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AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

UPDATE! Chloe Neill: CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Chloe Neill's CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES SERIES by adding a review of Blade Bound, the thirteenth (and FINAL) novel in the series. 

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

UPDATE! Christine Feehan: Sea Haven (SISTERS OF THE HEART)

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Christine Feehan's SEA HAVEN/SISTERS OF THE HEART SERIES by adding a review of Bound Together, the sixth (and FINAL) novel in the series. 

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Caitlin R. Kiernan: "Agents of Dreamland"

Author:  Caitlin R. Kiernan
Series:  "Agents of Dreamland"
Plot Type:  Lovecraftian Horror Novella 
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality1; Humor—1  
Publisher and Titles:  Tor

                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                    
     A government special agent known only as the Signalman gets off a train on a stunningly hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. Later that day he meets a woman in a diner to exchange information about an event that happened a week earlier for which neither has an explanation, but which haunts the Signalman.

     In a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible―the Children of the Next Level―and offers them something to believe in and a chance for transcendence. The future is coming and they will help to usher it in.

     A day after the events at the ranch house which disturbed the Signalman so deeply that he and his government sought out help from ‘other’ sources, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA's interplanetary probe New Horizons. Something out beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact.

     And a woman floating outside of time looks to the future and the past for answers to what can save humanity.
   
                    MY REVIEW                      
    I came to this haunting novella with no history with the writings of either Kiernan or H.P. Lovecraft, but even so, I have to say that I fell right into this compelling story. Obviously, if I had more of a background in Lovecraftian fiction, I would have felt a deeper connection. As it stands, I fear that I cannot write a review that truly does justice to this terrific book. 

     Therefore, I am going to do something that I have never done before: I am going to send you off to two other reviewers, both of whom have a better grasp on the writings of both Kiernan and Lovecraft. So...click HERE to read Barry Lee Dejasu's masterful review in the New York Journal of Books. Click HERE to read N.K. Jemisin's succinct review, which appeared in the New York Times Book Review in an article entitled "The Best of New Sci-Fi and Fantasy." (It is the third review, midway down the page.)

     I do want to point out a few elements of narrative structure, which may take you a moment or two of adjustment as you read the novella. Dejasu compares the story to a jigsaw puzzle, and that's an apt metaphor becausechapter by chapterKiernan hands us pieces of the current action, brief references to essential historical information, and glimpses of the personal quirks of the three main characters. At first the story has an uneasy impressionistic feel, but as we begin to put together Kiernan's puzzle pieces, the horrific "big picture" emerges from the dark and haunting details. 

     The novella is closely tied to the real-life New Horizons space probe and to Lovecraft's short story, "The Whisperer in Darkness." Click HERE to read more about NASA's New Horizons flight to Pluto. Click HERE for the full text of Lovecraft's story.

     Speaking of Pluto, I agree completely with Dejasu's final analysis: "Agents of Dreamland" is an exquisitely haunting read, full of mesmerizing prose, unsettling images, and profoundly disturbing implications. And after reading this novella, one may never view that dwarf planet at the edge of our solar system the same way again."

     Even with my lack of depth with Kiernan and Lovecraft, I truly enjoyed this novella. Kiernan's ability to create a complete mythology and three fully developed characters in just 123 pages is proof of her mastery of her craft. As I read along, with a gradually dawning realization of the terror that will soon be faced by the people in this world, I couldn't help but think of The X-Files' Mulder and Skully, who also learned the hard way about the dangers of poking around in the mysteries of our solar system. In the end, Dejasu puts it best when he says that Kiernan's "scenes hint at the carnivorous cosmic doom that is slowly encroaching upon our world, and make for some of the darkest and most disturbing imagery this side of a post-apocalyptic tale." 

Friday, April 14, 2017

UPDATE! Anne Bishop: THE OTHERS SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Anne Bishop's THE OTHERS SERIES by adding a review of Etched in Bone, the fifth novel. 

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

UPDATE! Seanan McGuire: INCRYPTID SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Seanan McGuire's INCRYPTID SERIES by adding a review of Magic for Nothing, the sixth novel. 

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

UPDATE! Christine Feehan: LEOPARD SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Christine Feehan's LEOPARD SERIES by adding a review of Leopard's Fury, the eighth novel. 

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

NEW SERIES from Barb & J.C. Hendee: THE DEAD SEEKERS

Author:  Barb & J.C. Hendee
Series:  THE DEAD SEEKERS
Plot Type:  High/Dark Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—1   
Publisher and Titles:  Ace
          The Dead Seekers (1/2017

                         WORLD-BUILDING                          
     The authors have posted the following note on their web site: 
"The Dead Seekers is set in the same world as THE NOBLE DEAD SAGA and THE MIST-TORN WITCHES (by Barb), BUT its plots are entirely separate from our other works; you do not need to have read any of our other novels or shorter works to jump into this one at full speed."
     DEAD SEEKERS is set in an imaginary medieval world, a feudal society in which the nobility wields most of the power and owns most of the land while ordinary citizens either work the land or provide services (e.g., baker, blacksmith, healer) in villages. Magic and supernatural beings abound. For example, in THE NOBLE DEAD saga, vampires are the featured supernatural villains. In the first book of THE DEAD SEEKERS series, there are no vampires. Instead the magical elements consist mostly of the spirits of the dead and those who can control them. Shape shifting, alchemy, and magically-infused objects are also important to the series.

     The series hero is Tris Vishal, who is called a Dead's Man because he can magically control the spirits of the dead that roam the earth. He makes a living using his magical talent to send errant ghostly spirits through a portal to where they were supposed to have gone when their physical bodies died. Although families and villages hire him to rid themselves of malevolent ghosts, they also fear him. Some people—the ones who don't believe in magic—call him a fraud. So basically, Tris is always an outsider, always a loner. He is really the son of a noble family, but he hides his true identity for a number of reasons that are revealed in the first novel.

     The heroine is Mari Kaleja, who is one of the Móndyalítko, "a communal people who traveled in extended family groups," or what we might call Romani or gypsies. When Mari was a child, her family died horribly in a ghostly attack in a haunted forest: "Mama cried out in pain as something white that resembled a hand came through her chest...There were glimmers like white wisps in the night among the trees. Shapes that moved, walked, and seemed to fly. One glimmering wisp slipped right through an oak...It was a woman, white like chalk dust in water. A darkness flickered by in the woman's passing...That pure black shape was like the silhouette of a slender boy...It was nothing but pure blackness. No eyes, no white teeth in a mouth, nothing at all but black deeper than night...Papa came stumbling through the black thing, losing his grip on the ax...A black hand sprouted through his face...He flopped face-first on the wet ground and didn't move." Mari is the sole survivor of the attack. After being shunted from one Móndyalítko family to another, Mari struck out on her own with a single goal: to find and kill the black silhouette-boy who controlled the murderous spirits who killed her family. There is one more thing you need to know about Mari: She is a shape shifter (aka yai-morchi, or "two fleshed") who can take the form of a huge lynx.

                         NOVEL 1:  The Dead Seekers                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     In the New York Times bestselling NOBLE DEAD saga, Barb and J.C. Hendee created an engrossing mix of “intrigue, epic fantasy, and horror.” Now, they present a bold new series set in the same world, where the destinies of two hunters shaped by the shadows of their pasts are about to collide. 

     In the dark reaches of the eastern continent, Tris Vishal travels from village to village, using his power to put unsettled spirits to rest. He works alone, having learned that letting people close only leads to more death. Still, he finds himself accepting the help of the Móndyalítko woman who saves his life—a woman whose gifts are as much a burden as his own.

     Mari Kaleja thirsted for vengeance since the night her family was taken from her. She has searched far and wide for the one she thinks responsible, known only as “The Dead’s Man.” But before she can kill him, she has to be sure. Mari hopes traveling with Tris will confirm her suspicions. But as they embark on a hunt where the living are just as dangerous as the dead, she learns the risks of keeping your enemy close...Because it’s no longer clear who is predator and who is prey. 

MY REVIEW: 
    As the first book opens, we are immersed in two very personal, life-shaping events: the circumstances of Tris's strange death/birth and Mari's witnessing of the murder of her family by "the black silhouette...who seemed to command white flying spirits." The action then skips a decade or so as Mari finally tracks down the infamous "Dead's Man," who, she believes, is responsible for her parents' horrific deaths. She has tracked him to an herbalist's shop in a small village where she plans to kill himjust as soon as she verifies that this is indeed her true prey.

     There are two types of "action" in this novel: the emotional action and the physical action. On the emotional side, Mari can't figure out just what Tris is and whether he is actually the murderer she initially thought he was. Meanwhile, Tris struggles with his burgeoning feelings for Mari and his need to keep her away from him because of the danger that comes with the spirits that haunt his lifeparticularly Black Tris.

     The physical action involves the dangers of Tris's banishing of the restless spirits that refuse to leave the earthly realm until they take revenge on specific humans who have somehow wronged them before their deaths. After banishing the spirit of a young woman, Tris and Mari travel to an army fortress to find the spirit that caused her death. That adventure takes up most of the novel, as Tris and Mari follow some clues that lead them down false paths (at first). Then they finally figure out what's really going on, and the countdown to the inevitable climactic showdown begins.

     Although the plot proceeds at a relatively moderate pace until the final chapters, this is absolutely necessary because we need to understand the past events that motivate, and sometimes hinder, the lead characters. The Hendees, as usual, do a fine job in developing both their lead characters and their supporting characters. In lesser hands, the soldiers might have blended into look-alike, cardboard cutouts, but that's not how the Hendees write. Each soldier who plays a role in the story line is a well-drawn individual with specific personality traits and physical features that set him apart from his compatriots. 

     Mari, who has been in vengeance mode for many years, takes a long time to fully understand who and what Tris is. Although you may think that she should "get it" long before she does, remember that Mari witnessed the murder of her beloved father and that she has dedicated her life to getting revenge. At first, she is 100% sure that Tris and the murderous black silhouette-boy are one and the same, but as she gets to know Tris and watches him in action, she begins to wonder if she could be wrong. She has never seen anyone like Tris before, and it takes her awhile to figure out that he's not the bad guy she thought he was. (Note: This last statement is not really a spoiler because their inevitable friendshipprobably romanceis never in doubt, not even during some of the dicier moments.)

     Tris also has some thinking to do about Mari. He has always stayed away from personal relationships (except for Heil, his mentor, who is a powerful alchemistand probably a sorcererwho can take care of himself). Tris tries to keep Mari at arm's length, but we can see that he is falling for her even though he doesn't act on his feelings.

     This is a strong start for a series that I will keep reading. Mari and Heil finally meet near the end of this book, and the friction between them foreshadows some interesting conflict in the next novel. Meanwhile, the situation with creepy Black Tris remains unresolved.  

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt on this novel's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art for print or on the "Listen" icon for audio.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

UPDATE! Patricia Briggs: MERCY THOMPSON SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Patricia Briggs's terrific MERCY THOMPSON SERIES by adding a review of Silence Fallen, the tenth novel.

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

UPDATE! Lisa Shearin SPI FILES SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Lisa Shearin's SPI FILES SERIES by adding a review of The Ghoul Vendetta, the fourth novel.

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Jeaniene Frost: BROKEN DESTINY TRILOGY

Author:  Jeaniene Frost
Series:  BROKEN DESTINY TRILOGY 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3-4; Humor—1   
Publisher and Titles:  Harlequin
          The Beautiful Ashes (8/2014)
          The Sweetest Burn (6/2017)
          The Brightest Embers (11/2017) (FINAL)

Somehow this first novel in Frost's newest series slipped past me back in 2014. Fortunately, it's not too late to start reading the series because the second and third novels are not due to be published until June and November of 2017.

This ongoing post includes an overview of the world-building followed by my review of the first novel, The Beautiful Ashes. That review is followed by the publisher's blurbs for the remaining two novels.

                         WORLD-BUILDING                         
     This world has no vampires or werewolves (at least not in the first novel), but it does have demons—lots of demons—who reside in a realm that parallels and mirrors the human realm on Earth. "Realms start out as duplicate reflections of our world, with everything we build here getting mirrored there...As reflections...They're not tangible yet. That only happens when demons get powerful enough to absorb an area. When they do, the place, along with everyone in it, gets sucked into a new realm in the demon world. So in effect, they swallow it. Then what's left in our world is an empty shell."

     Within the demon realm, there is a hierarchy of power and influence. At the top are the most powerful demons, each of whom has his or her own realm. Because demons can't tolerate being in the human realm for very long, they use willing humans, called minions, to do their dirty work on Earth, marking each one with their unique signatures. Although marked minions, unlike demons, can be killed, they are much stronger than humans. Demons use their minions to import humans into their realms for forced labor and sex.

     Ivy Jenkins, the series heroine is a rare human who can see the demon realm as "a dark, hazy double image" that appears over actual locations in the human realm. She can also see through all magical glamours. As Ivy puts it: "I saw things no one else did." Both of these abilities, along with several others, come from her supernatural genetic heritage. Unfortunately, Ivy has been told all her life that those abilities are symptoms of mental illness, and she has been medicated ever since she was a child.

     To balance out the bad demons, this world has the Archons (aka angels), who are supposed to be the good guys, but who seem to have their own agenda. Zacchaeus (aka Zach) is the Archon who serves as Adrian and Ivy's contact. His job is to give them orders, provide various types of assistance (if and when he decides it's appropriate), and rescue them when they are in grave demon danger.

     Adrian, Ivy's soul mate, is an Eric Northman clone (but superhuman, not vampire): tall, blond, handsome, muscular ("shoulders that could fill a door frame"), arrogant, and stubborn. Both Adrian and Ivy have magically super speed, and strength, along with a few handy magical fighting skills—all of which they have inherited from their separate ancestors.

                         NOVEL 1:  The Beautiful Ashes                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     Sometimes, falling in love really is the end of the world. Ivy has always seen things that she cannot explain. Strange things. Otherworldly things. But when her sister goes missing, Ivy discovers the truth is far worse. Her hallucinations are real, and her sister is imprisoned in a realm beyond Ivy's reach. The one person who can help her is the dangerously attractive rebel who's bound by an ancient legacy to betray her.

     The fate Adrian has fought to escape is herebut he never expected the burning need he feels for Ivy. With destiny on one side and desire on the other, Adrian must help Ivy search for the powerful relic that can save her sister. Yet he knows what Ivy doesn't: the truth about her own destiny, and a war that could destroy the world. Sooner or later, it will be Ivy on one side, Adrian on the other, and nothing but ashes in between.
   
MY REVIEW: 
    As the story begins, Ivy's sister, Jasmine, has disappeared and Ivy is searching for her. Just as she tracks Jasmine to her last known location, two men try to abduct her. As it turns out, one is a demon minion and one is Adrian. Adrian (of course) wins the contest and takes Ivy to meet Zach. Adrian and Zach explain that Ivy's "mental illness" is really a magical ability to see into the demon realm. They also inform Ivy that Jasmine is being held in the demon realm and that the only way to kill the demon kidnappers and rescue Jasmine is with an ancient weapon that only Ivy can find and wield. As Adrian explains, "To take down demons you need one of three weapons, and the second and third ones will probably kill you...Problem is, the first weapon is lost somewhere in one of the demon realms." Since Adrian can find and enter the portals to the demon realms (and Ivy can't), he must accompany her so that he can physically wrap himself around her and carry her through one portal after another until she can locate and retrieve the weapon. Once they find it, Ivy will have to use it to kill the demons and rescue Jasmine. 

     As the rest of the story plays out, Adrian and Ivy have a few lust-filled physical encounters, but mostly just long passionate kisses, always immediately followed by Adrian stalking wordlessly away with a huge scowl on his face—never explaining his behavior to Ivy. As it turns out, Ivy and Adrian's fates are spelled out in a prophecy that forces Adrian to try (unsuccessfully) to stay away from Ivy. But that prophecy doesn't keep them from falling head over heels for one another at first sight. (Big sigh...Yes, we have yet another insta-lust couple.) Also predictable (but, utterly unbelievable) is this: Ivy, who is 20 years old, constantly mentions that she has had a number of previous boyfriends, but just as she and Adrian are about to consummate their sexual relationship, she reveals that she is (WAIT FOR IT!)...a virgin! Jeaniene Frost, You've got to be kidding!

     Neither Adrian nor Zach bother to tell Ivy why Adrian keeps trying to stay away from Ivy, so she wallows through a number of angst-filled interior monologues during which she replays her unhappy childhood and wonders why Adrian seems to love and hate her—at the same time: "Why did he keep pulling away at the last minute? Was it the secret he thought was too terrible to reveal? He wasn't a demon or a minion, and he worked with an angel, so how bad could it be?" Adrian doesn't give Ivy the facts about the prophecy and their ancestry until about halfway through the book. He finishes his explanation with these words: "You're the light I can never have...and I'm the darkness you'll never succumb to." Yet, even after Ivy thinks she has all the facts, she really doesn't. In a subsequent scene, Zach and Adrian have a strange reaction to something that Ivy says, and Ivy muses, "Something significant had just happened, and as usual, I was the only one who didn't know what it was. Also per usual, none of them were going to tell me about it."

     I'm sorry to report that Ivy and Adrian are pale imitations of Cat and Bones, Frost's terrific lead characters from her NIGHT HUNTRESS SERIES. In that series, Cat is a fully developed, strong, independent woman, and Bones is her equal-status partner. But poor Ivy gets treated like a child. Both Adrian and Zach continually keep vital information from her. They tell her only what they think she needs to know to carry out her next mission, and they never explain the whole situation to her until nearly the end of the book. At one point, Ivy accidentally discovers that demons can't enter the human realm during daylight hours. In response, Adrian says, "Didn't I tell you that?" and Ivy responds, "No, you didn't...along with a lot of other things..." Ivy sums up the situation with Adrian like this: "He was danger wrapped in secrets tied with a bow of bad intentions, and it was totally unfair that no one had made me feel this way before."

    Frost's treatment of Ivy is probably the most disappointing part of the series for me, because she did such a great job creating Cat that when she fails to give us a strong, independent heroine, the reader can't help but feel let down. 

     Although the Jasmine/demon conflict is resolved, the book ends in a cliff hanger. Remember, there are three ancient weapons, so I assume that the next two novels will deal with situations in which Ivy must find and wield each one in order to save the world as we know it. She also has to figure out what to do about her convoluted relationship with Adrian.

     I was prepared to love this series based on the NIGHT HUNTRESS and NIGHT PRINCE novels, but (as I said previously), I was very disappointed by the manner in which Frost portrays Ivy. In addition to Ivy's poor treatment by her hero, the plot was predictable, and the primary villain, Demetrius, was a one-note bad guy with absolutely no depth whatsoever. I'll read the next novel in the hope that Frost will do a better job with her heroine and her plot, but if that doesn't pan out, I'll probably stop reading the series. 

     Click HERE to go to this novel's Amazon.com page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.

                    NOVEL 2: The Sweetest Burn                   
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     The second novel in Jeaniene Frost's BROKEN DESTINY SERIES finds Ivy and Adrian rekindling their alliance—and passion—as the struggle for the fate of the world begins.

     Conquering a supernatural realm turned out to be easier than getting over a broken heart. But her initial victory has made Ivy a target for revenge, forcing her to reunite with the dangerous—and dangerously sexy—Adrian. Ivy isn't sure which will be harder: finding the hallowed weapon that will repair the crumbling walls between the demon and human realms, or resisting Adrian, who's decided that come hell or high water, he will make Ivy his.

     At first, Adrian tried to resist his feelings for Ivy. Now, determined to break the curse that dooms their love, he's vowed to save her and to have her. If only he can persuade her to forgive his past sins. But defying destiny—and surrendering to the smoldering desire between them—will bring consequences and sacrifices they never imagined.

     Click HERE to go to this novel's Amazon.com page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.

                    NOVEL 3: The Brightest Embers                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     You can run from your destiny, but you can't hide. Ivy thought that she and Adrian had conquered their fates. Yet with thousands of innocents still trapped in the demon realms, she's determined to locate the final hallowed weapon and harness its unparalleled power to free them. But the last relic nearly put Ivy in the grave—there's probably no coming back from this one.

     Adrian's dark lineage has made him the most powerful of his kind, yet even his incredible abilities might not be enough now. Instead, the treacherous fate he has fought so hard to escape might be the only way he can save Ivy. Their scintillating bond has been tested before, but never with so much on the line. Now fate will come head-to-head against true love, and nothing they've endured can prepare Ivy and Adrian for the unthinkable choices they'll face.

     Click HERE to go to this novel's Amazon.com page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.