Best known for their Beyond series, the writing team of Bree Bridges and Donna Herren known as Kit Rocha, do what they do best in their new series Mercenary Librarians: create an engaging cast of three-dimensional characters that form a tight-knit, found family within a richly developed and diverse world. Their plots are fast-paced, action-packed, and rife with steamy Romance that is artfully balanced with non-romantic plots. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 28/07/2020
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Nina is an information broker with a mission–she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America. Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he’s fighting to survive. They’re on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process… Or they could do the impossible: team up.
RELEASE DATE: 31/08/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Maya has had a price on her head from the day she escaped the TechCorps. Genetically engineered for genius and trained for revolution, there’s only one thing she can’t do—forget. Gray has finally broken free of the Protectorate, but he can’t escape the time bomb in his head. His body is rejecting his modifications, and his months are numbered. When Maya’s team uncovers an operation trading in genetically enhanced children, she’ll do anything to stop them. Even risk falling back into the hands of the TechCorps. And Gray has found a purpose for his final days: keeping Maya safe.
In Deal with the Devil, we are transported to a new part of the post-apocalyptic, dystopian North America introduced in the Beyond series. Instead of the outskirts of Eden, Mercenary Librarians takes place in Atlanta in 2086, which has experienced a completely different evolution since the Flares. Here, humanity is controlled by TechCorps. The massive corporation has a monopoly on everything from food to basic tech. Genetic engineering and cloning is rampant and used to enforce their control through super-human soldiers, tech geniuses, and walking memory banks. The first book is foundational, establishing the world and the core cast of characters that make up the found family, and planting the seeds for multi-book plot arcs.
What I especially appreciated about this inaugural book is its premise and how that premise ties into such a uniquely balanced main character. Yes, our FMC Nina is a genetically constructed super-human soldier. But her real power comes from the community she has helped build and care for in her little corner of Atlanta. She retrieves books and media that have been abandoned or hidden, since much of the content has actually been destroyed, copying and distributing it to the masses. She doesn’t stop with books, though. Food, clothing, help fixing basic tech – Nina, Dani, and Maya are serving their community in defiance of TechCorps. Nina is inarguably “strong,” but she’s also one of the most loving and tender FMC’s I’ve read, bringing a depth and authenticity to the plot that’s quite powerful.
The series really amps up the pacing and energy with the second installment, The Devil You Know. Our two found families, now united as a single unit, are expanding their goodwill in service to their community when conflict strikes again on multiple fronts. Gray’s implant is failing, and there is nothing anyone can do about it; without the help of a TechCorps medic, Gray will die. A the same time, the team finds out that rogue genetic facilities are cloning and trafficking children, and a ghost from their past suddenly arrives clearly on a mission to end them all. Maya’s character arc is powerfully transformative. Over the course of the book, she evolves from someone fearful of her gifts to someone who understands and embraces her true self, and this transformation is truly inspiring. There are a lot of plot strands to contend with, making this book an incredible page-turner.
It’s obvious that The Devil You Know is really the launching point for this series. Nina and Knox have established their family and leadership, and there’s a fantastic quote that sums it up: “Just a proud mom and dad overseeing their misfit band of rogue supersoldiers, fugitive criminals, evil clones, and one random superkid.” The end of the second book presents the climax against the big bad that’s been developing since the beginning of the first, and a coming-together of various factions to support them in the hopes of taking on TechCorps and protecting the people of Atlanta. How these threads all converge makes for an extremely satisfying ending, and you can see how carefully the authors wove the plot strands together to create the launching point for the series.
Fans of the Beyond series will recognize Kit Rocha’s special brand of characterization. Their ensemble casts are diverse and unique drawing from myriad backgrounds, races, gender identities, sexual preferences, professions, and styles in a way that is never contrived or artificial, but flawlessly natural. No flat, one-dimensional characters here! Each member of this found family has a deeply constructed history and personality that has been masterfully developed to create unique individuals. One of the things I appreciate most about their writing is their use of POV in support of the ensemble cast; the majority of each book consists of the two POVs of the romantic couple, but then is augmented by special chapters sprinkled throughout each book that are the POV of one of the ensemble cast members. This technique broadens the experience of each book and creates a solid foundation for future installments in the series.
Fans of Kit Rocha will not be disappointed – Mercenary Librarians brings their unique brand of pulse-pounding, steamy SciFi-Romance to an entirely new set of readers via traditional publication. You do not want to miss out on the opportunity to get get in on this gripping series right from the beginning!
In this special edition of Monday Minis, I’ll be sharing thoughts on a few upcoming Historical Romance releases that I thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend to any lover of the genre! I received eARCs of all three of these books from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
Duke Gone Rogue is the first book I’ve read by Christy Carlyle, and with this one book, she has immediately ascended to the top of my favorite Historical Romance authors list. To escape his reputation as a heartless curmudgeon in late Victorian-era London, the Duke of Ashmore takes a much needed vacation in Cornwall where he is forced to come face-to-face with his father’s debauched past manifest in the pleasure estate he must now occupy. Maddie Ravenwood is a pillar of the Haven’s Cove community and must convince the unrelenting Duke of Ashmore to repair the eyesore of a property that he just wants to forget. Intentions quickly shift as the two start to develop an easy rapport that blossoms into something more. I happily give this book my highest of recommendations. I think it’s an excellent example of a mature, well-developed Romance that doesn’t rely on sex to build intensity or chemistry. There was no “pining and whining,” and from the beginning, Maddie doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind or articulate what she wants, not only in her life, but also from her love interest. How satisfying to read a FMC that flat out says: “I want you” and “Please touch me.” More of this in Romance please! The prose is solid, the characterization near perfection, and there is no contrived side-plot used to drive the story. This book is about Will and Maddie and how their lives are enriched through knowing each other and falling in love. I will definitely be reading on in this series and look forward to more from this author!
The second book in The Fifth Avenue Rebels series, The Lady Gets Lucky follows the relationship of wallflower Alice Lusk and rakish scoundrel Christopher “Kit” Ward as they navigate high society during the Gilded Age in Newport, New York, and Boston. At a house party in Newport, Alice decides to take her life into her own hands by asking Kit, a man purported to turn even the shiest of women into a vixen, to give her lessons on men so that she can find a husband and escape her overbearing mother. But as the lessons progress and they get to know one another, an unexpected relationship begins to develop, and they are forced to examine themselves, the emotional scars of their pasts, and each other to chart a path forward in their lives. This book is only the second I have read by Joanna Shupe. I was so enamored of My Dirty Duke, I wanted to get a sense of her writing in a full-length novel, and I was not disappointed. The relationship is slow-burn, taking the entirety of the book to develop, which makes the HEA that much more satisfying and authentic. But the highlight of this book is Shupe’s characterization. All the characters are lovable, not just Alice and Kit! The supporting cast (the unlucky Duke Lockwood and the naughty, but strong Nellie Young) piqued my interest, and I’m eager to read on, hopeful to see their stories develop in the broader context of the series.
Eva Leigh’s The Good Girl’s Guide to Rakes is the first book of her new Last Chance Scoundrels series set in Regency-era London. Kieran and Finn’s parents are furious after the two rakish brothers help their best friend Dom leave their sister at the altar. Oops! They won’t see a penny of their parent’s money unless all three are married to respectable women. Kieran takes the challenge head-on and asks Dom’s sister Celeste to introduce him to proper society. But Celeste is sick of proper society. She’ll help Kieran, but only on the condition that he return the favor and show her the scandalous side of London. Throughout both their tame daytime excursions and their clandestine nighttime outings, the two find they are far more similar than outward appearances and reputations would have led either to believe. Their partnership turns into a steamy love affair that will have you frantically turning the page for more! For me, this book was entirely a pleasure read. I enjoyed the characters and found them engaging. The chemistry between Kieran and Celeste was intense and their encounters wonderfully steamy. Kieran’s dabbling in poetry was a delightfully unexpected, and well-executed, addition. The premise was a bit contrived and unlikely for my taste, but the book was so fun that it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment. I will definitely read on in the series – I cannot wait to find out what happens with Finn and Dom!
Stephanie Burgis does it again, authoring another whimsical and comforting historical romantic fantasy. Scales and Sensibility delivers on everything you’d expect from a Fantasy-of-Manners romp through Regency-era England – gentlemen and ladies, country estates and balls, delightfully quirky characters, and a touch of magic. What a soothing and wholesome read! I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 04/10/2020
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
Sensible, practical Elinor Tregarth really did plan to be the model poor relation when she moved into Hathergill Hall. She certainly never meant to kidnap her awful cousin Penelope’s pet dragon. She never expected to fall in love with the shameless – but surprisingly sweet – fortune hunter who came to court Penelope And she never dreamed that she would have to enter into an outrageous magical charade to save her younger sisters’ futures.
However, even the most brilliant scholars of 1817 England still haven’t ferreted out all the lurking secrets of rediscovered dragonkind…and even the most sensible of heroines can still make a reckless wish or two when she’s pushed. Now Elinor will have to find out just how rash and resourceful she can be when she sets aside all common sense. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll even be impractical enough to win her own true love and a happily ever after…with the unpredictable and dangerous “help” of the magical creature who has adopted her.
With a single breath of fire from Elinor’s magical pet dragon, Sir Jessamyn, Elinor is veiled in an illusion and the stage is set for this delightful Regency-era romantic comedy complete with society scheming, blackmail, stunning character and plot reveals, and a wholesome HEA.
The plot is driven by Elinor’s attempts to hide her illusion while servants and house guests begin to guess her secret and use it against her. Blackmail abounds, striking Elinor from all angles; she is forced into a balancing act of lies and scheming to ensure her secret stays in tact to protect those she loves. Conflict also arises from the strong feelings Elinor develops for Benedict Hawkins. She begrudgingly supports his attempts to woo her awful cousin Penelope for the dowry that will save his family and estate, even as she falls more and more in love with him. While all of this transpires, Elinor is also dealing with the revelation that dragons are magical creatures! Will she ever be able to reverse the effects of Sir Jessamyn’s magic?
These elements all weave together to form a truly compelling and satisfying Fantasy-of-Manners plot that will have you quickly paging through the last third of the book! The relationship between Elinor and Benedict is heart-warming and sweet, and although not the focus of the story, is adeptly formed to contribute just the right amount of romance to the plot.
My favorite part of the book was the cast of delightfully plucky characters. Burgis’ characterization is magnificent; she creates an ensemble cast where each character is uniquely distinct. From Sir Jessamyn’s gross little burps and diarrhea, to Mr. Aubrey’s eccentric, scholarly obsession with dragons, to Lady Hathergill’s brutally hilarious honesty after Elinor makes her second wish, the cast of characters are the shining star of this book. The antagonists are equally well-written, and you will love to hate Penelope, Lord Hathergill, and the suspicious Mr. and Miss Armitage.
Legacy of Flame is a fantasy of politics and intrigue that relies heavily on dialogue and exposition to guide the reader through the world and history of Queen Elia and Prince Syllian of the Ice Realm. The book is not action-packed, and yet it did manage to hold my attention. I’ll attempt to unpack why herein. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 13/05/2020
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
A winter queen and prince of flame, bound together by fate.
Following a deadly attack on a druid grove, twenty-five-year-old Elia Kolenikova, queen of the Ice Realm, is the first and only monarch to take a stand against the fire priest order, a reclusive band of sorcerers with unlimited power. Determined to find a way to protect druids from further violence, Elia turns to the annals of history, tracing her knowledge of fire priests back to a time when a previous Ice Queen was intimately tied to the rise of the order. There’s just one problem: what Elia reads in those accounts may not be true.
To unravel the mystery, Elia needs more than an ally—she needs a fire priest. An immortal Ice Realm prince who’s been missing from the history books for centuries.
Syllian, like his father before him, sacrificed his mortal body to be born again in flames. Two thousand years later, he’s hunted at every turn by fire priests seeking revenge for his betrayal of the order. The threat means little until a rumor reaches him: Queen Elia Kolenikova is asking questions. About fire priests, about druids, and most dangerously of all, about the truth.
Emerging from the shadows could cost Syllian his life. But if he doesn’t, the lies and propaganda of the fire priest order will cost Elia hers first.
The main highlight of this book is its world-building, which is rich with developed races, kingdoms, politics, and magic. I especially appreciated the presentation of the various factions that draw their magic from different sources, the Druids relying heavily upon tying themselves to nature in a harmonious manner to draw out their abilities.
I found the literary structure of Part 1 of this book intriguing. The author switches between Queen Elia’s present-day POV and excerpts from a novel she is reading about the Queen and King of the Ice Realm and the emergence of the Fire Priests 2000 years ago. Although I found it a bit confusing at first, this structure was an effective way to set up the plot, because it helped lay the foundation of the main theme – honesty in history and politics. The approach was novel and a compelling device to use given that the theme centered around the truth of the novel Queen Elia is reading.
With Part 2, the book transitions out of the previous structure into the present day, focusing heavily on dialogue and exposition. Prince Syllian takes the stage, and the history of the Ice Realm, the battle between mages and Fire Priests, and the truth behind the two books written about his parents are exposed through long conversations between himself, Elia, and a third character whose reveal is quite surprising. While I found the intricacies and truth of the history interesting – it did hold my attention – it is a bit of an “info-dump.” If this type of plot device, i.e. exposition through dialogue, doesn’t work for you, you may not find the plot compelling enough to hold your attention.
In terms of character development, Syllian has the most dramatic character arc. Through his explanations of the true history of the Ice Realm and the Fire Priests to Elia, he comes to realize his own contributions to the current state of affairs with the Druids. In some respects, he has repeated the “sins of the father,” emulating Casimir’s manipulation of history and reserving certain truth to serve his purposes. Granted, Syllian’s rationale for doing so was noble, but therein lies the major theme of this book – regardless of altruistic motivations, changing or massaging history lays a minefield of potential evils, ultimately resulting in situations as bad as those they were meant to avoid. Through their dialogue, Syllian is brought to this new understanding and works to rectify his sins by explaining the truth to the Druids. Unfortunately, the characters’ reactions to these realizations were difficult to believe. The realizations and their acceptance came far too easily without tension or conflict, resolving themselves simply through additional dialogue, which detracted from the authenticity of the characterization and plot.
It should be noted that, in some circles, this book was presented as a Fantasy-Romance, but it is not a Romance. This book does contain a romantic subplot that starts about two-thirds in, but it is not central to the plot, nor is it developed to a point where it significantly contributes to either character’s development.
Finally, I had a minor issue with the prose. At times the language felt “elevated,” the dialogue being “court-like.” But then it would abruptly switch to using modern colloquialisms such as “hey” or calling someone a “prick” or an “asshole,” which took me out of the world. Aside from that, I found the prose to be readable and pleasant.
What a compelling and well-written book. Truly. Bravo! I haven’t read a tragic, Gothic novel in quite some time, and I must say that this was quite the satisfying read, scratching an itch I didn’t realize I had. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 03/10/2020
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
In the blackened heart of a cursed forest, a banshee haunts her crumbling castle with lethal screams.
Lady Vago is trapped in this place. She cannot fulfill her purpose as a banshee: to warn her loved ones of their deaths and watch over them while they pass. To solve the mystery of her imprisonment, she must sift through the rubble and ruin that surrounds her. By communing with old paintings, broken furniture, and even the stones themselves, she rediscovers who she was in life.
Before she was Lady Vago, she was Rovena Stoddard, a sharp-witted horse merchant’s daughter that caught the eye of a charming baron. Lord Kalsten Vago’s life as a wandering knight was over, but it inspired visions of a better life for his most vulnerable subjects. Rovena was far less afraid of bold change than his staunch and loyal steward, who saw her presence as a threat to Lord Kalsten’s success. Love and shared dreams alone wouldn’t overcome the controversy of the couple’s hasty and unequal union, as well as the trials of governing a fledgling barony—Rovena knew that. What she failed to recognize was the deeper darkness taking root in Vago lands and hearts…
Every memory of what Rovena loved is a reminder of what she lost, but she cannot let grief halt her search. Devoted spectres of ash are begging their lady for an end to their torment, and she will not let their agony–or her own–go unanswered anymore.
The novel starts out with a frame narrative; the reader is introduced to a banshee, haunting the insides of a castle’s ruins, burned and destroyed centuries ago. The banshee searches the rooms, halls, and revenants for clues to her past, trying to understand her pain and why she is tied to the castle. Through her explorations, the reader is transported back in time to the events that lead to the banshee’s existence. She is Rovena, the Lady Vago, and the book tells the love story between her and Lord Kalsten and the eventual downfall of their lives and their barony at the hands of jealous and prejudiced attendants and a wicked villain. The use of the frame narrative here is quite clever, because the overall tone for the book is set from the beginning; there is a frame of tragic sadness if you will, such that when we learn the details of our heroes’ demise, the sadness is that much more profound.
There were so many things I thoroughly enjoyed about this book; a few of the highlights include subtle aspects of the world-building that made for a less traditional setting (e.g. a complete lack of gender norms, prejudices focused on class as opposed to gender or race, etc.), character building (especially Rovena), and the frame narrative. I was also struck by the prose. To me, the prose in this book is beautiful. It hits the sweet spot for me (a reader that prefers literary prose) of being “elevated” without coming off as pretentious. I truly enjoyed this writing.
Tragic character archetypes are superbly developed and employed. Kalsten is set up as the archetypical tragic victim; he is honest, open, fair, and madly and unconditionally in love with Rovena for who she was as a person and not simply her beauty, his only character flaw a complete (albeit naïve) trust in everyone around him. The construction of his character was so adeptly done to serve the story and tragedy as the true, undeserving victim of the entire affair.
Rovena is presented as the archetypical tragic hero whose fatal flaw contributes to the traditional (Shakespearean) piling of bodies on the stage at the end of the final act. She reacts too quickly. She is rash. She has a bit of a chip on her shoulder that amplifies her belief that she knows better than others and that she sees the entire picture, even when she doesn’t. That little bit of hubris combined with her rush to judgement and action, drove her to making these two decisions, which ultimately contributed to her demise. But that’s what’s so great about a tragedy, right? You love the hero, and the hero is most definitely wronged. But the hero is also fundamentally flawed, a contributor to their own downfall, and that factor makes that downfall all the more tragic. Chef’s Kiss
Finally, there is Dugan, Lord Vago’s steward. His jealously and prejudice were significant contributors to not only the deaths of Lord and Lady Vago, but also the fall of the barony. Although he was not the ultimate villain, he was the hapless antihero that paved the way for the true villain to seize his power through wretched means. For whatever reason, these characters always trigger my disdain more than the villains themselves!
It should be noted that the tone and foreshadowing of the frame narrative still do not prepare you for just how jarring the tragic events actually are. This book definitely needs content warnings (especially with respect to infant mortality), because of the graphic nature of some of the final scenes. There were a couple of times I thought – how could this get any worse for Rovena? And then it does. But, the scenes were purposeful and effective; I did not find them gratuitous.
I will read on in this series. In fact, I am champing at the bit for book two! I absolutely have to know what happens next and whether the noble, female knight will be able to wrest justice from the architects of Lord and Lady Vago’s demise. Well done! Looking forward to more!