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Friday, May 31, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Lynn Viehl with a review of the third and FINAL book in her LORDS OF THE DARKYN TRILOGYNightbound.

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

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Author:  M. L. Brennan
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)      
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2-3; Humor2-3 
Publisher and Titles:  Roc
          Generation V (5/2013)
          Iron Night (1/2014)
          Tainted Blood (11/2014) 
          Dark Ascension (8/2015) 

This post was revised and updated on 8/4/15 to include a review of Dark Ascension, the fourth novel in the series. The post begins with an overview of the series world-building followed by my reviews of the four novels in chronological (reading) order. 

     Although the lead character is a vampire, this series does not portray vamps in the traditional manner. Click HERE to read a terrific guest column by Brennan on the Michael J. Martinez blog, in which she explains the differences between her vampires and the traditional ones. (Hint: Her vamps are not immortal, and they definitely don't sparkle.) Brennan's inventive mythology is one of the strongest elements in the series. 

     In most vampire novels/series, the vamps are frequently thousands of years old and can create their progeny through a simple blood exchange. The ancient vampires in those series invariably (and inexplicably) fall deeply in love with 20-something human women, which, to me, has always been highly improbable and slightly boring. In this series, though, vamps are created through a complex and creepy process that is based on the reproductive behavior of ticks and involves feeding from a host. (Click HERE for more information on tick reproduction.) The series also turns its back on the immortal-vampire/young-female romance trope. These vampires are not immortal, although they do live longer than humans. They come into their powers slowly and harbor no positive feelings towards humans—not even cute and sassy 21st-century females.  

     The young hero of the series is Fortitude (Fort) Scott, a 26-year-old with a useless college degree, a minimum-wage job in a greasy coffee shop, a deadbeat roommate, and a cheating girlfriend (who actually sleeps with said roommate). As the series opens, Fort is much more human than vampire, and he is happy about that, although he realizes that as he ages he will gradually become more and more like his cold-hearted, human-hating (almost sociopathic) brother, sister, and mother. Here, he muses about his future: "I don't even have fangs at all, just the human incisors that are basically vampire baby teeth. But [my mother's] fangs are fixed in place...and are the size and sharpness for ripping and tearing....The knowledge that at some point I'll start the transition that will make me a full vampire like my siblings and Mother makes me dread every birthday and routinely check my teeth in the mirror. Because popular vampire lore is wrong in another key aspect: vampires do age and we aren't immortal. Each of us will eventually succumb and die of old age..." (p. 39)

     Fort has a strong moral streak, but rarely acts on it. As the series begins, Fort habitually backs away from confrontation, allowing his roommate to fall months behind on the rent, submitting to his girlfriend's cheating ways, acquiescing to his mother's various commands, and, in general, living his life as a wimpy doormat. As book 1 proceeds, though, Fort develops a backbone and begins to stand up for what he believes to be right, even though his actions put his life in danger and go against his family's wishes.

     Here are brief biographies of Fort's mother and siblings:

> Mom: Madeline, born in 1387; first vampire in the New World (aka America); controls northeastern U.S. and much of Eastern Canada; She and her family live in a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.
Sister: Prudence, born in 1775; works in finance; hates Fort with a passion, mostly because he is so "human" (She slaughtered Fort's human foster parents in front of nine-year-old Fort after they learned that he was a vampire.)
> Brother: Chivalry, born in 1864; a stereotypically handsome, suave, impeccably dressed vampire; has brotherly feelings for Fort and usually supports him against Prudence; practices serial monogamy, but is a true romantic.
     Click HERE to go to a web page where M.L. Brennan analyzes his characters' motives and actions in response to readers' questions.

                       NOVEL 1:  Generation V                       
     Fort has never met a vampire outside of his immediate family, so when he is ordered by his mother to come to dinner to meet a visitor to her territory, he sees this as an opportunity to find out how his family compares to other vampires. As it turns out, Luca, a Eurotrash pedophile, is much, much worsemore sociopathic than Fort's cold and callous sister. After Fort tries, but fails, to save the life of Luca's teenage "pet," Luca moves on to other young girls. Fort is determined to save the young victims, even though Madeline has offered hospitality to Luca and has made it clear that Luca is free to do as he wishes while he is in her territory.

     The plot follows Fort and his new bodyguard, Suzume (Suze) Hollis, as they attempt to track down Luca and save the two girls he has kidnapped. Suze is a kitsune, a Japanese fox trickster with an enormous ego, a relaxed moral code, and some serious fighting skills. As Suze explains to Fort, "I'm not some were-critter. I'm not a woman who can turn into a fox when she feels like it. I'm a fox who can become a woman." (p. 185) Although Suze's arrival in Fort's life adds some spice, her over-the-top sarcasm and overconfident self-absorption can become quite annoying and abrasive, both to Fort and to the reader.

     As they begin to close in on Luca, Suze eventually reverts to her self-serving trickster ways, and Fort realizes that he is on his own. Can he supplement his puny powers enough to take down the centuries-old Luca? Will Suze change her mind and come to his rescue? What will Mom's reaction be when she discovers what Fort has done? Most of the answers to these questions are predictable. After all, Fort is the series hero, and Suze is (at this point, anyway), his possible/probable love interest. But the action is still compelling, and the story moves along at a rapid, page-turning pace.

     In a side story thread, Fort's human friend, Matt McMahon, has been investigating the deaths of Fort's human foster parents for the past 17 years. Fort knows that he has to walk a fine line between truth and lies with Matt because he knows that if Matt gets close to the truth of their deaths, Madeline will have Matt killed. Unfortunately, Fort is not a good liar, and Matt can read him like a book. Events in this book cause Matt to become suspicious that Fort has not been entirely forthcoming about his parents' deaths, and Matt is not going to let the subject drop.

     Based on book 1, this is a solid urban fantasy series with a particularly creative mythology and a likable hero. I love the fact that these vampires are so different from the usual stereotype. Although I'm not enamored with Suzume, I'm hoping that she will calm down a bit in the next book(s) and become more of a trusted friend for Fort, because he really needs a dependable ally. Click HERE and then click on the blue "Start Reading" icon to read an excerpt from Generation V.

     Just one historical note: When the author has Suze explain her family's WWII history (pp. 121-122), she puts some historic events in the wrong order. The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945), and the second was dropped three days later (August 9, 1945) on Nagasaki. Unfortunately, Suze flips the two bombing dates, making Nagasaki come first. Where was the fact checker? This obvious error should have been picked up in the editing process. Click HERE for more information on these controversial bombings. 

                       NOVEL 2:  Iron Night                       

     Here is the publisher's succinct summary of this series: "He's a slacker vampire. She's a shapeshifting fox kitsune. They fight crime." Yes, that's the bare bones, but what's so great about this series is the inventive, engaging manner in which the author fleshes out those bones. In this second episode, Fort has a new roommatea really nice guy who is, unfortunately, murdered gruesomely in the first chapter. That murder kicks off a fast-moving, intricately devised plot in which Fort and his sexy sidekick, Suzume (Suze) Hollis, team up with a half-blood elf and a human ex-cop to track down the killer. Even Prudence, Fort's sociopathic sister, comes along to assist.

     As the story plays out, we watch Fort struggle through his shifts as a waiter at an upscale restaurant, driving his rusted-out Ford Fiesta and trying to live a "normal" life even though his vampire transition has accelerated since the beginning of the first novel. Fort has been subjected to daily workouts by his brother, Chivalry, so that he can begin to take over some of the family's enforcement duties. He now has excellent night vision, rapid healing, better fighting skills, enhanced speed and strength, and a continuing determination never to become a stone cold killer like his siblings. At one point, Fort is forced to pack up and leave his apartment, so he quickly packs a bag that contains "the basics of livingthree days' worth of clothing, deodorant, and my Firefly DVDs." (p. 212) In those few words, Brennan packs a world of insight into Fort's character. 

     Near the end of book 1, Fort's friendship with his old friend, Matt McMahon, ended on a bad note, but in this book, Matt turns up again, still investigating the long-ago murder of Fort's parents. Fort is desperate for Matt to walk away from the case because if Matt learns the truth about the existence of vampires and other supernaturals, Fort's mother will have him killed. Part of the suspense in this book is that Matt gets involved in the roommate's murder, and there is nothing Fort can do to stop him.

     Also involved in the case is lovely Lilah, a half-blood elf who works in a New Age shop. As Fort, Suze, Lilah, and Matt gather clues and question persons (and supernaturals) of interest, they begin to make connections between several seemingly unrelated events. They also discover the identity of the monstrous killera dangerously manipulative supernatural creature who is strong enough to overpower them all. That's when Fort's mother assigns Prudence to assist Fort. It's Mom's way of determining just how much of a vampire Fort really is and how well he can handle himself in a situation that requires investigation, negotiation, andultimatelydeadly force. 

     The story involves all sorts of intrigue within the elven world, which adds another layer to the world-building. These elves call themselves the Neighbors "because it was one of the politer terms used back in Ireland for the older race." (p. 133) The elves in this 21st century world are mostly half-bloods, but there are still a handful of full-bloods in charge: the Ad-Hene (aka Themselves). The Ad-Hene are determined to strengthen their race by increasing the number of 3/4-bloods and full-bloods being born. They want to purify the elven population, and they are willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve their goals.

     The first book of this series (Generation V) was on my "Best of 2013" urban fantasy list, and I'm sure that Iron Night will make my list for 2014. Brennan is a excellent story teller who has the ability to weave her character development seamlessly through the various story lines. She makes us understand Fort's desperate need to maintain his humanity in the face of his growing vampirism. We recognize why Suze pushes Fort toward Lilah, even though we can see her pain, especially when she tells him a melancholy parable about the origin of her race. We watch Madeline (Fort's mother) fading away, but still holding on to her authority and still working hard to mold Fort into a vampire who will become the connection between the vampire and human worlds. This is a terrific book (and series), with an inventive mythology, wonderful characters, compelling action, and sophisticated plotting. I highly recommend it. Click HERE to go to this novel's page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.

                       NOVEL 3:  Tainted Blood                       
     Fortitude (Fort) Scott has begun his transition into becoming a full vampire. His reflexes, night vision, and sense of smell have sharpened, and his strength has increased. On the down side, he is always hungry, and his vegetarian meals just aren't cutting it any more. When Fort happens to smell an open container of blood, "my nose practically began twitching as my salivary glands went into overdrive, as if I'd suddenly walked past the open door of a KFC (the greatest ongoing threat to my vegetarianism)." Fort's relationship with his partner, Suzume (Suze) Hollis, seems to be stable, but she still hasn't agreed to be his exclusive girlfriend, although her affectionate teasing (for example, sticking googly eyes all over his apartmenteven on his toothbrush and on the ceiling over his bed) is making him hopeful.

     Back home at Mom's mansion, Fort's brother, Chivalry, is grieving over the death of his wife—his 19th wife—but is soon back in the romance market, looking for a replacement. Meanwhile, Chivalry isn't feeding, so he doesn't have the strength to carry out his enforcement duties. Fort's sister, Prudence, can't help out either, because Madeline (Mom) keeps breaking Prudence's leg in continuous punishment for her deadly shenanigans in book 2. That leaves Fort to handle all of the various problems that occur daily in Madeline's realm. Mostly, these problems have proved to be minor and easily settled, but when Matias Kivela, the head of the bear clan, is viciously murdered, Fort finds himself in a situation that could easily escalate into an inter-species war. The plot has a number of twists and turns, and it takes Fort a long time to finally figure out the identity of the culprit. The bears suspect that the elves are behind the murder, but when Fort investigates that allegation, he is shocked to learn about the horrific punishment that his mother levied on the Ad-Hene (the elves) for their actions in book 2, a punishment that was administered by Chivalry and which guaranteed that the elves could not possibly have murdered Matias. Soon, Fort and Suze are convinced that the murder was an inside job carried out by one of the bears, but the bears aren't about to cooperate with Fort in incriminating one of their own. They view Fort as Madeline's weakest child, and they want Prudence or Chivalry to come in and kill the elves.

     The plot centers on Fort and Suze as they gather clues, interview suspects, and try to determine who would have the most to gain from Matias's death. As the investigation proceeds, Fort discovers that his mother is dying and that the supernaturals within her realm are all aware that someone new—one of Madeline's children—will soon be taking over. This situation is causing some to hope that Fort will be the new leader because he has shown some humanity in his dealings with Madeline's subjects. Throughout her reign, Madeline has been quite dictatorial and unrelenting in her rule over her territory and has made some powerful and vocal enemies. For example, she has prohibited witches from living in groups and has not allowed a new witch within her borders for more than 50 years. Witches tend to live in covens because they need to band together to work their magic, but Madeline refuses to make any changes in her rules. The sociopathic Prudence hates witches, so if she takes over, the witches don't stand a chance. The difference between Fort and the rest of his family is that Fort believes that the family is responsible for the welfare of their subjects, while the others believe that their subjects are there for the sole purpose of serving the family through their tithes and their unquestioning allegiance.

     Late in the book, Fort's vampire transition process makes a major jump, which results in several disturbing incidents. In one scene he is forced to get a feeding lesson from Prudence, making Fort wonder if he really wants to live if this is his future. "My sister…emerged with one of those tall, thick, 1980s Tupperware rectangles with the removable lid on top and the handy bunghole to pour with. My foster mother, Jill, had used exactly that type of Tupperware to make lemonade from concentrate when I was little, and I watched in a detached kind of horror as my sister unknowingly defiled a small piece of my childhood as she carefully poured the blood from her silver bowl into the Tupperware…" All through the series, Fort has tried to maintain his humanity even as his family encourages him to let his inner vampire loose. That constant push and pull is taking its toll on Fort, and the situation is getting worse and worse as his transition progresses. He thinks about how many people have died over the centuries as a result of his family's feeding habits and goes into a deep funk: "Would that be me? A hundred, fifty, thirty, ten years from now? One year from now?"

     As usual, there is plenty of wry humor scattered amongst the scenes of drama and violence. Although Suze is a somewhat stereotypical wise-cracking tough girl, she adds some spice to the dialogue. Fort, too, throws in some funny lines—for example, when he describes his adventures as a dog walker: "Jogging around the College Hill area of Providence…was far less soul-crushing than any retail job I'd ever held, and the dogs were always happy to see me, which made them a cut above most of my former coworkers…While there were the occasional moments of watching a dog urinate and pondering the usefulness of my Ivy League degree…I'd so far been very happy at how the job was working out." 

     I'm enjoying this series so far, and this book is another strong entry. Fortitude Scott is an interesting and complex character, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to him as his vampire instincts get stronger and his mother gets weaker and weaker. This series is best read in chronological order, even though Brennan provides a brief summary of previous events in the early chapters of each book.

Informational Note: in one scene late in the book, Fort stops at the Newport Creamery, where he picks up two Awful Awfuls—one for himself and one for Chivalry. Click HERE for a full description of an Awful Awful. 

     Click HERE to read an on-line interview about Tainted Blood that Brennan did  for SFFWorld. Click HERE to read an excerpt from this novel by going to its page and clicking on the cover art.

                     NOVEL 4:  Dark Ascension                       
     As the “wickedly clever” (Publishers Weekly) series continues, reluctant, slacker vampire Fortitude Scott learns that nothing is more important than family—or more deadly....

     After a lifetime of avoiding his family, Fort has discovered that working for them isn’t half bad—even if his mother, Madeline, is an ancient, terrifying, murderous vampire. His newfound career has given him a purpose and a paycheck and has even helped him get his partner, foxy kitsune Suzume, to agree to be his girlfriend. All in all, things are looking up.

     Only, just as Fort is getting comfortable managing a supernatural empire that stretches from New Jersey to Ontario, Madeline’s health starts failing, throwing Fort into the middle of an uncomfortable and dangerous battle for succession. His older sister, Prudence, is determined to take over the territory. But Fort isn’t the only one wary of her sociopathic tendencies, and allies, old and new, are turning to him to keep Prudence from gaining power.

     Now, as Fort fights against his impending transition into vampire adulthood, he must also battle to keep Prudence from destroying their mother’s kingdom—before she takes him down with it.

     If you are a regular reader of this series, you know that Fortitude (Fort) Scott's mother, Madeline, is in the final stage of her long, long life. In this book, both her progeny and her supernatural subjects must figure out how to deal with what comes next. Who will be in charge, and what changes will occur in how the supernatural groups in Madeline's territory are governed? Everyone is nervous, and that certainly includes Fort, who is facing imminent transition to his full vampiric state, which includes major physical changes and an increase in his familial responsibilities.

     Let's take a look at the romance first. If you have worried that the sexual tension would evaporate after Fort and Suzume (Suze) Hollis finally became lovers, this novel will be a big relief for you. Even though Fort and Suze are having regular overnights, you can bet that their relationship will never be consistently smooth, partly because of Fort's sweet naivety and partly because of Suze's kitsune nature. Remember, the kitsune are foxes who can change into humansNOT humans who can change into foxes. a fact that Fort keeps forgetting. Suze, with her sly, materialistic, trickster nature, is both delightful and annoying as she tends to put family issues before relationship issues and sometimes hurts Fort's feelings without even knowing it. Suze adds much of the humor to the story with her wisecracks and snarky attitude. Although Suze prods Fort towards maturity and a greater interest in his finances, she loves him for his straightforward manner and his caring ways. At one point, she tells him that she isn't trying to remake him, but that "I just don't want you to end up like a marshmallow Peep in the microwave of the world." She always has his back, even playing the role of his wingman when he heads out to feed from a human for the very first time and by supplying him with infant teething-pain gel (cherry-flavored) when his fangs start to come in. It's quite an interesting partnership.

     Although this entire series follows Fort's awkward (but also humorous and poignant) coming-of-age process, in this book he is forced to grow up very quickly. Not only must he now deal with his siblings, Prudence and Chivalry, on a daily basis, but he must be the face of the family in some precarious dealings with local supernatural groups, some of whom are in direct opposition to the Scott family and their policies. As Fort juggles work problems, relationship problems, and family problems, he is called on to handle several supernatural complications: a ceremonial occasion with the bears, a request for sanctuary from some succubi, a financial crisis with the ghouls, and an interspecies disagreement between the witches and the elves. In each case, Fort finds himself in either direct or indirect opposition to Prudence and Chivalry, andto his dismayhe finds out the hard way that Prudence has her own way of dealing with family disagreements.

     Fortitude Scott is a terrific protagonistan optimist in a pessimistic family; a soft heart in a cold-hearted (and cold-blooded) world; and a believer in liberty and justicenot just for his family, but for all of the supernaturals in the territory. As Fort finally begins to stand up for himself and his principles, his methods are always heartfelt and frequently quite touching. Fort and Suze make a great team, and I am looking forward to their future adventures. 

     Here's what Brennan has to say about Fort's coming of age in an interview she did for "Fort's coming of age actually bears the most similarity to Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Here's a character who is an idealist and a populist, but at the same time he's in a situation where morals and notions of justice start running up against real-world situations of realpolitik and expediency. At the core of this character is that old classic of a young adult to the ruling generation—'I'll never be like you.' Well, we saw what happened to the generation of hippies and flower childrenthey ended up on Wall Street and in all the positions of power, and became exactly what they'd once rejected. For me, writing these books has always been about a character who wants nothing to do with his family, and rejects everything about them, but finds both biology and circumstance forcing him closer and closer to those thingsand still fights it. It's the heart of the whole series." (Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read the entire interview.)

     Brennan gives us plenty of foreshadowing in this book. What kind of a vampire is Madeline's brother, who will no doubt be crossing the ocean for a visit to his American relatives? What dies it mean that Madeline altered Fort's upbringing so that he would be "different" from his siblings? How will Fort's tendency towards compromise play out in real-world terms" Will the "Peep in the microwave" metaphor come true? And what about the terrifying Prudence, who never even tries to keep her murderous brutality in check? 

     This is a terrific book in a great series, and I highly recommend itbut only after you have read the first three books, because you need to see how much Fort has changed from the person/vampire he was back in book one when he was attempting to deny his vampire nature and live an entirely human life. Click HERE to read an excerpt from this novel by going to its page and clicking on the cover art.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Dark Ascension is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Caitlin Kittredge with a review of the sixth book in her BLACK LONDON SERIES: Dark Days.

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

Saturday, May 25, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Carrie Vaughn with a review of the eleventh novel in her KITTY NORVILLE SERIES: Kitty Rocks the House.

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

Thursday, May 23, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Sherrilyn Kenyon with a review of the fourth book in her CHRONICLES OF NICK SERIES:  Inferno.

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Simon R. Green with a review of the sixth book in his SECRET HISTORIES SERIES:  Live and Let Drood.

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

Monday, May 20, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Zoë Archer with a review of the FINAL two books in her HELLRAISERS TRILOGY: Demon's Bride and Sinner's Heart.

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

Saturday, May 18, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Michele Bardsley with a review of the ninth book in her BROKEN HEART SERIES: Only Lycans Need Apply.

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

Friday, May 17, 2013


Author:  Thea Harrison
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR), Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor1 
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
          Rising Darkness (4/2013)
          Falling Light (2/2014) (FINAL)  

     This post was revised and updated on 4/1/14 to include a review of Falling Light, the second novel in the series.  That review appears first, followed by a brief overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.       

             NOVEL 2:  Falling Light             
     The story picks up immediately after the climactic battle in book 1 at Michael's isolated cabin on Wolf Lake. Although Michael and Mary won that battle and escaped with their lives, they are both injured. Now that the Deceiver knows where they are, they are forced to stay on the run, rarely stopping for more than a few minutes to pick up food, steal a car, and allow Mary to do some healing to both of them. The two are trying desperately to find their mentor, Astra, whose home is on a remote island off Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 

     The story is told in the third person voice, primarily from the perspectives of Mary, Michael, Astra, and the Deceiver. As the Deceiver realizes that he is on the verge of finding all three of his prey, he pulls out the stops and releases all of his minions and power, with devastating results to the local flora, fauna, and human population.   

     In addition to the conflict between the good guys and the Deceiver, Michael and Mary have their own personal conflict: the warrior vs. the healer. Michael has spent his long, long life in constant battle, honing his skills and hardening his mind to the point that he has built a high, impenetrable wall around his emotions. Mary, on the other hand, is a healer at heart, rejecting the idea that the only way to defeat the Deceiver and his drones is always through violence. On the very first page, this conflict is laid out for the reader as Mary examines the bodies of the Deceivers' drones—all killed by Michael: "Michael had watched her gaze turn dull when she realized the men were beyond her help. She cared about everyone. That fact lay at the essence of her healing. Michael didn't care for total strangers the way Mary did. All he felt was tiredness and a grim sense of relief as he straightened to watch the bodies bleed out." Later, Michael muses about his life and recognizes that his "reason for being, his entire ageless passion, had forged into a singular purpose, and that was to bring [the] destroyer down. So he fought to save innocent worlds from dying, just as Mary did in her own way but his skill was in violence, which bore its own cost…he would either win this battle by violence or die by violence. He wouldn't stop. Not ever. Not even for the horror in her eyes as she looked at what he was..." (p. 154) This dissonance comes to a head when Michael gives Mary a gun during one of the more dangerous parts of their flight, and Mary must actually pull the trigger to defend herselfsomething that she has vowed never to do.

     As the story moves along, Mary remembers more and more details about her past lives and, as a consequence, remembers more and more of her powers. "Somehow, nine hundred years ago, the Deceiver had injured Mary so severely, she hadn't reincarnated for generations….Astra and Michael had….searched for her forbears but they only managed to get the occasional glimpse of her in the psychic realm. A few days ago [in book 1], events had finally come to a head. Mary had torn that old spiritual injury wide open, and Astra had leaped into an astral projection in order to try to reach her." (p. 11) Gradually, Mary's new powers develop to the degree that she is able to use them to great effect, and the couple finally locates Astra, with the help of the ghostly Nicholas. Inevitably, the book ends with a final, ultra-violent showdown between the forces of good and evil, and because this is the final book in the duology, we all know that it results in disaster for the villain and an HEA for the soul mates. 

     In this book, we learn much more about the four main characters' previous incarnations. For example, in the sixth century B.C. Michael was the renowned Chinese general and philosopher, Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War. Through the ages, Mary's former names included Muire, Miryam, and MyrrhThe Deceiver has been known as Lucifer (aka Morning Star). Astra was called White Buffalo Calf Woman (aka PtesanWi) by the Lakota people (and three Native American men play key roles in this story). 

     I'm still having a hard time getting interested in this mythology, with its evil, one-note villain and its all-too-familiar battle between good and evil that must be fought by a tiny group of people in order to save the world. Although the world-building is inventive, it is also convoluted and cumbersome. This is a darkly serious world without a spark of humor or romantic passion. Even though the original couples that were sent to earth were soul-mated pairs, in this world soul-mates don't necessarily wind up in loving, romantic relationships. As Astra explains, "Soul mates did not always equate with romantic love. Balanced energies did not always equate with compatibility. Opposites not only attracted. They also repelled. Completion did not guarantee hearts and flowers or even friendship. Yin did not necessarily see eye to eye with yang. Sometimes the twinned pairs struggled through terrible conflicts." (p. 145) Even though Mary and Michael are among the soul mates who do fall in love, there isn't much fireor even a small sparkbetween them. In fact, their characters are rather flat and predictable. The most interesting person in the series so far has been Nicholas, who has a fantastic story line in this novel. If Harrison ever decides to continue this series, I'm hoping that Nicholas will have a starring role.

     This mythology has its roots in both classical mythology and space operas. Thousands of years ago on another plane of existence, an evil man called the Deceiver betrays his country/planet/realm. Seven people (including three soul-mate couples) are chosen to take a virulent poison that will allow them to follow him to Earth. There, they will be separated from their mates and will eventually die and reincarnate until a time that they can get back together with their mates and capture and incapacitate (or destroy) the Deceiver.  

     Here is the summary of the world-building that appears at the beginning of book 2 as the hero explains why he and his soul mate must find Astra, their childhood mentor: "Astra was also the leader of the original group of seven that had left their world six thousand years ago to pursue the Deceiver when he had escaped their prison and fled to Earth. In order to follow him, the group had needed to die as the Deceiver had died, in an arcane ritual filled with alchemy and power. The ritual transmuted their souls. As they died, they left their world and joined the Earth's natural cycle of death and rebirth, where they lived and died as humans did, over and over again." (p. 4)

             NOVEL 1:  Rising Darkness             

     I always begin reading a new series with trepidation. Will the author be able to build the new mythology in an interesting manner, or will the first book be a slog rather than a page-turner? Unfortunately for the reader, book 1 of this new series unfolds its world-building at a glacial pace, and the book really doesn't pick up speed until nearly the end. We get the story in the third person point of view from four stereotypical characters: the aloof and emotionless alpha hero, the vulnerable and fragile heroine, the wise and ancient elder, and the one-dimensional, evil-to-the-core villain. 

     Much of the early narrative comes from Mary, the heroine, a small-town Michigan doctor who has been having weird and disturbing dreams since she was a child. In those dreams, she is a healer—one of seven exotic people who take poison and go off on a mysterious journey in search of a villainous traitor. These dreams are becoming more frequent and more powerful. When Mary begins hearing voices speaking to her in her head, she is afraid that she is losing her mind and drives back to her old alma mater (Notre Dame Univ.) to pray at the famous Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes for divine assistance. There, she has a vision of "Grandmother" (aka Astra, the elder—one of the original seven travelers), who tells her that she is in danger and must quickly travel North so that she can get help.

     This kicks off both the romance plot and the action plot as the hero immediately realizes that Mary is in danger (and heads off to rescue her) and the villain immediately realizes that Mary is vulnerable (and heads off to capture her). The hero is Michael (whobased on an obscure clue deep in the storymay actually have been Achilles in one of his reincarnations). He is a warrior with magical powers who was mentored by Astra and who has been searching for his soul mate for 800 years. The Deceiver wants to rule the modern world as he once ruled the ancient world, and he needs a healer to keep him alive. For both Michael and the Deceiver, Mary is the key to their wants and needs.

     The rest of the story follows the development of the romance between Mary and Michael as they try to reach Astra before the Deceiver and his forces catch up with them. All along the way, Mary's memories of her various incarnations keep coming back, and she remembers just what her relationship with Michael was those many centuries ago.

     The author has salted the book with direct and indirect literary and historical allusions, including the Bible (quotations from Isaiah); Greek and Roman mythology (Castor and Pollux); French history (Joan of Arc); mass market Scottish literature (Dorothy Dunnett); and Christian theology (Uriel, Ariel, Michael) but these are mostly extraneous and don't contribute at all to the depth of the characters or the complexity of the plot.

     I'm still not sure how this series is going to develop quality-wise. In this first book, the lead couple doesn't have much charisma. Mary spends most of the book in utter bewilderment, unsure of the meaning of her dreams and confused by her feelings for Michael. Until nearly the end of the book, Michael's words and actions are mostly unemotional and robotic. In the end, though, it's the classic story line of the two mutually attracted/connected strangers on a road trip facing life-threatening dangers. In a paranormal romance, that's always a formula for a good old HEA. I'll withhold judgment on this series until I read the next book.

     Just one personal note: Michael and Mary spend their few happy hours in a cabin on Wolf Lake in the Manistee National Forestthe very same lake where my family spent many summer vacations back in the day. Who would have thought that my childhood summer destination would turn up in a paranormal novel!

Thursday, May 16, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Jeaniene Frost with a review of the second book in her NIGHT PRINCE TRILOGY: Twice Tempted.

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Author:  Ashlyn Chase 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) with a touch of Chick Lit (CH) 
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality4; Humor3 
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks Casablanca
          Flirting Under a Full Moon (4/2013)
          How to Date a Dragon (9/2013)
          Kissing with Fangs (3/2014) (FINAL) 

This ongoing series-review post was revised and updated on 4/23/14 to include a review of Kissing with Fangs, the third (and final) novel in the series. The post begins with an overview of the world-building followed by reviews of the three novels. 

     This series takes place in the same world as Chase's STRANGE NEIGHBORS SERIESIn this mythology, humans are unaware of the existence of supernaturals, which in this series includes mostly vampires and werewolves, but also makes room for a few wizards and dragons. Set in an alternate Boston, the stories follow the romantic adventures of various couples, each made up of one harebrained human woman and one irresponsible supernatural man. 

     Although the series is meant to be humorous paranormal romance, the humor generally falls flat and the romances are completely predictable and angst-free. Click HERE to read my reviews of the novels in the STRANGE NEIGHBORS SERIES

                       NOVEL 1:  Flirting Under a Full Moon                       

     In the series opener, Nick Wolfensen is a Boston policeman and the twin brother of Konrad, the hero of one of the STRANGE NEIGHBORS books. Nick has just quit his job to become a private investigator. His first PI case is to find and rescue a young girl who happens to be a fire mage. The victim is the cousin of Brandee Hanson, a waitress at the Boston Uncommon, a bar catering to the supernatural community (even thoughoddlyall of its staff are humans who know nothing about the supernatural world). When Brandee finds out about her cousin's misfortune, she insists on "helping" Nick with the case (although she has absolutely no investigative experience), and contributes a number of TSTL moments that result in various bad things happening to the couple. Despite Brandee's air-headed approach to life, Nick falls for her (and vice versa). The romance takes off quickly—too quickly—and they fall into true love almost immediately.

     If Chase had spent some time developing this plot line and adding some interesting twists and turns, this might have been a better book, but instead, she allows Nick's case to be partially resolved without much drama and then starts another story line—and then another (e.g., irrelevant scenes involving such things as a jealous girlfriend of one of the vampires attacking Brandee, previously undetected Brownies showing up in the middle of the night to clean up the bar, Brandee's ex-boyfriend making a half-hearted attempt to get her back, and 
a string of bank robberies by an enslaved supernatural). The low point in the book comes in a seriously gross scene that graphically depicts the consequences of Brandee's lactose intolerance

     Then there's a new addition to the mythology: the unpleasantly rude, crude, and profane Mother Nature (aka "Gaia," which is the acronym for the Gods and Immortals Association, of which she is the head goddess). Chase handles plots in the STRANGE NEIGHBORS series in this same manner: too many story lines and too many distracting, non-essential scenes—all lacking complexity and depth. By the time the end finally arrives (and believe me, I was really looking forward to it), the characters have been involved in several more situations (mostly meant to be humorous, but failing) before the original case comes to its anti-climactic ending. One final problem: Each story line is full of holes (which is also a problem in STRANGE NEIGHBORS). Click HERE to read an excerpt from Flirting Under a Full Moon.

     To sum it up: The lead characters are flat and lifeless; the dialogue is clumsy and stiff; and the plot lines are paper-thin and unexciting. If you're looking for really funny chick lit paranormal romance, you might want to try Michelle Bardsley's BROKEN HEART series, Nina Bangs' CASTLE OF DARK DREAMS series, Vivi Andrews' KARMIC CONSULTANT series, Teri Garey's DEVIL'S BARGAIN series, Molly Harper's NAKED WEREWOLF series (and others), Sandra Hill's DEADLY ANGELS series, Katie MacAlister's DRAGON series, and Vicki Lewis Thompson's WILD ABOUT YOU series. Click on any of the series titles above to go to my reviews.

                       NOVEL 2:  How to Date a Dragon                       

     Twenty-seven-year-old Bliss Russo is one of three finalists in a television reality show contest. It's like Project Runway, but instead of designing clothing, the contestants design greeting cards. Bliss calls her design line Hall-Snark, and imagines that her cards are sarcastically and ironically humorous. Unfortunately, her so-called snarky rhymes tend more towards adolescent silliness. Early in the story, Bliss's apartment building burns down and she is rescued by a tall, blond (not at all like the cover image) fireman named Drake Cameron. Bliss is a human, and Drake is a dragon shifterone of the last dragons in existence.

     Although Bliss and Drake share a moment of connection during the fire, Drake can't find her afterwards to find out who she is and to ask her out. This seems improbable since he could just ask the owner of the building where Bliss is now living (she would have to have her mail forwarded, after all). Anyhow…Drake is lonely, so he signs up with an on-line dating service and meets a female dragon named Zina who turns out to be the villain of the story. Zina is determined to mate with Drake because female dragons can mate only during a very brief period every five years, and this is her time. Drake, however, is not interested in Zina, who comes across as a truly unpleasant, arrogant, aggressive person/dragon. 

     After the fire, Bliss moves to an apartment over the same bar/restaurant we saw in the first book: Boston Uncommon. This place is owned by a vampire and is frequented by supernaturals, but employs humans as waitresses and bartenders. There, Bliss and Drake eventually run into each other and fall immediately and completely in loveanother one of those insta-matic romances that regularly turn up in paranormal romances. Zina, of course, does everything she can to put a stop to their romance because she wants Drake for herself. Throughout the story, Bliss continues to work on her Hall-Snark greeting card entries for the TV finale. 

     SIDE NOTE: Bliss's technology skills are woefully behind the times because she initially keeps all of her greeting card files on her laptop, which is destroyed in the fireno back-ups, even though these are the final designs that she must submit to the TV show. Then, after she recreates the designs on a different computer, she decides that the best thing to do is save them to CD disks and store them in a safety deposit box in a bank (which burns down later in the story). Has this woman never heard of a flash drive?

     Mother Nature (aka Gaia) shows up againjust as she did in book 1in a series of disconnected scenes that interrupt the flow of the already thin plot. Gaia's primary purpose is to send Drake some help with Zina and to serve as a deus ex machina near the end to offer a solution to the problem of Bliss's mortality.

     Once again, the plot is simplistic and full of holes; the characters have little depth; and the humor is strained. Here's an example of a plot hole: At one point, Zima kidnaps Bliss in full view of two police officers. You would think that would set off a citywide search, but no, we never hear anything from the police again. It's as if that scene never happened. Another plot improbability occurs when Bliss—for the first time in her life—writes a "diary" entry in the notebook she uses to jot down greeting card ideas. That entry happens to contain incriminating information about Drake, and it sets up a situation in which another character accidentally reads the "diary" and discovers that Bliss thinks Drake is a dragon. Not only is the scene completely improbable, it is also silly and unnecessary to the story. And here's an example of the predictable humor: Since Bliss comes from an Italian family, we are treated to an overload of stereotypical Italian-mother humor centered around getting Bliss married off to a suitable man so that she can pop out some grandchildren. This series isn't getting any stronger, and I don't have much hope for future books, which would need more complex plots, fleshed-out characters, a more nuanced romance, fewer superfluous supporting characters, and a much less stereotypical villain. Click HERE to read an excerpt from How to Date a Dragon.

                       NOVEL 3:  Kissing with Fangs                       
     The third novel in this series has a ring of finality to it because it pretty much wraps up all of the romances and ties up most of the loose ends from the previous novels. This time around, two supporting characters from the first two novels ascend to starring roles: Anthony Cross, the vampire who owns Boston Uncommona paranormal bar/restaurant, and Claudia Fletcher, who manages the place. During the climax of the second novel, Boston Uncommon burned to the ground, torched by a jealous, sociopathic dragon. Now, Anthony is trying to decide how to rebuild, and Claudia is drinking herself into a permanent stupor. Even though Claudia has worked closely with Anthony for the past five years, he never once suspected that she had a severe drinking problem (hard to believe!), but when Anthony goes to her apartment to offer her a job when he gets the bar rebuilt, he finds her barely coherent and her apartment overflowing with empty liquor bottles. A few days later, Claudia confesses to him that she is an alcoholic and has now joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), so she can't work in a bar. That's not a problem for Anthony because he'll do anything to keep Claudia close to him. The two have crushed on each other from afar through all their years of working together, but neither one has made any kind of a romantic move. That's about to change!

     The couple decides to turn Boston Uncommon into a tea room. That way, Claudia won't be tempted by liquor, and Anthony's "Aunt" Sadie (who is really his niece) can read tea leaves. There's just one problem: As Anthony and Claudia get closer and closer to admitting their mutual love, they are constantly on the alert for Anthony's jealous and violent ex-girlfriend, Ruxandra, who has vowed that Anthony will to come back to her and that no other woman will live to stand in her way.

     Meanwhile, some of the other paranormals have learned that a group of "researchers" have captured some shape shifters and vampires and are experimenting on them in a secret laboratory. Their search for the laboratory is the crux of the action part of the plot. 

     The romance takes up most of the plot time as Claudia battles her alcohol demons, attends multiple AA sessions, gets kidnapped by Ruxandra, and deals with her new and sexy relationship with Anthony. At the same time, Anthony is trying to assist in the search for the laboratory, keep Ruxandra away from Claudia, and figure out how to tell Claudia that he is a vampire. Just as in the first two novels, Mother Nature meddles in the lives of this small group of paranormals, particularly focusing on Anthony and Claudia.

     As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, this feels like the final book in the series. By the end of the story, all of the paranormal characters from the STRANGE NEIGHBORS series have been drawn into the plot, the Ruxandra situation has been settled once and for all, and all of the possible couples appear to have paired off. 

     This book suffers from all of the same problems seen in the first two novels: a choppy story line, improbable events, fatuous dialogue, flat characters, and unnecessary story lines (like the early scene in which Claudia's parents show up unexpectedly, leave town the next day, and are never seen again in the story). The novel presents an extremely unrealistic picture of alcohol detox and rehabilitation. Actually, Claudia never even goes through detox. She is supposed to be heavily addicted to alcohol, but she never shows a single withdrawal symptom, and she is able to get herself clean and sober just by reading the AA manual and going to a few meetings—highly improbable. Equally improbable is the fact that no one—not Anthony and not her best friends—ever knew that she was a heavy drinker. That just doesn't happen in real life. When an author selects a life-tragedy for a character, he or she should do enough research to present it with authenticity and realistic detail. Because this is a relatively light romance and there is nothing light about alcoholism, my feeling is that alcoholism was absolutely the wrong choice for Claudia's "big life problem." 
Click HERE to read an excerpt from Kissing with Fangs. (Scroll down and click on the "See More" icon in the "Excerpt" section.)