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Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
September 2010

Title: The Immortals
Author: J.T. Ellison
EAN: 9780778327639

The cool thing about J.T Ellison is not that her Taylor Jackson novels could easily be converted into CSI: Nashville (and more well done, at that), it's that she's lived in a lot of the same places I've lived, so her novels always feel like they're playing out right in my backyard. Anyone who has lived in or around Nashville, or in and around the Northern Virginia/DC area, will know that Ellison speaks from an intimate knowledge of the area. Because no matter how much researching an author does on the internet, he/she is never going to know things like how annoyingly small the spaces in the Tennessean parking lot are.

This attention to detail is crucial for any crime fiction novelist. It can be likened to the world-building of the SF/F set: the better the reader feels the writer knows the surroundings, the less the reader is distracted by the scenery. In Ellison's novels, it is the characters who drive the action, who tear us up inside and make us gasp and shout.

The story begins on Halloween night, in an affluent Nashville suburb, where the body of the first teenager is found by his little sister. By the end of the evening, there are seven teens dead and one rushed to the hospital in critical condition, and the neighborhood is in chaos. Recently-reinstated homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson is sent to head up the investigation, but with so many victims and so many leads she's being pulled in a million directions at once. All she knows from the start is that the victims were all poisoned, with a pentacle carved into each chest post-mortem. And they're all minors, so Nashville is in an uproar.

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The Immortals is not a whodunit; by Chapter Four, the killers all but announce their identity and purpose. From that point Ellison delves into Wicca, mysticism, and witchcraft. But The Immortals is not paranormal fiction . . . or is it? Ellison does an amazing job explaining and portraying her mystical characters. If they believe it is real then the reader could also believe it is real, though our heroine writes it off as intuition and perception, so the reader does as well. This book could be read as a paranormal thriller or as straight fiction . . . in the eyes of both beholders it is still a great story, well-told.

What made this book "thrilling" to me is that every single piece of it could actually happen. She puts cell phones in the hands of her teenagers, gives them computers and YouTube and websites and sets things in the here-and-now. These aren't just cardboard cutouts; these are real kids in real time dealing with real situations. And somehow, Ellison still masterfully weaves a backstory and the series arc into the tale without taking too much away from the pace of the main story.

Ellison has also done her research where it comes to the Goth, Wiccan, and Pagan side of things; she mentions various websites and lists over a page of books that "kept her on her path." I miss the days of good, chunky, well-researched fiction -- those books that you finished reading and felt you had learned a little more about something you were only previously familiar with. In The Immortals, Ellison proves that those books are still out there -- they may just be a little harder to find. I'm so glad I came across this one.

Title: Terrier
Author: Tamora Pierce
EAN: 9780375838163

Title: Bloodhound
Author: Tamora Pierce
EAN: 9780375838170

My first fictional true love was George Cooper, King of Thieves and consort of Lady Alanna of Trebond. So I had no problem at all sitting down to a couple of chunky books about Beka Cooper, George's ancestor. Beka is from the wrong side of the tracks, but the right side of the law. Back in this day and age the Lord Provost's men are called Dogs. Their trainees are called Puppies. Beka, more in thanks to her infamous stubbornness than her debilitating shyness, gets teamed with two of the best Dogs in Corus: Guardswoman Clara Goodwin and Guardsman Matthias Tunstall.

In Terrier, sixteen-year-old Beka and her Dogs chase a backmailer and serial killer, as well as revealing an illegal underground mining operation. (With the help of Beka's purple-eyed cat named Pounce, of course). Beka is nicknamed "Terrier" for the way she gets hold of a suspect or clue and won't let go. She certainly captures the reader's attention -- I finished Terrier and went straight on to its sequel without skipping a beat. In Bloodhound, Beka and Clara are assigned undercover work in Port Caynn to unmask a ring of counterfeiters bent on rendering the king's economy worthless. It's just as intriguing, just as complicated, and the cast of characters are just as colorful.

Despite her puppy status, Beka's hard head and Lower City contacts make her a valuable asset to the team. Sure, she screws up as every novice should, but she takes a licking and keeps on ticking. It's funny -- perhaps I've been watching too much TV lately, but this series reminded me of the myriad detective shows that are all the rage right now. The mysteries are well thought-out, complete with misdirections and red herrings, and the finales are worth curling up with a five-hundred-page book or two. That's right, I read over 1000 pages in the course of a week and just wanted to keep going. It's been a long time since I've been invested in something so . . . well . . . long, but I had no problem with the pacing or the payoff. My only problem is waiting until October 2011 for Mastiff.

One last point worth noting: some have taken Pierce to task for her habit in earlier books of switching from one character's point-of-view to another mid-scene. It is a practice widely embraced in the romance industry, but some SF sticklers find fault with such literary antics. (You may never have noticed, which is fine, just keep reading and enjoy your book.) If you are one of these hardcore POV purists, you will be pleasantly surprised at this series of books. They are presented as Beka's journals, and they stay true to her -- and only her -- POV. I only wish I had the dedication Beka has to write in such a timely fashion, and at such length, when she is battered and bruised and has every right to take a day off to relax.

You deserve a day like that. Treat yourself. Go ahead and buy both books -- you'll want them. And at only $9.99 each for the trade paperback, they're worth every penny.

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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