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Monday, February 8, 2016

UPDATE! Lilith Saintcrow: GALLOW AND RAGGED TRILOGY

UPDATE!

I have just updated my ongoing post for Lilith Saintcrow's GALLOW AND RAGGED TRILOGY with a review of the second novel, Roadside Magic. 


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

Saturday, February 6, 2016

UPDATE! Sara Humphreys: DEAD IN THE CITY SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated my ongoing post for Sara Humphreys' DEAD IN THE CITY SERIES with a review of the fourth novel: The Good, the Bad, and the Vampire. 


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

Thursday, February 4, 2016

UPDATE! Kevin Hearne: IRON DRUID SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Kevin Hearne's IRON DRUID SERIES with a review of Staked, the ninth novel. 

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

NEW SERIES! Keri Arthur: OUTCAST SERIES

Author:  Keri Arthur  
Series:  OUTCAST 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  Signet Select
          City of Light  (1/2016)
          Winter Halo (12/2016)

                         WORLD-BUILDING                         
     The series is set about 100 years after a five-year global war among humans, shifters, and vampires, with the shifters as the winners. After the war, the shifters rebuilt their cities to be vampire proof, setting them on land that was not undermined by vampire tunnels and protecting citizens with massive silver curtain walls and towers of ultraviolet (UV) lights to keep the shadows away. The city in which this series takes place is Central City, which is the home of the middle and upper-class shifters and humans, who have made peace with one another and have united against the vampires and the other supernatural monsters.

     Below Central City is Chaos—"an interconnected mess of metal storage units, old wood, and plastic that was ten stories high and barely five wide." The inhabitants of Chaos have little or no UV protection and must lock themselves away at night to keep from being attacked by the vampires who live in nests in the sewers beneath the city. "The shifters might have claimed victory in the war, but in truth, the only real winners had been the vampires…Their numbers had…grown on the back of the war's high death toll…Though they preferred to dine on the living, they were not averse to digging up the dead." Shifters and humans cannot communicate with vampires because the vamps speak a language no one else understands.

     In addition to vampires, other supernaturals—known as the Others—roam the night and the shadows. The horrific bombing attacks that ended the war had "torn apart the very fabric of the world, creating drifting doorways between this world and the next. These rifts were filled with a magic that not only twisted the essence of the landscape, but also killed anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in their path." The rifts allow various hellish creatures (e.g., demons, monsters, death spirits) to enter this "new and easy hunting ground in the shadows of our world."

     The series heroine can be defined in a few words and numbers: Tiger C5, déchet, lure rank. "Tiger" refers to the fact that a large portion of her DNA comes from a tiger shifter. "Déchet" means that she looks like a human being but was created by human scientists in the Humanoid Development Project in a chemical-filled test tube containing  shifter and vampire DNA. ("Déchet" is a French word mea+ning waste product—something that is thrown away, or outcast.) "Lure" means that she was created and trained to be a sexual lure—a spy who learned secrets during sexual assignations with the enemy. Other types of déchet were created to be assassins and front-line soldiers. The déchet soldiers had no human DNA, just shifter and vampire. The DNA mix allows Tiger to be a body shifter—to change her appearance completely (size, shape, complexion, hair color, eye color, etc.) She can use either sun or shadows to make herself invisible to most (but not all) people or creatures. In addition to having enhanced speed and strength, immunity to poisons, and speedy healing skills, Tiger seems to be immortal—or, at the least, very long-lived. She can also communicate with ghosts.

     Every since the war ended, Tiger has lived alone in the ruins of a military bunker on the outskirts of Central City—alone, that is, except for the ghosts of hundreds of déchet children and adults who died in that bunker in the final hours of the war. As the sole survivor of the bombs and the final deadly gas attack, Tiger is the last déchet in existence. The victors brutally hacked apart all of the other déchet in the final days of the war, even though the shifters (falsely) promised the few surviving déchet clemency if they surrendered. The shifters despised the déchet because the déchet soldeirs were ordered by their human commanders to murder shifters—both soldiers and civilians—in horrifying ways. The human scientists created déchet soldiers and assassins with no souls—no emotional centers—so they did exactly what they were told to do, even if it meant murdering infants and children. In the years since the war ended, history has been rewritten to hide the atrocities perpetrated by the shifters and to highlight and to exaggerate the atrocities committed by the déchet. The current population knows few real facts about the déchet. They think of them all as soulless, mindless killers who must be destroyed at any cost.

                              NOVEL 1:  City of Light                               
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     They ended the war.
But they started something worse. When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between this world and the next, they allowed entry to the Others—demons, wraiths, and death spirits who turned the shadows into their hunting grounds. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay. 

     As a déchet—a breed of humanoid super-soldiers almost eradicated by the war—Tiger has spent her life in hiding. But when she risks her life to save a little girl on the outskirts of Central City, she discovers that the child is one of many abducted in broad daylight by a wraith-like being—an impossibility with dangerous implications for everyone on earth. Because if the light is no longer enough to protect them, nowhere is safe. 

MY REVIEW: 
     As the story begins, Tiger (aka Tig) hears the sound of a child crying in the woods outside her bunker. Her instinctive need to rescue an innocent drives her to go to the rescue, even though the sun is setting and the vampires will soon be out in force. When Tiger finds the child, she also finds Jonas, a badly injured shifter male. After rescuing them both, she is forced to take them into Chaos to the home of a healer named Nuri, an earth witch who wields powerful magic and who insists that Tiger help them rescue other missing children. Tiger is reluctant to cooperate with these people because when Penny, the rescued child, tells them that Tig is a déchet, they immediately attack her, drug her, and lock her up. Even though she eventually lies convincingly enough to convince them that she is not a déchet, they do not trust her—and vice versa.

     The plot, then, revolves around Tiger's efforts to determine who—or what—is kidnapping these children from Central City in broad daylight without ever being seen, and why these specific children have been targeted. Her search frequently forces her to be accompanied by the surly (but sexy) Jonas, who hates all déchet with a passion and is still not convinced that she is not one of his most dreaded enemies (even after she saves his life—twice). During the course of the investigation, Tiger learns that she is not the only déchet to have survived the war. She also engages in some scenesboth the sexy kind and the fight-to-kill kind—that put me in mind of Riley Jenson at her very best.

     In this series, Keri Arthur has once again found a heroine and a story line that meets or exceeds the standard she set with her excellent RILEY JENSON, GUARDIAN urban fantasy series. If you haven't read that series, you might want to give that a try. Riley is a dhampire enforcer, or Guardian—half werewolf and half vampire—who lives in Melbourne, Australia (where Arthur also lives). The nine books in this series were published between 2006 and 2010. If you read Arthur's DARK ANGELS series, you met Riley as a tangential characterthe best friend of the heroine's mother. Unfortunately, DARK ANGELS never really measured up to the original RILEY JENSON series. 

     I always approach the first book in a series with mixed feelings: anticipation of finding a fresh and inventive mythology and interesting characters, but also dread at having to plow through pages and pages of world-building exposition. In this book, Arthur does a fine job of integrating the world-building into Tiger's first-person narration. She basically treats the reader as someone to whom Tiger is telling her life story, so the world-building flows into the narrative in a natural manner, hardly ever slowing down the pace. Although Arthur doesn't delve very deeply into anyone's life but Tiger's in this first book, we do get a strong first impression of the main supporting characters: Jonas, Nuri, and Sal (an old friend/lover of Tiger's). I like the dystopian, post-apocalyptic aspects of the setting as well as the limited number of supernatural typesjust shifters, vampires, wraiths, and an unnamed evil power. Lately, some of the series I have been reading have had so many types of magical monsters that they overwhelm the plot, but that is not the case here. 

     Tiger is a terrific heroine: a self-sufficient, courageous, intelligent woman who has a deep empathy for children because she feels such deep guilt over having failed to save the lives of the déchet children who died in the bunker alongside her during the final bombing of the war. So far, Jonas has been mostly grim, angry, or inscrutable, but he is definitely going to be Tiger's love interest—once he gets past his rage at her true identity. Despite the fact that Sal has a heart-breaking, ill-omened back-story, he is the star of some very sexy bedroom scenes. Although Nuri is one of the "good guys," she makes a deadly, heartless threat against the ghost children in Tiger's bunker, and she seems all too willing to carry out that threat if Tiger doesn't do exactly as she demands. That means that Tiger is definitely going to have to be very cautious around her. 

     Although some of the conflicts are resolved by the end of the book (in the requisite showdown scene), this is, after all, a series, so a few unresolved story lines extend into the next book. Click HERE to read a GoogleBooks excerpt from City of Light

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of City of Light 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.

                    NOVEL 2: Winter Halo (due 12/2016)                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB:  
UK cover (US cover
not available at the

time of this posting)
     When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between worlds, they allowed entry to the Others. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay. 

     The humanoid supersoldiers known as the déchet were almost eradicated by the war. Ever since, Tiger has tried to live her life in peace in hiding. But in the wake of her discovery that Central City’s children are being kidnapped and experimented on, Tiger’s conscience won’t let her look the other way. 

     The key to saving them lies within the walls of a pharmaceutical company called Winter Halo. But as Tiger learns more about the facility, her mission is derailed by a complication: Winter Halo’s female security guards are being systematically attacked by an unknown force. 

     Now Tiger must summon all her gifts to stop those responsible for both atrocities—no matter the cost to herself.

MY REVIEW: 
My review will be posted as close as possible to the publishing date of this novel.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

UPDATE! Katie MacAlister: DRAGON FALL SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Katie MacAlister's DRAGON FALL SERIES with a review of Dragon Storm, the second novel. 

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

Friday, January 29, 2016

UPDATE! Jeanne C. Stein: ANNA STRONG VAMPIRE CHRONICLES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Jeanne C. Stein's ANNA STRONG VAMPIRE CHRONICLES with a review of the novella, "Anna and the Vampire Prince." 

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rebecca Zanetti: SCORPIUS SYNDROME SERIES

Series: SCORPIUS SYNDROME
Publisher:  Zebra 
     "Scorpius Rising" (prequel novella in On the Hunt anthology) 
     Mercury Striking (novel 11/2016) 
     Shadow Falling (novel 28/2016) 

NOTE: This ongoing review of the SCORPIUS SYNDROME SERIES begins with an overview of the series world-building and a review of the prequel novella, in which Zanetti provides a detailed mythology for this post-plague world. Although you don't have to read the prequel in order to understand the events that take place in Mercury Striking, the novella will provide you with the complete back-story of the early days of the plague, including Lynn Harmony's stormy relationship with her former boyfriend and her horrific experiences at the CDCboth of which are very important to the plot of Mercury Striking. If you don't choose to read "Scorpius Rising," then reading my review will fill in some of the blanks for you. My review of Mercury Rising appears immediately following the review of "Scorpius Rising."

                     WORLD-BUILDING                    
     This quotation is at the heart of the governmental conflict that is the center of this series: "There are two types of people in this world…The kind who believes the ends justify the means and…people who live the life they want because there are people out there, like us, making sure the ends justify the means…If we don't get a handle on this infection, only one type of person will remain…Survivors." (from "Scorpius Rising")

     After the Scorpius bacterium kills off 99% of the population, the remaining people fall into two groups: those who were never infected and those who survived the infection. "The bacteria does not always kill human beings; sometimes the patient survives, but the Scorpius bacteria still remains within the body, stripping a small part of the brain. The contagion alters brain activity in everybody who is infected, but only turns half of the folks into killers. We don't know why. It might have something to do with oxytocin, which is a chemical we think relates to empathy. Some folks lose it all, and some only part or none." (from Mercury Striking) The survivors of the disease are called Rippers (for what they do to any living creature they hunt down). The general consensus is that there are two types of Rippers. "The first is organized and intelligent like a serial killer…The second is disorganized and just plain crazy, and they're more likely to rip you apart like an animal. Run from either." (from Mercury Striking)

     The behavior of the "civilized" survivors of the disease falls along a wide spectrum that ranges from full-out psychopaths to cold-hearted pragmatists. We'll see all kinds of survivors in this series. Every survivor's brain is changed by the Scorpius infection. The ones who keep their sanityat least on the surfacebecome smarter, or more devious, and some develop psychic talents.

    One last bit of contradictory information on the spelling of Dr. Harmony's first name: In "Scorpius Rising," her first name is Lynn, but in Mercury Striking it is Lynne

                     PREQUEL NOVELLA: "Scorpius Rising"                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     With a deadly disease spreading like wildfire across the country, microbiologist Nora Medina needs to focus all her energy on stopping the pandemic. Playing with dynamite—in the form of her way-too-hot ex—is the last thing she should be doing. But forced to work with Deacan McDougall against unexpected enemies with the seconds ticking by, she knows the explosion is coming. 

MY REVIEW: 
     In this introduction to her new series, Zanetti combines a deadly plague, a pair of conflicted ex-lovers, some slippery governmental decision making, and lots and lots of graphic sex. The lovers, Nora and Deacon, have been divorced for eight years. She is an anti-government microbiologist, and he is, at heart, a fierce, pragmatic soldier. Although Nora has made a solid life for herself and is a world-renowned scientist, all it takes is some über-alpha posturing, superior physical strength, and skillful seduction from Deacon to turn Nora into a submissive, compliant puddle of lust. Maybe it's just me, but I am uncomfortable with paranormal romances that reinforce the idea that true love requires an overdose of I-know-what's-best-for-you overprotectiveness from the male and unconditional submission by the female. So that element takes some of the shine off the story for me. 

     The plague is caused by the Scorpius bacteria, which arrived on earth deep inside a meteorite that was part of the Scorpius Comet. Some graduate students cracked open the meteorite, gave it a taste (yuck!), and—voila!—the disease had its initial outbreak. The bacteria is deadly, killing most of its victims (about 75%), causing psychotic breaks in about 15-20% of the infected, and leaving the final 5-10% seemingly healthy, except that their frontal lobes are mutated so that they become psychopathic carriers whose sole focus is on spreading the disease. The novella's villain belongs to that final group. The bacteria is spread through bodily fluids (e.g., saliva, blood, urine, genital fluids). 

     The romance is the major plot line, with Deacon committing himself to getting Nora back. The action part of the plot concerns a Scorpius survivor who becomes fixated on Nora. Here's how Deacon sums up his situation: "He had an ex-wife who hadn't quite realized her importance in his life, a possible bacteria from outer space that was killing people, a dead president, a weak vice president, and a stalker he needed to stop but not kill." 

     One last nit-pick: There are several misused words—probably AutoCorrect errors that were missed by the copy proofer, but nevertheless, distracting. Here are two examples: Nora was "ferreted" to the CDC (no, she was "ferried" or "furtively conveyed"); Zach hated his "formal" self (no, he hated his "former" self). 

     The first novel in the series, Mercury Striking, is due 1/26/16 with Nora's best friend, Lynn Harmony, as its heroine. I am hoping that Zanetti allows Lynn to continue to be independent, competent, and in charge of her own life whether she is in a romantic relationship or not.

                     NOVEL 1: Mercury Striking                     
PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
     With nothing but rumors to lead her, Lynne Harmony has trekked across a nightmare landscape to find one man—a mysterious, damaged legend who protects the weak and leads the strong. He’s more than muscle and firepower—and in post-plague L.A., he’s her only hope. As the one woman who could cure the disease, Lynne is the single most volatile—and vulnerable—creature in this new and ruthless world. But face to face with Jax Mercury…Danger has never looked quite so delicious.

MY REVIEW: 
     While the prequel novella was all about stopping the spread of the Scorpius plague, months have now passed, and the emphasis is solely on the struggle for survival. Besides hundreds of local gangs and militia groups, a militia group calling itself the Mercenaries is looking for Lynne because the government has offered a huge reward for her capture. In addition to these groups, two government-sanctioned military organizations are still up and running: 

   >>The Brigade: This group, headed by Deacan McDougall, is tasked with making sure that nuclear reactors are shut down safely.

   >>The Elite Force: This group, headed by the new Vice President, Greg Lake, is tasked with finding and capturing Dr. Lynne Harmony.

     Lynne is the former head of the Infectious Diseases unit of the CDC. She was infected with the Scorpius bacteria and survived, but that survival left her with blue blood flowing through her veins and a glowing, neon-blue heart beating in her chest. After being imprisoned by the government and subjected to endless blood tests for experimental purposes, Lynn escaped. She and her uncle, now dead, headed west for California, where they hoped to find Myriad, a secret laboratory that may hold the key to a cure for the Scorpius plague. Being an intelligent, pragmatic woman, Lynn did some research before she escaped and learned about a strong and fearless leader who had built an impenetrable compound in the middle of Los Angeles, where Lynn believes the secret lab is located. 

Jax's Rules for
Surviving the Apocalypse
     Jax Mercury is a former Army sergeant who came back to the U.S, from Afghanistan in the early days of the plague in search of his brother, Marcus (aka Slam). Almost accidentally, Jax put together his Vanguard territory, ringing it with barbed wire and blockading it with abandoned vans and SUVs. Now, he and his "soldiers" defend more than 500 civilians from marauding gangs of humans and Rippers. Although Jax is the leader of the group, he stays away from the Inner—the area where the survivors live—and spends his time solely on defending the borders, training his soldiers, and organizing scavenging teams to find more food and supplies. Jax is actually suffering from PTSD after losing his best friend in an explosion in Afghanistan, so he stays away from personal relationships and buries his grief and rage in his everyday survival activities.

     When Lynne finally finds Jax, she makes him a bargain: "I'll teach you everything I know about the illness, and you provide temporary protection and one kill." (If you have read "Scorpius Rising," you can probably guess the identity of the person Lynne wants Jax to kill.) 

Here are some of the key players in post-plague Los Angeles:

   >>Tace Justice: a former military field medic who is now Vanguard's chief physician

   >>Wyatt Quaid: a former professional football player (49ers) who has learned to be an excellent soldier. He is Jax's second in command and functions as the heart of the compound—the person people go to for counseling and advice.

   >>Raze (Razor) Shadow: a mysterious new Vanguard warrior who appeared one day, fully armed, and joined the crew—He refuses to talk about his past or his reasons for joining Jax's group. Raze's story will be told in the next book, Shadow Falling.

   >>Sami: supposedly a former LAPD cop (but probably not) who has excellent hand-to-hand fighting skills and who becomes one of Lynne's friends and supporters, even though she once had a major crush on Jax.

   >>Lena: a young girl who gives meaningful gifts to residents of VanguardEach gift turns out to be related to a future event in that person's life.

   >>Cruz: a bad guyleader of the Twenty gang, the gang that Jax belonged to back in his younger days. Cruz has a major grudge against Jax because Jax went off to the Army and left him behind in prison. Jax has a grudge against Cruz because Cruz lured Marcus into his gang while Jax was overseas, leading to Marcus's shooting death.

     The romance plot takes up the major part of the book as Jax and Lynne try to keep personal secrets hidden from one another while they fall into lusty love. Because Jax doesn't trust Lynne (given the government-spawned rumors that she is a highly contagious sociopath), he keeps her locked up in his bedroom—which leads to exactly the outcome that you would expect. Their bedroom experiences begin with a spanking and go on to include a bit of dom/sub and lots of erotic, headboard-banging sexual encounters—all fully described in graphic detail.

The action plot includes several story lines: 

   >>Jax's efforts to find enough Vitamin B to keep his Vanguard citizens plague freeThe only fact that the survivors know for sure about the Scorpius plague is that Vitamin B injections keep it somewhat under control and may help those who are infected survive without becoming Rippers. 

   >>Lynne's efforts to find the secret labLynne needs the research papers and lab equipment from the secret lab to figure out a way to make human bodies create their own Vitamin B without having to undergo constant injections. 

   >>The U.S. president's efforts to capture LynneIt would be a spoiler to reveal anything more about his part of the plot, but I will say that the President's motives are very personal and relate to events that took place in the plot of "Scorpius Rising."

     The first half of the book focuses solely on Jax, Lynne, and Vanguard, but beginning in chapter 19, a new character enters the story. From that point on, Zanetti moves the perspective back and forth from Lynn and Jax to this third character. The story is told in the third person voice. 

     As the book ends, some parts of the conflict are resolved, but bits of new information open up new questions (The Bunker? Jax's brother? The cure?) and problems for Jax and his crew (the fact that a dangerous villain is still at large). It isn't exactly a cliff-hanger ending, but it definitely leads into the next book, which will feature Raze Shadow and Vivienne Wellington. 


     
Zanetti has created an inventive world here with an emphasis on the interactions and coping methods of a diverse group of survivors. I like the fact that the "zombie" factor isn't the main focus of the plot. This is not a Walking Dead kind of book—no blood-and-guts scenes of the Rippers attacking people. Although the Rippers definitely pose a threat, Zanetti keeps them lurking in the background. Zanetti tells a compelling story that features a pair of charismatic lead lovers, lots of action and suspense, and a nice range of interesting supporting characters. Lynne is a terrific heroine, maintaining her independence, courage, and tenacity even in the face of her intense attraction to Jax and her fears for her future. Even though Jax is a stereotypical über-alpha hero with a chip on his shoulder, a tragic past, and a heart of gold, he is so fierce and intense that he commands your full attention in every scene in which he appears. This is a great start to a new series, and I'm looking forward to reading Raze's story in August.

    I do have two minor nitpicks that I'll put here at the very end so that you can either read them or ignore them: 
1. At one point, Jax explains that "Fish food held plenty of antibiotics, and most survivors didn't know that fact." Wrong. Some people sell fish antibiotics (legal only by prescription), but regular fish food does not contain antibiotics. Fish food antibiotics is a survivalist urban legend that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Some companies sell aquarium antibiotics online or in pet stores, but there are no guarantees that their products meet any medical standards. In fact, many of them are made up primarily of cornstarch or other non-medical products and contain little or no antibiotics. They are definitely risky—either inadequate or possibly harmful—for human consumption. Click HERE to read more on this subject. 
2. Vitamin B is not just one single vitamin. In fact, there are eight different B vitamins, each found in different types of food and each affecting the human body in a different manner: B1 (thiamine); B2 (riboflavin); B3 (niacin); B5 (pantothenic acid); B6; B7 (biotin); B12; folic acid. I have to assume that when Zanetti refers to Vitamin B, she means Vitamin B-Complex, a combination of the vitamins listed above. In its injectable form, B-Complex must be kept refrigeratedan impossibility in Zanetti's post-apocalyptic world. Also: why do the vitamins have to be injected? Why not just swallow the vitamins in pill form. The pills would be much more plentiful and easier to find than syringes and vials of liquid vitamins, which would be found only in pharmacies, hospitals, or doctors' offices. Click HERE for more information on Vitamin B-Complex injections, including a list of severe side effects. Improbably, none of the side effects appear to have occurred among the Vanguard citizens. I realize that I'm being picky here, but it seems to me that Zanetti should have been more careful when she came up with her plague cureor at least she should have done more research. 
FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Mercury Striking 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.