Friday, September 28, 2018

Gift of Griffins

Gift of Griffins (Faraman Prophecy) by [Escalada, V. M.]

Gift of Griffins- V.M. Escalada
DAW/Penguin Group
Release Date: August 7, 2018


Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: Kerida Nast and her companions have succeeded in finding Jerek Brightwing, the new Luqs of Farama, and uniting him with a part of his Battle Wings, but not all their problems have been solved. Farama is still in the hands of the Halian invaders and their Shekayrin, and it's going to take magical as well as military strength to overcome them. 

Unexpected help comes from Bakura, the Princess Imperial of the Halians, whose Gifts have been suppressed.  As the Voice of her brother the Sky Emperor she has some political power over the Halian military, and she will use it to aid the Faramans, if Kerida can free her from what she sees as a prison. But whether Kerida can help the princess remains to be seen. If she succeeds, Bakura may prove their salvation. But should Kerida fail, all may be lost....

In Gift of Griffins V. M. Escalada continues to show her talent in world building, weaving together well crafted characters and a beautifully textured, intricate, magically real world. You feel the wind in your face and the ground beneath your feet.  Her characters continue to be entirely believable- imperfect people in a far from perfect world, learning what they are capable of in overwhelming circumstances.  Kerida Nast and the Princess Imperial Bakura are especially well-written- watching them grow into strong, confident women who are willing to stand up to adversity even when they are terrified made it easy to forget how young they are in pure years.  They have had to grow up quickly and are the equal to any of the more experienced adults by the end of the book.

Unlike many second books in a series, Griffins didn't disappoint after Escalada's amazing first book, Halls of Law.  The emphasis has shifted from mere personal survival to the overthrowing of the Shekayrin determined to control the people, but the story is still told through the personal experiences of a few people.  We also got to see a lot more of the griffins here than in Halls, which was a lot of fun.  I thought Escalada did a great job giving us a griffin's point of view of things, and having the griffins and their way of thinking and prioritizing being very different from that of humans.  I also appreciated how nuanced the motivations among the humans themselves were- we don't get a generalized 'good' versus 'evil', but layers of loyalty and betrayal that will keep the reader guessing until the very end.    

Gift of Griffins is a must read for fantasy lovers looking for a new series to enjoy. You may first be drawn to Griffins because of the beautiful cover art, but you'll stay immersed in this wonderful fantasy world thanks to Escalada's beautiful writing style and amazing characters.  I hope to see many more books to come in this series!

 I would recommend starting with Halls of Law, since Gift of Griffins is very much a sequel instead of a stand alone book.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Cross Breed

Cross Breed (A Novel of the Breeds) by [Leigh, Lora]

Cross Breed (a Novel of the Breeds)- Lora Leigh
Berkley/Penguin Group
Release Date: September 25, 2018


Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: The Breeds are humans altered before conception with the DNA of the predators of the earth. But although they all carry the genetic material of beasts within them, Cassandra Sinclair stands apart. A unique mix of wolf, coyote and human, she is revered by many--but preyed upon by others. She is fiercely protected by her community...but no one manages to stop her when she slips away one day to offer her body in exchange for her sister's safety.

The man she succumbs to surprises her by unleashing her inner animal in ways she never dreamed possible--and provokes her deep, furious rage. To Cassie's shock, he is the mate she has long awaited. She may never be able to forgive his deception. Still, as dangerous enemies track her, and as the threat of all-out war between Breeds and the humans who despise them hovers in the air, they must join forces and hold fast to each other.

But the passionate union between them holds a potential that could change the world--and some will do anything to stop it..


Longtime readers of Lora Leigh's Breeds series first met Cassandra Sinclair in Elizabeth's Wolf as a young girl with seemingly psychic talents for knowing things.  Over the series she has grown into a woman who can argue Breed Law better than anyone alive.  In Cross Breed, Cassie finally gets her own book- and a surprising mate.

Teasers for this book have been careful not to tell readers who Cassie's mate is, making this the first (rather unavoidable) spoiler: it's the Coyote Breed known only as Dog.  Believed by most to be loyal to the Council, Dog is considered 'rogue', an enemy, and a cold blooded killer.  Not who loving parents Dash and Elizabeth Sinclair were hoping for their beloved daughter!  But as with all Breed novels, there are circles within circles and deceptions hiding truths.  Dog is a double agent, working with Jonas Wyatt to shut down more Council atrocities against Breeds.  Cassie doesn't know this at first, but she senses there is more to Dog than others believe, and is willing to give him a chance.  

As a romance story, Cross Breed is pretty good.  There's an enormous clash and adjusting period as Cassie and Dog work to figure out their relationship, how to overcome his supposed loyalty to the Council, and how to work together as a unit in the face of constant threats and challenges.  Both are passionate people experiencing these emotions for the first time and discovering themselves along the way.  Cassie in particular has a lot to learn and accept about herself.  We discover early on that she has a difficult time accepting she's a Breed at all, let alone a hybrid- and she doesn't accept her Coyote genes at all, calling them evil.

As a mystery, suspense, or plot driven continuation of a long running series, it has its defects.  Although not as repetitious as many of Leigh's books, Cross Breed repeats certain things more than enough to be annoying (there are only so many times we need to hear that allowing negative emotional scents to be picked up by others is an insult before you feel insulted to keep being told). A major conflict builds up between Dog, Cassie, and another Coyote named Rhyzan who suddenly wants to push the idea that he might be Cassie's mate.  Rhyzan complicates things left and right, petitions a formal hearing for the chance to have Cassie reconsider who her mate is, then as soon as everyone is in court he drops it to try questioning Dog about something else.  When that gets blocked we find out Rhyzan is playing a deeper game and willing to use Dog, Cassie, and anyone else to get the information he needs- but then Rhyzan pretty much disappears from the book.  There were other, smaller things that had me questioning whether I had missed reading something, had forgotten a throwaway line from an earlier book in the series that was suddenly important, or wondering why a plot line seemed to be just dropped.

Although not Leigh's best book, Cross Breed will appeal to longtime readers of the Breeds novels who have been looking forward to Cassie's book for a long time. Readers new to the series will enjoy the Cassie/Dog story and the chemistry between them, but will probably be lost for the plot lines outside the romance.  A quick read, Cross Breed is entertaining on a surface level, but could have been one of Leigh's best books with a little more work.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Rebel Hard

Rebel Hard (Hard Play Book 2)- Nalini Singh
Inscribe Digital/TKA Distribution
Release Date: September 18, 2018


Synopsis: Nayna Sharma agreed to an arranged marriage in the hope it would heal the fractures in her beloved family… only to realize too late that a traditional marriage is her personal nightmare. Panicked, she throws caution to the winds, puts on the tiniest dress she can find, and ends up in the arms of a tall, rough-edged hunk of a man who has abs of steel—and who she manages to mortally insult between one kiss and the next.

Abandoned as a child, then adopted into a loving family, Raj Sen believes in tradition, in continuity. Some might call him stiff and old-fashioned, but he knows what he wants—and it’s a life defined by rules… yet he can’t stop thinking about the infuriating and sexy woman who kissed him in the moonlight then disappeared. When his parents spring an introduction on him, the last woman he expects is her. Beautiful. Maddening. A rule breaker in the making.

He’s all wrong for her. She’s all wrong for him. And love is about to make rebels of them both.


 Nayna Sharma has spent most of her life being the 'good sister' to make up for her elder sister's mistakes.  In the process she's had a small, quiet life hemmed in by rules and tradition.  Now that she's agreed to an arranged marriage she suddenly realizes that she's living the life everyone wants for her- except her.  One wild night at a party she meets the perfect man- then mistakenly insults him in the middle of a steamy embrace.  Raj Sen was abandoned and abused as a child before being adopted into a loving family, and wants a stable, quiet life based on traditions and setting down roots.  But an encounter with Nayna makes him start to question what he thinks he wants in life.  They may be exactly what the other doesn't want, but exactly what they do need.

We first met Nayna as Isa Rain's best friend in Cherish Hard.  Here we get Nayna's story and it is nothing less than amazing. Nayna is trying to grab a brief moment in life that is hers and hers alone before settling into the married life her parents want.  But even after meeting Raj and knowing there is amazing chemistry between them, she sees marriage as a trap that she discovers she doesn't really want to enter on anyone's terms but her own.  But every time she tries to take a step towards independence, something happens to make her feel guilty about being anything less than the 'perfect' daughter her traditional Indian parents want.  She's seen her sister cast off because of her decisions and is convinced she can only be loved if she is perfect.  Nayna is a delightful and realistic mix of strength and insecurities trying to balance her parent's traditional views with her own more modern ones, and trying to discover who she is in the process.

Raj may be all quiet confidence and strength on the outside, but he's never quite gotten over the pain of being abandoned, knowing he was unwanted and unloved by his birth mother is a scar the loving family he now has can't entirely erase. He wants to protect himself by never giving a woman power over his heart and is sure a traditional marriage with a quiet woman is what he needs.  Nayna makes him question everything he thought he wanted in life.  He knows he wants a chance with her, and is willing to play dirty to get her- including learning to smile, to play, and to text Nayna screamingly sexy pictures that are totally G-rated.  But he's as worried about falling in love as she is worried that he'll never fully give himself to her.    

Nayna and Raj may be my favorite Nalini Singh couple after Gabriel and Charlotte (Rock Hard)- although it's a close tie. You know Raj is something special when he goes out of his way to read Nayna's favorite book, Pride and Prejudice.  And the reader is then treated to the male view of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham- and the men on Raj's construction crew discovering what women really find sexy by Googling "hot men reading".  

Rebel Hard is a wonderful, passionate, humorous, and emotional story of two people learning about themselves and trying to make a relationship work when they are afraid to fall in love.  It celebrates the beautiful, colorful culture of India and Fiji, blended with New Zealand's natural wonders.  This is a book that joyously grabs all of your senses and flings it into the color, taste, sound, texture, and glitter of a Bollywood extravaganza: complete with over the top weddings, meddling parents, villainous sister-in-law, and gorgeous locations. A must read for any romance fan!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Field of Blood

The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War by [Freeman, Joanne B.]

The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War- Joanne B. Freeman
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Release Date: September 11, 2018


Synopsis: In The Field of Blood, Joanne B. Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions were often punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests. When debate broke down, congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives. One representative even killed another in a duel. Many were beaten and bullied in an attempt to intimidate them into compliance, particularly on the issue of slavery.

These fights didn’t happen in a vacuum. Freeman’s dramatic accounts of brawls and thrashings tell a larger story of how fisticuffs and journalism, and the powerful emotions they elicited, raised tensions between North and South and led toward war. In the process, she brings the antebellum Congress to life, revealing its rough realities—the feel, sense, and sound of it—as well as its nation-shaping import. Funny, tragic, and rivetingly told, The Field of Blood offers a front-row view of congressional mayhem and sheds new light on the careers of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and other luminaries, as well as introducing a host of lesser-known but no less fascinating men. The result is a fresh understanding of the workings of American democracy and the bonds of Union on the eve of their greatest peril.

Joanne B. Freeman's The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War is an entertaining, well researched, and well-written examination of physical violence in U.S. Congress in the decades leading to the Civil War.  Most of it stems from diarist B.B. French, who managed to be on hand or on the fringes for every major political and historical event of his lifetime.  A New Hampshire native, French was highly active in D.C. politics, knew politicians and presidents, and often had a ring-side seat to the debates and violence on the floors of Congress. 

Not merely a cataloging of duels, brawls, canings, and insults, Field of Blood examines the reasons behind the violence- both personal and cultural.  Violence and duels were seen as honorable, manly codes of conduct in the South and barbaric and uncivilized in the North.  Southern politicians would often use bullying and threats of violence to hold power in Congress.  Politicians were seen as closely representing the constituents, their state, and their region and "fighting for the people's rights" was often taken very literally.  Insult an individual and you insulted the region.  Insult the region and you insulted the individual.  Honor was often called into question and (usually) representatives settled things outside the halls of Congress.  It was an interesting dynamic that the patriotic French watched: people believed Congress to be solemn, serious, full of great men giving great speeches- if they saw what French saw, the general public might think very differently.  

Freeman presents readers with a little looked at slice of American history leading up to the Civil War, bringing 19th century political figures to life with a humorous and down-to-earth style of writing that keeps the reader engaged from beginning to end.  Americans who believe today's political standoffs and partisanship are unprecedented may appreciate reading the literal stand-offs of the past, when people sent guns to their Congressmen so they could fight for their constituents' rights and pistols, rifles, and bowie knives were regularly carried by politicians "just in case." 

 For anyone who imagines 19th century Congressmen as staid and boring old men, Freedman will introduce you to a whole new side of American politics. A great read!

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