Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012, Part 15

Land of the Dead by Thomas Harlan- When a new First Sun artifact is found in the depths of space, the  archaeologist Gretchen Anderssen is contacted by Green Hummingbird, the spy and tlamine priest, to go find it and deal with it. But Gretchen wants nothing to do with him- her son is dead, and the help he promised to get her boy into college never materialized. He is sorry to hear it, but he finally persuades her he really does need her help, and gains her cooperation with a great deal of money. Susan Kosho, former second in command to Hadeishi, is saddened that her commanding officer is to be kicked to the inactive list, indefinitely. He is too good a commander to be let go because someone had to take the blame for the Flower War fought in Wasteland of Flint. She threatens Green Hummingbird to find a way to let Hadeishi fly again, and he soon finds himself on a freighter ship as a Cargo Hand. Nevertheless, it is a chance to fly again. But when his ship is hijacked and its crew mostly killed by aliens, Hadeishi finds himself in the midst of chaos once more, and the only hope for Susan Kosho and Gretchen Andersson to escape the fate that finds them behind the wall hiding the First Sun Artifact. But can he pull off the near-impossible and rescue them both? I love Thomas Harlan's book series, as it is based on a non-European mythology, and the characters mirror that in the kind of actions they take and how they think. And this novel has plenty of excitement, with an alien race whose emissary is a complete coward, and yet another Mexica princeling abandoned by his family to die. Excellent book, and exciting to read. Recommended.

Delusion in Death by J.D. Robb- When an entire club full of patrons goes crazy and kills each other in vicious and violent ways, it's up to Eve Dallas and her crew, including her husband, Roarke, to find the killer. But this crime is unusual, with ties to incidents during the Wars and a group known as the Red Horseman. Eve has to find the real killer before he or she strikes again, and when he does, prevent him from getting away with his crimes. For the tie between this killer and the Red Horseman is still alive, and if they have their way, they will do everything to save the killer from his fate. But as the victims increase and the killer is uncovered, can Eve work with Homeland Security, who Eve doesn't trust, to bring the killer to Justice? Also, Eve is having flashbacks to her killing her father as a child, and must deal with what happened in Dallas if she is to be able to live with it. I loved this book. The deaths and killing were so over the top, yet so horribly believable, and the trail left by the killer seemed almost too tangled to be unraveled. But the whole story was amazing and hooked me right off and kept me happily reading until the end. There is no higher recommendation I can give for this book, except to say, read it!

Midst Toil and Tribulation by David Weber- The Combines Charisian-corisandean Empire has beaten back the Churchnavies at sea, so much so that the Church fears to go up against them on the water. But Zhaspair Clintahn is desperate to wipe the Heretics off the face of the world, and continues to Prosecure the war on land, since now the battles are moving to land because Charis pretty much controls the seas. But the Church lands are huge, and the number of men the Church and the Gang of Four can mobilize means that Charis and Corisande are badly outnumbered. All is not lost, though. Even though some in Siddarmark, the country through which the armies of the Charisians must nowmove, have converted to the beliefs of the Church of Charis, the Brutal retaliation against the new believers by the old church has ended with fields being burned by adherents of the Old Church, resulting in a massive famine. So, when Charis and Corisande pull out all the stops to ship aid to Siddarmark without requiring anything in return, they turn the leader of Siddarmark to their side, and all the people who aren't completely brainwashed by the old church. But with the number of Men the Church can field, will even Charis, Corisande and siddarmark be able to defeat the seemingly endless numbers of the church troops, or will Emperor Cayleb and his seijin Advisor, Merlin Athrawes, actually the PICA holding the memories of Nimue Alban, be able to somehow defeat the Church on land while blocking the church from getting more troops to Siddarmark for another year? And Merlin is hiding something from his fellow conspirators, something that they might not like... or even understand. Can Merlin and the alliance find a way to stall the advance of the church forces, and keep them bottled up during the winter? Hatred is growing on both sides, and the Church forces "Scorched Earth" policy isn't helping matters on either side... I enjoyed this book a lot. Often, it seems that the forces of the Charis-Corisande Alliance must surely win, what with the advantage of technology on their side, and their near-constant innovation, but an advantage in manpower can wipe that out quite easily, as the Church quickly proves. And the Church commanders are no fools, even if they are outmatched in guns and technology, and the Church is slowly catching up to them. Only the Charisians ability to innovate is what keeps them on top, even as they run out of trained soldiers and sailors. However, the series is starting to feel rather artificially long and maybe a bit padded. Recommended.

Club CSI: The Case of the Disappearing Dogs by David Lewman- Hannah loves her dog, an expensive and friendly Australian Shepherd named Molly. But when Molly goes missing from her backyard, her parents seem convinced that Hannah accidentally left the door to the yard unlocked and that Molly simply got out and ran away. But Hannah is sure that she locked the door, and asks her two Club CSI friends, Ben and Corey, to help her prove that Molly was dognapped. But even when they find evidence that someone snatched Molly, can they find out who that is, and bring the dognapper to justice even though most of their evidence is circumstantial? I like this series, which shows how crime scene investigators look for evidence, and how they interpret it. The mysteries are good and engaging, as is the writing. Highly recommended.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold- Captain Ivan Vorpatril was a childhood friend of Miles Vorkosigan, but where Ivan had a tall, strong body and good looks, Miles had to cultivate his intelligence and natural cunning to get by, as he was born stunted, with fragile bones. Ivan has continued with his career in the military, and acts as an adjutant to Admiral Desplains, he hasn't spent his years living by his wits like Miles has. So when a friend and relative, Byerly Vorruyter, shows up, outs himself as a spy and asks Ivan to keep an eye on a certain young lady, Ivan is pretty much completely flummoxed, and the only plan he can think of is to ask the young woman out on a date from the small shipping office she works for. Tej (not the name she is working under) is a woman on the run, Her family, owners and operators of Cordonah station in Jackson's Whole. As far as she knows, her family is dead, and she is the only one who made it out of the system when Cordonah Station was taken over by another familty. Now. only she and her retainer, the deep blue, elf-eared dancer named Rish, are on the run from assassins dedicated to making certain that Tej is the last of her family. But when Ivan saves them from an assassination team, he takes them under his wing, and soon is doing more than that. When he must smuggle Tej and Rish off the planet, he marries her in a Barrayaran wedding ceremony, intending to only stay with her long enough to keep her safe. But when they get back to Barrayar, things quickly spiral out of control when her entire family turns up, looking for a fortune left on Barrayar during the Occupation, and hidden beneath the hallowed halls of ImpSec. Simon Ilyan, still keeping his hand in despite his returement, thinks he can outmaneuver Ivan's new relatives. But when things go pear-shaped, can Ivan find a way out of his predicament, and a death trap underground? In a way, I liked this book a lot. I could see Ivan's decency and forthrightness being a wonderful change for Tej after her family, and why they stuck together. But I didn't find Ivan half as interesting as Miles. Although he does make anappearance in this book as sort of a harried house husband, this book lacked the sparkle and fire of a Miles Vorkosigan book. Recommended, but just not as interesting as other books in the series.

The Science of Ghosts by Joe Nickell- Many people believe in the existence of Ghosts, but most "encounters" with ghosts can be attributed to wishful thinking, having a truly vivid imagination and so on. Photos of the "dead" or spirits are easily to fake and replicate, but are not always maliciously produced- sometimes, the person who took the photo truly doesn't know the cause of the strange bar of light or sparkles that show up in his pictures. Joe Nickell is a skeptic who has investigated many reports of Ghosts, the Supernatural and all manner of strange sightings and coincidences, and I found that this book, well-written as it is, increased my skepticism about and towards ghosts and the supernatural. I like to feel a chill down my spine at stories of the supernatural as much as the next person. But I also work in a supposedly "haunted" building, and because I am a skeptic towards so much of this stuff, I have never felt the supposed Ghost, nor been privy to the kind of Supernatural dread myco-workers feel when they work here late at night. This is a good book for exposing supernatural debunkery and fakes, and abandoning a belief in the existence of ghosts. Well-researched, well-told and highly recommended.

The Silvered by Tanya Huff- Mirian Maylin was told that she had much mage power, but despite attending the academy for mages, all she could master was the first level in five of the six types of mage power, and no higher. She didn't even have the time to try and master metalcraft before her teachers sent her home as hopeless. She didn't even develop the sparks of color in her eyes that would signify her magecraft power. So she is sent home to her family, her banker father and her mother, hungry for influence, decides to try and wed Mirian to one of the Pack, men who can shapeshift into wolves, who run the country of Aydori, along with their mage wives. Mirian attracts the attention of one of the Regan family, members of the Ruling pack, and her mother is thrilled. But when the country of Aydori is attacked by the Empire, and five female mages stolen, Mirian feels compelled to go after them and try to rescue them. Captured by Reiter, the man who captured the other mages, and his men, Mirian is somehow able to take off the artifact that has imprisoned the other mages without their powers- she assumes it's because she isn't much of a mage- but the device has actually burnt out. Helped by Thomas Regan, the only remaining member of his pack, she is rescued by him, and rescues him in turn from a piece of silver lodged in his shoulder, preventing him from changing from beast to human. But as they travel together to free the Mage Pack, Mirian discovers that she may not be powerless after all, but can she discover her true powers in time to use them against the Emperor who would control the children of the Mage Pack and to conquer Aydori as well? I really enjoyed this book. It was a bit of a slow start, but worked up fairly quickly with the insanity of the Emperor and Mirian and Thomas' discoveries of the powers they have as they traveled. I liked that one of the missteps she made in attempting to use her power was the very thing she needed to take out the Emperor, and the affection between Thomas and Mirian, even when they were exasperated with each other. The ending was interesting, and it seems that this won't be the end of them as characters, and I think Aydori and the Empire will encounter each other again. Soon, I hope. Highly recommended.

When Dreams Come True by Cathy Maxwell- Pierce Kirrer, the Earl of Penhallow, needs a wife, but despite his mother's plan to marry him off to the daughter of one of her friends, he just hasn't been interested. And all his male friends are telling him about how marriage really is and how women change after you are married, but he doesn't believe a word of it. and when a boat washes into the cove near his castle, he dives into the water to rescue the woman who lies unconscious at the bottom of it. Eden is a courtesan, carefully groomed to become a harem girl of the Sultan Ibn Sibah. She doesn't want to, but feels she has no choice. But when a storm blew up, engulfing the boat that would take her to him, she did her best to escape. Now, she pretends to have forgotten her previous life as Pierce opens  his home to her. His mother doesn't care for Eden one bit, but she is powerless to affect the attraction between the two in any meaningful way. But when Pierce decides to marry Eden, she is eventually tracked down by the woman who raised her and the two men who were sent to bring her to ibn Sibah. Can Eden survive the fallout of lying to her new husband and the problems it wreaked in her marriage, and can she and Pierce find the love they felt for each other once again? I enjoyed this book. The plot was a little inconsistent, wavering between magic and the relationship between Eden and Pierce. I also found the sudden turnaround in feelings that occurs between Eden and her mother-in-law to be slightly unbelievable. But the relationship sparkles, and I like how the two of them interacted, and the ending made me smile. Recommended.

The Manga Guide to Physics by Hideo Nita, and Keita Takatsu-Having trouble learning Physics? so is Megumi, who fails her Physics test, and when worrying about the Questions she got wrong, blows a tennis match with her rival, Sayaka. But have no fear, a physics whiz named Ryota comes forward to help Megumi understand Physics  by tying most of the lessons towards tennis and understanding how the racquet and ball interact with one another. When the time comes for a rematch between Megumi and Sayaka, can Megumi use her newly enhanced knowledge of Physics to dominate over Sayaka and win the game? Basically, this book is an educational manga on the subject of Physics. Megumi and Ryota discuss why things work the way they do in a manga section, and then more is explained in a strictly word-based section that follows afterwards, giving formulae and more explanation. For a physics text, it's not bad, and while strictly at a high school level, can help readers having trouble with specific concepts in physics. Recommended.

Blood Crime  by Kim Harrison- Ivy Tamwood is a living vampire who is partnered with a witch named  Rachel Morgan are partners working Inland Security's worst beat- busting two-bit supernatural punks and vampires pushing Supernatural Drugs. Ivy's superior, Piscary, is also a master vampire, one who controls  Ivy thanks to her being the daughter and granddaughter of two of his made children, whom he killed when they turned out to be other than what he was trying to create. But Ivy is beginning to suspect that Rachel, whom she is in love wirh and whose blood she craves more than anything, is being targeted by Piscary. But why, and what, if anything, can she do to stop him while keeping her job, and keeping Rachel safe from Piscary, who also wants to kill her. But when a man is sent after her by his vampire lover, can Ivy defeat him and keep her and her partner safe? And can she bring down Piscary, or is the old vampire too wily for her? I have only read a few of the Rachel Morgan books, so i don't know if Ivy was ever used as a viewpoint character, but I found both characters interesting and the story was full of action and intrigue. I did feel as if there wasn't quite enough backstory and explanation, so while this is a graphic novel, it's probably best to wait until after you have read the Rachel Morgan books to start this one. or read the prequel, Blood Work. Recommended, but can be confusing.

Nicholas North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce and Laura Geringer- Long ago and far away, a horrible force named Pitch, the Nightmare King, was imprisoned deep underground near the village of Santoff Claussen. So when a stray moonbeam finds the imprisoned Pitch, it accidentally wakens him when it enters a diamond knife stuck deep in his chest and revives and awakens a translucent child buried deep in Pitch's heart. The child escapes, taking the now moonbeam-infused diamond knife with him, and Pitch escapes from the hole in which he is imprisoned. Pitch proceeds to attack Santoff Claussen, and in response, the Man in the Moon, Tsar Lunaroff, summons the King of Bandits, Nicholas St. North, to defend the town. His men follow him, and are destroyed by the Town's Defenses, but Nicholas makes it through to defend the town when Pitch takes over the giant  bear that  Guards the town and attempts to kill and eat everyone there, including the mage Ombric Shalazar, who founded Santoff Claussen and is only brought back by the powers of the belief of the children of the town. Nicholas is badly injured, but recovers and becomes Ombric's student in magic. But when he and Ombric leave for the Himalayas to find one of the pieces of the Man in the Moon's crashed ship, which is vital to defeating Pitch, Pitch is with them as part of Nicholas' greatest creation. Can they overcome his treachery, and prevent Pitch from getting the piece of the ship? This book is one of the books that is the basis for the new "Rise of the Guardians" movie, and as the movie critic I watched says, it's sort of the Avengers for kids. The books take place 200 years before the events of the movie and cover the background of the main characters, Nicholas St. North is, of course, Santa Claus (and I wonder how much Santa Claussen is going to influence that name?). I found this an exciting and engaging book. From the minute I picked it up, I found it impossible to put down. An excellent book that kids will love- even girls, as despite it being about adventure and fighting an evil bad guy, there is a girl named Katherine who figures very prominently in the story. Highly recommended, with lovely and evocative art. Oh, and two more books in this series, about E. Aster Bunnymund (the Easter Bunny, who is actually a Pooka, or a magical bunny) and Toothiana, Queen of the Tooth Faeries, are out as I write this, along with two picture books, one about the Man in the Moon, the leader of the Guardians, and the other about the Sandman (aka Sanderson Mansnoozle).

E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth's Core by William Joyce-  Katherine, Nicholas St. North and Ombric Shalazar have stayed in the Himlayas with Nightlight, the Lunatr Lamas and Yetis at the Lunar Lamasery. Katherine has adopted a new pet/companion, Kailash, a baby Himalayan Snow Goose that is soon big enough to fly with her on its back. But a disaster at Santa Claussen sends them flying back to the village (literally) in the Lunar Lama's Lamasery, which is also a rocket. It seems Pitch has attacked the village, looking for Ombric's books of magic. And in pursuit of them, he has abducted the children of the village and tuened all the animals who watch over it and the Lady of the Woods, along with all the adults, into tiny Porcelain statues using his enslavement spell. But why, and what is he looking for? Ombric had been searching back through time, looking for the lunar relics after the crash of the Lunar Tsar's spaceship, but when he tried to interfere in the past, he was stopped by a mysterious rabbit-like figure, who he believes is a creature known as the Pooka, the last of its kind. He also believes that it is this Pooka who holds the secret to the next of the Moon relics. But Ombric needs to know more about the attack and sends Katherine and Nicholas St. North to Easter Island, where the Pooka is believed to live, to search for him and ask for his aid. And they are soon found by E. Aster Bunymund, a stand-offish figure obsessed with the shape of eggs and making different flavors of Chocolate, which he, himself, never eats. He's dismissive of humanity, who he views as unworthy of another Golden Age and declines to help them. He is also holding the second relic, an egg full of Lunar Light, literla light to bring on another Golden age. But can Katherine and North persuade the Pooka to help them reach the Earth's Core and fight on their side? What will convince him to side with them and that they and humanity, are worthy of his help? I loved this book, and while the E. Aster Bunnymund in the book doesn't seem to resemble the one in the movie trailers, I loved his character and the reason why he doesn't eat chocolate and is obsessed with the shapes of eggs. By the end of the book, he's mellowed quite a bit and I found him a wonderful character (and while Santa, in the modern day) is served by Elves and Yeti, the Easter Bunny is served by mechanical eggs! I love it! Once again, Katherine shines despite being just a little girl among incredibly old entities and against Nicholas St. North, a young warrior-mage. Highly revommended.

Alichino, Vols 1 and 2 by Kougu Shurei- Alichino are creatures of Angelic Beauty who are said to grant wishes to those who really need them. But there are few Alichino left in the world, And the gifts they give always come with a price... When a young girl appears searching for an Alichino, she meets Tsugiri, a young man so beautiful that she believes that he might be the Alichino she is looking for. But he claims to know nothing about them, only to go to the house of a friend named Enju and talk about them. The girl, who has followed  Tsugiri, bursts in on them and asks if they know about Alichino, explaining that she really needs one. Her brother is dying and no doctor can find the cause. It's as if his soul is just being sucked away. It transpires that her brother may have found an Alichino to save her life when she was sick. But Tsugiri can only tell her the truth. Yes, Alichino can grant wishes- but the price is the life of the asker. Tsugiri hates Alichino and hunts them, for he holds a strange fascination for the Alichino. He is a Kusabi, born to slay Alichino. However, they want to kill him and take his soul. Myobi, an Alichino, lives with Tusgiri and protects him while helping him kill other Alichino. But what does she really want, and why can't Tsugiri remember his childhood? What secrets does the past hold for him, and will he be able to kill off the Alichino before one of them catches up with him and takes his life? I found this manga beautifully drawn, but a little confusing. Sometimes, it reminded me of CLAMP's works, but not as clear in the story. The author/artist broke her hand back in 2001, putting the series on indefinite hold. As of 2005, she was said to be working on the last, fourth volume, but is not yet finished. And that means this series might never  be finished in America, which makes me kind of not care for it as much. Not recommended, except for the prettiness of the art.

Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Mannheimer, M.D.- Most people know Bellevue for its famous mental ward, but Bellevue is an actual hospital and takes in all sorts of patients. Eric Mannheimer has worked there almost all his life, and tells the story of Bellevue in twelve patients, including himself- who survived a bout with cancer- from the patient he saw repatriated to the Dominican Republic before his own death from cancer- to a woman he worked hard to save, yet who passed away anyway, Mannheimer explores the texture of New York and the people of Bellevue hospital he has known and dealt with. Each story is full of medical and personal details (the personal details seem real, but are carefullywritten to conceal the real names) as Dr. Mannheimer shows why these diseases and these patients have problems, both from home and abroad. Even in cases where the patient recovers, there is a dearth of happy endings. A Sobering look at medicine, and patients in New York City. I enjoyed the book, the stories are compelling, even if the endings usually turn out to be sad, but it's still a fascinating read of how care is portioned out, and yet the doctors still try everything in their power to help. Recommended,

The Guardians of Childhood: The Man in the Moon by William Joyce- Long Ago, in space, there was a golden age, and leading is were the Tsar and Tsarina Lunar, their son, the Man in the Moon, grew never knowing a bad dream or fear, and standing over him was his companion, Nightlight. But he soon attracted the attention of Pitch, who wished to bring fear to the universe, and he attacked the great moon Clipper where the Man in the Moon and his parents lived. His parents sacrificed themselves to protect him, and Nightlight imprisoned Pitch, leaving the Man in the Moon to grow up on the moon, no longer able to fly as the Moon Clipper. But when the Man in the Moon discovered that there were children like him living on Earth, he vowed to become their protector. But how could he send his message to the children of Earth so far away? I loved this book, which has just the right touch of whimsy and fantasy to appeal to all kids, and the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous! William Joyce is the same man who created Rolie Polie Olie, and his pictures are gorgeous enough to lose yourself in, even for adults. Highly recommended.

The Guardians of Childhood: The Sandman by William Joyce- Sanderson Mansnoozie rode a tremendous golden comet during the Golden Age in space, one who anyone could make a wish on and have that wish be granted. But when the comet was attacked by Pitch, it crashed onto Earth, and only the dreams of the Sandman ensured it landed safely on the Earth. And for a long time after, the Sandman dreamed. Until the voice of the Man in the Moon reached him, asking him for help in keeping the sleep of the children of Earth free of bad dreams. And Sandman thought long and hard on how to do it, and even lost sleep over it. Until the mermaids came and sang him to sleep, to dream a dream of sleep untroubled by nightmares. But could the Sandman destroy the Dream Pirates and keep Earth free of Nightmares? I loved this book, another one filled with wonderful pictures that reads like a happy dream. The colors just scream fantasy, being super-saturated and vivid. A wonderful book to read to your children. Highly recommended.

The Guardians:Toothiana, Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies by William Joyce- It seems as though Pitch was defeated in the last battle, but Katherine has been having dreams about him that she doesn't remember in the morning, Dreams that only Nightlight has seen. And he worries about her. Meanwhile, the rest of the Guardians have been growing closer, and Nicholas St. North has persuaded the Guardian of the Forest to release his bandits, now miniature men. The experience seems to have driven whatever evil they harbored strsight out of them and they have become much more childlike, even as they still follow North and help him. As the residents of Santoff Claussen take a trip to the Himalayas to meet the Lunar Lamas, everyone is happy to go back among old friends. Ombric Shalazar's glowworm, Mr. Qwerty tells them the story of Toothiana, abd how she came to be, and how she got her job safeguarding the memories of Children. Katherine hopes that losing her new tooth means that she can get back the memories of her parents, which she no longer remembers. Everyone else wants to at least see Toothiana. But when Katherine is kidnapped from the Lamasery by the Monkey King and his minions, they find that Pitch is missing his daughter, and he wants to replace her with Katherine! But can the other Guardians rescue their friend before Pitch succeeds in making her over in his image? I quite liked Toothiana and her story, and the book ends on a real cliffhanger as we get to meet Pitch's REAL daughter, who isn't wholly bad, but not wholly good, either. Now I can't wait for the next book, which will involve the Sandman. And a book about Jack Frost is also forthcoming. Reading these books is an adventure that's also like coming home to old friends. Excellent and Highly recommended.

The Lost Night by Jayne Castle- Rachel Blake has returned to Rainshadow Island from a life in the city where she tried to join a scientific/medical group dealing with the mentally fragile. But she left over an incident involving a psychopath who fixated on her precisely because she knew what he was and was repulsed by him. Starting over as a bookseller on Rainshadow isn't  easy,. but she's picked up a Dustbunny named Darwina as a pet, and is settling into the life of the Island. This isn't her first time on Rainshadow- she lived there for a while when she was younger, but one night, she mysteriously wandered into the Preserve while heading home, and the next morning, walked out again, not remembering anything of the night or what or even how it happened. Harry Sebastian's family owns the Preserve and he us related to the Pirate, Harry Sebastian that was said to have buried his treasure on the Island. Now he's back to try and find out what happened tot he Psychically "hot" stone which were buried on the island, as they have apparently been stolen. He's attracted to Rachel as soon as he meets her, but she's turned off by the fact that he thinks she or one of her neighbors stole the stones. The fact that he spent a night at her house to escape a storm makes everyone gossip, and when it happens at his house the next night, they resign themselves to the prospect of even more talk, but when two teens show up and firebomb the house, Harryis forced to use his powers to deal with the teens, and Rachel rebalances his aura for him afterwards, preventing an afterburn. But that doesn't stop them from making love later on, anyway. The next morning, the sight of a tattoo on the back of the their hands makes Rachel sure that the two were there for her, not Harry, as they had first assumed. But what does the psychopath on the mainland have to do with her life on Rainshadow now? And what happened on that lost night in the Rainshadow preserve, and can Harry and Rachel find out withoutending up a victim of the conspiracy in the Preserve, or prey to one of the creatures that make the place home? And can they find the missing stones belonging to Richard's Family and return them to the vault before they send the Sanctuary into overdrive?I actually enjoyed this book, which gently teased a number of sequels without using a big flashing sign saying, essentially "Sequel goes here!" I found this a fascinating book and easy and quick to read. Despite th elength of the book is takes place in less than a week, not including the epilogue. There was nothing that really blew my socks off, but it was a good read, and I enhjoyed the residents of Rainshadow and some of the more interesting stones mentioned in it, like Rainstones. Recommended.

Club CSI:The Case of the Ruined Ram by David Lewman- Corey, one of the Club CSI members, convinces the others to go to the Pep Rally with them before the big game against the Jefferson High Vikings. But a big no-show that night is the School's mascot, Rocky the Ram. Everyone wonders where he is, but everything else seems to go okay, so nobody remarks on it, until Rocky's costume is found, partly burned, under the remnants of the bonfire used to inspire School Spirit. Since the costume is expensive, the police are called in. But since the CSI club has solved mysteries in the past, the Principle brings the case to the science class taught by the CSI Club's advisor, and she opens up the investigation to the class. If anyone can find out who destroyed Rocky the Ram, they'll get tickets to the Rest of the Rams Games for a year. Corey is completely stoked about this, and thinks the CSI Club has a lock on finding the culprit, but Corey isn't the only one who wants those tickets. Ricky, an annoying classmate, is also crazy about football, and he teams up with Charlie, the smartest kid in the class, to chase down the culprit. But as the two teams go head to head against each other, can either find the truth, or will it take both to find the true culprit, even after a note claiming responsibility is found? This was a good book, and I didn't know who dunnit until fairly late in the book. This was actually refreshing, as far too many adult books telegraph their endings to me. So even though this book is for kids, the mystery is first rate, with plenty of red haerrings and false trail. Excellent and Highly Recommended.

Crown of Vengeance by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory- Vielessar Farcarinon was born in the Sanctuary of the Star as her mother took shelter after the house she ruled with Vielessar's father was destroyed when he sought to unite the Hundred Houses into one Kingdom. Proclaimed a child of Prophecy at her birth, she was raised in ignaorance of her true origins, until she was sent back to the Sanctuary of the Star when she was 12. Before she was sent back by House Celioniel, who had raised her, with the knowledge of her true name, and a burning need for Vengeance. But as she lived in the Sanctuary and her Light-given powers blossomed, she gave over vengeance... until she was forced to take up her destiny, to conquer the Hundred Houses and make all equal before the Law. Because the Endarkened are still out there, and they seek to conquer the land and destroy Light and Life utterly at the behest of their creator, who wishes the world to go back to the serene lifeless place it once was. But Vielessar has left her Vengeance unpursued for years. Is it too late to unite the Kingdoms, and can she do it before the Endarkened make their new plans and attack? Because she is the only one to believe in the Prophecy, and to win, she is going to have to throw out every rule of war and fight against all the houses, plus rediscover the lost Throne of the Unicorn and take it for her own. And there si more: her sworn bondmate is her greatest enemy, and he can kill her at any time merely by ending his own life. But how can she win against such odds, and does she dare to try? Wow. This was some book. Yes, another book in the Endarkened series, and this one seems to be a prequel rather than a sequel as such, and it's wonderful, filled with a dark twisty vengeance and a lead character who is a woman merely trying to stave off the end of the world. But to do so, she must sacrifice almost everything and work hard to a task she was never trained for. And while her courage, intelligence and daring do a great deal to give her victories, she isn't always winning and has to deal with losing battles and being chased, And the Endarkened are given a beginning and a God, which is quite scary. Recommended.

The Big Book of Pain: Torture and Punishment throughout History by Mark F, Donnelly and Daniel Diehl- Humans haven't always treated each other nicely. In fact a great deal of our history is being really, really bad to one another. But worst of all was torture, used in the past as both a punishment for wrongdoing and to extract information about crimes, fellow criminals and other things as well. But now, torture is making a comeback, and understanding the kind of tortures used in the past can give you an idea of why it has returned. But, as a means of gaining information, torture simply doesn't work. Once a person is in enough pain, they will say anything, confess anything, to get the pain to stop, even if it isn't true. This is an excruciatingly painful look at torture, yesterday and today, and the various means by which people inflicted pain, suffering and death on other people. Not for the weak of stomach or those who easily suffer nightmares. Some of the descriptions are downright painful to read (as in sympathetic pain, not  badly written. If you are looking to learn about torture, this book can give you a really good overview... and turn your stomach at the same time. Recommended

The Instruments of Torture by Michael Kerrigan- Another book covering the record of Man's inhumanity towards his fellow man, this book covers all of human history, from ancient times to modern scenarios like Abu-Ghraib. Humiliation, Pain, and the ripping apart of the body are all covered in detail, although most of the illustrations are woodcuts and drawings rather than photographs. A bit less stomach-turning, but still informative, you can still feel pangs of sympathy and sympathetic pains from reading this book, but perhaps less so than "The Big Book of Pain". Still not recommended for those with sensitive minds/stomachs.  But otherwise good.

Ember's Kiss  by Deborah Cooke- Liz  Barrett is a biologist who has come to Hawaii to attend a conference. But the woman who invited her, her Mentor, is hoping Liz will love the island enough to stay. So when Liz meets extreme surfer Brandon Merrick her first night on the island, there is an instant connection, and she finds herself wanting to be with him. Brandon, though, is a Dragon who doesn't want to be one, and he is working with Marco, leader of the Wyverns, to try and kill the Dragon without harming himself. Marco, though, only wants Brandon as a source of more Dragonbone, which means Brandon will have to die. But Liz is on his side, and is his destined mate, setting off a firestorm  that binds them both together. And Liz has secrets of her own- she is a special kind of Witch, a Firedaughter, who also didn't want her powers, because similar powers killed her own mother. She  stopped using them and they faded away, but now that she is in Hawaii, she is back, and the goddess Pele seems to have taken an interest in her. Can Liz and Brandon survive their firestorm, and the forces of the Wyverns and the Evil magic arrayed against them? Or will Marco use their connection against Brandon to win the day? This is the eighth novel in the Dragonfire series, and unlike some of the other  novels in the series that I've read, this one takes place far from the others, by someone who has been completely mislead about what he is. But thanks to Liz, and the other Dragons who come to meet him, Brandon is able to find  the truth, forgive his father, and triumph over his problems, just as Liz must overcome her own. I liked this book a great deal. It won't blow your socks off, but it's a nice, solid romance. Recommended.

A Christmas Garland by Anne  Perry- Victor Narraway is in the Army in India after the Maiwand massacre when an Indian soldier is killed while on duty guarding another Indian soldier who went over to the enemy, and it seems that a young medical assistant is to blame. Narraway is assigned to defend the medical assistant, who maintains his innocence, but everyone else seems to have an alibi and he  does not. Victor needs to track down the real killer and keep the innocent man from being killed.But one of his fellow officers has a grudge against him and would like to see Victor fail. Can Victor tease out the strands of truth and weave it together into a defense that will save the innocent man? Or is he just uselessly spinning his wheels against a foregone conclusion? A small and compact little mystery by a master at the top of her game, Anne Perry has produced another triumphant Christmas mystery and packed it full of red herrings, and a solid, completely engaging mystery story. They don't get much better than this. Highly recommended.

Seawitch by Kat Richardson- P.I. Harper Blaine is a Graywalker, someone who can travel between the  borders of life and death and see the effect of the Gray, a sort of limbo in between, and deal with the spirits who live there. When a 27 years gone missing boat is found drifting in the harbor, the Insurance Company who paid out on the claim all those years ago wants Harper to investigate. She is teamed up with Columbian cop Rey Solis, who doesn't believe in the Supernatural whatsoever. But the Guardian of the Gray wants Harper to "Free the Lost", while something or someone else, wants everyone involved with the ship and the mystery dead- and is glad to include Harper if she continues to stir things up. Furthermore, Harper's lover, Quinton, is being blackmailed by his father, now head of a Federal agency that wants to use and study Supernatural creatures, to give information on the ones he knows, while Quint wants nothing to do with his father's plans. Can Harper investigate the case without falling afoul of Quint's father, and untangle the threads of which Supernatural creatures want the Seawitch... and why? I loved this book and tore through it in a single day, because it was quite amazing. I knew nothing about the supernatural creatures that appear in the story, and yet, I want to know more. It really pulled me in and made me want to know what was going on, and I enjoyed every single page. Highly recommended.

After Moonrise  by P.C. Cast and Gena Showalter- After Moonrise is an agency that helps clients with Supernatural problems. In the first story, Kent Raef is a psychic who can only percieve the darker emotions, which means he is stuck investigating strange deaths. So when Lauren Wilcox comes to him with the story of being haunted by her sister, who was recently murdered, Raef and Lauren must work together with the spirit of her sister, Aubrey, to track down the killer and free the spirits of the women he's imprisoned and who he is draining the bad emotions from their spirits to gain power. Raef is attracted to the spirit of Lauren's dead sister, Aubrey, but the only way he can be with her is when she possesses her sister's body. And he also finds he can feel Aubrey's  happiness and joy. But if he frees her soul, she'll be lost to him forever, and if he lets the killer go, it's a death sentence not only for Aubrey, but other women as well. And the killer now wants Lauren as well... The second story in this anthology follows Aurora Harper, a painter who suddenly finds herself painting disturbing images. She reaches out to her neighbor, cop Levi Reid, for help, He is recovering from a bust gone bad but Aurora's story is compelling and overcomes his need for solitude. Bur as he investigates, disturbing memories come back for both of them. And is the murder something Aurora witnessed in the past, or something yet to come? I liked both stories in this volume, but I felt the first story started a little quicker, and moved more quickly, whereas the second story had a slower start and a longer build-up to the climax. In the end, both turned out very enjoyable in different ways. Recommended.