Monday, August 31, 2015

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

“The greatest danger is that she might win.”

Captain Esladas is a Patron, even though he is only a low born son of a baker. At the age of 20, he left his homeland and traveled to Efea to make his fortune. The day he arrived, he saw a beautiful sixteen year old Commoner. “Patrons are people either born in the old empire of Saro or descended from ancestors who emigrated from Saro to Efea at any time in the last hundred years. The law forbids people of Saroese ancestry from marrying the native people of Efea, who are called Commoners.” Young Patron men usually have dalliances with Commoner women before settling down with a Patron woman to further their status and career. What makes the ambitious Captain Esladas unusual is that he has stayed with the beautiful Commoner who caught his eye twenty years earlier. They have four daughters. Any other man would have taken another in hopes of a son. Instead, he has stayed with a woman he cannot marry. One of his daughters is named Jessamy.

Jessamy has it all mapped out. She is going to do the one thing her father has forbidden her to do. Only her sisters know what she is up to. Everything is going according to her plan until her father unexpectedly arrives home. She has never snuck out of the house while her father is at home. Her father has won a decisive victory and is home to be honored. The entire family has been invited to sit in Lord Ottonor’s balcony at the City Fives Court for the occasion. Jes is internally fuming. Furthermore, if his daughters make a good impression, they may be invited back to watch a Fives Games at the Royal Fives Court. Jessamy doesn’t want to attend. She has saved for over a year for the entry fee for this week’s trials at the City Fives Court. Training for years, tomorrow is her one opportunity. She makes a deal with her sisters to cover for her once again.

Only Jessamy and and her younger sister, Amaya, accompany their mother in the carriage during the victory procession. The three of them are stunned when Captain Esladas is seated alone in the third carriage, always reserved for the general who commands the army being honored. They hear everyone around them talking about his stunning victory at Maldine. Their carriage arrives at the City Fives Court and they wait on their father to meet them. He leads the three to Lord Ottonor’s balcony. Lord Ottonor greets Jessamy’s mother and introduces their daughters. The family settles in to watch the Five. Jessamy begins to get nervous about disobeying their father but she knows this is her one chance. She promises herself that she will be the perfect daughter from here on out.

Amaya covers for her sister during the Fives. Jessamy makes barely makes it to the Fives court before the gate is shut to the participants. The players are known as adversaries and only those with enough money can buy a token to enter the Novice-level City Court official weekly trials. Jessamy’s token is collected and she finds out that she will run in the first trial. She looks over her competition and sees that they are all male. One in particular, marked by blue, is dressed too expensively for a Novice and she figures he is from a palace stable. Jessamy sizes him up to be her main competition. Taking her starting place, Jessamy hears the roar of the crowd. She is ready to run, ready to win. But Jessamy cannot win because doing so will bring disgrace down upon her father. Too late, she realizes that she shouldn’t be there. All of her doubt is stripped away when the start bell rings and the trial begins.

Jessamy easily makes her way through the first four quarters of the Fives court. She stands on the platform that is one of two entrance points to the Rings, the center portion of the court. From her vantage point, she can see where two of the other adversaries are at. Neither are a threat to her position. Jessamy doesn’t see the boy in blue and wonders how she will be able to lose the race without looking like she is throwing it. She is astounded to hear the boy in blue coming up the ladder behind her. She sees that he is about her size and looks like he is having the time of his life. He speaks to her and she notices from his accent that he is pure Patron. He tells Jessamy that he is impressed with her run so far without a bit of condescension in his voice. He also remarks that he doesn’t believe that he has run against her before, he would have remembered her. He asks her who trains her since she doesn’t seem to to be wearing a stable badge. Jessamy decides her course through the Rings and leaves the boy behind. The two take different paths. Jessamy watches him and he is good but she knows that she is better. She sees that she is going to win and knows that she must throw the race. Falling to the ground, she sees the boy in blue looking at her. To her disgust, Jessamy sees how handsome her is. Looking back at her, he is frowning over his win. Jessamy couldn’t risk winning the trials because the winning adversary must take off their mask in front of the entire assembly. Her winning would bring disgrace to her father on the day of his greatest triumph.

Sneaking back to Lord Ottonor’s balcony, Jessamy is met by Amaya. Her disappearance hasn’t been discovered, yet. She hurries to change. Amaya’s best friend, Denya, comes in with the news that Lord Gargaron’s party is coming to visit with Lord Ottonor. She is hoping that his good looking nephew will come with him and speak to them. Out on the balcony, Lord Ottonor sees Jessamy and remarks to Captain Esladas that it is a shame that she isn’t as petty as her sister. Esladas says that she has a better trait, obedience. Ottonor replies that beauty and obedience together is better and smiles at their mother. Their mother responds with she believes all four of her daughters are beautiful. She makes it sounds as if she is agreeing with Lord Ottonor. Jessamy doesn’t know how her mother carries off her attitude. Just then, Lord Gargaron’s party enters the balcony. Jessamy is stunned that the blue adversary from her trial is with him. Turns out that his name is Lord Kalliarkos, Gargaron’s nephew. He sees Jessamy and walks to her. He quietly remarks to her about her shoes. Jessamy didn’t have time to change them. Kalliarkos recognizes her and wants to know where she trains. She admits that her parents do not know. He wants to know which one of Ottonor’s men is her father. Killiarkos correctly guesses that he should have known he was the hero of Maldine. He knows that she lost on purpose and he feels cheated. She apologizes and says that she can never win. He can see where that would be frustrating, seeing as she had him beat today. The Rings is his weakest section and wants to know where she trains. Just then, Lord Gargaron calls out to his nephew, telling him not to converse with the servants. Gargaron asks Ottonor why his Commoner employee isn’t wearing a mask. Embarrassed, Ottonor tells him that she is actually Esladas’ daughter.

Gargaron continues his tirade about their presence. Esladas apologizes, saying that he hoped that today would give his daughter “some polish. Almost everyone seems embarrassed by her father’s public humiliation, especially when Gargaron learns that Esladas actually has four daughters and no sons. Gargaron remarks that Esladas has gone native and it is no wonder that his rank in the army is no more than captain. Ottonor is finally able to derail Gargaron back to the trials but not before asking that Eladas’ pretty daughter, Amaya, serves him. Kalliarkos offers to get his uncle whatever he needs. Jessamy is dragged away from the scene by her father. He slaps her across the face and informs her that she will not ruin her sister’s chance at a good marriage by trying to become a rich lord’s whore. She will never speak to Lord Kalliarkos again. His grandmother is a princess from the royal line.

Captain Esladas wants to send his daughters home immediately. While the two girls are alone, Lord Gargaron enters and wants to know where their sisters are. Their father soon reenters and finds the lord alone with his daughters. Lord Gargaron tells the three of the that the king has recently named him the lord governor general of the Eastern Reach. Captain Esladas lets his face slip brief as Gargaron hurls yet another insult. Gargaron finally leaves. Esladas secures a chaperone to escort the girls immediately home and goes back to their mother. The girls argue on the way home. When the carriage makes unexpected stop at the Ribbon Market, Amaya states that Jes had her way earlier, now it is her turn.

Jessamy finds Amaya at a vendor's stall. Knowing her sister, she will bargain down the vendor to get what she desires. Trying to get her sister back to their carriage, Jessamy notices that their servant girl had vanished. Jes finds her In an alley talking with a scowling young man. She is very apologetic but the young man says that she shouldn't be to the likes of Jessamy. She scampers away but he and Jes trade barbs. Turns out the young man is the girl's brother and his sister had told him so pretty bad things about Jessamy's family. Amaya tries to get her to leave with them but Jes is itching for a fight. Arguing, a bell rings followed by the sound of slaping sticks. The vendors immediately close their booths. A larger man pulls the younger one back into their stall but stops when he sees her. He pleads with her to leave. Before she can flee, a spider scout grabs the young man. Jessamy tries to catch up with her sister but soldiers flood the market rounding up anyone who looks like a Commoner. She and the young man are captured by the soldiers. The Captain is looking for the young man, a wanted fugitive. Before Jessamy can figure a way out of this mess, someone says her name. Lord Kalliarkos rushes up and is so highborn that everyone knows who he is. The Captain isn't pleased when Kalliarkos drags Jessamy away. Turns out that he was following her to see where she trains. He is desperate to advance in the trails so that he can stay out of the army. It isn't a career that he wants. Kalliarkos tells her that she really doesn't know what the war is about. He feels trapped by his uncle and she tells him that she feels the same way. Her father feels that she and her sisters must act like true Patron women and Kal tells her she is just a mule. Both are embarrassed and he apologizes. She finally tells him that Anise trains her at Scorpion Fountain. He remarks that it is a bad part of town but she tells him that only Commoners live there. He hopes to see her there before she runs off.

The girls beat their father home. They think their father knows what they did when he demands that everyone comes to his study. It turns out that after they left, Lord Ottonor died. Captain Esladas’ standing will now be in question without a sponsorship. Before Ottonor’s funeral, Lord Gargaron shows up to speak with the Captain. Jessamy hides in the shadows to overhear the Lord’s demands. His niece, deemed as tainted goods since her first marriage didn’t work out, needs a new husband. Esladas must leave his concubine and daughters behind in order to become a General and respected man. Jessamy waits for her father to object, but he doesn’t. Gargaron also has one other stipulation. He wants Jessamy. It seems that everyone but her father knows she runs the Fives. She will be running the Fives for him.

What happens to Jessamy’s mother and sisters after their father leaves them behind? What are Gargaron’s plans for Jessamy? How did he discover that she ran the Fives? Does her father begin his new life and never look back? How successful will Jessamy be running the Fives? Will she compete against Kalliarkos? Why is Efea continually at war? What happens when Jes and Kal’s paths continually cross?

Jessamy’s story will continue in book two.

Visit Kate Elliott’s website.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick (My Life Next Door book 2)

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read the first book about the Garrett family, Stop! This book continues the story began in My Life Next Door.

Seventeen year old Tim Mason is the boy most likely to need to turn his life around. He has been suspended from three schools and fired from five of his last seven jobs. His father is kicking him out of the house and giving him four months to straighten out his life. If he hasn’t turned it around by the time he turns eighteen in December, his father has promised to cut off his allowance, quit paying his expenses and transfer his college fund to his twin sister Nan. Since the end of June, he has lived a clean life and diligently attended meetings. He is working at the Garrett’’s hardware store and moved into their garage apartment that eldest child Joel has moved from. The only problem about living at the Garrett's’ is his best friend’s sister, Alice.

It has been nearly a month since Grace Reed ran over her father and left him on the side of the road. In that time, Alice Garrett has been trying to help out her parents and keep the gaggle of Garrett children afloat. Summer is her favorite time of the year and instead of sandy toes, she is struggling to keep it together. The one bright spot she sees in her future is moving out of their crowded house and into the garage apartment that her brother just vacated. When she finds out that Jase has let the self destructive Tim Mason move in, she is furious. When she goes to confront Tim over the apartment, Alice sees the Tim that he has carefully hidden away. Realizing that Tim is truly trying to turn his life around, Alice’s heart softens and her attitude changes.

Not one to cut him any slack, Alice offers Tim the help he doesn’t think he needs or deserves. Seeing his struggles, Alice rethinks her own relationship and breaks up with her boyfriend, Brad. Tim has always had a thing for Alice and being constantly in her orbit means that he is trying hard not to act on his feelings. The night Alice invites Tim to meet her for dinner, both of their worlds come crashing down. Alice’s father has finally been moved to a rehabilitation unit. She is shocked to read her father’s medical records and discover a secret her father is keeping. Tim is getting ready to meet up with Alice when one of his past transgressions shows up on his doorstep. Dinner with Alice is quickly forgotten and the bottom comes out of his world.

Who or what from Tim’s past has come back to haunt him? Will Mr. Garrett ever recover from his accident? Can Alice look beyond Tim’s past to see the new man he is trying to become? Will Tim be able to turn his life around and make amends with his estranged family? What happens when Tim and Alice act on the sparks flying between them? Will the Garret family be able to look beyond Tim’s past?

Friday, August 14, 2015

What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

Ryden Brooks' daughter is six months old. At seventeen, he is struggling with how to be a father when he has never known his own as a possible role model. Hope constantly cries whenever she is in his care but is a good baby for everyone else. Senior year and soccer season are getting ready to start and Ryden hasn't figured out how he is going to make it all work with child care. His single mother helps him with Hope when she isn't working herself. He works a part time job at Whole Foods and is holding out hope that he will be offered a soccer scholarship at UCLA. Hope's mother, Meg Reynolds, stopped her chemotherapy treatments when she discovered that she was pregnant. Ryden and her parents all begged her to have an abortion, but she refused. Meg died shortly after Hope's birth. Meg's parents have nothing to do with Ryden or their granddaughter. Ryden feels like everyone blames him for Meg's death and has pulled away from his friends since his daughter’s birth. He finds a little bit of comfort in reading the one journal of Meg's that he has but his heart is broken when he looks at their daughter who reminds him so much of her mother.

With the start of school, Ryden begins to try and assimilate with his classmates. He finds it hard to juggle all of his responsibilities and make it work. When Meg’s parents refuse to even open their door when he knocks, Ryden is at his lowest. Meg's sister, Mabel, gets word to him and comes out to meet him down the street at the corner. She gets to meet her niece for the first time and immediately falls in love. She also gives Ryden the one journal of Meg's that she had. She warns him that it will not be an easy read. Her parents have placed all of Meg's things into storage. As he begins to read it, Ryden thinks that she left a journal for not only the two of them but for her best friend Alan as well. Ryden begins a ruthless search to find more of her journals and see what other clues she many have left behind for them.

When Ryden meets the quirky Joni at his job, he begins to come out of his self imposed shell. Joni doesn't know the "baggage" that Ryden hides and he wants to keep it that way. But as Joni begins to make strides into Ryden’s life, he finds that his secrets cannot be hidden and may find a way to heal not only his broken heart but relieve his guilt over Meg’s death.

Will Ryden locate the father he has never met? Do Meg's parents ever take an interest in Hope? Did Meg leave a journal behind for each important person in her life? Can Ryden make his dreams of UCLA a reality? Will he find his footing as a father? Does he ever forgive himself for Meg's death and go on with his life? Will Joni stick around after she discovers Ryden’s secrets?

Visit Jessica Verdi’s website.