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Monday, September 30, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Benedict Jacka with a review of Chosen, the fourth book in his ALEX VERUS SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Saturday, September 28, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Kristen Painter with a review of Last Blood, the fifth and FINAL book in her HOUSE OF COMARRÉ SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Thursday, September 26, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Hannah Jayne  with a review of Under a Spell, the fifth book in her UNDERWORLD DETECTION AGENCY CHRONICLES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Stephen King: "The Dark Man"

Author:  Stephen King 
Artist: Glenn Chadbourne
Title:  The Dark Man 
Genre:  An Illustrated Poem
Publisher:  Cemetery Dance Publications (7/2013)      

            THE BOOK             
     Basically, this is an 88-page book that is 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches in size with black and white artwork that visually interprets one of King’s earliest poems. Some reviewers have carped about the book’s size, its price ($16.99 on amazon), and its lack of color illustrations. Yes, all of those facts are true, but if you’re a King fan—particularly if you’re a fan of The Stand or Dark Tower—you’ll be fascinated by this visual presentation of the birth of the Dark Man (aka Randall Flagg).    

            THE POEM               
     According to King’s back-cover note, he wrote “The Dark Man” on the back of a paper place mat in a grease-pit diner when he was a college student. “It came to me out of nowhere, this guy in cowboy boots who moved around on the roads, mostly hitchhiking at night, always wore jeans and a denim jacket….that guy never left my mind.” The poem is presented twice in its entirety—once in its illustrated version spread out over 80-odd pages, and once consolidated into its regular poem structure on the final pages of the book.       

     As an introduction to the Dark Man persona, the poem works perfectly without the illustrations, but the words hit with more force with the addition of the visual details. King, in the manner of many young poets, forgoes punctuation and capitalization. (Imagine e e cummings writing about a world that is ghastly and barren instead of mud-luscious.”)       

            THE ARTWORK               

     Although you won’t find the identity of the artist on the cover or the title page, you’ll find his name on the copyright page: Glenn Chadbourne, the well-known horror illustrator. Chadbourne’s highly detailed pencil drawings create exactly the right (or wrong) ominous, desolate atmosphere of the poem, showing the Dark Man always on the outskirts of human contact as he strides “the fuming way/of sun-hammered tracks and/smashed cinders.”  Chadbourne’s spot-on visual interpretation allows his illustrations to combine with King’s words in a perfect, if gruesome, marriage.  

     Some dark details jump out at the reader (the beetles and spiders; the abandoned, broken doll), while others lurk in the background (the shadows, the skeletal remains of a dead animal—or is it the rusty skeleton of a piece of machinery?), but all of them form a perfect storm of moody foreboding that perfectly captures Flagg’s inner rage and essential blackness.    

     The Dark Man himself is always pictured as a rough, black shadow (except at the end when he turns into King himself in a tongue-in-cheek drawing facing the author's bio. page). The Dark Man is always an observer—never a participant. He lurks in the shadows, watching (and hating) people going about their humdrum daily lives. In one scary sequence, he hides in a cornfield, staring out between the stalks at a couple drinking cheap whiskey in their run-down shack while overhead shines "a savage sickle moon that bummed my eyes with bones of light."  

     Even when “normal” details are included (like ripe pumpkins and tomato plants), the mood is undercut and overwhelmed by accompanying darkness (in this case, a ghastly, grinning scarecrow). The feeling of desolation grows as the poem progresses. For example, an amusement park that appears operational early in the poem shows up later as a ruined and abandoned wreck. (This particular detail was particularly poignant to me because I just finished reading the stories in the new anthology, Carniepunk.)      

            FINAL ANALYSIS               
     If you are addicted to King’s dark worldview; if you were scared silly by Flagg’s sinister ruthlessness in The Stand; if you are a fan of deep, dark horror; if you want more from a book than one quick read-through—then you might want to shell out the money to buy this book. If you’re a mid-level King fan with an interest in looking in on the roots of King’s Dark Man character (who appears in so many of his works), why not check this one out of your local library? Either way, do yourself a favor and give it a read.

     My recommendation is to read it through quickly the first time, concentrating on the words more than the illustrations. Then, read it a few more times, page by page, taking in Chadbourne’s artwork with its fine, grisly details: the hollow-eyed hobos, the derelict amusement park, the barren landscape, and the Dark Man himself in all his relentless savagery as he ends his rant by leaving behind a horrific "sign to those who creep in fixed ways"his way of warning the world that "I am a dark man."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Author:  Laura Anne Gilman
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)   
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality2; Humor2 
Publisher and Titles:  Harlequin Luna
          Heart of Briar (8/2013)
          Soul of Fire (10/2013) (FINAL)

     This post was revised and updated on 2/22/14 to include a review of Soul of Fire, the second and FINAL novel in the series. That review appears at the END of this post, preceded by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel. Somehow, this book slipped to the bottom of my to-read stack, so this review is a few months late in coming.

     In this world, there are two types of otherworldly beings: supernaturals (aka supers) and preternaturals (aka preters). Here, one of the supernatural characters explains human/supernatural coexistence to the human heroine: "Humans veer between thinking they're the only ones here and assuming that there's this malicious cabal of woo-woo, messing with their lives at every turn. Both're crap. There's the natural, that's you, and the supernatural. Us. We all belong in this world people just take up most of the room. Mostly, we ignore you. Occasionally, our paths cross. It doesn't end well for us, most of the time." (p. 66) The same character goes on to succinctly summarize the primary difference between supers and preters: "Supernatural, above nature. Preter, outside nature. One belongs here, the other does not." (Heart of Briar, p. 67) The supers comprise all of the usual (and sometimes unusual) types: vampires, shifters, trolls, gnomes, and so on. The preters are primarily elves, who appear to be related to the Fae found in a lot of modern paranormal fiction.

     As the series opens, the elves are suddenly able to open multiple portals between Elfland and the mortal world, and they are kidnapping humans right off the streets of the city. The local supers, led by A.J., a werewolf (aka lupin), and his handful of supernatural followers are trying to figure out what the elves are up to. The supers are a motley crew of beings who, for the most part, cannot pass for human—for example, ghost-like banshees (aka bansidhe), fanged vampires, and feathered owl shifters (aka Splyushka). Only a few can shift into an almost human form (e.g., Martin, the kelpie). This highlights one of the main problems with the mythology: the improbable and unbelievable idea that these obviously non-human beings are inconspicuously coexisting in the human world. How in the world can A.J. walk around the city incognito (which he does) based on  this description:"Not a monobrow. Not a misshapen nose. This close and clear there was no denying that it was a real muzzle, short but obvious, with the jaw hinged oddly, coarse dark hair overrunning what would have been a hairline to trace down to the end of his nose. Round dark eyes set too far back....Not red, but she thought they would glow in firelight, a bright, dancing red. Like a wolf's." (Heart of Briar, p. 45)

     The series heroine is Janice (Jan), an asthmatic, human web-site designer living in New Haven, Connecticut. As the series opens, she has never met a supernatural, but that soon changes. I have no problem with the inclusion of a physically challenged lead character, but the reality of the matter is that Jan's constant need to stop and take hits from her inhaler is an element of her character that soon becomes distracting.

     In constructing this mythology, the author has pulled some elements from the Tam Lin legend, (e.g., the kidnapping of a mortal man, the rescue by a true love who has a version of the name Janet), but she veers from the story line of that myth. Click HERE to go to the PORTALS page on Gilman's web site, where you will find links to excerpts from both novels.

             NOVEL 1:  Heart of Briar             
     Early in the book, Jan's boyfriend, Tyler Wash, goes missing—carried off to Elfland by a gorgeous preter who plans to use him for her own nefarious purposes. At first, Jan doesn't know what to think. Where could Tyler have gone? Why didn't he at least say good-bye? Then, she is approached by A.J. and the kelpie, Martin, who reveal the shocking news that supernaturals and preternaturals exist and expect her to believe them—which she eventually does.

     The story follows Jan and Martin (and a few other supers) as they try to figure out why the elves have stepped up their kidnappings and how they are creating all these new portals. The relationship between Jan and Martin blossoms into a kind of friendship, even though he has to keep fighting his kelpie instincts (dragging humans into the water and killing them). Jan spends most of the story stumbling in confusion through this new magical world, but when the big requisite showdown scene arrives, she is immediately (and unbelievably) able to decipher the elf king's motivations, even though she knows nothing about the elves, their history, or their culture. In seconds, she has figured out why the elves are doing what they're doing and has negotiated a truce. It's a nice, neat resolution, except for the fact that this is a completely improbable act for our mostly clueless heroine to be able to carry out so successfully.

     This book feels more like a rough draft than a finished product, primarily because the mythology (as previously discussed) has some definite weaknesses. Another problem is that the supers don't seem to know anything at all about the preters and their world, even though some of the supers have apparently been alive for centuries. Most of the time, when Jan asks a question about the preters, the answer is "I don't know." In general, the supers just hang out together, looking weird and doing next to nothing—except carjacking innocent humans and running a chop shop to make enough money to live on. They're not the most trustworthy bunch, and they keep warning Jan that she isn't really safe with them and that she shouldn't trust them. Then they beg her to help them by posing as bait in a trap to catch the preter that stole Tyler.

     So...we have an unsophisticated, geeky, gasping-for-breath heroine; some hard-luck, semi-dangerous supers, and a hapless boyfriend lost in Elfland. On the bright side, the plot gets inventive when Jan discovers that the elves are using Internet dating sites to set up their victims—a blending of old magic and new technology being used for villainous purposes. Also, the two lead characters—Jan and, particularly, Martin—have some depth and charisma (although I didn't really feel much passion between Jan and Tyler).

     Even though this introductory book didn't really work for me, I'm hoping that the series will straighten itself out in the next (final) book because the mythology represents a fresh and imaginative approach to urban fantasy. Click HERE to read an excerpt.  

             NOVEL 2:  Soul of Fire             
     As the story opens, just five days remain until the end of the truce that Jan negotiated with the elves (aka preternaturals, or preters) back in book 1. If she and her allies are to stop the elves from opening portals and taking over the mortal world, they must either figure out how the elves are using human souls and human technology to open portals, and/or they must find and capture the elves' missing queen. So far, they've had no luck with either task. As for Tyler, Jan's elf-shot boyfriend, he is still recovering, but chances are that he will never be the same after his horrific period of enthrallment in the realm of the elves.

     Jan is feeling useless because she doesn't see a place for herself in the supers' current projects. A.J. won't let her go off with the hunters to find the queen, and Jan herself has brought in some human computer experts who outshine her in technological skills. Eventually, she and Martin decide to go off on their own to find a witch who will help them locate the queen. What they don't count on is Tyler, who overhears their plans and stows away in the back of their getaway truck. Most of the story follows this intrepid trio as they find the queen and try to figure out how to use her to stop the preternatural invasion. Unfortunately, the first third of the book drags along a deadly slow pace as Jan mopes around trying to fit herself into the planning process and worrying about Tyler. The plot doesn't begin to gain momentum until after the trio takes off on their road trip (chapter 6p. 96). Finding the queen doesn't take very long, and the bulk of the second half of the book takes place after they infiltrate the Queen's small-town home/Court. As Jan describes their situation late in the story: "They were about to take on a preter queen with the prep equivalent of a paper clip and a USB cable…What was there to be worried about?" (p. 232)

     Gilman tells the story in the third person from the alternating perspectives of almost every primary and supporting character. The themes of the book (and of the series as a whole) are people's varying reactions to change and the importance of balance during periods of change. The preters abhor change, but are secretly bored with their lives, while humans deal with change on an everyday basis. The supers have had to learn to deal with change because they live in the human world, but they're more comfortable with old traditional ways.  Here, Martin muses about the importance of balance as he and his team try to figure out how to deal with the queen and her minions: " 'There is a balance to this world, to both realms…The Center remains, and we balance around it. Occasionally it tilts one way or the other, but over time, it recalibrates, remains steady. Now…the preters may have lost their center….The magic changed, and they were vulnerable to it, changed by it. If we kill them all...we may damage our Center, as well.' He frowned. 'I think.' " (p. 260)

     Gilman does a great job with the two primary settings: the supers' Farm headquarters, and the queen's home/Court. Both are described in vivid, textural detailthe clearest and most eloquent writing in the entire book. 

     One weakness in the plot is the mysterious Huntsman, who functions almost as a deus ex machina, popping in and out to bend the plot in various ways to suit the author's needs. In one brief (and weird) piece of dialogue, a character actually makes a connection between the Huntsman and a character in the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood

     Also problematic is the fact that although Jan and her team are close to a world-changing deadline, the clock-ticking-down tension that begins the opening scene is soon dropped, seemingly forgotten as the deadline comes and goes and the main characters appear not to notice. It would seem that if you had just five days to save the world, you would pay a great deal of attention to the calendar and the clock.

     Again in this book I had a difficult time relating to Jan, whose personality has never been fully developed. Her character traits are so undependable that the reader can never predict how Jan will react to given situations. In various scenes, she is a timid geek, a courageous defender, an indecisive follower, and a brilliant strategist. I'm not implying that a character shouldn't be complex, but I am saying that by the end of the second novel, the reader should have some idea of what drives the main charactersome clue as to how she will behave as she meets various difficulties. That is definitely not the case with this heroine. This novel does have a more finished feel than the first one, and (thankfully) Jan isn't gasping for breath all of the time or dropping her inhaler in the middle of a battle. This time around, the inhaler stays mostly in her pocket, where she fondles it like a good-luck charm.

     The climactic ending (in a church graveyard, no less) resolves most of the conflict, but there are still one or two issues that are not settled. Although the author's web site lists this series as a duology, I'm guessing that she will eventually return to the two important characters whose uncertain futures are left dangling. Then, too, we are left with no indication as to Jan's romantic choice. Will it be with Martin or Tyleror someone else entirely? And what's up with that horse-shaped charm the witch gave to Jan? Also left unexplained is the Brownies' secret plan. We watch them sneaking around, and we eavesdrop on mysterious bits of dialogue, but there is no pay-off on that sub-plot in this book.

Monday, September 23, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Lindsey Piper with a review of Blood Warrior, the second novel in her DRAGON KINGS SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Anthology: "Carniepunk"

Authors:  Rachel Caine, Jennifer Estep, Kevin Hearne, Seanan McGuire, Rob Thurman, and others
Title:  Carniepunk   
Plot Type: varies by story but includes paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and horror 
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster (7/2013) 

     First, let me alert you to the fact that this is not a paranormal romance anthology, so if you're looking for angst-filled, lust-driven stories, this isn't the book for you. But...if you're interested in dark urban fantasy filled with fascinating  (sometimes grotesque) creatures, strong lead characters (mostly female), and twisted plots, you've come to the right place. 

     Here's a brief introduction from the publisher's blurb: "The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictionsthe bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker's seductive call. It is a place of illusion....And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show." All of the stories are set in some type of carnival—from the regular Ferris wheel/corn dog type to exotic freak shows. In nearly every case, the man (or woman) in charge is the villain, and this is always obvious from the very beginning of the story.

     The quality varies from story to story, of course, but most of them are above average, particularly the ones authored by Rob Thurman, Delilah S. Dawson, Kevin Hearne, Rachel Caine, Jennifer Estep, and Seanan McGuire. Some stories are parts of ongoing series; others appear to be stand-alones. In the case of the series-connected stories, you don't need the series background to understand what's going on.

     If you love dark urban fantasy with tough, assertive, street-wise female heroines, you should check out the "Seven Deadly Heroines" list complied by RT Book Reviews (6/2012). Click HERE to go to my review, which includes the author's name and series title for each kick-ass heroine.

            THE STORIES            

ROB THURMAN: "Painted Love"
First Line: "Love is a bitch."
     A sociopath gets more than he bargained for when he menaces a carnie fortune teller and her sister. The story is narrated by the bad guy's traveling companion, and you'll be surprised when you learn his identity—or, rather, his nature. 
DELILAH S. DAWSON: "The Three Lives of Lydia" (from the BLUD SERIES)
First Line: "Lydia woke to the curious sound of a calliope."
Ratings: Violence 4; Sensuality 2; Humor 2   
     This story takes place before book 1 of the series. Lydia is a Stranger in the world of Sang, waking up in the midst of Criminy Stain's Clockwork Caravan and finding love with Charlie Dregs, a Bludman. Click HERE to read my reviews of the BLUD SERIES
KEVIN HEARNE: "The Demon Barker of Wheat Street" (from the IRON DRUID SERIES)
First Line: "I fear Kansas."
Ratings: Violence 5; Sensuality 0; Humor 2   
     The story takes place six years after Tricked (book 4) and two weeks after the events of the novella "Two Ravens and One Crow." Atticus, Granuaile, and Oberon visit a Kansas carnival and get drawn into a demonic soul-collection trap. Click HERE to read my reviews of the IRON DRUID SERIES. Always fun to watch the dynamic duo of Atticus and Granuaile in action.
MARK HENRY: "The Sweeter the Juice"
Final 3 Lines: "And I close me eyes, tilting my cheek toward his lips. But it's not a kiss he delivers. It's a slow, wet lick."  
     A horror story featuring gender switching during the zombie apocalypse. This is a very dark, strange story that ends horribly for the (anti-) hero and his/her pregnancy-fetishist friend. A disturbing tale.
JAYE WELLS: "The Werewife"
First Line: "Brad should've left the minute he saw the kitchen." 
Ratings: Violence 3; Sensuality 1; Humor 1   
     Brad is a human married to an out-of-control werewolf who tries to kill him (and any other warm-blooded creature with whom she crosses paths) during the full moon. He's desperate to solve his life-style problem, and when the carnival comes to town, he knows just what to do. Nice, very satisfactory twist to the ending.
     Click HERE to read my reviews of Wells' SABINA KANE SERIES. 
RACHEL CAINE: "The Cold Girl"
First Line: "It took me two days to die." 
     A teenage girl learns the hard way that her boyfriend isn't what he seems when they spend the evening at a traveling carnival, but she does get her revenge in a most gratifying manner.
     Click HERE to read my reviews of Caine's OUTCAST SEASON SERIES. Click HERE to read my reviews of her REVIVALIST TRILOGY. 
ALLISON PANG: "A Duet with Darkness" (from the ABBY SINCLAIR SERIES)
First Line: "The van stinks of fried chicken and musty clothes." 
     A talented violinist learns some truths about her talent and is forced to make a demonic choice. I have not read this series, but was able to enjoy the story as a stand-alone.
HILLARY JACQUES: "Recession of the Divine"
Final Lines: 
     "So you're coming back to Olympus, and you're going to go all bad mother—" 
     Olivia grinned. "Shut your mouth." 
Ratings: Violence 4; Sensuality 1; Humor 2   
     A now-human Olympian goddess has a run-in with a wicked carnival owner and lives to tell the tale. The mythology lends itself to being developed into a series, but I couldn't find any evidence that the author is going forward with it.
Final Line: "Whistling, I slid my knife back up my sleeve and left the Wheel of Death and the stage behind."
     Gin and her sister, Bria, head to the carnival in search of a missing young girl and find themselves in a world of trouble. This is one of my favorite UF series, and this rare sisterly adventure is one of the best in the book.
     Click HERE to read my review of the ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN SERIES. 
KELLY MEDING: "Freak House" (from the STRAYS SERIES)
First Line: "How exactly does one acquire their very own djinn?" 
     This is a prequel story for an upcoming series involving a diverse supernatural world. Shiloh is a half-human/half-djinn who teams up with a human mercenary and a newly turned werewolf to rescue her father from captivity in a bizarre traveling freak show. 
     Click HERE to read my reviews of Meding's META WARS SERIES. Click HERE to read my reviews of her DREG CITY SERIES. 
NICOLE PEELER: "The Inside Man" (set in the JANE TRUE WORLD)
First Line: "When someone comes into your office and tells you that small towns in the Midwest have gone dull, you don't rush out with the cavalry." 
Ratings: Violence 4; Sensuality 0; Humor 2   
     The lead characters in this story were introduced in the novella, Something Wikkid This Way ComesCapitola (Cappie) Jones, the narrator, is half nahual (shape-shifter); Emuishere (Moo) is a halfling Alfar; and Shar is a halfling succubus. Cappie's nahual father is the leader of the supernatural community of Borealis, and her uncle is Jane True's lover, Anyan. In this adventure, the girls get involved with a demonic clown who sucks the memories from those who attend his carnival performance. Because Jez still has vestiges of her incubus identity, this is the sexiest of all the stories.
     Click HERE to read my reviews of Peeler's JANE TRUE SERIES. 
JACKIE KESSLER: "A Chance in Hell"  
First Line: "A demon was eating my face." 
Ratings: Violence 4; Sensuality 4; Humor x   
     Jezebel is an ex-incubus—now living as a human—who is forced to retrieve her human friend's soul from a powerful demon lord who runs a traveling carnival to which he lures unsuspecting humans. 
 KELLY GAY: "Hell's Menagerie" (from the CHARLIE MADIGAN SERIES) 
First Line: "Why did I let her talk me into this?" 
    A little girl (Charlie Madigan's daughter) and her father go to Hell (actually, to Charbydon) to rescue some Hellhound puppies and get into just as much trouble as you would expect. I haven't read this series, but I was able to enjoy it as a stand-alone.
SEANAN McGUIRE: "Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea"  
First Line: "If there's one thing seventeen years of traveling with the Miller Family Carnival has taught me, it's that harvesttime is carnival time." 
Ratings: Violence 3; Sensuality 0; Humor 2   
     A young girl learns the truth about her mermaid mother's past and must deal with the consequences of coming back to Mom's home town in rural Alabama.    
     Click HERE to read my reviews of McGuire's OCTOBER DAYE SERIES. Click HERE to read my reviews of her INCRYPTID SERIES.

Friday, September 20, 2013



I have just updated a previous post for Annette Blair with a review of Tulle Death Do Us Part, the sixth novel in her VINTAGE MAGIC MYSTERY SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

UPDATE! Sherrilyn Kenyon and Dianna Love: BELADOR SERIES


Sorry to be so late in reviewing this book:

I have just updated a previous post for Sherrilyn Kenyon and Dianna Love with a review of Rise of the Gryphon, the fourth novel in their BELADOR SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Author:  Kelley Armstrong
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3-4; Humor3
Publisher and Titles:  Dutton
          "Cainsville Files" (interactive prequel, stand-alone story available as an iTunes app, 7/2013)
       1   Omens (7/2013)
       2   Visions (8/2014) 
       3   Deceptions (8/2015) 
       4   Betrayals (8/2016)
       5   Rituals (8/2017) (FINAL)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 9/30/17 to include a review of  Rituals, the fifth and FINAL novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews all of the previous novels.

     FAIR WARNING:These reviews contain spoilers for previous books.      

                      NOVEL 5:  Rituals                      
     The fifth book and the exciting conclusion to bestselling author Kelley Armstrong's "impossible-to-put-down" Cainsville series, in which she mixes hard-hitting crime writing with phenomenal world-building to create a brand of fiction all her own.

     When Olivia Taylor-Jones found out she was not actually the adopted child of a privileged Chicago family but of a notorious pair of convicted serial killers, her life exploded. Running from the fall-out, she found a refuge in the secluded but oddly welcoming town of Cainsville, Illinois, but she couldn't resist trying to dig out the truth about her birth parents' crimes. She began working with Gabriel Walsh, a fiendishly successful criminal lawyer who also had links to the town; their investigation soon revealed Celtic mysteries at work in Cainsville, and also entangled Olivia in a tense love triangle with the calculating Gabriel and her charming biker boyfriend, Ricky. Worse, troubling visions revealed to Olivia that the three of them were reenacting an ancient drama pitting the elders of Cainsville against the mysterious Huntsmen with Olivia as the prize.

     In the series' fifth and final novel, not only does Gabriel's drug addict mother, who he thought was dead, make a surprise reappearance, but Kelley Armstrong delivers a final scary and surprising knock-out twist. It turns out a third supernatural force has been at work all along, a dark and malevolent entity that has had its eye on Olivia since she was a baby and wants to win at any cost.  

     This is the final novel in a series that is based on a complex story arc that Armstrong began building in the first novel, so I recommend that you do not read Rituals as a standalone. If you have not read the previous novels, you will not be able to comprehend the intricacies of the mythology, and you will not have the knowledge about past events and characters that you need in order to fully appreciate the nuances of the story told in this book. Also: This review definitely contains SPOILERS for the previous novel.

     The set piece of Rituals is the love triangle: Liv, Gabriel and Ricky. Towards the end of Betrayals, the three made a pact to stick together, no matter what happens and no matter how much others try to goad them into turning on one another (which is how they wound up in this situation in the first place). They now know that they are the latest incarnations of three tragic figures from the magical past, each of whom made some truly bad choices, thus dooming all of them. (Read my review of Betrayals [below] for more information about this part of the mythology.)

     Although the Tylwyth Teg and the Cŵn Annwn don't know it, Liv is in the process of making her romantic choice between Gabriel and Ricky, and she does it very early in this novel, so telling you that she chooses Gabriel isn't really a spoiler. Ricky is deeply hurt by Liv's decision, but he tries to pull himself together and maintain their "stick-together" pact, although with Ricky's volatile personality, there is always a sense that he may break the pact if he is pushed hard enough. Unfortunately, a new enemy is all too ready to do that pushing.

     The scenes between Liv and Gabriel are wonderfully tender, while at the same time sad and humorousall at the same time. Gabriel is such a damaged person that I wanted to cheer every time he reached out to trust Liv and to show love for her. I also felt sorrow for poor Ricky, who gets friendship instead of the life-long commitment that he wished for from Liv.

     But let's get back to this new enemy that is mentioned in the publisher's blurba deadly supernatural force that insists on joining the Tylwyth Teg and the Cŵn Annwn as the third contestant for Liv's favors. While the other two groups rely on their champions (Gabriel and Ricky) to win over Liv, this new otherworldly threatthe bloodthirsty sluaghrelies on fear, violence, and deadly threats. As Patrick explains, "The sluaghalso called the darkness or the unforgivenshould not even be termed fae, but rather spirits. Dark and twisted spirits. It is said that they share a mission with the Cŵn Annwn, that the Huntsmen are tasked with claiming the souls of those who've wronged the fae, while the sluagh do the same for those who have wronged humans." But there's a major difference between the Cŵn Annwn and the sluagh: "The Huntsmen may not take all factors into consideration, but they know guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt. The sluagh don't care about truth. This isn't a mission to them...It's a hunger. And a joy." Eventually, the sluagh story line reaches all the way back to the incident in Liv's childhood that triggered her parents' imprisonment, but this is not by any means a straightforward connection. 

     As Liv, Gabriel, and Ricky try to figure out who the sluagh are and what they want, they must also reckon with two of their mothers: Pamela (Liv's deceitful mother who is still in prison but is still powerful enough to meddle dangerously in their affairs) and Seanna (Gabriel's mother, who has abused him terribly all his life and now returns to do even more damage). 

     The plot is filled with diabolical twists and hairpin turns, but if you have read the previous novels, you should recognize several people and places from the past who turn up to complicate the present. Two new supernaturals also insert themselves into the action: Helia and Alexios, a mated pair of dryads who pop up early in the book and insist on helping Liv and Gabriel (whom they revere as Matilda of the Night and Gwynn ap Nudd, the king of the Tylwyth Teg—the faery King of Annwn). They also recognize and accept Ricky as Arawn, king of the underworld realm of Annwn and leader of the Wild Hunt, but they are definitely members of Team Gwynn. Their scenes add some lightness and humor to an otherwise very dark story line. At first, I feared that Armstrong had dumped these two into the plot as a deus ex machina device, but she weaves them into the action so well that they fit perfectly into the story arc.

     This is a Halloween fun-house of a plot that teases you along, daring you to guess at what is going to happen next and then collapsing the floorboards under your feet (which, by the way, literally happens to some of the characters in this novel). Even when you think that the battle is about to be won and the conclusion is near, some of the unreliable and untrustworthy characters make more bad decisions, triggering dangerous events that threaten to destroy everyone. It's a wild ride to the finish! And that finish includes Liv's ultimate choice. Even though she's in Gabriel's bed, can she turn her back on Ricky? Will she choose to protect the Tylwyth Teg or the Cŵn Annwn or will she come up with her own unique solution? And will the two groups and the two men accept and live willingly with her choice?  

     This is one of the best series wrap-ups that I've read in a long time. Everyone gets a story-thread resolution—even most of the secondary characters—so we know what happens next for them (if they survive through to the end, that is). Yes, we lose some characters, because it wouldn't make sense to have all of the good guys survive, but Armstrong treats those deaths respectfully and fits them into the story beautifully. Even Lloergan, Ricky's hound, gets his very own story thread of resolution. By the time I finished the final chapter, I felt the satisfaction of having fitted the final piece into a million-piece jigsaw puzzle. Now I can see the whole picture, with no gaps and no forced-together pieces. Armstrong obviously planned this story arc meticulously down to the last detail, thus providing a magnificent reading experience for fans of this series.  

     I can't praise this series enough. It has everything I'm looking for in an urban fantasy: an innovative mythology, a fresh and exciting story arc, electrifying suspense, a complex and compelling love story, just the right amount of angst, and multi-layered primary and secondary characters (including the villains). And—lucky for us—this final novel ties it all up with a big, beautiful bow!  

     Click HERE to go to the Rituals page on where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.

     In this alternate world, supernatural beings exists alongside, but unknown to, the mortal world. Unlike Armstrong's OTHERWORLD SERIES, this mythology does not include vampires or shape shifters. In book 1, the magical beings appear to be related to the Fae, but few details of their mythology are spelled out until the second book—just subtle hints at first. The small town of Cainsville, in the isolated countryside outside of Chicago, is the center of this magical community. 

     On the surface, Cainsville is an idyllic little village with a cozy, otherworldly, old-fashioned feel. The buildings feature 19th century architecture with gargoyles on the roofs, and most of the businesses are owned by families who have lived in the town for many generations. Spend some time there, though, and it soon becomes obvious that dark secrets and mysteries are hidden under Cainsville's folksy, comfortable surface

     Armstrong has posted a link on her Facebook page for a free download of a Cainsville short story that appeared in the Spring 2014 on-line edition of Subterranean Magazine. Click HERE to go directly to that download page. Armstrong says that this story is “set back when Rose was young and it tells the full story of Bobby Sheehan, whose ‘case’ Olivia reads about in Visions.” I’m not sure how long this link will be available. 

     Click HERE to go to a Character Guide for CAINSVILLE provided by Wicked Scribes. Click HERE to read my review of Armstrong's OTHERWORLD SERIES. Click HERE and HERE to read my two reviews of Bitten, the TV series based on OTHERWORLD.

          PREQUEL: Cainsville Files (A Game App)          
     In this original interactive story, it’s up to you to explore the secretive town of Cainsville, gain the trust of its mysterious residents, dodge dangers both real and otherworldly, embark on a romance, and in the end, find justice. 

     Cainsville Files features Jenn McCoy, a struggling private investigator who finds herself searching for her missing high-school sweetheart—possibly a victim of the notorious Valentine Killer. Your choices will either help Jenn solve the case—or doom her to a number of memorably gruesome fates.
    > This fully illustrated interactive story introduces the world of Omens.
    Features hundreds of choices and numerous, memorable endings—both good and bad
    Fully illustrated by Julie Dillon, World Fantasy and Hugo Award nominee for Best Professional Artist
    Features a complete audio experience of music and sound effects 

     "Okay, so that’s the publisher’s official description. I’ll add a little more explanation here. This is a choose-your-own-adventure style mystery app for iPod/iPhone/iPad. It’s a prequel to Omens, set at the time of Olivia’s parents’ alleged killing spree. It introduces Cainsville and includes characters from Omens—various Cainsville residents, Rose, the Larsens, a very young Gabriel and an even younger Eden (Olivia). Both the book and the game stand independently—no need to play the game to understand the book or vice-versa. I wrote the full script for the app and designed all the game play." Click HERE to go to a page on Armstrong's web site with links to retailers of this app.

                    NOVEL 1:  Omens                      
     In her “Author’s Note” at the beginning of this book, Armstrong gives the reader a choice. She has sprinkled a handful of “literary Easter Eggs” throughout the bookforeign words and phrases (mostly Welsh) presented initially without context, although many are later explained in the text. The reader has the option of either pausing to search for the meanings (probably on the Internet) or, in Armstrong's words, “ignore them and travel on Olivia’s journey with her, uncovering the secrets as she does and, yes, I hope that’s the route you’ll choose.” 

     Armstrong tells the story from multiple points of view, with the majority of the chapters narrated in Liv's first-person voice. Interspersed among Liv's chapters are a handful of unnumbered (but titled) chapters written in the third person subjective voice from the perspective of various supporting characters. Armstrong is masterful in her use of the first person point of view (POV), avoiding the awkwardness we sometimes see in the works of less-skilled writers. The POV shifts work nicely, giving Armstrong the chance to provide the reader with background information and clues that could not have been included if the viewpoint had been limited just to Liv.

     In the Editorial Reviews of this book, Booklist calls it a “reverse Cinderella story,” and that’s exactly right. In the first few pages of the book, 24-year-old Olivia (Liv) Taylor-Jones is enjoying her luxurious, happy life, attending a charity dinner with her handsome and wealthy fiancé, James Morgan, and thinking about spending some quality time with him as soon as they get back to his place. As the only child of wealthy parents, Liv is well educated and able to devote much of her time to volunteering at a women's shelter in Chicago. In just a few weeks, she and James will marry and live happily ever after. But then, Liv's mother phones her, asking her to come straight home, and at that point, Liv’s wonderful life shatters into a million tragic pieces. 

     What Liv learns from Mom and the family lawyer is that Liv is adopted, that her real name is Eden Larsen, and that her biological parents are Pamela and Todd Larsen, a notorious pair of serial killers who were convicted of the ritualistic mutilation slayings of four young couples two decades ago. The Larsens were sent to prison when Liv was a toddler, at which time she was adopted by the couple who have always portrayed themselves as her real parents. When both Mom and James fail to support Liv (actually, they both turn their backs on her), she disguises herself to hide from a huge crowd of paparazzi and runs off to figure out how to deal with her new identity. Although Liv has millions of dollars in her trust fund account, she takes only a minimum amount of cash and keeps her destination a secret from everyone. Eventually, two men—one polite and one dangerous—separately suggest to Liv that she should go to Cainsville. These are the first of many odd Cainsville-related characters who turn up in the story. 

     In Cainsville, Liv gets a job at the local diner and decides to go to the prison and meet her birth mother. Before she can do that, though, she is confronted by Gabriel Walsh, a member of a long-time Cainsville family. Gabriel was Pamela's attorney for her last, failed appeal, and he wants to continue his association, hoping to attain fame and fortune through his association with such an infamous case. Gabriel is an amoral, opportunistic lawyer who puts himself first and who (so far) has never developed any personal relationships with his clients. He also lies to his clients if it’s in his own best interest. 

     The rest of the story follows Liv and Gabriel as they meet with Pamela and investigate the final pair of murders, trying to determine if someone else committed the crimes. Pamela insists that she and Todd did not commit any of the murders, but Liv isn’t sure what to believe. As she and Gabriel follow the clues, they meet up with some dangerous characters and stumble on a number of bodies. The final solution pops up out of nowhere, and at first I wasn’t sure that I bought into it, but after a chapter or two, everything came together and now I can see where Armstrong is going with this story line (at least I think I can). 

     The story is filled with magical symbols, including poppies and crows portending doom and death and sinister giant ravens dive-bombing Liv and her new friends. In fact the whole “portending” element is key to Liv’s character (thus the book’s title). I won’t say too much about that, except that when Liv comes to Cainsville, she suddenly exhibits some interesting and helpful powers. Those powers are not fully developed in this book, but I imagine that they will be in future books. The book ends with the resolution of the main plot (the murder case), but not the subplots. In fact, the primary villain warns Liv that if she turns him in, bad things are in store for her and for Cainsville. 

     I wish that I could explain more about the circumstances of the resolution, but I don’t want to give out any spoilers. I do suggest, though, that when you read about a certain organization in the later chapters that you look it up on Wikipedia because it’s the real deal—a sorry chapter in American history. Remember though, that this book deals with an alternate world that runs on magic, so some aspects of that organization function very differently in the book than in real life. 

     This is a great new series with well-developed, sympathetic characters, excellent world-building, and lots of secrets to uncover in ensuing books. At one point in the story, a character who writes paranormal romances explains that three elements are needed to write a top-notch story: sex, originality, and attention to detail. Well, we haven’t gotten to the sex yet (except for a hurried up-against-a-wall scene in chapter 1), but Armstrong hits the other two out of the park. I can’t wait for book 2, when we watch Liv and Gabriel's personal relationship develop and learn more about what's really going on in Cainsville. Click HERE to read a long excerpt (41 pages) from Omens

                     NOVEL 2:  Visions                      

     Back in book 1, Armstrong gave the reader the choice of looking up the “literary Easter eggs”—Welsh words and phrases scattered through the text—that would provide plot clues if you were to look up their meanings. Then, she said that she hoped the reader would just let the mystery unfold in the context of the story arc. I chose to go the latter route, even though it was very hard to keep myself from going straight to Google every time one of those terms popped up. Now I’m glad that I waited because as Armstrong promised, things are becoming clearer as the series heroine figures out the mystery on her own (actually, with the help of a few friends). By the end of Visions, the Fae connection to Cainsville that was strongly foreshadowed in book 1 is beginning to become more evident, and the true family backgrounds of key characters are either fully revealed or strongly suggested. For example, at one point, one of the elders says, “The boy doesn’t know what he is….no more than Gabriel or Olivia (Liv) know what they are.” (p. 173) By the time this book ends, Olivia is well on her way to learning the full truth about her genetic heritage and that of her friends.
> Side Note: After I finished reading Visions, I looked up some of the Welsh words to see whether I had figured them out correctly, and in almost every case I had—just from the context and the explanations in the narrative. If you do decide to check out the definitions, click HERE or HERE for two different easy-to-use Welsh-to-English on-line dictionaries. Also, you can usually find the names of mythological beings on Wikipedia (e.g., bean nighe). 
     As the story opens, it’s been only three weeks since Liv learned the identity of her biological parents and solved a murder case that had been pinned on them. When Liv goes back to her Chicago home to pick up some clothes, she comes out to find a dead woman in her car dressed and be-wigged to look like her. She goes back inside and calls Gabriel, but by the time he arrives on the scene, the body has vanished. Then, the same woman’s head turns up in Liv’s bed in the middle of the night, but again vanishes. At first, Liv is certain that she is having visions. Soon, though, she sees a picture of the same young woman on a "Missing" poster and realizes that the dead woman was realnot a vision at all. Soon thereafter, Liv chases her run-away cat into an abandoned Cainsville house and discovers the woman’s body, and this time the body stays put. Now that Liv knows the body is real, she has to consider that someone has been using it as a threat or a warning. The big questions are these: How did this woman die? Who is harassing Liv with body partsand why? What is the woman’s connection to Cainsville and to Liv? Just as in Omens, Liv constantly sees omens in this book—crows, ravens, owls, red poppies, and black hounds—each of which portends something slightly different. She also has several visions that take her into a different body in a different world and time.

     As the story progresses, Liv is approached by two preternatural men, each of whom attempts to convince her that she should choose him and his people. One man—the Huntsman—warns her about the other—Tristan. “He’s warning you about us, and about those in Cainsville. Yet the accusation he levels against us could be directed at himself. He wants something from you. Everyone does.” (p. 359) Eventually, Liv learns more about the men's true identities and purposes, but not all of her questions are answered before the book ends. One thing she does learn is that Cainsville is not the cozy, quiet, peaceful village that she thought it was and that its Elders have an agenda of their own that is not necessarily in her best interest.

     Meanwhile, as Liv tries to unravel the mystery, she has to deal with three very different men, each of whom has his own idea of her role in his life. First, there is her ex-fiancé, James Morgan, who has now decided that he wants her back at any cost, even though she no longer wants him. Then there is Ricky Gallagher, the sexy biker who makes Liv feel safe and loved. And speaking of Ricky, he’s the reason that the sensuality rating of this book has jumped to 4. With Ricky, Liv discovers that there’s nothing better than lots and lots of lust, mostly deep in the woods!

     Finally, there is Gabriel Walsh, who can’t be summed up in a single sentence or even in a single paragraph. In Omens, Gabriel betrayed Olivia, and in this book he does it again—even after promising that he would always be straight with her. This betrayal is revealed early in the story and keeps Gabriel’s relationship with Liv on a bumpy road all the way through the book—although every time she is in danger, her first impulse is to call him and his first impulse is to come to her rescue. 

     Gabriel is an exceedingly damaged man. He grew up alone, fending for himself most of the time because his mother, Seanna, was either stoned on drugs and alcohol or in bed with one of her many men. Seanna disappeared when Gabriel was only fifteen, and he’s been on his own ever since. Early in his life, he built a high wall around his emotions, and he has never let anyone inside. He has vowed never to put himself in the position of needing another person for any reason because he’s not sure that he would recover from being left alone once again. Here, Gabriel muses about his early years: “Life itself became a game, a con, a swindle. Not just against marks, but against everyone—from teachers to landlords to any person with the power to lock him up, either in jail or in a group home. He’d lived like a shark then, always moving, stop and perish.” (p. 233)

Side Note: I just finished reading and reviewing Fearless, the third novel in James Elliott’s terrific PAX ARCANA series in which the hero’s friend uses the same metaphor to describe the hero—John Darling: a shark, who “stay[s] in constant motion, wandering and killing until they die.” John takes an entirely different, but equally entertaining, approach to dealing with long-term emotional fallout from the horrific events of his early years. Both John and Gabriel have the same lone wolf complex (although in John’s case that term is quite literal), and both find it difficult to let anyone get past their emotional shields. Click HERE to read my reviews of that series. 
     Now, Gabriel locks himself away in a luxury high-rise condo stocked with food, weapons, and money: “Gabriel Walsh hadn’t sailed out of that life unscathed. The frightened and hungry kid who’d lived on the streets wasn’t gone. He was hiding up here, with his security blankets.” (p. 354) He lives entirely alone, never allowing anyone into his home. Gabriel enforces his self-inflicted isolation so strictly that even inviting Liv to his condo turns out to be so painful that he cancels the invitation while they are on the elevator just yards from his door. Gabriel’s behavior hurts Liv deeply, causing her to stalk away from him in a barrage of angry words.

     Liv’s relationships with the three men are integral parts of the story arc, and by the end, we can pretty much figure out how Ricky and Gabriel relate to opposite sides of the Fae world. It becomes obvious that at some point, Liv will be forced to choose between them, but that’s about all we learn. What Armstrong does in this book is to allow us to watch Olivia’s relationships develop so that we’ll understand just what she will lose when she is forced to make that final choice.

     Here, Liv muses about the three men: “I used to say…that I’d started dating James when I discovered he wasn’t nearly as boring as I’d expected…And then there was Gabriel and, yes, Ricky, and compared with them…the light that had drawn me to James had faded into a barely noticeable glow. They were complex and fascinating and original and real. So vibrantly real…James was a good man…who now bored me to tears.” (p. 169) Unfortunately, Liv will soon learn that James isn’t as “good” as she thinks he is.

     Although there is a murder plot at the center of this novel, the real fascination is in the developing relationships among the characters as they get to know one another and begin to learn that they have been born to play roles in a world they never knew anything about…until now. Armstrong provides just enough new information to appease our curiosity temporarily, but she leaves us begging for more. I can’t say enough about Armstrong’s character building (and world-building, for that matter). By the end of Visions, we have a clear picture of all of the lead characters, and what a relief it is that they are so original, so realistic, and so very different from the usual one-dimensional, good-against-evil heroes and heroines who battle their way through most urban fantasy series. Of course, they are on the side of good, but which side is the “good” side? And is one side all good and the other all bad? No, I don’t think so. These are nuanced characters placed in an extremely ambiguous world that is built on centuries of cultural traditions, all of which they are unaware…for now at least. The Cainsville elders still have to reveal their true motives, as do the two mysterious men who try to coax Liv to their sides. This series just keeps getting better and better, and I can hardly wait for book 3! 

                      NOVEL 3:  Deceptions                      

     [Armstrong] delivers her most suspenseful novel yet, where the discovery of Cainsville's dark past and the true nature of its inhabitants leads to murder, redemption, love, and unspeakable loss.

     Olivia Taylor Jones' life has exploded. She's discovered she is not only adopted, but her real parents are convicted serial killers. Fleeing the media frenzy, she took refuge in the oddly secluded town of Cainsville. She has since solved the town's mysteries and finds herself not only the target of its secretive elders but also her stalker ex-fiancé.

     Visions continue to haunt her: particularly a little blond girl in a green sundress who insists she has an important message for Olivia, one that may help her balance the light and darkness within herself. Death stalks both Olivia and the two men most important to her as she desperately searches to understand whether ancient scripts are dictating the triangle that connects them. Will darkness prevail, or does Olivia have the power to prevent a tragic fate? 

    Armstrong once again tells her story from several perspectives, mostly in Liv's first-person voice, but also in a handful of third-person chapters written from the point of view of Gabriel, Tristan, Ricky, and Rose. Armstrong interweaves three key story lines in this book:
> The Men: The evolving relationship involving Liv, Ricky, and Gabrielboth in the folkloric past and in the real-life presentbecomes more and more complex. Adding another level of difficulty to the situation is James Morgan, with his unwelcome attentions toward Liv. As the story unfolds, opposing factions put intense pressure on Liv to make an impossible choice. As various groups and individuals try to force her allegiance to one or the other, tragic events ensue.
> The Visions: Liv desperately needs to gain control over the unpredictable visions that sweep over her like massive seizures, taking her to other places and times. The visions cause her physical body to lose consciousness and her temperature to rise to feverish heights. But the visions also have a positive side because they are her only source of information about the mythology that is driving others to try to control her life. Much of the story focuses on Liv's gradual realization of the true identity of the little blond girl and the purpose of the visions. Even as she comes to understand the visions, she continues to dread their unexpectedness, their ferocity, and their aftereffects. 
> The Parents: Liv's relationship with her birth parents, Pamela and Todd Larsen, takes a series of suspenseful and heartbreaking twists and turns. Early in the book, Liv finally has a face-to-face meeting with Todd, which brings back a flood of long-repressed childhood memories. By the end of the book, Liv has uncovered some shocking new information about her childhood that turns her world upside-down. This development leads to the truth about her parents' involvement in the Valentine murdersthe serial killings that put them in prison decades ago. 
     As the story opens, Liv and Gabriel are recovering from minor injuries suffered in the car crash that ended the previous book. In a milestone decision, Gabriel has moved Liv into his apartment during her recovery. In the first scene, three people contact them: Liv's ex-fiancé, James Morgan, who is still stalking her; Edgar Chandler, the villain behind the car crash/murder attempt, who wants to meet with them at the prison; and Pamela, Liv's birth mother, who also wants a meeting. As Liv and Gabriel continue their attempts to unravel the truth about the serial killings that were supposedly committed by Liv's birth parents, Gabriel finds himself in legal troubleframed by an unknown malefactor for a murder he did not commit.

     As the story advances, Liv's visions become much more frequent and intense, and some of them are truly frightening in their malicious savagery. Along with dealing with her visions, Liv has to deal with the men in her life. Liv loves both Ricky and Gabriel, but in different ways—at least that's what she thinks at first. But as she interacts with the two men and deals with the information from her visions, her feelings become much more complicated. Ricky is her lover, who always says and does exactly the right thing to calm her down and make her feel safe. Gabriel is her prickly, emotionally crippled friend, who promises he will never leave her and always comes up with a solution to her problems, although he is unable to provide any kind of emotional support. But "friendship" and "love" are points on a constantly fluctuating relationship continuum, and Liv's inner conflicts about her feelings for the two men remain unresolved (even though she tries to tell herself that she has made a major decision in the matter). I have to say that I have no idea how Armstrong is going to resolve these complicated relationships with all of their mythological baggage, and that makes waiting for the next book even harder than usual. Here are the basic facts about the men in Liv's life:
> James Morgan: As the story opens, James is more determined than ever to get Liv back through any means, no matter how violent or devious. James's story takes an unexpected turn in this book, resolving his relationship with Liv once and for all. 
> Ricky Gallagher: Although Ricky's character sometimes comes across as too good to be true, he is certainly a solid, sexy rock for Liv to hang on to as her life takes some confusing and agonizing turns. I wish that Ricky's character was a bit more complex, but perhaps there are more layers still to be revealed. Although Liv's relationship with Ricky appears to be solid, I suspect that in future books Armstrong will be inserting a few bumps along their (so-far) smooth romantic path.
> Gabriel Walsh: Gabriel continues to struggle with his emotional demons as he attempts—and, frustratingly, fails—to show Liv his true feelings toward her. He berates himself for being unable to crack open the thick, impenetrable emotional shield he has built up to protect himself from being hurt when someone he allows himself to love inevitably leaves him behind—and he is certain that Liv will eventually turn away from him, because everyone else he has loved has done just that. At one point, Rose summarizes Gabriel's fears concerning Liv: "So it's not fear of rejection. It's fear that it won't work. That you'll drive her off. That in trying for more, you'll lose her completely." And Gabriel's inward response is, "I always do." The Liv-Gabriel relationship is not resolved by the time this story ends. More drama is definitely in the works.
     Midway through the book, Rose analyzes the tarot cards representing Liv, Gabriel, and Ricky, providing a concise summary of their traitsboth the positive and the negativethat I found to be quite helpful in thinking about those characters:
> Liv: Positive traits: bright, perceptive, intuitive, and independent. Negative traits: can be cold-hearted, critical, and cynical—depending on the situation.
> Ricky: Positive traits: generally energetic, passionate, adventurous, active, visionary, and honorable. Negative traits: sometimes acts in haste, is easily frustrated, and can be ruthless in certain situations.
> Gabriel: Positive traits: symbolized by control, power, security, and discipline. Negative traits: has a tendency to be controlling, authoritative, and domineering.
   Here are several important mythological terms that you will encounter frequently in this book. All are derived from Welsh folklore, but Armstrong puts her own spin on the traditional stories. The pink-links below are to traditional descriptions.
 > Tylwyth Teg: The "fair folk" of the Fae world. The elders of Cainsville belong to this group. (Click HERE for an audio pronunciation.)
 > Cŵn Annwn: The Fae-related group that is affiliated with the baying hounds of the Wild Hunt. They are responsible for handing down justice to fae lawbreakers in this world (but not to humans, which is the reason that Liv's parents are in prison). (Click HERE for an audio pronunciation.)
> Mall-t-Nos (aka Matilda of the Night): a female figure from Welsh mythology. In this series, her role is very different from the one she plays in traditional folklore.
> Gwynn ap Nudd: In Welsh mythology, he is the king of the Tylwyth Teg—the faery King of Annwn. (Click HERE for an audio pronunciation.)
> Arawn: In Welsh mythology, he is the King of the underworld (aka otherworld) realm of Annwn and leader of the Wild Hunt. (Click HERE for an audio pronunciation.) 
> boinne-fala: A Welsh phrase that literally means "a drop of blood." I couldn't find the term in any mythology or folklore sources, but the phrase is used to describe Liv and her parents, so I assume from context that the term refers to a mixed-blood Fae/human. 
     For me, this is a must-read series simply for the masterful storytelling and the wonderfully complex characters and relationships. Once I started reading this book, I just couldn't put it down. In this compelling plot, Armstrong has her characters wrestle with the complexities of friendship vs. love, free will vs. fate, and good vs. evilall wrapped up in a fascinating, enthralling, suspenseful story. Each of the three main charactersLiv, Ricky, and Gabrieldeal with new information about their mythological past in an entirely different manner, making the story rich with future possibilities. This plot offers up a wide range of well-written scenes brimming with fulfilled and unfulfilled desire, tension-filled action, treacherous deception, and heartbreaking pathos, and it deserves a prominent place on your to-read shelf. 

     Click HERE to go to the Deceptions page on where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                      NOVEL 4:  Betrayals                      
     When Olivia's life exploded—after she found out she was not the adopted child of a privileged Chicago family but of a notorious pair of convicted serial killers—she found a refuge in the secluded but oddly welcoming town of Cainsville, Illinois. Working with Gabriel Walsh, a fiendishly successful criminal lawyer with links to the town, she discovered the truth about her parents' crimes in an investigation that also revealed the darker forces at work in the place that had offered her a haven. As if that wasn't enough, she also found out that she, Gabriel and her biker boyfriend Ricky were not caught in an ordinary sort of love triangle, but were hereditary actors in an ancient drama in which the elders of Cainsville and the mysterious Huntsmen who opposed them had a huge stake. 

     Now someone is killing street kids in the city, and the police have tied Ricky to the crimes. Setting out with Gabriel's help to clear Ricky's name, Olivia once again finds her own life at risk. Soon the three are tangled in a web of betrayals that threatens their uneasy equilibrium and is pushing them toward a hard choice: either they fulfill their destinies by trusting each other and staying true to their real bonds, or they succumb to the extraordinary forces trying to win an eternal war by tearing them apart.


     Please note that this is the fourth novel in a series that is based on a complex story arc that Armstrong began building in the first novel, so I recommend that you don't try to read Betrayals as a standalone. If you haven't read the previous novels, you will get lost in the intricacies of the mythology, and you won't have the knowledge about past events and characters that you need in order to fully appreciate the nuances of the story told in this book.

     Let's get the relationship issue out of the way first since it is at the center of the series story arc. (Beware of SPOILERS ahead for the previous novel!) Now that Liv, Gabriel, and Ricky have learned that they are the modern-day stand-ins for three tragic fae figures from the past, they are determined not to make the same mistakes that those long-ago lovers made. In this book, we see Gabriel finally begin to open up to Liv about his feelings and we watch Liv begin to realize his deep feelings for her. Meanwhile, Ricky—who also loves Liv deeply—makes a painful decision to keep his romantic impulses under control and to always act in Liv's best interesteven when her best interest doesn't mesh with his dreams for their future. (I know that this sounds as if I'm talking in circles, but I don't want to spoil Ricky's story line for you.) Even though the romance situation seems to be settled near the end of the book, the final scene suggests that there is more to come on the romantic front.

     Here's how Liv describes the two men: "Gabriel is that moment before a storm when everything seems preternaturally calm but you can feel the electricity in the air, and know you'll get no exact warning when danger and destruction comes. Ricky is as warm and calm as a summer's day, and while there can be storms, you'll get plenty of warning, and it'll be a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder, passing quickly, the sun blazing bright again." Liv loves them both, but has committed to neither. She adores the excitement and sensuality of life with Ricky, but when she finally coaxes a rare smile from Gabriel, she thinks that "winning that smile is like acing my SATs and running a marathon all in the same day." 

     The primary story line focuses on a group of lamiae, fae creatures who hide their true snake characteristics behind human glamours. The lamiae are succubi who need sexual energy to survive, so they are living on the streets as prostitutes. The girls come to Liv's attention first in a violent vision in which two of them are murdered. Then, the police take Ricky in for questioning about the disappearance of a man and the murder of a woman, both of whom have connections to the lamiae. As Liv, Ricky, and Gabriel investigate the case, Liv continues to drift in and out of visions, sometimes dragging Ricky or Gabriel into her spiritual visits to other times and realms. The investigation soon turns up a suspect—a rogue fae who has confiscated one of the Hounds of the Hunt. As the intrepid trio gets closer and closer to the truth and to their suspect, suspense builds and danger lurks everywhere—from desolate, abandoned tunnels to deep, dark forests.

Meanwhile, the Cŵn Annwn and the Tylwyth Teg are both still trying to persuade the three to take their rightful places: 

> Gabriel as Gwynn ap Nudd, the king of the Tylwyth Teg—the faery King of Annwn
> Ricky as Arawn, king of the underworld realm of Annwn and leader of the Wild Hunt.
> Olivia as Mall-t-NosMatilda of the Nightthe bride of one of the two men. Her genetic heritage has given her a mixture of Cŵn Annwn and Tylwyth Teg blood.
     Patrick (Gabriel's father, although Gabriel doesn't know it) is the spokesman for Cainsville's Tylwyth Teg, and Ioann (Ricky's grandfather) is the spokesman for the Cŵn Annwn. Each wants his champion—Gwynn or Arawn—to accept his mythological role and hook up with Matilda because, "Whichever side possesses Matilda will win the battle for survival...The champions do battle for the hand of the maiden, and the winning side takes all, gaining the most precious gift for the fae: the power to survive in the modern world." Liv sums up the current situation: "We've decided we don't particularly like our roles. Gabriel isn't the jealous and treacherous Gwynn. Ricky isn't the reckless and impetuous Arawn. And I'm sure as hell not the hapless and helpless Matilda."

     The titular betrayals occur on more than one level and in more than one of the story threads. You might recall that Gabriel has a history of betraying Liv, and that is why their relationship is civil rather than friendly as the novel begins. But at this point in the story, Liv is keeping a secret from Gabriel and she is afraid that he will react badly when she finally comes clean about his parentage. And then, of course, Gabriel can't help but betray Liv again just one more time. Other betrayals occur in the murder mystery story line. And let's not forget Liv's mother, who tried to frame Gabriel for murder in the previous book. She is a longtime betrayer who remains opposed to Liv's friendship with Gabriel, so she is still a danger.

     Armstrong has taken all of this mythology, intrigue, and angst and created a marvelous novel that contains enough compelling action, spine-tingling suspense, and fully developed characters to keep you reading it straight through in one sittingwhich is exactly what I did last night. At this point, I think that I can see where Armstrong is headed with the romance, but the very last scene raises a red flag because anything can happen when Liv and Ricky go off on their own together. Plus, Gabriel has been building his mile-high, stone-hard, anti-relationship wall around himself all his life, so I can't help but wonder if he has the ability to continue to be emotionally available to Liveven if he truly wants to. Here is an illustration of the distance Gabriel places between himself and everyone else: In one scene, Liv requests Gabriel's permission to ask him a personal question. When he agrees, she asks him about the fireplace in his office, and Gabriel is astounded, protesting that that is not a personal question. Liv replies "Sometimes, with you, I think 'Would you like fries with that' is too personal."which is my favorite humorous line in the book. 

     To sum things up, whatever happens next, it can't happen soon enough for me. Click HERE to go to the Betrayals page on where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.