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Saturday, July 23, 2016

NEW SERIES! Christine Feehan: THE SHADOW SERIES

Author:  Christine Feehan 
Series:  THE SHADOW 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4.5; Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  Jove
          Shadow Rider (6/2016)

                         WORLD-BUILDING                           
    The Ferraro family functions like the Cosa Nostra, with the eldest son of the family acting as the godfather. In addition to their public—legal—businesses (e.g., hotels, race cars), they serve as hit men who take contracts to target and eliminate bad guys who are beyond the law—those who manage to beat the justice system. For example, the first contract fulfillment we see in Shadow Rider is the snap-the-neck killing of a church-going, supposedly upstanding citizen who is actually a wife beater and child abuser and who also hires and tortures prostitutes.

     The five male siblings who run the Ferraro family are all gorgeous, charismatic men who are mobbed by the paparazzi as they mingle with the rich and the famous on the club circuit, posing as idle, rich playboys to make themselves seem harmless and to distract attention away from their undercover deeds. 
>>Stefano, the eldest brother, carries the responsibility for his family's financial empire and for its death-dealing underworld jobs. He is the hero of The Shadow.
>>Rico has the darkest nature and is "prone to violence and chance taking." To satisfy his sexual needs, he has turned to multiple sexual partners and to Shibara (Japanese rope bondage). Stefano views Rico as "a ticking time bomb."
>>Vittorio is a peacemaker with a savage core beneath his cool exterior.
>>Giovanni is the most volatile, going from rational to raging in just seconds.
>>Taviano is a gentle, kind guy who will probably be forming a romantic relationship with a young woman he rescues from harm late in Shadow Rider.
>>Emmanuelle (aka Emme) is the youngest sibling and the only sister. Although she participates in the Chicago club scene, her brothers are very protective about preventing the development any possible male relationships. In Shadow Rider, we learn that Emme has a frenemy-type history with Valentino Saldi, a member of a rival crime family.
     In the very first book, Feehan makes it clear that the brothers (but not their sister) follow "rules. Lots of rules" when it comes to the opposite sex: "They didn't romance women. They had their fun, made certain the women...had fun as well, but they didn't date. They didn't make promises. They never, never took advantage of a woman who didn't know the score or the game....The brothers were highly sexual and they had no compunction about finding women who were more than willing to see to those needs in return for the same, but there were never emotional entanglements." (from Shadow Rider)

     Also in Shadow Rider, we learn that Rico, Vittorio, Giovanni, and Taviano each spent a full year in different training facilities in Europe when they were in their late teens. Apparently, their trainers were cruel, unfeeling men who left indelible scars on the personalities of all four men. I'm sure that those emotional scars will be important factors that will complicate their love stories.

     And now for the paranormal part of this mythology: The Ferraro siblings (and their mother) are all shadow riders, which means that they have the ability to slide into shadows and "ride" them from one place to another. This means that they complete most of their criminal activities at night. Here's how Stefano rides the shadows: "Stefano felt the pull of each of the shadow tubes. Openings he could slide through. The pull was strong on his body, dragging at him like powerful magnets, the sensation  uncomfortable, but familiar...Even small shadows drew him, pulling his body apart until he was streaming through light and dark to his destination." (from Shadow Rider) Click HERE and scroll down a bit to view the book trailer for Shadow Rider, which includes a shadow-riding scene that will give you a visual image of riding through the shadow tubes.

     The part of the shadow rider mythology that is most important to this series is the fact that rider children can only be born to rider women, and women riders are quite rare. Naturally, the Ferraro brothers are desperate to find rider women in order to keep their dynasty going. That means that when a male rider comes across a female rider, he has to quickly claim her (with sex, of course) and convince her to give up her life plans because she has to become part of the Ferraro family and begin having babies in order to establish the next generation of Ferraros. In Shadow Rider, Francesca has no idea that she is a rider. In fact, she knows nothing about shadow riding at all, and I assume that will be the case with some, or all, of the females in this series.

                         NOVEL 1:  Shadow Rider                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     Christine Feehan is back with a sexy new series starring a Chicago crime family that hides a dark, mystical secret. 

     Whether it’s fast cars or fast women, Stefano Ferraro gets what he wants. When he’s not fodder for the paparazzi, he commands Ferraro family businesses, both legitimate and illegitimate. 

     While their criminal activity is simply s rumor yet to be proven, no one outside the family knows the real truth. The Ferraros are a family of shadow riders capable of manipulating light and dark, an ability Stefano thought ran in his family alone until now. 

     With little left to her name, Francesca Cappello has come to Chicago in hopes of a new life. She wasn’t expecting to attract the attention of a man with primal hunger in his eyes, driven to claim her as his to protect and to please. And if he discovers her secret, it could ruin her.

MY REVIEW:  
    This book contains the usual expositional information that is necessary for all books that begin a new series. Feehan has to introduce the heroine and the members of the Ferraro family in addition to explaining the mythology of the shadow riders. She does this without too much info dumping, but she does include a LOT of repetition in her descriptions of the Ferraro men (frequently word for word)—their six-pack abs, their gorgeous musculature, their handsome faces, and their hard, dark, murderous life style that must be accepted completely by the woman they select as mates. 

     Much of the repetitive language focuses on the Ferraro males' deep need to protect woman. We get lots of statements like these: "He was a protective man. He had been born that way. Every rider was. The need to protect and control was bred into every single one of them. Those two traits were so ingrained in them, there was no getting either characteristic out. No getting around them." The men actually "control" more than they "protect." In fact, they are total control freaks when it comes to women, accepting no refusals of their demands and no arguments whatsoever. Unfortunately, this makes them come across as misogynistic jerks of the highest order, and it makes their women—in this case, Francesca—come across as weak, dependent dimwits. 

     The romance plot begins with Stefano's love-at-first-sight moment when he first encounters Francesca, who has come to Chicago in search of safety and security. She is on the run from a nasty villain and is completely penniless, with no possessions whatsoever except for the thrift-store clothes on her back. Regardless of her own desperate situation, she gives away her winter coat (also from a thrift store) to a homeless woman, so when Stefano sees her shivering in her thin shirt and her holey jeans, he insists that she put on his cashmere coat. He also fills the coat pocket with money so that she can buy proper shoes and other clothing. Stefano comes across as one of Feehan's typical ├╝ber-alpha males—an arrogant rich guy who always gets what he wants—so when Francesca makes a few weak attempts at sarcasm and refuses (for a minute) to accept the coat, he is intrigued, but overrides her objections without a second thought. Stefano continues his rude, crude, demanding, arrogant behavior throughout the book.

     The Ferraros have absolute rule over their section of Chicago's Little Italy, where everyone knows them, respects them, and fears them. So when Stefano singles out Francesca for his attentions, her social status immediately goes way up, particularly after he publicly claims her as "mine."

     Francesca has mixed feelings about her encounter with Stefano. She appreciates the warm coat, but her pride won't let her accept charity and her morals won't let her accept the fact that he might be helping her out in exchange for future "favors." The road to their eventual HEA is semi-rough as Francesca struggles with her nightmares about her horrific past, her overwhelming sexual attraction to Stefano, and her need to be an independent woman. Naturally, the sexual attraction quickly wins out over the need for independence, as is usual in Feehan's books.

     Percolating in the background are some action-based story lines, the most important of which deals with the reason that Francesca is on the run. These plot threads are dealt with relatively quickly once they make their way to the surface, each resulting in a bit of pain and suffering for the heroine (just enough to give Stefano the chance to heroically shadow in to rescue her).

     This is a typical Feehan novel: the dangerous, conflicted alpha bully-hero who both protects and dominates women; the helpless, submissive heroine who claims to want independence but loves to be dominated (and rescued); and the good-old-boy male womanizers who would never treat their sister like they treat their one-night-stand women. This book follows Feehan's trend of increasing darkness both in the behavior of the male characters and in aspects of the plot, with brutal murders that are immediately forgotten and lots of glowering men (all Italian Americans) who strut around their turf like lords of the manor. No one with whom they come in contact has any doubt that it's their way or the highway (i.e., serious injury or death). All the while, though, Feehan keeps up her commentary about how much they love and respect "their" women. 

     The sexual scenes between Stefano and Francesca are not at all romantic. Although Francesca is just one unfortunate experience away from being a virgin, Stefano turns their first joining into a prolonged weekend of rough sex and bondage. Stefano admits to having had sex with thousands of woman, but, implausibly, he promises Francesca that he has never tied any of them up but her because "they didn't belong to me. You belong to me." Feehan definitely includes some 50 Shades details in this book. For example, all of the Ferraro brothers dress in bespoke gray suits, gray shirts, and gray ties, supposedly to help them blend into the shadows. All of them are oversexed and several are into bondage. And the very first time Stefano ties Francesca's hands together, he uses one of those gray ties. So...it's kind of derivative.

     If you are a fan of Feehan's male-dominant paranormal romances, you won't be disappointed in this novel, but if you are looking for a truly independent, free-thinking heroine and a reasonably romantic hero, this isn't the book for you. To read or listen to an except from Shadow Rider, click HERE to go to the novel's Amazon.com and then click either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

UPDATE! Jennifer Estep: ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just revised an ongoing post for Jennifer Estep with a review of "Unwanted"novella 14.5 in her ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN SERIES. 

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

UPDATE! Daniel O'Malley: THE ROOK FILES

UPDATE!

I have just revised an ongoing post for Daniel O'Malley with a review of Stiletto, the second novel in his ROOK FILES series.

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

Sunday, July 17, 2016

UPDATE! Christina Henry: CHRONICLES OF ALICE

UPDATE!

I have just revised an ongoing post for Christina Henry to include a review of Red Queen, the second novel in her CHRONICLES OF ALICE series. 

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

UPDATE! Nalini Singh: PSY-CHANGELING SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just revised an ongoing post for Nalini Singh to include a review of Allegiance of Honor, the 15th novel in her PSY-CHANGELING SERIES. 

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Max Porter: "Grief Is the Thing with Feathers"

Author:  Max Porter  
Title:  Grief Is the Thing with Feathers 
Genre:  Fable/Essay/Novella (Magical Realism?)
Ratings:  Violence1; Sensuality1; Humor—1.5   
Publisher:  Graywolf Press (6/2016)

                         PUBLISHER'S BLURB                          
     Here he is, husband and father, scruffy romantic, a shambolic scholar—a man adrift in the wake of his wife’s sudden, accidental death. And there are his two sons, who, like him, struggle in their London flat to face the unbearable sadness that has engulfed them. The father imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness while the boys wander, savage and unsupervised. 

     In this moment of violent despair they are visited by Crow—antagonist, trickster, goad, protector, therapist, and babysitter. This self-described “sentimental bird,” at once wild and tender, who “finds humans dull except in grief,” threatens to stay with the wounded family until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and the pain of loss lessens with the balm of memories, Crow’s efforts are rewarded and the little unit of three begins to recover: Dad resumes his book about the poet Ted Hughes; the boys get on with it, grow up. 

    Part novella, part polyphonic fable, part essay on grief, Max Porter’s extraordinary debut combines compassion and bravura style to dazzling effect. Full of angular wit and profound truths, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is a startlingly original and haunting debut by a significant new talent.

Awards and Recognition in the UK:
Shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award
Winner of the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize
One of the Irish Times’s Best Books of 2015
One of the Independent’s Best Debut Fiction Books of 2015
Spectator UK Best Book of 2015
                         MY REVIEW                          
    You may remember reading an Emily Dickinson poem back in high school, a poem with this first verse:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all - 

     Porter substitutes grief for hope, but keeps the featherslong black ones that come from a gigantic, introspective, wise-cracking crow who might be a psychotic delusion or perhaps just a metaphor come to life to ease a grief-stricken family through the difficult days, and then years, following the sudden death of Mum, the young wife and mother of the household.

     In addition to the Dickinson connection, the book has a number of references to Ted Hughes, about whom Dad is writing a book. Hughes famously wrote an entire book of poems featuring Crow, the mythological trickster (Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow).

     When Crow shows up on the family's doorstep one dark and frigid night, Dad opens the door only to be swept up in "a feathery hammock lifting me up a foot above the tiled floor. One shiny jet-black eye as big as my face, blinking slowly, in a leathery wrinkled socket…And this is what he said: I won't leave until you don't need me any more." Dad lays back, "resigned, and wished my wife wasn't dead. I wished I wasn't lying terrified in a giant bird embrace in my hallway…Hello Crow, I said. Good to finally meet you...For the first time in days I slept." 

     Porter has Crow, Dad, and the Boys take turns telling the story in a stream-of-consciousness first-person voice filled with fierce emotion and deep sadness. Early on, Crow explains his role: "In other versions I am a doctor or a ghost. Perfect devices: doctors, ghosts and crows. We can do things other characters can't, like eat sorrow, un-birth secrets and have theatrical battles with language and God. I was friend, excuse, deus ex machina, joke, symptom, figment, specter, crutch, toy, phantom, gag, analyst and babysitter…A myth to be slipped in. Slip up into."

     Crow is determined to see the family safely through their hopeless grief, and the family seems to recognize and welcome his help as they confront the details of their new motherless life. Porter beautifully illustrates the debilitating capacity of those details: Dad becomes an "expert in the behavior of orbiting grievers,...the overwhelmeds, the affectedly lackadaisicals,…the overstayers, the new best friends of hers, of mine, of the boys." The boys remember that when Dad told them what happened to Mum they were thinking, "Where are the fire engines? Where is the noise and clamor of an event like this? Where are the strangers going out of their way to help [as they] try and settle us and save us?" But there were no crowds and no policejust dull routine: "We stayed in our PJs and people visited and gave us stuff. Holiday and school became the same."

     In the early days, Crow grumbles and pokes around each room in the apartment: "the whole place was heavy mourning, every surface dead Mum, every crayon, tractor, coat, welly, covered in a film of grief." He picks at their unbrushed teeth as they sleep, comments on their behavior, and leaves glossy, black feathers in his wake. Later, after more time has passed, Dad remembers scenes from his early, ecstatic days with his wife, "when our love was settling into the shape of our lives like cake mixture reaching the corners of the tin as it swells and bakes." At one point Dad rhapsodizes sentimentally about how much he misses his wife: "I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine thousand buses, a million cars, twenty million birds, and more. The whole city is my missing her." Crow responds sarcastically, "Eugh…you sound like a fridge magnet."

     The Boys sometimes fight and misbehave and lie, but "Some of the time we tell the truth. It's our way of being nice to Dad." And when Dad is really hurting, they press up close to him on the sofa, and he has to "double over and hold myself because they are so kind and keep regenerating and recharging their kindness without any input from me." 

     Even though the theme of the book is grief, there are many moments of jet-black humor, frequently from Crow, but also from Dad and the Boys. When a friend asks Dad, "Are you seeing anyone?…To talk things through?," Dad nearly laughs out loud as he thinks about Crow muttering and puttering about the apartment handing out advice and leaving a feathery trail. Dad suppresses a smile and tells his friend, "Yes…You don't need to worry. I am being helped."

     The book ends, of course, when it is finally time for Crow to leave. Dad remembers that a year of two after his wife's death, friends advised him to move on. But if you have ever lost a loved one, you knowjust like Dad and Crow knowthat, "Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man sow or speed or fix." 

     Eventually, Dad and Crow have a final conversation: 
Dad: "Did I respond as well as you'd hoped?"
Crow: "Better. But the credit should go to the boys, and to the [publishing] deadline. I knew that by the time you sent your publisher your final draft my work would be done."
Dad: "I would be done grieving?"
Crow: "No, not at all. You were done being hopeless. Grieving is something you're still doing, and something you don't need a crow for…It is the fabric of selfhood, and beautifully chaotic."
     This is a wonderful first novel that is packed with emotion—deep and true—and presented in a wildly inventive manner. It's definitely not the paranormal fiction that I usually review on this blog, but the addition of the trickster, Crow, to the storyline does push it into the realm of magical thinking in which a metaphor comes to life in the characters' lives and helps them make it through the nights and the days and the years to come. It's a touching and poignant story that is well worth reading.

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from Grief Is the Thing with Feathers on its Amazon.com by clicking on the cover art on that page for access to the first two chapters. Click HERE and HERE and HERE to read interviews with the author about this novel.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

UPDATE! Keri Arthur: SOULS OF FIRE SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just revised an ongoing post for Keri Arthur to include a review of Flameout, the third novel in her SOULS OF FIRE SERIES. 

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