Saturday, January 20, 2018

#Stacking the Shelves #270 - Week Ending 01/20/2018

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 Stopping by!
Have a great weekend!

This Weeks Reviews: 

Monday - The English Wife by Lauren Willig (Historical, Mystery)

Tuesday - Keep Her Safe by K.A Tucker (Suspense)

Wednesday - Wicked Charm by Amber Hart (YA, Thriller)

Thursday - Scythe by Neal Shusterman (YA, Dystopian)

*REC'D VIA Edelweiss, NetGalley & Library*

Friday, January 19, 2018

Saturday #Review - The Brightest Embers by Jeaniene Frost #Paranormal

Series: Broken Destiny # 3
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Release Date: November 28, 2017
Publisher: Harlequin
Source: Library
Genre: Romance / Paranormal

New York Times bestselling author Jeaniene Frost delivers the thrilling finale in the Broken Destiny trilogy, as Ivy and Adrian find themselves fighting their doomed destiny while they struggle to save the world…
You can run from your destiny, but you can't hide?...
Ivy thought that she and Adrian had conquered their fates. Yet with thousands of innocents still trapped in the demon realms, she's determined to locate the final hallowed weapon and harness its unparalleled power to free them. But the last relic nearly put Ivy in the grave?there's probably no coming back from this one. 
Adrian's dark lineage has made him the most powerful of his kind, yet even his incredible abilities might not be enough now. Instead, the treacherous fate he has fought so hard to escape might be the only way he can save Ivy. Their scintillating bond has been tested before, but never with so much on the line. Now fate will come head-to-head against true love, and nothing they've endured can prepare Ivy and Adrian for the unthinkable choices they'll face?...

The Brightest Embers is the third and final installment in author Jeaniene Frost's Broken Destiny series. As the story opens, Ivy Jenkins and her husband Adrian are attempting to find the third and final hallowed weapon that will not only save the thousands of innocent humans trapped in the demon realm, but to do so before any other demon, including Demetrius, can get to it first, and therefore turn it into a weapon that could unleash hell on earth. 

Ivy, of course, knows that if she does find the spearhead of Longinus, she will likely die. As the last descendant of King David, she already has the slingshot of David, and the staff of Moses tattooed on her body. Previously, Ivy used the staff to close the gateways between the demon and human realms leaving a bunch of humans stuck in demon realm. Ivy has been hardened by grief, (the loss of her parents), betrayal, and the destiny that has been laid out in front of her. But, above all, her emotions in this story are all over the place.

Ivy and Adrian's adventure to find the final hallowed weapon is filled with lots and lots of traveling. This is a good way to learn about new and different places, including the Ice Hotel, which I would love to see one day. As a married couple, Ivy and Adrian have more than a few unnecessary arguments. Arguments that could have easily been resolved had the trust between the two not been continually tested. There is so much angst in this story, that took away from the search for the Spearhead, & that led me to lowering my rating for this review. 

The refusal by Adrian, who is half demon, to answer Ivy's simple questions truthfully, also got under my skin. Even when he does tell certain things to Ivy, they aren't the entire facts that Ivy needs to make her choices on her own. When you have to rely on an untrustworthy demon to tell you what's up and what's down, there is a problem. The other reason for my rating, is the abrupt, and I do mean abrupt way that the author chooses to end her story and her series. However, there were things that I did appreciate.

Questions about Ivy's biological mother was answered in a strange way, but actually pretty interesting. I can see why Ivy has turned into such a badass over the course of this series. The identity of Zach, no spoilers, was also pretty cool. But, the fact that the author could have used him a whole lot more, was disappointing, especially with the whole world being at stake. I loved Costa, but I think Jasmine could have taken a chill pill or just disappeared. And lastly, the author does something very curious which, again, I shall not spoil. Trust me, there are other places to get what happens to Ivy but this isn't one of those places. We are told we all have free will. Ivy's free will puts herself in danger time and time again and perhaps it wasn't necessary to so with Adrian, Costa, and her best Gargoyle forever Brutus alongside to help. 

Friday #Review - Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner #Thrillers

Series: UNSUB # 2
Format: E-Book, 368 pages
Release Date: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Dutton/Penguin
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Fiction / Thrillers / Suspense

In this exhilarating thriller inspired by real-life serial killer Ted Bundy, FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix faces off against a charming, merciless serial killer.
In southern Texas, on Saturday nights, women are disappearing. One vanishes from a movie theater. Another is ripped from her car at a stoplight. Another vanishes from her home while checking on her baby. Rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix, newly assigned to the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, fears that a serial killer is roaming the dark roads outside Austin.
Caitlin and the FBI’s serial crime unit discover the first victim’s body in the woods. She’s laid out in a bloodstained, white baby-doll nightgown. A second victim in a white nightie lies deeper in the forest’s darkness. Both bodies are surrounded by Polaroid photos, stuck in the earth like headstones. Each photo pictures a woman in a white negligee, wrists slashed, suicide-style—posed like Snow White awaiting her prince’s kiss.
To track the UNSUB, Caitlin must get inside his mind. How is he selecting these women? Working with a legendary FBI profiler, Caitlin searches for a homology—that elusive point where character and action come together. She profiles a confident, meticulous killer who convinces his victims to lower their guard until he can overpower and take them in plain sight. He then reduces them to objects in a twisted fantasy—dolls for him to possess, control, and ultimately destroy. Caitlin’s profile leads the FBI to focus on one man: a charismatic, successful professional who easily gains people’s trust. But with only circumstantial evidence linking him to the murders, the police allow him to escape. As Saturday night approaches, Caitlin and the FBI enter a desperate game of cat and mouse, racing to capture the cunning predator before he claims more victims.
Story Locale: Texas

Into the Black Nowhere is the second installment in Meg Gardiner's UNSUB series.
Gardiner’s UNSUB series follows rookie FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix, whose recent brush with a merciless serial killer in California’s Bay Area, has launched her new career hunting down the nation’s most dangerous and notorious serial killers. The UNSUBs, or unknown subjects, at the heart of each installment are inspired by real-life killers—the Zodiac Killer, Ted Bundy, the Babysitter Killer—lending each book a terrifying level of authenticity.

As the story picks up, Caitlin has a new job. She is an agent in training & rookie criminal profiler for the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). Caitlin is still searching for the man she is calling the Ghost after he severely damaged her hand, left her boyfriend ATF agent Sean Rawlins struggling to live, and then taunted her. He was also accomplice to the serial killer known as the Prophet. Now, we are on to Solace, Texas where 5 women have gone missing without a trace left behind. The latest is the most disturbing of all of them. The killer just walked in and walked out without leaving any clues behind. 

It will be up to Caitlin, Special Agent in Charge CJ Emmerich, and Special Agent Brianne Raines to put the facts together before any more women go missing. If you think there is anything easy about this story and that just because the author reveals who the killer is, this man is devious, clever, intelligent, and above all, arrogant. He gets inside of people's minds. Is he the cat, or the mouse in this game of catch me if you can? 

One of the things that Gardiner does well is get inside her characters heads. Caitlin is remarkably good at knowing things others have missed. Plus, in this story, we actually get the narrative of the killer who, as the summary says, will remind you of Ted Bundy in he is able to walk right up to the woman he wants and take her without any sort of struggle or evidence left behind. The story has a chase will take Caitlin from Texas, all the way to the Pacific Northwest where thrilling the game will be played out in spades.

Like the first book, this book had me from the onset and kept my attention riveted to the action. There's a secondary storyline which I also won't spoil since it leaves a heart wrenching cliffhanger ending that I am too afraid to even talk about for fear of losing my mind. I am also afraid that once Hollywood producers get hold of this story, they will screw it up badly. I don't put much path in book to move adaptations because they don't always come out as the author intended.

The cry pierced the walls, ringing through the darkness. Shana Kerber roused and squinted at the clock. Twelve forty five A.M.
Her voice came as a sigh. “Already:”
Shana huddled for a minute under the comforter, clinging wish fully to warmth and sleep. Hush yourself, Jaydee. Please. But the baby’s crying intensified. It was her strong, wide awake, I’m hungry cry.
The night was bitter. Early February, the north wind scouring Texas. It whistled through the cracks in the farmhouse, rattling the doors in their frames. Shana rolled over. The other side of the bed was cool. Brandon wasn’t home yet.
For a few more seconds Shana lay still, aching with fatigue, hoping Jaydee would quiet. But she was crying to beat the band. Ten months old and still up twice a night. Shana’s mom swore things would get easier. She’d been swearing so for months. When, Mom? Please, when?
“Coming, baby,” Shana murmured.
She tossed back the covers, brushed her sleep tangled hair from her face, and slogged out of the bedroom. The hardwood floor creaked beneath her bare feet. Jaydee’s cries grew clearer.
Six feet down the hall, she slowed. The crying wasn’t coming from the nursery.
The house was completely dark. Jaydee was too little to climb out of her crib.
Shana turned on the hall light. The nursery door was open.
A sliver of ice seemed to slide through her chest. At the far end of the hall she could see into the living room. On the sofa, half lit by the hall light, a stranger sat holding her little girl on his lap.
The icy sliver sank through Shana. “What are you doing here?’
”Don’t worry. I’m a friend of your husband.“ The man’s face was in shadow. His voice was soothing-almost warm. ”She was crying. Didn’t want to wake you.“
He seemed completely relaxed. Shana walked slowly to the living room. She glanced out the front window. The moon was full. An SUV was parked outside. A placard hung from the rearview mirror.
”Is that…“ She looked him up and down. ”Army? Are you…“
The baby twisted in the man’s arms. He bounced her. ”She’s quite the little doll.“
He tickled Jaydee and made baby talk. Shana tried harder to see his face. His eyes remained in shadow. Something stopped her from turning on the table lamp.
Is he a friend of Brandon’s?
Shana extended her hands. ”I’ll take her.“
The wind battered the windows. The man’s smile persisted. Though she couldn’t see his eyes, Shana had a gut certainty that he was watching her.
She edged forward. She was eight feet from him. Out of his reach. ”Give Jaydee to me.“
He didn’t.
Her hands were open. ”Please.“
Jaydee twisted in the man’s arms. Her chubby legs pumped like pistons. Shana’s heart thundered. She saw the power in the man’s hands and knew she couldn’t simply charge at him.
The shotgun was under her bed. Five seconds was what it would take to run to the bedroom, grab it, and rush back down the hall. It was a twelve gauge. It was loaded.
And it was useless, because this man was holding her child to his chest. Her breathing caught, like a cloth snagging on a nail.
She inched forward. ”Give her here.“
For a few seconds, he continued bouncing Jaydee. Crying, the little girl reached starfish fingers toward Shana.
”She wants her mama,“ the man said. ”Aww, come here.“
Shana held still, her own arms outstretched. ”Give me my baby.“
The smile stiffened. The man set Jaydee gently beside him on the sofa.
Before Shana could inhale, he lowered his shoulders, gathering himself. He was in motion when the light finally hit his eyes.
The dashboard clock read one thirty A.M. when Brandon Kerber turned into the gravel driveway. The truck bounced over the ruts, stereo blasting Chris Stapleton. Brandon whistled along. His rare Saturday night out had been golden-a Spurs game in San Antonio with friends from his army days. He curved past the stand of cedars and the house came into view.
The front door was open.
Brandon gunned the F-150 up to the house. The windows reflected the truck’s headlights like wild eyes. He jumped out. In the wind, the door was banging back against the wall. An acid taste burned his throat. Banging that loud should have woken Shana up. Inside the darkened house, he heard a mournful sound.
Brandon rushed in. The living room was cold. The headlights threw his shadow ahead of him on the floor like a blade. The crying kept up. It was the baby.
Jaydee lay huddled on the floor. He scooped her up. ”Shana?“
He hit a light switch. The living room lit up, neat, clean, and empty. Jaydee’s eyes were red rimmed. She was exhausted from sobbing. He pulled her to his chest. Her cries diminished to pathetic hiccups.
Brandon ran to the bedroom with the baby and flipped on the light. He spun and strode down the hall, looking in the nursery. In the kitchen. The garage. The back porch.
Nothing. Shana was gone.
He stood in the living room, clutching Jaydee, telling himself, She’s here. I just can’t see her.
But the truth closed in on him. Shana had vanished.
She was the fifth.


Early morning shadows slashed the road. The sun blazed gold through the pines. Caitlin Hendrix accelerated and swung her Highlander into the grounds of the FBI Academy in Quantico.
Beneath her black winter coat, her credentials were clipped to the left side of her belt. Her Glock 19M was holstered on the right. The text on her phone read, Solace, Texas.
Caitlin got out, and the freezing wind lifted her auburn hair off her shoulders. The Virginia winter constantly reminded her she was an outsider here. She liked it that way. It kept her on her toes.
She buzzed through the door and headed for the Behavioral Analysis Unit.
Suspected serial abductions, the text read.
The people Caitlin passed walked faster than the detectives she’d worked with back at the Alameda Sheriffs Office. They turned corners more crisply. She missed her Bay Area colleagues-missed their pride and camaraderie. But she loved seeing FBI on her creds, with the words Special Agent beneath her name.
Phones rang. Beyond the windows, the blue glass walls of the FBI Laboratory complex reflected the rising sun.
Caitlin approached her desk in BAU 4, where she was currently one of eight agents and analysts assigned to Crimes Against Adults. She said good morning to her colleagues as they arrived. Everyone had received the same text.
The Behavioral Analysis Unit was a department of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime-a branch of the Critical Incident Response Group. Its mission involved investigating unusual or repetitive violent crimes. Critical incident response meant that when a hot case came to the BAU, it acted, and fast, because time was limited and people were in danger.
Like today.
She barely had time to take off her coat before an office door opened at the far end of the room.
”Don’t get comfortable.“
People looked over. Special Agent in Charge C.J. Emmerich strode toward them.
”Five women have disappeared from Gideon County, Texas, in the last six months. The latest was two nights ago,“ he said. ”The victims have all vanished on a Saturday night. And the period between abductions is diminishing.“
Emmerich’s gaze swept the room and landed on Caitlin.
”Escalation,“ she said.
His nod was brief. ”Commonalities between the abductions indicate that we’re dealing with a single offender. Someone who’s growing bolder, more confident.“
Emmerich was her official mentor as an agent-in training. A legendary profiler, he radiated such self discipline that it unsettled her. Solemn, intense, he attacked cases like a hawk attacks prey. When he swooped in for a kill, his talons were sharp.
”The Gideon County Sheriff’s Office has requested our assistance,“ he said.
His assistant stood and passed out file folders. Caitlin flipped through hers.
Escalation. She scanned the pages in the file, looking for exactly what that word meant in this case.
She was no longer a raw rookie but was still finding her feet as a criminal profiler. She had a cop’s experience and instincts; she was learning to interpret crime scene evidence, forensics, and victimology to build a picture of a perpetrator. Profiling was based on the insight that everything at a crime scene tells a story and reveals something about the criminal. The BAU studied offender behavior to uncover how they thought, predict how they would escalate-and apprehend them before they could put any others in danger.
”The victims have been taken from public places and their own homes,“ Emmerich said. ”No witnesses, and so far, no probative forensic evidence. As the sheriff put it, they simply vanished.“
Vanished. Caitlin’s eye was drawn to the composite sketch pinned above her desk.
White male, late twenties. The sketch caught his slit-eyed stare and casual menace. He had walked past her in a California biker bar. Later, in a dark tunnel, he’d crucified her hand with a nail gun.
The Bureau’s facial recognition software couldn’t identify him. He was the Ghost: a killer, a betrayer, a hiss in the wiring. He had helped the serial killer known as the Prophet murder seven people, including her father.
He’d promised they would meet again. She was waiting for his call.
But that couldn’t rate her attention this morning.
She turned a page in the file folder and saw a photo: a woman in her mid-twenties, only a few years younger than she was. Lively eyes, a self-assured smile, halo gold hair.
Shana Kerber. Caitlin lingered on the photo, wishing she could tell her, Hold on. People are searching for you.
”It’s been twenty nine hours since the latest abduction,“ Emmerich said. ”The locals need us on scene while there’s still a significant chance to find this victim alive. And if we can find her, maybe there’s a chance to save the others.“
He pointed at Caitlin and another agent. Caitlin’s pulse kicked up a beat.
”Grab your go bags. Flight leaves Dulles for Austin at ten thirty."

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thursday #Review - Scythe by Neal Shusterman #YALit #Dystopian

Series: Arc of a Scythe # 1
Format: Hardcover, 448 pages
Release Date: November 22, 2016
Publisher: S&S Books for Young Readers
Source: Edelweiss
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction
Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in this Printz Honor–winning book, the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.
Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

Scythe is the first installment in author Neal Shusterman's Arc of a Scythe series. In a conflict-free world where humans have not only conquered death, but there's no hunger issues thanks to the evolution of the cloud into Thunderhead, two teens (Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch) find themselves volunteered as apprentice-Scythes by Honorable Scythe Faraday of the MidMerica section of the country. It will soon become a competition of sorts between the two with the winner becoming a Junior Scythe, while the loser ends up going back to their own lives.

Citra and Rowan's apprenticeship becomes much, much more challenging after certain villainous egg heads decide that instead of the loser between Citra and Rowan walking away, the winner must instead kill the loser. Things get even more strange when their mentor suddenly disappears and is thought to have killed himself. Citra and Rowan find themselves separated and with new mentors; Citra, with the woman they call Scythe Curie, and Rowan with the man who is known for massacring entire groups of people, Scythe Goddard. 

In this world, murder and other hideous crimes are no longer a problem or an issue thanks to Thunderhead. In this world, people have nanites in their blood that heal them and mask pain and, if they do die, they can be revived quickly and painlessly. But, there is still the worry about over-population, which is true about our current state of global affairs. A group known as Scythedom aka Scythe's, became the only ones who are legally allowed to kill anyone. Only deaths doled out by a Scythe are truly irreversible.

Scythes are respected and revered, are given anything they want for free, and live outside the laws that govern others. Some like Goddard live the life of rock stars, while others like Curie and Faraday live with a smaller footprint. Scythes’ families are immune from gleaning for the lifespan of the Scythe, and the only way for a Scythe to die is by gleaning themselves. Scythe's even created their own variation of the Ten Commandments including, but not limited to, Thou Shalt Kill, and Thou Shalt Kill Without Bias. 

Each Scythe has quotas that they must fill, but they must not kill too many of a particular population. Because of rules against fraternization, Citra and Rowan's romance was devoid of any exploration except for a brief kiss here and a I love you later in the story. In between reading about Citra and Rowan, there are glimpses into the lives of Scythe Faraday and Scythe Curie who were far more interesting characters than Rowan because of their journal entries which all Scythe's are supposed to keep. 

Having waited so long to read this book, I'm hoping my local library has or will submit a purchase suggestion so that I can read what happens next. The ending of this book is by far the most entertaining and of course, the most curious since so much happens to both Citra and Rowan that it's hard to walk away without knowing what paths they will eventually take. 


No Dimming of the Sun

The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon. Citra was at the dining room table, slaving over a particularly difficult algebra problem, shuffling variables, unable to solve for X or Y, when this new and far more pernicious variable entered her life’s equation.

Guests were frequent at the Terranovas’ apartment, so when the doorbell rang, there was no sense of foreboding—no dimming of the sun, no foreshadowing of the arrival of death at their door. Perhaps the universe should have deigned to provide such warnings, but scythes were no more supernatural than tax collectors in the grand scheme of things. They showed up, did their unpleasant business, and were gone.

Her mother answered the door. Citra didn’t see the visitor, as he was, at first, hidden from her view by the door when it opened. What she saw was how her mother stood there, suddenly immobile, as if her veins had solidified within her. As if, were she tipped over, she would fall to the floor and shatter.

“May I enter, Mrs. Terranova?”

The visitor’s tone of voice gave him away. Resonant and inevitable, like the dull toll of an iron bell, confident in the ability of its peal to reach all those who needed reaching. Citra knew before she even saw him that it was a scythe. My god! A scythe has come to our home!

“Yes, yes of course, come in.” Citra’s mother stepped aside to allow him entry—as if she were the visitor and not the other way around.

He stepped over the threshold, his soft slipper-like shoes making no sound on the parquet floor. His multilayered robe was smooth ivory linen, and although it reached so low as to dust the floor, there was not a spot of dirt on it anywhere. A scythe, Citra knew, could choose the color of his or her robe—every color except for black, for it was considered inappropriate for their job. Black was an absence of light, and scythes were the opposite. Luminous and enlightened, they were acknowledged as the very best of humanity—which is why they were chosen for the job.

Some scythe robes were bright, some more muted. They looked like the rich, flowing robes of Renaissance angels, both heavy yet lighter than air. The unique style of scythes’ robes, regardless of the fabric and color, made them easy to spot in public, which made them easy to avoid—if avoidance was what a person wanted. Just as many were drawn to them.

The color of the robe often said a lot about a scythe’s personality. This scythe’s ivory robe was pleasant, and far enough from true white not to assault the eye with its brightness. But none of this changed the fact of who and what he was.

He pulled off his hood to reveal neatly cut gray hair, a mournful face red-cheeked from the chilly day, and dark eyes that seemed themselves almost to be weapons. Citra stood. Not out of respect, but out of fear. Shock. She tried not to hyperventilate. She tried not to let her knees buckle beneath her. They were betraying her by wobbling, so she forced fortitude to her legs, tightening her muscles. Whatever the scythe’s purpose here, he would not see her crumble.

“You may close the door,” he said to Citra’s mother, who did so, although Citra could see how difficult it was for her. A scythe in the foyer could still turn around if the door was open. The moment that door was closed, he was truly, truly inside one’s home.

He looked around, spotting Citra immediately. He offered a smile. “Hello, Citra,” he said. The fact that he knew her name froze her just as solidly as his appearance had frozen her mother.

“Don’t be rude,” her mother said, too quickly. “Say hello to our guest.”

“Good day, Your Honor.”

“Hi,” said her younger brother, Ben, who had just come to his bedroom door, having heard the deep peal of the scythe’s voice. Ben was barely able to squeak out the one-word greeting. He looked to Citra and to their mother, thinking the same thing they were all thinking. Who has he come for? Will it be me? Or will I be left to suffer the loss?

“I smelled something inviting in the hallway,” the scythe said, breathing in the aroma. “Now I see I was right in thinking it came from this apartment.”

“Just baked ziti, Your Honor. Nothing special.” Until this moment, Citra had never known her mother to be so timid.

“That’s good,” said the scythe, “because I require nothing special.” ?Then he sat on the sofa and waited patiently for dinner.

Was it too much to believe that the man was here for a meal and nothing more? After all, scythes had to eat somewhere. Customarily, restaurants never charged them for food, but that didn’t mean a home-cooked meal was not more desirable. There were rumors of scythes who required their victims to prepare them a meal before being gleaned. Is that what was happening here?

Whatever his intentions, he kept them to himself, and they had no choice but to give him whatever he wanted. Will he spare a life here today if the food is to his taste, Citra wondered? No surprise that people bent over backwards to please scythes in every possible way. Hope in the shadow of fear is the world’s most powerful motivator.

Citra’s mother brought him something to drink at his request, and now labored to make sure tonight’s dinner was the finest she had ever served. Cooking was not her specialty. Usually she would return home from work just in time to throw something quick together for them. Tonight their lives might just rest on her questionable culinary skills. And their father? Would he be home in time, or would a gleaning in his family take place in his absence?

As terrified as Citra was, she did not want to leave the scythe alone with his own thoughts, so she went into the living room with him. Ben, who was clearly as fascinated as he was fearful, sat with her.

The man finally introduced himself as Honorable Scythe Faraday.

“I . . . uh . . . did a report on Faraday for school once,” Ben said, his voice cracking only once. “You picked a pretty cool scientist to name yourself after.”

Scythe Faraday smiled. “I like to think I chose an appropriate Patron Historic. Like many scientists, Michael Faraday was underappreciated in his life, yet our world would not be what it is without him.”

“I think I have you in my scythe card collection,” Ben went on. “I have almost all the MidMerican scythes—but you were younger in the picture.”

The man seemed perhaps sixty, and although his hair had gone gray, his goatee was still salt-and-pepper. It was rare for a person to let themselves reach such an age before resetting back to a more youthful self. Citra wondered how old he truly was. How long had he been charged with ending lives?

“Do you look your true age, or are you at the far end of time by choice?” Citra asked.

“Citra!” Her mother nearly dropped the casserole she had just taken out of the oven. “What a question to ask!”

“I like direct questions,” the scythe said. “They show an honesty of spirit, so I will give an honest answer. I admit to having turned the corner four times. My natural age is somewhere near one hundred eighty, although I forget the exact number. Of late I’ve chosen this venerable appearance because I find that those I glean take more comfort from it.” Then he laughed. “They think me wise.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Ben blurted “To glean one of us?”

Scythe Faraday offered an unreadable smile.

“I’m here for dinner.”

• • • 

Citra’s father arrived just as dinner was about to be served. Her mom had apparently informed him of the situation, so he was much more emotionally prepared than the rest of them had been. As soon as he entered, he went straight over to Scythe Faraday to shake his hand, and pretended to be far more jovial and inviting than he truly must have been.

The meal was awkward—mostly silence punctuated by the occasional comment by the scythe. “You have a lovely home.” “What flavorful lemonade!” “This may be the best baked ziti in all of MidMerica!” Even though everything he said was complimentary, his voice registered like a seismic shock down everyone’s spine.

“I haven’t seen you in the neighborhood,” Citra’s father finally said.

“I don’t suppose you would have,” he answered. “I am not the public figure that some other scythes choose to be. Some scythes prefer the spotlight, but to truly do the job right, it requires a level of anonymity.”

“Right?” Citra bristled at the very idea. “There’s a right way to glean?”

“Well,” he answered, “there are certainly wrong ways,” and said nothing more about it. He just ate his ziti.

As the meal neared its close, he said, “Tell me about yourselves.” It wasn’t a question or a request. It could only be read as a demand. Citra wasn’t sure whether this was part of his little dance of death, or if he was genuinely interested. He knew their names before he entered the apartment, so he probably already knew all the things they could tell him. Then why ask?

“I work in historical research,” her father said.

“I’m a food synthesis engineer,” said her mother.

The scythe raised his eyebrows. “And yet you cooked this from scratch.”

She put down her fork. “All from synthesized ingredients.”

“Yes, but if we can synthesize anything,” he offered, “why do we still need food synthesis engineers?”

Citra could practically see the blood drain from her mother’s face. It was her father who rose to defend his wife’s existence. “There’s always room for improvement.”

“Yeah—and Dad’s work is important, too!” Ben said.

“What, historical research?” The scythe waved his fork dismissing the notion. “The past never changes—and from what I can see, neither does the future.”

While her parents and brother were perplexed and troubled by his comments, Citra understood the point he was making. The growth of civilization was complete. Everyone knew it. When it came to the human race, there was no more left to learn. Nothing about our own existence to decipher. Which meant that no one person was more important than any other. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, everyone was equally useless. That’s what he was saying, and it infuriated Citra, because on a certain level, she knew he was right.

Citra was well known for her temper. It often arrived before reason, and left only after the damage was done. Tonight would be no exception.

“Why are you doing this? If you’re here to glean one of us, just get it over with and stop torturing us!”

Her mother gasped, and her father pushed back his chair as if ready to get up and physically remove her from the room.

“Citra, what are you doing!” Now her mother’s voice was quivering. “Show respect!”

“No! He’s here, he’s going to do it, so let him do it. It’s not like he hasn’t decided; I’ve heard that scythes always make up their mind before they enter a home, isn’t that right?”

The scythe was unperturbed by her outburst. “Some do, some don’t,” he said gently. “We each have our own way of doing things.”

By now Ben was crying. Dad put his arm around him, but the boy was inconsolable.

“Yes, scythes must glean,” Faraday said, “but we also must eat, and sleep, and have simple conversation.”

Citra grabbed his empty plate away from him. “Well, the meal’s done, so you can leave.”

Then her father approached him. He fell to his knees. Her father was actually on his knees to this man! “Please, ?Your Honor, forgive her. I take full responsibility for her behavior.”

The scythe stood. “An apology isn’t necessary. It’s refreshing to be challenged. You have no idea how tedious it gets; the pandering, the obsequious flattery, the endless parade of sycophants. A slap in the face is bracing. It reminds me that I’m human.”

Then he went to the kitchen and grabbed the largest, sharpest knife he could find. He swished it back and forth, getting a feel for how it cut through the air.

Ben’s wails grew, and his father’s grip tightened on him. The scythe approached their mother. Citra was ready to hurl herself in front of her to block the blade, but instead of swinging the knife, the man held out his other hand.

“Kiss my ring.”

No one was expecting this, least of all Citra.

Citra’s mother stared at him, shaking her head, not willing to believe. “You’re . . . you’re granting me immunity?”

“For your kindness and the meal you served, I grant you one year immunity from gleaning. No scythe may touch you.”

But she hesitated. “Grant it to my children instead.”

Still the scythe held out his ring to her. It was a diamond the size of his knuckle with a dark core. It was the same ring all scythes wore.

“I am offering it to you, not them.”


“Jenny, just do it!” insisted their father.

And so she did. She knelt, kissed his ring, her DNA was read and was transmitted to the Scythedom’s immunity database. In an instant the world knew that Jenny Terranova was safe from gleaning for the next twelve months. The scythe looked to his ring, which now glowed faintly red, indicating that the person before him had immunity from gleaning. He grinned, satisfied.

And finally he told them the truth.

“I’m here to glean your neighbor, Bridget Chadwell,” Scythe Faraday informed them. “But she was not yet home. And I was hungry.”

He gently touched Ben on the head, as if delivering some sort of benediction. It seemed to calm him. Then the scythe moved to the door, the knife still in his hand, leaving no question as to the method of their neighbor’s gleaning. But before he left, he turned to Citra.

“You see through the facades of the world, Citra Terranova. You’d make a good scythe.”

Citra recoiled. “I’d never want to be one.”

“That,” he said, “is the first requirement.”

Then he left to kill their neighbor.

• • • 

They didn’t speak of it that night. No one spoke of gleanings—as if speaking about it might bring it upon them. There were no sounds from next door. No screams, no pleading wails—or perhaps the Terranovas’ TV was turned up too loud to hear it. That was the first thing Citra’s father did once the scythe left—turn on the TV and blast it to drown out the gleaning on the other side of the wall. But it was unnecessary, because however the scythe accomplished his task, it was done quietly. Citra found herself straining to hear something—anything. Both she and Ben discovered in themselves a morbid curiosity that made them both secretly ashamed.

An hour later, Honorable Scythe Faraday returned. It was Citra who opened the door. His ivory robe held not a single splatter of blood. Perhaps he had a spare one. Perhaps he had used the neighbor’s washing machine after her gleaning. The knife was clean, too, and he handed it to Citra.

“We don’t want it,” Citra told him, feeling pretty sure she could speak for her parents on the matter. “We’ll never use it again.”

“But you must use it,” he insisted, “so that it might remind you.”

“Remind us of what?”

“That a scythe is merely the instrument of death, but it is your hand that swings me. You and your parents, and everyone else in this world are the wielders of scythes.” Then he gently put the knife in her hands. “We are all accomplices. You must share the responsibility.”

That may have been true, but after he was gone Citra still dropped the knife into the trash.