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Saturday, January 30, 2016



I have just updated an ongoing post for Katie MacAlister's DRAGON FALL SERIES with a review of Dragon Storm, the second novel. 

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

Friday, January 29, 2016



I have just updated an ongoing post for Jeanne C. Stein's ANNA STRONG VAMPIRE CHRONICLES with a review of the novella, "Anna and the Vampire Prince." 

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Publisher:  Zebra 
    .5     "Scorpius Rising" (in On the Hunt anthology
               (e-book novella—11/29/2016)
   1       Mercury Striking (1/2016) 
   2       Shadow Falling (8/2016) 
   3       Justice Ascending (1/31/2017)

This ongoing post was updated on 1/12/2017 to include a review of Justice Ascending, the third novel. That review appears at the very end of the post.

NOTE: This ongoing review of the SCORPIUS SYNDROME SERIES begins with an overview of the series world-building and a review of the prequel novella in which Zanetti provides a detailed mythology for this post-plague world. Although you don't have to read the prequel in order to understand the events that take place in Mercury Striking, the novella will provide you with the complete back-story of the early days of the plague, including Lynn Harmony's stormy relationship with her former boyfriend and her horrific experiences at the CDCboth of which are very important to the plot of Mercury Striking. If you do not choose to read "Scorpius Rising," then reading my review will fill in some of the blanks for you. My reviews of Mercury Rising, Shadow Falling, and Justice Ascending appear in chronological order immediately after the review of "Scorpius Rising."

     This quotation is at the heart of the governmental conflict that is the center of this series: "There are two types of people in this world…The kind who believes the ends justify the means and…people who live the life they want because there are people out there, like us, making sure the ends justify the means…If we don't get a handle on this infection, only one type of person will remain…Survivors." (from "Scorpius Rising")

     After the Scorpius bacterium kills off 99% of the population, the remaining people fall into two groups: those who were never infected and those who survived the infection. "The bacteria does not always kill human beings; sometimes the patient survives, but the Scorpius bacteria still remains within the body, stripping a small part of the brain. The contagion alters brain activity in everybody who is infected, but only turns half of the folks into killers. We don't know why. It might have something to do with oxytocin, which is a chemical we think relates to empathy. Some folks lose it all, and some only part or none." (from Mercury Striking) The survivors of the disease are called Rippers (for what they do to any living creature they hunt down). The general consensus is that there are two types of Rippers. "The first is organized and intelligent like a serial killer…The second is disorganized and just plain crazy, and they're more likely to rip you apart like an animal. Run from either." (from Mercury Striking)

     The behavior of the "civilized" survivors of the disease falls along a wide spectrum that ranges from full-out psychopaths to cold-hearted pragmatists. We'll see all kinds of survivors in this series. Every survivor's brain is changed by the Scorpius infection. The ones who keep their sanityat least on the surfacebecome smarter, or more devious, and some develop psychic talents.

    One last bit of contradictory information on the spelling of Dr. Harmony's first name: In "Scorpius Rising," her first name is Lynn, but in Mercury Striking it is Lynne

                     PREQUEL NOVELLA: "Scorpius Rising"                    
     With a deadly disease spreading like wildfire across the country, microbiologist Nora Medina needs to focus all her energy on stopping the pandemic. Playing with dynamite—in the form of her way-too-hot ex—is the last thing she should be doing. But forced to work with Deacan McDougall against unexpected enemies with the seconds ticking by, she knows the explosion is coming. 

     As of this date (1/12/2017), the stand-alone novella "Scorpius Rising" for Kindle is available on 
for $1.99. 

     In this introduction to her new series, Zanetti combines a deadly plague, a pair of conflicted ex-lovers, some slippery governmental decision making, and lots and lots of graphic sex. The lovers, Nora and Deacon, have been divorced for eight years. She is an anti-government microbiologist, and he is, at heart, a fierce, pragmatic soldier. Although Nora has made a solid life for herself and is a world-renowned scientist, all it takes is some über-alpha posturing, superior physical strength, and skillful seduction from Deacon to turn Nora into a submissive, compliant puddle of lust. Maybe it's just me, but I am uncomfortable with paranormal romances that reinforce the idea that true love requires an overdose of I-know-what's-best-for-you overprotectiveness from the male and unconditional submission by the female. So that element takes some of the shine off the story for me. 

     The plague is caused by the Scorpius bacteria, which arrived on earth deep inside a meteorite that was part of the Scorpius Comet. Some graduate students cracked open the meteorite, gave it a taste (yuck!), and—voila!—the disease had its initial outbreak. The bacteria is deadly, killing most of its victims (about 75%), causing psychotic breaks in about 15-20% of the infected, and leaving the final 5-10% seemingly healthy, except that their frontal lobes are mutated so that they become psychopathic carriers whose sole focus is on spreading the disease. The novella's villain belongs to that final group. The bacteria is spread through bodily fluids (e.g., saliva, blood, urine, genital fluids). 

     The romance is the major plot line, with Deacon committing himself to getting Nora back. The action part of the plot concerns a Scorpius survivor who becomes fixated on Nora. Here's how Deacon sums up his situation: "He had an ex-wife who hadn't quite realized her importance in his life, a possible bacteria from outer space that was killing people, a dead president, a weak vice president, and a stalker he needed to stop but not kill." 

     One last nit-pick: There are several misused words—probably AutoCorrect errors that were missed by the copy proofer, but nevertheless, distracting. Here are two examples: Nora was "ferreted" to the CDC (no, she was "ferried" or "furtively conveyed"); Zach hated his "formal" self (no, he hated his "former" self).

     The first novel in the series, Mercury Striking, is due 1/26/16 with Nora's best friend, Lynn Harmony, as its heroine. I am hoping that Zanetti allows Lynn to continue to be independent, competent, and in charge of her own life whether she is in a romantic relationship or not.

                     NOVEL 1: Mercury Striking                     
     With nothing but rumors to lead her, Lynne Harmony has trekked across a nightmare landscape to find one man—a mysterious, damaged legend who protects the weak and leads the strong. He’s more than muscle and firepower—and in post-plague L.A., he’s her only hope. As the one woman who could cure the disease, Lynne is the single most volatile—and vulnerable—creature in this new and ruthless world. But face to face with Jax Mercury…Danger has never looked quite so delicious.

     While the prequel novella was all about stopping the spread of the Scorpius plague, months have now passed, and the emphasis is solely on the struggle for survival. Besides hundreds of local gangs and militia groups, a militia group calling itself the Mercenaries is looking for Lynne because the government has offered a huge reward for her capture. In addition to these groups, two government-sanctioned military organizations are still up and running: 
> The Brigade: This group, headed by Deacan McDougall, is tasked with making sure that nuclear reactors are shut down safely.
> The Elite Force: This group, headed by the new Vice President, Greg Lake, is tasked with finding and capturing Dr. Lynne Harmony.
     Lynne is the former head of the Infectious Diseases unit of the CDC. She was infected with the Scorpius bacteria and survived, but that survival left her with blue blood flowing through her veins and a glowing, neon-blue heart beating in her chest. After being imprisoned by the government and subjected to endless blood tests for experimental purposes, Lynn escaped. She and her uncle, now dead, headed west for California, where they hoped to find Myriad, a secret laboratory that may hold the key to a cure for the Scorpius plague. Being an intelligent, pragmatic woman, Lynn did some research before she escaped and learned about a strong and fearless leader who had built an impenetrable compound in the middle of Los Angeles, where Lynn believes the secret lab is located. 

Jax's Rules for
Surviving the Apocalypse
     Jax Mercury is a former Army sergeant who came back to the U.S, from Afghanistan in the early days of the plague in search of his brother, Marcus (aka Slam). Almost accidentally, Jax put together his Vanguard territory, ringing it with barbed wire and blockading it with abandoned vans and SUVs. Now, he and his "soldiers" defend more than 500 civilians from marauding gangs of humans and Rippers. Although Jax is the leader of the group, he stays away from the Inner—the area where the survivors live—and spends his time solely on defending the borders, training his soldiers, and organizing scavenging teams to find more food and supplies. Jax is actually suffering from PTSD after losing his best friend in an explosion in Afghanistan, so he stays away from personal relationships and buries his grief and rage in his everyday survival activities.

     When Lynne finally finds Jax, she makes him a bargain: "I'll teach you everything I know about the illness, and you provide temporary protection and one kill." (If you have read "Scorpius Rising," you can probably guess the identity of the person Lynne wants Jax to kill.) 

Here are some of the key players in post-plague Los Angeles:
> Tace Justice: a former military field medic who is now Vanguard's chief physician
> Wyatt Quaid: a former professional football player (49ers) who has learned to be an excellent soldier. He is Jax's second in command and functions as the heart of the compound—the person people go to for counseling and advice.
> Raze (Razor) Shadow: mysterious new Vanguard warrior who appeared one day, fully armed, and joined the crew—He refuses to talk about his past or his reasons for joining Jax's group. Raze's story will be told in the next book, Shadow Falling.
> Sami: supposedly a former LAPD cop (but probably not) who has excellent hand-to-hand fighting skills and who becomes one of Lynne's friends and supporters, even though she once had a major crush on Jax.
> Lena: a young girl who gives meaningful gifts to residents of VanguardEach gift turns out to be related to a future event in that person's life.
> Cruz: a bad guyleader of the Twenty gang, the gang that Jax belonged to back in his younger days. Cruz has a major grudge against Jax because Jax went off to the Army and left him behind in prison. Jax has a grudge against Cruz because Cruz lured Marcus into his gang while Jax was overseas, leading to Marcus's shooting death.
     The romance plot takes up the major part of the book as Jax and Lynne try to keep personal secrets hidden from one another while they fall into lusty love. Because Jax doesn't trust Lynne (given the government-spawned rumors that she is a highly contagious sociopath), he keeps her locked up in his bedroom—which leads to exactly the outcome that you would expect. Their bedroom experiences begin with a spanking and go on to include a bit of dom/sub and lots of erotic, headboard-banging sexual encounters—all fully described in graphic detail.

The action plot includes several story lines: 
Jax's efforts to find enough Vitamin B to keep his Vanguard citizens plague freeThe only fact that the survivors know for sure about the Scorpius plague is that Vitamin B injections keep it somewhat under control and may help infected victims survive without becoming Rippers. 
Lynne's efforts to find the secret labLynne needs the research papers and lab equipment from the secret lab to figure out a way to make human bodies create their own Vitamin B without having to undergo constant injections.
The U.S. president's efforts to capture LynneIt would be a spoiler to reveal anything more about his part of the plot, but I will say that the President's motives are very personal and relate to events that took place in the plot of "Scorpius Rising."
     The first half of the book focuses solely on Jax, Lynne, and Vanguard, but beginning in chapter 19, a new character enters the story. From that point on, Zanetti moves the perspective back and forth from Lynn and Jax to this third character. The story is told in the third person voice. 

     As the book ends, some parts of the conflict are resolved, but bits of new information open up new questions (The Bunker? Jax's brother? The cure?) and problems for Jax and his crew (the fact that a dangerous villain is still at large). It isn't exactly a cliff-hanger ending, but it definitely leads into the next book, which will feature Raze Shadow and Vivienne Wellington. 

Zanetti has created an inventive world here with an emphasis on the interactions and coping methods of a diverse group of survivors. I like the fact that the "zombie" factor isn't the main focus of the plot. This is not a Walking Dead kind of book—no blood-and-guts scenes of the Rippers attacking people. Although the Rippers definitely pose a threat, Zanetti keeps them lurking in the background. Zanetti tells a compelling story that features a pair of charismatic lead lovers, lots of action and suspense, and a nice range of interesting supporting characters. Lynne is a terrific heroine, maintaining her independence, courage, and tenacity even in the face of her intense attraction to Jax and her fears for her future. Even though Jax is a stereotypical über-alpha hero with a chip on his shoulder, a tragic past, and a heart of gold, he is so fierce and intense that he commands your full attention in every scene in which he appears. This is a great start to a new series, and I'm looking forward to reading Raze's story in August.

    I do have two minor nitpicks that I'll put here at the very end so that you can either read them or ignore them: 
1. At one point, Jax explains that "Fish food held plenty of antibiotics, and most survivors didn't know that fact." Wrong. Some people sell fish antibiotics (legal only by prescription), but regular fish food does not contain antibiotics. Fish food antibiotics is a survivalist urban legend that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Some companies sell aquarium antibiotics online or in pet stores, but there are no guarantees that their products meet any medical standards. In fact, many of them are made up primarily of cornstarch or other non-medical products and contain little or no antibiotics. They are definitely risky—either inadequate or possibly harmful—for human consumption. Click HERE to read more on this subject. 
2. Vitamin B is not just one single vitamin. In fact, there are eight different B vitamins, each found in different types of food and each affecting the human body in a different manner: B1 (thiamine); B2 (riboflavin); B3 (niacin); B5 (pantothenic acid); B6; B7 (biotin); B12; folic acid. I have to assume that when Zanetti refers to Vitamin B, she means Vitamin B-Complex, a combination of the vitamins listed above. In its injectable form, B-Complex must be kept refrigeratedan impossibility in Zanetti's post-apocalyptic world. Also: why do the vitamins have to be injected? Why not just swallow the vitamins in pill form. The pills would be much more plentiful and easier to find than syringes and vials of liquid vitamins, which would be found only in pharmacies, hospitals, or doctors' offices. Click HERE for more information on Vitamin B-Complex injections, including a list of severe side effects. Improbably, none of the side effects appear to have occurred among the Vanguard citizens. I realize that I'm being picky here, but it seems to me that Zanetti should have been more careful when she came up with her plague cureor at least she should have done more research. 
UPDATE: Zanetti finally explains this issue in the third novel (Justice Ascending): “The shot is a combination of all the vitamin Bs, but there’s a stronger percentage of B6 and B12.”
EXCERPT: Click HERE to go to this novel's page and click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Mercury Striking 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 entirely my own.

          FAIR WARNING!          
      The following review has spoilers for Mercury Striking.      
                     NOVEL 2: Shadow Falling                     
     Before the Scorpius Syndrome tore through North America and nearly wiped out the population, Vivienne Wellington was the FBI’s best profiler. The bacteria got her anyway. But she survived. She recovered. And when she woke up from a drug-nightmare of captivity, her trust in her fellow man had gone from shaky at best to nonexistent. Her mysterious rescuer wants to convince her he’s the exception. But no matter how tempting he is, with his angel’s eyes and devil’s tongue, Vinnie knows she shouldn’t trust him. 

     If the FBI were still around they would rate Raze Shadow as one of the bad guys. His military training can’t wipe out his association with the Mercenaries, the most feared gang in a thousand miles. His loyalties are compromised. He won’t even tell Vinnie his real name. But there’s no FBI in the new America of fear and firepower, only instinct and risk. And the way his arms wrap around her tells its own story. Whatever else Raze is concealing, he can’t hide his desire.

     In the climactic showdown scene that ended Mercury Striking, Raze Shadow rescued Dr. Vivienne (Vinnie) Wellington from the clutches of Bret Atherton, the sociopathic Ripper who is now the U.S. president. Atherton believes that Vinnie is psychic and that she can help him find the Bunker, which is rumored to be the source of a cure for the Scorpius Syndrome. In Vinnie and Raze, we have a couple with strong similarities to Lynne and Jax (from the first novel). Both women are beautiful, intelligent, and well-educated with knowledge that will help the survivors continue to thrive, and both men are handsome, intelligent, street-smart former military bad boys who tend to dominate their women and to solve problems with violence. As in the first book, the hero and heroine fall in lust almost immediately and engage in a series of male-dominated, athletic sexual encounters all the way through the book.

     Vinnie is a former FBI psychiatrist who is an expert in profiling sociopaths. Ever since she recovered from her bout with the Scorpius plague, she has been hallucinating, hearing voices in her head, and having some semi-psychic experiences—all of which make her fear that the combination of the Scorpius bacterium and the drugs that Atherton pumped into her have permanently altered her brain chemistry to the point that she is slowly going insane. She is insecure and fearful that the Vanguard group won't accept her, but she keeps hoping that they will so that she will finally have a home and a family in these troubled times.

     Everyone is suspicious of Raze—and with good reason. He showed up at Vanguard in the first novel with information on the location of President Atherton. Jax is worried about how Raze got that information. Is he a spy for Atherton or the Mercs? What dark secrets is he hiding? Then, Raze partially redeemed himself by helping Vanguard rescue Lynne and Vinnie from Atherton's compound. Currently, Jax is willing to keep Raze on at Vanguard, but only if he explains every aspect of his hidden agenda, which Raze refuses to do. Early on, we learn that the Mercenaries (Mercs) are holding Raze's sister Maureen (Moe) and will release her only if Raze delivers Vinnie to them. Raze always believed that he would do anything to save his sister...right up until the moment he met Vinnie and fell so hard for her. Now, he is torn between his sister and his true love. How can he save them both?

     Adding to the complexity of the plot is a new group within Vanguard: the Pure—uninfected men, women, and children who are being led by a charlatan who calls himself Reverend Lighton. This story line is responsible for most of the implausibilities in this book. For example, Lighton and his group manage to steal weapons and vital supplies from Vanguard's warehouses but Jax and his people don't realize anything is missing until long after the fact. When Jax finds out what Lighton has done, he says to Tace, "We've just started keeping track of weapons, and our system sucks." There is no way that a military man like Jax would fail to keep a detailed inventory of all supplies and weapons and a tight schedule of guards to watch over them. So this part of the story line makes absolutely no sense. Also, Lighton and his people have been living in Vanguard for months, but—again—Jax and his top lieutenants are clueless about their existence until Lighton walks in and demands territory and assistance. None of this is believable. Oddly, late in the book, Vinnie remarks that Jax "kept his warehouses locked and guarded." If that's true, how did the Reverend break in?

     One purpose served by the Reverend and his group is to serve as a contrast to Jax and Raze in their treatment of women. Within the Pure group, the men are fully in charge and the women are completely subservient in every way. At first glance, you might say that the same is true with Jax and Raze, but Zanetti includes a scene in which Vinnie and Lynne discuss living with guys who spank them and tie them to radiators when they deem it necessary. Vinnie says, "It's odd...they're over-the-top bossy when it comes to safety. We should be burning our bras and shooting these guys...Yet they have no trouble working side by side with female soldiers." Lynne responds, "When there's time for thought and debate, fairness and reason win out, but in crisis situations their atavistic sides trump everything else." Vinnie grins: "So the more backward they act, the more they care?" Another area in which the men are in charge is in the bedroom, and both women are fine with that. Lynne sums up the situation: "Those big bad men do treat women as equals. Well, ones they don't date....As opposed to the creepy way the Pure seems to be treating women." As I read this scene, I had to wonder if Zanetti wrote it in response to criticism from readers about the close-to-abusive "obey me or else" manner in which Jax treated Lynne in Mercury Striking.

     The novel ends, as usual, in a major showdown as Vanguard goes up against the Mercs to rescue Raze's sister, but then Zanetti throws in an explosive curveball to complicate the situation. In the few scenes that feature Maureen and her captor, Greyson Storm, head of the Mercs, we soon figure out that they are not exactly enemies, but more like frenemies on their way to becoming lovers. I'm sure that we'll get their book (Storm Raging? Storm Surging?) in the near future, but the next one belongs to Tace and Sami.

     This novel continues the series story line regarding the importance of finding the Bunker, and it adds new people and new alliances to the mix. Zanetti is a good story teller, even with her occasional misfires (like the Reverend and the warehouses). The suspense and drama keep the tension so tight that it's hard to put the book down once you dive in. Although I'm not sure that Zanetti was entirely successful in making her point about her heroes' treatment of women, I do give her credit for putting forth an explanation. Props to her because she is the only author I've seen who has done this. 

     In regard to the all-important vitamin B that the Scorpio survivors need to keep themselves alive, it appears that B12 is the one that is critical. Lynne mentions several times that squid and octopus are high in vitamin B (they're high in B12), and she's hoping that the government has stored squid somewhereperhaps in the Bunker. That takes me back to my argument (in my review of Mercury Striking) that vitamin B12 should be very easy for Vanguard to find in large quantities in all of the abandoned drug stores and grocery stores and health food stores in Los Angeles. Vanetti still hasn't explained why the B12 has to be injected rather than taken in pill form. I really wish that she had thought this through more thoroughly and had come up with a different, more plausible, curative drug. FYI: The foods with the highest levels of B12 are mollusks (squid, octopus, clams, oysters); beef liver; and certain fish (mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines). So why aren't the survivors heading towards the ocean for fish? Or to the countryside for cattle?

EXCERPT: Click HERE to go to this novel's page and click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Shadow Falling 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 entirely my own.

                     NOVEL 3: Justice Ascending (Due 1/31/17)                     

     Before surviving the Scorpius bacterium, Tace Justice was a good ole Texas cowboy who served his country and loved his mama. After Scorpius, the world became dark, dangerous, and deadly—and so did he. The Vanguard medic is stronger, faster, and smarter than before, but he’s lost the line between right and wrong. His passion is absolute, and when he focuses it on one woman, there’s no turning back for either of them. 

     Sami Steel has been fighting to survive right alongside Tace, convincing the Vanguard soldiers she’s one of them. In truth, Sami is a former hacker turned government agent who worked at The Bunker, where scientists stored both contaminants and cures. Only she knows the location, and she’s not telling. Yet when sexual fire explodes between her and Tace, she’ll face even that hell again to save him.

     Following her usual pattern for this series, Zanetti tells the story of a pair of troubled lovers while weaving Vanguard’s ongoing problems through the various stages of the romance. In the previous novel, we watched Samantha (Sami) Steel become very uncomfortable when she meets a member of the Mercenaries (Mercs) who was a police detective in Los Angeles before Scorpius killed off most of the population. We know that Sami isn’t telling the truth about her back-story, and now we gradually learn the truth about the secrets Sami has been holding back from her Vanguard comrades—and they are some very big secrets! At one point, Lena (the mute little girl who appears to foresee the future) gives Sami a gift that is supposed to be a clue to her secret, but it didn’t help me figure things out until much, much later in the story.

Meanwhile, Tace’s post-Scorpius symptoms are gradually getting worse and worse. He is suffering from occasional numbness in his legs along with dizzy spells, headaches, and a few blackouts. Naturally, being a macho-man, Tace keeps his physical condition to himself and continues to go out on patrol with Sami as his partner. The two have had a physical attraction ever since they met, and now they allow that attraction to play out along a very bumpy road that begins with a no-holds-barred wrestling match followed by a few kisses and inevitable steamy bedroom scenes.

     As Sami’s secrets are revealed, Tace’s symptoms suddenly get worse, right in the middle of a major battle. This results in some dramatic scenes in which the Vanguard and Merc superheroes pull off several implausible—but quite exciting—victories against their enemies.

     The action plot deals with several problems that Vanguard must deal with—all of which are resolved by the end of the novel:

The Pure group (the non-infected, ultra-religious group) is, once again, causing trouble. They have a new charismatic leader who is making unreasonable demands and refusing to let Jax and his Vanguard people make sure that everyone within the Pure community is living there freely—and not under duress.

Greyson Storm (leader of the Mercs) sends his second-in-command, Damon Winter, to try to convince Jax to allow Maureen Shadow (sister of the Vanguard’s Raze Shadow) to return to the Mercs so that she can continue her plant-related activities (and also to continue her almost-but-not-quite-romance with Grey). Damon spends some time in the Vanguard compound, where he is immediately attracted to April Snyder, the young widow who recently lost both her husband and daughter to Scorpius.

Jax must decide whether to ally with the Mercs against the President’s Elite Force or to attack the Mercs to steal from their abundant supplies of food, medicine, weapons, and ammunition.

Dr. Lynne Harmony (Jax’s lady love) is still certain that the Bunker (a top-secret lab) exists, and she continues to sort through research notes and various documents trying to find its location.

Jax is still searching for his brother, Marcus, who has been MIA throughout the series. (This issue is partially resolved near the end of the book.)

> Although the Brigade is discussed a few times, no one knows whether it is still in existence. (See my review of the first novel for an explanation of the Brigade and the Elite Force.) This Brigade question is not answered in this novel.

     The story roars along at a compelling pace, with various types of threats being dealt with in nearly every chapter. Zanetti gives us a huge, explosive battle scene near the end and a helicopter scene right out of a Die Hard movie. Alternating with the action are the close-up and personal scenes between Tace and Sami in which they bare their souls (and their bodies) as they head for their inevitable HEA. Manly, muscular Tace is just as alpha-protective and controlling as the heroes of the previous novels in this series, but Sami is his equal in hand-to-hand fighting. Having a strong soldier as a heroine gives the story a better balance than the first novels had, with their scholarly heroines who were (and still are) willing to let their men do the fighting while they do the book-related stuff.

     From the beginning, Zanetti’s Scorpius mythology has been problematic. First, there’s the whole vitamin B situation, with the characters constantly searching for injectable vitamin B when there are plenty of vitamin B tablets available in stores all across the city. Then there’s the randomness of the symptoms displayed by Scorpius survivors. Everyone develops different reactions to the bacterium. In Jace’s case, he develops OCD, temporarily loses his sense of smell, and develops a dark personality that verges on bi-polar. Dr. Vinnie Wellington becomes psychic (as does the little girl, Lena). Vinnie also has hallucinations and hears voices in her head. Some survivors are able to discern when people are lying. It seems that Zanetti alters her Scorpius symptoms to fit her plots, which adds a disquieting degree of haphazardness to entire mythology. 

     I continue to believe that Zanetti did not thoroughly analyze the rules of this world before she began writing the first novel. Now that she has written three, there really are no rules, and that’s confusing to the reader. Actually, now that I think about it, there is one set of rules, but they are related only to the romance: The hero and heroine fall in lust at first sight, keep secrets from one another, have lots of hot sex, and commit to one another in the aftermath of the inevitable battle that ends each novel. Basically, then, we have a paranormal romance series that is masquerading as dystopian urban fantasy, but the UF is completely (and unfortunately) overshadowed by the romance.

     Nevertheless, Zanetti is a great story teller, so if you are looking for steamy romance in a dystopian near-future world, you’ll probably enjoy this series. You need to begin with the first novel, though, not with this one, or you will not understand the frequent references to previous events and off-screen characters.

     To read an excerpt from Justice Ascending, click HERE to go to the novel’s page and click on the cover art.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Justice Ascending 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 entirely my own.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016



I have just updated an ongoing post for Kelley Armstrong's OTHERWORLD SERIES with a review of a new novella, "Driven." 

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

Saturday, January 23, 2016



I have just updated an ongoing post for Erin Kellison's SHADOW WORLD SERIES with a review of Shadow Touched, a collection of four novellas featuring Cam Kalamos and Ellie Russo.

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

New Novel! Adrian Phoenix: "Thinning the Herd"

Author: Adrian Phoenix 
Title: “Thinning the Herd” (short e-novel196 pages)
Plot Type: Humorous Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher:  Pocket Star (1/2016) 

Note: The author's official web site has been down in recent weeks, so click HERE to go to her Facebook page instead.

                          PUBLISHER’S BLURB                          
     From the New York Times bestselling author of A Rush of Wings and THE MAKER'S SONG series, a humorous, action-packed urban fantasy about a werewolf pack and an animal control officer in way over his head! 

     Someone is picking off fortune tellers and hippies in Oregon, snatching them out of their Birkenstocks mid-stride. And when the legend himself, Hal Rupert, Animal Control Officer, gets a whiff of the mystery, he knows he’s the man to solve it. In between proudly wrangling out-of-control cats and dogs, he’s noticed a peculiar uptick in another sort of animal…werewolves

     Hal infiltrates the country fair to investigate the disappearance of the flower children. But his real priority is protecting the love of his life, Desdemona Cohen, whose long purple tresses and black-glossed lips captured his heart the moment he first saw her standing behind the register at Hot Topic. Desdemona may have nicknamed Hal “Creep,” but he’s determined to win her heart. And, you know, save everyone else, too.

                          MY REVIEW                          
The Premise:
Hal's weapon of choice: a catch pole
     In an online post, Adrian Phoenix explains that, Thinning the Herd celebrates delusion, reality-denial, and heroism despite the rather long odds. I’m still rooting for the underdog—especially the absurd underdog. I hope you enjoy reading Thinning the Herd as much as I enjoyed writing it.” She compares her hero, Hal, to the hero of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. If you want to go really old-school, you could also describe him as a mash-up of Walter Mitty and Dudley Do-Right—except for just one thing: Hal is actually very good with his mighty weapon—a catch pole that a lesser man would use merely as a tool to capture stray dogs and cats.

The Supernatural World: 
     Although ancient gods and legendary specters pop up from time to time in this world, the everyday supernaturals are either lycans or yōkai. The story begins the morning after the night of the first moon, so all of the lycans and yōkai are doing their day/night shifting thing. 

     Lycans are born as humans, but shift into their animal forms (cats or wolves) at night for one week out of each month beginning with the first night of the full moon. Yōkai are born as animals (cats or wolves), but shift into human shape during the day during the week after the full moon. Since lycans were born human, they tend to behave like humans, but yōkai were born as animals so they behave more like pets than people. For example, Nick Thomas—a wolf yōkai—has the attention span of a puppy, and Galahad (Gally) Jones—a cat yōkai—is addicted to cream and is constantly grooming himself by licking his fingers and rubbing them over his face. Fun fact about the werewolves in this world (who can be either lycan or yōkai): eating too many ducks gets them drunk—duck drunk. 

     Problematically, Nick and Gally are “detectives,” although their jobs are never explained beyond that general one-word designation. Do they work for the police department? Are they private detectives? Whatever their job, if they are in human form only during the daytime one week a month, I’m not sure how they can possibly remain employed. This is a definite weakness in the author’s world-building. 

The Hero: 
     Hal Rupert is an animal control officer in small-town Oregon, not far from Eugene. He is also one of the few humans (aka one-shapers) who know of the existence of the supernatural world. Hal views himself as a secret superhero and believes that people pretend not to know about his superhero status because they are helping him keep his identity a secret. Our hero is head over heels in love with a purple-haired Goth chick named Desdemona Cohen, who sells Goth paraphernalia at a local bazaar. Desdemona keeps trying to get rid of her stalker (that would be Hal) by calling him “creep” and “fruitcake” and “jerkwad,” but Hal hears these as words of love and devotion. He knows that she pretends not to love him in public because “theirs was a forbidden relationship—Goth and non-Goth. She’d be shunned if her Goth friends discovered their union.” He can hardly wait for the day that she asks him what his actual name is. 

     Hal lives a simple life in his sparsely furnished office/home. He sleeps in a sleeping bag on the floor and keeps his refrigerator full of nonorganic whole milk that he tosses back like a different kind of hero would drink whiskey—straight, no ice. To get from one crime scene to another, Hal—hilariously—takes the bus. No big, black SUVs for this hero! He does wear the stereotypical UF male uniform: a black T-shirt and jeans (but no leather jacket).

The Plot: 
     Someone is killing fortune tellers and hippies and trying to frame shifters for the crimes. When Hal and his two yōkai detective buddies begin to investigate, they find themselves—quite literally—in over their heads. 

     The investigation leads to the “fabled underground pot dens of Eugene,” where the three men, now accompanied by Desdemona, have major run-ins with a variety of supernatural monsters. That part of the book is uneven and quite choppy as it veers wildly from location to location and switches suddenly from Hal’s perspective to the viewpoints of other characters. Phoenix throws in all types of monsters, even a Lovecraftian Cthulhu (note the tentacles in the cover art).

The Humor:
     Phoenix provides lots of verbal and physical humor throughout the book. For example, when Hal, Gally, and Nick begin to analyze the situation, Nick wonders what fortune tellers and hippies have in common. Galahad, the snark specialist, answers, “Garish colors?...Poor fashion sense? A lack of deodorant?” Then, when Nick begins to lose the gist of the discussion, Gally distracts him by throwing a rubber squeak-toy squirrel across the room. "Nick's head swiveled. His eyes gleamed…Mad rubber squeaking followed."

     Also funny is the fact that when Gally and Nick are in animal form, Hal is always able to discern the exact meaning of Gally's purrs and stares and Nick's howls. Here's a typical "conversation" between Gally and Hal:

     Galahad stretched. Yawned. Padded over to Hal. Mewed.  
     Hal frowned. "I disagree…Gally, you've got to—"  
     Hal trailed a hand through his hair, pondering everything Gally had just said.

The Bottom Line: 
     I really didn’t know what to make of this novel, which starts out as a simple superhero spoof but then becomes something slightly more. At first, I thought that Hal was a simple-minded buffoon who couldn’t possibly carry the weight of the entire plot, but then he turned out to be quite a smart guy and an effective fighter who dispatched enemies left and right with his trusty catch pole. I kept trying to quit reading, but I couldn’t stop, mainly because I was enjoying the sardonic verbal jousting among the characters and I wanted to see if Hal and Desdemona ever got together—not because I cared much about the action part of the plot. 

    If you’re looking for a humorous urban fantasy to cheer up the dreary monotony of a wintry day, this book is a good choice. It would also be a great beach read. I doubt, though, that Hal and his buddies could withstand the pressure of a series. It's probably best that this remains a single, humorous stand-alone. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

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