Royal Inheritance (Secrets of the Tudor Court #5) by Kate Emerson

Royal Inheritance Front Cover (Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster)

Royal Inheritance Front Cover (Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster)

This can’t really be the first time I’m reviewing historical fiction on this blog, can it? Historical fiction is my favorite genre, especially English historical fiction. I always say that I was an amateur Tudor scholar before it was cool to be one. The Secrets of the Tudor Court series has been one of my favorites, partially because it explores lesser-known courtiers. Sorry to say, though, that this entry was not my favorite in the series.
THE PLOT: Ethelreda Malte, known as Audrey, lives a comfortable life as the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII’s tailor, John Malte. In her first visits to court, Audrey is too naive to realize that courtiers are noting her striking resemblance to Princess Elizabeth and the king. But as the king bestows more and more favors on her family, Audrey is driven to discover the truth.

The story is framed by an older Audrey telling her daughter, Hester, the truth about her ancestry. This technique seemed very forced and inauthentic to me until about halfway through the book. Why on earth would Audrey tell this story to an eight-year-old child? Well, then it’s explained that Audrey, who has been ill, doesn’t think she has much time left, and she doesn’t want Hester to wonder forever about rumors and half-truths. The relationship with Audrey’s eventual husband, Jack Harrington, also seems uneven. Through three-quarters of the book, you’re led to believe that young Jack really cares for Audrey and would marry her if he had money. (However, the framed portions, located throughout the retelling of the past, reveal that older Jack is cheating on Audrey). Then, they finally marry to save Audrey from the machinations of a mustache-twirling villain, and suddenly it seems that Jack never really wanted her; he only married her for her inheritance. The end is so rushed that it feels like someone hit a fast-forward button.
BOTTOM LINE: While I recommend checking out Kate Emerson’s other titles, I found this novel just lukewarm. I don’t know if a first-time reader who started with this book would be intrigued enough to pick up others in the series. It was a fairly quick and effortless read, though.

TEACUP RATING: I’m giving the book three teacups. I just wasn’t hooked like I wanted to be, but I still look forward to Kate Emerson’s next novel.

ON SALE DATE: Royal Inheritance will be on sale September 24th.

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

Seeds Volumes 1 & 2 by M.M. Kin

Seeds Volume 1 (Cover Image: XX)

Seeds Volume One (Cover Image: Moranyelie/Osario Morales)

I will be honest with you: I was never interested in being a fiction writer myself, and I avoid the whole fanfiction thing like crazy. I also tend to be highly skeptical of self-publishing because there are many, many more people out there who believe they have talent than actually do. However, I have learned my lesson. Independent authors cannot be dismissed, because then true talent like M.M Kin could be overlooked. And that would be a shame.

THE PLOT: Simply put, Seeds is a retelling of the original Hades/Persephone Myth. It’s about the actual ancient Greek gods and goddesses as opposed to modern “reimaginings” of characters who play those roles. Volume 1 starts with the story surrounding Persephone’s birth and explains how her overprotective mother, the goddess Demeter, planned to keep her safe from harm by hiding her away. But even trapped in the body of a prepubescent girl, Persephone soon captures the attention of the gods…including Hades. Hades would happily court Persephone properly, if only her mother wasn’t determined to keep her away from all men. So Hades feels driven to kidnap her and take her to the Underworld.

seeds 02

Seeds Volume Two (Cover Image: Moranyelie/Osario Morales)

Seeds Volume Two explores the evolving relationship between Hades and Persephone, as well as Demeter’s frantic search for her daughter. But even as the couple grows closer together, feisty Persephone simply cannot let someone else decide her fate. And Hades has some control issues. Can he be worthy of Persephone’s love after starting their relationship with a kidnapping?

MY TWO CENTS: If you love mythology, you’ll enjoy this richly crafted retelling of the story. Meticulous research results in a detailed setting that greatly adds to the story but never overwhelms it.

Persephone’s character is especially likeable, as she is determined to be the master of her own fate, despite her attraction to Hades. (Who is all but irresistible, to Persephone AND the reader.)

Please be aware that these novels have some especially steamy love scenes. I don’t think they verge into erotica territory, but may be a bit more graphic than your average romance. (Think slightly more graphic than Elizabeth Hoyt’s sex scenes.)

Also, although the novels are set in ancient times, the language is sometimes very modern. I, personally, do not have a problem with that since no one can duplicate that ancient language accurately. And I’m sorry, but “twas” or “tis” in a historical drives me bonkers. These are actually deal-breakers for me. One single “twas” and I’m outta there. So thank you, M.M. Kin, for not sounding laboriously artificial!

TEACUP RATING: I give each volume a solid 5 teacups, and I can’t wait for the final volume. Plus, I will be more open-minded in the future about self-published books. I’ll be eagerly waiting for this author’s next novel or series.

The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2) by Courtney Milan

The Heiress Effect Front Cover

The Heiress Effect Front Cover

I must start with an apology to Courtney Milan. I know she spends months and months writing and editing her books, and then I gobble them up as fast as I can like a savage animal. I tried to savor The Heiress Effect, I really did, but I just couldn’t stop. I guess that’s what rereads are for.
THE PLOT: The heroine, Jane Fairfield, is one of the most original characters to hit romance in a while. She’s deliberately exaggerated her natural tendencies toward inappropriateness to avoid finding a husband. See, she’s an heiress, so many men would overlook a lot to get their hands on that money via marriage. But Jane needs to avoid marriage until her sister comes of age, and she knows her guardian will accept the first marriage offer Jane gets just to be rid of her.

The hero of this story, Oliver Marshall, is the son of the characters from The Governess Affair and the illegitimate half-brother of Robert from The Duchess War. He’s spent a lifetime trying to make up for his birth and become a “somebody.”

MY TWO CENTS: This book started off super-strong. Then there were a few anxious moments where I wondered if momentum had been lost. But it came roaring back at the end with such a finish that I was beyond impressed. Like Ms. Milan’s other novels, this book is about love that helps individuals become their best selves, and not in a preachy or boring way. While other romance authors may be about steamy sex or comedy, I feel like Courtney Milan always gets to the heart of true love. Two separate personalities who only become their best selves by knowing, and loving, each other.

I also want to note that the secondary characters in this book are also multilayered. For instance, from the first few pages, you’d expect Jane’s uncle to be the type to beat defenseless young girls. But actually, his cruelty is well-intentioned. Jane’s sister Emily has an unusual romance of her own. And even seemingly flat characters like Jane’s fake friends, twins Genevieve and Geraldine, evolve.

BOTTOM LINE: This is an above-and-beyond book that I will reread despite my heavy reading schedule, and it also makes me wish that Sebastian and Violet’s book, The Countess Conspiracy, was coming sooner than December. So I could gobble THAT up quickly like a savage animal, despite the work the author pours into it.

TEACUP RATING: If you haven’t guessed by now, this book gets five-plus teacups. Let’s say six out of five.

Note: Reivew is based on a copy provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Unhinged Sample Chapter by A. G. Howard

Unhinged Front Cover (Amulet Books)

Unhinged Front Cover (Amulet Books)

If you read my previous review of Splintered by A. G. Howard, you already know that I love the character of Morpheus. So I’m wildly excited to see that the sample chapter for its sequel, Unhinged, features Morpheus and not Jeb. WHEEE!!!!!

Morpheus interrupts a particularly intimate moment between Jeb and Alyssa (that’s my boy!) to pull Alyssa into Wonderland…and looks damn fine while doing it, wearing a black duster coat, red suade pants, and a poet shirt with lacy cuffs. (I’m getting a cross between Captain Jack Harkness and Duran Duran, which is pretty close to perfection for an 80s freak. If you’re too young to have appreciated Duran Duran, go find the video for “Come Undone” and you’ll see what I mean. DO IT NOW!) Anyway..without giving away too many details from Splintered, Morpheus wants Alyssa to return to straighten Wonderland out. Some of the loose ends are ruining the land, and it falls to her to put things right.

Alyssa, of course, refuses because she wants to be with Jeb (because she’s crazy), so Morpheus threatens to come live in the real world instead. Which, from the description of Unhinged, seems to actually happen.

I am all but giddy over this delicious sample chapter, and wildly excited for this book. Mark your calendars: it is scheduled to release on January 7, 2014. I give just the sample chapter 10 out of 5 teacups. (Hey, I can do that…it’s my blog. )
Note: This review is based on a sample chapter provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Awaken (Abandon Series #3) by Meg Cabot


Awaken Front Cover (Point/Scholastic)

Oh, Meg Cabot. I love you and I really, really wanted to love this series. When you first announced it, I was totally excited. I was a little disappointed in the first book, Abandon. I almost didn’t make it through the second, Underworld. And now that I’ve finished the series with Awaken…well, I just think of why I didn’t love it, where (in my opinion) it went wrong, and how I wish there was a do-over button.

THE PLOT: Readers who read the first two books in the trilogy will be looking for this book to tie up all loose ends. Fates versus Furies for the Underworld…and John Hayden, Cabot’s version of Hades. There’s also a wrap-up to the love story of John and Pierce, a modern-day Persephone.

MY TWO CENTS: Since the first book, I have felt that this series is simply too drawn out. It just really needed to be edited down to two books. In addition to filler and wordiness, it suffers from too little John Hayden and too many minor characters, like Pierce’s cousin Alex and her friend Kayla, and John’s “coworkers.” This book is especially slow in the first half. The first few pages are exciting; then there’s a lull; then it picks up for the second half to the finale.

NOTE TO TWEEN PARENTS: Please note that Pierce and John do have a sexual relationship. There is very little detail given, but it’s clear that Pierce is undressed and that the two have spent the night together. Maybe parents today won’t be as wigged out by this as my mother would be. She didn’t want me reading Judy Blume even after I’d hit puberty (sigh).

TEACUP RATING: I’m only giving this book 2 1/2 out of 5 teacups, with many apologies to Meg Cabot. And 1/2 of those teacups goes to Pierce’s whip.

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

Rurouni Kenshin Restoration by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Rurouni Kenshin Front Cover (VIZ Media)

Rurouni Kenshin Front Cover (VIZ Media)

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Kenshin, and when I learned that there was a new release, it was a no-brainer pickup for me. But I was confused as to what it actually was. Advertised as a “condensed retelling,” I was expecting a shortened form of the original story. That’s not the case.

THE PLOT: This is a “reboot” in the way that the new Star Trek movies are a reboot. Or, as the author describes it, a “parallel story.” This means that the same characters are introduced in different ways and have somewhat different relationships from those in the original story. As an introduction, Kenshin is pulled by Yahiko into a show put on by Kanryu Takeda. Yahiko, who works for Kanryu, “mistakes” Kenshin for the Battosai, who is supposed to battle Kaoru in the show. Kanryu now owns the Kamiya dojo, and Kaoru puts on this show in an attempt to pay back the debt and get the dojo back. Weird. Sanosuke and Saito also seem to work for Kanryu as they draw straws to see who gets to kill Kenshin. Just wrong. Sano becomes friends with the group anyway, but he’s introduced as already knowing the “mastery of the two layers.”

MY TWO CENTS: I know Watsuki is helping generate interest in the live-action movie(s) with this new release, but I wish he had done it some other way. I would much rather he had done the sequel with Kenshin’s son Kenji and Yahiko’s son. Since the movie is based off the original stories, I think anyone picking this up would just be confused. Also, the art seems strange. I understand that an artist’s style may change over time, but I don’t prefer this version of Kenshin. He looks more like the New Kyoto Arc Kenshin, or the OVAs Kenshin, than the original or anime Kenshin, which I prefer.

TEACUP RATING: With greatest apologies to Kenshin and Watsuki, I give this only two-and-a-half teacups out of five. However, I STRONGLY recommend that people check out the original manga and the anime series.

Bigelow Mint Medley Tea

Since this is my Tea Room, from time to time I’ll post about tea. Although I usually buy loose tea, tonight I bought Bigelow K-Cups in Mint Medley.

The ingredients of this herbal tea are peppermint leaves, spearmint leaves, rosehips, lemon peel, and hibiscus. It brewed up surprisingly dark, and tasted especially minty and refreshing. It was delicious steaming hot but was still pleasantly minty as it cooled.

This is an enjoyable, relaxing tea. I would suggest drinking it while reading something mellow, a mild book with no violence. Calming and soothing. Enjoy and unwind!

What the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries

What the Duke Desires Front Cover

What the Duke Desires Front Cover (Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster)

I’ve been trying to get really tough when grading romance novels on other sites; it’s got to be a really special book to get a full five-star rating…but I think this book pulls it.

This new series, “The Duke’s Men,” is loosely linked to Jeffries’s other series; for example, there are some references to Jackson Pinter from the “Hellions of Halstead Hall” series. So you know it’s set in the same world as “School for Heiresses” and the “Royal Brotherhood” series. This first book starts off with a dastardly villain that you really loathe right off the bat.

THE PLOT: When Viscount Rathmore dies, his heir, George, burns his father’s hastily written will, thus cutting off his father’s illegitimate children. George’s legitimate younger brother, Dominick, sides with their half-brother Tristan and half-sister Lisette, so George disowns him as well. Tristan steals the valuable horse his father intended to leave to him, making himself a fugitive from the law…and from a vengeful George.

I’m sure this story will play out through the entire series. Despite some resolution at the end of this book, there is still the question of why George hated his siblings enough to disown them to begin with.

MY TWO CENTS: Lisette is the female lead of this book, and she’s a breath of fresh air. Being both half-French and illegitimate frees her from the social conventions that usually confine romance heroines. The male protagonist is Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons. He’s awfully angsty for a duke, which is also fun. The two meet when Max receives a note from Tristan claiming to have found Max’s presumed-dead older brother…who would then be the actual duke. But now Tristan has disappeared. Max wants to know the truth, and Lisette wants adventure as well as to find her brother, so they pose as a married couple to travel together looking for the missing Tristan and Max’s brother Peter.

I won’t give anything away, but I will say that toward the end of the novel, Max says something so horrific that I gasped and smacked my head. Then, later, he was so awesome that I was smiling like a loon. Characters who elicit real responses are the ones you tend to remember.

BOTTOM LINE: I wish I’d bought this one in paperback instead of Kindle, and I may still pick it up in that format. This is the kind of book I want to reread, hold in my hands, and keep in a physical format.

TEACUP RATING: A rare full five teacups. Enjoy with sweet tea and some smooth, rich chocolate.

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