Friday, April 27, 2012

Tied with a Bow by Lora Leigh, Virginia Kantra, Eileen Wilks and Kimberly Frost

Supernatural Romance is one of the most popular genres in Romance recently, and with the release of this book, 4 new short stories of Supernatural romance heat up the pages.

Upon a Midnight Clear brings us the story of Aimee. Imprisoned in the Bastille with her mother, the Angel that is drawn to her mother's prayer to save her daughter and free her from the prison, he goes too far and takes the girl over her pleas that she wants to stay with her dying mother. For this abridgement of free will, he is exiled from heaven and reborn as a human. Lucien, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Amherst, is actually the angel, and his father is a similarly fallen Angel, along with all of Lucien's Siblings.

Lucien has continued to help humans, setting up a former prostitute with a home where she can help other women who otherwise might have to become what she was to survive. But Lucien refuses to tell the Earl this, leading to him thinking Lucien has set up his own brothel. But when circumstances force him to take a rich wife, he finds that Aimee, the girl he once rescued, is living with the family of his bride to be as a poor relation. As his heart becomes engaged for the beautiful girl, can he put aside money to marry the woman he loves, or will he marry for the money he needs to support himself?

First Light by Kimberly Frost concerns Kate Devane, a journalist who is famous for rooting out a nest of vampires. All of her life since college, Kate has dreamt of a man who has appeared to her in her dreams, ever since she found and lost a strange old ring when she was at college. But when that man comes into her life, Merrick has amnesia and can't remember anything about himself. All Kate knows is that he is extremely powerful- the Ventala, human-vampire halfbreeds, are no match for his combat abilities.

But he isn't a Ventala himself, and nobody seems to know exactly what Merrick is, and with Merrick being unable to remember, all Kate can find out is that there is a very powerful Ventala who is out after Merrick. Can Merrick be the rarest of all supernatural creatures, an unfallen angel? But how can Kate be with him if he is? And will the Ventala defeat him, or will he be able to triumph over the man who killed his family back when he was a man? And will Kate ever see him again if he is done protecting her?

Human Error by Eileen Wilks has Lupi Benedict going to spend Yule with the family of his mate, Arjenie Delacroix. But when a vicious murder happens not too far away, it's discovered that two of Arjenie's young cousins have been trying to summon Raven, a power not normally called on by her Wiccan family, and has gotten Coyote instead. But they have summoned him without a body, and instead he takes over the family dog. The murderer is real, though, and is one of the worst things in existence: a Skinwalker- an always malevolent human who takes on animal form through a skin he has specially prepared. And the Sheriff needs Ben and Arjenie's family to help him contain the person before they can go on a REAL rampage...

An Inconvenient Mate by Lora Leigh pairs Coyote Breed Malachi with American Indian Isabelle Martinez. Isabel is feeling frightened and sexually wanting after having nearly been raped by a fellow tribesman who managed to get away with the near-assault. Seeing Malachi emboldens her and makes her want him-and he wants her, knowing that she is his destined mate. However, as the daughter of the Tribe's chief, she is off-limits as Rule Breaker, leader of the Breeds, bargains with the tribes for information about Native women who might have been imprisoned and forced to bear the children who became the breed. But when the mating heat becomes too much for both of them, they give into it, forcing Isabel's former attacker to kidnap her for the "crime" of having sex with Malachi. But her attempted rapist has never had to deal with a Breed defending what is his- and can Malachi find her before she is raped or killed?

So, this book has two Angel stories and two animal/shifter stories, which was nice to see, because Vampires, while ubiquitous, are not the sole supernatural creature in Urban Fantasy. The Angel stories were nice to read, because they were different, but I would have to say that my favorite story was "An Inconvenient Mate", because I loved the part where Malachi rescues Isabellle from her attacker. He's trying to teach her a "Lesson", but it's he who gets schooled. Second was "On a Midnight Clear", which I really loved. It just flowed beautifully and the characters were amazing.

The other stories were nice in their own way, and "First Light" was a little confusing because it threw so many terms at readers right out of the gate. It seems like the story was part of a larger series than just this one story, much like the Lupi and Breed stories were, but I haven't seen any Angel stories like that anywhere else. The Lupi story was also very good, as we get to see one of the characters there severely out of his comfort zone and fighting for his life. And his love supports him all the way- even against her own family.

So, overall, an excellent short story collection, short and sweet and with lots of good stories. Most of them are part of an ongoing series (or at least a side story in that series), but all are excellent and well-done. If you are looking for something different in your supernatural romance, this book will have something to scratch that itch.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Hunger Games Companion: The Unauthorized Guide to the Series by Lois H. Gresh

With the Release of the new "Hunger Games" movie, the series has exploded worldwide. It seems like everyone is reading the books, and this book attempts to explore the world of the books in more detail, linking it to both the past of our world and our possible future.

What exactly was the cause of the world of the Hunger Games and Panem being the way that it is. Was it a nuclear war? An environmental disaster? Or something else? Gresh explores other post-apocalyptic worlds and how the world of Panem resembles that of Ancient Rome, with want in the outlying sreas, whereas in Rome itself, decadence and overeating abound.

Panem itself means "Bread", as in the ancient Roman cure for unrest, Panem et Circensies, or "Bread and Circuses", with the Roman elite keeping the poor in line with a free grain dole and entertainments, like the bloody gladatorial games held in the Circus Maximus and other Amphitheatres throughout Rome and the Provinces. But in the world of the Hunger Games, that idea is married with our modern-day spectacles, that of "Reality Television" and shows like "The Greatest Race" and "Survivor" in the way that the contestants on these shows are groomed beforehand, and eliminated throughout the life of the show. While elimination in game shows now doesn't mean that the people get killed, in Ancient Roman times, gladatorial games did only end with the death of either the opposing gladiator, or of the animals he was being paid to kill. The more death, for the ancient Romans, the better.

And just like in Ancient Rome, the Hunger Games are also meant to kill every participant but one- and these are supported not only by the government of Panem, but the parents and families of the various tribunes. The suthor looks at every aspect of Panem society, including the problem of Evil- are the authorities of Panem evil? Is the entire society of Panem evil? And what about the effects of killing and having to kill other children on the participants in the Hunger Games? Is the deep depression Katniss falls into realistic, along with the portrayal of her as a drug addict after her experiences in the Hunger Games and the Fourth Quarter Quell? Why does she vote to continue the Hunger Games after Coin becomes President?

These and other questions are examined very thoroughly throughout the book, and the idea of an Apocalypse is also examined, along with "End of the World" type panics, and how people have so often been wrong when it comes to the timing of the End of the World.

The science of the various drugs known to Katniss, her mother, and the other inhabitants of Panem and the districts is examined in detail, and the scientific concepts between the tacker jacker venom, the muttations, and other aspects of the books are all tied to scientific fact and how things work in the real world. It's a fascinating look at how well-constructed the world of Panem is, and why there is no contact with other nations- as well as why many of the scientific advances we take for granted today, like cellphones and computers, are no more.

This is an interesting, well-constructed book that examines everything in the world of Panem, from the kind of starvation diet that the people of the districts are subsisting on (if all you have is bread and cheese, and you consider that a "feast", you are likely not eating all that much daily), to the kind of luxuries that the people of Panem enjoy on a daily basis. I found the book fascinating, and very enjoyable, but occasionally overly long-winded. Recommended.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Echoes of Betrayal by Elizabeth Moon

When Kieri Phelan was made King of Lyonya, he knew that it would bring changes, not only to Lyonya, but to the world. And those changes have not stopped occurring. With the Paladin Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter on a mission for the Gods, it is up to Kieri, his former Lieutenant Dorrin Verrakai and his former second in command, Jandelir Arcolin, now taken over Kieri Phelan's former position as Lord of the Marches and leader of Phelan's mercenary company, now called Fox Company to weather those changes and come out of it alive.

As well, Arvid Semminson, former enforcer of the Thieves Guild of Verella and Dattur, his gnome companion, are on the trail of a necklace for the Marshall of Gird, part of the Regalia discovered by Dorrin Verrakai in her family's estate and stolen from the storehouses of the King of Tsaia, at whose instigation it is not known. But it is Arvid's second in command of the Thieves Guild who has usurped his place as Guildmaster and who now rules in his place. Three of his thieves have waylaid and captured Arvid and Dattur, leaving his bound outside in the snow, hopefully to die, while they eat, dice, and wait under the comfort of a roof and with a fire for further word. Hearing a voice in his head, Arvid finds the means to free himself and Dattur and the two of them kill the thieves and get back their possessions, using Dattur's powers over stone to collapse the floor of the hut and dispose of the thieves. However, Arvid has lost his note of introduction and safe conduct from the Marshall of Gird and needs to get it back from his traitorous former second in command, and he would like a little vengeance for what has happened to himself and Dattur as well, so he poses as a minor northern merchant, trapped in the South by the winter closing the mountain passes, and lays in wait to assess the situation and make his move.

Meanwhile, Arcolin is suffering a lack of good leaders for his mercenary company, and while he has been moving people up from the ranks as fast as he can, most of them are either not suited for command or are rank amateurs. And one of his best, Sergeant Stammel, was blinded by a blood mage attempting to take over his body. But when he hires a former cavalry Captain named Hartnik from the Clarts company, he discovers that the man is a drunk and a liar, as well as lazy. It comes to a head when the man refuses to take the troops out on a training run because it is snowing, and gets drunk instead. He is responsible for several other problems as well, and Arcolin must call on help from Hartnik's former commander to pry him lose from his position and fire him. And then they discover, through Arvid Semminson, that Hartnik's information was purchased from him the night after he was banished from the company. Hartnik turns up dead, but now Fox company knows that someone means them ill- the only question is who? And what may this person have to do with the missing necklace Arvid is looking for?

Arcolin is also dealing with a Pargunese invasion of Tsaia, and Kieri Phelan must deal with the Pargunese invasion of Lyonya. But the Pargunese invading Lyonya are being sent there by servants of Archyra, the Web-Spinner, who have also unleashed strange fire-creatures on the lands of Lyonya and Tsaia that they call Scathefire. But these are actually immature Dragons, and their sire has allied with King Kieri to deal with them. The Gnomes that were supposed to watch over the Dragon eggs are repudiated by the Dragon, their Prince being the one who told the Achryans where to find the Dragon Eggs, and Arcolin accepts the remaining Gnomes as servants on his lands while Stammel is asked by the Dragon to help him track down and kill his chaotic offspring, as Stammel can somehow see Dragons as they truly are, even in his blindness.

Meanwhile, Kieri Phelan rounds up the remaining Pargunese soldiers on his lands and concludes a treaty with Torfin, the King of Pargun, who was betrayed by his brother. The King's daughter, Elis, who has become his ambassador to Lyonya, is in training to be a Knight of Falk, and while she cannot be his successor any longer, she does as much as she can to help her father. Kieri is also pleased to have finally found a woman to love and marry, his former squire, the half-Elven Arian. As they agree on a date to announce their pledging, and to finally be married, they know that the Kingdom they both love is still at risk. The bones of the Kingdom's former rulers warn them of danger to come, but for now they have and have found each other, and so are happy. Kieri is worried by the knowledge that the Elves, for some reason, seem to be hiding something, not only from him, but also from the other humans and half-elves of Lyonya. For instance, they no longer seem to be about much, and though they are healing the scars that the Scathefire left behind, the human council of the Kingdom is finding it harder and harder to trust them. What are they hiding, and what is the Elven Lady of Ladysforest hiding from him, her grandson?

Dorrin, meanwhile, is doing her best to do what King Mikeli wants and root out the corruption and dark magery in her family. But when Tsaia goes to war with Pargun, tragedy befalls three of her squires. Daryan Serrostin is attacked and his thumbs cut off and his Achilles tendons cut by servants of Archyra and members of her family. Dorrin is able to rescue him from them before he can be killed, but her magery is unable to heal him and she calls on the Kuakgannir to help in Daryan's healing. The Kuakgan is able to mend his tendons and regrow one thunb by using his green magic, but apparently Kuakgan healing is considered to be anathema to the followers of Gird in Tsaia and they consider this a major failing on her part. Also. Beclan Mahieran, another of her squires, is drawn into a Kuakgannir trap meant for the servants of Archyra and former members of Dorrin's family, and while he is sorely tempted by them, it seems that Gird protects him and enables him to triumph over them and the several members of his squad that they have taken over.

But was it Gird's help, or was it something inside him? As Beclan is put into a secret hiding place that may not be so very secret, hidden truths about himself and his family are forced out into the light- and may end up putting Dorrin and Tsaia into greater danger than ever. As treachery and betrayal afflicts all three Kingdoms, will Kieri Phelan and his former mercenaries and new allies be able to win free and live without fear? Or will the cost to all of them be more than any are prepared or willing to pay?

I like this series, and I like Elizabeth Moon's books, everything from the Vatta family novels to the first series that made her famous, the Deed of Paksenarrion series, has been excellent and engaging. While a lot of the tropes of her series repeat somewhat, with young people growing up, seeing how selfish and short-sighted they were before, while other, older characters must deal with more overt enemies while keeping their eyes out for hidden enemies and reacting to sudden reverses in fortune, this series, being fantasy, also deals with magic and typically magical races like elves, gnomes and Dragons, as well as "rockfolk" aka Dwarves, although they are only mentioned in passing in this book.

The Gods continue to poke their noses into other people's business, from Beclan Mahieran to Arvid Semminson, who discovers that, much to his surprise, the God Gird is interested in the doings of a Guild Thief, even to the point of keeping an eye on him. But why? Was Arvid saving Paks from the Liartian Priests so strange that it attracted the attention of the Gods? We don't get too much of why Gird seems to be so interested in Arvid, but it's clear that he is. One thing that I wondered throughout the novel is: Where is Paks? She got called elsewhere in the last book, but it's clear that she's not there when her friends need her. I can only wonder if we are going to get another book or trilogy about where she is while these events are happening. I doubt she would decline to try and heal Stammel's blindness if she'd known what had happened to him.

So much happens during this book and there are so many characters that it's hard to condense down the story and make it readable. Obviously, this new series is going to be more than a trilogy, and hopefully, we'll find out what happened to Paks and what she's doing after this story is done- I still like her and want to read about her even 20+ years later. This book is wonderful. The battles are sufficiently martial and read like real military battles, and the characters are likeable enough that you want to root for them and see what will happen to them, and how they will overcome the challenges facing them. I really enjoyed this one, even though it is a very large book, it reads much faster than you think it will and the story never becomes bogged down in minutia. Highly recommended and a cracking good read.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A Very Murdering Battle by Edward Marston

Captain Daniel Rawson is a member of His Majesty's forces in France, where England is fighting a battle against King Louis XIV. Under the command of the Duke of Marlbrough, the English forces have the French on the rocks, and the English hope to force a peace treaty. Unfortunately, the French are being unusually stubborn, and Marlborough is feeling tired and let down by the Queen due to his long role in the war.

But it isn't Marlborough's successes or failures that are troubling the Queen, but his opinionated wife, whose constant trumpeting of her own positions in opposition to the Queen is causing the Queen to look on Marlborough with disfavor and distaste. And while Marlborough realizes the cause of the Queen's distress, it doesn't help him rein in his wife or her opinions, and he's feeling put-upon that he hasn't gained more preferment from the battles he's already fought. In fact, he only has one thing to look forward to in all of this, and that is the tapestry he has commissioned from edward Janssen, the father of the woman that Daniel Rawson loves.

The tapestry depicts the Battle of Ramilles, the last large battle in the war. Marlborough has commissioned the tapestry for his estate and for the happiness of his wife, so when it is stolen from Janssen's studio, he sends Daniel, his best spy and investigator, to find out what happened to the tapestry and retrieve it for him.

Janssen is not well, though. The theft of the Tapestry has made him extremely unhappy, and he feels responsible for the theft, berating himself over not taking greater care to protect the precious work. But when Daniel and his friend. Henry Welbeck, come to the city of Amsterdam to track down the tapestry, they must determine how it was stolen as well. Janssen has three apprentices, one of whom is dumb, and they know he could not have spoken of the tapestry to anyone. But the other two, Kees Dopf and Nicolaes Geel, seem to be trustworthy, and Janssen treats them almost like his sons. But which of them betrayed him, and was it wittingly or unwittingly? And for that matter, can Daniel use the two men to help track the thieves to their lair and get back the tapestry?

Meanwhile, Henry Welbeck has problems with women, being unhappy and ill at ease around them. He had been pursued by a Welshwoman named Rachel Rees, but he didn't want anything to do with her, viewing her as entirely too forward and conniving. But an encounter with Amalia Janssen's maid, Beatrix, sees him finally comfortable around a woman. Could he be mellowing towards women?

When the tapestry is finally retrieved, Daniel and Henry return, with the tapestry, to Marlborough. But a new battle is looming with the French, and it will be the most dangerous one yet. Daniel finds Rachel Rees returned to the battle as a victualler, and asks her help in finding out the truth of the troop strength in a French village named Malplaquet. But the French are setting a trap for the English army, bolstered by a new General, and this one is so tricky that it seems that the British are in for a very hard time. Can Daniel, Henry and Rachel Rees make it through the battle in one piece, and what will become of Amalia as her father's apprentice Nicolaes Geel becomes dangerously enamoured of the woman he has admired for so long?

Meanwhile, Rachel Rees is working her wiles on Henry Welbeck, seducing him with gifts of tobacco and rum. But can her gifts soften his hard heart towards her and his utter distaste for women? Or will it be the knowledge that someone else has his eyes on Rachel Rees be the thing that finally moves him into valuing her and wanting her to be around? But as the two armies clash and many on both sides are killed, what will become of our two Englishmen? Can they survive the coming battle with limbs and lives intact?

I liked this latest installment of the Daniel Rawson series, which combines mystery and fighting with a strong dose of spying and battles in dark alleys where Daniel's life is always on the line. Daniel, being part-Dutch, but raised wholly English for most of his life, is a cultural chameleon, able to move in any company and seem to belong there.

Now, though, it's not just Daniel at risk from his spying activities, but Amalia herself who is at risk as one of her father's apprentices takes an unwarranted interest in her, and he hopes to win her for his own. But while we, the readers, worry that her safety is at risk from someone very close at hand, while Daniel is away in battle, he nearly dies after being shot in the midst of battle, raising a satisfying dichotomy of which is in the greatest danger.

My only complaint was that Henry Welbeck's softening towards Rachel Rees seemed a little too quick, but I realize that not everyone may feel this way. I enjoyed the ending and wondered if the series might be ending as well, with the two main characters in relationships. But the war isn't over, and I don't think the series will end this soon. How Amalia and Rachel will figure into the series in the future is something of a mystery, though.

I enjoyed this series a lot, as it hss the perfect combination of mystery, danger and espionage, with a slight smattering of politics to top it off. It makes for a very enjoyable and engaging read, and this is a series that you will enjoy if you like your mysteries slightly... different. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Princess Celie is the youngest child of King Gower the 79th of Sleyne, and the Castle has a little... oddity. You see, the castle is itself magic, and can grow rooms and corridors at will, but usually on a Tuesday. In addition to growing and shrinking rooms magically, the castle also picks the people who rule Sleyne, and will steer the correct candidate to the throne room while ejecting unsuitable candidates in more... quick and alarming ways. Celie has made it her life's work to map the castle and know where every passageway leads, and This Tuesday, a new room opens up- a tower room with four spyglasses pointing in each compass direction.

Celie lives in the Castle with her father, King Gower, her mother, Queen Celina, and her older sister, Lilah and her slightly older brother, Rolf. They also have another brother, Bran, but he is away studying magery with the College of Magicians, in order to become the next castle wizard, a role to which he is more suited than that of Crown Prince. But when her parents travel to the college to witness Bran's graduation, something happens on the trip home- the carriage and guards are attacked, leaving only the Sergeant, Avery, alive. He returns to tell the Kingdom the bad news, but all is not lost- none of the bodies of the King, Queen or Bran have been found, and without bodies, it is not certain that they are dead.

Rolf, as Crown Prince, becomes regent, but "ambassadors" from two neighboring countries, Prince Khelsh of the warlike country of Vervhine and Prince Lulath of Granthia come to help "advise" the children and help them watch over the Kingdom until Rolf can become King... in ten years. worse, Sleyne's Council doesn't seem to see anything wrong with this, even though Rolf himself is fourteen. With only the assiatance of Pogue, a young man who flirts with Lilah, and that of the very magical castle, can the three of them hold off a possible invasion and find their parents before their Kingdom is taken over by one of their neighbors?

At first, Rolf holds off the council and councillors with words and by being more than a little obstructionist. But when Prince Khelsh is declared his successor by the Council, and Celie overhears that the Council plans to have Rolf killed after Prince Khelsh is added into the succession, the three Royal children know that they will have to step up their campaign to keep Sleyne and its people- and Castle Glower, free from the machinations of the council and Prince Khelsh. But what about Prince Lulath? Is he just another tyrant in waiting, or might he actually be on their side?

The three children help the castle out with showing signs of its displeasure with the Council members via judious applications of manure, and weakening garment hems and ties so that their robes fall to pieces when worn. The chambermaids hide the chamberpots overnight, and the castle itself vanishes the replacements brought in. All these acts anger Prince Khelsh, but while he threatens to take out his displeasure on Princesses Lilah and Celie, they step up their abuse of him and his men- as does the Castle.

Pogue, seeking proof of King Gower's survival, travels to the College of Wizards to see if they can be tracked magically, while at home, everything starts to go south rapidly. But when Khelsh takes out the Castle with a spell, the Castle suddenly seems to die, and Celie and Lilah know they must get their people out. But will this blow hand Khelsh the prize he has been looking for all along- the throne of Sleyne, or can Celie, Lilah and Rolf keep the Castle safe for long enough to let their father, mother and brother return, or is their quest futile and doomed to failure?

This book was a good, lighthearted dose of fun to read. Celie's interaction with the castle, and the way the castle's history and actions are presented makes it a character in its own right, one that is just as real and immediate as any of the human characters. It's established right off that the castle is its own person, and takes a large part in selecting the next King of Sleyne, but for some reason, Celie, through her investigation of the castle, seems to win the Castle's heart, and it responds to her more quickly and helps her.

And the actions of the council and the other Princes were well-done, adding a touch of menace and uncertainty to the story. Khelsh is set up early on as the main villain of the piece, but other villains are introduced with certain other members of the council- while others end up being on the side of the Royal Family. The book is good at making things go from bad to worse, and while you are on the side of Princess Celie and the rest of her family right away, the book makes you feel their fear and helplessness as the story ramps up.

I liked this book at the way the story kept me in it, right from the beginning all the way to the end. Celie is the most proactive of her brothers and sisters, thinking of plenty of things to do to discomfit the council and how to get the castle to help. She may be the youngest, but she is by no means powerless, and that was very enjoyable to read. Highly recommended.