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Mistress Firebrand by Donna Thorland
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    Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon (fueledbycoffee)
    fueledbycoffee: Set during the American Revolution, historical fiction that explores loyalties to both sides of the war, romance, adventure, couched in fantastic writing, lush with description and impeccable research.
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I found this story refreshingly different. Although I bought it thinking it was a romance, it didn't fit so neatly into the romance genre. (Much in the same way Diana Gabaldon's Outlander doesn't fit into the classical romance genre, but can still delight lovers of romance.)

The story is told in a classical romance style, with the point of view moving back and forth (without the head-hopping, thank goodness) that you'll find in most romance novels. That aside, the main characters don't spend all that much time alone together. The love scenes are sweet, believable, and mercifully brief compared to the chapter-long sex scenes that seem to prevail these days. The characters think about each other a lot and interact, but the setting — the American Revolution — drives the story instead of the angst of our two lovers. In fact, I would say these two are about the most level-headed hero and heroine I've ever met.

I loved the history in Mistress Firebrand. However, I could see how someone without some understanding of the America Revolution might get a little lost. I actually got a bit lost in all the references to theatrical plays, but since I understood the history that drove the story I was able to gloss over it. Others might want to have Wikipedia standing by.

The book was well researched, although I suspect the author only needed to fine-tune the details. I also loved that she never had one side or the other totally be "the good guys." I did like that she portrayed Washington as a good guy and not Burgoyne, but she didn't gloss over the horrors of the conflict and what both sides were willing to do to each other.

All in all, a great read. ( )
  MaryJeanAdams | Feb 28, 2016 |
The stars of the book for me were the two leads, Jenny and Severin. The author characterized them as strong individuals who are caught up in the tides of war and revolution, doing an outstanding job in the process. She also gave her secondary characters real life, making us live them rather than just read them.

Jenny knew what she wanted out of life and never lost sight of that goal to utilize her writing as a method of support, monetarily and revolutionary. I also liked that she knew she was in dangerous times so lived her life with no regrets. That’s a very appropriate mind set for such times and dangers, and I enjoyed it in her. I liked that Severin had such a unique background, being half Indian yet a British officer. It added a different dimension to his ultimate turning. He was both dangerous and devoted in equal measure, two sides to a very unique man.

Their relationship was well portrayed if a bit light. I liked that the author didn’t fall into the typical spy story trap for romance, having two leads assume the other is a traitor or a turncoat to them and so producing trust angst. The two never really wavered in their ultimate trust in each other’s motives, and I found that very refreshing. I did find that the author seemed to focus a lot of their romantic storyline on sex and the physical aspects. While that’s not a negative in and of itself in a romance, too much of it can detract from the emotional side. I still found enjoyment in the emotions and felt them deeply; yet, having a sex scene or thoughts of one popping up more often than not was a bit of a downer.

The author’s expertise in this historical period and her research shone through again, just like her previous installments for this series. The small details of spying during the American Revolution and giving us a window into that gritty world makes the reader really live the story. I personally had never heard of Simbury Prison and how it sort of let to the prison ships of Revolution fame. I loved following Severin’s and Jenny’s story through the theaters, slums, and fervor of Revolutionary New York.

A truly great addition to this series of American Revolution historical fiction/romance works. The author creates great romantic characters and puts them into a vivid world of danger, suspense, and spying. Historical details pop so the reader experiences the story rather than just reading it. While the reader sometimes slid into the physical side of love too often, that doesn’t detract from the overall romance, which was a real treat. Check this one out if you’re looking for American Revolution historical fiction; this author knows how to write and write well. ( )
  Sarah_Gruwell | Jan 13, 2016 |
I've long wanted to read Donna Thorland as I love Revolutionary-era historical fiction and have seen rave reviews for her books. Happily, I wasn't disappointed with this read, which was atmospheric, detailed, and vividly done.

Set in 1777, Mistress Firebrand features a young American playwright, Jennifer Leighton. Niece to the much toasted actress Fanny Leighton, Jennifer aspires to fame, and considers a daring plan to do so: have British general John Burgoyne act as her patron. Burgoyne is a notorious womanizer, so British spy Severin Devere decides to ward off any distractions, but finds himself charmed and intrigued by the writer. Pretty soon, both become caught up in the war between England and the colonies, and both have to decide where their loyalties lie, a decision made more complicated by their very obvious interest in each other.

In addition to being a fabulously fun historical romance, Thorland tackles some rather "modern" issues in the story, which just ratchets the book from good to great: careers over relationships, safe sex through condom use, and the idea of pleasure and happiness. Jennifer and Severin (and their friends and enemies) felt historical grounded and yet, discussed and debated topics that are relevant to people today (which I love). There was a real struggle, not just for Jennifer and Severin to survive a war unscathed (which was exciting enough), but for the two of them to have professional happiness, too.

I mean, read this, from our heroine Jennifer. I practically cheered on the subway:

"...I have seen love up close now, and I will not settle for the kind that limits and diminishes me. You are capable of more than killing. I am capable of more than domestic devotion. I do not wish the kind of love that reduces over time who we each are. I want the kind that makes the whole of us greater than the sum of our parts." (p298-299)

Amen, sister.

There were sexytimes that were hot and plotty (and surprising!). There's a fabulous wealth of detail about 18th century theater (Jennifer is inspired by Mercy Otis Warren and her aunt by Mary Darby Robinson, two real life figures I love, so I've got love-upon-love here!) as well as exciting wartime drama. This isn't a fluffy read, not precisely, but it races from the mix of romance, tension, and humor -- a combo I love.

Technically, this is the third book in Thorland's Renegades of the American Revolution series, although I don't think they're actually connected in any way other than setting. I'm dying to get my hands on the other two now -- I'm a Thorland fangirl! ( )
  unabridgedchick | Jun 30, 2015 |
I think while I was super busy with my paper, I must have done a bad job reading summaries, because this is one of several books that have surprised me lately. I picked this up expecting something purely historical fiction and was surprised to find that it was about 40% romance and a lighter read than I expected. That didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it – in fact, I thought it was a lot of fun – but I think it’s only fair to mention that I may have been more critical of the romance elements because it wasn’t what I expected when I picked this up.

Initially, I found that the predictability of the romance bothered me a lot. Everything that happened felt obvious. However, the action of the story surprised me in many ways. In particular, I expected the main characters’ relationship to progress faster and I appreciated that the action of the plot gave their relationship time to grow. Both Jenny and Severin were kind of Mary Sue’s, almost too perfect with surprisingly modern feelings about everything from slavery to sex and gender roles. I’ll be honest though – I like that occasionally. It’s fun to read about characters you’d love to be or love to be with. The first two sex scenes didn’t work for me in a number of ways: the author’s vague language in contrast to the explicit things the characters were doing, the way the first one fit into the action part of the plot, the contrived-feeling delayed gratification. Something changed with the rest of the sex scenes though. They language the author used did work for me, although I can’t determine what changed, and the sex scenes felt like more natural parts of the plot.

The action part of the plot was fantastic throughout. Especially given how I felt about the romance, I was surprised by how often the plot surprised me. Nothing happened as I expected and I enjoyed learning about the fascinating relationship between playwrights and the American revolution. As I mentioned above, I also enjoyed how the plot interacted with the romance. The characters had a lot of opportunities for banter and flirting, but also had opportunities to make tough moral decisions, to look out for each other, to show that they were competent to look out for themselves, and to show that they respected each other’s ability to be self-sufficient. This ended up being a very fun read and I enjoyed the action elements, the romance, and the interplay of the two.

This review first published at Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Mar 26, 2015 |
When given the opportunity to read and review Mistress Firebrand, I was thrilled and jumped at the chance. I’ve read two others in Renegades of the Revolution series, The Rebel Pirate and The Turncoat, and fell in love with Donna Thorland’s writing.

It took me longer to get through this one, not counting the week long flu at Christmas, but due to wanting to relish the settings, the characters, and watch every twist and turn unfold. You can only read a book once “for the first time”. As firsts and lasts, and everything in between, Mistress Firebrand was exactly as I’d expected and more, what I’d hoped. Romance, historical, espionage, and theater. The research and descriptions are impeccable and lush, adding a layer to the characters and setting without coming across as daunting.

The year was 1777, and Jennifer Leighton was making her meager living in Manhattan. As a thespian and playwright, Jenny hoped for bigger stages and more acclaim as a woman in theater. Living with her Aunt Frances, an accomplished actress in her own right, Jenny sought out avenues to make her dreams come to fruition in the form of a patron, the ambitious sybarite, General John Burgoyne. Unfortunately, as patrons go, Burgoyne appears enamored with Jenny but for completely different reasons.

Enter Burgoyne’s right hand man, intelligence officer Severin Devere. Ambitious in his own right, Devere is asked by Burgoyne to fetch the lovely Jenny from the theater, a request that puts events in motion to pit playwright against spy, battling against their hearts, governments, unfinished business, and one step away from their necks in a noose.

Once Jenny had experienced the upheaval of British occupation in her town, her loyalties were split. Family before politics. Jenny was given the opportunity to strike back under her mighty and wicked pen. Her plays, cleverly acted out as anti-British vitriol, caught like wildfire under the pen name “Cordelia” and earned her a place in The British Most Wanted List. Who to find that person? None other than our man of espionage, Severin Devere who would much rather keep her in his future. Wanting what you can’t have but try to have anyway? Spies and wars. Loyalties and family. Excellent strong characters. Can you see why I couldn’t rush through this?

To what degree did the theater affect the Revolutionary War? Thorland brings to light an interesting catalyst in the Revolutionary War: The power of the theater.

In our modern day, media affords anyone with an internet connection an immediate source and outpouring of public sentiment, news, and politics. In my lifetime, technology has shaped news immediacy. Foreign are the days of 1777, where news was much, much slower. A snail’s pace in contrast to today’s television, internet chat rooms and social media. Our ancestors covertly printed and distributed mutinous and defiantly political materials, letters came across the sea to be passed about shipyards, political plays were performed on stage and in parlors, and gossip was currency to merchants who sold you wares and goods at the markets.

Thorland did a wonderful job illustrating the theater as a key player in political circles. A catalyst of sorts, contained by a catchy phrase or tune, or a dramatic satirical scene that made the commoner laugh and Generals stir to action. These elements had the ability to turn popular good opinion into a cabbage-throwing, tar and feathering racket…or worse, life and death. When tensions were high and armies blazed across the eastern states, a friendly town or village would mean success or life and death. A key player, like playwright Jennifer Leighton, was important for any army or politics to advance public sympathy and some semblance of positive reputation to defend political gain. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how the theater shaped the Revolutionary War in this seemingly innocuous way, one that I hope is not lost in our histories.

Just as the others in the series this installment can be read as a standalone.

Coming to a bookseller near you March 3rd, 2015

Many thanks to NetGalley, Penguin Group, and author, Donna Thorland for the opportunity to read and review ( )
  fueledbycoffee | Jan 31, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0451471016, Paperback)

British Occupied Manhattan, 1777.  With her witty comedies, American actress Jennifer Leighton has been packing the John Street Theater, but she longs to escape the provincial circuit for the glamour of the London stage. When the playwright General John Burgoyne visits the city, fresh from a recent success in the capitol, she seizes the opportunity to court his patronage.  But her plan is foiled by British intelligence officer Severin Devere. 

Severin’s mission is to keep the pleasure-loving general focused on the war effort…and away from pretty young actresses. But the tables are turned when Severin himself can’t resist Jennifer Leighton…

Months later, Jenny has abandoned her dreams of stage glory and begun writing seditious plays for the Rebels under the pen name “Cornelia,” ridiculing “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne and his army—and undermining the crown’s campaign to take Albany. By the time Severin meets up with Jenny once again, she is on a British hanging list, and Severin is ordered to find her—and deliver her to certain death. Soon, the two are launched on a desperate journey through the wilderness, toward a future shaped by the revolution—and their passion for each other…

READERS GUIDE INCLUDED

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:04 -0400)

"British Occupied Manhattan, 1777. With her witty comedies, American actress Jennifer Leighton has been packing the John Street Theater, but she longs to escape the provincial circuit for the glamour of the London stage. When the playwright General John Burgoyne visits the city, fresh from a recent success on the Continent, she seizes the opportunity to court his patronage. But her plan is foiled by British intelligence officer Severin Devere. Severin's mission is to keep the pleasure-loving general focused on the war effort and away from pretty young actresses. But the tables are turned when Severin himself can't resist Jennifer Leighton . . . . Months later, Jenny has abandoned her dreams of stage glory and begun writing seditious plays for the Rebels under the pen name "Cornelia," ridiculing "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne and his army-and undermining the crown's campaign to take Albany. By the time Severin meets up with Jenny once again, she is on a British hanging list, and Severin is ordered to find her-and deliver her to certain death. Soon, the two are launched on a desperate journey through the wilderness, toward a future shaped by the revolution-and their passion for each other . . . . READERS GUIDE INCLUDED"--… (more)

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