Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Halloween Party / Agatha Christie

3.5 out of 5 stars
A teenage murder witness is drowned in a tub of apples... At a Hallowe'en party, Joyce—a hostile thirteen-year-old—boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no-one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub. That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the 'evil presence'. But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double-murderer...

 My first Hercule Poirot novel—probably not the best one to start with, but still very enjoyable. Having enjoyed David Suchet’s portrayal of M. Poirot, I felt I had the basis of the character and was quite comfortable jumping in at number 36 (!) of the Poirot mysteries.

I really enjoyed getting a contemporary look at the late 1960s in Britain in this novel—the young men with their sideburns and their fancy fashions! Plus, Dame Agatha is such an accurate observer of the human condition. She includes all the types that I would expect to find in a small town: the catty gossips, the one woman who seems to organize everything and is simultaneously appreciated and resented for it, the cads, the bounders, and the decent men.

Probably not the strongest entry in Christie’s canon, but it filled a very enjoyable evening.

Read to fill the Set on Halloween square on my 2016 Halloween Book Bingo card.

Uncle Silas / Sheridan Le Fanu

3 out of 5 stars
In Uncle Silas, Sheridan Le Fanu's most celebrated novel, Maud Ruthyn, the young, naïve heroine, is plagued by Madame de la Rougierre from the moment the enigmatic older woman is hired as her governess. A liar, bully, and spy, when Madame leaves the house, she takes her dark secret with her. But when Maud is orphaned, she is sent to live with her Uncle Silas, her father's mysterious brother and a man with a scandalous--even murderous--past. And, once again, she encounters Madame, whose sinister role in Maud's destiny becomes all too clear.

Could a book get any more gothic? An orphaned “girl” (she is 17 after all, a young woman really), a sinister uncle, a crumbling house on a neglected estate, a conniving cousin, a sinister governess, and everyone with mysterious reasons for their actions.

The horror of this novel is all atmosphere and the unknown. Our main character, Maud, is a strange combination of naïve and knowledgeable, with just enough knowledge to keep her alive and enough naiveté to keep her bumping along into trouble.

A major part of the suspense is waiting for the death of Maud’s eccentric father and then watching as her affairs are left in the hands of a man whom she has never met, her father’s disgraced brother, Silas. Typically Victorian, we do not meet the man who gives the book its title until we are into the 190s page-wise. I was also left wondering how deeply involved in the actual nefarious schemes Maud’ father actually was—he seemed to be aiding & abetting on more than one occasion. If you can’t trust the men who are appointed by society to run your life, what’s an inexperienced heiress to do?

Modern women will be left with a great sense of relief that we can now be responsible for our own futures and relationships, without being expected to obey the dictates of men who clearly have their own best interests at heart, rather than ours.

Read to fill the Classic Horror square of my 2016 Halloween Book Bingo card.

Libriomancer / Jim Hines

4 out of 5 stars
Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.
With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . . .

How could I resist Isaac Vainio, the main character of Libriomancer? Not only does he work in a library, but he is a cataloguer like myself, although my job has not yet required me to fight off vampires nor take on the care and feeding of a fire-spider. Isaac has been banished to “just” library work, after having a bit of a “magical incident” and is trying to earn his way back into the action.

Nor is Isaac the only character to enjoy. There are some great secondary characters who also have interesting back stories. Not to mention the Porters, the organization of Libriomancers—those folk who can use works of fiction to produce swords, truth serums, guns, gems, etc. in the real world. Plus there are various “strains” of vampires, depending on which era’s fiction they are pulled from (“Sparklers” being the Twilight series’ offering in this regard). Arming himself with books, Isaac attempts to go right some wrongs—well-read science fiction readers will get a smile out of many of his choices.

This is very much a first offering in the series—there is an awful lot of mutual explaining done between Isaac and the other characters to help the reader into the pictures. With any luck, there will be less info-dumping in the next volume and we can just get on with the adventures!

May I also say that I am a recovering arachnophobic, but Smudge the fire spider didn’t trigger any strong reactions for me. Having said that, I don’t react to such things nearly as strongly as I used to (the giant spiders in The Hobbit and Shelob in The Lord of the Rings caused me some nightmares when I was a young person!)

The whole idea of “agent banished to desk work for bad behaviour” reminded me strongly of Mick Herron’s Slough House series, in which failed British secret service agents are sent to do the most boring & repetitive intelligence work to encourage them to quit and move on.

Read to fulfill the Creepy Crawlies square of my 2016 Halloween Book Bingo card.

Crooked House / Agatha Christie

3 out of 5 stars
In the sprawling, half-timbered mansion in the affluent suburb of Swinly Dean, Aristide Leonides lies dead from barbiturate poisoning. An accident? Not likely. In fact, suspicion has already fallen on his luscious widow, a cunning beauty fifty years his junior, set to inherit a sizeable fortune, and rumored to be carrying on with a strapping young tutor comfortably ensconced in the family estate. But criminologist Charles Hayward is casting his own doubts on the innocence of the entire Leonides brood. He knows them intimately. And he's certain that in a crooked house such as Three Gables, no one's on the level...

A nice evening’s reading. One of Dame Agatha’s stand-alone novels, not featuring any of her famous sleuths. It’s a decent little story but I was somewhat disappointed to have guessed the identity of the killer fairly early on in the book. Quite unlike And Then There Were None. Nevertheless, an interesting glimpse into British society right post-World War II. How much society has changed—never today would a police department allow an amateur detective to hang around and pollute their crime scene and witness pool, no matter if he is tentatively engaged to one of the family in question!

As one would expect of a female author, there are a number of strong female characters (plus the normal assortment of weaker vessels, but that is also true of the men). Women had taken on more duties & responsibilities during war time and it would be hard to give them back up. Christie gives us an interesting man as narrator, probably much more rational and clear thinking than your average person, but useful in this context.

Read to fill the Closed Room Mystery square on my 2016 Halloween Book Bingo card.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Huntress Moon / Alexandra Sokoloff

4.5 stars out of 5
FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.
Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states...while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.
As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

Santa Muerte, that was good!

This book is a perfect example for me of the role of timing in whether I enjoy a book or not. I tried to read Huntress Moon earlier in the month, but I went into it with an “urban fantasy” mindset, expecting something a bit on the lightish side, something with a bit of humour. If that is what you want, this is not the droid you are looking for. There are a few fantastical elements, but I wouldn’t characterize it as urban fantasy at all.

This is an intense drama of an FBI agent in search of a serial killer. We even know who the killer is, so the tension develops mostly from the “can Matthew Roarke put the pieces together” question, as well as determining the motive of our killer. When I returned to HM with no particular expectations, this story grabbed me by the collar and made me pay attention. Roarke is a former member of the Bureau’s Behavioral Sciences unit, fighting with his own history as he struggles to get a handle on this case.

Recommended for fans of the Criminal Minds television show or of FBI/BAU nonfiction.

Read to fill the Full Moon square of my 2016 Halloween Book Bingo card.

The Woman in White / Willkie Collins

3.5 stars out of 5
'In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop... There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white'

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright's eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his 'charming' friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

Very Victorian. When I start to read books of this vintage, I have to remember to slow myself down and get ready to appreciate a story told in a different way from today’s literature. One of my earliest literature loves was H. Rider Haggard’s She, giving me an early appreciation of the Victorian novel which I can tap into when starting new works. The story is approached more slowly and circuitously.

I can certainly see why The Woman in White is considered a classic. Collins builds an intriguing mystery and a wonderful cast of characters. What a wonderful villain Count Fosco is! With his white mice, canaries, and cockatoo in tow!

The tale gives me great sympathy for the gentlewomen of the time—the course of one’s life determined so strongly by the choice of marriage partner. Once chosen, there was no escape and a woman was expected to stick by her husband, no matter how dreadful. Cheeringly, Laura’s lawyers seemed to be very protective of her, but one can consider how much they were protecting the woman versus the fortune.

And anyone who doesn’t like how their boss is treating them should attend to the life of a servant in this novel—where one can be yelled at, belittled, ignored, mistreated, even physically punished, all at a whim. [Just as an aside, do you suppose this is where the unfortunate tendency of some people to abuse staff at restaurants and retail stores comes from? People treating them like the unfortunate servants of the past?]

Definitely a worthwhile read if you are interested in the evolution of the mystery genre. Get a glass of wine, settle in for a leisurely evening or three, and prepare to make your way slowly through the evidence.

The Monstrumologist / Rich Yancey

3.5 stars out of 5
These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthorpe, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?

A pseudo-Victorian novel set in 1888, The Monstrumologist has the same rather over-wrought style of that time period and is chock full of orphans, including our protagonist Will Henry. But this is very much a product of the twenty first century, being much more direct and much more graphic than the standard Victorian novel.

On full display is the mad scientist stereotype. The doctor whom Will Henry serves is depicted as amoral, pursuing scientific knowledge without much reference to morals or emotions. He attempts to be the ultimate unbiased observer. There is some exploration of the danger of obsession , with references to Nietzsche (referencing his statement: If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you). Indeed, by book’s end, the reader can certainly see where the doctor’s childhood has shaped the nature of the conflict, which is interesting considering that Sigmund Freud’s theories were developed during the Victorian period and are generally accepted into popular thinking today.

The mad scientist stereotype always frustrates me, appearing as it does from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein right through to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. It makes a good story, which is why it continues to be used, but it also feeds that strain of scientific ignorance and fear that seems to run just beneath the surface of so many issues of our times. Both industrialists and environmentalists who refuse to believe various scientific studies, for example, and have dug into their positions. Rather than actually think and truly negotiate, they merely refuse to believe each’s other’s positions and go nowhere and nothing changes. (Science is a method of investigation, not a religious belief.)

For those with delicate sensibilities, this may be a book to avoid as there is a lot of what I found to be gratuitous gore. But there are a few interesting ideas being bounced around and once again, I find myself impressed a work of YA fiction.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Crystal Shard / R.A. Salvatore

3 out of 5 stars
Akar Kessel, weak-willed apprentice mage, starts events that find a magical device, the crystal shard. Dwarf Bruenor rescues barbarian Wulfgar from the ruins of Ten-Towns, for 5 years of service - and friendship. With help from renegade dark elf Drizzt, Wulfgar becomes a warrior with brawn and brains. Can the trio stave off the crystal shard forces?

I can see where this would have been an extremely popular book in its time. It does, however, very much show its status as first published book by this author and as a high fantasy published in the 1980s. It reminded me strongly of the Shannara series by Terry Brooks, which started off very dependent on The Lord of the Rings for races, imagery, and even some plot points, but which eventually moved off in its own direction. I think nowadays we could refer to works like these as LOTR fan fiction. LOTR was immensely influential and writers were trying to recreate the experience for eager readers, who were tired of re-reading Tolkien’s epic to get their fix.

To give credit to Salvatore, he moves things off in his own direction quite quickly. He may have halflings with furry feet (thankfully, he doesn’t call them hobbits), elves, dwarves, goblins and orcs, but they march to his drum and he doesn’t just copy Tolkien’s plot lines. The good people may have slight shadings of grey to their goodness, but the villains are definitely mustache-twirling, evil-laughing baddies, very typical of the time period. There is some battle detail, but certainly nothing resembling the nitty-gritty of the grim-dark fantasy that is currently popular. The reader can be quite confident that all the main characters will survive to have another adventure and that good will conquer in the end.

Salvatore adds some imaginative elements—for example, Drizzt, our Dark Elf main character, has a magical panther companion. Instead of a pastoral setting, all of his characters live on or right beside the tundra. The barbarian tribes make interesting enemies and eventually allies (frenemies perhaps?) for the settled humans. I was particularly amused by the knucklehead trout, the skulls of which were ideal for carving, rather like ivory in our world.

Also typical of the 1980s, female characters are scarce and barely have names, let alone roles to play in the action. But this is merely the first book, so there is room for development. The ending leads me to believe that the second book will be the more familiar quest tale.

Book number 229 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Uplift War / David Brin

4 out of 5 stars
As galactic armadas clash in quest of the ancient fleet of the Progenitors, a brutal alien race seizes the dying planet of Garth.  The various uplifted inhabitants of Garth must battle their overlords or face ultimate extinction.  At stake is the existence of Terran society and Earth, and the fate of the entire Five Galaxies.  Sweeping, brilliantly crafted, inventive and dramatic, The Uplift War is an unforgettable story of adventure and wonder from one of today's science fiction greats.

David Brin writes entertaining aliens! The Gooksyu-Gubru clan made me see space chickens in my mind and I just loved them. They remain neuter (and white) until they are allowed to form a triad (and run a project), at the end of which they gain both gender & colour. Then the bird at the top of the pecking order becomes a queen and the other two become her princes. So, a lot is riding on the outcome of their “crusade” against Earthling humans and neo-chimpanzees.

The galactic manoeuvring in this series remind me very much of complex Byzantine politics—there are patron races and client races. Earth is unique in that humans “uplifted” themselves to a space travelling race, seemingly without the intercession of a patron race (although there is debate about whether an unknown race uplifted them & then disappeared, the Von Daniken hypothesis). And then humans had the temerity to uplift both dolphins and chimpanzees before they made contact with the Eatees, putting some of the elder patron races’ noses out of joint. Hence the desire of the Gooksyu-Gubru to prove that the Neo-Chims are not really uplifted and that the Earthings are mismanaging the planet Garth that they have been assigned to rehabilitate.

The pleasure is in the details for me—the details of Neo-Chim society in this book. The dance clubs which replicate the “rain dance” experience of wild chimps on Earth, their oaths (By Goodall), their tremendous senses of humour, and the ability to undertake guerilla/gorilla warfare. In this universe, species that possess an appreciation of humour have to stick together!

Very enjoyable. This was book 228 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

The Revenant of Thraxton Hall / Vaughan Entwistle

3.5 stars out of 5
Arthur Conan Doyle has just killed off Sherlock Holmes in "The Final Problem," and he immediately becomes one of the most hated men in London. So when he is contacted by a medium "of some renown" and asked to investigate a murder, he jumps at the chance to get out of the city. The only thing is that the murder hasn't happened yet—the medium, one Hope Thraxton, has foreseen that her death will occur at the third séance of a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research at her manor house in the English countryside.

Along for the ride is Conan Doyle's good friend Oscar Wilde, and together they work to narrow down the list of suspects, which includes a mysterious foreign Count, a levitating magician, and an irritable old woman with a "familiar." Meanwhile, Conan Doyle is enchanted by the plight of the capricious Hope Thraxton, who may or may not have a more complicated back-story than it first appears. As Conan Doyle and Wilde participate in séances and consider the possible motives of the assembled group, the clock ticks ever closer to Hope's murder, in The Revenant of Thraxton Hall by Vaughn Entwistle.

I chose this book to fulfill the Mystery square on my 2016 Halloween Book Bingo card. It was another book that has been on my TBR list for a while and this was a perfect excuse to read it.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the main character, with Oscar Wilde in tow, as they investigate mysterious happenings which begin in London and quickly move to Thraxton Hall. Historically, these two men did meet, got along very well, and inspired each other’s writing. So it’s a plausible assumption that they could have shared an adventure or two (although there’s no historical record of that happening). Also, Conan Doyle was a pretty committed spiritualist, including being buried standing up (apparently as part of his belief system). May I say also that I appreciate that the author used Conan Doyle as a main character, instead of Sherlock Holmes as other authors have done--I saw a play this year which teamed Wilde and Holmes, the real and the fictional--and while it is entertaining, I think the author Doyle deserves some time at the centre of things instead of his creation.

Although dealing with men and women of the Victorian age, the writing had an extremely modern feel. It was very cleverly plotted and the situations were appropriate, but the words which the characters used to express themselves rang just a bit too 21st century for me. I also felt that Oscar Wilde was used rather stereotypically, with his concern about his appearance and his enormous ego being used to create humour. Nevertheless, it was fun and I was certainly motivated to keep reading and find out who was behind the goings on.

There were a few annoying typos in my volume (confusing quotation marks) and I think that I shall be reading a biography of Oscar Wilde before I tackle the second volume of this series. Definitely a fun series which I intend to continue with.

Friday, 7 October 2016

London Falling / Paul Cornell

3.5 out of 5 stars
The dark is rising . . .
Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence analyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out.

Now, the team must find a 'suspect' who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again. As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game - and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

I chose this novel to read to fill the Fall into a Good Book square of my 2016 Halloween Book Bingo card. I’d been wanting to read it for a while, since it was recommended by none other than Ben Aaronovitch, author of the Peter Grant series which I really like.

And I can see some basic similarities. Both authors obviously know & love London city. They also both see the city’s potential for magical history. But I find Aaronovitch’s series to be more optimistic and more playful. Cornell shows us a much darker, grittier, and more threatening magical system.

I also felt like the whole book was set-up, which may pay off in the second book. For me, things didn’t really snap into place until the very last chapters. Up until that point, I could have walked away without finishing the book and had no regrets. However, those last few pages have convinced me that I need to know where things go from here.

As I approach the end of several other beloved series, I am experiencing anticipatory mourning, so it is good to have another good series queued up and ready to roll. The Shadow Police will definitely help me with the loss of my favourites.

Darkness, Take My Hand / Dennis Lehane

4 out of 5 stars
The master of the new "noir," Dennis Lehane magnificently evokes the dignity and savagery of working-class Boston in this terrifying tale of darkness and redemption.

Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro's latest client is a prominent Boston psychiatrist running scared from a vengeful Irish mob. The private investigators know something about cold-blooded retribution. Born and bred on the mean streets of blue-collar Dorchester, they've seen the darkness that lives in the hearts of the unfortunate. But an evil for which even they are unprepared is about to strike as secrets long-dormant erupt, setting off a chain of violent murders that will stain everything--including the truth.

  I read this book to fill the Set in New England square on my 2016 Halloween Book Bingo card.

Wow, this was gritty and dark. A part of Boston that had never, ever crossed my mind—the Irish working class and the mafia that sprang from them. And the two investigators, Patrick and Angela, not only share this background but have stuck around & continued to work in it.

I missed the first book and truthfully I don’t know that I will read another in the series. One dose of bleakness may be sufficient for my needs. If you have difficulty with explicit murder and/or torture scenes, you may want to give this book a miss. I finished it shortly before bedtime and must confess that it spawned a series of unsettling dreams overnight.

As the book starts, it seems like our two investigators are getting their lives in order. Then they are offered what seems like a simple job, surveillance of a college boy. And with that, they are pulled into a whirlpool of intrigue. Lehane does a remarkable job of fleshing out their relationships with the community and each other without doing a recognizable info-dump. Very well written.

If you are a fan of noir, I would recommend Darkness, Take My Hand.

A Cast of Falcons / Steve Burrows

4 out of 5 stars
The threat from above is an ever-present danger.  A man falls to his death from a high cliff face in northern Scotland. From a distance, another man watches. He approaches the body, tucks a book into the man’s pocket, and leaves.  When the Scottish police show Inspector Domenic Jejeune the book, a bird guide bearing his name, he can truthfully say he that he has no idea how it came to be in the dead man’s pocket. What he does not tell them is that he recognizes the book instantly. So, while puzzled, he is not entirely surprised when his brother Damian emerges from his fugitive existence to reveal that the dead man is a notorious “taker” — a poacher of live wild falcons.

The case gets personal in a way Jejeune has never experienced before. He is acutely aware that with each passing day, rare birds are being illegally taken from the wild. And hovering over his every move is the threat that if he gets this one wrong, no one in the North Norfolk Constabulary will escape the wrath of the nation’s highest-placed officials.

If you are a birder and you like murder mysteries, you are already predisposed to like the Birder Murder Mysteries by Steve Burrows. This third installment of the series returns the reader to the Norfolk area of England, to see what Inspector Domenic Jejeune is involved in now—obviously from the title, falcons feature as an important part of the action.

Developments include Jejeune’s relationships with his partner Lindy, his sergeant Danny Maik, and his superior officer Colleen Shepard, among others. Plus we finally get a peek into the family backstory that has been alluded to in the previous two books.

Burrows uses his life experience as a birder and as a Brit transplanted to Canada to craft an engaging main character (Jejeune is a Canadian ex-pat in Norfolk).

The plot gets a bit messier, just like real life, and the entanglements get more difficult to sort out. Justice proves a little more difficult to achieve. A satisfying story—but I can see the possibilities for the next book A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, which I will be on the look-out for next year.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Dead in the Family / Charlaine Harris

3 out of 5 stars
Sookie Stackhouse is dealing with a whole host of family problems, ranging from her own kin (a non-human fairy and a telepathic second cousin) demanding a place in her life, to her lover Eric's vampire sire, an ancient being who arrives with Eric's 'brother' in tow at a most inopportune moment. And Sookie's tracking down a distant relation of her ailing neighbour (and ex), Vampire Bill Compton.

In addition to the multitude of family issues complicating her life, the werewolf pack of Shreveport has asked Sookie for a special favour, and since Sookie is an obliging young woman, she agrees. But this favour for the wolves has dire results for Sookie, who is still recovering from the trauma of her abduction during the Fairy War.

 Not as much fun as earlier books, but still a good way to see my way through the first migraine headache that I have had in many years! This was a good distraction.

Although Sookie and Eric seem to have gelled into a couple, this actually takes away much of the plot tension from the story. Despite the fact that Eric is often away, they seem to have lost the push and pull in their relationship that made previous books so addictive for me.

On the plus side, we get to know Sookie’s little telepathic cousin, Hunter, a little better and her fairy cousin Claude moves in and becomes marginally more likeable. Sookie’s brother, Jason, seems to have matured a bit as well, even if he has moved on awfully quickly from his marriage to the late & unlamented Crystal.

And it’s not only Sookie’s family that gets time in this installment—Eric’s vampire sire and “little brother” show up. Of course his sire is an ancient Roman and the “brother” is the Russian Romanov prince who was so damaged by the time he became a vampire that he is unstable and dangerous (shades of Anne Rice in both of these matters). Plus, Sookie finds a “sister” of Bill’s, someone to assist him in regaining his health after his gallantry in book 9. (However, she very much resembles Bill’s mortal wife from the 1800s, so we will have to see how Sookie deals with that kind of competition for Bill’s affection, little dog-in-the-manger that she is).

All in all, a very appropriate title for this volume, as there are many family ties explored. Also included: some heavy foreshadowing, as Sookie contemplates her age and how long Eric or Bill will remain interested in her when she is no longer young & pretty. Since there have also been discussions of how much more blood exchange can take place between Sookie & Eric without turning her, this will no doubt be an issue dealt with more thoroughly in the last 3 books.

Dead and Gone / Charlaine Harris

3.5 stars out of 5
The vamps have been out for years, and now the weres and shifters have decided to follow the lead of the undead and reveal their existence to the ordinary world. Sookie Stackhouse already knows about them, of course - her brother turns into a panther at the full moon, she's friend to the local were pack, and Sam, her boss at Merlotte's bar, is a shapeshifter.

The great revelation goes well at first - then the horribly mutilated body of a were-panther is found in the parking lot of Merlotte's, and Sookie agrees to use her telepathic talent to track down the murderer. But there is a far greater danger than this killer threatening Bon Temps: a race of unhuman beings, older, more powerful, and far more secretive than the vampires or the werewolves, is preparing for war. And Sookie is an all-too-human pawn in their ages-old battle...

This seems to be the point in this rather long series where the author was losing interest in these characters but was still being encouraged to produce books by her publisher.  While still entertaining, they are becoming cookie-cutter books, with predictable characters in predictable predicaments solving their problems in predictable ways.

This should have been the book to deal with the “coming out” stories of the Were community, and instead it gets hijacked by fairy drama.  So, while I would have liked more detail on Sam, for instance, instead we get a pointless war, complete with the death of Claudine, the only fairy character that I actually liked.  The horrible death of Sookie’s shifter sister-in-law gets almost glossed over and it seems that no one actually misses the poor woman.

Eric gets much more attention in this installment, as he tricks our gullible heroine into a vampire marriage.  Supposedly this is to protect Sookie from the new vamp hierarchy, but it seems pretty self-serving, especially when a quick conversation could have straightened everything out.  By contrast, Vampire Bill comes out of this smelling like a rose, having proven himself devoted to Ms. Stackhouse.

One wonders how many more “wars” can be invented to be the centre of each new book.  I do truly enjoy the setting and many of the characters, but can appreciate why others would quit reading around this point.  For me, this was an easy read during a struggle of my own with a migraine headache (which may actually have affected my enjoyment and account for the crankiness of this review).

One Salt Sea / Seanan McGuire

4.5 out of 5 stars
October "Toby" Daye is finally doing all right—and that inevitably means it's time for things to take a turn for the worse. Someone has kidnapped the sons of the Duchess Dianda Lorden, regent of the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist. To prevent a war between land and sea, Toby must not only find the missing boys, but also prove that the Queen of the Mists was not behind their abduction. She'll need all her tricks and the help of her allies if she wants to make it through this in one piece.

Toby's search will take her from the streets of San Francisco to the lands beneath the waves. But someone is determined to stop her—and whoever it is isn't playing by Oberon's Laws. As the battle grows more and more personal, one thing is chillingly clear. When Faerie goes to war, not everyone will walk away.

Another fabulous fae book from Seanan McGuire. I was finishing it up in the lunch room at the museum where I work and was dismayed to find myself weeping uncontrollably. The military guys already have their misgivings about me and I really didn’t need to get all emotional over black squiggles on a slice of dead tree to prove to them that I’m a little different than they are. Fortunately, I had chosen an odd time to go for lunch and I got to cry surreptitiously. I went home and re-read the last few chapters and allowed myself to have a really good, ugly cry.

Normally, crying wouldn’t be a reason that I would recommend a book, but I find myself very emotionally invested in this series and I was relieved when I checked and confirmed that I am only half way through the series. Plenty of Toby Daye adventures are still in my future!

So what were the good points of this book? Toby gets herself a squire, none other than young Quentin. We learn more about the sea witch, the Luidaeg, and I couldn’t help but appreciate her more! Plus the undersea Fae were both interesting and inventive. Anyone who has been in the presence of an Orca whale will likely be willing to think of them as mysterious representatives of the undersea world!

The sad points? Well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. There are a lot of people unhappy by book’s end—kidnapping victims injured, dear ones dead, irreversible bargains made. As Toby is reminded, everything has a cost and it seems that all the main characters have to pay a bit in this one. As do we all.

So there was sadness, but the decks are clear now for more adventures and more happiness in the next book Ashes of Honor.