Review: Gambled Away - Anthology of Historical Romance


Title: Gambled Away: A Historical Anthology
Author: Joanna Bourne, Isabel Cooper, Rose Lerner, Jeannie Lin, Molly O'Keefe
Date of publication: 31 May 2016
Genre: Historical romance, novellas

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My rating: 4.5 Stars


Get revenge. Pay a debt. Save a soul. Lose your heart.

Spanning centuries and continents, five brand-new novellas from beloved historical romance authors tell the stories of men and women who find themselves wagered in a game of chance and are forced to play for the highest stakes of all: love.

Gideon and the Den of Thieves by Joanna Bourne

London, 1793 - Soldier of fortune Gideon Gage has come home from halfway around the world, fully prepared to face down a ruthless gang to save his sister. But there's one member of the gang he could never have been prepared for: fascinating Aimée, driven from her own home by the French Revolution and desperately in need of his help.

Raising The Stakes by Isabel Cooper 

California, 1938 - When the flute she won in last night's poker game unexpectedly summons an elven warrior bound to her service, two-bit con artist Sam takes quick advantage. With Talathan's fairy powers at her command, her shakedown of a crooked preacher is a sure thing...but would she rather take a gamble on love?

All or Nothing by Rose Lerner

England, 1819 - Architect Simon Radcliffe-Gould needs someone to pose as his mistress so he can actually get some work done at a scandalous house party. Irrepressible gambling den hostess Maggie da Silva would rather be his mistress, but she'll take what she can get…

The Liar's Dice by Jeannie Lin

Tang Dynasty China, 849 A.D. - Lady Bai's first taste of freedom brings her face to face with murder. A dangerous and enigmatic stranger becomes her closest ally as she investigates the crime, but can she trust her heart or her instincts when everyone is playing a game of liar's dice? 

Redeemed by Molly O’Keefe

Denver, 1868 - After agonizing years in the Civil War’s surgical tents, Union doctor James Madison has nothing left to lose. But when beautiful, tortured Helen Winters is the prize in a high-stakes game of poker, he goes all in to save her—and maybe his own soul.

Review by Ellie

I'm not much of a reader of anthologies, the multitude of voices and writing styles is rather distracting for me than enjoyable. So, I was hesitant to pick this one but then two of my favourite authors, namely, Rose Lerner and Molly O'Keefe were in it, and I decided to give it a try. 

I ended up enjoying most of the stories, loving some of them and I only left one unfinished. 

All or Nothing by Rose Lerner - 4.5 Stars

What a unique and hedonistic story!

The writing was impeccable as I have learned to expect from Ms Lerner and the story itself packed so much emotion and complexity in such a short format.

Maggie and Simon had strong distinctive voice which I loved very much. They both stood out with their complexity, being a little lost and a lot of in love/lust. He  was full of good intentions and yet, failing to really follow them through. his vulnerability, his indecision, his bad decisions and fears, all these made him real and easy to relate to. I liked how he was portrayed as being comfortable with certain aspects of his sexuality and at the same time he was still exploring (or rather, was afraid to explore) others.

Maggie was his opposite in many respects - open, easy-going, not ashamed or afraid of her sexuality and desires, yet she hid her own fears and vulnerabilities behind the mask of a fun-loving, unrestrained and uninhibited young woman who is freely enjoying herself with not shame or regrets.

Ms Lerner explored the inner world of the characters with great mastery and making them open up to one another was the way to bring them together.

The supporting characters were also very well developed and had a very strong presence in the story giving it further richness and depth.

Simon and Maggie's story does not have the perfect romance HEA, but it has the perfect ending for them - the promise of a relationship that based on honesty and openness, but is still a work in progress. 

Redeemed by Molly O'Keefe - 5 stars!

This was my favourite story in the anthology.

It can be seen as part of her cycle of historical romances including Seduced and Tempted, though you don't have to read those (but you totally should) to enjoy it.

I'm blown away by how much depth and intensity Ms O'Keefe brings into this story. She explores the the consequences of the Civil wars on the survivours on both sides of the divide.  Ms O'Keefe capture perfectly the sense of loss and desperation in the aftermath of a war. Nothing is like it was before and no one is left unscathed and unchanged.

The issue of addiction were also quite realistically represented in my opinion and though I have no personal experience with it, the portrayal felt tangible and real to me. It was treated with compassion and without judgement which I really liked.

I'm really surprised how much emotional punch this story packed in just a few pages - intensity and depth of character development seem to me to be the trademark of Ms O'Keefe's writing. 

It's a really intense, somewhat dark story but also hopeful and it ends with the sweetest, most perfect HEA for two troubled souls who deserve it so much.

Jeannie Lin and Joanna Bourne's stories are set in the worlds of other series of the authors and feature characters from them. I haven't read either but that did not spoil my enjoyment of both stories.

The Liar's Dice by Jeannie Lin - 4 stars

This is a tender and sweet romance, rather the promise of a romance. It's very atmospheric of old-time Japan and the whole world building was really good. I loved the writing and the voice of Lady Bai was so strong and rich and a pure pleasure to read. The story gives us just a touch of romance - beginning, the thrill of meeting someone and being enamored with them, the sweet anticipation of good things to come. All this is all interwoven in a simple but engaging criminal plot, which keeps you engaged in the story and allows the characters to truly shine.

Gideon and the Den of Thieves by Joanna Bourne - 4.5 stars

I enjoyed a lot about this story but also felt the pacing was off sometimes. The concept was interesting to me - she is part of gang of criminals but has the special status within in. She is the person who determines the values of the goods they steal and sell. He knows a thing or two about gangs and fighting and faces her gang while trying the free his sister.

I have to say the plot is quite complex, perhaps a bit over complicated, considering it's a short story/novella. I felt somethings were left unexplored and the story often took the reader in unexpected directions. I liked the writing and found the characters, not just the main ones but the supporting as well, rather intriguing. It makes me wish this was a full-length novel.

As I said earlier I haven't read any of the books in the series in the universe of which this story is placed and maybe if you have read them, you would enjoy it more than me.

Still, it was quite pleasant and entertaining and made me want to read more books by this author.

Raising the Stakes by Isabel Cooper - No rating/review 

I read just the first few pages of the story and couldn't really get invested on the story. I may try it again some time in the future.

Overall, this is a recommended anthology of diverse historical romances by some of the best authors in the genre. 

Purchase link: Amazon

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