Books

Night Shift Dragons [DFZ, Book 3] Review

DFZ book 3 released a while ago and I finished the audio book.  I have to say, hands down this was one of my favorite series.  I liked it more than The Heartstrikers books, if I’m being completely honest.  This is going to be one of my shorter reviews, because I really don’t have anything bad to say about it.  Loved it from start to finish.  But as I am prone to do, let’s get into some gushing about the book!

 

Night Shift Dragons takes place 2 months after Part-Time Gods.  Opal and her Father are dealing with a lot of their issues, and Opal is also dealing with being a Priestess to the DFZ.  I thought it was really interesting seeing the DFZ and how her personality has developed over the 25 year span since the Heartstriker series.  It isn’t something you need to have read the first series to get, but if you have it’s just a nice touch seeing her develop  into  who she is in the story.  There were some really entertaining cameos in this book as well, which once again you don’t have to have read the first series to get, but it makes them all the better if you have and if you plan to read the Heartstrikers series, major spoilers from things in that series by these cameos.
But what I love about this series, is how grounded it is.  Sure, we’re dealing with demi-gods and magic, and dragons.  But at its core, it’s the story of Opal and Yong trying to figure out how to have a relationship with one another where they aren’t just shouting at each other all the time, and Opal realizing that her actions have major consequences, and she’s just as much at fault for the bad things going on in her life as dealing with her Dad is.  It was really refreshing seeing Opal own up to her mistakes, while at the same time acknowledging that Yong was also in the wrong.  Yong also has to realize Opal isn’t a kid anymore, and what he’s been trying to do to keep her close has only driven her away was huge character growth for him as well.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first few chapters, where they just talked things out and figured out how to be a Father and daughter again.  After that, the scenes with them having more tender moments, and their action scenes together, were just so amazing and I loved seeing them lean on each other for strength, and support.  Of course their mannerisms don’t entirely go away, but they’re both working on building this relationship, and it’s beautiful start to finish.

 

I was a bit worried after reading the blurb for the book that Opal and Nick’s relationship would suffer.  Especially after what happened at the end of book 2, I was seriously stressing that there would be an obnoxious will they, won’t they lovers on opposite sides of a battle thing going on.  Lucky for me, that didn’t happen at all.  Once again, Rachel Aaron demonstrates her depth in understanding of how her characters work, and uses a realistic dialogue between the characters to set up plot points for the book.  Never did I feel like either side didn’t trust each other, never did I feel that their relationship wasn’t strong enough to weather any storm.  It was just really well done, seeing the depth of care they had for each other, and super refreshing for a genre plagued with irritating romance tropes.

 

The overarching plot of the story was interesting enough, but honestly it was mainly the backdrop for the characters growth and development.  I pretty easily predicted what was going to happen, though there were certain curveballs In the last few chapters that genuinely had me surprised.  The final battle was epic, and the true culmination of Opal and Yong’s relationship.  And the ending after that was super satisfying, and open-ended enough  to have some novellas featuring Opal and Nick.  Which, I hope is what happens, because if I’m being honest, I like them waaaay more than Marcy and Julius.  There’s just something about Opal that’s so much more engaging, and makes me like her far more as a character.

 

I read this in audio book format, because that’s how I started the book, and I tend to stick with how I started reading a book.  Emily Woo Zeller is fantastic, her voice for Opal especially is super well done.  Opal, Yong, and Nick were very well defined as characters in her narration.  There is a certain point, where the voices don’t get super distinguished, but the characters personalities still shine through so well that it doesn’t bother me so much.  My main gripe is with the characters from Heartstrikers, but that’s mainly because I’m so used to the voices from the Heartstrikers books that the ones in this book throw me off a bit.  I just put those voices in my head and imagine the other narrators deliveries with them, and it doesn’t bother me too much.

 

But yeah, this was a fantastic finale to the series.  Like I said, this story has always been grounded in the simple struggle of a young woman wanting to live her life, but not wanting to strain her familial relationships to do so.  Both sides having to adapt to one another’s wishes, while still loving and respecting each other was perfectly portrayed in this 3rd book. I always thought Yong was a great character, but seeing him fleshed out in this book was great, and his character arc along with Opal’s was fantastic.  Like I said, I really hope to see more of all of these characters, because I prefer them to the cast of the Heartstrikers series.
I recommend this story to anyone who’s an urban fantasy fan that has a strong like of character based stories, and quirky humor.  These books are well rounded with drama, action, character and plot, and I thoroughly enjoyed this being a one on one character story, instead of evolving into the end of the world scenario Heartstrikers did.  Both are great series’ but I prefer this one to that one, no contest.

 

Have you read Night Shift Dragons?  Let me know what you thought in the comments!

Books

Minimum Wage Magic [DFZ, Book 1] Review

I have this on again off again relationship with reading.  It’s not that I don’t like it, I love it in fact.  It’s just so hard to sift through good series and books for me, and only using Audible for books can get expensive.  Luckily, I found out the Kindle Reader PC app was accessible, so here’s to hoping I read more, but still when I find an author I like I’m super loyal and read all of their books.

 

That author lately is Rachel Aaron for me.  I read her Heartstrikers series and fell in love with it:  the world, characters, and writing are all so great.  I’m not normally into urban fantasy, but this one just clicks with my tastes so much that I read the entire thing and am a big fan of the universe it takes place in.  So when I heard that a new series of books was going to take place in the world of the DFZ, I was all in.
Recently, I decided to cancel my Audible subscription just for lack of using it, so with my two remaining credits, I picked up the first 2 books in the DFZ series.  How do they compare to the Heartstrikers series?

 

That’s kind of hard to say.  They’re two completely different styles of books, and I think that was a smart move on Aaron’s part.  I like both, for different reasons, but as far as my personal preference, I like Minimum Wage Magic more.  As much as I like the Heartstrikers series, it eventually evolved into this end of the world scenario.  I like it when stories are more personal, and Minimum Wage Magic is just that.  We follow Opal, a Cleaner in the DFZ – aka, someone who buys storage units, and takes what she gets out of the units and sells them.  We find out early on that she has a big debt to pay to someone by the end of the week, and the plot only thickens when the unit she buys has a dead body inside of it.  Said unit has notes that lead her on a crazy adventure with fellow cleaner Nick, and I don’t want to say anything else because the fun of this book is not knowing what will happen next.
It has a very heist setup to it – beat another party to the prize at the end of the adventure.  There’s plenty of action, lot of flare, and most importantly, the characters we follow are really fun and interesting.  Unlike Heartstrikers, we aren’t following someone who doesn’t want to fight.  That also lends itself to making this series stand on its own, and not making it feel like a rehashed story – and, there are plenty of cameos from characters from the first series of books.  If you haven’t read the Heartstrikers series, it won’t throw you off at all, but for those of us who have it’s a really nice nod to the series and there are really fun references in here.

 

 

But as I was saying, the characters are really interesting.  Both Opal and Nick are super dynamic, both together and apart and I’m seriously hoping they’ll get together at the end of all of this because they just complement each other so well.  The book is told in first person, from Opal’s POV and it just…works.  Like it doesn’t feel like we’re getting too much into her headspace because she’s a closed off character, but we learn just enough about her and her personality to like her, and she tells us enough about the world around her to know how the world works.  Her interactions with other characters don’t feel like first person, and the dialogue has Aaron’s typical mix of humor and grounded logic that I’ve come to really enjoy.

 

And that’s the biggest thing I have to say about this book:  It’s a lot more grounded than the Heartstrikers series.  Instead of world threatening odds, we’re dealing with one woman and her life.  It’s far more personal, and throughout the story that totally gets across.  It’s a super fun heist story with a grounded sense of self, while still having magic and technology that totally makes sense in the continuity of the world.  All the characters feel real, and I’m rooting for Nick and Opal to make it in the crazy world of the DFZ together throughout the rest of this series.

 

I’m super interested after this first entry in the series, to see how Opal and Nick’s stories will end.  Aaron once again, knocked it out of the park with this one.

 

If you’ve read the Heartstrikers series, or if you haven’t, Minimum Wage Magic is worth the read.  I’m going to be starting the 2nd book in the series asap, and can’t wait to see what happens next in Opal’s story.
Have you read Minimum Wage Magic?  Let me know how you liked it in the comments!

Books

Heartstrikers Book Series By Rachel Aaron Review

When you start a book you usually have one of these reactions:  You can’t put it down, you can’t wait to see what happens next, and if there’s another book in the series, you can’t wait to pick it up and continue the series.  For The Heartstrikers series of books, I had all three reactions every time I started reading, and finishing each of the books.  Sadly, the series isn’t over yet (ugh I need the fourth book so bad, think it’s coming out later this year) but I’m so happy I took a chance on this indi author.  Rachel Aaron is an amazing author, her writing style is so fun and captivating and her characters are just….ugh I love these books!  I wanted to hold off reviewing them individually, because really, each book would have just been me gushing about how much I loved them because they are all amazing.  I found Rachel Aaron through looking for books on Audible, and got recommended the first book in the series:  Nice Dragons Finish Last.  When I heard a preview, I not only fell in love with the audio book narrator, but with the authors voice.  Really quirky, fun world building and characters all around and…ugh I just love these  books so much!  But instead of gushing here, time to gush in the review!

PLOT

 

Julius Heartstriker is the only nice dragon in his clan and instead of making waves, he hides from his older, more aggressive siblings to stay out of trouble.  His Mother doesn’t tolerate this anymore and throws him out at the age of 24 into the DFZ  (Detroit Free Zone) and Julius has to figure out how to make it in the world with no money, no street smarts, and trying to avoid being killed in the DFZ because the DFZ is a no-dragons-allowed zone.  There’s a lot more to the series, but that’s the plot of the first book and more or less the series is Julius gets thrown into a situation and gets out of it by being himself, with the help of his BFF Marcy, mage extraordinaire.

WORLD BUILDING

 

I’ve complained in the past about fantasy worlds not having a concrete place they inhabit.  For example, does the story take place in a full fantasy world, or an alternate Earth.  The Heartstrikers series does a wonderful job of both showing, and telling us the world we’re in.  A meteor hit the Earth about a hundred years before our story started, bringing magic back into the world.  Along with magic, we got the reawakening of spirits, dragons, and human mages and they’re all getting used to magic being back in the world.    The series is clearly an urban fantasy dystopia (I know it sounds weird, but it totally works) set in our world.  How can you tell it’s in our Earth’s timeline?  There are super high tech magic-technology phones in use, along with self-driving cars and GPS.  Not only that, but we get characters referencing things like Batman, Super Mario, Star Wars, and a lot of other pop culture references that would be archived in the databases of a post-magic-tech Earth.  Does the narrative tell me that?  Not at all:  but because of how rich the world building is, and how intricate the showing, and telling the world building we see in the books, I can deduce that without even having to be told that somewhere in the narrative.

The magic system is really interesting, and makes tons of sense.  There are different magic systems for how humans, dragons, and spirits use magic and even when it’s being explained (it’s explained a lot through the series, it’s a major over arching plot point) never was I confused.  I read that in the third book the human system of magic confused a few people, but it made perfect sense to me.  And, how the dragons overall work is just really great!  I’ve never read dragon fiction before, but in this series, dragons have a human form and a dragon form and it’s just so fascinating and adds so much to the story.
So yeah, all in all, the best world building I’ve read in a modern fantasy series.  I’m not huge into urban fantasy, and wasn’t aware this was going to be one when reading, but it’s so great.

CHARACTERS


 

They’re all perfect~

Ok to go into more detail every character is really fleshed out, human, and interesting.  Even the side characters, even the characters that you know are there just to be offed later.  Any important player in the story is very human, very real, and very loveable.  If they aren’t lovable, you understand their motives and are able to sympathize with them to a degree.  I adore Marcy, who is Julius’ best friend/love interest, and all of Julius’ siblings we see (he has a lot of them, his Mother gets busy) wind up having wonderful storylines and plot motivations and by the third book we see something big is coming together, and I can’t wait to see how it will end for our characters.

WRITING

 

I mentioned this in my opening paragraph, but the writing is what got me wanting to read this series.  It’s like reading a sit com, but a really good sit com!  Whitty dialogue, great descriptors, really good pacing.  All around just an amazing job from Rachel Aaron.

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

The Heartstrikers series ventures to answer this question:  Can a genuinely nice person succeed in a world filled with power hungry, aggressive people, and still stay true to himself and his ideals?  Will doing so change his surroundings for the better?  Along with that, we have plotting dragons, humans and spirits just trying to survive, and the magical future of the world coming to a head.  When you think someone is “the villain” you find out their motivations, and realize what they’re trying to do may not be so bad.  It’s a book series about humanity at its core, what drives us to do things, what makes us stay true to ourselves, and how someone we’ve met by chance (or perhaps by fate dun dun dun) can affect us, for better or worse.
nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished are all amazing reads.  I think there are one or two books left in the series that aren’t out yet –shakes fist- but I anxiously await the next installment of the series because ugh this is so good!  I haven’t been this invested in a book series in a very long time.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do!  If you have read it, I’d love to talk about it in the comments!