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Thursday, February 27, 2014


Author:  Jaye Wells
Series:  PROSPERO'S WAR   
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy UF     
Ratings:  Violence3-4; Sensuality2; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  Orbit
          Dirty Magic (1/2014)
          Cursed Moon (8/2014)
          Deadly Spells (2/2015)  

This post was revised on 3/20/15 to include a review of Deadly Spells, the third novel in this series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels..  

            NOVEL 3:  Deadly Spells            
      FAIR WARNING: This review of Deadly Spells      
      contains spoilers for the previous two novels.      
     Someone is murdering the coven leaders in the Cauldron district, Babylon's magical sluma ghetto for Adepts. First to be attacked is Charm (who is running the Votary Coven while Abe Prospero is in prison), and then Harry Bane (who recently took over the Sanguinarians after his father's death). A single eyewitness at Charm's crime scene—a potion-addled hexhead—swears that he saw a gigantic black cat, a cat that then turned into a huge man with onyx-black skin. After some political pushing and shoving, the MEA is assigned to solve the case. A new nemesis emerges in the form of Detective Pat Duffy of the Babylon Police Department (BPD), the new head of homicide for the Cauldron precinct. Duffy is an Adept who disdains other Adepts, particularly Kate, with her history in dirty magic. Duffy is a protégé of Kate's BPD boss (and adversary), Captain Eldritch.

     As more clues are discovered, Special Agent Miranda Gardner (prickly lead agent of the Babylon MEA), realizes that they are dealing with A Morte, a vicious and powerful Brazilian cartel that specializes in dirty magic. The black cat at Charm's crime scene was actually a powerful shaman whose skin has turned pitch-black because of his long-term overuse of dirty potion magic that allows him to teleport and to shapeshift. Grant has a history with A Morte. Before she was assigned to Babylon, she led a team against A Morte and lost them all, including her fiancé. The MEA held her responsible for the deaths of her teammates, and the Babylon assignment was her punishment and her last chance at proving herself.

     If you are a regular series reader, you'll guess that Kate's ex-boyfriend, Volos, is involved in this mess. The first murder took place (coincidentally?) on the same day as his inauguration as mayor of Babylon. Soon, Volos involves himself in the investigation, demanding that Kate report directly to him on the MEA's progress. What are Volos' motives? What are his intentions toward Kate? Is there a good guy underneath his slick, con-man public face, or is he rotten to the core? You'll see all sides of Volos in this book, so you'll have to make your own assessment, just as Kate does. Volos' actions during the final showdown scenes are, as usual, unpredictable and difficult to interpret.

     Mixed into the murder investigation are some more personal story lines. Baba, the eccentric, grandmotherly, Mundane witch is now living with Kate and Danny, and her presence has slightly lightened up their sometimes tense sibling relationship. Danny is attending a snooty private school on a scholarship and is being bullied by a Mundane kid who is the son of a wealthy and prominent businessman. Danny's girlfriend, Lunaanother Adept scholarship studentis also having problems. (You will be able to figure out the identity of her bully far sooner than Kate does.) Then, Volos draws an investigative TV reporter's attention to Kate, and the reporter begins to interview Jane's friends and enemies so that she can put together one of those "news-at-eleven exclusives"—a smear of innuendos that would demolish all the progress Kate has made in creating a new, clean life for herself and for Danny. Meanwhile, the up-close and personal relationship between Kate and her partner, Drew ("Macho") Morales, is heating up, and sexual tension builds throughout the story, to the consternation of Volos, who obviously believes that Kate will eventually see the light and return to him.

     All the way through the book, Kate continues to struggle with her rigid definitions of "good" and "bad," "right" and "wrong," "dirty magic" and "clean magic." When she left the coven, she made a personal vow never to use magic again, but she has already broken that vow. Eventually, Gardner advises Kate, "You're gonna have to get over yourself and start fighting the war in the real world, not some fictional battle where the lines between the good guys and the bad guys are clear-cut. In a perfect world our moral choices would be simple, but our world is far from perfect."

     Every time I pick up a book by Jaye Wells I know that I am on the verge of a great reading experience, and that is definitely true with Deadly Spells. The story pulled me in from the very first page, keeping me engrossed right through to the dramatic ending. Wells is a master of character development and plot construction. All of the characters, even the minor ones, are fully drawnfrom physical appearance to attitudes and motivations. The plot begins as a simple, if gruesome, murder, but it gradually becomes more and more complex, with new discoveries appearing naturally as the investigation continues. You won't find any improbable leaps in logic or deus ex machina in this book. All of the plot action evolves so artlessly that it would be easy to overlook how much skill went into the planning and execution. This is another terrific addition to a strong series. 

     I recommend that you read this book in chronological order as part of the series, not as a stand-alone. To read or listen to an excerpt from Deadly Spells, click HERE to go to the book's page, where you can click either on the cover art for a print excerpt or the "Listen" icon for an audio clip.

One small quibble: Orbit needs to hire a better copy proofer, one who actually proofreads the text instead of relying on an electronic spellcheck to catch every error. This book contains a number of small, but annoying, spellcheck-proof word errors that should have been caught before it went to press. I won't include a long list, just two examples to give you an idea of what I mean: "burn" for "burp" on p. 115; "by" for "my" on p. 327. Small errors, I admit, but they should have been caught.

     Wells has created a fresh and inventive world in this series—a world of magic in a decaying Rust Belt city. In a blurb on her web site, Wells explains that the series "combines the action of police procedurals with the speculative elements of urban fantasy. It's a world where cops and wizards are fighting a war over addictive, dangerous, and illegal dirty magic." In this world, "Just say no" isn't an anti-drug slogan, it's an anti-dirty-magic slogan. In the town of Babylon, Ohio (modeled after Cleveland, according to the author), magic, not meth, is the drug of choice. The population is divided between Adepts (people born with a genetic predisposition to do magic) and Mundanes (non-magical people). The Adepts cook up magical concoctions, and the Mundanes ingest or inject them, becoming hopelessly addicted in no time at all. In this mythology, all Adepts are instantly recognizable because they are left handed (like me!). Many Mundanes distrust Adepts (whom they call Sinisters) because they believe that anyone who can use magic will become corrupted by its power.

     Magic is not all dirty, though. Clean magic is sold openly and legally in the form of potions and powders that provide life-improving powers. Instead of taking Viagra, men of a certain age take a magic-infused sex potion. Instead of dieting, women take magical diet potions. Instead of using a washer and dryer, people use magic to clean their clothes. Unfortunately, the problem with all magic is that it is addictive—just like drugs (or electronic devices) in our world. Dirty magic is more dangerous and more addictive than clean magic because the wizards who produce dirty magic products promise spectacular results, but use illegal and harmful ingredients. The federal government has a Magical Enforcement Agency (MEA) that fights a losing battle to keep dirty magic off the streets. Click HERE to go to the author's MEA web page, which has links to more information about the MEA, including an FAQ page and a memorandum from Agent Miranda Gardner—the MEA boss.

     Babylon is a dying city whose steel-based economy was destroyed back in the 1960s when Chinese alchemists revolutionized steel processing, causing the collapse of the U.S. steel industry. After those alchemists changed the world's economy, people began to study ancient magic and to apply new scientific methods to the old concepts. Now, the biggest industry in the U.S. is the magic industry.

     Babylon is divided into two parts: the magical slum (aka the Cauldron) and the upscale part of town where the Mundanes live. The Cauldron is subdivided into sections similar to the way that street gangs divide their turf. Each section is run by and populated by a different coven, each headed by a wizard. These are the top three covens:

    > Votary Coven (aka the Votaries): This coven is named for wizards who use an alchemical form of dirty magic and is led by Abraxas Prospero from his prison cell. As the series opens, Abraxas has been in prison for five years. Before his imprisonment, he functioned as a godfatherkeeping all of Babylon's covens in line.

    > Mystical Coven of the Sacred Orgasm (aka the Os): They specialize in sex magic and are led by the priestess Aphrodite Johnson (or Jones, both names are used in book 1, on pp. 39 and 395). Aphrodite is a sacred hermaphrodite, “created by wizards using powerful alchemical magic that makes a person exactly half-male and half-female.” (Cursed Moon, p. 30)

    Sanguinarian Coven (aka the Sangs): They specialize in blood magic and are led by Ramses Bane and his son, Hieronymus.    

     The Babylon Police Department (BPD) has mostly Mundane officers on staff, with just a few Adepts, who are viewed suspiciously by the Mundanes. The series heroine is a BPD patrol officer named Kate Prospero. Kate grew up in the Votaries coven, the dirty-magic-cooking niece of Abraxas, whom she calls Uncle Abe. Ten years ago, for reasons that are made clear part-way through book 1, Kate left the coven and struck out on her own, taking her younger brother, Danny, with her. Since then, she has worked hard to make a life for the two of them—a life that includes absolutely no magic. Kate's beat is the Cauldron, and she works hard every day dealing with the sad, but often violent, dirty-magic addicts (aka hexheads) who squat in abandoned buildings and hang out in dark alleys. Kate longs for promotion to a level at the BPD that deals with the creators and dealers of dirty magic. As she explains, "To make a dent, you had to go after the runners and stash boys, the potion cookersthe moneymen. The way I figured, better to hunt the vipers instead of the 'hood rats who craved the bite of their fangs." (Dirty Magic, p. 1) She hates all magic, and she wants to wipe it out of Babylon. Here, Kate muses about clean and dirty magic: "Black versus white, legal versus illegal. Hell, the Big Magic corporations claimed their government-sanctioned potions weren't even addictive, which they 'proved' using studies they themselves had funded. But anyone who cooked potions could tell you the line between the two was little more than vapor. Whether you used it with good intentions or ill, magic was magic, and instead of being black or white, most of it was smoke-screen gray." (Dirty Magic, p. 20)

     Just a word about the cover art, which, by the way, is quite attractive and detailed. On Wells' web site, she hints that the symbols integrated into the artwork provide clues to the alchemical process on which each novel is based. So far, this hasn't done me much good because my knowledge of alchemy is nil, but you may have better luck. Click HERE to go to a web site that, in my opinion, has the best compilation and clearest drawings of alchemy symbols among the many I found on the Internet. Even with my limited knowledge of alchemy, I was able to figure out that the cover of book 1 definitely provides a significant clue to at least one key alchemy ingredient in the plot.

     In addition to this series, Wells also wrote the five-novel SABINA KANE SERIES, which stars a half-vampire/half-mage heroine who has lots of family issues (particularly with her grandmother). Click HERE to read my reviews of that series.  

         NOVEL 1:  Dirty Magic              
     The incident that kicks off the conflict occurs in the opening scene as Kate comes across a hexhead (dirty-magic junkie) in the process of killing—actually eating—a woman in a dark alley in the Cauldron. This guy is like no one Kate has ever seen: "The beast barely looked human His hair was long and matted in some patches…as if he'd been infected with mange. The lower half of his face was covered in a shaggy beard. The pale skin around his yellow eyes and mouth was red and raw. His teeth were crooked and sharp. Too large for his mouth to corral. Hairy shoulders almost touched his ears like a dog with his hackles up." (p. 6) The man/creature runs off with Kate in hot pursuit. When he eventually reaches the entrance to the old subway tunnels (an underground haven for the lowest level of Cauldron inhabitants), she catches up with him and is forced to fatally shoot him when he attacks her. Unfortunately for Kate, the man she killed was an MEA informant, so the local MEA leader, Special Agent Miranda Gardner, is not happy with Kate about her part in his death. 

     Soon, though, Kate is assigned to the MEA team—temporarily, Gardner insists—because of Kate's coven background and her knowledge of the Cauldron. The plot focuses on the attempts by the MEA team to figure out who is manufacturing and widely distributing the dirty magic that caused their informant to turn into a mindlessly violent wolf-creature. As the investigation moves along (following the usual police procedural routine of stake-outs and informants), Kate and her team begin to suspect that John Volos, a wealthy wizard with the skills for and history of manufacturing dirty magic, is responsible for this new dirty magic—which, on the street, is called Gray Wolf. Problematically for Kate, Volos was her lover back in her coven days. When she left the coven, she dumped him, leaving him positioned to take her place as the heir to the leadership of the Votary Coven. Since then, though, Volos has chosen a different path, first by testifying against Uncle Abe when he was tried for various mobster-like crimes involving dirty magic. After that, Volos gradually became extremely wealthy and respectable through a series of successful land development deals in various parts of the Cauldron, followed by some major philanthropic efforts and a close friendship with the mayor. 

     Wells does a great job with the difficult task of introducing the reader to this new world and to her lead characters. She parcels out the elements of the mythology seamlessly, blending them smoothly into the dialogue and into Kate's interior monologues. Kate tells the story in her first-person voice, and Wells handles this tricky point of view gracefully and believably, with none of the awkwardness frequently found in the works of less skilled writers. The cast of characters includes Kate's brother (Danny), her loyal MEA team members, her prickly BPD boss, her best friend (Penelope Griffin, aka "Pen"), her eccentric neighbor ("Baba"), and her primary informant (Little Man—"LM")—one of the most original and quirky characters I've seen in a long time. Do you know what a homunculus is?

     Kate herself is a complex, deeply unhappy person who has spent the past ten years trying to forget the first two decades of her life. She has dedicated her life to two things: raising her brother in a magic-free home and being the best cop that she can be. Kate is so immersed in her empty, repetitive, day-to-day routine that it takes an altercation with her brother to make her realize how dismal her life really is—with no real human-to-human connections (except for her brother and her best friend) and no life at all outside home and work. As Danny matures (he is now 16), he wants to learn about magic; after all, he is an Adept and magic is part of his genetic heritage. This terrifies Kate because she knows exactly what happens when magic worms its way into your life. She even attends Arcane Anonymous group meetings regularly to reinforce her personal rejection of magic.

     On top of these troubles, Kate is forced to deal with her lingering feelings for John Volos, who is an intriguing character. At first, I was hoping that he would turn out to be a good guy and that he and Kate would rekindle their flame, but by the end, I began to believe that Volos is a charismatic manipulator who uses other people to get his way. I'm still not sure which way this character is going—which adds yet another intriguing element to the story!

     I highly recommend this series based on this opening novel. The plot is well constructed; the action scenes are fast-paced and gritty; the characters are nicely introduced, with hints of more development to come; and the ending is satisfying, in an uncomfortable, "oh-no-he-didn't!" kind of way. Give this one a try. I think that you'll enjoy it. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Dirty Magic.

            NOVEL 2:  Cursed Magic            
      FAIR WARNING: This review of Cursed Magic      
      contains spoilers for Dirty Magic.      
     Babylon law enforcement agencies—the Babylon Police Department (BPD) and the Magical Enforcement Agency (MEA)—are preparing for trouble in the days before a rare Halloween Blue Moon rises over the city. A new villain has come to town promising all kinds of trouble, but not of the usual type. This bad guy sees himself as the second coming of Dionysus, the god of wine making and religious ecstasy. Dionysus is the Greek version of the Roman god, Bacchus, and the word Bacchanalia—a sexual free-for-all—derives from his name. In both Greek and Roman mythology, Dionysus/Bacchus symbolizes chaos, danger, and unpredictability, so from the beginning we know that Halloween in Babylon is going to be filled with formidable peril for Kate Prospero and her MEA team as they unite with the BPD to protect the city’s citizens.

     In the first chapter, Kate and her partner, Morales, capture a faux leprechaun who sets off a sexual frenzy in a crowd by dosing two policemen with a powerful love potion. The leprechaun works for Dionysus, who stole the potion from Aphrodite Johnson, the hermaphroditic Hierophant (priest/ess)of the Mystical Coven of the Sacred Orgasm. Here, Kate describes Aphrodite: “The left half wore a formfitting red wiggle dress with red stiletto, while the right half wore half a collared shirt, slacks, and a single black wing tip….The weird part was that her lady side was as beautiful and conventionally feminine as her right side was ruggedly handsome and conventionally male….But to me, the most disconcerting feature was how the voice would change depending on which gender the Hierophant chose at the time.” (p. 37) Soon, Kate and her fellow MEA officers find themselves in a race to find Dionysus and stop him before he can carry out his threat of massive violence against the city of Babylon at the rise of the Blue Moon.

     The theme of the book is truth and lies, and the story lines relating to that theme are woven through this police-procedural plot. In the climax of Dirty Magic, Kate broke her promise to avoid the use of magic when she was forced to “cook” a magical potion in order to save her brother’s life. She and her ex-lover, John Volos, agreed to lie about that incident, with Volos accepting everyone’s praise for cooking the magic and saving Danny. Unfortunately, that decision has had several unexpected and unwelcome consequences. Danny now reveres Volos as his hero and is deeply hurt because he believes that Kate refused to use magic to save him. Then, when Kate’s friends hold a huge Arcane Anonymous celebration for her and give her a ten-year abstinence medal, she is filled with guilt and shame because she (and Volos) know that she doesn’t deserve it. When Kate confesses her lie to her best friend, Penelope turns against her and subsequently falls into her own addiction. Meanwhile, Uncle Abe is always in the background meddling in Kate’s life, both physically and emotionally, as Kate tries to juggle her family life, her guilt-filled memories, her work with the MEA team, her conflicted feelings about magic, her hate/love for Volos, and her burgeoning attraction to Morales.

      In the requisite showdown scene at the end, both Kate and Morales are forced to admit some shocking secrets and then deal with their aftermath. Kate also learns the truth about several childhood experiences and faces the harsh reality about her connection with magic.

     This is another solid story that moves Kate a few steps further on her path to true self-actualization. By the end, she is beginning to accept the fact that she will never be able to fully give up magic, but she also realizes that clean magic doesn’t have the same soul-searing effects as dirty magic. The love-interest situation is just getting interesting as Kate and Morales admit their attraction to one another even as Kate continues to fight off the enduring lust she has always felt for Volos.

     Most of the quirky supporting characters from book 1 also show up to add some zing to the story: Mary and Little Man, Baba, the MEA team members, and Kate’s mean-spirited BPD nemesis, Captain Eldritch. Aphrodite Johnson is a great character with lots of potential for further exploration. By the end of this book, Aphrodite owes Kate a few favors, so I’m sure that s/he will be turning up in future story lines.

     Wells is a terrific storyteller who has created a fascinating mythology, a gritty setting, fully-developed characters, and well-crafted plots and subplots. Kate is on her way to being just as complex and conflicted as Wells’s Sabina Kane, the eponymous heroine of her terrific series that recently ended. Although the game saver in this novel verges on being a deus ex machina, it’s such an outrageously off-the-wall X-Files type of ending that I was happy just to sit back and enjoy the whole wacky scene. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Cursed Moon.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Author:  Cynthia Eden (pseudonym for Cindy Roussos; also writes with Anne Aguirre as Ellen Connor)
Series:  PHOENIX FIRE   
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR) with Elements of Horror
Ratings:  Violence4-5; Sensuality5; Humor—1
Publisher and Titles:  Brava
          Burn for Me (1/2014) 
          Once Bitten, Twice Burned (4/2014)
          Playing with Fire (8/2014) (FINAL??)   

     This post was revised and updated on 10/8/14 to include a review of Playing with Fire, the third 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:  Playing with Fire                   
     Cassandra (Cassie) Armstrong is the long-suffering daughter of the series villain, the late Dr. Richard Wyatt. In addition to torturing humans and supernaturals as part of his mad experiments, Wyatt also experimented on both of his children, turning his son into a twisted monster and his daughter into a genetic specialist who feared and hated her father and now wants only to atone for the horrific sins he and her brother committed against so many innocents. Although Cassie is sure that she is human, she also knows that she was fundamentally changed by the painful injections her father forced on her when she was a child. 

     During her horrific childhood, Cassie made her first attempt to free Dante—the oldest phoenix in existence—from a cell at Genesis, her father’s “laboratory” (i.e., torture center). That attempt was foiled, but eventually she managed to help him escape (in a previous book). The problem is that after a phoenix rises from death, he or she remembers very little—sometimes nothing at all—about life prior to that rising. So, each time Dante dies and rises, he forgets who Cassie is, and she has to face down a violent and suspicious phoenix and try to get him to believe what she tells him about his life and their relationship—always a very difficult and dangerous task.

     Dante, who was portrayed as a villain in the previous novel, is so old that he doesn’t even know his exact age. He is an old-school, kill-or-be-killed kind of guy who definitely doesn’t play well with others. Even though he feels a lustful connection with Cassie, he views himself as a monster who will never be loved by anyone. Dante believes that in order to survive, he must kill any other phoenix he meets, and that is a major problem because one of Cassie’s good friends is Cain O’Connor, the phoenix hero of the first novel.

     The plot includes the usual two story lines: the development of the romance and the lovers’ continuous flight from an army of Genesis-connected military men, this time led by Wyatt’s successor, Lieutenant Colonel Jon Abrams. Several years ago, when Jon signed up to be a human volunteer for the Genesis Project, Cassie tried to warn him of the dangers and even tried to help him escape, but Jon knew what he was getting into and actually ratted out Cassie to her father. Jon is just as power-mad as Wyatt, and he has injected himself with a variety of serums, hoping to become the strongest monster in the world. After Cassie rejected his marriage proposal and escaped from Genesis, Jon was furious. He needs Cassie’s research skills and demands her affections, and he won’t be denied. You can imagine the effect this has on Dante.

     Cassie and Dante begin running in Chicago and work their circuitous way south to New Orleans, battling Jon and his men every step of the way and jumping into bed every chance they get. Although the lovers have lots of misunderstandings and arguments, that doesn't stop them from satiating their lust, so you’ll find plenty of graphic bedroom scenes scattered throughout the book. The plot makes a series of twists and turns, leaving the reader in suspense right up to the very end. Characters from previous books turn up in supporting roles, and a new villain appears on the scene—one who appears harmless at first. 

     At one point, Dante rises from one of several deaths with total recall of his entire life, including his memories of the origin of fratricide among the phoenixes. In addition, his memories provide new information about Cassie's true genetic heritage. Dante also reveals to Cassie all of the shocking details of her death and regeneration in New Orleans in the previous book, information that contradicts her own memories.

     All in all, this is another well-written addition to the series with plenty of sexy action, dramatic suspense, and fiery battles. You could probably read this as a stand-alone because Eden includes a brief review of past events in the early chapters, but I recommend that you start at the beginning to get the juicy details that make this such a good series.

     In this mythology, there are supposedly only three phoenixes in the world. This is the third novel, so I assume that it is also the final novel in the series, but perhaps not. Maybe a fourth phoenix will enter the scene in a new book. I'll keep checking and will update this post if Eden announces any more additions to the series. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Playing with Fire.  

     One member of each supernatural couple in this series is a phoenixa supposedly mythological creature who is reborn in fire each time it dies. Traditionally, a phoenix is pictured as a bird (see image at left), but in this series, each phoenix looks like a human. In this mythology, when a phoenix dies, it bursts into flames and rises again from its own ashes, taking the same human form it had before death. Each death and subsequent rising causes the phoenix to lose most (or all) of its previous memories and turns it into an insentient beast that seethes with monstrous violence.      

     Other supernaturals also live in this world: mostly vampires and various types of shifters. The supernaturals came out to the public about ten years ago, triggering a variety of responses from the human population. Here, the heroine of book 1 explains what happened: "They'd come out of their paranormal closets. And why not? Why should they have been forced to keep hiding?….Since the big revelation, things had changed for the paranormals. Some were hunted. Some turned into instant celebrities. The reaction from the humans, well, that was mixed, too. Some humans hated the supernaturals. Some feared them. Some really enjoyed f---ing them." (p. 2) 

     In each book, a soul-mated couple meets one another, faces a series of dangerous enemies, and finds their HEA. Here is a book-by-book list of the soul-mate couples:

     >  Burn for Me:  Eve Bradley and Cain O'Connor (phoenix)
     >  Once Bitten, Twice Burned: Sabine Acadia (phoenix) and Ryder Duncan (vampire)
     >  Playing with Fire: Cassandra (Cassie) Armstrong and Dante (phoenix)  

            NOVEL 1:  Burn for Me                   
     Eve Bradley is an investigative newspaper reporter who has infiltrated a secretive research organization called Genesis. She suspects that Dr. Richard Wyatt, the director of Genesis, is experimenting on unwilling supernaturals, and she plans to expose him. Unfortunately, Wyatt knows what Eve is up to and she herself becomes a subject of the Genesis experiments

     Cain O'Connor is a phoenix. He has tremendous fire-power and can use flames like weapons to incinerate people, buildings, weapons, or anything else that gets in his way. Unfortunately, several months ago, a thuggish snake shifter somehow got the drop on Cain and sold him to Dr. Wyatt. Since then, he has been chained up in a fireproof room deep within the Genesis research center and renamed Subject Thirteen. 

     As the story opens, Eve (still seemingly undetected) is part of Wyatt's team as they make their rounds. When Eve sees Subject Thirteen, she has the usual lustful soul-mate reaction (as does he). At this point, Wyatt orders one of his guards to shoot Cain pointblank in the chest, killing him instantly. Eve watches this scene in horror, but is then even more shocked when Cain bursts into flames and comes back to life as a mindless, bestial brute. Later that night, Eve sneaks out of her room to rescue Cain, and they escape, destroying Wyatt's lab on their way out.  

     The story then follows Cain and Eve as they go on the run from Wyatt and his minions, which include the U.S. government, the military, the local police, the mass media, and Wyatt's own storm troopers. From this point on, the plot is a never-ending series of repetitive scenes: Run. Hide. Make love. Get caught. Escape. Run again. Repeat—repeat—repeat. For readers who love Eden's erotic romances, this one will not disappoint you. No matter how many enemies are after them, Cain and Eve take time out for frequent bed breaks, and Eden provides graphic descriptions of each gasp and moan and thrust.  

     The plot—sociopathic "scientist" brutally experimenting on supernaturals—is quite stereotypical, although Eden does make a slight attempt to gain sympathy for one villain late in the book. Mostly though, the bad guys—both human and supernatural—are one-note nut jobs who have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Unfortunately, that makes for a simplistic plot line because we know exactly whom the villains are and how they will behave.  

     The concept of having a phoenix as a hero is inventive, and Cain's difficulty regaining sentience after each rising makes the love story somewhat interesting—kind of like a mash-up of Beauty and the Beast and Fire Starter. Cain's character is the stronger of the two. He has spent his entire long life (possibly centuries) in an unending cycle of dying and rising, all the while trying to keep his beast under as much control as possible, but not always succeeding. He views himself as a monster of Hell and believes that he can neither love nor be loved. Eve comes across as a feisty do-gooder—a cup-full optimist who sees the best in everyone. She objects to murder across the board, even trying to keep bad guys alive. This aspect of her personality gets annoying because—let's face it—some of these villains are so deeply evil that they deserve death. Just one more minor nit-pick: Is it just me, or does the Eve-Cain hook-up make you just a tiny bit squeamish, given that the same-named Biblical couple are actually mother and son?  

     The next two novels in the series will tell the love stories of a female phoenix and a male phoenix. We meet the female phoenix near the end of this book when Cain and Eve raid Wyatt's secret lab and set her free—along with a lot of other supernatural prisoners. The novel doesn't have much suspense, but if you are a fan of Eden's writing, you are probably reading it for the sexy romance scenes, not for the plot—and there should be more than enough of those to satisfy you. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Burn for Me, on the author's web site, or click HERE to go to the novel's page and read a longer excerpt by clicking on the cover art at top left on the page.  

            NOVEL 2:  Once Bitten, Twice Burned                   

     The events described in the early chapters of this novel take place within Dr. Richard Wyatt's Genesis Project facility before Cain and Eve raid the place and set all of the imprisoned supernaturals free (in book 1). Wyatt is the evil sociopath who is doing horrible experiments on captured supernaturals, supposedly to help them, but really just for his own nefarious purposes and pleasures. 

     The supernatural romance in this story is between two of Wyatt's prisoners: Ryder Duncan (the original vampire) and Sabine Acadia (a phoenix who thinks that she is human).  Wyatt's thugs kidnapped both of them after they were betrayed by friends and family members. The details of those betrayals are revealed and dealt with in the later chapters of the book. The two meet when Wyatt starves Ryder of blood and then throws Sabine into his cell. Wyatt wants to watch Ryder drain Sabine's blood so that he can observe Sabine's first death and rising. 

       Sabine is the adopted daughter of a human couple. She has absolutely no idea that she is a phoenix and doesn't even know what a phoenix is. When Ryder can't stop himself from draining her dry, Wyatt's men prevent him from giving her enough of his own blood to save her, and she goes up in flames, only to emerge with almost no memory of what happened to her. Since she did swallow a small amount of Ryder's blood, however, she does remember him. For both Ryder and Sabine, that blood exchange immediately begins to change their bodies, with each absorbing some of the other's characteristics. For example, Ryder becomes resistant to fire, and Sabine becomes much stronger. The two are immediately attracted to one another, and soon begin to act on that attraction.

     This plot is quite similar to the first novel: torture scenes, graphic sex scenes, various battle scenes, more sex, more battles, more sex, etc., etc. Like Eve and Cain, Sabine and Ryder find time for sex any time and place they caneven in a filthy alley while they're on the run from their enemies. Another similarity between the two heroines is that Sabine, like Eve, is opposed to killing her enemiesan outlook that frequently backfires on her and Ryder. Each lover has the requisite tragic back-story, and Ryder is carrying around tons of guilt over the deaths he caused when he first became a vampire. 

     When the lovers eventually escape from Genesis and Dr. Wyatt, they head for their homes in New Orleans. Sabine wants to reunite with her family, and Ryder is determined to find and punish those who betrayed him. Complicating their lives at this point are the primesmonstrous, uncontrollable vampires created by Dr. Wyatt. These mindless creatures are nearly indestructible, and their non-sentient minds are targeted on just one thing: killing and drinking blood. Another enemy is Dante, another phoenix who escaped from Genesis and is stalking Sabine (for reasons that were never clear to me). Dante's love story will be told in the third novel.   

     At times, this novel seems pieced togethermissing some transitions and a few bits of background information that would have been helpful in clearing a few plot points. This novel has the same high levels of violence and graphic sensuality as the first novel, so if you enjoyed that one, you'll probably like this one as well.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Chuck Wendig with a review of The Cormorant, the third novel in his terrific MIRIAM BLACK SERIES.

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

Monday, February 24, 2014


Author:  Chris Marie Green
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  ROC
          Only the Good Die Young (2/2014)  
          Another One Bites the Dust (11/2014)
          Every Breath You Take (4/2015) (FINAL?)

This post was revised and updated on 5/7/15 to include a review of Every Breath You Take, the third 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:  Every Breath You Take            

     In this book, (Jen) Murphy finally resolves her search for the person who murdered her decades ago when she was just twenty-three years old. For the first 3/4 of the book, Jen and her alliesboth humans and ghostsstumble around trying to avoid being attacked by the dark spirit of Jen's killer even as they are attempting to learn the villain's true identity. If you haven't read the first two books, you will be completely lost in the crowded cast of characters, all of whom have some type of connection with Jenn based on past events that Jenn offhandedly mentions in her interior monologues and in conversations among her friends. The author does not summarize the highlights of the first two books; she just drops the reader into this third chapter in Jen's adventures.

     In the midst of Jen's search for her killer, she and her human friend, Amanda Lee, become acquainted with a group of ghostbusters in the depths of Elfin Forest, the same place that Jen met her death all those years ago. For the first half of the book, the ghostbusters don't add much to the story, but eventually, they do become a crucial plot element.

     About half-way into the book, Green introduces Kalli, a wiccan, into the mix of humans and ghosts. As soon as Kalli meets the ghosts, she feels compelled to explain myriad details of wiccan mythology, which slows the pace of the action from a walk to a stumble. Green has her reasons for introducing Kalli, but padding the book with superfluous details about wiccan mythology was a mistake. Another example of unnecessary padding is the scene involving the witch of the woods. That scene does add an important clue to Jen's investigation, but it comes across as a deus ex machina because the witch, who has been mentioned but never seen in previous books, has no other purpose but to drop the clue and then vanish.

     Other sub-plots include the finale of the ridiculous romance between Gavin and Suze, which I discussed in my review of book 2. That relationship is getting rocky (big surprise!), and Jen feels guilty because she believes that she is to blame.

     Then, there is fake Dean, the supernatural being who keeps trying to lure Jen to his home in a starry realm, promising her eternal happiness. Fake Dean keeps up his efforts until Jen banishes him from her lifebut then misses him so much that she wishes he would come back. Green has set up a love triangle involving Gavin, fake Dean, and Jen, but it never rings true.

     Just as in the previous books, the details of the world-building are muddy. Jenn darts in and out of people's heads, and the dark spirit injures and sometimes kills humans and ghosts, but I was never entirely clear on exactly what was happening. Jen's fellow ghosts rarely, if ever, do the mind-jumping thing that Jen does, even when it could possibly help out the story line, so why can she do it? Green has never really spelled out the rules of this world, so I have never truly understood the powers and limitations of Jenn and her fellow ghosts, not to mention her magic-touched human friends and acquaintances. Jen's ghostly friends just hang around making wise cracks at each other and not helping out much with Jen's investigation.

     I really had to push myself to keep reading the first half of this book because it moves so slowly and fails to cover any new ground. The pace picks up in the second half when Green begins to throw handfuls of red herrings into the storya variety of suspects, any one of whom could be Jen's killer. At that point, the story becomes slightly more interesting, but it doesn't really take off until the final few scenes. By the end of the book, all of the major issues are resolved, so I assume that this is the final novel in the series. This has been a disappointing series that began with an interesting concept but, in the long run, failed to deliver. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

     Welcome to the Boo Worlda world of ghosts who exist among the mortal population, although most mortals aren't aware of their existence. In this universe, ghosts are energy trapped at the moment of death. The series mythology includes several types of ghosts:

    > Interactives: Intelligent spirits who "still have our personalities and...can think." (p. 95) These ghosts can move about among humans, see and communicate with other ghosts, manipulate objects, manifest vocal sounds, and go into the waking and sleeping minds of humans. They survive on electricity, but get the most power from their actual death spot. 

    > Noninteractive Spirits (aka Imprints): Ghosts stuck in time-loop imprints, destined to relive their deaths over and over again. They are unaware of their surroundings and never leave the exact place they died. These ghosts are "confused and afraid and won't come out to play like [Interactives] do." (p. 95)

    > Malevolent Ghosts: We learn next to nothing about these spirits in book 1, except that they exist and that they are dangerous to both humans and to other ghosts.

     Not all spirits remain on earth as ghosts. Some go on into the glare (a bright light) immediately following their deaths. "Not every spirit lingers or falls into a time loop. Sometimes there's so much anguish connected to their deaths or the people they leave behind that they can't stand the aftermath. Some spirits seek the light right away. Others…fall into a numb imprint." (p. 211) What happens in the afterlife is unknown. As one mysteriously powerful entity explains, "Not even I know what's beyond us, because once you go there, you don't come back. It might be heaven or hell, nirvana, or even a parallel dimension where everyone gets another chance in a reincarnated life." (p. 210) Each ghost has a wrangler—a reaper—and if a ghost decides to leave the earth and go into the glare, he or she can call on the wrangler for a ride into the afterlife. 

     Most of the ghostly characters are Interactives. They can enter buildings through cracks, chimneys, and open windows, but they can't move through solid objects like walls. They always look exactly like they did at the moment of their deaththe same clothing and hairstylesso it's easy to figure out when they died just by looking at them. Oddly, they don't manifest the injuries that led to their deathsno broken bones, bruises, or contusions. They can modify their shapes to suit various purposesfor example, becoming thin enough to slip through the narrowest cracks, becoming fist-shaped to pound on a wall. Their major human enemies are cleanersghostbusters who use salt and iron to send the ghosts on to the light. Most ghosts don't have much to do with humans, but some do maintain relationships with mediums (aka psychics) who can see and communicate with ghosts, sometimes just one and sometimes many, depending on the level of the medium's power.

     The series heroine, Jensen (Jen) Murphy, was in her early twenties when she was murdered 30 years ago. She was the designated driver for a group of her pot-smoking, heavy-drinking friends one night when they went out partying in the Elfin Forest (in Southern California). Jen had been slamming down can after can of Mellow Yellow (a highly caffeinated soft drink popular in the 1980s) and wandered off into the woods for a "bathroom break," only to disappear forever. In book 1, Jen has memory flashes of being killed with an ax by someone wearing an old-lady mask, but she can't remember anything else.

           NOVEL 1:  Only the Good Die Young            

     As the story opens, a medium named Amanda Lee (pronounced "A MANdaley") Minter uses her psychic powers to pull Jen out of the time loop she has been stuck in for the past 30 years. Amanda wants to use Jen to get revenge against Gavin Edgett, the man she believes killed her friend, Elizabeth, three years ago. She wants Jen to work her way into Gavin's mind and scare him so badly that he will confess his crime to the police.

     Because Jen is a newbie ghost, she spends much of her time in this book just learning how to be a ghostwhat she can and cannot do, how to travel from place to place, how to manifest her voice so that humans can hear it, and how to maintain a level of energy high enough that she doesn't fall back into the time loop. Eventually, she meets some more experienced ghosts who help her learn the ropes, but the world-building slows down the storyas is true of the first book in any series.

     Jen's relationship with Amanda is fraught with tension and distrust because Jen immediately recognizes that Amanda is completely blinded by her need for vengeance against Gavin. Even when Jen figures out that Gavin probably did not kill Elizabeth, Amanda refuses to accept that as truth. From the beginning, Jen (and the reader) know that Amanda is withholding information and telling some lies. In fact, most of the human characters are holding on to dark secrets that are not revealed until the final showdown scene. There are so many red herrings that the identity of the actual villain(s) is difficult to predict, but when the resolution finally comes, it plays out so quickly that it is somewhat unsatisfying, particularly since the rest of the story moves so very slowly.

     Among the non-humans that Jen meets is one who has glamoured himself to look and act just like Jen's long-ago ex-boyfriend, Dean. Dean is not dead. In fact, Jen flies over to his home to take a look at him in an early scene. But this non-human entity takes on Dean's persona and plays on Jen's emotions, trying to lure her to some mysterious place for his own nefarious purposes. At first, Jen thinks that "Dean" is the Grim Reaper, but he tells her that he is a keeper, not a reaper. He turns up several times during the story, usually to help Jen out of a tight spot, but he always follows up his good deeds by trying to get Jen to stay with him in his starry realm. He won't tell her exactly who or what he is, except to say that her life would be pleasant if she stayed with him. Jen, though, is too pragmatic to turn over her soul to someone she doesn't trust. Obviously, "Dean" will be a continuing character who will play an important role in future stories.

     For me this was a rough start for a new series—bogged down with an overload of exposition and character-building and struggling with a slow-moving plot that begins light but turns very dark in the final pages. It's a seemingly standard urban fantasy that slowly becomes a realistic true-crime horror story. Green uses Jen's first-person voice to tell her story, and she handles this sometimes-tricky voice with ease. Now that the world-building is out of the way, I'll be interested in seeing what Green does with her lead character in book 2. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Only the Good Die Young.

            NOVEL 2:  Another One Bites the Dust            
     The primary plot in this novel revolves around a sociopathic young man (Tim Knudson) who is becoming a dangerous threat to his girlfriend (Nichelle Shaw), a close friend of Wendy Edgett—sister of Gavin Edgett, one of the primary characters in book 1. (If you haven't read book 1, you might want to do that first so that you will understand the relationships among the relatively large cast of characters, both ghosts and humans.) Jenn and her fellow ghosts are already protecting Wendy from a menacing, but unidentified, dark spirit that was released at the climax of book 1, and now they add Wendy and Nichelle to their list of responsibilities. Jenn and Amanda immediately begin to investigate Tim's mental state and his personal life, while some of the other ghosts deal with the actual protecting. The investigation muddles along very slowly, with Jenn and her friends attempting to go into Tim's mind in a variety of ways, none of which are described with any clarity. The characters of Tim and Nichelle are so poorly developed that we never really get to know them at all, and as a consequence, I had trouble caring what happened to either one of them. In fact, I had trouble even finishing the book.

     The book has several subplots: Jenn's continuing relationship with fake Dean (a sexy but sinister entity who takes the form of Jenn's high school boyfriend, the real Dean); Jenn's continuing attraction to Harriet's brother, Gavin; Jenn's continuing search for her killer; and Jenn's continuing search for the true identity of the dark spirit. (As the book begins, she believes that the dark spirit might be the ghost of Harriet and Gavin's evil father.) These story lines disrupt the flow of the main plot because they are inserted so awkwardly into the action. 

     In one of the story threads, Gavin hits it off with Suze, one of Jenn's friends from her human life. At this point in time, Suze is in her early fifties, and Gavin is in his twenties—maybe early thirties—and they are supposedly becoming romantically attracted, making Jenn extremely jealous. For me, this story line is improbable and silly. In the Dean-Jenn story line, the author includes a gratuitous scene in which fake Dean touches Jenn in a sexual manner. The scene comes out of nowhere and goes no further. It's as if the author felt compelled to add some mild sex and couldn't figure out any other way to do it. She has really painted herself into a corner here, because her heroine is a transparent, vaporous entity who can solidify her body only when she is in fake Dean's presence. Even though Jenn is attracted to Gavin, she can't have a physical relationship him because they can't touch each other, so Jenn is stuck with the mysterious, untrustworthy Dean. About all we know about Dean is that he collects ghosts that entertain him, feeds on them until he gets bored, and then turns his attentions to new ghosts—definitely not an honorable hero.

     One last nit-pick: I don't wish to be a grammar tyrant, but Jenn constantly makes one very perplexing and irritating grammar error that drives me crazy. Instead of beginning compound-subject sentences correctly (for example, "My friends and I," with "I," the subject pronoun, coming after the noun, "friends")," she begins sentences incorrectly, using "me" (which is an object, not a subject, pronoun) and placing it first: "Me and my friends did this..." or "Me and Twyla went there..." or "Me and Louis talked..." or "Me and Amanda visited...," and so forth. I truly don't understand the author's decision to have Jenn break this basic grammar rule because, in general, Jenn's dialogue and interior monologues are grammatically correct, and her vocabulary is relatively sophisticated (e.g., using words like assuagedolorous, and fraught). Yet she breaks this simple rule over and over again. 

     I had hoped that this series would grow stronger, but this book is a disappointment. The author uses the "tell, not show" method of character development, and as a result, her characters are all as flat as cardboard cutouts. In the case of Tim and Nichelle, character development is practically nonexistent. The plot moves at a glacial pace, and the ghost-magic scenes in which Jenn and her buddies invade Tim's mind are so disjointed that I had trouble figuring out exactly what the ghosts were doing. At this point, I can't recommend the series. Click HERE to read an excerpt.