Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Courting Darkness: An Otherworld Novel by Yasmine Galenorn

Camille D'Artigo was not looking forward to Aeval, Queen of the Court of Darkness, teaching her magic. But with everything that's happened to her recently- her father disowning her because of her marriage to Trillian, a Svartan elf, which he never approved of. Marriage to her other two husbands, Smokey the White Dragon, and Morio, a youkai, troubles him far less than to the Svartan, trying to track down several items needed to prevent dark forces from taking over the human world, and other problems, that is no longer as troubling to her, and so she goes gladly to meet Aeval.

But she has barely met Aeval when another problem comes back to haunt her- specifically, Smoky's father, the White Dragon, Hyto, comes back to see her. Hyto wasn't happy with Smokey marrying Camille, when their family had him betrothed to another Dragon. But Smokey repudiated the match in favor of his marriage to Camille. Unlike Smokey, who is a hybrid Dragon, Hyto is pure white, and sees humans, and even mixed breeds like Camille and her sisters, as little better than slaves, playthings, and toys- often all at once. And he made it quite clear that he was going to take Camille for his own- whether Smokey likes it ot not- And over Camille's very voiciferous objections.

But there is a note of hope and happiness, as Iris, their fey housekeeper, is finally reinstated in her duties as a priestess, and comes back from a trip to the otherworld redeemed, which allows her to finally marry Seamus, the man of her dreams. But soon after the wedding ceremonies, Smokey leaves to take care of something, and when Camille sees a figure in white, she thinks it is him and follows him, only to be grabbed and taken off across the Ionyc Sea by Hyto, who brings Camille into his lair and makes her his slave, punishing her for marrying Smokey by making her serve him, and service him in every way, including painful and humiliating sex.

But Camille isn't alone in Hyto's cave. Another fae woman named Hanna acts as his housekeeper, but she isn't there because she wants to be. She is also a prisoner of Hyto, kept in line by his threats to hurt or kill her son if she falls out of line. But when Camille realizes how much Hanna loves her son, she tries to convince Hanna to escape, and take her son with them, if possible. Unfortunately for Hanna, her son is insane from his long imprisonment in Hyto's cave, in bars that cannot be broken, even by magic. But Hyto's treatment of Camille is so over the top cruel that it convinces Hanna that she must help Camille escape. And to do so, she puts her own son out of his misery.

But even if they can escape Hyto's lair, they must cross the frozen lands that comprise his realm, and then somehow find a way to get home again. And then, Camille, her sisters, her allies and theirs must find a way to take on Hyto if Camille is ever to be free of him, and once Smokey finds out what his father has done, will he and Camille's other husbands be able to contain their rage long enough to defeat Hyto, or will their anger be their downfall?

This volume finally sees the culmination of Hyto's anger against Camille and his son, and this Dragon is more than just powerful, he's cruel and he plays with the lives of everyone else, including his son, his wife, and everyone else he comes into contact with, as mere playthings. He wants his own way, and he'll do anything to get it, from kidnapping, rape, imprisonment, killing and lying like a rug. If you don't hate Hyto in this story, there is definitely something wrong with you.

This book is really about Camille, and her journey through being kidnapped, brutalized and raped. Now, her people think that sex is a good thing, but forcing someone is wrong, and Hyto does things to her that were mostly glossed over, but still very hard to read about. In the end, though, Camille manages to live with her courage and pride mostly intact, and she doesn't give in to the impulse to be just as bad as Hyto when it comes down to his final punishment, although recovering from what he did to her is going to take some time, emotionally, physically, and mentally, I suspect.

I loved this book, and it was good to see Camille stand up to the Dragon who had abused her so horribly and remain bloody but unbowed, to quote William Blake, by the experience. I loved seeing Iris and Sean marry, and I look forward to seeing more of Camille and her sisters in the next books. I am also glad that the last book was not the end of the series, as I am still enjoying this one too much to want to see it end. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Curiosity Thrilled the Cat by Sofie Kelly

Kathleen Paulson accepted a job at the Mayville Heights, Minnesota Public Library as the Head Librarian, which means overseeing a much-needed renovation to bring the library into the twenty-first century. A new computer and technology lab as well as an overhaul of the building itself. But the building is having problems that no one could have forseen, including technology issues, and a contractor who leaves dangerous messes in the middle of the Library and seems curiously unwilling to do anything about the situation.

But at home, life has improved for her with the addition of two cats, tabby cat Owen, whose favorite pastime seems to be ripping the heads off catnip-stuffed chicken toys, and Hercules, a tuxedo cat who is in love with the voice of Barry Manilow, just like she is. In fact, it's not sure if she adopted them or they adopted her. They just showed up at her door and she took them in, but was it her idea to save them, or did they peg her as a soft touch at the beginning? She certainly doesn't seem to be able to keep them in, or out, of anywhere they really want to go, not at home, and not at the library, either.

But even as Kathleen is dealing with the mess at the library- thankfully, Everett, the man who hired her, believes in her, she is upset to find herself nearly killed several times by such problems as a wall outlet that overloads and throws her across the room, and a huge roll of falling vapor barrier plastic. But are these problems she and the library are experiencing merely accidents, or is someone actively trying to do away with her? And if so, who would it be?

Meanwhile, Mayville is hosting its annual Wild Rose Summer Music Festival, with the famous composer Gregor Easton is coming to the Festival. But Easton is a nasty, arrogant, pushy man, and when he tries to use one of the computers at the Library, the next morning, he's found dead in the room. But the question is, did he fall victim to one of the new Library building's little "accidents", or did someone take a sudden dislike to him and want him dead? As Kathleen struggles with someone who seems to have it in for her, she tries to figure out who killed Gregor Easton, and deal with her library problems so that everything can go smoothly at the new Grand Opening. And only her new cats can help her find all the clues and keep her safe from the danger she is in every day...

This book seems like it's not quite the first in the series, but actually, it is. And the reason why it seems not is that the book begins with Kathleen already in Minnesota and Mayville, and already in possession of the librarian job, even though the book seems to imply that this is her first adventure- and it is. But the blurb on the back made me assume several things about the book that weren't borne out by the story.

The blurb also makes it seem like the two cats have easily discernable magical powers, but their powers seem to be limited to getting out of the house and into whereever they like- a power shared by many cats, actually. These two just seem a bit more intelligent and focused than most. But the book makes out that these are cats with Faerie powers, and they are either just playing at being normal cats, or they are cats with an almost human understanding- but they are limited to the ability to communicate of mere cats. And while they save Kathleen's life more than once, she never really twigs to what they are supposed to be, even as Sofie Kelly plays to the reader with comments from other characters that the original owner of the property they came from owned similar cats 75 or so years ago... and how alike these cats seem to those cats...

I did like how the mystery resolved and the many threats that Kathleen was experiencing, and how they all came together at the end- and for that matter *why* Gregor Easton was killed and who killed him. It was definitely not who I was expecting, nor why, but the end of the book was satisfying as a mystery. It was less satisfying in the resolution to who and what the cats were, and I wasn't so enthralled with either the human or the cat characters that I want to go out and pick up any other books in the series. I was hoping that this series would end up being a series of modern-day mysteries with cats and characters I could get into and want to read more about, like the Mrs. Murphy mysteries by Rita Mae Brown, but this didn't end up being the case. The characters, both human and animal, just never quite jelled for me.

Would i recommend this book? Not really. I never felt all that connected with the characters, and the cats never came off as presented in the blurb, and in the end, I felt disappointed. YMMV, but I don't feel that this series is one I am going to pick up after this book.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bound by Darkness by Alexandra Ivy

The Faeries may have a fearsome reputation, but none more so than their close cousins, the Sylvermyst. Ariyal, the leader of his tribe, sold himself into slavery to Morgana LeFay to save his tribe, and he became her favorite lover and play-toy, which meant extended sessions of torture. But now Morgan is dead, and Ariyal is finally free- free to take revenge on Jaelyn, the vampire assassin who kidnapped him.

But he can't bring himself to hurt her- and he finds his mind lingering more on pleasing her, than with any actual thoughts of revenge. And seeing that she has been sent to capture him, this is something that should definitely trouble him.

Jaelyn, meanwhile, is having problems of her own. She is supposed to be an ultimate assassin, strong, strong-willed and utterly lethal and without mercy. But she can't help herself but respond to Jaelyn- something that should long ago have been trained or burnt out of her. And the Addonexi don't take kindly to assassins who can't live up to their ideals.

But when they become aware of a prophecy, that if it comes true, could mean the end of both their worlds and races, they must reluctantly work together to find out the truth and keep it from coming true. But will either of their peoples look kindly on their coming together, or will they have to give up everything that they are for each other? And can they keep the Evil One imprisoned, or will one of them have to sacrifice themselves to do so? And is there any hope for a happy ending for them, when the Sylvermyst seem to hate vampires?

I liked this series. I haven't seen enough of them to read the entire "Guardians of Eternity" series, but just scattered ones here and there, but this one turned the usual scenario of "tortured, stanf-offish hero, passionate heroine" right on its head. Here. it's the other way around, although Jaelyn has a hard time controlling her emotions around Ariyal.

And Ariyal, too, wants to take revenge on Jaelyn, but he finds himself wanting her too much to be in any way cruel to her. But I liked the way they sparked off one another and their comments back and forth at and with each other. When they did come together, they were hot when they did. I wanted to see them get their chance at a happy ending, but I never really felt that they were in trouble that they couldn't get out of somehow- even when they went up against the Dark Lord in his prison, I didn't get that much feeling of imminent danger to them. But other than that, the romance and sex was satisfying, and while I felt like I was coming into the story somewhere in the middle (because I missed the previous book), I still enjoyed what I read.

If you haven't read the book before this one (where, presumably, you get to see Jaelyn kidnap Ariyal and hold him prisoner), this story may feel like the second book of a duology that you picked up without knowing it's a sequel. But the romance and sex are hot, and even if you don't get the feeling that the hero and heroine are in that much danger, as I did, you'll probably still end up enjoying the story. Recommended, but not highly.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Practical Handbook for the Boyfriend by Felicity Huffman and Patricia Wolff

If you're a guy, you probably view them with mingled lust and suspicion. Yeah, it's great to go to bed with one, but by your thinking, woman are all crazy, and who wants to pal around with that on a daily basis? But the problem isn't that girls are crazy- to your way of thinking, they all are, but that by shutting them out unless you are trolling for nookie, you miss out on the great experience of being a boyfriend.

Things like not having to use the same stupid pickup lines on women over and over- having something to do with a woman pretty much every week and not spending all your time on the pickup phase. And while having a girlfriend can sometimes be annoying, you may suddenly find yourself with a cleaner house, better clothing sense, and someone who will always be there for you when you need her, as long as you treat her well.

And that's where the rubber hits the road. Women have a different way of thinking from men, and this makes them seem crazy to the men who love and care for them. Weight and appearance mean much more to women than men and this is because of how they are judged and how women's sexuality is objectified in the media. Everywhere she goes, she sees images of impossibly beautiful woman wearing what is essentially a sheer drape over a trio of band-aids made out of fabric- things that real women could never wear, and she is convinced that she will never measure up when it comes to her body-weight for men is not so fraught with images from popular culture and the media. This is why the "Do I look fat" question trips up so many men. Women aren't asking it for a logical assessment- they want to be assured that they are still sexy and you still want them, no matter how much they insist otherwise. This is a good way to rack up Boyfriend points- assure her that she's still sexy to you and you still want her and you'll rack up the "You da man!" achievement.

In fact, the best thing about this book is how hilarious it is. I often found myself convulsed with laughter over the chapters, pictures, and advice given. The shortest chapter in the book is titled "When do I become a boyfriend and who decides?" The next page has only two words: She does. This made me laugh out loud in the middle of work (Which is where I found and picked up the book) and what got me started reading it.

Even though it's meant for men (or so it claims- given the cover, I can't really see many men going into a store and picking this one up, it just looks too girly unless you're a metrosexual. And it's too long for a lot of guys to bother with, as this book, while not usual hardcover size, is still a hefty chunk of reading at almost 300 pages. If a guy does pick it up, though, it does offer some really good advice on what and what not to say and do to support your girlfriend and what to say or not to say to make her want to stay with you and see you as a good guy.

I'm sort of "of two minds" about this book. It really does give guys some good advice about being in a relationship and how not to screw it up with the minefields many women tend to lay in the path of the men who love them without meaning to, but it's a pretty large book and the cover isn't very guy friendly. It's more like something a woman who loves a man (in any way, brotherly or otherwise) would give the man they love as a self-help book, and even then, some guys are not gonna want to read it. For women, it's a laugh riot sprinkled with "Oh, that's so true!" moments, but I wonder how many men are really going to pick up this book. Recommended.