Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Fire King by Marjorie M. Liu

Soria is an operative of Dirk and Steele, a detective agency filled with many people with supernatural and paranormal power. Soria's is the power to understand any language like a native, as long as there is someone native around who speaks that language. But a betrayal in her past led her to losing her right arm, which made her retreat into her apartment and live a hermit like existence. Or maybe not so much hermit-like as like a jail, since she actually barricaded herself inside.

Nut a pair of Dirk and Steele employees lure her out with a bit of wonder, a 3000 year old faerie tale of an actual Chimera, the product of two different kinds of shifter that somehow mated and produced a child. Since Shifters only mate with their own kind, no one is sure how such a thing could occur, but that is how the story goes.

Karr is the truth behind the legend. Conceived 3000 years ago, he comes from a time when the Egyptians and the Hittites were still fighting, and he has two forms. But the story goes that he sacrificed himself for his own people, so why is he still alive, and why has he awakened now? Because he speaks a language lost to time, no one else can communicate with him, or understand him when he speaks. No one, that is, except Soria.

Karr, for his part, was thought dead and sealed away. All his life, he fought the shifters, and now they have him. He considers himself their prisoner, and doesn't trust them in the slightest. The fact that Soria is working for them is more than enough reason not to trust her, either, but she's also the only person who can understand what he is saying, and he must rely on her to translate both his words and those of his captors correctly.

So when he's stolen away, she helps him, for the people who are stealing him wish him ill, precisely because he exists. Some of the longer-lived breeds of shifter want the secret of Karr locked away forever so that the modern shifters will never find out what is possible- that Karr is not only a lion, but a dragon as well- that it is possible for the shifters to interbreed and make children with both forms, which the old-time shifters consider an abomination. So Karr must die again- permanently this time. As Karr and Soria are forced to rely on each other for communication on Karr's part and protection on Soria's part, can these two desperately wounded people- hurt in both heart and soul, find a way to trust each other and connect intimately? Because if they can't, the consequences will be deadly for both of them...

I like Marjorie M. Liu's Dirk and Steele novels, but some of them can be very depressing to read. This was definitely one of them. Chimeras used to be very prevalent, but looked down upon, like a white woman having a half-black child would be not that long ago (yes, I know that's offensive, but it illustrates the kind of thinking the Old-fashioned shifters do- or don't do, depending on your preference). Long ago, the shifters went to war with their own children to wipe out the Chimeras, and they certainly don't want t Karr turning up to remind them of what they did.

Karr, on the other hand, doesn't know why he survived- some of his memories are gone to amnesia- and after 3000 years in a cold tomb, that's kind of understandable. But the knowledge of his existence is needed, because shifter breeds are increasingly rare and dying out. In some cases, not enough of a breeding population survives to perpetuate the race. Knowledge that one breed of shifter could breed with a different breed could be enough to save both races- if the old Shifters were willing to let them know it was not only possible but viable. Now, Karr is wanted all over- not dead or alive, just dead.

Soria, too, is something of a mystery. We get hints of her backstory, but we also do find out about her secret- that she killed someone. The man really deserved it, but she wasn't ready to face herself as a killer. She does have a core like an iron spring, it can be depressed quite a bit, but will eventually snap back. She's also rather funny when she's not being depressed, with a dry, ironic sense of humor that occasionally made me snort like a warthog. If you like your humor like that; you're going to find a lot to like here.

Did I like this book- yes, I did. I have only read a few Dirk and Steele books, so most of the characters from there were completely unknown to me- I think I read two before this one, And yes, I'd recommend both this series and this book. It was interesting and added a lot to the series and the world-building. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obsidian Prey by Jayne Castle

Lyra Dore is an Amber tuner in the city of Frequency on the world of Harmony, and right now, she's holding a good deal of hatred in her heart for Cruz Sweetwater, once her boyfriend, and now her ex. Lyra was walking through the alien ruins beneath the human city when she discovered the rainforest, and a ruined temple made out of unusual lavender amber. But before she could register the claim for her own as an independent prospector, Cruz swooped in and registered in his own name and the name of his family company, leaving her with nothing save a whole lot of bad feelings for the man she once loved and who claimed to love her.

The only thing that keeps her sane is her relationship with Vincent, her pet dust bunny, who is not just any old dust bunny but also a noted artist under an assumed name. Selling the paintings that Vincent does allows her to keep her head above water, because the business of tuning amber isn't a very lucrative one. But when Cruz finally shows up at a party that Lyra is attending, she can't keep her eyes off of him.

He's there to reconnect with her. She assumes romantically, since someone- she assumes Cruz, has been sending her gorgeous orchids every couple of weeks. But when he goes back to her apartment to talk with her, he tells her that it hasn't been him sending the flowers. Instead, he's come to ask for Lyra's help. Inside the Amethyst Amber ruin, a psy-storm has blocked the door, and five people are trapped inside. He wants Lyra's help in freeing them.

Lyra would love to tell him to go straight to hell, but her sense of revenge towards Cruz is not evolved enough to condemn five other people to a lingering death by doing so. She agrees to help, and goes with Cruz and Vincent into the underground chamber known as the jungle to free the three researchers and two Guild men. She also has a confrontation with Dr. Webber, the head of Amber, Inc.'s research team, who is nasty to her and accuses her of setting up the situation for her own benefit. She laughs at him, and opens the chamber anyway, letting the people trapped within go free.

Although she's still angry at being denied ownership of the ruins she discovered, when Cruz takes her home, she discovers that she is still attracted to him in a very physical way. He asks her to consider resuming their relationship, and she promises him an answer later, after she's had a chance to rest.

But later, she isn't thinking about their relationship when she heads to her meditation class. And just as she has had before, she begins hallucinating in the middle of the city streets, seeing monsters in place of people. After a few minutes, and contact with Vincent, the hallucinations fade, but she's worried about them. She can't seek help because she would have to admit that her perceptions are different than most people's, and that would probably get her locked up and studied, and she hardly wants that.

But its clear that someone is interested in the Amber ruin, and the artifacts found within. Not only has one of the artifacts recovered from the ruin been stolen, but one of the researchers working on them was killed only a few weeks before the opening to the temple closed by itself. At her date with Cruz that night, they are attacked by two strange men who clearly want to kidnap Lyra. Cruz is able to call on the power of his black amber, but the whole attack and the strange flowers she's been getting make Cruz assign her one of his men as a bodyguard. But first, the danger and Cruz's use of his talent ignite the passion still simmering between them and they make love, and when she wakes to another episode of hallucinations, she confesses to Cruz what's been going on.

She's afraid she's going crazy, but he reassures her she isn't. He also tells her that people in his line didn't just arise on Harmony, but had roots back on earth, and were known as Hunters. They talk some more about their families, and Lyra reveals that one of Cruz's biggest competitors has asked her to evaluate a piece of Amethyst Amber at a famous auction house, and she's agreed.

Meanwhile, she goes to work with Jeff, her bodyguard, and he finds out why Lyra is in such demand as an amber tuner. Unlike most turners, she can precisely tune amber to a specific wavelength that resonates strongly with her clients. But when the time comes to attend the gathering at the art gallery, her client tests her with one piece of Amber, then has her escorted into the back to see the real piece he is interested in acquiring. The problem is that the piece, as she senses, is one of the artifacts from the ruin she discovered.

Cruz walks in on her and implies that she is just his bimbo, making her slap him and run out, crying, accusing him of trying to ruin her by destroying her business. But it's all an act, and she tells him about what she felt from the vault, then leads him to the artifacts she took from the ruin and concealed because she felt they were too dangerous to be let fall under anyone's hands. She's been hoping to dissipate their power, but hasn't been able to, and the three pyramid-shaped stones are still where she left them, so the artifact in the vault that she felt must have been the one stolen from Cruz's company, Amber, Inc.

She's also gotten more flowers, and Cruz suggests a stalker attracted to her by the attention from the lawsuit she filed against him, which creeps her out. Once again, though, they make love, and afterwards, they are attacked by another two men. Cruz, Lyra and Vincent overcome them, but this time it is Cruz that is hit with the hallucinations, which cause him to accidentally shatter his black amber. Before he can pass out he tells Lydia to call Jeff and have him take her to Amber island.

On the way, she is told that unlike other Ambers, which melt when stressed too strongly with Psi power, Obsidian Amber shatters, turning into psychic mirror that send the user ricocheting off them in his mind. Some men go mad after losing their Amber talents, others simply die. But Lyra is able not only to save Cruz, but retune his amber for him as he recovers from shattering his Amber stone.

When he recovers he tells her that she is not going crazy, that someone attacked him with the same kind of hallucinations she's been having, and that they were definitely induced from the outside. Not only that, but the man who induced them had been there with the others who attacked her, but he'd gotten away. But they have bigger problems. First, Fairstead, the owner of the gallery has been killed, and the artifact is not among the contents of the vault. Second, Cruz must track down whoever has been inducing the hallucinations on Lyra. Third, he must find out who stole the relic in the first place, and bring them to justice- with Lyra's help as she can discern if and where the Amber is- as long as it is close by.

They recover the stone, and find the thief, Dr. Webber. He's dead in a pool in the jungle underground. But Cruz feels that the whole scenario is a bit too pat, and feels that Fairstead and Webber had a third partner. But who is he, and can Cruz prove that this partner is to blame? And when Lyra is kidnapped, can Cruz come to her rescue in time to save her from her stalker?

Another excellent Jayne Castle book. Jayne Castle, of course, is the same writer as Amanda Quick and Jayne Ann Krentz, but this is the first Harmony novel in which she explicitly links her Harmony stories with her Arcane Society novels she writes under her Amanda Quick persona/psuedonym. But here we can see that Lyra Dore, who has power over stones, is linked to those of the Arcane Society with the same power, which would mean Leona Hewitt of the "The Third Circle", and Cruz Sweetwater is linked to the Hunters (here called Para-Hunters) like Thaddeus Ware.

This book is a reminder of the saying about how love and hate aren't far apart, for Lyra professes to hate Cruz, but the truth is that she still feels something for him, and when they work together, they work very, very well. Seeing them work together and learn to trust each other again was wonderful and I found myself unable to put the book down. I enjoy the Harmony stories. In many ways they somewhat remind me of an expanded version of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover, complete with stones to focus Psi Power, and a planet of Psychics who are gifted to varying degrees- only here we have vanished aliens who are responsible for much that the colonists have found, and unlike Darkover being cripped by lack of iron and lack of technology, Harmony has managed to retain more technology of their own.

Another work this series puts me in mind of is Crystal Flame, another Jayne Castle book, which had some of the interesting stone/alien power source vibe, one which I'd actually forgotten she was the author of until now. So, suffice to say there are lots of influences that go into making up this series, and I can't wait to read more, especially now that the field has been opened up to all sorts of new kinds of Amber, not just the usual type in the books before this. Now. we've been tantalized with hints of all sorts of new ambers, from sapphire and ruby amber to crystal, diamond, tourmaline... well, those are the ones I remember being mentioned, all very rare, as are the people who can rezz, or resonate with them.

This is a wonderful book, and the series just continues to get better and better- I honestly have a hard time waiting to read more. I plan on looking up the modern-day Arcane Society books as well, so I can understand more about that group. I think Jayne Ann Krentz has his on a real winner here. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Star Trek:The Next Generation- Greater than the Sum by Christopher L. Bennet

Ty'ressa Chen is a half-Vulcan Lt. J.g. aboard the Starfleet vessel Rhea, on-route to some newly discovered Carbon planets that are also a source of immense subspace distortions that lead straight back to the Alpha Quadrant and Starfleet itself. But even though Trys, as she is known, is a half-Vulcan, she was raised wholly by her human mother, and to buck the expectations of those who know of her Vulcan parentage, she acts as non-Vulcan as it is possible to be.

Which includes pestering the commanding officer of the Rhea to be allowed to join the away team as they beam down to the Carbon planets. Eventually, her commanding officer gives in, and allows Rhea to join the away team. Once beamed down to the planet, Rhea has an encounter with the native life forms and finds them very strange.

Then, in the skies above, a Borg ship appears and attacks the Rhea. Down on the planet, the Borg also appear and begin taking out the members of the Away Team, Trys doesn't want to be assimilated, or to die, either. But just when she has given up hope, she suddenly finds herself on a planet 2000 light years away from where she was. This lets Starfleet know that the aliens from the Carbon Planets have mastered a technology called the Quantum Slipstream that can move people any distance without the need of ships, transporters or vacuum suits.

Because the Borg may be in search of the same technology to add to their already immensely powerful vessels, Starfleet knows that if that happens, the Borg will not only become unstoppable, but it will herald the death of all non-Borg in the galaxy, so they must travel to the Carbon planets in an attempt to stop the Borg. To that end, they send Trys to the Enterprise, which is still under the command of Jean-Luc Picard, who has finally married the former Beverly Crusher and changed his mind about allowing families on the ship.

But he's reluctant to start one of his own. Despite the fact that he loves Beverly very much and does want children, he's also worried that his capture by the Borg and his recent adventure with the remnants of the Borg have changed something fundamental inside him and damaged him in a way that would impact any children he and his new wife might have. Beverly, on the other hand, is sure that he would make a wonderful father, but is troubled by his doubts and unwillingness to confess them to her or even talk about what is troubling him.

His doubts take on new meaning when he is paired with Hugh, the former Borg who is now part of an entire group of unassimilated Borg who have decided to make their lives their own. Some are former Borg victims from the Alpha Quadrant, while others have always been Borg. Calling themselves "The Liberated", they have a stake in this fight as well. And here, Picard finds an analogue for his own situation. Hugh and another Liberated, Rebekah Grabowski, have fallen in love and are as strong a couple as the Liberated can be. Not only have they joined their lives, but they are going to start a family together.

Picard wonders how they can stand to bring new life into the galaxy with such a menace as the Borg and is basically told, "If not now, then when?" And he realizes that there will always be another threat to the Galaxy to be fought, and he cannot put off his life until there are no more threats. But can Picard, Hugh and the Liberated find and destroy the Borg ship before the Borg can wrest the secrets of the Quantum Slipstream from the inhabitants and make the lives of everyone living in the Galaxy a living Hell? And will Picard find the courage to have children with Beverly while the Galaxy remains in such uproar?

This was a rather interesting book. I usually think of the Star Trek TNG novels as happening during the series, with all of the starring characters on board. But this book takes place after the movies, and the situation is quite changed: Picard is married to the former Beverly Crusher, Deanna Troi and William Riker are married and have moved onto a ship of their own. This has left the crew with new roles to fill and new crewmates to find from a new Chief of Security (since Worf is now First Officer) and a new counselor. New crewmates join, but are not a good fit... yet.

But more to the point that a lot of new characters are introduced, along with older ones, and I didn't realize until halfway in that this story wasn't referencing a movie, but an earlier book I hadn't read. Some of the "new" crew characters were introduced in this earlier book, and conflicts from that book carry over into this one. So you may end up not understanding references to Counselor so and so, because she left in the last book after apparently trying to strip Picard of his command, believing him to be going crazy.

Truth be told, I wasn't all that crazy about this story. It's all about a technobabble gadget that the Borg and Federation are fighting over, trying to keep said technobabble gadget from falling into the hands of the Borg and leading to the end of life as we know it (TM). In the end, neither side gets it, but people get killed taking out the Borg, and some survivors are saved. I didn't really enjoy the story, because I was trying to sieve out what happened in the last book that was the backstory to this one, as well as trying to keep up with what was going on here.

If I'd read the earlier book, I may have enjoyed the whole thing more. As it is, I found myself distracted and just not being engaged with the story. Some of the characterizations are just fine, but on the whole, the book was fairly disappointing. I wouldn't recommend others waste their time reading it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

Anna Latham is a very rare and unusual Omega Werewolf, which is defined as an Alpha who appears not to care about pack Status. Because her old Pack master didn't understand the treasure he had on his hands, he assumed Anna was damaged somehow and spent a great deal of time abusing her to get her to care about the pack dynamics and to listen to him. By declaring her "damaged", in a way, he fulfilled his own prophecy, as Anna is now unsure and hesitant in all her pack dynamics.

However, it's not all bad. She was rescued from her old pack leader by Charles Cornick, the son of the Alpha of all the American and Canadian Werewolf packs, the Marrok Bran Cornick. He came to her home town, recognized her for the treasure she was, and rescued her from her old pack. Along the way, their wolves recognized each other as mates and they became a couple. Now, after a harrowing adventure in her new home in Canada (Cry Wolf)
, the Marrok has a new task for them.

For a long time, humans have known that vampires exist, since vampires "came out" to them. Now, the Marrok is considering doing the same for Werewolves. But he can't just do it for the packs under his leadership. He needs to do it the whole world round, but the other werewolf leaders aren't happy with his plan. So Bran sends Charles and Anna to San Francisco to host talks with the other supreme pack leaders. And to keep all the Werewolves in line, he asks Charles and Anna to deliver a gift to a noted faerie woman in order to petition her to use her powers to keep the other Werewolf leaders from doing anything stupid.

Though it's dangerous to thank Faeries, Bran sends the gift of a painting that shows Dana an unspoiled image of a place she once loved and felt strongly about. As a result, she agrees to use her magic powers to force the other Were leaders to keep the peace while they are in her city. Anna feels unsettled around Dana. She and Charles seem to like each other, and Dana knows so much of his history while Anna has only been a werewolf for three years. She feels young and unsure and plain compared to the wise, beautiful and confident Fae, but at least Charles and his wolf love her and hers, which makes her feel a little better.

However, no sooner have they checked into their hotel than the trouble starts. All the werewolf leaders are strong and arrogant, and many can't stand to be in the same room with each other. Jean Chastel, leader of the French Werewolves, was eating with the wolves from his pack at a restaurant when the Spanish Werewolves under Sergio Del Fino arrived and trouble started. Also at the restaurant is Arthur Madden, leader of the British Werewolves. Between Charles and Anna, they defuse the tension, and Jean Chastel leaves, letting the other French Werewolves and the rest eat in peace.

But Jean now wants Anna for his own, something that Charles will not allow. So when she is attacked by Vampires who are able to use pack magic, both she and Charles wonder if Jean Chastel is behind the attacks. But then Chastel is killed during what is supposed to be a friendly competition between the packs, and other wolves begin to die as well. Who could be behind the attacks, and what is their point? Is it to prevent the Werewolves revealing themselves to human society (false hope, because Bran has already decided to out them), or could the deaths and attacks have a deeper, darker meaning? When Charles is busy trying to bring peace to the other werewolves, it will be up to Anna to find the real culprit, and defeat them.

Wow. This book shows how good Patricia Briggs is as a writer, drawing me in right from the first paragraph. This was so strong that even when I told myself I was just going to have a quick read, by the time I looked up, ten minutes had gone by and I was on the third chapter already!

I'll start off by saying that I love, love, love the interaction between Charles and Anna. His wolf may be commanding and powerful, and hers unsure and lacking confidence in herself, but strangely, when it comes to the interaction between them, she can teach him to laugh and have fun, while he protects her yet also allows her to protect herself, slowly raising her own confidence level in what she can do. And that's necessary, because if he always steps in to protect her, she will never gain confidence on her own.

And although she's being stalked by an immensely powerful and bestial werewolf, Anna is terrified, yet manages to deal with her terror, even if before she might have cut and run. Being able to deal with things, even when you are scared out of your wits, make Anna a much more powerful character than if she was portrayed as being confident and unafraid all the time.. Dealing with your fears takes more courage than not having them to begin with.

And Charles is immensely powerful as a Werewolf, but with Anna, she allows him to unbend and to just have fun. He has his own fears of being a stick-in-the-mud or too overwhelming for her battered wolf to stand up to in a conflict, and when he must send her away when she tries to defuse the tension between the Alphas at the restaurant, he worries that he's set her back yet again. But Anna is stronger than he thinks and ends up surprising him.

The real intrigue in this novel comes from how different all the Werewolves from the other countries are. Few Werewolves are as old as Bran the Marrok, and not all of them are as humane as he is. Jean Chastel is also known as the Beast, and he really lives up to his name in the book, being both more animal than human and treating Anna like a snack to be thrown to him for his pleasure.

Would I recommend this book? Hell, yes I would. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes werewolves, the paranormal, wolves, or any other books by Patricia Briggs. Her writing will suck you in and not let you go until you are finished, when you start craving the next book in the series. I not only recommend this book and this series, but I highly recommend it, and whole-heartedly so.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Space Cops: High Moon by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood

After their last mission in the Outer Belt, Evan Glyndower and Joss O'Bannion are looking forward to their promised two weeks of leave back on their home planet of Mars. Joss is looking forward to a convention where he can sell off some of his collected old television series, books and collectibles, whereas Evan is going to look up some old friends. But before they can barely even settle in to their rooms, they are called back to service for an emergency.

The New Solar Patrol Communications Array has gone missing, probably stolen, and was last seen in Martian space. Bidding their holidays goodbye, Joss and Evan set out to track the package where it fell from space to the Red Planet, which has been terraformed somewhat, but is still deathly cold, with an all but unbreathable atmosphere. As to where it landed, the Array didn't fall towards the more inhabited, settled areas of Mars, but to the hinterlands, the places where most Sop Officers and outsiders fear to go, the lawless back country that bears a resemblance to the Ancient Old West.

It's especially imperative that they get the Array back because it can intercept and decode any message that any members of the SOP send, either internally or externally. So, if Martian bad guys or outlaws have taken it, they can listen in as Evan and Joss and their bosses try to find the array.

But their investigation brings them into conflict with a "Mars First, Mars Only" type group calling itself "Red Dawn", whose work has been unknown until now. As they attempt to probe the activities of this group and why they would want to steal the array, they are going to have to deal with a hostile population, many of whom seem to support the Martian terrorists. Now, amidst explosions, missing fathers and the endless Martian landscape dotted with lumps of metal sought after by prospectors, Evan and Joss are going to have to find the Headquarters of "Red Dawn", find a female prospector's missing father, and recover the array- if they can. But in a town that seems in League with the terrorists, can they find anyone to support and help them? Or are they truly on their own?

Another excellent book in the series, and sadly, also the last one ever published, which is really a shame, because I honestly enjoyed the books as an antidote to the "grim and gritty" space epics I usually end up reading when I turn to Sci-Fi. The characters can be serious, but more often are cheerful, and joke with each other, even when they are in grave danger. Yes, they take their work seriously, but their work doesn't define them, and when you add in Joss's modern (to us) cultural references, it makes you laugh along with the characters.

Some parts of Mars are like modern cities, with big buildings, mass transit and modern conveniences. But we're never allowed to forget that Mars is still really part of the frontier, because once you step out of the big city, the rest of Mars bears a strong resemblance to the Western frontier in the 1800's. Lonesome, wild and inhabited by many people who would shoot you as soon as look at you, and the towns themselves are beyond insular, with everyone in everyone else's back pocket. If you thought living in a small town in the midwest is bad for everyone knowing everything about you, it's got nothing on a Martian small town.

The plot is well set up, with plenty of danger and bandits (Red Dawners) hanging out in the wilderness. We get to know the town characters well, but we're never quite able to trust them because of the suspicion that followers of the Red Dawn are everywhere. This is a fun and interesting story, and I would have loved to read more, but alas, that's not possible. So, I'll just have to recommend this one for the Sci-Fi Police Procedural fans out there.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Space Cops: Kill Station by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood

Evan Glyndower is Welsh. Joss O'Bannion is Scottish. But they are both Space Cops, partners in Service. Evan is a "Suit" Cop who wears a special combat suit, while Joss is more the detective, with an interest in Chemistry and really old movies and bits of what would be to us modern culture. Despite their coming from different parts of Great Britain, they get along fairly well, although Evan spends a lot of time taking care of his suit while Joss twits him with zingers and complains about how restricted his upbringing is.

But now, they are sent on a mission to the "Outer Belts", a group of Asteroids beyond the orbit of Jupiter, to look into the disappearance of Belter ships. While the Belters are used to disappearances, this number of missing ships seems unusually high, and the fact that the ships just vanish instead of turning up again wrecked or salvaged, means that this isn't the usual sort of missing ships case.

Starting out at the nearest space station, and stopping place of most of the missing Belters, Joss and Evan first find a place to stay, then check out the local bar to try and make friends. Well, it turns into a brawl, but there is more than one way of making friends, it seems. And while the two of them torture their livers with the local alcohol, they also start looking for answers, and finding that the Belters feel something is up as well. But the Belters don't really trust cops, so the local office on-station is both overworked and underwhelmed with cases and help, respectively. Evan and Joss have to go through the reports by hand because so much happens that the local SOP can barely keep up with putting his reports into the system.

And they find out, much to their own surprise, that the problem is even bigger than their SOP bosses suspect. And the ships are being salvaged, but hidden with other salvaged ships due to be broken up for scrap, and their interiors tell both Joss and Evan that it's more than certain the Belters who once owned those ships are dead. But who would be attacking the Belters? They are rough and independent, true, but they generally keep to themselves while helping their own who need it.

The Answer lies out in the Belt itself, and when Mell, one of the women the two have developed an interest in, is kidnapped from the station, Evan and Joss begin to suspect that someone out there in the belt is planning insurrection, and death for the government of Earth. But the question is, can they find them in time to do something about it, and can they stop it alone, or with the help of the SF, the Space Forces? Because this variety of trouble may be a little more than they can handle on their own.

I enjoyed this book, and this series, a lot. Many authors write rather gritty books about space, where everyone is serious and grim, because space is a deadly place unforgiving of mistakes. Yeah, this book has some of that, too. but the two characters are far from grim and spend lots of time taking joking potshots at each other, mostly based around their areas of origin (Welsh versus Scottish) and others poking fun at their former jobs or hobbies (Evan used to be in the armed forces, but was let go for being not only too good at his job, but liking it to much and Joss has all of those old time TV shows and movies he spouts off about).

It's such a refreshing change to read about these characters that the stories are fun to read, even while the plots themselves are as grim and serious as can be. But even though the characters joke and are funny, there is quite a bit of tension as they chase after the deadly serious plots and people who are causing mayhem out in the Belt. It's also wonderful that the characters are intelligent. and you really get to understand the kind of detective work they are doing to follow the trail of the bad guys.

If you've wanted a fairly light-hearted space adventure with heroes who aren't afraid to joke or take a joke, you will definitely want to give this series a try. It's old, yes, and out of print, but it still gives bang for the buck, as well as plenty of enjoyment. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sea Lord by Virginia Kantra

Conn Ap Llyr is a the lord of the Selkies, the Children of the Sea, and rules over a land located somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, called Sanctuary. However, all is not well in Conn'a kingdom, as the Selkies have had war declared on them by the demons, or the Children of Fire, who are also at war with humans, and the children of the air.

Conn is a deeply sensual man who has denied that sensuality to rule his people. But as the Demons of fire have gained in power and magic, his own people have declined, not only in power and magic, but numbers. Confined to one island in the middle of the ocean, his people are losing the fight, and soon their island home will be at risk.

But there is hope for the Children and their King, and that is a prophecy which tells of the daughter of the Sea Witch Atargatis, who will reverse the balance of Power among the Children of Fire and the Children of the Sea. Atargatis fell in love with a mortal, and because she was so in love with the sea, she lived by it all her life. To save his people. Conn goes in search of her daughter hoping her magic can reinvigorate that of his people.

Lucy Hunter is a schoolteacher for the small Maine Island of World's End. She suffers from a curious condition that causes her to be weak and dizzy if she goes too far from the Ocean. But she has made a good life for herself in World's End and is happy with her life there... at least, that's what she tells herself. When Conn shows up, she dislikes him immediately- he's arrogant and pushes all the wrong buttons in her. But his arrival also destroys all hope of her living a normal life- and she's the last one to know about herself.

For her brother Dylan, now married, is a Selkie who who married a human women, and her family kept the secret of her parentage from her. Lucy knows something is being kept from her, and it hurts her sorely. And since the Hunters are a very close-knit family, that hurts even more. Lucy believes she is completely human, and is ignorant of the fact that she has magic. Since she despises Conn, she is very resistant to the idea that she is anything but human and completely without magic or powers of any kind.

For Conn, kidnapping her is the only option, and taking her to Sanctuary. But doing so might lose him any respect Lucy might feel for him. Can he get her to see the power she holds and use it on the side of her Sellkie parentage, or has he made such a mistake in kidnapping her that she will never forgive him. Conn must learn the old "You can lead a horse to water..." adage, while Lucy, who years to feel needed, must step beyond what she has thought about heself for her entire life to grasp the magic that is hers to wield, and the man she is coming to love. But can they save the Children of the Sea before the Children of Fire destroy Sanctuary and the Selkie race?

This was only an okay read for me. I haven't read the first two books in the series, and even after reading this book, I don't know what I care to. I never felt a sense of real connection to the characters, or cared much about what happened to them. The only thing that made me feel sad was when Lucy was kept from learning about her Selkie parentage by her other siblings earlier in the book.

While I may not have Selkie parentage, I know what it's like to know other people are keeping secrets from you and to be the last to know- and it sucks. Big time. But that wasn't entirely enough for me to be able to sympathize with Lucy, or with Conn, who acted like a stuck-up dick a lot of the time. Many was the time I wished Lucy would haul off and slap the bejeezus out of him- because he deserved it. And then she'd act all whiny and pissy, and I'd want to throw the book at a wall. And Lucy's family barely seems to care that she's gone, until they show up at Sanctuary, all annoyed, to find her. Way to go, family!

This was not a successful book for me, and I wont be recommending it to others. The style was easy to read, but the characters seriously kept pissing me off- even the human ones, and the ones from the previous books. I may read future books by Virginia Kantra, but this series was just not my cup of tea. When I stop reading so I can start folding the wash, and actually look forward to folding the wash- I know I am not liking a book. Even though this book is short, it took me almost 2 whole days to get through. Avoid this one.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Trinity Blood Volume 11 by Sunao Yoshida and Kiyo Kyujo

Esther Blanchett and her kidnapper, Schera, are on the run in Istvan. Esther is wanted as a heroine, preferably a dead one, by the Archbishop of Istvan, D'Annunzio. He's made Schera into his creature by holding members of her family to force her to do as he wishes, but she holds no grudge against humans, and now Esther knows that. She's promised Schera that she will work to save the hostages.

Unfortunately, Brother Petros believes that the only good vampire is a dead vampire, and has tracked the two down. When he sees Esther working with Schera, he believes she has betrayed the Vatican and becomes even more determined to bring her in. But they manage to escape with the help of Mr. Butler of Albion.

Meanwhile, the Vatican releases a statement that Esther has died in the hospital after the attack. Father Abel is outraged, but Caterina Sforza says she had no choice, and that Archbishop D'Annunzio is a "Complex" man. If they can find something to interest him, perhaps he can be made an ally. She asks Father Abel to track down Esther when she learns her location from the military police. In the meantime, she sends Father Tres Iqus and Sister Monica, an operative known as "The Black Widow", to find Sister Esther before the Inquisition finds her. They are to arrest her and hold her.

Back in town, Sister Esther and Schera have taken refuge in a hotel run by one of the freedom fighters that Esther once led against Gyula. But she learns that the Archbishop has made them all heroes, so they are leery of going against him. Even her former comrades may end up betraying her.

Meanwhile, Father Abel is wondering how a foreign vampire was able to know the opera house so well as to attack Esther. He tries to lead Father Petros to the conclusion that the Archbishop, who was one of the only people who knew Sister Esther would be there, but Petros is unable to believe that an Archbishop would betray Esther that way. Then Father Abel receives a message from Esther telling him where she is, and the Pope, who wants Esther found unharmed, finds a way to let them leave his presence- by sending them on a mission to get him a Salmon bagel from the Hotel where Esther is staying.

But even as they head towards the Hotel Csjethe, Father Tres and Sister Monica have also discovered Esther's location and all are converging on the hotel to either kill or save Esther. But the betrayal by her former friend brings the Archbishop's forces into the mix. Who will come out on top, and will Esther and Schera be able to save her family, her Kundera, from the Archbishop's forces? First, they'll have to get there, and Sister Monica isn't going to make that easy...

I love this series. I love Father Abel and Sister Esther, and the art and the characters are damned pretty, even the villainous characters. But I love the whole idea and how it isn't just "Vampires Vs. Humans". Some vampires hate humans, and it works the other way around, too. But not all vampires are bad, and not all humans good. I like that even in the Vatican and its agents, there is more than one attitude towards the vampires.

Esther, of course, is an open-hearted character. She started out hating vampires because of the actions of one, Gyula. But she also learned that the humans killed the vampire Gyula loved, which is why he hated them so much, and also that there are stories like this on both sides of the spectrum, which has made her far less judgmental about vampires, and that is why the Archbishop wants her gone. With her gone, he can declare war on the vampires in her name and not have to worry that the living woman will tell people that Vampires aren't really bad, just different- that wouldn't suit his agenda. This is also why he intrigued to get Schera to kill Esther.

But putting them together was the worst thing he could have done, for encountering Esther also made Schera see that not all humans are vampire-hating fanatics, and added one more vampire to the side of those who want some sort of accomodation with the humans. But who is the strange Mr. Butler and why is he helping Esther? What is that huge wolf who travels with him? (I suspect it's his driver). Why is he taking an interest in Esther and helping her?

I suspect we will learn more someday, but I don't think it will be soon. But I will keep on reading this manga. I like everything about it, from the storyline to the character designs, and I find the story itself fascinating enough to keep me reading. Highly recommended.

Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold

Brenda Morris has always been close to her Dad, and she's enjoying spending time with him. But when an attack on him in a Boston Car Park robs him of something he's always had, she suddenly finds herself thrust into a new world where nothing is the same as before.

Because her father is one of a group known as the "Thirteen Orphans", magicians from another world who embody and channel the power of the thirteen spirits of the Chinese Zodiac, and including the power of the Noble Cat. Brenda's trip with her father was supposed to allow him to tell her the truth about her bloodline and abilities, and to allow her to inherit a special Mahjongg set that was taken long ago from from the other world. There is one for each animal, and using the mahjongg set allows the orphans and/or their heirs to both do magic and forecast the future.

Even without his power as the Rat, Brenda's father still has the Mahjongg set and takes her to a friend of his named Pearl Bright, an old movie star, to learn how to use the Mahjongg set. Pearl embodies the power and majesty of the Tiger, and has quite a bit of magical power as well.

In her time in Pearl's house. Brenda bonds not only with Pearl, but her other student, Riprap, who embodies the power of the Dog. His father was a combat medic in Vietnam who was killed over there, but arranged to pass on his own Mahjongg set to his heir (who also has military experience). And while Riprap has a ghetto name, he's an honest, likable young man who works as a bouncer in hip-hop clubs, hence his name.

But as the other orphans come under attack by oriental-appearing people with the same powers and magic as the orphans themselves possess, it's obvious that when their ancestors fled the other world of magic, someone wasn't happy with them. And now, the other members of those same lineages have returned to try and steal back the Mahjongg sets and appease the emperor of the other world. But can the Orphans and their heirs fight off attacks by people who come from a world where magic is the norm, and their opponents are more magically adept than they are?

Even before I read "Fruits Basket", I'd been interested in the Chinese Zodiac, and this book combined the Chinese Zodiac with modern-day fantasy in a way I found hard to resist. I love Jane Lindskold's writing, and her Firekeeper series was both excellent and fascinating. Here, she's pretty much outdone herself in making another strong series which makes me look forward to reading more.

It's very good, but it's certainly not a perfect book. The first part of the book is pretty much information being dumped on the reader, but even for an infodump, it's well done, with characters who really do need to know the information that the readers also need, so there is a good excuse for us to be hearing all of it. But this is a story in which characters don't stay static. Much like people in the normal workaday world, they change and not all the "good" characters always agree with each other. Even the most mature of the orphans have their issues to deal with, like the Rooster, who is very powerful in magic, but who wants to be able to fight physically as well.

For me, some of the most affecting parts of the book is what happens to the Orphans who have their memories stolen. Not all their memories, just the memories of being orphans and doing magic. Seeing characters, in many cases characters we have grown to know, suddenly missing a great part of what makes them what they are, I found very disturbing and even somewhat frightening. And Brenda's falling for one of the attackers seems terribly dangerous and not well-thought out on her part- but this is part of the character's changing I was talking about.

Where the sequel will take the characters, I have no idea, but I can't wait to read it and find out what happens. Hopefully now that we have the information about the background of the orphans and their world, the infodumping can be gotten out of the way quickly and the real story begin. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Veil of Midnight by Lara Adrian

Nikolai is a warrior of the Breed, and a member of the Order, a group of Breed who try to keep the others of their race safe, and he's been sent to Montreal to deal with an even older Breed, a man known as Yakut. Nikolai is in search of a breed assassin, who seems to have appeared out of nowhere with powers more powerful than any of the other breed. In addition to meeting with Yakut, Nikolai is to try and keep him alive, as he is one of the oldest and most powerful Breed still living.

But Niklolai might be old and powerful- but he's nowhere near a diplomat. Most of the oldest, most powerful Breed share traits with their alien sires, being cold and fairly inhuman as well as insanely powerful. When Nikolai goes to meet with Yakut, he meets one of his guards, a beautiful young woman named Renata, who although not Breed herself, is a Breedmate and shares some of their powers. In her case, her power makes her insanely strong in combat, and can defeat and weaken even strong Breed and vampires.

Nikolai is attracted to Renata, but she finds him alternately puzzling and terrifying. All of her life, she's dealt with members of Yakut's court and Yakut himself, who are as nasty and brutal as they come. Nikolai, even though he is a powerful breed, is actually more or less a pretty nice guy, and she's not sure how to deal with him. She also finds herself attracted to him, which terrifies her, because up until now, she's been focused on simply staying alive among the brutal breed who follow Yakut, and an attraction to one Breed could interfere with the instincts and toughness she needs to project to remain alive and unmolested by the other breed, who are attracted to weakness like sharks to blood.

But Renata is not only focused on keeping herself alive, but Yakut's pet psychic, a young seer named Mira, whom Yakut uses for her visions, even though such visions take a terrible toll on her. Renata is dedicated to protecting Mira and keeping her alive so that both of them can escape Alexei Yakut and his minions. But the attraction to Nikolai becomes too powerful to ignore, and when Mira is kidnapped, Renata and Nikolai must go in search of her, as well as trying to keep Yakut alive from the assassin that wants his head.

But as forces conspire against them, they discover the first gen assassin they are seeking may not be the only one of his kind, But how can so many unknown first generation Breed be suddenly appearing? As the soft and smelly stuff hits the fan, it may be up to Renata and Nikolai to hold back a horde of first gen assassins. But can they do it without the assistance of the Order?

I really like the Breed series. It's vampires, but not your usual vampires. These are humans crossbred with aliens, descended from the powerful and monstrous creatures from the stars. And the aliens were monsters, forcing human women to crossbreed with them. Only some could, and many died while pregnant or in giving birth, for these aliens are not conducive to human sanity. But their crossbreed children could successfully interbreed with special human women, all of whom bear a special birthmark on their bodies.

Not all of these vampires are warriors, but the ones that are freed the rest when they wiped out the aliens and freed their race. At least, they thought that they did. Now, more first Gen crossbreeds are showing up, and nobody knows where they are coming from- and these first gens are trained as assassins and are attempting to wipe out the oldest, strongest breeds that still exist.

But as we see in Alexei Yakut, not many of the first gen Breeds are any better than their sires. Most of them are cruel and pretty inhuman in their treatment of others. Renata's own backstory is that she was a human captured off the street to be hunted by Yakut. But discovering she was a Breed female, with her associated power, saved her life. Instead, Yakut kept her and made her a guard, which meant she had to learn to fight to survive. All she knows of the Breed she learned from Yakut, and that was pretty horrible.

Which is why the arrival of Nikolai is so confusing to her. Nicolai is just as powerful as Yakut, and not horrible at all. A Warrior of the Order and a fairly decent guy. He turns everything she thinks she knows about the Breed on its head, and he has to show her that not all Breed are as horrible as Yakut. He may start out as being a kind of unofficial bodyguard for Yakut, but Yakut's treatment of others disgusts him. When he finds out how Renata came to be in Yakut's entourage, he is doubly offended.

But he also has to approach Renata slowly so that he doesn't frighten her off. And she has to be willing to unlearn her whole attitude towards the race of Breed based on Yakut's treatment of her. And seeing these two strong figures slowly come together, with Renata learning to trust Nikolai's decency and love... well, it was wonderful to see the two of them together. Nikolai needed a strong mate, and in Renata, he got what he needed.

I loved this book and I really recommend it to anyone interested in vampires. The Breed aren't your usual sort of vampires, but that's not really a problem if you like your men both strong and tender and well able to defend the one or ones they love. If you are looking for something different in your vampires, you can't go wrong with this series. Recommended.

Seimaden Volume 6 bu You Higuri

Hilda is a simple dancing girl who can't remember her past, but in truth, she is the reincarnation of a woman named Ellis, who long ago was loved by a man named Laures. When Ellis's life was threatened, Laures did the unthinkable to protect her- he sold his soul to hell to protect her and became a demon. Now, hundreds of years later, Laures has risen to be the King of Hell, and Ellis's spirit was reborn in Hilda.

Laures wants Hilda/Ellis to return to him, but he has been serving as the protector of the mortal Hilda. At first, she thought he was just as human as she is. but recent events have revealed his true nature to her, but she can't see past the fact that he has been protecting her for years and still has feelings for him.

Recently, Roddrick, an Azelle, a race thought extinct, which have immense magical powers, showed up looking for her. Roddrick is apparently some sort of peasant hero, and travels with an annoying young man named Rabby. But it turns out that Hilda somehow has the Sword of Azelle in her body, and that if Roddrick gets it, it can increase his powers many times over. Hilda is somewhat attracted to clean-shaven Roddrick, but she also loves Laures.

Having recently, survived an attack by one of his own henchmen, Laures is wounded, but alive. He's found by a young girl named Iria, who tries to help him bu keeping him locked in ice. And Rodd has taken shelter in town. With his new magical power, he tries to save Hilda, only to be overwhelmed by the cries for help from the rest of the townspeople, all wanting him to heal them. Rabby, now taken over by the spirit of an ancient Azelle priestess who has very definite ideas about what he should be doing with his powers. She sets him up to be taken over by the God of the Azelle, who Roddrick is able to push away for now. But how long will he be able to resist the pull of Kaimei?

Roddrick does heal Hilda, and she recovers some of the memories she lost. She remembers being with Roddrick, and how they were always together. But the man he met turns out to be Karon, Lord of Hades and brother to Iria. Karon invites Laures to be a guest in his home, but when Iria irritates Laures by trying to read his mind, he lets her see what he is feeling, and Karon imprisons Laures with the use of one of the plants of Hades, a dream flower.

But after his wounds are healed, the despair and love that Laures feels for Hilda makes Iria free Laures, and he returns to the human realm to find Hilda. Meanwhile, the spirit possessing Rabby reveals that she has let a demon named Kaimei possess Roddrick, because that is his fate. but when the man attempts to fight the Priestess, Roddrick comes to her rescue. Laures and Hilda reunite, and she tells him she hates him for what he has done to her memories, but she still has feelings for him.

But when the confrontation between Laures and Rodd causes Hilda's wound to reopen, not even Roddrick's power can save her. Kaimei, or Karon as he is better known, tells Laures he can save Hilda, for a price. He wants to be King over all the demons, and if Laures will just serve him, he will save her... But his actions begin a war between humans and demons, and also between Laures and Roddrick. Will Laures be able to save Hilda? And can he save himself from Rod?

I wasn't all that impressed by this manga. Yes, the art is pretty- very pretty, but the story is a confused mess that just made me shake my head in confusion. Things happen for seemingly no reason, like during the attack on the human church where Hilda is trying to heal, Rodd heads out to fight the demons, but doesn't find any, leaving him racing to get back to the church in order to get there in time to stop the demons attacking it. The idea of his character being unable to find demons is fairly ludicrous, and in reality, I was extrapolating for why he went riding off during the middle of the attack. All the survivors are already in the church... why not just stay there?

Like I said, the art is pretty. Too pretty. In one of the earlier volumes, Laures tries to shield Hilda from seeing his demon form, with the excuse that he doesn't want to frighten her. His demon form? The same as his human form, except he now has two bat wings sprouting from the back/sides of his head. And that leaves me scratching my head. Weird? Yeah. Frightening? Not so much. And once she sees him like that, he pretty much goes around in that form all the time, and nobody else seems to regard him as immensely frightening or run screaming from his presence. So why does he think sprouting bat wings is gonna freak Hilda or anyone else out?

The bad parts of the story can be summed up in one sentence: Too much happens with little or no explanation. Not that everything needs to be telegraphed, but a little explanation would be nice. As it stands, Rodd is being screwed over by the spirit of one of his own people "because it's his fate". Are they trying to tell us that his people were evil and/or malevolent? I have no clue and the story doesn't explain, which leaves me and the other readers in the dark.

In short, this series is fluff. Pretty fluff, but fluff, and darned frustrating to read. If you picked it up in the middle, as I did, or with this volume, feeling confused is going to be a way of life for you. If you are looking for characters with reasonable motivation, this series doesn't have much to offer you, based on this volume alone. And I found it frankly rather ridiculous. You might want to steer away from this one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Where Serpents Sleep by C.S. Harris

Sebastian St. Cyr returns in this new mystery. When Hero Jarvis, daughter of the man who considers Sebastian his enemy, witnesses a horrible attack on a woman of light virtue who is trying to escape from the streets, she only barely escapes the attentions of the murderer herself. But when her father resolutely refuses to investigate the death, she has no choice but to turn to Sebastian herself to find out what is truly going on.

From the outset, Hero makes it clear to Sebastian that she only wants his input as an expert in detection. But the mystery of the woman called Rose, who seemed gently born but was being hounded to death by someone, is too much for Sebastian to ignore. Hero's father may think of Sebastian as an enemy, but Hero scarcely finds him less objectionable than that. While she doesn't know about her father's campaign against Sebastian, neither does she like him, so working with him is distasteful to her, but in the pursuit of a killer, someone who nearly killed her as well, she is willing to work with him to find the ones truly responsible.

But Sebastian is also looking for something to distract himself. After the woman he loved, Kat, cruelly left him to marry someone else, he's been tormented by thoughts of her. And the chance to poke Hero's father in the eye (metaphorically, anyway) really appeals to him. And it is for this reason, along with his need to find justice for those who haven't had any, which make him agree to help her.

And despite Kat's absence from his bed, he still sees her on the streets, and needs her help, along with Hero, to bring the true villain to justice. Along the way, he and Hero nearly die in a cistern underneath the city, which leads to them making a risky move that may come back to haunt them both in the future. And once again, the case has repercussions for the nation as well as the people involved. Sebastian, ever the gentleman, tries to keep Hero safe, but she will have none of it, and their working together involves as much sniping as investigation, at times.

But the true villains of the case are army men, who might just stand a chance of taking out Sebastian before he can actually find the persons responsible for the slaughter of not only Rose, the prostitute that Hero approached Sebastian about, but of seven others who died in Magdalen House both before and in the fire that was set to cover the slaughter.. But can Sebastian and Hero escape being cut to pieces by the villains, and can Sebastian save the Prime Minister from death at their hands?

I really enjoyed this book a lot. While it was sad to see Sebastian still mourning the loss of his love with Kat Boleyn for months, he's given new life with this new case, and it was even better to see him return to form. But as hinted in the end of the last book, Sebastian's father continues to hide things from him that will make Sebastian even angrier at him when they are finally found out.

It was quite interesting to see Sebastian interacting with Hero Jarvis here. She's more like someone his father would like him to marry than Kat Boleyn is, but Hero is a bluestocking to the core, and while Sebastian tries to protect her as much as he is able during the investigation, she is having none of it. She doesn't think she needs protection, and won't let him get away with not revealing everything he uncovers to her. Part of me wants Sebastian to end up with Kat, but with the events of this book, that may not end up being possible Even if he finds out the truths about the lies his father has allowed him to believe, his own actions may have forever put the happiness he wants beyond his reach.

With a thrilling mystery and an even more interesting personal life, this book really enthralled me. While not quite so interesting a mystery as "Why Mermaids Sing", this one still more than kept my attention right through to the end, and I couldn't put it down for very long. Highly recommended, both as a book and as a series.

Bizenghast Volume 6 by Alice M. LeGrow

Edaniel and Edrear travel into town so Edrear can buy Dinah something to thank her for all her work on the vaults. Dinah, too, is much changed with the death of her best friend Vincent. She seems to be finally done mourning for her friend, and has moved on, making new friends and living a more normal life. But as Edrear and Edaniel shop, they ponder the mysteries of human life and the obsessive need to buy things that seems to be part of the human condition.

Back at the Mausoleum, Edrear and Edaniel decide to introduce Dinah to another one of the Guardians, this time their sister, Eniri, who makes all sorts of magical items and talismans. But when they descend to her level of the Mausoleum, they discover a horrible situation: their other sister, Elala, is dead, and Eniri appears to be the one who killed her. Even worse, the seed that powers the mausoleum has been stolen, although who took it is a mystery/

With the powers of the seed being so powerful (the last stolen seed being responsible for the tales of the Ark or the Covenant), they immediately close down the Mausoleum and tell Dinah to go straight home. She does, but her aunt is missing, and the town is a hive of activity. More than that, it's scary. The townspeople have built a huge bonfire in the center of town, and are burning all their stuff.

Dinah flees back to her house, only to discover more about the horrific past of her home. The picture of the former governess has fallen off the wall, and the door in her closet is now open. Investigating, Dinah finds a set of stairs to the basement, where she discovers the former orphanage beds and three bodies in a wardrobe- the adult skeleton of the governess,and two children clutched to her. This really freaks her out, so she runs back upstairs to her bedroom and discovers a letter hidden in the picture. Inside the picture is a letter wrapped in oilcloth which is the last letter written by the governess to her sister. Inside she confesses that she is scared by what is happening both in the school and in the town.

Soon after finishing reading the letter, Dinah is approached by the spirit of the Governess, who tells her that her anger over the townsfolk blaming what happened at the school on her twisted her spirit and made her an angry ghost. But now what happened back then is happening again, and only Dinah can lay it to rest.

Meanwhile, back at the Mausoleum, Edrear and Edaniel are surprised by an army of strange beings marching on the Mauseoleum. But it's not hostile, it's the spirits of all the ghosts that Dinah laid to rest at the Mausoleum. Though they should all be resting at peace now, they have one last task before they can do so... to defeat the evil of the town. But they need a human, not Edrear and Edaniel to lead them. But is Dinah ready for the task?

I have really been enjoying this series, and this is the perfect penultimate volume- setting up what is to come. Dinah has come so far since the beginning of the series, from a frightened and depressed girl to a young woman who is strong and confident enough to be able to stand on her own. But she has one more battle to fight, and it will be a hard one. The question is who she will be fighting. Is it Eniri, or some other agent of evil.

Not much happens in this particular volume, really. At least, not in an adventure-type sense. In a way, this volume's reason for existence is to show us how far Dinah has come and to make her grow some more before the final conflict. What exactly happened at the school that happened to be in the building that is now Dinah's home has been a mystery since the beginning of the series, and we finally get to find out. But before, there was no way Dinah would have been strong enough to face the truth, and now she is.

Now I can't wait to read the last volume and find out the evil intentions and the bedrock of bitterness and hate that the town itself was built on, and find out the truth to all the mysteries that have plagued us since the beginning of the series. Recommended,

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris

Harper Connelly can hear dead people. And see them, too. Ever since she was hit by Lightning, she's been able to see and hear the dead calling out to her, telling her their stories. But the most important ones are those who were murdered, buried in shallow graves. They want to be found, for their families and loved ones to find them and bury them in proper graves.

Harper doesn't travel alone- she has her step-brother Tolliver who travels with her. Unrelated to her by blood, they share an upbringing. Her mother married his father, both promptly sank into a world composed of booze and drugs. Each had only the other to rely on after Harper's older sister disappeared, and Harper loves Tolliver in a way that would unsettle many people, but even though they are only step-siblings, and not blood relations, each tends to find someone else to have a physical relationship with as they move on to a new town, drawn by a payment they need to live on to find more bodies long gone and long-buried, but not forgotten.

This time, Harper and Tolliver are in Doraville North Carolina to find the bodies of missing boys. Six boys, gone missing over as many years. The Sheriff questions them, then takes them to the woman who paid to employ them. She takes them to where her grandson, Jeff's cellphone, was found. And it is there that Harper feels the bodies. Not six, but eight of them, and finding them really hurts Harper. She can feel what has been done to them, and it's horrible. Rape, beating, knives, blunt objects... she nearly passes out.

Afterwards, all she wants to do is leave, but after the sheriff sends her back to the grandmother's house, she waits for a few hours and finally leaves with Tolliver to go back to the Hotel. When the sheriff finally arrives to talk to them, she wants them gone for a while. Harper and Tolliver agree to go, but Harper is attacked outside the hotel room and ends up in the hospital. As she recovers, Xylda Bernardo, a psychic who is mostly a fraud, shows up with her grandson, Manfred.

As Xylda muddies the waters, Harper tries to escape the hospital as quickly as she can. But the man who killed those boys is still around, and wants Harper dead. As she and Tolliver finally give into the feelings between them during a winter storm, they get pulled into the still-brewing case in Doraville, a case that has wide-ranging implications for Doraville, and for Harper and Tolliver as well. But will they be able to survive the case, or will it take so much out of them that they will have nothing more to give?

I love this series. Make no mistake: Charlaine Harris is well-known for her Sookie Stackhouse books, but I really love these books just as much or more than the Sookie books. Part of it is that instead of really developing just one small town, Harper and Tolliver are continually on the move, so each book introduces a new place for them to inhabit. And Charlaine Harris makes each one different while mining the tropes of small towns everywhere; generally insular people, but hidden secrets everywhere.

That's what she does best, brings those hidden secrets to light in a way that is shocking, but also understandable. Not ever fun to read, but you do get to understand what motivates the people who did the murder. It's almost like finding the body is the easy part- it the understanding of how and why that comes hardest- and this crime is especially shocking. Part of the attraction of the books is getting to know all those small-town people, each one very different.

I love these books, and if you enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse books but are looking for something just a little different by the same author, you should give this series a try. Some people may find it shocking how Harper and Tolliver's relationship turns physical in this book, but they aren't related by blood, so I didn't really find it as shocking as some did. If you haven't picked it up, now is a fine time to start. Highly recommended.

Why Mermaids Sing by C.S. Harris

When Dominic Stanton, the eldest son of Lord Stanton, is discovered in Hyde Park one morning, slaughtered- butchered being closer to the state of the body, the magistrate, Sir Henry Lovejoy, summons Sebastian Devlin, the Viscount St. Cyr, to see the body. Sebastian sees that the boy has been killed, and the flesh carved from his legs, leaving only the exposed bones to be seen, and a goat's hoof crammed into his mouth.

But the reason why he has been summoned is dark. This isn't the first body to be found this way. The first was a young man named Barclay Carmichael, the son of another Lord. His body was butchered in a similar manner, save that it was the arms that were reduced to bones. His body was strung up from a tree, although that wasn't the place that he was killed. And similar to Dominic Stanton's body, there was something left in his mouth- a page ripped from a ship's logbook.

But Sebastian is dealing with personal matters as well. His father is displeased with his relationship with Kat Boleyn, wanting Sebastian to settle down with an eligible woman and raise children with her. Sebastian knows that Kat rules hie heart and won't marry or settle down with anyone else- he's a one-woman man. But he's also looking for his mother, who he has long thought dead but only recently discovered that she is still alive, and he's angry with his father that his father lied to him about his mother. In truth, she'd run off with a lover rather than stay with his father, and as the youngest child, Sebastian was the only one who didn't know the truth.

Kat, meanwhile, is enjoying being with Sebastian, but her past as a French spy is coming back to haunt her. Even though she is Irish, and has spied for Ireland, she knows that Sebastian wouldn't begrudge her that. She's not so sure that he would forgive her for helping the French in hopes it would weaken England and make it easier for the Irish to be independent of England. And now with the French wanting to re-activate her as a spy, she isn't sure they will let her break away and live her life as she wants to- they can blackmail her with her past, knowing that if they told Sebastian about what she'd been doing, it would be the end of her.

As Sebastian investigates the strange deaths, all the families involved claim that they didn't know why their children were murdered, and that they have nothing in common. But Sebastian increasingly suspects that this isn't true, and the murderer is trying to bring another crime to light, one that all the families of the murdered men don't want to admit to. And as the murders continue, he wonders what the crime could have been, and why the murderer is only killing them now- and what a poem by John Donne has to do with the murders. But can Sebastian investigate without becoming a victim himself?

I love every book of this series, which just seems to keep getting better and better. This book opens with Sebastian and Kat finally happy, and finally lovers once again, but the status quo quickly changes in a most unexpected way as she delves into her own background and comes to a wholly unsuspected conclusion as to who her father really is, and how it fatally impacts her relationship with Sebastian.

The main mystery was pretty dark also and the story behind the murders was both shockingly horrifying and unexpected. Unexpected because it was probably more likely to occur than anyone thinks, and because we can sympathize on both sides of the issue. I don't want to give away the plot twist except to say that is will probably be one of the most shocking plots that you are likely to read in a book.

I liked this book best out of all those In the series that I read. It's got everything I love- breakneck plotting, a determined hero who keeps chasing leads come hell or high water, and even lots of looks into the life of our hero, whose seemingly perfect existence is anything but, and details his conflicts as he seeks to make Kat Boleyn his wife and to find a valet who understands his needs as a detective.

After reading the first two books in this series, I really wanted to read this one, but it took me quite a while to actually find it, so I was doubly glad to read it, and devoured it in short order. Now I can't wait to read the next book in the series, which I already have on hand. Highly recommended series and even more highly recommended as a book.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

Stephanie Edgely is the niece of a famous Fantasy writer named Gordon Edgely. When her uncle dies, she and her family are called in to the reading of his will, along with her cousins, Carol and Crystal, and their completely unlikeable parents. Also attending the funeral with Stephanie and her parents is a strange man wrapped in bandages and clothed in a fedora, raincoat and sunglasses, named Skullduggery Pleasant.

None of the rest of the family know him, but Stephanie has seen him at her Uncle's funeral, and he is mentioned in the will. as well, surprisingly, is Stephanie herself. But when the will is read, her parents are amazed and the rest of the family in shocked and horrified- that Stephanie inherits Gordon's house and the rest of his royalties from his books.

But Stephanie is strong willed enough to stand fast when he Aunt demands she give the house and royalties to them in exchange for the brooch her aunt recieved from Gorden. And she's brave enough to stay alone in Gordon's house over the weekend. But when a strange man shows up and breaks into the house in an attempt to kill her, who should come to her rescue but Skullduggery Pleasant, the strange man from the reading of the will!

It turns out that the strange books Gordon wrote and were so successful with were actually tales of Skullduggery and the people he knew, people who have a close association with magic. And now someone wants Stephanie dead, and Skullduggery as well, and Stephanie isn't going to sit behind and wait while Skullduggery does his stuff.

Unfortunately for her, Stephanie's real name places her in danger, and she must choose a new one to hide both herself and her family from danger. But when this new case has ties to the one in which Skullduggery died, can Stephanie and Skullduggery bring the villains to justice? Or will the villain kill Skullduggery, and then Stephanie as well?

I loved this book, which is the first in a new series. There are some rather troubling aspects to the book. including Stephanie's horrible relatives, but that her family don't seem to be all that close to her. And yet, Skullduggery (not his real name, of course) is such an interesting character, both in his life before he died, and how he came back, and then his life since... all of it is very interesting.

But it's not a game, and his world isn't harmless. People who want to kill him- or Stephanie, are everywhere, and even the people who seem like allies could betray them at any minute if their loyalties shift, or if they are paid a big enough bribe. What I liked best about this new world is the danger in it. By stepping into this world, Stephanie could be injured or killed at any time, and if she dies, nobody but a very few would miss or mourn her. This brings a very hard, adult edge to the books that teens will like and adults will as well.

Teens will love reading about a world where magic is real, but hidden, and dangerous forces exist just out of sight of the workaday "mundane" world. This book is an amazing place to escape to for a while, but the realness of the world will keep you thinking about it long after you've closed the pages. Well worth the read, and highly recommended.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fables: The Dark Ages by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross, Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred and David Hahn

The War with the Homeworlds is over, and the Fables of Fabletown have won. And that's the ending to make things 'happily ever after". Or is it? As Gepetto tries to settle into life in Fabletown with his first son, Pinnochio, the Fables around him make their displeasure of him known. Not the Fables who run Fabletown- they've granted him amnesty for his crimes in order to determine the sheer extent of them. But as the irascible Gepetto points out everywhere the fables are lacking, back at home, trouble is brewing.

In search of treasure in the ruins of Gepetto's kingdom, two mercenaries known as Freddy and Mouse set free a tremendous evil that has been locked away. They open and free it, releasing a horrible creature known as "Mister Dark" from its imprisonment. Back in Fabletown, Boy Blue is still having trouble with his wounded arm- he keeps having to go on and get it operated on. But soon it becomes clear that something is making him rot away from the inside. And as Prince Charming's funeral goes ahead, Blue is back at the Doctor's having his gangrenous arm amputated. But can that save him?

Bigby brings back another casket from the Homelands, but when it is opened, it proves to be empty. It should have held the mummified body of the Blue Fairy- but who might have stolen it? Not Gepetto- had she gotten free and been revived, she would have been as angry at Gepetto as at the rest of the fables. Meanwhile, Baba Yaga escapes from the well beneath the Fabletown office, and the magic protections and spells holding up Fabletown suddenly disappear, leaving only bare spaces where they were once located. This causes most of Fabletown to collapse, and the residents must move upstate to the Farm with their homes and businesses destroyed.

Up there, Blue finds that Rose Red, the woman he thought loved him, has married Sinbad. But now that Blue has showed up dying, she finds her interest in him renewed. He imparts a few home truths to her as he dies, which result in her finally seeing herself in a different light. Knowing that Fables rarely die, she intends to wait for him to come back, and to be a better woman for him.

Meanwhile, Lord Dark has emerged into the Human world, where he waits for the Fables to return. He encounters and kills Kay, who cut his eyes out again after he saw the extent of Gepetto's crimes, and Lord Dark has plans for the Fables, including eating their teeth to make him able to summon their spirits to do his bidding. But who is he and what plans does he have for the Fables of Fabletown? Nothing good if his actions so far are any clue!

The volume ends with a five-part story showing Mowgli returning to his homeland to see if it is re-conquerable by the Fables of Fabletown and Fabletown East. With him come Bigby's five brothers, tasked with keeping Mowgli safe. But as it turns out, shortly after entering the jungle, he encounters the last lone figure of the resistance, Lord Mountbatten, a clockwork Tiger, and his companion Bad Sam, an alcoholic Kinkajou, who acts as both companion and clockwork winder for Lord Mountbatten. Can Mowgli and his new comrades free his Homeworld of the Adversary's forces?

This volume was a sad adjunct to the volumes concerning the war. Because even though the Fables lost very few of their own in the war (in comparison to Gepetto/The Adversary, who lost millions), Boy Blue became a hero during the war, killing the wooden statue that was Gepetto's mouthpiece as the Adversary, his heroics during the war, including the use of the Witching Cloak, had a cost, and that cost eventually turns out to be his life. No, he wasn't one of the big Fables- he just wanted to be ordinary and play his horn, but thousands and millions of ordinary people just like him die in wars every day. The fact that Boy Blue was one of many people's favorite character just makes his death all the sadder. I also was sad to see the death of Kay, the boy from the Snow Queen, although now that he's dead, he won't have to live with the agony of seeing the evil in everyone, something that has caused him to gouge out his eyes more than once in the past.

The Title of this collection has many resonances, from the rise of the new villain, Mr. Dark, to the darkness that is revealed in the hearts of many of the characters, from Gepetto (Who at one point compares himself to God and becomes one of the most unlikeable characters you will ever read. The vision Kay gets of him and his spirit- a burned out wasteland filled with severed heads on sticks and endless corpses- is pretty shocking and gruesome. But he's not the only one with darkness inside him. Even Rose Red has dark spaces in her soul- and the way Boy Blue points this out hits the nail on the head while showing her to be seriously broken inside.

But unlike the other volumes of this series, we don't really get a complete story in this volume. Instead, it reads more like the beginnings of a story, with pieces being set up for more happenings further down the line. Because of it, it didn't quite satisfy me as much as some of the other volumes in this series- but that could be completely redeemed depending on what happens in future volumes.

I love this series. It puts just the right amount of spin on the old Fairy tale characters, and updates them for a totally modern story with links to the original fairy tales. This is a series you will want to read from the beginning to understand who the characters are and where they come from. But this is definitely a series you should be reading if you aren't already. Highly recommended.

Complications by Atul Gawande

Surgeons and Doctors often seem like Gods. When someone is wheeled into to the ER with injuries like gunshot wounds, knife slashes or other insults to the body, Surgeons are there to patch you up, heal your body, and save your life. They can sew up your wounds, take out your diseased parts and help you to heal afterwards.

But Gods? No, they aren't gods. Sometimes their patients who should have recovered die, and some who should die recover, with or without the surgeon's help. And the reasons for this are many and varied- but most boil down to the fact that surgery may be a science, but it is an imperfect science. practiced by imperfect people. In fact, the whole of medicine is an imperfect science, one that we may never master, since each person is different. Sometimes, different medications are needed for people suffering the same disease. Why? We may never know.

This book is full of stories of stumped doctors, stumped patients, and true life stories- about how Friday the Thirteenth is always busy in a hospital, and about his own tale of working a Friday the 13th on a full moon with a lunar eclipse while in residency. A story of a pregnant woman stricken with persistent, almost unbearable nausea, which went away as soon as she gave birth, and even takes us to the operating room floor to show how surgical complications happen- and can happen to everyone. He shows how some hospitals overcome this by specializing in one surgery, and how anesthesiology has changed... one hopes for the better.

He even takes us to the Annual surgeon's convention, and shows us what goes on inside, both on the convention floor and in the discussion halls, and how surgeons deal with it when things go wrong. You may assume that malpractice suits keep surgeons careful and weed out the really bad surgeons, but the truth is that many patients who had something go wrong in surgery never file for malpractice- and many malpractice suits are based around things which are not the fault of the surgeon or surgical team.

This book provides a fascinating look at the life of a surgeon in residency, and features stories from surgeons and patients showing what surgery is really like, and how most of the job is training, training, training so that you can do a procedure without it going wrong, and know what to do if and when it does. Residency is the seasoning process, where surgeons learn to do things correctly that they may have only observed before, and is necessary for them to become the surgeons they want to be.

It also shows the limitations of medicine. Surgeons and Doctors aren't always successful, and sometimes the treatments that seem to work for everyone else just don't work for some people. Why? Again, no one really knows, just that everyone is slightly different, and different treatments work in different ways.

I found this book both interesting and fascinating to read, and I enjoyed the true stories within very much. Some end well and some end badly, but all of them illuminate both medicine, and the people who practice it, and how sometimes they are powerless and helpless to prevent people from dying. I recommend this book, but warn that some of it may end up making you a little queasy if you are prone to such feelings.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dexter by Design by Jeff Lindsay

Dexter Morgan is a serial killer, but also works as a blood spatter expert for the Miami-Dade police force. In fact, he's something of a META serial killer, as he only preys on other serial killers, making him a nominal "good guy" serial killer. Dexter's killing is driven by an inner force he calls his "Dark Passenger", a part of him that makes him kill. But it also makes him and his life more interesting, as he discovered in the last novel "Dexter in the Dark", where his Dark Passenger fled and left him completely normal, and completely boring.

Now married to Rita, Dexter is on Honeymoon in Paris when he and Rita find an art exhibition that shocks her and interests his Dark Passenger- showing people excising the flesh from their own bones, leaving the bones pristine and white. While this shocks most people, Dexter is amused by it and his Dark Passenger finds it quite interesting and thrilling.

But when he gets home and settles into married life, he feels that his human mask is finally complete. No one would now suspect him of being a serial killer, and he's free to raise his two Dexters-in-training, Rita's kids, Cody and Ashley, who want to try out their new skills and urges on their own. But when an unknown person starts murdering people and leaving them around the city posed in ways that both mimic and subvert the popular tourist ads for Florida, Dexter's Dark Passenger sits up and takes notice.

And whoever did it is sending his "recreated" ads to the agencies that do the same sort of ads. But does he have a grudge against Florida, or just the people who promote it? And when Dexter's sister Deb ends up in the hospital fighting for her life in intensive care after being knifed by one of the people they were going to question, Dexter is on the case to find the killer or killers and bring them to his own sort of justice.

But at the same time, he has to civilize Cody and get him to adopt the same kind of protective camouflage that Dexter wears every day and has made his own. And solving the case involves a trip to Cuba with Norm Chutsky, former FBI man and Deborah's boyfriend. But when the villain kidnaps Rita, Cody and Ashley, can Dexter save his wife and new kids from a killer without giving away what he is to the FBI? Dexter's new case may have him cutting close to the bone, but then again, that's how he likes it...

I love Dexter Morgan. Yes, he's a serial killer and he supposedly cares for nothing and no one. But that's a lie. He cares for his sister, he even, in some small way, cares for Rita- and he cares for Cody and Ashley even more now that he knows that they are nascent serial killers just like he is. He has nothing against kids- in fact, he seems to like and want to protect kids- maybe so they won't end up like he did. But he deserves his true killing strength for other serial killers. Luckily, because of his job, he runs into plenty of those in Miami, Florida. Enough to keep his Dark Passenger satisfied.

We don't know how often Dexter feeds his Dark Passenger. Every few weeks? Every month? He mentions something about the phases of the moon in Darkly Dreaming Dexter, but he's able to take time off after his wedding for two weeks in Paris with Rita without it affecting him much and, just as luckily, he's presented with a new prey just as soon as he gets back or not that long afterwards. And this foe twists the images of Florida as a place for sun and fun into images that turn those assertions completely on their head- making them images of horror.

But I also liked who he was paired with in this adventure. Usually, Dexter is on his own when he goes to hunt down the serial killers that plague the city. Now, he's partnered with Deb's new partner, Chutsky, her boyfriend, the FBI and even Cody and Ashley to finally take down the killer. How Dexter reacts with each, either hiding who he is or attempting to protect the kids, was something I really enjoyed. And seeing Dexter matching wits with the killer is always a delight.

This version of Dexter is quite different than the one from the Television show. TV Dexter is more human, and less chilling, and due to the distaste of some TV viewers, he neither let his brother kill Laguerta, his boss nor have they pursued the "Children as serial killers" that book Dexter deals with. But this story has a greater urgency because of that, and while I like both stories, I like book Dexter more (although I felt that the subplot of the third book, where serial killers hold part of the essence of the God Baal, could be eliminated and I wouldn't mind at all). He's more dangerous, and more Other, than TV Dexter, and it makes him a more compelling figure.

I highly recommend this series, which will turn all your preconceived ideas of what makes a hero and turn them completely on their head. Yes, he's a serial killer, and has very few emotions, but he's not so dark and horrible as he believes himself to be, and manages to be heroic and fight evil while being what most modern people would call evil. But it's surprising how fast you come to root for him to succeed, to kill the serial killer while escaping punishment himself. And I certainly want to read the next installment, about modern day cannibals, called "Dexter Tastes Delicious". I can't wait to read more.

CSI: Intern at Your Own Risk by Sekou Hamilton and Steven Cummings

Kiyomi Hudson is a high-school student of a rather cash-strapped family. Her mother is gone, and her father is a cab driver trying to keep them afloat on his small salary. But Kiyomi has a dream of being a CSI in Las Vegas, at the largest Crime Lab (not to mention the best) in the country. To that end, she takes a test to Intern at the Lab.

At the test, she is told that only five intern positions are open, and proceeds to take the test along with the other applicants. When the results come back, there are five interns who aced the test- and Kiyomi isn't among them. What upsets Catherine Willows is that there are no women among the top-scorers, but she tells Gil Grissom that Kiyomi scored exceptionally well in psychological profiling, and decides to give her one of the spots.

Kiyomi is thrilled to make the team, and reports for duty, where she and the other interns are introduced to their first case, the death of Gretchen Yates, a fifteen year old High School student, who attended the same High School the interns attend: Las Vegas High.

Kiyomi is rocked by this news. They all went to the same High School, but none of them really knew her- or knew she was dead. It's sobering to think that someone their own age could have someone hate her enough to kill her, and Kiyomi persuades the others to try and solve the murder themselves. But could Christof, Damian, Gregory, Kirin and Kiyomi find out who the real killer is?

On the second day, they are given a case to solve, and quickly see it is a historical rehash of the "Aunt Thally" Thallium poisonings. Doing a quick test on the "Evidence" proves their case, and they eventually get taken to Gretchen's house to look over the crime scene. But when pictures on her computer turn up the sign of a blood-splattered Intern's badge, the five have to face that the killer was one of them- one of the CSI interns. The Question is, which one of them killed her? And can the others figure it out in time to track him down and put him away?

I did like this graphic novel, done in a style somewhere between manga and western comics. but the story, while interesting, had quite a few drawbacks in both art and writing. While we get to know Kiyomi's name early on, the other CSI Interns are only identified by last name when they are interviewed, and then use first names among themselves- making it hard to figure out who these people are by name.

The art comes up lacking in the faces of the characters from the show. When we see an adult CSI, the only ones I could figure out who they were without clues from the story were Gil Grissom, Catherine Willows and Dr. Harold Robbins, the coroner. We also see Greg and probably Nick, but it was almost impossible to tell that by the art. I've seen better art in the western CSI comics when it comes to depicting the main characters- we don't even get to see Warrick or Sara. There's even a guy who looked like Hodges, but that was in the field, he had more hair than Hodges, and he didn't speak right for Hodges. I found this sloppy art inexcusable- either the artist didn't care to get the main CSI characters correctly, or he didn't know what they looked like and lacked reference pictures. Either one makes me sad, as this is attempting to tie into the CSI franchise- they'd better get the characters right! Even the ones who I could tell who they were supposed to be didn't particularly look like the main characters, except for Grissom.- and that was mainly because of his beard and moustache.

But I did enjoy the story, more or less. Once you can get over the fact that the CSIs must be sloppy in order to let the story go ahead- they didn't look at the pictures on the hard-drive that let the Interns see she was killed by one of their own? But the story was thrilling and chilling in all the right places, and it kept my interest. I'm hoping that there are more with these characters, and that the artist learns to draw the main CSI characters better. Recommended.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Don't Look Back by Amanda Quick

When we last left Lavinia Lake and Tobias March, they had gone into the business of investigations together. But now, Lavinia's past as a mesmerist comes back to haunt her when a visit from an old friend intrudes on her peace at home.

Howard Hudson is also a mesmerist, returned from America to set up shop in London. With him is his new wife, Celeste, also a practitioner of mesmerism. But Lavinia takes a decided dislike to Celeste when she finds Celeste flirting with Tobias. Later on, however, Celeste is murdered, and her bracelet stolen, and this forces Lavinia back into her former world of mesmerism.

To begin with, Howard says she was having an affair, but that he did nothing, hoping it was merely a passing fling and that she would grow bored with her lover. On the night she was murdered, they were to attend a gathering given by another mesmerist, but she begged off because of a supposed indisposition and stayed home. It was while he was at the gathering that Celeste was murdered.

But more to the point, now that she is dead, Howard is assumed to hold a piece that Celeste had stolen, a Roman antiquity- a bracelet known as the Blue Medusa, set with a strange blue cameo carved with the head of Medusa. Celeste was supposedly involved in its theft, and now that she is dead, everyone believes that he has it from her. But he doesn't, and he is afraid that anyone looking to gain the bracelet will be coming after him, and assume that he has it when he doesn't know the slightest thing about it.

While Lavinia accepts Howard's story at face value, Tobias is more convinced that Howard is after the necklace that Celeste stole for himself- and he's just one of many after it. With the only clue to Celeste's killer the man's cravat around her neck that was used to strangle her, the two of them will have to trace Celeste's connections. and the discovery that she was building her own life and reputation in mesmerism... one that didn't include her husband. As Lavinia and Tobias's suspicions run counter to each other, their disagreements pull them further apart, only for the passion they share to pull them right back together almost immediately afterwards. But can they find the true killer, and the necklace, without coming to blows?

Another excellent romance with an associated mystery- and another series that presages the Arcane series of novels- only with a series of ongoing characters. Once again, we don't get the traditional Happily Ever After- but we're getting closer to it for the main characters, and their supporting characters as well. The story here is mainly the mystery, and the increasing separation between Lavinia and Tobias. Only their frequent physical connections (i.e. hot sex) bring them back together.

It's nice that both characters end up being both somewhat wrong as well as somewhat right about the solution to the mystery of the death of Celeste. I don't like it when the man is always right and the woman always wrong, nor vice versa- what better way to show they work better together rather than apart if each is somewhat wrong and must defend their ideas from their partner, who may end up being right?

Still, the ending may leave you wanting that Happily Ever After and wondering how long the two can go without sealing the deal and being married. But there is one more book in this trilogy. Sadly, this book and the third (Late for the Wedding), didn't hold me to my seat as much as Slightly Shady, though I'm not sure why- maybe that the characters are so familiar with each other that the wit and barbs don't have quite the same Zing. In any case, it sort of came off as weak tea compared to Slightly Shady. I'd recommend it, but don't buy it- read it from the library.