As you read this, the SFR Galaxy Awards for 2015 are being announced over at the Awards site. The rounds are being posted every two hours, and mine should be up at 6 pm tonight. Although I have four awards listed, there was originally a fifth, but the author of my fifth awards book was also a judge at the beginning of the year, so she wasn’t eligible. So I’d like to give a special shout-out to Laurie A. Green and her book Inherit the Stars for an unofficial but still heartfelt, “Best Plucky Rebels vs. the Evil Empire” Award.
Last week’s schedule changed from my original plans. These things happen. I bounced off of one book, just not in the mood. And one book, late in the week, I looked at 300 pages and staying up until 3 am again to finish and just switched to a shorter book. In other words, I got behind. I’ll try both of them again at different points.
This looks like a normal winter week. Alternatively, OMG, this is a normal winter week of book stacking! My friends over at The Book Pushers all said that the Captive Prince trilogy was marvelous and that I should jump on the offer of review copies. So I jumped.
Adding to the stack, my surprise and delight when I was approved for the Nora Roberts eARC. I love the JD Robb books, and usually, but not always like what she writes as Roberts. But I also usually have to wait in line at the library for them, or break down and spend my own money. Not this time.
And the upcoming Hugo nomination round inspired me to pick up a bit of SF. It’s already time to start thinking about noms for next year – my list for this year is nearly set.
Captain Kara Moretti flies high in her MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAV. It is the Night Stalkers' eyes and ears in the sky, and being behind a remote control and one step back from the action has always worked for her… and her love life.
Right until Captain Justin Roberts walks straight through her shields and into her heart. Justin is a pilot who loves being right in the middle of the fray. Together they'll go where life, limb, and heart are at risk in the Mongolian wilderness. But Justin learns there's something more important than missions - Kara.
I didn’t quite stay up until break of day to finish this book, but it was close. I’ve enjoyed every single book in Buchman’s Night Stalkers series, starting with The Night Is Mine, reviewed here four(!) years ago.
And one of the best parts of this series is that it has become real in those four years. At the time that The Night is Mine was published, heroine and decorated chopper pilot Emily Beale of SOAR was aspirational and inspirational, but not possible. Now she and her sisters-in-SOAR are still inspirational, but are an achievable goal. All combat positions, including SOAR, have been opened to women. Readers no longer have to check their reality-meters at the door to fall for this series.
For those who love military romance, the Night Stalkers are consistent winners.
In this seventh full-length entry into the series (it’s the 15th story overall, but half are novellas or shorter) we have two new Captains in the Night Stalkers. Captain Kara Moretti is the Night Stalkers first drone pilot, and Justin Roberts pilots the biggest bird that the Night Stalkers fly.
At the beginning of the book, Kara is also conducting her first mission as the unit’s new Air Mission Commander. It’s a daunting job, made even more pressure-filled if she pauses to think about her predecessors in that job; the legendary Mark Henderson (story in The Night is Mine) and his equally impressive successor, Lieutenant Archie Stevenson (story in I Own the Dawn), now both retired and fire fighting in Oregon.
But Kara’s first foray as AMC, a testing and training run for the U.S. Turkish allies, is a success, and cements her new position. It is also the first time we see Kara get into the heads of all of her pilots as well as deducing the “enemy’s” traps with seconds to spare.
And after the mission, we see the progress of Captain Justin Roberts low, slow and sometimes confused pursuit of Kara Moretti finally trip him up and flare into life.
These are two people who probably wouldn’t have met outside of SOAR. Moretti is Brooklyn born and raised, and her Italian-American family owns a neighborhood Italian grocery and pasta shop. Everyone not working the store is a cop.
Roberts is from the other end of the country, and the other end of everything. He’s Texas through-and-through, to the point of wearing a cowboy hat whenever he doesn’t need his helmet on. His family owns ranches, including the best Quarter Horse breeding ranch in the country. In spite of his cowboy manners, Justin is from old money, and lots of it. He just doesn’t throw it around.
Roberts and Moretti bond over a black-in-black operation in the Israeli desert. At first, it seems as if their mission was a complete success. Until everyone involved in that mission; Colonel Michael Gibson of Delta, the high-level Army Intelligence unit they extracted, and the even higher-level pain-in-the-ass and button-pusher who ordered that mission all show up back in their lives with the news that enemy agents have infiltrated both the top-secret Israeli base and the American Army unit posted alongside them. It’s up to Kara to command a mission to take care of all the leaks, even as she doesn’t want to think about exactly what plugging those leaks means.
Until it all goes completely pear-shaped, and Kara is forced to shoot down Justin’s chopper as he seemingly goes rogue. She figures out exactly what he means to her, as she makes the call that blows his bird out of the sky.
Escape Rating B+: This series isn’t just good, it’s consistently good. When I pick one up, I know that I’ll be treated to a sweet/hot romance, a hero and heroine who are equals in everything, an immersion into a military family that I’ve grown to like and respect, and pulse-pounding action with guns blazing and lives on the line.
At the beginning of this story, the women of SOAR get together and let Kara know that her odds of not falling for Justin Roberts are just not in her favor. It’s a moment that shows the bond between all of these spectacular and spectacularly capable heroines. And it also lampshades the fact that every woman who joins their unit inevitably falls in love with one of the men either in or attached to SOAR. And that their marriages, unlike many military marriages, have chance of lasting because the rules for Special Operations are just a bit loose. These couples deploy together, not halfway around the world from each other. The requirements to get into this unit are just too stringent to force anyone out just because they married someone who understands what they do, because their spouse is just as highly qualified and mission critical as they are.
Perhaps this is barely plausible, but it is absolutely marvelous just the same.
Like so many of the heroes and heroines in this series, neither Kara nor Justin has led a charmed life, in spite of the relatively happy families they both come from. Kara reflects her experience as a woman in the military – she is constantly looking out for someone to treat her as a sex-object instead of an officer. She’s happy that the incidences of such treatment are much fewer and farther between in SOAR than anywhere she has served.
She’s also conscious that while the unit treats her as a pilot, in fact she doesn’t put herself in harm’s way the way the others do. Her remote controlled birds are crucial to the operations of their missions, but her own life is safely back at base on the U.S.S. Peleliu while those missions are conducted. And Kara always has her guard up, because as much as her family loves her, they are always trying to shove her back into the expected box, and she resists and resents it, even though she loves them.
Justin lost a helicopter and his entire crew to a terrorist who threw high explosives into the bird in a supposedly safe location. Everyone except Justin died, and his back is a mass of burns and scar tissue. He’s lost his sense of inviolability, and he still mourns the men and women he lost every day.
So these two wounded people find each other, fall in love, and learn about each other after the fact, then have to figure out whether it’s just a fling or if they have a future. When it seems like that future may have ended before it begins, the reader’s heart breaks with Kara’s, even though one is almost positive that it can’t end that way. And it doesn’t.
Finding out who the real villain is behind all this mess, and watching him get his just desserts, was the icing on a very tasty cake.
~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~
Sourcebooks is giving away a Night Stalkers book bundle to one lucky entrant on this tour!
PLACE YOUR BET
The Hotel Rodeo in Las Vegas has seen better days, but managing partner Ty Morgan has come up with a way to return it to its former glory. His plan looks promising until the unthinkable happens. Suddenly Ty is working for the boss’s daughter. And Miss Monica Brandt, hot as she may be, doesn’t share his vision… ROLL THE DICE
She left a fabulous career and a frustrated fiancé in New York to move to Vegas and save her father’s investment. But now Monica is locking horns with a sexy cowboy-turned-businessman. What does Ty think he can do that she can’t? All Monica knows is that she doesn’t dare trust him—or is it herself she doesn’t trust... AND WIN
The battle lines are drawn. The stakes are high. And the attraction can’t be denied—especially the more closely Ty and Monica have to work together. Some odds are just meant to be played, and with chemistry this electric, it may be time to grab life by the horns…
I’m still not completely sure how I feel about this one. I love Victoria Vane’s work, but Hell on Heels didn’t quite click for me until the very end.
And then it clicked so hard that I picked up the third book in the series (Beauty and the Bull Rider) on NetGalley, after swearing that I wouldn’t. The baby trope it uses is far from my favorite.
I already have the second book, Two to Wrangle, and I’m very glad I do. Because the story in Hell on Heels is NOT OVER when you turn the last page. Ty and Monica are definitely not through with each other, even though they both thought they were.
The story in Hell on Heels is definitely an “opposites attract” romance. Ty Morgan is Western through and through. He grew up on a ranch in Oklahoma, and used to ride bulls for a living. Now he’s the manager of a well-past-its-heyday Rodeo-themed hotel at the edge of the Las Vegas strip.
Ty is full of plans to remodel and renovate and bring the hotel back to its glory days. And just as he convinces his boss, controlling partner and mentor to back his play, the man that Ty looks up to as a father figure has a debilitating stroke.
And Tom Brandt’s business tycoon daughter Monica sweeps in to take the best care she can of her father, including taking care of all the businesses her dad needs her to manage for him.
Top of that list, or bottom of the heap, is Ty’s Hotel Rodeo. And Monica finds herself caught between making the right business decision and making the right decision. Her heart wants to please her father by helping Ty. Other parts of her want to make Ty happy, in the hopes that they might have a future together.
But her business sense tells her that the hotel is too far past its prime to ever come back.
Does she go all in with Ty, or does she run away back to her life in New York City?
Escape Rating B-: At the end, I liked it enough to keep going with the series. But in the beginning (and some of the middle) I felt very conflicted. Luckily this is a short enough book that the beginning doesn’t last long.
At the beginning, Monica acts like a bitch on wheels, or as Ty says, “hell on heels”, while Ty comes off as a sexist neanderthal. It’s only as the story progresses, and readers start to see behind their crusty exteriors, that we are able to empathize with the characters, and they are able to see a bit past each other’s surfaces. They still argue every five minutes, but it’s more about what they are actually saying and doing than quite as many stereotypical assumptions on their part.
There are still plenty of damaging assumptions on both sides, but they are less about roles and more about the heart of their conflicts. And even though they indulge in all the sexual chemistry that their arguing fires up, neither of them can manage to see past their own baggage. Which would give them a view of the other person’s equally weighty baggage.
In the end, Hell on Heels is a novella that starts out simplistic, but develops depth as it goes. The ending is frustrating because it isn’t an ending. Ty and Monica’s rocky relationship goes through more twists and turns in Two to Wrangle. And I find myself looking forward to it.
Two amateur sleuths gumshoe around French wine country, where money, deceit, jealousy, inheritance and greed are all the ingredients needed for crime. Master winemaker Benjamin Cooker and his sidekick Virgile Lanssien solve mysteries in vineyards with a dose of Epicurean enjoyment of fine food and beverage. Each story is a homage to wine and winemakers, as well as a mystery. In "Treachery in Bordeaux," barrels at the prestigious grand cru Moniales Haut-Brion wine estate in Bordeaux have been contaminated. Is it negligence or sabotage? In "Grand Cru Heist," Benjamin Cooker's world gets turned upside down one night in Paris. He retreats to the region around Tours to recover. He and his assistant Virgile turn PI to solve two murders and very particular heist. In "Nightmare in Burgundy," a dream wine tasting trip to Burgundy that turns into a troubling nightmare when Cooker and his assistant stumble upon a mystery revolving around messages from another era. This made-for-TV series is "difficult to forget and oddly addictive" ("ForeWord Reviews").
The Winemaker Detective Omnibus combines three books that were originally published separately; Treachery in Bordeaux, Grand Cru Heist and Nightmare in Burgundy. As these are the first three books in what is now a 20 book plus series in the original French, this little omnibus is a convenient way to start on this tasty little series about making wine, living the Epicurean life in France, and murder.
Each of the books in this series is novella-length, so this combined introductory collection makes for a decent book-sized book without being overwhelming.
The stories feature the internationally acclaimed Anglo-French winemaker and wine commentator Benjamin Cooker, and his young assistant Virgile Lanssien. Poor Virgile’s job interview opens Treachery in Bordeaux, and he and his new boss are immediately thrust into a tale of wine sabotage, real estate shenanigans and death.
This is a relatively straight-forward case in many ways, with the original crime – what happened to the wine? – relatively easy to guess, both for the reader and the newly hired Virgile. Figuring out whodunnit and even more interesting, whydunnit make the story. The portrait of the winemaking region of France and the processes used to create and preserve the wine and the winemaking business itself are fascinating.
But Treachery in Bordeaux is mostly a book that sets up later stories. Once Cooker figures out the shortlist of who might have done the crime, the wrap-up is quick and almost anti-climactic. We see Cooker agonize much more over writing the next edition of his famous wine guide than we observe him thinking about the case.
For this reader, Grand Cru Heist was the best of the three stories in the collection. All of the characters and situations are set up in Treachery in Bordeaux, and we see the partnership of Cooker and Lanssien gel. And we see Benjamin Cooker thrown very much out of his element, as we watch him recover from a carjacking in Paris. While he is recuperating in Tours, he runs across a congenial fellow wine collector, a Russian prostitute, and a staged murder-suicide that conceals two murders. Meanwhile back home, a friend’s collection of rare wines is being stolen from auction houses around Europe. And only his friend’s wines, no matter what other treasures are stored in those warehouses.
So while Cooker mourns the loss of his vintage car and his even more precious notes for his next Guide, he finds his recuperation aided by involving himself in both the police investigation and the hunt for a thief. It’s not a complete surprise when that congenial wine collector, the murders and the thefts all turn out to be part of the same messy business. But it is fun.
In Nightmare in Burgundy, Cooker is off to Burgundy, a completely different winemaking region than his native Bordeaux. While Cooker is in Burgundy for a wine judging event, he stumbles across a case that takes a very unfortunate turn.
Someone is leaving Biblical verse graffiti, in Latin, painted on the walls and inside the houses of several villages in the Burgundy area. Whoever is leaving the quotes from Psalm 102, it is someone in a lot of pain and obviously not a typical tagger. When the painting spree starts causing collateral damage among the villagers, Cooker steps in to figure out not just who is in such terrible anguish, and causing so much more.
By the time I got to Nightmare in Burgundy, it felt like reading all three stories back to back was too much of a good thing all at once. Perhaps I was a bit hungover from all the wine talk! So while these stories are individually lovely, I would recommend pacing oneself and resisting the impulse to plow through them all at once.
Escape Ratings: Treachery in Bordeaux, B-: Grand Cru Heist, B: Nightmare in Burgundy, B
"Breakfast with benefits "
"The Salt Box Trilogy," Book 2
The reality show "Lovely Ladies of L.A." should have launched Lizzy Apodaca s catering company into solvency. Instead, when her carefully prepared appetizers mysteriously gave the cast on-camera food poisoning, she lost everything.
To make matters worse, her car breaks down in Salt Box, Colorado, a town not much bigger than a salt shaker. But maybe her luck is changing the handsome owner of Praeger House, the town s premier hotel, needs a kitchen assistant.
Clark Denham realizes his diamond in the rough is a polished gem when Lizzy steps up to save the hotel s breakfast buffet after his temperamental head chef quits. It isn t long before she s winning his heart as smoothly and efficiently as she runs his kitchen.
Their relationship goes from simmer to rolling boil with the speed of a short order cook. But when a bevy of not-so-lovely ladies shows up in Salt Box, Lizzy s past disaster threatens to flatten her happily ever after faster than a falling souffle.
"Warning: Contains salty dialogue, several servings of high-carb cooking, and a big platter of screaming-hot bedroom delights.""
Love in the Morning is the perfect antidote (pun definitely intended) to the first book in this series, Finding Mr. Right Now (reviewed here).
It’s also a lovely reward for having suffered through that first book, but it is not necessary to read the first one in order to get into this second one. There is more than enough background provided to transport readers to Salt Box without having to go through the production of Finding Mr. Right, which is awesome for those of us who are not into reality TV shows.
Not that a different reality TV show doesn’t rear its ugly head in Love in the Morning, but in this case, the heroine, and the readers, get their revenge on the industry. And it feels every bit as marvelous as the romance in this book.
In Love in the Morning, the heroine is Lizzy Apocada, She’s a chef, or she was. Unfortunately for Lizzy, her cousin Teresa the family diva is one of the Lovely Ladies of L.A., which is an even shoutier version of The Real Housewives of Wherever. And Teresa ropied her cousin Lizzy the chef into catering a party at her house during the filming of an episode of the not-so-lovely Ladies.
Someone poisoned the food, and the episode ends in a whole lot of overdressed people barfing on camera. Lizzy’s reputation was ruined, her business went bankrupt, and those lovely Ladies rehashed her supposed dastardly deed for weeks.
It was a big ratings boost for the series, and it completely ended Lizzy’s life as she knew it. So she takes her crappy car and heads East from L.A., hoping to outrun her problems. She runs out of gas just as she reaches Salt Box, Colorado, so that’s where she stays.
And that’s where the fun begins. She lucks into a kitchen’s assistant job in the best bed and breakfast in town, the Praeger House. And when the temperamental chef suddenly takes herself off to a better job in Aspen, Lizzy finds herself in charge of a kitchen again, and finally back in her element.
She’s just waiting for the other shoe to drop, for someone to recognize that Lizzy Apodaca and Annalisa Antonio one and the same person – the person who gave the cast of Lovely Ladies food poisoning. Then she’ll have to move on.
But not before the hunky owner of Praeger House, Clark Denham, makes a move on her. One that she has been secretly hoping for and is happy to reciprocate. Now that she’s involved with Clark, she has two reasons for hoping that her past takes a long time to catch up with her.
Then the Lovely Ladies come to town to film an episode at the nearby resort, and Lizzy is certain that her days in Salt Box are numbered.
Escape Rating A-: I think I liked this one so much because it fulfills a revenge fantasy. Not just Lizzy’s revenge on the production of the Lovely Ladies, but also my personal revenge fantasy at just how much I hated the setup for Finding Mr. Right Now. (I liked the hero and heroine, I just wanted to get them out of their toxic jobs ASAP)
It is lucky for Lizzy that she lucks into that kitchen assistant’s job, but it isn’t too far out of the realms of possibility. Having lived somewhere with that kind of issue, that people skilled in a particular field may be thin on the ground, I can see it happening all too easily. Especially in this situation, where the person who could have been training people is a jerk looking for a way out of smalltown-ville.
The main story is two-fold. One part of it is the development of Lizzy’s romance with Clark. They start out as boss and employee, but just barely. Clark is not exactly a traditional boss, and he’s as bowled over by his reaction to Lizzy as she is to him. Neither of them is looking for a relationship, and it knocks them both sideways when it happens. While this situation could have been skeevy, it just so isn’t. Especially since Lizzy figures that she can’t possibly stay in Salt Box, no matter how much she likes it.
But the bigger story, at least for this reader, is the re-growth of Lizzy’s confidence. She starts at the lowest possible point, as she says at the beginning, “this may not be the bottom, but you can see it from here”. While her life seemingly has no where to go but up, it is Lizzy’s willingness to reach for the opportunities presented to her that lift up the story. Each time there’s a chance to advance or retreat, Lizzy keeps moving forward. With some trepidation, but always forward.
Lizzy finds happiness and professional satisfaction because she reaches out and grabs them with both hands, and she deserves them.
The last part of the story is the revenge fantasy. Lovely Ladies of L.A. is produced by the same cheesy production company as Finding Mr. Right. They had a “great time” at the resort up the road from Salt Box, so they decide to come back, with the Lovely Ladies this time. The stage is set for a showdown between Lizzy and her diva cousin Teresa. The result is surprising, and surprisingly awesome.
Hell Squad sniper Shaw Baird is a man on a mission. His squad is his family and now the invading aliens have done the unforgivable…taken one of his team. Claudia Frost—soldier, friend, and all-round badass—is running on borrowed time. Shaw has vowed to bring her home, whatever it takes…and he’s only just realizing now she’s been taken that Claudia is a vital piece of him.
Claudia Frost is surviving…barely. Kept in chains, made to fight for the aliens’ enjoyment, she can’t survive much longer. But she knows her squad is coming for her…knows Shaw is coming. Only thoughts of the sexy, charming sniper get her through the hell, and for the first time in forever, she wishes she hadn’t let the wounds of her past stop her from taking a taste of the man who is her friend, her sanity and her secret obsession.
But rescuing Claudia is only the first dangerous step. The alien keeping Claudia prisoner is far more intelligent, far more patient and a hell of a lot deadlier than any they’ve faced before. Not only is he hunting their band of human survivors through the forests of the Blue Mountains, but he wants Claudia. And he’ll let nothing get in his way.
The action in Shawpicks up bare moments after Noah(reviewed here) ends. And it’s a story that series fans have been waiting for.
Throughout the series, the two Hell Squad snipers, Baird Shaw and Claudia Frost, have been striking sparks off each other every time they argue. Which is pretty damn often. They tease each other, rile each other, and drive each other crazy at every turn. And have each other’s backs when the going gets tough.
The one thing they aren’t is lovers. It’s debatable at points whether they are even friends. Which does not mean that they don’t trust each other with their lives.
Shaw was always a ladies’ man. And in the sexually relaxed atmosphere of post-invasion Blue Mountain Base, he has his pick of the soldier bunnies and anyone else looking for a way to beat back the stress for a few hours.
Claudia used to be married to a man who was just like Shaw seems to be. She’s not interested in anything more than friendship, because she’s playing it safe.
Until nothing is safe any longer.
At the end of Noah, Blue Mountain Base is discovered by the alien Gizzida invaders, and Claudia is captured as the human convoy pulls out. A week later, the survivors are on the dangerous road to the Enclave discovered in Rothwhile the Hell Squad runs itself ragged trying to protect the convoy and search for Claudia.
Claudia is being tortured by the Gizzida, but certain that her squad won’t give up until they find her. Because if she lets any other thought into her head, she’ll give up, curl up around the pain of her repeated injuries, and die.
Meanwhile, Shaw is falling apart. Now that Claudia is gone, he’s forced to admit to himself that he cares about her more than he has been willing to even think about. And that he’s scared to death that they won’t reach her in time. He’s equally scared that when they do find her, he’ll only screw up the only relationship he’s ever wanted.
Claudia just regrets that she didn’t at least kiss Shaw before her capture. Now that her life is failing, not exploring the possibilities with Shaw, or at least finding out if any of his rep is true, is the one thing she wishes she could do over.
Rescuing Claudia is just the beginning. Now that she has more time, both Claudia and Shaw find that the fears that kept them apart before are even stronger than ever.
And the convoy has miles to go before they reach safety, and the Gizzida are relentless in their pursuit. They are also damned lucky. Or is it more than just luck?
Escape Rating A-: I’ve made no secret that I love this series, and Shawis no exception. I’ve been expecting this one for a while, because it’s been clear from the very beginning that Shaw and Claudia had a whole lot of chemistry that they were both determined to ignore.
The great thing about this story is that we finally find out why, and it all makes heartbreaking sense. Like so many of the couples, these are two people who would not have had the patience to discover that they belong together, were it not for the invasion.
And this is in spite of both of them being in the same branch of the service, and having been at least acquainted before the alien shit hit the earth fan. It’s only after Claudia’s capture and rescue that they are both able to get beyond the traumas they’ve been carrying around in their baggage. They are living in a situation where life is just manifestly too short for the crap that was keeping them apart.
Just as in the rest of this marvelous series, the romance between Shaw and Claudia is in some ways a subplot. Admittedly an extremely important subplot.
The plot is the convoy and its struggle to escape the mountains. The fleeing survivors of Blue Mountain Base need to get to the Enclave before the Gizzida pick them off one by one. The longer the harrowing journey goes on, the more people they lose.
But considering the way that Gizzida torture and then transform their prisoners, letting themselves be captured is not an option. This truly is one of the cases where there are worse fates than death. And yet, the toll this journey takes on the survivors is appropriately high. Everyone is running fill tilt, and at the ragged edge of their endurance.
Part of the story is the relentless pursuit by one particular Gizzida – the one who tortured Claudia. Whether “the Huntsman” has always been able to think outside the Gizzida box, or whether he learned it from Claudia, he’s different from most of the other aliens. Just like some of the other commanders, the Huntsman thinks for himself, and has his own motivations outside of the general Gizzida desire to strip the planet. His pursuit of Claudia is very, very personal, but completely non-sexual. It’s chilling, but not stalker-creepy. And nearly unstoppable.
In each book in this series, we get a glimpse of who will be featured in the next book. I’m pleased to say that the next book will feature General Holmes. It’s about time that someone stepped in to help the man carry the mountain of stress and regret he’s been living with for so long. And I’m fascinated by the choice for the heroine. It’s going to take a lot of explanation to make this relationship work.
As I write this, Atlanta is battening down for the coming Snowpocalypse. Whether Snowmaggedon will actually arrive still feels like anybody’s guess. (I’m writing this on Friday afternoon. By Sunday, we’ll KNOW).
I’ve lived in two places where it snows buckets (Chicago and Anchorage), two places where a snowfall is a once a century event, if that (Tallahassee and Gainesville) and three places where the entire city comes to a screeching halt when it snows, but it happens just often enough to keep people very wary of the white stuff (Cincinnati, Seattle and now Atlanta). Even though I still know how to drive in the stuff, there’s little chance that enough of the population does to keep the highways from becoming a giant jam. I’m staying home if it hits. Possibly until March.
This is two weeks’ stack. And I needed to stock up on books in preparation for the coming Atlanta Snowpocalypse. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
But seriously…I didn’t pick up books at the conference. I saw lots of interesting things, but my back was already killing me (so were my feet!) so I resisted the urge to leave with a pile of books. Which didn’t stop me from making notes and getting eARCs from NetGalley and Edelweiss after I got home.
USA Today and internationally bestselling author Jennifer Robson takes readers to 1920s Paris in an enthralling new historical novel that tells the riveting story of an English lady who trades in her staid aristocratic life for the mesmerizing salons and the heady world of the Lost Generation.
It’s the spring of 1924, and Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr has just arrived in France. On the mend after a near-fatal illness, she is ready to embrace the restless, heady allure of the City of Lights. Her parents have given her one year to live with her eccentric aunt in Paris and Helena means to make the most of her time. She’s quickly drawn into the world of the Lost Generation and its circle of American expatriates, and with their encouragement, she finds the courage to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.
One of those expats is Sam Howard, a journalist working for the Chicago Tribune. Irascible, plain-spoken, and scarred by his experiences during the war, Sam is simply the most fascinating man she has ever met. He’s also entirely unsuitable.
As Paris is born anew, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the Great War, Helena realizes that she, too, is changing. The good girl she once was, so dutiful and obedient, so aware of her place in the world, is gone forever. Yet now that she has shed her old self, who will she become, and where, and with whom, does she belong…?
But don’t let those antecedents keep you from reading Moonlight Over Paris. The link between each book is one single character who was neglected in the previous story, and becomes the main character of the next. It is far from necessary to start at the beginning, each book stands completely on its own.
The stories are all about World War I, its aftermath, and its effects on the lives of a small group of younger members of the English upper crust. And the heroine of Moonlight Over Paris is the upper-crustiest of them all. But the world that she explores is the one where her birthright matters least – Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr, daughter of an Earl, takes herself off to Paris in the mid-1920s, the high point of the Lost Generation between the wars, where everyone who was anyone in the arts community went not just to Paris, but specifically to Montparnasse the center of both the artistic and expat communities.
Lady Helena comes to Paris as Helena Parr, to study art in one of Paris many art academies. She has talent, but just how much talent is always a question. And it’s a question that she has decided to answer for herself.
Her fiance came back from the war in 1919, shell-shocked and wounded, and begged her to end their engagement. He was drowning in his depression, and he’d fallen in love with someone else. Neither of them reckoned on five years of continuous social opprobrium. Helena was seens as a heartless woman who threw over a wounded veteran, when the truth was otherwise. She’s frozen out of all social engagements, and in her mid-20s is firmly on the shelf.
After a near fatal bout of scarlet fever, Helena determines to finally live her life, and not merely exist. So Paris, art school, and a life outside of her social circle.
Mostly outside. The conventions that restrict her life can’t be completely ignored, so unlike her fellow art students, she lives with her wealthy Aunt in a small palace. None of which keep her tyrannical art teacher from berating her at every turn.
But through endless lessons and endless critiques of her craft, Helena makes friends, makes a life, and falls in love. Only to discover that the struggling newspaper writer she has fallen for is part of the American upper crust, and of the life she left behind.
Escape Rating B+: I enjoyed Moonlight Over Paris, and was just as wrapped up in this story as I was in its predecessors. But Moonlightseems like a smaller and more intimate story than either of the first two books.
We see this world from Helena’s perspective, and the action follows her. While it is not first person singular, we see directly into her mind through letters she writes to her sister back in England.
While I liked Helena as a protagonist, her situation just wasn’t as interesting as the previous books. Possibly this is because the war is over, and the Lost Generation was doing a good job of losing itself in excess. The stakes seem smaller.
As with the previous books, the strength in this story is in the relationships that Helena forges with her fellow students, Etienne, Mathilde and Daisy, and her increasing closeness to her Aunt Agnes. It is also refreshing that instead of being the enforcer of morality, Aunt Agnes is a free spirit (also marvelously free with money) who encourages Helena at every turn.
While this story is told from Helena’s perspective, I wish we had a little more depth in the way that the friendships develop. On the one hand, the whole point of Helena’s year in Paris is to become someone new, but on that other hand, her friends represent wildly different lives. Etienne is the artistic genius of the group. He is also homosexual, and provides a tiny window into what his life is like. Mathilde has a child and a wounded-veteran husband at home, and works two jobs to make ends meet while still going to art school. Daisy is the person Helena almost was, a rich, protected young woman who is trying both to please her father and be herself. And is losing the battle, just as Helena was until she came to Paris.
Based on events in the story, I expect the next book to be Daisy’s. I hope so, because there is way more story there to tell.
Helena falls in love with a struggling newspaperman, Sam Howard. The tentative way that their relationship builds makes for a very slow and only slightly burning romance. And that’s okay, because the heart of this story is Helena’s transformation, and not her love life.
But there’s a big misunderstandammit in the way of Sam and Helena’s future, and the way it is concealed and finally revealed felt a bit contrived. Your mileage may vary.
And then there’s the setting. Paris in the 1920s. Paris in the Jazz Age. The Paris of the thriving, artistic expat community of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Toklas and Beach. Paris in the “Crazy Years”. There is a point where the visits to and from the famous and infamous felt like name-dropping rather than an integral part of the story. That Helena gets a dress designed by Vionnet is one thing. That Sam’s work as a newspaperman brings them into contact with Hemingway and Stein made sense. But the dinner with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald just didn’t add to Helena’s story. For this reader, straw met camel’s back.
And it’s not that this kind of thing can’t be done well. I loved The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King, which explores Paris in the same period and also brings in most of the famous characters. For this reader it just did a better job of using them to set mood and move the story along.
That being said, I still enjoyed Moonlight Over Paris a great deal. It was interesting to see Jazz Age Paris from a perspective of someone other than the famous expats, and explore a bit of what it was like in that era. The strong portraits of supportive friendship that run through all of Robson’s fiction make the reader feel part of Helena’s circle of friends.
And the happy ending was breathless and sweet in equal measure.