Archive | September, 2014

The Duke of Snow and Apples by Elizabeth Vail Weaves a Magical Blend of Historical Romance and Fantasy

2 Sep

The Duke of Snow and Apples by Elizabeth Vail (Entangled: Select, August 26, 2014) – The only think I didn’t like about this book was the cover – what is up with her hair?

I honestly did not know what to expect when approaching The Duke of Snow and Apples by debut author Elizabeth Vail. The reviews I had read were overwhelmingly positive on Goodreads, but some readers voiced criticisms over the heroine’s entitled behavior at the start of the novel or the intricate but unexplained fantasy elements of the magic of the noble class.

What novel were these people reading?

This is one of the best fantasy romances I’ve read in years, blending many familiar elements of historical romance (strict social class boundaries, etiquette conventions that cannot be broken without dire repercussions and delicious historical costumes) with seamless layers of magic as part and parcel of this world. Vail pulls off her world building with aplomb, doling out place names, magical social strata and even different time conventions effortlessly, never once info-dumping on the reader or having a character launch into a tedious explanation of history. Thank you!

Charlotte Erlwood is grateful for the chance to not only visit her estranged aunt but to escape the humiliation and betrayal that awaits her at home. Her beautiful older sister became engaged to the man courting Charlotte and the world is obnoxiously cheerful despite how awful Charlotte feels. When her relative sends a ridiculously handsome and serene footman, Charlotte’s wicked side can’t help but bean him with the apple that was supposed to be her snack. His mischievous reaction is the first time her heart lightens in days and the perfect start to her friendship with Freddy, who her aunt assigns to wait upon her during her stay.

Charlotte's shot of an apple to Freddy's head is like the blooming of color in a life he covered with frost. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Charlotte’s shot of an apple to Freddy’s head is like the blooming of color in a life he covered with frost. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Frederick is content in his position of footman in this noble house, having honed his serenity and aloofness after a decade of brutal practice. He fled his home and title as a teen after wreaking havoc with his magical gifts which can not only sense but leech emotion. He’s astonished that the lovely and animated Charlotte, whose sadness and bravery he can see emanating from her in a rainbow of color, becomes a stifled and boring miss in the company of others. Determined to help her fulfill her potential, he manipulates circumstances into revealing the vibrant woman he sees during the day. Yet as time goes on, his friendship with her becomes something much more, awakening all the emotions he’s suppressed, her magic bringing his own to the fore. When his past not only smacks him in the face with the arrival of his stepfather, but he witnesses friends and acquaintances beginning to become “gray” (their inner selves leached of emotion), Frederick must decide whether to face his past or leave everyone, including Charlotte, behind once more.

Charlotte melts the ice encasing Frederick's heart and mind, allowing them both to reach their potential as individuals, both emotionally and magically. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Charlotte melts the ice encasing Frederick’s heart and mind, allowing them both to reach their potential as individuals, both emotionally and magically. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Charlotte easily could be seen as spoiled and entitled, but the fact that Frederick sees her emotions allows him to see past her mannerisms to the true person underneath, a device which fleshes her out immediately as a three-dimensional and empathetic character. Charlotte didn’t love her suitor, it’s the perceived betrayal by her older sister that has her dreadfully hurt and bent on winning a proposal from someone just as good if not better. That she still is capable of seeing Freddy as a man and a person – and indeed from the first her magic mirrors his, allowing her to see his loneliness and pain – demonstrates her good qualities, as does Frederick’s need to bring her out of her shell and gain confidence. The layers of conflict – Frederick’s very serious struggle with his magic, the evil villain (who inspired my only frustration as I yelled at the book, “Think, Frederick, THINK about the magic!”), the sister tension, and naturally how the romance would someone resolve itself – made this a masterwork I’m going to reread just to figure out how Vail managed to pull it off.

The emotional roller-coaster is on tilt-a-whirl in this story, as Frederick’s refusal to return to his title prevents any future with Charlotte, yet they can’t keep away from one another. When his secret is outed the danger increases rather decreases, culminating in a rip-snorting ending that had me turning the pages and refusing to make dinner (thank you, my Chinese takeout was delicious). Vail’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat reminded me a little of Kathryne Kennedy, but devoid of the bogged down detail Kennedy can descend into. Mary Robinette Kowal’s magical Glamourist Histories Regency novels or Patricia C. Wrede’s Cecilia & Kate books are probably close in tone although with less focus on the romance than The Duke of Snow and Apples. The best part is that this deliciously hefty volume is fantasy sized at 351 paged but priced currently at $.99 thanks to Entangled’s intro pricing.

Will there be other books set in this world? I cannot wait to read more of this author and encourage anyone who loves fantasy and romance to pick it up and enjoy the magic created by Elizabeth Vail.

Happy reading!

 

Lone Wolfe Protector By Kaylie Newell Brings Gothic Overtones to Contemporary Romantic Suspense

1 Sep

Lone Wolfe Protector (Wolfe Creek #1 – Maggie and Koda) by Kaylie Newell (Entangled: Covet, August 25, 2014)

I love paranormal and I also adore romantic suspense, but I was surprised and inordinately pleased to see that the combination of the two in the hands of author Kaylie Newell became something more than the sum of these two genres.

Lone Wolfe Protector is filled with chills which are occasionally thawed by the building heat between the hero and heroine and finished off with a whodunit suspense that I did not see coming. The ghostly town of Wolfe Creek – with its suspicious mountain folk and troubled beginnings – lent the entire novel a creepy tone I can best describe as gothic, that brand of romantic 19th century fiction in which the setting lends such a tone to the horror of the novel that it becomes another character.

Maggie Sullivan has spent a year grieving. A year ago, her road trip with her friend Aimee ended in disaster when Aimee disappeared from the bathroom of the lone gas station in the Pacific Northwest town of Wolfe Creek. Despite her friends and family telling her to move on from the tragedy, Maggie has never given up hope that the mystery of Aimee’s disappearance will be solved, even appearing on television shows and criticizing the law officials who have come up with no leads in all that time. Determined to take matters into her own hands, Maggie leaves her job as a copywriter, taking up indefinite residence at the bed & breakfast in the center of Wolfe Creek.

The dark, lush forest of the Pacific Northwest, even in the cold, works as another character in the novel.

The dark, lush forest of the Pacific Northwest, even in the cold, works as another character in the novel. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

While friendly former-stripper-turned-waitress Candi is happy to befriend her and help, Maggie discovers more questions than answers. Deputy sherriff Koda Wolfe and his n’er do well brother Zane keep turning up at the inn where Maggie is staying since the woman who runs it is their aunt and the former foster mother of both the brothers and Candi. Descended from the founding fur trapper and his Native American bride, the brothers know the town history and the stories of the people in it, but can’t bring themselves to point to even the most nefarious resident as a murderer. Protector Koda finds himself drawn to the elfin but stubborn Maggie despite his disdain for how she’s chosen to criticize the law. The more time they spend together, the more they are drawn inextricably toward one another, but both the person responsible for Aimee’s disappearance as well as Maggie’s suspicions of that person’s identity might tear the new couple apart.

Rather than an obvious villain or hero as in most paranormal novels, the wolf in this one occupies a grey space regarding its role in the attacks in the town. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Rather than an obvious villain or hero as in most paranormal novels, the wolf in this one occupies a grey space regarding its role in the attacks in the town. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

While so much modern paranormal suspense is either more world-building about the supernatural (in this case, werewolves) or places emphasis on the villain (who you can spot by page 30), Newell defies these conventions. She manages to establish a history of werewolf lore within the Native American community of the Pacific Northwest but doesn’t really labor over the werewolf piece in this novel putting her energy (correctly) into tone and character development. It’s clear that future books focusing on other characters will naturally explain more of the curse the Wolfe sons continue to suffer, but for now Koda and Maggie’s dilemma takes center stage. I liked that the author chose to forgo insta-love and instead showed our main couple slowly taking the time to get to know each other, attracted to one another despite their best instincts.

The mystery was outstandingly well done with a villain you are happy to hate and a twist at the end that just begs for future books. Zane and Candi have a distinctive past (and with my dislike of on-again, off-again relationships while the people hook up with other partners, I’m not sure how I’m going to handle that particular novel) but I’m certain this book was too good for me not to read the next one in the series and forego my usual reservations.

I was wowed by my first Kaylie Newell novel and hope the next one is out in time for some windy fall or winter evening if it manages the same spooky tone as Lone Wolfe Protector. At the introductory rate of $.99, I suggest paranormal romantic suspense readers take advantage of the price. You’ll be baying to the moon in praise of this story!

Happy reading! 🙂

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