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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

UPDATE! Nora Roberts: THE GUARDIANS TRILOGY

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Nora Roberts's THE GUARDIANS TRILOGY by adding a review of Island of Glass, the thirdand FINALnovel in the series.

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

Friday, December 23, 2016

UPDATE! Chloe Neill: CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Chloe Neill's CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES SERIES by adding a review of "Phantom Kiss," (novella 12.5), which has a publication date of January 17, 2017.

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ilona Andrews: HIDDEN LEGACY TRILOGY

Author:  Ilona Andrews (Pseudonym for Ilona and Andrew Gordon)
Series:  HIDDEN LEGACY
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—2-3  
Publisher and Titles:  Avon
          Burn for Me (10/28/2014)
          White Hot (5/30/2017)
          Wildfire (7/25/2017) (FINAL)

This ongoing post has been revised and updated to include a review of White Hot, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building, my review of Burn for Me, and the publisher's blurb for Wildfire. I will be adding my review of Wildfire as soon as it is published.

                         NOVEL 2:  White Hot                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
   Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she's used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family's detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor "Mad" Rogan.

     Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice.

MY REVIEW: 
     Nevada has always kept her truthseeker abilities carefully hidden from all but a few trusted friends, family members, and allies. She knows that if her talent becomes public knowledge that her life (and her family's lives) would be in danger because powerful people would stop at nothing to force her to become their personal lie detector. Nevertheless, Nevada's conscience won't let her ignore the fate of a kidnapped girl who will die if her kidnapper does not tell police where he has hidden her away. Just as she decides to give up her anonymity and help the police find the child, her frenemy, Augustine Montgomery offers her a deal. He will assist her in hiding her identity while she interrogates the kidnapper if she will investigate the mysterious murder of the wife of one of his clients, Cornelius Harrison. When Nevada first meets Cornelius and his daughter's dog, Bunny, she realizes that Cornelius is "an animal mage, a rare brand of magic, which meant Bunny wasn't a dog. He was the equivalent of a loaded assault rifle pointed in my direction." 

     Cornelius' wife, Nari, was an attorney for the powerful House Forsberg, which runs Forsberg Investigative Services. One evening, Nari and several other lawyers attended a meeting in a hotel where they were methodically attacked and brutally shot multiple times, resulting in death for all of them. The head of House Forsberg claims that the lawyers' meeting was not work related and threatens to smear Nari's name in the scandal tabloids if Cornelius pursues his investigation of his wife's death. Cornelius is determined to learn the truth, so he and Nevada decide to confront Matthias Forsberg at the Assembly building. Just as Nevada is trying to get some information from Matthias, two things happen: Rogan strides into the scene and Matthias is murdered by an unseen aerokinetic Prime who freezes his eyes and brain into mush. Shortly thereafter, Rogan shows Nevada a video showing the violent and mysterious murders of the attorneys—a video that proves that several unseen Primes were at the heart of the crime. From that point on, the action never stops, and neither does the sexual tension between Nevada and Rogan.  

     As it turns out, the murder investigation is tied to the chaotic activities that took place in the first novel. It is also connected to the recent death of a popular Senator, Timothy Garza, who was killed in a magic attack by unseen assassins. It appears that someone is trying to bring down the Houses through chaos and disruption (and murder), and it's up to Nevada and Rogan to find out who and why. Each time Nevada and Rogan begin to make progress, someone or something tries to kill them—from magical monsters (pulled from another realm through arcane magic) to an iced-over highway (that pesky aerokinetic again) to a full-on military attack, the action proceeds at a break-neck pace. 

     Between battles, Nevada and Rogan simmer lustfully at one another, and Rogan gets to show off his tactile magic by using it on Nevada's most sensitive body parts. Nevada is nuts about Rogan, but she hates his take-over ways. When she discovers his latest secret attempt to control her life, she is so furious that she tries to turn away from him for good. (You can imagine how long that lasts!) Rogan, of course, can't understand why Nevada is so upset. After all, he's just trying to protect her and her family. What's wrong with that? (Oh, Rogan, will you never learn?) Will these two ever work out their differences? (Of course they will, but not in this book—at least not fully.)

     All through this book, Nevada wrestles with issues of morality. Several times, she is forced to kill people who are threatening her, but she has a hard time living with the fact that she is taking more and more lives—even though they are all really bad people. Cornelius tells Nevada that part of their deal must be that she gives him the person responsible for his wife's death so that he can personally kill him or her. Nevada has a hard time agreeing to this, and even after she does, she worries about what is happening to her soul each time she acquiesces to or participates in the taking of yet another life. Nevada's soul-searching intensifies when she realizes that her magic is becoming much more powerful and diverse than she ever suspected.

     The authors add some more back-story for Nevada's family. This time, it's her father's side of the family. Major secrets are revealed that have the capacity to change all of their lives. Plus, in another shocker, Nevada meets Rynda, Rogan's ex-fiancée, and feels a sharp jolt of jealousy for the first time in her life. Rynda and her husband are at the heart of the plot of the third novel. White Hot builds on the story line that was expertly set up in Burn for Me and will be fully resolved in Wildfire. 

     Just as they always do, the authors have created an inventive, fascinating world with multi-layered characters and twist-and-turn plot lines. It's always a pleasure to sit down with one of their books, and this one is no exception. Rogan and Nevada are charismatic characters who will hold your interest as they chase down the bad guys and try to figure out their love life. I'm looking forward to reading the final novel later this month. (I'm overjoyed that I don't have to wait the usual year for it to be published!) 

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from White Hot on the novel's Amazon.com page where you can click on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.

                         WORLD-BUILDING                          
The series has its roots in a short story called “Of Swine and Roses," which the authors wrote years ago. The heroine of that story is not the heroine of the HIDDEN LEGACY series, but she lives in that world—a world in which people have varying degrees of magic. Currently, this story is still free on-line, but you can also purchase it on Amazon for a nominal charge. Click HERE to read the story free. It provides a nice introduction to the mythology in the form of an entertaining short story.

The authors have created a HIDDEN LEGACY web site within their regular site, and I will be quoting from its pages as I describe the series world-building. At the end of this world-building section, I will provide links to the various web pages.


      THE MYTHOLOGY      
 In 1863, in a world much like our own, European scientists discovered Osiris serum, a concoction that brought out one’s magic talents. These talents were many and varied. For example, some people gained the ability to command animals; some learned to sense water from miles away; and others suddenly realized they could kill their enemies by generating a burst of lightning between their hands. The serum spread throughout the world. Governments gave it to soldiers in hopes of making the military forces more deadly. At the same time, members of the fading aristocracy, desperate to hold on to power, obtained it, as did the rich, who desired to get richer.      

Eventually the world realized the consequences of awakening godlike powers in ordinary people. The serum was locked away, but it was too late. The magic talents passed on from parents to their children and changed the course of human history forever. The future of entire nations changed in the span of a few short decades. Those who previously married for status, money, and power now married for magic, because strong magic would give them everything.  Now, a century and a half later, families with strong hereditary magic have evolved into dynasties. These families—Houses, as they call themselves—own corporations, have their own territories within the cities, and influence politics. They employ private armies; they feud with each other; and their disputes are deadly. In this world the more magic you have, the more powerful, the wealthier, and the more prominent you are. Some magic talents are destructive. Some are subtle. But no magic user should be taken lightly. 

      RANKING OF MAGIC USERS      
Magic users are segregated into five ranks: Minor, Average, Notable, Significant, and Prime. The difference between Minor and Prime is enormous. For example, a pyrokinetic is considered Average if he can melt a cubic foot of ice under a minute. In the same amount of time, Adam Pierce, a pyrokinetic Prime featured in the first novel, can conjure a fire that will melt a cubic foot of stainless steel. 

      HOUSES      
A family with powerful magic abilities is considered a House when it produces at least two Primes within three generations. Houses are small economic empires: they control territories within cities; they hire private muscle; and they engage in cut-throat business tactics. Houses frequently feud with each other, and vicious rivalries between rival Houses are not uncommon. Most of the time, civilian law enforcement stays out of the inter-House conflicts as long as ordinary citizens are not endangered in any way. Houses also have their own ruling body, an Assembly, and although the Assembly has no official status within the United States government, its voice is heard and (usually) taken to heart by all three branches of government.

      THE THREE TYPES OF MAGIC      
Elemental Magic:
Elemental magic users command forces of nature. Some can bend water to their will; some are able to mold soil; and others can conjure fire or create an electric current. Elemental mages can cause a great deal of damage. Most work in manufacturing. The greatest elemental Houses tend to run industrial and construction corporations. Here are some examples of elemental magic: 
   > Pyrokinesis—mastery over fire (A sociopathic pyrokinetic Prime is at the heart of the first novel.) 
   Aquakinesis—mastery over water (An aquakinetic plays a key role in the second novel.)
   Geokinesis—mastery over earth
   Aerokinesis—mastery over air
   Fulgurkinesis—mastery over lightning

Mental Magic:
Magic of the mind would be best described as magic of the will. This category includes a slew of powers that rely on the will of the user. The mental talents are many and varied, from telekinesis (which can be used to devastating effect), to harmonizing (which enables the mage to make beautiful flower arrangements). Here are some examples of mental magic:
   Telekinesis—the ability to move objects with your mind (The series hero is a telekinetic Prime.)
   Projection—the ability to transmit images and feelings to the minds of others
   Therionology—the ability to command animals. Practitioners are usually known as animal mages. Rare.
   Harmonizing—the ability to arrange one’s environment to invoke a specific feeling or mood
   Elenchus—the ability to distinguish lies from truth, also known as truthseeking. Extremely rare. (The series heroine is a truthseeker.)

Arcane Magic:
The word “arcane” means known or understood by very few. True to definition, even those who are born with these magic powers poorly understand the arcane branch of magic talents. Power of arcane magic users comes from reaching into the arcane realm, a place of magic outside of our typical reality. Their talents are frequently disturbing. Here are some examples of arcane magic: 
   Enerkinesis—mastery over magic energy
   Animating—the ability to impart life to inanimate objects
   Binding—the ability to fuse or bind something found in the arcane realm to a human host with the purpose of giving the host new magic powers
   Summoning—the ability to cause manifestation of creatures (This type of arcane magic is featured in the second novel.)


      MAIN CHARACTERS      
The Baylor family runs the Baylor Investigative Agency, and they always try to follow three rules: "Once a client hired us, we were loyal to the client...We didn't break the law...And...the most important of all: At the end of the day we still had to be able to look our reflections in the eye." The family lives and works in a former warehouse in Houston, Texas, that they have retrofitted with offices, a living area, and a large garage area where Grandma Frida works on various military vehicles.

 > Nevada Baylor: the 25-year-old series heroine. She is a licensed private investigator, and since her father died, she basically runs the business. Nevada is a truthseeker (the third rarest magical talent) who has no idea that she has tremendous untapped powers. She has always kept her talent hidden because most truthseekers are snapped up by the government and turned into human lie detectors. Nevada also has a second magical ability that surfaces in book two.

 > Grandma Frida: She is a mech-mage who has a magical connection to armored things that move. "It didn't matter if they rolled, crawled, or floated. She lived and breathed the deep-voiced rumble of their engines and the smoky odor of their guns."

 > Penelope Baylor: She is a military veteran—an expert sniper—who still walks with a limp from a severe war injury. Her expertise with a rifle comes from her magical talent.

 > Nevada's teen-age sisters: Catalina (age 17) and Arabella (age 15)

 > Nevada's cousins: Bern (age 19) and Leon (15). Bern is a tech genius who can hack into any computer network in minutes. Leon's magical talent remains hidden until midway through book two so I won't reveal it here because I hate spoilers.

     Click HERE to go to the home page of the authors' HIDDEN LEGACY web site where you can then click on links to the following topics: Main Characters, Magic Ranks and Houses, Types of Magic, and Magic Circle Archive.

                         NOVEL 1:  Burn for Me                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews launches a brand-new Hidden Legacy series, in which one woman must place her trust in a seductive, dangerous man who sets off an even more dangerous desire. 

     Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile situation. Nevada isn't sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire. 

     Then she's kidnapped by Connor "Mad" Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run and wanting to surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

     Rogan's after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she's getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

MY REVIEW:  
    As is usual in the first novel of a series, the authors introduce us to the series mythology, placing their characters in a magic-riddled world in which the Houses have boundless powers over their own lives and the lives of those who have less—or no—magical power. 

     The action plot revolves around a pyrokinetic Prime named Adam Pierce, who is the black-sheep son of a powerful House. For years, he has been estranged from his family, declaring himself a radical and spending his time getting into trouble. His doting mother spends much of her time and money doling out compensation to pay off the families of the people Adam maims or kills with his fire. Adam's latest crime is huge: He and another magic user blew up a bank, killing a security guard and severely burning three others. Now, he is in hiding, and his family wants him brought in before the police shoot him down. 

     Unfortunately for Nevada, the family company is mortgaged to House Montgomery, which runs Montgomery International Investigations. Nevada knows that trouble lies ahead when she gets called into Augustine Montgomery's office. Augustine explains to her that she will be hunting down Adam Pierce and returning him to his family, and if she refuses, he will call in their loan. That would mean that they would lose the warehouse, their electronic equipment, their cars, and their company name—basically everything but the clothes on their backs. Nevada realizes what Augustine is doing: He is trying to appease the Pierce family by sending a competent, but expendable, investigative team after Adam, knowing that Nevada has little or no chance of succeeding because her magic pales in comparison to Adam's fiery power. Augustine is pretty sure that Nevada will die in her attempt to capture Adam, but he has no qualms about using her to get himself out of a sticky situation with the Pierce family.

     This story line forms the main plot, providing all of the action and leading into the romance plot. The man who soon takes the lead in the romance story line is Connor Rogan (aka Mad Rogan, the Butcher, the Scourge), a seemingly heartless, extremely powerful telekinetic Prime who is able to move/destroy huge buildings with just a thought. In addition to his telekinesis, Rogan is a tactile, which means that he can make a person feel physically touched with just a thought—which turns out to be a very sexy skill when he uses it to seduce Nevada. Rogan spent time in the military during a recent war, where he built his reputation to the point that everyone fears him and his powers. Now, he leads a very private life, surrounded by his personal army of magic users who are military veterans he has rescued them from post-war lives in which they were treated badly by both the government and the private sector (not unlike the treatment that real-life vets suffer through in our own world). Rogan earns their complete loyalty by giving them well-paying jobs, health care benefits, fair treatment, and respect. Rogan gets involved in finding Adam Pierce because Adam's accomplice, Gavin Waller, is his cousin's son. Gavin's mother, Kelly, begs Rogan to find him, and—quite unexpectedly—Mad Rogan agrees to help.

    As the plot begins to unwind, Nevada starts searching for Adam. When she finds him, he refuses to surrender, but he becomes infatuated with her because she turns down all his efforts to charm her—one of the very few women on whom his sexy persona has failed to work. After their first meeting, Adam jumps in and out of Nevada's life, nearly always putting her and her family in danger. Nevada knows that Adam is working for someone who has mapped out the destruction that he is wreaking, but she has no idea who it is. 

     Then, Mad Rogan gets involved. He discovers that Nevada is involved with Adam, so he kidnaps her, chains her to his basement floor, and tries to force her to give him all the information she has about Adam. Both of them are astonished when Nevada is able to summon enough magic to resist Rogan's interrogation. Like Adam, Mad Rogan is fascinated with and attracted to Nevada's beauty, intelligence, and stubbornness, something that has never happened to him before. After the kidnapping, Nevada is so afraid of Rogan that she has a taser-like magical implant inserted in her body to protect herself against his powers. But soon, the two grudgingly form a shaky partnership and begin to work together to track down Adam, who leads them on a violent, fiery trail of death and destruction. Eventually, the inventive twists and turns of the plot take Nevada and Rogan on a desperate search for a magical artifact that has a connection to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. (In this world, contrary to legend, it wasn't Mrs. O'Leary's cow that started that disastrous fire—it was pyrokinetic magic.)

     Here's how Nevada summarizes her situation about a quarter of the way into the book: "Let's see, I had blackmailed a mechanic; called my employer, who was probably a Prime a terrible person—again; met with a pyrokinetic Prime and gotten kidnapped by a telekinetic Prime; gotten into a fight with my mother; and made the decision to have a weapon that could possibly kill me implanted in my arms...Too many Primes all around."

     This is a great start to a promising series. The authors have created a fresh and inventive world led by two fascinating characters. Nevada is (most of the time) a strong, courageous, independent woman, confidant in her investigative abilities and willing to experiment with her newly blossoming magical powers. Unfortunately, the authors have bought into the trope of lust at first sight, particularly for Nevada, which means that whenever she is in Rogan's company, her brain melts into a puddle of lust that interferes with her ability to think straight. Of course, Rogan is also falling for Nevada, but he has much more control over his lusty emotions. Still, the romance is filled with unresolved sexual tension (UST) from the moment they meet. By the end of the book, the two have exchanged a few kisses and Rogan has made his feelings clear, but their romantic situation is still to be resolved—if that is even possible.

     The most entertaining characters in the novel are the members of Nevada's family, particularly Grandma Frida, who is happiest when she is covered in axle grease while working on the undercarriage of an armored car. The two cousins are computer geniuses (due to their magical talents), and they form an interesting supportive team for Nevada. We haven't yet heard the entire sad story about Penelope and her tragic wartime experiences, but I'm sure that the authors will reveal more of her back story in the next two books. Nevada tells the story in her straightforward first-person voice, and her narrative includes lots of snarky, humorous dialogue, both with her family and with Rogan.

     This is a great book, one that I could not put down until I read it from cover to cover. The second book is due in May, and I can't wait to read it. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Burn for Me on the novel's Amazon.com page where you can click on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.

                         NOVEL 3:  Wildfire (FINAL)                         
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     From Ilona Andrews, the thrilling conclusion to her Hidden Legacy series, as Nevada and Rogan grapple with a power beyond event their imagination.

   Nevada Baylor can’t decide which is more frustrating—harnessing her truthseeker abilities or dealing with Connor “Mad” Rogan and their evolving relationship. Yes, the billionaire Prime is helping her navigate the complex magical world in which she’s become a crucial player—and sometimes a pawn—but she also has to deal with his ex-fiancée, whose husband has disappeared, and whose damsel-in-distress act is wearing very, very thin.

     Rogan faces his own challenges, too, as Nevada’s magical rank has made her a desirable match for other Primes. Controlling his immense powers is child’s play next to controlling his conflicting emotions. And now he and Nevada are confronted by a new threat within her own family. Can they face this together? Or is their world about to go up in smoke. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

UPDATE! Juliet Marillier: BLACKTHORN & GRIM SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated an ongoing post for Julie Marillier's BLACKTHORN & GRIM SERIES by adding a review of Den of Wolves, the third—and FINAL—novel.

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