Sunday, April 06, 2014

2014, Part 3

Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth- Cade and Zach are called in once again when the President is on the Campaign trail. Something or someone is killing off workers in his campaign, and Cade knows who, or more precisely, what, it is. Apparently, the boogeyman is real, and can only be killed for a short time, destined to come back again and again. But even if he manages to kill the boogeyman, how can he prevent him from coming back in the future? And who brought him back this time? Who is the female agent who is trying to use the Boogeyman to kill Cade and the President? And as the bodies continue to pile up, can Cade keep the President and his family safe? I definitely enjoyed this book more than "The President's Vampire", because I knew what I was in for when I started it. This one takes place on the campaign trail, and I am starting to notice a troubling trend in these books, that there rarely seems to be a female character that is completely sympathetic. It seems in this book that we might finally have found one in the President's Daughter, but even though she is a bit of a bitch at the beginning, she manages to make it all the way through to the end without ending up in "villain" territory. Other female characters, not so much. While it wasn't especially blatant, it did make me feel a little uncomfortable when reading the book. Yes, the boogeyman is the real villain here (and get a really delicious comeuppance), but the women we see, three of them at least, are portrayed in pretty vile and repugnant ways. There is a secondary and tertiary male villain, but the tertiary one is pretty sad and sickish (he's wanted to betray the President, but he's so bad at it, nobody wants to give him the chance) and the other villain is bad, yes, but somehow not as repugnant as the female villains. Reading this book was somewhat of an uncomfortable experience for me as the disparity between the male and female characters (some of whom are victims and yet are still reprehensible as characters) were portrayed. I am not entirely certain I would feel comfortable recommending this book for that reason.

The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp- So, first we had the companions of Mithril Hall reborn, and now it's time for another character to come back- Erevis Cale. When the mother of Erevis Cale's child is seeking someplace to give birth to their son, she meets a strange man who sends her forward 70 years in time. She dies in childbirth, but not before making a connection with a Priest of Amaunator/Lathander and he takes in her son, who she has named Vasen. Raised in the shadowlands, he helps guide pilgrims who worship at the Temple of the God of the Sun and Light. But someone is seeking the end of Erevis Cale, who still holds part of the Godhood of Mask, and the only one who can find and free him is Vasen, helped by Cale's old comrades Riven and Magadon. But Vasen is not without friends himself, and Orsin, a traveler, and Gerak, a hunter whose wife is taken and twisted by the shadow infection borne by a pair of brothers who seek Erevis and Vasen Cale for Mephistopheles are there for Vasen. But can the shadow-touched Vasen find and free his father from his grave/jail on the outer planes, or will he succumb to the darkness that is in his very blood? Can the pieces of divinity that chain Erevis, Mephistopheles and Rivalen together be broken by the removal of that divinity, and can Erevis bond with his son? Okay, so I enjoyed the Erevis Cale stories, but I felt his story already had a satisfying ending. Okay, it's true that Mask sent Erevis and Varra's son into the future for some reason, but I would rather have read about Vasen by himself and not had what I feel was a fairly cliched plot to bring Erevis back. Why resurrect old characters for D&D Next? Why not create new characters? I get that creators are attached to their characters but this felt more than a little ridiculous to me. Can we have some new characters, please, and not just bring back old ones? The story itself was fine, and I liked Vasek. Thankfully, while Erevis Cale was the focus of the story, he's only in it for a very short span. Not really recommended.

Nine for the Devil by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer- Empress Theodora is sick and dying, and when she is finally dead, Justinian seems to go slightly mad. He insists that Theodora was killed, and coerces his Lord Chamberlain, John, into finding her "killer". But everyone, John included, thinks that Theodora expired from her illness. Even the Royal Physician, Gaius, knows this. Still John is forced to investigate anyway, under threat of death if he fails the Emperor. But as he starts to investigate, the city is gripped with unrest. Everywhere he goes, people in the streets are celebrating Theodora's death, because they have long hated her. Justinian is caught up in a war of ideas about Jesus, known as "The Three Chapters" arguing about the three possible natures of Christ- Fully human, fully god or some commingling of both. People, even his old friends, seem to be changing irrevocably- Gaius has become a drunkard, The Madam, Isis, has converted to Christianity and is changing her brothel into a women's refuge, and his longtime friend, the Excubitor, Felix, is keeping secrets from him and no longer comes to the Mithraeum where he and John used to worship. Plus, the Emperor himself seems to have gone mad, summoning John for discussions late at night with a squad of excubitors. And now John's servant, Paul, seems to be dying after a lifetime of service, and he wants John to convert to Christianity. But even as John sends the woman he loves to their daughter to help at the birth of their grandchild, can he find a way out of Justinian's prison of a proclamation and weather the storm that seems to be hitting the city all around him? And just who would have the temerity to poison an Empress, anyway, even considering how much she was hated by the people of the city? This is, as far as I can tell, the final book in the Chamberlain John series (yes, it could continue, but he would no longer be 'Chamberlain John"), and it was a tightly-plotted mystery with a feeling of real tension throughout. The city is changing, and so are the people in charge. Though John thinks he no longer has to fear Theodora's hatred of him, in a way, she comes back from the grave to imperil him again. This story smacked of time changing and passing, and it left me feeling sort of melancholy at the end. But I was surprised at the true identity of the murderer and the ending, which was the best one that could be hoped for in a series like this. Let's face it, removal from power rarely ends well. Highly recommended, and I regret that the series, which felt like an old friend, ended. 

The Stationmaster's Farewell by Edward Marston- Robert Colbeck is known as the Railway Detective, and is well-known for solving mysteries involving the trains which have begun to criss-cross the country. So when the Stationmaster of Exeter's St. David Railway station is found murderred in the ashes of a Guy Fawkes Day Bonfire, Inspector Edward Tallis sends Colbeck and his assistant Victor Leeming to Exeter to look into the matter. First of all, they must determine if the body discovered in the remains of the bonfire is actually that of Joel Haygate. the Stationmaster, as it is burned almost beyond recognition. Then, they must determine who killed him and why. Complicating the case is the stationmaster's brother, who wants nothing more than his brother's money, and who was in the midst of a feud with him over that same subject. Also, the woman in charge of the St. David's Refreshment station seems to have gone mad in the wake of his death, having wanted to marry Joel Haygate, but he had no such intention towards her. Third, Colbeck must bring Bagsy Browne, a man with a decided grudge towards Stationmaster Haygate, in for questioning, which is hard as Browne is slippery a customer as can be. Bagsy, meanwhile, is happy that the Stationmaster is dead, and he wants to attend the funeral so he can spit on the grave. As the situation worsens, Colbeck discovers a fourth suspect in the killing. But can he discover the true villain and bring him or her to justice and get back to London in time to marry  Madeline? And when the presence of Edward Tallis complicates the investigation, can Colbeck and Leeming get him out of their hair and stop him from interfereing with their investigation? I love Edward Marston's mysteries, and this book is no exception. Colbeck is brilliant and fashionable, like many of Marston's detective heroes, hes incisive and holds up the "Upper Class" part of the detective Duo. Victor Leeming, by contrast, is not at all brilliant, but he's dogged and determined, and often misses his wife anf children. But both do their parts to move the investigation forward. Here, their superior becomes more of an interference than a help, and he is growing upset with Colbeck's brilliance as a detective. He's moving from "superior" to "obstacle", as he smarts over Colbeck being more loved and lionized than he is. This was a murder case that really was only incidental to trains, but even so, I very much enjoyed the story. This was another ending I didn't see coming, and I found the book fascinating. Highly recommended.

Peril on the Royal Train by Edward Marston- A horrific derailment accident in Scotland kills three man on a goods train, but the nature of the crime, a huge rock blasted free of the cliffs and left on the tracks, makes it clear that this was no accident. Despite having plenty of detectives who work for him already, the Superintendant of the Caledonian Railway sends for Robert Colbeck to solve the mystery of who was behind this outrage. The Superintendant suspects the work of the North British Railway, and the chief of his own Railway Police, Rory McTurk, agrees. But McTurk, a longtime foe of Colbeck, doesn't agree with calling in the Railway Detective and smarts under what he sees as the humiliation. He is determined to solve the case on his own and show up Colbeck once and for all. But the crash is not the only worry plaguing the Caledonian Railway. One is the Sabbatarians, who believe that the railways shouldn't run on Sunday, the "day of rest" according to the Bible. They have protested. to no avail, and now they believe the time has come to take action. But are they responsible for the crash. or was it the two men on the horse-drawn cart who were seen shortly before the crash- they had something roped down under canvas in the back of the cart. Did they cause the crash? And if not either of those, then who? As Colbeck follows the clues to their conclusion, it becomes clear that whoever caused the crash had their eyes on a far larger prize. But can Colbeck and Leeming keep another such crash from occurring with an even greater loss of life? This book was startling in that the story at the start has nothing to do with the title. In that, the ending of the book is sort of given away, when you come to think about it. But as usual, you aren't sure who is ultimately responsible for the crime until the very end of the book, and Marston dangles some very attractive red herrings in front of you to throw you off the scent. It was also nice to see Madeline adapting to her new life as Colbeck's wife, and her and her father's role in this book. An excellent mystery and one I heartily enjoyed. Highly recommended.

Sherlock, Lupin and Me: The Dark Lady by Irene Adler- What do the greatest thief in France, the World's Greatest Detective and a lady singer have in common? Nothing, except they are all children staying in St. Malo France in the summer of 1870. They meet and become friends, and when they discover the body of a dead man washed up on the beach, their natural curiosity leads them to rry and find out who the man was and why he died. But it will take all their talents, not to mention the help and interference of the adults in their lives, to uncover the man's true name and find out how he ended up washed up on the beach of St. Malo. But can the three uncover the truth without ending up like the man themselves? Someone wanted him dead,. and it seems that several someones don't want anyone looking into the mystery, either! This was a fun idea for the book, with Arsene Lupin, Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler meeting as children and then getting caught up in a murder mystery. It takes them a bit of time to solve, but in the meantime, they are learning how to fight and defend themselves and how to pick locks (mostly courtesy of Lupin's father). This is only the first book in what promises to be a series, and I look forward to seeing and reading more of them. Highly recommended.

Revolution: Book Three of the Secret World Chronicle by Mercedes Lackey, with Cody Martin, Dennis Lee and Veronica Giguere- The Heroes are still fighting the Thulians, but now the organization of Echo has been taken over by the Supervillain Dominic Verdigris, and the heroes, especially Victrix and Belladonna Blue, have to find out, quickly, how to unseat him and get the organization back out from under him, as they suspect- and with good reason, that he's more interested in keeping himself in control rather than fighting the Thulians. As long as he can maintain power, they feel he might even cut a deal with the enemy. Meanwhile, the rest of the allies, the Soviets and the parts of Echo not under direct control by Verdigris, continues to fight against the Thulians and more local crime gangs, led by other metas. Changes are coming for all of them- especially the Angel Seraphym, who finds herself falling in love with human meta John Murdock, who may not be long for this world. But as each of them fight the good fight in their own separate ways, can they come together in the end when and where it really matters, and pull victory out of the jaws of defeat? This is a sizable book, and a bit scattered, with short chapters devoted to the view of the main characters: Victrix, John Murdock, Belladonna Blue and Mercurye. We also get to see some chapters from the point of view of Verdigris- and from another hero turned villain- People's Blade, now taken over by the spirit of her mentor Shen Xue- an absolutely ruthless villain who is mainly looking out for himself while the spirit of Fe Li, the original owner of his borrowed body, recovers from deep spiritual wounds taken in the last book. But the biggest change comes with Seraphim and John Murdock, with plenty of story set up for another book that will be coming- and it's one I will definitely be waiting to read. Fascinating and definitely recommended.

Thankless in Death by J.D. Robb- Jerry Reinhold is a lazy, thankless loser who is living with his parents after he lost his job amd his girlfriend threw him out on the street for hitting her. But when he loses his temper and knifes his mother with the knife she was using to make his lunch sandwich, he suddenly feels powerful for the first time in his life... and it feels good. So he decides to wait for his father to get home and get some payback for all he's "suffered" in his life. And then, after stealing all the money, cash and electronics, not to mention other valuables from his parents' home, he decides it would be a very good thing to take revenge on all the other people who have hurt him during his life... starting with his ex-girlfriend. And he does. But Eve Dallas is on his tail, and she knows that once he's started killing, he's not going to stop. The question is, can Eve catch him before he kills again? And how many more victims will be added to his tally before he can be caught? Plus, Eve is feeling a little more stress because Roarke's family is coming from Ireland for Thanksgiving, and she has just been told that she will be receiving the Medal of Honor for her work, and Roark will also be receiving a medal at the same ceremony. Wow, this villain was such a sleeze that I was really anxious for him to be caught. At the same time, his last victim was also kind of a jerk and Nora Roberts know just how long enough to hurt him to gain him a smidgen of sympathy by the end. Not much, but a smidgen. And the last scene with Jerry just made me want to cheer Eve and Peabody. It so fit the way I wanted to see them end the threat of the villain. A really excellent book- not much a mystery, but an amazing read. Highly recommended.

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop- Meg Corbyn has been with the others, recovering, ever since her former owners tried to get her kidnapped from the Courtyard. And ever since. she's had nightmares so bad that Simon Wolfgard has been sleeping in her bed in Wolf form. But when she kicks him out of bed one night, he changes back to human form, and things go pear-shaped for Meg, who feels uncomfortable around him, because she unexpectedly fels an attraction to him. As Simon struggles with dealing with Meg's skittishness, he finds out that she isn't the only one acting in unexpected ways. Members of the Others feel that he has become a little too close to Meg, and say he has been treating her less like a friend and more like a mate. He denies this, but at the same time, he finds himself becoming possessive of Meg and unhappy when he sees others treating her with affection- not necessarily juveniles, but other adults. So what does he really feel? And meanwhile, the Blood Seers, Meg included, are forseeing a great cataclysm to come, one that may have everything to do with a new group called HFL, Humans First and Last, who want to exterminate the Others and take the continent for themselves. But do they think that the Others won't react very harshly indeed to such an act? Plus, someone tries to kill the crows of the crowguard with poisoned meat and lures them in with shiny objects while two new drugs, Gone over Wolf and Feelgood, permeate the human world. As Meg warns the Others of the events she can foresee, The Cassandra Sangue seem unable to forsee anything but disaster, and Meg wants Simon and the Others to free the other Blood Seers from their imprisonment, especially her friend, Jean, one of the few who remembers a life outside the compound. But can he and the others find and reach the other Cassandra Sangue in time? For the attacks by HFL and humans hopped up on Gone Over Wolf and Feelgood are increasing, and the source of those drugs is a horrible secret that must come out. But will the Other outside of Lakeside Compound agree to rescuing the Cassandra Sangue when the truth is revealed? Wow, this book was amazing. The title is both literal and the term for a group of crows, but the book revealed a lot of the backstory of Meg, how she got to the Courtyard of Lakeside to apply for the job, and where she came from- also, where she found out so much about the outside world. The story of the Cassandra Sangue is somewhat depressing, but  I liked finding out where they came from, and that at least a few of them were saved. And, given the ending, I suspect that this series, like so many Anne Bishop writes, is going to be a trilogy (at least), and I can't help but look forward to the next volume. Highly recommended for the story, characters, worldbuilding and writing.

One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire- October, "Toby" Daye was once merely a changeling Knight, and now she is the Countess of Goldengreen, but her lifestyle hasn't changed much since her ennoblement. She still lives with her Fetch, May Day and is slowly learning about being nobility, including lessons with Sylvester Torquil, her liege. But when the Luidaeg warns her about a coming war with the Duchy of Saltmist, the Sea Kingdom, Toby must find out what has Saltmist beating the war drums and do her best to defuse the situation... by any means necessary. By saving the life of Patrick Lorden, the consort to Dianda Lorden, the Duchess of Saltmist, she discovers the truth of the matter. Someone has abducted the two sons of Dianda and Patrick, Dean and Sam, and if she wants to halt the war, Toby is going to have to find them and return them to their parents. But Toby is stunned to learn that the abductress was none other than Rayselline Torquil who has long hated Toby for not rescuing her from her kidnappers so many years ago- not caring that Toby spent twenty years as a fish in a pond in Golden Gate Park for all that time. And more than just kidnapping the Lorden children, Rayselline has also kidnapped Toby's daughter, Gillian- the one thing that ensures that Toby will spare no effort in tracking her down- because if there is one thing that cannot be denied, it's Toby's love for her daughter. But will rescuing her daughter mean losing her at the same time? And when Rayselline is revealed as a murderer, there is no power, human or fae to save her from her fate. But can Toby uncover the truth behind who supported Rayselline in her ambitions and bring them both to justice? Well, this was a bit of a change. We finally get to see and meet a lot of the sea-born fae, and Toby gets to go to the Undersea Knowe of Saltmist and meet the Lordens. But Toby has a lot of hard choices to make, and helping the Lordens seems to be a thing that not only she is able to do, but also only she is willing to do. Nobody else wants to help them because too many land fae think war is glorious and honorable- but none of them ever fought in a war and don't know what it's really like. They also lack the discipline to fight a war, discipline the sea fae have never lost. I really enjoyed this book, and the ending was very depressing, but had a note of hope. We also get to see Toby exercise her new powers as a Dochas Sidhe, with powers over blood, which helps her in her quest to find the Lorden boys, and sets up many interesting threads for the future. Highly recommended.

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest and Other Stories by Mike Mignola, Patric Reynolds, James Harren, John Arcudi, Peter Snejbjerg and Dave Stewart- This graphic novel collects three stories starring Abe Sapien from the BPRD. "The Haunted Boy" takes Abe to Vermont to investigate a "typical" haunting case, only for him to find out that it isn't typical at all. Two boys went ice-skating and fell through the ice. Only one boy survived. So is the haunting the dead boy, or something else? "The Abyssal Plain" follows up on the war sinking of a submarine carrying a very important enchanted artifact- and the Red Army man who promised his superiors that he would protect it with his life. But when he is dead, who will protect the helmet, and what lengths will he go to to in order to fulfill that promise? Finally, "The Devil Does Not Jest" takes Abe to meet the grandson of a man whose books on Demonology Abe has been fascinated with. But the man was hiding secrets in his home, and when Laer's grandson is killed by his "Uncle", Abe and the local sheriff have to deal with the fallout- and which may lead to both of their deaths. Hellboy makes a short appearance in this one. I liked these stories focused on Abe, who usually played a backseat to Hellboy in the movies and the early comics, He's an interesting character on his own and makes a whole variety of water-based and centered stories possible. This collection was interesting and the stories were by turns horrific and yet interesting. Recommended.

The Far West by Patricia C. Wrede- Francine "Eff" Rothmer is the thirteenth child, while her twin brother, Lan, is the ultra-lucky seventh son of a seventh son. Now living in Mill City near the magical Great Barrier Wall, Eff and Lan are dealing with the aftermath of killing a Medusa Lizard who can turn animals to stone. Eff has been working with the local college, taking care of the animals, both magical and not, that are kept by the college where her father is a professor. But the government and other magicians are very interested in Lizzie, their name for the Medusa Lizard, and everyone is clamoring to study it. But shipping the lizard east is just not going to happen, so a delegation of Hijiero_Cathayan wizards comes to Mill City with the intention of studying it, and the government builds a study center across the river to study the new animals, both magical and not, that seem to be heading east from the far West. But this involves moving Lizzy and the eggs she was carrying, through the Great Barrier Spell, which has unforeseen consequences- three of the eggs hatch, and the Medusa Lizard carried over 70 of them. Mill City, and the rest of the East, need to know how populous the Lizards are, and if and when they are going to reach the east. So when the Cathayan Magician arrives, she and her fellow magicians study the Lizard. There, they are able to pinpoint the Lizard's origin in the Far West, and the magicians offer to sponsor a trip with the government to catalogue the creatures, and features of the far West. Eff wants to go, but knows she has no chance, but her brother Lan, her friend William and even her former teacher Miss Ochiba, Circuit-Rider Wash and Miss Torgerson, her colleague at the Animal Care center, will be going on the trip. But when Miss Torgerson asks her along as an assistant, Eff knows she wants to go, but will her family accept it? And how exactly do you prepare to leave everything you have known behind- for years? And what will happen on her great adventure in the far west? This is the third book in the "Frontier Magic series, about Eff Rothmer and her adventures with magic and the magical creatures. I loved the way this book brings out how, while her brother Lan is supposed to be the most powerfully magical one, it's usually Eff who ends up finding a way to save the day by something she has realized. Yet while Lan is arrogant, he's lost a lot of his former confidence and arrogance, and Eff remains surprisingly self-effacing. And in this book, she finally grows up, becoming an experienced magician, explorer and person, as well as finding the man she wants to spend her life with, and a career. This is a wonderful series, and I never felt at all let down by it, or like the story had squandered its potential. This is a great capper to a wonderful series, and perhaps Ms. Wrede might see fit to visit this world again one day. I'd be more than happy to make the trip back. Highly Recommended.

Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer- Nikki Delaney is an American writer living in Japan, hiding from her powerful mother, who has long thought Nikki to be mentally ill and tried to commit her more than once. In fact, Nikki left the States barely ahead of her mother and a bunch of men in white coats. Still in hiding, she works on her horror novel, and has just recently written a scene with an American expat killed by means of a blender when she goes out to meet her friend Miriam at a restaurant. When another diner overhears them talking about her latest murder scene and is horrified, Miriam chides him playfully, saying that if he's not careful, Nikki will kill him, too, and he runs out of the restaurant. But soon, other men enter, and approach her table. They are police, it turns out, and are there to arrest her- for murder. It seems that the murder she wrote about on her blog actually happened, and now she is the prime suspect. Nikki is horrified herself, but she tries to explain the truth to the police. Nikki may not be insane, but she is OCD and can't not write. In fact, if she can't write, she has to click a retractable pen in and out to calm herself down. But Nikki, to her horror, finds out that everything she has written has come true, and she wonders if she is in some way responsible for what happened. Maybe a crazed fan of hers is re-enacting the murders she writes about? But she is able to prove to the police that she was not the murderer. But in writing another scene, she discovers that the murdered man stole a katana and hid it in a train station locker. Wondering if she is going crazy, she goes to the locker, and finds the katana, wrapped in leather. Not knowing what is going on, she discovers that the sword belongs to a Kami and another Kami is looking for him. But why, he doesn't know. The Kami, Atsumori, is a minor Kami, but he wants revenge on the people who burned his shrine. Soon, she is taken by Leo, a man who is looking for his father. And somehow, she is able to at least find out where his father is. But as her life on the run fills with Kami, gangsters, Tanuki, and a fan of hers named Pixii, Nikki is going to have to find out what she is, and what she can become and even what she wants to do with her life. But can she do all that without dying first? I started reading this because I am waiting for the next Wen Spencer "Tinker" novel and saw this listed in her back catalogue. Then I read the blurb inside the front cover and knew I HAD to read it. Gods and demons and Tanuki and a writer who writes reality even when she doesn't realize it? Sign me up! But the initial premise is actually quite disquieting for a writer- write horror stuff and realize that somehow, impossibly, it is all coming true? Well, that's a pretty nightmare all on its own. But as Nikki begins to understand where her mother is coming from, and deal with her own demons of the past (one of the times when she was committed, she was apparently raped by an orderly) and finds someone to love and what she really is. By the end of the book, she doesn't "need" to write ever again. But the compulsion remains, and she has come to terms with her, for lack of a better word, ability. And she finds herself attracted to Leo. But can she live with an attraction to a man she describes as a "Scary Cat guy"?  Insane question, maybe, but I loved it. Recommended.

Waxwork by Peter Lovesey- When Miriam Cromer comes under suspicion for the murder of her husband's photographic assistant, she at first refuses to answer, then writes a detailed confession. But something in her "confession" doesn't make sense. How did she poison the man with potassium cyanide, which was kept locked up in a cabinet that only her husband and his assistant had the keys to? And her husband was out of the house at a meeting of a photographic society in another city, and his assistant would hardly have given her the keys to poison himself! Inspector Jowett assigns Cribb to the case, insisting that someone in power has the idea that Miriam Cromer is innocent and would like Cribb to prove it. Meanwhile, James Berry the executioner, receives an invitation from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum to have a figure made of him and to have it installed in their "House of Horrors" section, for a sum of money. But as Cribb investigates what really happened in the Cromer household that day and before, the case grows muddier instead of clearer. Is Miriam the murderess, or was it someone else in the household, like her husband? What really happened, and who, if anyone, can be trusted to tell the truth? I loved the old Sgt. Cribb series, and his book was turned into the first episode of that series that appeared, with Alan Dobie in the role as Cribb. This was a very effective book, but I felt that it telegraphed the true murderer when the reader sees that not only has the assistant been killed, but so have a wide number of people around the killer,  including possibly the parents and a former assistant. As soon as I read that, a certain suspicion settled in my mind. "This is the murderer. This is the one." And it turned out I was right. Still, I enjoyed reading about Sgt. Cribb without his usual companion of Thackeray, and we can see why Jowett is not exactly Cribb's favorite person. But it definitely has an old Victorian/Edwardian feel to it, and the true story emerges slowly, teased from little bits in the testimony of others. Highly recommended.

Owls aren't Wise and Bats aren't Blind: A Naturalist Debunks Our Favorite Fallacies About Wildlife by Warmer Shedd- This book examines the stories that are often told about different animals- that Wolves live mainly upon small prey like rabbits and squirrels, that Squirrels are tame or remember where they bury nuts, that the Newt and the Red Eft are different animals, and that the Lynx and the Bobcat are different animals, among just a small number of tall tales we tend to believe. Warner Shedd debunks these tales by giving us the real truth about animals, many of which he has experienced on his own or been told by another naturalist- and mostly, the stories are his own. He covers animals from the Beaver to the Mison, from the Muskrat to the Deer, Elk and Bison (which are not actually extinct, but were saved by owners and ranchers, to be raised on farms, and have only recently been released back into the wild. If you are expecting this book to be dead and dry as dust, let me disabuse you of that notion now. This was a fascinating book to read, and while it had no photographs beyond those on its cover, each species is drawn in exacting detail by Trudy Nicholson, and the illustrations are superb. I really enjoyed reading this book, though it's better absorbed in small bites than in reading several chapters at once. Highly recommended.

In Fire Forged: Worlds of Honor #5 by David Weber, Jane Lindskold, Andy Presby and Timothy Zahn- This book collects three stories and a technical manual on how the Honotverse's weapons and armor work. The First story is "Ruthless" by Jane Lindskold. When Judith Newland's daughter, Ruth, is kidnapped byQueen Elizabeth's political enemies to force her brother, David, who loves Judith, to make statements dismissive of his sister's policies and bring down her government, the enemies are in for a shock. Because while Judith might have been captured and mated to one of the horrible Masadans, but she loves her daughter, and will do anything to get her back. But will allow David to sacrifice himself for her daughter? in "An Act of War" by Timothy Zahn, a con man attempting to sell the People's Republic of Haven a worthless piece of tech is caught and "recruited" into the People's Navy to try and kickstart a war between Manticore and the Andermanni Empire, neither of which "Charles", the conman, really wants to do. But when they send him along on the mission to start an incident with the Andermanni, can he keep himself alive when the plan goes to heck and threatens to kill everyone on board? And will the Peeps be able to start the war they want? "Let's Dance" by David Weber details the trials and tribulations Honor Harrington experiences when she tries to bring pirates to justice in Silesia. But are the experiences she has just an example of sector officials who don't care, or are they something much worse- actual collusion with the pirates? And how will Honor deal with it, no matter the cause of the difficulties she experiences? Lastly "An Introduction to Modern Starship Armor Design" shows how and why Ships of Honor's day are laid out, and how and why they carry the sort of armor and armaments they do. I really liked this book, especially the first story by Jane Lindskold. While every story evoked the Honorverse, I found this one the most interesting and approachable- and I loved how the two characters acknowledged their feelings in the end. Definitely interesting and recommended.

They Have a Word for It: Alighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases by Howard Rheingold- English is a language that borrows from every other one, or as I shirt I own puts it. "English doesn't just BORROW from other languages- it follows them down dark alleys, bashes them over the head and rifles through theur pockets for loose vocabulary." Well, this book is a list of words that haven't yet entered American English, but should. Words for art, like Shibui, a japanese word to connote the beauty that age brings to things, or Frotteur, the word for a man who rubs himself on strange women (from the French). These are words we need in our language, but they have meanings that cannot be efficiently stated in any other way. My current favorite word, which I have seen before, is Aware, which I know from a description in Japanese, mono no aware, which roughtly translated, means "The Ah-ness of things", or beauty that is so ephemeral that you only have time to gasp out "Ah!", and it is gone. If you love words, as I do, this book is fascinating, and will give you many interesting words to think on and add to your vocabulary. Highly recommended.

Shadow of the Alchemist by Jeri Westerson- Crispin Guest used to be a knight, but an accusation of treason led to him losing everything. Now, he solves mysteries, known as "The Tracker", working the streets with his apprentice, Jack. In this book, he is approached by the French Alchemist, Nicolas Flamel, to find his wife and apprentice, both of whom have gone missing. But at the same time, Crispin reconnects with a lord he once trained, Henry, Lord Derby, who claims to want to learn to do what Crispin does. But as Crispin navigates the utterly alien world of alchemy and alchemists to find out who may have wanted to do Flamel and his wife harm, he attracts the attention of Aveline, Flamel's deaf and mute servant girl, who takes a tendre to him. and tries to help him with his investigation.. But when someone starts trying to kill him, he will have to discover the true culprit and find the solution to both mysteries... before it kills him. I really like this series, which mixes medieval with Noir to make a surprisingly unexpected harmonious whole. It has the whole "Bitter, cynical, jaded detective", too much drinking and a succession of hot women who never seem to stick around... and transports it wholesale to the medieval era. I love Crispin, who still tries to do his best while being scorned by the society who once loved, or at least respected him, and I love his relationship with his apprentice, Jack. Anyone who has read, or heard of, Nicholas Flamel or the Philosopher's stone will enjoy this book, as well as anyone who enjoys detective fiction or Noir. Highly recommended.

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs- Mercy Thompson has been married to Adam Hauptmann, Alpha of the local Werewolf pack, for a while now. Despiote that, not everyone in the pack accepts her, because she is a mere skinchanger, a human who can become a coyote rather than a wolf. But Mercy can live with it- until Adam gets a call from his human ex-wife, Christy, who says she is being stalked by a man and he may have killed a boyfriend of hers, and she is scared. Adam, of course, has no problem helping her with her problem- that's the kind of man he is, and Mercy loves him for it. But what she doesn't like about Christy is her manipulative nature, whoch allows her to control everyone around her without seeming to- and it seems that members of Adam's pack would rather him being married to Christy than to Mercy. But the man who is after her isn't human, and his powers are almost more than even Adam can take. Has the pack and Adam bitten off more than they can chew, and how can Mercy help the man she loves from being involved once again with a woman who left him for no good reason? And can she end the threat that Christy's stalker poses without putting the entire world at risk? This was an excellent book. I really enjoyed seeing Mercy deal with an intruder in her territory (Christy), and her recognizing the passive-aggressive ways that Christy was trying to push her buttons and make Mercy react badly, which would have made her seem like the bad guy. But Mercy resisted losing her cool, despite lots and lots of provocation, and I also liked the villain, who felt like a real threat (Him throwing his own finger at Mercy felt extremely significant, and damn scary, too.) And the way Mercy finally takes him down was pure awesome. I also liked that even gutting the villain's threat doesn't make the pack members who didn't like her suddenly lov her, but some of them end up liking Christy less because they realize what she is doing. And the implications for the pack are up in the air at the end. Once more, they will be forced to change, and sometimes change is a good thing, while other times... Highly recommended.

Sat, Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss- There is nothing the human body and hrain react to as much as Salt, Sugar and Fat. Once, a long time ago, people mostly cooked meals from Fresh Ingredients that they had at home. Now, with the number of people in the workforce, everything is ready-made and reheatable. But with that comes a whole host of problems. Foods with WOF- or "Warmed-Over Flavor", a nasty taste that makes things taste reheated, and mostly unappetizing. Every Big Brand wants to attract people to its foods, so how do they accomplish that? By using Salt, Sugar and Fat to trick our bodies into not tasting off flavors and to get us to eat more. First, Author Moss takes us to Sugar- which our bodies crave because it is a high-energy substance. All of us have a Bliss Point,at which a product appeals to our taste for sweets most strongly. Children have a much higher Bliss Point than adults, to the point where at one time, there was a breakfast cereal that was an astonishing 73% sugar on the market. Add in fat, and the body no longer senda a "Stop eating, you're full" notice to tbe brain. This is especially prevalent in things like cookies. Companies may make noises from time to time about reducing fat in their baked goods, but once their competitors release cookies with higher amounts of fat, the other brands increase the fat in their own cookies to increase their control over the market. And you wondered why you "Can't eat just one"? (Oreos are almost always the worst offenders in this regard). Lastly, salt controls flavor, making you not notice bad or off flavors in food. But it is also not good for you and can be responsible for higher blood prssure, among other things. Reading this book was an eye-opener for me. I have never been into high sugar cereal (I grew up eating Cheerios and Kellog's Corn Flakes), not sticking tons of salt on my food and generally staying away from high fat. I still grew up overweight, but my "Bliss Point" for sugar has apparently always been set lower than other peoples. I remember asking my mom for one of those high-sugar cereals when I was little, and even then, it was just too sweet for me. Nevertheless, I still love cake, pie and other sugary deserts (Lemon pie- not lemon Meringue Pie, just Lemon Pie, is still my favorite, with Apple a close second.). But there are things, like Hot Dogs (loaded with fat and other chemicals that are really bad for you) that I don't think I will ever be eating again. This book changed the things I will eat, and maybe that's enough change in my life for now. This book may not change the way you live or eat, but it will open your eyes to what goes into the food you eat. Highly recommended.

Board Stiff by Piers Anthony- Irrelevant Kandy is a beautiful girl, but bored with her life. She wants an adventure, with some romance included, so she makes a wish on a wishing well,and gets turned into what she was: a board. Bored Stiff, actially. Realizing she made a bad choice and a bad wish, she ends up getting picked up by a man named Ease, whose magical talent is always having things be easy for him, and Kandy discovers that she can inflience him a little by speaking to him, mind to mind, which he mistakes for his own thoughts. She sends him off to the Good Wizard Humphrey to ask him a question, which means he will be bound in service for a year. Instead, Humphrey sends him on a quest: to get rid of a pun-destroying virus that has invaded Xanth. Ease doesn't like puns, but Kandy makes him see that some of them are necessary. They are joined on the quest by Astrid Basilisk-Cockatrice, who MareAnn wants Kandy to befriend, Com-Pewter, who has a vested interest in keeping Xanth the way it is, Tiara, a young girl with unruly hair they find locked up in a tower by her sisters, whom they rescue, and Mitch, a man with amazingly long hair he wears as a shirt. But there are other players interested in Xanth, including the Demoness Fornax, who wants Kandy to be her representative in Xanth and is willing to do almost anything to get her to agree. But can Kandy help Ease to find what he wants, and to find his dream girl, who is Kandy? And can their group eliminate the source of the pun-killing virus with everything that stands in their way? Surprisingly enough, I liked this book, which was focussed on romance rather than sex (yes, sex happens between some of the other characters, but offscreen, where it belongs and the characters aren't banging lika a dunny door in a storm all the time. This is a return to the earlier Xanth books, and much appreciated. Recommended.

Carniepunk by various authors- This compilation of short stories focuses on carnivals, with a punk sort of theme. "Painted Love" by Rob Thurman introduces us to Doodle, a very strange man who is actually a tattoo from hell. But he's escaped and is looking forward to dealing with Brad, a psychopath who works in a circus. When Doodle falls in love with the sister of a girl Bard has his eye on, can be save her from Brad's wrath? "The Three Lives of Lydia" by Delilah S. Dawson has Lydia, who suddenly finds herself in Bludworld. When she makes a connection with Charlie Dregs, a bludman who works in the circus she finds herself in, can she stay with him, despite knowing that she might be drawn back to her own world at any moment? "The Demon Barker of Wheat Street" by Kevin Hearne has his Iron Druid Character, his apprentice and Oberon, in the shape of a dog, checking out a carnival that has come to town. But when the carnival turns into a trip to Hell, can he keep them all safe and fight the demons with his powers? "The Sweeter the Juice" by Mark Henry has a pre-operative transsexual looking to buy the drugs that keep her looking female after a zombie apocalypse. But will she enjoy the end of her quest to discover a new street drug that her doctor wants to gain access to? "The Werewife by Jane Wells takes a man who has been cursed with a werewolf wife back to the carnival where she picked up her strange affliction, But when she confronts the woman who changed her, will she be imprisoned, or set free? "The Cold Girl" by Rachel Caine has a girl named Kiley, who discovers, on a trip to a carnival, that her boyfriend is a real monster- human, but a monster. When he and his friends kill her, she comes back to haunt him in the form of a Cold Girl, i.e. a vampire. But can she stay a cold girl forever, or will her human side win out? "A Duet with Darkness" by Alison Pang introduces us to Abby Sinclair, a violinist who ran away from Julliard to make music on her own. Taken in by a band formed of Outsiders and wildlings, she travels to a music festival strictly for outsiders. But when she faces off against a violinist who carries the violin of the devil, can she beat him? And what will be the price to her? "Recession of the Divine" gives us Olivia, who is a muse working as a claims adjuster. When she goes to a carnival to deal with a claim, one of the workers there imprisons her and makes her tell people's fortunes. But what will happen when she finally breaks free, and can her human, mortal shell survive? "Parlor Tricks" by Jennifer Estep has Gin Blanco, better known as the former assassin "The Spider" and her sister, Bria, a detective in the notoriously corrupt police force, go to a carnival looking for a lost girl, the daughter of one of the Police's secretaries. But what they find there traps both of them, and can they win free themselves and rescue the girl before they end up dying from another elemental who will do anything to possess continued beauty and youth? "Freak House" by Kelly Meding takes us to the "strays" universe to bing us the tale of Shiloh Harrison, a half-Djinn whose father has been imprisoned in a freak show for rich people's delectation, along with several other "paras". But when she meets up with a werewolf government agent, can she find a way to attend the show and rescue her father? "The Inside Man" by Nicole Peeler  has a woman named Jane True who investigates otherworldly crimes with her associates looking into a carnival where people who attend are never quite right again. But when it turns out that the carnival's master is stealing the memories of the people who go there, can she save her friends from the same fate- while experiencing their innermost memories and secrets? "A Chance in Hell" by Jackie Kessler has a female ex-succubus with a human soul who is trying to learn to become human. But when she is dragged by her friend to a carnival run by a demon of Greed, can she keep her friend's soul safe when she is marked and claimed by a demon of Lust? And what will breaking her friend free cost her? "Hell's Menagerie" by Kelly Fay gives us Emma Madigan, daughter of her character Charlie Madigan, going to rescue a litter of Hellhound puppies who have been imprisoned by an evil caravan master. But when his price for letting them go is one of her friends, how can she say no? And what will she do to redeem her friend? Finally, "The Daughter of the Midway, The Mermaid and the Open, Lonely Sea" by Seanan McGuire tells us of Ada, a carnival girl whose mother, once human, has become an actual mermaid, and a carnival sideshow attraction. But when the carnival returns to where her mother grew up and the town from which she was desperate to escape, can Ada find out what her mother was fleeing, and keep from coming to the same end? This was a really good collection of stories. Many of them were horror or borderline horror, but they were all good. The one I enjoyed the most, because it is still staying with me, is "The Three Lives of Lydia", which continues to haunt me because of the ending. I wanted to read more about lydia and a story that leaves you wanting more, when it is this good, is a very good thing. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2014, Part 2

Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling- Seregil and Alec are back in Rhiminee, trying to put the pieces of their life back together when they are summoned by the new Queen, Phoria, after her glorious return to the city. She disbands the Watchers, and gives Seregil and Alec a mission to return to Aurenen to bring home her sister, Princess Klia, who has fully recuperated after her recent brush with death. Along with the message, Alec and Seregil are to bring her a new company of soldiers to guard her, as her old company has been recalled. Phoria feels that Klia has too many people who would rather see her on the throne in place of Phoria. But when they are in Aurenen, Alec and Seregil are captured and sold into slavery by Zenghati slavers, who sell them in Plenimar. Alec is treated fairly well, purchased by an alchemist who wishes to use him for making various items, including a child, called a rekharo, made from Alec's Hazadrielfaie blood. But first, Alec must be purged of the "Impurity" of his human blood. And if he refuses, or talks back to his owner, he pays a price in pain, beaten on the soles of his feet. Seregil is separated from Alec, and, as it turns out, sold to the same man. But he is not to be a slave to the man who bought him, but to another slave, Khenir, who is actually Seregil's old lover Ilar i Sontir, who blames Seregil for what happoened twenty years ago, and his life as a slave ever since. Alec and Seregil know they must escape, but neither knows where the other is at first, and both have been scarred and collared, and to run as a slave is to be harshly punished in Plenimar. Can they keep their wits about them long enough to escape and find each other, and when Alec's second Rekharo turns out to be a (relative) success to his new Master, can he take the creature, who he views as the "Child of No Mother" that he was foretold to father, with him and still successfully escape? And can he and Seregil keep from coming to blows over the presence of "Khenir", whose help they needed to escape? This was a very different book than the first three, and at times, difficult to read because of what the characters are going through and how strongly you feel about them by now. Also, early in the book, they quarrel, which made me, at least, feel bad for the two of them. This is a book that's fairly horrific in subject matter and which makes both Alec and Seregil have to reach deep within themselves to survive. This is not a book to read if you have a weak stomach or get upset easily. It's frankly quite harrowing at times. But I really enjoyed the ending, even as the next book was telegraphed at the end of this one. I am looking forward ro reading "The White Road". Recommended.

Hot Mama by Jennifer Estep- Fiona Fine by day is a hot fashion designer, whose over the top designs are the toast of Bigtime. By night, she fights crime as the Superheroine, Fiera, with fiery powers, super strength, and super-endurance. And now, she is watching Stryker, leader of the Fearless Five, marry Karma Girl, better known as Carmen Cole, former intrepid girl reporter and outer of Superhero and Ubervillain secret identities. Fiona knows it should have been her getting married, to Tornado, her former teammate killed by the Terrible Triad, and she resents Carmen for having outed him and starting the evenrs that led up to his death. She still wears the ring he gave her, but her general depression leads her to think that it may be time to ease her way back into dating. She even finds a guy interested in her, a rich playboy named Johnny Bulluci, but the wedding party is crashed by new ubervillains Siren and Intelligirl, who have pretty much taken over the scene now that The Terrible Triad is gone. She ends up driving off the two, and Johnny asks for his watch back, which is decorated with an angel wings motif. Stryker and Karma Girl debate on whether to go on their honeymoon or not, but Fiona urges them to go- she'll be fine, and she and the rest of the team can get these two Ubervillains, no problem. Meanwhile, as Fiona, she has to deal with Erica Songe, a new, very pushy superhero reporter who seems to be able to charm the top brass into letting her do anything she wants- and the reappearance of a hero, Johnny Angel, in a newer, younger form, who want revenge on Siren and Intelligirl for killing his predecessor. But when her personal and Superhero lives collide, Fiona will have to decide what is more important- a man she is coming to love, or staying true to the memory of Travis- and tracking down Siren and Intelligirl- that may be more important than anything else. This was the follow-up to the "Karma Girl" book, and deals with Fiera, daughter of Mr. Sage and member of the Fearless Five. Fiona has never quite forgiven Carmen for getting Travis killed, but at the same time, Carmen saved her- saved them all, really, and now she's marrying Stryker. But the book lets them go on their honeymoon so we can get to the meat of the story- Fiona's new love life when she meets Johnny Bulluci. Here, we learn more about other heroes, how some of them are "legacy heroes", whose powers or name are passed down in the family. Johnny is one such, and even his sister, Fiona's fashion nemesis Bella Bulluci, has powers. It's quite an interesting world, but the ending did peeve me a bit because what happened to Lulu at the end of Karma Girl is retconned away... to happen all over again at the end of "Hot Mama". But the rest of the story is good, and enlarged the world of Bigtime considerably. Recommended.

The Tell: Little Clues that Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are by Matthew Hertenstein- Poker players speak of a "Tell", a series of cues that reveal to their opponents how their hand is going. Most often, these are not conscious actions, but subconscious things that the player doesn't even realize he is doing, that can give their hand away. But there are other "Tells" as well, revealing things like how parents treat their children, and whether we perceive people as attractive (hint, the more symmetrical your features, the more attractive you appear, because symmetry correlates with health). The author also examines other aspects of personal interaction allowing you to tell with better accuracy who might be gay or honest. I found this a fascinating book, though I didn't feel that the book gave me anything specific to latch onto in my own life. But I did find the subjects he dissected  really caught my attention and made me understand why some kids are secure and some are not. Definitely recommended.

A Cloisters Bestiary by The Metropolitan Museum of Art- This book showcases animal art from the Cloisters along with Medieval thoughts about the habits, habitat and nature of certain animals, both real, like Lions, Tigers, Boars Dogs, Wolves and Cats, along with mythical animals like Dragons, Basilisks and Unicorns. This is an interesting book and gives the origins of the art- whether it be painted, cast or carved, used to illustrate the text. Although the book is in black and white, I found it quite interesting. Recommended.

Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce- After the setback at Fief Dunlath, when Daine's victory over the Carthaki mages cut off Emperor Orzone's supply of Black Opals, Orzone has sought peace with Tortall, making overtures to King Jonathan and holding out hope for a treaty of peace. Daine and Numair are traveling with the Diplomats, Daine to see to the Emperor's prized songbirds, who have fallen mysteriously ill, and Numair because Orzone has rescinded the order for his execution on sight. But Daine dreams of the Badger, the God of the Badgers, and in her dream, he breathes out a white mist on her. It's a dream she finds puzzling and slightly frightening, as the Badger makes it clear that he *is* doing something to her, and under protest, at that. But Carthak is something of a revelation- incredibly wealthy and also incredibly corrupt, thanks to Orzone and his insistence on being worshipped in place of the Gods. Daine also finds herself having encounters with an old dark-skinned slave woman, and Prince Kaddar, the heir to Orzone and quite a nice young man, all things considered. She also saves and befriends a young marmoset named Zek, whose owner threw him into the river for Crocodiles to eat, and discovers that Orzone has immortals imprisoned in his menagerie- a Queen of Stormwings, Barzha and her consort, Hebakh. But when Daine tells that to Rikash, a Stormwing she first met in Fief Dunlath, he is shocked. The current King of the Stormwings supposedy killed Barzha and dumped her body over the ocean, and Stormwings only rule by right of victory. And Carthak and Orzone have deeper problems. In abandoning the Gods, the Gods have also abandoned Carthak. And now Daine has been given a new power by the Graveyard Hag, the main Goddess of Carthak, to bring dead things back to life. But Daine has her own ideas of what to use the power on, and she isn't willing to be the pawn of a Goddess, even a powerful one like the Graveyard Hag. But when the Emperor decides to abduct Daine to keep her and her power with animals forever, Daine might finally be angry enough with the Emperor to USE her newfound power. Can the Empire, and Orzone himself, stand against her might and that of the Gods, when Daine finally has had enough? Whoa. This book definitely brought it where Daine and her power is concerned. She gets a major (if temporary) power upgrade, but she is frightened by its effects and tries not to use it. We finally get to see Carthak and it's a lush, tropical land of great beauty, and great suffering as well. Slaves, massive inequality between the Emperor and the common people, and more intrigues with Gods and the Immortals. I loved this book for the adventure and for Daine herself, who is really coming into her own. She also finds out more about herself- possibly things that she may not want to know, like the fact that she herself is part God- or at least the child of one. This was a tasty dish of story that really satisfied and kept Daine both herself, human and down to earth despite the great power she could wield. Highly recommended.

The Realms of the Gods by Tamora Pierce- The walls between the lands of the immortals, where they were banished hundreds of years ago, and the human world have finally come down completely, and the people of Tortall are fighting off not only Stormwings and other baneful immortals like Hurroks, but other creatures as well, some helpful, some baneful. When Daine and her mentor Numair are attacked on the road and nearly killed by immortals, her mother and her father, the woods God Weiryn, pull her into the Realm of the Gods. Literally, everyone and everything there are Gods, whether human or animal. It is here that Daine's other mentor, the badger-god lives, but because Daine and Numair were still alive when they were pulled in, they face a long recovery process that would not have been the case if they had actually died. Here, Daine discovers the truth of her parentage for herself, and meets her father, Weiryn, for the first time. Apparently, when Daine's mother was killed, Weiryn rescued her and brought her to his home, and she has become a minor Goddess herself, known as "The Green Lady" who looks after the women of Daine's former home, helping with women's health and birthing issues. Her mother wants Daine to stay with her in the home of the Gods, but Daine feels that she and Numair have a duty to their friends and the people of Tortall. They also discover that Orzone is still alive, though he has become a Stormwing. Indeed, he took over the Stormwings from their old ruler and drove off Queen Barzha and Hebakh and their followers, along with Rikash. The Stormwings who follow Barzha have retreated to the Realm of the Gods, though they harry the others when they are able. Orzone has also been busy in the Realm of the Gods, creating creatures from his blood and darkness, who Daine christens "Darklings", to do his bidding. But here he may have miscalculated, as any creature made in the Realm of the Gods cannot be a servant to anything else, and therefore, the Darklings have the power of choice- to support Orzone or not, as they choose. Orzone created them to be his spies, his eyes and ears, but as the Darkling who Daine finds first discovers, it likes being free and chooses to help her. When Daine will not stay with Sarra and Weiryn, determined to go home and help her friends, her mother and father reluctantly give her their help. But to get home, they will have to cross the Realm of the Gods on their own, and face up to the Dangers within. Even as Rikash and the Stormwings who support Queen Barzha agree to help Daine and Numair cross the perilous desert to reach the lands of the Dragons, there are other dangers that could just as easily kill Daine and her mentor. But at least Daine can ask the Dragons for help, since she has been looking after the infant Dragon, Skysong, who Daine nicknamed "Kitten", since her mother was killed by the Carthakis at the Siege of Pirate's Swoop. But not all the Dragons are friendly to humans, and the Gods are caught up in the conflict with another Goddess, the Queen of Chaos, who wants to destroy everything and let the world and universe become unformed. Can Daine and Numair survive their trek and save their friends at home, along with defeating Orzone and helping the Gods end the threat of the Queen of Chaos? Or will she and her mentor lose their lives with no hope of ever going home again? This book was the climax of the series and one of the best. Yes, some people might find the ending between Numair and Daine a bit… personally troubling, as they end up in a relationship. Well, it's not like you get the feeling that they are going to be sneaking off into the bushes to shag, just that they are going to be a couple. And that someday Daine will marry him. Yeah, and she's only sixteen in this book and he's in his twenties or so. While that did make me twitch a bit, there is really no telling what the age of consent is in Tortall. It might be younger than in modern times because of the harsher conditions of their world (breed early, breed often was a solid means of survival in medieval times where people and babies tended to die, and die young). So now I am not as shocked as I was when I first read the book, but it can still be a shock when you read it for the first time. But this book wraps up the series, and I found the end as thrilling as I had when I first read it. Highly recommended, even with the quibble of Daine and Numair ending up together.

Dead on the Delta by Stacy Jay- Once, faeries were just a story, but the reappearance of faeries in the human world has put it upside down. Annabelle Lee used to be a medical student, but gave it up to become a cleaner, mainly because she is immune to Fairy venom. Now she works for the local government, cleaning up fairy eggs and Fairy poop, which, when mixed with Bleach, makes Breeze, the latest version of crack. If normal humans are bitten by faeries, they will eventually go crazy, anf have to be put in camps for their own safety and the safety of their families. Thus, most humans live in heavily gated communities protected by iron. But when Annabelle ventures into the swamp to clean up after a dead body and gets attacked by a breezehead, she wanders into a murder case and an even greater mystery. The dead girl whose body she was supposed to clean up after was the daughter of a highly placed family in town, and when she is attacked by a breeze-head, she is also attacked by an invisible man- something completely unknown to her. As Annabelle attempts to track down the Breeze House where the Breeze dealers are making their poison, she must also deal with their attacks on her, and whatever it is they are looking for- and just possibly find out who killed that young girl. But can she, and her innate optimism about those she knows and loves, deal with the secrets she will uncover in her own small town? And can she keep one step ahead of those trying to kill her? I was not really enthralled with this book. I've dealt with plenty of Sour heroines before, but Annabelle just never had my sympathy, and I didn't enjoy reading about her and her problems. She's too unsympathetic to me, being an alcoholic and possibly addicted to pills- admittedly, because of the stresses of her job, but I never really cared about Annabelle and it was a struggle for me to get through this book. I generally love gritty urban fantasy, but this neither thrilled nor appealed to me in the least. I won't be picking up any of the other books in this series. Not recommended.

Revealed by P.C. Cast- In order to get over the attack on the disappearance of Nefret and her poisoning the well of the Tulsa community against the local House of Night, the House of Night, under the High Priestess, Thanatos, lets members of the public meet many of the Fledglings and see that they are little different than other late teens and are not to be feared. But when Neferet's spirit shows up in the form of hundreds of Spiders and tries to attack Zoey and her friends, and the humans at the fair, Zoey and her friends, including Erin, form a circle to repel Neferet's spirit, but her attack causes Erin to reject the change and die. This pisses off Dallas, and he vows revenge against Zoey and her friends. But as Zoey and her friends deal with the death of Erin, once their friend and recently their foe, Neferet's spirit reforms and kills Aphrodite's father, the Mayor of Tulsa, leaving the blame to fall once more on the House of Night. But something is also going on with Zoey, who finds herself almost constantly angry and pissed off- not a good situation to be in. And he must also choose between Aurox, who holds the soul of her former love, Heath, and her Warrior and current lover, Stark. The time is coming when she must choose, but how can she choose between the reborn soul of someone she will always love and someone who she only came to love after he was gone? Meanwhile, Neferet remembers her past life and how she went from an abused fledgling to a powerful Priestess, and to think of herself as Queen Tsi Sigili. But as Zoey gives into the maelstrom of emotions inside her, can she stand to face Neferet as she is reborn in human form? This book made me think of "waiting" a lot. The book seems to wait as it explores Neferet's life for things to happen to Zoey. Aphrodite gets a vision of what is coming in regards to what is going on with Zoey and what is going to happen, but when she sneaks around Zoey's back for information, she ends up mking the vision come true in the long run. To be fair, based on her vision, I thought the ending was going to be something else entirely, but the ending was still a little hard to read, regardless. I can't wait to read the fnal book and the coming short novel, Kalona's Fall. Recommended.

Conspiracies: A Shadow Grail Novel by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill- Spirit White and her friends have driven off the Wild Hunt and saved the school, or so they think, but they are surprised how little has changed at Oakhurst Academy, There is still an air of menace around the school, and Doctor Ambrosius seems unable to do anything about it. Unable or unwilling. Christmas comes, and Spirit and Lock are given their presents- MP3 players in Oakhurst colors and their school rings. The stones in the rings are a blue color, but will change to reflect the element the students are tied to. And while Lock's does so, Spirit's remains the same, unchanged blue that it was at the beginning. Because Spirit has no magic, she is convinced that there must be another school where Legacies without any magical talent go, so she and her friends do more research and delve into the school's past. They soon discover that the school has only been there since the early 70's, and before that. it was the hangout of a biker gang, the former leader of which was the only survivor when some kind of catastrophe happened at the school. And eventually, the school was sold to Dr. Ambrosius and it became the Oakhurst Academy. But students continue to disappear, and only Spirit seems to be the one able to see how much is wrong at the school, and she, among her friends, insists that they continue to do something about it. As Dr. Ambrosius brings in a former Alumnus and Security consultant, the curriculum changes at the school, becoming more oriented around defense. Meanwhile, Spirit and Lock are discovering quite disturbing things, and she and Burke end up becoming closer. But as the New Year's Dance looms closer, it seems that the school is now under an attack by the Shadow Knights, a group opposed to the school. can Spirit and her friends defend the school again, or will they fail under the Shadow Knights attack? I liked this book, which had a strong feeling of tension throughout as things seem to go from bad to worse, and it's frustrating that Spirit is the only character who seems to be able to see it, or see how hard the school works to try and make the students distrust each other and break apart friendships. And, as yet, we don't know why- until the end of this book, when those questions are rather stunningly answered. We also get a hint of what Spirit's school of magic will be (and I was saying "Called it!" when it is given an offhanded mention), and also a hint of other secrets being kept from the students. Amazing, enjoyable and at the same time, it's a book that will stick with you for some time. Highly recommended.

The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling- For three centuries, a prophecy has kept Skala safe, that a daughter from the line of Thelatimos will keep Skala safe and free of disease. But when The Queen dies, her son, Erius, seizes the throne and carries out a campaign against his close female relatives, making sure they die in ways untraceable back to him. In the end, only his sister Ariani still lives, and she is married to a Duke Rhilus and pregnant. The Wizard Iya learns of the threat to Ariani and makes haste to be with her at the birth. There. Ariani gives birth to twins, a stillborn boy, and a girl. With Iya and her student Arkoniel is Lhel, a witchwoman who gives the baby girl the seeming of her dead brother by sewing a strip of her dead brother's skin to the skin of the Princess. This so disturbs the Duchess, who can hear the cries of her dead son, that she is never quite right again, and Lhel, horrified at what she has done, stays by Ariani in non-visible form to help her and guide her and her living daughter, named Tobin, who is raised as a boy. Tobin grows up a somewhat strange child, hated by his dead brother, who manifests as an angry ghost, and his half-mad mother, who rejects him. But when King Erius comes to their distant estate, she kills herself in a fit of fear, nearly killing Tobin with her. Tobin is afraid of the ghost, but grows up alone, far from other children, until Arkoniel comes to be his tutor, driven by the will of Illior, and Iya brings him a companion, Kirothius, the son of a minor lord, to be his squire and boon companion. But while he finally grows to be like other boys with Ki, what will happen when he must go to the Capitol and become companion to his cousin, Korin, who will be King after Erius? Can he keep his secret when it threatend to come out, and can he stay alive in the hothouse of the Capitol, where everyone seems to be prying into his secrets? This novel, in comparison to the Seregil and Alec novels, is much darker and more solemn. It's not a novel of high adventure or even mysteries, but more purely fantasy with a slight element of horror. It's sort of a Dark Fantasy, and most of the thrills and chills come from the tension of whether or not "Prince Tobin" will be found out as a woman and whether Iya, Arkoniel and/or Lhel will be discovered and killed. For while King Erius' mother actively hated wizards, Erius is willing to use them- but any that might pose the slightest threat to his rule he will put down ruthlessly, using wizards that serve him, called "The Harriers". It's a tight story that draws you in slowly and doesn't let you go. While I didn't necessarily care deeply for Tobin, I didn't want to see him/her hurt or killed. I can't wait to read the next book and see where this series goes. Definitely recommended, but don't make the mistake of thinking it's going to be like the Nightrunner series.

Sacrifices by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill- Spirit White and her friends have driven off not only the Wild Hunt on their own, but an attack by the Shadow Knights with the help of their classmates. But the Shadow Knights aren't done with Oakhurst Academy yet. Headmaster Doctor Ambrosius, who Spirit and her friends think is Merlin, has the school taken over by another former student and owner of a software company that has moved to the nearby town, known as Breakthrough Adventure Systems. But Breakthrough is the Bastion of the Shadow Knights, and the school becomes even more militarized and military Academy-like, teaching the students only combat and fighting. Spirit, the only one without magic, feels out of place, and her friend Muirin appears to have gone over to the side of the Shadow Knights, hanging with them exclusively and "dating" Ovecharenko, the new Gym teacher, who is Russian Mafiya. But as more students disappear under the brutal new Regime taking over at the school, the friends learn who Dr. Ambrosius really is, and must make their escape before they and the other students are killed. But even if they *can* escape, where will they go, and can they trust Muirin to help them, or will she sell out her old friends for her new ones? I thought this series was merely a trilogy, but I learned it was not at the end of this book. I can't say I am necessarily disappointed, because the ending would have been a disappointment if that was all there was. There *will* be a fourth book, but not until August, which really leaves me wanting more. The revelations came fast and furious in this one, backed up by Spirit and her friends having to adapt to their changing circumstances. Still I found this a really enjoyable, if not a comfortable read. Highly recommended. But you'll probably be guessing who and what Spirit is long before the end (to be fair, we'll have to wait for "who" until at least the next book).

There All Along by Lauren Dane and Megan Hart-  This book is a compilation of two futuristic, otherworldly romance novels. The first, "Land's End" involves a small town on another planet. Land's End Highway leads from the end of civilization to the Capital, and the law is what patrols the highway, keeping it safe and clear of bandits. Loyal Alsbaugh is in charge of the caravan that makes deliveries up and down the Highway and carries messages. When he's in the small village of Silver Cliffs, he always stays with Verity Coleman, a widow who runs the general store and post office. While he has long desired the beautiful shopkeeper, he knows that such a good, upright woman is not for him. But Verity has dreams of her own, of traveling away from her small village and seeing the land. But her family, and her lack of money, keep her tied to Silver Cliffs. She also finds herself attracted to Loyal, but he never seems to notice her as a woman. But when the bandit attacks increase and the bandits become even more vicious, the two of them are thrown together, and their attraction for and to each other ignites. but will Loyal's past mean leaving Verity behind, or can he stick ity out and be the kind of lover she needs? "By the Sea of Sand" has a woman named Teila who runs a lighthouse on the salt sea, where she lives with her young son and his nanny, who used to be her own nanny when she was a child. When her father-in-law sends her another injured soldier to take care of, she'd like to refuse him, but she cannot. The soldier she is sent is called "Jodah", even though that is not his name, because he was captured by aliens and tortured, and perhaps turned into a double agent to be used against his own people. That is why, even though Teila knows his real name, she cannot admit she knows him, nor try to jog his memory of who he is. But as he heals and grows stronger, will he come back to his real memories, or be lost in madness, and when another member of Teila's motley band of recovering prisoners becomes dangerous, can he remember himself in time to save them all from the aliens returning? Both of these stories take place on two very different alien planets, but the planets themselves don't really figure much into the stories, except as backdrop most of the time, which is fine because the stories should be about the connection between the two characters involved. And in both stories, those were good. These stories didn't have to be set on an alien planet- they could work just fine in a small town in the Old West and on the shores of a desert, respectively. They were fine romances, but they are less about their settings and more about the romances at their core. And there's nothing wrong with that. Recommended.

Hearts in Darkness by Keri Arthur- Nikki James has been waiting to hear something from Michael for six months, but he has been worryingly silent. While she didn't know that giving him her blood to help him survive and heal would reawaken the dark part of the vampire he is, she still misses him terribly. Meanwhile, Michael has been trying to oversome his renewed lust for blood and despite the fact that they share a mental bond, is determined never to see her again and let her forget him. But when his leader, the Witch Selene, sends him to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to investigate the disappearances of rich millionaires from an upscale resort, she tells him to contact Nikki and take her with him. Because Nikki is also on a case, that of the disappearance of a young computer genius, and if she goes on her own to Jackson Hole, she will die. Despite wanting not to be with Nikki, Michael still has feelings for her and doesn't want her to die, so he meets her at her home and, pretending to be a newlywed couple, head for the spa for their "Honeymoon". Along the way, they meet another millionaire and his wife, a man named Rodeman and his new wife, Ginger. But Nikki can feel that Ginger isn't human, and the chauffer who is supposed to drive the Rodemans is a vampire. But when Michael attempts to question him. he melts like wax and dies. Ginger, too, isn't completely human, and Nikki can feel that, but she has no idea what she is. Later on, she learns that Ginger is part flame imp, and that someone at the resort, a vampire, is using them to take over human and vampire bodies. But neither is able to contain the flame imps for long, and when the body they are in melts, the flame imps die. Now, Nikki is their only hope to step this man, because Michael can't even see the Flame Imps. But can they discover who is killing the millionaires, and why? And can Nikki hel save the flame Imps before the man behind the killing decides to use her or Michael as test subjects? And can Nikki find the two young people she is looking for before they are killed? I really enjoyed this book, as I loved seeing Nikki and Michael back together and how they worked together. Nikki wants to be with Michael, and he wants to be with her, too, even though he feels that if he stays away from her, that will somehow keep her "safe". But he's being delusional, and how Nikki is able to finally bring him around to her way of thinking made me smile. I also loved the flame Imps and their story and that neither Michael nor his mentor, Selene, had ever heard of them.  This book made me smile and kept me interested in the story. Highly recommended.

The Accidental Bride by Jane Feather- Phoebe, Olivia and Portia vowed that they would never wed at the wedding of Phoebe's sister, Diana, to Cato, Marquis of Granville. Now, Portia has been married, and Phoebe's father also wants her to marry Cato, who has become a widow. Phoebe, who has developed unwelcome feelings for Cato, is resisting the idea of marrying because she knows he doesn't love her and she can in no way compare to her sister. But when Cato prevents her from running away before the ceremony, she is stuck, and she must marry him. But their marriage isn't truly a happy one, as she suffers his attentions and feels miserable, as he has more than a tendency to order her around. But when her friend Portia returns, Portia is determined to help Phoebe get on with Cato, which means abandoning her usual shapeless gowns in favor of more up-to-date styles and colors that favor her coloring. Cato isn't sure he likes the new gowns, which he considers immodest, but he does like the change he sees in Phoebe, the way she takes control of her own sexuality and even ends up seducing him for once, which he finds far more preferable to her lying grimly in bed, tolerating his attentions. But Phoebe is determined to be an equal partner in his life, something which he cannot accept. But when Cato's estranged adopted son shows up seeking to spy on his father, he determines that Phoebe is ripe for being used against his father, just like her sister was, and whom he later poisoned. Can Phoebe resist falling to Brian's schemes, and can she help Catobring him to justice when he betrays himself? I remember reading this book long ago, but it still has quite a bit of luster upon rereading. The story is just as sharp as I remembered and Brian came off as even more of a D-bag. I did have less sympathy for the "Oh noes, I've fallen for my husband!" kind of plot, but it was a minor failing. Still recommended.

Chasing the Shadows by Keri Arthur- Nikki and Michael are together but his insistence on keeping her "safe" amd "protected" from the cases he takes on is making her seriously frustrated. So when she gets a call from her old partner, Jake, to go to San Francisco and find a missing woman, she leaves and heads off to help him. But it turns out that Michael is on the same case, and that the body of another missing woman has also been found, dead and mutilated. However, the source of the mystery seems to revolve around the facr that all the missing women were at the same school, and it seems that Jake's wife went to the same school. When she is snatched, can Nikki and Michael lay aside their squabbling about whether or not Michael needs to accept Nikki as an equal partner and work together long enough to find her before the killer can strike her down as well? Or will their separation lead to the death of Jake's wife as well as their relationship? I loved this book. Nikki and Michael were finally together, but he doesn't want to expose her to the danger involved in working with him. But he may not get the chance to turn her down, because she is bound and determined to do what he does or die trying. Their opponent was also interesting and had some of my sympathy, as I often felt the same way in school, but in the end, lost it because of what they did. Let bygones be bygones. Highly recommended.

The White Road by Lynn Flewelling- Alec and Seregil are recuperating from their escape from slavery in Plenimar in Aurenen, with Seregil's family. But even the Aurenen are unsure about what to do about Alec's "Child", Sebrahn, a Rhekharo. And attention from the Aurenfaie isn't the only attention that Sebrahn has gathered- Alec's people, the Hazadrielfaie, want to capture Sebrahn and ensure no more like him can be made, something that Seregil and Alec also want, for as long as the information exists, more Rhekharo can be made from Alec's blood. But Ulan i Sathil needs the healing potion that can be made from Sebrahn, and with the death of Yakhobin, Sebrahn is his only chance to stay alive, and he wants Alec and Sebrahn to be in his control. But when it becomes clear that someone is after them, they head back to Rhiminee and intend to go to Plenimar to retrieve the books of alchemy they left behind in Plenimar to prevent any more Rhekharo from being made. But when the Hazadrielfaie Riders catch up with them, it's clear that Sebrahn isn't the only Rekharo around,  But is he suited for living in Alec and Seregil's world? And the Hazadrielfaie are also concerned about the books left behind, and the leader of the Riders goes with Seregil and Alec to retrieve them. They must leave Sebrahn behind with the Riders if they are to have any chance of succeeding in their mission. But Ulan I Sathil has traveled to Plenimar ahead of the two and retrieved the books. With them in his possession, do they have any hope of getting them back? Reading this book, and this story, was very unlike the rest of the books in this series. It was very slow to start and I didn't feel it lived up to its promise until they actually headed to Plenimar. But it was still interesting, just not as compelling as some of the other adventures. And the ending was more than a bit saf, but I did enjoy it as a whole. I wouldn't consider this book indicative of the series as a whole, though, and this and Shadows Return are probably my least favorite books in the series. So, still good, but very different. Don't read this book or Shadows Return first. Recommended.

Darkness Splintered- Risa has failed to retrieve the second key to Hell, and she goes on a bender to try and forget her failure. But she soon wakes up to reality, and not only her father and the Reapers, but even her boss, Vampire Madelyn Hunter, all want her to go after the third key, and they are willing to kill her friends if her normal motivation isn't enough. With one friend dead, and another under the threat of Death, Risa calls back in Azriel, who she banished in the previous book. Together, they try and track down the soreress who has the missing key, and the face and body shifters working with her. But with time rnning out, Risa, who is pregnant with Azriel's child, must make a trip to the Temple in the Otherworld, to her father's former quarters, where the third key might be hidden. But nothing is ever easy, and the hell-creatures are gathering. Can Risa succeed in keeping the second key from being used? I wasn't quite feeling this book because I just... don't connect with Risa the same way I did with Riley Jenson in the previous series. I find myself had-pressed to care, really, and that means this series is less successful for me. I'm not sure why, but I really tried to get into it and care, and I still just didn't. There's only one book left after this, and I may read it, but only to see how the series ends. Not recommended.

Arisa Volume 12 by Matsumi Ando- Tsubasa finally knows who the King is, and now., it's up to her to prevent him from taking his revenge at the Summit of the Global Elite, where Arisa and Tsubasa's mother is attending. But can Tusbasa make everyone believe the truth, and can she bring "The King" to justice? And what will be the outcome for the two sisters? Then, Arisa finds out that Tsubasa is in trouble at school and is determined to help her out. But when she poses as her sister, she thinks Tsubasa is in a gang. Can she discover the meaning of Bros? And can she discover what's really wrong with Tsubasa at her school? This was a very short book, but at the same time, it was quite good. I hadn't been interested in Arisa for a while, and the ending is mostly angst, but the final styory was a funny antidote to the depressing ending of the main story. A light confection on the tongue, like cotton candy, and just as filling. Not really recommended.

Natsume's Book of Friends, Volume 15 by Yuki Midorikawa- Natsume finds himself meeting and helping a young woman whose house is under assault by Yokai. It turns out she is a friend of Natori, and that her father was an exorcist until he lost his ability to see Yokai. Now, two of his former servants are angry that he is ignoring them. Can Natori and Natsume and the man's daughter release them from their service to him? Next, Natsume has an encounter with a mushroom Yokai who wants to see his friend again. His friend is another Yokai of high status who has gone off for training. But will his old friend have anything to do with him now? And finally, we get to meet the relatives who took Natsume in, and why, and read about how Natsume was before he was adopted by them. I loved this novel, which was gentle and sweet and focused mainly about the ties between those who are close- ties of family, friendship and obligation. Each story involves people who must live up to their ties and who are changed by them in many ways. Truly beautiful and made me reflect. Highly recommended.

The Secret History of Marvel Comics by Blake Bell and Dr. Michael J. Vassallo- Marvel is a giant in the comics-publishing industry, one of the Big Three: Marvel, DC and Archie Comics. But how did its founder, Martin Goodman, turn it from merely one of a host of shell companies, into a giant powerhouse? The truth is here to be told: by outright theft of ideas and material, and by copying anything and everything that was popular, from crime and horror pulps to sex and gore stories. And then, he almost never paid his artists and writers anything and hid any profits he made among a host of shell companies, each with different names and publishing magazines. It just so happened to be that Marvel was the one that printed comics, and that comics became popular in a big way, so Marvel, one of a host of publishing companies that flew under the properties owned by Goodman, became popular enough and large enough to become the only company worth anything in the end. Stan Lee, original name, Stanley Lieber, was Martin Goodman's nephew, and started working for the company owned by his uncle when he was 18, and shortly after, began writing stories for the magazines his uncle owned. This book not only tells the rather sordid story about Marvel's beginnings, but also profiles many of the artists and writers who worked for the company (although some, like Jack Kirby, ended up leaving over money and copyright issues). This was not an easy book to read, but I did find it very interesting, because Marvel wasn't some unique kind of company. The 1930's, when most of these pulps started, had many other publishing houses run in much the same way. It's a fascinating and rather appalling look at the History of Marvel. It's like a train wreck- you'd like to stop reading but you can't turn your eyes away. Recommended.

Hidden Warrior by Lynn Flewellung- Tobin has lived all of his life thinking that he is a boy, but now he knows the truth, that he is a woman, and he must keep this secret from most of the others who know him. Even Ki, his close friend and squire, must be kept in the dark. But when he came to rescue Tobin, Ki's memory had to be altered about who and what Tobin really is, and it did a number on his head. Tobin and Ki slowly recover at Tobin's childhood home, and as Lhel helps Tobin adjust, his Guardian, Lord Orun, tries to compel Tobin to return to the capital. Eventually, Ki recovers enough to return, and despite Orun wanting Tobin to dismiss Ki and take Moriel, a young noble squire who reports directly to him, in Ki's place. But Tobin will have no one but Ki, and when Orun tries to compel Tobin to his bed, Brother, the spirit of Tobin's dead twin, comes to Tobin's aid and kills Orun via a heart attack. This is good, because it gets Tobin put under the care of a much better man as his guardian. But when Korin impregnates a young noblewoman of the court, he is allowed to wed her. Now that the succession is assured, Korin and his young companions are allowed to finally go into real combat with pirates. The King has returned, and Tobin envies his cousin his father's warm affection, and wishes that he, too, could have had a loving relationship with his father. But the truth is revealed during the attack- that Korin is not only foolhardy and headstrong, but a coward as well,  And worse, the companions that fought with him know it as well. And when, on Tobin's birthday, the King allows him a boon, he uses it on Ki's behalf, giving Ki's faher one of his holdings. But the first one he chooses, just because it comes to him first, he makes an enemy of Niryn, the King's chief mage and leader of the Harriers. So when the city of Ero is attacked by Plenimarans, the King is barely able to defend it, due to the loss of so many of his soldiers in wars, plagues and famines. But when Tobin is sent to Atiyon, one of his holdings that still has soldiers, he is attacked by Skalans. But why is the King seeking to do away with him? Or is it Niryn who is behind the whole scheme? And when Tobin is declared a traitor to the King it is time for him to make a decision- reveal himself for who he really is, or stand by and watch Skala fall. Can he find in him the courage to admit the truth, and will anyone follow him if he does? This book is nothing like the Nightrunners books, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Readers are more deeply tied to Tobin, as most of his struggles are internal, but he also must deal with battle and external threats as well. I found Tobin a very interesting character, composed of so many contradictions: appearing a boy while being a girl in actualiry, Being a warrior, but also drawn to creative pursuits, personally brave but shrinking back from admitting who and what he is (until the end of the book, at least). It's a fascinating study in contrasts and makes me wonder if I could deal with finding out that everything I thought about myself was a lie when I was a teenager. And I don't think I would have handled it as well. This is a wonderful fantasy story and brings something of psychology iinto it as well. I loved this book, and I couldn't wait to read the last book in the trilogy. Highly recommended.

Oracle's Queen by Lynn Flewelling- Tobin has regained his true form, and taken the name Tamir, but she is still unsure of how she feels about all of this, and whether she will retain the friendship she has with Ki. Ki, for his part, is shocked as well, and struggles with his own feelings for his old friend and comrade. He wonders if he can ever accept Tobin as Tamir, and cannot spend the night in bed with her as he used to when she had her male body. More, without the bit of bone taken from her Brother, she no longer has any control over the spirit, and he becomes threatening, demanding that she uncover what truly happened when they were born and punish the evildoers. But she doesn't know that he has already killed Lhel, and she must also find and defeat Prince Korin, who has married a surviving female relative of Tamir's and will be claiming the throne through her and their child, which he wastes no time attempting to engender. For her own part, Nalia has to deal with her feelings of betrayal, as she was Niryn's lover first. But his magic makes her a maiden all over again, and he removes the curse he placed on any child of Korin's, while poisoning his mind against Tobin/Tamir, rumors of which have come to Palatine, where Nyrin stashed the girl, Nalia. Luckily for Tamir, many barons support her, but some also support Korin, and while Korin's endless holing up in the fortress leads many to remember his cowardice, Niryn must wait until Korin fathers an heir before he can let him out to try and kill Tamir. But as Tamir struggles with becoming a Queen to be proud of and her dealings with those around her, can she still defeat her cousin without bloodshed or is there no remaining hope but war? As I was reading this book, it became less of a purely fantasy novel through most of it, being an otherwise dramatic story about characters coming to terms with changes in thmselves and the world around them, most specifically, in Tamir and Ki's relationship. Tamir, as Tobin, fell in love with Ki, and now that she is in a woman's body, she hopes they can retain the same relation of friendship, or perhaps deepen it into something more. Ki, once he gets over missing Tobin the boy, eventually starts to see Tamir that way, but their relationship, while often frustrating to read about, is also fascinating to watch and read. At the end, Tamir is able to do everthing she needs to do to become the ruler that Skala needs, and I ended up truly enjoying this book and the series it is a part of. It has an entirely different tone than the Alec and Seregil stories, but in its own way, it's fascinating and wonderful. It was a delight to read, even the difficult parts. Highly recommended.

Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins- Black Ice by Andrew Lane- Sherlock and his mentor, Amycus Crowe, are summoned to London to meet with Sherlock's brother, Mycroft. But they find him in the Diogenes Club with a knife in his hand and a dead man in the room behind him, a bloody wound in his chest. Mycroft has no recollection of what happened in the room or how the man died, bur he is taken into custody by the police anyway, and it's up to Sherlock and Amycus Crowe to find out who the victim really was and what happened to him in the locked room, and he also finds out that there is something on the back of the card the man gave him. A name: "The Paradol Chamber". But as Sherlock and Crowe investigate, it becomes clear that the mirder has something to do with Russia and Alaska, which they are about to sell to America for money. But there is snother colonial interest in the land, and Mycroft sees nothing for it but to head to Russia, along with Sherlock and another agent to investigate. They travel as part of a Theatre company, but when Mycroft is arrested and Sherlock nearly so, it's up to him to discover the culprits and keep Mycroft and himself from dying in a strange foreign country. Is Sherlock up to the task? I loved this book. It started out a bit slow, but built up speed like an accelerating train. The last part in Russia, where Sherlock is on the run from the Russian police and trying to prevent the assassination of his brother and another target, was really suspenseful and quite amazing. I love how they show Sherlock's abilities and attitudes slowly emerging, which will eventually turn him into the man he became in the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, Highly Recommended.

Eight for Eternity by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer- John the Eunuch is the Lord Chamberlain to Justinian, Emperor of Constantinople, and people claim that he is a demon. So when two criminals, members of the factions known as the Blues and the Greens, to death, they are hung in the public square. But the ropes that are supposed to hang them fail, twice, and the people of the city decide that this means they must go free, while Justinian's men want to carry out the execution. The two are given refuge in a church, but someone kills them, drags them out into a cistern and throws them in. From there, they vanish. John is assigned to find out the truth of what happened and bring the killers to justice. But someone is using the unrest in the city to try and overthrow Justinian. Can John end the plot and find out what really happened to the two men? And can he do it without becoming victim to the mob himself,. or to Justinian's Empress, Theodora? This book was a prequel to the other books in the series, taking place in 532 rather than in the 540's. There is noting really stating that it was earlier, so I was wondering where John's wife, who had appeared in the sevent book was. It was only after looking at the dates in the earlier books that I realized. It was a rather tense mystery, with mobs rioting in the city and burning lots of it down, but it's the same John amd he's still an excellent solver of mysteries. Definitely recommended.

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire- When Toby's Fetch shows up, she's worried, but when her best friend's son is snatched from his bed and her youngest daughter goes into a coma she cannot be awakened from, Toby knows she must help get them back. All signs point to Blind Michael, one of the Elder Fae like the Luidaeg. He is something like the leader of the Evil Wild Hunt, and those children he steals become members of the hunt. or one of his mounts, eventually joining him in his evil. But even getting to his realm is incredibly hard, and while their might be multiple paths, each can only be used once. Can Toby find her way there, rescue not only her friend's son, but all the other children taken by Blind Michael? And when he turns his attention to wanting Toby for his queen, can she keep herself safe and help Blind Michael's original wife to kill him and take over his realm? And what will she discover about her own Countess in the process? I liked this book. Toby is still a hot mess, still recovering from being a fish in a pond for many long years, and now she has to deal with the appearance of her Fetch, meaning that she is going to die soon. But unlike some who might bow to fate and decide that Blind Michael would kill her, considering how powerful he is, Toby digs her heels in and fights every strep of the way, utterly refusing to "go gently into that good night". And in the process, she finds out some surprising truths about Countess Oleander de Merelands, the wife of her lord. I found this fascinating. I didn't even know such a type of fae existed, and it was so interesting to see where the hints about what she was and where her powers led. And we also get a hint that even Toby isn't exactly what she seems to be, or so it seemed to me. A interesting and fascinating book. Highly recommended.

The President's Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth- America is beset by many enemies, both internal and external. When the enemies are merely human, America and her president are protected by the armed services for external threats and the Secret Service for internal threats. But what happens when those enemies *aren't* human? Well, that's when they call on Nathaniel Cade, the President's Vampire. Cade was made during the 1800's, by Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen, with blood from the bullet which killed President Lincoln. Bound to the President, and to the welfare of the country, Cade was made to protect the US from supernatural threats. Now, someone is making a viral agent that turns men and women into reptilian creatures that can infect others with a bite or claw. Starting in Africa, using kidnapped children as guinea pigs, the threat continues, with the viral agent continuing to be developed as the attacks continue. Cade's presence disrupts the plans of those developing the agent, and it slowly becomes clear that those developing the virus are not foreign actors, but those much closer to home. But who would have the resources and hate the government so much as to try to turn all of America into such creatures? And can their plan to turn shoppers in the Mall of America into those creatures, and infecting themselves with an upgraded version of the virus that leaves their human intelligence intact, can Cade work with his handler, Zach Barrows, and another Agent named Bell, to turn back the plot aimed at the nation's heartland, meant to make humans a footnote of history? I have to admit, the title of this book is what made me pick it up, and it's a great title. The fact that Cade's existence was tied to Abraham Lincoln made me think of "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter", and it's true that this book was published after that book came out, although I have no idea if they had anything to do with each other, and if this book was informed by that book's story. I was hoping that Cade would be portrayed a bit more sympathetically, and that the book was going to be more like a fantasy adventure story. But Cade is pretty cold and the book is written more like a thriller, which was a bit of a disappointment to what I hoped it might be. On the other hand, that didn't make it a bad book, and I ended up enjoying it, just not quite as much as I thought I would. Zach, Cade's handler, isn't quite his friend, and he comes off as a bit of a sad sack when it comes to women- and his choice in women is terrible. Bell, a female agent, ends up being both antagonist and ally, but is just as cold as Cade in her way. It was an okay book, and I am definitely going to read the sequel, "Red, White and Blood" as soon as I can. but I am not entirely in love with this series. Recommended, if you like thrillers.