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Jennifer Blake

REVIEW: Gallant Match by Jennifer Blake

REVIEW: Gallant Match by Jennifer Blake

Dear Ms. Blake,

077832619501lzzzzzzzLast year I enjoyed another in your “Masters at Arms” series so when the arc arrived for “Gallant Match,” I made sure to make room for it on my reading schedule. Once again we’re back in second quarter 19th century New Orleans (May 1846 to be precise) but this time with an added bonus trip to Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Sonia Bonneval catches only a glimpse of the tall man who’s arrived to speak with her father but somehow she knows he’s trouble. He looks to be one of those uncouth Americans from the frontier – a Kaintuck. So she decides to stress the style of the women of New Orleans to wear face paint since she thinks it would disgust the boorish clod she imagines him to be. She’s got to get him to turn down the job her father is offering. That way she can avoid the planned marriage and flee to her grandmother in Mobile.

Kerr Wallace wouldn’t care if Sonia did back flips down the Passage de la Bourse in her shimmy. Through her he’s finally got a line on the man he’s been hunting for four years: the man responsible for the death of Kerr’s younger brother. Rouillard might have evaded justice this long but Kerr intends to see him dead. The idea that he’s delivering this young woman into the hands of a coward gives him slight pause but Kerr figures she’ll be a rich widow soon enough. What neither counts on is how some gun running and a declaration of war will interrupt their plans.

Readers looking for American set historicals generally have to hunt a long time. And what they usually find are Westerns. Now I love a good Western but if an author can deliver something else, I’m happier than a clam at high tide. With the “Masters at Arms” series, you deliver. We’ve got maitre d’armes heroes and – in the two books I’ve read – heroines who aren’t shy, shrinking violets.

Sonia remembers Rouillard from her childhood and nothing she remembers is good. Thus I’m more willing to watch her try and escape the fate her father has planned for her than if she were just in a snit over nothing. Why would her father be willing to hand her over? As Sonia’s Tante Lilly reminds her, men make the decisions and women have to try and work within them to the best of their ability. Maybe one day life for women will be different but arranged marriages, made for family and business purposes, are still the norm in Creole society.

Kerr has been hunting Rouillard ever since the end of the disastrous Mier Expedition. Delivering Rouillard’s bride to him in Vera Cruz will provide the chance Kerr’s been waiting for. None of Sonia’s slippery tricks will be allowed to work, even if Kerr finds himself admiring her spirit and inventiveness. I like that Kerr doesn’t stoop to taking out his revenge on Sonia. I’ve had enough of “heroes” using innocent women that way.

The first half of the book delivers your characters to their departure for Mexico. And up to then as far as the plot is concerned, it’s a fairly standard historical. It’s when the steam packet journey down the Mississippi River and across the Gulf of Mexico begins that things really pick up. Though your descriptions, I could see the flora and fauna that slip by as the Lime Rock cruises down to the Gulf. The different passengers on board delineate the strata of society and our characters’ place in it. The horror of the attack by the Mexican gunboat shows that human nature, in the face of a sinking ship, hasn’t changed much.

The two day journey through the jungle Sonia and Kerr undertake after swimming ashore makes me thankful for modern insect repellent and that scorpions aren’t common in my part of the world. Though I would like a glimpse of a disdainful jaguar as he saunters through his domain. I’ve heard that Mexican hospitality is among the best in the world as Sonia and Kerr discover, even if Kerr has to dodge the admiring widow Dona Francesca. And if I could make the journey down to Vera Cruz in something more comfortable than a diligence, your descriptions of the beauty of the countryside make me want to try it.

Though I expected Sonia and Kerr to do the dirty before arriving at Rouillard’s home, at least you provide a raison d’être that fits with the story rather than the standard “I want one night of hot lurve to last me a lifetime!” that most heroines wail as their excuse while they rip off their corset covers.

Rouillard is the villain you’ve made him out to be through the entire book. No revelations here though he is deliciously evil and cowardly. One character did surprise me. I think you did a great job of concealing his true intentions. One thing did disappoint me and that is for a book about a master swordsman, there’s very little actual sword play. I guess Kerr couldn’t challenge the jaguar to a duel, especially as Kerr had lost his sword cane when the ship went down, but the fencing loving wench in me is always panting for “more, more, more!”

I see there’s at least one more book in this series, though I’ll have to wait until next February for it. [Pout] In the meantime, thanks for continuing to write close to home and offering alternatives to the standard fare. B-

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

REVIEW: Guarded Heart by Jennifer Blake

REVIEW: Guarded Heart by Jennifer Blake

Dear Mrs. Blake,

guardedheartpromo.gifYears ago, I read one of your earlier historical books and kept in mind the unusual setting of early 19th century Louisiana until I found a replacement copy for the one I lost. Then I don’t think it was so noticeable as now when almost no time exists for publishers except Regency England and every character must be a Duke. I’m glad to see you’re still writing close to home.

“I require your expertise in order to kill a man.”

Gavin Blackford paused in the act of taking a glass of Maderia from a tray on the side table. Such a clear yet low-voiced request was unexpected during the courtesy call for Reveillon, the celebration of New Year’s Day. It was particularly surprising from a lady.

From the beginning, my interest was caught. Who was this woman who needed to kill someone and why was she approaching a fencing master? Gavin is just as surprised and intrigued. At first he thinks only to hear her out then politely decline. She is after all, a delectably beautiful woman and he has a fine sense of appreciation for such things. But then her oafish Russian friend barges in, trying to order the lady about, and he finds himself arguing for what he had only moments ago been listing points against. And so their relationship along with their lessons begins.

Gavin knows that most of the world views him as slightly declasse. A master of arms is a legal profession and he’s worked years to perfect his knowledge of the art of swordsmanship. Along with several of his friends, who thankfully make only token appearances and then only when needed, he was part of an informal league dedicated to protecting the rights of the unprotected in 1840s New Orleans, a town plagued with so-so law enforcement even then. He’s astounded to learn that there is no man who can step in to demand satisfaction in the lady’s name but once he begins to instruct her, he discovers her will of steel. Yes, she’s serious and determined and good. When presented with the fencing costume she had made, which includes form fitting pantaloons, he shows his wry humor.

“You don’t object, I hope?”

“By no means, not being bred from idiot stock.”

Widow Ariadne Faucher is quite a woman. She has a clear plan of revenge for an immense hurt done to her family. She decides on it then works to execute it. A native of New Orleans, one of the few towns in America still practicing the age old refinements of the duel, she decides that cold, hard steel will be her method of exacting retribution instead of the usual womanly wiles. Women trying to learn to wield swords usually annoy me but Ariadne has only one duel to fight, knows how the world would view it, and tries to keep what she’s doing fairly secret.

You keep the reason for her decision secret for a short time from us the readers. Yet when Gavin finally susses it out, he’s devastated. Ariadne has come to mean a lot to him and he dreads the thought of her being wounded in the fight. He’s suffered loss before and knows the value of life.

I like that Ariadne demands and Gavin agrees to treat her request seriously and that he doesn’t baby her. He teaches her to fight even while he subtly attempts to change her mind. He’s a bit surprised when she presses on though willing to help her seek what she needs.

The book is just dripping with local color and flavor. I learned while I was reading and soaked up the little tidbits. Indolent Maurelle Herriot, she who never rises before noon, and diva Zoe Savoie, larger than life chocolate lover with a parrot named Napoleon who curses fluently in French, are delightful.

I was all set with a B grade until two things changed my mind. Though I enjoyed the fencing sessions, it just didn’t seem as if Ariadne would have had enough practice to become as proficient as she is portrayed as being. The two men she fights have had years of practice and training and unless I missed some references to meetings with Gavin which weren’t actually shown, I have a hard time believing she could hold off a trained swordsman.

The second issue occurs right at the end when Ariadne trusts someone, or rather she doesn’t try to avoid someone, whom she has seen display dishonorable behavior. True she does work to get herself out of the situation, and does a darn good job of it, but I needed to see a little more willingness to do what she had to instead of merely buying time. This is her life we’re talking about, not some parlor room dust up. But then this does seem to be a common problem for women, not wishing to make a scene in public and or hoping things will just resolve on their own. So B- for “Guarded Heart” and thanks for the trip back to antebellum Louisiana.

~Jayne

Available in ebook (on sale at Fictionwise) or mmp