Review: Mark of the Raven

Genre: Fantasy
Subgenre: Young adult, clean

As part of my personal writing/reading journey, I’ve been branching out a bit and trying to read more novels outside of the romance genre. That said, I am first and foremost a historical romance writer/reader, so I have a tendency to look at books through that lens. I’m certain this comes through in my review of Mark of the Raven.

Now for the required disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of Mark of the Raven from Bethany House.

I am giving Mark of the Raven three stars. I really wanted to like it more, but it had a couple of drawbacks that kept me from raising it to four stars. To be completely fair, I’m going to start with the things I liked – and there were many – before sharing what I didn’t. I should be able to avoid any plot spoilers.

Story background:
Lady Selene is heir to the House of Ravenwood, one of seven great houses, each endowed with a special gift. Ravenwood’s gift is the ability to walk in another’s dream; however, the other six houses all believe Ravenwood’s gift died out when the Dominian Empire razed the land hundreds of years prior. Unbeknownst to them, there was a survivor who passed on the ability to the female heir for hundreds of years. Whereas once Ravenwood women used their gift to help others, now they are hired as spies and assassins.

This aspect of their secret is kept from Lady Selene until she awakens to her abilities. One of her first assignments is to slay the young heir of another great house: the one who may hold the key to uniting the great houses and protecting their land from new ruler of the Dominian Empire. Selene is torn between her alliance to her people and the good that dwells within her.

What I liked:
It really is a compelling story, and although I’m only giving Mark of the Raven a three star, I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. The characters are all believable and likeable. The villains are compelling and not altogether unlikeable either. The author does a great job of making them vivid characters. In fact, I could easily see Mark of the Raven having been produced as a graphic novel.

Also, being a romance reader, I appreciated the relationship between the two main characters. There was a chemistry that appealed, even if it didn’t rise to the level of a romance. (I am really hoping this gets played up in the sequel.)

I also really liked the cover!

What I didn’t like:
The story started out a bit slow. It was interesting enough, but it wasn’t until chapter 9 that we meet the male lead – Damien. I would have loved to have seen more of him earlier, maybe his backstory interspersed with Lady Selene’s. You could argue that he’s a secondary character, but once he makes his debut, he doesn’t feel like one. In fact, he somewhat steals the show.

I also thought the story ended too abruptly. Maybe this is how all fantasy stories end these days, but I felt like we had just reached the climax of the story, when suddenly, I’m reading back of the book material. I flipped back to see if I had accidentally missed a chapter or even a page or two. 

I don’t want to give away too much, but at the very least, I felt like it should have wrapped up with more of the main characters’ stories. Even just one or two chapters that gave us an idea of what was going on with them and the battles they would need to fight in the next book would have done it for me.

Review: The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered

Genre: History (non-fiction)
Heat level: Spicy (The French Revolution was most definitely R-rated at the very least!)

Buy it on Amazon
Earlier this week, my hairdresser asked me where I get my ideas from. I know plenty of other authors who gain inspiration by reading novels in their own genre. I get mine from the history books. Truth is, history is often more unbelievable than fiction, and in the hands of a good writer, it really comes alive.

The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio (@Auricchio_Laura) fits the bill. Granted, the Marquis de Lafayette’s life story needs no embellishment to be exciting, but I’ve read plenty of history books that manage to drown the drama in a sea of names, dates, and places. Ms. Auricchio tells the story of the man, starting with his upbringing, which I knew almost nothing about, all the way through to his death. 

I’m fascinated by the American and the French Revolutions. How could two conflicts that started with seemingly similar goals have followed such completely different paths? Following Lafayette’s career helps us see that vast difference between the goals of these revolutions in a much clearer contrast.
Lafayette started out as a young man interested in glory much like other young aristocrats of the time. However, he has an idealistic spirit that rather quickly, if not immediately, wins him the admiration of George Washington – a man not easy to impress. After the Revolution ends, he goes home to France where his early role in the French Revolution earns him a reputation as “the hero of two worlds.” Unfortunately for Lafayette, it doesn’t last.
Lafayette would probably be what we call a moderate today (never a popular stance when tensions are high), and his failure to emphatically join either side eventually makes him persona non grata in a time when that could be quite deadly.
Buy it on Amazon
Unbelievably, he appeals to the United States for what must be one of the first cases of political asylum. He had been granted citizenship by one of the states (Connecticut I think), but that was not honored, and his request was denied. Actually, I’m not sure it was outright denied so much as it was just caught up in Congress. (Think it’s bad today? You haven’t ready enough history books.)
I’m always amazed that Lafayette didn’t lose his head (literally) in the French Revolution, but to an odd stroke of “luck” or divine intervention (you decide), he ends up sitting out some of the worst days of the reign of Terror in an Austrian jail.
While Lafayette never relocates to the United States, in what seems to me as a magnanimous example of “letting bygones be bygones,” he comes back for a 14-month tour of the now-24 states in his adopted country in 1824. He dies ten years later and is buried in Picpus Cemetary in Paris, France. I’m not ashamed to say, I got a little teary eyed while reading about his funeral.
For those of you who are fans of the marquis, I’ve got a couple of related posts about Lafayette and the secondary role he played in my very first novel: Le Chevalier that you might enjoy:

Review: A Defense of Honor

Amazon link
Genre: Historical romance
Subgenres: Inspirational; Regency
Heat Level: Sweet

This is the first book I’ve read by Kristi Ann Hunter, but it won’t be the last. She might be relatively new on the scene, but she has several titles to her credit. I didn’t realize I already had a couple of them in my TBR list until after I finished A Defense of Honor and looked up the author’s background for this review.

Before I get to the good stuff, first a disclaimer. I received an ARC copy of A Defense of Honor from Bethany House.

I am going to give A Defense of Honor one of my rare five stars. In my view, three means worthy effort but not my cup of tea, four is I liked it; five is I loved it. I never write reviews for anything I can’t at least give a three. On the other side of the spectrum, I’m not saying a five is on par with Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, or Pride and Prejudice. I’m not even saying the story was perfect. It simply means I loved it, and I think others will, too.

(Actually, I’ve only managed to read one of those aforementioned classics all the way through. The others weren’t my cup of tea.)

I hesitate categorizing this as “sweet.” It fits, but the storyline also deals with the underbelly of Regency society and how it dealt with unwed mothers. There’s a certain amount of grittiness to it that I found appealing. Given the time period and how horrendous it could be, I always wondered how so many Regency-era writers could set that aside. (If you’ve read either Fierce Convictions or Amazing Grace, you know what I mean.)

Nevertheless, Ms. Hunter does not lose sight of the fact that this is a romance. Her Heroine (Kit) and Hero (Graham) have a definite chemistry that manages to stay above the line for a sweet romance while not losing any of the sizzle we’re looking for when we pick up a historical romance novel. (Even sweet ones!)

The theme, as I mentioned before, has to do with Regency society’s attitudes and actions (or lack thereof) toward unwed mothers. Arguably, Kit is responsible for her best friend Daphne (a bit of a wallflower) finding herself in the family way. Not willing to abandon her friend, and feeling more than a bit of guilt about the whole situation, Kit joins Daphne when her father disowns her. With Kit’s dowry, which her father gave her with the promise that she disappear, they start a program rescuing women in a similar situation.

Most of the character growth is on Kit’s side. She has to learn to deal with her guilt and accept forgiveness. Her effort to save others also leads her to make questionable decisions. She has to learn to trust God and let him lead her in a different direction.

Those who aren’t familiar with the underlying theology of “trust God” might find this a bit of a “beam me up Scotty” sort of approach to the second half of the story, but let me translate the Christianese for a moment. In secular language, it can be seen as “the ends do not justify the means.” By making the choices she does, Kit has become what she’s been fighting against. That ought to resonate with believer and non-believer alike.

Graham’s growth is less dramatic. It’s more akin to what most people go through when they struggle to find their purpose. I won’t dwell on him, but let me just say he is an incredibly likeable man. And a real hero.

The Inspirational aspect of the story is high, but considerably higher in the second half of the story than the first. In fact, I was even thinking the story seemed more mainstream until I got to the black moment. I suppose that’s when many of us create our first real relationship God, so it shouldn’t surprise me that her characters waited until then as well.

The secondary characters in this story are perfect for a series. There were a couple of small twists that I expected, but which never happened. I’m hoping Ms. Hunter is saving those for the sequels.