‘Slayer’ – Kiersten White

A Slayer is born into every generation…for people of a certain age, you know what’s coming next…and this is the start of what can best be described as a Buffy spin-off series.

Athena and Artemis are twins. When we first meet them they are young girls, caught up in a fire and only one of them is saved. We only see this event through the eyes of the mysterious Hunter figure. Someone who we know is close to the girls, someone who wants to carve out their place in history by destroying a prophecy and someone that we only hear from periodically throughout the book.

Much of the book focuses on Nina (as Athena prefers to be called) learning that she has – after the hellmouth was closed – been given the power of a Slayer. She’s not happy about this as it goes against everything she believes in as a healer. She takes it upon herself to start investigating the appearance of demons, kill the odd hellhound and generally get caught up in all manner of strange events. All while suffering angst over her crush on old friend Leo, now returned as her watcher.

There’s no escaping the obvious love and respect for her source material that White has. There’s numerous references to events fans of the show will remember, and some wonderful characters/dynamics. I was struck by the action of the novel, and couldn’t help but laugh out loud at some of the moments.
There were also moments of exquisite sadness. You’ll know them when you come to them, and the ending certainly had me cheering for our Slayer. Not quite Buffy…but something new, and something exciting.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts.

‘Select Few’ by Marit Weisenberg

After rejecting the cult-like influence of her father’s family, Julia moves into a fancy hotel in downtown Austin. But she finds herself alone except for her boyfriend, John–and her fears. Once again she’s suppressing her abilities, afraid her family will come for John when they find out he’s been developing abilities of his own in her presence. The FBI is also keeping a close eye on Julia hoping she can lead them to her father, Novak, as he’s wanted for questioning in his former assistant’s death.

With tensions high, Julia and John agree to go separate ways for the summer, paving the way for Julia to reunite with Angus, fellow outcast. Together they set out on a road trip to California to find Julia’s mom and a way into Novak’s secret underground world. Along the way Julia will learn the Puri perhaps aren’t the only humans evolving into something different. . . and that maybe she’s the leader her people have needed all along.

This book has to be read after ‘Select’ but we pick up events quickly and are soon reminded of the situation Julia has placed herself in.

Having chosen to leave her family, life is difficult for Julia. Hiding out in a hotel, with people hunting her father, Julia is desperate for answers but also needs to avoid doing things that could mean any of Novak’s visions come true.

Though she loves John, her worries for what could happen to an outsider dominate the early stages of the novel. This becomes more concerning as John seems to be developing his own special talents.

Initially a little slow, there’s a lot of focus on Julia trying to get answers to questions about herself, her family and what might happen in the future. There’s a rather dramatic closing section, but the possibilities for the future are exciting and I’m intrigued to see where this goes next.

Scheduled for release in October 2018, I have to thank the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advance copy of this.

‘Wicked Deep’ – Shea Earnshaw

A slow-build which thoughtfully explores love and relationships in a magical setting.

Over two hundred years ago the Swan sisters were accused of witchcraft and killed. In the modern day the town of Sparrow has little going for it, until the start of Swan season when the locals brace themselves for the annual attempt by these spirits to get revenge against the town that killed them.

Each year the spirits of the three wronged sisters take a life. Each year the tourists flock to Sparrow to witness these macabre events. Each year the locals brace themselves for the unease they feel necessary to atone for their ancestor’s past choices.

This year is different. Penny Thompson is determined that things need to change. When mysterious Bo arrives in Sparrow she has a difficult decision to make…save him, or save herself.

This was a magical read, and the interweaving of past and present kept me hooked in the events and keen to see how they would resolve themselves.

‘The Empty Grave’ – Jonathan Stroud

I was so impatient for this, and found myself desperate to finish it while being reluctant to get to the end. No more? There’s options, and I’m certain we could dip further into Lockwood & co and what happens to them following this book…yet there’s something bittersweet about knowing that there could still be a story to tell and not getting it.

We open fully aware that this is going to be a humdinger of a case. Lucy admits that this case is their biggest yet, and it has far-reaching consequences.
The dynamics between Lockwood, Holly, George and Lucy remain fresh and funny. They are quickly caught up in an investigation into possibly the biggest upset of the series…the exact situation regarding Penelope Fittes. I didn’t see this coming, and it was ripe for exciting scenes on the other side, battles and ghostly goings-on.

For me, there were two strands that were focused on in this book that just caught me by the heart-strings and tugged over and over again. It may be a story about ghosts, but I wanted Lucy and Lockwood together. Their attraction was even more obvious here, and I was excited to see how he opened up to her. His backstory and the details surrounding his family were just what was required, and though it’s been all too obvious how they feel about each other I like that Stroud has kept this under the surface.

Oddly the love story that has most impact for me in this series is that surrounding Lucy and the skull. From the moment she could hear its vile mutterings we’ve known Lucy and the skull share a special bond. He is a character crucial to events but the kind of character who entertains and infuriates in equal measure. His comments towards Lockwood certainly show his feelings for Lucy, and this book was all about whether she’d trust him. How can a spirit character who spends his time chained to a jar be the character I’m most engaged by? Simple…his actions later in the book were just beautiful. That glimpse on the windowsill at the end is just enough for me to hope that his actions weren’t in vain.

‘Witchtown’ – Cory Putman Oakes

When I saw this on NetGalley I, along with many others I would imagine, was expecting lots of details about witchcraft and perhaps some focus on exploring how it impacted on people’s lives in this imagined future. I got it, but not quite in the way I expected.

Macie and her mother, Aubra, move into his safe Haven called Witchtown. It is a safe community for those ostracised from the rest of the world when their talents become known. Sadly, it’s the latest mark in this pair’s thieving trail. Only this time, things are different.

Macie has always felt rather reliant on her mother. As a Void (someone with no magic) Macie has depended on her mother’s Natural ability to protect her. This leaves her vulnerable as she can rely on no-one. Yet we are told that in their last residence Macie did exactly that, and it started off what can best be described as an unstoppable source of tension.

Macie is a character who comes into her own in this, with the help of new friends Talya and Kellan. She learns more about who she is, what she wants from her life and what it might cost her to achieve it. Even though her mother is depicted in a rather caricature fashion, there’s something rewarding about watching Macie take a stand against what she’s been told her entire life.

Though there’s some interest in watching Macie learn the truth about herself (which we suspect from quite early on), there’s a lot that just doesn’t add up and this is, ultimately, frustrating.

Relentless trilogy – Karen Lynch

Sometimes, when looking for books to fulfil an online group reading challenge, you come across something that you wouldn’t normally think of picking up. This trilogy is one of those reads.

‘Relentless’ was a book that I wasn’t convinced by initially. It introduces us to Sara Grey who found her father, murdered, and has always been determined to find out what happened to him. She hasn’t got far in her quest, but since his murder she has established she can do things nobody else can and there’s a few odd things going on around her. Everything is thrown at us in this book and, initially, it all seemed a bit formulaic. There’s vampires, Mohiri, trolls, dangerous humans, werewolves, fae…a snarky main character who finds it hard to trust people and a brooding male who you just know is going to be more than we expect. However, as things unwind it became a whole lot better than I was expecting. Elements of the story were interesting, but I felt there were some plot-holes and something of a lack of control over the environment which just stopped this from being a really good read.

In ‘Refuge’ we kick off with Sara in her Mohiri stronghold, undergoing training to try ad keep her safe from the Master vampire who’s determined to find her. She gets to learn a little more of her skills-and find new allies. We didn’t, thankfully, have to wait too long for Nikolas to return and the heat between these two was ramped up – while all being very chaste. Our key focus here is the developing power Sara has, and the realisation that a certain someone will stop at nothing to get what he wants. I got a new favourite character of Desmund, and I really liked how we start to learn a little more of Sara’s potential. I’m certainly pleased to say this left me keen to read the final book in the trilogy.

‘Glass Houses (The Morganville Vampires #1)’ – Rachel Caine

Originally published in 2006, this was a book I picked up as part of an online reading challenge. It’s part of a fifteen book series (which, in itself, suggests it won’t maintain my interest for more than a few books) focusing on Claire Danvers, a young student who moves to Morganville for college and discovers that the town has some mysterious links to vampires.

There’s an awful lot to gripe about here.

Claire, our young academically gifted student, is beyond stupid at so many points in the book. When the book opens she is being mercilessly bullied by her peers. We’re not talking the kind of attacks you might brush off – acid being thrown at her, pushing her down stairs etc – and she insists on staying! Her parents leave her at college after several attacks; we have a town run by vampires that humans let get away with killing off people and doing nothing about it; there’s no attempt to explain some of the characters’ situations; they’re hunting for a book that vampires have spent years looking for, and just happen to stumble across it…and I could go on.

The fact is, Morganville is not a particularly well-constructed place. The story twists abruptly if it fits what’s needed, which can cause some confusion. The main character is pretty infuriating.

And yet I found myself carried along by this.

Superficially entertaining, and I did enjoy this (as long as I don’t think too closely about it). I’ll try one or two more because, as is often the case, you become slightly invested in what happens to these characters.

‘White Hot Kiss (The Dark Elements #1)’ – Jennifer L. Armentrout

Originally published in 2014, this is the first in a trilogy which is something of a must for paranormal/fantasy fans (though it seems hard to get your hands on a physical copy in the UK in the usual outlets).

Layla is our main character-a seventeen year old who has the ability to steal people’s souls with a kiss. She lives with Watchers (gargoyles who kill demons), is half Watcher but is also half demon, so we immediately guess there’s a bit more to this story.

The beginning sets up the paranormal elements fairly well, but covering up any anomalies with the idea that the Watchers are keeping these ideas from humans. When Layla’s presence starts to attract all manner of demons, things become rather frantic.

There’s no denying Armentrout gives you exactly what you expect (and want) and does it well. We have Layla, who has potential (though she’s a bit whiny for my liking); a cute best friend who cares for Layla but doesn’t show it until there’s a rival for her affections; her trusty human sidekicks (thinking Buffy) and a very very attractive but snarky rebel who should be the bad boy but who shows himself to be pretty decent.

The story carried me along at breakneck pace. I think I fell slightly in love with Roth, Bambi and the cats. My big bug was Abbott and the Watchers who were clearly hiding a lot of things, and whose rigidity caused some real issues. A blistering climax, which has ensured I will get book two because I can’t leave it hanging there!

 

‘Angelfall’ – Susan Ee

Originally published in 2011, this first in the trilogy was one I picked up as part of a reading challenge so it was one I approached with a relatively open-mind.

The premise sounds exciting. Six weeks since the angels of the apocalypse attacked earth and destroyed life as we know it. However, the devastation and general state of things is set up as though it’s been a lot longer. The world-building and general set-up of the novel wasn’t wholly successful for me.

We open watching seventeen year old Penryn take desperate measures to try and protect her family. Events kick off quickly, with Penryn watching an angel attacked.

We’re under no illusion that angels are the bad guys, so it’s odd that Penryn helps the attacked angel and saves him from death. The desperation felt as she watches her sister seized by the attacking angels causes her to act in rather unexpected ways, but it still struck me as odd that she so willingly abandons her mother to try and rescue her sister.

The relationship between Raffe and Penryn was snarky, but also rather cute. I really wanted more to develop between them-but the aid each offers throughout the book and hints of their true feelings has to be enough for now.

Plenty of action, and I feel that some elements of this worked better than others. The ending was frustrating beyond belief, but I’m not sure I cared enough to go on and continue the series.

‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ – Laini Taylor

This, to me, seems like one of those books that will either infuriate or inspire.

We open in Prague, focusing on a young art student. All seems very ordinary – but then we’re told about mysterious handprints appearing on doorways and people dealing in teeth. From early on it is evident that we are in the realms of fantasy, but it is heavily mixed with a more contemporary feel.

The opening descriptions of Prague are evocative and starting with the focus on Karou and her rather interesting secret life definitely piques your interest.

The opening chapters seemed like a contemporary romance in places, but there were enough links to a fantasy world to keep me intrigued. However, the time-frame of this novel was rather disorientating.

We are, essentially, getting the love story of Madrigal and Akiva – a kind of fantasy Romeo and Juliet. They live in a world of seraphim and chimaera, where magic brings danger and few are to be trusted. Only this isn’t clear until about halfway through the book when we start to see how Karou is linked to their story.

I don’t want to give away how the two elements combine, but it works – for the most part.