City of Ashes ~ Cassandra Clare

  • Title: City of Ashes
  • Author: Cassandra Clare
  • Series: The Mortal Instruments #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what’s normal when you’re a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who’s becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn’t ready to let her go — especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary’s only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil — and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings — and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

In this breathtaking sequel to City of Bones, Cassandra Clare lures her readers back into the dark grip of New York City’s Downworld, where love is never safe and power becomes the deadliest temptation.

*This review may contain spoilers.*

Review:  Cassandra Clare is back. City of Ashes is the follow-up to her fun, young adult urban fantasy adventure City of Bones. This second book of the Mortal Instruments series is everything that the first book was not, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The first book was light on teen wallowing and focused on more on their adventure through a dangerous magical world.

City of Ashes, on the other hand, is a story about a group of spoiled teens in the midst of a big ole angst fest. Clary and Jace are all angsty about their Luke and Lei sibling attraction since they still think they are brother and sister. (Clearly, at some point it will be revealed that they are not actually siblings, because otherwise, eww!) Jace is also wallowing in Vader/Valentine father drama and acting bratty because nobody believes him, because dishing up disdainful attitude is always helpful in getting others to see your point of view. Simon is battling his angst driven jealously over any attention that Clary is paying to her brother, Jace. Alec is drowning in a whole vat of youthful melodrama, struggling with his sexuality, his unrequited love for Jace, and perhaps a hidden romance? Isabelle is not so much angsting as she is rebelling against nothing. Oh, and they are aware of the magical world around them and they are trying to fight evil.

Eventually, we see some opportunities for action and adventure. However, it feel like every time a conflict arises, someone breaks out into an angst-driven monologue. How many times are they going to feel swayed by Valentine’s fanatical ranting? Really? He’s right THERE! Less talky talky, more stabby stabby. When we are not interrupting this regularly scheduled not-a-fight scene, we are flash-forwarding to the end only to experience yet another heart rending near death episode. Surely Simon’s nine live are up??? Oh, the drama!

This book is guilty of SO many fiction faux pas plot devices that I may have lost count. The top five kind of looks like this:

  1. Overreaction in place of action – like going to a werewolf bar to pick a fight because you are mad at your stepmom
  2. Overuse of the monologue – battle is raging all around us, my sweet, but let me try to convince you why my evil plan is great
  3. Logic is overrated (not sure which is my favorite example) – I hate demons SO much, that I want to rid the world of half demons by allying myself with full demons OR I know you are my sister, but will you still be my girlfriend and we can keep it a secret?
  4. Smart characters make stupid decisions – The bad guy is looking for someone like ME? Why then, let me run off into the night alone and take back alleys so he can capture me!
  5. And the worst plot device used in this book is . . . Love triangles, or in this case knots – A hot werewolf girl is in love with me, but I’m in love with you. You are in love with your brother. He loves you, too, but you can’t be together, obviously. His teenage foster brother is in love with him, but dating a 300 year old wizard who may be in love him (eww). The foster sister seems to be in love with herself. Let’s not even bother with the “adults.” It boggles the mind.

I pretty much liked the characters in the first book. Well, I didn’t dislike them, at least. However, in City of Ashes I think that everyone could use a swift boot to the head. Jace spends the book sneering and throwing abuse at others, meanwhile whining that no one believes in him. Clary is trying to martyr herself for every bad thing that happens to her in between bouts of saying really nasty things to people. Simon acts like a pouty douche who seems to have lost at least 30 IQ points since that last book. I could go on. Suffice it to say that Valentine wiping them all out starts to look appealing by the end of the book.

As for the conclusion, Clare serves up an ending so ambiguous that when examined you realize that there really wasn’t closure to any of the plot threads of this book. In fact, if you remove all of the angst and over emoting, I think that this book contributes maybe a single chapter, two at the most, of relevant information that moves that series plot arc forward.

On the positive side, the cover art for City of Ashes is fantastic. In keeping with the theme of the first cover, it features the city skyline with an otherworldly teen figure rising from the behind the city. This time the figure represents Clary with an almost flaming quality to her red hair. Too bad the contents of the book do not live up to the promise of the cover.

Now, I am left with a decision. Do I give the series another chance? I DID like the first book. However, my eyes are still sore from the number of times I rolled them while reading this book. Perhaps I’ll give it some time, let my eye muscles recover, and see how I feel with a little distance. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. We shall see.

City of Bones ~ Cassandra Clare

  • Title: City of Bones
  • Author: Cassandra Clare
  • Series: The Mortal Instruments #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
  • Format: Hardback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder – much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air.

It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing – not even a smear of blood – to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk.

Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

Review:  I’ve long had my eye on City of Bones. The cover is eye catching and the plot sounds interesting. My lingering hesitance is part of my usual dilemma, will the story be more adventure or angst. With the movie release upon us, it is time to make that decision . . . to read or not read?

I am glad that I chose to read. There are certainly hints of teen angst here and there, but the story is directed mostly by adventure and world-building. Hurrah! I admit that the plot is on the predictable side, but the entertaining manner in which the story unfolds makes it almost possible to overlook.

The basic premise is one we’ve seen before, kind of an Alice through the Looking Glass kind of tale. The world-building has elements that make it unique enough to hold the readers interest. The story follows Clary, an impetuous teen whose mother goes missing just when she starts to see inexplicable things. She is seeing demons to be precise. It turns out that everywhere. Fortunately for her, she meets a band of teenage demon hunters who grudgingly agree to help her find her mom and figure out what is happening to her.

I am not sure that it makes sense that a group of teen demon hunters are the only ones around to protect the city for the duration of the book. Reader have to make a leap of faith to just accept this a move on. Because of their youthful exuberance, the teen characters are fun, if one-dimensional. Some of them have secrets, and I’m not telling! I want to tell you, truly I do, but I think it would be more fun it you discover them on your own.

My favorite character, Magnus Bane, is a minor character of importance to the story. He is extremely powerful and totally unapologetic. The ambiguity of his character allows Ms. Clare a vehicle through which she can deliver truth, in a crazy-cool kind of way. I also love Valentine as a villain. He is psychotically brilliant and totally arrogant. Oh, and in the movie he’s played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Hello, sexy calling!).

Clare relies more on intrigue rather than action to move the story forward. This is not to say that there are no good action scenes, there are. It is just the mystery is solved more Sherlock style, piecing together clues gained through investigation.

This is a good first book to the series. It was a solid introduction to the characters and the Clare’s alternate world. The resolution to the primary plot is strong enough to give closure, yet there are there are plenty of tantalizing open threads to entice the reader back for more. So, go on now, dear reader. I have another book (City of Ashes) to read.

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.

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe ~ Charlaine Harris et al

  • Title: Wolfsbane and Mistletoe
  • Author: Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Carrie Vaughn, Keri Arthur, Karen Chance, and more
  • Series: Sookie Stackhouse #8.1
  • Genre: Fantasy, Sci-fi, Short stories
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Valerie
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  The editors of “Many Bloody Returns” deliver the perfect howl-iday gift, with new tales from Patricia Briggs, Carrie Vaughn, and many more.

“New York Times” bestselling authors Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Keri Arthur, and Carrie Vaughn—along with eleven other masters of the genre—offer all-new stories on werewolves and the holidays, a fresh variation on the concept that worked so well with birthdays and vampires in “Many Bloody Returns.”

The holidays can bring out the beast in anyone. They are particularly hard for lycanthropes. Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner have harvested the scariest, funniest and saddest werewolf tales by an outstanding pack of authors, best read by the light of a full moon with a silver bullet close at hand.

Whether wolfing down a holiday feast (use your imagination) or craving some hair of the dog on New Year’s morning, the werewolves in these frighteningly original stories will surprise, delight, amuse, and scare the pants off readers who love a little wolfsbane with their mistletoe.

Introduction by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner
Gift Wrap by Charlaine Harris
The Haire of the Beast by Donna Andrews
Lucy, at Christmastime by Simon R. Green
The Night Things Changed by Dana Cameron
The Werewolf before Christmas by Kat Richardson
Fresh Meat by Alan Gordon
Il est né by Carrie Vaughn
The Perfect Gift by Dana Stabenow
Christmas Past by Keri Arthur
SA by J.A. Konrath
The Star of David by Patricia Briggs
You’d Better Not Pyout by Nancy Pickard
Rogue Elements by Karen Chance
Milk and Cookies by Rob Thurman
Keeping Watch over His Flock by Toni L.P. Kelner

Review:  Everything about the way I approached Wolfsbane and Mistletoe was outside of my norm for anthologies. It is rare for me to read one cover to cover. Typically I will read a story here and there as it relates to a series that I am currently reading. In fact, I am sure my librarian thinks I am a bit of lunatic based on the number of times I have checked out, checked back in, and a couple months later checked out certain anthologies. (I follow a LOT of urban fantasy series, which seem to thrive on the between-book short stories published in anthologies).

I think what made the difference this time was that this particular anthology came available on audio book through the library. It got me thinking that it might be fun to just go ahead and listen to the entire volume, rather than just trying to hit a couple relevant stories. So began my journey through W&M.

As you would expect, some of the stories were better than others. Of course I enjoyed the familiarity of some of my favorite characters as they appeared in some of the shorts. I was delighted and surprised, however, to find my enjoyment in a couple of the tales for which I no experience with their authors. There were a couple of clunkers that I decided to fast forward through to the next story, but only two.

On the whole, the collection was a lot of fun, especially for fans for Urban Fantasy.

Alpha & Omega ~ Patricia Briggs

  • Title: Alpha & Omega
  • Author: Patricia Briggs
  • Series: Alpha & Omega #0.5
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Anna Latham never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack… and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the Chicago pack, she’s learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. But when she discovers wrongdoing in her pack, she has to go above her Alpha’s head to ask for help.

Charles Cornick is the son — and enforcer — of the leader of the North American werewolves. Now his father has sent him to Chicago to clean up a problem there. Charles never expected to find Anna, a rare Omega wolf — and he certainly never expected to recognize her as his mate…

This novella was originally published in the anthology On the Prowl.

Review:  This novella is a reread, probably my favorite of all the Briggs’s stories set in the world of Mercy Thompson and her werewolf friends. I own the anthology On the Prowl, in which Alpha and Omega is included, but every time I re-read it (at least twice already) I read only this one story.

The heroine of this short tale, Anna, is a recently turned werewolf in Chicago. Changed against her will, constantly abused by her new pack mates and bewildered by their brutal treatment, she is afraid of her own shadow, until Charles blows into town to investigate the local pack.

While Anna is a new character for the readers, we know Charles from the previous Mercy novels. He is the son of the Marrok and the executioner of his father’s will.

Anna’s and Charles’s short association – only a couple of days – is studded with danger and courage and tinged with the beginning of sensual interest. While the action-filled plot zips ahead without pause, the protagonists’ romance unfolds tentatively, reluctantly, as if, like Anna, it is afraid to bloom.

The story is tightly written and sharply focused, everything extraneous ruthlessly pared off. Despite the low page count that doesn’t allow for a very deep characterization, the reader sees Anna and Charles clearly. She is kind and compassionate, learning to accept her new status as a shape-shifter. He is ruthless and just, determined to keep her safe. The result is a charming portrait of a young female werewolf who is gradually coming to terms with what she is.

By the end, the reader is left bemoaning the shortness of the story and hankering for more.