Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Perfect Horse

The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis- Elizabeth Letts
Ballantine Books
Release Date: August 23, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: In the chaotic last days of the war a small troop of battle-weary American soldiers captures a German spy and makes an astonishing find—his briefcase is empty but for photos of beautiful white horses that have been stolen and kept on a secret farm behind enemy lines. Hitler has stockpiled the world’s finest purebreds in order to breed the perfect military machine—an equine master race. But with the starving Russian army closing in, the animals are in imminent danger of being slaughtered for food.
With only hours to spare, one of the Army’s last great cavalrymen, American colonel Hank Reed, makes a bold decision—with General George Patton’s blessing—to mount a covert rescue operation. Racing against time, Reed’s small but determined force of soldiers, aided by several turncoat Germans, steals across enemy lines in a last-ditch effort to save the horses.

The Perfect Horse tells the little known story of some of Europe's most priceless horses during World War II.  This story of the Lipizzaner of Austria's Spanish Riding School and prized Arabians from Poland, Yugoslavia, and other European countries will be compared to the story of the Monuments Men, saving priceless art and cultural treasures being stolen and hoarded by the Nazis.  And the comparison is apt. These horses were taken to be part of a eugenics program to breed the "perfect" German warhorse.  The trials of the horses and their caretakers during the war cumulated during the final days of the war.  Between the Germans, the Americans, and the Russians, these amazing animals and the traditions they represented were placed in mortal peril.  

The book gives an overview of the history and importance of these horses in Europe, especially the Lipizzaner in Austria; the dangers they faced throughout the war; and an interesting history of the American cavalry that helps to explain the attitudes of both individual Americans and the Army in general during and after the war in reference to the horses.  Letts does a fantastic job of bringing some of the key players to life: Alois Podhajsky, an Olympian in charge of Austria's Spanish Riding School; Colonel Hank Reed, one of the last real 'horsemen' of the U.S. calvary, German army veterinarian Rudolph Lessing, and more-all people instrumental in saving the horses.  

While The Perfect Horse starts off a little slow, and Letts has a tendency to repeat herself more than I thought necessary as well as veer off into unnecessary and dramatic emotional wanderings ("will this ever happen?", "what is happening back home?") that detracted a little for me, when the war comes to its final days and timing is of the essence to save the horses, it was fast paced, exciting and dramatic.  The race for horse lovers from multiple countries to come together and save these amazing animals was both riveting and dramatic.  

The story of these horses reminds the reader that even in (or perhaps especially in) such huge conflicts as a world war, it is in the small acts of courage and kindness that people regain their humanity, and perhaps rediscover what they fight for.  

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wild Embrace

Wild Embrace (Psy/Changeling Collection, A) by [Singh, Nalini]

Wild Embrace- Nalini Singh
Berkley Publisher
Release Date: August 23, 2016

Rating (Out of 5):

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: The “alpha author of paranormal romance”* presents a stunningly sensual collection of four all-new Psy-Changeling novellas, in which taboos are broken, boundaries are crossed, and instincts prove irresistible...
Echo of Silence
In a deep-sea station, Tazia Nerif has found her life’s work as an engineer, keeping things running smoothly. But she wants nothing more than to break down the barrier of silence between her and her telekinetic Psy station commander...
A changeling who can never shift lives a life of quiet frustration—until he learns how to let his leopard come out and play...
Partners in Persuasion
Still raw from being burned by a dominant female, wolf changeling Felix will never again risk being a plaything. But for dominant leopard Dezi, he’s the most fascinating man she’s ever met. She just has to convince this gun-shy wolf that he can trust the dangerous cat who wants to take a slow, sexy bite out of him…
Flirtation of Fate
Seven years ago, Kenji broke Garnet’s heart. Now the wolf packmates have to investigate the shocking murder of one of their own. And the more Kenji sees of the woman Garnet has become, the deeper he begins to fall once more. But even his primal instincts are no match for the dark secret he carries...

Wild Embrace is a collection of 4 all-new novellas in Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling world, and was well worth the wait!  I freely admit that I was dragging at work today because I stayed up late to finish the book- I just couldn't put it down, even between stories.

Each story takes place at different times in the timeline fans know: Echo of Silence closer to the beginning of the series while Partners in Persuasion takes place nearer the "present". Each can be read by readers just beginning to enter the Psy/Changeling world while longtime fans will enjoy cameos by old friends like Hawke, Mercy, Drew, and others. We return to familiar places and discover new ones, each so well written you feel like you are there with the characters.

I loved getting to "check in" on SnowDancer and DarkRiver, filling in some of the action behind the main stories we already know.  And Dorian was a great way to delve deeper into Dorian's psyche, and learn more about what makes him tick and what it was like for him to be a latent both as an adult who had accepted it, but also as a child still learning his place in the pack.

My absolute favorite story though, was Echo of Silence. As much as I love the changelings, I have a special love for Psy-human romance.  And this story had all the struggles: it was after Faith and Vaughn's story when Silence was still fully accepted by the Psy; the Psy, Stefan, couldn't blame his "faulty" Silence on being an Empath- he's a telekinetic.  Tazia wasn't a changeling whose animal was sure of her mate, she was a human with some heavy emotional baggage of her own.  But the two of them figured out how to know each other at a time when humans rarely bothered to look below the surface of a Silent Psy.  They fought cultural taboos on both sides to not only fall in love, but then to make it work.  They saw obstacles, but never saw impossible.  I'm hoping that we'll see these two in future books- as the third Psy-human couple in the PsyNet (briefly mentioned in Allegiance of Honor) I'm hoping that they will become advisors to future potential couples, in the same way that Lucas and Sascha or Ivy and Vasic advise others.

Beautifully written, complex and sensual, Wild Embrace proves that Singh is as excellent at writing novellas as she is the full length novel- in case anyone hasn't read her earlier stories and still needed convincing!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Highland Temptation

Highland Temptation (Highland Knights #3)- Jennifer Haymore
Random House
Release Date: August 23, 2016 

Rating (out of 5):

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

SynopsisWhen Lady Emilia Buchanan discovers that her despicable father has been scheming against the crown, she turns to the Highland Knights for protection. Spirited away to a safe house on the outskirts of London, Emilia is surprised to find herself sharing close quarters with a soft-spoken, musclebound Highlander. Before long, curiosity gives way to an alarming attraction. Emilia has learned firsthand from her father that men are not to be trusted. She just never met one so honorable and loyal, so powerful and, yes, tempting.
Ever since Waterloo, Colin Stirling has struggled with memories that haunt him night and day. Driven near to madness, he no longer trusts himself with meaningful relationships of any kind. At least in this temporary sanctuary, Colin can withdraw from the world—that is, until his stunningly gorgeous charge learns the full depth of his pain. In Emilia, Colin sees a kindred spirit with battle scars of her own. He also senses a chance to heal . . . and to find love.


The third book in the Highland Knights series picks up where Highland Awakening ended: solving the mystery around the quiet Lady Emilia.  The Highland Knights protected her father from shadowy threats for almost a year, but now she is the one in need of protection- from her father.  She's learned he is behind a devious plot to overthrow the Regent and the entire House of Hanover and he'll make sure she doesn't stop him. The Knights, especially Colin Stirling, instantly agree to help protect Emilia and end her father's treasonous plan.

It would be easy to assume that Emilia, routinely beaten and abused, is a quiet, meek, biddable girl who's only act of defiance was to run away from home.  And Emilia herself believes that for some time.  But Haymore does a wonderful job of bringing Emilia out of her shell and opening up to life and the possibility of love and happiness.  While some readers with a history of abuse might be disturbed by a few of Emilia's memories and situations, Emilia becomes a wonderful role model for someone refusing to give up and determined to not only take back her life but to live it without fear.  The road might be hard, and there are always setback and doubts, but Emilia learns not only is it possible, but that she is stronger than she imagines- especially when it comes to those she cares about.

Colin is another character with a traumatic past.  He's spent 10 years in the army and after Waterloo has a case of PTSD so serious that he's convinced he's slowly going mad.  By helping Emilia, Colin learns that strength comes in many forms, and sometimes that includes allowing someone to help you fight your demons.  These are two troubled people convinced that the other is capable of healing, but they take much longer to believe they themselves are capable of that.

Highland Temptation is a fast paced and exciting adventure, with excellent and deeply drawn characters and sinister enemies to defeat- both from within and without. The series can be read as stand alone books, and readers who enjoy Scottish romance will definitely find themselves tempted by Colin!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.Highland Temptation: A Highland Knights Novel by [Haymore, Jennifer]

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Illusion Town

Illusion Town (Illusion Town Novel, An) by [Castle, Jayne]

Illusion Town (Harmony #13) -Jayne Castle
Penguin Group
Release Date: July 26, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: Hannah West isn’t the first woman to wake up in Illusion Town married to a man she barely knows, but she has no memory of the ceremony at all. For that matter, neither does Elias Coppersmith, her new husband. All either can remember is that they were on the run…
With Hannah’s dubious background and shaky para-psych profile, she could have done much worse. The cooly competent mining heir arouses her curiosity—as well as other parts of her mind and body. And even her dust bunny likes him.
But a honeymoon spent retracing their footsteps leads Hannah and Elias into the twisting underground catacombs, where secrets from both their pasts will come to light—and where the energy of their clashing auras will grow hot enough to burn…

The newest addition to Jayne Castle's Harmony series introduces us to Illusion Town- Harmony's version of Las Vegas.  A desert town full of casinos, it's an easy place to get a quick marriage.  Problem is, Hannah West and Elias Coppersmith don't remember getting married.  They remember going on a first date and then . . .  ? Their problems quickly become less about regaining their memories and more about trying to figure out who's trying to kill them- and why!

Hannah and Elias travel through mysterious Alien catacombs, the Rainforest, and Illusion Town in search of answers, accompanied by Hannah's delightful dust bunny companion Virgil.  Long time Harmony readers will not be disappointed by Virgil, who steals every scene simply by being himself (and having a fondness for cupcakes and Arizona Snow). Hannah and Elias are both great, strong characters who work well together.  I especially liked Elias.  His dry humor, understated strength and talents, and engineer's views of life (like always bring a toolkit on a date and make sure your car can take care of itself) made him a lot of fun to read and another great Castle hero. Elias never makes the mistake of treating Hannah as anything less than an equal.  Despite a rough start to life, Hannah is a confident woman who doesn't let "expert" opinions of her para-psych profile and unusual dream light talent question how she views herself or affect her confidence   It was fun watching Hannah evade thinking about the marriage and brushing it off as temporary while Elias was confident almost from the beginning that he quite liked being married to Hannah and plotting how to make it permanent.  

Castle fans will enjoy Illusion Town's referrals to previous Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz books: the Midnight Carnival's way of keeping Arcane Society history alive, Mrs. Bridewell's mysterious clockwork toys/weapons, and Arizona Snow.  We get to explore new areas of the underground tunnels and new paranormal talents.  Readers new to the Harmony or Arcane Society series won't feel left out, or like they are entering a world they can't keep up with, but hopefully by the end of the book they'll be hooked and go on to read at least the rest of the Harmony series, if not all Amanda Quick's and Jayne Ann Krentz's books as well.  

Full of passion, suspense, and dust bunnies, Illusion Town is a great read for Jayne Castle fans and a great introduction to those only now discovering the world of Harmony.  I hope we'll continue exploring this new aspect of Harmony in future books.

Welcome to Illusion Town, the thrills are real. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Curious Minds

Curious Minds (Knight & Moon #1)- Janet Ivanovich & Phoef Sutton
Release Date: August 16, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: Emerson Knight is introverted, eccentric, and has little to no sense of social etiquette. Good thing he’s also brilliant, rich, and (some people might say) handsome, or he’d probably be homeless. Riley Moon has just graduated from Harvard Business and Harvard Law. Her aggressive Texas spitfire attitude has helped her land her dream job as a junior analyst with mega-bank Blane-Grunwald. At least Riley thought it was her dream job, until she is given her first assignment: babysitting Emerson Knight.
What starts off as an inquiry about missing bank funds in the Knight account leads to inquiries about a missing man, missing gold, and a life-and-death race across the country. Through the streets of Washington, D.C., and down into the underground vault of the Federal Reserve in New York City, an evil plan is exposed. A plan so sinister that only a megalomaniac could think it up, and only the unlikely duo of the irrepressibly charming Emerson Knight and the tenacious Riley Moon can stop it.

A new series by Stephanie Plum creator Janet Evanovich and co-writer Phoef Sutton introduces us to Riley Moon, a practical woman ready to save the world one bank account at a time.  Riley is full of common sense, a Texas approach to life, cars, and guns, and big dreams of success at one of the top banks in the world.  In other words, the exact opposite of Emerson Knight- a major client she gets stuck babysitting.  Emerson is a hard character to figure out.  Is he brilliant, on a higher Zen level of life, or a complete out-of-touch fruitcake?  If he was a supporting character in any of Evanovich's other books you'd know the answer right away.  But as one of the main characters of a book, he remains an enigma.  Riley is likable, a relatable blend of Stephanie Plum and Kate O'Hare who starts the book off convinced that her biggest problem is a mountain of student debt to Harvard.

I didn't find Emerson to be relatable, especially likable, or unlikeable.  I kept waiting for him to become a different kind of character- mostly, I think, because he's exactly the type who would be a secondary character in any other Evanovich book and I couldn't quite deal with him as a main character.  You never get a handle on him.  Will he become more tangible in future books? The intent is clearly that Emerson and Riley will develop into a will-they or won't-they couple with sparking chemistry.  I didn't detect any of that chemistry actually present in this book, but maybe Emerson is a different enough kind of character that it'll take a little longer to get there.

The mystery also took awhile to get there.  I found it disappointing.  I kept waiting for things to make more sense.  But it was just too grand scale and over the top for me to really get into.  Taking over the world, destabilizing the economy through the international gold supply.  Countries wanting their exact gold bricks back.  Millionaires wanting to see their gold bricks, millionaires hiding gold from each other, millionaires stealing even more gold and replacing it with fakes.  Unlike the simpler, usually crazy but understandable criminals Stephanie Plum deals with, I just couldn't find a way to wrap my mind around caring about the crimes Knight and Moon dealt with here.

In an unusual move for Evanovich, Curious Minds is a third person point of view, not told stream of conscious through Riley's point of view. We even get to see some scenes just among the bad guys.  I thought that worked really well, and look forward to seeing them use that style again in future books.

Overall, Curious Minds was a long book without much of a plan.  Riley and Emerson are clearly not investigators but find themselves investigating a plot on a global scale that never quite connected for me.  The book mostly consists of Emerson's plans (for life as well as investigating): walk into a situation and see what happens.  I'm like Riley- I kept waiting for the plan to take shape and become something more tangible than it ever does.  Not a great start to a new series, but considering Evanovich's abilities with other series I'll have to give this more than one book before I can declare it not worth following.           

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Allegiance of Honor

Allegiance of Honor (Psy-Changeling Novel, A) by [Singh, Nalini]

Allegiance of Honor (Psy/Changeling #15)- Nalini Singh
Penguin Group
Release Date: June 14, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Warning: Spoilers Below!

Synopsis: A staggering transformation has put the Psy, humans, and changelings at a crossroads.  The Trinity Accord promises a new era of cooperation between disparate races and groups.  It is a beacon of hope held together by many hands: old enemies, new allies, wary loners. But a century of distrust and suspicion can't be so easily forgotten, and it threatens to shatter Trinity from within at any moment. As rival members vie for dominance, chaos and evil gather in the shadows and a kidnapped woman's cry for help washes up in San Francisco, while the Consortium turns its murderous gaze toward a child who is the embodiment of change, of love, of piercing hope: a child who is both Psy . . . and changeling.
To find the lost and protect the vulnerable- and to save Trinity- no one can stand alone.  This is a time of loyalty across divisions, of bonds woven into the heart and should, of heroes known and unknown standing back to back and holding the line.  But is an allegiance of honor even possible with traitors lurking in their midst?

The latest Psy/Changeling adventure by Nalini Singh, Allegiance of Honor, acts to, in Singh's own words, "see how far the world and its characters have come since Slave to Sensation" as she closes "season 1" and begins "season 2" of the Psy/Changeling saga.  It continues to explore how the world is changing on every level, and does that in the best and most all encompassing way possible- through the eyes of many people instead of one main couple.  DarkRiver and SnowDancer sit at the heart of the book, as they have of the series, but the definition of what it means to be DarkRiver or SnowDancer has changed.  Both packs have expanded, connecting with not only other changelings but Psy and human, Arrow and civilian as well.

The world itself has both expanded and become more connected.  We get to see more of the mysterious BlackSea water changelings and watch their changing attitudes towards connecting with the outside world.  When a message in a bottle begs for help from a kidnapped member of BlackSea, it is a combination of changeling, human, and Psy who put their connections and their abilities to use in order to rescue her.  When Sascha and Lucas' daughter Naya is endangered both changelings and Psy act to protect her.  Naya is a symbol of the change in the world and is fast becoming a magnet for those both for and against that change.

It was great to "catch up" with so many characters. Seeing how so many of our book friends are becoming friends themselves was a lot of fun.  Lucas and Hawke have become friends as well as allies, and the connections between the packs are perfectly symbolized by the party at the end of the book to celebrate the birth of Mercy and Riley's pupcubs. Since I can't say enough good things about the party scenes I won't even try, except to say that it was a perfect way to close what Singh has called "season one" before moving on to whatever adventures come next.  Relationships are deepened, some unanswered questions receive surprising answers, and the whole thing was perfect.

I also loved the scenes where we get to see how various Psy are learning to cope in a post-Silence world.  The Arrows especially were great to see as they start to learn from the changelings how to be both structured and fun, and start experimenting with partying.  Kaleb's development may have been the most fun to watch- largely because he still denies any change at all.  Is that true or just the image he wants to project to the world? Always hard to tell with him, but Sahara is doing her best to drag him into, as he puts it, "having more people".  There's also a great scene between Nikita and Sascha that makes me want to reread some of the earlier books, especially Slave to Sensation, with it in mind.  The relationship between Nikita and Anthony remains a big question mark, but like Sascha and Faith we have to ask ourselves if we're ready to find out the answer? Always assuming of course, that Nikita and Anthony know.  They are great examples of different ways parents considered Silent still protected their children under Silence, and are now struggling to balance a post-Silence world with present dangers.

Singh also uses Allegiance to give us clues to where the series may be going in the future.  At some point you have to figure we'll get a book with a member of BlackSea as a main character.  At the very least she's going to have to stop teasing us and let us find out for sure what kinds of shifters Miane and Malachai are!  There are changes happening among the Forgotten that will have to be explored more in depth, although that may not be quite ready to get a full book just yet.  We have to figure out how Trinity will grow stronger and weed out the Consortium spies.  We're going to have to deal with the Architect and his/her Consortium and Ming LeBon is still a threat- although Hawke and Judd have developed some entertaining new ways of dealing with him.  The main focus, of course, will have to be on how the Psy learn to deal with the fall of Silence.  The PsyNet is still dying and by the end of the book we've figured out the solution- but it is one of the heart and not something that can simply be "fixed".  Psy and humans are going to have to learn to change their approaches to each other but a century of disdain on the Psy end and animosity on the human end won't go away overnight.

Nalini Singh continues to build a wonderful, complex, and colorful world around three species trying to come to terms with how different and similar they actually are.  An all star cast book like this can't have been easy to write but each character is still fully formed and fully themselves from earlier books.  Even characters who only appear briefly like Riaz or Annie don't feel like they're getting short-changed in any way.

Allegiance of Honor is as beautiful as its cover art, answering old questions while asking new ones, reinforcing the bonds of family and pack, and perhaps giving us a new way to look at what family is and how it can change the world.  It celebrates the series, opens new doors, and shows how a few individuals can change not only themselves, but the world. Can't wait to see where this world takes us next!


Monday, August 1, 2016

Beauty & the Clockwork Beast

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast- Nancy Campbell Allen
Shadow Mountain Publishing
Release Date: August 2, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: Just like in the classic"Beauty and the Beast", this Steampunk Romance features an unlikely love story.  The Lord of Blackwell Manor, Miles, is plagued by a family curse that changes him into a shape-shifting wolf every month. Lucy-a smart, attractive, and well-respected botanist-travels to Blackwell Manor to take care of her sick cousin, Kate, who is married to Miles's younger brother. For Lucy, the trip is a welcomed respite from her work and recent discovery-a breakthrough serum that could eliminate the scourge of vampires from London. 
However, Lucy finds more than she bargained for when she arrives at the Manor. Miles, who is brash and inhospitable, does not take kindly to visitors. He is still unsettled by the mysterious death of his newlywed wife. And then there's Marie, Miles's sister, who was attacked and murdered just weeks earlier. Miles is horrified to think that he might be to blame for the deaths. And who is the ghost that haunt the halls? Lucy is convinced that the death of Miles's wife and sister-as well as her cousin's mysterious illness-are tied together, but how? With no other option, Miles and Lucy must work together if they are to find the answer to the mysteries at the Manor. But that's not all Lucy wants to solve. There's a deeper mystery behind Miles. Can she solve that, too? Ultimately, she must decide if she can love the man, beast and all

Stories based on the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" are among my favorites.  This one included not only elements of the fairy tale but then moved it to a Steampunk era England where dirigibles fly the skies, vampires are an accepted (and feared) part of life, and a political committee in London works to eradicate all predatory shape shifters.  The heroine of Clockwork, Lucy, is a successful botanist working to discover a way to fight vampires.  She takes a vacation to visit her cousin Kate, newly married and not entirely comfortable in her new home.  Reaching Blackwell Manor Lucy discovers that her normally healthy cousin is not only suffering the same mysterious illness that claimed her brother-in-law's first wife Clara, but a ghost is haunting the house.  And that's before she meets the master of the house, the surly and reclusive Lord Blackwell.

Lucy is a great heroine- strong and confident of her ability to fix any problem she encounters.  She moves easily between the world of the Ton, able to execute a successful ball for hundreds in less than 24 hours, and the world of science as a botanist who travels on secret research missions to discover antidotes to vampiric attacks.  Although she knows she is not a 'conventional' lady, she is proud of her abilities and refuses to pretend to be less than she knows she is.  Lord Blackwell, Miles, is the Beast of the story- both in personality and physically.  Curt, surly, with no regard for social conventions, Miles has served is the army in India, comes from a family of strong personalities and has a secret known only to two of his friends- and one blackmailer.  Miles has inherited the family curse and turns onto a werewolf during the full moon.  He may not know why his wife died but he's convinced that he murdered his sister while in wolf form.  Over 6 months after her death, Marie is still haunting Blackwell Manor, determined to communicate- or to revenge herself.

Clockwork is a great blend of mystery and romance, fairy tale and Steampunk.  The characters, including the murdered Marie, are three dimensional, and layered with complex motives, secrets, and desires.  The world they live in is a well written mix of Regency and Steampunk.  The reader is brought into it as if entering a familiar world with no awkward explanations of the technology to jolt us out of the story.  Part of me wished for more explanations of some things, like the telescribes or the vampires, but I enjoyed imagining some of the technology and seeing others revealed in small increments.  The unique was treated as if it was ordinary (which of course it was for the characters) and Allen remained "in character" instead of succumbing to the temptation of long explanations or histories of what the reader didn't know.  Instead, she allows them to discover the world as they go.
The mysteries of the blackmailer, Kate's illness, and the deaths of Clara and Marie were well done- nothing is kept back from us as readers, we learn what Lucy and Miles learn and can make our own guesses until the revelations at the end.   
Although it has a slightly slow beginning, Beauty and the Clockwork Beast picks up quickly and becomes a fast paced mystery, a complex romance, and an absolutely wonderful story.  Fans of Meljean Brooks, readers new to the genre or Steampunk devotees, will enjoy this and end the book begins for more.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.