Saturday, October 31, 2015

#Saturday Review - Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith (Young Adult, Fantasy)

Series: Unknown
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: October 6, 2015
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

A high-concept, fantastical espionage novel set in a world where dreams are the ultimate form of political intelligence.

Livia is a dreamstrider. She can inhabit a subject's body while they are sleeping and, for a short time, move around in their skin. She uses her talent to work as a spy for the Barstadt Empire. But her partner, Brandt, has lately become distant, and when Marez comes to join their team from a neighboring kingdom, he offers Livia the option of a life she had never dared to imagine. Livia knows of no other dreamstriders who have survived the pull of Nightmare. So only she understands the stakes when a plot against the Empire emerges that threatens to consume both the dreaming world and the waking one with misery and rage.

A richly conceived world full of political intrigue and fantastical dream sequences, at its heart Dreamstrider is about a girl who is struggling to live up to the potential before her.
 




Welcome to yet another entertaining story by Lindsay Smith, the author of the duology known as Sekret. The Sekret duology focused on teenagers who have amazing psychic abilities and are used to spy on their enemies during the cold war. Now, let's step away from the real world for a moment, and enter the fantasy world of the Barstadt Empire. 

It is a place where there is a dreamland known as Oneiros. It is a place where people truly believe that the evil Nightmare has been thwarted and will never return again. It is also a place where two kingdoms are on the brink of a major war. It is also where 19-year old Livia is a different kind of heroine. She's a Dreamslider who grew up as a tunneler, one of the more insidious jobs a person can have in the Kingdom. 

As a Dreamslider, she can inhabit a subject's body while they are sleeping and, for a short time, move around in their skin. It makes her the perfect spy because nobody knows she's there. She uses her talent to work as a spy for the Barstadt Empire. Livia isn't a master at being a spy. In fact, thanks to "The Incident," more than a few people don't trust her.

But, Livia never waves the white flag of surrender whenever something bad happens, or the fact that certain people don't like her. In fact, thanks to her being the only known Dreamslider in the entire kingdom, she would be hard pressed to find herself back in the tunnels any time soon. 

Livia was discovered as a child by her mentor Professor Albrecht Hesse, and put to work as Brandt Strassbourg's partner at the Ministry. The two have a different sort of relationship. She may or may not love him, and he's a future lord who has family responsibilities that trump any ideal romance between the two.

There is also a third part, Marez, from another kingdom who shows up and throws his challenge into the ring. Marez who is supposed to be in Barstadt to help find possible traitors to the kingdom and who just happens to be assigned to work with Livia. I wouldn't call it a triangle folks. In fact, I would dare you to read the book and see what happens for yourself. 

Although this isn't labeled as a standalone or part of a series, I would be shocked if Smith didn't continue the series, at least for one more book. There are, after all, a few unresolved issues that need to be wrapped up. I would have liked to understand the Incident a bit sooner in the book. I would have like to seen Vera and Edina put the past behind them, and help Livia out. Women are the worst offenders of making another person feel like they are 6 inches tall.  

Dreamstrider is a book that combines espionage, with romance, with dreams, and a whole lot of mystery, and a thrill ride from the first page to the ending.

**I received this book for free from (Publisher) in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**


Friday, October 30, 2015

*Stacking the Shelves & The Weekly Recap* Halloween 2015


Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course eBooks!

Happy Halloween!

Thanks for stopping by!

This has been a brilliant week of some very interesting approvals and invitations from publishers. Although, I would have had a better week had USPS & UPS not lost several packages of mine! I am still hoping that the publishers can track down the packages, and maybe resend them! ::fingers crossed::

Happy Reading Everyone!

~Shelley~


The Weeks Reviews:

Monday - Blog Tour/Review - Dark Heart of Magic by Jennifer Estep (YA, UF)

Tuesday - Phoenix Rising by Eliza Nolan (YA, Fantasy)

Wednesday - The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander (Historical, Paranormal)

The Revolution of Ivy by Amy Engel (YA, Dystopian) - Talk Supe Blog

Thursday - The Trials by Stacey Kade (YA, Science Fiction)

Friday - Blog Tour/Review - Mercury Retrograde by Laura Bickle (Urban Fantasy)

Saturday - Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith (YA, Fantasy)



Coming Next Week:

Monday - Forget Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn (YA, Science Fiction)

Tuesday - Reap the Wind by Karen Chance (Urban Fantasy)

Wednesday - Vampire Empire: The Geomancer by Clay & Susan Griffith (Steampunk, Fantasy, Paranormal)

Thursday - The Girl With The Wrong Name by Barnabas Miller (YA, Mystery)

Friday - Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young (YA, Horror, Mystery)

Saturday - Need by Joelle Charbonneau (YA,  Thriller)


*Received via NetGalley*

Thank You!

 Penguin (ACE), Gallery Books, Entangled Teen, St. Martin's Press, 
Broadway Books, Penguin (Signet), Penguin (Loveswept)


   

   

   





#Gizmos Blog Stop/Review/Giveaway - Mercury Retrograde by Laura Bickle (Urban Fantasy)



Series: Dark Alchemy # 2
Format: E-Galley, 384 pages
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Something venomous has come to Temperance …

It's been two months since Petra Dee and her coyote sidekick Sig faced off against Temperance's resident alchemist, but things are far from quiet. When an Internet video of a massive snake in the back country of Yellowstone goes viral, a chase for the mythical basilisk is on. Monster hunters swarm into the area, and never one to pass up the promise of discovery, Petra joins in the search.

Among the newcomers is a snake cult on wheels―the biker gang Sisters of Serpens. Unlike some, the Sisters don't want to kill the basilisk―they want to worship it. But things get complicated when the basilisk develops a taste for human flesh that rivals the Sisters' own murderous skills.

Meanwhile, the alchemical tree of life is dying, and the undead Hanged Men of Temperance who depend on it know the basilisk may be their last chance for survival.

With time running out for everyone around her, Petra will be forced to decide who survives and who she must leave behind in this action-packed sequel to Dark Alchemy.
 




Geologist Petra Dee returns in Mercury Retrograde, the second installment in author Laura Bickle's Dark Alchemy series. It has been two months since Petra came to Temperance and ended up in the middle of a war between a psychotic drug dealing alchemist named Shroud, and cattle baron named Sal Rutherford. But, she hasn't had time for a vacation yet.

Since arriving in Temperance, Petra has discovered some interesting information about her father, got attached to an adorable coyote named Sig, met Frankie, Maria, and Mike Hollander who she's become fast friends with. But, the most interesting characters in Temperance are Gabe and his Hanged Men who work for Sal Rutherford, and are supposed to be immortal. 

Bickle alternates narratives between several characters; Petra, Gabe, Cal, and Belinda, the leader of a biker gang called the Sisters of the Serpens. This story twists a path from the discovery of a family apparently overcome by some biological event, to cadre of people from the government, crazy TV personalities, and hunters, including Petra, and Gabe, who travel to Yellowstone after someone posts a picture of a rather large snake on the internet. 

Petra has found herself deep in trouble since her arrival in town. She may run around like a chicken with her head cut off at times, but she always seems to find the light at the end of the tunnel. She's had her eyes opened about Gabe and his Hanged Men, and even fallen for the immortal former Pinkerton man. But, it is Sig who warms my heart every time he and Petra are together. 

It is Frankie, and his visions that help Petra when she needs it the most. It is Mike who she can call on when she needs access to things the Park Rangers have. And, it is Maria who always has a warm welcome and a shoulder to cry on. Petra also seems to genuinely care about the fate of Cal, even though he betrayed her. 

Cal was left plagued by what happened in Dark Alchemy, and it gets even worse in this book. He struggles to understand what is happening to him. He asks for Petra's help, but then runs away and finds himself among the sisters of the Serpens. Of all the characters in this book, it is Cal who most gets my sympathy.

Let's be honest. The biker women in this story are scary and evil, and makes Stroud look like a rookie villain with the amount of bloodshed that they leave behind. They worship the Basilisk who they believe is their Goddess, they kill innocent men and anyone else who happens across their paths. And, they feed the bodies to their Goddess.

In the end, one has to sympathize with the Snake after learning how awful it was treated. One has to wonder how much more torture and pain Cal has to deal with before someone finds a way to help him. And, I genuinely hope that Petra and her father find a way to reunite in a positive way so that she can understand how his alchemy can help her. 

**I received this book for free from (Publisher) via (Edelweiss) in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**



CHAPTER ONE: DUST
             
No matter how decent Petra Dee’s intentions were, things always went to shit.
Sweat dribbled down the back of her neck, sliding down her shoulder blades and congealing between her skin and the Tyvek biohazard suit. The legs of the suit made a zip-zip sound, snagging on bits of prickly pear as she walked through the underbrush of Yellowstone National Park. She clutched her tool bag tightly in her gloved grip, the plastic of the suit rustling over the hiss of the respirator in her ears. Her breath fogged the scuffed clear mask of the suit, softening the edges of the land before her with a dreamlike filter.
“You don’t have to do this,” Mike said.
“Consider it a professional favor, okay?” she said. “And you said it was weird. Now, I’m curious.” 
The park ranger in the suit in front of her stopped, turned, and awkwardly grabbed her sleeve. “Look, you don’t have to. The hikers who found it said it was pretty gruesome.” Mike’s voice was muffled behind his own mask, but his brow creased as he looked at her. It was clear to her that he now thought better of bringing her here. Maybe it was his dumb, misplaced sense of chivalry, or maybe things really did suck as badly as he suggested. With him, it was hard to tell.
“You can go back,” he suggested. Again.
“Mike. You need a geologist. There isn’t anybody on your staff who can tell you if it’s safe to be up here. Weird seismic shit has been happening in the last couple of weeks—new springs and fumaroles and mudpots opening up in this area, stuff that isn’t on the maps. And you’re stuck with me unless you want to wait for the Department of the Interior to show up and tell you what you need to know.” She didn’t want to be having this discussion out in the open. There were more men and women in suits behind them, far behind, waiting to see what Mike and Petra would do. They might not be within earshot, but it offended her sense of professionalism. “Besides, I owe you.”
And she did, big-time. Petra had a knack for causing trouble for Mike. Since she’d shown up in town two months ago to take a quiet-sounding geology gig with the federal government, she’d managed to stumble into an underground war between a cattle baron and the local drug-dealing alchemist. A shitstorm of administrative paperwork had been generated for Mike when drugs and bodies turned up in his jurisdiction. Pizza and beer only went so far to balance the scales of debt.
Mike rubbed the back of his hood with a crinkling sound. “Yeah, but …”
Petra nodded sharply. “I can do this.” Her voice sounded steadier than she felt.
“If you need outta here, just say the word.” Mike started walking again, pushing aside a branch blocking her way.
She moved forward to the edge of the tree line, beyond where blotches of color swam in her sweaty vision. A campsite. A red tent had been pitched in a clearing, though it tilted in a lopsided fashion on a broken pole, like a giant spider someone had plucked a leg from. Nice tent—a deluxe model, with mesh windows and pop-outs. A dead fire with cold ash was surrounded by a ring of rocks. Laundry dangled from a clothesline: T-shirts, jeans, socks. 
And beyond it, a gorgeously pink mudpot. Iron in the underlying slurry likely yielded the soft rose color. The acidic hot spring burbled mud, steaming into the cool air. She was reminded of the steam rising from mountains as the dew baked off in the spring. There were thousands of these mudpots dotted all throughout Yellowstone National Park, too many to catalog, despite the hazards they posed.
Petra ducked under the clothesline, wrestling for a moment with a pair of child-sized purple leggings that seemed determined to get snagged around her respirator hose. After fighting them off, she turned her attention back to the scene.
A dark-haired man sat upright at the edge of the dead fire, hunched forward, his arms tangled in a blanket as if he’d been trying to protect himself from the cold.
Her breath echoed quickly in her mask. Mike moved forward to kneel before the man. Pulling the blanket off, he reached for his neck to take his pulse.
Early morning sunshine illuminated the man’s face. It was slack, jaw open, violet tongue protruding from his lips. Broken capillaries covered his cheeks, the red contrasting with mottled grey skin. His eyes were frozen wide open, and the sclera were bright red instead of white.
The blanket fell away to reveal a red flannel shirt. Oddly enough, it looked as if part of it had been bleached, as if he’d brushed up against a gallon of white paint. A knife glinted in his right hand, trapped in a claw frozen by rigor mortis. Petra squinted to get a good look. The knife was a piece of junk—the blade had been melted.
The body rolled over on its side, landing like an action figure holding its pose in the dirt.
Mike swore and grabbed his radio. “This is L-6, be advised that we’ve confirmed a male victim. Tell the medics to …”
Petra turned. That was a big tent. Too big for just one guy. And then there were the little girls’ leggings that she’d tussled with … damn it. Steeling herself, she crossed to the tent, her suit creaking. Sweating, she grasped the tent zipper. Its teeth stuck in the PVC-coated canvas, and she tried three times before she gave up. Part of the tent had come unstaked on the right side, letting daylight creep in. She worked that seam and pulled it open.
She stumbled back, falling on her ass.
A woman sat bolt upright in a sleeping bag, with speckled and broken skin like the man at the fireside. She stared at Petra with the same blood-red gaze under a tangle of brown hair.
Petra leaned forward to touch her shoulder. The woman didn’t move, frozen in some unfathomable moment of shock.  Heart hammering, Petra fumbled for a pulse. Through her gloves, the woman felt cold, and her chest didn’t move. Her skin felt swollen, as if stretched over an unseen trauma.
Mike crawled into the tent to stare at a bundle beside the woman. He peeled back a sleeping bag on a little girl, maybe five or six, clutching a dinosaur plush toy. Her eyes were closed, seeming very peaceful under bruised skin.
“Please let her be alive,” Petra whispered.
Mike shook his head. “No pulse. But … not a mark on her.”
Petra backed out of the tent into the clearing. Blinking, she reached for her equipment bag and dug out a handheld yellow gas monitor. Stabbing at the buttons, she waited for the sensors to start analyzing the air.
She glanced at the mudpot, that beautiful pink jewel barely the size of a bathtub. The warmth it radiated condensed against her plastic suit. When the call came in that a man had been found dead near a mudpot in Yellowstone, the rangers had all assumed that the culprit was poisonous gas, carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulfide. And that would make sense, but …
While waiting for the gas monitor to calibrate, Petra stood to peer into the bubbling mud. It was possible, but poisoning by those gases was a relatively rare phenomenon. She fished some tongue depressors out of her pack to dip a glob of the mud out into a specimen bottle for analysis.
A sharp drumming sounded overhead, and she looked up.
A woodpecker drilled into a pine tree above her, making a sound like a jackhammer. Birds had much more delicate respiratory systems than humans. If poisonous gas had seeped up from the mud here, then the bird should be showing ill effects. But instead it had found its breakfast, plucking bugs from bark, ignoring the humans below.
Her gaze scraped the perimeter of the camp. The vegetation was all wrong here—brittle and yellow and spotted, as if burned by something acidic. She knelt to pluck a piece of curled grass to stuff into a specimen bottle. Low-level amounts of hydrogen sulfide were likely to enhance plant growth. High levels could kill plants, but not quickly.
She glanced down at her gas detector. “Huh.”
Mike had backed away from the tent. “Well?”
“No carbon monoxide. No sulfur dioxide. Normal amounts of carbon dioxide. No appreciable levels of hydrogen sulfide right now, which is what I assumed the culprit would be, since that’s the most common airborne poison spewed by mudpots.” She pulled the hood of her suit back to take a sniff of the air. It smelled like pine needles, not like rotten eggs. “I think that it’s safe for your people to come in. Just … tell them not to touch anything they don’t have to. Gloves and suits.”
Mike nodded and began barking orders into his walkie-talkie.
Petra lifted her freckled face to the sky, feeling the blessedly cool breeze against her cheeks. She spat a bit of dark blond hair out of her mouth and reached to take another soil sample. Maybe there was some other toxin here? Something more exotic that would need more tests run. Arsenic could be here, but it wouldn’t have killed these people so quickly. The ground was opening up in pockets in the whole Pelican Creek area. Geologists had been detecting midlevel quakes in previously quiet land. In a place like Yellowstone, the geology was always changing, but this was unusual. And it needed to be investigated.
Mike mopped his brow. “Maybe there were high levels here overnight, and the wind swept it all away,” he mused. “Or the mudpot belched. A one-time thing.”
“Could be.” Inspiration struck her, and she stood to examine the man’s body by the dead fire. He lay where he’d fallen, rigidly on his side. “Could you help me with him?”
“Sure. What do you need?”
“I need to check his pockets for change.”
Mike rolled the guy over. The body didn’t turn over with a normal thick, human sound. Petra heard sloshing, as if they were moving a cooler full of melted ice. Mike came up with a set of car keys and a fistful of change, which he handed to Petra. She stared at the debris, pushing aside the quarters, nickels, and dimes in her palm.
“Whatcha lookin’ for?”
“Pennies … ah.” She held a penny up to the light. A 2015 penny, bright and shiny and new. “It wasn’t hydrogen sulfide poisoning.”
“How can you tell?”
“If he’d been exposed to hydrogen sulfide, the copper in the penny would have oxidized. No evidence of that, here. When hydrogen sulfide was used as a chemical weapon in World War I, copper coins in the pockets of victims turned nearly black.”
“Great. Maybe the coroner’s toxicology report will tell us what it was. I’m mostly just concerned that we’ve got an ongoing hazard situation here.”
“I’ll run some soil samples,” Petra said. “In the meantime, you should have your rangers cordon this off for at least a hundred yards until we know for sure what it was.” She wrinkled her nose and reached for her respirator. “What the hell is that smell?” It wasn’t the rotten-eggs smell of hydrogen sulfide. This smelled worse, like roadkill.
Mike turned to the body. “It …” The smell hit him, and he struggled to pull his hood over his head. “It’s the body.”
Where the camper’s corpse had been turned over to the earth, a black, viscous substance oozed. Two medics had arrived in full gear and grasped the body, one at the arms and the other at the feet. As they lifted, it seemed as if some fragile surface tension held by the man’s skin failed. The skin split open, and dark fluid soaked the dirt to splash against the white suits of the medics.
“Christ,” Mike said behind his mask. “Only a floater would behave like that.”
“A floater?” she echoed.
“A body that’s been in a river for weeks. The gases build up while the organs rot. But … these guys can’t have been here that long. We’ll know for sure when we get an ID.”
More plastic suits showed up with body bags into which to pour what remained of the camper. They discussed how best to remove the woman and the child from the tent without rupturing them. It was decided to start with the child.
Petra turned away. She just didn’t want to see that. She began picking at samples around the edge of the campsite, trying to fade into the background. But the scene burned behind her eyelids. It wasn’t just the people that were dead. Death had spread to the vegetation around the campsite in a circle, as if someone had sprayed the plants with weed killer. As she ventured farther and farther away, she found a trail of rust-colored grass vanishing into the forest.
Ignoring the chatter and radio static behind her, she began to follow the trail. It spanned an area a little over three feet wide, a perfect path of brittle vegetation that contrasted sharply with the early autumn grass that still thrived. She paused before a pine tree that seemed to have had its bark scorched away by some kind of chemical reaction.
She began to regret removing her hood. Holding her breath, she chipped a piece of bark away with an awl and dropped it into a sample bottle.
The track ended abruptly at a spine of rocks that composed the next ridge. There were no plants to speak of here, only fine milk quartz pebbles and sandstone gravel.
She blew out her breath, frustrated at having lost the trail. Had there been some kind of chemical accident here? She ran through the desiccants and herbicides she knew, most of which were not good for people, but the most likely short-term effects would have been simple respiratory distress or skin contact allergies. Nothing that could cause the amount of squish and slop that the medics were dealing with.
No rational explanation.
Maybe there was an irrational one.
She glanced behind her. No one had followed her this far, to the edge of the forest. She fumbled in her gear bag for the last bit of equipment she’d brought: a golden compass. Glinting in the sun, it lay flat in the palm of her hand. Seven rays extended to the rim, with an image of a golden lion devouring the sun in the center. The Venificus Locus, a magic detector that she still wasn’t entirely sure she believed in, but couldn’t discount. Maybe it would have something to say. Maybe it wouldn’t. But not asking the question would be stupid.
She stripped off her glove, wiggling her sweaty fingers in the air. A hangnail that she’d neglected to trim kept annoying her. She ripped it off and hissed when blood welled up around the cuticle. Clumsily, she sloshed a bright drop of it into the groove circumscribing the outside of the compass. The blood sizzled on contact, then gathered itself into a perfectly round bead. It circled the rim of the compass once, twice …
Petra held her breath, as much in anticipation as not wanting to spill the blood. The bead of blood swung back and forth in an agitated fashion, then settled on north, pointing to the campsite right behind her.
“Great,” she muttered. That was pretty decisive. The compass would have just sucked up the blood if no magic was present.
This was weird land. The nearby town, Temperance, had been founded by Lascaris, an alchemist who’d conjured gold from dead rocks. Some of Lascaris’s old experiments still wandered the countryside. She’d encountered a few of them in her short time here: the Hanged Men, the Alchemical Tree of Life, and the Locus itself—which she’d been told had been made by Lascaris’s own hands. 
A shadow flickering through sunlight caught her eye, and she looked up. She half-anticipated it to be the woodpecker foraging for more insects, but froze when she spied a raven watching her, balanced on the edge of a branch. His eyes reflected no light, his shadow mingling among the flickers of needles and branches of the lodgepole pine.
She stared back at it. It might be an ordinary raven. Or it might be one of the raven familiars of the Hanged Men. She turned the compass toward the bird. The drop of blood spiraled halfway around the disk before the bird, alerted, took wing and vanished.
Things around here were rarely ordinary.
****
Clear now.
The raven pumped his wings, pulling himself into the blue sky, as far as he could get from the smell of blood in the compass and the aura of poison clinging to the campsite. He caught an updraft from the sun-warmed land, skimming along the south edge of the mountains, over the dark ribbons of road and the dry grasses of autumn fields.
This draft required little effort from him. He stretched his wings and allowed his eyes to drift shut. The sun felt gloriously warm on his back, seeping through his feathers into his light body.  In the sky, things were simple. There was no magic that could touch him here. No blood. No pain. There was just sun and air and sky.
He sailed along the current until it weakened. He twitched his feathers, gave in to the instinct to flap his wings, and opened his eyes to look down.
A vast field spread below him, gold and grassy and glinting with dew. A massive elm tree stood at its center, and below its shade stood a man in a white hat.
The raven made a slow spiral, relishing the last bit of air through his feathers. He skimmed around the tree in a lazy arc, approaching the motionless man on the ground.
The man opened his arms, as if inviting a lover back. His amber eyes glowed brighter than the dawn.
The bird slammed into his chest. Feathers melded with flesh, fluttering into a pulse and soaking into skin.
Gabriel let his hands fall. The bird twitched through his consciousness as he absorbed all it had seen.
Above him, leaves rustled. Some were living leaves, some dead. The tree stood, scarred and ancient, but its shadow had grown thin. He reached up to pluck a brown leaf from a branch of the Hangman’s Tree. This wasn’t the only withered branch; the tree’s leaves had begun to curl at the center, as if autumn’s breath had come weeks earlier.
He turned the leaf over in his hands. The tree was dying. He’d felt it even before the leaves had begun to drop, as the magic in it faltered. Even the Lunaria, the Alchemical Tree of Life, couldn’t survive forever. Not after what it had been put through, creating generations of undead to haunt the Rutherford Ranch.
Not after what he had been put through. If he closed his eyes, he could still remember bleeding into the roots of the Lunaria and the tree’s frantic efforts to put him back together. He’d been torn to pieces in the explosion of a collapsing house. Wood had pierced and rent his body to bits. It would have been best to leave him to dust.
But no … the other Hanged Men had brought him back here, out of sheer instinct. And the last raven had been brought back to him, the last fragment of himself. Through excruciating pain and light, he’d been revived.
Though not wholly. He was conscious of vast gaps in his memory, as if time had eaten away at an old tintype photograph. He’d forgotten his middle name. He couldn’t remember the exact year he’d come here, though he knew it had happened over a century ago. He recalled bits and pieces of alchemy, arcane bits of ephemera about dissolution and phoenixes. His right hand shook when he wasn’t concentrating on it, and he’d developed a somewhat mechanical twitch in his left eye. An irritating limp came and went, even if he parsed his feet away as ravens and brought them back again.
Revived. But at terrible cost. The light running through the veins of the tree grew more sluggish with each sunrise. He could feel it choked off, as if some force had girdled it beyond retrieval. The end of the tree would be the end of all the Hanged Men. He remembered that much.
Behind closed eyes, he thought about that possibility of oblivion. Nothingness was seductive. No more striving to see another day. Just dust. He’d had a taste of it, when he’d lain in pieces within the Lunaria’s embrace.
He crumpled the brittle leaf in his fist and opened his eyes. His gaze traveled to the south fence, where the rest of the Hanged Men toiled, herding the cattle to the north pasture. This wasn’t just about him; there were the others to think of. The others, who had no voice, who would simply cease to exist along with him if the tree died. He could choose to give up—but the decision was not his alone.
And yet … perhaps he had seen a solution. The part of his consciousness he’d sent out as a bird had detected something strange.
Something that might save the last thing he held dear.



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About the Author:

Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology - Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs. Her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016.
More information about Laura’s work can be found at 








Thursday, October 29, 2015

#Thursday Review - The Trials by Stacey Kade (Young Adult, Science Fiction)

Series: Project Paper Doll # 3
Format: Hardcover, 328 pages
Release Date: April 21, 2015
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction

After being on the run, Ariane Tucker finds herself back where she started—under the cruel control of Dr. Jacobs, head of the research facility that created her. Now she must participate in the upcoming trials; a deadly competition pitting her against other alien hybrids, each representing a rival corporation.

But Ariane is no one’s weapon. She is prepared to die if it means taking down those involved in Project Paper Doll. They destroyed all that she holds dear, including Zane Bradshaw, the one person she trusted and cared for the most—the person she was forced to leave behind, bleeding and alone.

As her plan takes shape Ariane will need to depend on, now more than ever, the other side of her heritage—the cold, calculated instincts born from her alien DNA. With Zane gone she has nothing left to lose.

With heart-pounding action, and plenty of surprises, the gripping conclusion to Stacey Kade's Project Paper Doll series delivers a powerful finish that will keep fans hooked to the very end.
 




The Trials is the final installment in Stacey Kade's Project Paper Doll trilogy. Ariane Tucker, aka GTX-F-107, has been returned to Dr. Jacobs labs after being on the run with her boyfriend Zane Bradshaw who was last seen in peril, and his fate unknown. She must now get ready to participate in a competition where she will be pitted against her fellow genetically engineered hybrids Ford, and Carter owned by Dr. David Laughlin, and a mysterious participant from Emerson St. John, who uses an entirely different technique.

Ariane has really grown as a character since she was introduced in The Rules. Life has knocked her down, but not out. She's no longer an innocent bystander, but a player that everyone wants a piece of, including a mysterious character that gives her hope. It has only been a month since her life was turned upside down, and tossed around like a ship on the ocean.

She totally blames her self for what happened to Zane, and is really angry with Jacobs and wants to take him down while trying to help her "siblings." But, what kept my interest in Ariane is that she has some really amazing skills when it comes to freezing a person, or stopping a person's heart from beating and she hasn't given up fighting even when hope seems to be fading.

The trials are a way to judge who has the better "product" that can be used by the Department of Defense to create secretive soldier assassins. Whereas Ariane can pass easily for a human, the other contestants can't. I dare say I wasn't shocked, nor surprised at the arrival of the third contestant. There was absolutely no way in hell that Kade was going to get away with killing HIM off without a ton of complaints.

Ariane and Zane aren't the perfect couple, but they do understand the other. Zane has gone through life believing that he wasn't worthy like his older brother. Ariane learned of her origins, and was supposed to follow strict rules set by her adoptive father. That didn't last very long. One could say that Ariane and Zane were drawn together because Zane needed someone to want him as he is. He can actually be himself, and not someone his father demands him to be.

The Trials alternates narratives between Zane and Ariane once they arrive in Chicago. This idea was fine with me since getting instead of Zane's head and what he went through in order to survive, was definitely worth the effort. There is a bit of a shocking revelation in The Trials which I won't spoil. Let's just say that I can't see the point of it unless it was to show how much of a bastard Dr. Jacobs really was. 

Previous Installments:
  



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

#Wednesday Review & Excerpt - The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander (Historical, Urban Fantasy)

Series: Jackdaw Hammond # 1
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Broadway Books
Source: Library
Genre: Fantasy, Historical

In modern day England, Professor Felix Guichard is called in to identify occult symbols found on the corpse of a young girl. His investigation brings him in contact with a mysterious woman, Jackdaw Hammond, who guards a monumental secret--She's Dead. Or she would be, were it not for magic which has artificially extended her life. But someone else knows her secret. Someone very old and very powerful, who won't rest until they've taken the magic that keeps her alive.... 

In Krakow in 1585, Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan Alchemist and Occultist, and his assistant Edward Kelley have been summoned by the King of Poland to save the life of his niece, the infamous Countess Elisabeth Bathory. But they soon realize that the only thing worse than the Countess' malady, is the magic that might be able to save her...


As Jackdaw and Felix race to uncover the truth about the person hunting her, it becomes clear that the answers they seek can only be found in the ancient diary of John Dee's assistant, Edward Kelley. Together they must solve a mystery centuries in the making, or die trying.


Review

The Secrets of Life and Death is the first installment in Rebecca Alexander's Jackdaw Hammond series. I found this story entertaining, fascinating, mysterious, dark, and suspenseful. The world building is amazing as is the different settings of 1585 Poland and modern day (2013) London

The character depth is remarkable and it is always fun when authors intermingle infamous historical characters with contemporary fictional characters. The connection between the past and the present is slowly revealed with alternating points of view, and alternating chapters dedicated to each time frame. 

The past's narrative all come from Sir Edward Kelley, while the presents actually flip flop between several characters. 
The story really begins when Professor Felix is called by the police to the scene of a dead girl with sigils/occult symbols written into her skin. Since he is the supposed expert in teh occult, this is right up his alley. Felix's investigations eventually lead him the the mysterious Jackdaw (Jack) Hammond who has plenty of her own secrets. 

Since this is actually the Jack's series, I'll keep most of this review focused on her. Jack has been living in the shadows since she was saved by witch Maggie Slee. You see, Jack was actually dead, and Maggie saved her with a combination of magic and potions and the inability to leave the house before she was ready. Jack and Maggie have attempted to rescue other girls who are on borrowed time, including Maggie's own daughter. 

The exploits of Jack, Maggie, and eventually Felix comes full circle when a mysterious woman comes calling on Jack. This mystery woman ends up being Elizabeth Bathory who has stayed alive by drinking the blood from the so called borrowed timers. I dare say that the modern version of this story appealed to me much more than the past. I loved the addition of Sadie, who Jack and Maggie work hard to save.

I liked the fact that Sadie, although stuck between a rock and a hard place, doesn't whine and cry and pout her way through the story. I liked that even though Jack makes a really difficult choice in one of the final acts, nobody actually turns against her, but supports her. I am curious as to what happens next to Jack. I see a difficult and challenging road ahead.

I have always been curious about the infamous Countess Elizabeth B├íthory de Ecsed (1560-1614). Bathory was supposedly a serial killer from the B├íthory family of nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary. In this story, historical figures Sir Edward Kelley and John Dee are summoned by the King of Poland to find a way to fix what ails his niece. The past ends with a choice that will eventually come back to haunt both men.

In real life, Bathory was found guilty of murdering 88 girls from a variety of households. Some poor, some minor nobility. What's strange to me is how Alexander choose to make this setting Poland instead of Hungary. Perhaps some research is necessary to find out why. Perhaps it was authors prerogative. There have been a plethora of novels that have mentioned that Bathory was actually a vampire. A fact that has been debunked over and over again.  

As mentioned above, Elizabeth isn't the only historical figure that Alexander mentions in this story. There is also Sir Edward Kelley and John Dee. The fact is that Kelley was an ambiguous figure in English Renaissance occultism and self-declared spirit medium who worked with John Dee in his magical investigations. But, there is no historical mention of him ever meeting Bathory in real life. 

Speaking of John Dee, this isn't the first time I've come across him in fiction, nor I dare say, will it be the last. Dee was a mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occult philosopher, imperialist and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. He devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy. He faced the Inquisition and somehow managed not to be hung. As with Kelley, there is no historical mention of him ever meeting Bathory.

I did have some small issues with the author going back and forth between 1585 and the present time, but I quickly bit my tongue knowing that everything was tied together, and everything that happened in the past, was germane to what happens in the present. I don't normally have a problem with alternating past and present if the story remains steady and doesn't get bogged down.

I definitely want to read the second installment to see what becomes of Jack, Felix, Maggie, and especially Sadie. (Update: I was just approved for book # 2 in the series, and will be reading it shortly.) I liked where Jack's heart is in this book. She wants to do everything she can to save as many borrowed timers as she can. Sometimes she and Maggie win, sometimes they lose. 



Chapter 1

Another crime scene, a dead body and possible evi- dence of sorcery. Felix stood in the car park, and watched the activity in the railway station in Exeter. His gut squirmed at the thought of what he would see. He assumed the police became accustomed to seeing bodies, but he never had, despite spending time in Liberia and the Ivory Coast, where human life had become disposable. He pulled his collar up against the rain.

The station was lit by temporary lights on stands, illuminating one of the carriages of a static train. Felix paused at the entrance. The last crime scene he had attended involved an elderly woman stabbed to death, and her yawning wounds had haunted him for weeks. The police had consulted him on some “black magic” graffiti, which had turned out to be the logo of a death metal band. He took a deep breath, blew it out. Hopefully, his involvement in this case would be unnecessary as well.

A movement caught his attention as he walked across the car park. There was a woman standing in the rain a dozen yards from the ticket office, looking through the railings toward the train. She appeared to be watching the police as they worked, but her posture was odd and she didn’t look like a chance spectator observing a tragedy. The rain poured off a hat, the brim sheltering her face, which was whitened by flashes from the scene. She wore a long coat, with water streaming down it, and what looked like boots. She was definitely female; her features looked delicate in a long face, framed by short fair hair that was haloed against the arc lights. She was young, he thought, younger than him, anyway. Her attention to the scene was intense.

He turned away and approached the officer at the gate.

“Sorry sir, the station is closed. There’s a bus to take passengers to the next station.” The policeman had water running from the edge of a cap, dropping in silver lines down the wide shoulders of his coat.

“I was asked to attend. I’m supposed to ask for Detective Inspector Soames.”

“I see. Can I have your name, sir?”

“Felix Guichard. Professor Guichard, from the university.”

The man nodded to another officer, a woman who stared straight through Felix, then looked away.

Felix’s eyes began to adjust to the glare. Through the gate, he could see cast-iron columns supporting the roof of the station, the grandeur somewhat marred by billboards and modern wooden benches. A police barrier obscured the view of the window of one of the carriages. A number of people were walking about in white suits. Flashes lit up one carriage, greening the scene with afterimages.

A bleached figure beckoned to him. “Professor? Professor Gwitchard? Is that how you pronounce it?”

“Well, it’s Gwee-shar. It’s a French name.” A gap appeared in the ranks and he walked through to the white-suited officer.

“DI Dan Soames.” The man’s hand was warm and solid in the drafty, wet station. “We were hoping you could have a look at this scene for us. You’re a professor of what, exactly?”

“My subject is the culture of belief systems, religions and superstitions. I’ve worked with your chief constable before, on a case of a witchcraft killing in London.” Inside he was shivering. Soames was maybe five foot eight or nine, inches shorter than Felix, but had a restrained energy that made him seem like a larger man.

“Well, these markings have us stumped. Any ideas why someone would draw all over a dead kid are welcome. You’ll have to suit up.”

Felix followed him into a tented area where a young man helped him into a one-piece coverall and booties.

“Tuck your hair in, sir,” the young officer said. “We’re still looking for DNA and trace evidence.”

Felix pushed his curly fringe back. A single flash from a camera illuminated an image, which glowed for a moment in his brain.

It was the face of a girl, just a teenager, blond hair stuck to damp glass, over pearl-colored skin. She must have slid down the window, her eyebrow dragged into a curve, and her open eye stared, it seemed, straight at Felix.

Soames’s voice scratched into Felix’s awareness.

“Professor of superstitions and religions?”

“My subject is social anthropology, but I specialize in esoteric belief systems.”

“Esoteric what?”

Felix tore his attention away from the fading image of the girl. “Beliefs outside of a culture’s mainstream. My PhD was in West African beliefs. Witchcraft, sorcery, magic.”

Soames shrugged his shoulders and tucked the hood of his coverall closer around his face. “We’re investigating the disappearance of several young girls from the town.”

“Oh, I see. Is this one of them?”

“Possibly. The thing is, there are symbols—come and have a look. We were told you’ve done this sort of consulting before and attended crime scenes.”

Felix followed him along the platform and into the doorway of the carriage. “A few times. Do you know what happened? How she died?”

“We’re not sure. It looks like an overdose, but it’s too early to tell.”

He led the way toward the end of the carriage where a scrum of white figures was strobed with camera flashes.

“Can we have a look at the body, Jim?” At Soames’s approach, people fell back a little, some to the other side of the aisle, some to the corridor between the two carriages. The faint sour odor of the toilet was signposted with a glowing “Vacant” sign.

Felix squeezed between two officers to look down on the body.

At first, tiny details hit him. Her hand, lying on its back, her fingers curved like a dead crab on the beach. Her lips were distorted by the glass into a half smile, their lavender skin parted to show a few gleaming teeth. The space in front of her was covered with litter left for the train cleaner at the end of the journey. Felix wondered how many people had discarded used paper cups and newspapers on her table, walking past the slumped girl without realising she was dead.

Soames gripped his shoulder. “You OK, Professor?”

“Yes.” He cleared his throat. “Yes. You said there were symbols?”

Soames nodded to the man sitting beside the body, and he lifted the bottom of her T-shirt with gloved hands.

Felix flinched as her pale skin was revealed. Red marks criss-crossed her body, and for a moment he thought they were injuries. Then he realized she had been marked with red pen.

“That’s an Enochian symbol.” As the shirt was lifted higher and the slack skin on her belly was revealed, more symbols appeared in two concentric curves. “And that one, too. I don’t recognize all of them. Two circles of what look like sigils.” He bent forward, to get a better look, and caught the flowery scent of clean laundry and the acrid smell of voided urine from the body. Sadness rolled over him, and he looked at her face for a moment. So young. The surface of her eye was just touching the glass, starting to lose its gloss as it dried.

“We’ll photograph them at the postmortem.” Soames stepped back into the aisle, away from the actual scene. “So, what are these drawings?”

“Enochian symbols. They’re supposed to be an alphabet given to John Dee, an Elizabethan scholar. He got them through a man called Edward Kelley, who channeled angels for him.”

“Channeled?”

“Like a psychic speaking for the dead.” Felix’s mind was flying through memories. The arrangement of the characters in a circle seemed familiar.

“You believe all this?” Soames was staring at him.

“Of course not, but some people do. These symbols are used in ritual magic.”

“Like black magic, Satanism?”

“Colloquially, yes, I suppose so.” Felix leaned in for a closer look. “But black magic wouldn’t necessarily use Enochian sigils, and I can’t see any pseudo-Christian shapes. I think you can rule out Satanism.”

“Sigils?”

“Designs that are supposed to construct magical intent. Magic talismans and lucky charms sometimes have them.” Felix stepped back, his legs shaky, whether with tiredness or adrenaline he couldn’t tell. “I’ve never heard of them being used in this way.”

“After we photograph them at the postmortem, we’ll let you have a better look. The pathologist says there appear to be more on her back.”

Felix took a deep breath, and stepped out of the circle of gender­less suits gathered around the girl. She glowed in the light of arc lamps, propped over the backs of surrounding seats. Soames followed him.

“You OK?” Soames brushed the hood back from his face.

“Yes, fine. It just seems sad—she’s so young.”

“First thoughts?”

“I’ll wait for the photographs and then do a bit of research. Inspector, are the symbols in complete circles?”

Soames nodded. “We think so; we’ll know more at the post- mortem. It looks like two concentric rings of maybe a dozen or so shapes in each, drawn in some kind of pen. Why do you ask?”

“I’m not sure . . . I think I’ve seen something like it before, that’s all.”

Soames ushered him off the train and started stripping off the white suit. “I’m sure I don’t need to remind you to keep this confidential, Professor.”

“No, of course.”

Soames smiled. “We don’t want a big ‘black-magic sacrifice’ headline in the local press.”

“I understand. But there is no evidence, in the UK anyway, of Satanist sacrifices of any kind.”

Soames’s smile faded. “What about that boy, hacked up in London? I hear you were consulted on that one.”

“That was a different kind of case altogether. A Muti killing, taking body parts to make magical charms. Terrible, but from a different belief system completely.” Felix dropped the suit and booties into a bin. “Anyway, you said this case is probably an overdose?”

“Maybe. She was a known drug user and prostitute. But we have three other young women who have gone missing over the last few months. Normally, we trace them to London or they’ve run off with boyfriends, but we haven’t had even a whisper about these girls. No texts, e-mails, no social networking, nothing. Then one turns up dead.”

“Well, get the pictures to me and I’ll do the research. I noticed someone in the car park. A woman, she looked distressed, like she might have known the girl . . .”

“What did she look like?” Soames scanned the station.

“I suppose, medium height, slim, attractive, shortish hair . . .  blond. Striking. Thirties, maybe, it was hard to tell.” He looked across the tarmac, the rain drifting through cones of light onto parked vehicles.

The woman had vanished.