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Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Author:  Yasmine Galenorn 
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4+; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  Jove
          Autumn Thorns (11/2015)

     In constructing her mythology for the WHISPER HOLLOW series, Galenorn threw in just about every trope imaginable: the feisty, coffee-guzzling, orphaned heroine with mysterious questions about her genetic heritage; the handsome shapeshifter who is happy to protect her and take her to bed; and so many magically eccentric townsfolk that the first book suffers from an overflow of multiple mythologies and quirky character traits. Everyone in town appears to have dark secrets, questionable loyalties, and problematic relatives or ancestors. 

The Olympic Peninsula
     I'm not going to go into too much detail on the world-building because that's what Autumn Thorns is all about. Really, that novel is 90% exposition and 10% plot, so you will definitely need to read it before you read future books in the series. The series is set in Whisper Hollow, Washington, a small town on the Olympic Peninsula just a stone's thrown from TWILIGHT'S Forks and LaPush (although those towns apparently play no part in this series).

     The heroine, Kerris Fellwater, is a spirit shaman who has returned to Whisper Hollow after the death of her grandparents. Almost immediately, she is drawn into the mysterious affairs of this spooky little town. Her protector and lover is a shapeshifting wolf (not a werewolf, but a shapeshifter—apparently, there's a difference, but that difference is not explained). Kerris can communicate with the dead. As she explains, "I connect with the dead. I can talk to them, see them, and drive them back to their graves if they get out of hand….Because in Whisper Hollow, the dead don't always stay put where you plant them." She can also see, feel, and manipulate energy, using various herbs, powders, and magical tools. 

     Whisper Hollow has two secret societies: 

The Crescent Moon Society (aka CMS; followers of the Morrígan): They investigate magical crimes and support the spirit shaman.

Cú Chulainn's Hounds (followers of Cú Chulainn): They oppose the CMS and are suspected of murdering previous spirit shamans.

     Here is a partial list of the supporting characters:

The Morrígan: She is the "Night Mare Queen, and Goddess of Sovereignty, Queen of Shapeshifters and Mother of the Fae, culls the dead from the battlefield and gathers them to her, under the embrace of her feathered cloak…She is mother to the Crow Man, who haunts the woodlands, surrounded by a murder of crows, carrying her messages to those to whom she would speak." She is the matriarch of the spirit shamans, all of whom are women born with a black birthmark in the shape of a crow standing on a crescent moon. 

Bryan Tierney: Kerris' wolf-shapeshifter protector and guardian who soon becomes her lover and mate. 

Ellia Volkov: Kerris' lament singer (a daughter of the Bean Sidhes—aka banshees). She sings and plays her violin to assist Kerris in her spirit shaman duties. Ellia always wears gloves because anyone she touches skin-to-skin will become permanently insane. 

Mae Stonecross: Kerris' great-grandmother, a spirit shaman. Deceased.

Lila Fellwater: Kerris' grandmother, daughter of Mae. She was also a spirit shaman. Recently deceased.

Duvall Fellwater: Lila's husband; Kerris' grandfather (but is he?) Recently deceased.

Aidan: Lila's lion-shapeshifter boyfriend (when they were teenagers). Lila forced him to leave Whisper Hollow for mysterious reasons. 

Tamil Fellwater: Kerris' mother, missing since Kerris was three years old. She was supposed to inherit the spirit shaman position from Lila, but when she disappeared, the job fell to Kerris

Avery Forrester: Kerris' shapeshifter father, missing since before Kerris was born

Ivy Primrose: Avery's shapeshifter mother—Kerris' grandmother (although Kerris doesn't learn this fact until the second chapter of Autumn Thorns).

Oriel: Another magical person whose role is not made completely clear in the first novel. She is a member of the CMS.

Peggin: Kerris' best friend, who is 100% human, although she does appear to have some psychic abilities. 

The Lady: A spirit who lives in Lake Crescent and is prone to dragging people to their deaths in her cold, deep waters.

Penelope Volkov: She was a former resident of the town whose spirit returned to become Mistress of the Veil. She lives in the Veil and helps spirits cross to the other side. She and Kerris work together to transport souls.

Veronica: She was also a former resident of the town whose spirit returned to become a queen among the Unliving (corporeal spirits who cross back from the Veil with personal agendas, often harming the living). The Unliving hate spirit shamans. She has a lair near the town cemetery. Apparently, she is a cranky, troublesome spirit, but her precise role in the mythology is not explicitly explained in Autumn Thorns, and she never makes a personal appearance in that book.

Magda Volkov: Mother of Ellia and Penelope. She is a powerful witch descended from Baba Volkov (Mother Wolf Witch), a nemesis of the Russian spirit masters ruled by Morena (who is the Russian equivalent to the Celtic Morrígan).

                         NOVEL 1:  Autumn Thorns                         
     In an all-new series, New York Times bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn invites readers to Whisper Hollow, where spirits walk among the living and the lake never gives up her dead: 

     Fifteen years ago, I ran away from Whisper Hollow, Washington, a small town on Crescent Lake in the Olympic Peninsula. But truth is, if you were born here, you can never really leave. I’m Kerris Fellwater, and when I returned, I inherited my grandmother’s house—and her gift. As a spirit shaman, it’s my responsibility to drive the dead back to their graves, because around Whisper Hollow, people—and secrets—don’t always stay buried. 

     When I was little, I was told my mother ran off. But now it looks like she was murdered. With the help of my mysterious neighbor Bryan, we begin to unravel the mystery of her disappearance, and in doing so, unearth a dark force seeking to bury Whisper Hollow. Now I must work with the dead, rather than against them, because our enemy will do whatever she can to destroy the town, and she means to start with me.


     As I said in the world-building section above, this novel is all about the exposition. The single straightforward plot involves the fact that on the day that Kerris' grandparents were killed by the Lady of Crescent Lake, Duvall was going to reveal a big secret to Ellia and Oriel. When Kerris returns to Whisper Hollow after their deaths, she tries to figure out what that secret was, but that issue doesn't get resolved until the very end of the book. Meanwhile, we meet all of the various and sundry supporting characters—humans, nonhumans, and various types of spirits. Each quirky character/spirit has his or her own lengthy backstory, and Galenorn tells us each one in great detail. Some are connected to the actual plot, but others are included just to build the mythology.

     The villain—who is obvious as soon as he appears in the story—is a member of Cú Chulainn's Hounds, of which Duvall was the president. This group will obviously be the source of much of the evil-doing in future books.

     For me, this was a hard book to get through, with its mountains of world-building details and the never-ending avalanche of needless bits of information. We have Celtic/Irish mythology, Russian mythology, a tree of skulls, six categories of the dead, seven rules for visitors to Whisper Hollow—and much, much more. With all of the mythology, why do we need to know that Kerris wears a 38F bra and is a size eight? Why do we need detailed descriptions of everyone's clothing? Descriptions of nearly every meal as well as the type of latte or tea preferred by every character? (I got very tired of reading about Kerris' fabulous espresso machine, which she mentions every time she uses it—numerous times each day.) The inclusion of all of this information results in a jam-packed but unfocused story. 

     Here's an example of a weird character who is dumped into the plot only as a description—we never meet him. At one point, Peggin asks Kerris and Bryan to find her a boyfriend, so Bryan recommends Dr. Divine, an artist who wears "butt-length cornrows and…goggles" and whose artistic creations literally come to life and walk around. We get a two-page description of this man, who never appears in person and has absolutely nothing to do with this story. Why?

     Added to this list of problems is Kerris' awkward first-person narration, which weakens the storytelling. The relationship between Kerris and Bryan has no chemistry. They talk the talk, but there's no true passion, so their dialogue feels stiff and awkward. They do have several over-the-top bedroom scenes that are heavy on graphic detail. Kerris' narration is mostly profanity free and rather mild (even when she is in the midst of her frequent interior monologues), but her language instantly turns crude and raunchy in all of the sex scenes. 

     Also dragging down the storytelling are some distracting missteps. For example, Whisper Hollow is a very small town in an isolated area—a town that "seldom encouraged visitors," but somehow it has a Bed Bath & Beyond store. Nope…never going to happen, because that chain puts its stores in urban centers. So why put that brand-name detail into the book when it has nothing to do with the plot and is so obviously improbable? Another messy detail has to do with the distance between Kerris' house and Ivy's house. On one page, it's a five-minute walk, but a few pages later it's a ten-minute walk—a case of sloppy editing. Also related to Ivy: Although Kerris lived just down the street from Ivy until she left Whisper Hollow at age 18, she never met Ivy until she came back to town. That seems improbable to me because this is a small town in which people seem to know all of their neighbors.

     I don't plan to review any more of the books in this series, but I will update this post to add the publisher's blurbs and publishing dates for future books. To read or listen to an excerpt from Autumn Thorns, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

Saturday, November 21, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for Molly Harper's HALF MOON HOLLOW SERIES with reviews of The Single Undead Moms Club and "Fangs for the Memories," the fourth novel and the 4.5 novella in the series. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new reviews.

Thursday, November 19, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for MaryJanice Davidson's 
QUEEN BETSY (UNDEAD) SERIES with a review of Undead and Unforgiven, the 14th novel in the series. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Monday, November 16, 2015

UPDATE! Heather Killough-Walden: LOST ANGELS SERIES


I have just updated an ongoing post for Heather Killough-Walden's LOST ANGELS SERIES with a review of Samael, the fifth and FINAL novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Author:  Michael R. Underwood  
Plot Type:  Portal Fantasy/Other-Dimensional Science Fiction 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—2   
Publisher: Tor
Episode Titles: 
      1.   "The Shootout Solution" (11/17/2015)
      2.  "The Absconded Ambassador" (2/23/2016)

                     INTRODUCTION & WORLD-BUILDING                     
     I am not going to try to explain Underwood's world-building in my own words because he does a fine job of it in this lengthy explanation which I quote below—word-for-word—from his web site: 
"GENRENAUTS is a science fiction series in novellas... Imagined as a TV series in prose form, GENRENAUTS will have six episodes per season, all building toward a larger plot. 
"In GENRENAUTS, our Earth is just one of many in a multiverse. Each other Earth is the home to a familiar narrative genre: Westerns, Fantasy, Romance, Crime, etc. Each world is constantly playing out stories from its genrearchetypes and tale types smashing up against one another making tragedies and happily ever afters. But like any system, sometimes entropy takes hold, and a story breaks down. When that happens, the Genrenauts step in to fix the story.
"Because if they don’t, the dissonance from the broken story ripples over and changes Earth on a fundamental level. ([For example,] Science Fiction world goes off-track and scientific innovation stagnates, exploration halts; Fantasy world goes off-track and xenophobia rises, cultural rifts widen).
"Our series starts when Leah Tang, a struggling stand-up comic, is recruited to join the Genrenauts and discovers that her seemingly useless genre savvy is suddenly an essential skill for survival in the story worlds. She arrives just in time, as story breaches have been ramping upcoming faster and causing more ripples. 
"Genrenauts has a plurality of narrative forebears: Quantum Leap, Planetary, Indexing, Leverage, The Middleman, and more. Compared to my other work, the series is most like the Ree Reyes books (Geekomancy, Celebromancy, etc.) but with its own tone and point of view."
     Click HERE to view a video trailer for this series. Click HERE to read the Prologue and the first two chapters of "The Shootout Solution."

                        EPISODE 1:  "The Shootout Solution"                          
     Leah Tang just died on stage. Well, not literally. Not yet. Leah's stand-up career isn't going well. But she understands the power of fiction, and when she's offered employment with the mysterious Genrenauts Foundation, she soon discovers that literally dying on stage is a hazard of the job! 

     Her first assignment takes her to a Western world. When a cowboy tale slips off its rails, and the outlaws start to win, it's up to Leah—and the Genrenauts team—to nudge the story back on track and prevent a catastrophe on Earth. But the story's hero isn't interested in winning, and the safety of Earth hangs in the balance. 

     I read this novella just days after reading John Connolly's excellent novella, "The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository" (in his Night Music anthology), which is also an other-dimensional story about literary characters who live off-the-page lives of their own (although Connolly's characters are the "rock stars" of the literary world, while Underwood's are the masses—the often nameless supporting characters who make it possible for the iconic heroes and heroines to achieve celebrity status). The whole idea of adding a literary dimension to our perception of the worldUnderwood calls it the narrative dimensionis quite fascinating. As I began reading "The Shootout Solution," I kept my fingers crossed that he would deliver a story worthy of its inventive mythology, and (to my great relief and delight) he definitely did.

     First, let me say that Underwood does an excellent job with the exposition that must be dealt with at the beginning of all new series. He starts with Leah Tang, a struggling stand-up comedian, and turns her into a new recruit for a team of Genrenauts that is based in Baltimore. Naturally, the team leaderAngstrom Kingmust explain the entire operation to Leaha perfect way to slip the world-building details neatly and seamlessly into the story line.

     Here are the members of Leah's team of Genrenauts:

  > Dr. Angstrom King, team leader, who masquerades as a professor at the Department of Comparative Literature at Johns Hopkins University, where he runs a "narrative immersion laboratory" at the Mid-Atlantic Astrodome. He has been a Genrenaut for thirty years.

   > Mallery York, who specializes in romance. During the prologue, she is shot several times while on a mission, taking her out of the action for the rest of the story.

   > Preeti, a wheelchair-bound woman who works in the command center, where she handles monitoring and communications for the team.

   > Shirin Tehrani, a trans-gender, Iranian woman in her 50s or 60s who has been in the program for a number of years.

   > Roman De Jagers, a South African man who has been a Genrenaut for about ten years.

    King explains to Leah that "We think of life in three dimensions [length, width, depth]. With time, that makes four....The fifth dimension is narrative. In the fifth dimension, Earth is surrounded on all sides by worlds that are simultaneously familiar and irreducibly distinct…Each world hosts the inspiration for a narrative genre," like western, romance, science fiction, noir, horror, pirates, historical, and so forth. "When something breaks down in one of these worlds, when a story goes wrong, it ripples back on earth." The Genrenauts' job is to enter the world of the broken story (using inter-dimensional vessels) and fix the story, thus saving the Earth from disaster. Leah sums up their job as being "script doctors" and "dimensional cops." 

     Currently a Western story is broken. "Western world's signature is about violence, order vs. lawlessness, and taking the law into your own hands" so the ripple effect of the broken story has resulted in outbreaks of violence across the globe. Leah, King, and Shirin jump into their fifth-dimensional rocket ship and head for the West world, where they meet up with Roman and try to figure out how to get the story back on track. The team members use Personal Phase Manipulators (PPMs) to create false illusions as to their physical appearance. When Leah watches her Asian female body change into a Caucasion man, she describes the experience as having "the feel of LARPing an episode of Quantum Leap by wearing a virtual reality rig." 

     When Leah and her team members enter the Western dimension, it turns out to be basically the theme park version of the Old West that we saw in mid-to-late 20th century movies and TV shows (e.g., Gunsmoke's Dodge City,  Bonanza's Virginia City, Deadwood's Deadwood, Little House on the Prairie's Walnut Grove, My Darling Clementine's Tombstone, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance's Shinbone, Once Upon a Time in the West's Flagstone, Unforgiven's Big Whiskey, High Plains Drifter's Lago, and even Blazing Saddles' Rock Ridge. (O.K., I'll admit it—I truly LOVE classic Old West movies.) Each one of these frontier towns has a similar set of stock characters: the heroic sheriff, cowboys, townsfolk, settlers, bartenders, saloon girls, drunks, gunslingers, outlaws, etc. We've met these people in hundreds of stories/films/plays over the years. This broken-story town, though,  has lost its sheriff and has no hero to step up and save the day.

     As Leah participates in the story-patching adventure, she has to figure out her own role in the action. "She wasn't a hero, not yet. She was the Kid, the helper. And the helper usually ended up kidnapped and/or killed…But...what if I'm the Rookie Sidekick?…In a finale, the Rookie Sidekick fought with whatever they could get their hands on. Their role was to give the hero the chance they need to make the shot." Leah's decision on what role to take could make or break the outcome of the mission. (Note: This passage illustrates one weakness of the book: basic errors in grammar and usage. I hate to be the grammar police, but really, pronoun agreement errorslike the misuses of "they" and "their" in this exampleshould have been caught and corrected very early in the editing process.)

     After the mission, Leah wonders what happens to the characters when their story is over. Shirin explains, "They keep going on. The people here have real lives, but everyone is always in the beginning, middle, or end of a story. They get their happily-ever-afters, too." This is definitely an interesting and entertaining world.

     The Genrenauts are led (and controlled) by the five members of the High Council, a mysterious group that communicates with King only through shadowy images on a computer screen. Currently, there has been an escalation in the number of broken stories, but the Council downplays the problem even though King begs them to deal with it more directly. This situation will almost certainly develop into the series story arc.

     I enjoyed this book tremendously. Leah is a smart, savvy, snarky young woman whose character nicely balances the calm goodheartedness of Shirin, the experienced competency of King, and the attractive cockiness of Roman. They make a great team. We don't see much of Preeti and Mallery, but that will probably change in future episodes. I love the mythology that Underwood has created here, and I'm looking forward to future adventures. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of "The Shootout Solution" is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

                       EPISODE 2:  "The Absconded Ambassador"                          
     When a breach is discovered in Science Fiction World, rookie Genrenaut Leah Tang gets her first taste of space flight. 

     A peace treaty is about to be signed on space station Ahura-3, guaranteeing the end of hostilities between some of the galaxy's most ferocious races, but when the head architect of the treaty is unexpectedly kidnapped, it's up to Leah and her new colleagues to save the day. At any cost. 

My review will be uploaded on or near the publishing date of this episode.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley: "Domnall and the Borrowed Child"

Author:  Sylvia Spruck Wrigley  
Title:  "Domnall and the Borrowed Child" 
Plot Type:  Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence2; Sensuality2; Humor—2   
Publisher:  Tor (11/10/2015)


     The best and bravest faeries fell in the war against the  sluagh, and now the Council is packed with idiots and cowards. Domnall is old, aching, and as cranky as they come, but as much as he'd like to retire, he's the best scout the Sithein court has left. 

     When a fae child falls deathly ill, Domnall knows he's the only one who can get her the medicine she needs: Mother's milk. The old scout will face cunning humans, hungry wolves, and uncooperative sheep, to say nothing of his fellow fae!

     This novella is set in the Scottish fairy world. These fairies are not cute little winged creatures. They are small, non-flying "people" who walk on two legs. Unfortunately, Wrigley provides no other specific details about their physical appearance. In fact, the author provides almost no world-building at all. For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with Celtic fairy mythology, here is a glossary of terms that will help you better understand the story:

   > Brownies are tiny, wrinkled, hairy creatures who inhabit houses of humans and aid in tasks around the house. However, they do not like to be seen and will work only at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts of food, like porridge and honey. In this story, they don't get along well with the fairies.

   > A changeling is a fairy child who is left in the place of a human child stolen by fairies. The changeling is enchanted so that he or she looks like the stolen human child.   

   > The Cu Sith are mythological hounds that look like huge, dark green wolves. In most mythologies, they are harbingers of death, but in this story, they guard the entrance to the fairy mound.

   > Fairy revel and fairy ring: A revel is a fairy dance with sexual overtones that takes place in a fairy ring. If a human stumbles into a fairy ring during a revel, he or she becomes enchanted and is then transported into the fairy world, sometimes forever. In some folktales, humans who step into fairy ringseven empty onesbecome invisible to other humans and can never escape from the ring.

   > The sluagh (aka the Fairy Host) are the restless spirits of the dead and are considered to be troublesome and destructive. They fly in groups like flocks of birds and attempt to enter a house where someone is dying to take the soul away with them. They are considered to be the most fierce and terrifying of all the fairy peoples. As this story opens, the fairies are recovering from heavy losses after a major war with the sluagh.
   > A Sithein (aka sithean, sidhein, sith) is an underground fairy "city" (aka knoll, knowe, mound).

     Although there is a slender plot, this is more of a character sketch than a story. The main character—Domnallis an elderly fairy, one of the only competent warriors to survive the war with the sluagh. "The best and the bravest fought the sluagh like cornered she-wolves. All that was left was skulkers afraid for their own skin." Now, the Sithein is being run by a Council of Elders who live in fear of their enemies. Domnall despises the new, cautious, fearful way of life that the Elders have forced on him, and he longs for the good old days: "The fledgling fae were coddled and fussed over and the Elders obsessed about the dangers of the world and no one went out except him. He was too sore and too tired and too ancient to be doing all the...scouting for the Sithein, while the younger scouts warmed their hands by the kitchen fires and peeked out past the Cu Sith every now and again." Unfortunately, Domnall makes no secret of his feelings, and he has alienated many people. His only friend is Tam (who may be based on the mythological hero named Tam Lin, but since we learn nothing about his personal history, I may be wrong on that).

     Even with his outspoken ways, Domnall has lots of skills and experience, so when a fairy child named Nighean becomes ill and needs the milk of a human mother, Maeve (who, in this story, is in charge of the nursery) sends him off to exchange Nighean for a human child. They plan to leave Nighean in the humans' home for a week or two and then swap the babies back again. Nighean wears an amulet that makes her look just like the human child. As all sorts of complications arise, Domnall grumbles his way through them with the assistance of a young female named Micol, who is training to be a scout. 

     This is a feather-light story with a straightforward story line (even with all the complications). Only Domnall's character is truly fleshed out, although Wrigley spends some time showing us that Maeve is equally as grumpy as Domnall. Although it's an O.K. story, I honestly have to say that I don't think it is worth $8.99 for the 112-page paperback or $6.61 for the audible version. Even $2.99 for the e-book seems high to me. (Note: These are all prices.) This is the sort of novella that authors frequently write as an offshoot of of an ongoing series that already has an extensive mythology in place. It really doesn't work as a stand-alone bereft of world-building details.

     Click HERE and scroll down just a bit to read an excerpt from "Domnall and the Borrowed Child." The author has two fairy-related posts on the Tor website. Click HERE to read her tongue-in-cheek list entitled "Five Ways to Piss Off the Fair Folk." Click HERE for read her review of "Five Modern Books with Bad-Ass Fairies." 

     If you enjoy stories about fae living in the modern world, rather than in Medieval times, here are some recommendations. First and foremost is Seanan McGuire's long-running OCTOBER DAYE SERIES. And then, there's the anthology The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving HumanityAnother modern-world fae series is Lilith Saintcrowe's GALLOW AND RAGGED SERIES. And don't forget Kelley Armstrong's terrific CAINSVILLE SERIES.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of "Domnall and the Borrowed Child" is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.