Monday, May 28, 2012

2011, Part 1

2000 More Insults, compiled by Louis A. Safian. Looking for the perfect insult to call someone cheap, ugly, dumb, a drunk, mean, egotistical or easy, you can find insults for everyone in this book. Male, female, young and old, no one is left out. Mean-spirited in the extreme, reading this book was more than a bit stomach-turning. The only reason I'd consider using it is to come up with things for very mean-spirited characters to say about other people in a story. This is the kind of book that has gone out of fashion- and thank goodness for that! Not recommended.

Burned by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast- with the death of Heath, Zoey's human love, Zoey has turned her back on the living world and is seeking to hold onto Heath's soul by any means necessary. But in the process, her own soul has shattered into many pieces and she is trapped in a shadow world inside her mind- not quite the lands of the dead, but close enough that if she spends too long there, she, too, could truly die. Only Stark can go in after her and bring her out of it, and he must reunite the shattered and scattered pieces of her soul to do so. But what happens if Zoey doesn't want to come out? And back in Tulsa, Stevie Ray has befriended Rephaim, the Raven Mocker. But when she summons the white Bull to help Zoey out, the White Bull gives her knowledge for a terrible price in blood and pain. And its counterpart, the Black Bull, is summoned as well. tying Stevie Ray to Rephaim and his humanity. But when Neferet sends Kalona into Zoey's mind to kill her so that she can never return, can Zoey snap out of her funk, repair her shattered soul, and save Stark from Kalona? And what part will Aphrodite have to play in this? Another great novel, where Zoey is in the depths of her despair, and trying to save Heath from moving on, but she has to learn that she cannot keep a dead soul from death, and she must accept Heath's death, no matter how much it pains her. The look inside Zoey's mind was enlightening and sad all at once, and the battle towards the end was heartwrenching, both on Zoey and Stark's parts. But there is hope that Zoey will survive and continue to fight, and I still love this series. Highly recommended.

What Women Want:The Science of Female Shopping by Paco Underhill. Men are used to being in power and being in control in every area of business and marketing. But truly, this is no longer the case. These days, women are the ones in control of the shopping budget, and where money is spent, and because of this, business and marketing have adapted to meet the female mindset. Even in the home, the prominence of the bathroom and kitchen are because of the prevalence of marketing to women. It is women who luxuriate in the bath, women who generally do most or all of the cooking, and the touting of high-end ranges, refrigerators, spa-like bathtubs and other conveniences only came about because of women's demand for those things. And these days, when women also have jobs and spend their own money, its how businesses cater to women and their wants and needs that determines how successful they are- a fact laid out in amazing detail in this book. This was fascinating to read and see how women have shaped the retail industry and how they continue to shape it on a daily and yearly basis. Anyone who wants to know how to market things right would do well to read this book and absorb the impact of what it is telling you. Recommended, and fascinating to boot.

Emily the Strange: The Lost Days by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner- Emily is a strange girl who is living in an even stranger town. But she has no idea who she really is, being afflicted with amnesia. She's living in a refrigerator box in an alley and has no idea how she even got to the town of Blackrock. To defeat her Amnesia, Emily is going to have to find out why she came to Blackrock and solve the mystery of the town so she can remember who she is and get back to the family she hopes she has and who hopefully is missing her. But who is she, really, and why was she heading to Blackrock? Emily the Strange started out as a mere image used on clothing and skating gear, but has become a character in and of herself. This book is the first to explore who she is as a character from her own perception. I had hoped the book was going to be interesting, but the book was too long and had too many sidepaths away from the main story to hold my interest. By the end of the book, I was actually getting bored. Unless you are a big fan of Emily the Strange, I don't recommend this book. It seemed too long, and the story was too drawn-out to hold my interest. Not recommended.

The Morganville Vampires: Book Eight- Kiss of Death by Rachel Caine- Michael Glass has been waiting his whole life to hear that a record company wants to make a record of his songs and is bringing him to Dallas to cut a track- but now that he's a vampire, he's extremely unlikely to be given permission to leave the town of Morganville to make the attempt. And his housemates, his lover Eve, best friend Shane and Shane's girlfriend Claire Danvers, are even less likely to be given permission to leave- until they are. However, there is a catch (of course). Oliver, the town's enforcer, is to be their escort, to see that they don't let slip anything that could endanger the town. But it's not the trip to Dallas that causes the most problems- it's the trip back, when they discover another town of vampires, one not nearly as well-controlled or enforced as Morganville, who will also do anything to protect their vampire existence from getting out, even to another group of vampires. Can Michael, Oliver and the others survive the assault by the vampires of the other town and keep their human friends and allies safe while keeping the vampires from killing all the humans in town now that their secret is out? Wow, just when you thought Morganville was bad, we get to see how much worse it could all have been without Amelie in charge, and while the vampires of Morganville are bad, they are generally not actively hostile to the humans there and let passers-through live, while these other vampires view passers-through as food. Morganville through a glass darkly makes for a book you cannot put down. Highly recommended.

The Morganville Vampires: Book Nine- Ghost Town by Rachel Caine- Claire Danvers is the one person her vampire mentor, Myrnin, trusts to see the machine that actually keeps the town of Morganville safe. And when Claire comes up with a way to use the vampires' own powers to make sure that people who aren't meant to know what the town is really like from cottoning onto the secret, she adds it to the machine. But soon, it becomes obvious that something has gone wrong- none of her roommates seem to remember her, and even the vampires are becoming extraordinarily forgetful. But can Claire race to undo what she has done before she herself forgets how to undo the changes? And what will happen if the vampires forget that the humans are under their protection? Another excellent book in the Morganville series, this one focussing on how easily Claire, who is truly brilliant and gifted in science, can overstep herself without realizing it. It was great to see her have to deal with things on her own, and how she copes when her friends can no longer remember her. Highly recommended.

Fables, the Deluxe Edition, Volume 3 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Tony Akins and Jimmy Palmiotti- a newcomer from the Homelands arrives in Fabletown, and it is Red Riding Hood- and after Bigby leaves off investigating Ichabod Crane, he's soon investigating Red Riding Hood's astonishing survival and escape from the lands controlled by the Empire. But one of the three little pigs has survived his beheading, and warns Snow White that a holocaust is coming. But she doesn't know enough to take it seriously. Soon after, three strange men arrive in Fabletown. They are made of wood, and each is exactly the same except for the color of their hair- which are wigs. They are there at the behest of the Adversary to scout out Fabletown, get back all the magic items stolen from the Homelands by the fleeing Fables, and to kill as many Fables as they can. But when the battle finally comes to Fabletown, will everyone survive? And what will happen to the wooden soldiers who are left afterwards? I loved this graphic novel, which showed what was going on in the homelands, and yet, at the same time, brought up the prospect of war in the human world, and show them that their attempt to escape the homelands was unsuccessful, because the Adversary is still there. It's a story of war and skulduggery, and advances readers closer to the time where the Fables must return home to defeat the adversary. Highly recommended.

Field Guide to Meat by Aliza Green- If you like meat, but would like more suggestions for how to prepare it, or you see a strange cut or name of meat in the market and wondered "what is that, and where is it from?", this book will more than likely have the answers. Everything from chicken, pork, beef or cuts of sausage, bacon and possibly obscure stuff like Brauschweiger or Capacollo, this book tells you what it is and gives suggestions on how to eat it. Includes pictures of just about everything meat and meat-related. A small book with big information and ideas. Recommended.

Stormwalker by Allyson James- Janet Begay is a Stormwalker, and fled her home because people gossiped about her, her power, and her missing mother. But when she returns to the town, trouble follows her, from a mirror with a spirit to her missing mother. But at least she has her biker boyfriend to back her up, right? Well, how is he immune to her storm powers, and why is he the only person able to help her control them? With a local cop who thinks she is nothing but a troublemaker on her tail, and creatures from another dimension popping in to cause trouble, Janet is going to have to figure out the truth of her parentage and who her boyfriend is, because otherwise, she might not survive... I liked this book and the chemistry between Janet and Mick, her boyfriend, as well as the decidedly non-traditional "otherworld" that underlies the series. Vampires, werewolves and such, the lifeblood of more traditional paranormal romance, are absent here, and neither Janet nor Mick are the usual sorts of characters. A nice change and recommended.

Firewalker- Janet Begay's boyfriend Mick is a Dragon-shifter, and while he was sent by his people to kill her because she and her parentage was a threat to the world, he befriended her and came to protect and love her instead. Recently, Janet returned home and opened a hotel named "The Crossroads", which attracts all sorts of Supernatural creatures. But when a dead body is found in her hotel, the local Sherriff, Nash Jones, just recently resigned to her return, decides she must be the main suspect. But what does this have to do with Mick's people, and are they still trying to kill her because they believe she can destroy the world? When Mick goes missing, Janet will have to search for him and find him- but if he is in the hands of his own people, can Janet convince them to spare him, or will she have to sacrifice her owm life to save that of the man she loves? This is the second book in the series, and just as good as the first, although it explores Mick's people, and why they are so angry at him for not killing Janet. With more Navajho mysticism and more weird supernatural creatures than you can shake a stick at, this enlarges the world of Stormwalker, and fleshes out Mick's character and people. Another excellent book, and recommended.

Blood Wyne by Yasmine Galenorn- Menolly D'Artigo used to be a half-fae ninja, until she was attacked by a vampire in the midst of one of her missions. Now a vampire herself, Menolly threw off the reins of her maker, Drudge, to become her own woman and take on the forces of the Underworld with her sisters. But now, someone is killing humans and making it seem like the Vampire are responsible, so someone must step up and take control of the vampire Community. Menolly's associate Wade wants it to be him, because he has the experience running Vampires Anonymous. However, another candidate has also appeared for the position, Roman, a son of the feared Vampire Queen Blood Wyne, and thousands of years old. And leadership of the American Vampires isn't all that he wants- he also has his eye on Delilah as a lover, and promises her that if she convinces Wade to stand down from the position, he will prevent his mother from killing Wade or in interfering with the vampires in any way. But he also promises to fight on the side of the sisters against Shadow Wing- not an inconsiderable point when the odds are so stacked against him. But how will Menolly's lover Nerissa feel about the deal? And can Menolly convince Wade that he shouldn't even try for the position of leadership without revealing that it is Blood Wyne who is pulling the strings against him, and he is severely outclassed? And can Menolly and Wade catch the killers and exonerate the vampires in the deed? I wish I could say I loved this book, because I love this entire series, but honestly, this book had some problems that left me feeling more than a little troubled by it. The first is the reaction of both Nerissa and Roman towards sharing Menolly. Yes, Menolly is fae and has no problem with multiple lovers, but neither Roman nor Nerissa are, and I felt there was a lot of "wish fulfillment" that each was fine with sharing Menolly in this way, especially Roman, whose attitudes should be much more primitive than that. Delilah and Shade's romance actually felt a bit creepy, and despite the author having everyone treat Shade as though he was this great, cool guy, I am still a bit weirded out by how quickly Delilah overcame her feelings of Chase leaving her and shacked up with Shade. I'd like to see something of them developing a deeper relationship rather than just having it a fait accompli. And Chase has problems of his own. He's not all that great a guy, and neither is Sharah, his new lover (at least, according to a conversation later in the book), and this gave me a bit of Schadenfreude on his behalf. But it's nice to see all the sisters finding their own niche and their own groove- they are growing up, and it's a welcome change. Recommended, but not highly.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

2012, Part 8

Up in Smoke by Katie MacAllister- May Northcott is a doppleganger, the double of a nymph and meant to be her "sister"'s death. But May has achieved a life of her own, and is the beloved of Gabriel Tauhou, the leader of the Silver Dragons. Saving her love from death, however, has left her trapped in Hell with demons, and Magoth, one of the Demon Lords, is attempting to woo her to get access to the human world. But when Gabriel suggests it would be in May's best interests to agree. May is shocked, but agrees to go along with the plan, because according to Gabriel, Magoth's power in the human world would be very limited. But when she returns to earth, she discovers that the Dragons are in the midst of a conclave, with each of the Dragon races attending. The red Dragons have a problem, though- their leader is imprisoned in Hell, and the Dragon who declares himself in charge is not accepted by the son of the former leader now in Hell. When an altercation occurs in the conclave, Gabriel gives May a dragon artifact to hold for him, and she ends up using it to protect him, only to find it has melded with her, and is now a part of her, giving other people even more reason to want to possess her. But can May and Gabriel resolve the problems in the ranks of the Red Dragons, and corral Magoth when it is revealed that he has more power on Earth than Gabriel knew? And will Gabriel's mother accept May as Gabriel's lover and mate? This book is set in the same universe as Katie MacAllister's Green Dragon books, but with a different clan and different characters. May is somthing very unusual, the Doppleganger or fetch of a nymph, but she's much more focused and together than her sister is- and her sister has a tendency to complicate her life amazingly. This was the first book I read in this series, but I enjoyed it immensely and would say that it's definitely as good as all of her books, ones about Dragons and Vampires included. Recommended.

Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett- Phillip Eslingen has recently mustered out of the army and has taken up residence in the city of Astreiant, the royal city, which makes him a foreigner. Recently, young apprentices have started to go missing in Astreiant, and the local scuttlebutt is blaming the missing children on foreigners taking the apprentices and making them into slaves in a foreign country. That is how he meets Nicholas Rathe, a pointsman, a city guard similar to a policeman, who keeps the Peace in Point of Hopes, one of the thirteen districts of the city. Phillip has been hired to be a bouncer in a tavern owned by people of the same nationality as himself, and suspicious citizens keep accusing the tavern owners of being in on the plot to abduct the children of the city. But when the accusations lead to a brawl at the tavern, Phillip is fired, and Nicholas finds him a new job working as the bodyguard for a crime lord. But because of the circumstances of how they met and how it cost him his job, Phillip is also interested in finding out what happened to the children of Astreiant, and of a new series of astrologers coming to the city for the Midsummer Fair- ones charging suspiciously low prices. What, if anything, is going on with them, and what might they have to do with the missing apprentices. Can Phillip and Nicholas find the common thread tying the disappearances together before whoever is abducting these children finishes their dirty work and wants to dispose of all those young bodies? And can Nicholas bring the miscreant to justice so that the children get the justice they deserve? I love police procedurals, and fantasy novels, and this combines that love into a fantasy police procedural, which scratches both itches at once. I loved everything about this book, from the world-building to the characters, the magic, and the city itself, all of which was superior to anything I had read back when I first found it (around the time that Nightwatch by Robin Wayne Bailey was released). It combines everything I love, including a highly unorthodox romance which you have to piece together from inferences rather than being stated outright. Dense and packed with everything I love, this book is highly recommended by me.

Point of Dreams by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett- with the success of their last adventure together, changes have come in the lives of Nicholas Rathe and Phillip Eslingen. Nicholas has been promoted to a new position in another part of the city, Point of Hopes, a larger, richer and more upscale part of the city than Point of Dreams. And because of his notoriety for being one of the men who broke the case of the missing apprentices, Phillip Eslingen has become too famous for his crime lord employer, who lets him go until his notoriety does down. Nicholas once again comes up with a solution to Phillip's woes, and gets him a chance to try out with the Guild of Fighters, where, once he passes their entrance tests, he is assigned to the cast of a new play, to teach a bunch of nobles how to convincingly fight and use a sword- for the play, at least. The play is one that the city has taken up a craze for, known as "The Drowned Island", and is as much innuendo as melodrama. But someone is messing around with the actors and the play itself, and when a guardsman and one of the nobles is killed, Nicholas is called in to investigate the deaths, which seem to have occurred as much by magic as misadventure, and he isn't the only one to be concerned- the mages of the city are also concerned about the deaths, and are worried about the play itself and a tome of magic that might be loose in the city. But if magic really is the culprit behind the deaths, how can Nicholas find out who is behind it and bring them to justice? And can he do it before the one responsible can bring their plan to fruition? An excellent follow up to "Point of Hopes", and another dense, twisty mystery that brings more about the city of Astreiant, its rulers and people, to light. And now I see there will be a third story, and this makes me happy. Another fantasy police procedural? Yes, please! And they are re-releasing their older titles at the same time, so be sure to pick this up. Highly recommended.

Talon of the Silver Hawk by Raymond E. Feist- When mercenaries wearing the colors and crest of the Duke of Olasko slaughters his way through the native villages in the Mountains of Midkemia, their objective is to slaughter everyone, from the eldest to the babes in arms. But they miss a lone boy named Kieli, who had gone higher into the mountains on a vision quest. When he returns, his people are slaughtered, but he is found and rescued by a trader named Pasko, and his apprentice, Robert. But, in truth, they are more than just traders, and they take Kieli, now going by the name he was granted in his vision, Talon of the Silver Hawk, or simply, Talon, and raise, teach and train him to become an infiltrator, spy and warrior so that he can track down the true slayers of his people and whoever was behind their deaths. But can Tal contain his need for vengeance long enough and bide his time until his opponents lower their guard for him to strike? And when called upon to serve the man who ordered his people killed, can Tal do so with a smile, awaiting the time to strike? Raymond E. Feist is one of the best fantasy authors writing today, and here you can see why. His sense of place, of this land he has created, is perfect, and his grasp of character and talent are undeniable. His writing reaches out and grabs you, and you can sense how Tal changes as he grows up, from the fierce but callow tribesman to a practiced swordsman and infiltrator- and along the way, we get to meet some of the major players in Midkemia from behind the scenes. A novel that will totally engross you and interest you both in the character and the world. Highly recommended.

Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halperin- Justin loves his Dad- has always loved him, but what comes out of his father's mouth is both funny and outrageous. Having started repeating what his father says on his blog- and said in the past, stuff that is outrageous, funny and often philosophical, in a weird way. With a blog, sitcom and now a book from the deal, Justin gathers his Dad's collected "wisdom" and lays it out for the world to see. This is a book to make you feel your own relatives are normal, and which will hopefully make you laugh in the meantime. Sadly for me, I didn't find this book all that funny. It was occasionally amusing, but laugh out loud funny? Well, not so much. The best I could do is crack a smile, and I'll admit, some of the stories were pretty awesome, but I honestly didn't think they were funny. Perhaps because my own extended family is pretty outrageous and says some weird things, too. It's not funny if it's just Tuesday. Not recommended, but YMMV.

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics by Tom Rogers- Hollywood movies have long been known for ejecting the principles of science and reality for movie magic, or perhaps, "fantasy" would be a better word, if it makes a good story. Sounds and explosions in space movies, for one. Artificial gravity that doesn't require the spaceship to be rotating, or part of it to be rotating are another "shortcut" one sees in the movies, but there are more... so many more, and this book covers the more egregious violations in movie physics and movie science as a whole, with an entire chapter dedicated to "who gets it more correct: Star Trek or Star Wars?" and a chapter at the end dedicated to the worst of the worst- the most insultingly bad movies with regards to physics. Interspersed in the book are movies that get it right, and why, with graphs and explanations on why the science in a movie is bad. I loved books like "The Physics of Star Trek" and this book was right up my alley, explaining in an entertaining yet understandable way how and why the movies get it wrong, and how it would be if they had gotten it correct in the first place- and in many cases, how movie makers get their cars and stars to appear to defy physics in the first place. I loved this book, and the cover, with a man leaping to get away from a fiery explosion behind him, suits the idea of the book perfectly. If you want to laugh at how preposterous movie science can be, this is the book for you. Highly recommended.

Betty Crocker's Guide to Easy Entertaining: How to Have Guests and Enjoy Them is a reprint of the 1959 classic. Inside are not only the original recipes from the book, but tips on how to put together a fun dinner party with guests that click, how to plan, serve and cook the dinner, and how to ensure you give the parties that people want to attend- everything from formal dinners to informal get-togethers with friends, and even gatherings of your children's friends, so that everyone is made welcome, has a good time, and you don't wear yourself to a frazzle trying to make everything go "perfectly". And what if you have no space for serving a meal for more than an additional couple? Perhaps an after-dinner party would suit you better... and instructions are given for all of them. This book may have been written in the 1950's, but the advice within is perfectly suited for today as well, and the ideas for stretching meals, additions to make coffee and other dishes more "special", and ideas for parties that give acres of pleasure with only a few feet of work, well, that's where this book excels. If you run into a copy in a store or a used book store, it's definitely one to give a look-see, as many of these ideas are still perfectly good. Recommended.

Captive Spirit by Anna Windsor- Bela Argos is a Sybil, one of a group of women with powers over the elements. The Sybils have been fighting Demons for years, summoned by a group named the Legion. But now they are defeated, and the Sybils are taking time to remember the ones lost in the fight. Bela, having lost the other two of her triad, has decided to form a new group of Sybils, and, with the emergence of a new Water Sybil, first of her kind in almost a thousand years, forms the first fighting quartet since that time. With the exception of the new Water Sybil, she takes women who have also lost their own triads, the ones with the problems, the ones who are considered "useless" by their sisters, and decides to forge them into a fighting group. But its not as easy as it looks, and when Bela and her group rescue the former soldier Duncan Sharp from an attack by a new group of Demons, called the Rakshasa, he is clawed and infected by their leader, and his friend is killed by the Demons as he saves Duncan's life. But when Bela takes him back to the team's house, she begins falling for him, and he for her. But with a demon infection waiting in his veins to change him into a Rakshasa, is there any future for Bela and Duncan? This is the start of a new trilogy or quadrology for Anna Windsor after her Dark Crescent Sisterhood books. With new Water Sibyls appearing, it seems that the Triads will return to being Quads. But a new demon threat endangers them all. I liked the book. The romance was smart and hot and the Rakshasa are certainly theatening and scary- and powerful enough to give Bela and her team fits trying to bring them down. There is no certain victory, and Duncan could become the enemy at any time... all the hallmarks of a good romance conundrum. Recommended.

Captive Soul by Anna Windor- Camille Fitzgerald is a Fire Sibyl, but unlike most of her sisters, she cannot summon flames to her sword, making the other fire Sibyls see her as useless in a battle, and she suffers from the feeling that they are right- she couldn't save the other members of her triad from death, so what good is she? But her sense of fire, that's something else entirely. But when she meets the Spirit of John Cole, once trapped in Duncan Sharp's body and now inhabiting the former body of the leader of the Rakshasa, she has to wonder if it is really him or some trick on the part of the Demons. But his spirit pulls at her, and his contact with people infected with the Rakshasa demon plague but somehow able to keep their own minds and spirits brings her into contact with the Oracle, a former Dark Crescent Sisterhood Sibyl now infected with the demon taint, but keeping her own mind and spirit intact. In fact, the Oracle is so old, she is from the time when the Water Sibyls were still around. And she and another Fire Sibyl named Ona are making Camille see that she might not be useless at all- in fact, she and her sister Sibyls might be the most powerful among their sisters, and a threat to the Sisterhood, and the world, as a whole. But as she struggles to master her powers, can she and John and her sisters destroy the Rakshasa once and for all? Or will the magician allies of the Rakshasa, be too much for them to handle? Another excellent book for the new Quad, and here we get to see that the four sisters could be the most powerful among the Dark Crescent Sisterhood alive today, even though they lack the more usual powers over the elements. And then Camille must determine if John is really who he says he is, as he struggles to keep the spirit of his body's former inhabitant imprisoned inside him- relying too much on his Rakshasa powers could leave him open to being imprisoned himself. And now there is a new enemy as well, and they will probably be the foe in the next book in the series. An excellent book, a wonderful romance, and I still want to read more. Recommended.

More Celtic Fairy Tales collected by Joseph Jacobs and illustrated by John D. Batten has twenty Celtic fairy tales, although very few of them actually involve fairies. Most of them are from Wales and/or Ireland, with tales like "The Fate of the Children of Llyr" (from Ireland) to "Powell, Prince of Dyfed", which is Welsh. Unless you are really into Faerie tales and myths, it's likely you won't have seen most of these fairy tales before, but I didn't find many of them all that interesting in the sense that I really HAD to read this book. It's a nice set of tales, but most of the really interestng ones can be found elsewhere. Not recommended.

Perfect Chocolate- a collection of over 100 essential recipes by Paragon Publishing- There are people who like chocolate, and there are people who LOVE chocolate, who can't get enough of it and who obsess over it in everything. If you are one of the second group, or know someone who is, this is the perfect chocolate cookbook to give them as a gift. It has everything from cakes, pies, bars, tortes and ice cream to everything in between, filled to the brim with milk, dark and white chocolate goodness. Even if you only like chocolate, this book will make you want to whip up something chocolate and devour it. In addition to the recipes, the pictures seduce you with images of sweet chocolaty goodness and deserts just begging to be eaten. The recipes are clear and easy to follow, and the pictures will make breezing through the book for something you wish to cook a snap. Highly recommended.

When Blood Calls by J. K. Beck- Sara Constantine is an attorney, a bright up and comer who is abruptly promoted from her former job to one in "The Division" a part of Homeland Security that deals with supernatural threats. And the first job Sara is assigned is to bring down Lucius Dragos, a vampire suspected in the death of a federal judge. And Lucius did it all right- but he killed the man to punish him for sexually abusing his ward, a young woman who is mentally handicapped, and also a vampire. People with mental handicaps aren't supposed to be turned, but Lucius was responsible for the death of his own daughter long ago, and this girl resembled her so much that he couldn't bring himself to kill her when she begged him for life. But he also wants to be free to continue to protect her- and unbeknownst to Sara, the stranger who she had sex with after winning a long, hard-fought case in the human world was actually Lucius. But while part of her is shocked to learn that the man she slept with wasn't human, she is also coming to feel that Lucius may have had a reason to kill the judge. But can she keep him alive long enough to find out? This is not your standard vampire story, but this book introduced me to a whole new world of the supernatural. It's the first in the series, and introduces us to the story and the people in an easy to understand way. Even the organization that Lucius belongs to is explained neatly without seeming like an infodump. I enjoyed this book very much and look forward to reading the other books in the series. Recommended.

Green-Eyed Envy by Kasey Mackenzie- Marissa Holloway is a Fury, a greek supernatural whose job it is to track down wrongdoers and bring justice to them. How lucky it is, then that she is also the Sheriff of Boston, whose job it is to track down crimes involving supernatural creatures. The discovery of a dead werecat brings with it an element of danger, as the dead werecat has had his tongue removed, and replaced with a variety of catnip that is supernatural in origin. According to the werecat on the force that Riss works with, the removal of the tongue is a form of "Counting Coup"- the problem being that both the Cats and their usual foes , the Hounds, know of it. And as one of Riss's friend is a Cat who will soon be marrying a Hound, and Riss's lover is a Hound, she will have to find the killer before he or she can kill again. Added to that is Riss's grandmother, a fury who has spent most of her life in a coma, has now awakened, and is causing lots of trouble in Fury society, and Riss's plate is full even before she takes on the role of the wedding planner to see if one of the prominent cats or hounds could be in on the killings. But when Riss's own niece is imperiled by both threats, will Riss be able to keep her safe as her niece fledges into a Fury? A new series to me, but this is the second book in the series. But even though it wasn't the first book, I was glad to see that the information was presented in a way that felt natural to the story, and not as an infodump. The characters were engaging, and the sex and love was hot, leading to this book feeling more than satisfying to me as a reader. Recommended.

Desire Untamed by Pamela Palmer- Lyon is a feral, one of a group of warriors able to take on animal form and hunt down Draeden, mindless creatures who feed on Energy, and keep the Mages and Demons at bay. But when the Radiant of the Ferals dies, the mantle passes to a new female Therian- and without the Radiant, Lyon and his fellow ferals can neither change nor release their rage. Unfortunately for all of them, Kara MacAllister has been raised as a human, and knows nothing about Therian society- but she finds herself attracted to Lyon- only a ceremony reveals that Vhyper, another Therian, is her destined mate. Kara doesn't like Vhyper, and feels as though she is in danger in the house where the Ferals live. Can she and Lyon keep her safe as she goes through the ritual to Awaken herself as the Radiant, and will she be able to keep herself from giving herself, body and soul to Lyon, and tearing apart the society that the ferals live by? Or was the destined mate ritual wrong somehow, and how could this be the case? Another book that is the first in a new series, and well done, with Therian society being explained to Kara because she has never been a part of it. The information was given organically, and in small enough doses that it didn't turn into chapters of talking heads. I liked the chemistry between Kara and Lyon, and how they came together. Recommended.

Friday, May 18, 2012

2012, Part 7

Inside the Tower: The Alternative Guide by James Bartholemew is a Guide to the Tower of London, covering a short history of the Tower, the Yeoman Warder's Tour, a detailed Guide to the buildings inside the Tower and discussions of the various bits and pieces of the Tower, such as the Ravens and why they are there, the duties of the Yeoman Warders, pictures of the Crown Jewels, and the layout of the Tower itself. This was a fascinating book, filled with facts and stories and has many pictures depicting the various places inside the Tower of London, the crown jewels, the Yeoman Warders and views of various bits of London and the river Thames visible from the Tower. If you can find a copy of this book, it's invaluable as a resource on anything Tower of London-related. Highly recommended.

Stargazing for Beginners by John Mosely- Want to know more about the night sky but not sure where to begin? This book is a good place to start, with sky maps, discussions on the planets and stories about the various constellations, both northern and southern, as well as why they were named and how. It's not a really in-depth book, but for those who are interested in star-gazing and the sky, it gives a lot of information without being overly technical, but it isn't that deep or detailed, either. Good for kids and first-time stargazers, but soon you will want something more advanced and with more information.

Threadbared: Decades of Don'ts by Kimberly Wrenn and Mary Watkins is full of crafting ideas for clothing, hats, and other knitted and crocheted items that will make you wonder "What were they smoking, um, thinking?!?" Every era has its hideous items, and here they are for everyone to see while the authors lay on the snark with masonry trowels. And not that these patterns and ideas don't deserve them either, because they are flat-out hideous. Revisit the hideous, matchy-matchy days of yesteryear that have thankfully long since been forgotten- and for good reason, too! This book gets high marks for humor, and will make you laugh so hard your sides hurt, even if you aren't into fashion.

Dear America- Behind the Masks- The Diary of Angeline Reddy, Bodie, California, 1880- Angeline's father is Bodie's greatest criminal lawyer, and she believes he was on a case when he suddenly disappeared. But the sheriff says that her father has been murdered, and Angeline doesn't believe him, knowing, in her heart of hearts, that her father is still alive. So she decides to do some investigating of her own, trying to find out what happened to her father. But when her mother falls ill and a mysterious ghost shows up in town, Angeline feels stymied by the mystery. And with her father gone a series of vigilante attacks begin occurring in and around the town, running folks who have lived there for years out. Some blame a group of actors known as the Horribles, but Angeline doesn't know what to think. She only knows that without the help of her friends, Ellie and a Chinese servant girl named Ling Loi, she will never get to the bottom of the mystery or discover what happened to her father. I liked this book, as Angeline is a girl who sees clearly and has hopes and dreams that sometimes seem far outside of the small town of Bodie. I like the history the book related, and the characters, and how Angeline could never quite be sure if Antoine was on her side. The Epilogue wraps up the book perfectly, and the associated history materials were very interesting, about the very real town of Bodie. Highly recommended.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach examines Space and humanity's efforts to explore and colonize it. How astronauts succumb to a curious fascination with space once they are outside of the space capsule and how it is similar to the Rapture of the Deep aka Nitrogen Narcosis. She covers how scientists research things for space- without actually going there themselves, the food astronauts (and maybe the rest of us) will someday eat in space, and even covers the most interesting subject of all-sex in zero gravity- who might have done it and when, and the unique challenges to overcome to have sex in space. This was a fun and funny book that made me laugh aloud more than once, while giving me a look at the kinds of things scientists study to advance our knowledge of space travel. It's also thought-provoking as well as an interesting and entertaining read. If you've read her novel "Bonk", this is another one you are going to have to read if you have any interest in space travel or going to the planets. Highly recommended.

Folktales of Ireland edited and translated by Sean O'Sullivan- The irish have many folktales, not just ones about fairies, but about animals, saints and sinners and about real people. This book collects many of them in one place, like the story of Cu Chulainn or the Boy who became Pope. The wide variety of tales in this book is good, because some of them can seem repetitive after a while and yet others, like the tales of Finn MacCool (or Fionn MacCumhail as it is sometimes written) are completely missing from the volume. So these are less mythology tales than more general folktales. And they are interesting, if somewhat repetitive, but this is not a book to read straight through. It's something you might want to read a bit at a time and put down and then read something else in between. It's good, but can be a struggle to read all at once. Recommended, not highly.

Master of Shadows by Angela Knight- La Belle Coeur is a maja, one of the female immortals of Arthur's Court. Her job is to seduce young males who are about to come of age as vampires, and kill them if they cannot control their bloodlust. Tristran is a male Maja or vampire of Arthur's Court- one who watches over and protects the humans of earth. Long ago, he was married to Isolde, but her betrayal forced him to slay her to save not only his own life, but the lives of others. He dislikes Belle because of her resemblance to Isolde, but when Arthur assigns them to work together to help track down Warlock, a werewolf with magical powers, they will be thrown into close proximity, where they discover that what they feel for each other is anything but contempt. But will Belle, a polished seducer of the court, be able to give up her duty for love, and can Tristan overcome his distaste for women who look like his former wife to find the real emotions that underlay their fascination with each other? This book brings back both Warlock and his daughter, and sets up his daughter as the protagonist of the next book. But I liked the way that Belle and Tristan sparked off each other, and their attempts to protect each other even as the man who would not fall in love again because of past tragedy and the woman whose job it is to seduce but never fall in love find their emotions run far deeper than they would like. How they overcame their pasts to keep that love was wonderful to read and I look forward to more books in this series. Highly recommended.

Wartorn: Obliteration by Robert Asprin and Eric Del Carlo- The Felk people have raised a massive army to conquer the Isthmus and rule over their neighbors. Aided by the spirit of a long-dead General who has his own reasons for wanting everlasting war, the Felkians seek to build on their gains and dominate the entire Isthmus. Arrayed against them are a scholar who studied the history and tactics of said dead General, a playwright striking back against the people who destroyed his home and family by raising a rebellion, and two southern mercenaries who failed to assassinate the body the dead General is currently inhabiting, along with the armies of the other city-states endangered by the Felk army. But can they compete with the might of the Felk and those who support them? As much as I would have liked to like this novel the second in a duology, it seemed like the authors decided they were tired of the story and just abandoned it partway through. A big battle is coming, the magician in charge of the whole thing is assassinated, rocks fall, all the wizards die, and that's pretty much the end of the war and the story. You only see what happens to four of the characters of the book, and the rest either die off-screen or are never mentioned again. It seemed a lazy way to end it, and it was just when the story was getting interesting. Not recommended.

Kiss of Fire by Deborah Cooke- The Firestorm is coming, and those of the Dragon race array on either side to meet it. Quinn Tyrell is the Smith of the Dragons fighting on the side of the light, known as the Pyr, but when he meets his destined mate in Sara Keegan, a former accountant who left her job to run her aunt's quirky New Age bookstore, he knows beyond anything that he must protect her- because the Dragons who support the Dark, called the Slayers, are willing to use her to get to him. Because while he is the Smith, Sara is destined to be the Seer. But more than their own lives are at risk from the Slayers- the Dark ones have kidnapped the Oracle, the most powerful female of the Dragon race- the only female. And to get her back, Sara will have to be kidnapped herself. But can she help free the Oracle from the Slayers? And can Quinn find her before the Slayers kill her and condemn him to an eternity of solitude? I enjoyed this book a lot. I loved the interaction between Quinn and Sara, even though I read this book *after* I read the sequel, "Kiss of Fury". It didn't cover a lot of information about Dragons, but that didn't seem to matter. We learned enough to enjoy Quinn and Sara's story, and I do want to read more. Recommended.

Kiss of Fury by Deborah Cooke- Donovan Shea may be a Dragon, but he is also a very rich man in his human life. But when he meets his own destined mate in Alexandra Madison, a scientist who was set to produce an engine that was completely clean and green to boot, he is shocked when she doesn't trust him and tries to steal his car. As for Alexandra, she is running on fumes. Betrayed by those who were backing her engine, her partner dead and her lab in ruins, as well as injured and sought as a possible madwoman, she is having a hard time trusting anyone. But her determination to save her work and rebuild it makes Donovan feel that he should be helping her. And so he gives in to his impulse to help, rather than stand back and watch as life goes by. But the Slayers have reasons for wanting Alexandra dead and her invention dead with her, and Donovan must stand with the other Pyr to save Alexandra, and the invention that means more than her own life to her. Can either of them let the Slayers win and not go down fighting? I read this book first and found myself enjoying the story. Alexandra has had everything she worked for taken away from her, but instead of lying down and dying, she struggles and fights to preserve what she has been working on, and Donovan finds himself moved by her passion into helping her, and eventually, the passion that is building between them ignites into the firestorm of Dragon mating. An interesting and enjoyable romance that made and makes me want to read more. Recommended.

Bound by Sin by Jenna Maclaine- Cin Craven is a Witch and warrior, but she is also a vampire. While not all vampires are evil, there are certainly renegades, and that is who Cin fights, along with her lover and mate, Michael, and her friends. But when she seeks out her family to make amends, she discovers that one of her relatives, her Cousin Claire, has been kidnapped and taken to America, where she is imprisoned by Adrien Boucher, a wicked plantation owner who seeks her power. Cin decides to save her cousin as a means of atoning for the heartbreak she brought her family for her disappearance. But saving Claire is not going to be easy= for on his side, Boucher has a voodoo Queen, and the only way to fight her is for Cin to seek out that variety of Dark magic herself. But Michael, ever mindful of Cin's safety and sanity, is convinced that giving into Dark magic like voodoo would be disastrous for Cin. But is there another way to save Claire and take her away from Boucher? And can Cin's witchly magic fight the might of a voodoo Queen? I have read short stories with Cin before, but this was the first full-length book with her character that I have ever seen, and I enjoyed reading it so much that I definitely want to see if I can find the first two novels in the series, which apparently detail how Cin became a vampire and met Michael. I enjoyed the book greatly and found it a memorable read. Recommended.

Twilight Fulfilled by Maggie Shayne- Birgit Poe may not be a full vampire, but her parents are vampires, and she supports their cause. But the resurrection of one of the oldest vampires, a man named Utanapishtim, endangers the entire vampire race, as Utana believes that because of him, Vampires exist, and the only way for his soul to find rest is to wipe the earth of their presence. In this, he is supported by a human man who wants to kill off vampires, study them and find out how to steal their powers for his own. Birgit and her brother, as mostly human, decide that they must deal with Utanapishtim, as only they have a chance of survivng his wrath against vampires. With her brother having the power to harm, and her having the power to heal, they must work together if they are to stop this first vampire. But when Birgit is separated from her brother, she alone has the power to make Utana see another way. Unfortunately, she may be falling in love with this vampire from ages past. Can she kill the man she is coming to love to save her mother, father, brother, and all the rest of the vampires she loves from destruction? And can she make Utana fall in love with her as well, and change his mind about whether the vampire race needs to die with a very human man whispering hate in his ears? I have followed Maggie Shayne's vampire series ever since it started in the Silhouette Shadows series,and this latest book is stretching the series to its limit, I'll admit. We are past the straight vampires and on to their mostly human descendants, which is kinda scraping the bottom of the barrel. But I found myself drawn into the story of how Birgit found some humanity in Utana, and he reclaimed his humanity and sanity in her. A nice change of pace, and still good, although I find the series is going to ridiculous lengths now. It really needs to end, sooner or later, before it becomes a parody of itself. Recommended nonetheless.

Come to Me by Lisa Cach- Samira is a succubus. But when she helped an Incubus with a prank he played on a Wallachian Prince, making him fear that his virginal sister was actually a slut through a very realistic dream, he violated the laws of the night world and got both of them punished. Samira was cast out into a human body and found herself imprisoned by Nicolae, a Wallachian noble who sought the power of the night world to restore him and his family to his noble seat. Samira, who is bound to human form until she can discover what she did wrong, finds herself drawn to this driven man, even as he seeks to discover the powers she once had. But when the game she plays of making him fall in love with her to get him to let her go gets her caught in the web she is weaving, can she give up what she was for what she has, and what she wants to have. and can she help Nicolae achieve his dreams without letting him go? Well, this book was intriguing, what with Night World society and its ruler, Nyx. And it was nice to see Samira change from a self-absorbed Succubus to a woman in love, who found that she would give up her world for the man she loved. Nicolae, too, must grow, and discover that an endless seeking for power only gets you so far- sometimes you need more than power to succeed, you also need something to fight for. A good book, and recommended.

Be Still My Vampire Heart by Kerrelyn Sparks- Angus McKay was made a vampire at fifteen, and though he's live hundreds of years since then, his body has remained the same age. But just like any man, he wants to find someone to love. So when his boss inadvertantly discovers a way for vampires to age- drinking a synthetic blood substitute and staying awake during the day, Angus is desperate to try it and to finally grow up into a man. But most vampire females seem to think that he is the same old Angus, too young to bother with. Desperate, he approaches a well-known female vampire to try and find a woman that is right for him. Emma Wallace is a CIA Agent who believes the only good vampire is a dead vampire, and has infiltrated the company Angus works for to try and discover where a general's daughter has been kidnapped to and try to get the girl back. Unbeknownst to her, the same woman is now married to Angus's boss, but her father cannot believe she could fall for a vampire. Working as a security guard, Emma finds herself an object of Angus' attentions, and she's shocked to find she isn't immune to his charms, manly or otherwise. But can Emma overcome her hatred of vampires long enough to do her job and fall in love with a Highlander who only wants love? I liked seeing Angus all grown up and looking for love- his desperation and the comic potential of so many women fawning over him carried me through a lot of the novel- until the romance between Emma and Angus started to heat up, which carried me the rest of the way. A good romance with a lot of comedic elements good for a laugh and a sigh. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

2012, Part 6

Intruder by C. J. Cherryh takes Bren Cameron, the only human who spends all his life in the court of the Atevi, an alien race that shares the planet the Atevi call home. Humans are relegated to the island of Mospheira, and Bren is the only human allowed off the island. Bren serves the Atevi Lord Tabini as negotiator between humans and Atevi. Lately, though, he has been working for the Dowager Ilisidi, who is negotiating peace with the Maschigi clan that recently was blamed in the attack on Ilisidi's estate. Tabini is unhappy that Bren is working for someone else, but the gain in power outweighs that consideration for now as Bren finalizes the deal. But trouble is brewing in the Assassin's Guild, the same group that provides all nobles with bodyguards. But someone is using the deal between Ilisidi and Machigi to foment trouble among Tabini's court, and wants to use Bren in the original role of his station- a mediator between two Atevi. Unfortunately, the survival rates of the negotiators who attempted this feat were not high at all. As well, Tabini's young son, Cajeiri, is growing up and coming into his own. But with a chance to make his mark and become a man is also the chance to make more mistakes- and graver ones. Will Bren, Cajeiri, Ilisidi and Tabini survive the coming unrest in the Atevi court? I love this series because of the truly alien ways of the Atevi. They may superficially resemble humans, but their mindset and attitudes are anything but human, and I really enjoy that, and Bren is both the odd man out in Atevi society and a highly placed member within it, bringing the understanding of both races towards the other side to ever-higher peaks. The political and physical danger Bren is placed in during the events of each novel makes them amazingly satisfying to read, and I highly recommend this series, which only seems to get better and better with each book.

Black Jack, Volume 13 by Osamu Tezuka collects fourteen stories starring the renegade surgeon, Black Jack, from a elite swimmer whose body is slowly failing him to a star gymnast whose gangrenous arm threatens his future career, and his life, to operating on an alien, to discovering the limits of his own skills and genius, Black Jack must deal with both his patients and the limitations of practicing medicine in Japan. He doesn't always come out on top, and he can be kind of a dick to people depending on whether they appeal to his sympathy or not, and he charges people the most when he thinks they need to be punished, but will often operate for free if he thinks the person he is operating on deserves it... or he'll get payment from someone else who he blames for the situation. I liked this volume, but then, I always do. These books manage to make surgery look well, kind of interesting and also kind of disgusting, but more interesting than disgusting. Black Jack may be kind of a kind of a dick, but he can also be kind and compassionate. I like this series a lot. Recommended.

Demon Lover by Juliet Dark- When Callie McFay is approached by a small college in upstate New York to be their writing teacher, she is entranced by the idea. She is famous for writing a book on Demon Lovers, those from folklore whose outcome of a romance with a woman is always the death of the woman. But she hasn't had a good idea for a book since, and she hopes the relative quiet of the small, upstate town of Fairwick, New York will be conducive to her writing. She loves the town and falls in love with one of the houses there, Honeysuckle House, once owned by reknowned writer Dahlia LaMott, who wrote Gothic Literature, another love of Callie. So when she gets the job and moves into the House, she discovers an unpublished manuscript by Dahlia among the papers left in the house. She also starts having intensely erotic dreams that she thinks are indicative of the manuscript that is consuming all her free time. But when the dreams turn out to be much, much more than dreams, will Callie find the strength to get rid of her own Demon Lover, and what hidden depths of power lie in Callie and her past? This book is the first in a series set around Fairwick Collge, a college full of strange teachers and stranger people, and the secrets here lie thick on the ground. I fell in love with the book for the quirky characters and the challenge that Callie faces, not to mention the secrets in her own past that are hidden from her (let's just say that her last name is more than just suggestive), and that I sort of wasn't expecting the twist that happened partway into the story. Other books will apparently be about other teachers at the college, and the book sets up the story of the college surprisingly well. Highly recommended.

The Road of Danger by David Drake- Captain Daniel Leary's father is Highly placed in his planet's government, and Daniel's distaste for his father's political maneuvering made him enter the Space Service, where he steadfastly refuses to be used for propoganda for his father or the government. In fact, he's gotten something of a reputation as a loose cannon, but unlike many other military officers, he gets things done. Part of that is due to his friend and Shipmate, Adele Mundy, a woman who is an expert at cracking computer systems as well as a spy. When Daniel is assigned to Admiral Cox, a man attempting to head off a coup in a remote area of the galaxy, Cox, who distrusts Daniel for his parentage, decides to get Daniel, his ship and his crew, out of his hair by sending them off to deal with piracy in another part of the cluster. But, as Daniel and Adele are discovering, the piracy may have more to do with the possible coup than first thought, and the man the Alliance seeks to bring home, the putative leader of the Rebellion, may not be its leader any longer. Can Daniel deal decisively with the pirates and rescue the "Rebel Leader", *and* deal with the Coup in a way that won't piss off the Admiral or leave him open to retaliation when his actions become known? I really enjoy this series, which mixes militaty fiction with spying and a sort of "Phule's Company" vibe along with the dedicated crew from Honor Harrington novels. Only in this case, the crew of the Princess Cecile, aka the Sissy, are more regular Navy than Phule's company, which was all misfits. And Daniel Leary has a lot in common with Honor Harrington, but his story isn't always so deadly serious as David Weber's works. I liked this story because of the mixup of characters (like Adele's servant Tovera, who is a psychopath, and Daniel's servant Hogg, who is Lugg to Daniel Leary's Campion, and yet effective nonetheless. I love the mix of military battle with spy derring do, and the way Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy work and work together. A wonderful series and a wonderful book. Recommended.

Mystery in the Minster by Susannah Gregory- The college of Michaelhouse in Cambridge is a good one, but chronically short of funds. So when the legacy of a former Archbishop of York becomes known to the college, it will be a welcome, and much needed source of funds for the college. The only sticking point is that there is another group in York who say that the property is theirs, and thus, the scholars of Michaelhouse must go to York to defend their claim to the property in the law courts. With them travel Matthew Bartholemew, a teacher of medicine, and his friend and religion teacher, the friar Brother Michael, known for his skills at oration- and at the table. But the death of Archbishop William Zouche is called into question over whether his death is natural or murder. And his legacy, a chapel which is supposed to have been built in his name, and for which a large sum of money was set aside, is unfinished, the money gone who knows where. Add to that a city in turmoil over the actions of what are seen as French spies, and the possibility of a house of French Friars who are supposed to be just those spies, has the city in an uproar. As the prospect of riots and rebellion grow ever larger in York, Matthew and Michael must unravel these plots, secure the property for their college, and somehow make it out of the city alive before the froth of riot and mob rule can boil over into outright violence. I love this series, which makes Matthew the only enlightened physician in England. Unlike other physicians, he is not convinced that Astrology must be consulted to cure patients, and his cures actually work. Which makes him suspect in the eyes of other physicians, and yet, his knowledge of anatomy and clear thinking make him perfect to investigate mysteries and help out Brother Michael when it comes to sudden death. This book introduces a whole new cast of characters and constantly plays with our assumptions and expectations of the various characters we do meet. An intriguing entry in the series and a fantastic read. Highly recommended.

With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan- It is now the 1800's, and Onyx Hall still survives, though with the increasing destruction of the old wall around London, Onyx Hall has become more strained and smaller, with whole sections of the palace missing. Dead Rick, once a Knight at the Palace, lives a disreputable life as a bullyboy for a faerie slaver, keeping the human slaves in line and chasing down escapees, a task he hates and resents, but he seems to have no choice- his "owner" has taken away part of Dead Rick's memory, and keeps crystals with the memories in his room. If Dead Rick should ever disobey him, he will destroy one of the crystals, and the memories therein, forever. But there is hope for Dead Rick. Even as Onyx Hall is once again threatened with dissolution with the construction of a Railway line through the heart of London, and of Onyx Hall itself, a group of fae are gathering to prevent it, and apparently, Dead Rick and his memories may be the key to saving Onyx Hall- and a human woman seeking her lost childhood friend and a group of scholars investigating the links between magic and science may also factor into the needs of the group. But can the new Consort of Queen Lune stop Onyx Hall's dissolution? Or will the Hall fade away entirely from London and the world? I'd previously read the other volumes in this series, and I honestly thought the series was done with the last one, but now it seems that it will continue to go on. Once again, it seems like this might be the last book in the series, but perhaps not. This story pulled me in right away- what with the tale of Dead Rick and his efforts to escape virtual enslavement, the story of Lune's slow dissolution with the ending of Onyx Hall, and the tale of the possibly, last Human Prince of Onyx Hall kept me enthralled throughout. Enjoyable, and with an ending I didn't really expect. Recommended.

Fated by Benedict Jacka- Alex Verus is a magician. In specific, a diviner. Because his magic means he can't easily defend himself, and is useless in a straight-on fight, most magicians look down upon him. But when a friend of his with a curse comes to him with an unusual artifact she found, she and Daniel become the target of both light and dark magicians looking for a magical artifact that can manipulate luck and fate itself. But as Alex is drawn back into his past as apprentice, and then slave to dark magicians, can he keep himself and his friend and now apprentice safe from the other black magicians, or will Alex's own tendencies towards Dark magic win out over his determination to keep himself apart from both sides? This is the first book in a new series, but it feels like it takes place somewhere in the middle. The world is well-explained without feeling overly earnest or infodump-y, and the character of Alex and his friends made me feel like this series will have a lot in common with Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, and it feels awesome in all the same ways. Highly recommended.

A Hundred Words for Hate- A Remy Chandler novel by Thomas E. Sniegoski- Remy Chandler is a human private investigator, but almost no one knows about his past as an angel of God named Remiel, who left heaven after the war with Satan and his fallen angels, but went to live among the humans on earth. For a long time, he managed to forget who he once was, but a near-apocalypse and the death of his wife have made him reluctantly bring back his angelic nature when it is needed. And when the place known as "The Garden of Eden" returns from its long sojourn in the void, having split off from earth millennia ago, Remiel isn't the only one in search of it. But two of the interested parties, the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve, each blaming each other's ancestor for the fall from grace and the garden, come to blows over it, and Remiel is caught in the middle. But the garden isn't all that is returning. Something from long ago was also imprisoned in the garden, infecting it with evil, an evil that could infect and destroy the entire earth. Can Remy convince the last living son of Adam to work with a contentious daughter of Eve to save the garden and the earth from destruction? I like this series a lot, what with the drawing on all sorts of biblical legends and stories of angels that most seem to have forgotten these days. The action is good, and Remy is distinct and human from the angel Remiel, who is more arrogant and reserved, but each is also the other deep down inside. I liked the mix of supernatural and human action, and Remy's dog, Marlowe, adds a note of innocence and love for his owner to the proceedings as well as pure "being a dog"-ness. If you like your fantasy with a modern day and biblical twist, this is the series for you. Highly recommended.

Renfield: Slave of Dracula by Barbara Hambly- this is Dracula retold in novel form from the perspective of R. M. Renfield, inhabitant of John Seward's Insane Asylum, who somehow knows of Dracula, his coming and his arrival in England. The story is told not only from Renfield's perspective, but from Seward's as well, with other letters from the main characters in Dracula. Also important in the story are Dracula's wives, in particular, Nomie, the blonde female vampire, who becomes as enthralled with Renfield as he is enthralled with her, and leads to a surprising ending to the tale. I know this book was possibly intended to make Renfield someone sympathetic to the readers, but his insanity and life-consumption made it hard for me to ever think of him as a sympathetic character. Despite the fact that his wife's family never accepted him as a fit husband for their daughter, and did their level best to try and do away with him, I never found him sympathetic enough to root for him or want him to live and triumph over his adversities. So the ending, as did the novel, just got a big "Meh" from me. Not recommended, but nothing objectionable, just not really all that interesting.

New York to Dallas: An In Death Novel by J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts)- When Eve Dallas was a raw beat cop, she discovered a serial rapist and kidnapper as she went door to door canvassing for witnesses to a murder. Now, years later, the man who she locked up for kidnapping and raping multiple young women has escaped from jail and gone to Texas to go after one of the girls who escaped his clutches the first time, and it's up to Eve to help catch him once again. But as she has changed with the years, and with her marriage and her moving on from the horror that made up her young life, so has the man she is chasing, but his changes haven't been for the better. And this time, he is working with another woman who has a surprising connection to Eve's past life, and can Eve overcome her feelings of having failed to put a monster back in his cage, this time for good? I always love the Eve Dallas books, and this is one of the ones that examines Eve's past as much as the criminal and his crimes, because Eve has a connection both to the killer, and the one who has been helping him get ready for a new spate of crimes. I wish I can say the connection Eve shares with the helper was surprising, but I wasn't that surprised that the person turned out to be an utter shit. What can I say? The only good people in Eve's life are the ones she made as an adult, and the ones she has now. But she doesn't let it get her down, and I love her for it. Highly recommended.

Gate 7 by Clamp- Chikahito Takamoto is Japanese, but has always wanted to visit the fabled shrines of Kyoto. But when he travels there on a class trip, he stumbles into a mystical battle between a girl named Hana and her comrades and some evil supernatural entities. Before he can leave, he is struck by both sides and seems completely immune to their powers, which leads Hana and her fellow compatriots to conclude that they just cannot let him go- and neither can they wipe his memories because of his immunity to their powers. But Takamoto isn't sure that signing up for a war against supernatural creatures is what he wants to do for the rest of his life! Can Hana and her friends get Takamoto on their side by showing him how they fight for humanity, or will they be forced to kill him to prevent their own secrets from getting out? Whatever they do, it's a sure bet that their opponents won't be nearly as gentle or patient with Takamoto! This is another series from Clamp in the vein of XXXHolic, with a kid who has special powers who somehow falls in with a group that allows him to use those special powers to the advantage of himself and others. Bookish and bespectacled, Takamoto seems unsuited for all the battling, but his knowledge gives him an edge, as well as the advantage of being "Not". Intriguing, and I am looking forward to seeing more of where this series goes. And it's less "stretchy-long, drawn-out characters" than some of Clamp's later works. Recommended.

The Legion of Superheroes Archives, Volume 13 by various- The Legion goes after a being named Pulsar Stargrave, but he manages to defeat the entire Legion- until Brainiac 5 agrees to work for him to retrieve a mystic artifact. Meanwhile, Wildfire leads the Legion and hires a tracker named Dawnstar to trace a gang of pirates who have been attacking Federation shipping. But why, and who do they work for? Then, the secret of Pulsar Stargrave is revealed, and the Legion must work together to defeat him. After that, one of the leaders of the world, a man named Deregon, is gathering an army and the Legion must infiltrate his organization to find out why. And when he is unmasked, another Legionnaire gives his life to save the world, and the Legionnaires come together to avenge his death and find his killer. But has Deregon fled to the world of his masters, or will they find him elsewhere? Finally, the Fatal Five return and must be dealt with, and tensions rise in the Legion as one of the Legion finds the people of their world branded as possible traitors to the League of Worlds. But will the Legionnaire quit the Legion when their comrades don't feel the same way? This was a good collection, but sometimes I got the feeling that the stories are not being told in chronological order, when the Legion member who died is alive and well in the very next story! Admittedly, they didn't appear again afterwards, but it was kind of puzzling, because it isn't mentioned as being a past story, either. And that story and the story where the Legionnaire dies is very similar in the threat to the Legion and Earth, and each is foiled in somewhat the same way. But if you love the original Legion, as I do, and you still enjoy the old stories, this volume is wonderful and extremely engaging to read. Highly recommended.

Regenesis by Julia Ecklar follows the career of a human woman working for an organization named Noah's Ark, an organization dedicated to saving and propogating Earth species of all kinds, and other animals as well. In the first story, she must track down a supposed tiger hunting humans on the world of New Dallas. But the truth is far, far stranger than that. Then, she is lured to a planet to see a supposedly extinct species of bear being sold by an alien race known as the Mazhet. But when the colony governor manipulates her into stealing the bears, can she ensure that they are left alone to evolve on their own. Next, Rahel, her assistant and a Noah's Ark lawyer are brought to a world where a wealthy businessman owns a resort extolling the natural beauty and native animals of the planet. But a species of jellyfish seems to be dying off, and no one knows the cause. Can Rahel discover what is killing the jellyfish, and is a green group responsible? Finally, on a distant alien space station, Rahel meets with a trader selling all sorts of rare and extinct animals to make a deal to buy her stock. But when she is presented with a human boy whose ancestors split off from Earth humans seven hundred and fifty thousand years ago, she must discover where he came from and keep him safe when an alien race decides humans are too damaged to live. This was an unusual book, with an unusual heroine. Rahel Tovin isn't sympathetic or nice, but yet she is compelling as an advocate for all sorts of animals, of species both Terran and not. She hates other humans, and has a hard time getting along with them, but she's a sucker for all sorts of animals. This book was written because the author is devoted to animal welfare and 10% of the profits of the book went to supporting an animal charity in California. Not an easy read, but interesting. Recommended.

Highland Groom by Hannah Howell- Diarmot MacEnroy is about to marry a fellow lord's daughter to have a mother for his children when a red-haired woman bearing two sons breaks into the ceremony to tell everyone that she is already his wife, and these are his sons. Diarmot, who was beaten nearly to death almost a year before, has no memory of Ilsa Campbell or their supposed hand-fasting, but his near-wife's father is outraged, and takes his daughter home. Ilsa's seven brothers also persuade Diarmot to keep Ilsa with him, but given that his supposed hand-fasting to her came just before he nearly died from a beating, he suspects that either she or her brothers had something to do with it. He is also hurting from the actions of his first wife, a woman who slept with everyone and everything, exulting in her power to take men in their weakness. She died trying to get rid of a babe that was not Diarmot's, and he is still convinced that women cannot be trusted. But Ilsa loves Diarmot enough to fight for their marriage and love, and her brothers and Diarmot's own are out to find who was behind the attack on him and his near-death. But when it becomes clear that someone might go after Ilsa or Diarmot's children to hurt him, can they find who was behind the attack and repair their relationship before it dies completely? I liked this book because the danger to Diarmot and Ilsa came from outside their relationship, but it's Diarmot's suspicion of Ilsa and her family that eventually causes the biggest rift between them, and one which only he can repair. An unusual story for a romance novel, but more than interesting in its own way. Recommended.

A Precious Jewel by Mary Balogh- When his usual prostitute is busy with someone else, Gerald Stapleton is persuaded by the madam to try another one of her women. Priscilla Wentworth was driven off by her brother's family when her parents died, and her old governess had become a procuress that Priss ended up working for to support herself. Her willingness to do exactly what Gerald Stapleton wants in bed makes him want her as no other woman, and he takes her from the house to set her up at his estate in the country as his mistress for as long as he wants her. But Priss is no ordinary courtesan or demimonde, and Gerald, whose inability to deal with women is legendary, finds himself losing his head over Priss, who has fallen in love with him. But when she discovers she has become pregnant by him, she leaves, and Gerald must wonder why his life now feels so empty and no other woman can satisfy him as Priss once did. Can he find her and overcome his fear of women and true intimacy to woo her as she should be wooed? Gods, I wanted to slap both of these characters silly. Priss falls in love with Gerald, but would rather leave him rather than fight for him when she thinks he no longer wants her, and Gerald is so afraid of intimacy with a real woman that he cannot even tell Priss that he wants her to stay with him. Both of them made my palm itch and reading this book was no pleasure. Even the ending, which finally brought the two together, just made me angry. Avoid this one if you hate heroes and heroines who deal with life in passive-aggressive ways. You will not enjoy it. It is the antithesis of Romance, and the hero feels patronizing, while the heroine seems spineless. Just ugh.

2012, Part 5

Valve Presents: The Sacrifice and Other Steam-Powered Stories by various. This graphic novel collects stories from three Valve games: Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2 and Portal 2. "The Sacrifice" shows the backgrounds of the four main characters in Left 4 Dead, and how one of them sacrifices their life so that the others can board a ship and travel to the Caribbean to live safely on the islands there. It shows how the plague of zombies started, and how these four people are unaffected by it, while others are not. The Team Fortress 2 comics collect the WAR! Update comic, where the Administrator discovers that the BLU team Soldier and the RED team Demoman have become friends, and seeks to break them up and make them enemies. "Mac" shows the RED team Soldier, Scout and Heavy visiting a Mac store, and how much better the Mac products are than the ones Saxton Hale provides. Then Hale shows up and tries to buy the company after seeing the iBlewUptheMoon product. Loose Cannon details how and why the war between the two teams started, and Meet the Director shows how the "Meet the" videos were made and by whom. Finally, the Portal 2 Story, "Lab Rat" bridges the gap between the end of the original Portal game and the new Portal 2 game by introducing Doug Rattman, aka, the Rat Man, who watches the events of the original Portal and who helps Chell survive being put in cold sleep, as well as creating "Rat Holes" in the Aperture building for players to find in the game. I enjoyed each comic, even though I haven't played Left 4 Dead or Portal/Portal 2, but each story and comic was powerful and well-told. The Team Fortress 2 comics were more comedic and less serious (though quite bloody, given the nature of the game) and I enjoyed each story. I liked how the characters in "The Sacrifice" were not all good people, but even Francis, the thief and conman, supports the others in order to stay alive. This is a great graphic novel, very huge in both size and length (you might even say it is "Heavy Weapons Guy"-sized). Highly recommended.

The Legion of Superheroes: The Curse by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen collect stories from after "The Great Darkness Saga". As Princess Projectra and Karate Kid prepare to get married on Orando, Element Lad and his lover, Science Police Officer Shvaugn Erin, discover that one of the Legionnaires is not who they seem to be. As they go out of their way to discover the facts to convince the other Legionnaires of the truth, Brainiac 5 must help the brother of Ferro Lad find peace, the White Witch must help mystics overcome Mordru, who is making a comeback, Chameleon Boy must escort his father, R.J. Brande, to their home planet to return their lost powers, and deal with the shamans who want to force them to remain, a bunch of Legionnaires thrown backwards in time must deal with a group of Durlans posing as Greek Gods on ancient earth, and find their way back home, and then, the Legion must recover their member who has been replaced and discover why they were abducted. But will their missing member ever really be the same after what has happened to them? I love The Legion of Superheroes. It's so big that most characters never actually all fight together- they tend to split up into groups of five or six characters to take on a plot (the Great Darkness Saga being one major exception, and even then, the characters were fighting in separate places as separate groups). So it was nice to see these stories collected into a single, very hefty volume- the unifying story being about the missing Legionnaire and what happened to them, along with a bit of aftermath (and no, the character is not the same after their abduction and torture). I may have lost interest in the story after the Reboot and Threeboot, but as long as they keep putting out volumes with the old, classic stories, I will keep buying and re-reading. Well worth the money and highly recommended.

Fables: Witches by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leiajoha, David Lapham, Jim Fern, Andrew Pepoy, and Craig Hamilton picks up where the last volume left off. The Fables have been forced to flee their Home in New York by the arrival of Mister Dark, and have taken refuge at the farm, upstate. Mister Dark has the ability to kill with a gesture, and when he eats the teeth of the deceased, he can revive them as creatures under his control. The book opens with the story of how Baba Yaga and Mister Dark were trapped. Baba Yaga and a Djinn are loose in the mayor's office, and only Buffkin, the winged monkey, is there to defeat them, along with the wooden heads from the former empire soldiers. But can he do it on his own? Frau Totenkinder returns to the Fable world to puzzle out the secrets of Mr. Dark, and in her absence, the Witches left among the Fables elect Osma to lead them. But Geppetto also wants to lead the Fables, and he is willing to do anything to be in control. After an assassination attempt leaves him imprisoned under the earth, can he win free and take power? And back in the lands controlled by King Flycatcher, a baseball game leads to a murder, and Fly is forced to make the decision of whether or not to kill one of his subjects in punishment for the crime. Will he be forced to choose punishment or mercy, either of which will send one part of his subjects into rebellion? Another excellent Fables volume. I am still not sure of the nature of Mr. Dark, and which Fable he comes from, but the separate stories were interesting and well-done in both story and art. I also liked seeing how Fly, a very noble and good King, dealt with his case of capital justice, how he overcame his curse, and how he found a woman to be his Queen. Highly recommended as a volume and a series.

Batman, Incorporated by Grant Morrison, Yannick Paquette, Chris Burnham, Michael Lacombe, Scott Clark, Cameron Stewart and Dave Beaty has Batman and Bruce Wayne going around the world to recruit new people to be Batman in their respective cities and countries, from Mr. Unknown in Japan (actually two men- an older detective and a younger man to do the fighting and legwork) to El Gaucho in Argentina, Man of Bats and Red Eagle in South Dakota, and others, Batman recruits new fighters to his team and attempts to uncover a global conspiracy to bring down the world by a senile former villain named Dr. Dedalus. Does Dr. Daedalus even live any longer, and is his senility a truth or a lie? And can Batman and his allies fight against the agents of Dr. Daedalus, like Papaguayo, and ensure that his scheme to destroy the world goes down in flames? And who or what is Leviathan, and who is in charge? Can Batman find out and overcome his foe before he, himself, is defeated? This was an interesting book and an interesting series. Batman is attempting to keep more people safe, and protecting his identity everywhere by recruiting Batmen from around the world to be his proxies. This will generate so many conspiracy theories about who Batman really is that his real identity will never be discovered or gain credence if it is. But this book is really two storylines, one about Dr. Dedalus, and the second about Leviathan. To be honest, the ending, and the identity of Leviathan's real leader was a shock. The book is very entertaining, with interesting characters and team-ups. Recommended.

The United States Constitution adapted by Nadja Baer and Illustrated by Nathan Lueth. This graphic novel explores how and why the US Constitution was written and the personalities behind it, as well as the reasons why each part was written the way it was, and how our government came about. It reveals that the Bill of Rights was written well after the Constitution itself, and how several states wouldn't ratify the Constitution without it. Contained within is the actual language of the Constitution itself, with illustrations showing what the words mean. I liked this book because it shows how fractured the original states were after the Revolutionary War, and why a single government was needed. It also demonstrates how the Constitution is filled with compromises necessary to get two very different sides to agree on issues, like Slave States versus non-slave states or the Small States versus the Large States. There were even sides that were not confined to states, like Monarchists versus Democratic Republicans and Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists. It's an illuminating book that goes beyond just the words of the Constitution to make it interesting. Highly recommended, especially if you are interested in history or the government.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic- Daze of Hate. Knights of Suffering by John Jackson Miller, Bong Dazo, Dustin Weaver and Dan Parsons follows Padawan Zwayne Carrick, now fleeing through the galaxy with a price on his head. But at a meeting thrown by Lord Adasca, Zayne meets up with his former mentor, Lucien, and both are taken Prisoner by Adasca, giving Zayne a chance to question his mentor. His mentor and the other Jedi Masters with him fear Zayne because Zayne no longer fears them, and because he is fated to bring down the Jedi and the return of the Sith. Adasca is having the meeting because he has found a way to weaponize space slugs by attatching hyperdrives to their tails, and letting them eat their way through any ships he sets them on. He is going to sell the slugs to the highest bidder- the Imperials or the Mandalorians. Lucien is there to stop him, but he is going to need Zayne's help to get free and do so. But can Zayne trust Lucien not to kill him, and can Zayne and his friends find a way to do something about the slugs and do something about Adasca before the auction is decided? Then, Zayne leaves for Taris to join the rebellion led by his friend, Gryph, who needs Zayne's help. Zayne was here before and befriended a young woman named Shel. But now Shel believes that Zayne was responsible for the death of her father, and she wants revenge on him, despite the fact that the Mandalorians are beseiging the planet. Can Zayne find out who was behind the deaths of the other Padawans on Taris and convince Shel that he was innocent of her father's death? Or will the Mandalorians kill everyone in the rebellion and all evidence that could clear Zayne's name? It had been a long time since I read the last Knights of the Old Republic title, and after so long, I found I didn't really care that much about what was happening to Zayne Carrick. But the story drew me back in, and after a while, I was rooting for him again. On the other hand, reading this comic makes it seem like killing off the Jedi in the prequel trilogy wasn't such a bad thing, because some of them are utter bastards. This comic is making me look at the Jedi very, very differently. Recommended.

Midnight Crystal: Book Three of the Dreamlight Trilogy by Jayne Castle/Jayne Ann Krentz- The planet of Harmony may have been cut off from the planet Earth long ago, but the Jones and Winters families still exist and have scions there. Adam Winters is the latest one to fall victim to the family curse of the Burning Lamp and he needs a Dreamlight talent to help him or he will die. But as the third link in the chain, there is the one crystal in the lamp that has never been activated, one whose job it is to kill off the Jones family. So when Marlowe Jones rides into his life on her motorcycle, he realizes that she must be the one to help him, and that she stirs him beyond his control on almost every level. But when they become aware that someone or something has changed the energy emanations in the underworld, and the Burning Lamp is needed to recalibrate it. But someone has stolen the lamp, and strange, hot crystals are turning up- ones that can up your power for a time, but at the same time will really mess you up. But will the hot physical relationship between Marlowe and Adam help or hinder them in their quest to discover who and what is warping the energy of the underground? And will they survive a confrontation with the mind behind the problems in the Underworld? I love Jayne Ann Krentz, and i loved this book. It provided a real explanation behind the nightmares that the Winters men experienced from the lamp and why it attracted strong Dreamlight talents to them. But the best part of the story is that the love story is strong and intense, and a joy to read. Highly recommended.

Enchanted No More by Robin D. Owens tells the story of Jindesfarne, or Jenni Mistweaver. One of the last of her family, Jenni is part faery and part human. Her power is to balance the elements in a place to make sure that no one rules. She used to work for the Lightfolk and their presence in the human world, the Eight Corporation, specifically the Elemental Rulers and their mates. But when Jenni's family was slaughtered by Darkfolk when a ritual they were helping with went badly wrong, Jenni ran to the human world, leaving the lightfolk behind. Now, she discovers that the Eight needed her brother, Rothly, for a job and convinced him to do it. But, he has disappeared, and the Eight have sent Jenni's former fiance, Aric Paramon, to convince her to rescue her brother from the mists, and new creatures of the Dark that have appeared, including something called a Shadleech. Jenni, disliking the Eight for using her crippled brother in that way, is desperate to save him, and so reluctantly sgrees. Rothly is trapped between dimensions, but as Jenni works with Aric and the Eight to save him. they become aware of a greater threat to the Eight and the Lightfolk, and the greatest threat comes from within. But can Jenni give up her anger at the Eight long enough to save the Eight, and acknowledge her love for Aric? This is the first book in a new series, called "Mystic Circle". Mystic Circle is a street where everyone who lives there is either a Lightfolk, elf or has some connection to the elves or Lightfolk. And there are plenty of creatures besides elves to play with- Dwarves, Gnomes, elementals, shadleeches, and even Dark Elves- all have their place in this complicated, fascinating world. The tension runs hight, the love story is compelling, and the ending was everything I wanted from the book. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 04, 2012

2012, Part 4

Darker than Midnight by Lara Adrian- The Order's battle against Dragos comes to a head while Sterling Chase battles with the beast inside himself to try and bring himself back to sanity. On a mission gone wrong, Sterling comes face to face with a woman named Tavia Fairchild, who seems to be more than just a human. Despite having no breed markings, he is sure she is more than she appears, and he kidnaps her to keep her from talking to the police about what she has seen. Unbeknownst to either of them, though, her existence holds the key to Dragos' plans, and his defeat. As the Order struggles to pick up the pieces after their Headquarters are destroyed, can Sterling and Tavia bring them victory while he overcomes his inner demons? This seems to be the final entry in the Breed series, with the destruction of the main threat at the end of the book, and the Order settling into a new role among the Breed, it seems that any future books will be very, very different from these. And while this book reminded me of some of the other books in the Breed series, there is a difference in the story of Sterling and Tavia. Recommended.

Enchanted Again by Robin D. Owens- Amber Sarga is a curse-breaker, but her ability comes with a steep cost. For every curse she breaks, she becomes older. Perhaps only a few months for a minor curse, but years for a major curse. Indeed, her abilities mean that she is the last one in her family with the power- all of her female relatives have aged themselves to death by breaking curses. And the ability itself is also a curse. But when she is approached by Rafe Duvail, himself under a family curse to die young, Amber is at first unwilling to help, as Rafe is arrogant and doesn't believe in her power. But when he humbles himself to beg her for help, and to help his best friend, also under a curse, Amber cannot find it in herself to turn him down. But Rafe's curse is complex, and Amber is going to need all her research and curse-breaking abilities to help Rafe, especially when she starts to fall in love with him, and he with her. But can Amber break her own curse of being too willing to help out others with curses, or will she fall prey to her own family curse, and end up dying to help Rafe? And even if she survives breaking his curse, will he be able to recognize her afterwards? I liked the idea of this book, that Amber's ability to break curses was in itself a curse, and the lesson she had to learn to break it. Rafe comes off as arrogant and a bit of a jerk. But he redeems himself well into the story, and I loved this book, and how Amber and Rafe fed off and grew with each other. The book was glorious and the ending was amazng. Highly recommended.

The Earl and the Fairy by Ayuo and Mizue Tani- Lydia Carlton is a fairy doctor, and all her life, she has been able to see fairies. Fairy Doctors were once common, helping people with their fairy problems and interceding on the behalf of humans with fairies, but with the rise of science, people no longer believe in fairies, but lydia isn't one of the non-believers. However, when she leaves the quiet countryside to go see her father in London, she meets a man who has been tortured and imprisoned by others, and he needs her help. He is Edgar Ashenbert, and he claims to be descended from the human ruler of the Fairy Kingdom, and needs Lydia's help in regaining the symbol of his rule, the Sword of the Blue Knight Earl. Ever since he swore to find and regain the sword, people who want it to remain hidden have tried to keeep him from finding it. But is Edgar lying about his identity, and if he has been, how can Lydia trust anything he has to say? This was cute, but the first volume is taken up with the whole can or can't Lydia trust Edgar? At the end, we find out what is going on, and the reasons why Edgar wants to find the sword, so its not as bad as I thought it might be in the middle of the book. Lydia's talking fairy cat/advisor was both adorable and utterly catlike to boot- both the good and bad parts. Tolerable, and I would definitely read a second volume.

Bridge of Dreams by Anne Bishop- Gloriana Belladonna has sacrificed herself and her balance to balance the world, and her brother, Lee, no longer feels he can trust her, not even when she has found some solace in love. But when a band of Dark Guides try and gain entrance to her landscapes in order to further twist them towards evil, Lee sacrifices himself to keep her safe nonetheless. Taken prisoner by the Dark Guides and tortured, Lee ends up in an Asylum for the insane in the city of Vision, with the asylum now being run by a Shaman, which are Vision's versions of Guides, though they cannot do the things a guide can. But a dark presence is overtaking vision, and none of the Shamans seem to know what to do about it. Not even Danyal, the shaman in charge of the Asylum. But with Lee's help, and the help of the woman Lee is coming to love, a Tryad, Danyal must find Gloriana Belladonaa and save his city from the Dark Guides. But with Lee blinded by the Dark Guides, can any of them see clearly enough to leave? I thought the last book in this series, the one starring Gloriana, might be the last, and I wondered how the series could go on. But this was an excellent continuation, introducing more pwople, new landscapes, and a new heroine, who is three women in one. Lee's torture was horrible, but I loved the story, and the ending, very much. And I'd love to see more. Probably not the first book you want to read in this series, but recommended.

The Girl's Guide to Vampires by Barb Karg- This small book basically brands vampires as the ultimate bad boys, but then expands on that by introducing other species of vampires from different cultures around the world like the Jiang Shi, the Alp, Kappa, Rakshasa, Camazotz, Baobhan Sidhe (aka Banshee) and so on. It talks about vampire characteristics, how to catch and kill vampires, and then goes over different vampires from movies, books and television series, and talks about the actors who have played Dracula and other famous vampires. It's a cute book, short but sweet, but ultimately forgettable. It's nothing you really haven't seen in other vampire books aimed at young adults, just a little more up to date. Mostly meh, but if this is the only "About Vampires" book you buy aimed at teens, you won't be doing wrong.

The Importance of Being Oscar by Yvonne Skargon with words by Oscar Wilde is a book of woodcuts of a cat named Oscar, after the famous writer Oscar Wilde. The book shows Oscar sleeping, lying, sitting, grooming and other attitudes, with quotes by Oscar Wilde underneath that somehow relate to the action Oscar is doing in the woodcut. A picture of him sleeping may have a quote saying, "in the country, people get up early because they have so much to do, and go to bed early because they have so little to think about." The woodcuts are nice, and the quotes are also nice, but overall, it's just a bunch of pictures of a cat, and if you have a cat, you already can see the same things in life. I didn't find the pictures to be all that wonderful- I'd prefer the cat to be either more sleek or more fluffy. Not recommended.

The English Rose by David Austin is a book devoted to the love of a very specific rose type- English Roses, which are much like Old Garden Roses, with double-petaled flowers (mosty), and fairly strong to very strong scents. Not all of these strains of roses are old- some of them are fairly new, but the various species of roses are given their species names, and a picture of these roses. The description covers how the rose was bred, who bred it, and what makes it stand out. Other pictures of roses, either on the bush or in vases, are shown with quotes about Roses. I love Roses, especially roses that are something other than the usual nearly-scentless buds you get from the florist. These are the kind of roses you barely ever see, and most of them don't even look like the roses you see in the florist. But this book is gorgeous and is real rose porn. Recommended.

The Famous Heroine and The Plumed Bonnet by Mary Balogh is a compilation of two novels in one. The Famous Heroine is about Cora Downes, the daughter of a merchant, saved the son of the Duchess of Bridgewater from drowning, so the Duchess has decided to help Cora find a husband. When the Duke asks Francis Kneller, who is nursing a broken heart from the woman he loved marrying another, to partner Cora for a dance, Cora's uninhibited smiles and opinions unexpectedly charm him, and he helps her escape the ball because her feet are hurting from the too-small shoes she was convinced to buy and wear. But as they keep being thrown together, Sir Francis finds himself falling for this utterly unsuitable woman, and she, while also falling for him, thinks she is too ugly and bad to ever attract a man of his caliber and social position. But when circumstances force them to marry, can he convince her that she is lovely and beautiful, and that he married her because he wanted to, not because he was forced to? In the Plumed Bonnet, Stephanie Gray, a former governess, has inherited a fortune, provided she can make it to her relative's house and marry in time. But trying to make it across the country by herself is not fun, and the unfortunate color of her plumed bonnet and cape make her look like a conwoman or fallen woman. When she is rescued by Alistair Munro, the Duke of Bridgewater, he doesn't believe a single word she says, but humors her, making her think that he is the only person who supports her. But when he finds out that she is being truthful, and she really is an heiress (and the man who is going to marry her is an utter ass), he proposes to her instead, and she accepts. But as in the other story, she believes she isn't ready to be a Duchess, and she doesn't know about how he didn't believe her. So when he must confess his sins, can he make her see he has come to love her, but is fearful of pushing her into a sexual relationship too quickly? Or will her injured feelings cause her to reject him, his love, and the marriage? I liked both of these books, which took "unsuitable" heroines and gave them the love of highly titled men who truly love them. But usually, it's the man's problems which end up having to be overcome, usually after the marriage, by the woman who loves them. In these stories, however, both characters have problems that have to be overcome, and I liked the evenhandedness of that, and how the problems were handled. Plus, the love stories were believable, and interesting. Definitely recommended (both of them).