FINDING A SERIES OR AN AUTHOR:

USING THE PAGE TABS (ABOVE) TO FIND A SERIES OR AUTHOR:

Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

UPDATE! Jan DeLima: CELTIC WOLVES SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Jan De Lima with a review of Summer Moon, the second novel in her CELTIC WOLVES SERIES.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UPDATE! Larissa Ione: MOONBOUND CLAN SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Larissa Ione with a review of Chained by Night, the  second novel in her MOONBOUND CLAN VAMPIRES SERIES.

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Love, Sex & Money: A Billion-Dollar Affair": "Entertainment Weekly" Takes a Closer Look at Romance Fiction

Author: Karen Valby 
Article: "Love, Sex & Money: A Billion-Dollar Affair" 
Featured in:  Entertainment Weekly Magazine 
Date of Issue: October 24, 2014

This week's Entertainment Weekly contains a nine-page spread entitled "Love, Sex & Money: A Billion-Dollar Affair" and dedicated to an analysis of romance fiction  The author is Karen Valby, one of EW's senior writers. (Click HERE to read other articles Valby has contributed to EW.) 

If you are a romance reader, your first thought might be "Hooray! Romance is finally getting some recognition"—and that is true, since this is a major pop culture magazine with a national readership. But there's another side to the issueone that isn't so happy. 

Valby approaches the subject of romance novels as an uninformed novice, attending the Romance Writers of America (RWA) convention and listening to her dinner-table mates dish about romance writing. Valby takes notes as they enlighten her "on the endless variety of romance-novel subgenres and clued me in on the hot new trend: chiseled heroes who belong to mixed martial arts groups or motorcycle gangs." 

Valby then—inevitably—brings up the shame factor, that romance readers face supercilious sarcasm when they are caught reading "those" books. Although romance-novel shame is always mentioned in articles of this type, it really can't be avoided because it is still all too true. I was an associate at my local library for the past 10+ years and was in charge of selecting and purchasing romance novels. Believe me, I have listened to many snooty put-downs of the romance genre, by both library patrons and librarians. I got so frustrated with reactions to paranormal romance that I wrote a reader's advisory reference book on paranormal fiction (Fang-tastic Fiction) for the American Library Association. I included both paranormal romance and urban fantasy in my book because many librarians know so little about these genres that they are unable to direct readers to paranormal read-alikes. The general feeling among most librarians is that all paranormal fiction books are pretty much the same—that there is little difference between the novels of Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews or between the books of Kim Harrison and Nalini Singh; that reading Nina Bangs is the same as reading J. R. Ward; that Gena Showalter's IMPERIA series and her ALIEN HUNTRESS series are similar in tone and story line. All of these assumptions are unequivocally false. So...I'm glad that Valby brings up the "shame" element in her essay, but I wish that she had dipped more deeply into the "ignorance" element. (Click on any of the author's names or series titles above to read my reviews.)

Valby’s next topic is the requisite reference to E.L. James and her Fifty Shades of Grey. Valby notes that many of the romance writers she talked with didn't think much of James's series and attributes that partially to "competitive sour grapes." Then she states that Fifty Shades "ignited a subgenre ember into a Burning man blaze" and that "Fifty was a gateway drug to a heady new world, and sales for romance novels exploded in its wake." Unfortunately, Valby provides no back-up data to support this statement, and I doubt its accuracy. My experience in the library was that yes, Fifty attracted some new readers to that particular series, and yes, a few authors churned out knock-off erotic romances (even worse than Fifty) that attracted the same readers, but erotic romance is not a huge romance sub-genre, and I don't believe that there was much carryover to romance fiction in general. Regular readers of erotic romance continue to read erotic romances written by the pros, and the Fifty newbies…well either they are reading the new Fifty clones or have stepped up to the better stuff. Either way, I doubt that Fifty caused much more than a temporary, very slight bump-up in the already massive numbers of romance readers.

The article has several graphic-driven sections: 
"Not Your Mama's Book Covers" attempts—simplistically and inaccurately—to label each decade (from the 1950s through the 2010s) with a single cover type (e.g., 1980s—clinches; 2000s—landscapes). This misguided over-simplification results in a meaningless and misleading analysis. For example, the Kathleen Woodiwiss cover, which is supposed to represent the 1970's "solo men, solo women…" trope is actually the 2009 reprint cover. The original 1970s cover portrays a white-pillared house with an inset picture of a couple in a clinch.

"Top 10 Romance Authors" lists the "most prolific" romance novelists. The title is somewhat deceiving because "Top 10" usually means "best-selling," not "most prolific." If you want a more accurate "Top" list, click HERE to go to Goodread's "Best Top Romance Novels of All Time." Also, check out the RWA web site for their lists of Honor Roll and Hall of Fame authors, both based on appearances on various best-seller lists.

"Romance by the Numbers" uses industry statistics from the RWA web site to provide an overall picture of the romance genre. Click HERE to go to the RWA's Industry Statistics and Reader Statistics pages to check out the numbers for yourself.  

 “Vixens, Bad Boys, & Babies” begins like this: “Sure, they’re clichés, but no romance novel would be engrossing without one of these plots or characters.” This one briefly summarizes the most common romance fiction tropes, for example, the fiery vixen, the alpha hero, the one that got away, the damsel in distress, and the secret baby. These plot types fit both contemporary and historical romances, but not paranormal romance, where the plots generally focus on a pair of soul mates who must foil demented scientists experimenting on supernaturals (as in Lora Leigh's BREEDS series), power-mad villains who want to rule the world (just about any paranormal series), or ancient evil spirits that are awakened (frequently by one of the power-mad villains) and then wreak havoc.


“The Love Universe is a two-page spread that depicts the romance genres and sub-genres as stars in the night sky. It is a well-intentioned but failed attempt to graphically portray the sub-genres of Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, and Paranormal Romance. The failure is inevitable, because each of the big three genres encompasses ALL of the sub-genres listed. For example, in this graphic depiction, YA, comedy, gay, military, “mature,” multicultural, and new adult are shown ONLY as part of Contemporary Romance. NONE of them are shown as being part of Paranormal Romance, which must be a very big surprise to paranormal authors like Michele Bardsley, Nina Bangs, and Molly Harper (humorous paranormal romance); Cynthia Eden, Rebecca Zanetti, and Lora Leigh ("mature," aka erotic paranormal romance); J. D. Tyler, Lisa Renee Jones, and Angie Fox (military paranormal romance); and the numerous YA paranormal romance authors, who are completely ignored. (Click on any of the authors' names above to read my reviews of their series.)

Here are the few sub-genres that this graph depicts for Paranormal Romance: Sci-Fi (Steampunk, Aliens, Interplanetary); Fantasy (Time Travel); Other Entities (Centaurs, Vampires, Ghosts, Shape-Shifters, Werewolves, Witches, Monsters); and Gothic. 

Here are my questions: Why single out centaurs? Offhand, I can’t think of a single paranormal romance that features centaurs in key roles. Why list "Centaurs" and "Werewolves" separately from "Shape-Shifters" when both Centaurs and Werewolves are shape-shifters? What about mythological entities, like the gods and goddesses of Sherrilyn Kenyon's DARK-HUNTERS series (and others)? And where are the Demons, like the main characters in Larissa Ione's DEMONICA and LORDS OF DELIVERANCE series (and others). And what about the Angels, who are the leads in Nalini Singh's GUILD HUNTER series (and others)? Where are the Fae, like Cecily and her friends in Yasmine Galenorn's INDIGO COURT series and Shona Husk's fairies in her COURT OF ANNWYN series (and others)? And don't forget the Elementals, like the ones in Christine Feehan's SEA HAVEN series and Hanna Martine's THE ELEMENTALS (and others). The “Love Universe” graphic must have seemed like a great idea, but whoever put it together obviously doesn’t have a clue about what constitutes Paranormal Fiction. (Click on any of the series titles above to read my reviews.)

So…to sum it up, Valby’s article is welcome because it brings some much-appreciated attention to one of the top-grossing and most underrated fiction genres on the market today, but its inaccuracies take most of the shine off its slick surface.

Read it for yourself. It’s on the newsstands now. In a week or two, when the article is available on the EW website, I’ll post the link here. In the meantime, here are two opposing viewpoints on the article, one from U.S.A. Today and one from the website LoveintheMargins.com:

Click HERE to read U.S.A. Today’s “6 Things We Love about EW’s Spread on Romance Novels.”

Click HERE to read a response to the article entitled “A Billion-Dollar Affair with Karen Valby,” posted by Meoskop on the blog site Love in the Margins.

NEW LINKS ADDED 10/23/2014: Here are links to two different audio interviews featuring Jesse Barron, who wrote an article on the romance novel industry for the February 2014 issue of Harper's magazine. Click HERE to hear his NPR interviewclick on the "Listen to the Story" arrow at the top of the page; and click HERE for his WNYC.org interviewjust wait a few seconds and it will play automatically. The WNYC interview includes remarks by Angela Knight, best-selling author of erotic romance fiction.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

UPDATE! Keri Arthur: DARK ANGELS SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Keri Arthur with a review of Darkness Splintered, the sixth novel in her DARK ANGELS SERIES.

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Devon Monk: HOUSE IMMORTAL TRILOGY

Author:  Devon Monk
Series:  HOUSE IMMORTAL TRILOGY
Plot Type:  Dystopian Urban Fantasy
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:     
          "Stitchery" (Fairwood Press, introductory short story in A Cup of Normal, 9/2010) 
          House Immortal (ROC, 9/2014)
          Infinity Bell (ROC, 3/2015)
   
            WORLD-BUILDING            
     Set two hundred years in the future, this world is ruled by eleven powerful Houses that have controlled all of the world's resources and authority for the past 100 years. Each House is named for a color:
    > House White: Medical 
    > House Red: Power
    > House Orange: Minerals 
    > House Gray: Human Resources (including management of people)  
    > House Green: Agriculture 
    > House Yellow: Technology  
    > House Violet: Faith and Religion  
    > House Silver: Vice (including entertainment, drugs, and sex)    
    > House Blue: Water 
    > House Gold: Money 
    > House Black: Defense (including weapons and security) 

     There is one more house—House Brown—but it has no power at all. Its members are rebels, misfits, and cast-offs who live off the grid and have no input on decisions made by the other Houses. Humans can indenture (i.e., enslave) themselves to one of the eleven ruling Houses, or they can choose to join House Brown. If they join one of the eleven Houses, they automatically gain a life of security, servitude, and hard work. If they choose House Brown, they opt for an independent, hardscrabble existence with no modern conveniences—no electricity, technology, or other resources. Most members of House Brown are farmers who must move off their lands if one of the Houses claims ownership. Although life in House Brown is tough, many people have joined because they value personal freedom over personal comfort.

     At the beginning of most of the chapters, Monk has inserted brief quotations from an unidentified diary. These quotations are arranged chronologically and provide key historical details about the formation of this world. Two hundred years ago, a scientist named Alveré Case triggered a disastrous comet-related experiment called the Wings of Mercury that killed hundreds of people, leaving only twelve known survivors (six men and six women), who are called the galvanized"The event was an experiment to control time, the theory goes that it is the reason galvanized brains have survived all these years. Only galvanized brains resist every strain of disease on earth; feel no pain; and are inhumanly strong, adaptive, and infinitely repairable. Only galvanized brains show no sign of aging or decline, Only galvanized are immortalcheaters of time." (House Immortal, p. 259) The galvanized are not considered to be humans. Each one is regarded as an object that is owned by the its House.

     The survivors—the galvanized (also called the stitched)—were at first treated like lab experiments by the various Houses. After having limbs amputated, being cut open, and generally being tortured, the twelve were stitched back together and shocked into life: "rebuilt, piece by piece, until they were stronger than any human." (House Immortal, p. 103) (Obviously, there is a Frankenstein connection here.) Naturally, because the galvanized were strong and immortal, everyone wanted possession of them, resulting in a war among the Houses that killed thousands of people and nearly destroyed the country and all of its resources. "The history books called the dark years the Restructure. But those who lived through it knew death, famine, war, and disease." (House Immortal, p. 161). In 2099, the twelve galvanized finally united and declared war upon the Houses. "Millions of people joined their fight. and for fifty bloody years the galvanized tirelessly led that war, that uprising of House Brown." (House Immortal, p. 213) Then in 2160, under the leadership of House Gray, "a new human-rights bill…ensured just treatment and fair process to all the people of the world. Except for the galvanized. The twelve bargained for human freedom for House Brown and became slaves once again." (House Immortal, p. 242) Essentially, the galvanized gave up their own freedom for the greater good—to ensure that humanity survived. 

     Ever since the treaty went into effect, there have been two opposing opinions about it: One side believes that the galvanized "bargained for humans...to have rights. The right to food, shelter, work, and dignity...a way to leave other Houses and become House Brown, if they desire. A way out of indentured servitude to the other Houses." The opposition views the galvanized as traitors, believing that "they bargained for House Brown to have no voice in the world, no resources. Left us alone to fend for ourselves." (House Immortal, 72)

     The series heroine is 26-year-old Matilda (Tilly) Case, a direct descendant of Alveré Case. Tilly's mother and father, both scientists, were murdered by House Black when Tilly was a child, but Tilly hid herself in the barn and was never seen by the killers. She and her brother, Quinten, continue to maintain all of their father's scientific equipment and technology and stay entirely off the grid, getting their electric power from a water-driven generator. As the series opens, Quinten is the head of House Brown, but he has been missing for three years. In the meantime, Tilly runs House Brown's only North American communications hub, farms her family's land, and takes care of her grandmother and her father's fantastical menagerie of stitched animals, assisted by Ned Harris (aka the Neds), a two-headed man who defected from a traveling circus. 

     Tilly is not a normal human. When she was a child, she became terminally ill, but before she died, Quinten transferred her soul and her memories into a galvanized girl-child stitched together by his father years beforeone of the original group of survivors. When Tilly's normal human body died, she awakened in the stitched body as the 13th galvanizedone that no one knows about. But that situation is about to change!

            NOVEL 1:  House Immortal             
     As the story opens, Quinten is still missing, and Tilly and the Neds are tending to the farm and dealing with the problems of House Brown. The farm is far off the grid, out in the country far away from any settlements. Then one day, a visitorone of the galvanizedcomes knocking on the door, bleeding heavily from a stomach wound and dropping unconscious to the floor as soon as he arrives. Against the advice of the Neds, Tilly takes him in and heals him with some of her father's nano-based gel. 

     This stranger is Abraham Seventh, the seventh of the original survivors to be stitched together and resurrected. His human name was Abraham Vail, and he was born more than 300 years ago, but looks like he's 30. When Abraham regains consciousness, he claims to have been led to the farm by a message from Tilly's long-dead mother, and he warns Tilly that all of the Houses are now after her because they are just learning of her existence. The fact that Tilly is a newly discovered galvanized makes her an object of great value to all the Houses.

     Tilly doesn't know anything about the galvanized or their history so she reacts with shock and disbelief to what Abraham tells her. For his part, Abraham is stunned to learn that Tilly is different from the other galvanized because she can feel pain, and when she touches him, he also feels painfor the first time since he was human. Abraham wants Tilly to come back to the city with him and join House Gray so that she will be protected from the other Houses. The galvanized are considered property, not people, so they have no civil rights, and the Houses have an ambiguous, politically-driven set of rules for determining which House possesses each of the galvanized.

     Again, against the advice of the Neds, Tilly decides to go along with Abraham, partly because she believes she has no real choice and partly because she is mightily attracted to him. The Neds refuse to let her go alone, so the group heads off together leaving Grandma, the farm, and the stitched animals in the care of a neighbor. 

     The rest of the book follows Tilly's adventures in the city as she mouths off to the heads of the Houses, fights a few battles (with both galvanized and human opponents), deals with betrayal and political intrigue, and makes some really bad decisions—lots of TSTL moments. Monk inserts details of the basic mythology throughout the book, so you shouldn't have too much trouble understanding it by the time you get halfway into the story. At first, though, the world-building can be confusing. When I realized that the quotations at the chapter beginnings comprised a chronological retelling of the past events that drive the mythology, I stopped reading the story, and instead read all of those quotations first. Then, I went back to the story. That was helpful for me and might be for you as well.

     This series obviously has a fresh and inventive mythology, but if you lift that away and look at what's left, you'll find some familiar tropes: the highly politicized and corrupt council formed by the heads of the Houses; the power-mad leaders seeking youth and immortality; an attractive, feisty, independent, rebellious, reckless heroine; and a handsome, introspective, man-of-few-words warrior hero. At one point, the Houses hold a Gathering of all of the Houses, a exuberant scene that put me in mind of some of the crowd scenes in Hunger Games—with the same types of gaudy costumes, posturing warriors, wildly enthusiastic audience, huge telescreens, and pompous leaders. 

     Even with these minor quibbles, I have to say that House Immortal gets this series off to a strong and solid start. After a slow beginning (while I figured out the world-building), the pace picked up and pulled me along at a fast pace. Tilly is an interesting character, although for a 26-year-old, she is a bit naive and impetuous. That could be attributed to her isolated life on the farm, but still, she does put herself into a lot of very bad situations solely because she doesn't think things through. Let's hope that her learning curve isn't too steep. 

     Monk demonstrates particular cleverness in developing the character of Slater Orange, the principle villain of the book. Slater, head of House Orange, is an extremely powerful man, but he is near death from a terminal disease and thus is desperate to achieve immortality through any means necessary. Although most of the chapters are written from Tilly's first-person point of view, Monk includes four "House Orange" chapters written from Slater's viewpoint. By reading just the first few words of each of those chapters, you can make some accurate judgments about his character: "Slater Orange preferred to walk…" (chapter 3); "He preferred to keep his hands clean." (chapter 11) "He preferred to wait until his captive looked up." (chapter 13) "He preferred to be obeyed." (chapter 19) I admire Monk's finesse as she clearly and concisely lets her character show us exactly what kind of a person he is.

     The next novel is due in March, and I'm looking forward to it, particularly since the end of this book is a bit of a cliff-hanger, leaving Tilly, Abraham, Quinten, and the Neds on the brink of some new and dangerous adventures. Click HERE to read chapter 1 of House Immortal.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Deborah Blake: BABA YAGA SERIES

Author:  Deborah Blake
Series:  BABA YAGA SERIES
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality3.5; Humor—2-3 
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley Sensation     
          Wickedly Magical (e-novella .5: 8/2014)
          Wickedly Dangerous (novel 1: 9/2014)
          Wickedly Wonderful (novel 2: 12/2014)
   
            WORLD-BUILDING            
Traditional Version of Baba Yaga
     In Russian and Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga (B.Y.) is generally pictured as "a frightening old crone who lived in a log hut that walked through the forests on chicken legs." (Wickedly Magical) The truth—according to the mythology of this seriesis that there is not just one B.Y., there are several scattered around the world. In the U.S., there are three: Barbara Yager, Beka Yancy, and Bella Young. Each is a powerful, beautiful witch, and each has upgraded her chicken-legged hut to more modern transportation. In the legends, B.Y. was often a cruel and evil witch, but her modern-day descendants are much nicer, spending their time "guarding the doorway to the Otherworld, keeping the balance of nature, and occasionally...helping a worthy seeker." (Wickedly Magical) One B.Y. explains that "There is this, what some call the mundane or Human plane, and the Otherworld. The Otherworld is a place where magic exists, and it is home to creatures out of legend, many of which you might recognize and some which are beyond your comprehension." (Wickedly Dangerous)

     Each B.Y. is accompanied by a shape-shifting dragon called Chudo-Yudo. Barbara's Chudo-Yudo disguises himself as a 200-pound white pit bull, and Beka's transforms into a 40-pound Norwegian Forest Cat. The job of the Chudo-Yudos is to guard the witches' supply of the Water of Life and Death, which was given to them by the Queen of the Otherworld to prolong their lives, increase their strength, and boost their natural magical powers. Each B.Y. is born with her magical powerspowers that become stronger and broader through training and experience. Also essential to maintaining their powers is a constant diet of blue roses. Each B.Y. has access to the Otherworld through a portal within her mobile home. 

     Click HERE to watch a funny video that tells an urban fantasy story about a 21st century B.Y. And click HERE for a more traditional B.Y. video tale. Click HERE to read a 1903 Russian version of the B.Y. legend.  

            E-NOVELLA .5:  "Wickedly Magical"             
     In this introductory novella, we get much of the world-building, so it's one that you should read if you plan to dive into this series. This story features Barbara Yager, a tall, leather-clad B.Y. who drives a classic BMW motorcycle and lives in a silver Airstream trailer. Both the motorcycle and the trailer are loaded with magic to help Barbara ward off enemies and tend to her witchy business. 

     Baba Yagas are required to grant favors promised either by themselves or their forebears, so when Ivan Dmetriev approaches Barbara with an ancient dragon scale given to his babushka (i.e., his grandmother) decades ago by Barbara's predecessor, she is obliged to help him. As Barbara muses to Chudo-Yudo: "A Baba Yaga never breaks a promise. Legs, yes. Hearts, occasionally  But never a promise." Ivan's problem is that his wife, Grace, has joined a cult, taking their two children with her and convincing the court that Ivan abused thema complete lie. As it turns out, there's a magical reason that Grace and Jonathan Bellingwood, the cult leader, convinced everyone that they were telling the truth, and Barbara's task is to undo that magic.

     At the end of the story, while Barbara is enjoying a brief visit with Beka and Bella, she gets The Call, "a kind of subliminal mental pull towards whatever problem needed her special attention. No one else could hear it besides the Baba it was aimed at, and there was no ignoring it. When you were called, you went. It was as simple as that." This Call will be at the center of the first novel.

     This is an ultra-slim plot, but it does provide the opportunity to meet Barbara and to get most of the mythology details out of the way.

            NOVEL 1:  Wickedly Dangerous             
     The first novel carries on the story of Barbara Yager, one of the three Baba Yagas in the U.S., as she answers The Call she received at the end of "Wickedly Magical." Barbara has moved her Airstream to a small town in upstate New York, where a Russian family asks for her help in finding their kidnapped child, one of three small children who has disappeared in recent weeks. The town is in the middle of a major dispute over whether or not to allow a fracking company to purchase local mineral rights, so between the kidnappings and the infighting on the fracking issue, people's tempers are short, and fear for their children has eroded their confidence in the sheriff's office.

     The sheriff is Liam McClellan, a man with the inevitable tragic past that befalls so many paranormal fiction heroes. Several years ago, Liam's only child died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and his wife disappeared after turning to drugs and alcohol to dull her grief. Liam has been roaming the countryside looking for the missing children, but has had no luck in finding them. Here's where the first huge improbability appears: The state police are supposedly so busy with other cases that they don't have time to help Liam find the children, and the FBI never appears at all. It is impossible to believe that with three children disappearing from this tiny town that the FBI and state law enforcement agencies don't get involved from the very beginning. Also improbable is that Liaman experienced law enforcement officerjust drives around looking for the children, day after day after day. So…the main plot is based on an extremely weak and implausible premise.

     When Barbara learns about the multiple kidnappings, she calls in some Otherworld help: her three magical motorcycle-riding buddies, Mikhail Day (aka Bright Dawn, the White Rider), Gregori Sun (aka Red Sun, the Red Rider), and Alexei Knight (aka Dark Midnight, the Black Rider). The Riders are "pledged to the service of the Baba Yagas, [though] even Baba herself didn't know exactly what kind of creatures they were behind their human masks. All she knew for certain was that they were immortal, powerful  and on her side." (p. 60) She also asks for help from her long-time friend-with-benefits, Koshei, an immortal shape-shifting dragon. "Koshei had been the companion of the Baba before her; for all she knew, he'd been the companion of all the Babas in their line back down through history." (p. 66) Of course, all four men are tall, well-built, handsome alpha males. They also go out looking for the kids. No one really searches for clues or questions suspects, they just keep looking around.

     Liam meets Barbara while he is out driving around on one of his searches, and the two are immediately attracted to one another. Their blossoming romance grows stronger and stronger as the story moves along. Soon, Barbara attends a town meeting and spots a likely suspect who appears to be hiding behind a magical glamour, but with no proof, she can't tell Liam her suspicions without disclosing her own magical identity. The story follows Liam and Barbara as they fall in love and solve the crime after briefly becoming suspects themselves. 

     Once again, this story is a run-of-the-mill genre romance with paper-thin characters and an implausible plot. If you like typical paranormal genre romances, you might like this one, but if you're looking for a fresh approach to paranormal romance, this one isn't for you. Even with its somewhat different Baba Yaga mythology, there's really nothing new here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Paige Tyler: X-OPS SERIES

Author:  Paige Tyler
Series:  X-OPS SERIES
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—1 
Publisher:  Sourcebooks Casablanca     
          Her Perfect Mate (5/2014)
          Her Lone Wolf (11/2014)

     This post contains an overview of the series world-building and a review of Her Perfect Mate, the first novel. I realize that I'm late in posting this review, but I'll try to be more timely with the review of the second novel, which will be coming out in early November.
   
            WORLD-BUILDING            
    This series is a mix of familiar tropes: paranormal romance, special ops, and mad human scientists. On the special ops side, we have the Department of Covert Operations (DCO), a secret division of the U.S. government that hires and trains both humans and shifters. As the series opens, they have about a dozen shifters working undercover for them. The DCO is hidden within the departmental structure of Homeland Security. They call their shifters EVAs: Extremely Valuable Assets. The human-shifter teams are trained in "lock picking, safecracking, electronic surveillance and wiretap procedures, computer hacking, security systems bypass, diving, weapons and demo training, close quarter combat, [and] hand-to-hand combat." (Her Perfect Mate, p. 75)

     These shifters don't change fully into their animal forms—just fangs and claws, no fur. They have enhanced speed, senses, and healing in both their human and shifter forms. According to the DCO geneticists, everyone has some animal DNA mixed with their human DNA, because in the long-ago past, animal and ancestral DNA somehow got mixed together. Only certain people manifest their animal characteristics because their genetic coding activates—for unknown reasons—during adolescence and causes changes in their physiology.

     Naturally, since this is the government, a bureaucratic insider spy is mandatory. His name is Dick Coleman, and he is described as "the DCO's resident rat." (Her Perfect Mate, p. 76) Coleman reports directly back to the Committee, a sub-panel of the House and Senate Intelligence Oversight Committees, which has several members who are opposed to having shifters working for the government. In fact, they'd like to get DCO closed down completely. They distrust shifters so much that they have forced the DCO to enact a protocol that if a shifter is ever in danger of being captured by the enemy, the shifter's partner is required to kill him or her rather than allow the capture. 


    Along with the inevitable romance sub-plot (main plot, really), the series story arc involves a bunch of mad scientists who are kidnapping humans and shifters and experimenting on them to create their own army of enhanced soldiers—kind of like a watered down version of Lora Leigh's BREEDS mythology. (Click HERE to read my review of BREEDS.)      


Here is a list of the soul mates so far:

    > Her Perfect Mate:  Ivy Halliwell (cat shifter) & Landon Donovan (human)
    >  Her Lone Wolf:  Danica Beckett (human) & Clayne Buchanan (wolf shifter)

            NOVEL 1:  Her Perfect Mate             
     As the story opens, Special Forces Captain Landon Donovan is pulled from his unit in the middle of a mission in Afghanistan and reassigned to the DCO. He soon learns that he will be paired up with a partner and sent out on covert missions. What is most surprising to him is that his partner is a gorgeous young woman who is a cat shifter. 

     Ivy Halliwell, a former FBI agent, has burned through two partners since she joined DCO—one who tried to rape her and one who ignored her skills and got himself killed. Most of the human DCO agents despise her because her first partner lied about what happened, claiming that Ivy went berserk and attacked him for no reason. He got fired anyhow because the incident was caught on a surveillance camera, but his buddies still blame Ivy for his dismissal. They call her Poison Ivy and bad mouth her every chance they get. Many of the human agents view the EVAs as freaks—animals who act only on instinct. Landon doesn't listen to their poisonous gossip, though, and he adjusts remarkably well to his new situation. 


     The shifter-hating Committee members would like the DCO shifter program to be demolished, so they frequently set up difficult missions in hopes that the shifter-human DCO teams will fail. That's the politics behind Landon and Ivy's first mission, which is assigned to them well before they have completed their training. The Committee members hope that this lack of training will be their downfall. But guess what? Landon and Ivy are already heavily attracted to one another, and their soul-mate-fueled teamwork seems to come naturally, even without the training. (Obviously, the author included this brief mission just to put the new partners in the middle of the South American jungle all by themselves, giving them a chance to sleep together skin-to-skin in a tiny, tiny tent.)


    Naturally, the romance is front and center, with Landon and Ivy falling deeply and lustfully in love within a week of meeting one another. After successfully completing their first mission, they are sent off to track down a demented "scientist" who is kidnapping genetic researchers. As their mission plays out, Ivy winds up in grave danger, and Landon has to enlist the aid of 
some of his former comrades in arms from Special Forces (all of whom are human), along with Ivy's wannabe boyfriend—the wolf shifter hero of book 2.

     Although Tyler tells the story well, with just few improbable situations, this is another one of those insta-love books that are so common in the paranormal fiction genre. Did Ivy and Landon have to declare their love just days after they met? Couldn't they just have a sexual attraction for awhile and hook up permanently in the background of a future book? Also, did Landon have to have the same clichéd traumatic childhood (alcoholic Mom, abusive Dad) that so many paranormal fiction characters suffer through? It's too easy for authors of fall back on these stale plot elements, and as a result, the story suffers.

     Here are two of the most improbable situations: 
     1. Ivy's first partner makes his rape attempt on a rooftop in the middle of a surveillance mission. Why would anyone do thatcause a public ruckus in the middle of a secret mission? If he's determined to do it, why not attack her in a much more private place? 

     2. Clayne Buchanan makes no secret of the fact that he wants Ivy. He even starts physical fights with Landon several times, trying to establish his claim. Then, all of a sudden, he backs off when Landon says he loves Ivy (after the aforesaid week or so of knowing her). Clayne's quick and quiet retreat is highly improbable, but can probably be attributed to the fact that he is the hero of the next book, where he will be meeting and bedding a soul mate of his very own.

     If you can't get enough of formulaic paranormal romances, you'll probably enjoy this book (and series). But if you're looking for something fresh and different, this one's not for you.