June 2, 2023

REVIEW Smoke Bitten (Mercy Thompson #12) by Patricia Briggs

Smoke Bitten (Mercy Thompson #12) by Patricia Briggs
Rating: 3 Stars
Release Date: March 17, 2020
Format: Audiobook (Personal Library)
Publisher: Ace 

If there’s one thing that’s certain after so many books in Patrcia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, it’s that coyote shifter Mercedes ‘Mercy’ Athena Thompson Hauptman cannot catch a break. That trend holds true in Smoke Bitten, as a mysterious creature that’s escaped from the fairy realm wreaks havoc on Mercy, Adam and the rest of the pack’s life. 

Things are understandably tense for the Columbia Basin Wolf Pack. They’re on their own after being abandoned by the Marrok for declaring themselves protectors of all the supernaturals in their territory. If that wasn’t enough, Adam’s ex-wife is creating tension in the pack, and Adam’s under a lot of scrutiny to keep the image of the werewolves positive in the public eye. Despite wanting to deal with all the pressure on their relationship, Mercy and Adam’s attention is forced elsewhere as Underhill (or ’Tilly’) has opened a doorway in their backyard and the troubled vampire wizard Wulfe has developed an obsession with Mercy. 

As opposed to some of the other books in the series, Smoke Bitten seems to be more of a transition book as it’s taking some of the plotlines from previous installments of the series and moving them forward. A filler book, if you will. The massive number of storylines and plot threads that the author is working with make it hard to keep track of everything in this book, and rely heavily on the reader being able to recall what happened in previous series installments (which can be hard, with a series so long). 

While the book is mainly a series filler/transition story, the characters and worldbuilding are still a highlight. The extensive ensemble cast is a strength of the series and readers get to learn a bit more about Aiden, Underhill/Tilly, and even Wulfe. Ms. Briggs also pulls a lot of inspiration out of mythology and folklore, so it was fun to put the pieces together and figure out what things were.  

Overall, Smoke Bitten was another solid entry to the Mercy Thompson series and the larger Mercy Thompson universe. I was disappointed with how much of a filler book it seemed to be, but I think that it was bound to happen eventually with such a long series. With the set ups being put into place in this book, I’m eager to see how the action resolves in the future. Lorelei King once again did an excellent job bringing the action to life with her performance in the audiobook narration. Urban fantasy and paranormal readers who are looking for great worldbuilding, a well developed set of main characters and ensemble cast, and a witty headstrong heroine should definitely pick up the Mercy Thompson series ASAP. 

About the Book
Mercy Thompson, car mechanic and shapeshifter, faces a threat unlike any other in this thrilling entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.

I am Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman.
My only "superpowers" are that I turn into a thirty-five pound coyote and fix Volkswagens. But I have friends in odd places and a pack of werewolves at my back. It looks like I'm going to need them.

Centuries ago, the fae dwelt in Underhill--until she locked her doors against them. They left behind their great castles and troves of magical artifacts. They abandoned their prisoners and their pets. Without the fae to mind them, those creatures who remained behind roamed freely through Underhill wreaking havoc. Only the deadliest survived.

Now one of those prisoners has escaped. It can look like anyone, any creature it chooses. But if it bites you, it controls you. It lives for chaos and destruction. It can make you do anything--even kill the person you love the most. Now it is here, in the Tri-Cities. In my territory.

It won't, can't, remain.

Not if I have anything to say about it.

About the Author

Patricia Briggs was born in Butte, Montana, to a children’s librarian who passed on to her kids a love of reading and books. Patricia grew up reading fairy tales and books about horses, and later developed an interest in folklore and history. When she decided to write a book of her own, a fantasy book seemed a natural choice. Patricia graduated from Montana State University with degrees in history and German and she worked for a while as a substitute teacher. Currently, she lives in Montana with her husband, children, and six horses and writes full time, much to the delight of her fans.

May 31, 2023

REVIEW Team Chu and the Epic Hero Quest (Team Chu #2) by Julie C. Dao

Team Chu and the Epic Hero Quest (Team Chu #2) 
by Julie C. Dao
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: May 2, 2023
Format: Audiobook (Personal Library)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (FSG)

Julie C. Dao’s Team Chu and the Epic Hero Quest, the sequel to her debut middle-grade novel Team Chu and the Battle of Blackwood Arena, is another family friendly humorous book filled with medieval-inspired challenges, a fantasy inspired quest to save a magical realm, and a mysterious wizard who keeps randomly showing up in socks and flip flops. 

Team Chu and the Epic Hero Quest picks up after the events of the first book, with Clip, Sadie, their friends, and all of their families traveling to the set of the new War of Gods and Men reality TV show (which they won a place to compete on after winning the laser tag event). The original narrators Richard Nguyen and Angela Tran returned to reprise their roles as Clip and Sadie, along with a new narrator A.J. Beckles to help bring Jeremy’s point of view to life. All three did an excellent job capturing the youthful nature of the characters, the joy of getting to play and compete with each other, and the awe of getting to participate in such a unique experience. 

When you’re reading this book, you can tell that the author had a lot of fun writing it and letting her imagination run free. She balances the adventure and fun elements of the book with a bit of mystery and drama. The challenges the kids face are complex in a way that adult readers like me can still appreciate them and be entertained, but authentic in that they should be able to feasibly be done by a child. Speaking of children - ‘Team Chu’ is composed of a diverse set of kids with unique talents and strengths, and it was a treat to see them compete at the different challenges and grow over the course of the story. Like seriously, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face while listening to the book. Jeremy and Sadie were my favorites, and I particularly enjoyed their best friend dynamic. Another highlight was getting to see the kids interact with the other competitors on the show and even the grown ups who were serving as actors playing a role in the story (sort of a non-playable character, or NPC if you are familiar with video games). 

Overall, Team Chu and the Epic Hero Quest was another excellent book from Julie C. Dao. The books are written as a series, with the events of the second book following those of the first, but I don’t think you need to read the first to understand the second book. To sum it up in a nutshell, the series is reminiscent of a kid-friendly version of Jumanji or the game show Legends of the Hidden Temple. The ending of this book was anticipated but still very exciting, and I’m eager to see what’s next for Sadie, Clip, Jeremy and the rest of their friends in the final book of the trilogy.  

About the Book
Check out acclaimed author Julie C. Dao's debut middle grade series, featuring a team of kids ready for any challenge-even saving the fantasy world of Pantaera from dark forces and certain ruin!

The popular fantasy video game War of Gods and Men is being adapted for reality television, and Team Chu and company are competing for the title of child hero: the young person destined to unite the forces of Pantaera to save it from a sinister fate. Over the next week, they'll be challenged by sirens, vampires, elves, and more in Tests of Courage, Determination, Humility, Intelligence, and Strength.

Popular athlete Clip is confident he'll take the prize, if it weren't for that test of humility. And despite claiming not to care about the game, Sadie finds herself pulled into the immersive world of Pantaera and rising to meet the challenges thrown her way. And her best friend, Jeremy, proud nerd and last pick for P.E. teams, wants more than anything to save the world of the game he loves, no matter the cost.

Join Clip, Sadie, Jeremy, and their friends on a thrilling adventure through an extraordinary fantasy world to learn who among them has what it takes to become Pantaera's child hero!

About the Author

Julie C. Dao is the author of several acclaimed novels for teens and children, including FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS and BROKEN WISH, published by Disney Books. A proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York, she now lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.

Julie is represented by Tamar Rydzinski of Context Literary Agency.
Photo Credit: Melody Marshall

Pronunciation: JOOL-lee DOW
Pronouns: She/He