Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: The Protector by Dee Henderson

The Protector
by Dee Henderson (website)
Christian Contemporary Fiction (Tyndale, 2010)

Synopsis: Firefighter Jack O'Malley is fearless when it comes to facing an inferno. But being a target doesn't sit well with him, especially when a serial arsonist is endangering his men. Cassie Ellis is a firefighter who has already been touched by the flames. The fires are escalating; now the arsonist is targeting Cassie. And Jack has become the protector of a woman he will risk everything to save. (from the back of the book... edited)

Heat Level:
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, this is very vanilla. The tension in the relationship is all drama-related (although there is a definite attraction), but the attraction is not sexualized.

Eye-Roll Factor: 8/10
As with a lot of Christian fiction, the eye-rolling is mostly for the way that the characters interact with God... but this was much better than a lot of the inspys I've read. Cassie (who is the main Christian character) does not over-dramatize her faith. And I appreciated that. I appreciated the way Dee Henderson approached the whole realm of faith in this book.

The Cosmo Factor: 24/25
Cassie was very deep, and very wounded. She's unlike most heroines that I've read in the sense that she has some distinctly masculine qualities that you don't often see portrayed in romance novels. I really liked that. I liked how easily she fit in with the guys, and yet when she responded to Jack, she was definitely the yang to his yin. She was brave and fearless, she was intelligent and active, she didn't sit around and wait for life to come to her. She dealt well with the blows she'd been given, and deepened her faith because of them. She was fiercely protective, herself, and loyal to a fault. Really enjoyed reading this woman. She and I could sit down for a Cosmo (or a mug of tea) anytime.

The Dining Room to Bedroom Factor: 24/25
I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting to like Jack O'Malley. I had a bad experience dating a firefighter and have basically steered clear of books and movies involving firefighters for years. But when someone recommended this book to me, I thought... it's been ten years, let's give it a try. And Jack O'Malley is all the things that my firefighter was not. He's kind, chivalrous, compassionate, and loving, while also being protective, loyal, courageous, and bold. Again, like most inspys, because there was no "bedroom", I can only extrapolate the "to bedroom" part of this factor, but based on what I saw of him in the rest of the book, I think he would be an all-around fantastic person to spend your life with. High marks from me. 

The Braveheart Factor: 10/10
Worldbuilding is just as important in contemporary novels as it is in historicals. I think a lot of readers don't realize how much research goes into writing something with a distinct and private culture, like firefighting. From my experience, she was exactly right on all her detailing. I was especially impressed with the way she handled downloading information (about fires, the fighting of fires, the investigating of fires) without making it feel like an info dump. Dee Henderson obviously did her research... or else she has firsthand experience. Either way, kudos.

The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 6/10
While I did enjoy the book, and the characters, I'm not sure whether I will read this book again or not. I suppose some of that has to do with whether I find myself in the mood for a firefighter novel again. But I will say that, while I may not re-read this particular novel, I hear from friends that this is one in a series, all focused around emergency professionals. So I will probably be picking up other O'Malley books in the future.

The Skim Factor: 8/10
I definitely admit to a little skimming in this book. Not a lot. Because generally, Dee Henderson built the tension well, and made her characters have something at stake for most of the book. But there were sections that didn't deal with Jack and Cassie that I really could have cared less about, and skimmed. Mostly because I wanted to see what would happen with them, so I can't fault her too much. :-)

The Little People Factor: 7/10
This was definitely a book in a series, because there were several characters who came in and out who were not paramount to the story. But I know how those books work... people who've read the other books want to see names they're familiar with. And there's a certain amount of that that can't be helped. Unfortunately, I hadn't read any of the other books. But I was very impressed with how two of the secondary characters were handled. I feel a sequel coming on. :-)

Overall Evaluation: 87/100
Overall, I would recommend this to any Christian reader. It's got enough romance in it that romance fans will love it, but enough action that people who don't like "regular romance novels" will really enjoy it. Plus, Jack O'Malley is just an amazing character that I think more people should read. He is an excellent Gamma Hero. And Cassie is a very engaging heroine. I think this book is definitely worth reading.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Respect The Reader!

There's an interesting discussion going on over at agent Nathan Bransford's blog on TWILIGHT, which I have never read.  I have read hundreds of comments by people who either love or hate it while researching the Young Adult genre.  Only a handful of commenters, like me, are indifferent.  As I stated over there, it baffles me how any author, aspiring or published, can expect to write a book readers will love to BUY if they have NO RESPECT for the reader.
So, here's what I've learned on the subject and stated in the comments:
As a book reviewer, I'm sometimes caught between readers and authors.
Readers will rant about how terrible a book is.
Authors will wail about how readers are dissing their books.
I say, let the readers be.
Authors, disregard the insults and namecalling and everything else. Focus on TWO things only.
1) These readers BOUGHT your book.
2) These readers are MAKING NOISE about your book.
So, not only are you getting paid, you're also getting FREE publicity!
In my observation, it doesn't matter if a reader loves or hates your book. The only thing that matters is
Because the opposite of Love is not Hate.
It is indifference.*
*Thanks to Jacqueline Lichtenberg for that Pearl of Wisdom.
Readers are smart and sensitive INDIVIDUALS with individual emotional needs and tastes.  Doubt that to your own peril.  Insult them at your own risk.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Michal (by Jill Eileen Smith)

by Jill Eileen Smith (website)
Christian Historical Fiction (Revell, March '09)

Synopsis: A fictionalized version of the relationship between King David of Israel and his first wife, Michal--daughter of Saul. First in a trilogy of books (the second of which just came out, and I hope to review it next week) on the Wives of King David.

Heat Level:
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, I would put this in the French Vanilla category. Perhaps more sensuality than a typical inspy, but no sexuality. Not quite on the Redeeming Love level--that might be white chocolate--but definitely more overt sensuality (no sex, no body parts, but references to lust and sexuality which were completely appropriate) than a normal Christian novel. Very appropriate to its context, I thought.

Eye-Roll Factor: 6/10
Much better than I expected. The interactions with God were natural (and some of them were even straight from the Bible, which I always appreciate). The romantic interactions were quite good, for the most part. There was some eye-rolling with the God-interacting. But mostly, I was rolling my eyes at the main male character (see: Bedroom to Dining Room Factor).

The Cosmo Factor: 20/25
Michal was an interesting heroine. She was by far the most interesting person in the book, and was what kept me reading for the most part. Since she was the main character, that's a good thing. If we were gonna go out for a drink (alcoholic or non), I would definitely sit down and chat with her. I would let her buy me a drink, or I would buy my own. And I would probably be interested in most of the conversation. I like that she has flaws, and I like that she wasn't the most beautiful woman in the book. She gets Cosmo (or Hot Cocoa) points for that.

The Dining Room to Bedroom Factor: 17/25 (BEWARE: SPOILERS in this section)
Okay, first of all, the hero is King David... so marvel at that. The guy is a legend. It's hard to write a legend. And I  think Smith does it pretty well. But he is just not well-developed for a primary character. Granted, the story isn't from his perspective, but as the main hero (sort of), I expected more from King David. I really liked in him in the first section and a half, and then he just started to make me angry. SPOILERS. The guy is supposed to be in love with this woman. A love like no other. The love of his life. Then, when he abandons her to save himself, he abandons her for seventeen years! And he marries a bunch of other women in the midst of it. He turns into the bad version of himself. He is not a redeemable hero in this book. Biblically speaking, I'm not saying any of this is inaccurate (see the Braveheart Factor section). But don't write them as this "love of all loves" and then have him essentially bed the first woman he meets and forget all about the love of his life. It's just not realistic. I found myself disliking him more and more as the book wore on. His self-centered-ness. His obsession with his kingship. He was not a likable guy by the end. But I adored him in the beginning. Otherwise, I probably would have given his character a very low score. We're talking single digits, here.

The Braveheart Factor: 9/10
Jill Eileen Smith has definitely done her historical homework. Very accurate to the Biblical text (even included some biblical text). So why the -1, then? Well, here's the thing. (And this was my main issue with the book.) It was almost *too* historically accurate. Where it succeeded in being true-to-history, it failed in being a good story. When an author is trying so hard to stick to history that they sacrifice characterization, narrative flow, and sense of plot... it's time to take a step back from the purpose of the book and maybe try again. The jumping time stuff is the main reason I probably won't recommend this book to anyone. But... the historical accuracy and otherwise pretty good writing will make me read the next book in the series.

The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 7/10
As I said in the previous section, the whole jumping time thing bothered me. Without giving away spoilers, the story jumps one year in one chapter, then two years the next chapter, then another year the next chapter, then three years, then another year. And it jumps five years right in the middle of a major romantic timeline. It was so frustrating. From a historical perspective, it almost would have been better to skip the 17 years altogether, instead of doing them one or two at a time, and then tell the whole story 17 years later. As it was, there's too much trying to stick to the exact verses of the Bible. But it was very accurate. And as a Seminary grad with a theology degree, I appreciate that. That alone will probably make me read it again. Although it will probably have to sit on my shelf for awhile.

The Skim Factor: 10/10
I didn't skim this one at all. For the first little bit, I was captivated by the love story. And then I was so frustrated by the quick passage of time, I couldn't skip anything. You skip a couple of paragraphs, and all of a sudden, everyone dies. Or ten years passes. I had to pay pretty close attention, even when I wanted to skip. And then once the time started passing, and the love story stopped, I was so mad, I kept reading just to get it to come back. Not a good reason for not-skimming. But still. I didn't skim. :-)

The Little People Factor: 7/10
In general, the minor characters were pretty well-developed. On the other hand, one of the little people who should have been more developed (if you read the book, it's Paltiel) really wasn't developed at all, apart from how much he wanted Michal. That was sort of frustrating. On the other hand, one of the minor characters that I didn't really like (like King Saul) were pretty well-done. And I loved Jonathan. He was fantastic.

Overall Evaluation: 76/100
This was not a romance novel. It is a historical Christian novel. So don't go into it expecting romance, even though it says "epic love story" on the back of the book. It's not a romance novel. There. Now, that being said, if you read it expecting to read the historical fiction version of one woman's life and transformation from a Christian perspective, you will get what you expect. The love story aspect is unfulfilling, twice-over (she loves two different men, and neither of them are ultimately satisfying). But she does get her happily-ever-after with God. So that's saying something. That being said, I think if you go into this book expecting a historical novel with some fast-forwarding, you'll enjoy it. And, of course, if you like very Biblically-accurate historical fiction, you'll probably enjoy it even more. The really positive thing, from a Christian perspective, is that she didn't try to Jesus-up the Old Testament. The spirituality was, I thought, appropriate for a Hebrew princess, and a Hebrew worldview circa 1000 BC. So all-in-all, that's what I would recommend. If you're looking for a Christian romance novel, look elsewhere. But if you're looking for accurate, well-written Biblical fiction, this is as good a place as any to get off that train.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

XOMBIES Apocalypticon by Walter Greatshell

I've been looking forward to this one ever since I read the first in the series, which I reviewed here-
-and which made my Top Ten for 2009.
If you're a young person or you got emotionally attached to certain characters in the first book, you might have a hard time getting through the first part.  Stick it out.  Besides having your favorites to look forward to, the opening action is a great show-don't-tell of what happened in the first novel.
To re-cap, in the first novel, seventeen year old Lulu, is hiding out in a beach house with her nutcase-mother when Agent X breaks out and turns all menstruating women into lunatics.  Yeah, I know that sounds a lot like real life, especially if you ask my husband, but these chicks are also blue.  And I ain't.  Anyway, Agent X turns women into insane blue zombie-like creatures who hunt down men (I can hear the cat-calls now) and attack them with the Love-Bite From Hell, which turns them into freakin' lunatics too.  Fun, huh? 
You don't really need to know all that when you start this novel.  It does stand alone, but it's nice to have the first book read, especially if you're a character-driven reader like me. 
A bunch of military types converted a nuclear submarine into a Noah's Arc, except for one thing - no fertile women to make babies with.  Darn.  There is a female scientist, Alice Langhorne, on board.  And poor ol' Lulu, who has a medical condition which prevents her from maturing, got infected anyway, but it's effecting her differently.  Through Lulu, Langhorne has figured out some bio-chemical mumbo-jumbo to use her blood to sort of innoculate some other xombies to the point that they have higher brain function and will do what she says.  Poor Lulu just lays there like a wasted lab rat. 
Also from the first novel is hero, Sal DeLuca.  He had the gumption to wear a squarril suit for a good cause and was confident enough to rescue Lulu while wearing it.  Now, he's stuck down in the hold with the other teenage sons of the military-genius type guys who thought they had it all figured out.
So, while Alice and cronies organize thir Xombie-Bots for a special mission to fetch some stuff they need to beat Agent X, the new captain decides it's time to lose some dead weight. 
Yeah, the glorious new leader has decided that the teenage boys who've been whining, bullying, and just taking up space and not helping out need to be gotten rid of.  Everyone's hungry, provisions are low, and the hard workers are sick of feeding the lazy-butts. 
This is unfortunately accurate to real life.  Old men see younger men as competition for food and fertile females and try to get rid of them, thus ensuring their own destruction.
Remember this and never forget.
No Babies, No Future.
Of course, not all older men are this selfish and stupid.
Just like not all young men are whining little slackers.
Sal's not one of these guys, but he wants to go on the suicide mission anyway.  The adult who sends them was ordered to do it.  He's not a selfish and stupid old fart, but he's likely to get tossed overboard if he doesn't obey.  He lets Sal go, hoping he can keep the other boys alive.
And so the boys are sent to find food.
And Alice sends out her Xombie-Bots and is horrified to discover, after the fact, that Lulu has wakened from her wasted-labrat state and gone with them, horrified because Lulu's unique physiology is so vital.  Turns out this is a good thing, because she's the most cognizant of them.  Alice is able to communicate with her through a mobile video device attached to the Xombies.
At this point I was thinking, "Okay, these kids are gonna go out and if they don't get xomibified, they're gonna figure out what they're really made off and come back to that rickety old barge and kick some butt."  Don't take that as review, because, you know, I come up with these expectations on my own.
Anyway, as expected the whinier of the slackers get picked off easily, either because they won't listen to Sal or because they're too busy fighting amongst themselves.  The hardier the longer they survive, but they do get picked off as they venture out.  They do find food, but so do the xombies.  And then there's running and screaming, like you'd find in any good Speilberg movie.  And then Sal finds a bike shop.
Meanwhile, Lulu's found a super-duper top secret laboratory lair, and more evidence that the whole Agent X thing might not have been such an accident.  If the shadowy baddies didn't do it deliberately, maybe they did know in advance.  But, Lulu's too xombified to really make sense of it all. 
And then things start blowing up.
Midst all that Sal's figured out his group may be converging on Lulu's group and the boys all wonder if that might be a good thing, because, after all, Lulu's xombies are controlled.  Right?
Don't you just love a good shoot 'em up, run shrieking into the night kind of story?
Well, I do.
And goshdarnit, Sal had better get his act together if he's gonna ensure survival of the species with Lulu, that's all I got to say.
Pop over to the author's website and learn more about this novel which is due out this month, I do believe.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Motion of the Ocean by Janna Cawrse Esarey

Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman's Search for the Meaning of Wife
by Janna Cawrse Esarey (website)
Memoir (Touchstone, June 2009)

Synopsis: One woman, one man, one boat, one ocean. Add all those together, and you get Janna Cawrse Esarey's profound memoir about her 2 1/2 year honeymoon spent crossing the Pacific Ocean with the man she loves. The story is as much about the love between two people as it is about the sea change of a breathtaking undertaking.

Note: Since this book is unlike what I normally review, I'm gonna change up my review categories just a little. But I will return to them again, next time, when I return to reading fiction. This book was just so different. I needed to change it up a little.

The Cosmo Factor: Janna
If I were rating this, I would give Janna (the author and heroine) a 26/25 in this area. I not only want to have a cosmo with the woman, I sort of want to gently stalk her. She reminds me so much of my friends, I felt like I already knew her, and was reading the journal of a trusted friend. Her cadence, the rhythm of her language, her optimism and realism, her love for Graeme while seeing him as he is... she is just endearing to me. But not in a way that makes me want to put the book down and think, "okay, I totally deserve her hero more than she does", and I like that. I liked about this memoir that she was real, but also that I wanted her (read: more than me) to end up with her hero. That takes talent. Honestly, though, the woman can write. I found myself laughing more often than not, but also crying and sighing and feeling. And that kind of emotional expatiation makes you want to go have a drink after. :-) But in a very good way.

The Dining Room to Bedroom Factor: Graeme
The thing I love the most about Graeme is that he has faults. In this real-life love story, you definitely fall for the hero. In fact, I want to clone him and sail across the ocean with him myself. When he grins at danger or gently tiptoes around his wife's emotions, I swoon. But what makes him really the stuff of legend is that he is real. He's got plenty of faults (and his wife doesn't tiptoe around those). But she also doesn't make his faults kneecap him. In fact, it's the real-ness of him that makes him so attractive to me, as a reader. I like the thought that this semi-romantic, good-hearted, adventurous man really exists, and that someone (namely the heroine) got to have a happily-ever-after (or at least happily-now-that-we-know-of) with this really great guy. Of course, it helps that I like her so much that I want her to end up with this prince. That's a problem I often have in romance novels. They write these great heroes, and then their heroines are not good enough for them. In this case, I think our hero and heroine are finely matched, and have a genuinely beautiful love story.

The Do As I Do Factor
I have a good friend who recently spent a year sailing across the world. Of course, I don't think they made it quite across the whole world. But the friend he went with owned the boat and had both my friend and another person with him for different legs of the journey. Anyway, when I listen to Jeremiah talk about that experience (or see pictures from the places they visited), I get that sort of pull, like... I want to try that one day. But reading Janna's book made me want to set off immediately and learn how to sail so I can, one day, follow in her footsteps. The book just so engages every one of your senses, you almost feel like you're out on the blue expanse of the ocean with them. And when the book is over, I not only want to read it again... I also want to take my own Graeme by the shirt collar and sail across the ocean with him.

As I write this, I am housesitting for a friend who is on her own adventure across the world. And just as Janna Cawrse Esarey left her beloved Scout behind, my friend Lynette has left her beloved Boo and Spooks behind, and is off making her mark on the world. It just reminds me how important it is to, as Janna says in the end of her book, do what you dream. This book will not only entertain and move you, but I predict it will also inspire you. To do what you have always dreamed you wanted to do. To cross the ocean, to cross the country, to cross the room, whatever it is you need to cross. We all need to cross something, and we have all dreamed of crossing something. What Janna Cawrse Esarey's book reminds me is that the crossing is what changes us. Not the decisions, not the big moments, but the journey. 

So regardless of whether you normally read nonfiction or not, I highly recommend you read this book. And then go and do whatever it inspires you to go and do. You will love the journey of this book (it is not unlike the journey of life itself), and it just might change you in the end.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Evangeline can read people through touch. She can read their past. She can also sometimes read their future. Sounds great, right? Except that she gets horrible headaches after each 'sight' and she can't turn the power off and on. That means every time she touches someone, she sees things, random things. Imagine kissing a hunky guy and seeing how he got tossed in the privy when he was ten. Yeah, not exactly romantic!

There's also the abuse factor. Evangeline thinks her mother's friend is bringing her to a house party just outside of town. Instead, Lady Stanton is taking her far into the countryside to a reclusive lord's estate. There, Lady Stanton wants Evangeline to use her powers to gain information so they can force the lord into marrying her social outcast of a daughter. Oh, and this reclusive lord isn't all sunshine and rainbows himself. Society is certain he's a murderer.

When Evangeline meets Gavin Lioncroft, there is an instant sizzle in the air. This is a surprise party. He doesn't wish them there. He doesn't want to see anyone. He is not exactly welcoming yet he focuses all his attention on Evangeline. The situation is awkward and tense.

Then a member of the house party is murdered.

I know, I know. TOO WICKED TO KISS is one of those delicious gothic-style historical romances that will have you turning pages as quickly as you can. The tone reminds me of Eve Silver's Dark Prince but the style is distinctly Erica Ridley's. It is also a wonderful and original Beauty and the Beast story with Gavin putting his own stamp on the tortured, misunderstood Beast.

There is humor. Susan, the outcast daughter, calls Gavin Lionkiller instead of Lioncroft. There is passion. The sparks between Evangeline and Gavin fly from their first meeting. There are tender moments. When Evangeline collapses from a sight, Gavin is sweetly protective. There is also a murder mystery. I was clueless as always about the murderer but that didn't stop me from guessing. I know Enduring Romance readers are more clever at picking up clues than I am. Let me know if you guess correctly.

TOO WICKED TO KISS is a perfect dark historical gem. It is also the debut story from a sure-to-be bestselling author. I love it when I can support a new author, read a great book, AND have bragging rights with my buddies that I discovered her first. Reading doesn't get any better than that!

To read more about Erica Ridley and TOO WICKED TO KISS, head over to http://www.ericaridley.com . Ohhh.... I see she has a contest to win an advanced copy of TOO WICKED TO KISS!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: Sold and Seduced (by Michelle Styles)

Sold and Seduced
by Michelle Styles (website and blog)
Historical Fiction (US release: Harlequin, February 2010)

In just seven days, she will beg for his kiss!
Lydia Veratia made one mistake – and now her freedom is forfeit to the man who all Rome knows as the Sea Wolf. Sold into marriage, the one thing over which she still has control is her own desire. So when FabiusAro offers her a wager – if she doesn’t plead for his kisses in the next seven days, then she will have her independence – Lydia thinks it will be easily won.
But Aro is a dangerously attractive man. And Lydia is finding his lips more and more tempting…
You can read an excerpt here.

(Synopsis and excerpt link taken from author's blog.)

Heat Level:
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, this would probably be of the Milk Chocolate variety. Very sensual with a couple of hot love scenes. But nothing too racy. If you're looking for lots of heat without a lot of explicit language, stop right here... you've found it.

Eye-Roll Factor: 9/10
I only rolled my eyes one time in this book. Not a lot of romance cliches (whether you like them or not... I happen to roll my eyes at them, thus the category). The hero and heroine seem like real people to me, and not like characters created to elicit an emotional reaction. Quite enjoyable, really.

The Cosmo Factor: 21/25
The heroine: Had an abundance of qualities that would have been considered (in ancient times--which, btw, is the historical context) masculine. Things like a good business head, a lack of histrionics, a desire to be useful, a protective heart. This made me like her a lot. So, the age-old question... would I raise a Cosmo with her (or, in her case, a glass of Falerian wine)? Yeah, I think I would. She could sit at my table any day. I might get a little bored with her constant refusal to really listen to other people and take into consideration the actions of others before she acts... but that's part of what makes her a compelling read. She does things her own way. I like that.

The Dining Room to Bedroom Factor: 23/25
The hero: While the lower heat level makes the bedroom factor less in-your-face, I was the most impressed with Aro's devotion to his heroine. His dining room behavior (as a companion) definitely seems to trump his bedroom behavior (as a lover), but not because he's a bad lover... the opposite! The man just seems like a pleasure to be around. He is genuinely affected by his heroine, and driven not just to protect her and make love to her, but to be in her presence and to speak with her and listen to her. I would call him (as I read once) a Gamma Hero. All the best things about the Alpha hero, and the best things about the Beta hero. Definitely not a weak-willed guy, but also not above stopping and listening to the love of his life. I like that. A lot.

The Braveheart Factor: 12/10
As far as historical accuracy, I have to say... wow! I have always been attracted to stories that take place in the classical period. And they are hard to find. The history was SO good. And so well-researched. And the dialogue was so accurate (read: not distracting). Ah. It was just a pleasure to read. She ended the book with a list of resources she used, just in case I wanted to read the books she read. (11/10 for that). PLUS... she managed to make a very specific, very detailed explanation of an accurate Roman marriage ceremony into a riveting (trust me, not boring, this one) and forward-moving story for two chapters. (12/10) for that. I've never given anyone more than 10/10 in this category. But I was just so impressed with this... I couldn't help myself. If you don't stop me now, I might go even higher...

The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 10/10
Oh, I'm definitely gonna read this again. No question about it. So glad I got this for Kindle, because this is the kind of book that I will be able to pull out when I've read everything else on my Kindle and want something to re-read for old time's sake. If I'd bought the hard-back, it would go on my bookshelf.

The Skim Factor: 10/10 

I skimmed a little bit, I'll admit. But I'm not going to rate the book lower, because the reason I skimmed was *good writing*! I got so caught up in the fight at the end (no spoilers, don't worry...), I had to skim just to find out what happened. And I have to say, I was surprised by the end of the book (the twist). That hasn't happened in a long time. Definitely worth reading.

The Little People Factor: 8/10
I wasn't particularly attached to any of the minor characters. But Styles did a great job of fleshing out the villain and really making me hate him. (And be afraid for the hero and heroine because of him.) I think that's important in a historical romance. I have to believe that he would really kill them. And I believed it this time! Excellent villain work, I thought. But, at the same time, I didn't care about any of the other minor characters. And that's always a flag for me, I guess.

Overall Evaluation: 93/100
This book started off very slow. In fact, I think if I'd have just picked it up off the shelves, I probably would have put it down. And *shame on me*!! Because it was a good book, well-worth-reading. It just proves to me how much I've come to rely on the first couple of pages to be a good judge of a book. Well, in this case, stick through the first few pages, and you will be in for a treat that just keeps getting better and better the more you read. I would recommend this generally to anyone interested in historical romance, and specifically (and enthusiastically) recommend it to anyone who loves classical history in their historical romance. And I may even recommend it to my friends who like historical fiction (not romance) just for the historicity. Excellent work, here.