Friday, April 30, 2010

Happy Cafe, Volume 2 by Kou Matsuzuki

Uru Takamura is still working at the Cafe Bonheur with Ichiro Nishikawa, a boy who falls asleep when he gets hungry and wakes up when you feed him, and her boss, Shindo, a man terminally embarrassed about his first name: Satsuki, but one who loves to cook and bake.

Uru has a crush on Shindo, but wonders if her feelings for him could be truer- love. But she doesn't feel comfortable getting too close to her boss, who tries to present a cold and forbidding front to the world, but she suspects he's actually kindhearted beneath.

And she gets her confirmation of that when she sees he's made just one Mont Blanc- a sinful dessert. But he hasn't made it for Uru, but for an older man who comes in very infrequently. He used to love sweets, but his doctor has forbidden them to him except for once a month. Not only does Shindo make it for the man, but secretly, he makes it with low sugar, too.

Then, Uru's favorite customer, the 500 Yen girl, comes back to the shop, accompanied by her mother, who apologizes for the trouble her daughter caused. The girl wants a strawberry sweet, but all the strawberry deserts have been sold. Uru frantically rummages in the back for something and finds some strawberry chocolate candies, which Shindo places atop a slice of cheesecake, along with strawberry sauce.

The little girl is impressed, and she leaves wit her mother and the sweet, at a discounted price. Uru is open-mouthed in awe- it's like magic! Shindo covers his mouth and blushes, saying that he felt that way too, at first. That's what made him want to become a baker- he saw cooking as magic and wanted to do magic as well.

But then, two young men come in and look around the place dismissively, say that what is for sale is horrible. One tries to pick up Uru, but she turns him down flat and they leave. Soon, Uru wonders why no one has come in to the shop, and finds a sign on the door, saying, "Closed". Uru is sure that the two from earlier did it, and gets angry all over again. She removes the sign, and is confronted by a customer asking if it is true that you have to pay 5000 yen just to enter.

Uru denies it, and knows she has another thing to lay at the feet of the two young men. It irritates her, and she tracks down the two, who soon reveal their true motives. They are the heirs and proprietors to the AbeKawaya confectionery, and they are angry that Cafe Bonheur has stolen all their female customers, and they propose a contest at the Bakery and Confectionery fair at the mall- They will make a Japanese Sweet, and Shindo will make a Western-style sweet, and they will see who sells more, or sells all their cakes first.

Uru agrees on behalf of the Cafe, and the other two, satisfied, leave. But later, when Shindo saves Uru from falling, he sprains his wrist, and Uru and Ichiro must act as Shindo's hands- and not very successfully. Can they win the contest and find out the real reason the two boys challenged them?

Then, Uru's mother visits the Cafe, and tells Uru that she wants to see if Uru is being taken care of, or if she is taking care of herself. Because if Uru is just being dependent on others, her mother will revoke her right to live on her own and bring her back home to live, even though Uru left so that her mother and new Stepfather would feel comfortable.

But Uru doesn't seem to really like her mother. She's been doing chores for her mother ever since she was old enough- because her mother didn't want to do them. Uru wants to be free and independent, and resents her mother trying to drag her back to the leading strings. Can she convince her mother that she's vital to the operation of the Cafe, and win her freedom and independence?

The book ends with a story called "Estimated Young Man and Girl", about a teenager who looks more like a 20-something, and is constantly mistaken for a young wife by everyone who comes to the house to sell something. But when a newspaper deliveryman realizes that she is also a teenager like himself, she wonders if she can change herself so that everyone sees her as who she is- a young woman, still in school. As for the boy, he finds himself liking her, and she him, but can they find a future together?

Another cute novel. I liked this Shoujo story about young love and independence. Uru is small and seems young, but is stronger than she looks, probably because of all the chores she has been doing all her life. Shindo is four years older than her, and at first he seemed cold and forbidding, but as we get to know him better, we see that he's just reserved, and wants to be seen as more aloof to protect himself.

I liked Uru's innocent wonder in Shindo's baking, and how he wants to smile at her, and can't help himself, so he covers up his mouth. Later we do see a small smile, and this story doesn't feel as bad to me as some "older man, younger girl" stories, perhaps because the difference in their ages is only four years- not very big at all. And mostly, the feelings are all on her end, as far as we know. He could just be being kind to her- he does that, after all.

I find myself comparing this manga most often to Fruits Basket- not because of the plot, but because of the feel of the story. It has that same gentle, almost sentimental feel, although this story is played a bit more for laughs. But I want to see more, and I have been really enjoying myself so far. This is a great series, and fans of Fruits Basket will probably like it, too. Recommended.

Cat of the Century by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Harry, better known as Mary Minor Harristeen, was once the postmaster of Crozet, West Virginia. Now retired from her job and re-married to her ex-husband Fair, or Pharamond Harristeen, is now a farmer, working her family's old farm. Her husband is still a Vet, and Harry's constant companions are her two cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and her Dog, Tee Tucker, all of which are female. Not only can the animals talk to each other and the other animals they meet, but they help Harry solve mysteries, a job which would be so much easier if she could understand animal talk.

Tally Urquhart, Big Mim Sanbourne's mother, is celebrating her 100th birthday this year, and she's been invited to William Woods University for a celebration to mark her 100th's year. Also invited are Harry, who isn't a graduate of WWU, but is much beloved by "Aunt Tally" and loves her in return. To travel to Missouri and Tally's old Alma Mater is a long trip, so Fair buys Harry a new truck so that she can make the trip in safety, in large part because a huge blizzard is coming down on the Ohio Valley, and spreading a thick blanket of white wherever it goes

But all isn't well at the school, two of the Presidents of the Alumnae associations have despised each other since they first went to the school together in 1974. Unlike most graduates, who become friends and remain so even after graduation, Mariah D'Angelo and Flo Langston cordially hate and despise each other. And now that both are on the School's board, their dislike for each other colors their interactions, and is making the School board's proceedings much more fractious than they should be. The Head of the board is a strong-willed woman, but caught between Mariah and Flo, who are stronger yet, she's constantly pulled back and forth between the two. It's gotten so bad that Inez Carpenter, the 98 year old friend and former classmate of Aunt Tally, has had to consider asking her to step down so that Inez can take over. It's not a job that Inez really wants, but by this point, she's not really sure she has a choice.

Then, during a meeting of the board of Alumnae, Mariah accuses Flo, who works as an investment broker, of doing something hinky with Mariah's money- allowing her to make huge profits- until recently, when the profit went to almost nil. Flo says that Mariah is just dreaming, Mariah is still making money, but the country is in a recession, and the profits everywhere are down. Mariah, though, isn't satisfied and tells Flo that she will destroy her for what she's done.

Mariah, too, has problems. She's the treasurer for the board, but her computer crashed, and she lost all her electronic bookkeeping files, including the ones for the board's money, which concerns the board an awful lot- with her complaints about the loss of her money, the board is forced to consider that something hinky might be going on with the money. And then Mariah goes missing for the rest of the meetings of the board, and the concern grows. Flo adds to the talk swirling around Mariah by accusing her of selling reproduction watches in place of the actual high-end watches she is purporting to sell from her jewelry shop, and, of course, Mariah isn't around to defend herself.

However, Tucker smells blood near a manure pile in the college's barn, and tries to alert Harry, but Harry doesn't realize what the pets are telling her, and when Flo herself turns up dead, everyone assumes that Mariah did it, which is bolstered by e-mails from Mariah's account to the rest of the board taking the responsibility for the death and saying "Catch me if you can".

With members of the board dying, Inez, who accompanied Tally home, spends time with Harry and Fair on their farm, and Harry notices that Terri Kincaid, a local WWU Alumnae and Alumnae chapter head, is acting very strange. Her store sells imported French dinnerware, and she's always been a nervous person, but now she's positively crazed, and her mood swings and seesaws back and forth in an almost manic fashion. What could possibly be going on with her? And when she gets in a shipment of "Mexican pots" that are unusually heavy, Terri accidentally breaks one, revealing a bag with white powder inside.

Terri claims it is "sand", and hurriedly takes the pot into the back, but Harry (and Inez, who is with her) have their own suspicions as to what was really in the pot. And when Mariah's body is discovered, dead, but well-preserved under the manure pile up at the college, Harry and the others must figure out who is really killing people, as well as solve the murder of Ralston Peavey, a man found dead, run over twice in the middle of the road not far from Harry's farm long before she was even born. Tally has long wanted to know who killed him, but the truth never came out. Can Harry and co. solve all the murders and untangle the twisted web of lies and deciet?

I always love reading about Harry, Tucker, Mrs. Murphy and the rest, and this book provided a wonderful return to the town of Crozet and Harry. Harry used to be the postmistress, but gave all that up. Now, she's more plugged into the world of her farm and her marriage to Fair, her childhood sweetheart, whom she once divorced when he cheated on her. This story takes Harry out of Crozet and sends her travelling along with her Aunt Tally, yet still manages to feel closed-in, because most of the story takes place in the midst of late spring snowstorms that blanket the entire Ohio Valley in a layer of the white stuff.

Harry does manage to get out and about quite a bit, and this story introduces characters from as far away as Kansas City and St. Louis, but as the books usually do, the murders happen because of an entirely human greed and smallnesss of heart. Even with a college that has graduates who remain as close as the graduates of William Woods University, there is plenty of infighting and difference of opinion that lives on even after the college years are done, as this story amply demonstrates. There are also plenty of resonances with real-world events, from the blizzards of last year and early this year, to the financial messes of AIG and Ponzi schemes like those of Bernie Madoff.

Of course, what makes the series great is the animals, though they have less of a role in solving this one, and it was nice to see Tally and Inez mix it up at the end and show there was plenty of life in both old girls yet, even if they are at or pushing the century mark. The story reads quick, and as is usual, is almost more about the beauty of West Virginia And its wildlife.

One thing I didn't appreciate was being whacked over the head with long discussions or rants about government and the "nanny state" and the failings of people who want the government to give them things. They occupied too much of the book for me and went on too long, and not one of the characters seemed to disagree with the others. I have no problem with an author having an opinion on politics and a political opinion, but unless I'm reading a book on those views, I don't want to be beaten over the head with them in a book meant to entertain. It's especially bad, when because of the overwhelmingness of the one point of view, I can't tell if all the characters talking are meant to be there just for the sake of the story, or are the author's views she's putting in the mouths of her characters.

It's a good mystery, but some other parts of the story turned me off. I hope that in the future, we can have more of the talking animals and pets and more mystery, and less in-your-face politicizing. It was too much and too blatant to make reading the book a truly enjoyable experience for me.

Ultimate Iron Man: Armor Wars by Warren Ellis and Steve Kurth

Manhattan has been devastated by a tidal wave, and Tony Stark is back there to get something he left behind in one of his hidden labs beneath a Stark Enterprises office building. He's not the only one going back to get something dangerous- Even Reed Richards has to close down his dimensional gate to ensure that what remains of New York remains safe.

Tony is so happy to be retrieving his stuff that he's even narrating a podcast about it, but in the depths of his office, he finds out that he isn't alone- there is a woman there, a woman with supernatural powers, and Tony recognizes her. It's Justine Hammer, the daughter of one of Tony's business rivals. She's in his office looking for a shot of Stark nanites, and Tony quickly surmises that her father has been doing some work on nanites himself, and injected her with them looking for a way to make superpowers work. But Justine is dying, and she needs Stark nanobots to heal herself and hopefully keep herself well and alive.

Tony agrees, but first he has to retrieve something from his lab. That's when Happy Hogan breaks through and says there is someone in the building with Tony- not near him, but way down below, in the hidden lab. Tony tells Justine to hold on and heads down to see who it is, and runs into an armor-suited figure like himself, making off with the one piece that Tony had come there to retrieve. He and the intruder fight, and Tony is nearly killed by the figure, but Justine throws herself between them, taking the shot for Tony.

It doesn't kill her, but the Ghost gets away as Tony, grateful to Justine for saving him, decides to save her first. But he's angry that someone seems to have stolen his armor designs and decides to go after them and remove elements of his armor from people who have stolen and used his ideas.

After he and Justine share a bed, she uses the computer on board the plane to tell him that information on his suit moved through Berlin, and a man named Dr. Faustus. Tony goes to see him, but realizing that using the Iron Man suit would be overkill, tries out a new idea, a light combat armor he calls iMan, and for protection, a repulsor gun.

After a conversation that turns into a fight, Faustus reveals that he sold the information on the armor to a man named Bram Velsing, who has used it to construct his own armor. Here, Tony dons his Iron Man suit once more, and goes toe to toe with Velsing. Though he's told Justine to remain behind this time, she shows up to help him when things go south, and saves his life, and he hers.

He puts the boot on Velsing, and learns that Velsing, in turn, sold the armor tech to England, for use in their riot-prevention team armor, which is being used even as Tony and Justine, who have become far, far closer, arrive. Tony sets Justine a mission even as he takes on the men in armor.

It's closer than Tony would like to think, but instead of killing him, they eventually back off- the government is convinced that their tech is stolen and surrender it to Tony. But then who should show up but the man Tony has dubbed "Ghost", and he attacks Tony, nearly killing him before running off when the forces of England come to Tony's rescue.

Tony isn't upset, because he doused the "Ghost" with a special tracking liquid, and once again, he's grateful to Justine for saving him. He asks her to stay with him after all this is over, and she tells him she can't just be a throwaway lover. She has to have him forever, or not, and he still wants her to stay.

But when something attacks Tony's plane, he must jump into the armor and take to the skies to defend himself. But the forces against him are overwhelming, and when he wakes after the battle, he finds himself naked and imprisoned, and Justine is there, too. Finally, all the answers about how Ghost was breaking into lockboxes sealed with Tony's DNA are revealed, and a stunning betrayal will leave Tony reeling. But can he derive any sort of victory from what he is forced to do?

When I first saw this graphic novel, I missed that this was the Ultimates version of Iron Man, and thought to myself... "Haven't I seen this before?" Well, yes, there was an incident in the original Iron Man when he realized that his tech had been stolen and used to construct many different versions of battle and combat suits around the world, but it was a longer, more involved Saga, at least as I remember.

This one is a bit shorter, and different, and the outcome is wildly different from the original Armor Wars. I certainly wasn't expecting Justine Hammer, and even though the writers were trying to lead me to expect that Tony and Justine would end up together, permanently, knowing the history of the non-Ultimates Tony Stark, I wasn't expecting it to last for long, or to come to a sad or bad end. Let's face it, Tony is a playboy- he doesn't allow himself to get caught for long, and if he is, something bad usually happens to the woman he's involved with.

Letting you know what happens would spoil the ending, so I can neither confirm nor deny, so to speak. I will say that this Ultimates version of the story was both shorter, but equally good as the old "Armor Wars" of the original Tony Stark. And yet, in a way, I found it somewhat disappointing, as if the Warren Ellis had to do Armor Wars (because the Ultimates line is a reboot and distillation of the essence of all the Marvel Characters), but didn't really care to do that good a job on it.

In this one, Stark is much less focused and vengeful when it comes down to tracking down those who had stolen his armor designs, and much less paranoid. The story ends just about as well as the original Armor Wars, though Stark doesn't have any knock-down drag-out fights with Supervillains or even heroes like Captain America. It's an intriguing story, but feels a little... lacking. Recommended.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ironman: I am Iron Man by Various

Tony Stark is a supergenius billionaire weapons contractor. In Afghanistan to promote his latest weapon, known as Jericho, his convoy is attacked and he is taken hostage by a terrorist group known as the Ten Rings.

Injured, with shrapnel in his chest heading for his heart, Tony is saved by a man called Yinseng, who installs an electromagnet in his chest to eventually draw out the shrapnel. But Tony is threatened by the leader of the Ten Rings in the area, telling him that if Tony will build Jericho rockets for the terrorists, they will get him the medical care he needs to save his life.

But Tony knows better than to believe them- once he gives them what they want, they will leave him to die, and so, with the help of Yinsen, he makes plans to get out of there- building a massive armored suit powered by a fusion reactor in his chest. The terrorist, assuming that Tony is building him the rockets he wants, gives him the raw ingredients and tools he needs for his suit. The suit is completed barely in time, and just as the Warlord and his man demand the rockets. Tony puts on the suit and breaks out of the camp, killing the terrorists. Unfortunately, Yinsen is killed giving Tony time to put on the full armor, and Tony escapes rocket-blasting off in the armor, but on landing, the armor is destroyed.

Tony manages to make it home, but he's had a change of heart while imprisoned, and decides he and the company will no longer be making weapons, which drives the stocks into the ground. But Tony's second-in command, Obadiah Stane, is selling weapons to the terrorists behind Tony's back, and he has plans for the armor that Tony left behind.

Meanwhile, when Tony finds out that his munitions are still being used, he's furious, and spends his time making himself a new set of armor to forcibly de-arm his former company's weapons. Enabling it to fly with repulsor technology, he also builds repulsors into the gloves of the armor, and flies off to Afghanistan to deal with them. But when he is shown that it's Obadiah who is double-dealing him, he asks Pepper Potts, his secretary, to find the proof that it's Obadiah. But her mission may imperil her along with Tony, because Stane is building his own version of the armor, known as the Iron Monger, and it's much larger and stronger than The Iron Man armor. Can Tony fight him off to keep his vision for the company alive?

"Security Measures" focusses on what Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. are doing during the events of the story, using the character of agent Phil Coulson, who is close to Nick Fury. And finally, the last story of the book shows the original comics fight between Iron Man and Obadiah Stane in Iron Man #200, where Stane is his business competitor.

This comic is entirely based on the original Iron Man movie starring Robert Downey, Jr., and with the second story, sets up the second movie and a possible future Avengers film. I noticed a lot of interesting things from the first movie that I didn't pick up on in the movie. One being the wording on the "present" Pepper Potts gives Tony when he tells her to dispose of his old chest unit, and she gives it back to him, mounted in lucite, with the words, "Proof Tony Stark has a heart". The second was the name of the terrorist group, the Ten Rings, which evokes a longtime Iron Man foe, Mandarin, who wears ten rings of alien construction, one on each finger.

And if that shows up in the film(s), will Fin Fang Foom, the last of the Draconoid race who built the spaceship from which Mandarin obtained the rings? So many linked Marvel movies or Franchises are alluded to in this movie- Captain America's shield on Tony's desk (the alloy of which is what he builds the Iron Man armor out of), and Tony himself showed up in the second Hulk movie. It seems a Thor movie and a Captain America movie are forthcoming, and then, The Avengers, which will combine all those characters, along with others, like Hawkeye.

So, this is an important comic to read, even if you have seen the movie, or are planning to see the second one. So much interesting ideas and plot points are laid in these pages, and you can see what can possibly be coming down the pike. I liked seeing more of what was going on behind the scenes with Nick Fury, and it was also interesting to see the contrast between the movie and the original story of Obadiah Stane, and its end, which again, is very different from the movie. This was an excellent book and more than worth it. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Otomen, Volume 5 by Aya Kanno

Asuka Masamune is an Otomen, a seemingly guy's guy who actually likes girly things deep down inside, the girlier, the better. He is in love with Ryo Miyakozuka, a girl who is beautiful, but knows and does very little girly stuff. She lives with her Dad, a policeman and leader of a dojo.

So, when Ryo is chosen to represent the class at the "Ideal Woman" contest, everyone who really knows her is completely shocked. Yes, she's pretty, but she knows nothing about flower-arranging, cooking or the tea ceremony, but she promises her classmates that she will do her best.

Ryo is allowed to pick one male "helper" for the contest, and of course, she picks Asuka as her helper. Since he's an Otomen, he can help her with the "girly" stuff, right? But unbeknownst to either of them, Miyabi Oharida, the third-year student, has won two years running and wants to knock it out of the park this time as well.

But more than just wanting to win the competition, she wants to literally destroy her opponent Ryo, and win Asuka, who she views as her counterpart as a "ideal man" and therefore, he should be with her as companion to her "ideal woman". Miyabi takes an early lead, but when Ryo starts catching up to her, Miyabi might decide to cheat to win. But will her plans come to fruition? And who will win, Miyabi or Ryo?

The next story is focused on Juta. His manga, which he writes under the name Jewel Sachihana, has just won the 30th Annual Kokusensha Manga Award. The biggest problem is that no one knows that he, Juta Tachibana, is actually the manga-ka Jewel Sachihana.But to actually accept the award, he (or she) must be there in person.

Juta tries to get one of his many sisters to go in his place, but none of them seems willing. Juta finally resorts to bribing his older sister Kuriko to go, but she goes shopping with friends on the same day as the acceptance party. And even worse, Asuka is there in the crowd!

Asuka loves the Love Chick manga, and hopes to meet Sachihana-San in person. But as the time grows later and Kuriko doesn't show, can Juta come up with an alternate plan to find a female Sachiana to represent him? How about with the help of Mira-sensei, a fellow manga-ka?

And then Asuka and his rival, Hajime Tonomine, are contacted by the company for which they acted as "Beauty Samurai" to come and do a show and reprise their characters. But will both agree to show off their skills once again? And when a strange woman knocks Asuka down after the show and appeard to know him, could it be Asuka's father, who left his mother, claiming his greatest ambition was to become a woman?

Another excellent volume. After heavily talking about Asuka's father for 5 volumes now, it seems as if he might have finally found him again. Or would that be "her"? S/He isn't the only one living a double life, as Juta learns when meeting his idol, Mira-sensei. And that was quite a shock and surprise, as I didn't suspect anything until the end of the story. And Juta makes a very pretty woman, with the right dress and wig and makeup.

Maybe this will make him less reliant on Asuka and Ryo for his writing, and maybe not. The biggest shock I got out of that story was that Kuriko not showing up was a plot by his sisters to make him own up to who Jewel Sachihana really was. And they played him very well, but in the end, they failed; Juta never came clean to who he really is/was. But at least they won't have to play Jewel Sachihana for him ever again. But it was amusing that he isn't the only manga-ka playing female for the audience.

I really enjoyed this manga volume, and I am looking forward to see if and how meeting his father changes Asuka, and if anything happens with his mother. It's occurred to me that his mother wants Asuka to be a true man, but she's playing out a role in Japan (and elsewhere) that an "ideal woman" wouldn't play- that of a business executive or a business professional who travels. Last time I heard, Japanese women in business were strictly OL's, or Office Ladies, who are glorified secretaries and servants who make coffee, bring around the sweets cart, and are expected to marry, and must have something wrong with them if they don't get married. We don't get to see how Asuka's mother gets around this.

I'm enjoying this series, and the sort of playful way it pokes fun at the typical Shoujo pretty-boy hero. Here, it's Asuka, not Ryo, who is the main character, and Asuka who is the one making the play for Ryo and hoping she'll like him. Yes, she's clueless to the fact that he likes her in that way, but it's nice getting into Asuka's head for once, and leaving Ryo to be a mystery. If you love Shoujo manga and have read an awful lot of it (enough to know the conventions), you'll love it too. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ouran High School Host Club, Volume 13 by Bisco Hatori

With Tamaki's return, the Ouran High School Host Club reopens to a vision of Turkey. But something isn't right. Haruhi isn't feeling well, and Tamaki is concerned for her. But the other members of the Host Club are able to see what she is not- that she has real feelings for Tamaki, but she is steadfastly denying them, and thinking of what she feels as a "cold" so she won't even have to admit it to herself.

Nor can Tamaki admit to himself that he loves Haruhi in any but a "fatherly" way. But even as he's around the Host Club less because of his own duties to his father's company, Haruhi is trying to figure out why she feels this way when she is around Tamaki, especially. Her friend, Mei, over at Haruhi's house, is about to tell Haruhi exactly what this emotion that she is feeling is, but she gets a call from Kyoya telling her to cease and desist in telling Haruhi- he wants Haruhi to find out on her own what her feelings are.

Mei reluctantly agrees, but drops a girl's magazine on the floor before she leaves Haruhi's house, telling her she is deliberately forgetting to take it with her. Inside, Haruhi sees a quiz "How do you really feel about him?" among other articles on love and how to snare the boy of your dreams and fantasies. But will the test allow Haruhi to see how she really feels about Tamaki, and more to the point, will she be able to accept that information, especially when she seems to have all the signs that the article/test lists for actually being in love?

Soon, Harushi comes to the very uncomfortable realization that she *is* in love with Tamaki, and worse for her, is that that love sneaked up on her completely unexpectedly. Why? Because he takes care of her, and he has a big heart to go along with his apparently super-sized head. When Harushi falls ill and leaves her bed to go look at Shoujo manga instead of stay home and rest, Tamaki leaves where he has been learning his father's company to go look for her, rescuing her again. And she surrenders to the emotion, even if Tamaki still says he feels more "fatherly" affection towards her. But the way she tells him she has feelings for him makes him question his own feelings as well- but not enough to be aware of the truth. Not yet.

After she has her emotional revelation, she feels much better and throws herself into the club activities, whereas before she was merely indifferent to them. This culminates in finding a treasure map that leads to a hot spring that suddenly dries up overnight.

Finally, the school travels to the mountains for a winter skiing vacation, and Haruhi begs the twins to make it affordable so that she can afford to go. But one of the twins, Haruki, has told Tamaki that he is interested in Haruhi romantically, and tells Tamaki that he doesn't want Tamaki to go on the trip. Will Tamaki stay away, or will he discover his own feelings for Haruhi aren't that fatherly and fight back for his own happiness? And how will Haruhi feel about all of this, and what will she say and do?

Ah, at last there are some signs of movement in the whole romance aspect. The entire Host Club has known that Tamaki's feelings for Haruhi are anything other than fatherly almost right from the beginning, but he concealed it under his usual feckless mask and devil-may-care arrogance. Even Haruhi was fooled, but none of the other boys/men were.

And now it's shaping up into a love triangle. Tamaki is becoming aware of his true feelings, and Haruki wants Harushi as well. But given that Tamaki feels that he is the father "head" of the family, I can forsee him stepping aside for Haruki, who is his friend, no matter how much he loves Haruhi. But how long before his true feelings really emerge, and what sort of fallout will that create in the club. For that matter, how will the female clients of the club react to learning that Haruhi is a woman who merely likes to wear male uniforms?

This is a pretty fluffy series, but I find myself still enjoying it, while I can't stand to pick up another volume of Kakuri Odette, another fluffy series. This one continues to hold my interest. Recommended.

XXXHolic Volume 14 by Clamp

Watanuke Kimihiro is teaching the child seer, Kohane, how to cook at the house of the elderly seer who is taking care of her. The Elderly seer tells Watanuke how much he has changed since she first came to know him, and he is rather gratified at the thought. She also tells him that Yuko has changed as well, from the day she met him.

As Watanuki and the old lady speak, Domeki goes with Kohane to find drinking glasses for the sake he brought to the party. She tells Domeki that when she first met he and Watanuki, that they didn't seem to get along, and now they are almost friendly. How did that happen? Domeki tells her he saw Watanuki standing in the rain one day without an umbrella, wondering if he was going to die alone, just like his parents.

Kohane tells Domeki she understands. She thought she and Watanuki were alike, but Kimihiro Watanuki has friends, and people who look after him. Domeki tells her he is here for her as well. Kohane also knows that Domeki is keeping something for Watanuki, and she asks Domeki to take care of him. Domeki agrees.

After they leave Watanuki tells Domeki that once upon a time, he wondered if he was going to die alone like his parents, parents he cannot even remember, but now, he doesn't care if he remembers. He wants to stay around. Domeki looks at him, stunned, and asks if he is going to change his mind about this, but Watanuki says he won't.

Back at Yuko's shop, a woman comes in one day and asks for cooking lessons. Yuko says there will be a price, and the woman agrees to pay it. And then assigns Watanuki to teach her. He's a little put down at this, but they point out that he has already taught Kohane to cook so wonderfully that he cannot help but agree. That night, he dreams of Domeki's grandfather, who also says that Watanuki has grown and moved forward, making friends and wanting to stay, and that this, for him, is a good thing.

They also discuss Domeki, and Haruka says that Domeki doesn't eat something unless he can understand it, and that when Domeki was younger, he took Domeki to very good places to eat- only the best. So it's not like he's picky, he has very good taste.

When Watanuki goes to teach the woman cooking, she is very good, but when Watanuki brings the food to school that she made, Domeki tastes it, and he doesn't eat any more. He asks if Watanuki's student made the food, and Watanuki confirms it. But Domeki doesn't eat any but that one piece.

Later, Watanuki serves it to Yuko and asks her opinion of the food. She says it is fine, and he explains the problem with Domeki and the food. She says that the problem with the food may not be the ingredients, but other things it is missing. This seems strange to Watanuki, but he gets into an argument with Mokona and the moment is lost. The next day, he teaches the woman to make egg rolls, sweet potato egg rolls, and they come out beautifully.

He asks her why she wants to learn to cook, and she tells him she is getting married, and he congratulates her. He offers to let her taste test the food, but she won't. She says it is sickening to eat the food you cook yourself. Watanuki asks Domeki about it later, and about his reaction to the food he tasted that this woman cooked, and he says it had no flavor of the woman who made it.

Body memory- even if you are making a basic recipe, the way you cook it says things about you. Domeki felt nothing from the woman, not even emotion. Later, when Watanuki goes back to the woman, he asks her about it, and she tells him that she feels that she is disgusting- so that eating her own food, knowing that she has touched it, would be even more disgusting.

He asks her about her marriage, but it turns out to be an Omai marriage, and she has only met him three times, so she doesn't really know him at all. If she doesn't know, she can ignore it.

Meanwhile, Yuko meditates on the meaning of Watanuki's existence, and the choices that he has made, while preparing her shop for some kind of ending. The spirits of Maru and Moru find out things that they have not known before, about Watanuki, Syaoran and the link between them, and about Watanuki's parents, who may not be dead after all...

Well, this book reveals quite a lot about Watanuki, both the meaning of his names, first and last, and who he really is- and more importantly, why he is, and why he can't remember anything about his life. It's actually a little strange, that while his life is linked to Syaoran, their differences seem to have come about to both protect Watanuki, and from the choices each has made.

I really liked this volume, and this series. It has grown tremendously from where it was when I first read it, to where it is now, and so has Kimihiro Watanuki. Events are being foretold in this book, and I do hope they come to pass soon, but at the same time, I don't want this story to end. I fear for what might become of Watanuki. Will he fade away, or be joined with Syaoran somehow? It's hard to tell.

I will warn you right now... don't look up the wikipedia article on the series unless you want the ending to be spoiled. But there are only 17 volumes in the series, and Watanuki has a lot of growing up to do. I can only hope they come out quickly. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Amanda Devereaux is tired of her family. Though she grew up in the French Quarter and loves them tremendously, she wants a quiet existence, and they drive away all the men she is interested. You see, most of her family are witches, and her twin, Tabitha, is a vampire hunter. They don't have to do anything weird to drive men away from her- all they have to do is be themselves.

Her family, of course, simply maintains that the men she is dating are all boring stick-in-the-muds, and she should try going for a man that's more exciting and a bit more accepting. This is cold comfort to Amanda, who just lost her boyfriend, Chase, and is mighty steamed over it. But when her sister, Tabitha, asks Amanda to go to her house and let her dog, Terminator, out, she agrees.

Unfortunately, that's not all that's in Tabitha's house that night, and Amanda, who is knocked out, wakes up to find herself handcuffed to a tall, ripped hunk that makes her have second thoughts about having said goodbye to her latest boyfriend. But in short order, this man reveals to her that he is a vampire, and that the people who kidnapped her were probably intending to go after Tabitha instead. However, because the handcuffs on them were made by Hephaestus, they can only be removed by him or another Greek God.

Desiderius, the man who has kidnapped them and handcuffed them together, tells them that he plans to hunt them, and with the two of them unable to be parted, and Tabitha hating vampires (because that's who Desiderius thinks Amanda is), he is sure the two of them will fall to bickering and it will be easy to capture them. But Amanda isn't her sister, and as she finds out more about the man she is chained to, Kyrian, she discovers that her sister's stories of Dark Hunters are real after all.

When they are released, it is daylight, and Kyrian must call a friend of his, Tate, to get them out of the construction area they are in and to the hospital, where they find out that he wasn't lying about the handcuffs. Amanda, on the other hand, knows someone who knows someone who might be able to get them off, and takes Kyrian to see her friend, Grace, and her husband, Julian, who she rescued from imprisonment in a book, where he had been imprisoned for two thousand years. Now, Aphrodite and her husband, Hephaestus are her children's grandparents and though they cannot be around Kyrian, Aphrodite frees them from the cuffs for Amanda's sake.

Amanda has already realized that Kyrian isn't the gruff, nasty warrior he pretends to be, and she's definitely attracted to him physically, but his attitude can still be sort of offputting. But Kyrian and Julian know each other well, and she and Grace listen in on their conversation on the baby monitor, allowing Amanda to learn more about Kyrian's past. She also sees how deeply he cares for Grace's daughter, and while he leaves her there to try and take care of some demon-hunting, she stays the night, and in the morning, finds that Kyrian has sent all of them presents- lovely, thoughtful presents. And she's spent the night mining Julian for all the information she can find out about Dark Hunters, Daimonites, Apollites, and Kyrian's life.

The next day, Kyrian finds he can't stop thinking about Amanda, so he picks her up after work and decides to drive her home, completely confounding Chase, her ex, who has been telling people at work that Amanda went into a funk after what happened at her family's home. But as he is driving her home, she discovers that someone has burned down her house. And not only hers, but Tabitha's too. Kyrian helps her find whether her sister is okay, and takes her into his home so that she will remain safe, where she meets his housekeeper, and his Squire, Nick Gaultier.

After she moves in with him, she gets plenty of more evidence of how loving his heart really is. Nick, he rescued from a bad situation, and he mothers his housekeeper like a mother hen. She shares a dream, more like a nightmare, with him about how his wife sold him out to his enemies, and the month of torture he underwent as his Roman enemy tried to find out where his army and men were. She wakes and runs to find him, and they become lovers. However, doing so wipes him of his Dark Hunter powers- just when he needs them most to fight Desiderius, who is even more powerful than the Dark Hunters themselves.

Worse, Desiderius can only be killed by a Dark-Hunter with a soul, but that's impossible because no Dark Hunters have souls. They are held by Artemis, and the only way to get them back is for a woman of a pure heart to fall in love with the Dark Hunter, drain his powers, stop his heart, and release his soul back into his body- at which point, he would merely be human again. But is this the reason that Kyrian has fallen for Amanda and she for him? Is she pure-hearted enough to free his soul and not betray him into shadehood? And can Amanda find it within herself to give the man she loves his soul back, even if it means killing him to do so?

This was the first Dark Hunter book, and in many ways, it's the best. An ancient man, a human woman who meet, fall in love, fight Daimons together, and end up happily ever after. No spirits, no female demons, no half-gods with little connection to humanity. This is the best part of the original stories. Yes, Kyrian has a sad backstory, but it hasn't yet been Flanderized to "hated by everyone, friend to nobody, smacked, spat on and urinated on by everyone" kind of stories we've been getting lately.

I appreciate that Sherrilyn Kenyon has to make her heroes Dark Hunters for a reason, and that most of them didn't exactly live wonderful lives, but after a certain point, it's like torture porn. And I like having one of the heroes/heroines be human- it grounds the story in reality and makes it easier to identify with the character. I understand being human. What do I know about being a half-god or goddess? It's one (or more) steps removed from reality and thus, less understandable to the reader. Grounding a story in human perceptions makes the story more thrilling, for me.

I enjoyed reading this "back to the beginning" story all the more because lately, all the characters have been getting more and more out there. I suppose it's because there have been so many, and otherwise the stories would get too samey. But on the other hand, perhaps Ms. Kenyon needs to take a break and rediscover what made her original stories so good and the newer ones so... well, blah. They're not really bad, it's just... not the same, and not as good. Highly recommended. Read it and see what made the great series great originally.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Time Raiders: The Avenger by P.C. Cast

Alexandra Patton has always been able to see ghosts, but never realized that not everyone could see them- until she was six, and the cops came to ask her about her missing next door neighbor and fellow classmate. She led them right to the body with a smile, not realizing that she shouldn't have known her classmate was dead or where his body was, and earned the distaste and distrust of her own family who saw her as a freak for what she could do.

To escape, she joined the military, but the freedom to get away from those who knew her secret lost its polish when she realized just how much she hated taking orders. And the military- especially the air force, is all about taking orders. As soon as she could, she started taking courses in biology, and when she came to the end of her enlistment, she didn't re-up but took a job as a wilderness guide on the Tallgrass Prairie in Oklahoma.

Before she left the military, she made a friend named Tessa, and heard about a project to go back in time. But Alex viewed it as all just hogwash and dreams. She certainly doesn't want to get drawn into it or hear about it, so when Tessa gives her a call, she's glad to hear from her friend, but she doesn't want to hear about the Time Raiders project or how they need her skills. Not even when the doctor in charge pleads with Alex.

But two disturbing dreams send her to the Time Raider's base, where they tell her that the man calling out to her in her dreams is tied into her soul, and show her a blue almost S-shaped symbol from the man in her dream. They tell her that they are trying to reconstruct an amulet wanted by an alien race named the Centaurians, and that two pieces are in the past. She wants to see Tessa while she is at the base, but Tessa isn't there, she's returned to the time she was sent to- and the alien man she fell in love with. Not only is she in love, but she is pregnant.

Alex is sent to a time in the past when Queen Boudica ruled over the Iceni tribe. Alex will be passing herself off as a priestess from the Isle of Mona, which was burned by Suetonius, rescued by the Goddess Andraste. Not only will Alex appear in front of Boudica and her warriors, but she will have a rabbit, which is sacred to Andraste, and the rabbit will lead Boudica and her warriors to Londinium, where they will triumph over the Romans. A computer chip inserted into her head will enable her to understand and to speak in ancient Celtic.

So Alex jumps into the past, and does her part, and right away runs into trouble- for she isn't the only survivor of Mona. A druid named Caradoc also survived, and Alex knows she is sunk, but a female ghost standing by helps her out, telling her what to say to make Caradoc support her. But he knows she lies about being at Mona, and is curious about why she is telling these tales. His mother, the ghost who helped her. has prevailed on him enough that he wants to question her, and he calls her a Soul Speaker- one who can talk to the dead.

But if she truly is a Soul Speaker, she is horribly behind in her training. She doesn't know how to call the dead, nor how to reconnect her body to life after doing a summoning or blessing. The Druid, Caradoc, finds her beautiful and powerful, and his mother is vouching for her, and his mother used to be High Priestess of Andraste. So instead of denouncing her, he works with her and attempts to teach her how to master her abilities.

It conspires that Alex, or Blonwen as she is known in the past, is tied to the element of earth, while Caradoc is more strongly tied to water, and the God Condatus. But he is still grieving for his friends and colleagues who died at Mona- friends and colleagues who sacrificed themselves for him, because he is a Prince and next in line to inherit the mantle of Chieftain of the Iceni tribe should Boudica die in battle. Alex attempts to give him comfort, comfort that turns into a kiss, until Caradoc lashes out at her, whereupon she withdraws, and he's ashamed of what he's done.

But he hasn't completely ruined his chances with her, because she's seen what he experienced in a dream, and she sympathizes with him. This brings them closer yet. And after Boudica's army fights, Alex must help comfort the wounded and call the goddess to let them pass on to the afterlife. When she is done, she goes into the woods to bathe, where Caradoc finds her. He commends her for knowing something of how to refresh and ground her soul. But he completes it by giving her mead to drink and stew to eat. She shares some of the truth with him, having told him she wouldn't lie to him, but couldn't share everything she knows.

But when she attempts to summon the soul of Catus without being adequately prepared, she is overwhelmed by the number of souls who have it in for Catus. Catus is the Roman merchant who had Boudica whipped, and her daughters raped and beaten. He also stole part of the amulet- the rest is on the Torc around Boudica's neck. But the appearance of so many angry ghosts breaks her spirit and she seeks shelter with Andraste.

Caradoc, on his return from speaking with Boudica, finds Blonwen/Alex collapsed, her spirit shattered. To save her, he must enter the realm of Andraste and retrieve the shattered parts of her spirit, tying them together, and meets three very different parts of her. But thanks to the incident, she does learn that Catus survived the fall of Londinium and fled the city, leaving his servant to die in his place. But the piece of the amulet has fallen into the hands of Suetonius, who is a Centaurian, and knows that the Amulet can defeat his people. Can Alex and Caradoc get the amulet piece back from the "Roman" General when Boudica is defeated, and will Caradoc stay with Alex when she goes home to her own time, or will he stay to be the leader of his people after Boudica is dead?

I happened upon this series by accident, but if this book is any indication. I would love to read the rest. This wasn't the first book in the series, but based on what I read, I would definitely enjoy reading the others. I didn't know the whole story of the Centaurians or why they were going to destroy or conquer the earth and how the amulet would prevent it- but it didn't really matter.

Because this is really a love story, and about a woman growing out of being frightened of her own abilities and into being able to accept herself as she is, with the love of a good man. But Caradoc isn't presented as being some angelic being who remakes Alexandra into a whole woman, but a flawed man who is helped by her as much as he helps her.

I loved the historical underpinnings of the book. Most readers will be familliar with Boudica, and perhaps why she rode for revenge against the Romans, but she's no icon- she's a strong human woman, concerned for her daughters and the trauma they suffered during their rape at the hands of Catus' men. And they do figure fairly prominently in the story. Often, Alex and Caradoc are asked to watch over them and keep them safe when Boudica is off fighting battles. And the younger no longer believes in the Goddess, due to what she suffered- Alex is primary in bringing back her faith.

I loved this book, enough to want to seek out and read the rest of the series, which are not all by P.C. Cast. I've always loved P.C. Cast's writing, and this is just more of it. There is less laughter in this than in her "Goddess" series, but it's still a good, solid book, and I do recommend it highly.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Green Witch by Alice Hoffman

Green is a girl who lives in loss. Her parents were farmers and would travel to the city with their produce, selling it at the market. She had wanted to go to the city to help them, but on that particular day, they decided to take her sister instead, and Green had a temper tantrum because of it and stayed home to sulk. But on that day, the city was attacked and destroyed by the Horde, people who believed that the technology and wonders of the city was wrong and evil.

Grieving, Green survived the aftermath of the attack, growing roses around her cottage, red roses to remind her of the love of her family and their loss. They grow so splendidly and quickly that every day, she has to cut back the roses or her cottage will disappear beneath them. Then, she met a young man named Diamond, and grew to love him, and he, her. But he left to look for his family, and never returned.

Having experienced so much loss in her life, Green became a chronicler. All of the books from before were destroyed in the attack, their pages burned, or the ink sliding off them to deny the learning they had once held to the survivors of the city's destruction.. Green first tattooed stories onto her own skin, and when that space ran out, she made her own paper and her own books. People seemed drawn to her to tell her their stories and of the things they had lost, and she wrote them down and kept them.

But from these people, she learned of people they call witches, or the Enchanted. They believe Green is one of them, and perhaps she is, because she keeps hope and stories alive when all other stories have gone. But when she is approached by the young man known as the Finder, because he can find parts for anything to keep them going. But there is one thing he can't find, his sister, Heather Jones. He wants... he needs Green's help, and to do that, she will have to seek out the other Enchanted, one by one, and learn their stories and the lessons they can teach her.

To assist her, he has rebuilt a typewriter for her, and put on straps so that she can carry it. Troy, the finder, is seeking a Witch who can make dreams come true, but can Green find her amongst the Enchanted she hasn't already met? And can Green and her dog, Onion, find out where Heather is, and block a plot by the Horde to destroy her village, because they haven't lost hope and are trying to rebuild? Can she find the man she loves, and build a place for both of them? Can she save her world?

This book, though small, is an absolute gem. It's the sequel to another Alice Hoffman book called Green Angel, which I have never read. Green's story is both mundane (the witches tell their stories, but none of them think they are witches or have any kind of powers), and yet, learns something from each woman and is given a gift- a gift that will aid her in her quest further down the road.

I loved this book, each word is so carefully chosen and evokes a picture in your mind. Green is looking for a witch who can make dreams come true, but in reality, she was that witch all along. It's a useful lesson, that we alone can make our dreams come true- no one else can fight for them and make them happen, and yet, the way the story is told is so lyrical and poetical that you sort of lose yourself in the flow of the words and the images they evoke in your mind.

This is one of the best books, if not the best book I have ever read for evoking a place and making you feel like you were there. The words just flow and carry you along almost without effort, like the book is a mother and you are a baby being rocked in its arms. It's incredible, and I loved it. Highly recommended. You must read this book.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Children of the Sea, Volume 1 by Daisuke Igarashi

Ruka is a young girl unliked by many of her classmates, but she finds freedom in playing soccer on the field. When a classmate angers her, however, Ruka body-checks her so hard that the girl has to go to the hospital with a broken nose. That's enough for the teacher, who throws her off the team. Ruka doesn't tell her mother what's happened, and instead, using money her mother gave her for new sneakers, takes a train to Tokyo to go to the Beach.

But she wanders Tokyo with no clear idea of where to go, she finally ends up at a bridge as the night falls, and meets a young boy who leaps into the water from the bridge. He's not harmed by the fall, and introduces himself as Umi.

Back at home, with nowhere else to go on summer vacation, Ruka goes to the aquarium to meet with her father, and finds that Umi hangs out there, too. Umi seems to like her, and he tells her that she smells right, like she belives the same things that he and his friend Sora do. He and Sora are Children of the Sea, discovered swimming with Dugongs (Manatees) as babies.

And Ruka has a strange tale of her own to tell, for when she was young, she saw a ghost at the aquarium, a strange light in one of the fish tanks. She never knew what it was, but it has always haunted her, and the fish she was watching disappeared. Umi seems pleased that she reveals this to him, and takes her to see a comet/falling star passing overhead at the beach.

Obviously, Umi and his friend/brother are not normal. Having been raised in the sea, they are particularly well-adapted to iiving life in the water- they seem unable to drown, or they can hold their breath for phenomenally long times, and they have to keep their skins moist- either by being in water, or wearing a water-soaked sheet around and over their bodies. Ruka likes Umi, but his brother Sora is much more prickly and seems to enjoy being annoying to her- something Ruka doesn't appreciate.

Still, with no soccer practice over the long school break, she asks for a summer job with the aquarium, and is put under the charge of Jim, one of the scientists there. Jim travelled to many isles in the South Pacific, and got tattoos from the many peoples he met there, leaving him looking like a very old-time sailor, or maybe a Maori.

But there is a mystery brewing out at sea- and in the aquariums around the globe. Species of fish are disappearing for what seems like no reason- one day they are there, and the next day, they are simply gone. Not dead, not eaten. Gone. And the scientists have no explanation for why it is happening. Later, when Ruka and the brothers get stranded out at sea after stealing the aquarium's boat, they meet a massive shark with star-like markings on its body that leaves a trail of stars in its wake. Umi tells Ruka about the fish disappearing, and that there are others like he and his brother, and they, too, have disappeared. Umi and Sora are also expected to disappear, but like the fish, nobody knows where they will disappear to.

And a few days later, Sora is gone. Simply gone. It seems he may have disappeared first because he was the more closely adapted to the water than Umi, who had greater success in living on the land. And one scientist working at the Aquarium looks up the species of fish that are disappearing. All of them have star-like markings on a darker background. What exactly is going on?

This is an unusual manga series to make it to America. Unlike many of the Japanese manga already published here, which are Shoujo or Shonen, and meant for young adults, this is Seinen manga, meant for adults. Ruka is very unlike your typical Shoujo or Shonen heroine, being cranky, rude, and occasionally violent- and not played in a cute way or for laughs. She's an outcast from school, not having any friends, and no matter where she goes, people are talking about her in a disapproving way. Umi and Sora are also outcasts- but in a different way, having been found living in the oceans with Manatees, a normal life simply isn't possible for them. They are studied, almost like different forms of life. They don't go to school and live and hang out at the Aquarium.

One thing that puzzled me was why Umi and Sora were called brothers. Okay, they were found together, but Umi is quite definitely black, with dark skin and hair, and Sora is extremely white and pale, even his hair is white/blonde as depicted in the manga. My only thought was that they self-identified as brothers, and this was accepted by everyone around them. Certainly, they have many of the same needs relating to water and the sea. They are also unusually knowledgeable and prescient about the ocean and what is happening there. More so than any children their age could be.

The ocean has played various roles in all sorts of stories, from a frightening devourer that sucks down men and ships and doesn't spit them up again, to a healing, calming, nurturing force that feeds us- even both (witness Greek Poseidon, ruler of the sea, who fed people, but when angered was capable of causing great catastrophes and hardship). But in this story, the sea is linked with another great void- space. Can it be any coincidence that the fish that are disappearing so suddenly all have star-like markings? The story explicitly ties the two together with a mantra repeated throughout the story, linking sea and sky.

This is not like any other manga you will read on the market today, with the possible exception of "20th Century Boys", another seinen manga. The kids here have no special powers, aren't cute or chibified of have funny and cute animal sidekicks. This is a story explicitly tied to the real world, and creates a spooky, effective atmosphere. I found it different, and very enjoyable, and I hope that more Seinen and Josei (the female adult equivalent) are published here in America. Spooky and well-done, and Highly recommended.

Violet Eyes by Debbie Vigué

Violet is a solid and steady farm girl who is afraid for her mother, who has been steadily coughing more and more. Her mother insists nothing is wrong, but Violet isn't quite sure she believes her.

But when she and her father find a bedraggled young man and an expensive horse in the middle of the road, nothing will do but they take the young man back to their home, as he has sustained a hard knock on the head, and will probably be sick after lying out all night in the rain. They take him for a noble, but it's more than they realize- he is actually Richard, Prince of the land.

He hasn't been around because his parents sent him on a trip around the kingdoms looking for a bride. They told him he must marry a sensitive princess, and had him invite all the princesses back to the Kingdom for a series of tests to choose his bride. Richard thought this was ridiculous, but being a dutiful son, he did as his parents asked.

Confined in her house with Violet, though, he soon comes to notice her finer qualities- how beautiful she is, how intelligent, and how she speaks her mind and won't be condescended to- not even by the Prince. As for Violet, she finds Prince Richard is handsome and generally not stuck up, and when he kisses her before they part, the world moves for her.

But he has to get home for the contest and the choosing of his bride. He wants Violet to be his bride- and he intends to tell his parents so, even if they would never allow it. But as Violet's mother grows ever more ill, the family fears for her life- and she makes a stunning confession to Violet- Violet is not her daughter. She is actually a Princess, the Princess of Cambria, hidden with their family when the entire royal family was murdered by the army of Lore.

Richard's family were the highest nobles left in the land, and with the entire Royal family dead, or so it was believed, they took over the reins of power to keep the country running. Now, to claim her birthright, her parents send her to the castle to fight for the man she loves.

She arrives at night, in a rainstorm, soaked to the skin, and is accepted into the competition by no less than the King and Queen themselves. But the contest is outright strange- the King and Queen have her selecting silk threads from cotton, moving across the grass and expecting her to have bleeding wounds on her feet, and even stranger tests, but despite the help of Richard, and a girl named Genevieve, another one of the Princesses at the castle, Violet is kept on tenterhooks as to whether she can pass the crazy tests and win Richard and the approval of his parents. But with the Princess of Lore standing in her way and declaring that *she* alone will win Richard, is Violet up to the challenges that stand in her way?

This book is a retelling of the Princess and the Pea, and the author has had to work hard to make the story make sense, because wanting a princess so very fragile that she gets cuts on the bottoms of her feet just from walking on the grass is simply absurd- how could such a princess be strong enough to carry an heir successfully to term, or for that matter, survive the marriage bed?

Vigué turns this idea neatly on its head by having the whole thing be a sham- tests hiding the *real* tests that the King and Queen are giving the Princesses, ones that determine what they truly want and need in the Princess of Cambria and the future ruler of the throne. Violet is very strongly drawn, and even with the tests, you can see her strengths in how she stands by the people she likes, loves and considers her friends, and how she makes friends easily. And quick-witted, too.

I enjoyed the book a lot, and the updating of the story with the "Explanations" of why these tests were happening made them seem real and not trite or hackneyed. I found myself really enjoying this book, and wanting to read the others as well, but sadly, my library doesn't have them. Recommended.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Manor of Death by Bernard Knight

Sir John de Wolfe is the Coroner for Exeter, but he also takes care of the lands around Exeter. So when he is summoned to the sight of a body found in Axmouth, he goes, even if it is a long ride. The body is that of a young man, buried along the shore. The first finder is the local priest, and Luke de Casewold, the Keeper of the Peace for the area, is convinced that the young man's death was murder.

John may not like de Casewold, but he can't fault his conclusions. And it seems that the young man couldn't merely be a dead body washed up on the shore, as it was buried, and the land he was found on belongs to the Priory of Loders. The first finder was a priest who had gone out to bury his dead dog. He is priest of a different church, but he doesn't recognize the lad. Only later do they find out that the deceased is named Simon Makerel, the son of a widow named Edith. She tells them that he had a job on the trading cog Tiger, and that he had been deeply troubled recently after a voyage he'd returned from, enough that he had gone to church to confess and was going to speak to the bailiff.

But someone apparently didn't want him to speak- because he was strangled and dumped in a grave. The question is, what did the boy see and what were his murderer or murderers hiding? Luke de Casewold is convinced it has something to do with smuggling and the tales of piracy plaguing the Channel between England and France. He suspects the local merchants of doing the smuggling, but can't figure out how exactly they are doing it- even though the portreeve can't read or write, he's figured out his own method of keeping tallies of what comes in to Axmouth, and needless to say, he doesn't take kindly to suggestions that he may not be completely honest.

But something is definitely going out in Axmouth. Later, Sir John is called out to another dead body, that of a Peddler found slain in the middle of the road. This one, at least, is well-known in the area, and he was harmless. So who would slay someone like that?

While investigating the death, they come on an attack against a party of churchmen, and the stonemason who travels with them. John and his henchman, Gwyn, leap into battle and save the last remaining churchman and the stonemason, who is injured. John takes him home to Exeter, where he asks his mistress, Nesta, who is the owner of the tavern known as the Bush, to care for the injured man.

However, he soon finds that Nesta is drawn to the man, who hails from the same part of Wales that she does, and John feels he has erred in lodging the man with her. At the same time, his homefront is much disrupted, for his wife, Matilde, in a deep funk, has taken herself to the Nunnery of Posloe, with the intention of becoming a nun. He's sure she will soon be home- she loves her food and her comfort, and she has run away to the nunnery before, but soon returned home. This time, however, she doesn't seem to be coming back, and she won't even speak to him.

It appears that her brother's misdeeds, and her reaction to them, has finally caught up to her. She is in a deep despair, and is worried for her soul. John's servant, the kitchenmaid Mary, is worried for the state of the household, and what will happen to her without Matilde around. John maintains that soon Matilda will return, getting tired of living in such austere conditions.

And things continue to go downhill. Luke de Casewold is killed in the middle of the night, and John must make a visit to France to see the Chief Justicar of the Nation. While he is there, he meets King Richard, who is fighting a war in the south of France, and hearing the situation in Exeter and what John has been doing, makes him the King's Crowner in London- as soon as he finishes his current case.

Now John is concerned for how his life will go after he moves to London. Mary is even more concerned for what will happen to her- but John reassures her he will take her with him. He tries again to contact his wife, but she once again refuses to see him- even when he has the Prioress tells her about John's new posting to London.

John must work with the Sherrif, Henry de Furnellis, to bring the case to a close and to catch those responsible for smuggling, piracy and murder. But can he do it before he must go to London- and will his wife, or Nesta, be accompanying him? And what will he do if neither of them see fit to leave along with him?

I have a feeling a lot is going to change very soon for John, because my understanding of history is such that I know Richard doesn't live for very long after this period and history, and John may end up serving his brother, Prince John, also known as John Lackland, because he didn't inherit any land from their father. I have gotten the feeling that, like a lot of Knights who served under King Richard, he is not going to think John a fit King- or work well with him.

Richard might even consign John to some faraway place or post, or strip him of his post entirely. But suffice to say that changes are definitely in the offing, and I am at least interested in seeing what happens to John, and if his wife accompanies him to make his life interesting/miserable. What else will happen to him? Will he have the constraints of a wife without Matilde?

I enjoyed the mystery in this book, which was unusually knotty and convoluted. Several threads in the book are somewhat confusing, until the end when you finally understand what has been going on behind the scenes. This was a fitting send-off from Exeter for John, leaving just the right amount of hope and uncertainty for the future. Recommended.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Tapestry of Spells by Lynn Kurland

Sarah of Doíre is the daughter of a witch, and grew up with no powers whatsoever. Unluckily, her brother wasn't so fortunate, but his powers were paltry things- enough to get him laughed at, perhaps, while he taunted his sister for not having any powers at all. With the death of their mother, Sarah decided she wanted to get out of Doíre, and scrimped and saved nearly enough gold to do so, when her brother told her that he was off to destroy the world.

But when she decided to take her money and go, she found that her brother had taken it all, leaving her nearly penniless. With no other choice, and realizing her brother needs to be stopped, she has little choice but to turn to the great mage, the wizened old man who lives on the mountain.

That mage's name is Ruith, and he is neither wizened nor old, but he hides himself because of a great tragedy that occurred when he was young. His father, the mage known as Gair, opened a great well of evil, just to prove he could. He claimed to want to cap it again immediately after, but the evil magic overwhelmed him, destroying Gair, his sons, and his daughter Morghainn. Ruith, one of Gair's sons, was the only one to survive, and he wished to put all memory of it from his mind. So, he buried his magic deep and lives among spells of illusion and cloaking to hide from the world and from other mages.

When Sarah shows up at his home, his first thought is to refuse her- and so he does. She goes off in high dudgeon to try and stop her brother Daniel herself, but is completely unprepared for doing so, and Ruith, who feels badly about the way he's treated her, but can't admit it, even to himself, so instead he decides to accompany her to the nearest town, attracted to her, but afraid of her reaction should be tell her who he really is.

But when they get to town, both of them discover that Daniel has uncovered part of one of his father's spells from his spellbook, and even that part-spell is dangerous. Daniel has been using it to try and steal the magic and power of other mages, starting with a man named Oban. But while the spell is dangerous, it is incomplete, and Daniel only succeeded in stealing the man's voice.

But Ruith is frightened by what such a bad mage is capable with with only part of one of his father's spells, and although he doesn't want anything to do with Sarah or Daniel, he also can't let his father's spells and spellbook fall into the hands of true evil mages, many of whom would kill, maim or destroy the world to get the spells in his father's book. And Daniel is not the only one who has found a page from his father's spellbook.

So he is stuck with a group of damaged mages on a quest to find Daniel and regain the spells from his father's spellbook. But how can he do that without revealing who he is and alienating Sarah, who he has come to care for, forever?

I found this an interesting book, as I have read the other books in the Nine Kingdoms series before. But I have to admit, I was rather taken aback to realize that the main character was part of the same family as Morghainn. I didn't really have a problem with that exactly, nor that this book is a prequel (as far as I could tell) to the first three books, but it's going to seem ridiculous and overdone if every single member of the family somehow survived and the others never knew- Morghainn had an excuse- her memory got wiped. But it's going to seem less plausible if every single one of her brothers survived the same cataclysm that supposedly wiped out the family.

I did like Sarah, I found her a character who is almost too good to be believed at the beginning, but as time went on, I found I liked her a lot. There was a genuineness in the way that she and Ruith interacted, and I ould definitely feel when she was falling for him. His reaction was more told than shown, but it made me believe it as well.

I liked this book, but I hope that further books about the Nine Kingdoms after this one don't involve the rest of Ruith and Morghainn's brothers (hint, hint... okay, I am begging here!) as I could easily find myself getting tired of that background/plotline. Recommended.

Captain America: Road to Reborn by Various

Steve Rogers is dead. He died when he surrendered to pro-registration forces, intending to take his case to the courts. But someone assassinated the hero on the steps of the courthouse, murdering him in cold blood. Tony Stark, now head of S.H.I.E.L.D., gave his indestructible shield to his former partner, Bucky Barnes, who survived the same explosion that had thrown Cap into the cold waters and sent him into suspended animation for years.

Brainwashed by the forces of the Soviet Union, Bucky had become "The Winter Soldier", his memory erased through hypnosis and drugs. But Cap, with the aid of the Cosmic Cube, restored Bucky's memories, and now Bucky, after atoning for the harm he'd done when he was brainwashed, has taken up the mantle of his longtime partner and friend.

"Daughter of Time" takes up the story of Sharon Carter, Cap's lover, the niece of the woman he dated during the war. Unbeknownst to her, she was his assassin, brainwashed into it by the Red Skull, an old foe of Cap's. But even though the mind control and brainwashing were broken, she has a hard time living with what she did.

She goes to see her aunt, who is going senile in a nursing home, and discovers, after a dinner with a neighbor, that she had been pregnant with Steve's child, and lost it, which throws her into a depression.

But her aunt may not be senile after all, because akthough she claims that Steve has been visiting her, the man who is visiting her bears a very strong resemblance to Steve Rogers. Actually, he's the ringer who replaced Steve Rogers after he disappeared in the Arctic, who idolized Captain America and endured countless surgeries and injections to not only look like his hero, but have the same appearance as him. He was put into suspended animation when he was no longer needed, but has since been freed and is trying to do the right thing.

Bucky Barnes is fighting a group of supposed Patriots called the Watchdogs. They, too, were big fans of Captain America, but they don't accept Bucky as anything close to the real thing, and oppose him because of that. And even though it's Bucky's birthday, he can't take it off... he has to spend it fighting, which brings back other memories of the war, when he enlisted at 14, and at 16, was finally sent to advanced Combat School.

Two years later, he and Cap were undercover in Germany, when an overeager member of the team inadvertantly rats them out to the Nazis, he spends his birthday fighting again. So today, can he have a birthday that's really a birthday?

Meanwhile, Sharon Carter is having strange visions and memories, and she thinks that the gun she used to kill Cap was not a normal gun. She remembers handing it off to someone and spends time tracking it down... to find out that she is remembering right- it isn't a normal gun. And she goes back to the Avengers, because there is a chance that Steve isn't really dead- and that he can be brought back.

And in the final story, Bucky recounts an untold story of the war, of Vampires infecting the Nazis and having to be fought, even ones like a little girl. What horrors did Cap and Bucky really face in the war?

Comics by Fred Hembeck and personal reminisces of writing and drawing Captain America are included by Joe Simon. Also included are other stories of events surrounding Captain America's death, from a sale of memorabilia of him to the tale of an alternate, female Bucky Barnes transported to our world, after her Cap died.

I was actually kind of annoyed by this book. Captain America didn't die all that long ago, and yet, here we are, getting ready to resurrect him. It's not that I have anything against Captain America, but death means far, far too little in comics. It's not even as if dying even means anything any more. Death has become a revolving door for comic book characters- they go through and always come back.

The only thing even "surprising" about Cap's death was that this time, his heart actually stopped beating. But even when I heard about it outside of the comics, I knew he'd come back. The only ones who really die are the small, minor characters that no one really cares about. The big ones will always come back. Always. No company is going to throw away a character that people really care about- the franchise is worth too much.

The consequence about all this death and resurrection in the comics is that death for characters have lost its meaning. Why care how anyone dies if you know that in 6 months, a year, two years, or whatever, that the character is going to be back because the company will not throw that character away, or the next creative team to work on that book, well, you know, they had IDEAS for that character?

It's gotten to the point where characters don't just have to die, because off-panel or offscreen death is as good as "never happened". It's an automatic out for anyone who wants to bring the character back- now it not only has to be in your face, but happen with actual blood and brains and gore, because otherwise, that death is too easy to weasel out of.

I have only one thing to say when it comes to comic character death- don't. It doesn't add anything to the story, and it actually demeans it, because the fans know by now that nobody really dies- just wait, and they'll be back. You may have to wait a long (relative) time, but unless they are a forgotten minor character, hero or villain, sure as shooting, they are coming around again. Death has become a joke. A positive joke, in comics- something it should never be. Death is too serious to be a joke. And with numerous resurrections and bringing back from the dead, being dead is like being sent to the bench in baseball. Sooner or later, they'll all be back in the game.

So, aside from my general anger and irritation with the whole subject of bringing Steve Rogers back, I found the comic interesting, but a bit uneven, with stuff by Hembeck stuck in there- but some of the stories, like the one with the Nazi Vampires, held my interest and were a pleasant change.

Would I recomment this book? My irritation with the death issue aside, yes, I would. It had some really interesting and effective stories and plot bits, and I even noticed that one of the characters in the book bore a great resemblance to Stan Lee. So, recommended.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon

The Deed of Paksenarrion, the prequel to this book, was a trilogy, the first one written by Elizabeth Moon. In it, Paksenarrion Dorthansdottir rides away from her sheepfarming family and the marriage that has been arranged for her to become a mercenary soldier in a company led by Duke Kieri Phelan of Tsaia. After training in the army and campaigning with him for three years, the Marshals of Gird choose Paks to be taken for training as a Paladin of Gird. But she was captured by cultists of Archyra, the Weaver of Webs, and forced to fight in their twisted arena.

By the time she was rescued, evil had found its way into her soul. It was burned out, but the damage that remained behind made her unfit for combat. Stricken with cowardice, she ran away and starved and froze for a year. Then, she returned to a village where she had been previously, and received healing for some of her wounds. The rest were cured with a season with the Rangers of Lyonya, a neighboring country that is partly or mostly elven. Afterwards, she returns to the nature-priest who healed her, and is granted Paladinship by all the Gods.

After taking care of some other problems, Paks is drawn to Lyonya, where the dying king asks her to find someone to rule after he dies. Some questioning reveals that there is an heir related to the crown, but this heir was attacked as a child with his mother and doesn't remember who he is. Some more questioning reveals that it is her old commander, Kieri Phelan. But with his heritage revealed, factions in Tsaian society don't want to see a strong King on the Lyonyan throne, and he is attacked as he rides to Lyonya with some of his men. Paks offers to trade her life and suffering for his own, and consents to be tortured for a day each for setting Phelan and his four companions free to ride to Lyonya.

Despite the best tortures the Priests of Liart can devise, Paks manages to survive being raped and tortured in various ways. The torture doesn't break her, but it does change her- she accepts the pain, but doesn't react to it except to forgive those who torture her and speak of the better virtues, and thereby changes the mind of many who would follow the evil of Liart. When the time is up, the Liart Priests would kill her, but most of her wounds are miraculously healed and she is protected from death thanks to the Gods. And thanks to Paks, Duke Kieri Artfiel Phelan makes it to Lyonya, where he will take the throne.

This book takes up shortly thereafter, but Paks is not the main character of the book. Instead, this book follows three people whose lives are most changed by Paks' deed.: Kieri Phelan, his former second-in-command Arcolin, and another of his officers, Dorrin Verrakai. Minor characters include Mikaeli Mahieran, the Prince of Tsaia and Stammel, one of the Sergeants of Arcolin's command.

To begin with, Kieri Phelan, although he was a Duke in Tsaia, must ease himself into the role of King of Lyonya. Lyonya has long been at peace, and much of the country belongs to the elves, whose ideas of the proper use of the land is quite different from humans. There are also a great number of half-blooded elf-human hybrids, most of whom believe the same as the elves. As Phelan does honor to the grave of the old King, and cautiously makes plans for his own coronation, he must learn to deal with a country which, to him, is woefully under-defended. He knows he has foes, and it is very possible that those foes will seek to make war with Lyonya because of a grudge against him.

But his council is used to dealing with an old and very cautious king, and even those on the council who are elves are somewhat taken aback at how much Kieri Phelan wants to change things and protect his Kingdom. With him came a cohort of his soldiers, but they will no longer belong to him- he cannot be a Duke of Tsaia and King of Lyonya, and he has nominated Arcolin to take over his lands and leadership of his mercenary company in his place- even to the point of naming Arcolin to replace him as Duke.

Arcolin, meanwhile, is stunned at the news that Kieri Phelan is the rightful King of Lyonya and absolutely flabbergasted at being considered to be Duke in Phelan's place. But he does have the leadership of the mercenary company, and while they can keep the company there over the winter, come spring, he is going to have to take a contract for the company to prevent them from starving and starving out the lands to feed them. He will also have to replace himself and some of the others of the company as leaders, and look for a contract or contracts for his men. As he does that, he must overcome his own feelings of inadequacy to lead and be a Duke.

As Arcolin, like Duke Phelan before him, leads his troops South for a contract, he returns to the same land where Phelan met and fought against Siniava, a southern warlord. Though Siniava was destroyed by Duke Phelan and other mercenary Captains after he went back on his word against them, the former Kingdom where he ruled is under inadequate leadership and is racked with bandits being supplied and weaponed by those out of Kingdom and carried in by merchants who have been threatened.

Arcolin finds one caravan carrying supplies for the bandits, but in the caravan is a man who used to be in Duke Phelan's company. In attempting to question him, he uses magery, paralyzing everyone and strangling Stammel, then turning on Arcolin. Arcolin is helpless, but Stammel revives and manages to kill the man, who, as it turns out, was possessed by a demon. The Demon seeks to take over Stammel, who must them fight against the creature who wishes to posses his body and take it over for its own.

Mikaeli Mahieran is shocked and angered that the Dukedom of Verrakai attacked and attempted to kill Kieri Phelan as he was riding to Lyonya. However, the Verrakai have more plans than just that, and massacre the Marshall of the Knights of the Bells as well as Duke Serrostin. They are only prevented from killing Mikaeli and one of his friends by the timely arrival of yet another friend, who kills the attackers. Mikaeli put the entire house of Verrakai under a bill of attainder. Everyone over the age of 10 is to be detained and thrown in jail for trials and questioning. However, instead of extirpating the House of Verrakai, he sends for Dorrin Verrakai, who fled her family's house and lands when she was still little more than a child, and invests the Dukedom in her, as she is the only Verrakai loyal to the throne, and also to Phelan, who Mikaeli trusts.

Dorrin is shocked that the Prince would do this. She had sworn never to return to her family lands, and as she is serving Duke- now King Phelan, she needs his leave to go, and he gives it. She had often dreamed of returning to her family's lands and making the family something to be proud of, but reality crowded out what she thought of as nothing more than a fantasy. She does, however, share her family's talent for what is known as "Marshal's Magery", although she can do no more than call light with it.

It is her deepest secret, and her deepest shame. When she was young and showed signs of inheriting the magery, her family made her kill a rabbit to show how her magery could grow more powerful when she caused something pain and death. But she was sickened by it, even though her family called her a weakling and coward, and they tried to force her to obey them with force, beatings and torture. She grew to hate her family and tried to flee them many times before she finally managed to escape, and found refuge in a grange of Falk, eventually becoming a knight of Falk.

But Dorrin feels that her mission against her family is hopeless unless she can protect herself and her troops from her family's magery. She asks Paks for help, but Paks isn't called to go with Dorrin. She is called to investigate the situation, and feels that Dorrin has greater magery that is blocked. Who, though, could have done it to her? With the aid of a Marshall of Falk, Paks frees Dorrin's magery. But whether through her own natural talent, the will of Falk or a combination of both, Dorrin proves to have more and greater Magery and talents than anyone in her entire family. With this, she can easily protect her troops and herself. And Prince Mikaeli gives her leave to use her talents, so long as she uses it to protect herself and her troops and find the members of her family who have gone to ground.

She sends her troops on ahead and stays with Paks so she can learn to use her new abilities, then moves off to catch up with her troops. Her homecoming is as she expected- her family calls her a coward and a traitor, and then attempts to kill her with their magic. but her own magery protects her, and she uses her magery to block their access to their own. But when she moves to strip them of their clothing so that she can ensure they have nothing poisoned to use on her men, her mother attempts to kill her with a poisoned hairpin. Once again, Dorrin's magery protects her and the pin strikes her mother instead, killing her quickly.

But deep in her family's house, there are worse horrors to be found- traps and tricks meant to kill, and a horrible legacy of evil, where the young of the family sacrifice their souls so that the adults can be moved into the vacant body. But there is no list of who is inhabiting these children, or where they are located now- only more questions, and more mysteries. But is she the one who will redeem her family name?

I loved Paks' story when I first read it twenty years ago. I was living in New York State then, and I still remember when and where I bought it. It was on a Wednesday, and I had gone into New York City for a NYSFS meeting. I was in Port Authority when I saw the book, Sheepfarmer's Daughter, and I knew I had to pick it up. It was in a little bookstore that closed a few years later (no surprise- few places in Port Authority seem to last for long), and I remember picking up "Divided Allegiance" there about a year later. It completely blew me away.

Reading this book, it was like no time had passed at all, and I was back in Paks' world again. This book series doesn't have her as a main character, though. She does appear a few times in the stories of Dorrin and Kieri Phelan. It was interesting to see how much Elizabeth Moon has grown as a writer, and to see Paks from the eyes of other people rather than being rather firmly stuck in her head.

The main story is how Paks literally changed the world when she went looking for the heir to the throne of Lyonya. The effect of what she did is rippling out from Lyonya and Tsaia, and changing everything it touches. To some, it will bring war, to others peace, or love, or belonging. It's changing everything, and I can't wait to see what happens. Reading this book, it's like no time at all has gone by. and I really enjoyed returning to the world I spend such wonderful time in twenty years ago. Elizabeth Moon's writing is better than it has ever been and even though it's a huge book, I didn't want to stop reading.

I absolutely loved this book, and I'm glad that this will also be a series. Elizabeth Moon's last fantasy trilogy gave us a character to remember, and later, her Herris Serrano and Kylara Vatta books gave us more. I'd like to see more characters of that caliber emerge from this new series, and certainly, Dorrin has that sort of potential. Highly recommended- but read the original trilogy first.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

Mercy Thompson is a Changer or Shapeshifter, a Coyote. Even though she lives among Werewolves, Vampires and Fae, she isn't really one of them, because unlike the Werewolves, she doesn't have to shift shape at the full moon, and when she does, it doesn't hurt her, like it takes the werewolves, nor does it take as long for her to change.

Mercy's friend Samuel is now living with her, and bids her farewell as she goes off for a date with Adsm. Adam has been making Mercy guess where he's taking her, and she has been bribing his daughter, Jesse, to find out. Jesse says her father said he was taking her bowling, but some intuition makes her dress dressy rather than Jeans and a clean T-shirt.

Which is a good intuition, because he takes her to a fairly classy restaurant before he takes her bowling. But something interferes with the pack bonds between her and Adam during her date, which tend to be a bit iffy anyway, so much that even after a big steak dinner, Mercy shifts to Coyote form to go hunting. She's so hungry that she's even forced to eat quail, something she hates to do, because quail look cute and funny. She resolves to get revenge on who pulled energy from her during the date- pack members can use each other's energy, and she is tied to Adam and his pack.

As soon as she gets back from her run and additional meal, she is distracted by a call about Samuel. Apparently, he tried to kill himself while she and Adam were out on their date. The other Weres managed to stop him from killing himself, but his wolf has taken him over to keep his human self from killing them. Mercy realizes that Samuel's farewell was because he was going to kill himself.

Samuel's father Bran, also known as the Marrok, the leader of the Werewolves of North America, knows that something is wrong with his son, and warns Mercy that if she cannot find something to bring Samuel out of his depression, that he will eventually go into a decline and end his life in a frenzy and attack everything and everyone he can reach- very dangerous because Samuel is a very old and powerful Werewolf and would need either Bran or Adam to stop- by killing Samuel. But Mercy assures Bran that Samuel is in good hands- and tells Adam she needs time so that she can try to help and cure Sam on her own.

Mercy doesn't want to lose Samuel, so she hopes that with Sam, his wolf, in charge, she can find something to keep his interest enough to keep him alive. She takes him home with her and the next morning, she feeds him a huge breakfast in his wolf form, and takes him to work with her.

She forgot that her employee Gabriel was bringing his sisters by to clean. One of the younger ones sees Sam and says, "Pony!" and starts climbing all over him. Mercy is apprehensive, because Sam is a wolf, but he's pretty tolerant, and doesn't seem to mind. She lets Gabriel's mother, Sylvia, know it is okay, but hides the fact that Sam is actually a werewolf from her.

She moves into the garage area to help Gabe and Zee, her former boss (actually the Fae Siebold Adelbertsmiter) work on Sylvia's car, which had been giving her and Gabe problems the previous day. Mercy hopes that between her and Zee, they can fix the thing, but Zee doesn't hold out much hope- it would be better to buy a new car, but neither Gabe nor Sylvia can afford to do so.

Then, one of Gabe's sisters comes in screaming about a man with a gun, and Mercy finds the famous bounty hunter Kelly Heart on her doorstep, pointing a gun at Sam. Mercy smacks the gun from his hand with a broom handle, then, when he grabs the Broom when she pokes at him with it, lets it go and kicks him down the front steps, knocking him on his assistant.

The police are called, and Kelly basically tells her that someone told his producer that there was a dangerous werewolf with a bounty on him, Adam Hauptman, in the area, and that the police asked for his help in taking him down. They told her that Adam could be found with Mercy. When Heart saw Sam, he assumed that he was Adam, which was why he pulled the gun.

The police, when they arrive, confirm that Adam is neither a wanted man, nor that they contacted Kelly Heart's Producer to ask for his help. But to make someone believe that something like that is possible, it would take someone with strong magic... like the fae. And Adam's wolves scent someone else was hiding with a gun- someone who smells strongly of magic, like the fae.

Then she gets a call from Zee's son, Tad, who is in college, saying he got a call from Phin, and he mentioned Mercy and a book. He's afraid for Phin, who he now can't seem to reach at all

Mercy holds something that belongs to the Fae, a book of "Faery Tales", but told from the Perspective of the Fae. She borrowed it from Phin, a part-fae who owns a bookstore. There is also a special silver-sheathed staff that has attatched itself to her, but since the fae have only started bothering her recently, she assumes that it is the book they are after.

She tries returning the book to Phin, but it seems he's not in his shop. There is a woman there, an older woman, who claims to be Phin's grandmother, but Mercy doesn't trust her- she senses something off about the woman, and being that she is Fae, she could be anyone. She goes to Phin's apartment, and he's not there, either, but a nosy Fae naighbor is, and again, Mercy isn't about to trust him. But where can she hide the book? It can't be with Adam- the Fae would think to look there. Instead, Mercy turns to the lover of her gay packmate Warren, hiding it in their house, wrapped in a towel, disguised to look like just another towel in a linen closet.

She waits a day and goes back to Phin's shop with Sam to try and figure out where Phin could be. The shop is trashed, the shelves pushed over and the books scattered, some ripped to shreds. Down in the basement is Phin's office, and it, too, is gone through. But while Mercy and Sam are sniffing out what really happened, a Fae comes in and attacks him. He knocks Mercy out, and when she comes around, Sam is eating part of the Fae, who he has killed, and snarls at Mercy, clearly not recognizing her and wanting to defend his kill.

Mercy's heart sinks- has Sam finally gone past the point of no return that Bran warned her of, and has to be killed? But no, Sam finally remembers her, and Mery is able to take him home... to find her house burnt to ashes. Adam's pack tells her he is in the hospital- he thought Mercy was in her home, and when he saw it on fire, he tried to save her. He's badly burned. Mercy rushes to the hospital and guilts Samuel into coming out to save Adam from his burns. But Samuel is still suicidal, and something must be done.

And she has to confess to Adam that she lied to him, and Sam was the reason why. One of the members of Adam's pack confesses that the Fae were the ones who burned down Mercy's home, and this same pack member has a grudge against Mercy- they wouldn't shed tears if Mercy were to die, because this person wants Adam to mate with a werewolf, not a lowly skinchanger. But this person didn't do it on their own- someone told them to, and there was definitely someone else set to watch over her, because Adam always assigns his people in pairs- one to watch, and one to watch the first person.

And Mercy knows she is right. Then, this person challenges Adam for the position of Alpha, and Mercy can only stand by him as he has to fight for his life. And the Fae still want the book- or something called the Silver Borne. And Samuel still wants to kill himself, thinking he has nothing to live for. Can Mercy make peace with the Fae or manage to deny them what they want, and survive at the same time? And while doing so can she save Adam and Samuel from their problems? And what will she do with her home gone? Can she rebuild again? And what is this thing the Fae want?

I brought this book home from the library and read it in only a few hours. It was amazingly good, and I loved reading about the Fae. Mercy believes that the Fae are scarier than Werewolves or Vampires, even though she fought a really bad vampire foe in her last book. And here I have to agree with her- Werewolves, Vampires, you pretty much know what drives them- and though they are individuals or blood lines, they are more alike than not.

Fae, though, are an entire group of peoples, each different, with different powers and wanting different things. And each kind of Fae is extremely different, with different attitudes to humanity and the others like Mercy. When you are facing a Fae, even if you know what kind of Fae they are (and that's difficult, because they are masters at changing face and form through the use of glamour), you can't necessarily know what they want or what motivates them, and many are so changeable that even their wants aren't always the same. Unpredictability is horrible in a foe or someone who wants you dead.

One of the things that is a little disconcerting about this book is how the separate plot threads don't always seem well-connected. But even if it is a storytelling sin to have such disparate plots, I found it a lot more lifelike to have lots of problems come on the protagonists at once- problems that aren't always related to each other, but which are problems nonetheless. I do think that the "answer" to the problems besetting Sam seemed to be imposed by authorial fiat in this book, but at the same time I do trust Patricia Briggs to take the high road and include more of those characters later, in another book- maybe another Mercy Thompson book, perhaps in a book series of their own, ala Charles and Anna of Alpha and Omega. It's not like they don't have a month in which Mercy was prisoner in the Fae Elphame to play with, and I do want to see the fallout that this instant romance had on Mercy- even if she's in love with Adam, this whole thing with Sam has to dig at her a little.

I enjoyed this book greatly. Yes, there were a few things that niggled at me, but I trust Patrica Briggs enough to fix those niggles in the right way in the next Mercy Thompson book or in another book that involves Sam and his new love. With what Patricia Briggs has done so far with her Fae characters, I'd like to see one as a protagonist. It would be an interesting viewpoint, to see the way that one Fae views the world. Highly recommended.