Monday, August 8, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Daughter of Sparta by Claire M. Andrews

I just finished another YA adventure based on Greek mythology, Daughter of Sparta, by Claire M. Andrews. 

Daphne (and her two brothers) are outsiders in Sparta, brought up by adoptive parents to be warriors but never quite belonging. During a critical Spartan contest, a race which will determine the success or failure of their yearly harvest, Daphne is lured into the woods where she meets the goddess Artemis. The goddess has a task for her. Daphne must retrieve nine items stolen from Olympus by a traitor to the gods. Without these items, the gods’ powers will wane and the Olympians will fall. 

Daphne is to be aided and guided by Artemis’ brother, the god Apollo. Since Artemis has enslaved Daphne’s favorite brother to ensure cooperation, Daphne hasn’t much choice but to do the gods’ bidding.

She (and Apollo) embark upon a series of dark adventures, encountering a plethora of Greek gods and goddesses, legendary heroes and heroines, and mythological creatures/monsters. The Olympians know who their enemy is, but not which of them has betrayed the family to that enemy. It’s Daphne’s job to find out. Daphne has to decide who to trust and who to fight. 

Trained by the Spartans, she has the speed and strength of a warrior. At first, she puts her faith in her training, but slowly learns her powers are superhuman. Unfortunately, no one will explain to her why. Much of the questing is performed on a need-to-know basis, which helps build suspense even though it doesn’t always seem logical.

The adventures come at the team fast and furious. (In addition to Daphne and Apollo, this team includes a friend/boyfriend of Daphne’s who has been turned into a wolf, and, for a period of time, the Greek hero Theseus.) The pace is fairly quick, though at times it feels like too much is crammed in and threads are left hanging, making it apparent there will have to be at least one more book to complete the tale.

Daphne is an admirable character and her supporting cast is entertaining. It’s a fun book to read and held my attention throughout as each new villain or ally entered the picture. The world-building was intricate and credible. However, it is a typical superhero story in that there was never really any doubt that Daphne would succeed in overcoming the increasingly dangerous difficulties thrown at her. For me, the battles tended to blur after a while. Nevertheless, it was a clever way to tie together many Greek myths.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Devil and the Viscount by Mary Lancaster

I’m a huge fan of Mary Lancaster’s Regency Romances. Nevertheless, I approached her new series, Gentlemen of Pleasure, with some trepidation. The new novels are in Dragonblade Publishing’s Flame line of steamy romances and come with a warning (or advertisement) of a scorching-hot read with multiple sex scenes.

Steamier romances are not my favorite reads. Still, book one, The Devil and the Viscount, continues to revolve around the Maida Pleasure Gardens and includes many of the characters introduced in that series, so I decided to give it a try. This is a short and rather sweet romance focusing on Rollo Darblay, a viscount and a well-known rake, who has shown his face in previous books. Rollo has recently inherited his title and a mountain of debt. He needs to marry an heiress and is dreading it. The female protagonist is Miss Gina Wallace, an heiress, who is betrothed to another fortune-hunting gent–an earl who is significantly older.

Gina has always been an obedient daughter and she is ready to marry the stuffy old Lord Longton because her father arranged it and has given his word. But it’s the last thing in the world that she wants.

Gina and Rollo meet in the sitting room of the hotel alongside the Maida Gardens. Gina is on her way to London with a respectable chaperone to be introduced to society (and to be evaluated more closely by Lord Longton.) Rollo is at the hotel with a group of friends who are drinking and gambling. He wanders into the sitting room for a respite. They strike up a conversation then sneak out to the gardens for a dance. (The chaperone is in her room with a headache.) They spend the next day together as well and grow enamored of each other. They spend one passionate night together. Then, they must part.

Although they fulfill the requirements of what each other needs in a marriage partner (Rollo has a title and Gina has money), Gina can’t back out of her betrothal to Lord Longton without betraying her father. So when their paths cross again and again at society functions, they have to behave themselves. Until they can’t.

The characters are charming, sympathetic, and respectful of one another. The sex scenes (actually very few) do not overwhelm the story. This looks like it will be a fun series to follow!

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Game of Strength and Storm by Rachel Menard

It’s been a while since I’ve read a YA novel, so I decided to dip my toe back in with the YA fantasy adventure Game of Strength and Storm by Rachel Menard. 

Borrowing from Greek mythology and infusing the story with modern twists, the author spins a nuanced tale of good versus evil.

Gen (Genevieve) is the daughter of a Mindworker and a Mazon. Mindworkers are able to empathize with/read the minds of other creatures (even other humans to some extent) by feeding them the blood, hair, or saliva of a Mindworker. Mazons (analogous to Amazons) are women with exceptional strength – at least, they were until their whole race was murdered by a race of giants because of a long-standing feud. Gen survived because she was only half Mazon. Her father was then accused of and jailed for the slaughter of a group of these giants using his mind-controlling talents. Gen is certain he is innocent and is willing to do anything to free him and restore his good name.

Castor is the daughter of the Lord of Storms, ruler of Arcadia. The Arcadians are able to control weather. They are also able to bottle and sell small bursts of this power. They are powerful and exceptionally greedy, giving little thought to the havoc caused by the product they sell. One example of the havoc was the slaughter of the Mazons by the giants, who could not have succeeded without utilizing the Arcadian’s weather vials. Castor wants nothing but to take over Arcadia after her father’s death. Her lust for control of the country’s wealth and power has warped her completely. However, the law of the land is that only a male can inherit. So her father’s heir is her twin brother, Pollux, a kindly musician who uses his storm powers for good and for entertainment. Castor views him as weak. She will do anything to force a change in the law so that she will be her father’s heir.

What can these two young women do?

Their world is ruled by the two-headed empresses, who hold a lottery each year to help consolidate their power. The ten lottery “winners” are invited to submit wishes to them. Rarely, the wishes are refused. Usually they are granted but at a cost.

This year, Gen and Castor win places in the lottery. Each submits their wish. The empresses propose a competition. Ten tasks (a.k.a. the labors of Hercules) are set before them. Whichever of them completes the most tasks will win and that wish will be granted.

Gen utilizes her great strength and her ability to recruit animals to aid her. Castor uses ruthlessness and control of the weather. Gen has something else on her side – Castor’s brother Pollux, who is in love with Gen.

The novel pits the two against one another in a desperate race. It’s a fun adventure tale that also explores themes of loyalty, love, and how far one will go to win when the stakes are desperately high.

Monday, August 1, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Nurse's Secret by Amanda Skenandore

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review. 

The Nurse’s Secret by Amanda Skenandore is a historical mystery embedded in a rags-to-riches (or if not riches, at least reasonable success) tale set in New York City in 1883.

Born to a poor but respectable Irish family in Five Points, Una lost her mother to a tenement fire (her mother was trying to help others) and her father to drink when she was just a child. She survives by becoming a petty thief and pickpocket. She’s understandably embittered and lives by an every-woman-for-herself creed. She believes everyone else does too.

Una loses even the very weak support system that she has when, while attempting to fence stolen cufflinks, she is caught in the act. Worse, the man to whom she was going to sell the jewelry was murdered in an alley. Una is arrested and charged with theft and murder. She escapes; she has some practice escaping from lawmen. Needing to lie low afterward, she applies for a position at the new nurse training school at Bellevue Hospital.

Nursing had not been a respectable profession before Florence Nightingale made it so. Bellevue Hospital started a program to train young women in the Nightingale tradition. Una lies her way in. However, she quickly discovers her usual blend of defiance and guile will not serve her well. Fearful of being kicked out of the program, she buckles down. Gradually she discovers an aptitude for nursing. She also makes a true friend, her very innocent roommate, who has a passion for the job. Also, she is befriended by a young surgeon, a man trying to live up to the name of his famous surgeon grandfather while also adopting newer surgical practices that his superiors scorn. This friendship soon veers into love.

Una’s transformation proceeds apace, from an angry, cynical young woman who can’t be trusted (and who is not a likeable protagonist) into a competent nurse and reliable friend. However, at the same time, the person who did commit the murder that Una was blamed for strikes again. And again. Una figures out who it is. To expose the killer, she has to risk re-engaging with the criminal underworld, which could lead to her own capture by the police. Or, it could lead to her being the killer’s next victim.

The historical details are well presented and Una ultimately matures into an admirable character. The novel is well worth the read for its glimpse into the seedy criminal world of the times.