Summer Has Begun and the Week Ahead at Scattered Thoughts….

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Summer officially started yesterday and already I feel as though I am behind in my normal summer activities.    The late winter combined with a cold and rainy spring has meant all my gardening chores were delayed well into late Spring.  Now my gardens are playing catchup with flowers blooming out of season and major replantings necessary due to the frigid conditions that saw many of the temperate plants perish.   On the downside I lost some of my favorite plants like my old rosemary bush and many of my lavenders.  On the plus side?  I get to redesign some spaces and bring in new plants I have always wanted in my gardens.

Funny how things always seem to happen that way.  Old things give way to new, cycles continue whether you want them to or not.  Change arrives and its what you make of it that matters.  Mourn the old if you must but welcome the new and see where it takes you…..gardening lessons that work no matter what you are actually applying them to.  Weed out the extraneous from your life.  Mulch and prune as necessary.  Fertilize and nuture.  Water and let go.   Repeat…appreciate the seasons.    And keep the terriers from hunting the toads…..that foaming at the mouth is nasty and the toads don’t like it either.

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Winner Announcement: Winner of the “Looking After Joey” contest is Jo johannasnodgrass@yahoo.com. Jo has been contacted by myself and David Pratt. Congratulations to Jo.  My thanks to David Pratt for the wonderful interview and book giveaway.

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My week ahead at ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords is looking like this:

Monday, June 23:         Cold Feet by Lee Brazil

Tuesday, June 24:          Miles and the Magic Flute by Heidi Cullinan

Wed., June 25:               G.B. Lindsey “One Door Closes” Book Tour/Contest

Wed., June 25:               Voodoo ‘n’ Vice by K.C. Burn

Thursday, June 26:       Book Blast:  Lee Brazil and “Less Than All” (contest)

Thursday, June 26:       Swords, Sorcery and Sundry by Mina  MacLeod

Friday, June 27:             Author Spotlight: An Interview with Mina MacLeod (contest)

Friday, June 28:            Book Blast: Draven St. James and “Fused By Fire” (contest)

Saturday, June 29:        Duty to the Crown by Rebecca Cohen

 

Happy Reading…now off to the gardens while the sun shines…

Review: Hunter By Blood by Robin White

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Rating: 2.75  stars out of 5

Cover - Hunter By BloodWerewolf hunter Kayn is in pursuit of a  werewolf when he is bitten by his prey.  Found by another hunter, the injured Kayn is returned to headquarters to shift and meet his fate.  But there is something different about Kayn.  The transformation isn’t normal.  Kayn can control the  wolf and its hunger.  Kayn is also much bigger and a different color than was expected.   The leader of the Hunters lets Kayn live and his decision has long lasting ramficiations for all.  For the answer to Kayn’s transition and the new werewolf he has become is hidden in plain sight.  Behind the red door in the Hunter Headquarters lies the answers Kayn needs and his future requires.

Well, all I can say is that its just too bad that so many neat ideas ended up in such an less finished, and disconnected story.  I love werewolf stories and the author has included some intriguing elements  created for Hunter by Blood.  Unfortunately she has buried it in a morass of confused storylines, a lack of any sort of universe building, frustrating disconnected plot threads and lack of defined characterizations.  Everything about this story is as murky as its cover.  From the start we have no information about the universe we are reading about.  We learn nothing  about the city and society.  Ditto about the band of hunters killing the werewolves. And sometimes vampires?  We don’t know anything because the story lays no foundations for anything, it’s just confusing.

Equally confusing are the relationships among the men we meet.  Or the people we meet, some might be men and some are…..something else?  Not human?  Again, just don’t know.  Kayn and another hunter, Bryce.  They arrived to join the Hunters on the same day (which according to the story is odd but it never explains why). Since that moment, the men have competed (in what again we dont know) and have been at odds ever since.  Or have they.  One, Kayn, has dark coloring and  Bryce is his exact opposite.  What does that mean if anything?  Kaye’s wolf shape is white with red stripes., when he should be black.  Again why?

At certain points in the story its  mentioned that they might have feelings towards each other but as we aren’t supplied with any history or evidence of such, it turned into a throwaway line until it reappeared towards the end.  The Hunter group appears to have been created along the lines of the French Foreign Legion where each person leaves their family and past behind.  Only the author keeps bringing Kayn’s past up, although without any details, just vague references to some family ties that make him an even better hunter.  Trust me, after 20 pages or so, you will be frustrated beyond belief at the lack of details given that the author clearly wants you to think is a great mystery instead of the great pain in the you know what it actually is.

Here is an example with Aaron, the head of the Hunter group in his rooms and a furred demon snake appears floating at his head. sigh:

“I haven’t seen you this nervous in quite a while, Aaron.”

The voice seemed to come from nowhere, and something like smoke seemed to rise from the shadows. Aaron sighed quietly, but he smiled as the smoke formed into something he often compared to a snake covered in fur and and infused with a very talkative personality. Biblios, a word demon, had been one of his few trusted companions for quite some time and was always offering his advice. The other hunters didn’t know about the strange creature, and for that Aaron was grateful. His long, sleek body curled up on top of Aaron’s desk, silver runes glowing in his dark fur. Biblios seemed to have recently digested, in his way, a story once again. The way it worked was a riddle to Aaron, but it wasn’t of concern for the moment. He needed to talk about his current situation to someone, and Biblios was just the right … entity to talk to.

“You are worrying about Kayn’s condition, correct?”

“Yes. It should be impossible for him to even think rationally any longer, yet he stood before me and even talked about his worries about what the infection might entail for him.” Aaron tilted his head to one side. “I simply don’t understand it.” “Well …” Biblios exhaled, a cloud of silver-white smoke coming from his nostrils. “That is a mystery indeed. We already know that there’s a multitude of different werewolves out there, every single of those variants with very specific attributes and abilities. But what we see happening with Kayn might be a completely new species, without any ties to a werewolf.”

Aaron shook his head. “No, Biblios, that strains credulity too far. He was bitten by a werewolf. There is no doubt he will— well, you know …”

No we don’t know and quite frankly neither do they.  Although I have to admit I liked Biblios, a word demon who consumes words the way others devour hamburgers. He is a inventive creation, quite wasted in this story.  But liking a segment here or appreciating an element there doesn’t add up to a whole story.  For me, it just frustrating because even with all the small interesting bits, it just doesn’t work as a finished product.  So I am giving this werewolf tale a pass.  You should too.

Cover design by London Burden.

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: November 13th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original titleHunter by Blood
ISBN139781620042830
edition languageEnglish

Review: Goblins, Book 1 by Melanie Tushmore

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Goblins, Book 1In the 17th Century, the ancient sprawl of Epping forest is bursting with magic and those who go unseen by human eyes: the elves who rule the summer court, and the goblins who rule the winter court. It is said that if a human catches the eye of one of the fey, they are either doomed or blessed.

The Goblin King has seven sons, a number said to be unlucky.  For most of them, home and duties is not enough and when they go exploring chance encounters with humans change their lives forever.

Book 1 contains the stories of Wulfren and  Quiller, goblin princes and the humans that changed their lives.

Goblins is a magical book on so many levels.  From that cover that pulls you in with its haunting and haunted young beings to the lyrical and imaginative descriptions of Epping forest and its dwellers, this book kept me awake thinking about the scenes and settings I found within.

Honestly this is a book who needs more than one rating because of all its standout elements, including that miraculous cover.  But the characters and plots for each brother varied enough for me to rate each story individually.  So let’s start with my least favorite and the first in the book, Wulfren and the Warlock:

1. Wulfren and the Warlock.  Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Wulfren is the seventh son of the Goblin King and the youngest.  Wulfren also has the least amount of magic as the magic increases with age.  A very young spirit, Wulfren is half elf and half goblin. His mother is an elf banished for her passion and love for the Goblin King, she remains the favorite of his consorts and the mother of two of his sons.   His curiosity and youth get the better of him when Wulfren and his brother Garnet spy a warlock in their woods and play pranks on him.    When the warlock turns the tables on Wulfren and captures him, both of their lives change forever.

I loved so much of this story.  The plot is wonderful, the settings other worldly and the descriptions of everything within so unbelievably magical that I never wanted to leave.  So where is the problem?  With one character, that of Wulfrin.  Wulfrin is a very young spirit, so young in fact that his dialog and antics place him in the realm of a 12 to 14 year old.  He himself says at one point to the warlock after being captured:

“I… I have over seven hundred seasons, now. Seven hundred and twenty,” I added.

“Seasons? The seasons … But that would make you …” He sounded surprised, his eyes widening. “Age aside, you must be a young spirit.”

“I’m not young!” I said, indignant. “I do everything the adults do.”

Yes, Wulfren is young, adorably so.  He acts on impulse, doesn’t like doing his chores and feels shuffled aside at his father’s court because no one let’s him do anything.  Any one who has had a child or is familiar with children has heard this plaintive voice a hundred times or more.  It’s the voice of a child and Tushmore has captured it perfectly.  So why do I have issues with this?  Because immediately the Warlock binds him with silver chains and drags him off to bed, introducing elements of bdsm and non con sexual activities to basically what is a immature goblin.  No matter how I tried looking at this aspect of the story, the squick factor was just too big to overlook.  Time and again, I picture Wulfren as Max from Where the Wild Things Are roaring his terrible roar., claws included.  Not an image Tushmore would want to evoke. Even after both admit they have feelings for each other, it still feels like a barely pubescent boy who wants to please an older man, doing small chores around the house and pleading for his attention.  When they are parted, Wulfren writes a letter to his warlock and its contents are those that any tween writing to Tiger Beat would recognize.   Even if you accept that these two characters have a loving relationship, it never feels real or believable, just terribly one sided.

And that is the fault of Ash, the warlock.  We really never get a firm grip on his character.  Who is he?  Why is he by himself on the edge of the woods?  He remains an enigma for the entire story, and that makes it hard for us to believe and connect with his relationship to Wulfren.  Everyone else comes alive in this story with the exception of Ash.  Had his character been more fleshed out and Wulfren made an older soul, then this story would have a completely different tone.

Still, the vivid descriptions and magical air that Tushmore imparts to her tale make this story a lush visit to hidden kingdoms.  Here is a look as the goblins get ready for a celebration when Wulfren is brought home:

They led me downstairs. Random bursts of song filled the air as musicians tuned their instruments, and quarrelled over who played what. Outside in the dark, the court gathered amongst the inner ring, with the toadstools towering above us. Sprites had lit the dew drops that covered the toadstool heads, and they sparkled. Fires lit on twig ends were jabbed into the ground for torches. Brownies rushed about with acorn shells full of wine in their arms, sloshing liquid as they hurried.

“Father has even broken out the mead,” Garnet whispered to me. “Hurry, before it’s all gone.”

I dream of lit dew drops and fire flies tucked into cobwebs to light the great hall.  Just so magical.   Scenes like this elevated this story above the main relationship.

2. Quiller and the Runaway Prince:  Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King.  He is half goblin and half bird spirit like his mother, another one of the King’s consorts.  When winter is finished and spring comes to the woods once more, Quiller and the rest of the goblins are free of their duties for two seasons and its time to play.  Flying through the woods, Quiller sees a fallen man and his injured horse deep in the forest.  The horse snorts and tells Quiller he doesn’t think much of the young man but Quiller sees and feels something for the human right from the start.  When Quiller tells the young man that “all runaway princes are mine”, a journey begins that neither is quite prepared for.

This story has it all, great characters, believable relationship between beings of basically the same age (emotionally and intellectually), and the vivid, imaginative descriptions that make this book a must read on every level.  This is how the story begins:

The start of spring, 1648.

Winter was over, at long last. Tonight we were all in our larger forms— as tall as elves— and dressed in vein-thin leaves. It was the celebration to welcome Eostre, goddess of spring. Our home, the rotten ring, had been decorated in her honour. Dewdrops were lit, and fireflies were hung in cobwebs. The musicians piped up and played as the first glimmer of Eostre appeared through the trees. Pale light played on her shapely edges, like it shone from within. The form she took to visit us was more elf-like than anything; tall and graceful, with long, sleek hair of many colours.

Hair that moved. As Eostre stepped inside our ring of rotten tree trunks, I could see her hair crawled with insect larvae. She paid it no mind, as she cast an amused eye over the ring, then addressed Father. “Goblin king. Your line was missing one pair of claws this winter.”

Father’s face twitched ever so slightly before he replied. “Yes, Goddess, we … We managed without.”

We know from the previous story that the missing set of claws belongs to Wulfren, the youngest son of the Goblin King.  The King and his subjects are responsible for Fall and Winter.  And during those seasons, the King holds Court but the scepter passes to the elves in the spring and there the Goddess will hold court through the summer months.  I loved the image of the Goddess, Eostre, her hair full of larvae that writhe as she walks. Its mesmerizing, opulent and yet somewhat repulsive. Yet, Tushmore is not finished with Eostre.  Here is the scene as the Goddess leaves the company of goblins:

The ceremony was almost over; Eostre bid our ring farewell. In each footprint she left, fresh shoots and flowers grew, yet without her touch they soon wilted. All flowers died in the rotten ring.

Eostre inclined her head to Father. “Raedren, goblin king of the southern realm, thank you for the winter.”

“Goddess. Peace be.” Father bowed deeply to her in return, his cloak of cobwebs fluttering around him.

“Peace be.” Eostre smiled, then turned with a swish of hair and flowers. Her hair’s colour was ever changing, like the leaves in the trees. Butterflies and mayflies now crawled from her hair, spread their wings, and took flight. She left in a trail of flying insects and wilting flowers, on her way to the summer court, and the elves.

How wondrous, how enchanting!  And the spell is set for the rest of the story.  I loved the characters here, each a small treasure to be held and marveled at again and again.  Quiller is just the start of a cast we will connect with and remember.  Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King and therefore a prince himself.  But his mother is a bird spirit, a crow and his personality bears the hallmarks of a bird.  He is flighty, scattered in his thoughts and attentions and he recognizes that.  Just his actions as he flies through the forest gives ample example of this character and light hearted nature. Cashel is also a prince, a human one.  But magic aside, these two are each other’s equal in courage, in outlook, and finally in love.  They are everything that is missing from the first story.

Tushmore also uses Quiller’s journey to bring a dark realistic look at the times and ways of humanity.  Along the way, Quiller talks to a group of crows to see if they know where his mother resides.  They reply to look near the gibbet:

“Gibbet?” I asked, puzzled.

“Wood the humans hang other humans on,” he explained. “We peck their bones clean. Nice when it’s dried in the sun.”

“How strange,” I said. “Where is this gibbet?”

“Find the human path,” the crow said. “East of here. Before you get to the human place.”

“Oh, fear not, I shan’t be visiting any humans!” I cawed.

But of course, he does, flying past human remains, evidence of the cruel nature of the times.  Tushmore blends together the magical and the human worlds with a smooth, gifted touch.  When Quiller meets Cashel, a human of royal blood, Cromwell and the Parliament are laying waste to the people and lands all around.  None of that really matters to Quiller but Cashel is mired deep in the midst of political intrigue and fears for his life.  So into the castle goes Quiller (in bird form of course) where Cashel is living with his cousins.  Black deeds abound inside, threatening Cashel’s life and those of his relatives.  With a magical being in the middle, all sorts of things start to happen, and the reader will love every single minute.   I mean, Melanie Tushmore gives us everything we could want and more.  There’s poison, nefarious goings on, villains, a witch and of course, love.  And it’s all believable, and layered and complete.  Well mostly.

These are just the first two books and there are seven sons, five more to go.  So I expect to see Quiller and Cashel appear in the books to come.  Quiller still has his duties to attend to in the fall and winter.  Plus I don’t expect the Goblin King to willingly lose another son to the humans and that is not addressed here.   Still this story is quite marvelous, worthy of the price of this book alone.

After reading Goblins, I can’t wait to see what the author does for the rest of the sons.  I want more of her extraordinary descriptions and spellbinding imagination.  I highly recommend this to you all even with my reservations concerning the first story.

Cover design by Ria Chantler.  This cover is exquisite, one of the best of 2013.  The more closely I look at it, the better it gets.  just remarkable.

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: September 25th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC (first published September 25th 2012)
original title Goblins, Book One
ISBN13 9781620042373
edition language English

Review: Sonata by A.F. Henley

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Rating: 4.5 stars ouf of 5

Sheet Music with Rose on pianoIan James is feeling every bit of his thirty six years.  His long term partner cheated on him, multiple times apparently, before leaving for good.  Ian’s long promised promotion at work is two years overdue and counting.  Now his sexual hookup, young sexy Jordan, has just told  him to get lost after some quick mutual satisfaction.  Even after Ian tried to pursue Jordan, all he got in return was an outright refusal.  What’s a man to do?

Jordan has more than he can handle at the moment, two jobs and his young son Cole who happens to be autistic. When Jordan hooked up with Ian one night, all he wanted was just a quickie, no involvement, no phone numbers but the universe had other plans.  When their paths intersected not once, but twice, it seemed as though fate was interfering.  Yes, Ian had made it clear that he wanted to see Jordan again but meeting each other again and again was completely accidental.  Can both men overcome their pasts and their fears to make a future together?

There is so much to love about A. F. Henley’s latest book, Sonata.  From the lovely and relevant cover, the chapters titled with the names of musical movements to the in-depth research the author has done on Asperger syndrome, the story kept me involved and emotionally engaged from the opening page.

Henley’s characters are both desperate to connect with someone yet equally fearful for a connection to be made.  Each man’s past makes them question their ability to see clearly about situations and individuals.  Ian’s last boyfriend hurt him emotionally, cheating on Ian on numerous occasions, taking advantage of his generous and forgiving nature.  Now Ian questions his own judgement when it comes to people and relationships.  Jordan is hiding a traumatic past and trusts no one unless absolutely necessary.  These characters contain all the nuances necessary to make them not only believable but endearing.  For Ian and Jordan to go forward past their fears into a tenuous relationship, we watch them slowly let go of their closely held suspicions  to reach a measure of comfort and trust with each other. It’s a slow, subtly shaded journey with pitfalls every step of the way.

Another remarkable character is the young boy Cole.  Cole has Asbergers syndrome and  Henley gives us an authentic portrait of the effects of this genetic disease on an adolescent.  Cole’s behavior as well as the methods used to calm him down are realistic and medically authentic in nature and scope.  But what I love most is that this is a balanced portrait of autism the author achieves in Cole.  For every wail and out of control moment, there is an equal victory to behold.  Small, fleeting and sometimes almost unnoticeable, but there to be seen and applauded. It is a marvelous element of this story and Henley’s treatment elevated this story past a romance into something very special.  For a key to Cole is music.  And Ian with his grandfather’s beloved piano opens the way for Cole to enjoy and communicate with others through music.

This is a age gap between Jordan and Ian and for some, this might be an issue.  Jordan is younger than Ian, in actions and emotions.  But I still felt enough of a real romantic connection between the two characters that it never bothered me.  What did I have issues with? The ending.  As with so many stories these days, it just petered off.  For it to feel fully satisfactory, I wanted to know more about Cole and his current situation.  I also needed more than a paragraph or two to pull all the events of the last fourth of the story together.  It was a good ending but the story that preceded it deserved a great one and didn’t get it.

Still Sonata is terrific.  It’s a story full of characters that pull you in and moments that have you cheering out loud (take that, Aubrey or )tearing up in response to the scenes you are reading.  Leave me leave you with a scene with Cole and Ian:

Cole hitched a breath, mid-shriek, and paused for a second before resuming his demonic call. Ian forced him over to the tub, a square grungy hulk of an appliance, and shoved Cole’s ear against the side of the tub with more force than he’d have liked. But the moment Cole’s ear was pressed to the side of the tub, Cole stilled and silenced. A palm snaked up the slick surface of the bathtub and rested alongside Cole’s flushed cheek. His eyes drifted into unknown territory as he listened to the echo of water through metal.

A scary and ultimately beautiful moment for child and man.  Grab up this book.  I think you will love it as much as I did.

Cover art by Megan Derr.  I love this cover, so relevant and lovely.  Great job.

Book Details:

ebook
180 pages, printed version
Published July 17th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original title Sonata
ISBN13 9781620042137
edition language English

Review: Heroes & Villains (Heroes & Villains #1) by Harper Kingsley

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

heroesvillains400Once Vereint Georges realized he had superpowers he dreamed of the day he would become a superhero and help save the world.  He would be adored, famous and hopefully wealthy.  But the reality was far different than he ever could have imagined.  Vereint didn’t like sewing his costumes and he had to keep his day job in order to live. Then his first rescue as the superhero Starburst went horribly wrong.  The person he rescued was badly burned by his superpowers and Vereint threw up in front of the cameras.  To make it worse, his superhero name reminded everyone of the candy and not a hero.  In fact, there were so many superheroes that he was ridiculed by the very people he was supposed to save and mocked by the other superheroes who wouldn’t accept him, especially the superhero Blue Ice.   Vereint hated being a superhero but what else could he do?

Well, he could become a villain and soon Darkstar was born.  Vereint found it incredibly freeing and lucrative to be evil.  He was even good at it!  Soon the populace of Megacity feared and idolized him.  Darkstar even had people wanting to be his minions.  Vereint as Darkstar had finally made it and life was outstanding.

Blue Ice, aka Warrick Tobias, hated Darkstar.  He hated him when he was Starburst and hated him worse now that he was supervillain Darkstar.  Darkstar was all Warrick could think about.  It was almost like he was obsessing over him.  Of course, Darkstar was impossibly gorgeous with that black hair and mesmerizing blue eyes.   Darkstar even invaded his dreams so what is a superhero to do?

When Darkstar and Blue Ice’s clashes turn amorous it leaves both metahumans confused and maybe even hopeful.   A superhero and a supervillain falling in love? Is that even possible?  It’s time for Darkstar and Blue Ice to find out.

I throughly enjoyed this book.  I didn’t know what to expect from the blurb but the reality of the story was so much better than I expected.  In fact, I felt as though I got two books for the price of one.  Heroes and Villains is the story of two metahumans who live in the metropolis of Megacity (of course).  Harper Kingsley starts off the story in a setting than any reader of comic books would recognize.  Those anonymous buildings populated by typical humans going about their business even as superheroes and villains clash in the streets and air all around them.  Disasters and super battles are commonplace and there is such a surfeit of superheroes and supervillains that each has a council to keep them organized.  For the superheroes, it is the League of Superheroes and  for villains it is the League of Ultimate Evil.  There is the Police Commissioner and his Code Black that will summon the superheroes when needed.  It’s all there and accounted for, all the elements we have come to expect, love, and maybe even giggle at when we think of superheroes, supervillains and the cities they live in.  As I was reading, all I could think of was how much fun Harper Kingsley must have had writing this story.

From the names to the costumes and superpowers, Kingsley takes our superhero characters and has fun with them, starting with the position that the reality of being a superhero isn’t what it is cracked up to be.  What if, when a fire happens, not one hero shows up but twenty? And some are great and others? Maybe not so much.  What happens when the superhero isn’t wealthy but just getting by in a Dilbert like desk job?  How do they account for the time they must take away from their jobs to save people and put out the fires?  Like Vereint, they must come close to getting fired because they have used up all their vacation days.  Plus they might not be able to pay their rent on time because they have to spend their money replacing costumes.  It’s a great parody and I loved it.

Kingsley works magic here with the superhero trope.  With their arrogance and position in society, the author’s superheroes act more like a group of mean girls than heroes. Blue Ice in fact is a legacy superhero (five generations of his family have been in the business), and he feels weighed down by the responsibilities he has shouldered since the age of 14.  He lives in the penthouse of Tobias Towers, naturally, and secretly despises the humans he is supposed to protect.   He also resents the  adulation and lifestyle that is Darkstar’s while also being envious of his freedom.  I loved all the details Kingsley brings to the character of Blue Ice.  It’s not only funny, but it also rings with authencity.  Warrick Tobias as Blue Ice really dislikes his job and is in denial about so many things about himself, including his sexuality.  So how does he handle it?  By being a bully.  He is as responsible for Vereint becoming Darkstar than anyone else because of his constant mocking and demoralizing actions towards Starburst.  Warrick is also in his 30’s and now has to follow a Heart Healthy diet. Here is a taste of Warrick Tobias:

It wasn’t like Warrick didn’t understand that he was acting completely insane, but he just couldn’t seem to help himself. There was something about the whole Darkstar situation that just drove him to the verge and maybe a little bit over. The fact that he didn’t really know why he cared that much just made it even worse because the mystery itself was eating away at him.

Warrick spooned up his last bite of maple and brown sugar oatmeal before picking up the plump yellow banana he’d chosen for his breakfast. He squeezed it gently between his fingers, seeing that it didn’t have a single brown spot. It was a singularly beautiful piece of fruit.

As he’d resigned himself to the idea that he was in his thirties— his early thirties, but his thirties nonetheless— he’d had to make a few dietary changes in his life. He’d had to cut back on the sugars, the trans fats, the delicious carbs, and basically everything else that he loved so that he didn’t end up bulging out of his supersuit. He couldn’t have a greasy breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hash browns at his favorite diner anymore, and if he did go there, he had to pick things off the Heart Healthy menu.

I hate egg white omelets and turkey bacon. I want to eat fatty pork bacon and scrambled eggs covered in melted cheese. I bet Darkstar doesn’t have to worry about anything. His super metabolism probably …

“Dammit!” Warrick shouted, flinging the hapless banana across the room to splatter against the wall. Everything in his head came back to Darkstar and he just couldn’t help himself. It wasn’t like he was obsessed or anything. Except that it really seemed like he was obsessed, and not even the self-knowledge that he was out of control helped any.

And Vereint Georges is just as nuanced and believable character as Warrick.  His character changes from a naive, hopeful young superhero to someone who gradually becomes disenchanted with the harsh reality of his dreams.  Nothing measures up.  He’s the new boy, the young “dorky, loser” as the popular kids nee superheroes call him.  Always on the outside, never has the cool clothes, trying to hard to fit in and perpetually disdained for his efforts.  And when he has finally had enough, we are with him 100 percent.

He couldn’t really understand why no one could take him seriously. He tried just as hard as every other hero, so why didn’t he get any kind of respect?

If it was just Blue Ice treating him badly, he might have been able to ignore it, but it was everyone acting like it was a crime that he wanted to save them. They made fun of his name, his ideals, everything about him.

What do I feel about the way everyone treats me?

The answer came in a surprisingly cold voice:   I’m angry.

And of course, they won’t like him when he is angry.

Clenching his hands into fists at his sides, he gritted his teeth and tried to bury his anger deep inside him. He almost had himself back under control and relaxed a little, sure he wasn’t going to completely lose it.

“You know, you’ve got a hole in your shirt,” Blue Ice said, pointing.

“THAT … IS … IT! I have had enough of all this crap.”

Filled with rage, Starburst could feel himself trembling uncontrollably. Violet color began rising around his body and he felt his hair shifting in an unfelt breeze. His eyes felt hot all of a sudden and he was afraid of what was going to happen, but he couldn’t stop it. He was just so frustrated and angry.

Thus Darkstar is born.  But there is so much more to come.  There is the physical attraction both men feel for each other, poseurs who want Darkstar’s attention, more mega explosions and evil doings galore.

Right up until the halfway mark, the story still has the feel of a parody about it.  Then it changes.  An evil deed by Darkstar has profound affects upon his thinking and the story starts to become darker with more real emotions and events that will play with the reader’s empathy and affections.   There were elements of cruelty before but now it fully comes out to play.  All the metahumans really don’t like the regular human beings very much.  They regard them as so much sheep and their actions reflect that.

Kingsley also starts to concentrate on the growing relationship between Warrick and Vereint, the changes in their characters and all the outside influences that effect their lives and potential future.    From the somewhat gentle lampooning of the genre, the author takes this satire to a darker level, bringing a certain amount of grit to the characters and the scenes.  Not everyone will appreciate the loss of the humor and cartoonish takeoff that the first part of the book represents. I liked this element but also understand its lack of appeal to some readers.

I also felt that the story especially the epilogue was a little long.  It certainly could have been shortened without harm to the narrative.   Still, I can say that I really liked Heroes and Villains, it is one of the more unusual stories that I have read recently and I throughly appreciated that.  From every aspect of this novel,  the attention to detail , the inclusion of all the expected comic book elements to the terrific characterizations,  I highly recommend this book to all.  Let me know what you think.

Cover designed by Aisha Akeju.  I am not sure what I make of this cover.  I appreciate the pointillism of the graphics that convey a sense of comic book similarity but I wish it had taken that element a little further in design.

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1st Edition, 211 pages
Published June 1st 2011 by Harper Kingsley

Review: Love You Like A Romance Novel by Megan Derr

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Love You Like A Romance Novel coverJefferson  “Jet” Kristopherson, is a rock star. Jet and his cousin, David “Dai” Kristopherson, form the very successful rock band, Forever and a Dai.  But their careers and fame came at a high cost, their families.  Both families disassociated themselves from Jet and Dai the moment Jet fled the family home and business he was being groomed to run, taking his cousin along with him.  While Jet knows abandoning the family business for a career as a musician made him an utter disappointment in his families opinion, the real blame laid on his shoulders was taking Dai with him,  and their families have never forgiven him.  Now circumstances beyond his control force him back to confront his family and issues he hoped were buried in the past.

Jason Kristopherson is everything his cousin and brother are not.  Jason is a successful entertainment lawyer at his father’s law firm just as his family had planned.  He is powerful, well respected or feared by his peers and others in the industry.  And it is expected that Jason will assume the leadership role in Kristopherson, Carmichael, and Jones, his father’s firm when his father retires.  But Jason is hiding a few secrets of his own that if revealed will shatter his family and the future they have so carefully planned out for his life.

The future is about to change drastically for all three men. Who will survive when all the secrets are exposed?

First let me say that as a fantasy author, Megan Derr can do no wrong.  With regard to her fantasy stories and series, I can count on her plots being dynamic and complex, her characterizations beautifully realized complete with a lively dialog that moves her fantasy narratives along at a smooth and exuberant pace.  I can also say the same of some of her contemporary romance stories.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Love You Like A Romance Novel.

My quibbles with this story boil down to just a couple of issues, but for me they are big ones. Let’s take them one at a time.  First is the dense narrative.  The first half of this story is so densely packed with backstory and repetitive dialog that it slows the momentum down.  So much of it entails the family business and family history that the real drama between Jet and Jason  (as well as Jason and Dai) becomes diluted.  I noticed that this story was a serialized entry for Megan Derr and Less Than Three Press and wondered if the somewhat jerky movement of the story might be due to the fact that it came out in spurts as a series does rather than a planned novel.  That might explain the lack of smoothness in the narrative I found throughout the story.

Secondly, parts of the plot lacked realism.  A law firm knowingly deals with major criminal elements and than they are surprised when their reputation (and other things) takes a hit?  The characters also react in a way so counter to the situations they are in that at least this reader pulled back in disbelief more than once.  When someone knows they are a target, do you really walk into a dark house?  That sort of thing happens in a variety of ways here.  Perfect, perhaps for a soap opera or yes, maybe a bodice ripper but not a contemporary romance.

But I think my most serious issue is with the characters.  I did love Jason Kristopherson.  He is the most layered and grownup of the group.  He really saved this story for me.  He has just a delicious secret that he is keeping, one I did not expect.  Jason is ruthless, powerful, self aware and extraordinarily complicated.  I wish his counterparts in the story had his complexities.  Unfortunately, in regard to Jet and Dai, the first half of the story comes across as Lifestyles of the Rich and Whiny.  Both men are wealthy, came from uber rich families and spend most of their time whining and yelling at everyone around them.  Neither man is good at listening and communication issues abound throughout the story. Jet is actually 30 years old but his behavior never seems to rise above that of a teenager.  In fact, had one meeting been held at the beginning and they actually talked things out, then the book would have been over at page one.  But no, Dai and Jet jump to conclusions, run away or just yell at everyone.  Exasperating the first time it happens, tiresome and juvenile when it occurs repeatedly.

After the fifty percent mark, the story started to get interesting and engaging and my interest perked up.  But then a major character does something so unrealistic that I was jolted back to the beginning and all the reasons I had a hard time investing in this story.  And that was a pity because there are some good bones here underneath the thick surface layer and character missteps.  Perhaps had the characters more interesting layers, less money, and more real problems, I could have disregarded some of the other issues I had with Love You Like A Romance Novel, but as it stands I loved it less than a romance novel, in fact I loved it not at all.

The cover art is too dark for me to see the graphics, does not seem designed to grab a reader’s attention.

Review: Frostwick (Wick 1.5) by Megan Derr

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Rating: 4.25 stars

FrostwickStarwick is a Frostwick and a shadow of King of Lyus.  It was while he was on a mission for the king when he and the Crown Prince were attacked by a sorcerer thief intent on killing the Prince and stealing the royal seal he wore. When the thief threw a killing curse at the prince, Starwick stepped forward and took the curse upon himself.  Now Starwick is dying, his death postponed by a magical wards that hold off his death as long as he remains in the closest of proximities to the charmwick who cast it.  But the charmwick whose wards support Starwick? That would be Tyrwick, a master swordwick as well as charmwick and the bastard son of the King.  And Starwick has been in love with the black coated Tyrwick for years, a feeling that has never been returned.

Now the two must travel together to Draius, home of the Wick School and the most concentrated group of Wicks known throughout the Kingdoms.  Here they must find a spell to counteract the killing curse, aid in helping to apprehend the thief, and recover the powerful ring before the thief strikes again.  But the curse is getting stronger, and Tyrwick’s cold, disregard is sending Starwick into the depths of despair.  When all looks to be lost, can hope and a hidden love come forward to save Frostwick?

Frostwick is a short story, 64 pages, that  manages to bring back all the couples from one of my favorite books, Wick, by Megan Derr.  Wicks are sorcerers or magicians and each has one or more specialties or fields they control.  There are swordwicks (masters of fighting and protection), lyrewicks (masters of song magic), firewicks, waterwicks, well, you get the idea.  Once their power manifests itself, usually at a young age, then wick is added to the last part of their name.  Star became Starwick when he found he could not only control water but water in its cold forms of ice, snow, etc.  Starwick is first mentioned in various stories in Wick as he was the romantic love of two brothers, neither affair ending well.

Typical of Megan Derr, Starwick is not an easy man to like, he doesn’t even like himself very much.  He despises the job he does for the king,  along the line of  being a royal assassin.  Starwick has many layers to him and the same abusive background that the other wicks who attended the Royal College for Wicks suffered.  He is paired with an equally enigmatic character of Tyrwick, who treats Starwick with a rough distain. Readers of Derr’s previous novels will realize quickly that all is not what it seems between the two men and the joy is in Derr’s storyline, watching the interplay between the men, especially once they reach Draius where all the other wicks await them.  They are all here.  Creawick (my favorite), Tolkiwick, Roswick, Tolliwick,Fenwick, and all the others.  How I love them all.

And then there is the matter of the plot, which is a nifty one.  A charmwick thief throws a killing curse on the Prince which fails, but still manages to steal the ring.  He too has managed to get to Draius where he needs to steal a book Tokiwick has to help him use the power of the ring.  Megan Derr builds up our anxiety over Starwick and Tyrwick’s quest as Starwick’s pain is becoming increasingly debilitating and he loses all hope.  Powerful stuff.  The reader just aches as Starwick gives up and prepares to die, his pain made worse by having to be so close to the man he loves unrequitedly.

Here is the problem.  Frostwick is just too short to wrap up this intense, complicated story.  The end comes before you are prepared for it, and in a manner that leaves far too many questions unanswered, including who the thief was and why he wanted the Crown Prince dead.  The ending was so abrupt that I couldn’t quite believe it when I reached the last page.  The shortness of length also hurts when it comes to explaining who all these characters are, their backstories and interlocking relationships.  If you come to this book without first reading Wick, you will be utterly lost. And if you come to this book after reading Wick, you will end up a little frustrated at having so little time spent with characters you love.

But did I love this book with all the quibbles I had with it?  Yes, I did because even a short time spent with any and all of the wicks is time well spent.  And there is always the promise of more books in the Wick universe.  So yes, pick this book up but not before you start with the first one, Wick.  Or pick them both up and settle to indulge yourself in a remarkable universe full of vivid locations, wild and wonderful creations and wicks  of all sorts.

Herre are the stories in the order they should be read:

Wick (Wick #1) – read my review here.

Frostwick (Wick    #1.5)

Lovely cover designed by Megan Derr.

Review of Chaos (Lost Gods #5) by Megan Derr

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Rating: 5 stars

“Nine gods ruled the world, until the ultimate betrayal resulted in their destruction. Now, the world is dying and only by restoring the Lost Gods can it be saved.”    All of the five kingdoms but Schatten have seen their gods return to the world.  Schatten, a world of darkness and ice, has been isolated from the rest of the world by Lord Teufel, the Shadow of the Lost Licht.  By his power and enforced by the deadly Sentinels, Schatten has been ruled by Order, its people regimented, living under iron laws for over nine hundred years.

But now things are changing, the gods are returning and chaos has entered the lands of Order just as prophesied.   A man named Sasha roams the forbidden lands of Schatten, his memory gone, fragmented, with just snips of knowledge to go on.  He knows his name and remembers a fight with a beast with violet eyes.  He has a whip and knows how to use it.  On his finger is a ring of immense power and on his chest is burned a black violet spider web telling him he is cursed.  Sasha can remember just enough to realize he has a mission, but what?  Sasha has the feeling that time is running out, but the more he tries to remember, the greater agony in his head.  A young man from the nearest village takes him in, tends to his wounds and feeds him.  When the village is beset by Sentinels, Sasha destroys them, something unheard of and the wary villagers cast him and the young man, David, out.  Together they travel to the capitol, Sonnenstrahl, where all paths lead.  Sasha can only hope for both their sakes and that of Schatten, that he remembers who he is and what he has to accomplish before they arrive or all will be lost.

What an amazing ending to an incredible series!  I have to admit that when a series has been as great as this one I am always a bit apprehensive when approaching the final volume.  Will the final book tie the saga together?  Will it meet or exceed the standards set by the previous books?  Will all the characters I have come to love, and the rich drama that has carried me from book to book come together in the glorious ending I have been hoping for?  I am so happy to report that with Chaos (Lost Gods #5),  Megan Derr answers all those questions and more with a resounding yes!

Lost Gods is the saga of five kingdoms whose gods were lost or killed nine hundred years ago.  Their worlds were plunged into darkness, their people suffered, and only a handful of prophesies gave hope to the kingdoms of Kundou (Treasure), Pozhar (Burning Bright), Piedre (Stone Rose), Verde (Poison), and Schatten (Chaos).  One by one, we watched the unimaginable happen and through forgiveness, pain, and rebirth, each nation regained their gods.  Now the only kingdom left is Schatten, the place and the god that started it all, the Lost Licht.  In each book, there has lurked a malevolency in the form of a sorcerer or dark magic from the lands of Schatten, as Teufel, the Shadow of the Lost Licht, has tried to prevent the gods from returning.  But we have never understood the reasoning or the power behind these attempts, the nature of their god and the land of Schatten remained hidden behind the giant walls and secrecy.  But as the saga progressed, it was understood that the final battle was to be taken back to the beginning, high in the frozen mountains of Schatten.

Derr has given us the epic battle between Light and Dark, Chaos and Order, and all the threads she has been weaving throughout all the books come together in a rich tapestry full of life, pain, death, forgiveness, love, and rebirth.  These are the themes we have visited over and over in every book and so they must all be present here at the end for a mythic conclusion.  We have been waiting for the Child of Chaos and were told in Stone Rose that he had been born and must be hidden, protected until it was time for the prophesy to be fulfilled.  I had an idea that the Child of Chaos must be someone we had already been introduced to but when he is finally revealed (no spoilers here), I was floored.  It never occured to me that he would be the Child, but after the fact, this character was the only perfect one and Derr’s splendid planning and brilliant plot was just reinforced with that reveal.  Derr has been meticulous with her plots, as each story moved the saga forward but not always in a manner that was immediately obvious.  It might take the next book to bring to fruition an idea or plot line she started with Treasure.  The amount of notes and timelines she had to have established to make this convoluted, complicated mythology come together boggles the mind.  Megan Derr never once dropped a plot thread or misplaced a character’s purpose in her story.  Really, its just so beautifully carried out.

And oh the characters we have met!  Each and every one a gripping, vividly portrayed person, whether it be a young pickpocket, a sensual White Beast of Verde, the haunted and haunting avatar of the Basilisk or the passionate, sword swinging captains of Kundou.  We have had young men sacrificed on alters of fire (I have never forgiven certain events in Burning Bright) and marble, old betrayals forgiven, and gods reborn amid the ashes of hate and love.  I have cried and laughed my way through each book while admitting I do have some favorites among her characters.  We revisit some of my favorites here and are introduced to new beautifully fleshed out characters who appear in Chaos.  High Seer Friedrich is just an example.  He is the High Seer of Schatten, one of immense power who helps enforce the laws of Teufel.  But from the start, we realize, along with him, that something is terribly wrong with him.  He hears a voice in his head, more than hears, he sees this person Dracht who talks to him, visits him in his dreams and makes love to him.  Dracht seems so  real but he whispers things of such sacrilege that Friedrich thinks he is losing his mind.  There is an under Seer who is scheming to take Friedrich’s place and a High Sorcerer who reports that Sentinels are being killed  all over the Kingdom, an unheard of event.  Then we meet David, a true innocent.  An orphan who loses the one person who took him in yet turns around and offers shelter to someone who might have caused that person’s death.  David is such a shining presence you fear for him immediately because you have seen what has happened to ones like him in the past.  David’s youthful goodness is balanced out by his younger friend, Killian, whose immaturity and bratty nature threatens David’s precarious position within the village.

And finally we have Sasha, the warrior with the lost memory and a mission to accomplish.  Sasha is older, powerful and at ease with his weapons.  He looks in a mirror but doesn’t recognize his face.  When he thinks of love, he feels pain and loss yet everything about David calls to him.  Sasha can’t remember his identity but realizes that the happiness he has found with David is something he has never achieved before, and the irony does not escape him.  One person after another strides across the landscape of this saga, each bursting with life, their emotions so real, so authentic that we cannot help but become involved in their stories. Their hopes and promises become ours, we absorb their pain and when their hearts break with loss so does ours.  That is wonderful storytelling, that is terrific writing. The boxes of tissues I have gone through over the course of this outstanding saga would fill a shelf.

But if I have shed many tears, I have also laughed, chuckled, and shouted with joy and ended my journey with the Lost Gods absolutely satisifed, amazed at the depth of Derr’s world building, and assured that the books of the Lost Gods will be ones I reread over and over again.  What a saga! What heros and what amazing gods we have met along the way.  Do yourself a favor.  Pick this saga up, settle into your favorite place to read, and prepare to lose yourself in worlds so amazing you will never want to leave.  I feel that way every time I think of these books. I think you will feel that way too. This is one of my best series for 2012.

Cover:  I love these covers by London Burden.  Each cover is a map of the kingdom whose story is being told.  The colors all have significance as well.  Just outstanding.  These are among my favorites of the year.

Here is the Lost Gods series, in the order they were written and should be read, in order to understand the complicated plots and characters within.

Treasure (Lost Gods#1) – Kingdom of Kundou

Burning Bright (Lost Gods#2) – Kingdom of P0zhar and my favorite book of the series

Stone Rose (Lost Gods#3) – Kingdom of Piedre

Poison (Lost Gods#4) – Kingdom of Verde

Chaos (Lost Gods#5) – Kingdom of Schatten

Review of In Excess by Quinn Anderson

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Nikolas Steele, street smart foster kid, finds himself in the Dean’s office at the Academy of Holy Names, a private exclusive college, enrolling for the sophomore year.  Nik had been expelled from his previous university and now through the goodness of a donor with a fondness for troubled youths, has a full scholarship for all three years of his undergraduate degree here at the Academy if only he can keep his grades up (easy) and out of trouble. Staying out of trouble has never been easy for Nik for most of his unsettled history but the atmosphere at this exclusive school with its silverware and   china at the student dining room and dorms full of overprivileged kids just emphasizes to Nik his “fish out of water” status on campus.

To make  matters worse, Nik has come to the attention of the local kings of the campus.  Seth, Dante, and Theo are the three kings who rule over all who attend the Academy of Holy Names.  Together out of mutual self preservation,  they epitomize all that is beauty, intelligence and power at the school but not necessarily kindness.  When bored, the three play a game with high stakes, the winner taking the Class Valedictorian spot all three want.  Currently the game is tied between them but with the arrival of Nik, the three of them start the game again.  The goal?  The first to get Nik into bed wins the game.  The rules?  No alcohol, no underhandedness among each other,  and above all, no falling for the prey. But Nik is smart and figures out he is the center of the game and switches roles.  What happens when the hunted becomes the hunter?

In Excess looked like a male version of Mean Girls in the beginning of the story, with a nice outsider becoming the prey for a gang of overly privileged rich kids who are the ruling click in school.  Nik Steele is an immediately likable main character.  He’s a foster kid, who has been moved around most of his life and from the little background history you are given, he has recently been expelled from a college he was happy at, at least for a while.  So when he arrives at the office of the Dean of the college, with it’s opulent furnishings to go along with the rich descriptions of the college campus and buildings, you get it!  He is the poor kid on campus you are supposed to root for and do.  Every part of the Academy of Holy Name is over the top, from the hallways, marble floors, top chef dinners and even the uniform to be worn while attending.  Only the finest materials, only the best furniture, and the most exquisite of landscaping to the vaunted architecture of the college that highlights the difference between Nik and the rest of the student body.

The kings themselves are physically interesting, especially Theo with his artfully colored red hair and mint green eyes.  Seth and Dante are equally gorgeous if not a little more  generic in appearance.  One of my quibbles with Quinn Anderson is with the characterizations.  All of the main characters has some really interesting components to their personalities, especially Theo with his calm demeanor tied in with his deep thoughts and hidden agenda.  The problem is that Theo is not part of the main couple, Seth is.  And Seth is given so little back history that it is hard to feel something other than disgust at his behavior.  Anderson needs to give us a reason to understand why his pride is so important to him that all his actions are geared towards shoring it up.  We need to understand him in order to like him despite his actions towards Nik, and that full understanding is never reached, at least in my opinion.  Dante too seems little more than a cardboard character comprised of his handsome visage, his perfect taste in clothes, wine and apartment decor.  Yet as one of the “Kings of Campus” surely we should be given more of his backstory as well.  We are given to understand that Theo, Seth and Dante grew up together but other than a few sentences telling us they sabotaged each others science projects, stole each others text books or slashed each others tires, we have no idea where they came from or how their little group came into being.  Only Nik comes forward as a living, breathing person, flawed with a chip on his shoulder that we totally get.  But as with the others, I wanted to know more about Nik’s history.  What happened to make him a foster child?  He seems so very grounded in his own skin and personality for someone shifted from place to place.  Where does that strength of character come from?  The characters and story needs a solid foundation upon which to build the framework for the plot and it doesn’t have one.

That said, the author does deliver some great little touches with the plot and timeline.  Anderson throws us some great surprises just when we least expect it and ends up with a plot much deeper in complexity than its outlines suggest.  In fact, the manner in which Anderson delivers the narrative underscores the problems with the lack of depth in characterization when held up against the rest of the novel.  It’s that very unevenness between the two that pulls the entire story  down.  I absolutely loved parts of this story, I love the surprises that pop up within Anderson’s tale, and I liked the main characters for the most part.  The sex is hot and steamy, so much so that I kept thinking “what age are these kids?” so experienced did the sex play come across.  A slight quibble but in keeping with the inconsistencies I found throughout the novel.

This is the first book I have read by Quinn Anderson and now I am going to search out more by this author based on the promise and details I love from In Excess.  I do recommend reading In Excess because there is so much to admire about the story and  Anderson’s descriptive writing.  Let me know what you think, ok?

Cover.  Normally I am a fan of London Burden but this cover leaves me cold.

What Series Am I Reading Now?

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My reading list has always been a convoluted constantly changing creature (alliteration how I love thee), but lately it is full of authors delivering an addictive group of novels revolving around a select cast of characters and the universe they inhabit, in other words a series!  What does surprise me is that most of the series I am currently reading come from authors that were new to me, undiscovered territory as it were. So these series actually represent a double dose of goodness, that of a new author as well as new series.  I will note that the series I am listing here are ones that are either not complete or a recently completed series that I haven’t finished reading.

1. Infected Series by Andrea Speed:

It started with Andrea Speed and her Infected series.  I can’t remember why I picked up Infected: Prey to begin with but I know that from the moment I met Roan  and discovered the story of a cat virus (like AIDS, it is a blood born pathogen) spreading across the States with devastating effects on society, I was hooked.  Andrea Speed was a new author for me (as is most of the authors here) but with her creation of Roan, she has given us wonderful reluctant superhuman hero, complete with a unique voice and style of dialog I would recognize as his anywhere.  Roan would appreciate it if he were a solitary being but he comes with a close knit group of people in various roles that are as multilayered, as personable as tragic and humorous a bunch of beings as you will ever meet.  Roan has esoteric tastes in music so I was not always familiar with his choices of bands (These Arms Are Snakes really?) but Andrea Speed thankfully provides the playlists on her website so I can get up to speed (snort) and so can you.  And Roan’s commentary on society, reality tv, religion, ok anything really often has me in stitches when I am not dissolving in tears.  Do not pass up this series.

Infected Shift is the latest in the series.  Find my review of it here and a list of all the previous books.  The books should be read in the order they are written to get the full measure of the story and the characters.

Infected Series: Prey, Bloodlines, Life After Death, Freefall, Shift.

Andrea Speed’s website In Absentia can be found here.

2. Lost Gods Series by Megan Derr:

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I was asked to review Treasure, the first book in the Lost Gods series. I had a vague notion about it being a fantasy series, mermaids, dragons, that sort of thing.  But from the first page of Treasure, Megan Derr’s characters grabbed me by the shirtfront, gave me a shake for good measure and pulled me into their complex, richly layered saga of the gods returning to their lands 1,000 years after their deaths.  Let’s start with the way Derr has crafted this series.  Each book is the story of one kingdom and their Lost God.  For each kingdom, Derr created a people whose religion, dress, language and beliefs reflects that culture of their land as well as geographical map to help the reader envision the story.  Her world building is dazzling and from novel to novel, the saga changes in scope from a rollicking sea adventure to the sacrifice of innocents, from broad humor to scenes that had me sobbing uncontrollably.  Megan Derr leaves nothing to chance in her books, there is myth building, creation puzzles and themes of forgiveness, sacrifice and rebirth. After Treasure came Burning Bright, a book I was in no way prepared for and still holds a huge place in my heart which is odd considering my mouth tasted of ash after reading it. An astonishing novel in a series of the same measure.

This is a 5 book series and Megan Derr has just submitted the last book to the publisher, Less Than Three Press.  I have just finished the 3rd book, Stone Rose.  Find my review here along with the reviews for the previous books.  My review of the covers will go up on Tuesday.

All the books should be read in order that they were written because of the complex saga and the long list of intertwined characters. Treasure, Burning Bright, Stone Rose, Poison, and Chaos.

3.  Cambridge Fellows Series by Charlie Cochrane:

I remember reading a review by Erastes of one of the Cambridge Fellows series and found myself intrigued by the high rating and Erastes’ regard for the author’s historical authenticity and writing style. Then it popped up again and again on must read lists on various blogs to the point I  found myself ordering Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows #1) and got my first introduction to the Drs. Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart. I will say our first introduction was a little shaky. I loved Cochrane’s descriptions of 1906 Cambridge from the language/terms spoken at that time to the shoppes of the day but it took me some time to warm up to Orlando and Jonty.  I liked them well enough, respected them but felt a little removed from their characters.  Then came Lessons in Desire (Cambridge Fellows #2) and the distance between the characters and myself dissolved never to return.  With each book the relationship between the characters deepened as more of their backstory came into light and I become more engaged, more connected to the characters and their fate.  By Lessons in Discovery (Cambridge Fellows #3), I was seriously in love with Orlando and Jonty, and paid close attention to each case they investigated (oh yes, there are mysteries in each book).

There are some hard subject matter buried in these stories, including one of child abuse and rape.  Charlie Cochrane handles it with sensitivity while never deviating from the emotional devastation it visits upon her characters.  The author’s use of language and location gives her stories such depth and authenticity that I often find myself running to do research on some topic she has brought up long after I have finished the book.  Every part of this series is beautifully done.  I just finished the fifth book of this series, Lessons in Temptation (Cambridge Fellows #5) and thought I saw the end of the series with All Lessons Learned (Cambridge Fellows #8).  Then Charlie Cochrane published Lessons for Survivors (Cambridge Fellows #9) this month with a different publisher and the series continues.  Huzzah!

Find my review of Lessons in Temptation(Cambridge Fellows #5) here and all the reviews for the previous novels.

The list:  Lessons in Love, Lessons in Desire, Lessons in Discovery, Lessons in Power, Lessons in Temptation, Lessons in Seduction, Lessons in Trust, All Lessons Learned and Lessons for Survivors.

Charlie Cochrane’s website is http://charliecochrane.livejournal.com

4.  Dance With The Devil Series by Megan Derr (yes, Derr again):

This was easy.  My co-reviewer Sammy was reading these novels and I picked up the first based on her recommendation and my knowledge of the author.  Right away,  the method Megan Derr used to create her narrative delighted me.  We are introduced to Chris White, supernatural detective,  and his associate detective Doug who happens to be an imp by the means of detective cases. Each chapter is a different case Chris White has been involved in. Here Derr does not follow a strict timeline for the first case ,Case No. 507  The Devil’s Consort, finds Chris already the consort of Sable Brennen, the demon Lord of the city. The next chapter, Case No. 37 finds Chris just starting out in the business.  Here he meets Sable for the first time as well as so many more unusual and delightful characters that reoccur throughout the novel. The next case is Case No. 532, Bad Blood Part 1 which moves the story forward. Then the case immediately after is one from the past bringing with it the backstory of whatever character is now front and center.  If that seems confusing, trust me its not.  And as for Chris himself?  Well, he happens to be part ghost with the ability to walk through solid surfaces, handy when you are a detective facing locked doors!

I have just finished with book four in the series (yeah, I know I didn’t see it before I started writing this all down, I am on or at another book 5), but it seems that Derr is taking us on a tour of the various territories of this world she created.  The first 3 books are very connected together as there lands are adjacent to each other and then with book 4, she starts introducing the dragon lands which are the subject for books 5 and 6 so far. Within these pages we have demon lords, vampires, werewolves, imp, gorgons, warlocks, witches, pixies, brownies, dragons, knights, and almost every supernatural or fantastical being you can think of.  A veritable smorgasbord of fantasy characters, all realistically portrayed (as real as supernatural beings can be), all so personable that you love them, hurt for them, care greatly what happens to them, even if they are the walking dead.

Pick these up, don’t pass go, don’t stop for anything, even a Margarita before getting the first book, Dance with the Devil.  You are going to be my BFF for this one!

The list: Dance With The Devil,Dance In The Dark, Ruffskin,Midnight, The Dragon Pit,The Sword of the King

Read my review of the last book Midnight and you will find a list of the previous books as well.

Megan Derr’s website is http://maderr.com.  Also check out Less Than Three Press!

5. The Sanctuary Series by RJ Scott:

Take one crime family, The Bullens, add in gorgeous sexy, competent operatives working for a secret agency dedicated to keeping witnesses safe and investigating crimes that the other alphabet government agencies are involved in or won’t handle and you have the Sanctuary series by RJ Scott. Guarding Morgan (Sanctuary #1) is our introduction to Sanctuary, their operatives and the Bullen crime family.  Morgan is the eyewitness to the brutal  murder of a young woman, and is the first domino to topple over in the line of events that will eventually bring the Bullen family to  justice.  Each book gives us a new romantic pairing and more leads/clues into how widespread  are the Bullen family’ crimes, extending into the Senate itself.  Scott gives the operatives a realistic feel, they screw up, they bleed, they are stressed out and sometimes overwhelmed.  These are real people who are overextended just by the nature of the job they perform. And while there are at least one HEA, most are HFN which is believable given their jobs and responsibilities.

The Bullens are a despicable bunch and Scott throws us quite a few false leads and surprises here. The investigation gets compromised, there is a FBI mole, and things are not always what they seem.  It is a great ride full of characters I came to care about, there is not one cardboard cutout to be found in these novels.  The Bullen Family saga ended at Full Circle but the Sanctuary novels will continue or so RJ Scott assures me.  What a happy reader than made me.

So here is my review of Full Circle with the complete list of the Sanctuary books to date.  Read them in order.  Guarding Morgan, The Only Easy Day, Face Value, Still Waters,  and Full Circle. You will love them if you like great action adventure and sexy special operatives!

RJ Scott’s website is http://www.rjscott.co.uk

6. Cut & Run Series by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban, now being written by Abigail Roux:

How do I love this series?  Let me count the ways.  I love it to thee to the depths and breadth and height my soul can reach, I love thee purely, I love thee….well I am sure you get my drift.  This series is brilliant.  It all started back in 2008 when Dreamspinner Press published Cut & Run, the first in the series then written by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux.  It was here that Ty Grady met Zane Garrett in the offices of the FBI.  Neither man had a partner, both were coming off undercover assignments, and in Zane’s case, a deep undercover assignment that left him with a drug and alcohol addiction.  As they saw it, they were polar opposites, Zane liked to “crunch the numbers” as it were, and Ty flew by the seat of his pants.  This was not a partnership that had long term or even short to middling term written on it.

Their first assignment has them looking for the murderer of a pair of FBI agents.  They are squabbling, constantly finding fault with each other’s techniques and personalities. Then the murderer turns his attention to them and they must act together as a team to track down the killer before they become his next target.  Cut & Run sets the tone for the series.  A tight, suspenseful storyline that contains a complicated assignment that somehow furthers Ty and Zane’s complex relationship.  This is not a case of instant love or even instant like.  Instead we are given a relationship that is built slowly and with great care over six published books so far and Abigail Roux has stated she plans to go to at least nine in the series.

And what remarkable characters we have in Ty Grady and Zane Garrett.  They have fervent, obsessed fans who have Team Ty and Team Zane t-shirts (Edward and Jacob eat your hearts out).  And all that obsession, all that mania is totally warranted.  These are not your larger than life superheroes. Instead we have two human beings, with all the frailties, faults, and traits that make it easy to identify and empathize with them. Ty comes from a family steeped in military tradition but only now are we finding out why he joined the Marines.  And Zane’s background? We have only gotten hints of it, with a fact thrown in here or there.  Stars & Stripes (Cut & Run #6), coming out in August 2012, will answer some of our questions, but not all.  That is in keeping with the slow leak of information as each man still has much to learn about the other.

Is there a difference now that Abigail Roux is writing the series alone?  No, absolutely none.  The flow is as seamless between Fish & Chips and Divide & Conquer as Divide & Conquer and Armed & Dangerous. In fact, I found Armed & Dangerous to be the best yet (without taking anything away from the wonderful skills of Madeleine Urban who no longer writes). Abigail Roux is a master of location, character and plot and it shows in these books.  When she writes about Baltimore, you know this person has been to Baltimore, walked the streets there, taking in the flavor unique to the city.  It is the same whether Ty and Zane are in Chicago or on the high seas in a cruise ship, there is nary a false note that is hit. Such authenticity keeps everything so real that at times it is hard for me to come out of the stories.

I cannot recommend this series enough.  If I could, I would run the streets waving a Ty and Zane banner myself.  And no I won’t tell you which shirt I have in my closet!  Now go and get Cut & Run, start there, read them in order (no peaking or reading in advance)!  You will be sending me flowers over this one!

Cut & Run,Sticks & Stones (Cut & Run #2).Fish & Chips (Cut & Run #3),Divide & Conquer (Cut & Run #4),Armed & Dangerous (Cut & Run #5) see my review here, Stars & Stripes (Cut & Run #6) – coming in August from Riptide Press.

Abigail Roux’s website can be found here.

So, that’s my short list.  What an amazing group of authors to go with some of the best series I have ever read. Are there others?  You betcha. JL Langley’s With/Without Series and her Regency series, Andrew Grey’s Range series, Mary Calmes’ Panther series and so many others.So let’s consider this installment number 1 in my new What Series Am I Reading Now column, shall we?  And check in with me all week. Be sure to leave a comment along with an email address to be entered into the contest for a copy of Primal Red from Nicole Kimberling.

Now tell me what series are you reading now?