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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Anthony Frances: SKINDANCER

Author: Anthony Frances
Ratings: V5; S3; H3
Publisher and Titles: Bell Bridge Books: Frost Moon (2011); Blood Rock (TBA); Liquid Fire (TBA) 

     Just to give you a flavor for this great new series, here’s the first paragraph, which introduces Dakota Frost, the best magical tattoo artist in the Southeast (her tattoos come to life):

     “I first started wearing a Mohawk to repel low-lifes—barflies, vampires, Republicans, and so on—but when I found my true profession it turned into an ad. People’s eyes are drawn by my hair—no longer a true Mohawk, but a big, unruly “deathhawk,” a stripe of feathered black, purple and white streaks climbing down the center of my head—but their gaze lingers on the tattoos, which start as tribal vines in the shaved spaces on either side of the ’hawk and then cascade down my throat to my shoulders, flowering into roses and jewels and butterflies.” 

     In this series, we have a truly original heroine, comfortable in her own colorful skin and living on the edge between the mundane and the mysterious. In an alternate Atlanta (circa 2006), magic is alive in the Edgeworld—the edgy, restless culture that blends the human and the supernatural worlds. Dakota is a true Edgeworlder, and in some ways, she is a typical UF heroine with the usual cynicism and attitude to go along with her way-out appearance. She even has the requisite quirky means of transportation: an ancient Vespa. But Dakota is a fresh character, not a cliché. She is six feet, two inches tall, and her entire body is covered with brightly colored, magical tattoosand those tattoos can move. For example, a butterfly tattoo on Dakota's wrist can flutter its wings and rise into the air before settling back on her armor on someone else's body. The tattoos are also a source of magical power that Dakota can pull from to defend herself. Dakota is estranged from her father, a retired policeman, but she doesn't spend much time worrying about that. In fact, Dakota spends hardly any of her time doing the usual UF angst-ridden interior monologue thing. She is much more action orientedalways moving on to the next item on her jam-packed agenda. 

     Dakota runs her own tattoo shop, the Rogue Unicorn, and she is one of only two certified magical tattoo artists in Atlanta. In this World, mortals are aware of the existence of the supernatural world, but the supernaturals (e.g., vampires, shifters, mages) tend to stay away from the humans. The story begins when the police department asks Dakota to analyze a tattoo on a piece of human skin. Someone is butchering people with magical tattoos, and the cops believe that the serial killer has arrived in Atlanta. Shortly after this upsetting experience, a scary werewolf gives Dakota a symbolic drawing that he wants her to ink on him so that he can control his wolf. Before Dakota accepts that job, she must get permission from the tattoo artist of the local pack, and she must have the flash (the drawing) analyzed by her friend, Jinx (a blind witch) to be sure that there is no magical backlash built into the design. As Dakota goes through the process of getting the wolf’s tattoo approved, she is beaten up by a vampire and shot at by a snipera girl just can't earn an honest living in peace. The third prong of the plot involves Christopher Valentine (aka “The Mysterious Mirabilus”), a magician who travels the country debunking the so-called “magic” of others. This time, Valentine challenges the magic in Dakota’s tattoos. 

     Supporting characters include two law enforcement officers: Andre Rand (an Atlanta cop and an old family friend) and Special Agent Philip Davidson (a Federal officer for the Department of Extraordinary Investigations and a possible love interest for Dakota). Other characters include several vampires, including Dakota’s ex-girlfriend, and a young were-tiger named Cinnamon, who develops a close relationship with Dakota. Throughout the book, Dakota is obviously attracted both to males and females, but, in this book at least, that doesn't go any further than flirting or reminiscing.

     The characters are not the usual stereotypical supernatural creatures, especially the shifters with their unique culture that includes a gruff bear king, an egotistical magical tattoo artist, and the powerful and elegant Lord Buckhead (who posed for this statue in the front yard of the Marriott Hotel at the intersection of Peachtree and Piedmont). The author gives us an excellent sense of the city of Atlanta, from local landmarks to gritty urban landscapes.

     I need to explain the "3" sensuality rating that I gave to this series. There is a scene at the vampire court that portrays three characters in BDSM gear, but that scene takes place after the action, so to speak, so the graphic images only cover the costumes. In addition, Dakota is frank about her attraction to both males and females, but again there is no follow throughjust flirty conversation that includes suggestive, but not too graphic, language.

     I recommend this series and am looking forward to Blood Rock, in which magical graffiti invades Atlantagraffiti that, literally, reaches out and grabs you. According to the author’s web site, “Each book in the series highlights a new form of magic based on alternative culture practices like tattooing, graffiti or fire spinning, and each highlights a new supernatural creature like werewolves, vampires and dragons.” A YA spin off is planned, featuring Cinnamon.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Author:  Laurie London
Plot Type:  SMR 
Ratings:  V4; S4; H1-3
Publisher and Titles:  HQN Books
      Bonded by Blood (2011)
      Hidden By Blood (e-novella, 2011)
      Embraced by Blood (2011) 
      "Enchanted by Blood" (short story in A Vampire for Christmas2011)  
       Tempted by Blood (2012)
        Seduced by Blood (7/2012)

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 8/25/12 to include a review of the fourth book in the series, Seduced by Blood. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first three books and the novella, and a link to my review of  the short story:

        BOOK 4:  Seduced by Blood        
     The romance in this book is between the Guardian's Seattle Region Commander, Tristan Santiago, and Roxanne (Roxie) Reynolds, formerly a Guardian and now a teacher at the Tracker Academy in Florida. The action plot centers on a dastardly Darkblood (DB) conspiracy to infiltrate the Guardians in order to learn their plans and secrets. Early in the story, a Guardian team in Seattle is ambushed, and Santiago believes that there may be a traitor in the Guardian ranks. He and Roxie pretend to be lovers so that she can use her psychic   powers to sniff out the guilty party. (Roxie can tell when a person is lying.) Their budding romantic relationship is complicated by any number of misunderstandings and misdirected emotions, but this book doesn't have the excessive number of long, angst-filled interior monologues that some of the other books in the series suffer from. Granted, both Roxie and Santiago have more angst between them than most of us feel in a lifetime, but their misgivings and doubts are plausible given both their sad back stories.

     The primary villain is the DB's Seattle area sector mistress, Ventra Capelli, whom we met in the previous book. Ventra is a strong but rage-filled woman who is determined to prove her value to the Alliance bigwigs and work her way up to a position of greater power. Ventra played a role in the disastrous Xtark debacle that climaxed the previous book, and the Alliance holds her responsible for Xtark's destruction. Ventra has to show them that she can handle the leadership of the Seattle sector, so she goes all out in her plans to take down the Guardians.

     This, for me, is one of the better books so far in the series. The protagonists are both smart and tough, but they're also vulnerable because of the pain of past events in their lives. Their love affair, though rocky, has lots of sexual tension and it moves along without having them drown themselves in emotional waves. The only eye-rolling part of their relationship is the ease at which Roxie uses massage, aromatherapy, and New Age music to change Santiago from a raging bull into Ferdinand the Bull. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

     In this world, vampires exist but are unknown to the human world. They can eat food, but must take blood every few weeks. They can absorb energy from humans, and this also helps sustain them. As usual, there are two types of vampires: the let's-clean-up-our-act vamps and the old-ways-are-the-best-ways vamps. The good guys occasionally sip blood and absorb energy directly from the source, but they don’t kill or harm humans. The bad guys (Dark Bloods, or DBs) kill their human prey because they view humans as nothing more than cattle. The series focuses on a group of vampires in Seattle who work for the Agency, the governmental agency for the good vampires. The DBs have their own government organization, called the Dark Blood Alliance.

     According to the vampire mythology of this series, before the Black Plague struck Europe, vampires were "at the top of the food chain, hunting and feeding from humans....Humans at least had a small chance of surviving the Black Death, but for vampires, drinking the blood of an infected human was a death sentence. Their population dwindled to just a few pockets of survivors scattered throughout all of Europetheir race had almost been exterminated. Fear of death had caused a significant philosophical change in vampire culture. As an act of self-preservation, vampires stopped draining and killing humans, learning, instead, that they could survive on much smaller amounts, and feedings could be stretched out over longer periods of time. They took only what they needed and left their human hosts alive." (Tempted by Blood, pp. 92-93) Some vampires now want to go back to their roots and turn humans into nothing more than blood sources.

     All vampires in this world have a particular craving for Sweet, which is a very rare type of blood that runs in the veins of only a handful of humans who are called Sweetbloods. Sweet is like vampire cocaine. The good vamps try to ignore this craving, but the DBs track down Sweetbloods and sell their blood, like drugs, on the street. In book 1, the DBs are in the early stages of a diabolical plan that will provide them with all the Sweet they want.

     In each book, one of the Agency Guardians finds his or her soul mate. In each case, the Guardian develops new powers as a result of their bonding, which is called Enlazado por la Sangre (bound through blood).

     This is a classic SMR series with many interior monologues that are intense, emotional, and (frequently) repetitive. If you love paranormal romance, you'll probably enjoy this series. I do, however, wish that the cover art was more attractive.

        BOOK 1: Bonded by Blood        
     In the series opener, Mackenzie Foster-Shaw is a Seattle artist and professional photographer who stumbles on an injured vampire in an isolated country cemetery. That vampire is Dominic Serrano, who was injured in a fight with some DBs. As it turns out, Mackenzie is a Sweetblood, so when she tries to help the injured Dom, her blood is so intoxicating that he can’t stop himself from biting her. That incident sets the story in motion. Dom is a Guardian who works for the Agency, which is the legal arm of the Governing Council for the vampires. The Guardians are warriors who patrol the streets to keep the DBs in check.

     Mackenzie’s family has had a tragic past. Many of her family members, including her father and some cousins, have disappeared without a trace, and she fears that she will be next. Although the focus of the plot is on the romantic relationship that develops between Mackenzie and Dom, there is also a story line about the search for the DBs who are kidnapping Sweetbloods, led by the villainous Pavlos, who murdered Dom’s parents, and Dom’s black-sheep brother Alfonso, who became addicted to Sweet and joined the DBs.

     Although the plot is predictable, the idea is fresh. Usually we have a crazy human kidnapping supernaturals, but here we have the flip side: a crazy vampire kidnapping humans. The characters are well developed and the angst level is just high enough to keep our interest without becoming repetitious. Dom is not an over-the-top alpha, but he's not wimpy either. Mackenzie shows intelligence and bravery. Even the love/sex scenes (and there are many) have a fresh feel to them. Supporting characters (Dom’s fellow Guardiansespecially Lilyand Mackenzie’s stoner brother) provide humor and depth to the story. I’m sure that we will see them in future books, probably as main characters. I’ll keep reading the series, especially to see whether Dom and his brother ever make peace with one another. Click HERE to read an excerpt. 

        E-NOVELLA: Hidden by Blood        
     In this novella, former Army Ranger Finn McKentry is captured by a DB and forced to become a blood slave. Brenna Stewart is a vampire who wants to be a doctor. Bren and Finn dated in the past, and each cannot forget the other. Brenna had to break it off because Finn's sweetblood was too intoxicating and she was afraid she would kill him. Now, Brenna discovers Finn's dangerous situation and must try to free him. But what if he finds out that she is a vampire? Will he still love her? As of 3/12, this novella is available free from Harlequin. Click HERE to go to that web page for a download. 

        BOOK 2: Embraced by Blood        
     As the story opens, Guardian Lily DeGraff is worried that her tracking powers are diminishing. She can't seem to catch scents the way she used to, and she's afraid to admit that to her superiors. Meanwhile, Alfonso Serrano is back in town, and he's on the run from the Darkblood Alliance, which has sent an assassin to kill him and his loved ones. When the local DB leader kidnaps Kip, Lily's trainee tracker, Alfonso goes along on the rescue mission as Lily's partner. Strangely, Lily's powers seem to get stronger when she is with Alfonso, and Alonso develops new and stronger powers of his own. Hmmm...could that mean that they are Enlazado por la Sangre (bound through blood)? 

     The two have had a long and painful history. They were an off-and-on couple for many years while Alfonso was undercover within the Alliance, until Lily was led to believe that Alfonso had died in a fire. In reality, Alfonso was in hiding from the Alliance and was afraid that if he contacted Lily, the Alliance would kill her, too. A year ago, he told Lily that he didn't love her any more and has stayed away from her every since to keep her safe. (Honestly, are you as tired as I am of these macho paranormal alphas who are always making painful relationship decisions without explaining themselves to their true loves?) Needless to say, their lust explodes once again, and they must deal with the consequences. Other causes for angst for Alfonso are his estrangement from his brother, Dominic, and his guilt over his part in his parents' murders. Because Lily is the star of this book, she is presented as a very serious character and we don't get nearly as much humor from her as we did in the previous book. In fact, this book has hardly any humor at allI'd rate it as a 1 or 2. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

      SHORT STORY: "Enchanted by Blood" in A Vampire for Christmas      
     Click HERE to read my review of "Enchanted by Blood" and the other short stories in A Vampire for Christmas.

          BOOK 3:  Tempted by Blood        
     The hero of this book is Jackson Foss, a strong and sexy Guardian who was portrayed in previous books as a womanizing playboy. We soon learn, though, that Jackson isn't necessarily looking for sex from his many female pickups. Instead, he is getting energy and blood, which he needs more and more frequently and in greater and greater amounts. Jackson is afraid that he is reverting to his primitive vampire nature. In short, he's pretty sure that he will soon become a Darkblood (DB), and he's not sure what is going to happen to him then. In this book, two facts that are stressed about Jackson are his love of peanut butter and honey sandwiches and his strategically placed body piercing. (Seriously, a lot of print—too much, really—is used up on those two topics.) When Jackson rescues Krystal, a young Sweetblood girl, from some Darkbloods, he meets and is attracted to her pretty aunt, Arianna Wells, who works for Xtark, a computer gaming developer that the Agency is investigating for possible DB connections. The story follows Jackson and Arianna as they try to protect Krystal, investigate Xtark, and make Seattle safe for sweetbloods. 

     This is my least favorite book of the series so far, primarily because the story line is one that has been over-used in many other series to the point that it is entirely predictable, from the identity of the human traitor (which is crystal clear about 1/4 of the way into the story) to the TSTL moment when the heroine goes off alone and gets captured by the bad guys. You know what's coming and you know how it will end. So...I'm hoping that the next book will take a fresher approach. Click HERE to read an excerpt.