Thursday, January 28, 2016

REVIEW: Wildest Dreams by Rosanne Bittner

Wildest Dreams
by Rosanne Bittner

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Page Count: 640
Release Date: January 6, 2016
Format: Kindle

How got: Amazon Kindle Unlimited

First attention getter: love the author


From GoodReads:

A sweeping saga of passion, excitement, and a beautiful young woman and a rugged ex-soldier struggle against all odds to carve out an empire-and to forge a magnificent love."Lettie McBride knows that joining a wagon train heading West is her chance to begin anew, far from the devastating memories of the night that changed her forever. She doesn't believe she can escape the pain of innocence lost, or feel desire for any man...until she meets Luke Fontaine.

Haunted by his own secrets, Luke would never blame Lettie for what happened in the past. One glance at the pretty redhead is enough to fill the handsome, hard-driving pioneer with a savage hunger.

Against relentless snows, murderous desperadoes, and raiding Sioux, Luke and Lettie will face a heartrending choice: abandon a lawless land before it destroys them, or fight for their Wildest Dreams.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Consider me in happy, romantic heaven… This is the best Bittner book I’ve come across, hands down, so far. It has all the plus’ of Outlaw Hearts with the one flaw that book had corrected in this one. If you’re going to read any book by this author, let it be this one!!!

She keeps up the routine of family saga intermixed with a rich, beautiful romance in this one. Again, Bittner tells Lettie’s and Luke’s tale over decades, drawing in their struggle to build a successful ranch, fight off Indians and rustlers, and raise their children in a safe, loving environment. This trademark trait of Bittner’s novels works well again here.

Our two L’s, Luke and Lettie, have an instant connection, providing the partner that each needs to build a life and future in such a hostile and wild place as 1800s Montana. They play off each other realistically, arguing at times and suffering with the tragedies of daily life as well as reveling in the triumphs too. They’re emotionally resonant; I felt every single surge of love or pang of loss.

Bittner also makes both our leads wonderfully human, with all the fragilities and strengths that implies. Courageous and strong in equal measure, I felt a connection with both as soon as I started reading. Bittner improves on the characterization flaws that I experienced in Outlaw Hearts, the other novel of hers I adored. Neither of our “L”’s are perfect; both let grief and circumstances interfere with their relationship at times and both can be stubborn as hell. Their environment plays on their personalities, giving them a realistic feel that I loved.

She also pleases again in the setting and historical details department. Bittner brings Montana to life like few western romance authors can. She gets the remoteness, the craggy mountain beauty, the wide open valleys and plains, and the wind just right. I’ve experienced that blasting wind moaning over the prairie grasses myself and can say that part really resonated with me. I loved how the author showed us how Montana grew from the rugged territory it was into a bustling new state growing economically and politically.

To date, this is my favorite Bittner work hands down. It gets all the things right that my previous favorite had: great setting details and a wonderful romantic connection. Then she goes further and corrects the characterization flaws to give us two leads that are as human as we are. So if you’re going to be reading a Bittner work, definitely go for this one; to me, it’s the best one out there.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

REVIEW: Do Not Forsake Me by Rosanne Bittner

Do Not Forsake Me
by Rosanne Bittner

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Page Count: 480
Release Date: July 5, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; bought via Amazon

First attention getter: loved the first book in series


From GoodReads:

Experience the epic, sweeping story of Jake and Miranda Harkner from Bittner's beloved Outlaw Hearts, called by New York Times bestseller Heather Graham "a wonderful, absorbing read, with characters to capture the heart and the imagination".

Fate brought them together. His past may tear them apart.

Miranda Hayes' life was changed the day she faced down infamous gunslinger Jake Harkner...and walked away with his heart. Their fates have been intertwined ever since. Hunted by the law, fleeing across a savage land, their desperate love flourished despite countless sorrows. Now, twenty-six years later, their family has finally found some measure of peace...balanced on the knife's edge of danger.

Jake has spent his years as a U.S. Marshal atoning for sins, bringing law to the land he once terrorized. But no matter how hard he fights the demons of his brutal past, the old darkness still threatens to consume him. Only Miranda keeps the shadows at bay. But when outlaws looking for revenge strike a fatal blow, Jake risks losing the one woman who saw past his hard exterior and to the man inside.

He always knew there'd be the devil to pay. He just never realized he might not be the one to bear the ultimate price.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

This sequel to Outlaw Hearts didn’t have the power as the first, but it did add a great chapter in the lives of Jake and Miranda. It’s a worthy addition to Bittner’s collection of historical romance works.

The author chose to go further in a romantic relationship than many do in historical romances nowadays. The leads are in their 50s and 40s, far older than most romantic leads. I loved exploring how their relationship grew and matured as the years and trials went by. The author explored such issues that arose from that kind of relationship like illnesses, grandchildren, and getting older in a rough, tumble world.

Bittner also explores the next generation, Lloyd and Evie, as they get into relationships and start families of their own. This part of the story keeps the epic, family saga aura that the first book had, and I loved that. This book is as much about this family’s struggles to build a life in a very rough area of the world and overcome some truly tragic pasts as it is the romance.

Bittner, again, pays attention to her historical tidbits and world-building. Land-rush Oklahoma is a rough place to be, filled with outlaws, pissed-off Indians (this was supposed to be their territory after all), and squatters who don’t wish to vacate their premises. Jake being roped in as a lawman in such a setting is bound to bring its dose of action, suspense, and shoot outs. Bittner doesn’t hesitate to draw those into her story to build her characters and develop their relationships.

I didn’t like this book as well as the first as at times it seemed to focus away from the relationships and more towards Jake’s struggle as a lawman. Jake’s and Miranda’s relationship is explored enough to rightfully call this book a historical romance; yet, I felt that they didn’t always get the amount of page time together as they did in book one. It’s a subtle difference, but I still liked book one better due to it.

Still, though, this book is a great addition to the Jake/Miranda story if only as we get to see their relationship mature into the silver and golden years. The author stills pays careful attention to the background and family saga elements as she did previously. I read on her website that there will be further works coming out on Jake/Miranda; let it be noted that I’ll be eagerly awaiting those works. Bittner proves once again how great a historical romance writer she is.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

REVIEW: Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland

Mistress of the Sun
by Sandra Gulland

Publisher: Touchstone
Page Count: 400
Release Date: April 7, 2009
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: personal library; bought @ Hastings

First attention getter: synopsis


From GoodReads:

The author of the internationally acclaimed Josephine Bonaparte trilogy returns with another irresistible historical novel, this one based on the life of Louise de la Vallière, who, against all odds, became one of the most mysterious consorts of France's Louis XIV, the charismatic Sun King.

Set against the magnificent decadence of the seventeenth-century French court, Mistress of the Sun begins when an eccentric young Louise falls in love with a wild white stallion and uses ancient magic to tame him. This one desperate action of her youth shadows her throughout her life, changing it in ways she could never imagine.

Unmarriageable, and too poor to join a convent, Louise enters the court of the Sun King, where the king is captivated by her. As their love unfolds, Louise bears Louis four children, is made a duchess, and reigns unrivaled as his official mistress until dangerous intrigue threatens her position at court and in Louis's heart.

A riveting love story with a captivating mystery at its heart,Mistress of the Sun illuminates both the power of true and perfect love and the rash actions we take to capture and tame it.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

I’m starting to love works set in 1600s France and Spain; it’s an era of such change, passion, war, and splendor. Whether it’s Charle’s II of England, Oliver Cromwell, or Louis XIV of France, I don’t read nearly enough in this time frame. So I was glad to find this volume hidden on my shelves for my TBR mountain range challenge this year. I’ve been meaning to read it for a few years, but as is often the case, I just never got around to it.

I’ve read one other work by this author before through a GoodReads giveaway and enjoyed its attention to setting and description. This work pleases on that front as well. In fact, I think this work is a step up. The incredible, glittering world of early Louis XIV France makes for an astounding setting. Parties, theatrical productions, balls, gowns, ballets, and bucolic chateaus all make for lovely scenes for our drama. The author makes the reader live everything.

The main character was the only real downfall this book had; unfortunately, since the story is mainly told through her, it’s a fairly large downfall. I liked Louise well enough. She’s certainly brave to go against all her childhood teachings to become a mistress to a King. She also endures some harsh events like miscarriages, deaths of her children, and poisoning with grace and character.

Yet, I also found her to be a bit of a doormat. She never stands up for herself, against the King, his other mistresses, or anyone else for that matter. She pretty much nods, shrugs, and goes along with anyone else’s plan for her rather than her own wishes. Maybe this is true to form to the real historical figure; but in the format of a historical fiction, it doesn’t work so well.

I liked the secondary characters far more, especially Louis. I loved how the author humanized him. He wasn’t just the Sun King, divine ruler of the great nation of France. He was a passionate man who loved fiercely, hated weakness in himself and others, adored his children, and tried to rule as best he could. It’s amazing he kept any of his humanity at all in such an environment as absolute power; the old saying about such holds much truth.

Despite a main character that leaves much to be desired, this book still holds strong with a fantastic setting and story as well as secondary characters that shine. It inspired me even more to want to read more from this timeframe. I’m glad I picked it up for this challenge; now it won’t be staring me in the face anymore. Highly recommended for lovers of lush historical fiction!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

REVIEW: Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

Bohemian Gospel
by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

Publisher: Pegasus
Page Count: 400
Release Date: November 15, 2015
Format: Hardcover

How got: personal library; bought via Amazon

First attention getter: pretty cover


From GoodReads:

Set against the historical reign of the Golden and Iron King,Bohemian Gospel is the remarkable tale of a bold and unusual girl on a quest to uncover her past and define her destiny.

Thirteenth-century Bohemia is a dangerous place for a girl, especially one as odd as Mouse, born with unnatural senses and an uncanny intellect. Some call her a witch. Others call her an angel. Even Mouse doesn’t know who—or what—she is. But she means to find out.

When young King Ottakar shows up at the Abbey wounded by a traitor's arrow, Mouse breaks church law to save him and then agrees to accompany him back to Prague as his personal healer. Caught in the undertow of court politics at the castle, Ottakar and Mouse find themselves drawn to each other as they work to uncover the threat against him and to unravel the mystery of her past. But when Mouse's unusual gifts give rise to a violence and strength that surprise everyone—especially herself—she is forced to ask herself: Will she be prepared for the future that awaits her?

A heart-thumping, highly original tale in the vein of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, Bohemian Gospel heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice for historical fiction.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3.5

Bohemian Gospel proved to be far different than I was expecting. I went in expecting a historical fiction with a fantasy element but got some great horror elements, too. Those combined with a great main character makes the book, yet it also suffers a bit in its latter half.

The shifting alliances of medieval Bohemia, and to a lesser extent the Catholic Church in that land, were a fascinating subject to explore. I googled Ottakar and glanced through Wikipedia before reading so I had a rough idea who was who, but Carpenter really brings them to life. She also incorporates Bohemian/Czech folklore and details of daily medieval life to really bring forth a vivid world.

The fantasy and horror elements were great individual story points, if Mouse’s abundant powers did seem unbelievable at times. The pit and baby cemetery scenes are great examples of the horror: creepy, eerie, and just not right. I loved the imagery the author used in these scenes; they raised the book to a whole new level.

The amount of powers that Mouse employs did seem a bit much at times. I mean, dang! That girl could pretty much do anything. The explanation for those powers, her father, also seemed over the top. Like another reviewer I read, I too rolled my eyes at that detail once it was revealed. So while they did add a great fantasy element to the historical struggle of court intrigue and a father-son relationship from hell, she seemed too powerful by far in the story.

I loved Mouse as a character, despite her crazy amount of powers. She has courage, pluck, and grit to spare, especially with some of the crap that Mouse goes through. Her journey from sheltered monastery “Mouse” to a more worldly and darker woman kept me intrigued. I liked how flawed she was too; that helped balance out the whole powers thing. There were times where she wish-washed back and forth in her courses of action and she tended to let look at the pessimistic side of things more often than not. It made for a very balanced character.

The one biggest problem with this book was the lack of a focus for the plot in the latter half of the book, at least for me. After Mouse arrives at court, “saves the day” with the whole Ottakar/father relationship, and boxes in the horrors that were plaguing her, it seems like the story didn’t quite know where to go. Mouse would wonder through different relationships, landscapes, and tragic situations before arriving at a conclusion that just seemed confused. I frankly got bored with this latter half and was glad once I was done.

I enjoyed our lead, her journey, and the world in which she inhabited. All were attention-getting and vibrant. Yet, a lackluster, weak latter half and Superwoman-level powers keep this book from reaching awesome levels. I enjoyed the expedition into a historical period/place I’m not familiar with, though. So in the end, this was still an enjoyable read, and I look forward to what they author comes up with next.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

REVIEW: The Cavendon Women by Barbara Taylor Bradford

The Cavendon Women
by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Page Count: 400
Release Date: March 24, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from publisher

First attention getter: again, the pretty cover


From GoodReads:

Cavendon Women, the stunning sequel to Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Cavendon Hall follows the Inghams’ and the Swanns’ journey from a family weekend in the summer of 1926 through to the devastation of the Wall Street crash of 1929. It all begins on a summer weekend in July of 1926 when, for the first time in years, the earl has planned a family weekend. As the family members come together, secrets, problems, joys, and sorrows are revealed. As old enemies come out of the shadows and the Swanns’ loyalty to the Ingham gets tested in ways none of them could have predicted, it’s up to the Cavendon women to band together and bring their family into a new decade, and a new way of life.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - Can we go into the negative region??

I think I gave this book a fair shake at 31% completed before dropping it like a hot potato. It, unfortunately, has all the problems of book one and even slides down another notch by killing one of the nicer points of that same book. So here ya go on why I dropped this one…

The one bright point in this whole debacle of a book is the author still takes her time in the descriptions and beauty of 1920s rural England. The estate of Cavendon is beautifully described, and the fashions of the era are also lovingly brought to life. I could see everything in my mind’s eye, no problem.

Sadly, everything else in this book that I was exposed to sucks. The characterizations…. Oy vey! Just like in book one, everybody is two-dimensional (at best!) and stereotyped. There were no “Daphne” and “Hugo” equivalents in this book to save this side. Everyone was either super beautiful, courageous, loyal, and true to the family OR you were evil, ugly, and an egg-sucking traitor.

Even just having a dissenting opinion was enough to label you a traitor to the family and enough to get the cold shoulder from everyone. The individuals with this dissenting opinion was villainized and ostracized as soon as those opinions were voiced. Talk about “family loyalty”… I mean if you can’t have a different opinion and still feel loved with family members, than who can you with??

Then there’s the story itself. We’re right back to the inane melodramas of the first two thirds of book one, only without the powerful events like Daphne’s “devastating” event. The biggest plot points by the time I quit was petty theft and marrying outside your class. Maybe in another work, these might have been enough to carry the story, but not with this work or author.

I’m sorry to say that these two works were my introduction to the author. Sad to say, they don’t shine a good light on her as a writer. Maybe she was just in slump when these works oozed out of her pen, but don’t start with them if you haven’t read the author before. Horribly flat characterizations, inane plot points, and just bad writing bog this work down, like book one. Pass on this one.

Note: Book received for free from publisher in exchange for an honest review. (Again, very honest, was I!!)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

REVIEW: Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Cavendon Hall
by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Page Count: 416
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from publisher

First attention getter: the pretty cover


From GoodReads:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes an epic saga of intrigue and mystique set in Edwardian England. 

Cavendon Hall is home to two families, the aristocratic Inghams and the Swanns who serve them. Charles Ingham, the sixth Earl of Mowbray, lives there with his wife Felicity and their six children. Walter Swann, the premier male of the Swann family, is valet to the earl. His wife Alice, a clever seamstress who is in charge of the countess's wardrobe, also makes clothes for the four daughters. 

For centuries, these two families have lived side-by-side, beneath the backdrop of the imposing Yorkshire manor. Lady Daphne, the most beautiful of the Earl's daughters, is about to be presented at court when a devastating event changes her life and threatens the Ingham name. 

With World War I looming, both families will find themselves tested in ways they never thought possible. Loyalties will be challenged and betrayals will be set into motion. In this time of uncertainty, one thing is sure: these two families will never be the same again. 

Cavendon Hall is Barbara Taylor Bradford at her very best, and its sweeping story of secrets, love, honor, and betrayal will have readers riveted up to the very last page.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - a VERY generous 2

The only reason I finished this book was because I got it free for review. If I hadn’t, I’d have dropped it long ago! Filled with issues up the wazoo, it’s only saved from total horribleness by a few empathetic characters and good scene-setting skills. I’ve been given book two as well, so here’s definitely hoping that’s it done tons better…

Hugo and at a certain point, Daphne, save this book from total destruction. I found Hugo very sympathetic, caring, and protective. I also found his rage at what happened to Daphne and how he dealt with it towards the end of the book credible and very human. After the devastating event mentioned in the description happens, I found Daphne at least somewhat three-dimensional in her emotional response and how she deals with it. I admired her courage, resourcefulness, and deep heart.

The author is also talented at her writing skills when it comes to scene-setting. Edwardian England has never been more bucolic and beautiful. The grounds of the Cavendon estate and the house itself are lovingly described, and the gorgeous fashions of the times are vivid enough to be seen in my mind’s eye. So good job there.

However, after those two points, this book goes downhill REAL fast. First off is the rest of the characterizations, and even at times, our leads. Every single character falls prey to a stereotype or two-dimensional characterization. Most of them never leave that level. Everyone is oh so beautiful, truthful, loyal, and good. Or they’re slimy, evil, raping bastards. Or they’re degenerate, weak-willed aristocrats who care nothing for others. Need I go on? Even Hugo and Daphne fall prey to stereotypes, but at least they show some development and leaving those behind.

What really gets me is that most of the character stereotypes in this book are ripped right from Downton Abbey, even down to the phrasing of words! The overbearing, loud cook (“Guts for garters” my eye!!!), the timid kitchen maid, the smarmy footman, the self-absorbed, mean sister, the devoted valet…. The list goes on! I mean seriously, if you’re trying to evoke the world of Downton Abbey, fine, but it doesn’t have to be an alternate version of the same…

The author also keeps harping on the whole Ingham/Swann family connection. Where this could have been a neat difference from Downton Abbey, two families devoted to each other over the centuries due to intense historical connection, the author makes this repetitive and boring. I lost count how many times the oath of “Loyalty binds us” was pulled out of the closet, dusted off, and stuffed into the narrative. This story aspect was just used so many times that it lost any individuality it could have contributed to the story and just became a droning cliché.

Yet, the biggest problem this book has, to me, is its pacing and flow issues. The first two thirds of the book is dedicated to melodramatic crises in a pastoral English estate over roughly a year. Even the events that could be truly traumatic, like the devastating event that hits Daphne and what happens to Dulcie, read as easily solved and gotten over. Priorities are truly skewed in these instances as the different people involved focus on how to minimize damage rather than solve issues.

Then once the author approaches the rumble of WWI and the devastating effects this could have on the characters and their relationships, roughly 5-6 years are crammed into 50-70 pages. I mean, really?!?! All that dramatic content tacked onto the end as if an epilogue or lost chapter? Everything is so crammed in that it reads like the author just wanted to hurriedly finish the book and get it to the publisher, pronto! I feel there was a huge missed opportunity here that could have risen this book so much in terms of storytelling and dramatic content.

So while a few of the characters evidence some development and the scenes are very pretty, this book lacks big time in almost every area. From characterization to pacing issues to misguided story ideas, this book lacks any punch at all. Like I mentioned, if I hadn’t received it free from the publisher for review, I wouldn’t have finished. I’ve been given book two as well so I’ll give it a shot. But if stuff doesn’t improve a TON from book 1, that one might end up a DNF. Two stars is being very generous… Look elsewhere for reading material, I advise.

Note: Book received for free from publisher in exchange for honest review (and I was VERY honest!).

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

REVIEW: Sweet Prairie Passion by Rosanne Bittner

Sweet Prairie Passion
by Rosanne Bittner

Publisher: DCA, Inc
Page Count: 463
Release Date: September 23, 2012
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; bought via Amazon

First attention getter: genre


From GoodReads:

This first book in Rosanne Bittner’s popular Savage Destiny series tells the powerful love story of 15-year-old Abigail Trent, who is traveling west with her family; and a very rugged plainsman, Zeke Monroe, the half-Cheyenne guide who wins Abbie’s heart as they journey through an untamed land beset with Indians, outlaws and nature’s harsh challenges. Although Zeke and Abbie come from very different worlds, violence and personal loss bring them together in unexpected ways, including a very poignant situation that involves Abbie’s little brother. By journey’s end, Abbie has changed from an innocent young girl to a strong woman whose courage and determination to survive make her the perfect woman for the sometimes violent Zeke, whose past and upbringing make him a challenge only Abbie’s love and personal faith can overcome. Sweet Prairie Passion is the beginning of many more stories about this unforgettable couple and their life together as they face the perils of settling America’s Old West and learn that love can conquer anything.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

This is the book that I dropped by Bittner years ago and decided to re-pick up after reading some real bomb shells by her. After finishing it, I can see why I originally dropped it @ 22%. The book has some issues, which only makes sense, I guess, being one of the author’s first works, if not the first. So conclusions after finishing it?? I’m glad I finished as I know it’s the first in an epic 7 volume series that covers this relationship through decades. The book got better the further I went along, but I’m glad as heck that the author’s writing improved with the years.

You definitely have to keep going with this book; it doesn’t really start getting any good until about half way through. Once stuff starts happening to Abigail’s family, then we start to get a glimpse of Abigail maturing and changing with the events portrayed. We also start to see a relationship between and Zeke as a realistic prospect rather than a school girl crush.

I did like the connection between Abigail and Zeke once poop started hitting the proverbial fan. They seemed to draw strength from each other, and their relationship matured the further you went along. There were times where Zeke could get a bit hoity-toity with his beliefs on Indian versus white practices or Abigail could backslide to her tweeny characterization from the first part of the book. Yet, these were only few and far between; overall, their relationship only got better the further into the story we went.

However, it’s in characterization that this book really falls flat. At one point or another, every single character falls prey to a stereotype, even the leads. Most of the secondary characters never leave those stereotypes and the leads backslide into them even towards the end. There’s the self-absorbed older sister, the tweeny heroine (at least in the beginning half), the sly gambler, the slimy preacher, the proud Sioux girl, the Indian haters, the good farmer folk….. Need I go on??? More depth to the people populating her world would have done tons for this title.

And then there’s the world itself. I guess I’ve gotten spoiled by some of the other titles by Bittner I’ve been exposed to so far, as of this writing. In these other works, she pays as much attention to her setting and historical world as much as her romance and it shows. In this volume, the world seems to follow the way of her characters, very stereotypical and flat. The plains of the Oregon Trail and its landmarks fall flat to me; they could be anywhere. The author also throws in terms, places, and things that definitely aren’t historically sound. When it comes to historical romance, this isn’t always a big quibble, yet Bittner does tons better in other novels so I was sad on this point.

So one of Bittner’s best? Heck no. A solid first attempt, first published in 1983. Probably. The relationship and main heroine improves the further you go along. This is also the start to a long epic following the relationship throughout American history. So for that alone, I’ll keep following the series. But shallow characterizations and a poor attempt at historical details keep this from being stellar. Here’s hoping that following volumes approve in these areas…

Friday, January 8, 2016

REVIEW: Fire Catcher by C. S. Quinn

Fire Catcher
by C. S. Quinn

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Page Count: 542
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: free copy via GR giveaway

First attention getter: that giveaway


From GoodReads:

Hidden in London is a legendary power. A fabled chest guards secrets more precious than gold.

But in 1666 secrets are deadly, and London is burning…

Charlie Tuesday is the city’s best thief taker. But one case still eludes him, a mysterious key entrusted by the mother he barely knew. The key opens a chest of priceless papers—papers said to hold the dark alchemy of a lost Brotherhood.

As flames ravage the city, the thief taker must track the chest into London’s blackest heart, where smugglers trade and sorcerers conjure. What Charlie begins to unravel is more ancient and powerful than he ever dreamed.

But time is running out and fire is the greatest purge of all.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

A rousing tale of fire, intrigue, survival, and suspense, this book definitely doesn’t let the reader get bored. I found myself swept along for the adventure right along with Charlie and Lily. Yet, I felt that this book suffered if you haven’t read book 1. Another reviewer mentioned that it could stand alone, but I found myself getting lost in certain chapters without that background knowledge. Still, a fast-paced book that entertains and keeps the heart pumping.

The reader gets a real sense for the London streets and times of 1666. I get the feeling the author is intimately familiar with London as a place. She describes street layouts and buildings with incredible detail. Her exploration of the intrigue at Charles II’s court and the inner workings of how alchemy works added to the great world that Quinn built.

I liked her writing style, with shorter chapters and constantly changing POVs. Usually, this would actually irritate me as that format is an easy way to get lost in a deluge of POVs or shifting scenes. Yet, the way the author told her story with near constant action and a limited number of POVs make this format successful here. The shorter chapters kept me moving like crazy as London burned and Charlie and Lily raced towards a confrontation with Blackstone.

Both Charlie and Lily are great leads to tell this story through. They’re gritty, strong, and street-smart. They thought on their feet, which was important as the Great Fire of London was raging and death stalked their steps at every turn. I loved going with them on their journey to find out Charlie’s past, to defeat Blackstone, and learn to trust each other.

The earlier Blackstone chapters, though, threw me for a spin. I felt like I was missing something when they talked about his motivations, Teresa, and the secret rites he did with “his” boys. As I haven’t read the first book, I don’t know if these missing pieces would be present or not. Yet, I was confused more than once in trying to see how this all fit in with the overall story of the book. In the last third, everything made more sense and came together. Yet there are still points mentioned in the Blackstone chapters I don’t see how they worked into the overall storyline.

I’d still recommend this work to lovers of suspenseful adventure tales in historical fiction, despite the foggy points in some chapters. Another reader may get those points more than I did. This book still has the great suspense, background, and characters to carry it through and recommend it. I enjoyed the experience of reading it.

Note: Book received for free from publisher via GoodReads giveaway in exchange for honest opinion.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

REVIEW: Outlaw Hearts by Rosanne Bittner

Outlaw Hearts 
by Rosanne Bittner

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Page Count: 576
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; bought via Amazon

First attention getter: synopsis and genre


From GoodReads:

A decades long love story of two people, united by chance, that proves love's lasting power and its ability to overcome all oddsMiranda Hayes has lost everything-her family, her husband, her home. Orphaned and then widowed, desperate to find a safe haven, she sets out to cross a savage land alone...until chance brings her face-to-face with notorious gunslinger Jake Harkner.

Hunted by the law and haunted by a brutal past, Jake has spent a lifetime fighting for everything he has. He's never known a moment's kindness...until fate brings him to the one woman willing to reach past his harsh exterior to the man inside. He would die for her. He would kill for her. He will do whatever it takes to keep her his.

Spanning the dazzling West with its blazing deserts and booming gold towns, Jake and Miranda must struggle to endure every hardship that threatens to tear them apart. But the love of an outlaw comes with a price...and even their passion may not burn bright enough to conquer the coming darkness.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4.5

I went into this book just expecting a pretty good western historical romance as the description sounded great. What I didn’t expect to find was a western familial EPIC surrounding these two individuals and the family they created. This book became so much more than what I was originally looking for and that was a very pleasant surprise.

First off, no historical romance can do well unless it has leads and a main relationship a reader can get behind. This book has both! Randy and Jake are instantly likeable, drawing me in with tragic pasts, very human ways of dealing with those pasts, and hopes (or lack thereof) for the future. I love that both have been so hurt by their respective situations that their journey to healing and romance is all the more magnetic for readers. As individuals they’re both strong and courageous in their own ways. Together, they’re dynamite!

The one weakness this novel has is actually in this area, though. As much as I love and adore both Randy and Jake to death, they are, at the same time, exasperating and downright irritating at times.

Randy is too perfect: beautiful, courageous, forgiving, loyal, a great mother and lover, trusting, gutsy, plucky….. Need I go on?! Her perfection isn’t so in your face that I grew to hate her; however, I really wanted her to have some moments of doubt, fear, or warts.

And Jake? He’s a lot better but almost in the opposite direction. His constant ruminating on certain parts of his past and his not believing he’s good enough for Randy does get old. Once you learn about his past, you’ll definitely be able to see WHY he has these doubts and he dwells on them. Yet, they’re in your face all the time, never really wavering all the way up to the end. I’ll admit I skipped a few pages here and there just to get away them.

Yet, these two together are something else. They have an instant connection, starting out over the flash of a gun muzzle. Now isn’t that the best introduction in a Western romance you ever heard of?! The author has presented a romance so deep in emotional resonance and heart-stopping sweetness that the aforementioned characterization flaws I talked about seem pale in comparison. It’s beautiful, sweet, heart-wrenching, and soulful all at once. If you read this book for anything, read it for the romance. It succeeds in spades there.

The fact that the author spanned this couple’s relationship for decades makes this book stand out. I’ve never run across this before in a historical romance; it’s what makes this just as much a familial Western saga as it does a romance. We get to follow Randy and Jake as they meet, develop a relationship, get married, have kids, and even on into their later years. We get to see this relationship blossom, grow, mature, and just expand in depth. I loved this aspect!!

I do have to give a special shout-out to the effort the author has evidently put into her research. The Wild West has never been so intense. The author uses places she’s actually been to, real historical figures for background, and pays attention to the little details of daily life. Many western romances I’ve read haven’t put in HALF the effort that Bittner did and it pays off. I could smell the gun smoke and feel the heat of the harsh Western sun.

I’m so glad I gave this author another go. The previous book I started by her years ago I ended up abandoning @ 22%. I have since put it back on my to-read list as I must have missed something here! This author is a queen among western historical romances and it shows. Her characters are beautiful despite some teeth-grinding flaws at times. The relationship FAR makes up for this in its intensity. And her unusual attention to decades of romance development and historical detail are just cream on top. Highly recommended!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

REVIEW: Bitter Spirits by Jean Bennett

Bitter Spirits
by Jean Bennett

Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Page Count: 328
Release Date: January 7, 2014
Format: MassMarket Paperback

How got: personal library; bought through Amazon

First attention getter: the whole supernatural thing


From GoodReads:

It’s the roaring twenties, and San Francisco is a hotbed of illegal boozing, raw lust, and black magic. The fog-covered Bay Area can be an intoxicating scene, particularly when you specialize in spirits…

Aida Palmer performs a spirit medium show onstage at Chinatown’s illustrious Gris-Gris speakeasy. However, her ability to summon (and expel) the dead is more than just an act.

Winter Magnusson is a notorious bootlegger who’s more comfortable with guns than ghosts—unfortunately for him, he’s the recent target of a malevolent hex that renders him a magnet for hauntings. After Aida’s supernatural assistance is enlisted to banish the ghosts, her spirit-chilled aura heats up as the charming bootlegger casts a different sort of spell on her.

On the hunt for the curseworker responsible for the hex, Aida and Winter become drunk on passion. And the closer they become, the more they realize they have ghosts of their own to exorcise…

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

“A fun romp” describes this book best. Lots of sexy times, fast-paced storytelling, the Rip Roaring ‘20s as a backdrop, and a relationship that sizzles make this a book to go for if you’re looking for a light, fun read.

You definitely don’t have to worry about being bored with this tale! Creepy ghosts, revenge, bootlegging turf wars, shoot-ups, and fires make this a story sure to drag in the readers. I liked how the author drew in so many elements of the roaring time period and setting to create a suspenseful background story for her romance.

I loved all the supernatural stuff. Vengeful ghosts and a lead that can see them are always going to grab my attention; they’re a special weakness of mine. The added bonus of the Chinese mythology and mysticism only made the underlying paranormal tale of turf wars and revenge all the more intriguing.

Now let’s chat about that romance. To me, this is the best part of the whole book. Winter and Aida play off each other so well, even from the very beginning. They click right away, literally seeming to ooze sexual compatibility and emotional resonance. I mean seriously, if a man matching Winter’s description walked in my front door, I’d be oozing pheromones also.

My only wince-worthy item of consideration on the relationship front is the over-usage of the whole miscommunication/assumption trope. Both leads are prone to assuming the other’s thoughts and acting on those assumptions. More than once I wanted to sit them both down in a room and lock the door, only letting them out after they’ve fully communicated all their thoughts. This romance trope is one that irritates me the most, so big ding for me personally against this relationship.

This was a promising beginning to the trilogy. I’ve since gotten and bulldozed my way through books 2 and 3. If the author ever chooses to explore more in the series, sign me up! I love the characters, their relationship, and the background storyline and setting. While it has a big ding on the miscommunication/assumption front, I’d still recommend this book to lovers of historical romance. As I said, it’s a great romp!!

Monday, January 4, 2016

REVIEW: A Gentleman's Surrender by Mariel Grey

A Gentleman's Surrender
by Mariel Grey

Publisher: self-published
Page Count: 245
Release Date: January 1, 2016
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from author

First attention getter: author's email


From GoodReads:

Call her a romantic—or a fool, Lady Monique Cathdon is determined to marry for love. After watching her parents tolerate an arranged betrothal, life seems too short to be wasted on keeping up appearances.

After all, what's the point of having a heart if one refuses to follow it?

With a smile the devil himself might be proud of, James Stanton is not what her mother would call a matrimonial prospect. Still, there's something about the young man that sends Lady Monique's heart thumping around her chest, and silences her voice of reason.

Unfortunately for Lady Monique, the stakes are high, and young ladies of the ton make for very poor gamblers. Especially when James Stanton is on the hunt for revenge, and won't let an innocent woman—or his own passionate desires—get in the way of righting past wrongs.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

Ultimately, this book was about average for the historical romance, Regency subgenre. It had a lot of the cliché’s from the genre: social gatherings, posturing for position on the marriage market, rigorous protocols for propriety, and a Regency plotline I’ve seen done before. Yet for all that, I found this tale enjoyable if not totally immersed by it.

I did like the leads, Monique and James. I felt they had a sufficient chemistry and sweet romance between them to make a successful romantic story. There are enough heated glances and steamy thoughts to make up for the fact that this is a clean romance. I actually find it refreshing to find such in a sea of smutty, smexy heavy Regency novels.

The actual romantic storyline (the whole revenge thing), I’ve seen done before. I felt that the author held onto that whole scenario for too long, all the way to the end of the story. She kept having her hero go back to that motivation again and again. The whole thing with Monique shooting for a peer, also, was held onto for too long. I got tired of their constant usage of those excuses as reasons for actions and for why their relationship took so long to develop.

I also got tired of the constant ballet of social interaction: operas, balls, soiree’s, house visits, and meetings at the park. Again, the book fell victim to the flaw of many Regency’s in that they spend too much time on social exchanges to build their story rather than mixing it up with intimate exchanges or action sequences.

This book had a few of the one-on-one intimate scenes between Monique and James, the kiss being a star of this aspect for the book. However, I felt they were far too few in number for a historical romance. Way too much time was spent on the aforementioned social aspects that it seemed to drown out the romance and relationship between Monique and James at times. Maybe I just got too tired the of the constant attempts to run parallel to Jane Austen and her world.

At the heart of the book though, I did enjoy Monique and James. I liked how human they were and approachable. I could feel both of their dedication to family and familial expectations. Their struggle to break free of those and create a relationship of love between each made the book enjoyable to me. If you read this book for anything, read it for their building relationship. And really, isn’t that why we read historical romances in the first place?

Your average historical romance, the main leads and their budding relationship is the reason to look this title up. Unfortunately, it’s the only reason. Actual plot, scene setting, and even some relationship aspects are your normal romance tropes and clichés. I got bored more than once while following this tale. Still, not a bad historical romance all told.

Note: Book received for free from author in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

BLOG ENTRY: Reading Challenge 2015 Wrap-Up and 2016 Look-Forward

So my first year in participating in an actual reading challenge besides the usual GoodReads number one has passed. In 2015, I participated in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted @ Passages to the Past. I strived for the Prehistoric level, 50+ books and made it a personal challenge to myself to read all those books in the WWII-era. I knew that I usually only historical fiction stuff anyways, so just putting any historical fictions towards the count seemed like cheating to me. I wanted to challenge myself.

And challenge I did! I barely made it under the count, posting my last review on December 31st. So I learned that putting that much focus on the challenge was a mistake; I burned myself out on the WWII era. I found myself looking for alternatives all the time and really having to work to meet the 50+ goal.

So this year, I'm taking it MUCH easier. I'll be participating in challenges that will bring me pretty close to that 50+ count in total, but in a much varied scope. I'll be participating in 4 challenges, two of them personal to me alone.

Challenge 1

My first challenge will be the 2016 historical fiction challenge hosted @ Passages to the Past again.
Join up!!

This year, I'm only striving for about 12 books, a book a month, so between the Renaissance and Medieval levels. I'll be adding the extra kink in that the only books I'll be counting towards the challenge are those that are "new" to me: in an era I've not read before or very little, about a little known historical personage unknown to me, from an area of the world fairly new to me, or a little known aspect of a bigger historical event. I've already got some titles I'm eyeballing for this one so I'm looking forward to participating this year!

Challenge 2

My second challenge seems right up my alley! I've got so many books I've bought and just put on the bookshelf or let rot on my Kindle's backlog that I could read only what I've got for the rest of my life and never finish. So Challenge TRB Pile (though in my case it's TBR basement!) hosted @ Bookish Lifestyle by Evie is just the challenge for me.

Join us!!!
Like challenge 1, I'll be trying for the book a month format, so I'll be shooting for the "friendly hug" level, 11-20 books. I'm not comfortable posting a list of books 'cause I usually read wherever the mood strikes me as time goes by. So I got no idea right now which books will be counting towards this challenge but I look forward to putting at least a teensy-weensy dent in the books sitting in my basement for years.

Challenge 3 & 4

These challenges are my own personal ones. I want to read 12 books, a book a month, for both.

Challenge 3 will be all contemporary fiction, from any genre. I read so much historical stuff that it's sometimes easy to miss the good contemporary stories. I've already got a few I'm eyeballing for this one.

Challenge 4 will be 12 books of non-fiction. Sometimes, it's just nice to read up on something completely true and learn something. More than likely, these will mostly be historical in nature, since that's where my main interest lie, but we'll see what happens.

So there you have it, my reading goals for 2016. Very varied so I've got lots of room to explore a variety of things. Here's looking forward to a great reading year!!