Review: Flash of Fire by M.L. Buchman + Giveaway

Flash of Fire Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military romance, romantic suspense
Series: Firehawks #7
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 3rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The elite firefighters of Mount Hood Aviation fly into places even the CIA can't penetrate.
FROM WILDFIRE TO GUNFIRE When former Army National Guard helicopter pilot Robin Harrow joins Mount Hood Aviation, she expect to fight fires for only one season. Instead, she finds herself getting deeply entrenched with one of the most elite firefighting teams in the world. And that's before they send her on a mission that's seriously top secret, with a flight partner who's seriously hot.
Mickey Hamilton loves flying, firefighting, and women, in that order. But when Robin Harrow roars across his radar, his priorities go out the window. On a critical mission deep in enemy territory, their past burns away and they must face each other. Their one shot at a future demands that they first survive the present-together.
"A richly detailed and pulse-pounding read...tender romance flawlessly blended with heart-stopping life-or-death scenes." -RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 stars for Full Blaze

My Review:

Whatever was in the water at SOAR seems to also be in the water at Mount Hood Aviation. Everyone who shows up to fly to fire ends up very happily married. And it’s wonderful fun!

Like so many of the books in Buchman’s Firehawks series, the story follows a particular pattern. What makes things interesting is always the characters, both the ones that series readers are familiar with, and the new ones who are introduced or at least focused on in the current entry.

In the case of Flash of Fire, our hero Mickey Hamilton is one of the pilots who has been with MHA for a while, but hasn’t had his own story because he’s been waiting for the right heroine to arrive.

The heroine for Mickey is Robin Harrow. She’s former Army National Guard, and currently serving as a reluctant waitress in the biggest independent truck stop in Arizona. But working at Phoebe’s Truck Stop is a family tradition – her mother did it, and now runs the place. Her grandmother is Phoebe herself. As far as fathers and grandfathers go, they aren’t in the picture. Harrow women don’t have husbands, they have sperm donors.

Someday, Phoebe figures that she will follow the family tradition. But right now, she’s flying lead for Mount Hood Aviation for one glorious season, because Emily Beale is much, much too pregnant to fit in even a helicopter’s cockpit. And Emily sees something in Robin that makes her believe Robin is the right pilot to take her place.

Robin initially sees Mickey as her extra-curricular fun for the summer, for what little downtime MHA seems to get. Mickey discovers that Robin is the only woman he will ever want, and is thunderstruck when she rejects his love, but is still more than willing to share his bedroll, tent, or bunk, as long as there are no strings attached.

Everyone who sees them knows that whatever they have is for the long haul – if Mickey can just muster the patience to let the reluctant Robin figure it out for herself.

And if they can survive not just the dangerous fire season, but also one of MHA’s mysterious Black Ops missions in one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

Escape Rating B+: While the regular firefighting is always interesting, it’s the crazy Black Ops missions that send these books into the stratosphere of nail-biting tension. As much as I enjoyed this story, it took a little longer than usual for the insane part of the fun to really begin.

Once they take off for parts nearly unknown, across the DMZ in North Korea, the action in this book ramps up to a thrill a minute.

pure heat by ml buchmanFor those new to the series who don’t want to start with either Pure Heat, the first Firehawks book, or The Night is Mine, where Emily Beale and Mark Henderson’s story really begins in the Night Stalkers, Flash of Fire is a great place to pick up the series.

Because Robin is a complete outsider to both MHA and the folks who came over or drop in from SOAR, everyone has to get introduced to her, and she has to learn everyone’s place in this high-adrenaline “family of choice”. For new readers, her introduction is their introduction. For those who have followed the series, it’s a nice refresher. At something like 20 books in for the combined series, the cast is getting pretty large. It’s always nice to see how everyone is doing.

In general, Robin makes a very interesting heroine to follow. She’s the best of the best, but she always thinks she still has so much to learn. While everyone around her at MHA is better at one thing or another than she is, Robin is excellent at pulling all those things together and creating coherence. She makes good decisions fast, which is a talent desperately needed when flying to fire, because the fire moves and changes quicker than an eye blink.

At the same time, she’s always living in the moment. She signs on to MHA for a one season contract, not because she doesn’t want more, but because that’s all they need. Emily Beale won’t be pregnant forever, however much it may seem like it by the start of her third trimester. So Robin believes that she and Mickey can only have one season, and that it is stupid to get involved when she knows she has to leave, while MHA is his home.

Not that Robin doesn’t think emotional involvement isn’t inherently just a bit stupid, and not that her family history doesn’t make her believe that it won’t work for her. Her personal history also contributes. Men want to challenge the strong soldier woman, or they want to break her. They don’t fall in love with her, and often don’t even like her very much.

Mickey is something Robin hasn’t encountered before. A man who likes her and is interested in her just the way she is. It’s the one thing she can’t resist, even if it takes her an entire exhausting fire season to finally see the light. That Robin finds not just a man who loves her, but also women who accept her as one of their own, is a marvelous touch. Flash of Fire easily passes the Bechdel Test, as Robin and the women of MHA bond not just over the men in their lives, but the risks they shared as fellow soldiers, and the dangers and rewards of flying to fire.

Like all of the books in both the Night Stalkers and Firehawks series, what makes the story work is that Robin and Mickey are equals in every possible way. Equally strong, equally intelligent, equally excellent at what they do and sometimes equally stubborn. I always love romances where the hero and the heroine are perfectly capable of rescuing each other – and where they both acknowledge it.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

M.L. Buchman and Sourcebooks are giving away 5 copies of the first book in the Firehawks series, Pure Heat, to lucky entrants on this tour.

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Interview with Author C.C. Humphreys + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome C.C. Humphreys, author of the totally enthralling Jack Absolute historical fiction series, including his recent title The Blooding of Jack Absolute (reviewed here).

Marlene: Holding up a new mirror to the American Revolution: by bringing Jack Absolute to new readers in the U.S., you’re also showing us a perspective on the war we don’t usually read about. What might U.S. readers learn?

The Blooding of Jack Absolute by C.C. HumphreysChris: Well, we all think we know the history of a war, or a revolution, until we start to delve a little deeper. I think Jack can be our guide in that. He’s not really anti-rebel. In The Blooding he fights beside the men that later in the series he fights against and finds that hard. He also has a revolutionary spirit, inherited from his mother, an Irish rebel. He prizes individual freedom. Thus he’s quite conflicted. So perhaps we can see through him the sort of choices people were forced to make. He has other loyalties: to the uniform he’s worn with pride, the Redcoat. To his commander, John Burgoyne. To his comrades. But he also believes – and this begins with The Blooding – that his adopted people, the Iroquois, are not going to gain from an American triumph, that they are better off under the Crown. It’s a big driver for him and he argues their cause passionately.

Marlene: As a fencer and fight choreographer (among other things), you know a thing or two about swashbuckling. What books/movies/TV shows best depict that fine “tradition”?

Chris: Ah, swashbuckling! I just wrote a novel, ‘Shakespeare’s Rebel’ about the Bard’s fight choreographer which will be published in the US in 2015. In it, my hero does a true ‘swash buckle’: he beats (swashes) his small steel shield (his buckler) with the flat of his sword to provoke a fight. He’s a real swashbuckler!

princess bride imdbI became an actor so I could leap around with bladed weaponry and I think I became an author to write the same – nearly all my novels have duels and swordplay. My inspirations? Well, Dumas and his Musketeer books certainly – the 70’s movie with Michael York and Oliver Reed was the best. I loved Flynn’s Robin Hood, (“You speak treason.” “Fluently!”) and Tyrone Power’s Zorro. Scaramouche was good in print and on the screen. But one of my favourites has to be The Princess Bride: great fights, terrific acting. Coupled with a real sense of honour. Honour’s important and the dishonourable deserve their come-uppance!

CC Humphreys as Jack AbsoluteAbout C.C. HumphreysChris (C.C.) Humphreys was born in Toronto and grew up in the UK. He has acted all over the world and appeared on stages ranging from London’s West End to Hollywood’s Twentieth Century Fox. Favorite roles have included Hamlet, Caleb the Gladiator in NBC’s Biblical-Roman epic mini-series, ‘AD – Anno Domini’, Clive Parnell in ‘Coronation Street’, and Jack Absolute in Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’.
His new adult novel ‘Shakespeare’s Rebel’, about William Shakespeare’s fight choreographer at the time of ‘Hamlet’, was released in the UK in March 2013 and in Canada August 2011.

He has recently signed to write two books for Century in the UK and Doubleday in Canada. Plague and Fire are tales of religious fundamentalist serial killers set against the wild events of 1665 to 1666, London. They will be published in 2014 and 2015.

Chris lives on Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada, with his wife and young son.

To learn more about Chris, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

~~~~~~GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

Chris is kindly giving away a copy of The Blooding of Jack Absolute to one lucky winner! (US/Canada). To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:

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Review: The Blooding of Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

The Blooding of Jack Absolute by C.C. HumphreysFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, large print hardcover, paperback, mass market paperback
Genre: Historical fiction
Series: Jack Absolute, #2
Length: 303 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Date Released: November 5, 2013 (reprint edition)
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Before he can become a man, he must first learn to kill…

London: 1759: Life is easy for Jack Absolute, a young raconteur loved by the ladies and envied by his schoolmates. With a place secured at university and a baronetcy at hand, his future seems bright—if he can just stay out of trouble. But when Jack is caught read-handed with a powerful lord’s mistress, his good fortune is destroyed, forcing him to seek a new fate in the dangerous New World during the brutal Frecn and Indian Wars.

There, marooned amid hostile Indians and fierce colonial rivalries, the bawdy schoolboy disappears and a man emerges. Jack’s survival depends on winning the friendship and help of the natives, but those come at a high price. In order to become the man they could eventually trust, Jack Absolute must first be blooded. And in order to be blooded, he must do the unfathomable. He must learn to kill.

My Review:

The Blooding of Jack Absolute could be called “the portrait of the spy as a young man”, or even as a “young sybarite” or even simply as a young fool. Although the man that Jack has become by the time we read of him in the first book in this series, Jack Absolute, would probably be willing to admit that nearly 20 years later he has yet to outgrow being a fool.

Jack Absolute by C.C. HumphreysWhat fascinates in this “biography” of the fictional character of Jack is that we first saw the man he has become in the absolutely enthralling Jack Absolute (reviewed here) and now we start to see the making of that man in The Blooding of Jack Absolute, set against the backdrop of Britain’s conquest of Canada, and consequent loss of those colonies that became these United States.

Jack starts out not unlike Tom Jones (the one by Henry Fielding, not the 20th century singer!) and finds himself in a career that resembles an 18th century James Bond.

This book is labeled both as book 2 in the series and as a prequel, and it works either way.

If you’ve already read the first book in the series, and wondered how Jack acquired all of his various skills and rather unique worldview, this story provides both fascinating backstory for the character and a compelling view of mid-18th century London and her Colonies.

If this is your first introduction to the series, then you have a marvelous coming-of-age story, featuring a character who is both fascinating in his own right but is also a witness to, and occasionally an actor in, some of the events that shaped what became our future.

Escape Rating A-: As with the first book in the series, The Blooding of Jack Absolute definitely has a “you are there” quality in the historical aspects that often brings the sights, sounds, and occasionally smells of the 18th century to the reader with the force of a punch. We are with Jack all the way, sometimes to the point of wanting to shake him when he’s being the young fool that is a necessary part of his blooding.

Having read the first book, the part of this story that I was happiest to see was the explanation in full of how and where Jack met his blood brother Até of the Mohawks. It is clear from the first book that they must have shared a life-altering experience as equals, but not how that experience came about. Now we know.

There is definitely a comparison to be made between the Jack Absolute series and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Lord John Grey series. Not in the romance department, because while Jack falls in love, he does not have the luck of Jamie Fraser, but in the depth of the historical research and in the author’s ability to bring that research to vivid life for the reader. The series also overlap in time period, sometimes covering the same campaigns from different perspectives.

Anyone who enjoys well-written historical fiction will adore Jack Absolute.

***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: A Lady Can Never Be Too Curious by Mary Wine

A Lady Can Never Be Too Curious by Mary WineFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback
Genre: Steampunk romance
Series: Steam Guardians, #1
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date Released: August 1, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Hated and feared by the upper classes, the Illuminists guard their secrets with their lives. Janette Aston’s insatiable quest for answers brings her to their locked golden doors, where she encounters the most formidable man she’s ever met.

Darius Lawley’s job is to eliminate would–be infiltrators, but even he may be no match for Janette’s cunning and charm…

My Review:

This story had potential. It really, really did. But it never quite lived up to its title.

What we have is the rather ordinary story of a Victorian young lady who chafes at the restrictions laid upon her by society’s expectations and her ridiculously authoritarian father. I say ridiculous because he expects her to be the obedient fluffhead that society demands while he never noticed that her mother snuck tutors in behind his back and gave her a real education.

Of course she does something outlandish, and of course his reaction is over-the-top and melodramatic. It’s the equivalent of tying the heroine to the railroad. He believes her quest for knowledge demonstrates “hysteria” and has her committed to a doctor’s care.

This was a very real problem, but in the case of this story, it’s how the villains are introduced. And are they ever “bwahaha” and extra sinister.

The steampunk aspects of the story are in the science. Our heroine turns out to be a “pure spirit” (more on that later) who can hear the singing of “Deep Earth Crystals”. A fact she discovers by walking into a meeting of the Illuminists, the good guys investigating the steam sciences.

Of course, no Victorian “lady” should be having anything to do with science in general or the Illuminists in particular, which starts Janette Aston on the road to ruin. At least according to her father.

It certainly puts her squarely in the sights of the evil forces that have been working against her family for generations.

And it gains her a guardian Illuminist in the person of Darius Lawley, a man who of course can’t resist her, even though he should.

Escape Rating C-: I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. Without the steampunk trappings the story has been done before. Innocent girl gains too much knowledge, decides to take a walk on the wild side, and is saved by brave man with dark past who discovers he has a heart after all.

Janette is a little too naive. We don’t see her transformation. She’s still just a vessel, even at the end. And did her talent have to be “pure spirit”? Was it really necessary to hang a lampshade on the importance of her virginity?

All the villains seemed evil or venal for the sake of evil. Or stupidity in the case of Janette’s father. We don’t have any idea why they oppose the Illuminists beyond the need for an opposition. Even Voldemort had a motive!

What made Lawley so duty-bound? There are plenty of people like him, but why was he? There was definitely an episode in his past with a society woman, but we don’t get to read about it.

Captain and a Corset by Mary WineThe gaps in this story left this reader too curious for satisfaction. However, the second book in the series, A Captain and A Corset, turned out to be surprisingly better. See my review at Book Lovers Inc. for details.

***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 Spy to Die For by Kris DeLake

Spy to Die For by Kris DeLakeFormat Read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Number of Pages: 384 pages
Release Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Series: Assassins Guild #2
Genre: Science Fiction Romance
Formats Available: Mass Market Paperback, ebook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK) | Author’s Website | Publisher’s Website | Goodreads

Book Blurb:

Jack Hunter is a double agent. Skye Jones is a pirate…or is that just a cover? One thing is for sure—neither of them are competent assasins. Thrown together on the Krell space station during an important Assassins Guild meeting, each is determined to get to the truth and prevent catastrophe. But when Jack and Skye are matched against two master killers, they find themselves caught in the crosshairs between their willingness to trust each other and the undeniable attraction coursing through them. Both knows that a long-term relationship is tough in their profession, but the chemistry they’ve got is too good to deny. Now all they have to do is stay alive.

My Thoughts:

Assassins in love by Kris DeLakeThis is either a sequel or a parallel-que (this needs to be a word, really) for DeLake’s Assassins In Love (reviewed at Reading Reality) It’s second in the series, and some of the events in Assassins in Love seem to have taken place before the start of A Spy to Die For, but the two stories end at very close to the same point in time.

It’s not as confusing as it sounds.

On my other hand, even though this story didn’t quite read as deliberately light-weight as Assassins in Love, it actually worked better. Or maybe there weren’t quite as many plates spinning.

DeLake’s gritty space opera world, there are two competing groups of contract assassins; the Guild and the Rovers. The Guild is considered to be slightly more fussy about the contracts they take than the Rovers. It seems like they get paid better, and they certainly train their agents better.

Of course, this story, like Assassins in Love, concerns a pair of operators who would normally work for the rival agencies. But not as assassins, hence the title. Skye and Jack are both researchers, they’re the recon agents who make sure that contracts are on the up-and-up.

Even in this less-than-bright future, not everyone who has a price on their head deserves killing. Skye and Jack do recon because Jack refused to be an assassin, and Skye refused to be good at it.

But Jack’s Rovers have decided that money is more important than the ethics they used to abide by, and the new leader of the Rovers has put out a contract on Jack for pointing out that they aren’t, well, the moral killers they used to be.

He’s one night too late. Skye met Jack first. And in spite of her need not to get involved or attached to anyone, she’s emotionally attached to the man she spent the best night of her life with. The gut instinct that has kept her alive tells her that Jack is a good man. And that even though everything about someone putting a contract out on him means that he’s been dealing with bad people, he’s still a good man.

So she helps him escape. She has her own reasons. The same man who put the contract out on Jack also accepted a contract from someone in her own Guild, and she knows that’s just wrong. Especially since the woman who gave him that contract is someone who has been disciplined. And is someone who has always been her enemy.

But their escape from the first trap leads them, not just to a long trip to places where they can get unregistered ships and even better unlicensed information–it’s also time for two people who aren’t sure that it’s okay to trust anyone to find out that they have much more than just amazing chemistry. They have a real partnership. All they have to do is live long enough to find out what that means.

Verdict: A Spy to Die For is much more of a straightforward science fiction romance than Assassins in Love was, and that’s a good thing. Jack and Skye meet cute in a pretty run-down space station burger joint, and have one perfect night. They may want more, put that’s all their lives have taught them to expect.

Then it all goes to hell. Skye’s experience of relationships is that everyone leaves her, something that started with her parents. She may want to try for something more, but her early experiences are all of abandonment, and life as a Guild spy doesn’t encourage involvement. And in their first night together, it’s not as if she and Jack can be candid about their work! They start out with a lot of lies of omission.

When they’re forced to rely on each other, the relationship builds slowly and hesitantly, which is the way it should be. Sex is easy, love, or even the ability to trust and rely on another person, is hard for both of them.

This was a story where the character creation was good. The world building had been done in the previous book. The plot was admittedly a bit on the thin side, but watching Skye and Jack reach towards each other made the story fun.

I give A Spy to Die for by Kris DeLake 3 and ½ stars.

3-one-half-stars

***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: The Outcast Prince by Shona Husk

The Outcast Prince by Shona HuskFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Series: Court of Annwyn, #1
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Release Date: July 2, 2013
Number of pages: 320 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback
Purchasing Info: Author’s website | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK) | Publisher’s Website

Caspian Mort can feel the history in anything he touches, a gift he inherited from his father, the Crown Prince of Annwyn. Devastated over his ex-wife’s infidelity, Caspian has withdrawn from human contact except when working as an antiques dealer.

While assessing the contents of the historic Callaway House he encounters the beautiful Lydia Callaway and senses that her home is haunted by a banished fairy. But what does the dangerous exile want? Unbeknownst to Lydia, she’s the owner of the last remaining portal to Annwyn—a mirror hidden somewhere in the house. To keep Lydia safe, Caspian will have to divulge the secrets of his heritage, and risk losing his heart again.

My Thoughts:

goblin kingLike Shona Husk’s previous Goblin King series, The Outcast Prince takes us back to the darker side of the fairy tales.Very much the grimmer side of Grimm’s. You know what I mean, the legends that say don’t eat or drink anything when you’re in the fairy kingdom or you’ll be stuck there.

In Shona Husk’s version of the tales, Disneyfication of what should be very powerful and scary magic has just taken away what used to be useful knowledge and defensive strategies. Fairies in this tale are not tiny, cute and helpful sprites. Well, not unless they chose to be. and not unless they’re bargaining for something. Like your soul.

Fairies are more like Niall Brigant, Sookie’s great-grandfather in the Sookie Stackhouse series. Immortal, otherworldly, and mostly coldly calculating. A being who is playing a long and convoluted political game where humans are beneath notice if they are lucky, or easily sacrificed pawns if they are not.

The machinations of the fairy court in The Outcast Prince seem a lot like those in Yasmine Galenorn’s Otherworld series, Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey, or even the sheer bloody-minded backstabbing of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry series, without the indiscriminate sex.

I digress. Yes, I know. Frequently.

The outcast prince in the story is actually a half-blood fairy who was born in our world. It makes him a slightly magical person with some talent and a little more grace than he would otherwise have. Caspian Mort is also more handsome that he might naturally have been. (It clearly helps to have a fairy prince for a father).

And that’s the problem. His natural father was a real fairy prince who “glamoured” his mother into having sex with him. His already married mother. So even though dear old dad could have maintained that glamour and brought Caspian and his mother to the Fairy courts, he didn’t. He seems to have loved the woman just enough to let her be happy with her husband.

He’s loved his unacknowledged son enough to give him a literal fairy godmother and keep him safe by keeping him secret. Being the son of the prince would make Caspian a political target of forces he doesn’t have the power to defend himself against.

But fate forces everyone’s hand. A magical artifact is missing. One that could change the balance of power in the courts. The fairy gift that Caspian has manifests is psychometry; he can see the history of any object he touches. The object is lost in our world and Caspian is the only one who can find it.

Caspian’s reinvolvement in the world of the fae is our introduction to the dangerous kingdom. As he is drawn further in, we understand both why he is so reluctant, and what makes the fae so tempting to mortals and half-bloods alike.

Caspian is both compelled to become involved, and saved, by falling in love. His gift of psychometry has led him to the appraisal of one of the coolest historical houses ever, and the owner of the house is a woman he discovers that he might be able to tell the truth about himself.

She should run far away from him. When she stands by him, she grounds him to the human world. It might even be enough to save his soul.

Verdict: The love story between Caspian and Lydia develops slowly. Not that they don’t have heat together from the very beginning, but they are wary of involvement. He can’t reveal what he is, and she’s been burned by too many people who are just interested in the notorious history of her family. They both step out of their comfort zones to get close to get sexually involved with each other (and it’s hot!) but trusting each other emotionally is way more difficult.

The story works well in that they both have extremely unconventional family histories that are slowly revealed, not just to the reader, but also to themselves and to each other. There are multiple voyages of discovery that they share and it helps them understand and reach toward each other.

Husk’s version of fairy is dangerous and fascinating. The courts are in turmoil, and that turmoil is affecting our world. Caspian’s princely father is the heir to the throne, but he can’t inherit unless he marries. His father is ready for him to inherit, but his mother is scheming and backstabbing to prevent it. It is her traitorousness that causes, not just this story, but scores of plagues that have arisen in our world.

Caspian’s father can take over if he finds a woman worthy of being his queen. She must be human, because the fae are only fertile with humans. The interesting thing is that he doesn’t want to pick just anyone to end the current problem, because that’s what his father did. 500 years from now, give or take, he’s afraid the woman will just hate him the way his mother hates his father, and look how that ended up. Felan is hoping for a better way. Meanwhile, he schemes.

I enjoyed Husk’s introduction to the Courts of Annwyn and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

4-Stars

I give  The Outcast Prince by Shona Husk 4 dark stars!

***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.

Sneak Peak at The Blooding of Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys + Giveaway

Today I’d like to share with you a sneak peak from The Blooding of Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys. The author is also giving away three copies of the marvelous first book in this series Jack Absolute (Escape Rating A review here)! Look for the Rafflecopter at the end of the post.

Chapter 2: Reunion

The Blooding of Jack Absolute by C.C. HumphreysJack came along the track at a steady lope, thinking about Time. The Papists had won, it seemed, despite Englishmen expressing their displeasure, in flame and riot, the length of the land. Time had stood still. So though Jack had been hiding for near three weeks now, by some trick only ten days had passed on the calendar. He and Treve, his only contact, had scratched their heads a lot, especially when considering if they were now younger than they’d been. If that was true, it was not good. He needed to get older as fast as possible, for with age would come size and strength and these were requirements for the hard life promised.

Or mayhap it was the lack of food that was curbing his reason. It had been a day and a night since last he’d rendezvoused with his friend and Treve had brought what little his mother Morwenna could spare. Since then, Jack had made do with a fish he’d found washed up on the beach. That had made him sick, probably because he’d been unable to cook it properly.

Jack halted. The track plunged into a gully whose steep sides, lined in thick bramble, would be hard to scramble up. He might need to for two reasons. Firstly, the effects of that fish made frequent halts a necessity and he didn’t want to be stuck with his breeches down on a track this close to Absolute Hall. Secondly, Treve had warned that Craster was once again hunting him, after the period of restraint that had followed Duncan’s funeral. Treve’s dad, Lutie, and many of the others had tried to persuade his cousin that Jack was gone, had joined the fishermen in Penzance or even set out for the clay pits over Austell. But Craster was determined. A warrant had been sworn, blaming Jack for his father’s death. In fact, since that day, it was said that Craster Absolute had changed, had taken on attributes of the dead man. His voice had settled deep, he cursed Jack day and night, and he had begun to drink.

Jack’s bowels calmed, enough to shift his feelings to his stomach and its emptiness. He hoped that Treve lay up ahead with perhaps a pasty or another of his mother’s Figgy Hobbans. The memory of that last one—three weeks, or ten days before, whichever it was—now made up his mind. He hastened down the gully.

Rounding the bend, he saw Treve there before him. But his joy in the sight died fast as he saw that his friend was not alone.

“Seize him!”

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Review: Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

Jack Absolute by C.C. HumphreysFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Historical fiction
Series: Jack Absolute, #1
Length: 276 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Date Released: May 7, 2013 (U.S. edition)
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The year is 1777. As the war for American independence rages across the sea, London is swept off its feet by Jack Absolute, the dashing rogue in Richard Sheridan’s comedy The Rivals. That is, until the real Jack Absolute, former captain of the 16th Light Dragoons, returns after years abroad to discover this slander of his reputation.

Before he can even protest, he is embroiled in a duel over an alluring actress of questionable repute, and his only escape is the one he most dreads: to be pressed again into the King’s service—this time, as a spy for the British in the Revolutionary War.

My Review:

Jack Absolute’s character is written in a way intended to make the reader think of an 18th century James Bond. One of the later Bonds, at the point where he’d begun to get a bit tired of the game and developed some self-reflection.

I certainly got some of that. Jack is a member of a very old profession: he is a spy for the English crown during the American Rebellion. He’s been a spy before, and he is pretty much dragooned into doing it again, in spite of his stated views that us Americans do have some justifications for our actions.

If you’ve ever seen Sheridan’s play The Rivals, you’ve already met Captain Jack Absolute, and it’s quite possible that you have seen the play. It’s famous for the character who gave us the word “malapropism”. That’s right, Mrs. Malaprop supposedly guards the virtue of the heroine in this classic romantic comedy/farce.

Jack Absolute is the romantic hero of the play. In the book, Sheridan the playwright is one of Jack’s friends. He made a hit out of trivializing and romanticizing a real incident in Jack’s life.

Jack’s own life is not a romance, not that he hasn’t played the part of lovesick fool on more than one occasion. As a spy, he’s played whatever role suited the occasion best in order to fulfill his mission.

John Burgoyne by Reynolds
Portrait of John Burgoyne by Joshua Reynolds c 1766

This mission is in big trouble from the start. General John Burgoyne has been led to believe that there are thousands of Loyalists ready to take up arms against the Rebels as soon as he gives the word. And that equal numbers of Native allies are eager to march with the British Army for the usual inducements.

As history tells us, those assumptions were wrong. Jack didn’t have the advantage of history, but what he did have was several years of experience living in America, including living with the Mohawk. He knew those beliefs couldn’t be right.

Jack had a secondary mission; find the spy within the British command staff, codenamed Diogenes. He thought he was looking for a military officer, not the woman he loved.

Escape Rating A: I did think of James Bond, but mostly I thought of Jamie Fraser and Lord John Grey.

The incredibly, marvelously immersive work of historical fiction that is Jack Absolute kept me flipping pages long past bedtime. The author does a fantastic job capturing the sights and sounds of Colonial America, and of 18th century life. I felt I was there and didn’t want to leave.

Plan of battlefield of Saratoga
Plan of the battlefield of Saratoga

The depth of the portrait of life in the British military at this time period was reminiscent of Diana Gabaldon’s Lord John Grey series. Same period, similar perspective and eventually, place. Also, Jack Absolute and Jamie Fraser (Outlander) both knew, and fought with, General Simon Fraser of Balnain. Jack and Jamie (read An Echo in the Bone if you’re curious) were both at the Battle of Saratoga, on opposite sides.

As an American, it is always interesting to read about the Revolution from the perspective of British. The histories written by the victors glorify the Revolution. The British called it a Rebellion. Perspective is everything.

I got swept away by this book, and not just because I found the period details enthralling, although I did. Jack was one of those characters who kept getting more and more fascinating as the book went on, because he was complex. He thought about what he was doing, he didn’t just obey orders. He was tired of the spy game and thought about what it meant, but he was good at his job. His relationship with the Mohawk people, and especially his blood brother Até, is not just a true brotherhood, but is also used as a way to explore the British and American relationship with the Native peoples and the devastation that is inevitably coming.

This review originally appeared at Book Lovers Inc.

***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: The Roots of Betrayal by James Forrester

The Roots of Betrayal by James ForresterFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback
Genre: Historical mystery, Historical fiction
Series: Clarenceaux Trilogy, #2
Length: 448 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Date Released: July 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Your Choice. Your Faith. Your Fate.

1564: Catholic herald William Harley, known as Clarenceux, guards a highly dangerous document. It’s a manuscript he’d rather not have—destruction and death have followed in its wake. But things get much worse when the document is stolen, and he plunges into a nightmare of suspicion, deception, and conspiracy. As England teeters on the brink of a bloody conflict, Clarenceux knows the fate of the country and countless lives hang in the balance. The roots of betrayal are deep and shocking, and the herald’s journey toward the truth entails not just the discovery of clues and signs, but also of himself.

My Review:

“The roots of betrayal lie in friendship; those of treason lie in loyalty.”

This quote could easily sum up this second volume of the trials and tribulations of William Harley, the Clarenceaux King of Arms. When you read the line, it seems so obvious, as if it should be a common saying.

Imagine my surprise to discover that the fiction author James Forrester was quoting himself (as historian Ian Mortimer) from his book The Greatest Traitor. It doesn’t make the words seem any less self-revealing, or any less “true” in the case in William Harley.

The lesson of Clarenceaux’ story could be taken as “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, although the man seems to have a difficult time determining which are which.

And, to use our vernacular instead of his, if it wasn’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have any at all.

History remembers the Elizabethan Age (maybe we should be calling it the First Elizabethan Age) as a Golden Age. England defeated the Spanish Armada. Shakespeare’s career flourished. Elizabeth’s reign was the time of England’s glory.

But we forget that it didn’t begin that way. Elizabeth’s reign had a shaky start. There was a significant amount of religious dispute between Catholics and Protestants. Many wanted a return to Catholicism, and fomented revolts in favor of Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s putative heir.

The problem with Elizabeth being the “Virgin Queen” was that virgin queens have no children to inherit their thrones.

sacred treasonInto the middle of this we have the roots of William Harley’s betrayal. In Sacred Treason (reviewed at Book Lovers Inc.) Harley is entrusted with a document proving that Queen Elizabeth was illegitimate because her mother, the executed Anne Boleyn, was pre-contracted to Henry Percy. (This was a big deal in the 1500’s)

At Anne’s trial, this was one of the many charges, but there was no documentary evidence.

There are conspirators who demand that Harley use the document to start a pro-Catholic rebellion. Harley, although he is Catholic himself, refuses. He is wise enough to know that rebellions only lead to death and repression.

Then the document is stolen from its hiding place in his house. Harley believes that he has been betrayed. But by whom?

Every single person who has ever known about that document operates on the belief that someone has betrayed their trust. Clarenceaux is certain that the widow Rebecca Machyn, his partner in misfortune in Sacred Treason, has betrayed him. Francis Walsingham, an agent of the crown, is certain that Harley has betrayed the government and is working for towards a Catholic conspiracy.

Harley’s wife Awdrey believes that Harley has betrayed their marriage vows.

Because Harley is certain that his life is forfeit for losing the document, he chases after Rebecca Machyn, believing she has the document. Walsingham chases after Harley.

Where is the document, and why was it stolen? Who is at the heart of what conspiracy? Where is the betrayal? How many betrayals are there?

Escape Rating B+: The Roots of Betrayal was every bit as much of an immersive experience as Sacred Treason. In some ways, it was better. Part of the emotion of Sacred Treason required following along with William Harley’s falling slightly in love with Rebecca Machyn, and that part didn’t work.

The Roots of Betrayal is a story of honor and betrayal. Political conspiracies and political paranoia. Lies and deceit. This time, Harley follows Rebecca because he thinks she’s stolen this document and he’s afraid for his life and the lives of his wife and children. He knows what happened last time. His house was ransacked, his possessions were destroyed, his family had to flee London. He was nearly killed.

He’s also correct that a rebellion will only end in repression and death, not just for the rebels themselves, but anyone who might be thought to be sympathetic. If the rebels are Catholic, then what little tolerance currently exists will be ruthlessly suppressed, probably in blood.

His chase leads him through dark places. He forgets everything but his need to find that document and prevent anyone from using it. He finds more honor, for certain strange definitions of that word, among thieves and pirates, than he does among supposedly ladies and gentlemen.

Sacred Treason fascinated because of the political plotting. The Roots of Betrayal is almost a “road novel”. In his desperation to find the document, Clarenceaux leaves behind his comfortable, middle-class life and finds himself in more and more desperate straits at ever turn.

The people he meets along his journey are what push the story, and the reader, forward. Each time he learns of another link in the chain, he meets a new group of amazing characters. Each person’s agenda layers on top of, or thwarts, his.

The idea that pirates have more honor than supposed gentlemen is one that sticks with you when you’re done.

***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: The Summer He Came Home by Juliana Stone

Summer He Came Home by Juliana StoneFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Series: Bad Boys of Crystal Lake, #1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: Apr. 2, 2013
Number of pages: 386 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback
Purchasing Info: Author’s website | Publisher’s website | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK)

Sometimes the best place to find love is right back where you started…

Falling asleep in a different bed every night has made it easy for Cain Black to forget his past. It’s been ten years since he packed his guitar and left Crystal Lake, Michigan, to chase his dreams. Now tragedy has forced him home again. And though Cain relishes the freedom of the road, one stolen moment with Maggie O’Rourke makes him wonder if he’s missing out on something bigger than fame.

For Maggie—single mother and newly settled in Crystal Lake—love is a luxury she just can’t afford. Sure, she appreciates the tall, dark and handsome looks of prodigal son Cain Black. But how long can she expect the notorious hellion to stay?

The last thing either of them wants is something complicated. But sometimes love has its own plans.

My Thoughts:

The Summer He Came Home is part small-town romance, part second-chance love story and part, maybe mostly, a story about what happens when bad boys grow up and become men.

They were kings, and they didn’t know it, or so says one of the main characters, Raine, Jesse’s widow. The story starts with Cain Black’s arrival at Jesse’s funeral, his first time home after ten years.

Jesse and his twin Jake left Crystal Lake for Afghanistan. Only Jake came back. Mac left his home and his abusive father for a high-flying legal career in in the big city. And Cain left first, because his life was his music, and the only way he could find the fame and fortune he craved was on the road.

Jesse’s death found him on tour in Europe. He dropped everything to come back, burned out and almost completely used up. His marriage to a flashy model over in a bitter divorce, and his songwriting partnership finished with an onstage brawl in the middle of concert.

Cain Black arrives in the middle of Jesse’s funeral to celebrate his friend’s lost life, and finds his own. Cain thinks he’s leaving Crystal Lake in just a couple of weeks. Instead he decides that being with his remaining best friends, the men he knows in his heart are still his brothers, is the soul-deep healing that he really needs.

And he’s met one woman, one real woman, who isn’t interested in him for his music or his money. Maggie O’Rourke doesn’t want a bad-boy rocker in her life at all. And she certainly doesn’t want him in her son’s life. She just wants to keep her head down and scrape by.

Cain is too intrigued to stay away, in spite of his mother’s warnings not to hurt the shy young widow.

But he can’t get Maggie out of his mind, so he begins a cautious and careful courtship, not just of the beautiful Maggie, but of also of her precocious son, Michael. Cain’s deepening involvement brings him back into the life of the town, and back into the lives of the friends who need him.

He just brings Maggie back to life.

Then he discovers the terrible secret that she’s been keeping, and he almost loses everyone that is precious to him, just in the moment of discovery.

Verdict: You would think that starting the story with a funeral would be a real downer, but it actually isn’t. It turns out to be a terrific device for introducing all the characters, and explaining why Cain left Crystal Lake and his hesitation at coming back. It works.

Cain and Maggie start out from very different places. He’s a bit selfish about pursuing Maggie. Maggie has a huge secret that the reader figures out pretty easily. She doesn’t want a relationship and is clear about it. Because Cain doesn’t know what the secret is, he continues a gentle, non-threatening pursuit until she is willing to let a kind of courtship start. While he’s sweet about it on the one hand, there is an element that he isn’t clear until the end what he’s planning to do when the summer ends and he goes back to the band. Maggie has a child to consider who has become attached to him.

It is obvious to the reader what Maggie’s secret is. Her previous relationship was abusive. The only questions are whether the asshat is her husband, ex-husband, or boyfriend, and whether he is in or out of prison. It’s all too easy to see that Maggie is afraid of being found.

The development of the relationship between Cain and Maggie, and between Cain and Michael, her son, was slow and sweet, not that there isn’t a lot of simmering sexual tension between Cain and Maggie. A lot of this story is about healing, and it takes a while for Maggie to heal enough to let herself have a relationship with Cain.

However, the sudden arrival of Maggie’s ex and his capture seemed anti-climactic. There was no suspense, he just knocked on the door and started slapping Maggie around. Then Cain showed up and “boom!” the ex was arrested and locked up.

On the other hand, the friendships between the “bad boys”, Cain and Mac and Jake, make a big part of the book. The loss of Jesse is like the ache of a phantom limb, they all feel it. Painfully. I’m looking forward to Mac and Jake each having their own book, because in spite of the sudden ending, I really enjoyed The Summer He Came Home and want to read the rest of the series.

4-Stars

I give The Summer He Came Home by Juliana Stone 4 stars!

***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.