Clean Sweep ~ Ilona Andrews

  • Title: Clean Sweep
  • Author: Ilona Andrews
  • Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #1
  • Genre: Fantasy, UF
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night. Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

Review:  The world building in this short novel is fascinating, quirky and utterly unique. It’s combining science fiction and fantasy, and it feels like the authors gave free rein to their imagination while creating it. They populated their story with a sentient inn, vampires, werewolves, hundreds of different worlds connected by some sort of gateways, and of course the innkeeper with a broom – her deadliest weapon.

Dina, the protagonist, is the innkeeper. Her inn is a sanctuary on Earth for all the travelers from other worlds. While Dina stays inside the inn’s property, her magic, combined with the inn’s magic, is the strongest, but when she leaves the perimeter of the inn, for example to go shopping, her power diminishes with every step she takes away from her inn. What an original manifestation of the idea that any power has a price and a boundary.

Like every innkeeper, Dina is supposed to maintain neutrality in any conflict arising between worlds. Her guests’ safety is supposed to be her first priority. But when someone or something starts killing dogs in her quiet little town in Texas, she feels she must interfere.

Then a handsome, arrogant neighbor, werewolf Sean, arrives to tell her that he will take care of the problem. Butterflies flutter in her stomach every time she glances at his muscular thighs/shoulders/abs. His penetrating yellow eyes don’t help her peace of mind either. But she can’t let him face the danger alone, alpha male or not.

Then a charming vampire lands in her backyard, with the same purpose – to destroy the baddies in Texas. Testosterone levels spike, as the trio fight the villains and try to figure out their relationships at the same time.

The story runs quickly, maybe too quickly, as if it has too many legs but sometimes those legs trip over each other. The dialog is fast, snarky and funny, representing the authors’ dry, offbeat humor. Although characterization is pretty primitive (with the exception of Dina), secondary to the world-building and plot, the whole is an enjoyable read. I like this book more than the authors’ other series. Obviously, I’m not a huge fan of Kate Daniels.  

The illustrations included in the text are simply gorgeous, even though I read the book on my B&W Kindle.

Overall – a delicious, entertaining reading experience.

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Magic Rises ~ Ilona Andrews

  • Title: Magic Rises
  • Author: Ilona Andrews
  • Series: Kate Daniels #6
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: ebook
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Atlanta is a city plagued by magical problems. Kate Daniels will fight to solve them—no matter the cost.

Mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate, Curran, the Beast Lord, are struggling to solve a heartbreaking crisis. Unable to control their beasts, many of the Pack’s shapeshifting children fail to survive to adulthood. While there is a medicine that can help, the secret to its making is closely guarded by the European packs, and there’s little available in Atlanta.

Kate can’t bear to watch innocents suffer, but the solution she and Curran have found threatens to be even more painful. The European shapeshifters who once outmaneuvered the Beast Lord have asked him to arbitrate a dispute—and they’ll pay him in medicine. With the young people’s survival and the Pack’s future at stake, Kate and Curran know they must accept the offer—but they have little doubt that they’re heading straight into a trap…

Review:  Once again, Ilona and Gordon, the husband and wife team behind the pseudonym Ilona Andrews, have knocked it out of the ball park. Magic Rises is the sixth book in the action-packed, urban fantasy series that focuses on Kate Daniels, a warrior living in a world where the balance between magic and tech is unstable. Kate’s magical blood makes her powerful, yet vulnerable to her fratricidal father. Fortunately, she has the backing of her pack courtesy of her role as mate to Currran, The Beast Lord and ruler of the Atlanta shape shifters.

In Magic Rises, Kate and Curran travel to unfriendly European pack territory to protect a pregnant werewolf and moderate in the resulting paternal dispute (yes, I mean paternal rather than paternity – a dispute of fathers, if you will). Recognizing it for the trap that it is, the alpha couple and a team of their trusted pack members assume the risk to acquire Panacea from the European packs, a rare substance that can save the lives of adolescent shifters, preventing them from the insanity of loupism and the death sentence it carries. The danger far exceeds their expectations, threatening not just the lives of their contingent, but also their loyalties and the mate bond between Kate and Curran.

This book is chock full of page-turning, edge-of-your-seat, high intensity action and adventure. Gordon and Ilona produce such wonderfully written battle scenes that I often found myself holding my breath while reading them. There are several such scenes included in Magic Rises and it is hard to choose just one that is more memorable. That is not going to stop me from admitting that the “sparring” match between Kate and Hugh not only captivated me, but also awakened a blood-thirsty inner voice that kept chanting, “Kill him, Kate! Cut that smug expression right off of his rotten little face!” Who knew I possessed such blood lust? (Um, ok, probably everyone, being that I am Darth and all.)

I am sure that if anyone was around to witness my reading reactions, they would think I was a total lunatic. I laughed out loud, I gasped, I may or may not have cried a little, and I surely started to turn blue in the face from holding my breath. I found myself obsessively compelled to get in just one more page (I might even have snuck in a few page or two while stopped at traffic lights). I just could not put it down, I needed to know what was going to happen to some of my favorite characters next.

The complexity of these characters deepens even further in Magic Rises. At the same time that she struggles with her esteem as an alpha who is not a shifter, Kate reveals just how much of an alpha she truly is. Her heart is breaking, and yet she continues to put the pack above herself time and again. (Not killing Hugh, trying to make sure Derek does not feel divided loyalty between her and Curran, and carrying on with the assignment). Curran, who we already know is a total alpha (hello, Beast Lord, here), further demonstrates his leadership abilities, despite his worry about Kate (we’ll get to that in a minute). All of the shifters in the book displayed a depth of devotion and furvor to protect their own, but none more so than Aunt B, who has long been one of my favorite characters in the series. I wish I could tell you more, but better to let you read it on your own.

Romantic relationships in non-romance series often grown either stale or silly after so many books. Ilona and Gordon keep this fire burning bright without sacrificing the emotional intelligence of their characters. The razor sharp tension between Kate and Curran fits within the context the plot without changing the essence of the characters themselves. I like the fact the fact that Curran is not apologetic about the fact that yes, he was an ass. However, he had come to terms with the decision that he’d risk losing Kate’s love rather than losing her life. In the end, she is forced to admit she’d do the same. Once again, it the is alpha in both of them.

Of course, no Kate Daniels book would be complete without a plethora of snarktastic fun, and Magic Rises certainly rises to the occasion. (See what I did there?) The banter is well-written and leaves me grinning like a loon. I think a lot of authors struggle with dialog, trying too hard to convey too much information in stilted exchanges between characters. Meanwhile, Gordon and Ilona make witty dialog seem effortless. They convey so much about personalities, relationships, and plots in just a few, often humorous, words, such as “Dear God, the cookie was poisoned.” (Upon reading, I hooted with laughter.)

Another aspect of this book, and the series as a whole, that sets it apart is that while there is a clear plot arc across books, each books has a fully developed and COMPLETED plot line. Some higher profile fantasy authors could take note (ahem, GRRM). I not only enjoyed the adventure, but I felt satisfied at the end. Not so satisfied that I won’t buy the next book on its release date just as I did with Magic Rises.

If for some reason, you have not yet started on this series, I cannot urge you enough to jump on in. This is really solid urban fantasy writing. The world-building is phenomenal, the action is exciting, and it is all accomplished with a wry sense of humor. For those of you who know and love this series, I’ll be waiting for you to finish Magic Rises over on the I-can’t-wait-for-Magic Breaks couch.

Magic Bleeds ~ Ilona Andrews

  • Title: Magic Bleeds
  • Author: Ilona Andrews
  • Series: Kate Daniels #4
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Kate Daniels keeps the peace in Atlanta for the Order, humans caught between the vampire controlling People led by her biological father and best kept secret, Roland, and the shape-shifter Pack, led by her mate-to-be Curran, the Lord of the Beasts. But her look-alike aunt Erra, Babylon’s god of chaos and terror, has come to town controlling seven naked warriors: Deluge (flood water), Tremor (earth quake), Gale (hurricane wind), Torch (fire inferno), Venom (disease poison), Beast (animal monster), and Darkness (overpowering dread).

Review:  I tried this series several years ago, when the first novel, Magic Bites, came out, and I didn’t like it much. I know that many of my friends adore this series and its protagonist, Kate Daniels, so I decided to try it again when I came upon this book on my library shelf. I still don’t like it much, although I have to give the authors their due: the plot construction is masterful, the world-building superb, the action fast and furious, and the tension almost unbearably high from the first page on. Danger, blood, and pain, personified in multiple internal and external clashes, crowd the heroine on all sides. No breather is allowed, and she is injured for most of the story. And that is my first objection: the tale is too dark and gritty for me.    

Kate starts the novel as an agent of a peace-maintaining agency, the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, in Atlanta. The world she lives in is repeatedly hit by waves of magic, so technology is unreliable, and most of the infrastructure of our civilization has collapsed years ago. Into that world comes a mysterious villain of mythical proportions, ‘a tall man in a cloak’, to wreak death and chaos, and Kate is called on the scene in her official capacity: to investigate the bad guy. From this moment, the action rolls forward with the speed and inevitability of an armored train. No stopping the monster, except with a nuke… or a fictional equivalent of one – Kate.

Adding to this Kate’s conundrum in the heart department – her intermittent love-him-hate-him with her paramour, Curran, the leader of the local shape-shifters – plus her dispute-riddled relationships with other local non-humans, and we have a recipe for a potent brew of a story, studded with conflict and punctuated with sword and magic battles. Most lovers of urban fantasy must love it. As I’m not a big fan of the subgenre, it leaves me torn.      

My second objection is a personal one: I dislike Kate. She is too confrontational and too sure that most problems can be solved with a punch or a sword. In a word, she is too kick-ass, and I disagree with this quality in anyone, male or female. I admire people who think before (or instead of) swinging a blade or driving a fist into your teeth. I like intellectuals, smart guys and girls who can understand and negotiate, and Kate is as far from them as the moon is from earth.   

Deep inside, she seems kind and compassionate, but on the surface, she is rough and relentless: a highly-trained female thug with a proverbial heart of gold. I don’t believe it. In my experience, after a while being a thug, thugs become inured to the others’ suffering; they don’t notice it anymore, and their compassion turns academic, in theory only. That’s what I see in Kate: her kick-ass personality dominating her life, personally and professionally, while her ability to think and compromise and persuade is almost atrophied.

Although I’ve never wanted to deal with such a person, especially with such a woman, in life, I understand the attraction my friends feel to her in fiction. Kate is simple, a black-and-white persona. For her, the universe is divided to friends and else, and she is firmly on the side of her friends. And I want to be in her camp too. I don’t ever want to be her enemy. I guess this powerful novel affected me emotionally after all, despite my intellectual drive to reject it. I cared for Kate while I read. I might try the next novel, although I don’t think I will read this series back to the beginning.

Shifting Selves ~ Mia Marshall

  • Title:  Shifting Selves
  • Author:  Mia Marshall
  • Series:  Elements #2
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Netgalley
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Description:  Aidan Brook’s world was shattered when the actions of a brutal murderer revealed long-buried secrets about her past–secrets even she didn’t know. A powerful elemental, Aidan discovered she possesses the wrong kind of magic. It’s a secret that could cost her sanity—or even her life.

What she needs is some peace and quiet. What she gets is a phone call from a division of the FBI so secret it  doesn’t even have a name, asking for her help with a series of shifter disappearances.

Before Aidan can settle into a new routine of pancakes and evenings by the fire, the case develops claws. She quickly finds herself caught between uptight bears, deadly mountain lions, overprotective parents, and unhappy federal agents. Throw in a stalled romance with an enigmatic shifter and the slow dissolution of her chosen family, and it’s hard to say which will drive her mad first: her magic, or her chaotic life

Review:  Ok. I would just like to say that Mia Marshall simply cannot write books fast enough. To me, she is quickly joining the shelf with Lisa and Patricia as an author whose works provide me refuge to escape the trials of my life and immerse myself into another world with the company of characters I love and hate to leave. And, I dream about the characters and their worlds. They make me happy. Trust me when I say this is not an easy shelf to which to gain access and arriving here gets you a crazy, whacked out fanatic who will not let anyone say a word against you. Ok, maybe not *quite* so dramatic, but I take my fanaticism seriously. VERY seriously. (You have been warned.)

As in all my favorite stories, this has a plot, but the plot is totally immaterial to me. Ok, not *totally*, but if it passes for a plot and there is character consistency and at least an attempt to tell a new story, it is a fairly easy ride for me. I do not read this type of novel for its great value as literature, I read it to spend time with characters I love and encourage them in their adventures. And, I realize they do not require my encouragement, but they have it anyway. Just as long as I get to share the ride.

Oh, yes, the plot. In this latest adventure of Aidan and Sera, they have been ‘hired’ by their FBI cohorts from the last novel who, because of their newfound knowledge, have been transferred to a new supernatural division. The guys ask the gals to investigate a rash of shifter disappearances. This includes the disappearance of their, for lack of a better word, friend Mac’s cousin. While the relationship between the elementals and the shifters is still quite raw, because of their friendship, Aidan and Sera are allowed access by Mac’s family. Thus, the groundwork for the tale is complete and the story takes off. We still get to be in awe of Josiah, their dad, but this time around, we are treated to more interaction with Aidan’s mom, Fiona. In addition, there are shifting otters. I mean, seriously, how can you go wrong with shifting otters? Ok, *friendly* shifting otters.

My one gripe with this book is the ending. I am not completely convinced I liked the ending. Oh, I didn’t *dislike* it, it just kinda went someplace with which I am not entirely sure I am comfortable. Because of my deep and abiding love for Aidan and Sera and Mac and Simon, I am willing to ride out the transition and have faith that Ms. Marshall is ultimately taking this somewhere that will make me completely happy. I guess I just have to hope the final destination is several books down the road.

I would also like to give a shout out to the covers for these books. I didn’t really notice the first one, but open looking at the 2nd, I went back and looked. They are really quite cleverly done and tell stories in and of themselves.

I gave this book 4.5 stars and, because I rounded the last one down, I rounded it up to 5.

Oh, and, still no vampires in sight.

Bayou Moon ~ Ilona Andrews

  • Title: Bayou Moon
  • Author: Ilona Andrews
  • Series: The Edge #2
  • Genre: UF, PNR
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewer: Soo
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  The Edge lies between worlds, on the border between the Broken, where people shop at Walmart and magic is a fairytale–and the Weird, where blueblood aristocrats rule, changelings roam, and the strength of your magic can change your destiny…

Cerise Mar and her unruly clan are cash poor but land rich, claiming a large swathe of the Mire, the Edge swamplands between the state of Louisiana and the Weird. When her parents vanish, her clan’s long-time rivals are suspect number one.

But all is not as it seems. Two nations of the Weird are waging a cold war fought by feint and espionage, and their conflict is about to spill over into the Edge—and Cerise’s life . William, a changeling soldier who left behind the politics of the Weird, has been forced back into service to track down a rival nation’s spymaster.

When William’s and Cerise’s missions lead them to cross paths, sparks fly—but they’ll have to work together if they want to succeed…and survive.

*Potential Spoilers*

Review:  William is a changeling. Right after his birth, his mother gave him away to be raised in an institution for changelings. He grew up in a small, spare room and he was taught how to fight. It is all he knows.

He dreams of having a home, a woman to call his mate and a family he can call his own, but he fears that he doesn’t have the right to anything precious. Then William meets the hobo queen who turns out to be a beautiful woman and a skilled blade master. There are a few obstacles in the way of their happiness but magically altered people & plans for a devastating war aren’t enough to keep William from what he claims as his.

I’m see-sawing between 3 & 4 stars for this book. A part of me wants to rate it 4, but I can’t quite make myself do it. Thus, 3.5 it is!

Apparently, it takes about 100 pages for the story to really suck me in. That’s a lot of pages. It’s almost worth the first 100 pages to get to the good parts but I think 100 pages is a bit much.

Cerise is a cool chick. She kicks major ass and doesn’t take crap from anyone. I enjoyed seeing her soft, naive, cruel, blunt, sassy, bloodthirsty, loyal and silly sides. She’s a good match for William, whom I LOVE. He is definitely my favorite character out of all the ones I’ve met in the Edge.

The descriptions about the Hand’s minions in the beginning of the book were crap. There weren’t clear distinctions until the middle of the book. The fighting in the beginning were rather bland as well. It became more interesting towards the later half. I was really happy when it did! I do love a good fight scene.

The part where William gets to wherever Genevieve is held & how he ends up killing her. Ok, I get that he killed her. I understand that she had to die to avoid further suffering, etc. Sure. Check. Yet the whole getting to her and what she turned into exactly? Very foggy.

Then there is the Box and Grandpa V’s experiments. Gah… Potentially interesting but rather deflating addition to the storyline. I had more interest in Grandmother Az’s background, swamp magic, the Thoas, etc than I did in what Grandpa V was really doing in the Mire. I guess there’s a decent line up to that point but when that particular revelation happened, I felt let down.

I mean, come on! William dies and the freaking Box brings him back to life?!?!?! Blargh~

Spider survived. Really? REALLY? Lame.

Parts I Love:

-Grandma Az is AMAZING and I would totally read a book or story based on her. She’s awesome!

-The poison shawl was brilliant!

-William

-Declan, Rose, Jack & George coming back into the story for a short second.

-Kaldar is a sweetie.

On the Edge ~ Ilona Andrews

  • Title: On the Edge
  • Author: Ilona Andrews
  • Series: The Edge #1
  • Genre: UF, PNR
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewer: Soo
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Rose Drayton lives on the Edge, between the world of the Broken (where people drive cars, shop at Wal-Mart, and magic is a fairy tale) and the Weird (where blueblood aristocrats rule, changelings roam, and the strength of your magic can change your destiny). Only Edgers like Rose can easily travel from one world to the next, but they never truly belong in either.

Rose thought if she practiced her magic, she could build a better life for herself. But things didn’t turn out how she planned, and now she works a minimum wage, off the books job in the Broken just to survive. Then Declan Camarine, a blueblood noble straight out of the deepest part of the Weird, comes into her life, determined to have her (and her power).

But when a terrible danger invades the Edge from the Weird, a flood of creatures hungry for magic, Declan and Rose must work together to destroy them—or they’ll devour the Edge and everyone in it.

Review:  Rose’s independent, spunky sass landed her in a pot of trouble. Her moment of triumph became the crap shot of her life, and all her dreams of love died as men tried to take her against her will to become a broodmare. Things settled down a bit, Rose became the head of her household, worked to keep food on the table for the boys, and tried her best to make sure her family was happy and safe. Then twisted hounds invade her town, animals are found dead, and people start to go missing.

To top it all off, a hulking blond blueblood declares he’s going to claim Rose as his! As if!

I like the faint southern, backwoods accent that coats Rose & the boys speech. It took me a while to absorb the massive info dump at the beginning of the story. The adjustment phase to visualize the world & characters was long enough that I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the story to the end. The characters are sneaky! As I struggled to get the setting fleshed in my mind, the darn characters went and dug a garden in my fertile brain. Jack & Georgie’s antics, Declan’s triple layered conversations, Grandma’s love & wisdom, William with his haunted eyes, and Rose with her briar patch personality & fierce protective streak.

Without the gradual growth of the characters and world building, this story would be rated 3 stars. But, the whole of it has bowled me over and it’s getting 4!

Favorite Line:

“Did you see that?” the Duchess yelled. “He rescued her from us. This wedding is on!”