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Realm Walker by Kathleen Collins

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Realm Walker, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 189 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Problems and Potential Both

In a world that's been knowingly coping and coexisting with magic and magical creatures since the Rending, half-dark fae, half-mage Juliana Norris is a Realm Walker, an officer of the International Law Enforcement Agency that polices the Altered. She is most often assigned to tracking and, when necessary, hunting those nonhuman creatures who are causing trouble with their human neighbors.

Given as she can see the signature that every being leaves as it travels along its way, sort of like a magical scent trail, and identify them by their colors, she is uniquely qualified for the job. The only creatures she can't see, that leave no signature behind in their wake, are demons. That does, however, make more than a little problematic the fact that someone has summoned one and set it on a course of death and destruction straight at Juliana.

Then there's the vampire she once loved, Thomas Kendrick. Seven years ago he took her as his mate, then disappeared from her life before the blood was even dry. Losing him nearly destroyed her. The aftermath of his leaving changed her irrevocably. Now he's returned and is of the opinion that it would be the perfect time to force his way back into her life. Because she obviously doesn't have enough to worry about.

With a demon slaughtering everything in its path and Thomas dogging her every step, Juliana is running out of time to save the city and is in serious danger of losing her heart. The vampire has already proven he is just as capable of ripping it out of her chest as the demon is, and while the demon may provide a bloodier and more deadly sort of evisceration, it may not be the most devastating in the long run.

~*~

This series debut by Collins marks the second time in a handful of months where I had to stop a few chapters into a book and make sure there wasn't a preceding book or novella, or even a main series from which this one spun, because I felt like I was missing a lot of previously laid groundwork almost from the very beginning. There's plenty of tidbits of information about things that happened in the past to set up the story, but the characters, their backstory, and significant elements of the world-building are disclosed in a way that seemed far better suited as reminders than introductions.

Julianna and Thomas have a lot of personal history, that much is plain, but I never felt like I was given a good grasp of it. Details about their past were either glossed over or doled out in drips and drabs throughout the tale and I couldn't shake the feeling that I was supposed to have already known the whole story before I started the book. Though I'm not really sure how.

That problem wasn't limited to Thomas, either. All of Julianna's friends and acquaintances suffer similarly. There are several who have obvious history with her, but without the all-important context to let me know how and why they were as valuable to her as we're told they are, I never really felt any of those connections. That put a big crimp in the emotional impact of several crucial scenes as the conflict with the Big Bad heated up, and it confused me in general when it came to characters like Raoul and Michael.

And not for nothing, but I'm still not sure how I feel about Thomas. I was completely thrown by the weird way he showed up and inserted himself into Juliana's life, offering sketchy detail on what he does and doesn't know about her origins and her life since he left and making some pretty high-handed demands with all kinds of attitude. My first impression of him was of an overbearing, utterly egotistical asshat, and while that did improve the longer I read, it didn't completely go away.

Maybe it would have if he hadn't kept referring to Juliana as "his bride." Ugh. Not only did that bug me with its repetition, it seemed pretty offensively objectifying to me. Like he didn't see her as her own person with her own identity, she was just his bride. It was weird. Not sexy. Weird.

On the other hand, it quickly becomes clear that Juliana is absolutely everything to him and he would do anything for her. I would have preferred seeing a bit more of that in application, though, and a smidge of honest communication wouldn't have been remiss, either. I'm starting to wonder if there is just no other way to breed conflict between two stubborn, self-sacrificing characters, as often as that has been the sole source of major relationship conflict in stories I've read lately. Still, his devotion to her did temper my negative opinion of the guy and kept him from being utterly unlikable, but he was definitely not to my personal taste in romantic hero types.

There were, however, some very nice things going on, too. It was nice reading an urban fantasy series debut that didn't make me want to poke the heroine with something sharp. First time that's happened in a while. And no inklings of a love triangle, either, which is virtually unheard of in the genre of late. Those were two big positives in a book with a well-conceived (if not perfectly defined) world and solid story, and that's what kept my feelings generally positive overall as I dealt with some of the less favorable elements.

I actually liked Juliana. She's not the most original character, is in fact fairly typical for the genre. In Juliana's case, thankfully, her emotional maturity seemed slightly higher than that of an average twelve year old (a welcome change), and she's more palatable than most I've read recently. She's certainly the sort of smart-mouthed, kick-ass rule breaker I seem to gravitate towards most in the genre. You know the sort: she would sacrifice herself to save anyone she considers "hers" but guards her heart and her secrets like a jealous lover and doesn't actually let anyone in very far.

It's a common malady in urban fantasy heroines, but one I've always sort of enjoyed, or at the very least, never minded.

I did enjoy the glimpses of the world I got in this book, and there were several secondary and ancillary characters with nice page presence, though Michael in particular needed a hell of a lot more explanation. There is also a solid plot conflict going on around and in addition to Juliana's personal crisis with Thomas. It lacked sufficient setup and didn't come close to answering all my questions, especially after that rather odd but revealing climax, but on the surface it provided plenty of action and certainly a high body count.

Without the sufficient framework for everything that went on in this book, though, it just wasn't quite executed well enough for me to feel completely satisfied with the story as a whole. And did anyone figure out how Juliana knows who her father is if she can't remember anything from her first twelve years? I think I missed something there.

Well...I missed something in a lot of places, but that one still niggles me.

The plot execution may have been a bit odd, and it had some pacing issues and abrupt transitions, inconsistent progression and a general lack of the sort of detail found in the more complex urban fantasy series, but it still managed to keep me entertained. With more fleshing out in some crucial areas and another fifty or so more pages this could have really built into a gripping, multi-layered, complex tale with memorable characters. It didn't quite reach that level this time, but the potential is definitely there for the series.

Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance
Series: Kate Daniels, Book 5.5
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 448 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle



Andrea Walks on the Wild Side

Andrea Nash has lived through horrors that would have killed lesser women. Her childhood was a nightmare that left her emotionally scarred, living in the human world doing everything she could to distance herself from her shapeshifter lineage. For good reason. She was a Knight of the Order of Merciful Aid, highly decorated and deadly, but the Order doesn't have any room for shifters, let alone beastkin like Andrea.

The Order found out she's a shapeshifter when a recent battle with a big nasty put her in the hospital, thus ending her career, but not before she'd already sacrificed her relationship with Raphael, beloved son of the bouda clan's alpha, and snubbed the whole shapeshifter population of Atlanta.

Hey, when your life explodes around you, it may as well be completely obliterated.

Now Andrea is just trying to get settled into a life without the Order, working with her best friend Kate at their new investigation agency. Not that work has been all that busy lately. But that sort of thing really is a mixed blessing, because when things pick up and Jim, the Pack's chief of security, calls Andrea with a problem, being bored out of her mind starts to sound pretty good in comparison.

Four shifters have been killed and Jim wants Andrea to investigate. And the victims were on a job, working for Raphael's reclamation company when they were killed.

Now Angela has to investigate the deaths of the employees of her ex. Fabulous. Because life wasn't nearly painful, complicated, or uncomfortable enough. At this point the only thing missing is some Big Bad threatening world-ending destruction.

Oh...wait...

~*~

I've been a fan of the Kate Daniels series since its inception, but because I'm weird (or dumb...your pick), I was hesitant to try Andrea's story when it came out. I bought it because I love the world and the characters, but I didn't read it...for exactly the same reason. See, spin-off books in beloved series tend not to go so well for me, and it took me a long, long time to finally work up the nerve to give Andrea's book a chance.

Of course I'm glad I did and of course I'm kicking myself for waiting so long. Of course. It's Ilona Andrews, after all.

I've always liked Andrea's character and appreciated her contributions in Kate's books, and I'm happy to say I think she acquitted herself nicely as a main character in her own. My biggest worry was that she would come off a little like Carbon Copy Kate, but that was certainly not the case. She was the gun-toting, arrow-shooting, bad-ass Andrea I know and like. Maybe a little older, darker, and more serious than the vibe I got from her in Kate's books, but still Andrea.

And man, her backstory definitely gave Kate's childhood a run for the money on level of horror and damage inflicted. Andrea's personality and life choices make so much more sense now. Andrews did a great job bringing that all together and weaving it into a compelling, sympathetic personal history of a character with whom readers were already familiar.

I have to admit, I was expecting more of a paranormal romance feel to the story than I got. Like the Kate Daniels books, this one read more like an urban fantasy with a strong thread of romance secondary to the main plot of the book. It's a more robustly traditional romance thread than that of the Kate and Curran saga, and I think it worked as it was supposed to, but it wasn't the focus of the narrative.

Andrea's investigation into the murders and the subsequent revelations about the crime, the concerned parties, and the potential for badness was a meaty, solid story that kept me engaged throughout. I don't know that it was as intrinsically intense as any of the books in Kate's series, and it lacked a bit of the personal connection that's so prevalent between Kate and her investigations/catastrophes du jour, but it was well-developed, layered, and provided a broad array of danger and life-threatening situations for Andrea and her friends.

I loved spending more time with Roman, who was introduced in Magic Slays, the book preceding this one. I'm still not completely sure how such a nice, decent-seeming guy such as Roman can be an evil Volhv and a source of darkness, but hey, the contradictions in his character make him interesting. I just like the guy.

Raphael, on the other hand, was a surprisingly big douche bag throughout a good portion of this book, and was responsible for one of my biggest sources of disappointment in the story. When he had the unmitigated gall to show up in Andrea's office with that human bimbo and was so hideous to Andrea during her interrogation, I wanted to kill him. And I was shocked Andrea didn't ever really nail him on it.

I will say the whole scene served as a nice catalyst to get Andrea to embrace her inner beast and let her fur flag fly, providing the impetuous for some much-appreciated character evolution, but the whole messed up situation was begging for a more visceral confrontation before resolution and there just wasn't anything beyond a tepid (well, seemed tepid to me) apology on Raphael's part. I wasn't nearly satisfied considering the insult he paid Andrea by doing what he did. Not. Enough. Groveling.

The other elements of their relationship evolution provided a nice level of heat and some humor to the read, but didn't quite wow me in the same way that Kate and Curran's evolving relationship has. I liked it well enough, but it never really captivated me. Personally, I was more moved by Andrea's long-awaited decision about joining the bouda clan and the scene in which she took control of her destiny in that regard. I kinda loved that.

In part because the Kate Daniels series has provided such a rich tapestry of world building, story, and character, and in part because the writing duo that is Ilona Andrews is all sorts of awesome, this book really shouldn't be missed if you're a fan of the series. It may not have been quite as fun for me as the Kate and Curran show, but it was was a solidly entertaining, fantastic visit into a world I've come to love and admire and it provided a bit of a different perspective on characters who have been around since the beginning. I liked it a lot.

The Darkest Seduction by Gena Showalter

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Lords of the Underworld, Book 9
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 504 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle



Finally...In More Ways than One

He is the maestro of the hit-it-and-quit-it. Possessed by the demon Promiscuity, Paris is doomed to have sex with a new partner every day. Sound like a frat boy's idea of heaven? Try thousands of years of having to feed a sex demon every day or risk death. Of never being able to sleep with the same person twice, never having a relationship, never loving anyone or being faithful to anyone who loves you. And if you try to hold out, try to abstain, the demon you house strips away the final strands of your meager control so the sex is no longer your choice, let alone the partner with which you have it.

Until her.

Sienna was human and a Hunter, the group intent on destroying the Lords. Paris was captured by her once, slept with her once, and for the first time in his centuries-long existence, once was not enough. His body responded to her again. It was everything he ever wanted and nothing he ever dreamed could happen.

Of course, she was his mortal enemy...and then she died...but what's a little death between a sex demon-possessed Lord and his only hope for salvation?

Paris has been tirelessly searching for Sienna ever since. And he finally knows where she is. He has been working his way to her side no matter what it has taken, or who he has had to sleep with...or kill to find her. He'll worry about whether or not she still hates him, or blames him for her death, or still wants to kill him, when he gets there.

~*~

Finally! It took a few too many books spread out over I don't even know how many years, but I finally feel like there was some pretty significant progress made in the Lords vs. Hunters/Titans, et al series plot. The sort of progress, in fact, that could alter the direction of the series from this point forward and provide for even greater potential catastrophe for the beloved Lords. The lack of that progress has long been a complaint of mine in this series, so I have to admit, I'm pretty happy that I don't have that problem this time.

Oh, yeah, and Paris finally gets some Happily in his Ever After, too.

I had reached the end of the line with Paris in the previous book, my well of sympathy for him had run dry, so I was a little uncertain how this book would play out for me. Showalter did a lot of good things in here with Paris and Sienna. A lot of good things. Was it enough to completely redeem Paris for me? Not totally, unfortunately, and I still have some lingering questions about the ambrosia issue given what Cronus did to Sienna, not to mention Paris' double dose of demon issue, but I was mostly able to set aside any lingering discomfort with his character and appreciate the story that was being told.

And there was a lot of story being told in this book. Maybe even a little too much, as I had been hoping for a bit more depth and dimension in the relationship between Sienna and Paris and a little less focus on everything else that tends to creep into each book. Something more like what Sabin and Kaia had in their book. Sadly, that didn't happen. Paris and Sienna didn't even share a scene until I was deep into the book and the evolution of their relationship was a little truncated for my tastes, with some less than pleasant - even perplexing, at times - elements, but at the very least it got the job done.

Sienna also wasn't quite as strong a heroine as I prefer. Kaia was a much nicer fit for my tastes in that regard, but I did like Sienna, and she was extremely understanding and gracious when it came to Paris' past. On that front I was satisfied, because Paris needed someone who could accept his past without letting it color their relationship. It takes a very special sort of person to be able to do that, and Sienna was that person.

She was just a little too good to be true, even though she's been housing Wrath for a while now. She's still naive and a bit innocent, and just a shade too decent for me, despite everything she's been through. She does have a big heart, though, and she had a strength of will and determination that I enjoyed, most notably when she's struggling to resist Cronus' myriad manipulations.

And Showalter broke my heart a little with Sienna's sister. That was damn tragic.

This was a bit of a darker book than its predecessor, and there was less humor in it. I like the humor, so that was a bummer, but the darker elements did fit with the downward spiral Paris has been on, so it maintained an organic feel. And the story also answered a question I've been wondering for years, so that was a bonus.

I can't say this was a be-all-end-all read for me, and the sheer bulk of the story was the largest problem. By this point in the series, there's just so much going on with so many different characters that giving each sufficient attention bogs down the story's pacing quite a bit. I don't know that I needed...or particularly cared for...Narcissism's introduction and the views we get from her point of view. Nor did I need quite so much time spent with Kane.

I can't help but wish Showalter would focus more on the featured characters and their relationships in their own books, because though we've known Paris and Sienna for quite some time in the series, there was a lot of room to add character depth and relationship evolution that was spent on highlighting other things. I know how important it is to weave several different elements into each book, but I think the romance arc lost out some in this one.

No doubt, though, the series is still going strong, and there are many positives that have reawakened my interest and investment in the Lords. Paris's book isn't a series favorite of mine, but it was a long time coming and I'm glad he finally got some peace and found the woman he loves. Though...she's still dead...and I'm not completely sure how that's going to play out given how the story ends. I guess I'll find out.

Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

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2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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