Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2014, Part 2

Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling- Seregil and Alec are back in Rhiminee, trying to put the pieces of their life back together when they are summoned by the new Queen, Phoria, after her glorious return to the city. She disbands the Watchers, and gives Seregil and Alec a mission to return to Aurenen to bring home her sister, Princess Klia, who has fully recuperated after her recent brush with death. Along with the message, Alec and Seregil are to bring her a new company of soldiers to guard her, as her old company has been recalled. Phoria feels that Klia has too many people who would rather see her on the throne in place of Phoria. But when they are in Aurenen, Alec and Seregil are captured and sold into slavery by Zenghati slavers, who sell them in Plenimar. Alec is treated fairly well, purchased by an alchemist who wishes to use him for making various items, including a child, called a rekharo, made from Alec's Hazadrielfaie blood. But first, Alec must be purged of the "Impurity" of his human blood. And if he refuses, or talks back to his owner, he pays a price in pain, beaten on the soles of his feet. Seregil is separated from Alec, and, as it turns out, sold to the same man. But he is not to be a slave to the man who bought him, but to another slave, Khenir, who is actually Seregil's old lover Ilar i Sontir, who blames Seregil for what happoened twenty years ago, and his life as a slave ever since. Alec and Seregil know they must escape, but neither knows where the other is at first, and both have been scarred and collared, and to run as a slave is to be harshly punished in Plenimar. Can they keep their wits about them long enough to escape and find each other, and when Alec's second Rekharo turns out to be a (relative) success to his new Master, can he take the creature, who he views as the "Child of No Mother" that he was foretold to father, with him and still successfully escape? And can he and Seregil keep from coming to blows over the presence of "Khenir", whose help they needed to escape? This was a very different book than the first three, and at times, difficult to read because of what the characters are going through and how strongly you feel about them by now. Also, early in the book, they quarrel, which made me, at least, feel bad for the two of them. This is a book that's fairly horrific in subject matter and which makes both Alec and Seregil have to reach deep within themselves to survive. This is not a book to read if you have a weak stomach or get upset easily. It's frankly quite harrowing at times. But I really enjoyed the ending, even as the next book was telegraphed at the end of this one. I am looking forward ro reading "The White Road". Recommended.

Hot Mama by Jennifer Estep- Fiona Fine by day is a hot fashion designer, whose over the top designs are the toast of Bigtime. By night, she fights crime as the Superheroine, Fiera, with fiery powers, super strength, and super-endurance. And now, she is watching Stryker, leader of the Fearless Five, marry Karma Girl, better known as Carmen Cole, former intrepid girl reporter and outer of Superhero and Ubervillain secret identities. Fiona knows it should have been her getting married, to Tornado, her former teammate killed by the Terrible Triad, and she resents Carmen for having outed him and starting the evenrs that led up to his death. She still wears the ring he gave her, but her general depression leads her to think that it may be time to ease her way back into dating. She even finds a guy interested in her, a rich playboy named Johnny Bulluci, but the wedding party is crashed by new ubervillains Siren and Intelligirl, who have pretty much taken over the scene now that The Terrible Triad is gone. She ends up driving off the two, and Johnny asks for his watch back, which is decorated with an angel wings motif. Stryker and Karma Girl debate on whether to go on their honeymoon or not, but Fiona urges them to go- she'll be fine, and she and the rest of the team can get these two Ubervillains, no problem. Meanwhile, as Fiona, she has to deal with Erica Songe, a new, very pushy superhero reporter who seems to be able to charm the top brass into letting her do anything she wants- and the reappearance of a hero, Johnny Angel, in a newer, younger form, who want revenge on Siren and Intelligirl for killing his predecessor. But when her personal and Superhero lives collide, Fiona will have to decide what is more important- a man she is coming to love, or staying true to the memory of Travis- and tracking down Siren and Intelligirl- that may be more important than anything else. This was the follow-up to the "Karma Girl" book, and deals with Fiera, daughter of Mr. Sage and member of the Fearless Five. Fiona has never quite forgiven Carmen for getting Travis killed, but at the same time, Carmen saved her- saved them all, really, and now she's marrying Stryker. But the book lets them go on their honeymoon so we can get to the meat of the story- Fiona's new love life when she meets Johnny Bulluci. Here, we learn more about other heroes, how some of them are "legacy heroes", whose powers or name are passed down in the family. Johnny is one such, and even his sister, Fiona's fashion nemesis Bella Bulluci, has powers. It's quite an interesting world, but the ending did peeve me a bit because what happened to Lulu at the end of Karma Girl is retconned away... to happen all over again at the end of "Hot Mama". But the rest of the story is good, and enlarged the world of Bigtime considerably. Recommended.

The Tell: Little Clues that Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are by Matthew Hertenstein- Poker players speak of a "Tell", a series of cues that reveal to their opponents how their hand is going. Most often, these are not conscious actions, but subconscious things that the player doesn't even realize he is doing, that can give their hand away. But there are other "Tells" as well, revealing things like how parents treat their children, and whether we perceive people as attractive (hint, the more symmetrical your features, the more attractive you appear, because symmetry correlates with health). The author also examines other aspects of personal interaction allowing you to tell with better accuracy who might be gay or honest. I found this a fascinating book, though I didn't feel that the book gave me anything specific to latch onto in my own life. But I did find the subjects he dissected  really caught my attention and made me understand why some kids are secure and some are not. Definitely recommended.

A Cloisters Bestiary by The Metropolitan Museum of Art- This book showcases animal art from the Cloisters along with Medieval thoughts about the habits, habitat and nature of certain animals, both real, like Lions, Tigers, Boars Dogs, Wolves and Cats, along with mythical animals like Dragons, Basilisks and Unicorns. This is an interesting book and gives the origins of the art- whether it be painted, cast or carved, used to illustrate the text. Although the book is in black and white, I found it quite interesting. Recommended.

Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce- After the setback at Fief Dunlath, when Daine's victory over the Carthaki mages cut off Emperor Orzone's supply of Black Opals, Orzone has sought peace with Tortall, making overtures to King Jonathan and holding out hope for a treaty of peace. Daine and Numair are traveling with the Diplomats, Daine to see to the Emperor's prized songbirds, who have fallen mysteriously ill, and Numair because Orzone has rescinded the order for his execution on sight. But Daine dreams of the Badger, the God of the Badgers, and in her dream, he breathes out a white mist on her. It's a dream she finds puzzling and slightly frightening, as the Badger makes it clear that he *is* doing something to her, and under protest, at that. But Carthak is something of a revelation- incredibly wealthy and also incredibly corrupt, thanks to Orzone and his insistence on being worshipped in place of the Gods. Daine also finds herself having encounters with an old dark-skinned slave woman, and Prince Kaddar, the heir to Orzone and quite a nice young man, all things considered. She also saves and befriends a young marmoset named Zek, whose owner threw him into the river for Crocodiles to eat, and discovers that Orzone has immortals imprisoned in his menagerie- a Queen of Stormwings, Barzha and her consort, Hebakh. But when Daine tells that to Rikash, a Stormwing she first met in Fief Dunlath, he is shocked. The current King of the Stormwings supposedy killed Barzha and dumped her body over the ocean, and Stormwings only rule by right of victory. And Carthak and Orzone have deeper problems. In abandoning the Gods, the Gods have also abandoned Carthak. And now Daine has been given a new power by the Graveyard Hag, the main Goddess of Carthak, to bring dead things back to life. But Daine has her own ideas of what to use the power on, and she isn't willing to be the pawn of a Goddess, even a powerful one like the Graveyard Hag. But when the Emperor decides to abduct Daine to keep her and her power with animals forever, Daine might finally be angry enough with the Emperor to USE her newfound power. Can the Empire, and Orzone himself, stand against her might and that of the Gods, when Daine finally has had enough? Whoa. This book definitely brought it where Daine and her power is concerned. She gets a major (if temporary) power upgrade, but she is frightened by its effects and tries not to use it. We finally get to see Carthak and it's a lush, tropical land of great beauty, and great suffering as well. Slaves, massive inequality between the Emperor and the common people, and more intrigues with Gods and the Immortals. I loved this book for the adventure and for Daine herself, who is really coming into her own. She also finds out more about herself- possibly things that she may not want to know, like the fact that she herself is part God- or at least the child of one. This was a tasty dish of story that really satisfied and kept Daine both herself, human and down to earth despite the great power she could wield. Highly recommended.

The Realms of the Gods by Tamora Pierce- The walls between the lands of the immortals, where they were banished hundreds of years ago, and the human world have finally come down completely, and the people of Tortall are fighting off not only Stormwings and other baneful immortals like Hurroks, but other creatures as well, some helpful, some baneful. When Daine and her mentor Numair are attacked on the road and nearly killed by immortals, her mother and her father, the woods God Weiryn, pull her into the Realm of the Gods. Literally, everyone and everything there are Gods, whether human or animal. It is here that Daine's other mentor, the badger-god lives, but because Daine and Numair were still alive when they were pulled in, they face a long recovery process that would not have been the case if they had actually died. Here, Daine discovers the truth of her parentage for herself, and meets her father, Weiryn, for the first time. Apparently, when Daine's mother was killed, Weiryn rescued her and brought her to his home, and she has become a minor Goddess herself, known as "The Green Lady" who looks after the women of Daine's former home, helping with women's health and birthing issues. Her mother wants Daine to stay with her in the home of the Gods, but Daine feels that she and Numair have a duty to their friends and the people of Tortall. They also discover that Orzone is still alive, though he has become a Stormwing. Indeed, he took over the Stormwings from their old ruler and drove off Queen Barzha and Hebakh and their followers, along with Rikash. The Stormwings who follow Barzha have retreated to the Realm of the Gods, though they harry the others when they are able. Orzone has also been busy in the Realm of the Gods, creating creatures from his blood and darkness, who Daine christens "Darklings", to do his bidding. But here he may have miscalculated, as any creature made in the Realm of the Gods cannot be a servant to anything else, and therefore, the Darklings have the power of choice- to support Orzone or not, as they choose. Orzone created them to be his spies, his eyes and ears, but as the Darkling who Daine finds first discovers, it likes being free and chooses to help her. When Daine will not stay with Sarra and Weiryn, determined to go home and help her friends, her mother and father reluctantly give her their help. But to get home, they will have to cross the Realm of the Gods on their own, and face up to the Dangers within. Even as Rikash and the Stormwings who support Queen Barzha agree to help Daine and Numair cross the perilous desert to reach the lands of the Dragons, there are other dangers that could just as easily kill Daine and her mentor. But at least Daine can ask the Dragons for help, since she has been looking after the infant Dragon, Skysong, who Daine nicknamed "Kitten", since her mother was killed by the Carthakis at the Siege of Pirate's Swoop. But not all the Dragons are friendly to humans, and the Gods are caught up in the conflict with another Goddess, the Queen of Chaos, who wants to destroy everything and let the world and universe become unformed. Can Daine and Numair survive their trek and save their friends at home, along with defeating Orzone and helping the Gods end the threat of the Queen of Chaos? Or will she and her mentor lose their lives with no hope of ever going home again? This book was the climax of the series and one of the best. Yes, some people might find the ending between Numair and Daine a bit… personally troubling, as they end up in a relationship. Well, it's not like you get the feeling that they are going to be sneaking off into the bushes to shag, just that they are going to be a couple. And that someday Daine will marry him. Yeah, and she's only sixteen in this book and he's in his twenties or so. While that did make me twitch a bit, there is really no telling what the age of consent is in Tortall. It might be younger than in modern times because of the harsher conditions of their world (breed early, breed often was a solid means of survival in medieval times where people and babies tended to die, and die young). So now I am not as shocked as I was when I first read the book, but it can still be a shock when you read it for the first time. But this book wraps up the series, and I found the end as thrilling as I had when I first read it. Highly recommended, even with the quibble of Daine and Numair ending up together.

Dead on the Delta by Stacy Jay- Once, faeries were just a story, but the reappearance of faeries in the human world has put it upside down. Annabelle Lee used to be a medical student, but gave it up to become a cleaner, mainly because she is immune to Fairy venom. Now she works for the local government, cleaning up fairy eggs and Fairy poop, which, when mixed with Bleach, makes Breeze, the latest version of crack. If normal humans are bitten by faeries, they will eventually go crazy, anf have to be put in camps for their own safety and the safety of their families. Thus, most humans live in heavily gated communities protected by iron. But when Annabelle ventures into the swamp to clean up after a dead body and gets attacked by a breezehead, she wanders into a murder case and an even greater mystery. The dead girl whose body she was supposed to clean up after was the daughter of a highly placed family in town, and when she is attacked by a breeze-head, she is also attacked by an invisible man- something completely unknown to her. As Annabelle attempts to track down the Breeze House where the Breeze dealers are making their poison, she must also deal with their attacks on her, and whatever it is they are looking for- and just possibly find out who killed that young girl. But can she, and her innate optimism about those she knows and loves, deal with the secrets she will uncover in her own small town? And can she keep one step ahead of those trying to kill her? I was not really enthralled with this book. I've dealt with plenty of Sour heroines before, but Annabelle just never had my sympathy, and I didn't enjoy reading about her and her problems. She's too unsympathetic to me, being an alcoholic and possibly addicted to pills- admittedly, because of the stresses of her job, but I never really cared about Annabelle and it was a struggle for me to get through this book. I generally love gritty urban fantasy, but this neither thrilled nor appealed to me in the least. I won't be picking up any of the other books in this series. Not recommended.

Revealed by P.C. Cast- In order to get over the attack on the disappearance of Nefret and her poisoning the well of the Tulsa community against the local House of Night, the House of Night, under the High Priestess, Thanatos, lets members of the public meet many of the Fledglings and see that they are little different than other late teens and are not to be feared. But when Neferet's spirit shows up in the form of hundreds of Spiders and tries to attack Zoey and her friends, and the humans at the fair, Zoey and her friends, including Erin, form a circle to repel Neferet's spirit, but her attack causes Erin to reject the change and die. This pisses off Dallas, and he vows revenge against Zoey and her friends. But as Zoey and her friends deal with the death of Erin, once their friend and recently their foe, Neferet's spirit reforms and kills Aphrodite's father, the Mayor of Tulsa, leaving the blame to fall once more on the House of Night. But something is also going on with Zoey, who finds herself almost constantly angry and pissed off- not a good situation to be in. And he must also choose between Aurox, who holds the soul of her former love, Heath, and her Warrior and current lover, Stark. The time is coming when she must choose, but how can she choose between the reborn soul of someone she will always love and someone who she only came to love after he was gone? Meanwhile, Neferet remembers her past life and how she went from an abused fledgling to a powerful Priestess, and to think of herself as Queen Tsi Sigili. But as Zoey gives into the maelstrom of emotions inside her, can she stand to face Neferet as she is reborn in human form? This book made me think of "waiting" a lot. The book seems to wait as it explores Neferet's life for things to happen to Zoey. Aphrodite gets a vision of what is coming in regards to what is going on with Zoey and what is going to happen, but when she sneaks around Zoey's back for information, she ends up mking the vision come true in the long run. To be fair, based on her vision, I thought the ending was going to be something else entirely, but the ending was still a little hard to read, regardless. I can't wait to read the fnal book and the coming short novel, Kalona's Fall. Recommended.

Conspiracies: A Shadow Grail Novel by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill- Spirit White and her friends have driven off the Wild Hunt and saved the school, or so they think, but they are surprised how little has changed at Oakhurst Academy, There is still an air of menace around the school, and Doctor Ambrosius seems unable to do anything about it. Unable or unwilling. Christmas comes, and Spirit and Lock are given their presents- MP3 players in Oakhurst colors and their school rings. The stones in the rings are a blue color, but will change to reflect the element the students are tied to. And while Lock's does so, Spirit's remains the same, unchanged blue that it was at the beginning. Because Spirit has no magic, she is convinced that there must be another school where Legacies without any magical talent go, so she and her friends do more research and delve into the school's past. They soon discover that the school has only been there since the early 70's, and before that. it was the hangout of a biker gang, the former leader of which was the only survivor when some kind of catastrophe happened at the school. And eventually, the school was sold to Dr. Ambrosius and it became the Oakhurst Academy. But students continue to disappear, and only Spirit seems to be the one able to see how much is wrong at the school, and she, among her friends, insists that they continue to do something about it. As Dr. Ambrosius brings in a former Alumnus and Security consultant, the curriculum changes at the school, becoming more oriented around defense. Meanwhile, Spirit and Lock are discovering quite disturbing things, and she and Burke end up becoming closer. But as the New Year's Dance looms closer, it seems that the school is now under an attack by the Shadow Knights, a group opposed to the school. can Spirit and her friends defend the school again, or will they fail under the Shadow Knights attack? I liked this book, which had a strong feeling of tension throughout as things seem to go from bad to worse, and it's frustrating that Spirit is the only character who seems to be able to see it, or see how hard the school works to try and make the students distrust each other and break apart friendships. And, as yet, we don't know why- until the end of this book, when those questions are rather stunningly answered. We also get a hint of what Spirit's school of magic will be (and I was saying "Called it!" when it is given an offhanded mention), and also a hint of other secrets being kept from the students. Amazing, enjoyable and at the same time, it's a book that will stick with you for some time. Highly recommended.

The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling- For three centuries, a prophecy has kept Skala safe, that a daughter from the line of Thelatimos will keep Skala safe and free of disease. But when The Queen dies, her son, Erius, seizes the throne and carries out a campaign against his close female relatives, making sure they die in ways untraceable back to him. In the end, only his sister Ariani still lives, and she is married to a Duke Rhilus and pregnant. The Wizard Iya learns of the threat to Ariani and makes haste to be with her at the birth. There. Ariani gives birth to twins, a stillborn boy, and a girl. With Iya and her student Arkoniel is Lhel, a witchwoman who gives the baby girl the seeming of her dead brother by sewing a strip of her dead brother's skin to the skin of the Princess. This so disturbs the Duchess, who can hear the cries of her dead son, that she is never quite right again, and Lhel, horrified at what she has done, stays by Ariani in non-visible form to help her and guide her and her living daughter, named Tobin, who is raised as a boy. Tobin grows up a somewhat strange child, hated by his dead brother, who manifests as an angry ghost, and his half-mad mother, who rejects him. But when King Erius comes to their distant estate, she kills herself in a fit of fear, nearly killing Tobin with her. Tobin is afraid of the ghost, but grows up alone, far from other children, until Arkoniel comes to be his tutor, driven by the will of Illior, and Iya brings him a companion, Kirothius, the son of a minor lord, to be his squire and boon companion. But while he finally grows to be like other boys with Ki, what will happen when he must go to the Capitol and become companion to his cousin, Korin, who will be King after Erius? Can he keep his secret when it threatend to come out, and can he stay alive in the hothouse of the Capitol, where everyone seems to be prying into his secrets? This novel, in comparison to the Seregil and Alec novels, is much darker and more solemn. It's not a novel of high adventure or even mysteries, but more purely fantasy with a slight element of horror. It's sort of a Dark Fantasy, and most of the thrills and chills come from the tension of whether or not "Prince Tobin" will be found out as a woman and whether Iya, Arkoniel and/or Lhel will be discovered and killed. For while King Erius' mother actively hated wizards, Erius is willing to use them- but any that might pose the slightest threat to his rule he will put down ruthlessly, using wizards that serve him, called "The Harriers". It's a tight story that draws you in slowly and doesn't let you go. While I didn't necessarily care deeply for Tobin, I didn't want to see him/her hurt or killed. I can't wait to read the next book and see where this series goes. Definitely recommended, but don't make the mistake of thinking it's going to be like the Nightrunner series.

Sacrifices by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill- Spirit White and her friends have driven off not only the Wild Hunt on their own, but an attack by the Shadow Knights with the help of their classmates. But the Shadow Knights aren't done with Oakhurst Academy yet. Headmaster Doctor Ambrosius, who Spirit and her friends think is Merlin, has the school taken over by another former student and owner of a software company that has moved to the nearby town, known as Breakthrough Adventure Systems. But Breakthrough is the Bastion of the Shadow Knights, and the school becomes even more militarized and military Academy-like, teaching the students only combat and fighting. Spirit, the only one without magic, feels out of place, and her friend Muirin appears to have gone over to the side of the Shadow Knights, hanging with them exclusively and "dating" Ovecharenko, the new Gym teacher, who is Russian Mafiya. But as more students disappear under the brutal new Regime taking over at the school, the friends learn who Dr. Ambrosius really is, and must make their escape before they and the other students are killed. But even if they *can* escape, where will they go, and can they trust Muirin to help them, or will she sell out her old friends for her new ones? I thought this series was merely a trilogy, but I learned it was not at the end of this book. I can't say I am necessarily disappointed, because the ending would have been a disappointment if that was all there was. There *will* be a fourth book, but not until August, which really leaves me wanting more. The revelations came fast and furious in this one, backed up by Spirit and her friends having to adapt to their changing circumstances. Still I found this a really enjoyable, if not a comfortable read. Highly recommended. But you'll probably be guessing who and what Spirit is long before the end (to be fair, we'll have to wait for "who" until at least the next book).

There All Along by Lauren Dane and Megan Hart-  This book is a compilation of two futuristic, otherworldly romance novels. The first, "Land's End" involves a small town on another planet. Land's End Highway leads from the end of civilization to the Capital, and the law is what patrols the highway, keeping it safe and clear of bandits. Loyal Alsbaugh is in charge of the caravan that makes deliveries up and down the Highway and carries messages. When he's in the small village of Silver Cliffs, he always stays with Verity Coleman, a widow who runs the general store and post office. While he has long desired the beautiful shopkeeper, he knows that such a good, upright woman is not for him. But Verity has dreams of her own, of traveling away from her small village and seeing the land. But her family, and her lack of money, keep her tied to Silver Cliffs. She also finds herself attracted to Loyal, but he never seems to notice her as a woman. But when the bandit attacks increase and the bandits become even more vicious, the two of them are thrown together, and their attraction for and to each other ignites. but will Loyal's past mean leaving Verity behind, or can he stick ity out and be the kind of lover she needs? "By the Sea of Sand" has a woman named Teila who runs a lighthouse on the salt sea, where she lives with her young son and his nanny, who used to be her own nanny when she was a child. When her father-in-law sends her another injured soldier to take care of, she'd like to refuse him, but she cannot. The soldier she is sent is called "Jodah", even though that is not his name, because he was captured by aliens and tortured, and perhaps turned into a double agent to be used against his own people. That is why, even though Teila knows his real name, she cannot admit she knows him, nor try to jog his memory of who he is. But as he heals and grows stronger, will he come back to his real memories, or be lost in madness, and when another member of Teila's motley band of recovering prisoners becomes dangerous, can he remember himself in time to save them all from the aliens returning? Both of these stories take place on two very different alien planets, but the planets themselves don't really figure much into the stories, except as backdrop most of the time, which is fine because the stories should be about the connection between the two characters involved. And in both stories, those were good. These stories didn't have to be set on an alien planet- they could work just fine in a small town in the Old West and on the shores of a desert, respectively. They were fine romances, but they are less about their settings and more about the romances at their core. And there's nothing wrong with that. Recommended.

Hearts in Darkness by Keri Arthur- Nikki James has been waiting to hear something from Michael for six months, but he has been worryingly silent. While she didn't know that giving him her blood to help him survive and heal would reawaken the dark part of the vampire he is, she still misses him terribly. Meanwhile, Michael has been trying to oversome his renewed lust for blood and despite the fact that they share a mental bond, is determined never to see her again and let her forget him. But when his leader, the Witch Selene, sends him to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to investigate the disappearances of rich millionaires from an upscale resort, she tells him to contact Nikki and take her with him. Because Nikki is also on a case, that of the disappearance of a young computer genius, and if she goes on her own to Jackson Hole, she will die. Despite wanting not to be with Nikki, Michael still has feelings for her and doesn't want her to die, so he meets her at her home and, pretending to be a newlywed couple, head for the spa for their "Honeymoon". Along the way, they meet another millionaire and his wife, a man named Rodeman and his new wife, Ginger. But Nikki can feel that Ginger isn't human, and the chauffer who is supposed to drive the Rodemans is a vampire. But when Michael attempts to question him. he melts like wax and dies. Ginger, too, isn't completely human, and Nikki can feel that, but she has no idea what she is. Later on, she learns that Ginger is part flame imp, and that someone at the resort, a vampire, is using them to take over human and vampire bodies. But neither is able to contain the flame imps for long, and when the body they are in melts, the flame imps die. Now, Nikki is their only hope to step this man, because Michael can't even see the Flame Imps. But can they discover who is killing the millionaires, and why? And can Nikki hel save the flame Imps before the man behind the killing decides to use her or Michael as test subjects? And can Nikki find the two young people she is looking for before they are killed? I really enjoyed this book, as I loved seeing Nikki and Michael back together and how they worked together. Nikki wants to be with Michael, and he wants to be with her, too, even though he feels that if he stays away from her, that will somehow keep her "safe". But he's being delusional, and how Nikki is able to finally bring him around to her way of thinking made me smile. I also loved the flame Imps and their story and that neither Michael nor his mentor, Selene, had ever heard of them.  This book made me smile and kept me interested in the story. Highly recommended.

The Accidental Bride by Jane Feather- Phoebe, Olivia and Portia vowed that they would never wed at the wedding of Phoebe's sister, Diana, to Cato, Marquis of Granville. Now, Portia has been married, and Phoebe's father also wants her to marry Cato, who has become a widow. Phoebe, who has developed unwelcome feelings for Cato, is resisting the idea of marrying because she knows he doesn't love her and she can in no way compare to her sister. But when Cato prevents her from running away before the ceremony, she is stuck, and she must marry him. But their marriage isn't truly a happy one, as she suffers his attentions and feels miserable, as he has more than a tendency to order her around. But when her friend Portia returns, Portia is determined to help Phoebe get on with Cato, which means abandoning her usual shapeless gowns in favor of more up-to-date styles and colors that favor her coloring. Cato isn't sure he likes the new gowns, which he considers immodest, but he does like the change he sees in Phoebe, the way she takes control of her own sexuality and even ends up seducing him for once, which he finds far more preferable to her lying grimly in bed, tolerating his attentions. But Phoebe is determined to be an equal partner in his life, something which he cannot accept. But when Cato's estranged adopted son shows up seeking to spy on his father, he determines that Phoebe is ripe for being used against his father, just like her sister was, and whom he later poisoned. Can Phoebe resist falling to Brian's schemes, and can she help Catobring him to justice when he betrays himself? I remember reading this book long ago, but it still has quite a bit of luster upon rereading. The story is just as sharp as I remembered and Brian came off as even more of a D-bag. I did have less sympathy for the "Oh noes, I've fallen for my husband!" kind of plot, but it was a minor failing. Still recommended.

Chasing the Shadows by Keri Arthur- Nikki and Michael are together but his insistence on keeping her "safe" amd "protected" from the cases he takes on is making her seriously frustrated. So when she gets a call from her old partner, Jake, to go to San Francisco and find a missing woman, she leaves and heads off to help him. But it turns out that Michael is on the same case, and that the body of another missing woman has also been found, dead and mutilated. However, the source of the mystery seems to revolve around the facr that all the missing women were at the same school, and it seems that Jake's wife went to the same school. When she is snatched, can Nikki and Michael lay aside their squabbling about whether or not Michael needs to accept Nikki as an equal partner and work together long enough to find her before the killer can strike her down as well? Or will their separation lead to the death of Jake's wife as well as their relationship? I loved this book. Nikki and Michael were finally together, but he doesn't want to expose her to the danger involved in working with him. But he may not get the chance to turn her down, because she is bound and determined to do what he does or die trying. Their opponent was also interesting and had some of my sympathy, as I often felt the same way in school, but in the end, lost it because of what they did. Let bygones be bygones. Highly recommended.

The White Road by Lynn Flewelling- Alec and Seregil are recuperating from their escape from slavery in Plenimar in Aurenen, with Seregil's family. But even the Aurenen are unsure about what to do about Alec's "Child", Sebrahn, a Rhekharo. And attention from the Aurenfaie isn't the only attention that Sebrahn has gathered- Alec's people, the Hazadrielfaie, want to capture Sebrahn and ensure no more like him can be made, something that Seregil and Alec also want, for as long as the information exists, more Rhekharo can be made from Alec's blood. But Ulan i Sathil needs the healing potion that can be made from Sebrahn, and with the death of Yakhobin, Sebrahn is his only chance to stay alive, and he wants Alec and Sebrahn to be in his control. But when it becomes clear that someone is after them, they head back to Rhiminee and intend to go to Plenimar to retrieve the books of alchemy they left behind in Plenimar to prevent any more Rhekharo from being made. But when the Hazadrielfaie Riders catch up with them, it's clear that Sebrahn isn't the only Rekharo around,  But is he suited for living in Alec and Seregil's world? And the Hazadrielfaie are also concerned about the books left behind, and the leader of the Riders goes with Seregil and Alec to retrieve them. They must leave Sebrahn behind with the Riders if they are to have any chance of succeeding in their mission. But Ulan I Sathil has traveled to Plenimar ahead of the two and retrieved the books. With them in his possession, do they have any hope of getting them back? Reading this book, and this story, was very unlike the rest of the books in this series. It was very slow to start and I didn't feel it lived up to its promise until they actually headed to Plenimar. But it was still interesting, just not as compelling as some of the other adventures. And the ending was more than a bit saf, but I did enjoy it as a whole. I wouldn't consider this book indicative of the series as a whole, though, and this and Shadows Return are probably my least favorite books in the series. So, still good, but very different. Don't read this book or Shadows Return first. Recommended.

Darkness Splintered- Risa has failed to retrieve the second key to Hell, and she goes on a bender to try and forget her failure. But she soon wakes up to reality, and not only her father and the Reapers, but even her boss, Vampire Madelyn Hunter, all want her to go after the third key, and they are willing to kill her friends if her normal motivation isn't enough. With one friend dead, and another under the threat of Death, Risa calls back in Azriel, who she banished in the previous book. Together, they try and track down the soreress who has the missing key, and the face and body shifters working with her. But with time rnning out, Risa, who is pregnant with Azriel's child, must make a trip to the Temple in the Otherworld, to her father's former quarters, where the third key might be hidden. But nothing is ever easy, and the hell-creatures are gathering. Can Risa succeed in keeping the second key from being used? I wasn't quite feeling this book because I just... don't connect with Risa the same way I did with Riley Jenson in the previous series. I find myself had-pressed to care, really, and that means this series is less successful for me. I'm not sure why, but I really tried to get into it and care, and I still just didn't. There's only one book left after this, and I may read it, but only to see how the series ends. Not recommended.

Arisa Volume 12 by Matsumi Ando- Tsubasa finally knows who the King is, and now., it's up to her to prevent him from taking his revenge at the Summit of the Global Elite, where Arisa and Tsubasa's mother is attending. But can Tusbasa make everyone believe the truth, and can she bring "The King" to justice? And what will be the outcome for the two sisters? Then, Arisa finds out that Tsubasa is in trouble at school and is determined to help her out. But when she poses as her sister, she thinks Tsubasa is in a gang. Can she discover the meaning of Bros? And can she discover what's really wrong with Tsubasa at her school? This was a very short book, but at the same time, it was quite good. I hadn't been interested in Arisa for a while, and the ending is mostly angst, but the final styory was a funny antidote to the depressing ending of the main story. A light confection on the tongue, like cotton candy, and just as filling. Not really recommended.

Natsume's Book of Friends, Volume 15 by Yuki Midorikawa- Natsume finds himself meeting and helping a young woman whose house is under assault by Yokai. It turns out she is a friend of Natori, and that her father was an exorcist until he lost his ability to see Yokai. Now, two of his former servants are angry that he is ignoring them. Can Natori and Natsume and the man's daughter release them from their service to him? Next, Natsume has an encounter with a mushroom Yokai who wants to see his friend again. His friend is another Yokai of high status who has gone off for training. But will his old friend have anything to do with him now? And finally, we get to meet the relatives who took Natsume in, and why, and read about how Natsume was before he was adopted by them. I loved this novel, which was gentle and sweet and focused mainly about the ties between those who are close- ties of family, friendship and obligation. Each story involves people who must live up to their ties and who are changed by them in many ways. Truly beautiful and made me reflect. Highly recommended.

The Secret History of Marvel Comics by Blake Bell and Dr. Michael J. Vassallo- Marvel is a giant in the comics-publishing industry, one of the Big Three: Marvel, DC and Archie Comics. But how did its founder, Martin Goodman, turn it from merely one of a host of shell companies, into a giant powerhouse? The truth is here to be told: by outright theft of ideas and material, and by copying anything and everything that was popular, from crime and horror pulps to sex and gore stories. And then, he almost never paid his artists and writers anything and hid any profits he made among a host of shell companies, each with different names and publishing magazines. It just so happened to be that Marvel was the one that printed comics, and that comics became popular in a big way, so Marvel, one of a host of publishing companies that flew under the properties owned by Goodman, became popular enough and large enough to become the only company worth anything in the end. Stan Lee, original name, Stanley Lieber, was Martin Goodman's nephew, and started working for the company owned by his uncle when he was 18, and shortly after, began writing stories for the magazines his uncle owned. This book not only tells the rather sordid story about Marvel's beginnings, but also profiles many of the artists and writers who worked for the company (although some, like Jack Kirby, ended up leaving over money and copyright issues). This was not an easy book to read, but I did find it very interesting, because Marvel wasn't some unique kind of company. The 1930's, when most of these pulps started, had many other publishing houses run in much the same way. It's a fascinating and rather appalling look at the History of Marvel. It's like a train wreck- you'd like to stop reading but you can't turn your eyes away. Recommended.

Hidden Warrior by Lynn Flewellung- Tobin has lived all of his life thinking that he is a boy, but now he knows the truth, that he is a woman, and he must keep this secret from most of the others who know him. Even Ki, his close friend and squire, must be kept in the dark. But when he came to rescue Tobin, Ki's memory had to be altered about who and what Tobin really is, and it did a number on his head. Tobin and Ki slowly recover at Tobin's childhood home, and as Lhel helps Tobin adjust, his Guardian, Lord Orun, tries to compel Tobin to return to the capital. Eventually, Ki recovers enough to return, and despite Orun wanting Tobin to dismiss Ki and take Moriel, a young noble squire who reports directly to him, in Ki's place. But Tobin will have no one but Ki, and when Orun tries to compel Tobin to his bed, Brother, the spirit of Tobin's dead twin, comes to Tobin's aid and kills Orun via a heart attack. This is good, because it gets Tobin put under the care of a much better man as his guardian. But when Korin impregnates a young noblewoman of the court, he is allowed to wed her. Now that the succession is assured, Korin and his young companions are allowed to finally go into real combat with pirates. The King has returned, and Tobin envies his cousin his father's warm affection, and wishes that he, too, could have had a loving relationship with his father. But the truth is revealed during the attack- that Korin is not only foolhardy and headstrong, but a coward as well,  And worse, the companions that fought with him know it as well. And when, on Tobin's birthday, the King allows him a boon, he uses it on Ki's behalf, giving Ki's faher one of his holdings. But the first one he chooses, just because it comes to him first, he makes an enemy of Niryn, the King's chief mage and leader of the Harriers. So when the city of Ero is attacked by Plenimarans, the King is barely able to defend it, due to the loss of so many of his soldiers in wars, plagues and famines. But when Tobin is sent to Atiyon, one of his holdings that still has soldiers, he is attacked by Skalans. But why is the King seeking to do away with him? Or is it Niryn who is behind the whole scheme? And when Tobin is declared a traitor to the King it is time for him to make a decision- reveal himself for who he really is, or stand by and watch Skala fall. Can he find in him the courage to admit the truth, and will anyone follow him if he does? This book is nothing like the Nightrunners books, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Readers are more deeply tied to Tobin, as most of his struggles are internal, but he also must deal with battle and external threats as well. I found Tobin a very interesting character, composed of so many contradictions: appearing a boy while being a girl in actualiry, Being a warrior, but also drawn to creative pursuits, personally brave but shrinking back from admitting who and what he is (until the end of the book, at least). It's a fascinating study in contrasts and makes me wonder if I could deal with finding out that everything I thought about myself was a lie when I was a teenager. And I don't think I would have handled it as well. This is a wonderful fantasy story and brings something of psychology iinto it as well. I loved this book, and I couldn't wait to read the last book in the trilogy. Highly recommended.

Oracle's Queen by Lynn Flewelling- Tobin has regained his true form, and taken the name Tamir, but she is still unsure of how she feels about all of this, and whether she will retain the friendship she has with Ki. Ki, for his part, is shocked as well, and struggles with his own feelings for his old friend and comrade. He wonders if he can ever accept Tobin as Tamir, and cannot spend the night in bed with her as he used to when she had her male body. More, without the bit of bone taken from her Brother, she no longer has any control over the spirit, and he becomes threatening, demanding that she uncover what truly happened when they were born and punish the evildoers. But she doesn't know that he has already killed Lhel, and she must also find and defeat Prince Korin, who has married a surviving female relative of Tamir's and will be claiming the throne through her and their child, which he wastes no time attempting to engender. For her own part, Nalia has to deal with her feelings of betrayal, as she was Niryn's lover first. But his magic makes her a maiden all over again, and he removes the curse he placed on any child of Korin's, while poisoning his mind against Tobin/Tamir, rumors of which have come to Palatine, where Nyrin stashed the girl, Nalia. Luckily for Tamir, many barons support her, but some also support Korin, and while Korin's endless holing up in the fortress leads many to remember his cowardice, Niryn must wait until Korin fathers an heir before he can let him out to try and kill Tamir. But as Tamir struggles with becoming a Queen to be proud of and her dealings with those around her, can she still defeat her cousin without bloodshed or is there no remaining hope but war? As I was reading this book, it became less of a purely fantasy novel through most of it, being an otherwise dramatic story about characters coming to terms with changes in thmselves and the world around them, most specifically, in Tamir and Ki's relationship. Tamir, as Tobin, fell in love with Ki, and now that she is in a woman's body, she hopes they can retain the same relation of friendship, or perhaps deepen it into something more. Ki, once he gets over missing Tobin the boy, eventually starts to see Tamir that way, but their relationship, while often frustrating to read about, is also fascinating to watch and read. At the end, Tamir is able to do everthing she needs to do to become the ruler that Skala needs, and I ended up truly enjoying this book and the series it is a part of. It has an entirely different tone than the Alec and Seregil stories, but in its own way, it's fascinating and wonderful. It was a delight to read, even the difficult parts. Highly recommended.

Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins- Black Ice by Andrew Lane- Sherlock and his mentor, Amycus Crowe, are summoned to London to meet with Sherlock's brother, Mycroft. But they find him in the Diogenes Club with a knife in his hand and a dead man in the room behind him, a bloody wound in his chest. Mycroft has no recollection of what happened in the room or how the man died, bur he is taken into custody by the police anyway, and it's up to Sherlock and Amycus Crowe to find out who the victim really was and what happened to him in the locked room, and he also finds out that there is something on the back of the card the man gave him. A name: "The Paradol Chamber". But as Sherlock and Crowe investigate, it becomes clear that the mirder has something to do with Russia and Alaska, which they are about to sell to America for money. But there is snother colonial interest in the land, and Mycroft sees nothing for it but to head to Russia, along with Sherlock and another agent to investigate. They travel as part of a Theatre company, but when Mycroft is arrested and Sherlock nearly so, it's up to him to discover the culprits and keep Mycroft and himself from dying in a strange foreign country. Is Sherlock up to the task? I loved this book. It started out a bit slow, but built up speed like an accelerating train. The last part in Russia, where Sherlock is on the run from the Russian police and trying to prevent the assassination of his brother and another target, was really suspenseful and quite amazing. I love how they show Sherlock's abilities and attitudes slowly emerging, which will eventually turn him into the man he became in the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, Highly Recommended.

Eight for Eternity by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer- John the Eunuch is the Lord Chamberlain to Justinian, Emperor of Constantinople, and people claim that he is a demon. So when two criminals, members of the factions known as the Blues and the Greens, to death, they are hung in the public square. But the ropes that are supposed to hang them fail, twice, and the people of the city decide that this means they must go free, while Justinian's men want to carry out the execution. The two are given refuge in a church, but someone kills them, drags them out into a cistern and throws them in. From there, they vanish. John is assigned to find out the truth of what happened and bring the killers to justice. But someone is using the unrest in the city to try and overthrow Justinian. Can John end the plot and find out what really happened to the two men? And can he do it without becoming victim to the mob himself,. or to Justinian's Empress, Theodora? This book was a prequel to the other books in the series, taking place in 532 rather than in the 540's. There is noting really stating that it was earlier, so I was wondering where John's wife, who had appeared in the sevent book was. It was only after looking at the dates in the earlier books that I realized. It was a rather tense mystery, with mobs rioting in the city and burning lots of it down, but it's the same John amd he's still an excellent solver of mysteries. Definitely recommended.

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire- When Toby's Fetch shows up, she's worried, but when her best friend's son is snatched from his bed and her youngest daughter goes into a coma she cannot be awakened from, Toby knows she must help get them back. All signs point to Blind Michael, one of the Elder Fae like the Luidaeg. He is something like the leader of the Evil Wild Hunt, and those children he steals become members of the hunt. or one of his mounts, eventually joining him in his evil. But even getting to his realm is incredibly hard, and while their might be multiple paths, each can only be used once. Can Toby find her way there, rescue not only her friend's son, but all the other children taken by Blind Michael? And when he turns his attention to wanting Toby for his queen, can she keep herself safe and help Blind Michael's original wife to kill him and take over his realm? And what will she discover about her own Countess in the process? I liked this book. Toby is still a hot mess, still recovering from being a fish in a pond for many long years, and now she has to deal with the appearance of her Fetch, meaning that she is going to die soon. But unlike some who might bow to fate and decide that Blind Michael would kill her, considering how powerful he is, Toby digs her heels in and fights every strep of the way, utterly refusing to "go gently into that good night". And in the process, she finds out some surprising truths about Countess Oleander de Merelands, the wife of her lord. I found this fascinating. I didn't even know such a type of fae existed, and it was so interesting to see where the hints about what she was and where her powers led. And we also get a hint that even Toby isn't exactly what she seems to be, or so it seemed to me. A interesting and fascinating book. Highly recommended.

The President's Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth- America is beset by many enemies, both internal and external. When the enemies are merely human, America and her president are protected by the armed services for external threats and the Secret Service for internal threats. But what happens when those enemies *aren't* human? Well, that's when they call on Nathaniel Cade, the President's Vampire. Cade was made during the 1800's, by Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen, with blood from the bullet which killed President Lincoln. Bound to the President, and to the welfare of the country, Cade was made to protect the US from supernatural threats. Now, someone is making a viral agent that turns men and women into reptilian creatures that can infect others with a bite or claw. Starting in Africa, using kidnapped children as guinea pigs, the threat continues, with the viral agent continuing to be developed as the attacks continue. Cade's presence disrupts the plans of those developing the agent, and it slowly becomes clear that those developing the virus are not foreign actors, but those much closer to home. But who would have the resources and hate the government so much as to try to turn all of America into such creatures? And can their plan to turn shoppers in the Mall of America into those creatures, and infecting themselves with an upgraded version of the virus that leaves their human intelligence intact, can Cade work with his handler, Zach Barrows, and another Agent named Bell, to turn back the plot aimed at the nation's heartland, meant to make humans a footnote of history? I have to admit, the title of this book is what made me pick it up, and it's a great title. The fact that Cade's existence was tied to Abraham Lincoln made me think of "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter", and it's true that this book was published after that book came out, although I have no idea if they had anything to do with each other, and if this book was informed by that book's story. I was hoping that Cade would be portrayed a bit more sympathetically, and that the book was going to be more like a fantasy adventure story. But Cade is pretty cold and the book is written more like a thriller, which was a bit of a disappointment to what I hoped it might be. On the other hand, that didn't make it a bad book, and I ended up enjoying it, just not quite as much as I thought I would. Zach, Cade's handler, isn't quite his friend, and he comes off as a bit of a sad sack when it comes to women- and his choice in women is terrible. Bell, a female agent, ends up being both antagonist and ally, but is just as cold as Cade in her way. It was an okay book, and I am definitely going to read the sequel, "Red, White and Blood" as soon as I can. but I am not entirely in love with this series. Recommended, if you like thrillers.

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