Tag Archives: Victorian era

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

2 Oct

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

Oh, Daniel. Daniel, Daniel, Daniel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countdown to Christmas: Mackenzie Family Christmas Is THE Perfect Gift for Fans of the Highland Pleasures Series

17 Dec

This post isn’t going to mean much to you if you haven’t read Jennifer Ashley‘s Highland Pleasures series, one of my favorite historical romance series on the market. If you like hot historical romance, I would pose the question – why on earth haven’t you read these yet??? Gorgeous Victorian Scotsmen (nobles, no less) always on the wrong side of scandal lead dissipated, tortured lives until finding the feisty women who complete them. Humor, love, and passion abound in gorgeous settings until you’re ready to go marry the first Mackenzie man you meet.

The previous four books each focused on one of the brothers:

  • The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie featuring my favorite Mackenzie brother, Ian, who is autistic (although the time period doesn’t recognize that and simply labels him mad). He meets the wealthy widow Beth Ackerley and knows he must have her as she calms him while inflaming his senses like no other.
  • Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage focuses on Mac, the artist brother who – through his alcoholism – estranged his lovely wife Isabella. He’s sober now but wants her back and someone trying to pass off paintings in his name is the perfect excuse to show her he’s changed.
  • If Ian is my favorite, Cam is a close second, and in The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, his debauched lifestyle finds a purpose when Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting, the beautiful widow Ainsley Douglas, comes to help Isabella with her weekend party for the oldest Mackenzie brother, Hart, the Duke of Kilmorgan. Cam has an older teenage son, Daniel (who is wonderful – I’d marry Cam for Daniel alone), and a host of horrifying memories from his first wife who was insane. But Ainsley teaches him how to trust, and shows him that she’s happier with him and Daniel in the country with the thoroughbreds Cam trains than with jewels and parties in Europe.
  • The Duke’s Perfect Wife finally shows Hart Mackenzie, the Machiavellian political manipulator with a penchant for very specific sexual tastes, vulnerable to one woman, Eleanor Ramsay, who spurned him years ago. They’ve never stopped loving each other, even from afar when Hart finally married, losing his mouse of a wife and newborn to childbed fever. He’s been a widow for some time but when Eleanor pops into his life to avert a scandal that might cost him some of his hard won political power, he sees it as a sign he’s meant to get her back into his life.

I can’t emphasize enough how much you fall in love with these couples, and seeing each of them happy in subsequent books, with babies coming and Daniel growing up and headed to university, is so gratifying. The secondary characters, particularly of the quirky servants who surround the Mackenzies (they are an eccentric bunch) and the various in-laws offer no end of entertainment and run throughout the series.

The Seduction of Elliot McBride (Highland Pleasures #5) by Jennifer Ashley (Berkley, December 31, 2012)

So with that in mind, you can imagine how fantastic an e-novella like this is for Mackenzie fans. We see all our wonderful couples and their families, with Hart and Eleanor married for about a year and expecting a baby around the holidays. Naturally all the Mackenzies have gathered at the ducal castle, along with a host of related family members and are gearing up to celebrate Christmas (for the Sassenachs among them, the Scots make their big holiday Hogmanay, or New Year’s). Everyone is worried about Eleanor who is thirty-three and having her first child. She’s pretty uncomfortable and fairly bedridden at eight months pregnant, but it doesn’t stop Hart from lavishing her with attention even while he stays awake with the fear of losing her.

Ian is getting a lot of attention as well. He’s tracked down one of his fantastically expensive Ming bowls, this time from an elusive Russian aristocrat who was a reluctant seller, but tragedy strikes when the bowl is broken. When Ian retreats to his room, everyone worries he’s going to have another episode, but he’s secretly working on a very “Ian” gift for Beth and his children. Cam and Ainsley have their hands full with their daughter little Gavina, and Mac is painting something extra special for Isabella.

Jennifer Ashley is a master of laying the foundation for future books and she doesn’t ease up just because this is a self-published novella. When Isabella’s sister Louisa arrives and spots Lloyd Fellows, the Mackenzie born on the wrong side of the blanket to a Cockney mistress of the late earl, all she can think of is how she boldly kissed him at Cam and Ainsley’s wedding and how it was wonderful. But she’s determined to restore some of her family’s besmirched honor (between Isabella’s scandalous elopement and their father’s frittering away the family fortune, the Scrantons have a somewhat blackened name). Being interested in a common detective is not going to help Lady Louisa’s goals. (We’re going to see Lloyd and Louisa’s story in August 2013 in The Untamed Mackenzie, #5.5 in the series.)

Not far from how I picture the Mackenzie castle (although according to Ian, it’s actually more symmetrical).

Ainsley’s delicious Scottish brothers cause no end of story ideas to flow for Ashley as well. Confusingly, her brother Elliot is shown as being married, although his book, The Seduction of Elliot McBride doesn’t actually come out until December 31, 2012 (and yes, I have preordered it for Kindle delivery on the stroke of Hogmanay!). Wouldn’t that make Mackenzie Family Christmas number 5.25 in the series? I’m incredibly intrigued by Elliot without even knowing him, since his post-traumatic stress from his service in India is what gave Ainsley the ability to understand her husband Cam’s innermost demons.

Two other hints are thrown our way for future books – Daniel indicates he has a few more years to sow his wild oats while working on his engineering projects and being a scientist (and I knew from the start that this young Mackenzie was going to fall hard and young surrounded by all these men finding their true loves). His book, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (#6) has an October 1, 2013 release and I’m warning people now not to bother me that day.

Ainsley’s older brother, the widower Sinclair McBride, lost his beloved wife five years earlier and can’t seem to manage his two hellion children. The Mackenzie nanny makes it quite clear he’s got to get himself a good governess after his son sets fire to his bed (by accident). I’m guessing 2014 will have us see the publication of Rules for a Proper Governess (#7) where Sinclair and his children will finally meet their match. Ashley’s website indicates an unnamed #6.5 book in the series, so I’ll eagerly see what comes of that!

When so many authors crank out a tepid novella for a holiday tie-in, Jennifer Ashley gives us an emotionally poignant and always fun glimpse of the wild, loving Mackenzie family at Christmastime. I would say that she managed to give her fans of the Highland Pleasures series “the perfect gift.” Thanks, Jennifer!

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!

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?

A Delicious Victorian Erotic Novella: Improper Relations by Juliana Ross

3 Jun

Improper Relations by Juliana Ross (April 23, 2012 by Carina Press)

When I began seeing the reviews for Improper Relations by Juliana Ross cropping up in the blog-o-sphere, my first thought was “Yowza! What a great cover!” Historical romance, even those with an erotic element, are often reduced to the back shot of the unlaced dress (which often barely reflects the time period accurately *inelegant snort*), so it’s delightful to see a racy cover for this novella set in the Victorian era.

Hannah is a widow reduced by circumstances to being the lady’s companion for her demanding relative. Dressed in plain clothes and an unflattering hairstyle by her employer, she’s attempted to be a proper and invisible woman rather than lose her job. Hannah has tried to ignore Leo, her very distant relative and her employer’s roguish son, but when she accidentally witnesses him receiving oral sex and bending the chambermaid over the table to pleasure her from behind, Hannah’s eyes are opened. Her late husband didn’t do ANYTHING like that and she’s incredulous that the maid seemed to take such pleasure in both acts.

Before she can sneak out, Leo let’s on that he knows she’s there…and knew the whole time he was copulating with the maidservant. Never really noticing her before, he’s impressed she’s not having hysterics but rather seems curious and intrigued by what she witnessed. He offers to show her some of details left out of her sexual education by her deceased husband. Since Leo had mumps as a child, he was left sterile and is rather a hit with the ladies of all stations because of it. His loss can be Hannah’s gain, in this case.

When I began reading, I was a little nervous because the book is in Hannah’s voice alone and I really prefer two points of view for my romance novels. After a chapter or two, I bought in hook, line and sinker. Hannah’s voice is a clear, engaging one and it was clear from her descriptions of Leo’s behavior how much he was smitten with her, even when she didn’t realize it. In actuality, the first person account gave a strong authenticity to the Victorian nature of the tale and definitely helped emphasize the moral code and social strictures of the time.

The happily ever after is FABULOUS – so romantic! – I was ready to go out and marry Leo myself. A novella of about 58 pages, this book is a tasty treat (and a highly affordable one in the $2 range) for anyone with an interest in historical erotic romance.  Enjoy!

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