Distraction via YA: Mask of Shadows

Mask of Shadows (book 1), from Linsey Milller, out Aug 29, 2017
I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

This time of year is generally a slog of doom in the day job for me. It’s the end of season and everything is due, which means there’s usually a significant amount of insanity as people try to get things in before deadlines, miss deadlines and beg, try to set things up for the next season and get it right this time, lick wounds and plan for the travel season that usually accompanies Sept/Oct/Nov before the holidays smack us all into a food coma. That means usually I grab the lighter bites in my TBR pile and try to carefully manage my commitments.

I had forgotten about this book until the pre-press materials started showing up in my email box. I went digging through my kindle to happily discover the galley and dove right in, causing a few late nights and late to camp drop offs as I read over breakfast. This slow start for me introduced a world of haves and have-nots, where individuals scrape to get by and figure out how to get their safe bed and food without destroying their personal ethics. It’s these personal ethics that lead Sal to an encounter with a noblewoman and changes their fate.

Heads up: this is told in the first person, which allows for an interesting bit of storytelling that Sal is gender-fluid. In the audition, they tell Ruby:

“And you can call me ‘she’ when I dress like this. I dress how I am.”
“And if you dress like neither?” Emerald asked.
“They,” I said. ….”I’m not always ‘they,’ though.”

This fluidity in gender probably served quite well in Sal’s personal history throughout early life and provided interesting color as different needs in the book created different costumes required for tasks throughout the Auditions.

The Auditions are how the Queen chooses her personal assassins. You have to be willing to do what the Queen (or her Left Hand) commands, without question, to the good of the kingdom. The Queen is working very hard, through careful assassination and politics, to knit together two kingdoms that have come out of magical-laden war worse for wear. Her commands are in effort to clean up the individuals she cannot neutralize via politics or are individuals who would have been tried for war crimes, if the evidence existed. To get there though, the would-be assassins have to out last each other, learn to blend in with courtiers and servants while putting aside their personal feelings.

The last proves to be the hardest for Sal. In trying to honor the deceased and in remembrance of personal heritage, Sal takes a personal mission. This ripples into not having an alibi, a few chess pieces moving in to play that had been dormant and a significant challenge for the final Audition to determine whether or not personal feelings could be put aside at the Queen’s command. Through careful work, Sal manages to keep the letter of the command while sliding in personal goals in an artistic fashion.

The book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, making it a series beginning and not something that can stand alone. While things are mostly settled, there are many outstanding questions. It also makes you immediately go back and re-read, to see the underlying plot and the clues that were laced throughout that you missed on your first quick read. The layers are fairly amazing.

Depending on your personality, you may want to wait until the next book(s?) are out so you can read straight through. I can see rereading this when the next comes out so I can refresh all the layers before diving back in to see where winter leads us.

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The Bad Luck Bride (5/2 release)

All were shocked at the announcement of the “cursed” Lady Claire Cavensham to Lord Alexander Hallworth, the Marquess of Pembrooke, especially since she is already engaged to another unfortunate Lord. Perhaps she will make it to the altar this time with one of these fine gentlemen! —Midnight Cryer

No one is left breathless at the imperious pronouncement of her engagement to Lord Pembrooke more than Claire. She hardly knows the dangerously outrageous man! But after three engagements gone awry and a fourth going up in glorious flames, she isn’t in a position to refuse…

Alexander requires the hand of his enemy’s fiancée in marriage in order to complete his plans for revenge. It’s his good fortune that the “cursed” woman is desperate. However, what begins as a sham turns into something scandalously deeper…

We’re kicking off a new series and a debut for Janna MacGregor. Cavensham Brides begins with two gentlemen ready to battle.  Alex, Marquess of Pembrooke, faces off with his once-friend Lord Paul. It is easy to instantly dislike Lord Paul, as he evades every question and seems to show no remorse. The problem is that Alex does not seem to be much better a speciman of humanity, as he holds himself accountable for his sister’s actions and take the blame for them out on another. Luckily both are saved by the timely arrival of our third gentleman, one Lord Somerton. Somerton seems to be the voice of reason and common sense and I’m hopeful we’ll see more of him soon.

Alex has claimed for himself, as justice for his sister, everything that was once Lord Paul’s – which includes his rather wealthy fiancee. Lady Claire is on the verge of finally having something go her way as the letter is delivered, breaking the news of her engagement. What I enjoy most about this scene is not the meeting between Alex & Claire but the contrast between their experience of what a marriage between peers should be. Alex tells Somerton

Neither of us witnessed sterling examples of happy marriages growing up…My father was miserable after my birth when my mother died, and he never remarried.

…you need to come to terms with this betrayl, or your grief will never heal. You’ll continue to live in isolation. That doesn’t bode well for a happy life or a contented wife.

Here, he’s the voice of reason. He doesn’t like what Alex has done to exact his revenge, but believes firmly that Alex can be redeemed. Alex makes a great start at this by sheltering and protecting Claire from the brief storm that introduces them to each other. He then protects her again from the impending scandal of yet another broken engagement.

There is much in the middle as Alex slowly wins over his wife’s affection and her love, but not enough for her to trust him completely with her heart. This causes further complications as Alex fails in trusting her. To be fair, I wanted repeatedly to smack both of them upside the back of the head, tie them to chairs in the sitting room and tell them to talk to each other. He failed to tell her why he initially married her, he failed to tell her he fell in love with her and he failed to explain why he was so driven. Conversely, Claire failed to open up about her superstious reasoning she was to blame for everything bad her life, failed to tell him when she was starting to trust him and failed to properly warn her cousin of her concerns about Lord Paul.

On the grovelling index, I’m not even sure where I’d put Alex at a single puppy level — not the adorable dogs gifted in Hardly a Husband nor the puppy cannon of Suffragette Scandal. He himself might qualify as a lovesick puppy with the way he shadows Claire. He does manage to be in the right place in the right time, and does confess his sins most admirably.  It just takes him a while to get there.

I’m looking forward to the next book, given my guess at who is going to be our pair.

 

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Review: The Irresistible Rogue by Valerie Bowman

When I was pitched this book, I was offered a Regency version of Philadelphia Story with a spy twist. Not having seen the Grant/Hepburn vehicle, I had to google the reference. Secret marriage to protect the girl and now she wants out for her “real” marriage that would be appropriate for society? Sold.

I started reading the book and it begins right in the thick of it all. If you have read the previous entries in the Playful Brides series by Valerie Bowman, you’ve met Lady Daphne Swift as she first disappears for two weeks, then is caught trying to sneak out of a ball and finally as a co-conspirator. Getting to read her story is like icing on the cake after reading the previous entries. We had glimpses of her brother, his friends and the couple she helped bring together while not being overwhelmed by their happy lives. It was good to see that Lucy was still causing trouble, Jane was after all the teacakes and Cass was the calming influence on them all.

If you haven’t read the previous entries, this book does work like a bottle episode. While we get glimpses of the couples from the previous novels, none of the actors or their interconnected lives has major roles to play with the unfolding spy work being done by Lady Daphne and her Captain Rafe Cavendish. Lady Daphne is the younger sister of Julian (hero of Accidental Countess) and he served with Captain Cavendish. To be honest, there were times where my first read through were more enjoyable than the second time through after re-reading the previous books in the series. Lady Daphne seems to have gotten significantly more timid and proper at the start of the novel than we saw her in the previous novels. I’d love to know what happened between her trying to sneak out a window (to see the injured Rafe) and the start of this novel to make her want to be so perfectly prim.

What I loved about this book was that we jumped right in. Everyone wants what is best for Daphne, but the only one who is willing to contradict her and point out that what she thinks is best is not what she really wants is Rafe until after the fact. Daphne is sure that she is making the right decision and has a list with rankings to back her up on her selection of a husband, even if he is dull and a social climber that none of her family or friends would willingly seek out for friendship. Everything breaks after a few glasses of champagne and we are tossed into the spy portion of the book.

I will say that this is where it gets a little muddy for me. I understand a slip of a girl in her mid-teens being able to pose as a cabin-boy, but from the descriptions of Daphne, other than her opposite of tall status she has the figure of a girl which might be a little harder to hide when she’s in her breeches role. But assume the role she does and works hard to earn her place with the other men onboard, even convincing Rafe to teach her to throw knives (Chekhov’s skill, anyone?). Rafe keeps her out of the way, using her when the mission calls for her Russian language skills, but otherwise avoiding her to keep his hands off of her. As required in a story like this, the girl he’s sworn to protect has to get in danger at some point – and despite her proving that she can defend herself, Rafe gets her out of harms way as fast as possible. This is where the Daphne we know returns, and convinces Rafe that he needs people and more specifically he needs her.

The push-pull in this book was an interesting one. We have the Big Misunderstanding — Daphne saw a blonde doxy in Rafe’s bed on their previous outing together and firmly believes that she was there for him, despite what he says. We have the heroine masquerading as a boy to have the freedom and adventure she wanted as a girl. We have the non-titled hero who thinks that all the titled folks are worthless snobs unless they served in the war or came at their title from some other way. We have spies to hunt down in France and revenge for a lost brother/associate. We have the hero thinking he can’t have the girl because of guilt and her being too good for him — despite him believing someone who (on paper) is good enough for her is wrong for her. All these elements blend together quite nicely and allow for a lovely story that wraps up quite well, right up into the epilogue, but that’s another’s tale.

TBR Challenge 2015: February!

It’s time for the monthly update via TBR Challenge. If you want to participate, it isn’t too late for you to join in the fun…head over to Wendy the Super Librarian’s post and see what trouble you can get into with us. This month, we are trying for the Recommended Read (A book recommended to you by another reader/blogger etc). For me, Sarah Morgan fills this role and courtesy of Paperbackswap deciding to start charging people for things (sigh), I acquired A Night of No Return during my credit spend blitz. This recommendation actually comes via SuperWendy herself, but via blog — I’m not cool enough to have met her in person.

This book actually manages to lamp-shade itself. The heroine blatantly says (towards the end of the book) that she doesn’t want to fall in love with her boss because her mom did that and stayed there trying to win him over even after having a kid. The hero is the product of a woman having an affair with her rich boss. And here, the two repeat the mistakes, despite best intentions.

Being a Harlequin Presents, it goes pretty darn quick. A snowstorm makes roads impossible. A boss forgets important papers for gala event and meetings related. A dedicated personal assistant delivers them, delaying her personal life. Weather locks them in, they both try to get past it in the morning only to purposely avoid getting past it. Why? reasons.

There are things that happen in this novel that are not items I prefer in my romance. The boss is a bit of a alphahole at points. He decides that his PA is going to travel with him now and delay the start of her vacation principally because he no longer has a date and he wants to force proximity with her (just to torture them both?). When she brings up legitimate reasons why not to go with him, he just brushes them all away. When she has legitimate concerns over wardrobe, travel arrangements and inconveniencing others he brushes them away with money and bluster. When she tries, repeatedly, to resign based on their experience together he refuses to accept – despite knowing he could quite easily help her find a new position and remove all awkwardness. Then, she conspires to fix him. Granted, it is hand-waved that it really is his buddy’s idea and she just needs to stay out of the way. And then, once she sees that he is on his way to be fixed, she finally is allowed to resign, to resume her life and go home to her shrewish sister and her beloved baby brother.

Being HP, I can buy in to the fluffy quick fix…but it would be nice to see these characters a few years down. And I would have loved to see more meat to her relationship with her sister. This tells me I am not really the key market for HP, since I want more book than is present here. Overall, a nice read for a ice & snowbound day.

TBR Challenge 2015: January reads

Here’s my much-belated first entry into the 2015 TBR Challenge. The official theme for the month is  We Love Short Shorts! (category romance, novellas, short stories) but instead I knocked out the books I had via Kindle Unlimited before my subscription ended. There were two that needed to be finished: Confessions of a Royal Bridegroom (1/10/2015) and Reluctantly Lycan (1/18/2015). This resulted in a 50/50 split in how I felt for the month.

Starting with the “meh” book of the month: Reluctantly Lycan. Meh is about as strong as I can muster for this novel. We start off with an excellent image of a single mother on a fire escape sneaking her cigarette and wine to keep the inner wolf at bay as the full moon rises. If you’re familiar with PNR, you’ve probably seen some variation of this before as the lycan tries to pass for human and has to drown under vices the inner animal that wants to break free. We continue to build tension as we see said single mother scraping a living together for herself and her almost-teenage son. There’s the diner where she works very hard. There’s the son who is working hard in school to get ahead in the world. There’s the customer at the diner who looks forward to seeing her every day. Then, the customer becomes a pushy bastid and insists on a date. Things go well, and then out of nowhere the baby-daddy shows up. Who happens to be her destined mate and generally peeved that there’s another guy honing in on his territory. Growling ensues, a bit of quick make-up sex and suddenly all is right with the world because baby-daddy leaves behind some money and tells her to come home whenever she wants. We then have teenage girl behavior of our reluctant lycan mom wanting her guy back, but still mad about an incident years ago that she never has confronted him on the details. We also then have a drastic character shift in darn near everyone: Mom becomes okay with going back home, Son is suddenly accepting of having a wolf as a parent, Dad wants them home even though all heck is breaking loose and he wants them safe, Skeevy Customer gets even more stalker-ish by following everyone back (and trying to pick up an almost-18yo girl). From there, everything rolls downhill quickly. Mom & Dad make up, Son totally accepts being in this new culture and blowing off school he’s been working hard at because vinyl records solve all problems, Skeevy Customer turns out to be a good guy with just very questionable methods on dating. And the mystery aspect of it all? Such a letdown on everything. It was an entertaining little side trip, but really didn’t do anything for me.

The other book, Confessions of a Royal Bridegroom, actually gave me happy moments. Witty dialogue! Nobility in seemingly sketchy characters! A hidden baby (that is not actually anyone’s immediate responsibility!) A mother found! and yet…I feel like I was missing something. Part of the problem is that this is a book #2 in a series, which means that some of the characters and their motivations are things that I had to dust off from reading the first novel back in April and some of the remaining issues won’t be resolved until the fourth book. While I enjoyed the book to pass the time of a fun, lovely historical it didn’t really make me want to sigh in good book noise.

So of the two books we have one that falls into the “meh” bad side and one that fell into the “eh” good side. Luckily I had Courtney Milan’s Trade Me to cheer me up.

2015 TBR Challenge

I recently opened my Kindle only to discover I had 46 pages of titles in my reader. The predominant listing, however, is that I keep sending samples to myself to look at the different books and then either add to my TBR pile or I just feel guilt free about investing only 15 minutes of my time to decide I didn’t like the author’s voice or the characters after all (despite whatever review made me think I might).

This was kind of a little scary. Then I went to my Amazon WishList that’s my hidden TBR and was even more shocked…there’s 86 books there. And this is after I nuked everything a few years back to my Shelfari list of TBRs. When I moved that to GoodReads, it didn’t import correctly. So I’m seriously giving thought to nuking that as well for anything prior to January of 2014 and starting over slowly. It’s a scary thought process, but do I really want to see what’s on my TBR from three years ago?

To help chip away at the chaos, I bit the bullet and decided to start reading a single sample a day to get rid of the backlog. To help put a dent in the TBR pile, I’ve decided to try Wendy the Super Librarian’s TBR Challenge. Added bonus? at least once a month I’ll remember to blog! Go me!

Is art worth dying for?

Is art worth dying for?

According to Matt Damon, that’s one of the central questions asked in Monuments Men.

I’ve been interested in seeing this film since I first heard about it about a year ago. The cast sounds fantastic, and from the previews it looks like it will be gorgeous to watch. The brief late night visit on Daily Show by Clooney just made me more interested in the film, but only enough to put it on my IMDB Watchlist. But it was that snippet pulled from a video with Matt Damon that made me feel like I need to see this film.

I’m not sure what to think about that statement though. In an era where we’re seeing arts (in general) have cuts in funding and being dropped from our schools, what does the future hold?

Book buddy

Last night I got a message via Facebook that someone I once knew well had passed away. As often happens in the world life drew us apart. Her marriage and child while I was still in the early stages of the relationship that would lead to marriage and our two children put us at slightly different points in our lives. I had seen, on Facebook, that she was going through a rough patch, dealing with chemotherapy and all things associated with it. I put off doing anything more than the meaningless response online, because I was no longer super-close to her and did not want to intrude. I thought of her in odd moments and sent, in my own way, healing thoughts toward her home and her family. I thought about the book I was reading and how I should send her a copy, then realized she probably already had a copy and stopped thinking further. I didn’t reach out, for fear it would be the wrong thing or unwelcome. This, I regret.

When I moved from Ohio to sunny NC, I moved knowing one individual here. I moved with a car full of stuff to see me through eight weeks of a show and trying the city on for size. It was probably the bravest thing I had ever done. That one friend of mine was someone I knew from college, and he introduced me to the woman he later married. She, at the time, had two housemates that later married, had a child and then divorced but remained close. One of the housemates was the woman who passed, the woman who I was very different from but we shared something very intimate – reading selections.

I know that sounds strange, but she is the only person I have met that perfectly intersected book styles with me. On our Sunday dinners we would occasionally search the bookshelves at each other’s homes and see familiar titles, also worn. She is the only person who has bought a book for me not using a list and gotten it right – introducing me to a new author and with nothing other than “I thought you’d like it” – and she was right. We would, in moments between other conversations, discuss whatever our latest book we had at hand or what we may have been looking forward to reading. Over those first couple of years in NC when I was still trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted, dinner on those Sundays was a touchstone of friendship and welcome that made living here so wonderful. We six together had fondue nights and made lasagna, talked movies and got married off, changed careers and bought homes. But what I remember most is the book she first gave me and the girls’ night at the farmhouse.

So I’m going to spend a little more time being grateful for another day. I’m going to try to remember to reach out even if it isn’t perfect. I’m going to hug my kids because there’s an eight year old boy who won’t be hugged by his mom again. But first, I think I’ll go find that book.

BlogHer prompt: Tell us about your writing space.

Part of the reason I’m doing this effort of NaBloPoMo is to get into the habit of writing. I have a box in my craft closet that is full of the pieces for albums – our wedding, Gummi Bear’s first year, my college pictures and ones that go back even further in time. Part of my anxiety is that I know the finished project will sit on the shelf and be dragged out from time to time to be looked at by me and that may be the only one who sees it. But for that, I want perfection. And in waiting for perfection or just the right moment or just the perfect phrase, I might never finish. I have to remind myself that these memories in pictures will fade and if I don’t record them, though the words may be imperfect, will I remember?

I confess: I cannot remember Gummi Bear’s first word. I can tell you what we were doing when she took her first steps on her own but I don’t remember when she began to crawl. It has only been three and a half years since she was born and I’m already glossing over milestones and memories because I didn’t find the perfect word. How much longer until I lose hold of other memories? How many years in the future will we be sitting on the couch, with family & friends, and look through a photo album of smiling happy coeds and Gummi Bear asks “who is that laying on the back of the couch? and why would she do that?”

I don’t have a writing space. I don’t really have a place that is mine (and just mine). Then again, technically nobody in our house does. The aforementioned craft closet resides in the children’s room and is full of my stamps & paper, photos & patterns. The Bald One built in shelves to store things and a counter that folds up on a piano hinge or is supported by a chain when down. I can quickly do a little thing in there, but any major efforts end up being done on our kitchen table – where they have to be packed up in between to avoid children and cat destruction. Our home office is a shared space that is more his than mine and everything else in the house is a shared space. Pre-kid, I’d curl up on the couch and read or write on my laptop. Post-kid if I’m curled up on the couch, it is usually with a tiny human or in the event that they are sleeping, my cat comes to demand a few minutes grace. Both cat & kid are equally uncaring that a tablet in my lap means that I’m doing something that does not involve them. But that is the way of cats and kids.

Some days I think of the place we will have next where there is an actual office that can have a section for the office things and an area for the music to spread out and a wall for me to have a work surface and cabinets galore for my craft inclinations. And in the corner, there would be a chair and a half that I can sink into to write, long hand, in a journal or read a book. Until then, I write where I can and when I can so that the little things aren’t forgotten. Even when it is just the chaos of bedtime punctuated by the giggles of an almost three month old boy as he’s tickled.

Plagarism: it’s what’s for breakfast

Courtesy of the fabulous ladies at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, we’ve got another fun case of editors who don’t quite think before speaking. Specifically, we’re talking about Judith Griggs of Cook’s Source who sent back this fabulous email:

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

in response to an author (the above mentioned Monica) asking for a small payment for the post she had done being lifted wholesale for use in an ad-heavy magazine without her permission or even a polite notification.

The ladies from SBTB linked to here, which had more of the full story. And the request, for a fun little google-bomb. To which, I’m spreading the love. Continue reading Plagarism: it’s what’s for breakfast