On to the next Read Harder challenge! It will probably not shock you to learn that I was a big fan of comic books and related media as a teenager. Suffice it to say that my brother and I collected Marvel Comics trading cards.* But I hadn’t read an actual comic book in a long time when I decided to tackle task #6: read an all-ages comic.
Squirrel Girl was originally introduced as a joke in a one-off Iron Man comic. She’s young mutant with ridiculous powers–the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel, plus the ability to talk to squirrels–who nonetheless managed to help take down Dr. Doom. She’s appeared as comic relief in some other Marvel adventures. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is her solo debut. Since I wasn’t particularly in the mood for angsty superheroes this seemed right up my alley. I was not disappointed.
I was on the fence about trying the Read Harder challenge until I got to #20 on the list: “Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel.” That tipped me firmly into the “yes” column because I had the perfect book on my wish list: Hold Me by Courtney Milan, one of the smartest and funniest writers I’ve encountered during my long blog hiatus. Hold Me is set in the same world as my favorite Milan book, Trade Me, and I couldn’t wait to pick it up.
I liked Hold Me and recommend it, but with a caveat: you kind of have to ignore some early missteps if you want to root for this romance.
First, I would like to say that I am omitting the cover image from this review on purpose. I put this cover and this cover on my blog, but I draw the line at this one. I have SOME pride.
Nevada Baylor* is a private investigator running her family’s detective agency following the death of her father. Nevada has a handy magical ability: she can sense when people are lying. In a world where other people can use their magic to levitate, throw heavy objects, or light things on fire, however, Nevada knows her limits. She sticks to cases that won’t get her killed — at least, she tries to. But at the beginning of the book Nevada is strong-armed into tracking down Adam Pierce, a powerful magic user with a penchant for burning things to the ground when he doesn’t get his way. In order to accomplish this task, Nevada reluctantly allies herself with Connor “Mad” Rogan, a former soldier and reputed war criminal who wants to find Pierce for his own reasons.
Few action-adventure protagonists are harder to pull off than the Everygal heroine — the average, relatable, usually-slightly-klutzy woman who somehow finds herself in the middle of scary or world-shattering events. You know the type. She’s just a normal girl who happens to stumble into an apocalypse every once in a while — and fortunately the hot supernatural guys who are lusting after her are there to bail her out. Everygal klutziness/incompetence usually has me grinding my teeth in exasperation and wishing Everygal would turn the book over to the much-more-interesting supporting cast. I don’t need all of my books to feature ass-kicking main characters, but if it’s an action-adventure novel I have to believe that the protagonist is someone who could and should be in dangerous situations.*
Which is why I love Mackenna Fraser, the main character in Lisa Shearin’s The Grendel Affair. Mac works for an organization called Supernatural Protection and Investigations, or SPI for short. SPI’s mission is keeping the existence of supernatural forces and monsters off the radar of the average citizen (think a less authoritarian version of the Men in Black). Most of Mac’s colleagues have backgrounds in law enforcement and can discharge a staggering variety of weapons.
I think the hardest books to review may be books in an ongoing series. Fans of Kate Daniels have probably already picked up Magic Breaks; newcomers to Kate’s world definitely aren’t going to start with Book 7.* So consider this partly a review of Magic Breaks, and partly a review of where the series stands as a whole at this point. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers for books 1-6, but anyone planning to start the series might want to skip this review.
Minor series spoilers henceforth
In order to write this review, I am going to have to make an embarrassing confession. When I was in college, I went through a paranormal romance novel phase. Many of these books involved either sexy demon hunters who needed women to help them break their curses, or time travel and brooding Scottish lairds (which I think explains my inability to take Outlander as seriously as Diana Gabaldon clearly wanted me to take it).
Eventually, I grew out of the genre — not because I decided paranormal romances were bad or dumb, but because of the lack of surprise. A romance novel can, by definition, really only have one ending: Guy and Gal profess undying love. I started to crave books where I didn’t know how things would turn out, and where everything didn’t hinge on two good-looking people falling into bed together.
All of this brings me to On the Edge, a paranormal romance written by the Ilona Andrews team. I didn’t quite realize the book’s genre when I checked it out (one nice bonus of Kindle checkout: I generally don’t prejudice myself or spoil plot developments by looking at covers), and I’m glad I didn’t because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.
On the Edge is, without question, the best paranormal romance I’ve ever read. I devoured this book in a day and a half because I literally couldn’t put it down — at one point I was stirring dinner with one hand and holding my Kindle with the other, anxious to find out what would happen next.
But I have a really unfair criticism of it. I wish it wasn’t a paranormal romance.
I’ll be honest. We’re three weeks away from the release of the new Kate Daniels book and I am desperate to find things that will tide me over until I can get my hands on Magic Breaks.* The obvious nicotine patch was The Dresden Files, one of the most popular ongoing urban fantasy series. It didn’t hurt that my husband (whom I have successfully hooked on Kate Daniels) has been advising me to read Dresden for months.
Book 1 of The Dresden Files, Storm Breaks, introduces us to a modern Chicago that’s just a tiny bit different from our own. Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, and most of the calls he gets are from cranks who want to mess with him. He gets by, however, because Detective Karrin Murphy of the the Chicago Police Department calls him in as her consultant when a crime scene is just a little too weird.