Blood Engines (TA Pratt, Marla Mason #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Blood Engines is an edgy, violent urban fantasy. This is apparently the first in a series, which surprised me. The author throws you right into the action with very little explanation of who the characters are and why they are doing what they are doing and just lets the story unfold from there. It’s nice for an author to actually give the audience some credit and not explain every little detail all the time. The only attempts I spotted to lay groundwork for further books in the series are references to people who never actually appear in the book, but this really made sense and worked well in context. You very often get the impression that people just sort of make urban fantasy up as they go along, and this book was a nice departure from that. You feel like you are immediately immersed in a fully thought out world with believable characters and well defined rules. I would definitely recommend Blood Engines to anyone looking for a darker take on the urban fantasy genre.

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Spiral Hunt (Margaret Roland, Evie Scelan #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Spiral Hunt is a contemporary magical urban fantasy adventure story. The setting borrows heavily from mythological sources and interprets their use in present day. Everything magical is, as standard, hidden from mundane eyes, and only a few magical practitioners know the true nature of the world. This is the first in a series of novels, but any groundwork the author lays here for future novels in the series doesn’t adversely affect the course of this book. The characters were fairly complex and interesting, and although I’m not fond of the technique of cribbing from ancient mythology to flesh out your setting, the author does a decent enough job of it that I wasn’t overly offended. The story progresses smoothly, and although the author has a tendency to succumb for the inexplicable urban fantasy fascination of turning their fantasy novel temporarily into sightseeing tours of their respective locations (this time it’s Boston), the pacing is generally brisk and exciting. I would recommend this as a good, although not exemplary, urban fantasy novel.

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Black Blade Blues (JA Pitts, Sarah Beauhall #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Black Blade Blues is a fairly standard urban fantasy “normal person discovers the world of the supernatural” origin story with the twist that the protagonist is a lesbian. I wouldn’t normally mention something like sexual orientation, but the book places a significant degree of emphasis on it, so I thought it was best to mention it as it is a core component of the story. As urban fantasy, the book is all right, but not stellar. This is apparently the first in a series, but I’m not sure I would be inclined to pick up the subsequent volumes. For the most part the book moves well, and the protagonist’s profession as a blacksmith/prop manager is kind of interesting and fun. There are some issues with the way the action is written, and the climax and conclusion drag on quite a bit longer than they really should. There is some hackneyed magical prophesy/chosen one business, but overall the story feels fairly original and interesting. I would overall recommend the book as decent urban fantasy.

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Boyfriend from Hell (Jamie Quaid, The Saturn’s Daughters #1)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Boyfriend from Hell is the beginning of yet another urban fantasy adventure series where a smart, savvy, strong independant woman protagonist is hamstrung by weak inconsistent characterization, a setting that doesn’t really seem to work, and a strange convoluted plot that doesn’t really hold together very well. This is one of those cases where I’m not really even sure what the author is going for. Both the protagonist and the setting seem to be trying to go for very different things at various points of the narrative. It’s clear that the author is holding a lot of backstory back for future books in the series, but I was not so much intrigued by the mysteries left undisclosed as bored by the cliched revelations that we did get in this volume. I really can’t recommend a book this unfocused and inconsistent.

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Vicious Circle (Linda Robertson, Persephone Alcmedi #1)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Vicious Circle is a generic urban fantasy with generic witches, werewolves, and vampires a generic urban fantasy setting that incorporates generic fantasy elements with a generic semi-romance tacked on. I’m not averse to authors using common elements in their sub-genre, but I do strongly feel that if you have no original elements in your setting, then you as the author are expected to work extra hard to make your characters and story memorable. Unfortunately, this wasn’t done in this book, and the story doesn’t really make sense and the characters are forgettable. Even the romance was uninteresting. There’s nothing really objectionable here, but unless you just want some generic urban fantasy with a few romance elements, I would suggest you read something else.

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Cinder (Marissa Meyer, The Lunar Chronicles #1)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
As the title suggests, this is a modern retelling of the classic fairytale Cinderella. Luckily, the story is retold in an exciting, feminist-friendly update to the sexist base of the traditional Cinderella. Cinder takes place in a dystopian future where cyborgs, androids, and hovercraft are part of everyday life and a war is on the horizon with the seemingly magical beings who live on the moon (the Lunars). The character Cinder is a fiesty adopted cyborg who is trying to make enough money as a mechanic to leave her oppressive homelife in Little Beijing. All the characters (including a prince, of course) are written so well you feel as if you have actually met them in real life. Cinder is a strong female character who turns the fairy tale on its head and refuses to be rescued. This is a great book for people of all ages – my sixty-one year old dad adores this series and can’t wait for the next book in the series. It’s definitely a good read for just about anyone!

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Once Bitten Twice Shy (Jennifer Rardin, Jaz Parks #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Once Bitten Twice Shy is a standard format butt-kicking, waif-fu practicing, supernatural hunter woman urban fantasy novel. Given the strengths and weaknesses of this sub-genre as a whole, I think that this is probably one of the better examples of it. This is the first in a series, so I can’t comment on the quality (or lack of thereof) of the sequels, but I found this book to have a fairly well developed protagonist who was somewhat of a departure from the tired standard, a setting that was more imaginative than average, and a plot that was fairly coherent and didn’t suffer from a lot of progression through characters acting on willful stupidity. I wouldn’t say that this is the most inspired book I have ever read or anything, but for the genre it was fairly strong and a decent pick if you are in the mood for an uncomplicated urban fantasy.

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Mainspring (Jay Lake, Clockwork Earth #1)

1 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Mainspring is an adventure with an intriguing and innovative style, melding a magical steampunk clockwork world with traditional Judeo-Christian spiritual elements. Unfortunately, this initially promising premise is ruined by jarring and disturbing sexual elements and a plot that reads more like a travelogue than a coherent interlinked story. With the exception of the protagonist, there aren’t any strong characters, and with the exception of a distinct beginning and end, the events in the story don’t really develop in any logical progression other than the fact that things generally get weirder the further into the book you go. I can’t recommend this book despite a somewhat promising setting because the execution was too poor and the elements that the author deliberately included were too disturbing.

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The Dwarves of Whiskey Island (S Andrew Swann, Cleveland Portal #2)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Dwarves of Whiskey Island is a contemporary mystery fantasy novel that shows great promise in its well-crafted and interesting setting, but is unfortunately hampered by a very poor story that doesn’t make much sense. This is apparently the sequel to another book using the same setting, so perhaps the first one is better. Still, I really wanted to like this book. The setting is very imaginative and captivating, but the plot was almost painful to read. The characters are all idiots who just wander about in ways that happen to progress the plot rather than based on any possible internal motivations or desires. The protagonist is only involved with the plot for the thinnest of contrived reasons, and his continued involvement from the very earliest stages could only stem from lazy writing on the author’s part (or madness on the part of the protagonist which isn’t detailed in the book). I really can’t recommend this book even though I would sort of like to, given my initial attraction to the setting.

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The Edge of Reason (Melinda Snodgrass, Edge #1)

1.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Edge of Reason initially promised to be an intriguing and unique urban fantasy but somehow lost its way and doesn’t have much to recommend it after the initial setup. I recognize that this is the first in a series and this first book was probably intended to mostly establish the setting and characters for the subsequent books, but I don’t think it stands alone very well. I don’t think I’ve encountered a book before with such an encouraging start that just completely lost its way after the premise had been established and just sort of wandered around purposelessly until the cliffhanger conclusion. I really wanted to like this book, and the subsequent books in the series might be as brilliant as this one was initially, but as a standalone I can’t recommend it, and I’m not personally motivated to read something else by this author after this disappointment.

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