Reading Fanatic Reviews

Urban Fantasy

SEER by Ryan Beck

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One Could Almost Imagine It Happening…

While I enjoy the genre, I don’t read science fiction as often as I would like. I am continually on the lookout at my favorite book review sites for novels that I think will be interesting. I tend to like full-out space opera, humorous sci-fi romance, or technology-driven dystopian urban fantasy that is just a click or two off of our own capabilities. Yes, that is an odd grab bag of sub-genres to like, but what can I say? This story is one of the third variety. In this novel’s world, there is a ubiquitous technology that seems to anticipate an individual’s every want and need. This creates such a pleasant environment for people that they do not think about all the data that is being collected and what is being done with it. Having had some fairly recent scandals about what big companies do with our data, this particular plot seemed very on-point and applicable to our world. The author has added levels of technological complexity to it, compared to our world. (But I could totally see this kind of technology happening; it actually does in some limited applications.) The book focuses on one young woman who becomes a part of the rebel movement, though she does have some qualms about it. For a science fiction story, I thought that the characters were well drawn. Aside from the fascinating technology and modern relevance, I thought the author did an exceptional job with the plotting. The pacing was just right, with all the reveals and action seeming to happen at the precise time in the story to keep you turning the pages. I quite enjoyed this book, and if you like technology-driven dystopian sci-fi, you will most likely find it an engrossing read.

The Secret of the Spellbook by Isabel Riley

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The Secret of the Spellbook*

Magical Female Academy Meets Victorian Steampunk

This is a fascinating paranormal novel that combines the idea of a magical academy with Victorian steampunk. The heroine is an orphaned young woman who has magical powers. When she accidentally unleashes these on the orphanage’s tyrant caretaker, a maid and good friend of the heroine sends her away to London to seek sanctuary at a special school for young women with magical powers. Because she specifically sought sanctuary, she is bound to this academy for three years, during which time she will study and learn more about magical ways. But there are rules that she must follow, or her residency will be terminated. If she breaks these rules, then she will be turned out and gradually lose her magical powers and ultimately her life. The young women at the academy are forbidden to interact with the young men across the way at the Embers Society who are training to be alchemists and engineers; these young men are the ones who bring the steampunk element to this story, as they make magical mechanical objects and other things. One of the graduates of the magical academy has been working in secret with these young men and encourages the heroine to do so. She does not want to break the rules because of the dire consequences, though she feels like she knows one of the young men.

This novel has some elements that we often see in magical academy books. For instance, there are rivalries between the girls, one particular bad seed, and a pecking order. The headmistress of the school is at times a bit of a terror, but she does have the girls’ best interests at heart. I was quickly swept up in this world and was fascinated by the way that magic worked in its universe as well as the way the steampunk aspect was incorporated in. If you enjoy books about magical academies, you may very well enjoy this book.

The Mountain’s Shadow by Cecilia Dominic

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The Mountain's Shadow*

Pacing Off But Better Toward End

This is a quirky combination of paranormal urban fantasy and medical thriller. I felt like the pacing was a bit off. It started too slowly, spending much time on revealing background and slice-of-life moments rather than some good, gripping action. There is a lot going on in this book, so much so at times that it was difficult to keep everything and everybody straight. I particularly liked the science aspects of the story. While taking place in a fantastical setting, it still seems realistic. I thought that perhaps there was a little too much exposition, even though it was well done. I kept wanting more to happen in the first half, which is never good in a thriller. Still, I stuck with it, and I am glad I did as the pacing and action did pick up in the second half of the story.

Wings of Prey by J. P. McLean

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Wings of Prey*

And So It Ends

Over the past couple of months, I have read every book in this series, including the alternate version of book one. I wasn’t sure what I thought about the series at the beginning, but I’ve stuck with it. I am glad that I did. It is unusual in a most delightful way. The author does have a way of storytelling that is compelling; how she comes up with such a world is beyond me. Over the course of these seven books, she has created a very complex overarching plotline that was reflected well in each individual book of the series. She has managed to create characters who feel realistic even though they live in a fantastical world that is parallel to our own. In this particular book, there’s more emphasis on the paranormal/fantasy aspects of the story. If you are looking for another series to sink your teeth into and enjoy steamy thrillers with a touch of fantasy, this series could be right up your alley.

Lethal Waters by J. P. McLean

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Lethal Waters*

More Danger for Em

When you review a book that is a part have a long series, there’s always the danger, it feels like, of telling too much. So, I’m going to try to avoid that. Em’s adventure continues. One thing I can definitely say is that the author does create a very different plot for each book of this series. In this one, Em has to make a hard choice that definitely puts her in danger. She interacts with some new people as well as some old ones. The author does do a good job showing this parallel paranormal world that exists within the greater nonparanormal society.

Burning Lies by J. P. McLean

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Burning Lies*

Trust and Jeopardy

This book certainly adds more twists and turns to Em’s tale. She’s only just recovering from the attack in the last book when this one starts. So much happens in this book. Em doesn’t know who to trust, and that is probably a good thing because trust and relationships (both between individuals and with a group) definitely seem to be shifting sands in this series. Much going on with the Tribunal and the Redeemers. This book feels darker than the other two; I would say it contains several layers of darkness. The entire world of the Fliers is in jeopardy on several fronts. This is a long book, but it is a fast-paced read. I found Em’s evolving relationships with Mason and James to be fascinating to follow. A little bit of lightness is present when Em becomes a part of her best friend’s bridal party. A gripping and page-turning thriller, but you should definitely read the books in order to get a sense of the scope of this just-off-normal series.

Lover Betrayed by J. P. McLean

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Lover Betrayed*

Fascinating, but Odd, Retelling of Book One of Series

I found this retelling of part of Secret Sky from Jackson’s perspective to be a sometimes intriguing one. I have read a few books like this, where in one book of a series or duet the author tells the story from one character’s perspective, and then in another book recounts the same from another characters viewpoint, showing true motivations for actions and other, more subtle shadings. If you read Secret Sky, you know that Jackson is not wholly what he seems when we view him through Em’s perspective; we certainly don’t know why he acts the way he does. We get much more of his story, including what happened in his life leading up to when his and Em’s lives crossed paths (which is about a third of this book) as well as what happened after he left. He is a complex character, but not necessarily a nice one or a decent guy. 

I found myself wanting to put this book down at times because I just didn’t like him and what he was doing. Like the other book, I sometimes felt that the pacing was off here. For long stretches, it didn’t feel like much was really happening–just a lot of talking–and then the pacing would pick up again. For it to be a truly good suspense, there needs to be a bit more evenness to the suspenseful actions or it is easy to become bored waiting for something to happen.

I’m feeling oddly ambivalent about this book, and I can’t quite figure out why. I still found the sensual scenes to be a bit cringe-worthy. I was intrigued by the first book, and I think the author has actually done a good job creating a world that is so similar to our own with just this one bizarre fantastical element to it. Take out the Fliers, and the first part of the book could just be about any ruthless businessman we see in so many fictional books. I did like seeing so many of the familiar scenes from Secret Sky from Jackson’s perspective. It really did give a completely different look at what happened in that story; it added richness and fullness, making a complete story.

Secret Sky by J. P. McLean

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Secret Sky*

Good Fantasy Elements; But Unbalanced Overall

This book is a quirky combination of fantasy, romance, and suspense. I know the description of the book says it as a thriller, but I wouldn’t call it that. Even the suspense part doesn’t really happen until the end. The heroine is given a gift that feels more like a curse until she meets others who have it. Much of the book has to do with her trying to understand her gifts, first on her own and then with the group. The middle section seems to be heavily into the romance aspect of the story while the end is more suspenseful; the book did feel unbalanced to me; I would have liked to see the suspense element woven more throughout.

The first scene pulled me in right away because the action was just allowed to happen without a lot of backstory; authors of fantasy worlds are usually too tempted to describe their world (and sometimes in great detail) and let that to take up much of the beginning pages. But after these good early scenes after her “accident,” the pace of the book really slowed down as the heroine tried to figure out her gift. There was quite a long lull period before things got interesting again.

The author did an excellent job creating a fantasy world that coexists alongside the normal one; it felt believable. I felt like there were some cringe-worthy moments in the romance aspect of the book. This book is a long one, and I do feel it could have benefited from some judicious developmental editing.



The asterisks (*) by the book title denote the source of the book copy.

One star = I received it as a free advance/review copy or directly from the author.

Two stars = I borrowed it through my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Three stars = I purchased the book outright (sometimes for free).

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