The Rebel Prince

The Rebel Prince by Celine Kiernan is the last in a trilogy about the medieval-fantasy, semi-political adventures of Wynter Moorehawke.

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Blurb:  King. Country. Crown. What would you die for?

Wynter Moorehawk has braved bandits and Loup-Garous to find her way to Alberon–the exiled, rebel prince. But now that she’s there, she will learn firsthand that politics is a deadly mistress. With the king and his heir on the edge of war and alliances made with deadly enemies, the Kingdom is torn not just by civil war–but strife between the various factions as well. Wynter knows that no one has the answer to the problems that plague the Kingdom–and she knows that their differences will not just tear apart her friends–but the Kingdom as well.

Wynter, her friends, and the Merron tribe arrive at Alberon’s camp and reality slams back around our trio, reminding them of their social and political divisions. I hate diplomatic, political speak and it’s frustrating, at first, watching Razi and Wynter dance around the issues with Alberon. But whether it’s a result of their close relationship or the long journey away from court, it doesn’t take too long to cut to the chase and lay it all on the table. Finally, we get the answers that have been sought since the trilogy began. But not all at once – we get bits and pieces slowly building to a whole. And a whole ‘nother side to the story as we finally get to meet Alberon and learn his side of everything that has been happening.

And it’s a mess. A huge, jumbly, messy mess of wrongs and rights and do the ends justify the means and how to save a kingdom and it’s people and alliances made with those you hate for the sake of a purpose and how far should a leader have to sacrifice or compromise for his duty and responsibilities. The division between Alberon & his father is chasmic and I honestly thought war was inevitable. I just couldn’t see how Wynter and Razi would be able to mediate or resolve the differences of opinion (and approach) between the king and his disowned son.

Wynter also has to make her own choices and decide where to stand on her own convictions; political and social expectations, and the relationship she has established with Christopher, a social inferior so far as the court is concerned. In the second book, Christopher made his stance clear when introducing Wynter to his people and protecting her from the Loups-Garous. Wynter has the same opportunity here and you can’t help but love Christopher all the more more for his patience and lack of pressure while she wrestles with the decision.

You’ve heard the cliche about a crisis balancing on the edge of a knife? Well, it’s quite literal in The Rebel Prince. And not everything gets wrapped up in a pretty bow once the fog clears and the weapons are laid down. But it feels like it does. After a long series of drawing out every detail and explaining every action, the story stops in the middle of a huge tumult and then is wrapped up in a sugary-sweet epilogue. If you felt cheated by The Hobbit (and Lord of the Rings) employ of “The eagles are coming” then you’ll likely feel a bit excluded from the resolutory action here.

Oh, but you finally get an answer for the whole wolves question. Frankly, while the ghosts served a narrative purpose in the first and second book (albeit small purposes), the talking cats were fun but felt like a bit of an unnecessary contrivance. And then you get “wolves” right in the latter third of this last volume and it felt out of left field. Going back & rereading, I can see where Kiernan sprinkled little hints along the way. But I think there has to be some basis to foreshadowing. Explaining what I mean through a different popular series – in Twilight, the hints that are laid regarding Edward being a vampire only work because the reader knows about the concept of vampires in the first place. The semi-fantasy/semi-reality world Wynter lives in never hints at the existence of anything outside of ghosts and talking cats (both of which are mentioned almost immediately in the first chapter of the first volume) so “wolves” being anything besides a solely canine-type animal felt like a sudden lurch in the established world-building.

All that being said, I enjoyed this series and it is difficult to browse through a volume looking for a particular passage as I find myself an hour later, happily rereading the entire thing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Crowded Shadows

The Crowded Shadows by Celine Kiernan is the second in a trilogy about the medieval-fantasy, semi-political adventures of Wynter Moorehawke.

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Blurb:  Brother. Ally. Enemy. Who would you trust?

Every tyrant who ever threatened the Kingdom is gathering to Alberon’s table, and the forest is alive with spies, wolves, and bandits. Within these crowded shadows, Protector Lady Wynter Moorehawke travels alone and unprotected, determined that she shall find the rebel prince and heal the rift that has come between the King and his legitimate heir. But who is an ally and who is a foe? In this, the second volume of The Moorehawke Trilogy, old friends and even older enemies ensure that Wynter is never certain of who she can trust.

The book picks up where the first novel ended; Wynter, alone on the road, hoping to somehow find the hiding Prince Alberon. Fortunately she almost immediately stumbles on the two people she most wants to see, Christopher and Razi, who are secretly traveling in the woods for the exact same purpose. Together, they travel on and soon encounter more than one element from Christopher’s past. 

The Crowded Shadows is my favorite volume in the trilogy. Just picking it up to refresh my mind on one or two parts of the story was difficult as I kept finding myself sucked into the narrative. Firstly, unlike The Poison Throne which all took place within the palace grounds, this part of the story involves their travels. The setting, mainly surrounded by trees and around open campfires, the occasional stop at an inn, and various encounters with different enemies and friends, made for a much different vibe. Almost carefree despite the constant danger, after the stifling atmosphere of the court.

The second reason, and the main pull for me, was halfway through the book when they meet up with a Merron tribe.  Although not Christopher’s specific tribe, they are still his people, and it was fascinating to encounter such a unique people group. Their culture and beliefs were well developed and, while not always pleasant, believable. I am always intrigued by culture and the nomadic Merron’s similarity to Vikings was fascinating. We also learn a great deal more regarding how Razi and Christopher met, and Christopher’s backstory. It’s horrible but finally sheds light on one of the mysteries in this tale filled with unknowns.

As before, the relationships drive the story. Away from the strained politics of the court, the friendship between the main trio deepens as does the romance between Wynter and Christopher. The blurred physical boundaries continue on in much the same vein as before, and while the line is never crossed, it isn’t due to Wynter’s unwillingness. But in the context of the story, it made some sense. Away from society, living without pretense, it can be easy to forget the rules and just focus on the principles underneath them. As Wynter puts it, “We have made our promises to each other, Razi.”

The slight fantasy elements are not as apparent in this volume. Except for two seconds in the very last chapter, they don’t encounter any ghosts or cats so the realistic medieval environment settles around the characters. There is constant talk of the Loups-Garous as wolves but I was never sure how to take that – a description of their evil ways or something literal. There are also some other uncomfortable elements regarding the Merron. Homosexuality is accepted in their culture and the narrative, while not explicit, does not hide the fact. And while the Kingdom has always been painted in a way that made them seem somewhat “Christian” in their beliefs, the Merron are not and their pagan beliefs and practices caught me off guard. (Though had I been a little more familiar with Vikings…) The story is still violent and doesn’t gloss over many details but it doesn’t revel in them either.

Despite the fact that the story ends without meeting Alberon, it doesn’t feel like wasted filler as many middle books do. The main trio go through quite a journey to arrive on Alberon’s doorstep; not just physically, but in every other regard. And their purpose slowly transforms from just “find Alberon and figure out what’s going on” to “not just the Kingdom is at stake.” The next volume entices with the promise to finally reveal all.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Prodigal Nights

I think I need to work on a review format. Reviewing one book should not take me hours, right? *sigh*

Prodigal
Blurb:    For two returning prodigals will the challenge to live “good” withstand the allure to be bad?

After a nasty divorce, Bethany Davis returned to college and lived up to the low standards set by gossips. Her dad’s stroke has now brought her home, and Bethany finds herself in a dilemma–how can she get beyond her past, learn to trust again, and live a “good” life? 

Bethany’s father’s involvement in the defense industry adds excitement to her expectation of a boring life back home. However, bodyguards, stalkers, and international secrets are the least of her problems–opening her heart to trust again is a totally different matter. And the mutual attraction with her new team leader, Jason Ross, spells the possibility of big-time heart trouble.

Jason’s days of wild living are over, and he’s determined to prove to himself and God that he’s on the right path. When Bethany steps into his office, he sees the girl of his dreams, but is she God’s gift or Satan’s temptress?

Maybe it’s just me, but I think this suspenseful romance is lacking a blurb that adequately entices. While it states the central conflict well, it does so in a way that feels slightly off-putting, which is a shame because I really enjoyed the book and would hate for potential readers to get scared off by the “goody-two-shoes” blurb.

Prodigal Nights by Lisa Buffaloe is primarily Bethany’s story. Married young, things had fallen apart dramatically and when vicious gossip began to fly, Bethany had fled town and her faith to live the stereo-typical wild college life. That era behind her, she’s determined to move on when she is tricked into a summer back home. Bethany quickly finds herself caught between the new path she’s laid for herself and an attraction to a coworker. Afraid to risk her heart and determined to avoid physical temptations, where can Bethany find the strength to do the right thing?  Add bodyguards, a possible stalker and international intrigue from her father’s involvement in military defenses and Bethany’s got enough trouble to keep sleep far from her on these prodigal nights…

I enjoyed this book. A simple read but with more meat than an inspirational Harlequin, I found the suspenseful parts creepy and exciting. You know how some books (and movies) keep up the intrigue by having the character’s distracted by one problem only to have another creep in while the reader wants to shout “look behind you!”? Well, I was immensely gratified in this book because the character’s were smart enough to put two and two together and know something more was going on. I always respect intelligent, realistic characters!

I also appreciated the perspective on the physical side of a Christian romance. So many inspirational romances gloss over that aspect of human physiology as if Christian’s are exempted from “temptations of the flesh”. It’s unrealistic and I’d rather a romance prepare young ladies for those feelings than pretend they don’t exist.

Frankly, the only part of the book I disagreed with was the opinion the main couple seemed to have that it was harder for them to “be good” because they knew what they were missing. Coming from someone who married the only man she ever dated, I distinctly remember how strong those physical temptations can be and I didn’t have past indiscretions fueling the desires.

I did also think two of Bethany’s coworker friends were rather stereotypical. I would have enjoyed it more if Rhonda, the solid Christian, had been the one with spiky, tinted hair. But that’s a personal preference of mine, always going against the stereotype, and I doubt any other reader would notice.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Komantcia

It’s sad this book seems to be out of print & doesn’t even have a description on Amazon.

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Inside flaps: The Comanches were the most fierce and warlike of all the Plains Indians. Their raiding parties terrorized settlers throughout northern mexico and the American Southwest during the 1860′s.

Komantcia opens when the Comanches are at the height of their power. The time is 1865 and Pedro, a young Spanish aristocrat who is accounted the finest guitarist in Spain, has been banished to his uncle’s rancho in northern Mexico. 

The rancho is hit by a Comanche raid. Pedro’s mother and uncle are killed. Fifteen-year-old Pedro and his younger brother Roberto are seized and brutally plunged into Comanche life. This is the story of the struggle between contrasting cultures for the heart and mind of a proud, sensitive boy.

Despite his resistance, Pedro is gradually absorbed into the tribe and accepts its folkways and mores. He becomes a renowned horse thief and grows to love the wild, sweet life.

He learns how to trail an enemy, and how to successfully hunt wild turkeys and other small game. Few things equal, in any way of life, the exhilaration of a buffalo hunt, as a small band of Indians pursue and fell great numbers of the immense, shaggy beasts. The Indian method of horseback riding is a revelation. The young men practice for hours at throwing themselves over their mounts to ride suspended along the horse’s side, virtually invisible.

Pedro’s story is an absorbing and total look into the life of the fearsome Comanches. The reader comes, with Pedro, to an understanding of their beliefs and of the forces that guide their lives. There are many fascinating Indians in Pedro’s new life – some good and some bad, and yet all, finally, with their own human dignity.

KOMANTCIA is built upon carefully researched documentation of Comanche life, and of the fate of their prisoners. Pedro’s story is a testament to the survival power of mankind. It shows how a strong faith can sustain a young man through the darkest of ordeals.

Komantcia, first published in 1965, is about a Spanish teen, Pedro, that is unfairly exiled from Spain along with his family & they move to Mexico (though nowadays we call that area the SouthWest of the USA). He and his younger brother are captured by Comanches in a raid their first night in Mexico & the story is about Pedro’s struggle to fit in & survive, biding his time while he waits for a chance to escape.

Pedro is given as a slave to an abusive brave and has a horrible time adjusting to his new life. But slowly he changes and earns himself freedoms, especially as he learns that he has a knack with horses. He begins to see the other side to life with the Comanche and meets kind people among the tribe. Gradually, he becomes a full member of the tribe, (adopted by the chief, I think), and eventually falls in love, all while still thinking he’s going to escape when the chance comes.

He and his brother were separated after the raid and when they meet again his brother was so young he had forgotten his life from before and it tears Pedro up to see it. Yet he doesn’t realize that he has changed, too.

Komantcia is a huge book and rather dark at times. Not gruesomely detailed but people die and are injured and mistreated. It’s packed with historical details and emotions and when I read this as a young teen, I felt like I was there with Pedro. It’s been close to 20 years and I still remember this book as amazing. It’s written by the author, Harold Kieth, who is more well known for writing Rifles for Watie, a Newbury medal winner.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Tempestuous (Wondrous Strange trilogy #3)

Tempestuous brings back the heavy Shakespearean correlation with Kelley working on a performance of The Tempest. Unlike Darklight where the inclusion felt forced, The Tempest fit perfectly with Tempestuous and I feel it was a clever choice on Livingston’s part to tie the plays into the books the way she did. I actually hadn’t read/seen The Tempest before reading this volume but had to check it out afterwards. Again, if you haven’t read the first two volumes, this review can’t help but be slightly spoilery.

Tempestuous by Lesley Livingston

Blurb: “I don’t love Sonny Flannery.”

That’s the lie Kelley Winslow told to protect the boy she loves from a power he doesn’t know he possesses. Devastated, Sonny retreats—to a haven for Lost Fae that’s hidden deep underneath New York City.

But Kelley’s not about to let things end in heartbreak. To get Sonny back, she’s got to find out who’s after his magick—and how to use her own. She’s got to uncover who’s recruiting Janus Guards to murderously hunt innocent Faerie. She’s got to help rebuild the shattered theater company she called family. And she’s got to do it all without getting dangerously distracted by the Fennrys Wolf, whose legendary heart of stone seems to melt whenever he’s around Kelley.

If I thought Darklight started slowly, it was nothing compared to the depressing vibe that begins Tempestuous. But really, a lot is happening right from the beginning. Livingston just does such a good job expressing the melancholy, heartbrokenness of the characters that you become wrapped in it.

One of my favorite things about this book was that the characters actually think the exact same things you are thinking as you read. Kelley’s lie to Sonny is confronted by several characters. And you can understand her reasons, even if you don’t agree with them, just like you can understand the arguments against her choices. Finding a book that remembers the reader isn’t stupid and even goes out of its way to acknowledge our thoughts and questions? What a breath of fresh air!

This is the first volume where the prologue didn’t bother me in the least. It fits and doesn’t alert us to anything we don’t already know. Several Fae are introduced or fleshed out that were previously side characters. Kelley has a Mary Sue moment but promptly messes it up thereby saving herself from a stereotypical end. The action is much more drawn out in this volume. Unlike the last 2 volumes, the action runs the length of the book (after the slow start) though, of course, building toward the ending. I found myself thinking this series would make an excellent movie due to the pace.

The story wraps up nicely. Everything explained, not necessarily tied up with a bow but no dangling threads or unanswered questions. And while I feel Kelley and Sonny’s story is done, there is plenty of room for a spin-off series featuring Fenn. (The first of which was actually released just a few months ago!!)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Darklight (Wondrous Strange trilogy #2)

Darklight picks up a few weeks/months after the events of Wondrous Strange. It’s difficult to say much about Darklight without giving away some of the reveals in Wondrous Strange so consider yourself warned!

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Blurb: Faerie can’t lie . . . or can they?

Much has changed since autumn, when Kelley Winslow learned she was a Faerie princess, fell in love with changeling guard Sonny Flannery, and saved the mortal realm from the ravages of the Wild Hunt. Now Kelley is stuck in New York City, rehearsing Romeo and Juliet and missing Sonny more with every stage kiss, while Sonny has been forced back to the Otherworld and into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the remaining Hunters and Queen Mabh herself.

When a terrifying encounter sends Kelley tumbling into the Otherworld, her reunion with Sonny is joyful but destined to be cut short. An ancient, hidden magick is stirring, and a dangerous new enemy is willing to risk everything to claim that power. Caught in a web of Faerie deception and shifting allegiances, Kelley and Sonny must tread carefully, for each next step could topple a kingdom . . . or tear them apart.

I felt like this book took just a bit for the pace to pick up. The characters were continuing with their lives and adjusting to the changes and things just plodded along for a little while. But once things picked up (about 1/3 through?), they really got going. I read somewhere that this series was originally slated to be 2 volumes and I think you can feel it a little bit in the slow pace here. But I don’t feel like anything unnecessary was really added, either. Everything had a point and went into the story’s development so the additional pages weren’t a waste.

Again, I felt like the prologue in this volume gave away plot. Well, not so much gave away as tipped the reader off to the next big reveal. I spent my reading hyper-aware of any hint or reference that tied back to the prologue. So events that would have surprised me lost that element since I was already on the lookout. But at the same time, those revelations would probably have seemed to come out of left field if it weren’t for the prologue…

Kelley stars in another play - Romeo and Juliet - but this time the correlation with the plot wasn’t nearly as obvious to me and felt a bit forced. But I still enjoyed the inclusion of the play and how the play tended to relate to Kelley’s life. Kelley was a bit more of a teenager in this book but I still felt her actions and attitude fit and weren’t obnoxious. The revelations kept coming in this volume. Some predictable, some not, and many tying back to the first volume neatly. The humor wasn’t as obvious but still present occasionally.

There was the introduction of the obligatory love rival – only not so much. And that’s what kept the book from heading into overdone territory. Fennrys Wolf is an interesting and somewhat mysterious character, briefly introduced in the first volume and explored a bit more in this book. But rather than a love rival, his character helps flesh out this world a bit more since up until now it’s been mostly Kelley and Sonny’s perspective. We never see things from his point of view but his presence causes ripples that prevent the focus being nothing but Kelley/Sonny sappy romance.

I’d like to insert here that my love of Kelley’s co-actor Gentleman Jack knows no bounds. I’d really enjoy a book where he played a much larger role than he gets here. Oh – and the last third of this book is as tense and action packed as the climax of Wondrous Strange. Unlike the first volume, this book ends on a cliffhanger and you will do yourself a favor if you have the third and final volume ready at hand.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Wondrous Strange (#1 of trilogy)

When I finished the Wondrous Strange trilogy by first-time author Lesley Livingston, I had to share my opinion immediately. There is such a mass of YA fantasy on the market these days – a genre I love and so I should be in reader’s heaven – but sadly, many of these books are sub-par and disappointing. So many begin with an interesting premise but lack substance or any real plot – there’s so much potential that quickly draws me into the story but no follow-through leaving me deflated and disillusioned. Wondrous Strange, however, deserves any and all positive attention it garners.

I’ll admit, the reason I ended up picking up Wondrous Strange was the cover. But the blurb sounded interesting so I decided to give it a try (without checking out any reviews ahead of time – something I rarely do anymore). Let’s just say that I wasn’t even halfway through the first book when I ran out and bought the rest, I was that interested and confident in the story. So now I’ve got a mismatched set of one softback and two hardbacks which drives me crazy but waiting wasn’t an option. ;P

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Blurb:  Since the dawn of time, the Faerie have taken. . . .

Seventeen-year-old actress Kelley Winslow always thought faeries were just something from childhood stories. Then she meets Sonny Flannery. He’s a changeling—a mortal taken as an infant and raised among Faerie—and within short order he’s turned Kelley’s heart inside out and her life upside down.

For Kelley’s beloved Central Park isn’t just a park—it’s a gateway between her ordinary city and the Faerie’s dangerous, bewitching Otherworld. Now Kelley’s eyes are opening not just to the Faerie that surround her, but to the heritage that awaits her . . . a destiny both wondrous and strange.

The blurb does a good job of presenting an intriguing novel without giving too much away so I’m not going to ruin it by spoiling anything. Lesley Livingston creates a blend of reality mixed with a hidden Faerie world largely based in Shakespeare. Kelley is acting in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the play is cleverly brought to life and interwoven with the plot of the book. (Who’d have guessed Shakespeare’s plays were accounts of actual events?) ;)

Things I really liked about the book: The humor is good. There were definitely spots that actually made me laugh – most memorably would be Sonny’s first encounter with Kelley. And pretty much everything involving the kelpie – you’ll know what I mean. The book kept me guessing – some things were obvious – some things appeared obvious but then a twist would come along and I wouldn’t know anymore. Kelley and Sonny are both strong individuals but not obnoxious. They definitely have their “teenage” moments but they don’t behave idiotically. I also really appreciated that Kelley had to work hard to accomplish things – she had her shining moments and her failures. It saved her from becoming a Mary Sue. The romance is a little insta-love but tolerable.

The epilogue was a little cheesy but still good. This book had a completed feel even though there were still some unresolved things from the story; it felt very wrapped up and the ending was satisfying. Also – a warning. Don’t read the excerpt inside the cover unless you want to be slightly spoiled – it immediately spills some pretty big beans. So does the prologue, though not as badly. Wondrous Strange is a good example of a book that really didn’t need the prologue to draw in the reader. And since it’s a scene from the climax, you spend the rest of the book knowing it’s going to happen while the characters strive to prevent it. It killed the reading experience just a bit as I like to be along for the ride, guessing outcomes. So if you aren’t too strict about your reading, I suggest skipping the prologue. You won’t lose anything and will retain more of the intrigue.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.