Saturday, September 23, 2017

#Stacking the Shelves # 256 - Week Ending 09/23/2017

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!

Thanks for Shopping by!
I really appreciate all the wonderful support and comments I received over the past two weeks while we were counting down to Irma, and then recovering. This is why I have been around blogging for so long. Love you all!
Have a great weekend!

This Weeks Reviews: 

Monday - One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake (YA, Fantasy)

Tuesday - Cold Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff (Mystery)


Friday, September 22, 2017

Saturday #Review - Archangel's Viper by Nalini Singh #Paranormal #Romance

Series: Guild Hunter # 10
Format: E-Book, 368 pages
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Paranormal Romance

Enter New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh’s breathtakingly passionate Guild Hunter world with the story of a woman who isn’t a vampire or an angel…or human…

Once a broken girl known as Sorrow, Holly Chang now prowls the shadowy gray underground of the city for the angels. But it’s not her winged allies who make her a wanted woman, rather the unknown power coursing through her veins. Brutalized by an insane archangel, she was left with the bloodlust of a vampire, the ability to mesmerize her prey, and a poisonous bite.

Now someone has put a bounty on her head…

Venom is one of the Seven, Archangel Raphael’s private guard, and a man as infuriating as he is seductive. A centuries-old vampire, his fangs dispense a poison deadlier than Holly’s. But even if Venom can protect Holly from those hunting her, he might not be able to save himself…because the strange, violent power inside Holly is awakening…

No one is safe.

Story Locale: Alternate USA

Series Overview: The New York Times bestselling series set in a dark world where lethal, beautiful archangels hold sway over immortals and mortals alike, with the Guild Hunters caught in between…

Archangel's Viper, by author Nalini Singh, is the tenth installment in the Guild Hunter series. This story actually takes place concurrently with Archangel's Heart. So, there's no Elena in this story, and only a brief appearance by Raphael, which is totally fine. There are plenty of other interesting characters that do show up like Dmitri, Honor, Ash, Janvier, and Ilium. I should warn readers that this really isn't Venom's (Vipers) story, unlike it was the previous members of Raphael's Seven like Dmitri and Jason. 

It is truly Holly Chang's. Holly aka Sorrow, is a fringe character who was terrorized 4 years ago by an Archangel named Uram way back in the beginning of this series and saved by Elena. Holly was changed into a being not human, nor vampire. She was infected with a dangerous virus by Uram which has left her with a strange mixture of green eyes, and her fangs drip with poison. This goes along with her ability to determine how old vampires are who she meets, and her ability to mesmerize, which isn't a normal ability to have. 

She is something of a riddle which makes those like Venom eager to find out what is under the feisty, attitude wielding Holly. Plus, Viper is immune to Holly's abilities which makes for some interesting times. After nearly being kidnapped, and then finding out there is a rather large bounty out for her capture, Holly and Venom try to figure out who is after her and why. As a side note, Holly is also under contract by the Tower, and that's pretty much because nobody can decide whether or not to let her live, or just end her suffering which has been going on for the past 4 years. 

Holly and Venom's relationship is by far the most banter I've read about in a very long time. There's little action in this story, which means that you have more time to read about the characters games & stunts which includes a bit of friendship, and some sexual tension as well. I do have minor issues with this story. I am confused why we have a kidnapping scene in this book, and then the story switches to something entirely different for most of the rest of the way. I understand the necessity of finding out what is happening to Holly and why, but the reason behind her kidnapping should have remained the focal point of the story. Holly's coming of age, or her evolution into perhaps one of the badass women of this series after Elena, Ash, Sarah, and Honor, should have had the opportunity to resolve the issue herself in a way that others were given opportunities to meet their challenges.  

Holly hugged her sister good-bye one final time, her heart aching. “Shoo,” she said when Mia hesitated at the entrance to the security line. “You’ll be late for your flight if you don’t get going.”

Mia sank her teeth into the fullness of her lower lip, her chin-length bob gleaming obsidian under the white fluorescent lighting inside the terminal building. “I miss home already.”

“You’ll be fine.” Though Holly was going to miss her elder sister-and best friend-desperately, she took Mia’s face in her hands, met eyes as brown as hers had once been, and said, “You’re the smartest person I’ve ever known. You’ll knock this out of the park.” Her newly minted doctor sister had been offered a prestigious residency at Massachusetts General in Boston.

“I’ll be so far from everyone.”

Holly didn’t point out that her sister’s new base of operation was only a few hours’ drive from New York, less at the speeds Holly liked driving. She knew what it was to be homesick. She’d felt that way in the vibrant city her family called home when she’d isolated herself from them for several long months in the aftermath of the attack that had changed her into a being who wasn’t human, but who wasn’t vampire, either.

Thankfully, she’d gotten over that stupidity-and her family loved her enough to forgive her. Of course, her mother reminded her of it every chance she got, but that was par for the course. Daphne Chang also reminded Holly of the time she’d snuck out of the house at seventeen, only to have to call home for help after her asshole date abandoned her on a dark street in Queens.

Holly still had to keep some secrets from her parents, her younger brothers, and Mia, but those secrets were for their protection: mortals didn’t need to know about a bloodborn archangel. As far as Holly’s parents and siblings were concerned, it was a deranged mortal who’d abducted her friends and her, and who’d infected her with a dangerous virus. An angel had saved her by attempting to turn her into a vampire, but the transition hadn’t gone smoothly because of the virus in her blood.

They had no reason not to believe the story.

“I’ll drive up and see you anytime you feel alone,” she said to Mia, this sister of hers who’d loved her with unflinching stubbornness even when Holly didn’t-couldn’t-love herself. “Just call.”

“I love you, Hollster.” Another crushing hug, Mia’s body a sweep of soft, womanly curves.

Holly, in contrast, was still hoping her breasts would grow a little bigger if she wished hard enough. In the silverlining department, at least she didn’t have to waste money on bras. “Love you more, Mimi,” she said through a throat that had gone thick. Not because Mia was heading off on a new adventure, but because Holly was horrifyingly aware of how life could change without warning, how a person could be laughing and living one instant and, in the next, be a bloodsoaked corpse.

She had a serious psychological problem letting those she loved out of her sight. Which was why she forced herself to release Mia; she wasn’t about to steal Mia’s dreams because of her own nightmares. “Go.” Putting her hands on the soft gray of Mia’s cardigan, she gave her sister a little push.

“I’m gonna hold you to your promise!” Mia called over her shoulder as she finally tugged her little roll-onboard case in between the ropes that led to the screening area.

That area was visible through the glass, so Holly stood and watched until Mia made it through-all the while fighting her impulse to jump the barriers and wrench her sister back to where Holly could watch over her, protect her. Smiling a little nervously, Holly’s eldest sibling waved one last time from the other side, and then she was gone, lost in the stream of travelers heading out of a city Holly loved and hated in equal measure.

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!

“Ashwini, I swear to God…” Holly muttered as she scrambled for her phone.

That was not the ringtone she’d programmed.

Managing to cut off the annoyingly cheerful chipmunk singing at last, she put the phone to her ear as she headed out of the terminal. “Tell your wife I’m going to murder her the next time I see her.”

Janvier laughed, as if threats against his beloved Ashwini weren’t the least unusual. “You are still at the airport, Hollyberry?” he drawled in that lazy Cajun accent of his that fooled the unwary into thinking he wasn’t paying attention to the world.

“Cut that out.” It came out a snarled order. “And add Viper Face to the list of my future murder victims.” Venom had given her that ridiculous nickname after she insisted on being addressed as Sorrow. The latter name had fit her at the time, but looking back, she could see she’d been acting a little dramatic.

So sue her. She’d been kidnapped and brutalized by a violently powerful and deeply insane archangel, her life suddenly a miasma of terror and blinding grief. She’d been only twenty-three at the time-and she’d had soul-shredding nightmares night after night. Waking to find herself curled up in a silent, fear-drenched ball on the floor of her closet had become a daily occurrence. As if her subconscious believed that the red-eyed monster wouldn’t find her there.

He did, of course.


Because he lived in Holly’s tainted blood.

She was allowed a few dramatics.

And it wasn’t as if Venom could talk. “Yes,” she muttered. “I’m at the airport. Just about to head back to Manhattan.”

“I need you to do a pickup at the private airfield.”

Holly froze midstep. “Oh, hell no.” She knew exactly who was flying back into New York today. “That’s your job.”

“Alas, I am stuck in traffic,” Janvier said. “A truck spilled chickens all over the road in front of me.”

“Ha ha. I’m hanging up now.”

“But this is no laughing matter, ’tite Hollyberry,” was the aggravating response, followed by the sound of a window being lowered. Indignant chicken squawks filled the line seconds later. “See? Janvier does not lie. I am surrounded by frustrated drivers on every side, with no way out, but you are only ten minutes away. Do the pickup.”

“Is that an order?” Janvier and Ashwini were Holly’s official bosses as of seven months ago, when the entire team in charge of her training-and sanity-had pronounced that she’d gained sufficient and stable control over the twisted, poisonous power that marked her as the Archangel Uram’s creation.

Pride curled her toes at the memory of that day-Holly tried to focus on the trust the team was showing in her, not on how she remained on a leash nonetheless. Thanks to Ash’s and Janvier’s willingness to utilize her ability to make friends with those who lived in the shadows, she was now part of the small but efficient team that kept an eye on the murky gray underground of New York, a place far from the power-drenched environs of Archangel Tower.

Before her life broke apart in a spray of blood and fear and anguish, Holly hadn’t known there was a hierarchy in the immortal world. She’d seen the angels who soared high above the skyscrapers and the vampires who stalked the streets as all the same: dangerously strong and hauntingly beautiful. These days, she knew two-hundred-year-old vamps who were homeless addicts with less to their name than Holly, and understood that when a being lived too long, he or she could forget any concept of humanity or empathy.

For many, torture and sex alone, often entwined, held any pleasure.

“Oui,” Janvier said in reply to her edgy question. “It is an order. See, I am acting bosslike.”

Holly’s lips twitched despite herself. “Fine, I’ll go pick up Poison.”

“Play nice-no putting a cunja on him.”

Holly stuck out her tongue at her phone before she hung up. A little boy wearing a tiny blue and yellow backpack saw her, stuck out his own tongue with a giggle. Holly winked. Looking over his shoulder, he waved at her.

She waved back.

That sweet kid, he didn’t know that she was the creation of a murderous psychopath, that she had horrific urges inside her that caused her to break out in a cold sweat. He saw only a small-boned Chinese American woman in skinny black jeans decorated with appliquŽd black roses on the left calf and thigh, her top a floaty orange silk, and her ankle boots a shining black with small gold buckles.

That ordinary woman’s rainbow-streaked black hair was pulled back in a sleek ponytail, her face framed by blunt black bangs, and her nails painted in a wild mix of colors.

The only thing that made her stand out in a city overrun with the stylistically adventurous was the acid green that had taken over the light brown of her irises. The shade had been darker before, nearer to the vivid green of the archangel who’d used her as a human toy, but the acidic lightness had come in firmly over the past year and settled.

When strangers spotted Holly’s eyes, they automatically assumed she was wearing contacts. It fit their impression of a woman who looked as if she’d been dropped in a vat of color.

Maybe a touch quirky or peculiar, but human. Normal.

Holly ached to be that normal human woman every single day. But in the four years since she’d been stripped naked and forced to watch her friends be dismembered alive, her throat torn and raw from her screams, she’d gotten over the first four stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.

Acceptance…well, that was going to take a hell of a lot more time, she thought as she slid into the Tower vehicle she’d been assigned. When Janvier had first told her she’d get a vehicle as part of her job as his and Ash’s apprentice, she’d glumly expected a sedate sedan, but she should’ve remembered the kind of people who worked for the Archangel Raphael.

None were the sedan type.

Holly’s car was a sleek black thing that looked like an arrow in flight. It wasn’t new by any stretch of the imagination and had more than a few dents and scratches-all the better to fit the environs she prowled in the shadowy corners of the city. The tires were good, but not so good anyone would bother to steal them, and the radio only got about five stations.

Holly loved her ride with the passion of a thousand suns.

Inside this car, she could be free, could fly.

No leash. No blood that craved the monstrous. No flashfire memories of a rust red hand stroking her hair as he told her to “Drink, girl,” in a gentle voice that belied the carnage in which she knelt broken and beaten.

Today, she raced in and out of traffic with bare inches to spare as she made her way to the airfield that handled the Tower’s private fleet. It wasn’t the safest way to drive, but Holly was very careful not to put anyone else in danger. Only herself.

Yes, she needed therapy.

But Holly wasn’t suicidal. Not any longer. Her head was plenty messed up, but never would she hurt her family by making that irrevocable choice. Her mom and dad, Mia, her younger brothers, had suffered more than enough in the immediate days and weeks after the slaughter, and in her months of confused, angry, scared silence.

It was Janvier who’d made her understand what she was throwing away.

“I will miss my sisters my entire vampiric existence,” he’d said to her as they sat on the grass after a sparring session that had left Holly’s body a screaming ache. “I have a big family that loves me so, but to grow up with another, ah, ’tite Holly, that is a different bond.” A sheen in eyes the shade of bayou moss that her deadly boss made no effort to hide. “Amelie and Jšelle… they live here.” His fist on his heart. “Always they will stay safe within.”

His gaze had gone to his wife, who was practicing a martial arts kata with cool hunter dedication. “And my dangerous cher, my Ashblade, she yet grieves for her brother and sister.” As he’d risen to go tease Ash into a kiss, the Guild Hunter’s fingers sinking into the chestnut brown of his hair, the copper strands within it glinting in the sunlight, Holly had felt understanding kick her. Hard.

Mia would be gone forever one day.

Alvin and Wesley would be gone.

Her parents would be gone.

She would never get back that time.

Holly had caught the subway home an hour later-to be greeted with tears and hugs and her favorite meal-followed by a grilling so intense it had threatened to set her hair on fire.

It was a memory she hoarded against the unknown future.

Zipping into a parking spot outside the airfield building located at the end of a long and deserted private road, she got out and showed her Tower ID to the guard. He gave her the hard eye regardless and pressed his finger to the receiver in his ear after muttering her name into the microphone on his collar.

Whatever he heard back had him nodding. “You’re cleared.” A faint curve to his lips. “Nice outfit. I didn’t know the Tower let five-year-olds drive.”

Eyes narrowed, Holly pulled out her best sincere tone. “Did you get your suit at Slick Vampires Are Us? Asking for a friend.”

Smile wiped off, the vampire just looked at her, unblinking. Holly stared back, not about to be intimidated, even if he was at least five hundred years old according to the internal chronometer she’d developed over the past year.

A tingle ran behind her eyes.


Though backing down was against her personal religion, Holly lowered her eyelids and took a deep breath. When she lifted them back up, the vampire was smirking. Gritting her teeth and refraining from pointing out that she’d been a second away from mesmerizing him into clucking like a chicken, she carried on inside. It was a relatively small area with a glass wall that looked out onto the airfield.

Air traffic control was high above in their own little aerie.

That had always struck Holly as funny: angels flew wherever they wished, but if they traveled in an airplane, they needed to obey the rules of airspace. Not that the man she was here to pick up had wings. Venom was a vampire. One of the Seven, Raphael’s private guard. That, unfortunately, also meant he was far, far stronger than he should’ve been for his three hundred and fifty or so years of age.

Friday #Review - Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo #YALit #Fantasy

Series: DC Icons # 1
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult \ Superheroes

The highly anticipated, entirely new coming-of-age story for the world’s greatest super hero: WONDER WOMAN by the # 1 New York Times bestselling author LEIGH BARDUGO.

She will become one of the world’s greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning….

Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world.

Alia just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together, Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. If they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer, by author Leigh Bardugo, is the first installment in the DC Icons series. The book comes on the heels of the mega hit movie Wonder Woman featuring Gal Godot. Bardugo, who is apparently a huge Wonder Woman fan, takes readers to her own world, her own creation, and her own look at 17-year old Princess Diana aka Diana Prince. Let's get some things straight. If you think this book ties into the movie, you'll be disappointed. If you think this book ties into Lynda Carter's version of Wonder Woman, you'd be wrong.

If you think that Bardugo opens the book by having Diana saving a man, you'd be wrong. If you are a diversity reader who would have preferred that Diana have a ship with the female character, you'll be disappointed. If you are looking for a solid story with lots of action, adventure, and friendship grown out of shared experiences, then you'll love this book. 
This book takes place in MODERN times. Meaning not World War I version like the movie. It features a teenaged Diana, not the adult version. A rather large distinction between the movie version. Does that still not make her as likable as the movie version? Nope. This Diana is very interesting, but it's not entirely her story. Capiche?

There's another character who plays at least half as important role in this story as Diana does. Where do you think the Warbringer aspect comes from? Aha! The light has just gone on! The story starts with Diana on the Amazonian Island of Themyscira where she is gearing up to run against her older, more hardened & battle tested sisters. Diana makes a choice to save a human girl from dying after she sees a ship going down off the coast of her island thus breaking all sorts of Amazonian laws which could have her banished forever. Diana soon discovers that her bravery may come with an even bigger cost, not just her banishment. 

It may come with the destruction of her island, and the world itself because of a mixed race girl named Alia who was on a boat when it exploded, and may be the legendary Warbringer after Helen of Troy. After speaking to the Oracle, Diana decides to find the place where Helen of Troy was buried, and in doing so, saving not only her island, but the life of the girl she knows little about but is drawn to helping. From 
Themyscira, Diana and Alia end up NYC where things get really interesting. Along the way, Diana and Alia pick up Jason, Theo and Nima, who is Alia's best friend. In the end, we end up in Southern Greece where the action really kicks into high gear.

Bardugo is all in when it comes to strong female characters, and strong friendships between female characters. In this case, you have not one friendship, but two. Diana and Alia, Alia and Nima who is adorable and the perfect character to bring a bit of balance and laughs to story. The message being sent with this story is that it is OK to embrace the themes of good vs. evil, coming of age, and super heroes from unexpected places who are determined to achieve seemingly impossible dreams.  If you are lucky enough, the first printing actually included a poster of Diana. Since I borrowed this from the library, I can't exactly steal it, can I? 

Story Locale: Amazon Island of Themyscira; Contemporary Greece, and NYC

Series Overview: DC ICONS SERIES: 4 standalone novels each by a bestselling YA author (Each book will include a poster in 1st printing. Collect all four to create the complete DC Icons poster!)

August 2017: Wonder Woman by Leigh Bardugo
January 2018: Batman by Marie Lu
August 2018: Catwoman by Sarah J. Maas
January 2019: Superman by Matt de la Peña

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thursday #Review - Promise the Moon by Hailey Edwards #Urban #Fantasy

Series: Gemini, # 4
Format: Kindle, 263 pages
Release Date: October 29, 2016
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Genre: Urban Fantasy

War is a constant threat on Dell Preston's horizon. As beta of the Lorimar pack, her job is to maintain the peace on the new border between Faerie and Earth at all costs. Even if that means playing nice with her ex, Isaac, the fae who savaged her wolf's soul, and Enzo Garza, the flirty witch who ought to be focused on building up their magical defenses instead of tearing down the walls around Dell's heart.

Butler, Tennessee is a pinprick on the map with a diverse population of supernaturals. It's also chockful of humans who are unaware of the magical rift bruising the sky or the otherworldly insurgents raining down into their zip code.

A local fae's disappearance catches Dell's attention, but she dismisses it as an isolated event. Until it happens again. Unable to ignore the strange happenings in her town, she begins an investigation that uncovers so much more than a simple rash of kidnappings.

Now Dell finds herself at the sharp end of a pointed ultimatum. Find the missing and return them to their families or get ready for prime time. Botch this job, and forget coming soon. The war will become tomorrow's featured attraction instead.

Promise the Moon, by author Hailey Edwards, was originally called the first installment in the Lorimar Pack series. But, it is now been called the fourth book in the Gemini series. The Lorimar Pack / Gemini series features Dell Preston, who is the Beta of the Pack. Even though it is a whole new adventure, it does take place after the events of Hell or High Water which featured Camille Ellis. Cam makes a very brief appearance in this story. 

As Promise the Moon opens, things have really become dangerous. The veil between the worlds is wide open, and fae are attempting to leave their world. Some even make it. Attempting to leave Fae is punishable to the fullest extent of fae law, the rest are picked up by a certain pack who has agreed to take responsibility for collecting said fae. As the Beta of the Lorimar Pack, Dell has been put in charge of collecting the invading fae before they create more problems. The pack is responsible for hunting the invading fae, and they have no fear of any retribution from the Conclave.

Dell is also responsible for the training, recruiting, and the testing of potential new recruits since her pack only has 12 original members. It is essential for Dell to do the right thing to keep her group of misfits and outcasts together, while adding another new element to help do their jobs. Dell was one of my favorite characters in the Gemini series. She's funny, sarcastic, and she fought off her entire pack to remain as Beta. It that doesn't tell you this girl has some strength, what will? But she also has some issues hanging over her head. The first being how she was treated by her mother, the other being that her wolf found its mate, only to lose him (Isaac).

I'm not a fan of triangles, so what does Edwards do? Adds witch Enzo Garza to the story mix to have a one up man ship between him and Isaac. But, let's skip over all that malarkey for now and talk about the fact that Dell has her hands full when local residents go missing. Since her pack is the overall law in this area, she and her pack have to find out what has happened to those who have gone missing. What they find will definitely push this story into the next installment. I can't even talk about the final chapters in this book without totally spoiling what ends up happening. So, I will say this. Yes, there is a huge cliffhanger ending. Yes, Thierry once again plays a pivotal role. As I said, Edwards loves keeping certain characters around, and I don't see Thierry going anywhere anytime soon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday #Review/Excerpt - A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Kingdom on Fire # 2
Format: E-Book, 432 pages
Release Date: September 19, 2017
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Young Fiction \ Fantasy

“Devastatingly magical and monstrously romantic. I can’t decide if this book stole my heart or ripped it out of my chest.” —Stephanie Garber, author of Caraval

The magicians want her to lead.
The sorcerers want her to lie.
The demons want her blood.
Henrietta wants to save the one she loves.
But will his dark magic be her undoing?

In this seductive and explosive second book in the Kingdom on Fire series, Jessica Cluess delivers her signature mix of magic, passion, and teen warriors fighting for survival. Hand to fans of Victoria Aveyard, Sarah J. Maas, and Kiersten White.

Henrietta doesn’t need a prophecy to know that she’s in danger. She came to London to be named the chosen one, the first female sorcerer in centuries, the one who would defeat the Ancients. Instead, she discovered a city ruled by secrets. And the biggest secret of all: Henrietta is not the chosen one.

Still, she must play the role in order to keep herself and Rook, her best friend and childhood love, safe. But can she truly save him? The poison in Rook’s system is transforming him as he begins to master dark powers of his own. So when Henrietta finds a clue to the Ancients’ past that could turn the tide of the war, she persuades Blackwood, the mysterious Earl of Sorrow-Fell, to travel up the coast to seek out new weapons. And Magnus, the brave, reckless flirt who wants to win back her favor, is assigned to their mission. Together, they will face monsters, meet powerful new allies, and discover that some old wounds are still full of poison.

A Poison Dark and Drowning is the second installment in author Jessica Cluess' Kingdom on Fire series. Henrietta Howell came to London thinking she would become the so called Chosen One. The first female sorcerer in a century, and the one prophesied to lead the sorcerers to defeat the fabled 7 Ancients. She's the first female to be inducted into the Royal Order by Queen Charlotte, and played a key part in the defeating Korozoth, the Shadow and Fog. But, she's also a formidable Magician having trained in secret while also fulfilling her other obligations to Queen and country. 

Magicians, like Witches, were supposed to have been hunted down and banned from England thanks to their part in opening the veil that allowed the Ancients to invade this world. That doesn't mean that there aren't a few around lying low waiting to be called to fight the Ancients. Even though Henrietta was confirmed as a sorcerer and told that she shouldn't use her magician skills, she still finds time to study on the side. When she learns about of a cache of weapons that may defeat the Ancients who are trying to conquer Britain, she, Blackwood, Magnus travel to Cornwall to find them.

Here's where things get really fascinating. First, we get our first glimpse of one of the more intriguing characters
in this story, and an important cog in so many different ways I can't go any further. Her name is Maria Templeton. Remember her name because she's not a bit player who you meet one time and then forget because so many other things happen in this story. We also meet Queen Mab who is bloody dangerous, psychotic, and could tip the war against the Sorcerers at any time . Last but not least, we get a glimpse of one William Howel, Henrietta's father who, along with her mother, are supposed to be dead. Henrietta's family history is uncover, and you will want to read what is revealed by numerous sources.

Let me say that this book actually excelled from the first installment, which I loved, because middle books have a tendency of letting me down. There's more on the line, plus, there's more action, adventure, and yes, a bit of romance as well. Cluess knows how to get the blood flowing. From the gates, the Queen comes under attack from the immortal known as R'hlem who wants one person. That person is Henrietta, who we have already discussed as being the so called chosen one. R'hlem is far from an easy nemesis for Henrietta. The so called skinless man is the most fearsome, the most intelligent, the most ruthless of the 7 Ancients. 

The romance angle in this book could be considered triple entanglement. Henrietta loves Rook. Make no doubt about that fact. Why else would she do whatever she could to ensure that he wasn't lost to the Shadows and the Fog of the monster that infected him? Why else would she keep his condition a secret from those she is supposed to be serving with and trust implicitly? But, there are two other characters in the Henrietta sweepstakes as well. I will say this, I am glad that one character has been ruled out. I was worried that this would continue until the third installment. Also, the choice is actually made, in part, for her after the battle with the powerful immortal known as R'hlem. 

Story Locale: Victorian England, Fantasy with Reimagined History. 

Series Overview: Fall 2016: A Shadow Bright and Burning
Fall 2017: A Poison Deep and Drowning
Fall 2018: A Sorrow Fierce and Falling

London was waiting, and so was I.
Tonight was an official gathering of Her Majesty’s sorcerers—my first since being commended to the royal Order—and as the city’s church bells tolled seven o’clock, my stomach fluttered with nerves. We were a country still at war with monsters, but at that moment attacking hellbeasts were the furthest thing from my mind. The thought of going inside the palace made me wildly uneasy.
From out Blackwood’s carriage window, I watched the sorcerers as they rode up to Buckingham Palace on horseback or floated out of the evening sky to alight upon the ground with ease. They adjusted robes and ran hands through their hair as they hurried inside, trying to look presentable. I stayed hidden inside the carriage, my gloved hands folded tightly in my lap.
Two months before, when I’d arrived at the palace, it had been blazing with lights, ready for a grand ball. Now it was darker, more somber. It was a place of business. My business now.
“Your first Order meeting,” Blackwood said, sitting opposite me. “You must be excited, Howel.”
“Excited or numb with terror?” That was a joke. Mostly. “What should I expect?” I still felt awkward in my black silk sorcerer’s robe. It wasn’t designed for a woman. I was the first female to be inducted into the royal Order by a monarch, at least in recent memory. And so I fidgeted, pulling at the collar.
“I’ve never been inside.” He patted the handle of his stave. “Only commended sorcerers may enter. But I have heard,” he said, attempting to sound all business and knowledge, “that it’s quite impressive.”
“Something that might impress the great Earl of Sorrow-Fell?” I said. Flicking my gloved fingers, I shot a few embers at him. The cool night air quickly swallowed my fire. Blackwood laughed, bolstering my courage. He wasn’t much in the practice of laughter, though I liked to think he’d got more used to it after months of living with me.
“Do I have to worry about you bursting into flames every time you mock me?” he asked, wiping at his sleeve as the footman opened our carriage door. Blackwood stepped out and handed me down. I shivered. The evening was cool, a reminder that summer was nearly done.
“Don’t be absurd. I mock you far too often to set fire to myself every single time.” I took his arm, and we made our way to the palace’s entrance. Around us, sorcerers were greeting each other. I searched for my friends, Dee or Wolff or Lambe, but saw none of them.
Blackwood cut through the crowd gracefully, men twice his age stepping aside for him and nodding. I’d never have imagined this was his first Order meeting. He moved about in his robe with ease, as if he’d been wearing it all his life. Perhaps he’d practiced? Or it could be that he was simply good at everything to do with being a sorcerer.
I was surprised how many of the sorcerers were young, my age or only a few years older. I knew I should have expected it—a group of tottering old men couldn’t be expected to win a war—but seeing others plucking awkwardly at their robes, laughing too loudly and then ducking their heads in embarrassment, made me feel less alone. We entered the palace through a large, arched doorway and turned down a carpeted hall before making our way outside again, into the grand courtyard. In the center of the yard, a great black dome awaited us. We filed through the door, and I gasped as we entered a room of pure night.
I’d been inside obsidian rooms before, but this was an obsidian cathedral. The ceiling soared above us, fifty feet at least. No windows interrupted the smooth, dark expanse of stone on either side. The only source of natural light came from the large, round glass ceiling. It allowed the moon to cast a baleful eye upon the proceedings. Sconces lined the walls, the flickering fire lighting the way to our seats.
Whoever had designed this room had taken inspiration from the Senate of ancient Rome: tiered seating, much like an amphitheater, went up several floors in a semicircle. Most of the younger sorcerers clumped together in the back rows.
It felt rather like the day I’d first come to Master Agrippa’s, only so much worse. At least when I’d first arrived in London, everyone had thought I was their great prophesied girl destined to bring about the end of the Ancients. Now as they turned to stare, we all knew that was not true. I had played a key part in destroying one of the seven monsters—Korozoth, the Shadow and Fog—but at the cost of shattering the protective ward around the city, leaving us all vulnerable to attack.
Yes. Feeling all the sorcerers’ eyes upon me, it was definitely worse.
“Howel, ease up. I prefer to keep my arm.” Blackwood’s voice was tight with pain.
“Sorry.” I relaxed my grip and began the calming exercises Agrippa had taught me months before. Imagine a stream of cool water running down your hands. The exercises kept me from going up in flames at bad moments.
The room was rather bare, all things considered. The only other things of note were a raised dais, upon which stood a backless obsidian seat—for the Imperator, I shouldn’t wonder—and a large square pit with four compartments. One compartment held burning coals, one a pool of water, one rich earth, and one was empty save for a floating white feather that perpetually hovered inches from the ground. I’d read about this; it was an elemental square, like an altar in a church. Holy to sorcerers.
Everyone who entered walked up to the square, knelt, and touched their forehead to the edge. Was it wrong to find the whole thing a bit silly? We moved toward the square. Blackwood genuflected, and then I followed.
Kneeling before the elements, my body settled into profound stillness. I could feel the quiet whisper of the earth resonating through me, could sense the fire that pulsed below the surface of my skin. It was as if a cool, invisible hand had been laid on my shoulder, assuring me that I belonged. Gently, I touched my head to the cool obsidian. When I stood, I felt a bit dizzy and grabbed on to the edge. A sorcerer in his late twenties helped me to stand.
“It’s a bit of a rush the first time you experience it. You’ll find your feet,” he said, not unkindly. I thanked him and then went to join Blackwood. He was seated in the second tier and looking about at the crowd expectantly.
“I don’t think everyone will be here,” he mused as I sat down. “But whoever’s in London will come.”
I might see some of the boys after all. It had been months since Lambe had been in town, and I’d barely spoken to Wolff since the commendation. God, I hoped they’d be here tonight. Them, or Dee .?.?. or Magnus.
Then again, perhaps I didn’t need to see everyone.
“The Imperator should begin with formally inducting all the newly commended sorcerers,” Blackwood said. “But he might not. I’ve read that Imperators past—Hollybrook, for example, who held the title from 1763 to 1801—sometimes required a small blood oath. Apparently it was a grisly mess.” Blackwood’s eyes seemed to glow as he looked at the Imperator’s still-empty throne. “Don’t be afraid to speak up if you wish. There’s no formal structure for these sorts of things. Whitechurch is our leader, and he may ask for specific advice from the Masters, but everyone in the Order has a right to question or offer opinions.”
“You know quite a bit about the Imperator’s office,” I said.
Blackwood looked a bit sheepish. “I confess it’s a job that’s always interested me. Though there’s an unofficial rule that says Blackwoods can never be Imperators—we’re too influential already.”
“They’d be mad not to consider you,” I said. Blackwood would be one of the best choices for a leadership role. Even though he’d only just turned seventeen, he had a cooler head than most men twice his age. He sat up even straighter, his green eyes brightening.
“Howel!” Dee bolted up the stairs toward Blackwood and me, as excited as an overgrown calf in clover. I didn’t care. Someone from my old Incumbent house was here, besides Blackwood. Dee ducked into our row, jostling a pair of sorcerers, and sat on my skirt. It took a couple of tugs to get it out from under him.
“Dee! I didn’t think you’d be back from Lincolnshire. Did you battle Zem?” I said, stifling a laugh while he tried to yank his robe into propriety. Dee’s red hair was a brambled mess. He must have flown here.
“I didn’t get up close, but the Great Serpent was at work burning down masses of fields. Suppose the Ancients want to destroy crops, what with the winter coming. I got to work in the rain unit, you know. Even managed some lightning.” His round face flushed with pleasure. Well, he should have been proud. Summoning lightning was a bloody challenge.
“You must have won a great victory.” I smiled at him.
“We put the fire out, at least. How is everyone at home?” he asked, painfully trying to sound casual.
He was clearly asking about Lilly, my maid. He’d liked her since we’d all lived in Agrippa’s house together, though he’d never made his feelings known. Normally I’d have been worried about a young gentleman chasing a maid—those sorts of things didn’t usually end well for the girl. But I knew Dee would sooner cut off his own hand than harm Lilly. And if he didn’t, I’d do it for him.
“Everyone is very well. Everyone,” I said with a wink. Dee blushed harder, if such a thing were even possible. His skin practically glowed.
“What was that about?” Blackwood whispered.
“I don’t have to tell you all my secrets,” I said primly, fluffing my skirt.
“Pity. I’d like to know them.”
I couldn’t tell if he was joking, and I studied him a moment. Blackwood’s profile was strong and distinguished in a shaft of moonlight, and the look in his eyes utterly distant. No matter how much time I spent with him, he could be as inscrutable as the dark side of the moon.
“All rise,” a sorcerer called at the door. Instantly, I was on my feet, alongside Blackwood and the rest of the room. We were silent as a black-robed man entered, walked up the steps of the dais, and seated himself upon his throne. Horace Whitechurch, Imperator of Her Majesty’s Order.
When I’d first met him, I’d thought him the thinnest, most unassuming old man, with white hair and wet black eyes. Now I could feel how his strength radiated outward. In this room, coupled with the power of the elemental square, I imagined him as the beating heart of a great body, his life force nourishing each one of us in turn. This man was strength.
“Be seated,” he said, and we all obeyed in a whisper of silk. “To business. I shall be brief.” He paused, as if gathering his words. Then, “There has been an attack on the queen.”
He said it so matter-of-factly. Sharp cries sounded throughout the room, echoing off the high walls. Blackwood, Dee, and I looked at each other with horror. Whitechurch cleared his throat, restoring silence.
“Her Majesty is well. She herself has not been assaulted, but a message was found in the queen’s bedroom,” Whitechurch continued. He took something from his robes and held it up for all of us to see. It looked an ordinary type of letter. “From R’hlem.”
Holy hell. The Skinless Man, the most fearsome, the most intelligent, the most ruthless of the Seven Ancients, left a message in the queen’s bedroom? This time, there was no outcry. The room, as one, held its breath.
Finally, one young man in front of us stood. “How can we be certain it’s from him, sir?”
“The message was found,” Whitechurch said, unfolding the paper, “pinned to the body of one of Her Majesty’s footmen.” My stomach tightened to think about it. “A shadow Familiar was found painting on the walls with the poor man’s blood.”
I unsheathed Porridge and held it in my lap. I swore that the stave warmed in my hand, as if giving me comfort.
A shadow Familiar, he’d said. Could it have been Gwen? I recalled her the night of our commendation, laughing wildly as she pulled Agrippa away into the air. My heart twisted. Even now, the thought of Agrippa hurt. He’d welcomed me into his home, trained me. He’d been the first to believe in me. True, he had also betrayed me, but that part didn’t seem to matter any longer.
“What became of the Familiar?” someone else called out. Blackwood was right: Order meetings were quite informal.
“We burnt the thing. It did not return to its master.” Whitechurch turned his eyes down to the paper in his hand.
A cold sweat broke out along the back of my neck. It was as if I’d gone back to that night months before, when I’d come face to face with the Skinless Man. It had been an illusion, and a damned good one. The monster had caught me by the throat and nearly choked me to death. Thinking about that one burning yellow eye in the center of his forehead, the bloodied stretch of his muscles, the .?.?. I nearly vomited.
The worst part of all this was that if one of R’hlem’s agents had gained access to the palace and the queen’s bedroom, then we were not nearly as safe as we’d hoped. After the ward came down, we’d erected barriers all around the edges of the city, barriers patrolled day and night. But clearly it hadn’t been enough.
At least the queen was unharmed. At least he hadn’t succeeded in attacking her. Unless it was R’hlem’s plan to instill fear in us.
I knew from experience that fear could lead people to do terrible things.
Whitechurch began reading, “?‘My dear Imperator, I pray you’ll excuse the messy delivery of this salutation. One must always make an impression.’?” Even though Whitechurch spoke those words, I could hear R’hlem’s voice saying them, his tone deep and soft and sinister on the edges. “?‘It has been rather a dull summer, wouldn’t you agree? I admit that my dear Korozoth’s destruction was a bit of a puzzle to me. But if there is anything I enjoy in this life, it is a challenge.
“?‘I’ve decided to give you fair warning: I am preparing an onslaught to bring your Order to its knees. I will show you horror, my dear Imperator. I will give you the very taste of fear. And you know that I am a man of my word.’?”