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Saturday, September 7, 2013


Author:  Amanda Ashley (aka Madeline Baker)
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)   
Ratings:  Violence4;  Sensuality3-4;  Humor2  
Publisher and Titles:  Zebra/Kensington
        Night's Kiss (2/2005)
        Night's Touch (7/2007)
        Night's Master (10/2008)
        Night's Pleasure (2/2009)
        Night's Mistress (7/2013)  
        Night's Promise (2/2014)    
        Night's Surrender (8/2015) (FINAL)

This post was revised and updated on 9/16/15 to include a review of Night's Surrender, the seventh and FINAL novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the fifth and sixth novels.

                   NOVEL 7:  Night's Surrender                    
Aspiring actress Abbey Marie Cordova knows more than most people do about vampires—she was born among them, the only human child in a centuries-old family of the undead, and determined to stay that way. But a chance encounter with dark, mysterious Niccola Desanto rocks her to the core. Nick is a vampire, and he’s the only man who has ever made her feel so beautiful, so cherished, and so passionately desired. 

     Nick has spent hundreds of years on his own, and the decadent pleasures of the world have lost their appeal. Rumor has it the vampire who made him has regained her humanity—the temptation to find her and demand to know the secret is overwhelming. But one glance at innocently alluring Abbey changes everything. Drawn to her with dangerous, consuming passion, Nick will need more than a lifetime to love her. 

     In this final novel in the CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT series, Ashley gives us another one of her virgin heroines: twenty-six-year-old Abbey Cordova, human daughter of Rane and Savanna. She falls in love with Nick Desanto, one of the oldest vampires still in existence (older than all but Mara, his sire). As the story opens, Abbey and Nick literally bump into one another in a computer store in Manhattan, where Abbey is a wannabe actress who has decided to give it all up and return to her parents’ ranch in northern California. Nick has decided that he needs to end in his undead life, either by setting himself on fire  and turning to dust or by asking Mara to give him the rumored “cure” that turns vampires human. 

     When Nick follows Abbey to California, there is a predictable fatherly conflict with Rane—lots of hostile alpha muttering but no physical violence. There are three main story lines: 

     1. First and foremost, there is the whole romantic situation between Nick and Abbey, which immediately turns into one of those dreaded insta-mate, angst-filled relationships. 

     2. A coalition of vampire hunters has offered a huge reward for the capture/death of the vampire(s) who murdered the two vampire-hunting MacDonald sisters (an event that occurred in an earlier book). 

     3. Edna Mae Turner and Pearl Jackson, the hilariously eccentric vampire buddies who killed the MacDonald sisters, have disappeared.

     One more slender story thread focuses on the fact that since Abbey shared blood with Nick, she has developed psychic skills, which Mara traces back to her biological sperm-donor father, a man whom neither Savanna nor Abbey has ever met. Once the true identity of the father is uncovered, that story line ends without further resolution.

     Since this is the final novel, Ashley makes sure that every unattached cast member, finds a soul mate, including Edna and Pearl (and their love stories are just as weird as they are). The plot plods along at a very slow pace, and none of the love stories are particularly passionate. In fact, the character who shows the most passion is Mara’s husband, Logan, who is extremely jealous of Mara’s centuries-long relationship with Nick. (Nick and Mara were lovers for several years until she dumped him, but they have a close permanent bond between them because she is his sire.) 

     The major angst issues deal with the pros and cons of being human and vampire. Abbey, whose mother didn’t accept the Dark Gift until she had been married to Rane for 18 years, doesn’t really want to become a vampire. Nick, who has been a vampire for more than 500 years, wants to try life as a human, even though he knows that he would lose his powers and then age and die. The lovers have many conversations and interior monologues in which they fret over these issues, and Ashley manages to manipulate events so that they are both put into positions in which they can experience some of the situations they are anguishing over. Unfortunately, the one element that gets the heaviest emphasis in the vampire/human comparison is the food issue—the fact that humans can eat, but vampires are stuck with blood and wine. To me, dinner time doesn’t seem as if it should be the most important issue to consider. 

     Once again, Ashley has her male characters constantly “grunting softly,” an extremely annoying authorial tic that she has picked up during the past few years. Also, there are many, many plot holes and illogical situations. For example, in an early chapter, Abbey tells us that she is has no skills in computer technology, but then goes to a computer store to look for a job. Ashley appears to be just as hopeless as Abbey at current electronic technology, because the high-tech store that Abbey visits has computers with towers (which have been passé for years and years). The store also has “stacks of technical manuals.” Nope…all of those print manuals are now online. If you go to an Apple store, you won’t see a single print book anywhere. Also in the store, the customers are chatting “enthusiastically about the latest software.” Again, no…they may be talking about new apps or new games, but not about new software. Although this is supposed to be a somewhat futuristic society, this computer store seems to have come straight out of the 1990s. 

     The book has a disjointed, pieced-together feel, with several scenes dropped into the book for no apparent reason. For example, at one point Nick stops off in New Orleans to visit a witch who was once his lover, but there is no apparent reason for the visit, and it lasts only a few minutes. So why include it in the book? Other unnecessary scenes include Nick and Abbey’s touristy visits to several museums in Romania. I just skipped those pages entirely. 

     And here is an example of an illogical scene: In the early scene in which she first meets Nick, Abbey has gone to the computer store about a job, but when she decides that she can’t possibly compete for a job like that, she decides to get a job in California as a house sitter or a dog walker. When Nick asks her out on a date, though, she immediately heads off to her favorite boutique to buy a whole new outfit. So…she has plenty of money for boutique shopping, but she plans to take a low-paying menial job. She has no job at all in New York, so where’s the money coming from to pay her rent, etc.? This is the same deal that we had with Sheree in the previous book: an unskilled worker who is wealthy enough to go boutique shopping. It makes no sense. 

     Naturally, the book ends with a huge reunion of all of the happy couples who found their mates and achieved their HEAs in the seven books of this series. Unfortunately, this book reads as if Ashley phoned it in. With its extremely slow-moving plot, its lack of charisma and emotional passion between the main characters, and its frequent lapses of logic, this is the weakest book in the entire series. The most entertaining scenes are the ones starring Edna and Pearl. Click HERE to read the first three chapters in Night's Surrender

     Ashley writes paranormal romances populated primarily by strong, dark, handsome, lonely vampires who, after many loveless centuries, are shocked and initially dismayed to find that their soul mates are beautiful, young, unfulfilled (frequently virginal), twenty-first-century Christian women who are both attracted to and repelled by their undead status but inevitably succumb to the hero’s charms. Marriage is very important to Ashley’s heroines, and unlike most soul-mate pairs, most of the couples generally hold off on full consummation until after the wedding. Ashley writes both stand-alone vampire romance novels and paranormal romance novels loosely linked into series. 

   Here is a summary of vampire characteristics taken from Night’s Surrender, the final book in the series: “They were practically immortal. They healed rapidly when they were wounded. They drank blood to survive. They could move faster than the human eye could follow. They could turn into mist, change shape, scale tall buildings with a single bound. Holy water burned them. The old ones could only be killed if you drove a wooden stake into their heart, took their head, or burned them to ash. Younger ones could be destroyed by dragging them into sunlight,” which turns them to dust. They can also ignite things on fire at will, hypnotize a person with a look, confuse or control a person’s thoughts, and control the weather. They heal rapidly from even the most severe wounds. 

     In the early books of this series, a vampire-werewolf war is the focus of the plots, with werewolves generally being the bad guys. Members of the vampiric Cordova family are featured, and several characters (e.g., Mara, oldest of all the vampires) appear in supporting roles in each of the novels.   

     I won't summarize the first four books, but here is a list of their soul-mate couples:

   > Night's Kiss:  Roshan DeLongpre (vampire) and Brenna Flanagan (witch)
   > Night's Touch:  Cara DeLongpre (human) and Vincent Cordova (vampire)
   > Night's Master:  Raphael Cordova (twin of Rane) and Kathy McKenna (human) 
   Night's Pleasure:  Rane Cordova (twin of Raphael) and Savanna Gentry (human vampire hunter) 
   Night's Mistress:  Mara (vampire queen) and Logan Blackwood (vampire)
   Night's Promise:  Derek Blackwood (Mara's son) and Sheree Westerbrooke (human)
   Night's Surrender:  Niccola Desanto (ancient vampire) and Abbey Cordova (human)

                  NOVEL 5:  Night's Mistress                  
     It's been awhile since Ashley has added to this series, but she has always promised to tell Mara's story. Mara has been a continuing character in the series, frequently using her extra-strong powers to come to the rescue of the Cordovas and their friends. Being the oldest vampire on earth, Mara is considered to be the queen of the vampires, so she is shocked and worried when she begins to lose her taste for blood and feels her powers start to fade away. Unbelievably, she even begins to enjoy eating human food. Before very long, she learns, to her consternation, that she is pregnant and on the verge of becoming fully human.

     Four months ago, Mara had an affair with Kyle Bowden, a sexy young human who turned away from her in horror when she confessed to him that she was a vampire. In the early chapters, Mara moons over Kyle, telling herself that she still loves him but that she should get over him because he could never love her. When we finally meet Kyle, it's hard to imagine what she sees in him. But before Kyle turns up, Mara happens to run into Logan Blackwood, a vampire she Turned nine centuries ago and the couple soon falls back into their former romantic relationship. Logan has always loved Mara, and vice versa, only she has never admitted it to herself or to him.

     The story follows Mara as she deals with her unexpected pregnancy: finding a vampire doctor, taking her pre-natal vitamins, and losing her svelte figure. Because of her dwindling powers, Mara is now unable to defend herself, so she moves in with Logan, falling head over heels in love with him and enjoying their newly revived sexual relationship. When Kyle shows up, though, Mara convinces herself that since he is her baby daddy, she has to marry him and be a good human wife, even though she hates the loss of her vampire identity and powers—not to mention the fact that a centuries-old vampire doesn't fit easily into the role of a happy, human housewife. When the supernatural community learns that Mara has lost her powers, several old and new enemies attack her, including Mara's old foes, Pearl and Edna, who were unwillingly Turned in a previous book and are still out for revenge against Mara and the Cordovas. The Cordova family members play supporting roles and come to Mara's rescue more than once.

      I wish that I could say that Ashley has given Mara her due, but, alas, that just isn't the case. The love triangle plot is unbelievable. How can Mara—a centuries-old sophisticated vampire—behave like a wishy-washy adolescent girl who just can't decide between a vampire-hating human and a hot vampire whom she has loved for centuries (and who has loved her equally)? Even at the church just before the wedding ceremony, Kyle makes an anti-vampire sneer, and Mara still goes through with their marriage. After following the powerful, sexually experienced, mature Mara through the first four books, I didn't buy this story for an instant. And what a shame to allow motherhood to soften her up so much. Couldn't she continue to be a strong, independent woman and a mother at the same time? For me, this book is a great disappointment.

     The book is padded with bits and pieces of historical trivia as Mara writes her memoirs as she awaits her baby's birth. We get tips on how to make mummies; we make a stop at a Civil War battlefield; and we revisit Custer's last stand—to name just a few. We also get a mini-anti-abortion lecture. These scenes were just extraneous padding for the ultra-light plot line.

     And one last nit-pick (which I have mentioned in other Ashley reviews): Ashley has an annoying authorial tic that has her male characters constantly "grunting softly." This time I counted them, and the total is 12 (although I might have missed one or two). Some of the characters also "snort softly" on occasion. All this grunting and snorting is, for me at least, an annoying distraction. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Night's Mistress.

                 NOVEL 6:  Night's Promise                  

     As this novel opens, 25 years have passed since the birth of Mara's son, Derek Blackwood, whose birth came near the end of Night's Mistress. Derek had no vampiric traits until he reached puberty, but then his mother's genes kicked in, and he became a regular night-walking vampire who subsists on blood. Unfortunately for Derek, he also has a genetic heritage from his long-dead father, who was a latent werewolf. So far, Derek's inner werewolf has been relatively quiet, surfacing rarely and manifesting in short periods of rage and a taste for red meat. 

     As the story begins, we meet the young woman who will become Derek's soul mate. Sheree Westerbrooke is a twenty-something wealthy heiress from Philadelphia who moved to California to get away from her controlling family and to indulge in her hobby of trying to find a vampire. As the narrator tells us, "Being rich, single, and bored, Sheree had decided to visit every vampire hangout between California and New York until she found what she was looking for." (p. 4) Sheree LOVES vampires in every form: books, films, posters, comic booksyou name it. Currently, though, she is entertaining herself by dressing up in expensive Goth clothing and going to faux vampire clubs in search of a real live (or undead) vampire. Oddly, Sheree doesn't seem to have a single friend. She does mention once that she has a friend named Shirley, but we never meet her. Improbably, Sheree has recently lost her job. As she explains to Derek, "I was laid off three weeks ago. You don't know anyone who wants to hire someone with absolutely no skills, do you?" (p. 18) Hmmm…A rich girl with a Rodeo Drive income getting laid off from a job requiring no skillsnot very likely. Why was she employed as an unskilled worker if she is rich enough to go out shopping nearly every day for more expensive clothes to wear on her vampire outings?

     The plot is a blenderized version of every other vampire book Ashley has written. Prominent in the first half of the book are a series of attacks on Sheree and/or Derek by several sets of vampire hunters who seem to pop up everywhereall with connections to Mara's adventures in previous books in the series. Even those whacky senior-citizen vamps Edna Mae Turner and Pearl Jackson turn up and actually play key roles in the story line that deals with Derek's werewolf condition. 

     For some reason, Derek's werewolf characteristics (e.g., appetite for red meat, extreme aggressiveness, ferocious rage, the need to hunt and kill prey) seem to be coming to a head, and Mara fears that Derek is on the verge of shifting into actual werewolf form. Up until now, Derek has been unaware that he has werewolf blood in his veins, so he thinks that he is going crazy. When he learns of his rare condition, he fears that he will hurt or kill Sheree. Eventually, everyone heads for Mara's remote castle in the wilds of Romania so that the family can keep Derek under control. In yet another plot hole, this "remote" castle is just minutes from a town that has restaurants and grocery stores. So why bother to go all the way to Romania—why not just lock Derek up in a room in one of their California houses? 

     Once again, Ashley has created an unlikely soul-mate couple: a mid-twenties heroine who is still a virgin, and a noble, if frustrated, hero with inhuman hormonal issues. As Sheree muses, "He might have centuries, but she had only a few years, and she wanted to spend them all in his arms, legally and lawfully." (p. 243) So…about 3/4 of the way into the book, Sheree basically asks Derek to marry her so that they can have sex. In their hilariously improbable wedding scene, Derek is miraculously able to locate a same-day wedding chapel and licensed officiator in Philadelphia in the middle of the night. In this far-fetched and unbelievable scene, the interval between the initial proposal and the completed ceremony is just an hour or two. To balance out the sexual content of the book, the early chapters include a few brief, non-graphic bedroom scenes between Mara and Logan, but here's the downside of those scenes: Even when they involve attractive people, sex scenes between people who have been married for 25 years just aren't sexy. 

     If paranormal romances were candy, this novel would be a marshmallow: sweet and fluffy, but with little substance and lots of little holes. If you are an Ashley reader, you know what you're in for as soon as you open one of her books, and this one is no exception. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Night's Promise. (Although it is labeled "Chapter 1," this excerpt is actually Chapter 2 in its entirety.)

     On Ashley's web site, she states: "I'm currently in negotiations with my publisher for the 7th and final book in the series. At least, I think it's the last book!" Does that mean that Pearl and Edna Mae will be finding their senior-citizen soul mates?  

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