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.

Once Upon a Moonlit Night (Maiden Lane 10.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

 

ONCE-UPON-A-MOONLIT-NIGHT-Launch-Day-Blitz

So excited to be part of the Launch Day Blitz for Elizabeth Hoyt’s e-novella, Once Upon a Moonlight Night! NOTE: This review will contain some spoilers for Duke of Sin, Maiden Lane #10 (previously reviewed here), as the heroine of this novella was one of Val’s blackmail victims in that book. And if you haven’t read it yet, enter the giveaway for a SIGNED copy of DUKE OF SIN here!

Once Upon a Moonlit Night Front Cover

Once Upon a Moonlit Night Front Cover (Grand Central Publishing)

THE PLOT: After Hippolyta Royale escapes from the Duke of Montgomery’s captivity with Bridget’s help, she doesn’t exactly look like the greatest heiress in England. She’s been kept in a stone cell, and she’s running wildly looking for help when stumbles upon Matthew Mortimer’s carriage. Matthew has just inherited the earldom of Paxton, and he believes the woman who stopped his carriage is mad, or at the very least lying. He’s sure she’s either a beggar or maybe even a prostitute. Her claims to be wealthy are obviously nonsense since she looks like she’s been living in a stable. But he agrees to take her to the next town. Eventually his protective nature takes over, and while he may not believe her, he does find that, cleaned up, she’s pretty darned attractive.

But remember, even if Matthew realizes that Hippolyta is telling the truth, and she’s the perfect match for an impoverished earl…there’s a reason Val was blackmailing her into marriage. Will that ultimately ruin their chance for happiness?

MY TWO CENTS: This novella may not be as long as a regular novel, but it finishes up a piece of the story that began in Sweetest Scoundrel…and it’s also insanely steamy. Part of that is because Matthew has no reason to believe Hippolyta is a highborn lady, so he says any number of outrageous things to her. His refusal to believe she’s who she says she is gives them time to get to know each other, as Hippolyta is freed from her “heiress” persona. She’s also freed for a while from the fear of society discovering the truth about her.

COVER NOTES: Wow! this color combo is a little out of the ordinary, but sure to grab attention! The fabric of the gown is crazy rich, and Hippolyta’s coloring looks appropriate. I LOVE these tropical colors.

BOTTOM LINE: If you’ve been reading the Maiden Lane series, you can’t miss this entry. (If you haven’t been reading it, why the heck not???)

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

ON SALE DATE: Available now in e-book formats!

Buy the Book!

Amazon: http://amzn.to/25YAAUD

B&N: http://bit.ly/1XkV4F0

iBooks: http://apple.co/235O4w2

Google: http://bit.ly/1UMqq4a

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1ZMbqoe

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Duke of Pleasure, book 11 in the series, will be published November 29, 2016. This entry stars Hugh Fitzroy from Duke of Sin, and Alf, the girl dressed as a boy for a few books now. (How Eponine is she?)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

HoytElizabeth

Elizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weekly has called her writing “mesmerizing.” She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.

 Social Media Links:

http://www.ElizabethHoyt.com

Twitter @elizabethhoyt

Facebook.com/ElizabethHoytBooks

Add Once Upon a Moonlit Night to your shelf on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/1S30uww

 

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

Once a Soldier (Rogues Redeemed #1) by Mary Jo Putney

First thing readers should know: This is NOT your typical London ball/drawing room Regency romance. This new series also picks up with the “Lost Lords” series’ characters, including primary hero Will Masterson and secondary hero Justin Ballard.

Once a Soldier Front Cover (Zebra Historical/Kensington)

Once a Soldier Front Cover (Zebra Historical/Kensington)

THE PLOT: After Napoleon’s defeat, Major Will Masterson agrees to take some soldiers to their small (fictitious) home country between Spain and Portugal. He finds that the country is still missing their king and crown prince, and the Princess Sofia is ruling with her primary advisor, Athena Markham. Athena is an illegitimate Englishwoman who was born of a notorious noblewoman and a noble father who refused to claim her. She is scarred for life for being referred to as “Lady Whore’s daughter,” so even though she’s attracted to Will, she’s cautious about forming an actual relationship. And when she accidentally finds out that he’s a lord, she breaks off the flirtation. She knows she’d never be accepted by London society.

In the meantime, Will, Athena, Justin, and Sofia are all working to rebuild the tiny country and protect it from possible guerrilla attacks. There’s a lot of talk about breaking open caves that were sealed off to protect the country’s wine reserve; opening up the river for trade routes; and exporting the fine wine through Porto with Justin’s help.

MY TWO CENTS: It’s a nice change to have characters do something actively productive and not just argue about romance, or dancing, or betrothals. Since this is a Mary Jo Putney book, everyone is very mature about talking through all possible scenarios to find solutions to problems both romantic and practical. There is a build throughout toward military action at the end.

Will and Athena are a good match. Athena is so sensible and competent that she needs a deep, dark past as some conflict. It’s too bad they can’t end up running the country full-time. Sofia and Justin are a nice secondary romance, but you know it’s all going to work out, and you can make a pretty good guess at how it will work out. It’s the journey that’s important here, not the destination. The subsequent books in the series were set up nicely with the opening scene.

COVER NOTES: This yellow and blue combo is stroking and pleasing, and I LOVE that it shows a scene straight out of the book, down to Athena’s dress. Good job, cover artist! Love it!

BOTTOM LINE: If you like your romances light, fluffy, and full of humor and ballrooms, then this isn’t the book for you. If you’re already a Putney fan, you’ll love this one.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available June 28, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Once a Rebel, book 2 in the series, will be published in October 2017. This will be the book about Gordon…known as “Westerfield Academy’s only failure.”

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

Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

Amy Snow caught my attention right away, and I was excited to have the opportunity to check out an advanced copy this new Victorian novel. This is a mystery story, but also a story about a teenage girl discovering who she wants to be and, better yet, can be.

Amy Snow Front Cover (Simon & Schuster)

Amy Snow Front Cover (Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Amy Snow was abandoned as a newborn and found and rescued by eight-year-old Lady Aurelia Vennaway. The Vennaways kept the infant, but while Aurelia adopts her as a little sister, the Vennaway parents are less than welcoming. Aurelia’s father is mostly indifferent, but her mother is especially venomous toward little Amy. She is kept in the servant’s quarters until Aurelia is old enough to demand Amy as her companion.

At first, the story alternates between Amy’s present and her past with Aurelia. In the present, Aurelia has died and left 17-year-old Amy money and clues to a “treasure hunt,” which will eventually lead Amy to a carefully hidden secret. In flashbacks, Amy tells of when Aurelia collapsed and was told she was dying. Aurelia heads off to travel the countryside, leaving Amy behind. Aurelia’s formerly frequent and descriptive letters to Amy become rare and detached, and she stays away much longer than originally planned. But when she unexpectedly arrives home, her bond with Amy becomes stronger than ever.

When Aurelia dies three years later, the Vennaways banish Amy from their home. The story then follows Amy on her quest, starting out with ten pounds and a letter from Aurelia and taking her to meet new people, make new friends for the first time, experience some romance, and ultimately understand much more about her beloved friend as well as herself.

MY TWO CENTS: There are really two mysteries here: where Amy came from, and what Aurelia wants her to discover. While these keep the reader’s interest, the real star of this book is Amy’s journey. She doesn’t even know her own origins and has lived her whole life at the whim of the Vennaways. She’s hated and scorned by Lady Vennaway, while treated as a pet, almost an accessory, by Aurelia. Aurelia’s final gift to Amy isn’t so much money and beautiful clothes, although that’s part of it. What she really does is provide Amy with courage, problem-solving skills, and self-confidence. The quest takes Amy from a shadow to the person who makes decisions, right or wrong. And as Amy begins to understand how Aurelia felt trapped by various circumstances, she better understands how important her own independence is.

Amy also gets a taste of romance for the first time in her life. At her first stop, she meets a young man who captures her interest and seems a kindred spirit. But she also meets a young gentleman who begins courting her in earnest. Why would a well-known gentleman be interesting in a foundling like Amy Snow, and why would he continue to pursue her as she travels?

BOTTOM LINE: Once I started reading, I didn’t want to put it down. Not exactly a Gothic novel, but very throwback in tone…I especially liked Amy’s love for Mr. Dickens. I very much enjoyed this first novel from Rees and will be looking forward to her second.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available June 7, 2016, in trade paperback, eformats, and audio.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR: Rees’s second novel, Florence Grace, will be available in the UK on June 30, 2016. No official word yet on the US publication, but if you want it immediately, try Book Depository.

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

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens #1) by Alison Weir

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen is the first book in Alison Weir’s new historical fiction series that will cover each wife of Henry VIII.

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

THE PLOT: The Spanish Infanta Katherine has traveled to England to become the bride of Arthur, Prince of Wales. Arthur is the oldest son of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, and her marriage and future son will help secure the Tudors on the throne. But Arthur is a sickly boy, and his death puts Katherine in an awkward position; stuck in England with no money except her dowry, which she begins to siphon off just to pay for food for herself and her servants. She is betrothed to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, under the assumption that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, but there are no guarantees that this marriage will take place.

Upon the king’s death, Katherine is finally married to Henry, now King Henry VIII, and it appears to be a true love match. Henry is young, handsome, and all too willing to produce an heir. Unfortunately, none of Katherine’s many pregnancies result in a live son. Babies are born dead, miscarried, or live only a few months. Only a princess, Mary, survives and thrives.

Katherine begins to worry that their marriage is cursed, perhaps because Elizabeth of York’s male cousin was executed before Katherine’s parents would allow her to marry Arthur. Henry stands by Katherine until she is no longer able to bear children; then he claims their marriage is invalid because Katherine was first married to his brother. It’s a bit longer before Katherine realizes Henry is desperate to take a new wife, and not just to get a male heir. The influence of Anne Boleyn will cause Henry to alter the course of history.

MY TWO CENTS: You may be wondering what sets this book apart from all the other Tudor fiction out there. First, it’s written by acclaimed historian Alison Weir, which means she’s very well versed in what is fact versus what is fiction. Because this is historical fiction, she’s taken some liberties with letters and the timeline; but you know she made those choices deliberately and not out of ignorance.

Second, this book is told in third person limited from Katherine’s point of view. If you are familiar with Tudor history, you’ll be aware of things going on behind the scenes that Katherine, as our narrator, doesn’t know. For example, it’s a long while before she realizes that Henry VII isn’t to be trusted. The reader realizes that Henry VIII has started cheating on her way before Katherine does.  Even as the reader realizes that first Mary Boleyn and then Anne Boleyn have surely entered the picture, Katherine remains blissfully ignorant. Finally, Katherine remains convinced until very, very late that Henry will ultimately give up Anne, reconcile with the church, and come back to her. The reader feels sorry for Katherine, knowing that she won’t ever get so much as a kind word from Henry ever again.

But at the same time, the reader must admire Katherine’s resilience. First she lives through the horrible poverty between Arthur’s death and Henry VII’s. Then, when faced with her dissolving marriage, she remains absolutely certain of its validity. Even when momentarily tempted to take the easy way out, she remembers that she must stay strong to secure her daughter’s position.

I don’t always love Weir’s fiction writing style. For example, characters “wept afresh” a little too often for my taste. But it’s certainly not as awkward as Weir’s “Captive Queen.” You can lose yourself in the story and the history.

BOTTOM LINE: A long book, and well worth the read; offers a unique perspective entirely from Katherine’s point of view. If you know Tudor history, you’re filling in the other angles of the story while reading what’s presented. I’m very much looking forward to other works in this series.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 31, 2016, in hardcover and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: I hope we in the US get these novellas: Arthur, Prince of the Roses, coming in November 2016, and The Blackened Heart, a bridge story between Katherine and Anne Boleyn, coming in March 2017. Anne Boleyn’s book will probably come spring/summer 2017.

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

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