Review: The Scoundrel’s Honor

Review: The Scoundrel’s HonorThe Scoundrel's Honor (Sinful Brides, #2) by Christi Caldwell
Series: Sinful Brides #2
Published by Amazon Digital Services on February 14th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 354
Goodreads
four-stars

“Somewhere between Ryker Black’s rise from guttersnipe to ruthless owner of the Hell and Sin Club, the world had learned — one did not cross him, interrupt him, or interfere with his dealings.  Ever.”

FINAL DECISION:  A story that has a lot of drama, this book stays on the surface of the emotions of the characters.  That makes what might otherwise be a dark book interesting but not compelling.  I enjoyed the book because of the characters especially the heroine.

THE STORY:  Lady Penelope Tidemore is having her debut and she intends on being proper in a family full of scandals.  Unfortunately, at the first opportunity, Penny ends up in a bigger scandal than anyone else.  She is caught in a compromising situation with Ryker Black, the bastard son of a duke and the owner of a gaming hell.  There is little choice but for Penelope to marry Ryker but is there any hope for this marriage between strangers from such different worlds?

OPINION:  This book takes what might be a dark subject and keeps the pacing and story on a less dramatic level.  The book lacks the depths of a dark, angsty novel with the same subject matter, but it has a sweetness and gentleness to the story that will appeal to readers who want a little bite to their stories without delving into darkness.

In many romance novels, it is the hero whose characters I tend to like more.  Here, I liked Penelope the most in the book.  Here is a woman who is raised among a loving and privileged family.  The worst thing she has to worry about is gossip and scandal about her family. When she is thrust into Ryker’s world, she makes attempts to bring some of her lightness and gentleness into his world.  While he continues to reject her, she is determined to make this new world a better place and bring some of her hominess and family to bear on the new family she gains.

Ryker is a self-made man who struggles with what he had to do to survive. He is guilt ridden and at his core afraid.  He hides all the seething emotions inside himself with order and rules and coldness.  Penelope comes into his life with her constant chatting and her innocent belief that she can make things work out. She is a dreamer who won’t allow the reality of life to sap her of her optimism.  Ryker just doesn’t know how to deal with that.  I liked watching his world as he has constructed it crumble under Penelope’s gentle ruthlessness.

For me the characters were the highlight of this book.  The romance in this book happens incredibly fast and there is so much animosity between these characters at times, it is hard to believe that they so quickly fall for one another.  My second complaint is that this book uses almost exactly the same sequence of events as the first book in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Penelope’s younger sister HAS to get a book someday!

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE SCOUNDREL’S HONOR is the second book in the Sinful Brides series.  The hero in this book is the brother of the heroine in the first book.  The story is self contained and can be read on its own although I recommend reading the first book in order to better understand the characters.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-stars

Review: The Rogue’s Wager

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Rogue’s WagerThe Rogue's Wager (Sinful Brides, #1) by Christi Caldwell
Series: Sinful Brides #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services on October 25th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 338
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  The book started out slow, but as it progressed and the characters revealed more about themselves, I loved how the two of them were similar in unexpected ways.

THE STORY:  Robert Dennington, Marquess of Westfield, has spent years in aimless pursuits after having been betrayed. The heir to a dukedom, Robert allows himself to wallow in drunkenness and vice one night.  On that night, he ends up at the Hell and Sin Club and in the rooms of Helena Banbury, who lives at the gaming hell and is the bookkeeper for the enterprise. That night ends up changing Helena’s night as she is sent to live with her father, a duke. It is difficult for an illegitimate daughter in the aristocratic world but Helena ends up meeting Robert again and making a deal for his pretend courtship of her so that she can discourage other men.

OPINION: This book has a quick opening gambit as Helena and Robert end up in a compromising position, but then the book slows way down when Helena goes to live with her father.  I found much of the first part of the book disjointed and the pacing slow.  There are just too many things going on and the story didn’t really focus on the couple.

Eventually, however, the story began to concentrate on Helena and Robert and that is when I became more engaged with the book.  I did like these characters, especially Helena.  She is a woman who is determined to control her own life despite the efforts of the men in it.  She is intelligent and has made a place for herself in her brother’s gaming hell.

Robert is a hidden sweetheart.  A man who is a romantic at heart but has been burned and thus chosen to cut himself off from his hopes of love. He quickly sees worth in Helena even though she is scarred and illegitimate. His courtship of Helena was my favorite part in the book (from their waltz lessons to his final romantic gesture to win her).

Despite the uneven nature of this book, the characters really pulled out the story in the end. It was their personality, their relationship and their triumph that I cheered.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I love a heroine who is talented in math — and Helena is even better than the men in her life.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE ROGUE’S WAGER is the first book in the Sinful Brides series.  The characters here are connected to prior Caldwell series, but this book is a standalone.  I have not read the prior series but didn’t need to in order to get the full impact of this book.  This book did, however, raise my interest in reading the prior series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: The Duke

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The DukeThe Duke (Victorian Rebels, #4) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels #4
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on February 7th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Life, with all its perils and torments, still belongs to the living. We have a responsibility to live it. You should not waste it by giving over to bleak despair.”

FINAL DECISION:  Once again a wonderful exploration of the darkness that lies in men’s souls and the possibility of love and hope to heal.  A battle between two strong characters make this a worthy addition to the Victorian Rebels series.

THE STORY:  Three years ago, the life of Collin “Cole” Talmage, Duke of Talmage, seemed charmed until his family was killed and he ended up betrayed by one he trusted and imprisoned for a year in a Ottoman cell. What kept him sane during that year was his memory of his encounter with “Ginny” a sweet prostitute with whom he spent his last night in England.  When he is returned to England, emaciated, recovering from torture, and missing hand, he almost dies until an impertinent nurse Imogen Pritchard risks her position to get him the treatment he needed.  Now two years later, Cole has learned to live with his missing hand but his spirits reside in darkness.  He has been searching unsuccessfully for Ginny. He has also been watching the widow next door, Lady Anstruther, who managed to convince an elderly man to marry her with him dying soon after.  Ironically, Lady Anstruther is the nurse who saved his life. What Cole doesn’t know is that Imogen is also the “Ginny” for whom he has been searching.

OPINION:  Another fabulous entry in the amazing Victorian Rebels series, Byrne continues her exploration of the darkness in the human soul and how that darkness can be softened with the power of love and hope.

“I’ve spent so long searching for her, and yet I fear that I’d pass her in the street and not recognize her.”

As the book opens, Cole has just begun to take the hits to his golden boy status.  He inherits the title because of the death of his family.  When he meets and beds Ginny, he doesn’t recognize her as the frightened and desperate woman she is, but he does find something peaceful and comforting with her.  Enough such that a year of torture and hellish conditions made her his touchstone. He has never forgotten her and is determined to find and rescue her.   Perhaps because the memory of Ginny was what helped Cole keep his sanity.  The year in prison changed Cole.  And he is still suffering from the emotional after effects of his horrendous experiences.

“He didn’t need the help of the devil. Case in point, these fits of wrath and unreasonable terror that made Cole want to do unspeakable things. These moments when what he feared the very most was himself…He was barely keeping himself together. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt peace or pity. No, that wasn’t true. He could remember. It has been precisely three years ago. With Ginny.”

Although people see the physical results of Cole’s time as a prisoner, it is the emotional damage that is the most significant. He has been keeping himself together by way of “regulation, convention, and order.”  It is ironically Imogen who threatens to break Cole’s will.  She challenges him by shaking his control. Cole first attacks her because he believes her a villain for marrying a sick and elderly man. She is a woman who should not be living next door to him at all. She seems to be flaunting the very rules that Cole wants to rely upon. While she shakes his control, she also is giving him purpose and a sense of hope even as they argue and engage in combat.

“But the countess Anstruther met his dark look with a mulish one of her own. God, it had been a long time since he’d felt so frustrated, so infuriated. It was…rather glorious.”

I loved Cole. He is a good man who was drawn far into the darkness. He has struggled to survive and doesn’t know how to begin to live again. Although he has relied upon order to control his anger and pain, he really is an unconventional soul who responds to Imogen’s own unconventional nature.  What he really needs is for Imogen to gather him into her arms and comfort him…he just doesn’t know it.

I usually love the heroes most in a romance, but in this book, I think Imogen was my favorite character. She begins the story by allowing herself to be a victim, but gains strength and purpose as the events of her life spiral out of control. By the time she and Cole meet again, Imogen has found a purpose in her life. She is determined to do all she can to help those who need a hand up — especially vulnerable women and children. Acutely recognizing her own savior in her deceased husband, she will use everything she gained as a result of her marriage to help others.  But, that comes with a cost.  She must keep secret from Cole her beginnings as Ginny because she fears that the revelation of her secret will destroy all her good works. Because she must keep her secrets, there is no chance for her and Cole to have a relationship, no matter how much she wants one.

Imogen has managed to keep hold of her hope and lightness despite the pain and travails of her life. It is her kindness and gentleness that calls to the pain in Cole and it is his pain that calls to her to comfort him. From their first meeting, she feels his pain (which only increases due to his capture and torture). Her spirit is called to him to heal and protect. But I also loved that Imogen is no pushover.  She is determined to do her charity work (even if it costs her Cole). She is stubborn and artistic and fierce. She will do what she must to protect those she loves.

“if she believed in everything, it was that everyone deserved a second chance.”

The journey that Cole and Imogen take involves chance.  The chance to reveal their true damaged selves to one another. The chance to move from darkness into light and hope.  These two need three chances to actually find their happy ending, but by the time it comes, the two have earned their peace and happiness.

This was a beautiful romance and a great addition to a series that I have loved. I was also gratified to see all the couples from the previous books make appearances here. There is a real community of people developing and I hope that this trend continues in future books.

WORTH MENTIONING:  For fans of Inspector Morley, there are indications that his story is turning in new directions.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DUKE is the fourth book in the Victorian Rebels series.  This romance is self contained although there are overlapping characters.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: Fascinated

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: FascinatedFascinated: The Wicked Woodleys by Jess Michaels
Series: The Wicked Woodleys #6
Published by Passionate Pen on February 7th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 72
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  Michaels first m/m romance has sweet characters and enough drama to keep interest. I liked this wrap up book for the series especially because these characters are finally getting their redemption after somewhat negative histories in the series.

THE STORY:  Griffin Merrick (the brother of Letty from SEDUCED) is attracted to men but keeping that information from his family. He is especially attracted to Aaron Condit, a solicitor and man of business.  Aaron is one of Letty’s dearest friends despite their complicated past.  Aaron was the lover of Letty’s deceased husband. He doesn’t want to do anything to hurt Letty again but he is really attracted to Griffin but is determined to keep his distance.  When the two attend Letty’s house party, Griffin decides to take a chance and tell Aaron his feelings.

OPINION:  This was a fine conclusion to the Wicked Woodleys series.  These were characters that I liked tremendously, had great sympathy and interest in their journey and for whom I was glad to root for their happy ending.  My one complaint is that the story was very short and therefore some of the complexities were too quickly resolved…but that is always a risk with novellas.

Griffin has grown and matured since the events of SEDUCED. We meet him as he knows who he is but hasn’t come out to his family.  (Of course, revealing that one was gay at the time risked criminal charges). He has met Aaron while visiting places which cater to their particular interest in men.  The two have a lingering attraction to one another but haven’t taken any steps to move forward.  A house party with family and friends gives Griffin the opportunity to make a move on Aaron.

Aaron is still suffering from his actions in being the lover of Letty’s husband.  Even though he is attracted to Griffin, he is not willing to hurt Letty again.  Because of this, he resists his fascination to Griffin — for a while.  I really liked these two and I worried throughout the book for their safety. The book gives a dark and pretty grim (and realistic) depiction of the challenges the two face. The fact that the two of them can manage to love one another in the face of all the threats against them demonstrated their strength and commitment to one another.

There is a nice twist at the end of the story (which I began to suspect) and which I really loved. Fans of the Wicked Woodleys series, especially SEDUCED get a nice update on the characters as well.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This is a m/m romance and a short novella.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  FASCINATED is the sixth book in the Wicked Woodleys series.  This book can be read as a standalone although reading SEDUCED will give the background of both of the main characters (but that background is summarized here).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-stars

Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven

Review: Seven Minutes in HeavenSeven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers, #3; Desperate Duchesses, #9) by Eloisa James
Series: Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers #3
Published by Avon on January 31st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“‘This conversation has gone from improper to obscene,’ she observed. He shook his head. ‘Haven’t you noticed, Eugenia, that almost all of our conversations start at improper?'”

FINAL DECISION: Incredibly lovely story of two people quietly falling in love despite their best intentions.  The story gently pulled these two characters together and I loved every moment of them falling in love with one another. As a fan of James’s work, this book was immensely satisfying as it pulled so many other books together.

THE STORY: Eugenia Snowe is a widow who owns a elite agency for governesses. She has shocked the aristocracy by taking on a profession but has managed to keep some standing with the ton. Edward “Ward” Reeve is the son of an earl and needs a new governess for his wards (his half-siblings) and comes to Eugenia’s offices in order to get a replacement. Ward desperately needs a governess to help shape up his siblings in order to fight for guardianship of them. Although Ward is the son of an earl, he is illegitimate.  He also doesn’t realize that Eugenia is actually a “lady”. Eugenia and Ward immediately are in a contentious relationship and yet the two are attracted to one another. When Ward ends up kidnapping Eugenia to help in his cause, the two begin an affair that neither intends to lead to anything more.

OPINION: Some books are fun one time reads where the entirety of the book occurs on the surface of emotions, and some books urge you to sink deeply into the emotions of the characters, their lives and their romance.  This book is the latter.

Nothing in this book turns on quick resolutions, excessive drama or quick action. I loved how I got to know the strengths and weaknesses of these characters.

Ward is a self-made man who has accomplished so much and yet has his own insecurities. A true gentleman, Ward is smart and talented, but entirely willing to give up his life for his half-siblings.  Ward’s life has changed dramatically after his engagement to Mia in FOUR NIGHTS WITH THE DUKE. The events in that book left Ward more cynical, with phobias and PTSD from his imprisonment. He is also remarkably clueless about social conventions and doesn’t realize that Eugenia is the daughter of a marquess. He is, however, determined to save his half-siblings from the tender mercies of his material grandmother. For that, Ward needs to turn two unschooled “small devils” into model children so that he can keep guardianship. I loved the balancing of Ward’s human foibles in this book. He is imperfect and thus fascinating because of it. When he makes the “almost” unforgivable mistake with Eugenia, he takes well to the groveling required in those circumstances.

Eugenia is a woman who controls her own destiny. She is strong and an entrepreneur long before women were accepted in such roles. A widow, she thankfully deeply loved her husband (which is a nice change from women who seem to only have terrible first marriages). True, she might look back on her marriage with too much nostalgia, but the death of her husband and the years, changed Eugenia and made her more independent and stubborn. After years of being alone, she is shocked out of her widowhood by Ward. Attracted to him physically, she considers the possibility of an affair. I liked that Eugenia is not afraid of her sexuality even as she initially wants to linger in her memories of her husband.

For me, this book was a treat because it brought back two precocious children from James’s Desperate Duchesses series. Bringing back children is often tricky because, of course, those with happy stories usually are not good subjects for books of their own. James has managed to provide the right amount of angst but focusing not only on their very early days of unhappiness, but also pivotal moments each experienced as adults which brought them moments of darkness. This makes the characters more interesting (because hey, who wants a story about well adjusted, perfectly happy and normal people without any flaws or painful pasts?).

This book made me fall madly in love with it as each page turned. Ward and Eugenia are smart and banter with one another as adults. They are completely willing to enjoy a sexual affair, but can’t help but become emotionally entangled with one another. I only took a small amount off my rating because I couldn’t help but feel that Ward should have been smarter to realize he was being a jerk with regards to Eugenia and, if nothing else, should have realized her origins long before he did. But that is just quibbling.  This book is a joy to read and what it made me want to do is start reading the prior series over again because there is so much good stuff in this one.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of James’s Desperate Duchesses series may remember both Ward and Eugenia as children who appeared in her Desperate Duchesses series (DESPERATE DUCHESS and DUCHESS BY NIGHT).

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SEVEN MINUTES IN HEAVEN is the third book in the Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers series.  (This series is a spin off of the Desperate Duchesses series).  This book can be read as a standalone although there are overlapping characters that make the book better having read the other books in the series (actually both series).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: Mogul

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: MogulMogul (The Knickerbocker Club, #3) by Joanna Shupe
Series: The Knickerbocker Club #3
Published by Zebra on January 31st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 352
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION:  The weakest of the series, this book is about two people getting a second chance at love.  I liked the story overall, but I didn’t enjoy the romance as much because the characters seemed to have too many convoluted reasons to be apart.

THE STORY: Calvin Cabot has risen from a reporter to owning a number of large newspapers.  His only regret is the woman he had to leave behind.  Lillian Davies is the daughter of a self-made man but her father has greater aspirations for her. Calvin and Lillian had married in a whirlwind courtship until Lillian’s father stepped in.  After an annulment, the two have been apart.  Now Lily needs Calvin’s help when her brother disappears and the two find that their attraction to one another has not diminished with time.

OPINION:  I liked so much of this book, but the romance was a weak point.  So while I loved the time period, loved the motivating story about Lily’s brother’s disappearance. There was a little too much drama with Lily and Calvin and too many things working to keep them apart that the drama exhausted me and my patience in the book. So while I liked the book, it’s not one I would return to again.

Lily is a woman who has taken the reins of her family’s business, Lily is strong and independent but still hurts from what she believes was Calvin’s betrayal years ago. I liked her and liked her journey, but I couldn’t help but think that she was annoyingly naive for believing the explanation for the annulment in the beginning.

Calvin was a character that I had expected to like a great deal, but once again, I got too annoyed and caught up in his continued lies and half-truths to Lily. I understand his loyalty and his feeling that he could not reveal the truth, but it got tiring that he kept being placed in the position to self-destruct his relationship with Lily. I was inclined to like him, but I got tired of his drama by the end.

It might sound that I didn’t like this book.  Actually, I liked it well enough, but it didn’t live up to the promise of the other books in the series. I suppose I was more disappointed because while I loved the premise of the book and I found the history explored in it fascinating, I just got too annoyed by the misunderstandings between the characters to want a re-read.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book explores the history of discrimination against the Chinese in the United States and the consequences of the exclusionary policies of the government.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  Mogul is the third book in the Knickerbocker Club series. It is not necessary to have read any of the previous book in the series although there are overlapping characters.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review. I was not required to write positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

three-stars

Review: Baron

Review: BaronBaron (The Knickerbocker Club, #2) by Joanna Shupe
Series: The Knickerbocker Club #2
Published by Zebra on October 25th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 311
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  I liked the quirky heroine who is strong willed-independent and a survivor. She completely upends the ordered life of the hero who is a bit of a difficult character to like at first. Ultimately, I liked their romance but it was a bit of a trial for me to get there.

THE STORY:  The heir to old money William Sloane is a railroad baron who has decided to run for state government.  In order to protect his running mate, however, he has to cut the tie his running mate has with a medium Madam Zolikoff who William knows is a fraud. When William approaches Madam Zolikoff, he finds Ava Jones (who works under the pseudonym).  Ava is working as a medium in order to support her orphaned siblings. William is reluctantly intrigued by the spirited Ava even as he knows that he has to marry a woman of his own class; Ava is wary of William after having been burned by a man before.

OPINION:  I thought this novel had a new story to tell because of its setting and time.  The characters and situation felt fresh even as the cross-class story of a rich aristocratic man and lower class woman is familiar.  These characters and their situation was new.

Ava was my favorite in the book.  She is so strong and determined.  A woman who has carried a heavy burden of caring for her family, she has done well for herself. She knows she is skirting the edge of wrongdoing with her medium act, but she tries to be the most honest she can. I loved her relationship with her siblings and her fears and desperation when it comes for being responsible for them. I felt for her after her abandonment by her lover and understood her stances as she tries to balance her desires with her fears and her responsibilities.

Will was a more difficult character for me to like.  He was a jerk in the last book and he doesn’t start out much better here (actually, he might be worse).  Self-righteous, entitled, self-indulgent, he looks down on Ava from the start. As the story continues, I began to have, if not sympathy, then understanding of his actions.  By the end of the book, I felt he had changed enough to be worthy of Ava, but the time it took to get there diminished my interest in the book somewhat.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book has some fascinating history about the prevalence of spiritual mediums at the time and takes place amidst the corruption of Tammany Hall.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  BARON is the second book in the Knickerbocker Club series.  It can be read as a standalone although I recommend reading book 1 first just to learn more about the characters.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: Magnate

Review: MagnateMagnate (The Knickerbocker Club, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Series: The Knickerbocker Club #1
Published by Zebra on April 26th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 325
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A romance between the birth rich heroine and a self-made man, this story is animated by the heroine’s own ambitions.  The characters are rich and interesting and I loved how these two slowly overcome their own inclinations.

THE STORY:  Emmett Cavanaugh is a self-made man who comes from the slums and has brought himself to the heights of wealth and influence. The one thing he has kept away from is useless society women until he is approached by Elizabeth Sloane.  Elizabeth knows that Emmett and her brother meet together and are friends.  She has taught herself to play the stock market and wants to back her in opening an investing company hoping to fix her family’s finances. Emmett, however, is not friends with Elizabeth’s brother at all.  Indeed, he decides to use Elizabeth to go after her brother and his company.

OPINION:  A book that has life because of its unique setting and characters.  The novelty of a book taking place in this era with characters of a more modern bent make all the situations interesting and new. A woman desiring to open her own business playing the stock market is not an everyday historical.

Elizabeth is a woman struggling against the expectations of history and her own status. Her brother wants her to have “expected” dreams — marriage, family and society events. Elizabeth desperately dreams for independence and self-determination. That desire makes her reckless in approaching Emmett and continuing to meet with him.

Emmett is a man who has made his fortune but resents those with inherited wealth. It leads him to misjudge Elizabeth and continue with his ill-conceived idea of ruining her brother. Yet, he is incredibly forward thinking in his view of what Elizabeth should be allowed to do.

I liked the interaction between these two and I totally fell for their romance.  The only negative for me was that the motivations of the characters became rather convoluted as Emmett and Elizabeth do some assuming about the other’s actions.

WORTH MENTIONING:  MAGNATE takes place during the Gilded Age in New York City.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  MAGNATE is the first full book in the Knickerbocker Club series.  There is a prequel novella, but this book can be read without it.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Tycoon

Review: TycoonTycoon (The Knickerbocker Club, #0.5) by Joanna Shupe
Series: The Knickerbocker Club #0.5
Published by Zebra on February 23rd 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 102
Goodreads
four-stars

“Ted Harper never saw it coming. One minute, he was alone on the platform, and the next he’d acquired a wife.”

FINAL DECISION:  Enjoyable historical set in a period not often written about (America’s Guilded Age), this story kept my interest from the first word to the last.  These are places, people and times I haven’t read about before.

THE STORY:  Ted Harper is a self made man who has risen to own a major bank in New York City.  While on a train platform, he is approached and kissed by a woman who declares herself his wife.  Intrigued, Ted allows the woman to join him on the train. Clara Dobson is a shop girl who is on the run from men who are after during. Danger and mistrust hangs over these two who get to know one another on a train to Missouri.

OPINION:  This novella was an easy and incredibly interesting read. Taking place in a time and place not often depicted in romance novels.  The historical detail is interesting and informative without overwhelming the romance in the story.  Indeed, the characters themselves are truly products of their times, living their lives in the Guilded Age with concerns and problems different from the normal aristocrats.

Ted is a man who worked himself up from a farm to becoming a wealthy bank owner in New York.  He is a good, decent man who knows nothing but work because that is how he managed to change his life. His wealth makes him a target of swindler and cheat and thus trust comes hard to Ted.

Clara is a challenge to Ted’s worldview.  He is immediately suspicious of her and because she refuses to tell him what is threatening her, he doubts again and again her sincerity and yet he is attracted to her joy and fresh attitude toward life.  Clara is a shop girl (she works at the perfume counter at a department store).  A girl from a small town herself, she loves the big town of New York, but her life is now threatened so she is on the run.  Two days — and nights — spent in a private train car with Ted shows her his decency.

Yes, these two travel far in two days (emotionally) but it is a novella.  I thought the story was very well done especially in such a short format.

I loved how these two manage their difficulties and the plot is enough to keep the characters’ story moving.  I definitely will continue to read the other books in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: This novella is a breath of fresh air in a genre often too saturated with Regency misses.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  TYCOON is prequel novella to the Knickerbocker Club series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Gambled Away

Review: Gambled AwayGambled Away: A Historical Romance Anthology by Joanna Bourne, Isabel Cooper, Rose Lerner, Jeannie Lin, Molly O'Keefe
Series: Lotus Palace #2.5, Into the Wild #3, Spymasters #5.5
on May 31st 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 600
Goodreads
four-stars

This is an anthology of five historical romance novellas all with a connection to gambling.  I found the collection uneven but I decided on a 4 rating because I absolutely loved two of the stories, and liked one.

ALL OR NOTHING by Rose Lerner: A regency romance, in this story Simon Radcliffe- Gould is an architect who needs someone to pose as his mistress so that he can get work done at a scandalous house party and allow him to avoid a former lover.  Maggie da Silva is in charge of a gambling den and wants Simon so she arranges to lose her favors to him one evening. She is happy to be his mistress but suffers some disappointment when she realizes he only wants her to pretend.

I honestly thought this novella was a bit of a mess.  There were too many issues: Simon has a former male lover who still wants him and Simon hasn’t dealt with his feelings either; Maggie is Jewish and is just discovering her own heritage that was suppressed in her family; Maggie’s friend with benefit and partner is off threatening their relationship and business; Maggie has a bad reputation and thus when Simon begins to think of a future with her, he knows his family will reject her.  For me, there was just too much going on in this book to be satisfying.  In addition, any romance that ends like a potential business deal rather than emotion isn’t satisfying. There isn’t really chemistry between Simon (who seems more emotionally connected with his friend and former lover) and Maggie. When Simon says in essence “I’ve been in love before and if things don’t work out, I will probably be in love again” it just doesn’t make me interested in the story of these two.  Rating: 1.5 stars.

THE LIAR’S DICE by Jeannie Lin: The book takes place during the Tang Dynasty in China. Lady Bai dreams of freedom from her role as an obedient daughter. Dressing in men’s clothing she visits a public tea garden where she witnesses a murder. A man she met there, Gao helps her investigate the crime where she confronts the possibility of her own brother’s involvement.

This is a story that I should not have liked.  More mystery than anything, the heroine and “hero” spend only a little time together. This is not a romance is a classical sense and I’m not even sure if it has a happy ending.  Despite or maybe because of this, I really loved this story.  Unique and fascinating because the heroine has a strength and determination that transcends the normal romantic desires.  The historical period is not one normally written about in the romance genre so I found it intriguing. The reactions and concerns of the characters felt real and well grounded in historical fact.  I haven’t read the other books in the series, but I certainly will after reading this one.  Warning: not a traditional HEA.  Rating: 4.5 stars.

RAISING THE STAKES by Isabel Cooper: This book takes place in California during the 1930s.  Sam is a survivor who cheats or plays cards of does whatever needs to be done in order to help her family back home.  She wins a flute in a card game which ends up summoning an elven warrior, Talathan. Sam decides to use Talathan’s abilities to help her swindle a crooked preacher in order to save her family’s farm.

This story suffers from its short length.  There are just too many questions that remain and these characters are not investigated enough to make this a satisfying read for me. The introduction of Talathan as an elf raises the question of who are his people and why is he there. I think if this was a longer story, the characters and situation have the possibility of being a really interesting story.  As it is, I was left wanting more.  Rating: 2.5 stars.

REDEEMED by Molly O’Keefe:  James Madison is a former Union doctor during the Civil War who has struggled since the war and what he saw.  His reaction has made him lose faith in himself and separated him from his work and those around him.  One night he ends up meeting Helen Winters who is being kept to sing in a birdcage. Whether she is a captive or something else is going on is something that James can’t seem to put aside.

This story is complicated and dark in many ways. The story captures the mood after the Civil War with bitter divisions remaining. Addiction, PTSD, grief, anger, desperation are all dealt with here in a raw and open manner. I especially loved how James and Helen acknowledge that their needs have the possibility of being the reason these two are attracted to one another — desperation and need rather than love. Never fear, however, because there is a happy ending that felt realistic and satisfying.  Rating: 4 stars.

GIDEON AND THE DEN OF THIEVES by Joanna Bourne: Georgian romance that takes place in London. Gideon Gage has traveled the world making his fortune and has returned to London to face the thieving gang and Lazarus, its crime lord, that has kidnapped his sister. During his quest, he meets Aimee Beauclerc, one of the gang.  Aimee fled from her home during the French Revolution and ended up being sold to Lazarus. She now appraises stolen goods. She agrees to help Gideon with his sister in order to protect her friends who are members of the gang from the man who is attempting to take Lazarus’s place.

I was amazed at how much detail, character development and plotline Bourne manages to get into this novella while making the story comprehensible and satisfying. Fans of her Spymaster series will get appearances by some of the characters from the other novels.  (Hawker! Hawker! Hawker!). At the same time, this book can be read completely on its own without needing information about those characters. I love how Bourne depicts characters with damage and flaws and shows them worthy of love.  This is combined with a unparalleled sense of place that is different from almost every other romance out there.  Rating: 4.5 stars.

four-stars