Friday, November 18, 2022

#Review - Raven Unveiled by Grace Draven #Fantasy #Romance

Series: The Fallen Empire (#3)
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
Release Date: November 8, 2022
Publisher: Ace
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Romance

A woman with the gift to speak to the dead—and the assassin pursuing her—may be the only chance a crumbling empire has of holding back true evil, in this electrifying fantasy romance from the USA Today bestselling author of Radiance.

Siora has been on the run for longer than she cares to remember, from her past and her gift. Born with the ability to see and speak to ghosts, she has heard their desperate pleas as an otherworldly predator stalks the dead amid the fertile killing fields of the collapsing Krael Empire. The creature’s power and reach are growing with every soul it consumes, but Siora is preoccupied with her own troubles: namely an assassin who has sworn an oath of vengeance against her.

Gharek of Cabast was once the right-hand man of the reviled empress but is now a wanted fugitive. Although his reasons for hunting Siora are viscerally personal, what Gharek can’t anticipate is that when he finally does find her, she will hold the key to saving his world, or what’s left of it. To make good on old debts and protect the vulnerable dead from a malevolent force, Gharek and Siora will both need to make an ally out of an enemy—and trust that will be enough to save each other.


Raven Unveiled, by author Grace Draven, is the third installment in the authors The Fallen Empires series. The fall of Domora and the death of evil Empress Dalvila by the draga Malachus in Dragon Unleashed has left the world leaderless and in the midst of revolution. This book features Gharek of Cabast, who was once Dalvila's feared cat paw/assassin who is now a wanted man, and Siora, a shade speaker who has the ability  to see and to communicate with ghosts. The woman who was once nursemaid to Gharek's disabled daughter.

Siora has been hearing desperate pleas of the departed, as well as her own father, as an otherworldly predator stalks the dead amid the fertile killing fields of the collapsing Krael Empire. The creature’s power and reach are growing with every soul it consumes and no one is safe. Not the departed, not the living. Siora betrayed her employer (Gharek) and the child (Estred) she had become nursemaid to. She helped save the Dragon in the previous book knowing what it would cost her and has been on the run ever since.

Gharek is prepared to hunt Siora to the end of the world and back again because she didn’t just leave him, but also left his child who mourned her leaving like a child losing a parent. He will make sure he bring Siora in front of his daughter to apologize. Gharek's plans are thwarted when he is captured by a General named Zaredis who demands that Gharek find a way into the palace he knows like the back of his hand. He wants Gharek to retrieve a powerful artifact called Windcry that the former Empress put under a powerful protection.

With the Windcry, Zaredis hopes to become the next Emperor.  Gharek and Siora are forced to team up which ends up with meeting characters from the second book in this series: Malachus, Asil, and Halani. Needless to say, the 3 are not exactly jumping for joy at meeting Gharek. Although his reasons for hunting Siora are viscerally personal, what Gharek can’t anticipate is that when he finally does find her, she will hold the key to saving his world, or what’s left of it. 

Once you read Gharek's backstory, he's not really the monster that most people think he is. His backstory also begs the question what would you do for your child? What horrible lengths would you go to to protect them? This book considers what an extreme answer to this question might look like. Meanwhile, Siora has to learn quickly that she's more than just a person who speaks and hears the departed. She's much, much more, and she will have to learn quickly so that both she and Gharek survive the dark taking over the land.

This book ends on a what happens next note. I am not sure who will be focus on any sequel to this story. This is an author who knows how to write interesting characters, twisted stories, and fantastic world building. I would encourage readers to read books in order as they were released so that you understand this world.




CHAPTER ONE

After two months of relentless tracking, the once feared empress's cat's-paw had finally run his prey to ground outside the haunted ruin of Midrigar. If Siora thought to hide from him here in the hopes the stories of the trapped and restless dead might scare him away, she knew him not at all.

He'd once been the lackey of a demon dressed in a beautiful woman's body and survived the employment. Nothing so insipid as a ghost would stop him from hunting down his treacherous servant.

She probably thought he meant to kill her. He'd been an assassin after all, and his fury over her betrayal had nearly consumed him once. The anger still simmered inside him, but he hunted her not to kill her but to make her apologize-on her knees if necessary-to a small child. That, more than vengeance meted out through death, was what drove him across the Empire.

The moon played coy behind tattered clouds and spilled argent light over the shattered city, casting the broken bones of its towers in stark relief against a star-salted sky. An unquiet tomb under an indifferent heaven.

Gharek growled, the sound making his horse's ears swivel back. He patted her neck, wishing he was comfortably ensconced in one of the better inns' finer rooms, with a sweet-smelling whore to keep him company. Or better yet, out of Kraelian territory altogether, safe with his daughter and the people he'd paid a fortune to see to her care while he roamed a collapsing empire in search of the beggar bitch who'd turned on him and ruined his and his daughter's lives.

Instead of a posh room shared with an accommodating woman, he rode through a woodland devoid of sound, its silence absolute, as if it dared not flutter a leaf or creak a branch for fear of attracting the attention of what might lay behind Midrigar's tumbled walls. Despite the strangeness that sent a crawling feeling over his skin, Gharek didn't waver in his tracking.

A trek through the forest was as good as any for avoiding Kraelian troops on patrol. Despite the raids from Nunari clans, the main trade route remained a busy one, serving Guild and free traders as well as battalions of Kraelian soldiers sent to fight the rebellious Nunari. He stayed off the road for those reasons and others, as much a fugitive as his quarry, as fiercely hunted by those he'd once wronged.

Gharek's search for Siora had finally proven fruitful in the last week. The right questions asked of the right people in the villages where he'd stopped had yielded reliable information. A woman, not much bigger than a child but with the knowing gaze of a crone, had offered to act as liaison between the grieving living and their beloved dead for the fee of a belsha or two. She'd managed to swindle coin out of their families before others drove her away. Shade speakers were barely tolerated even when many believed in their talent.

He'd set off for Wellspring Holt, a bustling trader's town that had so far managed to escape the worst of the raids. Siora would find it easier to hide there than in the smaller towns and villages. Hiring a tracker might prove a faster method for finding her, but Gharek preferred working alone, especially since he had his own secrets to keep. As the empress's cat's-paw, experience had taught him that his skills weren't suited for teamwork. The mad empress might be draga spittle splattered on Domora's battlements now, but it didn't change the way he hunted quarry-always alone.

While he'd altered his appearance with a new beard and shorter hair to avoid being recognized, he wasn't taking any chances by keeping company with anyone for any length of time. Bounties for the cat's-paw, alive or dead, were generous, and those hoping to claim such rewards numerous.

He'd crossed a sea of fields-some plowed and seeded, waiting for harvest, others left fallow-and came upon a stone circle in the middle of a pasture. No sheep or cattle grazed nearby, and Gharek's mare balked when he tried to steer her closer. He gave in to her protest and rode past the monument erected to some long-forgotten deity. These ancient places held on to their power long after their supplicants had turned to dust. Whatever lingered here, his mare wanted nothing to do with it.

If anything hid within the circle, he'd have seen it already, but nothing disturbed the wild flowers growing there, and he disregarded it, turning his attention toward a ramshackle barn nearby. The horse offered no resistance when they stopped in front of the structure. Gharek tied her to one of the few posts still standing from the remnants of a fence and went inside, his instincts practically making his veins hum with the certainty his target had stopped there or was still there.

Sunlight had cascaded through holes in the roof, illuminating a half dozen empty stalls. Mice fled in every direction on a chorus of tiny squeals when he entered, their feet leaving patterns in the powdery dust coating every surface.

But it wasn't their tracks that held his attention. He'd crouched to examine a set of much larger prints-human, those of a woman or child with flat feet who walked lightly. The shoe tread pattern was unique and Gharek instantly recognized Siora's distinctive footprints. Nothing else in the barn so far gave him a clue to her presence, and the prints might well belong to someone else, but his gut had yet to fail him. This was Siora's marker.

The prints tracked in two directions, and he'd followed the pair leading farther into the barn's depths to what was once a provender room. He paused in the doorway, letting his eyes adjust to the greater darkness there. Patterns on the floor's disturbed dirt told him she'd slept here, at least for a short time, likely taking what shelter she could find during the night away from other predators, besides himself, that hunted during the small hours.

He'd pivoted, noting the walls with their cracked plaster and bowed framing, the slope of the roof on the verge of collapse. A stiff wind would bring the place down in a rotting heap. Best not to linger and end up entombed beneath the wreckage.

The sight of one of the room's walls as he turned to leave had made him recoil.

As Dalvila's erstwhile cat's-paw, he'd witnessed levels of depravity and cruelty that defied description and decayed a part of his soul every time. The empress had more than earned her reputation as a mad and murderous ruler. Her subjects didn't know the half of it. Gharek remembered every person he'd dispatched on her orders, though unlike her, he meted out death in a manner efficient and quick. Time had made every memory sharper, made his spirit ever more numb to his actions, but even he sat up some nights and brought in the dawn with a flagon or two of wine, afraid to close his eyes and subject himself to the nightmares of remembrance and the empress's monstrous indulgences upon her victims.

He'd sometimes wondered if she was even human and had decided that in the end it didn't matter. She was vile, and he served her will, thus making him as vile as her. He was as beyond redemption as she was, holding on to his last scrap of humanity for his daughter's sake. Estred would never know the depths to which he had plunged in order to keep her safe and cared for. If she did, she'd hate him. Rightfully so.

People didn't turn the labor of their creativity toward provender rooms where the only witnesses to works of art were field mice and farmhands, and yet laid across one wall was a display of horror in shades of black and rust executed by a gleeful hand. Gharek had studied the repulsive mural. If Dalvila had seen it, she would have commissioned the artist to paint something similar on one of her bedchamber's walls or maybe the ceiling, a visual feast to look upon while she raped her latest plaything. The work half revealed in the room's shadow displayed pleasure in torture, a lust for another's fear. A multitude of faces crushed together, their mouths stretched wide in silent screams, their eyes bulging with terror as they stared at some horror he couldn't see. Why such an abomination was displayed on a derelict barn's wall was a mystery, one he had no desire to solve.

He hadn't gone closer for a better look, and the longer he had stared at the grotesque images, the more certain he became it wasn't paint that rendered them on the wall.

While he hadn't run from the room, his strides were long ones, and he'd released a grateful breath when he was outside once more under the sweltering blaze of a summer sun with the song of insects serenading him.

Had Siora seen the wall when she camped in the barn? A true shade speaker might not fear ghosts, but there was more to that hideous mural than a callous mockery of the dead. Surely even she would be horrified at the sight.

He'd ridden away, following more of Siora's tracks while doing his best to shrug off the feeling of being watched that skittered down his back on spider legs. No wonder the fields surrounding the barn were abandoned and the building left to decay.

Experience and weeks of fruitless searching had taught him that to rush toward Siora's latest hiding place did him no good and often worked against him. It was uncanny how she'd managed to outsmart and outmaneuver him without ever truly outrunning him.

Were she a wealthy noblewoman with numerous connections and friends, he'd assume she made use of a vast network of helpers who would render aid either in the service of friendship or for profit. But this was a beggar without a belsha to her name beyond what she might scrape together for a meal. She was also a shade speaker, a fact she'd failed to mention when he suffered a moment's weakness and offered her a place in his household as thanks for saving Estred from a stone-throwing mob. He'd paid a heavy price for that foolish kindness.

He'd tracked her through the day and into evening, not toward Wellspring Holt, but here to an eerie expanse of woodland whose perimeters stretched for leagues in a gentle curve that hugged the trade route and clung to the remains of Midrigar. The forest offered a possible hiding place for brigands and fugitives. And shade speakers on the run.

Moonlight lit the treetops but most of the woodland slumbered in full dark. It was slow going as his horse picked her way through the underbrush. Gharek held a small lamp aloft to illuminate the path ahead. He didn't worry that the fragile light might be seen in the distance and alert someone. His mount's hooves crushing sticks and brittle deadfall would accomplish the task long before the light did.

The music of insects and bird calls had been loud just before he crossed the tree line, a cacophony of whistles, rustles, and chirps. Those sounds died away the closer he rode to the ruins of the dead city until the silence itself held its breath and only the gloom shrouding the trees breathed. His amiable mare stopped suddenly then pranced backward, tossing her head and snorting. Gharek tapped his heels against her sides to coax her forward. She'd have none of it, fighting the bit in her mouth as she pivoted on her hooves to trot back the way they'd come.

Gharek reined her to a halt, considering whether it was wise to continue his scouting in another direction or make camp nearby and wait until morning to resume his hunt. He'd lose time with camping but trying to find anyone in this darkness while riding a spooked horse was an exercise in futility. Besides, he could make up the time in daylight. Siora was on foot, he on horseback. He'd cover far more ground in less time than she would, and the chance she'd outrun him if he spotted her was nonexistent.

He guided the mare to retrace her steps, and this time she readily obeyed the command, eager to put distance between them and the city that squatted like a pustule on the landscape. But she'd taken no more than a pair of steps when something wrapped icy fingers around Gharek's spine and wrenched him backward. He flew off the saddle as if lassoed from behind and landed on his back. The ground beneath him vibrated from the beat of his mare's hooves as she bolted past him into the labyrinth of trees.

He lay there for a moment, stunned and winded. The ice shard wedged against his backbone remained, though whatever had ripped him from horseback didn't press him into the dirt. A few more breaths and he lurched to his feet, unsettled by his unusual clumsiness, alarmed by the violence of an invisible force that had so thoroughly unhorsed him. There'd been no trip rope to clothesline him, nor had he been riding fast when he fell. The lamp he held had fallen when he did, lost somewhere in the underbrush when its flickering light had guttered. Darkness hung thick enough to scoop with a spoon.

His muttered curses sounded loud to his ears as he peered into the sepulchral black, hoping he might spot the mare standing nearby or at least find a partially cleared path that led back to open pasture. He took a step only to suffer a hard clamp on his backbone, as if the icicle there had suddenly transformed into a shackle locked around his middle. Invisible tethers seized his arms and legs and he was jerked to one side and then the other as if by a drunken puppeteer with their hands on the strings.

Gharek staggered, struggling to keep his feet, struggling to free himself from the bonds that held him in an unbreakable grip that both dragged and yanked him in the direction of Midrigar's walls. He careened through the dark, along a jagged path that propelled him into tree trunks before spinning him away to tear through the underbrush. He tried planting his feet in the dirt to no avail, his boots carving skid marks as he was pulled along like a cur on a leash. His palms left bloody smears on the bark of those trees he tried to grip for purchase and was wrenched away with little effort.

The iciness slithering down his spine spread in creeper tendrils throughout his body, wrapping around his lungs and heart, his liver, even his tongue so that his curses and snarls slowly ebbed away and his struggles waned. Speaking was an impossibility, breathing a challenge, and he was reduced to nothing more than a grunting, shambling mute driven inexorably toward an ancient city of the damned and a fate he could not know but feared with every part of his soul.




Thursday, November 17, 2022

#Review - The Q by Amy Tintera #YA #Dystopian #SyFy

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: November 8, 2022
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Dystopian / SyFy

In this action-packed adventure from a New York Times bestselling author, two teenagers from opposite worlds must fight their way through a vast walled quarantine zone in a dystopian America toward their only chance for survival.

Seventeen-year-old Maisie Rojas has spent her entire life in the Q—a post-pandemic quarantine zone that was once Austin, Texas. Born and raised behind the high security walls that sealed their fate, she's now a trusted lieutenant for one of the territory's controlling families.
 
Lennon Pierce, the charismatic son of a US presidential candidate, has just been kidnapped by his father's enemies and dropped out of a plane into the Q with nothing but a parachute strapped to his back. Lennon is given a temporary antidote to the disease and crucial intel for his father, but Maisie must get him out of the zone within forty-eight hours--or he will be permanently infected and forced to remain.
 
With unrest brewing both inside and outside the Q, reaching the exit is a daunting and dangerous task. But if Maisie and Lennon fail, it could mean disaster for the entire quarantine zone and its inhabitants—and could cost Lennon his life.
 
Strap in for breakneck action and compelling characters in this timely, nonstop thriller.



The Q, by author Amy Tintera, is a story that the author created because of the pandemic. Texas is a quarantine zone  after a deadly international pandemic almost two decades ago. The virus, which had a 40% mortality rate, caused the government to build a massive quarantine zone around Austin and stuck all the sick people within the walls. Some people who were not sick, tried to escape, so, the government build walls around Austin. The virus did not provide long-term immunity to people who got infected with it. 
 
So basically, all these people in the quarantine zone kept repetitively getting sick. And of course, the virus kept mutating and no real vaccine has been created to stop the spread. Because of the animosity between Q and the US government, they basically created their own laws governed by two gang families: the Spencer family in the north which is split into 4 parts and the Lopez family in the south. The animosity between the families created a "neutral zone" between the north and south.
 
The story alternates between 18-year old Maisie Royas, who was born in The Q, and 19-year old Lennon Pierce, a teen who has been kidnapped numerous times over the course of his life. Some people, like Maisie, who was born in the Q, have had to have numerous organs replaced with artificial organs. But, she has a secret which only a few know about. Meanwhile, Lennon, the son of a Presidential candidate who wants to tear down the walls, is one again being kidnapped in Georgia, the State, not the country, and dumped off in the middle of the quarantine zone in the middle of Texas. 
 
The worst part is that there are certain people in the DC swamp who want to bomb the Q, and wipe out everyone who lives there. Which makes Lennon's presence all that more interesting. He's also given 48 hours to get out of the zone, or he won't be able to leave. Lennon may be a target for one political party, or the answer to saving the Q and everyone who lives there. Maisie and Lennon end up teaming up to not only try to find a way to get their supplies to the south which has been stopped, but to also stop a brewing war between members of the Spencer's and disgruntled members of the South. 
 
I think the best thing I can say about Lennon is that he doesn't take himself seriously which is likely why he gets into so much trouble. He's a literal trouble magnet. Meanwhile, Maisie has been trained most of her life to become the next leader. She's a strong voice about a disturbing faction that believes war is the only way to survive in this world. I also loved Hadley Lopez who is the voice of Q's Radio Quarantine as well as Val Spencer who sees that she's the voice of reason when it comes to her family, and helping Maisie help Lennon leave the Q. I was also pleasantly surprised at who the mysterious Queso is. 

Two things: The majority of Latino's do not like being called Latinx, so stop it! There is only a small minority of people who created this word. Try going to little Havana in Miami and calling the people Latinx. The Q is apparently not a standalone if you read what's posted on the publishers web page via Edelweiss. It also says the next installment is planning to be released later in 2023.
 


Radio Quarantine with Hadley Lopez

Special Joint US/Quarantine Zone Broadcast

Hi, kids, this is Maisie Rojas, coming to you live from the Q.

That’s right, I’m inside the quarantine zone right now. I was born here, actually, eighteen years ago, when all of you were just a twinkle in your parents’ eyes.

Hadley Lopez was kind enough to let me jump on her program today, so don’t worry, all you Q listeners. Your girl will be back shortly.

I’m here today because schools in the good ol’ US of A are trying a new thing this year, letting some of us inside the Q record a segment for you guys as part of your history lessons. Which is cool, I guess. I mean, I always thought school was boring as hell, but maybe I can spice things up a bit for you. And for those of you in the Q, we thought we’d broadcast this to you live, just for fun. If you don’t like it, turn it off! I don’t care.

So! They want me to tell you a little about the history of the Q, from my perspective. I told them it was probably a bad idea to let me do this, but here we are. No one can say I didn’t warn you.

All right, they told me to start at the beginning, which I think you all already know, but whatever. They said they want to hear my version of events. So here we go.

There was a virus, and it was bad. Death, sadness, et cetera.

I’m probably supposed to tell you some science stuff here, but I slept through those classes. You have the internet out there, don’t you? You can look it up.

Anyway, this virus started in Austin, Texas, which I hear was a pretty nice place back in the day. It quickly spread to Houston and Dallas and some other places I forgot. The US government, which had dealt with two major pandemics in the past twenty years, was like, “Yo, we got this, we got this.”

They built a massive quarantine zone around Austin and started shuttling all the sick people over there. Everyone without symptoms went to a separate quarantine zone.

Problem was, a lot of people couldn’t get out of the Austin quarantine zone, even if they weren’t sick yet. Some people, like my parents, didn’t have a car and couldn’t catch one of the buses because there weren’t nearly enough. You had to, like, fight to the death to get on one of those buses, and my parents weren’t about that life.

Your history classes will probably teach you that it was just the unlucky people or the stupid ones who stuck around and caught the virus, but that’s a load of shit. It was mostly just the poor people.

Wait, Hadley is holding up a piece of paper telling me I can’t say “shit.” Well, fu . . . dge. I’ll try to clean up the ­language, kids.

Right, so we have this quarantine zone with all the sick people, and it’s a real bummer in there, because it turns out that the virus has a 40 percent mortality rate.

On the upside, the president of the United States has become a damn hero for containing the virus before it spread outside of Texas and killed half the world’s population. Good for him, I guess.

Meanwhile, the 60 percent who lived and were still in the Q were like, “Hey, are we getting out of here or what?”

Spoiler alert: they did not get out.

Because, bad news—­this virus does not provide long-­term immunity to people who get infected with it. Which meant everyone inside the Q kept getting sick, over and over, and no one could develop an effective vaccine because the virus kept mutating. On the plus side, the mortality rate kept getting better, so people weren’t dropping dead left and right anymore.

People started to try to escape the Q, which did not go great for them. President Howard was like, “Yo, that’s not cool,” and built a huge-­ass wall around the whole Q to keep us all in.

He said it made people feel safer while they worked on a vaccine. Dude had to do something—­it was an election year!

He won, by the way.

Inside, everything went to hell. Laws didn’t apply anymore. All the military and law enforcement we had in here peaced out and stopped showing up for work. Which, fair enough, considering they hadn’t been paid for like a year.

Eventually, the Q seceded from the US and we figured things out ourselves. Now the Q is ruled by two gangs—­or families, as we usually refer to ourselves—­the Spencers up north and the Lopez family down south. The Spencers are jerks and the Lopezes are geniuses who figured out the artificial organs that are keeping all our asses alive.

Oh wait, now Hadley is telling me to stop because she thinks I’ve broken too many of their arbitrary rules.

Well, for all of you still listening up here in the Q, I will end this history lesson because history is boring as shit.

Let’s get to the good stuff.

Lennon

This was not the first time Lennon Pierce had been kidnapped.

The first time was fifteen years earlier. He had no memory of it, but when he was four years old, he apparently wandered away from his parents at the farmers market. A woman had given him a cookie, scooped him up, and made a beeline for the parking lot.

His mom saw the kidnapper just in time, started screaming, and chased the woman down. According to his parents, he’d been completely unfazed by the whole thing. He was happily eating his cookie when his mom snatched him back from the stranger.

Later, the would-­be kidnapper claimed she didn’t know that the young boy was the son of a congressman. She’d just thought he was cute.

She never gave much more of an explanation than that, which had always baffled Lennon. Impulse-­kidnapping a small child just because you liked his chubby cheeks didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

This was not an impulse kidnapping. He’d glimpsed the bodies of his two secret service agents before they’d tied a blindfold over his eyes.

He was in some deep shit this time.

He’d lost track of how long he’d been in the van. For a while, he’d been able to see hints of sun from the bottom edge of his blindfold, if he tilted his head up. It had been a relief, because there’d been nothing but darkness since they grabbed him from a gas station.

But now it was dark again, and he could have sworn he’d been on this bumpy ride for at least two days. But that couldn’t be right.

His hands were cuffed behind his back. Everything ached. His wrists, where the cuffs dug in; his back; his ass, from sitting on the hard floor. They could have at least let him sit on a seat. Maybe this vehicle didn’t have them.

His stomach rumbled. They’d given him a few sips of water but no food, and he felt weak. He’d considered running, the first day. Or fighting back, when he got the chance. Now he was pretty sure that would not go so well.

The vehicle screeched to a stop so suddenly that he toppled over onto his side. He stayed there, listening to the sounds of two doors slamming shut.

Another door opened. Someone grabbed his ankle. He heard a snap as they cut off the plastic tie.

“Get out,” a male voice said. Southern accent. They’d taken him from Georgia, but Lennon had no way to know if the accent was local to the area. He was from Los Angeles. Everyone down here sounded the same to him.





Wednesday, November 16, 2022

#Review - The Last Raven by Steve McHugh #Fantasy

Series: Riftborn # 1
Format: E-Book, 281 pages
Release Date: November 8, 2022
Publisher: Podium Publishing
Source: Publisher
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Lucas is a riftborn fighter bent on vengeance in this thrilling urban fantasy/detective noir series from the bestselling author of the Hellequin Chronicles.

The peace between the rift and humanity has always been tenuous. It’s up to the Guilds to protect it, removing whomever—or whatever—poses a threat, whether human or rift-fused. Lucas Rurik used to be part of the Raven Guild. That is, until someone murdered all of its members—except for him.

That was seven years ago. Now, Lucas keeps to himself, avoiding getting too close to anyone lest they become targets themselves. But when one of his oldest friends at the Rift-Crime Unit calls upon him for help with a case that’s already taken down people who mean a lot to him, Lucas can’t resist stepping back into the fray.

Something is killing FBI and RCU agents alike—something unlike anything Lucas has ever seen before, on Earth or in the Rift. Even more concerning, the gruesome assaults seem to be linked to Dr. Callie Mitchell, a depraved and disturbed individual who treats the rift-fused like her own personal lab rats.

And when someone Lucas thought he could trust turns on him, he realizes these killings aren’t just the random attacks of some terrifying new kind of fiend. They’re connected to whoever killed off his Guild all those years ago—and that’s something Lucas just can’t let lie 


The Last Raven is the first installment in author Steve McHugh's Riftborn series. Once upon a time, a dimensional tear opened and poured energy from the rift which changed people forever. This rift has power/magic that can bring both human and animals back from the dead if the timing is right, but they come back different. The peace between the rift and humanity has always been tenuous. It’s up to the Guilds to protect it, removing whomever—or whatever—poses a threat, whether human or rift-fused.  

There were once (7) Guilds: Falcon, Owl, Eagle, Hawk, Vulture, Kik, and Ravens which Lucas Rurik belonged to. Lucas used to be part of the Raven Guild, that is until someone murdered all of its members—except for him and stole the Raven medallions of his guild. The story tends to alternate between 5 years ago, and the present to fill in some blanks. 5 years ago, Lucas entered Netley Asylum hoping to get information on what happened to his Guild by Dr. Callie Mitchell and ended up becoming human.

In this world, Fiends are animals touched by the energy from the rift while Riftborn are humans that died and were transported into the rift, healed, and given exceptional powers. One of the more curious aspects of this story is the existence of an actual city in the Rift called Inaxia which is where part of the story takes place after Lucas tries to regain his powers lost after he temporarily becomes human. Lucas spends just enough time in Inaxia to be told to get his priorities in order and stop wallowing in self pity.

For most of the past 7 years, Lucas has kept to himself in Brooklyn, New York, avoiding getting too close to anyone lest they become targets themselves. But when one of his oldest friends at the Rift-Crime Unit, Isaac Gordon, calls upon him for help with a case that’s already taken down people who mean a lot to him, Lucas can’t resist stepping back into the fray. Something is killing FBI and RCU agents alike—something unlike anything Lucas has ever seen before, on Earth or in the Rift. 

When Lucas is betrayed, and ends up back in the Rift, he realizes these killings aren’t just the random attacks of some terrifying new kind of fiend. They’re connected to whoever killed off his Guild all those years ago—and that’s something Lucas just can’t let lie. Even more concerning, the gruesome assaults seem to be linked to Dr. Callie Mitchell, a depraved and disturbed individual who treats the rift-fused like her own personal lab rats. 

One of the things this author does very well is write action scenes. A friend of mine said that this story reads like a Harry Dresden novel. That, I think, is high praise. Lucas, once he gets his powers up, and grows a set of balls, is an interesting character. Do you have to have read any of the authors previous series to enjoy this book? Nope. You'll be just fine since the world is pretty much explained in great detail.    





Monday, November 14, 2022

#Review - The Quarrygate Gambit by Marshall Ryan Maresca

Series: The Streets of Maradaine # 4
Format: E-Book, 390 pages
Release Date: November 8th 2022
Publisher: DAW
Source: Publisher
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Mixing urban and high fantasy, the fourth Streets of Maradaine novel follows the crew of outlaws led by the Rynax brothers as they struggle to protect the city they love.

After having thwarted some of the forces responsible for ruining their lives, reformed thieves Asti and Verci Rynax and the rest of the Holver Alley Crew had mostly settled back into sedate lives as upright citizens of Maradaine.  But when they are suddenly arrested in mysterious circumstances, they find themselves in Quarrygate Prison, which tests the limits of their cunning and skill.  While Verci struggles to keep their friends alive and safe in the prison, Asti gets pulled into a mysterious scheme in the underbelly of the prison, teaming him up with some of the most dangerous people in Maradaine.  The cracks in Asti’s tenuous sanity get torn open as he is thrown into a cat-and-mouse game with one of the city’s most infamous killers.
 
Meanwhile back in their neighborhood, Verci’s wife Raych is desperate to help him and Asti and get them home. When her attempts to go through proper channels fail, she accepts a ludicrous deal from the local crime boss: Verci and Asti’s freedom in exchange for her pulling off a daring, nigh-impossible heist that would challenge even seasoned thieves. Raych doesn’t know how a simple baker like her could hope to succeed at such a task, but she will use every trick and wild idea she has to help her family.  None of the Rynaxes will rest until they are free from Quarrygate and together at home again, no matter the risk, no matter the cost. 


The Quarrygate Gambit is the fourth installment in author Marshall Ryan Maresca's The Streets of Maradaine series. After having thwarted some of the forces responsible for ruining their lives, reformed thieves Asti and Verci Rynax and the rest of the Holver Alley Crew had mostly settled back into sedate lives as upright citizens of Maradaine. But on the day they are ready to celebrate dual engagements of friends, they are suddenly arrested, and charged with numerous charges.

Someone, whether it be new enemies, or old, have plans for the Holver Alley Crew and it will take a miracle to survive. The Crew soon finds themselves in Quarrygate Prison, which tests the limits of their cunning and skill. While Verci struggles to keep their friends alive and safe in the prison, Asti gets pulled into a mysterious scheme in the underbelly of the prison, teaming him up with some of the most dangerous people in Maradaine, including a Colonel he once reported to in Druth Intelligence. 

The cracks in Asti’s tenuous sanity get torn open as he is thrown into a cat-and-mouse game with one of the city’s most infamous killers. Meanwhile, back in their neighborhood, Verci’s wife Raychelle is desperate to help him and Asti and get them home. She gets assistance from Helene, Lian (her sister), Jhoquil, Mila Kendish, who has been attending Maradaine university along with Kaiana Nell. When her attempts to go through proper channels fail, she accepts a ludicrous deal from the local crime boss Josie Holt. 

All she and her crew have to do is steal five priceless paintings, and they would find a way to save Verci, Asti, Almer, Pilson, and Vullun. Raych doesn’t know how a simple baker like her could hope to succeed at such a task, but she will use every trick and wild idea she has to help her family. None of the Rynaxes will rest until they are free from Quarrygate and together at home again, no matter the risk, no matter the cost. Even if it means taking on the entirety of the Maradaine Brotherhood and everyone else trying to ruin their lives.

If you have read this series, then you know all the enemies that the Holver Crew has faced from the beginning of the series. What's interesting about this story is that the author breaks the story into 4 different parts. Two of the parts are about Asti and Verci, while the other half of this story features just the women of this world.  As I was finishing this book, there was a ginormous cliffhanger ending. The author has said that yes, there will be another book in this series. 

If you follow this author on Twitter, you will note that the author has posted about what happens next. I won't bore you with repeating what was posted. I just wish the author best of luck, and can't wait to see what he does when it comes to writing the next installment.  





Friday, November 11, 2022

#Review - Honor & Shadows by Jessie Milhalik / Betwixt by Darynda Jones #SyFy #Paranormal

Series: Starlight's Shadow # 0.5
Format: E-Book, 64 pages
Release Date: November 1, 2022
Publisher: NYLA
Source: Amazon
Genre: Space Opera

Captain Octavia Zarola needs an infusion of credits—fast—if she’s going to keep her close-knit bounty hunting crew paid and fed. Tracking down an escaped embezzler on a backwater planet should be a piece of cake, but bounties are rarely as easy as they seem.

As the crew closes in on their quarry, the hunt becomes entangled with a local criminal overlord, and Tavi will have to decide what’s more important: money or honor, and how much she’s willing to risk for either one.

Jessie Milhalik's Honor and Shadows is a 10,000 prequel to the authors Starlight's Shadow series. The crew of the Starlight Shadow is down to basically supplies and looking for a bounty to collect to keep the ship running, and stocked with food. So, Captain Octavia (Tavi) Zarola, 1st Officer Elias Bruck, and engineer, Kee Ildez, set their sights on a man named Alan Hudson who has eluded capture for 2 years. When Tavi and crew arrive, Megan Gail knows that Tavi is after Alan, and agrees to help as long as the crew helps them get off planet, and away from her father who runs the town, and the mines, and has used Hudson to get rich. Even though this is a fairly short story, it is entertaining, especially when it leads directly into the first installment called Hunt the Stars. If you've read Hunt the Stars, read this novella! You won't be disappointed!



Series: Betwixt & Between # 1
Format: EBook, 256 pages
Release Date:  February 18th 2020
Publisher: Feather & Leaf, LLC
Source: Amazon
Genre: Paranormal

Divorced, desperate, and destitute, former restaurateur Defiance "Dephne" Dayne finds out she has been bequeathed a house by a complete stranger. She is surprised, to say the least, and her curiosity gets the better of her. She leaves her beloved Phoenix and heads to one of the most infamous towns in America: Salem, Massachusetts.

She’s only there to find out why a woman she’s never met would leave her a house. A veritable castle that has seen better days. She couldn’t possibly accept it, but the lawyer assigned to the case practically begs her to take it off her hands, mostly because she’s scared of it. The house. The inanimate structure that, as far as Dephne can tell, has never hurt a fly.

Though it does come with some baggage. A pesky neighbor who wants her gone. A scruffy cat who’s a bit of a jerk. And a handyman bathed in ink who could moonlight as a supermodel for GQ.

She decides to give it three days, and not because of the model. She feels at home in Salem. Safe. But even that comes to a screeching halt when people begin knocking on her door day and night, begging for her help to locate their lost objects.

Come to find out, they think she’s a witch. And after a few mysterious mishaps, Dephne is beginning to wonder if they’re right.

Darynda Jones' Betwixt is the first installment in the authors Betwixt and Between series. Divorced, desperate, and destitute, former restaurateur Defiance "Dephne" Dayne finds that she's been bequeathed a house by a complete stranger named Ruthie Goode. She leaves her beloved Phoenix and heads to one of the most infamous towns in America: Salem, Massachusetts. She’s only there to find out why a woman she’s never met would leave her a house, and why people are all of a sudden eager to speak to her when barely a minute has passed.

The home is a Victorian that has seen better days. In fact, it needs a lot of work! It comes with a cat named Ink, and a handyman who wears a kilt and calls himself Roane. With barely a dime to her name, how can Defiance keep the home? As a twist, the house, aka Percival, well, it appears to be sentient! and it's not happy that Defiance is thinking about getting rid of the house. She decides to give it three days, and not because of the model. She feels at home in Salem. Safe. But won't stop begging for her help to locate their lost objects or missing persons.

To top things off, she learns several things. 1. Ruthie Goode is her grandmother who has been watching over her for 40 years. 2. She's something of a witch called Charmling. Charmlings were created by original witches thousands of years ago. They were a coven, and they saw the injustice women suffered at the hands of men, even in the witch realm. They sought to balance the power by creating three beings no man can defeat. They pooled their power and the power of their ancestors and funneled it into three witches to be a beacon of light. A balance of power.

Along with her best friend Annette, who decides to pick up her life and be with her friend Dephne, Defiance now has to deal with learning her own powers that have been hidden for decades. She has to deal with new people asking her strange questions. Then there's Roane who is, well, eye candy. One of the thing that Jones is very known for is the snarky commentary of her characters and that doesn't change in this book. Defiance does and says some irritating things, but when all is said and done, I'm good with the overall direction the book went in and will continue with the series. 





Thursday, November 10, 2022

#Review - Kingdom of the Feared by Kerri Maniscalco #YA #Fantasy

Series: Kingdom of the Wicked # 3
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: September 27, 2022
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Dark Fantasy

Two curses.
One prophecy.
A reckoning all have feared.
 
And a love more powerful than fate. All hail the king and queen of Hell.
 
Emilia is reeling from a shocking discovery about her sister, Vittoria. But before she faces the demons of her past, Emilia yearns to claim her king, the seductive Prince of Wrath, in the flesh. She doesn’t just desire his body; she wants his heart and soul—but that’s something the enigmatic demon can’t promise her.
 
When a high-ranking member of House Greed is assassinated, damning evidence somehow points to Vittoria as the murderer. Now, Emilia will do anything to get to the bottom of these accusations against the sister she thought she knew.
 
Together, Emilia and Wrath play a sin-fueled game of deception to solve the murder and stop the unrest that’s brewing between witches, demons, shape-shifters, and the most treacherous foes of all: the Feared. Emilia was warned that when it came to the Wicked, nothing was as it seemed. But have the true villains been much closer all along?

 

Kerri Maniscalco's Kingdom of the Feared is the third and final installment in the authors Kingdom of the Wicked trilogy. There may be slight spoilers ahead since this books events take place right after Kingdom of the Cursed. The story actually begins 20 years ago with a woman named Sofia Santorini being betrayed and cursed by someone she knew. Emilia di Carlo, who has sold her soul to become Queen of the Wicked, just learned that there's absolutely nothing that makes sense any longer, especially after her sister Vittoria is actually alive.

When a high-ranking member of House Greed is assassinated, Emilia and Wrath are drawn to the rival demon court. Damning evidence points to Vittoria as the murderer and she’s quickly declared an enemy of the Seven Circles. Despite her betrayal, Emilia will do anything to solve this new mystery and find out who her sister really is. Together Emilia and Wrath play a sin-fueled game of deception as they work to stop the unrest that’s brewing between witches, demons, shape-shifters and the most treacherous foes of all: the Feared. 

This story is charged with revealing some seriously mind blowing revelations that will make readers sit up and say, wow. As the plot progresses, everything we thought we knew and understood completely falls apart and, instead, we finally get the right pieces to put the puzzle together. Emilia not only has to figure out what Vittoria is up to with her games she's playing with certain Princes of Hell, as well as witches, and vampires, and werewolves, but she also has to accept that her entire life before she made the fateful choice to become Queen has been a lie. 

To top it off, Emilia has learned that the First Witch created a Blade of Ruination that can kill Wrath who she also cursed. I found the revelations as to who the sisters actually were to be a fun twist in the series finale. Pretty much means that both sisters are really powerful, and there's not much they can't do if they work together. Emilia has gone from being a timid witch with little control over her magic to a strong, powerful, and feisty character. The demon princes, especially Envy, Pride, and Lust, are finally revealed about their histories, their motivations, and their personalities. And, to top it off, the romance between Emilia and Samael riches a climax in a good way.





Wednesday, November 9, 2022

#Review - The Luminaries (The Luminaries #1) by Susan Dennard #YA #Contemporary #Fantasy

Series: The Luminaries # 1
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Release Date: November 1, 2022
Publisher: Tor Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Contemporary

A brand new contemporary fantasy world from the New York Times bestselling author of the Witchlands series, Susan Dennard.

Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. It’s not on a map, cell phones don’t work there, and you might find a ghost-deer grazing at midnight. It’s also inhabited by the Luminaries, an ancient order charged with guarding the nearby forest. Each night, when nightmares rise, only the Luminaries stand between humanity and these monsters bent on devastation—one clan for each night of the week. Fourteen orders around the globe.

Winnie (of the Wednesday clan) desperately wants to reclaim her family’s standing within the Luminaries. In the four years since her dad was caught as a witch, her family has lived as outcasts. Winnie’s solution? Pass the hunter trials. Then her family will be welcomed in again.


During the first trial, however, Winnie is severely outmatched by the forest’s nightmares. So when a new, unknown monster slaughters a banshee and everyone assumes Winnie did the slaughtering, she doesn’t correct them. Realizing she will never survive the final two trials, Winnie seeks help from her gorgeous ex-friend, Jay Friday, who is no longer a baby-faced boy but the best hunter in Hemlock Falls.

As Winnie’s lies start to pile up around her and bodies start to pile up from the new nightmare, she must protect Hemlock Falls, protect her family’s new status, and protect her heart from a former friend with brutal secrets of his own.


Susan Dennard's The Luminaries is the beginning of a brand new contemporary fantasy series set in a place called Hemlock Falls. Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. It’s not on a map, cell phones don’t work there, and you might find a ghost-deer grazing at midnight. It’s also inhabited by the Luminaries, an ancient order charged with guarding the nearby forest. Each night, when nightmares rise, only the Luminaries stand between humanity and these monsters bent on devastation—one clan for each night of the week.

The main character in this book is Winnie Wednesday who is just turning 16. 4 years ago, her father was charged with being one of the hated witches called Diana's which in turn destroyed her mothers role as lead hunter, and made the family outcasts. He hasn't been seen since. Winnie is about ready to change that choice by participating in 3 levels of hunter training. If she passes, her family might be able to regain their reputation. Since nobody is supposed to support her or help her family, Winnie has been training by herself for 4 years to pass the Hunter trials. 

She knows that there is no rule against an outcast participating as long as they follow the rules. Not even her Aunt Rachel, who is now lead hunter for the Wednesday clan, can stop her. In this world, there are things called living nightmares, and it is up to the Luminaries aka Hunters to track them down and eliminate them. It's a hard job, but someone has to do it, and that someone may one day be Winnie if she survives. Things don't go as planned for Winnie on her first night after being told to go home. Winnie encounters a new, unknown monster that slaughters a banshee and everyone assumes Winnie did the slaughtering. 

She doesn’t correct them. But she does reach out to certain people still friends to find out what the new threat is. Winnie finally accepts help from Jay Friday, the boy from the smallest group of Luminaries and the best hunter in Hemlock Falls. When Winnie encounters the same mysterious threat on her second trial which requires you to remain over night alone and without help, things seem to be turning for Winnie and her family. But the question remains, why does it seem that both a werewolf, and something dangerous always seems to be around whenever she's on the hunt?

The thing I must address is how people turn on a dime when Winnie shows them the error of their ways by successfully completing each part of the trial. People who used to scorn her, or pick on her, or ignore her, now want to be friends with her including a couple rookie hunters. I can't address the issue with Winnie's father because there's a whole lot that has to be revealed, and I hate spoilers. I do know that nothing is going to stop Winnie from finding the truth. Not her Aunt Rachel. Not her former lead hunter mother, and especially not her brother.

I am not one to start a series, and then abandoned it, especially one of Susan Dennard's books, so yes, I will be looking forward to the sequel releasing to find out what happens next.


Monday, November 7, 2022

#Review - Sugar Plum Spies by Jennifer Estep #Fantasy

Series: Section 47
Format: E-Book, 176 pages
Release Date: November 8, 2022
Publisher: Jennifer Estep
Source: Jennifer Estep
Genre: Urban Fantasy

VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS . . .

Most spies take a break for the holidays, but not me, Charlotte Locke. As an analyst for Section 47, a secret spy organization, I normally use my magical form of synesthesia to uncover lies and track paramortal bad guys from the comfort of my cubicle. But tonight I’m going out into the field, along with my partner, Desmond Percy, a powerful galvanist.

Instead of enjoying Christmastime in the city, I’m in a German castle, dressed like a toy soldier and masquerading as a waitress at a swanky Christmas Eve party. My mission? To gather information that will help Section 47 track down a dangerous enemy.

Despite the glitz and glamour, I can’t shake the sense that something is wrong—and that Desmond and I might not leave the party alive.

DANCES OF DEATH . . .

My name is Desmond Percy, although I’ve had many aliases during my years working as a cleaner for Section 47. But I’ve never had a real partner until Charlotte Locke.

My part of the mission is simple: pretend to be a guest and keep an eye on things at the party while Charlotte uses her synesthesia to track down the information we need. But what starts out as a sugar plum dream quickly turns into a holiday nightmare.

Forget the mission. All I want for Christmas is to keep Charlotte safe.

Jennifer Estep's Sugar Plum Spies is an action packed holiday adventure in her Section 47 urban-fantasy world of secrets, lies, and super-spies with amazing magical abilities. Perfect for fans of Alias, Die Hard, James Bond, Jason Bourne, Nikita, True Lies, and Netflix’s Bodyguard. This book alternate's first person narratives between Section 47 agents, Charlotte Locke, who is an analysis, and Desmond Percy, cleaner. This story takes place in the Bavarian Alps in Southern German at Tannebaum Castle.

Section 47's main mission is to gather intelligence and then use that information to prevent terror attacks, mass casualty events, and other serious, life-threatening catastrophes. Section 47 goes after those who used magic and enhanced weapons to commit their crimes. Charlotte has a magical form of synesthesia that senses danger and uncovers lies making her more than an analysis. Charlotte's job is to pretend to be one of the Nutcracker waitresses while keeping her out for danger.

Desmond Percy is one of the agency’s top cleaners; an assassin. His best friend and their entire team was killed on his last mission, and now he’s looking for revenge against Henrietta Hyde, the woman who's bombs are deadly and devastating. Charlotte and Desmond are on their own this time around. In fact, the only back up may be Gabriel Chase. They have their eyes out for Henrietta Hyde of Hyde Engineering which is also a pharmaceutical company, medical research, arms dealer, and bio-magical weapons.

Unfortunately for Charlotte and Desmond, things got a little more deadly than they expected. Their host, Elsa Eisen, has a long list of enemies thanks to her business. The pair discover a lot of interesting information when a minion of Henrietta Hyde shows up and puts everyone in danger with numerous mercenaries, including Gabriel, a former Section 47 cleaner who now runs his own company but has a vested interest in seeing that no harm comes to Charlotte.

The fun thing about this story, it's fairly short and you can read it in one sitting. Although the story wraps up fairly nicely, there is still plenty of room for another book in the story. Let's just say Le Villain is still out there! But, I do love that Charlotte and Desmond work well as a team, and I would kind of sort of put them in the same category as another couple that the author wrote about in her Elemental Assassin series.





Friday, November 4, 2022

#Review - A Book Club to Die for by Dorothy St. James #Mystery #Cozy

Series: A Beloved Bookroom Mystery (#3)
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Release Date: November 1, 2022
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery / Cozy

When a member of an exclusive book club is checked out, spunky librarian Trudell Becket must sort fact from fiction to solve the murder.

The Cypress Arete Society is one of the town’s oldest and most exclusive clubs. When assistant librarian Trudell Becket is invited to speak to the group about the library, its modernization, and her efforts to bring printed books to the reading public, her friend Flossie invites herself along. Flossie has been on the book club’s waiting list for five years, and she’s determined to find out why she’s never received an invitation to join. 

But not long after Tru and Flossie arrive for the meeting, they’re shocked to find the club’s president, Rebecca White, dead in the kitchen. Rebecca was a former TV actress and local celebrity, but was not known for being patient or pleasant. She’d been particularly unkind to the book club’s host for the evening, who also happens to be the mother of Detective Jace Bailey, Tru’s boyfriend. And Rebecca had made it clear that she didn’t think Flossie was book club material.

With her boyfriend and one of her best friends wrapped up in a murder, Tru has to work fast to figure out who cut Rebecca’s story short before the killer takes another victim out of circulation....

A Book Club to Die For is the third installment in author Dorothy St. James' A Beloved Bookworm Mystery series. Trudell (Tru) Beckett and her Scooby-Doo mystery book club friends are back in a story that is filled with twists as a former Hollywood star is found dead, and Tru once again proves that even a well read librarian who loves mysteries can sometime see what others can't see. Tru, while assistant librarian in the fictional town of Cypress, South Carolina, has successfully embarked on a secretive project where she saved as many library books as she could before they were sent to the county dump for disposal. 

Over the previous two books, Tru has solved two different murders, and is now in the public eye which really grates on the Chief of Police's nerves. Everyone is wondering what she will do next, which is likely the reason why she gets a coveted invitation to the Cypress Arete Society where she is to give a presentation about her knowledge of books. When she and her friend Flossie arrive early, they discover Rebecca White, who is the club president, moving furniture and harassing this month's hostess over food choices. Things spiral out of control when Tru finds Rebecca dead, and the questions begin immediately.

Would Flossie kill Rebecca over her slight at not getting an invitation? Who had the means and the opportunity if not for Flossie and Hazel? Why would anyone kill Rebecca who was supposed to be happy living in Cypress? And, where has her boyfriend Jace been spending his nights? Jace asks Tru to do her own investigating and find out who really killed Rebecca which leads to lots of possibilities since Rebecca wasn't very well loved. She was an actress on a soap before she quit and came to Cypress where she has been busy throwing her weight around and making people uncomfortable.

For Tru, this means trying to gain the trust of the Arete Society members, while trying to help Hazel from going to prison for murder. Hazel, who is one of the best cooks in Cypress and wouldn't harm a fly, let alone kill someone out of spite or anger, may have been the last person to see Rebecca alive. If that wasn't enough fun, for almost a year, Tru has been hiding a secretive library in the basement of the library where she works. She carries a book bag with books she believes people would like to read. This is happening right under the nose of her boss, Lida Farnsworth, who just happens to be a member of the Arete Society.

What's most interesting about this book is the participation of one Dewey Decimal. Dewey, the cat on the cover of the book, always tags along with Tru when she goes to work and hangs out in the secretive Bookworm library. Dewey, it seems, has been trying to give Tru hints from almost the first moment Tru decides to figure out who the murderer is so that Jace doesn't lose his job. Sorry folks, but cats are smarter than you give them credit for. In this case, Dewey's hints may save Tru and her friends from becoming the next victim. 

So, Tru's plate is filled with finding a killer, dealing with a robotic librarian that keeps attacking people, a father who disappeared, a mother who thinks Tru needs to get a better diet, and a cat who pretty much puts the reason for the murder right in front of Tru's face before she finally puts the clues together. I am happy to report that one of my worries about Lida finding out what Tru has been up to, has been dealt with. I think that you will like this series. It's got the Southern small town feel, the sarcasm that southern ladies tend to have when they speak together, and possibly a new beginning for Tru and Jace.




Chapter One

Librarians are keepers of knowledge, caretakers of truth, and sowers of wisdom. Many of us rush out to share the world with our communities with the enthusiasm of a child who has suddenly mastered a new skill. We want people to know, to know . . . well, everything.

This is our mission. This is our passion.

We are the bringers.

We are the beacons cutting through the darkest of nights.

I should be thrilled to be able to provide this service to the Arete Society, the town's most influential book club. So why did I have this sudden desire to turn around, march back to my car, and drive home as fast as my old Camry would take me?

I'd been asked to give a presentation. I'd been tasked with sharing my knowledge of books and my experiences working at the library with a group of ladies who love books as much as I do. I lived for moments like this.

Didn't I?

Usually, yes.

But.

Not.

Tonight.

"Trudell Becket, what's got you dragging your feet like this?" Flossie Finnegan-Baker turned her wheelchair toward me. "I do believe a cornucopia of slugs just passed us."

"Cornucopia? Of slugs?" I asked. That couldn't be right. But before she could explain that a group of slugs was indeed called a cornucopia, I said, "Never mind." Flossie was rarely wrong when it came to grammar and etymology. Besides, slugs weren't important. "This," I said. "This is a mistake." I felt the truth of it like a stone in my gut. I stood in the middle of the long, winding sidewalk leading up to Hazel Bailey's front porch and scrunched my eyes closed. "I shouldn't be here."

"You're suffering from a case of the jitters." My friend touched my hand. I looked at her, and she smiled encouragingly at me. Flossie had dressed for the book club meeting in muted shades of turquoise and tan. The colors spiraled together on her long, homemade tie-dyed dress, but it was quite a shift from the bright (and often) clashing colors she usually wore. She'd attached a large golden pin in the shape of Edgar Allan Poe's face to the collar of the thick white button-up sweater she'd worn over her dress. "Honey, even I get the jitters every time I do something new. Everyone does. That's why you brought me. To have your back. And I do. I've got your back. And you've got this. Let's go."

Our host lived at the edge of town in the middle of a forest of cypress trees that gave the town its name. The cypresses' silvery trunks stood tall and straight, like the spines of books on a shelf, gleaming in the fading embers of the sunset.

Books were the reason I'd been asked to speak to the Arete Society. And those same books were the reason I couldn't go through with it.

Sure, I'd been excited at the opportunity to share my experiences working as an assistant librarian. Nearly as excited as Flossie was now. My friend started spinning pirouettes with her wheelchair on the sidewalk in front of me.

This invitation meant that finally the town was taking me and my work at the library seriously. Finally, the townspeople saw me. And most of them even knew my name.

"Tonight! Tonight!" Flossie sang happily. "Tru, you do know what an honor it is to be here tonight, don't you?"

I did.

The Arete Society wasn't simply a book club. It was known throughout the state as the best and most prestigious book club. They rarely invited anyone outside their membership to speak at their meetings. Being asked to make a presentation was like being invited to dine at the governor's mansion. No, this was better. The current governor was rather unpopular.

It wasn't until we were walking up to the house that it had hit me.

"Rebecca invited me to talk about my work with the books at the library," I said, still unwilling to move any closer to Hazel's house.

"Yes, dear." Flossie tilted her head and gave me a searching look. "I know why we're here. That's one reason why it's so exciting."

"Yes, but Rebecca wants me to talk about my work with the books at the library." I shivered in the cool January air. Even though Cypress was in the middle of balmy South Carolina, it still experienced occasional winter cold snaps. A sharp northern breeze rattled the branches in the trees above us. "I shouldn't have agreed to come."

"Oh, go on with you. I'm sure you can steer the conversation," Flossie said, now grinning like a teen going out on her first date. This was really a big night for her.

But could I pull it off? Most of my work at the library was a secret. While half of the book club members were in on the secret, the other half had no idea I'd set up an unauthorized bookroom in the library's basement.

"Just talk about why you carry around that tote bag of yours and dodge any questions about where the books came from," Flossie suggested.

"That's not going to work. I shouldn't have even brought the tote bag. What is wrong with me? I'd been so dazzled by the invitation that I completely ignored the problem with my being here." I held up the tote bag as if it were filled with explosives.

It wasn't.

I'd filled the canvas tote with books I thought the ladies attending tonight would enjoy.

"I don't understand. You're a modern-day book-hauling Robin Hood," Flossie said. "That's something you should be proud of. That's something to be celebrated."

"I can't be here because of Lida Farnsworth." My boss. My intimidating boss, who was possibly the cleverest woman in town. Cypress's head librarian had been a member of the Arete Society for longer than anyone could remember. "I'd forgotten that she would be here. Well, I knew she would be here, but I didn't stop to consider what her listening to my talk might mean."

"So? She should be just as proud of you as I am." Flossie still didn't get it.

"When I start to hand out the books from my tote bag, Mrs. Farnsworth will recognize them as library books. You know, the same library books that were supposed to have been removed from the library? If she ever discovers I converted her library's basement into a secret bookroom without her consent, I will be out of a job before you can say 'Bob's your uncle.'"

"That's a funny phrase, 'Bob's your uncle.' Not awfully common in the United States. It's Irish in origin, so I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising we say it here in Cypress. After all, several of our town's founders arrived here from Ireland. According to my research, the phrase arose in the late 1880s, when British Prime Minister Robert Cecil appointed his nephew to the post of chief secretary for Ireland. The Irish were quite unhappy with this act of nepotism. And that's how people started saying 'Bob's your uncle' whenever anything was sure to happen. The man had literally been given the post because Bob was his uncle."

I usually enjoyed Flossie's impromptu etymological musings. But right now, I was in full panic mode. I didn't want to lose my job. Working at Cypress's public library was my life. I considered taking the tote bag back to the car. But that wouldn't work. I already had a reputation for carrying that tote bag everywhere. Not bringing it to the book club would invite more questions, not fewer. And when I stood up in front of the book club and someone asked me about the books I lent out, what in the world was I going to say?

I needed to get out of there.

My friends and I had started the secret bookroom a year ago, after Cypress's town leaders had hatched what they'd called a "brilliant" idea. It was, in truth, the worst idea ever. They had decided to modernize the library and create a bookless technological center to impress the kind of high-tech industries the town manager had wanted to woo.

Yes, the town desperately needed higher-paying jobs, but the idea of getting rid of our books still rankled. How could anyone want to transform our beautiful library into a place that had no books? None. Zip. Zero. Apparently, the town manager at the time had read articles about libraries that had gone all-electronic. He had fallen in love with the idea.

With the town manager leading the way, the mayor and council members ordered all the hold-in-your-hands printed books removed and replaced with ebooks. It broke my heart to see it happen.

Books provide escape, comfort, and knowledge. Sure, ebooks could do the same thing. But there was something magical about wandering through a library and stumbling upon the perfect book without ever realizing you were looking for it in the first place.

I had no choice but to do something to save the books that had been boxed up as if they were worthless tchotchkes collected by a distant relative who'd recently passed.

Before the boxes and boxes of books could be carted off, my friends and I moved as many as we could handle into the library's basement, where we set up an unofficial (and super-secret) bookroom. Only residents who could be trusted to keep their grandmother's best secret recipes were invited.

Upstairs, the library became a shining example of cutting-edge services.

Down in the basement, we turned back time and started using old-fashioned card catalogs and hand-stamped due dates on paper book slips for checked-out material.

I hated that we couldn't invite everyone into the basement bookroom's stacks. That was why I had started carrying around the tote bag filled with books I thought people needed. My plan had been working out quite well . . . until Rebecca White, former TV soap star and current president of the Arete Society, invited me to give a presentation to the book club. Silly me had immediately agreed.

"You've got this, Tru." Flossie patted my arm. "Just keep the facts vague, and everyone will leave happy."

"Keep the facts vague, even when someone asks me a direct question, like where all these books are coming from?" I shivered again. This was not going to work.

"If things get sticky, I'll cause a distraction. I promise."

"Is that why you invited yourself along? To create a scene when someone wants me to talk about our secret bookroom?"

She beamed a wide smile that showed off her straight, white teeth. "Friends lend each other courage. That's why girlfriend weekends always turn wild . . . from all that courage being passed around." She patted my arm more forcefully. "Now, let's get in there. I can already smell something savory and wonderful coming from the house. I've heard that the hostesses at these meetings always try to outdo themselves with the dinners they serve." She smacked her lips. "I aim to discover if that's true."

Remember that time Flossie and I broke into the library in the dead of night? My adventurous friend wasn't nearly as excited then as she was now.

Don't get me wrong. I understood why she was bubbling over like a washing machine with too much soap. Flossie had been on the waiting list for membership in the Arete Society for five years now. Three ladies' applications had been accepted ahead of hers. One of them had only moved to town last year, which had hurt Flossie worse than if someone had stabbed her in the heart. Although she refused to come out and say it, I knew she had wanted to accompany me tonight so she could quiz Rebecca about what she could do to win the group over.

"'Arete' is a term the founders back in the 1930s adopted from the ancient Greeks," Flossie said, speaking as if in a rush to get all the words out at once. "It means 'knowledge is the highest virtue.' I've always thought that was a clever name for a book club. Don't you agree, Tru? Isn't it clever?"

"Um . . . yes, clever." I knew the meaning of the word from an Intro to Latin class in high school, but really, I was more concerned about the tote bag (or should I say albatross) hanging from my arm. Even if arriving without it did cause people to ask questions, I needed to get it back to the car. I couldn't give Mrs. Farnsworth the opportunity to look at those books too closely. "I need to get rid of these library books. I'll be right back."

"Be a dear and grab an umbrella while you're at the car. I think I just felt a raindrop," she called after me.

The Baileys' sprawling ranch home with its oversized stone porch columns was one of Cypress's most talked-about residences. It also had one of the longest twisty sidewalks I had ever encountered. It took forever to jog to where we'd parked at the curb and then to jog back to where Flossie was waiting. Even though the air had a chill, a bead of sweat had trickled down my back by the time I was done with that little footrace of mine.

I fanned myself with my hand and hoped my cheeks weren't as red as they felt. The silvery Spanish moss weighing down the tree limbs above my head seemed to wave back.

"Flossie, I don't know if I can pull this off. Deception isn't something-"

"Pshaw! You've been practicing your speech for days now. And besides, you do these all the time."

Was Flossie serious? "I never-"

"Your programs at the library are super popular!" she practically shouted.

"This isn't the same thing. I'm in charge of children's programming. My audience is rarely older than five. These women"-I pointed toward Hazel's door in the distance-"they scare me."

"They're simply children who grew up. Heck, most of them still act like spoiled tots," Flossie scoffed. "And they asked you to come and speak to them, I might add. They've never asked me."

Flossie, who was forty years older than my thirty-eight, explored mountains, pushed her way through exotic jungles, and wrote best-selling novels under a pseudonym she refused to divulge. And she'd done all this while using a wheelchair. Just last week she bought a speedboat with the royalty check she'd received from her publisher. The year before, she'd used her royalty check to purchase and customize a cherry-red Corvette so she could speed around town using hand controls.

No one could deny that Flossie had stories to tell. Plus, she had an electric personality that made whatever she said sound exciting. The more I thought about it, the more I had to agree with her that her exclusion from the Arete Society seemed suspect.