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Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Author:  Lori Handeland  
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—2-3   
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's
          In the Air Tonight (6/2/15)
          Heat of the Moment (6/30/15)
          Smoke on the Water (8/4/15) (FINAL)

This series has been published over a three-month period this summer. This post begins with an overview of the series world-building, followed by the publisher's blurb and my review of each novel, beginning with the first. 

     Four hundred years ago in Scotland, Henry and Prudence Taggart were burned at the stake because they were accused of witchcraft. More specifically, Roland McHugh, King James's chief witch hunter accused Prudence, a midwife, of murdering his wife and child during childbirth in order to gain the power she needed to deliver her own triplet daughters. Back in those days, multiple births were always suspect, and having lost his wife and child, McHugh needs a scapegoat. Here, he questions Pru: "More than one soul in a womb is Satan's work….How many lives did you sacrifice so your devil's spawn might be born." (Click HERE for more information about witchcraft in England during this period.) Prudence and Henry go to their deaths, but when the flames flare up, their dead bodies and their still-alive triplet daughters all disappear.

     Years later as McHugh dies of the plague, he is still cursing the Taggarts and vowing to track down and kill the three girls. What McHugh doesn't know—at least at that point in time—is that Henry and Pru used their witchy powers to send their girls to safety in the far distant future. Unfortunately, the 21st century isn't quite as safe as the Taggarts thought it would be.

     In each book, one sister—now in her twenties—learns the secret of her past, meets her soul mate, and has a run-in with a (fictional) cult of witch hunters called the Venatores Mali, or Hunters of Evil.

                   NOVEL 1:  In the Air Tonight                     
     Four centuries ago, in a small Scottish village, three baby girls escaped the wrath of a witch hunter. Today, one young woman will learn about her secret history, her heart's destiny, and the sisters she never knew she had...

     With her blue-black hair and dark eyes, Raye Larsen has never fit in with the Scandinavian community of New Bergin, Wisconsin. Being adopted is part of the reason she feels like an outsider, but what really sets Raye apart is her ability to see dead people. Everywhere. She's learned to keep her visions to herself...until she stumbles onto the ghost of a murder victim who needs Raye's help. 

     Enter Bobby Doucet, a distractingly handsome homicide detective who has been tracking a killer all the way from New Orleans. Could this be the break in his case he's been looking for all along? Meanwhile, the deeper Raye gets involved with the case—and with Bobby—the closer she comes to unlocking the mystery of her own origins. What she discovers about herself could destroy everything she knows...and everyone she loves. Is finding the truth worth the risk? Click HERE to read an excerpt from In the Air Tonight.

     Raye is a kindergarten teacher who is happy in her job. She has always felt out of place in New Bergin—a dark-haired, dark-eyed only child (adopted) in a town filled with large families headed by blond, blue-eyed parents with lots of blond, blue-eyed children. Raye was found abandoned in a ditch when she was an infant, so she has no idea who her parents are or why they left her. Her adoptive mother has been dead for several years, and her adoptive father has never trusted Raye's strangeness. Ever since she can remember, Raye has been able to see and communicate with ghosts. When she was a child, her parents caught her having conversations with—apparently—no one, and at one point, her father even suggested that perhaps they should return her to the social workers.

     The plot kicks off when a woman's burned and mutilated body is found on a city sidewalk in New Bergin. When Raye walks past the scene on her way to work, the woman's ghost grabs Raye's arm, leaving a bruised hand print, and exclaims, "He will burn us all" before disappearing in a puff of smoke and flame. Adding to the mystery is the fact that Raye has been seeing a black wolf and the ghost of a man dressed in Puritan-style clothing in and near her apartment. The pair has been stalking her ever since she can remember, but they have always been silent. Now, the man begins to talk to her, warning of dangerous times ahead and explaining the complicated history of their connected pasts. Then, one dark night, a huge man with a meat cleaver sneaks into her apartment and tries to kill her. When she runs out into the street for help, she stops a car driven by a New Orleans detective who has just arrived in town to investigate the woman's death because he believes that the perpetrator is a serial killer who has been active in New Orleans.

     Bobby Doucet comes from a long line of Creoles—a mixture of French, Spanish, and a little bit of Haitian. He has lived in New Orleans all his life and has never seen any place like New Bergin—which he nicknames Podunk. Everything here is strange to him: the weird Scandinavian food, the provincial townsfolk who view him as an exotic creature, the fact that New Bergin does not have a hotel, and the fact that everyone in town knows everyone else's business. When Bobby meets Raye in the middle of the street in the middle of the night, he wonders just what he is in for.

     Naturally enough, the two are immediately attracted to one another, and their romance blossoms relatively quickly. But both of them have deep, dark secrets, and those secrets complicate their relationship. Raye has to hide her ghost-talking so that Bobby won't think she is crazy, and Bobby, who despises all things paranormal, is riddled with guilt over the death of his daughter, whose ghost is shadowing him and having sad conversations with Raye. She explains to Raye that even though Bobby can't see ghosts, he is able to feel them: "He refuses to acknowledge anything that hints at the mystical, but he has magic in his blood."

     Meanwhile, the murder investigation is also complicated. After Bobby kills a suspect who is attempting to murder Raye, a second murderer takes the life of an eccentric local woman. Things really get complicated when an FBI agent suggests that the murder cases definitely involve witchcraft. It is at this point that Handeland introduces some familiar characters from her NIGHTCREATURE series into the story: FBI agent Nic Franklin from Dark Moon (book 3) and Voodoo Priestess Cassandra from Midnight Moon (book 5). (Click HERE to read my review of the NIGHTCREATURE series.)

     This is a typical paranormal romance with star-crossed lovers who fall in love while solving a supernatural mystery—in this case some supernatural murders. It will be interesting to see how far Handeland will go with her involvement of the NIGHTCREATURE world in this new series. Handeland has always been a good story teller, and in this novel she has created an interesting premise; a likable pair of lovers; a spooky, action-filled plot; and a series story arc that promises a family reunion that will include both dead and living relatives. You'll notice that I gave this series a 2-3 rating for humor. That humor comes mostly in the dialogue, which has many sly and snarky wisecracks from Raye, Bobby, and some of the secondary characters, particularly the police chief, the coroner, and Bobby's partner back in New Orleans. 

     Since all three books will be published this summer, this is your chance to read a well-crafted paranormal romance trilogy without having to wait a year or more between books—a rare occurrence indeed.

     One last thing: At one point, Raye treats Bobby's bruises with an ointment made from Arnica. Since I was unfamiliar with Arnica, I googled it, and you can click HERE to read what I found. (Scroll down to the "Homeopathy" section of the article.)

                     NOVEL 2:  Heat of the Moment                     
     A spell that tore three sisters apart is broken four hundred years later, when the magic in their blood reunites them. Now, one of them will discover her gift—and reignite a love long thought lost...

    Flame-haired Becca Carstairs was born to be a veterinarian. Since childhood, her affinity for animals has been special, and her healing touch nothing short of magic. But only Becca knows the truth—that she alone can hear the creatures' voices. She's always trusted her sixth sense...until a string of missing pets, an attempted murder, and a face from her past converge into one explosive mystery, with her at its center. 

     Is haunted Owen McAllister, the boy who broke her heart ten years ago, related to the sinister crimes that have peaceful Three Harbors, Wisconsin, on its guard? Or is his reappearance part of the answer to questions that have troubled her all her life? As Becca delves into her strange heritage, she'll have to fight for her life...and the man she will always love. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Heat of the Moment.

     When the police chief of Three Harbors, Wisconsin, asks for Dr. Becca Carstairs' assistance in solving a series of disappearances of local petsall black in colorshe doesn't know what to think. Then, she stumbles on the burned and mutilated bodies of those animals in the ramshackle house in which her ex-lover once lived. Even more shocking: Owen McAllister has returned home, recovering from crippling injuries suffered while serving in Afghanistan and accompanied by his military service dog, Reggie. The two parted ten years ago under heartbreaking circumstances, but they have continued to love one another through all those long years.

     As usual, there are two blended story lines: the romance and a murder mystery. The murderer first attempt to kill Becca, but is driven off by the same green-eyed black wolf we met in the first novel. The mystery is complicated by the presence of Owen's mentally challenged mother, who was always considered by the locals as a witch because of her odd behavior and her heavy use of drugs. As bodies accumulate and the murderer remains at large, the Jäger-Sucher team from the NIGHTCREATURE series (Cassandra, Edward, and Nic) shows up along with Raye and Bobby to assist in the suspenseful and violent climax. Even though I could predict the identity of at least one of the villains, another one took me completely by surprise. 

     Both the action plot and the romance are well developed and interesting. Becca has only one TSTL moment (but unfortunately it's a big one), and Owen is one of Handeland's most complex heroes yet. He grew up as the son of the town's crazy, scary witch, with Becca being his only friend. When their teenage romance was thwarted, Owen had to leave Becca behind, which he has regretted ever since. Becca, like Raye, always felt like she didn't really belong. She has always been able to converse with animals, but had to hide that talent because it upset her parents. People in town always teased her about her bright red hair and told her that she must be adopted (although her parents always assured her that she was their natural child). "Kids noticed how different I was from every other Carstairs on the planet, which led to a lifetime of comments about the 'stork getting it wrong,' and other oh-so-amusing jibes." When Raye finally comes to town tells Becca the truth about her genetic heritage, it's almost too much for her to bear.

     This is a terrific story that is a solid addition to this trilogy. Even though Handeland reviews the mythology, I recommend that you read Heat of the Moment first, just to keep the action chronologically correct. I always enjoy Handeland's books because she creates complex characters and suspense-filled plots. The addition of Reggie, Owen's extremely intelligent and charismatic dog, adds even more depth because Reggie turns out to be a very important supporting character. If you are looking for an entertaining new paranormal romance series that is available in its entirety right now, this is the one for you. 

     The final novel will introduce the third sister and her soul mate and resolve the triplets' conflict with the evil Roland McHugh.

                    NOVEL 3:  Smoke on the Water                     
     Reunited after four hundred years, three sisters join together to vanquish the power that tore them apart...and embrace the sorcery that is their birthright.

     Abandoned as an infant, Willow Black spent her childhood in foster care, the object of whispers and pity...and rumors about being certifiably crazy. Telling your young friends that you can foresee the future—and summon the rain—is a surefire way to end up in the psychiatric ward. But when Dr. Sebastian Frasier arrives at the facility, Willow's whole life takes a turn. 

     Sebastian is the handsomest man she's ever actually laid eyes on—even though he has been in Willow's visions for years. But not even she could have predicted the storm of passion that engulfs them both. With Sebastian by her side, Willow is emboldened to embrace her history, and the sisters she never knew. Soon, the true power in her blood awakes—and the battle she was born to fight begins. While the tempest rages, Willow must depend on the friends and family she's found—and the man she has loved forever. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Smoke on the Water.

          FAIR WARNING: This review          
          contains spoilers for Heat of the Moment.          
     Through most of this novel, the action runs concurrently with the events of the second novel. If you haven't guessed by now, Willow is the woman who befriends Owen's mother, Mary McAllister—the friend who is mentioned in Heat of the Moment. This novel fills in the gaps in Mary's story, explaining just how she vanished from the asylum and traveled so quickly back to her home and to the site of the climactic closing scene of Heat of the Moment.

     Willow Black has always had visions when she looks into water, and several years ago those visions lead to her incarceration in the Northern Wisconsin Mental Health Facility after she stabbed a man she had seen in one of her visions. "I'd seen the vision of my own death—the man who would do it and what he would do. The stabbing, the branding, the burning…When the man from my vision appeared in real time I didn't wait for him to pull the blade that would end my life. I'd pulled my own and tried to end his."  

     In addition to her death vision, Willow has had recurring visions of herself making passionate love to a tall, handsome man who is destined to stand by her and save her life. To Willow's shock, that man turns out to be Sebastian Frasier, a psychiatrist who is the new administrator for the asylum. Their love story follows a bumpy but predictable road. Sebastian is Willow's psychiatrist, so even though he is attracted to her, he isn't allowed—legally or ethically—to follow through on his impulses. That means that through most of the story they engage in many long and meaningful glances, awkward conversations, and a bit of "accidental" touching. Willow has been in love with Sebastian for years through her visions, and Sebastian (conveniently) falls head over heels for her the instant he sees her for the first time. That means that theirs is a stereotypical insta-love relationship—that overused love-at-first-sight trope that has been the mainstay of too many paranormal romances over the years.  

     The first two books had better love stories because the couples don't have the insta-love problem. Although Raye and Bobby fall for each other relatively quickly in In the Air Tonight, their romance progresses along a more authentic and realistic path. In Heat of the Moment, Becca and Owen were childhood friends, then lovers, then ex-lovers before they renew their relationship. Again, much more authentic than Willow and Sebastian's jiffy-flash love at first sight. 

   The straightforward, not-too-suspenseful action stays in high gear throughout this final novel because the villainous Roland McHugh and his minions are determined to kill all three sisters. Mary plays a key role in this part of the plot, and she is much more important than we realized back in book two. The witchy story line plays out in a relatively predictable manner because from the beginning of the series we knew that it would end with the sisters and their parents confronting Roland. The best parts of the book are the scenes with the sisters as they learn to work together and the Epilogue, which ties up all of the loose ends and sends the three pairs of lovers off to their HEAs.

     After the inevitable confrontation with Roland, all of the conflicts are resolved. One of Roland's minions is easy to spot early in the story, but another just pops up without any real foreshadowing (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). All the way to the end, Roland is a stereotypically psychotic villain. Even though he has his reasons for hating Henry and Prudence, his hatred for the triplets is harder to understand—I guess that must be due to his psychosis.

     Of the three novels, this one is the weakest, partly because there is a lot of repetition of the high points of the mythology and partly because there is so much woo-woo action involving Mary's "transportations" and Willow's use of powers that she doesn't even know that she has. Those scenes are not always clearly narrated, and transitions between scenes are sometimes confusing. In each book, the heroine speaks in the first-person voice while the rest of the story is told from the hero's third-person perspective. In this book that is also true, but in some third-person scenes toward the end, it seemed as if someone other than Sebastian was in charge of the narration—perhaps one of the Jäger-Sucher team members or one of the other sisters.

     On the whole, I really enjoyed this series, but I wish that this final book had been stronger—less insta-love, a more complex plot line, and more suspense. In the Air Tonight wins my vote for the strongest book, with Heat of the Moment a close second. I recommend that you read the books in order so that you fully understand the mythology and the frequent references to earlier events.

NOTE: Early in the book, Sebastian mentions that the Wisconsin asylum "has been built to follow the Kirkbride Plan of asylums in the mid-nineteenth century." Click HERE if you are interested in reading more information about Dr. Thomas Kirkbride and the asylums that were built according to his plan. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Smoke on the Water is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.  

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