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.

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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.

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

I had read Rhiannon Thomas’s first book, A Wicked Thing, and liked it well enough that its sequel, Kingdom of Ashes,  is purchased and on my “to read” list. But the description of her new book caught my eye, and I had to read it ASAP.

Long May She Reign Front Cover (HarperTeen)

Long May She Reign Front Cover (HarperTeen)

THE PLOT: Freya is a nerdy, antisocial scientist. Her father wants her to spend more time in society at court, but she really just wants to be experimenting in her lab. She slips out of the King’s birthday party early, only to learn later that almost the entire court was poisoned to death. Freya goes from being twenty-third in line to the throne to Queen of a greatly reduced kingdom.

Her father (not in line to the throne) and advisers want her to act as a figurehead while they try to find the murderer, who they’re sure is part of a rebel sect that hates the monarchy. Freya feels that she could do more good investigating than trying to learn how to walk in court dress or the appropriate way to wear her hair. And if she’s going to have to rule, she’s going to be the best possible ruler she can be…even if that means going against her advisers and her father.

Freya has a trio of friends to back her up. Naomi is her childhood friend whose brother was killed in the massacre. Naomi is alive because she left the banquet with Freya. Sweet, poised Madeline is next in line to the throne after Freya, but she’s doing everything she can to help Freya become a polished ruler. William Fitzroy is the king’s bastard son, and it’s possible the king was about to legitimize him and make him heir to the crown. All three help Freya find her confidence in ruling HER way. But what if one of them was also responsible for the mass murder?

MY TWO CENTS: I fell in love with this book, which is part murder mystery, part finding-yourself story. I admit that, as a fledgling manager, I identified with Freya 1000%. I totally understand how it is to suddenly be in charge. Everyone you report to hates everything you do. Everyone who reports to you hates everything you do. After listening to everyone tell you what you SHOULD do, the only way to really succeed is to be yourself. (A work-in-progress, in my case!)

In some ways Freya reminded me of Elizabeth I as portrayed in the movie Elizabeth. She knows she can make things right, but she’s not sure how, or how to get people to listen to her. I just love that Freya is a scientist. Where other YA heroines use physical skill, Freya uses her knowledge to problem-solve. So refreshing and very relateable.

A decent mystery is also a huge plus. Everyone is presented at various times as viable villains. There were specific people who I didn’t WANT to be the villain, but anyone could have been.

COVER NOTES: First, let me say how pleased I am that this is not a girl-in-a-ballgown cover. Second, the castle in the flask is just brilliant. It gives it just the right fantasy/science mix. This is NOT a heroine who wins over a kingdom with athletic skill or pretty gowns. If she succeeds, you know science will play a role.

BOTTOM LINE: LOVED THIS BOOK. What else to say? Engaging characters, good story.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available February 21, 2017, in hardcover and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: The author says this is a standalone book, but I would campaign for a sequel…

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

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