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Saturday, July 27, 2013


Author:  Cat Devon (pseudonym for Cathie L. Baumgardner, who also writes as Cathie Linz)

Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) with a dose of Chick Lit (CH)
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality4; Humor3  
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's
          Sleeping with the Entity (6/2013)
          The Entity Within (7/2013) 
          "The Entity Who Came for Christmas" (e-novella, 10/2013)
          Love Your Entity (12/2013)  
          Tall, Dark, and Immortal (9/2015)

This ongoing post was updated and revised on 9/30/15 to include the publisher's blurb for Tall, Dark, and Immortal, the fourth novel in the series. That blurb appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and  full reviews of the first three novels. For all future novels in this series, I will continue to post the publisher's blurbs, but not full reviews.

                    NOVEL 4:  Tall, Dark, and Immortal                     

Alex Sanchez is more than just an ordinary detective. He's on the prowl—as a vampire. Alex uses his unique gifts to police the mean streets of Chicago like a natural predator. But when he learns that local blood banks are being robbed, he's not sure what rattles him more: the bizarre crime wave or the stunningly beautiful journalist who's reporting it. 

Keira Turner is dedicated to her job—and determined to uncover the truth. Dangerously, out-of-this-world handsome Detective Sanchez seems oddly fascinated by the crimes—and obsessed with Keira. Alex might not have a clue who's stealing blood but he's sure of one thing: Keira is no mere mortal. She's descended from a long line of vampire hunters. And if they try to solve this case together, he'll have to fight the urge to kiss her…or kill her. 

    Don't let the cover art fool you into believing that this is an urban fantasy series. It's definitely paranormal romance with a big dose of chick lit. The series is set in an alternate Chicago where a small vampire clan lives alongside humans without revealing their true identities. In this world, vampires live in clans in cities across the country. The Chicago vamps are unique in that they have magical tattoos that allow them to walk in the sun, and they have a blood source that allows them to bypass human donors.

     This is a lightweight paranormal romance series that relies heavily on snarky dialogue and the type of thin story lines that we've seen in other paranormal romances. In each book one couple will stumble along the bumpy road to their HEA.  

               BOOK 1:  Sleeping with the Entity                   

     Daniella Delaney is just weeks away from opening her brand new bakeshop, Heavenly Cupcakes, in a building her father owns in a quiet Chicago neighborhood. Daniella is one of those familiar chick-lit type of paranormal romance heroines with quirky, anthropomorphized transportation, in this case a "perky pink Vespa" named Shirley that she rides while wearing a pink bicycle helmet. Daniella is a brand-name dropper (e.g., OPI nail polish, Pellegrino, Skittles), and she eats sandwiches made with "tomato basil Parmesan artisan bread" created especially for her by a baker friend. Unfortunately, these details do little or nothing to add any substance to her character.

     Unluckily for Daniella, the head of the neighborhood business association is trying his best to keep her new business from opening. Nick St. George is the centuries-old head of the Chicago Vamptown, and he's afraid that the cupcake shop will draw too many humans into the neighborhood. Nick's motives are difficult to understand, though, because there are already a number of other businesses that attract humans, like the tanning salon run by the slutty vampire, Tanya. When Nick discovers that Daniella cannot be compelled by vampire mind control, he decides to make the best of it, so he grudgingly allows Daniella to go ahead with her plans.  

     The romance is the focus of the plot, but there is a related story line that concerns Daniella's resistance to vampire mind compulsion. When the California vampire clan finds out about it, they make several attempts to abduct her, which forces Nick to move in with Daniella to "protect" her—and much, much more. This is a story line we've seen many, many times before, and it always plays out in exactly the same way. Then, we learn that Daniella was adopted (another familiar paranormal romance trope), and we know exactly where this story is going. 

     Here's the problem with the mind compulsion story line: At one point, Daniella is taking cupcake samples to some of the neighborhood business owners, and she thinks to herself, "Some, like Pat from Pat's Tats, she'd known since she was a kid." (p. 49) Pat Heller is a vampire, as are most of the other business owners, so if these vamps have known Daniella since she was a child, how can they just now be discovering that she can resist their mind compulsion? Also, how does that bit of information spread so quickly (almost overnight) to the California clan? Answers to these questions are not provided.

     In the opening pages, the author does an information dump in the most awkward manner possible: by having various characters explain aspects of the world-building to each other in lengthy conversations, even though each one already knows all of the information that the other is explaining. In fact, awkward dialogue is used to carry many scenes throughout the book. These conversations can be painful to read because friends just don't converse with one other this way.

     Here's just one example of that awkward info dumping in a conversation between Nick and his long-time (centuries long) friend, Pat the vampire tattoo artist.           

     "Her name is Daniella, right?" 

      Nick nodded. 
     "It's a lovely name." Pat sat back in his chair. "I knew a Daniella in Paris before the Revolution. Ah, those were the days..." He paused..."Of course his real name was Daniel. I've been gay for a long time. But I've never been happier than I am with my current partner, Bruce. it helps that he's a vamp, too. Not that he's been around as long as I have." (p. 16)

     Now remember, Nick and Pat have been close friends for centuries, so Nick has known about Bruce from the beginning of his relationship with Pat. And he certainly knows that Bruce and Pat are gay and that they're both vamps. These two old friends would NEVER have this conversation. It's just a very klutzy and inexpert way for the author to give us, the readers, the gay vampire information. Later in that same conversation, Pat explains to Nick that Doc Boomer is a dentist and that he invented a formula for taking blood from corpses and then filtering out all the impurities so that the Chicago vamps can drink it. Nick knows all of this—he is, after all, the head of the clan, so (once again) this is a ridiculous conversation for them to be having. The early chapters are filled with this type of nonsensical dialogue.

     Another problem is the overload of cupcake-baking information. The discussion of flavors, bowls, methodology, ingredients, and decorations is never-ending, and it's entirely unnecessary to the plot (as well as being annoyingly interruptive).  That element of the story reminds me of those lightweight culinary-themed mystery series that are currently the rageall sugar and spice, with no substance. 

     One last nit-pick: Why do we have to have a gay stereotype as a supporting character? Poor Bruce: He's obsessed with fashion (LOVES Project Runway) and Broadway musicals and generally comes across as the most one-dimensional gay character I've seen in a long time. Here's Bruce's reaction to a security video of some vampire thugs who threatened Daniella: "Look at the hair on that short one. It's like steel wool. A good conditioner and an eyebrow wax would make a world of difference." (p. 61) Another stereotypical character is nerdy Neville Rickerbacher, the resident geek vampire, who spends all of his time with his computers and uses duct tape to patch up his eyeglass frames. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Sleeping with the Entity

               BOOK 2:  The Entity Within               
     Several months have passed since Daniella and Nick's happy ending, and the vamps have hired a new security chief: Damon Thornheart, who became a vampire 150 years ago at the Battle of Gettysburg. When Damon was  a newbie demon hunter, he was betrayed by a witch and wound up in Hell, so he hates both witches and demons.

     That's not good news for Zoe Adams and her grandmother, who are both witches. In addition to being a witch, Zoe has a home-based business selling homemade herbal soaps and body lotions. She and Gram have come to Chicago because they've been banished from Boston by their coven for breaking a few rules. From the very beginning, Damon treats the pairespecially Zoelike criminals who can't be trusted. Damon wants the witches out of Vamptown immediately, but Nick has been a long-time friend of Gram's, and he insists that they can stay. The situation gets even worse when a mysterious spellbook turns up in Zoe's personal witchy library. When Gram opens it, a portal from Hell opens to release a group of demons into the tunnels under Vamptown. What the demons want is a mystery that isn't revealed until nearly the end of the book. In the meantime, Damon puts surveillance cameras and microphones into all of Zoe's rooms, including her bathroom and bedroom and then accuses her of deceit and trickery when she protests that she wants some privacy. In an early scene, Damon trashes Zoe's housedumping out bedroom drawers and throwing her freshly packaged soap products on the floorall because he believes that since she is a witch she can't be trusted and must be in cahoots with the demons. 

     Damon is a truly unlikable hero. He's like the sixth grade bully who throws rocks at a girl and pulls her hair to show that he is attracted to her. No, he doesn't hurt Zoe physically, but he certainly dumps a lot of verbal abuse on her, all the while thinking lustful thoughts about her. The dialogue between the two is filled with childish disparagements and insults that could be taken directly from a conversation between two unruly adolescents. I suppose that this dialogue is supposed to be humorous, but it isn't, because surly Damon comes across as a mean and vindictive brute, and Zoe acts like a wimp because she never really stands up for herself (except for her silly, smart-mouthed wordplay, which, incredibly, includes vampire pinkie swearing). When Damon's abusive behavior suddenly ceases and turns to love near the end of the book, the switchover is too quick and without any apparent catalyst (except for the fact that hero and the heroine are required to get together forever before the final page). Here is an example taken from their very first conversation (and believe me, their dialogues never progress beyond this childish point): 
     "You think this is very funny, don't you?"
     "Not particularly. Annoying as hell, yes. Funny, no."
     "What do you have against witches?
     "That's no answer," she said.
     "Its the only answer you'll get from me."
     "What's the matter? Are you afraid I'll cast a spell on you."
     He laughed. "I'd like to see you try." (p. 8)

     The convoluted demon plot introduces a multitude of apparent red herrings and then attempts to wrap them all up in a neat package at the end of the book. Unfortunately, a series of too-convenient coincidences and extremely tenuous connections strains the story line and weakens the resolution of the conflict. In other words, much of the plot resolution is completely unbelievable. At one point, Pat Heller sums up the plot situation as follows: "We're still trying to put this intricate puzzle together, and it's got so many pieces that it is turning out to be quite difficult." (p. 238) Substitute the word "incomprehensible" for "intricate" and "implausible" for "difficult" and you have the plot problem in a nutshell.

     This book has the same type of hero-heroine gimmick that the first one had in that the inevitable consummation of Zoe and Damon's relationship has a direct effect on their magic and their mortality (or immortality). Let's hope that this plot contrivance isn't used in every book in the series. Another hope for future books is that the slutty Tanya (the tanning salon vamp) dials down her hots for each hero and hatred for each heroine. Tanya comes across like a mean-girl cheerleader from high school—yet another stereotypical character in a series that's loaded with them. Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Entity Within.

                  NOVEL 3:  Love Your Entity                  

     The story line in this book bumps along a convoluted path filled with choppy transitions, awkward dialogue, and shallow charactersmuch like the first two novels. This time, the heroine is a slightly overweight entity empatha person who can see and communicate with ghostsby the name of Sierra Brennan  Sierra is also an author of a mystery series about a ghost hunter. As the story opens, Sierra arrives in Chicago's Vamptown to claim her inheritancea house owned by her late great-uncle. The uncle's will specifies that the heir must live in the house for 30 consecutive days and nights or lose the inheritance. That's a problem because the house is haunted by two ghosts from the 1930s: Ruby, a good-hearted prostitute, and Hal, an evil gangster from Al Capone's gang. 

     When Sierra unlocks the door to the house, she is met by a hot, sexy, and naked man named Ronan McCoy, who turns out to be a vampire. Ronan's family originally built the house, and he insists that under vampire law, the house is his. Ronan is a newly freed indentured vampire, and he has a deadline for finding a mysterious key that is hidden somewhere in the house. If he doesn't turn the key over to Baron Voz (his former master), Ronan will be indentured to Voz for all eternity, and his long-dead sister's soul will never be allowed to go into the light.   

     As the story bumps its way through to its unlikely conclusion, a disparate collection of plot elements pop up, including a mad refugee from the Russian Revolution, a silly seance involving one of Hal's greedy descendants, the ghost of a bearded woman from a circus, a demonic hybrid vampire, a strip-teasing vampire, a European master vampire, a gay clown vampire, the ghost of Sierra's abusive father, a treasure map, a sparkly pair of shoes, and a magical muraleach of which is introduced randomly into the story line. 

     The tortuous plot has lots of holes. For example, Ruby claims to have been unable to leave the house since she was murdered on February 14, 1929the day of the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacrebut when Sierra asks her about Hal's murder (which took place soon after Ruby's death), she doesn't know anything about it, even though he was killed in the house. Ruby knows the details about everything else that happened in the house since her death, but not this. That is because the author needs the details of Hal's death to remain a secret from the other characters, no matter how implausible this is to the reader. The author doesn't even bother to come up with a reason why Ruby can't remember this single event but can remember everything else that happened.

     The story is told in the third person mostly through artificial, unnatural dialogue. No one speaks this way. This has been a problem in the previous novels, and it gets even worse in this one. All of the characters speak in short, choppy sentences that just don't synthesize into realistic conversations. Also, we get several info dumps on topics unrelated to the plot. For example, Sierra muses at length about the problems of the modern paperback author, what with e-books and free downloads cluttering up the publishing market. She also goes on and on about the importance of building a street team to amp up her "likes" on Facebook. (It seems likely that the author herself is probably having these problems and took this opportunity to vent.)

     Sierra is a heroine who needs some strong medication to get her hormones and emotions under control. She constantly goes from lusting after Ronan to shouting at him to resenting his presence and back to lustingusually with no real impetus. The relationship between Sierra and Ronan is antagonistic through 80% of the book. Then all of a sudden, they both declare deep love for one another, which is implausible to say the least. About halfway through the book, Ronan muses about what first attracted him to Sierra: her breasts and her bad attitude. Sounds like a really deep relationship, right? NOT! Mostly she shouts insults at him and he verbally snipes at her. Their love scenes are (thankfully) brief, but embarrassingly melodramatic. (For example: "She broke off their kiss with a breathless cry of impending ecstasy. Primitive needs took over….His animalistic snarls of pleasure didn't frighten her. They empowered her. Because this was what she'd been waiting for her entire life."  [p. 277]) 

     I don't plan to review any more of the novels in this series (if there are any more), but I will update the title list at the top of the post.

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