Saturday, December 31, 2011

Darkness Rising by Keri Arthur

At the end of "Darkness Unbound", Risa Jones suffered a horrible event, the death of someone she loved more than anyone or anything else in the world. As this book starts, she is still coming to terms with the event, even if it seems like she will never get over it. Once again, she is approached by Director Hunter of the Directorate, who still wants Risa to work for her because of Risa's special skills of traveling beyond the veil, as well as who her father is, because the Directorate also wants to find the keys to the gates of the afterlife that her father helped forge.

But this time, the offer is more quid pro quo. Join the special forces of the Directorate, and Madam Hunter will do everything she can to find the killer of the person Risa loved. And while Risa still isn't happy about working for the Directorate, for this particular consideration, she'll join with them- reluctantly, still, but she'll join.

The Director immediately sets out to give her a job. Someone has been killing the vampire members of the Directorate council. It's not another vampire, and the deaths seem almost suspiciously natural- only the fact that those killed were vampires makes their deaths anything *but* natural. The vampire who was killed also mentioned bad dreams getting worse, just before he died. Risa asks all the usual questions- are you sure it wasn't another vampire? Yes, because if another vampire could just kill him like that, he'd be qualified to take the place of the man who was killed, and nobody has stepped forward to do so. And as far as anyone knows, he hasn't seriously pissed off anyone lately.

Risa takes on the case with Azriel, who travels to the home of the purported next victim, who is already having bad dreams. She lives alone with her lover, who also acts as her servant and majordomo, but thanks to Azriel, she knows that the woman is already doomed to death- Risa can't save her. But Risa can find the connection between the two vampires, and find out who or what wants them dead and why.

Meanwhile, she is also trying to contact her dad again. While he's gone (in the sense of not having a body any longer, but his spirit/soul is somehow still around), she still has to find the keys, which are not only hidden from everyone, but him as well by his former servants, and he has no idea where his servants are, or where they might have hidden the keys he told them to hide. And with just about everyone wanting those keys, knowing both how important they are and the danger they pose to the world, looking for them, and even finding them, is by no means safe. And even just in Risa's life, there are three conflicting interests who want the keys: Azriel the Reaper, Director Hunter, and her father- all of whom want Risa to hand the keys over to them when and if she finds them. Who will Risa choose as the safest and best choice to own the keys? And what will the reactions of the other two be if and when she does find them?

And when Azriel takes steps to protect her by having her bind with an intelligent sword made by the Reapers to help protect and save her life from the danger she keeps flinging herself into, , will Risa survive the binding with a sword that has a mind of its own? And will the sword agree to be owned, or at least possessed by her, or will it take matters into its own hands (so to speak) by burning out her mind if it rejects her?

Wow, another good volume in this series. When I started reading this book, I kept smirking every time the Reaper character was mentioned, and then I figured out why- Axriel was also the name of Gargamel's cat in the Smurfs, which I watched when I was a kid. And every time his name was mentioned, I kept hearing Gargamel calling his cat in my mind, complete with the voice acting. It was rather distracting, but as I got further into the story, the more easily I could push that away and concentrate on what was happening. Though if you're old enough to remember the Smurfs cartoons, you might have that same memory, so it's just a warning.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Yes, Risa ends up working for the Directorate. Unlike Riley, who wanted to work as an agent, and not just a secretary, Risa has been told pretty much her whole life by both Riley and Rhoan *not* to work for the Directorate, and she doesn't really want to at all- she has her own life, and things she wants and needs to be doing, and the Director only wants her for her specific skill, but she'll do it because she has no choice. I also understand why Riley doesn't want Risa to work for the directorate- Hunter is far more manipulative than Riley's own former Boss, and I wouldn't trust her, either. It seems that the Directorate has become a far less nice place than when Riley worked there, and much more secretive and mysterious. Whether that's due to Hunter, or just the people she put in place is debatable, but the changes are there.

I also like the sexual tension between Risa and her current lover, Lucian, the outcast Aedh who was deprived of his wings (and how they were taken away sounds truly awful and horrendous),. and the sneaking sexual tension between her and Azriel, who seems to like her in more than just a comradely way, to the point where even she feels attracted to him, and how he seems to be coming more human, as well as making subtle jokes with her. I recall the same tension between Riley, Quinn, and her soul mate (who died on one of her cases, leaving her to be with Quinn, who she truly did love), and wonder if somewhere down the line, Lucian is going to be revealed as one of the Aedh who want the keys to screw with the gates in some sort of revenge for what the other Aedh did to him, and that he just became Risa's lover to keep an eye on her as well as giving him greater leverage in the event she finds the keys and having some kind of control on her because she fell in love with him or at least cares for him in a loverly way. (Not that I think that would work at this point in time, he's more of a fuck-buddy than an actual lover, she doesn't seem to hold feelings like that for him from what I read, at least not yet).

I enjoyed the book, and I really am getting more invested and interested in the series. I didn't feel as much for her as quickly as I did when I was reading about Riley, and it took me a while to adjust. But I do like the series, and I definitely want to read more. Again, I'm still not as invested in caring for Risa as for Riley, but I think as I read more about her, I will become so. It's a fairly fun series, as we are getting to see more supernaturals who aren't as well-known as the weres and vampires we met before. Recommended.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Sookie Stackhouse Companion by Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-town Southern girl living in Bon Temps, Louisiana. She and her brother, Jason, have lived there all their lives, but when a vampire named Bill Compton, who once lived in the town before the Civil War, returns to claim his old family house, Sookie, who has the unusual talent of reading minds, gets drawn into Bill's life, and vampire business and concerns as the Supernatural creatures who live in the area simply refuse to leave her alone.

In a short story called "Small Town Wedding", Sookie and her boss, Shifter Sam Merlotte travel to his home town of Wright, Texas, for the wedding of Sam's brother Eric to his love, Deidra. But the wedding has stirred up a lot of bad feeling in the town, not only from the Merlotte's next door neighbor, Jim Collins, but from a whole bunch of people who are upset about Shifters coming out and being accepted as citizens. Jim tries to intimidate the Merlottes and Sookie, but fails.

The next morning, she finds that he has set up a sign in the front yard, reading "Dogs belong in the Pound", and Sookie, knowing this means something bad, runs to the Pound to find all the dogs shot and slaughtered. This raises the attention and ire of the local shifters, and some not so local as well. When Sookie returns to the Merlotte's house, she takes action, removing the sign from the lawn and planting it on the lawn of Jim Collins, while yelling at him that he's nothing but a murderer. But he doesn't come out of his house or do anything else.

The shapeshifters from the town and the surrounding area come and protect the Merlottes as they attend church in the morning, then return home to get changed for the wedding. More shifters arrive, and a mob gathers in front of the Merlotte house to try and disrupt the wedding by throwing rocks and red paint on the cars of the wedding party. But the shifters take the lead and get the party to the wedding. Only Sookie is sure she sees a very familiar woman in the mob- the wife of the Leader of the former Fellowship of the Sun. Sarah Newlin. But is this most wanted woman really there in Wright, and if she is, could she have anything to do with the mob raised up against Eric and his fiancée?

After the short story, the book continues on with a day by day breakdown of what happens in each book of the series and puts the short stories in order, along with a look at the conversations between Bill and Eric, an interview of Charlaine Harris, a listing of her earlier works, and several sets of interviews and reader questions. The book ends with a listing of every character ever mentioned in one of the books and short stories, which is well over 75 pages.

I liked the new story, and the rest of the stuff in the book was very interesting- the list of every single character in the series, either appearing or mentioned, was incredibly impressive. Sookie's entry, however, was almost a reiteration of the beginning of the book, where they list, by day, what went on in every book, just because she is the viewpoint character. The only difference is that it doesn't give the numbers for the date.

Some of the other stuff, like the woman who ran Charlaine Harris' fan club, was actually interesting, as she talked about becoming friends with Charlaine, and about how they spread the word about her and her world, and I loved looking at the recipies donated by the readers and meant to be from the characters in the stories, but at the same time, I don't read books for the recipes, as there are plenty of authors who do that, and I think it cheapened the book a little.

I liked this book a lot, and there is a lot of stuff in the book to like. While not every section really appealed to me, reading the story behind how Charlaine got the series published (there was a big question as to whether it would get published at all, since it was rejected by so many publishers) was one of my favorite parts. Other readers are sure to have others. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Darkness Unbound by Keri Arthur

Even in a world where Vampires, Werecreatures and others are a fact of daily life, Risa Jones is different, being half-Werewolf and half Aedh, a being of magic much like Angels, who can enter the Veil beyond life and come back. Aedh are rare- most of them having been killed off by each other, and half-breed Aedh are even rarer still- Risa was conceived through an experiment, and only she survived, most of the others dying before they were born.

Risa's mother, too, is unusual- a blind seer who was abducted for her powers, but later rescued by Riley Jensen. And Risa views Riley as an aunt. But Riley has been retired from the Directorate for twenty years, and Risa is living on her own, although she and her mother are still close. So when her mother asks her to look into a case of a young girl suddenly taken to the hospital when she just... stopped, Riley is stunned to learn that this girl's soul is gone, stolen from her in an instant.

And she's not the only one who has an interest in tracking down who would do this to a young girl. The Reapers- the spirits who guide the souls through death and punish those who would do evil beyond the grave, also have an interest in the case, and in Risa- her Aedh father was an Aedh priest- one of the Aedh who has even more power over the veil than other Aedh. The Reapers want to track him down because her father was responsible for creating keys that could lock the doors that the souls travel through after death- or fling them wide open. Lock them, and eventually humans and others would die off as no souls returned to life to replace the ones that died. Fling them wide open, and the dead, even the evil dead, could return any time they liked, taking over living bodies with impunity. The Reapers want Risa to find her father for them, because ever since the keys were made, he's gone into hiding, but now that they know about the soul-stealing, they also want to track down who is doing this and eliminate them.

She and the Reaper, who calls himself Azriel (the name all Reapers go by) talk, and she agrees to track down the Soul stealer, because both of them think that someone who would do that to a child needs to die. This particular Reaper is a Mijai, a dark Reaper, a soldier among Reapers who takes care of threats to the land of the dead- and to the spirits. But she will also have time to live her own life, that is, if the head of the Directorate, a woman named Hunter, isn't trying to recruit her. And while she knows that Riley was once part of the Directorate, along with her brother, Rhoan, Risa has never really wanted to be part of it. But how long can she evade Hunter if the woman will do anything to recruit her?

As Risa finds another Aedh, a man named Lucian, she wonders if he has anything to do with the case with the Reapers- because Lucian is quite impressed with her and wants to be her lover- And Aedh- full blooded Aedh, are affectionate only at the ends of their lives, when they want to mate and make more Aedh. But can she trust anything he tells her, and what is up with all the people trying to kill her? Why does someone want to kill her, and who of her many enemies are behind it? Is it really all about trying to find her father and the keys he and his fellow Aedh priests constructed, or is there some other reason that someone wants her dead? It's up to Risa, her friends Ilianna and Tao, as well as Lucian and Azriel, to keep Risa safe and alive as she investigates who is stealing souls and finding her father, and the keys he was responsible for making. But when her father contacts her, it puts her in even more danger, and suddenly, her friends and lovers might not be enough to protect her. Will Risa and those she loves come out of the conflict alive?

Risa is a minor character from the Riley Jensen series, in which she was just a kid, only eight years old. Now, she all grown up, a wealthy woman who is part owner of a bar/restaurant with her two friends, and she's ready to start kicking ass on her own. In a way, she's rather more fortunate than Riley was, as Riley only had her brother to call on for help, and wasn't in any way rich, at least until she married her vampire lover, Quinn. But at the same time, Risa is hampered in other ways. She knows almost nothing about the Aedh side of her heritage, and nothing about her father- her mother hasn't wanted to tell her at all. And Risa definitely wants to know.

Her Aedh powers are interesting. Risa can cross the veil simply by concentrating, but it plays holy hell with anything that makes the trip with her, mostly her clothing, as it also ruins electronics, but she knows better than to try taking her cellphone with her. Or anything electronic that isn't contained inside her body I found this series somewhat different than the Riley Jensen stories, and I did enjoy it, but it does seem very different. Both characters might be a mix of races, but Riley's were ones that didn't hold much mystery- Vampires and Werewolves, whereas Risa is a mix of Werewolf and Aedh, a race we don't know anything about at the start of the book. But we learn a bit- but I feel that we are going to have to wait to learn more, like, a lot of other books.

Well, its not Riley Jensen, though she does appear. Risa is a bit more confident than Riley, though many of her feelings seem the same, like she's almost the same character. But I liked the book, and I do want to read more. So, Recommended to read, because in many ways, it's a lot like the earlier books.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler

Zita works as a servant in the kitchen of the King. But unlike the other servants, she is actually a Princess, the thirteenth daughter of the King, who was banished from the life of her sisters when she was a mere babe in arms.

From the cook, she hears the story, that her father loved her mother, Queen Amara, but an endless series of daughters born when he so wanted a son and heir made him cold and distant to his children as more and more were born female and not male. When Zita's birth ended her mother's life, he blamed the child and banished her to a life among the servants rather than being a princess like her sisters.

But Zita's life among the servants is not a bad one. When her sisters are introduced to young Princes, they go completely silent, unable to speak. Zita has no problem talking to men at all, even if they aren't Princes, and especially with Breckin, the freckled servant boy who works in the stables, as they become fast friends after he gets over not believing that she is a Princess.

She also has a relationship with her sisters, although she must hide it from her father and the other servants. She could be forbidden from seeing them entirely, but she isn't. She has also learned to bake in hopes of making her father like her- he smiled once when he liked her baking, and she hopes that if she pleases him like that again, he will smile at her again.

She and Breckin discover a secret in the woods. After the birth of Zita's eldest sister, Aurelia, the King banished all the witches from the Kingdom, hoping to prevent any curses on the young Princesses. But one witch remains, a kindly older woman who hides her cottage under an illusion of being run down and abandoned. Babette befriends Zita and Breckin, and teaches Zita the magic of being open-minded, able to see and to hide herself by imagining herself as something else- a tree, a bush, a rock, which Zita uses to get closer to her family and see how much easier her father acts around her sisters than around her.

But, abruptly, her sisters become tired and listless, their bodies drained of energy. No matter how much they rest during the day, they cannot seem to summon the energy to eat or do anything else. Zita believes that something unnatural has befallen her sisters. Maybe even something... magical. But can she do anything to free her sisters from the curse or spell that has befallen them, without anything to help but Breckin, his brother Milek, a former soldier, and the advice of Babette? Because if she can't save her sisters, nothing will be able to!

This book is based on the Fairy Tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses", only here, there are actually thirteen Princesses. Zita is a servant, but unlike a servant, she isn't badly mistreated or starved. And if she isn't treated as well as her sisters, at least she is able to talk to men and not have to have lessons on deportment, and she is closer to a normal person than any of her sisters.

But even though she's been ignored by her father, Zita is strong in other ways, and her strength is what saves her sisters. It's her ability with magic, her courage in the face of adversity, and even her father's sacrifice that end with the saving of the kingdom and the happiness of her and her sisters.

I liked this book. While some of Zita's story is quite frankly, magical, the love and bravery exhibited by Zita is something that all girls can aspire to, even if her magic isn't. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Well-Tempered Clavicle by Piers Anthony

Picka Bones and his sister, Joy'nt, are looking for something to do with their long lives. The children of Marrow Bones and Grace'l Ossein, they were the childhood friends of Princesses Dawn and Eve, but Eve is married, and they are no longer children.

One night, while Patrolling a Graveyard, Picka and Joy'nt discover three very unusual intelligent animals, a bird named Tweeter and a cat named Midrange need help rescuing their dog friend, Woofer. After they come to understand each other, and Picka and his sister help Woofer out of the place where he was trapped, they share life stories and discover the strange crypt is actually a Think Tank that helps people find ideas. And since Picka lacks the usual skeleton power to rearrange his bones after being kicked in the pelvis, Tweeter thinks that maybe Picka has a different talent- a magical one.

So the two skeletons and three pets go off to find the Magician Humphrey, to find out what Picka's talent might be. They know they will have to work for the Good Magician, but it will be worth it to find out what Picka's talent is. It turns out that Picka's talent is music- he has the ability to make tunes on his own skeleton, by using his clavicles for picks and tapping them on his other bones. Now, normally the Price of an Answer is a year's service to the Good Magician, but Humphrey has a special service in mind for Picka, Joy'nt, and the pets. They must find Castle Caprice, a moving Castle that is so unpredictable in its movements that even the Good Magician can't track it down.

Inside Castle Caprice is the fabled artifact known as Pundora's Box. Like Pandora, it's full of bad stuff, in this case, truly horrendous puns- one that could destroy Xanth in no time. But hopefully, some of the puns that currently infect Xanth could also be returned to the box and make it easier to live there. They set out, accompanied by Princess Eve, who is lonely in her life now that her sister is married, and she has no one to be with.

But Castle Caprice is more than just a moving Castle, it's also intelligent, and is looking for a musician to inhabit it. Once, it had a musician who lived inside it, and used his magic to capture Xanth's more egregious puns and put them back in the box. But the musician's own propensity for chasing girls and indiscriminate loving ended up with him being cursed into the form of a blob. Unable to do his job, he was kicked out of the Castle

But when their party encounters a pun killer named Attilla the Pun, they are forced to kill him when he decides that they must go the way of the Puns. This enrages Attilla's girlfriend, who teams up with the Blob former musician, to take them down. Can the Companions fend off the attacks of Attilla's former girlfriend, find the Castle, and have Picka become its Master, using music to track down the puns and removing the worst of them from Xanth? Or will Piper, who is now dangerously fixated on Eve, kill Picka and steal Eve away, leaving the Puns to permanently infest Xanth?

Xanth has been around a long time, and some time ago, the stories started getting more and more about sex versus love- although it used to be more of the first following the second, and now it's the other way around. In other words, you can tell who is going to end up together in this one, because two of the characters become sex partners fairly early on. I'm not saying that this is wrong, exactly, but it's a big change from where the early books were. The early books were much beloved by teens, as they told stories of adventure, but now, they are more firmly in the adult camp (and to be fair, Piers Anthony has always said his books were meant for adults, it's just that now he's able to bring more of his vision to Xanth.). But I still remember merely embracing engendered a child for Prince Dolph and Princess Electra- no sex needed. So, sometimes, I really have to wonder about this.

Anyhow, being that this is the new reality of Xanth novels, be aware that there is sex in this book. Not just skeleton sex (making babies involves both parents going to pieces with a kick in the butt and assembling children out of some of the pieces), but human sex as well. At this point, I know what to expect, but I still find it distracting to the main story, as much as Piers doesn't dwell on every stroke and thrust, it's still strange to have this mainly an adventure story and in the middle of a chapter have what essentially amounts to: "and they camped for the night. And HAWT SEXY TIMES ENSUE!" Okay, is that really necessary? I don't feel so. It's distracting and occasionally offputting to get this dropped into the narrative. For me, it's the adventure story I really want to read, not how the Hero and Heroine are going at it in the tent when they camp for the night. There are stories I read for romance and sex, and stories I read for adventure. And Xanth, while it had light romance, has always been in the second camp.

This book was mostly good- I liked the adventure parts when they weren't being bogged down by the rampant sex being discussed. I also found it distracting because the characters never seem too tired for sex, they never just lie there and hold each other, or cuddle- it's like all sex all the time, and while it's a strange distinction to make for a fantasy story- it just wasn't realistic in any way that the characters are always ready to bump bones, so it comes off as an adolescent sex fantasy. I'd give it a light recommendation- the bones of the story are good, and the introduction of sex allows the story of Piper's fall to be laid out in detail, but in many ways it's distracting to the story and unnecessary, as well as the whole thing being extremely unrealistic as a relationship.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Heroes at Risk by Moira J. Moore

Source Shintaro Karish and Dunleavy or Lee Mallorough have finally returned from the Southern continent. But thanks to the decree of the Empress, they can't tell anyone what they were doing for all those months away, not even their fellow Shields and Sources. They return to High Scape with a new outlook on life, and a new secret to keep- during their time in the South, they have become lovers. While not strictly forbidden, it is strongly frowned upon by both of their teachers and the Triple S because of the complications it can cause in their work.

The city of High Scape has also been changing while they were away, and the once hot city, volatile with Catastrophes that had to be mitigated and eliminated by the Sources, has been cooling, with very few Catastrophes at all. Because of this, less Pairs are needed to combat the problems in the city, and so they have been being reassigned by the Triple S. For now, though, Taro and Lee's assignment remains High Scape, and the watches that they pull have lengthened from seven hours to eleven, which they must spend in a tiny room with nothing to do.

On their first night back, they go out to eat and on their walk in the city afterwards, they discover some people messing with the copper urns in an ash grove. Ash groves are like cemeteries, where people's ashes are interred in copper urns. It is extremely horrible to try to mess with someone's ashes, but that doesn't stop the people, and even though Taro chases them, he loses them in the darkness. They report what they saw to the Runners, who tell them that more and more people are stealing the ashes of those who led what they consider "lucky" lives, and that the ashes are used in new magic rituals that have become very popular in town since last year's "Harsh Summer", when the crops failed due to the extreme weather.

Taro is so delighted by their return to the normal North, where Sources and Shields need not pay for anything that he decides to go shopping, and he drags Lee with him to do so. In particular, he is interested in jewelry, and he decides to buy them matching jewelry of a type known as "Harmony Bobs". These are wishes for a particular desire, from luck and fertility to knowledge, children and so on. But none of the designs or desires strike him until he discovers one at a stall that stands for "eternity", featuring a design like an elongated figure eight. He wants those, and the merchant makes he and Lee go through a ceremony before he will let them put them on each other. By the time this ceremony has ended Lee feels like a fool and goes back to the Triple S house while Taro does some more shopping for clothes.

Shortly thereafter, Lee once again meets Dorian, the nobleman who she and Taro met and rescued in the last book. Before Lee began her romance with Taro, she was interested in Dorian, and even now that she and Taro are together, she still believes that it's just a matter of time until Taro leaves her, so she tries to remain friends with Dorian. Taro, however, seems angry that Lee is trying to maintain her acquaintance with him, and it causes an argument between them.

Meanwhile, a plague seems to be sweeping the city, centered mostly around the area where the Rivers meet, and while very few people have died, no one is treating it lightly. But no one can figure out how the disease is being transmitted, or even if the sufferers are contagious. When someone else approaches him for healing, Taro agrees to try, as long as he keeps it secret, and tells the man that he can do nothing for him- it's not something that he can treat or heal, but he can also tell it isn't contagious, and neither is it a disease, really, although what it is, he isn't sure.

And a new mayor is being elected, thanks to the removal of the last one for corruption. Lee decides to attend the festivities alone, but the martial music being played by the bands affects her so badly that she can only just keep her composure, and she has to hold on tightly to a piece of wood to do so. A local merchant, and sometime rival of her family helps her out, and reveals that he is behind getting the new mayor elected. She watches the new mayor make a speech, and then cannot stay any longer- she is still not feeling well from the music. But the next morning, she learns that the new mayor was assassinated during the night.

Risa has been trying to find out what went on between Taro and Lee when they were away, and tells Lee that she will get her drunk if it helps her find out the true story about what went on. But the Empress has died, and since her son, Gifford, was still heir at the time of her death, it seems he will be the new Emperor. He summons Taro and Lee to him to grill them about what went on at the party where they ended up saving his life from the Reanists, and about the rumors of Taro's ability to heal, as well as his ability to create Catastrophes that he learned from Creol, but Lee and Taro basically say that there is nothing to the rumors, even though both of them are being less than truthful. They return to High Scape, but Gifford is still suspicious of them and what they can do, and they know it.

As Lee tries to remain friends with Dorian, she agrees to a picnic in the park with him, but is distracted when a house goes up in flames in a puff of purple smoke. She burns her hand on the door handle, but rushes in to try and save the occupants of the house, a woman and her two daughters. She realizes that the house has a magic circle drawn on the floor and that the woman was trying to do magic- and she isn't trying to flee at all. Lee rubs out part of the circle to get past it, and when she does, the fire snuffs out instantly. After that, the woman screams at Lee and the others trying to rescue her to get out of her home. Lee has to go to the hospital to get her burn treated. and when she gets home, she finds that Dorian had come to the Triple S house to find her, and that he and Taro have been talking, and not in a very friendly fashion. Dorian makes his interest in Lee plain, and Taro is offended that she didn't tell him about the picnic- he accuses her of going behind his back, while Dorian points out how a liason with Taro can never last, and that he is the better man for her. Lee manages to break it up, but the argument between Lee and Taro afterwards draws another pair to them, and they point out how such a relationship between Source and Shield breaks the rules, then one of them announces that she is offended by their relationship and stalks off.

Lee is upset- after all, this woman is always flirting with Taro and talking about her many lovers- but her pair partner basically tells them it is talk only- none of it was real or serious, and that while she doesn't consider their relationship an abomination, she also doesn't approve. Things don't get much better for them after that, but Ben, one of the workers at the house, offers to renew the poultice on her burn so that it can heal. Lee thanks him, but reveals some bad news she heard from Risa- his daughter has been arrested for the crime of killing the mayor. Ben is upset, but tries not to show it.

Some days later, Lee finds herself in pain from a bad headache, one that doesn't go away for several days. When she collapses after going to look for him, she ends up in the hospital from an overdose of Nyacin powder, which Ben has been mixing into her poultice. It turns out that some people are very sensitive to it-and Lee is one of those unfortunate people. It's not bad for everyone, and thus he probably didn't know she shouldn't have the Nyacin, but she tells him and has to follow a prescription of drinking a special tea and taking baths to sweat the toxins from her body.

Then more people show up seeking Taro's healing. Despite being unable to do anything for the first man, he actually got better, and credited Taro with making him better, so more people have shown up demanding healing. Again, Taro tells them he can't do anything, but agrees to try and help. But this also makes him seek out what might be making people sick. He asks around the neighborhood of Riverfront, but no one will admit to seeing anything out of the ordinary- until a young boy says there was a woman who comes to the neighborhood wearing a black cloak and that she dumped something into the rivers. But what? Could it be causing the supposed sickness, and why would anyone want to do that?

Meanwhile, Lee's Merchant protector invites her and Taro to a dinner party in his home, and this leads to additional invitations from other diners they meet at the party. But it seems strange- none of them seem to have anything in common except friendship, so why are they so interested in cultivating Lee and Taro? What could they want from them, and is this latest problem with stealing the ashes of "lucky" people, not to mention killing people perceived to be lucky and burning them to get their ashes, a threat to Taro also? And what is going to happen, or not happen, between Taro, Dorian and Lee? Is there any way for Lee to get Dorian to settle for friendship, or is the fighting between the two men souring all their relationships? And when Danger looms for the Pair once again, can Taro and Lee navigate their way out of danger, or will it just be too much for them this time?

Well, this book was an interesting change of pace. Just as Heroes Adrift changed things up by having Lee and Taro removed from their familiar home in the North, their return is just as fraught with change for the two of them. The city of High Scape is changing, becoming less active in Catastrophes, and so some of the pairs there are being reassigned. Plus, now they are lovers, and Lee feels that since she is so boring, any relationship with Taro won't last as long as there are prettier women around to attract him. Taro, though, is very annoyed at her attempts to keep her options open- he seems to view it as a personal attack on him, and given how thin his mask of self-assurance goes, (as revealed in Heroes Adrift) we can see why he feels that way.

And in this book, they must also deal with the censure of their fellows, who don't like the new relationship between the two -it's considered to be dangerous for a Source and Shield to become as personally and romantically involved as they are. Though the book sets up the expectation that once again, Taro is in danger because of who he is, I did like the way this one played out in execution- because Lee is used to trying to protect Taro, she is blindsided by the real danger, and her own illness puts her in danger as well. Once again, the real villain of the piece is in plain sight but concealed until the end of the book, and the illness that afflicts Lee made me think that there was something else wrong with her- constantly feeling nauseous and actually throwing up? For a woman, that's a rather suggestive thing...

Anyhow, I found the ending interesting, as it seemed to have removed one problem for Lee and Taro and replaced it with another, although who knows if the danger from that one source has really gone away? I mean, they were very flat out about what they wanted and what would happen to Lee and Taro's families if they didn't get what they wanted. I wonder if a simple change like what happened would protect them, or just remove the threats for a while. Regardless, this was a good, solid book, and while it's less comic in tone than some of the earlier books, it remained a fast, wonderful read that satisfied my desire for more Lee and Taro.

I loved this book. Even though the tone was more serious than the earlier books in the series (despite the all-business tone of Lee, the book's narrator, the comic possibility of the characters shines through more in the earlier books), it was more than enough to satisfy. The story is just as twisty and Moira Moore hides her villains and their motives well. Highly recommended, as both a book and a series.

The Hero Strikes Back by Moira J. Moore

At the end of "Resenting the Hero" Lord Shintaro Karish asked the Empress to be removed from the succession to the title of Lord Westsea without abjuring his family's name. The Empress agreed, but told him that if he changed his mind in the future, it would be the same punishment as if he tried to get abjuring his family name reversed- essentially it would be regarded as treason and he would be subject to a death sentence. Since then, he has been in the Capitol while Lee, who tired of the endless round of parties and entertainments, returned to High Scape, where her mother has come to visit her.

Lee is a bit more irritated by her mother's presence, because her mother seems to want to take over her life. She has issues with the way Lee dresses and thinks that she should dress much more stylishly and femininely than Lee cares to. But Lee doesn't really care about fashion. She dresses more for utlity, even if that makes her look less beautiful than she is, because she doesn't care to spend the time to get dresses made for her body- it simply takes too much time.

Another concern is the weather in High Scape- even though it's summer, it has been extremely cold, as in, winter cold, for several months now, and the people of the city are unhappy that the Sources do nothing to ameliorate the weather. In truth, there is nothing they can do about the weather, but the people don't want to hear that- they assume the weather is just another kind of catastrophe and that it can be eliminated like all the other catastrophes that the Sources deal with on a daily basis. The Sources refusing to do anything (as the citizens view it) is making them angry, and they have been muttering about how much of their money goes to support the sources when they do nothing.

This makes Lee unhappy, and she wants to do something, but what can she do alone? When Taro returns, he tells her the same thing that the other Sources are saying, that nothing can be done about the weather- it's a natural phenomenon and nothing like the catastrophes that the Sources dissipate in the city. Besides, he has another problem to deal with- his mother is coming to see him, and he knows that it's about becoming the Lord of Westsea. Even though he has told his mother that he has no interest in the position, she is bound and determined to change his mind, even if he has pretty much abjured the position- she only sees what she wants and is determined to bring him to heel.

As the Pairs come together to discuss what they can tell the citizens about the weather, the muttering becomes worse, and some of the Pairs are actually attacked. The eldest Source tells them to tell the citizens that they are working on it, but he actually intends to do nothing, which rubs Lee wrong. She tries to convince Taro that they should actually try to do something, as then it won't be a lie, and he tries to reiterate that there is nothing they CAN do, but Lee knows better- Taro can heal some things, and take away pain from people who aren't even in their pair-bond. Isn't it possible that there *is* something they can do, but they just haven't tried it? Reluctantly, he admits she may be right and agrees to try, but it's Lee who feels a sort of wrongness that Taro just can't feel, and sees that the background magic of the city has changed in an indefinable way- but she doesn't know how.

All of this is only possible because Lee can somehow "see" into the magic when Taro is channelling. Just as when they fought off the "Surges"- the strange magical attacks that felled most of the original pairs assigned to High Scape, Lee had visions of her Shields as a wall of bricks. Since then, she hasn't had the same kind of explicit visions, but she has a sense of magic as colors and feelings. And even though she knows little about the magic or talent that the Sources channel, she can somehow change the colors and feelings of the magic as she shields- but she doesn't know what the colors and feelings of the magic should be, so she can't figure out how to bring the weather back to normal- she changes the cold and snow to hot and humid for a time, but that's almost as bad as the snow!

Part of the reason that the people are so angry is that the weather is destroying the crops, and the city will starve if this continues. But as Taro and Lee struggle to fix things, Lee is approached by a Reanist staying in the city. Reanists are forbidden cultists who believe that sacrificing the nobility of the Empire is the only way to keep it safe from the Catastrophes that afflict it- and that these Catastrophes are caused by the Gods who want the blood of the nobility. Lee asks the woman derisively what will happen when they run out of nobles to sacrifice, and the Reanist told her that the catastrophes will end, but Lee doesn't believe that at all.

She talks to Risa, her Runner friend, who is investigating the disappearance of a number of noblemen of penniless estates and thus, no particular worth. While some of them may merely have run off, the large number of them missing is troubling. But it takes an encounter with a snippy saleswoman in a shop catering to noblewomen for Lee to see a card belonging to a club that is the female version of a club that tried to recruit Taro into its ranks. And Taro confirms that there are rarely clubs for both men and women that share the same name. Lee is sure that the club is shady and tells her suspicions to Risa.

Meanwhile, Lee and Taro have to deal with his mother, who looks down on and dislikes any people who are beneath the noble class, and doesn't respect many nobles, either. And despite Lee's mother trying to arrange a dinner between them and his mother to try to smooth things over, the dinner is a disaster. His mother tells him that she is going to petition Crown Prince Gifford to reinstate Taro into the succession for Duke, and Taro is upset that his mother is out to kill him, because if that happens, he will die for treason. The Crown Prince will soon be coming to High Scape for a visit, and his mother intends to stay around for it. But he only really loses his temper when his mother tears into Lee, who has been trying to control herself on Taro's behalf all through this conversation.

This loses his mother not only Lee's support, but her mother's as well, and in the wake of this disastrous dinner, her mother decides to leave, despite having said she would be there for a few months yet. She is upset that Lee is so removed from her mother, and she can't close the gap and have the same kind of relationship with Lee that she has with her other children- one where they come to her with their problems and ask her advice on things that trouble them. The fact that Lee has been trained to stand back from life in order to control herself, and to calm her Source as well, as well as the nature of a Shield to be almost unnaturally calm and in control in everything have grated on her, and she feels a distance between them that this whole incident has made clear can never be bridged- and she finds it bitter indeed.

But can Lee deal with the uproar between her and her mother, save Taro's life from his mother's machinations, help Risa find the missing noblemen, and deal with the unnatural weather that still wreaks havoc on the city of High Scape all at the same time? Something has to give, and it may just be Lee! How can she do her duty, keep Taro safe, and end a magical problem that she has no idea of how to fix, and can she do it before the people of the city take it out on her and Lee, or another of the Pairs stationed in the city?

I started this book immediately after finishing the first one, Resenting the Hero, and so the continuity problems that rose with reading the third book first didn't really bother me. By now, I was invested in Lee and Taro's problems, and we finally get to meet his mother and learn more of his childhood- we always knew that his brother was no prize, given the way that he died in the first book, but now we get to learn the true depth of his cruelty- and that of Taro's family, which made me pretty much despise all of them- and I was gratified to see how Taro dealt with his mother's machinations- the ending of that thread in the book made me grin widely.

I was also starting to feel in a different way for Lee and Taro- they just can't seem to catch a break- as soon as they return to High Scape, or at least are together there, life seems to put them in jeopardy once more- and once again, Taro's life is at risk merely because of what he is. But Lee shares in the danger, when a tavern owner uses the known Shield weakness to music against her and then banishes her from his bar forever because she attacked someone. I also knew by the end what the layout of the room they were in meant at least somewhat before Lee did, and so it wasn't a surprise when Lee figured it out also.

The ending in this book led directly to the third one, which I did remember without having to check this blog to remember the details, although the beginning became clearer as I learned the incident to which the Empress was referring at the beginning of the book. A lot of the Foundation laid in the first book is enlarged on here, and that made me impressed with Moira Moore's storytelling abilities. And this book shares with the first that there is a lot of story going on- so much so that the subtler clues can sometimes pass by unnoticed-but that just makes the story richer and more intriguing to me- I end up feeling like the characters are dunces if I catch on to the ending just from the clues earlier in the book, and they remain clueless throughout- or it just might he a sign of bad writing by the author by making the clues too obvious. Here, I don't have to worry about that.

I loved this book, and I am definitely loving this series. Lee and Taro are strongly-drawn characters, and just as Lee is coming to care for Taro, we the readers are coming to care for him more and more as well. I liked all the characters presented, and the stories make the heroes interesting and intelligent and she hides the clues to the ending and the identities of the villains well while writing a good and compelling story. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Resenting the Hero by Moira J. Moore

Dunleavy Mallorough is a Shield, part of the Source and Shield service that protects the planet from strange, unexpected cataclysms that afflict it every so often. Sources can channel forces to avert the cataclysms, but Shields protect the sources from killing themselves as they do so. Sources and Shields are protected by the Empress, and must use their powers to keep everyone safe. On the other hand, they do not have to pay for the goods and services they need- the people must give them it for free in return for the promised protection.

Sources and Shields must be matched to work together well, so when Dunleavy finally graduates, she is taken to a meeting of Sources with six of her fellows who are also graduating at the same time. There, they are introduced to a like number of Sources. While it is possible that none of them will make a match, it is hoped that they will, as the jobs for unmatched Shields is limited to teaching or administrative duties. And she knows at least four of the Sources that she hopes she will be matched with. All are fairly sober, for Sources, as far too many of them are like children- it is generally that the Shields are the practical members of the match, while the Sources are just there for their powers. But the Sources that Dunleavy, or Lee, as she is known to her family, want to be matched with are all taken by other Shields, leaving only two: Creol, a Source who is actively malevolent and whom no one wants to be matched with, and Lord Shintaro Karish, a Source who only seems to have having a good time on his mind, and who is so handsome and beautiful that everyone seems to want to get into his bed. Lee wants nothing to do with either one, but while she feels nothing with Creol, she finds herself binding with Shintaro when they look into each other's eyes.

Lee is devastated to be bound to someone like Shintaro. Sources and Shields are bound forever, and the death of one immediately leads to the death of the other, so she can't even just wait for him to die to be free of him. Her family, though, is charmed by her new partner, and seem happy and excited for her to have such an illustrious partner. Lee doesn't feel the same, but she can't explain to her family why she isn't at all happy with what happened. Afterwards, the newly paired Sources and Shields are allowed out into town for the first time on their own- it's too dangerous for them to be around each other and people without their powers (known as 'Regulars") until they are bound, as an unregulated binding can be incredibly dangerous. There is also the problem of music- Shields are incredibly affected by music, and the wrong kind can actually cause them to attack others and be dangerous, and so their Sources must protect them from it. Lee herself is one of the weakest in this regard, as music affects her incredibly quickly.

At the party, the Source and Shield are supposed to share their life stories, but Shintaro, while asking her to call him "Taro", is put off by the way she continues to call him "Karish". He realizes that she views him with scorn and while they eat a meal, he tries to charm her, only putting her off even more. And before they can talk after the meal, the receive a scroll with their new posting. They have been assigned to the town, or actually, city of High Scape. This is very unusual, but High Scape is one of the most active cities for Pairs. So many catastrophes try to affect the towns that there are six pairs assigned to the city to keep it safe. And now, with Lee and Taro assigned to the city, there will be seven. The need to leave early the next day, and the shock of being assigned so soon after their pairing makes them cut short their conversation and go to bed early.

The next day sees them set off for High Scape, and Taro finds Lees behavior to be irritating. She will only call him "Lord Karish", and ride slightly behind him and to the right, as though she is lesser. He tries to get her to ride next to him so that they can talk, but part of the way a Shield learns enough about their Source to Shield them correctly is to observe him, and this position is the best one to do that. It's also traditional, even if Taro scorns tradition, Lee feels that tradition is right, otherwise, it would not have become tradition. A stopover in a wayside inn brings a meeting with a cousin who is also a Shield, and he's just as unhappy with his own pairing as Lee is with hers, but he actively seems to despise his Source. Worse, he's attracted to Taro, as is her cousin's Source, and witnessing this double jockeying for Taro's affections rubs Lee the wrong way, leaving her more disillusioned with her Source than ever.

But High Scape is extremely active, so much so that sometimes, Taro must call on his powers at every watch. And even though Lee doesn't like Taro's seeming addiction to women, gambling and parties, she discovers that he has another power of his own: the ability to douse pain and even make someone heal faster. As Lee becomes close to a Regular named Aiden, who she met on her first night in town and defeated at an exercise called Step Dancing- which caused him to break his knee and caused him extreme pain, she has to deal with her guilt over her being the one who was there when Aiden was injured, and since he was her opponent, her feeling that she caused his crippling wound and ended his career as a professional Step Dancer, and his insistence that she is actually acting as Taro's servant and unable to see her subservience to him.

Then, a strange magical catastrophe kills off five of the other seven pairs in the city and drives another into a coma, leaving only Lee and Taro to keep the city safe. This one is unusual in that the catastrophe doesn't feel like the others, and it actually HURTS to fight it off. A week later, a second one comes, and this one is only stopped when Lee throws the pain she is feeling as her shields are slowly failing back at the catastrophe, which somehow ends the attack. But just as other pairs come to the city to help out, and Taro manages to bring the other pair out of their comas, someone tries to kill Taro. Lee is stricken, trying to keep her partner safe, and she meets a Runner, a sort of policeman, named Risa, who believes her when Lee says it wasn't her that tried to kill Taro.

Other matters keep Lee busy, like defending the Source of the last remaining pair from the original six when his Shield is unable to overcome her fear of the pain she felt in the first attack to do her job and defend him. Lee is angry at the woman, who let her fear of the pain override her duty. Now both of them will be unable to do their jobs and become useless. Lee feels that the woman has let her Source and the Triple S down by her actions. Then, just as he recovers, Taro is kidnapped and disappears. Once again, Lee must convince the Runners she has nothing to do with Taro's disappearance, and she wants to get him back. By reading his letters, she sees there are four possibilities: one is that his family kidnapped him. Taro is the second son of Lord Westsea, and his brother was in line for the position, but has since died of a disease. Taro's mother wants him to become Lord, but Taro has no love for his immediate family, and no training or the desire to become Lord Westsea. Second is that Taro might have made enemies due to his gambling or for his love interests. Lastly, there is the possibility that he could have been kidnapped by Creol, who now is in Middle Ridge and has been asking Taro to join a new association started by him to give more power to the Sources and Shields.

Aiden, who is helping Lee, helps her see that her best bet is to check out Middle Ridge, as the Runners are being too slow. Lee can't just sit around waiting for the slow wheels of Justice to grind, and even though Aiden still hasn't made a full recovery from his broken knee, he wants to help her. But every Shield in Middle Ridge is there because their Sources are being punished for misdeeds. And there are no catastrophes in Middle Ridge at all, it's what is known as a "cold site", so the Pairs are essentially useless, and they know it. But there is something very strange going on in Middle Ridge, and Lee knows it. Can she discover what is going on in the town, and find Taro and whoever has him imprisoned? Or will her very inexperience be the end of her at the hands of someone completely and utterly ruthless, who has no compunction about killing anyone who opposes them?

I got into this series with the third book, Heroes Adrift, and I enjoyed it, so I also enjoyed seeing how they came together and their first assignment together. I found myself liking this book intensely- the style was easy to read, and there was a lot of story that was packed into the pages. Because the two characters never get to share their pasts at the beginning of the book, a lot happens before both stories come out. And Lee, even though she is the viewpoint character, kind of suffers in the character department compared to her partner, Shintaro.

After having read several books in the series, it's become quite clear that Lee's judgement isn't the best, and it's because of her background. Her discovery as a Shield came quite young, at only four, and aside from having to leave her family, she experienced no real upset because of her nature as a Shield and the sheltered quality of her schooling. Whereas Taro's talent wasn't discovered until quite late, and his family thought him mad for most of his life, so suffice to say he had an extremely sucky life. His mask of gaiety and charm masks his true self and is part of his determination to be as little like the family that abused him as possible.

I also loved the story and how it built from the beginning so slowly that the twists and turns of the plot aren't seen coming until they are actually upon you. While I didn't share Lee's dismay at the revelation of the traitors, I found the idea that the powers that Sources and Shields can control aren't completely as even the Triple S believes they are to be intriguing. So much foundation is laid in this novel, and yet it's pretty much invisible until later novels in the series, yet at the same time, it's so well done that you don't realize it, as it just seems part of the story.

I loved this novel, and I find myself loving the series very much. Lee and Taro are interesting characters. Both can seem annoying, and each definitely rubs each other the wrong way on occasion, but you can see how the mannerisms of each could be incredibly annoying and not just to each other. By the end, each has learned that the other is deeper and better than they first believed, and the ending brings a smile to your face. Highly recommended.

No Rest for the Wicked by Kresley Cole

Kaderin is a Valkyrie, and for centuries she has been known as "Kaderin the Cold-Hearted". Ever since Horde vampires killed her sisters on the battlefield, she has been unable to feel anything- not sorrow, or joy or love or laughter. In a way, the blessing of being emotionless has helped her-in addition to giving her relief from the intense sorrow that afflicted her after the deaths of her sisters, it has helped her to slaughter numerous vampires along the way, allowing her to punish the vampire race for her loss.

Now, even though the Hie, a magical contest that combines aspects of "The Amazing Race", a scavenger hunt and a free-for-all brawl held every two hundred fifty years by the Goddess Riora, is coming up, Kaderin still has time to hunt down and kill vampires to accomplish her vengeance. But when she travels into Russia to eliminate a vampire who has been living in the same castle for hundreds of years, she is shocked that the vampire welcomes her killing him, even as he falls in love with her beauty. Worse, the Blessing that has eliminated her emotions all these years abandons her in his presence, and she finds herself filled with pity for the vampire that hates his existence, and she ends up committing an indiscretion with him, and finding an orgasm in his arms as he kisses and strokes her.

Once the pleasure has left her, though, she is shocked and disgusted by what she has done and leaves as quickly as possible. The vampire, Sebastian Wroth, who was turned against his will, along with his family who were dying of the plague, finds that with the memory of Kaderin, and his lingering love for her, no longer wants to die. Although he has hated and scorned his own existence for years, he couldn't find it within himself to kill himself and subsists on a diet of animal blood bought from the local butcher- and because he has never drunk from a living vessel, he is not a Horde vampire. And he also knows that Kaderin is his Bride, the one who has started him breathing and living, as much as a vampire can live, once more.

In his desire to find Kaderin, he manages to achieve something previously thought impossible and to trace to a living target- in this case, Kaderin. But he finds her in Riora's temple as the Hie begins and offers to compete along with her- only each competitor must compete alone. and they also must be backed by one of the races of the Lore, and Sebastian has no one to back him, so instead, he offers to compete for Riora, and this pleases the goddess enough that she agrees to let him compete in her name. And the prize for this Hie is a key that will allow the user to manipulate time... twice. Kaderin immediately wants it to bring back her sisters and prevent them from being killed, while Sebastian thinks that with it, he can prevent his brothers from turning him into a vampire and die with honor- but he cannot believe in something that can do that, as he is scientific-minded and knows about the time paradox effect.

But in reality, he only wants to compete because it can bring him closer to Kaderin, and perhaps find him a way to win her over to his love. But the Hie, and the members of the Lore competing in it, are brutal, and none less so than Kaderin, who has won the last five Hies. As she meets him once more, the Blessing dies completely and does not come back. But does the return of her emotions mean a weakness that those other Lore creatures in the Hie can exploit? Or are the feelings she feels for Sebastian, the mingled attraction for the man and loathing for what he is, the greater weakness? And can Sebastian win the affection and love of a woman who has dedicated her life to wiping out his kind, or will her utter ruthlessness wipe out any affection he feels for her?

This book, like several others by Kresley Cole, happens concurrently due to one of the heroes being a participant in the Hie. We've had the story of Mariketa the Witch and Bowen the Lykae, and now Kaderin the Cold-Hearted. At this point, there aren't that many named players in the Hie left- some nameless Demonarchy participants and Lucindeya of the Sirens are the ones who I really remember- and the Demonarchy Demons get taken out early (like Mariketa), so I doubt they will turn up in future books.

But I loved the struggles that the two main characters went through, and the feeling of warmth I got when Kaderin finally realized that despite being a vampire, that Sebastian was a good man and a fierce warrior at heart. We also got to see his brother Nicolas again after his vanishingly tiny appearance in "Dark Needs at Night's Edge", and since he has a mate in this book I can see he is being sequel-baited for us. But it's a sequel I'd like to see, I confess.

I really enjoyed the book, which was full of the excitement and turmoil of the Hie, along with the experience of competing in it and gathering the many items that Riora wanted. We get to see exactly how grueling and dangerous it is, and to experience the love that comes over Sebastian and Kaderin as they compete. Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Arisa 5 by Natsumi Ando

Tsubasa is on the trip with the rest of Arisa's class when she realizes that one of the girls on the trip, Shizuka Mochizuki, has a serious hate on for Arisa. She is in a wheelchair, and deliberately shows Tsubasa that she has three of the cellphones that once belonged to fellow classmates who could petition the "King". And that includes Midori, Arisa's former boyfriend, who Tsubasa broke up with when he realized she was spending more time with Manabe, who he feels Arisa prefers to him. His cellphone was stolen, the King not wanting "King Time" to end if not everyone made a wish, and Midori didn't want to make a wish at all.

But Shizuka makes it appear that "Arisa" attacked her, and for some reason, Manabe seems to be helping Shizuka rather than Tsubasa now, which makes it appear that he betrayed her. Arisa follows Shizuka's bags to her room, and tries to search it for the cellphones, only to be caught in the act by Shizuka herself. To punish Arisa, Shizuka, when she gets the number of one of her phones, meaning her wish would be granted, asks for something precious to be taken away from Arisa. She then throws the phone out the window to prevent Tsubasa from grabbing it, and Tsubasa falls out the window, and sees Midori's scarf hung up in a tree in the forest.

Now thinking that the King is going to harm Midori, and realizing that neither he nor Manabe have returned, she goes in search of them, falls down a hill and hurts her head, knocking herself out. Later, when Manabe and Midori return from their failed hike to the next shrine (it started snowing, which made them turn back, and Midori lost his scarf somewhere on the way), it's time to eat, but they can't eat until everyone is there, and Arisa is gone.

This makes everyone angry, assuming Arisa has gone off alone to do her own thing, but Manabe decides to go after her and try to find her. As Arisa lies in the forest, cold and wet, she dreams of her sister, looking sad. She assumes this means that Arisa doesn't want her to interfere, but when Manabe finds her, he tells her that Arisa is just frightened for her. However, he falls as well, hurting his leg, and Tsubasa has to wrap his ankle, but he can't walk. And she is completely wet and cold, and burning up with fever.

Somehow, with Manabe carrying her, they make it back to the inn, where all the students assume they were gone because they were spending time togethe, and their anger at Arisa grows. Shizuka is delighted- the King has taken away something precious from Arisa after all- her reputation as a "good girl". But Tsubasa says that isn't important at all- there are plenty of more important things in life, like her friends and family. Shizuka is upset that Arisa isn't upset at losing her pristine reputation, and she still wants her revenge on Arisa, who she believes took her legs away from her.

When they go off to warm up, Tsubasa asks Manabe about Shizuka, and he tells her the story. They met when Manabe was the son of a doctor, and Shizuka was the daughter of a patient there. Shizuka saw he was playing alone and made friends with him, and they played together every day- until her father died. She was adopted by two distant aunts, who viewed having her as a nuisance. Manabe overheard what the aunts said, and yelled at them about not being fair to Shizuka, and that he would always be on her side.

When they met in school years later, Shizuka viewed excellence in school as an indicator of her usefulness. But Arisa kept beating her in the scores on tests, and she soon became obsessed with "beating" Arisa, to the point where she made Manabe copy Arisa's notes from class so Shizuka could study what Arisa was studying. But even that didn't help, and she came up with the idea to steal something and pin the blame on Arisa, to discredit her, but Manabe wouldn't stoop to that and started to pull away from Shizuka.

This made Shizuka think that Arisa had somehow stolen Manabe's friendship with her, and she started to really hate Arisa. But when Shizuka was the first person to claim she didn't need "help" from the King, the rest of the class turned on her and started tormenting her. She tried to text Manabe for help, but he was used to her texting him about framing Arisa and stealing her notebook, so he tuned her out and deleted her text- just before she jumped off the roof of the school. Now, she may never walk again and she considers Arisa the source of all her problems. But Manabe feels guilty for ignoring and deleting that text to spend time talking with Arisa, and so he felt duty-bound to help Shizuka.

Tsubasa actually understands what Shizuka is going through, but is determined to get the cellphones. So after class she transforms herself back into herself, Tsubasa, and follows Shizuka home. But when she helps Shizuka deal with a bunch of teenage boys blocking the handicapped facilities, she finds out that Shizuka has no problem with Tsubasa at all... she even likes Tsubasa. But can Tsubasa use her real self to get close to Shizuka, or will getting too close to the avowed enemy of her sister have consequences that Tsubasa couldn't forsee? And who is the current "King" and why does he hate Arisa/Tsubasa so much?

I really loved this volume. You know, I felt bad for Shizuka- she set herself up for a bad outcome in so many ways, like deciding that High grades in school were the only way to prove she had some worth. But then she upped the ante with not just having to be good, but to be the best at the school. When she realized that Arisa had that position and couldn't easily be beaten, she turned eliminating Arisa into an obsession, especially when she realized that Arisa didn't necessarily care about being the best. And it all spiralled down from there. But still, I could sympathize with her, even empathize, a little.

But then she went right over the edge, and while I sympathized a little, it was only possible to see how Shizuka keeps setting herself up for bad ends. The "King" is using her, and badly, and turning her into more of a bad person as she goes. I know it's a bit clichéd, but it was like turning to the dark side and about letting your anger and hatred rule you. A lot of the subtext between Shizuka and the King is like when the Emperor tries to get Luke Skywalker to turn to the Dark Side in "Return of the Jedi". But instead of forgoing that, Shizuka steps to the tune gladly.

I am finding this series more and more intriguing, if painful to read. I still am not exactly sure what the King is getting out of all of this, except maybe the jollies at getting people to jump through his hoops. Why, I have no clue. We're not even sure who the King really is yet... But I will keep reading this series to try and figure it out. Recommended.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pirate King: A Novel of Suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie R. King

Mary Russell is at home on winter break from the College where she teaches, looking forward to being alone for a while when Sherlock's brother Mycroft shows up to ask her for her help. Mary is reluctant because she doesn't trust Mycroft in any way, shape or form- she views him as sly and manipulative, and to be honest, he is, seeing as he works for the secret hand of the Government in England.

She asks him why he doesn't want Sherlock to investigate, but Mycroft insists that it must be her- it seems that Randolph Fflyte, the king of London Cinema, is setting out to make another picture. This would be fine- Fflyte films are always gripping and realistic. The only problem is what happens afterwards. One of his films was about gun running, and after the film premiere, smuggled guns somehow began to appear on the English Market. Another film was about drugs and drug addiction. And, again, after the film was shown in England, amounts of drugs were sold in England that didn't come from anything like normal drug channels.

And now Fflyte is making a new film, supposedly a film within a film about Piracy, based off the Pirates of Penzance. Given what happened the last time Fflyte made a film, Mycroft wants to make sure that Fflyte isn't somehow importing crime to England. Mary reluctantly agrees to help, since Fflyte's last secretary left him (thanks to a little "help" from Mycroft), and now he desperately needs a woman who can type and use the telephone, something Mary well knows how to do. Since all of Mycroft's people are male (or engaged elsewhere) he needs Mary to act as secretary and spy, investigating what really goes on during the making of one of Fflyte's films.

Mary, hiding her light under a bushel and dressing in plain but simple clothing (and comfortable, sensible shoes) takes herself off to London to apply for the job. She's so needed that once she's proved she can type and use the phone, she is pretty much hired on the spot and thrown into the deep end, making sure Fflyte has what he needs before he heads for Majorca, Spain, along with his cast- thirteen blue-eyed and blonde-haired actresses to play the part of the daughters of the Major-General, along with those who will play Frederick and some of the Policemen. Also accompanying the girls are their mothers, most of whom are show business mothers who want their girls to be pre-eminent in the production and keep Mary running to keep them and their daughters satisfied and also to keep up with some of the nasty-minded pranks the girls play on each other.

Things go from bad to worse once they arrive in Majorca. Although he finds plenty of places to shoot in Portugal, Fflyte decides that he wants to shoot the shipboard scenes on a real ship and buys the least seaworthy vessel Mary has ever seen to do his work on. Although Mary puts together a boatwright to get the ship shipshape, he then hires the most disreputable looking crew as "actors" to play the noble pirates. In fact, Mary is pretty sure that these men are all real criminals, but she can't convince Fflyte, or his director, to moderate their course now that the bit is in their mouth, so to speak. Add to that a Portuguese translator who seems to possess multiple personalities and who writes truly execrable poetry and who also seems welded to Fflyte's side and to that of the "Pirate King", being played by the head of the band of bad men who he hired in Portugal.

As the entire party takes to the waters of the Mediterranean, headed for Morocco, the true nature of the men comes out, and the worse heads into the truly hellish as Fflyte's hired "actors" take the director and the true actors and actresses, prisoner. Only one actress, who has fallen in love with the true son of the man who played at being "Pirate King" might be able to fight his father and save them. But where is Holmes, and can Mary Russell use the supposed helplessness of the actresses and their mothers to cause herself to be underestimated and find a way to save them all? And can true life ever imitate the stage play of the Pirates of Penzance, a comedy that also poked fun at the romantic stageplays of the time as well as various kinds of music? And can Mary pull off a save in the midst of a foreign land, while immured in a literal prison?

I love the Mary Russell books, and this one was one of the best premises of all, an idea that evoked a great sense of fun. because Mary can be such a stodgy stick in the mud herself- her sense of humor seems to parallel that of her Husband, Sherlock Holmes, who isn't exactly the most lighthearted of men. And while Mary is also the most sensible one in a crew and cast littered with layabouts and people who have been almost entirely inured from real life by their stardom, it was funny to see her having to spend time with people that, in other circumstances, she'd wash her hands of and leave because of their absolute stupidity.

At the same time, she has our sympathy, so while you are laughing at her a bit, you also understand why she finds the circumstances she finds herself in so frustrating. Trying to keep a temperamental director and film impresario from indulging in flights of fancy that add time and complications to an already time-consuming and complicated process can be a real drag. But the parallels between the story as written and the play of the Pirates of Penzance was also funny. Yet, it only added to the horror of what was happening to the relative Naifs of the actors and show business people, who are totally in water over their heads once the business heads south, and their pirate actors turn out to be real pirates in the worst way, who want to hold them for ransom, and rather more in the case of some of the actresses.

And yet, Mary holds up remarkably well. All alone with only herself to rely on (and when Sherlock shows up later, he is unable to save things once they have headed into the crapper- they manage to bring everyone out successfully, and Mary has already found out who is behind the hinkiness with the subjects of Fflyte films suddenly becoming a problem in England. Although that is the reason why Mary has been sent on this job, it's not the main problem that she has to solve. And by the end of the book, she even learns to be a bit more playful and humorous and not such a stick in the mud. She may be married to an old man, and even a very famous old man, but she doesn't have to become completely like him.

I liked this book and found myself laughing aloud several times during reading it. I felt that Mary learned something by going on this case alone, and it actually improved her personality and her character. She's a strong character in her own right, and it was nice to see her being able to shine, alone, when separated from her extremely famous husband. I loved this book and would read it again, and more in this series, any time. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Agatha H. and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Foglio

Agatha Clay is a student at the Great university of Beetleberg. Her parents, Adam and Lillith Clay, are both employed in the city, Adam as a machinist, and Lillith as a piano teacher. In this world, the Industrial Revolution led to a world of steampunk excess. Those with a genius for invention are known as "Sparks", and each Spark was to protect an area of their own. But when an alien intelligence known as "the Other" attacked and killed some of the leading Sparks, the balance of power in Europe shifted dangerously, no more so than when the Heterodyne Boys, the genius inventor/adventurers disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

With the shift in power, a few men, also Sparks, decided to take over Europe. Beetleberg, and indeed, most of Europe, is ruled by the Baron, Baron Klaus Wulfenbach. The Baron has ruthlessly taken down the few Sparks that remain in his lands, making them work under him and adding their klanks, or mechanical men, and other inventions of war, and added them to his own forces. And now, he is coming to the great university to meet with the head of the college, Dr. Beetle.

Agatha has always had dreams of creation, but she doesn't appear to have the Spark, as her creations are always flawed in some way and end up not working. When she is awake, she is troubled by intense headaches that come on her when she is in high emotion or tries to create. After waking from a dream of how to build the perfect creation, she tries to build it, but a headache interrupts her.

Dashing to the college without any breakfast, she is set upon by two ex-soldiers who steal her locket, the only thing she has left from her true parents. Because the Clays only took her in because her Uncle Billy asked them to. And while they have raised her with love, she is still waiting for her Uncle to return. But she hasn't heard anything from him in years. At the college, she does the impossible and cleans up the room that her advisor asks her to clean up an extremely messy lab. But when Dr. Beetle goes crazy and attacks Baron Klaus, she is the only one who tries to defend Dr. Klaus. Unfortunately, Dr. Beetle is killed, and his replacement sacks her from the University.

With nowhere left to go and nothing left to do, she returns home, but when she tells her adoptive parents, the Clays, that the Baron is in the city, they tell her that they all must flee. They are very upset also when they find that her locket has been stolen, and the Clays go out in the city to try and find it for her, while they leave Agatha to pack for them and clean up the house. She does so, knowing she must leave most of her treasures behind, but falls asleep while she waits for her parents to return.

She only wakes up when one of the soldiers who stole her locket, Moloch, grabs her by her hair. She finds herself, clad only in her underclothes, in her father's shop, which is in a shambles. She assumes Moloch has wrecked the place, but he didn't. He is there to take revenge for Klaus, the other soldier who robbed her, who is now dead after stealing her locket, which had some kind of mechanism in it that Moloch is sure led to his friend's death.

Meanwhile, outside in the city, a new Clank has been sited, and the Baron is eager to find it and whoever made it. He and his son, Gilgamesh, are looking for the Spark who is the inventor. Gil was with the Baron at the school, and found himself attracted to Agatha, but he was willing to forget about her. When they find the Clank and reverse its programming, it leads them back to Adam Clay's workshop, and the man who they are sure is the Spark who made it: Moloch! Assuming that Agatha is Moloch's lover (because of her state of undress), they ship both of them back to Baron Wulfenbach's Airship City, Moloch to create more things for the Baron, and Agatha to control Moloch. If he refuses to help the Baron, they can threaten her.

But Moloch isn't a Spark- he's just a mechanician who can repair some machines. He tells Agatha that she is the one who created the Clank, but given that all her machines so far have failed catastrophically, she finds herself completely unable to believe him. However, her time on the Airship may prove to Agatha that she has the Spark, and the touch of Madboy scientist in her after all. But why does she keep waking up in wrecked labs with nothing to show for all the work she has supposedly done? And why is Gilgamesh Wulfenbach so interested in her, and is he really interested in her or in her Spark? And can she escape the Airship City to find her parents or her Uncle when the Baron is so interested in keeping her to control Moloch? Why does the Baron keep all the Sparks he has defeated, and why does he have Olaf Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer, a prisoner in his airship?

I recently became interested in Steampunk. both as fashion and movement, and this book is definitely completely in that mold. It's a rewriting of the first adventure of a series of graphic novels and a webcomic written and drawn by Phil Foglio and his wife, Kaja. I remember Phil Foglio back from his days of "What's New with Phil and Dixie", a comic he drew for the old Dragon magazine, which I loved (it is also available as two graphic novels, though each month's comic was complete in itself, so it's not a continuing series like most Graphic Novels today).

Here we are introduced to Agatha Clay, failed inventor. But it's during the course of the novel that we learn her true parentage, and her existence as a Spark, as well as why both were hidden for so long. Agatha, whose parentage is not exactly hidden by the title of the novel, must come into her own as an inventor,and learn why she must hide who she is from just about everyone. Those not out to kill or capture her for being a spark would do the same merely for her parentage.

After reading the book, I also took the time to seek out the webcomic. It's a little different- the book has some fleshed out scenes and many fleshed-out characters, but the biggest change was that, in the first adventure, Agatha was depicted as blonde rather than red-haired, while in the novel, she has red hair from the first, and the jumpsuit she wears on the cover art covers her much more completely in the comic, whereas in the cover art, she is barely decent.

Regardless, it's an excellent novel and an extremely fun read. This is the sort of novel that could compel you towards a decent love of steampunk, and a fascination with its aims and fashion, design and outfits. It differs from some Steampunk in that it is much less about the innocence of the love of design, pointing out that a lot of this stuff could and did kill people. But I loved it and would definitely love to see more, and read more. It's hard not to get sucked in. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cold Sight by Leslie Parrish

Aidan McConnell is an outcast. Previously a lecturer and author as well as a private investigator, he used his psychic powers to find missing children. But when he failed to find the missing son of a family called the Remingtons, he was blamed for sending the investigation in the wrong direction and lambasted in the media, as well as threatened with lawsuits. It got so bad that he quit his job as an investigator and moved from Savannah, Georgia to the small town of Granville, where he simply dropped off the radar.

Now, he simply lives a restricted life in town. Except for the phone calls and occasional visits he gets from his boss, Julia Harrington, he doesn't contact anyone. And while Julia and some of the investigators he used to work with visited him about a month ago, he sees no one and contacts no one.

Lexie Nolan is also an outcast. Previously Granville's premiere reporter, she wrote a story on The Ghoul, a serial killer she believes is responsible for the disappearance of a number of young women from the wrong side of the tracks in town. But publication of her story led to censure by the police chief, who said that the girls simply ran away, either for a boy, or simply to get out of their dead-end lives. That he called them tramps also rankled her, but that wasn't the end of the fallout from Lexie publishing her article.

She got busted down to cub reporter, and even though her boss wouldn't fire her, it was a close thing. Her former mentor, Stan, who'd burned because she was better than him and wouldn't sleep with him, loved her downfall, and taking her place was just icing on the cake. Lording it over her new reduced position, he torments her every day, and loves every minute of her downfall. But he isn't the only one to hate her over what she published, and Lexie, even though she wants to believe that Chief Dunston is right, knows that any attempt at laughing off the possibility of a serial killer operating in Granville is just wrong.

When another young girl, Yvonne Jackson, daughter of a whore from the wrong side of the tracks, is snatched, it doesn't quite feel the same. Vonnie may have been from the wrong side of town, but she was smart enough to have taken all the AP courses at the Public High School and then to have switched schools for the High School on the Privileged side of town. She hated her origins and knew that schooling, and the offers of full scholarships to better Universities, were her ticket out of the life her mother lived. She would never have just run away, and she didn't have a boyfriend- or want one, either.

Lexie's boss is concerned when Vonnie disappears. His own daughters knew Vonnie, and Jessie and Taylor went to the same school. Jessie last saw her at the meeting of the Honor Society, just before Vonnie disappeared. He believed in Lexie and her article, and he's afraid for what this means- if now the Ghoul will be taking girls from the better side of town, then no one is safe anymore. Worse, a friend of his found human remains on the road. But when Chief Dunston was called out to see them, he said it was just old bear bones scattered by animals. Her boss tells her to contact Aidan- he might be able to find out the truth of what is really going on.

But Aidan really hates the Press after the hatchet job they did on his life. But he finds that Lexie's determination, honesty and stubbornness cannot be resisted. Drawn into the case, he finds himself still contacting Vonnie, whose skin he once touched when she waited on him in a restaurant. But if he wants to save her, He, Lexie and his former compatriots will have to work together to find out what ties all of the girls together and why anyone would want so many young women of the town dead. But can they do it before the killer kills Vonnie?

I've read other stories of detectives with psychic and/or otherworldly powers, like that of Marjorie M. Liu's Dirk and Steele detective Agency, but this one promised something new- no flashy psychic powers, something low-key and more realistic. And I also liked the way the story was presented, both on the blurb on the back of the book, and in the book itself. Aidan has a hard time controlling his power, and it can easily get away with him, and he's not always able to interpret what everything means, which makes him intriguingly flawed.

Lexie has her own issues as well. Her recent shunning and downfall were upsetting to her, but she is attempting to deal with it. But she is upset at the thought that her article was really true, and is angry at the Chief for being such an ass. During much of the course of the novel, it's just her and Aiden against the true killer, and while I had a suspicion early on that there was a character who would eventually be the guilty one, I was glad to be proven wrong, and the true killer was someone else, but we do meet him, in a way.

I loved this book. The revelations about what is really going on in town, and not just one but two mysteries and two killers made the action and mystery so much better and deeper. None of the characters is a cardboard cutout, not even the serial killer, and his background is equally tragic. I enjoyed every part and moment of this novel. Highly recommended, and I am anxious to read more of this series, as the next book came out in April of this year. Well worth reading.

Vampire Kisses: Cryptic Cravings by Ellen Schreiber

Now that Sebastian and Alexander have seemingly made their peace with each other, Raven sort of expects him to move on. But instead of moving, Sebastian decides to stay on- because he has spent so much of his life being a vagabond, he finds it unusual to stay in one place. Even Luna, Alexander's ex-fiancée, has decided to stick around. Indeed, she decides to try a romance with Sebastian, but he's only willing to be caught for a short time- he's not sure he wants to settle down forever, and Luna seems to be fine with that.

But they aren't the only ones sticking around, so is the entire crew of the Coffin Club, which includes Jagger, the owner of the Coffin Club. At first, they won't say why, exactly, but Raven and Alexander do some snooping, and discover that jagger wants to replicate his success in Hipsterville here in Dullsville- he's decided that Dullsville needs a club of its own where the High School kids can hang out. Sort of like the Coffin Club, but with only an apartment in the basement for himself and the other Coffin Club regulars.

Raven is all for the club idea- The teens of Dullsville have always needed a place to hang out, a place to dance that doesn't serve alcoholic drinks, but Alexander is convinced that something is up with Jagger and his crew. At least, they are hanging out at the school so that Raven and her friend Beth encounter them on a pretty much daily basis. But how can they find out what is really going on? So Raven and Beth decide to offer their help in decorating the Club, which lets Raven get a look at the architectural plans for the Club- everything looks up and up, except for a place in the basement labelled as "The Crypt".

And Alexander tells Jagger that a Club for humans is fine- but Dullsville isn't like Hipsterville- it's small and parochial and if Jagger tries to open a vampire club here as well as a club for humans, the vampires are going to stick out like sore thumbs, and that could lead to vampires being outed, not just here in Dullsville, but all over the globe. Jagger reluctantly agrees with this line of reasoning, but when the crop circles that are how vampires communicate with each other go up in the fields around Dullsville advertising the club, they have also included the symbol for "all vampires welcome" Jagger claims it was a simple mistake, but Alexander finds himself not believing it, even though the symbol is x-ed out the next day, other vampires have seen it and will come.

Meanwhile, Raven finds herself coming under fire from her old enemy, Trevor, who is dating a vampire girl from the coffin club, and he keeps telling Raven about how he has an "in" on the creation of the new club- his father owned the old factory that the Club is being constructed in and he sold it to the new owner, and therefore, Trevor assumes that he will be BMOC there, not knowing that Raven is helping decorate it, and knows a lot more about the true nature of the club than he does, but she doesn't enlighten him as to the true nature of events, pretending to be in the dark.

But there are still things that trouble her and Alexander. For instance, Becky has been taking pictures in the club and around town and is beyond puzzled when Alex doesn't show up in her pictures. Could it be possible that she could find out about the existence of vampires, when more are coming out of the woodwork thanks to the problem with the crop circles? And what is really going on in the Crypt? Is it going to be a real Coffin Club, like in Hipsterville, or does Jagger have something else planned? And what plans is he making with Luna for the Crypt? And for that matter, can Raven make her Coffin Club friends see what a downer Trevor is before something really bad happens in the Club?

This book was somewhat of a departure for the series- Alexander has sort of made his peace with Sebastian, and now that he's officially broken off his engagement to Luna, he doesn't have to worry about her relatives showing up to try to cause trouble for him and Raven-but now his problems come from other vampires and what they might do to Dullsville if Jagger's new Club attracts them, which Jagger is being very two-faced about- he says one thing and then goes and does another. So it's hard for anyone to believe what he says- he talks a good game, but what are his real intentions?

It's still a threat to Raven and Alexander- but in quite a different way than they are used to, and it comes from people that Raven considers friends, which makes her at least a bit conflicted about going up against people that she considers friends, but in the end, it's really no contest. While she doesn't want to lose her Hipsterville Vampire friends, they and she both know that her relationship with Alexander is going to come first in her heart.

I also liked the reveal at the ending, and the way that Alexander and Sebastian went back to being friends again- even though they are both vampires, it was very Guy-esque and true to the way guys act. I loved this book and I loved this series, and the actions of Jagger in this book will have repercussions in books to come, and let it happen, because conflict is what drives this series... Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hollywood Babylon 2 by Kenneth Anger

In Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger took on the excesses of Hollywood, the hard partying, hard drinking and sex scandals that has plagued Hollywood. Everything from the drinking of W.C. Fields to the sex scandal of comedian Fatty Arbuckle was covered in a no-holds barred fashion that made the stories seems just as shocking when the book was written as the time when the scandals were happening. Hollywood Babylon II continues this tradition, uncovering the hidden sex lives of the stars and starlets, the murders, drinking binges and suicides that they lived and died by.

This book uncovers several new stories, from that of Joseph Kennedy, gone from Prohibition Booze Smuggler to Hollywood Mogul, and his downfall at the hands of Gloria Swanson, whom he fell in love with and which led to his usually excellent business sense deserting him. The true life story of Loretta Young, who started out as a wild young thing who had a daughter out of wedlock and ended up trying to become saintly and holier than thou, which led to her being called "Attilla the Nun".

The true story of James Dean, whose wild life, promiscuity and drinking led to his demise before his star could properly rise, but whom posterity treated better in death than he had ever been in life. Busby Berkeley, whose great success was laid at the door of his mother, and who nearly killed himself in the wake of her death. Luckily, he survived, and he lived to climb the ladder of success again. Then there was Alfred Hitchcock- who got off from watching women through a telescope- including Grace Kelly- and who acted out his passions onscreen, where women were treated heinously and vilely- and where he fell in love with Tippi Hedren, even attempting to seduce her by threatening to ruin her on the set of "Marnie", but when she refused him, he refused to speak with her for the rest of the movie.

True stories of suicide, drinking, murder and perverse sex and affairs fill out the remainder of the volume. Some aren't covered in words, just pictures. The saddest thing about this book is that it is shoddily researched, and many of the "stories" are just that... stories that may (and almost certainly may not be) true. One of the "stories" is merely a short diatribe exulting in the death of Gloria Swanson. It doesn't make any claims about her one way or another, it's just the equivalent of the author shouting how glad he is that she is dead. Not so fun, actually.

There are few longer sections in this book- but some of the longer ones, like a list of Hollywood Suicides, merely gathers together information on the great, and not so great, and tells how they ended their lives- by drowning, by guns, by gas, by hanging, and by pills. Most of the "stars" I had honestly never heard of, but a few were still affecting, like that of actress Pier Angelli, whose amazing beauty caught everyone's eye, but whose depression over being close to 40 led her to take her own life, for she believed that "at 40, everything is over".

Most of the stories are fairly mean-spirited and rather depressing, and the author's lack of research into the truth of the stories he presents is a crippling flaw. And this volume is equally badly represented- he tells us in the opening pages of the book that these are stories that were told to him, which is why he decided to write another book after the first. Not quite as shocking as the first "Hollywood Babylon", this is scandal-rag fare, and about as well researched and true. Read, but keep a five pound salt block on hand as you do...