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REVIEW: Once A Gambler by Carrie Hudson

Dear Ms. Hudson,

once-a-gamblerKeeping track of everything in previous books of a series must be hard enough when you’re the only author, but to manage it with two different people writing in the series is something I admire. The lower grade is because this isn’t really a stand alone book. I think readers could start with either this or “Once an Outlaw,” keeping in mind that they will finish both books with unanswered questions which I hope will be resolved in the next book, “Once a Rebel.” And can I say how hard I’m finding it to keep these titles straight?

A riverboat card man, Jake Gannon is about as no-good as they come-‘despite that good-looking hotness that can make a gal’s skirts twirl in most unladylike ways. Suspected to be traveling under an assumed name, Jake has a mighty troublesome past, and was last seen in the company of one fiery filly who goes by the name of Ellie Winslow-.

But Ellie ain’t no ordinary looker. No sir, she landed here in 1876 by accident and is looking for her sister-and some answers. But first she needs to find a way off this here steamer with a man who fascinates her more every minute-‘a man who’s about to teach her just how wild the West can be!

Yikes. If I wasn’t already interested in finding out what happened after the events of “Once an Outlaw,” this blurb might have put me off this book. I’ve stated before that I hate faux Highland brogue. Well, let me say here that fake frontier is also on my “makes me shudder” list.

Ellie quickly catches on to what’s happened and – for the most part – she restrains herself in her actions so she doesn’t stick out. But I can certainly understand her frustrations at learning what is and isn’t possible in this age. I love how Ellie takes charge of what she wants sexually from Jake – and he seems to love it too. Though it doesn’t throw him as much as I might expect when a 19th century man gets confronted by a sexually secure 21st century woman.

At first Jake thinks Ellie is crazy like a past woman he knew. I had forgotten that Ellie is a history major and so could tell Jake a few things that would come true soon because, as he says, how would he know the rest wasn’t made up. It’s not until the bit about Rutherford B Hayes is confirmed in the newspaper that he starts to believe her.

Ellie’s viewpoint of how the American countryside looked then, her impressions of a young St. Louis, stagecoaches and the place where Reese lives now are fascinating. But while she might have studied history from books, the hard reality of life then with flooding from the Mississippi – which still happens, health problems from the damp, little money and nasty politics at the end of a gun barrel shock her more than a little. Ellie gets a quick lesson in how life was hard for a lot of people then.

However, a hot bath cures all whether or not is has hot jets and an infinity edge that sounds like a waterfall. VISA – for everything in life you want – unless your life is in 1876. Ellie and Jake’s game of Texas Hold’em is hilarious as well as illustrating the tricks that a professional gambler had to know. LOL, I’ll bet Jake never played strip poker on a riverboat before!

Reese has enough common sense to tell Ellie to actually talk with Jake (who still acts the martyr) instead of just guessing what he’s thinking and wants. Bless you for this bit. But this is two martyr heroes in a row with Sam and now Jake – yes, there are reasons for them to both feel that way but…2 in a row? I’m almost hoping the next hero will have a streak of selfish in him.

Beeson does the “villain can’t die” routine. I hate villains who do this. When someone gets whacked down, I want them to stay down. And how did he find out about Ezra’s invention anyway? Will that be answered in the last book? And what happened to Ezra and Telby? Don’t tell me, don’t tell me. I know – book three.

I was nodding my head when Ellie took a crack at Ezra for muddling with everyone’s lives. And I still have tons of questions about the camera, how it was built, who Ezra really is, where he’s gone and how all the stuff gets back to the Winslow house in the attic, both the camera and the wedding dress. Why was it so important for Ellie to get to the past so quickly? It doesn’t seem like she needed to make it in that much of a hurry. How did her necklace lead Ezra to her?

And again, what about their grandma and her visions/images that made everyone think she was going crazy? Is she somehow involved in this? She gave Ellie the puzzle that needed to be figured out – was it because one day she knew Ellie would need to have such knowledge to decipher the camera? Do you see how frustrated I am? But also how closely I’m following the story?

As I read the book I wondered what would I miss from life today. Make up – not so much. The internet – YES. Books – oh, absolutely. Chinese, Indian and middle eastern food – God, yes! My family – more than I could say. Microwaves, shampoo, toothbrushes, easy to use modern foundation garments, yep, all of them.

Jake and Ellie are fun together. And you got me to buy into the fact that these two, who just met under unusual circumstances, fell for each other so quickly. That Ellie was willing to risk her life to save Jake and that she would not only decide not to return to her life in 2009 but also be willing to possibly damage forever the only way to time travel away from him. And that’s not easy to do. B-


This book can be purchased in mass market from an independent bookstore or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers. (and look, I found an audio version of it too)

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Mary Winter
    May 14, 2009 @ 04:17:55

    Thanks so much for posting this review. I was torn about whether to read Elle’s story or not.

    I did read the first two, and I have to say, that while I enjoyed the stories, I was quite a bit dissapointed by the the lack of sensual content. For me, I think it’s coming from the mind set of “erotic romance” and since they were wrapped in that bright red cover, getting very impatient. Expectations and all of that.

    Made me wish they were the same stories, but told more like 70-80K paranormal time travels instead of categories. More world building and getting into the characters and less waiting for the sex.

    And sorry, the other hero is all martyr too. :(

  2. Jayne
    May 14, 2009 @ 04:35:28

    I agree that the sensual content – for a Blaze – was low. Quite honestly, I’m surprised they were released through this Harlequin line.

    Since I finished this review, I’ve started the third book, “Once a Rebel.” I don’t think I’ll be finishing it anytime soon as there is WAY too much time spent on lusting. I skimmed to the end, and found that almost none of the lingering questions I have from the first two books have been answered. Which really pissed me off. I can’t tell from the harlequin website if there is a fourth book to the series but if not, then there should be.

  3. Kristie(J)
    May 14, 2009 @ 11:45:55

    I read the first book and the third one and started this one but didn’t finish it. I was going to say that your questions don’t get answered in the third one. Since I didn’t finish this one, I didn’t even have the questions :-)
    And I’m not sure if there is a fourth planned or not – if there is I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to be written by Debbi Rawlins, the first author because I read somewhere in the book that she was moving on to a different story her next book.

  4. Mary Winter
    May 14, 2009 @ 13:29:10

    @Jayne – Thanks. Actually I had read this and a Harlequin Historical the same night and then I blogged about expecations. I’ve actually found the sensuality content of Blazes getting lowered from the first ones, so much so that I’ve kind of stopped reading them. But I’m also on a serious historical kick right now, too. :)

  5. Jayne
    May 14, 2009 @ 17:44:23

    I was going to say that your questions don't get answered in the third one. Since I didn't finish this one, I didn't even have the questions.

    Well, some of the question I have about the TT were from the first book too but most of them came from this book. And now that I think those are going to linger unanswered, I’m really pissed. Sigh….

  6. Tammy
    May 15, 2009 @ 08:55:20

    I’m a longtime Blaze subscriber, and for the life of me I just can’t get into their time-travel or vampire novels . Something about this subject matter in a Blaze seems to be a deal-breaker for me.

  7. ldb
    May 18, 2009 @ 14:42:25

    I felt the saem wat with these two books, so I probably won’t read the third which i wasn’t planning on, now that you;s said you didn;t finish it. I enjoyed the premise, and I liked the focus as well of what we have now that we’d loss if we went back. I would have liked more card games and for the riverboat gambler plotline to have been a bigger part, I wish we could get more heros like that.

  8. Jayne
    May 18, 2009 @ 18:08:49

    More gambling would have been nice but given the short length of the story, I can see why it wasn’t included. I do plan on watching the Harlequin Blaze titles to see if another book is published in the series and, sucker that I am, will probably buy it if there is one.

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