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Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Author:  Linda Grimes  
Plot Type: Chick Lit (CH) Fantasy
Ratings:  Violence-3; Sensuality-3-4; Humor-4
Publisher and Titles: Tor
          "Pre-Fix" (prequel story, 3/2015)
          In a Fix (9/2012)
          Quick Fix (8/2013)
          The Big Fix (5/2015)
          All Fixed Up (5/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 6/8/16 to include a review of All Fixed Up, the fourth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first three novels.

                         NOVEL 4:  All Fixed Up                        
     Ciel Halligan, aura adaptor extraordinaire, has a lot of experience filling in for her clients―as them. A rare genetic quirk gives her the ability to absorb human energy and project it back out in a flawless imitation. She's hard at work, posing as a well-known and celebrated astronaut, about to make a stunning announcement on behalf of the space program...when the photographer documenting the job sees right through her aura. Worse, it soon becomes apparent that he not only knows Ciel’s not who she's supposed to be, but means her harm. 

     When Ciel's elderly Aunt Helen―also an aura adaptor―is murdered in Central Park, and the same photographer shows up at the funeral, Ciel starts to feel even more exposed. Then more adaptors are killed in the same way, and she becomes terrified her friends and family are being systematically exterminated ... and it's starting to look like she's the ultimate target. She turns to Billy Doyle, her best-friend-turned-boyfriend, for help, but when an unexpected crisis causes him to take off without a word, she's left to rely on her not-so-former crush, CIA agent Mark Fielding. 

     Staying alive, keeping control of her romantic life, and unraveling the mystery of why adaptors are being pursued becomes a harder balancing act than ever in this new Ciel Halligan adventure from Linda Grimes.

     Given the number of pregnancies in this novel, it's alternate title could have been All Knocked Up
Pregnancy #1: Ciel is hired to stand in for an astronaut who is returning to the space program to become the first woman to conceive a baby while in outer space. 
Pregnancy #2: Ciel's brother, Thomas, and his wife, Laura, announce that they are expecting their first child. 
Pregnancy #3: Amid all of the emotion and celebration surrounding the first two pregnancy announcements, Ciel begins to have suspicious physical symptoms that indicate that she herself might be pregnant.
    Two of the three pregnancy stories form the basis for the plot―one for the action story line and one for the romance story line. 

     First, the action plot: During Ciel's first public appearance as astronaut Dr. Philippa (Phil) Carson, the NASA photographer assigned to cover the event realizes that she is not the real Dr. Phil and demands to know "Who are you? Or should I say, what are you?" Ciel is shocked because this means that somehow this man―Alec Loughlin―has somehow figured out how to identify adaptors and see through their auras. Soon, someone kills several adaptors, including Ciel's Aunt Helen, and then sets his murderous sights on Ciel herself. This plot is the best of the series so far―much less silly than previous books, with more twists and turns and lots of suspense (and violence). When the motivations of the murderer are revealed at the end of the book, they are a bit murky in spots, but still, it's a well-told story.

     And now for the romance plot: During the early chapters, Ciel muddles and flusters around as she worries about the consequences of a possible pregnancy. First and foremost in her list of worries is the big question: Who is the father? Is it Billy (her current boyfriend) or Mark (her long-time crush with whom she had an accidental one-night stand)? When she finally has a pregnancy test, life gets even more complicated because each man has a wildly different reaction to the news. One stands by her and one skips out―and you'll be surprised at which man takes which action, especially the reasons why the deserter skedaddles.

     As the physical attacks on Ciel become more and more violent and as her baby-daddy situation gets more and more complicated, Ciel finds herself immersed in fear for her life while suffering through heart-breaking uncertainties about her future. This is the first time that we've seen Ciel deal with an adult situation in a grown-up manner, and that alone sets this novel several notches above all of the previous ones.

     Although the story lines are serious, Grimes also includes a big dose of her signature humor. For example, Billy masquerades as a naughty department store Santa. Then, Ro and Mo (Ciel's mother and Billy's mother) are forced to adopt seven mischievous, Christmas-tree-climbing cats named after Snow White's dwarfs. And to no one's surprise, Ro creates some really awful holiday food concoctions. (Anyone have a taste for grilled blue cheese on raisin bread with grape jelly?) Not to mention Ro's awful Christmas sweaters and Mo's ugly afghansalways good for a chuckle.

     I almost didn't read this novel because I thought it would be more of the same ridiculous dithering that was rampant in the first three books, but I was pleasantly surprised. Grimes managed to keep the humor to a sane level while delivering two compelling story lines that played out with enough unpredictability and intrigue to keep me engaged all the way to the end. Although Ciel seems to make her final choice between her two men at the end of this novel, I'm still not sure that Grimes has completely closed the door on this issue. (P.S. Although Billy is a nice-enough guy, I'm definitely on Team Mark.)

     Although this novel has a "FINAL" feel, we can probably expect to see more stories about Ciel's hectic life in the future. In an on-line interview, Grimes states, "I love Ciel and the gang, and I’m not done with them yet, but there are other characters in my head clamoring for their stories to be told, too." Click HERE to read an excerpt from All Fixed Up.

     The premise of the series is that the female protagonist and her two love interests are aura adaptors. They have a genetic mutation that allows them to alter their auras so that they look like other people. By just touching another person, they can draw a bit of that person's energy and immediately make a complete physical change, becoming an identical physical copy of that person. The major fault in this mythology is that the adaptors themselves cannot tell whether another person is real or an adaptor, which is the crux of many of the jokey situations that overwhelm the plots.

     Ciel Halligan is the female of this trio of BFF adaptors. She hires out her adaptor skills to clients who find themselves in situations they want to avoid. Billy Doyle is Ciel's womanizing best frenemy; they were raised together like sister and brother but are not related by blood. Billy uses his adaptor talent in two contrasting ways. As Ciel describes it, "he's not above separating stupid and greedy people (his words, not mine) from their assets. I'd say he was Robin Hood-esque, only I've never seen evidence that the booty makes it into the hands of the deserving poor." Between scams, Billy helps out their friend Mark Fielding on some of his missions. Mark is a sexy, blond CIA covert agent who is the best friend of Ciel's brother, Thomas. Mark is also Ciel's long-time, not-so-secret crush. The relationship among the three is filled with meant-to-be funny sarcastic dialogue and way too many silly pranks.

                    PREQUEL SHORT STORY: "Pre-Fix"                    
     This very short story introduces Ciel Halligan, Billy Doyle, and Mark Fielding, the three main characters of this series along with a few of their friends and family members. The story introduces the concept of aura adapting and illustrates how it works when Ciel's friend, Addie, asks Ciel to stand in for her at a meeting with her grandmother (aka Queen Bitch of the World) because she knows that Grandma will be saying some very mean things about her late father. 

     The story takes place just as Ciel is graduating from college, without a job and without any prospects. What she'd really like is to become a CIA agent like Mark, but he talks her out of it by describing the "wet work" part of his job in such gory detail that Ciel loses her breakfasta highly embarrassing moment because she is so gaga over Mark. 

     When Ciel completes the grandma gig with great success, Addie suggests that Ciel turn that kind of activity into a real job. This is a nice introduction to the series mythology and the primary characters. You'll get an early look at ditzy Ciel and her over-protective male friendselements that continue throughout the series. 

    To read an excerpt, click HERE to go to the "Pre-Fix" page on page and click on the cover art.

                         NOVEL 1:  In a Fix                         

WARNING! If you plan to buy this book, check it out carefully before you leave the store. My copy of In a Fix is defective. It has two sets of pages 97-128, and it is missing pages 65-96. If that happened to one book, it had to have happened to a lot more. Caveat Emptor!

     Truthfully though, the missing pages didn't really make much of a difference in making sense of this silly story. As the story begins, Ciel is on a tropical vacation masquerading as Mina, her socialite client. Mina, for unknown reasons, wants Ciel to pretend to be her until her boyfriend, Trey, proposes and presents her with a ring. When someone kidnaps Trey and blows up their beach bungalow, Ciel discovers that the old English woman in the bungalow next door is really Billy, who apparently always secretly follows Ciel around on her assignments because he thinks that she's too weak and stupid to stay out of danger. When the two of them rescue Trey, they discover that "Trey" is really Mark, who is substituting for the real Trey (also a CIA agent) because Trey had to take care of other business. The entire set-up is goofy. Why would a man and a woman ask others to stand in for them during their own marriage proposal on a romantic tropical island? It makes no sense at all, and neither does the rest of the story, which devolves into a slap-stick sit-com plot with villainous Vikings who combine Medieval weaponry with modern-day pharmacology to cause all sorts of trouble. 

     Mark and Billy are the worst kind of male chauvinistsalways insisting that Ciel stay behind and always protecting her to the point of insult. (Although, I have to say that Ciel definitely isn't the sharpest knife in the drawerbut, then, neither are the guys.) I'm sure that the male protection sub-plot is supposed to be sweet and funny, but, to me, it's ridiculous and somewhat offensive because the guys make no bones about treating Ciel like an imbecile most of the time. They lie to her, stalk her, and burglarize her office. What kind of "good friends" do those things, no matter how well intentioned they are? The triangle romance story thread is woven through the action plot, and by the end of the book, Ciel is sharing passionate kisses with both Billy and Mark. (She is also attracted to one of the Vikings.)

     So...To sum it up, here are reasons I didn't care much for the book: My copy is missing 30+ pages; the action plot is silly; the characters are cardboard thin and completely loony; and the mythology has holes big enough to drive a truck through. The author is calling the series "light urban fantasy," but this isn't urban fantasy by any definition. It's feather-weight chick lit fantasy, with much attention being paid to wardrobe descriptions, clothing styles, and shopping—all with an overload of scatterbrained zaniness. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from In a Fix.

                         NOVEL 2:  Quick Fix                         

     Most of the main characters in the series are aura adaptors, which means that they can make adjustments to their auras and make themselves to look exactly like another person. (See the "World-Building" section of this post for more details.) Even another adaptor can't tell the difference between the real person and an adaptor. 

     When Ciel takes Billy's little sister, Molly, along with her on an assignment at the National Zoo, Molly touches a baby orangutan and adapts its aurameaning that she turns a real orangutan. As if that's not bad enough, poor Molly is stuck in her animal form; she can't change back into a human again. This incident kicks off the plot as Ciel and Billy try to smuggle Molly out of the park pursued by a Zoo employee and her henchmen. Key to the conflict is how Molly made this supposedly impossible adaptation. Adaptors are only supposed to be able to turn into other humansnot into animals. Besides, Molly is far too young to be able to adapt. So...what's going on? You'll have to read the entire book to find out because the answers don't come until very near the end.

     The rest of the story consists of a series of slapstick, silly episodes in which Ciel, her brothers (Brian, James, and Thomas); her new boyfriend (Billy Doyle); and her teen-age crush (FBI agent Mark Fielding) stumble through a series of sitcom adventures as each one works on various mysteries separatelyand often at odds with the others. Cielthe supposed heroine of the seriesis almost always kept in the dark as to what the men in her life are doing. Mostly, she babysits the Molly orangutan, tries to avoid her mother and Billy's mother, and keeps asking "What's going on?" every time she bumps into one of the men.

     The story turns into a whodunit mystery filled with concealed and mistaken identities, betrayals, and power-mad bureaucrats. All of the separate story threads come together in the climactic ending, but for most of the book, the reader doesn't have a clue about what's really going on. There are too many tangential charactersmostly femalewho may or may not be who they say they are. Each of the men has a different opinion on the true identities of the bad guys (or girls), but none of them provides enough details for Ciel (or the reader) to figure anything out until the big reveal scene at the end of the book. It's a very unsatisfactory way to develop a story, and very frustrating for the reader, not to mention the heroine, who isn't really a heroine at all in this book.

     On the romantic front, Ciel and Billy consummate their relationship, but Ciel still has the hots for Mark, and Mark sometimes seems to return her affection. I'm guessing that Ciel will wind up with Billy, but who knowsthere's not much logic in most of the events in this series, so she could end up with someone else entirely.   

     Once again, I'll warn you that despite the cover art and the marketing, this is definitely not an urban fantasy (UF) series. It's strictly light-weight chick lit with a touch of fantasy. Ciel could never be a UF heroine because she doesn't ever do anything meaningful and she has absolutely no street cred. All of the men do their best to keep her out of the action, and she allows them to manipulate her each and every time. She never knows what the men are up to, and she is never on the front lines of the plot until the very end, when she has a major TSTL moment and puts Molly and herself in deadly danger from which she has to be rescued byyou guessed ita man. If it weren't for one slightly graphic sex scene in this book, this could be a YA series. Click HERE to read chapter 1 of Quick Fix.

                         NOVEL 3:  The Big Fix                         
    As the story opens, Ciel Halligan is masquerading as Jack Gunn, a movie star who is deathly afraid of snakes. When Jack discovered that his newest movie had a major scene that involved a huge wriggly mass of snakes, he hired Ciel to take his placejust for that scene. Unfortunately, just as the scene is being shot, so is Jack's wife, Angelicabut whereas Ciel is shot by a camera, Angelica is shot with a gun (seven shots in her back). Ciel is horrified, and immediately enlists her boyfriend, Billy Doyle, to take her to her isolated hideaway ranch, where she has stashed Jack only to discover that Jack has been missing for several hoursmaybe more. Then a gun is discovered hidden in the stables, a gun that isn't owned by anyone on the ranch. What's going on here? Did Jack somehow kill his wife while using Ciel as an alibi? Did Lily-Ann, Angelica's sister, kill her, since she was home at the time and had reason to hate Angelica? In other words, whodunnit? How? And And why?

     O.K., that's the action plot, but we also have a rather complicated romance plot as well. To review: Ciel and her family are aura adaptors, meaning that they can change their appearance at will. Several of Ciel's friends are also adaptors, including Billy, Billy's parents, and Mark Fielding, Ciel's brother's best friend (and Ciel's long-time crush). Even though Ciel and Billy have hooked up, she still melts into a gooey puddle whenever Mark turns on the charm. To make a long story short, an unforgettable, irretrievable incident occurs between Ciel and Mark at Ciel's brother's wedding that rocks Ciel's romance with Billy. Oddly, Billy's reaction is not nearly as explosive as one would have expected. But then, there is another major romantic crisis between them much later in the story, and that one brings on some tears and heartbreak before it is resolved.

     Grimes alternates between murder mystery scenes and romance scenes, as Ciel, Billy, and Mark try to work things out. The mystery plot is a bit hectic, especially when someone takes a shot at Ciel while she is masquerading as Jack at Angelica's funeral, and when she is sent to jail while she is masquerading as Angelica. The fact that not even the adaptors can tell who is real and who is the adaptor continues to be the weakest part of this world-building. It seems to me that Ciel and her buddies would work out some sort of verbal code so that they could let one another know who is who.

     Running through the entire book is a series of brief scenes with the Halligan and Doyle families. These scenes are meant to be humorously zany (I hate "zany" as much as Lou Grant hates "spunk"!), but they are mostly just silly. A perfect example: a 3-page scene involving a family food fight in Ciel's condo that deteriorates into an all-out watermelon-seed-spitting war. That scene consists of many variations on this sentence: "She was reloading her mouth with juicy red ammo when a whole slew of seeds pelted her." Not funnyjust page padding.

     For the first half of the book, Ciel is just as ditzy as she was in the first two novels, but after she gets beaten up in jail, she decides that she has to start taking better care of herself. By the end, her new sister-in-law, Laura, has begun training her in self-defense, and she seems to have grown up a bit. Unfortunately, the men are still as chauvinistically protective as ever, which tends to weaken the female characters by implying that they need a man around to take care of them.

     As you've probably guessed, this isn't one of my favorite series, mostly because I'm not crazy about paranormal chick lit involving feather-brained heroines with zany families. When I read a print book, I use multicolored tabs to indicate major plot points, world-building elements, characterization revelations, and plot problems. When I finished this book, the tabs were almost all red ones—indicating a multitude of plot bumpsnot huge problems, but enough off-kilter scenes for me to have a number of moments of confusion and disbelief (like the ridiculous mistaken-identity incident that causes the romance kerfuffle after the wedding, for example).  

     At least the publisher has stopped trying to use misleading cover art to pretend that this is an urban fantasy series. This time around, the cover art shows Ciel and her two men and uses the typical chick-lit colors for the title (except that the guy in the suitMarkis supposed to be blond, not brunette). If you have been keeping up with this series, you'll probably have the same reaction to this book as you had to the first two. Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Big Fix.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012



I have just updated a previous post for Caitlin Kittredge with a review of the fifth book in her BLACK LONDON SERIES: Soul Trade.

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

Monday, October 29, 2012


Author:  Alex Hughes (pseudonym for Alexandra Hughes)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)   
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor2
Publisher and Titles:  Roc
          "Rabbit Trick" (short story, 3/2014)
          Clean (9/2012)
          "Payoff" (e-novella, 3/2013)
          Sharp (4/2013)  
          Marked (4/2014)    
          Vacant (12/2014)       

This post was revised and updated on 1/21/15 to include a review of Vacant, the fourth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of two MINDSPACE stories and the first three novels.        

               NOVEL 4:  Vacant               
     If you have been a regular reader of this series, you know that bad things happen to telepath Adam Ward in multiplesnever singlyand this book is no exception. As the story opens, Adam and Detective Isabella Cherabino, his girlfriend and partner, are leaving a stadium rock concert when they are menaced and attacked by a group of street thugs. After the partners defeat their attackers, jump into their car, and drive away, Adam gets a jolt from Mindspace indicating that someone in the vicinity has died violently, so they return to the scene to find one of the thugs deadbrutally beaten to death. Eyewitnesses swear that Cherabino did the deed, and she is brought up on departmental charges for police brutality. Even though Adam witnessed the event and swears that Cherabino did not kill the man, his testimony is ignored because he has a felony drug record and because he is dating Cherabino. In the immediate aftermath of this terrible situation, Adam gets a call from Stone, his Guild Watcher, who informs Adam that the Guild is about to take action against him because he is behind in his payments (for the Guild's medical assistance for Adam's Narcotics Anonymous mentor, Swartz, in a previous book). Adam must pay up immediately, either in money or by taking some unpleasant jobs for the Guild. 

     Then, out of the blue, Adam receives a phone call from FBI Special Agent Jarrod in Savannah, who needs a mental Minder for a child who is under a kidnap threat. Adam describes a Minder is being like "a spider at the center of the web…I sit at the center of the web, and if I feel a vibration on the edges, I go out to see what it was. If it's a threat, I either shut it down myself or call for reinforcements." Even though Adam wants to stay in Atlanta to support Cherabino, he is forced to take the FBI job because the Guild has given him a very short time limit in which to bring his debt payments up to date or risk imprisonment. Adam's acceptance of the Minding job is also driven by a series of disturbing visions that he has been having for the past few weeks in which he sees himself in a harrowing scene in which a young boy is shot by his kidnapper while Adam himself is on the phone with the kidnapper's boss. In that vision the two men are scary and powerful nemeses of both Adam and Cherabino. The man with the gun is Sibley, a sociopath-for-hire who nearly killed Adam in a previous book, and the man on the phone is Garrett Fiske, a mob boss who has vowed vengeance against both Adam and Cherabino. Adam is terrified of Sibley because he has a piece of powerful coercion technology that he uses to force people to do his will. No matter how hard victims try to resist, the compulsion machine forces them into complete compliance with Sibley's commands.

     To most readers, it will be obvious from the very beginning that Cherabino is being framed for the murder with which she is being charged, and there is little doubt that Fiske is pulling all kinds of political strings behind the scenes to ensure that she is found guilty. That is one major weakness of the plot because there was never a doubt in my mind about why Cherabino was being charged, who was behind it, and what the outcome of her trial would be. To expect the reader to believe that Cherabino and Adam can't figure this out early in the game is an insult both to them and to the reader.

     The action takes place mostly in Savannah, with Adam periodically checking in with Cherabino by phone when he has time to take a break from guarding Tommy, his young charge. Tommy is the son of a judge who is presiding over a murder trial in which the defendant is one of Fiske's suppliers. As soon as Adam meets Tommy and learns of Fiske's involvement, he is certain that his vision is a true one and worries incessantly that he will be unable to stop Tommy's imminent death. The bulk of the plot is taken up with Adam's lengthy angst-filled interior monologues in which he craves his drug of choice, worries that Sibley will succeed in killing him this time, worries that he isn't up to the task of protecting ten-year-old Tommy, and worries about what is happening back in Atlanta with Cherabino. In between these scenes of anguished emotion, Adam and the FBI team deal with Tommy's cold and caustic mother (the judge, who is definitely hiding something) and with Tommy, a high-strung, nascent telepath whose recalcitrant behavior leads to all kinds of trouble. Tommy's estranged father also plays a small part in the action, although his scenes are awkwardly inserted into the story in a disjointed manner. Even though Adam suspects early on that the judge's secrets are important to the kidnapping threat, he never "sees" those secrets when he peers into her mind. This is a major weakness in a plot that is based on the highly rated abilities of an experienced telepath. How can it be that Adam never picks up a single one of the judge's thoughts that relate to her deep, dark secrets, but he can read all of her other thoughts and emotions? This is a faulty plot device that just doesn't make sense. 

     Here's a brief update on Adam's romantic relationship with Cherabino: Early in the book, he summarizes it this way: "Even though we hadn't had sexshe hadn't been willing to make the nearly permanent commitment that sex with a telepath impliedwe were dating. Four months and change now. And she'd been falling asleep in my arms nearly as long. She'd even filled out the official relationship form with the department, calling me boyfriend in plain text where anyone could read it. It was a miracle, as far as I was concerned." After all of the trials and tribulations Cherabino suffers in this book, their relationship takes a major jump towards the end of the story.

     For me, this is the weakest of the books because the pace is glacially slow, the angst is overwhelmingly heavy, and a few of the plot points are weak. Part of the problem is that with the exception of the first and final scenes, Adam and Cherabino are never together. In the previous books, their sardonic call-and-response dialogues acted as spark plugs to liven up the story every time Adam's cold-sweat mental anguish became too overpowering. I'm still sticking with the series, though, because I love the lead characters and want to see what happens in the next chapter of their lives. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.

     The series is set in an alternate metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia (DeKalb County) many decades after the Tech War that pitted powerful computer technologists against the rest of the world. (Note: Novel 1 says 50 years have passed since the Wars; novel 3 says 60; the prequel novella says 70.) Here, one character sums up the situation: "Bombs had split the sky, and worse, the superviruses split our minds from the inside, until the toll of death made people look at computer technology like the Black Plague. Even now, more than a half century later when small computer chips were let out on a leashsmall ones barely powerful enough to run an oven timer, and still frightening to the diehardsthe real Tech, the sentient computers and the implants and anything powerful, was outlawed with terrible penalties. People were afraid. Still. Terrified of the computers, the data, even the smallest transmission of information over unsecured lines." (Clean, p. 51) During the Wars, millions of people died: "The ones who'd crashed when their automatic cars failed. The ones who'd starved to death or suffocated in their smart homes. The ones whose brains were eaten by viruses gone blood-borne. And the ones killed in bombs set off from military computers without their owners' knowledge or okay." (Marked, p. 109) Now, no one trusts technology—especially electronic networks. Everyone relies on hard copies—paper records—even the police department. 

     This world has a few futuristic touches, like smelly polluted rain that can damage your skin and aircars that zoom back and forth on airways mapped out far above the groundcars that still move around the old way. Medical innovations include artificial organs (AOs) of almost every type, which replace today's protocols of drugs and surgery. But other than that, life here looks pretty much like it does in our world.

     The population contains a sizable number of people with various levels of psychic Ability. In general, normal people distrust psychic people, most of whom are governed by the Telepaths' Guild. "When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do itreal scary. They'd won the right to govern themselves, to have political independence, sure. But they'd lost the casual trust of most of the normals along the way. When your pit bull saves you from the robber about to kill you, you're grateful. But when the pit bull tears the guy apart in little bloody ribbons, you never look at the thing the same way again." (Clean, p. 35) The Guild seems to have its fictional roots in Babylon 5's Psi Corps, in that all Able persons (except those with minimal levels of Ability) are required to undergo evaluation and training by the Guild and must practice their skills under the Guild's rules and regulations. Unfortunately, the Guild leaders are arrogant egotists who revel in their powers and look down on the inferior normals, which is a situation that portends lots of problems. Currently, the Guild and the normals are maintaining an uneasy peace by adhering strictly to the specifications of the Koshna Accords, which were put in place shortly after the Tech Wars.

      What a telepath does in this world is explore Mindspace. Here, the protagonist provides an analogy to explain what happens when a person teleports through Mindspace: "Imagine the world is a fish tank....You have sand on the bottom, and a definite ceiling, maybe even a sand castle or two...There's all sorts of fish in ityou...and half the world are shiny orange goldfish, Guild telepaths are those monster Japanese goldfish...Now what happens if one of the goldfish [teleports] to the other side of the tank?...Two things happen. The water's going to shoot out in a little explosion where he pops in, because now you have...goldfish mass where there didn't used to be any, and the water has to move out of the way very suddenly...but the other thing that's going to happen is on the other side, where he started out. Suddenly, the water has the same-sized hole where the goldfish used to be, right? So it rushes in. But the water thing's only an analogythe way it works in Mindspace, the water moves weird, slow like honey, and what you're left with is a little area where the water is less dense, and comes to a weird little pucker to show you where the fish used to be." (
Clean, pp. 18-19) In Vacant, the protagonist provides a more succinct definition: "Mindspace is the space in which minds interact with the world, through a medium no one really understands." (p. 179)

     The series hero is a very strong telepath (aka "teep") who used to teach high-level classes for the Guild—until he participated in a drug experimentation program supported by the Guild and became utterly addicted to Satin, which appears to be comparable in strength and toxicity to heroin. After the Guild kicked him out, our hero spent some time on the streets wallowing in his addiction, but now he is working as a telepathic consultant for the De Kalb County Police Department. Much of his time is spent interviewing witnesses and suspects, but he also gets pulled into the investigation of more complex cases. In an on-line "interview," with her hero, the author asks him to describe himself: "I'm a Level Eight Guild-trained telepath, a consultant to the DeKalb County Police Department, a recovering addict, and a guy who's trying to do the right thing."

     Maybe you're wondering why I haven't revealed the protagonist's name. That's because he tells his story in the first person, and in the prequel story and book 1, at least, no one ever calls him by name, which subtly, but tellingly, emphasizes his "outsider-ness"—his isolation from his co-workers and his total lack of friends—or for that matter, relationships of any kind. To simplify matters, I will henceforth refer to the nameless protagonist as Hero (at least until we learn his first name in the novella, "Payoff." Most of the police officers hate Hero, both for his telepathic talents and for his history of addiction—once an addict, always an addict! His partner is Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino, a complicated, beautiful, intelligent woman with a tragic past who stood up for our hero when he fell off the wagon, but who doesn't really trust him. In fact, no one in the police department trusts Hero, and with good cause, because getting back on Satin is on his mind nearly every minute of the day and night. In an on-line "interview" with Cherabino, Hughes gets this response when she asks Cherabino how her best friends would describe her: "driven, responsible, absent, obsessed, kind, and the person they call if they're in trouble."  

     Other supporting characters are 

    > SwartzHero's Narcotics Anonymous (NA) mentor 
    > BelluryHero's "babysitter," a retired detective who drives him to and from work, gives him periodic drug tests, and sits in on all of Hero's interrogationsall for the protection of the normals Hero comes in contact with
    > Lieutenant Marla PaulsonHero's boss, who spends most of her time dealing with budget cuts
    > Sergeant Branen, the head of Homicide; Cherabino's boss 
    > Kara ChenoaHero's ex-fiancée, who turned him in to the Guild when he became addicted; She is now a bigwig with the Guild and is married to another man.

     If you enjoy this series, you may also like these series: Jim Butcher's DRESDEN FILES, Benedict Jacka's ALEX VERUS, Kevin Hearne's IRON DRUID, Jim C. Hines's MAGIC EX LIBRUS, and Ben Aaronovitch's PETER GRANT/RIVERS OF LONDON.

               PREQUEL SHORT STORY (.5):  "Rabbit Trick"                 
     Although the author calls "Rabbit Trick" a prequel, the story doesn't read like a prequel. The story line follows the two lead characters as they solve a crime, but it does not provide any in-depth information about the lead character's earlier lifewhich is what we usually expect from a prequel. Just as in novel 1, Hughes does not reveal her narrator's name.  

     The title comes from the narrator's first-person description of his role as a telepath on Detective Isabella Cherabino's investigative team. Cherabino has the highest close rate in the department, mostly because, "My help got her a big portion of those closes, so that made me a favorite with her Well, on the days I could pull the rabbit out of the hat." In the opening scene, Cherabino wakes him up so that he can accompany her to the crime scene and "read" the body of the victima female police officerfor information about the killer. The story follows the investigation as the narrator eventually realizes, with great relief, that he will be able to perform his "rabbit trick" and solve the crime: "And his mind opened…his panicked motivation falling out like candy from a dispenser. And the rabbit trick arrivedI knew how to get the confession "    

     This little story adds no new information to the world-building or to the characterization. The entire e-book is 45 pages long, but "Rabbit Trick," comprises only about 2/3 of the contentabout 30 pages. It's a nice little story, but if you buy it with the expectation of reading a true prequel, you will be disappointed. 

     Also included in this e-book are two other short stories: "The Carousel" (revolving around a carnivorous merry-go-round) and "Inky Black Sea" (featuring a lonely sea monster). Neither story is set in the MINDSPACE world. Click HERE to go to this story's page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.

               NOVEL 1:  Clean               
     As the story begins, Detective Isabella Cherabino pulls Hero into the investigation of the latest in a string of serial murders in which each victim dies from an internal brain injury—almost like a stroke. Hero, however, discovers that the victims were killed by a telepath who teleported in and out of the crime scene. So...they're on the hunt for one or more extremely strong psychic villains. As the bodies pile up and the psychic evidence becomes more and more complicated, Hero, against his own better judgment, wants to call in the Guild, partly because he suspects the murderer is an upper-level Guild member and partly because he believes that the Guild should have been aware of what's going on and stepped in to stop it.

     To complicate matters for Hero, he is having trouble staying clean (hence, the book's title). His mind is heavily battered every single day by his co-workers' angry and hateful thoughts about him, and he sees no way to improve his life. All he can think about is the relief that Satin would bring him. Then, another complication makes his life even worse when he accidentally forges a link between his mind and 
Cherabino's mind. She is already angry that he can read her mind at all (at one point she clocks him in the jaw when she realizes he has briefly read a few thoughts), so a permanent link would be an abomination to her.

     As Hero moves forward with the investigation, he has a rare 
prognostication (vision) of a future scene in which a powerful telepath kills him and destroys Cherabino's mind. From that point on, Hero pushes Satin from his mind and concentrates on protecting Cherabino, for whom he has a hopeless infatuation. The book ends with the requisite showdown between Hero and the villain, but his relationship with Cherabino is left open-ended.

     The series world-building is inventive, and the characters are interesting, if a bit too close for comfort at times to Harry Dresden and Karrin Murphy. The plot is compelling, with lots of action and unpredictability, but the tone is so very dark and angry that it sometimes gets in the way of the story. Poor Hero—everyone openly hates him and disrespects him and fears his telepathic powers. Although 
Cherabino and, especially, Paulson eventually, if grudgingly, give him some credit, it's almost too little, too late. All in all, though, I like Hero, and I plan to give him more of a chance than his colleagues. One copy-proofing housekeeping note: In one lengthy dialogue (pp. 263-264), a set of quotation marks is missing, which is momentarily confusing. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Clean on the author's web site. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.

              E-NOVELLA (1.5): "Payoff"               
     After being nameless in Clean, our hero gets called by his first name very early in this story. His name is Adam, which is the Hebrew word for "man," so he is still being portrayed as a kind of generic persona. Only his first name is givenno surname, so we still can't attach an ethnicity to him. 

     What we know so far about Adam is that he is in his late 30s or early 40s (Note: novel 3 says that he is 39) and has a history of addiction to the drug Satin. Although he had a few backslides during his first two years of rehab, he has now been clean for three years, As is the case with most addicts, Adam has never forgotten the blissful, drug-induced fogs that dominated his life before he managed to pull himself away from Satin, and he frequently yearns for that drugged-out forgetfulness. He regularly attends Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings in the company of his sponsor, Swartz, a man who serves as a lifeline for Adam each time he wavers. Adam works as a consultant for the DeKalb County Police Department, where he is the only telepath on staff and is universally distrusted and hated because of his psychic powers and his felony conviction for drug possession.

     The plot is closely tied to Adam's years of addiction. The judge who gave Adam parole instead of prison has asked him to find his missing grandson. Adam is quite nervous about this task (and about his workload at the DeKalb County Police Department) because his telepathic powers were completely burned out at the climax of Clean, and they haven't yet returned. Fearful of losing his job, Adam is desperately trying to keep his condition a secret from everyone in the police department. 

     Adam's desperation ratchets up several notches when the judge gives him just a few days to find out exactly what's going on with his grandson, or he will reexamine his ruling on Adam's case and possibly send him to prison. The story line follows Adam as he investigates the situation, mostly on his own, and desperately tries to get his telepathic skills back. I don't want to give away any spoilers, so I'll just say that Adam's search for the truth about the judge's grandson takes some hairpin twists and turns, and that Adam gradually gets his confidence (and some of his powers) back by the end of the story.

     The value in this novella is that it focuses on how helpless Adam is without his telepathic abilities and how tenuous his position is at the police department. The second novel picks up and expands on those elements as Adam gradually recovers most of his powers, but comes close to losing his job. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Payoff on the author's web site. 
Click HERE to go to this novella's page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.

                 NOVEL 2:  Sharp                 
     To review the mythology: "Since the Tech Wars sixty years ago, since a madman had taken control of the semisentient computers and destroyed a good third of the world, since people had died, rotting in their houses and cars, their implants turned into computer-virus transmission platforms, since people had died in the millions in horrible ways, well, the world was afraid of Tech....Even now, the stronger, more powerful stuff was forbidden, tracked, and shut down." (p. 3) The telepaths of the world saved civilization from total destruction by the out-of-control Tech (i.e., computer technology), but in the process, they terrified normal mortals with the extent of their powers. Adam faces hostility and anger from his co-workers every single day. He is like the mythical Sisyphus in that even though he works very hard to prove himself, his colleagues tolerate him only as long as his skills help them solve cases. Then they turn on him, and he's back where he started—being hated and taunted by just about everyone. If he makes one small mistake or voices a single wrong comment, his situation gets even worse.

    In the first book of the series, Adam saved the life of his partner, Detective Isabella Cherabino, but in the process he accidentally opened a mental link between them that allows the two to communicate mentally and to feel each other's emotions. Cherabino is furious with Adam about the link, accusing him of doing it on purpose. She feels violated and has dumped him from his position as her partner. As the book opens, her new partner, Michael, is occupying Adam's former desk next to Cherabino, and Adam feels lost without their close personal relationship. To make matters worse, the department is implementing lay-offs due to budget cuts, and Adam's boss warns him that if he can't get some kind of certification, his name will soon be on the pink-slip list. That news gives him nightmares in which he dreams that he is alone and homeless. An additional effect of the lay-offs is that every time some human police officers are cut, Adam must withstand the resentful thoughts and angry words of his coworkers, who can't understand why their friends are jobless while the hated telepath is still getting a paycheck. The author does a great job portraying Adam's angst as he contemplates life without his job and without Cherabino.

     The action part of this book focuses on a series of seemingly unconnected crimes: several murders and some truck hijackings. As the police detectives gather clues, Adam goes off on his own investigation because he has a personal history with one of the murder victims. As clues accumulate and the murders continue, Adam ties everything together andjust like in book 1finds a Guild connection, but not the kind you can predict. Adam gets considerable assistance on his case from Kara, his former fiancée, and from Edgar Stone, a Guild Enforcer who has been assigned to him as a watcher. Stone's presence puts Adam into a cold sweat because "Enforcement was the bogeyman under the bed for every professional telepathjudge, jury, and executioner in one. Terrifying. He could legally kill me in broad daylight in the middle of the street and the Guild would have nothing worse than a PR crisis." (p. 101) Adam is a very powerful level 8 telepath, and the Guild wants to be sure that he is not going rogue. As the plot plays out, Adam continues to struggle in secret with his telepathic skills, which are finally rebuilding, but very, very slowly.

     This is a strong addition to a series that has one of the most damaged heroes I've seen in recent urban fantasy. Even with his history of addiction, Adam is a decent man with high moral and ethical standards. I just wish that he could find a moment or two of happiness. At the beginning of every meeting with Swartz, Adam is required to name three things for which he is grateful, and the things he names are always heart-breaking indicators of his need for human comfort. The ending leaves Adam in a relatively positive position (a rarity) and provides him with some hope for the first time in many years. Unfortunately, as a result of solving the murders, he has put himself in the cross hairs of Garrett Fiske, a powerful local businessman who controls countless lawyers, judges, and politicians, and who does whatever he wants to whomever he chooses without suffering any repercussions. I'm looking forward to Adam's adventures in the next book. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Sharp. on the author's website. Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.  

                 NOVEL 3:  Marked                   
     As the story opens, Adam Ward is still working as a telepath consultant for the DeKalb County Police Department and doing crime-scene psychic readings for his partner (and love interest), Detective Isabella Cherabino. In the first scene, Adam has to "read" a particularly gory murder scene (an ax to the back of a man's head). Then he follows up on a frantic phone message from his ex-fiancée, Kara Chenoa, who begs for Adam's help in investigating the death of her uncle, Del Meyers, a prominent member of the Guild Council. Kara and her family believe that Del was murdered, but the Guild members in charge of the investigation are saying that he was infected by some kind of viral psychic madness and committed suicide.

     Adam's relationship with the Guild has been uncomfortable (to put it mildly) for years, ever since the Guild kicked him out after he become addicted to Satin, an experimental drug. Adam is, understandably, not happy about being asked to go to Guild Headquarters and get mixed up in a case that is already very messy. He has lots of enemies in important Guild positionsenemies who would love to see him destroyed. Even though Kara has betrayed him in the past, Adam agrees to help her out, and his investigation of her uncle's case sets up the plot. 

     As usual, Adam can't catch a break. Every move that he makes and every word that he says seems to get him deeper and deeper into ever more dangerous situations. One powerful and hostile Guild Council member coerces Adam by threatening to lock him up for ten years if he doesn't do as he is told. Adam owes the Guild a huge debt because he requested their aid in the last book to save the life of his long-time mentor (Swartz), so he really has no way of escaping the Guild's clutches. Early in the story, after psychically defending himself from a mental attack by a Guild Council member, he finds himself locked in a cell deep within the Guild fortress with no hope of escape. Only his agreement to cooperate with a nefarious Guild Council member gets him back on the street. Again and again, Adam tries to do the right thing and then gets slapped down, usually by a Guild member, but sometimes by one of his human superiors at the police department. As Adam's investigation takes him into dark corners and into twisted minds, he finds connections between the ax crime and the supposed suicide. Adam and Cherabino's old nemesis, Garrett Fiske, also plays a key part in the drama.

     As soon as Adam begins his investigation, he discovers that the Guild in in the midst of a major split—almost a civil war. On one side are the Cooperists, idealists who believe that the Guild can, and should, coexist peacefully with the human world. On the other side are the Guild First fanatics, who are secretly assembling powerful psychic and tech weapons that they plan to use against normals (aka humans), whom they regard as inferior and essentially worthless. Contributing to the problem is the U.S. government, which is also stockpiling tech weapons that can weaken or destroy psychics. It's like a magical Cold War with one side having the added complication of dealing with a rebellion.

     Meanwhile, Adam still pines for Cherabino, and she appears to be attracted to him as well. When he finally works up enough nerve to ask her out on a date, they enjoy each other's companyright up until one of her detectives tracks them down and drags Cherabino off on yet another murder investigation. Adam and Cherabino are still connected by the bond that Adam accidentally created back in the first novel, but it is finally beginning to fade, which creates some mixed feelings for both.  

     With this novel, Hughes has created another strong addition to the MINDSPACE series. This one is not quite as engaging as some of the earlier novels, but it still packs a magical punch that keeps you turning the pages and holding your breath. I'm always hoping that something will go right for Adam for a change, but so far that hasn't happened very often. At least he's still drug free, although he does take a minor misstep in this novel that may come back to haunt him. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Marked on the publisher's web site. 
Click HERE to go to this book's page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.