Not Always a Saint (Lost Lords #7) by Mary Jo Putney

If you read Book 6 in the “Lost Lords” series, Not Quite a Wife (reviewed here), you already know this Lost Lord: Daniel Herbert, brother of Laurel. His romance with Jessie Kelham is my favorite Mary Jo Putney book in recent memory. (And by the way, whoever is doing these covers for Kensington is just knocking it out of the park. I loved the elegant piano cover on Book 6, and this is a great follow-up. And yes, this red dress makes an appearance in the book.)

Not Always a Saint Front Cover (Zebra/Kensington)

Not Always a Saint Front Cover (Zebra/Kensington)

THE PLOT: Daniel, who’s kind of a doctor and sometimes a clergyman but definitely a do-gooder, once treated a woman who had been beaten so badly that he couldn’t tell her features. The woman, who gave her name as “Jane,” presumably got away from her abusive husband after Daniel gave her some money.

Flash forward to years later. Daniel, having just inherited a title, goes wife-hunting for someone to help run his estates. At the same time, newly widowed Jessie is looking for a husband to protect her from her nephew-in-law. The nephew, Frederick, expected to inherited his Uncle Philip’s title, and instead, Philip found a loophole to leave the title to his and Jessie’s daughter Beth. Frederick is unpleasant enough about this shock that Jessie fears for her and her daughter’s safety, so she goes looking for a protective man to marry her. This will keep Frederick, Beth’s closest mail relative,  from becoming the new Baroness Kelham’s legal guardian.

When they meet, Daniel and Jessie fall into instant lust, but is that enough for two sensible people who have specific practical needs to build a marriage? And what IS the truth about Jessie’s past? When will Daniel figure out that he met Jessie once as Jane? Exactly how many skeletons does Jessie have in her closet, and can a genuinely good man like Daniel stand being married to a “wicked” woman?

MY TWO CENTS: There’s something about this couple that really spoke to me. Daniel is an absolutely good guy, but he never trips over into judgmental. Jessie has endured a lot of mental and physical abuse in her life, and while she’s not exactly a wilting damsel in distress, there’s a relief and joy in seeing Daniel help her with her problems. I felt like these two really connected, and I rooted for them to get together and be happy.

I was afraid that the ending was going to be too predictable, but it wasn’t. There are some twists and turns that keep me guessing until the end. There were also fewer instances of Putney’s usual repeated phrases that pull me out of the reading experience. People still “frown thoughtfully” and say things “ruefully,” but not as often as in other recent Putney books.

The reader also gets to visit some previous characters, which helps firmly establish this couple in the Lost Lords world. There’s an appearance by Lady Agnes as well.

BOTTOM LINE: While I always look forward to a Mary Jo Putney book, I found this one more enjoyable than most. I didn’t want to quit reading until I had finished it, and I’m looking forward to the next Lost Lord. I’m guessing he’ll be Captain Gordon, “Lady Agnes’s one failure.”

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

ON SALE DATE: Available August 25, 2015, 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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Mirrored (The Kendra Chronicles) by Alex Flinn

I love fairy tale retellings, so I’ve read all of Alex Flinn’s books since Beastly. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Mirrored, a retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and it didn’t disappoint.

Mirrored Front Cover (HarperCollins)

Mirrored Front Cover (HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: Poor 10-year-old Violet Appel is so homely that her beautiful, single-parent mother ignores her. She is bullied by her schoolmates, and her only friend is Greg, a shy boy who shares her love of birds. He doesn’t realize it, but he’s there when Violet discovers she’s a witch, including powers like bringing dead birds back to life. For three years the young people are best friends…until Greg goes away to summer camp for a few weeks, hits puberty, comes back a hottie and a jerk, and ditches Violet. See, the girl he’s always had a crush on, Jennifer, has noticed him. The only thing is, Jennifer is Violet’s worst bully. She won’t have anything to do with Greg if he continues to be friends with Violet.

Violet is now completely alone and bullied worse than ever, to the point of being beaten by two boys. But her powers flare into full being, and she’s befriended by an ancient witch named Kendra (who Flinn fans should know well). Kendra teaches Violet how to use her powers, but Violet only has one agenda: to make herself beautiful and win Greg back from Jennifer.

As a teenager, Violet is the hottest girl in school. She’s used witchcraft to gradually give herself perfect features and a model’s body. Despite all this, she’s still bullied, and Greg only has eyes for Jennifer. As Violet realizes the no one, especially Greg, will ever love her, her powers become more twisted.

Fast forward to Greg and Jennifer’s daughter, Celine. Celine is beautiful, the best of both of her parents. She’s a bit of a loner, though, because she lost her mother in a tragic “accident.” But her father’s old friend Violet was there to pick up the pieces, marry Greg, and become Celine’s stepmother. The family lived happily until Greg pointed out how beautiful, kind, and talented Celine is…like her mother. From that point, Violet becomes Celine’s enemy. When tragedy occurs, Violet becomes completely unhinged, and Kendra urges Celine to take refuge with her friend Goose and his family.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a great book for teens to think about. Bullying is NEVER an acceptable act. Ditching friends who love you because you found “better ones” is seriously cruel. And sometimes, your hero isn’t a prince or a rock star, but a person of small stature with a giant capacity to love.

The book is divided into three parts, written in first person with three points of view: young Violet narrates part one, Celine takes part two, and Goose gets part three. It’s great to get inside each character’s head because, since you know them so well, you root for all of them.

Can I say how much I love Goose? Obviously, Flinn has somewhat based his character on Tyrion Lannister; easily the most intelligent character in the Song of Ice and Fire series; fantastically played on Game of Thrones by the fabulous Peter Dinklage. (There are several references to Tyrion in the book; he’s Goose’s hero.) Tyrion is my favorite character, and a lot of other people’s too. It makes sense to base a YA hero on him and remind everyone that people of small stature can be brave, intelligent, and loving. Goose is a believable romantic lead. You WANT Celine to end up with him. What a great message for teens, especially in opposition to Violet’s belief that only being beautiful will get her what she wants.

BOTTOM LINE: After being disappointed with the “Rapunzel” story Towering, I’m blown away by Mirrored. I may like it more than Beastly, although I’m not sure. I’ve already reread it, and with my reading schedule, that’s a testament in itself.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups. LOVED IT.

ON SALE DATE: Available September 15, 2015, in hardcover and eformats.

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

Investigating Sherlock: The Unofficial Guide by Nikki Stafford

Do you absolutely love the BBC show Sherlock? (And who doesn’t? If YOU don’t, I don’t like you. Go away.) If you DO love it, you will probably love this companion book, which describes each episode of Series 1 through 3.

Investigating Sherlock Front Cover (ECW Press)

Investigating Sherlock Front Cover (ECW Press)

THE COVERAGE: The book begins with an introduction to the show, including some information on stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and of course some background on the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Each episode is divided into several sections:

  • Written by
  • Directed by
  • Original air date
  • Summary Plus Critique
  • Highlights
  • Did You Notice?
  • From ACD to BBC
  • Interesting Facts
  • Nitpicks
  • OOPS

And then, every season has one “Sherlockians Weigh In” feature. There are some mentions of other iterations of the great detective, but not many. If you are strictly a Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett fan, this is NOT your book.

MY TWO CENTS: I love the setup of the book. The author knows more about Sherlock and the connections to the original stories than I do, which is fabulous. I love the different parts of the descriptions. I also like how the author clearly loves the show, but is willing to showcase some “Sherlockians” who offer a slightly less biased opinion of the show. (Not that I agree at all with the one who dislikes Moriarty. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Moriarty; I think Andrew Scott’s portrayal is amazingly fresh and fearless.)

I might be interested in checking out some of the author’s other unofficial guides. Who doesn’t love a Buffy guide called Bite Me? She has also done guides for Lost. In that case, I hope next up is a guide for Once Upon a Time. I would snatch that up fast.

TEACUP RATING: I give the book 4½ out of 5 teacups. If you’re a Sherlock fan, you’ll need this. If you have a friend who’s a Sherlock fan, buy them this. They’ll love it.

ON SALE DATE: Investigating Sherlock will be on sale in paperback and ebook formats on September 15, 2015.

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

The Art of Sinning (Sinful Suitors #1) by Sabrina Jeffries

This cover CRACKS. ME. UP. The male model breaking the fourth wall, as if to say, “Look how naughty I am, heh heh heh!” Makes me giggle every time I see it. In actuality, the hero is not NEARLY as naughty as he’s led everyone to believe.

The Art of Sinning Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

The Art of Sinning Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Readers met both halves of this couple during the previous “Duke’s Men” series. Artist Jeremy Keane was introduced as Zoe’s cousin in How the Scoundrel Seduces (reviewed here), and Lady Yvette Barlow was Jane’s almost-sister-in-law in If the Viscount Falls (reviewed here.) Both are attending Dominick and Jane’s wedding breakfast when Jeremy spots Yvette and falls instantly in…well, artist-lust with her. He’s been looking for a model for his new painting, and Yvette is absolutely perfect. But she’s a lady, and Jeremy is used to using prostitutes as his subjects (although he lets everyone believe he’s visiting brothels for an altogether different reason, which has led to his horrible reputation).

To get in the household and gt around Yvette’s stodgy brother, Edwin, Jeremy agrees to paint a portrait of Yvette that will actually help her find a husband, since the unconventional lady has yet to find the right man, and her brother is concerned. But while they work on the portrait during the day, at night, Yvette poses for “Art Sacrificed to Commerce.” What’s in it for Yvette? Jeremy has promised to take her hunting in the London brothels for the illegitimate child her other brother, the villain Samuel, left behind when he was transported.

MY TWO CENTS: It’s no surprise that the posing sessions lead to romance. What IS surprising is that it’s a bit more complicated than you might think. At first, Jeremy is almost completely wrapped up in the art. While he’s attracted to Yvette, it’s much more about her “character” than her as a person. Jeremy also has a bit of a dark past. He was married before, and there’s some trauma having to do with his wife and parents that are keeping him from being able to move forward emotionally.

At the same time, Yvette has her own dark secrets. She’s trying to find her nephew, all the while thinking of the past indiscretion that her brother Samuel helped save her from. Maybe Samuel wasn’t always a villain…or wait, WAS he?

Finally, I love stuffy Edwin forming a club for exasperated men trying to save their sisters from rogues. All the while eyeing up his friend’s sister.

BOTTOM LINE: Slightly deeper than the usual fun Sabrina Jeffries romp. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to Edwin and Clarissa’s book.

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

ON SALE DATE: Available Juy 21, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

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

Star Wars Chapter Sampler

As we creep closer to December 18, and after all the hoopla of Comic-Con, I wonder if all Star Wars fans feel like I do—both thrilled and really, really apprehensive. If you’re a fan, you’ve proceeded from Return of the Jedi in one of two ways: you assumed the Empire was defeated and our heroes lived happily ever after, or you’ve followed the Extended Universe (now known as Star Wars Legends) and have come to love Mara Jade, Jaina Solo, and Ben Skywalker. Either way, your picture of life after Jedi is about to change. Is that good or bad? Only time will tell.

As a super-nerd, I still own my very battered paperbacks of the original novelizations of the films: Star Wars by “George Lucas” (really Alan Dean Foster), The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut, and Return of the Jedi by James Kahn. I really need to buy those on Kindle. But I’m intrigued by all these new Star Wars books that are coming, including retelling of the original movies. So I gobbled up the chapter sampler offered by Netgalley. It included three books that are “fresh interpretations” for young readers, possibly experiencing the franchise for the first time. (Unless their parents brought them up properly and they already know why May the Fourth should be an official postal holiday.)

BOOK 1: Star Wars: A New Hope—The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken

The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farmboy Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

I think this is longest excerpt in the sampler…the beginning of Star Wars from Leia’s point of view. The dialogue is word-for-word from the film, but all Leia’s thoughts are a very nice addition. We get a little background on Leia that I had never read before, so I’m not sure if it’s new canon or just something I missed in comics. Leia has mostly been raised by her two aunts to be a proper queen when the time comes. (Her adopted mother’s sisters?) They’ve taught her to curtsy properly and give speeches. But what Leia has really wanted is to follow her father into the senate, and then the rebellion. Helping in the theft of the Death Star plans is her first lone mission, and she’s making a mess of it. Will she be able to get away from Darth Vader and get the plans to her father?

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK 2: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back—So You Want To Be A Jedi? by Adam Gidwitz

So You Want to Be a Jedi? Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

So You Want to Be a Jedi? Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

 

This one is a little strange. Some of it is told in the second person, like Luke is giving instructions on being a Jedi and escaping the Wampa. It reads a little like a “choose your own adventure” book. (Am I showing my age with that reference?) And then there are summaries of the action going on that Luke doesn’t see. This one will be the hardest sell for me since The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time. I’m immediately miffed that we’re told we won’t see “the mushy stuff” of Han and Leia’s love story, but totally understandable in a YA novelization. I’m also amused by the summary of their relationship: they “kind of love each other and kind of hate each other.” Yeah, that’s about right.

So, I found this one a little weird but interesting. I’d have to read a few more chapters to know if I really like the style. It probably will attract younger readers, though.

 

 

BOOK 3: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi—Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger

Beware the Power of the Dark Side! Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

Beware the Power of the Dark Side! Front Cover (Disney Lucasfilm Press)

 

This one seemed to be a fairly straightforward retelling of Return of the Jedi, starting with the droids’ journey to Jabba’s palace. There’s a bit of humor to make the boring trek across the sand seem…even more boring.  There’s also a quick intro to Jabba and his favorite prize, Han Solo frozen in carbonite.

I appreciate the humor in the sample chapters for this one, so I’d be interested in checking it out.

BOTTOM LINE: I’m most intrigued by The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy; least hooked by So You Want to Be a Jedi? but overall, I’d be interested in checking out all three.

May the Force be with us…always.

ON SALE DATE: All three will be available September 22, 2015, in hardcover and eformats.

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

Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson

Here’s something I hadn’t seen yet in my copious historical fiction reading: a book about Cicely Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III, also called “Proud Cis.” I had read Joanna Hickson’s two books about Katherine of Valois (The Agincourt Bride, reviewed here, and The Tudor Bride, reviewed here), so I was excited to read her new work.

Red Rose, White Rose Front Cover (HarperCollins UK)

Red Rose, White Rose Front Cover (HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: Teenage Cicely is out hawking with her brothers, including her older illegitimate brother Cuthbert (Cuddy), when she is kidnapped by bandits. She is saved, but it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire as her “rescuers” are an estranged branch of Nevilles from her father’s first marriage. They have been feuding for years with Cicely’s mother, Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. These Nevilles intend to hold Cicely until they get the portion of the Neville inheritance they believe they’re entitled to. Cicely is already engaged to Richard, the Duke of York, and this kidnapping could stain her reputation and put an end to the betrothal. Cicely finds herself bonding with one of her cousins in a romance that will haunt her years later, all through the Wars of the Roses.

From here, the book trades off point of view between Cicely and her brother Cuddy. The reader gets Cicely’s perspective on the beinnings of the dispute through the crowning of Edward IV. Cuddy’s perspective gives details of the various battles.

MY TWO CENTS: Everyone knows I love historical fiction, and of the three Joanna Hickson books I’ve read, this one is my favorite. This one felt truest to the characters and the action. Cicely isn’t 100% likable, and her actions ring true to the nickname “Proud Cis.” She does some nasty things she can conveniently label as “duty” or “loyalty,” when the truth is her actions are often about appearances.

For some reason, I expected most of the book to be about young Cicely, either pre-marriage or during early marriage. I didn’t expect it to be quite so much about her married life and Wars of the Roses battles. I don’t know why, apparently just my misconception. So if, as a prospective reader, you’re thinking it’s just all about Cicely’s personal life, that’s not really the case.

My second bit of surprise was about Cicely’s illicit romance. I expected that the author was introducing a reason for later rumors that Edward IV was illegitimate, but it never comes up in this book. Maybe in a later book? a follow-up? (According to her Facebook page, Hickson’s next book will be about Jasper Tudor, so the Wars of the Roses continues!)

I also think it works to trade off Cicely’s point of view with Cuddy’s, and he’s the more sympathetic lead character. I rooted for him much more than I did Cicely, but that’s partially because I know where Cicely’s life leads. I didn’t know where this book would lead Cuddy.

BOTTOM LINE: The Wars of the Roses seems to have taken the place of the Tudor period now in popular historical fiction, and this is an interesting and different read about the period. I enjoy Hickson’s writing and am looking forward to her next book on Jasper Tudor.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available in the US on July 7, 2015, in paperback and eformats. Already available in UK.

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

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