FINDING A SERIES OR AN AUTHOR:

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Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Unbound" Anthology

Authors:  Angela Knight, Jennifer Ashley, Jean Johnson, Hanna Martine   
Title:  Unbound
Plot Type:  SMR     
Publisher:  Berkley

     This anthology is sub-titled, "Four all-new stories of paranormal passion," and that works as a good general description of its content. All four novellas are parts of ongoing series, and that, unfortunately, is the book's biggest problem. Each author tries hard to make her novella a stand-alone, but the success rate is low. If you are familiar with a given series, you'll enjoy the related novella much more than if you approach the stories without context. 

"Enforcer," by Angela Knight    V5; S4; H2 
FIRST LINE:  "The dark, narrow stairway stank of murder."

     At nearly 200 pages, this is by far the longest of the four novellas, and it is part of Knight's TIME HUNTERS SERIES, which I have not read. In her introduction, Knight says, "If you're not familiar with my work, I have attempted to write 'Enforcer' in such a way that new readers won't be lost," She has done a fairly good job filling in the blanks on the mythology and pertinent past events, so I was able to understand most of what was going on. The world-building is quite complex, however, and some references were difficult to interpret. The series is set around a time-traveling mythos in which people can travel back in time from the 24th century to observe events in earlier centuries, but they can't change history in any way.

     At its heart, this is the love story of Alerio Dyami and Dona Astryr, who have been lusting after one another from afar for two years. Alerio has had the hots for Dona for so long that he has trouble being in the same room with her. Alerio is the Warlord who heads the North American Outpost of the Temporal Enforcement (at least that what I could figure out from the novella), and Dona is one of his Enforcers. Due to an unhappy childhood and adolescence, Dona has extremely low self-esteem. In a previous book, she was in a relationship with an abusive Enforcer who defected to the enemy, causing the other Enforcers, including Alerio, to believe that she may have been helping him. 

     The action part of the plot revolves around Ivar Terje, Dona's turncoat ex-lover, who is mutilating and murdering time-traveling tourists who pay tour guides to go back in time to observe various events, like the signing of the Declaration of Independence, for example. Alerio and his team must stop Ivar and his master, the Victor, once and for all.

     Although the futuristic details of the mythology were a bit difficult to fully understand without having read the previous books, the story is a fairly effective stand-alone. Alerio and Dona are fine as the angst-filled lovers, and Ivar is a teeth-gnashingly evil villain.

"Perfect Mate," by Jennifer Ashley    V3; S4; H3 
FIRST LINE: "Nell stifled a groan as a rhythmic banging dragged her out of profound slumber, the kind she found only in the depths of wintertime."

     This is a SHIFTERS UNBOUND story that follows one of the recurring characters as she meets her soul-mate and falls in love. Nell is the top bear in Shiftertown, so she is unpleasantly surprised when Eric, Shiftertown's leader, does not consult her before he assigns Cormac, a bear who has just immigrated from Wisconsin, to live in her house along with her and her two grown sons. Both Eric and Cormac are clear about why Cormac has come to Shiftertown: He is looking for a mate, and Nell is his chosen one.

     The action part of the plot involves a a villain from a previous book who pays a bounty hunter to capture and kill Shane, one of Nell's sons. When Shane goes missing, Cormac and Nell begin to bond as they search for Shane and his abductor. The falling-in-love part of the story happens super quickly, but you kind of get accustomed to that in paranormal romances and this is, after all, a novella, not a full-length novel—so I'll give that a pass.

     This is the easiest novella to read as a stand-alone. Although there are some references to the series mythology and to past events, the story line is pretty much a straightforward paranormal romance. Click HERE to go to my review of the SHIFTERS UNBOUND series for an overview of the series world-building.

"The Hunter's Cabin," by Jean Johnson    V0; S4; H2 
     This novella is part of Johnson's VULLAND CHRONICLES, which I have not read. Although there are a number of cryptic references to the complex mythology and to past events, the story is primarily one long session of sex and more sex, beginning with the requisite virginal, first-time scene. The only characters are the courier, Vielle ("Vee") and the banished prince, Kiereseth ("Kiers"). They hole up in a snowbound mountain cabin to lose their pursuers, and nature takes its course. There is no action plot—only references to the fact that the couple is being pursued by his sister's soldiers.

     If read this as a stand-alone, what you get is the love story, along with paragraphs like this one: "We know that the aetherometer can be powered by thonite because it converts the crystallized gas back into an Air-attuned format, converting sound waves into invisible aether rays and back again. But the Vull is solid, like a...shield. It must attune itself to the Earth element somehow. Or perhaps somewhere between Earth and Water..." I'm sure that a series reader would know exactly what that paragraph means, but since I have not read the series, I have absolutely no clue. And there are more paragraphs similar to that one. Here's another one: "In order to make the hexisle float, you'd have to pump the gas back into the hexisle at great pressure to force it through the matrix and cause the enhanced lofting effects." 

"No Surprise More Magical," by Hanna Martine    V3; S4; H3 
FIRST SENTENCE:  "David had returned to the land of the living. Sort of."

     This novella is part of Martine's ELEMENTALS series. I've read all of the books in the series, so I understood the references to past events, but a new reader would probably have trouble reading this as a stand-alone. Click HERE to go to my review of the series for an overview of the ELEMENTALS series world-building.

     This is the culmination of the love story of David Capshaw and Dr. Kelsey Evans, which began in a previous book. That love story is, of course, the primary focus. David and Kelsey were betrothed through the match-making rules of the Ofarian Board, but when the Board was deposed and the old system crumbled three months ago, they broke off their relationship, each believing (wrongly) that the other had been forced into the betrothal. In reality, the two have lusted after one another from afar for many years but have been too tongue-tied to express their emotions.

     The action part of the story centers on David's hunt for Wes Pritchart, the final member of the corrupt Board. As David works on finding Wes, he enlists Kelsey's aid in spying on one of her employees. Eventually, they work as a team to prevent the mass destruction of a crowd of Ofarians attending an important ritual event. They resolve their relationship as they catch the bad guy.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Check Out kindlepost.com



     If you are a Kindle owner—or even if you’re not—you might want to take a look at the Kindle Daily Post. Several times a week, Kindle editors post brief essays and author interviews about various book-related subjects. Click HERE to go directly to the most recent post.

     Science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal fiction are frequent topics. Here are some pertinent examples from the month of June 2013. To go directly to one of the following posts, just click on its pink-link title.

Guest-Blogger Lauren Beukes discusses her new novel, The Shining Girls (which is near the top of my to-read shelf). It's the story of a time-travelling serial killer and the single survivor who devotes her life to tracking him down. The U.S. version is currently available in hardback and e-book. The European paperback version is available new and used on amazon.com, but it's expensive (cheapest copy costs about $17). I'm guessing that a much less expensive U.S. paperback is in the works. Meanwhile, the hardback is available at most libraries. Click HERE to read my review of another of Beukes' novels: Zoo City.

"Vampire, Shifter, or Fairy?" Read descriptions of these three supernatural species and decide which one you’d like to be. This is the question that was posed to the True Blood cast on the live broadcast that preceded this season’s premier.

"Pre-pub Review of Kresley Cole’s MacRieve" (IMMORTALS AFTER DARK SERIES)—due out in hardcover and e-book on 7/2/13. (Click HERE to read my review of the IMMORTALS AFTER DARK SERIES.)

"Fairy-Tale Inspired Romance": A discussion of romance novels that are based on fairy tale tropes.

"Influential Voices of Sci-Fi and Fantasy": A discussion of the forefathers of the genres and some of the modern masters who are carrying on their traditions.

"Authors on Their Favorite Horror Stories": Several horror authors discuss which stories scared them the most.

"Review of Nalini Singh’s Heart of Obsidian" (PSY-CHANGELING SERIES, Book 12)—available now in hardcover and e-book; available 11/26/13 in paperback. (Click HERE to read my review of the PSY-CHANGELING SERIES)

"Q & A with Leigh Bardugo," author of the GRISHA TRILOGY, a fantasy series set in Tsarist Russia during the early nineteenth century. The author describes it as "Tsarpunk."

Also, there's an interesting post from March 2013 entitled "On the Distinction Between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance" I don't agree with everything the author says, but she gets it mostly right. My main problem with her definition is that she intimates that urban fantasy has world-building but that paranormal romance does not. I beg to differ. Take the two paranormal romance series mentioned in this post, for example. Both IMMORTALS AFTER DARK and, especially, PSY-CHANGELING are set in complex alternate worlds. Click HERE to read my own definitions for 21st-century urban fantasy and  for paranormal romance, which I have renamed soul-mate romance (SMR) for reasons explained in the definition.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

UPDATE! Laura Wright's MARK OF THE VAMPIRE SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Laura Wright with reviews of the second novella and the fifth novel in her MARK OF THE VAMPIRE SERIES: "Eternal Beauty" and Eternal Demon.

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Michael Logan: APOCALYPSE COW SERIES

Author:  Michael Logan
Series Title:  APOCALYPSE COW    
Plot Type:  Comic-Horror Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality3; Humor3 
Publisher and titles:  St. Martin's Griffin 
        Apocalypse Cow (5/2013—U.S. printing)
        World War Moo (6/2015U.S. printing)

             WORLD-BUILDING             
     Here's the inventive world-building strategy that forms the basis for this wild and crazy series: Start with the HIV/AIDS and SARS pandemics. Keep the parts that include the sexual transmission of AIDS and the animal-host origin of SARS, but make Patient Zero a cow instead of a human or a bat and place the action in Glasgow, Scotland, instead of Africa or Asia. Now add the bare bones of a men-in-black thriller. What results is a wild splatterific ride, fueled by black humor and driven by ironic twists. As the publishers' blurb warns: "Forget the cud. They want blood."

     In an online interview, Logan is quoted as saying that he relies on gallows humor to balance life's violence. He goes on to explain that his book deals with "the fragility of human society, and how quickly people can retreat from the cooperative systems we have built to the basic instincts of individual survival in the face of a threat. We are essentially the same animals as thousands of years ago and can, once the rules governing civilized society no longer apply, easily revert." Call it a bovine Lord of the Flies response to survival.

     In 2011, Apocalypse Cow won the inaugural Terry Pratchitt Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now first novel award. The author plans a sequel to this novel entitled Cruel Britannia, publication date TBA. (Note: There is a second book, but with a different title. See the publisher's blurb at the end of this post.)

     Just a nit-picking note: Although both the author and the publisher refer to the diseased cows as “zombies,” the animals aren’t truly zombies in the classic sense because they don’t rise from the dead. I will admit, though, that they fit a more informal zombie definition: “totally lacking in independent judgment; automaton.” Whether they're zombies or not, though, these cows moooove us along on an entertaining literary ride.

                       NOVEL 1: Apocalypse Cow                       
     As the story opens, life in Glasgow is sluggishly normal for a group of  eccentric citizens. Geldorf Peters is a horny teenage boy who moons over his sexy, math-teacher neighbor while his vegan/pacifist/hippie/New-Age mother and his perpetually stoned father make his life a nightmare. Geldorf's mother forces him to wear hemp clothing, to which he is scratchingly allergic: "Non-hemp solutions were unacceptable to Fanny Peters, environmental campaigner and humongous pain in the arse. Leather and suede, by-products of the meat industry, were forbidden in the vegan household. Nylon was out because it was part of 'humankind's relentless march away from Mother Nature' and denim was deemed too mainstream." In an amusing, but stomach-turning scene, Geldorf's very first carnivorous act occurs when he catches ashy flakes from the funeral pyres of diseased cows on his tongue and swallows them down, glancing furtively around to be sure that Fanny doesn't catch him in this rebellious anti-vegan act. Meanwhile, the math teacher's boorish, meat-loving husband is glued to TV sports, and her two thuggish teenage twins fight rough sibling battles in their upstairs bedroom when they're not bullying Geldorf. 

     At the Glasgow Tribune, Leslie McBrian is an inept female reporter with a famous, war-correspondent father. She spends her time stumbling through a series of TSTL moments all the while bemoaning the fact that she has yet to write a front-page story, while her rival—an arrogant, misogynistic bully—seems to be on the verge of cracking the story of the century. Meanwhile at the local slaughterhouse (aka abattoir), Terry Borders ruminates about his non-existent love life, believing his problem to be the stench of meaty death that clings to his skin no matter how hard he works to scrub it off.

     The catalyst that sets the story in motion is the fiery destruction of that very slaughterhouse, just after the cattle turn violently against their killers. Oddly, the animals hump their prey before disemboweling them (remember...sexual transmission). Early in the story, we learn that the cause of the cows' violence is a government-developed virus developed by a scientific team that was tasked to come up with a bio-weapon that would kill animals—the food chain—but not humans. Gradually, the virus jumps to other animals, and the infection quickly spreads out across Britain. Chaos reigns as Britain is completely cut off from the rest of the world. Survivors are forcibly evacuated into primitive camps; soldiers with itchy trigger fingers roam the countryside with automatic weapons; and rampaging hordes of animals—from cows to rats—wreak havoc on the population.

     The early chapters provide the back stories of the main and secondary characters and set up the conflict. Midway through the book, most of these characters are thrown together in the Peters' vegan household. Some die, but others try to escape to France with proof that the British government is at the center of the catastrophe. Their escape is complicated by the fact that Mr. Brown, a sociopathic government operative, will do everything in his power to stop them. Here is Terry's description of Mr. Brown: "Behind wire-rimmed glasses, he had the eyes of a man who would strangle his own mother in order to get his hands on the inheritance early. Had Terry met him under different circumstances, he would have assumed he was a banker." (p. 56) Throughout their harrowing adventures, the characters are a source of black humor as they take turns reflecting on their vastly changed lives. 

     Logan does a great job with characterization, stretching stereotypical characters into absurdly eccentric individuals. In an online interview, the author says, "What I enjoyed the most was taking extreme characters with stereotypical traits—the militant vegan versus the staunch meat-eater—and creating ridiculous situations in which they could butt heads and develop as people." Geldorf is the most fully developed, as we first watch him scratching continuously under his hated hemp clothing, choking down his mother's awful vegetable concoctions, and plugging his ears to keep from hearing his parents' constant love-making. Later in the story, though, he views both parents in a new light after a series of heart-breaking experiences. Geldorf is really the heart of the story, demonstrating all of the coming-of-age angst of a typical teenage boy, but with an intelligent, if cynical, voice that centers the story. 

     If you're looking for a different approach to post-apocalyptic zombie fiction (although these are not truly zombies) and if you don't mind losing a few of the good guys on the way to the climax, this book deserves a place on your summer reading shelf. Click HERE to go to the novel's Amazon.com page where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

     Here's a teaser for the sequel novel: Cruel Britannia. Several months ago, the author held a Facebook contest for people to get their names included in Cruel Britannia. Here, in the author's words, is the list of the winning names, including his who's who list of the characters assigned:
Ruan Peat: One of the four main POV characters, a young female survivor who enjoys shooting sheep and the taste of Pedigree Chum Fish Oil with Chicken. This name just fit the character perfectly, so thanks Ruan!
Scott McDonald, Hannah Campbell, Eva Gilliam, Tom Dixon: Members of the resistance commune practicing combat yoga.
Glen Forbes, Tim Roast: Members of the pretty bloody useless inner council of BRiT (Britons for the Rights of the InfecTed), which is making a hash of ruling the post-infection Britain.
Jack Spencer: A representative of the British government-in-exile, who is involved in long-winded UN discussions on exactly what to do about the UK, particularly which type of large, deadly bomb to drop on it.
Andy, Scholz, Mick Sailor, James Anthony Hilton, Peter Abraham: Mercenaries all. One South African, one Irishman, one posh Englishman who does it for fun, and former SAS guy who needs the money to support his three ex-wives.
     Back in March, Logan wrote on his Facebook page that he was "18,000 words into the first draft of Cruel Britannia and realizing it is going to be significantly sillier than Apocalypse Cow, with a more complicated plot and loads more action." I can't wait! Click HERE to go to the author's Facebook page.

                    NOVEL 2: World War Moo                    
     As it turns out, Logan's second book in this series is not entitled Cruel Britannia after all. It is called World War Moo. Logan did, however, keep his promise to name his characters after the people who won his Facebook contest. This is the final book in the series. Following is the publisher's blurb. 

PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     It began with a cow that just wouldn't die. Yep. That's right. They're still un-dead, and now the disease has spread to humans. The epidemic that transformed Britain's bovine population into a blood-thirsty, brain-grazing, zombie horde...err...zombie herd...is threatening to take over the globe in Michael Logan's World War Moo.

     And there's not much time left to stop it. All of Great Britain is infected and hungry. The rest of the world has a tough choice to make. Should they nuke the Brits right off the map―men, women, children, cows and all―in the biggest genocide in history? Or should they risk global infection in a race against time to find a cure? With hungry zombies attempting to cross borders by plains, trains, boats, and any other form of transport available, it's only a matter of time before the virus gets out. And if it does, there's only one answer. This means war.

Click HERE to go to the novel's Amazon.com page where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

UPDATE! Rhiannon Held's SILVER SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Rhiannon Held with a review of the second novel in her SILVER SERIES: Tarnished.

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

Monday, June 24, 2013

Helene Wecker: "The Golem and the Jinni"

Author:  Helene Wecker   
Title: The Golem and the Jinni
Plot Type:  Historical Urban Fantasy    
Ratings:  Violence--3; Sensuality--2; Humor--2  
Publisher:  HarperCollins (2013)

             WORLD-BUILDING             
     Primarily set in the turn-of-the-century immigrant world of New York City, the story also flashes back to the Old World to fill in the back stories of its titular leading characters, each of whom is a magical being. 

     The novel can be read on an allegorical level as a fantastical microcosm of the immigrant experience: people from vastly different cultures and religions making their tentative way in a new land and coping with each other's differences. It can also be enjoyed as a great, page-turning suspense novel, full of wondrous characters, breath-holding foreboding, and a story so well constructed that every supposed red herring actually fits neatly into its plot slot by the time the climactic ending arrives.

             SUMMARY AND REVIEW             

     Both lead charactersthe Golem and the Jinni ( aka djinn, genie)come from different parts of the world and owe the quality of their lives to a sorcerer. In the Golem's case, that sorcerer is a Jewish magus in Prussia, while the Jinni's is a wily desert wizard. 

     A golem is a creature made of clayformed by its creator to serve its master with super strength and total devotionto the point of predicting the master's needs through its empathetic powers. In the early pages of the book, this particular Golem is created as the bride of a wealthy man who is emigrating to America and wants his Golem wife to have curiosity and intelligence, traits not usually found in Golems. He also instructs the creator to "make her proper. Not...lascivious. A gentleman's wife." (p. 4) When the Golem's master dies on the ship soon after he speaks the words that bring her to life, she is bereft without someone to please. She roams the streets of New York City, unsure of what to do, uncomfortable with her freedom, and missing the security of her master's bond. Without that bond, the Golem's empathy runs wild, and she keeps trying to fulfill the myriad needs of the crowds of people on the street. "At first it nearly paralyzed her, and she hid under an awning as the desperate thoughts of the pushcart vendors and paperboys rode ahead of their shouting voices: the rent is due, my father will beat me, please somebody buy the cabbages before they spoil. It made her want to slap her hands over her ears." (p. 34) Just as she is surrounded by a hostile mob after she steals a knish to feed a hungry boy, she is rescued and then adopted by an elderly rabbi who recognizes her for what she is and hopes to keep her from harming anyone. According to legend, if a golem once loses control of its emotions, it can run amok, turning on innocents and even on its own master. A golem is inherently immortal and can be destroyed only by someone speaking the magical words designated by its creator. The rabbi finds the Golem a job in a bakery, where she wins immediate praise for her strong work ethic and for her ability to predict customers' needs before they speak.

     The handsome Jinn is also essentially immortal, but his fiery soul can be drowned by water and his powers dampened by iron. The Jinni's true form is as "insubstantial as a wisp of air, and invisible to the human eye. When in this form, he could summon winds, and ride them across the desert. But he could also take on the shape of any animal and become as solid as if he were made of muscle and bone." (p. 22) The Jinni comes to New York City trapped inside a copper flask in which he has been imprisoned for centuries. As the story moves along, we get flashbacks to the arrogant Jinni's profligate life before his capture, as he investigates human life by following desert caravans and eventually goes into the dreams of a young girlwith horrific results for both of them. When the jinni's copper flask is sent to a tinsmith for repairs, the smith is the one who accidentally sets the Jinni free. Unhappily for the Jinni, he is in human form, and the undetachable iron cuff on his wrist guarantees that he will stay that way. Since the Jinni can produce fire from his fingertips and has excellent metal-working skills, the tinsmith accepts his strange story and offers him a job.

     So...we have two creatures who are opposite in important waysearth and fire, arrogance and submission, beauty and plainnessbut alike in that they are "others," alone in a strange city with only a single human who understands what they are and who gives them a human name. The Golem becomes Chava (meaning life) and the Jinni becomes Ahmad. Other shared characteristics are intelligence and curiosity, and the two soon fall into a kind of friendship as they begin to explore the streets of New York together. The two bicker constantly as they try to bridge their differences. Here, the Golem tries to explain her nature to the Jinni: 
     "Each golem is built to serve a master. When I woke, I was already bound to mine. To his will. I heard his every thought, and I obeyed with no hesitation."
     "That's terrible," the Jinni said.
     "To  you, perhaps. To me it felt like the way things were meant to be. And when he diedwhen that connection left meI no longer had a clear purpose. Now I'm bound to everyone, if only a little. I have to fight against. it, I can't be solving everyone's wishes...If I were as independent as you wish you were, I'd feel I had no purpose at all.
     He frowned. "Were you so happy, to be ruled by another?"
     "Happy is not the word," she said. "It felt right." (p. 217)

     Chava and Ahmad do not meet until the story is a third of the way into its telling (p. 172). That fateful meeting occurs as the grief-stricken Golem, dealing with the death of her rabbi, roams through the city streets, hopelessly lost, and sees a tall man who "shone with that warm light, like a lamp shaded with gauze." The Jinni sees a tall woman who is "not human, but a living piece of earth." Each stares at the other, thinking, "What is he/she?" In one of the most beautifully written scenes in the book, they recognize each other's otherness and begin to feel a kinship.

     In the first 175 pages, we meet the Golem and the Jinni as well as a cast of characters from the human world: the tinsmith, the rabbi and his son, a mad ice cream maker, a pregnant bakery worker, a young and wealthy girl, and the magus who made the Golemall of whom play intrinsic roles as the plot unfolds, bit by bit. At the beginning, the story drowses along as we learn more and more about the Golem and the Jinni. Then, when the villain of the story arrives in New York City, the suspense begins to build and never lets up. 

     This is a terrific story that is strong both in its characterizationeven among the secondary charactersand its plot. The unhurried pace of the early chapters allows the reader to fully grasp the qualities of the primary and secondary characters. Thus when the action picks up in the later chapters, we know these characters well and can understand and empathize with them as they interact with various people and face a variety of challenges and dangers. The author's meticulous management of the complexities of the plot is masterful and mostly unpredictable. I found myself wondering just how this or that person or event could possibly play into the resolution, but it all fit together perfectlylike one of those thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles and without a single missing piece. By the end, virtually every character is put into a position in which they must make decisions as to the degree to which they will willingly submit their free will to another. The end results include both heartbreak and happinessand are always satisfying.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Amanda Ashley: "As Twilight Falls"


Author:  Amanda Ashley (aka Madeline Baker)
Title:  As Twilight Falls
Plot Type:  SMR    
Ratings:  V3; S3; H1  
Publisher:  Zebra (5/2013)
      
             WORLD-BUILDING             
     The stand-alone novel is set in Ashley's usual world where traditional vampires live secretly amongst humans. These vamps live on human blood, are sun sensitive, have super strength, can teleport, and can read human minds. Once a vampire exchanges blood with a human or other vampire, a mental link is established that allows them to locate one another, even from afar.

     Ashley's male vamps are usually lonely, ancient über-alphas who inspire immediate lust in their 20-something, virginal human soul mates. Her novels are very close in nature to the old bodice ripper romances in which alpha males assert complete dominance over feisty females who value their independence, but soon succumb to the erotic passions inspired by broad shoulders, six-pack abs, and chiseled jaw-lines.

             SUMMARY AND REVIEW             

     As the story opens, Kadie Andrews gets lost while she is out photographing ghost towns in the the wilds of Wyoming and stumbles into a town run by vampires. The next day, she is dismayed to learn that Morgan Creek is surrounded by wards that prevent anyone from leaving, humans and vampires alike. At first, Kadie is under the protection of the so-called vampire "sheriff" of the town, but her presence immediately awakens Rylan Saintcrow, the master vampire who founded the town. Saintcrow's first act upon wakening after 30 years of underground slumber is to immediately take Kadie away from the lesser vampire and tuck her away in his home.

     Morgan Creek has a very small human population, mostly females, who serve as a blood supply to a handful of mostly male vamps (just one is female). The humans all came to the town accidentally and then were forced to stay. The vamps all came voluntarily for protection from vampire hunters and from stronger vampires. Now, though, the vamps are sick of being kept within the town's borders, and a revolution is brewing. 

     The romance between Kadie and Saintcrow is at the center of the plot along  with a connected story line that involves Kadie's father and his vampire-hating friends. There is also a thin story thread about a developing romance between a young vampire and one of the town's human females that may or may not be continued in another book.

     This is a typical Ashley vampire story with its instamatic lust-to-love for the soul mates, who face only a few mild difficulties that are overcome without much violence. There are several love scenes between Kadie and Saintcrow, but with no graphic details. If you're a regular reader of Ashley's novels, you'll probably enjoy this one. If you haven't read Ashley before, this book will provide an accurate example of her paranormal romance writing. Click HERE to read an excerpt from As Twilight Falls.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

James Swain: PETER WARLOCK SERIES

Author:  James Swain
Series:  PETER WARLOCK   
Plot Type:  UF     
Ratings:  V3; S2; H2  
Publisher and Titles:  Tor
          Dark Magic (hardcover, e-book, audiobook2012; paperback4/2013)
          Shadow People (hardcover, e-book, audiobook 6/2013)

             WORLD-BUILDING             
     The magical members of this world are psychics, a relatively small group who hide their powers for fear of being captured by the government and forced to use their powers for military purposes. The series hero is 25-year-old Peter Warren (aka Peter Warlock), a powerful psychic. Peter is also a world-famous magician, owning his own theater in Manhattan and living a luxurious, limousine life style. Although he has dated TV stars and Swedish supermodels in the past, as the series opens, Peter is living with his assistant, Liza, in a Manhattan townhouse. Liza is a beautiful Chinese-American trapeze artist whose family travels with a circus. Peter fell for her when he first saw her perform, and now she has left her family and the circus behind and has joined his show. 

     Peter has had the requisite UF-hero tragedy in his childhood. When he was just nine, he witnessed his parents being dragged off to their deaths. After being orphaned, he was raised by two psychics, Milly and Max, who are supporting characters in the series. 


     As the series opens, Peter is the head of a group of seven psychics who hold weekly seances to look into the future for trouble in the world. In order to prevent these terrible events from coming true, they anonymously send warning messages to the FBI. 

             BOOK 1:  Dark Magic             

     In the opening scene, Peter and his friends are holding their regular weekly seance when Peter visualizes a horrific incident that will occur in ManhattanTimes Square, to be exactin just a few days. Peter sees people dropping dead in the streets while a strange and sinister man stares at them. The plot follows Peter as he tries to stop the tragedy from happening. 

     There is no easy way to summarize the convolutions of this plot. At first, it seems straightforward, but soon Peter is dealing not only with the original villain, but with a mysterious group called the Order of Astrum, which has a connection with his long-dead parents. As Peter has one confrontation after another with Wolff, the original villain, he must deal with a fierce and sometimes uncontrollable anger that resides deep within himself. He must also deal with his simple-minded girlfriend, Liza, who reacts very badly when she learns that Peter is a psychic and that he is involved in a save-the-world adventure. Liza could care less about the world. She just wants Peter to have deep conversations with her about their relationship. At one point, right in the middle of the most dangerous part of Peter's exploits, she insists that they discuss going into couples counseling. The Peter-Liza relationship is one (but not the only) weak point. For Peter to be so head-over-heels in love with this air-headed woman doesn't say much for the level of his intelligence.


     But let's get back to the plot, which meanders around from one villain to another all the way to the end. Never fear, though, because every time Peter is in danger, he pulls a new power out of his hat and blows his enemies away—or one of his friends does. In one scene, for example, Peter's buddy, Snoop, breaks into the FBI's most secure computer system in less than ten minutes. The reader is never afraid for Peter because he always out-fights, out-thinks, and out-maneuvers everyone else in the book. He even gets police officers and FBI agents to share confidential information with him within moments of meeting them for the first time.

     Another plot problem is the fact that so many scenes include over-the-top elements. For example, the Astrum psychics don't just live in a mansion like other wealthy villains. They have a huge estate that includes "a pagan temple, where the elders could indulge in every sexual fantasy known to man." (p. 203) They have a museum filled with rare and expensive works of art. They even have a castle with a moat. We're told all of this in a single scene that has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, and we never see the estate again. Inexplicably, this scene also includes an African dictator named Big Daddy—also a no-show for the rest of the story. When the evil psychics teleport themselves to New York (p. 207), they don't just snap their fingers. Oh no...that's much too simple. Instead, the domed roof of their castle opens and a hydraulic lift raises the platform on which they are standing until it is high above the outside of the palace. It's like a George Lucas movie with its overabundance of special effects. In yet another scene, when Peter's friend is hospitalized in Roosevelt Hospital (p. 237), he references the Seinfeld "Junior Mint" scene. Why include this silly detail? Where was the Tor editor when the author was so obviously unable to edit himself?

     All of the characters are paper-thin, including Peter. Even though he tells us about the grief and violence of his childhood and describes the terrible anger that keeps bubbling up, it never seems real—just words without evidence of true emotions. Even when Peter kills people in the midst of an anger attack, his emotions never come through in the narrative. The most serious problem of all, though is the stilted dialogue, which never, ever rings true. People just don't converse like this. 

     One last nitpick: I was bothered by Swain's lack of knowledge (and lack of research) in a few scenes. For example, in one scene, he has Wolfe change his hair color from black to blond with "a tube of hair dye," (p. 153) "He generously brushed the product into his scalp. Before his eyes, his hair turned from black to sandy blond." (p. 155) That's pretty much impossible. You could go from blond to black that quickly—but you'd need quite a bit more time and a lot more than a glob of dye to go from dark to light. In another scene, Peter's friend, Milly, is in a hospital bed (p. 206). "A pillow was propped behind her head, while several tubes ran out of her arm to a gathering of beeping machines beside her bed." First of all, she would probably have a single IV tube in her arm, and it wouldn't be connected to any machine. The machines would be connected to a heart monitor through electrodes attached to her chest—not to her arm. It's as if Swain just tossed off these scenes without any fact checking. Again, where was the editor?

     Based on the title and the back-cover blurb, I was hoping for a better story, and I think that there is one in therehidden under all that bad dialogue and circuitous plotting. Let's see what happens with book 2.

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from Dark Magic.  

             BOOK 2:  Shadow People             

     Once again, the opening scene is a seance as Peter and his psychic friends try to pick up on any future crimes that might occur in their vicinity. This time, Peter gets drawn into the future by a shadow persona black blob that used to be a real person before its human shell was destroyed. In that future scene, Peter is confronted by a man he nicknames Dr. Deatha fat slob of a man who shoots him in the leg and then tries to run him down with his Volvo. The plot follows Petersometimes alone and sometimes with his FBI friend Garrettas they try to figure out what's going on. Peter and Garrett soon learn that Dr. Death is a serial killer who is on the FBI's watch list, but no one knows his real name or his exact location. When the shadow people begin taking Peter and his friends into the same future scene, they try to find details in the scene that will help them catch the killer, who has murdered a number of young women and plans to kill his next victim in the next few days.

     This book suffers from the same weaknesses as the first book: awkward, unnatural dialogue; short, choppy, subject-verb sentences filled with clichés; poorly developed characters. Add to this a standard horror plot that relies on stereotypical devil worshippers as villains. 


     Here's an example of one silly conversation in which Peter asks for help from a transit cop as he searches for a fellow psychic:

    "Excuse me, but I'm looking for a female fortune-teller named Selena"
     "Describe her," one of the cops said....
     "She's wise beyond her years," he replied.
     The cop pointed straight ahead. "I think I know her...Take the escalator down. You can't miss her." (p. 269)

     What? The cop knows exactly who Peter's looking for when he says that "she's wise beyond her years"? Are you kidding me? (Perhaps this was meant to be humorous, but if so, it misses its mark.)


     The Order of Astrum is still around, with its mysterious "elders" who, in this book, sometimes possess dead bodies in order to communicate with their minions. Dr. Death is a hackneyed horror villain, with his requisite abusive parents, horrific childhood, and use of Satanic actions to get his revenge on the cold, cruel world that has failed him at every turn.   


     Peter continues to be a thinly developed character who tells us what he feels but never really shows us. For example, he tells us over and over how deeply he loves Liza, but we never see any real evidence of that love. All they do is argue about his powers. Liza continues to be single-mindedly focused on forcing Peter to deal with—and preferably turn his back on—his psychic powers so that they can settle down to a "normal" life together. She follows through on the couples counseling in this book, resulting in some new information about Peter's parents, but not much help for their relationship. Here's an example of Liza's lack of empathy as she grills Peter about his ongoing bad dreams:

    "What do you dream about?" she asked.
     "Can we talk about this some other time?"
     "No more running away. I want to know."
     "I dream about the night I lost my parents."
     "Were you traumatized?" (p. 108)

     Since Peter was a mere child when he witnessed his parents being dragged off to their deaths, anyone with half a brain would immediately recognize that of course he was traumatized.


     Peter's witchy friend, Holly, goes off the deep end when she puts a love spell on Peter and attempts to seduce him. Then she starts spying on him by scrying on him around the clock and running to the other psychics every time she thinks he is in danger. They tell her to leave Peter alone—that she just doesn't understand who Peter really is and what his powers are—but then they refuse to explain anything to her, telling her that it's against psychic rules to interfere in another's life. This withholding of information is a theme of the series, and it gets old very quickly, particularly when the psychics do interfere sometimes—whenever they feel like it, thus breaking their own rules.


     All in all, this is not an impressive urban fantasy series. I still think that there is a spark somewhere deep inside the mythology, but it never catches fire because the weak plots and feeble characterization smother and kill it. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Shadow People.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

UPDATE! Jennifer Estep's ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Jennifer Estep with a review of the eighth novel in her ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN SERIES: Deadly Sting.

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

Monday, June 17, 2013

UPDATE! Alexandra Ivy's GUARDIANS OF ETERNITY SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Alexandra Ivy with a review of the tenth novel in her GUARDIANS OF ETERNITY SERIES:  Darkness Avenged.

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

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Alyssa Day: LEAGUE OF THE BLACK SWAN

Author:  Alyssa Day (pseudonym for Alesia Holliday)
Series:  LEAGUE OF THE BLACK SWAN   
Plot Type:  Urban Soul Mate Romance (SMR)     
Ratings:  Violence--3; Sensuality--4; Humor--3  
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley Sensation
          The Cursed (5/2013)
          "The Curse of the Black Swan" in Enthralled (7/2013)
          "The Unforgiven" (e-novella, 5/2014)

             WORLD-BUILDING             
     Day turns her back on serious, myth-based paranormal romance and tries for a light and modern touch in this new series, and she gets off to a very bumpy start in The CursedThe series is named after the League of the Black Swan, which seems to have something to do with keeping the peace in the supernatural world although book 1 doesn't explain exactly how that works. This is what we know: "The League is supposed to function like a supernatural police force. Back in 1300, the Knights Templar joined forces with the Summer Court Fae to defeat a bunch of demons who were trying to break free....The League's stated mission ever since has been to protect humanity from evil, help the various supernatural factions negotiate treaties and keep the peace, and generally work as a force for good in the world." (p. 79) Then, in the 1700s, all of the League's good intentions went out the door when a power-mad leader took control and began to pursue his goal of conquering the world through any means necessary, including violence and deceit. What's happening in the League now is anyone's guess.

     The series is set in the Bordertown, "five square miles of dimensional fold that lay hidden behind, beneath, and between the streets of Manhattan. Bordertown was the Wild West, but the cowboys and outlaws of the typical frontier town were demon and Fae here. Dangerous and deadly, with or without six-shooters." (p. 5). Thousands of years ago, a tectonic shift "caused reality to fold over on itself twice, making Bordertown the one place on earth where the human, Fae, and demon realm all collide." (p. 71) This resulted in a massive century-long war that nearly destroyed the continent.

     At this point in time, Bordertown is home to a wide variety of supernatural beings, including trolls, Grendels, kitsune, goblins, and ogres, as well as the aforementioned demons and Fae, and they coexist in a relatively peaceful manner. I don't know why the author set Bordertown in the midst of Manhattan, because (in the first book at least), all of the scenes take place within the confines of Bordertown, and Manhattan is never mentioned again. The fact that there are so many types of supernaturals could either strengthen or weaken the series; it's just too soon to tell. 

     Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in Day's acclaimed WARRIORS OF POSEIDON series.

             BOOK 1:  The Cursed             
     The first book in a series is always difficult to read, and this one is no exception. The hero is the titular cursed one. His name is Luke Oliver (aka Lucian Olivieri), and he is known as the Dark Wizard of Bordertown. Luke was born in 1500, the bastard son of Lucrezia Borgia, the infamous Italian poisoner. When he was a child, he was cursed to walk the line between good and evil. If he crosses the line to the dark side, he dooms himself to Hell, so for all these centuries, Luke has been one of the good guysbut one with a very bad temper. When his dark side rises, Luke tends to blow things up, mostly buildings and cars, which he replaces immediately (because he's insanely rich). At one point, Luke tells his girlfriend, Rio, "You were hurting, and I wanted to help, but I didn't know how, so I blew something up." (p. 129) Luke even goes so far as to explode an innocent bystander's van and then blows up the replacement van he bought her. This side of Luke's character didn't work for me. I think that the author was trying for humor, but this is just silly, and not remotely funny.   

     The heroine, Rio Jones (aka Rio Green, Jones, Smith, and Stephanopoulos, among others), is introduced in the second chapter when she witnesses the kidnapping of a little girl and is attacked as she heads for Luke's office to get his help in rescuing the child. Rio is a bike messenger and a telepath who grew up in an orphanage (probably the same one that all the other paranormal heroines grew up in) and knows nothing about her biological parents. She is just days away from her 25th birthday, and all of a sudden, various supernaturals are after her, hinting that something important will happen at midnight on her birthdaythat she will develop unknown powers and will have to make a choice. Rio is clueless about what's going on, and so is Luke. 

     The plot follows Rio and Luke as they rescue the little girl and return her to her Fae aunt (who knows who Rio's parents are but won't tell her). The main story line revolves around whatever is going on with Rio. Who are her parents? What will happen on her birthday? What powers will she develop? What choice will she have to make? These questions are answered in the final scene. 

     Meanwhile, early on in the story, Rio moves in with Luke, and their romance heats up pretty quickly. Most of the chapters find the couple alternating between a series of silly adventures and a lot of sex. The most ridiculous scene has them slopping through mud and feces to retrieve the egg of a gigantic duck. This little adventure has nothing at all to do with anything else in the story, as is the case with several other minor undertakings. I'm guessing that it's another attempt at humor. These unnecessary scenes come across as plot padding more than anything else.

     Neither Rio nor Luke are portrayed with any depth. Rio spends most of her time admiring Luke's physique ("rippling muscles...tight six-pack abs...an incredible specimen of pure male perfection"p. 148 and other pages), and he does the same for her. It's a mutual admiration society all the way through the book, with way too many repetitiously rapturous descriptions of each other's physical beauty and not nearly enough development of personality. Rio's character is so hard to read that when (near the end) she suddenly goes off by herself with some demonic types, Luke (and the reader) are taken totally by surprise. Rio is one of those tragic, good-to-the-bone characters who is loved immediately by everyone she meetswhich becomes boring after awhile as well as being completely unbelievable. 

     I think that the problem with the book is that Day herself feels uncomfortable with the characters and the world they live in. I realize that it's the first book in the series, but, based on the well-crafted story lines and well-developed characters in WARRIORS OF POSEIDON, I was hoping for moremuch more. Click HERE and scroll down to read an excerpt from Cursed.