A MelanieM Review: David’s Dilemma by Rae Brewer

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

“Two shifters walk into a bar…”

Jaguar Bk 4Panthera Agency Operative Johnny Walking Bear is in San Francisco for a case. A head cold is making him miserable but with the job not starting until Monday, Johnny wants to take advantage of the city and a free weekend to enjoy eating out, drinking and having lots of sex.  Especially the sex now that he is away from his family home and siblings.  Johnny wants a mate but while he’s looking some honey and mead would make this bear shifter very happy.

Cat shifter David Kern is very unhappy at the moment.  Another confrontation with his ex has David depressed and looking for a diversion.  When his friends call to invite him for a night out at the bars, not even his nasty cold can deter David from a night of clubbing and the chance for a hookup.

So two shifters walk into a bar, in this case David and Johnny.  Their attraction to each other is immediate and intense. No wonder that they end up in bed together at the end of the night.  Their night together is memorable and sexy.  Neither wants the night to be over but Johnny has a job to do. He  leaves David’s house without leaving his name or contact  information.  What neither shifter is aware of is that they are mates.  Between David’s cold blocking his senses and Johnny’s drunken state and cold, neither could sniff out the truth before they parted.

What is a shifter to do when a chance encounter brings him the very mate he has always wanted but he doesn’t realize it at the time?  Through a series of mishaps, miscommunications and wrong assumptions, David and Johnny have  a rocky road to love and HEA, one that also comes with a secret organization  with evil plans who might just be the biggest obstacle of them all.

Rae Brewer’s David’s Dilemma has some terrific elements to it.  One of my favorites is the premise.  Two shifters unable to use their senses, one because of a head cold, the other because he’s drunk, meet, connect, have great sex and then part.  What they miss is that they are a mated pair because neither could smell out the truth at the moment.  That’s funny, a great use of natural history and kind of poignant.  I only wish Brewer has used this element to its fullest promise, instead it gets a temporary treatment and then its gone.

Another great aspect of this story is the bear shifter clan that Johnny belongs to.  Here bear natural history and behavior comes across beautifully.  Large, lumbering, that Johnny is a bear  shifter is evident from his actions to his physiology.  Throw in a terrific family unit of healers and other gifts, and the package is complete.  Again, this book could have focused on the Walking Bear  clan alone and made me a happy reader.  That was a fully realized group of characters and their household was one I could have spent much more time in.

But most of this story deals with other elements.  There is the David/Johnny hookup and mishaps to follow.  That was kind of charming even though I never felt that Brewer made her panther/bear pairing believable.  Also this is the fourth story in the Panthera Agency series and the only one that I have read.  They seem to be a lesser part of this story until the ending.  I couldn’t get a real feel for what they do other than they are run by a group of shifters who help locate and return missing shifters to their families.

That agency and Johnny’s job felt less solid and less an integral part of this story than perhaps Brewer had planned.  It needed more background into the agency  and its operatives to make sense of the events that followed and to understand who all the characters mentioned fit into the story and series.  Brewer also throws in a twist that comes off as more contrived than believable.  Someone realizes they have been drugged and their reaction is almost nonchalant?  This part of the story alone called for a suspension of belief that it was never going to get, as did all the events that stemmed from that act that followed.

I wish Brewer has almost made this into a shifter romcom.  That premise just begged for a lighter treatment and narrative.  That is was bogged down in a less than stellar sort of espionage  plot towards the end made little sense  while making those elements of the story that were well done stand out starkly in contrast.  Which is did by bringing in the Walking Bear family to reintroduce a semblance of a well achieved characterizations to that chaotic ending.

So David’s Dilemma is a bit of a mixed bag here.  Some elements were wonderful, others did not achieve the same level of believability and completeness.  The decision is yours.

Cover art: Jess Buffetf.  Loved this cover.  Great job.

Sales Links:          All Romance         Amazon         David’s Dilemma

 

Book Details:
ebook
Published August 26th 2014 by Smashwords Edition, JK Publishing
ISBN139781311637376

Review: The Choosing by Annabelle Jacobs

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Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5

IThe Choosingn the shapeshifter village Eladir, all are shapeshifters regardless of gender.  But how they become shapeshifters differs dramatically for the boys.  Unlike the girls who are able to shift almost from birth with their animal already tattooed on their bodies, the boys have to wait until their 18th birthday or so when their fangs first drop and then must go through The Choosing in order to find out what animal they are, have the ability to shift and find a mate.  And what Jerath fears the most, at 19, is that his fangs will never drop and he will never have an animal spirit of his own let alone find someone to mate with.  On top of his insecurity about his lack of fangs is the fact that Jerath is attracted only to boys, not girls, and the ritual through which he is chosen depends upon his sexual union with a girl, something Jerath is not sure he can do.

The Choosing must only be performed at a full moon which is still some time away so Jerath and his best friend Serim spend their time running in the woods and discussing their hopes for the future.  While on just such an afternoon, the village Eladir is attacked by slave raiders who capture all the boys still unmarked as well as others.   Fearful and in need of help, Jerath and his best friend, Serim, head out cross country to the one place they hope will help them, a village and people known to them only through stories. Along the way, they meet Meren, a handsome warrior who is returning to the very village they seek.  The attraction between Meren and Jerath is immediate and deep.  But Meren is not a shapeshifter and his feelings towards sexual encounters is far more relaxed than the virginal Jerath’s.   With the full moon fast approaching, it is imperative that the prisoners be rescued or they will lose not only their freedom but the ability to shift forever.  Jerath needs Meren’s help but his own shifting moods and emotions are not helping, making the search harder as does the increasing depth of their attraction towards each other.  As the obstacles in their path mount up against them, will Jerath be able to save the prisoners and keep his heart from breaking?  Or will all be lost before the next full Moon?

The Choosing by Annabelle Jacobs brought about a myriad of emotions and thoughts about this book.  The author has painted a story that has a broad canvas with a far reaching story that covers religion, coming of age, and differing cultures, perhaps too large a canvas.  Jacobs has created a geographical universe bound together by a Goddess and the limitations of population upon a singular habitat.  There are several villages surrounded by Arachia Mountains whose four peaks protect the valley and the villages from being attacked “from the rear”.  The villages are surrounded by woods as well which are being cut down to make room for more families as each village contains three to four hundred people.  The villages are governed by the laws of the Goddess of the Woods.  Here is an excerpt that will explain it in village lore:

He listens to Serim sigh before she begins to recite the oldest of the forest laws. “When the moon is full, each and every boy who is of age shall choose a willing female. If the boy is deemed worthy, together they will consummate their union and invoke the spirits of the forest to bless the boy with their magic. Only then will his animal form be revealed.” The people of Eladir can shift their human form into that of one of the sacred beasts of legend: the lynx, tiger, black panther, and jaguar. These animals used to roam the forest when there were no villages here, so the village elders tell. It was by the Goddess’s goodwill that people were allowed to settle in the forest, and in return the villagers accepted her magical gift—the power to shift—and helped protect her animals whenever they were in danger.

By now some of the oddities in her world building should be popping up at you.  A confined habitat ruled by one Goddess that has given her people the ability to shift into animals to help protect her other animals and the woods.  The animals chosen just happen to be four large cat species that used to roam the woods the people now inhabit.  Hmmm, so what happened to those original cat populations?  And would you really chose large predators to protect deer, fish and bunnies? Perhaps not in my universe but it definitely happens within Jacobs’ world building.  Now add to that the fact that the villagers are growing in families. What happens to a habitat that becomes overcrowded? I think a Woods Goddess might have a problem with that.  And she did and she took care of it. By banishing another whole village from the woods and mountains because of overhunting.  That’s where Meren’s people comes in.  But no where it is addressed that Jerath’s villagers are rapidly deforesting said woods because of their own exploding populations, so the world building starts to break down even further.  I also wonder about a Goddess that has a finite range of influence because the raiders definitely aren’t Goddess worshiping people.  Now I have many, many more questions, observations about the incongruities in this author’s world building but by now there are so many piling up that its just not necessary.  It’s kind of neat, but all the elements just don’t add up to one cohesive universe in which to place her story.

The Choosing is Annabelle Jacobs’ take on the ritualized coming of age in fantasy stories.  I liked the fact that each gender has its own path with the females born with fangs and the ability to shift, their animal already identified by marks (really cool birthmarks not tattoos which are artificial), cat figures on their skin. Gender specific characteristics do occur in nature and I liked that she picked up on that. Then for some reason, the Goddess later decides the men should have the ability to shift as well and gifts them with the chance to choose a cat and shift through a ritual called The Choosing.  It includes male/female sex that brings the Goddess, a real presence, into the situation and lets her bless the joining.  But Jerath just happens to be gay and doesn’t want any f/m joining and doesn’t think he can apply himself as it were to the situation.  No worries, it turns out that when the time comes, he does too and the Goddess smiles on him.

And that large part of the story will leave most readers of m/m fiction frowning and wanting to leave this story behind. Because the m/f joining and the het sex does  take up most of the first part of the story.  Jacobs does handle it by saying it gives Jerath and his friend a deeper connection to each other (well, yes) while leaving them free to find their mates but I think more readers looking for primarily a m/m romance will be gone by that time.   Honestly, I felt this aspect of the story could have been made smaller and the romance between Jerath and Meren enlarged without hurting the plot but that is just my opinion.

The rest of the book is the hunt for the villagers taken by the raiders and the will they, won’t they romance of Jerath and Meren.  I still don’t feel that the author gave us a good explanation as to why a village of over three hundred cat shifters was taken by surprise by a smaller group of raiders.  Or if it was a larger group of raiders, it would have to have been a city’s worth and they would have sounded like elephants.  Surely the Goddress would have let them know danger was coming?  After all didn’t she create them to help protect her woods and creatures?  Wouldn’t all those birds have given flight and sounded alarm? How about all those cat senses?The more I think about it, the more holes appear in the plot and I just have to leave it alone.

So I think I will leave this review here.  The Choosing has some inventive  elements and some nice characterizations in a story that takes 210 pages to tell and for me those pages did not go by swiftly.  If you like your m/m romance minus het sex, than this is not for you.  If you like your stories cohesive and powerful, this isn’t for you either.  But if you are a fan of fantasy and shifters and love them all, pick this up and add one more cat shifter universe to your collection.

Cover art by Brooke Albrecht is just stunning.  I so wished the story had lived up to the promise of the cover.

Buy Links:    Dreamspinner Press          All Romance eBooks (ARe)           Amazon     The Choosing

Book Details:

ebook, 210 pages
Published October 18th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1627981918 (ISBN13: 9781627981910)
edition language English

Scattered Thoughts Summary of Reviews for October 2013

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October 2013 Summary of Book Reviews

It was a terrific month for books.  Sarah Black came out with her sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord titled The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari.  In my opinion it is the best book she has written to date, wide in scope with subtly nuanced characters that stay with you long after you have finished the story.  Also the Pulp Friction group of authors, (Lee Brazil, Havan Fellows, Laura Harner and T.A. Webb) start to bring their interconnected series to a close with 4 outstanding stories to equal the memorable characters to be found within. S.A. McAuley also brought us the second novel in The Borders War series, Dominant Predator.  I love those men, and need more of their history and complicated relationship.  Sue Brown gave us The Isle of Wishes, second in the Isle of Wight series, plus Ariel Tachna’s Lang Downs series (one of my favorite) expanded to five with Conquer The Flames, a “must read” book for all.

Well, I will let this list speak for itself.  So many great books here that there is sure to be something for everyone.  Grab up your notepad, IPad or paper, and write down the titles for those stories you might have missed.  I have linked my reviews to each book.  Happy readings!

Lady Reading Book in Chair 50 style    


5 Star Rating:

Conquer The Flames (Lang Downs #4) by Ariel Tachna, contemporary
Chance In Hell (Chances Are #5) by Lee Brazil, contemporary
Darkest Knight (City Knight #5) by T.A. Webb
Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2) by S.A. McAuley
Duplicity (Triple Threat #5) by Laura Harner
Knights Out (City Knight #4) by T.A. Webb
The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari by Sarah Black (contemporary, military)
Wicked Truths (Wicked’s Way #5) by Havan Fellows, contemporary
Wild Onions by Sarah Black (supernatural)

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

Enigma by Lloyd A. Meeker (4.25)(contemporary, paranormal)
Goblins, Book 1 by Melanie Tushmore (4.5 )(fantasy)
Home Team by Jameson Dash (4)(contemporary)
Isle of Wishes (Isle of Wight #2) by Sue Brown (contemporary)
Knightmare (City Knight #2) by T.A. Webb (4.75)(contemporary)
Northern Star by Ethan Day (4.25)(contemporary)
Playing Ball Anthology (4.75)(contemporary, historical)
Starry Knight (City Knight #3) by T.A. Webb (4.75)(contemporary)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Burning Now by A.R. Moler (3)(fantasy, supernatural)
Fool For Love by Cassandra Gold (3)(contemporary)
Strange Angels by Andrea Speed (3.75)(supernatural)
The Night Visitor by Ewan Creed (3 stars)(contemporary, supernatural)
Wireless by L.A. Witt (3.5)(science fiction)

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

Justice (Leopard Spots #10) by Bailey Bradford (2)(shifters, supernatural)
The Unwanted, the Complete Collection by Westbrooke Jameson (2.5)(science fiction)

1 to 1.75 Star Rating:

None this month

Other Blogs:
Author Spotlight: Havan Fellows on Wicked’s Way Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Lee Brazil on Chances Are Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: T.A. Webb on City Knight Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Laura Harner on Triple Threat series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Sarah Black on Wild Onions
Author Spotlight: Sarah Black on Writing Old Men and the second General release

I’m Off To GRL and The Week Ahead In Reviews

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GRL 2013logoShort and oh so sweet this week.  I am off to GRL in Atlanta this week and I am beside myself in anticipation.  If you listen hard enough you can hear a little fan girl “squee” here. So many people to meet and3d-person-sit-pile-books-reading-book-26141531 get to talk with, there are authors galore, publishers,, editors, other bloggers and of course readers.

Some authors i have chatted  with electronically just recently, some I have admired for years as well as so many new authors I have yet discover.  Really I am beside myself with joy. I hope to post some pictures and small journal pieces while I am gone but if things get busy (as I anticipate them to do) then, it will wait for a Scattered Thoughts at GRL Blog to pull it all together when I get back.

So here are the book reviews to be posted this week:

Monday, Oct. 14:     Conquer The Flames by Ariel Tachna

Tuesday, Oct. 15:      The Unwanted Collection by Westbrooke Jamison

Wed.., Oct. 16:            Strange Angels by Andrea Speed

Thurs, Oct. 17:            Wireless by L.A. Witt

Friday, Oct.18:           Fool For Love by Cassandra Gold

Sat., Oct. 19:               Justice  (Leopard’s Spots #10) by Bailey Bradford

Review: Redemption of the Beast (Outside the City #3) by Amylea Lyn

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Rating: 4 stars

Redemption of the Beast coverIt’s been 15 years since the City Dome fell and Owen Sanders returned home with his small twin brothers, Micah and Lucah to the Katrian village where he lives with his mate, Maltok, co leader of the Katria.  And while Lucah recovered from their shared ordeal, Micah’s health still suffers from the effects of the gassing he took as a child.  But one thing has stayed constant, other than his love for his brothers, and that would be his love of Sashan, the Katrian warrior who found them escaping from the City and carried him back to the village.  For all 15 years, Micah has loved Sashan but the shy, hermit like warrior stays away from Micah and the village, visiting infrequently.  From Sashan’s actions, Micah concludes that it is his physical weakness and small size that repulses Sashan, and he despairs of ever having his love returned.

Sashon is a gentle and troubled  warrior who is still trying to recover emotionally from the events of the past.  Emotionally and physically abused by his twin brother, Rashon, he was still devastated when the identity of the betrayer was revealed.  Further solidifying his guilt and pain was the fact that Sashon delivered the blow that killed his brother.  His emotions in turmoil and his guilt overwhelming him, Sashon feels unworthy of the one person he loves and who he knows to be his mate, Micah.

Then Micah is kidnapped and Sashan must put away all his fears and guilt to rescue his mate, discover who is behind the kidnapping, and how the City and its Planners are involved.  The race is on and Micah’s frail health puts his life in jeopardy.  Will Sashon find the redemption he seeks when he finds his mate?

Redemption of the Beast is the third book in this addicting and sometimes frustrating series, Outside The City,  by Amylea Lyn.  First let’s go over the highlights and wonders that make me return book after book.

Amylea Lyn has created a remarkable universe for her series.  We are on a planet of various geology and climes, but humans (as such) have retreated to a Domed City that was created by the Founders, their creation race, and now never venture outside because of the rules of their society and their fears of the creatures and plants that live there.  A race of felines called the Katria (various species from tigers to lions etc) live in villages outside the Dome and are at odds with the rulers of the City.  Book one, The Nature of the Beast, gives us a general outline for The City, its culture and homogeneous human inhabitants.  They all have light blue eyes, white blonde hair, same physical structure and anything outside of that norm, including honey blonde hair is looked down upon. Along with the marvelous Katrian culture, Lyn brought an amazing element of plant symbiosis in Raine, another important character.  This merger of human and plants is so enthralling and potent that I still cannot stop thinking about all the possibilities that can occur in future plots.

Book two, The Beast’s Promise, saw the fall of the Dome that protected the City and isolated its citizens. It was brings back a secondary character of Owen Sanders, his mate Maltok and Owen’s quest to find and save his twin brothers. It is also our first glimpse of Sashan.  We are given further information as to the Founders and their purpose on the planet, just fascinating as the author starts adding additional layers to her universe and the series story lines.  By the end of this book, we are clamoring to know more about the twins and she gives it to us in book three. However, there is no mention of the  plant symbiosis that drove the first book, sigh.

Redemption of the Beast continues to enlarge our knowledge of the planet’s inhabitants as it now adds a race of wolf shifters called Wolfrik to the mix and an explanation as to their (and the Katrians) existence. Sashan, a character that captured our hearts along with the twins now gets his story and that of his mate.  The addition of the Wolfrik shows that the Founders had a larger role for all the species involved, we just don’t know what it is yet.  There are more betrayals, twists and turns along with the angst and sorrow I have come to expect from this series.  But Lyn always balances the pain with the joy of a mate bond concluded and the suspense of a new bond yet to be revealed.  Amylea Lyn always sets the stage for the next in the series by the end of the current book. So we know that Lucah’s book is the next to come.

Combine the author’s terrific plot ideas with her ability to bring her scenes to life with vivid and powerful descriptions, and you have a series that compels you to read them like an addictive treat you can’t stop eating.  But there are also frustrations here as well that make me grind my teeth even as I devour each page of the story.  Most of it would be assuaged if Silver Publishing would do a better job at editing their stories.  Mistakes such as “on” when it should be “of”, and other errors similar in nature are noted but what really makes me crazy is things like the sentence below:

“I would know where I was going if you hadn’t broken my (blank), you little piss ant!” (spoiler word removed)

Now, yes you can call someone a piss ant although with that usage it should be pissed ant.  I suspect (and hope) that the editors knew the word was pissant  for an insignificant or contemptible person or thing.  Or use piss-ant, that’s ok too.  Both come from pismire, a 14th Old English term for ant. Yes, spell check wants to divide it, not so the dictionary. Still a human editor relying on knowledge and not a machine should know whether you want it to mean an angry arthropod or someone of no consequence. By the way, the word piss came from the smell emanating from an ant hill, good Jeopardy question.  Now you know.

And another is that when talking about a treaty between the Wolfrik tribe and the Katria, it is proposed between two negotiators to send the wolf shifter healers to the Katria and Katrian hunters to the Wolfrik to help them hunt.  Huh, because wolves are such bad hunters?  Either we are missing some necessary information, or this doesn’t make sense give the wolf shifter backstory the author supplies us with.

Anyhow let’s return to my qualms about editing errors and mistakes because I know there are some of you thinking that this is nick picking and you might be right.  But when something, whether it is suspect language or punctuation, stops you mid sentence, interrupting the story for you, then it becomes important,  It has provided a distraction away from the author’s narrative, impeded the proceedings, and the momentum is lost for however long it takes to get it back, not good when it happens during an “aha” moment.  Frustrating or as I call it, the “argh” moment.

But even with those issues, I can’t stop reading this series.  Lyn’s lively, layered characters will stay with you, their backstories will haunt you, and the predicaments they find themselves in amuse and terrify you.  Amylea Lyn leaves me wanting more and wanting to know more about the universe she has created and the beings that populate it.  This is a terrific series and with the right editor, it could be a 5 star series that the ideas deserve.  Either way, if you are new to the series, start at the beginning book and work your way through.  It is the only way to make sense of the characters and the situations they are involved in.

Here are the books in the order they were written and should be read:

Nature of the Beast (Outside the City #1)

The Beast’s Promise (Outside the City #2)

Redemption of the Beast (Outside the City #3)

Cover design by Reese Dante.  I love the design with the exception of the blond haired model, something about him seems off and ruins it for me.  Otherwise it is ok, love the tiger and the mountains as well as the model at the upper left corner.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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sláinte! Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  To start your St. Patrick’s Day, here is some great music from Brogan’s Bar in Ennis, Ireland to get you fired up!

Half Irish, half Scottish, I love this day and today the weather has gone along with the program and seems particularly Irish. Overcast, damp, but not too cold, perfect for marching in parades all over the nation.

I have travelled to Ireland several times and found the leaving of it always comes with a crease in my heart, as though even my cells know that we are saying farewell to home.  My first time visiting with my high school daughter was both a delightful and revelatory, her feet seeming to find paths that she should not know where there.   My nights were filled of dreams of seals and shores and music carried along the winds over gorse covered hills, studded with stone.  And on the penultimate day, Heather and I were hiking in a verdant forest, far away from any others or so we thought.  And then we heard it, or heard them more accurately.  First the sounds of a waterfall, the roar getting louder the closer we got.  But what really made that day magical was the sounds of piping coming from high overhead.  We craned our necks to see where it came from and finally we found him, standing on a rock ledge, eyes closed, bagpipes swelling as he lost himself in the music he was playing.  We listened for a while and then quietly left, rejuevenated and enriched by a magical experience shared before she left for college.  One of my finest memories.

So day I hope for the best for all of you, of laughter shared, of love found and family held close. And as this website is, mostly, devoted to books I will leave you with a quote from an Irish author:

“As a writer, I write to see. If I knew how it would end, I wouldn’t write. It’s a process of discovery.”
– Author John McGahern

Here is the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, March 18:                An Unconventional Union by Scotty Cade

Tuesday, March 19:                 Never A Hero by Marie Sexton

Wed., March 20:                     Redemption of the Beast by Amylea Lyn

Thursday, March 21:              Family Man by Heidi Cullinan

Friday, March 22:                   Nights in Canaan by Kendall McKenna

Sat., March 23:                        Natural Predators by Neil Placky

So, that’s the week.  Have a safe and wonderful St. Patrick’s Day.  Forego the green beer, that’s gross anyway and have a Irish Manhattan, so much better!

Review: Infected Lesser Evils #6 by Andrea Speed

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Rating: 4.75 stars

“In a world where a werecat virus has changed society, Roan McKichan, a born infected and ex-cop, works as a private detective trying to solve crimes involving other infecteds.”

When Roan gets a call from the police about a shifted Infected at Club Damage, that there are injured people, and the cat cornered in the club bathroom, he heads out to investigate and take down the cat.  But almost immediately Roan realizes there is a larger problem than just an infected cat on the loose.  The cat is dying and smells off, it has almost a chemical aroma to it.  Then another cat shifts out of  schedule and dies and then another.  The autopsy reveals a chemical in their bloodstream, a new drug that forces the Infected people to shift early and die.  Roan and the police force realize that someone has targeted all Infected’s and it’s up to Roan to find that person before they have a wave of cat deaths throughout the city.

Holden is also having a very bad day.  He is beaten up by one of his john’s and needs Roan’s help to get back to his condo.  But his john is not finished with him yet and an already anguished Roan takes on the role of an avenger something that is happening in greater frequency.  Because the infected population is not only being targeted by a drug pusher, a serial killer is hunting them down as well.  As Roan tries to find the supplier of the poisoned drugs and track the killer with Holden’s help, he also has to deal with increasing migraines and the fact that the lion just might be taking over.  It’s almost enough to make Roan want to die if the virus would let him.

Lesser Evils is the sixth book in the Infected series that remains one of my all time favorites.  This is quite simply a mesmerizing saga at every level starting with the central premise of an out of control virus. The virus is spreading throughout the human population with the disastrous effect of changing those infected into beings no longer completely human before killing them.  The origin of the virus is unknown, although the speculations include the most favored “secret government agency trying to build a super soldier” one.  But it could also include a feline virus not unlike the avian or swine bug run amuck.  I love the idea of a nebulous background for the virus although it remains to be seen if the author leaves it this  way or has something totally different planned for us and Roan.  Trust me, it would be just like Andrea Speed to have some utterly confounding explanation just lying in wait for us in future books.

The Infected series also includes some of my favorite characters, again starting with the heart of the series, Roan McKitchen.  He is an Infected child, born of an Infected mother instead of someone infected after birth.  Roan is also the only known child to not only survive but thrive with the virus inside of him.  But thriving physically is not the same as surviving emotionally or mentally and Roan continues to battle both his emotions and mental state as the virus mutates within him.  And it is this constantly changing state that Roan finds himself in that speaks to so many fundamental questions within us.  What does it mean to be human?  Is who we are internally, in our mind and soul tied to who we are physically?  If who you are physically is no longer within the realm of human specifications, does that outsider status remove you from the human condition and people all around you to the extent you can’t relate to them any more?  Question after important question is brought up but the answers are constantly evolving as is Roan.  I love the high level of complexity here and the fact that with each book, who and what Roan is becoming more bewildering and convoluted as well.

Just as there are no “reasonably” simple human beings, you won’t find them within these pages either.  This includes Holden Fox, another favorite. Holden started out as a high priced hooker but now seems to be evolving into Roan’s investigative partner and fellow vigilante when necessary. He is not just familiar with the dark underbelly of society, but is a top denizen there.  His outlook is a needed contrast to Dylan, Roan’s artist husband and part time bartender.  Dylan, another beautifully layered portrait, loves Roan and is trying to accept the changes he sees in him.  Dylan also is in the unpleasant role of being the one man who can never quite measure up to Roan’s true love, Paris Lehane and now must live with a ghost always present in their relationship. And then there are all the characters that circle around Roan, from the hockey players (Grey, Scott, Tank…all memorable) to Seb and Drop Kick, the police officers Roan works with.  There is no such thing as a cardboard character in a Andrea Speed novel.

Lesser Evils tackles several problems at once, much the same as the other stories.  One strand that is running through the last few books is that there seems to be a mysterious organization, perhaps one with white supremacists, that is targeting Infecteds, trying to wipe them out by various methods, in this case by poisoning a favored club drug.  Only those infected by the virus die and die horribly.  So Roan, the police, FBI and others are trying to track the source of the drug to its manufacturer in a race that also includes a antidote as more and more die on the streets.  In addition, someone is hunting the Infecteds like big game and the police with a couple of exceptions don’t seem to be taking this as seriously as they would if the serial killer was hunting “people”.  This infuriates Roan as he starts to feel like he must take the “savior” role he has always avoided.

As Andrea Speed pulls all these threads together, she also weaves Roan’s torment over his changing physical and mental state into the pattern as well.  The lion inside is coming out more and more and Roan is struggling with his emotions and temper to the point he thinks Dylan is in danger.  We feel his anger, the level of his depression and even his rage at those who remain unconcerned and removed from the plight of the Infected.  The author forces us to think about what makes us who we are as Roan loses the certainly we take for granted.  The virus also seems to be protecting him in startling ways even as it is morphing him into  something the world has never seen before.  And with increasing dread, we “hear” as the government starts to talk about making Infecteds register themselves, which sounds like a precursor to concentration camps, for their own good of course.  As I stated, so many elements are in play here, and the future for  all is becoming increasingly muddied. Especially for Roan, our most reluctant of heroes but for which race?

For even as Dylan reminds Roan that he is still human, and we know he is not, and Holden abjures Roan to renounce the human race and accept his non human status, Roan in his anguished, drugged state tries to find a median ground that probably does not exist.  And we are there with him for every angst ridden step he takes in the journey before him and the rest of the world.  And that is the cherry on top.  The tantalizing glimpses that Speed allows us to see along Roan’s path.  It’s these small windows that open up into a possible future for Roan and the other Infecteds that give me shivers and make me undeniably one of her biggest fans even when she leaves me and all the other readers hanging as she does here in Lesser Evils.  Yes, even as we find out the new mutations the virus has caused in Roan, it also has a debilitating effect on him that turns into a cliffhanger at the end.  *Head desk*.  Roan pulls out all the deepest emotions in the reader because he is so well crafted, that he becomes real to us which makes the cliffhanger at the end so frustrating because we need to know what happens next.  Sigh.

As I have commented on how much I dislike cliffhangers in other books, so that is the reason my head pounded when I found it here.  So as we wait for Dreamspinner Press to bring out the next in the series and for this situation with Roan in the hospital to be resolved, I will placate myself by going back to the beginning and starting to read the series all over again, looking for new clues I might have missed, and uncovering elements the author may have hidden away.  So even with the dreaded cliffhanger in place, grab this one up.  Or if you are new to the series, go back to the beginning and become acquainted with  one of the most complex and enthralling characters to cross a page.

Andrea Speed also compiles a playlist for each book.  They can be found at her website In Absentia. Here are the books in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the saga:

Infected: Prey

Bloodlines

Life After Death

Freefall

Shift 

Lesser Evils

Cover: Cover by Anne Cain is just magnificent.  The cover art is available for download as screensavers at Andrea Speed’s website.