review: afterlight

Afterlight by Elle Jasper (2010)

Afterlight is the first book in Elle Jasper’s vampire/paranormal romance series, The Dark Ink Chronicles. Yes, I’m bringing you a vampire romance novel today, so let’s get the preliminaries out of the way, shall we? If you liked the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, but at the same time prefer your vampire romances to be written for adult readers (as opposed to young adult readers), you will like this first book in the Dark Ink Chronicles. I stumbled upon Afterlight while browsing the shelves of my local used bookstore. It’s been on my bookshelf for at least a year now, but with loads of time on my hands at the moment and nowhere to really go (I read this book during my state’s stay-at-home order prompted by COVID-19), I’ve been searching for new series to dive into and focused on clearing my physical and virtual bookshelves. I decided to finally pick up Afterlight, and the truth is that it kept me up past my bedtime and then kept me entertained for the better part of a Saturday. At the time of this writing, this book isn’t available from my local library or through Kindle Unlimited, but if you find it on your next trip to your local used bookstore and you like vampire romances, it’s worth your book dollars.

Afterlight is set in Savannah, Georgia. While many of the stories I have read that are set in Savannah emphasize the prevalence of ghosts, this book offers a slightly different view of Savannah by giving the protagonist, Riley Poe, an opportunity to discover the existence of the supernatural beneath the surface of the normal, human world she has always known. Riley is twenty-five and owns her own tattoo shop, called Inksomnia. She’s also the guardian of her fifteen-year-old brother, Seth. Though the novel is careful to stingily dole out insights into Riley’s past, we know from the very beginning of the story that her teenage years were wild and troubled. Two of the people who helped her get her life back on track are Preacher and his wife, Estelle. They are Gullah and own the shop next door to Riley’s, called Da Plat Eye (more on them later). When the story begins, Riley is tracking down her errant brother, who has gone to one of the local cemeteries with a group of his friends after hours. But it’s her brother’s visit to the cemetery that night and the trouble it brings that sends Riley’s world spiraling out of control and pushes Riley out of the normal life she’s known and into a world where vampires are real. Riley’s need to save her brother is what drives the action plot of the novel, but it’s also how she meets Eli Dupré, which in turn sends the love plot into motion.

The story is told entirely from Riley’s first-person POV. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know what I’m going to say next—the first book in a series must have a compelling protagonist if the writer wants readers to anxiously await and come back for the second book. The question then, of course, becomes, is Riley Poe a compelling protagonist? In my opinion, Riley is interesting enough and unpredictable enough to keep me turning the page to find out how she handles discovering she lives among vampires. Jasper is careful to make sure that Riley has secrets, secrets she isn’t quick to unravel even as her attraction to Eli Dupré grows stronger. Riley is also what has come to be known as the “strong female protagonist” and yet there is also a tension between Riley being capable enough to take care of herself and smart enough to know when she needs help. Because of her past, it’s easy to argue the possibility that Riley is on a redemption arc, and this would explain why one of her primary motivations is to protect those she loves as well as innocents who are being preyed upon, just as she was preyed upon in her youth. Riley is likable and readers will find her first person narrative easy to slip into and tag along with her as her adventure unfolds. There are some characters you simply love, characters who you cannot get enough of, characters who make you feel all of the emotions. Riley Poe wasn’t one of these characters for me. Not yet, anyway. I liked Riley, but she wasn’t so compelling to me as a character that she’s become my latest character obsession (we all have those, don’t we?). Her character is well-developed in the first book in this series, and she has enough potential for me to be willing to give Riley Poe another opportunity to totally win me over.

If you’re writing the first book in a series, the supporting cast is also of vital importance. Afterlight actually has a strong supporting cast with lots of potential for creating a richer and more intricate story world. I’ve already mentioned Riley’s brother, Seth, but there’s also Riley’s best friend, Nyx, who is also a tattoo artist and works in Riley’s tattoo shop, Inksomnia. So far, Nyx plays the role of human who is still blissfully unaware of the existence of vampires. In regard to mentor/parental figures, Riley has close relationships with Preacher and his wife, Estelle. They have been surrogate parents to Riley and are also the characters she is most likely to go to when she needs advice. I have also already mentioned Eli Dupré as the love interest in the novel. Inevitably, readers of the Twilight series will compare him to Edward Cullen (not an entirely unfair comparison since these two novels mostly live within the same broad genre of vampire romance, even if the intended audiences differ). Eli is…definitely not a carbon copy of Edward Cullen. He is intriguing and, at least in this first book in the series, compelling enough that when he was absent from the narrative for a while, I wanted him to come back. He’s not the most compelling vampire I’ve met in my reading adventures and also isn’t on my list of latest character obsessions (if you really want a new character obsession in the form of a vampire, go and find Matthew Clairmont), but again, he’s developed well enough to make me want to see what he does next. The supporting cast is rounded out by Eli’s vampire family, consisting of his mother and father, Gilles and Elise, and his three younger siblings, Phin, Luc, and Josie. In this regard, the Dupré family reminds me a lot of the Cullen family. They take Riley—as well as her brother and even Nyx—under their protection and her fight to save Seth becomes their fight as well. Jasper really has done a really good job of offering a supporting cast that readers will relate to and offering more than just cardboard characters intended to fill a particular role in the story.

Jasper does make a couple of creative choices that typically turn me off as a reader. One is the use of dialect—used primarily by Preacher and Estelle, but also when one of the Gullah characters speaks; the other is the heavy use of slang—used by all of the characters who are close in age to Riley. After a while, both got a little tedious for me. I know, I know. Sometimes I can be a snobby reader, but part of my job here is to offer insight into the book that you won’t necessarily pick up on in the back cover copy or the short sample available for download. If these devices bug you, then you’ve been warned.

When it was time for me to rate this book, I couldn’t decide between three stars and four stars. Really, I wanted to be able to give it a 3.5 star rating, or maybe even 3.75. I didn’t love this book, but it’s so much better than a lot of paranormal romances out there. I didn’t want to rush to download the next book to my kindle, but I did put the next book in the series, Everdark, in my shopping list so that I won’t forget about it. Afterlight was a good diversion and entertained my mind, and if you like vampire romances I do think you’ll enjoy this one.

Have you read Afterlight? What did you think?

review: twilight heart

Twilight Heart by Adam J. Wright (2019)

Twilight Heart is the seventh book in Adam J. Wright’s Harbinger P.I. urban fantasy series. If you haven’t read the previous books in this series, I strongly recommend checking out my review of the first book here before reading on. Spoilers are ahead if you’ve not read the previous books. You’ve been warned.

Do you ever make it to the middle of a book series (or a television show for that matter) where you’re invested in the story enough to want to know how it ends, but you’re losing the excitement you had at the very beginning? That’s how I’m starting to feel about the Harbinger P.I. series. I’m going to keep reading because I want to know how it ends, but I just don’t get the same high satisfaction from each new book in the series that the first few books gave me. Here’s my take on book seven, Twilight Heart. Continue reading

review: blood magic

NOTE: The original title of this book was Blood Sacrifice, and the original title for the series was “Sorcerer’s Creed”. Both the book title and the series title have been changed since I originally downloaded a sample of the book in September 2017. I hope this clears away any confusion, as it took me a minute to figure this out.

Blood Magic by N.P. Martin (2016)

Blood Magic is the first book in N.P. Martin’s Wizard’s Creed urban fantasy series. I originally downloaded a sample of this book and for whatever reason decided not to keep reading. Nine months later, I downloaded the book through my Kindle Unlimited subscription. When I started to read it, I had that feeling I’d read it before and sure enough, I had. I kept reading, though, and got to the 40% mark before putting it down and not picking it up again. Last week, I decided to give the book one last try (because right now I’m all about clearing some titles off my kindle) and I made it to the end this time. While I’m not sure if my history with reading Blood Magic is a ringing endorsement, it does suggest that the story concept is appealing enough to me to have picked the book up multiple times. Blood Magic isn’t one of my recommended reads, but for those of you who are fans of the urban fantasy genre, there are a lot of reasons you might want to give the book a try and, depending on your reading preferences, a handful of reasons why you might want to skip this one and keep browsing for your next read. Continue reading

review: modern sorcery

Modern Sorcery by Gary Jonas (2011)

Modern Sorcery is the first book in the Jonathan Shade urban fantasy series by Gary Jonas. This book has been on my kindle for at least six months. I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but over the weekend I decided I was in the right mood to read this particular book. Well, I should say I was finally in the mood to make a second attempt to read the book. The first time I picked up Modern Sorcery, I read about 9% of the book or what amounts to the first 40 pages. I didn’t know if I would actually make it through the whole book the second time around, but I wanted to, because this is exactly the kind of urban fantasy that is my favorite—private detectives whose investigations take place in a paranormal world, and bonus points if the novel weaves in elements of noir and hardboiled detective fiction. I’m not able to say I loved Modern Sorcery, but I did like it a lot and already plan to read the second book in the series. On a budget? At the time of this writing, it’ll cost you $2.99 plus tax, as the book is not currently available from my local library and it’s also not in the Kindle Unlimited library. If you’re a fan of the urban fantasy genre and looking for a new series, then it’s worth the dollars from your book budget. If you’re a casual fan or new to the genre, I’d recommend starting somewhere else (the Harry Dresden files by Jim Butcher and the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne are fantastic entry points). Continue reading

review: deadline

Deadline by Jennifer Blackstream (2016)

Deadline is the first book in Jennifer Blackstream’s Blood Trails urban fantasy series. If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, then you will have noticed I’ve read a lot of first books in a series lately, and we’re only a few weeks into the year. I tend to think of the first book in a series the same way I think of the pilot episode of a new television show. If the description sparks my curiosity and interest, then I’m willing to sample the first installment. While some critics will tell you we’re experiencing “peak TV”, I would further suggest we’re experiencing “peak publishing”. Which means there are so many more books to sample than I really have time for. The consequence (and maybe it’s a negative consequence) is that the first installment of any series has to grab hold of me and refuse to let me go. What I find is that the more first books I sample, the higher my expectations become, and the harder it is for the book to exceed my expectations. The truth is that my reading time and my book budget dollars are both precious and a finite resource. Which means I’m likely to keep reading a lot of first books in the series, and I’ll try to write something worthwhile and informative about my impressions so that you can decide whether you want to invest your time and money. That being said, let’s dive into the world of Deadline. Continue reading

review: dark magic

Dark Magic by Adam J. Wright (2016)

Dark Magic is the third book in Adam J. Wright’s Harbinger P.I. series. If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, Lost Soul and Buried Memory, I strongly recommend checking out my review of the first book here before reading on. Spoilers are ahead if you’ve not read the first two books. You’ve been warned. Continue reading

review: the merging

The Merging by John P. Logsdon and Christopher P. Young (2017)

What do I say about The Merging, a book I didn’t really enjoy even though I really, really wanted to love it? The Merging held out the prospect of becoming immersed in a series that existed within a fictional world populated by other series with a common thread linking them all together. Fall in love with one series and I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from devouring each series in the same world, right? It would be like NCIS and all its offshoots, or CSI and all its offshoots, or… Well, you get my point. It’s an ambitious vision which I have to commend the authors for undertaking, but at the same time, one of these books was more than enough for me and I’m not inclined to give the other series in this world a try. And yet, the number of four- and five-star ratings this book has received online makes me think I’m an outlier, not the norm, when it comes to not liking this book. Continue reading

review: first grave on the right

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones (2011)

First Grave on the Right is the first book in Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson series. For those of you on a budget, one of the first things you’re going to notice is the price tag on this ebook (and oddly enough, the ebook is a dollar more than the physical paperback version). If you’re like me and haven’t read anything by this author before, you might be a little wary. My monthly book budget is $30 (and that has to also cover my KU subscription), and after tax this book would have taken a third of that amount. That was a big commitment for me for an author whose work I wasn’t sure I was really going to like. But, if you’re a reader on a budget, I’ve got good news for you. First Grave on the Right was available in ebook format from my local library. So if you want to give this book a try but you’re not sure if your book budget can handle it, try your local library. If that fails, you might be able to find a copy in your local used bookstore. Continue reading

review: buried memory

Buried Memory by Adam J. Wright (2016)

I went back for a second helping of Adam J. Wright’s urban fantasy series, Harbinger P.I. and was not disappointed. Buried Memory is certainly an appropriate title that links all of the strands of the story’s plot. It’s about Alec’s buried memories and the physical representation of buried memories—the dead interred in their graves. While I will do my best not to spoil too much, be warned that you need to read this series in order. If you like urban fantasy novels that feature private investigators, give this series a try. The first book in the series is Lost Soul, and you can read my review here. As of this writing, both Lost Soul and Buried Memory are available for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, so if you’re on a budget but have this subscription, you can “read for free”. Continue reading

review: skin and bones

Skin and Bones by Susan Harris (2016)

Skin and Bones is the first book in Susan Harris’ urban fantasy series, The Ever Chace Chronicles. Before you have a chance to read the blurb teasing the story, the first thing appearing in the back cover copy is a pronouncement identifying the book as a “2017 RONE award nominee for best paranormal romance!”. Not going to lie—after I read the description of the story, the suggestion that this book is part of the paranormal romance genre was the gentle push I needed to download the book and give it a try. Do not be fooled like I was—this is not a romance novel. Yes, there is a love plot, but it’s definitely not the A plot. Paranormal suspense is probably a better descriptor of the book’s genre. This is not to say that, once my expectations were adjusted, I didn’t enjoy reading the book. I just didn’t get what I thought I was getting, and while that is sometimes a good thing (like when you get even more than what you were expecting or you get something you didn’t even know you wanted and it was totally awesome), Skin and Bones presented a few other challenges that were difficult for this reader to overcome. Continue reading

review: lost soul

Lost Soul by Adam J. Wright (2016)

Have you ever downloaded a sample of a book, gotten a couple of pages in, and decided to take a pass? Then, months later you give the sample another, dive in, and devour the book? Well, this is what happened to me with Lost Soul by Adam J. Wright. If you’ve seen the book and haven’t decided whether or not you should give it a try, my five cent recommendation is to take a chance and give it a read. If you like urban fantasy featuring a private detective-type main character, or if you are looking for a new series to read, then this book checks a lot of boxes. I’m disappointed this book isn’t available from my local library, but it was certainly worth the withdrawal from this month’s book budget.

The protagonist of Lost Soul is Alec Harbinger, a preternatural investigator banished from Chicago and sent to work in Dearmont, a tiny town in Maine. Alec works for the Society of Shadows, an organization that has its roots in 17th century England. His job is to investigate preternatural threats and solve them. The Society has offices in cities around the world, and though they don’t exactly hide what they do, the majority of the population doesn’t believe in the existence of the supernatural and looks skeptically upon Society investigators. This has the effect of making Alec an outsider, marginalizing him to the fringes of society, and placing him in the long line of protagonists similar to the archetypal hardboiled private eye.

As a character, Alec is fairly ordinary (or at least, that is how he seems right now). He’s not immortal, he doesn’t have any odd idiosyncrasies, he’s not super-flawed or morally grey, he’s not dark and tortured. He’s a likable guy. He’s normal within a world where the paranormal is real. In that way, he’s easy to relate to as a character. What drives him, what he wants most, is to protect unsuspecting people from falling prey to the supernatural creatures walking among them. He wants to do good, and yet he finds himself in opposition to the very Society he works for, which may or may not care about doing what is good and right. Alec resents being stationed in Dearmont and misses Chicago, and as the story begins to unfold, we learn that the reason for his reassignment stems from something that happened while he was in Paris, though it’s a while before the details are revealed (and I won’t spoil them here!). Suffice it to say, this bit of backstory sets up what I expect to become one of the through-lines of the series.

Alec doesn’t expect Dearmont to be a hotbed of supernatural activity, an assumption proven wrong early in the story. How refreshing is it to have a little town in Maine as the primary setting for this series? It’s almost to the point of being a cliche to find urban fantasy series set in New York, Los Angeles, London or even Chicago, and that gets to be imaginatively boring after a while (at least for me it does, and yes, I get that I’m talking about “urban” fantasy). I really appreciate Wright’s decision to set the story in an unconventional location on the map, and I’m hopeful that as the series progresses, the setting will provide a whole gamut of interesting characters and challenges that a big city setting can’t offer. Even though Wright didn’t choose a metropolis for the setting of his story, he is still working in the same tradition of hardboiled detective fiction familiar to readers of the genre, only he takes it down the path that anyone familiar with Stephen King’s work will recognize—a small town that on the outside looks idyllic and wholesome, but underneath the surface lurks the ugly underbelly of humanity.

But of course it’s not just about the protagonist. Overall, it’s a good supporting cast. Each character has potential in his/her own right, but each character also reflects different sides of Alec, showing us who he is and what he cares about. The Society has assigned Felicity Lake to be Alec’s assistant, and while she’s working for him, she can also complete the year of training necessary for her to become a preternatural investigator herself. She’s also there to spy on him for the Society. There’s also Mallory Bronson, who’s been friends with Alec for a few years. Mallory is a “Final Girl” (a term I was not familiar with until reading this book, but then, I don’t watch a lot of horror movies ). As a teenager, she was at a party where everyone was massacred by an assailant called Mister Scary. Now Mallory’s sole mission is to find him and end him, and she puts that mission above everything else in her life. We also meet Leon Smith, a young man Alec encounters as he tries to solve the case his first client in Dearmont brings his way. Leon is new money and good at anything involving computers (yes, he’s your requisite “tech” character). He’s bored and jumps at the chance to help Alec when he needs it. We’ve also got Alec’s absent father, Thomas, who I’m sure will pop up again in future books and seems to be one of the characters with whom Alec will be in conflict as the series continues.

Sheriff John Cantrell also looks to be a conflict character. What is up with the antagonistic law enforcement character that seems to be pervading every urban fantasy series I pick up? I am seeing that trope with greater prevalence these days and I’m bored with it. And yet I understand why this character keeps reappearing. One, it’s a way of adding conflict to the story and another kind of antagonist for the protagonist to have to deal with. This character generally ups the stakes for the protagonist and puts him/her into some sort of peril. Two, it follows in the hardboiled tradition of law enforcement being corrupt and underscores the need for the protagonist to continue doing his job and in doing so, protect the community, sometimes using any means necessary. So while I’m not a fan of this kind of character, I understand the reason for his/her existence, and in this series we’ve got Sheriff John Cantrell.

The more time I spend writing this review, the more I realize how much I liked this book. It marries two of my favorite genres—urban fantasy and hardboiled detective fiction. I definitely recommend reading Lost Soul, especially if you’re like me and have trouble finding new urban fantasy series you can enjoy and don’t feel the same as everything else in the genre.

Have you read Lost Soul? What did you think?

review: maggie get your gun

Maggie Get Your Gun by Kate Danley (2011)

This is the second book in Kate Danley’s Maggie MacKay Magical Tracker series. If you haven’t read the first book, Maggie for Hire, click here for a review and keep reading at your own risk. Spoilers ahead!  Did you want to know if you should still keep reading this series if you’ve only sampled the first book? Yes, you should.  Danley has written another fun and fast-paced adventure with a strong lead and supporting cast.

Maggie Get Your Gun picks up about two weeks after the end of Maggie for Hire.  Life has gotten back to what relatively passes for normal for Maggie—she’s still working as a magical tracker for hire, and she’s now back to doing it in partnership with her father.  Except, at the beginning of the story, Maggie’s father is out of the office on a long weekend getaway trip with Maggie’s mother.  Left alone to hold down the fort, Maggie decides to take on the case brought to her by a new client, Isaac Smith, who tells her that he knows her father.  Smith wants to hire Maggie to retrieve a lady’s hair comb that he left behind on Earth in a place near Las Vegas called Calico Ghost Town.  Maggie senses that Smith isn’t telling her the full story, but when Smith offers to pay her a hefty sum to locate the comb and bring it back to the Other Side, she agrees to the take the case.  With her father out of town and not answering his phone, Maggie decides to enlist Killian, the elf, as backup.  The pair travels to Calico Ghost Town and once they retrieve the hair comb, they discover that it does have magical properties—namely, rising the dead from their graves and turning them into mummies.  Once Maggie realizes that she has been effectively hired to smuggle the comb across the border between worlds (a crime that world walkers like Maggie often become entangled in and for which she could lose her license to move between worlds) she decides to confront Smith and force him to reveal his true reasons for wanting the comb.

I am still very much a fan of Maggie as a character.  She is smart, strong, and funny.  One of the things we learn about Maggie in this book is that she’s always been afraid of ghosts, a fear she’ll have to overcome in order to defeat the primary antagonist of the story.  We also learn that she worries about falling into the trap of becoming a smuggler, which is portrayed as being the common fate and downfall of many world walkers. These are a couple of the insights we get into her character during this adventure.  Not many, and there is not a significant amount of development or growth for her character, but there is enough to keep her interesting and me wanting to continue to follow her through more investigations.

Like in Maggie for Hire, the supporting cast adds depth to the story and is one of the series’ strengths.  Maggie’s twin sister, Mindy, returns, as do her mother and father, Killian, Pipistrelle (the brownie who now protects Mindy and doubles as her housekeeper), and Xiaoming.  Though Maggie herself doesn’t show a lot of change in this story, there is development in her relationships with the supporting characters.  By the end of the story, her relationships with her father and Killian change, and Mindy has also demonstrated that she’s a little bit different than she was before.  In Maggie Get Your Gun, what you have is a family that fights together to save the world, helped along by some friends they make along the way.  If you are a fan of Supernatural and like the family dynamic of that show (Sam and Dean, along with their chosen family—Bobby, Castiel, Jo and Ellen, Jodie) then I think you will like this book because it has that sort of feel to it (I also think that if you’re a fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, you’ll also like this series).  In addition to Maggie’s friends and family, the Big Bad of the series so far—Vaclav, the vampire that wants Maggie dead—also makes a return in this book.  For this reason, I recommend that the books definitely be read in order for maximum enjoyment.  This isn’t the kind of series where you can skip around or skip books and not be confused about what’s going on.

I enjoyed this book and will continue to read more of this series.  Maggie’s first-person narrative style is engaging and holds my interest and attention, and yet another strength of the narrative style is that unlike so many first-person stories I have sampled lately, there isn’t endless narration with no real conversation or interaction with the other characters in the story.  We’re not just alone in Maggie’s head while she tells us what happened and what everyone else did.  Maggie is telling the story, but the supporting characters are right there with her, acting and reacting.  And for my friends with a book budget—this one wasn’t available from my library but it was worth every dollar.  If you haven’t tried this series, you should, and if you read the first book, keep reading! I definitely will.

Have you read Maggie Get Your Gun or any other books by Kate Danley? What did you think?

review: the grendel affair

The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin (2013)

Have you seen The Librarians or Bones? The Grendel Affair feels a lot like those shows, but with supernatural elements. This is the first book in Shearin’s SPI Files series and it could easily be viewed as a kind of pilot episode for the series itself. We are introduced to the main characters that will make up the crime-solving team whose purpose is to protect humanity from the supernatural baddies stalking the underbelly of the world. Like you would expect, we don’t get to know to know too much about any one character, but by the end of the story, there’s the expectation that as this series unfolds, more will be revealed about each member of the team and the supporting cast. But as with any pilot episode—and more to the point, any first book in a series—the characters have to grab you, drag you into their world, and make you want to stay there with them. I’m not convinced that this particular Scooby gang succeeds.

Let’s start with the main protagonist. The story is told through the first-person point of view of Makenna “Mac” Fraser. Mac is relatively new to SPI (Supernatural Protections & Investigations) and the talent that makes her unique as well as placing a perpetual target on her back is her ability to see beneath the glamours, veils and disguises that supernaturals are able to draw over their features and make themselves appear to be human. This ability makes Mac a Seer, a rarity in the world Shearin is building and as such a highly valuable asset to the SPI team. Given that she’s still new to the team, though, Mac is still learning how to navigate the ins and outs of her new job, and though her talent isn’t new, putting it to use is. She’s not an uninitiated innocent that doesn’t know about the hidden world of the supernatural, but she is at a starting point in the series where she has a lot to learn and tons of room for character development and growth. The problem with Mac, at least in this first book, is that she’s not compelling enough. Yes, she has her struggles in terms of fitting into this new world of SPI, but other than the fact that she’s a Seer and the promise that this will likely put her life in danger again and again, there weren’t any glimpses or teases that there’s anything interesting lurking in her backstory. Mac is normal. Maybe too normal.

Which brings me to the supporting cast. Mac’s partner is Ian Byrne, formerly an NYPD detective. She’s not really sure if Ian really likes her or sees her as an equal member of the team, and worries that he thinks of her as someone to babysit. From early on in the novel, there’s a bit of mystery surrounding Ian, as Mac runs into someone she doesn’t know but who clearly knows her and asks her to send his regards to her partner, whom she identifies by name. Then near the middle of the book, Ian relates the event from his past that caused him to leave the NYPD and start working for SPI, adding another layer of interest to his character. Ian doesn’t have any supernatural talents, but he knows how to strategize and soldier. He’s a protector (and yes, maybe that’s why I’m so drawn in by him as a character) but he’s also clearly not a plain vanilla character. Another key member of the supporting cast is Vivienne Sagadraco, the founder of SPI and director of the New York office. Like her name is intended to suggest, Sagadraco is a dragon (cue references to the “dragon lady”) and as the plot develops, it becomes clear that she, too, has a compelling backstory that will come back to haunt her present and impact the team as a whole. It’s also clear that Sagadraco could become the mentor-type figure for Mac, supportive but authoritative, cautious but encouraging. Then there’s Sagadraco’s right-hand man, Alain Moreau, a vampire who is also the lead counsel for SPI (cue references to the “blood-sucking” lawyer). He doesn’t have a big role in the story, but when he does appear it’s with the sense that at some point in this series, he will be featured more prominently and that Moreau is definitely much much more than he seems. Rounding out the cast are Yasha, a werewolf; Calvin, a human who agent who is good in battle; and Kenji, the computer/tech wizard. The problem that Ian and Sagadraco pose is that they are far more interesting than Mac, the perceived protagonist. I can imagine myself picking up the second book in this series just to see how the characters develop, but at the same time it’s not a book I’m going to rush to download or add to my to be read list.

Shearin has chosen New York City as the setting for her series, and no offense to the New Yorkers out there, but once again I find myself rolling my eyes and shaking my head at this choice. Though popular culture wants me to believe it, NYC really isn’t the only city in the world. At the same time, I do have to admit that the choice of New York City is a good one for this particular story. In order to “save the day” Mac and Ian must stop the antagonist of the story from revealing the existence of the supernatural community before the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Aside from the setting, there isn’t a great deal of world-building in the first book in this series, but again, I’m willing to chalk that up to this being the equivalent of the pilot episode of a new series. The point here is that thus far, there’s nothing unique or new about the world Shearin presents, which means you’ll feel at home if you’re a frequent reader of urban fantasy but that there’s also the potential for being bored. For new readers of the genre, it is a good entry point that isn’t so complex that you’ll be put off or alienated.

Is The Grendel Affair a satisfying read? Yes, but I’m not sure I would take the next step and say that it was hard for me to put down or that I was fully engaged throughout the story. It was average, not by any means the worst of the category but not an exemplar, either. Considering that I’ve always got my eye on my book budget and want to make the most of my book dollars, I’m not inclined to read the next book in this series any time soon. If you’re looking for urban fantasy that is similar to what you’d find in the cozy mystery genre, this one might be for you; however, if like your urban fantasy to be populated by characters with haunting backstories and a world that is a bit more dangerous and threatening, then take a pass on this one.

Have you read The Grendel Affair or any other books by Lisa Shearin? What did you think?

review: maggie for hire

Maggie for Hire by Kate Danley (2011)

Looking for a new urban fantasy series featuring a female protagonist as the main character? May I suggest Maggie for Hire, the first book in Kate Danley’s Maggie MacKay Magical Tracker series. Even for this slow reader it was a quick read, and I’ve already added the second book in the series to my to-be-read list—which, if you come here regularly, you know is my litmus test for the first book in a series. Here’s what you’ll get if you give this series a try: an engaging protagonist surrounded by a strong supporting cast, operating in a world that is familiar enough to be comfortable but also different enough to offer some surprises. I happened to get the first book in the series for free, and I don’t see that they are available from my local library, but they are reasonably priced and I will buy them without a moment of buyer’s remorse.

The story is told from Maggie’s first person point-of-view (POV), and the setting is Los Angeles. Maggie is a magical tracker, the equivalent to your garden variety bounty hunter. She tracks down skips who are from the Other Side. These Other Siders are not human, and they have either overstayed their visa permitting them to travel through an official portal to Earth, or they have travelled to Earth through an unofficial portal. When we first meet Maggie, she is fighting a vampire. Just before she stakes him, the vampire delivers an ominous warning—that Maggie has a bounty on her head. This opening is merely that—a prelude to the real catalyst of the story, which comes in the form of Killian, an elf who has been sent by the Queen of the Elves to ask Maggie for help. She agrees to help Killian, and the adventure begins.

I don’t know about you, but an unappealing main character will make me put a book down and abandon it faster than any other element of the story. Maggie MacKay shares similarities with other protagonists you’ll find in this genre, but the good news is that she’s not a carbon copy of another character, derivative and unoriginal. Maggie is an engaging narrator, amusing and sassy, real in the way the best fictional characters always are. Something we learn about Maggie right away is that her father was from the Other Side and her mother is from Earth. Her father was a powerful “world walker,” someone who could open a portal between Earth and the Other Side by simply ripping a hole in the fabric of the border separating the two. Maggie has inherited this gift, and it’s because of this ability that she’s able to do the job she does. The other thing that is different about Maggie is that she’s not the stereotypical twenty-something whose world as she’d always known it is about to fundamentally change. This isn’t to say there aren’t some revelations awaiting Maggie as the story progresses—there are—but Maggie isn’t the character whose about to be initiated and introduced into a whole new world she’s never known existed before, and for me, that makes her all the more interesting. What also makes her intriguing is that because she can easily walk between both worlds, and because her mother is human and her father is Other, she is the kind of character that struggles to know where she fits, where she belongs. Is it on the Other Side? Or is it on Earth? Is it both, or neither? How does someone who can straddle both worlds, negotiate both worlds, find her place to call home?

When I’m reading urban fantasy, the second element that must be done well is the supporting cast. Danley succeeds in surrounding Maggie with a strong group of characters that have the potential to be interesting in their own right as well as how their relationships with Maggie develop and change. Killian, the 6-foot-4 elf, is both sidekick and love interest (and honestly, I can’t help imagining Captain Hook from Once Upon a Time – wily and capable, but definitely riding in the passenger seat instead of driving this train). Father Killarney and Sister Magdalena are both mentor figures and the wise/scholar type characters of the story, fully aware of the Other Siders and how to battle and defeat those that are malevolent. Maggie’s family is also part of the supporting cast. Her mother lives on the Other Side and is a seer, and yes as you’d expect that means she can see into the future. Maggie has a twin sister, Mindy, who appears to be a plain vanilla, non-magical human. She lives on Earth and in Los Angeles with her husband. Maggie and Mindy are close enough that Mindy keeps a room for Maggie to sleep in when she’s on Earth, but it remains to be seen how that relationship will be further developed in the future. For now, though, Mindy has been set up as a kind of confidant. Then, perhaps most typical in this particular genre, there’s the missing father. Years ago, Maggie was working a job with her father, and when it came time for both of them to jump through a portal and travel from Earth to the Other Side, she made it through but he didn’t. You’ve read enough books in this genre to know that he’s not going to stay missing, right?

This book was a pleasant surprise. So many times after reading the back cover copy of a book, I think to myself, yes, this book has potential and might be exactly what I’m looking for, and it’s disappointing when all that potential goes to waste. That didn’t happen with Maggie for Hire. Actually, in the days after I finished it, I realized just how much I liked it and that it stood out among its peers, which is not always an easy thing to do in this genre. I’m looking forward to reading the second book in this series, Maggie Get Your Gun, and in fact it’s near the top of my to-be-read list. Whether you’re new to the urban fantasy genre or a long-time fan, I recommend giving this book a read if you haven’t yet stumbled upon it.

Have you read Maggie for Hire or any other books by Kate Danley? What did you think?

review: wrong side of hell

Wrong Side of Hell by Sonya Bateman (2016)

I read a lot of books that are the first in a series, and Wrong Side of Hell by Sonya Bateman is the next addition to that particular section on my bookshelves. When I read the first book in a series, I’m looking for the author to satisfy a few specific requirements and convince me that continuing to read the series is going to be worth an investment of my time and my book budget (this is always an important factor for me, because I’m a woman who does have a book budget and though I love my public library, there are so many titles that are simply not available; I’m always disappointed when I spend my money on a book and end up with buyer’s remorse). I won’t bury the lede here—I really enjoyed Wrong Side of Hell and am looking forward to reading the second book in Bateman’s The DeathSpeaker Codex series. Let me tell you why.

If I’m trying out a new series and a new author, the most important thing the author must do is give me a compelling protagonist. I have to like the protagonist and I must want to continue following him or her through the story. Bateman offers Gideon Black as the protagonist. He’s twenty-six years old and lives out of the back of his van, which he parks in the garage attached to his gym. Gideon works as a body mover—meaning, he’s the person who gets a phone call requesting that he pick up a corpse and deliver the dead from the places where they died to what Gideon calls their next stop—be that a funeral home or a morgue. He works primarily during the night and sleeps during the day. When we first meet him, the person he seems to be closest to is Abe, who we come to learn is the mentor figure in his life and who works as an NYPD homicide detective. What makes Gideon compelling? Well, he’s your typical loner and he overcame an early life filled with adversity. But he’s just a guy, working in the city, doing a job few would be willing to do to make ends meet. He’s drifting through life, but of course, that changes dramatically when he saves a young woman from a group of men intent on killing her. Why else am I willing to follow him through the book that amounts to his origin story? He’s resourceful, compassionate, and knows that sometimes doing the right thing means doing the hard thing. Considering this is just the first introduction to Gideon Black, Bateman has given me enough reasons to want to see how he will evolve as he settles into his new normal now that the veil of innocent ignorance has been ripped from his eyes.

In addition to a compelling protagonist, I also need the supporting cast of characters to be sketched out and developed to the point that I can see how each character will fit into the protagonist’s life as he navigates his new world but also are interesting in their own right. Sometimes what I find is that I like the protagonist well enough, but the supporting cast are annoyances to be tolerated or are somehow obstacles to get through. Again, Bateman succeeds here in not giving me a reason to stop at the end of the first book in the series. The supporting cast is a strong one. First there is Sadie, a werewolf who is initially drawn to Gideon because of a talisman in his possession. She is his first source of information into this new world he has been thrust into and at least at the beginning serves as his first guide. Second there is Taeral, a Fae cut off from his home world of Arcadia. Taeral stands as Gideon’s protector and a reluctant teacher, and in many ways he is established as Gideon’s opposite. From his “normal” life, there is Viv, the medical examiner with whom Gideon has worked to solve murders in the past, as well as the aforementioned Abe, Gideon’s mentor and an NYPD homicide detective. Rather than existing as carbon copies of a particular character type, all of the characters are distinct in their identities, at least this is the case in book one. Taeral is probably the character I’m most intrigued by, and I will be interested to see how he is developed as well as how his relationship with Gideon unfolds as the series continues.

The third aspect I’m going to be analyzing when I’m reading the first book in a series is the world building. Bateman doesn’t diverge here in terms of what you might expect from an urban fantasy novel. We have the unknowing human world moving alongside the hidden supernatural world. Bateman locates her world in New York City, and well that’s fine if a bit unoriginal. One thing that does standout about this world in regard to the supernatural is that in this book, the Others (as Bateman calls them) exist on the fringes of society. They are not the wealthy, powerful individuals passing as human as you frequently see in other urban fantasy worlds. Instead, the Others in this world are hunted by the Milus Dei—a secret faction of humans intent upon eradicating the Others from the planet. Of course, this secret society of hunters is not original either, and to be honest, I’m at capacity when it comes to the conventional trope of secret societies hunting paranormal beings. The one reason I wasn’t turned off by the appearance of this trope is that at least it was introduced in the first book of the series. Meaning, I expect to see Milus Dei as a recurring antagonist, instead of being brought in out of nowhere during the middle of the series. Also, from my perspective at the end of the first book of the series, I am setup to cheer on the eventual overthrow and destruction of Milus Dei, but of course, we’ll have to see where Bateman takes it. Overall, though, the world building is enough to keep me interested and there’s nothing that makes me want to stop reading.

Indeed, the book ends in such a way that I want to keep reading the further adventures of Gideon Black. Once I finished the book, I added the next book, Fields of Blood, to my to-be-read list. I’m glad I stumbled upon this book, and it was worth my time and money. If you enjoy urban fantasy and have been looking for a new series to read, I recommend reading Wrong Side of Hell.

Have you read Wrong Side of Hell or any other books by Sonya Bateman? What did you think?