Ebook Review Central, Samhain Publishing, March 2012

Holy Moly but this list was positively ginormous!

I’m not even referring to the number of titles. Since they added the Retro and Horror lines, Samhain has always published about 25 titles, give or take, so Samhain’s March list isn’t exceptional. It just felt long.

Why?

The reviews, of course. There were a couple of books that didn’t find an audience. And a couple of the retro titles that didn’t get reviewed this time around.

Samhain has had some terrific success getting prequel and mid-series novellas from fairly big-name authors where the rest of the series is in print from a more, shall we say, traditional publisher. Those books rack up huge reviews, and I would suspect, big sales.

Natural Evil, by Thea Harrison, is book 4.5 in her very popular Elder Races series. Book 4, the recent Oracle’s Moon, was published by Berkley, a division of “Big 6” publisher Penguin. The ebook novellas, #3.5 True Colors and #4.5 Natural Evil, were published by Samhain. These always get double-digit review numbers in the first month, and more trickle in every month after release. Natural Evil was no exception.

What’s different this month is that there were a lot of titles that went into double-digit review numbers. And they weren’t even all series books. Well, some were the start of a series, but they weren’t books that had the built-in anticipation that book 2 or 3 or 6 in a series has.

Seven books had 10 or more reviews.  This is excellent! But it does make it a lot harder to pick three to feature.

The book that slides into the third feature place for Samhain this time around is The Runaway Countess by Leigh LaValle. Reviewers fell in love with this Regency romance by debut author LaValle. This is the story of a Robin Hood heroine (not hero) and the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire (of course it’s in Nottingham) who saves her from the punishment she should suffer for being a thief. But she’s not as bad a thief as she’s accused of being. And he wants to do some really naughty things to our heroine, Mazie, who, like Robin Hood, is somewhat more than she appears to be on the surface. The reviewers didn’t just enjoy the story, they all expect great things from Ms. LaValle in the future.

Prowling into the second place in this week’s list is Hunter’s Prey by Moira Rogers. Fittingly enough, this is also book 2 in Rogers’ Bloodhounds series, after Wilder’s Mate and the mid-series teaser novella  Merrick’s Destiny (officially #1.5). The world of the Bloodhounds is an alternate history, steampunk post-Civil War U.S. in which vampires roam the Western night and their ghouls fulfill their orders during the day. The only creatures capable of fighting the vamps on their own terms are the Bloodhounds, formerly broken men turned into were-hellhounds by the mysterious Guild. Hunter’s Prey is the story of one such Bloodhound, and the woman brave enough to become his mate. With each book a little more of the overall tale of the Guild and everything else that is happening is being teased out as well. This series is awesome if you like steampunk, cowpunk (U.S. Western steampunk) vampires, shapeshifters or historic paranormal erotic romance.

The big book of the month for Samhain was Rocky Mountain Desire by Vivian Arend. This is number 3 in her Six Pack Ranch series, and whatever it is she did when she revised and expanded the Six Pack Ranch books from their original publication, it definitely works for readers and reviewers. The first two books in this series, Rocky Mountain Heat and Rocky Mountain Haven, were both featured titles on ERC, and there’s no reason to break the streak for book 3. Guilty Pleasures put Rocky Mountain Desire on their Crème de la Crème list because it’s good! The entire series is about a family of very handsome brothers in a small mountain town who, one after another, each find their perfect match. By book three, you have not just the romance, but family meddling and the fun of seeing how the couples from the first two stories are getting along. Done well, it’s a recipe for a terrific story. And Ms. Arend does it very well indeed.

Are you curious about which other titles had double-digit review numbers? Check out the complete Samhain list for March to see the answer. Wondering why the same book got a 5/5 from one reviewer and 3/5 from another? Read their reviews and see for yourself.

Ebook Review Central will be back next week with the four-in-one issue covering Amber Quill, Astraea Press, Liquid Silver and Riptide.

 

Scarlet

Robin Hood is one of the best-loved (and most often re-told) English legends, probably just behind the King Arthur stories in the number of times it’s been re-done and re-interpreted. And examined by everyone from Disney to Sean Connery. Cartoon to pathos.

Scarlet by A. G. Gaughen is a slightly different take on Robin Hood and his so-called “Merry Men”, who are certainly not merry in this re-telling of the tale.

In Gaughen’s version, “Will” Scarlet is known as “Scar” for the scar on her cheek. The change twists the tale. Scar is female, passing as male for her own safety. The story of how this young woman came to be hiding as a boy in the midst of a band of outlaws in Nottinghamshire makes something new out of an otherwise familiar legend.

We all know the Robin Hood story. Robin, Earl of Locksley returned from the Crusades after his father’s death. He should have inherited the Earldom. Instead he became an outlaw, a hero, and eventually a legend.

In this story, Robin is the outlaw Earl, still trying to protect his people. The difference is Scarlet, or Scar. All the rest of the familiar players in the drama are present and accounted for.

But Scar is a confused young woman. She hides her nature from the villagers in Nottinghamshire, but Robin and the band know that she is female. No one knows her real identity. And all of her deceptions begin to unravel when the Sheriff hires a thief-taker named Guy of Gisbourne, and Scar is so petrified that she freezes at the mention of his name.

Although the outlaw band do rob the rich to keep the villagers fed and help them pay their taxes, Scar truly is a thief. She loves bright shiny objects and steals for the challenge of it. But she never keeps what she steals. Scar sells everything she takes to help keep the village ahead of the taxman. She doesn’t even eat enough, because she knows someone else, anyone else, is more deserving than she.

Robin worries for her, and has from the day he met her in London when she tried to pick his pocket, thinking he was still a Lord. He sees that something terrible preys on her, but doesn’t know what it is until Gisbourne comes to wreck the delicate balance of their corner of the world.

Scar’s unknown past has become a danger to the outlaw band’s present. But her secrets reveal that Robin has never known anything of who she really was, or is. Once he finds out, can he live with the knowledge? No matter how high the cost?

Escape Rating B-: I have mixed reactions to this book. On the one hand, the concept of changing one of the characters from male to female was a very neat idea. That was terrific. On the other hand, I did figure out what Scarlet’s real identity was pretty early on, so if I was supposed to be fooled, I wasn’t.

The author I think was trying to write Scarlet’s character as using a sort of street vernacular to show that she was not a lady.  Even in Scarlet’s own thoughts, her use of language was not as formal as the “upper classes”. When it’s used for Scarlet’s thoughts as opposed to speech, it can be annoying to read. It is part of her secret, but I wonder if she would think that way. Speak, yes–think, I’m not so sure.

The Robin Hood legend has been re-told so often that it is hard to make it original. For this reader, this version wasn’t quite original enough. Scarlet conceals her female nature so effectively, she often succeeds in hiding it from herself. Where it would have been fascinating to have a young woman’s reactions to being a female in a band of men, most of the issue of Scarlet being female is handled by her suddenly becoming the object of jealousy between two of the band, and her being ill-equipped to cope with the problem.