I’ve always been intrigued by the supernatural, and every once in a while I’ll get a craving for a fun urban fantasy romp or sexy paranormal romance. I’m quickly learned that everything in these (overlapping, but not synonymous) genres is NOT for me. Here are four paperbacks I’ve checked out from my library recently and enjoyed enough to read all the way through, even if I still haven’t found anything that comes close to duplicating my love for Sookie Stackhouse.
Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
The Mercy Thompson series came highly recommended by Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks and is featured by Sarah at Clear Eyes, Full Shelves on her recommended urban fantasy series, so I decided to check it out (often my exploration of urban fantasy/paranormal romance is limited to what is available at my library).
Synopsis (Goodreads): Mercy Thompson’s life is not exactly normal. Her next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she’s fixing a VW bus for a vampire. But then, Mercy isn’t exactly normal herself.
Mercy Thompson is a mechanic who owns her own shop. She’s also a Native American skin walker who can change into a coyote who grew up with a werewolf pack before striking out on her own as a teen after having her heart broken. Now she lives next door to the local wolf pack and is friends with a vampire. She’s a no-nonsense, down-to-earth kinda girl.
A new wolf shows up looking for work, and he seems like a total newbie who could use some help, so she agrees. Then he turns up murdered, and Mercy is drawn into a mystery involving witchcraft, her old pack, her new neighbors, and a kidnapping.
I enjoyed the world-building, the characters, and the mystery of this story, but readers who are looking for a heavy romance subplot will be disappointed. There is nothing steamy about this book (though I haven’t yet read the rest of the series). There’s nothing more than a hint of sexual tension and an underwhelming kiss. If that’s about the level of romance you’re looking for, this series could be a good fit for you. While it was a decent light read to cleanse the palette between books, I was satisfied enough with the conclusion of this installment and don’t feel compelled to keep reading right away. I’m going to give some other series a try before possibly revisiting Mercy Thompson.
Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs by Molly Harper
Again, this is one that Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks put on my radar, and it was a fun, light read, if ultimately a little disappointing despite my low expectations.
Synopsis (Goodreads): Maybe it was the Shenanigans gift certificate that put her over the edge. When children’s librarian and self-professed nice girl Jane Jameson is fired by her beastly boss and handed twenty-five dollars in potato skins instead of a severance check, she goes on a bender that’s sure to become Half Moon Hollow legend. On her way home, she’s mistaken for a deer, shot, and left for dead. And thanks to the mysterious stranger she met while chugging neon-colored cocktails, she wakes up with a decidedly unladylike thirst for blood.
Jane is now the latest recipient of a gift basket from the Newly Undead Welcoming Committee, and her life-after-lifestyle is taking some getting used to. Her recently deceased favorite aunt is now her ghostly roommate. She has to fake breathing and endure daytime hours to avoid coming out of the coffin to her family. She’s forced to forgo her favorite down-home Southern cooking for bags of O negative. Her relationship with her sexy, mercurial vampire sire keeps running hot and cold. And if all that wasn’t enough, it looks like someone in Half Moon Hollow is trying to frame her for a series of vampire murders. What’s a nice undead girl to do?
I’m not gonna lie, the children’s librarian-turned-vampire was the main selling point for me. This was mildly entertaining, but when I figured out the “villain” half way through, I lost a lot of interest. Jane, the main character, was cheeky and fun, but the other characters felt very flat, the “world-building” amounted to several pages of an infodump, the dialogue was often clunky, and it just wasn’t very well-written. This one does have some more sexytimes, but since I wasn’t that into the main love interest, I can’t say I found them that exciting.
How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper
I decided to give Molly Harper another try with this one, even though werewolves are not my favorite supernatural creatures.
Synopsis (Goodreads): Northern Exposure Even in Grundy, Alaska, it’s unusual to find a naked guy with a bear trap clamped to his ankle on your porch. But when said guy turns into a wolf, recent southern transplant Mo Wenstein has no difficulty identifying the problem. Her surly neighbor Cooper Graham—who has been openly critical of Mo’s ability to adapt to life in Alaska—has trouble of his own. Werewolf trouble.
For Cooper, an Alpha in self-imposed exile from his dysfunctional pack, it’s love at first sniff when it comes to Mo. But Cooper has an even more pressing concern on his mind. Several people around Grundy have been the victims of wolf attacks, and since Cooper has no memory of what he gets up to while in werewolf form, he’s worried that he might be the violent canine in question.
If a wolf cries wolf, it makes sense to listen, yet Mo is convinced that Cooper is not the culprit. Except if he’s not responsible, then who is? And when a werewolf falls head over haunches in love with you, what are you supposed to do anyway? The rules of dating just got a whole lot more complicated. . . .
I actually really enjoyed the Alaska setting and thought the love interest, Cooper, was much more developed than in the other Harper novel. The mystery was a bit uneven and underdeveloped, but I liked Mo enough to keep reading. Her hippie upbringing was totally cliched, but I still thought she was a fun, plucky character. Werewolf romances still seem weird to me, though.
Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost
Synopsis (Goodreads): She’s a mortal with dark powers…
After a tragic accident scarred her body and destroyed her dreams, Leila never imagined that the worst was still to come: terrifying powers that let her channel electricity and learn a person’s darkest secrets through a single touch. Leila is doomed to a life of solitude…until creatures of the night kidnap her, forcing her to reach out with a telepathic distress call to the world’s most infamous vampire…
He’s the Prince of Night…
Vlad Tepesh inspired the greatest vampire legend of all—but whatever you do, don’t call him Dracula. Vlad’s ability to control fire makes him one of the most feared vampires in existence, but his enemies have found a new weapon against him—a beautiful mortal with powers to match his own. When Vlad and Leila meet, however, passion ignites between them, threatening to consume them both. It will take everything that they are to stop an enemy intent on bringing them down in flames.
I did enjoy Frost’s Night Huntress series…to an extent. The first one was great, the second so-so…and then I got kind of bored with Cat and Bones and didn’t read the last couple. A highlight of the series was the introduction of Vlad. His character is dark and dry in the way I’d expect a vampire to be.
Leila, the heroine of Once Burned, had potential to be cool. She has to avoid touching people because when she was a child, she was struck with lightning which left her with the ability to fry people and also to get glimpses into their past, present, and future by touching them or objects they’ve touched. It also left her with a wicked scar. Sounds like a decent premise for a heroine in a fun and fluffy book.
But Leila is just…blah. I didn’t enjoy her character at all.
Vlad was so fun in the Night Huntress books, but I didn’t feel like he could carry this on his own. Sure, Leila has a pretty handy gift, but he just instantly decides that Leila has to be his.
The chemistry was just not there. And I thought there were some pretty steamy moments between Cat and Bones, but these sex scenes were laughable. I just don’t buy a modern woman using the term “loins.” Especially multiple times. Maybe I’ve been reading too much YA, but the sex just seemed over the top and ridiculous. There was the potential for a more layered relationship, especially with the novelty of being able to touch someone for the first time. But it just didn’t happen. Vlad can literally control fire, but I just wasn’t feeling the spark between these characters.
The “mystery” surrounding the bad guy was boring and typical. Nothing exciting. My library did order the second book, but I’m not in any hurry to continue this series.
I read across all genres. I’m willing to dip my toe into any pool once. But as much as I want to LOVE urban fantasy and paranormal romance, I have a hard time selecting titles I’ll enjoy from synopses and reviews, even if those reviews are from readers whose taste I know and find similar to my own in other genres. Because the writer must balance plot, world-building, and romance, I think it’s hard to get the mix just right, and my sweet spot along these axes seems to be different than other readers. (I want creative and detailed world-building, a fast but believable plot, and a relationship based on more than just physical attraction).
Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews is a series that is often recommended to me, and I’m happy that my library just re-ordered it so I can check it out. (I didn’t even have to suggest it!) So that series is next on my list to check out.
If you have a favorite urban fantasy/paranormal romance series (or standalone) let me know in the comments!