Review: Blood of a Gladiator

Review: Blood of a GladiatorBlood of a Gladiator (Leonidas the Gladiator Mysteries, #1) by Ashley Gardner
Series: Leonidas the Gladiator Mysteries #1
Published by JA / AG Publishing on May 21, 2020
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Goodreads
four-half-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: The unusual setting along with the introduction of characters with mysterious pasts kept me turning pages on this one. The author now has three great historical mystery series going. I can’t wait for the next one in this series.

THE STORY: Set in ancient Rome, Leonidas, a famous gladiator, is freed from the deadly games by an unknown benefactor who gives him a place to live and a servant but he has to earn his own living. Cassia, a slave, is sent to help Leonidas, but also to spy on him. Leonidas’s first job is as a bodyguard, but it also lands him — and Cassia — in a series of mysteries involving death and kidnapping.

OPINION: This book is a mystery set in historical Rome, during the time of Nero. In this book we get to meet Leonidas who has been retired from gladiator fighting — something he has been very good at but is heart weary and does not desire to continue to kill and maim. One of the overarching mysteries is who Leonidas’s mysterious benefactor is and what his plans for Leonidas are. Leonidas’s story is interesting as he tries and find a place for himself and determine what he wants after years of his life being decided for him. I really liked him as a character because he has secrets that are yet to be mined in the story.

Cassia is also an intriguing character. What is her history, her purpose and her true motives. She is clever and because readers are not privy to her thoughts, she remains mysterious throughout the story. I really liked reading about her because she uses her brains and her recording skills (she is a scribe) to help resolve the mysteries.

Cassia and Leonidas are a good pair. Thrown together for some mysterious purpose, they are developing a good working relationship in this book. I especially liked the respect and care that they show for one another. The book also manages to have quite a bit of action along with the mental exercise of the crime — which is appropriate for a man of physical feats and his scribe slave.

The mystery here has multiple layers which I really enjoyed. The plot is developed through the interviews with various characters in different stations in life — from the emperor himself to merchants to builders to gladiators to brothel women. The story gives a nice view of Roman society along with a good mystery.

I really enjoyed this book, and I look forward to reading more about these characters.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a straight-up mystery without any romance — at least right now. I have hopes for the future.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BLOOD OF A GLADIATOR is the first book in the Leonidas the Gladiator series. This book occurs before the events in the novella BLOOD DEBTS.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book from the author. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

four-half-stars

Review: Death at Brighton Pavilion

Review: Death at Brighton PavilionDeath at Brighton Pavilion (Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries Book 14) by Ashley Gardner, Jennifer Ashley
Series: Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries #14
Published by JA / AG Publishing on 17th December 2019
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 269
Goodreads
five-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: I loved this one. The mystery strikes right into the heart of Captain Lacey — his past, his wife, his view of himself. The detective investigating whether he himself is a murderer is a grand plot and this one kept me turning page after page.

THE STORY: Captain Lacey awakens with a sword in his hand, a dead body, and no memory of what happened. As Lacey tries to figure out what has happened, he has to contend with his past with the dead man and the possibility that he might have committed the murder.

OPINION: This was one of my favorite of the series. The close connection between the mystery and Lacey’s past made this one compelling. I also love the twist of Lacey not being sure whether or not he committed the murder especially with a definite motive that he possesses.

Captain Lacey must seek the assistance of all of his friends to help him find out what happened. Once again, I loved seeing all the supporting characters who have their own developing stories in the series.

This book nicely works on the relationship between Lacey and his wife. There are complications which stretch the characters and give them more depth.

The connection between the mystery and the personal always makes the story more compelling for me. This one kept me guessing throughout and Lacey’s dealing with his own past and his own impetuous personality that gets him into trouble made this compelling.

WORTH MENTIONING: There are loose ends here that are left open nicely leaving possibilities for future books.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DEATH AT BRIGHTON PAVILION is the fourteenth book in the Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries series. Each book, including this one, is a self-contained mystery. It is not necessary to read the other books to jump into this one. There are continuing character storylines that go through the entire series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC from the author which was used in the preparation of this review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

five-stars

Review: A Rogue Meets a Scandalous Lady

Review: A Rogue Meets a Scandalous LadyA Rogue Meets a Scandalous Lady (Mackenzies & McBrides, #11) by Jennifer Ashley
Published by JA / AG Publishing on July 9, 2019
Genres: Historical
Pages: 227
Goodreads
five-stars

“Sophie was a part of him he hadn’t realized wasn’t there. Her simply being in the world completed him.”

FINAL DECISION: I’ve been waiting for David’s book for a long time. The stalwart friend of the formidable Hart Mackenzie, disappointed suitor of Eleanor, David has been awaiting the woman who will turn his life upside down. Sophie gives David a chance to put all his Machiavellian talents to work for good. I loved these two who find something special together after romantic disappointments. The book is clever machinations and romantic interludes, and I loved it.

Sophie is a woman subjected to the whims of a man who has disappointed and hurt her. Her circumstances are emblematic of the lack of power that women of the time could be subjected to. One of the things I really liked is how the women in this book use what power they have to help Sophie. While David pushes some buttons, it is the women who are necessary to resolve Sophie’s circumstances. Sophie also manages to assert some strength of her own in a twist in the resolution of David’s story.

I loved the gentleness and sweetness of Sophie and David’s romance in light of all the sneaky antics going on in this book. There is something gentle and real about their interactions that I found so romantic. David, especially, believes himself unworthy of Sophie and so even while he wants her, he expected to be rejected at every turn.

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long while. THE DUKE’S PERFECT WIFE remains my favorite in the series and this book operates as such a wonderful second act to that book that I smiled throughout. Anticipated books can sometimes disappoint, but I’m glad to say that I was so happy with this book and this romance.

THE STORY: David Fleming, rogue and devious right-hand to Hart Mackenzie, flees London under criminal threat and finds sanctuary with his old friend and mentor.  Also seeking sanctuary is his friend’s niece, Sophie. Sophie is hiding from a scandal of her own. David and Sophie, both involved in complicated personal situations, are immediately attracted to one another despite all the obstacles in their path. It is uncertain whether there is a way forward for them and how much manipulation must be done to bring about a happy ending.

OPINION: I really loved the story here. David and Sophie are such a cute couple. I’ve been wanting David’s story since he was rejected by Eleanor in her and Hart’s book. David deviousness and his unfailing loyalty make him a great candidate for a redemption story. I loved seeing him unraveled here by meeting Sophie.

WORTH MENTIONING: Significant appearances in the book from Eleanor Mackenzie (THE DUKE’S PERFECT WIFE) and Sinclair McBride (RULES OF A PROPER GOVERNESS), plus lots of other cameos, made me especially happy and gave this book a nice connection with the series as a whole.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A ROGUE MEETS A SCANDALOUS LADY is the eleventh book in the Mackenzies & McBrides series. The romance in this book is self-contained and thus the book can be read as a standalone. I think, however, that a reader will enjoy this book most if it is read at least after THE DUKE’S PERFECT WIFE where much of the backstory of David in the series is given.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book from the author. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

five-stars

Review: The Devilish Lord Will

Review: The Devilish Lord WillThe Devilish Lord Will (MacKenzies & McBrides, #10) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Mackenzies and McBrides #10
Published by JA / AG Publishing on January 15, 2019
Genres: Historical
Pages: 315
Goodreads
five-stars

FINAL DECISION: I absolutely loved this book. I’m a sucker for a couple who have new chance at love. This book has a deep romance and a lot of action and adventure. Loved these characters and their story.

THE STORY: Josette Oswald needs help finding a legendary gold treasure and she knows there is no one more suited for such a hunt than Will Mackenzie. Josie and Will have worked together in the past in Will’s spying endeavors sometimes pretending to be husband and wife. But Josie has a daughter to raise and Will’s adventures were a danger to her family and her heart so she sent him away. Now she needs his help but she also has a secret that might destroy the long friendship the two former lovers share and Will’s willingness to help Josie on her quest.

OPINION: This book was my favorite of the 1700s Mackenzies. I loved the relationship between Will and Josie. Things weren’t right for them in the past for a multitude of reasons and I highly respected Josie for turning Will away in order to raise her daughter. Even though Will knows he is not one to settle down, he still is an honorable man who did everything he could to care for Josie and her daughter.

I loved just about everything in this book. Will cares deeply under his devil may care attitude. His immediate acceptance of Josie’s daughter and his love and caring for a child not his own is admirable. And I really liked that Josie’s daughter is not merely a plot device. She is a real character here and I’m glad that we get some resolution to her story as well.

The romance in this book is so different from the usual — we meet and in a week are madly in love and want to spend our lives together — story. There is a real sense that Will and Josie had something special a decade ago, but the time wasn’t right for them. Now the two have a new chance and are in a different phase of their lives. While both have to clear up things from their pasts, this book has a strong sense that the two can finally have a chance for the future together.

There are a lot of moving pieces in this story, but the focus is always on Will and Josie. This is a story of two people who have a decade to realize that what they have together is special and are finally willing to give in to love.

WORTH MENTIONING: For fans of the series, this book gives an update on everyone (from the 1700s).

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE DEVILISH LORD WILL is the tenth book in the Mackenzies & McBrides series and the third book about the 1700s Mackenzies. This book can be read as a standalone although I recommend that readers consider reading the two prior 1700s books because they all are connected.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: A Shifter Christmas Carol

Review: A Shifter Christmas CarolA Shifter Christmas Carol (Shifters Unbound, #11.75) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Shifters Unbound #11.75
Published by JA / AG Publishing on December 11th 2018
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 62
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: A reworking of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this novella takes the familiar story into new directions to good effect. I especially enjoyed seeing so many of the beloved characters from the series, getting background and updates.D

THE STORY: Dylan Morrissey forgoes the traditional and family oriented Shifter Yule celebrations to continue his work to eventually free the Shifters. When Dylan comes to New Orleans and the haunted house, he is treated to a vision of the past, present and future which challenges his priorities.

OPINION: I really enjoyed the twist on the Christmas Carol story. Instead of being a scrooge who needs love and compassion in his heart, this Christmas Carol is about Dylan moving on from the past to see that he cannot do everything alone. The guides on his journey, Ben, Zander and Tiger, are all funny and perfect for their roles. I especially liked that Dylan is compensating for his own feelings of being a failure and trying to “fix” his mistakes. But, of course, Dylan ends up making so many more mistakes.

The best part of this novella is getting to see so many of the characters from the series and getting updates on what is going on in their lives. This is a very nice Christmas novella that works especially well for fans of the series who will enjoy seeing what is going on with the characters.

WORTH MENTIONING: I always appreciate that the novellas move the overarching story forward and are not just asides. Here, there will clearly be long term consequences of Dylan’s recognition that he cannot save the Shifters himself.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A SHIFTER CHRISTMAS CAROL is book 11.75 in the Shifters Unbound series. The story here is self-contained, but it much more rich if a reader is familiar with all the characters from the Shifters Unbound series who make appearances throughout the story.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Ross

Review: RossRoss (Riding Hard Book 5) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Riding Hard #5
Published by JA / AG Publishing on August 21, 2018
Genres: Contemporary
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: Sweet and gentle, I loved this story. After a bunch of angst and drama filled installments, I loved that this is just two people getting to know one another. Yes, there is a dramatic closing set regarding the drug dealers in town, but the heart of of the story is two people discovering one another apart from their town reputations.

THE STORY: Ross Campbell is the “rebel” in the family, turning away from the family stunt business to work in law enforcement. He rescues a damsel in distress when her car goes off the road during a rainstorm. She’s on the way to her wedding and she happens to be Callie Jones, the girl Ross had a crush on in high school. When the wedding doesn’t happen, Callie turns to Ross as a calm in her crazy day.

OPINION: I loved this story. Ross is such a sweetheart. There is a bunch of external drama, but Ross and Callie are pretty stable people. These two are perfect for one another from the start and there isn’t a lot keeping them apart except for them getting to know one another and understand what each wants from the relationship.

The story felt like a sweet spring breeze — refreshing and cleansing with a joy. I loved these characters and how normal most of their relationship is. Yes, there is some external drama, but the two of them are centered and have such normal problems.

In fact, my only disappointment was that I would have liked to see how these two worked out some of their issues that were raised (Ross’ career, Callie’s horse rehab project) since those were important parts of the story.

This was a character centered story where the relationship was far more developed than the plot and I prefer a book with these tendencies. Of all the Campbell brothers, Ross is my favorite.

WORTH MENTIONING: Next up are the Malorys and we get a little preview in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: ROSS is the fifth book in the Riding Hard series. The romance here is a standalone although the series deals with characters in a small town so there is a lot of overlap of characters. Readers also get an update on the prior couples in the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC from the author. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

four-half-stars

Review: Tiger Striped

Review: Tiger StripedTiger Striped: Shifters Unbound by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Shifters Unbound #11.5
Published by JA / AG Publishing on May 22, 2018
Genres: Paranormal
Goodreads
five-stars

FINAL DECISION: I love, love, love Tiger. I would read a story about him going to the grocery store to buy stuff for dinner, but this story resolves some things from his novel so it is a wonderful companion. So glad to get another glimpse of my favorite Shifter couple.

THE STORY: In the middle of the night, Tiger gets the feeling that someone needs him and takes off. But his mate is not allowing him to endanger himself alone again and insists on going along. Tiger knows that someone, somewhere needs him and he has to go.

OPINION: I love when novellas in a series have a purpose. This one definitely is a must read in the series as it has some big secrets that are revealed. But what I love most is the characters of Tiger and Carly who already make such a loving unit.

I love Tiger because he is so honest and centered. He doesn’t have the instincts or interest in deception so we always know exactly what he thinks and feels based upon his viewpoint. This story turns that on its head for a while when we don’t understand his actions, but (of course) everything is neatly explained in the year.

The story is centered around the big reveal so I won’t go into that because it would be a spoiler, but I did love seeing how Tiger and Carly relate to one another as a settled couple and Conner is a cutie.

The story has some action and drama and I loved seeing all the Austen Shifters again. The nice thing about this story is that it has consequence for the series and the characters.

And what is truly to love about this story are the characters. Ashley has created a whole society filled with multi-dimensional characters so their cameos here all have consequence and a nice homecoming feel.

I recommend this novella for everyone who is a fan of the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: We get to spend some time with Conner Morrissey as well. I hope we get to see him more in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: TIGER STRIPED is book 11.5 in the Shifters Unbound series. This novella is an update on the characters of Tiger and Carly from TIGER MAGIC. I recommend reading that book first to get to know the characters.

STAR RATING: I give this novella 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this novella from the author in order to prepare this review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

five-stars

Review: Murder in St. Giles

Review: Murder in St. GilesMurder in St. Giles by Ashley Gardner, Jennifer Ashley
Series: Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries #13
Published by JA / AG Publishing on April 10th 2018
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 300
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: Very enjoyable entry in the series. This one is more mystery than personal but is an interesting jaunt with plenty of appearances by the cast of characters in the series.

THE STORY: Captain Lacey is called to look at a body in St. Giles by Brewster (who is the bodyguard/spy who follows Lacey around). The man appears to have been beaten to death and Lacey intends to make sure that Brewster is not unjustly accused of the crime. Lacey’s desire to investigate, however, is complicated by his stepson being in danger from his relatives who want to take him away to live with them. This mystery has multiple layers and storylines.

OPINION: This book is focused primarily on the mystery which although Lacey has some concerns about protecting Brewster is not really a personal quest for Lacey. Instead, there is some distance between his emotions and the case (which happens to make him more rational in his investigations). Indeed, the book has a very meaty set of clues and characters who need to be interviewed. The story has a nice flow and ultimately the solution works perfectly for the set of facts.

For me, however, I prefer these books for the personal journeys of Lacey rather than the pure mystery portion of the book. The moments I remember best are of Lacey’s humor and relationships with the recurring cast in the book. Ultimately, I most enjoyed that Lacey has some struggle to make in determining the relative moral positions of the people that he meets.

The secondary story about Lacey’s stepson works to give some personal drama that the main mystery is lacking. I wish that there had been more integration of that story throughout, but I still enjoyed the chaos that the conflict causes in the Lacey household. The ending of that story and the book were especially well done. In fact, the last couple of chapters had me bumping up my rating because the surprises that were revealed. My appreciation was entirely character based as development and changes were evident. This book also nicely sets up some developments that I’m certain will be explored in future books.

WORTH MENTIONING: I’ve become a big fan of a bunch of historical mysteries lately. This series is one of my favorites because Lacey is so imperfect a character who has a strong moral compass that doesn’t always follow the rules.

CONNECTED BOOKS: MURDER IN ST. GILES is the thirteenth book in the Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries series. This mystery is self-contained but there are characters that have stories which go from book to book. I think the book can be read as a standalone unless having to catch up bothers you.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book from the author in order to prepare a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: Alec Mackenzie’s Art of Seduction

Review: Alec Mackenzie’s Art of SeductionAlec Mackenzie's Art of Seduction (MacKenzies & McBrides, #9) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Mackenzies and McBrides #9
Published by JA / AG Publishing on November 14th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: This was a very enjoyable book. I loved Alec and Celia together and there is a good plot surrounding the romance.  I can’t wait for the next book.

THE STORY: Alec Mackenzie is dead…at least to the English who are searching for the traitors after the Scottish uprising that ended with Culloden. After his remaining family fled to France, Alec has returned to England with his young daughter in order to search for his brother Will who may have been captured by the English. Alec is masquerading as Mr. Finn, a poor Irish artist taking on students. His student is Lady Celia who is the daughter of the duke that Alec suspects is implicated in his brother’s disappearance. Celia is intrigued by Mr. Finn and feels that there is much more to the man than he presents.

OPINION: I loved the interaction between Alec and Celia. That interaction is what made the book for me. Like the other Mackenzie books, this book has larger than life characters who have intense feelings for one another. The connection between these two is immediate and quite beautiful.

Alec’s kindness and gentleness made me fall for him, too.  He is a man who has big emotions and love. One of his best qualities is the love he has for his daughter and his family. He is adorable in that seriously manly fashion. As he meets Celia, he is pulled into caring for her as well. His support for her artistic talent and her wishes and thoughts is very attractive as well.

Celia is strong and determined even under the intense manipulation and pressure of her mother.  Her willingness to do what is right for her despite the pressures of society which leaves her ruined, her complex feelings for her family members, and her insistence of being treated as a partner give Celia depth that I enjoyed as well.

The plot here works as well. Alec’s search for his brother involves various schemes and plots and unwinding the villains and heroes. There is also enjoyable glimpses of the remainder of the Mackenzie family so those who have read THE UNTAMED MACKENZIE will be pleased to see what has happened with the family since the events of that book.

Ian and Beth also open and close this novel. Fans of the original books will be pleased. I’m hoping that in the next book we will get to see more of the more of the Victorian era Mackenzies.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book sets up Alec’s brother Will’s book. I can’t wait to hear his story.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  ALEC MACKENZIE’S ART OF SEDUCTION is the ninth book in the Mackenzies and McBrides series. While this book is a self-contained romance (which is a prequel to others in the series), there is an introduction from Ian Mackenzie (THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE) and I think at least that book should be read first just to put the story in context.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC from the author in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: Tyler

Review: TylerTyler (Riding Hard, #4) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Riding Hard #4
Published by JA / AG Publishing on April 19th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 265
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Well, hello tall, dark, and sexy.”

FINAL DECISION: Loved this story. There was an immense sense of kindness between these characters along with the attraction and lust. One of my favorites of the series.

THE STORY: Stunt cowboy Tyler Campbell is saved from a severe beating at a biker bar by divorced mother Jessica. Despite the sad pasts of both, there is an intense connection between them that leads to a night together. In the morning, however, Jessica has second thoughts about getting involved with Tyler. When danger threatens Jessica and her son, however, she turns to Tyler and his hometown for help.

OPINION: There are some books that I shouldn’t start reading late at night because they are so addictive that a chapter or two just won’t do it. This is one of those books. I loved it from the beginning. Tyler and Jess are both so nice and skittish without have a thick skin separating them from others. Once these two get together there is not question that they are meant for one another. In fact, most of the drama is external which makes the sweetness between these two special.

I also really enjoyed seeing the couples from the previous books and other characters from the series. My favorite series are ones that don’t forget that the other characters exist in the same world.

Both Jess and Tyler have scars that make them skittish with one another and yet the two quickly find that they have something special together. I liked how everything worked in this story (except that points of the plot resolution seemed a little farfetched, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment). I finished this book in the middle of the night and didn’t regret it at all even though I had to wake up early to start my day.

WORTH MENTIONING: Lots of children in the air.

CONNECTED BOOKS: TYLER is the fourth book in the Riding Hard series. While this romance is self-contained and can be read as a standalone, there are secondary characters from other books in the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars