Friday, May 02, 2014

2014, Part 4

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire- Verity Price is living the dream in New York City as a competitive dancer in the ballroom scene. But that is merely her cover for her life as a Cryptozoologist. Her family, the Prices, left an organization known as the Covenant, which only studies Cryptids in order to kill them and keep humans safe. But Verity's family knows that not every Cryptid is dangerous or needs killing, and so Verity's Grandfather and Grandmother split from the Covenant, to be considered traitors by their former comrades, and a legend by the Cryptids themselves as the Prices try to act as diplomats and mediators between the Cryptids and the humans who might be in danger from them. But while living in New York and trying to make a living as a ballroom dancer, when Parkouring home one night, she falls into a trap set by a member of the Order of St. George named Dominic DeLuca. She thinks he's cute, but Verity is angered that he's hunting Cryptids in *her* city. He's says he's just there scouting out the city, but when she finds out that the Order scouts out cities before engaging in massive cleansing "hunts", she starts warning the Cryptids around the city. And when Cryptid girls begin to disappear, she thinks she knows the reason- Dominic DeLuca! But it turns out that he isn't the one making them disappear, and he thinks she is responsible- but obviously, she isn't. So they have to team up together to find out what is really going on, and whether the rumors of a surviving Dragon living in the Sewers of the city is true... along with dealing with the religiously crazy Cryptid mice who inhabit her apartment and who think that Verity should relive the life of her grandmother... and her family, who isn't happy with the Covenant, nor the Covenant with them. Should be a piece of cake, right? I loved this book, and all the different kinds of Cryptids that Verity and her family keep track of and know about- but their information isn't perfect, given that they were members of the Covenant of St. George up until three generations ago, and the Covenant is more interesting in knowing enough about Cryptids to kill them, not study them. I loved the little bits of world-building (Like "Darks" that increase the amount of gloom in the area for dark-loving Cryptid races) and Verity's trying to balance her dancing career with her career as a Cryptozoologist. It made me laugh and smile a lot, while also being a fairly ripping action yarn at points. I won't say this book is perfect, but I loved it anyway. Definitely give this one a try. Highly recommended.

Hulk: World War Hulks by Jeph Loeb, John Romita Jr, and Ed McGuinness- Thunderbolt Ross is dead, slain by the Red Hulk, a new threat to the world. But it seems that the Red Hulk is working with the Green Hulk and against a group of The Hulk's Old Foes, including The Leader, M.O.D.O.K., Kragoff and his Gamma Apes and even Doc Samson, But it turns out that the Red Hulk, who power is energy absorbtion, knows their plans and is working with Bruce Banner to stop them from taking over the world, and using the world's greatest intellects to do it, which involve turning all the world's heroes into Hulks and then coming in to clean up and save the day. But can the two Hulks, wo have little reason to trust each other, team up and put an end to the villain's plans? And who is the Red Hulk? And the Red She-Hulk, for that matter? Well, this was rather... interesting. I sort of already knew who the Red Hulk was supposed to be, but this story introduced several Hulks and Hulk-Like  Heroes and villains. It got to the point where I wondered if all the Green-skinned characters were somehow related to the Hulk (She-Hulk is Bruce's Cousin, who he saved with a blood transfusion, and, as it turns out, the two Red Hulks also shared a family connection. The story was a bit convoluted, but it seems that the Red Hulk will continue, even though he can be drained of his powers in the same way he drains the power of others. I wonder if the same goes for the Red She-Hulk? Anyhow, this was an interesting Graphic novel, but seems a bit overly convoluted if you haveb;t read the series up to this point, and the book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger as well. It seems the Red Hulk will be sticking around for some time. Recommended, but you might want to read other books in the series before this one or it might get very confusing to you.

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan- Percy Jackson and Annabeth have been taken to Tartarus, the body of a Titan which is also a prison for Giants and evil souls. With Gaia re-awakening, she is aiming to bring the Giants up from Tartarus to be her amy in the world. They will enter through the Doors of Death, in the literal Heart of Tartarus, which have been chained so that, instead of her amryappearing in bits and pieces all over the world, they will all appear in one place, the same place, at one time. As Percy and Annabeth struggle across the unforgiving terrain of Tartarus to the Doors to try and make it back into the world, They are aided by Bob/Iapetus, who seems to prefer being Good rather than evil. Meanwhile, back on the surface, Piper, Leo, Frank, Nico, Hazel and their flying ship have to make it to Greece to try and stop Gaia's army and save their friends. Plus, they also need to get the Athena Parthenos back to Camp Half-Blood to try and prevent a war between the Roman and Greek Demigods, for which they will need the help of Reyna, the Praetor of the Legion. And the monsters of the Earth, inhabiting the Appenines, are barring their way. Can both sets of heroes make it through the trials ahead of them and make it to Greece before the Doors of Death open and unleash the Giants upon the earth? And who will pay the Price for them to succeed? This was a fabulous book, with the tension seesawing from one set of heroes to the other- Percy and Annabeth in Hades, and the others aelsewhere. We get to see some really great and amazing stuff here- Frank's Battle in Venice with the Catobleps, and Hazel learning the powers of Hecate, which they need to succeed, and Leo finally falling in love. I only wish I could tell you how awesome this book is without giving away too many spoilers, but I can't. The part of the book where Percy and Annabeth are slogging through Tartarus actually *feels* like a slog, which made a weird sort of sense, because it mirrored what Percy and Annabeth are experiencing. At the same time, I liked how all the characters grew and matured, many in what were amazingly large ways (one of those only literally!). It's a great book, and I loved it a lot. Highly recommended, and looking forward to the final book in this series.

Ashes of Honor- It's been a year for Toby since the Events of "One Salt Sea" and since then, she's tried to keep her head down and fulfill her responsibilities to her lord, Sylvester, train her squire, Quentin, and generally keep out of trouble. But when she is approached by Etienne, another Knight working for Sylvester, she agrees to help him, because, unbeknownst to him, he has a daughter he never knew about, and he only discovered her when her mother came to him, accusing him of abducting her. Chelsea, Etienne's daughter, is a changeling that the old stories warn about- full of power, but having no control over them- and his daughter is a teleporter, and can open up paths to places long closed to the fae. Toby and Etienne have to find Chelsea before other Fae can, and offer her the Changeling's Choice: Choose the Human *or* the Fae world, and never see the other parent again. If Chelsea chooses to be Fae, she will gain control over her powers, and her mother might never forgive Etienne. But now Chelsea has done the seemingly impossible- opened a portal to Annwn, the land of the dead, and Tybalt's heir, Raj, is also missing, and his father is agitating for Raj to replace Tybalt as King of the Cats. Since the only way for a King of Cats to be deposed is to die, Tobby isn't going to let that happen. And now Chelsea has been kidnapped by the Regent of Dreamer's Glass, who wants to repopulate the long-abandoned Elven Lands like Annwn. Can Toby rescue Chelsea, offer her the Changeling's Choice, and not get stranded in long-gone places? And can she prevent Raj's father from deposing Tybalt in a bloody fashion in favor of his own son? And can she manage to stay alive while she does these things? She has to, because otherwise, the damage to everything she knows and loves  will be too great to bear! This was a great book. Faerie seems to be fading somewhat, but it can still give borth to tremendously powerful "Sports" who embody powers too dangerous to be allowed in a changeling, and Chelsea is one such. Everyone assumes she has been kidnapped, but was she kidnapped, or did her own powers take her away by accident? And who will she end up choosing when they finally do track her down? And can the relationship between her mother and Etienne be salvaged? All of these questions are asked and then, eventually answered anyway, and for Toby, this is hard for her because she had to offer the choice to her own daughter- and well, you'll have to find that one out for yourself. Still, this was an excellent book that really kept me on the edge of my seat all the way through. Highly recommended.

Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire- Toby Daye has survived her latest assignment, and is now patrolling the city for trouble when she comes across some fae selling Goblin Fruit. Goblin Fruit is only a problem for changelings- to full fae, it's a mild intoxicant, like a goblet of wine. But for changelings, who are neither fae nor human, it is a drug that is all-consuming and instantly addictive. Toby does her best to take down the sellers, but finds out that they are being protected by someone in power. So she goes to the Queen to get the sellers stopped or banished, and loses her temper when the Queen refuses to do so. In return, the Queen banishes her from the Kingdom. She has a week to get out or die. Toby is in a daze, but the Luidaeg tells her that the Queen is not who she seems to be. In short, the Queen, who took the throne because she said she was the only surviving child of the previous King, is nothing of the sort. Now, it's up to Toby to prove that, find the real Queen and overthrow the current one- and to do so, she will have to get into the fabled Library of Stars.  But someone, and perhaps many someones, don't want Toby to succeed. So when she is targeted with a thrown Goblin-fruit pie, can she overcome the resulting addiction to the fruit in time to accomplish all she needs to before she is forced to leave the Kingdom or die? I loved this book. It's full of intrigue and mystery, and we get to see just how corrupt the Queen is, and why she has an especial hatred for Toby. It was also nice to see how Toby and all her friends, the Luidaeg especially, worked together to overthrow the old Queen and bring back the rightful heir to the throne. This book doesn't end Toby's adventures, or at least I hope it doesn't. I'd love to read more with her in the future. Highly recommended.

Death on Blackheath by Anne Perry-When a young maid goes missing at the home of a man important in Naval Defense, it seems that she is the victim of foul play, since blood is found on the ground near the house where she was employed. But who would want to make the maid disappear? And what might the disappearance have to do with British Naval Secrets? It seems as though no one in the house knows anything. Not Dudley Kynaston, not his wife, nor his sister-in-law, Ailsa. But Pitt suspects that someone is hiding something, he just cannot say what, or if it impinges on the dsiappearance of the maid. Then, some weeks later, a body is found in a gravel pit not too far from the Kynaston House. The woman's mutilated body resembles that of the missing maid, but her features have been obliterated, so they cannot be sure. Others introduce red herrings into the investigation, and Pitt and his lieutenant, Stoker, must make sure again, that they have all the facts in the case. Because it seems that the body is not freshly killed: it has been stored somewhere and then dumped in the gravel pit. But who would do such a thing? Is it to interfere in the investigation? Certainly, questions are being asked in Parliament, and Pitt is under pressure to solve the case quickly. But when another, male, body is also discovered nearby, once again mutilated, Pitt is sure that someone is attempting to draw attention to Dudley Kynaston and his household. But who and why? Pitt must uncover a tangled web os duty, obligation and treason to uncover the truth, and least of all will it be easy. Meanwhile, on the home front, Charlotte must deal with not being involved with Pitt's investigations, and the hole that leaves in her life, and her sister Emily is discovering that her husband, Jack, may end up working with Kynaston, and worse, to her, may be losing interest, making her fear for her marriage and her happiness. Can they solve their personal problems without unhappiness? I always love the Pitt/Charlotte mysteries, but ever since Pitt rose to the position as the Head of Special Branch, with the ousting of Victor Narraway, Charlotte hasn't been as involved with his mysteries, remaining a stay at home mother to their children, and she is starting to feel a little left out, despite the fact that Pitt deals with threats to the nation and not simple (ha!) crimes like murder any longer. In a way, she is still helping him, just not as overtly, but she misses the excitement of helping him with his cases. Even so, she still does manage to help him here, and it was nice to see a sort of return to form for this book here. I didn't find the mystery, at least for some of the book, all that interesting, but things did heat up later. These books are sort of laid-back mysteries. in that the stories start slow, but slowly heat up over the course of the book until the end. It's not at a white-hot pitch all the way through. And that's not a bad thing. This was a very enjoyable book, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in historical mysteries. Recommended.

Kindred of Darkness by Barbara Hambly- It has been years since James Asher encountered the vampires living in London in "Those Who Hunt the Night", and since then, he and the vampires have each kept to their side of the agreement they made- Everyone leaves each other alone, and Asher will not hunt them down and kill them. But now, the last master vampire left in London, Lionel Grippen, kidnaps James and Lydia's daughter from their home, along with her nurse. He wants Lydia, who is an academic, to find a new vampire who has come to London and may be a threat to Grippen, Damian Zahorec, so that Grippen can kill him and deny London and Grippen's get to him, Lydia, is stunned by the kidnapping of her daughter, and will do anything to get her back. She wires James, who is in Italy, and also sends a message to another vampire, Don Simon Ysidro, asking for his help. But in the meantime,  she must deal with things herself without falling to pieces. In addition, she must help one of her nieces navigate polite society and make a good marriage for herself. But the presence of an American and his daughter, a very rich American who is seeking a title for his daughter and is willing to pay a very high dowry for the privilege, is interfering with her aunt's plans to marry her relative off. But then it seems that the Lord the American girl is seeking to marry has something to do with the vampire Grippen wants her to find, and she must find out where the vampire is, where he keeps his money and what his interest in the American girl is, for her father is also interested in vampires, wanting to find one to "take care of" some agitators and rioters in the mines he owns in America. But will he somehow get Lydia to reveal where the vampires are, and can James and Lydia get their daughter back safe and sound before Grippen loses patience with them and decides to hurt either the girl or her nurse to threaten them? And can either of them trust anything the vampires say after Grippen broke his word to them? I read "Those Who Hunt the Night" years ago, and I've read every book in the series since, loving each and every one of them. This book was no exception, and I really felt for Lydia, frantic with worry over her daughter's disappearance, knowing that she was kidnapped by a vampire who is ruthless, and who wanted something from her. We get to see how much has changed in London since Asher first hunted for the man who was killing vampires so many years ago, and now it seems that too many people are learning of vampires and wanting to use them. But vampires usually end up using humans who want to use them, and it's no less true in this case. There is also a book written by a vampire hunter, "The Book of the Kindred of Darkness", which puports to tell all about vampires, but how much of the text is true? James must track it down, in its many versions, looking for the truest one, to help him against the vampires that he meets in this book. And in the end, can he achieve some vengeance against Grippen, or will the Master Vampire outwit him and evade James' punishment for kidnapping his daughter? And what will happen if he does? And excellent, entertaining and gripping book. Recommended.

The Winter King by Alys Clare- John is King of England, and it seems that there is a plague of prophets breaking out who claim that the troubles that the land of England is under is entirely the fault of the King. Additionally, a woman named Lilas has visions of a Winter King, who England shall survive, and his heir, who England shall also survive, but who will finally see the rise of a true King who will let the people have a stake in their lives again. Since John's Barons are mostly in revolt against him, one of the Barons is rounding up these prophets to prove that John is unfit to rule, and the woman, Lilas, is taken to the Nunnery of Hawkenlye Abbey to recover from her fit- only she knows she is being pursued, and wants the Abbey to keep her safe. Caliste, the Abbess, promises to keep her safe, but when the Baron and his men come to Hawkenlye to parade their captive friar who is denouncing King John to the people, will they be able to make off with Lilas as well, or can Caliste and the nuns keep her safe? Meanwhile, Lord Benedict de Vitre dies in his own hall at a feast. But the question is, was it merely an overtaxed heart, weakened by too many years of carrying the fat and bulk of his body, or was it something else that killed him? Sabin, the wife of the Sherriff, is called upon, along with two local canons to look at the body and render a verdict as to what caused his death. She agrees with them that he was killed by a spasm of his heart, but in secret, she goes to Meggie, telling her that she had prepared a potion for Lord Benedict, and cannot be sure that it might not have killed him. Meggie goes with her to wash and dress the body, and discovers that Lord Benedict actually died from a stab wound, and thus, her potion had nothing to do with it. But as Meggie is called to Hawkenlye Abbey to help Lilias, the murder is discovered, and Sabin throws blame on Meggie when someone must shoulder the blame. Afterwards, Meggie, who has been waiting for Sabin to tell the truth, accosts her with this, Sabin will only say, "You are different", as if that absolves her of blame. But who murdered Lord Benedict, and why? And can Meggie and her family find the true culprit before Meggie is killed by the man's wife and retainers for the crime? And if that isn't enough, the bodies of two young men are discovered in the wood, brutally attacked. One made it to the hut in the woods, where Helewise finds and comforts him before he dies. Where were they going, and why were they so brutally attacked/ When a friend of theirs turns up looking for them, it seems that the crime might be solved.  But when he is also found killed, the urgency redoubles to find out who killed them and why- and what it may have to do with Wealdsend, where the three were headed? And what may it have to do with a visit by King John? This book is home to three different mystery stories, and each is skillfully interwoven to create a seamless whole, as each mystery eventually morphs into one, with the death of Lord Vitre, the mystery of what is going on at Wealdsend, and the people chasing Lilias, all turn out to be connected in some way- and all by the King. It was nice to see the characters once again, and we get to see how they are treated , and sometimes abused, by the people around them it isn't all happiness and sunshine, and we get to see who Meggie's suitor from another book is, finally. But she loves someone else now, and in the end, they part. I really enjoyed this book, even if it was a little slow to get going. Recommended.

The Adversary by Erin M. Evans- Farideh and and her sister Havilar are Tieflings, which means that they are the offspring of an evil outsider. Farideh is a pact mage, meaning she derives much of her power from a pact with an otherworldly creature, in this case, a devil named Lorcan. Not that she is the only one who has a pact with Lorcan, and he is beginning to discover that he cares more for Farideh than just as another one of his pacts. But she and her sister are wanted by an entire cadre of devils, for they are the spiritual and genetic heirs of one of the Toril Thirteen, the original thirteen Tieflings who made a pact with Asmodeus, a devil who became a God. But when Farideh believes that Lorcan has betrayed her, she makes a pact with his sister, Sairché, for protection and other considerations. One of the unintended consequences of the pact is that Farideh and Havilar disappear out of the Realmns for seven years, leaving their foster father, Mehen, and Havilar's lover, Brin, behind. In trade for this "favor", Farideh must travel to a camp run by a wizard named Adolican Rand, who has been gathering up people who are the chosen of various gods, which will be slaughtered and the "sparks', which are the godly essence contained within them, gathered for Asmodeus to become even more powerful. But Farideh has also become a Chosen of Asmodeus, and when her sister, foster father and Lorcan show up to try and save her, Farideh must decide to try and trust those who care for her while saving everyone she cares about, and the other inhabitants of the camps. Meanwhile, her sister Havilar has to deal with the missing time, and her feelings for Brin, their comrade who has never forgotten her, and the Harper Dahl, a former associate of the sisters who got taken to the camps along with Farideh by mistake, has to try and lead the inhabitants of the camps against Adolican Rand and his Shadevar followers. But can they all come together to find victory? To be honest, I was excited to read this book, but I had never read anything with Farideh and Havilar before, and after reading for a while, I found myself not really caring about the characters and uninterested in their struggles. So this book was rather a slog for me to read. I maybe started caring a little towards the end of the book, but I never really felt any kind of connection to the characters and I felt little satisfaction at the end of the book. I feel that this book is totally skippable in the Sundering Series- in fact, all of them are skippable if you don't like the characters involved. Not recommended.

Why Kings Confess by C.S. Harris- When Doctor Paul Gibson takes a walk around the city on a cold winter night, he discovers an injured woman and a slaughtered man in a horrible back alley known as Cat Alley. He rescues the woman and discovers that the man is not only dead, but his heart has been cut out and removed. The man is a fellow doctor, Damian Pelletan, and he's French. It seems that he is there as part of a French party that is there in England to discuss a possible peace treaty that could put an end to the hostilities between France and England. But it's hushed up, because neither side seems to be in favor of such. Then there are the remains of the French Royal Family, who fled to England after the French Revolution. But why would anyone want to kill someone who was merely the personal physician to one of the members of the delegation? Or it is possible that someone believes he was more than just a physician? Was the killer French or English? Was it the man who wanted the woman, who was also a physician, dead, or was it someone else entirely? And as Sebastian St. Cyr deals with the coming birth of his and his wife's first child, he must deal with his fears of losing her in childbirth, and the threats of her father, who will kill him if she dies from birthing his child. But can he discover who the true murderer is and find out why they wanted Damian Pelletan dead? I loved this book, which brings out so many interesting threads that run through the books. Paul Gibson's being addicted to laudanum, Sebastian's fear of losing Hero to childbirth, his father-in-law hating him… But I really enjoy how much Hero and Sebastian have come to love each other and count on each other- it's really wonderful to see and read. The mystery was also interesting, and I in no way expected the ending from where the book started. The book also expanded on the lives of the other characters, and I loved this book even more for it. Highly recommended.

Dirty Magic by Jane Wells- Kate Prospero is a cop who works the Dirty Magic beat, bringing down people marketing and selling potions that cause worse problems than those they are supposed to treat. But Kate hides a secret- she's the niece of one of the worst potion dealers, and she used to work with him "cooking" dirty potions. But when her mother died from a dirty potion, she left the business, and her boyfriend at the time to go legal and join the police. But being a street cop isn't what she aspires to be- she wants to work her way up the chain of command, however, her history is keeping her back. So when a new Drug known as Gray Wolf appears on the streets, that turns the user into a low-rent werewolf, Kate wants to be part of the Federal Drug probe that investigates the appearance of the Drug. But when her own brother is poisoned with the drug, Kate is going to have to link up with her former boyfriend, John Volos, now head of her Uncle's Potion operation, to identify the components of the potion and make an anti-potion to help cure him. But Volos isn't the only one with skin in the game, and someone wants Kate to fail and be implicated in the potion-making biz. Can she find out who is responsible for Gray Wolf being on the market and find a cure for it before her brother dies? Or will even trying come back to bite her in the butt? Can she come to terms with her previous life and deal with her past and the man she used to love, or will she end up falling for her fellow cop on the Federal task force? I loved this book, which was filled with excellent world-building. Potions are treated like both illegal drugs and the medications which seem to be endlessly advertised and pushed online, everything from Viagra to Anti-depressants. And there is even a specific comment made that the legal potions are just as dangerous as the illegal ones, but they are just subject to tighter controls when being made. For example, the "sexual confidence" illegal potion causes such sexual excitement that the men who use it end up with friction blisters on their penis from over masturbation. Sounds painful and is probably analogous to the "erections lasting too long" that Viagra can cause. Kate is a hot mess, barely keeping her personal life together, but her past is both amazing and a little shocking, and even the end of the book made me smile, even if it was bad for Kate personally. I can't wait to see where this series goes. Highly recommended.

Murder on Olympus by Robert B. Warren- Plato Jones is a private eye who doesn't want to work for the Gods of Olympus. But when a minor Goddess is killed, something that just shouldn't be possible, the Gods wear him down by threatening his ex-wife, which makes Plato reluctantly take up the case. But the case revolves around the Claw of Erebus, a weapon that can kill the Gods that no one seems to be willing to admit exists. And while Plato may be reluctant to take up the case, he's also unwilling to be put off once he has actually agreed to investigate. But when Hera is hoping for Plato to fail so that she can put someone she thinks to be more "suitable" put on the case, is she actually willing to kill him to see him fail? And who is responsible for stealing the Claw and putting it to use, and can Plato find out who is murdering Gods without falling victim to the same killer? I found this an interesting iteration of the mystery genre. The Greek Gods are real and hang out in Greece, where Olympus still exists. But do the people who live there still worship them as Gods, or are they just something like super-powerful celebrities and Business owners? The book never really says. Certainly, Plato Jones doesn't seem to worship them. And neither do any of the other characters. We never see people swearing on or by them and it just led to a strange feeling disconnect for me. They are called Gods, and they have magical powers, maybe…? But we never see them actually being worshipped as Gods (although it is possible that they are only worshipped elsewhere). We also never see if the Greek Gods are supposed to be worshipped universally, or if other Gods exist in other places. I'd be interested in seeing this/finding this out. So, while Plato Jones is a sort of film noir detective working with the Greek Gods, it's not a perfect fit for me. I'd still recommend this book, but I'd like to see more questions answered in other books in the series. Recommended.

Refusal by Felix Francis- Sid Halley is a former steeplechase Jockey who used to work investigating crimes in the Horse-racing . Now, he's settled down with his Dutch wife and their daughter, Saskia, while he works in finance. He gave up his detective work because his wife was afraid of him getting hurt. But when he's approached after all these years by Sir Richard Stewart, the head of the British Horseracing Authority, about someone possibly fixing races, he doesn't want to get involved, but he does at least agree to look at the evidence that Sir Richard has gathered. However, when Sir Richard ends up dead the next morning, Sid begins to wonder if there really is something to the race-fixing allegations, and he can't help but look into it. When he does, he attracts the attention of an Irish thug who is behind the scheme and won't stop until Sid is dead or stopped- and since people know that threatening Sid himself is useless, they go after his family and friends instead. Sid must team up with his old friend and co-worker Chico Barnes to clear his own name from charges of pedophilia and bring the real villain to light. But can he do so with his family and life intact? I only read this book because I used to read the Sid Halley books long ago (admittedly, there are only two of them that Dick Francis wrote) because I watched "The Racing Game" on "Mystery!". I loved the series, and I loved the books, which were really harsh towards Sid and Chico (at one point, they get whipped with chains, which nearly breaks both of them). And now, Sid might be able to get a new hand through a transplant, and he spends quite a bit of time pursuing this. But we are thoroughly in Sid's head, and this we identify with him very strongly. So when he gets threatened or hurt, it's like it's happening to us, the readers. It made me identify with him even more. I got easily drawn into the story, and even though this book is written by Dick Francis' son rather than Dick Francis himself, I didn't think that there was any big difference in style or talent between the two. I would like to see if Felix Francis can make a name for himself in writing his own fiction rather than just continuing his father's stuff. Recommended.

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen- Sage is an orphan being raised in an orphanage, but he also looks out for the other kids in the orphanage by stealing food for them so that they can have regular meals that don't consist solely of rich people's barely-still-good leftovers. But when he is sold to a nobleman by the woman in charge of the orphanage, he joins three other boys on a journey to where the nobleman lives. Along the way, they find out that the Royal Family has been killed, but the news is being covered up to prevent panic. But there was one Prince who disappeared on a trip to another country, and he wants to train one of the boys to pretend to be the missing Prince so that the nobleman can get control of the throne by "advising" his chosen Prince. And he shows how willing he is to discard anyone or anything by killing one of the boys when he opts out of the whole thing. Sage fights the hardest against "becoming"the nobleman's chosen Prince, but even he knows the ones who don't make the cut will be killed much like the other boy. He does promise them that he will save them if he is the one chosen, and he ends up making the cut- but one of the other boys will do anything to be the Prince, even killing Sage, and he has plans of his own. But Sage has a secret that can change the whole game- can he win the position of the Prince, or will he end up dying for the nobleman's plans? When I read the blurb for this book, I guessed the nature of Sage's secret before even reading one word of the book, and I turned out to be absolutely right. I think that most people who read the blurb are going to figure it out as well. But it's the details that set the book and the story apart, and it turns out to be very good after all. I liked the character of Sage, but the end we get to see his motivation and it's quite wonderful and unexpected. I highly recommend the book, and am looking forward to reading the sequel.

Tegami Bachi, Volume 16: Wuthering Heights by Hiroyuki Asada- Zazie became a letter Bee to find and destroy the Gaichuu that killed his parents. So when he hears that the Gaichuu has been seen in the Petrified Wood Road area, he heads off there to kill it. He's befriended by Emil Bronte, the Blind Proprietress of the Wuthering Heights Inn, who seems greatly taken with Zazie. But as he finds out, she is merely the servant of the actual owners, who seem to have disappeared. And she has allied herself with the Gaichuu, Laphroaig. Can Zazie take care of Laphroaig on his own, or will he need the aid of the Letter Bees who are his friends to put an end to the threat once and for all? And then we get to see how Zazie grew up and how his parents died. Why does Zazie want revenge of Laphroaig so badly, and why did he dedicate his life to getting it? This was an intriguing story, as Emil seems to have an affection for Zazie, and he seems to develop one for her, but the end of the story is a tragedy, for she was poisoning him all along, as she had latched on to Laphroaig as her only hope, and in the end, it kills her. Plus, we get to hear a prophecy of five young people who were born on the day of the Blink, as Lag was. Emil is another child born that day, and will her death mean the prophecy fails? We don't know, but I do want to find out. This is a bit more adventure-oriented than most stories in this manga, but feelings and love are the primary motivators, as always. This is definitely a good series, with lots of points of interest, even if Lag's tendency to weep buckets at the drop of a hat makes him both one of the most open and honest heros I've ever seen in a manga, and at the same time, makes me roll my eyes a little. Recommended.

Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough- Aral Kingslayer is a former Blade, one of a set of assassins who killed to perpetrate justice, and were blessed in their mission by the Goddess Namara, the Goddess of Justice and the Downtrodden. But the Goddess was slain by the other Gods, and her temple razed, the Blades who served her killed without mercy by the Elite, the God-sworn of the Emperor of Heaven. As far as Aral knows, he is the only Blade to have survived the fall of the Temple, and the only remnants he has to show for his past life is his shadow familliar,Triss, a shadow dragon that can hide itself in his own shadow, and which gives him various powers having to do with the shadows. But Aral is no longer an assassin, though he still works in the shadows, doing jobs that few others will do. So when he is approached by a woman named Maylien to deliver a message, he takes the job, but on hie way into the estate she sends him to, he sees a man named Devin, another Blade who apparently survived the end of Namara's temple. But Devin has turned into a mere assassin for hire, and he tries to get Aral to be one as well and join him in his new business, where he is summoning shadow-beasts like Triss and Devin's own shadow, Zass. But Aral cannot make himself be a mere unfeeling assassin, and he turns Devin down, barely escaping his old friend's attack. But it seems that someone suspects that the Blades aren't all dead, and is hunting Aral. At first, Aral thinks it is Devin, but when he's kidnapped and questioned under torture by men who want to know about Devin, he is forced to revise that belief. Soon after escaping his captors, during which he finds out something disturbing that he never knew about Triss, and by all shadow-familiars, he finds the building where he was held captive, and the area where it was located, has been set aflame. But as he looks to solve the mystery of where the Blades are now, and what is going on, he discovers that Maylien, a powerful mage in her own right, and a noble, is about to face off against her own sister, Sumey, who may be trying to take over the throne for herself. But as Devin is saved by Maylien, and decides to help her- while discovering his feelings for her, can he keep her safe and help her defeat her sister and her sister's ambitions? And can he keep his true identity safe from the authorities as he does so? I really enjoyed this book. I loved the whole idea of assassins for justice, and it was hard for me not to get caught up in Aral's story. We find out how he gained his name, and the things he must do now to keep himself and Triss safe. Along the way, he discovers things about Triss, and himself, that help him define who he is now that his Goddess is dead. This was a fascinating and engaging read that kept me deep inside the story and wanting to know more, right up until the end. It's not an especially long book, but it was really wonderful, with tons of worldbuilding that actually made me believe that assassins could work for a Goddess of Justice. Highly recommended, and I can't wait to read more, since this is the first in a new series.

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