Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Night Shift by Lilith Saintcrow

Jill Kismet is a hunter of supernatural bad guys, mainly demons and "Hellbreed" which can be half-breeds, the demon-possessed, and so on. She is still reeling from the death of her mentor, a man named Mikhail, who fell to the seductive wiles of a Sorrow, a worshipper of Chaldean Elder Gods. Just recently become a full hunter, Jill knows all the hellbreed in the town, and is still seeking ways to let everyone know that *she* is now in charge and bad enough to make everyone fear her.

The one person Jill is afraid of is Pericles or "Perry", a Hellbreed who lends her etheric power from the plane of hell when she needs to take down a menace. But his power-lending comes with a price: Perry is a masochist and demands that once a month she whip, stab or beat him while he is chained, something that should give her satisfaction, but deeply disturbs her instead, especially since he never cries out, but only tells her "more".

Now, an especially big bad has rolled on her town, and Jill must team up with a bunch of FBI Werecats and a Werecougar hunter from off the Rez who views her as barely one step up from a Hellbreed herself, as the mark that allows her to draw on power from Perry taints her entire body, and he can smell it.

But when the "trouble" turns out to be a Rogue Were somehow allied and united with a Hellbreed, the level of danger for everyone involved goes up tremendously. Weres are very powerful on their own, but a Rogue Were and a Hellbreed, or worse, a Were turned into a hellbreed, is a whole new level of nightmare fuel for everyone involved. And when the Hellbreed turns out to be the daughter of a completely insane New York Hellbreed, the ruler of the city whom even Experienced and powerful hunters fear to take on... Well, Jill might want a set of Depends, but it's up to her to deal with the situation and take care of both of them, alone, or along with the Feds and their Hunter, Saul Dustcircle.

Worse for Jill, she is starting to feel that Saul makes her safe when she is in her arms, and as the last man who did so was her mentor, she is close to freaking out all over again. Can Jill deal with the Nightbreed and the Rogue Were, and do it while keeping her sanity and her life intact, or will this case and her lack of rest cut her off from everyone who cares about her?

I'll start off by saying that I really enjoyed this book, but that Jill was very much like Dante Valentine. Or, no, the tough-assed action girl. Hates asking for help, falls for someone who is helping her while they spar verbally, and is equal parts sass and butt-kicker. If anything, though Jill is a less extreme example of the type, while Dante was... more extreme. I got the feeling that Dante believed her own press, so to speak, that she thought she was tougher than steel and relatively invulnerable, while Jill seems to know that she is faking it a lot of the time, and while she pretends to be harder than she actually is to fool people, she knows that's all she is... fooling, but she also knows that the fooling is necessary so that she seems more formidable and hellbreed don't try and walk all over her.

Of course, both characters grew up in hard situations. While Dante was schooled in a place where kids were trained not to show emotions or feelings, we don't actually get to see Jill's childhood. But she appears to have been a fairly young prostitute who was attacked by a Hellbreed, saved by Mikhail, one of her johns, and decided to become what he was in response to the attack. Not only were they mentor and student, but continued sleeping together from time to time while she trained under him. I don't know if this is verboten or not under Hunter guidelines, but it did trouble me a little. I don't know if the relationship had anything to do with him dying, but it just sounds strange to me.

Anyhow, Jill starts off the novel stressed and short of sleep, and this only gets worse over the course of the novel. But the writing stays on both sides of the fine line of "Finds a man and ends up needing to be rescued and not able to do anything" and "Finds a man but doesn't need him, and he ends up looking like the weak, needy one". So, for all that, I liked the book. It rocked in many of the right ways and all the right places, but it still is the "Kick-ass supernatural babe"-type book. No hot sex yet, but we can always hope.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Storm Born by Richelle Mead

Eugenie Markham is an extremely powerful Shaman specializing in banishments, and lately, she's been having all the jobs she can handle and then some. But the worst part about the new jobs is that the spirits she's been banishing know her name. Her real name, and not just the alias she uses among spirits of the otherworld, Odile, the main character from Swan Lake.

And it's not just that the spirits know her name, even though she has been very careful not to let her true name out where the spirits can hear it, it's that they generally don't want to kill her, but instead, to mate with her. Why, she has no idea, but it unnerves her so much that she decides to approach her stepfather, Roland, who is also a Shaman and taught her everything she knows for ideas. Unfortunately, he isn't as much help as she wants him to be.

She's gotten an offer for another job, a man's sister snatched away by fairies, or as Eugenie calls them, the Gentry, since to them "fairies" is a derogatory term. To retrieve Jasmine, she'll have to travel to the other realm, and not just in spirit form, but with her entire body, upping the penalty should something happen to her in the other realm. She decides to take the case, and calls on help from her spirit helpers, but in the meantime, she meets a red-haired Vet named Kyotaka Sanchez, and spends the evening with him. Together, they fight off an ice elemental possessed by the spirit of a gentry, but in doing so, she realizes that he isn't completely human, and he's marked her with wounds that won't fade.

Warier now than before, she takes one of the spirits advice and calls on the aid of Dorian, the Oak King. Dorian hates Aeson, the King who snatched away Jasmine, and would give aid to Eugenie just for the priviledge of thwarting Aeson's schemes. When she goes to him for aid, and calls on his hospitality, he gives her both, and an added truth: that she is the daughter of a man who nearly ruled the realm of the Gentry, the Storm King, and that is why so many Gentry want to bed her. The first son she bears is destined to destroy the human world, and many Gentry wish to be the man who fathers that son.

Eugenie's attempt to get Jasmine back fails, but she manages to call up a storm to free herself from Aeson's grasp when he captures her. She later returns to Dorian for aid on controlling her magic, and he begins to teach her, in return for one night with her at a future time. As half-Gentry, Eugenie can call on the Storm King's powers, but she has never been trained to use them, only her shamanic powers, which call on very different sources and powers. But can Eugenie master enough control to gain powers over the storm, and keep herself from killing others, in time to retrieve Jasmine from Aeson? And by then, will Jasmine want to return home?

Well, characters of Eugenie's type are a dime a dozen in Supernatural fiction, the strong woman who doesn't like to accept help from anyone, kicks twelve times her weight in monster butts and has lots of hot supernatural sex with men who aren't quite human, or often not human at all. I see this heroine everywhere I go these days, from the Ur-example of Anita Blake and so on and so forth. There isn't really all that much different in Eugenie, even the "new powers" bit that she finds herself having, and that Eugenie is at home on the battlefield, but put her in a party where she has to make nice, and she's out of her depth, nervous and afraid.

On the other hand, that being said, I did like Eugenie, even if she seemed a slightly different carbon copy from other characters I had read before. I like her, but there isn't all that much to set her apart from other, very similar characters that I have read before. Okay, she's a little better at accepting help, and a lot better at protecting her virtue, but what really set the book apart was the ending, and how much her situation is changed by it. I really hope that we can see more of Eugenie and how she will operate in the future, even if she comes off as Anita Blade with dashes of Dante Valentine.

And yet, while she's all of that, she's a bit more, too. A warrior, a mercenary, and a highly passionate woman who doesn't know who she can trust and how her parentage sets her apart. This book also sets her apart by giving her a half-sister. Eugenie thinks she can deal with the prophecy by simply not having a child, or aborting it if she does get pregnant. But her half-sister has chosen the Gentry over humans and has no such compunctions about preventing the death of the human world through any son she may bear. Setting up this conflict is part of why I am looking forward to a sequel so much.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Night's Master by Amanda Ashley

Kathy McKenna was a girl of the big city, before the war between the Vampires and Werewolves heated up. Looking for safety, she left the big city behind and moved to the small town of Oak Hollow in the Midwest. It seemed like the perfect solution: there was nothing in Oak Hollow to attract either Vampires or Werewolves, and Kathy could go on about her life without fear of being munched on by either side of the supernatural war.

But soon after she buys a house and opens a bookstore in Oak Hollow, Kathy learns exactly why Oak Hollow is so trouble-free. It's neutral ground for both Vampires and Weres, the site of their peace talks. She wants to move, but it's too late. And it's too late for her the night that Raphael Cordova walks into her store to buy a book. She's frightened of him, but she's also attracted to him, and can somehow sense that he is a vampire right away. He's perfectly polite to her, and buys the very expensive book she recommends as reading material. Since she hasn't had hardly any customers so far, she figures she might get a little something out of his entering her store.

The next night he's back, and he wants every book written by the same author she recommended to him. This results in a hefty sale for her, but she isn't entirely happy about it. And less so when the nezt day she has customers all in the double digits, and all vampires. When Raphael returns, she accuses him of commanding the vampires to shop at her store, which he could do since he's the leader of the Vampires of North America. He cops to the accusation, and asks her out for a drink, and she reluctantly agrees.

When the time for their date comes, she is so anxious, she's practically vibrating, but she soon finds herself enjoying the date, and the Filet Mignon he presses on her. She finds herself curious about vampires and asks him some questions. That night, he kisses her, and she finds herself falling for him.

Soon after, another handsome man enters the store, looking for an out of print book. Kathy can't help him, but he also seems attracted to her, and she makes him buy another book to offset her aggravation when he, too, asks her out. She has a feeling this man, Cagin, is a werewolf, but he claims he's not. He asks her on a picnic, and she agrees. But that night Raphael tells her that no, Cagin isn't a Werewolf, he's a Weretiger, and that many other sorts of Weres exist beyond just wolves.

Kathy wonders why the town is becoming such a hot place for those of both supernatural persuasions when her best friend, Susie, a young mother with three overactive, very rambunctious boys, disappears. She and Raphael go looking for her and find that she has been turned into a Werewolf by a strange man who simply got into her car when she stopped at a light. She's broken up about her new status, and her husband seems to be both afraid and hating her now, though he couches it in terms of him being scared of her to be around her sons. And though she had been pregnant when she was abducted, she aborted the baby when she changed the first time.

In the meanwhile, another man has come to town, named Travis, and he's a hunter here to "take care" of the local supernaturals. He, too, asks Kathy out, and she wonders why she had to move to the midwest before the hot men would notice her. She finds him arrogant, and she's afraid for Raphael, who she has come to love.

The clash of the three factions: Vampire, Were and Hunter, has come to Oak Hollow. But can Kathy survive those who wish to wipe out all the Supernaturals, leaving the humans at the top of the ladder, or will she end up being killed by those who consider her a traitor to her own kind for falling in love with Raphael? And can she save not only herself, but her friends and those she cares for as well?

This was an intriguing book. I found the relationship between Kathy and Raphael to be beautiful and realistic. Kathy undergoes quite a bit of a change in attitudes throughout the novel, from being repulsed by Vampires and Weres, to being afraid of them, and to realizing that they are really no different than humans, in their ways. Strange, maybe, but beneath, they live their lives out just like regular humans do.

She also finds herself slipping into new attitudes towards sharing blood with a vampire and coming to love one, thanks to Raphael's influence on her and their relationship. But while Vampires and even Weres come off good in this novel, the humans, not so much. Those that are Hunters come off arrogant and nasty, thinking that they can dictate how other races are supposed to live. Even Kathy came in for a bit of my scorn, due to a "I don't believe in Evolution, I can't see it happening" paragraph at the front of the book, which made me think of her as less than intelligent.

Thankfully, she managed to win my attention and sympathy back after that horrible beginning, so in the end I was rooting for her and Raphael to survive and thrive and marry one another, as they wished to do. Even though this book had some off-putting moments, I did like it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Supernatural Romance stories, or even just vampire stories. It's good and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Trinity Blood Volume 8 by Sunao Yoshida and Kiyo Kyujyo

Learning of a plot to kill the Methuselah Emperor, Ion Fortuna and Sister Esther Blanchett have gone to the Memorial for the fallen vampires of the Empire. But a glimpse of Ion's former best friend, Radu Barvon, has Ion stopping in shock, for Radu should be dead. Long dead, in Carthage. So how can he be here and walking at the side of the Emperor?

Ion tries to warn the Emperor, but he is blocked by Radu and accused of being part of a plot to kill the Emperor, and is stopped by Baibars, one of the lords of the Emperor and head of security. Esther attempts to come to his aid and is attacked by Baibars, while Radu goes after Ion. But the Emperor stops him, and says that Ion is still necessary to her, therefore he must live for now. Radu accedes to her wishes, and Ion and Esther are taken back to the Palace and imprisoned.

Meanwhile, Astharoshe Asran, another Methuselah Lord, and Father Abel Nightroad, go to the Earl of Tigris for his help, but he turns out to be a willing participant and perhaps even the mastermind behind the plot. He attacks them, and they fight back but are being overwhelmed when Abel decides to grab the Duchess and jump out the window, which sends them off the cliff and into the bay. Durng the fight, the Duke reveals that he both loves the Emperor and hates her at the same time, but that Asthe would not understand why he is rebelling against her, as she is too young.

Meanwhile, Ion and Esther are imprisoned, and the plot goes forward, kiling the Emperor. Back in the Palace, the Duke of Tigris decides to become Emperor himself, but that will lead to war with the humans, which he doesn't mind at all. However, for this to happen, everyone who knows the truth, including Ion, Esther, Astharoshe and Father Abel, must die. For Ion and Esther, imprisoned in the Palace, this will be easy, and even Ashtarothe and Father Abel will not be too difficult.

Radu Barvon goes to the cells to kill Ion and Esther, but reveals that he isn't actually Radu Barvon. The real Radu is dead, and Dietrich Lohengrin is merely animating his body, controlling it like a puppet to bring about the end of the Emperor. But it seems that some part of Radu still exists, for he pleads with Ion to kill him before Lohengrin regains control. He shoots Ion, causing him to lose a lot of blood, then uses the blood-seeking impulse of the Methuselah, which will have Ion attacking, and killing Esther for her blood. He also leaves her a silver sword, which she can kill Ion with. Ion pleads with Esther to kill him: he doesn't want to be responsible for killing her. But can Esther come up with a different solution?

And Father Abel and Asthe are fighting their way to the palace to stop the Lord of Tigris to prevent him from becoming Emperor, but being blamed for the attack on the Emperor, it will be no easy task to get there. Can they prevent the Earl of Tigris from completing his plans and becoming Emperor?

This was a thrilling and exciting novel, and it ended on a sad, but triumphant note. Full of tension, each of the main characters struggles to prevent the coup from occurring, and then struggles to prevent the Earl of Tigris from taking the throne. From this novel, we learn some rather interesting and shocking things, such as that the Earl rebelled because the Emperor was not a normal vampire, which apparently turned him against her. In fact, based on how you parse what he said, she may not even be a vampire at all.

The revelation of who the Emperor actually *was* would have been shocking, had I not been spoiled for it through the Wikipedia article on Trinity Blood. In the end, it almost comes out of left field, and the very unreality of it will leave readers asking lots of questions. I can't say any more without spoiling the story myself for anyone who is going to read it, but rest assured, you *will* have questions after reading this volume.

And yet, I still enjoyed the story, which gripped me intensely. The art continues to remain sharp-edged and wonderful, and the characterizations are very human-seeming and the interactions among the characters are wonderful to read.I not only liked this book, but I will continue to read this series. I am very much looking forward to the next volume.

Untouchable by Linda Winstead Jones

Back when the Royal Twins, Alixander and Jahn Beckyt, were born, the two babies were given a prophecy. One would battle with darkness all his life, and the other would be of life and light. Taken from the Palace and raised to be soldiers, Prince Jahn, the eldest, now holds the throne of Columbyana, and his advisors have been urging him to wed and produce heirs to the throne. Since Prince Jahn had problems with drinking and gambling, and his brother is most upright and honorable, most people assume that Prince Jahn is the one who will wrestle with the darkness in his life. But those people are wrong.

Alix is sent to the distant land of Tryfyn to escort the youngest Princess, Edlyn, back to the capital for inspection and possibly becoming the Empress of Columbyana. However, along with Edlyn, her father the King sends Jahn another present, a woman named Sanura, who is the perfect courtesan, able to see into men's souls and read their deepest desires and fulfill them. Because she meant to be with one man exclusively, her skin, every inch of it, is painted blue, and any man found to be with a blue stain on his skin is killed by her two guardians. Most men want her, and women are very jealous of her beauty and sensuality. The king is giving her to Jahn because his own wife cannot stand the presence of Sanura in her house, and Sanura can tell she is constantly thinking of ways to murder her.

Alix reads the pleading in Sanura's gaze and reluctantly accepts the gift on behalf of his brother. But Princess Edlyn objects to having Sanura along, and when her father tells her she can choose between Jahn or another older man of her land who offered for her hand, she chooses Jahn. But she isn't going to go out of her way to make the trip easy for anyone. Since she cannot stand the thought of Sanura near her, her palanquin travels in the back of the line, and Sanura rides on her horse, sidesaddle, in front.

The Palanquin is a slow and clumsy method of travel, and Alix is almost ready to kill her before long, as all she seems to do is offer up a litany of complaints. But Sanura is silent and dignified and he has no objections to riding near her. He is attracted to her, and despite knowing she is forbidden to him by belonging to his brother, and the restrictions of her body paint and guardians, he wants her.

Sanura finds herself intrigued by Alix, by the darkness she can see living inside his soul. She questions him about it, and he talks to her, very reluctantly, as he has been hiding this part of him for years behind a calm and patient facade. But the nearness of Sanura, and the very property of being forbidden, brings out the dark part of his soul, which calls itself Trystan, after the name Alix lived under when being a soldier. Sanura can also sense hidden violence in Vyrn, one of the Sentinels under Alix's command. She is sure that Vyrn is planning something, but what, she cannot be sure.

That comes to a head after Trystan takes control of Alix's words and castigates Edlyn for her constant whining and complaints. That night, Vyrn has Tavi, an ugly maid who he has seduced with promises of love and marriage, kill Princess Edlyn after drugging Sanura. Vyrn has similarly drugged Prince Alix and stolen his dagger, which Tavi used to kill Edlyn, and she left behind a piece of cloth stained with Sanura's blue skin pigment. The next morning Vyrn and Tavi accuse Alix and Sanura of being lovers and conspiring to kill Edlyn. Sanura feels she has no choice but to call on Trystan and asks him not to kill anyone, but to allow their escape. They do so, but in the process, he touches and manhandles her to cover himself with her blue pigment, making her guards want to kill him. Then they escape into the woods together.

When Trystan fades back into Alix, he can no longer deny that the dark part of himself is breaking free and attempts to maintain control while taking Sanura and riding as fast as they can back to Columbyana. But Trystan cannot be pushed back under Alix's control for much longer. When he finally decides to take over Alix for good, can Sanura find a way to deal with his black-souled man who is a part of the wonderful, honorable man she fell in love with? Can she support Alix when he decides to kill his brother and become Emperor? And as he loses interest when she is no longer forbidden to him, can she find a way to use her body to keep control over him, or was the battle lost when she called on him to find a way to escape? Can Sanura find a way to integrate the two parts of the man she loves into one, or is she forever stuck with Trystan?

This was an interesting book. Sanura is so sure of her life at the beginning, but by coming to love Alix, she soon finds that her former life was more constricting than she may have thought. But that concern is soon overtaken by trying to deal with Trystan, Prince Alix's darker self, who, while he may want her because of the spice of her being forbidden, is *not* the man she is falling in love with. He frightens her, even as she finds herself giving into his demands and making love with both parts of him.

This novel isn't all about Alix and Sanura, though. Prince Jahn has sent out several messengers to escort brides back to the Palace for an appraisal, but it seems that someone is trying to deny Jahn the chance to wed and have children, and the book makes it pretty clear who that is, in the thoughts of Vyrn, at least. There is also a thread with Vyrn and Tavi that ends badly for the both of them (no surprise there, anyway) and one with a girl named Laris who is foretold to be the wife of a great man of humble beginnings. Since the Emperor spent many years as a common soldier, her family take that to mean that she will be Empress, and send her off, giving her a necklace that will bring her luck and blessings, and a potion that will ensure the love of the Emperor, should she get him to ingest it. Complicatione ensue, however, when she gives a pinch of the potion to one of her Sentinels, figuring that a man in love with her will do all he could to protect her.

With Linda Winstead-Jones writing books in threes, it's sure that there will be two sequels to this book, although it doesn't look like the Emperor will marry any of the girls featured in the other two, but perhaps he'll fall for a minor character at some point. I look forward to the next book in the series, 22 nights, and the as yet unnamed third book. I've enjoyed this book series since I read the first book, The Sun Witch, a few years ago, and it just keeps on getting better. If you like romances, you'll enjoy this book, and all three series about Columbyana.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Destiny Kills by Keri Arthur

Destiny McCree wakes up on the seashore next to the body of a dead man, and isn't sure how she got there. Egan Jamieson is the dead man, and has been her lover for ten years now. He's dead, and Destiny knows she has to call the powers of air and sunlight at dawn to put his spirit to rest. Apart from that, she remembers not much. Not even her own name.

When Dawn comes, she sends Egan's spirit back to the sun and air, and his body burns, leaving behind only a pool of blood from his torn-up heart and chest, and a silver ring in the form of a dragon with ruby eyes. She decides to keep the ring to remind him of her, and remembers that she needs to go see her father, who is dying in Maine. She climbs the cliffs to the top of the cliff and finds two newlyweds leaving the house. She breaks in, showers off the blood coating her own body, finds clothing, and makes herself a sandwich to eat, then watches TV, and sees a man's face who she fears and hates in equal measure. She tries to remember more of her missing memories, but is startled to see the couple who own the house returning with a cop.

It seems that someone saw her and Egan's body on the beach, and called the cops about it. She flees the house and takes refuge in a stream, stripping off her borrowed clothes and sinking to the bottom to wait out the cop looking for her. She knows someone is hunting her, and she shouldn't allow herself to be found and discovered. She also discovers that she can hold her breath for much, much longer than a normal human can, and that she has a third eyelid that allows her to see clearly underwater... even water that looks murky and impenetrable to a human. She begins to wonder what she is.

After the cop leaves, she retrieves her stolen clothing and hikes to the highway, where she is nearly run over by a man in a car. His name is Trae, and he tells her that he is Egan's half-brother, and a Thief who steals things. He calls her Destiny, and she feels that the name is right. Trae was asked by Egan, as he was dying, to help Destiny. And he will, in return for the ring she has, which he wants to get information from their father, an extremely formidable Air Dragon.

Destiny realizes that she is a Dragon as well, a Dragon of Water, and that she was imprisoned for years by a man who was a scientist "investigating" the Loch Ness Monster. They forced her and Egan to become lovers, but after a while the relationship became a true one. However, they couldn't force her to breed for a female Water Dragon chooses when to bear children, and she simply chose not to.

Along with her were imprisoned several other Dragons, including her mother, a water Dragon, and several teenaged male air dragons. The youngest one was an imprisoned female air dragon, only seven years old, but captured when she was four. Destiny has sworn an oath to free her mother and the other children, but first she must find her father, at the behest of her mother.

In return for the ring, Trae agrees to help her, but she had hidden the ring in the sea, asking the sea powers to do so for her, so she cannot retrieve it for at least a few days. In the meantime, Destiny and Trae decide to go to another enclave of the scientists to find the codes needed to break through the security surrounding the other imprisoned Dragons. What troubles her, though, is Trae. She didn't know that Egan had any brothers or sisters, and Trae is a Draman, half-air dragon, half human, born of Egan's father and a human woman.

Can Destiny trust Trae to do right by her, or is he just as mercenary as he seems at first glance? Can she trust him not to betray her to the scientists, and more to the point, can she trust the connection and tingles she feels whenever he looks at her or touches her? Will he end up being her mate, or is he only a companion on her journey and nothing more?

Wow, this book was good. Destiny's waking up on the beach was intriguing to read, as she can barely remember anything about herself of why she is there due to a wound taken in her escape. Her discovery of her own strangeness is wonderful to read, and makes the reader wonder about her even as she wonders about herself. The snake-like marking on her back, so different from that of Egan and later, Trae, makes us wonder if it is a tattoo or a birthmark. We already know that both Trae and Egan are not human, but what are they?

When he finally find out, we, the readers, are deep enough in the story that the revelation barely creates a ripple in our sense of disbelief. After the discovery of Destiny and Trae's powers, and what they are, most of the rest of the story is less about what they are and more about if the two of them can trust each other. Trae is a thief, with a mostly blithe nature, but with a hidden core of steel engendered in him by the way he was raised by his cadre, or group of air dragons. Because his father was such a bastard, Trae, shunned because of his half-human heritage, left the cadre. He couldn't piss off his father because it would hurt his mother, who still works for the cadre.

Destiny doesn't know if she can trust Trae, but mostly she is out of options. She has no money, no clothes and wo way to get to her father other than by walking, Necessity forces her to accept Trae's help, and she at first views her attraction to him as more of a hindrance than a help. Once their relationship takes off, though, the desire and attraction between the two of them is intense, and it takes an effort for them to do something besides make the bed shake over and over.

But the story is a delight, as well as the relationship between Trae and Destiny. The story seems complete in this one volume, unlike Keri Arthur's Riley Jensen stories, and yet I ended wanting to read more. Other characters for sequel-bait are few on the ground, but Trae's half-sister is a possibility in the future, and one I would look forward to, based on the excellence of Keri Arthur's books.

This is a book I definitely recommend to lovers of paranormal romance or "supernatural" romance. It could possibly cover even "Monster" romance, although both Trae and Destiny are very much like normal humans except for the "able to turn into Dragons and with Dragon Powers" part. And of course, anyone who enjoys the Riley Jensen books will love this one, too. Highly recommended.

Highland Thirst by Hannah Howell and Lynsay Sands

When two Highlander cousins go on a mission to scout out the enemies of their clan, they are immediately attacked by enemies at an inn and captured. Both are taken prisoner, one by a Lowland Scots Lord, the other by a border Country English Lord, both are helped to escape by a woman, and each story is told in a separate mini-book.

Heming MacNachton is taken by the Scottish Lord Hervey Kerr. He has been days imprisoned when Brona Kerr, Hervey's cousin, comes to see the truth of the man who her brother has imprisoned. She is soft-hearted and sees no demon come to drink blood or rip souls from bodies, but a man, tortured and imprisoned. Not agreeing with her brother's impulse to keep Heming, she overhears them talking about using his blood as a potion to ensure a long life. Disgusted, she frees Heming and the other prisoners, leading them to safety in a part of the castle that Hervey doesn't know about, where the women and children are to shelter should the castle ever be attacked.

But to get Heming there, she must give him some of her own blood to drink, to hearten him from the torture he has suffered. For Heming is only partly of MacNachton blood, and while he can go outside in daylight, unlike some of his kin, he still needs blood occasionally to sustain him. Taking from Brona was a pleasure, and he is surprised that her blood gives him so much life. He suspects she may be his mate, and his dearest wiah is to make her his and mark her with his fangs so all who share his blood know she is his.

But first they must make their way back to MacNachton lands, avoiding the searchers sent out by her cousin Hervey and his second in command, Angus. But when Brona is kidnapped by Angus, who has always wanted her as his own, in the battle between Hervey and Heming near MacNachton lands, Heming must return to Kerr Castle if he wishes to make Brona his and not give her up to Angus and her cousin. Can he return with his kin before Angus marries and rapes Brona?

The second story concerns Tearlach MacAddie, a pureblood member of the same clan. Unlike Heming, he cannot go outside during the day, otherwise he burns very quickly. He is imprisoned along with Lady Lucy Blytheswood, a neighbor to Wymon Carbonel, an English Lord. Wymon wished to marry her, and she, sensing that he was not a good man, refused. She and her brother, the Lord of Blytheswood, were returning home when they stopped at the inn where Tearlach and Heming were captured, and after the Highlanders were drugged, Wymon killed Lucy's brother and took her prisoner, threatening her with being fed to Tearlach if she will not reconsider and marry him.

Then, Tearlach is tortured, with her in the next room to hear. When he is returned to the room she is in, she is unbound and her bleeding arm used to entice Tearlach to drink from her. He turns Wymon down, and she is returned to her chains. But she has used the distraction to pick a piece of metal from one of the guards' belt pouch and uses it to pick the locks and free them both. When Tearlach confesses that he is too weak to escape, she tells him to drink the blood from her arm, and then finds him another body to feed on in the keep above.

The King must be told of what happened to Lucy's brother, and once they've escaped, Tearlach intends to take her to the court. But when Lucy is stabbed by one of Wymon's men, Tearlach must take her to a healer to save her life. There, he finally makes love to her, having fallen in love with her intelligence, patience and resourcefulness. But will his family allow him to leave and take over running Blytheswood as his wife, or will he lose her to the dictates of the King's court?

I liked both of these stories, which took the idea of a vampire and turned it on its head. In these stories, vampires are not undead, but can have children and intermarry with other clans. Even the clan itself doesn't understand exactly why they have this power, and it is mostly misunderstood. Even the other clans around the MacAddie clan think of them as demons and blood-drinkers, but not being undead, the clan has more life to it (pun intentional).

Surprisingly enough, I liked the first story the best, the one with Heming and Brona. I identified with the characters and liked the sense of fun and play in how they flirted with each other. Hannah Howell has penned a great tale here, and I enjoyed the story all the way through.

Lynsay Sands wrote the Tearlach MacAddie/Lucy story, and for whatever reason, I simply didn't enjoy it as much. I know it seems shallow to be biased based on the hero's name, but I didn't find Tearlach as interesting as his cousin. True, Tearlach, being a trueblood, had more of the traditional vampire weaknesses (not being able to go out in the sun, mainly) and Lucy accepted him much more quickly than Brona did Heming, and I enjoyed the story, just not as much as the first one. Perhaps I got into the rut of thinking of the two Highlanders as "the pretty one and the Rough one" and since Heming's story was first, he became "The pretty one" in my mind. I don't know.

But I enjoyed this book a lot, and both stories just flew by for me. If there was another book in the series (and the chapter at the end seems to indicate that there will be), I'll definitely buy it.

Clutter's Last Stand by Don Aslett

Like it or not, our lives are filled with clutter. When we are young, we throw out toys that are broken, or leave them behind or give them to friends. But as we get older, we want to hang on to more and more clutter. Even if we know we don't need it, we keep it instead of throwing it away. We make many excuses to justify it to ourself and others, but in the end, our lives get more and more taken over by things we have no use for amd keep only for the sake of the comfort it gives us in having them.

But if we only knew how harmful clutter is, we'd do more to get rid of the things that take over our storage space and clutter up our lives. Clutter is harmful, to our spaces and ourselves. For whatever reasons we hang on to it, it ends up hurting us more than helping us. And the amount of energy we spend moving our clutter around and hauling it from place to place could be much, much better spent on actually living our lives and not having to worry about the clutter.

Don Aslett came from a farm family, and as he can attest, Farmers and their families are massive holders of clutter and junk. Once you have the space a farm and a barn afford you, you can keep much, much more clutter and junk than someone who lives in an urban area. Old tractors, farm equipment and tools pile up. If something goes bad, the farmer justifies buying a new one while keeping the old one somewhere falling to rust with the idea that he can always strip parts from the old one if the new one breaks or needs a replacement part.

But when he moved to college, clutter built up in his dorm room, nearly forcing him to live elsewhere. That's when he decided to clean up his own clutter, and he did so well at it, be started a company cleaning up other people's clutter. So when he describes himself as a clutter-buster, you know he's serious. And now he's brought his own secrets to readers everywhere.

He starts by describing how clutter holds us back, and why we should de-clutter our lives. He goes on to debunk the justifications we use for keeping clutter around, and suggests specific ways to go about decluttering your life. His four box system gives a method for dealing with clutter. One part is junk. That's stuff that nobody wants or needs, things that are outdated and no longer useful.

The next box is charity. Stuff that is still useful to someone, but which doesn't fit or suit you, the person who is currently owning it. He suggests letting someone else worry about it for a change, and to give it away. The third box is for sorting: things that should be elsewhere, but maybe you aren't sure where to put it. Keep these for a month, and sort it again. The last box is emotional withdrawal. You keep it for emotional reasons, but you really don't need it. He suggests keeping these items unseen in a box for six months, and then throwing it away or giving it away. If you haven't needed it in six months, you don't really need it.

I liked this book, though I am probably the last person to keep stuff for my emotional needs. My mom recently passed away, and I had to go all through her stuff because she wanted to donate it to charity. She was late in her life, and kept a lot of stuff we didn't really need, and so it all went to charity (some of it, I am still trying to get rid of, which is too big to be hauled by me or me and my Dad together, and so it sits for now. But I am the least sentimental person in the world, and I got rid of a lot of junk my mom couldn't or wouldn't. It was a job I wouldn't have wished on anyone. And yes, I wish I'd had this book when I cleaned the house. I still have more to do, so I found this book invaluable, and since it is a library book, I can't keep it, but I am very glad that I read it.

It may not get you to start de-junking and de-cluttering your life, but it may well change your attitudes towards the stuff you have and keep. Read it once, and it will probably stay with you for a lifetime. A good book for anyone who has run into the "too much stuff, too little space" dilemma.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fantasy Lover by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Julian of Macedon was a Greek/Macedonian general, cursed into becoming a love slave to any woman who repeated his name three times in row. He's been imprisoned in a book for over 2000 years, and all he exists for is to be a love slave to the woman who unleashes him.

Grace Alexander is a seriously broken woman. Oh, she's a sexual therapist who spends her life helping others. But she has no personal life of her own. All her life, she was teased for having a slender body, freckles, and a small bosom. And her one sexual relationship was with a man who used her to win a bet and who caused her considerable pain when he had sex with her, and it's no surprise that she isn't looking to repeat that experience any time soon.

But when her friend Selena presents her with the book with Julian's picture inside it, the place where he is trapped, Grace thinks it is all a joke. It takes her being tipsy for her to go through with the ritual, and when Julian doesn't appear at first, she assumes it's just another failure. But when she's confronted by the completely naked Julian, she's appalled, and says she doesn't want him, because without love, sex is missing something.

Julian is rather puzzled by this. He's more used to women immediately dragging him to bed, and the idea of his summoner not wanting him is confusing to him. He tries to change her mind several times, but she isn't having any of it, and she tries to get him to cover up. But when he inadvertantly brings up memories of Paul, the man who had painful sex with her, she excuses herself and goes off to cry. But he realizes he has gone too far and comforts her. In that moment, she begins to fall for him.

But then he feels that he has become too close to her. And since he must leave after only a month, he cannot bear to lose someone else he's become close to after only a single month of being with her.

Well, perhaps there is some way to save Julian from from his fate? When Julian tells Grace about what his existence is like when he is stuck in the book, she is determined to save him for such a fate. And Eros, Julian's brother, delivers the grim news. There *is* a way. The first is to be summoned by an Alexandrite... someone with Alexander in their name, which Grace fits. But then, Julian must not be inside her for almost the full month, and when he is inside her, he must stay inside her until the month is over. But with Julian and Grace already falling in love, how can he live up to such requirements? And the urge to serve Grace sexually is overwhelming, and part of his curse of servitude. Can he endure almost a month without her, and without orgasm to stay with her forever?

Can he? And does he want to? When Athena offers to allow Julian to return to the world he came from, but there he must retire to his estate and never come out again if he wishes to return to the world he knew. If he does manage to overcome the curse, will he choose to stay with Grace in the massively confusing modern world, or will he choose to go home again?

I really enjoyed this book, and it was hard to put down once I had picked it up. The story came alive with the two protagonists, both of whom had led hard lives and been hurt by those they were close to. Even Julian was more sinned against than sinning, and his relationship with his mother, Aphrodite, was hard because of how she treated him.

In a way, Julian's story reminded me a bit of Acheron Parthenopaus's story. Divine mother, screwed-up relationship with her, physical beauty causing problems for the male main character... even Grace reminded me a bit of Ash's lover, in that both of them were scholarly and would stick up for people they loved without end. But while the depth of Julian's suffering during his mortal life was nothing compared to Ash's, the stories struck many of the same chords for me..

While unlike Acheron, this book didn't make me almost cry, I did come to feel very closely for both Julian and Grace, and the hurts each of them had suffered during their lives. I definitely wanted Julian and Grace to succeed and be together, but the story's ending needed divine help to come together, and that was okay, though again, some of the parallel's with Ash's story made me feel like it had been done before. And that was all due to the order in which I read them, as "Fantasy Lover" was published first. Having read them so close together in time also reinforced that impression.

But still, I liked this book a lot, and I will definitely recommed it to my supernatural romance-reading friends and co-workers. This was a nice book that made me very glad I had read it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Salvation in Death by J.D. Robb

When a priest named Father Miguel Flores dies during a funeral mass, everyone in the church was shocked. Father Miguel was loved by everyone; he had an energy, a kind of caring that was as tough as it was gentle. Who could have wanted to kill such a man as he?

With Eve Dallas on the case, however, some disturbing facts are uncovered. For one thing, whoever this man was, he wasn't actually Miguel Flores. Father Flores actually existed, but whoever this man was, it wasn't him. All they have to go on are several old injuries, a removed tattoo, and an old silver medal taped to the back of this man's dresser, engraved to "Lino" from his mother. Who was Lino? Someone this man had killed? Someone who this man used to be? Someone he knew?

The man was poisoned with the communion wine, and since the wine wasn't poisoned at the regular mass earlier that morning, that gives the police knowledge of a window of opportunity that the killer had, to poison the wine between the morning mass and the funeral. But so many people were coming and going in the rectory that it is impossible to tell who might have done it.

But before Eve can come to any strong conclusions. another priest, Evangelical Preacher Jimmy Jay Jenkins is poisoned on stage in the middle of a prayer meeting that is as much stage show as worship ceremony. In this case, the poison came from the water bottles that Jimmy Jay drank while he was onstage, preaching and moving and sweating his shirt through. But is this another murder from the same killer, or just a copycat?

While poisoning usually trends female as a sort of murder, men can also use poison. So, is this a serial murderer with a hatred for priests and other men of faith? When it comes out that Jimmy Jay Jenkins was not exactly as pure as the driven snow like a priest or preacher should be, it becomes a possibility that the men were targeted not because they were men of faith, but because they were a mockery of what men of faith should be.

But when Eve discovers the true killer of Jimmy Jay, attention resolves once more on the ersatz Father Miguel. Who was he, really, and did this former gangbanger, a member of the gang called the Soldados, or Soldiers, die to pay for something his gang did, or something he did? Why did he come home to New York in a false face, and who took it into their hands to kill him?

Wow, this was a really good book, and I liked the fact that while this forced Eve to think about religion, the author, Nora Roberts, didn't use it to revisit the trite cliché of the hero or heroine all of a sudden discovering or rediscovering religion and suddenly getting with the God program. Eve, as befits her past, is completely secular, doesn't understand religion very well, and would rather rely on herself or her husband rather than some God who never lifted a finger to help her when her father was raping or abusing her, and who had to kill her father or be killed herself.

It's being true to the character that Eve understands the religious impulse, somewhat, but doesn't feel it herself. She seems to view it as a curious oddity and doesn't seem inclined to fall into it. She's been to plenty of funerals, and seems to realize that it comforts the family of the victim, but for her, there is no connection between needing comfort and herself. Growing up someone who was a victim, she found the strength inside herself to survive, and doesn't need an outside crutch to help herself feel better. This isn't to say religion is good or bad, it's just something I can't see Eve needing. She and Roarke make their own strength, and she doesn't need to rely on an outside source of it.

Aside from the religious aspect of the book, a lot of the book deals with masks, and the people who wear them and why. Jimmy Jay wore a mask both onstage with his flock and offstage with his family and associates, as he was a boozer and adulterer. And the putative Father Miguel, he wore a mask with everyone. It's the uncovering of the faces beneath the masks that causes heartache and hardship for everyone around the deceased. And the false Father Miguel's takes longer to unravel, as he was the bigger sinner, with more to hide.

In tracking down the man posing as Father Miguel, and his killer, Eve finds a number of people who had histories as bad or worse than hers. But yet, while Eve used her pain to try and make things better for others, in the people she encounters in this case, they just used it as an excuse to act bad and be horrible. Having chosen the one way herself, Eve wonders how she can arrest someone who had it as bad as she did. Aren't they victims, too?

But Roarke has the answer, that it's one thing if you use what happened to you the way Eve did, as fuel to make things better, to make sure that no one else has what happened to you, happen to them. It's quite another to use it only to justify why the universe owes you for what happened to you as a kid. Using the first way improves the world. Using it the second only leads to more victims. And Eve is always on the side of the victims over the abusers. That's what makes her stories so compelling to read. She is a cop with a deeply flawed past, and a persona that still has cracks in the present. She'll never be completely healed, and she uses the memory of those cracks and flaws as a means to make sure it never happens to someone else again on her watch.

She's beautiful and flawed and full of emotions that are still raw and untamed, and it makes her fascinating to watch and read about. If they ever make a movie series or TV series from the books, they'd better do it right. Me, I'll continue reading the best damned futuristic cop series ever, because reading these books is like carrying lightning in a jar and feeling the sizzle in every page. Read these books. There is nothing more I can say that won't sound like shameless pimping. Just read these books.

Charlie Bone and the Shadow by Jenny Nimmo

Charlie Bone is a gifted boy, descended from two long-ago Magicians. On one side of his family, he is descended from a man called the Red King, and on the other side of his family, from the Welsh Magician, Math Mathonwy. Not only is he descended from the Magician, but he has inherited his wand, a spirit called Claerwen who often takes the shape of a white moth with silver traceries on her wings. Charlie's "endowment", as it is known, is to look into pictures and paintings and be able to talk with the people in them, and even enter the picture and meet the person within.

The story begins with one of the friends of the Red King, Otus Yewbeam, and his son, Roland traveling in the far north. There, he meets an unknown brother of himself, Tolomeo and his own son Owain, an albino. They must give Otus bad news about his wife, Amoret, one of the children of the Red King. The trolls led by Count Harken, an enchanter, were after the Mirror, a gift to Amoret from her father, the Red King, which allowed her to travel anywhere she wished. She died to keep the mirror from Count Harken, and Tolomeo gives the mirror to Otus to protect in exchange for Tolomeo keeping Roland safe from the forces of the Enchanter. Otus is unable to flee and the Count gets the Mirror.

In the present day, Charlie knows the Mirror well, as Count Harken projected himself through it and tried to enchant Charlie's mother into marrying him. But Charlie forced the Count to retreat, and in the fight, the mirror was cracked, rendering it useless for travel. Luckily, in saving his mother, Charlie also rescued his father, long missing and believed dead, from his enchanted imprisonment at Bloor's Academy, where Charlie attends school as a music student. Many of the students there are descendents of the Red King, and have Endowments, but some of them use their powers for wicked ends, unlike Charlie and his friends.

One other friend Charlie has at the school is Billy Raven, a peniless orphan with an Endowment that lets him talk to animals. Billy is close to Rembrandt, his rat, and he often comes home to Charlie's house on the weekends. But Billy hasn't come this particular weekend, when Charlie's grand aunt, Venetia, brings home a painting wrapped in brown paper. Charlie is intrigued by the painting and spies on his grandmother and aunts as they talk about how the painting scares and oppresses them. Charlie waits until they leave the house and goes downstairs to look at the painting.

The painting is of a scary landscape with a huge castle, known as Badlock, and before he knows it or can call on his power, he is sucked in by the painting, where he is chased by trolls and given shelter by a Giant named Otus. But Charlie is not the boy they are looking and waiting for, and he manages to slip free, only for Runner Bean, a dog owned by Charlie's non-endowed friend Benjamin, to be trapped instead. Charlie tries to re-enter the painting to free the dog, but his power is blocked, and Benjamin, angry at Charlie, decides not to talk to him until Runner Bean is freed.

That isn't all that is happening in Charlie's world. The Pets Café, where Charlie, Benjamin and Runner Bean, along with Charlie's friends and their pets, hang out on the weekend, has been closed by the order of the local councilman, due to complaints about the noise. Worse, Mr. and Mrs. Onimous, who own the Café, were in an accident with a motorcycle, and Mr. Onimous is in the hospital, gravely injured.

Charlie, naturally, thinks this has something to do with the Bloors, who own Bloor Academy and will do anything to get power over the other Endowed descendants of the Red King, but he and his friends can't be sure. When Charlie and the others return to school for the week, Manfred Bloor, once Head Boy and now Master of Talents, asks Charlie why he didn't bring Billy home with him that weekend. And Dagbert Endless, son of an Endowed Man and a mermaid, whose talent is drowning people, decides to get the sea-gold emblem that Tancred, one of Charlie's friends, stole from him after he attacked Charlie, back by catching Claerwyn and trading her for the Sea-Gold star.

But Claerwyn escapes after Dagbert gives her to Manfred Bloor, and must make her slow way back to Charlie, who had taken Billy home with him, and Billy was enticed into the painting. Now, he is imprisoned in the Enchanter's castle, and an enchantment being laid over him so that he doesn't want to go home. Charlie, imprisoned in the school for damaging one of the paintings of the Bloor ancestors, cannot prevent Tancred Torsson, an Endowed with powers over Wind and Weather, from dying when Dagbert drowns him with his newly-restored powers. And the painting is gone, taken by the descendants of Count Harken who wish to summon him back to the present and repair the mirror of Amoret to make it possible.

But with Billy no longer wanting to return home, one of his best friends dead, and his Uncle Patel out on a secret mission in a white panel van, scouring the country on a hunt for a secret no one else knows, can Charlie prevent the Count's return and save Billy from imprisonment and mind-twisting? Can he even save himself from a troll from the past who is a gargoyle in the present? And can he save Otus Yewbeam from the Count's Prison and torture for hiding Charlie Bone? And even if he does, what can he do with a giant who once lived 900 years in the past?

I was almost certain that the series was going to end with Charlie Bone and the Beast, as Charlie had saved his mother and father and it looked like nothing could prevent them from being a family again. Well, I was wrong, but I was glad I was wrong, even if it's bad news for Charlie Bone. Charlie's Mom and Dad are building a new house for themselves, and have gone on a second honeymoon, a cruise around the world, to be together. And that, of course, means leaving Charlie behind with his other Grandmother, Maisie, who is employed as a cook in the home of Charlie's Uncle Paton and his grandmother, Grizelda.

And it isn't the end of the wicked plots of the Bloor family or the Wicked Members of the Yewbeam family, either, which Charlie now must foil on his own, with only the help of his friends, and the sometime help of his Uncle Paton. Now, the Bloors want Billy Raven to be gone because Billy, believed to be an orphan, is actually the rightful heir to the whole of Bloor Academy. For this reason, they seem to have made a deal with Count Harken to keep Billy in the past and make him want to be there over the present.

But they want more than that from the Count, and as usual, Charlie and his Endowed friends stand in their way. But can Charlie counter them this time, or is it all he'll be able to do to rescue Otus Yewbeam? This question isn't really answered by the end of the book, and I'm hoping it will be in the next book in the series.

Some people might compare this series to Harry Potter. A bunch of kids with magical powers defending what's right and good from people who are callous and perhaps evil and greedy for power. But if it can be compared, it's Harry Potter through a glass darkly. Bloor Academy is run by the forces of the opposition, and Charlie is one of the few decent people with endowments in his family. A better match for Charlie from the Harry Potter books would be a young Sirius Black.

But really, aside from being about young magicians with powers, there isn't a very good match to Harry Potter. Harry had no friends who were muggles, Charlie has his friend Benjamin and Ben's Dog Runner Bean, and so on, and so on. It's only in superficial things that you could compare the two. But I like both series equally well, if I didn't consider the last Harry Potter book to be such an ill-handled mess that really could have used a competent editor to make the book its best.

So far, the Charlie Bone series has been consistently good, and I recommend it to those who like the idea of Children with Magical powers. Jenny Nimmo also wrote another series in the same vein, The Magician Trilogy, both of which I highly recommend. And I want to keep reading more from this wonderful author.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Dragonheart by Todd McCaffrey

When Fiona, the youngest, and now only daughter of Lord Bemin of Fort Hold, happens to impress a dragon, it occurs on the cusp of a horrible tragedy that affects Weyrs all over Pern: though Dragons were thought never to get sick, somehow, a plague that affects them is transmitted from sick fire-lizards.

Shortly after Fiona impresses Talenth, everyone, dragon-rider, Weyrpeople and Holders, must send their fire-lizards away to the southern continent to ensure the health and safety of the Dragons. Unfortunately, it doesn't help, and Fiona, grieving over the loss of Fire, her gold fire-lizard, is called upon to help the Weyrwoman and headwoman of Fort Weyr in their many duties, and tend to the sick dragons of others with the help of a Weyr drudge named Xhinna, who she refuses to treat as a drudge and instead treats as a friend.

As the two girls take care of the dragons and their riders, Thread begins to fall, in a pass that will last 50 years. But with every fall, more and more dragons sicken, and many who are sick choose to die by going between, and many of their riders go with them. Soon, fewer and fewer older dragons and riders are around in the Weyrs, leaving the younglings to take care of more business, and Fiona is one of their number.

With less Dragons to fly every fall, more of them are getting hurt, and because there are so few dragons, they cannot get the rest and recovery they need. But there might be a solution- timing it! By going back years before the plague and keeping to an area of Pern where there are no dragons, they might set up a place for the wounded to recover and allow the younglings and strong, vigorous dragons a chance to grow older without being exposed to the disease and helping them take over flying threadfalls.

When Fiona is tapped to lead just such a group to Igen Weyr ten years in the past, she must call upon all her training as both the Lord Holder's daughter and as the Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr to lead her friends and Weyrmates through the setting up of Igen hold, now abandoned, as a place for the wounded to recover and the young to grow into the new duties they will assume on their return. But Fiona will have a special place in history, and it is up to her to discover and live it, ten turns in the past!

I find Todd McCaffrey's writing to be not very much like his mother's. And I can't exactly say what sets it apart, just that there is a difference and I can sense it, but he also tells wonderful stories, perhaps in a bit more pedestrian manner than his mother Anne did, but still fascinating and wonderful to read.

Here, we are introduced to Fiona shortly before she impresses Talenth, and the impression takes her completely by surprise, for she isn't even one of the candidates to impress... she's sitting in the stands. One of the girls trying to impress Talenth reappears later in the book as Xhianna, and we find out that she wasn't one of the candidates, either! She had stolen one of the white robes and sneaked onto the hatching grounds because she needed a friend, and everyone else picked on and ignored her. But she may get a chance to impress one of Talenth's eggs later on, as the gold dragon offers it to Xhianna when she and Fiona become friends.

Of course, in addition to the dragon illness that is so worrying everyone, the new weyrlings seem to be confused and logy most of the time. This may be explained by the fact that they will later spend years reliving the same time in another place on the planet, but no one can say for sure, and it may be a factor in the next book to come. Of course, some of the Weyrlings recover from their symptoms in the past, and some do not, and Fiona may be triple-timing, as the gold rider who led her into the past may actually be herself at some point in the future, but since neither we nor Fiona ever see the woman's face, it remains a mystery.

Fiona is the main character, and she has an awful lot to do here, especially when she and the others go to the past, but it just makes her a stronger character as she deals with traders, helps establish a Gold-mining hold that also raises WatchWhers and has a hand in a lot of the past. It's almost Mary-Sueish, how much history she sets in place and makes, but she's never annoying or know-it-all and never makes you hate her, no matter how much the author seems to love her.

It might not have had the magic of Anne McCaffrey's writing, but Dragonheart was a solid book that I enjoyed reading. Even though it has an ominously large page count, the book is a fairly fast read, and the story will slip by before you know it. Even so, it feels like there should have been more to the book. The story feels like it needed a more solid and concrete ending, even if it ended up being a Harry Potter-sized book. But I will be interested in reading the next volume.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mu Shi Shi, Volume 6 by Yuki Urushibara

Ginko continues his travels through Japan, studying Mushi everywhere he goes. This book contains six more stories about the Mushi, mystical vermin with strange powers that can help or harm humans, and perhaps both at once. This volume holds 5 stories.

In "Heaven's Thread", a girl pulls on a thread coming down from the sky and disappears. When Ginko enters the village, her fianceé is being blamed for her disappearance. But he has found her in a tree a few days walk from her original village. But can Ginko explain what happened in a way the village can believe? And will she remain unchanged by the Mushi that abducted her?

In "The Chirping Shell" a girl finds a shell that contains the cries of birds and loses her own voice. Her father is a suspicious man who blames the village for the loss of his wife. But when a disaster threatens the livelihood of all the villagers, can Ginko convince them of what is coming to pass, and can the man pull with the rest of the villagers to ensure they all survive?

"The Hand That Pets the Night" introduces us to two brothers, one of which has an eye-like shape on his hand that enables him to hypnotize animals and thus, make money from hunting for meat. Unfortunately, all the meat smells rotten, even if he has killed it fresh. Ginko determines that there is a Mushi responsible. But will the older brother want to be rid of his special ability, or can Ginko convince him that the Mushi-infection is starting to change his behavior as well? What if he doesn't want to be "cured"?

In "Under the Snow", Ginko has gone to a northern village to study snow-Mushi, and encounters a boy who is under the power of the Tokoyuki-Mushi, which sucks the heat from his body, It also prevents him from warming up and getting more warmth. How can Ginko cure him? Or will it take the near death of the girl he loves to save his own life?

Finally, in "Banquet in the Furthest Field", a Saki-maker encounters a man in a field who gives him a taste of glowing Saki. He finds it so delicious that he tries all his life to make saki with the same look and taste. He fails, but his son finally replicates it and takes some to his father for a taste. Along the way, though, he meets a bunch of strange men who want to buy some of his saki. When they find out it is only a look-alike of the kind they wanted, they call him a cheat and try to kill him. But it is up to Ginko to save him from the enraged Mushishi and reveal what is truly going on.

Once again, an interesting series of tales in this manga, each somewhat scary and yet fascinating at the same time. As usual, this volume came with a list of honorifics, explaining what each one means and who it is used for, from the most formal (dono, which comes from tono, meaning Lord and is the highest in respect) to none at all, called yobisute, which is only used by those of long acquaintance and is insulting unless it is earned.

In the back of the book is a explanation of the cultural significance of each type of Mushi and what the name means. For instance, the Tokoyuki Mushi is based on the name of the Snow Woman from Japanese Legend, Yuki-onna. "Yuki" means snow, and Toko means "endless", which connotes to Endless Snow Mushi. Though the tales are fascinating all by themselves, this commentary allows readers to understand more of the Japanese language and some of the naming conventions of the series It's also fascinating in and of itself.

I continue to enjoy this series, and the many tales and short stories that make it up. I can't wait to read more, and I hope that more people will pick it up and give it a try.

Mu Shi Shi, Volume 5 by Yuki Urushibara

Ginko is a Mushishi, a man who tries to understand Mushi and travels around encountering various kinds of Mushi, which are tiny organisms with almost mystical powers. Magical vermin, if you will. The mushishi attempts to help humans who are plagued by Mushi, and to understand them and their powers.

In the first story in this volume, "Sea Palace", Ginko finds a village where dying people are cast down into a sea trench to be devoured. However, a month later, small pearls are released on the water, that if consumed by a woman, will result in a pregnancy where the child being born looks exactly like the person who was cast into the waters. Can Ginko discover the secret of the magical rebirth?

In "Eye's Fortune, Eye's Misfortune", Ginko encounters a female musician who can see perfectly, even with her eyes closed. As the daughter of a Mushishi, she was once blind and regained the ability to see from a Mushi. But as the time passed, her vision became stranger and stranger, and she began to see the future and things even with her eyes closed. Now, she knows that the Mushi in her eyes will soon break free to return to the ground. But can Ginko save her eyes, or will he fail, as she predicts?

In "The Coat That Holds A Mountain", Ginko buys a Haori that has a picture of a mountain painted into the lining, and finds the story of a reclusive artist who lost his ability to make art when his mountain village was destroyed in a sudden landslide. Can Ginko find a way to help this man who is shunned by his fellow villagers, and put back the Mushi that he unwittingly unleashed?

In "The Flames of the Fields", a village is slowly starving due to the growth of a certain type of grass that may also be a Mushi. To save the villagers from hunger, the Mushishi of the village advocates burning the plant, which seemed to grow out of a volcanic rock discovered in one of the fields. Can Ginko save the village from making a horrible mistake that could doom them all?

And in "The Snake of Dawn", Ginko encounters a woman who has a troubling case of Amnesia. She remembers some things, but others are just gone, with no explanation for why she cannot remember. And she cannot sleep at night, just works at her loom over and over and over again. Can Ginko find a cure for her problem, or is there no hope? And will a stunning betrayal rob her of even more of her memory?

This is an interesting series of tales, many drawn from japanese folklore, only recast to use the Mushi as a protagonist/antagonist. Ginko attempts to catalogue and understand the Mushi both to protect humans, and the Mushi themselves. Most humans, however, don't understand, and that puts them at risk from things they don't know.

Reading these stories is like taking a peek into Japanese ghost stories, since many of the Mushi act unseen by humans, with only the effects being felt when it is too late to do anything about it. Many of the stories are vaguely disturbing, in the sense that they cause bodily or mind changes and cannot be prevented, which many people find disturbing in and of itself. But since the Mushi can be studied, it ends up being something like a science as well, which reassures a bit and makes the stories merely fascinating.

I find this series interesting. The stories are told more like vignettes rather than a single long coherent story, but the episodic nature of the story makes it just as interesting as long-form manga and something of a welcome break, as you can read just one story or a few, go away to take a rest, then come back and read more. I'll continue to read this series as long as it is published, as it is dark, fascinating and highly readable. Another one you should try, and quite different from most manga being published today.

Monday, December 22, 2008

1635: The Dreeson Incident by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce

Grantville, the West Virginia village that was transferred to the middle of Feudal Germany during an incident called the Ring of Fire, has settled in with its neighbors, setting up the United States of Europe around their home State of Thuringia-Franconia. But not everyone is happy with these "Up-Timers" and their ways, which have done much to change the nature of the world around them.

For one thing, they have started to hold elections for the Senate of the USE. But rulers angry with the new nation have decided to try and wipe them out. Since War was tried and failed, spying and assassination are the new order of the day, especially a French Hugenot spy who has joined the Garbage Men and is using his position to copy and investigate all futuristic technology that the Grantvillers throw away every day.

Meanwhile, another group plots the murder of many of the monarchs allied with the USE, and the chief governmental officials of Grantville itself, hoping to spread confusion, uncertainty and armed rebellion throughout the whole of the USE and pin the blame on Cardinal Richelieu of France. While many of the conspirators realize that this is much harder to do than it sounds, the demented head of the group will not take no for an answer, and plots a way to rid Europe of those thorns in its side.

Meanwhile, in Grantville itself, the people there continue to live and try to make life better for themselves and everyone in the USE. But there are those in town who don't like those currently in power, and a number of people prejudiced against Germany and the "Krauts" around them from World War II may inadvertently be giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

But little do they and the conspirators know of how much anger will be unleashed when one set of conspirators uses an anti-semitic demonstration to kill Henry Dreeson, Mayor of Grantville, and Enoch Wiley, leader of the Protestant Church. Nor do they know how the residents of that former Small West Virginia town will react to such an assassination. But they will find out. And it won't be pretty.

The premise of this series is interesting, but with so many characters and so many plot threads in the air at one time, reading this book almost involves taking notes as you read it! Because so much goes on, it can be hard to see how this thread or that thread fits into the main story. But as you read, you can see trends developing in the story.

In this book, the threat of assassination and mayhem overlies the story for most of the book, but doesn't actually come to fruition until 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through, and after that, it's all denouemont from there. But even though life goes on, things are irrevocably changed. Hopefully, for the better, even if the main culprits behind the assassination haven't been caught yet.

Because of the density of the book and the story threads in it, this book is not a quick read. But if you enjoy the thought of what would happen if your town suddenly got picked up and moved to medieval Europe, and what might happen, this is a book you are sure to enjoy. Bonus goodness if you enjoy Renaissance Europe or history in general.

Fruits Basket, Volume 20 by Natsuki Takaya

Tohru goes to see Rin and Kagura, and Kagura is angry at her, wondering if Tohru likes Kyo only out of pity, as the last woman who loved the last cat did. She's so angry at the thought of Tohru professing to love Kyo only out of pity that she punches Tohru, who says that she loves Kyo more than she loves her mother, and that upsets her, as she believes that she shouldn't love anything more than her dead mother. Kagura says if she really loves Kyo, she should tell him so.

Rin remonstrates with Kagura, and Kagura apologizes to Rin, but Tohru has passed out, and Kagura refuses to apologize to her. But that's all right, as Tohru has no intention of apologizing to Kagura, either. Kyo walks Tohru home, and she wants to confess her feelings to him, but she can't.

Back at the Sohma house, Momiji is leaving, the curse having apparently broken for him. His mother still no longer knows him as her son, but he is okay with that, and wants to move on with his life. Akhito is upset that he is leaving, and views it as a betrayal. Meanwhile, Shigure talks to Akhito's mother, Ren, and we get to see how she married Akhito's father, Akira.

Apparently, she wanted to be the only thing in Akira's world, but since Akhito was the God reborn (in a female body), she was incensed that he loved Akhito and wanted to spend time with his daughter over her. First, she refused to even give birth to Akhito unless the child was raised as a boy, and frightened her husband enough that he agreed. But her rages and scorn for her own child led to Akhito being afraid that people were going to leave her.

Now, Ren wants nothing more than a box that was given to Akhito and supposedly contained something of value that belonged to her father. When Ren threatens Akhito with a knife, Akhito gives her the box, which turns out to be empty. The servant that gave Akhito the box says it was merely to comfort her, that she should have known it was empty. And Akhito did... intellectually. But emotionally... that's another story.

Akhito, determined to pay her mother back, picks up the knife and is about to stab her, but doesn't. Ren seems truly surprised that Akhito would treat her that way, but says she wouldn't mind if Akhito did kill her. At that point, Akhito gives up. Her family and the Zodiac bonds are crumbling, and there is no way they can be repaired.

Kyo takes Tohru home, and feels compelled to confess to her that he could have saved her mother, but he was afraid that if he grabbed her to save her from the speeding car, he would turn into the cat and his secret would have been revealed for everyone to see. She had met him when he was younger, but when Tohru went missing as a child, he went out and searched for her. Unbeknownst to him, Yuki had found her and brought her home. When Tohru's mother told him, she was carrying Yuki's hat, and he was upset that Yuki had outdone him again, and he took it out on her mother.

So when he saw her mother again, he wasn't sure how to approach her, and he saw that the car was going to hit her... but chose keeping his secret over saving her life. He is sure that Tohru will tell him she hates him now, but he waits for her reply...

Wow. This series continues to blow me away with the honesty and vividness of its writing, and the art that accompanies it. The way that the characters are drawn changes slightly to match their emotional state, and whole paragraphs of meaning are given without a word needing to be written in the panels.

The Sohma family remains a real piece of work, attributable, now to Ren, Akhito's mother, and her own neediness and wanting to be the only person who matters in the family. Because of her machinations, and her own meddling with the family, as well as their ancestral curse, the family is as screwed up as it is possible to be, and her raising of Akhito would have passed on a twisted legacy if the curse had continued for more generations.

It's perhaps no secret that the series is only 23 volumes long, and with this being volume 20, it is drawing to a close. Honestly, I can't think of a manga series that is better done, or which I enjoy more, than Fruits Basket. Anyone who thinks that manga are just kid stories for Japanese kids, just show them this series, and it will shut them up right quick. If you haven't picked it up by now, then do so! You won't regret it.

Hellsing, Volume 9 by Kohta Hirano

Alucard continues to fight Father Anderson on the streets of London, and succeeds in killing the seemingly unkillable priest. But the arrival of Walter Dorneaz, Sir Integra Hellsing's butler, in a younger, more powerful body, signals that the traitor in her organization was Walter, and had been for a long, long time.

Integra tells Alucard to take care of Walter and show no mercy, while she and Seras Victoria continue forward to meet with the head of the Nazis that have invaded London with their troops and weapons. As they do, Seras is diverted into a fight with a man who can turn into a wolf. But can Seras defeat him, or is he too powerful for someone who has been a vampire for so short a time, even someone with a master like Alucard?

Meanwhile, Walter and Alucard fight, Walter with his mastery of strings/wires, and Alucard with his mastery of his own flesh and blood. But Walter may not be completely himself. Is it possible that when he changed into a vampire, that some other spirit may have taken control of his body? And with his body starting to disintegrate, will he manage to remain in control and in one piece through the coming battle, or will it only help Alucard destroy him even faster?

Integra, meanwhile, must deal with the fact that Walter has betrayed her from the very beginning, and the feelings that engenders in her, while she has a showdown with the Nazi who set the entire plan into motion... apparently to give all his soldiers and followers something to do! But will she and her Protestant Knights be able to save London before the followers and advisors to the Queen nuke the city in a final bid to end the menace once and for all?

This book continued the Nazi invasion of London, and true to form, it was 75% fighting and the rest philosophical crap. Meditations on why Vampires fight, in the form of musings from Father Andrew Alexander and Sir Integra's father, and maunderings from the Head Nazi about the nature of power, I found the book to be a mix of excitement and boredom. The fighting was exciting, the rest... not so much.

On the other hand, I do want to know how this ends, so I'll continue reading, but I found this volume both more intense and somehow less interesting than the first few, when we are introduced to Alucard and the Hellsing Organization. So, it's still a good series, but the crap to good ratio is edging higher. Too much more, and I'll stop reading this series.

Zatch Bell Volume 21 by Makoto Raiku

Zatch, Kiyo, Folgore and Kanchomé continue to fight the Mamudo known as Keith. When Folgore is injured, nearly killed by Keith's attack. Kiyo tells Kachomé to drag Folgore off and save him. He does, but soon comes back to help Zatch and Kiyo, offering even to be a distraction for them while they fight Keith. But Folgore soon returns and Kanchomé's determination not to see Folgore die gives them a new spell in his book.

They use the new spell against Keith, and when it finishes, it reveals many, many copies of Kanchomé. While they are all just as cowardly as the original, they soon band together to fight Keith along with Kiyo and Zatch. While they are unable to defeat Keith completely, they fight him to a standstill, causing him to go off with the owner of his book to eat potato dumplings. As the others are too injured to resist or continue fighting, they cannot stop Keith from leaving.

Meanwhile, Kafk Sunbeam, Ponygon, Megumi, Tia, Momon and Sister Elle are defeating the Mamudo they were matched with, but before they can truly defeat them, another Mamudo appears and helps the losers from the field. Tia can barely believe what she is seeing, because the Mamudo that helps the aggressors is Wonrei, the Mamudo of their friend, Li-en.

When they meet the others, they discuss this information. They know of no reason why Wonrei would help Mamudo who are so evil, and are very confused by it, as he seems to regard them as his enemies now. But Kiyo knows that by defeating Buzarai, they prevented the curse on Li-en from being lifted, so Wonrei blames them for her being still cursed.

They are interrupted by the arrival of another Mamudo and his owner, Riku, a horned Mamudo, and a man named Aleshie. They confirm that the giant mountain is really a Mamudo, but present Zatch with a choice. He can choose to save Li-en, and thereby destroy the world, for Faudo, the Giant Mamudo must be awakened to let that happen. Or, he can prevent the Giant from being awakened, in which case, Li-en will die. He cautions the others that Zatch alone must make this choice, and that it is a test.

Zatch doesn't want anyone to die, but finally comes to the conclusion that he cannot let Li-en die. He will release Faudo to save her, but right afterwords, work to send Faudo back to the Mamudo world so that no one else is hurt. Aleshie tells him he made the right choice and offers to help them gain access to Faudo. To awaken and stop him, they must find his control center.

Kiyo concludes that the control center is probably in Faudo's head, but there is no quick path there. And Faudo is beginning to awaken, thanks to the efforts of the other Mamudo trying to awaken him. Can they survive the traps and menaces inside the giant Mamudo, or will they all die before they can either save Li-en or send Faudo back?

This was an exciting volume, full of conflict and adventure. Even the parts that weren't battles were tense, as when Zatch struggled between two horrible choices that he had to make to win Aleshie's regard and support. Though many of the battles in the book are physical, some are also mental or based on will, allowing even weak Mamudo like Kanchomé to assist and keep up, or even to triumph.

Humor is also strong in this volume, between the cowardice of Kanchomé's clones, the being, Poosophagous, asking questions that even he can't answer, and his making Megumi say his name (which she finds humiliating), as well as Momon's continual lecherousness and hunger for looking at panties... well, the list goes on. This is a series meant for teens, but even older children will find it funny and interesting to read, perhaps more so than even teens.

This is an overly cute series, but the themes that make it up are more than worthy of inspiring thoughtfulness. Would Zatch make a good King, and why? What sort of things do they consider necessary and admirable in a leader? All the sorts of thoughts that reading this series is sure to bring on after a volume is finished. Or they can just enjoy the story. Either way, except for a hint of lecherousness and some fascination with poop-themes, parents will find little to object to in this series.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Amazing Spider-Man: A Brand New Day by Slott, Guggenheim, McNiven, Larroca and Jimenez

To save the life of his Aunt May, who was struck down by a bullet, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson made a deal with Mephisto to save her life. But the cost was their marriage, as Mephisto literally undid everything that ever led up to their marriage. For them, it never happened, and so for the rest of the world as well.

What does that mean? The old "Parker Luck" is back, and it's all bad. Life is raining shit in vast quantities over Peter's life, and he just can't seem to catch a break. Perenially short of money, Peter has moved back in with his Aunt May to make ends meet, which leaves him feeling pretty low. And a simple mission to give his aunt a cake that she'll love for her birthday almost comes to naught when a crook in a fast car seems determined to play "Grand Theft Auto" in Manhattan! Along the way, Peter meets a new superheroine, Jackpot, but they get in each other's way more than they help each other, and the chase makes him miss his Aunt's party. Luckily, she understands.

Then, Peter looks for a new job, but his disappearances at his old jobs and lack of any kind of reportable scientific accomplishments force him to go back to the Daily Bugle for pay owed to him. His friend Betty Brant tells him that Jonah can't pay him now... he needs all the money he can get to prevent a takeover of the Bugle. But when J. Jonah Jameson yells at him for being worthless, Peter isn't going to take it any more, and gives it all back to his former boss and then some. Jonah, incensed, starts to yell harder, and has a heart attack which puts him in the hospital. His wife, hating that the paper has nearly killed her husband, and J. Jonah caring for it more than anything, sells his shares to the man who attempted the hostile takeover, so Peter now has a brand new boss.

Luckily, his boss holds him up as an example of what the other reporters and photographers should be doing, and when he realizes that Peter is owed money by the company, he cuts him a check right away, saying that the paper needs to be honorable. He also offers a $10,000 bonus to the first photographer who can bring him a picture of a new villain named The Menace.

But other things are happening in Peter's life. Like someone in a Spider-Man mask is mugging people. And someone else has been killing people, and leaving old Spider Tracers on their bodies. But who? J. Jonah Jameson would blame Spider-Man for both, and he's not the only one. Since Peter has never registered as Spider-Man the forces of Registration think he has things to hide... like mugging or killing, perhaps?

And Peter, out of money, is loaned money by his old Pal Harry Osborn, then is immediately mugged by the spider-Mugger, who also gets away with one of his web-shooters, leaving Spider-Man short a webshooter, and with no money or time to buy or mix more of the chemicals that make up his webs.

Spider-Man also has a problem with a new crime-lord who has taken over Manhattan's new crime syndicate, a man called Mr. Negative... who also happens to run the shelter where Peter's Aunt May has been volunteering. But when Spider-Man and Jackpot team up to save a City Councilwoman from Menace, their inability to coordinate properly leads to the woman's death, which causes Jackpot to have something of a nervous breakdown. Can Spider-Man get her back on the case, or will she give up Superheroics for good?

Finally, the volume ends with an untold story of the original black symbiote Spider Costume, and its role in fighting crime, one that Peter will never know, because it all occurred when he was sound asleep.

I didn't like this volume at all. Yeah, I know it's called "A Brand New Day" but I didn't like the whole "Parker Luck" thing and never really did. More like "Same Old, Same Old Day" for me. I didn't find it funny or humorous when things kept going wrong for Peter and Spiderman. It just got tiresome. It may be a return to Peter's roots, but what's wrong with letting him catch a break once in a while?

So, I found this whole volume just so-so. Nice art, nice fights, but the stories just didn't catch my interest or affect me at all. Save your money.

Faefever by Karen Marie Moning

MacKayla Lane grew up a golden child, loved by her parents, and her twin sister, and in the beautiful warmth of the American South, she thought that nothing could change her world.

Until her sister, Alina, was killed in Dublin, Ireland. Unable to bear the thought of her sister's killer roaming free, she followed her sister and tried to get the Irish Police, the Garda, to catch Alina's killer. When they could or would not, she dyed her hair, disguised herself, and vowed to not leave Dublin until her sister's killer was dead or caught.

Along the way, she has discovered several things about herself and her sister. For one thing, they were adopted, and for a second, both had the power to see Fairies, being Sidhe-seers. And MacKayla has the power to see and track the Faerie Hollows, the eight treasures of Seelie and Unseelie. Faeries, to her shock, are not something out of a Disney movie. They are impossibly old and alien to humanity, the Unseelie more than the Seelie.

To survive on the cold, wet streets of Dublin, MacKayla allied herself with Jericho Barrons, the owner of a Bookstore called Barrons' Books and Baubles. Not a typical American bookstore stocking bestsellers and do-it-yourself books, but an antiquarian bookstore that also sells... other things. The price for his help is to help him using her powers to track down magical items for himself and his clientele, and MacKayla finds him to be irritating, but devastatingly handsome and sexy. So far, she hasn't succumbed to his charms, but she's tempted.

She's also tempted by a Seelie Prince named V'Lane, a sex to death Fae who can literally ravish a woman to death. If the Fae stops before that point, the woman or man will become Pri-ya, a slave to the sexual desires of the Fae, a fate MacKayla regards with horror.

As Samhain draws closer, the walls between the worlds are melting, and since those walls also imprison the Unseelie Fae, if they crumble, the really old Unseelie will be freed to wreak havoc on Dublin and the entire world. Already, areas of the city are going dark and forgotten, no longer showing up on any maps, taken over by the shades and downright deadly to venture in after dark.

There are other Sidhe-seers in Dublin, but they are headed by a woman named Rowena, who doesn't trust MacKayla, and thinks of her as a foolish child because she won't let herself be guided by Rowena's greater wisdom. Most of the Sidhe-seers side with Rowena, but a few are annoyed by her high-handedness, and would support MacKayla, if it didn't mean being thrown out into a world growing altogether deadlier by the day to fend for themselves alone.

Mac has also learned something about Barrons that makes her mistrust him: that he has a pair of Unseelie "shifting silvers", mirrors that allow him to travel anywhere he wishes to go. Mac is afraid that Barrons is a Fae, or is possessed by a Fae, just like Alina's former lover and killer, the Lord Master. When she sees him exiting the Shifting Silver carrying the body of a dead woman, she feels she has been stupid to trust him and wonders if he is truly on her side or working against her.

So she turns to V'Lane for help with the Sidhe-seers, but won't allow him to love her in payment. Instead she bargains with him and recieves his name, to carry on her tongue, to summon him when she is in need. But showing up with V'Lane in tow sets Rowena against her even more, and since Mac won't give up the Sidhe Spear, the only thing that can keep her safe, as it can kill any Sidhe, Seelie or Unseelie, Rowena believes Mac thinks that only she knows best. But while Mac thinks that Rowena should get over herself, she thinks that Rowena needs to get out on the streets more and live in the real world that Mac has to deal with every day.

Still, Mac makes contact with Dani, a young Sidhe-seer who is very streetwise, and keeps in contact with the other young Sidhe-seers through her. They reveal that if Mac gives Rowena the amulet of D'jai for the ritual they must do on Samhain, Rowena will trust Mac.

But the Sidhe-seers aren't the only ones on Mac's side now, even if reluctantly. A human Inspector named Jayne, once a thorn in Mac's side, was converted by her after a meal of Unseelie flesh and a trip around the streets with his newly-opened eyes. Now, in return for more Unseelie Flesh, he keeps her notified about crimes with a Sidhe component.

Meanwhile, Mac takes lessons from Barrons on how to resist the Voice, a method of control used by both Barrons and the Lord Master. And as Samhain draws nearer, she asks him to help a young Druid named Christian MacKeltar and his uncles in their quest to keep the walls between the worlds up and strong in the face of their growing disintegration. When he agrees, she thinks the problems are solved. But is Barrons truly on her side, or is he working with those who want to bring down the world. Can she trust him, or is she well and truly screwed?

This was a very dark book, with a very dark ending, but there promises to be at least another book, so I don't feel completely cast down by the darkness of the ending, although, since you get so caught up in Mac's problems and point of view in the story, the ending feels rather like a bad dream you want to wake up from... but can't.

This isn't to say that the book is completely depressing, but it's plenty depressing to read. However, the author says, essentially, that you can't know how bad things are until they completely go to shit, and only then can you rise to some kind of balance. Or, dark cannot exist without light and vice versa. I know I'm putting this badly, but Mac can't show us the depths of her strength without completely losing it and fighting back to come out of it, so, in her opinion, it had to happen.

Well, maybe so, but the ending wasn't fun to read. In fact, there is no redeeming point of light amidst the darkness. Mac is alive, but her life is completely in the toilet, in a place she wouldn't have wanted to live through at the beginning of the novel. Don't expect any kind of happy ending, or even a neutral one here. This is as unremittingly bad as it gets.

And yet, I will read the next novel, just to see how Mac gets out of the situation she was in at the end of this book. This isn't the kind of series I would read more than once, nor would I recommend it to a friend, based on the ending to this novel. I might be persuaded to change my mind by the next, but it's going to have to be a seriously kick-ass novel.

By the by, it can happen. I also felt this way after reading the second book in the Deed of Paksenarrion Trilogy by Elizabeth Moon, and Ms. Moon definitely pulled it off. Let's see if Ms. Moning can, too.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Heart Fate by Robin D. Owens

Lahsin Burdock Yew is an abused wife, and all of 17. Due to the marriage laws on the Planet Celta, a woman can marry when she is 14, but there is an obscure law that says if she is married that young, she can leave the marriage when she turns the legal age of adulthood- 17. Lahsin has recently turned that age, and is desperate to leave her husband, who has been beating her and forcing her ever since their wedding night.

Because she married so young, and has recieved a torrent of physical, emotional and mental abuse not only from her husband, but his first daughter and heir, she finds it hard to assert herself in any way, but when she is desperate to leave and the Residence, which shares her husband's opinion of her, she uses her will and her growing Flair to make an exit from the house- by literally destroying all the wards on the house and removing every door and window in one moment.

She hurries from the house and literally runs into a guardsman, who can tell she is very afraid. She repudiates her marriage to him three times, making him the first of three neutral witnesses who will support her intention to leave her marriage, and he tells her of an estate that might be a sanctuary for her, the former estate of the BalmHeal family, which used to also house the House of Healing, but which became so exclusive that when the BalmHeal family died out, the entire estate was forgotten about. However, it will let in those badly in need of Healing, and Lahsin certainly fits that label.

She makes her way to the estate, is attacked by animals on the way, shredding the sack in which she carries the food and other things she needs to survive, but eventually makes her way inside. There, she discovers a healing pool and takes shelter by it for a nap, but ends up falling into the pool when her first flare of second passage, by which she will develop her adult Flair and depth of power, arrives. After she lives through it, she manages to take shelter in an old greenhouse along with an intelligent dog after they agree not to hurt each other.

Tinne Holly, SecondSon to his house, is completely shocked when his wife, Genista, asks for a divorce. Tinne and Genista were married when his house was cursed by his father's having broken a Vow of Honor, and as a result, Genista lost the child she was carrying. Now, although the curse is finally gone, she cannot get over the feelings of losing her child, and she wishes to become free of the marriage, which will make their marriage the first ever divorce amongst the highly Flaired FirstFamilies.

To be Divorced, both partners must undergo a highly gruelling seven tests that will find out if they are still suited to be together, or not. Genista has already undergone the tests, and so Tinne, wishing her the best, undergoes them also, in an extremely foreshortened two days. And the results reveal that they are no longer in any kind of relationship, so GreatJudge Ailim D'Silverfir reluctantly dissolves their marriage for them.

Naturally, this being the first divorce amongst the FirstFamilies, it causes a great deal of comment and censure directed at the Holly Family, whose Head of House's broken vow allowed all this to happen. Tinne's spirit feels shredded by the ordeal of the testing and divorce, but one thing gives him a slight bit of hope. That he does have a HeartMate, although she is already married. Of course, it is Lahsin Burdock, and the news that she has run away from her husband and family makes him angry on her behalf.

Using his sense of her as his HeartMate, he tracks her down to the BalmHeal Residence, and his own heart pain from his broken marriage allows him entry to the estate, where he meets her and uses the healing pool in an attempt to find healing for himself. He doesn't attempt to press her as his HeartMate yet... both of them are too emotionally damaged to attempt something like that, but he does try to be her friend, and his own hurts and emotionally beaten appearance ensure that Lark, while realizing he is a physically powerful man, also understands he is too hurt to try and hurt her as well. Some of her natural empathy comes to the fore, and she attempts to try and help him over his own emotional and physical wounds.

Tinne, in return, agrees to give her newssheets detailing the search for her by her husband's former family, and later, to give her lessons in self-defense to protect herself if she is ever attacked in the same way as her former husband used to attack her. He is angry on her behalf over how she has been treated, but intends to keep her secrets for her and be her friend... just her friend, until she recovers from her emotional wounds. Later, when she asks him for information on second passages, he tells her about the violent Holly Family passages that he went through, which involve uncontrollable red rages and brawling as a way of mastering his adult Flair. But since not every family goes through passage the same, he downloads several crystals worth of information (some kind of storage medium that seems like a cross between disks or CDs and a readable material like paper) on them for her.

While waiting for the end of her adult passage, Lahsin keeps busy tending a food and herb garden (food to eat and herbs for healing) but a trip outside the estate to get more food and seeds to plant, gives her an encounter with Straif T'Blackthorn, a hunter of people hired by her husband. Lahsin attempts to flee him, but when he realizes that she has been severely mistreated by her "loving" husband and family, he lets her go, and she flees back to the BalmHeal estate. Of course, Tinne finds out what Straif learned, since he's a cousin of Tinne Holly, and he becomes even more enraged on her behalf.

Meanwhile the Fencing Salon that Tinne is part owner of with G'Uncle Tab is affected by Tinne's Divorce, and is saved by Muin (Better known as Vinnie) T'Vine, who gathers together the young sons of the GreatFamilies to learn fencing at the Salon, which brings in other members as well, ensuring the survival of the business. It also brings Tinne in contact with Cratag Maytree, the guard who told Lahsin about the BalmHeal Estate.

Finally, Lahsin is strong enough in body and soul to learn to defend herself, and she and Tinne grow closer as she learns what he has to teach, eventually becoming lovers on Yule as they celebrate the holiday together. But she has no idea that her HeartMate, who has been helping her weather the storms of her developing Flair, is the same as Tinne Holly, her lover. And when she emerges from her hiding place when she finally becomes an adult and is tricked by her former husband, she will finally find out. But will the unwelcome revelation destroy their previously loving relationship? Or will she walk forward, unafraid, into the light of a loving marriage the way it was meant to be? And can the Holly family weather another scandal about itself and the hidden HeartMate relationship between Lahsin and Tinne?

I had read another review (albeit a short one) about this book by Shuzluva on Dionne Galace, her blog, and she said she'd found Lahsin's sudden ability to stand up for herself to be unrealistic. But me, I saw the seeds of that in her actions when it came time to leave Yew Residence, and her sudden outpouring of Flair that destroyed the House's wards, windows and doors were simply the beginnings of her reclaiming and rebuilding of her will from how it had been torn down by her husband and his family. It was regaining her confidence in herself that allowed her to grow all during the book and finally become a confident adult (although not completely confident. She does second-guess herself sometimes. But then, don't we all?). Working with Tinne to learn self-defense also helps build her confidence, which grows slowly all during the book.

Okay, it's no secret that I already love Robin D. Owens' work, but I paid rather more attention to this as I read the book because of the review, and in my own opinion, Shuzluva's opinion was unjustified. Lahsin's growing confidence in herself was not unbelievable, simply because we can see it growing in slow progress over the book. I enjoyed seeing it grow, and enjoyed the growth of Lahsin as a person and an adult.

I also found the book to be emotionally affecting, especially Tinne Holly's feelings of hurt and loss when his wife, Genista, leaves. Mainly because, I, too, sustained a recent loss: my mother. It wasn't completely unexpected- she'd been sick for a long time now, but I thought I'd still have more time with her than I did, and her death just ripped my heart out of my chest... I felt a great deal of empathy for Tinne because of it, and I knew how he was feeling. It was also nice to see that even the dissolution of marriages *not* based on a HeartMate bond cause pain and hurt, and that even Tinne, who knew he had a HeartMate, didn't just view his marriage to Genista as somewhat less because it wasn't a HM bond. It was nice to see that level of realism in the story.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and am eagerly waiting to read more, as this series is a wonderful melding of science fantasy and romance. This could be read as a stand-alone novel, but the story becomes immeasurably richer and deeper if you have read the other books before this, and understand why Holly Family was cursed and how the head of the Holly Family broke his vow of Honor. While it's not completely necessary, it is a good idea. I will be recommending this book, and the series it is a part of, to all my friends.