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Monday, April 30, 2012

A. C. Arthur: SHADOW SHIFTERS SERIES

Author:  A. C. Arthur
Series:  SHADOW SHIFTERS
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality5; Humor1
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's
        Temptation Rising (4/2012)
        Seduction's Shift (9/2012)
        Passion's Prey (3/2013)
        Shifter's Claim (8/2014)(also published in four e-novella "episodes" )
        Hunger's Mate (2/2015)
        Primal Heat (2015)  

     This post was revised and updated on 8/18/14 to include a review of Shifter's Claim, the fourth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 1 through 3. This is the last novel in this series that I will be reviewing, although I will continue to list new titles as they become available.

            NOVEL 4:  Shifter's Claim           

     As the previous book ended, Priya Drake, a newspaper reporter, witnessed a fight in a Washington, D.C. alley that convinced her that cat people truly exist. Although no one appears to believe her, she soon gets a mysterious e-mail from someone who has kidnapped her brother and threatens to kill him if Priya doesn't investigate Roman (Rome) Reynolds (the Shadow Shifters Assembly Leader) and his men and reveal them to the public as cat shifters. Right from the beginning, this novel is on shaky grounds. Why would the villain select Priya as the one to investigate this case. She is, at best, a second-tier (or less) reporter who has never done any major investigative work, and she obviously has no investigative journalism skills. Her method is to try to break into Rome's hotel room and confront him with personal questions. Why would any intelligent journalist believe that a powerful man like Rome would allow a reporter to get past his high-level security. He doesn't know her; he doesn't trust her; and she is threatening to go public with the biggest secret in his people's lives, so why would she think that Rome would answer any questions from her at all? 

     When Priya does try to get into Rome's hotel room, she is stopped by Sebastian (Bas) Perry, Faction Leader (FL) for the Southwest, whose headquarters is in his Perryville Resort in Sedona. Bas runs a number of resorts worldwide, but his main duties are to maintain a Shadow army and keep the rogues in his territory under control.

     The plot centers on Priya's continuing search for information and on attempts by a mysterious group of humans and rogues to smuggle high-tech weapons, drugs, andoddlybags of blood across the border from Mexico. The blood bags have been shipped from a U.S. government laboratory in SedonaComastaz Laboratories, a facility run by Dr. Mario DiLaurent and Captain Lawrence Crowe with the stated purpose of developing new and improved defensive weapons. If you can't figure out where the blood came from and why the lab wants it, you haven't read much paranormal fiction because this is a very familiar trope. The action includes several minor showdowns between Bas's warriors and various groups of rogues. Ultimately, it is obvious that there are two sets of related bad guys—the government "scientists" and the drug-dealing rogues, now led by Darel Charles since the death of Sabar in the previous book. Another possible villain is the sociopath Boden Estevez, the first rogue, who is allegedly dead, but may still be alive.

     The romance story line follows Priya and Bas on the bumpy road to their companheirotheir mating. Bas had a tragic experience with a human lover fourteen years ago that ended with her death at the hands of a group of rogues, and since then he has sworn off all emotional and sexual entanglements with humans. Priya has been unlucky in her previous romantic relationships and views Bas as a spoiled, arrogant rich guy who needs to be taken down a peg or two. In a stereotypical family portrayal, Priya has grown up poor, with an abusive father, a drug-addicted brother, a sister on welfare, and a mother who is always on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I love the fact that Arthur places African Americans into prominent roles in the series, but couldn't Priya have come from a middle-class or blue-collar family instead of being a clichéd poster child for urban poverty?   

     The frequent sex scenes between Bas and Priya are graphically portrayed, so if you're looking for erotica, this book is for you. The downer for me was Priya's grossly detailed two-page scene early in the story (Chapter 3) that could have come from Vibrators for Dummies (if there was such a book)much more than I really wanted to know about Priya's self-pleasuring techniques.

     Just as in the previous novels, this one of full of plot holes, illogical behavior, errors in continuity, and strange word choices. I was mystified in one scene in which Priya is attacked by a rogue shifter on the grounds of the Perryville Resort. In this scene, Priya is basically surrounded by Shadow Shifter guards who are dispersed all around the areashifters who supposedly have an excellent sense of smell. Yet not a single guard detects the scent of the rogue shifter as he enters the scene and mingles with the crowd. Note to the author: Either these shifters have a super sense of smell or they don't. You can't have it both ways just so that you can (awkwardly) manipulate the action to suit your purposes.

     Arthur describes the air in Sedona as "sultry" and "thick," both of which connote extreme heat plus extreme humidity. The air on a summer day in below-sea-level, humid New Orleans would be sultry and thick, but not the dry, thin air in high-elevation (4,500 feet), low-humidity Sedona. In another example that jumped off the page for me, Priya looks at a guard who is taking her to Bas's apartment: "He wasn't her enemy, she thought drably…He was just doing his job and she was taking her sexual frustrations out on him." (p. 147) "Drably" isn't the right word here. That word means dull or lacking in spirit, and Priya is anything but spiritless. In this scene, Priya is upset with Bas and is feeling peevish, perverseirritated, and sullenbut definitely not drab.   

     Brand-name dropping continues to intrude into the story line. Arthur never misses a chance to insert a specific, unnecessary reference to Bas's clothing and accessories: his TAG Heuer Monaco watch, True Religion jeans, Under Armour shirt, Ermenegildo Zegna tie, etc.  

     This series has not improved in quality since the first book, so I will not be reviewing any more of these novels, mostly because the characters are flat and stereotypical and the plots are stale and full of holes, If, unlike me, you enjoyed the first three books, you can look forward to more of the same. Click HERE to read an excerptyou'll have to scroll down the page below the strip of cover images to find it.

               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 formed an organization called the Stateside Shadow Shifters and divided themselves into tribes called factions, each led by a 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.

            NOVEL 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 envelope 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.

            NOVEL 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 even comes close to answering that question because Sabar is always portrayed as a not-too-smart, over-confident loser.

     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 because he's not the boss of her. 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.    

            NOVEL 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. In the fifth novel, Ezra will be hooking up with Jewel, assistant to Sebastian's second-in-command at the Sedona, Arizona, compound. 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 anguish and unnecessary clothing descriptions. 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 Viguie: WITCH HUNT SERIES

Author:  Debbie Viguié
Series:  WITCH HUNT
Plot Type:  Police Procedural/Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor1 
Publisher and Titles:  Signet
          The Thirteenth Sacrifice (4/2012)
          The Last Grave (3/2013) 
          Circle of Blood (4/2014) (FINAL ??)
   
     This post was revised and updated on 4/24/14 to include a review of Circle of Blood, the third (and possibly final) novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels. 

            NOVEL 3:  Circle of Blood            
     Samantha Ryan has left San Francisco and Salem far behind. As the book opens, she has travelled to New Orleans, hot on the trail of the witch who has been manipulating her and causing so much magical trouble in her life. In the past, we have known the heroine as both Samantha Castor and Samantha Ryan, but now she calls herself Desdemona Castor and has shoved her "Samantha" personality far to the back of her mind. Samantha let Desdemona loose when she opened her twelfth dream door against the advice of all of her younger selves. (NOTE: This book should not be read as a stand-alone. For an explanation of the dream doors, read my review of The Last Grave below.) At this point, [Desdemona] was…running the show. Samantha had opened that door back in the cemetery in Salem because she thought she needed the other girl's knowledge, insight. Instead, she had let loose a monster." (p. 102)

     Desdemona is the opposite of Samantha in almost every way. Desdemona revels in her witchy powers and kills anyone who gets in her way. On the other hand, Samantha has renounced her witch powers and lays her life on the line to protect others. "Desdemona had finally been freed. The irony was, just as Samantha had not remembered a great deal of her childhood, shutting out the memories, so Desdemona had tried to block memories from her teen and adult years that belonged to Samantha." (p. 9) It is obvious from the start that one of Desdemona/Samantha's major tasks will be to embrace both parts of herselfthe good and the bad; the witchy and the human. 

     In the early chapters, Desdemona is definitely in charge as she deliberately and ruthlessly suppresses the frantic shouts of advice and warning that come from Samantha's part of her mind. "She wouldn't listen; she couldn't. That other self was weak, foolish, afraid." (p. 17) Desdemona is determined to find and kill Lilith Black, the villainous witch who has summoned hundreds of other witches to New Orleans so that she can drain their powers and do unspeakable things with it to benefit her own nefarious goals. As Desdemona sets out to find Lilithwithout a plan and with no back-upshe bungles her way into one TSTL moment after another, mostly because she refuses to listen to Samantha's desperate warnings coming from the back of her mind.  

     So...Desdemona considers Samantha to be a weak and worthless person and sees herself as a powerful and indestructible witchwrong on both counts. We know from the beginning that the author will not allow Desdemona to do away with Samantha completely because Samantha is the series heroine, and heroines are not brutal, heartless killers. Needless to say, Desdemona/Samantha has a moment of epiphany about a third of the way into the novel and begins the process of melding her two halves into one complete person with a little help from some friends. As she fights desperately to get her mind under control, she finally remembers everything about her past, including the details of that fateful day when her mother and the rest of her coven died during a demon summoning. That part of the story has few surprises because Samantha has been remembering flashes of her past throughout the first two novels.  

     The action part of the plot focuses on the search, capture, and execution of the evil Lilith Black, which turns out to be a bit too neatalmost anticlimactic.  The author even drops a deus ex machina trope into the plot just in time to rescue Samantha and her friends from certain death. Problematically, Lilith's motivations for targeting Samantha and seeking to destroy the world were not entirely clear to me. Yes, the two do have a Salem connection, but really, the only type of person who would go to the lengths to which Lilith has gone has to be a sociopathic monsterand that's always really boring in a villain. Although the author tries to portray Lilith sympathetically at one point, the witch soon shows herself to be the stereotypical, power-mad lunatic we have seen too many times before. Another familiar trope is a scene involving a hoodoo woman who lives deep in the bayous: rickety shack, brackish waters, spooky mist, dead animals hanging from the ceiling, wizened old womanit's like something Disney would dream up is DisneyWorld had a voodoo/hoodoo island in the Magic Kingdom.

     Although the plot is relatively well constructed, there is one big hole. On page 153, Samantha warns two women that Lilith is planning to summon a demon to New Orleans: "If you've heard that she's planning on raising a demon here, I would think it's a safe bet she's trying to....This will be a monster that kills, destroys everything in its path." Then, on page 233, as Samantha is trying to figure out why Lilith is making a huge grab for power, she has an epiphany: "Lilith had to have some…plan….Samantha blinked. Demons….Was it possible that there was...one trapped here?" How can Samantha tell someone that Lilith is planning to summon a demon almost 100 pages before she realizes it herself? 

     I'm guessing that this is the final book in the series because it ties up all of the loose ends, including some important facts about Samantha's father; sets up a reunion with her former partner, Ed Hofferman; and reignites a blossoming love affair with her boyfriend, Anthony Charles. She even learns her real namethe one bestowed on her when she was born (which means that she now has four different names). To read an excerpt from this book, click HERE to go to this book's amazon.com page. Then click on the cover art.    

            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. (Click on the series titles to read my reviews.) Both of those series are much stronger than this one, although this 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 CoastTo read an excerpt from this book, click HERE to go to this book's amazon.com page. Then click on the cover art.

            NOVEL 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 or other, 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 the first book and throughout this novel, Samantha has a series of dreamlike meetings with her younger self at various ages, and each "self" unlocks some long-repressed memories from her childhood. In book 1, she met with her herself at ages 5, 6, and 7. Now she meets herself at ages 812. This is how it works: She dreams of a hallway lined with doors. Each time she opens a door, one of her younger selves steps 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. To read an excerpt from this book, click HERE to go to this book's amazon.com page. Then click on the cover art.

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)