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Thursday, April 10, 2014


Author:  Mary Behre
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)     
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality3-4; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley Sensation
          Spirited (novel 13/2014)
          Guarded (novel 28/2014)    
          "Harmonized" (e-novella 2.57/2015)
           Energized (novel 38/4/2015)  

This post was revised and updated on 7/2/15 to include the publisher's blurbs for "Harmonized" (the 2.5 novella) and Energized (the third novel). The post begins with an overview of the world-building and then continues with my reviews of the first two novels and the publisher's blurbs for the remaining books. The reviews/blurbs are arranged in reading order with the newest at the end of the post.

     The heroines of the series are three sisters who were separated in childhood after the death of their parents. Each sister has a different psychic talent: Juliana can communicate with the dead; Shelley can communicate with animals; and Hannah can do something else (which is not explained in the first book). The series story arc centers on the reunion of the three siblings, who are now in their twenties. In each book, one of the sisters finds her soul mate and solves a mystery that puts both her and her lover in danger.  

                 MY REVIEW OF NOVEL 1:  Spirited                   
     Juliana (Jules) Scott has just moved back to Tidewater, Virginia, to run her adopted parents' flower shop. One night, she goes to her college reunion, loses her keys and her cell phone, and tries to reach her parents' apartment by sneaking in through the open window of a neighbor. That neighbor is Seth English, a police detective, who nearly arrests Jules for breaking and entering. 

     Seth is investigating a series of jewelry heists and two related murders, and as the story struggles along, Jules is drawn into the investigation through a mishmash of improbable events. Predictably, Jules and Seth fall quickly in love, although she is afraid to tell him that she can talk to ghosts, particularly since the ghost of a murdered woman has implicated her in the robberies that Seth is investigating. Jules refers to her ability to see and talk to ghosts as her "crift," which we eventually learn is a cross between a curse and a gift.  

     This mediocre romantic mystery is full of plot holes, awkward dialogue (particularly in the love scenes), unbelievable coincidences, and melodramatic interior monologues. In addition to the plot problems, the characters are cardboard flat, and the lovers lack any spark of chemistry between them. I would rate the quality of the writing to the category romances published by Harlequin. I'm surprised that Berkeley Sensation is publishing something so unpolished and amateurish. 

Here are a few of the plot problems:
     When Juliana loses her keys and can't get into her apartment, why does she go into the next-door neighbor's window when she could just pound on her parents' window and wake them up? Here is an example of a major continuity error that is related to that scene: In the first scene of the book, the two apartments are adjacent to one another (making the windows of each apartment available to Jules from her position on the fire escape), but in a later scene (p. 254), the apartments are across the hall from one other (forcing Jules to run stealthily back and forth across the hall from one apartment to the other). 

     Almost from the first time they meet, Seth calls Jules "precious": "Use your key next time, precious." (p. 14) First, he's using the word as a nickname, so it should be capitalized. Second, it's kind of creepy.

     The Prada purse that is the key to the mystery was a gift from Jules' ex-husband. She has never before taken the purse out of its delivery box until tonight, but it turns out to be the exact same purse of a woman she bumps into at the reunion. Then, after never carrying the purse before, she continues to carry it all during this story. Why?…No particular reason except that the author needs it as an on-going plot device.

     The purpose of the side story of Sam, the homeless man, is obvious from the start. We know that he will die saving Jules. It's just a matter of seeing just how he does it. (Really, this is not a spoiler. I promise that you will predict Sam's fate as soon as you read his first scene.)

     Inexplicably, the primary ghost changes her clothes (and her hair color and style) for every scene, and we get a full description each time.

     When Jules suggests that they have dinner at her favorite Greek restaurant, Seth doesn't tell her that it is his family's restaurant and instead tries to sneak them in without being seen by any family members. Gee…I wonder why that doesn't work.

     The love scenes (mostly passionate kissing scenes) are stereotypically over-the-top Harlequin all the way: He ravages her mouth; he plunders her mouth; he nibbles; they hiss in pleasure; she was "a throbbing mass of aching need and desire." Along with the clichéd, overblown verbs, the dialogue in these scenes is consistently forced and unnatural.

     After spending the entire story shrieking unintelligibly at Jules, the primary ghost waits until the very end to acquire the ability to explain to Jules (and to the reader) just what happened to her. Then, she voices her clues to Jules in the form of a Medieval riddle…again, for no apparent reason. There is no Medieval connection to the crimes or the characters, so why does the author throw in this ridiculously archaic plot element?  

     At one point, Jules sees a dead person being dragged off by Death Bearers, who supposedly chase after evil souls, but the person they are dragging off turns out not to be very evil, so why are the Death Bearers after him? And why introduce the Death Bearers when we never see or hear from them again?

     I have eaten lots of moussaka in various traditional Greek restaurants, and none of them had peppers as an ingredient. (I knowthat's a petty nit-pick, but still…)

     The details of Jules' sad story about her ex-husband having her arrested just don't ring true. I found the entire story impossible to believe.

     At a crucial point in the story, Jules dials 9-1-1 and gets put on hold. Really?

     For all of these reasons, I can't recommend this novel. Perhaps the author will do a better job on the second one, which will feature the second sister, Shelley, and Seth's partner, Devon (Dev) Jones. Click HERE to go to this book’s page and click on the cover art to read an excerpt. 

                 MY REVIEW OF NOVEL 2:  Guarded                    
     The second of the long-separated Scott sisters is Shelley Morgan, a veterinarian in the tiny town of Elkridge, Virginia, just an hour or so from Tidewater, where the eldest sister, Jules, lives. Like her sisters, Shelley has a particular psychic "crift" (a cross between a curse and a gift). Shelly has a Doolittle "crift," meaning that she can communicate with almost all animals, except for dogs, who tend to attack her on sight.

     Behre begins this novel like a dark suspense/horror story, with a preface in which a man—a killer—named Andrew meets up with his next slice-n-dice victim. Andrew appears sporadically throughout the book, always planning for his next vengeful kill. Two things are readily apparent to the reader: that Andrew is a sociopath and that he is one of the seemingly normal supporting characters, although, puzzlingly, we don’t meet anyone named Andrew—not until the big reveal at the end. By the time Andrew makes a few appearances, it's pretty easy to use the process of elimination to figure out just who he is, although the reasons for his dastardly actions are not unveiled until the climactic showdown scene at the end of the book.

     Shelley works for the long-time town vet, Dr. Kessler, an elderly man who appears to be sinking into senility. He carries notebooks and pads of sticky notes on which he writes constant reminder messages to himself, but rarely remembers anything at all. That leaves most of the work to Shelley, which is fine with her because she has absolutely no social life. Shelley is haunted by the fact that everyone she has ever loved has left her: her parents have died, her sisters were taken away to be placed in separate adoptions, and her scumbag fiancé dumped her. Strangely, she appears never to have had any female friends. Although she is just 24, Shelley believes that she is doomed to be alone for the rest of her life. She is certain that if she should ever be tempted to love someone again, that person would either die or leave her, so it’s best to avoid all emotional attachments. This is a woman in dire need of a good therapist.

     Devon Jones is a Tidewater police detective, the partner of Seth English, hero of book 1. As the story begins, he arrives in Elkridge for three reasons. First, he knows that Shelley is Jules’s long-lost sister, and he has volunteered to break this big news to Shelley. Second, Shelley e-mailed him a request for help in discovering how and why exotic animals are disappearing from a local private zoo for which she provides veterinary care. Third, Dev has been crazy about Shelley ever since she was his tutor in college, but could never follow through on his feelings because she became involved with his best friend. Dev is currently working on a major homicide case in Tidewater, but he takes a few days off to do what he can to help Shelley, hoping that the two of them can add some romance to their reconnection. Predictably, Dev's murder case and Shelley's zoo animal mystery are connected, butunbelievablynone of the detectives have yet discovered that the Tidewater case has its roots in Elkridge.

     The plot is, on the surface, complicated, but that’s mostly because of the inept way the story is told. Basically, this is a typical horror/suspense trope—a sicko who wants to get bloody revenge on the people who wronged his family many years ago and who doesn’t mind if a few innocents get swept up in the carnage. The lead characters—Dev and Shelley—are flat, with little or no depth or charisma. Shelley comes across as an airheaded, emotional wreck of a woman who is all about me, me, me. All though the story, she keeps trying to jump headfirst into the action, in direct opposition to the advice of two experienced police detectives and two trained security experts. She is also one of those annoyingly overwrought romance heroines who is so emotionally unstable and insecure that she responds to a night of great sex and meaningful connection by coldly turning her back on her lover the next morning and running away from him as soon as possible, only to pine piteously for him as soon as she does so. Shelley has a pet ferret named Lucy, and she seems to believe that Lucy is the only one who loves her unconditionally and will never leave her. Unfortunately the author didn't do her homework, because (and this is not pointed out in the book), possession of a weasel as a personal pet is illegal in Virginia, and a ferret is a member of the weasel genus.)

     Once again, the plot is full of holes, both big and small. In my review of the first novel, I listed all of the plot problems, but this time around I’ll only warn you not to think too hard about the continuity, the character motivations, or the logic involved in the story line. I can't resist giving you just a few, though: 

     Shelley is supposed to be a vegetarian, but when she and Dev stop at a restaurant for lunch, she orders and eats antipasto, which isby definitiona melange of cured meats, olives, anchovies, artichoke hearts, various cheeses, pickled meats, and vegetables in oil or vinegar. So…absolutely not a vegetarian dish.

     The 911 operators in this series are a pitiful lot: In book 1, a character calls 911 and gets put on holdand the same thing happens again in this book. Ms. Behre, are you serious? This clunky plot device was unbelievable the first time you used it, but to throw it in again defies all logic!

    The book is filled with illogical plot manipulations. For example, when a car overheats, the characters inexplicably move it to the back of a gas station before they pour antifreeze into its radiator. Turns out, the author needs the car to be behind the gas station because another character is going to use it to sneak away from the scene.

     I had to force myself to finish reading this book, and I don’t plan to review any more of this series. I will continue to add new titles to the list at the top of this review page, but you’re on your own as far as the content. I was hoping that this book would be better than the first, but alas, this series appears to be on a slippery, downward slope. Click HERE to go to this book’s page and click on the cover art to read an excerpt.  

               PUBLISHER'S BLURB FOR NOVELLA 2.5: "Harmonized"               
     From the author of Energized and Guarded comes an all-new novella in the series that’s “a perfect mix of paranormal, suspense, and romance” (SnS Reviews).

     After nearly dying on assignment, Tidewater police officer Zig Harmon has been awarded the Silver Star and desk duty. But handling every case that walks through the door while his entire department is out hunting a serial killer is nothing compared to dealing with his former flame, Karma De La Cruz.

     As much as she hates it, Karma knows that her best chance of finding the kidnapped baby haunting her visions is the man she once left behind. Forced to work together, Karma and Zig start to realize that they may have let go of something incredible. But now, time is running out, both for the missing infant and for their chance to start again.

Includes an exclusive preview of the latest TIDEWATER novel, Energized.

                 PUBLISHER'S BLURB FOR NOVEL 3:  Energized                    
     In the new TIDEWATER novel by the author of Guarded, a kiss between strangers draws both into unexpected danger and unforgettable desire.

     She’s searching for a signHannah Halloran has always believed in her gift. The things she sees through her psychic touch have never led her wrong before. Not when they led her to an unforgettable night with a sexy marine at a bar. Not when she felt a need to leave her home and find the sisters she barely knows. And not now, when she is an unwilling witness to a brutal murder . . .

     He’s ready to show herAll Niall Graham wants is some peace. He’s recovering from the horrors of war, struggling to save his family’s restaurant, and desperate to forget Hannah, the beautiful woman who left him with memories of a mind-blowing night together and a bogus phone number. But a quiet life is hard to manage—especially when Hannah strides back into his restaurant with the news that a serial killer is on the loose and lurking closer than anyone could have guessed.

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