
  • Everyone is acting logically, even if we don’t know the logic straight off.  There’s no obtuseness for the sake of being obtuse.
  • It’s fun!  Just the escape I needed from ~waves hands~ 2018 that I was looking for.

The not-so-good:

  • Merit’s descriptions of guys got to me, always talking about their lips and sexiness.

    His head was shaved, his eyes pale green, his lips full and sensuous.  Had it not been for the annoyed look on his face, I’d have said he was incredibly sexy.

    I was expecting this kind of description for a special guy but it’s all the guys, and every supernatural dude is a sexy hunk.  Less objectification would have been nice.

  • More character diversity would have been nice, too.

That’s it, though.  This is a series I can binge on – great plot with interesting characters and sexy parts with some fights and female friendship thrown in.  A hearty recommend for urban fantasy types, and paranormal romance people will enjoy it, too.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #1)

17675462Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys but she is drawn to Gansey in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Review:

I am so glad I checked out what my Goodreads friends thought of this book before picking it up.  Among their four and five star reviews I found the line, “it is really slow to start”.  And it is. Very. slow. to. start.

The Raven Boys is character driven and Stiefvater takes her time setting them up.  The plot doesn’t kick into gear until page 100 or so, and even then it rarely does more than amble along.

What saves and makes the book is the characterization.  Each of the boys has a full back story that is only starting to unspool.  Characters have amazing insights about each other that are probably too deep and perceptive for high schoolers but they’re so wonderful you don’t care.  Relationships change and grow, and the multiple points of view let us see how peoples’ perceptions about each other shape their attitudes.  It’s extremely well done.

Do know going in that you’re signing up for a four book series.  While The Raven Boys ends after a significant event it only covers part of a much larger plot.  If I read this book when it first came out I’d be frustrated, but luckily the series is now finished so I can move on to the next one.

An easy recommendation for anyone into character driven urban fantasy… just bring some coffee and an open mind to those first one hundred pages.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

23384972Although it had been mostly deserted since the Voodoo Wars, there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years. Rae Seddon, nicknamed Sunshine, head baker at her family’s busy and popular café in downtown New Arcadia, needed a place to get away from all the noise and confusion—of the clientele and her family. Just for a few hours. Just to be able to hear herself think.

She knew about the Others, of course. Everyone did. And several of her family’s best regular customers were from SOF—Special Other Forces—which had been created to deal with the threat and the danger of the Others.

She drove out to her family’s old lakeside cabin and sat on the porch, swinging her feet and enjoying the silence and the silver moonlight on the water.

She never heard them coming. Of course, you don’t when they’re vampires.

Review:

I love this book so. much.

The good:

  • As much as I love vampires they have been done (and overdone) poorly in the years since Twilight. McKinley builds a believable, gritty world that includes them.  They don’t sparkle or do anything weird.  In fact humans don’t know too much about them because anyone who interacts with a vampire ends up dead.
  • The first person perspective is used to perfection.  Our narrator Sunshine has a defined voice that rambles, but is exact in that rambleyness. She makes me smile and she fleshes out the story in a way that should feel like an info dump but is anything but.

    There are always cats around Charlie’s, but they are usually refugees seeking asylum from the local rat population, and rather desperately friendly.

  • Sunshine goes through a lot of traumatic experiences and her psychological experience feels right on.  I never questioned or doubted her inner life.

    It was easier, saying I didn’t remember.  I walled it all out, including everybody’s insistent, well-meaning concern.  And it turned out to be easy – a little too easy – to burst into tears if anyone tried to go on asking me questions.  Some people are mean drunks: I’m a mean weeper.

  • The plot kept me riveted and pages flew by.  Instead of many small chapters the book is split into only four parts… so I devoured it in four gulps. Yum.
  • Sunshine has a healthy sex life and a grounded view of what she wants from relationships.  There’s no guilt tied up with sex, no apologizing for banging people in college, none of it.  Hey world – more of this, please!
  • The ending is slightly ambiguous, and the lack of a neat-as-a-bow resolution means I can think about Sunshine and Con like they’re still “alive”. What will they do now that this part of their story is over?  What does the future hold for them?  I like thinking about the possibilities.

The not-so-good:

  • In one or two places the awesome rambleyness becomes only so-so rambleyness.
  • That’s pretty much it.

One of my requirements for a five star read is thinking “I can’t wait to reread that” as soon as I close the book.  Sunshine barely misses on that point so I’m giving it an enthusiastic four stars.  Vampire and urban fantasy fans, you’ve found a home.

Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville #3)

7084361Celebrity werewolf and late-night radio host Kitty Norville prefers to be heard and not seen. So when she’s invited to testify at a Senate hearing on behalf of supernaturals, and her face gets plastered on national TV, she inherits a new set of friends, and enemies, including the vampire mistress of the city; an über-hot Brazilian were-jaguar; and a Bible-thumping senator who wants to expose Kitty as a monster. Kitty quickly learns that in this city of dirty politicians and backstabbing pundits, everyone’s itching for a fight.

Review:

A nice continuation of the unconventional urban fantasy started in Kitty and the Midnight Hour. A non-dominant werewolf without a pack, Kitty gets called to testify in Congressional hearings regarding the recently outed supernatural community.

The good:

  • Kitty’s one-on-one conversations with anyone. Vaughn does an amazing job writing exchanges that are believable and thought provoking and oh-so-real. From weirdos that call into to her radio show to Congressional testimony, I loved every dialog.
  • Sex-positivity. Kitty has a lover in this book, someone who she’ll keep as a fond memory but won’t become a regular in the series. There’s no angst about having sex with an incredibly hot guy, no hard feelings about the fling, and most importantly zero guilt about the entire situation. This is normal for guys in urban fantasy but far few women get the same chance. You go, girl!
  • Everyone is well characterized and interesting. I look forward to meeting even the most minor characters in future books.
  • I’ve watched more Congressional hearings than I would care to recently, so it’s obvious to see that Vaughn has done her research. She even touched on a nitpicky point I thought would get trampled. Nice.

The not-so-good:

  • As good as Vaughn is at characterization and dialog, “big bad” fight scenes are thin and short.

A solid series that I’m looking forward to continuing… but my library doesn’t have book three! Noooooo……

Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville #1)

14461Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station – and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it’s Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew?

Review:

When I read the first book of a long series I’m not looking for perfection – I’m looking to be drawn in. Kitty and the Midnight Hour does just that.

Kick-ass heroines are a time-honored trope in urban fantasy and Kitty is not one of them. She’s at the bottom of the supernatural pecking order and it’s refreshing. I’m used to seeing pack politics from the top down, but here we get a look from the bottom up. What is life like for the weakest members of a pack? What is it like to be the protected instead of doing the protector? Some reviewers see it as a weakness – how dare the heroine not be strong from day one! – but it allows her to develop as a person and hopefully avoid the power-up trap many series fall into.

Speaking of development, the characterization is on point and deep for everyone from Kitty down to the guests on her radio show. While some parts of the plot don’t strike me as believable – weres are outed and accepted in society too quickly for my taste – the characters always ring true. I can’t wait to meet them again in book two.

Give this a go if you’re in the mood for fun urban fantasy that colors outside the lines.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (Wolves of Mercy Falls #1)

24538654For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf–her wolf–is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human–or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Review:

I’ve gotten out of the habit of reading urban fantasy which is a shame because I love it.  I found this ranking of Best Urban Fantasy and was surprised to see that I’ve read 23 of the top 100, go me!  Shiver wasn’t far from the top and I recognized the author so I’d thought it would be a good place to start.

I like that werewolves are tied to the seasons instead of the moon, and Stiefvater’s writing is solid.  But it turns out that, at that moment, I wasn’t in the mood for reading YA.  My mind drifted off, thinking about the different ways parents are disposed of so high schoolers can do what needs doing, how sleeping in the same bed kind of non-romantically is a thing, and how you can see the collateral damage from a mile away.

The world building is good and the story is fine, but I didn’t fall in love with it.  I won’t be continuing the series but I will take a look at Stiefvater’s other work.  I guess The Raven Boys would be the best place to start?