Tag Archives: P. G. Forte

Carrie Ann Ryan’s Montgomery Ink Series Leaves Readers Permanently Marked and Wanting More

13 Aug

Ink Inspired (Montgomery Ink #.5 – Shep and Shea) by Carrie Ann Ryan (Fated Desires, February 15, 2014)

The world of romance writing is a fabulous place.

While I have zero interest in ever getting a tattoo (or solving a murder, or meeting vampires, or extracting a hostage from the clutches of a drug cartel), I get to read about fascinating characters who love the world of permanent body ink, and who fall in love during the process of considering what body art to acquire.

At least I do whenever I have the pleasure of reading Carrie Ann Ryan‘s new Montgomery Ink series.

While the first full-length book of this series, Delicate Ink, will be published on October 14th, we can enjoy the two prequel novellas to the series that she has put out to tantalize us until then, both of which take place in that most sensual of cities, New Orleans.

Ink Inspired (which, let’s be honest, should win some kind of cover art award because yikes) stars Shepard Montgomery, a talented tattoo artist with an established reputation who has created a life filled with his art, friends, and his large and loving family but who finds himself wanting more. He’s tired of the semi-drunk tourists who stumble into his shop not caring what they are about to permanently put on their bodies, and it’s this attitude that has him being brusque with the prim blonde who can’t decide what tattoo she wants. That she’s scared to death is a given, and Shep isn’t about to ink her until she absolutely sure what she wants. What he can do is pursue her despite his poor first impression, as his mid-life ennui has disappeared in her presence with one look out of those big eyes.

Shea Little can’t tell the huge, handsome tattoo artist what she wants because she has no idea. She barely understands who she is, having suffered with the constant emotional abuse of her mother and her bossy ex-boyfriend. Coming from a politically prominent and moneyed family, Shea has tried to make a life of her own working in her little accounting office and wearing her suits. She can control her immediate world even if she can’t control the negative things her mother thinks and says, and choosing ink for her body wouldn’t just be a rebellion but a big step to asserting her independence. The sexy, oh-so-dirty Shep Montgomery, however, is not within her sphere of control, although she finds his relentless pursuit of her unbelievably sexy. When she develops feelings for this gentle, scorchingly sensual man, all her efforts to create her own life might come to an end when her family threatens to destroy him.

Delicate Ink (Montgomery Ink #1 – Austin and Sierra) by Carrie Ann Ryan (Fated Desires, October 14, 2014)

Oh. My. God. Shep is the last person you’d think to pair with Shea, so naturally he’s perfect for her, since he understands and supports her work to uncover who she is and what she wants on her own time. While he knows that he’s from a different world, Shea and Shep are kindred souls who learn from one another. That Shep is more than happy to show Shea what she’s been missing regarding her sexuality, is a bonus for readers and for Shea, and I defy you to find a more heinous bitch of a mother than the abusive and manipulative villain in this story. Remember, this is an edgy hero, with plenty of f-bombs, piercings in sensitive areas, and the frequent use of the modern adjective “hella” but chances are you are going to love him as much as Shea by the last page.

This novella is skillfully written as Ryan manages to lay the groundwork for the entire series, smoothly weaving in Shep’s Colorado cousins (the focus of the series and owners of their own tattoo business), minor characters in the New Orleans shop, and hints of the Montgomery clan’s own social and political influence (albeit the less prominent and far shadier variety than Shea’s family). Shea easily could have been a cowed, naive twit, but instead she is a woman struggling against the bonds that have tethered her personality for so many years, with Shep coming at exactly the right moment to help her break free. Shep is one of the sexiest, sweetest rough heroes I’ve read in a while, and I’m certainly hoping I get to see and hear from him in future installments of the series.

Midnight Ink Box Set (seen here with the individual book covers for each of the novels contained within it) featuring stories by Jayne Rylon, Sidney Bristol, Robin L. Rotham, P. G. Forte, Eden Bradley, R. G. Alexander, Carrie Ann Ryan, and Mari Carr (Amazon Digital Services, November 18, 2014)

Ink Inspired is also a great deal, only $.99 right now on Amazon, and you can get it as one of the novellas contained in the Midnight Ink box set if there are other authors in that collection who also appeal to you (and there are some doozies in there!). I can honestly say – as a decided connoisseur of boxed sets – that I was blown away by Midnight Ink, a collaboration of the group of authors who make up the Inkheart Authors (and several of whom are in the quality romance author group, the Smutketeers). These wonderful authors developed a New Orleans tattoo parlor, Midnight Ink, figured out who the key characters were (either artists, owners, or patrons) and then each developed a story. The result is a brilliant sequence of moving, erotic, emotional stories as these men and women move to find their happily ever after (HEA) in the Big Easy.

The consistent quality and deliberate cohesiveness of the anthology makes this feel almost like one of those big Baskin Robbin’s ice cream bowls with 21 flavors – they are all delicious but each have a different (delicious) taste. Keep in mind that the various stories’ focus ranges from more traditional uber-hot romance to menage to BDSM-themed romance, but with the execution and writing quality so high, I think even readers who don’t normally choose some of those themes will find themselves reading to find out how each character takes a chance on happiness. At $5.99 for over 500 pages, it’s a good bargain, although I’ll warn you that I loved so many of these stories that I went out and bought the other books related to them to find out more about the secondary characters and relatives of the Midnight Ink characters!

Ink Reunited (Montgomery Ink #.6 – Sassy, Rafe and Ian) by Carrie Ann Ryan (Fated Desires, January 29, 2014)

One character who we did not see get her HEA in the anthology was Midnight Ink’s receptionist, Sassy Bordeaux, who played matchmaker when she saw which way the wind was blowing with each of her coworkers and clients. Luckily Carrie Ann Ryan took it upon herself to not leave Sassy out in the cold, and Ink Reunited is a wonderful tale of Sassy realizing her own dreams. This novella explains how years ago the sensitive yet brash receptionist had fallen for two very different men after running away from her abusive, wealthy home. Rafe Chavez loved Sassy from the start when his loving parents added the homeless waif to their large family and she honed her administrative skills working in the Chavez chain of auto repair stores. But Rafe never considered Sassy a sister and the heat between them became all-consuming when Rafe brought home a wealthy stranded client, young millionaire Ian Steele. The three of them fell head over heels in love with each other, but when Ian began to distance himself emotionally from Rafe and Sassy, Sassy couldn’t handle yet another massive rejection from the men in her life and she ran.

A decade later, Ian has never stopped regretting the impulsive actions of his young twenties’ self so when Rafe tells him that Sassy has been in New Orleans hiding under their noses the whole time, they commit to winning her back and renewing their relationship, this time for the long haul. To say that Sassy is shocked by their appearance is an understatement, but her heart is reluctant to risk everything – again – on these two wonderful men. As Rafe and Ian convince her of their seriousness and show her how their unconventional partnership will hold up to family and public scrutiny, an ugly specter from her past rears its head to threaten everything they are trying to rebuild.

This is a wonderful menage story with a strong focus on the emotional journey of three people who have known and loved each other for a long time. Rafe and Ian would each be a catch, but both of them together? Sassy is one fortunate woman, whose heart of gold almost undermines her future. I loved this 100+ page novella which whetted my appetite for the upcoming full-length novel in the series, Delicate Ink.

Honestly, if you haven’t already gotten Midnight Ink, I would recommend getting it and Ink Reunited, as that gives you over 600 pages of amazing, spicy New Orleans romance for under $9.00, but with each story of the anthology available independently, the world is definitely your oyster if you want to pick and chose what you think looks good. Know that part of the Inkheart Authors and the Smutketeers motto is quality romance, which means that everything they publish is beautifully formatted and edited.

Just like a tattoo, the Montgomery Ink series and its related stories are bound to leave a permanent mark on your romance reading soul, but the good news is that, unlike going under the needle, this process is painless thanks the excellent writing of Carrie Ann Ryan and her fellow authors.

Happy reading!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of November 24, 2013

24 Nov

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Lots of good books both coming out this week as well as long awaited books with release dates announced.

I think Tessa Bailey is one of contemporary romance’s hottest new writers, so I’m excited to stay up until midnight tonight to watch the next book in her awesome Line of Duty series delivered to my Kindle (and write a review for you to be posted on Monday). We’ve already met the hero and heroine in the third book in the series, Officer Off Limits. Since Brent and Hayden’s two best friends are head over heels in love they can’t help seeing a lot of each other, even though each rubs the other the wrong way. Hayden’s got a host of trouble coming from her Park Avenue family who are looking to have her get married to a rich and influential man and the rough and tumble cop who pushes her buttons is also um…pushing her buttons. After a taste of each other, Brent is determined to not let go, but Hayden wonders how on earth this hot affair could have a happy ending?

Don’t you remember my telling you what a phenomenal author Laura Kaye is? Her latest, Hard As It Gets (OMG, the cover!), begins her Hard Ink series as of Tuesday, November 26th, so I’ll be staying up late for this delivery as well. This story, featuring a former military man turned tattoo parlor owner and the daughter of his military commander who has always been off limits, is bound to have her usual blend of heat, great characters, and an emotional story that wins your heart.

Fans of historical romance know that Sarah Maclean is one of the most talented writers of her genre, and they can finally sit back and enjoy her latest book, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, which will also be published on Tuesday, November 26th. Don’t forget to read (or re-read) the first two books in the Rules of Scoundrels series as this story, featuring the enigmatic club owner Temple, accused of murdering his young beautiful stepmother on the eve of her wedding to his father. The supposedly dead Mara has returned and what sets out to be Temple’s redemption and revenge becomes much more as he realizes that this woman and her situation is far from what he has imagined.

Bella Andre announced the latest in her Sullivan series, It Must Be Your Love, Mia Sullivan’s story. The Sullivan series is (I think) one of the best family contemporary romance series on the market, and the Northwest cousins are proving just as compelling as the original California Sullivans we all initially fell for. Successful realtor Mia Sullivan has been a huge support in her cousin and siblings’ romances, but it’s time for her to face the music – namely the man who she spent a few short days and nights with in his bed, and who she’s never been able to forget. Bumping into rock star Ford Vincent isn’t a shock at her cousin’s wedding, but there is an element of surprise when he seems interested in renewing their sexual relationship. Ford has never been able to forget Mia and despite the fact that he imagines she’s the one thing his fame can’t give him, he feels like he has to try.

It’s the holiday book season and that means there are some great deals on anthologies by terrific authors. A Christmas to Remember, due out on December 3rd, features stories by such contemporary best-sellers as Jill Shalvis, Kristen Ashley, Hope Ramsay, Molly Cannon, and Marilyn Pappano. If that’s not tempting enough, Forever Yours publishing has priced this puppy at only $1.99, so pick it up while you can at this price!

For fans of the Stephanie Plum series by Janet EvanovichTakedown Twenty, was published just a few days ago on November 19th, so get a hilarious dose of Lula and Bob (the golden retriever) right now. Get ready to imagine the next demise of a vehicle driven by Stephanie as she attempts to track down Morelli’s mobster godfather so he doesn’t have to, while also helping the oh-so-sexy Ranger determine who killed an important client’s mother. If you need to do some catching up (or want to fill in your collection of ebooks), you may want to note that several of the earlier books in the series are available for only $2.99 for the ebook editions.

Sophie Barnes‘ next book The Scandal in Kissing an Heir, her second installment in At the Kingsborough Ball series is coming out on December 31st. The next Marquess of Wolvington, Daniel Neville needs to find not only a bride but a woman who will accept his past and Lady Rebecca is tired of the men her greedy aunt and uncle send her way, men who only are interested in her beauty. Scandal threatens to tear these two apart, just when it seems they have the potential for something more.

Contests and Giveaways

Sara Humphreys‘ Amoveo Legends series is made up of a string of best-sellers, so I imagine fans are waiting with bated breath for the fifth book in the series, Unclaimed, to come out on December 3rd. When a spirited veternarian from the Timber Wolf clan reluctantly agrees to help doctor the Amoveo prince’s horses, she doesn’t expect the overwhelming attraction to a warrior from the Tiger Clan, but soon finds herself thrown together with him as they have to face danger together. Enter before November 30th to see if you can win a copy.

Talented debut author Kat Latham, of Knowing the Score fame, is having a Rafflecopter giveaway for not just her new Christmas story, contained in the All I’m Asking For Christmas anthology (pre-ordered!!), but also the other Carina Press contemporary holiday anthology, For My Own. Since I’ve yet to read a Carina anthology I haven’t enjoyed, these are both on my December reading (and reviewing) list, but winning them would make great gifts to the romance fiction lovers in my life. Enter before December 1st to see if you can’t win a copy and enjoy great writing with your holiday cheer.

The first in Lara Adrian‘s Midnight Breeds series, A Touch of Midnight, is currently a giveaway on Goodreads, so enter before November 30th for a chance to win. This 184 page novella jumpstarts the other thirteen books to date in the series by focusing on Savannah, a young college woman who can see the past of objects when she touches them. For a three-hundred year old vampire who must revisit painful memories of the past, Gideon finds himself needing Savannah to help him rid the world of a threat he didn’t even realize existed, even if it means shattering the world she knows. If you were smart enough to purchase The Midnight Breeds Series Companion this summer, then this novella is included within it, but otherwise, try to win or buy it on Amazon for only $2.99.

The Smutketeers & Friends (Jayne Rylon, Mari Carr, Carrie Ann Ryan, R. G. Alexander, Eden Bradley, Sidney Bristol, P. G. Forte, and Robin Rotham) have FINALLY released their long-awaited Midnight Ink box set, filled with erotic tales all centered around a New Orleans tattoo shop, and they are having a great $100 Amazon gift card giveaway to celebrate. Enter in the next week to see if you can win this wonderful prize and don’t forget to run to your nearest bookseller to buy the boxed set, which is currently only $.99 at Amazon for over 550 pages of hot romance.

Historical fiction fans light candles to Diana Gabaldon‘s image, as this author of the Outlander series has had thousands of readers fall for Claire and Jamie Fraser. In honor of the upcoming STARZ network release of Outlander as a series, two promotional copies are destined for a lucky winner of the Goodreads giveaway, so considering entering prior to November 30th if you are awaiting heartache, time-travel and kilts with baited breath.

I don’t know what it is about publishing during the holidays, but there always seems to be a few books which focus on the season and feature some adorable dogs and cats on the covers of these anthologies and stand-alones. Since my fur-covered family members are some of things in my life I’m most grateful for, these novels always hit home with me. Two such authors are Sharon Kleve and Jennifer Conner, who are currently hosting a blog tour contest where readers can enter to win copies of their books – Halo’s Wish, Brenda’s Christmas Desire, Central Bark at Christmas, and Christmas Gift that Keeps Wagging – as well as a $25 gift card, so take a look and see if someone small and furry is underneath your tree this Christmas. Head to any and all of the blogs on the tour before 11/30 for your chance to enter!

Elizabeth Hoyt’s tale of a fevered heir to an Earldom, returned from the dead, is the fourth in her Legend of the Four Soldiers series. To Desire a Devil pitches the savage man, demented from his captivity and the well-bred niece of the present (and highly suspicious Earl) as an unlikely couple, but historical romance readers can attempt to win a copy of this highly rated final book via the Goodreads giveaway closing on December 1st.

It’s always great to see historical romance that tackles a less-frequented period of time, so Bitter Spirits by paranormal/urban fantasy writer Jenn Bennett is worth a look for those readers who love the 1920s. Featuring a hexed bootlegger and a beautiful medium, this first installment in Bennett’s Roaring Twenties series is currently being offered in a Goodreads giveaway for people who enter before Saturday, November 30th. Considering this novel is not due to be published until early January 2014, this could be a great opportunity to get a preview, and the second novel, focusing on an archaeologist and museum curator looks to equally bring the period to life. Since the series is published by the Berkley Sensation line, I predict strong writing and hot love scenes to be contained within these covers. Bring it on!

Fun Stuff

I know you can tell I’ve got holiday books on the brain (I’m gearing up for my stretch where I try to review a holiday themed book for every day of December!) but I for one appreciated Harlequin’s adorable little video featuring some of their featured Christmas books for this year. You’ll definitely be seeing a few of these on this blog over the next few weeks (and who knew Gingerbread men as the various hero’s occupations would be so adorable?).

If you have a spare $1000 or so and love to show your book love via your shoes, I suggest you head straight to the Charlotte Olympia website and check out the Matilda shoes, part of the Fall 2013 collection. With stunning leather tooling covering the leather upper and a six inch heel (and one inch platform), the heels are designed to look like book spines, complete with the words “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After”. I think there are plenty of romance authors who would look great wearing these on the dais while answering panel questions!

Now that the weather is getting colder, women are interpreting “no shave November” with the advent of opaque tights, but you don’t have to settle for solid colors. Romantics and fashionistas (or fictionistas) alike can indulge their love of the written word by wearing Love Text Print Tights from TrendyLegs. For under $40, you can sport the wikipedia text for the definitions of “Love” and “Passion” around your thighs and calves (and think about who you might like to get closer and read it out loud to you)!

Great Deals

Historical fans might want to download Harlequin Historical’s An Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill as it’s available for free right now. Featuring a young woman compromised and married to an enigmatic duke who then promptly abandons her, this heroine determines that she is going to make this marriage work, no matter what. The first in Merrill’s The Radwell’s series, this is a good way to sample this series.

His Wicked Games by Ember Casey (the first book in His Wicked Games series) is also available for free right now, and readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings will want to tackle this Beauty and the Beast inspired story. When a woman determined to save her arts center breaks into a cold billionaire’s estate, she gets way more than she bargained for, particularly regarding his wager on how she can save what she wants more than anything. The only problem? When what she wants begins to change…

Also currently free is Mari Carr and Lexxie Couper‘s Misplaced Princess, the first in their Foreign Affairs series about men or women who leave their country and find the love of their life. Annie Prince impetuously flew halfway around the world to Australia to meet in person a sexy cowboy she met online…only to find out he did the same thing and is now in NYC. Fortunately for her, his twin brother Hunter stayed behind, and while he thought his brother was crazy, one look at Annie and he’s finding it hard to keep his hands (and other body parts) off her.

That’s it for this week. Have a terrific Thanksgiving and happy reading!!

Countdown to Christmas: Steampunk Blends with the Holiday in A Clockwork Christmas

12 Dec

A Clockwork Christmas edited by Angela James (Carina Press, December 5, 2011) featuring novellas by J. K. Coi, P. G. Forte, Stacy Gail and Jenny Schwartz.

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I love steampunk romance. Whether I’m raving about how Meljean Brook is the best introduction to steampunk or qvelling over the gaslight overtones of Cindy Spencer Pape, corsets, clockworks and romance float my boat.

But finding other great steampunk or gaslight authors is challenging (there are a lot of writers who sound like they should still be on a fan fiction site honing their skills a little longer before finding a publisher), and anthologies are one of the best ways to taste the flavor of a new author without committing to a longer book to see if they pull off the genre. I’m pleased to say that Carina Press editor Angela James has worked her usual (gaslight?) magic to find a roster of authors up to the task in A Clockwork Christmas.

James has her usual friendly introduction to the anthology and I was interested in hearing how she has had a personal interest in steampunk since before it penetrated the world of romance fiction. I found it reassuring when she excerpted her own recent letter to ComicCon attendees when she said, “Maybe being a geek has become trendy, but at Carina, we’re not just interested in trendy; we’re interested in publishing great, compelling, readable stories.”

Selecting these four stories because of how they work together, James nevertheless indicated that she was overwhelmed by how many excellent steampunk stories she received after Carina expressed an interest in the genre. Many of them were independently published by the ebook publishing house this past year and seem to be of novella length for the most part. As with other anthologies I’ve read from Carina, you can buy this compilation as either the anthology (linked above to title) or as individual ebooks (linked below in the title of each individual story).

Crime Wave in a Corset by Stacy Gail

I fell for Stacy Gail’s writing the other week when I drooled all over her science fiction novella How the Glitch Saved Christmas. She keeps up her writing streak of awesomeness with this story, set in a nineteenth century Boston rife with clockworks.

Crime Wave in a Corset by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, December 5, 2011)

Cornelia Peabody is a loner and thief, but she’s content with her life of relative success. The fact that she limits herself to stealing from companies or organizations rather than individuals gives her some peace at night. As she walks through Beacon Hill days before Christmas, she realizes her home has been broken into as one of her careful alarms has been tripped. Being a thief herself, she’s not about to call the police, but she carefully uses her surveillance equipment inside the foyer to see if anything looks amiss. Deciding it doesn’t look dangerous, she still takes precautions to check on her office – where she is pounced upon by a large man in black who knows her name and her crimes. He obviously hates her, but she doesn’t know why.

Professor Roderick Coddington is elated he finally has the monster responsible for murdering his sister in his grasp…and he’s angry that she’s so beautiful and that his body clearly wants her. Ignoring its demands, he slaps a special clockwork bracelet on her that she cannot remove and then takes her to his workshop to see exactly what it can do. An electrocution device, the bracelet is set on countdown for seven days; either Cornelia Peabody steals back the Faberge egg that she took from Roderick’s sister, the loss of which sped her demise, or she dies a horrible death in one week.

It’s not much a of choice, so Cornelia does it, trying to deny to herself that it hurts to be hated by this man who doesn’t even know her. The more time they spend together, the more their illusions shatter. Roderick is capable of emotions other than anger (quite compelling ones) and Cornelia has a strong sense of honor despite being a thief. Her intellect and ability amaze him and once he sees the scars that cover her body from the nightmare childhood that led her to her profession, he begins to realize that nothing is as simple as he would like to make it. The final job of stealing back the egg causes them both to confront the past, leaving the reader to wonder if their choices will be different, at least different enough to allow for a future between these two lovers.

Smoking hot love scenes and the ability to capture powerful emotions make Stacy Gail’s story a standout. As in her science fiction story, she has the ability to layer the world-details, many of which are highly technical, in such a smooth fashion that you don’t realize the amount of information you are swallowing, you just know that the rich details of the place and time period are truly alive. As with any couple in an extraordinary situation, Cornelia and Roderick’s descent into lust and then love, is so believably written that your feelings transmute along with theirs, until you are pulling so hard for them to work through their issues that you cheer at the ending!

This Winter Heart by PG Forte

Ophelia Winter has been left destitute by her father’s death. With the war between the states ended and the Confederacy triumphant, his inventions, which could have helped the Union cause, were left unfunded. The person who refused to fund them was none other than Ophelia’s husband, Dario Leonides, due to the fact that her father chose to reveal that Ophelia was one of those inventions – a sophisticated automaton whose blood and flesh were formed from the raw material from her father and his dead mistress. As neither Ophelia or Professor Winter ever revealed her nature, Dario felt betrayed by them both, determining that as a machine, Ophelia was incapable of returning the love he felt for her.

This Winter Heart by P.G. Forte (Carina Press, December 5, 2011)

Ophelia was and is totally in love with Dario, and understands why he felt betrayed but it was no excuse to throw back the dedication and love she felt for him when he asked her to leave his home and his life. Seven years later, she’s back in Santa Fe and needing Dario’s help. She has to find a way to support herself and her son with Dario, a son he doesn’t know exists.

Naturally Dario is stunned and disbelieving at the thought that Ophelia had his child. Her father was very clear that he felt she couldn’t have children. But the boy Arthur resembles them both with winning ways that begin to open Dario’s very closed heart. Even while his body wants Lia, he tells himself and her she has no soul and is just a “thing,” a cruelty that Ophelia cannot overlook. When the tension between them comes to a head, the situation endangers Arthur, and Ophelia reacts with the maternal instinct to save her child, a reaction that could cost the family their only chance at finding happiness.

I’m not a fan of second chance romance, particularly not when one of the couple acts like a jerk, and Dario fits this bill. It’s a credit to author Forte that she makes very clear Dario’s mental block – he was so appalled at being lied to by two people who he trusted and loved that he just shut off the part of him that loved Lia. Using his religious background to excuse his behavior (a “thing” cannot feel pain or love), he also uses it to explain why he hasn’t divorced her all these years. Most importantly, he has no excuse for his reluctance to divulge her secret, other than his long-denied feelings for her. They both know she would be captured and experimented upon if anyone found out what she is, and Ophelia clings to this one gesture of compassion.

But it’s hard to fall for a hero who acts like an utter prick for two-thirds of the story, even when you know his motivation. While the cataclysmic event that almost takes Arthur and Lia from him turns Dario around and he works to help her realize he’s changed, I’m not sure it’s enough for me (although it’s beautifully written). Forte’s writing is truly excellent, so I think this is really my problem with not being able to forgive a hero/heroine who acts so abominably toward another human being.

Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz

This was an extremely sweet story (the hero and heroine don’t even kiss in this novella, it’s so in keeping with its time period) set in a rapidly growing steampunk Australia in 1895. Esme Smith is the daughter of a successful inventor who has raised her to be independent and determined in all her endeavors. Right now, she needs a scoundrel, a charming, good-looking man she can hire to inflitrate the exclusive mens’ clubs where politics are discussed. You see, Esme is a suffragette looking to lobby for the vote for women in her young country. Luckily, her uncle, a captain, has just docked and says he has a likely candidate for her on board.

Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz (Carina Press, December 5, 2011)

Jedediah Reeve takes one look at the golden-haired beauty in the Captain’s cabin and is more than happy to do anything she wants. He’s even more impressed when she outlines her political machinations; not only does he agree with her, but he also can see her motivation comes from her own sincerity and belief in her cause rather than a bid for personal power. Laughing inside at the thought of being taken for a scoundrel when his family thinks he’s the most boring one of the bunch, he shakes her hand and looks forward to spending more time with her as she coaches him in key talking points.

But Esme has a nemesis in the form of one Nicholas Bambury the Third (what a perfectly pompous name!) who not only wants to use his good looks to court Esme but happens to spout the opposite political agenda at these mens’ clubs where Esme can’t enter. Jed hates him on sight, an instinct only amplified as Bambury’s suit for Esme’s hand becomes apparent, and when Bambury attempts to bully Esme into marrying him, Jed is ready to defend her honor.

Esme is a caring, managing female who has met her match in Jed. Rather than a typical alpha male, Jed revels in Esme’s personality and assists her while making it clear he’s doing what he wants rather than having her direct his every move. Schwartz has a rather expository writing style, with characters filling in a certain amount of backstory. Her strength is the ability to evoke a strong sense of place, with her description playing on all the senses until you can literally see and smell Australia in front of you. The steampunk aspect is natural and unforced and Jed’s real profession of invention offers a conduit to explaining the clockworks and machinery he encounters. My personal taste is for a lot more sexual heat, but this is a lovely story in a setting I truly enjoyed.

Far From Broken by JK Coi

Far From Broken (Seasons of Invention #1) by J. K. Coi (Carina Press, December 5, 2011)

I was trepidatious about tackling yet another second chance romance when they are not my preference, but I was pleasantly surprised to find J. K. Coi’s writing so compelling that I was immediately sucked into this story. Lord Jasper Carlisle (Colonel Carlisle) has had his secret life as a spy come crashing around him. Upon returning home after a disastrous mission, he discovers that his young, vivacious wife, the prima ballerina Calliandra, has been kidnapped from their home. With the help of a few loyal servants and friends, he finds her, horribly tortured and barely alive in a nearby hunting cabin. Having known the military has advanced technology that can help repair massive injuries, Jasper takes Callie to them, agreeing to any price to save her. When her excruciating screams indicate that his presence is not helping, he leaves to track down the three men responsible for torturing her, ensuring their demise is just as painful as what they did to his beloved wife.

Callie is horrified to awaken and see heavy iron limbs with clockwork mechanisms in place of the feet and legs she has danced on all her life. Her iron hand and gunmetal gray eye also appear alien despite the realization that they work better than their predecessors. Sitting more heavily on her spirit than her heinous modifications is the fact that her torture and resurrection are a result of the lies her husband told her – she never knew he was a spy working for the military. When he returns to face her, accepting the blame for her misfortune completely and allowing her to heap the guilt of their situation upon his shoulders, she finds herself confused. Jasper is behaving like he is still in love with her, despite her transmutation into a dark creature when compared to the sunny woman she used to be.

Broken Promises (Seasons of Invention #2) by J. K. Coi (Carina Press, September 10, 2012)

Determined to show Callie that he is still profoundly in love with her, perhaps more so as her strength and inner beauty has become more visible, Jasper is determined to prove himself and let her decide what’s next for their relationship. But his courting of his own wife takes a sudden turn upon an attempt on their life, a bid for assassination which reveals a much more sinister twist in the circumstances of Lord and Lady Carlisle.

WOW. I’m overjoyed to realize that this is actually the first of a series (Seasons of Invention) starring Jasper and Callie because there is no way just one novella is going to cut it with these two people. Jasper is honorable and tortured and Callie demonstrates how a woman can be strong and vulnerable at the same time in her situation. Because of Callie’s modifications, the military now has a claim to her as an agent, a fact which appalls Jasper who thought his bargain was any price the military wanted from him. Callie has a sense of how powerful she is now and part of her newfound outlook on life is that she wants no secrets between her and Jasper. While he still wants to protect her every chance she gets, she’s no longer a delicate flower to be protected, and she forces him to renegotiate their marriage with this in mind.

I think what blew me away the most was the fantastic and very sinister world our hero and heroine live in. Technological adaptations have occurred which make this world a dirty one with people separated into have and have-nots regarding enjoying the benefits of scientific progress. The mysterious and menacing General Black, head of the spy ring for which Jasper and now Callie work, has a story arc within him that I’m eager to read more about. This couple is also not lacking in the hot and heavy department, adding a sexual heat to their marital power dynamics. A nice roster of secondary characters make this a series I will be reading, for sure.

I have to give a major shoutout to the cover designers at Carina Press – I honestly think this was the best grouping of covers I’ve seen in a couple of years. Not only are they beautiful and rich looking, but the accurate level of detail (down to the appearance of the models or the small presence of key story features like the balloon that endangers Lia in This Winter Heart or the map of Australia and the kangaroo in Wanted: One Scoundrel) was astonishing. The cover of the anthology did not disappoint either, with the frosted design of the goggles and the bright red balloon clearly indicating the holiday with a bit of steampunk twist.

This was a fantastic anthology that clued me in to more than a few authors of the genre who I’m going to have to follow. Many thanks to Carina Press and Angela James for compiling such a great collection that will get steampunk lovers’ internal clockworks all warm and fuzzy. 🙂

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