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Thursday, May 31, 2012



I have just updated a previous post for Caris Roane with a review of the fifth book in her GUARDIANS OF ASCENSION SERIES:  Obsidian Flame.

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012



I have just updated a previous post for Kerrelyn Sparks with a review of the twelfth book in her LOVE AT STAKE SERIES: Wanted: Dead or Alive

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012



I have just updated a previous post for Ann Aguirre with a review of the fourth book in her CORINE SOLOMON SERIES  Devil's Punch.

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Author:  Kate Cross (aka Kathryn Smith, Kate Locke)
Plot Type:  SMR, HIS, Steampunk
Ratings:  V4; S4; H2-3
Publisher and Titles:  Signet Eclipse
       Heart of Brass (5/2012)
       Touch of Steel (12/2012)
       Breath of Iron (8/2013)     

     This post was revised and updated on 9/9/13 to include a review of Breath of Iron, the third book in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1 and 2:     

            BOOK 3:  Breath of Iron            
     Evelyn (Evie) Stone is the chief surgeon of the Wardens. In the opening scene, Evie is in Paris having a one-night fling with a handsome young doctor. As she walks home to her hotel, she is abducted by a long-time friend and wakes to find herself a prisoner on her ex-lover's airship. Evie and Captain Gavin MacRae had a passionate love affair that ended badly three years ago when she saved his life after he was grievously wounded and then walked out on him. The two still love one another, but each has hurt the other so deeply that both believe they there's no chance they will ever get back together.

     MacRae kidnaps Evie for her medical skills because one of his passengers (named Imogene) is unconscious with severe gunshot wounds, and Imogene has vital information that he needs. When Evie sees the severity of the woman's injuries, she calms down and saves her life. A few scenes later, MacRae confesses to Evie that Imogene is his new wife, and fur starts to fly.  

     Evie and MacRae spend 90% of the book ranting and raving at one another, hurting each other's feelings, and raking open past emotional wounds. Luckily, MacRae is a charming rogue with a wicked sense of humor, so their dialogue is mostly entertaining, although their torturous emotional relationship eventually begins to wear thin. That's mostly because Evie is so self-centered. She left MacRae because she couldn't bear the thought of his leaving her—either because of his death or because he got tired of her. Evie has a fear of commitment along with a major distrust of ever-after love, both of which stem from her unhappy childhood—raised by a single mother who was abandoned by Evie's father. MacRae is a scarred and battered risk taker who is now the captain of a pirate airship and is frequently on the wanted list in several countries. Will the two ever be able to work out their differences? Of course they will. This is, after all, a romance, and that means that, eventually, there is an HEA in their future. This romance plot takes up most of the story—much more so than in the previous two books.

     What action plot there is involves a traitor on board MacRae's airship. Here's how MacRae summarizes his situation: "He had an injured spy on his boat, her dead husband in the ice chest, his ex-lover in his cabin and a traitor in his crew. Just another day aboard the Queen V." (p. 108) As the story opens, that traitor has caused the death of a Warden agent, and he continues to cause problems—and more deaths—as the story advances. MacRae can't believe that one of his long-time crew members would turn on him, but the evidence says otherwise. Eventually, both MacRae and Evie are badly injured by the traitor, and as this happens they begin to understand each other's fears and emotions. MacRae has some deep secrets that he keeps from Evie—secrets that will affect both their lives in the final analysis. Just as in the previous book, the identity of the villain was clear to me early on in the story because the author drops some subtle hints (so read carefully).   

     The steampunk gadgetry in this series generally parallels modern inventions, so it made me smile to learn that the Wardens have IT specialists. In this series, though, IT doesn't stand for Information Technology, it stands for Irregular Transpiration. MacRae and Evie find that out the hard way when they have a run-in with a former human who was transmutated into a vicious, mindless Minotaur by a Greek IT team.

     Once again, this book is not as great as book 1. It was just O.K. for me, needing less emphasis on the one-note anguished romance and more complexity in the action plot.    

     Set in an alternate Victorian London (1898) during the Steam Age, the series follows the adventures and misadventures of members of a spy organization called the Wardens of the Realm (W.O.R.). The Wardens' bitter enemy is the Company, an equally skilled spy group. Here is one character's description of the two groups: "In the business of spying, the rivalry between the Wardens and the Company was the longest and the most volatile. To say that the two were on opposite sides would be an oversimplification. Sometimes they were on the same side, and even then they fought one another. No, it went beyond right and wrong. Their dissension was based on something more complex than morality. They were enemies hell-bent on destroying each other, but wouldn't know what to do without the other there to fight against. The only relationship he could compare it to would be a marriage between two people who despised each other but refused to separate." (p. 39)

     Since this is the Steam Age, both the Wardens and the Company use lots of steam-powered and spring-driven devices in their secretive operations. In addition, they are physically altering a growing number of their agents, using metal to construct various bones and installing metal shields for essential internal organs, including the heart and lungs. The metal they use is gregorite, the original name for titanium. If a person is badly injured—for example, gets his hand crushed in a riding accident—a doctor can replace that hand with a mechanical one made of gregorite and he's as good as new—actually, even stronger. 

     In this world, the upper classes depend on all types of machines to make life easier. For example, automatons scrub the floors of their mansions, mechanical horses pull their carriages, automated androids handle security, and robotic orchestras perform at their parties.

     Despite the futuristic steampunk machinery, this is still a Victorian society with its strict social mores and its patriarchal traditions. Although the English prime minister is a woman, men still run things, believing that a woman's place is at home, not out in the world. In each book of this series, an independent young women and a sexy alpha male meet, fall in love, and get their HEA.

            BOOK 1: Heart of Brass            
     As the story begins, Arden Grey (Lady Huntley) is assisting Scotland Yard on a murder case in which a young, aristocratic woman has been eviscerated. Inspector Grant calls on Arden because she has invented the Aetheric Remnant Oscillatory Transmutative Spectacles (AROTS), which allow her to visualize exactly what the murder victim saw in her last moments of life. Using the AROTS, Arden visualizes a male aristocrat with a horseshoe-shaped cravat pin, but she can't see his face. 

     Note: One of the on-going jokes in the series is that Arden is a mechanical genius who has invented a hand-held mechanical device called a Personal Hysteria Dissolution Mechanism that assists women with hysterics. If you can't figure out just what this handy little invention does, click HERE to read a plot summary of the movie, Hysteria. Click HERE to read a Wikipedia article on "Female Hysteria."

     As Arden is leaving the crime scene, she catches a glimpse of a man watching her from a warehouse rooftop. She is stunned when she recognizes him as her husband, Luke (Lucas Harris Stratford Grey, the Earl of Huntley), who has been missing for seven years and presumed dead by everyone but Arden. When Luke steals into Arden's bedroom that night, she awakens and calls him by name, but he seems not to recognize her and runs away. We soon learn that Luke disappeared because he was captured by the Company while he was searching for a traitor within the W.O.T.R. ranks. The Company performed surgery on his brain, causing him to lose all memory of his previous life. They renamed him "Number Five" and sent him out as an assassin, and his current assignment is to kill Arden.

     The plot initially follows two paths as Arden tries to figure out what's going on with Luke, and Luke begins to have flashes in which he remembers scenes from his previous life. Eventually, with the help of her friend Alastair, Arden captures Luke, and a W.O.T.R. doctor performs surgery to remove the memory-draining device that the Company inserted in his brain. The remainder of the story focuses on the couple as they realize that each is a very different person now, and that after seven long years of separation they must rebuild their lives from scratch. Their relationship is complicated by the fact that Alastair fell in love with Arden while Luke was gone, and he's not exactly thrilled to have Luke back. Seven years ago, Arden was a submissive young woman who did whatever her husband commanded her to do. Now, she is an independent woman—a W.O.T.R. agent, a consultant for Scotland Yard, and a well-known inventor. Back then, Luke was a workaholic who left Arden alone much of the time, never discussing any of his W.O.T.R. assignments with her. On some of his assignments, he traveled with his former mistress. Arden had to learn about that mistress from a friend because Luke never admitted the relationship to her. can see that they have a lot of emotional history to work through if they are to earn their HEA.

     As the two work on their new relationship, two more story lines intertwine with the romance. First, Arden and Inspector Grant still must track down the murderer, who has struck again. Second, the Company sends its best agent to kill both Aden and Luke, so they have to figure out a way to trap him. 

     This is a solid series with well-developed characters and lots of action. The author does a great job of blending the steampunk aspects into the story line. Instead of overwhelming the plot (which is sometimes the case in other steampunk series) these details support various aspects of the investigation and add interest to our view of the everyday lives of the characters. Arden and Luke are complex characters, flawed but essentially on the side of the greater good. Arden has buried herself in her work and has learned to depend on alcohol to get her through her lonely days and nights. Luke realizes that in his former life, he was kind of a jerk, paying little attention to Arden's love of invention and leaving her alone while he went off on his spying adventures. Their journey back to true love is compelling, as they both make mistakes, jump to erroneous conclusions, begin to work as a team, and finally learn to trust and love one another. 

            BOOK 2:  Touch of Steel            
     This book tells the love story of Company spy Claire Brooks and Wardens of the Realm spy Alastair Payne, the Earl of Wolfred. We met Alastair in book 1 in his role as the best friend of the hero and wannabe lover of the heroine. In book 1, Alastair not only had to give up on his love for Arden, but he also fell for a Company sympathizer who set him up and then left him for dead, crushed under a carriage. At this point, Alastair is in the final stages of recovering from his injuries, and he is wary of female relationships. That attitude doesn't last long though, because at the beginning of this book, Alastair is called upon by the Wardens to go undercover with Claire in pursuit of a deadly, double-dealing spy named Stanton Howard.

     Claire has personal reasons for wanting to capture Howard because he is the Company traitor who killed her brother, Robert. She wants to know why Robert was murdered, and she is desperate to avenge his death. In the opening scene, Howard shoots Claire and pushes her off the roof of a building. The Wardens rescue her and make a deal that they won't kill her if she helps them capture Howard. Claire agrees even though she has secret plans to kill Howard herself, as slowly and painfully as possible. 

     The plot follows Claire and Alastair as they make a quick train trip to Scotland and then board a ship that is crossing the Atlantic. All the while, the two are falling for each other. (The captain of that ship is the hero of the next book.) They go through the usual paranormal romance procedure: first comes the sarcastic, teasing dialogue; then the "accidental" touches and soulful gazes; next, the first big kiss; and finally some steamy bedroom scenes. Even though they are extremely attracted to one another, they know that their romantic relationship is doomed. Alistair believes that Claire faces long-term imprisonment; Claire believes that when she kills Howard, the Wardens will immediately kill her. Of course, we (the readers) know that the couple is slated for their HEA, so we're not too worried.

     This book isn't as strong as book 1. I had no trouble at all figuring out the plot twist regarding Stanton Howard, and you won't either because the author telegraphs it all the way through. This isn't an awful book; it's just not as good as the first one—which was terrific—so it would have had to meet a very high standard, one that second books frequently miss. One weakness in the steampunk aspect of the story is that most of the gimmicks and gadgets that the characters use are carbon copies of modern-day inventions (e.g., cell phones, tasers, laptops). Steampunk is more fun when the gadgets are a bit more exotic.

     The third book will tell the romantic story of Warden surgeon Dr. Evelyn Stone and her ex-lover, ship captain Gavin MacRae. Book 2 has several scenes involving the two of them (separately) so we can ascertain that they are both good people and that they share a troubled past.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012



I have just updated a previous post for Gena Showalter with a review of the ninth book in her LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD SERIES: The Darkest Seduction.

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Friday, May 25, 2012



I have just updated a previous post for Lara Adrian with a review of the climactic tenth book (Chance's story) in her MIDNIGHT BREED SERIES: Darker Than Midnight.

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shawntelle Madison: COVETED SERIES

Author:  Shawntelle Madison
Series:  COVETED
Plot Type:  Light Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor2
Publisher and Titles:  Ballantine
       "Collected" (e-novella prequel, 12/2013) 
       Coveted (5/2012)
       Kept (11/2012)
       "Bitter Disenchantment" (e-novella, 12/2013)
       Compelled (3/2014)  

NOTE: This post contains reviews of the prequel novella and the first two novels in this series. At that point, I decided that the quality was too consistently disappointing to keep reading the series. I will, however, continue to update the book list above as new books are published.           

     In this world, the supernatural community includes werewolves, witches, warlocks, wizards, and all kinds of fae, from mermaids to goblins to dwarfs. The lead characters are members of the Toms River, New Jersey werewolf pack. Although humans don't seem to know that the supernatural world exists, I'm not sure that they could miss seeing such things as a zombie waiter in an upscale restaurant or a major werewolf war, both of which are a part of book 1.  

     The series heroine is Natalya Stravinsky, a twenty-something werewolf who was kicked out of her pack because she suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and mysophobia (aka germophobia) and because she rejected an arranged marriage with a top-level pack family. Five years ago, Nat had her OCD pretty much under control, but then her boyfriend, Thorn Grantham, deserted her and she fell prey to her weaknessbuying Christmas ornaments, scrupulously cleaning them up, and storing them in pristine white boxes that are neatly stacked everywhere in her antiseptically clean house. Nat's OCD is a huge part of the plot, to the point that you just want to tell her to get a better therapist and work a lot harder at getting over it.

     One of the cover blurbs compares Nat to Carolyn Crane's hypochondriacal heroine, Justine Jones, but really, there is no comparisonnot between the heroines and definitely not between the two series. Crane's series has a beautifully crafted mythology and a smart and sympathetic heroine, two things that this series lacks. Click HERE to read my review of Carolyn Crane's excellent DISILLUSIONISTS TRILOGY.

            E-NOVELLA PREQUEL:  "Collected"            
     This novella introduces us to Natalya and her obsessive-compulsive behavior. As the story begins, Nat has purchased a Victorian figurine in an on-line auction, but someone steals the package as it is being delivered to her house. She follows the scent of the perpetrator and discovers that a zmeea three-headed dragonhired a wood nymph to do the job. The zmee talks Natalya into a bargain. He will keep the figurine and give her two other collectibles if she will photograph an antique compass that is displayed in a display case in a factory run by leprechauns. Then, a villainous vodyanoy enters the picture and blackmails Nat into giving him the photographs. In the meantime, Nat has dragged her brother, Alex, and his best friend, Miles, into her dangerous adventure. The rest of the story follows them through their trip to the leprechauns' factory.

     This little novella illustrates all that is wrong with this series. First, the plot is nonsensicalall this drama so that Nat can possess a papier mache figure and a nutcracker. Even Nat herself muses, "Had I fallen so far that I needed these things, these trinkets? That I was willing to risk myself and my friends to add to my collection?" Yes indeed, she has, and not for the firstor lasttime. Then, there's the "romance." In a come-from-nowhere scene near the end, Miles, who has known Nat and Alex since childhood, confesses his long-term attraction to her on the eve his leaving town forever. That scene doesn't even come close to ringing true. And don't forget the awkward interior monologues in which Nat constantly belittles herself for being germophobic and obsessive-compulsive but just keeps right on with it, to the detriment of her life and the lives of her friends. 

     Long story short, you don't need to read this novella to understand book 1 because Nat's various mental ailments are described in that book in great detail. The only saving grace is that at the moment, this novella is a free download.

            NOVEL 1:  Coveted            
      The story opens with a mild bedroom scenea flashback that involves clean sheets, chocolate syrup, and empty promises. And that's about the end of the sex for our heroine in this book. After having been gone for five years, Thorn, the pack leader's son, has finally returned home, and he's slated to marry the daughter of one of the pack's top families. Thorn comes back only because his father has been injured, and wants Thorn to take on some of his responsibilities. Even though Thorn rescues Nat occasionally from threatening situations, he doesn't come across as much of a hero. He has agreed to the arranged marriage, but he keeps hanging around Natshowing up in her bedroom, breathing heavily in her ear, and telling her how much he wants her...if only things were different. They never have a real conversation, so it's hard to tell what the attraction is between them.

     Nat's life as a rogue werewolf means that she has no werewolf friends. Even her family is mostly estranged from her, except for her grandmother.  Family members and pack members are disturbingly rude and cold to Nat much of the time. When Nat's college friend, Aggie (also a werewolf), turns up at her door, Nat is thrilled for the companionship, even though she's nervous about having someone live in her ultra-clean house among all her treasuresor as she calls them, "my children."

     Meanwhile, the Long Island werewolf pack is trying to take over the Toms River pack's territory, and their pack leader (Luther) wants to kill Nat. During most of the book, no one seems to have a clue as to why the Long Island pack is so focused on Nat. When we finally get the answer, it is a total rip-off. Obviously Nat has to have known all along why the pack leader wants to kill her. Why didn't she speak up? Why didn't she include it in one of her interminable interior monologues? Who knows?

     Part-way into the story, Nat rejoins a therapy group, hoping to get her OCD under control. There, she is partnered with Nick, a sexy wizard who also has an OCD problem. Obviously, Nick is going to be the third point in Nat's love triangle along with Thorn. He's a much more likable and interesting guy, so that probably means she won't choose him.

     This book has so many problems, it's hard to know where to begin. First, there's the author's lack of skill in writing from the first-person point of view. Then there are the grammatical errors and the awkward use of language. Counting up the cliches would be "like plucking fruit off a tree." (p. 278) And don't forget the numerous holes in the plot. At one point, Nat's home is flooded by a creek next to her home that we have never heard about before this point. The flood is included in the story solely because the author needs Nat's treasures to be damaged so that her relatives can finally show some sympathy as they help her clean up after the flood waters recede. The story abounds with loose ends, like the eccentric therapy group member who merits several pages of description and is never heard from again. And then there's another unnecessary scene in which some tree nymphs plan (but never come close to carrying out) a kidnapping and humiliation of Nat's brother. It's a silly scene in which they fill their car with pink duct tape and shaving creamand it adds absolutely nothing to the plot. Perhaps the author intended these scenes to add humor to the story. If so, it didn't work for me. The way to add humor is to integrate it with the plot, not to manufacture "humorous" situations and drop them in every once in awhile before getting back to the story.

     In the most illogical and manipulative scene in the book, after Nat's brother is rescued from the Long Island werewolves, he is taken to his aunt's home to recover. Now, the aunt lives within walking distance of his parents' house, so why is he recovering at his aunt's house and not his parents' house. And why aren't the parents there with him. His mother has been worried sick about him, so why would she turn her back on him now? The answer to this is that the author needs him to be in a certain place with a certain few people so that he can once again be attacked. If the author followed the logical flow of things and put him with his parents, there would have been too many people around for the second attack to take place. This is the kind of plot manipulation that makes for a below average book with an above average level of annoyance for the reader. The attack scene that follows is staged so awkwardly and illogically that it is head-shakingly dreadful. A band of enemy werewolves sneaks up on the house, creeping in to grab a shotgun off a table and a cellphone from a purse. You'd think that if they could get inside and grab the gun and the phone they would then attack the only two people in the house who are conscious, but no...once again logic definitely does NOT prevail. What happens instead is that the enemy werewolves all go down into the basement to hide, and then come back up again and attack through the cellar door. They have sent poisoned food into the house, and they have been inside to check things out, so they are sure that the inhabitants are mostly sick or unconscious, so why in the world don't they attack while they are in the house grabbing the shotgun? And why don't they split up and attack from multiple angles? And why would they all go into the basement and then come right back up again? This whole section of the book quickly went from unconvincingly improbable to unbelievably awful. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Coveted.

     I'm afraid that I can't recommend this series based on book 1. I'm willing to take a look at book 2 in the hope that the writing improves, but I'm not optimistic.  

            NOVEL 2:  Kept             
     In this book, the heroine's various neuroses are just as bad and just as annoying as they were in book 1. She is still collecting and hoarding Christmas ornaments (a symptom of her OCD) and she still carries multiple packs of sanitizing wipes with her at all times (a symptom of her germophobia). She also continues in her estrangement from her lost love, Thorn Grantham, son and heir of the local pack leader. Nat is still attending her therapy group, where she continues her friendship with Nick, a white wizard who would like to be more than a friend.

     As the story opens, Nat's father disappears, and she learns that he has gone off to Atlantic City to pay a life-or-death moon debt to Roscoe, a former werewolf associate who is a criminal mob boss. Nat goes off on her own to find and rescue her father, but is immediately joined by her brother, Alex, and Thorn. Alex is soon called home when his wife gives birth to their first child, leaving Nat and Thorn on their own. After meeting with Roscoe, the couple fulfills the first task that Dad was supposed to do, but when they return to Roscoe, he insists that Nat must complete the rest of the assignment with no werewolf assistancewhich means that Thorn has to walk away. The rest of the story follows Nat as she makes a traumatic road trip to Maine accompanied by Nick and two other members of her therapy group. By the end of the book, Dad's moon debt situation is taken care of and Nat's pack status is resolved, but her romantic future is filled with uncertainty.

     In a secondary story line, Nat is just weeks away from the trialsa set of three tests of physical endurance that will determine whether she can rejoin the pack. She constantly professes that becoming a pack member is her major goal in life, but as the book begins, she hasn't done any physical training at all to get in shape. After she spends a single early-morning session attempting to run ten miles (and collapsing after jogging/walking/dragging only about half that many), we never see her train again. So when she performs quite well in the actual 10-mile run during the trials, we (the readers) are quite stunned.

     The author has the germ of a good story, but her writing skills aren't up to the task of constructing either sympathetic, realistic characters or a cohesive, believable plot. There was a point late in the book that I became engaged in the action, but it was a long time coming and it didn't last very long. Unfortunately, this plot has many more weaknesses than strengths. For example, the scene with Roscoe, Nat, and her father doesn't make much sense. Why would Roscoe allow Nat to pay off just one part of the moon debtand the lesser part at that? Why would her big, strong, honorable father let his emotionally damaged, physically weak daughter go off her own to pay off his debt? Once Thorn and Alex leave Nat alone, they don't seem to worry much about heranother unbelievable turn of events. Nat's history is filled with failure at almost everything she attempts, so why would they think she can do this alone? (As it turns out, she can't; once again, her friends bail her out.)  

     Characterization is also a problem. Nat is an extremely unlikeable heroinealways a whiny, fearful, shrinking violet who freezes up during almost every crisis and lets others fight her battles. When she does dredge up enough gumption to fight back, it's so rare and shocking as to be unbelievable. Thorn is also unlikable. He's a big, strong, thoughtless alpha who appears to have no idea how much he hurts Nat as he follows a pattern of coming on to Nat in one scene and then showing up with his fiancee in the next. He is furious that Nat is seeing Nick the wizard, but can't understand why Nat is bothered by the fact that he himself is engaged to be married. It's really impossible for me to understand what each one sees in the other.

     There are continuity problems throughout the book. For example, in one scene (on p. 29), Nat's mother explains everything she knows about Dad going off to pay his moon debt. Then (on page 30), we have this statement: "An hour later, Alex and Aunt Vera managed to convince Mom to talk." But Mpm already did all her talking on the previous page, and she doesn't provide  any more after that point. There are also a few dialogues in which questions and answers are not synchronizeda question is asked by one character, and another character appears to answer a different question.

     And don't get me started on the road-trip scene in which Nat and her friends riff on the euphemisms used by romance novelists for female and male private parts. That scene is obviously just thrown in for its general silliness, and it totally breaks the suspense build-up.

     I'm going to bring this review to a close by saying that I will not be reviewing any more books or novellas in this series. I will list the titles when they are published, but without any comments. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Kept

Wednesday, May 23, 2012



I have just updated a previous post for Hannah Jayne  with a review of the third book in her UNDERWORLD DETECTION AGENCY CHRONICLES Under Suspicion.

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Author:  Suzanne Johnson   (aka Susannah Sandlin) 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor2
Publisher and Titles:  Tor
    1      Royal Street (4/2012) 
    1.5   "Christmas in Dogtown" (e-novella, 10/2012)
    2      River Road (11/2012)
    3      Elysian Fields (8/2013) 
    4      Pirate's Alley (4/2015)
    4.5   Pirateship Down (anthology of stories set in this world, 4/2015)
    5      Belle Chasse (11/2016) 

This post was revised and updated on 12/5/2016 to include a review of Belle Chasse, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the series world-building and reviews of the previous books and stories. 

                         NOVEL 5: Belle Chase                         

    With the wizard-elven treaty on the verge of collapse, the preternatural world stands on the brink of war. Unless former wizard sentinel DJ Jaco manages to keep the elven leader, Quince Randolph, focused on peace and not personal matters.

    With no one on the throne, Faerie is in chaos, with rival princes battling for power. The still-undead pirate, Jean Lafitte, is building his own army of misfits, and DJ―stripped of her job and hiding in the Beyond to avoid the death sentence handed down by the wizard Council of Elders―can’t get anywhere near her beloved New Orleans or her significant something-or-other, Alex.

     It's time to choose sides. Friends will become enemies, enemies will become allies, and not everyone will survive. DJ and her friends will learn a hard lesson: sometimes, even the ultimate sacrifice isn’t enough  

               FAIR WARNING:                
     My review of Belle Chasse contains spoilers for Pirate's Alley.     
     As the story opens, DJ Jaco and her best friend, Eugenie, have just escaped to Jean Lafitte's realm of Old Barataria. DJ has a bullet wound, and she's worried that Eugenie, who is pregnant with Quince Randolph's child, may have been injured during the escape and subsequent transport to Lafitte's realm. Accompanying them are several allies:

> Jake Warin, Alex's loup garou cousin, who has pledged his loyalty to Lafitte;

Rene Delachaise, the merman with whom DJ once shared a mental bonding (and who is also nursing a bullet wound); and

Adrian Hoffman, an arrogant Wizard who became a Vampire in the previous novel and who hasin the pastbeen one of DJ's enemies. (He tried to get DJ killed in Elysian Fields.)

     DJ sums up her situation: "There was a bounty on my head, it was four days before Christmas, and I was having turtle gumbo with a merman, an undead pirate king, two loups-garou, and my best frienda human pregnant with the half-elven child who had unknowing helped set this whole debacle in motion. Plus a newbie vampire upstairs who didn't like the smell of food anymore. We'd make a great reality show except...that nobody would believe reality could be quite this warped."

     DJ is running from the Congress of Elders, specifically from Willem Zrakovi, who now heads the Elders. Because DJ outsmarted and embarrassed Zrakovi during the events of the previous novel, he trumped up some charges against both her and Jake and sentenced her to imprisonment in Iceland even though he knows that her Elven genes make her intolerant of cold, meaning that the imprisonment is essentially a death sentence. The big surprise in DJ's successful escape is that her straight-arrow boyfriend, Alex Warin, helped her get away to safety. DJ has never been certain whether Alex would choose the law or his love for her if it came down to a forced choice between the two. This time he made the right choice, but she is uncertain if she can count on him in the future.

     Throughout the book, DJ has quite a few angst-filled interior monologues involving her inability to trust Alex. Here is an example: "The list of people I trusted completely was a short one and [Rene] was at the very top. I was ashamed to admit it, even to myself, but Rene was ahead of Alex. Worse, Jean Lafitte was slightly ahead of Alex..., too, but that was another of my own little secrets. Alex's blind faith in the Elders had hurt his position on my trust-o-meter, although his star was rising now that he'd helped me escape the Elders twice." Later, when someone asks DJ how far Alex will blindly follow Zrakovi, she doesn't like the answer she has to give: "I don't know. I really don't." DJ would like to believe that "Alex had his own true north, his own moral absolutes, and that there was some line that, when crossed, it would turn him away if Zrakovi's path strayed too far from his own beliefs I didn't have a clue what that tipping point might be, however....Alex had urged me to run to Barataria, had even helped me escape. But he had been adamant about staying behind. I'd had no answers then. I had none now."

     In addition to finding a solution to DJ's problem with the Council of Elders, Johnson weaves several other subplots into the storyline:

> The two Fae princes, Christof and Florian, are destroying the Fae realm as they wage war against one another, both intent on becoming the new Fae king. Their uncontrolled weather tantrums are also taking a toll on the human world.

> The Vampires are now acting as mercenaries for anyone who pays them the most or promises them the best deal, and so far that has been Zrakovi. Two of their attacks directly affect DJ and her allies.

> Quince Randolph (Rand) is determined to take control of Eugenie and their unborn son, while Eugenie, with DJ's support, fights to prevent him from dragging her off to his Elfheim realm. At the same time, Rand is also trying to establish his mating rights with DJ, which is never going to happen while DJ has breath in her body. (You'll have to read Elysian Fields to learn the background on their very weird relationship.) Rand, who is now the leader of the Elven Synod, wants to take over the Council of Elders, and his sly, behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing figures into several of the events in Belle Chasse.

     Meanwhile, Alex remains in New Orleans, where he sidles up to two Council Elders in an effort to spy on them and get information back to DJ. To do this, Alex pretends to be dating the daughter of Lennox St. Simon, one of the more reasonable of the Elders. In Pirate's Alley, DJ learned that Lennox is the brother of her biological father, Gerry, which makes his daughter, Audrey, DJ's cousin. Audrey, an untrained Red Congress Wizard, plays an extremely important role in Belle Chasse. Plus, she's a brash, courageous, young woman who brings a breath of fresh air to the action. 

     As you can see, the plot is complex and full of suspense, with multiple groups allying with one another and double-crossing one another. By the end of the book, the preternatural world is in chaos, and no one really knows who will take sides and what will result from the coming war.

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.

     The Sentinels are wizards who maintain order among the preternaturals (aka pretes) of the world. They are divided into four groups called Congresses, based on their powers. Red Congress wizards use physical magic; Green Congress wizards are more witchlike, using spells and potions; Yellow Congress wizards are telepaths; Green and Blue Congress wizards use creative and intellectual powers. Each wizard is mainstreamed into the human community as a means of keeping his or her magical identity hidden.

     In this world, most pretes live in the Beyond, a realm separate from mortal earth, where each group lives together in its own area—kind of like little supernatural villages. In New Orleans, some of the pretes live in Old Orleans, a realm between the mortal world and the Beyond. In order for a preternatural from the Beyond to enter the mortal world, he or she must be summoned by a wizard or cross through a transport (i.e., a portal). Some pretes are allowed to live in the mortal world, mostly werewolves and shape shifters (which are two very different creatures in this series). The series has one group of undead that is new and inventive—the historical dead. These are famous people who, although dead, are still hanging around hoping to get back to earth for one reason or another—people like Jean Lafitte and Marie Laveau, who want money and power, and Louis Armstrong, who just wants to keep making music in his favorite city. Also living in the Beyond are the gods of various cultures. The strength of their undead existence depends on how many people still remember and believe in them.

     The Sentinels are ruled by the Congress of Elders, a stereotypically crotchety and über-traditional group of men who are headquartered in Edinburgh. They want to maintain the status quo and keep as many pretes as possible away from mortal earth. Here, DJ, the series heroine, explains the organizational structure: "Willem Zrakovi was the head wizard for North Americaeach continent had one grand poobah that served on the Council of Elders and above them all was a single First Elder. Below them were the heads of the four congresses, then the sentinels, then the licensed wizards. The enforcers were a group unto themselves, part FBI prete team and part assassins." (River Road, p. 134)

     The heroine of the series is Drusilla Jane Jaco (aka "DJ"), a Green Congress wizard who is forced to become the Sentinel of New Orleans when her mentor, Gerald "Gerry" St. Simon (Red Congress), disappears during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her love interest (one of them, anyway) is Alexander (Alex) Warin, a shape-shifting Enforcer (a chow-pony mix) who works for the Elders, mostly as a terminator of out-of-control pretes. As is almost always the case in paranormal fiction, DJ has a second possible love interestAlex's non-magical cousin, Jacob (Jake), who owns a nightclub in the French Quarter. The titles of the novels are all the names of streets in New Orleans.

                      NOVEL 1: Royal Street                      
     The titular locationRoyal Streetis in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter, where many of the events in the story take place. As the action begins, DJ is meeting with Jean Lafitte in an attempt to trick him into going back to the Beyond. (Lafitte can't be killed by any ordinary means; the only way to get rid of him permanently would be for everyone to forget him, and since he is such an unforgettable man, that will never happen.) When she is successful, he gives her one of those "I'll be baacck!" shout-outs as he fades away. You can be sure that he makes good on that threat. Soon thereafter, the Elders order DJ to evacuate because Katrina is bearing down on New Orleans. Leaving Gerry behind to protect the city, DJ heads to her grandmother's home in Alabama where she waits out the hurricane and worries about Gerry, who disappears about a week after the storm. The elders order DJ back to New Orleans when they discover that Gerry has gone missing and that Katrina has damaged the boundaries between the mortal world and the Beyond, allowing marauding pretes to stream into New Orleans. When DJ reaches her house (luckily in an unflooded neighborhood), Lafitte is waiting in ambush. Just in the nick of time (but much to DJ's annoyance), a tall, sexy, well-armed man bursts in and shoots Lafitte, forcing him back to the Beyond. The rescuer introduces himself as Alex, her new partner, and informs DJ that together they will be co-Sentinels of the city. The Elders (and Alex) suspect that Gerry has gone rogue, while DJ is sure that he has fallen victim either to the storm or to a villainous prete.

     The plot follows DJ and Alex as they search for Gerry and investigate a series of voodoo-related murders of National Guardsmen. At each murder scene, the perpetrator has drawn a voodoo véve, and soon those drawings show up on the doorsteps of all of the wizards in New Orleans, including DJ's. As DJ reads through Gerry's journals, she begins to realize that Alex and the Elders might be right—that Gerry may have gotten himself involved in a dangerous bargain with Baron Samedi, a voodoo god who is trying to build up enough power to take down the Elders. She also makes a stunning discovery about her own genetic heritage. As the conflict is resolved, both DJ and Alex are put into situations where they must choose between the safety of family and the greater good of the Elders' laws.

     The love triangle develops as the story moves along, with a love-hate relationship growing between DJ and Alex, a flirtation developing between DJ and Jake, and ripples of jealousy pulsating between the two men. During the climactic resolution, Jake has a life-changing experience, so we'll have to see how that affects his love life.

     This is an inventive new series with a fresh take on the supernatural mythos. The idea that the preternaturals are mostly confined to the Beyond is interesting, although the details of the world-building are not completely spelled out in book 1. For example, why do the Elders allow some pretes to live in the mortal world, but not others? The concept of the historical undead is fascinating, and it opens up lots of possibilities for future story lines. Maybe Elvis can stop in for a visit (kind of like Bubba in the SOOKIE STACKHOUSE series). Johnson certainly captures the look, feel, and even the smell of post-Katrina New Orleans. Her descriptions of the devastation in the flooded neighborhoods are horrifying in their detail. The three main characters are solid—if not as inventive as the mythology. Actually, the most fascinating character is Lafitte, and you can bet that he'll be turning up in future books.

     To read an excerpt from Royal Street, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

                    NOVELLA 1.5:  "Christmas in Dogtown"                    

     My recommendation is to skip this little novella with its weak story line, shallow characters, and improbable events. In a nutshell: Resa Madere has lost her job, and she is broke. Resa's rich boyfriend "moved on when she lost her job"the first illogical event. Why would a rich boyfriend dump his girlfriend because she loses her job due to hurricane-related cutbacks? Resa takes a temporary trip back home to Dogtown, her backwoods hometown, to help her uncle run the family sausage business. Dogtown is a tiny little town—just a crossroad, really—populated by two extended families: the Madere family and the Caillou family.

     As soon as Resa arrives home, she learns that her childhood friend, Chandler (Chan) Caillou, is back in town. Their families have been trying to get them together for years, but the two have not seen each other since high school and have never been a couple. Resa's mother tells her that Chandler has come back to take over as the "gator man" for the parish after his Cousin Mike died. Resa asks how Mike died, and her mother says, "Think he drowned. Did Mike Caillou drown?" she asks the room full of relatives. As one of the few inhabitants of this tiny village, how in the world could Mrs. Madere not know the cause of Mike's death? Just one more improbability! Needless to say, romantic feelings flare up between Resa and Chan, with the romance moving from "Hello" to HEA in just a day or two. 

     I won't go into the supernatural aspect of the novella, except to say that the mythology is extremely murky and there seems to be absolutely no purpose for the existence of the supernatural creature in questionit's just there. When she learns about "it," Resa says that she's always known about "it" in her heart, BUT...the story is told from her point of view, and she has never indicated by any thought, word, or action that she believes that Dogtown's legends are true. Although the story is set in the same New Orleans world as SENTINELS OF NEW ORLEANS, none of the regular characters from the series appear. Perhaps the author plans to use the characters from this novella somewhere in future SENTINELS books, but at this point, you're safe in saving your money. 

                      NOVEL 2:  River Road                      
     It's now three years after Katrina's devastating rampage through New Orleans, and DJ has been working with Alex as her partner all that timekeeping their relationship strictly on a platonic level. She has stayed away from Alex's cousin, Jake, who had the misfortune of being turned into a loup-garou at the end of the first book. In this world, a loup-garou is a werewolf on steroids; most of them lack the control to live in the human world. Back then, Jake was furious with DJ, blaming her for the catastrophe, and she accepted that blame. Although they once had a romantic attraction, the two have avoided each other ever since.

     Things recently changed in a big way for the supernatural world when the Congress of Elders reached an agreement with the major preternatural groups and opened the borders between the mortal world and the Beyond, allowing unrestricted movement between two realms for the first time ever. Now there are many more pretes mingling with the humans, and their motives are not always honest or peaceful.

     The primary plot in this book focuses on a water pollution problem that was discovered by a merman colony in the bayous outside of New Orleans. Two merman clans accuse each other of the poisoning of the Mississippi that has brought illness to clan members. As part of their jobs as Sentinels of New Orleans, DJ and Alex meet with the clan leaders, who take them to the location of the bad water. Before they get there, however, they discover the badly mutilated body of a wizard on the bank of the Mississippi, and this becomes their priority case. The rest of the story follows DJ, Alex, and Jake (who has accepted a job as an Enforcer) as they follow the clues and solve both mysteries, with lots of physical and magical action and some incredible heartache along the way.

     DJ's romantic situation is even more complicated than it was in book 1. She is lustfully attracted to three men: Alex, her shape-shifting macho partner; Jake, the newbie loup-garou who is having control problems; and—believe it or not—Jean Lafitte, the long-dead, lecherous pirate who is now living in New Orleans and is determined to seduce DJ. As DJ sums it up: "Life had been much simpler when I had no social life, plus my dates weren't exactly dinner-and-a-movie guys. One had serious control issues, one seemed to be changing the rules of our relationship and was almost scaring the crap out of me more than her werewolf cousin, and the third wasn't even alive in any normal sense of the word." (p. 235)

    In book 1, DJ discovered that she has elven DNA in her family tree, and she found and began to use an elven staff that enhances her wizardly magic. In this book, she discovers that every time she uses the staff, the Elven Synod (which is the elven equivalent of the Congress of Elders) is aware of it, and they are not happy that a wizard is using elven power. A mysterious new character (Quince Randolph) shows up in DJ's neighborhood about half-way through the book, and I'm betting that he has elven connections. We'll surely see this situation play out in the next book.

     This is a solid series with likable, quirky characters who exist in an inventive mythos. The plot of this book has a few bumps and some illogical moments, but it also has great suspense and well-developed characters—both primary and secondary.

     To read an excerpt from River Road, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

                   NOVEL 3:  Elysian Fields                    
     This book begins shortly after the events in River Road, and DJ Jaco's injuries have mostly healed, although her broken ribs are still causing her some pain. In the opening scene, DJ and Jake Warin are at a crime scene involving an axe murderone of several that has occurred in New Orleans in recent days. When DJ catches a faint scent of one of the historical dead, she becomes convinced that the crimes are being committed by the original Axeman, a long-dead serial killer who terrorized New Orleans back in 1918.

TO REVIEW: In this world, the historical dead (aka undead) are famous people who have died and left mortal earth to dwell in the Beyond. As long as their memory lives on among humans, they maintain enough strength to move back and forth between the Beyond and mortal Earth. Prime examples are Jean Lafitte, the notorious pirate, and Louis Armstrong, the famous musician. Apparently, the Axeman is legendary enough that he can transport back and forth from the Beyond to carry out the murders.

     When DJ and Jake go back to his bar to discuss the case, their conversation turns personal and emotional, and Jake starts to go all wolfy and nips DJ's arm. This small scratch immediately plunges DJ into deep fear that Jake has turned her into a loup-garou—a rogue werewolf. For Jake, the incident is a wake-up call that he is not in control of his animal side, and he takes off for the Beyond. A blood test confirms the terrifying fact that, indeed, the virus is in DJ's blood. Now she must live with this threat hanging over her head, knowing that when the Congress of Elders finds out, they will imprison her for the rest of her life. The resolution to this piece of conflict is breathtakingly unpredictable and adds a fascinating new layer to the series story arc.

     The action plot centers on DJ as she investigates the Axeman case, an investigation that explodes with danger when the Axeman trashes her home and she realizes that she is his prime target. By this time, though, DJ has determined that the Axeman isn't working on his own; he is being controlled by a necromatic wizard. Now, all DJ has to do is find the wizard, a task that involves prying information out of preternaturals (aka pretes) who can't be trusted.

     In the closely related secondary plot, which also revolves around DJ, the Elves want to meet with her, and the Wizard Elders are forcing her to comply. The Elders also send a pretentious Blue Congress Wizard to New Orleans to help DJ learn to use her Elven powers, particularly her Elven staff. Slinking around in the middle of all this is DJ's mysterious neighbor, Quince ("Rand") Randolph. DJ is certain that Rand is a preteperhaps an Elf or a Fairybut he refuses to identify himself. When Rand finally opens up to DJ, he talks her into reluctantly taking a disquieting action that changes both their lives forever and which has an extremely negative effect on her relationship with her boyfriend, Alex Warin.

     Alex plays a key role in the story as does DJ's frenemy (and wannabe seducer), the always entertaining Jean Lafitte. DJ and Alex finally consummate their relationship, but in the end, Alex still isn't sure that he can cope with the chaos that is DJ's life, leaving their future in question.

     This is a great addition to a strong series. The intricate plotting combines compelling action, heart-breaking angst, and enough electrifying suspense to keep you turning the pages at a rapid rate. Although the primary conflicts in this book are resolved, plenty of loose ends are left to form the plots for future books.

     To read an excerpt from Elysian Fields, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

                    NOVEL 4:  Pirate's Alley                    

     Let me begin by saying that this is definitely not a stand-alone book because it is driven by the complicated political wheeling and dealing among a diverse group of pretes (preternaturals) all of whom have engaged in continuing efforts to gain ultimate power in both the supernatural and mortal worlds. Not only do you need to know the long list of characters, but you also need to know what sins they have been guilty of in the recent past because much of the action that takes place in this book relates directly back to the transgressions of the multiple villains in Elysian Fields

     New Orleans is suffering through an extremely rare weather phenomenon: snow, and lots of it. The temperatures are below freezing; the streets are icy; and the snow keeps coming down. Unfortunately for halfbreed (80% wizard—20% elf) Drusilla Jaco (aka "DJ"), no one ever explained the devastating effects that cold temperatures have on elves. Pay attention to the frigid, snowy weather because it has multiple implications in this story. As the previous novel ended, DJ's house burned down along with all of her possessions, and her car exploded due to an errant blast from her elven staff, so she is now homeless and is dressing in clothing she finds at the local thrift shop—clothing that isn't keeping out the cold.

     In Pirate's Alley, DJ finds herself in the middle of a war that is developing between various prete factions: wizards, vampires, elves, Fae, and the undead (no, not zombies—the historical dead; see the World-Building section for more info). 

     As the book begins, the villains who conspired against DJ and her allies in Elysian Fields are being tried before the Interspecies Council. DJ is sure that this will go smoothly and that justice will be served, but you and I both know that's never going to happen in an urban fantasy novel. Because this novel deals with the aftermath of the conspiracy that was the central plot line of Elysian Fields, here is a list of the prete players in that conflict, which continues in this book:


> Willem Zrakovi: member of the Congress of Elders (ruling body of the wizards); member of the Interspecies Council

> Adrian Hoffman: conspired against a fellow wizard and tried to get DJ killed in Elysian Fields; willingly became a vampire because his girlfriend, Terri, is one

Geoffrey Hoffman: Adrian's father, First Elder of the Council of Elders and representative for the UK and European Union wizard communities on the Interspecies Council; conspired with the vampires against the elves in Elysian Fields

Jonas Adamson: unregistered necromancer and Green Congress Wizard; allied with the water elves in Elysian Fields and tried to have DJ killed 

Lennox St. Simon: brother of Gerry, DJ's late biological father; a European wizard; has a daughter named Audrey; DJ learns of Lennox's existence for the first time in this book 


Rene Delachaise: water elf; DJ's ally and friend; also allied with Lafitte; son of Toussaint Delachaise, who has a seat on the Interspecies Council

Quince Randolph: member of the Elven Synod and clan leader of the Tân (fire elves); has a seat on the Interspecies Council; forced DJ to bond with him in Elysian Fields in exchange for saving her from turning into a loup-garou

Mace Banyan: clan leader of the air elves; member of the Interspecies Council; an enemy of DJhe kidnapped and mind-tortured her in Elysian Fields

Garrett Melnick: head of the Regents; pretended to be allied with the elves while working against them in Elysian Fields; hates DJ

Etienne Boulard: Vice-Regent of the vampires who was once a good friend to Lafitte but then betrayed him; heavily involved in the conspiracy that was at the heart of Elysian Fields; turned Adrian Hoffman into a vampire


Sabine: the Faery Queen

Christof: Faery Prince of Winter; allied with Lafitte; can cause blizzards and ice storms with his magic

Florian: Faery Prince of Summer; a power-mad psychotic who can cause thunderstorms and hurricanes with his magic


Jean Lafitte: Pirate captain who flirts with DJ and has always protected her; is involved in various types of illegal activities and has secret alliances with other pretes; has a home in the magical realm of Barataria on Grand Terre, a magical version of an actual island south of New Orleans

Axman of New Orleans: Serial killer who became the conspirators' weapon in Elysian Fields

Alex Warin: DJ's boyfriend, now head of the Division of Domestic Terror (DDT), the Elders' preternatural security team

Jacob (Jake) Warin: Alex's cousin, a loup-garou who now works for Lafitte although he also works for the DDT

     Along with the threat of an interspecies war, DJ is dealing a problem involving her best friend, Eugenie Dupre. During a brief romantic interlude with Rand (in Elysian Fields), Eugenie became pregnant, and the coming birth adds to political machinations that are already complicated. Rand wants to take the baby away from Eugenie immediately after birth and raise the child in Elfheim with DJ. Both DJ and Eugenie vigorously oppose that proposal. Then, there are those in other Prete groups who want the baby dead. This story line results in secrets, betrayals, and—ultimately—to drastic actions that force DJ to ally with an entirely unexpected group of pretes.

     DJ's relationship with the men in her life is getting more and more complicated. Her elven non-husband, Rand, keeps insinuating that she will eventually have to move to Elfheim (the elven realm) and bear his children—a situation that DJ vows will never happen. Her friendship with Jean Lafitte is on shaky ground because she has been ordered to chaperon him so that he won't kill Etienne, the prominent vampire who betrayed him (in Elysian Fields). And then there is her boyfriend, Alex Warin, who harbors jealous thoughts about DJ's relationships with both Rand and Lafitte. Alex is a straight-arrow warrior who never sees beyond his law and order blinders. To him, right is right and wrong is wrong, and there is no in-between. For DJ, on the other hand, right and wrong are never that clearly separated. DJ knows that Alex has always done "the right thing as he saw it; he might feel badly about it, especially if it hurt me, but he'd believe he had no choice. I admired that about Alex, his sense of moral absolutes. I also hated that about Alex, his inability to acknowledge the gray areas and shadowy corners of life." (p. 191) Here, DJ zeroes in on the biggest problem in her relationship with Alex: "I loved Alex, but I didn't trust  him to put me first. Because he might love me in return, but I didn't think he was capable of putting love before duty. He wasn't wired that way….If Alex had to decide between supporting me and doing his duty for the Elders, I would either lose or he'd rip himself apart trying to choose, in which case he'd end up hating me for it." (p. 204) 

     As DJ tries to walk the thin line between listening to her gut and listening to Alex and the Elders, she gets into many dangerous situations that, as usual, result in physical injuries and emotional trauma. This is a fast-paced adventure that kept me turning the pages deep into the night. The suspense level is high; the action is continuous; the emotional undercurrents are relentless; and the cliff-hanger ending left me eagerly looking forward to the next book. This is a fine addition to a terrific series, although it is more of a transitional book than a complete novel.

     To read an excerpt from Pirates Alley, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

                    STORY COLLECTION 4.5:  Pirateship Down                    

     French pirate Jean Lafitte is tall, cobalt-eyed, broad-shouldered, and immortal. What’s not to love? But New Orleans’ most esteemed member of the historical undead is headed for trouble. He’s determined to reclaim Le Diligent, his gold-laden schooner lost at sea in 1814 and recently found at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico near Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office might beg to differ. New Orleans wizard sentinel DJ Jaco and her merman friend Rene Delachaise can either lock up their friend Lafitte or join him on a road trip to Cajun country in order to save him from himself. 

     Terrebonne Parish—not to mention its jail—might never be the same after the events of the all-new novella "Pirateship Down," presented here along with a collection of urban fantasy stories and essays. Wizards and Cajun merfolk, sexy shapeshifters and undead French pirates. Welcome to the world of the Sentinels of New Orleans in this collection, along with a little Louisiana lagniappe.


     As the title indicates, the primary focus of this book is on one of the most colorful characters in the series: the pirate, Jean Lafitte. Although Jean does not appear in all of the stories, his presence is strongly felt from beginning to end. 

     The selections include short stories, brief scenes, and a brand new novella. Also included are three nonfiction lagniappe (aka a little something extra): an introduction to the SENTINELS multiverse, a brief biography of the real Jean Lafitte; and a bibliography of nonfiction books that provides the “story behind the story” of the SENTINELS world. The collection offers a nice variety that enriches the series by providing backstories of key characters and more information about the series mythology. 

Here is a list of the main characters in these stories: 
Jean Lafitte is the sly and charming pirate who lived and died centuries ago but can now come and go between our world and the Beyond in his corporeal shape. He is a flirt and a con man who is always in trouble.
Drusilla “DJ” Jaco is the series heroine, a wizard/elf hybrid who serves as the Sentinel of New Orleans. She is completely loyal to her friends and will help them out even if her actions take her into gray areas that involve breaking human and/or preternatural laws.
Alexander Warin is DJ’s straight-arrow boyfriend, a shapeshifting enforcer for the Congress of Elders. Alex is driven by his inner need for law and order, and he will uphold the law, no matter who gets hurt in the process. DJ’s tendency to put friendship before the law may be the thing that breaks up their relationship.
Jake Warin is Alex’s black-sheep cousin with whom he has had a blistering rivalry since Jake hit Alex in the head with a Tonka truck when they were toddlers.
Rene Delachaise is a friend to both DJ and Jean. In his human form, he runs a shrimp boat, but he’s always happy to join Jean in one of his madcap adventures, and he has been DJ’s sidekick on more than one occasion.
     Instead of listing the selections in the order they are presented in the book, I am grouping them by main character—in chronological order within each grouping:

The Three Lagniappe Selections
“The SENTINELS Multiverse”
This essay provides a concise, but thorough, explanation of the SENTINELS world by describing the relationships between the modern city, Old Orleans, the Beyond, and the ancestral realms of the various types of preternaturals. Johnson provides a detailed discussion of each type: wizards, elves, fae, shapeshifters, weres, vampires, minor preternaturals, and the historical undead. This lagniappe is a goldmine for new readers.

“Jean Lafitte—The Man, the Myth, the Undead Pirate”

So…who was the real Jean Lafitte? Johnson gives us the history of his life, from birth to death, and discusses the reliability of some of the information in the many books that have been written about him.

“A Sentinels Bibliography”

This annotated bibliography lists resource books that Johnson has read to enhance her depiction of past and present New Orleans.

Fiction Selections Featuring Jean Lafitte
“Talk Like a Pirate” (takes place one or two years before Royal Street
A college student who dabbles in witchcraft somehow manages to summon Jean Lafitte from the Beyond so that he can attend her Talk-Like-a-Pirate Party. Lafitte is happy to be back in the human realm, but he has no intention of attending a silly party; he’s after some treasure he buried two centuries ago when he was still alive. This is Lafitte’s first visit to the modern world, so he is fascinated with all of the changes. Here’s his reaction to a fast food restaurant: “Who is this Burger King—does he rule New Orleans or is America now a monarchy?” The wizard who catches up with Lafitte and sends him back to Old Barataria is none other than Gerald "Gerry" St. Simon, D.J.’s mentor, who dies in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina just before the events of Royal Street.

“Pirateship Down” (takes place between Elysian Fields and Pirate’s Alley)

This novella (108 pages) is the highlight of the book—a brand-new story featuring Lafitte, D.J., and Rene. When Lafitte learns that one of his ships has been found offshore in the Gulf of Mexico by LSU researchers, he is determined to reclaim what is/was his. Predictably, chaos ensues, and D.J. and Rene have to save him—more than once. This is a great story that has just the right amount of humor, suspense, and action to make it an entertaining and compelling read from start to finish. In fact, this novella alone makes the collection worth the purchase.

“Cat Mon Dieu” (takes place between River Road and Elysian Fields)

When DJ stops at a grocery store for cat food, she orders Lafitte to stay in the car. Of course, no one “orders” Jean Lafitte to do anything, so he follows her into the store to buy some cat meat, just as he imagines DJ is doing. This is a short, short story—a fluffy, funny piece that highlights Jean’s perpetual arrogance and his total ignorance of modern food production.

Selections Featuring Alex and Jake’s Backstory 
“Rivalry” (takes place approximately twelve years before Royal Street, when Alex is 15 and Jake is 17)
Before Alex turned 15, he was an average, normal boy, but now he has had his first accidental shift into his big-dog form, and he’s baffled and scared because he doesn’t know what’s happening to him. Alex muses about his father’s “birds and bees” talk, but wonders bitterly why his father “didn’t tell me a damn thing about healing fast or being strong, or why I was always hot, or—and here was the real kicker—how I could turn into a dog.” After a fight with his cousin, Jake, Alex runs away from home and spends some time in a cave coming to terms with his inner dog, with some help from a surprising source. In Johnson’s introduction to the story, she says, “this is the story where I came to understand Alex and where his need for order and rules and control originated. Only when one has lost control does one begin to truly value it. Maybe Alex values it to excess…but that’s for you (and DJ) to decide.” 

“Intervention” (takes place a year or two before Royal Street,)

Alex and Jake have always been bitter rivals. At this point in time, Alex is a respected enforcer for the Council of Elders and Jake is an alcoholic bar owner in New Orleans. When Jake is arrested for another DUI, his family asks Alex to bail him out and straighten him out. Although reluctant to be forced to play this role with Jake, Alex heads for New Orleans, only to find that Jake has gotten involved with a dangerous preternatural who is exploiting his weaknesses and who plans to drive him to an early grave. This is a great story with a very satisfying ending. Again, Johnson mentions Alex’s devotion to regulation and control: “Alex knew about the preternatural world and how easily things could fall apart without rules and order. Jake didn’t know about pretes, and despite his military training, rules and order weren’t his favorite words.” 

Short Selections Featuring D.J., Alex, and/or Rene
“Alex, the Pig” (takes place between River Road and Elysian Fields)
When Alex cons DJ into babysitting for a repulsive pig that is really a spelled leprechaun, she enlists the aid of her friend, Rene, to turn the tables on her boyfriend. This one is almost too short. Although DJ’s immediate situation is resolved, I missed not being able to see Alex’s response to DJ’s actions and not learning what happened to the leprechaun/pig.

“Danger: Curves Ahead” (takes place between River Road and Elysian Fields)

This is a throw-away scene in which DJ wins a bet with Alex and tries to punish him by forcing him to participate in a zumba class with a bunch of elderly ladies. But Alex surprises DJ by following that old adage: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” This piece has some silly humor, but it’s cotton-candy fluff in comparison to the rest of the entries.

“Swamp Rats” (takes place shortly after the events of River Road)

This is a brief scene in which Denis Villere, an arrogant merman, and Zeke Marchand, a weregator chieftain have a tumultuous confrontation over property rights with DJ acting as the negotiator and Alex as her back-up. I love Johnson’s physical description of Zeke: “built roughly like a giant water oak with leathery skin instead of bark.” Basically, this is a slice-of-life scene that gives the reader a taste of the SENTINELS world—presenting one of many similar situations that DJ deals with on a daily basis. For future reference, Denis is a bitter enemy of DJ’s merman friend, Rene Delachaise. In DJ’s opinion, Denis is as “mean as a rabid swamp rat.” 

     To read an excerpt from Pirateship Down, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.