Review: The Mark of the Tala by Jeffe Kennedy

mark of the tala by jeffe kennedyFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy romance
Series: The Twelve Kingdoms #1
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Kensington
Date Released: May 27, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Queen Of The Unknown

The tales tell of three sisters, daughters of the high king. The eldest, a valiant warrior-woman, heir to the kingdom. The youngest, the sweet beauty with her Prince Charming. No one says much about the middle princess, Andromeda. Andi, the other one.

Andi doesn’t mind being invisible. She enjoys the company of her horse more than court, and she has a way of blending into the shadows. Until the day she meets a strange man riding, who keeps company with wolves and ravens, who rules a land of shapeshifters and demons. A country she’d thought was no more than legend–until he claims her as its queen.

In a moment everything changes: Her father, the wise king, becomes a warlord, suspicious and strategic. Whispers call her dead mother a traitor and a witch. Andi doesn’t know if her own instincts can be trusted, as visions appear to her and her body begins to rebel.

For Andi, the time to learn her true nature has come. . .

My Review:

maleficent post from imdbI watched Maleficent while I was in the middle of reading The Mark of the Tala, and was amazed at how well the two stories resonated together.

It’s not that Princess Andromeda is anything like Princess Aurora in the movie. It’s much more that King Stefan in the movie is all too much like King Uorsin in the book.

So much of the action, including a war and a whole lot of death on both sides, occurs because both of the Kings disavowed their own words and behavior; and because they enviously want to possess something that cannot ever be theirs.

Maleficent’s fairy kingdom bears a startling physical resemblance to the land of the Tala as well.

Back to the book. King Uorsin has three daughters, Ursula, Andromeda and Amelia. Ursula is his heir and his warleader. She is his right hand in all things. If the name Uorsin sounds like bear, well, Ursula means little bear. And so she is.

At first I thought that the name Amelia meant the same as Amanda, “worthy of being loved” which the youngest Princess certainly seems to be in this first book. However, wikipedia tells me that Amelia means either “hardworking” or “rival” which look like they will fit for Amelia’s appearances later in the series.

But Princess Andromeda is named for a constellation in the Autumn night sky, and the story behind it is the myth of a woman chained to a rock for sacrifice to a beast. Which pretty much summarizes the way that her father’s people see her fate.

Of course, just like in Maleficent, the story people are told is not the truth. It is certainly not Andromeda’s truth.

Because Uorsin made a deal with the people of the Tala long ago. He took their Princess Salena as his wife, and in return they promised to help him win his kingdom. He promised that the children of this marriage, and Salena herself, would be allowed to return to the Tala when the children were old enough.

Instead, he imprisoned his queen and prohibited anyone in the court from ever speaking of the Tala. He demonized them. It was easy, because the Tala were not only secretive, they were also shapeshifters.

Now the Tala have returned to claim at least one of the Princesses. King Rayfe of the Tala needs the power that he can gain from returning the rightful queen to her kingdom. But he doesn’t know until they finally meet that Andromeda is not just the queen his kingdom needs, but that she is the queen that he needs.

It’s a tragedy that so many have to die in Uorsin’s unjust war to keep his daughter from her destiny, and from the man she comes to love. A man she comes to trust much more than the father who rejected her at every turn for being the rightful Queen of the Tala.

Escape Rating A: The more I think about this book, the more fascinating things I see. This is epic fantasy in a somewhat traditional mode, and yet it turns so many of the conventions on their heads.

The three princesses are not waiting to be married off to handsome princes. Ursula doesn’t look like she’ll marry at all. Andromeda has been invisible most of her life and wants to be free to do what she wants. Only Amelia was looking for the traditional fairy tale wedding, and she got it. (What happens later, is, well, later. Also a spoiler)

I said at the beginning this reminded me of Maleficent. Maleficent turns out not to be the evil villain, King Stefan is really the evil villain. Also mad as a hatter in the end. King Uorsin is a Stefan. He wants to be king of the Twelve Kingdoms, and to do that he needs a lot of help, because at the beginning there is no realm of the Twelve Kingdoms, just twelve independent kingdoms. He gets magical help from the Tala, but is a selfish bastard and won’t abide by the treaty he signed. Instead, he wages a steady war against the Tala, both with troops and with propaganda.

The three princess don’t even know that their mother was Tala. They certainly don’t know that dad probably killed mom. He cut them off from half of their heritage in order to force the military confrontation that fills this book.

Andromeda is willing to sacrifice herself to save her people. In fact, to save both her peoples. But the war and its devastation is all about Uorsin’s unwillingness to give up something that he thinks belongs to him, and his desire to conquer the Tala at all costs. He doesn’t care who or what he sacrifices, and his people pay the price.

In addition to the story of oathbreaking and retribution on a grand scale, we also have the marvelous story of a young woman discovering her true nature and coming into her power. It reminds me a bit of Queen of the Tearling or Third Daughter, both stories of forgotten princesses who turn out to be much stronger than anyone bargained for.

tears of the rose by jeffe kennedyIf you like your epic fantasy with a touch of romance, The Mark of the Tala is an awesome beginning to what looks like a great series. The Tears of the Rose is next, and I can hardly wait to see what happens!!!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Retribution by Anderson Harp

retribution by anderson harpFormat read: paperback provided by the publisher
Formats available:
Genre: Thriller
Length: 528 pages
Publisher: Pinnacle Books / Kensington
Date Released: February 25, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The remote and impenetrable Pakistani mountains have offered refuge to the worst enemies of civilization since the time of Alexander. Now, the world faces a new challenge. Reared from birth to harbor a seething hatred, a lone man is about to unleash a firestorm that will rage for centuries. And the window of opportunity to stop him is shutting much faster than Washington D.C. can hope to deal with.

My Review:

If you’re looking for a way to get your Tom Clancy fix, Retribution is a great place to start!

I read the early Tom Clancy books, and loved the fast pace of the adventure, as well as the neverending skullduggery involved in the politics, but the later books felt a bit bogged down to me.

The action in Retribution never lets up.

Although the story focuses on ex-Marine William Parker, the point of view switches between Parker, the man he is hunting, and the politicians who want to make sure that there are no loose ends when his mission is completed.

Retribution is a complicated story, because “retribution” is something that every character seems to want–they just have wildly different perspectives on who should get retribution for what.

The plot and counter-plot revolve around a man who wants to become a second Osama bin Laden, but his ambitions are greater. The goal of Yousef al-Qadi’s jihad is to recreate a mythical pure Muslim kingdom in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, without giving a damn about the governments that currently hold those territories. He also wants to wipe out the Western influences from Saudi Arabia and its rulers.

He already has an army, he’s planning to use that army to steal nuclear material from Pakistan and hold the world hostage.

The plan that William Parker comes up with to eliminate the threat is equally as deadly; Parker plans to infiltrate Yousef’s inner circle and expose everyone in it to a disease as deadly as the black plague, and nearly as infectious.

Getting in turns out to be much easier than getting out; especially since there are plans back in Washington to make sure that Parker doesn’t survive his mission. And there are forces in Yousef’s camp willing to do anything to ensure that Parker pays in blood for his acts.

They wanted the best for this mission, and they got the best. The best at surviving, the best at succeeding, the best at turning the tables on his enemies.

Escape Rating B+: Parker is a great point of view character not just because he is so good at what he does, but because his reasons for doing it are so complex.

He is an adrenaline junkie who still takes missions just to feed that particular habit. He’s also intelligent and multi-talented, that’s what makes him both a hero and a survivor. But this particular mission has a goal for him beyond removal of the threat. His parents went down on Pan Am Flight 103, over Lockerbie Scotland. His reward for the Yousef mission is to find out the unvarnished truth about the Lockerbie bombing conspiracy, by seeing the secret and unredacted U.S. Government files.

It’s the one mystery he’s never been able to solve, and he needs to know–even if the truth includes culpability on the part of the government he serves.

If Parker is a bit larger than life, so is Yousef. It’s difficult to know whether his particular jihad, or the reasons behind it, have a basis in a real person; I definitely saw him as a threat, but his character felt more like an amalgam of possible dangers than a complete character. (YMMV)

The last third of the book goes along at a “can’t stop reading” level of adrenaline, especially as the action focuses in on the actual mission and relatively few characters. In the beginning, when a large number of people and a lot of background are thrown at the reader all at once, I would have killed for a dramatis personae list.

By the end, I was practically biting my fingernails to see if Parker’s mission succeeds, and the various missions to stop him are finally foiled.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter by Jillian Stone + Giveaway

The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter by Jillian StoneFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Paranormal romance
Series: Phaeton Black, Paranormal Investigator #3
Length: 289 pages
Publisher: Kensington Books
Date Released: June 25, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

From steam-powered bunkers to steamy boudoirs, paranormal detective Phaeton Black knows his way around Victorian London. But sometimes, when you slip down a rabbit hole, there’s no turning back. . .

If The Portal’s A-Rockin’

Phaeton Black is missing. Sucked into an alternative universe–courtesy of Professor Lovecraft’s Trans-Dimensional Injection Portal–the illustrious investigator is nowhere to be found. Even the bewitching Miss America Jones, who’s pregnant with Phaeton’s child, has no clue to his whereabouts. But when a spy fly’s microphone picks up Phaeton’s voice in the parlors of Paris, she enlists his dearest friends to track him down–before his deadliest enemies find him first. . .

Don’t Come A-Knockin’

Accompanied by the dashing Dr. Exeter, his delightful ward Mia, and a trusty duo of Nightshades, it’s off to the City of Lights for the determined Miss Jones. Unfortunately, there is something about Paris in the fall that brings out the devil in Dr. Exeter–and the beast in mild-mannered Mia, whose animal urges transform her into a gorgeous panther. With physical reality unraveling on both sides of the cosmic rift, the good doctor must extract Phaeton Black from the clutches of a diabolical techno-wizard–or both could lose the women they love to love. . .forever.

My Review:

Any romance reader who loves the “when I kissed the teacher” trope, known slightly more formally as the “lessons in seduction” story, is going to adore The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter. This story, set in the paranormal, steampunkish, alternative universe invented by Jillian Stone of her Phaeton Black series, is firmly (pun definitely intended) of that vein.

Dr. Exeter being the teacher who both educates and gets seduced by his student, Mia.

Mia is legally an adult, but she has been Exeter’s ward for the past ten years. He’s seen her grow from child to woman and he’s having a difficult time changing how he thinks about her. Mia, on the other hand, has no problem whatsoever seeing him as the only man she’ll ever love.

Exeter wants a normal life for Mia. It’s not going to happen. Mia is a shapeshifter, and her other form is a deadly panther. The only way that Exeter, a powerful sorcerer in his own right, has discovered that she might be able to control her form shifting, is through sexual release. Not only can neither Exeter nor Mia bear the thought of another man initiating her sexually, but who else can either of them trust with the secret of her other identity?

Meanwhile, Mia must gain control of her cat. Their friend Phaeton Black is still in the hands of the alternate world wizard Propero, and his lover America Jones is very near her delivery date with their child. The child will have special powers, and needs the protection of everyone in Phaeton’s circle. The baby needs her father back, but the number of nefarious powers at work seems to be growing.

In the middle of these plots and counter-plots, Exeter is increasingly distracted by the depth of his new-found feelings for Mia. He starts out with the intention of helping her control her power, but discovers that in addition to Mia’s sexual awakening, he experiences an emotional awakening that shakes him.

It’s amazing how many times he has to let her go before he can be convinced that he belongs with her. Being a powerful wizard does not make a man any more knowledgeable about the matters of his own heart.

Escape Rating B+: The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter is a very erotic variation on the lessons in seduction story. The need to control Mia’s panther shifting provides a fantastic excuse for those lessons and for Exeter to put down the barriers between guardian and ward that he has maintained for ten years. This was foreshadowed in the previous book in the series, The Moonstone and Miss Jones (reviewed here). so I’ve been looking forward to this story.

The worldbuilding of this alternate version of London (and Paris) is definitely a continuation of the Phaeton Black series. To understand about the Moonstone and who they are rescuing, you’ll need to have read the whole series, starting with The Seduction of Phaeton Black (reviewed here). For anyone who likes steamy steampunk, this is not exactly a hardship. The series is tremendously good dirty fun.

I would love to see more in this world. While the dangling issues from Moonstone were resolved in this story in addition to Mia and Exeter’s love story, there were a whole bunch of things from this alternate world that I would like to see explored. Could we go back? Please?


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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: A Beautiful Heist by Kim Foster

A Beautiful Heist by Kim FosterFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Agency of Burglary & Theft, #1
Length: 289 pages
Publisher: Kensington Publishing (eKensington)
Date Released: June 6, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Everyone has a talent. Some are just more legal than others. Cat Montgomery steals jewels for AB&T, the premier agency for thieves in Seattle. Career perks: good pay, great disguises, constant adrenaline rush. Drawbacks: the possibility of jail time…or worse. Now she’s taken on a lucrative side job—recovering a priceless Faberge egg for an alleged Romanov descendent.

Though Cat is working solo, there are plenty of interested players. Her FBI ex-boyfriend is nosing around, as is her former mentor-turned-nemesis. Then there’s the sexy art thief helping—or is he hindering?—her mission. If her luck holds out, this could be the case that allows Cat to retire with her conscience and her life intact. If not, it’ll be her last job for all the wrong reasons…

My Review:

Everyone loves a great caper story–that’s what made Ocean’s Eleven so popular–twice!

A Beautiful Heist is just that, the story of a great caper, a high stakes robbery (the penny-ante stuff isn’t any fun) but it’s more than that.

In the midst of that high-stakes robbery we have one of the classic forbidden romances: the thief and the cop, well, FBI agent, who have fallen for each other and can’t manage to fall out.

Rose Trellis Faberge EggAnd then there’s two of the greatest stories ever told, all wrapped up in the beautiful object being stolen, one of the missing Fabergé eggs and the secret inside. There are secrets within secrets within secrets.

Cat Montgomery is a thief, and she’s very, very good at her job. It is a job, she even has a real employer: AB&T, the premier thieving agency in Seattle. As long as she plays by the rules, the job has a lot of perks.

The problem is that AB&T is a real employer that files real tax returns, and Cat hasn’t. So when the IRS comes calling for back taxes, Cat takes a very risky side-job for someone she can’t check out properly. She thinks she’s returning one of the lost Fabergé eggs to the Romanov family.

Instead she’s stealing one of those treasures from a Romanov descendant and giving it to, whom exactly?

Stealing it back turns out to be much, much harder than the original theft. The egg’s new owners turn out to be very, very nasty people. But Cat feels like she has to right the wrong she created. No matter what it costs.

Because Cat’s not sure who is betraying her, but someone certainly is.

Escape Rating B: A Beautiful Heist does remind me a lot of one of those great caper stories, because those movies are usually built with multiple plot misdirections that layer one on top of another, and keep you guessing until the very end.

The overarching story is the caper itself. Cat stealing the egg, and then, stealing it back. Everything else fits under that big umbrella. Maybe the better picture would be circus tent.

There’s also Cat’s redemption story. Cat is still trying to forgive herself for her sister’s death. Penny died in an auto accident because Cat wouldn’t steal something from another student’s locker. Cat still hasn’t forgiven herself.

Then there’s the love story between Cat and Jack, Cat’s once and future love-interest. They did break up, because, well, a thief and an FBI agent, that’s a recipe for disaster. But they broke up because they thought they should, not because they were really done with each other. They’re so obviously not.

And speaking of Jack, the way that Cat and Jack resolve their differences revolves around the secret of the egg, which turned out to be a humdinger. This particular bit of mythology, which I’m desperately trying not to give away, was one that I haven’t seen before. The egg, yes, the Romanovs, yes, this particular thing inside the egg, no. And very cool.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Blood and Bullets

I was jonesing for a Harry Dresden fix, and somebody mentioned Deacon Chalk might be just the man to tide me over. Whoever that was, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now you’re wondering who the hell Deacon Chalk might be. Notice I didn’t say heck. Deacon Chalk would never be that mealy-mouthed.

Deacon Chalk is the monster-hunting main character of Blood and Bullets, the first novel by James R. Tuck in the urban fantasy series that is, of course, named after its protagonist. Deacon Chalk, Occult Bounty Hunter, that’s him.

There’s also a prequel novella, That Thing at the Zoo, which serves as a fantastic (fantastic in multiple senses of the term) introduction to the series and the characters.

Deacon hunts vampires, and pretty much everything else that goes bump in the night. Vamps murdered his family, and his mission in life is to stop the evil basty-assed-nastards from murdering as many other families as he possibly can.

He runs his monster-bounty-hunting business from the back of an expressway-exit strip-club. And every single one of the strippers is one of his assistants. Because they’ve all been victimized by the vamps at some point, and this is their way of getting some of their own back.

His sidekick is a Catholic priest, who also provides all the Holy Water Deacon needs for putting down the vamps. And is very handy with a rifle.

In Blood and Bullets, a lot of both fly around. Because an ancient vampire (there are ancient vampires and convoluted vampire politics in some of the best urban fantasy series) has set up Deacon, another vampire hunter, and one of her own vampires who got away from her(!) in a very nasty little war.

Of course she wants them to wipe each other out and save her the trouble. Or does she have a much deeper game? She’s a vampire after all. They always seem to be playing on twenty levels at once, all of them foul and blood-soaked.

This time, there’s more at stake than Deacon ever imagined. Even though he is literally on the side of the Angels.

Escape Rating A: Blood and Bullets is delicious in that “OMG please tell me there are more” kind of way. There’s a manic “Vampire Chainsaw Massacre” element that is just so much fun, but wouldn’t work in another genre. The vampires are unrelievedly evil, and you so want Deacon to plow them down without remorse, which he does.

I’ve never read another book that gets into the mechanics of vampire-slaughter in quite this much detail, and made it fun, but Blood and Bullets does it. The snark-fest aspects help tremendously!

Urban fantasy reads differently with a male protagonist, back to my comparison to Harry Dresden. Harry doesn’t finesse things, he sets them on fire. Deacon doesn’t either, he mows them down. They are also both big men who cast very long shadows, not just physically but also symbolically.

Start reading about Deacon Chalk with That Thing at the Zoo. It’s ebook only and definitely worth the 99 cents. Deacon’s adventures continue this summer in another ebook novella, Spider’s Lullaby, and later with Blood and Silver in August. I’m glad it’s not a long wait. I want to see what happens next!