A Most Extraordinary Pursuit (Emmaline Truelove #1) b Juliana Gray

Anyone who is familiar with author Juliana Gray probably identifies her with romance. This book, although linked to her six romance titles, is a completely different genre altogether. Or maybe genres is more appropriate?

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit Front Cover (Berkley/Penguin Group)

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit Front Cover (Berkley/Penguin Group)

THE PLOT: In 1906, Emmaline Truelove is the personal secretary to the Duke of Olympia until his sudden death. The dowager duchess is sending Miss Truelove to Crete on the family yacht in order to track down the new Duke, Maximilian Haywood. Haywood disappeared while working on an archaeological dig. Accompanying Truelove will be the Marquess of Silverton, an insouciant young lord who gives the impression of not being worth much. But in the Duke of Olympia’s world, looks can be very deceiving.

In Crete, Truelove and Silverton try to unravel the mystery of Haywood’s whereabouts while faced with the additional mysteries of whatever is going on in Knossos. Is it really the site of the fabled Labyrinth of the Minotaur? Did the legend have some basis in fact? And why do some paintings at the site show objects that could not possibly have existed 3,000 years before?

MY TWO CENTS: I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but the synopsis definitely intrigued me. I have read two of the author’s six romances (the other four are on my to-read shelf), and I didn’t realize they were connected to this book since it’s not a romance. It doesn’t matter; I don’t think you needed to read the other books before reading this one, although it’s a nice connection and a sly wink to the other characters. It may help frame the story, though, if you read the prequel novella The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match, which is set over a decade before this story and tells how the Duke and dowager duchess met. It also highlights that the Duke was quite active in the spy network even into his advanced years. Is it absolutely necessary? No, but it’s a good story and sets up this book nicely.

Even with that setup, I had a little trouble getting into this book. It took quite a few pages to get to the point where I couldn’t put it down. But I did get to that point. I think the biggest question for this series is, “What the HECK is going on here?” You get a little hint with the book starting off in 2012, then zipping back to 1906, and then…other things happen. Lots to do with the ancient Minoans. Also, did I mention that Truelove sees ghosts? Specifically, she is visited by the ghost of her dead stepfather, and also is often advised by the ghost of Queen Victoria. Whether one should listen to Queen Victoria is another matter.

I’m not kidding when I say this book is different genres. It’s a mystery, part ghost story, part possible time-travel, and maybe a hint of romance, but it is definitely NOT a straight romance. It’s strange, out of the ordinary, and pretty enjoyable despite its quirks. Or maybe because of them? Different is good.

COVER NOTES: I love the cover images for this book and its prequel, The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match. They have stylized art with little facial detail and bright, bold colors. Definitely grabs attention and sets these works apart from the author’s previous romances. The covers scream “This is a new and different kind of story.”

BOTTOM LINE: A little difficult to get into; a mixture of genres, but at heart a mystery. Not everything is resolved, and I’m hooked enough to look forward to the next book in the series.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available October 4, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: The title of Book 2 has not been released, but it is scheduled for publication September 15, 2017.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Autumn Throne (Eleanor of Aquitaine #3) by Elizabeth Chadwick

This is the final book in Elizabeth Chadwick’s historical fiction trilogy on the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. It follows book 1, The Summer Queen, and book 2, The Winter Crown (previously reviewed here).

The Autumn Throne Front Cover (Sourcebooks Landmark)

The Autumn Throne Front Cover (Sourcebooks Landmark)

THE PLOT: Exploring the final 30 years of Alienor’s life, Book 3 starts with her imprisonment at Sarum after her sons’ failed rebellion against their father, King Henry II. Occasionally, Henry will pull Alienor out into the world…usually if he wants something from her. For a while, he tries to convince her to grant him an annulment and become a nun so he can marry again. Of course, there’s no way Alienor is going to be bullied into giving up her titles.

In the meantime, Henry continues to play mind games with his sons: Harry, the Young King; Richard; Geoffrey; and John, who watches his father’s slimy ways with women and politics and learns to emulate them.

Death robs Alieanor of too many of her children, including Harry and Geoffrey. When Henry himself dies, Alienor is finally free…and her favorite son, Richard, becomes king. A new phase of Alienor’s life opens as she becomes regent while Richard is first on crusade, then imprisoned. Surviving son John is a thorn in everyone’s side, but Alienor now also has some beloved grandchildren as her companions.

MY TWO CENTS: I loved this whole series. This book might have been a bit of a challenge for the author, as Eleanor spends the first chunk imprisoned and stripped of power. But Chadwick deftly uses this part of history to show what Eleanor might have done to occupy her time, and anyway, it’s all the more satisfying when Eleanor outlives her tyrant of a husband. In addition, we get some perspective into John’s thoughts and machinations, starting from when he’s pre-adolescent. 

It also could have become a bit depressing, as there are so many deaths and the reader knows Eleanor’s own death ends the book, but it never seems to be a “feel bad” downer book. I think most readers of historical fiction already know the basic historical facts, and the book’s job is to make that history come alive for the reader. Every Elizabeth Chadwick book I’ve read so far has accomplished that for me.

Now that this series has ended, I wonder what Chadwick has planned next. I almost hope it’s a book about John. She’s already set him up as a slippery little weasel, so that should work nicely into a book focused on him.

COVER NOTES: I’m so glad the US publisher stayed with the original cover design of The Summer Queen for the whole series…I like these better than the more generic artistic title-focused covers that the UK publisher switched to. The color palette ties nicely into the title.

BOTTOM LINE: A fitting end to a wonderful trilogy on Eleanor’s eventful life. These three books provided a beautifully detailed exploration of the period.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available October 4, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Year of the Crocodile (Cyclone 2.5) by Courtney Milan

This short story is a follow-up to Trade me, previously reviewed here.

The Year of the Crocodile Front Cover

The Year of the Crocodile Front Cover

SPOILER WARNING: There will be some spoilers for the first book in the series.

THE PLOT: Blake and Tina have been dating for a year, and so far Tina has successfully kept her parents from meeting Blake’s father. It’s not just that Adam Reynolds is a profane, self-centered jackass. It’s not just that Adam is a multi-billionaire while the Chens are poor. There’s also politics…the Chens had to escape communist China, while Adam exploits workers there.

When Adam realizes that Tina is deliberately keeping this meeting from taking place, he takes matters into his own hands. He storms the Wal-Mart (his very first trip there) where Tina’s mother Hong Mei works as a cake decorator. Hong Mei is more than a match for Adam, and they spar while she (ahem) decorates a cake for him.

Will the Reynolds and Chen families spend Chinese New Year together in the Chens’ tiny apartment? Will anyone die? Will Tina’s head actually blow off in a mushroom cloud?

MY TWO CENTS: This is a hysterical, laugh-out-loud (several times!) story. It only takes about 40 minutes to read, maybe less, but it’s well worth it. The cake scene is roll-on-the-floor funny. Okay, fine, if you don’t like bad language (like Captain America), then you probably won’t like Adam Reynolds or this story. Remember, his employees refer to him as “AFR” and the F does not stand for “fantastic.” He f-bombs a few times per sentence, but it’s not just for shock value. It’s his very character, and it’s pretty funny. Consider this jewel:

These two items of personal history go abso****inglutely great together, like bananas and asphalt. Like marshmallows and the ****ing swamp thing.

This story is narrated in turns by Tina, Blake and Adam. Adam’s internal monologue gives us more insight into his character and motivations. Hmmm, that well runs deep. Can’t wait to explore it more. Oh yeah, Tina and Blake get a steamy scene, but frankly, they took back seat to Adam for me in this story.

Note that this is numbered as 2.5 in the series. According to the author, that’s because this story actually takes place sometime during the setting of book 2.

COVER NOTES: Many cheers to the author for setting up photo shoots of models who actually represent the characters.

BOTTOM LINE: Short but hilarious, and also moves Adam’s character forward a bit. When I’m down, I’m pulling this back out and rereading the cake scene.

TEACUP RATING: Five+ out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Hold Me, the second full-length book in the series, is planned for October 2016.

Note: Review is based on a free product received from the author.

A Forest of Wolves (Uprising #2) by Chelsea Luna

This is the second book following the clash of Catholics and Protestants in 16th-century Prague. The first book, Lions in the Garden, was previously reviewed here.

A Forest of Wolves Front Cover

A Forest of Wolves Front Cover (Lyrical Press)

SPOILER WARNING: There will be some spoilers for the first book in the series.

THE PLOT: Mila Novakova is on the run from her father, Vaclav, Chancellor of Bohemia, and her maybe-kinda husband, Radek, Duke of Prucha. Since the marriage was forced and hasn’t been consummated, Mila’s true love, Marc Sykora, insists that the marriage hasn’t actually taken place. The Inquisition is getting into full swing, and Marc is the leader of the Protestant rebellion.

In the meantime, Mila isn’t exactly fitting into life with the peasants. Marc’s uncle has a hatred of Catholic nobles, and Marc’s childhood friend wants Mila out of the way so she can have Marc for herself. And when Marc is away recruiting for the cause, his brother Henrik is Mila’s best friend and support…but does he really want more?

Mila finds confirmation of a truth about her past, but she’s not sure how to use this information for good. No matter what she chooses, her own life is in danger and the people she loves face torture and death.

MY TWO CENTS: I was eager to continue this series; it’s a period I’m familiar with, but not the location. I’m really not as well-educated on the Holy Roman Empire as I should be. This series can definitely interest a reader into researching an unfamiliar period of history.

Mila is an engaging heroine, and as a reader, I want to see her succeed. I’m interested in the story. I know there are anachronisms, but they don’t bother me much when it streamlines the material for younger readers. And it’s definitely an engrossing story. You root for the good guys and hiss at the bad guys.

What a really don’t want to see is another love triangle. In the first book, there was a bit of a triangle with Radek and Marc, but in this book, since you already know that Radek is a villain, the triangle starts to form with Marc and his brother. Henrik’s interest in Mila doesn’t have to go beyond friendship, so I hope it stops right where it is, right now.

I read this book under the impression that it was the end of the series, but as I got very close to the end with unresolved plot threads, I realized it wasn’t meant to be the last book of the series. I do seriously hope the story continues. Should you read it without reading Lions in the Garden first? Eh…really, no. You should start there. While most of the backstory is explained, you don’t really get the level of emotional weight you should by starting with this one.

COVER NOTES: The first book showed Mila’s face, while this one only shows her from behind…in an absolutely stunning gown that would have been more appropriate for the first book than this one. When I flipped through my e-books, though, I saw that this cover was similar in concept to several other YAs on my Kindle…girl shown from behind in gorgeous ball gown. The colors in this are quite striking, and I’m sure it will appeal to the target audience.

BOTTOM LINE: Uses interesting characters to explore a period of history that is unfamiliar to me, and makes me want to know more. I hope the story continues, and especially that the villains get what’s coming to them.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available September 13, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: While the author has stated on social media that she’s working on book 3, she can’t confirm when it will be published.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wendy Darling: Seas (Wendy Darling #2) by Colleen Oakes

I loved the first book in this series–Wendy Darling: Stars, previously reviewed here. Based on the ending of Stars and the title Seas, I had an idea of what (or whom) this book would feature, but like the first book, there were unexpected twists and turns.

Wendy Darling: Seas Front Cover (SparkPress)

Wendy Darling: Seas Front Cover (SparkPress)

SPOILER WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for the first book in the series.

THE PLOT: Wendy and Michael have been fished out of the sea by Captain Hook’s crew.  Wendy figures they won’t be much safer in the hands of pirates than they were with evil, self-centered Peter, but she’ll do anything to keep Michael safe. The pirates, especially a nasty one named Smith, assure Wendy that they’d just as soon kill her as use her in their battle against Peter. When Wendy is brought to Captain James Hook, he promises his only interest in her is how she can help him defeat Peter. Yes, Peter is a homicidal maniac, but he’s obsessed with Wendy. Hook can use that weakness to his advantage. First, he needs to bring Wendy up to speed on his own turbulent history with Peter, and what Peter’s connection to Tink really is.

Wendy is all too aware of the precariousness of her situation. She would do anything to get her brother John away from Peter’s influence and get the Darlings back home to their parents…and Wendy’s first love, Booth. But Wendy’s time with the pirates will make her stronger physically and mentally, even while she faces horrible betrayals and mortal danger.

MY TWO CENTS: What do you need to know? First, Peter hardly appears in this book, except for the threat of knowing he’s out there watching. This one is centered firmly on the pirate ship Sudden Night, and it does a nice job of exploring the pirates.

We’ve seen various versions of Hook in many different versions of Peter Pan, but this one is different. He’s a very rounded character, neither all bad nor all good. He makes sure Wendy knows that he would have no problem disposing of her, yet they forge a friendship of sorts. Hook is firmly a pirate, but his actions may be an effort to actually save everyone. He is a man with very deep emotional ties to some people and studied indifference to everyone else. It’s almost easier to say which versions of Hook he is NOT, including the Disney version, the “Once Upon a Time” handsome anti-hero version, and the Dustin Hoffman version.

Wendy goes through quite a bit of development in this one, although she blushes entirely too often. (We get it, she’s on a pirate ship, the pirates not exactly going to respect her delicate sensibilities.) But where Hook’s primary goal is to destroy Peter, Wendy’s primary goal is to get home, safely, with both her brothers. Peter is just an obstacle, but he’s a fairly big, dangerous obstacle. It’s in Wendy’s best interest to ally with Hook and risk her life. It’s not just for him, or even for Neverland; as far as she’s concerned, those are just byproducts of her mission.

This does at times feel very much like the middle part of the story. For example, there are some overlong descriptions of the ship, and there are times where nothing is really happening, although those times help build tension. (Are the pirates good or bad? Is Peter lurking around the corner?) But the climax of the book is all up to Wendy, and her strength carries her through to a final twisting shock as a setup for the next book.

COVER NOTES: I love these covers. I love how you never see Wendy’s face, and the pleasing colors are reminiscent of the iconic blue nightgown we relate to Disney’s version of Wendy. I have to wonder if we’ll finally see Wendy’s face on the cover of the third and final book, as I’m sure she will rise as the conquering hero. So far, both covers show Wendy being pushed and pulled by the elements; I expect Wendy to become the element of the last book! Honestly, I like these covers so much that I will probably buy a set in paperback as well as the eformats I already have.

BOTTOM LINE: While bonding with Hook over their mutual loathing of Peter Pan, Wendy starts to become the player instead of the pawn. It’s obviously the middle of the story, but if you loved Stars, you’ll fall right into this one, too.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available September 20, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Wendy Darling: Shadow, book 3 in the series, will be published in Fall 2017. I’m looking forward to the Wendy/Peter showdown.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Highlander (Victorian Rebels #3) by Kerrigan Byrne

The Highlander is the third book in the “Victorian Rebels” series, following The Highwayman (reviewed here) and The Hunter (reviewed here). I found The Hunter a little too dark for my taste; how did The Highlander stack up?

The Highlander Front Cover ()

The Highlander Front Cover (St. Martin’s Paperbacks)

SPOILER WARNING: There will be some spoilers for the first two books in the series.

THE PLOT: The last time we saw Lady Philomena St. Vincent, she was helping Christopher Argent save Millie LeCour from her husband’s family. Unfortunately, Millie is paying a high price for her kindness. She was already a battered wife; now she’s been dumped in an insane asylum and tortured. She’s rescued at almost the last moment by the people who owe her one. Millie and Farah Blackwell conspire to send Mena away to Scotland in disguise, to become the governess for Farah’s brother-in-law’s two children.

Liam Mackenzie, Marquess Ravencroft, is better known as the Demon Highlander. The same man who fathered Dorian Blackwell warped his own legitimate heir as well, forcing him to whip women for fun. To his credit, Liam did NOT find it fun and did his best to save the women from his father. But he’s convinced that everyone who comes into contact with him is doomed. He’s immediately smitten with his children’s new governess, but he knows she’s hiding a big secret. Despite showing clear signs of abuse, Mena still manages to stand up to him. He doesn’t know it, but he’s captivated by all the things Mena’s husband hates about her.

Even as the attraction flares between them, both know it could never work…Liam because he’s cursed and someone is trying to kill him, and Mena because she’s hiding from her husband, who’s trying to kill her. Will they find out who’s trying to kill Liam? Will Mena’s husband get what he deserves? Will Christopher Argent ever stop killing people? (Easy answer there…no.)

MY TWO CENTS: I’m aware that I’m, like, the ONE person on earth who didn’t love The Hunter. I’m sorry, but I hold to that…especially when the first time we see Argent in this book, he’s snapping someone’s neck. Okay, the person had it coming big time, but Dorian and Inspector Morely both kind of give off this exasperated “Not AGAIN…I totally didn’t see that happen, not listening, la la la…” vibe. (Am I the only one who hopes Morely gets his own book someday?)

Anyway, despite the beginning (which features the whipping and then the asylum scene), this book is a lot lighter in tone than The Hunter. Liam may believe he’s beyond redemption, but he’s actually a good man. He’s got a bit of a rocky relationship with his teenage children, which is pretty normal. He has a very earthy lust for Mena, yet never hurts her.

Mena’s character is a fine line between battered yet spunky. She’s emotionally frail, but still hasn’t given up on herself. And despite everything she’s been through, she can’t quite give up on love, either.

I love the description of the Samhain festival. If you’re not familiar, Samhain is pronounced “SAH-win,” so don’t internally read it as “sam-HANE.” The celebration really makes Liam’s culture come to life and provides some neat details about pagan rituals. Also, it gives people the opportunity to behave badly.

COVER NOTES: The previous two covers have been fairly monochromatic, so this one is a slight break in style, I’m assuming to play off the plaid. Mena is wearing the dress she wears to the Samhain celebration. I love when the cover actually reflects elements of the book. The author posted a photo of the Mackenzie plaid on her facebook page; what do you think, fairly good representation on the cover?

mackenzie tartan

Mackenzie plaid, posted by Kerrigan Byrne

BOTTOM LINE: This is one of those romances where you KNOW the couple will end up together, you just can’t imagine HOW. The majority of this book is lighter in tone than the previous book, but the opening scenes are still very dark like the rest of the series.

WARNING: Like Elizabeth Hoyt, Kerrigan Byrne uses strong language and very graphic sensuality in her love scenes.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available August 2, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Book 4, The Duke, will be published February 7, 2017. I think the Duke of Trenwyth was just introduced in The Highlander; I don’t think we’d heard of him before…but I could be wrong. He’s lost a hand, so you know he comes with tons of juicy baggage.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Virgin’s War (Tudor Legacy #6) by Laura Andersen

It would seem that the “Tudor Legacy” series wraps up in this final book of the second trilogy. How much more is history skewed in this alternate realty?

****SPOILER WARNING:**** This review will include spoilers for the first trilogy books, The Boleyn King, The Boleyn Deceit (reviewed here), and The Boleyn Reckoning (reviewed here); and the first and second books of this trilogy, The Virgin’s Daughter (reviewed here) and The Virgin’s Spy (reviewed here).

The Virgin's War Front Cover (Ballantine/Random House)

The Virgin’s War Front Cover (Ballantine/Random House)

THE PLOT: Princess of Wales Anne Isabella, also known as Anabel, moves front and center in this book. She’s created her own court in the north of England, including her best friend Philippa Courtenay and Pippa’s twin, Anabel’s true love Christopher (known as Kit). The twins’ older brother, Stephen, has been disinherited and banished after his actions in book 2.

The separate court is a ploy to make Anabel’s father, Philip of Spain, think that Anabel has become estranged from her mother, Queen Elizabeth. By pretending to be sympathetic to the Northern Catholics, Anabel lulls Philip into believing that an invasion could land successfully and be joined and assisted by Anabel’s court.

In the meantime, Anabel is being courted by the Protestant Scottish King James, whose mother Mary, Queen of Scots, who is also married to Philip, is keen to lead the Catholic invasion force. (Whew! Got all that?)

MY TWO CENTS: Although Anabel is the star of this book, all the Courtenays play fairly large roles. (Even Lucie and Julien return for a storyline of their own.) The twins’ stories both revolve around their relationship with Anabel. Pippa, her dearest friend, is a seer whose fate has been hinted at in earlier books. Kit, who loves Anabel, knows that he can never marry her. Anabel will be queen of England, and she’s destined to marry King James. Anabel loves Kit, too, but like her mother, she knows her duty. She has no intention of putting her love before her country. Even Elizabeth, though, isn’t truly sure that her daughter won’t take Philip’s bait in order to marry the man of her choice.

Stephen Courtenay is wiser and more sympathetic in this book, as he meets up again with Maisie Sinclair. Pippa has always been one of my favorite characters, and she certainly has her moment to play a pivotal role in the plot. Dominick and Minuette are still Elizabeth’s beloved, trusted friends, and they stand with her as their children stand with Anabel in the North.

I have just loved these books. For one, the fictional characters are all believable and mesh well with the “characters” that really existed: Queen Elizabeth, Walsingham, Philip of Spain, Lord Burghley, and Mary, Queen of Scots. Second, Andersen is a master of following the ripples of change across the historical events.

BOTTOM LINE: A very satisfying ending. I could definitely keep reading Andersen’s skewed reality. Maybe she can tackle a different era now? Whatever is next for this author, I’ll be checking it out.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The Virgin’s War will be available on July 12, 2016 in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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