Tag Archives: London

December Read-a-Thon: A Naughty Girl Gets a Happily Ever After in Twas the Night Before Mischief by Nina Rowan

26 Dec

‘Twas the Night Before Mischief (Daring Hearts #2.5 – Darius and Penelope) by Nina Rowan (Forever, December 10, 2013)

It’s always the mark of a good novella when the minute you finished it, you’ve hopped online and are ordering the other books in the series. That’s exactly what you get upon finishing Nina Rowan‘s third installment in her Daring Hearts series, focusing on the Hall siblings. Set during the Victorian period, this rather unusual aristocratic family has lived under the umbrella of their mother’s scandal in both St. Petersburg and in London, so naturally, as the siblings come of age, conventional relationships are not going to meet their needs.

Falling between the second and the third full-length book (which comes out in late May 2014), this novella focuses on the serious Hall twin, the spectacled Darius. His fascination with machinery has led him to have a multi-year professional relationship with Henry Darlington, an innovative confectioner, who has worked with Darius on various ways of separating out cocoa butter. This collaboration allows Darius to see the effect of Henry’s sudden remarriage on his twelve year old daughter, Penelope, and offer his own brand of rather (ineffective) cerebral comfort.

Flash forward and Darius is interested in seeing the now fully-grown Penelope again but is shocked at what he finds. Rather than the dutiful, quiet daughter he remembers, this young woman is stunning and vivacious, attracting male attention right and left. In particular, she’s garnered the focus of a Scottish fortune hunter who the Hall family recently ran off from Darius’ sister, Talia, but Darius’ warning to Penelope seems to fall on deaf ears. Yet even this changed Penelope still has the fire in her eyes that always attracted Darius and he steals a mind-blowing, stunning kiss under the mistletoe.

It doesn’t stop Penelope from running away with her Scottish suitor. She’s tired of being the dutiful daughter and getting no recognition from her father. While she likes her stepmother and siblings, she nevertheless feels like she’s on the outside looking in and the memory of her daring mother who would fill a room with the force of personality makes Penelope want more than the invisibility of a woman’s lot in life. She wants someone to truly see her, and so far no one has. When her elopement doesn’t work out and her father’s cool, intellectual colleague Darius Hall shows up in Scotland to rescue her, humiliation wars with relief…and something more. For Penelope finds that Darius is really more like his mistletoe kisses than the cool scientist he leads people to believe, and she might not be the only one with a fire inside. But will their short trip back to London be enough time to explore what’s between them before Penelope has to go back to being a good girl?

I cannot wait to read the rest of Nina Rowan’s Daring hearts series if this novella is any indication. It’s clear by both the author’s Ph.D. in Art History from McGill University, as well as her writing style, that she endows her characters with broad intellectual interests well-rooted in excellent research and solid theory – my favorite kind of historical writing! Both Penelope and Darius are extremely compelling, likable characters and it’s a joy to see them gain a greater understanding of each other. While it’s hard to imagine an aristocrat (even a much younger son) marrying a shopkeeper’s daughter, Rowan does make it clear even in this novella that the Halls are an unconventional lot who have lived through enough scandal that a little more doesn’t really faze them.

While there are a few mistletoe kisses (and a seriously naughty inn scene), there also isn’t a huge emphasis on Christmas, just the holiday season in general, so it’s a wonderful story to continue your holiday reading through the end of December. Many thanks to Ms. Rowan for writing such a terrific novella!

Happy reading!

Pets Make Authors Human: A Pictorial Reflection on Animals, Romance, and Writing

28 Nov

Dean Koontz with his golden retriever – yes, I’m going to admit that I bought my first Koontz book because he always has his golden in the author photo!

It’s Thanksgiving, and if there’s one part of my life I give tremendous thanks for beyond the human members of my family, it’s the four-legged creatures who fill my life with joy and laughter. Following so many author blogs and the Facebook pages of writers I admire, I can’t help but notice just how many people post regular photos and updates of their pets…and how many comments and likes they get when they do.

My Romance Writers of America chapter (go Pocono-Lehigh Romance Writers!!!) recently had the fabulous Caridad Pinerio give an incredibly informative workshop on social media for authors. One point she mentioned was that recipes and pets (with accompanying photos) are pure gold when it comes to social media. Considering what I stop to read I completely believe her, but it made me wonder, what is it about authors and their pets that we find so appealing?

Ernest Hemingway and one of his many cats

I imagine that it’s a combination of shared experience and humanization. We have something in common with even a famous writer like Lord Byron (who wrote the most heartfelt poem to his Newfoundland Dog Boatswain who he buried with a headstone that exceeds Byron’s in size) or Mark Twain. Ernest Hemingway may have been a misogynist, but I bet he had to clean up something heinous his six-toed cats horked up around his house at some point, right? So he and I would theoretically have a conversation starter if we ever met on a distant plain (and I could steer away from the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of his writing).

It’s very easy for me to believe Janet Evanovich invented the successful Stephanie Plum series when I see this shot. Anyone with such a smiley St. Bernard has to have a terrific sense of humor!

There is also the nature of writing – it’s lonely. You usually do it all by yourself, in some cramped, cluttered corner of your house while the humans around you steer clear because you are a) overcaffeinated, b) talking to people who don’t exist (i.e., your characters) and/or c) haven’t bothered to shower because you are headed to a deadline. You know who doesn’t care? Your pet. Your cat selfishly feels you are a terrific source of heat and food as you snack at your desk and your dog simply loves you so much that he or she is willing to drape themselves on your feet and let their bladder the size of Montana fill until you realize it’s been 11 hours since you’ve taken them outside to pee. You do not get that kind of devotion from a person (okay, rarely you do), which could explain writers’ propensity for animal fandom.

Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice Toklas with their poodle. Every pet owner looking at this photo just exclaimed, "A white carpet! Seriously?!"

Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas with their poodle. Every pet owner looking at this photo just exclaimed, “A white carpet! Seriously?!”

I definitely think that authors like Dean Koontz (who actually has given his late golden Trixie her own webpage while celebrating his current golden, Anna) and Janet Evanovich are onto something when it comes time for the author photo. Having a pet in the shot not only differentiates you from the pack, but instantly sends the message, “Oh, wow, this person is an approachable, nice human being” because let’s face it, animals usually only like nice people and are able to detect when some bitchy person carries a whiff of sulphur still lingering from their portal to hell transportation. In Midge Raymond’s “Tips for the Author Photo” article, Raymond emphasizes the importance of maintaining a natural look and that includes your facial expression. It’s virtually impossible to have a pet in the shot with you and not look natural, because you are busy worrying that your dog or cat is going to pee on a light or start barking at a shadow and embarrass you, rather than about how fat your upper arms might look or if you are getting a weird shadow that’s going to make you resemble Winston Churchill when you want the cool J. R. Ward badass vibe (which you probably won’t get unless you have a cool cat in the shot, like a panther).

Don’t let the gigantic dog in the center have you ignore the little King Charles spaniel in the right hand corner – both dogs carry the symbolism of wealth and protection in Anthony Van Dyck‘s Five Children of King Charles I (1637) in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Let’s not forget that the presence of animals in a portrait has always meant something (other than announcing you carry a powerful lint brush in your purse everywhere you go). In the 17th to 19th centuries, animals in a portrait, usually dogs, often indicated that the person or persons in the portrait were worthy of admiration and loyalty, or the breed of animal hinted at the intellectual refinement or wealth of the subject. One of my favorite portraits involving a dog is Anthony Van Dyck’s portrait, Five Children of King Charles I which you can visit in all its splendor in the National Portrait Gallery in London. The gigantic dog being used as an armrest by the future Charles II of England is probably an early variety of Mastiff and the bitty poindexter in the lower right hand corner looking at the chubby (and seriously underdressed) Princess Anne is an early King Charles Spaniel. Mastiffs were frequently owned by the aristocracy for protection, and the King Charles Spaniel was actually named for the young Charles pictured here since he loved toy spaniels, including the one that would eventually carry his name.

Love Bites anthology with stories by Lori Foster, Brenda Jackson, Virna DePaul, Catherine Mann and Jules Bennett (Harlequin, February 2013)

Luckily for us, we no longer look for the deep symbolism when someone takes either a formal portrait immortalizing their puppy or a selfie with their ginormous cat, but readers are still fascinated by the relationship of pets and authors. In the world of romance, we are fortunate to not just have authors who write in terrific animal characters into their books (Laura Kaye’s fabulous three-legged puppy in Hard As It Gets comes to mind, as well as all the animal characters of Jill Shalvis’ Animal Magnetism series), but who actually advocate for them. Lori Foster, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Brenda Jackson, Catherine Mann, Virna DePaulJill Shalvis, Kate Angell, Jacquelyn Frank, and Lisa Jackson are just a few of the authors who come to mind to heighten awareness of animal causes and who even create anthologies where the proceeds go to animal charities.

I’ll leave you with the poem Lord Byron wrote for his Newfoundland’s gravestone since it summarizes a lot of the relationship we have with our pets. Maybe you’d even consider making a donation to your local animal shelter in honor of your favorite romance author – I’m sure they’d be thrilled to hear about that kind of fan appreciation! Whatever your thoughts on how to honor the animals who inspire you – whether they live in your home or are online – let’s all consider ourselves fortunate to have these wonderful giving creatures in our lives and in our imaginations.

Epitaph to A Dog

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG,
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18, 1808.

For more great pictures of writers and their pets I’d recommend the following articles:

“Animal Muses: The Pets Of Famous Writers And Artists” by Alice E. Vincent from The Huffington Post UK (June 25, 2012)

“Portraits of Writers With Pets: The Humanizing Animal Connection” by Emily Temple from The Atlantic (November 28, 2012)

“Literary Pets: The Cats, Dogs, and Birds Famous Authors Loved” by Maria Popova from Brain Pickings (April 29, 2013)

A Riveting Affair Anthology Features Three Page-Turning Steampunk Tales

25 Oct

A Riveting Affair by Patricia Eimer, Candace Havens, and Lily Lang (Entangled Ever After, March 2013)

I love anthologies. I know I’ve said it before and yet it’s amazing how many reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon complain about them. You have to wonder if these are the same people who loooovve novellas, not realizing that the anthology they crankified about online (yes, I invented that verb) happens to contain multiple tales of the same length. Sheesh.

Feeling in a Steampunk/Gaslight mood last night, I decided to read the anthology, A Riveting Affair, largely because it contained a story by Candace Havens, whose writing I uniformly love. I would have paid $2.99 for just her story, but the bonus is that I got two other outstanding novellas for that price, plus found additional authors whose writing I know enjoy. Bargain!

“Beauty and the Clockwork Beast” by Lily Lang

Rose Verney arrives in a steampunk Manhattan on Sebastian Cavendish’s doorstep and she’s sacrificed quite a bit to get there – running away from a controlling older sister, a pestering suitor, and having her pregnant best friend hide her before she could sell her last pieces of jewelry to buy a one-way train ticket from New Haven to the city. But it will all be worth it if her late father’s star pupil can help her finish his teleportation machine.

The Imposter by Lily Lang (Samhain, 2012)

She’s escorted through a dust-filled empty mansion to his bedchamber, shocked that the formerly handsome boy has come through the war with a disfigured face and pronounced limp. More shocking than his physical change is when he begins kissing and groping her, having mistaken her for the prostitute he ordered for the evening. When she instead explains that she is to deliver the blueprints for the teleportation device per her father’s will – and stay to help him finish it – he rejects her out of hand. Rose doesn’t realize that Sebastian has sworn not to build any more machines after watching his work take so many lives during the war.

When Rose not only refuses to leave the following morning, but begins to clean his mansion, revitalize his clockwork servants and rebuild his laboratory in his old nursery, Sebastian finds himself unable to cling to the bitterness and anger he’s nurtured since his time in a Confederate prison. His nightmares come less often when he wakes up to Rose holding his hand, he feels the thrill of inventing again with the best partner he’s ever had working next to him, and the light and comfort in his home reflects what he feels in his heart. But as these two people fall quietly in love with one another, Sebastian’s beliefs about what he truly deserves threaten to come between them and the happiness that lies within their grasp.

This story strongly resembles a gothic tale with a scarred and bitter hero, a dark, scary mansion, and a beautiful, innocent heroine who brings the hero back from the brink. I loved Lang’s character development, the steampunk angle of the recently concluded American Civil War, and the fact that she introduces the moral question of how responsible an inventor is when his creations are used to kill. The only piece I did not enjoy was that Lang is rather “closed door” in her sex scenes, making this story a little sweet for my tasteLily Lang has a small oeuvre (unsurprising as she lists her main occupation as a graduate student) but she’ll be an author I keep a close eye on. I may try one of her intriguingly blurbed historical romances just to see if she carries these strengths in her other works.

“The Clockwork Bride” by Patricia Eimer

Aida Mulvaney feels that her attendance at a Christmas ball is a waste of time when she could be at home with her family working in the lab, but her best friend Esther uses blackmail to get her there. Blackmail is exactly what it takes, considering that this Irish engineer is heading straight to a masquerade given by Lord Capshaw, the Empire’s leading anti-Irish, misogynistic leader of the Luddite party.

Luck of the Devil (Speak of the Devil #1) by Patricia Eimer (Entangled, 2011)

It’s also been three weeks since Aida’s friend Leopold walked out on their engagement, one undertaken to spare him from an arranged match. That he’s a prince and son of Queen Victoria (who is nothing short of enraged at Leopold’s temporary defiance and Aida’s Irish cheek) doesn’t put Aida in a great position, either from a business standpoint or as the butt of gossip throughout London. Still, she’s in disguise this night, so how bad can it be?

Being at the home of her greatest enemy is taking her mind off losing her friend, particularly when a mystery man helps her escape the arrival of Leopold and his insipid German fiancee. Her savior seems happy to take his payment by kissing the stuffing out of her in a dark alcove, but it’s a welcome development to the night. Welcome, that is, until he takes off his mask and she discovers the gorgeous son of her enemy, Julian Capshaw.

Aida also discovers that Julian is actually a talented scientist, a profession unheard of among the nobility, and he demonstrates the extent of his rebellion by whisking Aida away to a party on a dirigible. When he boldly suggests that she solve her current scandal by helping him free himself from his father via marriage, she’s startled but intrigued. She knows that as a scientist who respects her chosen profession, Julian will understand the time she needs for her engineering work so she capitulates to the idea. That there is plenty of steam being generated between them physically doesn’t exactly hurt either. But as this unlikely partnership grows into something more tender, Julian’s powerful father and a resentful Queen attempt to insure these two will never have a chance to explore the future they could have together.

My single criticism of the story was that it was told in the first person from Aida’s perspective; Julian was SUCH a gorgeous hunk of a hero I wanted to experience his point of view throughout the story, too. I loved the steampunk world Eimer created, particularly appreciating how Aida’s loving Irish family created an environment where she could thrive as a brilliant inventor despite political and social obstacles. Julian is the most unlikely match to an Irish commoner, yet from a personality standpoint he is her ideal partner and that comes through with both their heat and their banter. Even though Patricia Eimer seems to have her other books published under the umbrella of contemporary paranormal, I’d strongly encourage her to keep up the Steampunk since she does it damn well!

“Demon Express” by Candace Havens

Lions, Tigers, and Sexy Bears, Oh My! by Candace Havens (Entangled, July 2013)

Professor Maisey Clark has left her research to work as an assassin with a single target – her former fiancee, Julian Darvil. Following him from London to deep in the heart of Texas, she’s glad to capture three grave robbers for her client as his recent trouble – isolated attacks against cattle in the Forth Worth area, coincidentally happening around the same time as grave robbing – indicates Julian’s evil involvement. When the three men turn out to be investigators also hired by her client, she’s annoyed that they have gotten in her way, particularly the leader, Marshall Jake Calloway, fresh from helping the Texas Rangers. His long hair and facial scar do not detract from his overall appeal, but right now she sees this tall hunk of man as an obstacle rather than an ally.

Working and living in her private steam engine, the Iron Witch, Maisey spends her time analyzing blood samples in order to determine if the presence of Julian’s supernatural creatures is causing the phenomena in the area. Created by her father with enhanced abilities and raised from childhood as an assassin of supernatural creatures, Maisey wanted to pursue her intellectual interests but ended up using her natural born skills once Julian attempted to seduce her into creating Wollstonecraftian creatures mutated by viruses in order become the ideal warrior. Needless to say, Maisey hasn’t had an easy road with men, but luckily for her she is surrounded by people who love her, whether it’s her English mastiff Henry, her enhanced acerbic butler Barnes, or the ghost of her dead nanny who sticks around to clean and cook for her, while leveling judgement on Maisey’s choice of clothing.

This outstanding story will leave you wanting more, both from the fascinating world (more gaslight than steampunk since it includes the supernatural as well as clockwork elements) to the wonderful characters which inhabit it. While I was a little miffed at Patricia Eimer telling her story from the first person, Havens does the same and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest because the tone of the story lands closer to Urban Fantasy. I’m really hoping that this story is a prequel to a full-length novel since Jake and Maisey do not get together (although there’s plenty of sexual attraction) and there is an abundance of conflict and plot developments to support a longer storyline. While Havens is a varied, talented writer able to pen seemingly any genre (her contemporary romance, nonfiction about popular culture, and her paranormal writing are all equally wonderful), I don’t think she’s done a tone of steampunk/gaslight, a fact I hope she rectifies considering how much I adore her writing.

A Riveting Affair is a fantastic steampunk anthology for lovers of the genre who enjoy strong female protagonists filled with intelligence and gumption. I strongly recommend this terrific bargain of a book for anyone wanting to be riveted for a few hours. Happy reading! 🙂

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel MacKenzie Puts Jennifer Ashley at the Top of Historical Romance

2 Oct

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #6 – Daniel and Violet) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, October 1, 2013)

Oh, Daniel. Daniel, Daniel, Daniel.

I’ve had a pretty big soft spot in my heart for Daniel Mackenzie since he was the determined teenager bent of making sure his dissipated father, Lord Cameron Mackenzie, recognized that love had finally slapped him the face in the form of the lovely Ainsley Douglas in The Many Sins of Lord Cameron.

How could you not love him? Because Daniel, like his dad, was also damaged by his insane mother prior to her suicide, he has always possessed an aura of the Mackenzie suffering. Yet the fact that he was able to see his father and each of his more damaged uncles find love and happiness meant that Daniel had the potential to be a little braver and more astute when it came time for him to find the woman who would be meant for him.

In the latest Highland Pleasures full-length novel, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, Daniel, now in his mid-twenties, embodies the height of the Victorian age of progress in 1890, utilizing his brilliant mind and his engineering degree developing steerable hot air balloons and tinkering with horseless carriages. When an aristocratic spendthrift insists on repaying a gambling debt to the lucky Daniel by taking him to a London house, Daniel thinks he’s going to a courtesan’s home and wants to make sure the lady in question is going to be all right with this drunk loser. What he finds is Mademoiselle Violette Bastien, a spiritual medium who is undoubtedly and positively a fraud.

The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Highland Pleasures #3 – Cam and Ainsley) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, 2011)

But she’s a stunning, vibrant incredibly smart fraud and after Daniel manages to run off the pack of overindulged nobility who came with him he admiringly examines all the bells and whistles she’s managed to rig up utilizing the home’s internal systems. Attracted by her brain as much as her spirit and delectable body, Daniel can’t help but take a taste and finds himself knocked unconscious for his pains, right after glimpsing a very real look of fear in the eyes of the lovely Violet. When he wakes, she and her mother are long gone, and his gut is telling him not to let go of this particular mystery.

So begins the chase. Jennifer Ashley once again wins my undying admiration as a writer because she pulls off the total believability (in historical romance, no less) of a man fourth in line to a dukedom potentially having a happily ever after with a lower middle class con artist from Southwark. She manages this through a combination of outstanding writing (these two characters are so obviously compatible it’s impossible to imagine them with anyone else) and by spending the other eight books in the series (don’t forget the two novellas!) building the impossible Mackenzie family.

The Mackenzies we all know and love really don’t give a crap about Victorian society’s conventions, to the point where some of them (hell, all of them) actively thumb their nose at what’s expected. After living without love for so long, every Mackenzie is ready to help Daniel get his girl even if she’s not as suitable as the previous women who have married into the family.

Violet is a beautifully rendered character who tugs at the heartstrings. After hearing what her life has been like – she has literally never had anyone look after her and has suffered greatly as a result – you love and admire her as much as Daniel does. As she slowly trusts him enough to reveal her past piece by piece, Daniel’s gentling of her skittishness about anything physical is so sensual and patient that its impossible not to have a couple of heart-melting moments. Naturally we get to see all our favorite Mackenzies, with those babies more grown up and actually talking with their personalities blazing bright. Heaven!

There is a teaser chapter at the end for the next full-length novel in the series, Rules for a Proper Governess, which will be the story of Ainsley’s brother Sinclair, the brilliant Scottish barrister who flattens opponents in the courtroom while not being able to manage his two hellion children after the death of their mother seven years ago. It looks like another unlikely pairing will be in Ashley’s capable hands as the female in question seems even more shady than Violet, but I’ve no doubt she is exactly what Sinclair needs. Since his story won’t come out until early October 2014, we are waiting for the next novella – the story of the other MacBride brother Stephen, who I don’t know too much about – in September 2014. I’m hoping that big wait means I have oodles more Shifters Unbound books headed my way since another of Ashley’s brilliant features is her ability to write astoundingly well in multiple genres.

With yet another amazing book in the Highland Pleasures series which I adore (and right on the heels of the novella The Untamed Mackenzie which was outstanding), Jennifer Ashley has convinced me of not only the suitability of an unlikely pairing in historical romance (no easy feat given my intense preference for historical accuracy) but also that she is a historical romance author bar none. Do yourself a favor and pick up The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie as soon as you can. He might be wicked, but it’s been worth the wait to see this Mackenzie all grown up.

Carina Press Presents Editor’s Choice Volume 1 Is a Smorgasbord of Delicious Romance

6 Jun

Editor’s Choice Volume 1 edited by Angela James (Carina Press, June 4, 2012)

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?

****************************************************************************************************

Kilts & Kraken (Gaslight Chronicles #3) by Cindy Spencer Pape

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.

In Steampunk and Gaslight literature, Krakens are cranky giant squids so attack ships and the occasional shoreline. Yuck.

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.

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Negotiating Point (Private Protectors Series #3.5) by Adrienne Giordano

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.

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Slow Summer Kisses by Shannon Stacey

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.

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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?

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