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AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A. C. Arthur: SHADOW SHIFTERS SERIES

Author:  A. C. Arthur
Series:  SHADOW SHIFTERS
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence--4; Sensuality--5; Humor--1
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's
        Temptation Rising (4/2012)
        Seduction's Shift (9/2012)
        Passion's Prey (3/2013)


     This post was revised and updated on 5/4/13 to include a review of the third novel in the series: Passion's Prey. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1 and 2:

            BOOK 3:  Passion's Prey           

     The third book tells the love story of FBI Agent/Shadow Shifter Xavier ("X") Santos-Markland and Caprise Delgado, Nick's stripper sister, who has always hidden her despised shape-shifting heritage. The primary story line follows the development of the romance between X and Caprise while the action part of the plot has two parts: First, a mysterious man who appears to be working for the villainous Sabar is stalking and threatening Caprise, claiming that she is his true mate. Second, Sabar is attempting to purchase some high-tech automatic weapons to use against the Shadow Shifters (and anyone else who gets in his way). 

     Caprise has always denied her Topètenia heritage, opting instead to pass as human. She has always dreamed of being a dancer, but when that doesn't work out the way she wants, she gets a job as a stripper at Athena's, the low-class club that is at the center of Sabar's drug empire. Keep in mind that Caprise has a ten-million dollar trust fund and could go to any dancing school in the country (or, for that matter, do anything else she wanted to do), but she decides to strip (or be an exotic dancer, as she calls it) in a raunchy club frequented by drugged-out patrons. Already, her story is unrealistic and unbelievable. In addition to her dancing and stripping skills, Caprise is one tough cookie. She has "an eighth dan black belt in tae kwon do, had mastered shooting on an open and enclosed range..., and had taken boxing classes for almost a year", which makes her "agile and deadly in the fighting ring." (p. 138) Unfortunately, we don't get to witness any of Caprise's extraordinary fighting skills. Instead, we are treated to her perpetually sullen and acidic disposition as she strikes out verbally against almost everyone with whom she comes in contact. You see, Caprise has a deep, dark secret that is the reason she has turned into this unhappy, dissatisfied woman. X is also keeping a horrible secret about his past, and that has caused him to avoid any long-term romantic relationships. Even with all of the ongoing hostility between Caprise and X, though, they still manage to have plenty of sex. In fact, they spend many hours enjoying X-rated, graphically described bedroom acrobatics that include D&s situations. Even as they constantly bicker and sneer at each other, the two soon begin falling into true love, fighting their feelings every step of the way.

     The story is told in the third person with the point of view mostly switching back and forth between Caprise and X. Three other characters also get some POV opportunities: Sabar, who is on the downswing in this book; Darel, who runs Athena's and is Sabar's right-hand man; and Rolando, the man who is stalking Caprise.

     The melodramatic narrative dominates the story, just as it does in the previous books, and the characters are mostly one-dimensional and stereotypical: the multi-gifted, sarcastic heroine with a dark secret and the emotionally stunted, muscle-bound hero with a tragic childhood. We've seen these characters too many times to count. The author provides a plethora of name-brand dropping (e.g., Armani suits, Tag Heuer watches, Vera Wang gowns), but not nearly enough character development. When Caprise suddenly and inexplicably stops running away from her blossoming emotional involvement with X and begins trying to set a romantic trap for him, this reader was taken by surprise because Caprise's abrupt turn-around is nearly instantaneous, and she never indicates that she would consider embracing the mating urge so completely or so quickly—quite the opposite, really.  
   
     In the final chapters, the author telegraphs some clues about the further adventures of the Shadow Shifters: Near the end, we get hints that two new romances are in the offing, each involving one of the twin Shadow Shifter guards, Eli and Ezra. Eli will be hooking up (actually re-hooking up) with Nivea Cannon, another guard, while Ezra seems slated to fall for Priya Blake, a human newspaper reporter who is poking around in Shadow Shifter business. Also, just before the book's requisite climactic scene, Rome and his top staff members learn some shocking facts about Baxter  (Rome's mysterious "butler") and the history of the Shadow Shiftersinformation about the long-ago times when they were all still confined to the Gungi rainforest.

     All in all, this book isn't any better or any worse than the previous two. If you liked books 1 and 2, you'll probably enjoy this one. I just wish that the author would spend more time on character development and plot transitions and less time on melodramatic, emotional descriptions and clothing references. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Seduction's Shift.

    
            WORLD-BUILDING            
     In this world, feline shape shifters live in the mortal world, but so far, they have passed as humans, keeping their true identities a secret. Here's a paragraph from the author's web site explaining her mythology: "The Amazon is known for its rain forests, as well as the often reported sightings of strange animals, or new species. The Shadow Shifters are just thata new species of part man, part cat shape shifter. There are currently five known species of shifters originated from the Gungi rainforest and now spread out across the world, namely: the Topètinia (jaguars); The Croesteriia (cheetahs); The Lormenia (tigers); The Bosinia (cougars); and The Serfins (white lions). Years ago, Shadow Shifters migrated to the United States, opting to live amongst their human counterparts in harmony. This harmony only exists because of their silence, once the humans find out about their distinctly different DNA the Shadows are sure to face a problematic future." Note of clarification: In this quotation, the author spells the name of the jaguar group "Topètinia" but in the books, the spelling is "Topètenia."

     The good guys are the Shadow Shifters, all of whom trace their ancestry back to the Brazilian rain forest. They live by a code of ethics called the Ètica and are ruled by the Assembly, a council of elders based back in the rain forest. Many of these shifters have migrated to the U.S., where they have divided into tribes called factions, each led by their Faction Leader. As the series opens, the East Coast Faction Leader is Rome Reynolds, the Topètenia hero of book 1. The author provides a short glossary of terms at the beginning of each book.
     The bad guys, who refuse to follow the Ètica and live only to sate their hungers for sex and death, are the rogues. They also migrated from the rain forest, but they do not belong to any of the Shadow Shifter factions. As the series begins, the rogues are led by Sabar Tabares, a power-mad, drug-dealing killer whose goal is to be the most powerful being in the U.S. First, though, he must insinuate his way into behind-the-scenes power roles by manipulating weak and greedy human government officials, andmore importantlyhe must get rid of the Shadow Shifters.

     The soul mate experiencecalled the joiningis at the heart of each book. The word for mate in this series is companheiro, and when a couple joins, their scent changes to something called the companheiro cal orthe shared scent between mates. 

     This is a run-of-the-mill paranormal romance series with stereotypical, cardboard characters and a series plot arc that we've seen many times before. If you want to read a solid, well-written feline shifter series, you can't go wrong with one of these: Lora Leigh's terrific FELINE BREEDS, Christine Feehan's LEOPARD SERIES, or Juliana Stone's JAGUAR WARRIORS. Also, Nalini Singh includes a number of feline shifter love stories in her PSY-CHANGELING series. If you like your cat shifters a bit smaller, try Rachel Vincent's WERECATS/SHIFTERS series. You can click on any of the series titles above to go to my reviews.

            BOOK 1: Temptation Rising            
     The heroine of the first book is Washington, D.C., police officer Kalina Harper, who is currently working undercover at Rome's law practice trying to get evidence that he is involved with South American drug cartels. As soon as Kalina and Rome meet, the sexual firestorm begins, and it burns hotter and more fiery as the story moves along. Both Kalina and Rome are orphans. Kalina never knew her parents and was raised in loveless foster homes. Rome was ten years old when his parents were murdered by rogues while he was hidden away in an adjoining closet. Rome has been trying to track down his parents' killers ever since.

     The story follows Kalina as she investigates Rome while she tries unsuccessfully to keep her lust for him under control. In the meantime, Rome is dealing with an outbreak of mutilation murders that have obviously been committed by the rogues. When the rogues begin to stalk Kalina, Rome and his friends must figure out what Sabar is planning so that they can stop him. 

     This is a typical SMR story, with the stubborn heroineunaware of the deceitfulness within her police department and ignorant of her hero's true naturemaking one dumb decision after another in true TSTL form. Her hero is also stereotypical: a dominant, demanding alpha who insists on making all the decisions in their relationship. Their love scenes are extremely graphic and, from the beginning, they engage in unprotected sex, which is generally a no-no in paranormal fiction these days. Those scenes begin to get a bit repetitive by the end of the book, especially with the extreme overuse of the word "turgid." (Let's hope the author uses a thesaurus when she writes her next book.)

     Unfortunately, the series has many, many problems, not the least of which is the plethora of grammar and usage errors and the awkward sentence structure within the narrative. I give the St. Martin's editor and copy-proofer a D- for letting these errors through. The story is told in a melodramatic, breathless manner with lots of repetitive, angst-filled interior monologues. Here's one example (just one of hundreds) in which Rome ponders his future. In this scene, he is standing at he parents' grave: "The air was ripe with pollution, thick with the stench of death. It was all around him, coming on the stifling hot breeze, and soon it would knock on his door again....but this time, he vowed to be ready." (p. 244)

     The plot has a few illogical moments. For example, early on in the story a mysterious man unexpectedly delivers an envelope to Kalina at her apartment, but she doesn't open it until after she gets to work to find only a photograph of herself taken two years ago while she was undercover. Why would she wait so long to open that envelope? Why doesn't she give the photograph and envelop to her superiors? Later, she finds another envelope stuck under her apartment doormore photographs, this time, shots of her in various stages of undress inside her apartment. Does she search her apartment for hidden cameras? No, she doesn't. Does she report this to her superiors? No, again. Does she tell her (by now) lover, Rome? No, once more. See what I mean about her TSTL moments? Click HERE to read an excerpt from Temptation Rising.

            BOOK 2:  Seduction's Shift            
     The lovers in the second book are Dominick (Nick) Delgado and Aryiola (Ary) Serino. Nick is a lawyer for Rome's firm in his human life, and a stone cold warrior/killer in his secret Shadow life. Ary is a curandero (a healer) who grew up in the Gungi rain forest. Nick and Ary met sixteen years ago when his family spent some time in the Gungi, He was nineteen, and she was sixteen. They had just one night of passion, and then he left and went back to the U.S. without any explanation to her. When Ary is kidnapped by Sabar Tabares, the series villain, Nick and his fellow Shadow team members rescue her and bring her back to their home in Washington, D.C., where Nick tries to run her life and Ary gets rebellious (giving the reader a big hint that she's going to have a TSTL moment or two). 

     In this book, Sabar is still building his empire, this time by creating a new drug to sell on the streets of the U.S. That's why he needs Ary—at least that's what he says in the opening scenes when he has her in custody. As soon as Ary is rescued, however, Sabar decides he doesn't need her after all. Just as in book 1, this plot is full of truck-size holes. When Sabar's part of the story finally plays out in a series of twists and turns, we learn that Sabar never really needed Ary in the first place because he had someone even more valuable. So, why did he kidnap her? Apparently, that was just a plot manipulation by the author, who needed a gimmick to get Nick to the rain forest to rescue Ary and kick-start the romance.

     The convoluted story line follows Sabar as he dabbles in everything from kidnapping to drugs to bank robbing and then creates his own drugged-up army to attack the Shadows time and time again. Although Sabar seems to spend most of his time sneering at his underlings and lusting after human prostitutes and Shadow females, he somehow manages to stay one step ahead of the Shadows all the way through the book. Rome and his people have access to state-of-the-art technology, a skilled and loyal army of warriors, and connections with shifters across the country, so how can a small-time crime lord like Sabar infiltrate them so easily and be so knowledgeable about their innermost secrets? Nothing in the story answers that question since Sabar comes across as an arrogant loser in every one of his scenes.

     The romance plot is completely stereotypical, with its saucy but submissive heroine and its uber-alpha, emotion-choked hero who is completely unable to verbalize even the most general romantic thoughts. The two don't really have many conversations, other than the ones in which he is ordering her around and she is screaming that he can't treat her that way. Actually, the couple is so overcome by lust most of the time that they don't spend much time talking about anything. 

     There is a sub-plot involving Ary's sad-sack father and her mentor, Yuri, but that story thread meanders around so much that it completely loses any sense of clarity or believability. An on-going, but unresolved, story line involves Rome's late father and Nick's late father, who were apparently involved in some sort of secretive activities that may or may not have been illegal.

     Unfortunately, this series is not getting any better. Once again, the plot is filled with improbable events. For example, when Nick and his crew burst in to rescue Ary in an early scene, they outnumber Sabar's villains four to two, but they just grab up Ary and run off. They don't even try to catch Sabar, even though taking down Sabar is the top item on the Shadow Shifters' agenda.

     The third book will tell the love story of FBI Agent/Shadow Shifter Xavier ("X") Santos-Markland and Caprise Delgado, Nick's stripper sister, who hates her shape-shifting heritage. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Seduction's Shift.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

UPDATE! Linda Poitevin's GRIGORI LEGACY SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Linda Poitevin with a review of the second book in her GRIGORI LEGACY SERIES: Sins of the Son.

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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Debbie Viguié: WITCH HUNT SERIES

Author:  Debbie Viguié
Series:  WITCH HUNT
Plot Type:  Police Procedural/Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence--4; Sensuality--2; Humor--1
Publisher and Titles:  Signet
          The Thirteenth Sacrifice (4/2012)
          The Last Grave (3/2013) 
   
    This post was updated on 3/28/13 to include a review of the second book in the series, The Last Grave. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1: 

            BOOK 2:  The Last Grave            
     The story begins three months after Samantha moves to San Francisco, where she is now working as a detective for the SFPD. In the opening scene, we get a snapshot of Samantha's new life as she has a demonic nightmare, is comforted by her roommate (Jill, a friend from her college years), and gets called to a homicide crime scene by her new partner, Lance Garris. The murder victim is Winona Lightfoot, a Native American historian whose body has been completely petrified. Samantha realizes immediately that a witch committed the murder, but she has to hide her suspicions from her human colleagues because she can't let them know anything about her witchy heritage. The rest of the story revolves around this murder.    

     The plot follows Samantha as she follows the clues and tries to solve the case. The most unbelievable part of the story is that Samantha spends most of the book roaming around the city, mountains, and forests all by herself, rarely accompanied by her partner. She keeps telling Lance that she's going off to follow up on something, and he keeps saying O.K.—not asking any questions about where she's going or what she's up to. This doesn't seem at all normal to me, particularly when Samantha's excursions rarely provide any information for the official police investigation. In fact, she usually gets into serious trouble—getting her car burned up by a lightning-throwing witch, being chased through a forest by that same witch, being attacked by trees—all of which she must lie about to her colleagues. I can't imagine that a police detective—particularly a newbie to the job—would be allowed to behave in such an independent, reckless, and non-productive manner.

     Samantha continues to try to avoid using her witchy powers, but eventually she has no choice. The crux of the story is based on a very familiar paranormal plot device: an attempt by the villain to awaken an ancient evil power. The villain's use of powerful dark magic forces Samantha to use her own magical talents to try to keep that ancient evil imprisoned. The ending is quite inventive, although it gets a bit woo-woo and hard to follow.

     In book 1 and throughout this story, Samantha has a series of dreamlike meetings with her younger selves. In book 1, she met with her younger selves at ages 5, 6, and 7. Now she meets her selves at ages 8-12, and they each unlock some long-repressed memories from her childhood. This is how it works: She dreams of a hallway lined with doors. Each time she opens a door, one of her former selves comes out and gives her advice about what to do next. After that, her memories of that year of her life return in a steady stream. This back-to-the-past gimmick worked (to a point) in the first book, but this time around it becomes rather awkward and unwieldy as a continuing plot device.

     This book is definitely not as strong as book 1. Samantha has turned into a weepy, wish-washy character who proceeds in an unplanned, impulsive manner and who has yet to face up to the fact that she has to stop pretending that she is not a witch. The resolution of the murder is somewhat confusing (I can't explain more without a spoiler), and that contributes to the weakness of the plot. I'll keep reading this series for now, though, in the hope that the next book will be stronger.

            WORLD-BUILDING            
     In this world, the only supernatural beings (so far) are witches, some of whom have terrifying powers. The series heroine is Samantha Ryan (aka Samantha Castor), a powerful witch who comes from a long line of practitioners of black magic. When Samantha was still a child, her family and coven members were all slaughtered during a demon summoning that went horribly wrong. Samantha was the only survivor, and she has tried very hard to put her witchy past far behind her. Shortly after her family’s massacre, Samantha was adopted by a friendly, normal couple and raised to be a practicing Christian who finds comfort in the cross she wears around her neck at all times. As the series opens, Samantha's memories of her family’s tragedy are incomplete. She has frequent nightmares about that night and a few spotty memories surface from time to time.

            BOOK 1:  The Thirteenth Sacrifice           
     Set in Boston and Salem, Massachusetts, the opening book introduces Samantha and her tragic past with the usual overload of expositional information. Samantha is now a Boston police detective and as the story begins, she and her partner, Ed Hofferman, are assigned to investigate the murder of a young woman whose forehead sports a red pentagram, which turns out to have been traced with nail polish, not blood. As more pentagram-bearing bodies turn up, they trigger some of Samantha’s repressed memories, and she is sure that these crimes are somehow connected to witchcraft—specifically to the coven now practicing in Salem, her hometown and the site of the demonic massacre of her childhood.

     Samantha's boss asks her to go undercover in Salem. He wants her to join the coven and bring them down from within. Samantha is terrified at the prospect of opening up her mind and body to witchcraft after all these years. She’s afraid of its power and influence, and she wants only to be a “normal” person. Eventually, though, she gives in and heads for Salem, where she begins using her powers to attract the attention of the coven. The plot follows Samantha's adventures as she works her way into the coven and gains the confidence of its leader.

     Samantha's love interest in this book is Anthony Charles, who runs the Museum of the Occult in Salem and whose mother was killed in the same traumatic episode that claimed the lives of Samantha's family. In this book, their relationship is somewhat rocky (he tries to kill her at one point), but they become more friendly near the end, just before Samantha leaves for California. She is forced to leave her Boston PD job because now everyone knows that she is a witch and no one wants to work with her, not even her long-time partner.

     This is a solid enough story with an appropriately tortured heroine and a logical, police-procedural plot line with just the right amount of magical, witchy action. Once Samantha gets to Salem, she spends much of her time agonizing over the pull that dark magic has on her and praying that she can maintain her Christian principles when the investigation is completed. This is a common theme in urban fantasy: the heroine trying to balance black and white magic without being consumed by her own dark side. Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan in THE HOLLOWS and Stacia Kane's Chess Putnam in DOWNSIDE GHOSTS are prime examples of this. (Click on the series titles to read my reviews.) Both of those series are much stronger than this one, although isn’t a terrible series by any means. At this point, I’d say that it’s middle of the road average, with plenty of room for improvement. In the next book, Samantha moves to San Francisco, so we’ll see what the witch situation is out on the Left Coast.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

UPDATE! Isabel Cooper's ENGLEFIELD SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Isabel Cooper with a review of the second book in her ENGLEFIELD SERIES: Lessons After Dark.

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Seven Deadly Heroines"

And don't forget Anita Blake
(especially in the first
5 books of the series
when she was hunting
down vampires
before she
started bedding them).
     The June 2012 issue of RT Book Reviews has a great article entitled "Lady Killers," in which the author (Audrey Goodson) selects her top seven deadly heroines, four of whom are the leads in current urban fantasy series. Goodson says, "Tough girls are popping up everywhere, from the most surreal realms of science fiction to Regency ballrooms. And in the romance arena, alpha men are meeting their match in women who can go toe to toe in the bedroom and on the battlefield."

     If you truly love urban fantasy, you may also want to click HERE to check out my 12-step plan for transforming yourself into a UF heroine.

      Here are the UF heroines who are among Goodson's top picks. As always, click on the pink series titles to read my reviews of the series:

   >    Max , from the HORNGATE WITCHES series, by Diana Pharaoh Francis

   >    Elena Deveraux , from the GUILD HUNTER series, by Nalini Singh

   >    Kate Daniels , from the KATE DANIELS series, by Ilona Andrews

   >    Cat Crawford , from the NIGHT HUNTRESS series, by Jeaniene Frost

In addition to her top picks, Goodson suggests a few more killer UF heroines:

   >    Alex , from the ALEX CRAFT series, by Kalayna Price

   >    Joan , from No Proper Lady in the ENGLEFIELD series, by Isabel Cooper

   >    Evy Stone , from the DREG CITY series, by Kelly Meding

   >    Merit , from CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRE series, by Chloe Neill

     Goodman closes by saying, "Today's heroines are pitted against some pretty terrifying villains, from sadistic serial killers to a creepy parade of paranormal creatures. That may be one reason why such heroines are a particular trademark of urban fantasy: Any woman who manages to survive such a ghoulish range of threats has to be tough."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

UPDATE! Carolyn Crane's DISILLUSIONISTS TRILOGY


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Carolyn Crane with a review of the final book in her DISILLUSIONISTS TRILOGY: Head Rush.

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

Monday, April 23, 2012

UPDATE! Elle Jasper's DARK INK CHRONICLES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Elle Jasper with a review of the third book in her DARK INK CHRONICLES: Eventide.

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

Saturday, April 21, 2012

RT Book Reviews: Winners of 2011 Reviewers' Choice Awards



     Here are the winners of the Reviewers' Choice Awards in the paranormal categories as selected by RT Book Reviews. Click HERE to visit the RT Book Reviews web page to see the rest of the awards. As always, click on any pink link below to go to my review:

Career Achievement in Paranormal Romance: Nalini Singh
Click HERE to read my review of Singh's GUILD HUNTER series. Click HERE to read my review of Singh's PSY-CHANGELINGS series. Click HERE to read my review of Singh's novella in the Angels of Darkness anthology. 

Career Achievement in Urban Fantasy: Yasmine Galenorn
Click HERE to read my review of Galenorn's INDIGO COURT series.

2011 Vampire Romance:
J. R. Ward's Lover Unleashed
Ward also writes the FALLEN ANGELS series.

2011 Shapeshifter Romance:
Thea Harrison's Dragon Bound (first book in the ELDER RACES series)

2011 Paranormal Romance:
Melissa Marr's Graveminder 

2011 Paranormal Romantic Suspense:
Cherry Adair's Hush (first book in the LODESTONE TRILOGY)

2011 Young Adult Paranormal Novel:
Beth Revis's Across the Universe (first book in the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE series)

2011 Paranormal Erotic Romance:
Joey W. Hill's Vampire Instinct (seventh book in the VAMPIRE QUEEN series)
Hill also writes the ARCANE SHOT series. 

2011 Urban Fantasy Novel:
Jennifer Estep's Spider's Revenge (fifth book in the ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series)

2011 Urban Fantasy Protagonist:
MacKayla ("Mac") Lane from Shadowfever (fifth book in the FEVER series)

Friday, April 20, 2012

David Wellington's LAURA CAXTON SERIES

Series: LAURA CAXTON SERIES
Plot Type: UF, heavy on horror
Ratings: V5+; S3; H1
Titles:
    13 Bullets (2007)
    32 Fangs: A Final Vampire Tale (2012) (FINAL BOOK)

     This blog entry begins with the fifth (and final) book in the series, followed by an overview of the world-building and very brief summaries of the first four books in the series. Although the newest book could be read as a stand-alone, the reader would definitely benefit from reading the first four books first to get a full understanding of the history between Laura Caxton, the heroine, and Justinia Malvern, the villain. 

 
      BOOK 5:  32 Fangs: A Final Vampire Tale     
     As the story opens, Laura has escaped from prison and is hiding out in the hill country of southern Pennsylvania in a community of witchbilliespractitioners of the ancient art of witchcraft. While she is hiding from the police, she is also setting a trap for Justinia Malvern, the ancient vampire who has become the sole focus of Laura's life. At this point, Laura is alone, without friends or family. In the meantime, Laura's former lover, Clara Hsu, and her one-time partner, Glauer, are still working for the U.S. Marshals, under the command of the egotistical and ineffectual Special Deputy Fetlock. Fetlock and the U.S. government refuse to admit publicly that Malvern is still alive. Their story is that Malvern perished in the fiery battle at the prison that climaxed the previous book. Clara and Glauer continue to believe that Malvern survived the conflagration, and they are working hard to prove it. When the two are attacked by Malvern's half-deads, they know that they are right.

     The plot follows three main story lines for much of the book. The first follows Laura and the witchbillies as they prepare for the coming battle with Malvern. The second follows Clara as she and Glauer build their case, with Clara hoping desperately that she will soon be reunited with Laura. The third, which is inserted in italicized sections throughout the book, follows the story of Justinia Malvern, from her human childhood through all of the key chapters in her life up until the present time, including previously unknown information about the events that took place in the first four books. This is, essentially, Malvern's biography. 

     A loose end from Vampire Zero is picked up when Arkeley's surviving son, Simon, makes an appearance at Laura's hide-out and gets involved in the proceedings. To move the plot along, Wellington has Clara make a number of annoyingly inept decisions, but for me, that was the only weakness in an otherwise well-conceived plot.  

     By now, Laura has made a full transition from the inexperienced and naive state trooper of 13 Bullets to the persecuted prisoner of 23 Hours to the less-than-human vengeance machine of this book. She has no time for her human sideno emotions, no love, and no regretful memories. The sole purpose of her existence is what she sees as the final event in her life: her destruction of Malvern, once and for all—accompanied by her own death. Here, she explains this to Clara: "I do this...because somebody has to....I do this because Malvern is...evil and the world can't handle evil things. It always underestimates them. It always thinks that if it just pretends the bad things don't exist, then they'll just go away. The world functions by denial and wishful thinking, and that's why the world runs red with blood. I do it so people can keep being stupid and not have to pay for it. So people can be weak and it's not a death sentence. I do it...because nobody else can." 

     Here is an unforgettable verbal portrait of Justinia Malvern as she leads her climactic attack on Laura and the other mortals on the witchbillies' mountain: "Her skin...seemed illuminated by a spectral lambency as if a spotlight was focused right on her. She was wearing a white gown that flickered as if it were licked by gentle flames....She wore an eye patch over her empty socket, a black triangle of silk emblazoned with a red heart. Her one remaining eye burned down on the clearing like a laser beam. She was not touching the ground. Her bare feet pointed downward and cleared the earth by a good foot and a half. She was floating down the mountain, her hands lightly outstretched at her sides. There was a smile of utter benevolence, of pure compassion on her lips." Talk about nightmarish visions!

     32 Fangs is a terrific finale for a fine series as we empathize with Clara, Simon, and, especially, Laura—all damaged irrevocably, albeit in different ways, by their associations with Malvern. Wellington is inventive in the way he gathers the surviving characters in one place to set up the final confrontation and loops the key element in the story—the titular 32 fangs—directly back to Congreve, the very first vampire Laura ever met (and killed). Right down to the final moments, we can't predict what choices Laura will make as she faces down her undead enemy. Although this book could be read as a stand-alone, I strongly recommend that you start back at the beginning of the series because Laura's long, emotional history with Malvern is extremely important to an understanding of her character.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This review is based on a pre-publication copy of the book that I received from the publisher via NetGalley. I received no promotional rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

     WORLD-BUILDING     
     In this world, vampires are a rare species, almost unknown to the general public. The premise of the series is that with one exception, all vampires were destroyed back in the early 1980s. The U.S. government is holding the surviving centuries-old vampire, Justinia Malvern, prisoner in a highly secure facility where she is being studied by scientists. The courts won't allow Malvern to be executed because no one can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she is responsible for any human deaths. Although Malvern is in a weak and desiccated state, she still has a spark of undead life, a wealth of cunning, and  (pardon the pun) an unquenchable thirst for (undead) life.

     The heroine of the series is Laura Caxton, who starts out as a Pennsylvania State Trooper. Soon, though, she is assigned to assist Special Deputy Jameson Arkeley (U.S. Marshals Service), a legendary vampire killerthe man who captured Malvern. This dark and violent series graphically describes many blood battles with vicious vampires. These vampires are bloodthirsty, Nosferatu-like monstersno sexy boyfriend vamps anywhere in sight. Strong enough to bend steel with their bare hands, they also have the power to drastically change their physical appearance and can heal their own injuries, no matter how severe. They can be killed only by destroying their hearts, which is difficult to do because their skin is rock hard and impervious to most weaponry. In the early years of their vampire existence, they maintain a high level of physical beauty, but as they age, their bodies deteriorate. Here is Laura's description of an aged vampire: "The vampire jumped up onto the jagged lower edge of the broken window...His skin was the color of cold milk, his eyes red and dully glowing. He had no hair anywhere on his body, and his ears stood up in points. His mouth was full of row after row of sharp teeth....His body was emaciated,...thinner than any human being she'd ever seen. His skin stretched tight over prominent bones, and the muscles on his arms and legs were wasted away to thin cords. His ribs stuck out dramatically, and his cheeks were hollow with starvation. His skin was dotted with dark patches of decay and in some places had cracked open in weeping sores." (99 Coffins)

     In this world, vampires don't procreate through their bites. Instead, a vampire can gaze deeply into the eyes of a human and plant the vampire curse in his or her mind. To activate the curse and turn that person into a vampire, the human must choose to die, either by suicide of by freely putting himself or herself in mortal danger (e.g., suicide by cop). These vampires can resurrect and influence anyone they have bitten to death in the past. Those resurrected humans are called half-deads and are generally used by a vampire as disposable minions or soldiers. Clara describes them as "decaying corpses given brief animation by the power of the vampire who slew them." (32 Fangs)

     The series follows Laura's adventures as she is promoted, demoted, and imprisonedfighting vampires all the way. The "2" rating for sensuality is based on a few romantic kisses between Laura, who is a lesbian, and her girlfriend.

     The books are available in a variety of formats: print, e-book, MP3, and CD-audiobook.  

      BOOKS 1, 2, 3, & 4      

NOTE: I read the first four books several years ago, before I began writing this blog, so I'm going to have to break one of my own rules here and use the back-of-the-cover summaries here:


     13 Bullets: Laura Caxton thought she was just a State Trooper working highway patrol. Tonight she's going to find out her true destiny: hunting down the immortal, nearly invulnerable predators that haunt the night searching for our blood. Her only ally is Jameson Arkeley, a U.S. Marshal who has devoted his life to hunting down vampires, long after everyone else thought they were extinct. The two of them are our only chanceassuming they can survive the night.

     99 Coffins: Laura Caxton thought she was done with vampires. Then a tomb full of sleeping bloodsuckers was excavated underneath the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg. An all-out war between humans and invincible predators is about to begin. Arkeley makes a life-altering decision in order to win the battle.


     Vampire Zero: Laura Caxton is all alone now, facing the most dangerous vampire of her career. She's always been willing to give up her life to end the threatbut fate has other sacrifices in mind. This book features the final showdown between Laura and Arkeley..

    23 Hours: Laura Caxton has lost everything: her lover, her career, even her freedom. At least she should be safe when she's locked up in a maximum security women's prison...until Justinia Malvern finds out where she's hiding.

     This is a great series with fully developed characters and compelling plots. We watch Laura change completely, from the naive and relatively innocent apprentice in book 1 through her gradual transformation into the cynical and single-minded vampire killer of the later books. Malvern's complicated relationships with Arkele and Laura are fascinating in the same way that an eyewitness might be hypnotized by the sight of a trainwreck—or a murder.