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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Karin Harlow: L. O. S. T. Series

Author: Karin Harlow
Series: L. O. S. T. Series (SMR, Romantic Suspense)
Ratings: V4; S4; H2
Publisher and Titles: Pocket Star
      Enemy Lover (2010)
      Enemy Mine (2011) 

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 9/27/11 to include a review of the second book in the series: Enemy Mine. That review follows this overview of the series so far:

     This is a first and foremost a paranormal romance series, but it is a special ops kind of series as well. In this world, a covert organization (Last Option Special Team, aka L.O.S.T.) exists to eliminate enemies of the U.S. who are beyond the usual limits of the justice system. L.O.S.T. is made up of super warriors (primarily men) who have made some severe blunders in their former lives and have accepted membership in L.O.S.T. in order to get a second chance. In each book, a couple meets in a swirl of lust, participates in a series of dangerous escapades, and eventually achieves their HEA

     In Enemy Lover, the heroine is Angela Giacomelli, who was a Baltimore cop when she was raped and mutilated by a human trafficker. When Angela recovered from her injuries, she sought out her attacker and killed him, for which she was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Angela's fellow officers and even her boyfriend turned their backs on her, so she feels as if she has nothing to live for. As the story opens, a fearful Angela is in a bus on her way to prison when she is kidnapped by a phony prison guard and winds up in the war room of L.O.S.T. headquarters surrounded by big, scary dudes. The leader of L.O.S.T. (Mr. Black, aka the Godfather) talks Angela into joining his group. He then rehabilitates her, changes her name to Jax Cassidy, and sends her out on missions with the rest of his team, all of whom are big, handsome, well-trained male warriors who also came from sketchy backgrounds. In one of her first missions, Jax is sent to take down Marcus Cross, a henchman for Lazarus, the leader of the Solution, another secretive quasi-military group that is not nearly as honest and patriotic as L.O.S.T. Naturally enough, Jax and Marcus immediately fall for one another even though they lie to each other and mistrust each other most of the way through the book. Matters are further complicated when Marcus reveals to Jax that he is a vampire. Not only that, but the villainous Lazarus, who is an older, stronger, and really crazy vampire, is Marcus's maker and master. The loving couple must learn to trust one another while they decide how to take down Lazarus. 

     In Enemy Mine, the heroine is Selena Guererro, a half demon/half human who leads a double lifeactually a triple life. First and foremost, she is a spy/tracker/killer for Los Cuatro, which, on the surface, is a Latino humanitarian organization. She also kills demonic Hellkeepers in order to collect their hearts in a magical necklace so that she can gain enough strength to kill her demon father, Paymon. Finally, she is a mother who must keep her daughter's existence hidden both from the child's father and from her own father. Talk about a rough life! The hero is Nikko Cruz (aka Johnny Cicone), one of the L.O.S.T. warriors. Eight years ago, Nikko (then called Johnny) and Selena were lovers. When she became pregnant, her demon father tried to force her to give him her soon-to-be-born child's soul in exchange for her life and Nikko's. To keep them both safe, Selena had to make it appear that she got rid of the child. She did this to make Nikko hate her enough to leave her—so that he would be safe from her father. She pretended to have an abortion, and when she told Nikko, he not only turned against he, he killed her (at least that's what he and the police department thought). Nikko was on his way to prison for that murder when L.O.S.T. reached out to him. For all these years he has lived with his hatred for what Selena did to his unborn child and with his guilt for having murdered her. So, as you can imagine, both of their minds are raging with angst-filled guilt and self-loathing thoughts. In the opening scene of the book, the situation between Selena and Nikko is re-opened when he is nearly killed while trying to highjack a load of uranium, and she injects him with vampire blood to save his life. Now he knows that she is alive and that she works for a different team than he does. A Russian mobster has stolen the uranium and plans to sell it to the highest bidder, one of whom is a demon who wants to use it to kill as many humans as possible and become king of the world. The uranium plot line is constructed so that Nikko and Selena are forced to work together for the good of humankind (as is so often the case in these paranormal romances). Needless to say, the road to their HEA is extremely rocky (but very erotic).

     L.O.S.T. is a straightforward SMR series with most of the typical characteristics: smart, kick-ass independent females; hard-nosed, handsome, alpha males; protagonists with tragic pasts; and loads of angst-filled interior monologues. The special ops theme does make it a little bit different from the usual SMR series by adding more than the usual action and suspense. In book 1, the characters (especially the vamps) have a tendency to avoid all contractions in their spoken dialogue—always awkward and unnecessarybut this problem doesn't occur in book 2. The plot lines are well constructed, with an effective presentation of expositional material and plenty of action. If you like paranormal romance with plenty of passion and adventure, you'll enjoy this series.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Author: Jennifer Lyon  (Pseudonym for Jennifer Apodaca)
Plot Type: Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings: Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2
Publisher and Titles: Ballantine
        Blood Magic (2009) (Axel & Darcy)
        Soul Magic (2009) (Sutton & Carla)
        Night Magic (2011) (Phoenix & Ailish)
        Sinful Magic (2011) (Kieran & Roxy) 
       "Forbidden Magic" (e-novella, 2012) (Ramsey & Ginny)

Upcoming Additions to the Series:
       Caged Magic (2015) (Linc & Risa)
       Primal Magic (TBA) (Eli & Savina)
       Fallen Magic (TBA) (Ram & Ginny)

     In this paranormal romance series, the primary supernaturals are witches (all women) and witch hunters (all men), with a few demons, gods, and ancestral spirits sprinkled into the mix. Up until 30 years ago, the Wing Slayer Hunters and the earth witches were friends and allies against demon witches and the demons that possessed them. Then, with assistance from the demon Asmodeus, three demon witches captured three hunters and tried to place a curse on them. When the curse went awry, the terrible result was that now all witch hunters are compelled to crave the power contained in witch blood. If a hunter gives in and kills a witch to harvest her blood, he loses his soul for all eternity. A hunter who loses his soul is called a rogue hunter, and the rogues have teamed up to rid the earth of all witches. The witches were also affected by the curse. They lost their familiars, and their ability to perform magic was dramatically weakened, so they have had a difficult time keeping themselves safe from the rogues. The witches can't fight back against the rogues because witch karma causes any use of harmful magic to rebound back at them three times stronger then their original hit. (Got all that? Because there's even more to the mythology. Keep reading.)

    The Wing Slayer Hunters, who are the heroes of this series, are trying to reconnect with their creator/god, the Wing Slayer, so that they will have the strength to break the curse. They protect earth witches while trying to stay as far away from them as possible so that they are not tempted by their blood. The Wing Slayers get rid of their blood lust by turning it into good old-fashioned sexual lust. The good witches (and these are the heroines) are mostly in hiding, fearful of all hunters. (Smart girls!)

      If this all sounds a bit complex, you're absolutely right. And one big problem is that you don't get much of this information until you're more than halfway through the first book. Lyon would have been better off writing a prologue that explained her mythology so that she could just go on to tell the actual story without having to interweave a myriad of world-building details and mythic narratives about past events into the plot, especially in book 1.

     In each book, a hunter/witch couple goes through a mind-boggling series of trials and tribulations until the hunter finally gets his (literal) wings and the two lovers achieve immortality. The first book tells the story of the leader of the Wing Slayer Hunters, Axel Locke, and his witchy lady, Darcy MacAlister.

    Above and beyond the complex world-building, this is a typical paranormal romance series, with tons of angst followed by waves of passion, followed by even more angst, and so forth. The sex scenes are numerous because the witches' magic is sex-based—very appropriate for a paranormal romance series. On top of the elaborate and complicated supernatural history between the hunters and the witches, the earth witches have complexities of their own, as each witch's magic depends the frequent opening of her chakras and her third eye. If you're not familiar with new age spirituality, you'll probably need to brush up on those concepts.

     Here are some quotations from the series that explain some of the mythological concepts:

The Wing Slayer hunters' oath:  "I vow my allegiance to Wing Slayer, god of the witch hunters. I take the ancient oath of protection for the innocent and justice for the damned. And I swear to fight the curse to my death." (included in most books in the scene in which a new hunter joins the Wing Slayers)         

The Wing Slayer and his hunters: "The Wing Slayer had created the witch hunters to hunt and kill demon witches while protecting innocent earth witches. Because the Wing Slayer was half demon and half god, invoking his god powers required complete and total acknowledgement from his witch hunters that he was their god. The demon Asmodeus had his demon witches cast the curse to break the bond between the Wing Slayer and his hunters so he could gain power on earth. It had been working until the five of them [the Wing Slayer Hunters] recommitted to the Wing Slayer, reinstating his god powers." (Soul Magic, p. 3) 

The importance of sex to the Wing Slayer hunters: "Sex was how the hunters controlled their compulsion for witch blood. If they gave in to the compulsion and killed a witch, they lost their souls and went rogue—living only for the next 'fix' of witch blood....Losing interest in sex meant the curse was getting a foothold...." (Soul Magic, p. 2)      

Soul mirrors: "In the soul-mirror couples so far, the tattoos on the witch hunter came to life, giving the hunter real wings and acting as a kind of familiar for the witch and helping her control her high magic. The way to find out if they were soul mirrors was usually for the hunter to touch the witch's blood..." (Sinful Magic, p. 510

               NOVEL 1:  Blood Magic               
     As the first novel opens, Darcy is at the funeral of her adoptive mother. (Right there, we know that she must have some magical talents, because rule number one in paranormal fiction is that heroines who are adoptees have at least one supernatural biological parent.) Shortly thereafter, Darcy is attacked by two knife-wielding men and saved by another one. Her rescuer is Axel, a Wing Slayer Hunter whose rogue father has ordered him to kill Darcy. Axel doesn't plan to kill Darcy; he plans to use her to save his young sister, Hannah, who is dying from a curse by a demon witch. Axel needs Darcy to cast a spell that will break the curse and save Hannah's life. Unfortunately, Darcy doesn't know that she is a witch (remember, she's adopted). 

     As the story plays out, Darcy tunes in to her inner witch so that she can learn the magic needed to save poor little Hannah. In the meantime, the sparks are flying and the angst is flowing between Darcy and Axel. Neither one trusts the other, even in the midst of all of the lust that is going on in their relationship. Eventually, they are put into a situation in which each one must make a huge life-or-death sacrifice to save the other. (This last part reminds me of the steps that the "beloveds" in Katie MacAlister's DARK ONES series must take in order to complete their soul-mate process.) The villain for the entire series is Darcy's rogue father, Quinn Young, who was the first hunter to repudiate the god powers of the Wing Slayer, which led directly to the curse.

               NOVEL 2:  Soul Magic               
     Sutton West saved Dr. Carla Fisk's life and touched her blood in the climactic battle at the end of Blood Magic. Sutton is the Wing Slayers' computer expert, and Carla is a psychologist (and a witch). As Soul Magic opens, Sutton is  obsessed with Carla, going from feelings of blood lust to sexual lust and back again. Meanwhile, Carla is having visions of herself on the astral plain with Sutton and with her twin sister Keri, who was murdered by a rogue hunter. 

     Eventually, Carla discovers that Keri's spirit is imprisoned in a silver knife that is in the possession of a psychic rogue hunter who goes by the pseudonymous name of Styxx. The Wing Slayer Hunters discover that Styxx is brainwashing mortal women and programming them to kill Wing Slayers. Styxx is also attempting to control Carla through her connection with her twin. As lustful feelings build higher and higher between Carla and Sutton, he is sure that he is her soul mirror, but Carla is afraid that Keri is his real mate. 

     In the midst of all this, there is a breech among the earth witches, with one of them (Silver) trying to take control and turn the other witches against Carla. Eventually, both Carla and Sutton are put into a life-death sacrifice situation in which each one must save the other. Angst levels are extremely high throughout the book as Carla tries not to fall for Sutton because she thinks that he belongs to Keri, and Sutton tries to fight off his rogue leanings so that he can prove to Carla that they belong together.

               NOVEL 3:  Night Magic               
      The third novel tells the love story of Phoenix Torq and Ailish Donovan. As the story opens, Ailish has just returned to her hometown to die. When she was just 16, her demon-witch mother (Maeve) sold her to the demon Asmodeus in a contract that specified that Ailish would mate with the odious demon within eight years or she would die. Ailish has resisted Asmodeus all that time and now has just two weeks left before the contract ends—most likely with her death. Ailish is an earth witch, but she is also a siren who can enhance magic with her songs. Recently, Phoenix has been hearing singing in his head, and it is getting stronger and more compelling. He follows the songs to the source and is confronted by a kick-boxing blind witch wearing a demon's handfast binding on her wrist. (What a set of character traits!) Ailish was blinded by witch karma after she saved her friend from being strangled by Maeve. 

     So...we have the hunter Phoenix (literally a mythological phoenix), who finds himself soul mirrored to a demon-bound witch. What a dilemma! If they complete the soul-mirror bond and she gives in to Asmodeus to save her life, Phoenix is condemning himself to a soulless death, but if they don't complete the bond, he can't help Ailish use her magic to break the demonic contract. You can guess that this situation creates mountains of angst-filled interior monologues for both of them. In another plot thread, Morgan's pregnancy is approaching the due date, and the rogues and the demon witches want to kill the baby. Once again—just as in the previous books—the lead couple must lay their lives on the line to save one another.

               NOVEL 4:  Sinful Magic               
     As book 4 opens, graphic artist Kieran (Key) DeMicca is driven to draw pictures of witch kills made by his supposedly long-dead rogue brother, Liam. Key has no control over the drawings; they seem to flow from his colored pencils in times of great stress. Lately, the witch being killed in his drawings is a beautiful woman to whom Key is having an extremely lustful reaction. When he spots that woman at a Comic Con in Las Vegas, Key discovers that she is Roxanne (Roxy) Banfield, a fertility witch who works for her father's graphic arts production company. When they meet, Key discovers that Roxy is his soul mirror, and Roxy finds out that Key is her Awakening—the one who will bring her latent sexual powers to life.

     Both Key and Roxy have had the tragic childhoods typical of paranormal protagonists, and those terrible experiences inform all of their adult relationships. Roxy wants to suppress her witchy traits so that she can be a normal non-magical woman. Key wants to avoid all personal relationships in fear that he will once again cause harm to someone he loves. These misguided passions result in pages and pages of painful, angst-filled interior monologues. In the major plot line (other than the ups and downs of the romance), Key is stunned when Liam reappears in his life, attacking Roxy and tracking down and killing as many fertility witches as he can. Key thought that he had killed Liam ten years ago by stabbing him in the heart. Where has Liam been all these years? Why is he killing fertility witches? Key and his hunter buddies must track down Liam in order stop his killing spree. Key's alter image is a dragon named Dyfyr, and the man and the dragon must make inner peace before he and Roxy can go on to their HEA. In a climactic scene, both Roxy and Key must (like every other couple in this series) make the ultimate life-death sacrifice for one another.

     Click HERE to go to the page on Lyon's web site where she provides a brief bio and a link to an "interview" with each WING SLAYER hero. 

               NOVELLA 4.5:  "Forbidden Magic"               
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: Wing Slayer Hunter, Ramsey (Ram) Virtos, the Wing Slayers' up-tight military strategist, must find his soul mirror witch and convince her to mate with him before his Thunderbird tattoo kills him. But while that witch might be able to save Ram’s life, it is the mysterious Ginny Stone who inflames his passion.

     Ginny has been deeply fascinated by Ram for months, but dared not act on it or she’d be torn from her mortal life on earth and thrust into her dreaded destiny as a half-breed angel. But when her beloved brother’s soul is at stake, she must do the one thing she both fears and desires…Take Ram to her bed.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Author:  Diana Rowland
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF) with Zombies
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor3
Publisher and Titles:  Daw
   1  My Life as a White Trash Zombie (7/2011)
   2  Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues (7/2012)
   3  White Trash Zombie Apocalypse (7/2013)
   4  How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back (7/2014)
   5  White Trash Zombie Gone Wild (10/2015)
   6  White Trash Zombie Unchained (9/2017) (PROBABLY FINAL)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 10/7/2017 to include a review of White Trash Zombie Unchained, the sixth—and probably FINALnovel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first five novels.

         FAIR WARNING: My review  of WTZ Unchained        
          contains spoilers for the previous novels.           
                      NOVEL 6:  White Trash Zombie Unchained                     
    Angel Crawford has finally pulled herself together (literally!) after her disastrous dismemberment on Mardi Gras. She’s putting the pieces of her life back in order and is ready to tackle whatever the future holds. Too bad the future is a nasty bitch. There’s a new kind of zombie in town: mindless shamblers, infectious and ravenous.

     With the threat of a full-blown shambler pandemic looming, and a loved one stricken, Angel and the “real” zombies scramble to find a cure. Yet when Angel uncovers the true reason the plague is spreading so quickly, she adds “no-holds-barred revenge” to her to-do list.

    Angel is busting her ass dealing with shambling hordes, zombie gators, government jerks, and way too many mosquitos, but this white trash chick ain’t giving up. Good thing, since the fate of the world is resting on her undead shoulders.    

     Warning: This is a series with a large cast of characters and an ongoing story arc that relies heavily on past events. If you have not read the previous novels in this series, you have little chance of figuring out who's who and what's what. Rowland does insert some review paragraphs into the narrative to remind readers of past events, but those bits and pieces of background information will not be enough if you haven't read the preceding novels. 

     The plot of WTZ Unchained reaches back to the previous book in which Angel's addiction to the V12 zombie drug damaged her zombie parasite. At one point in that book, she bit a man who was trying to kill her and then killed him and left his body deep in the swamp. In WTZ Unchained, that episode comes back to haunt her.

     The gist of this story is that out of nowhere, a zombie pandemic sweeps through the county. First to succumb are two men fishing in the swamp. When the first body is brought to the morgue, it rises up from the slab with chomping teeth and slashing fingernails. From that point on, the situation grows steadily worse as more and more average citizens suddenly become vicious, ravenous "shamblers." 

     Dr. Ari Nikas, the Tribe's chief scientist, believes that Angel's damaged parasite is causing the new zombies to be out-of-control shamblers. Of course, Angel feels extremely guilty about the zombie pandemic because she created the very first shambler—Judd Siler. As she explains to Nick, "He tried to kill me...and I bit him—just a regular old bite on his arm. The next day...he attacked me and ended up getting shot dead. Not by me...I, uh, needed the fuel, so I busted his skull and ate his cerebrum. But later that night he came after me as a shambler—even though he was missing the top of his head. I had to rip out his cerebellum and medulla to kill him for real." Then, Angel left his body deep in the swamp. (Of course, at the time, she didn't realize that it was her bite that had turned him into a shambler.) 

     Unfortunately, some alligators ate Judd's body and became infected (zombie alligators!!!). When those same alligators bit the fishermen and scratched some of the first responders who were searching for the body of the second fisherman, the pandemic began. But the alligators didn't bite ALL of the other dozens of people who have become infected, so why did they suddenly become shamblers? Did Angel and her damaged parasite unleash some type of airborne or water-borne plague? Or could the Saberton Corporation and Dr. Kristi Charish somehow be involved in this catastrophe?

     This main plot moves along like a police procedural with Angel and her allies searching for clues and investigating tissue samples in the Tribe's laboratory in the hope of finding a cure. Eventually, Dr. Charish volunteers to work with Dr. Nikas on that cure. But can they trust her? 

     Meanwhile, let's take a look at Nick and Angel's tortured relationship. You'll recall that at the end of the previous book, Nick watched Angel's body rot away and fall into pieces (which tends to take the romance out of a relationship). Now that Dr. Nikas has regrown Angel's body, she can't even look Nick in the eye. She cannot imagine that he would ever be interested in her again—even as a friend—after seeing (and smelling) what happened to her. But she shouldn't give up on Nick quite yet. He has a lot more character and much deeper feelings for Angel than she realizes. 

     The book ends with the showdown to end all showdowns: FBI agents, helicopters, explosions, a heartbreaking death, and a leap off a tall building. Relationships of all kinds are nicely resolved. Dr. Nikas even gets a girlfriend. And what about the Kristi Charish problem, you ask? Well, Rowland resolves that one with an unexpected, very satisfactory twist.

     Although I enjoyed the final chapters of this book, I have to say that I had a hard time plowing through the first half. I kept putting the book down and finding reasons not to pick it up again. (It took me a week to finally get through it.) Basically, I think that the whole white-trash-zombie thing has run its course. The series should probably have been a trilogy instead of a dragged-out six books. Although the premise of the series is inventive, it's a one-note mythology that lacks the depth for long-term exploration. Additionally, most of the supporting characters never developed beyond their original one-layer personalities. They smiled and bantered and participated in the story lines, but Rowland never went below the surface on anyone but Angel. That might have worked for a few books, but not for six.

     This may well be the final novel in this series. On the author's web site, Rowland states that, "Angel has carved out her space in the zombie world for six books. Beyond that I don't know at this point." Because Rowland resolves all of the major plot lines of the series arc, WTZ Unchained has a satisfactory "final" feeling to it. Another good reason to end the series now is that Angel has lost a lot of her original snarky, sassy, hard-edged demeanor. By the end of WTZ Unchained, she is downright dewy-eyed and somewhat sentimental, and her white-trash singularity is slowly but steadily giving way to middle-class mundaneness. I'm not sure that a cheerful, happy zombie heroine would be very interesting.

     If you are a series fan, you'll definitely want to read this book just to see what happens to Kristi Charish. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from White Trash Zombie Unchained on the book's page by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

     The series heroine, Angel Crawford, has always felt and acted like a loser, dropping out of school to lead a pill-popping, alcohol-fueled life. Having an abusive, mentally ill, suicidal mother and an abusive, alcoholic father hasn’t helped the situation. As the series opens, Angel is on parole for possessing a stolen car. The series is set in Tucker Point, Louisiana. 

     In this world, zombies can heal themselves and give themselves super strength and speed if they regularly and frequently consume brains. If they miss a few days, however, they begin to fall apart in the familiar zombie way—strips of skin falling off, skin color turning gray, and rotting odor growing stronger and stronger. In book 1, the whole idea of the super-strength zombies and the healing powers of brains just didn’t work for me. It was as if the author took the traditional vampire mythology and forced in zombies as replacements for the vamps: 

Traditional Vampires…
     > Are created by the bite of another vamp
     > Must have human blood to maintain strength
     > Attain super strength through excessive blood consumption
     > Can heal themselves through excessive blood consumption
     > Become mindless monsters without blood consumption 

Rowland's Zombies…

     > Are created by the bite of another zombie
     > Must have human brains to maintain strength
     > Attain super strength through excessive brain consumption
     > Can heal themselves through excessive brain consumption
     > Become mindless, rotting monsters without brain consumption 

     The idea of self-healing, super-strong, über-speedy zombies clashes with the inarguable fact that zombies are undead, rotting creatures—a reality that Rowland’s world-building absolutely denies. Another problem is that a number of upright citizens are walking around as zombies—and no one can tell that they are dead. Although she is herself a zombie, even Angel can’t tell a human from a zombie.

     Note added after reading book 2: Although there are still a few points in the mythology that still need clarification (like the zombies' inability to recognize a fellow zombie on sight—or smell), book 2 does answer a lot of my questions. The author adds the new information to the story, although it is presented in an info-dump manner. Still, better to get all the details out there, one way or another.

                     NOVEL 1: My Life as a White Trash Zombie                             
     This is a book that I wanted to love: great cover art and a terrifically inventive premise. As the story opens, Angel has just been picked up by the local police from the side of a country road—naked and full of drugs. She can’t remember anything about what happened that night. The next day, Angel receives an anonymous note telling her that she has a job in the county morgue and if she doesn’t show up and act right she will be going to jail. When Angel reports to work, she is surprised to find that she has no problem with the dead bodies, no matter what state of decomposition they are in. She is even more surprised that her stomach growls every time a brain is exposed during an autopsy. So…Angel seemingly has a new addiction: brrraaaaaaaains! Add in a cute police detective and a serial killer who chops off heads, and you have an imaginative new paranormal series. The major theme for book 1 is that Angel’s zombi-ness actually saves her life. By the end of the book, she has cleaned up her act and has become an upstanding citizen.

     The serial killer plot thread sustained my interest right up until the killer was unveiled. Unfortunately, the killer’s identity came out of left field, and not in a good way. In one short scene and with no real clues, Angel is suddenly able to spot the villain and charge in for the rescue. The suspenseful build-up was a lot better than the actual ending.

     Having said all this, I must confess that I really like Angel as a character. With her smart (and profane) mouth and her cynical take on life, she is both entertaining and heartbreaking—a girl who never had a chance for a “normal” life, and now never will. Her gradual metamorphosis into a compassionate and honorable young woman is a big part of the charm of the story. I’m looking forward to book 2 to see what’s next for Angel.

     Here are a few quotations from book 1 to give you a feel for Angel's need for brains and how she deals with it:

Angel has her first brain cravings: "But I'd been craving brains. The smell was like chocolate and cookies and biscuits and gravy and everything else that was delicious It damn near drove me crazy every time I had to touch one. I'd been fighting the cravings the way I'd never fought the urge to take drugs or get drunk." 

Angel's first brain snatch at the morgue: "I looked down at the organs swimming in the clear plastic bag. I didn't even fully remember...unzipping the body bag. A weird calm descended on me. I was really going to do this....I didn't look at any of the other organs. I wasn't grossed out by them; they simply held no interest for me. It was the segments of brain that held my attention....It looked like pieces of bread pudding that had been soaked in raspberry syrup." 

Angel gets creative with her brain smoothies: "I...started blending brains up with soup or fruit juice or chocolate milk—stuff that looked normal so that no one would freak out if they happened to open the cooler. I could fit half a brain and about a cup of soup or chocolate milk into each jar or water bottle, and so far it seemed that a jar or bottle every other day kept me from getting smelly." 

      Click HERE to listen to a lengthy audio excerpt (scroll way down to find it). 
Click HERE to read a print excerpt. 

                     NOVEL 2:  Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues                   
     The author adds a great deal more to her zombie mythology in this book, explaining that these zombies were not created by a virus like many of the zombies we find in paranormal fiction, but by a parasite that uses prion proteins as building blocks. The process appears to be a surreal combination of vampirism and demon possession. A person must be on the verge of death when he or she is gnawed by another zombie, thus releasing parasitic spores into the new zombie's body. The full explanation of the process is quite lengthy and technical in nature and comes about half-way through this book.

     The story line in book 2 follows Angel as she investigates a weird crime that gets her name plastered across the local newspapers in an extremely unflattering way. One day, after Angel brings the dead body of a security guard back to the morgue, a masked gunman ties her up and steals the body. Of course, nobody believes Angel's story, including her zombie boyfriend, Detective Marcus Ivanov, and his Uncle Pietro, the boss of the local zombie mob. Everyone still views Angel as the convicted felon/drug addict/alcoholic she was before she was zombified, so they are sure that the disappearance of the body is somehow Angel's fault. When Angel is suspended from her job, she is determined to prove her innocence by getting to the bottom of the case, and as she begins her investigation things get even more weird. When Angel traces the strange happenings back to the experimental laboratory where the dead man worked and died, she makes connections that lead back to her old nemesis, Ed Quinn, the zombie hunter who tried to kill Angel and Marcus in book 1. Let's just say that Angel ties up a lot of loose ends as she solves this case. Unfortunately, she also gets herself into a lot of dangerous trouble involving secret experiments, mysterious MIBs, and a series of double crosses and betrayals.

     This is almost a police procedural—really a PI procedural—because the story follows Angel as she collects clues, spies on her suspects, pieces together the facts of the case, and eventually outsmarts the bad guys. Angel's relationship with Marcus gets fairly bumpy in this story because Marcus keeps underestimating Angel and questioning her level of intelligence. Does Marcus learn his lesson? We'll see in future books.

     I enjoyed this book more than book 1. Now that the zombie mythology is fully delineated, many of my questions have been answered. Angel continues to develop as a character, becoming more independent and less fearful of the consequences of her new life. Getting an explanation of exactly how her zombiness works is as helpful to the reader as it is to Angel. Click HERE to listen to a brief audio excerpt (scroll way down to find it). Click HERE to read a print excerpt.      

                      NOVEL 3:  White Trash Zombie Apocalypse                      

     Angel has been a zombie for almost a year now, and she's settling into her new life as well as can be expected, given the dangerous events chronicled in the first two books. Fortunately, her job at the morgue is going smoothly, and she's about to take her GED exam, so her life is looking pretty good. As the story opens, Angel is on the job, picking up a body at the local high school, where a film company is making a zombie movie. When Angel is nearly run over by a speeding car outside the school, she is rescued by Philip, the zombie she was forced to create in the previous book. Angel is shocked to see Philip, but he runs off before she can thank him for saving her life. Already we can guess that Philip and the zombie movie will no doubt play key parts in the plot.

     Gradually, suspicious events and overheard conversations cause Angel to suspect that the movie-making group is hiding some nefarious secrets, but she just can't figure out what they are. Then, she is attacked by zombies (one of whom is Philip), and a woman takes a blood sample from her while Philip holds her down. Then they tranquilize her and leave her in her truck in a downpour of rain suffering from several broken bones and mashed internal organs. Why does Philip attack Angel? Why do they take her blood? What is going on here? All of these questions are eventually answered as Angel continues involving herself in dangerous happenings that always result in serious injuries that require extra doses of her brainy nutritional smoothies. As the rain keeps coming nonstop, the river floods the lowlands where Angel and her dad live in their "rustic" little housewith frightening consequences for the Crawford family.

     Angel's relationship with Marcus is still rocky because he won't stop trying to advise her how to live her life. Late in the story, though, Angel figures out why Marcus is acting so paternally, so perhaps their relationship will get better. Marcus had better get himself together, though, because there's another man in Angel's life who would like her to give him a chance.

     This is a strong entry in the series, with a compelling story line and a great deal of character development, particularly for Brian Palmer (Pietro Ivanov's head of security) and Pietro himself, although Pietro makes a major TSTL move in this book when he continues to trust a character who has proven in the past to be completely untrustworthy and probably sociopathic. Although the mysteries in the plot are interesting and somewhat suspenseful, I was able to figure out what was going on long before Angel did. Even so, it's a good story, and I'm looking forward to more of Angel's adventures, mostly because she's such a fascinating character. Click HERE to listen to a brief audio excerpt from the book (scroll way down to find it). Click HERE to read an excerpt.

            NOVEL 4:  How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back            

     In the year since becoming a zombie, Angel Crawford has managed to hold down a job and get her GED. Now, she's thinking of attending the local community college. One day, she is in Dr. Ariston (Ari) Nikas' laboratory participating in a procedure designed to help Philip Reinhardt (the zombie Angel was forced to create in an earlier book) overcome some problems caused by the dastardly experimentation that was the center of the plot of book 2. Dr. Nikas plans to stimulate both Angel and Philip's zombie parasites with various drugs in the hope that as Angel's parasite copes with the stimulation, Philip's will learn to follow suit. Right in the middle of the procedure, Dr. Nikas receives a phone call and steps out of the lab, only to be drugged and kidnapped by none other than Brian Archer, Pietro Ivanov's head of security. Almost immediately, Angel and Philip learn that Pietro is also missing, along with the sociopathic Dr. Kristi Charish (who had been Pietro's prisoner) and Pietro's personal security guards. Everyone is certain that their old enemy, the Saberton Corporation, is behind the kidnappings, but they also suspect that along with Brian, there must be others within their own ranks who are betraying them. Soon, no one trusts anyone else. No one, that is except Angel and Philip. 

(As you can surmise from reading the previous paragraph, this book will be EXTREMELY confusing to anyone who has not read the previous three novels in this series. In fact, if you haven't read the other books, you probably won't understand a word of this review.) 

     When Naomi Comtesse (aka Heather Miller, aka Julia Saber) discovers that Saberton's private jet traveled from Louisiana to New York City, Angel, Philip, Naomi, and Kyle Griffin (Naomi's zombie boyfriend) jump into a car provided by Angels ex-boyfriend, Randy, and head for Manhattan. There, they discover an intricate, devious plot being carried out by Nicole Saber with the assistance of her son, Andrew (Naomi's twin brother). The story has plenty of action, as Angel and her friends try to rescue Pietro (and others) while hiding from Saberton's goons. Complicating matters is the fact that Philip and Angel are suffering from identical patterns of rotting because they were in the middle of the shared-drug experiment that was taking place when Dr. Nikas was kidnapped. In addition, Philip is having periodic periods of uncontrollable manic anxiety.

     Near the end, Rowland throws in a major change in the zombie mythology: a deus ex machina that comes out of nowhere to resolve much of the conflict. After the lengthy, technical explanation of the zombie mythology in book 2, this divergence comes across as a contrived plot manipulation. Why go to all the trouble of spelling out the scientific basis of zombie physiology if you're going to blow it up in this book? Up until this point, I was really enjoying the story, but when I came to this mythology manipulation, I felt cheated. It was as if Rowland had painted herself into a corner and had no other way out but to bring in a game-changer. I'm guessing that this situation arose because WHITE TRASH was originally planned as a trilogy and then was expanded to a six-book series, thus requiring a bit more complexity in order to come up with new and exciting plots.

     In addition to her adventures involving the Saber family, Angel must also deal with her various romantic problems. First, her boyfriend, Marcus Ivanov, once again tries to make decisions about Angel's life, which leads to some relationship turmoil. Then, Angel meets up with Randy once again, which leads to a rekindling of their friendship. Finally, Angel is attracted to Philip, which leads to hardly anything at all—just some kind words and a few "I-got-your-back" moments. 

     Angel is off-kilter throughout this adventure. She has never travelled very far from southern Louisiana; she has less than $100 in her bank account; and she is in the company of people who are much more sophisticated, wealthy, well-traveled, and better trained than she is. These factors cause some major bumps in Angel's friendship with Naomi as Naomi repeatedly gets annoyed with Angel for not accepting financial assistance and can't seem to understand why Angel feels out of place. The scenes in which Angel copes with being a lifelong, unskilled "have-not" are quite poignant. 

     As the book ends, Pietro's life has taken an unexpected path; Marcus's plan to attend law school has been up-ended; Randy and Angel have become friends again; Angel's dad has a new girlfriend; and Angel's addictive tendencies are once again coming to the forefront. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

     Except for the mythology change that I discussed above, I really enjoyed this book. Even though Angel is still the klutzy, insecure young woman that she has been in previous books, she is beginning to build a skill set and is working on a plan for the future. Let's hope that she is able also to keep her addictive personality in check. Even with the new mythology, I'm looking forward to Angel's next adventures.

         FAIR WARNING: My review  of WTZ Gone Wild         
          contains spoilers for the previous novels.           
                      NOVEL 5:  White Trash Zombie Gone Wild                     
     Angel Crawford has buried her loser past and is cruising along in undead high gear—that is, until a murder-by-decapitation sends her on a hazardous detour. As Angel hunts for the killer, she uncovers a scheme that would expose zombies to the public and destroy the life she’s built, and she’s determined not to rest until she finds out who’s behind it. 

     Soon she’s neck-deep in lies, redneck intrigue, zombie hunters, and rot-sniffing cadaver dogs. It’s up to her to unravel the truth and snuff out the conspiracy before the existence of zombies makes headline news and she’s outed as a monster. 

     But Angel hasn’t quite escaped the pill-popping ghosts of her past—not with an illicit zombie pharmaceutical at her fingertips. Good thing she’s absolutely sure she can handle the drug’s unpredictable side effects and still take down the bad guys…or maybe she’s only one bad choice away from being dead meat—for real this time. Angel knows a thing or two about kicking ass, but now the ass she needs to kick might be her own.

     Warning: This is a series with an ongoing story arc that relies heavily on past events. If you have not read How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back, you will have a tough time figuring out who's who and what's what, particularly since one of the primary characters now has a brand new identity. Rowland does insert some review paragraphs into the narrative to remind readers of past events, but that won't be enough if you haven't read the preceding novels. 

     In the previous novel, Angel Crawford took a new drug called V12 in order to survive some dangerous situations. The drug works with the zombie parasite to make her feel more alert, and it counters her dyslexia, making her college courses less of a struggle. As Angel puts it, V12 makes her worries "slip away like a greased pig on ice." Unfortunately, Angel's addictive personality has gotten the best of her, and she has continued to inject herself with V12 without the knowledge of Dr. Ari Nikas, the Tribe's zombie research doctor. Now, she is completely addicted to V12, and it is beginning to have some serious side effects, like hallucinations, loss of inhibitions, increased appetite for brains, and accelerated rotting. Here's how V12 makes her feel within just a few seconds after injection: "Delicious warmth spread through me like a smile. The sun shone brighter. My lips tingled. Diamonds glittered on the dash and sparkles tickled my nose…All was right in my world." How can Angel resist something that makes her feel so good?

     Just as Angel is beginning to realize how serious her problems are with the side effects of the V12, the morgue dispatcher sends her out to pick up a body with a missing head. Although the local police fear that the serial killer from the previous book has returned, Angel knows better. But who would want to kill this man, and then decapitate him and steal his head? Angel's investigation into that matter is one of the main subplots.

     Another subplot deals with two of the zombie Tribe's long-time enemies, Saberton Corporation and Dr. Kristi Charish, who has escaped from the Saberton labs and is now negotiating with both Saberton and the Tribe to determine who will give her the better deal to work with them. Charish is a sociopath with no moral compass; she wants to be able to do whatever experimentation she wants with the best equipment and for the most money.

     The beginnings of another subplot are sketched in but not developed. In that one, the FBI shows up at several funeral homes and at the morgue in Tucker Point, asking questions about how they handle bodies. This story line will no doubt be further developed in future books.

     By the time the conflicts are resolved, Angel has slogged through a gator-filled swamp, has been shot through the chest, and has succumbed to some horrific side effects from a huge dose of V12. (Don't eat lunch before you read that scene!) By the end of the book, four different groups have placed trackers on her car.

     The story, then, follows Angel as she deals with Saberton agents, attempts to solve the headless man's murder, and tries to enjoy herself at Tucker Point's Zombie Mardi Gras celebration, which features the premiere of High School Zombie Apocalypsethe movie that was the focus of the previous novel. Angel's investigations are complicated by the emergence of a flash drive that may contain files showing real zombies in action and the presence of a cadaver dog that alerts its handler to zombies because they smell like human remains.

     And what about Angel's personal relationships, you ask. Well…she and her former boyfriend, Marcus, are now just friends, mostly because he couldn't stop making all of her decisions for her no matter how often she tried to lead her life her own way. We don't see much of Marcus in this book. Angel also remains friends with her ex-boyfriend, Randy (the pothead she dated in her pre-zombie days), and he plays a major role in this book. At one point in this story when Angel is high on V12, she makes a spontaneous romantic move on a familiar character who shall remain nameless here, and we'll just have to wait and see how that relationship develops.

     Future books will also be dealing with the zombie Tribe's inevitable dilemmaone that is faced by every supernatural group that you have ever read about in paranormal fiction: whether to continue to hide their true nature from the human population or to reveal themselves and deal with the consequences. Can you guess which side Angel takes? 

     Although I had some trouble (at first) remembering all of the pertinent details and events from the previous book, Rowland slipped in enough background and review information to get me past the initial discomfort. By the time the real action began, I was right there with Angel, hoping that she could kick her addiction and knowing that she would, once again, save the day for the Tribe. If you are an Angel Crawford fan, I'm sure that you will enjoy this novel. Although Angel suffers some grave injuries in the course of her adventures, she never succumbs to panic, and she always has a plan. Angel's efforts to overcome her V12 addiction are agonizing to watch, but her never-give-up attitude pulls her through time and time again. Angel has promised herself that she will never again be a drug-addicted loser, and she works hard to make it so. 

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from White Trash Zombie Gone Wild on the book's page by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon. RT Book Reviews gave this book 4½ stars. Click HERE to read the RT review.