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Gambled Away: A Historical Romance Anthology

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I loved this anthology. Rich characterization and intriguing stories about resourcefulness, resilience and redemption that are never repetitive despite sharing a common plot element.

As this anthology includes many of my favorite authors I hope many people take a chance and explore some of their other novels and that they team up again in the future.

All or Nothing by Rose Lerner: This story was surprising, engrossing and emotionally complex. It is a story about lust, longing, trust, hope and how important it is to hold on to truth.  Maggie da Silva's life is outwardly glamorous. She and her best-friend and lover Henny host a small gambling den, where together they charm aristocrats into emptying their pockets for chance to be singled out to gamble on winning Maggie's sexual favors.  Simon Radcliffe-Gould is a struggling architect and terrible gambler who can't resist coming every week because he is infatuated with Maggie. He is titillated and mortified when he wins Maggie. Torn between honorable intentions and desire, he persuades Maggie to pose as his mistress at house-party hosted by Simon's ex-lover, so he can complete a commission without getting sucked back into a relationship with him.  

Lerner is masterful in balancing the emotional tension in this story, as both Maggie and Simon have a lot they need to figure out about themselves, their needs and what they are unwilling to compromise on before they can even consider how to turn their temporary entanglement into something lasting. I don't think I will be done thinking about Simon and Maggie and the truths they hold on to for a very long time. I was particularly moved by Maggie determination to reclaim her Jewish faith. Maggie's feelings about her faith are rich and complex as she seeks away to live authentically despite the challenges of growing up without any access to those who might have taught her the traditions her family was forced to abandon because of religious persecution and forced conversion.

“The Liar’s Dice” by Jeannie Lin

Set during the Tang Dynasty, Lin's novella is part of her fantastic Lotus Palace series and features many familiar characters as secondary characters while still being completely accessible to those who have  not be lucky enough to read the previous books.

Wei-wei, Lady Bai, has always been a dutiful daughter but she has grown restless and seeks to experience a little of bit of the freedom that would have been hers if she had been born a boy. After borrowing her brother's scholar's robes she sneaks into her sister-in-law's tea house to experience for herself what she has only ever read about. On her way back home she runs into Gao a shady acquaintance of her brother  and together they stumble upon murder victim. Worried that the murder might be connected to her brother's recently uncharacteristic behavior and could inadvertently destroy her brother's newfound joy, they team up to solve the murder.

The Liar's Dice was essentially a mystery novella with a touch of romance. Wei-wei tests the limits of her freedom, confronts her brother and gets to know a mysterious but unsuitable man in Gao. The ending of their flirtation is hopeful but far from assured. As a mystery novella it was highly enjoyable, full of fantastic and fascinating detail but as romance it left me somewhat unsatisfied.

“Raising The Stakes” by Isabel Cooper  As Okies stream into 1938 California, desperate as dust storms and drought push them off their land, Sam, a card-shark, wins a magical flute that allows her to summon a otherworldy fae warrior to come to her aid.  After the initial shock wears off, the clever and shrewd, Sam enlists Talathan's aid in conning a greedy revival preacher in order to save her family farm from foreclosure. Sharp, cunning Sam bewilders and tempts Talathan with her forthrightness and hidden vulnerabilities and makes them both long for something more than temporary team-up.

Cooper grounds her fantasy with great period detail and sells the partnerships between the nomadic gambler and fairy warrior through humor and snappy dialogue, but the romance between them still felt tentative by the end.

“Redeemed” by Molly O’Keefe 

Guilt-ridden Dr. James Madison is struggling to figure out how to rebuild his life, camping out in a brothel and turning away his friends. Addiction has wrecked his career and nearly destroyed the life of his assistant, but it is the daily grind of recovery and re-integration into society that is wearing him down. 

When Helen Winters, the caged singing star of the titillating traveling "Northern Spy" act  arrives in to town, James can't decide if he should intervene when it seems that Helen is being drugged and possibly held against her will by her manager and guardian. 

Like the previous stories in O'Keefe's fantastic post-Civil War western series, Into the Wilds, Redeemed explores the complicated legacy of the Civil War on its survivors.  All the characters are richly drawn and the romance was emotional and heart-wrenching.

“Gideon and the Den of Thieves” by Joanna Bourne When Gideon Gage a trader and mercenary infiltrates the lair of London's most powerful crimelord,  Lazarus, he finds unlikely allies in Hawker and Aimee, two of Lazarus's most loyal subjects.

Hawker and Aimee are conspiring to protect the ailing Lazarus from challengers, through a campaign of distraction and misdirection  because they know that Lazarus's perceived strength is all that keeps their little band of street urchins and waifs from utter destruction. Lazarus might be the devil but he is the devil they know and count on.

Bourne's novella is set is near the very beginning of her Spymaster's series chronology.  A very young Hawker, at his most  vicious, sarcastic and feral and Aimee, french refugee who works as Lazarus' s fence, is everything her heroines usually are, independent, resourceful and deeply scarred by her past.  I enjoyed the novella's focus on Aimee and Hawker's friendship and their relationship with Lazarus.

 

The anthology is currently available for free through Kindle Unlimited but it is more than worth its regular $2.99 price tag.  I received advance copy from the authors for review consideration.

 


Frederica by Georgette Heyer #TBRCHALLENGE

Heyer_0002This is my third Heyer and I enjoyed it just as much as the previous two I read. It is so much fun to recognize tropes and romance character archetypes, that I have seen in many later romances.  The Marquis is behaves like many later billionaire care-taking Alphas, discovering his ability to care and love for someone other than himself as he tries to love an independent woman who doesn't fall at his feet or dangle after him.

Frederica Merryville is the story of a managing young woman of small fortune who has declared herself a spinster at twenty-four. Frederica the eldest sibling, has been raising her younger siblings since the death of her mother.  With her father's death she was able to take control of the family finances and engineer a way to bring her siblings to London. She plans to launch her beautiful younger sister Charis into high society in hopes of securing for her a comfortable marriage.  She appeals to a very distant relation, Vernon, the Marquis of Alverstoke, in hopes that he might help them.

The Marquis of Alverstoke circulates at the very top of Tonnish society.  A thirty-seven, Vernon is confirmed bachelor and a flirt, he has no time or attention for people who bore him, including clingy mistresses, and his demanding sisters. He prides himself in his selfishness and cynicism. Curiosity and boredom inspire him to visit Frederica, and Vernon ends up charmed and inspired by the fresh chaos of her household (she has two rambunctious younger siblings and a very large dog) to maliciously trick his sister into sponsoring the Merryville sisters and pose as their guardian.

For most of the novel, Frederica is blind to how the Marquis has slowly been falling in love with her, while his friends and family are struggling to understand why he would act so uncharacteristically, mistakenly believing him to be infatuated with Charis. I loved that he falls in love with Frederica slowly, recognizing her intelligence, and sense of the ridiculous.  His love for Frederica opens him to new relationships and he develops an independent relationship with the two younger boys, Jessemine and Felix, enjoying getting to know them for their own sakes. He is also develops a growing concern for his loyal secretary's future prospects. Frederica

5133AnbAYBL._AA300_I was bored to tears like the Marquis by the romance between Charis and Endymion and I could have skipped this whole subplot except that it is the trigger that wakes Frederica up to the fact that she has been living vicariously through her sister and enabling her worthless brother Harry to shirk his responsibilities. Her anger at and awareness of how misplaced her efforts have been is the push she needs to realize that she is worthy of grabbing at her own happiness.

I am going to declare this is was my March #TBRChallenge book in that is one of the many Heyer novels recommended to me in the last year. 


March RT Reviews

Knit Tight by Annabeth Albert I love knitting. I always carry a project with me and knit at every opportunity. I was equal parts wary and excited when I started reading this romance but I loved it. It got the knitting right and I found the romance very lovely and honest, especially as they struggled to make time for each other and to accept love. I will be looking for more of Annabeth Albert's work in the future.

Duty Before Desire by Elizabeth Boyce I was initially really enjoying this story. I am sucker for the rake reformed & fake relationship tropes but I ended up deeply disappointed with it.

All Chained Up by Sophie Jordan This RS-tinged romance lost all momentum in the last few chapters and ended with a deflated whimper.


RT Review Round-up January

51EGLMxuqpLThe One for Me by Sydney Landon  There was some really fun twitter flirtation in this book but final conflict confrontation was really hard to come back from.

Winterwood by Jacey Bedford  This is absolutely my favorite book I have ever reviewed for RT. I gave it 4.5 stars, RT Top Pick. The first I have ever given out.  I really enjoyed it cross-dressing female pirate captain, ghosts, shape-shifting wolf and a very interesting magical world.  I will be eagerly awaiting the next book in this series.


When a Scot Ties the Knot (Castle Ever After #3) by Tessa Dare

Almost every year I manage to sneak down to Puerto Rico for a week during the second half of Christmas Break.  The long plane rides and longer layovers allow me to have guilt-free dedicated reading time at the end of a very busy season of concerts, extra services and gatherings.

The very first book I read on my vacation was Tessa Dare's When a Scot Ties the Knot

23587120I really love Dare's Castle Ever After series. They are deliciously meta about fandom & writing, while remaining joyfully romantic.

Madeline Gracechurch is paralyzing shy and makes up fake fiance, an army captain heading to war,  in order to avoid having to endure a season of balls and dinners with strangers. Creating a fictional fiance gave her time to grow and mature but at same time distanced her from her family as the burden of her lie grew.  For years Madeline sends confessional letters to her fake fiance before killing him off when the deception was too much to maintain. Madeline retires to castle in Scotland as spinster, where she can concentrate on her nature studies and life-drawings. When her fake fiance shows up at her door, ready to claim her and her lands there is no one more shocked.

Logan Mackenzie was mere private when Madeline's letters started arriving. The letters and their odd intimacies sustained him through the worst days of the wars and trapped him in a deception of his own.  He is resentfully fascinated with Madeline, whose motivations he can barely understand.  With the wars over he returns to a greatly changed Scotland. His damaged men are landless and un-welcomed and Madeline's lands and the fiction of their long anticipated reunion is the only hope he can offer them. 

I love fake engagements, especially those that turn into grudging marriage of conveniences because the lovers are both accomplices and antagonists, creating fantastic tension. Logan and Madeline must get to know each other in order to working together but also in order to try to outwit each other in the tug-of-war of their relationship. They start falling in love the more they discover about each other, untangling the truth from the fictions. 

I loved the way Dare explores the complicated relationship we have with truth and love in all the storylines, the lies we speak to protect ourselves and those we love from hurt and disappointment, lies of hope and lies of pain. Logan and Madelines's lies isolate them but also draw them together and eventually  they come to each other in genuine love that allows them to see each other truthfully and accept each others failures, failings and vulnerabilities.  

When a Scot Ties the Knot is deceptively light read whose conflicts and questions stayed with me long after I finished it.

 


Reading in 2015: 12 Favorite Reads of 2015

My reading year has been pretty fabulous.  I read a lot of good books and I had the opportunity to talk about those books with other people on twitter, on blogs and in person. Talking about books even disagreeing about them is one of my favorite things. Thank you so much for being part of my reading community.

These are some of my favorite books I read this year.

  

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  • Giving it up
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Party Lines by Emma Barry

Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Orphan Pearl by Erin Satie

Beyond Innocence by Kit Rocha

Serving Pleasure by Alisha Rai

The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology with stories by Lena Hart, Kianna Alexander, Piper Hugley & Alyssa Cole

The Spymaster Lady by Joanna Bourne

Giving it Up by Audra North

The Martian by Andy Weir

Seduced by Molly O'Keefe

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

 


Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt (Maiden Lane #1)

511l7Y14dfL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is infamous in London society for his very specific sexual predilections.  When his long-time mistress Marie Hume is murdered, he feels compelled to seek out her killer. At every turn he faces apathy, suspicion and danger. He needs a trustworthy guide to help him navigate St.Giles so he can complete his investigations.

Temperance Dews has dedicated her life to carrying for abandoned children since the death of her husband Ben. She runs a foundling home in St.Giles with her brother Winter. The foundling home is floundering, unpaid bills stacking up, after the death of their patron.  Mrs.Dews accepts Lord Caire proposal out of necessity. She will show him around St.Giles, introduce him to those who might have know Marie and he will help her find a wealthy patron for the home by escorting her to society balls and soirees.

Temperance and Lazarus are superficially an unlikely pair.  Mrs. Dews is rigidly repressed while Caire is crude and shameless in his debauchery.  Soon Caire seemingly comes to care more about tempting and inciting Temperance than in finding Marie's killer.

This book was both compelling and problematic for me.

There were a ton of intersecting storylines, most of whom were simply being set up, and are left dangling at the start of the book.  Some are obvious throughlines, like "Who is the Ghost of St.Giles" and others smaller,  "What will become of Silence?", What is going on with St.John?", "How did Winter get that cut?", "How does Asa make a living?"...etc.  There are countless smaller ones I haven't even mentioned. This leads to a very crowded somewhat confusing book which built my frustration with the haphazard way the murder plot was handled.  I appreciated the color and world building Hoyt is doing but the main story really suffered.  I rather have had better development of Temperance's past, rather than having it basically info-dumped near the end.

While I really liked Lazarus and Temperance's individual struggles,  I wasn't thrilled with the resolution to Caire's struggle with touch. It felt cheap and unlikely that a life-long affliction would be cured so simply. Lots of people are shaped by childhood trauma, and find lasting love without being cured of their pain.

I was also fascinated and troubled at points, by the way, kink, particularly Lazarus's use of bondage was presented. I am not done sorting through my feelings about it. It seemed like at point its was presented as an exciting way to spice up one's sex life and at others as a symptom of a damaged psyche. It made little sense to me that he was so skilled at bringing Temperance to sexual satisfaction, while at the same time having spent the majority of his life, caring absolutely nothing for his sexual partners and their satisfaction.

Mrs.Dews, character, her desire, and repression however, made a great deal of sense to me. I fully understood her tortured feelings toward her sexual desires, and her complicated feelings of guilt she carried.  Her horror at having hurt Caire in the way she did during their dark moment was incredibly well done. I do wish we knew more about the specifics of her religious background.  The Makepeace family clearly are from some unconventional/Quakerish background and that informs their charity and family life but it is little explored. 

I listened to this book as an audiobook narrated by Ashford McNab. I wasn't fully satisfied with the narration. I did not like the voice used for Caire, which I found grating and whiny more than seductive and enticing, but I rather liked the female voices and for the secondary male characters.

Wicked Intentions was an ambitious but flawed book, But despite all these flaws and frustrations, I still rather liked the book. I liked the world of Maiden Lane (I've the two most recent novels) and  I enjoyed the banter and  compelling relationships, but I simply wasn't comfortable with the book as a whole.  


RT Review Round-up December

Everything at Last by Kimberly Lang 

Nice Small town romance, that was easy to enter despite being the third? book in a series.  But it was a tricky review to write. There is a surprise revelation pretty far into the novel that I couldn't spoil. I struggled with how to address it.  

Cold Fusion by Harper Fox

This was a hard book to review. I really liked parts of it, but some elements were really problematic.  Really liked the setting and premise.  I don't know if it just me, but I found the names in this book very odd.


The Outback Bachelor Ball Series: Win Me by Joan Kilby, Woo Me by Karina Bliss and Wait for Me by Sarah Mayberry

With their love lives in shambles, Jen, Ellie and Beth, best friends since boarding school, decide to reunite for a weekend of drinking & dancing  at Bachelor/Spinster Ball in the Australian Outback, before they start over.  

Win Me by Joan Kilby: Ellie is returning to Australia and her father's remote cattle station after spending years overseas learning all she can about cattle management. Coming home means facing  Rick, her father's foreman, and the man she has been in love with most her life but who she thinks has never seen her as anything other than a kid sister and the boss's daughter. The Bachelor/Spinster ball revives old memories and new feelings.

Win Me started out really slow, burdened with most of background, set-up and exposition scenes in the series.  The romance relied a bit too much on incomplete conversations and misunderstandings to hold my interest. 

Woo Me by Karina Bliss:  Jen's office romance has just ended in the worst way possible, her boss/boyfriend Karl, reuniting with his ex-wife.  Frustrated and Angry, Jen plans on attending the Bachelor/Spinster ball in cow suit, as she is not in the least interested in find a new man. The cow suit attracts all the wrong kind of attention and Jen finds herself running into Logan, one of the security guards over and over again.

I didn't finish this one. Not sure why, but I just couldn't get into more than the first few chapters, I might try again at a later date.

 

Wait for Me by Sarah Mayberry:  Beth's marriage to Country music superstar has imploded under the weight of his repeated infidelities. Sick of being hounded by the paparazzi, Beth returns home to Australia, sad and wary.  The last person she expects to run in the Outback is her old friend Jonah Masters. Jonah has loved Beth for years, and even though they formed a strong friendship when his band toured with her husband's they never ever crossed the line into anything romantic. 

I really liked this story. Beth is in an emotionally messy place, and really fears hurting Jonah, who has been nothing but good to her because of stuff she still needs to sort out from the end of her marriage. What really worked for me was that while the set-up could have lead to a lot of angst, it wasn't.  Jonah is willing to wait for Beth, and Beth doesn't jerk him around. They talk about their feelings and act like grownups.  I read the book in one sitting. It was sexy, emotional and romantic all at once.

 

I received review copies of Win Me, Woo Me and Wait for Me from Sarah Mayberry.


Mini-Reviews: Reaper's Fall, Glory in Death, Fool Me Twice and A Midnight Clear

24582414Reaper's Fall (Reapers MC #5) by Joanna Wylde:  Levi "Painter" Brooks, is the king of mixed messages. While he undeniably lusts after her, he pushes Mel Tucker away at every opportunity. Their romances becomes a complicated  on-but-never-quite-off five year plus slog, as these two dance around each other, failing to trust or communicate. She fears being abandoned, and Painter is a master at being wishy-washy.  I think I am pretty much over these books.  There were really good moments in this, but I skimmed the long involved biker politics plot, I didn't like the sexual dynamics between Mel and Painter (he continues to sleep with who ever he wants while claiming to be with Mel, and trying to interfere in her dating life).   It honestly read more like a cautionary tale, "don't sleep with possessive but wishy-washy bikers"

268601Glory in Death (In Death #2) by JD Robb  Eve faces off against a serial killer targeting prominent and powerful women, while questioning her increasingly serious relationship with Roarke and her fear of learning more about her past.  Once again I figured out who the murder was very early on, and I once again didn't care. I am here for the romance and watching Eve struggle with figuring out how to let herself have normal emotions and relationships while continuing to be good at her job. There were some odd and uncomfortable depictions of people of color and racial dynamics in this one.  I wasn't sure what Robb was going for but it made me uncomfortable and sad.

18143986Fool Me Twice (Rules for the Reckless #2) by Meredith Duran  Olivia Mather goes undercover in the recently-widowed and reclusive Duke of Marwick's house in order to steal some incriminating information the Duke has on a man that has been threatening her life for almost a decade.  Her plans are complicated when she discovers that the household is in utter disarray with the Duke refuses to leave his room. I hate listened to the first half of this book. I really couldn't stand how Olivia became infatuated with the dangerously gaunt Alistair. The book didn't begin to click for me till around chapter 10, when Alistair discovers why Olivia has been in his house.   The book really picked up steam for me at that point, and I really found the second half very very strong, with great conflict and characterization.

27505814A Midnight Clear by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner: This novella is set in Annapolis in 1949, a dozen years before Star Dust and is the story of Joe Reynolds (another Perseid astronaut) and Frances Dumfries.    Frances is an Admiral's daughter, who constantly must fend of the attentions of ambitious midshipmen who want to rub shoulders with her father.  Joe, while ambitious and dedicated only has eyes for Frances.  The novella is sweet and romantic, as Joe sets out to impress Frances with his desire to seek her happiness above his own.  The conflict and resolutions both seemed real and believable. Barry and Turner did a wonderful job developing a great supporting cast without stealing any time from the young lovers.