2.5 stars - All of my lovely friends who are fans of this book, please do not throw tomatoes at me. I'm rounding up to a 3 star, which means that I thought the book was decent for the most part.So...The Gamble. Where do I start? Let's just break out of the gate with something random.All this time, I thought a MILF was a hot momma.Kristen Ashley's version of a MILF : Middle-aged single woman I'd Like to Fool around with.And by fooling around, I mean...foreplay until interrupted. Poor Nina! Why couldn't this woman catch a break? My lady parts would have been falling off by the time I got around to doing the deed!Before anyone decides to get on my case for calling a 36 year old woman middle aged, please understand that I mean this in all sincerity : I'm sending a mental high-five in the direction of Kristen Ashley for upping the age of the romantic female lead to her mid thirties. I honestly have no clue if middle aged means 30's, 40's, or 50's. I'm in my mid thirties, so I definitely wasn't using the term as an insult or I'd be insulting myself! It's always nice to see a person write from the perspective of love not having a shelf life. It made me smile to see Nina refer to 24 year olds as young. Usually, the 24 year old would be the main character and the mid to late 30's person would be the zany aunt or something. I just heard that the female lead in book 2 is in her 40's!Moving on. I'm struggling to find my voice in this review. I know so many people loved this book but I'm thinking that if this had been my first KA read, it might very well have been my last. Since this is now my second KA book and I've seen how she managed to tighten up the writing in her more recent work, I will be continuing on with this author.There were many things to love about The Gamble but I'm afraid that so much of it got lost in a book which was drowning in excess characters and side plots. Outside of high/epic fantasy and the Outlander series (which I love but admittedly still found a few skim-worthy moments), there's no reason for a book to ever be this long. Every single person had a complicated back story and issues continuing to plague them. Gnaw Bone, Colorado might as well be Salem or Pine Valley or any other fictional soap opera town.There will be spoilers ahead in the next paragraph but I'm not going to tag it because I think it's amusing to see it all in print. Read at your own risk : Between the divorced parents showing up (separately of course, adding two different elements to the story), the ex-fiance trying to bribe his way back into the female's life, the current love interest, the crazy ex of the current love interest, the dead wife still haunting the love interest, the dead brother still haunting the female lead, the car accident that took the legs of one woman, the abusive guy who made a girl try to commit suicide, to the murder and kidnapping, to the...okay, I can't even remember what else. There was just a LOT of stuff going down. Way too much for one book. And we're not even counting the less-important characters like the brother of the suicidal sister and the famous photographer. I would rather have seen the two main characters, plus one or two others maximum, highlighted with stories.Now on to the good stuff!Max. I think after a few recent reviews where I've struggled with a couple of alpha male hiccups, people are convinced that I don't like alphas but this is not the case (if you don't believe me maybe this will prove my point Yes, I have a shameful kidnapping fetish.)! I adore well-written alpha males. Max is a well-written alpha. He's protective, he's possessive without being ultra-controlling, and he balances out his strength with gentleness and compassion. This is how I want my book alphas to be.Max highlights :He scanned my face, looked into my eyes and grinned. "When I met you, my first thought was you were very pretty, great fuckin' eyes, but not my type, high class which means high maintenance. Then you got pissed and that was it. So if you think this attitude is a turn off, baby, you're wrong."Max straightened and turned to Dad. "Not one fuckin' thing gentlemanly about protecting what's yours. Looks like you're gonna lose it, you do everything you can to stop that from happening.""If I was your man, you were halfway around the world from me, honey, I'd fuckin' phone you."Nina. She's smart, brave, attractive and feisty without being too perfect. I appreciated that she spoke her mind and wore her heart on her sleeve. The Setting. I'm not going to put my massively large Colorado Mountain pic back into the review, but because I live near the front range of Colorado, the setting was a huge bonus for me. I loved how the setting was described. I want to go to Max's bluff and see it.The Epilogue. I've heard that Ashley's epilogues are a highlight and I really enjoyed this one, which says a lot coming from a person who generally feels that most epilogues are not worth it.All in all, the good outweighed a few weaknesses.From what I've heard, book 2 is going to be one I'll enjoy. It might be a week or two, but I hope to get to Sweet Dreams soon.Now to those who were around for my status update about the high altitude baking...I'm not sure why, but this picture immediately popped into my head when I realized this girl was besting me at mountain baking.This little newcomer trollop thinks she can outbake the person who lives here? I'm going to have to teach her a lesson!