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REVIEW:  Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn

REVIEW: Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn

Night-of-a-Thousand-Stars

On the verge of a stilted life as an aristocrat’s wife, Poppy Hammond does the only sensible thing—she flees the chapel in her wedding gown. Assisted by the handsome curate who calls himself Sebastian Cantrip, she spirits away to her estranged father’s quiet country village, pursued by the family she left in uproar. But when the dust of her broken engagement settles and Sebastian disappears under mysterious circumstances, Poppy discovers there is more to her hero than it seems.

With only her feisty lady’s maid for company, Poppy secures employment and travels incognita—east across the seas, chasing a hunch and the whisper of clues. Danger abounds beneath the canopies of the silken city, and Poppy finds herself in the perilous sights of those who will stop at nothing to recover a fabled ancient treasure. Torn between allegiance to her kindly employer and a dashing, shadowy figure, Poppy will risk it all as she attempts to unravel a much larger plan—one that stretches to the very heart of the British government, and one that could endanger everything, and everyone, that she holds dear.

Dear Ms. Raybourn,

I seem to have a “thing” for brides on the run. Perhaps it’s a leftover from one of my guilty pleasure movies “Smokey and the Bandit,” but regardless it seems to be like ringing a dinner bell for me. The blurb might make one think Poppy is a scatterbrained nitwit but it’s soon obvious that family pressure pushed her into the engagement while her common sense that the marriage would never work out got her out. After all, in this age of “divorce is possible but still scandalous in upper class society” pulling the escape ripcord before the vows makes more sense. And since her own parents went through a divorce, I can see where she’d be skittish.

Who is Masterman? There’s obviously more than meets the eye with Poppy’s masterful lady’s maid. But then it’s pretty obvious that there’s more than meets the eye about a lot of these characters. Some surprised me while others didn’t at all given the clues and vibes about them. That was part of the fun of the story – getting to see if I guessed correctly.

Fans of the Lady Julia series will be happy about Poppy’s family connections though it is a bit sad to see how her father’s marriage turned out. The book is also slightly tied in with “Spear” as well though I think – I hope – that this will be expanded on in a future book. There are enough “deliberately left loose” ends for quite a few more stories in this world.

Poppy is definitely an upper-class Englishwoman and she acts as I would expect one to. The East is mysterious and unknown to her so she buys into some of the stereotypes but at least she’s aware she’s doing it. Is she showing her privilege? Yes but again, with no previous exposure to the countries, customs or people it would seem strange to me if she didn’t. Some of the people around her are more experienced and it’s obvious that many of them love the place and people. Poppy is more than open to learning the beauty that is to be found here as well as seeing the reality of the political turmoil that is roiling just under the surface.

I have meant to read the previous book to this, “City of Jasmine” though after a certain character gets introduced and explains his relationship to Sebastian, I already know the details of that story. It’s right about this time that the book shifts into gear for me. Up til then, it was a lot of setting up the characters, the place, the reasons why Poppy heads out on a lark to find Sebastian. I was also unsure exactly who would be the hero as there’s a plethora of men who enter Poppy’s life.

Once Our Hero arrives back in the story, it’s clear who Poppy will end up with even without the murder. I love the way that the alpha/beta thing gets played with a little. Just which is Sebastian? He can shift depending on what he’s up to being both a quoter of poetry and a man of action when the situation demands. He’s got a realistic grasp on the situation there and what you must be ready to do if you wish to survive.

The opening scene of the book is straight out of a screwball comedy. I love the way he and Poppy can snark at and tease each other. They both just sound so British in how they can enjoy taking the piss out of each other. However the comedy can become a mystery and then a thriller at the drop of a hat before twisting back to comedy again. One minute I’m on the edge of my seat as guns are leveled and shots taken then I’m laughing again as Sebastian deadpans his way through the tight spot.

With the page count dwindling, I did wonder how they’d escape from their captors and if they’d find the you-know-what. It all happened so neatly that I didn’t see it coming until Poppy had proved herself in the field – I loved that she took an active part in saving them – and the cavalry had arrived. But then, things sort of slipped into a lower gear and a lot of explanation occurred that slowed things down to a crawl. I was on an emotional high and giddy at the way Sebastian and Poppy survived only to get bogged down in a Human Resources meeting. It does make sense to me that Poppy needs to think through what she’s just been through but this part got draggy and she seemed to lose some of her agency.

The book does end on a higher note. You’ve left some pieces to be picked up and loose ends to knit into another story. While I don’t doubt that Poppy and Sebastian might pop up at a later time, their story here is complete. I also adore how Poppy turns the tables on Sebastian and regains a bit of control that I’d felt she lost. I had a blast dipping into a 1920s time frame that didn’t involve the usual Downton Abbey plot and that took advantage of the fascinating political situation in the Middle East. I only hope that future books will return here and mine it and the characters even more. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  La Desperada by Patricia Burroughs

REVIEW: La Desperada by Patricia Burroughs

La Desperada

With her husband dead by suicide and his crazed brother accusing her of murder, Philadelphia-bred Elizabeth Dougherty breaks into the jail and holds a cold-blooded killer at gunpoint.

“I’ll release you if you agree to my terms. Take me with you.” But when Boone Coulter grudgingly agrees, he has no idea that her enemy is the sheriff–a nightmare from his own past who now wants them both dead.

That wild leap of desperation launches their their passionate tale of love and sacrifice becomes the stuff of legend…

The legend of La Desperada.

Dear Ms. Burroughs,

To be bluntly honest, I almost abandoned this book at what I thought was the half-way point. Then I reread the Daily Deals post here and remembered that the book is shorter than the ebook page count would lead one to believe. Realizing how much closer I was to the finish line, I got myself through it. What I’ve written so far will no doubt give a good idea of my feelings for it.

Actually the book started off well. It’s soon obvious that the book and characters will have a very dark tone. This is no Western romcom or cutesy story. Death and despair drip from the pages. But that’s okay. Sometimes I want a darker book and the darkness isn’t what bothers me about it.

The impetus behind the action goes back to a horrific night years before the main story begins. Foul deeds were done, people died, lives were irrevocably changed but only three people now know the truth behind what occurred. The mystery of what really happened is coyly hinted at yet not revealed, even to the reader much less to poor Elizabeth, until almost the end of the book. I can deal with some hints and waiting for the whole truth and nothing but the truth but not for this long. By the time Coulter reveals all, I was past really giving a damn and more pissed about how long it took than anything else.

Elizabeth and Coulter are very different people. She’s refined, ladylike and unused to roughing it. Coulter has had to live by his wits and on the run for ten years. They’re obviously going to clash and frankly I enjoyed their initial encounters including how Elizabeth breaks him out of jail. Soon after that though, their bickering began to get old. She’s weak on the trail, as might be expected, and he has little patience for it, as also might be expected, but I for one got tired of seeing her weaknesses endlessly detailed and watching Coulter snarl, frown and show impatience with her. After a few times, I got it.

The two arrive at the mountain hideaway of a mysterious man known to Coulter. By the time they leave, a bit more is know about this powerful man but not much. He played some vital role in Coulter’s life but the whole of it is never revealed and a later mention of Miquel Obregon does little to cast any more light on him or what ties him to Coulter. This left me frustrated. The villain is as eeeevil as they come but there really isn’t too much more to him than cardboard evility. He’s going to pop up, make trouble and be evil through the book but readers shouldn’t look for more.

Right about the time that Elizabeth and Coulter begin dallying in “I hate you, I hate you, I’m strangely attracted to you, let’s fuck” I got bored and this is almost where I quit. It’s sex, followed by snipping and arguments, followed by more sex and suddenly they’re in love and Elizabeth is acting like a martyr. If I hadn’t calculated that 1. I only had 100 pages left and 2. peeked ahead and thought the ending might justify me sticking it out, I would have moved on to another book but I didn’t.

Heading down the stretch, the last part is actually not bad. Tension ratchets up, the noose closes around our two on the run and only some fancy footwork gets them away to safety. The means by which this occurs are thankfully not of the deus ex machina variety.

The plot is well done, the atmosphere is chilling, the escape at the end is clever but unfortunately some rather standard romance tropes, an unexplained section of the plot and a two dimensional villain don’t serve the story well. I wish my grade could be higher but a C it is.

~Jayne

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