Review: Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt

Review: Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth HoytNot the Duke’s Darling (Greycourt, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Greycourt #1
Pages: 496
Published by Forever on December 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt brings us the first book in her sexy and sensual Greycourt Series!

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she's attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading amongst the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins—sins he'd much rather forget. But she's also fiery, bold, and sensuous—a temptation he can't resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he'll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, Harlowe will have to earn Freya's trust-by whatever means necessary.

Features a bonus novella from New York Times bestselling author Grace Burrowes!

My Review:

This is going to be a mixed feelings review. I’m all over the map about this one – and I didn’t expect to be. While I haven’t read ALL of the author’s Maiden Lane series, I’ve generally liked the ones I have read quite a bit.

But this one, well, yes and no.

On the one hand, it starts out with a bang, with Freya helping a desperate woman and her child escape from the man who wants to abuse them both. This particular escape isn’t about sex, it’s about money. The child is the rightful earl, her husband is dead, and his cousin plans to basically imprison the little boy and ransack the estate during his minority while keeping the boy’s mother away from him so she can’t support or protect him.

Women and young children were chattel, this chilling scenario was entirely possible – and legal. Freya has rescued both the mother and child, and is spiriting them away to a ship bound for America. But her pursuers are relentless, so she jumps into a nobleman’s carriage – only to discover that the nobleman in question is someone she knows – and loathes.

It should have been the start of a wild adventure, but the tension kind of fizzles out. Or at least it did for me.

While we do eventually find out why Freya hates the Duke of Harlowe so much (and those issues do reach resolution) what we really don’t get nearly enough information about is why Freya is participating in the rescue in the first place.

Not that the woman and her baby don’t need rescue, and not that someone shouldn’t do it. But how Freya got involved in the situation is murky. She’s a “Wise Woman”, a member of an order of independent women that has existed since the Roman occupation, if not before. She’s the “Macha” of the Wise Women, a title that seems to mean covert agent and spy as the situation requires.

But the Wise Women, while potentially interesting, never seem to get enough explanatory background, or at least not for this reader. What it felt like was simply a quick and dirty way of providing the 19th century heroine with the education, attitudes and perspectives that would appeal to 21st century readers. She’s so close to us that she feels anachronistic for her time.

That also seems to make her perfect for Christopher Renshaw, the aforementioned Duke of Harlowe, if they can get past the gigantic amount of baggage that stands between them.

Because the real backstory of this series seems to be the long-ago Greycourt scandal. Fifteen years ago, Harlowe, Freya’s brother Ranulf, and Julian Greycourt were the best of friends. Until one night when Julian’s sister tried to run off with Ranulf de Moray, and somehow she got herself killed and Ran got the blame. As well as a beating that cost him his dominant hand and his family’s place in society.

Freya has blamed Harlowe all these years, but as he eventually explains to her, he never believed that her brother was guilty of murder. And all three of the young men were, in fact, very, very young, only 18, and none of them had the position or the maturity to prevent the ensuing mess. Now he does, but the damage has already been done.

Personally, I believe that the overarching story in this series will be the eventual discovery of what happened that night, and that the individual books in the series are going to focus on all of the people who were affected by the scandal. Not just Harlowe and Freya, but eventually Julian Greycourt, the Greycourt sisters who were Freya’s friends once upon a time, Freya’s brother Ranulf, and whoever the hell the guilty party or parties turn out to be.

But we are not there yet. Much of this particular entry instead focuses on Freya’s activities with the Wise Women and their foes the Dunkelders, who believe that the Wise Women are witches who should be burned at the stake. They aren’t witches, but then, the great majority of those who were the victims of the witch hunts weren’t either.

Along with yet another rescue of another woman who desperately needs it.

The problems I have with the story all come back to the Wise Women. We don’t know enough for that piece of the story to really work. The Greycourt scandal grabbed my interest, as did the eventual romance between Harlowe and Freya, but it always felt like there was a hole in the back of the story – like a tooth cavity that you can’t stop sticking your tongue into – even though it hurts every time.

Escape Rating B-: I keep harping on the problem with the Wise Women, or rather the lack of enough information about the Wise Women. That’s because Freya’s participation in the group provides her with too many 21st century attitudes for too little data. One of the issues with historical romance is the difficulty of giving readers a heroine who has enough agency that we can identify with her while still having her fit into her time and place. And Freya doesn’t manage to walk that tightrope, at least not for this reader.

Your mileage may vary, or your version of the tightrope may be a bit wider than mine.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-16-18

Sunday Post

I got new monitors yesterday. I use two, side-by-side, and the previous pair were neither the same size nor the same height. I got used to it, but it was always a bit strange. Now I have two the same size and the same height. OMG do they light up the room – which was not the intention, but so it goes.

This is obviously the season of giving, as I’m in the middle of three blog hops! Lots of chances to win either a gift card or a book!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the December Of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The Frame Up by Meghan Scott Molin is Danielle H.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Script of the Heart by Robin D. Owens
B+ Review: The Temple by Jean Johnson
A Review: Edge of Eon by Anna Hackett
D+ Review: Want Me Cowboy by Maisey Yates
A- Review: A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell
Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (318)

Coming This Week:

Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt (review)
Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep (review)
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (review)
Best of 2018
Tutus and Tinsel by Rhys Ford (review)

Stacking the Shelves (318)

Stacking the Shelves

I didn’t get a lot this week, but what I got was definitely choice!

For Review:
Fifty Things that Aren’t My Fault by Cathy Guisewite
Gather the Fortunes (Crescent City #2) by Bryan Camp
The Hound of Justice (Janet Watson Chronicles #2) by Claire O’Dell
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Magic Engineer (Saga of Recluce #3) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (audio)

Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the 2018 Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds!

It’s beginning to look a lot like the holiday season – whichever holiday you happen to celebrate around the winter solstice. We kind of celebrate “December” as an excuse to give each other presents!

As the year winds its way down, the weather also takes a turn for the cold and damp. Just how cold and damp, and exactly what form that “damp” takes, varies a lot depending on where you are. In Atlanta we’ve got cold rain, at least at the moment. Which makes winter the perfect time to curl up with some hot tea or cocoa, warm blanket, a cuddly cat – or two or three! – and a good book.

To help you in your quest for that cozy scene, I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!

Review: A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell

Review: A Study in Honor by Claire O’DellA Study in Honor (The Janet Watson Chronicles #1) by Claire O'Dell, Beth Bernobich
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, mystery, science fiction
Series: Janet Watson Chronicles #1
Pages: 304
Published by Harper Voyager on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.

Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.

My Review:

This was a wow. Even better, it was a wow in ways that I wasn’t expecting, so excellent all the way around.

Admittedly, I bounced off A Study in Honor the first time I started it. I was expecting a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, which it sorta/kinda is, but that’s not really apparent at the beginning. At the beginning, we’re following Dr. Janet Watson as she gets the shaft from the VA after losing her arm in combat.

Dr. Watson is a surgeon, and to go back to that job in civilian life, she needs two good hands. And the combat-damaged prosthetic that was supposed to be a temporary fix, well, it isn’t even good enough for much in civilian life – it certainly isn’t good enough for surgery.

But the war isn’t going well, is extremely unpopular, and the VA is sucking hind tit in the federal budget. Some things never change.

Other things do.

This war, unlike the perpetual war in Afghanistan that injured both the original Dr. John Watson and his 21st century incarnation in Sherlock, is a civil war. In what has become the not-so-United States.

The very frightening thing about this war is that it is so close we can see it from here. And entirely possible for all that. It’s a variation on the civil war in the darkly awesome book American War by Omar El Akkad, where the “reactionary” forces of the Old South have picked up the guns they are always afraid are going to be taken away from them and started a shooting war with what they see as the liberal-leftist North and Left-Coast West.

Unlike in American War, in this version, the so-called “Conservative” forces seem to be winning, if not all of the battles, at least the battle for hearts and minds in the North. It’s as though they made Robert E. Lee’s strategy work – just keep going long enough for the North to get too tired to fight.

This is also a scary close near future in that in 2016 Trump did get elected. Then after his administration overthrew as many of the civil rights of minorities as they could possibly manage, got replaced by the backlash of a progressive female Democratic president. After spending part of her first term turning back as much of the damage as possible, the folks who want their idealized 1950s back began the war in Oklahoma.

But this isn’t quite a dystopia, although it’s certainly getting there. Back home in Washington DC, away from the fronts in the states surrounding Oklahoma, the world seems to be going on as normal.

Unless you’re a wounded veteran trying to get the benefits you’re entitled to out of a VA that only cares about its bottom line.

Just as in the original stories, and in most of the remixes and pastiches, Watson is living off her military pension and needs a job. Holmes, in this case Sara Holmes, wants a roommate for the apartment she needs but claims to not be able to quite afford without said roommate.

But this Holmes is not what she seems. She’s every bit as brilliant (and enigmatic) as her original, but unlike the original Sherlock Holmes, Sara Holmes is not an independent agent.

As Janet Watson eventually discovers.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve written a lot about the setup of this story, because a lot of this book is setup. While this world unfortunately feels like a logical extension of current events, it is not current events and needs to get us fixed firmly into its vision of the future.

Which does not mean it isn’t a vision of the future that doesn’t include a whole lot of the present. Unfortunately for our protagonists, the parts of the present that carry over are quite frequently the worst bits. I said this isn’t a dystopia, but a better description would be that it isn’t a dystopia yet.

Those roots in the contemporary present form a good part of the terrible case that Janet unearths and that Sara helps her resolve. Part of what makes this book an A- rather than a A is that the case was fairly obvious. All too plausible, but also all too easy to figure out from the very first clue.

What makes this story, this version of Holmes and Watson, so fascinating are the characters of the two women. Instead of two white men in Victorian England (or 21st century England, for that matter), the Holmes and Watson in A Study in Honor are two black women at a time and place where the hope for true equality that shone during the Obama era has receded into the past and is dying under the lash of “conservative” dog-whistles that are pitched so any human can hear.

Which also means that in addition to the many indignities visited upon Janet Watson because she’s a wounded veteran, even more are heaped upon her because she’s black and because she dared to aspire to a profession that some people still believe should have been reserved for whites. And where the lesbianism of both of the protagonists just adds yet another layer of potential for prejudice.

A Study in Honor is a dark and gritty portrait of a world going to hell in a handcart, as seen from the perspective of someone who has visited that hell, and sometimes seems to have only left it in body but not in spirit. And investigates a mystery that plows right into the hell of that war and the dark heart of the people and governments that are waging it.

Watson and Holmes’ adventures continue in The Hound of Justice. I can’t wait.

Reviewer’s Note: Claire O’Dell is a pseudonym for author Beth Bernobich.

Review: Want Me Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Review: Want Me Cowboy by Maisey YatesWant Me, Cowboy (Copper Ridge: Desire, #5) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Copper Ridge: Desire #5
Pages: 217
Published by Harlequin Desire on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Her rancher boss is looking for the perfect wife...and she wants the job!

Poppy Sinclair kept her feelings for Isaiah Grayson secret for a decade. When her infuriatingly gorgeous Stetson-wearing boss enlists her help in finding him a convenient wife, she threatens to quit. Until Isaiah counters with an interesting proposal: Why doesn't she marry him? Can she say yes to sharing his life and his bed, but not his heart?

My Review:

As much as I usually love this author, this particular book reminded me why I generally leave the category romance reviews in the hands of my friend and (not nearly frequent enough) guest reviewer Amy Daltry. (She loved Hold Me, Cowboy, a previous book in this very series)

Because as much as I usually love this author, this particular book made me want to throw it against the wall. I don’t have this reaction often because my iPad is just too damn expensive to treat that way.

Let’s just say that Want Me Cowboy is not exactly a contemporary romance for the #MeToo era.

And that’s just for starters.

Except that, for starters, I really liked the setup of the story. I like a good friends to lovers romance. I also like a good lusting after the boss romance. And the opening of the story was hilarious – it reminded me of all those fake ads for a wife or a husband where the previous candidate had an impossible condition – or at least impossible for most respondents. You know the kind, the ones that usually end with the woman keeping her cats or the man keeping his cabin. Or in the case of this particular ad, Isaiah Grayson starts out by saying he’s keeping his beard.

And telling the assistant who has been in love with him for a decade that she’s the one who will be interviewing any prospective candidates. The possibilities for humor are endless. And I wish the story had gone there. Or pretty much anywhere else instead of where it actually went.

Not that I didn’t hope that they would get together, because I initially did. Until I didn’t.

Let me explain…

The first thing to understand about Isaiah Grayson is that he seems to be somewhere on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Not that it has ever been officially diagnosed, but both he and his family are more than aware that Isaiah has never had any skills in processing what other people are thinking or feeling. And he uses that lack of awareness as an excuse to be an asshole.

He’s usually not mean, or at least not mean per se. But he has decided that he is usually right, and when someone tells him something that he doesn’t want to hear or that he thinks is wrong, he overrides everything they say and everything they do, leaving them no choice but to either go along or walk away – and he makes it incredibly difficult to walk away.

As he finally realizes late (too late) in the story, he did give Poppy a choice. However, he has the financial power to restrict that choice to the point where the least bad option is the one that he wants. It’s not necessarily that she wants what he has decided is best, just that all of the other choices are so horrible that it might as well be no choice at all.

Things in this story begin going pear-shaped when Poppy Sinclair finally snaps back at Isaiah about giving her the job of interviewing his wife candidates. She’s fed up with his hunt for a convenient wife who will be the equivalent of her, just at home. And with sex. Otherwise, he IS looking for her clone.

He gets the bright idea that he can have his cake and eat it too by just marrying Poppy. This could have been a great story, but the problem is the way that Isaiah goes about it. Once he’s kissed her and discovered that they have AMAZING chemistry together, he decides that no one else by Poppy will do, takes over her life and NEVER listens to any of her objections or concerns.

Including the concern she never gets a chance to raise. Their sexual relationship has the definite aura of him pushing her boundaries until she “realizes” that she really didn’t want to say no in the first place. The way this feeds into the whole narrative of “no means yes” that men fall back on when consent is forced or withdrawn made me grit my teeth.

That he, in spite of his own internal dialog about his sexual experiences, can’t be bothered to use a condom is just plain wrong. She’s a virgin, so the idea that she wasn’t remotely prepared to have sex with anyone isn’t surprising. That he doesn’t seem to even think about protecting her from either pregnancy or any consequences of his past is selfish and thoughtless, to say the least..

That she becomes pregnant from her first sexual experience is part of the story. Because it becomes yet another way that he takes her choices away from her.

You’re thinking that she can raise the child alone, that in the 21st century pregnancy does not equal a choice between marriage and eternal shame and damnation. And you’re right.

But, and in this case it is a huge gigantic butt, he has decided that marriage between them is the right thing to do. Because for him, it provides him with the perfect, stable family that he has decided that he needs.

So when Poppy tries to back out of the engagement he has pretty much coerced her into, he informs her that if she doesn’t marry him he will fight her for full custody, and that with his money and his resources, he will win. And he’s right about that. So when she won’t do what he wants, he makes all her other choices so horrible that she has no real choice.

For me the whole story was like that. He has decided what he wants, so he takes over her life. She has doubts and tries to back away, or at least to slow things down. He rides roughshod over her. Over and over again.

Her answer to his behavior is to just love him more. And to give him more. His mother convinces her that a successful marriage is one where she gives everything and eventually he will see what’s right in front of him. This sounds like the kind of advice that abused spouses receive.

Ironically, it is not the kind of marriage his parents actually have, so there’s an element of “do as I say and not as I do” involved along with the guilt trip.

He does eventually figure out just how big an asshole he’s been, and he does seem to learn just a bit of his lesson. But I’m not nearly convinced that he’s learned enough of a lesson, or grovelled nearly enough, to get past the “if you don’t marry me I’ll take your child away” threat.

Escape Rating D+: It’s been a long time since I’ve dragged out the D+ rating, and this book wasn’t nearly as much fun as the last time I did. But I did finish the damn thing, and that’s what puts it into this category. There was the germ of a good story in here, but it just derailed for me into questionably consenting assholishness.

I could go on (and on and ON) but I’ve ranted long enough.

I still love this author, and will pick up her next book that is NOT a category romance. (In fact, I already have an ARC) But if there are any future books in the Copper Ridge: Desire category series, I’ll leave them to Amy.

Review: Edge of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Edge of Eon by Anna HackettEdge of Eon (Eon Warriors #1) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Eon Warriors #1
Pages: 225
Published by Anna Hackett on December 9th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Framed for a crime she didn't commit, a wrongly-imprisoned space captain's only chance at freedom is to abduct a fearsome alien war commander.

Sub-Captain Eve Traynor knows a suicide mission when she sees one. With deadly insectoid aliens threatening to invade Earth, the planet’s only chance of survival is to get the attention of the fierce Eon Warriors. But the Eon want nothing to do with Earth, and Eve wants nothing to do with abducting War Commander Davion Thann-Eon off his warship. But when Earth’s Space Corps threaten her sisters, Eve will do anything to keep them safe, even if it means she might not make it back.

War Commander Davion Thann-Eon is taking his first vacation in years. Dedicated to keeping the Eon Empire safe, he’s been born and bred to protect. But when he’s attacked and snatched off his very own warship, he is shocked to find himself face-to-face with a bold, tough little Terran warrior. One who both infuriates and intrigues him.

When their shuttle is attacked by the ravenous insectoid Kantos, Eve and Davion crash land on the terrifying hunter planet known as Hunter7. A planet designed to test a warrior to his limits. Now, the pair must work together to survive, caught between the planet and its dangers, the Kantos hunting them down, and their own incendiary attraction.

My Review:

Edge of Eon is the first book in Anna Hackett’s new science fiction romance series, Eon Warriors. So if you’ve ever had a hankering to try SFR in general or this author in particular (and you should, she’s terrific!) this is a great place to start.

The Eon Warriors series is space opera type SFR, one of my particular favorites. Lots of ships, lots of planets,, LOTS of politics, and a big universe in which to tell both big and small stories. If you’re wondering exactly what “space opera” is, think of Star Trek. THAT’s space opera.

Star Wars is more space fantasy, but I digress. As usual.

Our heroine is coerced or blackmailed into what seems like a suicide mission. Sub-Captain Traynor is in the brig. Space Corps framed her to take the fall when her Captain – the son of a high-ranking admiral – completely screwed the pooch in a mission against the predatory, insectoid warrior-race, the Kratos.

The Kratos want to conquer Earth and crack it open like an egg – and they’re winning the fight. Earth just hasn’t been spacefaring long enough to be really good at space warfare – and it looks like they won’t have time to learn.

Unless they can get the highly developed and highly advanced Eons on their side. The Eons are humanoid, a close relative of the people from Earth. But their high advancement has included a whole lot of civilization that Earth humans haven’t mastered yet. Basically, when the Earth folks met the Eons, the Earthers exhibited all the worst flaws of human behavior at one go. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t smart, and the Eons closed their borders and told the Earthers to leave them alone.

Which leads us right back to Eve Traynor. Earth’s back is against the wall. They’re losing the war with the Kratos. If the Kratos win, Earth will be stripped and its people will be either dead or food. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

So Space Corps concocts the wild idea to kidnap one of the Eons’ leading ship commanders in order to get the Eons to help them fight off the Kratos. While this may seem like a bonehead play, when the people you are desperate to contact won’t take your calls it takes a big battering ram to get your foot in the door. Especially when you need to break down the door first!

Eve’s job is to kidnap Commander Davion Thann-Eon in order to somehow win the Eons’ cooperation, or at least get their attention. In return she gets out of the brig and more importantly has a chance of saving her planet and her people. Including her two younger sisters.

The kidnapping goes swimmingly, at least at first. But when the Kratos attack during the escape, it all goes pear-shaped really, really fast. Eve, Davion and the small skimmer she’s commandeered crash land on Hunter 7, a planet notorious for its rigorous testing of Eon warrior candidates. The Kratos are right on their tails while the planet attempts to kill them at every turn.

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In the case of Eve and Davion, it makes them stronger together. And it still might kill them.

Escape Rating A: I have been waiting for this author to return to SFR, and Edge of Eon was definitely worth the wait. It hit that difficult balance between building a consistent science fictional world and telling a terrific love story.

It helps that the story reminds me of one of the absolutely classic SF romances, Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. And that’s epic company to be in. While Shards does not start with a kidnapping, the plot of two space commanders from not necessarily opposing sides but certainly not allies who have crashed on a dangerous planet with little hope of rescue and fall in love along the way is a classic for a reason. It’s a plot that works, forcing two reluctant allies to bond together in order to have a chance at survival.

The kidnapping is a nice twist – and reminds me a bit of Quantum, the second book in Jess Anastasi’s Atrophy series. That book also has the reluctant allies face a deadly planet scenario, with the protagonists each wondering if the other has betrayed them.

There are also a couple of classic SFR tropes built into Edge of Eon that are difficult to do well, but that are done quite well in this story.

The Eons have a population problem. Or rather, a procreation problem that leads to a population problem. The warriors are only fertile with their “fated mates”, and true matings have become very rare. Science has found a way around the problem through in vitro fertilization of scientifically selected genetic material, but it’s not an ideal solution for an entire species.

So the Eon Warriors need to increase their pool of potential partners in order to find their true mates. This is jokingly referred to as the “Mars needs women” trope. And when they do find them,  because of the way things are set up in this story, that’s the “fated mate” trope.

Of course, in our story, Eve and Davion turn out to be true mates. A fact which is going to sooner or later in the series lead to somebody figuring out that Earth is a potential source for mates for the Eons, giving the two species a reason to get together to fight the Kratos.

So far, this aspect is done subtly, but it’s definitely there. And it’s an aspect that has the potential to grow as the series progresses.

The fated mate trope can lead to insta-love, and if done poorly tends to feel a bit like an arranged marriage where the participants don’t really have a choice about who they mate with.

While Eve and Davion do fall for each other rather quickly, the circumstances that they have found themselves in do lead to fast bonding without the fated mate issue. That they don’t even guess that they might be true mates until after they have already fallen for each other keeps the fated mate situation from being too heavy handed.

But what really sells the story are the characters. We empathize with Eve and the rock and the hard place she’s caught between. Unfortunately it is also all too easy to see how a hide-bound bureaucracy turns into an “old soldier’s club” where children of the elite accrue favors they have not earned and people like Eve get the shaft. Or the cell.

That Davion falls for this tough, competent and dangerous woman makes sense. She’s someone who can meet him as an equal, and there are very few people who can do that, whether male or female. Forced to rely on each other, it’s not a surprise that they fall for each other, even if it does happen just a bit fast.

That the underhanded and desperate dealings of Eve’s Space Corps also set the scenarios for books 2 and 3 in this series makes perfect sense. I can’t wait for Touch of Eon in January to see how it all begins to play out.,

Review: The Temple by Jean Johnson

Review: The Temple by Jean JohnsonThe Temple (Guardians of Destiny #4) by Jean Johnson
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Guardians of Destiny #4
Pages: 333
Published by Penguin on February 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Synod gathers, tell them lies:

Efforts garnered in your pride
Lost beneath the granite face.
Painted Lord, stand by her side;
Repentance is the Temple's grace.

The Guardian of the Fountain of Mendhi is dying, and her successor must step up to the task. Disciplinarian Pelai is ready to accept the burden of managing the powerful magics, but the timing is inconvenient. She has one last Disciplining to perform: assigning the punishment of the three Puhon brothers--men whose lives are entwined with a prophecy of a cataclysmic demonic invasion.

Six months of travel have given Puhon Krais time to reflect on, regret, and repent his many mistakes. But the worst lies just ahead: defying the leadership of Mendhi means suffering harsh punishments at the hands of the Disciplinarians once he comes home. Commanded by his Goddess, the proud Painted Warrior must find the strength to submit to his destiny...or find himself, and his whole world, on the wrong side of history.

For in the end, one brother is destined to save humanity, one will betray humanity, and one will walk away from his humanity.

My Review:

I’ve frequently said that the wait between Jean Johnson’s books is a torment. That’s both especially true in the case of The Temple (it’s been four YEARS!) and especially appropriate in light of the story itself.

Waiting for fulfillment is just one of the sweet torments practiced by the Disciplinarians of the Temple of Menda in this fourth book in the Guardians of Destiny series. Although in the story it’s usually a different kind of delayed gratification used in that torment.

This story takes place in the aftermath of the events of the previous books in the series, The Tower, The Grove, and especially The Guild. At the same time, it also follows the pattern set by those stories, and the prophetic verses that begin each book in the series.

Two of those events have particular bearing on this story. In this world, nations exist to worship a particular deity, or perhaps two. Those deities are not myths, they are real and can manifest in the world. And occasionally do.

The societies reflect their god, and the gods reflect their society. One of the recent events that is still reverberating is the just finished Convocation of Gods and Man, where new nations and new gods are ratified, and gods that have really, really misbehaved get dissolved by their peers.

At the Convocation, the god Mekha was dissolved. His former country is picking up the pieces under the guidance of the Guardians Alonnen and Rexei. Their story is told in The Guild.

But the priests who served Mekha and were powerful because of that service are not willing to go gentle into that good night. Instead, they are desperately searching for any means, no matter how underhanded or terrible, to become powerful again. And they’re not in the least picky about what they’ll have to do, manifest, or summon in order to retake their lost power. Up to and including raising demons from the Netherhells.

The Guardians in all of the lands of this world are studying the prophecies in order to thwart them, and it is far from an easy job. Changing circumstances in one area can make things better in another – or it can actually make things worse later on.

It’s a big butterfly, and the wing flaps can have some seriously nasty consequences if everyone on the side of the light isn’t very, very careful.

The priests power-search has led them to the Great Library of Mendhi, and that’s where that part of the overarching story intersects with both the romance at the heart of this book in the series and the careful balancing of prophecies to make sure that what must happen does happen.

The country that hosts the Convocation gathers a lot of political power, and that ties into the rest of the events. The Elder Disciplinarian of Mendhi sent his three sons on to the Convocation in an attempt to disrupt it and move the location to Mendhi. All the gods were against this attempt, and all the prophecies were clear that this attempt would fail, but the Elder Disciplinarian and his political party refused to be swayed.

The Puhon Brothers have returned home, having failed as expected. Equally, their father expects them to be officially punished for their failure. Which kicks off another round of prophecy, as well as a surprising romance between two people who used to think of each other as enemies, only to discover that they are perfect for each other, after all.

Or after all the prophecies have had their way.

The Grove by Jean JohnsonEscape Rating B+: In spite of the high grade, this is still a mixed feelings kind of review.

First, I have to admit that I loved this story, and found myself sinking right back into this world, even after the unfortunate long absence. It took awhile for all of the threads from the previous books to gather back into my conscious, but the process was helped by a fair amount of backstory that was worked reasonably well into the story at hand.

This entry in the series is a particularly interesting mixture of sex and politics. There are aspects of the Disciplinarian Order and its administration that will remind readers a bit of Kushiel’s Dart. And like that series, it is made very clear in The Temple that discipline is not all about pain, and that people exist at every point on the pleasure/pain/dominance/submission grid. While there is more “academic” discussion of sex and desire than is usual in most romances, and it goes into quite a bit of interesting territory, there is more discussion than there is actual sex. Or even sexual play and exploration.

I found the discussions to be fascinating and very tastefully done, but there are some readers who may be made uncomfortable. As the discussion within the story is about each person finding what works for them, it seems appropriate to say that it won’t work for some people but it will work for others and that reading it with an open mind may be enlightening.

Your mileage may vary.

The politics of this particular country are very interesting. The Goddess Menda is the goddess of writing, so books and libraries are under her purview. (So is bureaucracy!) That one of the members of the ruling body is the Elder Librarian certainly warmed this librarian’s heart – especially when she invoked powerful spells to protect the secrets of the Great Library.

As much as I enjoyed the story, and as absorbing as I found it, this missed being an A grade because the editing was so terrible that it often threw me out of the story. I read a lot of ARCs, and in an ARC I expect editing errors – that’s part of what the ARC process is for. But this was a finished book, and it contained so many typos and word errors that occasionally even the meaning was obscure and I had to reread in order to put the pieces together.

But once I did piece it together, it was a lot of fun. I just wish that it hadn’t been quite so long since the previous book in the series, and I sincerely hope that it won’t be nearly this long until the next one.

Review: Script of the Heart by Robin D. Owens

Review: Script of the Heart by Robin D. OwensScript of the Heart: A Celta Heartmates Novel by Robin D Owens
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance, science fiction romance
Series: Celta's Heartmates #9A
Pages: 364
Published by Follow Your Heart on October 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Celta, a place of magic, telepathic animal companions, and romance...Script of the Heart, a story set decades ago, of a couple struggling with love and loss...

Giniana Filix, a dedicated Healer, is desperate to raise funds for an experimental treatment to save her dying FamCat. She has no time or interest in a relationship.

Growing up on an impoverished estate as the last of his line, actor Klay St. Johnswort hears of a script of a lifetime, a script he believes will catapult his career to greatness and enable him to restore his home. Appalled to learn the script has mysteriously disappeared, he is determined to reclaim it at all costs.His desire to be close fuels her fear of abandonment.

Her distrust of actors clashes with his pride in his craft. But they discover a connection they can’t deny. Will their attraction be enough to force them to write their own Script of the Heart?

My Review:

Sometimes, even though, as the saying goes, it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it isn’t actually a duck. The Celta’s Heartmates series is one of those “not a duck” situations, along with Pern, Darkover, Harmony and Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra.

These are all series that read like fantasy and/or fantasy romance, but if you look under the hood – or back in the history of how these places came to be – there’s a space ship lurking in the shadows. Or in the case of Markswoman an apocalypse. And if you’re looking for a book to cross over from one of these genres to the other, something from one of these series might just be your jam.

What I mean is that all of these series feel like fantasy. Their worlds are either lower tech than ours is currently, and/or what tech they have is based on something other than electricity – usually psi power of some kind. The mileage, parsecs and/or warp speed varies.

But these are worlds that have a scientific origin and reverted to a lower level of technology either out of necessity or conscious planning. Usually within the course of the series those origins, if not widely known, are re-discovered.

Celta, in specific, is a lost colony of our very own Earth, in a far-flung future. It was settled by the survivors of three ships from Earth, filled with refugees who left because they were persecuted for their psi-power, called Flair in this series. By the time that Script of the Heart takes place, Celta has been established for centuries. Life on Celta is not perfect (no place is perfect) but it is good for most people most of the time.

Celta also seems like a reasonable place to live. This society seems to actually work and not merely lurch from crisis to crisis. The world creation in this series is top-notch every step of the way.

This story, in spite of its designation as #9a in the series, is a full-length novel. But it takes place chronologically during the events of Heart Journey. You don’t need to have read that to enjoy this, but you do probably need to have some other exposure to Celta before diving into Script of the Heart. Starting with either Heart Mate (the first published book in the series) or the story Heart and Sword (included in the Hearts and Swords collection) the first story in the internal world chronology, should be enough to get you hooked.

The course of true love never does run smooth, and that is certainly true in Script of the Heart – along with a rather large helping of “pride goeth before a fall”. Klay St. Johnsworth is a respected actor at the height of his career. He is also the last of his respected but not in the least wealthy line.

Giniana Filix is a respected healer who was abandoned by her family of actors. This has not left her with a very high opinion of the profession, and in some ways rightly so. She’s done her best to make her own way, but at the moment it isn’t quite enough.

Her FamCat, Thrisca, is the “oldest of the old” of the telepathic, highly intelligent FamAnimals that live on Celta. Thrisca is dying. Giniana will do anything to earn enough money to allow Thrisca to participate in an expensive and experimental procedure that might just save her life – if Giniana doesn’t work herself into illness along the way.

Giniana doesn’t have time for romance, or even friendly relationships. She’s working every hour of the day and night to earn the money for Thrisca’s treatment. But that’s when she meets Klay, and can’t make herself resist the actor – no matter how much she distrusts his profession.

It’s mostly Giniana’s pride that gets in the way, as well as her lingering resentments of her family situation. It’s not just that her parents were actors, but that they were profligate with their money, sparing with their affection, and never seemed to put anything before their own careers and especially their own selves. Not even each other and certainly not their daughter.

That her mother spent her life looking for a man to sponge off of has left Giniana with a fear of taking help, at least help in the form of money, from anyone. Even someone she is coming to love.

But Klay has his own pride. He wants to help Giniana. But he needs for her to accept him as he is, because his career is every bit as much a part of him as hers is of her. It’s up to Klay with a little bit of help from her FamCat (and her FamCat’s FamCat) to get Giniana to finally see that sometimes we all need a little help from our friends.

Escape Rating A-: Script of the Heart is simply a lovely romance between two interesting people in a fascinating place.

It’s not just that Klay and Giniana are great people to follow into a romance, but also that their story shows a side of Celta that we don’t see all that often. While many of the stories involve couples who operate at the highest echelons of this society, Klay and Giniana are both in the lower-middle class. They both have to work for a living, and they have to live off what they make. They also have to worry about scrimping and saving and not always having quite enough to meet their everyday needs, even with careful planning.

We’ve seen a few people at the very low end of this society get vaulted into the upper class, but it’s been a while since we’ve followed people in this situation, if ever. It’s impossible not to feel for Giniana and her desperate need to keep her oldest and best friend, her FamCat Thrisca, alive and well if at all possible. Those of us who have companion animals know that feeling of watching a beloved friend slip away and being unable to stop it.

The FamKitten Melis offers the comic relief in this story, as Klay brings her to Giniana in the hopes that Melis may be able to ease her grief if the worst happens to Thrisca. That the old FamCat herself adopts the kitten gives Thrisca a bit of a new lease on life. But the FamCats in general are simply a joy to read. (We have a little kitten of our own right now, and Melis is VERY kitten!)

So a lovely romance, with happy endings all around. Especially for the FamCats!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-9-18

Sunday Post

This has been one of THOSE weeks. We’ve both been sick all week, with a cough that won’t quit, and is bad enough and deep enough that I expected to cough up my toenails, from the inside, on more than one occasion. We’re both at the point where we still don’t exactly feel good, but we both feel less bad. So things are looking up.

This week coming up features a bunch of books that I seem to have missed when they first came out – under the influence of the “so many books, so little time” conundrum. As well as the first book in Anna Hackett’s new SFR series – a book which I have been eagerly awaiting. Lets just say it was definitely worth the wait!

Current Giveaways:

The Frame-Up by Megan Scott Molin
Ask Me No Questions by Shelly Noble (4 copies) + Drink Coasters
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the December Of Books Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

B- Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + Giveaway
Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
B+ Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger
A- Review: A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle
A- Review: Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (317)

Coming This Week:

Script of the Heart by Robin D. Owens (review)
The Temple by Jean Johnson (review)
Half Empty by Catherine Bybee (review)
Want Me Cowboy by Maisey Yates (review)
Edge of Eon by Anna Hackett (review)
Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop