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Monday, January 31, 2011

Addison Fox: SONS OF THE ZODIAC

Author: Addison Fox
Series: S0NS OF THE ZODIAC
Plot Type: SMR
Ratings: V-4; S-5; H-1
Publisher and Titles: Signet Eclipse
      Warrior Ascended (3/2010)
      Warrior Avenged (9/2010)
      Warrior Betrayed (5/2011)
      "Wave of Memories" (e-novella, 4/2012)
      Warrior Enchanted (5/2012)

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 6/11/12 to include a review of the fourth book in the series: Warrior Enchanted. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and brief summaries of the first three books:

       BOOK 4: Warrior Enchanted       
     In this book, the romantic stars are Drake Campbell (the Pices Warrior) and Emerson Carano, a powerful white witch who lives next door to the Warrior's command center. Once again, a goddessthis time Eris—causes trouble for the Warriors and their women. When Drake steals Eris' golden apple, Eris goes after Emerson to get revenge. Unbeknownst to the Warriors and to Emerson, Eris has also taken control of Emerson's brother and has damaged him so much that he is probably beyond salvation. The book contains the same type and quantity of sex scenes found in the preceding books, as well as the same levels of angst, as Emerson, for murky reasons, refuses to accept the fact that Drake actually loves her. She keeps anguishing over the fact that they can never be together, but it's kind of hard to figure out just what her problem is with the relationship. Eventually, she blames her attitude on the fact that he is immortal and she isn't, and that her brother is evil, but her reasoning is not really clear until almost the end of the book.

     There is one big illogical concept involving Drake and Annabelle's siblings. The Warriors have lived next door to Annabelle's family for decades. In fact, Emerson reminisces about being crazy about Drake since she first saw him when she was just 14 years old, and Drake speaks fondly of Annabelle's mother and grandmother. So why don't Emerson's brother and sister recognize Drake when they see him with Emerson? She has to introduce them as if they have never met one another before. This makes absolutely no sense at all.

     This book is on a par with the earlier onesan unexceptional paranormal love story with a minimal amount of world-building (although you wouldn't guess that from the length of the glossary).

       WARNING       
     For whatever reason, the author has made a glaring faux pas in the first two books of this series by including the identical love scene in both books. Check out pages 262-264 in Warrior Ascended and pages 102-104 in Warrior Avenged, and you will find that the scenes are exactly the sameword-for-word, sentence-by-sentence, and paragraph-by-paragraph. Only the names of the lovers are changed. Evidently, the author must keep a sex-scene file on her computer that is filled with generic (and graphic) scenes that she just mindlessly cuts and pastes into her stories, and...oops! What happened to the editor who should have caught this flagrant error? Shame on you Addison Fox and Signet Eclipse. This type of sloppy and dishonest writing should not be tolerated by readers.

         WORLD-BUILDING       
     This is yet another SMR immortal Warriors series. This time the Warriors belong to the goddess of justice, Themis. On each of Themis' teams, the Warriors represent the signs of the zodiac, with each Warrior having all of the character traits usually attributed to that sign. For example, in Warrior Ascended, Brody, the Leo warrior for his team, is arrogant, proud, loyal, brave, impulsive, and (of course) incredibly sexy.

     The villainesses for the series are Enyo, Goddess of War, whose troops fight with electrical current and fiery blasts against the good guys, and her sister, Eris, Goddess of Discord. The theme for the series is balance: balance between good and evil, balance between war and peace, etc. In each book, one of Themis' Warriors finds his soul mate, and the balance theme extends to this as well.

     The high sensuality rating comes from the huge amount of graphic detail included in every sex scene, to the point of redundancy even when it's not repeated verbatim. Sex is not just for the hero and heroine in this series; the villains and other Warriors have their own share of lust-filled encounters. Each book contains a glossary of mythological and astrological terms. Each book also includes a star chart that shows how each Warrior's character traits balance his soul mate's traits.

     If you love to read about immortal warriors, you might enjoy Vicki Pettersson's UF series SIGNS OF THE ZODIAC, in which two zodiac teams (one good and one bad) battle for power in modern-day Las Vegas. Other SMR series featuring immortal warriors are Alyssa Day's WARRIORS OF POSEIDON, Sherrilyn Kenyon's DARK-HUNTERS and DREAM-HUNTERS, Deidre Knight's GODS OF MIDNIGHT, Cheyenne McCray's MAGIC, Alexis Morgan's PALADINS OF DARKNESS and TALIONS, and Juliana Stone's JAGUAR WARRIORS

         BOOKS 1, 2, 3, AND THE NOVELLA       

     In Warrior AscendedBrody Talbot (the Leo Warrior) finds a soul mate in Ava Harrison, a Gemini museum curator specializing in the treasures of ancient Egypt. The couple must retrieve five mysterious Summoning Stones that have the power to annihilate the mortal world.

     In Warrior Avenged, Kane Montague (the Scorpio Warrior) and Nemesis  (Goddess of Retribution) (aka Ilsa), eventually get their HEA even though she has been trying for centuries to kill him with poison.

     Warrior Betrayed tells the love story of Quinn Tanner (the Taurus Warrior) and Montana Grant, a security specialist and daughter of Eirene, Goddess of Peace.

     The e-novella, "Wave of Memories" follows the romance of Aiden Cage (the Aquarius Warrior) and his long-ago love, Meg, Goddess of Retribution, whom he turned his back on eons ago when he aspired to be the greatest Warrior in the Pantheon.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Matt Haig: "The Radleys"

Author: Matt Haig
Title: The Radleys 
Plot Type: UF 
Ratings: V-5; S-3; H-4
Publisher: Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster (2010)
    
     If you begin with Ann Rice's VAMPIRE CHRONICLES, mix in a bit of Stephen King's Carrie, and move it all to present-day, suburban England, you'll have the essential elements of this terrific black comedy. The Radley family is a typical, if slightly dysfunctional, family living in a small Yorkshire village. The parents (Peter and Helen) have grown apart over the years, and their children are facing somewhat typical teen-age problems: Rowan is being bullied at school, and Clara is, seemingly, suffering from anorexia. But all is not as it seems. In actual fact, the Radleys are abstainers, the official term in this world for vampires who do not drink blood. Peter and Helen have kept this secret from their kids, who suffer photophobia, sun-related skin rashes, daytime exhaustion, and nighttime insomnia without knowing the cause of their suffering. The reason Clara keeps vomiting is not anorexia; it's because she's trying to be a veganan impossibility for a blood addict (i.e., vampirea politically incorrect term in this world). 

     As the story opens, the Radleys' patched-together life begins to unravel one Friday night when Clara is attacked by a drunken teen-aged lout, and her true nature comes violently to the surface. Peter and Helen are now faced with covering up the crime, so Peter contacts his brother, Will, a practicer (i.e., a blood drinker) who is very skilled at blood minding the unbloods (taking control of human minds). But with Will comes all of Peter and Helen's past: their own years of blood drinking and another secretan intimate connection between Helen and Will. The reader is given the role of voyeur in the many short chapters: eavesdropping on private conversations, listening to extremely personal reminisces, and discovering everyone's secrets.
    
     Haig named the eponymous family after that "pale-faced, misunderstood suburban outsider," Boo Radley, from To Kill a Mockingbird.  
    
     Haig includes a glossary of terms at the end of the book. Throughout the story, he presents a series of pertinent quotations from The Abstainer's Handbook, a self-help guide for abstainers who are having problems with their tendencies toward blood addiction. Click on the title in the previous sentence for an on-line edition of the book.
    
     Here's an explanation for the two different covers: The Radleys was published in the UK in two editions—same content but different cover art: the picket-fence cover for the adult edition and the red-house cover (my favorite) for the YA (teen) edition. The picket-fence cover is being used in the U.S., where The Radleys is being marketed to adults. The book has been optioned for a BBC movie, and Haig has at least one sequel in the planning stages. 
    
     I highly recommend this book to those readers who are looking for a great story, unforgettable characters, and a fresh approach to the vampire mythos.
    
     One last thing: In at least two places, a character mentions consuming Night Nurse on a sleepless night. Click HERE for an explanation of that term.

Elle Jasper: DARK INK CHRONICLES


Author:  Elle Jasper (aka Cindy Miles)
Series:  DARK INK CHRONICLES
 
Plot Type:  SMR with a UF flavor
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2
Publisher and Titles:  Signet Eclipse
      Afterlight (11/2010)
      Everdark (6/2011)
      Eventide (3/2012)
     Black Fallen (12/2012)
      Darklove (12/2013) (FINALprobably)  

     This post was revised and updated on 1/3/14 to include a review of  Darklove, the fifthand probably the FINALnovel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first four novels:    


            NOVEL 5:  Darklove              
     Elle and her allies are still in Scotland, and as the story opens, she and Noah Miles have been sent to Inverness to wipe out some rogue vampires who have been killing humans across the city. Elle is having dreams about Eli in which he has glowing red eyes and tries repeatedly to kill her. On her first night in Inverness, Elle slips away from Noah and travels to another realm to free Eli and Victorian from their horrendous torture at the hands of the Fallen (who are now all dead). She manages to get Victorian to safety, but Eli disappears, later showing up with a beautiful and deadly witchpire (a witch who has been turned into a vampire). 

     The story follows Elle and Noah as they join up with the Ness boys, a band of young, male, mostly human vampire hunters, and try to kill off the murderous vamps and rescue Eli from his captor. Here, Noah introduces Elle to Rhine MacLeod, the leader of the Ness boys: "Besides having the DNA of four vampires, along with newly acquired traits of a fallen angel, she can move faster than any vampie….She can scale a three-story building in under ten seconds. Her fighting skills are unmatched. Lethal. And she can read minds at will. Her fiancé is being controlled by the witchpire, Carrine, who has decided to crawl into her brain and try and drive her crazier than what she already is." (p. 161) And one more thing: "She unexpectedly falls into a narcoleptic coma every few days or so." So…other than staying awake long enough to take down the rogue vamps, Elle's major task is to save Eli. But the problem is that Eli is in deep blood lust, so he may be too far gone to save, and Elle might have to kill him.

     The story consists of a repetitive series of scenes: Elle has a nightmarish dream about Eli. Elle and Noah dispatch some vamps. Elle and various men exchange quips full of light-hearted sexual innuendo. Carrine shows up in person, taunts Elle, and then sends Eli to attack her. These scenes repeat in various sequences.  

     I'm not 100% sure that this is the final book in the series, but it certainly reads that wayparticularly since it ends with a big celebration back in Savannah. Although I was initially disappointed that the author veered away from the Savannah setting of the first two books, this final book is somewhat stronger than the previous one with its less confusing (and smaller) set of characters, an interesting story line, and the resolution of many dangling story threads. 

     Unfortunately, it still has some of the problems that have plagued previous books: grammatical errors, usage errors (e.g., "incoherent" instead of "oblivious" or "unaware" or "heedless," p. 64), awkward first-person voice, and muddy mythology. (For example, what was the mythology of the realm from which Elle rescued Eli and Victorian? And what's with the vampire cats?). There are also a few basic cultural errors. For example, in one scene, Elle claims to have been taught how to drive in the UK, but then says, "I hit the gas and made myself remember to stay to the right." (p. 20) Wrong! She's lucky she survived the trip because in the UK, you drive on the left side of the road. In another scene, Elle mentions walking by a haggis shop in Inverness. Probably not. She might have walked by a butcher shop that sold haggis, but not a haggis-centric shop. 

     Once again in this book, man-magnet Elle is the sole female (except for the villainess), with ALL of the men vying for her affections, even though every one of them knows that she is engaged to Eli. At one point, Rhine, who is one of the love-struck males, asks the question that every reader has been thinking: "Why does everyone love you so much?" Elle responds: "It's the ink." (p. 242) Whatever the improbable cause, the all-consuming love from the males gets to be ridiculous at times.

     I loved the first book of the series and had high hopes that the author would develop that set of Savannah-based characters into a cohesive set of novels. Unfortunately, when the series went off on its European woo-woo track in book 3, it also went straight downhill.  

            WORLD-BUILDING             
     Drop a Kat von D clone into the paranormal scene and you come up with Jasper’s DARK INK series, which features a heroine who runs a hip tattoo parlor in Savannah, Georgia. Riley Poe had a typically rough UF childhood (i.e., rebellion, drugs, Goth lifestyle), but now she has reformed and is trying to make a stable home for her teenage brother, Seth.

     In this world, most humans are blissfully unaware that they live among vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures. In Savannah, a family of vampires has allied with the Gullah community to keep the city safe from supernatural predators. 

     The first two and a half books are set in Savannah, but part way through the third, the action moves to Romania. The fourth and fifth books are set in Scotland and add a number of additional supernatural types to the magical mix.

     Riley is a colorful character (both literally and figuratively), with her dragon tattoos, her multicolored hair, her boatload of guilt over her crime-filled past (which resulted in a family tragedy), and her desperate efforts to keep Seth on the high road. The romantic relationship between Riley and the vampire Eligius (Eli) Dupré is equally as important as the UF-flavored plot. Jasper’s descriptions of Savannah—both the touristy day-time world and the dark and seedy night-time scene—are authentic and eloquent, and the scenes involving the Gullah culture add to the realistic atmospheretoo bad the author abandoned Savannah after book 2.

            NOVEL 1: Afterlight             
     As the series begins, Riley is happily running her tattoo parlor and watching over her brother, Seth. One night, Seth and his buddies break into an old mausoleum and then undergo overnight personality changes. Suddenly, they are able to leap from tall buildings and hover in the air. Riley has no idea what's going on so she seeks advice from her mentor, the elderly Gullah practitioner, Preacher man. When Preacher takes Riley to visit the Dupré family (parents, three sons, and one daughterall vampires), she is shocked to learn that the Duprés have worked with the local Gullah population for over a century to protect Savannah from evil supernaturals. 

     Even more shocking is the news that Seth and his friends have apparently been bitten by ancient, evil vampire siblings (Victorian and Valerian Arcos) whom they set free from imprisonment during their cemetery adventure. The eldest Dupré son, Eli, is assigned to guard Riley from the vamps because Riley has a rare blood type that is irresistible to vamps. Naturally enough, Eli and Riley soon fall in lust/love, and together they set out to save Seth and rescue Savannah from the bad guys.

     This is a great beginning to a promising series. The characters are well developed and interesting, and the story line is inventive. Book 1 contains some interesting scenes about the tattooing process. Click HERE if you'd like more information about tattooing.

            NOVEL 2: Everdark              
     As book 2 opens, Riley is recovering from the vampire bites she received in the climactic battle that closed the previous book. In the usual UF-heroine manner, Riley now has some new powers that are attributable to the bites from Victorian and Valerian Arcos, not to mention the fact that Victorian is still in her head, both in nighttime dreams and daytime mind-speak episodes. Eli is determined to find and kill Victorian, right up until the point that Victorian provides a bit of crucial information that saves him from Eli's vengeance. In the meantime, Riley is having another whole set of visions of another vampire as he methodically stalks and kills humans. It's as if she is actually seeing the butchery through the killer's eyes. When hordes of newling vampires target Charleston, the good-guy vamps from Charleston request help from the Dupré family, and Riley and her brother go along as part of the team, despite Eli's strenuous objections. Eventually, they discover that the newlings are all under the control of a single vampire, and that vamp's identity is a shocker. (Sorry, can't tell you!) The ending is a cliffhanger, with Riley in peril and Eli on her trail.

     Although I enjoyed Riley in book 1, I got sick of her in book 2 with her constant whining that she doesn't need anyone's help, that she can take care of herself, that she isn't going to tell anyone about her dreams and visions, etc. And don't get me started on Eli, a raging alpha whose jaw is so tight most of the time it's a wonder he can open it wide enough to speak. Unfortunately, the series has turned into a typical alpha vamp/sassy female cliché. Their relationship seems to be based solely on lust, as most of their very brief conversations are about how crazy they are for each other and how hot the other one is, with each lovey-dovey talk session leading almost immediately to a sex scene. They even do that old familiar hair-washing-in-the-shower-followed-by-sex scene. One other point about Riley: The whole tattooing thing, which is supposedly a huge part of Riley's life, is barely mentioned in book 2.

     I was hoping that we would learn a bit more about Eli's family members, in book 2, but no...all we hear about is their hot good looks and their laid-back attitudes. And don't forget their incessant slang, which is apparently supposed to give them street cred. It's a bit silly for the repartee of centuries-old vampires to be peppered with dated teen-age slang like "bro" and "sick" and "wicked" and "sweet"and they talk like this all the time. And what's with the inconsistent mind reading? Sometimes the vamps can read Riley's mind, but other times it doesn't work, depending on the plot twist going on at the time. That's the problem with introducing mind-reading into a story. You have to be consistent with it because if you don't, it just weakens the plot and annoys the reader.

             NOVEL 3: Eventide             
      The story opens just after the powerful vampire, Victorian, has kidnapped Riley from the scene of the climactic battle that ended the previous book. He is trying to carry her off to his home in Romania so that his father can somehow cure her from the effects of his brother, Valerian's, bite. Before Victorian can do that, however, Eli catches up with them and rescues Riley. Victorian warns them that Riley is changing in very dangerous ways and that they will soon be forced to get help for her. In the next few chapters, Riley has one violent, hallucinatory, out-of-body nightmare after another, and when she wakes up she has lost large chunks of time. Her temper seems to be triggered by everything and everyone in her life. She hates the fact that Eli and her friends are trying to protect her by having someone with her at all times. She can't keep her mind on her worknot in the shop and not on their nightly hunts for newly turned vamps. But does she tell anyone what is happening to her? Does she confide in the man she professes to love? Nope...she tries to pretend that she's fine and, consequently, gets no help. Although she is under observation by her friends most of the time, no one ever realizes what's happening to her. They keep telling her she looks tired, but no one really reaches out to help. Finally, Riley has a huge violent meltdown, and Eli and Victorian haul her off to Romania. The rest of the story follows Riley's adventures there, as she receives her third and fourth vampire bites. She's still human, but now she's human with "tendencies"meaning that she has many vampiric qualities (e.g., strength, speed, endurance, long life) but still has a human heart and soul.

     Just when we think that Riley and her friends will leave Romania and head back to Savannah to continue their lives, a whole new group is dumped into the plot, bringing an immediate interruption in the Riley story line. Worldwide Unexplained Phenomena (aka WUP) is a motley group that includes werewolves, ancient Pict Druthan warriors, and immortal humans. They claim to be peacekeepers who hunt down supernatural bad guys. When Riley is introduced and shakes hands with each WUP member, she is immediately transported into yet another out-of-body experience, this time seeing that person's WUP history. After all the introductions and hallucinations, the Riley plot picks up again. The whole WUP story line is very awkward and poorly managed. Apparently, this is the new direction that the series will travel. Riley will join this group and crisscross the globe hunting down evil supernaturals. My question to the author is this: Instead of totally trashing the mythology and series arc of the DARK INK series, why didn't you start fresh with a new series about a group of global demon hunters who have their own mythology? Will this series continue to be called DARK INK CHRONICLES when Riley is no longer running her tattoo parlor?

     For me, this book is a disappointment. The first half consists of Riley's extremely repetitive hallucinations, and the second half dumps this whole new cast of characters into the mix for unknown reasons and with no noticeable effect on the plot of this book. The WUP members are introduced, and then they just come along for the ride. The one and only strong scene in the book is the climactic confrontation between Riley and Victorian near the end.

     I hate to see what is happening to this series because it started off so well. The author began with a fresh urban setting, plenty of local color, quirky characters, and endless possibilities for story lines. The tattoo shop alone could have been a great source of material. But instead of developing the series along that track, the author has chosen to put all that behind her by adopting an entirely new mythology (the Pict Druthans, who seem to be connected in some way with the ancient Celts). Instead of fleshing out the back stories of the supporting cast of the first three books, she leaves them unexamined and turns to this new group. In all honesty, I don't have much hope that this change in direction is going to improve the series. In the next book, Riley and Eli head to Scotland with the WUP group to hunt down some Black Fallen (angels). Farewell Savannah, we'll miss you.

            NOVEL 4:  Black Fallen             
     Savannah is just a sun-kissed memory as Kat, Eli, Victorian, Noah and their Worldwide Unexplained Phenomena (aka WUP) allies land in Edinburgh, Scotland, to take on the Black Fallenangels who have gone over to the dark side. Here is one character's description of these bad guys: "The Black Fallen are angels engulfed in the darkest of magic. They're obsessed, powerful, and completely undetectable. They've zero conscience. They move among humans as one of them, and only another fallen one can recognize them straight away. They're from an ancient realm of holy and unholy....and they'll not stop until they have what they desire." (p. 24) What both the good guys and the bad guys desire is an ancient, magical book that was stolen from the Dark Fallen centuries ago and has been hidden somewhere in Edinburgh ever since. The book is filled with powerful evil spells that the Dark Fallen want to use for their own nefarious purposes. The WUP team wants to find the book first so that they can destroy it and save the world. In the meantime, the Dark Fallen are sending their vicious demon minionsthe Jodísto rip out the hearts of unlucky humans. The story line follows Kat and her friends as they become expert swordsmen with just a day or two of lessons and then go out each night to hunt down the Jodís and their Dark Fallen masters.

     Soon, strange things begin happening to Kat. First, she is visited by a ghostly little girl in the creepy WUP headquarters building where they are staying. Then a sexy male voice starts crooning erotic words in her head. Finally, she hears a buzzing in her ears that gets louder and louder and never goes away. Does Kat tell anyone about these alarming occurrences when they happen? Of course not. She passes off the buzzing sound as an ear infection or a head cold, keeps forgetting to mention the ghost, and waits way, way too long to mention the mind-speak. Here is a typical example of her improbably off-handed behavior: After Kat sees the ghost girl for the second or third time, she thinks to herself, "I have to remember to ask Gabriel [their Edinburgh WUP contact] about her later" (p. 163), but then never follows through. This is typical behavior for Kat. Even though she has joined the WUP team, she has never been a team player, and being a WUP member doesn't change her self-centered ways.

     The strangest part of this book is the insertion of numerous biographical flashback scenes (always italicized) that jump into Kat's head when she touches people. For example, we get extensive personal information about the two ancient Pict warriors who teach her how to use a sword. Kat is so interested in their personal lives that she makes it a point to touch them almost every time she sees them. Unfortunately, these scenes have absolutely nothing to do with the main plot; they're just dropped in for no apparent reason, and they always bring the momentum of the actual story line to a screeching halt. (Oddly, one of the men's wives is named Ellie, and it turns out that she is Eleanor of Acquitaine, who in real life lived in the 1100s and was married first to King Louis VII of France and then to King Henry II of England—centuries after the height of the Pict civilization. Why use historical figures if you don't make their biographies historically accurate?) At one point, one of the men gives Kat a special ancient Pict prayer and a weapon that shoots glass capsules filled with holy water. In a lengthy scene, he shows her how to use them and tells her that they will kill the demonic Jodís. He makes a big deal of the presentation to Kat, but she never uses the weapon or the prayerjust stores them away in her room. Perhaps she will use them in the next book, but why interrupt the flow of this plot for a major scene involving a device that has no connection with this book's plot?

     I have to be careful how I phrase this next part. Let me just say that a little more than halfway through the book, something terrible happens in the Eli-Kat relationship. This event is loudly telegraphed and entirely predictable because throughout the first part of the book, they (uncharacteristically) keep pledging eternal love to one another every chance they get, constantly emoting about how they are going to be together forever. Tempting fate in that manner in urban fantasyland ALWAYS signals a catastrophe of epic proportions, so be prepared. Although Kat is obviously grief-stricken for a day or so, she  pulls herself together much too easily and too quickly and engages in flirtatious teasing within days when some of her male friends actually begin hitting on her. (Shame on you, Noah and Victorian!) There is an Eli-related cliff-hanger at the end that leads into the next book, which will take Kat and company into the Scottish highlandswerewolf country. 

     Kat tells the story in the first-person voice, a point of view that is powerful if handled well, but agonizing (as in this case) when it's not. It's difficult for me to understand why all of the handsome, sexy men (and that description fits all of Kat's male team members) go gaga over her. She doesn't demonstrate much of a personality, and her stubbornness and lack of team spirit continually drive them to distraction, but they keep telling her how beautiful, talented, brave, etc., she is. The other two female team members might as well be coat racks or wallpaper because Kat rarely mentions them and never has a conversation with either one, and they remain mostly in the background. 

     This series began so strongly that I hate to see what it has become. The book-one Kat was terrific, with her gothic look, her colorful tattoo shop, her quirky friends, and the atmosphere provided by the Savannah setting. Now, she has become just another conceited and arrogant UF heroine of the worst kind as she schleps around the world on an endless monster hunt. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sonya Bateman: GAVYN DONATTI

Author: Sonya Bateman
Series: GAVYN DONATTI

Plot Type: UF
Ratings: V4-5; S2-3; H3
Publisher and Titles:
Simon & Schuster

      Master of None (2010)
      Master and Apprentice (2011)

     Gavyn Donatti reminds me of the hapless Jerry Lundegaard in the movie, Fargo (played by William H. Macy). Both characters are ineffectual, unlucky, and  just can't catch a break. Donatti has had a long string of partners—all left in the lurch. He even dropped one poor guy on his head from the top of a building.

     As Master of None begins, Donatti, an inveterate thief, has lost an antique knife he just stole, and Trevor, the most vicious crime boss in town, is after him to get it back. Just as Donatti is being captured by the Trevor's thugs, a shape-shifting djinn (genie) named Ian comes to his rescue. This is not an “I Dream of…” genie; this guy is more like Hellboy; he’s a grouchy supernatural who seems to hate Donatti on sight. As the action progresses, Donatti and Ian get involved in a complicated djinn war with Trevor at the center.  The villainous djinn are members of the Morai and can shift into the form of huge, poisonous snakes. Also pulled into the action is Donatti’s one-time girlfriend, Jazz, and her young son, Cyrus, who (Donatti is shocked to learn) is also his son. Donatti's former partner, Lark (the head-dropped guy) and Lark's lover, a second djinn named Tory, complete the cast of characters. Eventually, Donatti discovers that he and Ian have a relative connection, so to speak, that will change Donatti’s life forever. 

     The second book, Master and Apprentice, begins a year later. Ian and Donatti have spent that time hunting down and destroying Morai, who are sworn enemies of Ian's Dehbei (wolf) clan. In this book, Donatti learns why Ian hates the Morai so much and why he must kill them all before he and his wife (Akila) can return to his homeland. As the story opens, Ian and Donatti track a Morai to a West Virginia mountain cave, but then they run into a fortress full of Morai and their scions (descendants). Eventually, both Ian and Akila are captured, and Ian is horribly tortured (pushing the violence rating to up to 5). Donatti must rescue them by putting his trust in a Morai who is living as a monk. The plot consists of one bloody battle after another, with gruesome torture scenes in between, from one abattoir to another. As the action rises, Donatti discovers some new powers, and he ends the book stronger than he has ever been. His young son is also beginning to show some powers.
    
     The series concept is fresh (there are not many series featuring a djinn), and the story is compelling, but there are a few problems, mostly in book 1. The DonattiJazz relationship is one of the weakest elements in the book. In book 1, they haven’t been in contact with each other for three years, and much has happened to both of them, but they get right back together—it’s just too easy. Also, at one point  in the same book Jazz’s sister is incinerated in a house fire, and in the next scene Donatti and Jazz are making out in the back seat of a car. I don’t think so! Jazz doesn't have many scenes in book 2, but the relationship (what little we see of it) does seem somewhat more realistic.

     Another problem occurs with the powers of Ian and Toryagain, mostly in book 1. Sometimes they can do wondrous things (e.g., fly, produce things out of thin air, turn an old clunker into a new sports car), but other times they can’t (too tired, power drained, etc.). The down times cannot always be logically predicted; they just happen when a plot twist needs them to happen. This does get better in book 2.
    
     The violence level is high because of the frequent torture scenes. In book 1, few graphic details are provided, so the rating is 4. In book 2, however, the excruciating details are extensive and continuous. 

     The humor comes from the sarcastic dialogue between Donatti and Ian and from Donatti’s constant wisecracking (evenunbelievablyunder extreme torture). This also is handled better in book 2.
    
     By the end of the second book, Donatti was beginning to remind me more and more of Rob Thurman's CAL LEANDROS (UFV5, S3, H4), which is one of my favorite UF series. Cal and Donatti have the same disillusioned, hard-luck outlook on the world, but they never give up, even in the face of extreme pain and constant frustration. By the end of Master and Apprentice, the relationship between Donetti and Ian is very similar to the relationship between Cal and his brother.

     If you love djinns, you might also enjoy Rachel Caine's WEATHER WARDEN series (UFV5, S3, H1) and OUTCAST SEASON series (UFV4, S2, H1) and Mindy Klasky's AS YOU WISH series (SMRV1, S3, H4), all of which feature djinns as main characters.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Michele Hauf: HAWKES ASSOCIATES (not an official series name)

Author: Michele Hauf
Series: HAWKES ASSOCIATES (not an official series name)
Plot Type: SMR
Ratings:  V-4; S-4; H-1
Publisher and Titles: Harlequin
      Seducing the Vampire (2011)
      Forever Vampire (5-2011) 

     Hauf has moved from Harlequin Nocturne to Harlequin Paranormal, and she carries on her BEWITCHING THE DARK and WICKED GAMES series with the first book in this new mini-series, which tells an interesting SMR story that includes a lot of vampire and werewolf carnage. You could call it Snow White with a bite!

     The connection to Hauf's other series is a passing reference to the lone werewolf Severo and the fact that the villain heads the Nava vampire tribe in Paris. Seducing the Vampire tells an ill-fated love story that begins in 1785 and ends in the 21st century, with scenes alternating between past and present. In pre-Revolutionary Paris, the bloodborn vampire Viviane LaMourette accidentally kills a werewolf and sets off the plot. Soon after, when Viviane's patron (i.e., her maker) is murdered (by a werewolf), she reluctantly finds herself in need of a new patron. Viviane is a rarityan independent vampire female  who is not sexually bound to her patron; she only visited him twice a year for a few pints of blood.

     In this world, a female vampire must take blood from her patron periodically to stay aliveor at least, that's what the males tell the females. The leader of the local vamps, Constantine de Salignac, wants Viviane to marry him and produce a bloodborn heir, but instead, Viviane falls for Constantine's brother (Rhyss Hawke), who is half-vampire and half werewolf (and his vamp/were sides have a very complicated co-existence).

     So...we have a beautiful female vampire and two feuding brothers who have hated each other for decades. Things can only end badly. Rhyss is led to believe that Viviane is dead, only to hear (centuries later) of an urban legend about a beautiful black-haired, red-lipped women locked in a glass casket in the tunnels below Paris. What's a guy to do?  He must, of course, follow his bliss and get his girl back. 
    
     The story is compelling, but there is a LOT of angst (from both Viviane and Rhyss) on his whole werewolf/vampire problemthe same worries, over and over again. One other nit to pick: After two centuries of incarceration, Viviane can suddenly speak perfect English. Whassup with that? Still, it's a good SMR story. 

     The second book of the series (Forever Vampire) carries on the story to the next generation, specifically to one of Viviane's sons: Vaillant (aka Vail). Vail was sent to the land of Faerie just a few days after he was born as payment for a favor done for Rhyss by Cressida, Mistress of Winter's Edgea spell that allows Rhyss to control his inner werewolf. Three months before the story begins, Vail (now 30-something) was banished from Faery for interfering with a traditional right of the Unseelie Dark Prince (aka Zett). In Faerie, Vail was taught that vampires are wicked and unclean because they consume the blood of mortals, so Vail hates all vamps even though he is one himself. Vail subsists on faery blood, to which he is now addicted. Vail has also rejected his family in the mortal worldRhyss, Viviane, and Trystan (Vail's brother). 

     Vail does have minimal contact with Rhyss by doing some occasional work for Hawkes Associates, and that is where the plot focuses. A magical faery gown has disappeared from the Hawkes warehouse, and it is Vail's job to retrieve the gown by tracking down the young vampire female who last had it in her possession. Well, you know what happens next, don't you? Tall, dark, and handsome Vail meets blond, blue-eyed, gorgeous Lyric, and the fireworks never stop. Consequently, the sensuality rating of this book is higher than for book 1almost a level 5. Soon, Vail and Lyric are on the run from all manner of murderous faery folk who want to kill Lyric and retrieve the gown. Other plot threads involve a faery mark placed on Lyric when she was a teenager and Vail's quest to confront his biological father. It is sad to see the pitiful condition of Viviane in this book after following her adventures as a vibrant young woman in the previous book.

     Except for a bit of melodrama near the end, Forever Vampire is a great SMR story, with plenty of passion and loads of angst. Both the hero and the heroine have monumental mommy and daddy issues that have been unresolved for decades, so they spend a great deal of time beating themselves up in inner monologues and mutual commiseration sessions—always a highlight in a paranormal romance. Hauf provides enough background information to allow this book to be read as a stand-alone, but why would you? You're better off starting right at the beginning with Seducing the Vampire so that you get the full back story with all of its nuances.

This blog entry was last updated on 7/17/2011. 

 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stephanie Rowe: SOULFIRE



Series: SOULFIRE
Plot Type: CH, SMR
Ratings: V-4; S-4; H-4
Publisher and Titles: Sourcebooks Casablanca
      Kiss at Your Own Risk (2011)
      Touch if You Dare (2011)
      Hold Me if You Can (2012)


    
     This blog entry was revised and updated on 12/24/11 to include a review of the third book in this series: Hold Me if You Can. That review is located at the end of this entry, following a summary of the series so far:

     The premise for this series is a bit bizarre as it humorously, but violently, turns the tables on the usual alpha-male heroes and adds a big dose of toxic feminism. The series tells the SMR stories of four immortal warriors: Blaine, Jarvis, Nigel, and Christian. More than a century ago, a psychotic, feminist witch captured and imprisoned them in her horrific Den of Womanly Pursuits and has been torturing them on a daily basis ever since. Nigel describes the Den as "the bastion of estrogen, torture, doilies, and black magic hell." (Hold Me if You Can, p. 15)


     While the warriors were in the witch's custody, they were forced to take classes in subjects the witches believed that all men should knowlike flower arranging, embroidery, the arts of seduction, and hair styling. As a result the men understand exactly how to please a woman, but they have such an aversion to women that they never want to try out those skills. In addition, each man has adopted one of the skills to channel his stress and aggression. For example, Blaine does cross stitching, Nigel sketches and paints pictures, and Jarvis finds peace in hair styling. I told you this series was weird! 


    The tone of the series is one of frenetic humor combined with constant, twisting and turning action sequences that include lots of violence—some of it of the stomach-turning variety. The bad guys in the series are led by a menagerie of supporting characters, including Angelica, the evil witch who captured the warriors; her ex-husband, Napoleon, who is a powerful sorcerer; and their grandson, Prentiss, who is Death himself. This is a truly dysfunctional familyin every way. Here's a quotation from Napoleon to give you an idea of the level of their craziness: "It wasn't until almost three hundred years after I'd killed our daughter, abandoned my wife and grandson, and fornicated my way through thousands of assassinations that I realized I'd done it all out of love for my wife." (Touch if You Dare, p. 336) Most of the characters have been constructed in a parody of cultural stereotypes and cliches (e.g., the macho warriors, the feminist witches), but I must say that Rowe has created a most original villain in the demonic Augustus, a lethal and lonely assassin who smells like rotten banana and turns his enemies into pink dust.


     At the beginning of Kiss at Your Own Risk, three of the warriors escape, but Christian remains imprisoned. The three freed warriors decide to rescue Christian by using the talents of a Black Widow, a cursed person who can identify the means by which to kill any human or supernatural being. The curse also causes her to kill nice guys, which greatly complicates the SMR process.


     The Black Widow who comes to their aid is Trinity Harpswell, who is nearing the end of her Black Widow curse. If she can just keep herself from killing anyone during the next week, her curse will expire and she will be a normal human woman.  Trinity's path to a curse-free future is fraught with danger, especially after she meets up with the handsome, sexy Blaine, who turns out to be her soul mate.


    Although the story line is fresh and the plot lines resolve themselves neatly, the lead characters are a grab-bag of stereotypes: über-alpha, chauvinistic, immortal males and perky, air-headed, faux-feminist females. I know that this is meant to be a parody, but it didn't quite work for me. Events frequently tip into the ridiculous (e.g., Angelica attacks the good guys with a herd of demonic puppies called Snoodledemgons—a mix of schnauzer, poodle, dragon, and demon). Another silly episode involves a woman who is turned off by her werewolf boyfriend because he comes to bed after a lamb dinner with "bone fragments and wool in his incisors, you know?" (p. 142). The theme seems to be that males need to tune in to their feminist sides, but females (deep down) really want male domination, no matter how much they protest to the contrary. Sorry, I just couldn't get into it. 


     Here's the funniest line in the book, spoken by Angelica when she is questioned about her ultimate male-hating project: "If I had a testicle for every time someone said that to me, I'd have to buy stock in the Nutcracker" (p. 362). 

***   ***   *****   ***   ***


     In Touch if You Dare, Jarvis Swain, the Guardian of Hate, gets it on with Reina Fleming, Trinity's BFF and an up-and-coming Death Guide, whose job it is to sever the soul from each dying person to whom she is assigned. Reina works for Prentiss (Death), and she has had the requisite tragic childhood common to every paranormal heroine. Reina has lost most of her family to the poisonous bite of a deedub. (I am guessing that "deedub" is an abbreviation for DW, which probably refers to "death wish," but I am taking that solely from context because the story doesn't explain explicitly explain what "deedub" means.) Reina's family members are called Sweets. Their blood smells like chocolate to the deedub demons, and those demons are addicted to chocolate. Historically, for the Sweets, there is no way to avoid an eventual deedub bite. That bite triggers a growing feeling of euphoria and a huge increase in physical strength, causing the bitten person to engage in strenuous activities that lead directly to his or her death. For example, here is Reina's description of her mother's death: "She died trying to leap across Lover's Canyon...Apparently [her biker werewolf lover] was on the other side, naked, and she was trying to get some action." (p. 159) Only one family member has survived to this pointReina's sister, Nataliebut Natalie has been manifesting the symptoms that forecast her impending death. 

    Death (aka Prentiss), who is always scheming for more power, wants to increase the number of the dying. He has the brilliant idea of adding love to the death experience so that people will actually look forward to dying. Death's plan involves turning Jarvis's brother, Cameron, who is the Guardian of Love, into one of his reapers. Jarvis has not seen his brother for 150 yearsever since he sacrificed himself to Angelica to save Cameron's life. Unfortunately, Cameron has grown up to be a self-centered, depressed, egotist who sits around whining that love is terrible because it causes so much pain. Cameron has convinced himself that he must die, so he delivers himself right into Death's hands. At this point in his life, Jarvis is teeming with hate, and if he can't get Cameron to ease his hate level, he will explode and die—literally. In the meantime, Reina needs to help Death with his love-death scheme in order to get the extra powers she needs to save Natalie's life. Early in the story, Jarvis and Reina team up to assist one other in their tasks. We follow their adventures from beginning to end as they battle various evil entities, forge unlikely alliances, and fall in love along the way.

***   ***   *****   ***   *** 

     As Hold Me if You Can opens, Natalie (from the previous book) is still trying to get her life together after her recent back-from-the-dead experience when her deedub curse was activated by an orgasm orchestrated by an incubus nicknamed the Godfather. Maggie owns a chocolate shop, where she sells Chocolate Virility Balls to men who need a Viagra effect. (Sounds a lot like that hilarious old Alec Baldwin sketch on Saturday Night Live!) Here's how Maggie sees her role in life: "Bringing order to the world of sex. This wasn't sexual chaos and uncontrolled, deadly passion. This was precision and order, a systematic alignment of sexual balance in the universe. This was what her soul lived for." (p. 28)


     Unfortunately, the deedubs are still after Natalie, so Nigel becomes her protector. Nigel is having his own problems because his artwork has turned against him. The warriors discover that Mara, Angelica's witchy assistant, has taken over the Den now that Angelica is out of commission, and Mara has decided to make amends by wiping out the warriors' bad memories and thoughts of revenge against the witches so that all that is left is the ability to fall in love—with a woman chosen by Mara. To carry out her grand plan, Mara takes control of Nigel's drawings, so every time he completes a sketch of one of his fellow escapees, that warrior is dragged back into the Den for his brainwashing, leaving him a mindless husk. To complicate matters, Mara is loading Natalie's soul with demon smut, so she is gradually becoming a demon, with all of those nasty demonic urges—not to mention the claws and fangs. 


     The plot follows the development of the romance between Nigel and Natalie as Nigel learns how to control his inner rage and hostility, and Natalie learns how to tap into her inner sensuality and love of life. Once again, the story goes for the preposterous over the logical every time. When Nigel loses control, huge clouds of sharp blades of all kinds burst from all parts of his body and go flying into anything or anybody that gets in the way. Natalie's demonic self is a deedub who goes nuts for poor Maggie, a Sweet who has come to work in Natalie's chocolate shop. 


     This book is on a par with the other two with its juxtaposition of overwrought humor and gut-wrenching violenceoften emotional in nature, but also physical. One plus for this book: not as many copy proofing errors as in the first two books.


    I wish that I could like this series more, but, alas, it's just not my cup of paranormal tea. If you like the frenetic humor of MaryJanice Davidson and Michele Bardsley, you might like this series, although the writing is not quite up to their standards, and the books have an annoying number of copy-proofing errors.