When the Rogue Returns by Sabrina Jeffries- Isabelle Cale is a jeweler that excels at making paste versions of jewels, but when her sister and brother-in-law try to get her to switch the paste version of the Dutch Crown Jewels she made switched with the real ones, she tries to refuse, and they tell her that they will involve her husband, Victor Cale, a steadfast soldier who works at the same shop where the jewels are being cleaned. Isa agrees, but then delays and on the last day, pretends to be sick. When she awakens, her sister tells her that her husband helped them, then took the earrings and was going to pawn them himself, and that they will meet in Paris. Isabelle goes to Paris, discovers she is pregnant, and when Victor doesn't show, joins a Edinbugh jeweler who is leaving Paris, thinking that Victor abandoned her for the money. But Victor has been looking for his wife, who he believes left him because he didn't make enough money. But he's discovered that he is related to a Lord, Maximillian Cale, who has begun Manton's, a detective agency in London. Victor comes to work for his cousin, and goes north to investigate a woman, Sophia Franke, who a certain nobleman has taken an unhealthy interest in. But Sophia Franke is really Isabella, and both she and Victor have been lied to by Isa's family. Can they unravel the lies and work together when the rest of her family endanger her new life in Edinburgh? And will Victor be able to forgive her for not telling him about their daughter? This was a really interesting book. Both Isabella and her mentor are based on real people, and superior paste gems, known as Strass, after their inventor, really existed. I loved the details of the story and I really learned something about paste gems, on top of this being a top-notch romance on top of it. Highly recommended.
River of Dreams by Lynn Kurland- Aisling of Bruadair is frantic to find a mercenary to free her country, the quest she was given, before the curse laid with the quest can kill her. But even though she thinks she has no magical ability, she has shown the power to spin not only thread, but the elements of earth, air, fire and water, and even the ability to spin dreams. But as she and her companion, Runach of Ceangail, travel about, he discovers where she really comes from, and also who she is... and perhaps what as well. But can he be the hero she and her county need, and can she give him back the magic he lost long ago when it was stolen by his father? And why does Aisling have these strange powers that may or may not be magic? And just who was it that sent her on this quest, anyhow? I loved this book, which unleashed the story of Aisling and Bruadair itself in a slow, subtle way that I am growing to love. There's almost too much talking in this book over doing, but I really enjoyed the way Lynn Kurland spins the tales of both Aisling and Runach, letting it unfold a bit at a time. This was a really effective way to open up the story, and I loved it. Highly recommended.
The Hour of Dust and Ashes by Kelly Gay- Detective Charlie Madigan used to be fully human, but is no longer, crossed with two races from other dimensions, she still struggles to raise her daughter eight, while having the spirit of a jinn hanging out in her husband's body, raising an actual hellhound, and trying not to deal with the feelings she may be developing for her partner, Hank, which go far beyond his powers as as siren, and trying to heal her sister, addicted to the drug Ash. Charlie finds out early on that she can appeal to the sylphs for help- elemental fae who can inject her with some of each element, which will allow her to "see" what can be done to heal her sister- especially now that those addicted to Ash have been committing suicide- possibly from the addiction or by being taken over by the otherworldly entities that made Ash in the first place. Not only is it completely addictive, but it makes it easier for them to be controlled. If you try to quit cold turkey, it kills you dead. But as Charlie discovers that something is going down in the supernatural underworld, she'll learn far more about Hank than she ever wanted to know, and have to embark on a trip to Charybdon, a literal hell, to look for answers. But the outcome of her risking her own life may mean literal death for her four times over, and can she hang on to the power of seeing long enough to truly help her sister? And can she keep Hank's people from snatching him back for crimes he supposedly committed against them? Well, this wasn't the first book in the series, and this was the first my library had for it. I enjoyed the story very much, but I was sort of clueless as to what was going on and who the players were. But the story explained most of that, and I really enjoyed reading it. Despite not much experience with the characters, I really connected with them and felt for them, which is great for not coming in at the beginning. This was a really good book, and I want to read the other books in the series. Highly recommended.
Archangel of Mercy By Christians Ashcroft- Aurora Robinson may look like a normal woman, but she is actually the daughter of a woman from another dimension who crossed over to our reality to meet the man who she'd been in mental contact with from the time she had been very young. But once she crossed over, she couldn't cross back, and her mind has slowly crumbled, until it seems that she can only remember her life on Earth. Aurora is determined to help her mother, and has researched psychic phenomena until she is certain she can use her power of Astral Projection to cross the barriers and end up in her mother's dimension and prove to her that her childhood was real. But when she tries, at the exact point where her mother crossed over to meet her father many years ago, she ends up going nowhere, and waking up with a man sprawled on top of her. This man is actually an angel, the Archangel Gabriel. But he's far from the Christian icon she thinks he is. Handsome, golden and exuding a powerful sexuality, Aurora wants him, sexually, and Gabe wants her as well. But her talking to him, and questioning him make him very angry, and he's even more angered that she seems to be immune to his angelic powers to compel her to do his bidding. But when the Guardians, the beings who control the boundaries between the dimensions, show up to abduct Aurora for transgressing their rules, Gabe spirits her off to his refuge- where he has never taken anyone before. He's not sure why he has done it, and he seems to regret it almost immediately. But the longer she spends with him, the more he wants to touch her- and the more she finds herself falling for the prickly immortal. But will he tire of her after one night with her, or can they have a relationship that will last far longer- and will Gabe's fellow angels allow them to be together, after what happened the last time that a woman that Gabe loved died? I had a hard time liking Gabe in this story. He starts off as a complete tool, and ends upgetting better, but he just acts like an asshole throughout a lot of the story to Aurora (and just about everyone else he meets as well. And yes, he does lighten up and mellow out, but let's just say that I was unsure as to why he mellowed out- even at the end of the story. In short, I was *not rooting for the hero and heroine to end up together, and that makes me not recommend this particular book. Not recommended.
Black and Blue by Gena Showalter- Corbin Blue is an alien with silver hair and violet eyes. He lives the life of a sports star, lionized by many, and has a constant stream of lovers even though he is engaged. But that's just Blue's cover. In reality, he's an agent working for Michael Black, and his constant stream of lovers are the women he has sex with to get information from them through "pillow talk". He's never had a problem with his life, as he views Michael as almost a father to him. But when he meets Michael's actual daughter, Evangeline Black, he can't help but be attracted to her on a deep, visceral level. Evie is a surgeon who also wants to be an agent, and when she concludes the case they are there for all on her own, it dents Blue's pride. Four years later, Blue has driven Evie out of the Agency with his constant criticism of her methods, and she has become a celebrated Doctor. But when her father's home and office is burned down, she will do anything to track down those responsible- even work with Blue again, who had been caught in the explosion that preceded the fire and then burned alive by those responsible. But this time, the attraction between them on both sides is undeniable, and they are having a hard time keeping their hands off each other, no matter how much they seem to despise each other. But Blue is coming to realize that Evie is someone he could love- and he feels greater distaste for his job seducing information out of women the more he comes to feel for Evie. Can they find out who is behind the fire-bombing and find her father as they grow more and more attracted to each other. Or will Evie's father put the kibosh on their relationship? I was attracted to this book by the cover, and I ended up loving the story. Gena Showalter is a really excellent writer, and both hero and heroine were attractive in their own ways while still having issues they had to work on. This story sucked me in totally, and I would definitely give it two thumbs up. Recommended.
An Undeniable Rogue by Annette Blair- Sabrina Whitcomb's fiance dies in the army, and his best friend, Gideon St. Goddard, now Duke of Stanhope is asked by his friend to take her in and marry her to keep Sabrina safe. Gideon finds she has taken his home and turned it into a shelter for the less fortunate- and she believes that the Duke of Stanhope is a wealthy older gentleman who she will marry for his money and protection, which she sorely needs. Gideon is brought up short by her attitude, but finds her delectable enough to marry her- even if she is nine months pregnant. But Sabrina has her share of secrets she is keeping, and isn't ready to trust Gideon with either her body or heart. She hasn't told him about her two sons, nor the reason as to why she is so gun-shy towards affection and men. And he has his work cut out for him if he is to assuage her fears and make her his true bride in reality. Can he do so? This was a Zebra book, which I used to love back in the day. But while the story was cute, it didn't really grab me. It seemed s much more "paint-by-numbers" effort and there was no sizzle between the leads. Affection and longing, perhaps, but the book never quite ignited for me. So this rated only a "meh". Nothing objectionable, but nothing really great, either.
Skin Game by Jim Butcher- Harry Dresden is now the Knight of Winter, but his head is also host to an entity that will likely kill him if and when it emerges. Harry has been hiding out on Demonreach, this isle in the Lake which he is master of, to try and deal with what is inside him, but he has made no headway. Then, he gets a visit from Mab who tells him that he is running out of time. Unless he does something, he will die from the entity in three days. But Mab has also prevenred Harry from contacting his friends and allies and getting help because she has a job she wants him to do. But that job, working with Micodemus Archeleone, may be more than Harry can stomach. Nicodemus is a Denarian- a member of the order of the Blackened Denarius, who are possessed by demons inhabiting the silver coins paid to Judas to betray Jesus. It seems that Nicodemus is planning a heist, and he's called in Mab for help in repayment of a debt that she incurred with him. Now Harry must help Nicodemus break into not only the vault owned by John Marcone, Baron of Chicago named in the Otherworld Accords, but help him to get into the Otherworld and burgle an even more well-protected vault to find something Nicodemus wants very much. Harry calls his friend Karrin Murphy as backup, but Mab isn't letting Harry in on all her secrets- and she hasn't been exactly telling him the whole truth, either. But can Harry carry out what Mab wants him to do while dealing with the supernatural forces that Nicodemus has gathered for this job, and can he survive the process of weeding out when Nicodemus decides that he doesn't need Harry any more? And can Harry survive the thing in his head which is slowly killing him? Wow, this was a great book- once I picked it up, I didn't want to put it down for anything. Harry finds out that he may be Winter's Knight, but Mab isn't telling him everything, and what is really in his head was a little funny and a little frightening at the same time. At the same time, we got to see lots of Harry's allies, and old friends like his cat, Mister, and his dog, Mouse, now protecting Harry and Susan's daughter. I loved the story of this book, and the tone, and we get to see many of the allies that Harry has made through the years, and how they change and grow. This is really a book you shouldn't miss reading. Highly recommended and equally satisfying.
Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn- Rafe Adova is a gambler in the country of Welce. When a scared young woman comes into the bar where he works, he protects her from the low-lifes who try to harm her and helps her send a message to her sister. Corene, the girl, turns out to be one of the Princesses of Welce, thought to be daughters of the late King, but actually sired by noblemen who wanted to help the near-barren King assure the succession. After he died, it was discovered that only the youngest Princess was actually the daughter of the King. While the Princesses are no longer officially in the succession, they are still useful diplomatically. But Corene's sister, Josetta, who comes to rescue her, has almost completely given up on royal life, instead working in the slums to give the poor people there a better life. Rafe is interested in Josetta, and she, too, is attracted to him, but at first she helps him invest the money he receives from the Regent for rescuing Corene with the Elay Prime, who is making Elaymotives, a car-like device run on an internal combustion engine. But when Rafe discovers that the Prime is also making heavier than air flyers, his attention is caught, and he ends up giving up his life as a gambler to become a test pilot. But things are not all right, because someone wants Rafe dead, and has attacked him at least twice. He doesn't seem to be native to Welce, and unlike others, every time he tries pulling up Elemental blessings for him, they come up as "Ghost coins", too worn to be read. And when Josetta tries, she gets the three extraordinary blessings, synthesis, triumph and time, none of them linked to any of the five elements. And then there are the markings cut into his ear when he was just a small child. What is Rafe's background, and what could this mean for his slowly-growing feelings for Josetta? Do an ex-Royal and a man with a mysterious background have any chance to find love, or even live unmolested? This book is the second in a series, but the first I've read. Welce is a land where everyone is born with various blessings from the five elements, which are based on the oriental system: Fire, Air, Water, Earth and Wood. Rafe doesn't let his lack of blessings bother him, until his lack of such and the way the various Primes react to him and his presence make it clear that he is something and someone special. The resolution of just exactly who and what Rafe is takes up the later part of his novel, but through it all, he remains the same sort of person he always was: wanting a more or less normal life and not wanting to be anything other than what he is and does. I really enjoyed the book. I found both the mystery of who Rafe is/was interesting and the love story between Rafe and Josetta is very nicely done- gentle and restrained. Even though this book was the second in a series, enough background on Welce and the Royal Family and the blessings is given that I never felt I couldn't follow the story. This book was very reminiscent of all the other books by Sharon Shinn, and I mean that in a good way. Highly recommended.
Kissing with Fangs by Ashlyn Chase- Anthony is a vampire who used to own a bar where supernatural creatures could meet, but it burned down. Claudia was the manager who used to run the bar for him. Since the bar burnt down, he hasn't seen her- even though he has always been interested in her. He soon discovers that Claudia was hiding a horrible secret from him- she was an alcoholic, and with the bar gone, she's gone on a pretty significant bender. Anthony shows up at her place and helps her, but he has to be careful around her since his fledgling and ex, Ruxandra, is wildly jealous when he even so much as glances at another woman. But Anthony can no longer bring himself to care. He has deep feelings for Claudia, and while she starts going through the twelve steps to free herself of her addiction, he sets about keeping her safe from Ruxandra. But the information that a group of researchers is going around kidnapping and imprisoning supernaturals is forcing Anthony and his friends to work together to find them and shut them down. And Gaia, Mother Nature herself, is angry about Anthony's plans to reinvent the bar as a tea shop and continue the policy of making it neutral ground. But with all this going on, can Anthony and Claudia find the time to somehow be together- and can he keep them safe from Ruxandra? I liked this book, because it was about a heroine who was trying to overcome an addiction, and a hero who is trying to convince a woman not to be addicted to him. As they face off against adversity and those who want to keep them apart, they must also deal with the issues that afflict them. But in a way, it rings a little hollow. We never see Claudia really craving the liquor and the forgetfulness it brings once she realizes that she still has a job with Anthony, and it's more that Ruxandra changes a bit to let herslef be sttracted to someone knew. In the end, the book was very enjoyable, but at the same time, Claudia'scomeback from alcoholism seemed a bit too easy- she gets more grief from her sponsor about staying with Anthony (because you aren't supposed to get into a serious relationship for a yeat once you start AA) than she does from her supposed drinking problem. In short, it was ice that something as real and serious as an alchol problem was used to jumpstart the story, but it just didn't feel like a realistic portrayal of such a problem. Recommended, but not highly.
Simply Love by Mary Balogh- Anne Jewell is a teacher at Miss Martin's school for girls, where she works with her young son. It is because of her son that she must work in teaching, as once, she was a companion to a young woman whose wits were not all there who was being "bothered" by the attentions of her brother. When Anne attempted to put herself in the way of his lecherousness, it succeeded, at a very high cost to her. She lost her position and wound up pregnant. But her son's father is related to the Bedwyn family, and this summer, they have invited Anne and her son to their home in Wales to join them. Sydnam Butler is the Steward of the Bedwyn home, and is badly scarred and missing an arm after being tortured during the War. A former artist who is troubled by the loss of his painting hand, he has thrown himself into his new role to try and forget. But when he encounters Anne, it starts badly- she sees the horribly scarred side of his face and runs off, only to return a few minutes later, ashamed of herself. But by then, he is gone. When they finally meet again at dinner the next night, they begin to talk, she to apologizr. And in each other, they find a kindred spirit, bloody but unbowed. And as their growing relationship comes up against the end of the summer, they share a physical encounter... but can true love grow between them? And will they ever see each other again if their encounter doesn't result in pregnancy for Anne? I liked this story. Love doesn't come into it until later, and at the beginning, there is merely friendship on both sides. The story has a slow start, but the ending made me wish the best for both of them and their new family Definitely one I'd recommend for someone wanting a book about friends becoming lovers. Recommended.
Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn- Zoe Ardelay is left at a loss after the death of her father. She and the other villagers in the small village bury his body and get the house cleaned, but before Zoe can recover from her deep grief or even make plans to move on, a vehicle of a kind that nobody has seen before enters the village, and the man in command of it tells everybody that he has come for her, to take her to be a new bride for the King. But the King already has four wives, and the man, Darien Serlast, says that she is needed to bring balance. As they travel from Zoe's small village to the capital, Zoe finds herself despising the man, and when the chance comes, she runs away into the city and ends up taking refuge on the river flats, sleeping with others who have nowhere else to go or simply prefer a free and unfettered life. As she slowly recovers from her deep grief, she discovers who she is and what she wants to be, and also discovers a new power within herself- she is the Coru Prime, with immense powers over Water and Blood. She returns to the home of her grandmother in the mountains, and once again, Darien Serlast comes in search of her, to take her back to the Capital and advise, not marry, the King. But it is obvious that someone is not happy with her being found at last, and there are attacks againstZoe and her servants, and also against some of the Princesses of the land. And when Zoe finds out a secret those close to the King are keeping, she has to decide how she will use the information, and what her true feelings towards Darien Serlast truly are. Remember how I said that "Simply Love" started slow? Well, so does this book, which isn't even really a romance, but more about how Zoe finds out about herself and what she wants. It's not until the end when she realizes that she feels something for Darien, and is willing to entertain living with him. So much goes on during the story, and it's strictly a fantasy, more than a romance, as romance barely comes into it, until almost the end. But as a fantasy, it involves elementa of mystery and intrigue- and we get to see some more of Welce's neighbors, and why Josetta wasn't interested in marrying anyone from Soeche-Tass. This was an excellent book, but it can't really be called a romance, though there was some romance at the end. Still, highly recommended.
Blood Red by Mercedes Lackey- When Rosamund Ackermann is saved from the attack of a werewolf in the home of her Earth Master teacher, she leaves her family behind to be raised by the Hunt Master of Schwarzwald. Now an Earth Master herself, she lacks the healing aspect of Earth and is instead a paramount hunter of Werewolves and other evil creatures. So much so that she has been asked to hunt a creature who is attacking the people in the forests of Transylvania. She and her companion, Hans, travel there and discover that there is not one, but two creatures: a werwolf, and a strigoi vampire and his harem of women, who are preying on the local villagers. Rosa calls on the Elemental creatures of the forest to help her, and brings down the Werewolf, only to find it wearing a strange cooper amulet of St. Helmut, which many of the villagers pray to- but they wear ones of silver or gold, as copper is an insult to the saint. Hans, seeing the state of the local Bruderschaft, the hunt society that he and Rosa belong to and who keep humans safe from the monsters who might prey on them, decides to stay in Transylvania and take over as Hunt Master. Rosa agrees with his choice, and returns homeward on the train, stopping to help a Water Mage who is being hunted by an Air Master gone to evil on the way. But when she reaches Munich, she is hailed by a man who serves the local Hunt Master, who happens to be a Fire Master, and he asks her if she would let him teach her to be an even more effective hunter and Agent. She is happy with this, especially after she talks with her own Foster-Father, the Hunt Master of Schwarzwald, and he proceeds to teach her not only other hunting techniques, but how to better hide herself as a high-class lady. He also throws a party to which he invites the other Hunt Masters all around so that they can meet Rosa, and here she must deal with the aftermath of killing the Air Master, being attacked once again, which she handles admirably. But during the party, the Hunt Master is approached by two cousins, one of which is a rare kind of Werewolf, the kind that runs in families and is just as devoted to killing the inimical ones as Rosamund and the Bruderschaft ate, to tell of a local mystery in the mountains of Romania. And when Rosa, Markos, the good were and his cousin Dominic travel to the country to deal with the disappearances, can the three of them take on the threat without help? Or will this particular case be too much for them? This book is based on the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood', but the first part of the story is over quickly- it's after this that we see Rosa as a Hunter, and a very successful one, at that, severely underestimated because she is also a girl, but having the chops to be a very effective hunter indeed. I loved this book, as we see Rosa as someone to be both respected and feared. The adventure was wonderful, and I loved the fact that this one was *not* a romance, but a simple straightforward adventure story. Highly recommended.
Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa, M.D.- Oscar was just an ordinary cat, taken in by Steere House, a facility serving Alzheimers and dementia patients. But soon, those who worked there began to notice that when a patient was about to die, Oscar would go and spend time with them, parking himself on their bed and not leaving until they were at peace and the funeral director came to retrieve the body. David Dosa, a doctor who worked at Steere House, was skeptical of Oscar's supposed "ability", and investigated Oscar with the families of the patients whose last hours Oscar held watch over, and he slowly came to believe in Oscar himself, and, strangely, he found himself awed and humbled by Oscar's Gift to be there and give comfort. I loved this book. We see Oscar on the cover, and he's pretty damn adorable. But the story is a heartwarming and uplifting on. Even if you don't believe in an afterlife or souls or even a God/Gods, this book is sure to fascinate. The story of Oscar is wonderful and engaging. Recommended.
Sumptuous Dining in Gaslight San Francisco: Lost Recipes, Culinary Secrets, Flamboyant People, and Fabled Saloons and Restaurants from a Golden Era by Frances de Talavera Berger and John Parke Custis- The Great San Francisco Earthquake did more than destroy most of Old San Francisco, it also wiped out much of its history, from hotels and houses to fabled eateries, restaurants and bars. This book attempts to show the nature of those places and the people and chefs (not to mention the recipes) that made them famous. This book collects reminisces of the places, and people who made dining in San Francisco what it was, and passes along surviving recipes from not only restaurants and eating houses large and small, but also recipes from various famous hostesses and the Spanish community that made the area their home. While modern readers may not find some of the recipes too appealing (too many spices in abundance), or slightly more complicated than needed for home use, some of the recipes sound downright delicious and can still be easily made todayA fascinating look at a bygone era. Recommended, if you are interested in food, history, or the histoey of food in a specific time and place..
Thief's Magic by Trudi Canavam- Tyen is a student at a magical college , when, on expedition in Mailand, he uncovers a magical book named Vella. Vella used to be a woman over 2000 years ago, but a Sorceror named Roporion turned her into a magical book using the same techniques Vella used to make magical books of her own. Tyen is torn between wanting to free Vella and wanting to learn from her, and so he doesn't give her up to his professor or the college. Instead, he continues to read and discuss things with her while learning about making books. But when he is betrayed by a fellow student, he learns that the college wants to put Vella away into its vaults, never to be used or touched again- essentially a living death for her. But when Tyen's professorsteals Vella from the college's vault, Tyen realizes that he will do anything to rescue this woman/book, including attack his professor, steal Vella back from the professor and go on the run to faraway places. But how far will he go to keep Vella safe and in his possession? In another world, Rielle lives in a world with magic, but actually using it is considered stealing from the Angels whose =province magic is. Those who use this stolen "magic" are known as the tainted, and those who teach others to use magic are called "Corrupters". When Rielle is kidnapped by a tainted one day, she tricks him into exposing himself to the priests, and they allow an artist, Izare, to escort her home. From this meeting, she becomes Izare's student, and then his lover, which her family does *not* agree with. But when she finds that she might be able to find the corrupter and reveal her for all to see, she tries to do so, along with deal with a Priest who has a lecherous interest in her. But along with being able to see shade, she might also be able to use magic as well, and finding the corrupter may lead to her being tainted and thus anathema in the eyes of the priests and society. But even if her life is completely destroyed, will she be able to rebuild herself and continue to live? I really enjoyed this book. The stories aren't really connected, though both are about magic, and stolen magic. The title could refer to so many things- Vella herself, powered by life stolen from a magic craftsman by a long ago mage, Tyen himself, who steals Vella to try and aid her and keep her out of the hands of his professor and the college, the second of which would condemn her to a kind of death, and Rielle, who uses magic which her culture feels is stolen from the angels. But while each thread is interesting in and of itself, the two stories don't really have anything to do with each other, even at the end, unless you are saying that the two characters are alike in that the lives they know crumble away at having to deal with magic, or at least, stolen magic. I was thinking that at some point, Rielle and Tyen would meet, but that doesn't happen in this volume, and that left me a bit disappointed at the end. On the other hand, each story is engaging and would have made a wonderful stand-alone book. I do want to read more, and I am looking forward to doing just that. Recommended.
A Shiver of Light by Laurell K. Hamilton- Meredith Gentry, or to give her real name among the fae, Meredith NicEssus, is heavily pregnant by her many lovers, and her aunt, Andais, is putting pressure on the Fae who have left the Unseelie court to return to her by decreeing that only the Fathers of Meredith's babies can stay with her after the children are born. But Meredith must deal with the fact that there are three babies, not two, and also with how her aunt will deal with the children after they are born. Remembering her own childhood, Meredith isn't quite sure she wants the children to know their "Aunt Andais". Plus, her uncle, Taranis, King of the Seelie court, raped her and is convinced that he is the father of her children, despite the fact that she was already pregant when he assaulted her. With the birth of her children, she knows that one is the child of both Frost and Doyle, while another is either sired by Royal, the Demi-Fae, or Sholto, King of the Sluagh. A third has Mistral's blood in her, and can enthrall even as a mere babe in arms. But when Taranis starts invading her dreams, as it is in his power to do, she must decide what to do about him- hold him off with lawyers and courts, or do as her own bodyguards want her to do and have him killed. She also must wait for her body to heal from the birth to sleep with the fathers of her children, along with dealing with the fact that Andais, Queen of Air and Darkness, wants to spend time with the children, the few to be born since the Goddess afflicted the Fae. The fact that both sides of the Sidhe have problems swearing themselves by blood to Merry, because she is mortal and her blood turns Fae mortal as well is another concern. But can Merry bring herself to kill her Uncle Taranis, especially when he keeps invading her dreams and trying to mentally rape her to accept his version of the events when he raped her, or will she end up a mind-blasted puppet, eager to rule at his side, and when one of her lovers is killed by those who have sought her protection, can Merry hold back his followers to ensure that true justice is done? I liked this book a lot. I loved the interactions between Merry's lovers/the fathers of her children, and the babies themselves. It was nice to see it not all thrown on Merry herself, and I loved how much the fathers loved their babies. I also liked how Merry dealt with Taranis, the horrible attack on one of her lovers, and how she dealt with the person who was behind the attack. This was a very full book, and made me remember how much I love Merry and her men and why. Seeing Andais finally coming down off her "Batshit Crazy" horse was also good. She's still threatening, but not an unreasoning force of nature.. In short, this book was full of win for me, and I really loved every minute of reading it. I only wish it could have taken a little longer, so I could have savored it more. Highly recommended.
Spirit Animals: Book 1- Wild Born by Brandon Mull-In the world of Erdas, some people share a bond with animals- not everyone, but some people do. And since the bond between a human and a animal can be sanity-breaking and deadly without the right decoction to ease the way, the trials of bonding are overseen by the Greencloaks- an organizaton composed ot humans and their bonded animals. Normally, the ceremony is more or less the same- candidates drink the potion, and their bonded animal will show up. but in the case of Conor, a young shepherd, Meilin, the war-trained daughter of a famous general, Abeke, a hunter from the far south, and Rollan, an orphan and sneak-thief who lives on his own without a family, something special happens- not only do they bond with animals, but they bond with very special animals. Their animals are special, the four, each progenitor of a great nation, and in the past, they stood up to two of their own out of the twelve great animals that exist. Briggan the wolf bonds with Conor, Uraza the Leopard with Abeke, Jhi the Panda with Meilin, and Essix the Falcon bonds with Rollan. This marks them out as special, and it turns out that separatists from the Greencloaks are experimenting on animals bound to humans. But for what end? And someone is trying to bring the two great animals who betrayed the others back into the world from where they are imprisoned. But why? And does it have anything to do with Zerif, the same man who leads the separatists? This book reminded me of some of the other children's books I've read, or at least ones that were sold as being Kid's Books like Phillip Pullman's "The Golden Compass" was. They even have a website where kids can pick their own "Spirit Animals". But while it's geared to kids, it also has a respectable storyline. Zerif, the antagonist, tries to recruit two of the partners of the Spirit animals to his side. He succeeds with one, only because the Greencloak who administers her drink is a compatriot of his, while the second person doesn't trust anyone. This was a solid book that gave me quite a bit of enjoyment. It's a fast read, but lays down a good foundation for further books. Recommended.
Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold- Artemis was a fabled pleasure planet stocked with friendly natives, animals for hunting and fishing, and plenty of things for bored, jaded alien overlords to do and enjoy. But when the Galactic Empire fell, Artemis was abandoned and forgotten, but not destroyed. Now, centuries later, archaeologist Griffin Dane comes to Artemis, trying to find the lost pleasure planet. But when his ship is disabled by a long-ago nanoweapon, he finds himself rescued by the Huntress, Adar, and her companion, a puma named Sand Shaow with whom she shares a mental link. Alara knows of the people who once came to Artemis, the seegnurs, and thinks Griffin is one of them, a fact which Grifin disputes. After getting down off the mountain that Griffin landed on, she brings him to her own teacher, Bruin, who is companions with a bear, but Bruin decides that Griffin needs help and information possessed only by his own teacher, "The Old One who is Young", a man who is functionally immortal. But as both Bruin and Alara and Terrel, a factotum who is romantically interested in Alara, travel in search of Bruin's new student, they discover that "The Old One Who is Young" has been doing some very shifty things, trying to breed children who have much more powers than just linking with animals. He's also fascinated with the seegnurs, which gives them an "in" for discovering what he is doing, and the base where he is doing his secret breeding experiements. But will Griffin allow himself to be used this way, and if The Old One discovers his role as a stalking horse, what will he do to Griffin? I have always liked reading Jane Lindskold's books, and this one is the first in a new series. Here, it's the more technologically advanced character who is the outsider, and the society of Artemis isn't as bucolic and serene as it appears. I also liked the villain in this book, as he appears to be nothing more than an affable man, but scrape off that surface, and he's utterly vile. He views humans as mere animals to be bred as he wills, the way a husbandman breeds his cattle, pigs and a breeder breeds their dogs. And part of that might be due to the "Functionally immortal" part, This book sets up a lot of world-building, and also something of a love triangle between Alara, Griffin and Terrell, and I honestly can't wait to read more of this series and about Artemis itself. Also, will Griffin ever be rescued from Artemis and returned to his family in the stars far away? This questions stay with me and keep me wanting to read more. Highly recommended.
The Sea Without a Shore by David Drake- David Leary is in his home estate at Bantry, enjoying his time with his fiancée and among the relatively uncomplicated people of his estate, when he is approached by Master Sand, the husband of Cinnabar's Spymistress, with help about Mistress Sand's son, who has recently returned to Cinnabar and needs help recovering a treasure that is supposed to be on the planet Corcyra. He wants the treasure for a religious sect he has joined on Corcyra, which needs to buy weapons so that they can fight for their freedom. Mister Sand wants to keep Cleveland safe and thereby ease the mind of his wife. So he asks if Daniel would be willing to provide transport to Corcyra for his stepson. Daniel is willing, and as the same time, Adele Mundy has alo heard of the situation and is willing to go with Daniel on Cleveland's behalf. But first, Daniel must rescue Cleveland from a shifty spacer who has already agreed to transport Cleveland for a share of the treasure. But after the refit of a merchant ship, all of Daniel and Adele's shipmates are coming out of the woodwork, looking to ship with Captain Leary, even if isn't as part of the Navy, but as a merchant job. Once actually on Corcyra, it turns out that there is a lot of factional fighting among those trying to throw the remains of the Pantellaran military off their planet. But since the leaders of most of the factions have been taken prisoner by pirates, Daniel must ransom them back, and then he must end the civil war. But if he does so, will Cleveland still need to go in search of the treasure, and will the shifty spacer captain who Daniel took out back on Cinnabar leave the treasure alone, and just what is this mysterious "treasure" anyway? This was another great book from David Drake. I love the two main characters, and many of the back-up characters as well, like Tovera, Adele Mundy's "Secretary"/Bodyguard, Woetjans and many others who make or made up the crew of the Princess Cecile, Daniel Leary's ship. This book was relatively slender in size, but managed to pack a highly entertaining story within. And even though Adele Mundy is something of a cold fish (almost frozen, one might say), but even she finds family through Daniel and their fellow spacers. I liked all the characters, and the story was wonderful, and I recommend this book highly.
The Emissary by Ed Greenwood- It has been almost one hundred years since Cyric assassinated Mystra and caused the event called the Spellplague. The land is still wracked by problems, and magic no longer works the same. Shar, and the returned floating city of Netheril mages who had withdrawn to the plane of Shadow have dominated much of the land, drawing on Shar, not Mystra, for their magic. Chosen of many different gods have proliferated, but now all are being killed by agents of Shar herself, looking totake over the Weave of Magic and turning Faerun into an endless life of suffering and pain, which will feed her power. One of Mystra's chosen still left alive is Elminster, and he and his companions, his daughter Amaerune and foster daughter Storm Silverhand, have been roaming Faerun, shoring up weak points in the Weave, looking to keep it existent and out of the hands of Shar and her worshippers. But Shar, emboldened by her wanton slaughter of Chosen, and with her worshippers and followers swollen with the magic they have stolen, strike out at the largest source of magic left on Faerun- Myth Drannor. And while Elminster goes to Candlekeep to see whatever secrets of dealing with the Weave Khelben might have left behind, hidden among the books and libraries of Candlekeep, agents of Shar and other interested parties have already infiltrated the fortress-library and are both planning its destruction and trying to keep it alive. Meanwhile, the first Chosen of Mystra, the Lich Larloch, is poking his own bony fingers to into the mess- but is it to help the servants of Mystra, or to destroy him? And another old foe of Elminster, the mage turned Vampire, Manshoon, is out to do his own meddling- but Mirt the Moneylender, one of the Lords of Waterdeep, must help root our corruption in Cormyr without making the situation worse, and help capture Manshoon. But when the dust finally settles, who will prevail, Shar and her followers, or Elminster and the Chosen of Mystra. And can they actually save the Weave without bringing back the Goddess of Magic, Mystra, who *is* the weave? Wow. This was the final book in the "Sundering" series, which detail the remaking of Faerun before all the Meddling that Wizards of the Coast did with the world. This is in preparation for D&D Next (aka 5th edition), which is supposed to bring back many of the things that fans and players loved about the Realms while jettisoning the stuff they didn't. So Abeir and Toril are completely separated, Magic will work like it hs before, and all the characters who everyone loved is back.While I'm happy for that, I am not sure I am really looking forward to D&D Next. But the book is good, with lots of stuff happening all over Faerun, and it's great to read: funny in places, with lots of action, battles, and the decisive end of the city of Shade and the leader of Shar's followers. Recommended.
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff- Alysha Catherine Gale is a member of the Gale family, all of the female members of whom are witches and guardians. But when Alysha loses her job working cataloguing archaeological artifacts, she is temporarily able to return to her family, an atmosphere she finds personally more than a bit stifling. But when her grandmother passes on (a convenient fiction, perhaps, no one is sure), and leaves Alysha her antique/junkshop "The Enchantment Emporium", Alysha is at first uncertain if she reallt wants to take it over. However, in her grandmother's last letter, she tells Alysha that the shop is "vital to the community", and so Alysha goes to claim it. But she realizes how in over her head she is when she realizes that, among other things, one of the "items" in the shop is an actual Monkey's Paw. Worse, the only other employee is a Changeling Leprechaun, and she's being stalked by a reporter for a "Chupacabras are coming kind of rag, and the world is under assault by Dragon Lords from Underhill, who are after the Reporter's boss, who just happens to be a sorcerer- and Sorcerers and Gales are a bad combination. Now, it's up to Alysha to deal with the chaos in Calgary, the members of her family who want to interfere, and decide if the heat between her and the reporter, Graham, is worth adopting him into the family that he knows absolutely nothing about. I liked this book. It was a little difficult to get into at first, but it's really all about Alysha and how she steps away from most of her family to find a life and a love for herself. Frankly, her family dynamics are a bit frightening for anyone outside the family, but how they come together in the end, with Alysha holding her own, was very impressive. I also like how we, the readers, weren't aware of exactly what trouble the Sorcerer had stirred up Underhill until the end of the book, and it was a very interesting story in any case. While it took me a while to get into this book, in the end, I greatly enjoyed it, and I definitely think it's worth a read. Recommended.
Crown of Renewal by Elizabeth Moon- Everything seems stable in the Kingdoms, but the threat of the Pirate Alured remains. Dorrin Verrakai, the only non-blood mage from a magical famil, has eliminated the two-souled from her family and now rules with a gentle hand. But when her King, Mikeli, asks her to get rid of the crown and regalia that was found on her lands, because so many iyinisn are attacking him for it. she has no choice but to agree. And the regalia aren't the only stones being found on her lands- more are turning up as a road crew builds a road through her lands to those of the next lord, something greatly needed. As she makes her way South, because the stones want to return to a ruin she keeps seeing in visions, more shakeups are happening in the Kingdoms all around. Mikeli's brother Camwyn defends the Regalia from thieves and is sorely wounded for it. The Dragon must take him elsewhere to recuperate, something with Mikeli mourns over, but is willing to do if it will save his brother's life. Meanwhile, in Grdish lands, rage against the magelords is rising, and those hotly against them have taken to attacking and killing children who have the ability, and Arvid, now an assistant Marshall of Gird, must help with halting these attacks. But will anyone accept a former thief as a Marshall of Gird? Lastly, Kieri Phelan receives a mission of his own. Awaken the sleeping Mage Lords who went into exile with Luap. He does so, but can men and women from so long ago reintegrate to modern society? And when he is troubled by dreams of the man who once imprisoned him, he is paralyzed with fear. But can his wife and the love for his children allow him to overcome that fear when and if the man actually returns? And can an appearance by Gird's Cow quiet the muttering against people who are suddenly showing signs of mage talent? Well, this book was the last in the new cycle, but even if the supposed main character of this series, Dorrin Verrakaki, is no longer lord of her demense, the story can continue to go forward. After all Camwyn and others are settling down to new lives, and even Paks is getting silver in her hair. I'd like to see where Elizabeth Moon takes the series, if she does continue it in some fashion, and of course, King Kieri Phelan and his wife are sure to go on, both being half-elf. So even if the human characters are aging, there are enough others to supplant them in the stories. There is much still to be told: how the Kuakgannir are accepted by the followers of Gird, for one thing, and I'd like to see more of Arvid Semminson. This is a big book and takes a while to read, but at the same time, I loved every bit of it. I was actually kind of surprised at the end, about how old Paks and Dorrin were. While we never learn exactly how old Paks is, we see her with silver in her blonde hair, and Dorrin is 50. I could hardly believe it- for these characters seem timeless, and I almost wish they'd be that way. I really enjoyed this book, but parts of me cry out for more. I would highly recommend the entire series to any reader that enjoys fantasy. Highly recommended.
Like a Mighty Army by David Weber- The Safeholdan War between the Church Lands and the Empire of Charis, Chisholm and its allies continues. Though the Empire has a decided technical advantage, the Church and its so-called "Army of God" is playing a desperate game of catch-up. And while Irys, Davyn and Hector return to Corisande to put her brother on the throne, the Rakurai are still around, and still looking to bring down the Charisian "heresy" by any means possible. But when a bombing catches Hector and Irys on the day of their wedding can they survive the chaos that will result? And Merlin Athrawes must deal with demons of his own when he discovers that Owl, the Sentient A.I., has enough materials to make another PICA, and that there is another copy of his/her own memories still extant in the memory banks. Since no other human is capable of becoming the personality of the "new" PICA, that means Nimue Alban will be able to meet herself again- from seven years ago, before s/he started a war that spilled the blood of so many friends and acquaintances. But can he or she deal with whatever judgement her earlier self deals out over his/her actions? Things are going badly for the AOG forces, whgich are dealt several stunning defeats. But when a terrible accident causes damage to locks on one of the Church Lands ' Major canals, The Inquisition is sent to ferret out those responsible. Little do they know that Merlin/Nimue knows and enacts a terrible revenge for the Church's killing of their own people. He also leaves a message for Zhaspyr Clyntahn to find which drives the Churchman into a destructive rage. But will that rage lead him to making even more mistakes that the Charis/Chisholm Empire and its allies can exploit? The war isn't over yet, but more needs to be done before the Church falls entirely. Can the church recover and produce enough new rifles to be able to survive and win the next few battles? Well, I loved returning to this world of Safehold. Some of my favorite parts involved Melin's *new* companion, a PICA version of himself as he was a mere six years ago. He expects "her" to hate him, but she is him, and she agrees with what he has done. Her takedown of a very officious Corisandean guard who thinks women are only suited to have babies and take care of the home was, quite frankly, delicious. I also enjoyed seeing Zhaspar Clyntahn lose it completely- it makes him look not quite sane. But the best moment was the ending, and it promises to be interesting, if nothing else. Highly recommended.
Mirror Sight by Kristen Britain- Karigan G;ladheon is a Green Rider, a messenger for the King. When we last saw her, she had gone into Blackveil to try and stop Mornhavon from getting the Mirror Mask. She and her companions had retrieved the mastk, an object of Ancient power, but to keep Mornhavon from getting his hands on it, she smashed it, and blacked out. When she awakens, she is surrounded by stone on all sides, which abruptly opens to reveal that Karigan has been emtombed in a sarcophagus. However, the man opening the sarcophagus is in the middle of a circus, and he accuses Karigan of being a plant from his rival. Though still injured from her trials, she flees the man and his circus clowns, only to be attacked again on the streets. She passes out, only to find she's been taken in by a professor, Bryce Lowell Josston, who wonders who Karigan is and where she comes from. She reveals enough of herself tomake him believe her when she tells him who she is, but he tells her that it has been almost 200 years since her time, and the world is greatly changed. The Kingdom was conquered with a great magical weapon, and the Professor seeks what could be an antidote to it called the Butterfly Weapon, some kind of staff that has the power to resist whatever it was that conquered Sacoridia. But he's not the only one after it- one of the servants of the Empire, a man named Dr. Silk. But Karigan is not alone in this future. Someone else has traveled here with her: Lhean, who is slowly dying in the lack of magic that exists in this place. But as Karigan slowly recovers, she discovers a kindred spirit in Cade, the Professor's student, who is studying to be a Weapon. She tries to help him with his fighting training, but the Professor also leads a group of Rebels who want to overthrow the Empire- including the slaves. But as Karigan is drawn into the struggles of this future time, those in the past have not forgotten her and are seeking her return. But will she find a way to return her and Lhean to her own time and prevent the events that brought about the rise of the Empire and its horrible abuses? And can Karigan return with her faculties intact? It's been a while since I read Blackveil, but you don't really need to have read that book to read this one. Oh, you won't know who some of the characters are, but the story of Karigan unfolds so well that it sort of takes over the rest of the story elements. I really enjoyed this book, and I couldn't stop reading it once I started. I lost quite a bit of sleep, but I don't regret a bit of it. Highly recommended.
Minecraft: Essential Handbook by Stephanie Milton with help from Paul Soares Jr. and Jordan Maron- So, you've heard of Minecraft, which is a game of building things, and you want to know how to get started? Well, this book has everything you need to get started in the game, and shows you how to build the tools you'll need and what to do on the first "day" so you survive the night and the monsters that will come to get you if you leave yourself unprotected. From there, the book covers basics you need to know- how to make chests and smelting ovens and some of the monsters you'll encounter and need to overcome.. This is an excellent guide to getting started in Minecraft, for the clueless N00b who has never played before, but even if you have been playing for a while, this book still might help you learn something about the game. Packed with information, this book is a must-read for fans of the game, or those wanting to know something more about it. Recommended.
The Bride Says No by Cathy Maxwell- Lady Aileen Davidson went to London for her season and promised her sister that she would return for her so that the two could live together in their new home. But due to a horrible incident, she was branded a scarlet woman, and before her husband could divorce her, he was killed, along with the man accused of being her lover. She returned to Scotland, deeply emotionally scarred by the experience. Now, it is her sister's turn to go to London for her season, and Aileen hopes that Tara will have a better experience than she did, which she seems to have done, since she is betrothed and about to be married. But when she turns up on Aileen's doorstep unexpectedly, she tells her sister that she isn't so sanguine about marrying Blake Stephens, and mindful of her own experience, Aileen is determined to shelter her from her would-be husband. What she doesn't expect is for their father, along with Tara's fiance, Blake Stephens, showing up on her doorstep. She expects to have to defend her sister, but much to her own shock and surprise,she finds herself developing feelings for Blake Stephens, and equally to his surprise, he feels the same. But can he decide which of the two sisters he is to marry before he is forced to the altar with Tara? And for that matter, Tara left Blake because she has always been in love with the Horse Master of the estate. but he has gotten engaged to the daughter of the village blacksmith, and while he still has feelings for Tara, are they as strong as the ones he feels for his new soon-to-be bride? There will be a wedding in the Highlands, but who will be getting married, and will the result scandalize the countryside. This was a book with a strong romance, but it doesn't quite take off until the latter half of the book. The hero is a self-made man, the bastard son of a lord, and he desperately wants his father's approval. Aileen, for her part, also wants her father's approval, but he is a man of appetites, and to pay for them, he will marry his daughters off to secure money and advantage for himself/ But as the various romances play out amidst the Scottish Countryside, can everyone involved manage a happy ending to a difficult problem? I liked this book, which, despite the serious nature of the topics, was frothy, light, and fun. I liked seeing how Aileen and Blake slowly fell in love with each other, and the ending they managed for themselves. It seems that in this series, the Brides of Wishmore, that Cathy maxwell is playing around with Romance novel tropes, as the sequel seems to deal with a forced marriage. But this isn't a bad thing at all. I never felt the hero and heroine were unsuited for each other, or that the hero was a bore or too stupid to live. It's not quite a comedy of manners, but it's a fun read and I recommend it solely for that. Recommended.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison- Maia is a half-goblin, the son of a goblin woman who was the fourth wife of the King of the Elves. But when his father and all his elder brothers die in a horrendous flyinf airship accident, this despised son will have to take the throne, completely untrained for the role and not even knowing who he really is. As Maialearns to navigate the corridoers of power, he will have to connect with the reamaining members of his family, and deal with enmity from both his father's last wife and his owh chancellor, both of whom seem to utterly despise him. At the same time, he must deal with his changing relationship with his former caretaker, who beat and abused him because he was trapped far from coutt. But as Maia tries to track down the people who sabotaged his father's airship, it is possible that Maia, with his gentle ways, may be the very kind of King his country needs. But can he survive long enough to deal with the threats, both internal and external, to the Kingdom? This book may be the first in a series or just be a stand-alone book, but either way, it was absolutely wonderful. Maia is an unusual character, often shy and retiring because of his unfamiliarity with the Elvish court and its ways. But he is also intelligent, if unschooled, and has a good heart and wants to do right by everyone. Watching him trying to survive and thrive was fascinating, and while his character is at the forefront of it all, he remains interesting and sympathetic. I really enjoyed this book, and Maia's dealing with politics, bootlickers and backstabbers. This makes for an intriguing book with lots of story for its size. I'd definitely read another book about Maia, or anythng else Katherine Addison cares to write. Hghly recommended.
Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, Joseph Cooper and Mohan- The Talbot Family has been under a curse ever since one of their ancestors, a British Major in Cairo, irritated a group of nasty magicians. Ever since, if something supernatural is preying on people where a Talbot lives, they become the object of that thing's attention. Pres Tremain, a sherriff's deputy in a small Missouri town, come to Harry Dresden for help- someone has just slain one of the few remaining Talbots, and only four of them remain- two of them children. Harry discovers that the town is under attack by both a Ghoul and a Goblin, each disguising themselves as part of the population. They are fighting on behalf of their masters, and have decided to solve who gets the town by who can kill the most remaining Talbots until they are gone. But Harry is determined to save the Talbots by discovering the nature of the curse, and hopefully by defusing it. But with two strong supernatural menaces in town, can Harry stay alive long enough to follow through on his mission? And can he save *any* of the Talbots from the Curse? This was an interesting graphic novel, and since it was written by Jim Butcher, I knew I was going to enjoy it as soon as I read his name as the author. And I wasn't wrong. The book has it all- a great story, good art, and many suspenseful moments. I don't live near enough to a comic shop to buy these comics as individual issues, but I sure as heck will buy them like this! Highy recommemded.
Loki's Wolves by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr- Matt Thorsen has grown up in the small town of Blackwell, South Dakota, all his life, and has known that his family is the descendants of the actual God, Thor. Also living in town are Fen and Laurie Brekke, who are descendants of Loki. But the knowledge that Matt is going to be chosen to embody Thor in the End of the World and fight the Midgard Serpent comes as a shock- he's not the strongest or best of Thor's Descendants, so why was he chosen? But when he overhears his grandfather saying that he expects Matt to die, Matt is upset and ends up fleeing Blackwell with Fen and Laurie. But as they discover other children who are also descendants of the Gods, it might be up to them to prevent the Apocalypse. But can a bunch of young kids prevent the end of the world? The only way to be sure is to collect the Hammer, Shield and other items Thor needs. Now, if they will only be in time,,, I really enjoyed this book, which sort of connects with the vibe of the "Percy Jackson" books without copying the format. In fact, it sort of reads lile a mashup of "Percy Jackson" and the Kane twins books, in that Matt, Fen, Laurie and the other young characters in the novel are descendants of the Norse Gods, but are also taking their places in this "Ragnarok to come". In fact, that might be a selling point to kids who already enjoy the Percy Jackson books. I found this an interesting and entertaining book and I really enjoyed the story. Recommended.