Sunday, November 14, 2021

Guild Boss


 Guild Boss (Harmony #15)- Jayne Castle

Berkley 

Release Date: November 16, 2021

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: Living in this new, alien world doesn’t stop the settlers from trying to re-create what they’ve left behind. Case in point—weddings are still the highlight of any social calendar. But it’s the after-party that turns disastrous for Lucy Bell. Kidnapped and drugged as she leaves the party, she manages to escape—only to find herself lost in the mysterious, alien underground maze of glowing green tunnels beneath Illusion Town. She’s been surviving on determination and cold pizza, scavenged for her by a special dust bunny, when help finally shows up.  

Gabriel Jones is the Ghost Hunter sent to rescue her, but escaping the underground ruins isn’t the end of her troubles—it’s only the beginning. With no rational reason for her abduction, and her sole witness gone on another assignment for the Guild, whispers start circulating that Lucy made it all up. Soon her life unravels until she has nothing left but her pride. The last thing she expects is for Gabriel Jones to come back to town for her. 
 
The Lucy that Gabriel finds is not the same woman he rescued, the one who looked at him as if he were her hero. This Lucy is sharp, angry, and more than a little cynical—instead of awe, she treats him with extreme caution. But a killer is still hunting her, and there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to heroes. Despite her wariness, Gabriel is also the one person who believes Lucy—after all, he was there. He’s determined to help clear her reputation, no matter what it takes. And as the new Guild Boss, his word is law, even in the lawlessness of Illusion Town.
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When Gabriel Jones rescues Lucy Bell from the alien catacombs, immediately leaves for another Guild assignment, then returns to Illusion Town two months later hoping she'll be thrilled to see him, he learns a very important lesson: don't wait two months and expect the lady to be thrilled to see you, even if you did save her life. No one believes Lucy's story about being drugged and kidnapped, including Gabriel at first. But as strange events and dead bodies begin to pile up, Lucy's story looks a lot more believable. The only problem becomes- the kidnappers failed the first time, and will now have to try again.

Jayne Castle fans rejoice! Readers get to return to Harmony, and here Illusion Town- Harmony's answer to Las Vegas. The thrills are real, the laws are flexible, and anything can be had for a price. Except things might be changing, because now Illusion Town has its own Guild- with a Jones as Guild Boss. Long time Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle fans know exactly what that means: powerfully psychic and intelligent men and women who are more than up to some strange challenges. And Gabriel Jones (a descendent of my personal favorite Amanda Quick hero from Second Sight) more than lives up to his family reputation. Dry sense of humor, interesting psychic profile, and more than willing to partner with a dust bunny to see a mission through. As the new Guild Boss starting a new Guild poor Gabriel suffers terribly for the sake of public relations and image, but at least he as Lucy and PR whiz Aiden on his side to remind him to smile as they pile on the torment. 

Lucy is more than a match for Gabriel. Despite everyone telling her she's crazy, she has never doubted that she knows the truth of what happened to her, even if she doesn't know why. She hangs on to her pride and professionalism even when she's driving a tour bus. She's not looking for a handout or a rescue, but she's not too proud to turn down a job even when she's not sure what she wants from Gabriel on a personal level. I loved how Gabriel was so openly in awe of her talent and supported her ever every step of the way. They fit together perfectly. And who can not love Otis? Another adorable dust bunny, Otis has an addiction to cheese and olive pizza and a bit of a diva complex when it comes to direction for what he sees as not good reason- which is pretty funny. Apparently dust bunnies might love having their pictures taken, but are not destined to be stars of the silver screen. Or would it be amber screen on Harmony?

A fun romp through Illusion Town, Jayne Castle fans won't be disappointed with Guild Boss. Full of Castle's trademark dry humor, crackling chemistry, and dust bunny fun, Guild Boss was entertaining from start to finish. Plenty of "Easter eggs" for long time readers of Krentz/Quick/Castle books, newer readers won't feel too left out- but should definitely end the book feeling like they have whole new worlds they want to explore before the next new release!





Sunday, November 7, 2021

Down A Dark River


 
Down A Dark River - Karen Odden

Crooked Lane Books

Release Date: November 9, 2021

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: London, 1878. One April morning, a small boat bearing a young woman’s corpse floats down the murky waters of the Thames. When the victim is identified as Rose Albert, daughter of a prominent judge, the Scotland Yard director gives the case to Michael Corravan, one of the only Senior Inspectors remaining after a corruption scandal the previous autumn left the division in ruins. Reluctantly, Corravan abandons his ongoing case, a search for the missing wife of a shipping magnate, handing it over to his young colleague, Mr. Stiles.

An Irish former bare-knuckles boxer and dockworker from London’s seedy East End, Corravan has good street sense and an inspector’s knack for digging up clues. But he’s confounded when, a week later, a second woman is found dead in a rowboat, and then a third. The dead women seem to have no connection whatsoever. Meanwhile, Mr. Stiles makes an alarming discovery: the shipping magnate’s missing wife, Mrs. Beckford, may not have fled her house because she was insane, as her husband claims, and Mr. Beckford may not be the successful man of business that he appears to be.
 
Slowly, it becomes clear that the river murders and the case of Mrs. Beckford may be linked through some terrible act of injustice in the past—for which someone has vowed a brutal vengeance. Now, with the newspapers once again trumpeting the Yard’s failures, Corravan must dredge up the truth—before London devolves into a state of panic and before the killer claims another innocent victim.
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In Karen Odden's newest historical mystery, Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan must discover the murderer of a young woman who is placed in a small rowboat on the Thames. Overworked, Corravan gives the case of a missing woman to his colleague Stiles. But as more women are murdered the men discover that the missing woman and the dead girls have more in common than meets the eye. And it may be that secrets hidden in the posh Mayfair residences instead of seedy riverside docks hide the clues to solve the cases and save other innocent lives.

Unlike Odden's other books (A Trace of Deceit, A Dangerous Duet, A Lady in the Smoke) Down a Dark River features not a young woman trying to solve a mystery, but a Scotland Yard inspector.  Michael Corravan is hampered by the fact that he's Irish at a time when the English don't like the Irish, he's from Whitechapel when he's investigating the murder of upperclass women, and still prominent in the public mind is the trial of four Scotland Yard detectives for taking bribes, the Yard has been reorganized and its credit with the public is at an all-time low. Corravan wants to find the killer but his stubborn push for answers isn't getting him anything but enemies and political red tape from higher ups at the Yard. 

I loved Corravan even when I was frustrated with him. He is a complex, flawed, but basically decent man, wrestling with how to best solve cases and help others. He values his small circle of friends and family, although he doesn't always know how to show it. As his lover, author Belinda Gale puts it, Michael likes being the knight solving everyone's problems, but he doesn't like being seen as human, with all the messy emotions that come with it. He's as prickly as a porcupine, never wants to ask help of anyone, and is slow to trust. As Dark River progresses we see Corravan try to change his approach to life and maybe that's what leads to the questions he (and the reader) have to ask themselves at the end. What is justice? How are justice and revenge different? Can it be found through the law courts and police procedures or only on the streets? Are there some people so self-centered (or evil) that they can't be touched by either? Are there some crimes that can never be balanced?

In Dark River Corravan's view of himself and the secondary characters evolves over the course of the book and the reader gets a more nuanced view of people as the book progresses. His relations with others develops over the course of the book too- I especially liked how his relationship with his supervisor Vincent and junior Stiles changed over the course of the book. One character the reader sees clearly from the beginning is London- and the Thames. Karen Odden has a special talent for making her locations as much of a living, breathing character as any flesh and blood character in her books and from the slimy docks at the Thames to the glittery streets of Mayfair, she succeeds brilliantly again here.    

Down a Dark River is timely in many ways, without seeming to preach to the reader or put modern views into Victorian character's mouths. Corravan has to struggle with power throughout the book: who has it, who uses it, and what do they use it for. It appears in different places and different ways, asking Corravan and the reader to look at ever situation and person through multiple angles before reaching conclusions. Powerful men he meets try to prevent him from pursuing his investigations, while he meets women with no formal political or social power trying to do incredible acts of kindness and life changing work.  In many ways this is Corravan's wake up call to see that the people he thinks of as powerless are not the only ones without a voice, and makes him wonder how that lack of power would effect him, as well as those around him. Hopefully we will get to see more of Michael Corravan in the future, and he will hang on to the lessons he learned the hard way here, as they certainly make him a better, more compassionate detective and man. Something Victorian England needed every bit as much as we do today. 

Possible Trigger Warnings: Discussions of rape and violence














Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Archangel's Light


 

Archangel's Light (Guild Hunter #14)- Nalini Singh 

Berkley Publishing

Release Date: October 26, 2021

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: Illium and Aodhan.  Aodhan and Illium. For centuries they’ve been inseparable: the best of friends, closer than brothers, companions of the heart. But that was before—before darkness befell Aodhan and shattered him, body, mind, and soul. Now, at long last, Aodhan is healing, but his new-found strength and independence may come at a devastating cost—his relationship with Illium.

As they serve side by side in China, a territory yet marked by the evil of its former archangel, the secret it holds nightmarish beyond imagining, things come to an explosive decision point. Illium and Aodhan must either walk away from the relationship that has defined them—or step forward into a future that promises a bond infinitely precious in the life of an immortal…but that demands a terrifying vulnerability from two badly bruised hearts.
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Aodhan has spent the past year helping new archangel Suyin find her footing in China, the territory that keeps on giving- in the horror movie sense of the word. As extra help moving her people from one of Lijuan's area's to a new, "safe" part of China, Raphael sends Illium to assist. When patrols discover a suspiciously empty village of seemingly vanished people, Aodhan and Ilium stay behind to investigate.They'll have more than their own issues and ghosts to deal with, for Lijuan has left at least one last unspeakable monster behind to walk in her footsteps. 

Archangel's Light tells the story Guild Hunter fans have been waiting for: Illium and Aodhan. Illium, the seemingly carefree angel, always playful, always curious, always kind to mortal or angel alike. Aodham, the angel made of sparkling light but trapped in mental darkness, a tortured artist slowly coming out of his protective shell. We know they've been friends their whole lives despite seemingly opposite personalities. We know something unspeakable happened to Aodhan that he's only now mentally healing from. We know their relationship has been rocky the past year or so as they struggle to find new footing as Aodhan finds his new self. And we are pretty sure we know what they haven't figured out- they belong together in every sense of the word.

Singh takes the phrase "slow burn" to a whole new level here, probably because most readers are going to be familiar with the backstory of her main characters. She isn't just telling us the 'today' story, she's giving us their past stories as well.  How they first met, early triumphs, Illium's infamous first love, Aodhan's capture and torture at the hands of other angels. The highs and lows that shaped them into who they grew up to be both individually and together. It took a little while for me to get used to this style of back and forth, but I ended up liking it more than I expected too- possibly because it often came as a welcome break to some heavy hitting horrors in the 'today' portions of the story. Vague spoiler-ish warning: Singh does not pull any punches in her descriptions of the latest atrocities so have a strong stomach ready for when the guys go searching for danger.

A lot of Archangel's Light seemed to be about the downsides of being immortal. How easy it becomes to lose your core goodness and light (if you had it to begin with) to petty cruelties that become larger cruelties because of boredom or madness. Lijuan is always the main example, but thanks to Illium and Aodhan's comparative youth they see it in many of the others around them as well- even in Raphael and Dimitri before those men found the women they now love. They constantly question what people missed about Lijuan's descent into madness while acknowledging some things are acceptable in the angelic world that the human world wouldn't accept. Most characters see Illium as the rare example of an angel who might never let immortality harden them, although Aodhan and even Suyin are also mentioned as possibly being the same way. Each of these people has suffered and now tries to find a balance in their life, a light to the darkness they know exists in the world. As much darkness as we find in this book, the light of hope is continually held out for those who can see it, and those brave enough to reach for it and work to keep it lit.  Something we can take great inspiration from in these days.

Weaving past and present together, Archangel's Light is a complex tapestry of friendship and love and loyalty that reaches soul deep. It asks strong people to bare emotional weaknesses that could leave them destroyed or fly higher than ever before, and in a triumph of world building and character creation, takes readers soaring on an incredible ride along the way.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Well Matched

 


Well Matched (Ran Faire #3)- Jen DeLuca

Berkley/Penguin Group

Release Date: October 19, 2021

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: Single mother April Parker has lived in Willow Creek for twelve years with a wall around her heart. On the verge of being an empty nester, she’s decided to move on from her quaint little town, and asks her friend Mitch for his help with some home improvement projects to get her house ready to sell. 

Mitch Malone is known for being the life of every party, but mostly for the attire he wears to the local Renaissance Faire—a kilt (and not much else) that shows off his muscled form to perfection. While he agrees to help April, he needs a favor too: she'll pretend to be his girlfriend at an upcoming family dinner, so that he can avoid the lectures about settling down and having a more “serious” career than high school coach and gym teacher. April reluctantly agrees, but when dinner turns into a weekend trip, it becomes hard to tell what's real and what's been just for show. But when the weekend ends, so must their fake relationship. 

As summer begins, Faire returns to Willow Creek, and April volunteers for the first time. When Mitch's family shows up unexpectedly, April pretends to be Mitch's girlfriend again...and it doesn't feel so fake anymore. Despite their obvious connection, April insists they’ve just been putting on an act. But when there’s the chance for something real, she has to decide whether to change her plans—and open her heart—for the kilt-wearing hunk who might just be the love of her life.
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Another year, another Faire, and perhaps the pairing that Jen DeLuca fans have all been waiting for. Emily's (Well Met) sister April is getting her house ready to sell and their friend Mitch offers to help. Best known as a popular gym teacher and kilted Scotsman during Ren Faire, Mitch is easy-going and the life of every party. He and April have always been more frenemies than friends, but they discover they can help each other out: she needs another set of hands for home renovations, he needs a pretend girlfriend for a family dinner to get his family to take him more seriously. One stained deck turns into multiple projects, one family dinner turns into a family weekend. April and Mitch discover things about each other, the most important being how well they work together. But April has been hurt badly before and is used to doing everything for herself and not letting her walls down for anyone. Can the Faire do its magic and match Mitch and April?

You can virtually guarantee that when two people who don't really like each other are forced to spend time together, they discover a completely different person beneath that annoying surface facade.  Mitch's facade has been the happy-go-lucky jock since day one, the player who's dated every woman in town. Readers have guessed there's more to him than that, and we've all been waiting to see it. Well Matched takes its time peeling back his layers since we see him from April's point of view but even if this is your first book in the series you know instantly that Mitch has more going on than he lets us see. What I liked was that so does April, and Deluca does a skillful job of showing April and Mitch mirror each other's insecurities. The difference is that we seen April having her internal meltdowns while looking (mostly) calm on the outside, we can only guess at the mental dialogue going on in Mitch's brain. They are both the swan looking calm while paddling madly below the water line and hoping nobody sees.  

I loved April and really related to her. She's a loner, perhaps by personality, definitely helped by the emotional and psychological blows dealt to her by her husband divorcing her while she was pregnant.  She panics around people or when she becomes the center of attention, and pretty much just wants to move to a city because there you are almost expected to be anonymous.  That has always been her plan so why change now? She's always defined herself as a mom and never thought about what would make her happy for herself. Now that Mitch is making her question her plans and comfort zones, April has to decide if happiness is worth facing her fears. 

Well Matched contains some lovely scenes between April and Caitlin as Caitlin reaches graduation that would make any parent tear up (I did and I'm not even a parent!); some delightfully sizzling encounters between April and Mitch; wonderful girl time with April, Stacey, and Emily; Ren Faire magic; and hot guys in kilts. Something for everyone to enjoy! Jen DeLuca once again entrances with a lovely romance story readers won't be able to put down. Huzzah!

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

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Cry of the Firebird


 

Cry of the Firebird (Firebird Faerie Tales #1)- Amy Kuivalainen

BHC Press

Release Date: October 14, 2021

Rating:πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: A firebird is reborn on the borders of Russia, a gate to a world of monsters and magic is breaking, and only a reluctant, untrained shaman stands in the way of a flood of supernatural darkness...

Anya is still reeling from the death of her grandfather when a strange encounter with the Finnish God of the Dead changes her life forever: Her family has been guarding the gates to the Russian otherworld on their farm for centuries, and she’s the new gatekeeper. Worse, if she doesn’t awaken her magical abilities and assume her new role, the gate will break, unleashing a flood of monsters and dark gods into their world.

As Anya struggles to make sense of her changing world, she can’t deny the strange encounters. She’ll need to accept her fate and work with the legendary firebird if she hopes to survive—and protect humanity.
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Amy Kuivalainen (Magicians of Venice series) proves her world building abilities are as strong as ever with her new series, Firebird Faerie Tales. In this first book we meet Anya, a young woman who has been having a rough time. She's trying to make a go of her grandfather's farm in Russia after his death but her biggest success is in emptying vodka bottles. Then one day Tuoni, the Finnish God of the Dead appears to explain the facts of her life to her: her family has long been gatekeepers between the mortal world and a magical world and if she doesn't wake up and learn how to use her magic and control the family's gate within the next six months it will fall apart and allow all kinds of otherworldly creature free reign in the human world. Although on the bright side, magic users will probably brutally kill her for her magic way before then. Good luck. He also gives Anya a stone that he says has been in her family for centuries and is now hers to care for. Anya would love to pretend this is all a vodka fueled dream except that night the stone breaks and a firebird hatches out of it. Who then turns into a man. And that is the most normal thing Anya experiences for awhile.

Cry of the Firebird throws Anya and the reader into the deep end of a world that mixes "normal" and magic in intriguing blends. Fortunately, you don't need to know anything about Russian or Finnish fairy tales to understand, let alone enjoy, the story. Along the way Anya gathers unlikely friends and allies as she tries to learn enough about her magic to not get herself or anyone else killed and prepare to close her family's gate- especially as it becomes clear that the gate is unravelling faster than Tuoni had first predicted. Like in the Magicians of Venice series, Kuivalainen gathers an ensemble cast with radically different abilities, characters, and reasons for being together that works really well when a description of them suggest they wouldn't. Here the cast is larger and more varied and we get to know more of them right away, romantic (or at least sexual) interests flare faster, and fight scenes are epic. Light and Dark are not quite what you think they are and there is always a price to be paid.

Kuivalainen takes traditional myths and turns them into something uniquely her own in this new and engrossing novel. I already can't wait for book two in the series and am hoping someone will discover how brilliant all her books would be on Netflix.



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

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Real Valkyrie


 
The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women- Nancy Marie Brown

St. Martin's Press

Release Date: August 31, 2021

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: In 2017, DNA tests revealed to the collective shock of many scholars that a Viking warrior in a high-status grave in Birka, Sweden was actually a woman. The Real Valkyrie weaves together archaeology, history, and literature to imagine her life and times, showing that Viking women had more power and agency than historians have imagined.

Nancy Marie Brown uses science to link the Birka warrior, whom she names Hervor, to Viking trading towns and to their great trade route east to Byzantium and beyond. She imagines her life intersecting with larger-than-life but real women, including Queen Gunnhild Mother-of-Kings, the Viking leader known as The Red Girl, and Queen Olga of Kyiv. Hervor’s short, dramatic life shows that much of what we have taken as truth about women in the Viking Age is based not on data, but on nineteenth-century Victorian biases. Rather than holding the household keys, Viking women in history, law, saga, poetry, and myth carry weapons. These women brag, “As heroes we were widely known—with keen spears we cut blood from bone.” In this compelling narrative Brown brings the world of those valkyries and shield-maids to vivid life.

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"The Real Valkyrie" studies the history of the Vikings as we know it through a new lens: modern archaeology, free of the Victorian limitations we have allowed to color our thoughts of their world for so long. Others will call it feminist. How about both- as well as extremely interesting and well-written. 

Modern technology has been used to go over bones buried in Birka Bj581, a warrior's grave in Birka, Sweden.  Because of the weapons and others items traditional archaeology has associated with men, this grave was identified as a war leader, a brilliant warrior, and a man.  Today we know the bones are of a woman. Does that make the rest of the story the burial told, that of a well respected warrior, less true? Brown uses modern archaeology to analyze myths, legends, and history to search for the "real valkyrie"- who she argues was not a mythical being but in fact a warrior woman. Brown argues that women in the Viking age had a much larger role than has previously been assigned to them- that they were capable leaders, rulers, merchants, and warriors just like men. I found her arguments very interesting and certainly found myself agreeing that we cannot look at history through the filter of those who wrote about other people. In the case of the Vikings, this would mean men, Christian men, telling about a world that was already hundreds of years in the past when they were writing, and whose world view they could no longer understand. 

The multiethnic society of the Viking world, Brown argues, was a world where power did not come from one person (the pope) and filter down, it was not a world organized by kings as we would come to understand it later. It was a world where talent, need, and opportunity should focus your path and your gender did not limit you.  The idea of the Viking woman as the key-holder and mistress of the house is, according to Brown, the Victorian interpretation of the Vikings because that was how the Victorians viewed the world. And we haven't updated them since.  Here, Brown argues successfully that we should look at what archaeological sites tell us without preconceived notions, and we should not ignore the evidence that goes against what we think we already know.  Because Birka Bj581 is not the only grave of a warrior who has been reexamined and found to be a woman.  

Brown's The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women turns traditional images of the Viking world on its head and presents a vivid, well-researched, and fascinating exploration of life in the Viking Age through  a new lens. From the everyday to the afterlife, this is the world as archaeological finds show it might have been.

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


Thursday, August 12, 2021

Imperfect Union


 

Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John FrΓ©mont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War- Steve Inskeep

Penguin Group

Release Date: January 14, 2020

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: John C. FrΓ©mont, one of the United States’s leading explorers of the nineteenth century, was relatively unknown in 1842, when he commanded the first of his expeditions to the uncharted West. But in only a few years, he was one of the most acclaimed people of the age – known as a wilderness explorer, bestselling writer, gallant army officer, and latter-day conquistador, who in 1846 began the United States’s takeover of California from Mexico. He was not even 40 years old when Americans began naming mountains and towns after him. He had perfect timing, exploring the West just as it captured the nation’s attention. But the most important factor in his fame may have been the person who made it all possible: his wife, Jessie Benton FrΓ©mont. 

Jessie, the daughter of a United States senator who was deeply involved in the West, provided her husband with entrΓ©e to the highest levels of government and media, and his career reached new heights only a few months after their elopement. During a time when women were allowed to make few choices for themselves, Jessie – who herself aspired to roles in exploration and politics – threw her skill and passion into promoting her husband. She worked to carefully edit and publicize his accounts of his travels, attracted talented young men to his circle, and lashed out at his enemies. She became her husband’s political adviser, as well as a power player in her own right. In 1856, the famous couple strategized as John became the first-ever presidential nominee of the newly established Republican Party. 

With rare detail and in consummate style, Steve Inskeep tells the story of a couple whose joint ambitions and talents intertwined with those of the nascent United States itself. Taking advantage of expanding news media, aided by an increasingly literate public, the two linked their names to the three great national movements of the time—westward settlement, women’s rights, and opposition to slavery. Together, John and Jessie FrΓ©mont took parts in events that defined the country and gave rise to a new, more global America. Theirs is a surprisingly modern tale of ambition and fame; they lived in a time of social and technological disruption and divisive politics that foreshadowed our own. In Imperfect Union, as Inskeep navigates these deeply transformative years through Jessie and John’s own union, he reveals how the FrΓ©monts’ adventures amount to nothing less than a tour of the early American soul.
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Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John FrΓ©mont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War is a fascinating, well-researched, and brilliantly written exploration of mid-nineteenth century America: its triumphs and failings, challenges and inventions, through the lens of John C. FrΓ©mont and his wife Jessie Benton FrΓ©mont. They lived during a time of great change and innovation and Jessie was quick to capitalize on all of it to, quite arguably, invent celebrity and public relations in ways that we would all recognize today.

By marrying Jessie, a powerful senator's daughter, John went from being a new and inexperienced Army officer to part of a powerful family with visions of manifest destiny and American Empire. Jessie's connections landed John the role of leader of an exploration party into the West. Her genius spun that exploration into John's becoming a national hero and celebrity; a bestselling author whose travel accounts often almost resembled reality; and the go-to explorer for several other westward mapmaking expeditions. Author Steve Inskeep unwinds Jessie's spin and uses the journals and letters of other members of FrΓ©mont's teams to get closer to the truth: that John was often inept, entirely self-focused, and frequently took unnecessary, potentially fatal, risks seemingly for the sake of it.  He seems to have considered orders from commanding officers to be mere suggestions, and the amount of time dumb luck seems to have saved his life (and his team) is mind-boggling. 

Through John's explorations, his forays into politics, his court martial for refusing to follow orders, and more, it was Jessie who stood between John and the world. Jessie who rallied support and gave advise, Jessie who deflected criticism and attacked critics. She was more than the power behind the throne: she was the brains behind the throne. She became as recognizable a celebrity as her husband at a time when women were starting movements towards fighting for the right to vote and have a voice in politics. 

Inskeep explores the changing politics and mindset of the time, the political and moral dilemmas America was facing regarding slavery and the "Indian question", arguments against immigrants and Catholics, with sharp clarity. He doesn't shy away from acknowledging when people like John were willing to compromise where today we would condemn; or where John was willing to perform or accept actions we would today find unacceptable.  Inskeep fully shows the negative to FrΓ©mont as well as the progressive.  But Imperfect Union is more than a biography of John and Jessie: it is an exploration of how America and American lives were changing. Through railroads and telegraphs people were being brought closer together, stories and ideas were traveling faster. This is the story of the politics of slavery in the North and the South decades before the first shot was fired to begin the Civil War.  Thanks to Jessie's political connections and John's celebrity status the two knew an incredible number of people who would become key players during the Civil War. 

For history lovers looking for a well-researched, well-written, highly accessible, and completely absorbing account of behind the scenes movements that would shape America and the American people to this very day, look no further than Imperfect Union.

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