The Pretenders by Marti Ziegler

From the city streets of Chicago to the cold wintry landscape of the Rockies, prepare yourself to be entranced by this story of friendship, hardship, and love.

What’s it About? 

the pretenders

Two crooked hearts have never fit together so perfectly. Orphaned and forsaken, Ivy Porter and Shane McLaughlin band together at the tender ages of eight and ten in order to survive the brutal streets of nineteenth-century Chicago. Years later, displaced by the historic fire that razes the city, the loyal duo migrates to Colorado. The next decade is spent gambling, picking pockets, and scamming rich silver barons, but their hubris pits them against one very determined small-town marshal intent on bringing them to justice.

Throughout, Ivy believes it’s only a matter of time before Shane regards her as someone more than his childhood confidante or partner in crime, but any greater intimacies between them are quelled by Shane’s traumatic past. Feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the life they’ve cobbled together, Ivy posits an ultimatum, but Shane reacts by revealing a betrayal so deep as to tear them apart.

Benchmarked by two of the greatest natural calamities to take place in nineteenth-century America—the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the catastrophic winter of 1886-87—a final act of faith high in the Rocky Mountains seals the interwoven fates of two childhood friends, a marvelous surprise christened Jack, and the unexpectedly sympathetic lawman who brings them all together again.

First Impressions

To put it as simply and succinctly as possible, this is a beautiful story. We are immediately captivated by the connection of these two characters, and we want to follow along with them for as long as we can. The true beauty of their story is that it’s about trust, which ultimately develops into love. It’s a love that isn’t necessarily romantic at first. They’re literally all the other person has in the world, thereby becoming their whole world, in a sense. In the beginning their trust is one of survival. They meet as children in the rough streets of Chicago, and while timid at first they learn how to come together to survive.

070ec10215804e8bc78c4dc9f4cb1e54

At times it’s difficult for Ivy and Shane to let anybody else into the tight-knit cohort they’ve formed, again even though it really has nothing to do with romance. They almost have a familial bond. When they eventually do reach the point where they start to feel a level of intimacy that signals a romantic relationship, they must learn to trust each other all over again, this time as a couple. They’ve both seen some terrible things in losing their respective families, living on the streets for most of their lives, and making their way from petty crime to petty con. Even though they’ve both relied on each other for years, they are now attempting to go all in and trust the other with their heart.

Almost Kiss- Western (2)

A Journey Across the Country

Ivy and Shane’s relationship is truly a journey, and it’s one which crosses the entire country. The author presents us with a fascinating world that starts off in the mean and busy streets of Chicago, which they must ultimately abandon following the tumultuous and suspenseful Great Fire. We can feel their terror leap off the page, and almost feel the heat of the flames in their mad dash across the city. After this amazing historical travesty we see them enter the next stage of their lives as young adults in the Colorado frontier.

chicago-fire-H

The author paints us the portrait of yet another world, and portrays a seemingly effortless transition from the busy city streets of Chicago to the quiet yet ruthless mountain towns of Colorado. Even though we start off our tale with Ivy and Shane as children, and we proceed into their teens, early and late twenties, and beyond, not to mention a stark change in scenery, somehow it all flows together beautifully. At no point did it feel disjointed or broken. It lent a feeling of excitement to the progression of the tale, as we never really knew what our characters would encounter next, where they’d be, or at what point in their lives it would be happening.

long-lake-indian-peaks-cc-bombaci-01

From Friends to Lovers

Once our characters end up in Colorado we see they’ve upped their survival game slightly to involve small cons, swindling, pick pocketing and the like. This is also when they both admit an underlying desire for the other, but Shane is especially hesitant to act on it. We all knew they couldn’t hold out forever, and throughout the rest of the book we see different momentous occasions at a few different points in their lives which sometimes bring them together, and other times push them apart. I think what truly helps us connect with these characters is the fact that their lives aren’t just rainbows and butterflies.

tenor (3)

They encounter multiple trials and tribulations throughout their time together which can truly test their trust in each other, as well as their hope in the possibility of making it out together to ultimately find their happily ever after. At times, even we question how they might get out of a situation unscathed, and sometimes they don’t necessarily succeed. Ivy and Shane live a hard life, one that most of us would probably tremble at the thought of living through, and yet through it all we see them consistently lean on each other to help with the weight they carry on their shoulders. We see the good with the bad. Again, theirs is a difficult story, but a beautiful one at the same time.

coldmountainpic

Happily Ever After?

Another spectacular feature of this novel is that it certainly keeps you on your toes. I’ve read a plethora of romance novels in my time, and plenty of historical romances to boot. It’s not often that I’m surprised by how a story progresses, but I must say this one definitely threw me for a curve ball or two. At roughly the halfway point, things appear to be going rather swimmingly for our main couple. They’ve both gotten over the awkward hurdle of going from friends to lovers, and they’re ready to start out on a new course in life together. We all know it’s inevitable that they’re about to face some sort of impeccable obstacle. Things have never run completely smoothly for Ivy and Shane, and unfortunately that’s not about to change now. However, the subsequent progression of events caught me completely by surprise. My mouth dropped open in shock a time or two, and you can’t help but wonder how, or if, Ivy and Shane will make it through this difficulty together.

Dwight+++Santara+_+Destination+Elopement+Photography+Los+Angeles+Wedding+Photographer+Souther+California+Bride+Coast-21

*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Stand-Alone. I’d looooove to see a continuation of this story with some characters we are introduced to at the very end. Maybe see what else history might have in store for this lot.

Final Impressions: This was a story I didn’t want to end. In a way, I almost felt honored to be offered a glimpse into their world, and witness their connection. To see their trust in each other transform from the necessity for survival, to a need to be with each other forever. Theirs isn’t a perfect story. It’s filled with trying moments that put their trust to the test, but through it all you see how nothing can keep them apart.

Smut Level: Hot daaaaaamn. This historical romance has some heat to it! These two are each other’s firsts and only’s. It takes several years between their first time together to the point when they really try to make it count. Shane is especially determined to get it right, and talks to a friend of his to take notes on how to bring Ivy to the ultimate pleasure. Gotta love a studious lad who comes prepared 🙂

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 315 Pages.

Watermark by Marti Ziegler

A journey down the Mississippi River is fraught with perils: alligators, pirates, and a debonair flatboat captain with his sight set on revenge. Sign me up!

What’s it About?

watermark

Whom could you trust if you were stranded fifteen hundred miles from home? Misfortune has plagued Juno Brock for months. Recently widowed, a chance encounter with a dangerous criminal in St. Louis exposes her to information that can see her branded. Or worse, hanged. When a pirate attack on the Mississippi River maroons her in the wilds of Michigan Territory, she has but one choice: use her wits to secure passage on a boat traveling downriver and reunite with her family fifteen hundred miles away.

An arrogant mistake in his youth has set flatboat pilot Malcolm Moreau on a forked path of redemption and revenge. His successful livelihood transporting goods to New Orleans revolves around cargo, not passengers, but Juno’s recent encounter with his longtime enemy makes her the exception. A bargain is struck: safe passage to Natchez, Mississippi, in exchange for the information she unwittingly discovered.

What follows is a month-long journey where mistrust and resentment unfolds into an unexpected friendship filled with secret confidences and before long, attraction. Sometimes dangerous, often humorous, their voyage down America’s most infamous river and the outlandish characters they meet along the way will ultimately inspire a destination neither expected: love.

First Impressions

This is only the second Marti Ziegler book I’ve ever read, but I think it’s fair to say that one of my favorite things about her work is seeing the characters evolve. I’m now convinced she is an absolute master at creating a rough male lead who you can’t help but love. At first introduction, Malcolm is kind of a jerk. He is hell bent on revenge, and is more than willing to just leave Juno on the side of the Mississippi River to fend for herself. But then we slowly start to unravel his story, and see what can almost be described as a charmingly boyish side to this rough man. I found myself smitten within a matter of pages even though you also kind of get the urge to slap him a few times throughout the book.

smitten

There’s a similar unraveling to Juno’s character as well. When the novel beings she sort of seems like a momma’s girl, always clinging to her family’s side. Someone who is afraid to be out on their own. Very quickly though we discover that this strong woman knows how to survive. She’s clever, stubborn in only the best of ways, and just a downright fun heroine to read. All in all, I’m always mesmerized by the lead characters Ziegler introduces me to in her work.

A Motley Crew

It’s not just the main characters who are an absolute delight in this river tale. We literally have a whole crew of Malcolm’s boat mates to provide us with thorough entertainment. From his hard-lined cook, to a few flirtatious scallywags, you never want this trip down the Mississippi to end. That brings us to the setting, which is basically another character in and of itself. ‘Tis a journey filled with a plethora of perils, some of which were mentioned above. Alligators, exploding riverboats, pirates and religious zealots.

queen-of-the-mississippi

This motley crew is constantly facing challenges as they make their way to return Juno to her family, and for Malcolm to finally achieve revenge against his sworn enemy who was the most devious of villains. I do sort of wish we had seen more of this enemy rather than just a few scenes at the very beginning and end of the book. He is described at length throughout from Malcolm’s point of view, so we do learn about their complicated history. That being said, I think it would have been more interesting and suspenseful to have more scenes between the two in person.

duel

From Nuisance to Lover

What I particularly enjoyed about this novel, aside from learning the historical aspect of 19th century riverboat life, was seeing the evolution of Juno and Malcolm’s relationship. At the start they are both severely annoyed by each other, and see the other as a deterrent and nuisance to reaching their final goal. However, they quickly realize they must rely on each other in their journey.

wewlcu0e4mt01qc1upkv

Slowly, Juno and Malcolm start to open up and trust each other. This is perfectly reflected in their nightly pastime where Malcolm reads to Juno, who doesn’t know how to read for herself. She’s still fascinated by the written word, and though she initially kind of harasses Malcolm into reading for her, it soon becomes their nightly thing. Malcolm begrudgingly puts up with it every night, but then when he eventually buys her a small pocket reader to teach her to read? Girl, I damn near had tears in my eyes it was so beautiful.

crying.gif

Let’s Rock the Boat

For a historical romance these two have some sizzling hot sex scenes! And in some pretty unique locations on top of everything. They tussle about in a small bed on a flatboat, against a tree trunk, and even on the floor of a cave. For those last two, they definitely aren’t the most comfortable of locales, but that’s what I positively loved about it all. Juno acknowledges right away that a bed probably would have been more convenient.

Katerina-petrova-katherine-and-stefan-katherine-pierce-stefan-salvatore-vampire-diaries-Favim.com-234185

She has twigs in her hair, a few scrapes and bruises, but when you’re overcome by passion? You do it wherever you can apparently. When the two realize their time together is soon coming to an end their lovemaking becomes even more desperate and passionate. However, they still manage to keep things grounded. For example, at one point they also have a drunkenly frank conversation about how they can’t have sex because she’s on her courses. It provides a comforting sense of realism and domesticity to their relationship that I just loved.

*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Stand-alone. Can’t wait to see what comes next from this author!

Should you read it? Well, I’m a fan! I love that with each Ziegler novel I get to learn about a different period of history, and in a new unique setting. All the characters also have such great chemistry together. I could see how some might not particularly warm to the somewhat schoolyard antics of Malcolm and Juno’s relationship at the start, but just stick with it to see it develop! I do wish we had seen more of the villain, who was so creepily written you just want to see a bit more from him. Overall though, a fun historical read.

Smut Level: These two get busy in some unique locations, and I loved how they both commented soon after that it might not have been the most comfortable experience. There was one sex scene that seemed somewhat ill-timed following a near death experience, but I guess that simply increases the passion level!!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 351 Pages.

Mississippi-River-MN-credit-Bjorn-Christianson