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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

UPDATE! Caris Roane's GUARDIANS OF ASCENSION SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Caris Roane with a review of the fourth book in her GUARDIANS OF ASCENSION SERIES:  Born of Ashes.

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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Steven Harper's CLOCKWORK EMPIRE SERIES

Author:  Steven Harper (pseudonym for Steven Piziks)
Series:  CLOCKWORK EMPIRE
Plot Type:  Steampunk
Ratings:  V4; S3; H2
Publisher and Titles: Roc
        The Doomsday Vault (11/2011)
        The Impossible Cube (5/2012)
        The Dragon Men (11/2012)
        The Havoc Machine (5/2013)

     This post was revised and updated on 1/10/13 to include a review of the second book in the series: The Impossible Cube. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the series and a review of book 1: 

          BOOK 2:  The Impossible Cube          
     If you have not read book 1, the author includes a "story-so-far" introduction that hits the high points of that plot.  

     As book 2 opens, Alice and Gavin are on the runactually, on the flyfrom Third Ward agents Philippa, Simon, and Glenda, who are furious that Alice let loose the Clockwork cure in England, thus stopping the Clockwork Plague, closing down the Third Ward and leaving them joblessnot to mention the fact that they will no longer have access to the clockworkers who have keep England supplied with multitudes of clever mechanical weapons. Alice and Gavin are traveling with Dr. Cleff (the crazed clockworker who invented the Impossible Cube in the previous book), Feng (son of the Chinese ambassador), Kemp (Alice's mechanical valet), and Alice's menagerie of mechanicals (small, metal, mechanized devices that follow her commands). Gavin's clockwork symptoms are getting worse and worse, and Alice believes that the only way to save him is to go to China and beg the Chinese clockworkers (aka dragon men) to develop a cure. 

     The romantic relationship between Alice and Gavin has developed to the stage where they are now engaged, but are putting off marriage until Gavin can be cured. The situation becomes strained as Gavin occasionally goes into a clockwork fugue state during which he is uncharacteristically rude and arrogant to Alice, treating her like a lowly worker. She knows that he can't help it and isn't even aware that he's doing it, but his behavior still hurts her feelings. On the other hand, Gavin is impatient with Alice because she insists on spending much of her time curing clockwork plague victims in every city they visit. Being touched with her blood cures most of them immediatelybut, unfortunately, it doesn't work for Gavin. Almost every time Alice stops to heal someone, she puts their group in danger.

     The early part of the book consists of the good guys flying away and the bad guys catching up with them. Each time, a battle ensues and the good guys take off again. Eventually, Gavin leads the group to Luxembourg, where they hide themselves in a circus owned by Gavin's old friend, Dodd. When the circus train reaches Kiev, Alice and her group find a powerful enemy who is even more dangerous than Philippa and her cohorts. 

     Kiev is considered to be the original source of the clockwork plague, and it has more than its share of clockworkers, mostly belonging to the Gonta and Zalizniak families, who have joined together for strength. The clockworkers are kidnapping children from the streets of Kiev and turning them into clockworkersvirtual slaves to the two families. The climactic ending battle brings the Impossible Cube back into play as the primary and secondary characters on both sides nearly destroy the city of Kiev. 

     The bare bones of this plot include one or two meaty relationship scenes, and a few nice action sequences, but compared to the complex plot we saw in book 1, this story is more famine than feast. The lack of action is at its lowest level during the too-frequent scenes in which the Gavin and Dr. Cleff go into their clockwork mode and explain (at great length and in highly technical language) the how and why of their various projects and schemes. Frankly, I found myself skimming past those paragraphs/pages. Another problem is that Alice and her team are supposed to be quite intelligent. So...why, then, do they keep getting caught in various traps, and why don't they ever have any contingency plans? A final detriment is that Philippa's sudden change of behavior in the final scene doesn't ring true. From the very beginning of the book, she has been driven by her sense of betrayal and her daddy-related emotions  to capture or kill Alice and Gavin, no matter what the cost. Her almost instantaneous change of heart strikes a definite false note. For me, this book just doesn't live up to the promise of book 1. It actually seems more like a "bridge" novela set up for the confrontation with the dragon men in book 3.

          WORLD-BUILDING          
     This is a full-on steampunk series with all of the requisite bells and whistlesall of them steam-powered and gear-driven, of course. Set in mid-Victorian London, the story depicts a population overrun by the clockwork plague, an insidious disease that either kills its victims or turns them into mindless zombie-like creatures. Some plague victimsa very small percentagebeat the odds. Instead of dying or becoming zombies, they morph into clockworkerscreative geniuses who invent impossible machines and automatons that are frequently related in some way to music. Unfortunately, their creativity is heavily tinged with madness, which eventually overcomes their minds and drives them totally insane. The British government takes advantage of the clockworkers' brief periods of genius by locking them up and using their inventions for "the good of the empire." A mysterious organization called the Third Ward has been given the task of dealing with the clockworkers in the Western world. Headed by the militaristic Philippa, the Third Ward is a body of highly trained warriors who use a variety of powerful, state-of-the-art weapons to capture and imprison clockworkers. China has its own set of clockworkers (called Dragon Men). The two countries are in a constant competition to stay one step ahead of the other in technological inventions, including weapons, so they are both anxious to wring every idea they can from their captive inventors.

     In London's complex social world, the rigid class system is in full swing, with the lower classes succumbing to the plague in large numbers as they scrabble out a meager living while the nobility uses its wealth to maintain security systems, manned by both humans and automatons, to keep the infectious zombies at bay. Women have two choices in this world. They can join the Ad Hoc Womenwho wear trousers, vote, and are looked down upon by patrician societyor they can live as respected ladies with no real civil rights at all. 

     Here is how Harper describes the creation of the series: 
     "It started with the THX noise. It's that weird swoopy noise they used to play at the beginning of movies. My son Aran is autistic, and the noise causes him active pain. (Autists often process physical sensations differently than neuro-typical people do.) As a result, I looked into the science of sound, and I learned how the square root of two rules music with an iron and irrational fist.
      And then characters started forming. A teenaged boy with perfect pitch who lives on an airship which is attacked by pirates. A young woman who owns a mechanical cat and desperately wants to re-enter a society that snubbed her.
     It came together. Dirigibles. Glass cutlasses. Automatons. Mad scientists. A world ravaged by plague and zombies. And behind it all, a single, impossible, irrational number."

     The author has created a web site for the CLOCKWORK EMPIRE. Click HERE to go to that site.

          BOOK 1:  The Doomsday Vault          
     As the first book opens, Alice B. Michaels, an impoverished young noblewomandaughter of a baronhas an encounter with a mob of zombies on the streets of London and gets involved with some Third Ward warriors as they sweep in to get the situation under control. Alice is considered by society to be a spinster because she is twenty-two years old and has no husband and no family money. Her fiancé died of the clockwork plague several years ago, leaving her without any romantic prospects. Alice's mother and brother also died of the plague, and her father was left crippled, unable to walk. Alice's Aunt Edwina turned her back on the family and went to live on her isolated estate, communicating only through the automatons she sends as gifts to Alice, all of them signed, "Love, Aunt Edwina." Alice feels responsible for her family's plague infection and believes that she must maintain the family title by encouraging the courtship of the rich and powerful Norbert Williamson, who wants to marry her for her skill at building and repairing automatons and because their first-born son would inherit the title of Baron. Norbert is a real piece of work, with questionable business practices that would ruin him if society were to discover them. A strange inheritance from Aunt Edwina sets Alice off on some independent adventures that free her temporarily (and perhaps permanently) from Norbert's grasp.

     In the meantime, a young American airman, Gavin Ennock, finds his life irrevocably changed when his airship is captured by pirates and he escapes to roam the streets of London, earning a pittance by busking in Hyde Park. Gavin is blessed with an angelic voice and an extraordinary talent for playing his violin. Soon, though, Gavin is kidnapped by a mysterious woman and placed in solitary imprisonment in a tower with only with his violin for company. The plot follows Alice and Gavin as both try to make the best of the difficult situations in which they find themselves. Gavin yearns to be free so that he can continue his life in the air, while Alice dreams of a life that would free her father from his debts and thus allow her to refuse Norbert's marriage offer. Her primary interest is in technology, specifically automatons.

     As the story advances, Alice and Gavin meet and are mutually attracted, although they both realize that a romance between them would never work. After all, he's an American commoner and she's a Baron's daughter. When a mysterious masked clockworker begins to shadow and taunt Alice, the action ratchets up, until eventually the romantic leads get themselves involved in capturing gigantic automatons, freeing an imprisoned clockworker, and leading a rebellion. The most outrageous automaton is in the shape of a giant tree.   

     This is a fresh and inventive story, with interesting characters and lots of steampunk-inspired action, including airship pirate battles, political intrigue, wild weaponry, automatons of every size, shape, and ability—and always plenty of clockwork zombies! Particularly entertaining are Alice's two automaton sidekicks: Kemp, her persnickety manservant, and Click, her clever cat. Alice also uses a bevy of tiny flying automatons to lace up her corsets and perform other housemaid duties. Those scenes put me in mind of the Disney Cinderella movie in which Cinderella receives personal assistance from a flock of tiny bluebirds and some mice. Click HERE to read chapter one of The Doomsday Vault.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

UPDATE! Caitlin Kittredge's BLACK LONDON SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Caitlin Kittredge with a review of a new novella from her BLACK LONDON SERIES entitled The Curse of Four.

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

Friday, January 27, 2012

UPDATE! Jennifer Ashley's SHIFTERS UNBOUND SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Jennifer Ashley with a review of the third book in her SHIFTERS UNBOUND SERIESWild Cat.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sara Humphreys: THE AMOVEO LEGEND SERIES

Author:  Sara Humphreys
Series:  THE AMOVEO LEGEND SERIES
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks Casablanca
        Unleashed (10/2011)
        Untouched (4/2012)
        "Undenied" (e-short story, 10/2012)
        Untamed (11/2012)
        Undone (5/2013)
        Unclaimed (12/2013)       
        "Unbound" (e-novella, 1/2015)    

     This post was revised and updated on 1/6/14 to include a review of Unclaimed, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1-4 and the short story, "Undenied."    

            NOVEL 5:  Unclaimed            
     Tatiana Winters is the wolf-shifting halfbreed Amoveo we met back in Untamed (book 3), the novel that featured her sister, Layla. Tatiana is a veterinarian in small-town Oregon, and she wants absolutely nothing to do with the Amoveo culture and traditionsespecially the mating legend. When Layla begs Tatiana to come to the Amoveo compound in rural Montana, Tatiana is reluctant because she has been having dreams about a sexy tiger, and she wants to stay far away from all of the Amoveo. Eventually, though, she agrees to visit the ranch when Layla explains that Prince Richard's prize Arabian horses are sickening and dying and no one can figure out the cause.

     Dominic Trejada, a pure-blood Amoveo tiger shifter, is nearing the age of thirty, and he hasn't yet found his mate. He has had some dream-walks during which he senses her presence, but she hides in the shadows and refuses to let him see her. Dominic would prefer to skip the whole mating process, but if he doesn't find his mate soon, he will lose his Amoveo powers and become a mere human. That means that he will no longer be able to shape shift or visualize, and his strength will drop to minimal levels. Dominic is the Guardian of the ranchthe head of securityand if he loses his powers, he's not sure that he will be able to continue in his job, which is the center of his life. 

     Needless to say, when Tatiana and Dominic meet for the first time at the ranch, sparks fly and romantic heat begins to simmer. The story line follows the development of the romance as both of these stubborn, independent people attempt to overcome their fears and distrust and come together as mates.

     The action part of the plot involves two separate threats to the people at the ranch. Recently, there was an attack by the Caedo fanatics (humans who want to kill all Amoveo), which ended with the death of one attacker and the escape of the other. Dominic fears another Caedo attack, so he has increased security at the ranch. Then, there is an unexpected threat from the Purists (pure-blood Amoveo who want to kill all half-breeds), a group that the good-guy Amoveo thought that they had vanquished (in the previous book). I was able to figure out the identity of the traitorous bad guy early in the story, but I have to say that it was mostly based on intuition, because there are no obvious hints. The book ends with two major show-down scenes and one plot twist involving a pure-blood Amoveo couple and their baby. 

     This novel is typical for the series with its alpha male, feisty heroine, and attacks by various hate groups. It is also typical of other paranormal series in that as soon as each couple completes their mating process, the heroine gets pregnant almost immediately. At this point, most of the couples from the previous books either have a child or are in the process. Tatiana isn't pregnant yet, but I can almost guarantee you that when she shows up in a supporting role in a future novel, there will be a baby on the way. 

     If you enjoyed the previous books, you'll probably like this one as well. Click HERE to go to the amazon.com page for Unclaimed where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art at top left. "Unbound," the e-novella due in December 2014, will tell Zachary's story. He plays a supporting role as a wise-cracking guard in Unclaimed

            WORLD-BUILDING            
     In this world, the Amoveo are a species of shape shifters divided into ten animal clans (e.g., eagle, bear, fox, coyote, lion, tiger) who live in the mortal world, but are mostly unknown to humans. Only two groups of humans are aware of their existence: the Caedo, fanatic bigots who want to kill all Amoveo, and members of the Vasullus family, who have protected the Amoveo from harm and discovery for centuries. The Caedo are all descendants of Victor Caedo, a human man who was in love with an Amoveo woman. When that woman spurned him for her Amoveo mate, Caedo followed them and saw them shift into their animal forms. His love turned to hate, and the Caedo have been hunting down the Amoveo ever since.

     The Amoveo are led by their Prince, Richard Muldavi, and by their Council, which is made up of one representative from each clan and two members of the Vasullus family. For the most part, the Amoveo find their mates within their own species, but their are exceptions to this, and the focus of the first book is on one of these exceptions.

     The Amoveo believed that each one of them has a predestined mate. Generally, the mates find one another in the dream realm first and then get together physically after that. An Amoveo who doesn't complete the mating destiny by his or her thirtieth birthday begins to lose his or her powers, including the ability to shift. Eventually, all powers fade away and the Amoveo becomes humana fate worse than death.

     Along with the Caedo fanatics, another villainous group emerges in book 1 and continues to threaten our heroes and heroines: the Purists. Even though the Purists are all Amoveo, they are as bigoted as the Caedo. The Purists are opposed to intermarriage between the Amoveo and humans. Unknown to the rest of their clans, some Amoveo males have been impregnating human women over a period of many years. Many of those childrencalled hybridsare now growing up and having mating dreams with pure-blood Amoveo. The Purists want to put an end to all of these hybrid offspring

     Humphreys is also writing a spin-off series to this one: DEAD IN THE CITY. Click HERE to go to my review of the books in that series, which is set in New York City. The lead characters in that series are vampires instead of shape shifters, and they live in Manhattan, where they are members of a coven led by Olivia Hollingsworth, best friend of Marianna Coltari, the bear-shifter who married the half demon Pete Castro iUndone (the fourth AMOVEO novel). In that book, Pete was turned into a vampire by Olivia just as he was on the verge of death.   

            NOVEL 1:  Unleashed            
     As the story begins, Samantha Logan is leaving New York City and heading back to her childhood home on the oceanfront in small-town Rhode Island. Samantha tried to to make it as an artist in NYC, but she hasn't had much success, and now she has started to have dreams of homedreams that include a sexy man whose face she cannot see. So...off she goes, leaving an angry ex-boyfriend in her wake. Waiting for her in Rhode Island is Malcolm Drew, who knows that Samantha is his one true mate. He also knows that Samantha has never heard of the Amoveo and that she has absolutely no idea that she herself has latent shape-shifting abilities. Here is yet another paranormal fiction heroine who was orphaned early in life and is totally unaware that both of her parents had supernatural powers. In this case, Samantha's father was an Amoveo wolf, and her mother was a powerful human psychic, so Samantha is a hybrid who has not yet manifested her considerable powersalways a prime target for the villains of paranormal fiction.

     The plot has the usual two strands: the romance, first and foremost, and, secondarily, the threats to the heroine by various villains, not all of them Caedo fanatics. The identities of the real villains are telegraphed early on in the story, but the author throws in a red herring to try to throw us off the track. Unfortunately, this story line follows an entirely predictable path, from beginning to end, so I doubt that you will be fooled. The hero and heroine are the stereotypical paranormal romance leads: strong, handsome, arrogant male and feisty but fragile, heroine with really low self-esteem. The villains are also stereotypicalbad-to-the-core bigots who have no redeeming qualities. Here is one of them admiring a big black crossbow and plotting the next move: "This was a graceful weapon. Exactly the kind of weapon one of God's chosen would wield...He was a chosen one. He was sent to save the earth and save the humans from annihilation. He knew that one arrow in the wing wouldn't kill it...Best thing of all, it would suffer. A smile spread across his face at the very thought of it." (p. 197) You can almost hear the   scumbag laughing out loud, "Bwaaah, Haah, Haah," like a cartoon villain. Click HERE to read an excerpt from UnleashedScroll down the page a bit to find it. 

     The mythology for the series is inventive, but the plot and the characters (at least in book 1) are genre retreads.  

            NOVEL 2: Untouched            
PROTOCOL FOR VILLAINS:  In order to prevent spoilers, every time I mention the villain, I will use the gender-neutral pronoun "it" or "that" rather than "he" or "she" in order to keep the identity a complete secret. If you know the gender of the villain you can easily guess the identity. (I hate spoilers!)

     The heroine of this book is Kerry Smithson, childhood BFF of Samantha (from book 1). Kerry is a gorgeous super-model who can't bear to touch anyone because her raw psychic abilities would force her to read their emotions. As the story opens, the only person she can touch without pain is Samantha, and when they touch, Kerry visualizes a gray wolfbut she doesn't tell Samantha about that and she doesn't have any idea what it means. When Kerry heads to New Orleans on a modeling assignment, Malcolm and Samantha hire a bodyguard to accompany her because Kerry's crazy cousin (from book 1) is still lurking around somewhere. That bodyguard is Malcolm's sexy cousin, Dante Coltari, a fox shifter who has been giving Kerry hot shivers ever since she first laid eyes on him. When Kerry discovers that she can touch Dante painlessly and that his touch actually feels good, she can hardly believe it. 

     The story follows the quick development of their romance and mating, along with Kerry's introduction to her Amoveo heritage. The secondary story line involves a mysterious villain calling itself "the Punisher." Humphreys uses an old horror story device here as the Punisher always refers to itself by that termnever by nameso we don't know who it is until the big climactic reveal scene. I have to say that I was surprised by the Punisher's identity, but I was disappointed at the stereotypical creep that Humphreys created. Just as in book 1, the culprit had the cardboard quality of a cartoon villain.

     The falling-in-love part of the story happens too quickly, with little or no angst, and the couple's lovey-dovey behavior soon gets to be cloying. Once again, the heroine accepts the whole idea of Oh-my-God-I'm-an-animal-shifter without much fuss. So no excitement there, either. The only drama in the book is really melodrama, with the overblown antics of the over-the-top villain and with huge family secrets coming out of the woodwork at the very last moment. All in all, this is a mostly predictable story, except for the identity of the villainIf you enjoyed the previous books, you'll probably like this one as well. Click HERE to go to the amazon.com page for Untouched where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art at top left. Scroll down the page a bit to find it. 

            E-SHORT STORY:  "Undenied"            
     As of the date of this posting (8/20/13), you can click HERE for a free Kindle download of this story. This is the mating story of Boris Zankoff, an Amoveo Bengal tiger and Lillian Cordero, a psychic human palm reader. When Lillian arrives in New Orleans without a place to stay, someone recommends Boris, who rents her a room behind his bar. (Boris is the brother of the female tiger shifter who was killed in book 2.) Lillian has dreamed about tigers all her life (she even has a tiger tattoo on her back), and when she sees the snarling tiger picture over the door of Boris's bar, she feels like she has come home. 

     When Lillian meets Boris, his voice sounds like the voice of her dream tiger. Then, she reads Boris's palm and sees visions of shape-shifting tigers, and when she touches him, they both are overcome by the usual waves of lust felt by Amoveo mates. To top things off, she hears his voice in her mind. This is all a big shock to Lillian, since she doesn't yet know anything about the Amoveo or the mating destiny. But it doesn't take her long to sort things out, and before they have known each other for 24 hours, the two have officially mated. (I believe that this is the fastest true-mating I've come across so far in all my reading of paranormal romances.)

     Of course, there is a villain in the story to make sure that the road to love isn't totally smooth. This villain is a Purist who wants Boris to join their side in the coming civil war within the Amoveo, and that villain is not happy to discover that Boris's mate is a human. This is a very short story with an HEA for the happy couple, but no resolution to the conflict with the Purist. If you want to get a taste for the series, this is a goodand freeway to do it. 

            NOVEL 3:  Untamed            
     The third book tells the love story of the peevish and pretentious gyrfalcon shifter, William Fleury, who is a friend of Malcolm and Dante. In the first two books, the buttoned-down William was a constant thorn in the sides of the soul-mate couples as he disdainfully looked down on his friends for behaving so foolishly around their mates. Now it's time for William to be humbled by a mate of his own—a sassy and independent hybrid (human mother, Amoveo father) who takes one look at what she calls William's "bossy pants" ways and runs as fast as she can in the other direction.

     The bulk of the book follows William and his destined mate, Layla Nickelsen, along the extremely rocky road to their eventual HEA. Layla was the photographer on Kerry's photo-shoot in New Orleans in the previous book, and as soon as she and William met, that old familiar soul-mate electricity began to simmer between them. Since then, William has been pursuing Layla in the dream realm, but she has been hiding from him, refusing to face him. As the story opens, William has had enough of Layla's blocking him in her dreams, and he decides to face her down in person at her childhood home, where she believes she is safe from discovery.

     Layla was raised on a rural farm by Rosie, a human, who also raised two other Amoveo hybrids, twins Raife and Tatiana. Layla is a cheetah, and Raife and Tatiana are timber wolves. The twins have been able to shift since they hit puberty, but Layla has not yet been able to shift, so she feels inferior. All three were abandoned by their parents and have been told little about Amoveo history and culture. One thing they have been warned about, though, is that they will each probably succumb to the Amoveos' predestined-mate tradition, and that scares Layla. She wants to be in complete control of her own life, and she doesn't need any snooty pure-blood grabbing her up and trying to control her. Layla holds on to this attitude almost to the very end of the story, even though William does his best to get her to understand that's not what mating is all about. I have to say that even though I could understand Layla's initial reticence, I got sick of her anguished interior monologues (all very self-centered) and her constant whining that "I have to be me." William is actually a pretty nice guy in this story, without all the sneering attitude we saw in the first two books. He is very patient and understanding with Layla, trying not to push her into anything and keeping her protected in the least alpha-ish way that he can manage.

     The villain doesn't show up until well into the story, and its identity is fairly obvious. Needless to say, the Amoveo boys leap into action to protect Layla and her family, so all's well there. The real conflict in this book goes back to the series story arc with the good-guy Amoveos squaring off against the intensely bigoted Purists. The situation gets tense and then explodes in this book, changing everything for all of the clans and forcing each clan member to take a side in the dispute, which is turning into a civil war. 

     This plot runs its course in much the same way that as the first two books, with the building of the angst-filled romance and the interference by various villains who try to make life difficult for the starring couple. At least in this book the heroine already knows that she is a hybrid Amoveo, so we don't have to deal with the shock and awe that we had with heroines 1 and 2 when they found out that they were shifters. This heroine, though, is so obnoxious in her self-centeredness, that her bad attitude gives all her scenes an uncomfortable, caustic edge. Click HERE to read an excerpt from UntamedScroll down the page a bit to find it.

     Book 4 will tell the love story of pure-blooded Amoveo bear-shifter Marianna Coltari (Dante's sister) and Pete Castor, a human retired police officer who works for Dante's security firm.  

            NOVEL 4:  Undone            
     The fourth novel does a gender switch, with the female of the lead couple being the Amoveo and the male being seemingly human. Marianna Coltari is the pure-blood, Kodiak bear-shifter sister of Dante, the hero of novel 2. At this point, the Amoveo are in the middle of a civil war, with the Purists fighting dirty under the leadership of the evil Artimus against the good-guys, who are led by Dante and his friends (the heroes of the first three books). The Purists want to put an end to all inter-species marriages. They want only pure-blood Amoveo in the world and have no qualms about destroying any hybrids they find. Now they have come up with a plan to engineer pregnancies between non-mated pure-bloods with the help of a misguided scientist. They don't want to experiment on their own pure-blood women, though, so they kidnap unmated Amoveo pure-blood women from the other side. Unfortunately for Marianna, she is at the top of their wish list, and they want to force her to mate with Artimus' spoiled and arrogant son, Hayden, who has been leering after Marianna for years.

     As the book begins, Marianna is acting like a spoiled, stubborn adolescent, even though she is 30 years old. She has not committed herself to either side in the civil war, although in truth, she sides with Dante and his belief that species diversity will strengthen the Amoveo. Her mantra is that no one can tell her how to live her life and that she'll do anything she wants because she can take care of herself against any danger. Dante knows that Marianna is in danger from the Purists, so he assigns Pete Castro, a 30-something former human policeman, to be her bodyguard. Pete knows all about the Amoveo, but Marianna doesn't know that he knows. She believes that he is just her human chauffeur. The two are attracted to one another, but both believe that because Pete is human, they cannot have a future together. That all changes when they share a dream walk.

     The story focuses primarily on the romance, of course, as Marianna and Pete are forced to hide away in a snowbound, isolated cabin. There, they come to grips with the fact that they are truly mates and begin to act on the lust-filled attraction between them. When Artimus puts Marianna in danger, Pete comes to the rescue, but only after he learns some shocking, life-changing news about his genetic heritage. 

     This is a stereotypical paranormal romance, right down to the snowy cabin in the woods. At first, Marianna's character is annoyingly naive and petulant, but when she realizes the danger posed by Artimus, she straightens up and deals with reality. She does have one TSTL moment, though, and it gets her into big trouble. 

     If you are following the series, this book is quite similar in nature to the first three. If you are unfamiliar with the series, you should be able to read this as a stand-alone and understand what is going on because the author summarizes key points in the first chapter. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Undone. Scroll down the page a bit to find it.

     One of the pivotal characters in this book (although his appearance is brief) is the demon, Asmodeus. Humphreys has written a self-published, serial novel entitled Asmodeus: The Demon of Lust. Click HERE for more information about that novel. The next novel in this series will feature Tatiana, the timber wolf shifter we met in book 3.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

UPDATE! Kate Pearce's TUDOR VAMPIRE CHRONICLES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Kate Pearce with a review of the third book in her TUDOR VAMPIRE CHRONICLES SERIES: Mark of the Rose

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sarah Wendell's "Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels"

Author: Sarah Wendell
Title: Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2011


    Although this nonfiction book is more about regular romance novels than paranormal romance novels, much of the content applies to both. Two paranormal fiction authors and/or works are referenced: Nalini Singh and Kresley Cole. Wendell is the co-author of the 2009 book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels, which is an entertaining look at the genre. She is also a co-founder of the blog, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, a popular book review blog devoted to the romance genre.

     In this book, Wendell mines the minds of her blog readers and a handful of romance authors to analyze just what life lessons we can take away from romance novels. As she did in her previous book, Wendell strongly opposes the popular notion (among people who don't read romance novels) that reading "those" books means that romance readers have unrealistic expectations of real life because they believe that their lives should mirror the ones of the romantic heroines. On the contrary (or, as Wendel says, "Wrongity wrong wrong wrong"). She goes on to say, "That accusation implies that we don't know the difference between fantasy and real life, and frankly, it's sexist as well. You don't see adult [male] gamers being accused of an inability to discern when one is a human driving a real car and when one is a yellow dinosaur driving a Mario Kart, but romance readers hear about their unrealistic expectations of men almost constantly." (p. 6)

     In the "Introduction," Wendell asks romance writer Loretta Chase for her perspective on hero and heroine behavior and on character traits that are required for a romance. Chase immediately points to the movie, The Wizard of Oz, saying, "The Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man are seeking traits that, combined, make my idea of a romance heroCourage, a Heart, a Brainand Dorothy, who has all those traits, is a heroine. Equally important, we can relate to all of them at some very basic level." (p. 18) After the lengthy (25 pages) and rambling "Introduction," Wendell divides her book into these nine chapters. 

Chapter 1: We Know Who We Are, and We Know Our Worth: aka: Seeing Yourself in a Romance Novel Is Not a Bad Thing!
In this chapter, Wendell makes the point that in modern romance novels, the heroine is much more important to the relationship than she was in the romance novels of 20-30 years ago. She goes on to say, "romances teach readers that we should know ourselves, and value ourselves, in order to find happiness....That's the first lesson of romance novels, really: romance is found in how we treat ourselves." (p. 28)

Chapter 2: We Know More Than a Few Good Men
Here, the point is that in our real lives we don't really want a clone of a romance hero. "And because of the over-the-top, top-heavy images of males in romance, one of the most common accusations tossed in the direction of readers is that all that romance reading gives women unrealistic expectations of love, of sex, and of men in general." (p. 56) Wendell calls this theory, "deep-fried bullpucky." (She uses a lot of colorful language.) She goes on to analyze the traits of romance heroes: the care-giving alpha male, the heroes who tackle and learn from their problems, the heroes who honestly recognize their own worth, and the hero who is full of mystery. This chapter concludes with a discussion of the top nine romance heroes, based on her blog survey. 

Chapter 3: We Know What Not to Want
Here, Wendell points out that romance readers can use their reading to recognize and avoid certain traits of romantic heroes. A prime example is possessiveness. If you've read even one paranormal romance, you know that the herobe he werewolf, vampire, or whateveris nearly always supremely possessive. Although this makes for entertaining reading, in real life some of these guys would be considered to be stalkers, and the girl would be filing for a restraining order. Wendell's point is that "romance readers recognize traits they love in fiction and in heroes which they would abhor in actual peopleand...these readers can absolutely identify the differences and similarities in their own lives." (p. 89)

Chapter 4: We Know How to Spot Real-Life Heroes and Heroines
In this chapter, Wendell lists the traits of an ideal romance character (respect, honesty compassion, etc.) and proposes that seeing these traits in the behaviors of romance heroes and heroines allows us to extrapolate those experiences to real-life situations.

Chapter 5: We Know Good Sex
The first point Wendell makes in this chapter is that "sex depictions in romance novels have changed drastically, and the rapetastic romances are things of the past....In romances published today, not only is the sexuality a variable part of the pilot...but both parties participate in making sure the sexuality is fantastic for all involved." (p. 113) She makes the argument that readers can explore levels of sexuality in romance novels that may help them make decisions within their own sex lives. "Reading about passionate sex and sex as a method to express emotional passion has two benefits. First, you get to think about, or mentally try out, acts that you're curious about without actually doing them...Second, you are able to read and learn in privacy." (p. 117)

Chapter 6: We Know How to Solve Problems
Here, Wendell lists various problems that must be solved within hero-heroine relationships and suggests using the characters' problem-solving methods to take care of your own, way-less-severe problems. She makes the point that in romance novels, there is always plenty of conflict, but almost all of it gets worked out by the end of the book. She says, "Repeatedly reading about courtship and the problems facing each one also allows readers to see and consider problems that are solved in myriad patterns." (p. 158)

Chapter 7: We Know How to Ask for What We Want
In this short chapter, Wendell uses excerpts from romance novels to make her point: "The characters figure out what they want and decide to go after it. This step...usually means revealing everything the person feels, and what that person wants. It's risky, but the payoff is worth the terror." (p. 179)

Chapter 8: We Know That Happily Ever After Takes Work
Wendell calls this the number one lesson to be learned from romance novels: "Happily-ever-after isn't sometime in the future. It exists right now, and starts with you." (p.181) She ends the chapter with three easy steps for romance and courtship.

Chapter 9: The Final Chapter: The Happy Ending Starts...Now
In this brief concluding chapter, Wendell includes a table entitled "Life Lessons Hidden in Romance Novels." She also summarizes her main points in the book and closes by saying, "May we all be happy, may we all feel the joy of romance, and may we all live happily ever after." (p. 214)   


     This is an entertaining book that romance readers will probably enjoy. Wendell lards her pages with many, many quotations from her blog readers, which I found myself skipping over to get back to the author's witty rants.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

UPDATE! Nina Bangs: GODS OF THE NIGHT SERIES



Here is the latest news about the future of the GODS OF THE NIGHT series from Nina Bangs. In a recent posting on her Facebook page, Bangs says: "I've received a lot of e-mails asking about my GODS OF THE NIGHT series. Here's where things stand as of right now. I'm trying to write Rap's story at the same time that I write Wicked Whispers. I don't have a contract for Rap's story. The publisher chose not to continue with the series, but I can't leave readers hanging. So I'll be self-publishing several more GODS OF THE NIGHT books because I know how much I hate it when a series end prematurely. I'm hoping to be finished with Rap's story around May. Yes, I do have a contract for several more CASTLE OF DARK DREAMS books, and I'm trying to find time to write a proposal for a new series. The new series will be dark since that's what publishers seem to want now. Can we say stressed?" 
(Source: https://www.facebook.com/NinaBangsAuthor)

     If you haven't been reading GODS OF THE NIGHT, click HERE to go to my review. This is a solid paranormal romance series, and it would be a shame for it to end before we get all of the predators' stories and learn just how their leader (Fin) fits into the whole situation. Personally, Fin is my favorite character, and I was looking forward to reading his full story. Kudos to Nina Bangs for plunging ahead into the self-publishing world. How ironic is it that the publisher pulled out this year since the series is based on the Mayan 2012 end times mythology?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"The Walking Dead: Rise of at the Governor" by Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga

Authors: Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga
Title: The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor
Series: WALKING DEAD
Plot Type: Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Horror
Ratings: V5; S3; H1
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2011

     First came the graphic novels, then the TV series, and now the book. If you've read the graphic novels, you'll be familiar with the Governor, one of the most cruel and frightening villains to appear in in science fiction in recent memory. Wizard magazine voted him "Villain of the Year" in 2006, the year he debuted in the graphic novels (issue #27). But was he always such a cold and lethal man? Where did he come from? What were the factors that molded his post-apocalyptic identity? What is his real identity? This book provides all of the blood-curdling and sometimes shocking answers. Even if you've never read the graphic novels or watched the TV series, you can still enjoy this story.

     This novel was written by Jay Bonansinga from an outline by series co-creator, Robert Kirkman. There are plenty of shocking twists and terrors, with dark dread lurking beyond every turn of the page. The story reads almost like a screen play. As you read the frequent descriptive phrases, you can picture a camera coming in for a close-up shot. 

The story is divided into three sections: 

Part 1—The Hollow Men (Chapters 1-8): This section introduces Philip and Brian Blake; Philip's daughter, Penny; and their friends, Nick and Bobby. The action takes place during the first few days of the zombie plague as the group takes shelter in a McMansion in a Georgia suburb as they plan how to get to the refugee center that they've heard is operating in Atlanta. Philip is the fearless group leader, followed closely by Nick and Bobby, with Brian straggling behind, dealing with his multitude of overwhelming fears. Here is a scene between Philip and Brian just after Brian takes Philip's gun to kill a zombie, but then is unable to pull the trigger: "You listen to me," Philip growls in a threatening, husky voice that's both sober and drunk at the same time. "Next time you take a gun from me, you make sure you're ready to put it to good use...."You better get past your namby-pamby bullshit sheltered life and start carrying your weight around here and stoving some heads in because it sure as hell is gonna get worse before it gets better!...We're gonna survive this thing, and we're gonna do it by being bigger monsters than they are! You understand? There ain't no rules anymore!" (p. 96)

Part 2—Atlanta (Chapters 9-17): Now, the group is down to three men and Penny, and they are shocked to learn that the Atlanta refugee center is a myth. Seeking shelter, they settle into an apartment building with David Chalmers and his two grown daughters, April and Tara. For awhile, it looks as if they've found a safe place to stay, but Philip has a horrible moment in which he loses control, and they are forced to move on, this time with no weapons or supplies. In a foreshadowing of what is to come, this section opens with a quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche: "He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you." (p. 105)

Part 3Chaos Theory (Chapters 18-23): Here, the group escapes from Atlanta on brand new Harleys and finds a new safe place in an abandoned Victorian country estate. Each time things get better, though, they soon grow even worse. Early on in the section, Brian wonders "whether Penny might actually be the glue that's holding them all together, keeping them from self-destructing." (p. 217) This turns out to be a prescient thought. Soon, a drugged-out gang invades their new home, imposing a horrible loss that drives the group into deep grief and triggers changes in all their lives. Philip begins to descend into a kind of madness as he dedicates his existence to taking care of Penny, while Nick buries himself in his Bible, and Brian keeps trying to cope, always unsure of what to do next. After that attack, they pack up and move on, eventually reaching the tiny town of Woodbury, where a small group of survivors lives under the sociopathic leadership of three former National Guardsmen who are more interested in power for themselves than in the survival of the townsfolk. In a stunning conclusion, everything changes for Philip, Brian, Nick, and Penny. Here is Nick as he explains to Brian his conclusions about the zombie plague: "What's the thing Satan hates the most? The power of love? Maybe. Somebody being born again. Yeah probably. But I kinda think it's when a person passes, and their spirit flies up to Paradise....That's what's going on here, Brian. The devil's figured out a way to keep people's souls trapped here on earth." (p. 251)

The Governor, in all his
frightening glory.
From beginning to end, we get inside these characters, learning what makes them tick. In an on-line interviewBonansinga explains how important that is: "That's how horror works. That's catharsis. Getting into the characters' souls and then twisting the knife."

Although there are a few rough spots (i.e., some over-used phrases and some lapses into blatant sentimentality), this is a plot that moves along at a fast pace while still allowing us to get to know the characters. I'm glad that the authors decided to go with a print novel rather than a graphic novel, because this way we absolutely do get into the characters' heads to a much greater degree than would be possible in an all-too-short graphic novel.

The zombie descriptions are, of course, graphic and horrible, but that's a big part of why we read zombie novelsright? Here is part of a two-paragraph description of an oncoming mob of zombies: "The greeting party, as copious as a Roman army and as slapdash as a swarm of giant arachnids...comes from a little over a block away....All shapes and sizes and stages of deterioration, they emerge from doorways and windows and alleys and wooded squares and nooks and crannies, and they fill the street with the profusion of a disordered marching band....each and every one of their faces uniformly pale and decomposed, like an endless orchard of shriveled fruit rotting in the suna thousand pairs of lifeless gunmetal-gray eyes locking in unison...a thousand feral, primordial tracking devices fixing themselves hungrily on the newcomer in their midst." (p. 103)