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Saturday, July 30, 2016


Author:  Faith Hunter
Series:  SOULWOOD (set in JANE YELLOWROCK world)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles:  Roc
          Blood of the Earth (8/2016)
          Curse on the Land (11/2016)
          Flame in the Dark (12/2017)

This post was revised and updated on 12/31/2017 to include a review of Flame in the Dark, the third (and possibly FINAL) novel in the series. That review appears first followed by an overview of the series world-building and a review of the first two novels.

                         NOVEL 3:  Flame in the Dark                         
     Nell Ingram has always known she was different. Since she was a child, she’s been able to feel and channel ancient powers from deep within the earth. When she met Jane Yellowrock, her entire life changed, and she was recruited into PsyLED—the Homeland Security division that polices paranormals. But now her newly formed unit is about to take on its toughest case yet.

     A powerful senator barely survives an assassination attempt that leaves many others dead—and the house he was visiting burns to the ground. Invisible to security cameras, the assassin literally disappears, and Nell’s team is called in. As they track a killer they know is more—or less—than human, they unravel a web of dark intrigue and malevolent motives that tests them to their limits and beyond

     The way that Hunter ties up most of the loose ends in this novel makes me think that it is the final one, but she does leave several threads dangling, so perhaps I'm wrong. 

     Unlike the previous novel, Nell focuses her energy on one primary problem: that someone is attacking members of the prominent Tolliver family, which includes Senator Abrams Tolliver, his brother, Justin, and their wives and young children. The Tollivers have deep roots and heavy influence within the political, social, economic, and cultural life of Knoxville. After firing an automatic weapon indiscriminately into several social gatherings at which the Tollivers are present, the shooter sets each place on fire. The team gets jerked from one fiery, blood-soaked crime scene to another as they try to figure out who wants the family wiped out and why. Is it just one perpetrator, or is it a gang? How is the shooter picking his/her targets? Why does the shooter appear as just a blur on security cameras? What is that strange metallic, chemical odor left behind at each crime scene? Who will gain from these attacks?

     I don't want to say much more about the plot because its effectiveness depends on the reader's surprise at the answers to the above questions. I will just say that by the end of the book, the team will encounter a new supernatural species they thought was extinct, or even mythological. At first, I thought that this plot line was going to work well. It has plenty of compelling, life-and-death action, and the police procedural process is laid out nicely. But at the big "reveal" moment when we learn the identities of the villains and why they did what they did, the explanation for their actions didn't ring true for me at all. Why cause all of this public violence and destruction—not to mention the deaths of so many innocents—when their goals could have been achieved in a stealthy, behind-the-scenes manner that would not have attracted four branches of law enforcement: local police, state police, FBI, and PsyLED?

     Meanwhile, there are several other thin story threads:
> Nell's sister, Mindy (aka Mud), who has the same earth-based supernatural abilities as Nell, has had her first period and is now considered by the church to be a woman of marriageable age. Nell is determined that Mud will not get pulled into an arranged marriage, and she is equally determined that she will train Mud to deal with her earthy talents so that Mud won't make the same mistakes that Nell did. This story line is partially resolved, but I wouldn't be surprised if Hunter put Mud in the starring role in a future novel.
During the investigation, Nell realizes that one of the probationary FBI agents is actually a non-Church cousin of hers: "Chadworth Sanders Hamilton, his father's second son from his second wife, named for his mother's grandfathers. And my third cousin, by way of Maude Nicholson, my grandmother. My distant cousin from the townie side of the family." Hamilton turns out to be an arrogant, intolerant, supernatural-hating jerk, but other than that, this story line goes nowhere. 
And finally, the love story between Nell and Occam. In the second novel, Occam told Nell that he wanted to take her out to dinner, but since then, he has avoided the subject. Nell isn't sure what to think. She is afraid of committing to a relationship with a manno matter how much her body tells her that Occam is "the one." To make the situation more complex, Nell's mother traps her into meeting Ben Aden, a handsome, college-educated  Church man in search of a wife. Mom hopes that Nell will marry Ben and come back home. Nell is torn between the safety of the devil you know (Ben and the Church) and the pleasurable risks of the devil you don't know (that would be sexy Occam). This is kind of a lame story line because we all know whom Nell is going to choose. Also, all of her dithering about the possibility of returning to the safe embrace of the Church just doesn't ring true. Now that she carries a law enforcement badge, lives in a house with Wi-Fi, has a circle of loyal friends (all non-Church), and gorges daily on every known type of fast food, can Nell really go back to the patriarchal, parsimonious, primitive life of a Church woman? 
In one final, brief story line, Hunter satisfactorily resolves Nell's situation regarding Brother Ephraim and the vampire tree on the Church's property (both of which are important parts of the plot of the previous novel).
     The end of the book has a shocking twist that I didn't see coming. It threw me off balance for a moment until I realized Hunter's plans for the ending. That twist is over-the-top woo-woo (and that's saying a lot because Nell's super-powers are very bizarre on their own). 

     This novel is definitely an improvement on Curse on the Land, but doesn't have quite the appeal of the first novel, Blood of the Earth. That is probably due to the fact that Jane Yellowrock herself was a major character in book one, and she is such a powerfully drawn character that she instantly brings star power to any story in which she appears. Nell's character, on the other hand, can't match Jane's charisma or depth.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Flame in the Dark 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 world of JANE YELLOWROCK is a place in which vampires, shape shifters, witches, and other supernatural entities live alongside humans, who are aware of their existence. Jane Yellowrock is a mercenary—a rogue vampire hunter for hire. She is a skinwalker with a Cherokee heritage and a mysterious origin. To learn more about the JANE YELLOWROCK world, click HERE to read "Who Is Jane Yellowrock?" on the Heroes and Heartbreakers blog or click HERE to go to a Jane Yellowrock wiki on the Urban Fantasy Wikia web site. Click HERE to go to my web page on the JANE YELLOWROCK SERIES.

     The heroine of the SOULWOOD SERIES is Nell Nicholson Ingram, a mostly human 24-year-old woman who lives alone on her late husband's forested property outside Knoxville, Tennessee. Nell met Jane in "Off the Grid" (in Hunter's Blood in Her Veins story collection) when Jane requested her help in rescuing a vampire from the clutches of God's Cloud of Glory Church, a religious cult in which Nell was born and raised, but has long since denounced. God's Cloud is a patriarchal, polygamous group that adheres rigidly to societal rules in which women wear long skirts, bear many children, and leave the running of religious, social, and financial affairs to the men. It's a place where the church leader has the power to order unmarried women to become wives or concubines and where arranged marriages of young teenage girls are the rule. 

     When Nell was just twelve years old, the church's former leader demanded that she marry him. Nell publicly refused and instead became the second wife of John Nicholson, whose first wife (Leah) was dying of cancer. When Leah died, Nell and John married in a legal, civil ceremony and he left her his land in his will when he died three years ago—a nasty surprise to the church, which had assumed that the land—called Soulwood—would be theirs. Since then, the churchmen have been trying to get the land from her through threats and violence. Many of them believe that she is a witch and want to burn her at the stake according to church law. Ever since Nell and John and Leah left the church at the time Nell joined them, Nell has had little contact with her parents and siblings. As the series begins, Nell is all alone. The churchmen have even killed her three dogs. She has guns hidden all over her house and garden, but she's pretty sure that some day soon she won't be able to fend them off.

     Nell knows that she has "powers," but she isn't sure exactly what she is or how her powers work. Eight years ago, she killed a man who tried to molest her and "fed" him to the earth on her farm, which sucked in all of his blood and bones, leaving only an oily smear on the surface of the ground. "I had fed him to the forest. I hadn't even known for sure who he was. I still didn't know. But that was my secret, never shared, not with anyone." Nell can feel the land's reactions to visitors, so she always knows if someone is on or near her land and if they are friends or enemies. Jane Yellowrock tells Nell that her magic is "similar to the Cherokee Yinehi," who are like the fairies in European folklore. In "Off the Grid," Jane muses about Nell: “Her magic was peculiar, but it clearly had a spatial net of sensory awareness, an ability to tell when she was being studied or hunted. My beast had the same awareness...The word came to me slowly, the Tsalagi syllables sounding in my mind, whispery and slow. Yi-ne-hi. Or maybe yv-wi tsv-di. Or a-ma-yi-ne-hi. Fairies, dwarves, the little people, or in her case, maybe wood nymphs would be closer. Mixed with human. Mostly human. Fairies in Cherokee folklore weren’t evil, just private and elusive, and sometimes tricksters, but this girl didn’t look tricky. Just wary. But the magic was woodsy, like the fey, the little folk. In American tribal lore, only the Cherokee had fairies and little people, possibly from the British who intermarried among them for so many centuries.” (Click HERE to read the entire scene in which Jane first meets Nell.) By the end of “Off the Grid," Jane has shoved Nell out of the shadows of her reclusive life into new adventures that begin in Blood of the Earth

     In the first novel, Nell explains that her magic "could help seeds sprout, make plants grow stronger, heal them when they got sick and tried to die off." She also knows that if a person spills blood on Soulwood land, Nell can kill them: "All I needed was one drop of...blood and I could take his life. It was my best protection; it was my magic and the magic of my land." She knows that "if they bled onto my land, they were mine." She keeps this part of her magic secret from everyone and tries not to think too much about it herself.

                         NOVEL 1:  Blood of the Earth                         
     Set in the same world as the New York Times bestselling JANE YELLOWROCK novels, an all-new series starring Nell Ingram, who wields powers as old as the earth. 

     When Nell Ingram met skinwalker Jane Yellowrock, she was almost alone in the world, exiled by both choice and fear from the cult she was raised in, defending herself with the magic she drew from her deep connection to the forest that surrounds her. 

    Now, Jane has referred Nell to PsyLED, a Homeland Security agency policing paranormals, and agent Rick LaFleur has shown up at Nell’s doorstep. His appearance forces her out of her isolated life into an investigation that leads to the vampire Blood Master of Nashville. 

     Nell has a team—and a mission. But to find the Master’s kidnapped vassal, Nell and the PsyLED team will be forced to go deep into the heart of the very cult Nell fears, infiltrating the cult and a humans-only terrorist group before time runs out.


    In the opening scene, Rick LaFleur and his werecat mate, Paka, arrive at Soulwood to request Nell's assistance on a case. After Jane met Nell and recognized her powers, she described Nell to Rick and suggested that she would make a good PsyLED agent. PsyLED is the shortened name for the Psychometry Law Enforcement Division of Homeland Security, and it deals with all crimes involving magic. Rick became a werecat through a bite, but Paka was born a werecat. To be completely accurate, they are actually African black were-leopards.

     Rick wants to hire Nell as a consultant to PsyLED on a single case involving the God's Cloud church. Depending on how that works out, he might hire her on as an agent. But first, he has to convince Nell to help him out.

A Grindelow

     The case involves a group called the Human Speakers of Truth, a terrorist, anti-anyone-nonhuman, militant group that is on the run from the federal authorities. After the Speakers were tracked to Knoxville, they disappeared, and Rick believes that the Church is hiding them. That makes sense to Nell because both groups are ultra-right wing paranormal haters with legal and financial problems. After Nell sends Rick and Paka away without an answer, three churchmen attack her with gunfire. Just as she is about to give up hope, Paka arrives in leopard form followed by Rick with his own gun, and they basically save her life. They are accompanied by Pea, who is a grindelow—a small, neon-green, cat-like creature with long steel claws and sharp teeth that serves as an enforcer of were law by keeping weres from spreading the were-taint or killing humans. At this point, Nell agrees to help Rick with the case.

     Then, Rick sends a team of newly trained PsyLED agents to stay with Nell, both for her protection and for her to help them with the case. She soon makes friends with all of them, some more than others. The early stages of a love interest appear to be developing between Nell and Occam, a handsome, blond were-leopard with a Texas drawl. Another male team member also becomes Nell's friend: an empath named Tandy who promptly falls in love with Soulwood and its magic.

     The plot moves in a meandering manner as Nell and her PsyLED allies follow one lead after another as they try to figure out whether four local kidnappings of young women are related, whether the Speakers are the perpetrators, and how the Church is involved with the Speakers. Meanwhile, Nell is forced to make contact with some of her family members to ask pertinent questions about the case, and during this process she learns some shocking information about her own personal history. As the case progresses, Nell becomes increasingly comfortable working with her PsyLED comrades, which surprises her because she has always preferred to be alone on her land with no contact with any other people. She also begins to test the limits of her magic.

     As usual, Faith Hunter tells a great story, but I do have two minor nits to pick. First, Nell is just too good to be true—too kind, too thoughtful, too well educated (by reading books from the local public library)—basically too flawless in every way. She cooks like a dream, keeps her primitive home spotless, shoots all kinds of guns with great accuracy, and is the perfect hostess—all in a house with limited electricity and no running water. Unfortunately, a perfect heroine is not nearly as interesting as a flawed heroine. The second problem has to do with the distance between Soulwood and the Church lands. Soulwood has no cellphone service, but the Church does, even though the Church settlement is within walking distance of Nell's house. It seems to me that a cellphone tower that services the Church would also serve Soulwood. Also, Nell has access to Wi-Fi as long as her generator is operating. How can she have Wi-Fi but not cellphone service? It may seem that I'm making a big deal out of nothing, but actually, the lack of cellphone service at Nell's house becomes critical at several points in the story.

     Putting aside these minor problems, this is the beginning of a great series. In this book Nell begins to blossom, emerging from her solitary existence and entering a world full of support and friendship among her PsyLED teammates. Although the plot is dark and violent, there are moments of humor, particularly when the PsyLED agents listen to Nell's hill-country accent and underestimate her intelligence. When she demonstrates her top-of-the-line powers of deductive reasoning, they discover that her intellectual abilities are right up there with Sherlock Holmes. Nell even learns to laugh, something she hasn't done in many months. 

     This book could be read as a stand-alone, but it's better if you have some background on the JANE YELLOWROCK world. For example, Nell notices the strained relationship between Rick and Paka and makes some deductions and assumptions about the cause, but if you have read the JANE books, you'll already know what the problem is. Give this series a try; you won't be sorry.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Blood of the Earth 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.

                         NOVEL 2:  
Curse on the Land                         
     Before Nell Ingram met skinwalker Jane Yellowrock, she had no one to rely on, finding strength only in her arcane connection to the dark woods around her. But now she has friends in the newly formed PsyLED team to keep her grounded—even if being part of the agency responsible for policing paranormals comes with dangers of its own....

     After completing her training at the PsyLED academy, Nell returns home to her woods to find the land feeling sick and restless. And that sickness is spreading. With the help of her team, under the leadership of agent Rick LaFleur, Nell tries to determine the cause. But nothing can prepare them for the evil that awaits: an entity that feeds on death itself. And it wants more…

     This novel encompasses just one week in time, but there is a lot of action packed into those seven days. As the first chapter begins, Nell is driving home after completing her training at the PsyLED academy, otherwise known as Spook School. Nell is now a probationary special agent with a badge and all of the weapons and special equipment she needs to handle her new duties. Even after undergoing extensive testing by the paranormal branch of law enforcement, no one can figure out exactly what she is, so she is classified as "nonhuman, paranormal, undifferentiated" because she doesn't fit into the most common categories. Although just a few day pass before the novel ends, lots of things change in Nell's personal life and within Unit Eighteen, her PsyLED team. 

Speaking of Unit Eighteen, here is a list of the team members:
Rick La Fleur is the head of the team. He used to be Jane Yellowrock's boyfriend, but due to a series of tragic events he is magically (and unhappily) bonded to Paka, a black wereleopard from Gabon in Central Africa.
Soul is the assistant director of PsyLED and Rick's immediate superior. Although she usually appears only in human form and keeps her supernatural identity a deep secret, Nell and Occam accidentally learned that she is a rainbow dragonan Arcenciela beautiful and ferocious shape-shifting creature made of light. 
Josephine Anna Jones (aka Jo Jo) is Rick's second in command. She is a tech specialist who can hack into any computer network, even those that belong to the government.
Tammie Laine Kent (aka T. Laine, aka Lainie) is a moon witch who is exceptionally powerful during the days surrounding the full moon.
Thom Andrew Dyson (aka Tandy) is an empath who used to be very shy, but who is now speaking up and becoming friendlier. He empathic abilitiies were activated when he was struck by lightning three times. The lightning marked him with reddish collored Lichtenberg lines that cover his face and upper body.
Occam is a golden, spotted wereleopard who REALLY likes Nell. (He always calls her "Nell, sugar," which still makes her uncomfortable.)
The primary plot begins with a possible magical event that is causing geese on a local pond to swim in circles until they die. In addition, Hunter intermixes several subplots and story threads. Here is a brief summary of the plot set-up:
> In the main plot, Nell and her team try to figure out what is causing the increasingly alarming events that have hit Knoxville. More animals behave strangely and then die. People begin doing the strange circular walking and then become psychotic. Black slime mold begins to grow wherever such events have occurred. Eventually, Nell's research uncovers a connection with events that took place nearly 80 years ago in Nazi Germany. This extremely complicated story line is resolved, although it gets so dense at times that I had to go back and re-read several sections just to refresh my memories on names and events, both past and present.
> In the most important secondary plot line, Nell's land (Soulwood) has been contaminated by the black and angry spirit of Brother Ephraim, who Nell fed to the land after Paka the werecat killed him in book 1. Now, his spirit is sending out tendrils of evil energy that cause a poisonous, thorny tree to grow on Nell's land. The tendrils also cause the oak tree on the Church's land to morph into a vampire tree that eats small animals (and earthmovers) and attacks people. This story line is partially resolved.
> Then, there is the ongoing story line about Rick and his inability to shift. The novel is set during the week of the full moon, during which Rick tries very hard to shift into his werecat form, with disastrous results. In the process, an unimaginable betrayal is revealed, one that draws Nell directly into Rick's dire situation. This story line is partially resolved.
> Nell's father has become quite ill and refuses to seek medical aid. Nell and her family must try to get him to see reason. This story line is unresolved. 
> And then there's the love story, as Occam, the sexy golden leopard shifter, makes his romantic intentions toward Nell pretty clear. Nell, however, isn't quite sure how to react. Her strict Church upbringing pulls her one way, but her body's reaction to Occam tells her something quite different. 
      This story has a strong and mysterious beginning, but it soon devolves into impenetrable dumps of techno-babble that explain and re-explain an overload of pseudo-scientific data and technology. These paragraphs are so dense (and repetitive) that they slow down and sometimes bury the main plot. And don't get me started on the avalanche of acronyms. Here are the ones that appear in a single paragraph: PsyCSI, POVs, DOD, 3PEs, COD, TOD, and ID.

     Additionally, Hunter has inserted many, many details that should have been pruned by an alert editor, particularly the repetitive descriptions of Nell's housekeeping tasks, her daily food preparation, and her constant changing into one-after-another "unis" (i.e., haz-mat coveralls) at every crime scene. Sometimes she changes her uni half a dozen times at just one crime scene—and we get to hear about them all. Why? 

     The team members—particularly Nell—ricochet from one crisis to another, seemingly with no real plan in place to handle the case. When Rick's shifting situation goes south, this bouncing around gets even worse because by then, no one person is really in charge. 

     Most of the responsibility for solving the primary conflict—the walking in circles and the black slime—falls to Nell, who is constantly forced to shove her hands into the earth and "read" what's going on deep down below. (Uh-oh...that's where the Old Ones live.) By the end of the book, Nell has a deeper understanding of her powers and a better grasp on just what is going on with Brother Ephraim's evil spirit, but Rick is still in trouble, and Nell's father continues to be stubborn and difficult.

     One other problem I have with this book is that we really don't get a deep dive into Nell's transition from "widder-woman" to special agent. In the first book, she was living under primitive conditions and eating off the land. Now, all of a sudden, she's up to her ears in modern technology, scarfing down fast food like there's no tomorrow, and enjoying all the comforts of modern American life. Yet, she never really spends any time musing about the emotional effect these monumental life changes are having on her. It's as if she just goes from being "primitive girl" in book one to "modern girl" in book two with no inner conflicts at all. Remember, Nell was raised in an anti-technology, patriarchal religious cult under rigid rules regarding male-female relationships and—particularly—the submissive role of females. But now, she is a member of a team that gives men and women equal respect and responsibility. Also, she is (apparently) on her way to beginning a romantic relationship with Occam. Surely these huge life changes should have triggered some introspection for Nell. Instead, we get a few random "oh well" thoughts from Nell about how her mother would react to her new life, and that's the end of it. At one point, she even lies to her mother, which you'd think would trigger a flood of guilt, but that's not the case at all. Nell just thinks that in the end, it's  sometimes "a lot easier to lie...than to try to explain the truth. That must be why lying is such a common sin. It's successful and makes life easier." All of this means that angst-free Nell has become much more shallow than she was in book one, and that's definitely not a good thing.

     Although I enjoyed parts of this novel, I kept thinking that Hunter had jammed too many story lines and too much repetitive information into one book to the detriment of the main plot, which is already quite complex with its long and frequent pseudo-scientific techno-speak dumps. Why introduce Nell's father's illness? It's not resolved and has absolutely no connection with any of the other story lines, so why not save it for the next book? If I were giving this novel a grade, it would have to be a "C."

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Author:  Christine Feehan 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4.5; Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  Jove
          Shadow Rider (6/2016)
          Shadow Reaper (6/2017)

I have revised and updated this ongoing post to include a review of the second novel, Shadow Reaper. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.

                      NOVEL 2: Shadow Reaper                    
     Billionaire playboy Ricco Ferraro knows no other life. Being a shadow rider is in his blood—but so is a haunting desperation stemming from the secrets of his dark past. His recklessness puts not only his life at risk, but also the future of his entire family. To save them all, he must find a woman who can meet his every desire with a heat all her own.

          Just when Ricco has given up hope, he meets her—a mysterious woman whose shadow connects with his. She’s someone looking for a safe haven from the danger that has stalke her over the last several months. In Ricco’s embrace, she finds one. But the darkness in which they so often find sanctuary can also consume them. 

     In typical Feehan fashion, she constructs the plot around the romance, with the first two-thirds of the book featuring scene after scene of simmering foreplay and the final third culminating in a lengthy consummation scene followed by more graphic bedroom athletics. Threading through this sexual montage is a story line that reaches back to a time in Japan when Rico was a teenager and Mariko Majo was just a toddler. Rico was in a shadow-rider training program, and his initial introduction to Mariko came under horrendous circumstances that have haunted them both ever since. As the truth of that encounter comes out, we get wave upon wave of angst-filled interior monologues as both characters deal with the emotional fallout that has tormented them for so long. (I can't tell you any more than that because I don't want to give away any spoilers.)

     Unfortunately, Feehan indulges in her bad habit of repetition: endlessly repeatingsometimes word for wordthe horrifying scenes from Marika's childhood and the gruesome details of the scene in which she and Rico first met. Also repetitious are the many foreplay scenes between Rico and Mariko. Without all of that unnecessary repetition, this book would have 350 pages rather than 400. 

A very tame example
of a shibari rope pattern
     Rico, a dark and brooding man, tamps down his ever-present angst, rage, and frustration by indulging in shibari, a Japanese bondage technique in which the rope master (dominant) ties up the submissive using decorative patterns. In another instance of unnecessary repetition, Feehan tells usnot once but MANY times and in the same wordsthat the rope "was always there, an extension of him." Rico initially hires Mariko to be his shibari model, but they both realize immediately that they are soul mates. Most of the repetitive foreplay scenes involve Rico tying up Mariko with silk rope in a series of intricate patterns that get more and more sensualeach accompanied by sexual touching, and (eventually and inevitably) deep, deep kisses and graphically portrayed consummation. Feehan is one of the best when it comes to writing sensual erotica, and she's at the top of her game in this novel.

     Meanwhile, someone is trying to kill Rico. First, someone sabotages his race car. Then someone runs him down with a truck. Finally, groups of heavily armed mercenaries go after all of the members of the Ferraro family. At that point, Rico spills his secrets about the terrible experiences he had in Japan and about the horrific secret he has been keeping for two decades. This story line is resolved in the inevitable showdown scene at the end of the book. The villain behind the war is relatively easy to identify well before Feehan reveals the true identity, but there is enough suspense to keep you turning the pages to be sure that you guessed correctly.

     Rico is yet another of Feehan's alpha heroes who constantly profess their respect for and admiration of women, but who absolutely dominate "their" women in every aspect of life. Although Mariko is a skilled, well-trained shadow rider, Rico over-protects her every chance he gets, and when it comes to the shibari and the sex, he is definitely in charge 100% of the time. Like his brother, Stefano, Rico has bedded innumerable women, but he promises Mario that "I don't bring women to this house. Ever. I've never had a woman in my bed. I don't sleep with them. Or want to hold them all night. I don't tie them here. I just created this hopes of finding you." Naturally, Mariko's reaction is to become convinced that Rico will never settle down with an inexperienced virgin like herself, thus adding another layer of angst to poor Mariko's life. 

     Feehan teases us with several hints of romances that are developing for other Ferraro siblings. It's fairly obvious that Taviano and Nicoletta will become a couple, as will Emmanuelle (Emme) and Val Saldi.

     The characters and story line are easily recognizable as typical Feehan creations, so if you enjoy alpha male domination and female submission, you'll probably enjoy the novel. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt on the novel's page by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Shadow Reaper 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. 

    The Ferraro family functions like the Cosa Nostra, with the eldest son of the family acting as the godfather. In addition to their public—legal—businesses (e.g., hotels, race cars), they serve as hit men who take contracts to target and eliminate bad guys who are beyond the law—those who manage to beat the justice system. For example, the first contract fulfillment we see in Shadow Rider is the snap-the-neck killing of a church-going, supposedly upstanding citizen who is actually a wife beater and child abuser and who also hires and tortures prostitutes.

     The five male siblings who run the Ferraro family are all gorgeous, charismatic men who are mobbed by the paparazzi as they mingle with the rich and the famous on the club circuit, posing as idle, rich playboys to make themselves seem harmless and to distract attention away from their undercover deeds. 
>Stefano: the eldest brother, carries the responsibility for his family's financial empire and for its death-dealing underworld jobs. He is the hero of The Shadow.
>Rico has the darkest nature and is "prone to violence and chance taking." To satisfy his sexual needs, he has turned to multiple sexual partners and to Shibara (Japanese rope bondage). Stefano views Rico as "a ticking time bomb" who is holding some very dark secrets. Rico is the hero of Shadow Reaper.
>Vittorio is a peacemaker with a savage core beneath his cool exterior.
>Giovanni is the most volatile, going from rational to raging in just seconds.
>Taviano is a gentle, kind guy who will probably be forming a romantic relationship with Nicoletta, a young woman he rescues from harm late in Shadow Rider.
>Emmanuelle (aka Emme) is the youngest sibling and the only sister. Although she participates in the Chicago club scene, her brothers are very protective about preventing the development any possible male relationships. In Shadow Rider, we learn that Emme has a frenemy-type history with Valentino Saldi, a member of a rival crime family.
     In the very first book, Feehan makes it clear that the brothers (but not their sister) follow "rules. Lots of rules" when it comes to the opposite sex: "They didn't romance women. They had their fun, made certain the women...had fun as well, but they didn't date. They didn't make promises. They never, never took advantage of a woman who didn't know the score or the game....The brothers were highly sexual and they had no compunction about finding women who were more than willing to see to those needs in return for the same, but there were never emotional entanglements." (from Shadow Rider)

     Also in Shadow Rider, we learn that Rico, Vittorio, Giovanni, and Taviano each spent a full year in different training facilities in Europe when they were in their late teens. Apparently, their trainers were cruel, unfeeling men who left indelible scars on the personalities of all four men. I'm sure that those emotional scars will be important factors that will complicate their love stories.

     And now for the paranormal part of this mythology: The Ferraro siblings (and their mother) are all shadow riders, which means that they have the ability to slide into shadow "tubes" and "ride" them from one place to another. This means that they complete most of their criminal activities at night. Here's how Stefano rides the shadows: "Stefano felt the pull of each of the shadow tubes. Openings he could slide through. The pull was strong on his body, dragging at him like powerful magnets, the sensation  uncomfortable, but familiar...Even small shadows drew him, pulling his body apart until he was streaming through light and dark to his destination." (from Shadow Rider) Click HERE and scroll down a bit to view the book trailer for Shadow Rider, which includes a shadow-riding scene that will give you a visual image of riding through the shadow tubes.

     The part of the shadow rider mythology that is most important to this series is the fact that rider children can only be born to rider women, and women riders are quite rare. Naturally, the Ferraro brothers are desperate to find rider women in order to keep their dynasty going. That means that when a male rider comes across a female rider, he has to quickly claim her (with sex, of course) and convince her to give up her life plans because she has to become part of the Ferraro family and begin having babies in order to establish the next generation of Ferraros. In Shadow Rider, Francesca has no idea that she is a rider. In fact, she knows nothing about shadow riding at all, and I assume that will be the case with some, and possibly all, of the females in this series.

                         NOVEL 1:  Shadow Rider                          
     Christine Feehan is back with a sexy new series starring a Chicago crime family that hides a dark, mystical secret. 

     Whether it’s fast cars or fast women, Stefano Ferraro gets what he wants. When he’s not fodder for the paparazzi, he commands Ferraro family businesses, both legitimate and illegitimate. 

     While their criminal activity is simply s rumor yet to be proven, no one outside the family knows the real truth. The Ferraros are a family of shadow riders capable of manipulating light and dark, an ability Stefano thought ran in his family alone until now. 

     With little left to her name, Francesca Cappello has come to Chicago in hopes of a new life. She wasn’t expecting to attract the attention of a man with primal hunger in his eyes, driven to claim her as his to protect and to please. And if he discovers her secret, it could ruin her.

    This book contains the usual expositional information that is necessary for all books that begin a new series. Feehan has to introduce the heroine and the members of the Ferraro family in addition to explaining the mythology of the shadow riders. She does this without too much info dumping, but she does include a LOT of repetition in her descriptions of the Ferraro men (frequently word for word)—their six-pack abs, their gorgeous musculature, their handsome faces, and their hard, dark, murderous life style that must be accepted completely by the woman they select as mates. 

     Much of the repetitive language focuses on the Ferraro males' deep need to protect woman. We get lots of statements like these: "He was a protective man. He had been born that way. Every rider was. The need to protect and control was bred into every single one of them. Those two traits were so ingrained in them, there was no getting either characteristic out. No getting around them." The men actually "control" more than they "protect." In fact, they are total control freaks when it comes to women, accepting no refusals of their demands and no arguments whatsoever. Unfortunately, this makes them come across as misogynistic jerks of the highest order, and it makes their women—in this case, Francesca—come across as weak, dependent dimwits. 

     The romance plot begins with Stefano's love-at-first-sight moment when he first encounters Francesca, who has come to Chicago in search of safety and security. She is on the run from a nasty villain and is completely penniless, with no possessions whatsoever except for the thrift-store clothes on her back. Regardless of her own desperate situation, she gives away her winter coat (also from a thrift store) to a homeless woman, so when Stefano sees her shivering in her thin shirt and her ragged jeans, he insists that she put on his cashmere coat. He also fills the coat pocket with money so that she can buy proper shoes and other clothing. Stefano comes across as one of Feehan's typical über-alpha males—an arrogant rich guy who always gets what he wants—so when Francesca makes a few weak attempts at sarcasm and refuses (for a minute) to accept the coat, he is intrigued, but overrides her objections without a second thought. Stefano continues his rude, crude, demanding, arrogant behavior throughout the book.

     The Ferraros have absolute rule over their section of Chicago's Little Italy, where everyone knows them, respects them, and fears them. So when Stefano singles out Francesca for his attentions, her social status immediately goes way up, particularly after he publicly claims her as "mine."

     Francesca has mixed feelings about her encounter with Stefano. She appreciates the warm coat, but her pride won't let her accept charity and her morals won't let her accept the fact that he might be helping her out in exchange for future "favors." The road to their eventual HEA is semi-rough as Francesca struggles with her nightmares about her horrific past, her overwhelming sexual attraction to Stefano, and her need to be an independent woman. Naturally, the sexual attraction quickly wins out over the need for independence, as is usual in Feehan's books.

     Percolating in the background are some action-based story lines, the most important of which deals with the reason that Francesca is on the run. These plot threads are dealt with relatively quickly once they make their way to the surface, each resulting in a bit of pain and suffering for the heroine (just enough to give Stefano the chance to heroically shadow in to rescue her).

     This is a typical Feehan novel: the dangerous, conflicted alpha bully-hero who both protects and dominates women; the helpless, submissive heroine who claims to want independence but loves to be dominated (and rescued); and the good-old-boy male womanizers who would never treat their sister like they treat their one-night-stand women. This book follows Feehan's trend of increasing darkness both in the behavior of the male characters and in aspects of the plot, with brutal murders that are immediately forgotten and lots of glowering men (all Italian Americans) who strut around their turf like lords of the manor. No one with whom they come in contact has any doubt that it's their way or the highway (i.e., serious injury or death). All the while, though, Feehan keeps up her commentary about how much they love and respect "their" women. 

     The sexual scenes between Stefano and Francesca are not at all romantic. Although Francesca is just one unfortunate experience away from being a virgin, Stefano turns their first joining into a prolonged weekend of rough sex and bondage. Stefano admits to having had sex with thousands of woman, but, implausibly, he promises Francesca that she is the only one he has tied up because "they didn't belong to me. You belong to me." Feehan definitely includes some 50 Shades details in this book. For example, all of the Ferraro brothers dress in bespoke gray suits, gray shirts, and gray ties, supposedly to help them blend into the shadows. All of them are oversexed and several are into bondage. And the very first time Stefano ties Francesca's hands together, he uses one of those gray ties.'s kind of derivative.

     If you are a fan of Feehan's male-dominant paranormal romances, you won't be disappointed in this novel, but if you are looking for a truly independent, free-thinking heroine and a reasonably romantic hero, this isn't the book for you. Click HERE to read or listen to an except from Shadow Rider on the novel's page by clicking either on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.