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Saturday, September 30, 2017



I have just updated an ongoing review post for Kelley Armstrong's CAINSVILLE SERIES by adding a review of Rituals, the fifth and FINAL novel. 

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

NEW NOVEL! Christina Henry's "Lost Boy"

Author:  Christina Henry 
Title:  Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook 
Genre:  Fantasy 
Publisher:  Penguin Random House (7/2017)

     From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a familiar story with a dark hook—a tale about Peter Pan and the friend who became his nemesis, a nemesis who may not be the black-hearted villain Peter says he is…

     There is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth. This is how it happened. How I went from being Peter Pan’s first—and favorite—lost boy to his greatest enemy.

     Peter brought me to his island because there were no rules and no grownups to make us mind. He brought boys from the Other Place to join in the fun, but Peter's idea of fun is sharper than a pirate’s sword. Because it’s never been all fun and games on the island. Our neighbors are pirates and monsters. Our toys are knife and stick and rock—the kinds of playthings that bite.

     Peter promised we would all be young and happy forever. Peter lies. 

    In a video interview about this novel for Fangirl Nation, Christina Henry explains that she frequently finds "imaginative space" within literary works—places where the author has left something out, something that she wants to know more about. After reading J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan to her eleven-year-old son, Henry wondered why Captain Hook hates Peter Pan so much? What would make a grown man despise a child so much that he wants to kill him? In Lost Boy, Henry has created a prequel to Peter Pan that answers that very question.

     You may have seen the Disney animated movie or Hook, with Robin Williams as Peter Pan, but if you go back to the original story and read between the lines, you'll see that Peter isn't as happy and carefree as he appears on the surface. Henry searched carefully for those hints and spun them into a dark and violent tale that explains exactly what happened between Peter and Captain Hook that made them mortal enemies. 

     Long before Captain Hook was a vengeance-obsessed, one-handed pirate, he was Peter's very first boy and his name was Jamie. Jamie tells his story in his eloquent first-person voice (which Henry handles masterfully). Jamie ends the Prologue with these words: "Peter will say I'm a villain, that I wronged him, that I never was his friend. But...Peter lies. This is what really happened." 

     As the story begins, Jamie has been on Peter's island for 150 seasons (approximately 38 years), but he still looks as if he is about 12 years old. "It was the island that kept us all young, though some of us wouldn't stay that way. Some of the boys, for reasons none of us could comprehend, grew up like normal. It didn't happen too often, for Peter was pretty good at choosing the right sort of character for the island and I think that had something to do with it, the desire to stay a boy and do boy things for always."

     Early in the book Jamie muses about the good old days when, "I was the only one who was special, truly special, for I was the first, and would be the last if it came to that. It would always be Peter and me, like we were in the beginning." But gradually, the relationship between Peter and Jamie has changed. Over the years, Jamie has become a caretaker for the lost boysa big brother, or perhaps even a mother figure. He makes sure that they get enough food and rest, that they don't fight too much among themselves, that they can take care of themselves in the woods, and that they help with the work around the camp. "Peter was for fun, for play, for adventures. Me, I kept his playmates alive—even when he didn't want them anymore." Now the boys turn to Jamie rather than to Peter for support, which makes Peter grow more and more jealous of Jamie. 

     Peter likes to have 15 boys in his group, so if he loses one or two in battles or to illness, he goes through the magic rabbit hole back to the Other Place to seduce replacements from the crowds of homeless street boys who are desperate for a happy life. "To Peter all children were replaceable (except himself). When he lost one...he would...get a new one, preferably an unwanted one, because then the boy didn't miss the Other Place so much and he was happy to be here and to do what Peter wanted. Those who didn't listen so well or weren't happy as the singing birds in the trees found themselves in the fields of the Many-Eyed [vicious monsters] without a bow or left near the pirate camp or otherwise forgotten, for Peter had no time for boys who didn't want his adventures." 

     Usually, Peter takes Jamie along on his "recruitment" journeys, but not the last one, which resulted in two new boys who definitely do not fit the usual mold. Charlie is the youngest boy ever to live on Peter's island. He is about five years old, and Jamie is pretty sure that Peter did not find Charlie on the streets because Charlie speaks fondly of his mother—the hugs she gave him and the songs she sang to him. The other boy is Nip, an older, tougher boy whose primary demeanor is sullen and mean. Nip constantly challenges Jamie's orders, and Jamie soon realizes that Nip plans to step up and take his place as second-in-command. 

     As Jamie tells his story, he reminisces about how he felt about Peter in the old days when life really was all fun and frolic. "I was smaller then, and Peter was big and brave and wonderful. He said, 'Come away and we'll have adventures and be friends always,' and I put my hand in his and he smiled and that smile went into my heart and stayed there." But even back then, Jamie hated the violent interludes that Peter insisted on—the periodic bloody raids on the pirates (who never came inland to bother them, so why attack them?); the occasional attack by one of the Many-Eyed (huge spidery monsters who live in the north meadow); and the intermittent battles between boys (which are always fought on the Battle Rock). Peter insists on battles whenever two boys argue over something or get into fights—or whenever Peter just wants to enjoy watching some violence. In these battles the boys fight with sharp rocks and sticks and hard fists and kicks so they are always very bloody, but the Battle Rock magically absorbs all of the blood. 

     Recently, Jamie has been getting less and less happy about living on Peter's island, and less and less friendly toward Peter, who senses Jamie's changing attitude. And one more thing...Jamie is beginning to grow—just an inch every once in awhile, but he is definitely growing taller, another fact that Peter notices. It takes Jamie awhile to figure out why he's growing, but it's obvious that Peter knows exactly what's going on with his first boy.

     As the story plays out, Peter gets more and more vicious, and Jamie gets more and more defensive and protective of Charlie and of another new member of Peter's tribe. Eventually, just as in William Golding's Lord of the Flies, the lost boys' society falls violently apart and everyone's life either ends abruptly or changes completely. I won't tell you any more of the plot because the enjoyment of the book lies in watching the events play out to their horrific conclusion. (Warning! If you are a reader who likes to peek at the last few pages before starting a book, don't do that with Lost Boy or you will absolutely ruin the story for yourself.)

     By the end, Henry has used Barrie's "imaginative space" to answer her question about Captain Hook, and it's a wonderfully satisfying answer. In fact, I prefer Henry's version to Barrie's.

     Henry gives her primary characters many layers, so we feel their joyous emotions about doing boy things on the island for the rest of their lives, but also, their uneasiness over Peter's penchant for violence and his annoyance when they are injured or sick. Jamie, of course, bares his soul to us as he tells his sad story—from his nightmares of his dead mother to his fears about who or what Peter truly is and what is going to happen to him and to Charlie. I always found Peter's character to be difficult to interpret in the original story. He always made me feel uneasy, particularly because of his unrepentant hatred for grown-ups. In this book, though, there is no doubt about Peter's intentions because here he is a vicious sociopath who masks his true emotions. You need to remember Jamie's warning in the Prologue: "Peter lies." You may be thinking, What about Tinkerbell? Yes, she does make an appearance, but in such a subtle, secretive manner that you almost don't notice her at first. By the time you understand her role in Lost Boy, you are hardly surprised that it bears no resemblance at all to the original story. Trust me, no one is going to be clapping for Tinkerbell in this book.

     For me, this was a can't-put-it-down novel that pulled me along with its compelling plot, rising suspense, and sympathetic characters. I worried about Charlie from the moment I met him in the first chapter. Although Barrie wrote his book for children, Henry wrote this one for adults, so beware—it gets very violent and bloody in places because Peter does some truly horrible things to people. Nevertheless, Henry is such a fantastic storyteller that I think you'll enjoy it tremendously, particularly if you got a kick out of Henry's CHRONICLES OF ALICE duology. Click HERE to read my reviews of the two ALICE novels.

Sunday, September 24, 2017



I have just updated an ongoing review post Terry Spear's HEART OF THE WOLF SERIES by adding a review of SEAL Wolf Undercover, the 21st novel in the full series (and the fifth SEAL WOLF novel).

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

Friday, September 22, 2017



I have just updated an ongoing review post for Ilona Andrews' HIDDEN LEGACY TRILOGY by adding a review of Wildfire, the third and FINAL novel in the series. 

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017



I have just updated an ongoing review post for Kalayna Price's ALEX CRAFT SERIES by adding a review of Grave Ransom, the fifth novel. 

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017



I have just updated an ongoing review post for Kevin Hearne's IRON DRUID CHRONICLES by adding a review of Besieged, a collection of stories narrated by Atticus and other characters from the series.

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Kerrelyn Sparks: EMBRACED SERIES

Author:  Kerrelyn Sparks
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—2-3
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's Press
       1   How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days (3/2017)
       2   So I Married a Sorcerer (8/2017)
       3   Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon (8/2018)

This post contains an overview of the series world-building, a full review of novel 1, and the cover art and publisher's blurbs for novels 2 and 3. I will not be reviewing any more of the books in this series, but I will continue to add the publisher's blurbs and cover art for new books as they are published. 


     On her web site, Sparks introduces her new series with this description: "The Embraced is a new paranormal/fantasy romance series that is best described as Game of Thrones meets The Princess BrideThis world has two moons, and twice a year they eclipse (or embrace). A child born on the night the moons embrace will be gifted with a supernatural power. They are called the Embraced. Each of the five heroines is Embraced, so they all have a different kind of power. Of course, the heroes also have some awesome powers! So what can you expect? Action, adventure, suspense, spooky stuff, shifters, dragons, elves, witches, lots of laughs, and of course, plenty of romance!"

Sorry about the line down the middle of the map. I couldn't 
prevent it because the map covers two pages of the book.
    Sparks sets up the series mythology in the Prologue to novel 1 and repeats it in similar form in the ensuing novels. In each novel, she includes a map of Aerthlan, the fantasy empire in which the series is set. 

The series heroines are all young and beautiful women who have been raised by the nuns who run the Convent of Two Moons on the Isle of Moon. Their religious beliefs are centered on Aerthlan's two moons, as are those of the fishermen and their families who live on the neighboring Isle of Mist.

     Each hero is a handsome, brave young man who grew up in one of the countries on the mainland: Eberon, Tourin, Norveshka, or Woodwyn. The countries are ruled by kings who are constantly at war with one another. On the mainland, the kings are too macho to worship a female god, so they worship the sun, a male god. There is also Rupert's Island, which is ruled by the pirate and sorcerer, Rupert, who is the hero of the second book.

     Twice a year, the two moons align (or embrace) and if a child is born that night, he or she receives some sort of supernatural power. These gifted children are called the Embraced. The power-mad kings do not want anyone to have special powers that they don't have, so in their four countries, the Embraced are considered to be abominations who are immediately killed by the kings' assassins. A few parents have been able to send their Embraced children to safety to the convent on the Isle of Moon, where they are raised with no knowledge of or contact with their families. The families pretend that the children died at birth so that they are not punished by the kings. This series tells the stories of five of the Embraced young women, one novel at a time: Luciana, Brigitta, Gwennore, Sorcha, and Maeve.

     In the first novel we get clues as to the homelands of the five girls: the family of Luciana (book 1 heroine) is from Eberon. 
Brigitta (book 2 heroine) looks like the people from the kingdom of Tourin. Gwennore (book 3 heroine) has the lavender-blue eyes and pointed ears of the elves of Woodwyn. Sorcha, with her fiery red hair, probably came from Norveshka.  That leaves Maeve, who (based on some not-so-subtle clues in novel 1) probably has relatives on the Isle of Mist. 

                 NOVEL 1:  How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days

     As one of the Embraced―one born with magical powers―the beautiful, innocent Luciana escaped certain death after her father hid her away on the Isle of Moon. Now, nineteen years later, her father has returned with a frightening request. He will be executed unless Luciana returns to the mainland and marries a man feared throughout the land: a terrifying brute known as the Beast.

     Luciana accepts her fate and agrees to wed the Beast―Lord Leo―in order to save her father. Soon she learns that her betrothed is also one of the Embraced. With the ability to wield lightning, Leo’s immense power strikes fear into the hearts of men. . .and his mere touch can put an end to a woman’s life. But Luciana cannot deny the passion that burns between them. How can she resist the man who scorches her soul and makes her feel intoxicated with desire―even if surrendering to him could destroy them both?

    The first novel (as you can tell from the title) has a Beauty and the Beast story line. The beauty is Luciana, an Embraced with the ability to see and communicate with the ghosts of the dead. She also has some seer power. As the story opens, Luciana's father, Lucas, Duke of Vintello, arrives at the Convent to take her home to Eberon. This is upsetting to Luciana for a number of reasons, foremost of which is the fact that she thought that she was an orphan and is furious that her father dumped her at the convent and never contacted her again. She calms down when she learns that he did it to save her life, but she still doesn't want to leave her friends at the Convent. Then she gets some more mind-blowing information―that she is a twin and that her twin sister, Tatiana, just died and will be buried in the Convent graveyard under a gravestone marked "Luciana." Luciana will then become Tatiana. 

     Lucas explains to Luciana that he has a huge problem. King Frederick, the sociopathic madman who rules Eberon, has decreed that Tatiana must marry his nephew Leofric (Leo) of Benwick, Protector of the Realm within two months. Frederick has long been itching to get his hands on the rich vineyards of Vindalyn, and he figures that if he marries Lucas's heir off to his nephew, he can then have both her and her father assassinated, leaving Vintello in the hands of his nephew, who will be next on the assassination list. If the marriage does not take place by the two-month deadline, the King has threatened to execute Lucas and take over his lands. It's a no-win situation for Lucas and Luciana.

     The titular beast is Leo, who is also Embraced. Unfortunately, Leo's superpower is so frightening that everyone is terrified of him. No one has been able to kill him because his power is too great and they are too frightened to get close to him. Beginning when he was five years old, Leo became a magnet for lightning, which he absorbs and stores as energy within his body. Then, he uses that energy as a weapon against his enemies, frying them like steak on a hot grill until they char and turn to ash. Leo always wears full body armor and heavy gloves so they he doesn't accidentally brush up against someone and burn them.

     Needless to say, not many people mess with Leo. But Leo's electrical storage capability means that he can never touch or be touched skin-to-skin by another person. He learned that the hard way during that first experience with lightning when his nanny tried to save him and was burned to death. Ever since then, everyone has called him the Beast and they fall back in fear when he comes anywhere near them. Many rumors have sprung up over the years, including one that he burned his mother to death (not true, and this cruel gossip is very painful to Leo when he learns about it).

     The primary villain is King Frederick, a clichéd, one-dimensional, power-mad sociopath who adds absolutely nothing to the value of the story. He has either killed or banished all of his relatives because he fears that they might try to take the throne away from him. At a certain point in the story, Leo becomes Frederick's immediate successor. Leo has absolutely no interest in the throne, but Frederick doesn't believe that. Frederick can't imagine anyone not wanting to be the supreme ruler of Eberon so he keeps coming up with new ways to get rid of Leo. Frederick had hoped that as Lord Protector of the Realm, Leo would be killed in battle like his father was, but so far that hasn't happened. 

     The plot includes several story lines: 
The Romance: In the primary story line, the slowly blooming romance between Luciana and Leo bumps along painfully at first but then picks up speed in the second half of the book. One of their main problems, of course, is that Leo is afraid to touch Luciana for fear that he will kill her with his electricity. (The resolution of that problem is predictable from the very beginning of their relationship.)
The Twin Sister: Luciana can see and talk with her dead twin, Tatiana, who turns out to be a spoiled brat who (at first) makes fun of Luciana and has no interest at all in helping her adjust to life on the mainland. Fortunately, Tatiana eventually has a change of heart and the two become friends.
Leo and Luciana's Family Histories: Both grew up without a mother (and Luciana had no parents at all during her childhood). Luciana manages to make contact with her mother's ghost and get the whole story on what happened when she was born. There are a number of angst-filled scenes involving flashbacks to Leo's early years.
Leo's Friends: They play different roles in his life and one has a special gift that he keeps secret from everyone but Leo. I'm guessing that at least one of them will be the hero of a future book. The interactions among these friends are the source of lots of sarcastic "bro" humor.
The Assassination Attempts: At a certain point in the story, the King begins to send assassins to kill Luciana, so Leo has to come up with inventive ways to protect her and outwit the killers.
     Based on my enjoyment of Sparks's terrific LOVE At STAKE series, I had high hopes for this new series, but I'm sorry to say that I didn't enjoy this novel very much. The characters are so flat and bland that I couldn't make myself care much about their trials and tribulations. The plot lacked any true suspense and had no inventive twists to perk up my interest. I'm guessing that the remaining novels will follow the same formula, so I've decided not to read and review them. I will, however, continue to add the publisher's blurbs and cover art to this review post as each one becomes available. 

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days on its page. Just click on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio. If you haven't read the sixteen LOVE AT STAKE novels, you should give them a try. Click HERE to read my reviews. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own. 

                         NOVEL 2:  So I Married a Sorcerer                         
     Growing up on the Isle of Moon, Brigitta knew that she was born with the magical powers of the Embraced―even if she did not know how to wield them. But she has finally learned the truth: Brigitta is the lost princess of the kingdom of Tourin. She was sent into hiding as an infant to escape the wrath of her half-brother, the king. And now he knows just where to find her.

    Rupert is a notorious pirate and sorcerer. He’s spent most of his life plotting revenge on the evil king―and Rupert believes that Brigitta could be the key to finally destroying his enemy. But what begins as a kidnapping of the innocent beauty escalates into something deeper, and more passionate, than either captor or captive could have imagined. Rupert soon vows to protect Brigitta against the king―but will they survive long enough to find their happily-ever-after. . .or does fate have something else in store?

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from So I Married a Sorcerer on its page. Just click on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.

                  NOVEL 3:  Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon                  
     Gwennore has a talent. An Elf able to track down the cause of an illness and heal it, she’s a valuable asset to her people. But when the kidnapping of a young girl thrusts Gwennore into the very heart of the realm of the dragons, she discovers not only a place of power and magic, but also a haunted land, plagued by an ancient curse that all but ensures extinction to the royal family. But when she meets the smoldering General Silas Dravenko, they strike a bargain—save the country from its cursed illness, and he will return the kidnapped girl. She’s been raised never to trust a dragon, but never did making a deal with the devil feel so good.

     Silas has no way of curing the family he’s loyally served for years. But when a beautiful elf, long considered the enemy of the dragons, comes bursting into his world, Silas is awakened to passion and desire in a way he’s never felt before. But can he trust a sworn enemy to save the very existence he holds dear? And can their love survive those that threaten to tear them apart?
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