Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Alone


Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat Into Victory by [Korda, Michael]

















Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory- Michael Korda
Liveright Publishing Co
Release Date: September 19, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Bringing to vivid life the world leaders, generals, and ordinary citizens who fought on both sides of the war, Michael Korda, best-selling author of Clouds of Glory, chronicles the outbreak of hostilities, recalling as a prescient young boy the enveloping tension that defined pre-Blitz London, and then as a military historian the great events that would alter the course of the twentieth century.

May 1940 was a month like no other. The superior German war machine blazed into France, as the Maginot Line, supposedly "as firmly fixed in place as the Pyramids," crumbled in days. With the fall of Holland and Belgium, the imminent fall of Paris, the British Army stranded at Dunkirk, and Neville Chamberlain’s government in political freefall, Winston Churchill became prime minister on this historical nadir of May 10, 1941. Britain, diplomatically isolated, was suddenly the only nation with the courage and the resolve to defy Hitler.


No one, after all, could have ever imagined that the most unlikely flotilla of destroyers—Dutch barges, fishing boats, yachts, and even rowboats— would rescue over 300,000 men off the beach at Dunkirk and home to England. The miraculous return of the army was greeted with a renewed call for courage, and in the months that followed, the lives of tens of millions would be inexorably transformed, often tragically so, by these epochal weeks of May 1940.
It is this pivotal turning point in world history that Korda captures with such immediacy in Alone, a work that triumphantly demonstrates that even the most calamitous defeats can become the most legendary victories.
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Michael Korda's new book Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory examines the the early days of World War II.  Alone covers a lot of events, mostly from the British point of view but also French and German: Chamberlain's failed appeasement policy, France and England reluctantly being drawn back into war, Churchill becoming Prime Minister, Germany rewriting the use of tanks in warfare, conflicting personalities and agendas among allied generals.  All leading up to the evacuation of over 300,000 English and French troops from the beach of Dunkirk, late May 1940.  Scattered throughout the researched history are personal stories and a bit of family history as Korda reflects on his own memories as a 6 year old in a wealthy family of actors and movie makers.

Based on the book blurb for Alone, I had high hopes this would be a World War II history along the lines of Lynne Olson's Last Hope Island- meticulously researched, written with vivid detail and an eye for making individuals and their experiences leap off the page and into your mind.  Alone is certainly well researched.  I now have a much better understanding of the creation and purpose of the famed French Maginot Line after reading the early part of Alone.  The research into the French and British military leaders, their different approaches, their conflicts among themselves, and the difficulties they had in communicating with each other (not only with radios, and phones, but personal dislikes that often meant one man in charge wasn't on speaking terms with another) was well done and gave you a sense of what the chaos on the ground must have been like. How they accomplished any successes with so many personal clashes going on is (as is the case in most military histories I've read recently) amazing.

The Korda family moments interspersed within Alone were occasionally interesting, but generally felt like they belonged in a separate book.  Instead of showing what life on the home front was normally like, more often than not they showed how money could soften difficulties. Korda frequently mentions how his uncle Alex worked with Churchill and the government to make his (then current) movies into subtle propaganda designed to gain the sympathy and support of the United States.  The Thief of Baghdad and That Hamilton Woman were eventually made in the US to seem like 'regular' big budget Hollywood movies instead of British propaganda.  But the reader never gets an idea of what that meant, or if it worked- which would have made me much more interested in it.  The actual telling of the evacuation from Dunkirk only takes place in the last 100 or so pages of Alone and often seemed scattered and disorienting.  I'm sure that this is what the people on the ground experienced at the time, but I was hoping for a more coherent and understandable account to this interesting and unique moment in history.

Overall I was disappointed in Alone.  Instead of being a vivid account of a slice of history it was often repetitive, and choppily written.  Personal family stories didn't blend in to give us a better feeling for the time but mostly jarred the reader from the military narrative.  Military leaders and personalities blended together, making it hard to remember who was who (often even what side they were on) and even Winston Churchill didn't spring to life here.  The evacuation story itself almost seemed like an afterthought, with a few good, clear moments.  People who have seen Chris Nolan's 2017 movie Dunkirk will recognize the inspiration for the "sea" story of The Moonstone, and find the original story ( in my opinion) even more interesting and gripping- one of the few moments I could say that about Alone.
     

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Whispers Across the Atlantick

Whispers Across the Atlantick: General William Howe and the American Revolution by [Smith, David]

















Whispers Across the Atlantick: General William Howe and the American Revolution- David Smith
Osprey Publishing
Release Date: September 27, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis:  General William Howe was the commander-in-chief of the British forces during the early campaigns of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Howe evoked passionate reactions in the people he worked with – his men loved him, his second-in-command detested him, his enemies feared him, his political masters despaired of him. There was even a plot to murder him, in which British officers as well as Americans were implicated. 

Howe's story includes intrigue, romance and betrayal, played out on the battlefields of North America and concluding in a courtroom at the House of Commons, where Howe defended his decisions with his reputation and possibly his life on the line. The inquiry, complete with witness testimonies and savage debate between the bitterly divided factions of the British Parliament, gives Howe's story the flavour of a courtroom drama. Using extensive research and recent archival discoveries, this book tells the thrilling story of the man who always seemed to be on the verge of winning the American Revolutionary War for Britain, only to repeatedly fail to deliver the final blow.
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David Smith's Whispers Across the Atlantick what he calls an "unapologetically narrow view of the first two campaigns of the War of Independence, mostly considering events through Howe's eyes."  His preface opens by giving us the idea that within Whispers we will discover more about Howe, the general who commanded two successful years of campaigning in the American War of Independence.    He questions how it is possible that Howe is a nearly forgotten general among the British military annals, and posits that the lack of primary material from Howe and his family available to us today (the Howe family papers having been destroyed in a fire) are what have kept him in the shadows, seen only through the eyes of others. Smith then says that newly discovered draft of Howe's speech to the House of Commons in 1779 will help offer "telling insights into some of Howe's biggest decisions" and the Ph.D thesis he had been working on turned into a book attempting to make Howe a more complex historical figure for the reader.

A highly promising beginning for any history lover!  However, Smith largely fails to deliver on his promises.  Chapter by chapter we follow Howe through taking command of the British armies in America, through the capture of New York, to Philadelphia and White Plains.  Two years of campaigns are briefly touched on, the details of any given engagement largely left out.  Presumably the author thinks that if you're reading Whispers, you have already read extensively on these battles, their conditions, and the importance to both sides.  Each chapter begins with a quote from Howe's House of Commons speech and then an imagining of what his audience thought or might have reacted.  Readers like me, who picked up Whispers knowing virtually nothing about Howe except his name, may spend as much time wondering why he's going to be presenting to the House in 1779 as we do wondering what he's doing in 1777.  The answer comes at the very end of the book: Howe's resignation has been accepted and he has returned to England, but is unhappy with how things have been left.  It is hard for a modern reader to understand, based on Smith's explanation, exactly what Howe was so upset about that he pushed to have a hearing in the House, or what that hearing was supposed to resolve.  You get the feeling that Howe and his contemporaries may not have known either. 

There are some brief, interesting comparisons between the speech Howe originally wrote and the one he actually gave, although despite Smith's tantalizing promises nothing really comes from it.  Howe does not become a fully formed person for the reader, there are no striking insights into his character. The conclusion Smith comes to seems, to me at least, to be a confirmation of what Smith expected to find and what others had already deduced: Howe is not recognized as a British military genius because he wasn't one.  He knew how to play the game and say the right words to the right people to get the promotion, but in fact had no idea what he was doing when he took command.  The only real question seems to be: why did Howe want a job he was so supremely unqualified for, and why did he feel insulted when it became obvious to everyone else that he didn't know what he was doing?

A book with an interesting premise, Whispers Across the Atlantick fails to deliver on any front. While Whispers may provide minute new details to readers already intimately familiar with the battles and the players, it is largely a dry and uninteresting read that delivers nothing special to the casual American Revolution/military history reader.


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Woman Who Couldn't Scream

The Woman Who Couldn't Scream: A Novel (The Virtue Falls Series Book 4) by [Dodd, Christina]

















The Woman Who Couldn't Scream (Virtue Falls #4)- Christina Dodd
St. Martin's Press
Release Date: September 5, 2017

Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead!

Taking (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Merida Falcon is a world-class beauty, a trophy wife who seems to have it all...except she has no voice. For nine bitter years, she lived to serve her wealthy elderly husband. On his death, Merida vanishes...and reappears in Virtue Falls with a new name, a new look, and a plot to take revenge on the man who loved her, betrayed her and walked away, leaving her silent, abused and bound to an old man's obsession.

But Merida faces challenges. Her school friend Kateri Kwinault is the newly elected sheriff of Virtue Falls. A chance meeting with her former lover intrigues him and brings him on the hunt for her, and meeting him face to face shakes her convictions. Will she have time to discover the truth about the events that occurred nine years ago? For someone in Virtue Falls is stalking women and slashing them...to death.

Danger closes in. Merida's fears build. There's no one to turn to...no one she dares to trust. And she has to wonder--who is the killer stalking? Is he trying to silence forever THE WOMAN WHO COULDN'T SCREAM?

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Christina Dodd ends her Virtue Falls series with a bang in The Woman Who Couldn't Scream.  It's the story Kateri Kwinault fans have been waiting for since Virtue Falls first came out, combined with the suspenseful story of Merida Falcon.  Merida and Kateri were friends years ago, before life pulled them in separate ways.  Kateri shunned her rich father's family for Virtue Falls, her drunken mother, and life on the rez. She's just been elected the first woman (and first Native American) sheriff in Virtue Falls and its an uphill battle all the way.  Fortunately she's got a loyal cocker spaniel named Lacey and a love interest/complication named Stag to keep her grounded.   Merida fell in love, nearly died, lost her voice, married an abusive older man, and then disappeared after his death.  She's in Virtue Falls with a new name and a plan for revenge.  Meeting Kateri after so many years, she begins to wonder if revenge will make her feel better after all.  Reconnecting with an old lover (and a man who may have tried to kill her) means her emotions start getting tangled in her plans.  Now there are at least two killers running around Virtue Falls.  It's Kateri's job to figure out who they are and stop them, it's Merida's job to stay alive long enough to separate the murderers from the friends!

Like the last Virtue Falls book (one of my all time personal favorites) Because I'm Watching, The Woman Who Couldn't Scream is a high-octane, fast-paced psychological thriller.  We meet Merida in small pieces, through the eyes of others, before she moves to Virtue Falls. Once there we see things through her eyes, but even Merida doesn't know all the pieces of her past- which means we get to discover along with her the twists and turns of the tragic 'accident' that took her voice and changed the course of her life forever.  Dodd does a masterful job giving us hints to the truth while keeping the big surprises for the very end.  It was also great to have so much of the story focus on Kateri.  If you'e read the rest of the series it's guaranteed you've been waiting to see how she does as sheriff, how she's going to deal with the tragedy that changed her own life, and what the deal is with Stag.  Good guy, bad guy? Bit of both?  Both women struggle with internal conflicts as well as external preconceptions and prejudices to make (and keep) a life they are happy with and entitled to- you're cheering them on from page one. 

For being a small town Virtue Falls has more than its fair share of killers.  Kateri is trying to catch a father/son set of killers who shot up a cafe (injuring her and putting her good friend and fan favorite Rainbow into a coma) and now seem to be determined to pay back anyone who ever annoyed them.  Then more bodies start turning up, badly mutilated.  Serial killer or local crazy?  One or multiple killers?  You'd think the solution to this wouldn't work or be convincing, but Dodd pulls off another brilliant blending of characters and motives, ending in a chilling battle for survival.  There's so much to say about how great Merida and Kateri are portrayed, that there's no doing them justice except to say: these are two strong women who, in the end, aren't afraid to save themselves.

While you don't have to have read any of the other books in this series to thoroughly enjoy The Woman Who Couldn't Scream, many of the characters have appeared in the other books and you'll enjoy following their lives (plus the other books are also awesome) so I recommend if you don't read them first, you'll enjoy going back and reading them after finishing Woman.  

A great, fast-paced book that will keep you on the edge of your seat the whole way.  Warning- this may be a book you can't put down once you've started it!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Conspiracy in Belgravia


A Conspiracy in Belgravia (The Lady Sherlock Series) by [Thomas, Sherry]

















A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock Series #2)- Sherry Thomas
Berkely/Penguin Group
Release Date: September 5, 2017

Rating (Out of 5):
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Synopsis: Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.
 
Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.
 
In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?
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In late Victorian England, it's not always easy to be an independently minded woman.  Charlotte Holmes has managed thanks to her good friend Mrs. Watson and Charlotte's alter ego, "Sherlock" Holmes, invalid consulting detective.  But things become complicated when Lady Ingram, wife of her good friend Lord Ingram, comes to "Sherlock" asking for help finding her first love: Charlotte's illegitimate half-brother.  Mysterious coded messages, dead bodies turning up where least expected, and a woman who is convinced her father's housekeeper is trying to poison her all help to muddy the already murky waters.  Can Charlotte sort out this tangled web before getting caught in it herself?

This sequel to A Study in Scarlet Women picks up right where the first book left off.  Readers who haven't read Study first (or who read it only when it came out last year) will have a little trouble catching up, as Sherry Thomas doesn't remind us of anything specific that happened in Study while alluding to it often.  I would definitely recommend reading (or re-reading) Study before starting Conspiracy. That said, Conspiracy is both a good mystery and a very complex one- and clearly a bridge book to what will come next. Conspiracy involves plenty of codes, deceit, and impersonations to ensure the reader understands that the shadowy figure of Moriarty is directing an endless number of minions for sinister purposes we can only guess at- but that Charlotte will no doubt soon face.  There are times when these confused me as much as they were supposed to confuse the police and I actually re-read the book as soon as I'd first finished it to try and make more sense out of some of it. (It helped that the second time I read it nearly in one sitting, where the first time had been more piecemeal). 

I enjoyed Thomas' continued ability to weave multiple stories together.  A seemingly unconnected case of poisoning becomes as integral to the story as the main case of Charlotte's missing brother, Myron Finch, and not just tossed into the book to show that "Sherlock" had multiple cases at once. Both Mrs Watson and Charlotte remain strong characters and I loved that Mrs Watson is still an integral part of the team and clearly important to Charlotte, instead of being taken for granted as her male counterpart in Doyles' books often seemed.  I was disappointed at the brief role given to Inspector Treadles in Conspiracy.  His role (investigating several murders that connect back to Moriarty) seemed forced, the few scenes with him both jarring to the rest of the narrative and making him a rather unlikeable and shallow person. His scenes came across more as the author not wanting readers to forget about him completely while not really having anything useful for him to do. Hopefully he'll come across better later in the series.

Overall, Conspiracy is not as good as Thomas' first Lady Sherlock book, but it keeps you drawn into the world and the characters.  While the extra obscurity surrounding much of the main mystery mean its sometimes hard to follow, I get the feeling Conspiracy is setting the reader up for a major conflict with the mysterious Moriarty revealing him(her?)self very soon.    

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tale of 2 Kitties

A Tale of Two Kitties (Magical Cats) by [Kelly, Sofie]


















A Tale of Two Kitties (Magical Cats)- Sofie Kelly
Berkley/Penguin Group
Release Date: September 5, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: With a well-placed paw on a keyboard or a pointed stare, Kathleen’s two cats, Hercules and Owen, have helped her to solve cases in the past—so she has learned to trust their instincts. But she will need to rely on them more than ever when a twenty-year-old scandal leads to murder…
 
The arrival of the Janes brothers has the little town of Mayville Heights buzzing. Everyone of a certain age remembers when Victor had an affair with Leo’s wife, who then died in a car accident.
 

Now it seems the brothers are trying to reconcile, until Kathleen finds Leo dead. The police set their sights on Leo’s son and Kathleen’s good friend Simon, who doesn’t have much of an alibi. To prove her friend innocent, Kathleen will have to dig deep into the town's history—and into her sardine cracker supply, because Owen and Hercules don't work for free...

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Head Librarian Kathleen Paulson has a reputation for solving crimes before the police do. What people in her little town of Maryville Heights don't know is that she gets a lot of help from her two cats Owen and Hercules.  So when she stumbles into a long running family drama and then into a dead body, many of her friends want her to solve the murder and make the problem go away.  Owen and Hercules may never have met Leo Janes while he was alive, but they certainly seem interested in helping him now that he's dead!

A Tale of Two Kitties lived up to the feeling of its blurb: a cute, fun, cozy cat mystery.  I hadn't realized before starting Kitties that this is the latest in a series by Sofie Kelly, but found quickly that while she may often refer to things that happened in other books, we don't need to have read the rest of the series to jump right in here.  Owen and Hercules (I enjoyed that she admits Hercules is named after Kevin Sorbo's Hercules, since I enjoyed that show too!) are magical mystery cats with special abilities.  Owen can (literally) disappear from sight and Hercules can walk through walls.  Both cats seem to understand what is said to them and both seem to have an instinct for crime solving and pushing hints Kathleen's way.  No one else knows the cats can do this, but she's worrying about the time when she has to admit it to her boyfriend Marcus (a police officer who only believes in facts) since his kitten seems to be displaying the same talents.  I liked that while Kathleen occasionally wonders how the cats can do what they do (who wouldn't?) she accepts their abilities as just one of those things, therefore the reader does as well.

I did have trouble keeping many of the secondary characters straight, which got a little confusing until I decided it didn't matter and just didn't try to remember who was who.  This was probably something that someone who has read the other books in the series would not have had trouble with.  Kathleen herself in often not a deep or well drawn character, but for this book I didn't necessarily feel like it mattered, although it would have been nice. She's the kind of person that others talk to, that complete strangers feel comfortable sharing secrets with.  As someone in the library field myself, I can assure you that this happens more often than a skeptic might think.  And it is certainly convenient for a civilian trying to solve a murder! I was a little disappointed in the solution itself.  The killer is the most logical person who the characters never suspected, and the motive felt pretty weak and thin.  It was the kind of motive that made you wish for more character development so that you could feel like it was more satisfying conclusion than it actually was.     

Fans of Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown's Mrs Murphy series and Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who series definitely need to start reading Sofie Kelly's Magical Cats books!  Those of us who enjoy a quick, fun mystery will also enjoy A Tale of Two Kitties, especially as a nice summer/fall read.


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bean to Bar Chocolate

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America's Craft Chocolate Revolution: The Origins, the Makers, and the Mind-Blowing Flavors by [Giller, Megan]
















Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America's Craft Chocolate Revolution: The Origins, the Makers, and the Mind-Blowing Flavors- Megan Giller
Storey Publishing, LLC
Release Date: September 20, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis:Author Megan Giller invites fellow chocoholics on a fascinating journey through America’s craft chocolate revolution. Learn what to look for in a chocolate bar and how to successfully pair chocolate with coffee, beer, spirits, cheese, and bread. This comprehensive celebration of chocolate busts some popular myths (like “white chocolate isn’t chocolate”) and introduces you to more than a dozen of the hottest artisanal chocolate makers in the US today. You’ll get a taste for the chocolate-making process and how chocolate’s flavor depends on where the cocoa beans were grown — then turn your artisanal bars into unexpected treats with 22 recipes from master chefs.

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Bean-to-Bar Chocolate is a glimpse into the surprising new trend that's hopefully coming to an area near you soon: craft chocolate.  Like beer and coffee, Megan Giller believes chocolate is getting ready to have its artisan moment.  Small companies or individuals experimenting with making their own chocolate- flavors, consistencies, etc.  Like with coffee, much of the focus seems to be not only on making interesting flavors, but working closely with the farmers growing the plants.

Generously sprinkled throughout the book are recipes ranging from "easy" to "advanced" for you to try at home from some of the master chefs in the chocolate world. Many of them looked not only doable for a non-chef like me, but also quite delicious!  

One of my favorite parts of the book was a section at the end "The History of the World in Chocolate".  While I would have loved more about the early history chocolate played among people, that wasn't the focus of this book.  The section however, gave some interesting highlights (Mesoamericans domesticated and drank chocolate more than 38 centuries ago!) on humans and chocolate, and there was a brief "Etymology of Chocolate" on some of the original words and meanings of the word itself.  Giller includes a useful glossary of chocolate terms (we finally get a useful definition of what the chocolate percentage on labels means), as well as short lists of chocolate co-opts, farmers, and bean-to-bar chocolate makers America for those interested in tasting what they're reading about.

Beautiful photographs combined with Giller's casual, conversational style of writing and enthusiastic, unapologetic love of all things chocolate make makes Bean-to-Bar Chocolate not only educational but fun to read.  Anyone interested in the story of chocolate, small scale industries, and learning about the process of going from the cacao tree to the chocolate bar will enjoy this book. 

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Once a Rebel

Once a Rebel (Rogues Redeemed) by [Putney, Mary Jo]

















Once a Rebel (Rogues Redeemed #2) - Mary Jo Putney
Penguin Random House (Zebra)
Release Date: August 29, 2017

Rating (out of 5)
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Synopsis: As Washington burns, Callista Brooke is trapped in the battle between her native England and her adopted homeland. She is on the verge of losing everything, including her life, when a handsome Englishman cuts through the violent crowd to claim that she is his. Callie falls into her protector's arms, recognizing that he is no stranger, but the boy she'd once loved, a lifetime ago.

Lord George Gordon Audley had been Callie’s best friend, and it was to Gordon she turned in desperation to avoid a loathsome arranged marriage. But the repercussions of his gallant attempt to rescue her sent Callie packing to Jamaica, and Gordon on a one way trip to the penal colony of Australia.

Against all odds, Gordon survived. Finding Callie is like reclaiming his tarnished soul, and once again he vows to do whatever is necessary to protect her and those she loves. But the innocent friendship they shared as children has become a dangerous passion that may save or destroy them when they challenge the aristocratic society that exiled them both . . .

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Best friends George Audley and Callista Brooke try to escape their horrid childhood homes by eloping at age 16.  When that plan fails Callista is married off to a friend of her father and moves to his home in Jamaica.  She's told George died.  Resigned to her new life, she tries to make a difference in Jamaica- including trying to convince her husband to free his slaves.  One of those things he 'means to get to', it does no one any good when he drops dead before registering a new will.  Callie leaves with her husband's two illegitimate children by a slave and their grandparents.  They work hard to build a new, free life in Washington D.C. and seem to be succeeding- until the British invade!

George (now going by Gordon) never got along with his father or 2 older brothers, but when his father charges him as a horse thief and sends him to Botany Bay for the attempted elopement with Callie, he doesn't bother to keep in touch after gaining his freedom.  Gordon leads an adventurous life, often getting himself into dangerous circumstances- like nearly being shot as an alleged spy during the Peninsular campaign. He considers himself a problem solver who helps people who can't help themselves and it is in that spirit that he agrees to travel to America to try and find a widow and reunite her with her English family before she's hurt in a war zone.  He's shocked when the widow turns out to be Callie! Their easy friendship picks up as if they'd never been apart, but through the trials and dangers of escaping the British bombardment of Washington D.C. and Baltimore, they begin discover deeper emotions. And that may be the only thing that gets them through returning to England.

Once a Rebel goes where few historical romances I've read have gone before- America during the War of 1812.  More specifically, the burning of Washington D. C. and the navy's bombardment of Baltimore.  I found Mary Jo Putney's weaving of fiction and fact seamlessly blended in a wonderful style that brought the dangers of war to a very human, and imaginable, level.  Callie and Gordon are wonderful, three-dimensional, realistic characters who have learned that the world isn't always a good place, but they haven't allowed that to harden them against the possibility of love and future happiness.  They come to realize that this is the right time and the right place for their relationship to flourish, and they are perhaps a stronger couple now than they would have been had they eloped all those years ago.  Once a Rebel is also unusual in that most books including battles the hero (and often the heroine) purposefully engage in the fray in some fashion.  But here we see the fighting only from the perspective of civilian by-standers. What were the civilians doing in Baltimore to prepare themselves for possible invasion?  What was it like to listen to the bombing of Fort McHenry all night, without knowing what the outcome was until the sun rose the next morning?  Between Callie and Gordon's experience and a brief cameo by her lawyer Francis Scott Key, the emotional poignancy of the Star-Spangled Banner took on a whole new meaning for me.

Of course, there are more problems for Callie and Gordon to get through than a simple war, and Putney does an excellent job of showing the personal and emotional impact each problem and change has on them both.  Both Callie and Gordon have to question their definition of themselves, of family, of love, and what they are wiling to do to protect those things.  In facing each of the challenges that come their way, we watch them grow and develop in relatable ways, and grow as a unit, facing problems together- which is often something that doesn't happen until the very end in romances.

 Like its predecessor Once a Soldier, Rebel is an engaging and well-written story with great characters.  An especially excellent sense of time and place and history brings wartime America to life in all the best possible ways.  A must read for Mary Jo Putney fans, and historical romance fans in general!   


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Worth the Wait


Worth the Wait: A Sexy Summer Read (Guthrie Brothers) by [Foster, Lori]
















Worth the Wait (Guthrie Brothers #2)- Lori Foster
HQN Books
Release Date: July 25, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Single dad Hogan Guthrie is getting his life back on track, and working as the “barbecue master” at a local diner is just a temporary detour. He and restaurant owner Violet Shaw constantly butt heads…until one night they end up mingling other parts instead. Hogan thought he had the recipe for happiness all figured out. But loyal, carefree Violet is daring him to trust his impulses…and see just how sweet small-town living—and loving—can be.


Nathan Hawley traded his SWAT team credentials for a sheriff's badge, but a gorgeous new neighbor is shaking up his orderly life. Nathan has a hunch there's more to Brooklin Sweet than meets the eye—but given her caution about getting involved, he has his work cut out for him. Still, there's something about the elusive beauty Nathan can't walk away from—and helping her come to terms with her past might pave the way to the future they both secretly long for.
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Single dad Hogan Guthrie has been going through something of an early mid-life crisis. Lori Foster fans first met Hogan in Don't Tempt Me as the brother to main character Jason Guthrie. He was trying to handle discovering his wife was cheating on him, stole their son's college funds, and then dying on the way to meet a lover by moving to a new town, getting a new job, and trying to be the sole parent to a 17 year old son.  In Don't Tempt Me he dealt with everything by sleeping around a lot. Now he's trying to get past his hound dog reputation to convince restaurant owner Violet Shaw that he can be the one for her.  His problem now is trying to get past the bitter view of marriage and commitment his wife left him with, and balance his life with his son Colt's needs.  Hogan's a nice guy with a tendency to put his foot in his mouth when it comes to anything dealing with Violet.

Violet is fortunately willing to give Hogan plenty of rope.  She loves her independence and doesn't want anyone to see her as anything but in control and confident.  When she gets sick and has to lean on Hogan for help, it galls her sense of independence, but helps bring them closer together.  Before either of them quite know it, they are learning to run Violet's restaurant together and starting to fit seamlessly into  each other's lives.  Trouble comes in the form of a stalker to new friend and neighbor Brooklin Sweet.  Violet becomes collateral damage in a twisted attempt at revenge against Brooklin.  Fortunately, Brooklin's neighbor Nathan is not only the town sheriff, but just as personally interested in Brooklin's protection as Hogan is Violet's.

Worth the Wait is a sweet story with plenty of wit and byplay between the characters to keep the chemistry going.  The characters are authentic and strike all the right notes.  Some of the best interactions came between various characters and Colt (Hogan's son). I'm not a big fan of kids but Colt is a mature, almost-adult, sensitive and thoughtful and totally stole all his scenes!  The tempo might have benefitted from making Nathan and Brooklin the main couple instead of Hogan and Violet, since Brooklin is the one whose past is coming back to kill her.  But by focusing on Hogan and Violet, we get to see two strong-willed, stubborn, and independent people learn how to compromise and become one unit.  We also get to see them (especially Hogan) discover that life and happiness don't necessarily mean having a high paying, prestigious suit-and-tie job and ensuring your kid gets into the best college in the country.  It can also mean just doing a job you love, with people you love around to support you, and family happiness coming above all else.

You don't have to have read Don't Tempt Me to enjoy Worth the Wait, although its fun to catch up with the recurring characters. Worth the Wait is a fun, fast summer read full of people who could be your neighbors- and by the end you certainly wish they were!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Denying the Duke

Denying the Duke (Lords & Ladies in Love) by [Hutton, Callie]

















Denying the Duke- Callie Hutton
Scandalous: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Release Date: July 10, 2017

Rating (out of 5)
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Synopsis: Four years ago, Alex, a second son, had planned a life together with Lady Patience. However, when Patience was betrothed to his brother, the heir, Alex left his family's estate and joined the military.


Alex returns to assume the title Duke of Bedford when his brother unexpectedly dies. He is unprepared for both his new responsibilities and the reunion with Patience. The horrors of war are a heavy burden, and when he learns that Patience never married his brother, he is stunned.
Patience withstood the bullying of her fiancΓ© and her father for four long years. She refuses to marry Alex just because he's the duke, especially if he no longer loves her. How would that be better than what she has already endured? Promises made in their youth are not enough to overcome the changes life has wrought for them but love can grow and transform, if only Patience could believe that.
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Four years ago Alex was a second son, ignored by his parents and bullied by his older brother.  Meeting the 16 year old Lady Patience, Alex feels seen for the first time.  Patience has seen how miserable her mother is in marriage and hopes for better things- things she thinks she has found in Alex.  But when their fathers announce her betrothal to Alex's elder brother Cyrus, their young plans fall apart.  Alex leaves home, joins the military, and doesn't come back until he is summoned four years later.  Both his father and brother are dead and he is now the Duke of Bedford.  To his surprise, Patience had not yet married Cyrus.  But four years can change people, and neither are who they once were,  Can they find their way back to love, or has their chance passed forever?
Although I'm not generally a fan of second-chance romance, the idea for this book really intrigued me.  What if the second chance was not because the two lovers messed up and drove each other apart, but because their parents did?  How could you overcome the obstacles caused by others to reach a happily-ever-after?  Unfortunately, Denying the Duke didn't deliver good answers for me. 
Most of my problem was with Alex.  The ignored second son who goes off to war and comes back a changed and hardened man.  So far so good, that's all believable and makes for good character building.  He's bitter towards his whole family, partly for how they always treated him and partly for engaging his older brother to the girl he's falling in love with.  I might point out that he could have tried to fight for her, but he was young, so I'm still ok with him.  Then he returns home and he loses me.  He ignores Patience at Cyrus' funeral, thinking she's his brother's widow, then finds out from friends that she hadn't married Cyrus.  Patience's title-hungry father immediately suggests Alex marry Patience.  Alex goes from complete refusal to thinking maybe it would be convenient to marry her so he doesn't have to search the Marriage Mart for a wife.  He's in lust with her but, rather like his behavior at the funeral, he rarely tries to see Patience or who she is now.  Until he completely messes up a 'proposal' and she refuses, then she's a challenge.  Even after they get married and start getting to know each other, he refuses to explain  himself, his actions, or share anything with her- while expecting her to do all of that with him.   
I liked Patience- she had a miserable home life with a bullying and abusive father (then add on a fiancΓ© who was even worse) and spent most of her life not being consulted about any aspect of her life.  By the time she and Alex meet again she has managed to hold on to a kind and generous spirit, but she's also sick of being bullied by men and wants to have her own say in her life. She doesn't actually figure out how to do that until she's married to Alex. Then she decides she deserves courting and tells Alex she won't go to bed with him until he's wooed her and they are friends again.  Alex does agree she deserves some romance, but works to seduce her at the same time.
Just when you think there's a chance they can get things right, a traitor from the past starts stalking them.  Alex knows the villain will probably try to get to him through his wife, so he and his friends make sure she's never out of sight. The one thing they don't do to protect her is to tell Patience what's happening.  I was willing to look past Alex's past jerky behavior once he and Patience started finding their footing and it was clear he was somewhat willing to try and be a good husband, but this blew it for me. Patience figures out pretty fast that she's being watched every second and when Alex won't explain why what is she to think but that he doesn't trust her? 
There were plenty of things where a deeper exploration could have improved the plot and the characters. I would have loved to see more between Alex and his family.  Was Alex, the intelligent, serious, polite and kind son, very unlike his father and that was why they couldn't get along? The glimpses you get of Cyrus, even at a young age, certainly suggest he wasn't going to be a good duke- so why didn't their parents  train Alex to handle estate affairs for his brother?  Were his parents literally so stupid and shallow that they only preferred the older brother because he was the heir by accident of birth and ignored Alex until he was the Duke? Did his mother care for nothing but the title, not the man who held it, as Alex asks at one point? When we discover the blackmail Patience's father held over the old duke, there's plenty of room to find out more about the duke, as well as Patience's mother. But we only get glimpses.  We get glimpses of some of Alex's time at war that could help explain why he does some things, and it could have been expanded to better cover why he doesn't tell Patience about the danger she's in.  But we are left unsatisfied with what we get, and my impression of Alex suffers as a result. 
I think one of my big problems with Denying the Duke (besides a completely unlikable make lead) was that it tried to be too many things at once, and so things that could have been explored and made for deeper characters were dropped. Is this a second-chance romance, a marriage of convenience trope, the redemption of a man haunted by war, a woman finding herself, a spy thriller?  Most books can pull off two or even three of these in the same storyline.  A rare few can possibly put them all together into a compelling, deep, and enjoyable storyline, full of engaging characters you like or come to like and cheer towards a happy ending.  Denying the Duke manages to be none of the above, and a rather disappointing read.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Lost Boy


Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by [Henry, Christina]
















Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook- Christina Henry
Berkley
Release Date: July 4, 2017 

Rating (out of 5):
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Caution: Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: There is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth. This is how it happened. How I went from being Peter Pan’s first—and favorite—lost boy to his greatest enemy.
 
Peter brought me to his island because there were no rules and no grownups to make us mind. He brought boys from the Other Place to join in the fun, but Peter's idea of fun is sharper than a pirate’s sword. Because it’s never been all fun and games on the island. Our neighbors are pirates and monsters. Our toys are knife and stick and rock—the kinds of playthings that bite.

Peter promised we would all be young and happy forever.
 
Peter lies.

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What if you took the well known story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn't grow up, and started asking questions.  What if you thought about what a society composed entirely of young boys would be like?  What if you took the old myths of magic and blood, youth and paradise,  and applied their rules to Neverland?  

The answer would be: you get Lost Boy by Christina Henry.  A fantastic, dark retelling of Peter Pan told from the point of view of Jamie, Peter's second in command, who has lived on the island longer than any boy except Peter.  Jamie, who Peter convinced to go to Neverland where they would be young and free and happy forever. As Peter brings new boys to join them he promises them fun adventures raiding pirates, swimming with mermaids, playing what they want, eating when they want, with no one to tell them what to do.  But someone has to teach the boys to defend themselves in pirate raids, how to hunt food, how to tend wounds.  This is what Jamie does.  He becomes the one who looks after them, who protects them, who shoulders the grief when they die.  Because staying young forever doesn't mean you can't die.  There are pirates, accidents, and wild animals, but there are also Battles- because what do young boys like better than to fight?  

We watch Jamie go from disappointed to disillusioned with Peter as Jamie tries to keep the group safe and Peter considers them replaceable.  Things degenerate (or maybe were always like this and Jamie finally realizes it?) into more Lord of the Flies than happy adventures.  Jamie begins to discover the island has secrets even he did not know, although Peter did.  And Peter, finally fed up with the fact that Jamie looks after the other boys, decides the only way to regain Jamie's love and friendship is to destroy everyone that might get between them.

Lost Boy is a compelling, haunting, and at times chilling story: fast-paced and well-written, you can't put it down once you've started.  Your heart aches for Jamie as he begins to realize the truth, and remember truths he had forgotten from the world before the island.  Lost Boy is both a twist of an old classic, and a brilliant story of self discovery, loyalty, and identity that shakes up all your preconceived ideas and invites you to take a new look at Peter Pan and the boy who became Captain Hook.

Fans of ABC's Once Upon a Time will love Lost Boy, as it reminds us that a villain is only someone who's story hasn't been told yet.  


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review