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THE MAN WITH SAPPHIRE EYES

A richly textured picaresque full of adventure, intrigue, and erotic passion.

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Two Venetian men fall in love while battling the city-state’s enemies in Mellman’s rollicking medieval romance novel.

In 1371, the Republic of Venice is threatened by a potential alliance between the loathsome Lord Francesco Carrara of Padua (who is pillaging Venetian territory and illegally selling salt below the customary price) and the arrogant King Louis of Hungary (who covets the Venetian-held town of Treviso). Centering the story are Niccolò Saltano, a 17-year-old aide to His Exalted Serenity, the Doge of Venice and the finest crossbowman in Venice, and Donato Venturi, the son of a Venetian nobleman and an enslaved Malian princess—hence his fetching combination of brown skin and sapphire blue eyes—and the finest swordsman in Venice. On a spy mission to Louis’ court, the duo dispatch bandits, kill a wild boar, save Louis from a bear attack, and then slaughter the assassins he treacherously assigns to murder them. Along the way they are taken in by the monks of Saint Mary’s, who encourage them, after much spiritual counseling, to consummate their mounting sexual attraction in the priory’s grotto. Back in Venice, Niccolò and Donato enter the thick of the ensuing war with Padua and Hungary as they formulate strategy, lead troops in battle, are captured and escape, and investigate conspirators selling state secrets to the enemy. They also delve into the murky activities of Niccolò’s monstrous father, Marcantonio Gradenigo, who raped Niccolò’s mother—and raped and killed Donato’s mother as well—and is now posing as the Augustinian monk Brother Bernardo as he plots with a cabal of disgruntled nobles to overthrow the Republic and place Niccolò’s odious half brother, Ruggiero Gradenigo, on the Doge’s throne. With all of that on their plates, Niccolò and Donato still find plenty of time for lengthy, graphic sexual trysts.

Mellman’s period adventure feels a bit like a gay take on Othello without the madness or much jealousy, featuring sharply etched characters (“He speaks with precision and supreme authority,” Niccolò observes of Louis, though “[h]is lips, full and pendulous, fill me with repugnance”) and rousing, well-staged action scenes (“I plunge my blade into his exposed flank, twisting to force him to his knees, raging and helpless as I stomp him flat, pinion him with my boots, and with every ounce of strength in my being, plunge my sword into his heart again and again”). With pungent, evocative prose, Mellman immerses readers in a fine re-creation of medieval life and worldviews, especially the centrality of Catholicism, whether in ecstatic devotion (“Christ ascendant hovers majestically in the golden dome above our heads, where sunlight pours through the windows of the transepts over the gold tiles framing the last scenes of Christ’s earthly journey,” Niccolò notes while gazing at St. Mark’s Cathedral) or in earthy, Chaucerian observations of social mores (“Between here and Trieste, I know every village with a humble church, a stingy bishop, and a bawdy housewife with plenty of hay in the barn and a spare penny for a knuckle from the little toe of St. Agnes of Todi,” chuckles a mendicant friar Niccolò and Donato meet on the road). This captivating period saga mixes precise, colorful details with epic sweep.

A richly textured picaresque full of adventure, intrigue, and erotic passion.

Pub Date: May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9781648906565

Page Count: 439

Publisher: NineStar Press

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2023

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IT ENDS WITH US

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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JUST FOR THE SUMMER

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Two people with bad luck in relationships find each other through a popular Reddit thread.

Emma Grant and her best friend, Maddy, are travel nurses, working at hospitals for three-month stints while they see the country. Just a few weeks before they’re set to move to Hawaii, Emma reads a popular “Am I the Asshole” Reddit thread from a Minnesota man who thinks he’s cursed—women he dates find their soulmates after breaking up with him, and the latest one found true love with his best friend! Emma has had a similar experience, which inspires her to DM the man and commiserate. She’s delighted by her witty, lively interactions with software engineer Justin Dahl, and is intrigued when he suggests that if they date each other, maybe they’ll each find their soulmate afterward. Emma upends the Hawaii plan and convinces Maddy to move to Minneapolis for the summer so she can meet Justin in person. The overly complex setup brings Emma and Justin together and the two hit it off, with Justin immediately falling head over heels for Emma. Jimenez then pivots to creating romantic roadblocks and melodramatic subplots centering on each character’s family of origin. Justin’s mother is about to serve six years in prison for embezzlement, which means Justin must move back home to care for his three much younger siblings. Emma was traumatized by her own mother for much of her childhood, left to fend for herself and eventually abandoned in the foster system. When her mother shows up in Minnesota, Emma must face her traumatic childhood and admit that she has prioritized her mother’s well-being over her own. There is little time devoted to Emma’s painful efforts to heal herself enough to accept Justin’s love, which leaves the novel feeling unsatisfying.

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781538704431

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Forever

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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