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Saturday, August 29, 2015

TERRIFIC NEW NOVEL: Cat Winters: "The Uninvited"

Author:  Cat Winters  
Title:  The Uninvited 
Plot Type:  Gothic Romance (with ghosts)
Ratings:  Violence—2-3; Sensuality3; Humor—3 
Publisher:  HarperCollins (8/2015)

This review begins with an overview of the historical setting, followed by the publisher's blurb and my review of the novel. I highly recommend this book for its imaginatively layered plot, well-developed characters, and engrossing story-telling technique.

     The story, which is based on real-life events, is set in small-town Buchanan, Illinois, in early October 1918. The world is in the final weeks of World War I (aka the Great War), and as thousands of soldiers are dying in European combat, their wives and children back home are also dying, victims of the terrible Spanish Flu pandemic that is sweeping the globe. 

WWI Propaganda Poster
     Anti-German sentiment (Germanophobia) is rampant, and all of the citizens of Buchanan are under constant scrutiny by members of the local branch of the American Protective League (APL), a (real-life) hyper-patriotic group that patrols the town in search of people who show any signs of German sympathy. Families of German ethnicity have changed their names to sound more American. German-named streets and towns have also been renamed. For example, Buchanan's Werner Street becomes Willow Street. All German music is forbidden. (Good-bye Beethoven and Bach.) All European immigrants are viewed with suspicion and are usually forced to live in the shabbiest part of town, far away from "real" Americans. 

WWI Propaganda
Here is a list of "typical enemy behavior" as listed in the fictional Buchanan Sentinel: "food hoarding; interference with the draft; slackers who refuse to enlist for military duty; refusal to purchase Liberty Bonds; possession of books, sheet music, and phonograph albums celebrating German culture; speaking a language other than English; the use of hyphenated nationalities when describing one's self (e.g., 'German-American,' 'Polish-American'); anti-war sentiments; the production of Socialist pamphlets and newspapers; and the discussion of unionization among factory workers." People are encouraged to spy on their neighbors and turn suspicious people over the APL in order "to cleanse the country of the enemy." At one point in the book, the heroine is forced by an APL agent to kiss the American flag to prove her loyalty. As one character in the book declares, "This is not the fantastical land of liberty that people portray in stories. The melting pot does nothing but scald and blister right now." Winters' descriptions of anti-immigrant fervor come uncomfortably close to the xenophobic rants of some politicians and their supporters in our country today. 

Flu Prevention Ad
     When the virulent Spanish flu arrives, people begin to die horrible deaths, and towns and cities cannot keep up with medical treatment or burial. One after another, people are dying from the horrific effects of massive hemorrhages; uncontrollable, forceful coughing; and severe stomach and intestinal distress within days of showing their first symptoms. Many turn blue as they suffocate from a lack of oxygen as their lungs fill with fluid. These are horrific, rapid deaths that, for the most part, take place at home before the eyes of family members who will probably become the next victims because hospitals are filled to overflowing. (NOTE: By the time the lethal waves of disease receded in late 1919, between 50 and 100 million people had lost their lives worldwide.) 

Flu Prevention Ad
     In this early twentieth-century world, there are no anti-viral medications, so doctors treat their patients by having family members wear protective gauze masks, banning coughing and spitting in public, and telling flu victims to go to bed.  Many people, particularly immigrants and African Americans, receive little or no medical care and must rely on home remedies like eating raw onions, hanging bags of camphor around their necks, or swallowing spoonfuls of whiskey. (Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read a newspaper article about a San Francisco public health officer shooting a man who refused to wear an influenza mask.)

                         PUBLISHER'S BLURB                          
     Jazz. Gin. Ghosts. Twenty-five-year-old Ivy Rowan rises from her sickbed after being struck by the great influenza epidemic of 1918, only to discover that the world has been torn apart in just a few short days.

     But Ivy's lifelong gift—or curse—remains. She sees the uninvited ones—ghosts of loved ones who appear to her, unasked for and unwelcome, for they always herald impending death. On that October evening in 1918, Ivy sees the spirit of her grandmother, rocking in her mother's chair. An hour later, she learns her younger brother and father have killed a young German out of retaliation for the death in the Great War of Ivy's other brother, Billy. 

     Horrified, she leaves home and soon realizes that the flu has caused utter panic and the rules governing society have broken down. Ivy is drawn into this new world of jazz, passion, and freedom, where people live for today, because they could be stricken by nightfall. She even enters into a relationship with the murdered German man's brother, Daniel Schendel. But as her "uninvited guests" begin to appear to her more often, she knows her life will be torn apart once again, and terrifying secrets will unfold. 

                       MY REVIEW                          
   As the story opens, Ivy Anne Rowan, a reclusive piano teacher, is awakened by the presence of the ghost of her grandmother, a harbinger of death. These "Uninvited Guests" visit the Rowan women just as a death occurs. "Their presence suggested that the wall dividing the living and the dead had opened a crack, and one day that crack might teal us away to the other side." Then Ivy hears the shouts and curses of her drunken father and brother as they stagger home from town after beating a young German immigrant to death. Although weak from her recent bout with the flu and still grieving over the war death of her beloved brother, Billy, Ivy packs up and leaves her family home, vowing never again to interact with her violent, alcoholic father. She rents a room in town from a young war widow and seeks to make amends to Daniel, the dead man's brother. At every step, she is shadowed by a sinister young APL officer who had been one of Billy's childhood friends. And that, my friends, is the extent of the plot that I am willing to reveal. Trust me, and trust the authorand PLEASE be careful not to read reviews that contain spoilers.

     I read only one review before I started my own reading of this bookthat of USA Today reviewer Michelle Monkou, who begins her analysis with these words: "Read this book. I refuse to give any spoilers or hints to spoilers. Trust me, you won't be disappointed…" I admit that the first quarter of the book develops slowly, and that I did think (briefly) that I wouldn't finish the book, but Cat Winters is a masterful writer, and shethrough Ivy's eloquent first-person voicesoon drew me into a story that kept me reading it straight through in one sitting (which ended at 3:00 a.m.!).

     Winters mixes together Emily Dickinson's and Robert Herrick's poetry, Jazz-Age music, war-time grief and hysteria, the terrible flu epidemic, and an ethereal Gothic romance and comes up with an enthralling, mysterious, genre-bending tale. We see just how far humans will go when, in the face of fear, they develop a "patriotic" duty that involves the punishment of easy scapegoats.  But we also see that some refuse to succumb to their basest natures. As naive, guilt-driven Ivy moves from one all-new experience to another, she plays a pivotal role in an intricately woven, extraordinary tale that ends with a twist that you won't see coming. 

     Winters builds the story in layers, with subtle use of foreshadowing and discreet hints. Although the pace is slow in the first few chapters, Ivy's life in town soon develops into a whirlwind of diverse activities. As ghosts begin to appear and events get out of hand, she recalls favorite poems that reflect what is happening to her and listens to the wildly alluring jazz music being played nightly in the Masonic Lodgemusic that lifts up her soul and allows her brief escapes from dark reality. At one point, Ivy stands "motionless, mute, absorbing the if receiving anesthetizing doses of laudanum to kill off the pain…I closed my eyes…and let the melody slide through my blood until my heart thump-thump-thumped with jazz and strength and an unexpected surge of hope."

     If you stumble over oddly placed details, or seem to see plot holes, or wonder why the paranormal aspect is so light, do not despair. Winters has a reason for each and every word in this book, and as her inventive and perfectly constructed plot reaches its final haunting chapter (Don't peek!), everything will fall into placeI promise. By the time I got to the end, I wanted to read the book again to look for the clues I had missed.  

     As the plot plays out, Winters creates an otherworldly, achingly romantic atmosphere in which Ivy searches for peace and freedom in a war-torn, disease-ravaged world. The jazz scenes are truly magical. I highly recommend this book for any reader who loves well-written Gothic romances with a touch of the paranormal. You won't be disappointed.

     If you are looking for a book club read, Winter includes a set of 15 discussion questions along with a brief historical overview of the period, including the sources she used to create several characters and events. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Uninvited on its page. Just click on the cover art for a print version or the "Listen" icon for audio. 

Friday, August 28, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for Paige Tyler's SWAT: SPECIAL WOLF ALPHA TEAM SERIES with a review of Wolf Trouble, the second novel in the series.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Author:  Chloe Neill 
Series:  DEVIL'S ISLE 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality2; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  New American Library (Penguin Random House)
          The Veil (8/2015)
          The Sight (8/16/2016)

This post was revised and updated on 8/7/2016 to include a review of The Sight, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.

                         NOVEL 2: The Sight                         
     The paranormal war that engulfed New Orleans seven years ago is over.  But the battle for the city is just beginning. 

     Claire Connolly is a Sensitive, infected with magic when the Veil that divides humanity from the world beyond fell. Magic can easily consume and destroy a Sensitive, and if Claire’s secret is discovered she’ll be locked into the walled district of Devil’s Isle along with every other Paranormal left in the city. 

     Bounty hunter Liam Quinn discovered Claire’s secret, but refused to turn her in. Together they saved New Orleans from the resurgence of magic that nearly destroyed it. But now a dangerous cult is on the rise, and it will take both Claire and Liam—and magical allies within Devil’s Isle’s towering walls—to defeat the growing threat before magic corrupts the both.

     As the story opens, an anti-Paranormal group that calls itself Reveillon begins to terrorize the Zone. Led by a zealot named Ezekiel, Reveillon is a well-armed hate group that plans to kill all Paranormals along with the humans who refuse to join them in their efforts. Almost immediately, Reveillon attacks the District (aka Devil's Isle) where Paras are imprisoned, and that's just the beginning. The rest of the novel focuses on the Containment's efforts to bring Reveillon under control, with particular emphasis on the adventures of Claire and Liam, and their friends and allies.

     In the background, the relationship between Claire and Liam simmers and sizzles as each yearns for the other, but holds back because of their fears that Claire's Sensitive nature will eventually turn her into a wraith and that Liam will be the one who must lock her up on Devil's Isle.

     In addition to the Reveillon plot, we get more backstory on Liam's brother, Gavin, and on their grandmother, Eleanor, and her Paranormal protector, Moses. We also learn more about Claire's late father and some deep secrets he withheld from her, one of which turns out to be a life-saver.

     The Reveillon story line twists and turns, with Claire and Liam finding themselves in jeopardy several times. In fact, the cliff-hanger endingdirectly caused by Ezekielleaves the couple in serious danger...on more than one level.

     Neill is a terrific story teller, and she does a fantastic job here. This is a rich mythology with well-developed characters and a nicely constructed series story arc. Will Claire and Liam make it as a couple? How will the angel Malachi's interest in Claire affect her relationship with Liam? Will the Containment ever learn to trust the Paranormals? And if they do, how can they get Congress to change its stance on the mandatory imprisonment of all Paranormals and Sensitives? Neill has a lot of material to work with here, so I'm guessing that this series is far from overand that's a good thing! One note: Based on the MeritEthan relationship in CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES and the events of The Sight, I'm guessing that Claire and Liam are in for a long and bumpy ride on the way to their probable HEA.

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Sight on the novel's page by clicking on the cover art.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of The Sight is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

     The series is set in a post-apocalyptic New Orleans seven years after a war between Paranormals (aka Paras) and humans. "Seven years ago, the Veilthe barrier that separated humans from a world of magic we hadn't even known existedwas shattered by the Paranormals who'd lived in what we now called the Beyond. They wanted our world, and they didn't have a problem eradicating us in the process. They spilled through the fracture, bringing death and destructionand changing everything: Magic was now real and measurable and a scientific fact." 

     Eventually, the human world was able to defeat the Paras and repair the rip in the Veila rip that was located directly over New Orleans, making the city ground zero during and after the war. Unfortunately, the heavy use of magic during the fighting devastated much of the South, destroying many buildings and homes and poisoning much of the soil and water. Electrical power is now erratic, and there is no communications systemno cell phones or land phones. When the Veil fluctuates, the level of magic rises, knocking out whatever electrical power there is, including the lights and engines of cars and trucks. (This aspect of the mythology reminds me of Ilona Andrews' KATE DANIELS series.) 

     After the war, Congress passed the so-called Magic Act that banned all magic inside and outside the Zone, or "conflict community." The entire state of Louisiana is within the Zone and is completely under government control. The agency that enforces the Magic Act in the Zone is Containment, one of the units of the Paranormal Combatant Command (PCC), the Defense agency that managed the entire war effort. Containment agents closely monitor the Zone and take into custody anyone they suspect of using magic. Magic users and rogue Paras are imprisoned within the District (aka Devil's Isle), an area in the Fabourg Marigny, an historic New Orleans neighborhood. Containment has surrounded Devil's Isle with thick concrete walls and covered it with an electrified metal web topped by a steel dome. 

     Magic has no effect on most humans, but a small percentage of the populationcalled Sensitiveshave a genetic attraction to magic, and if they absorb too much of it they become mindless, violent, magic-addicted wraiths. Containment is always on the alert for Sensitives, who are also banished to the District, even if they have done nothing wrong. The powers that be believe that all Sensitives will eventually become wraiths, so they see imprisoning the Sensitives as a sensible precaution. The innocent Sensitives, however, don't see it that way, so they hide their condition and keep their heads down.

     In both the Beyond and the human world of New Orleans, there are factions with conflicting beliefs. In the mortal world, Containment leaders believe that all Paras are dangerous enemies who must be imprisoned because they cannot be trusted, even though many Paras served as allies to the human army during the war. Containment hires private contractors to assist in patrolling borders and hunting down Paras and Sensitives, and some of these contractors believe that the government should re-open the Veil and destroy the Beyond once and for all. In addition to these two groups, there are religious cultists who believe that opening the Veil will prompt the Second Coming. 

     In the Beyond, there are two general factions: The Consularis, an assembly of Paranormals, ruled the Beyond peacefully for many millennia. Then, a group calling themselves the Court of Dawn rebelled against the Consularis. When the Court realized that they didn't have enough power to defeat the Consularis, they decided to take over the human world instead and ripped open the Veil. Warriors from the Consularis assisted the human army during the war. In order to amp up their numbers, the Court used magical compulsion to compel thousands of Paras loyal to the Consularis into their service. Now that the Veil has been closed, no one really knows who is in currently in power in the Beyond.

     There is one more groupan extremely diverse onethat is introduced towards the end of book one. I won't describe that one because I don't want to give out any spoilers. 

The primary characters are as follows:

Claire Bridget Connelly is a pretty 24-year-old redhead who has operated her family's storeRoyal Mercantileall by herself since her father died in the war. Claire is a Sensitive.

Gunnar Landreau is one of Claire's best friends. As the series opens, he is second in command to the Commandant of Containment. Gunnar comes from a prominent New Orleans family.

Tadji Dupre is Claire's other BFF. She comes from a family who practiced voodoo before the war, and her mother and aunt are now in hiding. Tadji hates everything about magic. She is currently a graduate student at Tulane University specializing in linguistics. 

Liam Quinn is a 27-year-old bounty hunter (formerly a Containment contractor) from a prominent New Orleans family. His family estate was destroyed during the war, and his sister died at the hands of a wraith. He lived in Marigny before the war and continues to live there nowwithin the District.

Gavin Quinn is Liam's younger brother, a mercenary who hires out his skills as a tracker to various private organizations and government agencies. Gavin has commitment problems and refuses to stay in New Orleans. He comes and goes as he likes, which causes constant friction between the brothers.

Moses (Mo) is a computer-savvy Para who lives in the District. He is a good friend of Liam's. Mo is the first Para Claire has ever met under friendly circumstances.

Will Burke works for the Materiel unit of PCC, which means that he has access to rare consumer goods like good food, furniture, and clothing. As the series opens, he meets, and is attracted to, Tadji.

Jack Broussard is a Containment agent and a narrow-minded bully. He despises Liam because he suspects that Liam sometimes allows Sensitives and Paras to avoid imprisonment. When Broussard sees Claire with Liam, he suspects that she is colluding with him in treasonous activities and reacts accordingly.

     Based on the first novel, my feelings about this series are very positive. The characters are engaging; the overarching story line is engrossing; and the story-telling is top-notch. I believe that this series can grow to be just as successful as Neill's CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES. (Click HERE to read my reviews of that series.)

     Click HERE to watch The Veil book trailer. Click HERE to go to "The Veil Atmospherics" on Pinterest. Click HERE to go to a page on Neill's web site entitled "Louisiana Reads," which provides links to other romance and urban fantasy books and series set in Louisiana. 

     The urban fantasy series that has the most similarities to DEVIL'S ISLE is Suzanne Johnson's terrific SENTINELS OF NEW ORLEANS series, which also features a feisty heroine, a complicated romance, a post-Katrina-esque setting, and a preternatural realm called the Beyond. Click HERE to read my reviews of Johnson's SENTINELS series. 

                        NOVEL 1:  The Veil                         
     Seven years ago, the Veil that separates us from what lies beyond was torn apart, and New Orleans was engulfed in a supernatural war. Now, those with paranormal powers have been confined in a walled community that humans call the District. Those who live there call it Devil's Isle.

     Claire Connolly is a good girl with a dangerous secret: she’s a Sensitive, a human endowed with magic that seeped through the Veil. Claire knows that revealing her skills would mean being confined to Devil’s Isle. Unfortunately, hiding her power has left her untrained and unfocused. 

     Liam Quinn knows from experience that magic makes monsters of the weak, and he has no time for a Sensitive with no control of her own strength. But when he sees Claire using her powers to save a human under attack—in full view of the French QuarterLiam decides to bring her to Devil’s Isle and the teacher she needs, even though getting her out of his way isn’t the same as keeping her out of his head. 

     As more and more Sensitives fall prey to their magic, and unleash their hunger on the city, Claire and Liam must work together to save New Orleans, or else the city will burn

     As the story begins, Claire is running the family business, a former antiques shop on Royal Street that now sells dehydrated food (MREs), powdered milk, batteries, water, soap, spare parts, and other survival goods alongside the antiques left over from before the war. When Claire gets a shipment of duct tape, she muses, "The French built New Orleans; duct tape rebuilt it." Claire lives in an apartment above the shop. 

     Not even Claire's best friends know that she is a Sensitive, and if anyone does discover her secret, Claire's "normal" life will end and she will spend the rest of her life imprisoned within Devil's Isle. Claire didn't even know that she was a Sensitive until eight months ago when she stopped a heavy metal sign from falling on her by screaming out "No!" just in the nick of time. Now, she is constantly on edge, keeping a to-go bag hidden away in a closet just in case she accidentally uses her magic within sight of one of the thousands of monitoring cameras mounted all over New Orleans. Claire's motto is "Stay quiet; work hard." No one ever taught Claire to use her magic, so she has no idea how to control it. Now she fears that even if Containment doesn't catch up with her, she'll probably go crazy and turn into a wraithit's only a matter of time.

     Into this situation strolls Liam, who happens to be in Claire's vicinity one night when she gets drawn into a battle with a pair of wraiths and takes a major risk by using her magic to defeat them. Liam now knows her secret, but he doesn't plan to turn her in. Instead, he convinces her that she has to learn to control and discharge the magic she absorbs so that she will keep her sanity and her freedom. To divert Containment's attention, he takes her on as a trainee. As the plot unfolds, the two of them try to discover the connection between two parallel sets of crimes: a series of missing Sensitives and a series of wraith attacks. Compounding the mystery is that these wraiths appear to be sentientsomething that the Containment deems impossible. In the midst of this investigation, Claire learns some shocking facts about her family history and about the role of a small group of Sensitives during the war.

     Because this is the first book in a series with a complex mythology, there is a lot of exposition. Neill has to give us all of the pertinent facts about this world so that we will know the major players and their diverse perspectives. Although the primary story line is resolved, several characters and a few very slender story lines appear and fade away in this book, to be picked up in future books: for example, Liam's broken romance with a woman named Blythe, a Para mob boss named Solomon, and a mysterious woman who catches Claire's eye and then disappears in the midst of the big showdown battle that ends the book. (I think that I know the identity of the mysterious woman, but without any clues, I'm just guessing.) And let's not forget the sexual attraction between Liam and Claire, which Liam refuses to act upon (so far) because he fears that if Claire does eventually become a wraith, he will have be the one to deliver her to Devil's Isle.

     This is a terrific book written by an author who is an excellent world-builder and a creative plotter. Give this one a try. I believe that you will enjoy meeting Claire, Liam, and their friends and enemies. I'm looking forward to more of their adventures in the second book. 

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Veil on the book's page. Click on the cover art for print or on the "Listen" icon for audio.

Monday, August 24, 2015

NEW ANTHOLOGY: "Edge of Darkness"

Author:  Christine Feehan, Maggie Shayne, Lori Herter  
Title:  Edge of Darkness 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—1   
Publishe:  Jove (8/2015) 

     This anthology contains one long novella, one short novella, and one short story. All three are paranormal romances featuring vampires. Each novella is part of an ongoing series. The first twoby Feehan and Shayneare the best. 

                   Christine Feehan:  "Dark Crime"                     
Blaze knows who killed her father and she has merciless plans for payback. Until a phone call from a seductive stranger pleads with her to wait. Retribution is in his blood, too. Now, he and Blaze will be united in the blood of the guilty. Tonight, vengeance is theirs. 

     I always enjoy reading one of Feehan's old-school CARPATHIAN/DARK SERIES romances in which an ancient Carpathian male finds his lifemate in the form of a feisty 21st-century woman. In this novella, the Carpathian is Maksim, and the heroine is Blaze McGuire, a red-headed, knife-wielding bartender who is also skilled in martial arts. Just to give their insta-love story a bit of a twist, he doesn't fall in love with her at first sight, but at first soundwhen he hears her voice on the telephone. 

     Just days after a rogue vampire sends some thugs to torture and kill her beloved father, Blaze sets up an ambush to kill the murderers, even though she knows that she probably won't survive the fight. In the nick of time, she gets that fateful phone call from Maksim, who brings in some of his Carpathian friends to help out. Naturally, much of the story centers on the graphic love scenes between Maksim and Blazethe first of which takes place within an hour of their first meeting. 

     The villains are the the two remaining Malinov brothers, Vadim and Sergey, whose three brothers have been killed off in previous DARK SERIES books by Rafael De La Cruz, Zacarias De La Cruz, and Mikhail. Although the Maksim-Blaze love story ends with their HEA, the Malinov plot line is not resolved. This novella obviously introduces a story arc that will be continued in future novels. Also open-ended is a traumatic situation involving Blaze's best friend, Emeline, who has a horrific experience with one of the Malinov brothers near the end of the story. If you are a CARPATHIAN fan, you'll enjoy this one, particularly since the heroine's character has depth and charisma. 

     This is the longest of the three novellas at 215 pages. Click HERE to read chapter 1 of "Dark Crime." Click HERE to read my reviews of Feehan's CARPATHIAN/DARK SERIES.

                  Maggie Shayne:  "Dead by Twilight"                     
Bloodsuckers may be an accepted minority but one of them is getting away with murder. Until a female vamp teams with a mortal detective to end the killing spree. Now the night belongs to themand so does every pleasure and danger lurking in the shadows. 

     Back in 1955, Chloe Madison's senior prom night was unforgettable: "It was the most magical night of my life, and as it turned out, the most horrible one, too. And also the last one." On that very night, a vampire killed her parents and turned her into a bloodsucker, forcing her to go off on her own and establish a new identity (after killing the vampire who turned her).

     After the flashback prologue, the story moves to the present day, with Chloe in her fifth year as a Syracuse, NY, detective (and her 60th year as a vampire). Chloe stays away from other vamps and passes as human. She doesn't take blood from humans, preferring to find a blood drive and lift a few pints to keep her going.

     The plot revolves around a series of murders with male victims, all of whom have been drained of their blood. The police suspect a vampire, but have not been able to catch him or her. As Chloe investigates the case, she stumbles into a situation in which Shepherd Daniels, a police investigator for the state Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) is working undercover to capture a supposed vampire female. Sparks fly between the two almost immediately. As a result of that incident, the state cops ask Chloe to become a member of their brand new Vampire Crimes Unit with Daniels as her boss. Of course, the two are magnetically attracted, but Chloe tries (and fails) to keep things under control because Shepherd makes it quite clear that he hates vamps. 

     In the climactic showdown that resolves the serial killer plot line, several characters from Shayne's original WINGS IN THE NIGHT series step out of the fog to provide some assistance. This is a solid paranormal romance with an interesting plot line and a well-developed heroine who differs from the usual vampire heroine in that she has lived on her own ever since she was turnedso no vampire politics. The vampire mythology is the same as Shayne's earlier series, WINGS IN THE NIGHT/TWILIGHT VAMPIRES. Click HERE to read a brief overview of the world-building and my reviews of the final three novels in that series. 

     This novella is book 1.5 in Shayne's WINGS IN THE NIGHT: REBORN series. It could be read as a stand-alone because Shayne includes elements of the mythology to make the world-building clear. I enjoyed this novella enough to order the rest of the series on my Kindle. Book one is titled Twilight Guardians. Book two is titled Twilight VendettaClick HERE to read my reviews of Shayne's PORTAL TRILOGY, which features time-traveling witches. 

                   Lori Herter:  "Cimarron Spirit"                     
     While excavating an Anasazi ruin, archaeologist Annie Carmichael uncovers the resting place of a centuries-old vampire who finds in Annie the liberating mate he has longed for. But how much is Annie expectedor willingto surrender for the man she now desires? 

     "Cimarron Spirit" is the first part of Herter's CIMARRON SERIES, to be followed by "Cimarron Secrets" (8/26/15) and "Cimarron Seductress" (TBA). At just 87 pages, this is the shortest story in the anthology. One of the characters in "Cimarron Spirit" explains that titular word "cimarron" is a "timeworn cowboy term" that means "an animal or a human who runs alone and has little to do with others of his kind. Like a lone wolf." Click HERE for the Urban Dictionary definition of the word.

     The publisher's blurb pretty much explains the plot. The only complication is that the rancher who owns the land on which the ruin is located wants Annie to marry him, so she has to decide if she wants a safe, secure life with Brent Logan or a wildly passionate romance with Rafael de la Vega. I think that all of us can predict what her decision will be. 

     This is basically a category romancea contemporary western with a touch of the supernatural. It reminded me of Amanda Ashley's novels, with the virginal hero who knows nothing about vampires but is instantly attracted to the sexy, ancient vampire who sees her as the soul mate for whom he has been searching for many centuries. The sensuality level is relatively lownot many graphic details, and the story is kind of bland and stale, like a regular Harlequin romance, but with the added attraction of a vampire hero. I didn't enjoy it enough to want to read the rest of the series.

     Back in the early 1990s, Herter wrote a four-book romantic vampire series published by Berkley with the titles Obsession, Possession, Confession, and Eternity. Since that time, she has written category romance novels published by Dell Candlelight Romances, Silhouette, and Harlequin.

Saturday, August 22, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for Ilona Andrews' KATE DANIELS SERIES with a review of Magic Shifts, the eighth novel in the series.

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

Thursday, August 20, 2015

NPR Survey: "Happy Ever After: 100 Swoon-Worthy Romances."

Which Paranormal Romances Are the Most Popular? 
Which Ones Missed the List?

I am late in posting this review, but better late than never. Near the end of July, National Public Radio (NPR) published "Happy Ever After: 100 Swoon-Worthy Romances," an on-line compilation of top romance fiction in various categories based on listeners' responses. According to NPR, "Back in June we asked you to tell us about your favorite romantic reads, and you responded in droves. (We had to shut the poll down early after more than 18,000 nominations flooded in!) Once the votes were tallied, we turned to our expert help us break down the categories and shape the final list into a love story for the ages." Click HERE to read the list with all of the cover art. Click HERE for a printable list of the authors and titles, without the cover art.

You'll have to scroll about half-way down the page to find the Science Fiction and Fantasy winners, and even further down for the Paranormal selections. As I expected, the list omits some top-notch paranormal romance novels and series, but that is always the case with general genre lists. Still, it's fun to see which of your favorites made it into the top ranks. 

Here are the supernatural-related winners. You can click on any pink-link title to go directly to my review.

                    SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY                    
     > Nalini Singh: PSY-CHANGELING SERIES (terrific seriesjust keeps getting better as it nears the end)

     > Meljean Brooks: IRON SEAS SERIES (one of the best steampunk romance series of all time)

     > Ilona Andrews: KATE DANIELS SERIES (well-developed primary and secondary characters, inventive mythology, and enthralling plotsa wonderful series)

     > Bettie Sharpe: Ember (2001 digital download; a novella that gives the Cinderella fairy tale a dark twist)

     > N. K. Jemisin: THE INHERITANCE TRILOGY (a fantasy trilogy published in 2010-2011 that includes these novels: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods)

     > Lois McMaster Bujold: A Civil Campaign: A Comedy of Biology and Manners (first published in 1999; book 12 of her MILES VORKOSIGAN SAGA; an homage to Georgette Heyer's novel A Civil Contract

     > Sharon Shinn: Archangel (published in 1996; the angel Gabriel meets his match in a beautiful, but feisty, slave girl who refuses to bend to his will.)

     > Johanna Lindsey: Warrior's Woman (an old-school classic first published in 1996; futuristic, intergalactic space romance)


     > Darynda Jones: CHARLEY DAVIDSON SERIES 
NOTE: I am amazed that this one made the list because the heroine is such an airhead, and the stories are crammed with far too many over-the-top, not-very-funny one-liners and ridiculously silly situations.


NOTE: Although I have read and enjoyed many of the books in Ward's series, I have, to my continuing regret, failed to keep up with the series enough to do it justice in an ongoing review.

NOTE: This series has all of the elements that I look for in a paranormal romance: intricate and compelling plots, a cohesive series story arc, and—usually—a twist at the end. And Nïx is one of my favorite paranormal characters ever.

     > Karen Marie Moning: FEVER SERIES 
NOTE: If you like complex plots that involve the complicated relationships among the Fae, you'll enjoy this series. The characters are well developed and the series story line moves in a steady line towards the satisfying conclusion in the final book. Warning: You should start with the very first novel because Moning answers no questions and provides no resolution to countless mysteries until the end of Shadowfever, the final novel. 

   > Susanna Kearsley: The Winter Sea 
NOTE: This is an historical romance with a touch of the supernatural. It was published in 2008 and features a female writer who makes a mysterious psychic connection with a woman who lived and died centuries ago.

    > Patricia Briggs: Cry Wolf (first book in her ALPHA & OMEGA SERIES
NOTE: Cry Wolf is a perfect paranormal romance with exactly the right balance of action, suspense, and lust. I love the A&O novels as much as I love Briggs's MERCY THOMPSON urban fantasy series, which takes place in the same world.

NOTE: This is a 12-book series that follows a young woman named Damali Richards, who is a spoken-word artist but is also the Neteru, a human who is born once every thousand years to fight the Dark Realms. Her most dangerous and most constant enemy from The Dark Realms are vampires. I can't explain why I never read this series—I guess it just slipped through the cracks in my to-read shelf.

    > Sherrilyn Kenyon: DARK-HUNTERS SERIES 
NOTE: I agree that Kenyon's earlier DARK-HUNTER novels are terrific, but the more recent ones are stale wannabes when compared with the first dozen novels. The more recent books are filled with recycled romantic angst, increasingly (and needlessly) complex plot lines, and far too much stomach-churning violence and vile cruelty. Here's what I said in my ongoing review post for this series: "When Styxx appeared, I was so disgusted by the constant scenes of horrific degradation and abuse that I didn't finish reading it, which meant that I didn't review it. At this point, I would rather remember the series in its earlier years when the characters were mostly appealing; when the love stories were angst-filled but not blood-soaked; and when the plots were filled with suspense, drama, and wise-cracking humor."

                    SERIES THAT SHOULD HAVE MADE THE LIST                    
Here are a few paranormal romance series thatalthough omitted from NPR's compilation—still make my "best-of" list. I have listed them alphabetically, by author's last name. Which novels/series would you add?

Nina Bangs:

and HOUSE IMMORTAL TRILOGY (the final novel is due in September)
Rachel Vincent: UNBOUND TRILOGY 


Christine Feehan: CARPATHIAN SERIES 
NOTE: The earlier books are the best, back when her heroes weren't so sadistically cruel. Zacarius from Dark Predator is the worst "hero" ever.

Heather Killough-Walden: LOST ANGELS SERIES 
NOTE: This series isn't one of my favorites, but it gets a lot of traffic on my blog.

NOTE: Although this series is past its peak, no one can deny that Leigh has created a terrific mythology that includes a male genetic trait that really amps up the bedroom scenes. 

NOTE: Showalter is a great story teller, and she packs her action-filled stories about 12 cursed warriors with suspense, betrayal, deception, lust, angst, and plenty of snarky humor. 

Christine Warren: THE OTHERS
NOTE: This one concluded in 2013, but it still holds up—lots of action, steamy romance, and snarky humor.

                    ADDITIONAL READING                    
Typical Fabio
Cover Shot
Mentioned in the "Comments" section of the NPR post are two nonfiction books about romance fiction. I have read the first one—Beyond Heaving Bosoms—it is hilariously accurate, particularly the authors' dissection of the traits of the heroes and heroines and their sardonic analysis of the stereotypical, bare-chested, Fabio-esque cover art.

     > Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bi***es Guide to Romance Novelsby Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan. Click HERE to go to its page.

     > Dangerous Books for Girls: the Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained, by Maya Rodale. Click HERE to go to its page. (I just put this one on my Kindle.)

You might also enjoy reading a 2014 article from Entertainment Weekly magazine entitled "Love, Sex & Money: A Billion-Dollar Affair." Click HERE to read my review of that article, which contains a link to the full text as well as a few links to related on-line content, both audio and print.