Review: Phoenix Inheritance by Corrina Lawson

phoenix inheritance by corrina lawsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #4
Length: 278 pages
Publisher: Samhain
Date Released: March 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

To save their son, they might have to sacrifice their love—and their lives.

Ex-Navy SEAL Daz Montoya and rescue dog handler Renee Black have made a career out of saving people. But when their whirlwind affair resulted in pregnancy, Daz’s verbal fumble tore their budding relationship apart.

It’s been a tough eight years for Renee, raising Charlie alone with his autism-fueled impulsiveness, but she’s managed—until now. When she has to chase him to the edge of a cliff in a snowstorm, seeing the face of their rescuer is just the rotten cherry on top of an already rough day.

In the close confines of a snowbound cabin, Renee and Daz rediscover the heat still simmering between them. But while Renee welcomes Daz’s renewed determination to help Charlie however he can, she’s reluctant to trust him with her heart.

With the Phoenix Institute’s help, Renee and Daz discover their son’s gift for animal telepathy is real. And that to save him from old enemies that would kill to control him, they must join forces—and risk losing everything they’ve ever loved.

My Review:

Back in Issue 5 of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly I reviewed Corrina Lawson’s entire Phoenix Institute series to date. Because I can’t leave a job unfinished, and because I wanted to read the rest of the story, I’m back with a review of the final book in the series, Phoenix Inheritance.

When last we left our heroes…no that’s not quite right.

phoenix rising by corrina lawsonDaz Montoya has been part of the main sequence of The Phoenix Institute (Phoenix Rising, Phoenix Legacy, Ghost Phoenix) from the very beginning. But Daz doesn’t have any superpowers of his own. Daz was hired by the late and completely unlamented Lansing to both babysit firestarting telekinetic Alex and help Alex become the leader of a paramilitary team.

When Alex finally rebels against his psychopathic foster father in Phoenix Rising, Daz follows the kid he has trained, and leaves Lansing in their burning dust. As Alex has taken over the Institute, Daz has continued to lead the team.

But in Ghost Phoenix, Daz discovered just how difficult and deadly it can be to be the human pinball in a contest between two supers – and Daz has the hand-shaped burn scar to prove it.

Daz is used to being the biggest and baddest thing out there, and he’s having a damn hard time figuring out how to “level up” in a world where he is just a vulnerable human and his opponents can read his mind, control his body, or set him on fire with a thought. And when they heal in an instant, and he definitely doesn’t.

Daz has another big adjustment to make. While he was still a Navy SEAL, he very unofficially participated in the rescue of a downed plane filled with medical supplies and personnel headed for a refugee aid station. As part of this off-the-books search and rescue mission, he met Renee Black and her beautiful SAR dogs Thor and Loki.

The affair between Renee and Daz burned hot, and produced a child. But Daz couldn’t make the right words come out of his mouth to tell Renee he loved her, and Renee has Charlie without him. Even though Daz continues to meet his obligations where Renee and Charlie are concerned, he’s not the 24/7 parent that Renee is forced to be.

Daz is a part of Charlie’s life, but 2 weekends a month are not enough for him to absorb, or even accept, that his eight-year-old’s autism is real and that keeping Charlie mostly on track is wearing Renee down. No one can be on watch 24/7 indefinitely and not hit burnout.

Until a freak snowstorm and a feral cat conspire to get Daz back in Renee and Charlie’s lives long enough for a whole bunch of home truths to finally sink into his skull. It takes a whole host of crises to finally get Daz to accept Charlie exactly for who he is, and for him to figure out that in order for him to have a place in Renee’s life, he has to accept her as a full partner, and not someone he holds at arm’s reach.

And that Batman still has a place in the Justice League, even though he doesn’t have any superpowers of his own.

Escape Rating B: As much as I enjoyed Phoenix Inheritance, it felt like a story in the middle, and it leaves a lot of loose ends dangling regarding the Institute that I hope get picked up, and wrapped up, in a later book that does not currently seem to be on the drawing board.

The story between Renee and Daz also has a feeling of being “in the middle” because so much of their story, the mission where they met, is told in flashbacks that interrupt the story in the present. I found those flashbacks informative but a bit jarring. I was invested in the story in the present and felt like I was getting enough information about how they started that I didn’t need to see all the details – I was much more interested in how they were going to resolve their current problems.

Which are, admittedly, huge.

The biggest thing is that Daz keeps treating Renee as someone he needs to protect, instead of as someone who is right in there with him. He hasn’t let her into his life. And this is crucial, because Charlie says that animals talk to him telepathically, not that he uses that term. Renee believes Charlie is imagining what he wants to hear because he has a very powerful and inventive imagination. She doesn’t know that telepathy is real, but Daz does and doesn’t share that information.

Charlie’s potential telepathy puts him in danger from the same forces that are targeting the Phoenix Institute, and Daz doesn’t do a proper threat assessment because he just doesn’t want to admit that his son is autistic.

Of course, there is evil afoot, and that evil is after Charlie, just as they are after everyone connected with the Phoenix Institute. I feel so sorry for the poor cat that they use as both bait and trap, and I’m glad that Odin finds a much better home with Charlie – who really does understand him.

The issues that remained from Ghost Phoenix, that Rasputin and his gang of extra-fanatic crazies are after Alex and anyone connected with the Institute, are not resolved at the end of Phoenix Inheritance. While they managed to neutralize his local representative, that presence also made it apparent that there are plenty of tentacles left on this particular monster.

So the story ends with everyone currently safe, but with the sure and certain knowledge that evil is still out there and still has them in its sights. So even though the romance between Daz and Renee has reached a lovely Happy For Now, a happy ever after seems far outside everyone’s control.

I hope we find out how they neutralize Rasputin one of these days. This series deserves a fitting and final wrap.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Ghosts of Christmas Past by Corrina Lawson

ghosts of christmas past by corrina lawsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #3.5
Length: 167 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: November 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

As Christmas approaches in crumbling Charlton City, Detective Aloysius James and his partner, Noir, are at a crossroads. Figuring out how to reconcile their careers with their relationship is harder than catching the bad guys.

Now that Noir has learned to control her invisibility and is making a name for herself among the city s artist collective, Al senses there s something she s keeping from him. And he doesn t know how long they can remain partners. Or even lovers.

Noir isn t sure how Al would take it if he knew how deeply he has touched her artistic soul, or how he could react if he saw the secret drawings that have helped heal the wounds of her past.

When a murder lands them on opposite sides Al ready to arrest a suspect Noir insists in innocent they re going to need to unwrap all the ghosts of their pasts to make this Christmas the first of many. Or it could be their last.

My Review:

luminous by corrina lawsonGhosts of Christmas Past is a direct sequel to the earlier novella in this series, Luminous. It fills in some of the background gaps that were left at the end of the first book, and tells a lovely story about what happens to the hero and heroine after the supposed happy ever after. The journey to HEA is a bit rockier than anyone expect.

And the nod to Dickens is totally exploited. The scenes of A Christmas Carol do come into play in this story, in a way that is novel but totally in keeping with the season.

But don’t read Ghosts of Christmas Past without having read Luminous first. The Al and Noir stories feel like a separate sub-series in The Phoenix Institute. You know the Institute is in the background, but Noir and Al only have limited contact with it.

The issue in this story is their contact with each other.

At the end of Luminous, Al hands Noir the results of his research into missing young women at the time she was taken. He helps her reunite with her parents, and gives her the information she craves about the person she was before the kidnapping.

Lucy was a 17-year-old artist. She was also a white girl from the middle-class suburbs. Al is a black cop in a corrupt city. Even though Lucy is no longer 17, Al is still about 15 years older than Lucy. Between those facts, and Al’s general lack of belief in himself and his ability to be anything other than a workaholic cop, Al is certain that Lucy will leave him sooner or later, possibly sooner. So he’s already detaching himself.

But Lucy isn’t just Lucy anymore. She suffered over 5 years of being a human guinea pig and then rescued herself with her own latent psychic abilities. Lucy may be part of Noir, and vice versa, but she is not the woman she would have been if the kidnapping hadn’t happened. She needs to find her way to being a synthesis of Lucy and Noir. While she loves her parents, and is grateful to have found them, she is very, very far from being the little girl they remember.

Lucy is her own woman, and that woman loves Al James, workaholism and all. She just has to get him to believe it. While they both help and work against each other to solve a murder and corruption case in City Hall.

They’ve always been good at solving crimes together. Now they have to figure out if they trust each other enough with all the other parts of their lives. And Al needs to finally develop some other parts to his life, before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: Ghosts of Christmas Past feels like it completes the story in Luminous. We find out a bunch of things about both Al and Lucy/Noir that we didn’t learn in the first book. It was not clear by the end of Luminous whether Noir’s talents were created in the lab, or whether it was something in her all along. It was good to see that question answered, and to discover that Noir’s talents were latent, but they were something within Lucy’s DNA. Doctor Jill (Frankenstein) was crazy but not that talented.

It also fits better into this worldbuilding that Lucy was a latent. So far, none of the gifted have been created in a lab, and I like it better this way. We have met the future, and it sometimes turns invisible. Or heals itself.

ghost phoenix by corrina lawsonLucy’s talent is also a variation on Marian Doyle’s talent in Ghost Phoenix. The self-healing talent seems to be surprisingly wide-spread in this relatively small group, so it is good to see that other talents are as well.

But the core of this story is about trust. Al can’t let himself trust that Lucy will stay. Lucy is having a difficult time trusting that Al will make room in his life for her, especially since he isn’t recognizing the way that she has and continues to make room in the life she is creating for him. Lucy is both Lucy and Noir, but Al seems to think that she has to make a choice, and that it won’t include him.

Lucy feels forced from all sides – her parents want her to be the girl she was, and Al wants her to be Noir and not Lucy. Meanwhile, Al has to solve a murder at the City Museum that involves corrupt officials, the lover of one of Lucy’s friends, Tiny Tim’s crutch and Snow White’s glass coffin.

Al needs Lucy and her new artist friends to solve the case. It just takes him a while to see that putting the case together is a metaphor for their relationship.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

 

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Ghost Phoenix by Corrina Lawson

ghost phoenix by corrina lawsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #3
Length: 277 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: October 7, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

Richard Plantagenet, self-exiled prince of an immortal court, is content living the uncomplicated life of a California surfer. Until his brother’s sudden death and his Queen’s wasting illness wrest him from his ocean-side solitude for one last quest.

The Queen needs a cure. To get it, Richard needs assistance from someone with a singular—and slightly illegal—talent.

As the latest of a long line of ghost-walkers, Marian Doyle can, literally, walk through walls—bringing objects with her. Her gift comes in handy for her family’s shady antiquities business, but Marian’s had it with breaking the law. She wants a life of her own choosing.

Instead, she gets Richard.

Their mission seems simple: Find the body of Gregori Rasputin and procure a small sample of his DNA. But when they discover the Mad Monk of Russia is very much alive, the prince and the phantom must form a bond to battle a man who desires to remake the world in fire.

My Review:

I read The Phoenix Institute series all in one giant binge, and I’ll admit that Ghost Phoenix is the point where it almost jumped the shark. But the romance between the hero and heroine was so much delicious fun that it pretty much jumped back.

phoenix legacy by corrina lawsonThe evil dude in the previous book, Phoenix Legacy, went by the name Edward P. Genet V. At the end of the story we discover that his real name is Edward Plantagenet, briefly King Edward V of England. Back in the late 1400s.

If the name rings any bells at all, it’s because Edward V was also one of the famous Princes in the Tower. Shakespeare claimed that Edward and his brother Richard were killed by their uncle, the recently discovered Richard III. (Contrarians say that the Princes were murdered by their sister’s husband, King Henry VII. We may never know)

But it turns out that the people that the Phoenix Institute has discovered are not the only folks out there with special gifts. The Plantagenets have a strain of self-healing in their DNA, making some of them effectively immortal. Edward was one such, as was his brother Richard. In this scenario, they weren’t killed after all – they disappeared into the shadow court of their immortal queen, who turns out to be Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Eleanor is wasting away of some unknown malady that is preventing her from accessing her healing talents. Edward’s pursuit of Delilah and Drake’s genetically engineered baby was all part of his plan to create someone with the talent to heal others. However, messing with Drake’s family was a guaranteed way of getting killed. A sword through the heart will kill anyone. Even a self-healer can’t heal around a big honking piece of sharp metal in a truly vital organ.

Grigori Rasputin
Grigori Rasputin

Richard is forced back to court by his duty to his brother, and to his queen. He never approved of Edward’s methods, but now he has to find out what truly happened to his brother, and find a cure for the queen. Since Drake and Delilah’s baby is now out of reach, the court has discovered another possible method – studying the corpse of the mad Russian monk Rasputin, who was also had the power to heal others – as well as being a charismatic and nuttier than a fruitcake. Legend has it that Rasputin was poisoned, shot and drowned, so it is assumed that one or all of those methods overcame his self-healing ability.

Richard thinks he’s looking for a valuable corpse. So he hires Doyle Antiquities, especially Marian Doyle, to dig up (if necessary literally) the body of Rasputin. The Doyle family is known for possessing a rare psychic gift – the ability to turn to mist and go through walls. Marian is the only member of the family in this generation to possess the gift – as well as a talent for researching where lost treasures might be found.

Richard discovers that Marian is the most pleasantly surprising person he has met in centuries. She is intelligent, beautiful and talented, and always manages to do the unexpected. As they hunt what they think is an artifact, they discover that in spite of the centuries, they belong together. If they can survive the mess they have gotten themselves into.

Rasputin is still alive, and his followers are every bit as fanatical in the early 21st century as they were in the early 20th.

Escape Rating B+: The combination of the immortal Plantagenet court with Rasputin went really too close to the “believe three impossible things before breakfast” idea. In a world where multiple people have some kind of psychic/telekinetic talent without having had the equivalent of a mutated spider bite them in a lab, it is logical that there would be others with some talent.

There are so many stories about Rasputin, that it isn’t a stretch to believe he had some real power. He and his followers certainly thought he did. But adding the Plantagenet court into the mix almost went over the top.

But Richard Plantagenet is surprisingly empathetic as the surfer dude who could be king. He has rejected much of the isolation of the court and become a surfer in California. He may love the queen, but his attachment is to contemporary life. Watching him straddle both worlds makes him more human. He is still an autocrat at times, but he also knows how to value the short-lived human lives around him – and he knows there are lines that can’t be crossed, a lesson his brother never learned.

Richard meets with the Institute and Philip Drake, yet everyone walks away with their organs intact. He mourns his brother, but acknowledges that Drake’s actions were more than justified. He would protect himself and his to that same extreme – he can’t fault Drake for doing the same.

However, it is Richard’s relationship with Marian that grounds him and makes him human enough to feel for. He needs to win her love and approval, and she keeps him on the relatively human straight and narrow.

It is also her talents that discover the truth about the Queen’s illness. He needs her, and she needs him to boost her confidence so she can break away from the family that uses her and takes her for granted. In the early scenes, where Richard puts her overbearing grandfather in his place, that makes the reader first see him as “one of us” and not “one of them”..

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

 

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Phoenix Legacy by Corrina Lawson

phoenix legacy by corrina lawsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #2
Length: 272 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: November 13, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Philip Drake is immortal by virtue of a psychic power that heals all but the worst injuries. He’s needed every bit of it as a black ops agent, a life so violent that the line between pain and pleasure is tangled up in his head.

When he walks away from the CIA, the last thing he expects is to discover someone stole his DNA to create a race of super-healers. And that the expectant mother is a woman from his past who’d consider it her pleasure to spit on his grave.

One moment, Delilah Sefton is listening to a seriously hot, seriously deranged man giving her some half-baked explanation as to why she’s pregnant with no memory of how she got that way. The next, armed men swarm into her bar, and she and Mr. Sexy-Crazy are on the run.

Safety at the Phoenix Institute is only temporary, but it’s long enough to put the pieces together. A madman plans to steal her son in a plot to take over the world. And to stop him, she must learn to trust the baby’s father—a man she blames for her greatest loss.

My Review:

phoenix rising by corrina lawsonPhoenix Legacy is the direct sequel to Phoenix Rising, unlike Luminous which told a side story in this same fantastic universe.

The impact that Luminous has on Phoenix Rising is that it provides the excuse for telepath Beth Nakamora to be out of town and unavailable during the events of this book. IMHO the mystery would have been way too easy to solve if Beth had been around to read everyone’s occasionally tiny mind. She’s not, so it takes some more good old-fashioned talking for the good guys to all get on the same page and deliver the bad guys their just desserts.

Phoenix Legacy is a story about all the chickens coming home to roost. Including, in one very important part of the story, with eggs (or egg). Everyone’s past, including the past of the Phoenix Institute itself, come back to bite everyone’s ass one more time.

The skeletons in everyone’s closet all come out to dance, and it makes for one wild ride.

Alec Farley has been investigating the many and varied programs and businesses owned/sponsored by his late and unlamented foster father, Richard Lansing, as owner/creator/perpetrator of The Resource. Alec created the Phoenix Institute out of the ashes of The Resource when he inherited it from Lansing.

There are a lot of rocks to turn over, and way too many nasty things crawling out from under those rocks. Now that Beth Nakamora and Alec are lovers, Beth’s foster father, the ex-CIA agent Philip Drake, is unhappy that Alec is trying to clean up the existing structure instead of scrapping it and starting over. Or running away.

Drake knows that Lansing did a lot of dirty dealing, and dismantling his old organization puts Beth in danger. However, the rock that Alec turns over in this story brings way more trouble and danger to Drake than Beth. And it turns out to be a good thing.

Lansing, among other nefarious dealings, was the co-owner of a genetics lab that was researching the possible creation of a psychic healer who could heal others and not just him or her-self. Lansing and Drake were/are both self-healers.

In order to create this super-healer, Lansing gave the genetics lab (Orion) three sperm samples, his own, Drake’s, and Alec Farley’s. The kind of guy Lansing was, neither Drake nor Alec were informed or consented.

And, it turns out, neither was the woman who was artificially inseminated with that sperm. Not that she didn’t know where the sperm came from, but that she was kidnapped and medically raped, and then abandoned back at her home with a gap in her memory.

Lansing, having been a complete bastard, picked Drake’s childhood friend to kidnap and impregnate. Of course the baby is Drake’s. There would have been no fun for Lansing in tormenting a woman he didn’t know, the whole point of choosing Delilah Sefton was to hurt and possibly control Drake.

But Lansing is dead, and his partners are still after the baby, for what appear to be megalomaniacal reasons of their own.

Philip Drake, dead certain that he is not worthy of the love of the woman he used to call Lily, can’t help himself from protecting her and their unborn child – whether Lily can ever forgive him for all the pain he’s caused her in the past, or not.

It’s going to take a LOT of forgiveness to fix his earliest and greatest mess.

Escape Rating A: Of all the stories in this series so far (I’m up to #3.5) Phoenix Legacy was the most fun, at least for me.

Drake is one of those tortured, wounded souls that just cries out for healing and a happy ending, no matter how difficult achieving that HEA is going to be, or how little he thinks he deserves it. Also, Drake has been an enigma through the first two books in the series. His backstory was twisty and convoluted and sad, and I’m glad that we got to find out what makes him tick. As much as a man like him ever reveals such intimate details about himself.

Delilah Sefton, formerly known as Lily, is the first person we’ve met who knew Drake when he was very young. The events that pushed them toward an intense childhood friendship, and its brutal aftermath, were a critical part of Drake’s character formation. From her story, we find out what we need to about him.

At the same time, Delilah’s medical rape and the dangerous pursuit that follows in its aftermath make for an adrenaline fueled suspense story. The people pursuing her see her as a lab experiment, and not as a woman who was raped and is going to have a child. But then, they see her son as a guinea pig and not as a real person.

Delilah’s ability to get one of the surviving scientists to pull his obsessive focus away from his work to see the harm he did was awesome. But the surviving backers of the experiment have a hidden world-domination agenda that is even scarier than Lansing’s delusions. They are willing to do anything to imprison Delilah and take her baby when he’s born, for reasons that only half make sense to Drake.

When all is revealed, it makes for a jaw-dropping conclusion. Which doesn’t take one iota of evil away from the insanity they cause.

The romance that develops, or partially redevelops, between Delilah and Drake is meltingly hot, and even more fantastic for the way that this very scary badass manages to fall in love, be intensely protective, and still come off as dangerous and scary to everyone but the one woman who finally reaches what is left of his soul.

That there wasn’t much left to reach, and that Delilah manages it without giving up her agency or her core self, says awesome things about her character. This story is a winner.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

 

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Luminous by Corrina Lawson

luminous by corrina lawsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #1.5
Length: 117 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: May 29, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

As a teen, Lucy left home to gain the independence to pursue her dreams. When a renegade scientist captured and used her as a guinea pig, she escaped, but not unscathed. Rendered permanently invisible and with little memory of her previous life, she has transformed herself into Noir, a rogue crime fighter with one goal: find and stop her tormentor from harming anyone else.

Police Lieutenant Aloysius James thought he’d seen it all in the crumbling and corrupt Charlton City, but a brutal bank robbery committed by a monster has left him feeling he’s out of his depth. One man is missing from the scene and if he isn’t found soon, Al fears he’ll be as dead as the rest.

Al is unprepared for the one woman with the key to solving the case—Noir, who seems equally surprised he doesn’t find her unique ability repulsive.

Together they go out into the night, joining forces to track the monster down. They never expected their desperate alliance would generate a force of a different kind. Attraction…and desire.

My Review:

Okay, I’ll admit it, the name of the town in this book made me crack a smile every time. This entry in the Phoenix Institute series takes place in “Charlton City”. I never knew my husband’s family had a whole town named after them, even a fictional one.

I know, I’m digressing. Again.

phoenix rising by corrina lawsonAlthough Luminous is a novella in the Phoenix Institute series, the Institute (or its characters) doesn’t appear until the very end of the story. This one is about the kind of person the Institute wants to help, and how she’s coped without their help until now.

It also shows that there are more “gifted” people in the world than just the few that the Institute has found, and that there are more evil mad scientists fooling around outside their expertise (and mental stability) than just the ones employed by Richard Lansing before his timely demise.

In some ways, Luminous reminds me more of Batman than the X-Men, who seem to be the inspiration for the Institute. In Luminous, we have a mysterious crime fighter a la Batman, teaming up with a righteous cop in a corrupt city, a la Commissioner Gordon and Gotham.

The difference is that in Luminous, our mysterious crime fighter has lost the ability to “take off her mask” and her relationship with the cop is way more than just a crime fighting partnership.

Our heroine only knows herself as “Noir”. Years of being the victim of sadistic experimentation by a truly mad scientist have left her with no memory of her life before she was kidnapped, and a bad case of “Invisible Woman” syndrome.

Noir is completely invisible, even to herself. That invisibility is what allowed her to escape from her tormentor, but she can’t remember, or find a way, to turn it off. When she needs to be seen, she dresses in black from head to foot, including a mask and gloves, so that there is something there for people to react to.

Not that she lets people see her to have a reaction very often.

But Noir has a goal; to find and stop the doctor whose diabolical experiments caused Noir so much pain. She also needs to stop the monster that her tormentor has created out of the man who used to be that same doctor’s brother.

The kidnapping, bank robbing, murdering spree has just got to stop. Noir has lots of information on Doctor Jill and her Monster Brother Jack, but no way to put it in the right hands – until she watches Police Lieutenant Aloysius James take charge at the scene of the monster’s latest rampage.

While it can be said that Noir is trying to be a hero, she also needs a hero. She needs someone she can trust, someone who will both believe in her and believe her, and someone who can accept her as she is, invisibility and all.

Al James is the one uncorrupt cop in a very corrupt city. Because he isn’t on the take, he’s always alone – none of the other cops think they can trust a man who isn’t as morally bankrupt as they are. Yes, there is an irony in that. The untrustworthy are only capable of trusting those equally untrustworthy.

But in his isolation, Al is willing to trust a woman he can’t see over a bunch of his fellow cops who he sees all too clearly. He may not be able to see Noir’s face, but he can tell from her actions that she is on the side of right.

Too many of his supposed brothers in blue are all too ready to take a payoff to either turn a blind eye to the evil in Charlton City, or to turn Al in to the forces of evil for cold, hard cash.

Noir is the only person who can save him from the crap he’s stepped in to – and Al is the only person willing to save Noir from her life on the invisible run. But first, they have to take down evil. Together.

Escape Rating B+: Luminous reads like a combination of Batman (with a gender twist) and Frankenstein. Doctor Jill certainly qualifies as the evil scientist who creates a monster (or two monsters, counting her crazy self).

In the mad scientist vein of SF (and SFR) we’re never quite sure in this book whether Noir’s power of invisibility is an accidental side-effect of Doctor Jill’s experiments, or whether it is something that was latent in her all along. One of the scary things for Noir is that she doesn’t know either.

Al and Noir are both messed up people, and their fairly heavy baggage draws them together. Al needs both a case where he can really make a difference and to let someone or something into his life besides work. Noir needs someone she can trust with her secret, someone she can be herself around, even if that self is invisible. Under her invisibility, she’s still a woman who needs contact with other people.

Both Al and Noir are wearing masks in one sense or another. Noir’s disguise is literal, she can’t be seen. Al hides his love for the city he serves (or at least its people) under sarcasm and cynicism, just as he hides what Noir discovers is a totally fine body under rumpled and even slightly oversize clothes.

Noir is able to be herself with Al, even if the only self she knows is the one she has constructed in the few months since she escaped the experimental lab. Al needs to re-discover a self that is not just a workaholic cop, but actually has a real life.

Al’s road is surprisingly rockier than Noir, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his ability to remember his whole life.

ghosts of christmas past by corrina lawsonSolving the case turns out to be easy – for certain bloody and beat up cases of easy. Solving the possibilities of a real future relationship turns out to be a lot more difficult, but we don’t discover those details until Ghosts of Christmas Past.

The Phoenix Institute turns up at the end, as Al discovers both Noir’s identity before her kidnapping, and that the Phoenix Institute wants to help people like her. The future involvement of the Institute, and particularly psychic Beth Nakamora, provides the plot-excuse for Beth to be unavailable in the next Phoenix Institute story, Phoenix Legacy. The case in that story would have been much too easy to solve with Beth’s telepathy on tap.

But Noir and Al’s story is a terrific superhero-type romance/adventure all on its own.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

 

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Phoenix Rising by Corrina Lawson

phoenix rising by corrina lawsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Institute #1
Length: 230 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: November 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, All Romance

“He was born to be a weapon. For her, he must learn to be a hero. “

Since birth, Alec Farley has been trained to be a living weapon. His firestarter and telekinetic abilities have been honed to deadly perfection by the Resource, a shadowy anti-terrorist organization the only family he has ever known. What the Resource didn t teach him, though, is how to play well with others.

When psychologist Beth Nakamora meets Alec to help him work on his people skills, she s hit with a double-barreled first impression. He s hot in more ways than one. And her first instinct is to rescue him from his insular existence.

Her plan to kidnap and deprogram him goes awry when her latent telepathic ability flares, turning Alec s powers off. Hoping close proximity will reignite his flame, she leads him by the hand through a world he s never known. And something else flares: Alec s anger over everything he s been denied. Especially the passion that melds his mind and body with hers.

The Resource, however, isn t going to let anything or anyone steal its prime investment. Alec needs to be reminded where his loyalties lie starting with breaking his trust in the woman he s come to love.

Warning: Contains telekinetic sex, nuclear explosion sex hot enough to melt steel, and various and sundry swear words.

My Review:

Phoenix Rising is a fairly popular title. I mean that literally, there are a slew of books with the title “Phoenix Rising”. The first time I thought I was reading this book, I discovered after I finished that I had read the wrong book titled Phoenix Rising. (It was still good. And also steampunk, so somewhat germane).

I digress.

The Phoenix Rising by Corrina Lawson is a “making of the superhero” book, especially if you parse that word as “super” and “hero”. Alec Farley was born a powerful telekinetic with the ability to control fire. He doesn’t just start fires, he can also stop them and direct them. It is an extension of his TK, he just makes the molecules move faster and faster, until they burn.

At the beginning of the story, while Alec may be super, he isn’t a hero. It’s not that he’s a villain (there is one in the story) but that he isn’t in control of his own life enough to be a hero for anyone else.

There is an element of Pinocchio becoming a real boy (a real man, Alec is 23). Alec is being manipulated and controlled by his foster father Richard Lansing, who is very definitely the villain of the piece.

Alec just thinks of Lansing as someone who plays mind games, without realizing that a big part of those mind games is controlling Alec’s entire life and convincing him that it is for his own good. Lansing has a contract with the CIA to investigate powers like Alec’s, and quite a few government military contracts to use Alec and his team of excellent ex-military soldiers to fight terrorism and criminals that need Alec’s special gift. Alec doesn’t realize that his team are also his minders.

Until Beth Nakamora enters his life. Beth is a counselor for troubled teens, particularly those with anger-management issues. The difference with Alec is that if he loses control of his temper, he also loses control of his fire. The CIA is worried that Alec is on the road to causing more collateral damage than any of his ops repair or prevent actual damage.

But Beth has a secret. Beth has several secrets, but her biggest secret is that Beth also has a gift – she is a telepath. However, her power is suppressed as a result of an extreme childhood trauma. Her other secret? Her foster father is a CIA agent who manipulated his contacts to get Beth assigned to work with Alec, because he knows Richard Lansing is keeping Alec a virtual prisoner, even if Alec doesn’t know enough about real life to figure that out.

Putting Beth together with Alec turns out to be explosive, in more ways than one. They have off-the-charts sexual chemistry, something that neither of them is quite prepared to deal with. Alec has some experience of sex, but none of real relationships. And Beth is too scared of revealing her secrets to have let many people into her life.

Their chemistry is explosive in another way – something about Beth’s telepathy amps up Alec’s power, and vice versa.

But the real explosion is the dismantling of all the secrets surrounding Alec’s life and his manipulation by Lansing. As Alec starts to see, not just what he’s been missing, but what an adult life is supposed to be, Lansing turns up the screws on Alec, Beth, and Beth’s mysterious foster father, Philip Drake.

Lansing is playing for ultimate power at any cost, and he won’t let anyone stand in his way – not even his sons.

Escape Rating A-: Phoenix Rising reminded me quite a lot of the X-Men movies. Phoenix Rising would be roughly equivalent to the story of the start of Professor Xavier’s Academy, but with Xavier as a firestarter instead of a telepath. There’s definitely that sense of the creation of the Phoenix Institute out of the ashes of “The Resource” in order for Alec to have the opportunity to give people like him a better start than he had.

Also the universes have a similarity in that so far, the gifted are born and not made in laboratories. There is some genetic engineering going on, but even that starts with at least one, or possibly two, parents with gifts. Also one of the gifted is 200 years old, born in a time when the genetic engineering necessary to produce a “super” from not much would have been pure fiction.

As an origin story for the Institute and Alec, it works very well.

One of the fascinating subplots is the relationship between fathers and their children, and how that can go both wrong and right, whether the children are born to the one who parents them, or whether that responsibility is taken on voluntarily.

In this particular circle of life, we have four people with gifts; Richard Lansing, Philip Drake, Alec Farley and Beth Nakamora. Lansing is a self-healer, and he’s over 200 years old and has gone nutso. He’s convinced that he is a superior being, and that superior beings should rule the world, under his direction, of course. He also has a large dose of Victorian era “white man’s burden” imperial racism just to make him even more intolerant (and intolerable).

Philip Drake is Lansing’s biological son, but Lansing rejected him because his mother was part Native American. It wasn’t until after Drake reached adulthood that Lansing discovered Drake had inherited his gift for self-healing. But they couldn’t come to terms because Lansing couldn’t get past his racism.

On the other hand, Lansing adopted Alec Farley and raised the firestarter as his son. He was a distant, manipulative and emotionally abusive father, but he actually did his best. It just wasn’t very good in the nurturing sense. Lansing raised Alec to be a living weapon, and it is a testament to Alec’s innate good nature that Lansing failed.

There’s a third hand in this one. Beth Nakamura is Drake’s foster daughter. He rescued her from a lab when she was 8, and he’s watched over her ever since. Now that Beth is 23, their relationship has changed a bit, but it is obvious in every scene they have together that they love each other and would do anything for each other. Even though Drake is not Beth’s biological father, he is her real father in a way that Lansing never was to him or Alec. Drake learned from Lansing, as well as from an abusive step-father, what not to do. So he did the opposite and raised a marvelous woman who is definitely her own person.

Phoenix Rising also lays the groundwork for the worldbuilding in this series, and it does an excellent job while still telling a heart-pounding adventure with a sweet, sexy romance.

sci fi romance quarterlyOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.