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Friday, September 4, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for Elliott James' terrific PAX ARCANA SERIES with a review of Fearless, the third novel in the series.

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

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

NEW NOVEL: Helen Phillips: "The Beautiful Bureaucrat"

Author:  Helen Phillips  
Title:  The Beautiful Bureaucrat 
Plot Type:  Surreal Mystery/Thriller
Publisher and Titles:  Henry Holt and Company (8/2015)

                        PUBLISHER'S BLURB                        

     In a windowless office in a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine types an endless string of numbers into something known only as The Database. Although she's happy to have found a job after a long period of searching, Josephine has the sense, even from the very first moment, that something strange is afoot in her new place of employment. Perhaps she's letting her imagination run wild, but it appears that her boss has no face, her only colleague has an uncanny memory, and the data she's processing has a logic just beyond her grasp.

     As the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings—the office's scarred pinkish walls take on a living quality, the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls. When one evening her devoted husband Joseph periodically disappears without explanation, offering no explanation, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.

     As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine's work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes that in order to save those she holds most dear, she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond. 

     Both chilling and poignant, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a novel of rare restraint and imagination…Phillips…twists the world we know and shows it back to us full of meaning and wonder—luminous and raw. Click HERE to view this book's video trailer.

                        MY REVIEW                       

     In an on-line interview with Karen Russell (Swamplandia, Vampires in the Lemon Grove), Phillips explains how she answers when someone asks her what this book is about: "I took to telling people I was writing a 'poetic thriller' about a woman who gets a data entry job in a big, windowless building and then her husband begins to disappear. That served to both answer and evade the question." Phillips goes on to explain that, "I was trying to make the story spiral outward and inward at the same time, toward the most cosmic as well as the most intimate interactions." She explains that, "I imagined Josephine and Joseph as an 'everycouple' of sorts, struggling with those basic, even primal, questions that we all have to answer—Where am I going to take shelter? Who will care for me, and for whom will I care? And what are we going to do about the cockroaches? On the other hand, it is specificity and idiosyncrasy that make us love a character, and so we must know that Joseph hates movies with happy endings, or that Josephine just wants 'to feel immaculate for a few minutes a day.'

     Phillips takes the narrative structure of Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener and turns it on its head in this existential tale in which a curious worker-drone becomes increasingly alarmed over the activities of her faceless, passive-aggressive boss (always referred to as The Person with Bad Breath) and the huge, impersonal company that employs them both. Many authors would cast big business as the bad guy: intimidating the hapless workers, suppressing free will, and hiding an evil purpose behind every swipe of the computer key. But Phillips takes a different approach. Here, the bureaucracy is portrayed as neither moral nor immoral, neither good nor evil. At one point, in response to a "thank you," the bad-breathed boss chuckles, "Oh, don't thank me. There's nothing benevolent here…I'm not doing favors, I'm doing paperwork. Getting all the ducks in a row." But…what ducks? What row?

     In the early years of their marriage, Josephine Anne Newbury, who has kept her maiden name, and her husband, Joseph David Jones, have moved to the big city from "the hinterlands." After a long period of job searching, Joseph has found an administrative job, and now Josephine has an interview for a data-entry job. With her perfect vision, good skin, ordinary clothes, and politely passive personality, Josephine has the makings of a beautiful bureaucrat. Foreshadowing a soon-to-be-revealed edgy mystery, the building has only two entrances (labeled "A" and "Z."), and the interviewer asks strange questions: Did Josephine "see anything unusual en route to the interview?" "Does it bother you that your husband has such a common-place name? Do you "wish to procreate?" Even though Josephine wonders about the legality of these questions, she really needs this job, so she cooperates with the interviewer and is soon conducted to the closet-sized, pinkish-walled, windowless room that will be her workplace: "Five steps and Josephine could touch the opposite side. A metal desk and an outdated computer buzzed in the ill light of an overhead fluorescent. Beside the computer, stacks of gray files."

Josephine's first file
     When Josephine asks questions about the files and "The Database" into which she is to input dates and corrections, her bad-breathed boss replies politely, "We appreciate your curiosity." And then adds, "But no need to be curious." At first, Josephine tries to ignore her concerns: "She didn't need to understand her job; she just needed to keep it." But as time passes and strange incidents occur in Josephine's life, she, like Wonderland's Alice, gets curiouser and curiouser: What is the meaning of all of the seemingly random numbers and symbols in the files? How is the information in The Database being used? How and why do her bad-breathed boss and Trishiffany, her colorfully clothed, friendly-but-menacing immediate supervisor, manage to pop up out of nowhere in her office? Why won't the elevator doors open on the sixth floor? Why is there no cell phone reception? Why are there no windows in the entire building? Why do all of the employees eat lunch at their desks and never, ever socialize? And why do they all remind her of herself"same sagging cardigan and sensible shoes...unremarkable face…exhausted expression" and bloodshot eyes? Soon, Josephine becomes an addled Nancy Drew, searching out clues and trying to keep from jumping to some very scary conclusions.

     As Josephine and Joseph move from grim one sublet to another, Josephine goes to work every day, and then returns home to enjoy an offbeat, but pleasant, dinner with Josephher saving grace in this strange new big-city life. One night, Joseph doesn't come home and doesn't call. And then he does it again. When Josephine arrives home to find attempted-delivery postal notices taped to the doors of each sublet, she feels a cold shiver because they haven't given out their ever-changing addresses to anyone. At this point, the story has the feel of a horror movie just before the hockey-masked killer shows up. But Phillips has a much more subtle horror in mind. Troublesome details multiply: Josephine's recurring sighting of a man in a gray sweatshirt; a vicious, barking dog that might have three heads; a cartoonish waitress who tells fortunes; and Joseph's strange behavior. By now, Josephine's mind is wild with speculation as she tries to figure out what's going at work and what's going on with Joseph.

     Josephine and Joseph constantly engage in games of wordplay that are not exactly puns, but more of an "irrepressible voice, always twisting language from withinhis wordplay met her unrest." One strange night after he disappears and reappears without explanation the second time, they have this exchange:

     "Are you a demon?" 
     "Demon demeanor," he said. "Demoner." 
     He dropped her wrist and went for the buttons on her blouse. 
     She slapped his hands hard, as hard as she could; it felt good.
     "Demean or?" she spat.

     Sometimes Phillips lets herself go too far with this device, but frequently the results are quite humorous, as when Josephine sees a poster at a doctor's office that says "BE SURE TO EAT THREE HOURS BEFORE DONATING BLOOD." She wonders, "What's it like to eat three hours? She was feeling impish. How do they taste? Like cotton candy or grass or concrete?"

     Symbolically and metaphorically, Phillips pulls from Greek mythology, Christian theology, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Dante's Inferno, and Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, among others. At one point, Josephine even compares herself to the heroine of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, but with a computer and files rather than a spindle and straw. Among the elements supporting the metaphors are these details: the waitress's green-snake tattoo (the Garden of Eden story); Joseph's presenting Josephine a pomegranate (the Persephone myth); the move from sublet to sublet as a simulation of a descent into Hell (Dante); and the deterioration of Josephine's emotional stability and physical changes—just like Alice after she falls down the rabbit hole.

     Phillips paces the story perfectly, letting clues slip gradually into the narrative. We learn why Josephine has been feeling so strange, why her husband has been disappearing and reappearing, what The Database really is, and how it affects Josephine and Joseph's future. Eventually, we learn exactly what The Person with Bad Breath meant when she told Josephine, "Remember, you need the Database as much as the Database needs you!" The focus of the story moves slowly from the drone vs. company emphasis of the early chapters to the specific details of Josephine and Joseph's lives and the love between them that safeguards them from the surreal strangeness that threatens to engulf them.

     In the final pages, Josephine learns that some seemingly small, but ultimately life-changing, errors have put her and Joseph at the intersection of two horrific versions of their own futures. As I turned that last page, I felt as if I had awakened, fuzzy-minded, from a fever dream that wouldn't let me go. To paraphrase Melville, "Ah, Josephine! Ah, humanity!"

     This is an enthralling, quick read featuring a sympathetic heroine and an eerie workplace that will send chills down your spine. If you are looking for a surreal take on modern life in the city, give this one a try. Click HERE to go to this book's page, where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Take a look at USA Today's HAPPY EVER AFTER web site.

If you are not familiar with USA Today's Happy Ever After web site, you might want to take a look. The site focuses on all types of romance fiction and includes book trailers, excerpts, cover reveals, author interviews, and more.

Here are links to just a few of the recent paranormal-related posts you might want to read. Click on any pink-link to go directly to that post.

   > A dialogue between Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison in which the two authors compare notes on taking new fictional directions. The post includes an audio excerpt from Harrison's new novel, The Drafter.

   > A post entitled "Why Do We Love Paranormal Heroes?" in which Amanda Ashley, Alexandra Ivy, Rebecca Zanetti, Dianne Duvall, and Hannah Jayne try to answer that question.

   > An interview with Nalini Singh on Shards of Hope, the latest addition to her PSY-CHANGELINGS SERIES. Click HERE to read my reviews of that series. (Note: I posted a review of Shards of Hope on 6/28/15 but forgot to post an "up-date" notice.)

   > An excerpt from "Immortal Matchmakers, Inc.," the first book in Mimi Jean Pamfiloff's new series of the same name. This novella (available in e-book and paperback formats) is a spin-off of her ACCIDENTALLY YOURS SERIES. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in the ACCIDENTALLY series.

   > Excerpts from Alexandra Ivy & Laura Wright and from Donna Grant from their novellas in the 1001 Dark Nights collection.

   > An excerpt from Cat Winters' The Uninvited. Click HERE to read my review of that novel (which I posted just last Saturday).

   > An excerpt from Anne Bishop's Marked in Flesh, the latest addition to her OTHERS SERIES. Click HERE to read my reviews of that series. (As of this date, I have not yet reviewed Marked in Flesh.)

   > An excerpt from Magic Shifts, the latest addition to the KATE DANIELS SERIES. Click HERE to read my reviews of that series.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

TERRIFIC NEW NOVEL: Cat Winters: "The Uninvited"

Author:  Cat Winters  
Title:  The Uninvited 
Plot Type:  Gothic Romance (with ghosts)
Ratings:  Violence—2-3; Sensuality3; Humor—3 
Publisher:  HarperCollins (8/2015)

This review begins with an overview of the historical setting, followed by the publisher's blurb and my review of the novel. I highly recommend this book for its imaginatively layered plot, well-developed characters, and engrossing story-telling technique.

     The story, which is based on real-life events, is set in small-town Buchanan, Illinois, in early October 1918. The world is in the final weeks of World War I (aka the Great War), and as thousands of soldiers are dying in European combat, their wives and children back home are also dying, victims of the terrible Spanish Flu pandemic that is sweeping the globe. 

WWI Propaganda Poster
     Anti-German sentiment (Germanophobia) is rampant, and all of the citizens of Buchanan are under constant scrutiny by members of the local branch of the American Protective League (APL), a (real-life) hyper-patriotic group that patrols the town in search of people who show any signs of German sympathy. Families of German ethnicity have changed their names to sound more American. German-named streets and towns have also been renamed. For example, Buchanan's Werner Street becomes Willow Street. All German music is forbidden. (Good-bye Beethoven and Bach.) All European immigrants are viewed with suspicion and are usually forced to live in the shabbiest part of town, far away from "real" Americans. 

WWI Propaganda
Here is a list of "typical enemy behavior" as listed in the fictional Buchanan Sentinel: "food hoarding; interference with the draft; slackers who refuse to enlist for military duty; refusal to purchase Liberty Bonds; possession of books, sheet music, and phonograph albums celebrating German culture; speaking a language other than English; the use of hyphenated nationalities when describing one's self (e.g., 'German-American,' 'Polish-American'); anti-war sentiments; the production of Socialist pamphlets and newspapers; and the discussion of unionization among factory workers." People are encouraged to spy on their neighbors and turn suspicious people over the APL in order "to cleanse the country of the enemy." At one point in the book, the heroine is forced by an APL agent to kiss the American flag to prove her loyalty. As one character in the book declares, "This is not the fantastical land of liberty that people portray in stories. The melting pot does nothing but scald and blister right now." Winters' descriptions of anti-immigrant fervor come uncomfortably close to the xenophobic rants of some politicians and their supporters in our country today. 

Flu Prevention Ad
     When the virulent Spanish flu arrives, people begin to die horrible deaths, and towns and cities cannot keep up with medical treatment or burial. One after another, people are dying from the horrific effects of massive hemorrhages; uncontrollable, forceful coughing; and severe stomach and intestinal distress within days of showing their first symptoms. Many turn blue as they suffocate from a lack of oxygen as their lungs fill with fluid. These are horrific, rapid deaths that, for the most part, take place at home before the eyes of family members who will probably become the next victims because hospitals are filled to overflowing. (NOTE: By the time the lethal waves of disease receded in late 1919, between 50 and 100 million people had lost their lives worldwide.) 

Flu Prevention Ad
     In this early twentieth-century world, there are no anti-viral medications, so doctors treat their patients by having family members wear protective gauze masks, banning coughing and spitting in public, and telling flu victims to go to bed.  Many people, particularly immigrants and African Americans, receive little or no medical care and must rely on home remedies like eating raw onions, hanging bags of camphor around their necks, or swallowing spoonfuls of whiskey. (Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read a newspaper article about a San Francisco public health officer shooting a man who refused to wear an influenza mask.)

                         PUBLISHER'S BLURB                          
     Jazz. Gin. Ghosts. Twenty-five-year-old Ivy Rowan rises from her sickbed after being struck by the great influenza epidemic of 1918, only to discover that the world has been torn apart in just a few short days.

     But Ivy's lifelong gift—or curse—remains. She sees the uninvited ones—ghosts of loved ones who appear to her, unasked for and unwelcome, for they always herald impending death. On that October evening in 1918, Ivy sees the spirit of her grandmother, rocking in her mother's chair. An hour later, she learns her younger brother and father have killed a young German out of retaliation for the death in the Great War of Ivy's other brother, Billy. 

     Horrified, she leaves home and soon realizes that the flu has caused utter panic and the rules governing society have broken down. Ivy is drawn into this new world of jazz, passion, and freedom, where people live for today, because they could be stricken by nightfall. She even enters into a relationship with the murdered German man's brother, Daniel Schendel. But as her "uninvited guests" begin to appear to her more often, she knows her life will be torn apart once again, and terrifying secrets will unfold. 

                       MY REVIEW                          
   As the story opens, Ivy Anne Rowan, a reclusive piano teacher, is awakened by the presence of the ghost of her grandmother, a harbinger of death. These "Uninvited Guests" visit the Rowan women just as a death occurs. "Their presence suggested that the wall dividing the living and the dead had opened a crack, and one day that crack might teal us away to the other side." Then Ivy hears the shouts and curses of her drunken father and brother as they stagger home from town after beating a young German immigrant to death. Although weak from her recent bout with the flu and still grieving over the war death of her beloved brother, Billy, Ivy packs up and leaves her family home, vowing never again to interact with her violent, alcoholic father. She rents a room in town from a young war widow and seeks to make amends to Daniel, the dead man's brother. At every step, she is shadowed by a sinister young APL officer who had been one of Billy's childhood friends. And that, my friends, is the extent of the plot that I am willing to reveal. Trust me, and trust the authorand PLEASE be careful not to read reviews that contain spoilers.

     I read only one review before I started my own reading of this bookthat of USA Today reviewer Michelle Monkou, who begins her analysis with these words: "Read this book. I refuse to give any spoilers or hints to spoilers. Trust me, you won't be disappointed…" I admit that the first quarter of the book develops slowly, and that I did think (briefly) that I wouldn't finish the book, but Cat Winters is a masterful writer, and shethrough Ivy's eloquent first-person voicesoon drew me into a story that kept me reading it straight through in one sitting (which ended at 3:00 a.m.!).

     Winters mixes together Emily Dickinson's and Robert Herrick's poetry, Jazz-Age music, war-time grief and hysteria, the terrible flu epidemic, and an ethereal Gothic romance and comes up with an enthralling, mysterious, genre-bending tale. We see just how far humans will go when, in the face of fear, they develop a "patriotic" duty that involves the punishment of easy scapegoats.  But we also see that some refuse to succumb to their basest natures. As naive, guilt-driven Ivy moves from one all-new experience to another, she plays a pivotal role in an intricately woven, extraordinary tale that ends with a twist that you won't see coming. 

     Winters builds the story in layers, with subtle use of foreshadowing and discreet hints. Although the pace is slow in the first few chapters, Ivy's life in town soon develops into a whirlwind of diverse activities. As ghosts begin to appear and events get out of hand, she recalls favorite poems that reflect what is happening to her and listens to the wildly alluring jazz music being played nightly in the Masonic Lodgemusic that lifts up her soul and allows her brief escapes from dark reality. At one point, Ivy stands "motionless, mute, absorbing the if receiving anesthetizing doses of laudanum to kill off the pain…I closed my eyes…and let the melody slide through my blood until my heart thump-thump-thumped with jazz and strength and an unexpected surge of hope."

     If you stumble over oddly placed details, or seem to see plot holes, or wonder why the paranormal aspect is so light, do not despair. Winters has a reason for each and every word in this book, and as her inventive and perfectly constructed plot reaches its final haunting chapter (Don't peek!), everything will fall into placeI promise. By the time I got to the end, I wanted to read the book again to look for the clues I had missed.  

     As the plot plays out, Winters creates an otherworldly, achingly romantic atmosphere in which Ivy searches for peace and freedom in a war-torn, disease-ravaged world. The jazz scenes are truly magical. I highly recommend this book for any reader who loves well-written Gothic romances with a touch of the paranormal. You won't be disappointed.

     If you are looking for a book club read, Winter includes a set of 15 discussion questions along with a brief historical overview of the period, including the sources she used to create several characters and events. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Uninvited on its page. Just click on the cover art for a print version or the "Listen" icon for audio. 

Friday, August 28, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for Paige Tyler's SWAT: SPECIAL WOLF ALPHA TEAM SERIES with a review of Wolf Trouble, the second novel in the series.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Author:  Chloe Neill 
Series:  DEVIL'S ISLE 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality2; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  New American Library (Penguin Random House)
          The Veil (8/2015)

This post includes an overview of the world-building and a review of the the first novel in the series.

     The series is set in a post-apocalyptic New Orleans seven years after a war between Paranormals (aka Paras) and humans. "Seven years ago, the Veilthe barrier that separated humans from a world of magic we hadn't even known existedwas shattered by the Paranormals who'd lived in what we now called the Beyond. They wanted our world, and they didn't have a problem eradicating us in the process. They spilled through the fracture, bringing death and destructionand changing everything: Magic was now real and measurable and a scientific fact." 

     Eventually, the human world was able to defeat the Paras and repair the rip in the Veila rip that was located directly over New Orleans, making the city ground zero during and after the war. Unfortunately, the heavy use of magic during the fighting devastated much of the South, destroying many buildings and homes and poisoning much of the soil and water. Electrical power is now erratic, and there is no communications systemno cell phones or land phones. When the Veil fluctuates, the level of magic rises, knocking out whatever electrical power there is, including the lights and engines of cars and trucks. (This aspect of the mythology reminds me of Ilona Andrews' KATE DANIELS series.) 

     After the war, Congress passed the so-called Magic Act that banned all magic inside and outside the Zone, or "conflict community." The entire state of Louisiana is within the Zone and is completely under government control. The agency that enforces the Magic Act in the Zone is Containment, one of the units of the Paranormal Combatant Command (PCC), the Defense agency that managed the entire war effort. Containment agents closely monitor the Zone and take into custody anyone they suspect of using magic. Magic users and rogue Paras are imprisoned within the District (aka Devil's Isle), an area in the Fabourg Marigny, an historic New Orleans neighborhood. Containment has surrounded Devil's Isle with thick concrete walls and covered it with an electrified metal web topped by a steel dome. 

     Magic has no effect on most humans, but a small percentage of the populationcalled Sensitiveshave a genetic attraction to magic, and if they absorb too much of it they become mindless, violent, magic-addicted wraiths. Containment is always on the alert for Sensitives, who are also banished to the District, even if they have done nothing wrong. The powers that be believe that all Sensitives will eventually become wraiths, so they see imprisoning the Sensitives as a sensible precaution. The innocent Sensitives, however, don't see it that way, so they hide their condition and keep their heads down.

     In both the Beyond and the human world of New Orleans, there are factions with conflicting beliefs. In the mortal world, Containment leaders believe that all Paras are dangerous enemies who must be imprisoned because they cannot be trusted, even though many Paras served as allies to the human army during the war. Containment hires private contractors to assist in patrolling borders and hunting down Paras and Sensitives, and some of these contractors believe that the government should re-open the Veil and destroy the Beyond once and for all. In addition to these two groups, there are religious cultists who believe that opening the Veil will prompt the Second Coming. 

     In the Beyond, there are two general factions: The Consularis, an assembly of Paranormals, ruled the Beyond peacefully for many millennia. Then, a group calling themselves the Court of Dawn rebelled against the Consularis. When the Court realized that they didn't have enough power to defeat the Consularis, they decided to take over the human world instead and ripped open the Veil. Warriors from the Consularis assisted the human army during the war. In order to amp up their numbers, the Court used magical compulsion to compel thousands of Paras loyal to the Consularis into their service. Now that the Veil has been closed, no one really knows who is in currently in power in the Beyond.

     There is one more groupan extremely diverse onethat is introduced towards the end of book one. I won't describe that one because I don't want to give out any spoilers. 

The primary characters are as follows:

Claire Bridget Connelly is a 24-year-old redheaded Sensitive who has operated her family's storeRoyal Mercantileall by herself since her father died in the war. Claire is a Sensitive.

Gunnar Landreau is one of Claire's best friends. As the series opens, he is the advisor to the Commandant of Containment. Gunnar comes from a prominent New Orleans family.

Tadji Dupre is Claire's other BFF. She comes from a family who practiced voodoo before the war, and her mother and aunt are now in hiding. Tadji hates everything about magic. She is currently a graduate student at Tulane University specializing in linguistics. 

Liam Quinn is a 27-year-old bounty hunter (formerly a Containment contractor) from a prominent New Orleans family. His family estate was destroyed during the war, and his sister died at the hands of a wraith. He lived in Marigny before the war and continues to live there nowwithin the District.

Gavin Quinn is Liam's younger brother, a mercenary who hires out his skills as a tracker to various private organizations and government agencies. Gavin has commitment problems and refuses to stay in New Orleans. He comes and goes as he likes, which causes constant friction between the brothers.

Moses (Mo) is a computer-savy Para who lives in the District. He is a good friend of Liam's. Mo is the first Para Claire has ever met under friendly circumstances.

Will Burke works for the Materiel unit of PCC, which means that he has access to rare consumer goods like good food, furniture, and clothing. As the series opens, he meets, and is attracted to, Tadji.

Jack Broussard is a Containment agent and a narrow-minded bully. He despises Liam because he suspects that Liam sometimes allows Sensitives and Paras to avoid imprisonment. When Broussard sees Claire with Liam, he suspects that she is colluding with him in treasonous activities and reacts accordingly.

     Based on the first novel, my feelings about this series are very positive. The characters are engaging; the overarching story line is engrossing; and the story-telling is top-notch. I believe that this series can grow to be just as successful as Neill's CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES. (Click HERE to read my reviews of that series.)

     Click HERE to watch The Veil book trailer. Click HERE to go to "The Veil Atmospherics" on Pinterest. Click HERE to go to a page on Neill's web site entitled "Louisiana Reads," which provides links to other romance and urban fantasy books and series set in Louisiana. 

     The urban fantasy series that has the most similarities to DEVIL'S ISLE is Suzanne Johnson's terrific SENTINELS OF NEW ORLEANS series, which also features a feisty heroine, a complicated romance, a post-Katrina-esque setting, and a preternatural realm called the Beyond. Click HERE to read my reviews of Johnson's SENTINELS series. 

                        NOVEL 1:  The Veil                         
     Seven years ago, the Veil that separates us from what lies beyond was torn apart, and New Orleans was engulfed in a supernatural war. Now, those with paranormal powers have been confined in a walled community that humans call the District. Those who live there call it Devil's Isle.

     Claire Connolly is a good girl with a dangerous secret: she’s a Sensitive, a human endowed with magic that seeped through the Veil. Claire knows that revealing her skills would mean being confined to Devil’s Isle. Unfortunately, hiding her power has left her untrained and unfocused. 

     Liam Quinn knows from experience that magic makes monsters of the weak, and he has no time for a Sensitive with no control of her own strength. But when he sees Claire using her powers to save a human under attack—in full view of the French QuarterLiam decides to bring her to Devil’s Isle and the teacher she needs, even though getting her out of his way isn’t the same as keeping her out of his head. 

     As more and more Sensitives fall prey to their magic, and unleash their hunger on the city, Claire and Liam must work together to save New Orleans, or else the city will burn

     As the story begins, Claire is running the family business, a former antiques shop on Royal Street that now sells dehydrated food (MREs), powdered milk, batteries, water, soap, spare parts, and other survival goods alongside the antiques left over from before the war. When Claire gets a shipment of duct tape, she muses, "The French built New Orleans; duct tape rebuilt it." Claire lives in an apartment above the shop. 

     Not even Claire's best friends know that she is a Sensitive, and if anyone does discover her secret, Claire's "normal" life will end and she will spend the rest of her life imprisoned within Devil's Isle. Claire didn't even know that she was a Sensitive until eight months ago when she stopped a heavy metal sign from falling on her by screaming out "No!" just in the nick of time. Now, she is constantly on edge, keeping a to-go bag hidden away in a closet just in case she accidentally uses her magic within sight of the one of the thousands of monitoring cameras mounted all over New Orleans. Claire's motto is "Stay quiet; work hard." No one ever taught Claire to use her magic, so she has no idea how to control it. Now she fears that even if Containment doesn't catch up with her, she'll probably go crazy and turn into a wraithit's only a matter of time.

     Into this situation strolls Liam, who happens to be in Claire's vicinity one night when she gets drawn into a battle with a pair of wraiths and takes a major risk by using her magic to defeat them. Liam now knows her secret, but he doesn't plan to turn her in. Instead, he convinces her that she has to learn to control and discharge the magic she absorbs so that she will keep her sanity and her freedom. To divert Containment's attention, he takes her on as a trainee. As the plot unfolds, the two of them try to discover the connection between two parallel sets of crimes: a series of missing Sensitives and a series of wraith attacks. Compounding the mystery is that these wraiths appear to be sentientsomething that the Containment deems impossible. In the midst of this investigation, Claire learns some shocking facts about her family history and about the role of a small group of Sensitives during the war.

     Because this is the first book in a series with a complex mythology, there is a lot of exposition. Neill has to give us all of the pertinent facts about this world so that we will know the major players and their diverse perspectives. Although the primary story line is resolved, several characters and a few very slender story lines appear and fade away in this book, to be picked up in future books: for example, Liam's broken romance with a woman named Blythe, a Para mob boss named Solomon, and a mysterious woman who catches Claire's eye and then disappears in the midst of the big showdown battle that ends the book. (I think that I know the identity of the mysterious woman, but without any clues, I'm just guessing.) And let's not forget the sexual attraction between Liam and Claire, which Liam refuses to act upon (so far) because he fears that if Claire does eventually become a wraith, he will have be the one to deliver her to Devil's Isle.

     This is a terrific book written by an author who is an excellent world-builder and a creative plotter. Give this one a try. I believe that you will enjoy meeting Claire, Liam, and their friends and enemies. I'm looking forward to more of their adventures in the second book. 

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Veil on the book's page. Click on the cover art for print or on the "Listen" icon for audio.