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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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

NEW SERIES! Lori Handeland: SISTERS OF THE CRAFT TRILOGY

Author:  Lori Handeland  
Series:  SISTERS OF THE CRAFT TRILOGY
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—2-3   
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's
          In the Air Tonight (6/2/15)
          Heat of the Moment (6/30/15)
          Smoke on the Water (8/4/15) (FINAL)

This series will be published over a two-month period this summer. In this on-going post, I will include an overview of the world-building, the publisher's blurbs for the three novels, and my own review of each novel, beginning on 6/30/15 with the first novel. 

                    WORLD-BUILDING                    
     Four hundred years ago in Scotland, Henry and Prudence Taggart were burned at the stake because they were accused of witchcraft. More specifically, Roland McHugh, King James's chief witch hunter accused Prudence, a midwife, of murdering his wife and child during childbirth in order to gain the power she needed to deliver her own triplet daughters. Back in those days, multiple births were always suspect, and having lost his wife and child, McHugh needs a scapegoat. Here, he questions Pru: "More than one soul in a womb is Satan's work….How many lives did you sacrifice so your devil's spawn might be born." (Click HERE for more information about witchcraft in England during this period.) Prudence and Henry go to their deaths, but when the flames flare up, their dead bodies and their still-alive triplet daughters all disappear.

     Years later as McHugh dies of the plague, he is still cursing the Taggarts and vowing to track down and kill the three girls. What McHugh doesn't know—at least at that point in time—is that Henry and Pru used their witchy powers to send their girls to safety in the far distant future. Unfortunately, the 21st century isn't quite as safe as the Taggarts thought it would be.

     In each book, one sister—now in her twenties—learns the secret of her past, meets her soul mate, and has a run-in with a (fictional) cult of witch hunters called the Venatores Mali, or Hunters of Evil.


                    NOVEL 1:  In the Air Tonight                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
     Four centuries ago, in a small Scottish village, three baby girls escaped the wrath of a witch hunter. Today, one young woman will learn about her secret history, her heart's destiny, and the sisters she never knew she had...


     With her blue-black hair and dark eyes, Raye Larsen has never fit in with the Scandinavian community of New Bergin, Wisconsin. Being adopted is part of the reason she feels like an outsider, but what really sets Raye apart is her ability to see dead people. Everywhere. She's learned to keep her visions to herself...until she stumbles onto the ghost of a murder victim who needs Raye's help. 

     Enter Bobby Doucet, a distractingly handsome homicide detective who has been tracking a killer all the way from New Orleans. Could this be the break in his case he's been looking for all along? Meanwhile, the deeper Raye gets involved with the case—and with Bobby—the closer she comes to unlocking the mystery of her own origins. What she discovers about herself could destroy everything she knows...and everyone she loves. Is finding the truth worth the risk? Click HERE to read an excerpt.

MY REVIEW:
     Raye is a kindergarten teacher who is happy in her job. She has always felt out of place in New Bergin—a dark-haired, dark-eyed only child (adopted) in a town filled with large families headed by blond, blue-eyed parents and lots of blond, blue-eyed children. Raye was found abandoned in a ditch when she was an infant, so she has no idea who her parents are or why they left her. Her adoptive mother has been dead for several years, and her adoptive father has never trusted Raye's strangeness. Ever since she can remember, Raye has been able to see and communicate with ghosts. When she was a child, her parents caught her having conversations with—apparently—no one, and at one point, her father even suggested that perhaps they should return her to the social workers.

     The plot kicks off when a woman's burned and mutilated body is found on a city sidewalk in New Bergin. When Raye walks past the scene on her way to work, the woman's ghost grabs Raye's arm, leaving a bruised hand print, and exclaims, "He will burn us all" before disappearing in a puff of smoke and flame. Adding to the mystery is the fact that Raye has seeing a black wolf and the ghost of a man dressed in Puritan-style clothing in and near her apartment. The pair has been stalking her ever since she can remember, but they have always been silent. Now, the man begins to talk to her, warning of dangerous times ahead and explaining the complicated history of their connected pasts. Then, one dark night, a huge man with a meat cleaver sneaks into her apartment and tries to kill her. When she runs out into the street for help, she stops a car driven by a New Orleans detective who has just arrived in town to investigate the woman's death because he believes that the perpetrator is a serial killer who has been active in New Orleans.

     Bobby Doucet comes from a long line of Creoles—a mixture of French, Spanish, and a little bit of Haitian. He has lived in New Orleans all his life and has never seen any place like New Bergin—which he nicknames Podunk. Everything here is strange to him: the weird Scandinavian food, the provincial townsfolk who view him as an exotic creature, the fact that New Bergin does not have a hotel, and the fact that everyone in town knows everyone else's business. When Bobby meets Raye in the middle of the street in the middle of the night, he wonders just what he is in for.

     Naturally enough, the two are immediately attracted to one another, and their romance blossoms relatively quickly. But both of them have deep, dark secrets, and those secrets complicate their relationship. Raye has to hide her ghost-talking so that Bobby won't think she is crazy, and Bobby, who despises all things paranormal, is riddled with guilt over the death of his daughter, whose ghost is shadowing him and having sad conversations with Raye. She explains to Raye that even though Bobby can't see ghosts, he is able to feel them: "He refuses to acknowledge anything that hints at the mystical, but he has magic in his blood."

     Meanwhile, the murder investigation is also complicated. After Bobby kills a suspect who is attempting to murder Raye, a second murderer takes the life of an eccentric local woman. Things really get complicated when an FBI agent suggests that the murder cases definitely involve witchcraft. It is at this point that Handeland introduces some familiar characters from her NIGHTCREATURE series into the story: FBI agent Nic Franklin from Dark Moon (book 3) and Voodoo Priestess Cassandra from Midnight Moon (book 5). (Click HERE to read my review of the NIGHTCREATURE series.)

     This is a typical paranormal romance with star-crossed lovers who fall in love while solving a supernatural mystery—in this case some supernatural murders. It will be interesting to see how far Handeland will go with her involvement of the NIGHTCREATURE world in this new series. Handeland has always been a good story teller, and in this novel she has created an interesting premise; a likable pair of lovers; a spooky, action-filled plot; and a series story arc that promises a family reunion that will include both dead and living relatives. You'll notice that I gave this series a 2-3 rating for humor. That humor comes mostly in the dialogue, which has many sly and snarky wisecracks from Raye, Bobby, and some of the secondary characters, particular the police chief, the coroner, and Bobby's partner back in New Orleans. 

     Since all three books will be published this summer, this is your chance to read a well-crafted paranormal romance trilogy without having to wait a year or more between books—a rare occurrence indeed.

     One last thing: At one point, Raye treats Bobby's bruises with an ointment made from Arnica. Since I was unfamiliar with Arnica, I googled it, and you can click HERE to read what I found. (Scroll down to the "Homeopathy" section of the article.)

                    NOVEL 2:  Heat of the Moment                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
     A spell that tore three sisters apart is broken four hundred years later, when the magic in their blood reunites them. Now, one of them will discover her gift—and reignite a love long thought lost...


     Flame-haired Becca Carstairs was born to be a veterinarian. Since childhood, her affinity for animals has been special, and her healing touch nothing short of magic. But only Becca knows the truth—that she alone can hear the creatures' voices. She's always trusted her sixth sense...until a string of missing pets, an attempted murder, and a face from her past converge into one explosive mystery, with her at its center. 

     Is haunted Owen McAllister, the boy who broke her heart ten years ago, related to the sinister crimes that have peaceful Three Harbors, Wisconsin, on its guard? Or is his reappearance part of the answer to questions that have troubled her all her life? As Becca delves into her strange heritage, she'll have to fight for her life...and the man she will always love. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

                    NOVEL 3:  Smoke on the Water                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
     Reunited after four hundred years, three sisters join together to vanquish the power that tore them apart...and embrace the sorcery that is their birthright.

     Abandoned as an infant, Willow Black spent her childhood in foster care, the object of whispers and pity...and rumors about being certifiably crazy. Telling your young friends that you can foresee the future—and summon the rain—is a surefire way to end up in the psychiatric ward. But when Dr. Sebastian Frasier arrives at the facility, Willow's whole life takes a turn. 

     Sebastian is the handsomest man she's ever actually laid eyes on—even though he has been in Willow's visions for years. But not even she could have predicted the storm of passion that engulfs them both. With Sebastian by her side, Willow is emboldened to embrace her history, and the sisters she never knew. Soon, the true power in her blood awakes—and the battle she was born to fight begins. While the tempest rages, Willow must depend on the friends and family she's found—and the man she has loved forever. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

UPDATE! Nalini Singh: PSY-CHANGELING SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Nalini Singh's PSY-CHANGELING SERIES with a review of Shards of Hope, the 14th novel in the series.

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








Thursday, June 25, 2015

NEW SERIES! Clay and Susan Griffith: CROWN & KEY TRILOGY

Authors:  Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith  
Series:  CROWN & KEY TRILOGY 
Plot Type:  Steampunk FantasyHistorical Urban Fantasy
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality1; Humor—1   
Publisher and Titles:  Del Rey
          The Shadow Revolution (6/2/2015)
          The Undying Legion (6/30/2015)
          The Conquering Dark (7/28/2015)

                          WORLD-BUILDING                          
     The series is set in an alternate London during the nineteenth century. Although the back-cover blurb sets the time period as Victorian (1837-1901), the authors (in an on-line interview) place it in the late 1820s.

     The cultural and social elements (e.g., clothing, language, class differences) seem to be portrayed realistically, although a fair amount of steampunk gadgetry turns up from time to time. And, that's all, folksno more world-building, none at all!

     I came to this series with great expectations, having enjoyed the Griffith's VAMPIRE EMPIRE TRILOGY immensely. (Click HERE to read my reviews of those books.) That series was set in a complex, fascinating world filled with interesting, multi-dimensional characters and action-packed plots. Here's what I said in my review of the final novel in that series: "All of the leading characters and most of the supporting characters are fully developed, with extensive personal histories and complex personalities. No one is all good or all bad. Even though [some characters] are villains, we understand what made them that way. We also understand why they must be destroyed, but we...don't necessarily feel good about it. In every book, characters must grapple with issues of morality, loyalty, and justice, and they consistently do it in interesting and compelling ways. The Griffiths have created a marvelous world in this trilogy, and I highly recommend it." 

     Unfortunately, based on my reading of the first book in CROWN & KEY, I can't make any of those complimentary comments. In fact, I can't make any complimentary comments at all.

     The publisher prefaces the blurbs for the three CROWN & KEY novels with identical braggadocio: "A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr." Don't believe a word of that boastful statement. If you are a fan of Hearne's IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, let me warn you right now that this series is in no way comparable to that terrific seriesnot in the world-building, plot quality, character development, or complexity of action. There are a few similarities to Penny Dreadful, but the TV show has much better story lines and infinitely better character development. I haven't followed Downey's Sherlock Holmes films, but I can't imagine that this series is in any way comparable.

                          NOVEL 1:  The Shadow Revolution                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
     They are the realm’s last, best defense against supernatural evil. But they’re going to need a lot more silver.

     As fog descends, obscuring the gas lamps of Victorian London, werewolves prowl the shadows of back alleys. But they have infiltrated the inner circles of upper-crust society as well. Only a handful of specially gifted practitioners are equipped to battle the beasts. Among them are the roguish Simon Archer, who conceals his powers as a spell-casting scribe behind the smooth veneer of a dashing playboy; his layabout mentor, Nick Barker, who prefers a good pub to thrilling heroics; and the self-possessed alchemist Kate Anstruther, who is equally at home in a ballroom as she is on a battlefield.

     After a lycanthrope targets Kate’s vulnerable younger sister, the three join forces with fierce Scottish monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane—but quickly discover they’re dealing with a threat far greater than anything they ever imagined.

MY REVIEW:
     The first novel in a new series generally includes enough world-building details to establish a sense of place; set up the "rules," so to speak, for the mythology; and provide at least the beginnings of the back stories for the primary characters. Unfortunately, the Griffiths assume that the reader knows enough about 19th century London society to understand what's going on and enough about steampunk fantasy to appreciate the gadgetry, so they don't provide any background on either. As for the development of the characters, that is sketchy at bestexcept for Simon Archer and Kate Anstruther. Those two characters at least get back stories, even though they are not by any means complete. The other main characters are flatsometimes stereotypical, sometimes ambiguous, and sometimes just plain underdeveloped.

     Simon is a scribea magician who derives his power from written runes and magical words, many of which are tattooed all over his body. He masquerades as a society playboy and solves an occasional supernatural mystery on the side. Simon's mentor is Nick, who has been teaching Simon to use his magical talents, but is prone to going off to drink, thus missing a scene of two here and there. Nick is a magician who can shoot blasts of fire out of his hands. Simon's late father was also a magician, a member of a guild of magicians called the Order of the Oak, of which we learn very little, even though it has a connection with the plot. Oddly, even though Simon and Nick have apparently been traveling together for some years, Nick knows nothing about Simon's father's past until Simon explains it to him towards the beginning of this book. In that scene, several other names are mentioned: Byron Pendragon, Ash, and Gaios, at least one of whom will apparently be turning up in the third book. In this novel, the authors do not provide any details about Nick's back story. 

     Kate is feisty and independent. She is a skilled alchemist who learned her craft from her late father, and she has always worked hard to be as skilled as he was. She and her sister live on a posh estate with a huge staff of servants, including the intrepid Hogarth, who serves a protector for Kate and her sister (and that's all we learn about Hogarth). The final member of the good-guy team is Malcolm, a rough and ready Scotsman who has been hunting down monsters all his life and whose father had an unhappy connection with Simon's father (and that's all we learn about Malcolm).

     The plot is simple: Once Simon and his mentor, Nick, team up with Kate and Malcolm, they go after the werewolves who have targeted Kate's rebellious, TSTL younger sister, Imogene. There is an unvarying pattern to the plot structure: The good guys plan and strategize; then, they are attacked by monsters (sometimes werewolves, sometimes homunculi, sometimes both) and have a pages-long battle filled with spell casting, explosive weapons, slashing swords, spine-tingling howls, gnashing teeth, and bloody claws. Repeat, repeat, repeat. At times, I began to wonder if the Griffiths really meant to parody the worst of the werewolf/steampunk fiction on the market, but a good parody is entertaining in its own right, and this novel is definitely not entertaining. By the time I was halfway through, I was just paging past the repetitive battle scenes trying to find some originality in the plot line (but was unsuccessful).

     And let's not forget the evildoers, all of whom are rotten through and through, with absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. When asked why he does the grisly things he does, one of the villains actually responds: "Because I can." The one-dimensional, all-bad-all-the-time villains are so mindless and sociopathic that they are completely predictable, and, therefore, exceedingly uninteresting. 

     A major misstep in the world-building (or lack thereof), is the absence of details about the mythology surrounding the werewolves. The werewolves just come howling into the story line with no introduction, no origin story, and no "life rules." For example, none of the following issues are clarifiedmost aren't even addressed: Do these werewolves have a moon connection? Are they always bornor are they former humans who were bitten? At one point, Simon claims that all werewolves are born that way, but later, when Malcolm comes across a den of them, he says, "I could tell many of them were fresh to their condition. Wulvers, they're called." So…which is it? Born or turned or both? Why can one werewolf control the bestial urges when in beast form, while the others cannotor will not? If they live in packs under the control of prime, why do they kowtow to Gretta (other than the fact that she is a scary, bloodthirsty, power-mad beast)? In what part(s) of the world do these werewolves usually live? What, exactly, is the purpose of the wulfsyl, which plays a major part of the plot, but is not fully explained.

     It is hard for me to believe that the same authors who wrote the terrific VAMPIRE EMPIRE TRILOGY have written CROWN & KEY. I am so very, very disappointed.

     To read or listen to an excerpt from The Shadow Revolution, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com page and click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                          NOVEL 2:  The Undying Legion                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB:

     With a flood of dark magic about to engulf Victorian London, can a handful of heroes vanquish a legion of the undead?

     When monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane comes across the gruesome aftermath of a ritual murder in a London church, he enlists the help of magician-scribe Simon Archer and alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther. Studying the macabre scene, they struggle to understand obscure clues in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into the victim’s heart—as well as bizarre mystical allusions to the romantic poetry of William Blake. One thing is clear: Some very potent black magic is at work.

     But this human sacrifice is only the first in a series of ritualized slayings. Desperate to save lives while there is still time, Simon, Kate, and Malcolm—along with gadget geek Penny Carter and Charlotte, an adolescent werewolf—track down a necromancer who is reanimating the deceased. As the team battles an unrelenting army of undead, a powerful Egyptian mummy, and serpentine demons, the necromancer proves an elusive quarry. And when the true purpose of the ritual is revealed, the gifted allies must confront a destructive force that is positively apocalyptic.

     To read an excerpt from The Undying Legion, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com page and click on the cover art. 

                          NOVEL 3:  The Conquering Dark                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB:

     The Crown and Key Society face their most terrifying villain yet: Gaios, a deranged demigod with the power to destroy Britain.

     To avenge a centuries-old betrayal, Gaios is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart.

     But Simon Archer, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther, gadget geek Penny Carter, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins. 

     To read an excerpt from The Conquering Dark, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com page and click on the cover art. (NOTE: excerpts not available until closer to the date of publication: 7/28/2015)

Monday, June 22, 2015

NEW SERIES! Kate Baxter: TRUE VAMPIRE SERIES

Author:  Kate Baxter  
Series:  TRUE VAMPIRE 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—1   
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's
          The Last True Vampire (6/2015)
          The Warrior Vampire (12/2015)

                    WORLD-BUILDING                    
     This series is set in a typical old-school paranormal romance world with vampires beset by an ancient cult of vampire-hating zealots who hide their fanaticism behind organized religion. The series heroes live lonely lives until they meet their soul mates (aka rodstvennaya dusha). 

     The author uses the standard vampire mythology (night-walking, sun sensitive, super-strong and fast, unbelievably handsome) with just a few innovations (e.g., a secondary set of fangs on the upper jaw). "When a dhampir is made into a vampire…our hearts cease beating; the breath stalls in our chests. Blood no longer flows through our veins and we no longer need food to sustain us. But there is a hunger. A thirst for blood that must be sated. And when a vampire drinks from a living vein, our bodies awaken, resume their normal functions until the lifeblood cycles through our system...After the blood works through our systems, the vampire's body returns to dormancy until the thirst returns and the cycle starts anew." (from The Last True Vampire)


     As the series begins, only one true vampire (aka Ancient One) is left in the world: Mikhail (aka Michael) Aristov, who lives in Los Angeles. Here, Baxter introduces him to the reader: "Michael Aristov was the last of the Ancient Ones, untethered and soulless, the lone remaining carrier of the collective memory, and the sole guardian of an orphaned race. And if he didn't feed soon he would be the death of them all." (from The Last True Vampire) After this somewhat ambiguous introduction, Baxter explains, and re-explains, Michael's problematic situation. In this mythology, people with vampire blood in their veins—no matter how little—are dhampirs who form a parasitic collective that draws power from and shares their memories with Michael (and any other true vampire that may be created). Because the members of the collective continually try to draw power and strength from him and constantly send him their memories, Michael spends a lot of time physically exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed.


     Unfortunately, Baxter's explanations of the workings of the collective are murky at best, even though she tries to explain it over and over and over again throughout the first novel. Here is her first metaphorical attempt: "Every vampire had been descended from a single creature. Like a grove of aspen trees were interconnected, the blood that created them tied them to one another. And there was just enough of that ancient blood flowing through every dhampir's veins to connect them all to Michael." (from The Last True Vampire) The aspen tree metaphor is not accurate, and I discuss that problem below as part of my review of the first book.


     In this world, dhampirs need to drink blood only four times a year. Between blood meals, they eat and metabolize regular food. Although vampires cannot walk in the sun, dhampirs can. Dhampir males are sterile, but male vampires can reproduce. (No reproductive info is given about the female dhampirs.) According to Baxter's mythology, dhampirs are born from either a vampire mating or a vampire/human coupling. This explanation is problematic because there has been only a single vampire on Earth for many centuries, and he hasn't mated with anyone, so where did all of these dhampirs come from? Once again, this part of the mythology is clunky and poorly conceived, so it is unfortunate that it plays such a major role in the stories.

     A dhampir can become a true vampire only after being drained of blood and then drinking the blood of a true vampire. At that point, the person goes through a brief but painful transition and emerges with true vampiric powers. During the transition, the "soul [becomes untethered and] is sent into oblivion. It's the price that's paid for coming stronger and developing keener senses." When a vampire connects with his true mate, she returns his soul to him and he is tethered once again. The mates have close mental and emotional connections after they exchange blood. Note: All of the explanations regarding the mythology portray the dhampir and vampire as male and the mate as female. What happens when the dhampir is female? Do the same rules apply? Those questions are not addressed in the first novel.


     The Los Angeles dhampirs live in thirteen covens that are divided by social class and belief systems. Most dhampirs want to become true vampires, but until Michael finds his mate and becomes tethered, he doesn't have the strength to transform them. One coven leader named Siobhan hates Michael and preaches against becoming a soulless vampire. She accuses Michael of forcibly attempting to turn dhampirs into vampires. Although Michael has tried to transform a few dhampirs over the past centuries, he has done so only when he had sufficient strength at the time the dhampir requested the change. Unfortunately, all of those dhampirs died during the transformation process, and Michael hasn't had enough strength to do a transformation for many, many decades.


     The major villains of the series are the Sortiari, who appear to have escaped from a Dan Brown novel. They are a cult that hides behind the skirts of the Catholic Church. To track down and kill vampires and dhampirs, they hire gangs of Scottish berserkers. The Sortiari claim to be influencers of fate. "For millennia the Sortiari have taken it upon themselves to fulfill what they believe is a divine purpose: changing the course of Fate. The supernatural community isn't their only target. Politicians, religious figures, humanitarians, criminals…Anyone or anything that goes against their agenda is a potential target." Several centuries ago, the Sortiari's berserkers killed every single true vampire in the world—at least that's what they believed. But after one of them (Gregor) stabbed Michael through the heart with a silver-tipped wooden stake, he didn't make sure that Michael was truly dead. Michael lay for a century in an underground dungeon subsisting on the blood of rats until he gained enough strength to make his escape.


                    NOVEL 1:  The Last True Vampire                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
As Michael's eyes lit on a female not twenty feet away, he knew that it was her blood that called to him and her scent that had awakened him. This female had tethered his soul and returned it to him. 

SOUL SURVIVOR: He is the last of his race. The one true king of the vampires. Michael Aristov roams the nightclubs of L.A. after dark, haunted by his past and driven by his hunger. The last of the Ancient Ones, he alone has survived the destruction of his race at the hands of the slayers. Now he is forced to hunt and feed like a common vampire, a creature of lust. Nothing in this world can fulfill his needs...until he meets a woman who's everything he's ever wanted and more.

SWEET SALVATION: Her name is Claire Thompson. Her blood is so sweet, so intoxicating—the smell alone draws Michael to her like a moth to the flame. Sly, sexy, and seductive, Claire seems to be the only mortal who can satisfy his craving and seal his fate...forever. Can she be trusted? From their very first kiss, the last true vampire sweeps Claire into a world in which darkness rules desire—and where falling in love is the greatest danger of all...

MY REVIEW: 
     The author has set her melodrama meter at the highest level from the beginning to the end of this stereotypical paranormal romance featuring a melancholy ancient vampire and his feisty modern-day heroine. Michael's interior monologues gush with so many overblown, angst-filled, histrionic expressions that they are frequently laughable rather than poignant.

     Basically, the plot revolves around Michael's discovery of Claire, his true mate, and her refusal to participate in his vampire soul-mate scenario. Both Siobhan and the Sortiari add to the conflict. 

     Even though Claire does run away from Michael at one point, she sticks with him long enough for a handful of graphically portrayed sex scenes, all of which play out in typical, old-school paranormal romance style. In fact, Baxter manages to include just about every clich├ęd paranormal romance trope that you have ever read, including the inevitable shower scene and the sex-by-the-pool scene and the inevitable "Mine!" exclamations at climactic moments. Here are some more tired tropes included in this novel:

    >>  the aloof, ancient, very wealthy vampire hero with a tragic past, a joyless present, and a grim future

    >>  the spunky, sassy human heroine with a tragic childhood, a heart of gold, and a few semi-magical talents that develop further as the story progresses (astonishly, she doesn't have red hair)

    >>  the obligatory TSTL actions of the heroine, which put herself and the hero in terrible danger

    >>  the cutesy activities they engage in, like playing cards (Go Fish) and cooking meals for one another—each morsel described in torturous detail

    >>  the relationship-destroying "second thought" scenes that immediately follow their erotic love scenes

    >>  the hero's snarky but loyal best friend and right-hand man who saved the hero's life in the past and who sacrifices his freedom for his bro

    >>  the fanatical, sociopathic, blood-thirsty human villains

    >>  the power-mad supernatural villain who hates the hero and tries to use his friend against him

     As the book opens, Michael's life is not a happy one. When he goes out to the local vampire clubs, the parasitic dhampirs follow him around, hoping that he will share his strength with them. "They saw a savior, while Michael saw himself as nothing more than a soulless creature destined to fall through time in a state of perpetual emptiness." 

     Baxter keeps trying to explain the strength-sharing and the memory-sharing parts of the mythology, but she never really nails it. Her aspen tree analogy does not represent a true comparison to the vampire collective as she portrays it. Aspen trees grow in clonal colonies, which means that each tree in a particular colony descends from a single seedling and that all of those trees are genetically identical to one another. They do not draw power or strength from the original tree; they stand on their own, generating growth from sun and rain and soil nutrients. The aspens are not parasites, but that is how Baxter's dhampirs are portrayed. Also, the dhampirs are not genetically identical to Michael. 

     Here is another problem: How can Michael even exist if all of those dhampirs have been leeching away his strength for centuries. Wouldn't they have drained and killed him by now? A related problem: Because of the weird parasitic connection between the dhampirs and Michael, they can draw strength from Michael when he has it, but they also suffer when Michael is weak and hungry, which—up until now—has been true most of the time. 

     And what about that collective memory? Why doesn't Michael use the dhampirs' memories to shore up his defenses against his enemies. If they share their minds with him, he should have access to everything they know, but the only memories Michael gets (at least the ones mentioned in the narrative) are the really bad ones from the long-ago past, never any current knowledge that would help him fight off his enemies. Baxter needs to work on the "collective" part of her mythology because huge parts of it make no sense.

     As you can tell from my review, I'm not crazy about this series, primarily because of its reliance on tired tropes, its lack of freshness and inventiveness, and its poorly constructed world-building. I will read the second novel just to see if Baxter makes any improvements, but I don't have much hope.

     To read an excerpt from The Last True Vampire, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com page and click on the cover art. The second novel—The Warrior Vampire—will tell the soul-mate story of Ronan and Naya.