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REVIEW:  Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

REVIEW: Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

Dear Ms. Andrews:

I have to confess: I have copies of the entire Kate Daniels series in both ebook and paperback form, just so I can read them anytime if I want to. For me, they are total comfort reads. To me, they write the perfect combination of urban fantasy, emotional realism and humor.

So as you can expect, I’ve been looking forward to the next installment of this series, and after reading it, I am pleased to say that I can definitely recommend it.

Magic Rises Ilona AndrewsKate and Curran are pulled out of their Atlanta home territory and into the muck of European shapeshifter politics. Desandra Kral is the only daughter of one of the most powerful alphas in Europe, and carrying the twins of two other high ranking alphas in Europe (each a child of different fathers). Since her firstborn will inherit an important strategic pass, the three European packs call for Curran to come as an impartial mediator and guard. Dangled before the Consort and Beast Lord is a European medicine that drastically reduces the chances of shapeshifter children completely losing their humanity and needing to be destroyed, which unfortunately happens to most shapeshifter children. It’s an offer that neither Kate nor Curran can refuse. Though the pair head overseas expecting a trap, it turns out that neither are truly prepared for the real reasons they are wanted in Europe.

One of the things I love about this series is that supernatural creatures aren’t just limited to garden variety werewolves. We have Babylonian lamassu, Greek shapeshifting dolphins and ochokochi of Colchis. Moreover I like that there is definitely a shapeshifter culture that informs their actions and personalities, rather than them just being humans who happen to don furry coats every once in awhile. When Kate arrives, she’s attacked by a mysterious winged, scaled feline creature that turns out to be an unknown shapeshifter, or so the other packs claim. Delving deeply into myths of scaled felines in various cultures lead them to the Babylonian lamassu, which everyone claims is ridiculous until it’s not.

Typically this series draws upon the myths and stories from various cultures which makes for more inclusive and realistic worldbuilding. I find that this series is one of the few that does diversity well without beating the reader over the head with a diversity bat. However, this book generally drew upon European mythologies, like Greek and Slavonic, which I suppose makes sense, since they are in Europe. But the Europe they portray reminds me a little more of a medieval wilderness than the modernly diverse Europe I’ve traveled. Still, if America is diverse, I didn’t see any reason why this area of Europe wouldn’t be as well.

While Kate investigates, shapeshifter princess of the U.S’s other most powerful pack is busy sniffing around Curran. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of the jealousy-between-paired-lovers / why-aren’t-we-married storyline. I think it worked a little better here because she wasn’t instantly jealous. Kate mostly tried to give Curran the benefit of the doubt until she couldn’t anymore. But on the other hand, the previous books emphasized how shapeshifter mating practices were not like humans and that “to mate” meant a shapeshifter marriage. It seemed odd to me that the human version of the marriage would now be important other than as another way to turn up the tension.

Maybe because it felt like a trope, I felt that the emotional tension and issues between Kate and Curran was just not as strong in comparison to the other conflicts in the book. In fact, I thought there was more interesting stuff going on between Kate and the main enemy in this book. As a long time reader I thought that Kate learning more about the death of her adoptive father and the evolution of her feelings toward who he had been had more resonance. It was more interesting to see Kate’s evolving sense of who she is and coming to terms with living the life she had always been warned not to live. Still, Kate and Curran’s relationship development and resolution was definitely satisfying from a romance reader perspective.

I always felt that secondary characterization was one of the stronger aspects of this series. The interaction of various unique personalities not only makes for great humor, but really made each character stand out. For instance, the introduction to the mistreated Desandra paired nicely with the later revelation that she was actually an intelligent figure and also made her emotional journey come together nicely. In addition, the ultimate fates of some other long-running characters became some of the more emotionally vivid and visceral parts of the novel.

Reading this made me want to go back and reread the previous books because there were certain things that I had just forgotten. I think there’s enough here for the first time reader to get into the world, but this is definitely a must for Kate Daniels fans. As an urban fantasy, I think the story deserves an A- but if you’re reading primarily for the romance, I would say B+. I still can’t wait for the next one.




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REVIEW:  The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

REVIEW: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life . . . isn’t she? But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted. After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore. And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined. Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life . . . that he won’t share with Carrie. Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost. But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One . . . even though she has no idea how their love story will end?

Dear Ms. Rivers,

Reading a good novella is a wonderful treat for me. To get a complete, perfect story that encompasses beginning to HEA and does it well and convincingly is such a joy to receive. And this is such a great story. Such a great damn story that it makes me happy thinking of it again as I write this.

The STory Guy by Mary Ann RiversThe writing brings you in close to what these people are feeling. I don’t just feel as if I’m being “told” what’s going on, I feel it. I see it. It’s like I’m there watching and experiencing it – not in a kinky voyeuristic way but in a deep, connected way. The writing is also great in a subtle and elegant way. It shows instead of merely telling. When Carrie and Brian pull apart after a kiss, Carrie talks about the sudden little chill that is between their body heat now and how she wants to chase it away. I feel that along with her.

Carrie is normal – which is such a relief. She doesn’t have hang ups. She isn’t frustrated with her life or determined to do something totally wild. Just a little wild and different and daring. She has a normal job, normal friends who aren’t kooky or trying to matchmake her or anything else. She’s real.

The hook up is slightly offbeat. Wednesdays in a public park for one hour just kissing. No last names, little personal info and either one can break it off at any time by merely not showing up the next week. A tenuous start with nothing anticipated for long term – just the “here and now” of it. But it begins to branch into a bit more. IM exchanges and then phone calls and then brunch as Carrie pushes a bit to discover why Brian has set these boundaries, why he won’t accept more and ask for more from a relationship, what there is in his life that makes him unable to risk more. So the weird beginning morphs into a closer connection upon which their relationship can build.

And it does build and grow and meld together two people. Little by little, brick by brick it’s built and solid despite the starts and stops and issues. They talk – as Carrie tells Brian later in the story, “You do talk well.” By the time the sex finally arrives, in all its messy, moving, glorious, glasses smudging way, it was a culmination of the slow, hot acceleration build up and also the exquisite emotions these two feel for each other and care they take of each other.

The issue that initially Brian is initially dealing with is real, and deep and such a part of his life. It also helps show the loving, bedrock kind of man he is – needed in a first person POV book. But it’s presented in such a way that it didn’t feel like a made up excuse for angst. When Brian confesses to Carrie what he hoped for when he first saw her and why, I wanted to just bawl because he deserves so much.

Warning: Having said that, when I go back and think of the story, I do feel that it probably wouldn’t impress readers who are disabled. [spoiler]The person who is disabled is a secondary character and the story focuses mainly on how this affects Brian.[/spoiler] For that, I’m knocking my grade down a notch.

I love a story that moves me at times to tears – just as Carrie does, and BTW that’s a sexy, librarian tattoo she has – and this one does it many times in ways both dramatic, sad and happy. In the end, though, the resolution of Brian’s issue is done realistically and the situation is hopeful which is a great way to end a book. When I sent my list of recommended books to Jane this month, she said she’d heard this one is good and I replied to her “I just finished it and as I’m sitting here jotting down thoughts for the A review, I’m crying and smiling.” I still am. A-


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