Borderline by Mishell Baker | Review

The Arcardia Project #1 (out of three books)

Pages: 390

Genre: Urban fantasy, fae, mental health & disability, bisexual main character

Synopsis

A year ago Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.

For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star, who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she’ll have to smooth talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble’s disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.

No pressure. 

My thoughts

Rating out of five: three

It’s difficult to review this book fairly, because I respect and admire the setup of it, thinking it had so much promise. Then something happened in the middle, I’m still unsure of exactly what, that made it go downhill. And the ending just highlighted those bad choices.

I’ve looked at other reviews enough to realize almost no one have the same issues with this book as me. The writing flows really good, and it made it seem to much shorter than nearly four hundred pages. I can’t say anything about the accuracy of the portrayal of the borderline main character, but I’ve seen others saying it was well done, and the author draws from own experiences. It’s obvious that the main character does certain things because of her mental illness, and the narration makes that very clear in a way I like, referring to borderline people as it happens. But then there’s enough undiscussed things that makes the character unlikable; like Millie casually thinking and saying racist things out of the blue and having a meltdown and yelling at all the people she’s come to known. It’s even mentioned by another character in the story:

“I don’t mind people being crazy,” he said. “I understand rage and depres- sion and saying stuff you regret. But when I do it, I’m just a dumb dog snap- ping his teeth. What I don’t like about you is that even when you’re being nice, even when things are good, you’re checking out people’s weaknesses, storing things up to hurt them with later. You can’t be trusted. Not ever.”

I really liked how “simple” of a urban fantasy plot this book had, because it was done so well and given new dimensions to explore with each character’s background and small elements it brought, like if they were up to do magic or not depending on how in control of their mental state they were. And I didn’t need to like Millie. But when the side characters starts to feel very one-dimensional and stereotypical – through her eyes – you kind of have lost the ability to cheer for anyone in this book, and then lost interest in how it ends. I don’t know if this is purposefully unreliable narration or not, but it doesn’t really matter because it creates the same issue. Maybe if it had happened earlier in this book, I could’ve reconnected with the characters, but I realize it’s not easy to write a book like this.

There were a lot of awesome small things as well; the bonding happening when someone found their soulmate, the setting of the magical bar. I especially love the quirky dialogue, like when a fae asks if Millie would like to come in for “sex and oranges”. How mental health and disability was such a part of the story, but at the same time not defining. Millie’s part of the story made sense, she was someone who was well-equipped and drew the story forward. Caryl, the young leader, was definitely someone who grew on you as you learned the reasons behind her behaviour, and I really felt connected to her. It just bothers me how it all falls together towards the end – I think it would’ve been better if it was just Millie being allowed to create chaos, but instead the story needs her to wrap it up and win, meaning her mental illness gets the best of her and before having any time to regroup she’s back to clean up and take on the bad guys. Which sounds awesome, but really didn’t work for this story that started out so realistic (despite the magical elements).

I will definitely read the next book. And I recommend this one; it’s worth a shot and a lot of people loved it.

A Mage’s Power by Casey Wolfe | Review

Pages: 270

Genre: urban fantasy, lgbt (m/m)

 

Synopsis

Rowan is a prodigy of magic, he’s taken two out of five masters in the Schools of Magic and set up an enchantment shop – named “Charmed to Meet You”! His only friend (outside of school) is a werewolf named Caleb, who consider him part of his pack. They’re both gay.

Shaw works for the Inquisition, the organization charged with policing the magical races collectively known as magicae. Recently, it has come under scrutiny as magicae begin to disappear and reports of violence increase. With secrets of his own on the line, Shaw is willing to risk everything to find out just what is going on behind all the locked doors.

When Rowan and Shaw are entangled in each other’s worlds, it becomes evident that their hearts are as much at risk as their lives. They must find the truth and stop a conspiracy before it’s too late.

My thoughts

Rating out of five: four stars

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It was a fun and easy read, I picked up the book and then almost didn’t put it down as I read the story in a couple hours. A couple times I stopped just wondering why I was still intrigued, because nothing much was going on. Rowan comes out of his shell a bit as Caleb and Shaw forces him to look up from his textbooks and work long enough to go out with them. It hit a bit too close to home as he lists his interests and I’m noting down that I need to go out more myself. Still it takes skill to write so good characters, this book had a cozy atmosphere and I enjoyed reading their banter. Shaw and Rowans relationship moved quickly, which left me wondering where the author would go from there. But they let Shaw and Rowan keep just enough secrets for themselves, for reasons that seemed natural like building up trust, and it worked out and fit with the plot. Caleb was definitely my favourite character as he’s a bit snarky and wilder, but also protective and just cool. I think I liked this book because of the same reason as I liked “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater – it’s more the characters than the story.

A trio of one mage, one werewolf and a newcomer witch, all gay, walks into a bar ... and they become bestfriends and have a good time for the most part. That’s how I view this book. There was spent a lot of time early on in the book to set up the world and Shaw and Rowans groups and daily life, towards the end it’s more action in a very satisfying way. I like how Rowan is a prodigy in magic because of talent and that he works hard, but he’s still has flaws and more to learn.

While I was reading this book I found the lack of action in the beginning somewhat boring along with a few predictable twists, like I knew who the dark witch they were looking for was going to be. But afterwards, thinking back, this book just gives me this warm cozy feeling that even I can’t explain. It has grown on me? I think and hope this book needed time to set up and that I’ll get to read more plot unfold in the second book.

 

some favourite quotes (SPOILERS)

“Why do you think I live out here?” Rowan asked after a while. “I assume because you like nature.” “I do, but it’s more than that.” Rowan turned around. “If I’m out here, I can’t hurt anybody else. I trained hard at the Guild so that I could control this.”

“Drink,” he ordered, working at the bindings. Rowan popped the cork, a little smoke rising from the potion. “Not inspiring,” he muttered, tossing it back before he could think better of it.

“He was grinning from ear to ear. Shaw figured had his tail been out, Caleb would have been wagging it furiously.”

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs | Review

Mercy Thompson #10

Pages: 370

Genre: urban fantasy

Synopsis

Mercy Thomson is a coyote shapeshifter living among werewolves. It has been true for most of her life, but certainly now when she’s chosen an alpha werewolf as mate. In this book she’s suddenly attacked and abducted (again?) by one of the most powerful vampires in the world. Which lands her without the pack bonds, money or clothes a long way from home, in Europe, searching for allies and enemies. Also the ghosts of Prague doesn’t seem to be leaving her alone.

 

My thoughts

Rating out out five:

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Travelling is nice and expands the universe, but it also leaves the familiar, already established world and friends. With no new interesting characters being introduced, just varies of the same old, the character interactions felt flat. Might’ve been saved by learning anything new about the character’s, especially the vampires, backstories, but it wasn’t enough of that either.

The problem is that this book has been done before, in all the nine other Mercy Thomson books. Until now I felt every book has contributed something, but this book just floats on past glories and reveals. Even the plot is sentered around it, about how great Mercy is and the victories she’s done. The humble-bragging and “I’m/she’s great because” speeches made me cringe because they seemed so misplaced. Really I’m giving this book a star extra because I agree Mercy’s pretty great, but if you skip this book and go straight from book nine to eleven, I don’t think you would notice much difference. Maybe one reveal towards the end that will hopefully play out further in next books.

The only thing that made me giggle was a surprise guest, which I’ve halfway guessed wasn’t who I thought, but the reveal managed to sneak up on me anyway. Slow applause for that, I could see the hints spread throught the book afterwards.

 

Jade City by Fonda Lee | Review

Pages: 510

Genre: urban fantasy

Synopsis

 

TWO CRIME FAMILIES, ONE SOURCE OF POWER: JADE.
Jade is the lifeblood of the city of Janloon – a stone that enhances a warrior’s natural strength and speed. Jade is mined, traded, stolen and killed for, controlled by the ruthless No Peak and Mountain families.
When a modern drug emerges that allows anyone – even foreigners – to wield jade, simmering tension between the two families erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all in the families, from their grandest patriarch to even the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets.
Jade City is an epic tale of blood, family, honour, and of those who live and die by ancient laws in a changing world.

My thoughts

Rating out of five:

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– the action –

This book had a well thought through plot, a lot of action in between slower scenes and lots of crime family conflicts. The fight scenes was well-written, it reads like those of a superhero action movie. I especially noted it when someone slits the enemy’s throat from behind. Personally I’m not much a fan of fight scenes like this, I like my action to come with emotions or a lack off, written with a different perspective than just cinematic-looking decription. This is an opinion that hasn’t affected my rating of this book, because I think it’s very well done and something many readers want. It would make it easy for a movie adaption as well.

– the jade –

The concept of jade as a powersource was something new for me and made perfect sense. The mix of asian and western is something that makes this book special, it’s a big part of the plot. Just the levels of formality in the culture is a something that fits perfectly with the dynamics of the families. The crime families agree that outsiders are dangerous to invite in, to give them this drug and control of powers they didn’t understand, which leads them to a certain degree of isolation and a good scene for this internal struggle to play out.

“So it came to be, remarkably, that the ruling family of No Peak was all the family Anden had.”

– the characters – 

The story is told from multiple points of view, which was tricky. I didn’t really care for the character we started out with, there’s this kid who tries to steal jade that I didn’t feel for much. Poor circumstances made it hard for him, but he’s no evil mastermind or accidental hero. Probably going to become one in later books though, with the focus he got sometimes. There were other characters I didn’t care much for as well, which I realized is because you don’t get to see much of the internal life of them, even through their point of view.

Shae is the sister in one of the biggest crime families, and she’s returned after basically running away attending school overseas. She could’ve been such an interesting character, but her plans without jade was so ridiculous and uncertain for someone who had taken such a deliberate choice to separate her from her family. She’s too smart not to have a plan or even dreams as she returns from abroad. Multiple times I felt like her character came apart, where the way everyone described her didn’t match up with how undecisive she acted and thought about events, especially in her pov.

There should’ve been more backstory and personality quirks in a book of five hundred pages, to give readers a reason to care about Hilo’s top men and even all the major characters. I cared about Lan because he had a lot to say in how it would go down, which family would win power. Aden got some backstory and we got a quick look into how hard he was working to be best at the military school.

“Heaven help me, Shae,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m going to kill them all.”

Politics and the parts where Shae and Hilo is organizing were good. I have a weakness for characters like Hilo, who is used to violence, but has a conscience somewhere and is very protective of his family and friends, even though he’s arguing with them. Even Aden remarks that he has a remarkable way with people, but then sometimes he shows how dangerous and spontaneous he could be, which was awesome.

 

– in the end –

It ended on an exciting note and I think I’ll pick up the next book in the series pretty quickly when it comes out. It took a long time to build up the characters and plot, but now I have all hopes for a good series, as it was well done in many aspects.

*spoilery discussion on characters below*

Continue reading

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

Pages: 500

Genre: urban fantasy

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Synopsis

The Chequy is a secret organization, part of the british government and consists of people with powers. Powers like taking over other’s bodies when they touch you, like Myfawny is able to. She’s a Rook, which is a high ranking, fancy title, but mostly means she’s doing paper work and organizing. She’s considered a nervous wreck, seeing people tortured makes her throw up, but she’s really good at her desk job. She’s the “resident nerd” and a great planner, which becomes vital as she learns she will lose all memory of who she is.

My thoughts

It’s a fantastic book, and I loved all her weird colleagues like Gestalt who has multiple bodies he controls. Give me that ability please. The “secret organization” part was better than expected, since the different powers are original and interesting and so is the characters they belong to.

“You have a scary face?” Ingrid sounded skeptical. “Yes,” said Myfanwy indignantly. “I have a very scary face.” Ingrid surveyed her for a moment. “You may wish to take off the cardigan then, Rook Thomas,” she advised tactfully. “The flowers on the pockets detract somewhat from your menace.” 

When Myfawny learns she’ll wake up with no memories of who she is, she starts to write letters with information and encouragement to her new self and I loved those parts. Through that, and the words of other colleagues, you get a feeling for who she was before, and the complete personality change. The original Myfawny had been taken from her family as a child and the schooling she went through enchaced her abilities, but left her traumatized in not so obvious ways. The new version doesn’t have those memories or limits. She’s both a better and worse version because of it.

 – in short – 

Intricate and interesting mystery, witty writing that made me laugh several times. Some background info I didn’t care about, but it didn’t matter anywyay. Cool position titles. Would absoloutly read again, and recommend it for a witty and clever read.

 

Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop

wow that’s a great author name

Pages: 487
Genre: Fantasy – urban

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Synopsis

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

My thoughts

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This is a great fantasy story about finding a home, more than anything else. It’s one of those books about “Others” coming together, both in the sense of being outsiders and different magical creatures (werewolves, vampires, fairies and more).

Meg’s like a child in many ways, especially when she just escapes from the institution she’s been held captive in, considered someone else’s property. She has a lot of trauma to work through and self-discovery to do, but she’s also both fascinated by everything and doesn’t have the same prejudices and fear of the Others as regular humans have learned. Her curiousity and out-going personality makes her the perfect fit for her job as human liason and she gets a sanctuary that’s willing to protect her against those after her. Funny enough, while being surrounded by beings that eat human flesh (a practice that fades fast as Meg arrives), humans seem to be what’s she’s in most danger of.

“Vlad hated doing the paperwork as much as he did when a human employee quit, which was why they’d both made a promise not to eat quitters just to avoid the paperwork. As Tess had pointed out, eating the staff was bad for marale and made it so much harder to find new employees.” 

This book doesn’t contain a straight-forward plot as much as it’s carried by character’s interactions, their daily life and the many ways it’s regularly disrupted. Much of the plot is based on the idea that one kind soul can change a community, magical deadly creatures or not. And it’s a lot to believe in, but Meg really tries to bridge the relationships between the humans and Others, as well as the way the groups within the Courtyard operates. The vampires aren’t exactly social or friendly, but they are the outliers. While trying to be an example of the relationship between humans and Others, Meg gets herself into some trouble, but that’s what you’ve got monster-sized wolves for.

There’s a lot of interesting characters, the terrifying Tess and Simon is my favourites. Simon is one temperamental, but protective shape-shifting leader. He was what glued the community together, barely, before Meg arrived. Overall, the only thing I cringed a bit over while reading this book is the bad names (come on the Others, really?). It’s truly a story that has been stuck in my head and it feels like a different way to do fantasy than most of what I’ve read before. I’ve just read the second book as well and it’s just as fantastic.

*TW for self-harm* I know nothing of self-harming, but cuts are described in quite detail in this book, as stated in the synopsis and it’s a issue Meg struggles with throughout the story.