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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Amanda Bonilla: SHAEDE ASSASSIN SERIES

Author : Amanda Bonilla (aka Mandy Baxter)
Series:  SHAEDE ASSASSIN 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2
Publisher and Titles:  Signet Eclipse
          "When Shadows Call" (prequel, e-novella, 6/2012)
          Shaedes of Gray (9/2011)
          Blood Before Sunrise (7/2012)
          "Lost to the Gray" (e-novella, 2/2013)
          Crave the Darkness (3/2013)
          Against the Dawn (5/2014)
          Shadows at Midnight (9/2015) 

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

          WORLD-BUILDING          
    In this world, the supernatural community includes a number of nontraditional creatures, with two particular types being the main characters in the series:
> Shaedes: beings that take human form during the day and can fade invisibly into the nighttime shadows.
> Jinn (aka genie): ancient beings who protect and grant the wishes of the persons to whom they are bound. 
Lyhtans: beings that take insect form (think praying mantis) and can fade into the light during the day; can be killed at twilight and early dawn.
     A few other supernaturals also appear (e.g., seers, fae, gargoyles). In this world, the supernaturals live among the humans, but most humans aren't aware of their existence. The world-building here isn't very complexat least at firstand it is parceled out as the story moves along, with bits and pieces here and there, all the way up to the end.  

          NOVEL 1:  Shaedes of Gray          
     As the series opens, the heroineDarianis an assassin who receives  a new target, assigned to her by her middleman, Tyler, whom she believes to be human. Darian views Tyler as being "like a temp agency for the underbelly of society," (p. 7), but he's also her love interest.  Darian is a shaede who was created back in the late 1800s, but she appears to be a 20-something woman. She has been on her own for the past 80 years, ever since her maker, Azriel, disappeared and (she believes) died. Azriel told Darian that they were the only two shaedes in the world, so she believes that she is the one and only shade left in existence. When she sneaks up on her new target, however, she discovers that—Surprise!—he is a shaedeactually the king of the shaedes. From thereon in, it's a new discovery for Darian every page or so, as she learns that there is a large contingent of shaedes in Seattle (whom she has somehow never managed to run into) and that they are threatened with a war seemingly being orchestrated by the creepy lyhtans. The plot gets murkier and murkier as Darian discovers new information about herself and deep secrets about Tyler. 

     Here, late in the book, a character explains to Darian what being a shaede means: “You…are…nothing,” he said. “A creature that lives between the realms. You are made of twilight and shadow and move as the wind through the trees. You are Shaede….You won’t wither and die the way humans do…and even if your physical form is damaged beyond repair, you will only fade into shadow for eternity.” (p. 57)

     The author tells the story in the first person, and Darian's voice is about the most awkward first person attempt I've read in a long time. Bonilla's method seems to be this: Have Darian start out as a total ignoramus about everything supernatural, including her own genetic history. Then, have her ask people questions about various aspects of the series mythology. Then, have those people either ignore her questions or answer them either partially or with such ambiguous and inane responses that Darian still doesn't have a clue. Repeat the process until all of the mythology is finally cranked out. Poor Darian...no one gives her a straight answer about anything, so she stumbles along making one wrong decision after another. That, by the way, is how she spends most of her time throughout the bookjust stumbling along. But, Darian stumbles with arrogant, overblown confidencealways cocksure that she is the toughest thing on the block. Her opinions about her own strength and beauty are so egotistically ludicrous that it is hard to keep reading. Here are a few examples: 
> “I could have traveled unseen, but…I wanted the attention.” (as she struts down the street on her way to a supposedly secret assassination job) 
> “I flashed a wicked smile.” (to scare an innocent man on the street) 
> “Muscles rippled beneath flawless, creamy skin.” (speaking of herself) 
> “...my flawless porcelain skin”     
> “I’m sure I looked like a Goth kid’s wet dream, sitting in my black sex-kitten outfit…”     
> “He saw only the woman: soft, sleep-tousled, with luminous eyes and a pouty mouth.” (how she imagines that Tyler views her) 
> “I was winsome and lovely…” (fondly remembering her teen-aged self)
     Oddly, Darian has just as many negative things to say about herself and her lack of civility:
> “Cordiality wasn’t one of my long suits.” 
> “...my less than gracious personality” 
> “I’m not what you’d call a conversationalist.”
     The relationship between Darian and Tyler is awful. He acts like a sweet, loving puppy dog, constantly granting her every wish, while she treats him like dirt most of the time. Why he bothers with her is not clear. They never really have a civil conversation before their one big love scene close to the end of the book. And that scene comes out of nowhere. There is absolutely no evidence of an emotional connection on which to base a romance. Here are a few examples of Darian's treatment of Tyler:     
> She threatens to “slice him open like a Thanksgiving turkey.” 
> She uses her superhuman speed to pick up a cup in an effort to scare him off: “I expected to see fear, but only admiration crossed his gorgeous face.” 
> She shows off her shadow skills hoping to shake him up and “slap him with a dose of reality. 
> She pulls a knife on him while he’s trying to make love to her.
    And then we have Xander's pursuit of Darian, which is just plain sick. He's supposed to be Azriel's father, so that would, I guess, make him Darian's father-in-law, but as soon as he meets her he starts making his moves in a kind of shuddery perverted-bad-uncle kind of way. 

    The plot has so many inconsistencies and illogical moments that I can't begin to describe them, mostly related to the fact that everyone seems to know what's going on except for Darian and the reader. We don't learn the facts about the mythology of this world until Darian does, and even then, the dribs and drabs of information come very slowly.

    Here's a prime example of the implausibilities in the plot: Soon after the first lyhtan attacks Darian, one of Xander's top soldiers gives her a special weapon that can be used against them, but Darian either doesn’t carry it with her or forgets where she put it—until the big final scene when she absolutely has to have it. Then, magically, it's in her pocket, even though she has been kidnapped by the villains and thoroughly searched. This is purely and obviously a manipulation by the author, but it’s done in such a clumsy manner that it weakens the story and heightens the bone-headed aspects of Darian’s character.

     Here's another example of the awkward plot manipulations: Darian is assigned to be the king’s personal bodyguard during a big meeting of all of the supernaturals. At the end of the tumultuous first day of the meeting, she goes home, accidentally falls asleep, and then goes about her personal business for 24 hours, having somehow forgotten that she’s supposed to be on the job with the king. Here are Darian's thoughts: “In all the excitement, I’d overlooked the fact that I’d been AWOL for the past 24 hours. I’d have to work on not being so easily sidetracked.” (p. 241) This whole episode is obviously a heavy-handed plot manipulation that the author uses to slip in the book's single sex scene, which is what "sidetracked" Darian. Totally unbelievable! Based on this book, I can't recommend the series. The best thing about it is the cover art.

          NOVEL 2:  Blood Before Sunrise          
     As the second book opens, Darian is still getting used to the new powers she attained as a result of the climactic scene that closed book 1. One of the biggest perks is that she can now become incorporeal in the daytime as well as at night. One of the less pleasant new powers is that she can feel the passage of time. She is now something more than a Shaede, and soon people begin calling her a Guardian. As the story moves along, Darian keeps getting more and more hints that she has powers (and responsibilities) that she isn't aware of, but instead of doing some investigative work, she shrugs it off and goes on her rude and foul-mouthed way. 

     Soon, Darian begins having mysterious dreams in which a woman and a child give her seemingly meaningless messages and say things like this: "You are the Guardian. Please help me." (p 7) Then, a falcon delivers a magical emerald necklace to her. Does Darian mention the dreams or the necklace to any of her knowledgeable allies? Does she ask for help in determining their meaning? Nopenot a word to anyone! 

     Eventually, Darian faces a three-fold problem: She needs to get help from Delilah, the Oracle, (her enemy in book 1) so that she can locate Raif's long-lost daughter. She must steal an ancient artifact so that Fallon, a scary Fae warrior, will help her gain access to Delilah. She must find out who is getting into Tyler's head and causing him to go all jealous and over-protective every time she is with another man, especially when she's with Raif. Again, I ask: Does Darian ask anyone for help with any of these problems? Not really. She does work out a primitive back-up plan with Raif at one point, but that's it. All poor Tyler gets is a series of notes telling him not to worry about her.

     About midway through the book, Darian is attacked by five lyhtans in a multi-page battle, but that scene plays absolutely no part in the primary story line. It seems to have been dropped in just to fill space. The problem with that scene is that Darian has been bragging about the fact that she can become incorporeal at willday or nightbut instead of fading away from the overwhelming 5-to-1 odds, she stays to fight andimplausiblykills every one of the monstrous lyhtans.

     As Darian gets deeper and deeper into trouble, she mindlessly makes one wrong decision after another. Throughout most of the final chapters, she doesn't even have control over her own body. But then, magically (just as in book 1), at the very last minute, she summons up her strength and overcomes all obstacleswell, all but one, but that would be a spoiler, so you'll have to read the book to get the lowdown on her final emotional smash-up. All I can say is "Go, Tyler!"

     The requisite climactic showdown with the story's villain is well written, with each character showing more depth than at any other point in the story. It is by far the best scene in the book. 

     Once again, the big problem with this series is the witless, abrasive heroine, who has no sense of humor, a total lack of people skills, and an absence of common sense. In regard to the people skills, here's how Darian describes her relationship with Tyler on page 4 of this book: "More than simply my lover, and definitely more than a friend, he had captured more than just my heart over the five years I'd known him. Tyler had claimed my soul." So...Darian sees Tyler as her soul mate. Then why in the world doesn't she ever confide in him or trust him to fight by her side? Why does she constantly lie to him, betray him, and leave him behind with just a be-back-later note on his pillow? And beyond her relationshipif you can call it thatwith Tyler, she doesn't really get along with anybody. She is the only character in the series who curses and throws the f-bomb around every single time she thinks or speaks. (Just to be clear: I have no objection to profanity among characters, but the profanity in this series is very striking because 90% of it is coming from the heroine.) Darian's immediate reaction to almost any situation is ALWAYS to hit out, either physically or verbally. She is supposed to be more than a century old, but she acts like a spoiled adolescent brat. At one point, her mentor, Raif (who is supposed to be fond of her in a fatherly way), disparagingly remarks, "My, but you're a special combination of stupid and stubborn, aren't  you?" (p. 60) I couldn't agree more.

     Now let's examine Darian's common sense (or lack of it), which you'd think she'd have plenty of since she's been living on her own as an assassin for decades. In this book, Darian does no investigating at all before she partners up with Fallon, even though she knows that he is very powerful. She ruminates, "When I'd first laid eyes on him, he'd set me on edge. Now I could say that seeing him for a second time was no less unsettling." (p. 79) When he asks her to steal the artifact, she says what she always says—"I had no choice." But the reason she never has a choice is because she always leaps in without checking out the situation first. I really don't know how Darian has survived all these years in her chosen profession—or why anyone would ever hire her in the first place. I was hoping that this series would improve, but with this heroine at the center of the story, I have my doubts.     

          NOVEL 3:  Crave the Darkness            
     As the previous book ended, Darian's lover, Tyler, packed up and left her behind after she disappeared for four months without ever contacting him. Now, it's three months later, and Darian has spent all that time wallowing in misery alone in her apartment, which has by now become a filthy, trash-filled hovel. As the story opens, Raif convinces Darian to begin working again and to move into the home of King Alexander (Xander) to take her mind off of Tyler.

     Darian's assignment is to protect her old nemesis Anya, the Russian woman who guarded Xander before Darian came on the scene back in book 1. Darian and Anya have always been in a perpetual state of hostility toward one another, so neither is thrilled with the situation, but Anya is pregnant—a rarity among the shaedes, and she is being threatened. In a strange and unbelievable twist, Anya withholds information about Kade, the mysterious man who is threatening her, even though she knows exactly who Kade is and what he wants from her. Even after Kade shoots at her car with a high-powered weapon, sends an armed gang against her, and even attacks her at her obstetrician's office, Anya stubbornly refuses to cooperate with Darian and her team of guards. This, for me, is completely unbelievable—that a pregnant woman would undermine the safety of herself and her unborn child when she has the knowledge to improve the situation. The reader is led to believe that Anya is keeping all knowledge of the attacks from her husband, Dmitri, who is also one of Xander's guards, but that is preposterous since the couple lives in Xander's house and are privy to everything that goes on there. There is no possible way that Dmitri would not know about the attacks. Eventually, Kade confronts Darian at the scene of one of his attacks, and Darian has to figure out just what kind of supernatural creature he is.

     To add to Darian's troubles, Tyler comes back to town, but he's not alone. He is now living with Adira, the beautiful Jinn woman who spent a few centuries  with Tyler after she rescued him from the desert long ago. At this point, the romantic triangle story line takes center stage, turning the book into a paranormal romance instead of an urban fantasy. Darian suffers through page after page of angst, first mourning Tyler's absence and then suffering through his seeming betrayal with Adira. Although Darian sometimes blames herself for what has happened to her relationship with Tyler, she also blames Tyler. Eventually, Darian learns that Adira has a connection with Kade, which makes him even more dangerous.

     Xander, who has always had the hots for Darian, takes advantage of her fragile emotional state and makes his own moves on her. Unbelievably, Darian goes along with Xander's advances—up to a certain point. This woman definitely needs deep psychological counseling because she has never in her life made a good decision about her personal life—not once.

     As the plot plays out, Kade becomes a danger not only to Anya but to Darian as well, and we have the requisite showdown scene that resolves the situation. As the story ends, Darian is off on a vacation of sorts to get her head together after the disturbing events that take place during the story's climax. 

     The plot has its share of bumps, particularly the ones that rely on chance actions that are repeatedly emphasized to let readers know that they should pay attention. For example, Tyler sends a manila envelope to Darian, but she never opens the envelope (not for weeks). She stuffs it in the pocket of her coat, and then explains time and time again why she has decided not to wear the coat on various occasions—all so that the author can stretch out and complicate the plot by having Darian make assumptions and search for information that she wouldn't need if she knew what was in the envelope. I don't know about you, but if the main man in my life disappeared for three months and then sent me a mysterious envelope, I wouldn't tuck it away and forget about it, I'd open it—immediately. Staged occurrences like this appear to be an authorial tic, as they appear regularly throughout the series.

     Once again, our heroine proves to be an emotional wreck and a non-team player. Even after what happened to her in the last book when she went off on her own, she does the same thing again, with even worse results. Will she ever learn a lesson from her own mistakes? It's doubtful. This book would have been an O.K. read if it weren't for its woebegone heroine. She drags down the plot of every book and is so unlikable that it's impossible to understand why so many men are madly in love with her. She slouches sullenly, refuses to speak a civil word to anyone (even her friends), constantly jumps to (always wrong) conclusions, and whines incessantly (both to herself and to others) about the terrible circumstances of her life—most of which are her own fault. Ironically, in this book Darian constantly derides one of her team members for doing exactly what she does all the time: going off alone without letting anyone know.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

UPDATE! Lora Leigh's BREEDS SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Lora Leigh with a review of the latest book in her BREEDS SERIESLawe's Justice. This one is a FELINE BREEDS story.

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Suzanne Collins: THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY

Author:  Suzanne Collins
Series:  THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY
Plot Type:  Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Futuristic Science Fiction (with some romance)
Ratings:  V5; S2; H3
Publisher and Titles:  Scholastic Press
          The Hunger Games (2008)
          Catching Fire (2009)
          Mockingjay (2010)

     If you haven't already read the HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY, you're missing a great reading experience. Although it's billed as YA literature, I know lots of adults (including myself)who have read and enjoyed all three books and are anxiously awaiting the movie, which hits the theaters on March 23rd. With its themes of love, death, and the horrors of war, the books appeal to all ages. The series is a mash-up of the Greek myth of Theseus & the Minotaur, media coverage of the War in Iran, and the shenanigans of reality TV—all played out on a framework of the Roman Gladiator games. Or as Bloomberg.com put it: "Gladiator meets Project Runway."

            World Building           
     The series is written from the first person point of view of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives with her widowed mother and her sister, Primrose (“Prim”), in the country of Panem, which is located in the geographic area where the United States once existed. Panem, led by the cruel and dictatorial President Snow, is under the absolute control of the Capitol, a highly advanced and futuristic metropolis located near the Rocky Mountains. Seventy-four years ago, the 13 districts of Panem rebelled against the Capital, but were quickly defeated, with District 13 being totally eradicated. In order to remind the citizens of the districts of their defeat, the Capital holds an annual contest called The Hunger Games in which one teen-aged boy and girl from each of the 12 districts are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in a fight to the death. The Games are televised by the government-controlled network, and all citizens are required to watch. The combatants are called tributes and are considered to be the sacrifices the districts must regularly make as punishment for their roles in the long-ago rebellion.

     Katniss lives in District 12, the coal-mining region that was formerly Appalachia. Katniss lost her father in a mine accident five years ago, and since then she has been the primary source of food and income for her family. She is an expert hunter and is particularly skilled with her bow and arrow. She her 18-year-old friend, Gale Hawthorne, regularly climb the fence enclosing her village to hunt illegally for game in the surrounding woods. As the series opens, Katniss and Gale’s relationship is that of best friends. The two comrades sell or trade the game they kill for bread, milk, and other perishables in a series of highly illegal transactions.

     Collins is a terrific story teller. She presents us with a perfectly paced story, impeccable world building, and fully developed characters. In a review for The New York Times, John Green wrote that the novel was “brilliantly plotted and perfectly paced,” and that “the considerable strength of the novel comes in Collins's convincingly detailed world-building and her memorably complex and fascinating heroine.” The pulse-pounding action scenes in the Arena during the Games were so addictive that I couldn’t stop reading. I highly recommend this series to both adults and older teens. The movie comes out on March 23rd, so you have plenty of time to read the first book by then.

     Click HERE to read my comparison of the The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. Click HERE to read a post at the blog, First Novels Club, that compares THE HUNGER GAMES to the Theseus & the Minotaur myth.

            BOOK 1:  The Hunger Games           
     As the opening book begins, it is reaping day—the day of the lottery for the 74th Annual Hunger Games, and Katniss is afraid that either her name or Gale’s name will be called. Instead, Prim’s name is announced, and Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place. The boy selected from District 12 is 16-year-old Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, who once gave Katniss bread when her family was starving.

     The plot follows Katniss and Peeta as they are taken to the Capital, accompanied by their drunken mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, a resident of District 12 who was the victor of the 50th Hunger Games. Humor comes in the scenes in which Katniss’ outrageous styling team makes her over and dresses her for her initial television appearance. During Peeta's TV interview, he reveals that he has always been in love with Katniss. She believes that this is just a ploy to gain audience support, because during the Games, audience members can send gifts of food, medicine, and tools to their favorite contestants. The rest of the story follows Katniss and Peeta as they make their way through the games. Day by day, more and more tributes are killed, but Katniss and Peeta survive. By the end, Katniss has, in several ways, showed her contempt for the Capital and the Games, disrupting the Games to the point that the rules are changed in her favor. The relationship between Katniss and Peeta develops into friendship and more during the games as they help one another to survive. After the the Games, Haymitch warns Katniss that she is a target of the Capital for defying Panem’s leaders so publicly. When Peeta discovers that Katniss’ affectionate actions toward him during the games were a ploy to win public support, he is heartbroken. At this point, Katniss isn’t sure of her feelings for either Peeta or Gale.    

            BOOK 2:  Catching Fire           
     As the second book opens, Katniss and Peeta are just about to leave on a tour of the districts, when President Snow shows up at Katniss’ home and berates her for her anti-Capital behavior during the Games. He accuses her of creating talk of rebellion in the Districts. Soon, the Capital announces the rules for the upcoming “Quarter Quell,” which occurs every 25th year of the Games. This time—for the first time ever—the tributes will be pulled from the previous victors from each district, one male and one female. District 12 has had only three victors--Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch—so Katniss knows that she will definitely be the female tribute. This book follows Katniss and Peeta as they make their way through yet another session of the Games, this time with some allies. By the end, Katniss’ role as an instigator of the rebellion is fully realized, and her romantic situation still balances between Peeta and Gale. 

          BOOK 3:  Mockingjay           
     The title refers to a brooch that Katniss received as a gift just before she left for her first Games. During those Games, she befriended a girl named Rue, who could whistle the Mockingjay’s song. The plot of Mockingjay focuses on the rebellion of the districts against the Capital. Unknown to most people in Panem, District 13 was rebuilt by its surviving citizens. It has control of nuclear power and advanced weaponry and serves as the command post for the revolution. Heading District 13 is President Coin, who is, in her own way, just as much of a despot as President Snow. Coin wants Katniss to serve as a symbol of the revolution, using her mockingjay image to keep up the spirits of the people in the districts. Katniss, however, wants more involvement. As the story plays out, Katniss eventually gets to the Capital, where she is focused on only one thing—to kill President Snow, who has threatened her life and the lives of her family and friends throughout the series. The climax is heart-breaking, as Katniss must deal with loss, betrayal, and grief.

     The major themes of the this book are the struggle for self-preservation and the moral complexities and the collateral damage and heartbreak warfare, for both the victors and the losers. Another theme is the right to personal independence and freedom from the “big brother” of government.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stephen King's "'Salem's Lot"

Author: Stephen King
Title: Salem’s Lot
Plot Type: Horror
Ratings: V5; S2; H2
Publisher: Anchor Reprint (2011) (First published in 1975 and available new and used in a variety of print and audio editions as well as in e-book formand at your local library)

     Salem’s Lot is one of the six finalists that the Horror Writers Association has selected for consideration as the Bram Stoker Vampire Book of the Century. Click HERE to go to my blog entry listing the other nominees.

     Salem’s Lot was the first vampire novel and the first horror novel that I read back in the day, and it had a spine-tingling effect on my then-young psyche. To this day, it's still one of my four favorite King novels (the others being Carrie, The Shining, and The Stand). And don't miss his early book of short stories: Night Shift. Some of the images from those stories still appear in my nightmares!


     Using traditional vampire mythology (a la Bram Stoker's Dracula), King tells the story of the downfall of a sleepy Maine town called Jerusalem’s Lot, or ’salem’s Lot, as the natives call it. (I had forgotten that the Lot was named after an errant pig named Jerusalem.) The primary symbol of horror in the story is the Marston House, a decrepit, dismal mansion set on a hill overlooking the town. Decades ago, Hubie Marston murdered his wife and committed suicide there, and the ghastly house has been uninhabited ever since, except for the ghosts, that is. In the late summer of 1975, two visitors arrive in the Lot, each of whom has a connection with the Marston House. Ben Mears, a 30-something successful writer who spent four childhood years in the Lot, had a nightmarish experience in the Marston House that still haunts him so much that he has returned to write a book about it. Richard Straker, a mysterious European gentleman, buys the Marston House and opens an antiques store with his always-absent partner, Kurt Barlow.

     Life continues to flow as smoothly as it ever does until a fateful night when two young brothers have a bloodcurdling encounter in the nighttime woods, and the action is on. Gradually, people begin acting strangely: roaming at night but staying indoors during the day, covering up to keep out of the sun, and showing aggression towards their friends and neighbors. Slowly we realize that monsters are loose in ’salem’s Lot.

     The beginning of the book is reminiscent of the way David Lynch began his horror film, Blue Velvet, a few years later—with a lengthy but misleading image of an idyllic American town. Birds sing, townsfolk go about their mundane business, and life appears to be good. The opening chapters mimic the narration in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, with detailed descriptions of daily life among the people in the Lot. There’s even a character named Grover, just to underline the connection. Soon, though, we begin to see some cracks and imperfections, and we realize that the citizens are more like the flawed folk in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, with their bitter loneliness and feelings of isolation. Gradually, the sins of the residents are revealed—drunkenness, gluttony, uncontrolled rage, dishonesty, mean-spiritedness—everyone seems to be afflicted with terrible weaknesses, some more horrible than others.

     Once Ben realizes exactly what is going on in the Lot, he gathers together a team of fellow believers to help him defeat Straker and Barlow: Susan (his girlfriend), Matt (a high school teacher), Jimmy (a doctor), Mark (a young friend of the first two boys to encounter the vampire), and Father Callahan (the local priest). As they research vampire mythology and make their plans, Barstow has plans of his own, and they don’t include getting caught. The final chapters culminate in true horror perfection. As William Butler Yeats says, “…things fall apart…the blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”


     Published in 1975, the book now feels like a period piece, almost historical in fact, with its home delivery milkmen, telephone party lines, references to Ironside and Johnny Carson, pre-EPA town dump burnings, and $3 fill-ups at the gas station, but the story itself still works its dark magic, as evil gradually insinuates itself through a town filled with people who might live in any small town even today. King is masterful in his ability to create a sense of place, both physically and emotionally. He can run a shiver down a reader’s spine with just a handful of well-chosen words. A sunset appears to be “infected, until it glares an angry inflamed orange.” Trees form “gaunt mean shadows that bite the ground like teeth.” An open cellar door’s “tongue of darkness seemed to lick hungrily at the kitchen, waiting for night to come so it could swallow it whole.” And everyone, no matter how good or bad, is eventually robbed of all dignity by the horror that insidiously swallows them up.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jaime Rush: THE OFFSPRING SERIES



Author: Jaime Rush (pseudonym for Tina Wainscott)
Series: THE OFFSPRING
Plot Type: SMR
Ratings: V4; S4; H2
Publisher and Titles: Avon
          Deadly Vision (free on-line prequel story)
          A Perfect Darkness (1/2009)
          Out of the Darkness (9/2009)
          Touching Darkness (4/2010)
          Burning Darkness (1/2011)
          Beyond the Darkness (11/2011)
          The Darkness Within (e-novella, 3/2012)
          Darkness Becomes Her (5/2012)
          Turn to Darkness (e-novella, 9/2012)
          "Kiss and Kill Cupid" in Bitten by Cupid (OFFSPRING story unrelated to series story arc) 

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 6/26/12 to include a review of the sixth book in the series: Darkness Becomes Her. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 5: 

        BOOK 6: Darkness Becomes Her        
     Now that the love stories of the core group of offspring have been told and the primary villain has been vanquished, the series has turned to outlying characters who are related by their Callorian blood. In this book, the hero is Lachlan McLeod, an emotionally damaged man who has isolated himself from society in an attempt at self-punishment. Lachlan has the ability to astrally project himself into the past and future, but he's afraid to do that any more because several years ago he accidentally killed his mother (stabbed her with his sword) when she touched him while he was immersed in a projection to an ancient battle scene.

     As the story opens, Lachlan unexpectedly projects into the near future and sees his brother, Magnus, lying dead with his new girlfriend bending over his body. Thinking that the woman killed his brother, Lachlan immediately breaks into her apartment and tries to question her. That girl is Jessie Bellandre (aka Allyssa Jackson), who was born with the Darkening inside her. In a tragic series of events when she was just ten, Jessie's parents were both killed by her father's brother, Russell, who then took over her father's body and has been pursuing Jesse for his own nefarious reasons ever since. In fulfillment of Lachlan's vision, Russell catches up with Jessie while Magnus is with her, and he tries to protect her. Before Lachlan arrives to assist in the fight, Russell turns into a wolf, claws Magnus fatally, and disappears. Jessie saves Magnus' life by pouring Darkness into his body, which leaves Magnus in a coma for the next few weeks, with unknown lon-term effects from the Darkness infusion. Two characters from previous books (Pope and Eric) arrive to transport Magnus off, leaving Lachlan and Jessie to confront Russell on their own. 

     The plot follows Lachlan and Jessie as they try not to fall in love, but do it anyhow. Surprisingly, both of them are virgins. As Lachlan attempts to honor his brother and stay away from physical contact with Jessie, their initial love scenes are kind of strange—and kind of gross, although they seem to know a lot more than most virgins do about the fine points of foreplay and follow-through. The action part of the plot, of course, focuses on Russell's attempts to kidnap Jessie. Eventually, help arrives in the form of an ancient Scottish warrior named Olaf who has attached himself to Lachlan and who takes Jessie into the Void in an attempt to save her father. The Void is an artificial afterlife created by Russell to trap the souls of Jessie's parents. From there, the plot gets even murkier with more body possessionor attempted possessionand several bloody battle scenes with the evil Russell. 

    For me, this series was better in the earlier books when it stayed with the Offspring and their fight with Darkwell. This whole extra-terrestrial addition to the mythology, which is now getting the most emphasis, seems to be getting more and more convoluted. I'm still not exactly sure what the Darkness isand it was the major focus of this entire book. The scenes in which the characters visit the Void are not as fully described as they could have been, so the mythology in that area seems weak. I'm guessing that future books will continue to deal with the Darkness, so I hope that Rush pins down the description with some concrete details.

        WORLD-BUILDING        
     Two decades ago, a secret government agency gathered together a small group of men and women with a variety of psychic abilities (e.g., telekinesis, out-of-body travel, ability to predict the future) and injected them with "booster" chemicals to enhance their talents. When the boosters eventually caused the psychics to lose their minds, the project was abandoned. Now, one of the original project directors, a sociopath named Darkwell, has discovered that the offspring of the original group have psychic talents even more powerful than their parents. Darkwell wants to pump the offspring full of boosters and use them as his personal assassin team until they go crazy—and then just replace them with additional progeny. But some of the offspring have banded together to fight Darkwell and to discover the truth about their parents. The series follows this team of Rogues as they discover more offspring and battle Darkwell and his minions. The Rogues vs. Darkwell battles take up the first four books. Click HERE to go to a page on the author's web site with brief biographies of the offspring.

     Here are the soul mate couples for each book. Names in blue are offspring:
A Perfect Darkness: Amy Shane (sees auras) & Lucas Vanderwyck (dream communicator)
Out of the Darkness: Zoe Stoker (telekinesis) & Rand Brandenburg (seer)
Touching Darkness: Olivia (Darkwell's assistant) & Nicholas Braden (finder)
Burning Darkness: Fonda Raine (assassin) & Eric Aruda (pyrokinesis and remote viewing)
Beyond the Darkness: Petra Aruda (healer, Eric's sister) & Cheveyo (jaguar shape shifter)

        BOOK 5: Beyond the Darkness        
     By the time Beyond the Darkness opens, the whole Darkwell story arc of the first four books has been resolved, and most of the Rogue offspring are leading happily married lives. But not Petra. She longs to be with Cheveyo, but she fears that will never happen. The lusty attraction between Petra and Cheveyo has been simmering along on the back burner throughout the series, even though they have met only a few times. Earlier in the series, Petra had a huge crush on Lucas, but as soon as she met Cheveyo, Lucas's half-brother, her affections shifted immediately. Petra is a healer, but she has to be careful to ration her healing powers so as not to drain her strength. As this book opens, she has used too much of her healing power in recent months and is supposed to give them a rest for at least a year. If not, she risks death. Cheveyo is a black jaguar shape shifter who spends his life hunting down bad guys. He is driven by the voice of his dead father to maintain his solitary warrior lifestyle, foregoing love, marriage, and family. Naturally, Cheveyo fails to explain to Petra why he constantly turns his back on her even though they both feel a huge lusty attraction. The primary plot, filled with angsty interior monologues, follows the ups and downs of their romance.

     Now for the action plot: The twist that came just a bit earlier in the series is that the Rogues have discovered that the essence that fueled the "booster" injected into the original offspring was pulled from an alien whose spacecraft wandered to earth from the planet Surfacia. The human inhabitants of Surfacia perished long ago and were replaced by the formerly underground-dwelling Callorians, who are ruled by the Collaborate. We met Pope, a Callorian Shine (agent for the Collaborate), when he rescued the Rogues in a previous book. As a result of illegally using his deadly powers during that rescue, Pope has been declared a Scarlett—an outlaw, and the Collaborate has sent an Extractor Agent to retrieve him so that they can scan his memory for any secrets. If the Collaborate looks into Pope's mind and learns about the Rogues, they will send more Extractors to kill them, because they are half-breeds with Callorian DNA.

     Pope asks Petra to contact Cheveyo so that he can ask for Cheveyo's help in capturing the Extractor, whose name is Yurek. To complicate matters, Cheveyo has been on the trail of a demonic, shape-shifting alien dog called a Glouck (aka Baal), and the dog has turned the tables on Cheveyo and is now tracking him. When Yurek and the Glouck team up to hunt down Pope, Cheveyo, and Petra, the action quickly moves up several notches. By the time we reach the climactic ending, both Petra and Cheveyo have laid their lives on the line for one another—absolute proof of their soul-mate connection.

     The angst levels in this book are so high that I found myself paging past those lengthy sections, because they were all very nearly the same. Petra, who in past books was portrayed as a spoiled princess, did step up and learn to fight, so her character here is an improvement, although she did a little too much shopping for someone being pursued by a pair of murderous aliens. Cheveyo is the stereotypical closed-mouth, emotion-repressed, alpha hero, blaming himself for everything bad that has happened to his friends and family. If you like formulaic paranormal romance, you might enjoy this one, but I wish that there had been more complexity to the plot. The book contains scenes of graphic violence, with one stomach-turning near-rape scene. Sensuality levels are high once Cheveo finally lets himself go, but it takes him quite awhile to get to that point.

Friday, February 24, 2012

UPDATE! Darynda Jones: CHARLEY DAVIDSON/GRAVES SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Darynda Jones with a review of the third novel in her CHARLEY DAVIDSON/GRAVES SERIES: Third Grave Dead Ahead.

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