Thursday, October 31, 2019

#Review - Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon #YA #Fantasy

Series: Gravemaidens #1
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: October 29, 2019
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy

The start of a fierce fantasy duology about three maidens who are chosen for their land’s greatest honor…and one girl determined to save her sister from the grave. 
In the walled city-state of Alu, Kammani wants nothing more than to become the accomplished healer her father used to be before her family was cast out of their privileged life in shame.

When Alu’s ruler falls deathly ill, Kammani’s beautiful little sister, Nanaea, is chosen as one of three sacred maidens to join him in the afterlife. It’s an honor. A tradition. And Nanaea believes it is her chance to live an even grander life than the one that was stolen from her.

But Kammani sees the selection for what it really is—a death sentence.

Desperate to save her sister, Kammani schemes her way into the palace to heal the ruler. There she discovers more danger lurking in the sand-stone corridors than she could have ever imagined and that her own life—and heart—are at stake. But Kammani will stop at nothing to dig up the palace’s buried secrets even if it means sacrificing everything…including herself.

Gravemaidens is the first installment in author Kelly Coon's Gravemaidens duology. The story is about a girl, Kammani, who uses her smarts as a healer in a world where females of her stature aren’t even supposed to read. Kammani is an apprentice healer whose family was once part of the upper class until her father failed to heal the son of the ruling Lugal. Her families furniture, bedding, clothing, and all their jewels were distributed to others. Kami's father was once considered to be the beat healer in all the lands.

But, that was before he lost his way and started drinking himself to the point of no return. Kami has learned all she can learn but could use a pointer here or there to be just as good as her father. With the Lugal on his death bed, (3) sacred maidens will soon be chosen to accompany him to the afterlife. Kammani is the only one to see past the honor and cherished tradition for what it is: a death sentence. But, nothing could prepare Kami for her own sister, Nanaea, being chosen.

Nanaea still hasn't gotten over her loss of station. She is thrilled to be chosen knowing that she's lost so much potential over something she had nothing to do with. Kami refuses to let her go without a fight. In order to save her sister, she becomes the Lugal's healer in order to save her sister from certain death. She will have to stand and fight against those who want to see her fail which will also send her to the afterlife with her sister and the Lugal. 

Kami has been chased after by a boy named Dagan whose family is very successful for awhile now. Kami doesn't want to settle down with anyone and therefore puts him off time and time again. Dagan is a charmer, honest, and completely devoted to Kami even though she doesn't give him the time of day. Even her sister and her best friend know that Dagan is the perfect match for her, and if she doesn't act quickly, she will be alone and end up a spinster.

One of the things that is done well is this story, is the relationship between the sisters. You will definitely understand why Nanaea is so thrilled by becoming a sacred maiden while her sister is sick of losing family members. Nanaea embodies a young woman resentful of her situation and just doing her best to survive rather than make a good life for herself. After all, she is finds herself the center of attention, and given whatever she can ever hope for before she is taken by the Boatman. 

I also loved Kami's best friend Iltani who stands by her even when she makes some really dumb mistakes. Other characters to pay attention to are Nin Arwia. Nin is the Lugal's daughter, but she isn't so sure of herself or her legacy when it comes to taking over for her father. She and Kami become friends after a fashion. Kasha is the brother of Kami and Nanaea who was taken away from the family and given to the palace after his father failed to heal the Lugal's son.

Thoughts: The first half of GraveMaidens is quite slow, but if you have patience, you will discover that there is more to this story than first thought. I gave this story a better overall rating by discovering deep breaths and not allowing any character to get under my skin no matter how awful they really were. Kammani she bears a lot of responsibility on her shoulders thanks to her father never being around. Kammani even refuses to accept help from anyone which is just pride getting in the way. The ending leaves some interesting choices for the author to make concerning Kammani, her sister, and others.   

Today, three girls would be doomed to die an honored, royal death.

A coil of dread wound itself around my guts at the thought, but I took a deep breath and focused on the little boy standing in front of me. Getting wrapped up in Palace rituals wasn’t part of my duties, but healing a child was.

Especially when his cure meant food for my family.

“Open your mouth and say ‘Ahhh’ as if the Boatman were chasing you.” I held his face, which was covered in crumbs. Probably the remnants of a thick slice of warm honeycake. My stomach rumbled, imagining the treat he’d likely enjoyed. Beneath the sticky mess, his tawny cheeks were unusually pale.

“Ahhhhhh!” the boy screamed.

Smiling slightly, his innocence a welcome relief from my dark thoughts, I stuck the end of a spoon into his mouth to hold down his tongue, angling his head to the morning sunlight to see inside. Behind me, his mother hovered, smoothing her violet tunic and patting her hair, which was fastened into two neat buns above her ears. When she fidgeted, the gold chains looped around her forehead shimmered in the light streaming in from the window.

Despite the circumstances, it was nice to see that the mothers who had all the wealth in the city were no different from the mothers in my neighborhood who had none. When it came to their sick children, their hands twisted nervously in the same way.

The boy’s throat was blistered white. I smoothed my hands over his bare back and touched my lips to his forehead to check for fever—an old healer’s trick, since lips are more sensitive than hands. He was slightly warm but not worryingly so. The glands in his neck were swollen, as they should be with an infection, but this child would be able to fight it off. His muscles were strong, his reflexes good, his eyes clear. Unlike the children of my neighbors, he was undoubtedly fed daily with the freshest fruits and vegetables, the finest fish and meats. I swallowed my hurt at the inequity.

But it wasn’t this child’s fault.

“You’re going to be just fine.” I ruffled his silky hair.

“I am?” He popped his thumb in his mouth and sucked furiously, then withdrew it when his mother looked sideways at him with eyes outlined by thick strokes of kohl. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure!” I took his chin in my palm. “Why do you ask?”

“Because the Boatman comes when you’re really sick.” His lip trembled, and the thumb went back into his mouth.

I took his other hand in mine. “I’m sorry if I scared you when I mentioned the Boatman. The truth is, he’s not so scary at all. He’s a helper to the gods. Did you know that?”

The lie rolled effortlessly off my tongue.

He shook his head.

“It’s true. The Boatman is just a man who lived long ago.” I looked around the common room for something to add a note of truth to my tale. A carved-wood sicklesword, one that was, no doubt, modeled after his guardsman father’s, sat atop a braided rug next to an emerald-colored floor cushion. “The Boatman used to be a guardsman. But now he’s a helper. When you die, you pay the coin for your passage and the Boatman scoops you up, puts you into his rickety boat, and paddles you off to the Netherworld, where there are endless parties and games and honeycake forever and ever.”

I squatted down to his eye level. “But he only comes if you’re very, very sick—which you are not—or very, very old—which you are not, although you do look much older than you are with these big, strong muscles.” I squeezed his little arm.

He giggled around the thumb in his mouth. Then his eyes grew serious. “Will Ummum be there in the Netherworld when I go?” He looked at his mother, who ran her clean, carefully tended fingernails down her arm. From the direction of the sleeping quarters, an infant wailed.

“Yes. Before you go with the Boatman as an old, old, old man”—the smile flickered again—“she will be there waiting for you with the biggest honeycake of all.”

My throat constricted as I finished the story, but I forced the sorrow away with every bit of my strength.

I stood and turned to his mother. “Do you have any garlic?”

“Let me check with the servant.” She called into the other room. “Hala?”

A girl my sister’s age—maybe fifteen years—appeared in the doorway, holding the squalling infant in her arms. She was the child of one of my neighbors. Women of my stature often sent their unmarried daughters to be servants in other people’s households to earn coins or food. “My lady?” she said, her eyes on her bare feet.

“Where is the garlic?”

“It’s in the bin near the door. Shall I fetch it for you?”

“Why do you suppose I asked for it?” The woman crossed her arms over her chest. Hala dipped her head, her cheeks blazing, and retreated with the infant.

I took a breath, forcing myself to put on the mask of civility I wore daily when dealing with the ill and their families. “To help ease his throat and take away the infection, mix six crushed cloves in a flagon of warm water and bid him gargle with it.”

She nodded her agreement. “He won’t like it, but if it will help, we will do it.”

“Yes, and it will have to be twice a day for three days. By the end of the third day, if his symptoms persist, send for me again and I will bring a stronger tincture.”

“Okay. Thank you, A-zu.” She turned, as if to go.

“Oh, no, my lady. I am no great A-zu. My abum is the best healer in the city.” No matter what anyone thinks anymore. “I am merely his apprentice.”

“Well, then why didn’t he come himself? Why did he send you?” She looked me up and down.

Why didn’t I keep silent?

I stared at my dirty toes, encased in sandals that were two years too small. There was no easy way to answer her question. When my mother had passed away a moon ago, he’d lost his will to tend to himself, let alone anyone else. Not only had I taken on the tasks of running the household and caring for my sister, but I’d also been visiting his patients all over the city. As his healer’s apprentice, it was my duty. Plus, we had to get paid.

“He was called away for an emergency, my lady, but I’d be happy to send him when he is back if you need him.”

I was making a promise I might not be able to keep, but the coins were already in her hand. If she opted not to pay me, there was nothing I could do, and I had to take care of my family.

She blew out an exasperated breath, then looked back at her little boy, who was squatting on the rug, playing with the sicklesword. “Fine,” she murmured. “Take this and be gone.”

She dropped six shekels into my hand, pulling away quickly, as if I were the one with an illness. I stuffed them into my healing satchel before she could change her mind.

“Thank you, noblewoman. I appreciate your generosity.” I nodded once to the boy and then to Hala, who’d come back with the garlic and the red-faced baby. Right before I closed the door, the woman snatched the garlic from Hala’s hand and yelled at her for not moving faster. I cringed, thinking of my own sister taking a scolding like that, as I headed quickly toward the marketplace. Thankfully, with the healing practice, I hadn’t yet needed to subject her to a wealthy woman’s whims. I shook my head at poor Hala’s fate.

Such was life for those born low and for those like us, cast into poverty after the biggest regrets of our lives.

At least now I had the means to buy grain and could be out of the marketplace before three perfectly healthy girls were called upon to lie in the cold embrace of a dead ruler.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

#Review w/ Excerpt - Deception by Teri Terry #YA #SyFy

Series: Dark Matter Trilogy # 2
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: October 29, 2019
Publisher: Charlesbridge Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction

The second book in the spine-tingling Dark Matter trilogy. Finding the cause of a deadly epidemic and a cure has never been more urgent—or uncertain.

Shay, one of the rare survivors of the epidemic sweeping the UK, has surrendered herself to the Army because she believes she’s a carrier of the deadly disease. Along with other survivors, she unwillingly becomes a test subject in an effort to find a cure. When the lab where she’s being held is attacked, Shay and a few others escape—with the help of Dr. Alex Cross, Kai’s hated stepfather and Callie’s father. Alex is the leader of the cult-like group Multiverse. Their agenda is murky, but genetic engineering might be one of their goals.

Meanwhile, a heartbroken Kai is determined to find Shay. He’s discovered survivors aren’t carriers, and Shay sacrificed herself for nothing. Teaming up with other survivors who are being hunted, Kai races to rescue Shay before it’s too late. His sister, Callie, the true carrier of the epidemic, continues to hide her secret, and a wave of infection follows in her wake as she travels across the country.

As mysteries deepen, the teens must decide whom to trust, and their friendships are tested. Is Callie who she says she is? Should Shay trust the man her mother ran away from—a man Kai hates? Will Kai ever forgive Shay for her betrayal?

Series Overview: A secret scientific experiment goes fatally wrong, and it’s up to three teens to put the pieces of this medical mystery together in hopes of stopping an epic human extinction.

Deception is the second installment in author Teri Terry's Dark Matter trilogy. This story is about a devastating plague that was unleashed on Scotland and other parts of the UK after some scientists decided to play around with particle accelerators, quantum particles, and dark matter in order to create a biological weapon. The trilogy revolves around (3) characters. Callie is a young girl who was apparently kidnapped, experimented on, treated and killed, only to end up as a ghost.  

Callie is still on a mission to find the doctor she is calling Doctor # 1. He was responsible for what happened at a secretive lab in Scotland. He was the one who treated then burned her body after she was supposedly cured. Callie can only be seen or heard by other survivors. Callie has finally come to terms that Shay isn't responsible for the spreading of the wave of death that seems to have followed Callie everywhere. There is a whopper of a surprise in story for readers once you reach the ending in regards to Callie. 

Sharona aka Shay McAllister, is a teen who came down with the plague but survived. Only about 5 % of the population are immune to the plague itself. She thought she was a carrier of the dreaded plague and turned herself in at the end of Contagion. Shay developed the rare ability to tell if someone is lying, she can also heal herself, and force people into listening to her. Shay finds allies including a doctor who just happens to be her father, as well as Callie's. Coincidence? I don't think so. People like Shay are being killed on sight since everyone believes they are carriers. In the end, Shay makes an interesting choice to follow her apparent father in seeking answers as to what really happened, and if there is any way to stop it from spreading beyond the UK. 

Kai Tanzer is Callie's older brother, but can't see or hear her like Shay can. He's really upset at Shay for taking the blame for spreading the plague. Kai is also reluctant to trust others. He has witnessed atrocities by group called SAR (Special Alternatives Regimen). Kai as someone who is immune, is required to have a tattoo identifying them as being immune to the virus. They can pretty much go anywhere without any issues. Kai has a whole lot of communication with Shay's best friend Iona in this book and that gives readers a chance to sift thru the lies from the truth as Iona is really seeing it from a different perspective. 

We meet a whole bunch of new characters, some of them are a bit shady and some immediately grow on you like Freya. One of the positives of this trilogy is the short chapters which I believe is a good thing for reluctant readers who are not sure they want to read this series. There are some interesting twists that are revealed at the end of this book. It is obviously a ploy to get readers interested in reading the finale. Also, I am not sure what the future holds for Shay and Kai, but it almost felt as though the author was trying to disrupt any future plans by inserting a new character for Kai to yearn for. One of the things really gets to me is Callie. And, no, I am not going to spoil it for you. Let's just say that her overall storyline is a head scratcher. 

Chapter 1: Callie
I panic when I return to the house and my brother, Kai, isn’t inside. Has he vanished while I was searching for Shay? Have they both left me behind?
But I soon find him behind the house, standing on the cliff and gazing at the sea. His arms are crossed, his body rigid. He stares at the waves breaking on the rocks, far below, like he is thinking of joining them.
I’m afraid.
Don’t leave me too, Kai. I need you. I say the words even though I know he can’t hear me. Shay wasn’t just Kai’s girlfriend and my friend: she was also the only one who could see or hear me. Now that she’s gone I’m powerless to reach him.
I place myself between him and the cliff’s edge. If I move close to him, I feel a resistance, the same as if I push against anything— a person, a rock, a door. They all feel the same to me. I stare at his eyes. They’re hazel—almost green now in the sun—and are full of rage and pain. He is my brother, and there is nothing I can do to help him. Nothing I could do to stop him if he decided to step over the edge. I could go with him, fly down the cliff, watch his body smash on the rocks and break and bleed and die, but I would just go on and on.
It’s hard to die when you’re already dead.
But I’m hurting too. Shay left both of us. I want to tell him this, and the frustration of not being seen or heard makes me howl and wave my fists at the sea.
Kai looks towards me, his eyes startled. Did he hear something? When I screamed in the underground institute at the techs who vacuumed up my ashes after Dr. 1 had me cured in fire, they jumped. Then later one of them whistled along when I sang. Maybe Kai can hear me, even if only a little?
Kai! I’m here! I shout the words out with all that I am.
He frowns, then shakes his head, and turns and walks back to the house.
Maybe he can sense me, at least a little, but he doesn’t believe it. At least I’ve interrupted whatever he was thinking as he stared at the rocks and the sea.
Inside he paces back and forth. He reaches into his pocket and takes out a letter. It looks all crinkled, like he’d rolled it into a ball and then smoothed it out again. He looks at it but moves it around too fast for me to see what it says.
He stuffs it back in his pocket and flops on to the sofa.
“Callie, are you there?”
I’m here, I’m here! I want to cry when I hear his voice; when I hear him say Callie.
“Shay’s left. She says she didn’t take you with her, that you’d want to stay with me. That I should talk to you.” He wraps his arms around himself like he’s trying to hold something in.
“She’s gone to turn herself in at the air force base, to tell them she’s a carrier and that the epidemic started here in Shetland. In case…in case that goes wrong, she says we shouldn’t follow. We should leave the island and go back to the mainland. Tell everyone we can about the origin and spread of the epidemic and don’t let them cover it up.
“She says that I should tell you that she’s sorry.” His voice is bitter with anger. “Like being sorry makes it all right!” He raises his hand in a fist, but then his body seems to collapse in on itself. “Shay, how could you?” he whispers. He fights it, but his shoulders are shaking.
And…and…he’s crying. Kai—my big brother—is crying?
This is so wrong. It makes me twist up inside like I’m about to cry, too, but tears are something I don’t have anymore. And, even worse: there is a horrible feeling gnawing inside me.
It’s my fault. Isn’t it?
It’s my fault Shay left. She thought she was contagious; that everyone—including her mother—caught it from her and got sick and died. I let her think this; I didn’t tell her the truth.
I didn’t tell her that it was me who was the carrier all along. It never occurred to her, what with me being dead: who ever heard of a contagious ghost? But all the major centers of the epidemic—from the beginning when it spread from Shetland to Aberdeen, then to Edinburgh, and then to Newcastle and beyond—were places I’d been. The disease always hit soon after I was there: it had to be me.
Later, when Shay got sick and survived, she could see and hear me. She was the only one who could after I was cured—apart from the dying. After that, the disease did follow wherever she went—but only because I was there too. She’d never even been to Aberdeen or Newcastle. She’d explained that away by saying there must have been other survivors in those places, but I never found any when I was there.
She would never have left Kai and me if I had told her the truth, but…
It’s not my fault; none of it. Everything goes back to Dr. 1. He’s the one who did this to me. He’s the doctor who gave me the illness in his lab underground. When I survived and changed, he cured me in fire and turned me into whatever it is that I am now.
It’s his fault.
Everything I’ve done from the beginning—getting Kai and Shay to come to this house on Shetland to find the source of the epidemic, and then not telling Shay that it’s me who is the carrier, not her—was all to get at Dr. 1.
I wanted to go with Shay. Once she tells them Dr. 1 is the one who started the epidemic, they’ll hunt him down. I want to be there when they find him. That’s why I couldn’t tell her the truth—she wouldn’t have turned herself in if she’d known she wasn’t the carrier.
But she left without me.
Why? Why didn’t she take me with her?
Kai cries, and the rage and heat inside me strengthens, grows—a fury that could destroy and swallow the world.
Dr. 1 must pay for what he’s done.
Chapter 2: Shay
Before I can finally take off the biohaard suit that the solders made me wear, I’m locked in a small, sealed room. Even without the suit, the claustrophobic feeling of not being able to breathe fully is still there. One wall of the room is glass—very thick glass.
Dr. Morgan is on the other side of this transparent wall with two men—older ones, not the same ones who came out to get me earlier. All three are in uniform. They’re talking, but I can’t hear them.
I knock on the glass. They continue talking, but then a moment later Dr. Morgan reaches for some controls, and I can hear them clearly.
“Hello, Shay. Sorry about the barrier.” She gestures at the wall between us. “Are you more comfortable without the suit?”
I shrug. “Sure. Yes.”
She smiles, but there is an edge to it.
“Now, Shay, we’ve found out a few things about you.” She looks at a tablet in her hands. “Such as… you are wanted in connection with a murder. Also, it says here that you were reported as immune?”
“I didn’t kill anybody!” Then I realize that’s not true: many, many people have died because of me, haven’t they? I sigh and cross my arms. “I mean, I didn’t shoot that boy they say I did.”
She nods, a careful look on her face, disbelief in her aura.
No. No way. Are they not going to believe anything I say because I was framed by SAR?
I grip the edges of the table between me and the glass and lean forward. “Listen to me. You have to listen.”
“We’re listening,” she says.
“I had the flu. I thought I was going to die. My mother did die.” I push the pain away. “And we went back to Killin—”
“We? That’d be you and Kai Tanzer, currently also wanted after mysteriously going missing from a police cell in Inverness. Do you know where he is now?”
“No. Anyway, I said I was immune, like Kai. We helped at the hospital tent in Killin. Then this creepy lieutenant from SAR—”
“Special Alternatives Regiment of the army.”
She half raises an eyebrow, and I can see it: she’s never heard of this regiment. How can that be? I know this is an air force base, not an army one, but I wouldn’t have thought they were so separate that they didn’t know the names of each other’s regiments.
“Anyhow, this lieutenant—Kirkland-Smith, he said his name was—came looking for me and said he knew I was a survivor and that SAR were taking me away to help study the epidemic, but he was lying. They wanted to kill me.”
“How did you know he was lying?” “I just did.”
“I see. Try this, Shay. I’ll tell you two things—one a lie, and one the truth, and you tell me which is which.”
“Seriously? Aren’t there more important things to be—”
“Humor me. Please.”
I stare back at her, then shrug my shoulders. I’ll go along with anything, if it’ll help them believe me. “Okay, fine,” I say.
“All right. My middle name is Hannah. My middle name is Helen.” As she speaks, I study her aura: the waves of color that surround her, unique to her, change with her thoughts and feelings. When she says Helen there are ripples of silver blue, and I feel the truth within them. When she says Hannah her aura is disturbed, with slashes of mustard and green—it’s a lie.
“You lied about Hannah; your middle name is Helen.”
“That’s just a fifty-fifty guess,” one of the men says. They’ve been silent until now. “Try again,” he says and gives me a list of ten possible middle names for himself.
I roll my eyes. “Your middle name is Monteroy. Congratulations on middle name weirdness. Can we carry on now?”
He nods.
“Impressive,” Dr. Morgan says. “Okay, so let’s just assume you knew this lieutenant was lying. And then?”
“I ran away. They shot at me and hit me in the ear.”
“That wasn’t that long ago. I didn’t notice any injury?”
I shrug. “I healed it.”
“Oh, for…Look.” I bite my lip, hard. A trickle of blood runs down my face and the pain helps me focus, to keep my temper.
“See? I’m bleeding.” And then I close my eyes and reach for the pain, reach inside me; to the blood and tissue and their components, down to a cellular level, then molecular, and atomic. Atoms are made up of particles; particles that can behave as waves—waves that can be influenced and changed. I heal my lip and wipe off the blood from before. The cut is gone. “And now I’m not.”
Dr. Morgan frowns. “I don’t know what trick that is, but—”
“It’s not a trick. It’s part of being a survivor.”
Her aura shifts; she’s pleased. She’s pleased I confirmed this?
“All right, then,” she says, “let’s say you are a survivor. Now let’s get back to this boy you shot—”
“I didn’t shoot anybody! A soldier from SAR shot at me, and Duncan pushed me out of the way and saved my life. The soldier shot Duncan.”
“Really?” She doesn’t believe me. If she doesn’t believe that, how will she believe anything else?
After everything we’ve been through, after having to leave Kai—I push that pain away, too, to save it for later—could it come down to this? That they won’t believe me? I focus on Dr. Morgan; disbelief shimmers through her aura.
And on top of everything else, I’m tired, hungry, and getting more and more angry with these word games. “Now you three are going to sit there and listen. Not another word, all right?” Tendrils of my anger whip out and find the part of their auras that allows their free will to speak, to form words, to stand up or do anything really, and I hold it fast. All they can do is listen.
And I tell them everything. About SAR kidnapping Kai to try to trap me; about how I rescued him; how we got away. That I came to Shetland to trace the cause of the epidemic. About the boat trip across to the island and the plague ship. About Dr. 1 and the research institute underground and what he was doing there with a particle accelerator: making and extracting quantum particles of some kind and using them as a biological weapon. He tested whatever he created on subjects and killed people. That it got out, and this is how the epidemic started. And then I tell them everywhere I’ve been and when as the epidemic followed me across country about a day behind. I leave out that Callie and Kai came here with me, but I tell them everything else.
When I finally stop talking, I’m exhausted—both from reliving the tale and from the effort of influencing all three of them at once. I release them.
“What did you do to us?” Dr. Morgan asks, her eyes round.
“You wouldn’t listen. I made you listen.”
There is fear on their faces, clear enough without even looking at their auras. They get up and almost run out of a door on their side of the glass.
At least they listened.
Uneasy, I wrap my arms around myself. Maybe that display wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe I’d have been better off keeping the things I can do to myself. But I didn’t plan to do that. I was angry, and it just sort of happened.
Too late to second-guess it now.
Someone comes to the door just as I’m falling asleep in the chair. He’s in a full biohazard suit and goes through the double airlock into my small room.
“Hi, Shay. I’m here to help you put on your suit.”
“And then what?”
“We’re flying you to England, to talk to some experts there about the Aberdeen flu.”
The knots inside me loosen. Did they believe at least part of what I said?
I get up and he holds out the suit; I step into it. Again I have to fight the automatic urge to push it away, to stop his hands doing up the seals.
“I’ll just adjust the ventilation,” he says and does something to the top of the suit before snapping it closed over my head. I’m so distracted by not wanting to be closed up inside of this thing that by the time I notice the deception in his aura, it’s too late.
There’s a funny taste and smell inside my suit. My head spins. “What…what have you…done?” I manage to whisper the words, but the world is lurching—I’m falling. Like he was expecting this, he’s there, ready, and I feel his hands through the suit catching me.
Everything goes black.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

#Review - Capturing the Devil by Kerri Maniscalco #YALIT / #Mysteries

Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper (#4)
Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
Release Date: September 10, 2019
Publisher: JIMMY Patterson
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Mysteries

In the shocking finale to the bestselling series that began with Stalking Jack the Ripper, Audrey Rose and Thomas are on the hunt for the depraved, elusive killer known as the White City Devil. A deadly game of cat-and-mouse has them fighting to stay one step ahead of the brilliant serial killer---or see their fateful romance cut short by unspeakable tragedy.

Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell have landed in America, a bold, brash land unlike the genteel streets of London. But like London, the city of Chicago hides its dark secrets well. When the two attend the spectacular World's Fair, they find the once-in-a-lifetime event tainted with reports of missing people and unsolved murders.

Determined to help, Audrey Rose and Thomas begin their investigations, only to find themselves facing a serial killer unlike any they've encountered before. Identifying him is one thing, but capturing him---and getting dangerously lost in the infamous Murder Hotel he constructed as a terrifying torture device---is another.

Will Audrey Rose and Thomas see their last mystery to the end---together and in love---or will their fortunes finally run out when their most depraved adversary makes one final, devastating kill?

“Beyond life, beyond death; My love for thee is eternal.”

Capturing the Devil is the Fourth and Final installment in author Kerri Maniscalco's Stalking Jack the Ripper series. The story takes place January 1889 thru February 1889. After disembarking the RMS Etruria, Audrey Rose Wadsworth, and Thomas Cresswell are in New York City along with her uncle, Dr. Wadsworth to assist in a murder investigation. Wherever Audrey Rose and Thomas go, murder seems to follow them around. 

Audrey's investigation into new murders appearing in New York City takes a long way to get to a point where she has some clue as to who the actual villain is. I made the connection as to who the killer was almost immediately after he is introduced. The story doesn't stay in New York that long. To add even more confusion, when Audrey Rose and Thomas are about to be married with all their friends in attendance, an unforeseen event takes place that stops them from being wed. Turns out, Thomas is already betrothed to another.  

Cresswell's father blackmail's Thomas into marrying someone else who coincidentally decides to show up at the wedding. If he doesn't marry the woman he chose, he will lose his inheritance and his sister will be forced to marry an old miser. Marriage in this universe is all about doing business and rising up in your status. Thomas is not at all happy with the proceedings, but that is pale in comparison to Audrey who has allowed Thomas into her heart, and made the choice to be with him while they are both under the tutelage of Dr. Wadsworth.

After the interruption, Audrey and Thomas choose to flee for Chicago. Chicago is hosting the World's Fair. Have to say, this added a legitimate feel to the story since the Fair was an actual historical event that did take place in Chicago. There are some returning characters from the previous installment including Mephistopheles (Ayden). To note, Audrey's is also disabled, her leg is injured and not healing properly leaving her needing a walking cane to get around. 

Not like disability or the cane stops her. Since the beginning, Audrey Rose has been attracted to the dark whilst also looking into the mind of a famed serial killer. She's kicked societal expectations about how a lady is supposed to act in the teeth. She picked up being a Medical Examiner with almost no hesitation. Before this story, there were still so many questions surrounding Audrey's brother Nathaniel and what happened over the first installment in this series. I'm glad that this plot hole was filled in sufficiently to allow the series to end in a heart warming manner.

Monday, October 28, 2019

#Review - Five ​Dark Fates by Kendare Blake #YA #Fantasy

Series: Three Dark Crowns # 4
Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
Release Date: September 3, 2019
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Epic

In the final book in the New York Times bestselling Three Dark Crowns series, an all-out war is brewing—one that will pit sister against sister, dead against undead, and the betrayed against their betrayers.

Picking up the pieces after the grim confrontation with Queen Katharine, Mirabella and Arsinoe must figure out what’s next. Their answer to Katharine’s evil reign was in Jules, their warrior, but now that her mind has been ravaged by uncontrollable fits of madness, there’s no telling what might happen with the rebellion.

Then Mirabella goes missing and, though it pains Arsinoe to admit, all signs point to an unthinkable betrayal. But there are more players in this war than she realizes. The power struggle will come to an end indeed, but at what price?

In this conclusion to the Three Dark Crowns series, three sisters will rise to fight as the secrets of Fennbirn’s history are laid bare. Allegiances will shift. Bonds will be tested. But the fate of the island lies in the hands of its queens.... It always has.

Five Dark Fates is the Fourth and final installment in author Kendare Blake's Three Dark Crowns series. This story continues where Two Dark Reigns left off. The story alternatives third person POV's between sisters Arsinoe, the naturalist queen who really should have been placed with the poisoners, Mirabella, the most powerful elemental queen in a long while, and Queen Katharine, the one who defeated her sisters, and now carries the Dead Queens of the past within her. 

You could add Jules as a semi-main character since she was born a Guardian, a Naturalist, and Warrior born cursed which has led us to this point in the series. Plus, with her abilities, she could be one of the most powerful characters in this series. The sides have been chosen. Arsinoe chose to stay with Jules, the Legion Queen of Sunpool, her best friend since childhood. Mirabella chose to go to Katharine hoping that she could stop her sisters from killing one another. Mira refuses to see the bad in Katharine, and has hopes that she can do something to prevent her sisters from killing each other. 

But, there are other problems like the mist that seems to have a mind of its own, and a rebellion that is rushing forward towards an unknown conclusion. I think Mira's choice was the right one. She's the oldest, and therefore she knows that when all is said and done, she has to try to keep her sisters alive, even though history and the Island of Fennbirn expects only one to live. Kat is as morally complex as a character can be. Labeling her as a villain completely erases the fact that Kat wanted and was trying to be a good queen; she was a result of the life-altering decisions made by others around her, including if you remember, Pietyr. 

It's probably unfair of me to say this, but Arsinoe was probably the weakest character. Her only saving grace is that she doesn't just abandon her best friend, and allows Billy to make his own choices in the end. Plus, she's tied to a freaking bear named Braddock. While I don't have an issue with killing off characters who seemingly have wasted readers times, or have clearly bitten off more than they can chew, I was really not a fan of who survives and who dies. Especially when one of the characters was one of my favorites and I believed she would be indestructible. This characters death was almost an after thought. 

The author looked around and said, whoa, I have so many characters someone must die! In the end, the sisters are really guided by fate, and the Dead Queens who push and push until Katharine is left without anyway out of her fate. In the end, it is characters like Pietyr, Billy, Bree, and Elizabeth who are forced into some interesting choices. In the end, this wasn't all that bad of an ending to a series.

Friday, October 25, 2019

#Blog Tour / #Review - Shattered Bonds by Faith Hunter #Urban #Fantasy

 Welcome to Gizmo's Reviews tour stop for Faith Hunter's Shattered Bonds, the Thirteenth installment in the authors Jane Yellowrock series. There is a nifty short story called Of Cats and Cars, as well as a tour wide giveaway! Thanks for stopping by!

Series: Jane Yellowrock # 13
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Release Date: October 29, 2019
Publisher: ACE
Source: Publisher/Blog Tour
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Jane Yellowrock must dig deep and find strength within herself if she is to survive in the latest novel in this New York Times bestselling series.
Jane Yellowrock is vampire-killer-for-hire, but her last battle with an ancient arcane enemy has brought her low. She seeks retreat in the Appalachian Mountains to grieve the loss of her friends, and to heal—or to die—from the disease brought on by her magic.
But malevolent elements in the paranormal community still seek to destroy Jane, and a terrifying foe stalks her, even into the safety of the hills. With nowhere to run and her body failing, the rogue-vampire hunter and her inner Beast must discover a way to defeat this new threat, and find a form that gives her a chance to fight another day.

Shattered Bonds, by author Faith Hunter, is the Thirteenth installment in the authors Jane Yellowrock series. Jane is in a state of stasis as the story opens. She's abdicated all of her responsibilities of being the Dark Queen and Emperor of the Eurovamps. She's made no moves to take any territory or created her own army. She's told Edmund and Gregoire to take care of anything that might come up. After all, Jane's human body is withering away and dying of a magically induced cancer which seems to have no cure. The best she can do is remain in her beast form, or her half form which she easily can do. 

Jane's closest, including Eli & Alex Younger, Bruiser, Brute & Pea the grindylow, are with at Yellowrock Clan Home as she struggles to find a cure. But, that doesn't stop a dangerous adversary of targeting her people. When Angie has a bad dream, followed shortly after Edmund's connection to Jane being broken, Jane presumes the worst and prepares for another battle. Jane soon learns that a bunch of people have gone missing, & that New Orleans is under siege. Jane invites Molly and her family to stay with her in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. 

But, Jane's home is grounds for attacks by an powerful evil called Shimon Bar-Ioudas, Son of Darkness. Jane has a history with his family. A history that hasn't exactly been on the positive side for Shimon's family. Jane has faced dozens of villains in her time as a vampire hunter, Leo's enforcer, and the Sandre Duello fight which saw a distinct change in which characters survived, and which are thought to be dead. Shimon isn't afraid of anyone. He fully believes that he can force Jane and her friends to submit to his rule. 

He is also kidnapping and torturing others who readers of this series will discover upon reading the book. Jane has an ally, of sorts, in Lincoln Shaddock and his clan. Lincoln is someone you should really pay attention to. Good thing too since there are other clans that have gone rogue, and clans that are believed to be true dead. Molly's sisters are also forced to flee after they are attacked, while Jane's supposed allies Gee Di Mercy is missing and Soul is dealing with an internal war among her kind. Has Jane finally met the one villain she can't defeat?

As a reader of this series, I am always glad to revisit Jane and her Scooby gang. I have been waiting for the author to figure out whether or not she will kill off Jane, or find a way to save her before it's too late. How can you fix things when Jane is forever bonded to Beast? Does she force Jane into a situation where she loses Beast forever? Does she force Jane into a situation where she ends up being Beast 24/7? I think readers will find the answer a pleasant surprise and I hope I didn't spoil anything by even mentioning the Jane dilemma. One thing is for sure, the next installment will be an interesting read.

Of Cats and Cars—a story of Beast, copyright Faith Hunter: Part Four
Author’s Note: This is a short story that fits nowhere. The timeline isn’t perfect but the fans won this story by pushing Beast’s FaceBook page and getting us to three thousand Likes. It was seen online for 30 hours. It will eventually be placed in the timeline, edited, altered, and expanded. Enjoy!
Ed slid from his dusty jacket, folded it carefully and lay it at the foot of the bed.
Centered on the mattress was a boot box, placed there by their host, as instructed, when it arrived. The brand was chosen in honor of Jane, a tribute as it were, and the boots had been flown in, delivered to the ranch. He opened the shipping box and then the inner box. 
Pulling a pair low-heeled, black riding boots from the Lucchese box, Ed held them to the lamplight. The scent of leather filled the room, rich and aromatic and expensive. They were not his usual bespoke, being off-the-shelf, but they were handmade, snip-toed, and the workmanship was excellent. And … he had never worn footwear made from crocodile belly. 
New experiences were rare for a Mithran of his age. 
Something that might have been the stirring of excitement warmed him. He closed his door and stripped, showered fast in the small but elegant marble bath, before pulling on the blue-jeans and the shirt. Both were softer than expected. He ran his hand up the thighs and the arms, accustoming himself to the cloth. Stretched to put on his belt. He pulled on wool socks and slid the boots on. Stamped once with each foot. Not bad. “Prissy boy?” he murmured to himself. “We’ll see about that.”
He stepped from the room, stopped by the kitchen, the space spotless and, like the bath, ultra-modern in contract to the rest of the tourist trap cabin. He checked the brand of coffee, found it acceptable, and the year of the wine in the wine fridge. It wasn’t quite to his usual tastes but it wasn’t Mogan David, either. He could stand it. 
When he entered the living space again, Eli was waiting. The former Ranger was dressed similarly to him, except his boots were old and well-worn, and slung low on his hips was a double-holster gun belt. Not a weapons harness. A gun belt. Made from leather. There were six-shooters in each holster. Ed smiled slightly. “I haven’t seen a 45-caliber, centerfire Colt Single Action Army pistol in decades. Won’t the long barrel be difficult in the saddle?”
“Never bothered me before,” Eli said. He removed the weapon on his left, broke it open, and passed it to Ed. The weapon was old, heavier than modern weapons, but this one been reconditioned. 
“The gun that won the West,” Ed murmured, his finger on the trigger guard, glancing at the load. He clicked the barrel shut and checked the Peacemaker’s sights. “Nice. Though I never did care for a revolver. Give me a rifle any day.”
“We hunting tonight?” Eli asked.
Ed shrugged and moved to door. “If you wish. I think I’ll simply enjoy the ride, however. Once one has hunted human on horseback, little else seems to compare.” Eli went still as a hunting cat. Ed smiled. Eli and Alex wanted to play games. It had been a long time since anyone except Leo had baited him. He found it oddly enjoyable, to pull their tails. He went on. “Though that was a century and a half before you were born, Eli, and was a hunt of vengeance and judgment.” 
He opened the outer door and called over his shoulder to Alex, “Stay out of my room unless you are offering to be my meal, Alex.” TheKkid, who had been about to enter again, turned and walked away. “You will also not play silly human games like short-sheeting my bed, without facing the consequences. And take a shower. Please.”
Eli chuckled. “You’re a lot like Jane, you know that?”
“Mmmm,” Ed said, stepping outside, off the porch, and around the log cabin to the back, where he could hear voices and the stamping of horses. A light brightened a small barn and inside the covered, open area in front, four horses stood, three of them patiently, one dancing, edgy, tense. His night vision was far better than a human’s, and the prancing mare drew him. She was young, buff with pale brownish dapples and a darker buff-colored main and tail. Unlike his usual preferences, she wasn’t a big horse, standing barely fifteen hands, one inch, but she was regal and fiery and her spirit called to him. 
He crossed the space between them slowly, at an angle, his head turned slightly to the side, not staring at her with a predator’s gaze. But she caught his scent and snorted, stamping, smelling hunter, a scent that meant, to her mind, meat-eater. And likely smelling the cat creature on the air as well. He was glad he had rinsed off in the shower, to remove the cat-predator stink. The two scents on him might have sent her over the edge. He moved slowly, stopping often, and realized that Eli was watching him and so was Sam. And their host. He ignored them all, his entire concentration on stalking and winning the skittish mare. 
It took a good fifteen minutes, but he got close enough to breathe at her, and he was glad he had fed well before leaving New Orleans. His breath was warm, not the cold of the grave. She stamped and snorted, tossing her mane. She set one eye on him, the white showing all around as was common with the Appaloosa breed. When their eyes met, he sent out a tendril of compulsion and murmured, “Hello there, Lovely. You are beautiful, yes you are.” 
She pricked her ears and tilted her head, just a little. Interested. He moved toward her without raising his hands and his arm finally touched her. He offered her a sugar cube that he had taken from the kitchen coffee set. He held out his other hand to Sam, smelling what he needed next. “Carrot.”
A carrot was placed into his hand and he offered the treat. She chomped through it, her teeth white and strong. She took the other half and tossed her head, getting it into her teeth. When it was gone, she leaned her head in and breathed on him. He leaned back and breathed on her. They stood together for perhaps a half a minute before she tossed her head, nudging him back.
“What does she like best?” he asked, still without taking his eyes from the mare.
“Hard peppermint candy,” Sam replied. The grizzled man held out a candy, already free of the crinkly noisy wrapper. Ed took it and offered it to her. She lipped it off his palm and crunched it, blowing and snorting and making soft sounds of pleasure. He held out his hand to Sam and the old man gave him a handful. 
“I reckon this means you wanna ride her,” the other man said. “I usually ride Ginny. She’s a mite much for most riders.”
“Not for me,” Ed softly. “Saddle her. With a prissy saddle. An Australian cattle saddle, would be my preference, if you have one.” Ginny bumped him again and he gave her another peppermint. He stroked her broad face and grinned widely, turning to the taller man, their host and owner of the ranch, holding out his hand. He sent a small hint of compulsion into the man as their eyes met. 
“You mean the funny saddle with the thigh supports that stick up in front?” Sam asked, though it was clear he knew fully well what kind of saddle Ed had requested.
“If possible.” Speaking softly, Ed told them his seat size.
“Not sure we have that exact size but we’ll have something.” Sam limped into the back of the tack and grooming barn.
“Charles Iverson the Fifth,” the man said proudly, and stuck out his hand, all Texas graciousness.
“Edmund Hartley. Ginny and I are going to be the best of friends.” Ed petted her neck. The mare bumped him affectionately.


The moon had set and the night was darker than the armpit of hell, a fact that Sam said repeatedly, but they were on a dirt road, easy for Ed to see. Eli had dropped low light vision headgear over his head, gear Ed was fairly certain had not been on his person when they left the cabin. And despite the complaints, the rancher and Sam were comfortable anywhere on the property, which was a good since it was forty-thousand-acres. Not the largest ranch in Texas, which came in at more than nine-hundred-thousand-acres—but big enough for the average human to get lost in should someone determine to leave them here. Ed and Eli, were, of course, far too adept and experienced for such a possibility.
Despite the time of year—midwinter—the night was warm, and the horse under him was excited, full of piss and vinegar which was another term Sam had used. Ed determined to adopt it. Jane Yellowrock was full of piss and vinegar too. He’d use it on her when she was human-shaped again. 
Even as he thought that, the mare snorted and sidestepped, her hooves dancing and darting. He kept his seat. By a hair. He caught the scent of Jane on the air. Or, rather, the scent of her cat. No wonder the mare was salty. A cougar on the night wind and a vampire on her back. It was a near miracle she hadn’t bolted.
Once Ginny was warmed up, Ed took the lead and put her through her paces. He hadn’t known that only a few Appaloosas were gaited horses but he was in luck with Ginny. The lovely, dappled, roan mare slid into a slow-pace that was smooth as silk, like riding the clouds. She hadn’t been trained to jump or race, being used solely as Ivers’ personal mount and bred for a few foals for her excellent bloodline. She was ten years old—mature but with a lot of sass. Ed thought he might be falling in love.


Beast watched Edmund and three riders. Four in all, One for each toe-pad. Edmund and horse danced. Beast loved Ed. Would like to eat horse. But Beast thought Ed would say no. Beast chuffed with disgust and padded into the night. Beast was learning land. Claiming land. Had found scat of bobcat, of fox. Dry scent of rattlesnake. 
Beast stopped. Smelled something new. 
Tilted nose to wind, sniffed. Pulled in air over tongue and roof of mouth, Flehmen response, to smell smells. 
Scent was new thing. New cow. 
Ed had said new word. Wil-de-beast. Beast had thought Ed was talking about Beast, but … But maybe Ed was giving Beast a gift. Moving into the wind, Beast trotted, followed scent. Scent of new cow grew strong. Belly crawled over low flat hill. 
Beast saw many, many more-than-five big black cows with curled trees on head. Wil-de-beasts. Beast began to circle, learning new cows’ hunting grounds. Learning where fences were. Where road was. Learning high ground and low ground. Wil-de-beasts!

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Faith Hunter is the New York Times and USAToday bestselling author of the Jane Yellowrock series, the Soulwood series, and the Rogue Mage series, as well as the author of 16 thrillers under pen the names Gary Hunter and Gwen Hunter. She has 40+ books in print.

Faith collects orchids and animal skulls, loves thunder storms, and writes. She likes to cook soup, bake homemade bread, garden, and run Class III whitewater rivers. She edits the occasional anthology and drinks a lot of tea. Some days she’s a lady. Some days she ain't.
For more, see
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There’s a tour-wide giveaway! Prizes include a necklace made by Faith Hunter, Amazon gift cards, and copies of SHATTERED BONDS! Open to US residents only.