It’s not the best title, I grant you. Very few hearts beat faster when you read Carina Press Presents Editor’s Choice Volume 1, but the idea of sampling three romance enovellas, which were chosen by Carina Press’ Executive Editor Angela James should make your heart beat faster since, with her job description, she knows how to promote the best of the genre. Remember yesterday, where I talked about how anthologies are like fabulous Las Vegas buffets where you can sample all kinds of things you would never actually order and you end up liking, if not loving some of them? This book fits that description to a “T”.
I was actually super impressed by James’ chutzpah in tying three such different sub-genres together in one volume. Here we have a Steampunk novella (okay, technically a Gaslight novella since magic is a factor and, yes, I’ll explain this in just a minute), a romantic suspense novella, and finally a traditional contemporary romance novella.
It’s been my experience as a librarian that usually the readers of these three romance subgenres usually stick to their guns, to the point of getting itchy trigger fingers when you suggest another romance subgenre. But I’ll confess to the liking the idea of coaxing these die hard fans out of their comfort zone. Three varied novellas are naturally ideal for omnivorous readers (like me), but just in case you don’t like the idea of buying two books you know you’ll never read, each enovella is sold separately (and the link in each review below is to the individual novella, while the link above and in the caption is to buy the anthology).
So, let’s take a look at what you get for under $8, shall we?
THIS was the reason I wanted to read this anthology. I have loved Cindy Spencer Pape since I read Steam & Sorcery, the first book in the Gaslight series, when it came out last year (and I ended up buying a bunch of her other books as well). Her second installment in this series, a short novella entitled Photographs & Phantoms (and it’s free on Amazon or from her website, so don’t hesitate to download it) proved that she could maintain the series momentum, so I was a goner.
In the world that Pape has created, Victorian England is filled with clockworks and dirigibles, technologies that have made a more advanced England (and a more comfortable one). But next to this scientifically advanced society lies a world more in the shadows, one populated by magick (it’s spelled that way in the book) and supernatural creatures. Sworn to protect Britain are the Knights of the Order, the direct descendants of the Knights of the Round Table. Born with varying degrees of magick, these men ferret out magical threats to society.
The first book, Steam & Sorcery, introduced Sir Merrick Hadrian who, in the course of his fighting strange clusters of vampires, is helped by five magically gifted children living in the London slums. He brings them back to his home where their animal spirits wreck his London townhouse and his peace of mind. His sister recommends they engage a governess, but who can they find who can handle this brood – which includes the possibly illegitimate offspring of a knight, a mechanical genius (love Wink! She’s the best!), a sweet young medium who talks with ghosts, a talented pickpocket and a young boy who dreams the future?
Enter Miss Caroline Bristol, a talented governess who has always thought her delicately pointed ears are just a fluke until she begins working for the incredibly handsome Merrick. Merrick thinks he’s a fool for hiring such a beauty, no matter how wonderful she is with the children, but as he discovers more of her past, he realizes he can’t ever let her go. But he worries she won’t be willing to embrace the danger and chaos that would be the life of a wife of a Knight, while Caroline frets that the illegitimate granddaughter of an Earl and working governess is the last person who would be a suitable match for a peer.
Merrick is fabulous as the overwhelmed Knight who can slay vampires but can’t handle five rambunctious children. The chemistry between him and Caroline is set at inferno level and their love scenes are both hot and incredibly tender. The reader falls in love with each of the children (and a few of the minor characters) cheering all the way for this wonderful couple.
The short novella, Photographs & Phantoms, is set in the lovely seaside town of Brighton where Canadian Amelie Deland has set up a thriving photography studio where she can pursue her art. When her subjects start dying sudden and mysterious deaths, she’s worried she might have something to do with it, particularly when a menacing form appears in her pictures. She reaches out to the great-uncle who cut off her grandmother when she eloped to North America with her French lover – her family tells her Lord Drood is a powerful man who can help with supernatural dealings like this. What she does not expect is the arrival of the young and handsome Kendall Lake, a Marquess in his own right and heir to a dukedom, who is more than capable of helping her with the situation.
Kendall cannot believe that no one warned him that Lord Drood’s relative wasn’t the silver-haired spinster he was expecting, but rather a vibrant, intelligent beauty whose smile fires his blood. Although she makes it clear that marriage is out of the question since she wants to maintain her chosen profession, the physical heat between them explodes and he quickly realizes that he has to make this relationship more permanent. Kendall calls in reinforcements from the Order to help diagnose the situation, but when the threat becomes directed at Amelie, Kendall realizes he will do anything to prevent any harm coming to her.
This story is set a few years after the first book, and we have the delight of meeting dark and sexy Kendall, who is the heir to the lovely Duke of Trowbridge, head of the Order who we met in first book. Lord Drood also resurfaces with all the power you’d expect from someone descended from the original Merlin, but what readers will adore is seeing Caroline, now Lady Northland, with her brood of older children (and two new little Hadrians to boot!). They all escort Nell, the sweet motherly girl we met in Steam & Sorcery, who now is a young woman of about 15 and still possessing medium powers which she employs to help crack the case.
Kilts & Kracken is a beefier novella than Photographs & Phantoms and readers will enjoy not only the setting in the Hebrides, but the main characters. Dr. Geneva MacKay is more than aware of the work of her father and brother as members of the Order, but her small amount of magick is employed helping her patients. As one of the few female physicians in Scotland, she doesn’t get a lot of respect but she loves her work. When her father asks her to answer the call for a physician who understands magick in the Hebrides she reluctantly agrees to help him, not sure of what to expect.
She definitely doesn’t expect to see a man who looks like a Nordic god unconscious from a Kraken attack. Magnus Findlay is a Baron and laird of his clan, but he is frustrated with the continued losses of the good people of his island. Almost dying in an attack, he washes up on the local island of Mull, and feels the magic of his island draining from him. When he opens his eyes to the beautiful lowland doctor, he whispers his name and the imperative that he must get back home. Thinking it’s his dying request, she ferries him back, astonished at the way he recovers with power of his island helping him.
But they both realize that their magick calls to one another, but (to paraphrase Facebook) it’s complicated. Magnus is desperate to halt the kraken attacks but he’s also lonely. Not being able to leave the island makes him finding a wife rather difficult. He compromised the first time he was married, marrying someone he liked but didn’t love, with disastrous results. The feelings he has for Geneva almost overwhelm him, but how can he ask a talented physician like her to leave her practice in the city and come to a remote island?
Geneva’s presence naturally brings the Order on the scene, including her brother, Connor, and engineer sister, Melody, who arrive via airship. Connor and Melody bring Melody’s good friend from Oxford, Miss Winifred Hadrian (Wink!) and her handsome foster brother, Sir Thomas Devere. Together they help Magnus discover the dark undercurrents of what is drawing the Kraken to his beautiful island and help push Geneva and him in the right romantic direction.
This is a FANTASTIC series. Cindy Spencer Pape not only draws a complicated, wonderful world the reader buys hook, line, and sinker, but she draws such compelling characters that you find yourself hoping they pop up in the next book since you can’t get enough of them. I’m PRAYING the next book will be Wink’s now that she is a beautiful young woman in her twenties and I can’t help but keep my fingers crossed that the hunky werewolf constable she was enamored with when she was fifteen resurfaces when the time comes. Her foster brother Tom Devere is no slouch either, so I’ll enjoy watching him fall when his number is up. 🙂
Just as an FYI. What is the difference between steampunk and gaslight? Steampunk maven Meljean Brook, author of the Iron Seas series (which kicks TOTAL ass – I’ll have to do a review to convince you) has a handy little graph to distinguish the difference. Take a look:
So steampunk equals more science and technology driven whereas gaslight introduces magical elements. I hope that helps. The young adult series from Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices series, (set in Victorian England and prequel to her Mortal Instruments series), is another terrific example of a pitch perfect gaslight series.
I love romantic suspense so I was excited to try this novella by Adrienne Giordano. Even though it’s part of a series, I had no trouble figuring out the dynamics of the characters. Giordano gives exactly the right amount of information so that a new reader understands enough backstory to get sucked into the drama of the situation quickly (and this is quite a skill – for so many writers this is awkwardly done no matter how great the story).
Gavin Sheppard left the FBI as a hostage negotiator to take a position at Taylor Security and now he’s faced with the acid test – his boss’ pregnant wife has been kidnapped by a fringe political group and he has mere hours before the more gung ho members of the group are going to go in with guns blazing. Good thing he has good help.
Help in the form of Janet Fink, the lovely resident geek who gets information from sources where angels fear to tread. Janet has been drooling over Gavin from the minute he stepped in the office months ago, but can’t chance the office gossip a work relationship would incur. But there is serious heat between them, even while Gavin is undergoing the negotiation of his life.
Gavin is damaged goods – he had a painful divorce with a woman who was unable to handle the stresses of his job. Sexy, pixie Janet understands him effortlessly and he is ferociously attracted to her delectable body and terrific sense of humor, to say nothing of her intellect. He can’t afford to be distracted while trying to save a pregnant woman, but wonders if he can take the bigger risk with his heart.
This novella had a great balance of the suspense element with the burgeoning romance between Gavin and Janet. The romantic tension and sex scenes were hot but brief (consistent with most romantic suspense) but Giordano manages to effortlessly interweave the romance with the actual action so both plots progress. I felt that this story was excellent and promptly put all the previous books in the series on my “to-read” list.
I’m not a huge fan of the sweeter contemporary romance, but I loved that this one was set in New Hampshire (my favorite state of all time) and involved a cranky recluse and his type-A neighbor, so I was happy to give it a try.
I’m so glad I did – Shannon Stacey is a fabulous writer who gives the reader a strong sense of place (I could smell the trees and hear the lake while I was reading) and three-dimensional characters.
Anna Frazier is a victim of the recent economic downturn, losing a high-paying job in finance and forced to retreat to her grandparents 1970s-decorated cabin in rural New Hampshire. She has some memories of being by the lake as a child, but has been on the fast track for so long that slowing down seems like an endeavor meant for other people.
Slowing down is exactly what Cameron Mayfield excels at. His marriage dissolved years ago when he realizes that his work in the city was driving him to the same early grave which claimed his father’s life. Now he fishes, swims in the lake, and does various carpentry jobs, loving his life. Yet he’s still a pretty cranky individual, but damn it, he’s happy.
When Anna shows up at the cabin next door he remembers her as a bossy little kid and not a lot seems to have changed, except for the fact that she’s utterly gorgeous. Compelled to help her to the point that even he doesn’t understand his motivation, Cam finds himself drawn more and more to her, but he knows there’s no future here. Anna is desperately trying to get right back on the hamster wheel he rejected long ago.
Cam was cranky enough that it took a while for me to warm up to him (Anna was a little easier to love, although even she drove me slightly crazy with her lists – and I like lists!). It seemed so intrinsic that these two characters were just not the types to talk about their feelings or take risks, yet I wondered about that – wasn’t the point of their lives that they had been risk takers in the past? I guess not in the relationship arena. Seeing the well-crafted scenes of the two of them simply being with each other showed the progression of their relationship and the Yankees vs. Red Sox conflict was absolutely hilarious! I also think that the final scene where Anna confesses her feelings for Cam, having stripped out of her business suit and jumped in the lake, was a poignant moment that I’ll be thinking about for a good long while.
Shannon Stacey is the author of the highly rated Kowalski Family series, books I’ve seen great reviews for but never indulged in. I may have to change that since this novella possessed strong writing even if the characters weren’t what I would normally choose for my romance reading. It’s easy to see why the name Shannon Stacey is synonymous with humorous, heartfelt romance.
Needless to say, my final verdict is that this anthology of novellas is comprised of top quality writers. Listed for $7.99 (Amazon currently has it for $6.79), that works out to only a couple dollars per book, so if all three sound appealing, your best value is the anthology. Each individual novella lists at $2.99 each, but even that shouldn’t make you shy away since they are each long enough to be worth it.
This anthology does exactly what I expected it to – introduce me to a few new writers (while enjoying one I already loved). Readers can trust Angela James to not steer them wrong – I for one would like to offer her a personal “thank you” for putting this anthology together. It turns out buffets are almost as delicious as Carina Press novellas, but of the two, Carina offers me a cheaper deal, more hours of enjoyment and no calories. Which one would you go for?