Romance Feed

Madly by Ruthie Knox (New York #2)

Cover105513-mediumIt has been a long-time since the first book in this series came out. After I  dug up my review of Truly, I realized I hadn't imagined the long wait, I had in fact read Truly back in 2013 when Loveswept was experimenting with serialization on WattPad.  Thankfully, I am extremely happy report that Madly was worth the wait.  

Madly is the story of Allie Fredericks, May's impulsive little sister. It has been more than a year since she broke up with her long-time boyfriend on their wedding day and now she is in secretly in NYC not to visit May and Ben but to stalk her mother.

Allie is watching her mother Nancy, share drinks with stranger, a man she has disappeared to meet up with again and again throughout her long-marriage, this time only days before her 30th Anniversary party.  Angry, confused and regretful Allie is not sure what to do, but she doesn't want her mother to spot her across the bar till she figures out what to do next. Enter, Winston.  

"Listen, I know this is going to sound kind of crazy, but if you can just kind of bear with me, I think you'll eventually decide it's the good kind of crazy."

"There's a good kind of crazy?"

"If there's not, people have been lying to me all my life."

Winston Chamberlain is quite possibly the least likely person to ever get caught up in Allie's potentially tawdry, and certainly ridiculous drama. Winston is a buttoned-up British banker, whose marriage recently imploded under the weight of all the artificial expectations of what a proper marriage should be. (He is also Neville' s older brother, from It Happened One Night).  His ex-wife is across the world climbing the mountains and his nearly-grown daughter is deftly ignoring his presence in NYC.  But Winston does get caught up in it, especially when he realizes he knows just who the man Nancy is sharing drinks with is his client, his very rich and very secretive client.

Madly is oddly an extremely sexy romance about divorce. It is also a story about mothers, daughters and the big and little compromises women make when trying to balance their ambitions, marriages and families.   Allie and Winston are both exactly who they seem to be and also more. While they superficially seem like an unlikely pairing they are actually at the same point in their lives, evaluating what went wrong, what they want and what comes next. 

It was a delight to read Knox's thoughtful prose again and to enjoy Allie and Winston antics as their romance rockets from unexpected attraction to come to something truly special, something worth taking a chance on even if it seems a little mad to everyone else.

 

Loveswept (Random House Publishing Group) provided a ARC copy of Madly for review consideration via NetGalley.


Ashwin (Gideon's Riders #1) by Kit Rocha

Gideonsriders1If you look through this blog you will find a half-dozen reviews for Kit Rocha's Beyond Series.  I have huge love for that series and was very pleased and satisfied with the way the series ended in Beyond Surrender

Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, who co-write as Kit Rocha, are moving on from Sector 4 and the bootlegging & orgiastic O'Kanes to a very different corner of their world. Although many of the characters might be familiar to long-time Kit Rocha readers, this is a great jump on point for new readers, as the status quo has radically changed in the Sectors and Kit Rocha doesn't assume you've spent several years reading their previous novels (like I have).

Ashwin Malhotra is a genetically modified super-soldier, one of the Makhai, brutally trained to act without emotion.  He is fearsome, solitary and has been growing increasingly unstable.  The source of his instability is his forbidden fixation on one of his former doctors, Kora Bellamy. Ashwin smuggled her away from their base and arranged for the O'Kanes to hide and protect her, even from himself.  Fearing he would harm her, he submitted himself to a tortuous process to rid himself of his fixation. Once again considered fit for duty his generals have sent him on a infiltration and reconnaissance mission into the heart of Sector One.

Sector One is run by the Rios Family, descendants of a powerful self-styled prophet, who built a powerful cult around himself. Gideon Rios, a grandson of the prophet is the political leader of Sector One, having given control of their church to his sister Isabela.   Despite this the religious devotion and loyalty of the residents of Sector One, still belong almost absolutely to Gideon, which troubles the Generals as the refugees fleeing Eden are walking straight to Rios Family-run temples for help. 

Kora Bellamy's whole life has been dedicated to caring and medicine. Trained for infancy by her his distant but over-protective father, she has never shied away from bucking authority and risking her life in order to make sure the people around get the help they need.  During the war she found refuge in Sector One with the Rios family, who helped her establish hospitals and accepted her as a sister. But she hasn't really considered it home, till Ashwin walks in after being missing for months. Seeing Ashwin again raises tons of questions for her and throws them both into turmoil.

This romance is all about conflicted loyalties, accepting unexpected welcome & forgiveness and like all Kit Rocha books, about chosen families.  Ashwin and Kora have a lot of secrets from each other, lots of fears and insecurities about their mental states, their feelings and their identities.  They have long been pawns in other people's grand schemes and they need to figure out who they are and what they want before they can fully claim each other.  They must satisfy their longing for each other while trying to unpack what they truly feel and then they will have to figure out how to keep each other safe from those who want to use them.

As Kit Rocha veteran, I am loving all the background political maneuverings and the exploration of the intersection between politics, power and religion in Sector One as the post-Eden world is reshaped. I love seeing this world from a different perspective and I can't wait to get to know the other Riders.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am unapologetic Kit Rocha fangirl. I pretty much dropped everything else I was reading when Bree emailed me this ARC.  I follow and chat with Bree on twitter all of time because I really respect her views of romance, writing and fandom. 


Massive RT Review Catch-up Post

I just saw that a bunch of my reviews for RT are no longer behind the paywall!!

These are some of the books I've reviewed in the last few months for them:

 

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel: Taut Danish Mystery

Silverwolf: by Jacey Bedford: Disappointing fantasy sequel

Fury on Fire by Sophie Jordan:  Started strong and then sort of fizzled.

More than Anything by Kimberly Lang: Vacation fling that gets serious

Waking the Bear by Kerry Adrienne: Fast pace and fun start to the Shifter War series.

Pursuing the Bear by Kerry Adrienne: Ugh, repetitive dialogue and messy plot

Don't Temp Me by Lori Foster : Bad timing, worst first impressions and second-thoughts.

Level Up by Cathy Yardley: Funny and nuanced and great rep for women in technology

 


Clean Breaks by Ruby Lang (Practice Perfect #3)

33844561But she was Sarah Soon, ob/gyn, maker of lists, taker of names, kicker of asses, and she had gotten over terrible things before. She always got over them. And she did not give a fuck what Jake Li thought of her.

Ruby Lang's books get better and better.  I liked her first, Acute Reactions, loved the second, Hard Knocks and I adored Clean Breaks. Each of these romances are fun, emotional and nuanced in their portrayal of families and friendships. They are full of flawed people, and families who persist in loving each other, despite mistakes and disappointments.

Sarah Soon has come a long way from high school, where she was almost removed as valedictorian because she was caught topless with a boy at a party. She left home soon after, worked her way through college and med school on her own. She has just survived a brush with cancer, and is working to regain her strength and confidence again. The last person she wants to run into is Jake Li, her brother's best-friend and one of the many who didn't have her back when she needed them most, even if he has gotten incredibly hot in the meantime.

In the last ten years, Jake Li has lost his faith and most recently ended his marriage after his wife admitted to falling in love with another man. Jake is starting over, to trying to figure out who he is and what makes him happy.  Everyone from his friends to his Reverend father have ideas on how he should act and behave after the divorce, but he is not interested in sleeping around or dating for sake of getting out there again.  He is interested in seeing Sarah again and getting to know her all over again. He is not about to let idiotic best-friends, disapproving family and ancient history get in the way.

I loved how this romance developed. Jake and Sarah have a common history, growing up close but they don't know each other anymore. They have to re-learn things they thought they knew about each other and about themselves. Their shared history is both a blessing and impediment. They needle each other, they recognize each other and in the end surrender to loving each other.

Lang balances the seriousness of their feelings with great moments of humor. I loved their tense stand-offs over who had the right to bring a date to their sushi bar and the disastrous dinner Sarah, Reverend Li and Jake share at white-run Taiwanese inspired restaurant. Anger, awkwardness and ridiculousness meld deliciously.  

All the characters felt knowable, yet unpredictable. I can't wait to read whatever Lang writes next.


Mini-Reviews: Due South by Tamsen Parker, Hard Core by Dakota Gray, A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand & Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles

51HMRseJO4L._SY346_Due South by Tamsen Parker:  I love Tamsen Parker’s Compass series but this story can  stand alone, and I highly recommend it if you have not read any of the others. As I said on twitter it is the sexiest book you will ever read about two people working crazy hours to rewrite a presentation on municipal bonds. Long hours, too much coffee and frustrated mutual attraction boil over one night, changing everything.  Lucy and Evans, are both highly competent but not terribly confident, but in each other they find someone to trust, someone with which intimacy & vulnerability lead to empowerment.  

DownloadHard Core by Dakota Gray: I did not love this. I adored Perv and was really looking forward to Duke’s story but although I love his friendship with his battle-axe paralegal Gwen, and I thought Kennedy was interesting and fun, Duke was too much of chore. Although his downward spiral and grovel was epic, I wish the POVs had been switched and we would have seen this story from Kennedy’s point of view rather than Duke’s boringly stubborn head. I’ll still be back for Tarek’s story however because I still find the writing fun even if it didn’t sell me on the romance. 

17832873A Crown of Bitter Orange (La Vie en Roses bk 3) by Laura Florand A novel about family heritage, about coming home, and finding a home in someone. Malorie tried to walk away from her family’s disgraceful history and make a place for herself on her own. But when her grandmother dies, she comes home to make decisions on behalf of her scattered sisters about what to do with what is left behind.  Tristan the youngest of the Rosier cousins, is waiting for her.  He in fact has been waiting for to come home for a very long time. Safely grounded in the fertile soil of the Rosier Family, Tristan has to learn how to communicate and love Malorie in a way she understand, to climb the walls of her loneliness and overcome her suspicions. I loved the organic growth of their relationship and how the resolution to their conflict was natural and believable.

51su9h-cAaL._SY346_Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles: I absolutely loved this book.  I reviewed it for RT so I can’t post a full review here or link to the one I wrote for them since it is behind a paywall. However I can say that I loved it.  KJ Charles excels at populating her worlds with interesting, complex people. Her Victorian London is gritty and colorful, with visible immigrants & people of color and people of all economic classes are represented.  I adored the romance between Clem and Rowley blossomed out of friendship and mutual care. (ARC provided by Loveswept for review consideration, expected publication date Feb 21, 2017)

 


Binge reading in the blanket fort: Dragon Actually & the Dragon Kin series by G.A. Aiken

{F13714B9-21D4-47F2-AD89-20533F15C6AF}Img100Reading has always been a refuge for me. Romance the lifesaver I clung to when my family hit a particularly rough patch.  Our country and maybe the whole world is in one such rough patch right now. As a reader I’ve retreated to series and familiar authors. To world or words that felt familiar and comforting.

In the days leading up to the inauguration I binge read G.A. Aiken’s Dragon Kin books. I love Shelly Laurenston/ G.A. Aiken’s absolutely bonkers, and bloodthirsty heroines and her arrogant and frequently befuddled heroes under whatever pen name she is writing under.

In Dragon Actually, the heroine, Annwyl the Bloody is the bastard daughter of tyrant, leading a rebellion against her even more vicious brother. Fearghus The Destroyer, is dragon sick and tired of people, not to mention his large and annoying family, who stumbles upon Annwyl as she cuts down soldiers who had ambushed her. Instead of eating her,  Fearghus instead uses his magics and that off his sister’s to heal Annwyl.  I loved the friendship & hesitant romance that grows between Annywl and Fearghus.  

Laurenston/Aiken’s sense of the ridiculous is spot on as she has Annwyl and Ferghus end up in a unlikely love-lust triangle, as Annwyl slowly falls in love with the Dragon while lusting for the Knight, her trainer, not knowing he is Fearghus in his human form. But that storyline is not simply for laughs and hotness, but it helps flesh out Annwyl’s guarded personality. She feels safe with the Dragon, precisely because he is a dragon and not a man. With the Knight, she can explore her desires and wants in a way she has never been able to before, surrounded by either her brother’s villainy and cruelty or her soldier’s admiration and loyalty.

I eventually blew through the rest of the Dragon Kin stories.  I was caught up in the multigenerational saga of that unfolded in the series, and the variety of relationships and courtships Aiken she depicted. I love the friendships that unfold over the series as Annwyl reigns, as their family expands in unexpected ways and they are pulled in new and dangerous directions. 
This was a fun series that I can wholeheartedly recommend.


Reading Discoveries of 2016

2016 has been a hard year for a lot of people.  For my family it was a year of transitions, and although we’ve come out on the other side of those changes happier and healthier, there were many points in this past year where I’ve depended on books to provide comfort and light into my life when things were particularly hard.  I re-read a lot of old favorites this year or turned to reliable authors who were already known to me when I felt the most emotionally fragile.

However one of my greatest joys as reader is when I discover someone new-to-me and learn they have a backlist full of books for me to enjoy. Instead of doing a traditional best-of list or favorite-books-of-the-year list I thought I would share a list of authors who I discovered this year and whose books brought me joy.  Many of these authors are not debut novelists, some in fact are legends in the genre, but were simply new-to-me. I hope you to find someone to discover.

6a00e54ee394bf883301bb08ce8050970d-320wiN.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season completely rocked my world this year. A sprawling time-hoping science-fiction saga about a woman whose world is literally shaken apart. The story’s focus is on her determination to find and rescue her daughter amid the chaos. Jemisin's world building is masterful and the careful development of all the different relationships and  small choices that led to that cataclysm was completely engrossing. I loved the second book, Obelisk Gate was just as much. I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy.  Jemisin’s draws a complex world with People of Color at the center of the narrative, and where race, class and gender issues all intersect with incredible skill.  If you only read one book of my list this year, read this one but I should warn you that while there are incredible romantic conflicts in this story, it is not a genre romance, HEAs are not guaranteed in any way.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b8d2065795970c-320wiSantino Hassell and Megan Erickson’s Cyberlove collaboration left me squeeing uncontrollably on twitter for days. Emotional, smart, funny, diverse and and scorching hot, these LGBT romances just made me happy. The main characters are quirky, gruff and flawed and incredibly compelling.  After reading  Strong Signal and Fast Connection, I ran out and bought books off both of their backlists and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work. Both Hassell and Erickson have sky-rocketed to the top of my must-buy-list.

Mrfine_250 (1)HelenKay Dimon is a romantic suspense legend, but because I generally avoid books with buff Navy SEALs on the covers and if I am honest most romantic suspense, I had never read one of her novels till this year. I tried several, including some of her older M/F rom suspense novels but the series that made me a fan is her new M/M romance series from Loveswept, Tough Love, featuring deadly dangerous men secretly saving the world.  The team dynamics are fantastic and the supporting casts full and entertaining.  The romances were full of competence porn featuring witty bickering couples great at their jobs but terrible at feelings.

51dpBCJ-FoL._SX308_BO1204203200_To my eternal shame I hadn’t read any of  Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances until this year. I knew of her, met her at RWA and read books by her literary daughters but I had not actually read one of her books.  I read Forbidden with the #notabc, (not-a-book-club) twitter reading group. I was awed by the richness of Ms. Jenkins books, and how she seamlessly layers historical and cultural details while crafting beautiful romantic HEAs for black men and women. If like me you find yourself primarily reading a very narrow slice of historical romance (for example: white m/f regency roms) I urge you to read Ms. Jenkins and see what you have been missing and then check out Piper Hugely, Kianna Alexander, Lena Hart & Alyssa Cole for more awesome historical romance.

D1VuYrvJItS._SL250_FMpng_I started out the year reading one of Melissa Blue’s contemporary romances, "Under His Kilt"  and ended it reading her Dakota Gray erotic romance, Perv about man with a fetish for oral sex and the woman determined to teach him a lesson for the callous way he treated her best-friend. Whether she is writing as Melissa Blue or Dakota Gray her books were a ton of fun, very sexy with strong believable conflicts. I’ve already pre-ordered the next book in her Filth series out at the end of January, Hardcore on the strength of Perv.

I can’t fail to talk about the Kindle Unlimted authors, Anna Carven, Ruby Dixon, TS Joyce  & Suzanne Wright that caught my attention this year, since I spent a great part of this year binging on their books. This summer I treated myself to Kindle Unlimited subscription and gave myself permission to declare ARC backlog bankruptcy and read for fun without the pressure to review. It was glorious and just what I needed.

Because of the economics of KU, I was more willing to try books with weird covers, crazier concepts and indulge in a trope-heavy erotic romances that just made me giggle at first and later surprised me with the quality of their worldbuilding. These books are certainly a cut above the average KU book, but I probably wouldn't have read them all had I been buying the books individually and not accessing them via KU. If you have a powerful need for some hot SFR and paranomal romaances and already have a KU subscription check these out:

 

D1CDcs++wZS._SL250_FMpng_Ann Carven’s Dark Planet Warriors series is suspenseful and action packed. A space station is taken-over by seemingly hostile group of super-powerful aliens, but the real threat are the giant cockroach-like creatures they are chasing. Complex imperial politics, interplanetary diplomacy and a clash of 6a00e54ee394bf883301bb091bada8970d-120wicivilizations is the backdrop in these romances.  The stories are far from perfect but I wasn’t bored reading them.  


Ruby Dixon
’s Ice Planet Barbarians with their big blue hunter-gatherer aliens has grown into expansive family drama, as much about community dynamics as it is about people learning how to love across cultural and language barriers and surviving in a brutal environment with few resources.

6a00e54ee394bf883301b7c896be48970b-320wiTS Joyce’s Lumberjack shifters are funny and trope-heavy, but I got attached to  kooky trailer-park inhabiting shifters because of the multi-generational community full of strong friendships Joyce develops.

Suzanne Wright’s books are the most traditional of this quartet, featuring wolf shifters trying to balance B1qu-MZLx7S._SL250_FMpng_ pack politics with forbidden or inconvenient attraction. The Phoenix and Mercury Pack series are solidly entertaining.




Summer RT Reviews Roundup and Special Announcement!

I've been binge reading bear-shifter books on KU for the past month and not writing much of anything although I have several posts percolating.  I'll review my epic dive into TS Joyce's bear shifter books in the next few days but since I haven't  posted my RT reviews here since May (Whoops!), here are the ones from the July issue!  

Ride'em by Delphine Dryden -- I quite enjoyed this. I love Delphine and I laughed a lot reading this one. Kinky enemies to lovers at dude ranch.

Worth it All by Claudia Connor -- Slow burn romance between two fiercely independent people.

Into the Blue by Chantel Cleeton -- Second chance love story. Great portrayal of pilot dealing with grief and PTSD and questioning the choices he made once.  Great conflict.

 ALSO:

SPECIAL Announcement:  Two years ago I met up with Elisabeth Lane from Cooking up Romance at RWA and we had such a fabulous time talking face to face about romance.  This summer I drove up to Montreal to meet up with Kay, from Miss Bates Reads Romance and despite having two days with her, we hardly scratched the surface about all the awesome romance conversations we could have.  After my visit to Kay, we ended up talking on twitter about how awesome it would be to get a bunch more of rom reader twitter friends together to just hang around together and talk romance.  The more we talked about it, the more possible it seemed.  So we decided to get serious about it.  We are planning on meeting up in Montreal, next summer,  Aug 11-13, 2017 . Montreal is a very fun city and Kay is fantastic host!  If you want to know more please visit:http://www.romancenovelmeetup.com/ and sign up for the update emails.

 

 


Strong Signal and Fast Connection (Cyberlove 1 & 2) by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

28561501Strong Signal (Cyberlove #1):  Garrett Reid is serving the last 9 months of his military career deployed in Afghanistan.  He spends his precious few hours of downtime playing video games, where one day he is mercilessly destroyed by an overpowering opponent. Angry he decides to virtually track down the Orc only to discover that he is Kai Bannon,a "gaymer" with his own Twitch stream (video gameplay channel) with legions of adoring followers and subscribers. At first Garrett hate-watches the stream, trash-talking in the Chat, but before long he finds himself grudgingly admiring him and starting to feel protective of Kai (after hypocritically benefiting from tumblrs full of stalker/fan-fodder about Kai).  He can't resist sending Kai a concerned email. Kai and Garrett then start exchanging initially tense then later, funny and tentatively flirtatious emails, then gchats and more. They have a great opposites-attract dynamic that blossoms into a beautiful sense of compatibility for two people who struggle to be understood, seen and truly known.

There is so much going on in this novel and all of it good. Erickson and Hassell layer emotionally-rich and realistic portrayals of imperfectly loving families, online communities, economic pressures, sexual identity and the tensions and conflicts inherent in building authentic intimacy and friendships while interacting online.  While Kai and Garrett's sexual chemistry is hotter than fire it is not enough to overcome the serious obstacles they face in building something permanent. A lasting relationship require they both put in serious work on themselves and the way they communicate in order to make their relationship work.

I have a great deal of respect for how Hassell and Erickson dealt with Kai's mental health issues. Garrett and Kai love each other but that doesn't magically cure anxiety.  While having an understanding partner is super important, in the end therapy and medication is how those things are addressed. And it is powerful to have Kai be the one who puts in that work and effort, because he values himself and wants more for himself.

30415154Fast Connection (Cyberlove#2):

Dominic Costigan is at loose ends. Twenty-six and recently out of the military, he feels just as lost and directionless as he was at 18, living in his parents' basement and working the counter at the family bagel shop.  At the same time he feels extremely alienated from his old friends, who don't understand why he doesn't simply go back to being the hookup obsessed dude-bro  he used to be. Having only recently become aware of his bisexuality, he is completely unsure about how to approach men and signal he is looking for something more than just a one-night stand.

Luke Rawlings only wants one-night stands. After a disastrous relationship wrecked his career and endangered his family he keeps his sexual needs very separate from the rest of his life. But Dominic's charm, persistence and  vulnerability wear down Luke in bending and eventually breaking his strict compartmentalization, complicating his life in ways that he never expected to value.

I was again moved by the richness of the storytelling. Erickson and Hassell weave multiple storylines and themes into a very satisfying whole. I loved the centrality of family and how fragile but tangled those bonds can be. Both Dominic and Luke are very protective of their families, despite the very different ways those families operate. I love how Erickson and Hassell portray the tender work necessary to rebuild relationships after meltdowns.

Both these novels illustrate one of my favorite relationship lessons -- Relationships take work and while sex can spark relationships it is the commitments made to walk the hard path together that sustain them.  Time and time again Kai & Garrett and Luke and Dominic can get everything right sexually but it is the fact that they come back to each other when things get hard, when apologies need to be made and after things have gotten uncomfortable that builds toward the HEA.  Kai, Garrett, Luke and Dominic are broken, flawed people and they are worth of love in that brokenness.

I can't wait to dive into Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson's backlists and I eagerly look forward to Cyberlove #3.


Gambled Away: A Historical Romance Anthology

51S13AejBxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

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.