urban fantasy


The first short story in the historical (fantasy) Avon Calling serial.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: SpearPoint Press
Page count: 33 (at Amazon)

Avon Calling serial is set in the 1940s New York. At a first glance, Betty Jones has everything a middle-class woman could want: she’s a stay-at-home mom for two kids and has an adoring husband. Sometimes she sells Avon’s cosmetics products. Yet, she has a side that her family doesn’t know about. Betty can hear other people’s thoughts and has formidable combat skills. She also has a troubled past and has changed her name.

This was a great starting story: it introduced Betty and her world and yet left a lot of questions unanswered. We find out that Betty’s mother also had the same ability and that she was cruelly used.

In this story, Betty goes to sell the cosmetics to a woman she knows but finds another woman, who has been battered by her boyfriend. Betty smiles and pretends not to notice, but when the evening comes, she pays a visit to the boyfriend and his small band of drug dealers.

I found the combination of cosmetics and Betty’s secrets surprising but also appropriate. Cosmetics can be used as a mask, to change a woman to appear more appealing to men and also to other women. It can be an armor, to shield a woman from the outside world or a way to fit in. Seeling cosmetics is also a great way for her to meet women who need help. Betty definitely has two sides and she works hard to fit in as mom and wife while going out at night to kick the backsides of cruel men.

Season 1 collection has ten episodes.

It’s a funny cozy mystery story in an urban fantasy setting. The murder takes place during a paranormal cheese convention! It’s the second in the Casino Witch mysteries series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: ebook
Page count: 160 (in GoodReads)

About six months have gone by since Ella found out that she’s a mage in the first book, “Of Murders and Mages”. She’s been training both with her official mentor figures and with her father’s friends. This hasn’t left her much time for anything else. Even though her official mentor is Olivia, she’s too busy running the casino to train her. So, Olivia’s aunt Ann, who trains witches for a living, has taken over the training. Ann’s daughter Vanessa is training with Ella and they’ve become close friends. But currently, they’re helping at the Paranormal Cheese Convention.

Vanessa thinks that she can invent a spell that will stuff the goodie bags quicker but has only managed to make the process a lot slower – and then cause an explosion. Vanessa’s mom and brother Vin aren’t impressed and somehow Ella is the one to blame. However, a man has passed away, supposedly from natural causes and Vin takes Ella to confirm that. Ella does that with her magical powers but during her vision she finds out that another man has been murdered.

The former president of the Paranormal Cheese Council has been flattened to death by the world’s largest wedge of cheese (it’s the size of a queen bed). It seems that the man was hated by many people so there’s no shortage of suspects. However, the cheese wedge is owned by Vanessa and Vin’s great-great-grand-mother Granner who’s not happy about her business being interrupted. Vanessa is eager to investigate and drags Ella to the investigation, too.

This was a funny cozy mystery with a lot of things going on. Ella still has a lot to learn about the magical world and about her own powers. Also, the local magical law-enforcement seems to be more than a little threatening and too interested in Ella. Her father was murdered and she don’t know who did it and why, so she tries to avoid any undue attention. Also, she’s strongly attracted to Vin who has now broken up with his former girlfriend. But Vin’s dour nature doesn’t invite Ella to tell him about her emotions.

Vanessa is Ella’s faithful friend and co-investigator. Even though she has trained far longer in magic, her spells makes things explode rather than do what they’re supposed to. Patagonia is Ella’s familiar. She’s a huge black cat who seems to enjoy making Ella trip and stumble. All the mages have cats as familiars.

Granner is a funny new character. She’s around 180 years old and doesn’t allow anyone to get in the way of what she wants. She’s a shrewd businesswoman who has been running her own cheese business for a long time.

I enjoyed the zany cheeses and the mage community. Unfortunately, I don’t really care for Vin and so I don’t really care for the romance, either. Otherwise, I enjoyed this fast-paced short book.

The first book in an urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Publisher: Roc
Page count: 341

Harper Blaine is a private investigator in Seattle. The book starts when her current client’s step-father attacks her and beats her very badly. She sees, hears, and smells things, people, and places which aren’t there. A doctor tells her that she had been dead for two minutes but brought back. He gives her the address of a couple of friends who might be able to help her. They are Ben and Mara Danziger.

When she’s released from the hospital, she tries to dive back to work, to pay the bills. She gets a missing person’s case through her lawyer contact and a strange sounding man contacts her on the phone, asking her to retrieve a missing heirloom, a parlor organ. But her office is also burgled.

But she still hears and sees strange things, so reluctantly she goes to meet the Danzigers. They tell her that because she died, she can now see, hear, and smell the Grey, as they call the misty, desperate place between life and death. The people she’s seen are mostly ghosts but can also be vampires or other paranormal creatures. Harper is called a Graywalker now. However, she refuses to believe it. But when people and stranger things attack her, she must at least know more to survive.

While this book came out in 2006, the tech level feels much older. Harper doesn’t have a cell phone, she uses a pager. Only one person in the book has a cell phone. Similarly, only one person uses a laptop others use desk top computers. I found this quite refreshing and it added to the overall atmosphere.

Harper is the book’s first-person narrator. In the first half of the book, Harper tries to reject the Grey and focuses on investigating her two cases. But in the second part, she dives into the vampire world of Seattle. She’s very down-to-earth woman and finding out that the paranormal is real is a shock to her so of course she resists at first. She owns a gun and must use it a couple of times but otherwise, she’s not great in battle. She’s also a loner; she doesn’t seem to have any friends or life outside her work. However, she has a pet ferret, Chaos. There are also two men who could be considered love interests but they don’t take over the book which was nice. Mostly, she actually does her job by investigating the cases she has.

I really enjoyed the Danzigers. Ben is a part-time teacher at the local university and a magic theorist. His wife Mara is a witch. They try to help Harper but their own experiences with the Grey are limited and they aren’t right all the time. Ben has a tendency to lecture and they both are sources of info-dumps but I found them quite interesting. Mara is the more practical person. Apparently her Irish accent is not Irish at all.

The vampires aren’t alluring in this book. They’re inhuman monsters. They probably have some powers to enchant humans but Harper can see what they really are. That adds to the atmosphere which isn’t horror but leans toward that more than most UF.

I quite liked the story and the characters. Its world-building is interestingly different. However, some of things were left open at the end, such as why Harper was such a special case. Surely, she can’t be the only person who has been dead for a few minutes but brought back. Yet, that was the only explanation for her abilities and why some characters are interested in her.

The first book in romantic urban fantasy series, the Gale women.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours 1 minute
Narrator: Teri Clark Linden

Allie Gale was born to the Gale family and so to magic, as well. The numerous women in the Gale family are strong with magic and so are the few men. The Gales tend to have 4 or 5 girls for every male child. But Allie doesn’t have any sisters. Instead, she has just one older brother and the family is afraid that he’s so strong with magic that he’ll go rogue. Allie loves her brother David and doesn’t believe that her aunts and nieces are right.

But her more immediate problem is that she’s unemployed, had to move back in with her parents, and Michael, the man she thought would be spend the rest of her life with, has gone off his boyfriend. She’s depressed and aimless in her life. Then she receives a letter from her grandmother, who has a junk shop in Calgary. Apparently her grandmother has died and given Allie the shop. Allie is shocked but none of the older women believe that her Gran is really dead. Allie isn’t thrilled about it but she goes to Calgary to check the place out. Mysterious things are happening and one of them is a gorgeous but snoopy reporter who wants to know all about Allie’s grandmother.

Soon, she’s joined by her cousin Charlie who has wild magic and is a musician. She’s also joined by Michael who is still worried about her… and caught his boyfriend cheating on him.

This was mostly a fun book. It’s very much a romance: Allie and Graham’s relationship is the main thing. Also, it’s about dragons. It’s also about familial love, family sticking together, no matter what (well, mostly).

Yet on have mixed feeling about it because the Gale family’s seriously strange. Only people in the Gale family have magic and so they want to keep the talent in the family as much as possible. Males make the choice of their wife among cousins… and before they choose, they sleep around with everyone. The woman can make a male change their mind and do so. In fact, the aunts are unhappy with Allie because she didn’t change Michael’s mind. However, that would have changed him to a different person and Allie didn’t want to do that.

Women also get more powerful when they age. On the other hand, they need a male spouse to rise to the “second circle” (get more powerful). They’re also expected to have a lot of children. And yet, the family has at least one nuclear family where the women are the spouses (to each other) and share a man. So, not so heterocentric after all.

The actual magic is mostly done with low-key charms, except when, er, dragons are involved. Allie’s cousin Charlie has wild talent which allows her to travel through woods. However, some the magic isn’t really defined much.

I liked Allie and Charlie. I didn’t mind Allie and Graham’s romance. I loved the humor and the pop culture references made be giggle. Still, the Gale family dynamic makes me uncomfortable. But I guess I’ll continue with the series.

The first book in a cozy mystery fantasy series, the Casino Witch Mysteries.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 166

Some time back I wanted to read fantasy books which are cozy mysteries. Turns out that these actually exist!

Ella Ramono is an accountant. When her father died, she inherited his building in Rambler, Nevada and moveed there. However, on her first day at a new job as an accountant to a casino, a big black cat bites her. The bite awakens her magical talents but Ella doesn’t know anything about magic or mages so she has a lot to learn. Just like her father, she has a talent for reading people’s emotions but the magic also burns a lot of calories. She also now has the cat, Patagonia, as a familiar. And her new co-worker Vin is handsome but also rude, stubborn, and pushy.

Olivia, who owns the casino, agrees to tell her what’s going on but not until Ella finds out who murdered people in the casino. Five people have died in the casino in previous weeks but all, except the newest one, have been ruled as suicides, until now. One of the victims is Olivia’s own father who owned the casino. Also, Ella’s dad has left her a mysterious note about people she doesn’t know. Her dad was also a mage but didn’t tell her anything. Ella agrees: she doesn’t really have a choice. Olivia, her aunt Ann, and cousins Vanessa and Vin will do what they can to help Ella.

This was mostly a fun and quick read, however both Ella and Olivia have recently lost their dads, so Ella does miss him quite a lot. She knows literally nothing about what’s happening to her and the people around who do know are very tight-lipped, sometimes frustratingly so. Ella does manage to pry out some info out of them about magic during the investigation. Of course, hilarity ensues when Ella doesn’t know things that the other mages take for granted. Also, apparently most mages are trained when they’re teenagers so Ella is old to start her training. Another source of humor is Patagonia and her continued habit of twining herself around Ella’s legs so that she falls.

I instantly disliked Vin and I’m hoping that he’s there just as someone to spar with Ella rather than an actual romantic interest. However, I enjoyed most of the other cast: Auntie Ann and Olivia are more pragmatic than Vin and Patagonia is quirky but fun.

The first book in a fantasy series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor
Page count at GoodReads: 400

This world has four alternate realities and only very few people can travel between and even they need tokens, blood, and magic to do it. Kell is one of those few people. He’s an Antari, a member of a magical race, marked by one eye which is black. Only very few Antari are left. Kell was sort of adopted into the royal family; while king Maxim and queen Emira treat him well they don’t consider him quite family. But Rhys, the heir, does think Kell as his brother and vice versa. Because of his abilities, Kell is a messager for his king for the other two worlds.

Kell calls the worlds with different colors. He’s from Red London which has a lot of magic. The country is called Maresh Empire and it’s far larger than Great Britain. Indeed, people who don’t have magic are at distinct disadvantage. Black London is sealed off. It was corrupted by magic and the others don’t want anything to do with it or the people inside. White London is ruled by royal twins, Athos and Astrid Dane. In that world, magic is coveted and bound with tattoos, and those who have the most magic are rulers. So, the twins are the most powerful magicians and sadists. They use their powers to make others their soulless servants. The final world is Grey London where magic is weak and only a few people even know that it’s real. It’s the equivalent of our world and the country is called England and the sovereign is old George III.

It’s forbidden to bring anything from one world to another, with the exception of small tokens that the Antari need to travel between them. However, Kell loves thrills and so he’s agreed to smuggle small items for a few people. His brother Rhys warns him that if he’s caught, the king must punish him.

One day, a desperate woman in White London gives Kell a letter and a small token to take to Gray London. Before Kell can quite make up his mind, the woman is gone, leaving behind the items. Soon, Kell finds out that the token isn’t at all what he thought it would be: it’s a very powerful magical stone from Black London and a lot of people want it, too. Kell must try to survive long enough to take it back where it belongs.

Delilah Bard is an orphan and a thief. She dresses as a man so that she can move easier among the throngs of Grey London. However, when she returns to her base, her “landlord” tries to rape her. She kills him and is forced to return to Ballard, the only man who has been kind to her. She feels that she already owes him too much but has no choice. When she comes across Kell, she robs him and is disappointed to realize that she only got a rock. But Kell tracks her down and when Lila realizes that he’s really from another world, she almost forces him to take her with him, even though the danger is great.

Lila’s trying to save money so that she can escape somewhere better, but her pickings are so small that it’s not likely. Still, she craves for grand adventure and something better and more than being a petty thief. She’s clearly being wounded and she’s used to taking care of herself and not being able to trust anyone.

Kell also longs for thrills but is disgusted with himself that he wants it. He both loves the royal family and feels that he’s not really a part of it.

The only other known Antari is Holland. He serves the twin royals of White London. He’s cold and calculating and we find the reason for that, too.

The London in each world isn’t the same city. They have similarities, of course, but many things are different, especially the people and the “mood” of the city. The larger country is also different and so is the river through each London.

The book takes it’s time showing us the setting before the plot kicks in. While the worlds are complex, the plot isn’t, which is probably a good thing.

While this is the first book in a trilogy, it can be read as a stand-alone.

I really liked the setting and the different moods in the different worlds. The characters are fine. Lila and Kell are the main POV characters but there are lot more, most of them seen just once.

The 12th book in the October “Toby” Daye urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours 29 minutes
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

This are not well in Toby’s small found family. The two people who were kidnapped in the previous story are still trying to recover from their nightmarish experiences. One of them is Toby’s beloved Tybalt, who has closed himself off from Toby. He doesn’t talk to her and he doesn’t even visit her anymore. Toby desperately wants to help but she doesn’t know what to do.

Then her ex boyfriend Cliff and his wife Miranda come to Toby’s door, accusing her of kidnapping Gillian, Toby and Cliff’s daughter. Gillian goes to Berkley collage and she’s disappeared, leaving behind her car. When Toby’s recovered enough to spring into action, she promises to do everything she can to find her daughter. Even though Gillian is now a human, Toby suspects that someone is trying to hurt her through Gillian. Cliff and Miranda have come during the morning which is a bad time for the fae. Toby still wakes her squire Quentin and her twin/death omen May demands to come along, too.

At the collage, they find Gillian’s strange roommate who apparently is part-fae and hero worships Toby. Toby and her friends start to really dislike her but she brings them to Gillian’s abandoned car. Then things get a lot stranger and worse.

I love Toby’s extended family. This time, they’re somewhat scattered which makes things a bit harder for Toby. But she’s willing to do anything for her daughter, of course. And so will May who has all of Toby’s memories and so in a way, she’s also Gillian’s mother. May’s girlfriend Jazz was also kidnapped and she’s also suffering but we don’t see her much.

This book is more somber is tone. But we get to find out some very interesting things about people close to Toby and about how the current relations between the fae and the humans came to be. Toby’s life changes again. Also, things from previous books come back to haunt our heroes. However, the book also has lot of exposition which felt rather needless.

This is another good addition to the series, even if it’s not one of the best. Once again, I wanted to reread the series to both enjoy them close together and also to pick up any clues I missed.

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