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The Awakening of Ren Crown
The Awakening of Ren Crown
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Geek meets magic, 29 Mar. 2016
"The Awakening" should appeal to people who are into interesting magic systems and worlds. Ren Crown’s world is the one we inhabit (Layer one). A suppression spell has been cast on our layer keeping people from remembering anything to do with real magic. At some point the Magic community had decided to split the mundane world from anything to do with magic. Unauthorized magic is immediately discovered and investigated.

"The Awakening" begins with a death. Florence (Ren) Cross and her brother Christian are breaking into the garage of the girl Christian is asking for a school dance. Just weeks are left of the school-year. Christian had been acting peculiarly a few weeks. This evening he keeps on rubbing his wrists. Even Ren had been feeling an itch under her skin and feels an urge to create her own paint.

Outside, the weather is acting strangely. As soon as the two leave the garage lightning begins a thunder-less dance. Christian is having cramps and sparks fall off his fingertips.

“A weird wave of electricity surged through my fingers where they touched him. I snatched my hand back, staring at the digits. The charged feeling dissipated within me, but increased in the air around us, swirling and darkening. I tentatively touched his arm again, and the energy shot into me once more. It was like focused euphoria.”

In the magic community Christian and Ren are what the call “ferals”. Ferals are children with innate magic who grow up outside of the influence of the magic world. While they are supposed to be protected by magic laws, having unregistered magic-users available is a dream come true for scruple-less magic users. Christian’s awakening works on them as bees to pollen. These magic-users have the tools to drain all magic from a person, killing them. And so Christian dies and we meet grief.

At this point, Ren is still not aware of her own magic. Her awakening happens a little later, in her classroom under the eyes of their new art-teacher, Mr. Verisetti. What was supposed to be a dangerous yet happy event, is instead one of anger, tears and fear.

Zoelle writes about Ren’s grief in a manner that I think could help those who, themselves, are grieving or affected by the choices of others who are grieving. A consequence of a loved one dying may, sometimes, be that we, intentionally or unintentionally, make stupid and/or dangerous choices. Ren does and is not exempt from their consequences. Nor are her surroundings. Zoelle does not preach or judge. She just shows.

Not everything in the story is about Ren and her sorrow. There are strifes in the magic community that she and we find out about as we go. The magic school has students from all over the wizard community. Without preconceptions about this new world she is entering, not knowing who belongs to which family, the class system (highly stratified community) or what is possible, Ren finds herself stepping across divides that were thought unbreachable.

Without Christian about, Ren discovers that people want to be her friend. She is highly suspicious of some motives, but accepts any person with the same level of nerd/geek as herself.

Until she accomplishes her goal, Ren’s greatest fear is that others discover she is feral. Once her goal is over and done with, Ren wants to get the hell out of an incredibly dangerous place. Who knows. Maybe she will.

Definitely recommended.

[...]


Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl
Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl
by David Barnett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Poor little Annie Crook became involved with the wrong man., 18 Mar. 2016
"Darling Annie!" He took her in his arms and kissed her. Annie wanted to should it from the rooftops. She had a sweetheart, and he was a toff to boot."

Poor little Annie Crook became involved with the wrong man. In Victorian times, whether they be in alternate or our history, the rabble risked much if they caught the attention of the upper class. Yet, sometimes, the rabble manages to surprise. Young Annie is one of the voices David Barnett introduces us to in Mechanical Girl.

"At first, he thought the knocking was a gear slipping, or one of the spring wearing. He sat up in the chair, suddenly alert, and peered around. "Anybody else hear that?"

Arthur frowned. There it went again. He stood and walked to the port side. Probably a piece of driftwood or rubbish hauled over the side from one of the factory farms. He leaned over and looked at the black, oily water."

Lives of trawler-fishers are dangerous one. In the past, more so. Usually, lives are lost because of the ocean's wiles, but for Arthur Smith the cause of death of was much more sinister. Left behind is 24-year-old Gideon Smith (our main protagonist). To him Sandsend seems like the end of the earth and he wants nothing more than to leave it behind and experience the adventures he reads about in World Marvels & Wonders.

To have his father's death be the impetus for his investigation was not how Gideon thought his adventure would begin. Investigate he must, for there is something distinctly off about the disappearance of the crew of the Cold Drake. Anger can be a marvelous tool when we suspect something needs fixing. Anger at our gods, the fickleness of nature, people dying and leaving us behind and even at our own fears are all angers that can prompt action and change. Gideon is an angry man, and rightly so. Life in Victorian times (both alternate world and our) was unfair. It still is. Being wealthy makes life easier to navigate while poverty keeps people in their place. Annie was certainly kept in her place. Now Gideon has to find a way to leave his and investigate and explore.

Which is why he goes seeking Captain Trigger, that wonderful hero of the penny dreadfuls. Such a hero must see that Gideon's cause is worth pursuing (taking Gideon with him). Getting hold of Captain Trigger proves difficult and Gideon must seek help. Who should turn up but Bram Stoker. Yes, that one. David Barnett throws conspiracies and magical names at us through the story. We just have to pay attention to where we are going.

Once Bram becomes involved, officials finally pay attention to Gideon's worry about a smuggler's cave. Stoker is just higher enough on the layers of society for him to be taken more seriously than Gideon. Let's face it. That is the way the world works. I am taken more seriously than a homeless person. My husband is taken more seriously than I. Writing about inequality in a manner that is fun to read is something Barnett does well. Intended or unintended.

In the end, Gideon gets to meet Captain Trigger, a meeting that changes both men. Gideon also meets wonderful and strange Maria. As he and Maria get closer to an answer to both of their questions, stranger and stranger creatures turn up. Conspiracy indeed.

I had fun. Lots of fun reading "Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl". Definitely recommended.

[...]


Spider's Bite (Elemental Assassin)
Spider's Bite (Elemental Assassin)
by Jennifer Estep
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.66

5.0 out of 5 stars Gin seeks revenge for the murder of her foster-father, 18 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Jennifer Estep's Ashland, Tennessee, is like many corrupt cities/towns/countries. "Ashland might have a working police force and government, but the city was really run by one woman. Mab Monroe." Monroe is your typical mobster. She has a respectable front powered by charity, fund-raising and activities appearing to give back to the community. Behind that façade, bribes and intimidation are favorite tools but she does not hesitate to stoop to kidnappings and murder if necessary. If you happen to be a law-abiding police officer, district attorney or judge, you are doomed one way or another.

In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Prince Hamlet says to his mother Queen Gertrude:

"Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamèd bed,
Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty—"

Into such a bed of corruption, Estep places Spider (Gin Snow), assassin, main character and story-teller. Gin is known as Gin Blanco, part-time cook and waitress at the Pork Pit. She regularly takes classes at Ashland Community College - the eternal student. Pork Pit is owned by Fletcher (foster-father, ex-assassin and handler/go-between). Gin loves and trusts both Fletcher and Finnegan/Finn (foster-brother and bankier). As Spider's Bite unfolds, we discover how Gin came to be in Fletcher's household.

We first meet Spider in Ashland Asylum. She is there to kill one of the therapists. As an introduction, this assignment serves to introduce us to Gin, her profession, the types of inhabitants in Ashland and what kinds of magic exist. Ashland is a place of magic, vampires, giants, dwarves and humans. Gin is human and a stone- and ice-elemental. The other two main forms of magic are fire- and air-magic. Most elementals have the use of one magic. If they have two, one of them is normally a minor one. Ashland's magic is not without its dangers, addiction being one of them. Insanity another. Fletcher and Finn are humans and without magic. Early on in the story, Gin takes on an assignment that has devastating effects on her relationship with Fletcher and Finn and has the potential of bringing her within reach of Mab.

Her assignment certainly brings her within reach of Detective Donovan Caine. Caine is one of the few honest public service-people in Ashland. Of course, he and Gin are bound to clash and end in the inevitable should/should not have sex situation. Fortunately, Estep chooses to portray Gin as the instigator and Caine as the doubting, shameful one. It would be strange if they had the usual roles in paranormal literature due to Caine being the upright police officer that he is. Happily, this romance bit did not take up too much of the story. Most of their interaction was through their investigation.

Finn, Gin's foster-brother, is something worse than an assassin (as Gin puts it). He is a bankier and Gin's go-to person in "Spider's Bite". It would be a safe bet to say that Finn and Gin are best friends. Their friendship is vital to the success of the investigation. When Caine becomes involved he and Finn go through the usual (is it like this all over the world?) who's-the-manlier-man procedure. Thankfully, again, Estep does not force us to endure yet another threesome (god, I hate those). No mushy stuff and no threesome. What is the world coming to?

I had fun reading "Spider's Bite". There was plenty of action. Some violence and sex. Definitely recommended.
[...]


The Shadow Year
The Shadow Year
by Jeffrey Ford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.62

5.0 out of 5 stars Fell in love with our unnamed main character and his siblings, 18 Mar. 2016
This review is from: The Shadow Year (Paperback)
"The Shadow Year" begins and ends with Mr. Softee, the ice-cream man. At the beginning of the story our narrator, and main character, is "listening carefully for that mournful knell, each measured ding both a promise of ice cream and a pinprick of remorse."

Our narrator describes a family learning to cope with a new financial reality. Their father lost his old job and was now working three jobs, while their mother worked one job, to pay the bills that still kept on coming in. Even though their father is not present in much of the book, Jeffrey Ford still manages to show a man who loves his family passionately and whose family loves him back. But because of his need to work so much, we also see children who view their father as a distant figure.

Their mother is clearly depressed and self-medicates with alcohol and The Complete Sherlock Holmes. She seems to be manic depressive, and we get to watch her come down from one of her manic episodes.

"In those few seconds, I saw the recent burst of energy leaking out of her. As usual, it had lasted for little more than a week or so, and she'd used it all up. Like a punctured blow-up pool toy, she seemed to slowly deflate while shadows blossomed in her gaze."

Childhood is such a passionate time. If you have ever seen a three-year old express anger, joy, sadness or love, you know what a I mean. Everything is new and everything is normal. An adult might see a child's circumstances as horrible, but that child knows of nothing else. As they grow and learn to compare, some of their passion is sloughed off.

There are three children in our main character's family: Jim (seventh grade), narrator (sixth grade) and Mary (fourth grade/Room X). All three seem to be pretty smart with Mary as the probable winner. Her placement in a special class is due to the inability of her teachers to get an answer from her. All three are authority adverse. There is an hilarious episode regarding Jim's personality/IQ test. All three get this self-confidence from their mother, who allows them quite a bit of leeway when it comes to school.

I found myself loving this family. Perhaps Mary in particular (although I probably identified most with the narrator). Mary is a child who follows her own paths. Her friends, Sally O'Malley and Sandy Graham, lived in a closet in her room and sometimes they go to school with Mary in the family basement where they are taught by their teacher, Mrs. Harkmar (all three make-believe). Mary also sports an alter-ego, Mickey. Her math abilities are pretty astounding and all learned while listening to Pop working out his horse races. Those abilities are used to identify the mystery behind the disappearance of Charlie Edison.

Poor little Charlie Edison. Lost in the battleground of Elementary (Primary) school. He is first on the list of who Bobby Harweed (bully and coward) beats up. Charlie is, sadly, also on the bully-list of some of the teachers. He does his best to stay invisible. Then one day he truly becomes invisible by disappearing for good. Our three siblings begin looking and use Botch Town as their aid.

Botch Town is Jim's creation. It is a model of their neighborhood made from little bits and pieces Jim has picked up and glued together. Mary seems to have super-natural powers in predicting where people will be and what might happen. One of those predictions is regarding their neighborhood's recent prowler.

Then we have the ghosts.

I loved Jeffrey Ford's writing. Definitely recommended.

[...]


Sweet Masterpiece: A Sweet's Sweets Bakery Mystery (Samantha Sweet Mysteries Book 1)
Sweet Masterpiece: A Sweet's Sweets Bakery Mystery (Samantha Sweet Mysteries Book 1)
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Working for the USDA may be dangerous to your health, 18 Mar. 2016
Samantha (Sam) Sweet's dream is to open her own pastry shop. In the meantime, she has to work for the USDA cleaning out abandoned properties where the owners have defaulted their loans. Both mysteries in "Sweet Masterpiece" have to do with her USDA job.

Cake-baking weaves in and out of sleuthing. Sam is no exception from the rule of amateur sleuths. Amateur sleuths always solve the mystery. Either they announce their success or they lead the police by the hand until the police cannot but figure out the answer. "Sweet Masterpiece" is of the second category. Shelton has added in a little romance. Her beau is Deputy Beau Cardwell, the detective in charge of both sites.

Violence, swearing and sexual content are practically non-existent. You would have to work hard to be offended by any of it.

In Taos, New Mexico, Bertha Martinez dies after Sam has broken into her home. But not until Bertha manages to convince Sam to keep a worn wooden box safe, claiming that Sam is its new secret-keeper. Turns out, this box has strange powers to share. Powers that at first freak Sam out. Witchy stuff is suspected.

House number two does not have anything paranormal about it. A man's body is discovered buried on the property. Turns out the body belongs to an artist who had disappeared from the art-world some years ago. Mystery number two is, of course, the one that Sam helps the police solve. Along the way, she is lectured by her deputy that forcing your evidence to fit your theory is a bad idea.

"Sweet Masterpiece" is a mystery of the light-hearted kind. I had fun reading it.

Recommended.

[...]


The Ape Who Guards the Balance (Amelia Peabody)
The Ape Who Guards the Balance (Amelia Peabody)
by Elizabeth Peters
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Crazy family saves the day again, 18 Mar. 2016
I had read one other story in the Amelia Peabody series before I read "The Ape Who Guards the Balance" (The Ape). "The Ape" occurs before my previous read. As each story solves its mystery, that was not a problem. Nor did I have difficulty jumping into the overarching story of the Emerson family.

Elizabeth Peters writes about the adventures of the Emerson family and their friends, servants and enemies. The family consists of Amelia Peabody Emerson (matriarch) and Radcliffe Emerson (patriarch). Both Amelia and Radcliffe have been with the series from the beginning. Walter (Ramses) is their son and Nefret their ward. In "The Ape" we also have Lia, the daughter of Radcliffe's brother and sister-in-law and their ward, David. All six travel to Egypt for the 1906-07 excavation season.

Their adventures begin before leaving England. A mysterious man appears at a suffragette picket that Amalie and Ramses attend. This man later turns up in connection with a break-in and hauls away a large collection of Egyptian antiques. Shortly after, the stranger also seems to be involved in a kidnapping attempt of Amalie. The entire family suspects an old "enemy", Sethos.

Once they arrive in Egypt, Ramses and David go on an adventure including a stolen papyrus, mysterious strangers and a blackmailing Nefret. The Professor is livid when he finds out what the threesome has done. But he is also intrigued. Then a mysterious bearded man turns up in Egypt as well, and it is not Sethos.

The Emerson family is egalitarian for the time it is written for (and for many families and places today). Nefret has just finished her clinical practice and Peters show us what a feat that was for a woman:

"Acquiring that training had been a struggle in itself. Over the violent objections of its (male) medical faculty, the University of London had, finally, opened its degrees to women, but the major universities continued to deny them, and the difficulty of obtaining clinical practice was almost as great as it had been a century earlier. Nefret had managed it, though, with the help of the dedicated ladies who had founded a woman's medical college in London and forced some of the hospitals to admit women students to the wards and dissecting rooms."

Lately, I have begun wondering whether I read male and female leads differently. Many of the comments on "The Ape" seem to be consistent with comments on strong women both in fiction and real life. A woman as strong as Amelia Peabody will be dissed for being strong but not perfect. In "The Ape" she certainly shows that she is far from perfect. Her own bias surprised her when David and Lia announced their engagement. She and Emerson are peas of a pod when it comes to stubbornness and a sense that their opinion is the only correct one, even if that opinion changes later on. Both see the other as emotional, adorable and hot. The words used to describe these qualities are different for each of them, further cementing both the standards of the time and the continued power language has today. We do get a taste of what it would be like if language was equal for both men and women in this thought from Amelia:

"... it was time for me to take charge of the discussion, which had degenerated into a series of emotional exchanges. This is often the case when men carry on a conversation."

Gender is far from the only topic discussed in "The Ape". Racism and classicism are very much present in the Victorian English who come to Egypt to loot the graves of ancient rulers and take their loot back to England. Peters points out the difference in the handling of this loot. Sometimes graves were completely vandalized by so-called archaeologists. Others, at least, tried to maintain both loot and their chambers as intact as possible. The Emersons' are of the last category.

Issues and mystery are both weaved together in an enchanting story in the Agathaian (Agatha Christie) style. I definitely recommend "The Ape Who Guards the Balance".
[...]


The Janus Cycle
The Janus Cycle
Price: £2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Change hurts, 29 Sept. 2015
This review is from: The Janus Cycle (Kindle Edition)
A common theme in all of these short stories seems to be bullying of one sort or another. Needing to dominate others is part of our human history. Countries bully other countries into subservience and oblivion. Two countries are well-known for their tendencies to bully militarily weaker countries while decrying other nations when these do the same. Tej Turner shows us the one-on-one form of bullying and the mob-on-one kind of bullying in his semi-short stories.

All of these short stories are more or less stand alone stories. They are all tied together by Frelia. Frelia has an interesting power that could cause her death if the ones who “rule” it find out about her having that power. But bullies have been part of Frelia’s past and she will not be forced into obedience just because some mysterious stranger tells her she has to. That decision is an essential one to the stories of Pikel, Kev, Tristan, Neal, Namda, Halan, Sam, Pag, Faye and Tilly. Frelia’s intervention changes lives, hopefully for the better.

Mobs with a charismatic leader are a frightening thing. Poor Tilly has the great misfortune of having one of those in her school and she has the kind of aura that many victims end up with. Sadly, this aura attracts predators like Jarvis and his gang.

Bullying (for whatever reason) drags your sense of self-worth down until it seems impossible to gain any of it back. The bullied person becomes so used to people being mean that trust is difficult to come by. At one point things became so desperate for her that Tilly was ready to kill herself. Being treated like a verbal and/or physical punching bag almost every day makes her need to be true to herself something I both admire and understand. Poor little Tilly. Tej Turner made me want to hug her.

“They carried on kicking her. In the face, the head, the stomach. They stamped on her legs, and one of them even spared a moment to spit at her. I desperately tried to intervene, but there were too many and I couldn’t reach them. They were killing her, but they carried on regardless. So long as the rest of them were doing it they seemed to feel it was okay, and none of them wanted to be the first to hesitate.”

In one way or another we all seem to become part of various kinds of mobs.

Definitely recommended.

http://humanitysdarkerside.com/2015/04/20/turner-tej-the-janus-cycle-2015/


The Y Front Chronicles
The Y Front Chronicles
Price: £1.46

4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully dark and funny short-story, 22 Aug. 2015
Alan Scott has written a wonderfully funny and dark story about murder and mayhem.

I suppose it could be read as a warning about the consequences of training our soldiers too well. The thought did not enter my mind until the classroom situation. But, yeah, that could work.

A man with his own brand of conscience and his pet hamster, TF. A killer with a pet hamster. Not much like the hamster I used to own and adore. SCoT-01 is a fun and terrifying person I would hope to always keep on my side. His hamster, too.

Definitely recommended.

http://wp.me/p2lRqb-2O1


Song of the Ice Lord (Parallels)
Song of the Ice Lord (Parallels)
Price: £2.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Destruction in hunger, 14 April 2015
As usual, I get hung up on the "baddies" in a story. In "Song of The Ice Lord", the Ice Lord is our baddie, most likely a spirit/god/demon of destruction and hunger. Not hunger for food, but hunger for everything. The Ice Lord seems to be driven by a desire or need to devour all it touches. Once a place has come into contact with the Ice Lord, it is completely destroyed by it/him/her and its armies. The Ice Lord's method of gathering armies is through fear, the fear of being devoured. Thinking about the Ice Lord made me think about humanity's hunger and destructiveness. We are good at that. Sadly, too good. Perhaps we will be lucky and find ourselves a Lodden and Maran to save us from ourselves.

War is one of the many mysteries I struggle to understand. I do realize that humans are incredibly territorial. As a breed, we seem to want to expand our own lands and ideas of right and wrong, even if that means killing other humans. The Skral, Sharan and Gai Ren are no exception to this. What started out as one people developed into competing tribes and nations. At regular intervals they would attack their neighboring countries, city-states or tribal competitors. When the Ice Lord arrives on the scene a few people from each nationality escapes and they are taken to the islands of the Skral. These, usually competing, people band together in an attempt to dethrone the Ice Lord without destroying every last remnant of themselves and their cultures. Changing alliances. What a bizarre phenomenon and terribly confusing to my asperger brain. One of my thoughts on reading this was the same as the thought whenever I hear of this happening in the real world: "How long will it take before they are killing each other again?" Historically speaking, not very long at all.

"Song of the Ice Lord" is in many ways a terrifying story. Horror it ain't, not in any kind of manner. But its way of nailing the future of nations (historical and current) makes me want to shout: "can't we just be friends, please, and stop all of this destruction". A girl can dream.

The flow of words was very different to the other stories in this series. Most of that probably has to do with the insertion of the three short stories, all three important in the context of the over-all story.

Definitely recommended.

http://wp.me/p2lRqb-2GU


Once A Rat (Tales of Istonnia Book 3)
Once A Rat (Tales of Istonnia Book 3)
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Slavery and betrayal makes a great ending to the story of Istonnia, 10 Mar. 2015
Angelika Rust displays one of my favorite traits in an author. She evolves and improves over time. "Once a Rat" shows just how far Rust has come in her writing. The only thing she continues to do that annoys me is to overuse the word "whom".

"It's worse than I thought," she groaned, rolling onto her back. "It isn't innocence, it's honor. You're the son of a rich bastard of a trader and a madwoman. Whom, for fire's sake did you inherit your honor from?"

Honor is a strange concept. For one thing, honor varies from person to person. There does seem to be a common denominator across nations, namely that to be considered honorable, one must keep promises/oaths made. Nivvo seems to have honor as an in-born character trait. Such a trait makes Nivvo perfect for some roles but disqualifies him when breaking promises might be needed. There are several high-status professions, in real life and in Istonnia, involving deception and deceit, that Nivvo could not fill.

In "Once a Rat" Nivvo is sent on a joint mission for the Regent and Underlord of Istonnia in the hopes that Istonnia might be saved from more fighting. Being the kind of story that "Once a Rat" is, the likelihood of Nivvo surviving that mission is in doubt. But Nivvo accepts that as his duty. Part of that duty has to do with his promises to obey Vicco, but Nivvo also seems to feel that his relationship with the Regent obliges him to serve Istonnia as best he can.

Part of his mission terrifies him. Practical experience of slavery turns out to be completely different from the theoretical understanding of its nature.

"..., he knew they'd come back to haunt him for the rest of his life ... a child, little more than a toddler, on his hands and knees, and a soldier stomping on the tiny fingers till they broke with a sickening crunch ... a woman his own age, tears streaming from her closed eyes as a slave handler cut her clothes away to reveal her body to a customer ... a man hugging the pole he was tied to, screaming relentlessly as a lash opened up gash after gash on his already scarred back ..."

Slavery, the objectification of people taken to extremes. The real world still embraces slavery and most of us are quietly complicit in letting it carry on. Nivvo's mission is to get to the person trying to work against slavery in Baredi and help that person succeed. But the odds are against the abolitionists.

There are some very angry people left in Istonnia. Choosing to smother his loved ones in protectiveness happens to be one of Nivvo's greatest failings. Even Vilores is kept in the dark. Shame on Nivvo and his father for breaking that law once again.

While Nivvo is gone Cambrosi is having fun trying to stay alive. Fedoro is helping him. Someone in his organization is trying to overthrow the Underlord. If it works, then Istonnia seems doomed to enter what might become a civil war.

Plenty of action, some violence, some sex - neither very explicit.

Definitely recommended.

http://wp.me/p2lRqb-2EY


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