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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wanted: Undead or Alive by Kerrelyn Sparks

Wanted: Undead or Alive by Kerrelyn Sparks
Publisher: Avon (Harper Collins)
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (374 pgs)
Heat Level: spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

He's a vampire from the big city . . .

Phineas McKinney thought New York City was tough, until he was attacked by Malcontents—evil vampires who consider mortals to be snacks. Saved by the good vampires, Phin swore to devote his now undead life to stopping the Malcontents. He's got his job cut out for him when word comes that their enemy may be hiding in Wyoming. What does a city boy like him know about horses and campfires? Good thing he's got Brynley Jones with him . . . if only she didn't hate every vampire on earth.

She's a werewolf princess . . .

Bryn believes vampires are seductive and charming, and that makes them dangerous. So she's more than a little annoyed about teaming up with Phin, even if he is the only bloodsucker able to make her inner wolf purr. But as they hunt down the new leader of the Malcontents, danger threatens . . . and Phineas and Brynley discover a passion that will rock the foundation of their supernatural world.

I think I’m in lust with Phineas. Along with all the other characters in the previous books, I thought the Love Doctor was a little over the top and pretentious. What I discovered about him in this book where he finally gets a chance at being the hero, is that he has a lot more depth to him than the author previously let on. His story is more than a pleasant surprise, it was a delightful revelation.

The first thing I want to share is that I am tickled pink with Ms. Sparks’ inclusion of what has to be one of the most sexy and exciting commercials that T.V. has seen in years. To say I got a kick out of how she integrated it into her hero is an understatement. I remember when it made the rounds with all of my fellow romance readers on Facebook because it was not only well done but the man was incredibly hot. Ms. Sparks took that little idea and ran with it, giving me one of the most grin worthy and wonderful experiences that I’ve had since I began reading her Love at Stake series. In my mind’s eye I now know exactly what Phineas looks like and when I applied that vision to the man who makes the heroine alternate between growling and lusting, I’m right there with her. I want to meet a man like that and nip and nibble him all over, but I’m sure Bryn would have something to say about that.

Ever hear the song, Tears of a Clown by Smokey Robinson? That’s Phineas’ theme song. What started off as a joke had turned into a travesty, leaving him alone and lonely. I felt so sad for him. The author presented valid and emotion tugging reasons for the hero’s outlook on life and how it shaped him. He alternated between wanting respect and feeling like he didn’t deserve it. He made some huge errors in his past and didn’t think they were redeemable. As regular folk, humans are their own worst critics – we judge ourselves harshly – but only when we are in fact really good and honest citizens. Criminals couldn’t care less. It was heartbreaking to realize Phineas couldn’t get past his mistakes and thought himself as nothing but a petty criminal. It took Bryn to force him to see the truth by seeing himself through her eyes, and that was an excellent way to show the healing power of love. It packed a powerful punch.

Bryn needed healing as well, but it’s not from something she did as it was something done to her. But first, she had trust someone and with that person, boldly find the courage to stand up and face her fears. That was a hard thing to do when she felt all alone and abandoned. She had good reasons for feeling that way and they were truly awful. The interesting quirk about her character is that even though she felt helpless and hunted, she did find ways to fight back, to help others and to change things that no one wanted to change. The heroine certainly earned the title of “hero” because she didn’t talk, she did, she acted and she made a difference. I liked that about her. Passive aggressive retaliation can be quite effective. Oh, but when she’d finally had enough? When scary push came to threatening shove, I was awed by what the author chose to have happen to Bryn. That was so cool! It was a total surprise not only for me but for a certain jerk of a person. I was so proud of her.

Secondary characters abounded in this book, much to my delight. I always enjoy it when folks arrive from previous stories to help out and kick Malcontent derriere when needed. This tale used them to good effect. There was lots of action, growling, shooting and chasing. The villains were a carryover from the last couple of installments but readers can be assured that Wanted: Undead or Alive can stand on its own merits. Ms. Sparks did throw in plenty of background information to catch a new reader up to speed without being overwhelming or resorting to ‘telling’.

Here’s another aspect of this series that I am pleased with. Even though this is book number twelve, the author continues to earn my devotion because of something she hasn’t done. She has not let this series spiral down into dark depravity and violence. So many of my favorite paranormal series have taken this route to such a degree, it’s no longer worth my time to read in order to reach the HEA. I’m too stressed, am not entertained and find that pushing the envelope to make the villain even worse than the one before does not interest me enough to see his/her downfall. Ms. Sparks has consistently presented stories that have a wonderful balance of light drama and suspense, interesting and varied characters, fun romances and a sense of humor that is refreshing, and runs the gamut of knee slapping and grin inducing or snorting soda out my nose when I least expect it. I can rely on this author to mix things up a bit to keep things fresh and quirky while delivering a story about people I continue to want to know about, to follow and be amazed at. The villains are no less nasty and troublesome but they don’t undermine the romance nor do they overshadow the intent of the story. Even with Queen Corky at her worst, I had the best time.

The dialogue was entertaining and the back and forth snapping between Bryn and Phineas was very insightful. I felt bad for the poor trees, enjoyed getting to know Phineas’ brother, was proud of Phil when he stood up to you-know-who, and got the biggest charge out of Digger and his aluminum hat wearing dog. The pace of the plot was brisk where it needed to be and slowed down when I wanted it to so I could savor the growth of the hero and heroine’s relationship.

Wanted: Undead or Alive is a hoot. There’s plenty of action, thrills and romance to keep a reader satisfied and entertained. It was a long time in coming but Phineas’ happy ever after was worth the wait. I definitely recommend this book to fans of not only the series but any paranormal romance fan who enjoys a smile with their teeth and fur. It’s a keeper and I’m thrilled to add Wanted: Undead or Alive to my pile of beloved books.