Tag Archives: urban

The Secret Country (The Eidolon Chronicles #1)

Title: The Secret Country

Author: Jane Johnson

Series: The Eidolon Chronicles #1

Ben’s plans to get himself a pair of Mongolian Fighting Fish only last as long as it takes him to save up the money. At the pet store, a cat insists on being taken home instead—and since Ben has never heard a talking cat, he gives in. Little did he suspect he had encountered the fringes of something much bigger. Another world exists alongside our own. A world of magic. A world in trouble. A world that needs Ben to help it . . .

This was a bit too young and straightforward for my tastes, but it was still a decent story. There’s no complexity to the villains or the heroes: once you’ve met someone, you can easily tell which side that person is on. (Amusingly, the only exception is Ben’s sister, but she’s not a major part of the story.)

I did like the variety of mythological creatures. There are dragons, of course, but also selkies and dryads and Gabriel’s Hounds. I particularly liked the twists in how the selkie was presented. That made much more sense than the whole sealskin thing.

I also liked that the whole destiny card doesn’t give Ben a free pass. He’s still himself, with his only real ability apparently being able to talk to magical creatures, which is something a lot of people share.

On the other hand, Ben doesn’t do a whole lot either. Mostly he’s enabling or directing others to do most of the work. I would hope a future book would involve more of his own deeds and not just the help of his friends.

All in all this sets up for a series, but the story wraps up well enough in the first book to have something that feels like an ending. I doubt I’ll continue just because it feels a little younger than the stuff I enjoy, but it isn’t a bad book. I rate this book Neutral.

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Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1)

Title: Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Author: Dave Rudden

Series: Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan. Unlike the stories, he’s not expecting a grand destiny or secret power to claim him. He knows where he is, who he is, and what his future is likely to hold. Then an aunt he never suspected he had shows up to claim him—and he encounters creatures of a darkness beyond this world who would destroy him . . .

This was fun on so many levels.

First, it’s incredibly self-aware of the various genre tropes that tend to crop up in books like these, and there are often little winks skewering concepts even while embracing some of them. Orphaned children discovering secret societies and great power—where have we heard that before? Right. But the fact that the story knows well enough where it’s going, and where others have gone, to poke fun at things lends an air of amusement to the whole thing. Even when it’s uncovering the fact that most of the secret world is really nasty and populated with extremely competent and deadly people who exist to stamp out the really nasty bits.

“Right,” Denizen said. “I thought this place was actually haunted or something.”
“Oh, not at all,” Darcie said brightly. “It’s just in constant danger of falling into the dark end of the universe.”
She frowned. “That’s not better, is it?”

Or bits like:

Three. Three near-death experiences. Was that a lot? How did they ever get anything done?

The horror and the humor work really well together. I can’t really read horror unless it’s screamingly funny, because something about the darkness sharpens the jokes. I loved the Tenebrae and the various bits of it that Denizen encounters. I loved the power and the Cost, and the deeper implications of it may be unstated for now but like Denizen is warned early on, there’s clearly a limit to what they can do.

“Rescue you,” Denizen said again in the same annoyed tone. “I’m here to save you from the Clockwork Three. Not”—he kicked some files out of the way—“that I’m expecting a thank-you or anything. With the kind of day I’ve been having, I expect you’ll try to kill me when I free you. Everyone else has. It won’t even be difficult. I’ve had about”—he half slid down another drift of folders, barely catching himself from pitching headlong into the circle—“ten minutes’ training since this whole debacle started.”


And the characters are so good. I liked Simon a lot, and how he proves so unexpectedly resourceful. I like his friendship with Denizen and how the two of them compliment each other. I loved Denizen’s caution, skepticism, sarcasm, and attachment to having things familiar and predictable. All of the Order that he meets is awesome in his or her own way.

It’s also well-written at a sentence level. The language is often playful, often beautiful. But the book isn’t so in love with turning a phrase that it doesn’t read swiftly. I chewed through it in one day but I think I’m going to read it again, to better appreciate the little details.

Overall this was a lot of fun, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I can’t wait to see how Denizen’s last choices change things going forward, and what happens with certain other characters I liked quite a bit. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Boy Who Knew Everything (Piper McCloud #2)

Title: The Boy Who Knew Everything

Author: Victoria Forester

Series: Piper McCloud #2

Conrad and Piper have escaped the school that held them prisoner and tried to force them to be normal. But life in the outside world can’t exactly go back to the way it used to be. Conrad has no family anymore—or none he can trust. So Piper offers hers, and for a little while, the two of them start building a home where they can use their extraordinary gifts. But an ugly mystery has been lurking, and Conrad and Piper have been destined to confront it . . .

I really enjoyed The Girl Who Could Fly, and it’s taken me far too long to actually sit down and read this. It’s equal parts hilarity and heartbreak. Conrad is far too smart to live a dull and ordinary life, but he’s also susceptible to the usual human ailments of loneliness and a hunger for love. Piper has plenty of heart, which makes her a perfect partner, but Conrad gets most of the narrative here.

And it’s so quotable. I have to skip the quotes that spoil too much, but I LOVED these:

Conrad stiffened and made no move to come closer. “Uh, Dad, you just tried to kill me, so I’m not really feeling this whole father-son thing at the moment.”

Another favorite:

“It takes talent to lose the President of the United States. Sorry, dude, can’t help you with that one.”

Conrad might be much better at head knowledge, but I love how he’s able to cut right through certain attempts at emotional manipulation and put the situation in plain language. He knows what has to be done, once he understands the situation. And in the end, he has a lot more courage than anyone except perhaps Piper expects of him.

The end leaves enough open that there’s a potential for another book, but it also wraps things up well enough that if it ended here I wouldn’t feel too sorry. (I suspect Conrad, though, is the only person capable of figuring out a way around the villain in question, and it would be interesting to see him succeed and actually kill that person.)

Overall this was a lot of fun. I’d recommend reading The Girl Who Could Fly first to get a proper background to some of the characters and the general situation, and then dive into this. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Nick of Time

Title: Nick of Time

Author: Julianne Q. Johnson

Nick is tired of his life. Day in and day out, he’s constantly confronted with people in need. Lost children, fires, heart attack victims—so many needs, and it never ends. Even when he tries to stay home and take a day off, trouble finds him. But life might be taking a turn for the better when he helps out a neighbor in need. She thinks they might be able to find the root of his “curse” and fix it once and for all . . .

I loved this. I like superhero stories in general, and this one is a surprisingly unique take. Nick isn’t extraordinary. He’s taken classes in martial arts and first aid because he keeps running into people with severe issues. It’s a reaction, not a drive to be a hero. And yet he is a hero, because he chooses to step in, time and again, even when this puts him inside burning houses or in front of people with guns.

He’d just really like a day off.

It’s a lot of fun to watch his “curse” in action, and how his family and friends have adapted (or not) to what’s going on in his life. It’s funny to see how heroism has basically destroyed his dating life, since he can’t hold to anything like a schedule. I also liked having a somewhat older protagonist, in his mid-30s, who has a bit more experience with life in general.

I didn’t care for the prologue/interlude as much, as I was initially puzzled at why the book I was reading started like a typical fantasy and not the modern-day superhero-who-isn’t story I was expecting from the back cover summary. I think that information might have been better as just part of the present-day narrative. I also thought it wrapped up a little fast, and a little too neatly (the curse-givers were a bit too reasonable once all the facts were on the table, for beings that don’t really care about morality at all). But it was nice to get an ending, which makes this a standalone book.

Overall this was an excellent read and one I’m sure to come back to, especially the beginning. The contrast between watching Nick save people and his own depressive attitude towards the whole thing can get really funny. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Cypher (Guardians Inc. #1)

Title: The Cypher

Author: Julian Rosado-Machain

Series: Guardians Inc. #1

Thomas is living with his grandfather after his parents disappeared. There’s a lot to get used to—but he never expected helping his grandfather search for a job would land them both jobs at the mysterious Guardians, Inc. Or what that job would entail. Guardians, Inc. harbors secrets of magic and technology, and are committed to finding a mysterious book that could help them shape the next five hundred years. But others are searching for the book as well . . .

This was a pretty solid book. Thomas is pressing through a life turned upside-down when everything goes sideways yet again with an unexpected job offer. I liked the worldbuilding, which has a variety of mythological creatures running around the modern world (or trying to leave well enough alone, as the case may be), and the way Thomas is introduced to it. I liked the abilities of a Cypher, and how it comes with some interesting limitations (only written words, not spoken, was a fun twist). And the plot doesn’t drag but keeps things fresh with a new wrinkle pretty well every chapter.

Thomas felt a little young to me. I kept expecting him to be twelve instead of sixteen, which made the scenes of him crushing on a girl feel a bit strange. I’m also not generally a fan of this type of crush, which short-circuits someone’s brain (even though there are several hints this is being encouraged by magic, it’s still not a plot device I like). I did like Thomas’s relationship with his grandfather. It’s nice to see how they both support each other, even though they don’t always agree.

Tony rubbed me the wrong way. For a special agent that’s supposedly as well-trained as he is, he acts like a big kid. I spent most of the book suspecting him as a spy or a plant (and I still don’t know if that might end up being true) because he’s not very professional most of the time.

Overall, though, it was still a fun read. The book ends in a way that basically sets up a series to come, so it’s more about introducing the world and the quest than providing much resolution. I rate this book Recommended.

The Awakening of Ren Crown (Ren Crown #1)

Title: The Awakening of Ren Crown

Author: Anne Zoelle

Series: Ren Crown #1

Ren Crown knew her place: beside her extroverted and popular twin brother, Christian. Until the night he dies violently, leaving her alone with questions no one hears, let alone answers. Then another inexplicable assault, followed by powers she never expected to exist and a world where raising the dead isn’t just a thought experiment but something that’s actually possible. Now Ren has a new goal: getting her brother back. No matter what.

This is a bit jerky, although some of that is definitely because Ren is getting jerked around from one thing to another, and a lot of the worldbuilding that would smooth things out is stuff Ren has no way of knowing. I would have liked a little more worldbuilding details, since Ren was going to some of the engineering classes on the sly, and a little less “getting drunk at a party” common college type scenes.

I do like how balanced Ren is between art and engineering. This isn’t someone who pushes the superiority of one side or the other, or even someone who is good at one but has no aptitude for the other, but is someone who can engage and enjoy both dimensions. And the fact that painting counts as a substance abuse charge was funny. As much as I was curious what she might paint without limiters, it was amusing to see how other people responded to what they see as a heavy abuser.

The other characters were generally good as well, although Christian never really worked for me. He came off initially as someone I disliked, and even though Ren thinks the world of him, I never really bought why he was so good (it wasn’t really necessary to understand her obsession, though). It was interesting to get a character who’s got some kind of magical sex attraction going and Ren not only isn’t even interested, but engages him purely in a business associate relationship. I hope that doesn’t get twisted in the future to create a weird love triangle. It was also very interesting to see Ren recognize her crush is nothing but a fantasy, and admit the real guy is not someone she wants (although the cynical part of me says they’ll probably end up as a couple anyway).

Overall, this is a mostly solid start to a series I wouldn’t mind continuing. Hopefully the next book will open Ren’s legal opportunities a bit more so she can dig into things on a normal level. I rate this book Recommended.

Knights of the End (Knights of the End #1)

Title: Knights of the End

Author: J. D. Cowan

Series: Knights of the End #1

Teddy MacIsaac dreams of heroes in a world where heroic ideals have succumbed to world-weary pessimism. Undaunted, he follows his dreams and a voice calling inside until he discovers a golden coin with mysterious powers. It grants him what he always wanted: the chance to be a hero. But no hero stands unopposed, and the general evil that’s haunted his world is about to get a lot more personal . . .

I really liked this. I found it based on a blog post by its author, and the comment that it had been written for his (her?) 13-year-old self immediately grabbed my interest, as the summary promised an actual light-versus-dark conflict that’s becoming increasingly hard to find.

And we get lots of awesome. Transforming superhero powers, secret identities, magical powers strong enough to change the world, and a colorful cast of friends and enemies. I particularly liked what happened with Rock, and how Teddy’s relationship with him changes over the course of the book. Bits of this read like an old comic book or cartoon drawn in greater detail. And I mean that as a compliment—the bombastic fights, the witty exchanges, the soaring imagination, the love of what it actually is to be a hero.

There are a few minor typos and errors that detracted a bit, but overall this was a solid book. I do hope the series continues, and continues to explore more of what it actually takes to be a hero who holds on to right no matter the cost (along with increasing the superhero cool moves and powers). Teddy takes a few knocks this time around, but certain events seem to be setting him up for a much deeper conflict between who he is and who he wants to be. I rate this book Recommended.