Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

Just finished reading Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish.  This is a very entertaining and fast paced archeological adventure come urban fantasy story.  It will definitely put you in mind of a female Indiana with a large dose of supernatural thrown in for good measure.  The story starts as a the hunt for an ancient artefact but along the way develops into a struggle to survive with an element of romance – only a tad though so don’t let that put you off.

At the start of the story we’re introduced to Alix, an ex archeological student who showed great promise until things went horribly wrong and she was cast out on her ear.  Forced to use her skills in the only way now possible Alix turned to a life of crime stealing from archeological sites on request – she’s now known as The Owl – an international thief and she’s not only on the top of the authorities most wanted list but she also seems to have come to the attention of a few unsavoury characters who are frankly not too concerned whether she’s found dead or alive!

Alix is an interesting character to read.  I don’t think she’s my favourite of the story as I think that spot is probably reserved for her best friend Nadya, but she is good to read.  Not always taking the wisest course of action and not afraid to stand up for herself she’s a tad standoffish, a little awkward in social situations and clearly not always the best judge of character – she certainly struggles to identify the supernatural elements of the story which makes her rule ‘of never working with them’ a little tricky!  But, I liked her and I think there’s lots of room for more character development in future instalments.  At the moment, yes, she could probably learn when to hold her tongue but I like that she has a bit of sass.

So, Alix, despite her best intentions becomes involved with Mr. Kurosawa, owner of a casino in Vegas and more importantly a powerful and incredibly old and strong dragon.  Why is Alix breaking her own rules and agreeing to work with this character – well, he’s agreed to negotiate a deal to get the vampires off her back.  Kind of feels like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire but…. that’s the deal – and it’s signed in blood.  Now it just remains for Alix to find an incredibly ancient artefact with very few clues and a host of enemies who appear more often than not to be one step ahead!

I really liked the setting for the story and the archeological elements plus there were some very interesting supernaturals thrown into the pot along with the more regular vampires.  Obviously the dragon, a few angry ghosts, a demon and a naga!

In terms of criticisms, nothing major really.  I think there were a couple of threads in the story that remain unsolved but this is the first in series so that’s probably not an issue at this point.  We are told that Alix is the best in her field but I’m not quite sure why – it feels a little bit flimsy at this point and I’m not a fan of simply being told that someone is the best – I’d like a little ‘show’ along with the tell.  But, having said that, I don’t think I would have been too interested in the story being bogged down with massive amounts of technical detail – so, yeah, it is a fine line.

On the whole though I really enjoyed this, it kept me reading into the early hours to complete and I will definitely continue with the series plus we ended with the perfect set up for the next story!

I received a copy of this courtesy of the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Blood Oranges by Kathleen Tierney

Blood Oranges was one of my latest reads that I’m catching up on reviews for.  I loved this book and must start with all due credit – thank you to Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn for putting me on to this book.  Really, I loved it!!

I will just add a proviso to my gushing (not for myself obviously, as I know how I feel about it already, but for you) – this book should probably come with a warning – this is the grimdark of the urban fantasy world (not to mention a little grimysnark!)

So, the story is told by Siobhan Quinn.  She’s basically an unreliable ex junkie turned vampwere – okay, slow down – at the start of the story Siobhan is a kick ass hunter on a stakeout to catch a werewolf who has been having a few midnight people popsicles in her territory.  Unfortunately, due to miscalculations Siobhan finds herself being attacked by the were and saved by a vampire (the notion)!  Or – in other words, she’s no slayer although she has been taken on as a sort of wannabee and has a bag of tricks to prove it, and, on above mentioned stake out, and due to her inabilities with said bag of tricks (not to mention probably being a little high at the time) she gets herself bitten by a werewolf and a vengeful vampire all in the same night. (This is what I mean about an unreliable narrator!)  Anyway, she now has a serious case of dog breath and bloodlust.  On the plus side, she no longer craves drugs – on the downside, not only has she gathered a seriously erroneous reputation as the next super slayer, not to mention an object of both wonder and disgust simultaneously in the supernatural world, she’s moved to the top of a few people’s most wanted lists and has developed some serious hunger issues involving lots of blood and also a few guts and other unmentionables.

The plot- it’s your basic circle of revenge type affair.  Siobhan killed a baddie so now she needs to pay the price.  However, said price is more hellish than simply being killed in return.  She’s become the freak pet of a strong and incredibly old vampire – a very creepy doll like with child like voice vampire.  She must feed every two days (not to mention cover up her actions) and she has definite mood swings depending on where the moon sits in the sky on any given night.  You could say she has a motive for revenge herself – hence the ‘circle’ comment.

Why I liked this.  It’s definitely grim dark and a bit brutal.  The writing is choppy and jumps about with breaks and back tracking and the narrator should definitely not be likable – and there’s the rub.  I liked her.  She’s had a rather sorry existence so far but she doesn’t winge about it just gets on with things.  Even after her pitiful state goes from bad to worse there is no moping about!  She isn’t a superhero – she can’t pull a graceful backflip whilst wrestling with a beastie and she’s definitely not a romantic!  She’s a no-nonsense, get on with life and deal with it daily type of girl who has been frankly living by the seat of her pants and is pretty lucky not to be six feet under.  Also, so far – there appears to be no bonus to being turned into the undead.  She hasn’t become inexplicably gorgeous, a lot of the myths are just that, and she’ll probably live for a good few years but will be rotting away during that period.  So, nice.

I find that this is urban fantasy as I like it, warts and all.  it is gritty and dark and maybe, for some unpalatable. In a world of fantasy it just feels like it’s a little more real – in the smaller, day to day ways.  There’s dirt under the fingernails and sweat and mud.  It’s the difference between an old fashioned western and a spaghetti western!  The characters are not clean cut, neat and tidy.  They’re not all about appearances and they’re not always nice.  It’s like the first time you watched a horror movie that broke with tradition – and the baddies won!  It just puts everything on it’s head and means you can’t just anticipate that ‘all will be well in the end’.

Literally with Blood Oranges I never knew what to expect.  Siobhan is an interesting character not to mention pretty funny to read about at times.  She’s not girly or bothered about the latest lip gloss but this doesn’t mean that she’s all warrior chick.  She’s just fairly regular really.  A regular girl in a fantasy universe – one populated by all sorts of critters ranging from talking seagulls to bridge trolls – tell me you don’t like the sound of that!

Very entertaining and for me fairly unique feeling.  In case you haven’t guessed – I really enjoyed this and if you’re looking for a new UF which is frankly a little tongue in cheek with a fast moving plot, a few laughs and a dose of reality mixed in then this could be for you.  Highly recommended and don’t be too distracted by the ex junkie grim dark description – yes it is all of that, but, it’s, strangely, and almost against it’s or your own will, quite compelling.  I urge you to give it a shot.

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

Burn for Me is the first book in a new Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews.  This came highly recommended (thanks to Danya at Fine Print!) and I’m certainly glad of the recommendation as I think the cover would probably have put me off reading this one as it looks more like a paranormal romance which is not really something I read a lot of.  Don’t be distracted by the cover though as this is more Urban Fantasy with the hint of a potential romance.

The setting is an alternate world where during the 1800s a serum was developed that basically unlocked previously unknown of magical capabilities in regular, everyday people.  Eventually use of the serum stopped but the damage had already been done and the magical capabilities unleashed passed down amongst families.  Powerful magical families arose and marriages between those with strong capabilities sought in order to increase magical capability.

Nevada is a private detective and whilst some members of her family have magical capabilities they are not powerful and do not have a high social standing and Nevada is believed to be without any magical talent at all.  This is of course incorrect as she is capable of detecting lies which is an incredibly useful ability given her line of work.  She keeps this capability secret in order not to become sought after by those who would use her as an interrogator and take over her life.

At the start of the story Nevada is strong armed into taking a case that she has little hopes of achieving success with.  To bring in a highly powerful magical man who is wanted for murder.  Nevada isn’t the only person searching however.  It seems that this young man’s family are anxious to find him before the police do so and have asked for help from one of the most powerful, unstable and notorious magic users – Mad Rogan.   Of course it’s sort of inevitable that the two will become embroiled together in the search and as they spend more time together it appears that Mad Rogan begins to develop a new interest in Nevada, an interest that although she tries to ignore she can’t deny her own underlying attraction to this man who is so totally out of her league and social standing not to mention incredibly dangerous and ruthless.  There is undeniable chemistry between the two and although, as I said above, this isn’t a paranormal romance, I can’t deny that the sexual tension between the two makes for compelling reading.

I won’t elaborate further on the plot.  What I will say is this was a very entertaining and quick read.  I really liked the character Nevada and will enjoy reading more of her exploits.  The world building is not overpowering and the plot keeps you focused.  I will definitely read the next in series and in fact enjoyed this so much that I’m more than tempted to go and back read some of this author’s previous works.  And, here is the cover!

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

Just finished reading Night Broken, the 8th book in Patricia Brigg’s Mercedes series which I really enjoyed.  As with any series like this there can be peaks and troughs.  I didn’t particularly enjoy River Marked for example, for me, it felt like it went a little bit off track – or maybe it was simply because the majority of the story was based on Mercedes and Adam.  However, the last book Frost Burned turned me around again and this book feels like a really solid edition in the series.  In fact, taken as a whole I now like River Marked a lot more than I originally gave it credit for – Briggs is slowly turning this into something else.  It’s not just a series of books with a bunch of random adventures each time.  Everything is connected and the characters and world are adapted further and grow in intensity, likability and depth with each new edition.

At the start of the book life seems to be ticking along relatively smoothly for Mercedes until Adam’s ex wife, Christy, rings.  She’s running away from her boyfriend who appears to have become possessive and physically abusive and she’s called on Adam and his pack for protection. Of course Adam can’t really turn her away in her hour of need, apart from the fact that she’s the mother of his child he is, lets face it, a bit of a pushover for a damsel in distress.  So Christy moves right back in – literally picking up with the pack and the house as though she’d never been away.  I confess I didn’t like Christy very much and struggled in my mind to see what attraction she would ever have had for Adam.  Okay, she’s an attractive woman, soft and feminine and quite the opposite of Mercedes in virtually every way but she’s also a scheming and manipulative mare whose only experience of the truth seems to be in finding ways in which to bend it!  You could say that she’s very careful with the truth, if you were feeling generous you could say that!  If not then you might call her a few expletives which I won’t put here.  Unfortunately her lack of forthright honesty is about to put everyone in great danger as the ‘boyfriend’ she is running from is much more than at first suspected.

Now, just in case this all sounds very pedestrian and not quite the rough and tumble, anxiety packed fight for life that we’ve almost come to expect from Mercedes, yes, there is a little bit more of a ’slowed down’ feel to this book but in spite of that it’s one of my favourites so far.  This book spent more time integrating Mercy into the pack and establishing her relationship with others.  I like Mercy, she’s a strong character and through the series she’s definitely changed.  She started off as a loner, working hard and having very little time for anything or anyone else.  Gradually though she’s adapted.  She has Adam now and is part of his pack and family.  She can’t always just think about herself but has to stop and consider her actions in terms of the impact they’ll have on others.  On top of that she is in no way the toughest of the bunch but that doesn’t make her into a shrinking violet, she stands her ground even when she’s actually shaking inside with fear.  I like that Mercy is a flawed character, she’s not perfect and like the rest of us she has her own insecurities and petty jealousies to deal with.

Alongside the domestics, never fear, Briggs has spiced up the story.  This isn’t all about who has the longest eyelashes and can bat them the most effectively whilst baking the perfect batch of cookies – Briggs has injected her usual helping of ‘nasty’ and also come up with a whole new deity! Well, probably not new exactly but certainly one that I haven’t read about before.  He may be wrapped up in a human package but he’s the furthest thing from human and very difficult to eliminate – particularly as he seems to be accompanied by two fearsome, huge black canines who seem to have stepped straight out of hell.  We also have the appearance of the fey as one of the Grey Lords makes himself known to Mercy – with a none too subtle request for her to return to him one of the fey artefacts that came in useful in a number of previous stories – and you don’t want to disappoint this particular Grey Lord – his idea of anger can lead to tsunamis and mass destruction on an apocalyptic level!  Of course retrieving this is going to be far from easy, particularly as it’s now in the hands of Coyote and we all know how tricksy he can be.

There’s appearances from a few other favourites.  Stefan briefly makes a show and we learn more of the bond (and the feelings) he has for Mercy.  Tad shows up at a very opportune moment and we make the acquaintance of one of Coyote’s other children, appropriately named Gary Laughingdog.  Half brother to Mercy who was quite useful to have around in a fix with his prophetic visions of the future.  I think he will probably make return appearances in future stories and I quite look forward to that.

In terms of criticisms, yes, I had a few, but they were really minor.  Just niggles really – like, other than a strange plot device to provoke jealousy, how come Adam never answered his own phone!  It’s a mobile phone – which means it goes with you – and who the hell answered his phone before Christy returned to the marital home?? See, small time niggles, nothing to get excited about.

I really enjoyed this and probably the biggest problem was it came to an end all too suddenly, I wanted more and it’s going to feel like a long wait now.  This is without doubt a strong contender to be one of my favourite urban fantasies, Briggs has managed to come up with not just a main protagonist who you can’t help liking, but a whole cast of characters that you will become equally attached to.  She’s also a bit tricksy herself, there are a few twists and turns along the way, plotlines that you just have to run with because they will ultimately twist together into a unified thread not to mention a complete curveball towards the end which for a few moments made me sit bolt upright with my mouth gaping open very attractively!

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

Just finished reading Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig which was frankly outstanding and I quite literally couldn’t put it down.  Now, I wasn’t really planning on reading this series and I have in fact not read the first book Blackbirds.  Basically, I ordered this from the library – not realising I was picking up the second in this series.  I did of course realise my mistake when I went to pick it up but I thought I’d just give it a few pages and see how things went.  I confess that I’d read a few negative reviews for Blackbirds that made me hesitate to pick it up and starting off with Mockingbird I could relate a little to those comments I’d read but within a few chapters I was under the spell.

Mockingbird brings to us Miriam.  Miriam, following a trauma in her early adult life, has been gifted with the strange ability to see how and when a person will die.  Unfortunately, she has no control over this strange psychic ability and it therefore occurs whenever she has physical contact with another person, so shaking hands or exchanging items or any other of the many ways in which we have regular contact with others.  It’s not a particularly endearing ability this – looking at people in their final throes of death – whether it be through disease, accident or any of the other many ways to die such as murder or suicide.  At the start of this book Miriam is trying to live a regular existence with Louis, who she apparently met in book No.1.  She has a job at a 9 to 5 and even a home of sorts.  But, she’s getting itchy feet – or more to the point itchy hands.  She’s been controlling her ability and it’s starting to build a tension inside that’s about to erupt.  Everything is about to get turned on it’s head in a very dramatic fashion.

Basically put we have a horror story with a difference and there’s certainly a pretty horrid story involved here with rather grisly murders.  I’m not going to deny that this book is harsh.  Bad language and then some.  Murders galore.  It’s not a pretty thing.  Miriam has led a hard life so far and this hasn’t given her any airs and graces.  She’s a bit foul mouthed, she’d as soon insult people as make friends and yet in this story you can definitely see she’s not as tough as she acts.  She does have a hard exterior but it’s starting to crack, just a little.  But even with all her cussing and such like she can be pretty funny.

I really liked the story line in this and the eventual reveal.  I enjoyed all the little appearances with talking blackbirds and visitations from dead people. I also liked the way the story was interspersed with interludes that were like small snippets from Miriam’s past.  It seems that we’ve started to explore this ability of Miriam’s a little and we’ve also had an introduction into other elements.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t have any criticisms.  At the beginning I struggled a bit to get on with Miriam and I think I know why that is.  She does have a bit of a masculine voice although this improved after the first few chapters.  Just sometimes it felt like the way she reacted or spoke was more masculine.  Not really articulating that very well so will swiftly move on….

I will definitely read future books in this series – I think it has the potential to be really good and I could hardly put this down.  I’m not sure that I’ll go back and read Blackbirds – from some of the reviews it seems that Miriam may have been a bit more subdued in this edition – and I think I might prefer this version of Miriam.  Looking forward to the next instalment.

And, on a separate note – these book covers are really something else.  Just really take a good look at Mockingbirds – it has so many extra little things that at first glance you don’t notice.

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