Tuesday, July 16, 2024

#Review - Daughters of Olympus by Hannah M. Lynn #Historical #Ancient

Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback, 448 pages
Release Date: July 9, 2024
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Source: Publisher
Genre: Historical / Ancient

A daughter pulled between two worlds and a mother willing to destroy both to protect her... Gods and men wage their petty wars, but it is the women of spring who will have the last word

Demeter did not always live in fear. Once, the goddess of spring loved the world and the humans who inhabited it. After a devastating assault, though, she becomes a shell of herself. Her only solace is her daughter, Persephone.

A balm to her mother’s pain, Persephone grows among wildflowers, never leaving the sanctuary Demeter built for them. But she aches to explore the mortal world—to gain her own experiences. Naïve but determined, she secretly builds a life of her own under her mother’s watchful gaze. But as she does so, she catches the eye of Hades, and is kidnapped...

Forced into a role she never wanted, Persephone learns that power suits her. In the land of the living, though, Demeter is willing to destroy the humans she once held dear—anything to protect her family. A mother who has lost everything and a daughter with more to gain than she ever realized, their story will irrevocably shape the world.


Hannah M. Lynn's Daughters of Olympus is the historical fiction retelling of Demeter and Persephone. This story is told primarily in two parts, covering Demeter's story and then Core's POV. It is a story of love, grief and heartache. Demeter: a goddess of life, living half of one. Demeter, one of the Olympians birthed from the Titans, like Zeus, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon, wanted nothing but to enjoy the beauty of the earth in bloom with her daughter at her side. 

The other Gods, especially her brother Zeus, may be cruel and callous, but they have underestimated what the Goddess of spring is capable of. Demeter did not always live in fear. Once, the goddess of spring loved the world and the humans who inhabited it. After a devastating assault, though, she becomes a shell of herself. She decides to leave Olympus behind, and make a living among the nymphs who protected her, and her only solace is Persephone. Where Persephone is taken, Demeter turns the world into a place where nothing can survive.

Before she was Persephone, she was Core. Core is as bright as summer and devoted to her mother, even during their millennia in exile from Olympus. A balm to her mother's pain, Persephone grows among wildflowers, never leaving the sanctuary Demeter built for them. But she aches to explore the mortal world--to gain her own experiences. Naïve but determined, she secretly builds a life of her going further and further away from home.

She secretly builds a life of her own—and as she does so, even falling for a human who she makes plan to spent eternity with. Until she catches the eye of a powerful god named Hades and the rest you already know. Forced into a role she never wanted, Persephone learns that power suits her. Especially if she can spend time with the woman she fell in love with. Until she is betrayed by a demon into eating a pomegranate and is forced to remain in the Underworld for eternity as the Goddess of the Underworld. 

In the land of the living, though, Demeter is willing to destroy the humans she once held dear--anything to protect her family. She even challenges Zeus to try to stop her which makes the situation even more dire for the humans on Earth. A mother who has lost everything and a daughter with more to gain than she ever realized, their story will irrevocably shape the world. Is there a solution that will make everyone happy? Of course!!





Monday, July 15, 2024

#Review - The Mirror of Beasts by Alexandra Bracken #YA #Fantasy #Romance

Series:  Silver in the Bone (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
Release Date: July 30, 2024
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy / Romance

With the dream of Avalon in ruins, Tamsin and her friends are all that stands in the way of Lord Death's plans to unleash the horrors of Anwnn on the world of the living. As the Wild Hunt carves a bloody path across continents, Tamsin is mustering allies, tracking down powerful artifacts, and traversing into new otherlands in search of a way to stop him.

Legend tells of a “Mirror of Beasts,” powerful enough to trap even Lord Death in its accursed glass, but the mirror is not all that it seems. Tamsin must confront her own darkest secrets if she hopes to tap the mirror's strength to defeat her enemies.

Arthurian legend bleeds into contemporary action, and scars of the past are torn open anew by a starcrossed love that refuses to go quietly. This riveting conclusion to the Silver in the Bone duology will hold you in its thrall until the very last page.  

The Mirror of Beasts is the second and final installment in author Alexandra Bracken's Silver in the Bone duology. This book picks up immediately after the heart breaking first installment. This series focuses on Celtic lore and Arthurian legend with obvious twists. This story hops around from Boston, to London, to Cornwall. Tamsin and her friends Olwen, Caitriona and Neve (now called Unmakers of Worlds) are all that stands in the way of Lord Death's plans to unleash the horrors of Anwnn on the world of the living. 

With the dream of Avalon in ruins and now part of the contemporary world which has caused massive losses and devastation, Lord Death has also been resurrected and is killing anyone who doesn't give him back what he lost, Tamsin needs to get over the betrayal of both Emrys (who soon joins a very angry Tamsin and with an explanation of why he had to do what he did), as well as her brother Cabell who has chosen a different path separate from Tamsin's. Plus, let us not forget that Nash suddenly walks back into her life after letting Tamsin, as well as Cabell, think he was dead!  

Part of this story is told via 3rd person narrative by Cabell which gives readers an idea of what is happening with Lord Death and his Wild Hunt that seems to be carving a bloody path of destruction across the world. As the Wild Hunt carves a bloody path across continents, Tamsin tries desperately to muster allies who have not yet met a disastrous fate at the hand of the Wild Hunt or Lord Death. Her team traverses new lands searching for powerful artifacts, including the legendary “Mirror of Beasts,” powerful enough to trap even Lord Death in its accursed glass. 

But the mirror is not all that it seems. Tamsin must confront her own darkest secrets (she was allegedly born cursed) if she hopes to tap the mirror's strength to defeat her enemies. Not only does the world expand, but some pretty interesting new characters are added to the fun. Characters like the Bonecutter who looks like a little girl but is ancient. The Hag of the Moors is not only twisted, but has a genuinely funny role to play in this book. Arthurian legend bleeds into contemporary action, and scars of the past are torn open anew by a starcrossed love that refuses to go quietly. I will say this. Expect a curious ending which I will not spoil.




1

“No, Tamsin. To break yours.”

As Nash’s words faded in the air, other sounds rushed in to fill the void of silence they left behind. Distant cars and voices moving endlessly through Boston’s old streets. Music from a nearby bar whispering through the walls. My upstairs neighbor pacing, his feet beating out a muted rhythm through the ceiling. The rasp of Nash’s fingers torturing his hat’s brim. All vying to fill the long silence that stretched between us.

And still, I couldn’t bring myself to speak.

“It’s been a long time, I know,” Nash continued, his voice gruff. “A long time past too long . . .”

Whatever he said next vanished beneath the roar of blood rushing in my ears. The throb of my heartbeat that seemed to make my whole body shake with the force of it. My hand closed into a fist, and before I could stop myself, before I could tame that surge of pure, unadulterated fury, I punched him.

Nash staggered back, swearing beneath his breath.

“Tamsin!” Neve gasped.

I shook out my stinging hand, watching with grim satisfaction as he pressed his own against his face to stanch the flow of blood from his nose. He reached up, resetting the bone with a terrible snap that made even Caitriona wince.

“All right,” he said, his voice muffled by his hand. He pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his leather jacket, holding it to his face. “I suppose I deserved that. Good form, by the way.”

I forced myself to take several deep breaths. As quickly as the anger had come, it abandoned me, and the emotion that welled up in its place was as useless as it was unwelcome.

When I was a little girl, I used to spend hours in our Hollower guild’s library tucked between the lesser-­used shelves of Baltic legends and incomplete Immortalities, staring at a glass display case it seemed everyone else had forgotten about, or didn’t care to remember.

The light above the polished chunk of amber inside sent a warm glow rippling over the dark shelves, beckoning. Inside its crystalline depths, a spider and a scorpion were knotted around one another, still locked in their battle for supremacy. Perfectly preserved by the same pit of resin that had killed them.

The amber might as well have been a window in which past could see present, and present past. It was frightening and beautiful all at once—­it told a story, but it was more than that. It was a sliver of time itself.

I used to think that my memory was like amber, capturing each moment that passed, preserving it in excruciatingly perfect detail. But looking at the man who had once been my guardian, the same one I’d been so sure had abandoned my brother and me seven years ago as children, I began to question that.

I began to question everything.

Nash looked twenty years younger than the final memory I’d captured of him. Before I’d punched him, my mind had registered that the bridge of his nose was straight again, as if it had never been broken in a pub brawl, let alone three others. And his expression, so grave . . . there was none of the reckless adventurer, no sly grins or lying eyes.

Or maybe I was guilty of what I’d always accused him of: mythologizing the man just to tell a better story.

“Tamsy?” he prompted, brow furrowing. “Did you hear what I said about the curse?”

Exhaustion dug its claws into me. My lips parted, but the only words spinning through my mind were the ones he had spoken. No, Tamsin, to break yours.

“You don’t believe me, I see it in your eyes.” He glanced toward the door, momentarily distracted by the way it seemed to rattle as the wind picked up. “But I need you to listen to me carefully—­to truly hear me—­and do what I say for once in your stubborn life, because like spring, you are cursed to die young.”

“So?” The word was out before I could stop it.

The others turned to me, horrified. I almost wished that I felt the same way—­that I felt anything at all. Instead, an almost comforting numbness settled over me, as if I’d known all along. Maybe I had. People like me . . . we weren’t meant for long lives or happy endings.

“What in the Blessed Mother’s name are you talking about?” Olwen demanded. “Who would have cursed her, and in such a way?”

“Was it the White Lady?” Neve asked softly.

The bruiselike stain on my chest, just above my heart, turned icy, prickling the warm skin around it. My pulse started a drumming beat, off-­tempo from the throbbing of the mark. As if a call, and an answer. Every hair on my body rose as the seconds stretched with the agonizing silence.

Nash took a step toward me, bringing with him the smell of damp soil and grass and leather. “No, Tamsy was born with it. But the magic of the curse did draw the spirit—­”

The dark air of the apartment shifted violently, forcing me back as another blur of movement raced forward. A flash of silver hair—­of a silver blade.

Caitriona launched herself at Nash, using the force of her momentum to slam him back against the front door. The hat and hand­kerchief fell from his hands, both slipping along the threadbare rug to land at my feet. Olwen gasped, hands pressed to her mouth as Caitriona brought one of my kitchen knives up to Nash’s bare throat. Her other arm rose to pin him in place.

“Who are you?” Caitriona demanded. The edge of the blade drew a faint line of blood to the surface of his clean-­shaven skin.

A bolt of panic shot through me as her words sank in, electrifying my mind.

It’s not him.

We’d found his body in Avalon. As much as I wanted the last few hours to be one long, unending nightmare, it wasn’t. I could lie to myself about any number of things, but that wasn’t one of them. Nash was dead.

“Who are you?” Caitriona repeated. “There are many creatures that can wear the face of another, all tricksters, most wicked.”

The man stared at me with a familiar look of indignation, exasperation, and amusement. The air burned in my lungs, begging for release.

“Who?” Caitriona repeated.

His answer was to shift his stance, hooking his leg through the inside of hers as his open palm shot out and slammed against her solar plexus. Breath burst from her in an explosion of shock and anger, but his foot had hooked her knee and she was falling before any of the rest of us could lunge to catch her.

“Cait!” Olwen moved to kneel beside her, but I caught her arm, holding her in place.

The being reached down to claim the knife, the corners of his mouth quirking with a suppressed smile.

“All this blade’s good for is picking teeth and buttering toast, dove,” he said.

“Put down the knife and step away from her.” I’d never heard ­Neve’s voice as cold as it was then, her face hardening with anger. “Touch her again and you’ll have hands for feet and feet for hands.”

Her wand, through magic or some strange stroke of luck, had survived the destruction of Avalon—­I had completely forgotten about it until I saw her reach into the bag at her waist and pull its long body free. Nash—­or Not-­Nash—­stared down at the razored tip pointed toward him, then looked at me, a bushy brow arching.

“Never thought I’d see the day you’d be cavorting with a sorceress, Tamsy.”

“Keep going,” Neve said. “Your face can only be improved by swapping your mouth with your nose.”

The man tilted his head to the side for a moment, as if pausing to picture this. But he did as asked, setting the knife down on the floor and kicking it out of Caitriona’s reach.

“Are you of Avalon?” he asked Caitriona. “Are you the reason it’s merged again with our world?”

The words were like hands around my throat. The others flinched, retreating from the accusation—­but we were guilty of it, all of us. We had performed the ritual thinking it would heal the Otherland and free it from a cursed existence, but it had only restored it to our own world. The collision of the isle and modern Glastonbury had wrought death and destruction I couldn’t begin to think about without wanting to claw at my own face.

You didn’t mean for it to happen, I told myself. None of us did.

It was a mistake. It was a terrible, terrible mistake. I could rationalize that all I wanted, but it didn’t stop the waves of nausea from spreading through me, or the gripping horror at knowing what we’d done.

“Tamsy—­” he began again.

Don’t,” I got out around the knot in my throat, “call me that.”

“That’s what I’ve always called you,” he said. “From the time you were nothing but a wee imp. The first time I used it, you kicked me in the shins and called me a dingus. That was your favorite insult for a while.”

My stomach clenched. The others looked to me, searching for the truth of it in my face.

Caitriona finally rose from the floor, backing toward us, eyes scanning the room for another weapon.

“How . . . ?” I whispered. How are you alive?

A low grumble of thunder moved through the city, bringing him up short. Nash returned to his perch by the door, his body tensed as he looked through its peephole. Whatever storm had blown in was only building in ferocity. When he turned to me again, it was with that same look he’d had when I’d opened the door.

“Were you able to find the ring in Avalon?” Nash asked, as if I hadn’t spoken at all.

“Yes, but—­” Olwen began.

“Cabell needed the ring, not me,” I whispered. That was the most unforgivable part of all this. If I had been able to use the ring on ­Cabell . . . 

The thought of my brother just then, the only other person who’d understand the chaos of my thoughts, who’d be able to help me untangle them, was a knife to the gut.

“Cabell is beyond its help,” Nash said. The dismissiveness of his tone made bile rise in my throat.

“How would you know?” I snarled. “You haven’t even cared enough to ask where he is!”

“Do you really think I don’t know why he’s not here? Do you truly believe I don’t know what you unleashed into this world?” Nash shook his head, blowing out a hard breath. “Where’s the Ring of Dispel now?”

“It’s—­” Neve glanced at me, as if not sure she should say. “Emrys Dye took it.”

“You let a Dye have the ring?” Nash exploded. “For the love of hellfire, Tamsy!”

“Call me that again and I’ll make sure you stay dead this time,” I warned him.

“Tamsin didn’t have a choice in it,” Neve continued. “He was hired by a sorceress.”

“Which one?” Nash pressed, reaching down to swipe his hat off the floor.

I got the name out through gritted teeth. “Madrigal—­”

Her name vanished beneath an explosion of thunder. It seemed to erupt from above us and below us all at once; the force of it made the dishes in the kitchen chatter like teeth and sent books falling from the nearby shelves. At the sound of a flat-­toned blare, deeper and more wrenching than any ship I’d heard before in the harbor, a chill walked its bony fingers down my spine.

A stream of furious words burst from Nash as he jammed his hat back onto his head and gripped the doorknob, struggling to open it against the taunting of the wind.

“You’re leaving?” Caitriona asked, aghast.

“Of course,” I said bitterly. “It’s what he’s best at.”

Nash finally wrenched the door open and whirled around. His right hand pressed to his heart in a mockery of a vow. “All I’ve ever wanted—­all I’ve ever tried to do—­is protect you.”

“Since when?” I spat.

Neve’s hand curled tighter around my arm as she drew me closer to her. I’d never seen her like this, all but trembling with anger. It radiated from her until it became indistinguishable from my own.

The December air billowed in around Nash, exhaling delicate flakes of snow. Thunder boomed once more, loud enough to rattle the town-­house-­turned-­apartments down to its foundations. A sharp, acrid scent like ozone filled the apartment, making my toes curl in my boots.

Behind Nash, far above the festive garlands and twinkling Christmas lights, the sky had turned an eerie shade of green. The furious wind tugged at his clothes, drawing him toward the waiting night. Behind him, the trees bowed to the storm, groaning.

“I’m going to get that bloody ring to break your curse,” he snapped. “If you hear that sound again, closer than it is now, run as fast as you can—­but until then, stay here, or so help me, I will wring your scrawny little necks myself!”

He pointed a finger at the four of us in turn. “You haven’t the faintest idea what’s coming—­what hides within winter’s icy depths. Listen to me and you may yet survive this horror you’ve brought upon us.”

The door slammed shut behind him.




Thursday, July 11, 2024

#Review - Echo Road by Kendra Elliot , Melinda Leigh #Mystery #Thrillers

Series: Mercy Kilpatrick # 9
Format: Kindle, 332 pages
Release Date: July 2, 2024
Publisher: Montlake
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Mystery / Thrillers

When two cross-country cases collide, Bree Taggert and Mercy Kilpatrick join forces to catch a serial killer in an addictive novel of suspense by bestselling authors Melinda Leigh and Kendra Elliot.

During a vicious heat wave, a county maintenance worker stumbles upon two suspicious suitcases abandoned by the side of the road. Sheriff Bree Taggert responds to find two bodies stuffed inside the luggage. The press demands action. The community is on edge. Suddenly, Bree is at the center of a media firestorm.

In Oregon, a senator’s daughter goes missing. FBI Special Agent Mercy Kilpatrick agrees to keep the politically sensitive case on the down-low. When she finds a link between the disappearance and a double homicide three thousand miles away, Mercy takes the next plane out—and lands right in the middle of Bree’s double homicide investigation.

To save the missing girl, Bree and Mercy must work together to stop a killer who’s playing deadly games with the press and stirring up public rage. Hungry for notoriety, he dares Bree and Mercy to catch him before he kills again.

When two cross-country cases collide, Sheriff Bree Taggert and FBI Special Agent Mercy Kilpatrick, join forces to catch a serial killer in an addictive novel of suspense by bestselling authors Melinda Leigh and Kendra Elliot. Two weeks ago, FBI Special Agent Mercy Kilpatrick, working out of Oregon, is called to investigate the disappearance of the 17-year-old daughter of a US Senator from Oregon. Mercy and her team discover that Paige seems to have left everything behind from her car, to her laptop, but a suitcase is definitely missing. 

During a vicious heat wave in Upstate New York, a county maintenance worker stumbles upon two suspicious suitcases abandoned by the side of the road. Sheriff Bree Taggert responds to find two bodies stuffed inside the luggage. Once again, the victims are both female, and their are similarities from their nail color to their matching tattoos. Could Bree be dealing with yet another serial killer. The press and the county administrator demands action. The community is on edge. Bree is once again at the center of a media firestorm but without her investigator Matt who is off training K-9's.

When Mercy finds a link between the disappearance and a double homicide three thousand miles away, she takes the next plane out—and lands right in the middle of Bree’s double homicide investigation. Although the pair don't immediately hit it off because she's the FBI, and Bree doesn't like anyone stepping on her toes, they must work together to stop a killer who’s playing deadly games with the press and stirring up public rage. Hungry for notoriety, he dares Bree and Mercy to catch him before he kills again. He even uses the press to leak information in order to stir up a hornet's nest.

Obviously, this book alternates between Mercy and Bree, and has aspects of the story told from HIM, and his victim Paige as well. I actually liked this story very much. I haven't read Kendra's Mercy series, but might in the near future. I have been reading Melinda's series, but have missed quite a few that I would love to get caught up on. Especially the books that lead Bree to becoming county Sheriff, and meeting Matt and her best friend Dana. I have heard that the authors may very well combine their efforts in the near future which I am here for. When all is said and done, they are badass women who have dealt with their share of heart break and loss.  





Wednesday, July 10, 2024

#Review - The Spellshop by Sarah Beth Durst #Fantasy #Romance

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: July 9, 2024
Publisher: Bramble
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Romance

Kiela has always had trouble dealing with people. Thankfully, as a librarian at the Great Library of Alyssium, she and her assistant, Caz—a magically sentient spider plant—have spent the last decade sequestered among the empire’s most precious spellbooks, preserving their magic for the city’s elite.

When a revolution begins and the library goes up in flames, she and Caz flee with all the spellbooks they can carry and head to a remote island Kiela never thought she’d see again: her childhood home. Taking refuge there, Kiela discovers, much to her dismay, a nosy—and very handsome—neighbor who can’t take a hint and keeps showing up day after day to make sure she’s fed and to help fix up her new home.

In need of income, Kiela identifies something that even the bakery in town doesn’t have: jam. With the help of an old recipe book her parents left her and a bit of illegal magic, her cottage garden is soon covered in ripe berries.

But magic can do more than make life a little sweeter, so Kiela risks the consequences of using unsanctioned spells and opens the island’s first-ever and much needed secret spellshop.


Sarah Beth Durst's The Spellshop is like a Hallmark rom-com filled with mythical creatures. This cottagecore fantasy follows an unexpected journey through the low-stakes market of illegal spell-selling and the high-risk business of starting over. This is the authors first foray into romantasy. As a librarian, Kiela Orobidan had become increasingly withdrawn from social contact, especially after her parents died. 

Thankfully, as a librarian at the Great Library of Alyssium, she and her assistant, Caz—a magically sentient spider plant—have spent the last decade sequestered among the empire’s most precious spellbooks, preserving their magic for the city’s elite. When a revolution begins and the library goes up in flames, she and Caz flee with all the spellbooks they can carry and head to a remote island Kiela never thought she’d see again: her childhood home of Caltrey, where she was born and still owns the cottage she inherited from her deceased parents.

Taking refuge there, Kiela discovers, much to her dismay, a nosy—and very handsome—neighbor, Larran Maver, who can’t take a hint and keeps showing up day after day to make sure she’s fed and to help fix up her new home. In need of income, Kiela identifies something that even the bakery in town doesn’t have: jam. With the help of an old recipe book her parents left her and a bit of illegal magic, her cottage garden is soon covered in ripe berries. 

But magic can do more than make life a little sweeter, so Kiela risks the consequences of using unsanctioned spells and opens the island’s first-ever and much needed secret spellshop. Unsanctioned use of this knowledge is strictly forbidden and severely punished, however, and the danger of discovery turns pressing when another woman (Radane) arrives on the island, claiming to be an imperial investigator. But who is she really?

To survive in very different conditions she realizes that she must learn to be ‘a person who takes risks’, and these include trusting others, as well as making use of the magic spells contained in the books she has saved which leads to the creation of Meep, a cactus like character who is gender confused. It helps when she begins to have a small group of friends who seem not only protective of her, but eventually form a sort of coven. 

*Thoughts* This was more entertaining than I realized until I started reading. It's definitely on the side of being a rom-com or cozy romance. This is a magical world in which fantastic creatures abound. Kiela has blue skin and blue hair, Caz is a sentient spider plant; mermaids and merhorses swim in the seas; centaurs and four-armed harpists frequent the village bakery, whose owner has antlers and a body covered in soft downy fur; and in the forest cloud bears drift around. The relationship between Kiela and Larran strengthens to the point where Kiela fights to protect the merhorses which have been raised by Larran since he was a child. Definitely recommended.




CHAPTER ONE


Kiela never thought the flames would reach the library. She was dimly aware that most of the other librarians had fled weeks ago, when the revolutionaries took the palace and defenestrated the emperor in a rather dramatic display. But surely they wouldn’t touch the library. After all, there were books here. Highly flammable, irreplaceable books.

The Great Library of Alyssium, with its soaring spires, stained-glass windows, and labyrinthine bookshelves, was the jewel of the Crescent Islands Empire. Its hallowed stacks were filled with centuries-old treatises, histories, studies, and (most importantly, in Kiela’s opinion) spellbooks. Only the elite, the crème de la crème of the scholars, were allowed to even view the spellbooks, as only the rarefied few were permitted, by imperial law, to use magic.

She was responsible for the spellbooks on the third floor, east wing. For the past eleven years, she’d worked, slept, ate, and lived between the shelves, which perhaps explained why, when she first smelled smoke, she thought she’d simply left toast on the cookplate.

Just to be on the safe side, earlier in the week, Kiela and her assistant Caz had begun securing some of her favorite tomes in crates and stowing them on one of the library boats, though she’d never truly believed evacuation would be necessary. Cocooned within the stacks, far away from any whiff of politics or violence, it was a pleasant game: if she were stranded on a deserted island, which books would she most want to have with her? Certainly The Grimoire on Plantwork, compiled in the year 357 by scholars Messembe and Cannin, as well as The Manipulation of Weather Patterns, a Study of the Effects of Spellwork on the Breeding Habits of Eastern Puffins, which was a fascinating and groundbreaking work that—

Caz swung by his leaves into the aisle where she sat, cross-legged, in front of a pile of books. A spider plant, he was roughly the size of a farm dog but comprised entirely of greenery, with a knot of roots holding soil at his core. He was the smartest assistant she’d ever had, though also, perhaps not coincidentally, the most anxiety-prone. “We’re going to die,” he informed her, his leaves rustling so badly that it was challenging to pluck out the words.

“The fighting won’t come here,” Kiela said in the soothing voice she’d perfected after years of working in such a sacred space. She added another book to the pack-in-the-fifth-crate pile, then reconsidered and shifted it to the pack-only-if-it-fits pile.

He shook his leaves at her. “The fighting is already here. They’ve battered down the front door and are ransacking Kinney Hall.”

“Goodness!”

The door to Kinney Hall was a monstrosity built of brass and secured with bolts made of the sturdy lumber used for the ribs of ship hulls. She tried to calculate the amount of force required to batter down a thirty-foot door, then blinked. “Ransacking, did you say?”

She’d expected the rebels to secure the library and its treasures—that was only sensible—but ransacking? These were freedom fighters, not feral animals. She wasn’t even opposed to their goals. On Caz’s recommendation, she’d read a few of their pamphlets in the early days of the revolution, and the call for elections and the sharing of knowledge seemed quite appealing …

“The North Reading Room is on fire,” Caz said. “They lit the tapestries first, and it spread to the scrolls.”

She felt sick. All those old manuscripts!

He tugged on her sleeve with a leaf. “Come on, Kiela, we have to leave.”

Leave? Now? But she hadn’t finished—

“If you make a leave-leaf joke,” Caz warned, “I’m going without you.”

She got to her feet. The fifth crate was only half-filled. Kiela dumped an armload of books into it without even checking what the titles were—“Enough, Kiela!” Caz said as she went for a second armload—and then maneuvered it toward the lift. On wheels, it scooted between the shelves, and she felt a lurch in her stomach as they passed all the full shelves of beautiful, wonderful books. She snagged a few more favorites as they hurried past.

Reaching the lift, she shoved the wheeled crate inside and yanked down the gate. Caz pushed the button with a leaf and turned the crank. The lift lurched and then descended.

As they traveled between the floors, Kiela heard the sound of metal clashing on metal, and her stomach flopped. She didn’t know firsthand what a battle sounded like, but she did know what a library was supposed to sound like, and all of this was terribly, horribly wrong. Caz crept closer to her, and she wished the lift would go faster.

What if it stopped on one of the floors with fighting?

What if it stopped altogether?

She pushed the sublevel button again and again, as if that would encourage it. The lift continued to inch downward with clanks and squeaks and whirrs. The stench of smoke grew stronger. Looking out through the grated gate, she saw haze shrouding the stacks.

“We should have taken the stairs,” Caz said.

“We’d have never been able to carry the books,” Kiela said.

“We won’t save any books if we’re dead.” He shook so hard that several of his leaves detached and floated to the floor. “Gah, I’m shedding!”

“You need to think about something else,” she said. “Oak trees are struck by lightning more often than any other tree. Apples can float because they are twenty-five percent air. You can count the number of cricket chirps per second to calculate the outside temperature.”

“Unless the outside is on fire,” Caz said. “How fast do they chirp if it’s all on fire?”

The lift lurched as it reached the lowest level. Kiela yanked the gate open while Caz maneuvered the crate with his tendrils. Shoving the crate outside, they exited the elevator.

This far down, water-level, she couldn’t hear the clang of metal or smell the stench of smoke. It was overwhelmed by the ripe fish odor of the canal that flowed beneath the library. All of the city of Alyssium was riddled with canals. It was part of what made it one of the world’s most beautiful cities, the jewel of the empire. Kiela remembered when she’d first arrived, very young, before her parents died, and how impressed she’d been by the sparkling canals, the lacelike white bridges, the spires, and the flowers that blossomed on every balcony, draped from every window, and framed every door. She wondered how much of the city she remembered was left.

Hurrying through the narrow stone passageway with the wheeled crate, she listened for any other movement. But all she heard was the slosh of water against stone and the drip-drip-drip of a leak somewhere nearby. Ahead were the boats.

Anchored in slips beneath the library, the boats were used to transport books to and from select patrons on nearby islands. Each had silver sails, tied tight around its boom, and a black-cherry hull wide enough to transport multiple crates of books but sleek enough to be sailed by a single librarian. She herself had used one just last winter to deliver a full set of scholar Cypavia’s Examinations of the Function of Forest Spirits in Fact and Fiction to a bedridden emeritus sorcerer. He’d had his housekeeper offer her a cup of tea as thanks, but she’d declined, wanting to hurry back to the comfort of her stacks. At least those books are safe. That was only a slight consolation, though, compared to the wealth of knowledge in peril above her.

She’d already filled her boat with the first four crates of books, secured beneath a tarp. Maneuvering the half-filled fifth crate onto the boat, she strapped it in. There was room for at least three more crates, but there wasn’t time to fetch them. She wished she’d sorted books faster. Or been less picky. She wished she’d packed more provisions. She’d stowed a few jugs of water, as well as jars of preserved peaches, a bag of dried beans, and a sack of pecans. For Caz, she had a tub of fresh soil that he could replenish himself in, and she’d also hidden a couple changes of clothes for herself, as well as a few blank notebooks just in case. But she hadn’t emptied her cubicle in the library of her personal items. She thought wistfully of all she’d left—her old journals, her best quill set, a wooden carving in the shape of a mermaid that her parents had given her when she was a child. But Caz was right: better to save themselves. And the books.

We’ll come back when it’s safe, she thought. This is just temporary.

Climbing into the boat, Kiela untied the line and pushed off. She pulled out the pole for navigating the watery tunnels. The sails were wrapped up around the boom. They’d stay down until they reached the open water.

She wasn’t technically supposed to take the boat. Or the books. Or Caz. But there had been no one left to ask, and she reassured herself that they’d thank her later, when she returned. It wasn’t theft. It was her job: taking care of the collection. I’m just … broadening the definition.

She poled through the tunnels until they flowed out into the open canals of the city.

“Well, this is absolutely horrible,” Caz said.

Kiela had to agree.

The stars were blotted out by the smoke that rose from the bridges and spires. The flames cast everything in a ghoulish light, and the sour taste of the smoke coated the back of her throat. She felt it invading her lungs with each breath. Her sky-blue skin looked sickly in the unnatural light, and her dark blue hair soaked up the scent of smoke. Down on the canals, Kiela and Caz were free from the worst of it, but they weren’t free from the sights and sounds of death.

Later, she’d block out most of that horrible night: the screams, the corpses in the canals, the fear that choked her worse than the smoke. The trip through the canals felt endless, and the sounds traveled across the water even as they broke into the open sea.

With Caz’s help, Kiela raised the silver sails once the water was too deep for the pole. She’d learned how to sail as a small child and had delivered enough books scattered over the years to stay in practice, so she thankfully didn’t have to think to perform the tasks. Her hands remembered what to do, how to catch the wind in the canvas, how to speed away, away, away.

Behind them, the great city burned, with its people (both good and bad) and its history (both good and bad) and its books and its flowers. And she knew she wasn’t coming back.

* * *

As the sun rose over the sea, all pink and yellow and hopeful, Kiela resolved to look forward, not backward. There was no one in Alyssium who’d miss her—which was a depressing thought in and of itself. Really, no one?

Absorbed in her work, she hadn’t left the library for anything but the occasional book delivery in … Had it been years? Yes, years. After she’d finished school, she’d simply moved directly into a cubicle sandwiched between the stacks. It had been simpler that way. She hadn’t had to waste any time traveling to and from her work.

She had no family in the city, and she’d lost track of her classmates—they’d drifted off into their lives, and she’d fallen into the routine of hers. All her meals were delivered, prepared fresh at any hour. Scholars often kept odd hours, and therefore so did librarians. She merely had to send a request down the chute, and everything would arrive via lift in a timely manner. No interaction with anyone required. She’d considered it the perfect system.

The other librarians … They had their own work on other floors and in other wings. Kiela never liked to disturb anyone, and she had gently—so gently that she hadn’t even realized she was doing it—discouraged others from disturbing hers. As the sailboat bounced over the waves, she realized she hadn’t even spoken to another soul besides Caz in three weeks. The last person she’d talked to was a janitor whom she’d shooed away for stirring up dust near some particularly fragile manuscripts.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like people. It was only that she liked books more. They didn’t fuss or judge or mock or reject. They invited you in, fluffed up the pillows on the couch, offered you tea and toast, and shared their hearts with no expectation that you’d do anything more than absorb what they had to give.

All of which was very lovely, but it left her in a bit of a quandary: where to go, now that her old life had quite literally burned down. “Caz…” she began.

“Mmm,” he said, muffled.

She glanced across the boat to see he’d wedged himself between two of the crates and had wound his leaves tight around his root ball. “Caz, what are you doing?”

“Fish eat plants,” he said.

“Some fish, yes.” She wasn’t overly familiar with the dietary preferences of fish. She knew there were fish who liked kelp. She supposed they ate plankton too. Also, insects? “Some fish eat other fish.”

“Who eat plants.”

“I suppose so.”

“Everything eats plants,” Caz said. “But barely anything eats books. That’s why I’m positioning myself between the crates. No one will think of looking for a fresh, tasty morsel of green next to so many dead trees. So I am just going to stay here, with the books, until we get to wherever we’re going, which I hope won’t have fish, sheep, cows, or goats.” He shuddered at the word “goats,” and Kiela wondered if he’d had a bad experience with a goat or had just read about them. Most likely the latter. Livestock wasn’t permitted in the Great Library, for obvious reasons.

“That is what I wanted to talk to you about,” Kiela said. “We need a destination.”

“You … didn’t plan that out?”

“I didn’t think we’d really have to leave,” she admitted. “Or I thought, if we did, it would be just for a few hours or days. A week at most.” She’d thought they could rent a slip in a harbor at one of the nearby islands, perhaps Varsun or Iva, and stay for a couple days at one of the charming inns where the lesser nobles liked to vacation.

Caz sagged, his leaves drooping as if they’d never tasted water. “So did I.”

They sailed silently. It was a gloriously beautiful day for a sail. Light breeze. Cheerful lemon light flashing on the water. Seagulls flew overhead, cawing to one another. The many islands of the Crescent Islands Empire—if it was an empire anymore, thanks to the revolutionaries—looked peaceful from the distance, if you didn’t look back to where smoke still stained the sky over the capital city. The islands’ gray, white, and black cliffs were majestic, and the sweet little fishing villages looked quaint, with their brightly painted houses, cheerful gardens, and cobblestone streets. She and Caz could sail into one of their harbors and then—do what? She couldn’t afford an inn for more than a couple days. The coins that Kiela had brought with her wouldn’t go far. Even if she could pay the harbor fees, she didn’t relish living on the boat, day in and day out.

She resolved not to panic. She’d think as she sailed. And an answer would come to her.

Across the water, she saw a herd of merhorses rise and fall with the waves. Her breath caught in her throat. Half horse and half fish, they were a magnificent sight. She watched, mesmerized, as they cantered through the water. Their hooves crashed through the waves as their powerful fish tails propelled them forward. Covered in jewellike scales and made of solid muscle, they were the living embodiment of both beauty and strength. Like the sea itself, Kiela thought. One of them tossed its mane, and droplets sprayed up and caught the light—a flash of rainbow.




Tuesday, July 9, 2024

#Review - The Night Ends with Fire by K.X. Song #Fantasy #Mythology

Series: The Night Ends with Fire # 1
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
Release Date:  July 2, 2024
Publisher: ACE
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology

Infused with magic and romance, this sweeping fantasy adventure inspired by the legend of Mulan follows a young woman determined to choose her own destiny—even if that means going against everyone she loves.

The Three Kingdoms are at war, but Meilin’s father refuses to answer the imperial draft. Trapped by his opium addiction, he plans to sell Meilin for her dowry. But when Meilin discovers her husband-to-be is another violent, ill-tempered man, she realizes that nothing will change for her unless she takes matters into her own hands.

The very next day, she disguises herself as a boy and enlists in her father’s place.

In the army, Meilin's relentless hard work brings her recognition, friendship—and a growing closeness with Sky, a prince turned training partner. But has she simply exchanged one prison for another? As her kingdom barrels toward destruction, Meilin begins to have visions of a sea dragon spirit that offers her true power and freedom, but with a deadly price.

With the future of the Three Kingdoms hanging in the balance, Meilin will need to decide whom to trust—Sky, who inspires her loyalty and love; the sea dragon spirit, who has his own murky agenda; or an infuriating enemy prince who makes her question everything she once knew—about her kingdom and about her own heart.


The Night Ends with Fire is author K.X. Song's debut adult fantasy debut. In order to rewrite her destiny, Meilin disguises herself as a man (Hai Ren) and joins the army in this fantasy duology inspired by Mulan and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This story is a mixture of fantasy, mythology, and Chinese history, legends, and folklore. The Three Kingdoms are at war, but Meilin’s father refuses to answer the imperial draft. Trapped by his opium addiction, and the ongoing attempt by debt collectors to collect what he owes, he plans to sell Meilin for her dowry. 

Meilin also has fate hanging over her head. "They say a girl with an ill-fated mother is doomed to follower in her footsteps." Meilin only knows the stories about what happened to her mother, not the truth. But when Meilin discovers her husband-to-be is another violent, ill-tempered man, she realizes that nothing will change for her unless she takes matters into her own hands. With a little help from her stepmother Xiuying, she disguises herself as a boy and enlists in her father’s place.  

Despite being smaller and having less strength than the other soldiers, Meilin quickly improves thanks to her nightly training sessions with Sky, a handsome prince she can’t get out of her head. But has she simply exchanged one prison for another? As her kingdom barrels toward destruction, she starts to hear a dragon’s voice inside her head and realizes it comes from the necklace she inherited from her mother which is inhibited with black magic. She needs to decide which is more important to her: duty or gaining power at all costs.

With the kingdoms at war her position vacillates between political pawn or powerful warrior, honor or death if her secret is revealed and submission or freedom to be who she was meant to be. Meilin will need to decide whom to trust—Sky, who inspires her loyalty and love; the sea dragon spirit, who has his own murky agenda; or an infuriating enemy prince who makes her question everything she once knew—about her kingdom and about her own heart.

*Thoughts* Can I say that I saw the ending coming? Especially when certain events happen and her identity is revealed by traitors whose lives she had already saved. Meilin finds herself torn by two men in this book. Sky and a man known as Lei, Prince of the Ximing Province. While Lei wants to use "Mulan" as she calls herself after she is captured, Sky tries to save her from fate that doesn't look so good at the moment. So, I've seen the original Mulan, and the Mulan that was remade and edited by the People's Republic of China to ensure conformity. This book is original at almost all aspects. So, yes, I do plan on finishing this duology to find how Meilin survives. 


One

An empire is like a cherry tree; if it is blooming, its petals must one day fall. If it is barren, its petals must one day bloom. Thus it has always been.

-Book of Odes, 856

War is coming . . ."

The rumors took wing and flew through the capital, leaving behind a trail of astonishment, fear, and, in some cases, a stirring hunger for glory. Only in my father's house were they met with apathy.

"I will not go," my father said, his face obscured by a cloud of smoke. The unaired room smelled of sweat and opium, but Father refused to let us open so much as a window. He claimed the sunlight would hurt his eyes. But I think he simply did not want to see the state of what he'd become.

His wife stood beside me, trembling. Xiuying was my stepmother, though we were only seven years apart. The servants had expected me to hate her upon her arrival, but against Father's increasing rage and lunacy, we bonded over a common enemy. As the years passed, we became more than allies; we became laotong. Old sames.

Now, Xiuying clenched her hands into fists, trying to conceal her emotions. "The draft is the heavens' mandate. To lie to the Imperial Commander is punishable by death-"

"For skies' sake, just tell them I'm unwell! Make something up. You're awfully creative when it comes to finding ways to spend money. Use some of that creativity to lie."

The injustice of this remark stole my breath away. How dare he accuse her of losing all our money? "It's your gambling habit that's brought us-"

Xiuying covered my mouth with her hands. "No, Meilin," she whispered.

Father blew out a delicate ring of smoke from his pipe; he hadn't even heard me. Lost in his thoughts, he murmured, "I won't go to war. I refuse. It doesn't befit me, a man of my stature." His hand trembled as he emptied his pipe against the old ashtray. The porcelain had once belonged to my mother's dowry. It was now chipped and stained, ruined like everything else in this household.

"Why don't you send the old footman in my place?" said Father, chuckling at his own idea. He set his pipe down at last, the full weight of his attention falling upon us. "He can pass for me."

"Father," I said loudly, unable to curb my tongue. "Zhou is not long for this world."

"Did I ask you to speak?" he snapped, his eyes lighting on me. Xiuying shot me a frightened glance, but I shook my head at her while Father laughed.

"Even better," he decided. "Two birds with one stone, as the scholars say. Better he die out there than waste our household resources any longer. These days even the dogs contribute more than he-"

"Uncle Zhou has done more for this household than you ever have."

The words were out of my mouth before I could think twice. Xiuying gasped; Father narrowed his eyes, then lurched to his feet, grabbing hold of the table to steady himself. He was advanced in years, but he was still a large man, several heads taller than me. They used to say he could command a room with his presence, before the opium commanded him.

He lumbered toward me now, his long hair loose on his shoulders, his gait sloping and precarious. With a snarl, he grabbed me by my chin, forcing me to meet his watery glare.

Our faces were inches from each other. I hadn't been this close to him in years.

Xiuying once confessed she'd thought him a handsome man when they first met, with his dark, luminous eyes, his straight nose and high cheekbones. "You're blessed with beauty, like him," she'd said, trying to compliment me. I hadn't told her it felt like the worst kind of insult.

"That Zhou raised you to insolence," Father muttered. "After your mother died, I shouldn't have let him interfere." He turned my face from side to side, like a butcher inspecting a pig for slaughter. When I tried to pull away, his grip only tightened.

"How old is she?" he asked, glancing at Xiuying. His voice took on a mocking lilt. "How old is my dear, lovely daughter?"

Xiuying's voice quavered as she answered. "Only just past eighteen," she said. "I still have much to teach her in the ways of women's-"

"Silence." Father released me, his eyes roving down my body now. "Eighteen is far too old to be uncommitted. Have Zhou call for the matchmaker tomorrow. I expect a dowry by new moon."

The new moon was in a fortnight. "No," I bit out. "I refuse to marry."

I didn't see his hand until it smashed into my cheek, the force of the slap snapping my head to one side. I blinked, forcing back tears.

"You will do as you're told, Hai Meilin," he said, a lethal undertone to his voice. "And if you fail to fetch a handsome dowry as a first wife, I will sell you as a concubine."

"My lord, please . . ." I hated the pleading look in Xiuying's eyes.

"You will not intervene!" He raised his hand to strike her, but I grabbed her first, pulling her behind me. Xiuying was shaking so hard I could feel her tremors in my bones.

"My orders are final," he said. "Meilin has lived under my roof for eighteen years, using my name, partaking at my table. It is time to pay back her debts." His hand twitched, seeking his pipe. "Now get out of my sight."

Xiuying opened the door to flee before he could change his mind.

"And don't let any of the warlord's messengers into this house!"

The door slammed shut behind us. We didn't dare stop until we were down the hall, ensconced in the women's chambers at the other end of the courtyard. Only then did I allow myself to come apart.

"Mei Mei," Xiuying whispered. She tucked my face into her chest and rocked me back and forth as we both wept-quietly, for even in our own chambers the walls had ears.

"It won't be so bad," she murmured. "The matchmaker will find you a kind and decent man. He will treasure and protect you."

"I wager that's what the matchmaker said about Father too, when she paired you with him. They lie, all of them!" My voice was scraped raw. "I hate him."

Xiuying shushed me. "Don't blame your father. He's under much stress," she said. "The debt collectors come every day now."

I raised my head. "I thought you dismissed most of the servants."

She sighed. "Still, the way things are, the household cannot go on for much longer. Perhaps it is a good thing war is on our doorsteps." She paused, biting her lip. "Skies forgive me for saying such a thing."

I tried to wipe away my tears, the realization dawning on me. "You need my dowry, don't you?"

Xiuying opened her mouth, then closed it. "Well," she said, "with war approaching, I believe the debt collectors will be otherwise occupied."

"Jie!"

My little sister ran into the chamber, clutching her beloved rag doll. She was only five years old, but already she had an intuitive sense for knowing when conflict was brewing. Living in this volatile household necessitated it.

"Rouha," I said, drying my eyes and standing. Xiuying patted her on the head and smoothed her braids.

"I told Plum to hide in the nursery," Rouha said. "I can tell Father's in a foul mood."

"Clever child," said Xiuying. "Play with your brother and stay out of the way tomorrow, all right? Jie Jie and I will be occupied."

"What are you doing?" She clung to my legs, peering at me with dread and apprehension. So she had overheard.

"The matchmaker will be paying us a visit," I said, opting for honesty. "I'm going to bring home a big dowry for all of you. Then you'll have new silks for dresses!"

"I don't want silks," Rouha said. "I hate dresses!"

Xiuying forced a laugh. "You fear dresses like the phoenix fears iron."

"And I hate the matchmaker!" Rouha's cheeks were flushed crimson-the telltale sign of an emerging tantrum.

"Shhh." Xiuying pinched her cheeks. "They're nice people. They read the stars and bring good fortune to families across Anlai."

"Good fortune," I scoffed, though I tried not to sound overly critical in front of Rouha. She too would one day speak with the matchmaker, and the same fate would fall upon her. The thought sent despair coiling in my gut. No wonder Anlai mothers tried so hard not to love their daughters. It was like exiling a piece of your own heart.

"I'm thankful to my matchmaker," Xiuying said softly, meeting my eyes over Rouha's small head, "for she brought me to you, sister."

Two

Men build cities; women tear them down.

-Analects of Zhu Yuan, 889

Xiuying fretted over me the next day, dressing me in one of her remaining dowry pieces that she hadn't yet sold off. It was a pale blue silk embroidered with fluttering willow trees, once beautiful but now fallen to decay. The sleeves were worn and threadbare, and the hem unraveling. Still, it was the finest piece we owned, and Xiuying was determined to leave a good impression on the matchmaker.

I was only determined to survive the day.

At noon, I climbed the rooftops to watch for the matchmaker's palanquin. Outside the walls of our complex, the streets were in an uproar over news of the impending war. Travelers poured in from outside the city gates: merchants hawking their wares, young men reporting for duty, courtesans hoping to turn a profit before all soldiers left for the battlefield. The crowds were rife with anticipation and excitement, the feeling of opportunity in the air. Only our household remained unaffected-the atmosphere inside our walls as still and somber as a tomb. I was signing away my future, wasn't I? Not that I had ever had much of one to begin with.

The familiar panic settled in my bones. I forced my eyes closed and released the muscles along my jaw and neck, down my spine. Uncle Zhou's instructions echoed in my head as I breathed in and out, channeling my qi, my life force. Wood, fire, earth, metal, water, I recited, balancing each element within my own blood and breath. It was Uncle Zhou who'd taught me qi gong and kung fu from a young age, until my ability surpassed his, surpassed that of even our local grandmaster, who knew how to keep a secret. My natural gift did not stem from my physical strength, which remained middling at best, but my mental fortitude, which martial arts had only further honed, a whetstone to steel. Without the release of qi gong, I was not certain I could've endured my mother's passing.

They say a girl with an ill-fated mother is doomed to follow in her footsteps. For Rouha's sake, I hoped the superstitions carried no truth. My mother passed away when I was twelve, and Rouha too young to remember her. Uncle Zhou claimed it was due to her weak heart, but we all heard the other servants whisper about her madness.

A gaudy, lurid palanquin turned the corner, lurching from side to side until it stopped in front of our gate. The woman who emerged wore more expensive robes than I did. Her hair was seeded with gray, but she still bore the vigor of a woman in her prime. She brushed aside help from her palanquin bearers and hobbled through the gates on her own. Then I remembered myself. I was no longer a bystander to the outside world. She was coming for me.

I scrambled back inside my window and rushed down the stairs, nearly barreling into Xiuying.

"There you are! Uncle Zhou said the matchmaker's arrived."

Xiuying dragged me to the sitting room, which had been aired out in anticipation of the matchmaker's visit. Still, I could detect the rancid odor of opium in the air, impossible to entirely extricate. Father had left his mark everywhere.

"Thank you for coming all this way, Madame Shu," said Xiuying, before pouring oolong tea for the matchmaker.

Madame Shu's eyes were shrewd, calculating. "It's a busy season for weddings, and I won't waste time on small talk. Let's get to business," she said, in a brusque tone I hadn't heard many women use before. "The state of your home astounds even me. And I hear all the rumors. Lord Hai has a fondness for gambling, doesn't he?"

Xiuying gaped at her blunt words. Clearly, Madame Shu did not care to hold her tongue.

"Please, sit," I said, motioning toward the only sofa in the room. We'd sold most of our furniture to the debt collectors long ago. Through her eyes, I saw the barrenness of our home anew.

It wasn't always like this, I wanted to say. Father was from nobility, the eldest son of the Hai clan, and yet, in the wake of my mother's passing, his penchant for gambling and opium had sunk him far. And because he was the patriarch of our family, where he went, we all followed.

The matchmaker sat, then pointed at the folding fan hung across the wall. "Is that a likeness of your mother?"

I nodded. The fan was illustrated with an ink portrait done by a former friend of my mother's, too worn to amount to any money. We knew, because we'd tried to sell even that.

"Beautiful figure, that one," said the matchmaker, reminiscing. "Pity what happened to her." She leaned toward me. "I heard she claimed to be communing with spirits by the end of her days. Is that true?"

Xiuying interceded. "Of course not," she snapped. "No one in this household would ever invite such trouble."

"That's the sort of evil that lingers," said the matchmaker, raising a suggestive brow at the state of our house. "And your husband seems never to have recovered after her passing."

Xiuying's cheeks turned the color of a New Year lantern.

"My mother was very sick by the end," I said quietly, "but we've always obeyed the Imperial Commander in this household."

The matchmaker nodded. "Very good," she said. "Come here."

I first glanced at Xiuying, then inched closer. With little ceremony, the matchmaker took my face in her hands, pinching and prodding every part of my body from my earlobes to my breasts to the loose skin on my elbows. She tsked at my lack of curves but continued her thorough examination down to the arches of my feet. Finally, she perched on the sofa and pursed her lips. Her expression did not bode well.

"I have a man in mind." She sighed, flipping through her ledgers. "He's the best I can do for you."




Monday, July 8, 2024

#Review - Red Sky Mourning by Jack Carr #Thriller

Series: Terminal List # 7
Format: Hardcover, 576 pages
Release Date: June 18, 2024
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Source: Library
Genre: Thriller 

With the walls closing in, Navy SEAL sniper James Reece is on a race to dismantle a conspiracy that has forced America to her knees in the latest high-octane page-turner that seems ripped from the headlines from the “hottest author on the thriller scene today” (The Real Book Spy), #1 New York Times bestseller Jack Carr.

You think you know James Reece. Think again.

A storm is on the horizon. America’s days are numbered. A Chinese submarine has gone rogue and is navigating towards the continental United States, putting its nuclear missiles within striking distance of the West Coast.

A rising Silicon Valley tech mogul with unknown allegiances is at the forefront of a revolution in quantum computing and Artificial Intelligence.

A politician controlled by a foreign power is a breath away from the Oval Office.

Three seemingly disconnected events are on a collision course to ignite a power grab unlike anything the world has ever seen.

The country’s only hope is a quantum computer that has gone dark, retreating to the deepest levels of the internet, learning at a rate inconceivable at her inception. But during her time in hiding, she has done more than learn. She has become a weapon. She is now positioned to act as either the country’s greatest savior or its worst enemy. She is known as “Alice” and her only connection to the outside world is to a former Navy SEAL sniper named James Reece who has left the violence of his past life behind.

Will there be blood?

Red Sky Mourning is the Seventh installment in author Jack Carr's The Terminal List series. While former Navy SEAL Commander James Reese is settling into what is supposed to be retirement in Montana after years of putting his life on the line for his country, the world is about to get much more dangerous. A storm is on the horizon. A Chinese submarine is navigating towards the continental United States unaware of the real events they are about to trigger. 

A rising Silicon Valley tech mogul with unknown allegiances is at the forefront of a revolution in quantum computing and Artificial Intelligence. A politician, from California, controlled by China is a breath away from the Oval Office if she is able to defeat the incumbent President Gale Olsen. Meanwhile in Montana, an attack on James and Katie sends Katie to the hospital hanging onto a thread thanks to those in China (and Iran, and Russia) who want him out of the way. 

These seemingly disconnected events are on a collision course to ignite a power grab unlike anything the world has ever seen. To make matters even more twisted, Reece is being offered a deal of a lifetime by China if he walks away from the country which took away his wife and daughter, his men to an experiment, and locked him up in months in a black hole for months after believing he was guilty of assassinating the former President. 

The country’s only hope is a quantum computer that has gone dark, retreating to the deepest levels of the internet, learning at a rate inconceivable at her inception. But during her time in hiding, she has done more than learn. She has become a weapon. She is now positioned to act as either the country’s greatest savior or its worst enemy. She is known as “Alice” and her only connection to the outside world is James Reece. Will the forces that threaten to destroy the United States be enough to light the fuse of Reece’s resurrection?

The final chapters of this book were perhaps the most twisted that I've seen since starting this series. What is next? Will there be another book after what James goes through? For many books now, James has been seeing his wife and daughter who were murdered in the first installment. Why would he ever trust anyone outside of his best friend and his family which has opened their arms to James and Katie?

*Thoughts* What makes Carr a good author is that he is a voracious reader. He is constantly researching and dropping Easter eggs that are homages to some of his favorite authors. At the backdrop of this story is China's ambition to annex Taiwan and its rapidly advancing technological prowess, mirroring real-world concerns about its rising power. Carr rarely shies away from exploring the darker aspects of the planet we currently live on. Especially the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution.’ 

Personally, I think it is terrifying that nations are rushing ahead without any thought of what would happen if AI-controlled weapons systems suddenly became sentient. Were we not forewarned by Terminator? The blurring lines between state and non-state actors, and the chilling concept of global elites seeking to reshape the world through a technological ‘Great Reset’ — a theme reminiscent of conspiracy theories surrounding the World Economic Forum. The scary part is that politicians and corporations have been working for China for years. 

Just a few years ago, it was revealed that a member of the Senate (from California) had a Chinese spy as her driver that lasted 10 years. What information did China gather from this person? Next, a member of Congress, again from California, literally fell for a Chinese spy named Fang Fang. Same question. Did this member lie to the FBI about his relationship? Recently it was reported that China now owns almost a million acres of US land, some of that land is near US military bases where they can spy on the US military.

Since 1949, China has been eager to reunify with Taiwan which they feel is a breakaway province. Forget about the fact that Taiwan freely elects who they want as their leaders ignoring daily threats from China. They have most of the world asleep at the wheel not understanding the damage to the world if China does go to war against Taiwan. They now have the largest Navy in the World. They have created military bases on islands that they created. They are attacking nations that are friendly with the US and have created a cozy relationship with Putin and North Korea. 

So, if you take one thing from this book, don't mistake Carr for adding his personal political views to the book. Take away that we are currently living in a world that is close to World War III thanks to the leadership of this country. Take away that thousands of Chinese students are in this country. Take away that hundreds of Chinese have already invaded the country thanks to our country's leadership. And, finally, the US must understand that China has not now nor ever been our friend or our allies.




Tuesday, July 2, 2024

#Review - Lies and Illusion by L.R. Braden #Fantasy #Paranormal

Series: The Magicsmith #7
Format: EBook, 347 pages
Release Date: June 28, 2024
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Diplomacy has never been Alex’s strong suit…

When the vampire council puts Alex and James on trial for exposing the species’ existence to the world, Alex's freedom and James's life hang in the balance, though Alex suspects James’s new daywalking ability is the real aim of their inquisition.

Any hope of talking their way out of hot water evaporates when one of the council members is found murdered…with James standing over the smoldering corpse. With every vampire looking to claim Alex’s power for themselves, she will have to team up with an unlikely ally, push her magic to its limits, and match wits against a powerful new foe if she hopes to come out unscathed.

Lies and Illusion is the 7th installment in author L.R. Braden's The Magicsmith series. Alyssandra (Alex) Blackwood, who is part practitioner and fae, has her work cut out for her in this installment thanks to events that happened in Chaos Song. Thanks to an oath she made with the Master Vampire of Denver, and also because James so publicly was seen walking in the sunlight during a pivotal battle, they are now summoned to appear before the Vampire Council somewhere in Canada to face a trial that may determine whether they live, or not.

But things get off to a rocky start after one of the council members is found dead, and the prime suspect is James who was last seen outside of Hanzo's room. Alex, who has been trying her best to get a group of paranatural's to work together in order to prevent the fae from starting another war, now has to prove that James is not a killer, while also dealing with powerful vampires who will decide whether or not the vampires will join Alex's group. 

Even though Victoria betrayed Alex, she is the one who is given the mantle to discover who was responsible for Hanzo's death. This, however, doesn't stop Alex. She's dealt with the vampires before. She almost became a thrall to a powerful former vampire of Denver. She's dealt with the werewolves before, and now counts several Alpha's as friends. She's also faced the Fae of the Court of Enchantment, as well as the Water Fae. As she gets closer to finding the truth, it appears that someone is going to try again to control Alex and her ability to create day walkers. 

Here's some slight spoilers. Be prepared for a twisted ending. Just when you thought you had things figured out, the author will get you good. I don't know where the series goes from here with what happens to James, and the fact that his fate is now clearly in the hands of Alex who hasn't been able to duplicate what she did to help James daywalk. I am saddened that more people haven't read this series, but am happy that Braden continues to write books. There's a whole lot more that Alex has to deal with including the PTF, the Church, the Paranatural Alliance, and the impending war with her grandfather's fae.