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Friday, January 31, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Molly Harper with a review of How to Run with a Naked Werewolf, the third novel in her NAKED WEREWOLF SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Author:  Jenn Bennett
Plot Type:  Urban/Historical Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4+; Humor3
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley Sensation
     Bitter Spirits (1/2014) 
     Grim Shadows  (6/2014)
     Grave Phantoms (5/2015) (FINAL)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 5/14/15 to include a review of Grave Phantoms, the third (and FINAL) novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels.    

                    NOVEL 3:  Grave Phantoms                    
Publisher's Blurb:
     Feisty flapper Astrid Magnusson is home from college and yearning for the one thing that’s always been off limits: Bo Yeung, her notorious bootlegging brother’s second-in-command. Unfortunately her dream of an easy reunion proves difficult after a violent storm sends a mysterious yacht crashing into the Magnussons’ docks. What’s worse, the boat disappeared a year ago, and the survivors are acting strangely…

     Bo has worked with the Magnusson family for years, doing whatever is needed, including keeping his boss’s younger sister out of trouble—and his hands to himself. Of course, that isn’t so easy after Astrid has a haunting vision about the yacht’s disappearance, plunging them into an underground world of old money and dark magic. Danger will drive them closer together, but surviving their own forbidden feelings could be the bigger risk.

My Summary and Review:
     This novel features Bo Yeung and Astrid Magnusson, who have been secondary characters in the previous two novels, always flirting, but never revealing their true feelings for one another. Astrid is the sister of Winter and Lowe Magnusson, stars of the first two novels. Bo is like an adopted brother to Winter, who brought him into the Magnusson household after the death of Bo's father, when Bo was only fourteen. Currently, Bo is Winter's first assistant in his bootlegging business, and Astrid is (unhappily and unwillingly) attending college in Los Angeles. When Astrid comes home for the holidays, the situation between them heats up, making their burgeoning romance the heart of this novel.

     Simmering mostly in the background is the mystery/action plot, which begins when a pilotless yacht crashes into the Magnusson docks during a storm, carrying six people wearing blue make-up on their faces and professing not to remember anything at all about their ocean voyage on a ship that has been missing for an entire year. When Astrid boards the yacht and picks up a small turquoise and gold figurine—a miniature idol, it immediately causes her to fall unconscious and have a vision of the interior of the ship before the crash. In that vision, she "sees" a double circle of twelve people—the six survivors in white robes surrounded by six who are encased in brown burlap sacks and wearing iron boots. In the center of the circle is a woman in a red robe. 

     Soon, a thug who calls himself Max begins following Astrid, threatening her with harm if she doesn't return the turquoise idol to him. His first attack on Astrid comes at the Gris Gris, a club owned by Bo's friend, Velma Toussaint, a hoodoo (root doctor) who grew up in Louisiana. Velma takes one look and warns that Astrid now has a second shadowy aura that she never had before. Bo and Astrid decide to solve the mystery of the turquoise idol so that she can get rid of the dark aura and stop the threats. As Astrid and Bo get deeper and deeper into the mystery, they uncover clues that point to ancient rituals, a long-ago pirate raid, time travel, and the search for immortality. Unfortunately, the paranormal mystery lacks detail and is never fully integrated into the love story.

     The true heart of the novel is the romance between this young Swedish-American woman and her Chinese lover. Once they finally admit their love for one another, their troubles just get worse because white society of that era frowns on inter-racial unions. They can't even get married in California (and in most other states) because inter-racial marriages are illegal. In San Francisco, the Chinese are treated as second class citizens and are not welcomed into white neighborhoods unless they are there to clean houses, cook meals, or do other menial work. The lovers are appealing in their first-love sincerity, but the bit involving some shocking sexual behavior in Bo's recent past is improbable and superfluous. 

     Although Astrid is pampered and rich, she isn't snobbish or rude, although she does have a hissy fit at one point that is related to some jealous feelings about a beautiful Chinese woman with whom Bo once had an affair. Bo is in over his head throughout most of the book. Although he fell in love with Astrid years ago, he never believed that they could be together, so when his dream comes true, he's not sure what to do next. The most moving scene comes when Bo confesses his love for Astrid to her big brotherand his good friendWinter, knowing that his and Astrid's mutual love might very well mean the end of his job and his friendship with Winter and with Astrid's banishment from her family. It's definitely a scene that requires the reader to reach for a tissue or two.

     The inevitable showdown scene at the end solves the mystery, and the romantic conflicts are resolved soon thereafter. Although the mystery plot has a few bumps and is not well-woven into the romance plot, the love story is so sweetly entertaining that it makes up for that shortcoming. The Epilogue is set ten years later and provides an update on each of the three Magnusson siblings and their families. To read an excerpt from this book, click HERE to go to this book's page and click on the cover art. 

     This fresh and inventive series takes place in California in the late 1920s during Prohibition, when bootleggers made themselves rich by risking their freedom and sometimes their lives by providing illegal liquor to the rich and powerful citizens of San Francisco. The Roaring Twenties period of American history is generally defined as that period of prosperity and social and cultural edginess that began after World War I and ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.   

     The main characters are members of the Magnusson family, who arrived in the U.S. in the early 1900s as immigrants from Sweden. The family made a comfortable living with their fleet of fishing boats before Prohibition began in 1920. When alcoholic beverages became illegal, their boats soon became the means by which they smuggled liquor and wine into San Francisco from Canada. 

     As the series begins, Winter Magnusson has been running the business since his parents' death in a tragic automobile accident several years ago. His sister, Astrid, lives with him in the family mansion, and his brother, Lowe, is a globe-trotting archaeologist.  

     Jenn Bennett also writes the terrific ARCADIA BELL urban fantasy series. Click HERE to read my reviews of that series.

                    NOVEL 1:  Bitter Spirits                    
     Aida Palmer earns her living as a spirit medium, either onstage or at private seances. She has the ability to call spirits to her and speak with their voices, and she can also banish ghosts with just a touch. As the story opens, Aida is coming to the end of her contract at Gris-Gris, a North Beach speakeasy, when she is hired by a notorious bootlegger to get rid of a ghost that is following him around. Aida has been on her own for a decade—since her brother was killed during World War I. Her parents died in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and her foster parents died in a train wreck just a month after her brother's death. Aida is an independent woman who travels from city to city working mostly in speakeasies—helping people talk to their dead friends and relatives and trying to save enough money to open her own business and put down some roots. 

     Winter Magnusson is a wealthy bootlegger who has recently become the target of a black magic curse that has made him a magnet for ghosts. Since Aida can banish ghosts, Winter hires her to get rid of the one that keeps following him around. Winter is a complex man with a tragic past. Several years ago, his parents and wife were killed when the car he was driving crashed into a streetcar. Since then, Magnusson has lived with constant guilt over the three deaths, made even worse by the fact that he didn't love his wife but feels responsible for her death. 

     Winter and Aida's meeting, caused by the ghostly curse, is the inciting incident—the event that sets the plot in motion. At this point, the story line continues along the usual two branches: the romance and the action. In this book, the romance is far more important than the action, which percolates along in the background for 3/4 of the book before boiling to the surface just in time for a slam-bang climax. Winter and Aida have one of those oh-so-common insta-lust reactions the moment they see each other for the first time, and that lust carries them through the rest of the book, with many, many graphically detailed scenes of various forms of love-making. 

     In the action plot, Winter, Aida, and Winter's assistant (Bo Yeung) try to figure out who has placed the curse on Winter—and why. When trouble erupts within the bootlegging tongs of Chinatown, Winter and his allies see a connection to their own investigation. Someone is trying to take over San Francisco's bootlegging operation and is using black magic as a weapon. As the good guys get closer and closer to discovering the villain's identity, both Aida and Winter are forced to face their deepest fears. 

     Bennett is a great story teller with an excellent talent for character development and a penchant for detail. Her research on 1920s culture is obvious throughout the book, from the "happy hours" at the speakeasies to the green goddess dressing at the Palace Hotel to the beads on the flapper dresses, she gets it right every time. On the other hand, I am not so sure about the accuracy of Bennett's description of Chinese tongs as leaders in the San Francisco bootlegging business. According to my own (very light) research, the major bootleggers in San Francisco in the late 1920s and early 1930s were mostly Italian mobsters, not Chinese tongs or Swedish fishermen. The tongs at that time appear to have been involved more in gambling and prostitution than in bootlegging. I must admit, though, that using Chinese tongs instead of Italian mobsters makes for a much more inventive story.

     Bennett presents Winter and Aida as fully developed characters with detailed back stories and just enough angst-filled emotion to add depth to their relationship. What makes this series so different from ARCADIA BELL (other than the time period) is that this is a romance rather than a true urban fantasy. It's a love story in which the reader is a fly on the wall of the couple's bedroom as they consummate their lust/love in every imaginable manner and as frequently as possible. If you enjoy well-written romances with mystery, suspense, and plenty of graphically depicted sensuality, this series is definitely for you. 

     In the second novel, Winter's brother, Lowe, is trying to sell a priceless Egyptian artifact, but complications arise when he falls for Hadley Bacall, a museum curator cursed by deadly spirits.

                    NOVEL 2:  Grim Shadows                    

     Starring in this novel is Lowe Magnusson, younger brother of the hero of Bitter Spirits. Lowe is an archaeologista disreputable man famous for his charisma, gambling, and constant prevarication. The man just can't tell the truth. In short, he's kind of a con man: always in debt, always in trouble, and always trying to lie his way out of the sticky situations in which he constantly finds himself. As the story opens, Lowe has just returned from an archaeological dig in Egypt, where he recovered a rare artifact—the base of an extremely rare and valuable ancient Egyptian amulet. Missing from the amulet are the four crossbars that form the figure's spine (see images below). Lowe's sensational discovery made headlines in all the American newspapers, so now several people are very interested in taking the amulet away from Lowe. One of the more villainous of these scoundrels sends a pair of thugs to waylay Lowe before he reaches San Francisco by train.   

     Also interested in the amulet is Dr. Archibald Bacall, director of a San Francisco museum, who sends his daughter Hadleyalso an archaeologistto meet Lowe in Salt Lake City and make him an offer to buy the amulet. When the thugs make their move, Lowe and Hadley manage to outmaneuver them and soon arrive safely back in San Francisco. By this time, Lowe is smitten with Hadley, and vice versa, but both have dark secrets that keep interfering with their budding romance.

     Hadley's secret is that she is constantly followed by dark and dangerous specters (ghostly grim reapers) who stay hidden until she loses her temper. Then, they appear and attack the object of her anger. In order to keep the specters away, Hadley must always remain very calm and avoid strong feelings. Over time, she has developed into an ice queen with an aversion for being touched, either emotionally or physically. Hadley has a very difficult relationship with her father, who constantly criticizes her and has kept many secrets from her about her mother, who died when Hadley was just eight years old. Lowe's first efforts to seduce Hadley are unsuccessful, so he decides to use counter conditioning: plying her with peppermint candy each time he touches her in order to guide her into associating sweetness and satisfaction with his touching her. That part of the story comes across as improbable, rather silly, and demeaning to Hadley's intelligence. 

     Lowe's dark secret is that for years a friend of his has been creating perfect forgeries of the most valuable artifacts that Lowe finds on his archaeological expeditions. Lowe has been making money by selling the replicas and the real objects to different customers, thus doubling his profits. (Lowe's uneasy relationship with the artisan who makes the copies forms one of the supporting story threads.) Unfortunately, one of Lowe's clients has realized that Lowe sold him a knock-off of a valuable statue, so Lowe needs the amulet to pay him off. He plans to palm off a replica amulet on Dr. Bacall. 

     The plot thickens when Dr. Bacall hires Lowe to find the amulet's missing golden crossbars, which his late wife hid in different places around San Francisco. Lowe and Hadley team up to search for the treasures, but unfortunately, someone with magical power tries to stop them by setting various magical monsters on them each time they find one of the missing pieces. Several story threads wind through this main plot, including the back story of Lowe's relationship with his forger friend, Hadley's relationship with a wealthy man who is encouraging a closer relationship with her, and the fateful story of Dr. Bacall's real reasons for wanting the amulet (which includes a witch's curse).

     This story is missing the fast pace and engaging characters of the first novel. In fact, the plot takes so many unlikely twists and turns, that I started to lose interest. Another problem is that Lowe and Hadley just did not engage my interest. Neither is very likable, particularly Lowe, a shallow man whose entire life is based on lies and con games. There are also some holes in the plot. For example, why hasn't Dr. Bacall tried to find the witch who placed the crucial spell on Hadley and convince her either to remove it or modify it? For me, the entire story line involving the curse is so convoluted that it just doesn't work. Unfortunately, I can't explain the problematic details in this review because that would be a spoiler. I'll just say that the way the curse initially played out makes little sense and that the explanation of the origin of the specters is incomplete and inadequate. 

     And now for a small continuity problem: At one point (p. 99), Lowe removes his tuxedo jacket before he and Hadley take off on an adventure during which he removes a lily from Lily's hair. (The lilies soon become an important token of love between Lowe and Hadley, so Bennett is particular about pointing out that Lowe takes the lily.) Then, after returning home (p. 112), Lowe pulls that same lily from a pocket in his tuxedo jacketwhich he was not wearing when he took the lily from Hadley. These types of annoying errors are becoming more and more frequent in today's publishing world. Where have all the good editors and copy proofers gone? And why didn't the author catch this when she did her final read-through?

     Although I still love the series mythology, I'd have to say that this book doesn't measure up to book one. Click HERE to go to this book's page on to read an excerpt. The third novel will tell the love story of Bo Yeung (Winter's second in command) and Astrid (Winter and Lowe's sister).  

    Tuesday, January 28, 2014



    I have just updated a previous post for Christine Feehan with a review of Dark Wolf, the 25th book in her CARPATHIAN/DARK SERIES. 

    Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.  

    Monday, January 27, 2014



    I have just updated a previous post for Shona Husk with a review of Lord of the Hunt, the second novel in her COURT OF ANNWYN SERIES.

    Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

    Saturday, January 25, 2014



    I have just updated a previous post for M. L. Brennan with a review of Iron Night, the second novel in her FORTITUDE SCOTT/GENERATION V SERIES.

    Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

    Friday, January 24, 2014


    Author:  Alexandra Ivy (aka Deborah Raleigh)
    Series:  THE SENTINELS 
    Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR) 
    Ratings:  Violence-4; Sensuality-4; Humor-2-3 
    Publisher and Titles:  Zebra
              "Out of Control" (.5 novella in Predatory anthology, 5/2013)
              Born in Blood (novel 112/2013)
              Blood Assassin (novel 21/2015)
              "On the Hunt" (2.5 novella in On the Hunt anthology, 8/2015)
              Blood Lust (novel 3—5/31/2016)

    This ongoing post was revised and updated on 5/30/16 to include a review of Blood Lust, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of all of the previous novels and novellas.

                             NOVEL 3:  Blood Lust                         

         Blessed and cursed by their hidden abilities, the Sentinels have no choice but to live, and love, on the edge of humanity…

         The Sentinel assassin, Bas, is facing the greatest challenge of his outcast existence. His young daughter, Molly, has been kidnapped. But her disappearance has brought the return of her mother, Myst, whom Bas has never forgotten–or forgiven.

         Haunted by a vision that she’s destined to create a weapon that will destroy thousands, Myst was never impulsive–until she met the irresistibly handsome Bas. But with the Brotherhood, the enemy of the high-bloods hunting for her, Myst had to stay on the run, to keep her child, and the world, safe. Now, with the most important thing in both their lives at stake, she and Bas must embark on a treacherous journey to save Molly, to confront the truth of Myst’s fate–and to face their fierce desire for one another.

         Bas Cavrilo is a wealthy and powerful witch who has always lived outside high-blood law as a mercenary and a Sentinel Assassin. In the previous novel, Bas's four-year-old daughter, Molly, was kidnapped, and Bas got himself in trouble with the Mave by kidnapping a psychic Sentinel to find Molly. Now Bas is on Valhalla's to-be-captured list, so he's hiding out in one of his well-secured hotels. As the story opens, Molly tells Bas that her mother is coming to visit, which shocks Bas because Myst—Molly's mother—disappeared on the night of her conception, returning only onceto abandon Molly on Bas's doorstop nine months later. Bas has always believed that Myst has to be a hard-hearted, uncaring person to abandon her infant child and never look back, but then Molly tells him that Myst has been talking to her telepathically throughout her entire life. His shock magnifies when Myst easily bypasses Bas's security system and walks into his living room.

         As it turns out, Myst had some very good reasons for leaving Molly with Bas, and soon Bas realizes that Myst is a great mother, that he is still madly in love with her, and that she feels the same about him. Before long, they bond over their shared stories about their terrible parents and horrible childhood experiences. The plot follows them as they sort out Myst's problems, which center on a prophecy that she will produce a weapon that will destroy the world, beginning with Valhalla. The Brotherhood gets involved as its new leader, Stella (who murdered the former leader), plans to steal that very same weapon and use it to destroy all of the high-bloods. 

         In the background the Lana/Wolfe relationship simmers along, getting closer and closer to boiling over into its own angst-filled novel, which should be coming soon. Kaede, too, will almost certainly be getting his own novel as he prepares to confront his past by traveling to the high-blood temple that was uncovered in Blood Assassin

         Although Ivy is a great story teller, she makes the clues to all of the plot mysteries so obvious that she pretty much erases all of the suspense. I recognized each clue as soon as it was introducedeven the nature of the weaponso the only "suspense" was to read through to the end to ensure that I was correct. Also, Bas makes several rookie mistakes that lead to severe injuries and plot snags that serve only to lengthen the story without adding anything of consequence to the plot. Bas is much too smart and experienced to be making these implausible TSTL mistakes.

         Regardless of these weaknesses, this is still a good story. Molly is delightfully charming and self-sufficient, and Bas makes us forget about all of his past transgressions as he keeps both Myst and Molly safe from the villainous Brotherhood. Regular readers of the series won't want to miss this one because it reveals that Molly has a very special magical talent that will certainly affect future plots. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Blood Lust

    FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Blood Lust 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.

        Alexandra Ivy has created a fresh and inventive world in which most of the supernatural population lives in isolation in a domed metropolis located just outside Kansas City. These supernaturals refer to themselves as high-bloods, and they call their city Valhalla. The high-blood population includes people with a variety of magical talents, including witches, healers, psychics, necromancers, telepaths, and clairvoyants. Many humans (aka norms) fear and hate the high-bloods, calling them freaks and referring to Valhalla as the Funny Farm

         The high-bloods are led by the Mave (aka Lana Mayfield), a powerful witch. Within the high-blood community, law enforcement is handled by the Sentinels, who are big, strong, handsome, alpha males with varying types of magical talents. The Sentinels are lead by their Tagos, Wolfe, and are divided into three different sects: 

    > the Hunter Sentinels: They are "born with superior senses and reflexes as well as innate strength but no magic. They were made into hunters since they were easily able to 'pass' as human and were often used…to track down renegade high-bloods." (Born in Blood, p. 17)

    the Guardian Sentinels: They are born with superior physical abilities plus varying types of magical talent. Their bodies are covered with magical tattoos, and they are assigned as bodyguards to high-bloods who travel outside Valhalla.

    the Assassin Sentinels: This group was disbanded years ago, but a few have managed to survive. They had only one purpose: delivering death.

         Unsurprisingly, the distrust and hostility between the high-bloods and the humans percolates continually, with occasional violent flare-ups. One human group that is quite proactive is the Brotherhood, a secret society that hates the high-bloods with a passion. In general, high-bloods and humans do not intermingle, but whenever human law enforcement discovers a crime that may involve magic, they call in a high-blood to assist in solving the case. 

        If the magical crime is murder, a high-blood necromancer is called in to find the killer. In this world, necromancers are different from the traditional reanimators of other mythologies; in fact, they prefer to call themselves diviners. Most of these necromancers do not have the ability to reanimate a corpse. Instead, their talent is to delve into the mind of a newly dead person and replay the victim's final moments. 

         Not all high-bloods live under the dome, and not all of them believe in the prevailing "separate but equal" doctrine that currently maintains a steady, if uneasy, peace between the humans and the supernaturals. A few renegade high-bloods believe that they should dominate humans, and that is the case in the first novel of the series. Click HERE to read the cover article that introduces this series in the January 2014 BTS Book Reviews (page 15).

         Alexandra Ivy writes standard paranormal romances with simple, straightforward plots and insta-matic romances between impossibly handsome alpha heroes and gorgeous, feisty (but sexually submissive) heroines. Click HERE to read my reviews of Ivy's GUARDIANS OF ETERNITY series. Click HERE to read my reviews of her IMMORTAL ROGUES series.

                        .5 NOVELLA: "Out of Control"                    
         This review was originally posted as part of my review of the Predatory anthology, which also includes novellas by Nina Bangs, Dianne Duvall, and Hannah Jayne. Click HERE to go to my complete review of Predatory

    FIRST PARAGRAPH: "Valhalla was the stuff of myths. Named for the home of the Norse gods, the sprawling compound was a safe house for those people too 'special' to be mainstreamed into society (a nice way of saying an orphanage for the children and adults unwanted by their families). Everyone knew that it was a home for freaks."

         This novella serves as an introduction to Ivy's new series, THE SENTINELS, which will revolve around the warriors (Sentinels) who protect people called high-bloods, who are "gifted" with special abilities. As this novella explains, "Sentinels were raised and trained by monks in mysterious arts that were never spoken of outside the monasteries. [Most were] heavily tattooed to protect them from being controlled by psychics or attacked with spells." (pp. 15-16) The high-bloods are born with various sorts of mutations that manifest themselves in talents that include psychic abilities, necromancy, spell-casting, and other magical abilities.

         In this novella, the Sentinel Nikolo (Nik) Bartrev has been shadowing Angela Locke, a young and beautiful genetics researcher who is not nearly as human as she thinks she is. Nik is certain that an escaped sociopathic high-blood named Dylan is planning to kidnap Angela, and he swears to prevent that from happening. What Nik doesn't plan on is falling head over heels in love with Angela. When Dylan shows up, Nik rescues Angela, but then loses her. The rest of the story follows Nik as he handles the situation with Dylan, laying his life on the line to save Angela

         With its mostly male Sentinel team, fragile human heroines, and lots of threatening bad guys, this series looks to be similar (at least on the surface) to Ivy's GUARDIANS OF ETERNITY as well as lots of other paranormal romance series that feature immortal warriors. Ivy always tells a good story, and this series will probably be just as successful as GoE.

                             NOVEL 1:  Born in Blood                         
         Sergeant Duncan O'Conner is one of the rare heroes in paranormal fiction who comes from a happy family, although his recent, bitter divorce does add some angst to his life. Duncan is a (seemingly) human homicide detective with the Kansas City Police Department, and he has the hots for the beautiful, but aloof, high-blood necromancer who occasionally assists on his cases. Callie Brown was abandoned in a dumpster when she was a babyrejected by her parents and taken to live in Valhalla. She lives a relatively quiet life, but feels her heartbeat quicken every time she comes in contact with Duncan. So…the scene is set for them to fall into instant lust/love when they are thrown together during the investigation of a case that involves reanimated corpses and a dangerous, power-mad true necromancer, one who plans to raise enough of the dead to build an army.

         The crime that kicks off the plot and brings the soul mates together is the murder of a beautiful exotic dancer. She is found dead in her home, but there are no injuries, no blood, and no apparent cause of deathexcept for the fact that her heart is missing from her intact chest. When Callie enters the dead woman's mind, she is shocked to find someone else therethe killer, a coldly handsome man who recognizes her and calls her by name. (Note: Pay close attention to characters' eye color and texture if you want to figure out one of the key plot elements before it is revealed on the page.) The rest of the story follows the usual two paths: the romance and the action, as Callie and Duncan follow the clues and fall deeply in lust/love along the way. About 2/3 of the way through, the plot gets a bit woo-woo when it dips into ancient Sumerian time-travel magic, but mostly, it stays grounded in the present day.

         The author tells the story in the third person voice, alternating among the perspectives of the hero, the heroine, and the villain. Although the plot has a few glitches (e.g., Callie speaking the name of a villainous witch when she's never been told the witches' name, p. 220), it's the big hole in the plot resolution that is the most serious. Without giving away a spoiler, I can just say that Callie is seriously injured near the end of the book, and when her friends figure out a way to save her, we don't get to see exactly what they do. In one paragraph, we are privy to the bare bones of their plan, and in the next paragraph, Callie is alive and well. I don't know what happened there. Either the author had a limit on the number of pages or she just didn't bother to provide the pertinent details. In any case, the scene switch is extremely abrupt and frustrating to the reader. At first, I actually thought that some pages were missing from my book.

         The lead characters are not developed much beyond their paranormal romance stereotypes of handsome, possessive alpha hero and beautiful, brave heroine, so they are not very interesting (particularly the bland heroine). Rather than long, angst-filled interior monologues, the story mainly comprises police procedural elements interwoven with sensuous love scenes. I found myself much more interested in the four high-blood supporting characters who will (I'm guessing) be the stars of ensuing books: the Mave and the Tagos (aka Wolfe), who share some simmering glances, and Fane and Serra. Fane is Callie's Guardian Sentinel and Serra is her best friend. 

         Even though this will probably be a standard paranormal fiction series, Ivy is a good story teller, so if you love alpha heroes who sweep willing heroines off their feet and straight into bed, with a bit of conflict thrown in to liven up their stories, you will probably enjoy this series.

                           NOVEL 2:  Blood Assassin                         
        In this novel, Ivy tells the love story of two high-bloods: Fane, a brusque, taciturn, lethal Sentinel and Serra Vetrov, a beautiful, curvaceous psychic. (We met Fane in the first novel when he was Callie's guardian Sentinel.) Serra sees Fane as "250 pounds of pure muscle and raw male power." Fane describes Serra as "having "glossy black hair…pale, ivory skin…lush curves...generous breasts…pale green eyes…and…lips so sensually full they gave the impression of a sex kitten." So…it's obvious that they are attracted by each other's intellectnot!

         As the story opens, Fane has decided to turn his back on Valhallaand Serraand move back to the monastery in Tibet where he spent his childhood. Although he lusts for Serra, he believes that it would be wrong to bond with her because of his dangerous Guardian Sentinel duties. Serra, of course, is furious that Fane is turning her away once again and vows to find another man, even though her lust-filled heart truly belongs to Fane. Almost immediately, Serra is bespelled by Bas Cavrilo, a wealthy and powerful witch who has always lived outside high-blood law as a mercenary and an Assassin. Bas's young daughter, Molly, has been kidnapped, and Bas needs Serra's psychic powers to find her. Bas uses a compulsion spell to force Serra to leave Valhalla and come to his office. He warns Serra that he has injected a deadly poison into her body and that if she doesn't find Molly and bring her safely home within 96 hours, he will withhold the antidote and Serra will die. By this time, Fane has tracked Serra down, and he insists on staying by her side so that he can help and protect her as they work together to find Molly. The bulk of the novel follows Fane and Serra through the ups and downs of their relationship and their investigation. Soon they have an additional problem when the kidnapper begins sending men with lethal weapons
     to ambush them

         Meanwhile, a sub-plot surfaces, one that is related to events in the early history of the high-bloods. That story line focuses on Wolfe, the Tagos (leader of the Sentinels), and Lana Mayfield, the Mave (leader of the high-bloods). Wolfe has had the hots for the Mave for decades, and now that they are off on an adventure together, his thoughts run constantly to lust (although he doesn't follow through on them in this book).

         This novel is very much a formulaic paranormal romance with its anguished lovers who stumble through frequent misunderstandings and miscommunications of their feelings for one another (especially Fane). Also a problem is the constant repetition of their physical descriptions of one another. Yeah, we get it: they're both utterly sexy and totally hot. We don't need to read dozens of nearly identical over-the-top physical descriptions in their angst-filled interior monologues. 

         Surprisingly enough, the only character who brings any originality to this book is the villain, Basone of the few who is not a stereotype. His well-developed character is much more nuanced than any of the good-guy Sentinels. In the beginning, we see him as evil and egotistical (which he is), but then we see his paternal anguish and fear for his child and learn more about his checkered history. Even though Bas has done (and continues to do) some really bad things, we begin to empathize with him. At the end of the book, something happens in Bas's life that will change it forever and will probably become part of the next novel. I wouldn't mind reading a novel about Bas's second in command, Kaede, either. Kaede is a fascinating and complex character who is frequently more interesting than the lead lovers.

         I enjoy Ivy's novels because she is usually strong on plot and action, but this novel is one of her weaker ones (except for Bas and Kaede). There are a few plot holes and a number of word usage errors that should have been caught by the editor and copyproofer, respectively. Here's the worst of the plot problems: Near the end of the book, Serra asks what happened to Anna. I can't tell you who Anna is without providing a spoiler, so I'll just say that Serra never knew anything about Anna and her problem, so how could she be asking about her? 

         If you are a fan of the series or if you love genre romances, you'll probably enjoy this book. Even though there are a few references to events that took place in book 1, you could probably read it as a stand-alone without any problem. Click HERE to go to the book's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                             NOVELLA 2.5:  “On the Hunt”                
         This review was originally posted as part of my review of the On the Hunt anthology, which also includes novellas by Alexandra Ivy, Rebecca Zanetti, Dianne Duvalland Hannah JayneClick HERE to read my reviews of the all of the novellas in On the Hunt. 

         Mika Tanner has loved Bailey Morrell, a beautiful Healer, since childhood. But his duty as a Sentinel, a supernatural guardian of an ancient race, clashed with her rebellious spirit. Now a dangerous new anarchist group not only threatens life as they know it—but any chance of their being together again. 

         Fun fact about Bailey and Mika: She is a dedicated, tofu-loving vegetarian, while he is a committed carnivore who requires a daily 12-ounce T-bone steak

         In the action part of the plot, Wolfe sends Mika to find Jacob Benson, a young acolyte at the monastery in Louisiana. Joseph has unexpectedly taken a car and disappeared, and the monks are certain that he is in some kind of trouble. When Mika gets to the monastery, he discovers that his former lover, Bailey, is living in a warded cottage in the swamps and that she has healed Jacob from wounds suffered in a car crash and a beating.

         Much of the story focuses on the love story, during which Mika and Bailey reunite and work out the differences that caused Bailey to leave Mika behind in Valhalla without even saying good-bye. In the action part of the story, Mika, with Wolfe's help, solves the mystery behind Jacob's disappearance, but not before Bailey is put into deadly danger by the Brotherhood, a group of humans who despise all high-bloods. It's nice to have another chance to interact with Boggs, the mysterious blind dopplegänger who turns up from time to time to help the Sentinels solve various mysteries. This time around, he warns Bailey that "One that you trust will betray you…Danger stalks you." Of course, Bailey ignores Boggs's warning, and that failure, added to her softheartedness, leads to a major TSTL moment.

         Ivy is a great story teller, and even with this straightforward plot, she does a good job at grabbing the reader's interest and sympathy. Unfortunately, the characters are rather one-dimensional, particularly the villain. In a novella format, character development tends to suffer because the plot takes up most of the space. Fans of the series will enjoy this side trip away from Valhalla to a monastery that sits in the middle of a bayou. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from this novella.