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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

UPDATE! Amanda Stevens: THE GRAVEYARD QUEEN SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing review post for Amanda Stevens's GRAVEYARD QUEEN SERIES by adding a review of The Awakening, the sixth—and FINALnovel in the series. 

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

NEW SERIES! Sara Humphreys: THE AMOVEO RISING SERIES

Author:  Sara Humphreys
Series:  THE AMOVEO RISING SERIES
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks Casablanca
     Novel 1: Undiscovered (3/2017)

                         WORLD-BUILDING                         

     This is a bridge series that connects Humphreys' AMOVEO LEGEND series with her upcoming DRAGON HEAT series. Here is a quotation from Undiscovered in which Humphreys succinctly summarizes the mythology of the Amoveo and their means of finding their mates: "The Amoveo, an ancient race of shape-shifters...found their mates in the dream realm. Once they connected there, they could find each other in the physical plane."  Finding their mates is very important to the Amoveo because if they don't mate before they reach the age of thirty, they lose their shape-shifting powers and their other supernatural talents and turn into non-magical humans. Throughout Humphreys' other two Amoveo series (AMOVEO LEGEND and DEAD IN THE CITY), everyone believed that there were only ten clans: Eagle, Falcon, Bear, Fox, Wolf, Coyote, Lion, TigerPanther, and Cheetah. But in this series we learn that long ago, there was an eleventh clan: the Dragons.

     As far as Zander knows, he and his brother are the last of the dragons. Half a century ago, the other members of the Dragon Clan were killed through the combined efforts of the other ten Amoveo clans and some fearful and angry humans. The Dragons were considered to be too large and too dangerous to live alongside humans, so the solution was to kill them. The only reason Zander and his brother escaped was that they were under a curse that protected them from death. 

     The Dragons have a few supernatural abilities that are different from the other Amoveo clans. For example, they derive power from the earth and from quartz crystals called spirit stones. Also, when they mate, they develop matching mate tattoos shaped like dragons. And one final difference: Dragons can hold their Dragon form only at night. As soon as the sun rises, they return to human form.

     Here, Zander Lorens (hero of Undiscovered) explains the mythology of the Dragon Clan: "My Clan is tied to quartz. According to legend, the first dragons were born of the earth eons ago. When the ground shook and volcanoes erupted as Mother Earth took shape, the first of our kind emerged from the flame and rock. We were expelled from the deepest recesses, the very heart and soul of the planet itself. The earth heals us, rejuvenates us, and, when necessary protects us."

     For an in-depth explanation of the Amoveo world, click HERE to go to my review of the AMOVEO LEGEND series—the original series. You might also wish to read my reviews of the DEAD IN THE CITY series, a spin-off that adds Manhattan vampires to the mix—click HERE to go to that post.


                         NOVEL 1:  Undiscovered                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     He’s the man of her dreams: Centuries ago, Zander Lorens was cursed to walk the earth stripped of his Dragon Clan powers. Every night, trapped in a recurring nightmare, Zander relives his darkest moment. He can hardly believe it when the dream changes and a beautiful young woman appears. Zander believes she’s the key to ending his torment. Finding her in the real world is one thing, but how will he convince her of who-and what-she really is?

     She’s the end to his nightmare: Rena McHale uses her unique sensitivity as a private investigator, touting herself as a “human divining rod” and finder of the lost. By day she struggles with sensory overload, and by night her sleep is haunted by a fiery dragon shifter. Nothing in her life makes sense, until the man from her dreams shows up at her door with a proposition…


MY REVIEW:  

     As the series opens, Zander has a fateful meeting in the dream realm: a meeting with his cursed brother (Zeb) and a beautiful woman named Rena. When Zander hears Zeb call out "Mine" when he sees Rena, he realizes that Rena must be Zeb's mate and that he can use her to break the witch's curse that has held Zeb in hibernation for 500 years.

     Here's the background on Zander and Zeb: They are identical dragon twins who were cursed by a witch after they fought over a young woman and accidentally killed her. Zander was cursed to live alone as the last dragon on Earth—an immortal who was not allowed to die. Zeb was put to sleep and encased in the quartz wall of a deep cave on the Amoveo property in Montana (although the Amoveo don't know about the existence of either the cave or the dragons). Meanwhile, Zander roams the world as a human, knowing that he will never again fly in his dragon form unless he can break the curse. And he has only days to do it.


     Rena is a private investigator in Las Vegas. She had the typical childhood of a paranormal romance heroine: desertion by her anonymous parents and then a long string of horrific foster homes. Rena has learned the hard way not to trust anyone but herself, so you know from the beginning that there will be lots of angst-filled interior monologues (for both characters). All her life, Rena has had psychometric powers. She can find anything and anyone just by touching something connected to them. Now, she learns that she is actually a hybrid Amoveo—a member of the Fox Clan.


     Although Rena is supposed to be Zeb's mate, she and Zander fall instantly in lust, and Zander spends the rest of the book alternating between passionate kisses and cold-shoulder episodes during which he hates himself for loving his brother's mate. You can see where this is going...right?


     As is true of all of the other hybrid Amoveo mates, Rena has not yet shifted into her Fox form, and she has to learn all about the Amoveo and their abilities from Zander as they travel on his Harley from Las Vegas to the Amoveo compound in Montana. During their trip, both Zander and Rena develop powers. Rena gets closer to her Fox and begins to have visions of both the past and the future, while Zander starts to show signs that his Dragon is reawakening.


     For awhile, I thought that there wouldn't be a villain in this story, but I was wrong. Humphreys signals the bad guy's identity early in the story, but leaves the big reveal for the inevitable showdown scene that resolves the conflict.


     This is a typical AMOVEO story, with angst-filled lovers, a rocky love story, erotic love scenes, and a one-dimensional villain. If you enjoyed the original series, you'll probably like this one as well. One odd difference is that Zander and Zeb aren't the über-alphas that we saw in the original series. You'd think that the big, bad dragons would be overwhelmingly alpha in their behavior, but Zander, in particular, is rather mild-mannered (but strong, courageous, and fearless, of course). At the end, Zeb mentions that there may be more dragons in Oklahoma, so I'm guessing that clan will be the focus of future books, beginning with Zeb's finding his true mate.


     Click HERE to read to an excerpt from Undiscovered on its Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art on that page. 


FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Undiscovered 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.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

UPDATE! Lora Leigh: BREEDS SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Lora Leigh's BREEDS SERIES by adding a review of Wake a Sleeping Tiger, the 31st novel in the series. 

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

UPDATE! Paige Tyler: X-OPS SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Paige Tyler's X-OPS SERIES by adding a review of Her True Match, the sixth novel. 

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

NEW NOVEL by Hari Kunzru: "White Tears"

Author:  Hari Kunzru
Series:  White Tears
Plot Type:  Very Dark Modern-Day Ghost Story (but much more than that) 
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality3; Humor—1  
Publisher and Titles:  Alfred A. Knopf

                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                    
     "An incisive meditation on race, privilege and music. Spanning decades, this novel brings alive the history of old-time blues and America’s racial conscience."—Rabeea Saleem, Chicago Review of Books

     White Tears is a ghost story, a terrifying murder mystery, a timely meditation on race, and a love letter to all the forgotten geniuses of American music and Delta Mississippi Blues.


      Two twenty-something New Yorkers: Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the glamorous heir to one of America's great fortunes. They have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to reach for the future. Carter is slipping back into the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it's a long-lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter's troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation's darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.


                    MY REVIEW                    
     Even though this novel is just 279 pages long, it took me several days to finish because its complex, circuitous plot structure does not lend itself to a quick read-through. Although the story focuses on three main characters, it sweeps back in time to pick up two more, alternating their separate first-person accounts until the present and past finally mesh into the action that comprises the dark, suspenseful, terror-filled final chapters. 

     As the novel begins, three characters are in the forefront:

>> As the book begins, Carter Wallace is a trust-fund college student from an extremely wealthy family who is obsessed with music from the distant past. He wears his blond hair in dreadlocks, sports an array of tattoos, and is desperate to be taken seriously by his family and by the black hipster community. Carter spends his money on drugs and old 78 rpm records, making him a failure in the eyes of most of the members of his family. After college, Carter and his partner, Seth, open a recording studio that specializes in recreating the music and special effects ambiance of blues music—the scratchy sounds of 78 rpm records, the poor quality of early blues recordings, and the insertion of various weird sounds recorded in 21st century Manhattan.
>> Seth is an impoverished college student when Carter becomes fascinated by Seth's ability to manipulate sound and decides that the two should become friends. Seth is a social misfit with an uncanny talent for gathering and mixing sounds. Back in his teen-age years, he constructed his own acoustical equipment, and he still wanders around Manhattan secretly recording every sound he hears. All the way through the book, I kept picturing Seth as looking and behaving like Rami Malek's character (Elliot Alderson) in the TV show Mr. Robot. Seth, like Elliot, is a tech whiz who suffers from social anxiety and clinical depression. While Elliot slides in and out of reality because of his heavy drug use, Seth slips back and forth from past to present because he loses himself in his collection of street sounds and music. After he teams up with Carter, Seth discovers that he has inadvertently been dragged into assisting a ghost on his bloody quest for vengeance. Seth and Carter are completely different in their world views and in their economic and social circumstances, but they share a reverence for the blues and are determined to make a name for themselves in the music world.
>> Leonie Wallace is Carter's sister, a beautiful but emotionally troubled young woman who lives the life of a punk artist, but who never really fits into that bohemian—and frequently pretentious—lifestyle. Seth falls for Leonie the first time he sees her, but for a long time, she is completely oblivious to his very existence.
     One day, Seth shares with Carter a street recording of a black man singing a blues song that neither has heard before. After Seth "dirties" it up with his special scratchy sounds, Carter creates a suitable label and posts it on the Internet, claiming that it is a one-of-a-kind recording by the famous blues singer Charlie Shaw (a name Carter makes up). Almost immediately, an anonymous man who calls himself JumpJim begins to badger them. He wants to buy the record, and he demands to know the what's on the flip side. Eventually, Seth meets up with JumpJim in a dive bar, and it is at this point that the story begins to take a dark, dark turn.

     As the plot progresses, it segues from a psychological profile of three very different young people into an uneasy road trip and a murder mystery thriller featuring by a long-dead ghost seeking revenge. As you read the early chapters, you'll never be able to predict how all of the characters are connected, so the explosively violent climax comes as a huge shock: sad, sinister, and satisfying—all at the same time. (Here's a hint: Pay attention to the lyrics of Charlie Shaw's song.)


     All the way through, Kunzru's characters (except for Leonie) lose themselves in music as they slip and slide back and forth from present to past and back again. In a key moment, Seth muses about the radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi and his belief that “if he could only invent a microphone powerful enough, he would be able to listen to the sound of ancient times." As Seth wanders the Manhattan streets and alleys, he is never sure exactly where he is in the stream of time, but he never worries about it because his life is all about the sounds.

     White Tears did not immediately reel me in, but when it did—about half-way through—I couldn't put it down. Kunzru's character development is masterful, and his plotting is expertly conceived. The only quibble I have relates to Leonie's place in the character line-up. Her presence didn't add much to the story, and she was frequently a distraction. As a whole, I'd give the novel four stars and a high recommendation.

     Click HERE to read an excellent review of this novel by Laura Miller on Slate. Click HERE to read Michael Schaub's NPR review. Click HERE to read Steve Erickson's review in the New York Times.

                    ABOUT THE AUTHOR                    

Hari Kunzru is the author of the novels The Impressionist (2002), Transmission (2004), My Revolutions (2007) and Gods Without Men (2011), as well as a short story collection, Noise (2006). His work has been translated into twenty-one languages and won him prizes including the Somerset Maugham award, the Betty Trask prize of the Society of Authors, a Pushcart prize and a British Book Award. In 2003 Granta named him one of its twenty best young British novelists. Lire magazine named him one of its 50 "écrivains pour demain." He is Deputy President of English PEN, a patron of the Refugee Council and a member of the editorial board of Mute magazine. His short stories and journalism have appeared in diverse publications including The New York Times, Guardian, New Yorker, Financial Times, Times of India, Wired and New Statesman. He lives in New York City.