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Saturday, July 30, 2016

NEW SERIES! Faith Hunter: SOULWOOD SERIES

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)

                      WORLD-BUILDING                         
    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                         
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     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.

MY REVIEW:  

    In the opening scene, Rick LeFleur 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 Wifi as long as her generator is operating. How can she have Wifi 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 (11/1/2016)                    

PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
     Set in the same world as Faith Hunter’s New York Times bestselling JANE YELLOWROCK novels, the second SOULWOOD novel tells the story of a woman whose power comes from deep within the earth.

     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 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.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

NEW SERIES! Christine Feehan: THE SHADOW SERIES

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

                         WORLD-BUILDING                           
    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."
>>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 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 shadows 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, or all, of the females in this series.

                         NOVEL 1:  Shadow Rider                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     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.

MY REVIEW:  
    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 holey 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 he has never tied any of them up but her 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. So...it'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. To read or listen to an except from Shadow Rider, click HERE to go to the novel's Amazon.com and then click either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.