Nell Stark’s All In, published this month by Bold Strokes Books, is a sweet romance that involves high-stakes poker and Las Vegas. Annie Novarro, the self-styled “Nova” of online poker-playing, has a dilemma. When she loses almost all of her substantial winnings due to a federal crackdown on online gambling, she must either face facts and give up her career, or learn to hack it with live poker players. Unfortunately, playing poker with opponents who are in the same room requires a poker face, something that math whiz Nova hasn’t had to worry about in the past.
When Nova travels to Vegas to prep for and play in the World Series of Poker, she ends up staying at the Valhalla resort. Valhalla is also the workplace of Vesper Blake, a casino host who doesn’t plan to let her attraction to a laid-back poker player get in the way of her career advancement. Vesper has worked hard to get as far as she has as a host, and she’s eyeing the next level when a sexually aggressive client interferes–and brings the two women closer together. Will Vesper be able to put aside her ambition and realize that it’s not worth sacrificing everything for her career? Will Nova figure out how to put her skills to work when she’s playing against live opponents?
I found All In, like Stark’s The Princess Affair, to be a nice change of pace from a lot of the romances I read, in terms of setting. They both feature a very slowly developing romance and, in the case of All In, an interesting look behind the scenes of a Vegas casino. I’m not sure how much of the information about poker playing and casino hosting was factually accurate, but I was enjoying myself too much to care. The only part that troubled me was Vesper’s lack of contact with her family after the traumatic events of her teenage years.
I’d recommend All In to anyone looking for a sporty little romance with a good grip on character motivations. Do not read if descriptions of sexual assault are upsetting to you.
I am headed to Vegas for my first visit at the end of the month–we’ll see if it matches the picture Stark painted.