Tag Archives: Steampunk

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 21, 2013

22 Dec

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Jacquelyn Frank‘s next book in the Nightwalkers series, Forsaken, will be debuting on January 7th and fans are chomping at the bit. Mercenary Leo Alvarez is dealing with his best friend now embodying an ancient pharaoh and he now needs to protect his friend from supernatural beings more dangerous than he could ever imagine. His unlikely ally is the Night Angel, a stunning creature who sets him aflame while also wielding power like he has never seen.

It’s now less than 10 days until the anthology Turn Up the Heat is published, and readers who snatch up books by Lori Foster, Christie Ridgway, and Victoria Dahl have already pre-ordered (and you should, too). Alpha males, beautiful woman and a love worth winning are a common theme of each hot, contemporary novella and I for one cannot wait. Pre-order it and have a great New Year with this book on your doorstep or delivered to your e-reader.

This past week gaslight fans all breathed a sigh of happiness as Kristen Callihan released the fourth book in her successful Darkest London series with Shadowdance. Mary Chase is happy in her work for the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals and when tasked with bringing down the vicious murderer labeled the Bishop of Charing Cross, she is determined to be successful. Her annoying rival Jack Talent also appears to be on the case and while it would make sense to work together, this lone wolf never does. Mary doesn’t realize that Jack would like to work closer…much closer…with her but the temptation she offers combined with the danger has him worried that if their killer doesn’t hurt her the ghosts from his past may.

Fun Stuff

‘Tis the season for finding awesome gifts for readers, and a truly unique gift can be found at Spineless Classics which offers the entire text of a book in a single poster with a unique design which manages to evoke the story. From children’s classics like the first Harry Potter book, James and the Giant Peach, among others, historical classics, nonfiction works like The Origin of the Species, to the New Testament, there is something for any kind of reader. At just under $70 these unframed posters are an investment but make a truly awesome gift.

I bet you have probably used the phrase “kick-ass” in reference to a strong woman (hopefully yourself!) but did you ever wonder when this phrase became part of our lexicon? The outstanding Romance Novels for Feminists blog has an outstanding analysis of when we started saying this (the late 1970s, a key time period for women) and has some great examples of which heroine it has been applied to in the post, “From Whence the Kick-Ass Heroine?”

Did you know Microsoft is working on a bra that will help read our body cues to alert us if we are going to begin eating emotionally? Prevention Magazine recently announced that the prototype, which measures heart rate, breathing rates, skin temperature and movement, still won’t be able to account for the holidays as a factor (what, they can’t add in a clock?) but should help people be more aware of their habits. So my immediate questions are 1) how to wash it and 2) what are men going to do?

Contests and Giveaways

From the Fresh Fiction blog, the author who actually invented the military romance, Lindsay McKenna, is the focus of a fantastic contest to win her entire Wyoming series, which appears to encompass both her Jackson Hole series as well as her Shadow Warriors series, in addition to others. Enter before Christmas to have a shot of getting most of this legend’s oeuvre.

Another holiday motherload of books contest can be found at The Rock Stars of Romance website which is hosting a contest to win a $100 gift card and a TON of ebooks and paperbacks from terrific authors. Hurry over there to enter, however, as this contest ends tomorrow.

The romance industry’s major publication, RT Book Reviews, is hosting a giveaway for all the books in the Baskerville Affair Trilogy, the series by Emma Jane Holloway which focuses on the niece of Sherlock Holmes and the steampunk world she inhabits as she attempts to live up to her family’s reputation for solving mysteries. The contest ends 12/27/2013, so use the Rafflecopter interface and enter to win!

Under the Covers Book Blog is giving away a copy of Jaci Burton’s Holiday Games, the wonderful holiday novella tied to her Play-by-Play series which stars the members of the incredibly talented Riley family. Enter by Christmas to see if you can win a copy of this terrific addition to the series.

Harlequin is celebrating the holidays by offering a unique bundle of historical romances (from all time periods and settings) as a giveaway and you become eligible to win by simply leaving a comment before December 29th. With authors like Nicola Cornick, Jeannie Lin, and Susan Wiggs, historical romance readers are bound to think that Harlequin headquarters is actually at the North Pole (well, they have to read something to keep warm, right?).

The blog Hesperia Loves Books is a having a wonderful giveaway for paranormal readers who love dragon shifters, offering the three current books in Jamie Rush‘s The Hidden series, but also ARCs for the next two books in the series, and a custom dog tag. Go over today and enter as the contest closes at midnight!

You’ll have to move fast but fans of Jeaniene Frost‘s Night Huntress series have a chance to win an ARC of the final Cat & Bones novel, Up From the Grave, if they send an email to Frost no later than midnight on the 23rd (tomorrow!). Details are up on her website, so get those fingers moving to let this wonderful author know you are interested in a leg up on reading this long-awaited novel.

Tawny Weber is having a great giveaway for her holiday book, Naughty Christmas Nights, and all you have to do is go use the Rafflecopter entry form by Christmas Eve to be considered. About two rival lingerie companies and the man and woman who are fighting for their future, the heat between them begins to mean more than getting the account.

Great Deals

Available for free right now is a collection of nine short stories, each from a different author, and encompassing a variety of romance genres and heat levels. Gratis: Midwinter Tales just came out on December 19th and clearly has a holiday theme, so give yourself a totally free present and see if you can find a new author to enjoy.

Also currently free is the steamy short from Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright, Bayou Noel, about a Louisiana woman who is tired of waiting for the man she’s loved from afar to notice her. After five years, it’s clearly not going to happen, but she couldn’t possibly anticipate what a simple letter informing him that she’s leaving would unleash. This story falls between the eighth and ninth books of this shapeshifter series and as always, it’s as hot and steamy as a Louisiana swamp, so enjoy!

Elisabeth Naughton‘s first Eternal Guardians book, Marked, is currently available for free on Amazon, so snap it up. About a woman marked to die and the 200-year-old descendent of Hercules whose job it is to bring her in order to save his people, this paranormal romance has tortured alpha males and beautiful women who have the power to bring them back from the brink, all set in a political world with its own agenda.

Jennifer Skully (aka Jasmine Haynes) has reissued her book, Sex and the Serial Killer under its new title She’s Gotta Be Mine, and it’s currently free! The first of her Cottonmouth series, fans of zany romance and eccentric characters will definitely want to take a look at this story which features a divorced woman who bounces back from her husband leaving her for his high school sweetheart by undergoing a massive makeover. Not content with simply changing her appearance, she also decides to take up with the town’s sexy bad boy who is rumored to be a serial killer. Exactly. Go get it, now!

Courtney Milan‘s first novel of her The Brothers Sinister series (really a prequel), The Governess Affair, is also free right now on Amazon, and it’s a book that’s gotten kudos from historical romance readers around the world. When a hero who started off as the son of a coal miner and rose to be the right-hand man of a duke and feared throughout the country can’t get rid of a governess, well, love is clearly in the air.

One of my favorite novellas of all time is on sale for only $.99 – Laura Kaye’s Hearts in Darkness! About two people trapped in an elevator who never got a good look at one another but who are drawn together as they talk and um…do other things…it’s truly characteristic of Kaye’s hot, sweet writing style. Similarly, her fascinating stand-alone vampire tale, Forever Freed, is also only $.99, so check them both out so Laura Kaye can make your holiday a little brighter.

Suzanne Brockmann‘s novel, The Unsung Hero, the first book in her Troubleshooters series, is on sale for $.99, a great price for 416 pages of romantic suspense with a Navy SEAL hero. Lt. Tom Paoletti spots a terrorist when at home recovering from a head injury but the powers that be dismiss it as the product of his concussion. He assembles an eclectic team of his friends and experts, including Dr. Kelly Ashton, the girl-next-door who has grown into a compelling and beautiful woman. But all of them may not be enough to take down this bad guy and Tom begins to realize that protecting Kelly might be even more important than taking down this particular tango. Can he manage both?

Lynsay Sands seems to have enough Argeneau novels that one of them is always on sale (lucky for us) and this week’s deal is Immortal Ever After about a woman captured by a psychopath who seems to have fangs and the vampire savior who claims she is his mate. Only $1.99 it’s a great deal for a full-length novel from this excellent paranormal author.

Cherry Adair‘s book Hush from her wonderful Lodestone trilogy is on sale for $1.99 and has two thrill-seeking brothers who experience a kidnapping and a woman who is kidnapped along with them. When Zak and the woman’s escape reveal a new ability for him, he needs to figure out how to use it to find his missing brother. Quite a…um…large machete he’s wielding on the cover, yes?

That’s it for this week. I’ve got a review of a terrific anthology coming up this afternoon, but I hope you have a great Christmas with lots of amazing books as your present.

Happy reading!!

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! 🙂

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week Ending September 29th

29 Sep

Upcoming and Recently Published Books

Just in time for ramping up the creepy factor for Halloween is the latest in Heather Graham’s long-running Krewe of Hunters paranormal series, The Night Is Forever. Featuring an FBI paranormal investigator team (with unusual backgrounds and abilities), this installment features a woman who fears that a Civil War ghost is somehow responsible for the recent death of founder of the animal therapy facility where she works. Calling on her cousin’s team not only brings help but the possibility of something much more with one of the men trying to help her, if they can both survive the threat in the dark.

Fans of Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series (a group of novels which will appeal to fantasy, steampunk/gaslight, and historical fiction readers alike) will be elated to know that she’s publishing a short story in early November, Entwined, starring a noble roped into standing in for his good-looking brother when it comes to writing to his reluctant noble fiancee. Naturally the lovely but stubborn lady in question begins to fall for the letter-writer, but can a happily ever after magically find it’s way to them? At only $.99, this could very easily be in the “great deals” section, so pre-order your copy prior to the debut on November 5th.

Fans of Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series who were reluctant to buy the Burning Up anthology which included her fantastic novella, Here There Be Monsters, will be happy to note that it’s now available as a standalone as of October 1st, and for the bargain price of $2.99! This is one of the sweetest stories in the series, starring a red-haired blacksmith on the run from a mad pirate who would do anything to possess her, including play a very patient game until she comes to him. Hot, sexy, and oh-so-emotional, this is exactly what fans of Brooks expect (and love) about her writing!

Stephanie Laurens, the doyenne of Regency romance, has finally brought her website into the 21st century, with not only a modern look, but also an interactive Cynster family tree (hover over the marriage line of a couple and ALL the children pop up!). This is all just in time for her debut medieval novel, Desire’s Prize, coming out on October 21st, under the penname, M.S. Laurens. Despite the looming release date, the book is only as of today available for pre-order on iBooks (which seems baffling) and the book isn’t even listed on her Goodreads account yet. While we all shake our head over Laurens’ continuing struggle with social media (it’s a good thing her reputation allows for her fans seeking her out), it was wonderful to hear that she will be putting out an unrelated Regency novella in a duo anthology with Alison DeLaine, The Trouble With Virtue (December 1, 2013) as well as gearing up for the 2014 release of the next Barnaby Adair novel, The Masterful Mr. Montague. Yes, THAT Montague, the ever-elusive but capable Cynster man of business. I cannot wait to read his story (particularly if a few of my favorite Cynsters can drop in).

Contests and Giveaways

Historical Romance author Christina Brooke gives us a jaded, dissipated rake back from the dead and a schoolteacher who wants to prove to society that she can have a respectable season despite her family in the fourth book in the Ministry of Marriage series, London’s Last True Scoundrel. This book was released at the end of June, but if you’re curious enter the Goodreads giveaway by October 1st to see if you can get a copy.

In one of the most fun giveaways I’ve seen in awhile, talented romance author Tawna Fenske is promoting her upcoming novella, The Great Panty Caper, by asking people to take a picture of the panty thief in their life (my cats have so got this covered) and post it to various social media with the hashtag #pantycaper. The winner will get a $50 gift card to Victoria’s Secret (you have to replace those panties, after all!), awarded October 7th, with the novella released the following day. While you’re waiting, do yourself a favor and read Fenske’s Eat Play Lust in the meantime.

The Book Pushers blog is cleaning their shelves again and have grouped fabulous books by category. Stop over and leave a comment about which set would be your preference if your comment gets picked as a winner!

Foreplay, the first book in the Ivy Chronicles by Sophie Jordan, has the great erotic trope of an inexperienced woman who wants someone close to hear but goes out to find a sexy guy to teach her the ropes in bed – a guy she ends up falling for. If I don’t win this Goodreads giveaway ending October 1st, this one is on my “to buy” pile, for sure.

Fun Stuff

It’s not a secret how much I adore Lori Foster’s writing, but do you know about all the great free stuff she has available on her website? You can download, rippled abs wallpaper *fans self*, puzzles and crosswords based on her books (now that’s a book quiz I can recommend), send her a SASE for free bookmarks and magnets, or even arrange to have her autograph your ebook!

Fans of Bella Andre (and Lord knows I am a fan of her Sullivan series in a big way) need to check out the recent article from Publisher’s Weekly in which Andre lists her picks for the top 10 best romance books – of all time! It was no surprise to me to see my taste gelling with her, particularly with such wonderful classics as Nora Roberts’ Ardmore series, and more recent offerings like Sarah Maclean’s Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. The only thing I disagreed with was that none of her books were on this list!! Andre fans need to also make sure they’ve ordered her Sullivan Christmas novel, Kissing Under the Mistletoe, which just came out September 24th.

Pregnant women are sexy, seriously! One of my favorite new sites, Lovehoney (a British company), has a wonderful article detailing how pregnant women can enjoy flaunting their stuff with practical but pretty lingerie that flatters their expanding waistline. Forward it to the wonderful pregnant women in your life to let them know that the fun of lingerie does not have to be put aside for the next few months. (And remember that the second semester often has sex drives peaking for pregnant women!)

Great Deals

Tawny Weber’s fantastic Harlequin Blaze novel, A SEAL’s Seduction, is currently free on Amazon for the ebook version. Lovers of books with a military hero (particularly when the heroine is a brainy, red-haired scientist) will not be disappointed by this wonderful book!

Regency romance fans will want to take note that Julia Quinn’s Just Like Heaven (the first book in the Smythe-Smith Quartet) is on sale in ebook form for only $1.99. Leave it to this author to make a bad violinist with her eye set on an unattainable bachelor not realize that love comes in the form of her good-looking, twisted-ankle-prone guardian.

If you feel like some light comedy with a paranormal twist, Jana DeLeon’s Trouble in Mudbug – a tale of a Southern woman who thinks her life has just gotten better with her difficult mother-in-law’s death only to find she’s now haunting her – might be just what you need. Yes, there’s a romance element (as well as mystery) and lots of twists and turns, with plenty of laughs to boot. And it’s free in ebook form on Amazon!

Romantic Suspense readers are more then familiar with the name Maggie Shayne and her reputation for excellent, emotional books that have your heart pounding. Her 2001 release, Gingerbread Man, is now available for free on Amazon, and it’s worth a look if you haven’t get sampled Shayne’s writing. The story of a world-weary detective just off a brutal child murder and a woman who still battles her memories of her baby sister’s kidnapping will have you getting in quite the creepy October mood.

That’s the round up for this week, everyone. Happy Reading!! 🙂

Fire & Frost Anthology Will Melt Your Ice at the Start of Summer

29 May

Fire & Frost by Meljean Brook, Carolyn Crane and Jessica Sims (Iron Seas #3.4) (Meljean Brook, May 25, 2013)

I have been waiting for this Iron Seas novella forever! Okay, maybe not forever, but the original publication date was supposed to happen in April, so it’s been two months of me chomping at the bit wondering why the latest installment of the Iron Seas series was not residing happily in my kindle.

Knowing how busy Meljean Brook is pumping out books, I’m hardly going to criticize, particularly since she priced this beauty at only $.99 for the first couple of weeks! That would be a terrific price for just her novella, but I enjoyed the other two stories in this anthology, and they were all of very decent length (definitely novellas and not short stories).

With the excellent title of Fire & Frost, these authors have each crafted a tale in which one character seems a bit cooler and one is running damn hot. Whether you plan on chilling out in the air conditioning this summer or soaking up the sun, this anthology has something to help you get into the vacation spirit!

“Speed Mating” by Jessica Sims

I’d never read anything by Jessica Sims before, but I enjoyed this novella, set in the same world as her Midnight Liaisons series (whose books I have now ordered!). Sims specializes in shifter romances and since I like a certain tone to my shifters (see my effusive posts regarding Jennifer Ashley’s Shifters Unbound series and you’ll get the drift), I was pleased to find myself enjoying her characters and their dilemma.

Beauty Dates the Beast (Midnight Liaisons #1) by Jessica Sims (Pocket Books, October 2011)

Estella is a liger – half lion, half tiger – trying to stay off the radar in Vic’s tiger clan. Most shifters are not accepting of hybrids, so she considers the wary glances and automatic distance par for the course. Who would be interested in a 6′ 2″ liger when hybrids are known to be sterile? Not a shifter male for sure.

But now the tables have turned because Estrella realizes she’s going into heat, a sign that she is in fact fertile. Surprise! With her body knocking loudly on her door, she needs help choosing someone to be the father of her baby. Someone responsible, hopefully sexy, someone strong, someone a lot like…her alpha?

Muscled, tattooed, body shop owner Vic is all those things and the head of their clan. He accepted her when no one was inclined to and she’s forever grateful, but Vic is reserved and continually frowning, making her confession of her dilemma all the more embarrassing. He immediately seizes on the crux of the problem and says that she and her future baby have nothing to worry about – they will both always have a place in the clan. Estrella is grateful and clearly her desire to rub up against Vic is just the heat talking, right?

She tries a shifter dating service, interviewing tigers from other clans, and trying to stave off the problem herself with open windows and cold baths, but nothing works. Throughout it all, her alpha is “involved” and his presence must be the reason that everyone looks like chopped liver in comparison to him. But until she tries a hare-brained scheme dreamt up by a friend, Estrella won’t be able to tell if Vic would really be willing to “help” her.

My sole criticism of this novella would be that we only ever experience the heroine’s POV and while it perfectly defines the conflict, I do prefer to hear what’s going through the sexy hero’s mind as well, particularly when the heroine has reason to have low self-esteem regarding her body and the acceptance of others. I’m looking forward to trying Sims’ other novels after reading this example.

“Conjuring Max” by Carolyn Crane

It’s the 1980s and Veronica is a witch interested in all those newfangled personal computers. Her unorthodox approach to witchcraft using bits and bytes is brilliant, but she’s gotten the attention of more than a few dangerous characters, witch and human, with her craft. Which is why she keeps conjuring dead detective Max out of a photograph in order to protect her from the bad guys.

Max may not be able to stand Veronica’s fixation with Don Johnson in Miami Vice (that guy is a horrible cop, after all) but he’s more than happy to keep protecting Veronica and killing bad guys. He’s been killed a few more times himself, but always brings him back as they are both determined to bring down the mob lowlife targeting her because she used her magic to put his son behind bars.

The problem is that Veronica, with her isolated life and mangled leg, doesn’t like all the feelings she has for Max, feelings that make her feel vulnerable and wishing she wasn’t covered with scars or walked with a limp. Max sees Veronica for the powerful, smart woman she is and forces her to confront her fears and live life to the fullest, something that’s easy to model when he’s only on it for seven days at a time. When the forces against them threaten not just their lives and new feelings for each other, but Max’s ability to keep coming back to life, this couple must face head on the heartache that comes from love.

This was a highly unusual novella that threw me through a loop. The 1980s setting was startling and it took me a while to warm up to Veronica. Crane skillfully writes the situation, peeling back one layer after another so you gradually understand the situation and the characters, a comprehension which leads you to appreciate and care for them.

“Wrecked” by Meljean Brook

Wild & Steamy by Meljean Brook, Jill Myles and Carolyn Crane (Amazon Digital Services, August 2011) – Since Jill Myles is another name for Jessica Sims, it’s nice to see that these three authors have teamed up for a successful anthology before!

Here is the story I purchased the anthology for! Another installment in Brook’s brilliant Iron Seas series, in this novella we see lovely Elizabeth on the run from her powerful father. Continually tracked by hunters – indentured servants tied to him via shackle bracelets which will kill them if they do not return to him periodically for resetting – Elizabeth is lonely but thankful for her freedom as she moves from place to place assuming different identities wherever she goes.

A few years ago she was actually caught by one of them, the handsome Caius. She had been enamored of Caius since he arrived at her father’s menagerie at the age of fifteen, just a few years older than her, but his anger and disgust at what he viewed as her privileged lifestyle could not have pushed them farther apart. After her father’s heart-stopping plan for her was revealed, Elizabeth fled in horror. When Caius captured her and attempted to bring her home, she revealed to him why she was running. He didn’t believe her and instead told her about himself – his childhood, how he missed his mother and sister, how he had been in love years ago with a girl – and explained that her father agreed to give him his freedom if Caius returned his only daughter. Realizing she couldn’t ask this man to surrender his freedom for hers, Elizabeth chooses to risk death by leaping from the train over an abyss in the hope that she can escape and live.

It’s now a few years later and Caius waits in shadows watching Elizabeth flee her father’s hunters and hounds as she finds an airship which will get them off her scent. He is elated she’s alive but knows she doesn’t realize that he has been tracking her since her escape – not to recapture her for her father, but because her leap to freedom shattered him, releasing the knowledge that his anger over all the years was due to the fact that he didn’t want her to be as beautiful and kind as she appeared. Yet tracking her and hearing how she was the same sweet lonely girl everywhere she went confirmed he has been a fool. Making an incredible personal sacrifice has separated him from her father and his mission is now to protect her from the man’s clutches.

Naturally Caius’ appearance on the airship throws Elizabeth into a panic – he’s even more handsome than ever before – but she knows she can’t trust him after he was willing to give her back to her father even after she told him the insane man’s plan for her. Yet Caius’ confession of his longstanding love for her and his protective behavior as they come under attack prove he might be telling the truth.

Enthralled (Iron Seas #3.5) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, July 2, 2013)

Meljean Brook’s ability to write characters who are both vulnerable and damaged while having enormous strength never ceases to amaze me. The Iron Seas world is once again drawn phenomenally well and the reader needs no knowledge of previous books in the series to enjoy this in depth steampunk work. Fans of the series, however, will love seeing the little bits and pieces they already know, including their favorite mercenary airship toward the end of the novella. I would recommend that if longstanding admirers of the series haven’t read Tethered, the recent novella that is a follow-up to Heart of Steel, you might want to do so in order to understand why a female quartermaster stands on the deck of Yasmeen’s ship.

Now I just have to wait a month until the next novella in the series – to be published in the Enthralled anthology – comes out under the Berkley Trade label on July 2nd. Considering Meljean’s ability to write one amazing story after another in this world, I have zero doubt it will live up to my high expectations of her writing.

Meljean Brook Proves You’ll Never Tire of Her Characters with Her Novella, Tethered

14 Apr

I’m usually very cautious when an author decides to revisit a couple who have had their romance established and pretty much resolved in a previous book. Especially in a novella, it can feel rehashed or the plot can be weak and I end up feeling taken. But when I heard that Meljean Brook had decided to revisit her amazing couple, Archimedes and Yasmeen, from Heart of Steel, my first thought was “If anyone can make me love this, it’s going to be Meljean Brook.”

Because she is just one of those authors who I trust implicitly as her Iron Seas series is undoubtedly one of the best series on the market, so much so that I cheerfully order the Kindle editions of her books ten months prior to their publication date.

Meljean Brook simply never disappoints. Archimedes, the intrepid adventurer, and Yasmeen, his stunning captain also known as Lady Corsair, travel in her new airship after the heart-wrenching demise of her previous ship, an event in which she also lost much of her crew and personal belongings. While Yasmeen mourns them, she is above all a survivor, and she is doing her best to rebuild a top notch team to man her vessel while reveling in the love she and Archimedes have for one another, a love so strong that this independent free spirit actually married him.

Heart of Steel (Iron Seas Series #2) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, July 3, 2012)

But a blast from Archimedes past comes in the form of a previous colleague and fellow smuggler, Miles Bilson, a man Archimedes’ sister Zenobia (the actual author of the famous Archimedes Fox adventure tales), trusted until Bilson abandoned Archimedes while he was ill. Archimedes didn’t hold it against him, so Yasmeen decides to take her husband’s lead and sit back to judge this new acquaintance who has decided to travel on her ship.

What ensues is a betrayal so profound that Archimedes’ mental health almost shatters and Yasmeen is confronted with the fact that she would cheerfully pay any price to keep her husband safe and healthy. Bilson’s treachery takes the couple and crew into the heart of an elusive community from which few ever escape but while he means to threaten this couple, he ends up bringing them even closer as they put their intellect and daring to the ultimate test.

If you haven’t read the precursor to this book, Heart of Steel, you really need to (and it’s amazing so it will be no hardship) in order to understand the couple’s background and what they’ve previously overcome to get where they are in their relationship. The looming aftermath of the Horde’s ability to control (and stifle) emotion is at the heart of this tale, so the mechanically enhanced individuals have to deal with threat of being manipulated on a physical and mental plane. That horror is easy to imagine and adds a chilling psychological layer onto what is also a terrific adventure tale.

Can I just give a Lord Scarsdale shout out? A brief appearance of one of my favorite secondary characters to date is the dilemma of Lord Scarsdale, Rhys Trahaern’s good friend who we first meet in The Iron Duke, the first in the series. Having served on Trahaern’s ship and having also escaped with him from the so-called Eden in the clouds (a community featuring prominently in this tale), Scarsdale is a heavy drinker but reliable friend to the Iron Duke and to Yasmeen, both of whom know that Scarsdale is gay and lost the man he loved back when he was enslaved. In Tethered, the drunken lord not only helps Yasmeen and Archimedes but is dealing with the reality of his engagement to a young woman in order to satisfy the societal pressure to deliver an heir to his title. Our couple of the hour make a few references to kidnapping him to save him from making a mistake, and I have to say that I cannot wait to see an adventure like that unfold, or at the very least to see Scarsdale find someone he can love and spend his life with. He deserves a happily ever after, too!

Enthralled (containing Iron Seas #2.4) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, July 2, 2013)

With the last full novel having been the stand alone book, Riveted – which did not require a knowledge of the characters of the above works to enjoy it – I’m interested to see if the next novella, which will be published in the upcoming anthology, Enthralled, will introduce new characters or tie in to the people we already know and love. The brief description bills the story as: “Meljean Brook delivers a new story in her steampunk world of the Iron Seas…as a man who’s lost everything returns home to find that not only is his marriage in jeopardy, but he must now fight air pirates who intend to steal his one remaining treasure—his wife.” Since I can’t picture off hand someone who fits this description, I’m going to book looking forward July so I can find out the answer!

Major kudos to Meljean Brook for being such a productive author that she can satisfy her fan’s craving for new installments in the series a few times a year AND keep the quality so unbelieveably high. I also appreciate that she has chosen to skip around her timeline (even though Tethered came after Riveted, which was the third book in the series, Tethered is listed as the #2.5 in the series and the novella in Enthralled will be #2.4, happening even before Tethered). Her decision doesn’t hurt the series or the reader’s understanding in the slightest, so we can just lay back and enjoy her quality writing.

An outstanding addition to the world of Steampunk and just another confirmation that Meljean Brook deserves tremendous recognition for her talent as a writer. Many thanks, Meljean!

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. 🙂

Riveted by Meljean Brook Sustains the Iron Seas Reputation as the Best Steampunk Series

11 Oct

Riveted (Book #3 in The Iron Seas Series) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, September 4, 2012)

I think my deep-seated admiration for Meljean Brook as the premier steampunk author to whom I compare all newcomers to the genre is quite clear, and the latest addition to the Iron Seas series, Riveted, guarantees her street rep is totally intact.

Whereas the first two books in the series, The Iron Duke and Heart of Steel, are definitely interconnected to one another, a reader could read Riveted with merely an introduction to Brook’s world, best understood by her background essay on the alternate history she employs.

In Riveted, we meet Annika Fridasdotter (Icelandic translation literally “Frida’s daughter”), an engineer on Captain Vashon’s airship (another female airship captain with an excellent reputation – previous books have referred to her prowess). Dressed in outlandishly bright silks, Annika is making her way through a teeming port city back to her ship when she is accosted by an overzealous guard bent on proving she has fraudulent papers. She does, but it’s not because she’s an enemy, but rather carries Norwegian papers to hide her Icelandic origins. Not speaking Castilian, Annika is almost carted away, but for the intervention of David Kentewess.

While the guard is intimated by David’s monocle eye and visible steel hand and arm and backs off, Annika, ever curious, is fascinated by David, and her attraction only increases when she discovers he is a vulcanologist. She would love to know why someone would study something as dangerous as volcanos but sadly realizes that she must get back to her ship. Annika can’t shake the feeling that David has an agenda in helping her and that the intensity of his questioning indicates more than the typical interest between a man and a woman.

The UK cover for Riveted, where the heroine pictured is MUCH closer is appearance to the actual description of Annika, who has mysterious origins. It always makes me uncomfortable when a publisher chooses an image that makes one of the characters look “whiter” than they are described in the book. Be careful, Berkley Publishing!

Her gut instinct is dead accurate. David’s attention was captured not just by Annika’s clothing and good looks, but also by the fact that when trying to communicate with the bureaucratic port official, she ran through a gamut of languages, including the very rare Norsk. David hadn’t heard that language since his mother, a mysterious woman who never revealed where she was from to her beloved husband and son, died in the same violent volcanic explosion that took David’s eye, arm and both his legs.

Charged twenty years ago with taking his mother’s rune-carved necklace back to her homeland for burial, he has attempted to discover the location of her birthplace, and at last he has a clue, in Annika, who speaks with the same accent and phrases David remembers from his childhood. Thankfully his latest expedition is using Vashon’s airship for transportation to Iceland, so David and Annika are thrown together and the mutual attraction amplifies.

But Annika’s secret is an important one. She is out in the world away from the isolated Icelandic village she grew up in for a reason. Her sister, Kalla, was exiled for a mistake Annika made and Annika vowed to her village elders (after confessing it was her error) that she would find her sister before returning home.

Her village must be hidden from the larger world, as it is comprised solely of women, women who, generations ago, decided to honor what they felt was a sign from God that they were meant to live and love each other. They continue their numbers by choosing to either go abroad and adopt orphan girls or to lie with men who will take the infant if it’s a boy, but hopefully gain a daughter and return back to the village. David’s mother was one of the women who fell in love and chose to stay with her husband and son.

Iceland is not only renowned for its beauty, but for the amazing power of the many volcanos that exist in it, which fuel the natural hot springs all over the island

The previous heroes and heroines in this series have been what I would term “edgy,” often having experienced extreme personal adversity and with at least one person in the pair being sexually experienced. Riveted takes a new angle with its H/h both being relatively innocent from and love and sex standpoint. David has dealt with revulsion from women regarding his artificial enhancements and actually paid for sex twice in his life, although he couldn’t bring himself to fruition in the face of his partner’s disinterest or outright revulsion. Annika is a true romantic, virgin and waiting for the right person, woman or man, with whom to lose her virginity. In fear of her rejection, David initially leads Annika to believe he has no romantic or sexual interest in her, but when the going gets tough, finally caves and lets her know his true feelings. The building romance between them is breathtaking and magical.

Meljean Brook’s writing is, as it always is, beautiful and evocative. Every sentence has been crafted with care and her plotlines are watertight, letting the reader feel the delicious sense of anticipation and the wonder of true closure at the story’s conclusion. But where she excels is in the crafting of her characters. My mother and I spoke about this one to one another and mom said, that while she enjoyed the book tremendously, the beginning of the book felt slower to her than the other books in the Iron Seas series. I think she’s right, but it’s an excellent, calculated move by a talented writer.

Brook knows she must set up a side of her world that readers have never seen before. We are not in the world of England and the post-tower destruction, but are instead more immersed in the part of the world which did not live under Horde rule. As always she makes me fall for her world along with her characters. Annika and David are adventurous, well-matched, and with fascinating personal backgrounds which intersect with their worlds in ways that had me eagerly turning the page.  Riveted is aptly named, because it easily described my demeanor while reading it.

Excellent Gaslight Romance Continues with Moonglow, the Second Installment in the Darkest London Series

20 Jul

Firelight (#1 Darkest London series) by Kristen Callihan (Forever, 2012)

The world of gaslight romance fiction is not very large, and is usually populated by readers who also enjoy steampunk, that wonderful blend of alternate history, science fiction and fantasy. I have lamented before in this blog that finding adult authors of steampunk or gaslight (as opposed to the many excellent young adult authors in these genres) is sometimes difficult, but earlier this year with her debut offering, Kristen Callihan set the romance world aflame with her unusual, emotional romance, Firelight.

Happily this year, we have the long awaited sequel, Moonglow, coming out on July 31st, and was fortunate enough to get access to an Advanced Reader Copy via NetGalley to give you a hint at how great it is.

Kristen Callihan uses a master’s touch to paint a vivid picture of 1880s London with a gaslight twist. The supernatural, both good and evil, abound in this world, with vivid characters and plot twists causing readers to gasp at the unexpected. The aptly named Darkest London series reminds me of the gothic romances popularized in the 19th century, filled with shadows and a possibly doomed love. The difference in these books is that its the women doing the saving (and not just an emotional rescue of the hero), so we have a delightful update for the 21st century sensibility.

Firelight tells the story of Miranda Ellis, a willowy redhead reduced from a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle to stealing for her father. Her mother dead and her two older sisters married, one in a love match and the other sold to the highest bidder to a man three times her age, Miranda is lonely and so tired of the life she is forced to lead. She carries the guilt of contributing to her family’s financial ruin by having been responsible for burning down the warehouse that housed most of her father’s imported goods, and this fact is what allowed her father to blackmail her into a life of theft. Despite feeling like she is in her own private hell, she is nevertheless incensed when her father announces that she will marry the infamous Lord Archer, a reclusive noble who is renowned for having some type of deformity necessitating his wearing a solid black mask.

Benjamin Archer is still paying for a mistake he made years ago, but the only thing that made him feel remotely alive was meeting a feisty nineteen-year-old girl in an alley when he was on his way to kill her father three years ago. He has searched for a cure all this time, in order to claim her as a whole man, but cannot deny his need any longer. If he can just have Miranda near him as his wife, his life would be infinitely less painful.

And, oh, how hard they fall for each other. Archer can be silver tongued devil when he is ready to finally be honest with Miranda, and it’s no wonder the revelation of his feelings result in her being even more in love with him.

“I lied. I lied when I said your beauty does not affect me. I look at you, and I’m breathless, dizzy from it. I want to kneel at your feet and worship you. While the baser part of me wants to fling up your skirts and stick my cock in you until we forget our names…But none of that matters,” he said, trembling before her, “because every day that I am with you, I am more convinced that God made you just for me. For in ninety years on this earth, no one has made me feel the way you do, as if every day is an adventure.”

Who wouldn’t do everything they could to save this man from his past mistakes? And there are major forces lining up against them. An entire secret club of men are afraid at Archer’s return to England, a killer is framing him for one gruesome murder after another, Miranda’s brother-in-law is the police inspector investigating the case, Archer has a past lover bent on Miranda’s death and Archer’s return to her, and the son of one of his enemies, Ian Mckinnon, is more than a little fascinated by Miranda and is clear in his pursuit of her.

Ember (#0.5 Darkest London series) by Kristen Callihan (Forever, 2012)

This is a beautiful, dark romance between two people who have kept secrets for so long that they are almost incapable of opening up to one another. The first time I read it, I was actually frustrated by the focus on the revelation of what Archer hides behind his mask (and the fact that it comes toward the end of the book) as well as how long it took for the two of them to be physically intimate with one another.

The latter frustration  is easily a result of the amazing sexual tension Kristen Callihan builds between our hero and heroine and I imagine is more of a compliment to her writing ability, however! Once I understood the more gothic nature of the series, this frustration dissolved and I was instead impressed by the incredibly fresh approach to gaslight romance that the author employs.

Because of the rich plethora of secondary characters, I was happy when Callihan released Ember, a prequel novella focusing on Miranda’s interim life between meeting Archer in the alley by her house and his reemergence into her life. At a mere $.99 for a chunky 100 pages, this novella should be a must-read by anyone who has enjoyed Firelight, particularly due to the fact that it fills in many holes for us.

In it we have the fleshed out story of Miranda’s meeting with her East End friend Billy Finger who teaches her how to steal more effectively as well as the alluded-to story of her failed romance with her ex-fiancee. I definitely would not recommend reading this work prior to Firelight; it is undoubtedly a prequel that gains more impact with a reading after the first book in the series.

Moonglow (#2 Darkest London series) by Kristen Callihan (Forever, 2012)

The second book in the series, Moonglow, focuses on Miranda’s sister Daisy, a lush blonde finally free of her cruel older husband and ready to emerge from the mandatory year of mourning proscribed by Victorian society. On her way to a racy demimonde party, her handsome date pulls her into an alleyway for some pre-party friskiness but to her astonishment they are attacked by a werewolf, a fact that registers prior to losing consciousness.

Lord Ian Mckinnon is having some, er, performance issues. The red-headed whores he usually employs for sexual release aren’t doing it for him anymore and the results are downright embarrassing. A lone wolf who has rejected his birthright of alpha of his father’s pack, he goes for a run in London and is attracted by the sent of blood and a rogue were. He discovers Daisy beneath a heap of other bodies and brings her home with him to treat her wounds and discover more about the attack.

Daisy knows all about Lord Ian Mckinnon from her sister Miranda and her brother-in-law, Benjamin Archer, so naturally she’s wary of the man who attempted to drive a wedge between them. She can’t help being attracted to his incredibly handsome face and hard, muscled body, but it’s the streak of loneliness and wit that really draws her in. Daisy is hesitant to give into his pursuit, not only because she has her husband’s cruel punishments tied to the carnal nature of women still in her mind, but also because she has no desire to be a substitute for her unattainable sister.

To Ian’s astonishment, he realizes quickly that he is not interested in Miranda anymore in the slightest, and it is Daisy’s golden hair and lush curves which have awakened his dormant sexual desire. That his inner wolf is both excited and calmed by her presence also convinces him that she is meant for him. But Ian carries over a century of personal baggage. His wife and son of many years ago, both dead now in rejection of Ian’s werewolf nature, haunt him still. But he still makes the decision to fight all his history and claim Daisy for his own.

“I am afraid, aye? Bloody afraid of history repeating itself.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and held on tightly. “But I want you more. Do you understand? I feel free when I am with you. Happy. You are the gift I never saw coming.”

This book’s pacing is very similar to Firelight, with the same dark, gothic overtones which focus on the external conflicts with the development of the romance taking place within that framework. And there is no lack of conflict. Ian has the complicated relationship with his pack to negotiate, a rogue werewolf to subdue, the involvement of other supernatural creatures bent on using the situation to their advantage, Daisy discovers that her sister Miranda isn’t the only one with supernatural powers, Ian is being framed for the werewolf murders since he’s been the first one on the scene of the deaths, Daisy is targeted as Ian’s weakness, and on top of it all, Daisy’s health is heavily compromised. Yikes!

I did feel like I had a few areas that went unaddressed for me. I would have liked more details about Daisy’ husband’s cruelty – was it just the one time or were there other incidents? She had a strong inner voice she was fighting regarding her sexual nature and it seemed like understanding her abuse would give more insight to her character. Also, Daisy alludes to the fact that she had been intimate with a few men prior to her marriage. Miranda was not a virgin coming to Archer (it was her fiancee she slept with), while I get the impression that Daisy had more of a couple of flings. Was she in love with these two men? Is this supposed to indicate a more carnal quality in her makeup? Why wasn’t she worried about getting pregnant? It just seemed like a missing piece to me that would have helped my understanding of her.

However, those were only minor blips on the radar. As with Firelight, the intimacy and big mystery reveal/supernatural resolution to the situation occurs quickly at the end of the book and the reader is left turning the pages quickly and letting her family know it’s take out for dinner tonight. Ian and Daisy are fabulous characters who are easy to love, and it’s clear that the next book, one focusing on older sister Poppy and her now estranged husband, Inspector Winston Lane (titled Winterglaze and due out in 2013) will be just as riveting, probably focusing on the Society for Supernaturals Poppy belongs to. I can’t wait to get more delicious gaslight romance from this source. Thank you, Kristen Callihan!

So You Want a Good Steampunk Romance?: Try the Best – The Iron Seas Series By Meljean Brook

13 Jun

The Iron Duke (Iron Seas #1) by Meljean Brook (Berkley Sensation, October 5, 2010)

A few years ago, I don’t think I was alone in being rather clueless about the subgenre of steampunk. There were a few young adult books I knew of that fell into this category, but I had pigeonholed them in my mind as being for the type of person who liked cosplay and that’s not really my scene. I made a point of collecting a few anthologies that had this subgenre as their focus, but didn’t pay more attention than that.

Big mistake. Upon further investigation, I discovered I love steampunk.

My first revelation was when I read Cassandra Clare‘s Clockwork Angel (the prequel to the Mortal Instruments series). Excuse me? Automatons? Clockworks? Corsets? Conflicted female gender roles? Sign. Me. Up.

Wanting to be reflective in the hope that it will clue me into other readers who might enjoy this subgenre, I think the following observations are in order regarding the reader group I have observed who really jones for these books:

  1. Steampunk readers seem to be made up of adventurous readers, usually ones who enjoy historical fiction, alternate history, science fiction, fantasy, historical romance, or all of the above. They aren’t the readers who bog down in one genre and stay there.
  2. Steampunk readers (at least in my library) are largely female and seem to revel in the many strong female characters.
  3. At the same time, those readers like the fact that there are some Victorian mores and REALLY enjoy the descriptions of the clothes and gadgets. (“Steampunk is…the love child of Hot Topic and a BBC costume drama.” – Gail Carriger, author of the steampunk The Parasol Protectorate series.)

When I looked at all these elements, it occurred to me that each of these points describe a lot of romance readers as well, so it makes sense that there would be some rather…well….adult romance books with a steampunk focus. Where the heck were they in 2009? *taps foot impatiently*

Enter Meljean Brook and The Iron Duke in 2010. As the rippling abs of the cover model indicate, this book has a racy side (a very racy side). That said, it is a fascinating and well-written steampunk novel with highly developed characters and a carefully constructed alternate history.

I will confess to being a little confused for the first 50 pages or so (my “give it 80 pages” rule usually pulls me through most books). Brook gives a terrific explanation of the alternate history she’s developed on her website but I’ve developed a nutshell version that might help other readers struggling as I did for that first bit of the book.

Wild & Steamy (an anthology containing Iron Seas #0.4 “The Blushing Bounder” – Constable Newberry’s story) by Meljean Brook, et. al. (2011)

Stretch back to your World Civilization class in high school and you’ll remember the early relationship between Kublai Khan and western Europe, specifically how the Polo family traipsed East and established some valuable trade routes (okay, much of my memory comes from the 1982 miniseries Marco Polo and the subsequently released novel based on the screenplay. Whatever.) In Brook’s books, rather than maintain a political strategy of isolationism (as China did for some time), the “Horde” uses their advanced Chinese technology to develop machines which roll into Europe a couple hundred years post-Polo, and conquer it, enslaving its citizens.

The wealthy flee to the Americas (and are referred to derisively as “Bounders” by the people who lived under the Horde), a haven of safety since the Horde has never developed a navy, but the remaining Europeans lived in terror. Part of the Horde’s strategy was to enslave and alter the people under them with technology. Citizens were infected with nanotechnology (“bugs”) that can control their behavior if needed, and some laborers actually have tools grafted to their arms a la Star Trek’s Borg (think coal miners with drills for arms). Much of the European continent and Africa which was used by the Horde solely for its natural resources had a separate type of infection, creating thousands of zombies that run amuck through those areas keeping people away.

Even the most intimate details fall under Horde control – the working classes are forbidden to marry and the entire country is subject to periodic “Frenzies” where the Horde activates the nanotechnology to cause citizens to literally fall on one another in a massive heat, regardless of age, sexual orientation, or existing genetic relationship. The babies produced from this event are usually given to the Creche, a state-run orphanage, with those children (if they are lucky) given over to guilds where they receive specialized training and financial sponsorship to receive the physical enhancement they need to survive.

England manages to throw off the Horde’s control with the help of pirate Rhys Trahaearn, who destroys the tower that sends forth the signals which control the nanotechnology in each citizen, thus freeing the population. A grateful nation makes him the Duke of Anglesley, but he is shrouded in mystery and simultaneously loved and feared, becoming known simply as the Iron Duke to the people.

And this is where The Iron Duke begins. Enter our heroine, Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth, daughter of a countess who works (as many women do) but who constantly faces prejudice wherever she goes. Mina is the result of a particularly calculated “frenzy” as her mother was invited, along with the rest of British aristocracy, to a Horde-hosted ball when the frenzy instinct was activated. While her mother claims to remember nothing, Mina’s black hair and Eurasian features remind everyone she encounters of their time under Horde control, subjecting her to a great deal of verbal and physical abuse.

Burning Up (containing the novella “Here There Be Monsters” – #0.5 in the Iron Seas series) by Meljean Brook, et. al. (Berkley, August 2010)

But Mina is tough (and she has a fabulous sidekick, Constable Newberry, who acts as a bodyguard as well as fellow investigator) and when she is dispatched to investigate a dead body found at the Iron Duke’s London home, she attempts to simply work the case. However, the instant attraction between them complicates an already puzzling investigation. The body has been frozen and dropped from an airship as some kind of message and together, Mina and the Duke need to figure out what really is going on, little realizing the physical and emotional countries this journey will take them through.

I loved this book not just as a steampunk novel but as a true romance novel. The relationship, while having a lot of steamy attraction, develops naturally and deals honestly with the barriers in its way. The emotional damage people suffer in the wake of the Horde’s rule are ever present and add an additional dimension to forming an intimate relationship.

And, hello, these are intimate! The sex scenes are “burst into flame in your hands” hot. The descriptive language is a little more ribald that many traditional historical romance readers would probably expect, but it seems right for both a pirate and for a country that has lived through its recent history. This book was so outstanding that I immediately ordered a used print copy in addition to my ebook copy so I can reread it at will.

There are a couple fabulous prequel novellas. In chronological order, the first is “The Blushing Bounder” (#0.4 in the Iron Seas series) found in the Wild & Steamy anthology. This is Constable Edward Newberry’s story (the red-headed giant who is Inspector Mina Wentworth’s faithful assistant and protector), specifically the tale of his marriage to another bounder from Manhattan City who is dying of consumption.

Edward knows that if Temperance agrees to the nanotechnology infection that Mina’s physician father is happy to provide, she will live, but bounder preconceptions (on the part of both of them) as well as some existing tension in their marriage prevent her from doing so. Edward won’t become infected unless Temperance does, so they both seemed doomed to suffer until Temperance witnesses a murder from her bedroom window and forces beyond their ontrol are set in motion.

You don’t need to read this novella prior to The Iron Duke (and, in fact, I’d encourage you to read it afterward) but there is another prequel which is a fabulous introduction to Meljean Brook’s world and it is also a wonderful stand-alone romance which gives you a sense of her excellent writing. “Here There Be Monsters” (#0.5 in the Iron Seas series) is published in the anthology Burning Up (which also has a Psy-Changeling novella if you’re a Nalini Singh fan like I am).

This novella is just as well-written as The Iron Duke and has several tie-ins, both in characters and in overarching plot, and you do not to need to read any previous book or novella to understand it. In a way it feels like a lighter book, simply because the two love interests, Captain Eben Machen (known as “Mad Machen”) and Ivy Blacksmith, are less tortured than Mina and Rhys (but still have their own set of obstacles).

Ivy Blacksmith is a genius with any machinery and is happy with her lot until a strange group of men sneak into her rooming house, utilizing a mysterious device which freezes all the inhabitants, stealing a few of them out of their beds, and reminding Ivy all too well of life under Horde rule. Terrified that she might be next, she runs to the inn where the pirate Mad Machen and his friends are boarding prior to shipping out.

Eben Machen has already fallen for the red-haired pixie blacksmith who so patiently helped his friend Barker weather the transition to his prosthesis, so when she comes to them, terrified and tentatively offering herself in exchange for passage on his ship, he accepts not only to slake his lust but to keep her safe from others. But his airship captain friend, Yasmeen, has a different idea of what is good for Ivy and Eben, and helps Ivy escape Machen’s room. He searches for her for two long years until the Iron Duke and the Blacksmith come up with a cunning plan to protect the Welsh coast and they need a talented machinist to execute it.

Ivy can’t believe her eyes when Yasmeen and Mad Machen show up in the isolated Norwegian town in which she’s made a home. Mad Machen insists she share his bed according to their original agreement but she pays him each night to not touch her. The problem is, not only is she’s running out of coins but laying next to his hard body and feeling his gentle hands holding her while she sleeps awakens a host of feelings that she might want to act upon. How can she reconcile the tales of this wild pirate to the man she is beginning to see with new eyes?

Heart of Steel (Iron Seas #2 – Yasmeen and Archimedes story) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, November 1, 2011)

These two novellas definitely helped me be patient while awaiting the next full-length novel in Iron Seas series, but I was still chomping at the bit when Heart of Steel came out on November 1, 2011.

Yasmeen, airship Captain of the Lady Corsair, is not only one of the best airship captains out there but beautiful as well. She strikes terror into anyone who crosses her and is a true mercenary, willing to hire herself out for gold and not ask a lot of questions, but she has a code of honor to which she strongly adheres.

Which is why she is checking in on adventure writer, Archimedes Fox’s sister. Yasmeen feels a little guilty that she had to toss the handsome Archimedes overboard into zombie territory (in The Iron Duke) but she doesn’t feel that bad about keeping the priceless DaVinci sketch he brought on board – after all, no one pulls a gun on Yasmeen and tells her what to do with her ship.

But Archimedes is a like a cat with nine lives and turns back up looking for Yasmeen and his sketch, with Horde assassins close on his heels. Yasmeen doesn’t appreciate the trouble but she is interested in the wild passion that flares between them. The problem is Archimedes – he doesn’t just want sex, he wants her heart and her mind, and those are two items Yasmeen refuses to give to any man.

Yasmeen has always been an intriguing and compelling character with a wealth of secrets. The sexual tension between her and Archimedes is evident in the first book, so I was bouncing with excitement when I read this book was to be about them. Meljean Brook does not disappoint, fleshing out Yasmeen in all her glory and painting Archimedes as the sexy, playful beast he is. Where Rhys and Mina are all intense responsibility to others, Yasmeen and Archimedes have a wicked, devil-may-care side they share and it’s a joy to see their banter. The way Archimedes cajoles Yasmeen into admitting her feelings for him pulls on your heartstrings and its great to see Brook’s signature relationship – one of equals coming together and loving each other exactly as they are – in play.

Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City (Iron Seas #1.5) by Meljean Brook (Penguin, August 7, 2012)

After rereading these novels and novellas for the last couple years, it’s wonderful to finally anticipate a few new additions to the series! Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City is an enovella coming out on August 7, 2012 (although purportedly also in the reprinted paperback edition of The Iron Duke, so you could get it that way, too).

Taking place eight months after their marriage, this novella is categorized as an “epilogue novella” by Meljean Brook, and centers on a dead bounder. Mina is the primary investigator and becomes deeply concerned when the danger surrounding the death points back to her new husband. I cannot believe I have to wait for August for this! It makes me want to get a third copy of The Iron Duke in the mass market paperback so I can read it now. Patience. *deep breath* Patience.

Riveted (Iron Seas #3) by Meljean Brook (Berkley, September 4, 2012)

Now we have the pleasure of anticipating the third book in the series, which will be published on September 4th. Riveted deals with two characters with whom we have not been previously introduced and seems to also plan on broadening our horizons on the world of the Iron Seas.

Iceland has been abandoned due to a massive volcanic eruption and everyone thinks it was a natural phenomenon, but the truth has a more mechanical origin. Annika and her sister Kalla were part of a community of women who guarded the secret, but after Annika accidentally endangered the secret, her sister Kalla took the blame and was exiled. Annika serves aboard an airship, searching for Kalla in the hope they can one day return home.

David Kentewess chases volcanos for a living and is focused on ferreting out the truth of what happened in Iceland – a process that is bound to involve getting the lovely Annika to reveal her secrets. The process places them both in danger, however, abandoned on a glacier with a madmen in pursuit. Now they must get away while dealing with the attraction between them, no easy feat in the world of the Iron Seas.

I read the excerpt posted on Meljean’s website and it was fantastic! I’m so happy to be getting more of a New World perspective (previously only glimpsed briefly in Constable Newberry’s “The Blushing Bounder” novella) and this one promised to be much better fleshed out.

It’s rare to find an author who is as talented at complex world-building as she is in building an honest to God romance between two people, but Meljean Brook is the real deal. Her blog is full of information and she seems to have a terrific sense of humor in her entries, so I would strongly recommend adding her to your RSS reader if you enjoy following authors. Remember that while other authors (like Cindy Spencer Pape who I enthusiastically reviewed the other week) are more gaslight because of their incorporation of magic in their world, Brook is classic steampunk, and can be counted on to give any reader an excellent introduction to the genre. Be warned, though. You might find yourself addicted to it!

Interested in exploring steampunk further? Check out the GoodReads list of “Best Steampunk Books” list for a place to start. The Steamed! blog is also a great source of information for both readers and writers and has innumerable links to reading lists and writing tips. Enjoy your foray into this wonderful genre!

**Additional Notes and Updates:

Take a look at the review of Brook’s third book in the series, Riveted, as well as the fantastic follow up to Heart of Steel, the novella, Tethered, featuring the further adventures of Yasmeen and Archimedes. For a hint of Yasmeen’s airship, the novella in Fire & Frost cannot be beat either. Enjoy!!**

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?

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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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