The Demon Trapper’s Daughter: A(n Excited!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Demon Trapper's Daughter by Jana OliverIt’s 2018 and the city of Atlanta is going to Hell. The economy is in shambles, the city is practically bankrupt, and Lucifer’s demons are everywhere. Angels wander the streets but they keep a low profile and tend to stay in the background.

Demons have no such scruples. Whether it’s a Biblio, a Magpie, or one of the Geofiends there is no forgetting that things are bad and on their way to worse.

Especially for seventeen-year-old Riley Blackthorne. An apprentice demon trapper learning the ropes from her father, Riley already sticks out as the only girl apprentice in the local demon trapper’s guild. When she botches a routine trapping, that’s bad. When her father is killed and Riley is left on her own, that’s a whole lot worse.

Riley is alone in a hostile city. There are some in the guild eager to see her fail. There are some, like really cute fellow apprentice Simon Adler, who want to help. Denver Beck, her father’s trapping partner and a near constant annoyance to Riley, wants nothing more than to run her life. At least, sometimes he does. Sometimes he just wants to be nice to her. It’s confusing.

Either way, Riley doesn’t want help. She wants to get by on her own and prove herself.

In a city where the demons know your name and the old rules are changing, working alone might get Riley killed. Or worse in The Demon Trapper’s Daughter* (2011) by Jana Oliver.

There is a lot to love about The Demon Trapper’s Daughter. Jana Oliver takes the old conventions about demons and demon hunting and  turns them upside down in this dynamic start to what promises to be a thrilling series. Oliver’s world building is phenomenal. Riley and the other characters, particularly Beck, jump off  the page in an evocative story where readers will smell the brimstone and feel the swipe of every demonic claw.

The story is written in the third person and alternates between Riley and Beck’s viewpoints. The one weak point in the writing are the italicized thoughts interspersed throughout the narrative which are a bit jarring–particularly Beck’s since his are written in the vernacular to convey his Georgia accent. Riley can be a frustrating protagonist especially with her low opinion of (the obviously awesome) Denver Beck. But Beck is just as stubborn. By the end of the story the two balance out even though they might not see it that way.

There are a lot of urban fantasies out there. There are a lot of books about demons. There are a lot of books about a young woman trying to prove herself. This book is all three. Gritty, funny, and exciting The Demon Trapper’s Daughter is a charmer with equal parts action and heart. Highly recommended.

*This book is also called The Demon Trappers: Forsaken–that’s the title for the UK edition. Thanks to the author, Jana G. Oliver, for commenting on the review I posted on Amazon to confirm this information! (I prefer The Demon Trapper’s Daughter as it points more to the crux of the story. Either way, this is the first book in The Demon Trappers series.)

Possible Pairings: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Exclusive Bonus Content: Did you catch by now that I have a ridiculous literary crush on Denver Beck? Seriously, he’s awesome. I can’t even tell you how awesome he is because it gets too far into plot details but I expect him to play a BIG role in the rest of the series (and hopefully not die tragically because that would make me sad). In all seriousness (no really) Denver Beck joins Tom Imura, Alan Ryves and Tucker Avery in the very exclusive Literary Guys I Wish Were Real Club.

Also, if I had a club for Book Covers I Love this one would definitely be in it. I think it not only captures the essence of the book but also the essence of Riley as a character in a weird way. I read this book as an arc so, tragically, I do not have information on the who designed this delightful cover.

Hex Hall: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hex Hall by Rachel HawkinsSophie Mercer is a witch. But not with many perks. She has no broomstick to fly, no spell books, no talking cat (she’s allergic).

She can perform magic. But not particularly well. And not without a lot of unforeseen . . . complications.

Sophie and her (non-magical) mom have lived in nineteen states. They lasted the longest in Indiana (four years). They only made it two weeks in Montana. And most recently, well, that didn’t go too well either.

In fact it went so badly that Sophie’s been sentenced to Hecate Hall; a reform school for wayward witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

If Hex Hall wasn’t bad enough, Sophie also ends up rooming with the only vampire on campus, alienating a trio of students, and making a total fool of herself in front of a gorgeous warlock. All on the first day. At least her vampire roommate is nice.

Things at Hex Hall only get worse as Sophie learns more about her magically gifted father, develops a major crush, and makes even more enemies and social blunders. Oh, then there’s the matter of the weird attacks on students that look suspiciously like the work of a vampire. Sophie thought passing as a human was hard, but it living as a witch is going to be way harder in Hex Hall (2010) by Rachel Hawkins.

Hex Hall blends elements of concrete fantasy and campy fantasy in a way that is refreshingly unique. It also works really well. Sophie is a narrator grounded firmly, and perhaps unwillingly, in the magical world while also essentially being an average teenage girl (much like the girls shown on the cover–go figure!). Hawkins capitalizes on both aspects of Sophie’s character to create a heroine that is entertaining and very authentic.

Hawkins’ writing here is sharp, clever and vivacious. This is a book will have you laughing out loud and biting your nails in suspense–sometimes at the same time. Filled with action, humor, awesome characters, and a few twists Hex Hall offers readers a few surprises and a lot of fun.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Exclusive Bonus Content: This is neither here nor there but one of my favorite characters was a minor one named Cal. I hope we see more of him in this book’s sequel (Demonglass due out in 2011) because I really liked him and he just kind of jumped off the page for me. Go Cal!

The Demon’s Covenant: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees BrennanMae thought she had left all of her troubles behind in London. Certainly nightmares followed her home to Exeter, but that was okay because her brother Jamie was safe from the magicians and the Ryves brothers were too far away to draw either of them into their more complicated web of lies and trouble.

That’s what Mae thought when her life finally seemed to be getting back to normal.

But trouble has its eye on Mae. The magicians who wanted to kill Jamie are now trying to  lure him into their ruthless circle. Nick and Alan Ryves are, of course, uniquely qualified to help. Their return brings its own unique blend of exhilaration and mayhem to Mae’s life.  The lure of magic is tantalizing but the danger is greater than ever before as Mae tries to make sense of her own, normal, world and the magical one that glitters just out of her reach in The Demon’s Covenant (2010) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Find it on Bookshop.

If Sarah Rees Brennan’s first book, The Demon’s Lexicon, crackled with intensity then this book is burning with it. Brennan has taken a story that already seemed at the breaking point with tension and emotion and made it all even more taut and thrilling. As ever, the characters shine with a unique blend of action and humor throughout the story.

The Demon’s Covenant necessarily spends more time looking at what it means to be human and, more importantly, what it means to love. Watching Nick stumble through what it means to really care about someone and try to decide if he even can care for someone is heartbreaking and utterly compelling to follow as Mae tries to explain alien concepts like comfort to one who never had use for such feelings. It’s a strange thing to say about what is largely an adventure fantasy, but this book brims over with brotherly love and friendship. There are few writers who handle those themes as well as Brennan does here.

Some reviews expressed disappointment that the story shifted to Mae’s point of view in this installment but, really, the transition was seamless. The writing here is spot-on with a dynamo combination of exposition and character development to create an exciting story with substance besides. And, of course, Mae is an awesome girl (with awesome pink hair) ready to not only save herself but also everyone else! All in all, The Demon’s Covenant was even better than Brennan’s rather great first installment in her Demon Trilogy.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Caster by Elsie Chapman, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Shadowshaper by  Daniel José Older, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Exclusive Bonus Content: The only great flaw in this book, and it’s a big one, is that Alan remains painfully fictional. One might even call it disastragic.* Aside from being one of my favorite characters (of all time) Alan is also really well developed. He also continues to run brilliant, cunning circles around all of the other characters with his brilliant, cunning plans all while being charming, smart, and just a bit dangerous (and cunning and brilliant). It was crushing, upon finishing this little gem, to be forced to acknowledge that this literary hottie is not real and that even if he were he would be in England and far too busy fighting magicians and saving demons to bother with boring old me. Alas and alack.

*That there is a new word I created, a combination of disastrous and tragic, obviously. Ray Gunn decided it might have some staying power, so feel free to use it in situations like this one where you want to convey a disastrously tragic event or a tragic disaster.

Unrelated Note: Who else loves this cover? Isn’t it fantastic?

The Demon’s Lexicon: A Review

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees BrennanNick Ryves has a lot of things to worry about. Usually a leaky pipe wouldn’t register as even a minor priority. Except that he also keeps his favorite sword under the sink. Dodgy houses and leaky pipes are nothing new for Nick and his brother Alan. After all, who has time for home improvement when you’re on the run from evil magicians and the demons who give them power?

After years of running across England, the magicians are finally closing in on Nick and Alan in The Demon’s Lexicon (2009) by Sarah Rees Brennan. Find it on Bookshop.

The solution should be simple. The Ryves know exactly what the magicians want. But the stolen charm is also the only thing keeping their mother alive.

Nick is furious when Alan decides to help a hapless brother and sister who stumble into their lives. Don’t they have enough problems? But Alan is family, and even if Nick doesn’t know much about feelings or bonding, he knows family matters.

The only problem is that the more Nick learns about his past and the closer they come to the magicians, the more obvious it is that Alan has been lying to him. Nick is determined to stop the magicians and uncover the truth . . . even if it means nothing will ever be the same.

Brennan herself has said (on twitter) that she doesn’t much like the television series Supernatural. Still, comparisons between it and her debut novel are inevitable because, well, they’re really similar. That said, the entire vibe of The Demon’s Lexicon is sufficiently different from Supernatural that it won’t seem too familiar to fans of the TV show nor will it lack appeal for those who don’t appreciate the series.

Unsurprisingly, the story is filled to the brim with action and battles and, of course, magic. Happily, and less expected, was the humor that Brennan has added to the story. Nick is ruthless and he doesn’t understand other people at all. But he is very funny–as is Alan. The nice thing about the added humor is that it gives both of the Ryves brothers that little extra dimension that makes them feel like real people instead of scary thugs.

The writing itself is filled with similar contrasts for added complexity. Aside from being a really fun and exciting book, The Demon’s Lexicon is a great book about family and what love really means because, really, it can mean a lot of different things for different people. It’s also a book that will have wide appeal because it is widely awesome (and the first part in a trilogy that will continue in The Demon’s Talisman).

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Caster by Elsie Chapman, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Shadowshaper by  Daniel José Older, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

The Amulet of Samarkand: A Banned Book Review

The Amulet of Samarkand coverThe Amulet of Samarkand (2003) is the first book in Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy. (Find it on Bookshop.) This trilogy has the unique honor of having been banned in its entirety for the books’ presentations of the occult. They also feature magnificent cover art by Melvyn Grant (who also has a ridiculously clever website). For many readers, that would be enticement enough. I didn’t know about the book banning, but the cover art and blurb pushed it onto my ever-increasing “to read” list. A recommendation from a trusted YA librarian pushed it over the top.

Nathaniel, one of the novel’s main characters, lives in London. Like most large cities, many of London’s movers and shakers are to be found in government positions of influence. What most people don’t know is that these powerful men and women get up to more than politicking when behind closed doors. They all have power, certainly, but very little (none depending on who you ask) belongs to them. Not permanently at least. Working in obscurity, under strict rules of engagement (with stricter punishments should something go awry), demons are the real power behind London’s elite.

Nathaniel is six when he is torn away from his birth parents and sent to live with his new master, another magician.

As in many fantasy novels, the power of naming plays an important role here. Demons are summoned with the knowledge of their real names. If you know the demon’s real name, you can control them. Similarly, if a demon learns the true name of a magician (in this case their given name) the demon has the same level of control. No magician knows their true name in order to avoid just that kind of problem.

By the age of eleven, Nathaniel has adjusted to his life as an apprentice and eagerly anticipates two events: the day when he will pick his name as a magician, and the day he will become a great magician, like his idol William Gladstone, remembered by all. Nathaniel does choose his name in due time, but his dream of greatness, is put into serious question when Simon Lovelace, a prestigious magician, publicly humiliates Nathaniel.

Enraged, Nathaniel bides his time learning spells and waiting until the day he will be ready to exact revenge. Enter Bartimaeus, the novel’s other main character, and a djinni with a fondness for footnotes in his first-person narration. Initially summoned as an instrument of revenge, Nathaniel soon learns that Bartimaeus is not easily contained.

When Nathaniel’s brilliant revenge becomes murder, espionage and conspiracy djinni and boy strike an uneasy detente to see if both of them can survive the machinations Bartimaeus has set in motion under Nathaniel’s orders.

The Amulet of Samarkand alternates viewpoints, sometimes being told in witty first-person by Bartimaeus (filled with references to his 5000 year career as a brilliant djinni), other times following Nathaniel in a third-person voice. Combined, the narrations make for an original fantasy that is witty and sharp.

More interesting, especially as the trilogy continues, is the dynamic between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus. While the djinni is more entertaining of the two, Nathaniel is often more compelling. Watching him mature from an innocent boy to a calculating magician in his own right, Stroud creates tension as readers are forced to wonder will Nathaniel be a villain or a hero by the end of the story?

Possible Pairings: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, Rise of the Darklings by Paul Crilley, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Death Note Tsugumi Ohba, Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson, The Fire Artist by Daisy Whitney