Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Two-4-One Review of Secrets of the Zodiac Series

Today I'm going to do something a little different.  I have not one, but two novels to review, and since they're written by the same author and part of a series, I decided to offer my thoughts here on both in one post.  The main reason is because I was initially asked by the publisher to review the recently released second book, so I asked if I could read the first one as well - which I actually liked better.

Thus, it is two-for-one day here at the blog as I set out to offer you reviews of Elizabeth Cole's A Heartless Design and A Reckless Soul both part of the 'Secrets of the Zodiac' series.  Shall we begin?

Book Blurb - A Heartless Design:
An enigmatic woman, a determined spy, and a love that could shake the foundations of Europe…

“Heartless” Cordelia Bering refuses every marriage offer she receives. Yet men still try to win her, drawn by her sharp wit and intoxicating green eyes. But Cordelia knows a marriage could reveal her deepest secret and truly endanger her life. Besides, she hasn’t met a man worth considering, until...

Sebastien Thorne, a spy in the service of the Crown. One of the elite agents in the group known as the Zodiac, he comes to London determined to solve a mystery with roots on the Continent. He won’t let anything distract him. But is Cordelia a distraction, or the key to the mystery? As he learns more about the “heartless” woman, he becomes embroiled in secrets, plots, and a design that could change the future…and Cordelia is at the center of it all.

A HEARTLESS DESIGN is the first book in the Secrets of the Zodiac, a series that blends romantic suspense with the rich background of the Regency period.

My Review - A Heartless Design:
Cordelia Bering is well past her prime in the eyes of the English ton, where marriage deals are made every day to sustain treasuries and perpetuate the noble family lines for inheritance.  It isn't that Cordelia is against marriage - she's just against the concept of a man 'owning' her and directing every aspect of her life, especially if it is against her will.  Because if any man knew of her secret life's passion, he'd have every right to command her to cease and desist to protect the family name.

Cordelia's well-known father taught her everything he knew about engineering and design.  Near the end of his life, it was Cordelia who answered the letters from the scientific community, offered engineering insight, drew the designs, and set Napoleon Bonaparte's sights upon a revolutionary ship destined for the British Navy unless his agents could secure the plans first.

Sebastien Thorne, the recently elevated Earl of Thornberry, was once the reckless second son until the military offered discipline and direction.  With his particular skill-set, it also offered a chance to be an agent in the super-secret British spy network known only as the Zodiac, a group so secret that few in Parliament knew of its existence.  When word seeps into London of a special ship design that could change the course of the war, Sebastien is ordered to discover it at all costs.

As this was presented as a spy novel, I grabbed it up.  I really enjoyed the characters in A Heartless Design, especially the strong, determined, and yet still feminine Cordelia.  She's not afraid to buck tradition for the greater good.  I loved her staff and how dedicated they each were to the other - you'll have to read the book to fully appreciate what is meant here.  Characters were well-established and fully fleshed out (at times a little too much for my taste, if you get my meaning).  The only thing I questioned about characterization was Cordelia's sudden decision to throw caution to the wind and compromise herself so readily.  I could have done without that or perhaps more leading up to it to make the motivation more organic and plausible. 

Pacing moved along well and never felt bogged down.  Certain elements are kept on the periphery and left hanging to entice the reader toward the second book, but the main elements are wrapped up well here so that it can be a full-fledged stand alone novel.  Very little telling and mostly showing kept the events moving along as they were happening. I applaud the proper use of point-of-view - yay!!!  It's always nice to stay firmly in one character's POV per scene and makes reading much more enjoyable.

There were quite a few instances of small missing words like to, and, etc.  However, another editing run-through could clean these up nicely.  A bit of language and waaaay too much skin make this for mature audiences only.  Good structure and an interesting story with strong characters give this one four stars.

Google Play:

Book Blurb - A Reckless Soul
A seductive agent, a disillusioned lord, and a web of deceit only they can untangle…

Sophie Bertrand is skilled in acting, espionage, and the subtle art of seduction. An independent spirit, she fought her way from rough streets to the top secret circle of spies known as the Zodiac. Her newest assignment is one of her most delicate yet: hunt down a traitor within Britain’s own government. But there’s a catch…this time she can't work alone.

Bruce Allander has a title, honor, wealth...but he’d trade it all to restore his family. The Zodiac gives him a chance for justice in a world that's already taken too much from him. Now he finds himself close to this captivating Frenchwoman—possibly too close. Sophie defies all his expectations, yet in her he senses a kindred soul.

Passion draws the two together, but a web of betrayals threatens to tear them apart. To survive, they have to trust each other. They have to be a little reckless…

A RECKLESS SOUL is the second book in the Secrets of the Zodiac, a series that blends romantic suspense with the rich background of the Regency period.

My Review - A Reckless Soul
Sophie Bertrand is a product of the Parisian theatre, tossed to the streets when her mother was killed during the purge of the Revolution.  With the frame and ability to present herself as either male or female - and an attitude to match - Sophie was offered reprieve by a British gentleman who whisked her away from the terrors of France and transformed her into a spy for her adopted country.  As the only female of the Zodiac, Sophie works alone to maintain her carefully guarded secret, until she is teamed with another agent to stop a traitor among their ranks.

Lord Forester, aka Bruce Allander to his friends, is an intimidating specimen within the British ton - not for his looks but for his dizzying physique.  But he doesn't have time to humor mothers who toss their available daughters his way.  He'd much rather be working the lands of his family estates or traipsing behind enemy lines for the sake of his country.  But when his newest mission involves rooting out a turncoat in Parliament, Bruce would rather be anywhere than playing husband to a female agent among expatriates in the north country - especially when the agent's allegiances are called into question.

After reading the first in this series, I was a bit disappointed with this second outing.  Though I enjoyed seeing how Sophie had made an unnamed appearance in book one, I felt that the characterizations here were not fully developed - though they had opportunity to be.  It was almost like there was so much background to Sophie to hint at without any of these given enough attention, the depth of her character never completely came through.  For my tastes, Bruce often came across as almost girlie and sappy instead of a strong and capable agent in his own right.  The characters swung back and forth like a pendulum so much that they never felt like flesh and blood people with solid internal motivations.

The story continued to move forward, but at times it bogged down with too little to do when the couple traveled to the north country to join the expatriate community.  Their purposes were lost in the odd assortment of drug parties, trading partners for sexual favors, and a sense of an almost orgy atmosphere that the players engaged in instead of continuing to explore the grounds and seek out the traitor in their midst.  Perhaps this was common in that era, but too much of the side games caused the story to lose focus for me.

This round also had waaay too much pronoun usage that detracted from the sense of immediacy to the story, getting a little too much into telling at times instead of showing.  The beginning was especially noticeable and made it difficult to get into the story.

However, once again the point-of-view delineations were spot on with proper scene and chapters breaks to switch characters.  Editing was better here, with only a couple of missing small words as before and a use of mind instead of mine.  Again, language and a lot of innuendo, drug usage, and skin make this one for mature audiences.  Decent structure but a rambling storyline and characters that didn't stay true give this one three stars.

Google Play:

Author Bio:
Elizabeth Cole is a romance author with a penchant for history, which is why she lives in an old house in an old city. She can be found hanging around libraries and archives, or curled in a corner reading, cat on lap. She believes in love at first sight. Then again, she also believes that mac 'n' cheese is a healthy breakfast, so don't trust her judgment on everything.

Elizabeth is currently writing her SECRETS OF THE ZODIAC series of romantic spy thrillers set in the Regency period. The second novel, A RECKLESS SOUL, is now available. The third will be out this fall.

Elizabeth loves hearing from readers. Connect with her at


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