Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Highest Stakes by Emery Lee

The Highest Stakes is author Emery Lee’s debut novel and, quite simply put, a story of epic proportions! It’s a tale of betrayal, murder, redemption, love lost and love found, scheming, more betrayal, heroes and villains, heroines and shrews, war and peace, retribution, manipulation, love lost again, then found again, greed, humor, sorrow, twists, turns and… well… sounds a bit like a historical soap opera, doesn’t it? But I’m telling you… General Hospital was never this good!!

I've often found that in order to hold my attention, I need a story heavy on the romance, so having been told that this book isn’t really a romance at all, I hadn't felt the urge to read it. Really? Not a romance? Well, I beg to differ, because while romance is not the primary focus in this story, it’s definitely the reason for it! Yes, quite a lot of the tale is dedicated to the sport of horse racing, and the passion of all things equine, but the driving force behind this story is love, and doing whatever is needed to be with that one person who is more important to you than any other; the love of your life.

One of my very favorite things about historical novels is that wonderful feeling of leaving the present behind and being swept away to another time and place, and Emery Lee gave me that! With richly detailed descriptions of life in Georgian England and authentic period dialog, I was right there with our characters whether they were at the races, hearts pounding in anticipation of victory, or in battle fighting for their very lives, and even experiencing something as simple as that first kiss. I was there through it all and it doesn’t get any better than that.

While I do admit to skimming through most of the more detailed blood-lining and breeding techniques which took up a good bit of the early pages, what I did read of it was fascinating. And, for those of you who might be wondering, if I were to rate this story based on violence or sexuality, I’d call it PG-13. Any scenes of intimacy were only alluded to and took place behind closed doors. That said, while I normally like a little more steam in the books I read, I don't feel that this story suffered for the lack of it.

There were quite a few quotes I would have loved to use in this review, but most of them would have given away far too much of the story, so I’ve narrowed it down to just two. This first one comes after a scene I found quite heartbreaking and, like it or not, has the ring of truth to it.
"Now as to our business, sir. I have done your bidding, though it was clearly contrary to my conscience and cost me dearly. In truth, no dowry could compensate for what I have lost."

Sir Garfield pulled a fat coin purse from his pocket. "And what would you expect as recompense for your losses?"

"There is no restitution for integrity," he said bitterly.

"On the contrary, Major. Integrity always has a price. To lose or to keep; there is invariably a cost. Some just pay more dearly than others."
And this second quote – well, I was laughing as I read it. Those of us who love our historical romance novels know that many a bride-to-be didn’t want to be. So this little exchange between mother and daughter was pretty humorous, especially the first paragraph. Maybe it was this kind of thinking that gave birth to the phrase, "God's gift to women!"
Lady Felicia reassured her with a pat on the hand. "My dearest daughter, though it is a sad injustice, a woman seldom weds to her own volition. The Good Lord bestowed upon males the greater reasoning and intellect, thus it is for us women to obey them."

"But what if the man is a besotted lech… or a fusty bore… or ill-visaged, bad tempered, and deformed… or stingy, cruel, and close-fisted… or all of it!" she wailed.

"Trixie, I clearly sympathize, but pray cease the histrionics. As to your apprehensions, a clever woman can learn to manage her husband, even one who is… shall we say… less than desirable."

"But, Mama, I don't want such a husband!"

"Hear me out, Beatrix," she admonished. "If your husband should be faithless, affect ignorance. If he has a predilection for strong drink, feign tolerance; if he is choleric or sullen, be long-suffering until his mood spends itself. If he be a close-fisted despot, adopt a demure address. But if he be a weak and incompetent man, count your blessings, for you need only give him the very orders you should later receive from him. Lastly and most importantly, if you have wealth and position, your marriage need not be the least incommodious, regardless of your husband's temperament."
The bottom line - The Highest Stakes was a pleasure to read and I highly recommend it to any fan of historical fiction and storylines that haven’t already been done to death. If you’re like me, you want to feel as though you’re actually a part of the stories you read rather than just a curious onlooker. You need to care about the men and women and their struggles and triumphs. Well, if that's the case, I really do think you’d enjoy this story. I found my emotions all over the place, feeling sorrow one minute, joy the next, and even laughing out loud at times! But most importantly, I found myself in love with our hero and heroine, Robert and Charlotte, and cheering them on as they fought the less than favorable odds for their happily ever after.

I’m very much looking forward to Philip’s story, Fortune’s Son, and can’t wait to see if, or how, he can possibly be redeemed!

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