Thursday, February 13, 2014

2014, Part 1

The Prince of Darkness by P. C. Doherty- Edward of England should be at peace, what with a war against the Scots recently concluded in his favor, but his son, also named Edward, is embroiled in the middle of a homosexual affair with Piers Gaveston, and the way he lavishes attention, honors and money on the young man is causing great disquiet in the kingdom and among the nobles and supporters of the King. King Edward wants to remove his son from Gaveston's influence, but his hands are tied. When Lady Elaine Belmont, a former mistress of the Prince, is found dead at the bottom of a set of stairs in the priory where she was living, and it seems that Gaveston might have had some sort of role in her death, Edward assigns the task of investigation to Hugh Corbett, in order to find out the truth of what really happened, and hopefully, to find some way to do away with Gaveston. It seems, though, that Lady Elaine was suffering from a growth in her breast, and the fall down the stairs, which would probably not have killed another woman, resulted in her death. But did Gaveston have anything to do with it, and if not, what really happened and was anyone or anything but an unfortunate misstep tho blame? Hugh and his servant Ranulf will have to sift the evidence carefully and ask the right questions of the right witnesses to find the answers that they seek, while Ranulf is tired of being a mere servant and wants to ascend to being a clerk in his own right. But can he receive the preferment he wants? Another excellent twisty medieval mystery, well-couched in the people of the time. I know, as a student of history, that Gaveston will come to a nasty end, but P.C. Doherty made me despise the character in a way completely separate from his true history. He and Prince Edwatd both come off as too completely wrapped up in each other and their own concerns to be good rulers for England, something that was certainly borne out in reality (Edward was killed by his own queen and her lover for being too inconvenient to their rule, but he certainly invited what happened by his horrendous treatment of her while he was alive. I found this an excellent book, both in mystery *and* history, and Highly Recommend it to anyone who likes Medieval Mysteries.

The Field of Blood by Paul Doherty- When a female killer sentenced to death offers to turn evidence of another murderer to save her neck from being stretched, Sir John Cranston is dismayed to discover that she has named as a murderess his good friend, Kathryn Vestler, a widow of a friend of John's from the wars and proprietress of a tavern, as a multiple murderer, the bodies buried beneath a tree on the inn property. A search being carried out, two bodies are indeed found, that of a man and woman, and the murderess names them as a clerk who used to frequent the inn and a maid who used to work there. Kathryn Vestler maintains her innocence, and Sir John Cranston feels she is telling the truth about being innocent, but he can also sense that she knows far more about the crime than she is saying. But it's up to Brother Athelstan and Cranston to find out the truth- the true killer, and the truth behind the accusations- especially when the accuser is poisoned in prison before she can be questioned. But can they uncover the truth behind a years-old murder? I always enjoy Paul Doherty's mysteries, and while his "detective and sidekick" pairs can be somewhat the same occasionally, I really like Brother Athelstan, who, even though he's sort of the servant of Sir John Cranston, is actually the main character of the series, and he and his church, with its many low-class members, are well-drawn and become beloved very quickly. This was interesting and had an amazing story, as not only do the characters have to find a murderer, but the real story that Kathryn Vestler is hiding, not to mention why she isn't telling the whole truth. A short book, but one I highly recommend.

Web of Lies by Jennifer Estep- Gin Blanco is the owner of the Pork Pit Barbecue restaurant in Ashland. But she once had a secret double life as an infamous assassin known as the Spider. She's also an elemental, a person with power over an element. In Gin's case, she's unusual, having two elements she can manipulate- Ice and Stone. So when a  gunman shoots up the restaurant after a girl comes in looking for "The Tin Man", Gin assumes that the gunman was trying to kill her. But soon she realizes that the gunman was trying to kill the girl, who had been asking for her mentor and the former owner of the restaurant. She follows the girl and saves her from another assassination attempt and discovers that the girl's grandfather, Warren Fox, owns a small store up in the mountains. But his neighbor, Tobias Dawson, a dwarf who owns the largest mine in Ashland, is after him to sell the store so he can mine the land the mountain stands on. And this is something Fox is unwilling to do, as the land and the store have been in his family for generations. Now, for some reason, Dawson won't take no for an answer, and is pressuring Warren by threatening Violet. Gin must work with her friends Finn, who is her mentor's son, a banker and conman, Jo-Jo, a Dwarf Air Elemental and Sophia, Jo-Jo's sister and another Air Elemental. But she also has to work with Detective Donovan Caine, her sometime lover whose upstanding nature is deeply troubled by knowing who Gin is and used to be. And that's not all the problems Gin has to deal with, for the Giant son of local mob boss Mab Monroe's crooked lawyer, Jonah McAllister, tried to rob Gin's place and received a nasty smack down for his trouble. Most people, knowing Jake's father, would let the matter slide and not press charges, but Gin doesn't fear Jake *or* his father, and won't let the incident just die. So Jake might have to go to court, and he doesn't like that a bit. So he tries to threaten Gin or beat her up and kill her, and he fails. But when Gin gets into a party Mab is throwing to try and take down Dawson, she will also have to deal with Jake McAllister as well. But when she is captured by Dawson and taken to his mine, can she fight her way out and make it out of the mine before she can be killed by the Dwarf and his guards? I had never read one of these books before, but as soon as I picked them up, I was completely sucked in. This book isn't the first in the series, but I found myself not having needed to read the original book. The characters are in your face, and you get a sense of who they are right away, and boy, do they keep your interest. This was a truly excellent book, and I loved every aspect of it. Highly recommended. I will definitely recommend this series to everyone I know might be interested.

Venom by Jennifer Estep- Gin Blanco is back! Having found out that Mab Monroe is the woman who killed her mother and sisters, Gin wants revenge on the Fire Elemental, but at the same time, she is aware that her powers are no match for Mab's. But when Gin is badly beaten by Elliot Slater, Mab's Head enforcer, for interfering with Jonah McAllister and Mab's business, she is rescued by both Xavier, a giant who works as a cop and his new partner, Bria- who just happens to be Gin's sister that Gin has been looking for ever since she found out she was alive when her mentor died and passed on the knowledge to her. But Xavier wants Gin's help for the woman he loves, the madam and club owner, not to mention vampire, Roslyn Phillips. It seems Roslyn has come to Slater's attention, and the Giant has been terrorizing her into having a "relationship" with him that involves sitting in his lap while he kisses her. But he's done this to other women before, and the result is always that when Slater tires of the woman and their "relationship", he ends up raping and killing her. Xavier and Roslyn want Gin to make Slater go away, by any means possible, and if that means killing him, then so be it. But as Gin gears up to try and get close to Slater to plan a hit on him, she is distracted to find out that Mab also wants Bria, who is just as much of a straight shooter as her old ex-lover Donovan Caine, dead. And then there is Owen Grayson, a businessman with Elemental powers over Metal, who is the brother of Violet Fox's friend Eva, who met Gin on her last job and has become interested in her in a more than friendly way. But when Slater kidnaps Roslyn to take her to his cabin up on the mountain and deep in the woods to finish her off, it's up to Gin and her friends to ride to the rescue. But can she take out a Giant before he kills her and Roslyn both? And what will be Mab's reaction to finding out that the assassin that killed Jake McAllister, and Tobias Dawson is not only still alive, but also gunning for her? Can Gin deal with all the new enemies she is racking up left and right, or will they finally end up dragging her down? Another excellent book with a story that draws you right in and doesn't stop until the end. There is another aspect to these books as well- because Gin owns the Pork Pit and cooks Barbecue, I ended up craving Barbecue in the worst way every time I was finished reading one of these books. And I do mean, in the worst way. And it's not good when you can't eat barbecue because of the digestive issues you are having, too. This book is even more of a draw than Web of Lies was, with the theme of a woman needed help to escape a stalker who will end up by raping and killing her, and the author makes it clear that Slater deserves every bad thing that's coming to him. The characters sparkle and the plot is extremely compelling. Highly recommended.

Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep- Gin has been busy since the last book, taking out Mab Monroe's businesses and operations, not to mention her key men. And now Mab has decided she's had enough and hired another assassin named Elektra LeFleur to take Gin out. But while Elektra's abilities over lightning are strong, she's also taken up with Jonah McAllister, who wants Elektra to take on the side job of killing Gin for what she did to his son. But when Gin and LeFleur tangle for the first time, she is nearly killed- and once again, Mab is after Bria, who has been nearly as great an irritant to Mab as Gin has been. But Mab is moving against more than Gin and Bria- she is also moving against Roslyn Phillips, who she blames for being involved in the death of Elliot Slater, and she's doing it by building a new club in an old rail yard that will surpass the Amenities of Roslyn's club. She is also using the Ice Elemental bartender in Roslyn's club to spy on her and try to pass on "opportunities" to catch and kill the assassin who is plaguing her- who she doesn't know is Gin. But the Ice Elemental has a reason- Mab and her men have snatched his daughter, and  are holding her to make him comply with their demands. But Gin has discovered that they have no intention of giving the girl back- they plan to kill the man for his "failure" and make the girl into a child prostitute. When Gin hears this, she knows she must act to save the girl and give her a chance for a normal life. But when that involves a face off with Elekta LaFleur, can Gin gain the upper hand and rescue the girl, especially when it seems that Mab is also in the area? And can she shut down the kill order against her sister and save her life without revealing their close connection? Or will Bria finally find out just who and what her sister is? This book steamrollered on where "Venom" left off, and I found myself easily falling into the story and the character and mindset of Gin. I love her steely will and determination to survive, as well as all her kick-ass aspects. And her more nurturing ones as well, like her skills at baking that she uses to such good effect. (yeah, these books will make you crave cookies, cake, crumble and pie just as much as barbecue. Once again, Gin and Mab sort of dance around confronting each other, but we as readers know that confrontation is coming, and soon. I, for one, am looking forward to it. Highly recommended.

Spider's Revenge by Jennifer Estep- This is it, the final confrontation- Gin Blanco against Mab Monroe. But when Gin misses the chance to take out Mab quickly, Mab gets scared, making her more dangerous than ever. But the meeting that Gin nearly took out Mab at was a meeting of assassins- all there to track down the mysterious assassin who has been hunting Mab and her minions for the past months. In her rush to get away, Gin runs afoul of another assassin, an older woman named Gentry who seems strangely protective of a young woman who goes everywhere with her, named Sydney. But the risks she is taking with her life aren't making the friends she works with happy- and neither does it make Owen, her lover and the man she is trying to resist falling in love with, happy. In fact, he is quite put out with her- but when it seems that Mab has caught on to who Gin really is, her friends refuse to et her go it alone. But even with all their help, can Gin defeat Mab, the strongest Elemental in Ashland? Because it's all come down to the line, now. Mab or Gin, and devil take the hindmost. While this series does have a somewhat predictable pattern (Gin sets out to do something or kill someone and ends up near death, needing healing by her friend Jo-Jo before coming back to estroy whoever she has set herself up against, I never got the feeling that the novels were too samey while reading them. In fact, I was less likely to obsess over the details because I was too caught up in the story. This book did have its heart-warming moments, however. First was when Mab found out Gin's real identity and Gin wanted her friends to flee for their lives. But they refused and closed ranks around her, insisting that this was just as much their fight as Gin's. Second was when Gin admitted to Owen that she was truly in love with him, and faced her feelings. That made me feel an "aw!" straight from my heart. Lastly was the near-death meeting of Gin and her former mentor who was killed in the first book of the series, Fletcher Lane, and her feelings upon seeing and meeting him again, which made me tear up a little, I'll admit. The feeling Estep describes- coming home, is well-known to me and I felt it directly in my chest. Definitely something special here. For those who felt that Gin's war against Mab has taken too long, well, that ends in this novel. And there will be more in this series. Count on it. Highly recommended.

By A Thread by Jennifer Estep- Gin has come out as the famous/infamous assassin known as the Spider, but despite her reputation, there are innumerable idiots who think to make a name for themselves by taking her down. And laterly, there has been an endless string of them coming to the Pork Pit. Frankly, Gin is sick of it, so when her friend Finn suggests a vacation- her and Bria and him and Owen. with Gin and Bria to leave together first so that they can bond as sisters, she is finally tired enough to agree. She and Bria head to where Bria was raised. Bria is happy and hopes to meet her best friend, Callie, who owns a Restaurant in the town. Soon, they are ensconced in a swanky beach resort, but Gin fails at doing all the touristy things. Oh, she tries, but she isn't able to muster up any enthusiasm for it. Finally, they go to Callie's restaurant and Gin gets to meet her sister's best friend. But her jealousy over how close the two are leaves Gin unusually short and acid-tongues around Callie, as Callie appears to be as close with Bria as Gin wants to be- but Callie got there first. But Callie is having problems with a local businessman who owns the swanky resort where Gin and Bria are staying, and he wants to expand the resort to make it even more attractive to the high rollers- and he needs the land that Callie's restaurant is located on to make that happen. When he sends thugs to hurt Callie and break things in the restaurant, Gin steps in to assist her sister's friend and sends the men running. Then, she gets a shock as the man she formerly loved, Donovan Caine, is in town, having taken the job that Bria gave up to move to Ashland even as she took over his job. Looking at Callie, Gin realizes that Callie is essentially almost the same as her, but she's safer than Gin ever was- as Callie isn't an assassin whose morals give the upright, by the book Donovan Caine such trouble. Seeing as how Caine acted like he might have been happy when he thought that Gin might have been killed in the mine collapse that took out Dawson, and him leaving Ashland soon after. Now he's replaced Gin with a woman who is very much like her in every way, and he seems angry that she is here in town- but he *is* willing to let her help out against Dekes. But Dekes has found out about Gin and Bria helping Callie and sends some of his men to their room to try and take them out. Of course, Gin is more than they can handle, and she dumps their bodies in the hotel pool, cleans up the room as best she can and she and Bria move to a small cabana house for the remainder of their stay. Dekes, it turns out, is not only the local version of Mab Marone, but that he is a vampire as well. Gin decides to try and take out Dekes all on her own, and fails in a big way, becoming prey to his hungers. She has to fake being dead with her ice powers to make it out alive… and now everyone is determined to bring down Dekes. Can he be long for this world? This book was like a bit of deja vu for me, with Dekes being like a mix of Tobias Dawson, Mab Marone and an evil version of Roslyn all in one. In a way, it felt like a bit of a rehash, and I felt it was less than a successful work for me. Maybe if I had read this book first, it would not have felt that way, but… This is still an excellent series, and I did enjoy this book, but some of these themes repeating just felt a bit stale. And Caine just incited my ire throughout the entire book, becoming a huge-ass jerk to Gin- and the way he attempts to seduce her while being engaged to Callie just underscored that. At first, Gin still feels the attraction she once felt for him, but as the story continues, she, too, realizes that she has moved on and done so much better than this jerk. And when she speaks out to both Bria and Donovan about how she feels when she is being treated badly by them was a really excellent moment that had me smiling and agreeing with her. Still recommended for the series as a whole, this one a little less so than the others.

Deadly Sting by Jennifer Estep- Mab Marone was the Fire Elemental mob boss who once ran Ashland. But when she ran afoul of Gin Blanco, the assassin known as the Spider, her empire quickly crumbled. Now, her treasures are being displayed at a high-class art exhibit in the heart of Ashland, and Finn, Gin's former handler and foster brother, wants her to go to the premiere, as she has been down ever since her lover Owen Grayson's ex-fianceé came back and Gin had to kill her for trying to kill Owen. He was upset enough to call for a break in their relationship, and even now, three months later, he's still nursing his injured feelings. So Finn tries to cheer her up with the date, but it's a resounding failure- Owen is there with another woman, and she is wearing the exact same dress that Finn bought for her, which is supposed to be a one of a kind. She even resembles Gin, and Gin is feeling the same "being replaced" sort of vibe that she felt with Donovan Caine and Callie, and she isn't taking it well. But when she uses the bathroom, she and the woman who is Owen's date end up in there together, and the other woman tells Gin that she has designs on Owen, and does Gin mind? Gin, already feeling betrayed, says no, but as the woman leaves, she is gunned down by Giants who think that she is Gin. Because all the Giants have stopped working their normal security jobs and gone to work for the female Giant who is running this sting operation to steal Mab's treasures. In reality, though, the female giant intends to take the most valuable and expensive things for herself and slaughter the others, letting the cops believe that she was among the dead. The only thing that can stand in her way is Gin, Finn and Owen. But can Owen overcome his bruised feelings to work with Gin and bring down the female Giant mastermind behind it all? What is so important in Mab's safe that the female Giant is willing to threaten Owen to use his Metal elemental powers to break into the safe and get? Will Owen blame Gin for the death of his date, and can she ever forgive him for treating her like Donovan Caine did? And will Gin be able to survive the sheer number of Giants arrayed against her and her allies? I found this book to be an intriguing break from type in the series. Gin doesn't set out to help anyone, she just gets caught up in the same situation as Ashland's rich and famous and has to use her wits and powers to survive. The fact that Finn carries backup equipment for her in each of his many cars can only help so much- she needs to be able to survive until she can get to the equipment and survive on what she can loot from the bodies of the giants she has defeated. Owen seriously disappointed me at the start of the book, having done to her what he promised in "By a Thread" that which he would never do- treat her like Donovan Caine. He does sort of redeem himself by the end of the book, but he still looks silly and like he's throwing a temper tantrum over what Gin did in the last book (more like "had to do" or "was forced to do", since the woman was going to kill him and Gin and a bunch of other people). It left kind of a bad taste in my mouth and the bloom was off the rose for him, whereas before I thought he pretty much hung the moon with how he accepted Gin for who and what she was and even helped her. But I am willing to try and trust him again. Definitely one of my favorite books in this series for the story. and still highly recommended.

Heart of Venom by Jennifer Estep- Gin's best friend, Sophie Deveraux, is a Goth dwarf who also happens to be an Air Elemental like her sister, Jo-Jo. We learned at the end of Spider's Revenge how she came to speak with her raspy voice- she'd once been kidnapped by a man who was obsessed with her, a Fire elemental, and he tried to torture and groom her into the woman he wanted her to be. Fletcher had rescued her at the request of Jo-Jo, and in thanks, Sophia repaid him by getting rid of dead bodies for him. When Gin became the Spider, Sophia did the same for her, and she's been helping Gin ever since. But now Grimes, the man who kidnapped Sophia in the past, has come back for her. And with Fletcher dead, only Gin is left to go beard Grimes, a moonshiner and gang leader, in his mountain home and rescue Sophia. But she won't be going alone- Owen and Fletcher's old friend Warren Fox, who was with Fletcher when he rescued Sophia the first time, accompany her up the mountain to search for Sophia. And once again, Grimes had Sophia dressing in "girly" frilled dresses and is trying to mold her into what he wants her to be- the perfect bride for him, using torture and humiliation- making her work in a pit of dead bodies, digging it deeper so that all evidence of his crimes just goes away. But when Gin is captured by Grimes, she meets his sister, a real psychopath. Gin isn't willing to give up, though, because Sophia is family- and she'll *anything* for her family. A sort of return to form for Gin, but this one involved Sophia, who I have always liked and admired in the books, and we get to see a fuller picture of where she came from. Also, this time, it's Jo-Jo who ends up nearly dead and must be healed, which made me think of the "Custodes quis Costodiet" sort of thing- when your healer is near death and dying, who do you go to for healing her? But I liked that Gin finds Grimes' sister more of a psycho than he is- and the feelings at the end when Gin and Sophia share the experience of having been in Grimes' hands was very wonderful and I liked how that felt. Highly recommended, along with this whole series.

The Grail Murders by Michael Clynes- Roger Shallot is an old man nearing the end of his life, but he is writing his memoirs about his early years serving his master, Benjamin Daunbey and his uncle, Cardinal Wolsey, to do tasks for King Henry VIII. In this one, a murder has occurred in a nobleman's castle- and the castle previously belonged to the Templars. The murder also occurred that in a chapel which was locked from the inside. And more murders occur in the castle and the lands around. Is it the Templars returned? And if so, who is the hidden Templar? Or is it just someone who is using the Templars as a blind for their own activities? What about the supposed Holy Grail and Excalibur that are supposed to be hidden somewhere in the castle- a Templar treasure? And can Benjamin and Roger ferret out the real killer and fulfill Henry's directions, as well as Cardinal Wolsey's directives? Apparently not without a threat to Roger's life. And Doctor Agrippa is also involved. But what is his interest in the Grail, and can they trust him to tell the truth? I enjoy these books, as Roger Shallot is a thoroughgoing rogue, but he admires his more intelligent and more moral master- he's too weak and open to temptation to ever be law-abiding. But looking back on his life from the place where he is now, he shares what things were like- essentially, all bad. But he has a bad man's view of things- that pretty much everyone is out for themselves. And sadly, he's often right. But he is also an entertaining observer of what's going on, and while he may not be honest about everything. he tells us what he's seen- and he's honest about Benjamin Daunbey's actions, who he holds up on a pedestal. It's an interesting story, and reveals Henry VIII's veniality and corruption. I really enjoyed this story, and would definitely recommend it to people who enjoy historical mysteries.

The Relic Murders by Michael Clynes- Roger Shallot's master Benjamin Daunbey is off to Italy, so Roger sets himself up as a relic-seller and runs afoul of a local rich and noble family. Running off to London to escape them, he ends up in trouble with the King, and the King only agrees to pardon Roger if Benjamin can track down the missing Orb of Charlemagne. It seems that the Orb was in the treasures of England, and now France wishes to buy it back from England, and so do the Germans. Henry is willing to sell it to them- or rather, the copy he is having made to sell them. But when the Silversmith who made the copy is murdered, and both the copy and the original disappear, Benjamin and Roger will have to find the murderer- the thief, if the two are not the same, and recover the actual Orb for Henry, and the copy for the French- but was there ever even a original? And what about the supposed German assassin who is working for his countrymen in gaining the Orb for them? Who is this supposed assassin? And who killed the fifteen men in the manor house who were guarding the orb? Who killed the cooks responsible for feeding the men who were killed, and why were they killed? Can Daunbey and Roger find the truth in the twisted maze of lies? Another excellent murder mystery. Michael Clynes draws the beliefs and society of the time into sharp relief, and gives us a big, tasty mystery to sink our mental teeth into.  Once again, Roger plays the rogue and his misadventures help Benjamin Daunbey solve the mystery. An excellent mystery and recommended.

Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep- Gin Blanco is an assassin known as The Spider. But while she kills people for money, she has standards, much like her mentor, Fletcher Lane, who was once the Assassin known as the Tin Man. Now, due to his retirement from the job due to age, he acts as her handler. accepting jobs on her behalf. After a job to kill a Therapist who has a nasty habit of sleeping with her patients at the insane asylum (and an orderly who rapes the female patients as an added bonus, Gin returns home to her handler, Fletcher Lane, to find that he has another job for her right away- to take out the senior accountant for Halo industries. She objects to taking another job so soon, and so would Fletcher, but the price, a cool 5 million, convinces her to take the job. But the job is a set-up, and Gin finds her way out of the trap without killing her target- but does come to the attention of Detective Donovan Caine- the one cop on the force who is incorruptable. Or so he seems. As he goes after Gin, who has just killed the bounty hunter gunning for her, she manages to escape, but returns to the Pork Pit, Fletcher's restautant, to find him murdered by an air elemental. She vows retribution for the killing and charges off to check on Finn, Fletcher's son, who works as a financier and who happens to be a computer whiz. Saving him from also dying, she and Finn work together to find out who was really behind the job and who wanted Gin and Fletcher dead. Along the way, they discover that Gin's target died on his way home, and that now Donovan Caine's life is also in danger- from his own boss on the force, who is corrupt, working with Mab Marcone, and is tired of Caine's  incorruptability. So when Gin and Finn go to save Caine, he ends up working with them after they save his life from the men who want to kill him. But the question remains- who was behind the fake hit, and who was the Air Elemental who killed Fletcher Lane. As Gin grows closer to the answers she wants, she also feels the attraction between her and Donovan Caine growing. But can she enjoy a relationship with a man who seems to despise her and everything she's done and stands for? I really enjoyed this book, I was afraid, having read the other books in the series, that Gin would be less sympathetic in this book, where she starts out still being an assassin for money. But no, she was simply more awesome, and I loved every bit of the story. I liked seeing the start of her "relationship", such as it is, with Donovan Caine, even though I know it ended after the second book. But in a way, I wish she'd stayed more like this, a little more hard-nosed, in the other books. Still, a strong start to the series, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Highly recommended.

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire- October "Toby" Daye is a changeling, half-human and half far. Most changelings are never accepted by either world, but Toby serves Sylvester, Duke of the Shadowed Hills, as his knight, and he sets her a task, to check on his niece, January O'Leary, at her court in the County of Tamed Lightning, better known as Freemont, California. It seems that their messages are not getting through and he is worried about her. But it seems he has much to fear, as January is head of a company working on computer technology, and she has "adopted" a dryad whose tree died and was grafted into a computer to keep her alive. Now, she helps run the company whose computers she is part of, but people in the company have recently begun dying for no apparent reason, and Toby gets caught up in the murders within the company when she literally stumbles on a new crime scene. What is the company working on, and what might cause them to be the target for these murders? Can Toby keep herself and her squire alive while tracking down the murderer and keeping January safe? And what will happen if she cannot do that? She'll need the assistance of Tybalt, the King of Cats, if she ever wants to get home in one piece, and she'll need every bit of cunning and luck she possesses as well… This was a nice story, a series of "locked room" murders that have you questioning everyone and everything before the denouement at the end. I particularly liked the characters in this one, and the expansion of the role of Tybalt, King of Cats, played in the book. They started out in quite the adversarial relationship, but their relationship becomes so much more than that by the end. An excellent book, and one I'd definitely read again, Highly recommended.

Widow's Web by Jennifer Estep- Gin Blanco has finally seemed to get her life in some order. First, she killed her old nemesis and the person who killed her mother and sister, Mab Monroe. She also found her remaining sister, Bria, who has come to town as a detective on the police force. She's also settled into running the restaurant her mentor/handler Fletcher Lane, left her in his will, and his real son, Finn has taken on the role of her handler. She's even found real love with her fellow Elemental, Owen Grayson- a metal elemental who also happens to be a rich businessman. But when a catering job for local mob businessman Phillip "Philly" Kincaid turns into a rout, his bodyguard killed by an unknown Water Elemental and Kincaid himself nearly killed, Gin is thrown for a loop when she learns that the water elemental is a woman named Salina Dubois- a young woman whose father was killed by Mab Monroe, and she appears to have returned to town in order to settle a score with everyone she blames for not intervening in the death of her father at the hands of Mab Monroe, a death gin witnessed, along with Fletcher Lane, while serving as his apprentice as an assassin. Not only that, but Salina was once engaged to be married to Owen- and she's come to reclaim HIM as well, and she isn't about to let Gin stand in her way. But when Owen's sister Eva reveals her reasons for wanting Salina dead, Gin feels obliged to kill Salina on Eva'e behalf. Only Owen still seems to have feelings for Salina, and despite their relationship, Gin is left wondering if Owen will choose her or Salina… and what will happen if Gin decides to kill Salina to keep her friends and Owen safe? Can she make Owen see the truth of what Salina is, of what she has always been, or will he choose Salina over her/ And can Gin and her ice and stone powers defeat Salina's water elemental magic, which is rare and extremely tricky? This was a return to form for Gin, and a book I dearly loved to read. Here we have another Elemental-one who is devious and just slightly deranged, deciding to come back and take up where she left off, with a boatload of grudges to work off- and she threatens all that Gin holds dear. Gin has to learn to use her power against Salina's magic, and it isn't until the end that she manages to triumph- but Salina isn't yet dead, and the ending startled me a bit. At least I knew that she and Owen would eventually get back together, but I definitely felt the same sort of heartbreak Gin was feeling at the end. I really enjoyed this story and this book. Highly recommended.

Karma Girl by Jennifer Estep- Carmen Cole has a reason to hate superheroes and ubervillains both- She'd been engaged to be married when she found out that her fiancé and her best friend were Machinator, the Superhero, and Crusher, the ubervillain, and that they were in bed together mere hours before the ceremony. Heartbroken by both of their betrayals, she outed their secret identities in the local paper and vowed to do that to all Superheroes and Ubervillains she could find. Hired away by a succession of papers, she did the same job in all of them before finally ending up at the paper known as Exposé in New York City. But when she outed Superhero Tornado of the Fearless Five, the greatest known Superhero group, he committed suicide just before the story aired. Knowing that she was responsible, Carmen was horrified at what she had done, and gave up what had been her task. Relegated to the society beat, she ekes out a living attending parties by the rich and famous and writing about the soirees. But then, one night, she is kidnapped by the Ubervillains the Terrible Triad and given an ultimatum by their leader, Malefica- discover the secret identity of Striker, the head of the Fearless Five, or be turned into a horrible monster by the means of Frost's chemical goo, which has turned all the animals he's used it on into horrible monsters. With no other choice but death, Carmen has to comply. But Striker turns out to be more than just a superhero to Carmen- they end up becoming close, and she discovers an entirely unlooked for attraction to the man that ends in blazing sex at her apartment- and she knows that she cannot bear to out him to the Ubervillains. But can she use her skills at unmasking the spandex set to foil Malefica's plot against her? And can she ever apologize enough to Striker and the rest of Tornado's teammates for causing his death? More to the point, can she save Striker and the rest of the Fearless Five from their nemeses and turn the tables on them? And can she ever measure up to Stryker when it comes to being a human, and have a real relationship with him? I really liked "Karma Girl", which took the whole concept of paranormal romance and turned it on its head. Recommended.

Traitor's Moon by Lynn Flewelling- Alec and Seregil have spent two years living far from Skala, site of their last battle. But Queen Idrilain sends them a message along with Beka, Seregil's adopted niece, to ask them to join her daughter, Klia, to ask the Aurenenfae for their help in the war with Plenimar. She also wants Seregil, a former inhabitant, to help her daughter in encountering the variously family tribes of his homeland. Seregil must confess the truth to Alec, that he left his homeland an outcast for the killing of a member of another clan at the behest of his then-lover, who sent him to spy into the other family's camp. He suspected Seregil would be caught and possibly killed, or kill himself, and either way, break the alliance that his father was trying to enact. Aurenfaie memories are long, as long as their lives, and Seregil is welcome only because he is part of the Skalan delegation, which has permission to not only make port in Gedre, but to travel to Sarikali, the Jewel of Aurenen, where important festivals are held and diplomacy is conducted. But someone seems determined to put and end to the possible treaty with Skala, and a negotiator dies, possibly of poison. As Beka becomes entangled in her romance with an Aurenfaie scout, and Idrilain passes on in favor of her daughter Phoria, Phoria sends her brother to Aurenen to attack it, after Klia is poisoned as well and lies near death. Only a breaking of the treaty-truce between Seregil and his people can set the situation to rights, as he and Alec leave Sarikali to head off the war that would result if Korathan attacked Gedre. But as he bring Korathan to the side of Klia, can he prevent a wecond war between Skala and Aurenen. But is it worth the price he will have to pay, and can Alec learn his true heritage in the city of the seers? I only started this series with the last book, Casket of Souls, but this one was really a great as well. Not only do we get to see where Seregil came from, but we also learn why he was banned from his own country, and get to meet his family and learn more about the Aurenfaie people. I loved the twisty double dealings, the revelation of the villain behind the plot, and the romance between Beka and her faie. I liked pretty much everything about this book, and I loved the whole way the characters went around investigating the mystery. I also loved the revelation of Alec's parentage as well. Highly recommended.

Dragon's Teeth by Mercedes Lackey is a compilation of two of Mercedes Lackey's short stories, may of them very early, named Fiddler Fair and Werehunter. Each holds approximately 14 short stories, including the very first Bardic Voices story, back when it was originally meant for one of the "Magic in Ithkar books, "How I spent My Summer Vacation", where Mercedes Lackey talks about her writing and how she got into it, and the reactions of some people to her books, "Werehunter", about a girl who is a wereleopard and her coming to the Land of the Witch World, "Dumb Feast" about a man who deeply mourns the death of his wife, so he calls back her soul from the dead for one last meal together... and gets told some hard home truths, and my personal favorites, the very short SKitty stories, about a telepathic ship's cat and her adventures with the human who loves and cares for her. The book ends with four short stories set in the world of Secret Invasion, involving Victrix and some of the other characters she interacts with, most set between the first two books of that series. I really liked this anthology. To be honest, most of the Secret World stories left me cold, but I really liked many of the others, with "Fiddler Fair" and "Werehunter" and "Dumb Feast" being my favorites, along with the two "Martis" stories, "Balance" and "Dragon's Teeth" Highly recommended. (In fact, I am going to suggest one of my co-workers read this book today!)

Bad Houses by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil-  Lewis Gilbert lives in Failin, Oregon, and he works in his mother's business. She sells off the unwanted possessions left over when someone dies. Also living in Failin is Anne Cole, who seems to be a normal young woman, but her mom is a nurse who also happens to be a hoarder. As Lewis and Annie interact, she discovers a hidden connection between them, and she becomes involved in his mother's business- he;ping sort through the items of other people, which helps her deal with her mother's hoarding, but also exacerbates her own frustration with the situation. But when a tragedy strikes her family, can both she and her mother learn to live with the loss? This was an interesting, if short, graphic novel. I have my own hoarding tendencies, so seeing how out of control some people get was instructive. I hope I never get that bad, and the end of the story gave me hope. Recommended.

Christmas Hope by Anne Perry- Claudine Burroughs seems to have it all, a rich and somewhat powerful husband and a full life, but in reality, she is frustrated with her husband's inability to understand her, and her life is a mere sham where she must live with a man who actively despises her, without any meaningful thing to do except attend parties with her busband's friends and business associates, all of whom are just as shallow as he is, and whose wives are mostly vipers, wielding blades of gossip against anyone who steps out of line. Now it's near Christmas, and Claudine is dreading more parties in the company of her husband. But at one party, she meets a poet, Dai Treggaron, who makes a mental connection with her. But when a young woman he invited to the party is murdered, the young men in whose company he was spending time accuse him of the deed. but Claudette doesn't believe their story, and impelled by the fiancee of one of the young men, who wants to know the truth, she sets out to find it, bucking against the expectations of her own class and the people whom she knows. But can she find the real murderer and get him or her to confess to the crime and get Dai freed? I wasn't particularly familliar with this side character, but I liked the set-up of the murder and the characters and the other people who helped Claudine get to the truth and save Dai Treggaron from the gallows. Nobody, except Dai, will thank her, but she doggedly goes after the truth, and the trials she undergoes helps her stand up against her husband, letting us hope her situation might get a little better. A small murder mystery, but a compelling one. Recommended.

Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning- MacKayla Lane came to Dublin to find her sister, but got caught up in dealing with the Fae, and when the Dark Fae broke free of their prison, she was caught by three Sex by death Fae Princes, who enslaved her to their wills with sex. She was rescued by the Sidhe-Seers, but imprisoned, mindless and wanting only sex. Rescued by her former boss, Jericho Barrons, he forcesd her to remember who she is and was, and slowly brings her back to herself while also fulfilling her desire for sex. When he finally breaks the spell, and she becomes herself again, not only is she free, but she will never be able to be entrapped that way again, an unexpected but welcome side effect. But she's angry with him for not coming to her help the night she was entrapped, and leaves him behind to work with the other Sidhe-seers to free the world of the Dark Sidhe, who have overrun it completely in the time since she was captured and slowly freed. However, she is still the only Sidhe-seer who can find the Sinsar Dubh, the Dark book that was responsible for imprisoning the Dark Sidhe centuries ago. But the only way to find it may be to enter the Fae transport system known as the Shifting Silver, and find it there. But the Sifting SIlver can also be a terrible trap that can leave its user lost forever in the many worlds it touches and connects. Can MacKayla find the SInsar Dubh within its depths, or will she be entrapped there until she dies? I read this when I was out of things to read at the hospital and it was hard to read. MacKayla spends most of the early parts of the book as Pri-ya, a human addicted to fae sex. I really found that part hard to read, considering she was essentially mindless at that point. We still have no idea who Jericho Barrons is or how he can free her, but the story improved after she came back to herself. I liked the parts inside the Shifting Silver and when she was helping Dani, a Sidhe-Seer with powers of super speed. But I still don't feel like I need to find out the ending of the story, and I wouldn't have read this one if I hadn't been desperate for *something* to read.. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, but YMMV.

Upon the Midnight Clear by Sherrilyn Kenyon- Once Aidan O'Connor was a world-reknowned celebrity. But a series of betrayals by those closest to him, specifically his brother, girlfriend and another friend, have left him a bitter recluse unwilling to trust anyone and closing himself off from the world. However, the bitterness and anger he feels are the one thing he can use to defeat Dolor, the Demon God who was summoned from the underworld by his brother and which inhabits his body. Leto is a goddess who is the target of Dolor. She can use Aidan's emotions to defend herself, but she will also need to get close to him to do so. But when she realizes the depth of Aidan's hurt and anger, can she keep from trying to help him and falling in love with the deeply wounded man who kept wanting to help those around him, and got continually kicked in the teeth for his troubles? Leto is the first woman he's wanted in a very long time, but it seems even she wants something from him! But she also tells him that his life doesn't have to be an endless well of bitterness and rage. Can Aidan give up the anger he holds and reach out for happiness and love with his remaining friends, and find true love with a goddess he never expected to meet? And When Zeus forbids their love and tries to kill Aidan, can Leto find it in herself to save him, knowing it will part them forever? I loved this book. Aidan's situation makes you feel for him very deeply. He's a kind, loving man, who has been deeply wounded by the people around him, all of whom used him rather than cherished the help he tried to give them. But Leto shows him that it need not be that way, and that there are people more worthy of his consideration still in his life, and through her love, show him that he still deserves, and needs, love. I loved their scenes together, and how they came together, and the ending, when he finds that he didn't make ALL bad choices in his friends and associates. The Christmas party at the end was wonderful, and I loved the whole book.  Definitely recommended, because this one will leave a warm feeling in your chest long after it ends.

The Last, Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and Ameroica's Promise by Joe Scarborough- Joe Scarborough believes America has lost its way and that the current crop of Tea Party Politicians and Democrats are to blame. Not that current Republicans are much better with their bowing to the Tea Party and becoming ever more extreme and reactionary. The answer, Joe Scarborough believes, is to return to the ideas that made the Republican party great, which he lays out in this book. My biggest problem with this book, is that the ideas are old ideas, and that doesn't necessarily mean that they will still work today. Going back is not necessrily a virtue (and neither is charging ahead blindly). My second is that the Republican party is no longer a conservative party- they have gone so far to the right that they have become reactionary, and intelligent thought and consideration, it seems, are no longer welcome at all there. In fact, intelligence is distinctly looked down upon as "elitist", especially if you pair it with an education. The more intelligent and educated one is, the more the Republican party doesn't seem to trust you. They like uneducated "folksy" types- or those who can appear so. But even the "intelligent" Republicans aren't very. So... how will he put his ideas into action? He doesn't seem to have a plan to do so, except by appealing to voters. And again, with the brain drain among the Republicans who were voted out of the party because they were intelligent and educated enough to work with the other side also did the same among the Republican party base- the ones left aren't really going to see an upside to his ideas, especially not if it means actually working with the Democrats. Intelligent Republicans have fled the party, and so I don't hold much hope for his ideas being picked up by any great majority of Conservatives. Not recommended.

Silent Truth by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Diana Love- Hunter Thornton-Payne is an agent for the American Bureau of Defense, and he's at the stuffy fundraiser just to catch the assassin/sniper he's been after for years. Abbie Blanton is there to talk with Gwen Wentworth, who owns the clinic where her mother has been going for over 30 years to have blood tests and sa check-up. But when her mother suddenly became sick with a disease that will kill her unless they can stop it, the Doctors had no idea how she got ill or how to cure her. Abbie is certain, though, that the clinic is responsible for her mother's illness, and she hopes to persuade Gwen Wentworth that she needs to know what happened to her mother so that Abbie and her mother's doctors can save her life. But when Gwen Wentworth is shot by an Assassin and badly injured, Hunter rescues Abbie and tries to determine whether or not she had anything to do with the assassin. But the attraction between them is undeniable, and Abbie doesn't trust Hunter. However, when it becomes clear that she cannot escape him, she slowly gives into the passion he awakens in her. But can she get the answers to what has happened to her mother, and how does it intertwine with the work of the assassin Hunter is determined to track down and arrest? And what shadowy organization does Gwen Wentworth work for, and why are they trying to develop an illness that seems untraceable? I liked the interaction between the hero and heroine in this book, but I was disappointed that we get no more than hints about what is going on among the villains. I wasn't aware that this book was part of a series, but it seemed to be that the villains were some sort of illuminati determined to cull humanity for some reason. More control? I don't remember their motives any more, but the attempt to frame the American part of the villain's organization as somehow "better" because they wanted to be in charge of the incident that killed a huge chunk of people fell rather flat to me. I despised them all. And, in the end, I felt that I wanted to know more and see the villains exposed and defeated, but that doesn't happen in this book. Not recommended because I didn't feel there was enough closure to the story of the villains of the piece.

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire- October "Toby" Daye is a Knight of the Seelie Faerie, serving the Lord of the Shadowed Hills. She is also a changeling, which means that many Fae look down upon her. But when a number of children are stolen away, she finds that one of the elder Fae, "Blind Michael" may have them in his otherworldly realm, from which, it is said, none ever escape. He is also Lord of the Wild Hunt, and half of the children become members of the Hunt, while others become his hounds and his horses. But to rescue the children of her friends Mitch and Stacy, Toby will have to dare his dark Realm and discover the secrets that the Countess, Luna, has hidden from everyone at the Knowe. But can Toby, even with the help of the Luidaeg, rescue the children that are still able to escape his curse and then evade Blind Michael and his forces? Or will she take the place of the Children as Blind Michael's bride in the lands of Darkness beyond all Faerie? After all, her Fetch, May Daye, has shown up to warn her of her impending death. Can Toby really win this one? This was an excellent story, showing how Faerie stories aren't always fun and magical- they can, and *should* be downright scary, with things that often ape the shape of humand, but are *not* human in any way. Faery stories are meant to be frightening, reinforcing the truth of what life and the world was really like, and the things that kids had to look out for. And this story had rather more bite to it than most. We also get to learn more about Sebastian's Countess and who and what she really is, and how far Toby will go to help the people she loves. And here, she gets help ftom Tybalt, the Lord ot the Cats, and it was great seeing him again as well. Dare I think that he might not be as antagnoistic to hr as he seemed at the beginning of the series, and will he end up being more to her than just a friend and protector? It seems like it might. Recommended.

Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire- The Queen of the Mists, one of the people who blames Toby for her imprisonment for fourteen long years, unexpectedly makes Toby a countess. Toby is flummoxed by the move, as the Queen has had nothing but scorn for Toby ever since she and her mother were imrpisoned. And Toby, turned into a goldfish in Golden Gate Park for that same long period of time, by Oleander de Merelands, lost everything in her human life: Husband, daughter and the life she maintained in the human world. But that doesn't matter to the Queen, as she views it as not nearly enough punishment. So why should she make Toby a Countess. But the Queen has mischief to Toby on her mind, and it seems that Oleander de Merelands might have returned- something that nobody but Toby seems to want to acknowledge or face. So why is the Queen making Toby a member of the landed gentry? And when people around her keep turning up dead, Toby will have to find out why they are dying and who is killing them, for in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the Queen will see to it that Toby is the one who gets the blame for the killings. But the answers may lie in Toby's heritage, and she will have to face some hard truths about who she is and where she comes from-without the support of the Luidaeg, who is strangely "unavailable" for now. This book is another in an excellent series of novels, and ones that I really enjoyed. Toby comes to the end of her rope here, and we find out a lot more about her. But, she's also moving more to the fae side of her heritage, and may be concluding that the struggle to be human, to be "normal" isn't worth it. She's more than simply human, after all, and it made me smile to see Toby finally embrace both sides of who she is. Though she ends the book in much the same place as she was where she started, she is the stronger for having gone through the struggle and the journey, and that was just fine by me. Highly recommended.

Agatha H, and the Clockwork Princess by Phil and Kaja Foglio- Having escaped the floating fortress of the Emperor Wulfenbach with the help of Othar Tryggbvassen, Gentleman Adventurer and fellow Spark, they crash in the mountains and Agatha and Krosp, the talking cat, set out to return Agatha to Beetleberg, her former home. But on the road, they run into a carnival and travelling show that will not allow them to join, although they do give her some food and allow her to rest for a bit. But when a rampaging Clank attacks the circus, Agatha goes to their aid. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh Wulfenbach, the Emperor's son, has fallen in love with Agatha, and when his father wants to recapture her and sends Captain Bangladesh DuPree, a former Sky Pirate now serving Wulfenbach, to get her, Gil goes along, hoping to limit the danage she can do and prevent her from killing Agatha outright. But the circus, which they soon track down, says Agatha was killed by the Clank, but not before doing enough damage to shut it down. Gil and DuPree take the story back to Gil's father, who, unbeknownst to Gil, has Agatha's body disinterred and brought back to the floating Castle Wulfenbach. But the body is not really Agatha. After a member of the circus died at the hands of the Clank, Agatha was allowed to join them as far as Mechanicsberg. As a Spark, she is given the "job" of maintaining the wagons,and discovers that nearly everyone in the circus is also a Spark, with the exception of Lars, an actor who plays Bill Heterodyne in the Heterodyne Boys plays that the troupe regularly stages. Agatha soon finds herself attracted to the handsome young man, but he has problems of his own. Along the way, she makes friends with and becomes the student of Zeetha a warrior woman of Skifander, who is Princess of her far-off land, but due to a fever on the journey to Europa, no longer remembers where Skifander is located. The fact that Agatha has even heard of Skifander is reason enough for Zeetha to make Agatha her student at learning to fight and defend herself. But it is the three Jagers that join the troupe when they realize that Agatha is a Heterodyne that brings about a conflict. When the troupe's usual route over the mountains is blocked by monsters they are forced to detour through the lands of Sturmhalten, which brings Agatha to the attention of its ruler, Prince Aaronev Sturmvoraus. When his daughter kills him and brings back "The Other", also known as Lucrezia Mongfish, Agatha's mother, into her body, Tarvek falls in love with Agatha and does his best to help her survive and escape. But when Lord Wulfenbach is determined to retrieve her and goes into Sturmhalten with his armyto get her back, can Agatha survive and remain free and escape everyone who wants to kill or imprison her? And once her heritage as the sole remaining Heterodyne becomes known, will she have any peace at all? This book compiles in story form a couple of years of comics from the online webcomic "Girl Genius", and it's a brilliant retelling of the story. I loved all of the characters, from Krosp to Tarvek and even Zeetha, daughter of Chump. It's a really interesting "Not quite steampunk" story that has enough action and characters of all types to keep anyone interested. This is definitely recommended.

Legacies: A Shadow Grail Novel by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill- Spirit White is the only survivor of an accident that killed both her parents and her sister. When she is in the Hospital, her house burns down, leaving her nowhere to go. But a school in Oregon, Oakhurst Academy, promises to pay her bills and take her in. And the reason why is soon revealed; Spirit is a mage, and if she isn't contained, her powers could get her killed. Spirit finds herself making friends with a small group of kids at Oakhurst Academy: Lock, whose father died and whose Stepmother didn't want him around, Muirin, a wild child, Burke, a combat mage, Camilla and Addie. But despite the obvious magical talents of the others, Spirit exhibits no magic of her own- she has no connection to any of the elements and is unable to manifest any, even when pushed by Doctor Ambrosius, the head of the school. But when kids at the school start disappearing, including people who Spirit considers at least friendly, nobody else at the school seems to notice anything wrong. And then Spirit and her friends discover that the disappearances at the School go back decades, and they begin to suspect that someone at the school is working with whatever is behind the disappearances, especially when they discover the records of the missing student with a paper at the end stating merely "Tithed". What is going on at Oakhurst and can Spirit and her friends put a stop to it before the competitive aspect the school encourages between all students spills over to make them no longer be friends? What is Spirit's affinity, and why can't she manifest any magic despite being (according to Doctor Ambrosius and the school) a mage? I enjoyed this book a lot. It sets up the mystery very well, and the characters also. Let's say I have my own suspicion of what Spirit's Elemental Affinity might be, and it's one seemingly not recognized at Oakhurst Academy... and it has something to do with her name. But I figured out who was stealing the students away fairly early on, especially when I read the word "tithed" and had a snippet of "Tam Lin" running through my head even before I read the word. "At the end of seven years, they pay a teind (tithe) to hell..." I will wait to find out more about Spirit White and her magic, but this was an excellent book that really got me into the characters, and made me interested and invested in them. Highly recommended.

Deception Cove by Jayne Castle- Alice North is a rare Light-talent, but ever since she was orphaned as a child and nobody wanted her, she has grown used to surviving on her own. Until he married the wrong man, and he died, and his mother turned her life into a living hell, suspecting Alcie of murdering her son. Now, she is on the run as her former mother-in-law tries to ruin her life. Drake Sebastian is another light talent, nearly blinded when the woman he was engaged to tried to kill him in a lab accident. But Drake's Grandfather and Alice's were in business together, and discovered three stones known as the "Keys", which were hidden on Rainshadow Island. Now, to defuse the strange psy storm overtaking the island, Drake will have to convince Alice to help him find the keys and defuse them before catastrophe overtakes them. But the only way to keep Alice safe from her former mother-in-law is a Marriage of Convenience, and that will make their trip to Rainshadow their honeymoon. And Rainshadow was also the site of Alice's last Honeymoon- and the site of the death of her husband. Can she face up to the horrible memories of that time, and why does she feel a strange psychic and physical reaction to Drake? And when both of them must confront their pasts on the island, can they face up to their pasts and come out of it stronger for the experience? I really enjoyed this book. Yes, the last Rainshadow book had another "Sequel goes here" written all over it, but despite knowing it was coming, I really enjoyed the characters and situation in this one. I especially liked Alice's DustBunny, Houdini, and his antics, and how the two characters admired each other and worked together. It was also nice to have a villain who was merely mistaken, if vengeful, rather than after a character because they were out and out EVUL. It was actually a nice change for once. The ending of the Rainshadow storyline was interesting, and also how the actual villain was defeated (by two minor characters the villain couldn't influence because they had absolutely no interest that way- another wonderful moment in the book!). I really loved the story.. Highly recommended.

Stalking Darkness by Lynn Flewelling- Alec and Seregil are still recovering from their last adventure, retrieving the amulet disk from an enemy mage. They have turned the disk over to Nysander, head mage of the Oreska, and Seregil is teaching Alec how to be both a Nighrunner and the skills he will need to sub for Seregil as the Rhiminee Cat. But when Nysander sends him into another country to retrieve another dark artifact, a crown, he discovers it may have a link to the disk that they found in their last adventure (which was also their first adventure), but he is prevented from telling Alec about it by his oaths to Nysander. Meanwhile, a dark mage has come to the city from Plenimar, looking for the thieves who stole the disk and coming to retrieve it. As Alec and Seregil come to realize that they are attracted to each other, Alec must come to terms with the fact that he may not be as heterosexual as he always thought he was, and although he discovers that Seregil, too, is inclined in the same direction, does he have a chance with his mentor? Meanwhile, the Disk and the Crown are having a synergistic effect on each other, and when Alec is kidnapped by the Dark mage, Seregil and his friend Micum must go in pursuit with Nysander to prevent the mage from calling up the Plenimaran God of Death, or even from becoming it, and also imprisoned is Nysander's student, Thero, who was also kidnapped in the attack on the Oreska that netted the mage the Crown and two disks. Seregil and the others try to save Alec and Thero, but will they be in time, and what terrible price might they have to pay to do so? Ths was another excellent book from Lynn Flewelling. I am reading this series wholly out of order, but aside from knowing that the two main characters come together here at the end, I was completely in the dark as to what was going to happen. But it was one wild ride I wouldn't have wanted to miss. Like many of the books, the story starts slowly and picks up steam throughout the book, leading to a white-knuckle thrill ride by the end. This was a really wonderful, engaging story that kept me on the edge of my proverbial seat for the last half, and a welcome, enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

Seven for a Secret: A John the Chamberlain Mystery by Mary Reed and Eric Meyer- John the Chaimberlain to the Emperor Justinian of Constantinople, has a secret- there is a mosaic in his study with the figure of a young girl in it that he calls Zoe. And he talks to her as if she was real whenever he has a conundrum he is facing. But One day he is approached by a woman who claims to be the "real" Zoe, and she asks him to meet her the next day at Dawn in the market. However, he soon finds her body dyed crimson and face-down in a cistern. As he searches for clues to whom "Zoe" was and what she may have wanted for him, he must also deal with his wife, Cornelia, who he was kidnapped from long ago before he was turned into a Eunuch, and sold into the service of Justinian, and how to live with her again after so long apart. But as he also discovers a plot against the Emperor and a child who is the son of Theodosia, former actress and now Empress, John will have to keep his wits about him  if he wants to come out of this latest matter alive and unharmed. But can he when the conspirtators against the Emperor also want to get rid of him? I discovered this series some years back and thought the sixth book, "Six for Gold" was going to be the last in the series. After finding a non-library copy of "Three for a Boy", I found out that the series had continued after #6, and ordered the rest from the library, wondering if they would be as good as I remembered. And yes, they were/are. Since "Zoe" featured so prominently in the first six books, it was nice to see her secrets exposed in this story in this one. And the mysteries here are just as good and impenetrable as ever. I loved reading this, and would definitely recommend it to others/. Recommended.

Mistral's Kiss by Laurell K. Hamilton- Meredith Gentry is a real Faerie Princess, and she is also the heir to the throne of Unseelie through her aunt, Queen Andais. Whoever can produce a child first, either Merry or her cousin, Prince Cel, will inherit the throne. Merry has been inheriting powers not seen in Faerie in thousands of years and has the Hand of Flesh and Blood. But she isn't the only one who has regained various powers- so have the bodyguards she has slept with. And when she dreams of sex and cookies, and the bloody sacrifice of a boar, she inherits the cauldron/chalice, which belonged to another of her aunt's bodyguards. But when her aunt tries to imprison Merry and her bodyguards, their manifestation of love reinvigorates the entire Faerie Knowe, bringing back areas thought lost forever. But her aunt is enraged that Merry is heir to so much power, and when one of her guards, Mistral, forsakes Andais' bed for Merry's, her aunt wants nothing more than to punish not only Merry and Mistral, but the whole of Mistral's family. But Merry's powers cannot be contained, and her attempts to escape bring her to the court of King Sholto of the Sluagh, who has been horribly hurt by one of the Sidhe who claimed to want to be his lover, then "removed" all the extra appendages that came to him from his bloodline before she would bed him. And after she had done that, she didn't live up to her promise. But will Merry be granted healing and power for Sholto, and can his court accept it if he chooses to become one of her lovers to find out? When the Wild Hunt is called on Merry and her men, can she outrun or outfight the hunt, even with help? Will Merry die or can she use her powers to live and survive against the darkest, coldest parts of the Unseelie Sidhe? I had read this book before, but when I was in the hospital and looking desperately for something to read, this book was there for me, and I enjoyed it every bit as much this time as I did the first time I read it. With plenty of sex, blood and death, this book scratched every itch I was looking for and then some. Recommended.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba- in an alternate world, forty three children were born at the same time to women who weren't even pregnant. Some of them were abandoned, or put up for adoption- the ones who survived, anyhow. Seven of those children were adopted by Reginald Hargreeves, a space alien posing as an inventor. When he was asked why, he said, "To save the world". Six of them formed a super team, and the seventh, who Hargreeves said had no power, were raised together in the same house, known as the Umbrella Academy. At ten, they unite to save the world from a living Eiffel Tower and a Robot Zombie Gustav Eiffel. Ten years later, they disband, only to come back together when their father dies. Number Five, who had the powers to travel time, returns and tells them that the world is in jeopardy now that their father/mentor is dead. But from what? He isn't sure, and there was no explanation in the deserted future he found. Meanwhile, Vanya, the so-called powerless sister, suffers the final break with her adopted siblings and is turned into The White Violin by the Maestro of the Apocalypse Orchestra, can her siblings prevent the end of the world that will come in a mere three days? And will they be able to overcome their bad feelings for each other and save Violet from herself? This comic book was, well, crazy. The characters are... very strange, to put it charitably, and I probably wouldn't have even picked this up if someone hadn't donated it to the library. That being said, the characters are strange, the story is stranger, and none of the characters, with the possible exception of violet, really evoked my sympathy- and that was because she was rejected by her father to be a hero- later we find not because she was powerless, but maybe because she was TOO powerful. The other characters certainly act like a family, but a very dysfunctional one, doing more bickering than anything else. Also, #1 now has the body of a Martian Gorilla because his own body was destroyed, and his head grafted to the new body. With everyone referring to each other by numbers, this reminded me more of Kids Next Door than anything else (and I didn't really like KND). Not recommended.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba- After saving the entire earth in the last book, Vanya was left paralyzed, Rumor had been left mute by a bullet to the throat and the team was very reluctantly back together. But when Number Five keeps running into assassins, his brother Kraken digs to find the truth- and it's up to number Five to really tell everyone what he's been doing for the last 20 years. In truth, it's been longer than that for him, but will the truth alienate his brothers and sisters? And what does it have to do with the death of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas? If you thought the first graphic novel was crazy, this one goes even deeper into crazy territory, including Kids mascot-headed assassins and a mission against the statue of Lincoln from the Lincoln Memorial come to life. The powers of the various heroes are delved into a bit more, and both Rumor and Séance have the (to me) most interesting ones. We also get a look at the other side and meet God? Maybe? Again, wouldn't have read this one on my own and certainly wouldn't spend money on this series. Just not my cup of tea. Not recommended.

Yours for Eternity by Hannah Howell, Alexandra Ivy and Kaitlin O'Reilly- This book collects three short stories involving vampires. "Highland Blood" by Hannah Howell tells the story of Adeline Dunbar, a witch and herb-woman who rescues the son of a woman who cruelly abandons him in the forest and cuts him to attract the animals. She soon discovers that the boy needs blood to live, and when she is driven from her home by suspicious villagers, she meets Lachlann McNachton, whose clan the boy is born of, and who happens to be a vampire himself. but as he tries to bring the boy back to his clan, he finds himself becoming attracted to Adeline, and she to him. But can she find a home for herself in his clan, or just for the boy she has come to love like a son? "Taken by Darkness" by Alexandra Ivy has Victor, the Marquess De Rosa, who is besotted with Juliet Lawrence, the daughter of a witch and a faerie. With her half-blood, she isn't accepted by either clan, and though she pretends to be utterly unmoved by Victor, there is nothing more he wants than to claim her for himself. But when the sole friend she trusts, a deformed gargoyle named Levet, is kidnapped by a Jinn, can she team up with Victor to rescue her friend without succumbing to the powerful feelings he engenders in her? Finally, "Immortal Dreams" pairs Widow Grace Sutton, who has been having powerfully sensual dreams of a man with a vampire named Stuart Phillips, Lord Radcliffe- and she discovers that she knew him in a previous life, only to die when her family parted them and sent her to a convent in France. But in this life, she is a widow, her mother-in-law seeks to control her, and she has just become engaged to another man. Can she remain with the man she loves, or will fate part them once again? This was an interesting book, but I really preferred thus first two stories, as the second was mostly dreams and unpleasant people. The first story has Scottish Vampires who aren't undead, just inbred (Possibly). and the Alexandra Ivy Story introduces a character who will feature prominently in later stories by her. Still recommended.

Luck in the Shaows by Lynn Flewelling- Alec of Kerry is a hunter, recently orphaned by the loss of his father, and imprisoned under the charge of being a spy. He's been mistreated, but hardly seriously tortured, with the implication that his captors are saving him for a far less savory fate, being sold into sex slavery, for instance. But then a new captive is thrown in with the rest, a man named Seregil, lthough he gives Alec a fake name at first. Between the two of them, they escape, and Seregil asks Alec to be his guide south in exchange for money. Along the way, he treats him as a friend and sort of surrogate son, even though the two men appear to be only separated by a few years in age. Seregil reveals himself to be something of a spy, and realizes that Alec has talents which could be molded in that direction. But when Seregil falls seriously ill after stealing what seemed to be a harmless wooden disk amulet, it's up to Alec to get him back to a land which Alec has long thought of as a fantasy- the city of Rhiminee in Skala. When, after a harrowing journey, they finally arrive at their destination, the two are met by Nysander, a mage, who helps cure Seregil and welcomes the very green Alec to the city. The amulet, it seems, is not "just" an amulet, but as telesym, a mystical artifact, tied into a being known as "The Empty God", who Seregil saw in fever-visions. Nysander and his student, a mage called Thero, help Seregil get back to health, while introducing Alec to the city. When Seregil is more recovered, he invites Alec to join the "Watchers" a group of covert spies who work for the good of Skala and its Queen, Idrilain. He schools Alec in thievery and seeming to be someone other than who he truly is, and how to pass in high society. He also takes him along on his sojourns as one of his many personas. a sneak thief known as "The Rhiminee Cat", and creates a second persona for Alec, from the land of Mycenia. But when Seregil's noble persona is arrested and charged with trying to help overthrow the Queen, he must switch bodies with Thero and help Alec, Nysander and their mutual friend Micum Cavish discover who is really behind the plot and clear his name while bringing the true villains to justice. But can Alec, so new to the job of being a Spy, find a way to overcome his inexperience and help? I love this series. I love it a lot. I like it even more for the fact that Seregil is both homosexual and a main character, and the fact that he's a homosexual is NOT the most interesting or important part about his character. The beginning of the novel reads almost like any standard fantasy novel, and the later part turns it into a mystery, which is engaging and almost fun, even though Seregil is under threat of death for most of it. In short, this book is a triumph of story and good characters, and keeps you interested and moving right until the very end. Highly recommended, for both this novel and the series.

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce- Veralidaine Sarrasri is a girl on her own when she is hired by Onua of the Queen's Riders as an assistant. Onua wants her because of Daine's talents with Horses, and the way that horses seem to defer to her. But Daine has a secret- she has powers that allow her to hear the thoughts of animals, and even, should she open her thoughts too far, to become more like an animal herself. This frightens her deeply, as it made her an outcast in her home when she bonded with a wolf pack to take down the raiders who killed her mother and grandfather- the only family she had. Numair Salmalin, a mage who Onua knows and whom Daine helps rescue when he takes on bird form to flee from captors and gets "Stuck" in that shape. confirms that Daine has strong magic. Wild Magic, stronger than he has ever seen before. But as Daine and Onua travel south to Tortall and join up with a group of Queen's Riders they are to help teach to work with their horses, Daine will be forced to use her magic, and when Tortall is attacked by Carthak and she is trapped along with the Queen's Riders in the Barony of Pirate's Swoop, she'll have to face up to her powers and test them to their limit, along with facing off against the Immortals that the Carthakis have unleashed on the Realms. But can she do it without becoming an animal herself? I'd read this series long ago, and I really enjoyed reading it again now. Tamora Pierce writes good book, and this series was her second. Much like Alanna, Daine is a fish out of water, but unlike Alanna, Daine is much more of an outsider- even though she spends less time on hiding who she is- and her "hiding" has more to do with how her powers affect her rather than who and what she is. At this point, Daine isn't even sure of who she really is, as she never knew her father, and who her father might have been is at least the partial cause of her being outcast in her homeland- Daine is the product of a Beltaine liaison, and therefore can only call herself "Sarrasri" or "Sarra's Daughter", rather than the daughter of a man. Still, this is an excellent series for teens and tweens, allowing Daine just the right mix of power and autonomy to influence and change things around her without becoming a Mary Sue character. Pierce handles the characters deftly and efficiently, and readers familiar with her Alanna series will enjoy seeing the characters they grew to love there back again. Highly recommended.

Wolf Speaker by Tamora Pierce- Daine has come to the Barony of Dunlath to mediate between the humans and the pack of wolves who she once hunted down the murders of her family with. Along with Numair, her mentor, she hopes to find out why the humans have driven all the game from the valley, and what exactly is going on in Fief Dunlath. But something is strange up there- the humans have allied with the Ogres, and are using the Ogres to mine… something. But what? And the tailings from the mine are poisoning the lake and making it unfit for man or beast. The humans have hired a huntsman to drive off the wolves, but thanks to their association with Daine and them ingesting some of her blood, the wolves have become frighteningly intelligent- enough to make the huntsman suspicious. So what *are* the humans up to, and what will Daine do when the young sister of the lady of Dunlath runs away to join Daine and the wolves in the woods? And what will Daine do when she finds out that the mages in the keep, Carthakis all, have brought Stormwings with them, and that they possibly aren't everything that Daine thinks they are? Do they have a purpose for existing? And what will she do when she finds another immortal- a basilisk, and the mages unleash yet another immortal against Daine and her party. But when she is separated from Numair by a magical shield cast over the valley by the mages. Daine, Maura and her animal friends will have to ensure that the humans and mages in the castle are kept too busy to chase after Numair while he rides south for help. And can even the knights of King Jonathan's court and Queen Thayet's Riders make a difference in what will happen in Fief Dunlath? Another excellent novel. Almost two years have passed since the events of Wild Magic, and Daine is much more sure about who she is and the magic she possesses. And she learns yet more, and we, as readers, discover the origins of Stormwings, and even all of the Immortals. I loved this book. The story was excellent, and the characters clear and distinct, even the animal characters. They never run together or will be mistaken for each other. It's really excellent writing and once again, Daine ends up being the savior, but her victory is very believable, and teens, especially teen girls, will love Daine and her kinship with animals. Even Maura, scared as she is of scary animals, gets some real love here. Highly recommended

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